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D&D 5e Playtest: Psionics and the Mystic -- Take Two

Back in July of last year, Unearthed Arcana unveiled the Mystic, a class for psions and psychic warriors. That document only charted the class as far as fifth level; this month's post reworks the first five levels and expands the class to tenth level. I found last July's version conceptually interesting but mechanically flawed. Let's see what we've got here. It's a ten-page document that gives the Mystic a lot of moving parts, so... strap in.

The Flavor Text

There's a half-page or so of flavor text introducing us to the Mystic. It's almost the same as what's gone before (from what I recall - not doing a line-by-line comparison), but I got a surprisingly different feel from it this time. It emphasizes that Mystics are common where the other laws and patterns of the Real break down, such as Athas, and vanishingly rare in worlds that stick close to "baseline" cosmology. The implication here is pretty weird: even as different as all of D&D's published settings are, they follow a set of basic laws vis-a-vis magic, the gods, and so on. When that mold breaks, whether from internal strife in that world or the intrusion of the Far Realm, mystics become more common. It makes the trope-tastic nature of some settings an actual cosmological principle. I kinda like it.

The Core of the Mystic

A bullet-point comparison of the February 2016 and July 2015 Mystics:

That's the core of the class. As with any spellcaster, I now know exactly nothing meaningful about how the mystic plays, except that their hit point totals rise and fall as much as their psi point totals. Health as fuel for psychic abilities is certainly a big part of the source fiction.

The Order of the Awakened

They're still telepaths that splash clairvoyance. Anyway...
This is a lot closer to describing a full playstyle, thanks to thought spear, but it still leaves a lot of room for disciplines to change everything. I like what I see here so far - it fits the source fiction and design patterns from other classes quite well. I do notice that Orders have a lot of features, as compared to subclasses of other classes; this tells me that two mystics of different orders are even more different than, say, two clerics of different domains. (Well, maybe.)

The Order of the Immortal

Psychic warriors, metabolic psions, whatever you want to call them - the Order of the Immortal is for mystics who want to hit things with weapons.
The playstyle here is all about managing health and temporary hit points. It definitely won't be for everyone, but it's not too bad.


Finally we get to the spell list disciplines. The document has been solid so far, but this is where it sinks or swims. The text also calls out that there are no V, S, or M components for any of these disciplines, so I'll be considering how much you could grief your way through a social encounter by hiding where the effect comes from. The boilerplate of rules text leading into the disciplines suggests to me that they're still hashing out the exact format of disciplines, much as the 5e public playtest documents tried a bunch of different spell formats.

The disciplines in this document have a curious imbalance: five Immortal disciplines, six Awakened. Two of the Immortal disciplines are Greater; only one Awakened discipline is. Weird. Anyway...

Adaptive Body. I like the ascetic mystic theme here - you could focus on this and go live in a barren desert or at the bottom of the ocean or wherever you liked. I'm surprised that its active powers aren't self-only, because I'm still so used to psions of all previous editions having a lot of self-only stuff. Conferring energy resistance is fine; conferring energy immunity immediately draws my hate. I don't care if it costs the mystic's Concentration - energy immunity doesn't need to be tossed around by 9th-level mystics.

Body of Wind. It's a high-mobility discipline with a self-only mitigation power. I assume that if you were tanking in misty form and took half damage from a B/P/S attack, you could halve it a second time with Surge of Health, but lose your damage resistance as a result. This is potent, but fine. Tanking while maintaining Concentration is a very chancy business. I assume that War Caster will work on psionic powers just as it works on spells, and as a result Immortal mystics will treat War Caster as a mandatory purchase at 4th level just like other melee casters. It also suggests that Immortal mystics will use Strength of Mind to gain Constitution saving throw proficiency and never change it.

Celerity. Another speed-increasing discipline for Immortals. Its psychic focus effect improves speed, grants initiative advantage, and lets you purge the Surprised condition for 1 psi point. That's really good. Letting Seize the Initiative work on allies and not just the mystic is unexpected, and holy cow will the Assassin in your party appreciate a bonus of anywhere from 2 to 10. Surge of Speed is basically like paying 2 psi points and your bonus action to take both the Dash and Disengage actions - so it's better than what most rogues get, but for a modest cost. Eh, okay. I'm a little nervous about how much more benefit they're slipping into bonus action stuff in recent releases (cf. the Swashbuckler). Finally, Surge of Action is the Immortal's Extra Attack - expensive, but doable, and very much worthwhile as your attacks passively pick up more damage dice from Cutting Resonance.

