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5E Dark Sun doesn't actually need Psionics

Does Dark Sun actually need Psionics


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    124
  • Poll closed .
One of the issues I'm seeing here is that there are two different relationships between preserving and defiling magic; the 2e rules work very differently from either the 4e rules or the books. And how well psionics fit is in part a question of which you see as the core source material.

In the 2e game Preserving is good magic, defiling is bad magic, period. Defilers are on a quicker path to power - but all that means is a favourable XP track in a game with exponential XP. The choice between preserver and defiler was an irrevocable one made at first level. And preservers are poor, put-upon souls, subject to fear and hatred for doing absolutely nothing wrong.

In both the books and in 4e defiling was an option that every arcane spellcaster had and could use. It wasn't two separate classes, but defiling was something any mage could do - and did under stress. Their life, for example, was worth more than that shrub and any grass they might be standing on. No mage had to defile, but every mage could and was likely to under sufficient pressure. And fear of mages was much more justified because they all might defile.

Under the 2e paradigm having good but feared mages, neutral psionicists, and bad and hated mages makes reasonable sense. Preservers are genuinely innocent and you can thus play a supernatural character that doesn't have to deal with that with psionics. Under the books/4e paradigm where preservers are people sticking to the straight and narrow but can defile at any time psionicists are almost cheating by getting power without consequences.
 

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TwoSix

Unserious gamer
Supporter
Thinking about this further, I don't think that the dichotomy is particularly useful and is somewhat internally undermined already as there are several dichotomies in place: i.e., divine/primal magic vs. arcane magic and preserving magic vs. defiling magic. This latter, in particular, much as several other people in the latter pages say, kinda undermines the former dichotomy. Preserving magic feels like the creators throwing arcane magic players a bone - much like elemental clerics - but it's one that also one that seemingly runs counter to the themes of the setting: magic destroys the world. Preserving magic comes across as "safe fossil fuels."
That's not a bad point, actually. Just leaving arcane magic as defiling-only would be pretty interesting. Maybe require a skill check to not defile whenever you cast a spell. You can become better at not defiling through practice, but the risk is always there, and how much damage did you do while practicing? Was the risk worth the cost?

And yea, I never thought much of elemental clerics, I liked 4e's use of the various primal classes to represent service to various natural spirits much better. I'd rather see a druid with a modified spell list and some subclasses that overwrite wildshape.
 

TwoSix

Unserious gamer
Supporter
Dark Sun is a brutish, often amoral setting where evil won and there's almost no hope for good. The play is in what's left -- in surviving. Defeating the Dragon Kings wasn't really in the purview of the printed materials, although it did feature in the novels. I don't think that Dark Sun can be called a good vs evil setting at all. It's too Mad Maxian for that, and, besides, evil already won.
Ehh...I'd argue with this a bit. I think "brutish struggle against the environment", Mad Max style, is certainly baked into the DNA of the setting. But I think "struggle to achieve the strength to overthrow the overwhelming power of a sorcerer-king" is also baked right in there. I mean, 2e had rules to become a dragon king or an avangion yourself for a reason (because we were all younger then and doing stuff like that seemed fun!), and 4e had Kalak's overthrow in Tyr as the starting point of the whole setting. One reason I preferred the 4e book over the 2e material was precisely because it buried elements of hope within all the grim, without making it too obvious.
 

Hm. So, who wonders if maybe they won't just rehash this, but double down on it, given current realities?

You'd hope, right?

But my fear is that they'll simply avoid the issue, either by not doing Dark Sun, or changing Dark Sun significantly - either removing defiling (making the problems be due to some one-off catastrophe in the past), or making defiling not linked to arcane magic, not a natural consequence of heavy use of arcane magic unless action is taken, but rather this weird thing a few bad guys did/do. I actually think the latter is sadly likely, and it undermines the whole vibe of the setting imo. I'd rather lose psionics than lose defiling as a default consequence of arcane magic, in terms of flavour/vibe for DS.

Hey, I hope I'm wrong and they do double-down, though.

I do wonder what they'll do with Bards - Warlocks can obviously go to being Templars - replace the normal patrons with Sorcerer lords (If WotC is feeling really lazy they could even use simple equivalence - i.e. this Sorcerer Lord = that patron-type). Sorcerers are arcane casters so should defile like Wizards but otherwise seem workable. Bards though in 5E are technically massive arcane casters but that doesn't fit well at all with how they are in Dark Sun's lore. So maybe something like a new subclass with a specific spell list which focuses on psionic stuff and we say they're psionic or something.
 

