Are you ready for the mind-blowing potential of the psyche? This handbook describes over 150 paranormal powers: telepathy, ESP, clairvoyance, psychokinesis, biofeedback, out-of-body travel, plus many amazing talents never before revealed. The psionicist is a completely new character class for AD&D games, both for player characters and NPCs.
Explore inner space! Now you can really put mind over matter with The Complete Psionics Handbook.
There is no 2nd edition AD&D book in my library that has gotten more wear and tear than PHBR5: The Complete Psionics Handbook (1991), by Steve Winter. Most of 2e was a fairly straightforward evolution from 1e, with fairly minimal changes (although if you were a fan of half-orc assassins who fought devils in the Nine Hells, you may disagree with that.) The Complete Psionics Handbook was a completely new beast, though.
Good thing, too. Psionics in 1e was something of an afterthought, never quite integrated into the game, with esoteric pages of charts that tended to unbalance 1e heroes or to provide the DM with a method for melting unsuspecting adventurers' heads with the occasional psionic gray ooze. The concept of psionics in AD&D was a delight, perhaps, but we found the 1e implementation a little awkward.
Sciences and Devotions. In The Complete Psionics Handbook, Winter tried to capture the original feel and appeal of psionics without retaining the inherent game balance issues. He succeeds partially, breaking powers up by discipline (clairsentience, telepathy, and the like) and dividing powers within each discipline into "sciences" (the most powerful abilities, analogous to high-level spells) and "devotions" (the less powerful abilities). Many powers had prerequisites that prohibited how quickly they could be selected, and all powers required a power check to activate. A psionicist was limited at any one time in the number of disciplines she could select, the number of sciences and devotions she knew, and the number of power points she had to use.
As a result, psionicists tended to be powerful in very narrow niches, lacking range and consistency but able to gain access to powerful sciences before magic-wielding wizards could gain the equivalent abilities through their spells. The resulting characters were both fun and playable, but early access to powers like teleport or domination doubtless frustrated any number of DMs.
An Unexpected Source. The book doesn't say it openly anywhere (other than a mention under "Related Reading" on page 113), but the inspiration for the structure of 2nd edition psionics is yoinked almost completely from Julian May's superb Saga of the Pliocene Exile series. If you wondered where the names for sciences, devotions, psychometabolism, or psychoportation originated, that's where to look. Frankly, it was a good choice. May's novels did a fine job of thinking through a scientific classification of psionic powers, and her ideas translate nicely into D&D.
I Am Crushing Your Head. A new system of psionic combat is introduced here, a method of mental attack that ignored hit points and Armor Class (as well as normal scineces and devotions) in favor of telepathic attack and defense modes. Psionic combat could only be used against other psionic creatures. In essence, it amounts to a complex game of rock-paper-scissors, with attacks and defenses selected secretly and then compared to see how large a penalty or bonus the defender would get on their power checks. Win three attacks, and any telepathic power could be used without resistance. Most defenders preferred to avoid that.
More Rules Than Advice. This 128-page book is clearly and well written, complete with psionic monsters to bedevil your party, but there are admittedly a great deal of rules and powers that need to be explained, so it can be a dense read. As a result, this book also lacks the extensive role-playing advice and character kits of other Complete books. Seven pages are devoted to running a psionic campaign, the interaction of psionics and magic, the intrinsic hatred and distrust many NPCs may have for psionics, and a worthwhile table of inspirational reading.
The Complete Psionics Handbook is a superb and original work, slightly flawed for regular use due to the unpredictable spikes in game balance it can introduce into a campaign, but nonetheless a real step forward in AD&D game design. My copy is well worn due to regular use, and I wouldn't have it any other way.
About the Creators. Steve Winter is a game design and editing rock star: co-creator of the seminal Marvel Super Heroes game and editor of Star Frontiers, Gangbusters, Top Secret, Oriental Adventures, and many more. He co-wrote the Pool of Radiance computer game, and worked on numerous products for both TSR and Wizards of the Coast. He is currently Editor in Chief of Dragon and Dungeon magazines.
About the Product Historian
History and commentary of this product was written by Kevin Kulp, game designer and admin of the independent D&D fansite ENWorld. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to firstname.lastname@example.org.