Design & Development04/28/2006

Designing Your Own Psionic Mantle

We're hoping this column becomes your window into roleplaying design and development -- or at least the way we approach these things here at Wizards of the Coast. We'll handle a wide range of topics in weeks to come, from frank discussions about over- or underpowered material, to the design goals of a certain supplement, to what we think are the next big ideas for the Dungeons & Dragons game. All of this comes bundled with a healthy look at the people and events that are roleplaying R&D.

This week, Stephen Schubert provides an inside look at Complete Psionic—explaining how you can design and develop your own psionic mantle.

Complete Psionic provides a long-awaited expansion to the psionics subsystem, which itself was updated to the D&D 3.5 rules in the Expanded Psionics Handbook. This new book aims to not only deliver more options for existing psionic characters, but also to introduce new ways of using the psionics system itself.

The following article looks at the concept of mantles, and how they evolved from initial design through the development process. I’ll also provide guidelines on how to create a mantle for use in your own game.

What is a Mantle?

A mantle represents the cosmic energy behind a philosophy or ideal; in many cases, these ideals are also represented by deities or divine domains. The two psionic character classes presented in Complete Psionic approach these energies in distinct ways. The ardent chooses which philosophies he will uphold, and channels power from them directly. Conversely, the divine mind is the champion of a god, and gains access to those mantles that fall under his deity’s sway.

In game terms, a mantle is a collection of psionic powers that share a common theme. Ardents and divine minds choose their powers known from all the mantles to which they have access. When such a character chooses a specific mantle, he also gains a granted power associated with that mantle. Divine minds also gain access to a special psychic aura, likewise related to the mantle theme.

Developing Mantles

The first mantles were directly associated with domains (see the PHB, pg. 185), and were the purview of the ardent class. No powers were associated with the mantles; they were granted powers or special abilities the ardent could use when “donning” the mantle.

The Original Luck Domain Mantle

Deities: Fharlanghn, Kord, Olidammara.
Display: Phantom, ephemeral glyphs that look suspiciously like dice and cards flit through the air, in and out of existence around the ardent.
Mantle Benefit: While wearing the Luck domain mantle, the ardent is lucky. This luck translates into an ability to reroll one roll that the ardent has just made before the DM declares whether the roll results in success or failure. The ardent must take the result of the reroll, even if it’s worse than the original roll. Once the luck reroll is used, it cannot be used again for 1 day.

Developer Note: This eventually became the Fate mantle (CP 68):

Fate Mantle

Granted Ability: Once per day, you can expend your psionic focus to add a bonus on one d20 roll equal to your level in the class that allowed you to access this ability.

1 Precognition, Defensive (A): Gain +1 insight bonus to AC and saving throws.
1 Precognition, Offensive (A): Gain +1 insight bonus on your attack rolls.
2 Clairvoyant Sense: See and hear a distant location.
4 Remote Viewing (X): See, hear, and potentially interact with subjects at a distance.
6 Precognition, Greater: Gain +4 insight bonus on one roll.
7 Fate of One (A): Reroll any roll you just failed. You also gain an augmentation option unavailable to other manifesters of this power.
Augment: If you spend 3 additional power points, you can reroll a third time. You need not decide to spend the power points for this augmentation until after you decide to roll the third time, but you must spend the power points before you know the result of your roll.
9 Metafaculty (X): You learn details about any one creature.

While Complete Psionic was going through its development cycle, we realized that we had an opportunity to define how psionics interact with divine power, a subject that hadn’t really been addressed. While the initial ardent took steps in this direction, we thought we could take it a bit further. What if, we thought, the powers of the ardent were directly related to the “domains” he had chosen? We generated the lists of powers that would become the first mantles. Soon we realized that we could create even more interesting groups if we didn’t constrain ourselves by restricting the themes to just divine domains. The concept evolved to philosophies, and we generated the list of those core philosophies that were the thematic building blocks of planes, cosmologies, and multiverses—building blocks that could be manipulated through the power of the mind.

The ardent was initially themed as a paladin-like class that would draw on snippets of divine power by donning mantles, but the mantles were just one of his abilities. Even before we began to expand mantles, they were taking up a significant part of the book to serve just one class, so we split the ardent into the divine mind (the paladin-like psychic warrior of the gods) and the new ardent (the follower of mantles in their pure form).

Powers were assigned to the domains, including powers from the Expanded Psionics Handbook as well as new powers from Complete Psionic and even some powers that were not yet written. We kept the idea of a special ability granted by each mantle, as we had plenty of good design already supplied, and we could also offer abilities to these classes that interacted directly with maintaining or expending a psionic focus.

The end result is the list of mantles in Complete Psionic, and two great classes that use this design concept in slightly different ways.

So You Want to Make Your Own Mantle?

Complete Psionic provides what we consider the 30 “core” mantles. But you may desire a mantle that fits a core element in your campaign and was not directly addressed. Follow these steps, and you’ll be on your way to making mantles customized for your own game.

  • Identify the Theme: Figure out which philosophy or ideal from your game is not represented in the initial list from Complete Psionic.

  • Create the Mantle Ability: Mantle abilities were designed to be comparable to the power level of feats, with the caveat that they would also somehow interact with a PC maintaining or expending his psionic focus.

