Psionics (pronounced: /saɪˈɑːnɪks/ sy-AN-iks listen) was a weird power of the mind wielded by certain monsters and races and by the few individuals who developed it spontaneously as wild talents or cultivated them as psionics-users. Although practiced only rarely, it was known in Faerûn as the Invisible Art and colloquially known as mind magic.
Nature of Psionics
Psionics was fueled by the internal magic of one's own mind and life-force, similarly to ki, using this power to produce psionic effects. In contrast to the spellcasting of conventional magic, psionics did not draw power from the Weave (nor the Shadow Weave, or any other external power) and did not need it to function. Instead, a psionic creature was itself its own Weave. Not even deities of magic like Mystra and Shar could stop a psionic creature using its powers. Nevertheless, after the Year of Wild Magic, 1372 DR, the results of psionic powers were magical in nature and psionics and conventional magic were fully transparent to one another, interacting just as magic did with itself, though not all spellcasters were aware if this was possible.
Use of psionic power did not require spell components. Psionic power could be activated much faster than either divine or arcane magic. All psionicists possessed formidable mental discipline in order to properly use their psionic powers.
During the 1360s DR, psionic powers were categorized as "sciences" or "devotions", which were in turn grouped into "disciplines". From 1372 DR, they were only grouped into disciplines. Known disciplines were:
Psionic items were objects that had been "empowered" through psionic techniques, being imbued with the mental energies of their creators. The process of empowerment of a psionic item paralleled the enchantment of a magical item in many ways. Quality materials were required, as well as the psionic power, devotion, or science required to be installed in the object. In the 1360s DR, it was believed that all sciences and devotions to be placed in the item must come from the same discipline (in contrast to magical items of the time that could have spells of different schools). Finally, the creator, a psionicist, must concentrate to imbue the object with the psionic power and mental energies, which was an involved process.
Unlike magic items, psionic items of the 1360s DR were invariably intelligent to some degree and had a personality of some form. The shape of this personality was mostly unpredictable, but Daltim Flamefist theorized it arose from a fragment of the creator's own psyche and was influenced by what was high in their thoughts during creation, such as the aim of their work or their dreams or desires. Such intelligent empowered items could communicate with their owners, who in turn needed to communicate with the item in order to gain the use of its powers. This was much like any relationship: one had to become familiar with the item's intelligence, earn its trust, and persuade it to function when required. A good owner spent several minutes a day communicating with such psionic items in order to maintain and strengthen the bond. Fortunately, most were relatively friendly and quick to bond, being similar to semi-intelligent pets or familiars. Daltim even intended to research the possibility of using a psionically empowered item as a familiar.
Psionic items of the 1360s DR behaved much like regular magical items, yet they did not register as such to traditional divinations. Hence, they were sometimes known as "not-magical items" by puzzled mages at a loss to identify them. Nevertheless, divinations designed specially to identify psionic emanations did work on them. Many magical items could be duplicated in function by a psionic item. A psionic item could also be enchanted as a magical item, with no clash or interference. However, if the magic was activated by mental command, thanks to the innate intelligence, the item could well activate itself.
Although commonly believed to be something wielded only by monstrous creatures, anyone with enough dedication could cultivate and command psionic powers. A psionicist often displayed a prodigious memory.
At sites where potent psionics-users had died, suddenly and violently, large wild psionic zones could form.
All the common races of the Realms produced a rare few folk with psionic talent. However, there were some common or monstrous races such as the yuan-ti who produced significant numbers of psionically gifted beings. There were also some communities who produced more psionic beings than the average, usually because of stray psionic energy or interbreeding with the main psionic races.
Typically, less than 1 in 10,000 humans had even a minor psionic power. However, in lands where there had been interbreeding of some kind between humans and yuan-ti, near the so-called Serpent Kingdoms of the south, this rate could be 1 in 1000, or even 1 in 500. An increased occurrence of psionic talent was also caused by emanations from wild psionic zones, the ruins of past psionic civilizations like Jhaamdath in the Vilhon Reach, or the cities of psionic creatures like the gray dwarves and illithids, usually in settlements build above them.
The most notable psionicists belonged to the powerful illithid race, who had the nickname "mind flayers", owing to their considerable psionic powers, and appetite for brain matter. Illithid communities possessed a communal intelligence.
Few members of any other race besides aboleths and duergar were psionicists, and they tended to be less powerful than illithids. Notable non-illithid psionicists included the members of the fallen drow House Oblodra, of which only Kimmuriel Oblodra survived, and the half-fiend son of Mephistopheles, Magadon.
During the 1360s DR, one who studied psionics and cultivated its powers was known as a "psionicist", while one who was naturally gifted with psionic powers or the necessary mental energy was called a "wild talent". From 1372 DR on, there was a wider variety of psionic paths available; one dedicated to the cultivation of psionic powers was simply a "psion".
