The following details how the psionics rules work as they are described in the PH and DMG [at least, insofar as I have come to understand them]. Note that some of the terminology gets confusing so I have taken pains to use the words accurately. It is easy to mistakenly use these terms in a general way and thus cause confusion (something the books themselves tend to do - the nomenclature for the psionics system is really fragile). When important terms first appear they are listed in color. I strongly recommend that you be clear and deliberate in your own use of these terms. I've been reading and re-reading and working through these rules quite intensively now for a couple of weeks and I STILL notice things that I read or interpreted incorrectly thanks to such APALLING poor choice of and use of terminology in the books. I may refer interchangeably to characters with psionics as either psions or psionicists since the books never gave a formal designation for referring to characters with these abilities.
Determine if the character has psionics per the PH: that is, add up the modifiers for high ability scores, if any, and roll the percentile dice.
Determine the number of psionic points the character has. Per the PH, you make a die roll from 01-100, and add bonuses of from 1-72 for a total of 2-172. That number is used for the two separate pools of points. One pool is the amount of points the character can use for attack modes and is referred to as Attack Strength. An identical total is used for defense modes and is referred to as Defense Strength. Adding those two together you get the amount for the characters total Psionic Ability which is used occasionally for making determinations instead of attack strength or defense strength. Psionic Ability, of course, is then a number between 4 and 344. [Note: the PH says 10-344 but obviously that is not correct.]
The way point expenditures work is this: Points spent on attack modes are deducted from the Attack Strength total. Points spent on defense modes are deducted from the Defense Strength total. Points spent on Disciplines are deducted equally and fully from both the attack and defense strength totals. E.g., let's say you have 76 points of Attack Strength and 55 of Defense Strength. If you then use a discipline costing 22 points you deduct 22 from your attack and 22 from your defense totals giving you 54 attack, 33 defense. Damage from psionic attacks is always deducted from your defense total first, until you run out of defense points and then any remainder gets deducted from your attack total, until that runs out and then any remainder is carried over as direct hit point damage (as is all subsequent damage).
The number of attack and defense mode choices you get is determined randomly, as is the number and type of disciplines you get. Once you know how many attack and defense modes you get then the player gets to choose which ones he'll have. Which disciplines you get is determined randomly on a chart. Everybody gets at least two defense modes and your first defense mode MUST be F (Mind Blank), but the rest are the players choice.
If you run out of attack points and can't pay for any attack mode that you have then obviously you can't attack. If you run out of defense points then woe be unto you, because you are then attacked as a Defenseless Psionic which typically has horrible consequences. Note that even 1 defense point is enough to activate defense mode F (mind blank), which everyone gets. When damage starts getting deducted from your attack strength or hit points then by definition you have been rendered defenseless.
Psionic combat takes place at a rate of 1 exchange per segment for each of the 10 segments in a round. It is "recommended" that you resolve all psionic combat for the round first, but it must be noted that this significantly affects how other activities in the round interact with, and especially how they interfere with psionic combat. Which is to say - they don't. That makes psionics strikingly more rapid and deadly than it otherwise would be. Psionic attacks are then the very first thing to take place in a round disregarding initiative and all other activity that might take place in the round and those 10 exchanges per round are resolved before anything and everything else. If the DM chooses NOT to follow the "recommendation" then you step directly into house rules territory because there is no by-the-book information on how to integrate psionic combat with the initiative system. [I'll address how that changes psionic combat (and it does - dramatically) a little later.]
In each of the 10 psionic combat segments you pick your attack mode secretly. Unless and until you know that your opponent has displayed all the possible types of defense modes he possesses you are ostensibly guessing utterly blindly as to what attack will work best for him and therefore guessing blindly what defense will work best for you. However, your opponent has the same problem. Some analysis of the attack chart determines there are most certainly optimal and sub-optimal choices which actually eliminate guesswork about what modes to use and why. That will be discussed below. Meanwhile, defenses are put up automatically against an attack and the defender will use "the best type (most applicable) they can." Defenses are much cheaper than attacks - but any damage from attacks is deducted from your defense total so defense points are likely to disappear faster than attack points. When you have run out of defense points, even though you may have attack points left, you are now attacked as a defenseless psionic. Results of the table used for that have fairly high damage points which comes off your attack points instead of your now empty defense (and off your hit points directly when you run out of attack points). Many of the results on the "defenseless psionic" table are also going to be special afflictions ranging from confusion or being dazed, to losing combat abilities (possibly permanently), falling under robotic control of your enemy, or just being a couple different flavors of dead.
