EZG reviews Mind over Matter: Psion & Soulknife
This book that expands the glorious Psionics-rules from Dreamscarred Press’ Ultimate Psionics clocks in at 20 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, ~1.5 pages SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with ~15.5 pages of content, so let’s take a look, shall we?
We immediately kick off with a new archetype for Nomads, the Locus. Skill-wise, they exchange fly and survival for bluff and perception as class skills and overall, they modify the discipline abilities of the Nomad beyond 2nd level, i.e. the archetype’s signature tricks are learned at 8th, 14th and 20th level and replace the respective default discipline abilities. What are these? Well the 8th level ability lets the nomad 1/day make a full attack versus any creature within reach, making all of the wilder’s melee and touch attacks versus said target count as the target being flanked. The nomad may designate a secondary target for one of the attacks within 10 feet of the primary target. The reach for eligible secondary targets can be extended by + 5 feet per power point expended. No more than con-mod power points can be expended thus – which feels slightly strange if you’ve been playing with psionics for some editions and still remember psychoportation generally being the dex-discipline, but since that connection has been diminished almost completely, no complaints there. (And yes, we get more daily uses as the levels progress…) At 14th level, the Locus may project a phantom self as long as the locus is psionically focused.
The phantom has all your physical traits and powers, but does not benefit from your magical items and only has psion level times int-mod hp, but cannot exceed your hp – I *assume* here that current hp is meant, but I’m not sure. While phantoms have no powers and usually can’t interact in a physical world, you can pay 3 power points to make a standard action, 2 to make a free, swift, immediate action with it. What do move-equivalent actions that interact with the physical world cost? The psion is aware of all the phantom’s experiences once the effect ends, but no sooner, making for an interesting balance mechanism here, though one that requires careful separation of in-game and out-game knowledge – why?
Because the psion is knocked unconscious for 10-con mod minutes if the phantom perishes, making scouting with it potentially perilous. Now generally, I love the idea of this ability. The execution and the wording, though, fall somewhat flat. A phantom may move up to psion level times int-mod times 100 feet away from your psion. What happens if the phantom tries to move beyond? I don’t know, the ability does not specify it. Also problematic – the phantom’s action economy – so only power points restrict the phantom’s actions? The text reads “The psion is able to make a single physical standard action…”, which proves to be the key here – the phantom’s actions seem to be that of the psion, i.e. the psion steers the phantom – which the text, apart from this small tidbit, unfortunately fails to mention. As written, the ability can be read as the phantom and psion acting simultaneously, rather than the psion steering the phantom, which would break action economy hardcore. From the text, I gather that was not the intention, though the ambiguity still remains. Also problematic – the ability fails to specify where the phantom emerges. As a capstone, you may create an exact duplicate of yourself and actually manages to get the hit point, magic items with charges (solved via a kind of quantum indeterminacy – first one to use the item, has it until the effect ends), effects and spells – all the stuff, RIGHT. Seriously, impressive capstone, well-crafted, two thumbs up for it!
The second psion-archetype would be the Mind Reaver for the Telepathy-discipline, who replaces profession as a class skill with disguise and must be non-good. And they better invest in some disguise ranks, for rather paltry checks can determine that there’s something not quite right with these guys and noticing nets severe penalties to all social interaction but intimidate, which is, of course, granted a bonus against those weirded out by the reaver. Rather interesting would be the ability to impose -1 penalties to will-saves via the expenditure of power points as a swift action (up to 1/4 psion level, min 1) until the target’s next turn. Where things get slightly off here would be in the additional ability, that allows for the expenditure of +3 power points to extend the effect to all creatures within 30 feet…of what? The power’s target? The mindreaver? This is a very important distinction. Also, as written, this means the ability can be used first at 12th level, whereas usual augment rules (yes, I know – usually applied to powers, not class abilities) cap augments at manifester level. I *assume* the ability’s limit (and thus, 12th level) take precedence over augmentation limits, but a clarification would still be nice. -1 to will does not seem like a good trade off at 12th level, especially since allies can’t be excluded from this ability…
As a standard action, 2nd level mindreavers may create psychic javelins and hurl them at targets via a touch attack (nitpick alert – this should be RANGED touch attack) – reach being the javelin’s reach, I *assume* and the javelin can be enhanced via feats etc. just as if it were a real javelin.Hit targets are shaken in addition to the damage received. The psion may spend 2 power points to increase threat range by plus 1. (At what cap? Could a psion make a javelin that threatens a crit on a natural 2?) At 6th level and every 4 levels thereafter, the range of the javelin increases by 10 ft., the damage dice by “a factor of 1″[sic!]. Granted, my math vocabulary may be a bit rusty, but factor is a term in multiplication and usually denotes one of the numbers used in it – so this would mean no increase. I think the wrong term has been used here and don’t have the slightest clue, how the base damage of the javelin scales. Why not just adhere to the rules-standard and write something like “at level x, the javelin’s base damage dice increase by +xdx and every y levels thereafter, said amount is increased by z” or something similar? The spear can be manifested 3+Int-mod times per day.
