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5E Dark Sun doesn't actually need Psionics

Does Dark Sun actually need Psionics


  • Total voters
    124
  • Poll closed .

GSHamster

Adventurer
I think Dark Sun works better without Preservers. All magic defiles, period.

Preservers were a cop-out so people could still play mages and not have to grapple with the consequences of defiling magic. They watered down the setting from "every mage hurts the world" to "only evil mages hurt the world".
 

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Eltab

Hero
While I like "regular Wizard = Defiler, Wizard + penalty = Preserver", zoom out a bit to consider:
"Wizard = Preserver, Sorcerer = Defiler" and both classes share one spell list. A sorcerer cannot decide to not defile and cannot disguise his use of arcane power. Perhaps tie this into sorcery points.
A Wizard OTOH can do both but loses something for it. A different option from those discussed above would be "a spell cast as Preserving requires a slot one level higher" -or- "...requires two spell slots of its level".
 

Aldarc

Legend
I think Dark Sun works better without Preservers. All magic defiles, period.

Preservers were a cop-out so people could still play mages and not have to grapple with the consequences of defiling magic. They watered down the setting from "every mage hurts the world" to "only evil mages hurt the world".
Agreed. PC mages are kinda antithetical to the sword & sorcery vibe of the setting.
 


Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
I think Dark Sun works better without Preservers. All magic defiles, period.

Preservers were a cop-out so people could still play mages and not have to grapple with the consequences of defiling magic. They watered down the setting from "every mage hurts the world" to "only evil mages hurt the world".
I get what you’re saying, but I don’t think that removing preservers entirely would really resolve the “only evil mages hurt the world” problem, it would just slap “and every mage is evil” on top of it. If you keep preserving as an option but make it come at a cost, you go from “every mage is evil” to “being good as a mage requires sacrifice.” It gives mage players a whole lot of rope and says “good luck trying not to hang yourself with this.”
 

cbwjm

Hero
When I was brainstorming ideas for defiling I looked at the wizard's arcane recovery power. Preserving magic uses it as normal and it helps represent drawing magic from the environment. Preservers use it normally but every wizard knows that they can take that energy much faster when they need to. By defiling, a wizard gains access to arcane recovery instantly. Need an extra 3rd-level spell slot for a fireball? A 5th level wizard can defile and instantly draw on that energy, destroying plant life around them to do it.

I think i had feats that also helped support the theme with master preserver allowing you to recover more spell slots on a short rest and locking you out of master defiler (I can't remember what that one did).
 

ChaosOS

Hero
Supporter
Arcane Recovery is good. I will baseline say I think if we're keeping Preserver, that should be the base wizard and then Defiler should be an option that is an upgrade with both an environmental/RP cost and some mechanical cost, probably in the form of hit dice. While at first I was thinking the benefit should be "spell is treated as upcast a level", doing a specific benefit per class that's related to spell recovery seems more interesting.

Why make Defiling an "upside"? You can find other ways to balance the other classes with setting-specific features, and psychologically people react much better to upsides than downsides. WoW had a classic example - they changed from an "exhausted" XP penalty to a "well rested" bonus, while doubling the amount of XP required per level. Same effect in practice, but people responded much better to the idea of XP bonuses than XP penalties.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
You make defiling an upside because that's how the setting lore presents it. The setting doesn't exist unless defiling is notably more powerful than preserving. Otherwise, you'll need to lore up an alternate history where some other mechanism destroys almost all life on Athas and people fear and revile all arcane casters.
 

CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
"Need" is a strong word. Really the only things that a D&D game needs are a handful of people who can hang out for a few hours without acting like jerks. And maybe dice, if you're a purist.

Psionics? They should be there for those who want them, and easy to ignore for those who don't. But that's about as far as I would ride that wagon.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
"Need" is a strong word. Really the only things that a D&D game needs are a handful of people who can hang out for a few hours without acting like jerks. And maybe dice, if you're a purist.

Psionics? They should be there for those who want them, and easy to ignore for those who don't. But that's about as far as I would ride that wagon.
Um, Dark Sun is a specific setting with specific tropes and genre logics. It's not a general D&D game. But, for those, I do not disagree with you.
 

