4E: Psion – by the Numbers

psionYesterday saw the introduction of Wizards of the Coast’s new ‘preview’ content roll out for the PHB3, starting with a build for the new Psion class and an article with developer commentary on the new class and the inclusion of the Psionic power source into 4th Edition.  Personally I don’t see much of a difference between the PHB3 preview and what has been presented before as playtest articles (such as the Artificer or Barbarian) except that there seems to be less of a call for design feedback which I think is unfortunate.  However, I get the impression the idea behind calling it preview content instead of a playtest is that they will be releasing a lot more content early which is a very good thing, and the reality is that player feedback will happen no matter what so perhaps this is a good move on WotC’s part.

As expected a number of posts quickly popped up on the RPG Bloggers Network discussing the new content, I think the new mechanic was particularly well summarized by one of the Network’s newest members Geek Ken:

…it looks like an interesting class. What I particularly like is how the implementation of power abilities are slightly tweaked. Players slowly expand primarily with their at will powers and get daily and utility powers as normal. They gain no encounter powers. Rather they obtain power points (starting with 2) that they spend to augment their at will powers. Most at will powers can be augmented twice, effectively having 3 ‘levels’ of effects. After a short rest, they regain those points back. They’ll end up with the same number encounter powers as other players, just some differences in the game mechanics for using them.

Of particular interest to me is the fact that introducing a new, and relatively different, mechanic to the game has caused many to instantly decree imbalance and broken status upon the class.  The xenophobia runs strong as usual it seems, since it’s different clearly things must be imbalanced!  What I’d like to do is take a detailed look at the Psion class by the numbers as it relates to previous 4th Edition class design.

Heroic Tier (10th level) – PHB class

  • 2 At-Will Powers
  • 3 Encounter Powers
  • 3 Utility Powers
  • 3 Daily Powers

Heroic Tier (10th level) – Psion

  • 3 At-Will Powers
  • 6 Power Points (augment cost 1 or 2)
  • 3 Utility Powers
  • 3 Daily Powers

In any given encounter, you can expect a Heroic tier character to use all three encounter powers, 1 daily, and 1 utility power.  The Psion regains power points during a short rest, so in one encounter you can expect them to use three fully augmented powers.  However, the Psion has added versatility in the ability to instead use six lower augmented powers, or any combination of the two in addition to having the ability to re-use the same augmented power multiple times.

Paragon Tier (20th level) – PHB class

  • 2 At-Will Powers
  • 4 Encounter Powers
  • 5 Utility Powers
  • 4 Daily Powers

Paragon Tier (20th level) – Psion

  • 3 At-Will Powers
  • 9 Power Points (augment cost 1 or 4)
  • 1 Encounter Power (augment cost 2)
  • 5 Utility Powers
  • 4 Daily Powers

A paragon character is expected to use 4 encounter powers in each encounter, and with one use each this is pretty cut and dry.  The adaptability of the Psion really starts to shine in the Paragon tier, with 9 power points to choose from they can manifest their one encounter power, one fully augmented paragon level at-will power, one fully augmented heroic tier at-will power, and one lesser augmented at-will power.  On the other hand, the Psion could choose to use two fully augmented paragon at-wills and then have 1 PP left to spend on a lesser augmented power.  In the first example the Psion is actually using the exact same number of “encounter” powers as any other class.  If they really wanted to spread things out they could decide to just use nine lesser augmented at-will powers.

Epic Tier (30th level) – PHB class

  • 2 At-Will Powers
  • 4 Encounter Powers
  • 7 Utility Powers
  • 4 Daily Powers

Epic Tier (30th level) – Psion

  • 3 At-Will Powers
  • 17 Power Points (augment cost 2 or 6)
  • 1 Encounter Power (augment cost 2)
  • 7 Utility Powers
  • 4 Daily Powers

The epic tier looks much the same as paragon, with the highest level at-will powers costing 2 or 6 PP, the Psion can use two of them and have 5 PP left over to use another two encounter powers.  UH OH!  Now we see the Psion has one lonely power point left over to use on a lesser augmented at-will power.  This is the first hint I’ve gotten of the new Psion class having any edge over other classes except when it comes to versatility, which is really an advantage that can only be determined during actual play.

