The new playtest packet for the Mystic class – known in other editions as the Psionicist – went up on the Wizards of the Coast website today in Unearthed Arcana. Since I’m also working on an edition-by-edition exploration of psionics over in Tribality right now, I’m primed to be excited about this. The playtest packet offers the core class and two subclasses, from first to fifth level, as well as a few details on 5e’s underlying story for psionics. (For an unofficial but very cool extrapolation of that story, see Blog of Holding’s recent post on Catastrophic Psionics, which would also be a good name for a shoegaze remix of death metal.)
The name of the class has changed from the Psionicist (1e and 2e) or Psion (3.x and 4e) to the Mystic, as WotC finally tackles the elephant in the room that is the number-one most common complaint I’ve seen about psionics: “This doesn’t feel like it fits into medieval fantasy.” Changing the language that the player uses in talking about their class and its abilities goes a long way. Of course, there have been other classes in D&D that were called the Mystic, going all the way back to OD&D. I’m not sure that word has meant the same thing for two editions in a row.
The Mystic uses Disciplines, which I can sum up as “mental stances,” to gain access to a passive power and (usually) three active powers. The Mystic also derives a few powers from their class and subclass. Disciplines are substantially unlike anything we’ve seen so far in 5e, though there’s a certain similarity to 3.5 Binders and 4e Vestige Pact Warlocks. Presumably each Discipline will have more than three powers at higher levels, but it’s a mere bonus action to switch stances, so if not, it doesn’t exactly matter.
It’s the least shocking thing ever to see Psi Points as the Mystic’s currency. It’s a bit more surprising to see them as a per-long-rest pool that scales up rather quickly – from 4 at first level to 27 at fifth, suggesting that a 20th-level Mystic may well have somewhere in the mid triple digits of psi points to play with. In comparison to the small pools of sorcery points and ki points, it represents a different direction – and suggests that the Mystic may be very difficult to multi-class, since no one else shares its progression at all. Maybe we’ll see a psi-to-spell-slots conversion mechanic or… something? It’s not the worst thing in the world if the Mystic really only multi-classes with non-caster classes, but it would be a break from what we’ve seen in the Player’s Handbook.
Outside of subclasses, the Mystic offers:
- d8s for Hit Dice
- As with the Cleric and the Warlock, 5e treats the d8 as a center point, signaling enough durability for melee, without being wildly tougher than other back-line caster types.
- Only one proficient saving throw (Wisdom), by default – but wait, there’s a class feature to let you add another of your choice, which you can change out with a short or long rest.
- Since you can choose Dexterity or Constitution, this is only the second time a class has, in itself, granted proficiency in two primary saving throws (the other being the Rogue’s Slippery Mind feature, unless I’m forgetting something). Unlike Slippery Mind, this shows up at first level. On the other hand, Mystic abilities often target Intelligence saving throws, which is a welcome surprise.
- Pro tip: If you are an Awakened mystic, you pretty much always want Constitution so you can maintain Concentration, until you break down and spend a feat to take care of that.
- Two skills from a list that strongly suggest a “thinky” class.
- I’ll be curious to see whether information about psionics falls under Arcana, Nature, Religion, or some new skill.
- Simple weapons, and up to medium armor proficiency; no shields.
- The number of Disciplines you know, the size of your Psi Point pool, and your per-round limit on psi point expenditure are all part of the base class.
- The Psionics ability itself, like the Spellcasting ability of spellcasting classes, is described here. Intelligence is the ability score for all use of psionics, so there’s a second class in the game with Int as a primary stat.
- Bit of a spoiler, but only one power of the Order of the Immortal (that we’ve seen so far) uses spell attacks or forces a saving throw – so you could put an 8 in Int and barely notice the difference. It’s useful because they’re psychic warriors, but a little weird that they need Int quite that little.
As with the Warlock, I expect the core of the Mystic will remain pretty threadbare for most of the class’s progression. The class structure is a versatile chassis, and that’s all to the good because there’s some great flavor going on in the subclasses.
The playtest document shows two subclasses and names two more. The Order of the Awakened are your classic telepaths and clairvoyants, while the Order of the Immortal are psychic warriors blending psychometabolic and (presumably) personal-range psychokinetic powers. Also listed are the Order of the Knife, who are reworks of the 3.5 Soulknife or Lurk, and probably all about some psychoportation; and the Order of the Invisible Hand, which is about as unsubtle of a telekinesis reference as has ever been penned. I like that they’re sticking to approximately-plausible late-medieval or early Enlightenment-era terminology here.
The Order of the Awakened, and the packet’s explanations of where psionics come from, are a pleasant surprise to me – I love the hell out of Mage: the Awakening and its explanation that the Wise undergo Awakening when their souls cross the Abyss (which is more like D&D’s Far Realm than D&D’s Abyss) to reach the Supernal Realm. I’m a fan of this explanation of psionics, including its reference to Dark Sun‘s ubiquitous psionics.
So let’s check out these subclasses. Thus far, Orders grant features at first and third level; naturally we should expect to see another feature somewhere between 6th and 9th, a third between 9th and 14th, and a final feature at 14th or higher. We also see three Disciplines of each class, with a note that these are far from all that they intend to include in the final work.
