Psionics Expanded: Advanced Psionics Guide
By Thilo Graf
This massive book is 220 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 216 (!!!!) pages of content, so let’s check this out!
Well, how to review this? This book is essentially the “Advanced Player’s Guide” for psionics, kicking off with an introduction that covers all the psionic races and core races and their respective takes on the new classes introduced in this book.
I already did in-depth analysis of the respective component pdfs that worked as a kind of playtest for the compilation of this book, so in order to avoid redundancy, I will NOT go through each and every piece of crunch again and instead point you towards my reviews of the component pdfs. I will thus focus on glitches I noticed when first reviewing these and whether/how they’ve been addressed.
Let’s start with “Find the Mark”. The marksman’s styles are still iconic and cool and…YEAH! We now also get the Kaigun, a marksman/gunslinger-hybrid! Even though “Find the Mark” was released before UC, Dreamscarred press did not rest on their laurels and now provide full Gunslinger-support for their ranged class in the form of an archetype that also includes new deeds. Mechanically sound and cool, this eliminates my one major gripe with the original pdf. Two thumbs up! Better yet, feats like greater intuitive shot and deadly throw (adding wis- and dex-modifier, respectively) to the damage cannot be combined. Wicked abuse successfully thwarted!
“Mind over Body” was my least favorite of the component pdfs, featuring a base-class called Vitalist that is essentially a psionic healer. In its original inception, its orisons had a confusing name that has been cleared up. Better yet, the broken psychic warrior path has been redesigned to avoid using the thrice-damned 3.5 ability “mettle” (evasion for 2 saves, btw.!), now working much more smoothly within the PFRPG-framework. The bad artwork for the metamorph PrC I originally criticized has been addressed, eliminating just about ALL gripes I had with the original pdf – with one exception: The collective ability of the vitalist and the tactician still does not specify whether e.g. a summoner and his eidolon count as one being towards the limit of participants or two. The same holds true for animal companions, familiars etc.
“Pawns & Power” – much like the vitalists’s collective, the Tacticians has been revised as well and now works more organic than in the original pdf’s first incarnation. “Unlimited Possibilities” was a glorious offering even before the refinement-process of the final book, so no surprises there regarding the quality. The same holds true for “Master the Battle” and “Hidden Intentions”, which adds 3 archetypes for the cryptic and 3 archetypes for the Dead. Have I mentioned the Sadist-archetype for the Vitalist before (thankfully, for once not restricted to evil characters) and the 4 different archetypes for the Tactician, one of which provides for a cool fusion of the Vitalist and Tactician classes? Well, I have now.
It should also be noted that e.g. displays of psionic powers and their combinations are detailed in stellar fluff – combinations etc. make for a distinct feeling that goes beyond “I concentrate”. The base psionic classes also get a vast array of additional options, as do some of the core-classes. The array of new powers and items that complements the pdf is also nothing to scowl at – there’s a LOT of content herein.
Editing and formatting are very good – I noticed not a single distracting glitch that would have hampered my understanding of this massive book. Layout adheres to a beautiful, rather printer-friendly two-column b/w-standard, with artworks being beautiful and in full color. The pdf comes with truly extended, nested bookmarks, which make navigation easy indeed.
Let me first state something and end a myth: Psionics are not unbalanced. Period. They haven’t been since Dreamscarred Press took the reins and applied a rigor and attention to detail and willingness to listen to feedback that is commendable indeed. I often find myself revisiting component pdfs when taking a look at any compilation and find that glitches have not been taken care of. With only one minor exception, the guys at DSP have managed to actually address ALL of my concerns with the component pdfs. Another trap for compilations of any kind is that they just reproduce content. Not so here: We not only have the blank spaces filled, we have the content lavishly and lovingly reorganized, expanded and polished to the point of gleaming like a diamond.
In the beginning of this review, I compared this book to the Advanced Player’s Guide. Well, to me, Pathfinder’s identity as something different from 3.5 first started to truly crystallize upon the release of said guide. Before, it was 3.6. Afterwards, it was its own, awesome system. Much the same can be said about Psionics Unleashed. While the CORE-book was the 3.6, streamlined version of 3.5 psionics, THIS is NEW. This is exciting. This is original. This is what identity should feel like in a product. Reviewing as many pdfs as I do, I often feel myself get bored by releases, yet more feats, spells, archetypes etc. Crunch can quickly become redundant and bland, forever rehashing tried and true design decisions, upping slowly, but firmly the power creep.
Psionics Expanded opts for something different. The book opts for classes with DISTINCT mechanics. These classes are hence harder to balance, harder to judge and this is also why it took me forever and a day to write this review. I wanted it backed by solid playing experience with each and every class herein. What can I say? They ALL WORK. In fact, they work so well it’s almost frightening, since doing the math and design must have been more than a massive challenge. The extended, lengthy playtest and actually using the playtest for something different than proofreading and incorporating the feedback gathered shows in every crunchy nook and cranny of this pdf. Now the pdf is not perfect: I still would have preferred e.g. a more talent-based approach for the marksman. But in the end…these are nitpicks. Very, very minor nitpicks.
I often complain about the lack of ambition among 3pps and 2012 has seen a major rise in such projects – FGG’s conclusion of “Slumbering Tsar” and the “Rappan Athuk” kickstarter, Open Design/Kobold Press’ “Midgard Campaign Setting” or Rite Publishing’s “Heroes of the Jade Oath”, to just name 2. But, at least for me, Psionics Expanded is the most ambitious project I’ve seen in ages, delivering classes with complex, new and exciting mechanics, massive enhancements to existing ones and balancing all of this as a Triple-A-release of the highest caliber. Designers of ANY class should take note, for here are examples on how it’s truly done. This is the APG of psionics. Let me spell it out, if it’s not abundantly clear by now:
I hate reviewing massive crunch-books like this due to the amount of work they require me to do, but oh boy.
This is one of the best crunch-books out there by ANY publisher for any version of d20. I unanimously allow this book in my home-game and I have limited access to the majority of content from “Ultimate Magic” and “Ultimate Combat”. This is grand in every sense of the word and I only seldom pronounce such on a book of crunch. If I could, I’d give this 6 stars. I can’t, though, and thus, in spite of (very) minor blemishes will rate this 5 stars + seal of approval. A re
quired purchase for ANY adherent of psionics AND for aspiring designers of crunch. This, ladies and gentleman, is how it’s done.
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