Conversions Dark Sun Conversion - manifesto





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    Dark Sun Conversion - manifesto

    OK, manifesto might sound a bit pretentious, but these are my initial thoughts on a conversion of Dark Sun. Actual conversions will follow in later threads. Comments are, of course, welcome.

    I have long been a fan of Dark Sun, pretty much since the original box set’s release. This has given me an appreciation for the things that attract me to the setting, and which I wish to see preserved in a 3rd ed version. I am aware that some people see things differently, and also that the official conversion was constrained to work mostly with 3e sensibilities. However, my own conversion has no such limitations.

    Dark Sun has always done a lot of things different from regular (A)D&D. This document is an effort to identify which of those differences are important to maintaining the feel of Dark Sun. It will not focus much on non-rules aspects of the setting, because I think all of those is important. That’s actually the main reason I’m doing this – to maintain setting flavor as manifested through the rules. However, not all of Dark Sun’s idiosyncracies are intimately tied to the setting – for example, rangers have never been a major part of the setting. There ought to be some sort of wilderness warrior, but it need not match the 2e version rules-wise. On the other hand, the divide between defilers and preservers is one of the most important things in the setting, and need to be kept.

    Finally, this document considers the game material to be the canonical version of the setting. The novels are nice (well, at least some of them), but when a novel conflicts with game material the game material takes precedence.

    Last edited by Staffan; Saturday, 25th October, 2003 at 05:31 PM.
    /Staffan

 

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    Races

    Dark Sun’s races differ in many ways from regular D&D races. Not only are several strange races added, those that do exist in regular D&D have been changed in many ways.

    Dwarves

    The most important part about the dwarf is the focus, the single-minded devotion to one task. Athasian dwarves also lack many of the traditional abilities of dwarves, including combat bonuses against certain opponents and powerful resistances.

    Elves

    The most defining trait for the elves is their running. Other than that, Athasian elves are quite similar, mechanically, to their counterparts in other settings.

    Half-elves

    Self-reliance is the half-elf’s major trait. The animal companion might not be that important, however.

    Half-giants

    Half-giants are big, lumbering brutes that tend to adjust their way of life to those around them. The alignment-changing mechanic works poorly considering 3e’s view of alignments as effects (acting in a Good fashion makes your alignment Good), as opposed to 2e’s view of alignments as causes (since your alignment is Good, you act in a Good fashion). The main question I face with half-giants is just how far I will push ignoring balance – half-giants as described in the original rule books definitely ought to be given a level adjustment in 3e terms (huge bonuses to physical abilities as well as Large size). The doubling of hit dice, however, is in no way necessary. Their size and resilience will be adequately explained by their Con adjustment, and possibly having racial hit dice. Note that since they are affected by spells like hold/charm person in 2e, they should probably be considered Humanoids rather than Giants.

    Halflings

    The main trait for the halfling is the “sneaky savage” aspect. Rules-wise, Athasian halflings do not differ all that much from regular halflings. In 2e, they got major bonuses against magic and poison, but I think in 3e their general save bonus ought to be enough. Also, there is the issue of halfling magic. In the original box set, halflings were capable of being preservers specializing in illusion. Though I don’t like using the novels as arguments, this is borne out by Nok and other members of his tribe using preserving magic in The Verdant Passage. However, in the Revised box that ability was retconned out. Me, I am allowing halfling preservers, and don’t see any particular need to limit them to being illusionists.

    Muls

    A mul is big, strong, not terribly bright or personable, and can work for a long time. Their “special ability” of getting to choose to be considered either human or demi-human regarding level limits and multi/dualclassing is irrelevant considering 3e’s more relaxed approach to these.

    Thri-kreen

    Thri-kreen is another race that is problematic to convert, because quite frankly they were overpowered in 2e. Defining traits are: alien mindset, non-humanoid, multi-armed, thick chitin exoskeleton, less need of water. They will either need to be reduced in power, or be given a level adjustment. One solution might be racial levels, as in Arcana Unearthed. That would also explain the differences between a starting PC thri-kreen and a “monster” thri-kreen – the “monster” is simply one that only has racial levels. Worth thinking about.

    Aarakocra and Pterrans

    I’m leaving these out of the discussion for the moment, since they were only added in the Revised box set.

