My understanding of psionics in D&D is that it is usually tied to Intelligence.

Going by player classes, the UA Mystic class was Intelligence-based, and going by monsters, many of them who are capable of psionics appear to be Intelligence-based as well, such as the Mind Flayers (MM, p. 222):

Innate Spellcasting (Psionics). The mind flayer's innate spellcasting ability is Intelligence ...

However, I am aware that the Githzerai, both the playable race and the monsters, use Wisdom instead.

The playable race, from MToF (p. 96):

Githzerai Psionics. ... Wisdom is your spellcasting ability for these spells.

And an example of one of the "monsters", a Githzerai Monk (MM, p. 161):

Innate Spellcasting (Psionics). The githzerai's innate spellcasting ability is Wisdom ...

Even the Githyanki (both playable race and monsters) use Intelligence, like most of the other psionic creatures in D&D. As far as I can tell, it's just the Githzerai who are different in this regard.

I really want to ask "why do the Githzerai use Wisdom for psionics when everyone else uses Intelligence?", but that's off-topic due to being a question. So instead, I will check my assumption, since I'm assuming that the Githzerai are the only ones who buck this trend, simply because I've not managed to find any further examples (i.e. "all swans are white").


Are there any other creatures who have psionic abilities (and the ability must be called out, either in lore or with the psionics tag, as being psionic; not just any old source of psychic damage or similar effects) that are not tied to Intelligence? If so, what creatures don't follow this pattern, and what do they use instead of Intelligence (if anything)? Or is it literally just the Githzerai who buck this trend?

My understanding is based on D&D 5e, but I'd be interested in answers that consider psionics throughout all editions of D&D if that wouldn't be asking too much (and if such a question would even make sense, given how the rules change between editions). If such a question would be too broad, or wouldn't make sense, I'm happy to reduce the scope back to "just D&D 5e".


2 Answers 2


There are several published creatures with non-Intelligence-based psionics

By a quick search on D&D Beyond for mentions of "psionics" or "psionic", there are several creatures who associate psionic spellcasting or abilities with ability scores other than Intelligence, including:

From these examples it appears that when designing creatures with psionic spellcasting, the spellcasting ability chosen is just whichever is the best of the creature's mental ability scores. This allows for creatures which are not particularly intelligent, such as the neothelid, to still be psionically powerful. When the creature's mental attributes are about the same, it seems like Intelligence is generally taken by default, but this isn't a hard rule (most of the Duergar I found have the same modifiers for Int and Wis).

Leaving 5e and delving into D&D's history, there have been many examples of psionic power associated with each different ability score (even including the "physical" attributes, though the mental ones are far more common), as well noted by LizWeir's answer for 2e-4e.

Psionics were associated with all three mental attributes in the earliest editions of the game

This history goes back to the earliest versions of the game. In 1e AD&D, the optional (and much-derided) psionics rules in Appendix I: Psionics from the Player's Handbook invoke all three mental ability scores when determining whether a character might be psionic, though the determination is weighted towards Intelligence:

Characters with one or more unmodified intelligence, wisdom or charisma ability scores of 16 or higher might have psionic ability. [...] For each 1 point of intelligence above 16 add 2½ to the dice roll, for each 1 point of wisdom above 16 add 1½ to the dice roll, and for each 1 point of charisma above 16 add ½ to the dice roll (drop all fractions).

And all three attributes contribute to a psionic character's psionic strength:

The psionically endowed character rolls percentile dice, adding 1 point to the total for each unmodified point of intelligence, wisdom and charisma score above 12. In addition, if 2 of these scores are above 16, the number of points is doubled, and if all 3 scores are above 16, the number of points is quadrupled.

1e AD&D has many psionically capable monsters, but 1e's monster design does not include ability scores for monsters from which other values are derived, so any association with ability scores can only be determined from the rules for psionic PCs - which show here that psionic potential is most strongly correlated with Intelligence but influenced by Wisdom and Charisma as well.

Predating this, OD&D's Eldritch Wizardry supplement has somewhat simpler psionics rules, but the same association with mental attributes; psionic potential is restricted to characters who have a 15 or better in Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma.

