A Psychic Warrior who shields their fellows and strikes their foes with the power of their awakened mind. A Soulknife who cuts at the very minds of their enemies with blades of psychic force A wizard of the Psionics tradition, who manifests as pure psionic energy. I hope you’re ready to use your head, because the latest Unearthed Arcana is revisiting psionics with options for the fighter, rogue, and wizard as well as some new spells and feats. Let’s see what these intelligent adventurers can do, and then address the big psionics questions for Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition!
If you’ve been checking in now and again, you’ll remember that this isn’t the first time Unearthed Arcana has taken a stab at psionics. The last time we were presented with the Mystic, who went through three rounds of testing . . . but that doesn’t seem to have stuck, because if you put it and the following builds next to each other, you can tell that the Mystic has been broken up. Instead of its own class, psionics as a concept seems to be getting distributed; time will tell if more psionic builds are coming down the pike to cover the Mystic builds not mirrored here. I have Thoughts on that, and on the wider question of psionics as a D&D feature, but before I go through them let’s see what we’ve been offered . . .
Psychic Warrior Fighter
“A fighter who augments their physical might with psychically infused weapon strikes, telekinetic lashes, and barriers of mental force,” the Psychic Warrior might have unlocked their psionic abilities in a number of different ways, but the result is the same, a blend of offensive and defensive psionic abilities.
Psionic Armament starts us off at 3rd level by putting that blend front and center; at the end of every long rest the Psychic Warrior can choose either Augmented Defenses or Augmented Strikes, the benefits of which last until the end of the next long rest. Defenses allows the Warrior to spend their reaction when they or a creature within 30’ takes damage, rolling 1d10 and reducing the damage by the result; they can roll a d12 starting at 10th level. Strikes can add 1d4 psychic damage to one of the Warrior’s weapon attacks every turn; the die increases to d6 at 10th level.
Telekinetic Hand is the other 3rd level feature, having the Warrior learn the mage hand cantrip with a few caveats: the expected Intelligence-as-spellcasting-ability, the ability to cast without components, and the ability to make the mage hand invisible. Not shabby, although as we’ll see, this is the only feature of the Warrior that falls under the ‘utility’ umbrella.
Strength of Mind at 7th level gives the Warrior another bonus action option, lashing out telekinetically at a target within 20’. Said target has to make a Strength saving throw versus the Warrior’s DC (which is calculated in the usual way using Intelligence). On a fail they take 2d6 + Int psychic damage and move 15’ directly towards or away from the Warrior, Warrior’s choice, while if they succeed they only take half damage. The Warrior can use this feature a number of times equal to their Intelligence modifier per long rest. A little bit of battlefield control, and that it’s a bonus action feature allows for some pretty nice synergy: pull that flying enemy down into melee range and then unleash all your Attack actions!
Telekinetic Bulwark sees us back on the defensive at 10th level: when the Warrior takes the Attack action, they can “forgo one of [their] attacks to project a bastion of psychic power in a 10’ radius around [themselves].” That bastion stays up for 1 minute or until the Warrior is incapacitated, and while it’s up the Warrior and their allies gain the benefits of half cover and advantage on Strength saving throws. This feature recharges after a long rest, but for an interesting touch also recharges after using the base fighter’s Second Wind feature. I like it! +2 to AC and Dexterity saves for you and all your friends is very useful, and the Strength advantage is a corner case that will really come in handy when you find yourselves in that corner.
Agonizing Strikes tops things off on the offensive side at 15th level, providing an add-on feature for attacks that can be used a number of times per long rest equal to the Warrior’s Intelligence modifier. When the Warrior hits with a weapon attack they can choose to also deal 2d10 psychic damage and force the target to make a Constitution saving throw; failure means the target falls prone and suffers disadvantage on ability checks until the end of the Warrior’s next turn. Pretty straightforward, with a handy debuff to lock down the target for a turn.
Psychic Dreadnaught wraps up the entire build at 18th-level, using a reaction when the Warrior takes damage to activate a slew of abilities. First, the Warrior regains 10 HP at the start of their turn for as long as Dreadnaught is active (which means 1 minute or until incapacitation, as usual). Second, their walking speed increases by 10’. Third, if prone they can stand up by spending only 5’ of movement, meaning they’re still going to be 5’ faster than they would be without the Dreadnaught. This one . . . I don’t know, it’s good, perfectly serviceable, but the movement features don’t really fit the “psychically infused weapon strikes, telekinetic lashes, and barriers of mental force” motif of the rest of the features. I think I’d rather see some more defensive bonuses, and maybe some extra damage, instead.
The Soulknife channels a “reservoir of inner magic into tangible blades of psychic energy, striking at their victims’ minds.” This might’ve been an ability they were born with, or something they learned from a guild of psionic assassins, but the very literal point is that these are rogues that are going to stab you with their brain.