    Last edited by Staffan; Saturday, 25th October, 2003 at 05:26 PM.
    /Staffan

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    Classes that existed in original Dark Sun

    One important difference between 2e and 3e regarding classes is a greater degree of freedom in class choice based on race – as in, there are no limits. However, those racial limits had important effects in the actual setting, and thus I will be using racial limits on two classes: only humans, elves and half-elves have the potential to become defilers, and only those three plus halflings may become preservers. Further, only humans will have the potential to mix either divine or arcane magic with the usage of the Way in order to become advanced beings, but other than that I will be ignoring advanced beings for the time being. Other than the restriction on arcane spellcasters, all classes are open to all races to any level, though some races are rather unsuited to pursuing certain classes (half-giants don’t make good rogues, for example).

    Fighters and Gladiators

    These two present a problem. In Dark Sun 2e, the fighter is pretty much a “soldier” class – he gets class abilities suited to mass combat, leading troops, and so on. The gladiator on the other hand, is pretty much custom-designed for the man-to-man fighting that’s much more likely for adventurers. In 3e, however, the basic fighter class is much more flexible than in 2e (due to all those bonus feats). Therefore, I will be including gladiators in the Fighter class, and will be incorporating feats that will fill the 2e classes’ different functions. The army-gathering ability of either class at high levels will likely be shunted off into a prestige class.

    Rangers

    The spellcasting of the ranger never seemed to fit the class all that well in Dark Sun – not to mention it was quite pointless, getting minor elemental spells at high levels. It didn’t even manage to fit the same role as the ranger’s spellcasting in regular AD&D, since all of the animal/plant-related spells were in the Sphere of Cosmos rather than the elemental Spheres. Therefore, the DS 3e ranger will be rather like the regular 3e ranger, but with spellcasting replaced by some other benefit.

    Preservers

    Dark Sun preservers were pretty much exactly like regular AD&D wizards, and I see no particular reason for that to be different in 3e. I have not yet decided whether to incorporate the Revised rule that forbade specialist wizards. Preservers are capable of becoming defilers, which will simply exchange all their preserver levels for defiler levels.

    Defilers

    Defilers, on the other hand, are a different story. In 2e, they were just like other wizards except they destroyed nearby vegetation when casting spells, and they had a faster XP chart (In Revised, they also got a Charisma penalty that grew as they increased in level). The faster XP chart is what generates the problem, because everyone uses the same XP chart in 3e. Instead, I will be giving them a total of three or four caster level increases over the course of their career. These increases will change effective caster level as well as spell progression, but will not affect other class-based aspects (saves, feats, BAB, etc.).

    Clerics

    Dark Sun clerics have a far closer tie to their elements than regular D&D clerics have with their deities – at least rules-wise. A Dark Sun cleric is limited in what weapons he can wield by his elements, and rather than having a big spell list with add-on domains, they have a slightly smaller core list that is expanded by the right elemental sphere. Note that unlike domains, the elemental sphere is added straight to the main list of spells, instead of just providing one bonus spell. On the other hand, Dark Sun clerics don’t get that bonus domain spell. However, they do get elemental-based granted powers instead – a handful of minor ones as well as two big ones: ignoring their element for a short while each day, and gating in quantities of the element each day.

    Druids

    In 2e, druids had pretty much the same spell list as clerics, only better on account of major access to the sphere of Cosmos rather than minor. This will not be the case in 3e. The elemental spheres will be the same, but the core druid list will be different – akin to the differences between regular D&D clerics and druids, except all those elemental spells the druid has will be moved to the elemental spheres. In addition, the Athasian druid gets a number of other neat powers on their guarded lands.

    Templars

    Templars are civil servants in the city-states, and get divine power from the sorcerer-kings. Their spell list will mostly mimic that of a cleric with all four elemental spheres, but with some changes. In 2e, they had inferior spell progression to a cleric at first (balanced by their administrative powers and their greater spell selection), but eventually outraced the cleric. I will maintain this in 3e.

    Given events in the Prism Pentad, a post-Revised (or even post-Freedom!/Verdant Passage) campaign needs a non-spellcasting templar. I intend this to be a 10-level class that must be mixed with some other class every other level. Each level of the non-spellcasting templar would give two levels of administrative templar benefits, but of course none of the magical abilities. Thus, where Urik would deploy a 12th level spellcasting templar, Tyr would instead have (for example) a 6th level psionicist/6th level non-magic templar with the administrative benefits of the 12th level templar.

    Thieves

    Athasian thieves are remarkably similar to regular AD&D thieves. The main differences are weapon possibilities and the replacement of guild-forming abilities at high levels with patron-attracting. Regarding the first, 3e already has a more relaxed attitude to weaponry – DS rogues will be fine with the regular rogue proficiency list as a default, and can either multiclass or spend feats if they want more. Regarding patron-attracting, that sort of thing is best left to role-playing, just like the guild-forming.