I think Dark Sun works better without Preservers. All magic defiles, period. Preservers were a cop-out so people could still play mages and not have to grapple with the consequences of defiling magic. They watered down the setting from "every mage hurts the world" to "only evil mages hurt the world".
It will really depend on players for this instance then. Maybe the best bet for defile magic is to give two options; one that shows defiling as a norm and defiling as a bonus. Let the group decide.

A major theme of Dark Sun is struggle and sacrifice, and its magic is a direct reflection. There is no such thing as something for nothing. And, to understand defiling is to understand its origin. When Rajaat invented magic, he "defiled" by drawing energy from life. His original experiments warped life, but didn't destroy it. See Windriders of the Jagged Cliffs.

When he spread knowledge of magic (with a very dark agenda in mind), he only taught "preserver" magic. Rajaat, by this time, had already discovered how to cast spells in such a way as to obliterate life and in turn gain great power. This "defiling" he kept closely to himself and his most loyal followers. Once he had found his "Champions," he stopped teaching preserver magic and turned to his Master Plan. See Defilers and Preservers. However, magic kept being taught, and by accident, untrained wizards found out how to defile. This eventually lead to the Cleansing Wars (Rajaat's champions vs. every other wizard), and it wasn't even close. And, the source book also details that since Rajaat, other sources of magic have been discovered: the Sun (how Rajaat made his Champions and dimmed the sun itself), the Black (you give more than you get), the Grey (links to the dead), and (later) the Cerulean Storm.

So, magic doesn't defile unless the wizard makes a conscious decision to take more than is needed. It doesn't mean "preservers" are always good. Those who defile might have good intentions and believe currently saving a child is more important than saving a tree (even though that tree will save more lives 10 years down the road, a neutral perspective in many ways).

My 5E DS conversion aims to capture this dilemma, this constant temptation. And, that's what defiling needs to be. That constant temptation. If it's a gimmick, it won't adequately explain the lure.
 

nevin

Explorer
A major theme of Dark Sun is struggle and sacrifice, and its magic is a direct reflection. There is no such thing as something for nothing. And, to understand defiling is to understand its origin. When Rajaat invented magic, he "defiled" by drawing energy from life. His original experiments warped life, but didn't destroy it. See Windriders of the Jagged Cliffs.

When he spread knowledge of magic (with a very dark agenda in mind), he only taught "preserver" magic. Rajaat, by this time, had already discovered how to cast spells in such a way as to obliterate life and in turn gain great power. This "defiling" he kept closely to himself and his most loyal followers. Once he had found his "Champions," he stopped teaching preserver magic and turned to his Master Plan. See Defilers and Preservers. However, magic kept being taught, and by accident, untrained wizards found out how to defile. This eventually lead to the Cleansing Wars (Rajaat's champions vs. every other wizard), and it wasn't even close. And, the source book also details that since Rajaat, other sources of magic have been discovered: the Sun (how Rajaat made his Champions and dimmed the sun itself), the Black (you give more than you get), the Grey (links to the dead), and (later) the Cerulean Storm.

So, magic doesn't defile unless the wizard makes a conscious decision to take more than is needed. It doesn't mean "preservers" are always good. Those who defile might have good intentions and believe currently saving a child is more important than saving a tree (even though that tree will save more lives 10 years down the road, a neutral perspective in many ways).

My 5E DS conversion aims to capture this dilemma, this constant temptation. And, that's what defiling needs to be. That constant temptation. If it's a gimmick, it won't adequately explain the lure.

Exactly. Defiling is like making a pact with Hell or the Demon lords. Lots of benefits up front but the bill always comes due. Think of Defiling as the Road to hell, Wide and Paved with good intentions. I'd say that most who become the darkest defilers didn't start out with that intention.

The flip side is that great story arc of that pure magic user who never takes that power that just sits there like fresh baked chocolate chips every moment of every day.
 


nevin

Explorer
I agree with your premise. To my mind, the central conflict in Dark Sun is that magic is bad, and its continued use by the sorcerer-kings is actively destroying the world. Not having an alternate source of supernatural power makes concepts like the Veiled Alliance and preservers in general more compelling.

