D&D 3E/3.5 3.5 Dark Sun: What approach to use when restricting player options?

Raduin711

Adventurer
Once upon a time I ran a 3.5 Dark Sun game for my group. My players really enjoyed it, but I was super stressed out by the experience. Ever since they have been begging me to do it again, and lately I have been giving it a little consideration.

One of the things that I struggled at the outset was trying to manage the available player options. For most of them this is their only real exposure to the setting. I recall a lot of debates over "well, why CAN'T this be in Dark Sun?" and me trying to work some concepts into the setting for the players in a lore-friendly way, and then the players forgetting that lore and walking away with a very jumbled view of the game. I try to be a "Yes, and" kind of DM, but trying to find a way to include some of the myriad options available in 3.5 without totally breaking the lore is a real challenge. I tried to point them toward more lore-friendly options in Athas.org, but they seemed to turn their noses up at them, instead trying to get me to let them play some obscure option from the "Book of Nine Complete Whatevers" instead.

So what's your approach to this?
 

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Yora

Legend
D&D rulebooks have material for all and any possible settings. Each specific setting is made up of a subset of those near infinite options.
When running a campaign in a specific setting, I think the best approach is to make a clear list of races and classes that exist i this world. Everything else does not exist, at least until the GM decides to add it to the list because it seems like something that would be a great thematic fit.
If the players want to play in Dark Sun, let them play in Dark Sun with Dark Sun characters. No point in turning it into a big pile that has everything for everyone.
 

Jacob Lewis

Ye Olde GM
Oh, I have felt this one many times, and not just in Dark Sun. I cannot get behind this obsession that some players have to become adamant about an option that isn't on the main menu. If I suddenly decide to run a campaign with no humans, you can bet your last copper piece there will be no less than two players in the group who suddenly MUST play a human this time. And it doesn't help when the publisher that produced multiple supplements and expansions every month encourages you to allow EVERYTHING.

If it's me running the game, I make it a point to draw boundaries at the start. I might allow for everything, or just a handful of sources. Force players to be more creative, and maybe get out of their comfort zone a bit. Dark Sun is nothing if not outside the comfort zone of normal D&D.

If a player has an idea outside the box that doesn't fit, save it for the next campaign. Or find another game. But stand your ground. Players should respect those boundaries knowing you made them for a reason. (And you know finding players is a lot easier than finding DMs willing to put up with their demands, right?)

Seriously, if a player can't understand why character XYZ doesn't fit into world ABC, or doesn't care that it creates extra work for the DM, then the relationship between player and DM should be examined. I want my players to have fun and look forward to our games, but not at the cost and exclusion of everyone else.
 

Ath-kethin

Elder Thing
I have never seen the point or appeal of a kitchen sink setting. What defines a setting is as much what ISN'T there as what is.

So when I get questions like

"Why cant I play an orc in Dragonlance?" "Why can't I play a gnome is Dark Sun?" Why can't I play a wizard in Masque of the Red Death?"

My position is, you can! All you need to do is run your own game. But in mine, those options are simply not available.
 

smetzger

Explorer
As usual the answer is a really good session zero.

Try saying so everyone wants to play a DARK SUN campaign. Ok, what is your idea for a DARK SUN character.
How does this race/class/spell list/feat make your character a DARK SUN character?
Keep saying DARK SUN over and over as you pitch ideas. Maybe some of them will get the hint.

I think the reason that kitchen sink party composition occurs is that... one player wants to play an underdark campaign, one wants a pirate swachbuckling game, one wants an undead compaign, and one wants to be a knight in shining armor.
3.5e also has the issue of an infinite combination of mechanical effects and players want to try a different combination for their next character.

The trick is to get everyone to agree on what type of game they want to play and what types of mechanical effects they want to use. Some re-fluff may also be in order and you as the DM should be reasonably flexible.
 

