That’s not the proper name for this UA release, which would be either Fighter, Rogue, and Wizard or PsychicSoulPsionics, but as those are both unhelpful names, you get Psionics, Round Four. This is a new, very 5e take: what if there’s no mystic or psion 20-level class? Instead, psionics is three subclasses, a handful of spells, and two feats.
Also, folks? Psionics is one of the most contentious things we ever discuss about D&D. I’m not sure why that is, but it doesn’t matter. Be kind to each other in the comments. Remember that this design work is done by humans who love the thing they’re making and hope that they have a cool idea.
Psychic Warrior Fighter Archetype
What the previous document called the Immortal is now restored to its D&D-traditional name (uh, 3.0 and 3.5 only, it’s a very thin thread of “traditional”), the Psychic Warrior. This takes the form of telepathic and telekinetic tricks, mostly telekinetic, to improve weapon-using combat.
- Psionic Armament lets you either improve defense or offense, and you can switch between them as part of a long rest.
- Augmented Defenses lets you spend your reaction to negate 1d10 damage to yourself or an ally within 30 feet. As an always-available reaction, this is phenomenal. At low levels, this often means completely negating the hit, but this falls off significantly as you level. At 10th level it improves to 1d12, which is nice but not really changing that dropoff.
- Augmented Strikes lets you deal an additional 1d4 psychic damage, once on your turn. I’m surprised at how conservative that is on added damage, but it is once-per-round all day. It improves to 1d6 at 10th, but that’s still not a whole lot. If this added damage once per turn, so that you at least got to add it to your opportunity attacks, that would help its appeal.
- What I’m saying is, to my eyes, Augmented Defenses looks better in most cases, even though it does interfere with your defender stickiness by meaning you don’t make opportunity attacks.
- Telekinetic Hand lets you create an invisible mage hand, without spell components. I’m guessing that looking forward to the release of psionics in UA was a significant reason why Jeremy Crawford was on the Dragon Talk episode I just listened to, talking about spell components.
- Strength of Mind at 7th level lets you telekinetically drag targets to yourself as a bonus action, doing a nice little bit of damage in the process. You can only use this (Int modifier) times per day, but it’s great for getting a bad guy off your buddy in a pinch.
- Telekinetic Bulwark at 10th level lets you project force around yourself and your allies within 10 feet, granting half cover and advantage on Strength saves. Two unusual things: its action economy is replacing one attack, in exchange for a 1-minute duration, and it refreshes on a long rest and each time you expend your Second Wind. Thus it’s once per short rest, but you don’t want to waste your Second Wind just to refresh this.
- Agonizing Strikes at 15th level gives you another Int modifier-per-day resource. This one is an extra 2d10 psychic damage on an attack, declared after you hit, that also forces a Con save. On a failed save, the target is knocked down and has disadvantage on ability checks for a bit.
- Psychic Dreadnaught at 18th level is a very paladin-like 1-minute transformation, but you’re just so full of yourself (“the power of your mind suffuses your entire being”). Improving on paladin transformations, it costs your reaction and is triggered by you taking damage. For the duration, you regenerate 10 hit points per turn, gain +10 speed, and stand up for 5 feet of movement rather than half of your movement. 1/long rest, of course.
First off, let’s talk about the multiple attribute dependency. You need either Strength or Dex, as your attack stat; Con, because you’re still a fighter, and Int, because all of your subclass features need Int. Unfortunately (in my view), that’s now easily solved: just take three levels of artificer, to pick up Battle Smith! Now Int is your attack stat! That’s… not great. I’m aware, as we all should be, that solving for multiclassing weirdness comes later in the design process – but this one promises to be thorny.
Overall, I like this okay. The initial feature is underwhelming on damage, because it’s going to come back around with a good bit more damage delivery at higher levels. It’s not the only subclass in this document that gives an impression of starting off a little weaker than usual, though.
Soulknife Roguish Archetype
It’s Psylocke, just like every D&D thing operating under this name has been. (A concept you can also cover with a Great Old One bladelock, for the record.)
