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5E Dark Sun doesn't actually need Psionics

Does Dark Sun actually need Psionics


  • Total voters
    124
  • Poll closed .

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Dark Sun was official in two editions (2e and 4e); it was also referred to in 3e, but did not have official product.

Looking at the official releases in terms of the two campaign settings (2e, 4e):

2e: After references to pisonics, and psionicists as a class, in several places, the rulebook makes this explicit:
A Note About Psionics Dark Sun is a world of powerful psionics. Every player character has at least one psionic talent, as do many of the non-player characters and monsters. A thorough understanding of The Complete Psionics Handbook is required for full enjoyment of any DARK SUN™ campaign.

There are numerous alterations in the rules regarding psionics. You are required to have the additional handbook. NPCs have it as well. There are new and additional rules and proficiencies regarding psionics. It is baked into the lore of the game (such as psionic contests in arenas). There are additional spells to handle the fact that psionics are baked into the setting. There are multiple references to how common it is, and how (unlike magic) it does not degrade the environment.

Saying that, in 2e, psionics are not a part of the setting is like saying, "How about Gamma World, but no mutants." Sure. Why not. You can do anything you want, but it's not Dark Sun.

4e: Should I keep going? Under the Gods are Silent, it says, "In the absence of divine influence, other powers have come to prominence in the world. Psionic power is well known and widely practiced on Athas; even unintelligent desert monsters can have deadly psionic abilities." It has all sorts of rules for psionic power and "the Way." Also, it has a whole section about how psionics is prevalent on Athas, and how it used not just as a weapon, but even for commercial disputes.

Again, psionics is woven into the base setting assumptions of Athas and Dark Sun.

This is kind of a silly thing; you can say that whatever you want isn't "core" if you're pitching a concept ("How about Dark Sun, but in SPACE!!!!") but Dark Sun is completely interwoven with psionics as written and presented in official materials.

It is impossible to read the campaign setting and say to yourself, "Hey, you know what doesn't matter in Dark Sun? Psionics."
 

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Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
The theme that magic was absurdly selfish and destructive. Magic was the lazy way to do everything.

...Magic is the easy way out because it gives you power without effort. And it destroys all life around you to accomplish it's goals.

These remain if you drop psionics.

You just don't have a different magic system to replace magic. So, the hard way becomes blood, sweat, and tears, rather than thinking really hard until something magical happens.
 

These remain if you drop psionics.

You just don't have a different magic system to replace magic. So, the hard way becomes blood, sweat, and tears, rather than thinking really hard until something magical happens.

No, you don't need to have a different magic system, but having it highlights how bad the evil magic system is if you do.

Imagine you have a button. Each time you press it you get $1,000, but some small part of the world dies for 100 years every time you push it. This is clearly a horrible thing to do, but it's not hard to imagine circumstances where you might have a greater good by pushing that button.

Now imagine you have two buttons. The first button works exactly like above and produces $1,000 each time you push it. The second button doesn't kill anything, but it only produces $1 every time you push it. Now how easy is it to justify pushing the first button?
 



Iry

Hero
Now imagine you have two buttons. The first button works exactly like above and produces $1,000 each time you push it. The second button doesn't kill anything, but it only produces $1 every time you push it. Now how easy is it to justify pushing the first button?
Both buttons produce $1,000. Even in the novels, Psionics was never really important to the setting. There were characters who were powerful with Psionics, and the gameline expected people to know about Psionics, but it has no narrative importance. It's just a thing people have. It was never even "the hard work path to power" since everyone in Athas has some amount of psionic power.

Don't get me wrong. In an earlier post I mentioned that psychic mutants is a trope that appears in lots of post apocalyptic stories - and Dark Sun takes inspiration from those stories (including psychic mutants). But honestly? The word is interchangeable. It's just magic by another name.

Similarly, I could replace Magic with Psionics in the PHB and basically nothing would change.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
I would say that one of the central themes of Dark Sun is how the planet has become a harsh and seemingly alien world from the one it once was with creatures evolving bizarre mutations to survive that. I always saw psionics as factoring into that theme.
I wouldn’t really call that a theme; more of a trope. And certainly a trope that suits the setting well, don’t get me wrong!

I think psychic powers, while not strictly necessary to the themes of Dark Sun, are important for setting it’s tone. Dark Sun has elements of Weird fiction that I think it would feel lacking without. That said, I don’t think psionics, with all the baggage that term carries, is (are? Psionics is/are so inconsistent about when it/they is/are linguistically singular or plural) necessary. You can capture the Weird fiction tone without a dedicated psionics subsystem. You can have monsters, subclasses, feats, etc. with bespoke psychic-themed abilities and it will work just fine.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
What else? How about more recent WoTC stuff?

