So, psionics. They started showing up in AD&D, made little to no sense there, and have been tagging along, messin' up my campaign feels for ages as players inevitably decided they felt like playing someone psi-active. We've had the blissful transitional period of the first two PHBs of 4e, but now the wretched pointsbuy third wheel has caught up with us.

And I have to say... This could be a lot worse. The classes have a distinct psionic flavour, though not all of them are based on psi. Runepriests, for example, combine the power of their runic lore with divine inspiration, and the bows of Seekers fire bolts of pure primal energy to confound the foe. But we're here for the psionics.

The Ardent, Battlemind and Psion gain three at-will powers instead of encounter powers, which they can swap out for higher-level ones when appropriate, and has a pool of psionic points to boost those. Bit of extra accounting, but not a bad trade-off if you want to try something new. I like the idea of the Ardent's feelings of elation being so strong that they radiate out to her friends and inspire them. The Battlemind looks solid, like a tank should, though I'm not so sure I like them being described them as 'arrogant'. It feels like WotC just introduced a ton of obnoxious kids to rules lawyering. ("But it says so in the book!")

I suppose that's just small fry next to one of the lines the Psion has, though —
Q: If a god can reshape the world and you can enthrall a god, what does that make you?
A: More arrogant than the Battlemind? I dunno, just a thought.
In fact, she gets to become invisible to a single foe as a standard action by reaching into his brain and ripping out his perception of her. At 19th level, you can do the Darth Vader choke thing, and at 23rd you can just step in and mindcontrol him. Pretty hardcore, right? And with the Uncarnate Paragon Path, you can add a dash of transhumanism to your sexy fantasy Sith Lord. I've always been intrigued by mental processes and how they shape the world for every one of us, and the idea of a hero who reaches in there and rearranges them to please her... Well, that seems more villainous than heroic, and it intrigues me more than the lot of the new classes from PHB2.

Most of the new classes seem okay to good; if I had to pick one to try out, I'd go for a Runepriest or a Psion. The Runepriest is like a house, and the Psion can get quite amazingly powerful and creative. Stuff I can't wrap my mind 'round: the Monk and the Seeker. The Seeker just seems gimmicky, and the Monk is a striker that's supposed to hit-and-run. It's the fourth psionic class, but doesn't get the augment thing, which is a little disappointing. Apart from that, it's got a 'supernatural martial arts' flavor that seems more at home in wuxia than LotR with the serial numbers filed off. It's able to swap out a move action for something more awesome, which is nice, but it seems like the most unusual of the psionic classes, and I'd much rather it were a purely physical striker.

The races are very much a mixed bag. It was perhaps inevitable that the githzerai was coming — they're an oldschool fan favorite, they've got tons of quirks and a backstory worthy of Marvel Comics, they were featured in a CRPG recently... They're also psionics and great monks, so they're here. The problem is that, during worldbuilding, I never want to use them. That would mean dragging the whole cosmology in and mixing it up, and that's just not worth it. Next up's the minotaur. Finally, 19 years later, I actually can play one! The have a Goring Charge class special, which is just as it should be, but they're apparently tragic and 'given to dark urges', which makes me picture them dark-haired and with septum piercings. Their only issue is that they're kind of narrowly defined, much like Goliaths were.

The other two are the Shardmind and the Warden, who are... Weird, in a boring way. Wardens are spiked creatures of fey nature, and a sturdier playable than the eladrin, more obviously infused with leafy verdance. To strengthen the link, they've got a racial that reminds me of Warhammer Fantasy Battle treekin. The shardminds are merely puzzling, because they're thoughts given shape or fragments of a crystal gate to a realm of insanity or... I don't know. What I do know is that for being crystal, they have a bizarre amount of sexual dimorphism. Worse, they have an ancient culture, but we're not told what this might be, and they're portrayed as emotional naifs. I'll need to do some hammering here, just to make these guys make sense.

The rest of the material in the book is just good. You have the requisite feats to let the Runepriests and the psios work, of course, but an added and excellent bonus are the skill powers. They're a really simple, clean idea that puts a little more weight on skills that might go unused — if your skill's high enough, you can swap out a class power for a skill power. That's it. A brief skim shows that they're all useful and usable, too! No obvious duds.

In brief, though I grouse about the succession of handbooks and editions, I actually really like this. Thanks, [profile] aekiy!

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Julianna Lacroix

July 2010

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