TwoSix

Unserious gamer
Supporter
I think to do right by both the environmentalist themes and the Weird Fantasy tone, it would be best to dump the idea of The Way and double down on the weird aspect of Psionics. Make it too wild and unpredictable to actually serve as a safe alternative to magic. Sure, Psionics can be incredibly powerful, but you can’t exactly rely on the whims of random mutation to produce any particular desired effect. With discipline and training, you can learn to strengthen and hone your psionic gifts, but you have the powers you have. A telepath can learn to use their telepathy in new ways, and strengthen it like a muscle, but they’ll never practice themselves into learning pyrokenesis. That’s just not the mutation they were born with.
You could justify an awful lot of weird PC subclass options as "psionic mutations run amok".

Bonus points if psionic power is carried in the flesh, and eating psionic creatures has a chance to grant you their power. (Terrible for a player facing system, but fun as a story hook for super weird monsters!)

Having psionics as a grant of the sorcerer-kings' power would be an interesting revision of templars. Mind reading secret police in the city states would explain why so many people take their chances in the wild.
 

I think "brutish struggle against the environment", Mad Max style, is certainly baked into the DNA of the setting. But I think "struggle to achieve the strength to overthrow the overwhelming power of a sorcerer-king" is also baked right in there.

I'd agree. I think the 2E setting had this too - it starts with the death of a Sorcerer-King, of course (spoilers for 28-year old boxed set!). I think it was expected that the PCs might eventually overthrow other SKs.

And yea, I never thought much of elemental clerics, I liked 4e's use of the various primal classes to represent service to various natural spirits much better. I'd rather see a druid with a modified spell list and some subclasses that overwrite wildshape.

Whilst I'd like that too, I think Clerics are inevitable in DS, so it'd be better to have them have appropriate subclasses - presumably elemental spirits, than to try and delete them.

Having psionics as a grant of the sorcerer-kings' power would be an interesting revision of templars. Mind reading secret police in the city states would explain why so many people take their chances in the wild.

It doesn't really make a lot of thematic sense, I'd say though, and Warlocks just seem complete naturals to fill in as Templars to me.
 

Remathilis

Legend
Dark Sun doesn't need psionics, but it would be a shame to have the setting without them. It's been a cornerstone of the setting since it was created, to just release it without them would be a little sad and wouldn't quite have that dark sun feeling for me.
This is the right answer. I'll add that I don't think psionics need be a unique mechanical system, but some combo of class features, spells, feats and racial features that clearly note they are psionic would be fine. (But that's a different thread).
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Ehh...I'd argue with this a bit. I think "brutish struggle against the environment", Mad Max style, is certainly baked into the DNA of the setting. But I think "struggle to achieve the strength to overthrow the overwhelming power of a sorcerer-king" is also baked right in there. I mean, 2e had rules to become a dragon king or an avangion yourself for a reason (because we were all younger then and doing stuff like that seemed fun!), and 4e had Kalak's overthrow in Tyr as the starting point of the whole setting. One reason I preferred the 4e book over the 2e material was precisely because it buried elements of hope within all the grim, without making it too obvious.
Sure, but it's still the hopeful that existed at the end of Mad Max Fury Road -- Immortan Joe is defeated, there's water (for now) and some food, and people aren't under the yoke of an oppressive ruler for the moment. That's hope, sure, but not of saving the world. Defeating the Sorcerer Kings, likewise, was more of a power trip than saving the world -- the world is still dead, the Sorcerer Kings aren't what's keeping it dead (though they don't help), so defeating them doesn't really lead to saving the world -- just like defeating Immortan Joe and his brothers didn't lead to the saving of the world. But, yeah, local hope is worthwhile. Saving Athas is beyond the scope of the materials, if, as always, within the scope of your table.
 

nevin

Explorer
I think preserving and defiling magic without psionics could make a good Darksun. Thing is then the Dragon Kings need artifacts or Some technology. I think you could drag technology in and have ancient technology that was used that is ds responsible for the world's current state. Something like Empire of the East books. Maybe magic developed because science actually figured out the real physics that holds the multiverse together.

or you just have to make all the dragon kings DemiPowers and assume the cataclysm fractured the connection to the outer planes. Divine spells will work travel to shadow plane and elemental planes would still be possible but physical travel to outer planes would be impossible making the Dragon Kings safe from any repercussions from Greater Dieties.
 

nevin

Explorer
This is the right answer. I'll add that I don't think psionics need be a unique mechanical system, but some combo of class features, spells, feats and racial features that clearly note they are psionic would be fine. (But that's a different thread).
or throw in something like Nanite technology from Star finder . done properly they could be what powers Psioncs
 

TwoSix

Unserious gamer
Supporter
Sure, but it's still the hopeful that existed at the end of Mad Max Fury Road -- Immortan Joe is defeated, there's water (for now) and some food, and people aren't under the yoke of an oppressive ruler for the moment. That's hope, sure, but not of saving the world. Defeating the Sorcerer Kings, likewise, was more of a power trip than saving the world -- the world is still dead, the Sorcerer Kings aren't what's keeping it dead (though they don't help), so defeating them doesn't really lead to saving the world -- just like defeating Immortan Joe and his brothers didn't lead to the saving of the world. But, yeah, local hope is worthwhile. Saving Athas is beyond the scope of the materials, if, as always, within the scope of your table.
Oh, sure, I agree that fixing Athas by finding the magical Macguffin shouldn't really be a written part of the setting. Local hope of making things better for you and yours should be part of the setting, not a "Let's return to the Blue Age." That kind of material should be local to your own game (much like finding the root cause of, or reversing the Mourning in Eberron.)
 