As I said earlier, a Discipline is a bundle of powers, one passive and three activated by spending psi points (Intellect Fortress is an exception to this structure). It feels a lot like toggling over into a different subclass. It takes only a bonus action to switch between Disciplines – so they’ll have to be very careful about setting any other powers as bonus actions, or they’ll cause issues with the mystic’s action economy.
Order of the Awakened
Like I said, the Awakened are classic telepaths, with a side order of clairvoyance. Their core abilities are:
- Mind Thrust – which is a nice job of storing a cantrip and a currency-expending power in the same “slot,” because you can commit psi points before you roll to inflate the damage from 1d8 (free, basically a cantrip) all the way up to 6d8 (for five psi points; since you have to be fifth level to do that, we can compare that to a third-level spell).
- The number of psi points you can spend scales with mystic level, and I assume that it will keep scaling up to 9th level, with some alternate mechanic for the psionic equivalent of 6th-9th level spells, just as warlocks have Mystic Arcana.
- I can’t imagine they’d let mystics “go nova” and spend all of their psi points on a smaller number of top-end effects. It looks like player freedom, but it damages the flow of play for everyone else, as the mystic starts pushing for a long rest…
- Yeah, um, Mind Thrust doesn’t attack AC. It doesn’t force a saving throw. It attacks the target’s Intelligence score. That’s… really interesting, but what the hell just happened to the carefully tuned math? Almost nothing in the game (Empyreans may be about it?) has an Intelligence over 20, and a lot of things have an 8 or less.
- The note that you only need to perceive the creature, not see it, is important, as we’ll see in one of the Disciplines.
- Psychic Mind, or “Did we mention all the telepathy?” Interestingly, this does require sight, and has a shorter range than Mind Thrust.
- Basically all of the Conquering Mind Discipline hangs on this feature. Between Psychic Mind and Conquering Mind, social challenges are a walk in the park. I’ll come back to this.
- Object Reading is a very powerful mystery-solving tool. Got a murder weapon? Find me a mystic and we’ll learn who last held the bloody knife. (Whether the mystic’s word on it is sufficient varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, I am sure.) If you get six seconds of access to an object, you can spy on anyone around it for the next 24 hours. I’m sure no wacky hijinks will come out of this! This probably needs a psi point cost at minimum, or will at my table.
The three Disciplines currently available for the Awakened are Conquering Mind, Intellect Fortress, and Third Eye. I appreciate Mind Thrust and Intellect Fortress, re-used names from previous editions that still work pretty well in the new naming aesthetic.
Conquering Mind is custom-designed to clean house in any social encounter. Advantage on Charisma checks starts them off right, followed by the ability to extract truthful answers to questions (this is going to seriously wreck some mysteries!), utterly convince someone of a single statement for five minutes, and take control of someone’s actions for a round. All of these force Intelligence saves, and a failure stops the mystic from reusing that power on that person until the mystic takes a long rest. The Int save is the only thing that might keep a social encounter challenging; the cost on Exacting Query is so low that by 5th level, the mystic can work a whole room. Playing a mystic courtier who pulls all the strings with Conquering Mind sounds like fun to me, and is thematically consonant with what I’d expect for a telepath, but I’m concerned that it may make social encounters too easy for the mystic and not fun for the other PCs. One solution would be to give psionic powers some kind of manifestation signature, as they had in 3.5, so that you can’t use your powers in public while remaining completely unknown.
Intellect Fortress is an oddity in that it is only its passive power. It’s possible that this is an error, but more likely that this is the intended Discipline for any Awakened mystic who is tossing off Mind Thrusts in combat. At the cost of a reaction, it imposes disadvantage on ranged or melee attacks when the mystic sees the attacker – which means this is a great defense against another mystic’s Mind Thrust. If you get hit anyway, you splash some damage back on the attacker. On the other hand… you’ve now spent your reaction, so any further attacks in the course of the round are unhindered. This probably needs a little more oomph if it has to stand alone throughout the mystic’s career. I’ll be surprised, though, if there’s not a power within this Discipline, or a freestanding Discipline, called Tower of Iron Will that lets you do the same thing, but for all of your allies in a radius.
Third Eye looks so frickin’ innocuous, but… dayum, dat Tremorsense. As has been pointed out elsewhere (thanks, Facebook folks!), the mystic can stand on one side of a closed door, activate tremorsense, and use Mind Thrust to kill things on the other side of the door, and those things have no particular indication of where the attacks are coming from. Truesight at fifth level is also pretty boss, and means that with a mystic in the party, mysteries involving disguised rakshasas or whatever are non-starters even quite early in the game. In principle, it’s good to give players the tools to gather lots of information. In practice, it sucks when there are almost no available ways to keep secrets, and it places a much greater writing burden on the DM.
Taken together, the Awakened mystic promises to be pretty good in a fight, but completely unstoppable in a city. I’m seeing a lot of folks online already declaring that they’ll never allow a mystic at their table, which is a shame, but I shudder in dread at the thought of writing a mystery with enough layers of misdirection that it thwarts a mystic for long.
