Game: The Quintessential Psion
Publisher: Mongoose Publishing
Review Dated: 4th, March 2003
Reviewer’s Rating: 7/10 [ Good ]
Total Score: 16
Average Score: 8.00
If you’re looking for a friendly, classic, heroic fantasy supplement for the Psion then the Quintessential Psion is not for you. If you have been after Psion supplements that would let you play around with a fantasy themed Jedi or a way to add psicraft to a game with dragons and a pet Unicorn called Uni then you don’t want this book. If you’ve been in the market for such a family safe version of the Psion then you might already have bought the book’s prequel The Quintessential Psychic Warrior and in which case, if you’ve stop screaming now, you should move to a position of safety behind the sofa while the Quintessential Psion does the rounds.
The truth is that the Quintessential Psion isn’t as horrific as the Psychic Warrior is but it’s no less dark. Symbiotes of the Mind are scary, Memetic Parasites are nasty, Echoes and Fragments created by traumas or unstable minds and then used as fuel by Psions might not just fit light hearted fantasy games.
This is great! I feel that supplements are much more enticing if they can offer a new genre (sub-genre?) or add support an under valued one rather than just offer more rules. The Quintessential Psion has a real chance to be the best in the Collector’s Series. Sadly, it isn’t. It’s not the sinister or unusual game suggestions that the book contains that take the shine off the brilliance, it’s that too many of them have holes. Does a Psionic Accord have a body or not? Can you rid an area of a Memetic Parasite or not? Your guess is as good as mine. These are the down sides in another wise thought provoking book.
Quintessential books begin with character concepts and prestige classes and Psion is no exception. Character concepts are a roleplaying idea, a shtick, an inspiration bundled together with some minor game mechanic advantages and disadvantages. Character concepts often go beyond describing how you’re different to explaining why you’re different, whether they should be or not, and that’s true for nearly every concept here. Very often the concept background goes all the way back to an accident of birth. The Healthy Mind concept tells how you were always extremely vulnerable to diseases as a kid but how your mind evolved to protect you from disease now. A Left For Dead history concept means that if you have some power points left you’ll stabilise automatically even after a serious wound and Invisible Friends tells how your imaginary childhood friends became more real as you grew up. Particularly spooky is the Personality Shard concept where rather than giving births to twins, as the midwife predicted, your mother gave birth only to you and how you now not only have a second personality but sometimes two shadows as well. The Fragmount concept is one of the few exceptions since it doesn’t explicitly mention how or why personality fragments are more able to ride your aura – just that they are.
Your aura? The character’s aura. Writing in second person is common enough; especially for background bits like the Character Concepts but for some reason I noticed it more acutely in the Quintessential Psion. In particular, the second person continues into the game mechanics.
The Prestige Psion, chapter two, is on form. This is what I’ve come to expect from the Collector’s Series. Different aspects of psionic powers are specialised into classes; you’ll have the rather alien Living Power class (needing Autohypnosis at 18 ranks) where the Psion has become ectoplasm to the Ectoplasmic Constructor who’s extremely good at building and animating ectoplasmic constructs. The Hand of Thought is a rare Monk worthy PrC and the Infector one of the first signs that this book will be brave enough to get grim and gritty. Nicely this Quintessential X book has plenty of prestige classes that run through the full range, levels 1 to 10. There are a few 5 level classes for those especially hard to qualify for PrC’s too. This is very much better than only having 5 level classes. It’s worth noting that there are more Character Concepts and Prestige Classes in the book that I’ve pointed out; I’ve highlighted only a few.
Tricks of the Trade, a stalwart of the Collector Series, is a chapter that introduces Psilchemy and new rules for Psionic Combat. Psilchemy proves that there’s no limit to what the “ps” prefix can be added to. Psilchemy is the process of distilling psionic essences into a game balance friendly short-lived potion. Another solid bonus is the way that expired psionic potions become the base from which psionic poisons are brewed. You need an expired potion and some dark thoughts from your aura to make the poison. If you’re thinking of poisoning someone then you will have dark spots of malevolent thoughts in you aura. In fact, the use and abuse of a Psion’s aura is a mainstay throughout the book. GMs are left to ponder over the effects of all this. Take my example above; if you use the inky stain on your aura created by your desire to poison someone do you still want to poison them?
