Spellcasting and Psionics


Normal D&D 3.5 rules assume psionic-magic transparency: they consider psionics and magic to be essentially interchangeable. A dispel magic spell has just as much chance to negate a psionic effect as a magic one, and a null psionics field is the same as an anti-magic field. While it makes bookkeeping simpler, I find the approach fundamentally unsatisfying. For this game, we’re operating not under transparency, but under translucence. Magic and psionics are related (but different) forces, much like arcane spells and divine invocations are different sides of magic.

Magic and psionics are both manifestations of a force called mana, which flows from all living beings and bubbles up at special places and times, flowing like tides and rivers across the world. Spellcasters and manifesters draw from the same energy, but they attune to two different aspects of it. The caster learns to harness the flow of forces around her, shaping it via carefully studied magical formulas or channeling it from a divine sponsor. Manifesters, conversely, reach within themselves, and hone their own minds to channel and shape the power they unlock from within. The difference between “types” of mana is called bias. Usually, only the grossest level of bias comes into play: magic/ psionic. Sometimes, however, further levels of bias are important: arcane/ divine, or even the subtle distinction among different schools of magic or psionic disciplines.

Spellcasters and other beings that have a power point or spell point reserve are considered sensitives. The energy that flows through them attunes them to the subtle energies in the world around them. Any class level, racial ability, or feat that grants or increases spell-like abilities or spell points marks the being as a sensitive.

All sensitive characters have some knack for detecting and dealing with raw mana, the sort that typically springs from the earth at certain places and times. They can also absorb the sort of ambient energy released by the recently-cast spells or recently-manifested powers, but casters can only absorb spell energy, just as manifesters can only absorb power points.

Note: Many of the notes here speak of casters, spells, and spell points. Unless they specifically state otherwise, assume there are equivalent rules for psionics. Substitute Psicraft for Spellcraft, power points for spell points, etc.

Magic/ psionic synergy

Spellcraft and Psicraft enjoy skill synergy, as do Knowledge (arcana) or Knowledge (religion) and Knowledge (psionics). There is no Use Psionic Device skill; all such devices are accessible via Use Magic Device.

Spell points

Magic spells and psionic powers take energy to pull off, and this is measured in spell points and power points, respectively. All sensitives have a metaphysical reservoir that collects this energy. The reservoir’s capacity grows as the character gains caster/ manifester levels. Among living beings, this reservoir completely recharges daily or after an 8-hour rest (details vary by character class).

To determine the size of your spell point or power point pool, consult the Spell Points link or look up the psionic class and bonus power points here.

Or, just ask me for the spreadsheet that does the calculations for you!


Under certain circumstances, characters with spell points or power points may recharge their pools without the usual 8 hours of down-time. Some spells or powers that block or negate effects can yield free energy, which the caster/ manifester may harvest (per spell description). Meditating for an hour does little under normal circumstances (Concentration check DC15, 1 point per 5 over DC, to a maximum of 5 points for most mundane sites). At special sites or times, the amount accrued through meditation is much greater (typically +1, +2, or +1d4, though more powerful sites exist). Certain spells or feats may allow a character to recoup spell points in other situations.

Spellcasting leaves residual energy, temporarily allowing greater recoup. One third of spell points spent in the last half hour are available for recoup. Each point gained through meditation also draws one of these “lingering” spell points.

Ambient effect

While for the most part spell energy functions on a predictable if not quite static canvas, conditions occasionally arise that change the way it functions. While many of the notes that follow specifically speak of magic and spell points, the same generally applies to psionics.

During certain times of year, a holy site may satisfy the first spell point or two of any spells cast (typically only those spells cast by a cleric of the patron deity, or spells with a particular descriptor). Such a condition is commonly called a spell shallow, and shallows that provide more than one point are exceedingly rare, often found only in the immediate presence of a deity. Similarly, rare spell sinks can impose an extra cost for spells cast, and can interfere with manifesters accessing and augmenting their most potent powers. These effects are also known by their more technical names, mana shallows and mana sinks.

A sudden drop in ambient energy can cause a temporary mana drought. All ambient mana disperses, and spells must overcome the drought as if its rating were spell resistance (typical droughts rank 3-36 points (1d3d12)). Currently-active but non-permanent effects may be dispelled (d% check is less than half the drought rating), or simply suppressed (d% check is less than double the drought rating) until it subsides. The rating drops by one point per round until it is exhausted. Ambient mana will not accumulate again until the drought ends.