It also helps to center the dichotomy between arcane magic (dangerous, but compelling if controlled) and divine magic (service to the land itself).
It doesn't even have to be a Dichotomy. Life is a random thing even in Dark sun. Even in darksun maybe 3% of the population have psionics, probably .5% have magic of anysort. The Dragons Kings have gathered most of the power. The veiled alliance and other groups fight with what life has given them. They have what they have by the accident of thier birth. Not because they have a choice in it. Only the Players get a choice.
 

squibbles

Explorer
the reason the world is in the devastated and dying state that it is, is because powerful people abused a resource that they knew was killing the world so they could become the kings of its desiccated husk.

That is a beautiful turn of phrase which, in my opinion, perfectly encapsulates the essence of Darksun. I think this discussion would have benefited if that line were part of its starting point.

I think psionics adds to the depth and flavor of the setting, but it is not a crucial element. It's more like how all domestic animals are reptiles or giant bugs.

Your comment exposes something noteworthy.

Its quite curious to me how many posters have mentioned psionics in Darksun as a trope of post-apocalyptic fiction. That's not quite right. Psionics are also a trope of Sword and Planet fiction--as are novel domestic animals and dying worlds (not to mention large green multi limbed tharks, ahem... thri-kreen). Darksun borrows A LOT from Barsoom, and I'm mildly surprised how smoothly that flew under the radar here.

I agree with OP that psionics really aren’t necessary to the themes of Darksun. They do arguably provide a thematic counterpoint to arcane magic, an alternative route to power that comes from within and requires discipline but doesn’t harm the world. But preserving magic does that too. You could lose either without harming the setting’s themes as long as you kept the other (and to be honest, I kinda think the existence of preserving magic harms the themes a little bit.) But, theme isn’t everything, and psionics do inform Dark Sun’s tone quite a bit. That’s why the strongest (IMO) arguments in favor of them point out that they serve to make the world weirder, and tie into tropes of super-powered mutants in similar post-apocalyptic fiction. They’re important to the feel of the setting, even if they don’t really matter to its message.

I’d love it if while they were at it, they took steps to characterize preservers as well-meaning but ultimately ineffectual

I think both systems can work well together, despite being thematically redundant. Psionics could be a way of influencing the world that is useful but limited in important respects (it doesn't conjure clone bodies and magnificent mansions), while arcane magic could be an overwhelmingly potent, versatile, and environmentally destructive source of power. Preserving could be a have-it-both-ways outlook which tries to take the best of arcane magic without causing harm that, at bottom, is a lie and self-deceptive rationalization--preservers would destroy the planet, It'd just take them a while longer.

The verisimilitude of the setting falls apart if there are other equally powerful magics though. Druids and elemental clerics (and any other nonsense that 5e adds) need to be significantly weaker than defilers for it to make sense that everybody important, knowing the horrible consequences, chose to defile the planet.
 


Staffan

Adventurer
So, magic doesn't defile unless the wizard makes a conscious decision to take more than is needed. It doesn't mean "preservers" are always good. Those who defile might have good intentions and believe currently saving a child is more important than saving a tree (even though that tree will save more lives 10 years down the road, a neutral perspective in many ways).

IMO, this removes one of the main drawbacks of being a defiler: the lack of subtlety. A defiler should be more powerful magically than an equal-level preserver, but it's super obvious when they cast spells because there's a great big black circle around them.

Ideally, defiling should be an option for preservers who need an extra boost, but if you do it enough you become a defiler. It's a bit like the Force in that way – the Dark Side is happy to help out a Light Side user in a tight spot, but it exacts a toll for doing so, and if you do it enough the Light Side will stop responding.

I've seen a similar argument on why D&D shouldn't have gods. <shrug>

This is Dark Sun we're talking about, which doesn't have gods. This is the best treatment of the divine in any D&D setting. The second best is Eberron, where gods may or may not exist, but you can certainly get power from faith in them anyway.

The verisimilitude of the setting falls apart if there are other equally powerful magics though. Druids and elemental clerics (and any other nonsense that 5e adds) need to be significantly weaker than defilers for it to make sense that everybody important, knowing the horrible consequences, chose to defile the planet.
Druids and clerics are limited by the need to make pacts for their power. This both imposes restrictions on them, and limits how many you can have.