  • Choose the Powers: We wanted to ensure that mantles felt different than domains, and a glance at the mantles in Chapter 4 will at least reveal one significant difference: where a domain has a spell for every spell level from 1st through 9th, mantles do not. Most mantles, you’ll find, have fewer than nine powers listed, and many have multiple powers at lower levels. This is quite deliberate. More lower level powers means that an ardent or divine mind PC always has a choice of which power to take, even when he only has access to one or two mantles. At higher levels, the variety in possible selection is provided by a greater number of mantles to choose from.

    Mantles should not simply be collections of the best powers of the game. The powers should be tied to the theme of the mantle. In general, a mantle shouldn’t have more than three or four offensive powers, spread throughout the levels. The exception is when those powers have significant overlap in function—the Energy mantle is a perfect example, where each power provides only a slightly different way to deal energy damage.

  • Create the Psychic Aura: The psychic aura, for the divine mind’s class feature, is an integral part of the mantle. Most aura abilities are passive statistical bonuses, applicable in specific situations, that start small at low levels but increase with higher levels. Use the existing auras as a guide.

  • Check for Game Balance: Game balance also includes playability. Does a character with this mantle have reasonable choices for his powers? Will he have a chance to use the utility powers and granted abilities? Use your best judgment when crafting a mantle. Compare your mantle to others in the book; if you later find that an ability is too good or too weak, you can always change it.

New Mantle: Earth

Say your campaign setting is a more primal world, significantly influenced by the four elements (fire, earth, air, water). As such, the Elements mantle may be too broad, and you might desire to separate this mantle into new mantles for each of the four elements. Four themes easily spring to mind. Let’s look at earth. An earth mantle would obviously be aligned with any gods that held domain over elemental earth, and the core gods with the earth domain are Moradin and Obad-Hai, and I’ve thrown in Ogremoch for old times’ sake (remember this prince of evil earth creatures?).

Stability captures the flavor of earth and stone, and so a fine mantle granted ability would give some level of stability bonus. A flat +2 bonus against bull rushes, trips and such maneuvers seems reasonable, though it can be made slightly less boring by providing a larger boost at some cost, like expending a psionic focus.

Searching through the XPH and CP provides a variety of low-level earth-themed powers to use, and a couple of higher level ones which turn creatures to stone. Stomp becomes the primary offensive power in the list, with greater stomp filling a gap later on, and an earth steward from the elemental steward power provides some flexibility in combat. Stone mind is an only-occasionally useful utility power, and earth walk provides some mobility. The dearth of higher-level earth-based powers makes me somewhat inclined to create a couple more, especially around 4th-6th level (but that’s beyond the scope of this article). We’ll fill this list out with heavy earth (auto-slow can be a great crowd-control power) and a petrification power; to avoid overlap, I’ll choose the more useful (but higher level) eyes of the basilisk over blackstone hammer.

Up next, the psychic aura for those divine minds that take this mantle. I’m intrigued by the thought of this character having some sort of direct power over solid materials, and so this example grants the divine mind and his allies greater ability to overcome hardness and “extraordinary” damage reduction (DR that isn’t supernatural in origin). This aura should feel a bit better than the standard attack aura, so it’ll grant a +2 damage bonus. It’s situational, though, and provides bonus damage against creatures that are already likely resisting your attacks, so it doesn’t feel overpowered even when it scales with character level.

The resulting Earth mantle would be a fine addition to the game, combined with mantles for fire, air, and water. Hopefully, this article has given you insight into how the concept of mantles originated and evolved through the design and development process.

Earth Mantle (Moradin, Obad-Hai, Ogremoch)

Granted Ability: While you are psionically focused, you are more stable when you stand upon the ground, and gain a +2 bonus on rolls to resist being tripped, bull rushed, or overrun. As an immediate action, you can expend your focus to add your manifester level to such a roll.

1 Stomp (A): Subject falls prone and takes 1d4 nonlethal damage.
1 Elemental Steward (earth only) (A): Summons geodite (see CP, pg. 131).
1 Stone Mind (A): Gain bonuses on Search checks while standing on stone or earth.
2 Earth Walk (A): Move easily in all direction while on earthen surfaces.
2 Wall Walker: Grants ability to walk on walls and ceiling.
3 Heavy Earth (A): Alter gravity locally.
5 Stomp, Greater (A): Psycokinetic shock wave deals damage and knocks creatures down.
7 Eyes of the Basilisk: Turn one creature per round to stone with a glance.

Psychic Aura
Earth: You and your allies gain a +2 bonus to damage when attacking an object or any creature with damage reduction of the following types: –, adamantine, slashing, bludgeoning, or piercing. This bonus increases by +2 for every five class levels you have, to a maximum of +10 at 20th level.

And Now, Your Turn

We hope you’ve enjoyed this web enhancement for Complete Psionic. Our goal, as with the previous designing your own Tome of Magic vestige, was to take an inside look at this recent sourcebook, helping show how mantles were created and offering you the tools to design your own.

Now that you’ve got the tools to create your own, what mantles would you create for your game? How would you craft the remaining Fire, Water and Air mantles? Tell us, at

About the Author

Stephen Schubert is a Developer with RPG/Minis R&D, has co-authored Heroes of Battle, Magic of Incarnum, and Magic of Eberron, and he's also helped develop many exciting upcoming D&D products, including Player's Handbook II, Monster Manual IV, Tome of Magic and Tome of Battle! Stephen also is the lead developer for D&D Miniatures starting with next July's War of the Dragon Queen.

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