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5E Dark Sun doesn't actually need Psionics

Does Dark Sun actually need Psionics


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  • Poll closed .
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.

This was a popular AD&D design: evil is the quicker path to power. We saw it with Dragonlance's Wizards: white robes (good), red robes (neutral), or black robes (evil), in which black robes advanced in levels quicker than their counterparts. But, it never seemed to make sense. Why would my choice to learn Abjuration or Necromancy be dependent on my world views? Wouldn't it instead be my application of those powers? Could an evil wizard not use abjuration to deflect damage away from himself as he burns down the orphanage?

Defiling fit the same bill. It's more like a drug than anything else, and it doesn't make sense that a person would be committed to a subclass or AD&D class solely based on one, or a handful, of defiling choices. Even Preservers can engage in non-good acts if they're a hardcore believer that "defile once" and you deserve to die regardless of the reason. And the reason is the theme on Athas. Why not, just this once, suck one of those trees dry to stop the Templars from arresting or killing civilians who did nothing more than turn a blind eye when you ran through their shop to escape? And after that one time, why not, just that one more time, suck those faro crops dry to make sure the bandits don't raid that farm's cistern? And after that next time, you keep making excuses. It doesn't mean you're beholden to defile every time. But the bar that was once perhaps set so high for what would cause you to violate precious life gets a little bit lower, and that's the real toll.

But, one who defiles has never been required to destroy life to cast a spell. It was taught as a secretive weapon, an advantage. Indeed, sorcerer kings keep defilers on reserve to serve them while destroying all others in their cities. They aren't going to keep anyone around who would suck their precious gardens, parks, and crops dry when doing routine casting. The arenas keep necromancers around to animate the dead for entertainment. They can do their job without taking more than they need, even if they'd defile in a heartbeat to save their own necks.
 

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Remathilis

Legend
Agreed. PC mages are kinda antithetical to the sword & sorcery vibe of the setting.
My general opinion is that Dark Sun is an interesting RPG setting, but a terrible D&D setting. Ideally, it should be it's own thing unshackled from the assumptions of D&D, but it isn't so the setting must make room for them. Even in 2e, I don't think you could have sold a D&D setting without PC spellcaster classes. I guarantee you couldn't do that with the current 5e design paradigms.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
My general opinion is that Dark Sun is an interesting RPG setting, but a terrible D&D setting. Ideally, it should be it's own thing unshackled from the assumptions of D&D, but it isn't so the setting must make room for them. Even in 2e, I don't think you could have sold a D&D setting without PC spellcaster classes. I guarantee you couldn't do that with the current 5e design paradigms.
I think a lot of it only works because it’s D&D. Like, you could certainly do a setting just like Dark Sun with another system and it could be good; great, even. But a lot of the choices are pointed subversions of D&D conventions, and I think they would lose some of that impact if it wasn’t D&D.
 

carnage220

Villager
Only got through 3 pages before i was compelled to reply so i apologize if it has been brought up.
i think the biggest issue is the incorrect use of the term theme. The theme of dark sun is not the dead magic drained world, that is the setting ala where it takes place. the theme is the survival of the inhabitants of the world. Where magic users are killed instantly if discovered. Where the existence of the regular people is a struggle and the "will" to survive is needed. Psionics is the evolutionary direction the people and creatures of the world went, it is how they evolved to survive the planet. it is very much a part of the existence of all the creatures. psionics is part of the story and you can have a dead world with struggle but without psionics as the evolutionary path it isn't dark sun.
 

Remathilis

Legend
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'm going to preface that my Barsoom knowledge is limited, but I kinda feel Athas tried to be "Conan visits Barsoom as written by Vance", but somehow misses the mark on all takes. I'm not exactly sure why. I generally like the pulp genres it tries to emulate, but I feel if I wanted to play in that sort of setting, I'd take Primeval Thule over Dark Sun.
 

Shardstone

Adventurer
I'm going to preface that my Barsoom knowledge is limited, but I kinda feel Athas tried to be "Conan visits Barsoom as written by Vance", but somehow misses the mark on all takes. I'm not exactly sure why. I generally like the pulp genres it tries to emulate, but I feel if I wanted to play in that sort of setting, I'd take Primeval Thule over Dark Sun.
You just described a completely different but very cool setting I'd love to play in.
 

