In this month's exclusive interview, designer Bruce R. Cordell thinks aloud about the new Expanded Psionics Handbook.
Wizards of the Coast: Why update the Psionics Handbook, which released in 2001, and what are the biggest changes in the new Expanded Psionics Handbook?
Bruce R. Cordell: After a revision of the core rules to v3.5, the psionics rules cried out for adaptation. But we wanted to do better than a mere revision.
The 3.0 Psionics Handbook went a long way toward integrating psionics rules of earlier editions into the Dungeons & Dragons core rules. It was a good first step, but in hindsight we believe that we could have done some things better. And we've done exactly that with the Expanded Psionics Handbook. We've dug up every potential and proven problem, and examined each one in the revealing light of experience.
Troubled over 3.0 psionics' reliance on multiple ability scores? No longer a concern. Less than thrilled with nonscaling damaging powers in the Psionics Handbook? Now, many of your powers can be augmented to scale (and not just powers that deal damage), if you pay the requisite price in power points. Upset that 3.0 psionic combat deals debilitating ability damage? You have nothing more to fear in this regard.
Wizards: The long-standing belief is that psions are, as a rule, weaker than wizards and sorcerers. With this new book, can that myth be put to rest?
Bruce: We've put it to rest. No more multiple ability dependency for manifesting powers. More power points, augmentable powers . . . more options.
Wizards: Tell us about the new races -- dromites, elans, half-giants, maenads, xephs. What's unique about them?
Bruce: Half-giants are refugees from the old psionic campaign Dark Sun. Dromites are cool -- they're like insectoids, and are neuter, if you can believe it. They've got a penchant for elemental energy. Maenads use their psionic energy to repress a raging inner spirit. Xephs are psionically spiritual. My favorite, though -- elans -- have replaced their biological metabolism with a psionic metabolism. This allows them to utilize psionic power points like no other creature.
Wizards: What's useful in the Expanded Psionics Handbook for the nonpsionic character -- weapons, armor, articles? And among the new items, which are the more powerful ones for psionics characters?
Bruce: Not only can nonpsionic characters use many of the weapons, armors, and psionic items, we've gone ahead and included some feats and spells that characters in a campaign using psionics rules would want to have around to help them deal with psionics. For instance, the feat Psionic Hole causes psionic creatures that strike you to lose their psionic focus. (Psionic focus is a cool new concept that helps psionic individuals utilize their psionic feats much better than before.)
Wizards: Tell me about the new psionically endowed monsters. Which ones would you single out as probable player favorites? (Or most feared by players, as the case may be!) Would you say that psionics monsters have an advantage over non-psionic characters?
Bruce: Of all the sections in the book, the psionic monsters received the least expansion -- there are probably only six or seven new monsters. However, if you're looking for the creature that'll be most feared by psionic players, I'd have to say it would be the gray glutton. It has that feat I just noted, Psionic Hole, in addition to a few other feats and special abilities specifically bred into it that allow it to destabilize and deal with psionic-manifesting characters.
Wizards: With the introduction of the d20 System products, what no longer "worked" in the earlier psionics rules that needed to be completely discarded in the Expanded Psionics Handbook?
Bruce: It was more a practice of adjustment than wholesale discarding of systems -- for instance, 3.5 monsters gain feats and skills at a different rate than 3.0, so all the monsters had to be refigured with that in mind. Not to say that whole systems weren't expanded, upgraded (or even discarded), but that was for the sake of the psionics rules themselves -- the 3.5 upgrade was really just a great excuse to go in and make this book really shine.
Wizards: The nine prestige classes, from cerebremancer to war mind, are particularly intriguing. Do you have a favorite from among them?
Bruce: I think my favorite is the psion uncarnate -- this guy slowly loses physical presence as the power of his mind grows stronger and stronger.
Wizards: How do you playtest a book like this? Or do you just think about playtesting a book like this?
Bruce: Actually, I sent the first draft manuscript out to several playtest groups. (Playtest credits are noted in the book's front credits.) After we got those playtest notes back, the book entered a development stage where those notes plus other concerns were brought to the table.
Wizards: What are your next projects?
Bruce: According to the release schedule (which contains things I can talk about), the Planar Handbook (a player's guide to the planes, stuffed with material players will want to know about and utilize) is due out in July. Right around that same time, I've got a novel coming out called Lady of Poison, for which I'm quite stoked.
Wizards: And for players with a passion for psionics, are future psionics-related releases planned?
I urge psionics fans to take a look at Dragon issues #314, #316, #317, #318, and #319, all of which have psionic content that does not appear in the Expanded Psionics Handbook, including a new base psionic class (the erudite) and a new psionic race (the synad), as well as new monsters, feats, and powers. If fans are hankering for even more, Malhavoc Press will be publishing a new psionic adventure-sourcebook called Hyperconscious that I wrote to take advantage of the 3.5 psionic rules. I'll also be updating my original Malhavoc-published If Thoughts Could Kill psionic adventure and Mindscapes accessory to psionics 3.5 rules, which you will be able to download as a patch to your original PDF, or simply buy a copy fresh if you haven't bought the originals. So, quite a lot!