The Complete Psionics Handbook (1991)

Looking through The Complete Psionics Handbook (1991) before writing this made me feel like I am crazy. I remember a book that was dense, hard to parse and ultimately corny — we usually just ignored it back in the day. What I see now is just…pure potential. There is so much cool shit in this book, its like a whole different kind of D&D. I can’t help but wonder if me and my high school comrades were all idiots who didn’t know how to do anything right.

OK, so, psionics in 1E sucked. They were impossible to get, but promised mental powers that pretty much guaranteed the breaking of the game. Here, the idea is to preserve that mystique without the breakage and…I think it works? It is definitely wrapped in a new age vibe a la Time/Life’s Mysteries of the Unknown, but also a weird science fantasy thing, too. Just look at the (awesome) Terry Dykstra illustrations. How come I didn’t play THAT D&D? Why didn’t I want to explode things with my miiiiiiind?

The book IS dense, it is pretty much all rules for a brand new caster class — instead of schools or spheres, psionicists have disciplines that are made up of powerful sciences and less powerful devotions. There are limits on what kinds and how many powers a character can have, and they require skill checks to turn on. This results in characters with pretty narrow, but powerful, but slightly unreliable power sets. Which seems super fun? There are special psychic duel rules to gain quick advantage over other psionic opponents, which is pretty cool.

The approach to psychic powers in this book is apparently derived from Julian May’s four book Saga of the Pliocene Exile, which I never heard of before now but suddenly I am keen to read at least the first book…

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