Psionics Reconsidered: Psionics as Schools of Philosophy

In this blog post, I take a look at how I plan to bring psionics into my Castles & Crusades game using Greek Schools of Philosophy.

Psionics can really divide gamers, many appear to (i) hate psionics as a concept and don’t think it belongs in a fantasy RPG, or (ii) may like the concept, but have disliked how it has been executed in RPG’s. For me, although I have also had mixed reactions to how it has been done in the past, I actually quite liked the concept of psionics and thought the best implementation of it in D&D was in The Complete Psionics Handbook during the AD&D 2nd edition era.

I now run Castles & Crusades which allows me to draw upon any edition of D&D as well as other RPG’s, so the options have broadened for me as a result of C&C’s flexibility. Still, there are two things I need to consider before I bring it into my game:
1. How can psionics logically fit within my world?
2. How can psionics best be implemented?
2a. I also reject the idea that psionics is just another form of magic, for me psionics has to stand on its own as something distinctly different from magic.

How Could Psionics Fit Within My World?
I plan to introduce psionics as schools of philosophy (e.g. Platonists, Aristotelians, Stoics, Epicureans, Pluralists). Let me explain how this works in my homebrew world. My campaign world has a mythic medieval European feel drawing on the folklore of cultures such as the Norse, Celts, Greeks, Babylonians, and a Crusader Kingdom pantheon of saints. This allows me to incorporate a variety of religious and cultural practices (i.e. Celtic bards and druids, Norse volva-prophetess, seidkona-sorceress, Slavic molfars-shamans, Greek oracles, etc.), but it still leaves something out.

As a philosopher (Ph.D.), I have been very interested in finding a unique way to bring philosophy into my world. Consider the following philosophical perspectives. A Pluralist like Empedocles believed in the four elements, and in addition thought they were brought together by a force he called Love and pulled apart by Strife (which in D&D/C&C we could view as the cosmic alignment forces of Law and Chaos). Platonists viewed the world as made up of four elements of fire, air, earth, and water which they associated with geometric shapes (think of the d4, d8, d6, and d20 polyhedral dice). Aristotle introduced a fifth element called aether within the crystal spheres which could easily represent other planes of existence (or in my world parallel realms which overlap with the physical world).

So I think the different philosophical schools fit within a D&D/C&C cosmological structure, but they are clearly interpreting things a lot differently. The ancient Greek philosophers had a much more abstract and logical view of the universe which I want to emphasize and expand upon as different aspects of a psionicist or mentalist class. Each of these philosophical schools also had their own schools where they gathered to discuss their views (e.g. the Academy for Plato, Lyceum for Aristotle, Garden for Epicurus), and although you sometimes might see an overlap with a wizards academy or a druids grove, I would emphasize a more austere, logical, abstract, and emotionally distant take on the structure of reality and how one navigates within this world (which they think they have logically deduced through their own reasoning).

What should this class be called? I feel that “Mentalist”, although accurate, is a bit bland. “Psion” is a good name, and was popular in the 3E era, but I didn’t care much for the 3E-era psionics with their new-agey “crystal power” emphasis, and trying to simply turn psionic individuals into variations of other classes (like I said above, I pretty strongly reject making them another flavor of another class, they need to stand out on their own as something unique), I also don’t want my players thinking this is just a 3E Psion conversion. I still love the AD&D 2nd edition name of “Psionicist”, but that could also cause some players to think I am just using the AD&D 2nd edition class. We’ll see.

How Can Psionics Best Be Implemented In My Game?
Although I enjoy the Psionicist class from the AD&D 2nd edition Complete Psionics Handbook (and it is compatible with C&C), it’s a 128 page book from 1991 and I won’t force my players to buy separate book of that size just for a single character class. Currently the best option I see is the Mentalist class from Amazing Adventures (AA). AA uses the same Siege Engine rules which powers Castles & Crusades, but it’s a multi-genre role playing game for time periods later than medieval fantasy. The AA Mentalist powers are stream-lined and much easier to master and use as a player (there are less powers to choose from than what you have for wizards or clerics, but you can use the powers you have more often). The AA Mentalist isn’t perfect, since it references modern 20th century things from the Amazing Adventures game like guns and makes comparisons to other pulp-era classes, so I will have to edit that material out, and re-write other material to better fit C&C and my particular world. When it comes to what armor and weapons the Mentalist can use I will use the weapon and armor listings straight from the Psionicist class from the The Complete Psionics Handbook. And finally, when I want to expand some of the psionic powers in the AA Mentalist, I can easily draw upon the resources of the The Complete Psionics Handbook.

So there you have it, a quick take on how I plan to playtest a psionic class in my C&C game.

Amazing Adventures (Troll Lord Games) made for the C&C Siege Engine.
Amazing Adventures (Troll Lord Games) converted to D&D 5E.

Castles & Crusades Diary: Dragonclaw Barony, Session 16

Two new players join the campaign. The adventurers defeat the Black Fist hobgoblin mercenary Girck and his goblin followers, recovering the secret map they were tasked to retrieve. Gwar is enveloped in green slime, destroying his armor. And the group is asked to enter the catacombs of Rodemus Keep by the last of the noble family to find their missing son.