The combat table in the DMG is arranged in 6 brackets according to the amount of points the attacker has. That amount of points it uses to determine the bracket it labels as "Total Psionic Strength". Text under the table further defines that as the combined total of attack and defense points - which is what the PH already defined as "Psionic Ability". It appears the difference is that "Total Psionic Strength" includes any deductions for having made attacks, put up defenses, taken damage and used disciplines, whereas "Psionic Ability" is the maximum value the character has without those deductions. Why not use the term from the PH and just refer to it as Current Psionic Ability? Why RE-define it with yet another confusing term, suggesting it is something different? Or IS it something different? I find it very strange that the brackets are in point amounts of only 25 points. PC point totals (whether you call it Total Psionic Strength or Psionic Ability) will range from 4 to 344 if the character is fully rested and has not spent any points. Yes? So in the upper HALF (more than!) of that range, attacks don't change at all, and then they shift and downgrade several times in the lower half of the range of ability? By this approach a character who has a low amount of points to begin with (a low Psionic Ability) simply finds that he is already at a disadvantage in attack in that his points expenditures already conspire to immediately and rapidly reduce his potential to inflict damage even further from where he starts, which is already low. By contrast the high-point character can make many attacks and defenses at the same maximum effectiveness before his low "Total Psionic Strength" or current "Psionic Ability" total is low enough to start to reduce the effectiveness of his attacks. The DMG is going to lengths to say that this is how it should function. I have to admit that for the longest time I have read it as being "Attack Strength". Despite how odd and unnecessarily imbalanced against low point combatants that seems to me, that is how it is. I'll just mention here then the opportunity for the DM to make balancing changes by either more sensibly arranging the brackets in blocks of 50 points, or leaving the table as-is and using the Attack Strength total alone to determine the attack bracket. The latter of which makes the most sense to me, but with AD&D psionics what actually makes sense often has nothing to do with it.
Although you get immediate access to all your chosen attack and defense modes at character creation, you don't gain all your disciplines at once. You get one every 2 experience levels and gain all your minor disciplines (also called Devotions) first, then you start getting any major disciplines (also called Sciences). You don't get to choose what disciplines you acquire unless you roll high on the table AND the DM wants to allow you to choose.
Id Insinuation has a square area of effect (2" x 2"). Psionic Blast is a cone area effect (2" base, 1/2" apex, 6" long) and is the only attack mode that can have an effect upon non-psionics - but the attacker must have a current attack strength of 100 or better to affect non-psionics with it. The other three psionic attacks affect only an individual. If you use Psychic Crush (E) as your attack mode then the only defense mode you can use at the same time is Thought Shield (G). It's either that or no defense at all (meaning you would be attacked as defenseless). Instead of defense point damage Psychic Crush has a % chance to just kill the victim outright. Looking at the chart you'll see that the chance is quite low unless the attacker has a lot of attack points, and the defender also uses the cheaper defense modes.
According to the PH, Thought Shield defense (mode G) "can be kept up at all times, unlike the others." If all defenses are put up automatically and the best available is used then what's the point with Thought Shield being up at all times? What is that isolated statement trying to indicate? It's not entirely clear, making it debatable. One way I initially interpreted this was that if at any point you activate Thought Shield then it remains up for at least the rest of the round. Even if you run out of defense points later that round your Thought Shield will still be there. All other defense modes, by contrast, must be reactivated and paid for again for EVERY attack they are used to defend against. However, I now believe that even though you can "keep it up at all times" it does NOT say that you DON'T have to pay for it in every segment that you do keep it up. This provides a practical reason for G to actually have an activation cost. Question then is what might you do that you'd need to keep a defense active when you otherwise couldn't? You can use an attack mode and a defense mode simultaneously. You can use a discipline and a defense mode simultaneously. The key lies in the PH statement, "During psionic combat the creatures involved can engage in no other activity." The purpose of G being able to be "kept up at all times" is to do NON-psionic things and still be able to defend yourself from psionic attack - which you otherwise would not be able to do. Things like use magic items, make melee or missile attacks, cast spells, and so forth. Other interpretations are nonetheless possible. What interpretation is used has some repercussions for the system.
