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Thread: Psionics in Fantasy?

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    Psionics in Fantasy?

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    This came up in another thread, so rather than derail, I'll take it over here. I'm of the opinion that Psi belongs in SF (in fact, it's the "magic" of SF), and is redundant in Fantasy, but I'm interested in hearing other takes on it.

    In addition to it being redundant, I can't think of a single psionic character in Fantasy literature (I wouldn't count Fantasy based on D&D here, not that I read a whole ton of it). Just about every appearance of psi in literature that I can think of comes from SF, horror, or superhero. Does anyone know of any Fantasy lit in which there are characters that have psionic powers that are distinct from magic?

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    Anything Darksun blends both. In fact the "gods" of Darksun are masters of both to such an extreme they blend the power until becoming divine.

    Psionics used to be quite different from spellcasting in DnD prior to 3.x. I saw almost no difference between a sorceror and a psionicist in 3.5. To someone who actually used psionics it was a major flaw. It has always been a very challenging addition to a DnD campaign since no system was ever perfected.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Valdar View Post
    This came up in another thread, so rather than derail, I'll take it over here. I'm of the opinion that Psi belongs in SF (in fact, it's the "magic" of SF), and is redundant in Fantasy, but I'm interested in hearing other takes on it.

    In addition to it being redundant, I can't think of a single psionic character in Fantasy literature (I wouldn't count Fantasy based on D&D here, not that I read a whole ton of it). Just about every appearance of psi in literature that I can think of comes from SF, horror, or superhero. Does anyone know of any Fantasy lit in which there are characters that have psionic powers that are distinct from magic?
    When it comes down to it, Magic is psionics.

    Magic describes the undescribable in the past and present, whereas psionics describes the undescribable in both the present and the future.

    Of course it all depends on your definition. But hey, maybe it will not only help you understand why so many gamers dont have a problem with psionics in their DnD games, but also why all those authors choose the terms magic or psionics when describing the undescribable in their writings.

    Thoth-Amon

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    (I'm going to assume that when you say psionics, you also mean psychic. This can make a big difference, but I just want to qualify my words.)

    To leave out the magic from psychic characters, you've eliminated some examples I could think of for fantasy. However, psychic characters in fantasy are often found in the sub-genre of "romantic fantasy". Jeanne from THE CRYSTAL THRONE was a psychic that teamed up with a wizard. Mercedes Lackey and other fantasy writers include people with psychic powers. Even the Blue Rose RPG has psychic powers as the core of its magic system - and it's based on fantasy books.

    Then we have soothsayers, seers, gypsies, oracles, witchdoctors and more that are often considered psychic; even when mixed in with a little magic. A strange example is the Wheel of Time series and its mental powers based magic. A better example would be Merlin. He is often portrayed as having a psychic side.

    I hear people discounting these, but they are found in fantasy stories. For that matter, when a so called SF story has nothing close to science in it, but it has psychics in a dungeon fighting dragons, it's a fantasy. - But I digress.

    Psychics have been in sword and sorcery stories for a long time. They've just been calling them by other names.

    Another element to consider is dependent on what one considers psionic. D&D had put a strange pseudo-science spin on psionics (and magic), with extra-dimensions (very sci-fi), but more to the point if psionics equates to psychic abilities then psionics in fantasy is more than appropriate to the setting. In my opinion it poisoned the minds of many D&D players as to the nature of psychic powers in fantasy.

    On the flip side, if psionics is defined as the science behind psychic powers, then psionics is better suited for science fiction or horror. When they came up with the names for such things as Psychometabolism? Oh, yeah - That has science written right into the title and does not have a any fantasy feel to it.

    Obviously if psionics doesn't feel right, then don't include them in your fantasy game. I know it belongs in my games, but I prefer the real fantasy psychics as opposed to the pseudo-science ones.

    A psionic power source is not redundant to magic unless one makes it redundant. Divine power and magic power seem redundant, but we work around that by justifying it as two different power sources and methods of use. Psionics is another power source and has a different method of use. Then there is shadow, infernal, primal, and who knows how many others.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Engar View Post
    Anything Darksun blends both. In fact the "gods" of Darksun are masters of both to such an extreme they blend the power until becoming divine.

