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D&D 5e Playtest: Awakened Mystic

The new playtest packet for the Mystic class - known in other editions as the Psionicist - went up on the Wizards of the Coast website today in Unearthed Arcana. Since I'm also working on an edition-by-edition exploration of psionics over in Tribality right now, I'm primed to be excited about this. The playtest packet offers the core class and two subclasses, from first to fifth level, as well as a few details on 5e's underlying story for psionics. (For an unofficial but very cool extrapolation of that story, see Blog of Holding's recent post on Catastrophic Psionics, which would also be a good name for a shoegaze remix of death metal.)

The Mystic

The name of the class has changed from the Psionicist (1e and 2e) or Psion (3.x and 4e) to the Mystic, as WotC finally tackles the elephant in the room that is the number-one most common complaint I've seen about psionics: "This doesn't feel like it fits into medieval fantasy." Changing the language that the player uses in talking about their class and its abilities goes a long way. Of course, there have been other classes in D&D that were called the Mystic, going all the way back to OD&D. I'm not sure that word has meant the same thing for two editions in a row.

The Mystic uses Disciplines, which I can sum up as "mental stances," to gain access to a passive power and (usually) three active powers. The Mystic also derives a few powers from their class and subclass. Disciplines are substantially unlike anything we've seen so far in 5e, though there's a certain similarity to 3.5 Binders and 4e Vestige Pact Warlocks. Presumably each Discipline will have more than three powers at higher levels, but it's a mere bonus action to switch stances, so if not, it doesn't exactly matter.

It's the least shocking thing ever to see Psi Points as the Mystic's currency. It's a bit more surprising to see them as a per-long-rest pool that scales up rather quickly - from 4 at first level to 27 at fifth, suggesting that a 20th-level Mystic may well have somewhere in the mid triple digits of psi points to play with. In comparison to the small pools of sorcery points and ki points, it represents a different direction - and suggests that the Mystic may be very difficult to multi-class, since no one else shares its progression at all. Maybe we'll see a psi-to-spell-slots conversion mechanic or... something? It's not the worst thing in the world if the Mystic really only multi-classes with non-caster classes, but it would be a break from what we've seen in the Player's Handbook.

Outside of subclasses, the Mystic offers:
As with the Warlock, I expect the core of the Mystic will remain pretty threadbare for most of the class's progression. The class structure is a versatile chassis, and that's all to the good because there's some great flavor going on in the subclasses.

The playtest document shows two subclasses and names two more. The Order of the Awakened are your classic telepaths and clairvoyants, while the Order of the Immortal are psychic warriors blending psychometabolic and (presumably) personal-range psychokinetic powers. Also listed are the Order of the Knife, who are reworks of the 3.5 Soulknife or Lurk, and probably all about some psychoportation; and the Order of the Invisible Hand, which is about as unsubtle of a telekinesis reference as has ever been penned. I like that they're sticking to approximately-plausible late-medieval or early Enlightenment-era terminology here.
The Order of the Awakened, and the packet's explanations of where psionics come from, are a pleasant surprise to me - I love the hell out of Mage: the Awakening and its explanation that the Wise undergo Awakening when their souls cross the Abyss (which is more like D&D's Far Realm than D&D's Abyss) to reach the Supernal Realm. I'm a fan of this explanation of psionics, including its reference to Dark Sun's ubiquitous psionics.
So let's check out these subclasses. Thus far, Orders grant features at first and third level; naturally we should expect to see another feature somewhere between 6th and 9th, a third between 9th and 14th, and a final feature at 14th or higher. We also see three Disciplines of each class, with a note that these are far from all that they intend to include in the final work.

As I said earlier, a Discipline is a bundle of powers, one passive and three activated by spending psi points (Intellect Fortress is an exception to this structure). It feels a lot like toggling over into a different subclass. It takes only a bonus action to switch between Disciplines - so they'll have to be very careful about setting any other powers as bonus actions, or they'll cause issues with the mystic's action economy.

Order of the Awakened

Like I said, the Awakened are classic telepaths, with a side order of clairvoyance. Their core abilities are:

The three Disciplines currently available for the Awakened are Conquering Mind, Intellect Fortress, and Third Eye. I appreciate Mind Thrust and Intellect Fortress, re-used names from previous editions that still work pretty well in the new naming aesthetic.

Conquering Mind is custom-designed to clean house in any social encounter. Advantage on Charisma checks starts them off right, followed by the ability to extract truthful answers to questions (this is going to seriously wreck some mysteries!), utterly convince someone of a single statement for five minutes, and take control of someone's actions for a round. All of these force Intelligence saves, and a failure stops the mystic from reusing that power on that person until the mystic takes a long rest. The Int save is the only thing that might keep a social encounter challenging; the cost on Exacting Query is so low that by 5th level, the mystic can work a whole room. Playing a mystic courtier who pulls all the strings with Conquering Mind sounds like fun to me, and is thematically consonant with what I'd expect for a telepath, but I'm concerned that it may make social encounters too easy for the mystic and not fun for the other PCs. One solution would be to give psionic powers some kind of manifestation signature, as they had in 3.5, so that you can't use your powers in public while remaining completely unknown.

