For those who have only played 5e - psionics are the psychics of the D&D universe. Their powers and abilities come from the mind, with intense study and internal reflection. It isn’t arcane magic or divine favor that they utilize for their ends, but their own sheer intellect and mental prowess. You may best recognize the psionic ability as the particular power of Illithids and Mind Flayers!
They’ve been around tangentially for a while, but you won’t find them in the Player’s Handbook, nor their skills on a standard character sheet. But they are an immensely popular option, with plenty of prestige classes, feats, and powers to choose from being developed over the years.
Psionics in 5e DnD
The presence of psions and psionic ability in 5e has been a little uncertain since the beginning. The Player's Handbook and the Dungeon Master’s Guide make scarce reference to the powers of the mind, and while Warlocks (another previously supplemental class) get a fairly prominent seat at the table, Psionic classes are nowhere to be seen.
Eventually, Wizards of the Coast did release the Mystic class as Unearthed Arcana content - which is pretty apparently an amalgamation of the various psionic classes into one. It was, however, pretty overpowered, and ultimately WotC didn’t make it into an official publication. Instead, they added 3 psionic subclasses, as follows:
- Psychic Warrior (Fighter)
- Soul Knife (Rogue)
- Psion (Wizard)
I’m not quite sure how I feel about the inherent conflation of the psion’s mental powers and arcane magic by making the psion a wizard subclass (especially when there was also the Cerebremancer and the Metamind to choose from in terms of adaptation), but I am excited to see more psionic influence on the world of 5e.
The following are 5 prestige classes (from 3.5e D&D and Pathfinder) that I’d like to see adapted into 5e psionic subclasses.
Illumine Soul (Psionic Paladin Subclass)
Illumine Souls are something of the eternal optimists of the psionic prestige classes - instead of raw psychic and mental power, they craft their weapons from positive energy, forgoing religion or personal belief for a psychological understanding of divine power.
The divine magic of the paladin might be a bit tricky, but I don’t see why it couldn’t be reasonably adapted, since it was done so with arcane magic for the wizard. 3.5e grants Illumine Souls psionic healing abilities, as well as various features that target the undead. There might be too much crossover with the Oath of Devotion to keep Illumine Souls just as they are, then - but I’d be happy to see what WoTC comes up with for a psionic oath in general.
An order of Paladins under such an oath might put an emphasis on research and knowledge, studying how best to create good emotions in people. An evil order of this same subclass might then corrupt it, instead causing misery in order to understand the other side of the coin. Either way, it’d make an interesting concept to play with!
Illithid Slayer (Psionic Ranger Subclass)
It takes a psion to truly understand the danger that psionic monsters and enemies pose - chief among those dangers being the dreaded illithid mind flayers. Illithid Slayers are specially trained psionic hunters and warriors, who turn the tides of mental prowess against their more evil users.
In 3.5e, these Slayers get various protections from psionic control, and abilities that specifically counter and interfere with common psionic attacks and abilities. 5e likes to keep things a little more general, and less specialized, so I’d imagine this class would get an extra favored enemy of Illithids, as well as various WIS and INT buffs or defenses against enchantment magic as well as psionic powers.
Githyanki make excellent illithid slayers, due to their long standing enmity with mind flayers. So do Duergar, who have an inherent ability for psionics.
Zerth Cenobite (Psionic Monk Subclass)
Monks are already fairly suited to the psionic arts, given their predilection for mental analysis and soul-searching. The particular Zerth Cenobite order focuses on the study of time, in which practitioners use psionic ability to look a moment into the future or past to determine the best point of strike.
This is a pseudo-psionic prestige class - not all of the abilities are wholly psionic, so it’ll fit in well with the aforementioned more general design of 5e. They do gain several psionic powers, but the focus is more on the interaction with the flow of time. The ability to precognate is particularly useful. I could see the mechanics of it working similarly to other dice-bonus features.
3.5e’s lore has most Zerth Cenobites as Gith, since the style was developed first in Limbo. I can easily see it being a specialized school for almost any race or subrace, though! It seems fairly thematic for elves, particularly Shadar-Kai.
Psicrystal Imprinter (Psionic Artificer Subclass)
Artificer’s a little behind on the number of subclasses, what with their relatively recent official release. What luck, then, that they’re so well-suited to the PsiCrystal Imprinter prestige class!
Psicrystals are stones and crystals in which psionics store their powers and abilities for later use, in the way that artificers imbue regular items with magic. An Imprinter is a character who is more adept with these than usual, focusing on using their nifty rock collection to keep their abilities rather than immediate casting and reaction. The Essence Crystal feature is particularly interesting. It allows a high-leveledl Imprinter to transfer their personality and mind to a crystal upon their death - giving their party time to heal their body, or find a new one, so long as nothing happens to the crystal!
Ectopic Adept (Psionic Bard Subclass)
Most bards in 5e lean into the more immediate arts - dancing, singing, act-fighting, etc. I have, however, seen a few play them as more traditional artists, like painters and sculptors. The Ectopic Adept prestige class would be perfect for such an interpretation. These sculptors use ectoplasm to craft astral constructs.
I may be thinking more in terms of 3.5e, in which bards make for excellent summoners (given their smaller number of damage spells), but I’d love to see a psionic-pseudo-summoner! Combined with the other more general and broadly applicable skills of the 5e Bard, I don’t even think that the heavy focus on one skill (creating ectopic constructs) would be much of a problem for the subclass!
Other Mystic and Psionic Options
Of course, there are at least a dozen other options for psychic and psionic subclasses in 5e. There are enough different classes and prestige classes, as well as the individual powers and feats, that WotC could probably make a psionic subclass for each class if they really wanted.
What psionic subclasses would you all be interested in seeing or playing? Leave them below in the comments!