All psionic attacks have range statistics which vary from one to another. Medium range psionic attacks have their damage reduced by 20%. Long range reduces damage by 20% AND shifts you down one attack bracket (essentially as if your total Psionic Strength were actually 25 points lower). If you are already in the lowest attack bracket you obviously can't be shifted any lower, and in that case a long-range attack reduces your damage by 50% instead of 20%. You can spend double or triple the points to double or triple the range of attack modes B, C, and D (Mind Thrust, Ego Whip, Id Insinuation).
Attacks in series (with other psionics) adds 50% to the range for each participating psionic, not just for each psionic beyond the first (so, 2=200%, 3=250%, etc.). This also applies to the range of disciplines when in series. Range base for disciplines, however, is that of the weakest individual. It doesn't say it, but I personally assume that all participants must have the same attack mode or discipline to use it in series. Another valid interpretation, however, is that attacking in series is strictly a means to share points and affect range - only the acting psionic character in the series needs to actually have the ability being used, even though a weaker participant who doesn't even HAVE the ability might set the base range. Strictly speaking, the only drawback for assisting with disciplines by linking in series would be that participants simply can't do anything else. For psionic combat [and this is noted as distinct from discipline use], participants add 20% of their total attack strength to the next person in the chain (round fractions up). Calculation of this "point transfer" is made one step at a time from the weakest to the strongest participant. Only the final link (the strongest) can attack or BE attacked, but the damage affects everyone in the link equally. Joining or leaving a series would seem to be instantaneous and strictly an individual choice that would be made at the start of every psionic combat segment.
Note: since damage from attacks is deducted from your defense points, and the cost to put up a defense is taken from your defense points the "most applicable" defense is NOT necessarily the one that only results in the lowest damage, but the one with the lowest net loss to defense totals from both the cost of the defense itself and cost of damage. It may not be a savings of more than a point or two - but having just 1 point available for a Mind Blank defense keeps you from being hit on the defenseless table, so that's important to note. It seems at first that the combat table should just be redone to show the net defense point loss, but characters who are targeted by multiple psionic attacks don't pay for multiple uses of the same defense, so the table should stay the way it is. However, seeing which defense is most efficient is key for a defender so you should probably make just such a chart yourself if you're playing a psionic character.
Note: initiative doesn't apply as such in psionic combat, it simply takes place at 1 set of combat exchanges per segment, all attacks and defenses being simultaneous. If you follow the recommendation in the book to drop everything else and resolve psionic combat first as soon as it starts those 10 segments are separate and different than segments for the rest of a normal round. If the DM chooses not to follow the "recommendation" it is clearly left to him to sort out any and all rules for the timing of spells, item effects, missiles, and normal melee blows with psionic combat.
You can't attack and use a discipline at the same time. It is a possible interpretation that you are otherwise able to make 10 uses of disciplines in a single round even while defending. 10 times a round you choose between attacking and using a discipline, but defend normally regardless. You should note, however, that disciplines will describe effects measured by rounds, not by psionic combat segments. It is thus entirely up to the DM to decide how often a discipline can be RE-used in a round and how any effects or damage would stack with other activations. I would personally recommend that at the very least any discipline with effects having durations cannot be speeded up or stacked up with that effect by additional points spending. It is another valid interpretation that if you choose to use a discipline then you can't use attack modes at all in a round, and if you have used even on attack mode then you prevent yourself from being able to use a discipline. (That's the interpretation I think makes more sense.) Clearly, once again this all enters once again into the territory of the DM's own interpretations. Players will also be warned again here that given the horrific consequences of running out of defense points, use of disciplines while combat is ongoing (or can be anticipated to occur) is EXTRAORDINARILY ill-advised.