So is the new Psion class unbalanced?  In the preview as presented, it might be, but from what I can tell only at the highest level of epic tier play does that advantage begin to really show itself mechanically.  Some people will say they have the advantage of more diversity in at-will powers, but because of that they also lack the diversity of being able to choose different types of attacks/effects in their encounter powers, so I see this as a very well balanced class in that regard.  The big question becomes, is the ability to use a large number of weaker encounter powers or a smaller number of regular encounter powers (or a mix of the two) a mechanical advantage over just having a regular number of encounter powers?


  1. Thanks for the breakdown!

    I try to reserve judgment on balance until I’ve seen the class in play. I wish others would do the same. I always remember a humorous little article, “We Tried Baseball and It Didn’t Work”: http://www.xprogramming.com/xpmag/jatBaseball.htm
    .-= Nicholas´s last blog ..Dungeon Notes #18 =-.

  2. I don’t really care much about its balance, I just dislike the break in the power system. I left D&D 3.5 because every new book was some random new subsystem. Now we have Full Discipline and the Psion and it seems like maybe every psionic class will be its own gimmicky subsystem. I’ve seen enough of that, and I don’t like it. But really, that’s okay. I wasn’t planning on using anything from this book from the outset.

    If that’s xenophobia, call me a racist then.
    .-= Wyatt´s last blog ..Skill Challenges of Eden I =-.

  3. @Wyatt: That’s not xenophobia because you’re not saying its unbalanced, you just don’t like it which is understandable. I honestly think all of the psion classes (except the Monk) will use the same Power Point system. I also believe this isn’t a break in the power system, but a very interesting change in how that power system works which creates a lot of new (and interesting) dynamics in how the classes work.

    I know you don’t use the PHB2 either, which I think is a huge mistake, did you think there were gimmicky new systems in that?

  4. No, I just was rather uninterested in everything in there except the Avenger and Invoker, and the bits of the Barbarian that aren’t Powered By Captain Planet™.

    I don’t like how the fluff of some classes fits into my setting.

    The classes I did want to adapt to my setting, Avenger and Invoker, are not GSL so I don’t want to go anywhere near them.

    It’s what made me decide that I would just support the one set of books I know everyone has to have to play the game, rather than encouraging them to buy books even I didn’t buy.

    I suppose that makes me the wicked witch of the west in 4e, but I’ll put on the pointy hat and serve my wasteland country with dignity.
    .-= Wyatt´s last blog ..Nevermet Press Is Online! (And Drama.) =-.

  5. CrowOfPyke says:

    I agree with Wyatt right now. The new Psion rules, as presented, appear akin to a gimmicky subsystem that was the full flavor of 3.5e. Right now, I’d say I really don’t like the Psion rules…. Blech!

  6. MystechJ says:

    What irritates me most about the Psion is that the mechanic change is just change for change’s sake. There is nothing about the class itself that demands a new mechanic. The Psion could have easily been created with the same at-will, encounter, utility, daily power scheme as the rest of the classes. And I don’t think the new mechanic is necessarily bad, you could have built all the other classes using the same mechanic. But having two different mechanics means it is difficult to compare the classes. I imagine that abuses will crop up with Paragon paths, Epic destinies, feats, or magic items because the basic mechanics these modifiers are applied to are not consistent.

    Most of the problems psionics have always had in D&D is the tacked on subsystems to support them. They’ve never felt part of the game, and this new class seems to be continuing that tradition.

  7. MystechJ in essence really said what I wanted to say but much better.

    The Psion seems like Wizard’s attempt at saying “4e can do loads of stuff too! Just look at this! Now you’ll stop saying all the classes are the same, right?”

    My problem with that is that it didn’t need to be that different. I found 4e’s design to be a feature. Wizard’s didn’t need to show me that 4e could pull off full discipline on every single power the Monk has, and this new Psion class. I knew 4e could do that. But I didn’t want it to.
    .-= Wyatt´s last blog ..Skill Challenges of Eden I =-.

  8. TheMainEvent says:

    @Wyatt: I see where you’re coming from, but if I am to understand correctly you weren’t going to buy/use/incorporate Psions anyway. I’d say that you probably aren’t WotC audience in that case.

