It's Not Really a Fantasy RPG Without Psionics

Fantasy RPGs have always featured mysterious powers of the mind alongside magic spells and heroic physical feats. Yet some gamers turn up their noses at seeing “psionics” listed clearly amongst character abilities, as if this somehow doesn’t belong in the realm of fantasy adventure. I’m here to argue that psionics have always been an integral part of fantasy fiction and RPGs - whether the rules have called them that or not.

Looking back at classic fantasy novels, psychic powers and prophecies have played a huge role. Telepathy and supernatural senses informed Frodo’s quest in Lord of the Rings. Legendary seers and oracles shaped the fates of fantasy heroes in myths and legends throughout history. These tropes shaped the origins of the fantasy genre and inspired early fantasy RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons. Sure, some players may have ignored psionic rules if they seemed too strange or out-of-place amongst spells and swords. But the concept has always been there, influencing gameplay one way or another.

Today’s fantasy RPGs continue this tradition. Whether your game uses psionic skills, divination magic, a prophecy mechanic, or simply mysterious hunches and dreams to drive adventures, you’re tapping into those classic fantasy tropes. The bard may foresee danger on the road, the old crone in town could be a psychic in disguise, visions and nightmares may hint at a looming evil. This is the fabric of fantasy storytelling, no matter what labels or mechanics a game system uses.

So even if you hesitate to weave psionic themes overtly into your next fantasy RPG, you’ll at least be pleasantly surprised when they emerge unexpectedly! Either way, they’ve been part of the fantasy adventure all along - it’s not really fantasy without them.

One could so argue. One can also cast all of this as magic.

Fantasy covers a lot of ground. From low fantasy that barely has magic to your typical Pathfinder game with characters like demi-gods. It is a broad spectrum and means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. I am not going to say it must have X to be proper fantasy. I will state how I prefer it.

I wrote my own Psionic system because I did npot not like the way D&D handled it. (Phoenix Psionic Systerm) So yes, I like spionics.

I don’t have a really well-thought-out argument here. There’s a reason so many people like and want psionics. and they should 100% get what they want.

However, there’s also a reason psionics began its gaming life as a poorly-considered, clunky, and tacked-on idea stuck into an appendix after you were done reading the real player stuff in the old 1e AD&D. :slight_smile: There’s a reason they didn’t think very hard about it.

((Caveat: I don’t know they didn’t think about it much. I’m giving them the benefit of doubt. What they produced is so awful and so out of theme with the rest of what they were going for, I assume they did think about it, then I would have to conclude some less that flatting things about the writers.))

I don’t think Psionics is integral to Fantasy. I don’t think that is goes hand-in-hand with the concept of traditional Fantasy. I think psionics is interesting, to the point I’ve bought a lot of homebrew ideas on the topic. It could be wonderful in some settings, and would be integral to other settings and genres. But in my head, in my games, psioincs is still the same is it originally was: a tacked-on afterthought.

Depends on the world you build. One can decide that psionics and magic are one. By power of the mind one accesses the great power of the elements or some such.

I have them as separate fields. Neither tacked on. Everyone has a psionic power rating even without abilities. Psiolic defense is a separate stat. Due to my preference psionics does not equal magic in power. I build it that way.

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Sure. I was talking about the field of Fantasy as a whole. My disagreement is with the initial statement, It’s Not Really a Fantasy RPG Without Psionics. Psionics just isn’t integral to the concept of Fantasy as a whole.

Like I said, there can be - are - settings where psionics are integral. I just don’t see them as a part of fantasy in general. I don’t think “fantasy” when I think “psionics.”

A point of note: psionics in D&D actually started in the Original edition, before 1e. Although, it was still in one of the supplement books as an addition.

I did not know this.

It is in one of the last supplements for Zero Edition. It is not very good.

I agree with #Longspeak here. Mental powers are not necessary for a fantasy. Nor do you need godlike spell powers. The classic LotR is a low power fantasy setting with no mental powers. I do not see anyone saying that LotR is not fantasy.

LotR is NOT a low power fantasy and never has been.

The use of magic in the West during the Third Age by those who were basically good was restrained by deliberate decision to preserve the balance of the situation with Sauron and Saruman. Any act of unblessed magic would draw a person into darkness and madness, and any act of blessed magic, if powerful enough, was certain to draw the gaze of the lidless eye. Thus low key and restraint was consciously chosen to avoid destabilizing the political and power landscapes.

Note that in the East and South, magic users were much more unbridled.

Gandalf (the White) was officially level 50 (120) while in a mortal form. That means level 50 for attack purposes, and level 120 for everything else. His actual level in Aman was 360. Furthermore, all spell usage by a Maiar (such as Gandalf) were doubled in range.

Additionally, Narya allowed Gandalf to cast an unlimited number of up to 50th level Fire and Lore spells, as well as allowed him Inner Wall from the Mentalist list.

Finally, Gandalf possessed ‘empathy’ and ‘mind speech’ also from the Mentalist list. Once he transitioned to White, he gained access to the Mentalist Brilliance list.

So yes, LotR has mental stuff.

And is not low level at all.

All stats given are official stats as authorized by the Tolkien estate, complete with page references to the novels if you want them. For your reference purposes the source is “Lords of Middle Earth, Volume I - The Immortals: Elves, Maiar, and Valar. MERP 8002”

I’m not going on any game system, but what we see in Lord of the Rings.

The source I referenced has all the pages numbers from the Hobbit and the 3 LotR books. It IS taken from what is in the books, the rpg was long before the movies. Plus it was authorized by the Tolkien estate back in the day, so it was official, at least then.

Of course, not so many people actually played MERP, or picked up enough of the books to find that info.

A friend pointed out that bad stories make better RPGs. Tolkien told the big story of Middle Earth and wrapped it up with a bow. I find that I don’t wish to step in his toes.

I have MERP as well, never even delved into it It came with something else. Talk about a setting with baggage.

I can see that, it is indeed a setting with baggage. Only the baggage is all of the books, not just the main four, and the RPG properly drew upon all the writings of Tolkien when making the rules.

And most people have never read more than the main four. (ie: The Hobbit, Fellowship of the Ring, Two Towers, Return of the King) Thus they get caught by surprise when they realize the setting is so much more of a high powered sweeping epic full of demigods (both fallen and otherwise) as the main characters than they ever realized.

I’ve read many of the other books (Farmer Giles of Ham and such) But I never got into the Silmarillion.

Baggage, which is why I tend to avoid other people’s fantasy properties. The more popular, the worse the issue. I include things like the Forgotten Realms. People have expectations that your ideas about it will not meet.