All paths of psionics practice could be followed somewhere in the Realms, to a greater or lesser degree and in different locales. These included:
- Psion, called a seer, shaper, kineticist, egoist, nomad, or telepath according to discipline
- Psychic warrior
- Divine mind
Psions and wilders were the most commonly observed, with psychic warriors and soulknives the next most common. Ardents, divine minds, erudites, and lurks were rather rarer.
As psionic talent arose only rarely, in some lands the psionically gifted tended to gather around a critical individual. Others banded together to provide a needed service or to work toward tolerance and ultimately acceptance. Nevertheless, psionic organizations were often mistakenly considered to be orders of mages devoted to divination, enchantment, or some other school of magic. Many were small, reclusive, close-lipped about their activities, and even outright secretive.
While psionic organizations were uncommon in Faerûn, a few did exist. Many psionic groups were found among the duergar. A few psionic organizations of a mercenary bent could be found in Sembia. Some notable psionic organizations were:
- The Kaliesh'erai: an association of elves based in Evereska
- Stray Thoughts: an adventuring mercenary company based in Sembia and led by the human wilder Jacenelle Traen
- The Forak-Erach-Naek: a group of duergar soulknife/assassins based in the Underdark
- The College of the Eclipse: a society dedicated to the advancement of psionic abilities based in Riatavin in Tethyr
- The Hall of Mental Splendor: a group of psionic mercenary spies based in Skullport and led by the human psion Vhondryl
- The Destroyers, a mercenary company specialized in mundane, magical, and psionic artillery, commanded by the fire mage and psion Daltim Flamefist.
- The Order of the Bladewright: a unit of soulknives devoted to the protection of the Boy King Imbrar II of Impiltur.
- The Hands of the Glade: a group of itinerant psychic healers and sangehirns in Turmish.
Every four years by the mid–14th century DR, the psionically gifted were drawn to a certain location in the Shaar, where they participated in the Dance of the Shimmering Blades. Attendees danced, drank and feasted, and partied over the course of seven days and nights. Although none talked of why they'd come, they all felt a common connection and bond, even members of races and cultures traditionally opposed to one another. Attendees made lasting friendships and contemplated their own paths through life.
Although quite rare, psionics existed and was practiced to small degrees all around the Realms. However, it was more common, or at least less uncommon, in regions with a history of great psionic activity, such as the release of psionic energy and interbreeding with psionic races. These places were more likely to produce psionics practitioners. In particular, it could be found in southern parts of Faerûn and in the so-called Serpent Kingdoms where yuan-ti had dominated. These included the Vilhon Reach and especially the city of Hlondeth, in Chult, and in Tashalar. It was also predominant in the Underdark, owing to the influence of mind flayers.
Despite the widespread usage and training of arcane magic in Halruaa, there was also a higher than expected number of people with psionic potential. The most prominent were members of the Destroyers, including their leader, Daltim Flamefist. Even the Wizard King himself, Zalathorm Kirkson, possessed a number of psionic powers for seeing the future, which he used in concert with traditional divination magic to foresee threats to the realm.
Owing to Sembia's general lack of concern for the source of unusual powers, only in their effectiveness, some psionic people chose to settle there. In the 1370s, the psionic population was small but higher than the average. Most were of a mercenary nature, as befitted the realm.
Psionics were unknown in the ancient magocratic empire of Netheril (−3859 DR to −339 DR). It was even theorized that the Netherese's great focus and dependence on traditional magic atrophied the parts of the brain that enabled psionics. However, its abjuration magic was so potent it also protected against psionics. Meanwhile, outside the empire's borders and floating enclaves, psionics was known and practiced.
Jhaamdath, however, was ruled by powerful human psions. It existed between −5800 DR and −255 DR, when it became under the control of the tyrannical emperor Dharien who was a threat to the elves of Nikerymath. As a kind of vengeance for their crimes against the wood and its inhabitants, the high magi of the elves unleashed a gargantuan tidal wave and destroyed the whole realm. Almost all of their achievements in psionics were lost in the cataclysm.
However, not all that knowledge was lost. Some was retrieved from ancient ruins, and others from traditions founded by survivors. The knowledge of old Jhaamdath eventually evolved into rich and numerous monastic traditions across all Toril.
Right after the Time of Troubles of 1358 DR, and the magical upsets that occurred, psionics appeared to no longer exist in any form in the Realms. People with psionic powers lost them and received nothing in exchange. Critics of psionics argued that it never had existed, but its supporters theorized the death of Mystra and her merger with the nature of the world had changed psionics beyond recognition and human understanding. They had to rediscover psionics all over again.
In fact, by only 1361 DR, there was a growing number of reports of people with "internal magical powers", that is, psionics, though it was not well known. The wizard Belisarius considered psionics when trying to identify Cadderly's powers.
The noted Halruaan psionics-user Daltim Flamefist gave a landmark lecture on his research into psionically empowered items at a symposium of mages in Halruaa in the mid-1360s DR. He presented a lengthy and detailed description of psionic item empowerment, as well as a spell of detect psionics, and urged his peers to become familiar with psionic powers, if only to protect themselves from them. His lecture was recorded in his spellbook, Daltim's Tome of Fire.
