by John Squyers Twitch Twitter
Review of Unearthed Arcana “The Mystic Class” accessed here
Part 1: Psionics and how they work
This is the first part of a series of reviews of the famed Unearthed Arcana exclusive Mystic class. The Mystic class is the sole representative of psionics in DnD 5th edition and offers a really distinct experience for the player. I have been critical of this class in the past as I feel it is complicated and overpowered but we will take a look on why I feel that way. The first article will focus on psionics itself and how it works in the 5e ruleset.
With spellcasting in 5e being well-balanced, easy to learn, and easy to use it was pretty much a no-brainer for designers to emulate that as much as possible when creating a separate system to represent psychic powers. However there are some significant differences between spell casting and psionics. There are no “spell slots” but their closest equivalent is “psi points” and this is a fixed number granted at different levels the mystics use to activate their powers. This is coupled with “psi limit” which is the maximum amount of psi points you can spend on a psionic discipline at one time, and this too grows with the characters as they level. So instead of a certain number of times you can cast spells you instead use a number pool similar to “mana” in other games in which to use your psychic abilities. If you have 4 psi points for example and you use a psionic power that costs 2 psi points, you have 2 psi points remaining for other abilities. Pretty simple.
With points and their limits explained let’s examine the abilities themselves: talents and disciplines. Talents are minor psychic abilities that cost no psi points to use, similar to cantrips for spellcasters, and disciplines are greater psychic powers with different options to choose from and with different effects and psi point cost for each. Let’s examine one of the shorter psionic disciplines.
You transform your body to become a living metal, allowing you to shrug off attacks that would cripple weaker creatures.
Psychic Focus. While focused on this discipline, you gain a +1 bonus to AC.
Iron Hide (1–7 psi). As a reaction when you are hit by an attack, you gain a +1 bonus to AC for each psi point you spend on this ability. The bonus lasts until the end of your next turn. This bonus applies against the triggering attack.
Steel Hide (2 psi). As a bonus action, you gain resistance to bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage until the end of your next turn.
Iron Resistance (7 psi; conc., 1 hr.). As an action, you gain resistance to bludgeoning, piercing, or slashing damage (your choice)
Iron durability is a very simple discipline and it can only be used by the “immortal” sub-class as indicated in the description (more on the sub-classes in a future article) and lists a few options for the mystic to use this discipline. The first aspect of this is the “psychic focus” which grants +1 AC. Each discipline has a “psychic focus” option which is a passive ability the mystic gains while activating this focus. It costs no psi points and a player can only have one focus active at a time unless they are incapacitated or expend a bonus action to change focus.
The first point costing option is “iron hide” which costs 1 to 7 psi points, players’ choice, and the character gains a bonus to AC equal to the point expenditure as a reaction to an attack, lasting until the end of their next turn. If you are a level 1 or 2 character then due to your psi limit you can only use a maximum of 2 psi points for this ability.
Next is “steel hide” which for 2 psi points the mystic gains resistance to physical damage until the end of their next turn.
And so on and so forth.
Psionic talents are not as numerous or as varied as disciplines as it is in their nature to be simpler for the mystic to use and as a result they are not as spectacular. Some examples include “Energy Beam” which deals 1d8 of chosen damage to a target on a failed dexterity save, and “Mystic Charm” which charms one creature within 120ft on a failed charisma save. Pretty standard for something spell-like that costs no components to use.
Even though this article adds a new ruleset to the game, something I am extremely wary of, it is not too bad. We will explore the psionic powers more in depth in a future article but the new psionic “casting” is pretty straightforward. Still though I am not really sure why they decided to invent this new system and not just use the tried and true spell slots. Sure, psionic powers are not spells but there is no reason you can’t argue that mystics have limited powers much like wizards do and that the slots represent the limits of their mental strength and need a rest before they refresh.
The only thing I can think of is that the game designers intentionally wanted to pigeonhole players into disciplines, since these give you multiple cast options but are rather limiting when compared to spells. Arcane or Divine casters can choose spells across multiple schools to have a variety of casting options but the mystic is stuck with disciplines that all have the same relative bonuses to them (see above Iron Durability where each option is defensive in nature, either a bonus to AC or resistance to damage).
As it stands I think I still prefer the spell slot system but the points system is playable. I am not a fan of the limitations of the disciplines however and I still prefer the flexibility of spell casting classes. In the next article we will go more in depth into the talents and disciplines themselves followed by the class and sub-class options. All along we will discuss the pros and cons of each section.
Part 2: Class Options
Part 3: Subclasses
Part 4: Talents and Disciplines