DDI In-Play: The Psion

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Gamefiend was kind enough to host an impromptu game and let me run with the preview of the psion.  Let me start out by saying I was a little skeptical of the class.  As others have pointed out from reading the class description, the new power point subsystem seems like a gimmick. Worse, it feels unnecessary since I don’t see much reason why the class couldn’t have been implemented, and implemented well, with the same class structure that all the other classes follow.  Here’s another warning: I’ve never played a psion before and I’ve never had a player in my game use one.  I never really got into the appeal, although I understand many people love the concept.  That being said, psions have almost always used their own subsystem, so I think its something that fans of the psion class have always been tolerant of, or even happy with.
For our impromptu game I played a level 5 tiefling psion.  With two daily powers, 3 at-wills, and 4 power points per encounter, I went into the game thinking resource management would be key.  In play, the psion worked well as a controller with a nice bit of striking.  Let’s get to the specifics.

At-Will


Dishearten

The wizard wishes it had this at-will power.  Similar to Scorching Burst except with a very nice status effect: -2 to the targets’ attack rolls until your next turn on a hit.  Both attacks target a non-AC defense (Reflex for Scorching Burst, Will for Dishearten) and both deal the same amount of damage.  You could argue that we’re seeing some power creep here and you would be right.  This is hands down one of the best controller at-wills you can have at level 1.
  • Augment 1: The targets cannot make opportunity attacks until your next turn.  This is a nice tactical ability but I never found a good opportunity to use it in our play test.  I think it’s perfect for an Augment 1 because the cost and effect are well-matched.  However, most classes that want to avoid opportunity attacks have plenty of ways to do so without the psion’s help.
  • Augment 2: The target takes an extra 1d6 damage and a penalty to attack rolls equal to your charisma modifier.  Even at mid-levels this is a serious problem for opposing strikers.  It’s a nice opening to a tough fight.

Mind Thrust

The psion’s Magic Missile.  The range is cut in half, which is a situational drawback, but the damage output is nice and it attacks Will as well.  This is the psion’s single target attack, and compared to strikers it’s weak.  Since the psion is not a striker it’s hard to be too unhappy about this.
  • Augment 1: If you hit, the target takes a penalty to will defense equal to your charisma modifier.  This is a nice setup before using a more powerful attack since so many of the psion’s attacks, understandably, target Will.  In play though I found myself ignoring this option for…
  • Augment 2: The target takes an extra 1d10 damage and takes a penalty to ALL defenses for a round.  This is very potent for a round of complete bashing on a powerful single target by the entire party.

Betrayal

This is a level 3 at-will and it is by far the most fun of the at-wills I play-tested. I love this power for several reasons. First, it’s a great controller power since you get to slide the target.  Second, it scales perfectly to your enemies since you are using their own attacks against them.  Also, monster basic attack powers are generally better than player basic attacks since they still get what is essentially their at-wills for basic attacks.  Last, it’s fun to do!  I loved pointing at the chillborn zombie and forcing him to walk to the back of the room to attack the blazing skeleton, and using their own auras and ongoing damage against them!  The downside is that it’s possible for this power to be useless if the enemy is spaced out or you’re fighting a solo.
  • Augment 1: You give the enemy a bonus to its damage roll (against its ally) equal to your charisma modifier.  This is a pretty tame augment 1 power.
  • Augment 2: You slide the target up to your charisma modifier and give it an attack and damage bonus equal to your charisma modifier.  This is GREAT for battlefield control and the extra bonus to hit over the augment 1 is worth the extra point.

Daily

Mental Trauma

This power is a nice 3 wound attack that gives the target ongoing vulnerability to all of your psion attacks.  It will be rare to be able to combo this with the rest of the party unless they also have psychic attacks.  It is a save ends property so unless you use an action point there is a pretty good chance you’ll never get to see the extra damage if used against an elite or solo.  This is too bad since its a great followup to an augmented mind thrust which weakens the targets defenses almost ensuring you hit with this power.  It is also half damage on a miss.  It gives the Psion something to do when forced to target single powerful enemies.  Overall this is a well-balanced daily power, if a little on the weak side.

Hypnotic Pulse

A ranged burst that does low damage but gives out dazed to all of the targets.  It also targets only enemies so it’s party-friendly.  It can daze multiple targets and they get at least one turn of dazed even on a miss!  For a level 5 daily power, sign me up.  I tossed this daily power out early (in the first encounter of the game) when I was pushed into a corner and had some undead baddies all around and it was a life-saver.  Not much damage but another nice control power.

Utility

Skill Empowerment

My psion had Skill Empowerment for Gamefiend’s game, probably in anticipation of some skill challenges.  Unfortunately, we only had time for several combats and this never saw play.  This is a daily power that lets you add +3 to an ally for a skill check.  Depending on your game this can be either fantastic or useless.  I think it would have been better-balanced if it let an ally re-roll a failed skill check with a +3 and been an encounter power.  I realize it lasts until the end of the encounter, but its hard to justify taking this over…

Intellect Fortress

Which is an encounter power that triggers when you are hit by an attack.  You can add your charisma modifier to ANY defense, and it lasts until the end of your turn.  Since it’s an interrupt it can turn the attack that hit you into a miss and gives you a full round of extra protection.  If Skill Empowerment was an encounter and Intellect Fortress was a daily it would be harder to give in to the temptation and pick this.  Since the psion is about as helpless as it gets, this gives you some much-needed survivability.

Overall Thoughts

The psion was a lot of fun.  I finally figured out why many of you like the concept so much.  You feel completely in control when you’re attacking your opponent’s mind.  The power point system is practically like having 2 full-fledged encounter powers each fight (at level 5).  The Augment 1 powers are significantly worse than the Augment 2 powers except in pretty specific circumstances.  With this in mind, I almost wish they had simply done away with the unnecessary mechanic of augment 1 and 2 and just given the class encounter powers like everyone else.  Also, the class has very little way to defend itself.  If you don’t take Intellect Fortress as your level 2 Utility (and I hate that you almost have to), you’re especially sunk in a long-term game.  The psion is no doubt going to start drawing fire from your GM as it keeps controlling, dazing, and weakening enemies.  With low defenses and health, the psion makes an especially tempting target.  You better hope you have some good cover!

Finally, the class has a nice mix of powers that tend toward controlling but can dish out some nice damage as well.  Many of the attacks and power point buffs are situational, so it’s also fun trying to nail the perfect power to use each turn. If you can’t get a good tactical advantage from your powers, you still have some always useful powers, so you never feel left out.  I think the class is generally well-balanced as presented in the preview, but with its power-point subsystem, will it play nice with multi-classing and items designed for classes using the standard framework?

If you’ve played a Psion, let us know about your experience in the comments!

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About the Author

At the age of eight JackOfHearts was invited to play Dungeons & Dragons during summer camp by kids that were much cooler than him. When he wasn't working on the family farm or practicing tennis, he spent much of his teen years reading fantasy novels and playing games of the role playing, collectible card, tabletop, and video varieties. He's now a nine-to-fiver who never forgot the joy of descending into a tomb for forgotten treasures.