Psychic Impressions - a faint trace, a sharp ringing.


Psychic Class


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This class has vaguely intrigued me for a while, ever since Paizo split the spells in four lists. The thought that Psychic could eventually claim the reign of Occult spells was very much on my mind, and while most spells theme did fit, I was curious as to how it would end something different from a Sorcerer or occult-swapped wizard. This playtest definitely delivered on the difference, but raised other concerns. As usual, let's take a seat.

First of all, the Psychic is an occult caster. Or is he? The narrow amount of spell slots seems to bring this very much in a conservative gameplay mindset, where spells are mostly utilities and only used occasionally. The weight of the class rests on the abundant and sustained use of cantrips, to whom the Psychic can grant additional and enhanced effects. This is, in my opinion, a good thing - a unique niche that separates him from other spellcasters. However, it raises an important issue - those cantrips that form the bulk of Psychic's gameplay must, by necessity of use frequency, be powerful enough to support Psychic's role, while at the same time not as unlimited as most cantrips are. There's rules that pin these concepts in, but they don't seem to be in the right places right now, at least from what I could see.

First of all, there's the matter of role direction. Depending on his Conscious Mind, a Psychic can take the role of damage dealer, supporter, or utility caster. Specifically, I can see Distant Grasp having a wide selection of attacks and potential for defense, and Infinite Eye having some support and utility, Silent Whisper being a massive utility powerhouse with a bit of damage potential. That can be fine, but relegating class role direction to three or four spells makes for repetitive turns, especially when some of those options overshadow the others - which is a matter of relative internal balance. The amps are pretty much all over the place, and not necessarily in tune with the spells they support. Message granting someone a free Step, in particular, was constantly used to deadly effectiveness in the games I witnessed and pretty much became the Psychic's one trick, while damage amps tended to be overall disappointing. With the general state of single target damage spells, this was not too unexpected, but we are talking class role here. Nobody expects a wizard to outDPS the Fighter on single targets, but when one third of your class path says "you do better single target damage", you should expect at least to get close.

I believe the tuning point for Amps to be somewhere below the highest spell available -which is normally fine for Focus powers- but a bit low for Psychic, at least where damage is involved. The main problem with this, however, isn't balancing (IMO), but the fact that focus powers are thus balanced because of two reasons: their limited nature, and their unlimited nature.

A focus power can be used unlimitedly across a day. This means it cannot be as powerful as your regular, limited spells, because of a simple cost/effect nature. But at the same time, focus powers are limited across an encounter (or sometimes across multiple ones), so they need power behind their punch. There is a sweet spot and that's fine. HOWEVER. Psychic doesn't play by the same focus rules.

With Psychic, focus powers are still unlimited across a day. This means they cannot be as powerful as regular, limited spells. Fine. BUT Psychic has Unleash Psyche, which grants them effectively unlimited focus points across an encounter. This is an apparent benefit which I feel plays a lot against them, as that balancing factor that normally allows focus to "be worth the expense" is now removed. The drawback is heavy, sure, but when so much of the class relies on a limited resource which then becomes unlimited, the choice between benefit and no benefit feels very one-sided.

Key Issue

As good as it is and as welcome as it may feel, I believe that the free Amp from Unleash Psyche is holding Psychic back. While most casters can have their baseline and their punch, Psychic only has the punch - a diluted one which feels too faint most of the time. Removing the free Amp allows for Psychic to establish a new baseline: a Psi benefit which could become part of their Conscious Mind, without requiring a resource expense, and an Amp benefit which is powered by their Focus resource, allowing them to punch through when needed.

The concept of Unleash Psyche as a powerful mental state that affects spellcasting can then be maintained as a strong cost/benefit effect which alters playstyle and adds variety to gameplay, aiding the still-present dependency to their narrow cantrip selection, but without the dependency on it to enable class identity. It also allows for more push towards mixing between cantrips and spells, as there is now a ticking resource which can be saved up rather than a free one to exploit.

There is also some potential for extra variation in adding generic riders to each cantrip in the form of a side benefit - taking inspiration from Sorcerer's Bloodline, something generic which affects either allies or enemies based on character flavour. In short, this class needs more impactful moments as well as more play variety.

