Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The Mike Mearls Happy Fun Hour, Part 2: Psionics!

Mike Mearls 
(by Tim Emrick)
Back in May, I did a review of the first dozen episodes of The Mike Mearls Happy Fun Hour, in which one of the co-creators of Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition shows his process for designing new material for the game. That introduction covered January through most of April 2018; this installment will take a look at episodes from April to early July.

4/24/18: Mearls' discussion of the Disaster Barbarian continues, sketching out the remainder of its subclass abilities. After covering so many subclasses, he feels it's time to take the next step of designing a new class, and wishes to tackle psionics. However, as an exercise in the limited time he has left in this episode, he first tries to create a Psion subclass for the wizard. He uses this as an example of a concept that really needs to be designed as a full new class, because it's too hard to pin down the feel within the limits of a subclass.

The Warlord, which he did back in March, was complicated in execution, but that concept fit better as a fighter subclass than as a new class of its own. (Among other things, the warlord concept didn't seem robust enough to support multiple subclasses over years of play.) Here, the Psion clearly needs a better way to distinguish itself from other spellcasters than cherry-picking psychic-flavored spells from the wizard list.

5/1/18: After further exploration of the Psion/Mind Mage wizard, Mearls feels that it actually fills a niche for DMs who want some of the flavor of psionics in their game without needing to learn the rules for an entirely new class. This basically gives three possible settings for psionics in D&D games:
  1. Strictly by the Player's Handbook: No psionic classes or subclasses. The only psionic creatures are rare monsters with psionic spellcasting.
  2. The mystic: A new psionic class that requires DMs and players to learn a lot of new rules and options, roughly as extensive as a new spell list.
  3. Psionic subclasses that largely use existing spells and class abilities to provide psychic flavor.

5/8/18: Mearls develops a Psychic Warrior subclass for the fighter, using the Eldritch Knight subclass as a starting point for spellcasting. As with the Psion, the spells that seem most appropriate for the class don't fit neatly into a couple of schools (as they do for the Eldritch Knight), so this subclass will probably require a bespoke spell list.

(5/15/2018: No episode due to illness.)

5/22/18: Next up is the Soulknife as a subclass for monk, which is a class that Mearls has not addressed up to this point in the show. The Soulknife is an interesting choice, because it has no spellcasting powers, only its signature weapon.

5/29/18: Mearls reviews more polished versions of the Psychic Warrior and Soulknife. He suggests two possible ways that psionic classes or subclasses might eventually enter the game: either as a chapter in the setting book for Dark Sun (a classic setting that showcased psionics) or as part of a second Xanathar's-style book. Neither is happening right away, but I expect that feedback on his show and on the Unearthed Arcana articles that come out of it will help shape that decision. In fact, he does mention that a new satisfaction survey about 5E as a whole is in the works, and that definitely will influence future design on the game.

6/5/18, 6/12/18: Mearls takes a look at the Mystic class as it last appeared in Unearthed Arcana. That version was not completely satisfactory because it was trying to do too much. However, the past few weeks' work on psionic subclasses have moved enough archetypes to other classes that the Mystic--renamed the Psion--now has a much more obvious focus. In the second of these two episodes, Mearls ruthlessly prunes away at the Mystic class and its orders (subclasses) in order to determine which abilities should reside in the core Psion class, which in the subclasses, which should be made into spells, and which should be dropped entirely.

Mearls' new design makes psionic powers work like spells, using spell slots, despite previous editions giving psionic characters power points to fuel their abilities. The 5E Dungeon Master's Guide has optional rules for running magic with spell points, so that option is available for psionics, if the GM allows.

6/19/18: Mearls delves into the design of new psionic cantrips to support his current ideas for the Psion class, focusing primarily on the teleportation-based Nomad subclass.

6/26/18: This episode is largely devoted to a tangent suggested by someone in the show's chat channel: How to design spells that make minor time travel effects easy to implement during combat.

7/3/18: Mearls works on one more Psion subclass, the Shaper, which is defined by its at-will summoning power. Most of the rest of this subclass, and the Psion class as a whole, will occur off-camera, then Mearls will come back in a few months to present a more fully-fleshed out class--perhaps in the form of an Unearthed Arcana article.

The Happy Fun Hour has exclusively covered classes and subclasses up to now, so Mearls has decided that the next several weeks will involve designing new monsters for the Nentir Vale campaign he's running.

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