There is a statement in the PH that reads: "Combatants select their defense modes, attack modes, and opponent (if multiple creatures per side are involved). This information is recorded, and the defenses and attacks are matrixed to determine results." This can be interpreted as meaning that both attacks and defenses must be chosen "blind", thus contradicting the statement in the DMG that best defenses are simply put up automatically (and so the player would only have to decide what his best defense IS). On the assumption that any contradiction is unintentional it must be seen as just a Gygaxian way of repeating the idea that although you choose your defense from those which you have available it still happens automatically in response to an attack. Attacks are still chosen secretly, then everyone reveals their attack choices, then everyone finds their best defense versus attacks against them, and then the results are all resolved at the same time. Lather, rinse, repeat. It could also just be an oblique reference to a player needing to record that his defense mode is G if he's attempting to attack with E. I would assert that the DMG, being the later publication, is meant to supersede the PH on this account in any case so statements by the PH with implications contrary to the DMG should be ignored. Though there is still little or no "tactical" manipulation of attacks/defenses by the players, combat does not wind up being totally, inexplicably, blind guesswork. [Especially odd, given that this is mental combat, and reading the mind of your opponent as to how he is attacking you seems extraordinarily elementary and logical.]
If a combatant is distracted by physical attack (really only possible if resolving psionics through normal initiative along with normal combat) they cannot attack but can still defend. This would have dire consequences for anyone whose attacks are interrupted early in a round.
The DMG has this to say: "When both sides have attacked and defended once the psionic combat segment is over. All points of strength expended in attacking and defending are totaled separately, points lost due to attack are added, and a new Total Psionic Strength is determined for each side." The bold wording is from the DMG, not me. I mention this because it is a strange and confusing thing to say because it is so obvious. Reading it superficially, it's just telling you what you already know - that when you spend attack points you deduct them from your Attack Strength; when you spend defense points and take damage you deduct those points from your Defense Strength total; reductions to those two totals obviously means you have a new, lower combined total as well. What I'm concerned with is the erroneous idea that people might get - that you total up your current Psionic Ability (or Total Psionic Strength as the DMG wants to call it) and then divide it in half at the end of every segment to get new attack and defense strengths. What you're supposed to do is have two separate totals of Psionic Strength, one for attack, one for defense. Points deducted from those separate totals will typically create an imbalance. That is, you're probably going to lose more defense points than you do attack points because damage also comes off of defense first. See also point #8 above. It appears that the DMG IS coining another new term here which was not seen in the PH. Just noting that careful adherence to the terminology is important, and thus that DMG statement really isn't telling you anything new or substantial, and "Total Psionic Strength" isn't a new concept as such (even if it is a new term) nor is there any reason I can fathom to put it in bold type.
The PH states that, "The level of mastery of any discipline equals the level of experience of the character who possesses it unless otherwise specified." Several sciences have effects listed which begin at 1st level. However, PC's are not supposed to gain sciences until they have gained all their devotions. That means that those effects CANNOT begin at 1st level if the PH statement isn't parsed a little more closely. Some people interpret this to mean that the Level of Mastery for all psionic disciplines begins at 1st level when the character first acquires the ability, and then advances by one every level after that. Thus, if one acquires a science at, say, 5th level then its EFFECTS begin at 1st level; when the PC is 6th the science functions at 2nd level of ability; when the PC is 7th the science functions at 3rd level ability, and so on. Another way to look at it it would be that those Sciences with 1st level listed effects are the "otherwise specified" disciplines being mentioned in the PH quote, despite the fact that there isn't any such thing specified elsewhere (though that PH statement suggests it is). One more possibility is that it refers to potential use through, say, an item. Items might enable the use of sciences despite the user being too low level to actually manifest it themselves. For example, a non-psionic PC finds an item which lets the owner use the Molecular Manipulation science. The earliest level that a psionic PC could gain that ability would be 5th level, but the description has different effects for level of mastery starting at 1st level. So theoretically, a 1st level character with this item could use it, but it would only function at 1st level of mastery. That's a stretch, but then it's a statement that just doesn't conform with how the system actually works, so you have to come up with SOME kind of house-rule explanation. It's very likely that the reason it exists at all is because the whole psionics system was actually in an incomplete state when it was added to the PH, and Gary as much as admitted that. It's just one of a number of errors, contradictions, typos and such that 1E psionics has.
As mentioned a couple of times already, the "recommendation" in the DMG is to simply resolve all psionic combat first and then proceed with the rest of activity for the round. This has the effect of making psionic combat outrageously faster than the rest of combat. That speed also directly contributes to its outrageous, arbitrary, deadly nature. However, no information at all was given for even the possibility of fitting psionic combat into the standard initiative procedures.
