The psionics system in 4e D&D is much better than that presented in the previous edition, but I still have a few issues with how it works in play:
Psionic characters have At-will powers with Augment abilities. They also have the chance to exchange their At-will powers for newer, “more powerful” powers every few levels. In practice, each psionic class has a few choice powers that overshadow powers for levels to come. The incentive to get new powers is minimal when you already have the best power in the class (Ex. Battlemind 7 Lightning Rush, Psion 1 Dishearten, Ardent 1 Energizing Strike). Some powers have an interesting augment but are not worth choosing because the rest of the power is lackluster.
Psionic characters do not get encounter powers, instead they get powers points. Power points (Psionic Strength Points) are part of the D&D legacy at this point and what separates them from standard magic users. In older editions with Vancian magic, this was a more important distinction. The power point economy doesn’t match the standard power economy. Augmentable powers have a low cost and a high cost augment, 1/2pp in heroic tier, 1/4pp in paragon tier, and 2/6pp in epic tier. If a player chooses level appropriate powers the power point economy scales well, but keeping lower tier powers allows a player to use an augment incessantly. This creates another incentive to keep lower level powers for their lower level cost.
I have been playing around with this idea in a few different ways:
Psionic RBA + PP augment
This is the simplest idea. Starting with a Ranged Basic Attack like the Warlock’s Eldritch Bolt, the Psionicist attacks and adds an augment on a hit similar to how power strike functions for knights. The augments are chosen like encounter powers.
Here we again go with a plain vanilla Psionic attack to start, but the psionicist learns augments that function as modular modes for their Basic Attack. The modes are turned on an off as desired but incur a PP cost.
Here we have a selection of at-wills representative of certain thematic psionic disciplines. The psionicist chooses augment effects from that discipline line culminating in an at-will similar to current psionic at-will powers where the player changes the augments as they level.
My preference lies in the first option.
Psionics of the editions of yore had interesting flavor to them, but mechanics that kicked the system in the teeth. The element that I found the most compelling, was the concept of “contact”. A Psionicist had to establish contact with an opponent’s mind before they could twist it like a pretzel. I want to bring this back. Using a basic psionic attack to establish “contact” before separate encounter augment powers can be used is the crux of my idea.
By making Augments discrete abilities, we can allow players to more directly plan a character to their tastes and re-incentivize choosing new powers. The idea is to make an augment a discrete effect that can be added to a basic attack after a hit or “contact” is made. This also ties into power point economy. If the costs of the powers are balanced based on effect more than by level, scalability can be maintained.
Here is my rough take on a ranking of some control effects:
Action denial: Prone < Dazed < Stunned < Dominated < Unconscious
Movement denial: Difficult Terrain < Slow < Immobilize < Restrain
Disability: Deafened < CA < Blinded < Weakened < Helpless
Forced Movement: Push = Pull < Slide < Teleport
Let’s use the scale of 0-6 that is already in use, with 2pp for a heroic encounter power equivalent effect, 4pp for a paragon encounter power equivalent effect, and 6pp for an epic encounter power equivalent effect as a reference for how many points something should cost.
So what are the costs of various effects? Here’s a stab at it:
Save ends +1pp
Damage increase +1pp
Combat Advantage 0.5pp
Difficult Terrain 0.5pp
Ongoing Damage 2pp
//As an aside, it would be immensely helpful if WOTC gave us some indication of how they weigh the various abilities when designing. I prefer to believe that they have some concrete guidelines that they just aren’t sharing. I wish they would though.
This is where I will leave off for now. Comments, counterpoints, questions welcome.