In this month's exclusive interview, Bruce Cordell and Chris Lindsay, designers of the new Complete Psionic adventure, discuss all the expansions to the psionic system -- new powers, feats, prestige classes... and new psionic race, the synad!
In the interests of better involving the player community with the D&D website, questions for this interview were solicited in part via the message boards. Our thanks to everyone who took the time to submit a question or two... or four.
Wizards of the Coast: To start with... you. What inspired your interest in psionics? Is this a system you've always been involved with as a player/DM, or how did you come into it?
Bruce R. Cordell: I checked every character I rolled for the small chance he might have psionics, according to the rules at the back of the 1st edition Player's Handbook. Every so often, I got lucky; my first psionic character could use mind blast and go ethereal; that is, until my DM, concerned with the havoc I was wreaking with his game, engineered an encounter between myself and Kulgar the Mind-Ripper. Good-bye going ethereal at will.
Much later, I had the good fortune to write the Ilithiad for 2nd edition, as well as three supporting adventures. Because I had to delve so deeply into psionics, including suggesting the use of alternate rules (again, for game balance!), I came away with an even stronger appreciation for the possibilities psionics could offer a D&D game.
Chris Lindsay: I'd say that originally it stems from my love of comic books and superheroes, particularly those of a more cerebral bent, such as Charles Xavier, Jean Grey, and Rachel Summers (both Phoenix at one point or another).
Wizards: As for the book, let's start with the broad strokes--why Complete Psionic? What does the book have in store for diehard proponents of psionics, as well as folks who hadn't considered psionics before but might now give it another look?
CL: The book does an excellent job of expanding the options for psionic characters, allowing them to fill nearly any role within a party of heroes in their own unique way. Additionally, for those playing the classic psionic classes (psion, wilder, soulknife), it more fully develops specific aspects and paths these characters might choose to tread.
BRC: Complete Psionic is one answer to the fact that, by and large, psionic rules are not supported in the same way that rules for spellcasting are; Complete Psionic provides a whole new raft of psionic powers, feats, and other opportunities for players who have psionic characters. Complete Psionic offers characters already using the rules of the Expanded Psionics Handbook (XPH) with additional feats for their characters, whether they are playing an elan or githyanki, psion or soulknife.
Beyond the deep support for those already invested in a character, we do offer a few new classes, a new race (see below) and other new opportunities.
Wizards: Ah yes, the new race. Complete Psionic introduces the synad--can you tell us a bit about it?
BRC: The synad are a race of psionic humanonids who have spent so much time perfecting their brains that each individual is actually much like three personalities in one body--which gives the race certain advantages. Having a 'triune' mind allows synads, to a limited extent, to split their attention between tasks better than the average psionic or non-psionic race.
Wizards: Does the book also supply racial classes? I'm imagining the thri-kreen and half-giants would be welcome choices from psionic traditions.
BRC: The following racial classes can be found in Complete Psionic:
Duergar, Half-Giant, Githyanki, Githzerai, and Thri-Kreen.
Wizards: Complete Psionic also brings 3 new classes (not to mention 8 more prestige classes) to the game. Can you tell us a bit about the ardent, divine mind, and lurk? What roles are these classes expected to fill in a party?
BRC: In a nutshell: An ardent and divine mind are two sides of a coin; they both use psionic power as a tool to manipulate divine energy. The lurk uses psionic power to become a perfect killer.
Wizards: There's also the variant erudite: what changes were made to transform the erudite from a separate base class into a variant psionic class?
BRC: The erudite's schtick is that he knows an unlimited number of psionic powers, as opposed to the circumscribed list available to the psion. What he gives up is the number of unique powers he can manifest in a day. This class is closely modeled on the erudite published in Dragon Magazine some time back, though this class variant (with a few tweaks) is the official version.
Wizards: About the new prestige classes--are these entirely original, or psionic versions of existing PrCs, or perhaps a combination? Would any of these PrCs be considered pure good or evil in nature?
BRC: Some are entirely original, like the flayerspawn psychic; some build on concepts already in the game, but expand on them, like the soulbow; and at least one is an update of a Dragon Magazine psionic prestige class, the zerth cenobite. A class called the illumine soul might be pure good; otherwise, most of the other classes can be played as desired, though the flayerspawn psychic is tempted to evil.