Conquering Mind. Our first Awakened discipline. The psychic focus gives you an extra proficient skill - well, I won't mind dropping that to use Psychic Surge, so that's good. (I'm starting to think they need a few more synonyms for Surge, because it shows up a bit too much in this document.) This discipline has four ways to spend psi points:
Griefing potential for Conquering Mind: unbelievably high. Do you want a Psi Corps? This is why we need a Psi Corps - to defend the world from monsters like you, Awakened mystic.

Intellect Fortress. In the previous document, this was a surprisingly thin discipline, with a Concentration effect and nothing more. It's broadened now, granting resistance to psychic damage as its focus effect (still something I'd be willing to dump in a pinch) and three powers that cost psi points. Psychic backlash is what used to be the Concentration effect; it's still such a small splash of damage that it isn't much of a deterrent, though imposing disadvantage on an incoming attack roll is good. Psychic parry is very good, an after-the-roll boost to your Int, Wis, or Cha saves, and a strong representation of a telepath's supreme mental fortitude. Psychic redoubt is the new Tower of Iron Will, an AoE defense to protect allies from mental attacks. It is very potent, but... probably okay, I guess? It does mean that two Awakened mystics duking it out, with no ability to deal damage types other than psychic, probably have a really boring time until somebody runs dry of psi points; that's probably close enough to the fiction for government work.

Iron Durability. This is the Immortal discipline that is actually about tanking, my comments on Body of Wind notwithstanding. +1 AC until you need to use Surge of Health seems about right, honestly. It has only two active powers, but they get the job done. Psionic recovery is a self-heal that spends your Hit Dice - it's a strong healing throughput for its cost, but it's spending two limited daily currencies and one of them only recovers half of its value with a long rest. Iron hide is a psionic way to parry attacks against AC. You still want to get your AC as high as possible, though - those psi point costs add up fast. It's obvious to me that Iron Hide's AC boost applies only against that attack, but the text could stand to call that out. "Instantaneous" is not a sufficiently clear duration, when in other places "instantaneous" implies a permanent change. Anyway, this discipline looks just right to me.

Mind Over Emotion is telempathic projection. Its focus effect is... not great, as a bonus of either +1 or +2 to Charisma checks is underwhelming, but mystics generally can't spare a great ability score for Charisma, so it helps. Charming presence is a point-blank AoE (I hope your allies are comfortable being targeted) that charms targets based on hit point totals, a lot like sleep. They otherwise get no saving throw, and the effect lasts for 10 minutes. I think my main problem with this is how much better it is in most cases than fey presence. Revolting presence is, in turn, the other side of fey presence, though this doesn't use hit points, targets five creatures, lasts for 10 minutes, and punishes them with damage if they don't flee. Finally, invoke awe is more of an old-school mind-control than the charmed condition usually grants. The 10-minute duration is a bit pointless in the face of getting a new save every turn - the odds of this effect lasting beyond the first minute are not good.

Griefing potential for Mind Over Emotion: possibly very high? Invoke awe is a great way to seize control of a gang of bodyguards and at least keep them out of the fight; only if the target attacks you will they jump in to defend. Still, less overall than Conquering Mind.

Mind Vault is Akashic memory, more or less. I think this is the skill Charles Xavier uses to become a surgeon at one point? Anyway, it's a really neat concept. Its focus effect is a totally-unsurprising granting of proficiency in any one thing. (Want to wear heavy armor? This can be your permanent focus.) Borrow expertise grants advantage to your next skill check or saving throw - a solid way to use 2 psi points, but not all the time. Borrow language is more expensive than I would have expected, because I always expect basic communication to be treated as pretty cheap, but I guess it's fine. And then there's borrow lore.

Borrow lore is absolutely huge and, with even casual use, hilariously game-breaking: name any location in the setting, spend 7 psi points, and the DM gives you brief exposition and (maybe, probably) three useful pieces of information - traps, passwords, treasure to be found, whatever. A lot of players I know would expect to get to stop all action at the table during any downtime period to dump all of their daily psi points on naming every location that the party caught any kind of name for. This blatantly abuses the patience of the DM and the rest of the table. Don't be like that. This power is Dungeon World's Spout Lore move on steroids. (Before anyone jumps in to correct me, yes, I can see all of the ways the DM can make this useless, or less than useless. That is not a fix. That kind of adversarial DMing is not for me, and if it is for you, stop and think about why.)

