“My mind to your mind. My thoughts to your thoughts.” ~ Spock (Pick a Star Trek Episode)
Psychic powers have a long tradition in heroic fantasy, going back as far as the 1930s with one of R.E. Howard’s Conan novellas, “The People of the Black Circle”. Of course, Conan was such a stubborn barbarian that he was quite resistant to the mind-tricks of the Black Seers of Yimsha, but it’s still a great example of psychic powers in an early definitive work of fantasy.
And there have been plenty of other authors since Howard who have used psionics rather than sorcery in their fantasy novels, or even blended the two elements together. From Michael Moorcock to Robert Zelazny, psychic powers run rampant through fantasy novels, often giving a science-fiction feel to what would normally pass for your basic heroic sword-and-sorcery setting. And then there are authors such as Katherine Kurtz, whose Deryni novels play with magic and mind-powers so well that it is difficult to discern where the psionics stop and sorcery begins.
So with the impending release of the Player’s Handbook 3, not to mention the upgraded version of the Dark Sun setting, mental powers and psionics are about to come roaring back into D&D 4E with a vengeance. It was really inevitable, given the long history that psionics has had in a previous versions of the game. Whether you liked them or hated them, every edition of D&D has had their rules governing psionics, although 4E has certainly taken them in a very new direction.
But well before the advent of the Player’s Handbook 3, there was a supplement released detailing a psionic Character Class. In August of last year, Dreamscarred Press released their own take on Player-Character psionic powers in D&D 4E, with a new Character Class called – The Mentalist.
- Author: Chris Kümmel
- Editor: Andreas Rönnqvist
- Illustrations: Toby Gregory, Shaman’s Stock Art, V. Shane, Aaron Henson
- Publisher: Dreamscarred Press
- Year: 2009
- Media: PDF (26 pages)
- Price: $4.99
The Mentalist is a supplement for D&D 4E detailing a new psionically powered Character class, and is compatible with any campaign setting. The Mentalist includes all Class Features and Powers necessary to create Mentalist Characters, and comes with two possible builds: the Empath and the Kineticist. The supplement also includes three possible Paragon Paths for Mentalist Characters to pursue, as well as 17 new Heroic Feats, 12 new Paragon Feats, and 7 new Epic Tier Feats to fully round out this psychic class. As Mentalists use an implement called a Psicrystal to enhance their powers, the supplement contains a “magic” item section with nine varieties of Psicrystals to gear up the Characters. There is even a Multiclass Feat provided, called the Initiate of the Mind, for Characters that might want to dabble in the psychic arts.
The overall production quality of The Mentalist is very good, with an easy-to-read, 3-column landscape pages format, and the power blocks, feat descriptions, and magic item descriptions which are easily recognizable to any D&D 4E player.
The new Player-Character class detailed in The Mentalist a new source which the supplement terms as phrenic power. Phrenic power reminds me as something very much like “The Force” from Star Wars, which I guess is really nothing more than psionics in outer space, if you get right down to it:
Phrenic Power – the internal energies of all sentient beings, made evident through the expression of emotions and harnessed either with a steel discipline or complete abandonment of controlling those emotions.
The Author hints that Mentalist Characters have their origin with certain “tentacled horrors from the Great Beyond” that enslaved many sentient races long ago. Theories suggest that the tentacle-things either experimented on the ancestors of Mentalists to create psychic minons, or that the secrets of psionics were stolen from these horrors. In either event, the Mentalist is a master of psychic discipline, and either manifests as telepathic power (Empathy build) or as telekinetic power (Kinesticist build).
All mentalists rely on mastering their emotions and maintaining strict discipline, but it is how you use those emotions which differentiate you from other mentalists. As an Empath, you take your emotions and lock them away deep inside your core self, causing you to become cold, distant, and to have difficulties feeling empathy for others. You then feed off and manipulate these locked away emotions to power and amplify your will and thus control another’s will and emotions.
If the Empath is cold and distant, you are exactly the opposite. While as a kineticist you also lock your emotions away and harness them, you channel those outwards more often in great outbursts of psychic force or fire. You follow your emotions where they take you, and you love nothing more than getting in the middle of the battle, literally blasting the minds out of your enemies.
Regardless of which build is chosen, the Mentalist Class is a Controller, and can dish out decent damage on the battlefield, while impairing movement and generating adverse combat conditions upon the enemy. Mentalists have a wide range of abilities that push, slide, daze, slow, stun, immobilize, and even create wall effects to impede foes while hammering on their hit points. In many respects, a Mentalist bears a certain resemblance to a Wizard, but has some unique Class Features and mechanics that make it very different from the “stock” Controller in the Core Player’s Handbook.
The mechanic that really sets this Controller class apart is the ability to “augment” powers using a Psi Focus and the ability to refresh the focus with a Focus Surge. Augmenting psionic (or in this case, phrenic) abilities was introduced as far back as 2nd Edition, and in 3.5 edition was linked to how many extra power points you channeled into a psionic talent when it was cast. The author of The Mentalist clearly wanted to carry on that concept, making most powers “augmentable” by Mentalists by expending their Psi Focus, which is an at-will Class Feature. A psi focus is regained by expending a focus surge, of which the Mentalist gets a limited number and are used much like a Second Wind to recover hit points. Or if the Mentalist is out of focus surges, they can hope for a random recharge, using a “d6” mechanic much like a monster would in order to recharge a power.
I rather liked this mechanic, and it adds a bit of fun to the Class as well as a practical ability. The other aspect of The Mentalist that I really enjoyed was the way that the Author chose to use some of the old “psionic” talent names for the Mentalists “devotions”. In addition to Telekinesis and Telepathy, D&D gamers are likely to recall powers such as Ego Whip, ESP, Mind Over Body, Mind Thust, and Intellect Fortress, which have all been given 4E make-overs. I think it was a bit of inspired “fluff” to add these old power references to the Mentalist’s devotions list.
Sadly, of the three Paragon Paths provided in The Mentalist supplement, only one of them really stuck out to me. The first two, the Mindbender and the Pyrokinetic seemed to be essentially specialized versions of the original Empath and Keneticist builds. But the third Path, the Faceless Aetherite was something really fresh. This Paragon Path transforms a Mentalist into a shape-shifting, stealthy spy and mental assassin. Of the three Paths, the Aetherite sounds like it would be an awful lot of fun to role-play, and darned useful is multi-classed with a Rogue or Assassin.
Overall Grade: A-
I found The Mentalist to be a very well designed Character Class, and would make a worthy addition to the D&D 4E Class list in many campaigns. It is solidly balanced, has plenty of “crunch”, and is more than capable to fulfill its role as a Controller for any adventuring party. In fact, based upon what I’ve read of the Psion class so far in Character Builder, I actually think I’d rather play a Mentalist. Of course, Character Builder only has about half the Psion powers and feats listed in its database, so until PHB3 comes out, I can’t make a completely informed judgment. But for Players and Dungeon Masters looking for a solid Controller class with a psychic twist, the Mentalist is definitely a good place to start.
So until next blog… I wish you Happy Gaming!
Editor’s Note: This Author received a complimentary copy of the product in PDF format from which the review was written.
- Presentation: A-
- - Design: A
- - Illustrations: B+
- Content: A-
- - Crunch: A-
- - Fluff: A
- Value: B+