Ha! It is to laugh. How is it even surprising? AD&D initiative is, to be blunt, convoluted at best and its actual procedures will always be subject to interpretation and widespread replacement by house rules. The following assumes initiative as it is generally interpreted by A.D.D.I.C.T. (Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Initiative and Combat Table), but must inevitably still be seen as my own personal preferences since so much about AD&D initiative is easily debated and difficult to understand as it's presented in the books. Note that A.D.D.I.C.T. as written still follows the DMG "recommendation" placing psionic combat after pre-initiative actions but still prior to the initiative roll. Amending that is the very point here.
Start with surprise. Yes, psions should be surprised just as anyone else can, and should thus be subject to the very same surprise rules as far as their combat abilities go. A psion may attack during a surprise round at a rate of one attack per segment of surprise. Best defense modes are still put up automatically in response to each and every attack, even if the target is surprised. Dexterity adjustments can still reduce the number of segments that an individual psionic character is surprised. When such an individual is no longer surprised he can no longer be attacked psionically, just as a fighter who is no longer surprised is no longer subject to a full rounds worth of attacks every segment. The surprising psionic attackers must either cease their surprise attacks or find other targets.
Why aren't psionic attacks accelerated just as other attacks are? Well, if you think they should be, you can do so. Myself, I don't let fighters get a full attack routine of multiple attacks in every surprise segment either. I think it's outrageous, and so would be letting a psionicist flash out attacks like a fiber optic signal on methamphetamine. Normal psionic attack is (supposedly) 1 attack exchange per segment. Psionic combat is vastly more deadly and arbitrary than normal combat. If you have no issue with psionic PC's being caught by surprise and mentally speed-raped in just a few surprise segments you're not the kind of DM or player I'm addressing anyway. This is about bringing psionics under control, not about letting it get even further out of hand. The advantage during surprise is that you can attack psionically without fear of counter-attack.
Now, this DOES hand a huge advantage to the psionic combatant whose side achieves surprise, but in a sense it's no more so than that side gets with fighters with multiple attacks, and especially with bow attacks. Even without psionics, surprise is DEADLY in by-the-book AD&D combat. But while we give to a psion with one hand we are taking away much more with the other...
Psionicists should also be subject to the initiative roll. 10 attacks per round is an ideal situation; a theoretical possibility. It is, however, just not going to be seen except in rare instances. Since psions are still subject to the initiative roll psionic attacks do not just begin automatically on segment one. Attacks begin on the segment indicated by their respective initiative die results for their side. For example, one die is rolled by the PC's and the result is 5; the DM rolls a die for the monsters and the result is 2. The higher numerical roll is said to possess initiative, so the PC's go first. The segment on which psionic and other attacks begin is (counter-intuitively) indicated by the LOSING roll of 2. So, on segment 2 psionic PC's would begin psionic combat. Their psionic opponents would be able to begin their attacks on segment 5. So, at the beginning of the round a PC in this sample combat situation would have 3 segments of attack without fear of counterattack by opponents. Opponents would defend as normal against any and all attacks. However, clearly the opponents would not get to complete 10 attacks - and neither would the PC's. By definition there are only 10 segments in a round, and by the book, one attack exchange per segment, so in the example PC's would get 2 more attacks than their opponents (they would have a total of 8, whereas the opponents would get only 6 attacks).
Something else to consider is the effect of a psionic combatant being hit from normal combat, regardless of what happens with psionics. Damage from weapons or spells spoils psionic concentration for attacks and discipline use just as it spoils spellcasting. Any segment after a psion takes NON-psionic damage he can no longer attack. So, in our example, if the opponents began their attacks on segment 5 and hit the PC psionicist in that same segment it would prevent his psionic attacks for the remainder of the round. If the PC's, attacking on segment 2, manage to land a melee blow, missile fire, or damaging spell upon the enemy psionicist then he'll be prevented from ANY attacks that round.