Intellect Fortress is an oddity in that it is only its passive power. It's possible that this is an error, but more likely that this is the intended Discipline for any Awakened mystic who is tossing off Mind Thrusts in combat. At the cost of a reaction, it imposes disadvantage on ranged or melee attacks when the mystic sees the attacker - which means this is a great defense against another mystic's Mind Thrust. If you get hit anyway, you splash some damage back on the attacker. On the other hand... you've now spent your reaction, so any further attacks in the course of the round are unhindered. This probably needs a little more oomph if it has to stand alone throughout the mystic's career. I'll be surprised, though, if there's not a power within this Discipline, or a freestanding Discipline, called Tower of Iron Will that lets you do the same thing, but for all of your allies in a radius.

Third Eye looks so frickin' innocuous, but... dayum, dat Tremorsense. As has been pointed out elsewhere (thanks, Facebook folks!), the mystic can stand on one side of a closed door, activate tremorsense, and use Mind Thrust to kill things on the other side of the door, and those things have no particular indication of where the attacks are coming from. Truesight at fifth level is also pretty boss, and means that with a mystic in the party, mysteries involving disguised rakshasas or whatever are non-starters even quite early in the game. In principle, it's good to give players the tools to gather lots of information. In practice, it sucks when there are almost no available ways to keep secrets, and it places a much greater writing burden on the DM.

Taken together, the Awakened mystic promises to be pretty good in a fight, but completely unstoppable in a city. I'm seeing a lot of folks online already declaring that they'll never allow a mystic at their table, which is a shame, but I shudder in dread at the thought of writing a mystery with enough layers of misdirection that it thwarts a mystic for long.

Order of the Immortal

The Immortal is what 3.x calls the Psychic Warrior, and 4e calls the Battlemind. Like every student of military history, my first thought was of the Persian Immortals and the various units named in reference to them, up to and including the Unsullied of A Song of Ice and Fire fame. I think it is entirely fair to be terrified of an army of 10,000 of these guys. As mentioned above, the Immortal mystic has almost no use for Intelligence, and can focus on Strength and Constitution.
The three Disciplines open to the Immortal are Celerity, Iron Durability, and Psionic Weapon. I know they've used "celerity" as a super-speed power in previous editions, but in combination with "Immortal," I wondered for a moment if they were chasing a Vampire: the Masquerade reference here.

Celerity is battlefield-scale super-speed. While we wait for the Order of the Knife, Celerity is a good way to play a mystic as a melee skirmisher. The awkward part - which is also the only thing that keeps it balanced - is that all of the things that would blow this wide open are in other Disciplines. There is some horrifyingly good multi-class synergy here - getting to turn your bonus action into a regular action up to five times a day might be enough to make almost anyone think about a five-level class dip into Immortal Mystic. Mystic 5/Fighter X, though... three actions in one round, and by Fighter 11, three attacks per round become nine. When it comes to "how do I want to spend my psi points?", it's hard to take Seize the Initiative seriously once Surge of Action is on the table.

Iron Durability is the mitigation aspect of the Immortal. It offers one point of AC all the time, to make up for sticking a tank-type with medium armor, and a self-healing action that means short rests are useless to the Immortal. On top of that, there's also a shield-like (the spell, that is) AC-boosting reaction, which is missing any signifier of how long the AC boost lasts. "Beginning of your next turn" is the likely answer. They can also spend 5 psi points to gain one elemental resistance for an hour with Iron Resilience. It's good that this power lasts, because a dedicated tank mystic is going to be dumping lots of psi points on the AC booster. I wonder if Iron Resilience automatically ends when you switch Disciplines, or if you're intended to activate it and let it run as part of your stance-dancing ways?

Psionic Weapon is here just in case you were playing a fighter and thinking of not picking up five levels of Mystic. Sure, it's nice that the Discipline's passive power is a magic weapon, even though it is yet another case in which monsters having immunity to nonmagical weapons is meaningless. Fine, whatever, that's the losing argument to end all losing arguments in 5e. You can also turn your weapon attack into a saving throw for half damage with 1 psi point. This is basically fine, since very few NPCs have Evasion, and even Dex save proficiency is rare-ish for them.

No, it's Lethal Strike that is the big kahuna of Psionic Weapon. Lethal Strike is functionally the same as Divine Smite, but it scales faster - base weapon damage + 5d10 takes the mystic five levels, as compared to the paladin's thirteen levels to reach base weapon damage + 5d8. It would probably be worth taking five levels of Mystic for any fighter, ranger, paladin, barbarian, or melee cleric just to have five chances a day to deal massive damage. Like a divine smite - and unlike Mind Thrust - the expenditure for Lethal Strike is declared after the successful attack roll. I certainly hope to see a nerf to this power in the next playtest document.

Finally, there's Augmented Weapon, which boosts the passively-granted magic weapon up to +3 for a minute. It's fine, but you should never spend psi points on this unless you know you're going to spend the rest of that minute in a different Discipline.

Taken together, the Immortal is an egregious example of power creep, but then that was true for a lot of iterations in the playtest packet. That's just numbers, though - the more important part is that the themes are compelling and the subclass's gameplay loop looks like a fun puzzle to solve, round by round. It's ideal for players who like to manage a lot of information in gameplay and analyze many different possibilities - all the more so as they release more Disciplines and higher-level powers. It may be the most 4e-friendly thing I've seen in the game so far.


I've been highly critical of a few elements of the mystic, but it's all a bit disingenuous - this is the first of many public playtest documents, and the core 5e public playtest showed that they can indeed be trusted to iterate through their ideas productively and land on an outstanding product. I am incredibly excited about what I see here, and I hope we see a second public playtest document on the Mystic before the end of the year.

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