You can’t be a Soulknife without a Psychic Blade, and you get that right at 3rd level, summoning a magical blade of shimmering psychic energy in one or both hands with a bonus action. The blade(s) have the finesse, light, and thrown properties, a 30/60 thrown range, and deal 1d6 psychic damage. Notably, if you throw them or otherwise drop them, they poof; you’ll need to summon them back with another bonus action. Enter the brain stabbings, with a never-disarmed rogue.
Psionic Enhancement mirrors the Warrior’s Psionic Armament, in that its a 3rd level ‘at the end of a long rest pick a feature that lasts until the end of the next long rest’. The Soulknife could speak telepathically with any creature they can see within 30’. They could instead increase their walking speed by 5’. Or they could increase their HP by Intelligence modifier plus rogue level. This isn’t bad, but the first two options are a little situational, especially next to the almost-always-useful extra HP. I’d want the range for the telepathy increased (and perhaps the line-of-sight requirement ditched) and the speed increased for the other two features to be as attractive as the HP on any given day.
Terrifying Blade makes your brain stabbings scary at 9th level, forcing a target struck by your Psychic Blade to make a Wisdom saving throw against the Soulknife’s DC (Intelligence, again). Failure means they’re frightened of the Soulknife until the start of the rogue’s next turn. If they succeed they aren’t frightened and become immune to the feature for 24 hours. There are no other usage restrictions, so provided the target keeps failing those throws, the Soulknife could keep them chain terrorized until the very end.
Psychic Veil jacks up the sneakiness at 13th level by allowing the Soulknife, as an action a number of times equal to their Intelligence modifier per long rest, to become invisible. This includes anything the Soulknife is carrying, like the crown jewels they just scarpered off with, and lasts for 10 minutes. It also ends if you make an attack or force a creature to make a saving throw, pretty typical there. This is a great feature, doesn’t really fit the brain stabbings theme, but it fits the Souknife-as-rogue perfectly.
Rend Mind is the ultimate in brain stabbings at 17th level, sweeping the Psychic Blade “directly through a creature’s mind.” While they have at least one Psychic Blade manifested the Soulknife can force a target within 30’ to make an Intelligence saving throw (which, unless it’s a typo, has the DC at 10 + Proficiency + Int mod instead of the usual 8). If the Soulknife is hidden from the target they have disadvantage on the throw. On failing, the target takes a whopping 12d6 psychic damage and is stunned until the start of the Soulknife’s next turn; succeed and they still take half damage. One of the Soulknife’s Psychic Blades vanishes after using this feature (which of course you can just re-summon), and the feature can be used a number of times per long rest equal to the Soulknife’s Int mod. Taking 12d6 damage right to the brain meats and then being stunned within 30’ of a murderous rogue is a less than ideal situation to find yourself in, to be sure.
Wizards honing the magic potential of their own minds. The most straightforward of the builds in terms of ‘how do they do this’, so let’s get right into it.
A member of the Psionics tradition gains a Psionic Focus at 2nd level (there’s a neat sidebar about what this object might be and how it is acquired/used in a physical sense). As for mechanical use, while the focus is on the wizard’s person it can serve as a spellcasting focus, and when rolling damage for psychic or force-dealing wizard spells they can re-roll any damage dice that roll a 1 (but have to keep the second roll). If for any reason the focus is lost, the wizard can recreate it over the course of 1 hour during a short or long rest. Simple, and encourages thematically appropriate spell choices.
Psionic Devotion, also at 2nd level, lets the wizard choose one of the following cantrips, learning it if they don’t know it already and not counting it against their Known Cantrips limit: friends, mage hand, or message. While the wizard has their psionic focus they can cast their chosen cantrip as a bonus action, don’t need components, and modify the cantrip. Friends no longer has the target become hostile to you when the spell ends, which honestly makes the cantrip turn from a hot piece of garbage into something actually worth taking. Mage hand can be made invisible, and controlling it is a bonus action as well. Message no longer requires pointing at the target, nor does the message have to be whispered out loud, much better for stealthy missions. Honestly, I’m fixated on the make an enemy in 60 seconds cantrip actually being made useful, but overall I think this is a handy feature.
Thought Form at 6th level is where things get a little weird. While carrying their psionic focus, the Psionics wizard can use a bonus action to ‘magically transform [their] body into pure psionic energy.” They remain in this state for 10 minutes, until they use another bonus action to change back, or until they are incapacitated or die; they can do so a number of times per long rest equal to their Int mod. Shedding dim light in a 5’ radius, the wizard also gains two sub-features for the duration. Psionic Spellcasting means spells don’t require verbal, somatic, or material components (that lack a gold cost) in order to function. Psychic Resilience grants resistance to psychic damage and all non-magical bludgeoning/piercing/slashing damage.
Mental Discipline offers another choice at 10th level, this time between dominate person, scrying, and telekinesis. Whichever the wizard chooses, they add it to their spellbook and can cast it without components. More importantly, once per long rest they can cast it without expending a spell slot. Little bit of extra psionic shenanigans never hurt, and one free spell is a nice touch without getting too silly.