Integrating psionics with initiative does wonders for its playability. Players who understand the implications of the system will NOT have their psionic characters standing proud and alone in the face of psionic opponents. They will be hoping, begging, demanding every assistance from other PC's to concentrate upon psionic threats first and foremost. The best way to handle psionic combat is to never let an opponent live long enough to even initiate a psionic attack; never let them have an undisturbed round of psionic attacks. It must be remembered as well that psionic characters have OTHER class abilities as well. Every PC psion is not JUST a psion, but a fighter, cleric, magic-user, thief or whatever. Even if the PC has a ton of psionic points and more combat and defense modes than he needs, psionic attack may not be the best choice of action when facing a psionic opponent. It might be a longsword, a spell, using a magic item, or even just fleeing the encounter.
What about initiative ties? AD&D is obsessive about resolving ties. This is fairly simple. If a psionic attack ties with a melee attack, missile attack, or spell cast upon the psionic attacker, the psionic attack occurs first. There is no reason whatsoever to screw about with special rules to resolve ties. Psionics simply wins ties, except that psionic attacks are, by definition, always simultaneous with each other.
For purposes of declaration a psion only needs to declare that he is attacking psionically that round. He is then allowed as many as 10 attacks (but it seldom will be that many) assuming only that his concentration is not interrupted by damage from physical or spell attacks, and that he has the points to continue to attack. In each segment, psionic attacks are swiftly noted secretly for each participating attacker. Knowing what we know about the psionic combat chart, and assuming no changes are made, there is absolutely no reason for this to be the tiniest shred of time-consuming. The "secret" choice is likely not even a meaningful secret. Tactics in the system as written are few and far between. How the psion conducts combat should be pre-planned and will likely be little deviated from. Anyway, once chosen the attacks are just immediately revealed, best defenses are determined by the defender for attacks, points are tallied, and then non-psionic-combat activity for the segment is resolved. This all cannot help but draw out combat somewhat each round, but there is no reason this shouldn't be minimal in impact - it won't draw out the round any longer than handling it separately would.
The primary effects of all that should be readily apparent. Much fewer psionic attacks per round. A psion with few points has a significantly increased fighting chance because psionic opponent attacks can be reduced in number or even prevented altogether in a given round if the PC's win initiative and deal them hit point damage.
The practical reality is that most DM's are NOT going to use initiative by the book. They will be using some house-ruled system and the variables are just too numerous to even try to catalog. Suffice it to say that this is the DM's chance to really bring psionics to heel even without actually making changes in how they otherwise function as written. Of course, there are more than a few house-ruled variations that a DM could add on top of just bringing psionic combat into normal initiative.
So, going by the rules-as-written, what CAN a psionic character do to manipulate events in his favor? What does he need to consider? How can the DM improve the way psionics functions in his game?
Consider the consequences of even getting psionics. It is NOT necessarily going to be a good thing. If you get a low psionic strength total from your all-important roll you must accept that your character will almost certainly die horribly in the first serious psionic combat he finds himself involved in. Even if you have embarrassingly high stats you still have a very low chance of getting psionics (though it will help a great deal with your psionic points). With three 18's your chance of getting psionics is still only 10%.
You are just as likely to roll 01 as 00 for your points. It's almost completely a crapshoot. Don't count on a high roll.
You get to choose which attack modes you know at the outset. Having a wider selection is better, but after lengthy analysis the optimal choices reveal themselves. For attack, pick B and use it exclusively. Pick A only if you're going to have the points to hit non-psionic opponents with it (you have to have over 100 to do that), or if you expect to be facing down GROUPS of psionic opponents. Otherwise B is a more efficient attack - more damage to the opponent for the points YOU spend in attack. The rest of the attack modes... really it doesn't matter. C is very similar to B - but B is more efficient. D has terrific range and an area of effect, but if that's your best option for action in the round you got troubles beyond just issues brought up by the psionic system. E is a BAD option for a laundry list of reasons.
You get to choose which defense modes you know, too. For defenses everyone gets F automatically. H should be your second choice. ALWAYS. J is the third choice but you are highly unlikely to be using it. Pick up I after that if you have 4 defenses. You won't be using that either unless you're going to do a lot of defending a group around you from Psionic Blast (A) rather than just yourself. G is your LAST option. The only reason to even want or need G AT ALL is if you're foolish enough to want to waste points on E as an attack. Note that if your Psionic Strength total is low, however, it just ain't gonna matter much anyway. You're brain food. It's just a matter of time unless your DM bends over backwards for you.
