PHBR5 The Complete Psionics Handook Review

Psionics are strange things, first appearing in Supplement III: Eldritch Wizardry in 1976, they have been supplemental material in every edition of the game with the exception of the 1st Edition of AD&D, which they were core. When asked about this on the Dragonfoot BBS, Gary Gygax said that he himself never used them, but had been talked into adding them to the PHB at the last minute by a group in Chicago, a decision which he quickly regretted because they weren’t written clear enough and they didn’t match up with the rest of the handbook.

It is a mystery as to the exact source, or inspiration behind psioncs, however the strongest candidate appears to be novelist Andre Norton, who appears in APPENDIX N, and in 1976 (the same year as Eldritch Wizardry came out) Gygax had flown to her home in Florida to run a game with her.
Gary had planned on omitting them from the 2nd Edition of the rules, feeling that they were unnecessary and didn’t meld well within the fantasy setting; a feeling mirrored by David Cook who did cut them from the 2e Core rules, probably planning to add them as supplemental later on. Later on turned out to be February of 1991.

Psionics have a rabid fanbase, and sooner or later they were going to have their way, but I’m not sure if PHBR5 The Complete Psionics Handbook, written by Steve Winter & Blake Mobley, was a product that anybody really wanted. While Gygax agreed that the rules needed to be rewritten for clarity, going from seven and a half pages in the PHB to a 128 page book is perhaps a bit much. This bloating has been an issue with supplemental material in the past, they would take small concepts written by Gygax and make an entire book around them, as crazy as this is, we consumers ate it up!


This book completely reworked the system, and greatly expanded it. Thankfully everything in this book is supplemental, so the DM always has the final say, which is needed. Players must understand that this is a book of options, and it has many many options.

CHAPTER 1: The Psionicist

The biggest change to the system is right here, it added a brand new player class who specializes in psionics. All of the information that a player needs to create their character is right here in this chapter, which is kind of nice. I know that when getting back into D&D after a long absence, we could had used something like this.

Also in this chapter, Psionic Strength Points (PSPs) are explained as well as that other cryptic stuff that mystified us when we saw psionic monsters in the Monstrous Manual.  I actually think that those things were a big motivator to selling this book, I remember that it really bugged me that I couldn’t use those monsters because I didn’t understand them, and once I bought this book, I still didn’t use them, but what are you going to do?

Additionally, there is a traditional Psionic chart for random generation of powers, now called Wild Talants (it was the 90’s and we loved being WILD), however this flips the number on the d% that you want to hit, and it’s dangerous because if you roll high it turns you into a retard.

CHAPTER 2: Psionic Combat

I always remember this stuff as being overly complex, but it really isn’t. It does require you actually reading it, but it isn’t any different than anything else in D&D, you learn more from playing than you do from reading about it.

Determining combat is fairly simple, it is treated like a proficiency check, the hard part has to deal with the weird terminology. I am a smart guy, and very well read, but the language that this book uses sometimes borders on the over-educated. Of course it also brings to mind terms found in the pulp fiction stories that inspired this genre, but that doesn’t make the terms less clunky because you or your DM will probably get terms mixed up.

CHAPTERS 3-8: Psionic Powers

This is actually where the bulk of the book comes from, the list of Sciences and Devotions was greatly expanded, and all of them are listed here. What is nice is that it is all complete to itself, you don’t need any other books; just this one. That is bonus points for it, unlike another class that shall go unnamed where the player can be required to have more books than his character does.

This is also one of this suppliment's issues, there is a lot of stuff here, yes they wanted to fill out an entire class, but it is not one that is completely supported by the core rules.

CHAPTER 9: A Psionics Campaign

This chapter squishes everything that we’ve enjoyed about the other Complete Handbooks into a diluted blip. I’ve got to say that I miss the Role-playing section. I kind of wish that they would had given a bit more attention to it; instead, the team that made this book knew that the small hardcore clubs that go crazy for this kind of thing will buy this book, and so will the completists, which were still around at this point: those trusting souls who purchased everything that TSR put out, believing that the company had the best intentions. For them, they are going to have to be sold this idea.

They talked about adding it as core into all of the different published settings, how psionics react to magic, some real world examples of psionics in history, and a suggested reading list. Overall, this chapter is only seven pages of content; it is rushed and to the point, but it really offers nothing of any true value, because it doesn’t properly do what it set out to, it was an afterthought, and ill edited.


This was odd. At this point the Compendiums were still in use, these were loose-leaf monsters that the DM kept in a binder, and spent much of his time repairing. The psionic monsters were published in the back of this book and were not removable, so the players had full access to them. Whatever, our players generally know the stats of our monsters anyhow, and I dig this, kind of. On one hand everything you need is in this book, but on the other, you’ll have to flip back and forth a lot, and I’m not sure that the books binding can really take that. You can generally tell who uses it and who doesn’t, based on the condition of their book. There are brand new monsters, as well as a list for updating established monsters from other sources, with the exception of XP.
Ral Partha mindflayer
One thing that doesn’t make sense is that they never properly added psionics into the calculated XP value, thus all of the monsters which can be harder than hell to fight, aren’t worth what they should be. Take the mindflayer, we all know what that is, and in my opinion, psionics was reintroduced to empower this monster. Because we aren't used to psionics, it takes longer to design our mindflayers, who at the table are incredibly dangerous because psionics aren’t magic, they can have their way with any party that isn’t prepared, and one hiding in a party of magic-users casting psionics is going to be even worse! However this Illitithid is only worth 7,000xp, vs. the 9,000xp gained by slaying a magic based one. To me, these psionic varieties could be the elite, as they are better in tuned with the mother brain.  Granted, I had never play-tested one, and maybe there are some problems, but looking around the web, folks complain of psionics being overly powerful, but this isn’t reflected in the XP, not even in the Handbook dedicated to it!


At the back of the book there are summaries of powers, as well as an index so you can find each power fast.


This book is more visually attractive than the others in the series, but this ended up increasing its cost to $18, and the splash pages take space that could had been better served by actual content. There is a ton of material; too much perhaps. To me, psionics should be used to enhance the game, not provide a new class, but I can do that with this book too! It’s just that most of the content that made it into the book isn’t something that the average user is ever really going to use, it is just in the way. There are sources online that do a much better job, and in a pill that is easier to swallow.

Psionics were updated later, and, as we all probably remember, this book was made core to the Dark Sun campaign setting. I would say that this product is for pretty advanced tables, it lacks much of the exposition that is typically required for new users, and while those that are really into this kind of thing tear these books up, for the average users, these are things that we must remember to dust off from time to time.

I feel that this entire book has become out of date, even to us 2e hold-outs. It is a nice luxury item and something that we can use to enhance a monster here and there, so 18-20 dollars is a fair price for that. I would rate this book as a C-, perhaps if I used more psionics and was able to play-test it more thoroughly, this rating would change. It isn’t a bad book, it is just a bit too long winded to be practical.


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