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Psionics Revisited

AD&D 2nd edition featured a couple of different approaches to psionics. Do we really need another one?

Of course we do!

The system we’re using in our Dark Sun game takes all the standard 2e psionic powers and breaks them down into levels, like in 3rd edition. Powers are ranked from 1st to 9th level, like spells. They still require power checks to activate and still cost Psionic Strength Points, and the powers themselves are largely unchanged from 2nd edition – so in actual play it retains that 2e feel.

So here’s an overview of the psionics system we’re using in the Dark Sun game streaming on Lawful Stupid RPG. Below that is a pdf with our version of the psionicist class and all the psionic powers updated to this system.

Here’s how it works…


All intelligent creatures on Athas have some measure of psionic power. This includes all the player character races, but many of the beasts of the desert and no small number of plant species as well. Athas is a world alive with psychic power. People with psionic powers are called psions, colloquially known as mindbenders.

Those who dedicate their lives to the pursuit of the mental arts are known as psionicists. They study at prestigious academies, learn at the feet of great masters, or pursue a solitary path, honing their psychic powers through meditation and insight.

Not all those with psionic abilities are of the psionicist class. All non-psionicist characters, even those who do not meet the ability requirements for the psionicist class, are automatically wild talents, born with glimmers of psionic potential. In most, this potential manifests as a rudimentary power or two. But some wild talents possess surprising levels of ability.

Psionic Strength Points

Psions possess Psionic Strength Points (PSPs) which they uses to manifest and maintain their powers. The psionicist gains a set amount of PSPs every level, and bonus PSPs for high Wisdom. Wild Talents receive a set amount – enough to manifest their powers twice per day. A psion’s PSP total returns to its maximum after eight hours of rest – but see below on the effect that maintaining powers has on PSP recovery.

Mental Armour Class

All characters have a Mental Armour Class (MAC). Like a regular Armour Class, MAC is the target number for telepathic attacks against the character, if higher than the power score. A psionicist adds his Will Bonus from Wisdom and a bonus per level to his MAC (non-psionicists only add their Will Bonus).

Power Cost and Power Score

Each psionic power is categorised from 1st to 9th level, just like priest and wizard spells, and costs a variable number of PSPs, depending on its level (usually the level x2, minus 1). Each power also has a power score equal to 10 + the power’s level.

The Power Check

To manifest a power, the psion makes a power check. A power check is d20 + psionicist level + Insight Bonus from Intelligence. For wild talents, of course, that’s just d20 + Insight Bonus.

If the power check equals or exceeds the power’s power score, then the power manifests successfully. The psion pays the full PSP cost. If the power check fails, the power does not manifest and the psion does not lose any PSPs.

In play, this system means that low-level psionicists run the risk of their powers not working but, as they rise in levels, this risk goes away. This reflects how they master the Will and the Way, gaining true command of their psychic faculties.

A roll of 1 or 20 on the power check has special results – see the individual power descriptions for details.

That Weird Helmet Rule

A character wearing a metal helmet cannot manifest any psionic powers.

(I don’t know why the Complete Psionics Handbook had that rule but I kinda dig it and having it only work with metal helms reinforces the class/wealth divide inherent to Dark Sun and gives templars a handy way to keep psions in check. “Mandax, bring out the bucket!”)

Power Durations

Some powers have durations. A power lasts for one round per psionicist level (or a number of hours/days equal to his level if the duration is measured in hourly or daily increments). If a psion wants the power to last longer, he must make another power check and spend the full PSP cost in order to manifest it again.

For wild talents, you can decide whether you want their powers to only last for a single round, or give them a duration equal to the wild talent’s class level. This option is the only real way that a wild talent’s powers become more potent over time, so it’s worth considering.

Maintaining Powers

Instead of making another power check to manifest a power again, a psion can maintain the power without a power check by paying a maintenance cost in PSPs equal to half the initial cost (rounded down) every round (or hour or day, as appropriate).

If a psion is expending PSPs to maintain a power, he cannot recover any PSPs. A character cannot spend PSPs to maintain a power when he is sleeping or unconscious; no continuous power that requires an expenditure of PSPs can operate during sleep.

A psion can maintain any number of powers at once, but can manifest only one per round. When maintained powers are deactivated, the character can drop all maintained powers at once, or one per round. He cannot drop two or more in one round and maintain others.

Open and Closed Minds

A mind without PSPs is open to psionic contact (usually through telepathy). A mind is closed so long as it has PSPs remaining. When a character runs out of PSPs, his mind is open and is vulnerable to attack from certain psionic powers.

Psychic Contests

At times, a psion will engage in a psychic contest with another psion – to do so, both psions make opposed power checks. The highest roll wins the contest.

Psionic Disciplines

Psionic powers are divided into five disciplines: clairsentience, psychokinesis, psychometabolism, psychoportation, and telepathy. A psionicist chooses one discipline at first level; his first psionic power comes from this discipline. He adds more disciplines as he advances in levels, adding more powers of increasingly higher level from a larger number of disciplines.

I’ve ditched the metapsionics discipline and folded its powers into other disciplines (and done the same with the High Sciences). There’s also no distinction between devotions and sciences anymore – powers are graded by level instead.

OK, that’s the core system. Check out the psionicist class and the psionic powers to see how it’s applied. And if you’re running a 2e game, try it out and let us know how it works!

Download PDF • 4.41MB

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