Istbor

Dances with Gnolls
Psionics is not a huge draw to me. Too many bad experiences and players who abused the unbalanced nature of the powers in past editions. Though, I did play an Ardent in 4e and that was kind of fun. Much more of an empath I felt than the old school psionic users. Then again, 4e was a horse apart. That most of the power sources all acted similarly and on a level playing field probably made the experience more enjoyable to me.

To the topic at hand. I think Dark Sun could tell some really cool and different stories completely without the need for psionics, and yes, still be Dark Sun.
In the past whenever we played in that setting, psionics was relatively untouched. Both by players and the DM.

I want others to be able to have their fun. And that psionics isn't needed, but is included is great. Today however, I am unsure. As others have pointed out, I think the design choices D&D will take with it, are going to leave some with a bad taste in their mouth. Older players want to feel that same feeling they had in the past while playing and believe this is what everyone experienced, and should experience when in Athas. That isn't bad. If you had a great experience, you want others to have the same thing!

However, new players haven't played there in the past. Heck, some people playing D&D today have probably never heard of Dark Sun. They have no expectation, other than a new setting will feel similar, but different to what they have been playing. Themes and feels may change, but D&D 5e will still be at the core. Probably means psionics are going to feel a lot like what is mechanically already available. I personally am fine with that. Less for me to have to figure out. Same for players. As well, the tacked on feel of psionics in the past (for me) was a huge reason I grew to dislike it.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
This was a popular AD&D design: evil is the quicker path to power. We saw it with Dragonlance's Wizards: white robes (good), red robes (neutral), or black robes (evil), in which black robes advanced in levels quicker than their counterparts. But, it never seemed to make sense. Why would my choice to learn Abjuration or Necromancy be dependent on my world views? Wouldn't it instead be my application of those powers? Could an evil wizard not use abjuration to deflect damage away from himself as he burns down the orphanage?

I think a common mistake is to view AD&D (or OD&D) as being an attempt at simulation; that's when you run into issues like, "But wait a minute, this doesn't make sense! That wouldn't happen in the real world!"

Setting aside issues of the "real world" as opposed to unicorns and fireballs, early D&D was very much designed to be a game. In the words of Gygax:

A few brief words are necessary to insure that the reader has actually obtained a game form which he or she desires. Of the two approaches to hobby games today, one is best defined as the realism-simulation school and the other as the game school. AD&D is assuredly on adherent of the latter school. It does not stress any realism (in the author’s opinion an absurd effort at best considering the topic!). It does little to attempt to simulate anything either. ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS is first and foremost a game for the fun and enjoyment of those who seek to use imagination and creativity. This is not to say that where it does not interfere with the flow of the game that the highest degree of realism hasn‘t been attempted, but neither is a serious approach to play discouraged. In all cases, however, the reader should understand that AD&D is designed to be an amusing and diverting pastime, something which can fill a few hours or consume endless days, as the participants desire, but in no case something to be taken too seriously.

For fun, excitement, and captivating fantasy, AD&D is unsurpassed. As a realistic simulation of things from the realm of make-believe, or even as a reflection of medieval or ancient warfare or culture or society, it can be deemed only a dismal failure. Readers who seek the latter must search elsewhere. Those who desire to create and populate imaginary worlds with larger-than-life heroes and villains, who seek relaxation with a fascinating game, and who generally believe games should be fun, not work, will hopefully find this system to their taste.


That's why you often see concepts and rules in OD&D and AD&D that are applied in order to make the game more enjoyable, even though they would not apply in the real world.
 


keynup

Explorer
I'll be in the camp of you can play DS without psionics, but having psionics increases the flavor. Like eating McDonalds fries without salt.
Psionics adds to the fear that no matter what someone (thing) looks like, it might have powerful Psionics. Or not being able to tell who in a group has the Psionics to target.

My quick take on wild talents would be a list on cantrip type psionics, that all classes get access too as a bonus. Every 2-3 levels you get more or stronger ones.
 

squibbles

Explorer
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.

re: defilers being stronger than other casters.
You're right of course. Player rules don't need to correspond to setting background. @Snarf Zagyg covered that pretty well in one of many Greyhawk threads. I am of the opinion that the uniqueness of a setting comes across more strongly if they do, however. In Darksun's case, elements all over the setting treat defiling as though it is the most potent source of power--but imposes personal and collective costs. Wouldn't it be a missed opportunity not to do something player-facing with that trade-off?

