Psionics in Dungeon World

Psionics in Dungeon World

Psionics in Dungeon World

I want to talk a bit about my thoughts on how a psionics based class could work/look in Dungeon World. A fair warning, most of my Inspiration for Psionic stuff comes from DnD 3.5/4, Comics and a tiny bit of SciFi movies. Also, all of these things are just my opinions and we can discuss these; don’t take them as unmovable facts. 

I want to talk about 3 things; 

#1 What Archetype would the class fill

#2 A short detour into hold/points mechanics for…

#3 How could you do psionics mechanically 

Edit: I will talk about part 2 and 3 on the coming days. 

#1 Archetypes

If we look at DnD’s Psionic Handbook; there are 3 major Archetypes of Psionic Users (and Lurkers and Soulknifes but those are Compendium Classes) 

The Psion; basically the Psionic Mage. You studied this stuff and can use it methodically and calm.

The Wilder; they can use these powers more like a Sorcerer. Intuitively and with little fine control. They can also push extra power into spells but fry their brains in the process.

The Psionic Warrior, in a way a Gish class that is Fighter+Powers but an Archetype that got expanded on in 4e. In a way it is also close to a Jedi/Sith. You win fights because you have MIND POWERS!

DnD4 kept the Psion but basically lost the Wilder, some of their aspects however got moved into other classes.

The Psionic Warrior got moved into the Battlemind. Same concept in a way but added some more elements of self transformation.  

The Ardent. They are a mix between Wilder and Psionic Warrior. They use psi abilities in combat to help themselves and their allies. In the fluff there was also a bigger emphasis of the link to emotion in your psi. 

(The Monk was also Psionic in 4e but it deviates to much from the main archetype for me here) 

So what of these fit Dungeon World? 

The Psion as Psionic Mage could come down easily as a Wizard but with different Spells. Also Mind Reading and Telekinesis are already on the Wizard Spell list. You might have a different casting system but how different are you really from a Wizard? 

The Wilder however… They represent a more intuitive connection to Psi/”Magic”. Something we don’t really have yet in Dungeon World. The Bard comes close but the link to music/art is really strong and they don’t feel as chaotic/free/inborn talent in play. Now you could play a Wizard like a Sorcerer in fluff but the way you prepare spells still is rather methodical. Let’s keep that in mind. 

The Psionic Warrior, a Fighter with cool abilities is a nice concept because the game doesn’t have as many “here is a cool combat action” moves (and doesn’t really need them if you ask me; but a lot of people miss these things i think). But between Fighter, Barbarian and Paladin the “cool fighter” niche get’s thin. Especially if you throw in more classes. Of course these classes would feel differently then a Paladin but i don’t know how good it would carry a whole class as it’s main thing. 

The same goes for a Battlemind. 

The Ardent. 

Now here we get close to a Bard. You might need to get in an hit things to activate powers but you are a beefier Bard. That would mean you could support less good probably, or at least differently then a Bard. That get’s you close to Gish again. However, they also have this emotional and uncontrollable nature to them in a way, something DW is lacking for most things but the Barbarian.

Other Concepts

River Tan/The Brainer.

Getting weird visions of the future, reading peoples minds, destorying their minds… All really cool things.  But maybe not as useful as an Adventurer. To use these things you need time and care, not something you always have in high dashing action adventures ala Dungeon World. You can have this kind of game but you are not playing to the core strengths of the game. (i think)

So what do you want in a psionic Adventurer?

They should be useful “in a Dungeon”. They will be Hacking&Slashing and Volleying and Defending and Discerning the Realities, Spouting Lore and Parleying. There should be a reason why the group is adventuring with this person. In short, they should be able to solve problems that occur. 

They shouldn’t make another class obsolete but play together with the other classes (in an optimal world, making a replacement class is an okay thing if you make it clear).

They shouldn’t feel like magic. If they are psi then they are psi and feel that way.  

To make them different from magic they should be in some way more wild, more spontaneous or more personal. You don’t have classified psionic powers but what you do is more personal. 

