Interview with John Stavropoulos: The Complete Psionics Handbook

I have wanted to talk to John Stavropoulos about The Complete Psionics Handbook for a while, as it is a book he often mentions in online conversations and it is a book that I also remember fondly.

Did you DM using The Complete Psionics Handbook or did you play a character?

Play not GM. First time I played DnD was by accident (joined the cartooning club which was secretly the DnD club). I had no idea what an RPG was. They said think Lord of the Rings; just write a backstory and we will do the rest. Being 15, I made a Gandalf clone. You can see the problem.

“Cool, except you can’t use a sword and can only cast one spell between naps!” What!

I played. It wasn’t for me.

I gave up playing RPGs till I tried Marvel FASERIP and was hooked.

The Psionic 2E handbook was what brought me back to DnD.

What was your first Psionic character? What kind of powers did they have? What was the first thing you did in the game that made you sit up and take notice?

First I have to admit I was a terrible teenager! My family grew up below the poverty line, lost their house, and at some point I was shipped away to another country to be raised by my grandmother on the semi-isolated mountain tops of Sparta raised not so different than what one might imagine after watching the movie 300 (maybe that’s an exaggeration). At 15 role-playing was a power fantasy, a chance to socialize, inspiration to draw, and motivation to come out of my shell.

That’s a lot of disclaimers to simply say… I don’t feel my first Psionic character was a character at all.

It was more a pencil for me to draw crazy things with my imagination. And once I unwrapped my new toy, I wanted to test it by pushing it well past its limits. RPGs was a safe space to vent my teenage awkwardness. My character was me but with super powers.

Vividly I remember I was a Psychometabolic and used a combination of the Metamorphosis Science to turn into adamantite, the Body Weaponry Devotion to turn my arms into blades, and Expansion to stretch my arm as far as I could. I then took down an entire group of bad guys who were charging us on horseback by running at them in an open field with my arms outstretched. I rationalized that I must be able to attack all of them given my giant Wolverine claw arms elongated Mr. Fantastic style.

I’m sure we weren’t playing rules as written!


It is interesting to me that you should mention your upbringing, because one thing I always liked about psionic characters is that they were so very self-reliant. They don’t seem to need much stuff, unlike wizards and fighters, characters with psionics carrying their power in their minds.

Did the handbook grow up with you and your gaming, leading to further psionic characters down the line or is your affection for it mostly nostalgia?
When I re-visisted the book in my 20’s in a one-on-one game with a buddy of mine, I was pleasantly surprised at how cool the powers and the psionics systems were.

I do love their self-reliance. Some people loved them because the DM couldn’t take away their stuff! I liked them because they could work on a team or solo. Which is sometimes weird in D&D because needing each other is part of what makes D&D a great game.The Psionics Handbook is partly nostalgia for me. But it’s also a reminder.

I love the social and mechanical aspect of games but the fiction isn’t my priority. I love GMing but I don’t care about making worlds. I’d rather the players do that. I love people… so games are great because I can hangout talking intimately with friends for several hours. The mechanics engage my interests in problem solving and psychology. But I’m not an enthusiastic fiction reader. I love how to books, history books, science books… especially how to books (I do love fantasy comics but the visual component is my buy in) But the Psionics Handbook really inspires me fictionally. The way it’s written makes my mind wander in fruitful ways!

So I often go back to the Psionics Handbook as my guide for how to inspire.

Could you quote a short passage that inspires you to inspire?

There is too much to choose…

Dream travel

Dream travel is a powerful but unreliable means of getting from here to there. The traveler journeys in his dreams, and awakes wherever his nocturnal wandering carried him.

Split Personality

This is not a psychosis; it’s the power to divide one’s mind into two independent parts.

Sensitivity to Psychic Impressions

A psionicist gains a sense of history. He perceives the residue of powerful emotions which were experienced in a given area. These impressions offer him a picture of the location’s past. Battles and betrayals, marriages and murders, childbirth and great pain.

Feel Light

This extrasensory power allows the psionicist to experience light through tactile sensations (by touch). His entire body becomes a receiver for light waves. In effect, his body replaces his eyes; he can see what his eyes would normally reveal.


With the detonate power, latent energy inside plants or inanimate objects can be harnessed, focused, and released explosively.

Animate Object

Inanimate objects can be “brought to life” with this devotion. The objects are not actually alive, but they move under the psionicist’s control as if they were. For example, chairs may walk, trees may dance, and stones may waddle around.

Double Pain

By touching another person, the psionicist greatly lowers that character’s pain threshold (even a little scrape will feel like a serious injury).

Mind Over Body

Mind over body allows the user to suppress his body’s need for food, water, and sleep. In exchange for one hour of meditation per day, all of the psionicist’s physical needs are overcome. He does not feel hunger, exhaustion, or thirst, nor does he suffer any ability reductions for privation. The psionicist can also suppress the basic needs of others while suppressing his own.

Dimension Walk

With dimension walk, a psionicist can travel from place to place in his own dimension by piercing other dimensions at right angles.

Time Shifting

Time shifting allows the psionicist to travel up to three rounds into the future and observe things until time catches up with him.

Id Insinuation

It seeks to unleash the uncontrolled subconscious of the defender, pitting it against his superego. The attack leaves the victim in a state of moral uproar.

Phobia Amplification

This power allows the psionicist to reach into someone’s mind and discover his greatest fear, then amplify it to the point of irrationality.


With this power, a psionicist makes something – a particular person, place, or object – completely repugnant to another character.


Empower allows a psionicist to imbue an item with rudimentary intelligence.

Ego Whip

The power assaults the victim’s ego, leaving him with feelings of inferiority and worthlessness.


Wow, I hadn’t read this book in a while. The powers are so vague, which is another way of saying, they leave lots of room for creativity in play and execution, much more than I remembered them being.

Great stuff, John.
I have one last question. Do you have any plans to re-connect with this book at the table? A game of 2nd Edition AD&D or a hack of another game with these powers in the mix?

Some of these powers included mechanical information following their descriptions but wow, those descriptions are powerful!

I would like to hack Dungeon World to use the Psionics Handbook except I would likely take out all the mechanical effects!

Thanks so much, Judd.

Thank you, John. You can comment on this interview and ask John some questions, share your love of The Complete Psionics Handbook or talk about what books inspire you  in the comments or over on G+ (link).

2 thoughts on “Interview with John Stavropoulos: The Complete Psionics Handbook

  1. I knew John was a man after my own heart- the Complete Psionics Handbook was the first D&D book I ever owned (before a PHB, which was slightly problematic) and one of the few of that era I’ve held onto.

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