CL: Generally speaking, the prestige classes are original, taking a specific aspect of a psionic base class and expanding further upon it in order to create a fully specialized character. The anarchic initiate expands upon their power through their connection to chaos; the illumine soul forges a connection to the Positive Energy Plane, allowing them to infuse this energy into their mindblade; the ectopic adept becomes a master of astral constructs, creating versions of these that are superior to those presented in the original Expanded Psionics Handbook. While none of the prestige classes is tied to a specific alignment, it isn't difficult to see how some might drift toward one alignment or another. The flayerspawn psychic might drift toward evil even as it grows closer and closer to its illithid heritage. At the same time, the illumine soul might tend to drift the other direction as their connection to positive energy grew stronger.
Wizards: Complete Psionic offers a wealth of new feats, everything from Aggressive Mind to Xeph Celerity. Folks are curious about what options these feats might provide their characters--i.e., do they provide mobility, expand on what you can do while keeping psionic focus, have anti-magic effect (as the XPH has anti-psionic feats)?
BRC: All of the above. ;)
CL: Name it! They're all about giving the psionic character more options, expanding existing powers and abilities (both racial and class).
Wizards: There's also a call for further soulknife support. Are any of the feats (or other goodies) geared specifically for them?
BRC: A whole bunch of support exists for the soulknife; I believe some soulknife-specific feats will be/are in the online preview, as an example.
CL: Definitely, the illumine soul prestige class takes the soulknife to new places by allowing the character to forge a link with the Positive Energy Plane and manipulate those energies.
Wizards: Complete Psionic also includes host feats (related to Eberron's kalashtar and inspired); are these feats exclusive to Eberron, or can they be implemented in a general campaign?
BRC: I broadened the requirements of Eberron-only kalashtar pre-req feats to require any one of a series of "Host" feats that any psionic character can take. These feats call a "formless psionic entity" that takes up residence in your body. In return it "gives you access to psi-like abilities".
Level: Psion/wilder 6
Black lightning erupts from your fingertips and stabs at the life force of your enemies.
Reaching across the planes, you form a momentary link between yourself and the Negative Energy Plane. Drawing on your temporary stygian channel, you discharge a powerful bolt that extends from your outstretched hand. Anyone caught in the area gains 1d4 negative levels. This is a negative energy effect.
Wizards: Beyond feats, psionics players are curious about the book's new powers. Can we get a taste of what these might be?
CL: Getting a taste would be more like trying to drink from a fire hose... There are so many new powers available to psionic characters through this book that it is difficult to know where to begin. My favorites are the "Stygian" powers, which allow the psionic character to manipulate energy from the Negative Energy Plane.
Wizards: Will there be any epic support?
BRC: Yes, the new classes have epic support in the book.
Wizards: Of course, it can't all be about the players, right? What psionic creatures (or constructions) might the book have in store to pit against them--any favorites from that chapter?
BRC: Actually, many of the creatures are about the player, including the many "pre-packaged astral constructs" accessible through the so-called Ectopic Form feats, and the elemental envoys, which can provide psionic PCs with various forms of service.
CL: Absolutely yes, the ectoplasmic swarm is an absolute terror (I love it) in the hands of players and DMs alike.
Wizards: Following which, there's the question of treasure--will there be new psychoactive skins and other specialty items to add to a psionic character's hoard?
CL: Yup, new skins... new crowns... new masks... and the inclusion of all new psionic goodies, such as the stackable psionatrix items that take up a single body slot with multiple psionatrix, thus increasing the power and flexibility of your character.
BRC: Various new treasures are described, including Psionic Locations.
Wizards: Finally, is there anything in particular from Complete Psionic that was your favorite to bring into the system? Any hard decisions on what to leave out?
BRC: I'm happy with the flayerspawn psychic (and associated Illithid Heritage feats), the Host feats, the various feats that complement the classes that already exist (like the soulknife), the Ectopic Form feats and various creatures associated with them. Also, having just had a chance to see a pre-print today, I see that I really love many pieces of art, especially of the monsters, and various other things scattered throughout the book.
CL: To be totally honest, I think the whole book is pretty freakin' cool, not that I'm biased.
BRC: Thanks for giving the chance to answer your questions! I hope you love the book!