I also like adding the element of Emotion into Psi. “Psionic Energy” comes from strong emotions. And because you need these strong emotions to channel these powers you won’t be using them rational. A bit like the force really. Anger/Hate or Tranquility/Compassion make great channels for offensive or supportive maneuvers. 

Should they be great in Combat? Not without Psi. 


Emotional States give you power

No Spell List (but maybe a list of effects) 

Need psi to be excellent in Dangerous Situations but can get by without it. 

This still seems like a Force User to me. (but without the cool sword…) 

This is my conclusion anyway; what do you feel makes for a good Psionic based (vanilla) Dungeon World Class? 

8 thoughts on “Psionics in Dungeon World”

  1. Bonds are the stuff of powerful emotion.  Psi should be especially potent any time when “roll+bond” feels an appropriate thing to be rolling.  Psi as extra stat (like a sixth sense, or in this case seventh) with +bond as a stat substitution or maybe you add +bond to damage/effect….

  2. I would actually lean in the opposite direction re: Emotion as power. When I think “psion,” I think of someone cool and dispassionate, focusing their thoughts with intense precision, not someone erupting with hot-blooded manly rage. Unfortunately, that doesn’t lend itself as easily to a mechanic — if you introduce stuff that tracks how out-of-balance our zen master Psion is, you’re sort of implying that everyone else is maintaining an even keel since they don’t need to monitor their emotional state.

  3. At any rate, I agree with a lot of the original post in that D&D psionics are difficult to port over one-for-one due to their heavy overlap with each other and with the non-psionic classes. With the Wizard already covering a lot of mind powers & telekinetic force, you really need to crank those features up to 11 to make a Psion shine.

    I’m more familiar with 3.5E Psionics than I am with 4E, so my initial impulse is to start with the Psion and the Soulknife as your two class chassis. The Psion would be based on Telepathy (always-on with party members, roll+Int to read the mind of someone unwilling), some kind of Charm equivalent, and telekinesis. Advanced moves could build the Telepathy into a Society Mind-type hive mind effect and upgrade Charm into a Dominate effect, as well as pull in some X-Men style astral projection and whatnot. You’d want this guy along to pull information out of people — and possibly out of nowhere, if he’s really good — and to keep your team coordinated. Oh, and you’ve gotta have memory wipes in there somewhere.

    The Soulknife has an obvious hook in having lightsabers for hands, which gives it a strong visual as well as calling in that Jedi flair you mentioned. I’m not thrilled with Jedi & PsyWar-style run-faster-jump-higher stuff since it doesn’t scream “mind powers” to me. But you could allow ranged Defend actions as a simulation of telekinesis (similar to Mike Wice’s Abjurer class) that echo the 4E Swordmage, and a psi-blade could basically serve as a Signature Weapon that’s adjustable on the fly. There’s got to be value in that somewhere.

  4. Maybe a psi-weapon is like the druid’s shape change.  You declare the weapon you’re forming and the GM tells you the appropriate tags.  You can switch up the tag combinations but the psi-weapon is pretty much like a normal weapon and then relies on advanced moves to make it more powerful (to differentiate it from a Signature Weapon).

  5. I would play up the role of perception, memory, and cognition for a Psion which can go even above and beyond that of a Wizard. This plays on eidetic memory, Discern Realities, finding ways to “figure things out” through intuition or analysis and psychic communication.

    Know-It-All is a great flavorful move for a Wizard and it could be adapted as “Psionic Suggestion:” You can spend a hold to Aid someone with a cryptic mental suggestion. If they follow your idea , they gain a +1 forward and if they succeed, you gain +1 XP. (Obvious “Use the Force, Luke” suggestions aside 😉

    Mind Castle ala Sherlock would be a cool move too — you could use it to parse out previously seen clues, hints and puzzles similar to Discern Realities, but perhaps with a different list of questions. I’m tossing some off the cuff, channeling some Sir Arthur Conan Doyle… Spend a hold to ask one of the following questions:

    What clues suggest where they came from?

    What clues suggest where they are going?

    What motive or instinct drove them to do X?

    What single action can I take to avert Y from occurring?

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