Psychic characters get access to strange feats and bizarre powers. They can manifest their powers without a visual display (sometimes). They have the most potent selection of mind control powers in the game. Almost all their powers are pumpable, and so even first and second level powers can be dangerous at high levels. This makes them surprising to DM, and I have written this document to put them into context.
Fights like a cleric, d10 HP. Weak save is Fortitude. The raison d’étre of the class is a potent magical weapon he didn’t have to pay any money for; instead, he pays in feats, possessing only the standard ones. Because of this a soulknife should have better gear than his teammates, as his share of the treasure is not spent improving his weapon. A soulknife has several auxiliary powers for the blade; at 2nd level he can throw it with a 30' range increment and get it back for a move equivalent action next round. Starting at 3rd level he can put a charge on the blade that stays there until he hits someone with it, for a bit more damage. The powers of the knife is redialable and becomes flexible in size over time. Starting at 9th level, weenies are not a good defense as they get a form of Whirlwind. Soulknives are never safe to approach and are never disarmed, even in jail.
Most Fortitude saving throws in the game are highly disabling; further a lot of front line combatants force Fortitude saving throws during combat (either through poison, similar effects, or style feats). Soulknives are proficient with light armor only. Anything that does not take damage vs. slashing weapons will really irritate them.
Soulknives trade feats for gear, essentially; they should always have better gear than their party mates when taking the knife into account. Compared to fighters of the same level, soulknives fight worse and have basically no feats. Compared to rangers, soulknives fight worse and have no spells or little buddies. Compared to barbarians, soulknives can’t eat damage as well and don’t have the evasion specials or the rage. Essentially, treat as a fighter but feel free to target with Fortitude saves.
Fights like a cleric, d6 HP. Light armor only. Raison d’étre is a very small number of powers that they can pump to extraordinary levels. Use only the standard power list. Fort and Ref are weak. Do not underestimate how much damage a wilder can put out; she may collapse afterward, but she can pump that first shot for free, and every +1 can represent a bigger, nastier Astral Construct, or a harder to resist Dominate.
With very few spells available, and with a focus on pumping spells beyond all reason, wilders rarely have the phalanx of defensive spells that psychic warriors and psions do. Wilder feats will probably be metapsionic in an attempt to eke the most out of their limited power selection; you are virtually guaranteed to see Expanded Knowledge just so that they can get access to some of the more flexible powers. Tendency to collapse after wild surges means they can be one or two shot deals in realistic combat. Not unlike a wizard with more HP; close combat or grappling works well. This is not a cleric and should not be played as one; they are more like sorcerers but even less flexible.
Wilders are a gambler’s character; they can represent an
enormous font of raw damage at the cost of possibly crippling
themselves. They are very different from most normal classes in this.
There are situations where they are great, and then there are
situations where they suck, and it’s a dice roll which one comes
up. Actual power lists are very slim and so wilders are even further
down the “
I do one thing very well” line than
Fights like a cleric, d8 HP. All armor available, except tower shields. In some ways, like a fighter with less feats. Reflex and Will are weak, but any psychic warrior with half a brain is going to take Empty Mind and as well the class puts an emphasis on having a good Wisdom score, so Will saves can be very hard to make stick. Has enough powers available to take defensive ones, like Empty Mind, Defensive Precognition, Energy Adaptation; almost all the other powers are buffs, although some of them are quite impressive buffs. Effective spellcaster level is very high for a fighter and do not count on being able to dispel these. Some of the buffs are very very good. Have access to psychic feats, which can give rise to unsettling movement abilities; Up the Walls is particularly notable for doing end runs around shield walls. If a psychic warrior has foreknowledge of combat and the time to pump, he will be very hard to deal with.
Weak Will save can be exploited if the psychic warrior is flatfooted, as he cannot respond with Empty Mind. This seems hard to achieve, particularly if Detect Hostile Intent is up, but DHI only works on things vulnerable to mind affecting spells, and any time the psychic warrior uses a swift or immediate action to boost, he is vulnerable until his next action. Reflex saves for damage can be good, although if it is elemental in nature frequently a countermeasure can be brought up to mitigate it. Effective combat tactics depend on feat selection and power selection, but in general psychic warriors can’t just eat damage like a barbarian can. Power point pool is not that big and repeated Will saves (perhaps vs. Umber Hulk minions) can empty it, leaving the warrior vulnerable. If the psychic warrior cannot self-buff (and frequently they cannot, or they will leave themselves vulnerable), they are inferior to a fighter of the same level. Most buffs are of the 1 rd/lvl variety, and so pre-buffing can usually be avoided.
Psychic warriors as a class do not have an easy analogue in the normal game system, but they can be regarded as self-buffing clerics. Like a cleric they fight adequately if not spectacularly, and like a cleric they are torn between attacking and casting; unlike a cleric their powers are not useful to the party as a whole, and so the dilemma is even more pointed. The class puts a heavy emphasis upon front line fighting and gives numerous powers to support it, but psychic warriors only get one action per round just like everybody else.
Fights like a wizard, d4 HP.
Familiar is not as good as the wizard’s familiar; basically a
bit of skill point bonus if the psion decides to summon one. Tactics
depend on the psion discipline, but in general every power on the list
is dangerous, psions have enough powers known to have large defensive
arrays available, psions frequently have very large power pools. Weak
saves are Fort and Ref. Many powers are open ended—the
Summon Astral Construct, shaped like a wall!”
trick has become well known, for example. Other useful powers are
unlike anything in the game so far—Déjà Vu, for
example, has a tremendous potential in the hands of a creative psion.
Best spells are not always in the specialized lists;
Déjà Vu, Energy Push, Time Hop. Mental compulsion
spells are very strong. Astral Constructs, if available, are
terrifically flexible. Shapers have access at 3rd level to a
Reflex-save Hold Person equivalent. Several save-or-die spells that
don’t kill the target immediately (although they are totally
disabled), sometimes playing with contingency spells. Psions do not
usually face the “
do I cast or do I save it for
defense” dilemma that psychic warriors do.
Physically, psions are basically wizards and can be dealt with as such. Several powers have strange weaknesses compared to magic; healing is possible but awkward, and something like Cloud Mind is just not as good as Invisibility. The defensive array does not work for flatfooted characters, and the temptation to rely upon it to the exclusion of other, more reliable, methods exists. Any quickened power means the defensive array is disabled until their next action. Damage spells for non-kineticists are somewhat limited; the first area effect damage spell is Energy Burst, which is a 40' radius burst around the caster. While the best spells are not always in the specialized lists, most of them are; for example Fission, Psionic Revivify, Firey Discorporation, Teleport, Remote Viewing, Astral Construct, Psionic Dominate, Telekinesis. This means that unlike with wizards (where even a specialist wizard can completely change personality overnight) psions tend to be very specialized and have to be highly creative to get things done outside of those specialties. One weird effect from the pumping powers: many powers are not as high level as they should be for the purposes of globe of invulnerability, spell turning or the like.
Psions are very similar to wizards in a lot of respects. In terms of flexibility, they are intermediate between wizards and sorcerers, having more powers available and the ability to choose them freely, but lacking the depth that a sorcerer has and without the sheer breadth of a wizard’s spellbook. The psion power pool is a trade off; a few more high level powers in exchange for limited lower level powers. The immediate actions available are the major departure in terms of style.