Voadam

Legend
Athas in 2e has specific magic stuff going on with preserving and defiling. A lot of 3e expansion stuff you would have to figure out how it would integrate with both the lore of Dark Sun and the mechanics of how you are implementing Athasian magic. So a Truenamer from Tome of Magic 3.5 uses nonstandard magic but it is magic so does it defile or not with every use of a true name? Where would someone learn Truenaming?

It is a lot like running 3.5 in any setting, what stuff are you ok with using, and how does it integrate with your world?

A pre campaign discussion (session zero) about allowing in stuff to match the setting should help in having people be on board.
 

Once upon a time I ran a 3.5 Dark Sun game for my group. My players really enjoyed it, but I was super stressed out by the experience. Ever since they have been begging me to do it again, and lately I have been giving it a little consideration.

One of the things that I struggled at the outset was trying to manage the available player options. For most of them this is their only real exposure to the setting. I recall a lot of debates over "well, why CAN'T this be in Dark Sun?" and me trying to work some concepts into the setting for the players in a lore-friendly way, and then the players forgetting that lore and walking away with a very jumbled view of the game. I try to be a "Yes, and" kind of DM, but trying to find a way to include some of the myriad options available in 3.5 without totally breaking the lore is a real challenge. I tried to point them toward more lore-friendly options in Athas.org, but they seemed to turn their noses up at them, instead trying to get me to let them play some obscure option from the "Book of Nine Complete Whatevers" instead.
At this point I'm going to say that the Book Of Nine Swords/Tome of Battle (its full name is "The Tome of Battle: The Book of Nine Swords" and it's called by both halves by different people) is a special case that 3.5 DMs should know about.

Fundamentally fighters in D&D 3.5 are for many people both boring and unrealistic. In combat (despite being "fighters" and it being where they should excel) thanks to the feats system 90% of the fighter decisions for what to do in combat are made in character creation and they just spend their time spamming whatever their feat-chosen best attack is. Something that can be done on autopilot - and having your fighters be these untiring automata who spam their best attack rather than outthink their foes and exploit their weaknesses in a more organic way is both unrealistic and, to many people, boring.

The Book of Nine Swords contains three classes:
  • The Warblade - which is a replacement for the fighter or, arguably, the barbarian and in general fits Athas very well.
  • The Swordsage - which is a replacement for the Monk and fits Athas pretty well right down to having Desert Wind techniques available
  • The Crusader - which is a replacement for the Paladin. The healing school (there are nine "swords" or schools) is a bad fit for Athas and the entire class isn't great for Athas.
If your player turned up their noses at the idea of playing a fighter or a monk and instead wanted a class that is both better balanced (the Bo9S classes are all tier 3 which is about where the game should be; the fighter and monk get failing grades at tier 5) and a lot more interesting to play while actually fitting the lore I do not blame them in the slightest. There is no challenge allowing Warblades or Swordsages in the lore (Crusaders are another matter) - and by offering "lore based alternatives" when they weren't actually trying to break the lore you weren't dealing at all with why they wanted to use the Bo9S (which is that the mechanics for martial characters in 3.X generally suck).
 

delericho

Legend
So what's your approach to this?
For setting-specific campaigns, I maintain a fairly strict set of limits: anything that doesn't fit the setting is outright banned. If a player doesn't want to play a campaign with those limits, that's fine - maybe next time. If the whole group objects, that's also fine - I'll run something else.
 

ShadowDenizen

Explorer
What I actually LIKE about Dark Sun (and older Dragonlance settings, and the Midnight setting, and so on) is that they offer up restrictions! Restrictions are NOT inherently a bad thing!

But 3E, 4E (& 5E, though to a lesser extent, IMO) offered up a kitchen-sink style of play, where it's expected everything in the "Core" Books and Supplements are available for use, and that has lessened some of the GM's ability to modify things to their own campaigns.

In most cases, there are reasonable reasoning for restrictions in particular settings; in Dark Sun there are no "Proper" clerics because there are no true deities. There are no orcs because they've been scoured from Athasian history. And so on.

I think these restrictions are fine, but they need to expressed and rationalized to the players, preferably before the actual game begins.
 

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