At 8th level, highjacking targets via mind control (via power points even as a move action!) becomes possible, though whether this special augment stacks or is in addition with the default augmentations of the power, I’m not sure. As a capstone, the mindreaver gets a deadly, madness-inducing aura and can pay power points to expand the aura and attack targets within with black tentacles of energy that stun the targets for 3 power points per target – unfortunately failing to specify the action creating one or more of these stun-tentacles takes. All in all, glorious in concept and pretty close to working, being awesome, this archetype is brought low by several minor issues that make it simply not work properly as intended.
The feats herein allow e.g. the Locus to get +2 uses of disturbed space per day, make a bull rush attempt (ranged combat maneuver, not a fan, but at least the restriction that bars movement by the manifester and the 1/fold restriction and power point cost balance it) via disturbed space, additionally knock targets prone on a failed save and even expand said attempt to hit all within 10 feet – of what? The Manifester or the target of disturbed space? What if disturbed space targets multiple creatures? Multiple AoO Bull Rush/Trips?
Amplified folding does not work as written – disturbed space is a full attack action, meaning the locus will not have a standard action left to make an attack at full BAB with flanking bonuses to two separate foes. An increase of the will-save crippling power of the mind reaver gets the changes its effect to fort instead does get the interaction with the base ability’s power point cap right, btw. The archetype can also get a power point-based gaze attack – that somehow does not work like gaze attacks. Usually, gaze attacks automatically work and can be targeted at creatures to potentially prompt second saves. However, the gaze attack granted by the feat does not have this passive component of the gaze attack – does that mean only those explicitly targeted can be affected with it or does the expenditure of the power point activate it? If the former, for how long?
The Soulknife-Attenuator archetype also modifies the class skill list and may make knowledge checks versus 10+CR to gain scaling circumstance bonuses to atk against targets for 3+wis-mod rounds – 2/day at 1st level + 1/day at 6th level and every 4 levels after that. While at first a full-round action, the action type this takes diminishes at 5th level to standard and thereafter on 8th to move action and finally to swift action at 11th level. Not a fan of the CR-mategamey aspect, but as an exchange for the 1st level bonus feat, okay. Instead of throwing their blade, the attenuator can execute a special attack that deals no damage, but applies negative conditions (first fatigued, then exhausted and dazed, and finally, stunned) to the target as a full-round action, useable 3+dex.mod times per day. The target gets a save. This ability is VERY weak and could use some improvements…
Foes properly identified via aforementioned gauge weakness-ability find, at 10th level, that it’s hard to cast spells or use powers on a failed save for wis-mod rounds. Per se okay disrupto, though I doN’t get why a save is used here in lieu of a concentration-check. Does the target realize the disruptive power? If not, are failed spells lost or not? Using concentration instead would have eliminated all these ambiguities. Additionally, since this ability replaces psychic strike, it makes soulknife levels 3 and 7 dead levels where nothing is gained. Bad! The capstone can emit a combined antimagic/null-psionics field that fails to specify caster level/manifester level as well as taking into account that the default assumption is for psionics and magic to interact.
The Manic Magpie automatically gets combat expertise and does not provoke AoOs when attempting the steal and disarm combat maneuvers and instead applies additional benefits when taking the improved-feats for these – paltry as they may be with a +1 competence bonus to slight of hands. This ability costs throw mind blade as well as the 1st level bonus feat.