Order of the Immortal
The Immortal is what 3.x calls the Psychic Warrior, and 4e calls the Battlemind. Like every student of military history, my first thought was of the Persian Immortals and the various units named in reference to them, up to and including the Unsullied of A Song of Ice and Fire fame. I think it is entirely fair to be terrified of an army of 10,000 of these guys. As mentioned above, the Immortal mystic has almost no use for Intelligence, and can focus on Strength and Constitution.
- Durable Mind keeps them from having to make Con saves for Concentration every time they take damage. This would be a good call if all it did was speed up play, since this is a subclass intended to get punched in the face for a living.
- Martial Order covers for the absence of martial weapon and shield proficiency in the base mystic class. All good here. It does slightly sweeten the pot for multi-classing, as you still gain this ability even if Mystic isn’t your first class level.
- Psionic Regeneration is a doozy. As written, Immortal mystics are very fucking well named, because they can’t bleed to death unless you can take them from zero failed death saves to three failed death saves between any two of their actions. Whenever they are at or below 50% hit points, they regenerate hit points equal to half their level. I’m predicting a nerf to this ability, even something as simple as “this does not work if you are unconscious.”
- Beyond that, it’s also a lot of extra bookkeeping load on the mystic’s player to add hit points at the end of every turn, as an always-active ability when at or below their bloodied value.
The three Disciplines open to the Immortal are Celerity, Iron Durability, and Psionic Weapon. I know they’ve used “celerity” as a super-speed power in previous editions, but in combination with “Immortal,” I wondered for a moment if they were chasing a Vampire: the Masquerade reference here.
Celerity is battlefield-scale super-speed. While we wait for the Order of the Knife, Celerity is a good way to play a mystic as a melee skirmisher. The awkward part – which is also the only thing that keeps it balanced – is that all of the things that would blow this wide open are in other Disciplines. There is some horrifyingly good multi-class synergy here – getting to turn your bonus action into a regular action up to five times a day might be enough to make almost anyone think about a five-level class dip into Immortal Mystic. Mystic 5/Fighter X, though… three actions in one round, and by Fighter 11, three attacks per round become nine. When it comes to “how do I want to spend my psi points?”, it’s hard to take Seize the Initiative seriously once Surge of Action is on the table.
Iron Durability is the mitigation aspect of the Immortal. It offers one point of AC all the time, to make up for sticking a tank-type with medium armor, and a self-healing action that means short rests are useless to the Immortal. On top of that, there’s also a shield-like (the spell, that is) AC-boosting reaction, which is missing any signifier of how long the AC boost lasts. “Beginning of your next turn” is the likely answer. They can also spend 5 psi points to gain one elemental resistance for an hour with Iron Resilience. It’s good that this power lasts, because a dedicated tank mystic is going to be dumping lots of psi points on the AC booster. I wonder if Iron Resilience automatically ends when you switch Disciplines, or if you’re intended to activate it and let it run as part of your stance-dancing ways?
Psionic Weapon is here just in case you were playing a fighter and thinking of not picking up five levels of Mystic. Sure, it’s nice that the Discipline’s passive power is a magic weapon, even though it is yet another case in which monsters having immunity to nonmagical weapons is meaningless. Fine, whatever, that’s the losing argument to end all losing arguments in 5e. You can also turn your weapon attack into a saving throw for half damage with 1 psi point. This is basically fine, since very few NPCs have Evasion, and even Dex save proficiency is rare-ish for them.
No, it’s Lethal Strike that is the big kahuna of Psionic Weapon. Lethal Strike is functionally the same as Divine Smite, but it scales faster – base weapon damage + 5d10 takes the mystic five levels, as compared to the paladin’s thirteen levels to reach base weapon damage + 5d8. It would probably be worth taking five levels of Mystic for any fighter, ranger, paladin, barbarian, or melee cleric just to have five chances a day to deal massive damage. Like a divine smite – and unlike Mind Thrust – the expenditure for Lethal Strike is declared after the successful attack roll. I certainly hope to see a nerf to this power in the next playtest document.
Finally, there’s Augmented Weapon, which boosts the passively-granted magic weapon up to +3 for a minute. It’s fine, but you should never spend psi points on this unless you know you’re going to spend the rest of that minute in a different Discipline.
Taken together, the Immortal is an egregious example of power creep, but then that was true for a lot of iterations in the playtest packet. That’s just numbers, though – the more important part is that the themes are compelling and the subclass’s gameplay loop looks like a fun puzzle to solve, round by round. It’s ideal for players who like to manage a lot of information in gameplay and analyze many different possibilities – all the more so as they release more Disciplines and higher-level powers. It may be the most 4e-friendly thing I’ve seen in the game so far.
I’ve been highly critical of a few elements of the mystic, but it’s all a bit disingenuous – this is the first of many public playtest documents, and the core 5e public playtest showed that they can indeed be trusted to iterate through their ideas productively and land on an outstanding product. I am incredibly excited about what I see here, and I hope we see a second public playtest document on the Mystic before the end of the year.