A sudden spike in ambient energy can trigger a mana burst. For every five points of ambient energy, all parties in 120’ take 1d8 magic/ psionic damage (Reflex save for half). If the damage dealt exceeds the amount of ambient energy, a mana drought immediately ensues.

Normal use of spells and powers leaves 1/3 of the expenditure as ambient mana. Interrupted effects (anywhere spell/ power points are wasted) contribute much more to the ambient energy (3/4 becomes ambient). Characters may choose to “bleed” up to their Spellcraft rating in spell points or their Psicraft rating in power points each round, typically with the intent of triggering a Mana Burst. Like interrupted spells, 3/4 of the expenditure becomes ambient energy.

For each 10 points of ambient energy change in a round, there is a 5% chance of a mana event (drought or burn, depending on the direction). The Mana Shaper prestige class, and some rare magic items, can manipulate ambient energies quickly enough to trigger, modify, or prevent these fluctuations.


All sensitives thrum with at least a faint echo of cosmic power, and this attunes them to the subtle energies around them. This manifests as a suite of abilities sometimes referred to as the Gift.

A sensitive can make any of these skill checks untrained, even if the skill would not normally allow such (like Spellcraft).

Ambient sensitivity

Even without the benefit of detect magic or stronger spells, a sensitive is likely to notice active magic or items within 5’, and recognize it as arcane or divine (Spellcraft, DC starting at 15). If her bias matches on the arcane/ divine/ psionic axis, she enjoys a +5 bonus to her roll.

Detect aura

By touching an object or creature and concentrating, the character may use detect magic as a supernatural ability.

Detect magical writing

Any sensitive may scrutinize suspected magical writings, which wizards typically do before casting read magic. The character must spend at least a round studying the writing, which includes touching the surface. If she succeeds a Spellcraft check (DC 15 + spell level), she can identify whether the writing encodes a spell, and whether it is arcane or divine in origin. Players may opt to use Decipher Script in place of Spellcraft here.

Non-sensitives may attempt to use Decipher Script in this way, but the Decipher Script check suffers a -10 penalty if the character is not mana-sensitive.

Gauge ambient mana

Any character can make a Spellcraft check (DC 15) to gauge the presence of ambient mana, such as that generated or stored at places of power, or that produced by recent spellcasting. If the roll would have succeeded against DC 20, she can tell how many spell points are present, rounded down to the nearest multiple of 10. If the roll would have cleared DC 30, she knows exactly how many points are available, including whether the mana is magical, psionic, or neutral.

Sense mana alteration

Spellcasting creates ripples in the immediate environment, which catch a sensitive’s attention. Any sensitive is entitled to a free Spot check whenever mana is manipulated. Success allows her to determine the source of the fluctuation (usually a spellcaster), and may give her a chance to recognize the signature. The character recieves a +1 bonus to her Spot check for every two spell or power points of change in a round, and the effects of all individuals within 30’ are aggregated for the purpose of this check. Spells with a casting time of more than one round have their point total spread out across all the rounds of their casting.

Certain spells and powers may make a larger “splash” in the environment than their point values would indicate. Anything with a casting time of an hour or more, that requires multiple casters or exotic conditions, or would create/ destroy/ transform large amounts of material will double or triple the bonus to the Spot check. The point expenditures of all casters involved are aggregated for this check, even if they are on different planes.

The range to sense mana alteration is 60’. Every 20’ beyond that after suffers a -1 range penalty to the Spot check. If the initial bonus is greater than +10, the effect is detectable for one mile for each 5 points of the bonus.

Recognize signature

Spellcasters recognize one another’s magic as easily as they would recognize a voice. Whenever a character’s sensitivity is invoked, the DM may make a separate Spellcraft check to determine if the character recognizes the source. Characters always recognize their own magic, as well as that of their teacher and pupils, and divine casters always recognize the direct work of their gods.

The DC to recognize a magical signature is the spell level of the effect +10 + the following modifiers (all of which stack):

self, teacher/ master, pupil/ apprentice automatic
immediate family or close associates +0
acquaintance, colleague, guildmate +5
one degree of separation (teacher or pupil of a known party) +5
alien magical practice +5
unknown individual +10
same magical association -5
familiar magical association -2
detect magic or similar analysis completed -5

Known vs. recallable

In addition to the fully-memorized spells that are presented in the core rules, we’ve added access to a few more spells that would be familiar to the caster. The well-studied spells are called known spells, and the sketchier ones are called recallable. Known spells are close-at-hand, and require no rolls to cast. Recallable spells require a Spellcraft roll to cast. The caster only has “room” to memorize the exact pattern of a few spells, but she has some familiarity with a larger body of spells. When a spellcaster meditates/ prays/ studies each morning, she may choose a fresh selection of known spells from her recallable list.