By 1367 DR, Commander Bren Tallsword of Castle Crag in Cormyr had begun keeping a psionicist on his staff, in order to instantly transmit secure messages via telepathy to Arabel in the event of an attack. The leadership in Suzail considered implementing it throughout the realm if it proved successful, but some conservatives feared it would trigger an arms race with Zhentil Keep and the Stonelands and would be costly and difficult to manage. Furthermore, they feared the psionicists might prove treacherous and were reluctant to give them a vital role in the kingdom's defense. However, Bren's psions proved their worth when one, Ormion Bowbreaker, not only warned of but predicted a gnoll raid. War Wizards interrogated Bren's psions and declared them trustworthy (though some remained wary), and a recruitment drive was underway across Cormyr by 1374 DR.
The decline of psionics changed after the Spellplague of the Year of Blue Fire, 1385 DR. In the following century, the number of people gifted with psionic magic increased exponentially. Scholars came out with three possible theories for this. The first one attributed the expansion of psionics to the Spellplague, posing that the twisting of magical energy and reality itself had somehow permitted psionic power to flourish again. Other believed psionic magic came directly from Abeir, although this theory was hotly debated because Abeir had no more psionically gifted individuals than Toril. A third theory stated that psionics returned as an unconscious response of the world against a threat from the Far Realm. This theory wasn't as accepted as the other two because evidence to prove it was hard to get.
Owing to the predominance of magic in Faerûn, the practice of psionics was often obscured and rarely played a significant role. Hence it was especially little-known and mysterious. Most common people knew it only as a strange power wielded by monsters like mind flayers, rakshasas, and yuan-ti, and even then only in areas where such creatures were a common threat. Even the greatest wizards of the 14th century DR could be ignorant of the fundamental principles of psionics. Furthermore, psionics study was shrouded by misinformation and mystery. It was not uncommon for monsters and great figures to be credited with psionic powers, with more basis in boasting and legend than in reality. Opponents of psionics even claimed it did not exist at all. In any case, most folk could hardly tell the difference between psionics and magic and psionic powers often went entirely unrecognized.
Thus, wherever they went, psionics-users could expect to enjoy, or suffer, the same treatment that mages or even priests would. Where mages were welcomed, or simply tolerated, so too would a psionics-user. In lands like Amn where wizards were shunned or feared, a psionics-user would be equally ill-treated. A primitive tribe that saw all wizards as heretics would quickly see psionicists as no different, or instead see them instead as a kind of shaman and afford them the same respect.
Moreover, when psionicists were understood, they were typically viewed as extremely strange and dangerous. In the Dalelands, for example, folk would always be suspicious of them, if they could not be convinced they were merely a "special breed" of mage. In Cormyr, when Castle Crag began using psionicists for secure telepathic communication, military leaders and War Wizards were suspicious and doubted their loyalty. Meanwhile, in any land, a good number of mages and priests would view a psionics-user as a potential rival in magic. Especially in wizard-ruled realms like Thay, a psionics-user could well be confronted by potential jealous rivals. It was therefore wise for a psionics-user to disguise or conceal their talents wherever they went.
There were also a number of pejorative terms for those who practiced psionics.
Deities of Psionics
In the Realms, there were not many gods with an interest in psionics, but there were some who either had it as a portfolio, had a focus on the mental arts, or counted psionics-users among their worshipers. They had little else in common, however. Deities associated with psionics included:
- Auppenser: the sleeping deity of Jhaamdath with a focus on psionics;
- Deep Duerra, a duergar demigod;
- Deneir, the god of writing
- Ilsensine, the illithid god;
- Laduguer, the chief god of the duergar;
- Piscaethces, the Blood Queen, worshiped by aboleth;
- Sseth, the sleeping god of the yuan-ti.
Daltim Flamefist of Halruaa, commander of the Destroyers, was a noted scholar in psionics, pyromancy, and in the creation and reproduction of magical and psionic items during the 1360s and 70s DR. His Daltim's Tome of Fire was also a treatise on psionic powers and items.
The Sythrilian Sybil, an extraordinarily powerful psychic and a prophetess of great wisdom and skill, was also regarded as a foremost expert in all aspects of psionics by 1374 DR. People journeyed from across Faerûn to consult the Sybil or seek her guidance. Some were turned away without ever meeting her, but kept returning in the hopes of winning an audience with the reclusive psychic.
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Psionics has had a long history in the Forgotten Realms campaign setting, right from the 1st-edition Forgotten Realms Campaign Set, where many NPCs were given wild talents. However, its integration has been highly variable, from full inclusion in 1st edition, to its complete removal at the beginning of 2nd edition, then its eventual return later in 2nd edition, its disappearance at the beginning of 3rd edition, and its return in a moderate form in v.3.5. As a result, it has only been a minor aspect of the setting, limited to a small number of NPCs, monsters, and organizations.
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- 3.5 Edition