    Psionics used to be quite different from spellcasting in DnD prior to 3.x. I saw almost no difference between a sorceror and a psionicist in 3.5. To someone who actually used psionics it was a major flaw. It has always been a very challenging addition to a DnD campaign since no system was ever perfected.
    I agree with Engar on this one, there was almost no difference between Sorcerer and Psionics. Eventually, when they finally get the magic right, psionics will be incorporated into magical systems. I wouldnt be surprised that we start seeing this fusion in later editions.

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    Quote Originally Posted by ronpyatt View Post
    (I'm going to assume that when you say psionics, you also mean psychic. This can make a big difference, but I just want to qualify my words.)

    To leave out the magic from psychic characters, you've eliminated some examples I could think of for fantasy. However, psychic characters in fantasy are often found in the sub-genre of "romantic fantasy". Jeanne from THE CRYSTAL THRONE was a psychic that teamed up with a wizard. Mercedes Lackey and other fantasy writers include people with psychic powers. Even the Blue Rose RPG has psychic powers as the core of its magic system - and it's based on fantasy books.

    Then we have soothsayers, seers, gypsies, oracles, witchdoctors and more that are often considered psychic; even when mixed in with a little magic. A strange example is the Wheel of Time series and its mental powers based magic. A better example would be Merlin. He is often portrayed as having a psychic side.

    I hear people discounting these, but they are found in fantasy stories. For that matter, when a so called SF story has nothing close to science in it, but it has psychics in a dungeon fighting dragons, it's a fantasy. - But I digress.

    Psychics have been in sword and sorcery stories for a long time. They've just been calling them by other names.

    Another element to consider is dependent on what one considers psionic. D&D had put a strange pseudo-science spin on psionics (and magic), with extra-dimensions (very sci-fi), but more to the point if psionics equates to psychic abilities then psionics in fantasy is more than appropriate to the setting. In my opinion it poisoned the minds of many D&D players as to the nature of psychic powers in fantasy.

    On the flip side, if psionics is defined as the science behind psychic powers, then psionics is better suited for science fiction or horror. When they came up with the names for such things as Psychometabolism? Oh, yeah - That has science written right into the title and does not have a any fantasy feel to it.

    Obviously if psionics doesn't feel right, then don't include them in your fantasy game. I know it belongs in my games, but I prefer the real fantasy psychics as opposed to the pseudo-science ones.

    A psionic power source is not redundant to magic unless one makes it redundant. Divine power and magic power seem redundant, but we work around that by justifying it as two different power sources and methods of use. Psionics is another power source and has a different method of use. Then there is shadow, infernal, primal, and who knows how many others.
    Nicely explained, and why i have always allowed psionics in my game, without reservations.

    Thoth-Amon
    Last edited by Arch Lich Thoth-Amon; 08-12-2008 at 01:45 AM.

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    I liked the presence of psionics in Dark Sun because it was part of what made that campaign setting so unusual. The gods had abandoned Athas, so there was no more "divine" magic except that which was drawn upon by the worshipers of the Sorcerer-Kings. "Arcane" magic was drawn from the world itself and so heavily abused by the "Defiler" mages that it was responsible for turning Athas into the despicable wasteland that it had become.

    So, with magic an increasingly rare and delicate commodity, psionics had their place to feature prominently in the setting. This was psionics as of 2e which, while a little complicated at times, was thematically different than magic. I wasn't terribly impressed with psionics in 3e. They did make the whole thing a little simpler, but as a result, it seemed to have lost a bit of its uniqueness. As some people have said, the Psion and the Sorcerer are not very dissimilar.

    Man, I'm missing 2e Dark Sun right now...
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    Sometime, maybe next year, I might run a 2e or even 3.5 athas.org version darksun game. That I would truly enjoy. Darksun is on a very tall pedestal for me and I have intentionally never run that game. But my reasons for that remain in IL. Here I might break that rule if I can muster a glorious adventure befitting it.
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    As I recall, the "magic" of the Deryni books was closer in spirit to psychic powers than most other types of magic.