At 3rd level, Magpies may steal weapons from foes via sleight of hand versus touch attack. The foe gets a ref-save versus the skill-checks result to prevent this. I consider this ability bad design. skill versus AC is not fair, skill versus touch AC is insane. Even the ref-save (which will always be below a properly maxed out skill) does not cut it. Also – why use this convoluted mechanic that deviates from how steal in handled in EVERY OTHER context and create confusion? Also problematic – when stealing mind-blades and spell/power-made weapons (which becomes possible at higher levels), blade skills, enhancements etc. are retained – but can apply their own blade skills to the mind-blade as well? Also, the ability features a caveat that it can be used +1/day at 6th level and +1/day every three levels thereafter, but the base ability has no daily cap. As a capstone, the Magpie may steal a single target spell/effect/power via sleight of hand that targets the character or an adjacent ally and redirect the effect – per se cool, but fails to specify what action it is – free? Immediate? that’s about it. Why does the character not have to identify the effect in question, as is custom with counterspelling and the like?
We also get 4 blade skills – one allows you to ignore soft cover when throwing your mind blade, which is pretty weak, and one that teleports you to the target of your throw as a move action. The former could use an anti-teleportation caveat, but apart from that, the caveat for direct lines, implying that obstacles can break your stride, works for me. Power Point-sapping does, too. However, the final skill, which costs a standard action to render your blade ghost touch for wis-mod rounds, is ridiculous. Look at that soulknife-table – at +1 equivalent, they can already do that. And yes, I get the added flexibility, but compared to other blade skills, this still makes no sense.
The new soulknife feats allow you to use the archetype abilities with x/day uses more often, combine at 15th level thrown mind blades with melee attacks/multi-throw, increase mind blade range or imbue the brilliant energy special ability into a piece of ammunition SANS LIMIT OR DURATION. Yeah, a soulknife with this feat can flood the market like kingdom come. Absorbing (and destroying) a psicrystal, gaining temporarily its personality benefits also seems a bit situational for a feat. Also confusing – why does stealing a psicrystal take a whole feat? Adding minor non-lethal damage to pressure strike (the negative condition-inducing attack of the Attenuator) is a nice touch, but since that remains the only damage the attack gets, its scaling (max 4d3+4) remains very weak. Also, do str-mod and similar bonuses to damage apply here? I *assume* no, but I’m not sure. A second feat makes this damage lethal instead. Yeah, not stoked either.
There also are 4 general new feats, one generally enhancing your effective ML by +1 whenever spending power points. So does this mean the augment-cap for the augmented ability is higher or that whenever you augment anything via power points, you’re treated as +1 ML? Before or after power points are expended? Don’t know, needs clarification. The same hold true for the follow-up feat. Critical Insight is one of these bad design-feats – regain 1 power point for every natural 20 you have with an attack. Bag of kittens. Ineffective bag of kittens that takes forever to replenish your power points, but still. A meditation that takes 1 hour and regains character level power points does work – limited by time, caveat for being uninterrupted and no ability to exceed the regular limits ensure it is a valid last ditch reserve.
We also get a neat new power that deals wis-damage and can cause a random, permanent insanity – here, two new ones, delirium and psychalgia, are provided. Nice! The new power Radiant Banner is an okay buff, while Thousand Cutting Cranes is interesting – an explosion of paper swans is less effective versus those wearing metal armor, while non-metal armor takes additional damage. The power also obscures sight for a limited duration. I love the imagery and idea of the power, but its implementation is suboptimal – what about non-metal materials that are harder than metal? Tying the mechanics to the hardness of the armor instead of its composition would have made for the more elegant design choice.