Notable Changes

I've kept to a generic line so far because the main change I'm suggesting is fairly wide, and even my walls of text have to end at some point, but I did want to address a handful of specifics:

Message, as I mentioned earlier, felt overwhelming and stole the spotlight quite often. While I said Psychic needs more punch, it does not need to be via a single class-defining action taken every single turn regardless of the situation. Granting a free Stride to a character of choice is powerful, notable, and versatile - there will always be someone in need of an extra Stride that can spare a reaction. While I recommended higher baseline / narrower boost, I don't necessarily expect it will happen, so hear me out. Even if my suggestion isn't any good, Stride on basic Amp is not a good element. Instead, try things like Interact, Seek, or Take Cover. These are good actions which fit the idea of coordination, while at the same time being much less universal. And if my suggestion does strike the right chord, use those as Psi benefit, and keep Stride and Strike for the Amp.

Some of the utility cantrips, like Mage Hand or Detect Magic, end up feeling way too niche or unapplicable. Mage Hand requires specific conditions to be useful, Detect Magic could use some way to lend the bonus around, Guidance is... a benefit you don't want to use, and Daze's Amp is an interesting debuff, but the Will penalty could afford to be more significant considering the short duration. Damage cantrips also need adjustment, but the benchmark very much depends on their intent - and on how much each class path is meant to fullfill a damage role.

Lastly, Unleash Psyche has a pattern of "charging up". This is an interesting nature to it, and I don't dislike it, but I find that at times it is very much forced. I'm very, very wary of saying this, because if Godwin's law reminds us that arguments fade into meaningless after a certain point in the discussion, then I'm about to hit the RPG correspondent and possibly invalidating everything I typed, but I have to say it. Spoilered for sensitivity.

Spoiler:
The wording on Unleash Focused Intent (Requirement: It's your third turn of the encounter of later) is the kind of immersion-breaking rule that drove me away from fourth edition.

There, I said it. There are so many better ways to implement a delay. The playtest document itself contains several good examples - You’ve cast two beneficial spells on yourself or an ally this encounter, each on a different round. You have 0 Focus Points, and you don’t have a psyche unleashed.. You’ve used two emotion effects since rolling initiative, each on a different round.. You’ve cast two damaging spells since rolling initiative, each on a different round.. While the parts discussing rolling initiative and rounds sort of feel mildly annoying, it's not on the same level of "My character has a little notebook on which he counts seconds", and even a mild change can remove this issue - try "You’ve cast a spell with a sustained duration during this encounter and then Sustained it on your next turn to extend its duration" against "You’ve Sustained a Spell to extend its duration during your last turn". Same mechanic, no immersion issue. I realise it's just a feel problem, but hey, it's important to me. And I hope it's still important to at least some of your older base.

Feats and Direction

There are several feats in Psychic which leverage the concepts and themes of psychics through media, from Strain Mind's nosebleed for power to Mesmerising Gaze. There's tons of flavour there and I love it, allowing players to focus on their favourite themes. Two emerging patterns show up - additional Amps, and mental states that alter Psyche. While I discussed a lot the Psyche and believe there is good variety in the playtest (as well as the general trend of this thread that Psyches need to be reworked to be more focused on their specific benefit), the Amps are a Psychic's form of metamagic which I would love seeing, as they add variety and flexibility. Would love, because as of now most Amps are either too good in the base form (Message) or not really worth the feat (Spontaneous Ignition, for example, alters damage type instead of increasing it). The latest example is particularly notable - we established that the class's power relies on Amping, but these feats are used in place of Amping, so they should be worth the same amount of power when applied to a base cantrip... and between doubling Telekinetic Rend's damage or changing half of it to fire, I know which option is worth a feat and which isn't. It's not the only case, but it's the most obvious. We need some adjustment there.
Side note: Deeper Psi cantrips are good, but right now compete heavily with the free points from Lingering Psyche... odd how we keep coming back to this, huh?