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    \$\begingroup\$ It may be worth noting that 3e’s Psionics Handbook even had psionics use all 6 scores, as each of the six disciplines used a different score for its save DCs. This was a pretty terrible idea, gameplay-wise, and Expanded Psionics Handbook for the “v.3.5 revised edition” of D&D eliminated it, but it did exist as a thing for a while. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Commented Jul 3, 2020 at 11:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan Good spot, though I'll leave it to LizWeir's answer to cover that 2e-4e range, as they seem to intend to edit in the detail. \$\endgroup\$
    – Carcer
    Commented Jul 3, 2020 at 13:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ The Tsucora Quori from Ebberon:Rising from the Last War is a Charisma-based psionics monster. It's the only one that I know of, though. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 3, 2020 at 17:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Pleasestopbeingevil oh, excellent spot, thank you! (I again lament D&D Beyond's somewhat less than perfect free text searching - there is a "psionic" monster tag but it's only used on the Sapphire Dragon!) \$\endgroup\$
    – Carcer
    Commented Jul 3, 2020 at 17:42

In previous editions, many different ability scores were used for psionic PCs.

This answer focuses primarily on PC options from previous editions - an answer looking at NPCs and monsters in 5th Edition would be better suited to the details of the question, but I'm more familiar with player-facing mechanics.

2nd Edition's Complete Psionics Handbook restricted psionics to characters with high Intelligence or Wisdom, but the amount these powers could be used was limited by Constitution - a psionicist with a low Con could become exhausted or even killed by overusing their powers.

The 3rd Edition Psionics Handbook based each of the six disciplines on a different attribute, including the physical attributes.

This book was replaced in 3.5 by the Expanded Psionics Handbook, in which there there were psionic classes using each mental ability - Psions used Intelligence, Psychic Warriors used Wisdom, and Wilders used Charisma.

In 4th Edition there was a similar range - the Ardent primarily used Charisma, the Battlemind Constitution (and while it could use Wisdom or Charisma as a secondary, also had Dexterity-based secondary options, allowing a psionic character totally focused on physical attributes), and the Psion once again primarily used Intelligence.

In these previous editions, psionics were not focused solely in Intelligence.

Adding a little more interpretation: psionics are focused on Int in the same way as arcane magic is - many monsters are likely to use it, since the disciplined psion is, like the scholarly wizard, one of the core narrative ideas this kind of magic is based on in the game; but PC classes based on other archetypes and a few NPC statblocks use different options when appropriate.

It's also worth noting that the most recent psionic Unearthed Arcana also didn't focus purely on Intelligence; while the Psi Knight used Int, the Soulknife only used Dexterity in its class features, and the Psionic Soul Sorcerer used the class's Charisma options. In addition, the feat options allowed psionic powers linked to any attribute, again including physical attributes.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Good answer. As for the Second Edition comment, don't take Wikipedia as gospel. Psionics was quite involved in the complete psionics handbook. I suppose the issue is with what you mean by "use". Characters in 2E had to have either high wisdom or high intelligence or both in order to take psionic as a class or to have a chance of manifesting a psionic-based "wild talent" activating or using a psionic ability was however draining, so if your character had low constitution, you could exhaust or kill yourself using it. So constitution determined how often or how long you could use psionics \$\endgroup\$
    – Gwyn
    Commented Jul 3, 2020 at 12:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ In “3rd edition,” that is, the 3e Psionics Handbook, manifesters actually used all 6 scores, each one being used for the save DCs for powers from each of the 6 disciplines (so Clairsentience powers used Wisdom while Psychoportation powers used Dexterity). The scheme you describe is actually from the “v.3.5 revised edition” of D&D, and its Expanded Psionics Handbook (which, despite the name, didn’t expand upon Psionics Handbook but instead just threw out Psionics Handbook entirely and started over). \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Commented Jul 3, 2020 at 12:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'll edit those in - forgot to check the 3.0/3.5 distinction. Thanks! \$\endgroup\$
    – LizWeir
    Commented Jul 3, 2020 at 13:06

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