ChaosOS

Legend
Supporter
Of all the people in the world, I feel like the Sorcerer Kings need psionics the least to justify their existence and power. Psionics to me stands out as a way to explain how people out in the desert find ways to survive in the absence of magic. Yes, I get that in 2E you had to dual-class to advance towards becoming a Dragon, but that's an edition-specific mechanical implementation.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
That's not a bad point, actually. Just leaving arcane magic as defiling-only would be pretty interesting. Maybe require a skill check to not defile whenever you cast a spell. You can become better at not defiling through practice, but the risk is always there, and how much damage did you do while practicing? Was the risk worth the cost?
I think there’s something to be said for having people who try to use arcane magic responsibly. But it should be almost irresistibly tempting to defile (I’m a fan of casting at regular power being defiling by default and having to cast at some sort of
penalty to preserve, like reverse-up-casting. Or maybe have it cost hit dice as you draw from your life energy instead of the planet’s) and preserving should be ultimately futile - less damaging than defiling, sure, but still damaging. One person driving a hybrid instead of a hummer may slightly reduce their carbon footprint, but it’s a drop in the bucket, and at the end of the day they’re still burning fossil fuels.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
I think preserving and defiling magic without psionics could make a good Darksun. Thing is then the Dragon Kings need artifacts or Some technology. I think you could drag technology in and have ancient technology that was used that is ds responsible for the world's current state. Something like Empire of the East books. Maybe magic developed because science actually figured out the real physics that holds the multiverse together.
The SKs having technology of some sort while the rest of the world is in the Stone Age would certainly help emphasize the class divide.

Maybe that’s where the psionic mutations come from. Some kind of alien tech from the Far Realm that the SKs harnessed alongside arcane magic, that gave off a strange radiation that warped Athas’s fauna into the bizarre state we now see. The nuclear power to arcane Magic’s fossil fuels. That would actually serve to tie psionics directly into the settings themes instead of merely being tone setting.
 
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Aldarc

Legend
The SKs having technology of some sort while the rest of the world is in the Stone Age would certainly help emphasize the class divide.

Maybe that’s where the psionic mutations come from. Some kind of alien tech from the Far Realm that the SKs harnessed alongside arcane magic, that gave off a strange radiation that warped Athas’s fauna into the buzz are state we now see. The nuclear power to arcane Magic’s fossil fuels. That would actually serve to tie psionics directly into the settings themes instead of merely being tone setting.
In 4e lore, psionics are regarded as the world's sort of auto-immune response to incursions from the Far Realms. But also in 4e, the beginning of the DS Campaign Setting book suggests that psionics developed in the absence of divine magic since the primordials won the Dawn War on Athas.
 

nevin

Explorer
The SKs having technology of some sort while the rest of the world is in the Stone Age would certainly help emphasize the class divide.

Maybe that’s where the psionic mutations come from. Some kind of alien tech from the Far Realm that the SKs harnessed alongside arcane magic, that gave off a strange radiation that warped Athas’s fauna into the buzz are state we now see. The nuclear power to arcane Magic’s fossil fuels. That would actually serve to tie psionics directly into the settings themes instead of merely being tone setting.
I like it. if you do that the preserving should be standard and defilling should be something anyone can do to boost thier spells or cast more than normally available but they would be corrupted bit by bit everytime they did it.
 


Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Except Athas is closed off from the multiverse and has a sealed sphere for spelljamming. All fluffy, but kinda necessary to the setting to prevent easy access to other sources of life/water/resources or just emigration.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
I like it. if you do that the preserving should be standard and defilling should be something anyone can do to boost thier spells or cast more than normally available but they would be corrupted bit by bit everytime they did it.
I would definitely want to keep defiling as the default form of arcane magic, with preserving being a severe downgrade. For the allegory to work, ending reliance on the world-destroying energy source has to require sacrifice. You have to be willing to give up conveniences you’ve come to take for granted. And for D&D players, that’s spellcasting.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
Except Athas is closed off from the multiverse and has a sealed sphere for spelljamming. All fluffy, but kinda necessary to the setting to prevent easy access to other sources of life/water/resources or just emigration.
Sure, it doesn’t have to be the Far Realm. Or maybe the tech got there before whatever event sealed Athas off from the rest of the multiverse.

Frankly, such planar details don’t particularly interest me when it comes to Dark Sun. Athas is Athas, it shouldn’t have to justify why it doesn’t work like Spelljammer.
 

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