    I have to say, that when they’re pumping out 8-10 new classes a year, its inevitable they do something to spice up the power mechanic. Some people may not like that notion, and I understand why, but if you can accept the change in mechanics for new classes is inevitable (or even desire them) I think that the Psion is a pretty solid twist on the 4E power system. Furthermore, the ‘tacked on’ feel of psionics seems greatly ameliorated. Judging by its incorporation into general magic: Psionic’s use of rituals (just different fluff to power them), typical implments (orb, staff), flavor text, and skills (seems like Arcana is the Psionic knowledge default).

    Overall, I like this direction.

  9. I disagree. The Psion could have been done without the new system, sure. That doesn’t mean it should have been.

    The mechanics suggest a cool flavor to the psionic powers, a toll they take on the user. Minor tricks are fine, the Psion can do them all day long. If he wants to increase the power of those tricks it costs him a piece of himself.

    I don’t mind subsystems when they are limited to one class. It is the job of the person playing the class to know them. Subsystems bother me when they are something everyone will need rarely.
    .-= Nicholas´s last blog ..Dungeon Notes #18 =-.

  10. You understand correctly, I have not bought a book since Adventurer’s Vault. The next Adventurer’s Vault is probably the only other book I’m going to buy as well. I’m just expressing my opinion on the game. I know Wootsie wouldn’t care about my opinion nor consider me their audience (even if I do play 4e) unless I was constantly buying new stuff, but I believe I can still express it.

    But I’m starting to feel like a bigfoot sighting or a new specimen under the microscope, so I’ll leave and allow the original topic to be continued.

    .-= Wyatt´s last blog ..Wyatt’s Words: Houserules =-.

  11. “What irritates me most about the Psion is that the mechanic change is just change for change’s sake.”

    Man, do I ever hate that phrase. In this case, this is a similarity pulled from previous editions to the current one. Hardly “change for change’s sake.”

  12. I haven’t had the opprotunity to update the character builder yet, so I can only respond based on what I’ve read and my feelings on psionics in general. Much of the information I’ve read about PHB3 and DMG2 indicate that they would have expand the existing rule set. The way the Psion has been explained seems to validate that theory.

    Regarding psionics, I don’t have much use for them. I’ve never played one and don’t own any Psionic supplements from previous editions. It’s not the change to the ruleset that bothers me, I’m actually interested in reading more on how it works, it’s the idea of psionics in general I dislike. Having said that I’ll give the Psion and the content that WotC has slated to release it’s due. Who knows maybe 4e Psionics will win me over.
    .-= Wimwick´s last blog ..A Call for Heroes – Ultimate Dungeon Delve =-.

  13. I am pretty much in agreement with all of the previous posters to some extent. I think that the Psion could have been done with the standard power system and that would have made a fine class. That said, I read the rules for the new class and immediately felt like they were simply a variation on the same system. I don’t feel that I really need to learn something different, just learning something new. We get new keywords and new after effects with powers in various sources and this seems to me to be along those some lines.

    I look forward to trying this out, and am planning to introduce a Psion NPC into an upcoming game of mine.

  14. I think this new system is a neat innovation. It occurs to me that this would actually be an awesome system for structuring Force powers in a Star Wars RPG. Too bad they didn’t have that idea for Saga Edition.

  15. Good to see you put some actual comparative pools of powers up for typical characters at the heroic and other pinnacle player levels. On paper, it looks like psions might get a slight edge on the raw output of attacks they can pump out each encounter.

    What I wonder about is the disparity in abilities for the poor wizard again, as another controller class has rolled out. I’ve glanced through the at will powers and for the most part the versatility looks a little tame. Yet, there is that one lvl 1 at will that is a single target direct damage, that can be bumped up to an area attack.

    I think for wizards that has always been a little bit of a hindrance, pick that encounter power that is an area attack (possibly hitting your allies)? Or do you play it safe getting a single target sledge hammer attack? I’m wondering with the augment power system if psions might edge out wizards over the long haul with adaptable attacks as a controller.
    .-= Geek Ken´s last blog ..Working with Extended Rests =-.

  16. Winter is Cold says:

    My main issue with Wizards is that they are trying to rush production with the NEW so they can sell more. It inevitable leads to issues that more they mess with things. 3.0 came out and there were issues with game balance, then they came out with 3.5, and just slapped new feats/rules/races/spells/abilities/neat things onto what was there without thinking about it, meaning that you could end up with a character that could throw dozens of shuriken in one round, knock almost anything down, and do it as a touch attack. They were always so excited about creating new, they forgot that everything under the system can be used together, and they created more work for DMs in making them weed out the issues in balance with all the material out there.