- Psychic Blade creates… essentially… one or two magical shortswords that you can throw or stab someone with. If you’re throwing them, you’ll be spending your bonus actions creating more, which is fortunately free. If you’re taking this subclass, you’re as much as saying that you want to be in situations where you can pass a cavity search, but remain fully armed and operational, and this is the feature that does that for you.
- Psionic Enhancement lets you pick one of three different buffs, which you can switch out during a long rest. You gain 30-ft telepathy, or +5 ft speed, or a rather nice increase (rogue level + Int modifier) to your maximum hit points. Any psionic subclass getting only 30-foot telepathy, when message is such a ubiquitous cantrip for arcane casters, is a bit of a wasted opportunity.
- Terrifying Blade at 9th level (man, do I hate that 3rd to 9th gap between subclass features) lets you force your target to make a Wis save or be frightened until the beginning of your next turn. You can just keep doing this, but once they succeed a save, they’re immune for 24 hours. Thanks to two-weapon fighting, you could keep two creatures at a time frightened, maybe. This is a cool feature, and gives you a good reason to change targets before you’ve eliminated your first target.
- Psychic Veil at 13th level gives you a self-only invisibility, action to “cast,” no Concentration, 10 minute duration, Int modifier times per long rest. This is a very cool feature and I’m just sad it has to wait this late in your subclass progression.
- Rend Mind at 17th level is an absolutely brutal attack power. It’s your action for the turn, but that’s okay because you get to ignore armor (it’s an Int save rather than an attack) and deal your Sneak Attack damage (12d6) and if the target fails that save, it’s stunned for a round. Also, it has disadvantage on its save if you were hidden – such as if you were invisible from Psychic Veil. This is the huge payoff that sells Psychic Veil as the perfect fight opener. Just like Psychic Veil, you can do this a number of times per day equal to your Int modifier.
Here again, there’s both Int and Dex dependency, but at least rogues aren’t as reliant on high Con scores (though they’re still a good idea). Technically, Psychic Blade is a magical weapon, so a Battle Smith could make Int their attack stat with it, and still have room in 20 levels to pick up Rend Mind.
The 3rd-level features need to be a little more robust to carry you through to 9th and 13th level, but other than that this subclass is stylish as hell and I love it. Lord knows the Thief and Assassin have this issue too.
The psion and wizard classes of 3.0, 3.5, and 4e have a lot in common: preferred stats, most of their skill options, very limited weapons and armor, and a general inclination toward the controller and information-gathering roles. This version tries making the psion a subclass of wizard. This Psion is intended to be telepath + telekineticist + psychoportative (nomad, to 3.xers) + clairvoyant (seer), but not the other 3.x-era types of psion. Also the 4e ardent, battlemind, and so on are nowhere to be seen. (Honestly it’s a stretch to see the battlemind in the Psychic Warrior.)
I need to say: there is no consensus as to what a psionicist should be, do, or look like. In this section, when I talk about connections to the supporting fiction, I’m speaking from my own impressions, which will not line up with yours or anyone else’s. D&D has had 45 years to imprint its concept of wizards on the popular imagination, so when D&D’s wizard clashes with the presentation in a fantasy novel, TV series, video game, or movie, that’s just D&D’s style. Psionics has bounced around so much in its aesthetics that I don’t think any one thing has become a shared understanding. Feel free to go through my History of Psionics series and see what I mean.
- Psionic Focus gives you a special object that is your casting focus. Its effect is to allow you to reroll 1s on force and psychic damage dice. (As with all damage rerolls, you reroll once and keep the result, even if it’s another 1.) I don’t feel like an object of any kind is a common requirement for psions in fiction, though an enhancing or resonating object is pretty common (Cerebro, do you even lift?)
- Psionic Devotion touches on “devotion” as D&D’s word for low-end psionic powers. It teaches you friends (but keep reading), mage hand, or message, for empaths, telekineticists, or telepaths. You have to have your psionic focus on you to use this. Crucially, it also improves whichever of those cantrips you pick, changing the casting to a bonus action and:
- Friends no longer turns targets hostile. Solving the problem in one little phrase!
