Ink on the Mind: A Guide to Psionic Tattoos
Psionics is fun! It's like magic, but different, and in a good way. Not just mechanically, but also thematically, which builds back into the mechanical differences in some of the peripheral material, too.
One of those thematic-mechanical difference things is with psionic tattoos. They're the psionic equivalent of potions, for the most part. Most of the same logic and wisdom about potions applies to psionic tattoos. However, they have some rather nice differences that make them better than potions off the bat (ignoring, for the moment, the fact that magic has a lot more support than psionics so there are just more options for bottled spells than inked powers).
This guide isn't about explaining or even necessarily summarizing all of the rules around tattoos, just the important parts you need to use them in a game and some of the more interesting tidbits that are easy to overlook. As with all guides, consult the source material for actual rules text.Discussion thread
is available if you have any comments.Psionic Tattoos
Psionic tattoos are kind of like the psionic equivalent of potions. They're not really the same, but they fill the same basic conceptual niche and it's an easy comparison to make. Tattoos store the effect of a low-level power and can be activated at a later time to use said power.
Psionic tattoos are, as the name implies, tattoos. They are psionically charged ink in your skin. The design of a tattoo is fixed, but its location isn't (you can move one about your body as a standard action). You can even transfer a psionic tattoo to or from another willing (or dead/unconscious) creature. You have to touch a tattoo to activate it, so you'll usually want to leave most of your tattoos on visible, or at least accessible, areas of your body. You don't need any special skill or training to activate a psionic tattoo, even if you don't know what it does. You don't even need to be psionic.
Activating a psionic tattoo (referred to as "tapping" the tattoo) is a standard action. This provokes an AoO. If you're hit, you need to make a Concentration check (DC 10 + damage dealt, or DC 20 if grappled), otherwise your action is wasted and the tattoo doesn't activate (the tattoo itself doesn't get damaged or lost or anything, and you can still activate it again with your subsequent actions). When successfully activated, a psionic tattoo produces the effect of its power and fades away.
The wearer of the tattoo counts as both the power's manifester and its target.
Any decisions for the tattoo's power are made by the creator when the tattoo is scribed. This includes things like what energy type the power manifests with, which augmentation options are selected (for tattoos above the minimum manifester level for the power), and so forth.
A psionic tattoo costs 50 gp times its power level times its manifester level. Like with potions, add 5 gp to the market price for every 1 xp the power costs to manifest (no need to worry about expensive foci or material components as powers don't have those). Crafting a psionic tattoo requires the Scribe Tattoo feat (itself requiring manifester level 3rd) and the ability to manifest the desired power at the desired manifester level. Tattoos can store the effect of any 3rd-level or lower power that targets one or more creatures.
An important thing that's easy to overlook is that psionic tattoos can be made at any manifester level, just like with potions. The psionic tattoo entry in the SRD only talks about making tattoos at the minimum manifester level (and likewise its tables only show those prices), but the Scribe Tattoo feat says otherwise and gives the general price structure, and the psionic items basics section specifically calls out psionic tattoos as among those items that can be above the minimum ML for the power and references the standard magic item creation prices for psionic items (which Scribe Tattoo's formula follows).
If you come across an unidentified tattoo, you can identify it with a DC 25 Psicraft check (takes 1 minute, no retry). If you're wearing it, you can also concentrate on it and make a DC 13 Intelligence check to get some hint as to its effect. As always, an identify
spell or power can tell you exactly what the story is, if need be.Potions vs. Tattoos
First off, the similarities. Both potions and tattoos are single-use items that hold an effect of 3rd-level or lower that targets one or more creatures, they both can be used by anyone, no matter how magical, psionic, or mundane they are, they both require a standard action and provoke an AoO to use, they both target and count as being manifested or cast by the user, and they both use the same overpriced pricing scheme (50 gp x effect level x CL or ML). Any decisions for the effects produced by a tattoo or potion are made when the item is created, not used. Incorporeal creatures can't use tattoos or potions (albeit for different reasons). Tattoos and potions both generally require a free hand to use (potions to hold, unstopper, and drink, tattoos to actually touch the tattoo).
Tattoos have a few advantages over potions. They're inked on the skin, so they needn't be drawn (usually a move action that provokes AoOs), and you can't be sundered or disarmed of them. The restrictions on which powers can be stored in a tattoo are less restrictive than those for spells in a potion. Potions are limited to non-personal spells with a casting time of under 1 minute. By contrast, personal powers and powers with longer manifesting times can be made into tattoos.
Tattoos aren't strictly better than potions. You can only have 20 tattoos on your body at once (any more and they all trigger immediately). Tattoos have to be inked onto an actual creature, so they're harder to store for sale and to transfer via mail or courier, for example, especially en masse. Transferring them from one creature to another is a standard action, which also makes it slightly less convenient to use on an unconscious ally (a standard action to transfer plus a full-round action to activate vs. a potion's move action to draw and full-round action to pour). Potions also have a variation, oils, which are designed for use on objects, while tattoos have no such object-based equivalent.
