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.

Tolkein and the Machine


“To Tolkien, the machine is something far more menacing than a mere mechanical device. Fundamentally, it represents the lust for power – in particular, for power over others.”

https://theconversation.com/tolkien-and-the-machine-35826

“To Tolkien, the machine represents a means to attain power over others. His orcs – deformed and ugly creatures, whose hands are sometimes replaced with weapons – embody this lust for power.” LOTR Wikia


I saw one person make the point that Tolkein was possibly alluding to the successive ages of civilization that you find in Hesiod and the five descending types of regimes found in Plato’s Republic. That is:

Golden Age – Aristocracy (Wisdom and Reason)
Silver Age – Timocracy (Honor)
Brass Age – Oligarchy (Wealth)
Tin Age – Democracy (Freedom)
Iron Age – Tyranny (Power)

Interestingly, although it makes sense that Hesiod and Plato have influenced my homebrew game design (my undergraduate dissertation, for example, focused on Hesiod and Empedocles), but I wasn’t really aware of how Tolkein’s view of machines might have influenced me (then again, my graduate work did involve the work of Heidegger, and I was influenced by his discussion in The Question Concerning Technology of how mechanization can conceal the true nature of things from us, and we need to question the essence of technology, because it has shifted over time from an expressive, almost poetic or artistic human activity, to one of an obscuring, instrumental, means-to-an end result).

In my TTRPG game world orcs, hobgoblins, goblins, kobolds, and bugbears, are corruptions of elves, humans, dwarves, gnomes, and hobbits, respectively. I am still working on this relationship. The main emphasis so far has been to work on making a distinction between the cosmic alignments of law, chaos, and neutrality, along with the moral alignments of good and evil. But intertwined within that there is a sense of degeneration, a loss of one’s soul, humanity, and a sense of identity. What contributes to this sense of lost identity, both personally and culturally? My Castles & Crusades game is the imaginative canvas in which I wish to explore this.