I think the Tricks of the Trade chapter will be more widely talked about because of the alternative psionic combat rules. This isn’t my cup of tea normally; the last thing my roleplaying needs is more rollplaying. However, I like these rules, they work off an easy to understand concept and use hit points. This makes my life easier and so the alternative rules get the thumbs up. They do represent something in the way of more power to the psion (even though non-psions can defend themselves) but not significantly so, it’s certainly not a big deal in a book filled with options for Psions.
There are Psion Feats. Duh. Many of the new feats are only interested in the new rules introduced by the book but not all of them.
Tools of the Trade makes its customary appearance for a Quintessential X too. This chapter can be weak; stats for yet another type of sword or magic shield aren’t high on my need list. However, the Psibonded Weapons are different enough to make their inclusion worthwhile. Such weapons will be a mixture (or pure) of copper, silver or mithral and will have a special crystal embedded in it. If you’re willing to spend a fortune improving your Psibonded Weapon then you an get it up to a +10 Enhancement Bonus. It’s worth not skimming that page; the Enhancement Bonus must be divided up evenly as possible between “standard enhancement bonus” and special weapon abilities. In other words you shouldn’t see more than a +5 weapon. Phew. I said this wasn’t a Jedi book? Erm. Well. Mithral weapons vanish down to a hilt and a crystal and can extend outwards at the Psion’s command to form a sabre. Or an axe, or any other weapon in fact providing that costs have been paid and there is enough mithral in the weapon to form the new shape The last couple of pages in the chapter describe how Psychic Masks can be used to disguise an aura and how special crystal lenses can be fitted into the eye sockets to act as weapons. The game balance is preserved again; these masks must be worn for hours before they work effectively but can’t be worn for days because ill effects begin to stack up. These masks are common occurrences throughout the rather good grey box story text the book but in the stories the Psions rush their masks on without worrying about the eight hour lapse before the mask is effective.
There are a few pages of Psionic powers too. As with the chapter on feats they’re predictable as they are necessary for a book like this. It must have been hard dividing both the new feats and powers up between the Psychic Warrior and the Psion supplements. Dedicated psion fanboys might feel as if they need to brave the gore of the first book to get the full range of new powers. There’s a family of alternate psionic powers here that fit the alternate psionic combat rules in the book.
With the use of special substances the Psion can enter an altered state; wheel in the Altered States chapter. There’s a little note here to clarify that these rules are in addition to the Psychoactive Substance rules found in the Psychic Warrior. It’s not the first time a Quintessential book has made references to another (some prestigious Druids infamously make use of a fighting technique from the Quintessential Fighter) but it is the first time two books are so closely linked. Psions attempt to reach different types of altered states in order to enjoy different bonuses. One possible route into an altered state is through pain but we’re not treated to instructions of how to peel away your own skin to expose chakras.
Echoes are pieces of discarded thoughts. They seem to be a lot like ghosts but without any sort of sentience. If a bugbear leaps out in front of a kobold and terrifies the little critter then there might just be an echo of a cringing kobold left in that damp dungeon passageway. It’ll be like a broken record, just cringing over and over again, like a psionic footprint in the cosmos. Echoes of people who are alive are extremely rare so it’s likely that the bugbear ate well. Psions come along and gobble up the Echo, absorbing it into their aura so they can spend the extra power points later. Fragments are similar but have more psionic meat on them; for a start the Psion can only ever have one fragment in their aura at a time and when they want to benefit from the fragment they must allow it to take control of their body. Fragments are discarded personalities or parts of personalities. The book’s story text makes it clear; the Psion can’t get past a locked door and so lets his fragment personality surface and she picks the lock for him because she has the pick lock skill and he doesn’t. In that example the Psion’s companion rewards the fragment personality with a swig of ale much to the dominant personality’s annoyance when it resurfaces seconds later. “I hate it when you let her drink”. These fragments really are fragments; they can’t take control of the body against the dominant personality’s will and will flee back to the subconscious in any fight. The Quintessential Psion has rules for finding, catching and binding Echoes and Fragments.
