Saturday, March 23, 2024

(D&D 3.5) Complete Psionic

Complete Psionic (Bruce R Cordell and Christopher Lindsay) is a deeply weird book. The mean way to put it is "it feels like a psionics book for people who don't like psionics." The nice way to put it is . . . "hey, man, I get it. Psionics are an acquired taste and don't exactly fit in with D&D's overall vibe."

Taken on its own merits, Complete Psionic is a fine book, but, well . . . it fits in with D&D's overall vibe. That's why you're going to want to use it. You like the Expanded Psionics Handbook's spell point system, but you want to play a cleric or a paladin.

I'm not exaggerating. One of the prestige classes is called the "Illumine Blade" and they build off EPH's Soulknife class to create a psychic blade infused with positive energy that is especially inimical to undead. They're a cool class with an attractive niche - you're exploding skeletons with a holy light sabre - but there's nothing even the slightest bit new age or weird-tales-esque about them. Call me a grump if you must, but in my day, psionics was either crystals and meditation or biopunk aliens from beyond the realms of human understanding, and paladins were something else entirely.

I mean, the book isn't totally unhip. Illithids are here, and PCs can buy a series of heritage feats to gradually transform into one. Many of the magic items incorporate crystals. There are two distinct powers that let you explode someone's head like in Scanners. And the new Synad race - human-looking aliens that have a three-part composite mind and manifest ghostly extra heads when their psychic energy is low - is properly weird. But it never quite reaches the two previous psionic books' levels of genre-bending.

Which leaves me wondering - why bother bringing psionics into this at all? Why not just give more stuff to regular spellcasters (for example, there is nothing at all that would break about the Storm Disciple class if you replaced its manifester levels with spellcaster levels)? I'm not complaining. I like psionics both as a genre and as a system. I could easily see myself running a game where the psion class is reskinned to represent the setting's wizards. But there is something inherently unsettling about seeing a fault line, even if it's in no danger of being an immediate problem.

Honestly, though, my notes for this one were pretty sparse. Mostly just nitpicking rules decisions - like why can't the granted power from a psionic location be renewed after it wears off? You go to the Crystal Node, attune with it, and gain 5 extra power points for the next year, but then once that year is up, you gain nothing by going back. And it's unclear exactly what the balance consideration is really supposed to be? If 5 extra power points are too strong to give someone indefinitely, then they are too strong to for a year's worth of adventures (which may well be an entire campaign, rendering the limitation truly moot). Similarly, if you can trust a PC to have them for a whole year, it's unlikely that something new is going to break in year 2. But really? It would be a pissant move for me to make that the book's problem. It's the easiest thing in the world to houserule.

Setting those aside, the other theme of my notes is "things I liked" - the aforementioned synads, the implication that there's a mountain range whose frequent storms are caused by frolicking blue dragons (I choose to believe that they're frolicking because the color-coded dragon alignments can kiss my ass), or the feat that lets you wear an astral construct as armor. Why are there not more ectoplasmic mechs in fiction? The world demands an answer!

Overall, I'd say that Complete Psionic will linger in my mind as "more D&D" and that's okay. I may be happiest when I pick up a new D&D book and it shows me something that's not quite D&D, but I'm also perfectly content with excess. We are a "more is more" blog around these parts, and on that score Complete Psionic delivers.

Ukss Contribution: Synads. They're strange and unprecedented enough to pose a real challenge to incorporate, but I think I'm up for it. 

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