Today’s Hot Button is related to a previous article, but I think it is worth debating on its own.

Psionics (or psi powers, or psychic powers, etc) have traditionally had a troubled relationship in fantasy games, especially in Dungeons & Dragons and its various permutations and dirivatives. The first time I’d encountered psionics in RPGs was in the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook (1e), which relegated psionics to an appendix. Unlike divine or arcane magic, psionics wasn’t attached to a character class and played by different rules.

By 2e, AD&D had completely divorced psionics from the core, but later had a supplement (The Complete Psionisist) that brought them back, now tied to a class. Still, psionics used a different system than other forms of magic. D&D 3e, while also confining psionics to supplements, refined psionics so that psionic powers essentially became “spells fueled by power points”.

I’ve known many players outright refuse to play in games that include them, and I’ve known other players that, if psionics are allowed, want them incorporated into their character.

It always struck me as odd that psionics needed a separate subsystem, as most fantasy RPGs had magic spells that modeled psionics pretty well. While I love the concept of the “psychic” or “mentalist,” should she be any different than the “enchanter,” “necromancer,” or “druid” in terms of her ruleset? Should magic be able to defend against psionics and vice versa?

Oddly enough, D&D has yet to lump psionics in with a monk’s ki powers, although many other systems treat the two as the same (summoning inner energy). Rumors are that may be changing with the Fourth Edition.

What say you? Do you like psionics in your fantasy and, if so, would you rather treat them as separate subsystems or just a new flavor?