Tuesday, December 20, 2011
This unsuitability of the psionics rules was widely acknowledged by nearly every gamer I knew back in the day. Consequently, many of us greeted issue #78 of Dragon (October 1983) with some pleasure, as it was largely devoted to psionics and its problems. Of the articles in that issue my hands-down favorite was "And now, the psionicist" by Arthur Collins. Collins was one of those authors, like Roger E. Moore and Ed Greenwood, whose stuff was always good. He wasn't as prolific as Moore or Greenwood, but he never failed to impress me. Indeed, if I were to be completely honest, I think Arthur Collins was my favorite old school Dragon writer and "And now, the psionicist" reveals part of why I think so.
The article takes the then-bold step of introducing a new character class -- the psionicist of the title -- as a way to make the psionics rules both workable and enjoyable. More than that, though, Collins also does something even more remarkable: he makes the AD&D psionics rules intelligible. He does this through his explanation of the psionicist's class abilities, such as its acquisition of attack and defense modes and psionic disciplines. It's a small thing, really, but it had a profound effect on me as a younger person. For the first time, I began to feel as if I understood how psionics was supposed to work. Likewise, the notion of making psionics the purview of a unique class rather than an add-on to existing classes was a revelation to me. It made so much sense that I couldn't believe no one had thought of it before. (Someone had, of course -- Steve Marsh -- but their version of psionics never made it into OD&D as written).
"And now, the psionicist" is fairly typical of Collins's work. Rather than wholly rewrite AD&D, he instead clarifies and expands upon the rules as written, in the process making the original rules both understandable and stronger. It's a talent all the best Dragon writers had in those days, but Collins, in my opinion, made it into a high art. Moreso than any other writer, he showed me that, strangely organized and presented as it was, AD&D's rules weren't wholly arbitrary; indeed, they often made sense if you actually took the time to look at them objectively and think about the logic behind them. The proper attitude when encountering a rule that seems "broken" is to step back and consider it carefully before deciding to excise it from the game. That's an attitude that has stuck with me after all these years and one I continue to recommend to others.