As a bonus, we get content for Mythic Adventures as well with the medium path – every tier in it increases hp by 4 and at 1st tier, one of 2 aptitudes needs to be selected. The first lets you expend mythic power to mitigate expenditure of a psionic focus and power point cost of a manifestation of a power. Additionally, it lets you roll twice to overcome power resistance and forces targets to take the lower of two saves when hit by said power. Per se cool, but what about augmentation? Does the use of mythic power also cover augmentation power points used or just the base power points expended? Metyphysical Strike is insane – use 1 mythic power to attack at full BAB as a swift action in addition to other attacks. Additionally, you have to spend 2xML in power points and gain said point spent as bonus to atk. Additionally, said attack deals 2d6/manifester level “psychic” (damage type does not exist) AND base damage ignores all DR. For a level 1 path aptitude, this is rather extreme and too strong. Additionally, the focus on power points and manifester levels means that the poor soulknife can’t take it either – the path has no aptitude for it. The capstone tier-10-ability nets you hp equal to your attacker’s HD and you may ignore 10 points of “psychic resistance” – which, as an ability, is codified as SR equal to class level+10 in Ultimate Psionics. So does that mean the abiliyt works only against those with said psychic resistance quality? Or does it refer to spellresistance? Or ANY type of energy resistance? I don’t know.
Regaining mythic power whenever a foe fails to save against you is also broken (bag o’ kittens extreme) – and yes, i know – tier 10, say goodbye to balance. This still breaks too many design-tenets to work. Unless I’ve miscounted, we also get 24 path abilities that include an incorporeal familiar, faster item creation, more customization points for Aegis astral suits, a tier + int-mod-based flash of light that can destroy objects within 5 feet, spend mythic power to automatically regain your focus, auto-identify powers (with a weird a caveat that lets you “learn” them – which does not happen in psionic classes; vitalists may rotate them, for example -don’t get how that part was supposed to work – as written, it does nothing unless a manifester has deliberately refused to learn a power – which makes no sense…) and cast said powers via mythic power for a select duration (which directly seems to contradict aforementioned caveat…). Balance is wonky here – detect thoughts in a slightly improved fashion is not a great choice for investing mythic power, whereas other are imho a tad too strong: Never being flat-footed except via mythic abilities and immunity to non-mythic sneak attacks and mythic power to negate extra damage from a crit or sneak attack feels like too powerful when compared to the abilities granted by all regular mythic paths…Granted, this may be due to lacking the distinction between 1st, 3rd and 6th tier abilities within this pdf – as written, ALL of these are 1st tier… and their balance is all over the place. (And yes, I’m aware that further content can be found in Vol.2 of the series, but still…)
This mythic path is unfortunately quite a mess – if your base choice already excludes part of the target demographic from getting any benefits (and yes, the path has soulknife-exclusive path abilities), then you’re into trouble. The path’s issue here being, beyond the tier-glitch (Or is it one??), that it tries to be too general – one path for all psionic classes is just too thin a stretch to cover them all properly, which is a shame, for generally, the abilities feel solid.
Editing and formatting are very good on a FORMAL level; regarding rules-editing, there are a lot of issues – too many. Layout adheres to an elegant two-column full-color standard, with thematically-fitting art/stock art. The pdf comes fully hyperlinked and bookmarked for your convenience.
Author Peter K. Ullmann ALMOST gets it right; Alas and alack, this extends to almost every single component within this pdf. The psion-archetypes are interesting in their focus on discipline powers and even in concepts, though flawed in execution. The soulknife archetypes are simply bad choices, with quit a bunch of design-flaws to boot. The bonus content is a mixed bag, with feats often failing to be precise enough and only 1 blade skill worth picking. The new powers and insanities show promise, though the former also suffer from less than optimal choices here and there. The mythic path tries to cater to too many types of classes and also has several wording-issues – I won’t start with the balance-problems.
Writing this one was, I won’t lie, a rather somber affair for me – on one hand, the designer is close to getting even complex abilities right – and then fails over some wording ambiguity, forgets the final dot to make the ability work. This is one of the pdfs, where everything almost makes sense and then…doesn’t Mind you, this one does have a bunch of cool ideas, valid concepts, but their implementation is flawed. The page count is also on the low end of the spectrum, though, seeing you can get this as a bonus for shopping at d20pfsrd.com’s shop somewhat mitigates that. Still, this one has so many issues in almost every component, I can’t recommend it. The amount of things that work is far eclipsed by very weak, unbalanced or simply, not properly working content, that I’m forced to rate this, in spite of its promise, as 1.5 stars, rounded down to 1 for the purpose of this platform.