Here's a summary of most of the similarities and differences.
|Maximum Effect Level||3rd-level or lower spells||3rd-level or lower powers|
|Effect Target Limit||Non-personal, one or more creatures (or objects for oils)||One or more creatures|
|Effect Activation Time Limit||Casting time less than 1 minute||No manifesting time restrictions|
|Effect Decision Making||Decisions made beforehand by creator||Decisions made beforehand by creator|
|Activation Action||Standard action (imbibe potion, provokes AoO, Concentration check if struck)||Standard action (touch tattoo, provokes AoO, Concentration check if struck)|
|Activation on Unconscious Ally||Full-round action (pour potion down throat, AoO as above)||Full-round action (touch ally's tattoo, AoO as above)|
|Must be Drawn?||Yes (move action to draw if not already held, provokes AoO)||No|
|User Requirement||Corporeal||Creature have a permanent surface on which to inscribe the tattoo|
|Carry Limit||Limited by carrying capacity only||Maximum 20 tattoos|
|Transferrable?||Yes (object)||Yes (standard action, by touch, willing or unconscious/dead creature only)|
|Identification||DC 25 Spellcraft check, or by taste/texture/etc.||DC 25 Psicraft check, or DC 13 Intelligence check to get a hint|
|Market Price||50 gp x spell level x CL (plus special components costs)||50 gp x power level x ML (plus special components costs)|
Potions (and magic in general) have a lot more support material than psionic tattoos. In addition to the sheer volume of spells printed over dozens of source books that can be placed in potions, there are many feats, items, classes, and spells specifically designed to enhance the use of potions that psionic tattoos don't have access to.Crawling Tattoos
Crawling tattoos are universal items (made with the Craft Universal Item feat, not Scribe Tattoo) that are similar to regular old psionic tattoos. The main difference is that instead of just producing a power's effect when tapped, a crawling tattoo gets up off your body, crawls over to a target of your choice, and touches the target to apply the power directly. They move reasonably quickly (30 ft. move speed), and can be sent off towards anyone within line or sight (no range limit). They have a neat advantage of being able to apply area powers and to deny the target a Reflex save (Fort and Will saves are still valid, however). You can also have them crawl over to distant allies to apply beneficial powers. Unfortunately, crawling tattoos can be attacked and destroyed (AC 18, 10 hp, hardness 5), and as fine creatures, they need to move into their target's space to attack, provoking at least one AoO from the intended target and probably anyone else in melee. Read up on them if you're interested, but crawling tattoos aren't the focus of this guide.
It's worth noting that crawling tattoos can be used to apply powers such as metaphysical weapon
to objects, which psionic tattoos otherwise can't do (objects aren't creatures and thus can't have psionic tattoos on them).Why to Use or Not Use Psionic Tattoos
Psionic tattoos have the same general issues that potions do without supporting material. They are expensive (twice as much as a power stone, ~3.3 times as much as a charge from a dorje) and risk an AoO. They're a lot more usable than potions, which also need to be drawn (a move action) and are easily breakable, but the fact remains that the high price makes tattoos uneconomical under normal circumstances. Like with potions, common character optimization wisdom says that you shouldn't usually use psionic tattoos. If your character is a manifester, dorjes are by far superior for frequently used powers (30% of the price per use, no AoO), and power stones are better for infrequent ones (half the price, augmentable with your own PP if desired). For non-manifesters, psionic tattoos offer access to the occasional power, but simple economics makes 2nd- and 3rd-level powers too expensive to be worthwhile over more permanent gear upgrades. Some consumable use is acceptable, but not too much. The DMG seems to assume approximately 10% of wealth gained from encounters is lost to resale markups and consumable use (average wealth gain from encounters at a given level is approximately 10% higher than the difference in wealth by level from that level to the next).
That being said, supporting material can make psionic tattoos rather impressive. It's unfortunate that the main source of said supporting material, special psionic tattoos, is unupdated 3.0 edition content (and psionics is notorious for not taking as well to 3.0e-to-3.5e conversion as other material), but said material skirts at the edges of the components that are hard to convert, making the vast majority of it directly convertible. See the next post for more details.
- Psionic Tattoos
- Scribe Tattoo: You can create a psionic tattoo of any power of 3rd level or lower that you know and that targets one or more creatures.
- Psionic Item Basics - Descriptions: Increasing the manifester level so increases the cost of the item; see Table: Estimating Magic Item Gold Piece Values, substituting “spell” for “power” and “caster level” for “manifester level” as appropriate.
- Psionic Item Basics - Manifester Level: For psionic tattoos, power stones, and dorjes, the creator can set the manifester level of an item at any number high enough to manifest the stored power and not higher than her own manifester level.
- Potions and Oils
- Creating Potions: Spells with a range of personal cannot be made into potions.
- Brew Potions: You can create a potion of any 3rd-level or lower spell that you know and that targets one or more creatures.
- Crawling Tattoos
1/1/2016: Happy new year! Fixed some incorrect information about tattoo targeting. Like potions, they only target the wearer.
30/12/2015: First posted.