Game: The Psychic’s Handbook
Publisher: Green Ronin
Review Dated: 4th, May 2004
Reviewer’s Rating: 7/10 [ Good ]
Total Score: 8
Average Score: 4.00
Psions suck. Psychics rule!
No. No. I haven’t suddenly become a teenager bragging about his favourite class on a D&D chatroom – I’m just being controversial. I do think the rules in The Psychic’s Handbook are very much more persuasive than any of the Psion rules I’ve seen to date. I don’t think I’ll be using Psions any time soon, I’d much rather use these psychic rules.
I must admit that I committed a cardinal reviewer sin with this book. I judged the book by its cover. Before I opened it up I had dismissed The Psychic’s Handbook as a Psion splatbook. Okay; so it might be a splatbook (heavy with new mechanics) but it’s not for the Psions. Psychics, by the definition in this supplement, are entirely different.
It’s really easy to give you a quick run through on the differences between Psychics and Psions. It’s easy because The Psychic’s Handbook does it for us – this is a small but important section in the supplement. Sections like this one show Green Ronin’s experience and the genius of Steve Kenson (Mutants and Masterminds). Psychic talents are more like skills (are skills, really) whereas Psionic powers are effectively spell like. A Psion has power points (another score to count) but a Psychic faces the strain of nonlethal damage. Psionic powers are fairly static; the same thing happens whenever you use the power and can’t be improved, though the Psion can learn a better version of (essentially) the same ability. Psychic skills are more variable and can be improved. In fact, if you ask me, a Psion is just an awkward spell caster whereas the Psychic actually is a different class entirely.
We have rules for the new core class – The Psychic. Get this; we also have rules for The Modern Psychic for the d20 Modern system. Huzzah! Let’s see more of this from d20 publishers please. If you’re a D20 fantasy loyalist (a D&D player, say, rather than a M&M player) then you’ll be pleased to see a smattering of the usual splat. Prestige classes! We’ve the Beastmaster, the Fire-Starter, Ghost Stalker, Mind Hunter, Psychic Adept and Psychic Healer too.
There are Psychic Skills and Psychic Feats. Before you can learn a psychic skill you need to have the appropriate psychic feat. This works well for a number of reasons – the mechanics encourage ‘flavoured’ psychics without needing to crudely shoehorn those rules in and it means anyone with the psychic feat can try and learn the skills. If you’re not on the psychic class, but have the right feat and are trying to learn the skill then it’s just the matter of paying for the cross-class skill. If the GM allows its simple enough to have someone with just a few psychic tricks and I think that reflects a more natural state than, say, the canon magic rules. Why do even the most humble of sorcerers possess about the same number of spells? Surely Daisy the Milkmaid who lives months a way from the nearest city, goblin infected mountain or haunted mine would master “Carry milk pails” if she had arcane blood rather than a half dozen low level combat spells? If Daisy the Milkmaid was a psychic then we could leave her safely in a NPC class, give her the appropriate talent for free and a few dots in something appropriate, Empathy or Telekinesis for example. Since Psychic skills improve , they start off gently and we’d even have the low level Daisy being just about able to carry a milk pail and not able to move boulders (or lift X-Wing fighters).
There are twenty pages of psychic skills – that’s enough. If you want to add any more of your own then it’s easy to do so, it’s just a matter of creating a new skill and working out which feat is best suited to it as a requirement. That’s a sign of good game mechanics, I think. I wish everything was so modular. I think there’s an unfortunate typo on an important table of modifiers. The description for being “Intimately Familiar” with someone seems to merge into the description of being just able to see them in the DC modifier list. The effect is that the DC bonus for being Intimately Familiar with someone is less than the bonus for being Familiar with someone. You’re also Intimately Familiar with someone if you can see them live on video. Woo. I wonder if I’ve been Intimately Familiar with Alicia Silverstone or that chick from Spiderman without actually realising it.
There are about seven pages of psychic feats; enough to prove that there are entirely useful and stand alone feats, not just “requirement padding” for the skills. The very first feat in the book, Apport Arrows, is such an attention grabber. Imagine being able to not be hit by an arrow (or crossbow bolt, etc) because you teleported it away elsewhere. Panache? Oh yes.
Chapter Four is titled “Psychic Campaigns” and all too often such chapters quickly become filler – where the GM points out his rules can be tricky, might unbalance the game and then only makes some patently obvious suggestions. Not so here. I’d already wondered why I’d bother trying to get past a powerful psychic shield and why I couldn’t target the shield itself – and it’s that discussion, with how to target the shield, which gets the chapter going. It’s those awkward ideas that you know your PCs are going to come up with; telekinetically wielding weapons or eavesdropping, teleport sneak attacks, performing psychic surgery on themselves to hide memories (and trigger them later), etc, which this chapter addresses. There are also rules for drones (mind slaves) and forming psychic gestalts where psychics come together to combine the power of their minds.
There are, however, the usual sections for psychic equipment, a quick look at attitudes towards psychic characters and possible origins of psychic powers which have the slight suggestion of “d20 supplements by the numbers” to them. This is a d20 splatbook and whereas I’d love to see a thoroughly atmospheric and original piece on the possible origins of psychic powers such a chapter isn’t suitable here and it’s not what we get. It is tempting to say that if you’re not going to do it properly then don’t do it at all. There’s rather lengthy section on psychic impressions which rather than being an example of something “done properly” seemed a little too pointlessly verbose for me. I’m a fickle reader, it seems, because I really liked the quick paragraphs for psychic storms and psychic virii (spelt ‘viruses’ in the book – is that an Americanism?).
The Psychic’s Handbook benefits from the usual Green Ronin touches. The artwork is good. The layout effective and not suspiciously white space padded. There are easy to use reference charts and there is a detailed index. The print size good and paper quality fair.
Don’t make the mistake I did. Don’t write the book off. The Psychic’s Handbook is a top of the range splatbook and isn’t another offering in the obscure Psion market. We really do have a set of tempting, alternative or complementary rules here. The book gives you everything you need for Psychics in your game and makes it easy to add more. Whether you need yet another expansion to the d20 system and can cope with introducing a hitherto unnoticed/unknown character type to your campaign might be a problem. GMs who start a new campaign, on a homebrew world, shortly after buying this book, I think, to include the Psychic rules. Players who buy the book are just as like to bug the GM to allow the new feats and skills combinations too. That might annoy the GM but it is a sign of a good book.