- Mage hand is invisible, and you can control it as a bonus action.
- Message doesn’t require that you point or whisper. That’s all to the good for selling telepathy.
- Thought Form at 6th level turns you into a spectral form – this was a top-end power in some previous UA mystics – for 10 minutes at a time, Int modifier times per long rest. It’s a bonus action to start, and you have to have your psionic focus on you. A luminous being are you (5-ft glow), not this crude matter. You cast psionically (no components other than expensive material components), and you gain resistance to psychic damage and non-magical B/P/S damage.
- This feature makes a definite and unusual statement about what psionics look like in D&D: most of the time it doesn’t look like psionics. Instead you can power up to a true psionic state. This is saying “psionics through wizardry” rather than “wizardry is just a chassis for our psionics,” because you have a focus object and you expend a power-up to achieve psionic spellcasting.
- Mental Discipline at 10th level teaches you dominate person (telepaths), scrying (clairvoyants), or telekinesis (…yeah), and lets you cast it without components. Once per long rest, you can cast it without expending a spell slot. An extra 5th-level spell per day is nice to have, no matter what. This is about using one classic psionic move a little more often.
- Empowered Psionics, also at 10th level, adds your Int modifier to your damaging psychic and force spells. This touches on the issue of the whole subclass trying to get you not to lean on fireball and other classic damaging wizard spells.
- Thought Travel at 14th level improves your Thought Form so that it behaves more like classic incorporeality – you fly, and you can pass through creatures and objects, presumably including walls. You take damage if you end in the same space as an object.
There’s also a section on psionic-themed spells. They’re existing D&D wizard spells that fit well, or well enough, with the aesthetic expectations of psionics – psychic and force damage only, influencing minds and emotions, teleportation, that kind of thing. It’s essentially saying that if you want to play this concept, it’s on you to sell it with spell choice at least as much as it’s on the subclass to incentivize those choices.
The Psion shares a lot of the foundational problems of the Enchanter: an enormous number of creatures are immune or invalid targets for many of your core spells: immunity to charmed and frightened, or not a person. Also, a bunch of single-target, no-effect-on-save spells, which to my mind promises a frequently frustrating gameplay experience. In fairness, a casual survey of psionic themes and D&D makes those outcomes look inevitable – but that’s something I would hope to see addressed at least lightly in the subclass.
The things the subclass does, in themselves, are interesting and fun. They’re not fated to satisfy many of the people who are most invested in the aesthetics of psionics. 5e has fixed its star on psionics are magic, rather than psionics aren’t magic, and that too is an irreconcilable point for some. Psionics being constrained in the form factor of existing spells takes away the radical adaptability and on-the-fly innovation that some fans value, and that previous mystics were trying to sell. (My take: the previous mystic was not, in itself, a lost cause – there were just some really odd decisions that needed to go back to the drawing board.)
There are nine new psionic-themed spells, all available to bards, sorcerers, warlocks, and wizards.
Ego whip at 4th level is a single-target disabling spell, imposing disadvantage on everything they do and locking them out of spellcasting. It’s a more decisive way to screw over spellcasters than silence, but targeting Int saves does mean that a lot of the people you most want to disable are best able to resist it. I’d generally rather use some of the AoE disabling spells, though, because someone in the group will fail that save and I’ll get something for my spell slot. It may not be as severely disabling, but I hate spending an action and a 4th-level spell slot and having nothing to show for it.
Id insinuation at 1st level might as well have been called Tasha’s hideous witch bolt. It’s much better than either one, and I’m gonna say it’s purely overpowered at 1st level.
Intellect fortress at 5th level is a very serious defense: advantage on all saving throws for the caster, and you can spend your reaction to let an ally within 30 feet reroll a failed save. I’d love to know how this got benchmarked at 5th level, which feels maybe one level high for me – but I don’t get to play a lot of mid-to-late-game 5e, when 5th-level slots become more available.