If you really want a reoccurring villain that it’s safe to let the PCs beat again and again then the Psionic Accord is just the ticket. The Accord is a meeting of minds by seven (at first; more can be added later) psions. The According is like a Psionic network that channels through a ball of jewels, gold and psionic energy created in the seminal ritual. This ball levitates around, matures and becomes self-aware. The more expensive this core initially is in terms of the material used to construct it the better. The value of the core directly corresponds to the amount of energy it can deal with and it is more cost effective to spend money during the creation than add to it later. The assumption is that you can add to the gold and jewels later. We’re also then told that the Psionic Accord has no true physical form but sometimes chooses to materialise as an ectoplasmic ball or even more rarely as a head. I’m not sure how you’d add gold and jewels to a psionic entity without a true body. I’m even less sure on how I’d rule on how to destroy an Accord. If you’ve got your villains linked through an Accord then the PCs will want to destroy it. One of the abilities of the Accord is to allow a Psion to spend some power points at the minute of death and transfer his essence back to it. The dead Psion can then be fetched from the Accord by an ally and will have a new body grown from ectoplasm in a week or so. Sure, if you’re short of power points then you’ll not re-grow with all your character levels but it’s better than death. That’s just one of the Accord’s abilities too.
If the Psions building the Accord screw up, especially the one (known as the mabap) who was the centre of the initial ritual, then the Accord might go renegade. It has a mind and will of its own. That said; the chances of badness from an Accord seem tiny compared to the Symbiotes of the Mind. If a Psion is willing to give a creature composed entirely of thought energy a little donation of flesh and sensation then they’ll start out with a small ectoplasmic circle between their shoulders and benefit from some minor power ups. The Symbiotes grow though; they cover more of the host’s body and become more demanding. The growth of the ectoplasm over the Psion is directly related to the Psion’s abilities to deal with the so-called symbiotes demands. As the symbiote gets larger then the Psion will be able to draw more power and special abilities from it. The Psion will enjoy the benefits of this ecto-armour too. The Psisym template is applied to Psions who have been covered by their symbiote (and they can always try and kill it off before then – try). Characters who find themselves under the Psisym template have found themselves in the ranks of NPCs. Hand over the character sheet, bud.
Memetic Parasites seem to a whole let less complicated. Memetic Parasites are fairly rare. Weak memetic parasites flutter around as awful “Knock-Knock” jokes and the like which seem to infect towns and cities. Now we know, they are infections. Stronger parasites manifest as enthralments and obsessions and they’re more dangerous. In addition to the obsessions (which are contagious) the parasite can turn up and drain energy from people. The parasites are especially attracted to magic users and psions and those characters will loose out on spell slots and power points for the day if they’re drained. Drained people can also carry the infection. There seems to be a difference between the infection and the parasite itself (whereas parasites are normally the infection themselves). You can kill off the infection if you’re good but there doesn’t seem to be anything you can do about killing off the parasite. Psions can track down parasites (rather than infected people) and invest power into them. This is a weird procedure involves sneaking up on the parasite so it doesn’t detect you and attack. You then have to take some of your energy or amazingly attribute bonus (Dexterity in the example), stick in the parasite and them rip it back out for a brief power-up. Actually, if the parasite doesn’t wander off you can extract your power back slowly over an hour and then you don’t have to use the boosted ability immediately. Ripping the power-out immediately seems pointless. It’s too tricky (and stupid) to invest power in a (conveniently handy) parasite during combat or some other critical time and the power-up fades in just a few turns. If you extract your power more slyly so you can save it for a day does that mean you’re actually without that attribute bonus at all until you do so? The example I’m so fond of has the character feel clumsy as the dexterity bonus is invested in the parasite. The book makes a point of saying that this loss doesn’t affect things such as qualification to prestige classes but this snapshot comes before the procedure is complete. I like the idea. I just need more help.
The Collector Series typically ends with a castle section of some description – whether the class lends itself to such things well or not. Here with the Psion we have rules for Crystal Palaces. Hah. Football fans will laugh. Roleplayers will note just how handy it would be for a Psion to have a castle chock full of powerful crystals. GMs will wonder whether they want such an exotic building in their game.
The Quintessential Psion isn’t as great as it could be but it’s still good. The book does the hard work; it conjures up the ideas, the inspirations and most of the rules. I think it is likely that GMs will want to tinker here and there throughout most of it. Unfortunately in a d20 hobby where crisp and clean cheesy fantasy seems dominant I don’t think the Quintessential Psion will please the masses. I liked the book despite the tinkering I think it needs. If you’re up for a Psion that’s as alien as the designer’s notes intended it to be then I suspect you’ll rise from the masses and enjoy the book too.