Psionic Restoration lets mystics be healers, possibly even primary healers. (I'm not sure about that part; there might need to be an efficiency bump first.) The focus effect is spare the dying, plain and simple. Mend wounds converts psi points to healing at 1:3, which isn't too bad. Restore health is lesser restoration, except that it can't cure a disease. It literally can't restore health, just a few of the less-common disease symptoms. Restore vigor seems like it would restore the reduction in maximum hit points from Consumptive Power, unless each reduction in maximum hit points is a separate effect - that's unclear in the current text. Anyway, it's the third and fourth bullet points of greater restoration's effect, without the steep material component cost. It's going to be tough to give mystic healers the minimum necessary effects without material components, since the effects that restore the dead to life are all about expensive material components. I wonder which way they'll go with this.

Psionic Weapon is little-changed from previous iteration. The focus effect is the same as the Concentration effect had been. Ethereal weapon is unchanged. Lethal strike adds psychic damage rather than the damage type of the base weapon, but is otherwise unchanged and horrifyingly broken. +5d10 damage for the equivalent of a third-level spell? Aie, no thank you. As long as they're attached to a simple 1 point/1d10 scaling up to 5d10, it's going to be too much, because it's scaling even faster than a paladin's smite damage. Augmented weapon has a 10-minute duration, rather than 1 minute, and now requires Concentration.

Third Eye has moved its Concentration requirement from what is now the focus effect to the individual psionic powers. It is otherwise identical, and very powerful. It isn't as abusive, though, now that the attack talents require actual line of sight rather than just pinpointing location. Anyway, gaining truesight at 5th level for 5 psi points is... bold.

That's it for Disciplines at present. They've updated the disciplines of the previous document and added enough more that there are a lot of different viable approaches to building a mystic, especially when you realize that six Disciplines at 10th level constitutes eighteen or more separate powers. It's a lot to manage, and I assume it keeps scaling up as you go. The lack of Awakened damage-dealing options really jumps out at me. They have good crowd-control and ways to dominate a social encounter, but anything immune to the charmed condition (very common), the frightened condition (also very common), or psychic damage can just end an Awakened mystic. The Immortal mystic is a little better off, but they too have a bad problem against creatures immune to psychic damage. The immunity-driven design around charmed and frightened is an unaddressed problem for Archfey warlocks, and now for mystics as well.


Finally, the talents. I'm surprised we don't see more interaction between Disciplines and talents, but cantrips work the same way, so I guess I shouldn't be. 

Beacon is the mystic's light, and probably great at freaking people out as well. A convincing illusion of being on fire should be fairly easy.

Blade meld lets you hide weapons inside your body. Reading the name made me expect that it would be like weapon grafting from earlier editions, but not so much yet.

Light step is a movement increase that you could spam to move faster - even better if Celerity is your psychic focus. It's fine, I guess.

Mind meld is a mystic's message, but better in almost every way... as it should be, because this is the telepath's most essential concept. It still requires line of sight, rather than message's somewhat ambiguous "if you know they're there" condition. Big improvement, in any case.

Mind thrust is one of the two attack talents, dealing modest damage and a 10-ft push, with an Intelligence saving throw to avoid. It has only a 5-ft range, so it's specifically for getting dudes off of you in a fight.

Thought spear is the other attack talent, dealing slightly more damage than mind thrust at a very respectable range. It has no other side effect.

Night eyes grants you darkvision for an hour. It's the mystic's other solution to lighting problems, and it's a whole lot of power for a cantrip/talent.

It may be unfair of me, but I'm sorry to see the mystic's talent design mostly playing it safe, compared to the risky, possibly power-creep-ish design of greenflame blade and booming blade in the Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide.


The new mystic is much closer to a final version that I would like to see. Complaining about the short list of disciplines is silly at this stage, though without a complete list it's hard to tell what might be a real shortcoming and what might not be addressed yet. It's hard not to sit here and crank out a dozen more Disciplines, just to experiment with their structure. I hope that we'll see a third Order next time. The previous document name-dropped the Order of the Knife and the Order of the Invisible Hand, and my curiosity was duly piqued!

There are still some rocky spots, and I worry that some of them are for serious. Really, I'm talking about lethal strike. Borrow lore will get nerfed, or if not, I'll just have a serious talk with anyone who plays one at my table. I wonder how much of Conquering Mind will stay as it is; the weirdest thing about it is how it feels like it comes from Apocalypse World rather than D&D. I remain convinced that it needs some additional change, or the mystic will suck all the tension and fun out of social scenes. Highly effective telepaths are great solo shows, but dubious team players if they're willing to invade people's minds in social scenes. At least creating some way for others in the scene to know what the mystic has done would help.

All told, this is a great playtest document, and I'm excited about where it goes next.

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