There's also the unspoken conceit that the player-facing rules need not be how things work for everyone. It's easy to say that while for a PC, advancing as a cleric, preserver, or defiler is roughly equally easy, but that doesn't mean that there aren't a dozen defilers for each preserver or cleric around.
 

briggart

Explorer
A major theme of Dark Sun is struggle and sacrifice, and its magic is a direct reflection. There is no such thing as something for nothing. And, to understand defiling is to understand its origin. When Rajaat invented magic, he "defiled" by drawing energy from life. His original experiments warped life, but didn't destroy it. See Windriders of the Jagged Cliffs.

When he spread knowledge of magic (with a very dark agenda in mind), he only taught "preserver" magic. Rajaat, by this time, had already discovered how to cast spells in such a way as to obliterate life and in turn gain great power. This "defiling" he kept closely to himself and his most loyal followers. Once he had found his "Champions," he stopped teaching preserver magic and turned to his Master Plan. See Defilers and Preservers. However, magic kept being taught, and by accident, untrained wizards found out how to defile. This eventually lead to the Cleansing Wars (Rajaat's champions vs. every other wizard), and it wasn't even close. And, the source book also details that since Rajaat, other sources of magic have been discovered: the Sun (how Rajaat made his Champions and dimmed the sun itself), the Black (you give more than you get), the Grey (links to the dead), and (later) the Cerulean Storm.

So, magic doesn't defile unless the wizard makes a conscious decision to take more than is needed. It doesn't mean "preservers" are always good. Those who defile might have good intentions and believe currently saving a child is more important than saving a tree (even though that tree will save more lives 10 years down the road, a neutral perspective in many ways).

My 5E DS conversion aims to capture this dilemma, this constant temptation. And, that's what defiling needs to be. That constant temptation. If it's a gimmick, it won't adequately explain the lure.
This may be one of the things that changed with the revised boxed set, but I think the jihad against preservers came before and was distinct from the Cleansing Wars. After the jihad, Rajaat selected his Champions and started the Cleansing Wars, but by that time the few remaining preservers had already gone into hiding. Besides, wizards were either human, elf or half-elf, so I don't think the Champions faced a lot of arcane opposition, with the possible exceptions of Albeorn.
 

grimslade

Adventurer
I like Umbran's sandwich analogy. Can you make a Reuben without corned beef? Sure. You can make it with turkey, but it stops being a Reuben and becomes a Rachel. Similarly, you can make Dark Sun without psionics, but it stops being Dark Sun and becomes something else.
Psionics is the native supernatural power on Athas. Magic is the alien supernatural. The Sorcerer-Kings are a blend of Defiler and Psionicist. The flora and fauna of Athas can harbor powers of the mind. It is the weird fantasy portion of Dark Sun. Everything is more dangerous than it appears. Weapons are weaker than in traditional settings. Wizards are weaker unless they destroy the world a bit more. Gods? Dead. Psionics brings back a little of that power lost.
Also, the fact that they boosted ability scores into the 20s and started at level 3.

I believe the setting loses a major core strength and identity without psionics, especially, without wild powers. WotC is not interested in breaking the form of 5E. Dark Sun was a divergence for 2E. I don't believe we will see a Dark Sun setting. We may see an adventure but it will be a pale ghost of Dark Sun, a sad desert version of the Sword Coast. The Core handbooks will be maintained. So can you have Dark Sun without psionics? Sure. Some people may even like it, but it will not be the scorched world of Athas.
 

This may be one of the things that changed with the revised boxed set, but I think the jihad against preservers came before and was distinct from the Cleansing Wars. After the jihad, Rajaat selected his Champions and started the Cleansing Wars, but by that time the few remaining preservers had already gone into hiding. Besides, wizards were either human, elf or half-elf, so I don't think the Champions faced a lot of arcane opposition, with the possible exceptions of Albeorn.

Yeah, my bad. Rajaat went to war against preservers first and had chosen his students primarily from races he had found were most susceptible to his philosophies.

Linking this all back to the original idea - do we need psionics - it's all an integral part of the lore. Even psionics was an aberration, a side effect of the war between the githyanki and githzerai. It's something that, unlike everything else on Athas, doesn't beholden you to another. If you're a wizard, the magic demands a cost of life force. If you're a warrior, someone demands your fealty. If you're a cleric, you're tied entirely to the elements. A templar to the sorcerer king. And so on. But psionics...it's all you. That purety, in some ways, allows it to function openly as an accepted part of the world while everything else is often viewed with suspicion and/or fear.
 

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