Sunday, July 1, 2012

What are you - mental?

Psionics.

Where D&D's bastardized pulp adventure roots really start to show. Where sword and sorcery gets a severe dose of space opera and is never the same again.

But D&D has always had Sci-Fi elements, right? From the very beginning, there were robots and laser pistols. True. As a DM, I can choose to put a robot or a laser pistol in my game - or not. Expedition to the Barrier Peaks is a fun module to pull out now and then. I don't argue that. What I dispute, with quite a few fellow gamers in fact, is the insistence that psionics are an integral element of the D&D game and that I must include the option for players and their characters.

Option.

Got that? See that word? Option. That's what psionics are - and always have been. Why? Well, in my own opinion, because psionics do not really belong in the D&D game. At least, not the traditional medieval fantasy ideal of the D&D game.

Let's trip back a bit through history.

Psionics were introduced in the provocatively-covered Supplement III - Eldritch Wizardry.

Yep - that's about all you need to know of the cover, right up there.

Anyway, psionics were introduced in a supplement. Supplemental means additional - extra stuff. Even the section on Psionic Combat has (addition) added to the title.

Since Eldritch Wizardry, psionics have appeared entirely as appendices or supplements. Why? Because they are an optional part of the system that is not appropriate for the core rules.

But psionics can be found in the AD&D Player's Handbook! Yes - as an Appendix in the back of the book - not in the general rules. After that - only in supplements. But psionics are a cool alternative to traditional magic! Yes - and so are laser pistols and jet packs.

I'm not telling anyone how to play or run their game. It would be nice to receive the same courtesy - but the psioniphiles out there seem to be very vocal about this. Sorry, but the structure and flavor of psionics does not suit my setting. It is bad enough that we have spells with names like Clairaudience or Telekinesis. Why would I want words like these in my D&D setting? Who speaks like this? But, to demand that I include things like Molecular Agitation, Cell Adjustment, or Telempathic Projection - now you're taking the piss.

I don't want the people of my campaign world thinking about molecules or cells. That ruins the flavor for me. It simply does. I do not enjoy it. In my opinion, psionics adds nothing to the game. It is an alternative method of reproducing standard magical effects. While more recent editions of D&D have expanded upon the mechanics and options, I simply do not care. We could add The Force to the D&D rules and I would be just as disinterested. Because, it is essentially the same thing.

So, change the names! Okay. You go do that and get back to me with your readjusted psionics (or whatever your new suitable name happens to be) system - then we'll talk. You may find you're right back to arcane magic again.


Now this is EXACTLY how I imagined the cutting-edge psionic adventurer. Looking awesome and ready for action on the cerebral battlefields of the mind.

Tone and flavor are extremely important to a D&D game. Don't believe me? Take a look at Oriental Adventures, Dark Sun, Eberron, Ravenloft, and countless others. Same rules - different flavors. Psionics change the tone of the game in ways I am not interested in for my campaign setting. Demanding their inclusion because you think psionics are kewl makes about as much sense as letting everyone carry firearms for the same reason. Standing around with your eyes closed engaging in invisible mental combat is just not conducive to my kind of heroic fantasy roleplaying:

"It is also possible that certain psionically endowed creatures have an attack form which will affect only other life forms with psionic abilities. When psionic combat takes place no other actions can be performed."

Wow - that sounds exciting.

And I'd be happy to tell you where to stick those crystals.

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