    Bards

    The main difference between Athasian and regular bards in 2e were that Athasians got access to poisons instead of spells, and they had access to all thief skills (but still only a small number of points to spend on them). I am honestly not sure what to do about bards in 3e DS. The lore and music abilities never seemed all that important to them (they always seemed more like assassins), and didn’t really fit the Dark Sun mood. I am currently leaning toward just incorporating them into the rogue class, and include some poison-handling feats and/or skills.

    Psionicists

    Psionics have changed a lot between editions. In many ways, the 3e system is more balanced (at least when you include things like Mindscapes to power them up a bit – apart from some relatively obvious bugs, they are rather broken out of the box). However, it does step away from some rather defining traits of Dark Sun psionics: wild talents are common and of vastly different power levels, and psionics are inherently stealthy (no displays along the line of those in the Psionics Handbook). As for wild talents, I intend to include them but at a weaker level than in 2e – nothing more powerful than 1st-level powers (and those will probably require a feat). The stealthiness aspect is more problematic. One option is to improve the power of the Hide Power feat. Another is to remove displays altogether, though that might unbalance psionics.
    Last edited by Staffan; Saturday, 25th October, 2003 at 05:23 PM.
    /Staffan

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    New 3e classes and Dark Sun

    Barbarians

    I actually see no problem whatsoever with barbarians in the wastes of Athas. They might need some minor changes in armor proficiencies, but the class itself fits in.

    Monks

    Given the rarity of metals on Athas, it makes sense that some people would turn to learning methods of fighting effectively unarmed. However, the whole chi/enlightenment thing doesn’t really fit, except possibly as a form of psionics. I think a better way of providing semi-supernatural unarmed warriors is to provide some options for the Psychic Warrior to go down that path rather than introducing monks to Dark Sun.

    Paladins

    Paladins didn’t exist in 2e Dark Sun for a good reason. They don’t exist in 3e either.

    Sorcerers

    Due to the history of magic in the world, I don’t think sorcerers fit in very well. It might work for singular characters, like Sadira and her sun magic or various wasteland mutants, but in general I don’t like them in Dark Sun. Besides, sorcerers and psions fill much the same niche, that of the spontaneous spell-caster. In order to promote psions more, sorcerers have to go.

    Psychic Warriors

    The concept of mixing the Way with skill at arms is an excellent one in Dark Sun. Some armor proficiency changes might be in order, and many of the same points I made regarding psionicists/psions also apply to psychic warriors, but in general these are OK. Also, there ought to be a possibility for them to go down an unarmed path that will give them unarmed abilities similar to a monk.
    /Staffan

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    Equipment

    One of the most important facets of Dark Sun is the scarcity of resources, especially metal. It is important to keep this in 3e. This extends to both armor and weaponry. Generally, heavy armor must be made of metal, as does some medium and even light armor (chainmail/shirt comes to mind). No classes should receive automatic heavy weapon proficiency, since heavy (metal) armor is pretty much never used on Athas. Weapon also suffer from lack of metal – Dark Sun needs more advanced rules for using poor materials than the ones in the DMG. It also needs rules for weapon brekage, preferably not ones tied to rolling maximum damage (since that means that a flint dagger will break more often than a stone greatsword). One rule off the top of my head is that if the attacker rolls a natural 1, he will have to roll a break check for his weapon, modified by his Strength (if you swing harder, weapons are more likely to break).

    Alchemical items never occupied a big place in 2e Dark Sun, possibly because they didn’t have much of a place in 2e in general. I am somewhat of two minds regarding whether to include alchemical items in 3e Dark Sun.

    The equipment lists also had many other differences from regular AD&D, and those differences should be preserved.
    /Staffan

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    Magic and other supernatural stuff

    Elemental magic

    I use the term “elemental” rather than divine, since Dark Sun doesn’t have any gods, and all priest-type magic come from the elements – either directly or via intermediaries.

    Elemental spells in 2e were divided into five spheres: the big sphere of Cosmos, and the smaller elemental spheres. In 3e, I will do something similar except that the sphere of Cosmos will be replaced with class-based spell lists. Thus clerics will be able to cast from the cleric list plus one elemental sphere, druids will get the druid list plus one elemental sphere (possibly having a feat allowing access to one more sphere, since 2e druids could have two spheres if they were from the right guarded land), and templars will get the templar list plus all four elemental spheres.

    I consider the “evil” para-elements from Earth, Air, Fire and Water to be a mistake – I would much rather have more potential for evil within the existing elements. Also, the para-elements “usurped” some of the meaning of the classical elements, such as fire being associated with the sun and water with rain.

