Deja Vu: The Psionics Handbook
The first time I saw it in the store, I believe that I actually snarled at it. I continued to do that for about a month after it came out. Then, in a fit of weakness, I broke down and bought it. I told myself that the only reason I was buying it was so that I could run better Mindflayer encounters, and so that I could eventually throw a Githyanki at my party. (How I loved the Githyanki when the Fiend Folio first appeared on the bookshelves.) Now that I have sat down and read through The Psionics Handbook, I'm actually happy that I succumbed to the temptation.
I have always been a big fan of "powers of the mind" crap. I loved tuning in to re-runs of the "Tomorrow People" on Nick after school. When I got my first set of the 1E AD&D hardbacks, and saw those four or five pages at the back detailing rules for psionics, I went nuts. I immediately broke out my characters and percentile dice, and started rolling for psionics.
My group and I tried to incorporate psionics into our 1E game, but it ended up being more of a pain than anything else. After the first month or so, we just all kind of forgot about them. Even those of us with characters that actually had psionic powers just stopped using them.
Then 2E came out. I liked the changes they had made to the "core" rules, and eventually got used to THAC0, and decided the rules worked better than the old way. When all of the 'Complete' books started coming out, I bought the first couple and then stopped. They were just crap. When I started seeing just how many TSR was churning out, I just plain got sick. Then, while at my wholesome neighborhood hobby store, I noticed something wedged in between the "Complete Guide to Barbarian Butt-picking" and the "Complete Guide to Cannibal Centered Campaigns". It was a book for Psionics! I bought it and went right home to read it.
I was ripped off! I couldn't believe the mish-mash of rules they had come up with to cover Psionics. I toyed with running a game that would allow psionics, but just couldn't bring myself to do it. The book was crammed onto my shelf next to the "Complete Guide to Elven Zit Popping" and was ignored.
Now I am happy for the first time with rules for psionics. I know that this new book that I have purchased will not sit unused on a bookshelf.
There are now two psionic character classes. The Psion and the Psychic Warrior. The Psion is actually six different classes all rolled into one. Each Psion variation chooses an ability score that will be their base score. That means their primary powers will be the ones that are linked to that ability score. A Psion can learn powers from other attribute lists, but never as well or as many as those that are based on the primary attribute score.
The Psychic Warrior is a fighter that can throw some extra weight and damage around with their mind. They don't have as many hit points as a fighter, and they don't get as many powers as the Psion does, but they still actually seem to be a pretty strong character. I haven't played yet, so don't kill me if I am wrong.
The biggest change with psionics for 3E is that the powers now work and play well with magic. Some people complain that many of the powers are simply nothing more than variants of spells already available to spellcasters. Well, they're right. A good number of the powers are variants of already available spells. So what? There are also some powers that in no way mimic spells. The fact that psionic powers can now be used in a similar manner as magic makes the powers, and the rules for them, stronger. A wizard casting a dispel magic or similar spell will also affect any psionic powers activated within the range of the spell.
What's that? Psionics are no longer the überpower above all others? That's right. Just because your character has a brain that's wired differently and can throw energy about like a living capacitor, doesn't make the character god-like anymore.
An alternate set of rules are provided in the book as well. These rules are for those people that want to keep psionics different and separate from magic. As far as I am concerned, these alternate rules reduce 3E psionics to the level of 1 and 2E psionics. For me, the fact that psionics are no longer the game-wrecking überpowers they were, is what makes me want to actually use the new rules. A lone psionicist can no longer walk into town and reduce it to rubble.
Psionic combat is a little different with the new rules as well. Psionic beings can attack other creatures and each other using only Attack Modes. Other psionicists are able to use Defense Modes to try and defeat these attacks. If the target of the attack does not possess a psionic ability, they gain an extra defense against these sort of attacks. The logic seems to be that their brain isn't 'wired' properly to accept the intrusion. However, when two psionic creatures use these attacks against one another, the two sides need to settle down and just start rolling dice against one another.
It does seem a little boring. It would also tend to exclude anyone in the party that does not possess psionic abilities. Considering that what is going on during the combat is only in the minds of the combatants, I really don't see much of a problem with this. It just means the DM needs to keep control of the game. Just as in a normal game, the DM can't center in on one or two players for an entire session, the same goes for a game in which the psionics rules are being used.
The powers are structured in the same way the spells of clerics and wizards are. No more disciplines and other arcane (read needlessly complex) divisions and dependencies of the powers. Most powers also include an 'effect'. The effect can be visible, aural, or by scent. This means that a psionicist can no longer hide out in the back of the party launching powers with impunity at their foes. The psionicist is open to the same types of Attacks of Opportunity that other spell casters are.
There are some Prestige classes for psionic characters in this book as well. The pyro is pretty predictable, but fun looking. There is also an Illithid hunter class that looks to be a nasty one if your party is spending a lot of time in the Underdark. On the whole, I was happy enough with the two main classes that I wasn't all that interested in their prestige classes.
The new book also includes psionic items. Some of these items can only be used by a character that possesses psionic ability. (A great way to work this into a campaign that has already started.) Others, can be used by any character. This does mean the many of the items seem to be nothing more than rip-offs of the standard magic items. This is especially true of the arms and armor listed in the book. However, a critical difference is that psionic items are often crafted from crystal. This definitely gives them a much different flavor than the shiny, polished metal of standard and magic arms and armor. That extra bit of flavor can be used to really enhance a campaign and confuse the hell out of players that haven't read the book yet. The crystal arms and armor (along with the entire Psion class) also tells me that Mr. Cordell probably read Julian May's Pliocene Exile and was influenced pretty heavily by it. (A pretty good series by the way, I recommend it to time travel/mythology buffs.)
The books also lists some creatures that are known for their psionic abilities. The intellect devourer, brain mole, githyanki, and githzerai, all missing from the Monster Manual have been placed here. Ahh, I look forward to the first time the ranger in my group tries to deal with a brain mole. Hmmmm, such fun. There is an important thing to remember with the psionic creatures. All of their powers work as spell-like abilities. Normal psionic characters do have to deal with a daily point allowance for the activation of their powers, but the creatures do not. IF you want to make these creatures (especially the Illithid, drool, drool) nastier, use the standard rules for giving creatures character levels and have them take character levels in psion of psychic warrior. They will then have their natural abilities as well as a pool of points to work with.
In summary, I was happy with the book. If I hadn't suffered through the first two editions of Dungeons and Dragons and their terrible rules for psionics, I might feel differently, but I did and so I like the new book. I do feel the price is a bit steep for the size of the book. I like hard bound books, but I would have been happy with a soft cover and a price tag in the neighborhood of $15, rather than $26. If your group is going to use the psionic rules this is a must buy. If you don't know if you want to use them, or you too have been burned by the earlier editions, find someone that has already spent the money and read theirs. I think you will be impressed enough to get your own copy, but if you aren't you won't have wasted game money on some book that is just going to slowly rot on your bookshelf next to that copy of "Al-Qadim Complete Guide to Camel Loving".