GM Game Notes:
Three regular players were able to game, but three other players were unable to make the game. I want my C&C games to have a larger number of characters (I aim for 8-10), because I enjoy a variety of character class/race combinations for the most opportunities to find and do things. I also think it is more fun if there is more than one of a certain character class because it allows each of them to do more than just “play a role”. For example, with multiple rogues in a group, they can cooperate to search for traps and examine different areas (they can spread out the responsibilities), or if you have multiple clerics, there is not necessarily the pressure for them to save their spell slots for just for healing, they can actually cast the other cleric spells available and even join combat and not feel guilty. It allows, in my view, players to expand beyond just being the “trap finder” or “healer.” Too many narrow, restrictive computer gaming ‘roles’ have entered table-top gaming and I prefer the old school approach of players having their characters experiment and try out new things beyond some narrowly defined view of what their class role is supposed to be.

With three players gone, I was fortunate to gain the a husband and wife team who have been gaming since OD&D, so they are experienced gamers know the old-school style of trying things out. This worked out very well, for the wife made an elven cleric/rogue that added flexibility and options for the other clerics and rogues in the party. Examining rooms went a lot quicker, and they were finding secret doors and secret panels in the rooms much more easily.

Game Diary:
Characters: Eliam (Half-Elf Cleric/Wizard), Malcolm (Human Wizard), Sir Sanwyche (Human Paladin), Gwar (Half-Orc Barbarain), Rok (Half-Orc Fighter), Anne (Elf Cleric/Rogue), Juhraveal (Half-Elf Rogue), Magnus (Gnome Druid), Thorthic (Dwarven Barbarian/Cleric)

We left off last time with the group in a former shrine to St. Cornelius, the god of the common warrior, but the shrine had beende-sanctified with the floors overlaid with black obsidian and the walls covered with death masks. As Sir Sanwyche, the paladin, went about destroying these dark symbols, goblins came in from another room and attacked, but the wizards cast sleep and they fell comfortably into a slumber. Half the group then traced back where they came from to find their hobgoblin leader, Girck, in a room by himself, but before this strong warrior leader could cleave in half the adventurers with his great axe, the other warriors in the party surged in and ended his time as mercenary leader of the Black Fists. In a chest in the room they found the map of the castle in the town of Heatherleigh with the its secret entrance (they had been tasked by the local leaders in the Dragonclaw Barony to find this). Additionally, they found a man and woman shackled up in the corner of the room. Arlen and Sarah were the last of the Rodemus noble family, they had been taken prisoner while looking for their son, Galen, who had gone missing in the family catacombs below.

The group chose to have several members of the group escort Arlen and Sarah Rodemus back to their boat to remain safe while they finished clearing out the main level of any remaining Black Fist mercenaries and then head into the catacombs to find their son. However, as several of the characters led the Rodemus family out, a goblin witch doctor appeared, and summoning forth the power of his goblin god instilled fear in all of them and they scattered in different directions! But this is where the group being split in two came in useful, for as the witch doctor and a buff goblin warrior (in my world the goblins are a corruption of the dwarves so they tend to be strong and robust mining sorts of humanoids) rounded the corner to pick off these people from behind, they discovered there was a much larger group of adventurers waiting for them! The goblin champion was taken down before you could land a blow, and the same happened to the witch doctor.

After returning from delivering the Rodemus family to safety at their boat, the full group systematically went through the remaining rooms on the main floor of Rodemus Keep. It was while exploring the dining room that Gwar, was surprised as green slime seeped from the ceiling and fell onto him. He struggled to scrape it off himself, but luckily Sir Sanwyche acted quickly and a well placed cure disease killed the green slime, and it fell to the ground in dried-up brown clumps. However, the barbarian’s armor was ruined. Fortunately, earlier after they defeated Girck, the fighter Rok had taken Girck’s armor as his own and had put aside his original armor, and now that coat of plates proved useful for Gwar!

Green Slime – something every adventurer curses!

After passing through a dusty but still largely preserved chapel to Demeter, and then through the changing room they encountered 10 more goblins who attacked them from behind curtains with their short bows. However, the wizards Eliam and Malcolm joined forces and both cast sleep again and all the goblins went down into a slumber.

After exploring the ruined bedroom next to the changing room the upper floor was cleared and our game session had reached its time limit. It was a great way to end this campaign for 2020! I had begun this game in April as a short-term online game to take us through the pandemic, but I really enjoy these players, we are bonding well and having loads of fun. I have currently outlined more than a years worth of adventuring. This is now an important and permanent campaign that I will be running well into the future long after this pandemic becomes a memory. The pandemic has made a real mess of 2020, but this game looks to be a long-lasting positive outcome of that tragedy. When we next get together on the 2nd of January for the first game of 2021, the group will head into the catacombs to find Galen, and where they suspect undead may be lurking.