All in all, I like the idea of a cantrip-based, stance-like spellcaster, but I am concerned about the power levels and the variety in turn-to-turn gameplay. Overall, the class can use some buffs, except for a couple of outlier options which dominate gameplay. Some issues with wording and immersion, general need for tuning, thumbs up on flavour options.
A level playing field within class path helps variety, even if not all class paths have the same damage output. Not every cantrip needs to be on the same treshold, but each path needs cantrips on a similar level.

Interested to see what comes up.

Dataphiles

Pathfinder Rulebook Subscriber
Ediwir wrote:
With the general state of single target damage spells, this was not too unexpected, but we are talking class role here. Nobody expects a wizard to outDPS the Fighter on single targets, but when one third of your class path says "you do better single target damage", you should expect at least to get close.

Undoubtably this is just a problem with spells dealing damage, +2 damage per spell level isn't going to fix that.

Blasting in this game is just incredibly resource inefficient, and it's going to feel even more inefficient if you have 2 slots a level. A blaster focused psychic will necessitate 1-2 enc/day to feel useful otherwise they're down to the downright horrid damage on their amp "blasts".

I fully expect this to never get any better - Paizo is just far too afraid of giving casters single-target damage that comes close to martial damage and making martials feel useless again. This is, of course, a dual-problem - a) no expectation of #enc/day means that casters' relative resource costs are never taken into account here and can't be (because if you balance it around 6 then they feel broken for the GM that only runs 1, and if you balance it around 1 they feel extremely weak at 6) and, of course, b) martials still contribute only damage most of the time, so if someone does more damage than them, then they're mostly outclassed.

Then compound that with being an occult caster, a list known mostly for buffs and debuffs - not damage - and it starts having even larger problems.

Quote:
The wording on Unleash Focused Intent (Requirement: It's your third turn of the encounter of later) is the kind of immersion-breaking rule that drove me away from fourth edition.

Meh, it's not like PF2e doesn't already have some insanely gamey mechanics for the sake of mechanical balance, like this one

Stance wrote:
A stance is a general combat strategy that you enter by using an action with the stance trait, and that you remain in for some time. A stance lasts until you get knocked out, until its requirements (if any) are violated, until the encounter ends, or until you enter a new stance, whichever comes first. After you use an action with the stance trait, you can’t use another one for 1 round. You can enter or be in a stance only in encounter mode.

Ultimately if they want the "baseline psyche" to work for everyone, then it needs to be something that everyone can actually use, and "it's your third turn of the encounter or later" is unequivocally something that every psychic ever conceived will be able to activate. If you start adding specificity then it locks out some builds. Though admittedly the effects of focused intent leave a lot to be desired on that front

What you could do is make it say "You gain a first level Psyche feat" and throw a bunch of the psyches into first level feats, but I'd still appreciate an option that works for every build as a placeholder until a psyche is released that suits that build better.


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Exocist wrote:
Blasting in this game is just incredibly resource inefficient, and it's going to feel even more inefficient if you have 2 slots a level. A blaster focused psychic will necessitate 1-2 enc/day to feel useful otherwise they're down to the downright horrid damage on their amp "blasts".

Absolutely true, and that's mostly fine, but there's a niche to be carved into "having slightly better cantrips than most casters" and "having better area damage than other Occults". If TkP is our baseline for single target unlimited caster damage, we can make a damage-based caster that deals a little bit more than this as a baseline, and more with investment, rather than just a tiny bit more with investment. If Fireball is our baseline for multi-target caster damage, then Telekinetic Rend can match it when using resources. Basically, if we want to give this class a damage option, then damage needs to be an option. Otherwise, we might as well state that it's not meant to be and focus on other effects.

Exocist wrote:
What you could do is make it say "You gain a first level Psyche feat" and throw a bunch of the psyches into first level feats, but I'd still appreciate an option that works for every build as a placeholder until a psyche is released that suits that build better.

This sounds very much like what ended up happening with Summoner, and I approve of the possibility. Not only it allows for customisation and specificity, it also allows for future feats to work with it.


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The way that Unstable ended up getting integrated, with a greater and a lower state, might be worth considering.

What if the Psychic's psi cantrips were always boosted? And then you could spend focus points to properly amp things up.

For example: telekinetic projectile scales at a d6 per spell level. As a psi cantrip, it would scale at a d8 per spell level. When amped, it could climb to a d12.