Empowered Psionics also kicks in at 10th level, and further rewards letting Psionic Focus direct your spell choices. Whenever psychic or force damage is dealt by a wizard spell, the Psionics wizard can add their Int modifier to the damage against one of the spell’s targets. Flashy, no, useful, yes.
Thought Travel closes things out at 14th level: when Thought Form is active the Psionics wizard gains a fly speed equal to their walking speed, can hover, and can move throughs creatures and objects as if they were difficult terrain. Doesn’t look like it makes you immune to attacks of opportunity, though, and you’re not going to want to end your turn or go back to normal while inside something or you’ll be taking d10s of force damage yourself. This is another ‘useful, but doesn’t really pop’ feature until I remember that by 14th level a lot of wizards are going to have enough uses of Thought Form to be using it for nearly every fight, which means the Psionics wizard is going to be flying all the time without any additional use of resources. That’s pretty cool on its own, and then blocking terrain stops being an issue on top of it.
The Psionics wizard section does close out with a bit called Psionic Spells, which is basically a list of wizard spells to choose from that are particularly apt for a psionics wizard to be using. That’s work that players can do on their own, reading through the spells section in the PHB and Xanathar’s Guide, but this means they don’t have to do the work themselves, which is quite polite on behalf of this Unearthed Arcana.
New Spells and Feats
The article does present some new psionic-themed spells for bards, sorcerers, warlocks, and wizards. There’s mind sliver for a cantrip, id insinuation for 1st level, mental barrier, mind thrust, and thought shield for 2nd level, psionic blast for 3rd, ego whip for 4th, intellect fortress for 5th, and psychic crush for 6th. Not going to go into every one, but they all look pretty good. Some might actually be too good, id insinuation straight up incapacitates its target if it fails a Wisdom saving throw, and it stays that way (taking 1d12 psychic damage at the end of every turn) until it can succeed. Yikes.
We also get two feats! Telekinetic increases Intelligence score by 1, teaches a component-less and invisible version of mage hand, and actually lets you use mage hand to shove creatures around. Telepathic increases Intelligence score by 1, grants proficiency in a skill (choose between Deception, Insight, Intimidation, or Persuasion), and allows telepathic communication within 30’. I actually really like these, they remind me of the minor psionic powers that were very common to 4th Edition Dark Sun characters. I kind of want more of them!
The Psionics Discussion
Psionics are just one of those things that D&D players on the internet will argue about until the heat death of the universe. First there’s whether or not to include something like psionics in the campaign in the first place. Then there’s the old ‘why is it any different than normal magic’? Then there’s how to present them mechanically. I can say that as far as I can tell psionics, from a narrative point of view, are often presented as an out-of-context problem to your standard fantasy world. The people of Athas having developed psionic abilities is one of the things that makes that setting stand out, and the ‘mind magic’ of the kalashtar and their Inspired foes makes them feel foreign to your average Khorvairan on Eberron. There’s nothing I can write here that will convince you that’s necessary or even interesting for your own world, it either is or it isn’t, that’s your call and you’re welcome to make it.
The latter two questions can be chewed on a bit more. “Why is it any different than normal magic” is a hard question to answer when you’ve already got a bunch of spells that seem pretty mind-magic-y, and the suggested psionic spells for the wizard here make that super obvious and don’t really help psionics ‘feel’ any different. That means that, mechanically, you either have to do some extra work or . . . well, do what they did with the wizard here, and just make some suggestions. Psionics in 5th Edition started with the Mystic, now we’ve got this take on it.
After mulling it over for a few days, I think I’ve come to a conclusion about how I feel when it comes to these psionic builds compared to the Mystic. Say what you want about 4th Edition, but with the exception of the monk – who was a survivor from the abandoned ki power source anyways – the psionic classes played differently than just another magic using class, and still functioned pretty darn well. Also, the Psion, Ardent, and Battlemind each had unique identities, both in flavor and in function. 5th Edition already gave the ‘you’re a class build now’ treatment to a lot of 4e’s standouts like Warden, Avenger, and the criminally maligned Warlord. Yes, the Mystic was technically giving the psionics that same treatment, but their sense of identity was still there, and being part of a new class helped set them apart. Not so here, stepping back a bit from making psionics their own unique thing.
I can understand why they’ve gone with their decision. Building an entirely new class takes a lot of work (look how many iterations of the Artificer they went through), and the Mystic did feel a little like it was trying to make a build for lots of different roles. This is the easier path. To me, though, it feels reductive. While there’s a lot to like about the Psychic Warrior, Soulknife, and Psionics Tradition, they’re not the braver option from a design standpoint, and I think that’s a shame.
Of course, what do I know? How do you feel about these psionic class builds, and about them compared to their predecessor? Use your mind and get to rolling some dice, let us know what you think, and keep an eye out for the survey so you can help shape psionics for the future!