I think a lot of it only works because it’s D&D. Like, you could certainly do a setting just like Dark Sun with another system and it could be good; great, even. But a lot of the choices are pointed subversions of D&D conventions, and I think they would lose some of that impact if it wasn’t D&D.

Yeah, the first thing that system's designers would do is slap a new name on the elves and halflings to get the vanilla high fantasy flavor out of their rocky road planetary romance.

I kinda feel Athas tried to be "Conan visits Barsoom as written by Vance", but somehow misses the mark on all takes. I'm not exactly sure why.

The mirth is not gigantic enough for Conan to bother visiting, the anachronistic southern honor is not performative enough to replicate Barsoom, and the flamboyant scoundrels are not flighty enough to have been written by Vance B-)
 

Remathilis

Legend
The mirth is not gigantic enough for Conan to bother visiting, the anachronistic southern honor is not performative enough to replicate Barsoom, and the flamboyant scoundrels are not flighty enough to have been written by Vance B-)

I think you kinda hit on it: Dark Sun (from my limited experience) feels like these settings without any of the moments of joy. Conan spends his hard-won gold on ale and pleasurable company, Dejah Thorne is bedecked in gold and jewels (and not much else!), these feel like a setting whose best times have passed, but are not hopeless. Dark Sun feels hopeless.

Someone else pointed out in another thread Dark Sun isn't resource poor, it's practically dead. Barsoom kept moving towards smaller and smaller bodies of water, but they still existed. Mad Max was on a perpetual hunt for petrol, but he had easy access to guns. Dark Sun makes you believe cities somehow exist without access to metal, wood or even water. Dark Sun shouldn't be bronze age, it should be stone age.

Which in the end if why I feel they tried to use the "dying world" and "bronze age harsh land" tropes but somehow missed. It doesn't feel like a world I want to explore as much as an forced to for survival. It has the same feel as most zombie apocalypse stories, survival for another day but not much beyond that. (What good are gold and jewels if you're dying of thirst?)
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
I think you kinda hit on it: Dark Sun (from my limited experience) feels like these settings without any of the moments of joy. Conan spends his hard-won gold on ale and pleasurable company, Dejah Thorne is bedecked in gold and jewels (and not much else!), these feel like a setting whose best times have passed, but are not hopeless. Dark Sun feels hopeless.

Someone else pointed out in another thread Dark Sun isn't resource poor, it's practically dead. Barsoom kept moving towards smaller and smaller bodies of water, but they still existed. Mad Max was on a perpetual hunt for petrol, but he had easy access to guns. Dark Sun makes you believe cities somehow exist without access to metal, wood or even water. Dark Sun shouldn't be bronze age, it should be stone age.

Which in the end if why I feel they tried to use the "dying world" and "bronze age harsh land" tropes but somehow missed. It doesn't feel like a world I want to explore as much as an forced to for survival. It has the same feel as most zombie apocalypse stories, survival for another day but not much beyond that. (What good are gold and jewels if you're dying of thirst?)
Well, in the interview with one of the designers I posted earlier, the goal for Dark Sun was D&D hard mode for "advanced" players. I don't know why hard for D&D seems to focus so strongly on resource denial, but there you go. The designer even regretted the psionic system (note: not psionics, just the 2e system) because it was too widespread and powerful and would have preferred a different or reworked system much less widespread (PCs and major NPCs only).
 

