I struggle with the psionic power source in Dungeons and Dragons 4th edition. When I first encountered psionics when they were tucked away in the AD&D Player’s Handbook appendix, it seemed a cool add-on to the core game. Characters still fit into the familiar fantasy setting boxes, except some had mind powers. I didn’t think much of it, and never played a character with such abilities.
I didn’t encounter the psionics of the other editions since I only played a little 2nd edition and I missed third edition altogether. I’ve gone years without giving D&D psionics much thought. On the other hand, the other powers sources are very familiar. The arcane power source embodies high fantasy the most cleanly. While Rowling’s Harry Potter, Tolkien’s Gandalf and le Guin’s Sparrowhawk of Earthsea are very different, and their abilities with the arcane are distinct from one another it’s easy to see what they have in common. I find that inspiring when I think about creating a wizard, sorcerer, warlock, bard or swordmage.
It’s also easy to imagine martial and divine heroes and to see how they fit into a D&D high fantasy setting. While primal feels much less core, I have little trouble fitting it in with the others. The powers and spirits in deep forests are different from arcane wizardly powers, but they are consistent with the wonder one expects in D&D.
The Player’s Handbook 3 introduces psionic magic and provides a few different classes with that power source. Assuming that psionic characters are using the power of their own minds, it’s an unusual and somewhat jarring mix of character types. This just doesn’t happen in the fictional sources that I associate with D&D. This is not a bad thing: as a comic book fan, I enjoy that the system can handle Dr. Strange, Captain America and Professor X. I like a game that provides tools that players and dungeon masters can use in unexpected ways. The challenge for me is fitting Professor X into Faerun.
I suppose, all things considered, that’s a pretty good problem to have.