  • Known spells work per the core rules. Characters do not, however, get extra known spells for high attributes. Instead, attributes contribute to spell points, and may add to recallable spells.
  • Recallable spells require a Spellcraft check to successfully execute, in addition to any other skill checks the situation may warrant (like Concentration). The DC for this check is 10+ the cost of the effect (cantrips count as 0 points). Under non-critical conditions, characters may take 10 on this check.

Recallable spells function at the lowest possible caster level, as if they’d been read from a scroll. They can be raised to normal caster level for one point per two levels (up to actual caster level). The total point expenditure cannot exceed the character’s caster level.

Any spells a character researches (or a wizard scribes to a spellbook) appears on the character’s list of recallable spells. It can be moved to the list of known spells at the next available opportunity (level for spontaneous casters, day for prepared casters).

Kinds of Caster

The following table outlines common casting/ manifesting classes, whether they are magical or psionic, and what flavor thereof.

Mana Type Polarity Casting Class
Magical Arcane Bard
Magical Arcane Sorcerer/ Wizard
Magical Arcane1 Shadowcaster
Magical Arcane1 Binder
Magical Other 2 Fey magic
Magical Divine1 Adept
Magical Divine1 Witch
Magical Divine Cleric
Magical Divine Druid
Magical Divine Ranger
Psionic Mental Adept Psion
Psionic Mental Adept Wilder
Psionic Mental Adept Society Mind
Psionic Physical Adept Psychic Warrior
Psionic Physical Adept Soulknife
Psionic Physical Adept Marksman

1 The effects of shadowcasters and binders read as arcane magic at first glance, but casters of arcane magic recognize them as alien traditions. Similarly, the spells cast by witches and adepts read as divine, but divine casters can tell they are something apart.

2 Fey magic reads as something other than the sensitive’s polarity. If a divine caster, it reads as arcane, and vice versa. If the sensitive understands both divine and arcane magic, it simply reads as “something else.” This is true even if the fey in question casts a spell gained by non-fey class levels.

Adjusted spells and powers

Take longer

  • teleport, plane shift: full-round action, two full-round actions if taking passengers.

Extra requirements/ components

  • raise dead, resurrection, true resurrection, reincarnation (see Death and Resurrection): once a month at deity’s discretion, possible side effects for caster/ region, almost always traumatic to subject. Some temples have elaborate rituals or expensive foci to offset these effects.
  • telekinesis: requires mage hand on the character’s recallable spell list.
  • all sigil spells: require arcane mark on the character’s recallable spell list.
  • all projectile spells with the [force] descriptor: require magic missile or an equivalent spell on the character’s recallable spell list.

New uses for existing spells

  • arcane mark: cantrip on most cleric lists, too. Scribe on an object to create a minor sympathetic link. This may be to leave a calling-card (allowing someone to read the caster’s signature and possibly identify the caster), but it may also be combined with other spells for better remote precision.
    • Among the wizards of Tula, it is common to use an arcane mark to make teleportation more successful – the destination becomes one step more familiar. This technique is rare elsewhere, but not unknown.
    • Arcane marks are key components to lesser sending spells, which are uncommon but distributed across all traditions.
    • Magic items may be keyed to specific users, members of the same tradition/ heritage/ tutelary chain, requiring an arcane mark to test the affinity (treat the item as reading the character’s signature)

Arcane Duels

While wizards are the most common participants in spell battles and more-or-less friendly games of spellcraft, other casters and manifesters have been known to engage in similar practices.

Such duels are, at their most basic, an agreement to use only spellcasting (no magic items or item-sourced effects) to defeat or kill an opponent. Sometimes proxies may be used, particularly if neither side actually wants to kill the opponent.

A more in-depth description can be found here


Metamagic feats have been modified in the following ways:

  • They do not raise spell level for the first three uses per day. Subsequent uses require extra points, the equivalent of raising the spell one or more levels per the standard description. The total cost of a spell cannot exceed the character’s caster level.
  • If applied to a known spell, they do not change casting time. Applied to a recallable spell, they raise the casting time to a full-round action. [In standard rules, spontaneous casters using metamagic always take a full-round action.]

Spellcasting and Psionics

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