"Athas in the Dark Sun Campaign setting is the iconic example of a world where psionics is common."
UA, Psionics and the Mystic

"Psionics is more common in worlds where the bounds of reality have been twisted and warped. The realm of Athas in the Dark Sun campaign setting is the prime example of a world where psionics is common. The gods are absent, magic has been triswted into an ecological scourge, and the common threads that bind many worlds of D&D have been sundered."
UA, Psionics & the Mystic, Take 2

So even in referring to possible material, psionics is always associated with Athas. Always. It's the one campaign setting that has psionics, always. There has never been an official Athas that doesn't have psionics by default. It's baked into the lore and the rules.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
It seems like a stronger case could be made to exclude arcane magic from Dark Sun. Arcane magic screwed things up for the world, so it is no longer on the table as an option for PCs. Arcane magic is thus only the purview of rare NPCs, such as Dragon Kings, and this could be easily incorporated into stat blocks without needing arcane magic classes.
Now this, I would say, would harm the setting’s themes. Arcane magic destroyed the world, you can’t have Dark Sun without it, any more than you can have Fallout without nuclear weapons. Players don’t need to have access to it, but it needs to exist in the setting.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
What else? How about more recent WoTC stuff?

"Athas in the Dark Sun Campaign setting is the iconic example of a world where psionics is common."
UA, Psionics and the Mystic

"Psionics is more common in worlds where the bounds of reality have been twisted and warped. The realm of Athas in the Dark Sun campaign setting is the prime example of a world where psionics is common. The gods are absent, magic has been triswted into an ecological scourge, and the common threads that bind many worlds of D&D have been sundered."
UA, Psionics & the Mystic, Take 2

So even in referring to possible material, psionics is always associated with Athas. Always. It's the one campaign setting that has psionics, always. There has never been an official Athas that doesn't have psionics by default. It's baked into the lore and the rules.
This is argument by tradition -- "it's always had it, so it must be there." The fact that the psionics don't do any narrative lifting in the setting (you have the exact same setting and feel without psionics as you do with them) shows that psionics have been a present layer but not important to the actual setting. They sit on top, not entwinned within.

Secondly, to your previous post, psionics in 2e are vastly different than psionics in 4e, both in mechanics and in heft. Psionics in 4e is a slightly different mechanic to other power sources and a different flavor. I think that citing 4e as a reason psionics are important to Athas shows up how weak the argument is -- the entire structure of psionics was changed and yet the setting is still very recognizable and the same. If you can completely redo the structure of psionics and not have to make other changes to the setting to accommodate, well, that's kinda proving my point.

Finally, it's good to see you back lowkey13, even with the name change.
 

Both buttons produce $1,000. Even in the novels, Psionics was never really important to the setting. There were characters who were powerful with Psionics, and the gameline expected people to know about Psionics, but it has no narrative importance. It's just a thing people have. It was never even "the hard work path to power" since everyone in Athas has some amount of psionic power.

Magic was important to the novels in that the Templars and Sorcerer-Kings had it. In that Borys and Rajaat had it. In that using it was inherently destructive. In that there was always dramatic tension around Sadira because she used magic and toyed with defiling, raising suspicions around her loyalties. It's been several years since I've read the Pentad Prisim, but I recall Agis's mastery of the Will and the Way being significant. There were psionic as well as magic items. The difference was that psionics had a personal cost while magic had an external cost.

Don't get me wrong. In an earlier post I mentioned that psychic mutants is a trope that appears in lots of post apocalyptic stories - and Dark Sun takes inspiration from those stories (including psychic mutants). But honestly? The word is interchangeable. It's just magic by another name.

Similarly, I could replace Magic with Psionics in the PHB and basically nothing would change.

I think, "I'll just re-flavor psionics to not-psionics and now with not-psionics and the setting is unchanged therefore it doesn't need psionics," is completely missing the point of the question. If anything, I think it proves Dark Sun needs psionics. That it needs something to play the role that psionics plays in the story of the setting. That's like saying Star Wars doesn't need Han Solo because they could've hired anybody at Mos Eisley; or that Wrath of Khan didn't need to kill Spock because anybody could've gone into the engine room.

It just raises the question: Why not psionics?
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
The theme that magic was absurdly selfish and destructive. Magic was the lazy way to do everything. Anyone could train to be psionic; it's just difficult and time consuming to do. Everyone has the Will; that's why everyone was typically naturally psionic. You must only learn the Way. Magic is the easy way out because it gives you power without effort. And it destroys all life around you to accomplish it's goals.

In Dark Sun, magic is evil. The books never come out and say it plainly, but it's actually just evil. Visibly, tangibly evil. The more evil you are, the more magic you get. And it's so, so much worse because you could do basically the exact same things with psionics... and psionics doesn't destroy the planet to accomplish it's goals! It's just harder to do that.

Without psionics, you can say that magic is a necessary evil to accomplish some things. Psionics turns magic into a clear antagonist of the setting.
I would agree with this argument if it wasn’t for preserving. Preserving both fills the role of a counterpoint to defiling that illustrates how taking the easy route to power is selfish and evil, while simultaneously destroying the notion that magic is inherently evil.

I actually think Dark Sun’s themes could be stronger without preserving and with psionics filling that role instead. But you don’t need both.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Magic was important to the novels in that the Templars and Sorcerer-Kings had it. In that Borys and Rajaat had it. In that using it was inherently destructive. In that there was always dramatic tension around Sadira because she used magic and toyed with defiling, raising suspicions around her loyalties. It's been several years since I've read the Pentad Prisim, but I recall Agis's mastery of the Will and the Way being significant. There were psionic as well as magic items. The difference was that psionics had a personal cost while magic had an external cost.



