What Do I Know About House Rules? Psionic Talent Dice and Random Numbers In My Brain

I can’t stop thinking about the ways you can play with Psionic Talent die that was introduced in the most recent Unearthed Arcana for psionic characters. I really like the concept, but my brain is bouncing around thinking about what it should represent and what could be done with it.

Unearthed Arcana Psionic Options 2020

For some reason, increasing the die type isn’t my favorite mechanic. If you haven’t read the document, every psionic subclass introduced got a Psionic Talent die. Rolling this die does different things for different subclasses, but rolling a 1 represents power reserves that increases the die type, and rolling a 6 represents using extra power, which reduced the die type.

Using certain abilities always lowers the die type. If you lower the die type when it is already at a d4, you lose access to the abilities linked to the Psionic Talent die until you replenish the die. You can replenish the die with a bonus action once per long rest.

Why Don’t You Like Bigger Dice

I really like the idea of the die not introducing a new meta-currency and doing something different instead of either adapting the sorcerer’s metamagic points or introducing powerpoints from previous editions. I like the die as a “thing,” which represents the internal energy of psionics. That’s a strong mechanical element representing the story with a meta aspect of the game rule, and I really like it.

However, the die type going up doesn’t feel like the ebb and flow of power that a character may or may not be controlling, to me, it feels like chaos. If you roll several 1s in a row, suddenly you have a d12, and you can power a lot of those “bump your die type down by one to use” powers more often. It feels like a harder to judge “X per rest” ability.

So it kind of gnaws at me from two directions. It makes it harder to compare abilities across subclasses, and from a meta-story standpoint, pushes “chaos” more than it pushes “control.”

Ideally, if you have a story element with psionics, it’s that harnessing your inner reserves is sometimes dangerous. Not so much in a chaotic sense, like a wild magic sorcerer, that may produce unintended effects, but that your effects may be more than you can channel into something useful. We want class features that remind us of Akira or Dark Phoenix, but without the potential to TPK the party.

What Would You Do?

First off, let me acknowledge a few things. I can think of modifications to a cool thing all day long, but I would have never thought of the Psionic Talent die in the first place, so I really respect that kind of rules + story design brain.

Second, I know that the second least productive form of feedback for a playtest is for a playtester to randomly conjecture on something they haven’t used, and least productive form of feedback is for the playtester to move into the design space. That said, this is a fun mechanic, and I can’t help but do some mental exercises with it until I get to see the final result (and really hoping that the final result doesn’t feel radically different from this take).

Disclaimers engaged. Let’s look at some tweaks.

  • First, I would give the ability to use Psi Replenishment some kind of cool “state name.” I’m not in love with it, but let’s call it “stasis” for now, because I can’t think of a better term. The reason we need a term for this is that it will make it easier to refer to the state of being as on or off as it pertains to my later tweaks to this idea.
  • Instead of increasing a Psionic Talent die when a character rolls a 1, instead, that character gains Stasis. You can spend Stasis on a bonus action to replenish your Psionic Talent die. You either have Stasis or you do not.
  • If you roll a 1 on your Psionic Talent die and you already have Stasis, an Overcharge occurs. You may expend Stasis to prevent the effects of an Overcharge. If an Overcharge effect calls for a save, the save DC is 8 + the number rolled on the current size of the characters Psionic Talent die.

Overcharge Effects

  • Psi-Knight; All characters within 30 feet of the psi-knight are knocked prone if they fail a strength save; characters maintaining concentration must make a check
  • Soulknife; All characters within 30 feet of the soulknife make a wisdom save or take 1 point of psychic damage; characters maintaining concentration must make a check
  • Psionic Soul; All characters within 30 feet of the psionic soul make a constitution save or reduce their hit point maximum by 1 until they can take a short rest; characters lose a hit point when this happens, but this does not count as damage for characters that are already incapacitated
  • Wild Talent; All characters within 30 feet of the wild talent must make a save for the ability score boosted by the wild talent, or have disadvantage with that ability score until the end of their next turn

If you have a Psionic Talent die from multiple sources, you may choose which Overcharge effect is triggered.

The Thought Process

The idea here is to produce an Akira or Dark Phoenix “losing control” moment, without the catastrophic events. In some cases, the overcharge effect may not be that disastrous, so there is an interesting decision point about expending stasis or retaining it. On the other hand, when an ally is on their last death save and you might kill them with psychic damage, this is going to hurt a lot more.

The die type doesn’t go up, so it doesn’t grant extra uses of the “lower the die type abilities,” but a character might end up with multiple replenishments per rest cycle. That said, the risk/reward for having stasis might mean that this option is less dependable.

Final Thoughts

Is this overdesigned? Probably. I’m not a designer, I’m just a tinkerer. I do like the idea that this plays more into the “psionics are potentially dangerous and about internal control” narrative, rather than “power is random and can ebb and flow,” which doesn’t feel quite as strongly attached to psionics for me.

I also like the design space this opens up with other psionic subclasses. What bad thing is going to be the most likely thing to trigger on an overcharge, based on the theme of the subclass?

Regardless, I’m curious to see where this goes next. I really like the core idea a lot, and it feels like a strong marriage between some of the 3.5 concepts of psionics, and something that 5e can definitely point to as its own thing.

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