Saturday, March 2, 2019

The Advantages and Disadvantages of Psychic Magic (in Pathfinder)

There's this weird disconnect that a lot of RPG players and storytellers have where certain things just, "aren't fantasy," as far as they're concerned. And though I've addressed some of this in posts like The Non-Problem of Making Monks Fit Your Settings, as well as Remember, Fantasy Can Be Anything You Want, I tend to focus more on culture and technology that people can get really hung up on. But there is another aspect of games that gets some squirrely looks around the table... psychics.

Despite it being the easiest explanation of "second sight" there is.
If you noticed the backlash a lot of folks had against psychic magic when it first came out in Paizo's Occult Adventures book, then you've seen this phenomenon first-hand. And it's a shame, too, because from a mechanical perspective psychic magic opens up entire new vistas of potential in regards to your character's abilities.

How Does Psychic Magic Work?

So, let's begin at the beginning... what is psychic magic, and how does it work in Pathfinder?

For starters, psychic spells work the same way as traditional ones do, with a single exception. Psychic spells do not have a verbal or somatic component; they instead have thought and emotional components. So you must be able to focus your mind, and to project the proper emotion (the latter is impossible if you're under a non-harmless effect that controls your emotional state, making fear effects very potent against psychic casters).

The advantage here is that a psychic caster can wear full-plate armor and carry a sword and shield, if they so desire. It won't affect their spell casting one iota. They can even cast spells while completely immobilized if they're conscious and able to focus.

And that can put you in a world of hurt, my monsters.
You also gain the ability to undercast some spells, using a less-powerful version of a given spell along with a smaller spell slot. This is particularly useful for players who don't want to figure out how many different levels of the same spell they want to have on their sheet, such as with the summon monster list that goes up every level. And, of course, you can cast while polymorphed into a different shape, which is typically something that's considered impossible. But a psychic squirrel is still a psychic!

The other thing is that psychic spells can replace expensive material components traditionally used with an item of equal expense that also has personal value, and which is relative to the situation. As an example, casting raise dead as a psychic spell to resurrect a dead spouse can ignore the diamond dust if the caster uses their wedding ring, and that ring is of equal or greater value than the original material component.

So, that's also fun if you want to play around with those expensive material components, and make your spells more personalized to you.

Before we go on, the major downsides of psychic magic should be mentioned; it's really easy to interrupt. If you cast a spell, and you would need to make a concentration check, then you add +10 to the DC. Unless, that is, you take your move action to center yourself, and focus your mind and emotions before you cast. Not a deal breaker, but a pretty big issue if you want to cast on the move. You also can't use activation items that require arcane or divine casting, even if you have the spell as a psychic caster, and thus you'll need to invest in Use Magic Device like anyone else.

Some Nasty Toys To Play With

Is psychic magic really all that? Well, that depends on what you want to do with it. As a third form of magic, psychic casting offers a lot of options for players who've wanted to do something different, and who might like the idea of an elven mind lord who can bend the wills of those around him, or of a half-orc with a strange ability to unlock and unleash her own ability to mutate into a more potent form through nothing more than mental will.

But since this is Crunch week, let me give you some suggestions for how I'd play with some of these components.

Not game breaking, but still fun.
- The Paladin/Psychic Bloodline Sorcerer: You get sorcerer spells, and still cast with Charisma, but you cast as if you used psychic magic with thought and emotion components. That's fun all by itself, but if you drop 3 levels of paladin to get the most out of your Smite, Saves, and immunity to fear effects, you have properly armored yourself against a slew of potential interrupts. That, and you get the ability to stomp around in full-plate with a shield and not worry about your spells, if that's your jam.

- The Psychic/Fighter: Using the potent abilities gained from being a psychic, combined with the ability to arm and armor themselves like a traditional warrior, even a single level dip into fighter is enough to add some serious wooge (and a bonus feat, naturally) to a psychic character. Even if your attacks are still going to be largely spell-based, the ability to up your armor class (and wear cool magic armor with additional protections), is not something I can overstate.

- The Mesmerist Debuffer: Whether you pair up with a witch, a transmuter, or some other kind of debuffer, mesmerists are hell on wheels in games where your enemies aren't immune to mind effects. Even a single-level dip into mesmerist lets you hit an enemy's Will saves with a -2  as a swift action under most circumstances. Combine that with hexes, or with the right spells, and suddenly that arch wizard or dread dragon is going to be sitting there cross-eyed and drooling. Fun as paired characters, if you can get a cohort or build with another player, but equally valid as a dip into the psychic pool.

These are just a few of the easy ways you can make psychic magic (or at least psychic abilities) part of your next character. And I haven't even started on the psychic skill unlocks, or the weird magic items, or how you could do fun stuff with a single-class occult caster.

But if folks want to hear some of my thoughts on that, let me know in the comments down below!

For now, that's all for this Crunch update. If you'd like to see more by me, check out my Vocal and Gamers archives, as well as my contributions over at Dungeon Keeper Radio! And if you'd like to read some of my books, like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife, then all you have to do is stop by My Amazon Author Page.

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  1. A well written article, save for one thing. Eldritch Knight isn't possible on a Psychic sorcerer since they don't cast arcane spells anymore.

  2. I would love to read more on your ideas for psychic casters. I love the idea of them but haven't had a chance to play one yet. They always don't quite work out and I end up with a more traditional caster.

  3. Any suggestions regarding combining psychic magic with your Bullyboy/Weaponizing Intimidate articles?

  4. That's a good introduction to how psychic casters work in contrast with arcane and divine magic, although I found your introduction a bit misleading. Most of my favorite classes in Pathfinder are from Occult Adventures, but I've had problems getting my friends to accept and embrace them as equals to the rest of the class roster. I thought you were going to address that in your article, explaining the reasons why they are discriminated or misunderstood in some places and their actual potential in terms of narrative and mechanics.

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