In the short term, it's a ranged greatsword when amped. In the long term, it's an attacking spell that scaled a bit worse than 2d6. Neither of these things are broken.

Having this distinction between psi cantrips always being better, and the amped cantrips being at least as good as focus spells, would help bring the class up a bit.

It also enables you to bring up the base of certain spells to make them a viable expenditure of actions *cough* daze *cough* without needing to amp them.

Finally, it also means that if you're using a utility amp, your psi cantrips are still competitive in terms of damage or other effects.


Yeah, that’s pretty much the idea. Of course it doesn’t work if you can Amp all the time :)


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TheGentlemanDM wrote:

The way that Unstable ended up getting integrated, with a greater and a lower state, might be worth considering.

What if the Psychic's psi cantrips were always boosted? And then you could spend focus points to properly amp things up.

For example: telekinetic projectile scales at a d6 per spell level. As a psi cantrip, it would scale at a d8 per spell level. When amped, it could climb to a d12.

In the short term, it's a ranged greatsword when amped. In the long term, it's an attacking spell that scaled a bit worse than 2d6. Neither of these things are broken.

Having this distinction between psi cantrips always being better, and the amped cantrips being at least as good as focus spells, would help bring the class up a bit.

It also enables you to bring up the base of certain spells to make them a viable expenditure of actions *cough* daze *cough* without needing to amp them.

Finally, it also means that if you're using a utility amp, your psi cantrips are still competitive in terms of damage or other effects.

I'd be down for always amped and focus points for omega amps. I feel like 2 spells per level evens out the buff to being acceptable for a caster.


I've been thinking of instead of focus points applying to the spells you instead spend a focus point to enter unleash psyche, gain the bonus damage on spells constantly while unleashed, and then you can end the state with prematurely with a powerful move or spend additional focus points while in psyche to use the juiced up versions.

Admittedly I actually kinda like their focus point cycles as is, but psyche is a bit under realized and the amps have to solve the power of being weak by breaking standard focus point recharging to enable frequency. Seems like maybe making psyche a state you enter with a focus point could solve a few problems.


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Midnightoker wrote:

I've been thinking of instead of focus points applying to the spells you instead spend a focus point to enter unleash psyche, gain the bonus damage on spells constantly while unleashed, and then you can end the state with prematurely with a powerful move or spend additional focus points while in psyche to use the juiced up versions.

Admittedly I actually kinda like their focus point cycles as is, but psyche is a bit under realized and the amps have to solve the power of being weak by breaking standard focus point recharging to enable frequency. Seems like maybe making psyche a state you enter with a focus point could solve a few problems.

So you recommend focus powers on the Ki Form style? Not entirely new, could work.


Basically the standard amp damage on amps are the damages your spells do while psyche is unleashed and you unleash psyche by spending a focus point. Then you can spend Focus points on other psyches while your psyche is unleashed (same as it works now-ish) where maybe those up the damage even further or do other crazy things.

And I agree it's not really that out of the box, if anything what we currently have is more unique, but at the cost of psyche being a bit too conditional and less player directed (also semi exploitable in a way) and damage being slightly under what you'd expect for a caster down in slots.

It's not too dissimilar from arcane cascade mashed up with rage actually.


Another one I read around was a ‘ramp up’ mechanic for psyches granting increasing benefits each time you took a free ‘flourish’ action in a pattern similar to thaumaturge’s rule of three, and ending with the current psych benefit.

I guess every idea rests on something.

Dataphiles

Pathfinder Rulebook Subscriber

Another idea is to make it more of a frontline support caster, leaning into the focus points, encounter-based playstyle.

Give it 10hp/level, remove the slotted casting, keep the current short range. Give it multiple good options to spend its focus points on. You can have 3 different subclasses

- 1) Silent Whisper - The classic "leader" type, which enables better action economy on your allies, or gives bonuses.

- 2) Distant Grasp - The blaster

- 3) Infinite Eye - The classic "Controller" which focuses on debuffs, forced movement and area control.

Not sure how psyches would fit into this.


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Eeh. There’s too much psychic theme in the occult list to not give psychic occult spells, even in limited capacity.

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