Logical combat is simply going to be attack with B, defend with H. Repeat, repeat, repeat, until somebody dies.
RANGE becomes a hugely significant tactical factor because medium and long range attacks reduce the damage inflicted by a direct percentage and/or lowering the attack bracket (and thus less damage done even before applying the % reduction). Monsters will have their attack modes dictated, not chosen as players get to do, and they are therefore, by definition, not likely to be very efficient. Learn the monsters capabilities - and limitations - and know your own ability to survive facing them in combat. Know your tactics ahead of time especially against an opponent with more points than you.
Here's hoping you even GET a Major Discipline (a Science) much less have the points to manifest it. By the book there's a 40% chance you won't get a science, a 45% chance of having just one, and a 15% chance of having two - which is the most you can get.
The disciplines you end up getting can seriously alter the entire concept for your character. Don't make too many long-term plans about your character until you know what ALL your psionics abilities are going to be - points, combat modes, and disciplines.
Be stingy with using your disciplines if there is any kind of chance of psionic combat. Points spent for disciplines are deducted from both attack and defense totals so every use of disciplines is CRIPPLING your combat ability - and that means DEATH.
If your DM runs psi combat "as recommended", which is to say prior to and exclusive of all other activity for the round, then it is very important to pull out all the stops against psionic opponents in the surprise round - IF you get surprise. As I said, the surest way to survive psionic combat is to never let the opponent live long enough to initiate attacks. Once it's started, the outcome is virtually pre-determined and the only question to be answered is how long it will take.
Don't even bother to attack an opponent psionically if you stand no chance of ultimate success. If you have a chance of reducing an opponents points to zero then that is a meaningful expenditure of your points. If that is never going to happen because you simply don't have enough points (either because you never had enough to begin with or because you've already spent too many) your points will only be meaningfully spent for defense, or perhaps activating disciplines if you have one that equates to an "I win!" button. Keep yourself alive long enough to take out the opponent by OTHER means. Just surviving the first round so that you can attack with some non-psionic approach is better. Save your points for defense and absorbing damage and hit them with the best your PC can do with his ACTUAL class abilities.
Physical combat against a psionic opponent can mean life or death for a psionic PC and a lot depends on the PC's points total. A points-weak PC desperately needs friends who can and will take out psionic threats FIRST and that means integration of psionic combat with normal initiative. Don't foolishly assume you have to take out every psionic opponent by yourself, WITH psionics. Psionics is an add-on ability to your PC, it is NOT your PC's CLASS. Don't be attacking with your psionics if simply bashing him with your sword is going to kill him faster. Coordinate your tactics with your fellow PC's.
Fight in series. Don't be the lone psionicist in the party. Stronger psions are particularly good cover for weaker ones. In series, one psion is given a higher attack strength and range for his attacks and disciplines. This helps assure the survival of the weaker by aiding in eliminating the psionic threat faster. It means the strongest psion is the one dealing the damage to foes and is also the ONLY one who can be attacked. Others in the series take the same damage - but don't pay the added cost for the defense.
At present the ideal tactics I can think of for general purposes would be this: Keeping as far away as possible (to reduce the damage from enemy attacks due to range reductions); let your opponent attack you until he runs out of attack points; and do not attack back psionically - just defend. If he outscores you in points then you lose and nothing you could have done psioncially would have changed that outcome anyway. However, if he does not outscore you... if you survive and he has run out of points to attack with, you will know whether or not your subsequent psionic attacks upon him will get you anywhere or not. If so, then close to short range to attack and you'll have him cold. One last important piece of advice - don't ever, EVER waste points on trying to extend your attack range.
The DM has an extraordinary degree of influence on how psionics plays out in a game. This is from more than just how he decides to interpret certain things such as the functioning of Thought Shield (ultimately meaningless) or even integration with initiative (game changing!). The choice of what psionic monsters the DM uses and how frequently they appear; the power of NPC's whom he gives psionics; the ruthlessness with which he conducts combat in the game; these and more all affect the usefulness and deadliness of psionics.
