Behind the Screen: Problems with planes and psionics…

2008 August 29
by Dante

I was reflecting on some old college D&D games, and I remembered a certain guy in our group that always wanted to play a psionic. Eventually, we did have a game where our DM allowed psionics and I remember it being a confusing and generally frustrating process largely because this person would, at length, dictate to us his specific rules for using his skills and it was rather painful.

I have found the same issue with planar travel and trying to weave a storyline that involves traversing ephemeral distances in this fashion. Much time is spent explaining the state of the situation you want your players to get into, the usual dangers of travelling across the fabric of space and time, and the preparations that come along with that.

I’ve had some limited success in enticing the players with plot or treasure to make the plunge into different planes, but by and large this type of game seems to walk on a knife’s edge of fun. It’s either really enjoyable, or really painful.

How do you handle introducing these elements into your campaigns? Inquiring minds want to know!

8 Responses leave one →
  1. Asmor permalink
    August 29, 2008

    Realistically, planar travel’s no different than nautical travel (or aeronautical, if you’ve got airships). Just a different description. Like anything else, you just need to fade away, skip the boring parts, and focus on the fun.

    As for psionics… I can’t comment on psionics rules in 3.0, but in 3.5 they were very simple and well-integrated into the system. In 4e, I strongly suspect psionics– from a rules perspective– is going to be indistinguishable from magic or swordsmanship.

  2. Donny_the_Dm permalink
    August 29, 2008

    It’s kinda funny, every time I have had a player want to do the “psionics thing” they get upset after a few games because they are so “different” from other traditional players.

    The only success I have had running psionics is in a wholly psionic party, as a villain, or using soulknives.

    As to the planes…I do not allow voluntary planar travel until at least 15th level. Too complicated. Besides, with all the cool stuff on the prime material – why go anywhere else?

  3. Reverend Mike permalink
    August 29, 2008

    I remember back when I first started gaming with 3.5, we had one player who wanted to play psionics with none of us knowing anything about it…he’d often bend the rules in his favor and make the game unfun for the rest of us so we banned psionics after that…until years later when we realized how they worked and what he’d done…


    Also, soulknives are the shit…

  4. Bob permalink
    August 29, 2008

    In 95% of games we banned it. /the only time we ever allowed it was when playing in the Darksun setting and you couldn’t really avoid it.

    There was the advantage of almost everyone having at least one power though.

  5. ChattyDM permalink
    August 30, 2008

    And here I thoughts you were scooping that Samuel L Jackson would Start in a movie called Psychics on a Plane!

    Good post, I’m just a bit disappointed.

  6. The_Gun_Nut permalink
    September 1, 2008

    The thing about the planes, in my experience, is that you have to keep it wonderous and dangerous for quite a long time. The best time to start introducing an extra planar city where the PC's can visit relatively risk free is around 15+ (3.X). And that is just one city which is friendly to the PC races, NOT a big cosmopolitan extraplanar hub, those take all the excitement (and wonder) out of planar travel. Leave those until the epic levels, when you can do some city politics style games (with a twist).

    As for psionics, I've always enjoyed psi in games. Probably because, for the most part, I enjoy SciFi a bit more than fantasy (and psi has the SciFi feel to it). For D&D, it wasn't until 3.5 that the psionics rules became extremely well balanced. Placed against magic, it becomes obvious that magic is a bit overpowered (more insta-death/insta-disable spells, power increases based on level and not how much oomph you put into it). But on it's own psionics work really well.

  7. David permalink
    September 3, 2008

    Psionics are annoying in third edition. They aren’t magic, so magic effects don’t really work with them, and they use weird mechanics that confuse the heck out of everything. I DMed one campaign with psionics and didn’t bother thereafter.

    Planar travel is a mainstay of my campaigns. It usually starts pretty late game, except that most of my worlds have natural portals to other places, and the party often gets stuck on some unpleasant plane, looking for a way back.

    I did have to metaphorically slap a party around recently though. I (stupidly) placed an Amulet of the Planes in a shop, and did not expect the players to assault and destroy the store, and steal the loot. The amulet was cursed with an imprisoned wizard, who rolled contested INT with the user of the amulet. If the wizard won, he determined where the amulet took the user.

    The party took the seemingly random importation as a wonderful idea and just started shifting from plane to plane constantly, seeing the sights as it were.

    I put a stop to it by the fact that the wizard in the amulet got tired of it and the party ended up in front of a Pit Fiend in the Nine Hells. It tore open two party members and terrified the rest (magically) into fleeing. The people in range of the party magic user got planeshifted (back to material) when he did so, but the other guy got captured and enslaved. One of the remaining three bled to death cowering in the forest from the effects of the Fear magic.

    In short, easy plane shifting can completely wreck your game. Keep them magical and mysterious! Make it hard to go from plane to plane, and make ‘getting stuck’ a real possibility.

  8. Darth Krzysztof permalink
    September 6, 2008

    As far as planar travel goes, I agree with a lot of what’s been said so far. It doesn’t have to be -that- different from traditional travel; maintaining the sense of wonder is the distinguishing trait. You may have to choose your destinations carefully, so you can differentiate them (but again, for me that’s standard DM procedure). And as long as you’re providing evocative description, there’s no need to get hung up on the rules.

    I’m running a Planescape game, so I don’t believe it’s necessary to wait for a certain level before striking out on the Great Wheel. Indeed, you can use your players’ expectations against them – the first thing I did to the 1st level PCs was dump them in the heart of Avernus.

    YMMV. 😉

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