Remathilis

Legend
Well, in the interview with one of the designers I posted earlier, the goal for Dark Sun was D&D hard mode for "advanced" players. I don't know why hard for D&D seems to focus so strongly on resource denial, but there you go. The designer even regretted the psionic system (note: not psionics, just the 2e system) because it was too widespread and powerful and would have preferred a different or reworked system much less widespread (PCs and major NPCs only).
I think they wanted to serve two masters: thru wanted a world with power gaming cranked up to 11 (free wild talents! 21 strengths! Start at 3rd level!) but also one where you are easy to kill (your monster murder machine dies of dehydration with a broken weapon in his hand). With 4e, they dropped the D&D hard mode and it makes the settings feel more playable imnsho. As to psionics, I feel it should be an option and feature in the setting, but not be so prominent as a "mutation" given freely.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
I think they wanted to serve two masters: thru wanted a world with power gaming cranked up to 11 (free wild talents! 21 strengths! Start at 3rd level!) but also one where you are easy to kill (your monster murder machine dies of dehydration with a broken weapon in his hand). With 4e, they dropped the D&D hard mode and it makes the settings feel more playable imnsho. As to psionics, I feel it should be an option and feature in the setting, but not be so prominent as a "mutation" given freely.
According to the interview I linked above, the original concepts for Dark Sun didn't specifically include psionics. However, when it was became apparent 2e Psionic Handbook was in the works, the designers thought it a good fit for the 'weird' aspect of what they were developing. However, they had little insight or input into how psionics was being developed, so it was always a 'plug this in at the end' kind of thing. Turns our that at least on of the designers wasn't happy with how psionics was integrated into Dark Sun. They still like the idea, they thought it fit and they wrote it into the lore, but the application wasn't what they expected or particularly wanted. They said they would have drastically limited the scope of who gets psionics and preferred a redone system. What that might be is unspoken.
 

Aldarc

Legend
Regardless of what the designers would have done differently or what they intended, the Textus Receptus is one where psionics are an iconic part of the setting.
 

glass

(he, him)
No, no, no. Magic and psionics are different. Really. Like psionics is using your brain to do stuff. Not like wizards. Wait, no, psionics is something innate to you. Not like sorcerers. No, no, let me try again. Psionics is like a mutation. You only get it from being exposed to some weird outside influence. Not like warlocks. Or psionics is like... well, you know, an eggplant. And magic is an aubergine. Completely different.
Yes, people have preferences different from yours. Surely that makes them monsters worthy only of mockery. [/sarcasm]

_
glass.
 

Remathilis

Legend
Regardless of what the designers would have done differently or what they intended, the Textus Receptus is one where psionics are an iconic part of the setting.
I think it would be possible to scale back the amount of psionics, mostly by making it optional and connected to specific spells, subclassess, or feats, but it does feel removing it utterly would be a disservice.
 

nevin

Explorer
I think you kinda hit on it: Dark Sun (from my limited experience) feels like these settings without any of the moments of joy. Conan spends his hard-won gold on ale and pleasurable company, Dejah Thorne is bedecked in gold and jewels (and not much else!), these feel like a setting whose best times have passed, but are not hopeless. Dark Sun feels hopeless.

Someone else pointed out in another thread Dark Sun isn't resource poor, it's practically dead. Barsoom kept moving towards smaller and smaller bodies of water, but they still existed. Mad Max was on a perpetual hunt for petrol, but he had easy access to guns. Dark Sun makes you believe cities somehow exist without access to metal, wood or even water. Dark Sun shouldn't be bronze age, it should be stone age.

Which in the end if why I feel they tried to use the "dying world" and "bronze age harsh land" tropes but somehow missed. It doesn't feel like a world I want to explore as much as an forced to for survival. It has the same feel as most zombie apocalypse stories, survival for another day but not much beyond that. (What good are gold and jewels if you're dying of thirst?)
It's really up to the DM to drive that. Are the PC's making things better are they just surviving? My campaign was focused on one city state and the PC's got sucked into the Veilled Alliance's plans. We ran it for a long time and they helped the druids and the Veilled alliance beat the Sorcerer King back and were starting to bring some more balance and life to their corner of the world. It's definitely not a game where your characters are gonna fix the world in thier lifetimes, but if you play up the we are fighting for the future, you can have some hope and joy.
 

glass

(he, him)
With regard to the how-to-implement-defiling subthread: I do not think preserving or defiling should be a subclass, I think it should be a choice every time a(n arcane) spell is cast.

If I was doing it, I would make defiling equivalent to wizards in other worlds. Wizards could cast spells at -1 effective slot level (so you would need a 3rd level slot to get cast a second level spell) to have a shot at not defiling, or -2 effective slot level to guarantee it. Conversely unrepentant Defilers would lean harder into it (perhaps with a feat) to get a bonus to effective slot level. Maybe also have a countervailing Preserver feat that makes casting without defiling a little easier/better but not too much.

I think that achieves everything I set out to: Maintains the defiling-as-fossil-fuels metaphore. Makes it possible (but not too easy) to defile accidentally. Makes it a perpetually-tempting power boost, without making it inevertable for the careful. Doesn't add a die roll to every casting (just the edge cases, which is not too onerous).

_
glass.
 
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