Mental barrier at 2nd level is a defensive reaction, which is always nice to see. It’s triggered when you make an Int, Wis, or Cha save, granting you advantage on those saves and resistance to psychic damage until the beginning of your next turn. I like this one a lot.
Mind sliver is an enchantment cantrip, previously released in the recent UA: Sorcerer and Warlock. I liked it then and like it now.
Mind thrust at 2nd level is a single-target attack that goes multi-target if you spend a higher-level slot. Its damage is not amazing, but if they fail the save, they can only Disengage or Dash on their next turn. Getting to constrain an enemy’s actions in a way that locks out Attack and Cast a Spell is a huge power move.
Psionic blast is the big news: a 3rd-level 30-ft cone of psychic damage that also knocks targets back and knocks them down. For raw damage (5d8 psychic) it doesn’t keep up with fireball (because fireball breaks the rules), but if you’re in a situation where a cone is good, adding a 20-ft knockback and knockdown is unbelievably good. It’s the Thunderwave Protocol. This is a serious competitor for your Big Third-Level AoE Damage Spell, alongside fireball and lightning bolt. (20-ft knockback + prone: target isn’t getting to you next round, either.) Oh, and the damage scaling function, 1d8 per spell level, is marginally better than fireball.
Psychic crush at 6th level is still my favorite REM song. It’s a single-target spell that absolutely devastates the target on a failed save – 12d6 psychic damage and stunned for 1 minute. They do get to keep making saves to break out of the stun, of course.
Thought shield is a long-duration, no-Concentration defense, which is a space that this collection of spells really needed to cover. It blocks telepathy, detect thoughts and similar mind-reading, and grants advantage on zone of truth and similar effects. Also, you can cast it on other people.
This collection of spells covered the five classic attack modes of 2e psionics, but only three of the classic defenses. The absence of tower of iron will is a slap in the face (please read this as ironic exaggeration!) to any true fan of psionics (you know I’m kidding because I just made a No True Scotsman argument and those are basically always garbage). Mind blank, of course, is already the last word in mental defenses.
We’re still not done. Standing in for wild talents, we have the Telepathic and Telekinetic feats.
Telekinetic gives you +1 Int (sure, necessary), invisible mage hand, and a bonus action 5-ft shove using your mage hand. That shove is a Strength save rather than ordinary Shove mechanics. This is worth buying for a fair number of characters, especially Psychic Warriors.
Telepathic gives you +1 Int, proficiency in Deception, Insight, Intimidation, or Persuasion, and 30-ft telepathy. If it’s not okay to give out the message cantrip and we have to restrict that to 30-ft telepathy, maybe message is the thing that’s too much? That’s still weird to me.
I like these feats, though. Big fan.
I think all three of the subclasses wind up very cool, but their initial features need to be bigger. I… am not completely ready to give up on mystic as a fourteenth base class, because I like having further subclasses within that concept. If something near this were the final implementation, that wouldn’t be the end of the world for me, but I wouldn’t expect to see a lot of highly engaged usage in my gaming groups, either.
On the whole I like the spells, but a few of them feel like too much or too little for their spell levels. Thematically, they’re great, if you start from the premise that psionics is going to be stored in a spell-like format. I say this with all love for the people behind this document: the reactions I’ve seen on Twitter, while still the Vocal Few in terms of the D&D fanbase, don’t give me a lot of optimism for the survey responses.
I hope that D&D will put a lot more work into defining its own aesthetic and presence for psions and psionics. 3.5e psions with the pet rocks left me cold. As I see it, the big problem is that we don’t know what it means to be a low-level but still effective psion, because the psions that show up in most of the supporting fiction are already badasses (Professor X, Jean Grey, Emma Frost, etc.). In the supporting fiction, we have more basis for apprentice or barely-competent wizards (Schmendrick, Skeeve, Mickey Mouse) than we do for psions, and D&D’s reward loop has far more to offer wizards (new spells!) than it does an internal-power psion (or sorcerer). These are bone-deep issues.