    Game-wise, I like Green Ronin's "The Psychic's Handbook", which fed into Blue Rose and expanded into the True20 RPG. "Psychic" abilities were subtler than spells both in casting and effect ... less powerful, but you could keep it up all day if you continued to concentrate and the effect didn't fatigue you too much. Yes, a fireball could take out a huge number of orcs, but a "psychic" can worm his way into the real seat of power ... or mind-boogie the orc leader to sound a retreat.
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    every one of the greater powers both good and evil in d&d have always had psionics, pretty much from the beginning. and i don't have time right now, but i can dredge up some psionic/psychic fantasy for you with a bit of memory cudgeling. =D
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    I use Psionic powers. I have my own system and the flavor is different from what you will usually find.

    I'll eventually post the system as PDF. I started developing it back in the AD&D days due to finding the AD&D psionics unworkable.

    I deliberately make psionic power less effective than magic and different from magic.. I borrowed a few terms for some of the skills, but for the most part there is nothing outside those names to link the two.

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    Like tesral, I also feel that the psionics in 2E did not work well. I however did not develope my own system to replace it, I just have not used it. So far I have not had any problems with just going on with out it.

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    With the recent reaquisition of 2e Dark Sun materials, I'm probably going to be reacquiring a copy of the 2e Complete Psionics Handbook as well. I always remember liking it as an alternative to magic, even if it was a little clumsy at times. Granted, it's been 9 years or more since I last read it, so perhaps a reread will do me some good.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Webhead View Post
    With the recent reaquisition of 2e Dark Sun materials, I'm probably going to be reacquiring a copy of the 2e Complete Psionics Handbook as well. I always remember liking it as an alternative to magic, even if it was a little clumsy at times. Granted, it's been 9 years or more since I last read it, so perhaps a reread will do me some good.
    My main problem with the Complete Psionicist 2e was the double jeopardy success system and the fact that you had a one in twenty chance of getting a backfire every time you used a power. Very typical of AD&D to give with one hand and take with the other. I have one around the house somewhere. I wasn't impressed.

    Think about it. You have a tool, say a nail gun. (Not every psionic power is combat related.) You have a 5% chance that you will put a nail into your foot every time you use it, no matter how careful you are. How many times do you nail yourself to the job before you buy a plain old hammer? It's an idiot system. I assumes that the characters are idiots with no sense of self preservation.

    And yes they used yet a different mechanic for psionics.

    If I was going to use psionic in a 2e style game, and didn't have my own system, I would look to adapting the 3e Psionics Handbook to my needs. It's a better system.

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    Quote Originally Posted by tesral View Post
    My main problem with the Complete Psionicist 2e was the double jeopardy success system and the fact that you had a one in twenty chance of getting a backfire every time you used a power. Very typical of AD&D to give with one hand and take with the other. I have one around the house somewhere. I wasn't impressed.

    Think about it. You have a tool, say a nail gun. (Not every psionic power is combat related.) You have a 5% chance that you will put a nail into your foot every time you use it, no matter how careful you are. How many times do you nail yourself to the job before you buy a plain old hammer? It's an idiot system. I assumes that the characters are idiots with no sense of self preservation.
    True. I had nearly forgotten about that (as I said, it's been 9 years). It will definately benefit me to reread just to have a fresh opinion of the whole thing and what works and what needs to be dumped/rehashed/house ruled.

    I think the main reason I wasn't really impressed with psionics in 3.X is that it was too much like the magic system, and I always wanted to feel like there was a clear distinction between what spells could do and how they worked and what psionics did.

    In the end, if I ever manage the monumental task of convincing a group to play a 2e Dark Sun game (the only way that I would really consider running Dark Sun), I'll do a few of my own tune-ups on the 2e psionic system to make it more sensible than the RAW.
    Last edited by Webhead; 08-19-2008 at 09:28 AM.
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