I think, "I'll just re-flavor psionics to not-psionics and now with not-psionics and the setting is unchanged therefore it doesn't need psionics," is completely missing the point of the question. If anything, I think it proves Dark Sun needs psionics. That it needs something to play the role that psionics plays in the story of the setting. That's like saying Star Wars doesn't need Han Solo because they could've hired anybody at Mos Eisley; or that Wrath of Khan didn't need to kill Spock because anybody could've gone into the engine room.

It just raises the question: Why not psionics?
What role does psionics play in the story, though? You've said that it has a role a few times, but haven't clarified what it is psionics does that's integral to the setting? If I change psionics, what changes to the setting occur that aren't just 'things no longer have psionics?'
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Now imagine you have two buttons. The first button works exactly like above and produces $1,000 each time you push it. The second button doesn't kill anything, but it only produces $1 every time you push it. Now how easy is it to justify pushing the first button?

With the caveat that, since we are playing a game and folks will want to use the psionic system elsewhere, it will have to be balanced to be roughly the same efficacy as what other magical characters can do. So, both buttons give you the same money.

And, as already noted, you can make the second button "good old fashioned elbow grease". YOu don't need a magic system to make the point.
 

Dausuul

Legend
I guess a conflict here is someone holding the belief that having one theme (e.g., defiling magic) somehow negates the other central themes (e.g., a harsh and alien world of psionics) of the setting.
I love how you take "a harsh and alien world," which is indisputably a central theme of Dark Sun, and casually slide "of psionics" into it so that anyone who wants to dispute the "psionics" part now has to disentangle it from the "harsh and alien world" part first.

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. Dark Sun doesn't become not-Dark-Sun if you stick horses into it; but it does lose something.
 

I agree that you don't need psionics to create a setting that explores the same themes and flavor that we see in Dark Sun, but Dark Sun is already here, the setup is clear and I wouldn't want a "retelling" that removes psionics just because we could work out the same themes without that kind of power. A Dragonlance where arcane magic is not influenced by the moons is also easy to develop, and I don't think you need artificer as a separate character class for Eberron to work either. Just because you can, it doesn't mean that you should.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
This is argument by tradition -- "it's always had it, so it must be there." The fact that the psionics don't do any narrative lifting in the setting (you have the exact same setting and feel without psionics as you do with them) shows that psionics have been a present layer but not important to the actual setting. They sit on top, not entwinned within.

Secondly, to your previous post, psionics in 2e are vastly different than psionics in 4e, both in mechanics and in heft. Psionics in 4e is a slightly different mechanic to other power sources and a different flavor. I think that citing 4e as a reason psionics are important to Athas shows up how weak the argument is -- the entire structure of psionics was changed and yet the setting is still very recognizable and the same. If you can completely redo the structure of psionics and not have to make other changes to the setting to accommodate, well, that's kinda proving my point.

Finally, it's good to see you back lowkey13, even with the name change.

You're an exceedingly strange person.

But here's the last post I'm making.

You can assert whatever you want. There was a person in my Greyhawk threads that kept saying that he could play X style in Eberron, which is true! You can play any style, and have any rules, in any setting. You can put the gods into Dark Sun, or have magic restore the environment. You can play a Forgotten Realms without spellcasters. Because every table is different.

But Dark Sun, in every published version, has done this. For you to now say, "Well, that's just tradition. That's just what Dark Sun has always done," gives away the game. You're right! Dark Sun has always had a heavy integration of lore and rules for psionics; it is an iconic part of the setting.

Just like you don't need to have artificers and uqbiquitous "magic as tech" or pulp or noir in Eberron- after all, it's just tradition.

But this argument is ridiculous. You and 13 do what you want at your own table.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
I love how you take "a harsh and alien world," which is indisputably a central theme of Dark Sun, and casually slide "of psionics" into it so that anyone who wants to dispute the "psionics" part now has to disentangle it from the "harsh and alien world" part first.

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. Dark Sun doesn't become not-Dark-Sun if you stick horses into it; but it does lose something.
Exactly. Like I said earlier, not necessary to the setting’s themes, but does inform its tone.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
I’m seeing a general trend of one camp appealing to narrative and theming, while the other camp appeals to tradition and iconography. I want to draw a comparison to another pop culture property, but fear that doing so would derail this very interesting discussion. So I’ll just vaguely allude to this connection and ask that if you get it, to let the connection be an interesting observation and move on, lest we end up having a lengthy and thoroughly unproductive tangent.
 

MGibster

Legend
So even in referring to possible material, psionics is always associated with Athas. Always. It's the one campaign setting that has psionics, always. There has never been an official Athas that doesn't have psionics by default. It's baked into the lore and the rules.

And that's true. I don't particularly care for psionics in my fantasy games, never cared for them in D&D at all, but you're right. It's always been a part of the Dark Sun setting and I can totally understand why it's a necessary component in the eyes of some fans.
 

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