  17. Alberand says:

    I recently used the Character Builder to create a monk just to see what it looked like, and I felt the Full Discipline powers were balanced and straightforward. Giving an alternative option for the move action allows them to jump around the battlefield instead of beating on a single opponent until it falls, like many of the other striker classes are geared to do. This fits much better with how I imagine a D&D monk.

    I updated my Character Builder last night and fell asleep before I could create a Psion, but from what I have seen so far (including this excellent comparative analysis, thanks Bartoneus!), it does not seem unbalanced. A bit of extra bookkeeping for the player, which I don’t like, but aside from that it is an interesting and relatively equivalent change.

    The biggest place I could see having trouble is with the rare item ability or other external mechanic that interacts with encounter powers (Armor of Exploits, Torc of Power Preservation, etc), and these are few and far between. In most cases, saying that “power points do not equal encounter powers” would suffice, or a friendly DM might allow so many points to be invested to activate the item’s ability with little to no harm done.

    While I agree that they could (and probably should) have done it using the same At-Will, Encounter, Daily, Utility power structure that everyone else gets, what they came up with does not seem unbalanced, and it is a unique and intriguing way to work mostly within the system. I would have expected something more like an equivalent of the wizard’s spellbook for encounter powers (know two of each level, use one per encounter), but that would probably have become much more unbalanced in the end.

    I just hope they will not release a full suite of classes that use this. One of the things I like about 4e is that we don’t need a “Psionics Handbook” or any other books of extra rules to be able to use different power sources in a campaign. A few unique per-class mechanics are OK, but I do not want this to be the first step toward a bunch of extraneous splatbooks that break all the standard rules.

  18. Alberand: The issue of not having encounter powers is actually not there after paragon assuming you use the Psion Paragon Paths, as they give the class an augmentable Encounter Power. Yes it’s still a potential issue, but it is not as big of one when the paragon paths are considered.

    Winter is Cold: I know for a fact, having talked to several people from WotC who are working on 4E, that they are trying to keep in mind the “plays well with all the other rules” issue when it comes to new content. They’re not going to catch everything, that’d be a nearly impossible task, but they’re definitely keeping balance in mind when designing new classes (and using errata when needed).

  19. @Alberand –

    While the Torc doesn’t work, the Armor of Exploits wouldn’t work anyways, as it is limited to martial powers.

    If we include feats, we probably have 2 or 3 rules options that psions get less benefit from.

    Personally, I’m fine with that.

    As far as using the normal power format, they probably tried. Using the normal power format would mean that making anything augmentable would probably become unbalanced, as it is now more than the other classes get.

    @Bartoneus –

    Just a note for your level 30 comparison. While the Psion gets more “encounter powers”, 3 of those 5 are at a reduced strength compared to the normal class.

    I don’t know just how this affects the numbers, but I think it’s alright.
    .-= Graham´s last blog ..Damn you, Dave! You and your… logic… =-.

  20. Just realised, what does become tricky is multiclassing.

    If my Psion multiclasses Fighter and swaps for a Fighter encounter power, do I:

    – lose an at-will (down to 2)?

    – lose power points?

    I’d suggest that I would lose either power points or both. I assume that multiclass rules will be in the PHB3 for this (unless they’re already available and I didn’t see them), but it is a concern.
    .-= Graham´s last blog ..Damn you, Dave! You and your… logic… =-.

  21. Well, I liked the psion and it is a great addition to my Eberron’s campaign and the other campaign that had an invasion of the Far Realms and the crescent of “unatural powers” (psionics). For me the “change” in the system is cool, but we have 8 classes that has the same system, and as I’m a person woh likes adversity, this “new” subsystem is really cool to show what we can do with the system without break the balance of order.

    Replying to Nathan: Oh yes I really liked this Idea too. Me and my friends were about to play a Star Wars campaign using the D&D 4th, now with the Psion “system”, i’ts much more easy to create the force powers =D.

    I like the article. Well, nothing absurd coming from WOTC, the designers are really awesome, diferent with 3.5 ed that had a lot of useless things. This is my opinion.
    .-= D’Silva´s last blog ..Brincando de Mentir – Iniciativa 4e =-.


  1. […] brought you his view of the mechanics behind the new Psion class last week, and when the Monk came out, I gave you my views on why I’m biased towards psionic […]