Changing that gawdawful percentile roll for determining psionic points would be an INCREDIBLE balancing feature and a great place to start. You could still keep it a one-time lump sum determination but instead of a wildly variable % roll of 1-100 use a chart like this:
|01-10||50 pts||61-75||70 pts|
|11-20||55 pts||76-85||80 pts|
|21-40||60 pts||86-95||90 pts|
|41-60||65 pts||96-00||100 pts|
To that you'd add the usual bonus points up to 72. That chart would prevent PC's from having horrifically crippling point totals while still providing a random range and the influence of luck of the dice. Naturally, such a chart could be weighted as you see fit - this one is just from the top of my head without a moments study or contemplation. You could also replace the roll with giving all psionic PC's a base of 50 pts and 5 pts per level after that. This would give all PC's a certain base of effectiveness psionically, but allow them to improve over time. Yet another way to handle it would be to add up the number of points of ability score the character has which are above 12 for Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma (which you do by the book anyway to determine your bonus points). This should be a range of 4-18 since the character must have at least one of those abilities at 16 or better to even have psionics. Now, however, just multiply that total by 10 (instead of adding 1-100) and you have your attack strength and defense strength. That would have the added benefit of a PC knowing even before he rolled the dice to TRY for psionics how many points he'll have AS a psionic character.
You could make changes to G as a defense in some fashion to give it a reason to exist. You could (actually SHOULD) alter the combat chart if you can to make defenses other than F and H viable options, make an attack other than B the most efficient attack at some point, etc. This, however, is VERY difficult and tedious to do - as I can vouch from personal efforts along those lines.
You can, and should, re-examine (and probably just re-write!) any psionic monster you choose to use based on what changes you've made to psionics. Monsters in the MM seem to have a lot of "transcription" errors from bringing them into AD&D from OD&D's Eldritch Wizardry that pretty much make that advisable anyway. Best example is the iconic Mind Flayer, which is listed as having only attack mode B but which is apparently an error made in bringing it forward from Eldritch Wizardry where Psionic Blast was attack mode B, then in AD&D it became attack mode A but didn't get revised correctly. Many psionic monsters, as I understand, have incorrect point totals either from similar errors in adapting from Eldritch Wizardry or simply having been typo'ed or miscalculated. DON'T PLAY IT BY THE BOOK. Fix things so that they fit how YOU want psionics to work.
The DM can also structure a game world in such a way that psionic human and demi-human PC's are expected to adhere to certain philosophies which affect when and how psionic combat is used. For example, there could be an admonition against use of psionics versus another human or demi-human psionic. Two paladins should not be attacking each other except in extraordinary circumstances. Two druids would have no reason to attack each other - except that they do so specifically when advancing above certain levels. Same with Monks, though monks can be subdivided by alignment LG, LN, LE. In a similar way, psionic PC's could be assumed to have learned those abilities from the same "school", perhaps even from the same specific individual regardless of alignment, and been given the strict prohibition against attacking anything but monsters with the abilities. Penalties could be anything the DM wants to fit into his game world. Losing abilities, vengeance, forced banishment, attracting attention of the "teachers' enforcers. It depends a great deal on how intricately you want to weave psionics into your game setting and why. If your setting is an AD&D take on Lord of the Rings then psionics has no place. If your setting is a take on Thundarr the Barbarian then it is a big piece of the heart of the setting. The game world itself (the planet) could be the source of all psionic power and restrict usage (ever read the Deathworld trilogy?). The DM could institute alignment restrictions (and really that makes extremely logical sense to say that any psionic PC should be lawful to reflect the organization and mental discipline required to gain the ability).
The DM can emphasize Charisma for psionic characters, such as by making it the sole ability score that increases point totals.
He can also say that any PC who gains psionics must earn 20% more xp than their advancement chart indicates. That's a GREAT idea because otherwise psionics has a tendency to either be a free "I Win!" button, or a death sentence.
Against a PC who has a large pool of points a DM can be a little less cautious, but low-point PC's otherwise have a bright, flashing target on their cerebral cortex that says, "KILL ME!" A PC with few points is actually a liability to himself and a DM should carefully consider the survivability of such a character in the long term and how he wants to handle the game in response even to just that individual PC.
Of course, it should also be said that the DM has a certain obligation to discuss all such matters with the players of psionic PC's, even if it is nothing more than an announcement that these will be mysteries for them to discover the hard way - by direct play.
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