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Of late - most recently, here in RPG.SE's own chat room - I have heard quite a bit of dissatisfaction with the Wilder class. This surprised me, as I thought it was okay at first blush, so I'd like to request some information. Where answers in 3.5 and Pathfinder are different, I would like them labeled:

  • What advantages does Wilder possess over other classes that manfiest psionic powers?
  • What specific disadvantages does Wilder suffer compared to those classes?
  • Does Wilder enjoy any unique benefits that are not easily re-created by other classes?
  • How difficult is it to mitigate the weaknesses of the Wilder class?
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Answerers should probably note whether they have any experience playing the PF wilder variant, if they comment on it. The 3.5 version was universally reviled as a bad design. But the PF one was created by many of the people who hated the original version, so it really calls for an analysis of whether it succeeds as a fix. –  starwed May 12 at 1:33
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2 Answers 2

I'll separate this answer into the sections that you've outlined.

Advantages

The wilder has one major advantage in both 3.5 and Pathfinder. The wilder can manifest much more powerful powers than Psions and other full caster psionic characters. While other characters have access to Overchannel, Wild Surge has much more raw power. When you don't get hit with enervation, you spend a lot less PP for a lot more power as a Wilder than you do with other character types.

In 3.5, the Wilder's other class features are largely inconsequential. Surging Euphoria and Elude Attack are pretty nice, but they aren't huge benefits for a full caster. Volatile Mind is also nice, but also effects allies and doesn't effect nonpsionic effects, which sort of neuters it.

In Pathfinder, the Wilder has better class features, but they compare decently with the extra class features that the Psion gets, so there's no effective gain.

Disadvantages

The wilder has two big disadvantages when compared to the Psion. This first is in power selection. The Wilder gets 11 powers at 20th level, where the Psion gets 36. This basically means that where the Psion is comparable to a Sorcerer in versatility, the Wilder is even more limited. With 11 powers, the Wilder has to be incredibly careful with their power selection, and still will only end up with a few different kinds of solutions that their powers can solve. In addition, Wilders don't have native access to psionic discipline powers, which are typically very valuable and powerful.

The other big disadvantage is Enervation. While the chance for Enervation is lower in Pathfinder than in 3.5, there's no real difference in how bad Enervation is. Losing a turn (or being staggered, or taking other pretty bad penalties) and (effectively) one use of your highest level powers is a huge penalty. On a particularly unlucky day, you might end up being able to manifest significantly fewer powers than usual, and lose quite a few turns. This is a huge problem, because in order to use the ability that the Wilder gives up a ton of versatility for, they need to risk taking a significant penalty.

Unique Benefits

The Wilder doesn't have any real unique benefits. While gaining exact copies of the Wilder's class features (in either 3.5 or PF) might be difficult, none of them are really that great. While the benefit of Wild Surge is strictly better than the benefit of Overchannel, the penalty of Overchannel is much less painful than the penalty of Enervation. In addition, the flavour of Overchannel is basically identical to the flavour of Wild Surge.

Some of the PF Surge Bond types give interesting benefits, but none of them are particularly powerful.

Mitigation

There are a few ways to mitigate the weaknesses of the Wilder class, but they are costly and they don't really help that much.

In both 3.5 and Pathfinder, Wilders can take the Enervation Endurance and Expanded Knowledge feats. Enervation Endurance makes enervation only take half your level in power points, and Expanded Knowledge lets you gain more powers, including powers from psionic disciplines.

In 3.5, Wilders can take Postpone Enervation, which delays the effect of Enervation, but that's really not a great option. 3.5 Wilders can also take the Educated Wilder alternate class feature from a web supplement that exchanges Volatile Mind for four Expanded Knowledge feats, which is a nice trade.

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I've never played a PF wilder, but some of the choices you can make mean you don't even lose PP on enervation. (The weird raging one just causes you to take HP damage, for instance.) And only a couple cause you to be dazed or equivalent; most just make you sickened/shaken/dazzled/etc. –  starwed May 12 at 1:24
    
Losing 1 HP per character level is still a pretty bad penalty. Fully half make you either dazed or staggered, and the others either last longer than one round or affect other characters. –  DuckTapeAl May 12 at 1:27
    
staggered is not nearly as bad as dazed is, though! Overall it's a huge difference compared to the 3.5 wilder, especially when discussing ways to mitigate things. –  starwed May 12 at 1:30
    
In the Mitigation section, consider mentioning the Educated Wilder alternate class feature, which trades Volatile Mind for four Expanded Knowledge feats. You can find the feature at wizards.com/default.asp?x=dnd/psm/20070214a. –  Thaliak May 12 at 3:21
    
@Thaliak Thanks. I never even knew that article existed. –  DuckTapeAl May 12 at 3:26
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This is based on the 3.5 version of the wilder; in the past I’ve looked at the Pathfinder improvements and determined them to be too little, but I don’t remember the details at the moment, so Pathfinder-specific commentary will have to wait until I do some double-checking and refreshing.

What advantages does Wilder possess over other classes that manfiest psionic powers?

In theory, the ability to break past the usual Manifester Level limit on augmenting powers. In practice....

What specific disadvantages does Wilder suffer compared to those classes?

Using the aforementioned advantage requires taking an enormous risk, both short-term and medium-term. You lose your next turn, which can be devastating and dangerous, and you lose a lot of power points. Psychic enervation is incredibly dangerous.

Compare this to Overchannel, a feat available to any manifester. Yes, Overchannel always deals damage to you, and scales slower than Wild Surge. That said, it is predictable and relatively low-risk: you know exactly what you’re putting on the line with Overchannel, and it’s something you can handle. Wild Surge gives you a chance of getting off scott-free, but it also gives you a chance of being put in a massively dangerous position and losing critical resources. Most of the time, Overchannel’s the better option. That is, the unique, special ability of the wilder class is often worse than a feat available to anyone.

And the cost for this class feature that’s often worse than a feat is massively fewer powers known and a far more limited selection of powers, compared to the psion. The wilder doesn’t get Diplomacy or Use Magic/Psionic Device as class skills, either, which makes the psion’s Int basis generally quite a bit better.

Does Wilder enjoy any unique benefits that are not easily re-created by other classes?

Not really; Wild Surge is a bit larger than Overchannel but narratively it’s basically the same concept. You could easily make the same concept as a wilder by using a psion who uses Overchannel.

How difficult is it to mitigate the weaknesses of the Wilder class?

Basically impossible; you can just not use Wild Surge, of course, and a lot of wilders end up doing that most of the time, but then you get nothing for the massively restricted powers known and power list. And adding additional powers known is extremely hard.

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