    Arcane magic

    The most important facet of arcane magic on Athas is, of course, the preserver/defiler dichotomy. The 2e rules for defiling are quite adequate. I will cheerfully ignore the Revised rules, where you defile on spell preparation and get more spells for being in a verdant area and/or rolling well on an Intelligence check.

    Arcane magic is also rather rare on Athas, compared to most settings. I am considering dropping the automatic spells learned by wizards to one per level, or possibly none. Since there are no sorcerers, the need to emphasise the wizard’s larger spell selection is not so great.

    Psionics

    Psionics are common. I pretty much wrote what need to be said about psionics in the classes section, under the Psionicist.
    /Staffan

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    Setting

    While the setting itself is slightly outside conversion efforts, I will focus on the Original setting (i.e., not the one where half the sorcerer-kings have been killed off). The reason for this is simple: most of the material is written for that setting, especially adventures. My current gaming group hasn’t played Dark Sun, and I wish to use these adventures – and many simply don’t work in the Revised setting (notably, Freedom!). Many do work – even though the timeline places Arcane Shadows in FY 2, Dragon’s Crown in FY 4 and Black Spine in FY 6, these adventures work just fine after FY 10.

    I want to point out that unlike many Dark Sun fans, I harbor no ill will toward the Revised setting. On the contrary, I find that it in many ways offer more possibilities for adventuring, now that there are significant differences between the city-states, and some major threats on the horizon. However, using the Original setting still lets me progress to the Revised setting eventually if I so choose, while it is significantly harder to roll the setting back if you start in the Revised position.

    -----------------------
    That's all for now. Please do comment!
    /Staffan

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    I'm interested in running a few Dark Sun adventures this winter and have been thinking about this myself. I looked at the conversion at Athas.org and was mostly unsatisfied, especially with the way they handle defiling/preserving. I agree with almost everything that you're saying here and would love to see what you do with these ideas mechanically.

    As it is now, I'm undecided on what rules set I'll be using but leaning towards just using 2e to avoid the conversion hassles.
    Dave Speredelozzi

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    Also, regarding psionics, although the rules are more balanced in 3e I believe the flavor has been diluted significantly. Manifestations are inappropriate for psionics (Dark Sun or not) in my opinion. Also, I think some of the flashier powers need to go (whitefire and stuff like that) as well as all of the summoning-like powers (astral constructs), which are particularly ill-suited to Dark Sun due to Athas being sealed off from the other planes.

    Psionic combat has remained problematic mechanically but I haven't really found a fix that I really like yet. In my own campaign, we're about to switch to a real simple system in which psionic combat requires no power expenditure,and can only be used on other psionic beings. Basically it works like regular combat only using mental abilities (PsiBAB + Int bonus for attack/damage, Will save bonus + Wis bonus for Mental Defense) and all damage is nonlethal. Psionic attacks can be used ranged (60' I think). PsiBAB for a psion uses the good (fighter) progression. I don't have any psionic warriors in my campaign yet but I'd probably use the average progression (the same as their physical BAB). The net effect of this system is that when a psionic opponent is encountered, even if not manifesting powers, a psion has the option of participating in combat in a much more meaningful way than normal. I haven't given much though to how this would work in Dark Sun yet but it may be unbalanced as the only real check in my campaign is the fact that psionic opponents are only rarely encountered. Still, there might be something that I could do with it.
    Last edited by Davelozzi; Saturday, 25th October, 2003 at 06:09 PM.
    Dave Speredelozzi

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    Quote Originally Posted by Davelozzi
    Also, regarding psionics, although the rules are more balanced in 3e I believe the flavor has been diluted significantly. Manifestations are inappropriate for psionics (Dark Sun or not) in my opinion. Also, I think some of the flashier powers need to go (whitefire and stuff like that) as well as all of the summoning-like powers (astral constructs), which are particularly ill-suited to Dark Sun due to Athas being sealed off from the other planes.
    Well, Astral constructs are kind of neat IMO. They, along with other metacreative stuff could easily be drawing on the Gray or the Black instead - some flavor changes could be in order, but the idea would be the same.

    Plus, if you remove all the powers you mention, you've basically removed the whole discipline of metacreation which is based around forming things out of astral ectoplasm.

    I'm not willing to go to the extent that I'll be designing a whole new psionic system. Some modifications, sure, but not a wholesale redesign.

    Psionic combat has remained problematic mechanically but I haven't really found a fix that I really like yet.
    I'll probably be using the Mindscapes psionic combat system, possibly with some flavor changes in the names of the combat modes and/or the "terrains".
    /Staffan

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