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5E Dark Sun doesn't actually need Psionics

Does Dark Sun actually need Psionics


  • Total voters
    124
  • Poll closed .

nevin

Explorer
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.
5e. is going to change something. the dragon kings or some other power may control the only small egress to the sphere
 

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Staffan

Adventurer
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.
If you go by the published backstory, psionics predate arcane magic on Athas by millennia. The backstory goes something like this:

  • Distant past: the Blue Age. The world is mostly covered in water, the sun is blue, and the only intelligent species are halflings (and maybe thri-kreen). The halflings know a little elemental priest magic, but their main claim to fame is life-shaping, or bio-engineering. The Blue Age ends with a failed experiment of some sort causing a Brown Tide that threatens to choke out all life, so they used the sun's power to destroy the Tide, and in the process changing the world. This lead to:
  • About 14k years ago: The Green Age. The water recedes, leaving verdant land under a now-yellow sun. The remaining halflings mutate into "traditional" fantasy races. The mutations caused by the Rebirth lead to a flourishing of psionic power, which becomes the dominant power of the age. The books describe amazing wonders made using now-lost psionic techniques. This is essentially the psionic equivalent of the "ancient super-magical empire" trope that many other settings have.
  • About 8k years ago, one particular mutant called Rajaat discovers arcane magic and experiments with it for a couple of centuries, discovering both the principles of defiling and of preserving magic. He publically teaches people about preserving magic, and secretly teaches a select group about the more powerful defiling magic. Among the defilers who also prove capable psionically, he chooses a handful of Champions to start...
  • The Cleansing Wars, starting about 3500 years ago. and lasting a millennium and a half. Rajaat turns his Champions into nascent dragons and sets each of them on a genocidal quest to eliminiate one of the "lesser" races, leaving them to believe that he intends to make humans the only remaining intelligent species. This is basically what turns Athas into its current state. Eventually, they learn that his real goal is to then eliminate all humans and leave the world to the halflings, and the Champions turn on Rajaat and imprison him in a pocket dimension. The remaining ones then each claim a city to rule as sorcerer-kings, while secretly sending sacrifices to power the prison keeping Rajaat away. That's about 2000 years ago, and started the "modern" age of Dark Sun.
So basically, psionics is an old, established power on Athas. It was more-or-less the only supernatural power around for 6000 years before arcane magic was discovered. Also, at least at the time of its introduction, taking the step from preserving to defiling was not obvious, or Rajaat couldn't have taught defilers in secrecy. One of the adventures features a document from the Cleansing Wars where the writer describes figuring out the principles of defiling as a breakthrough and, IIRC, "putting sails on a ship". But it's eminently possible that such techniques have been disseminated widely enough in the millennia in between to make it easy to make the jump.

Now, I don't see this backstory as being strictly necessary for a current Dark Sun, but I'd prefer it if they kept it rather than involving the Far Realm or the Dawn War or such things.

Ideally, for Dark Sun I would want psionics to use different mechanics than magic, because it is fundamentally different. I recognize that that's a big ask, so I'd settle for something like 3e psionics, which more-or-less uses slightly reskinned magic rules but a mostly different spell list. 3.5e psionics also had the difference from 3e magic that it included upcasting to make powers stronger, which is now a basic rule concept in 5e, but I'd like to see it have a stronger role for psionics. For example, 5e spells generally just do bigger effects when up-cast, but I'd like 5e psionics to keep the 3.5e tradition of doing qualitatively different things. To use the obvious example, 5e magic has charm person and charm monster as different spells, but the psionic version would just be charm and depending on at what level you cast it it will be able to affect different creatures. You could also have a levitate that advances from jump or feather fall to the equivalent of levitate and then to fly.

Another thing that differentiates 2e psionics from magic is the reliance on active use. When you activate a power, that costs a number of power points, and keeping it active keeps draining those points from you. You basically can't make permanent or even long-lasting psionic effects. This is borne out by psionic items, which are quite rare and all of which have intelligence – they need a mind to use psionic powers.
 

TwoSix

Unserious gamer
Supporter
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.
Basic idea: Wizards defile by default (destroying plant life in an area of 5' per level of the spell, and doing spell level necrotic damage to every living creature in the area.).

There's a preserver subclass that lets the wizard not defile if they make an Arcana check. if they fail the check, they can spend a hit die (and take damage equal to a roll of the Hit Die) to prevent the defiling, otherwise the spell defiles. You can only preserve spells up to one level below your max. (So a 5th level wizard can only preserve 2nd level spells.)

When a spell is cast defiled, it automatically casts as if it was cast one spell slot higher. Wizards can prepare spells up to one level higher than their normal spell slot max (the same 5th level wizard could prepare and learn 4th level spells) and cast them using a defiled spell slot.

This makes defiling a powerful, tempting option for ANY wizard, and only the strongest and most patient of wizards will actually become preservers. Ideally, defiling is a powerful temptation for the PLAYER, as that emphasizes the allure of defiling (even if it's just this once because things look grim!)
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
If you go by the published backstory, psionics predate arcane magic on Athas by millennia. The backstory goes something like this:

  • Distant past: the Blue Age. The world is mostly covered in water, the sun is blue, and the only intelligent species are halflings (and maybe thri-kreen). The halflings know a little elemental priest magic, but their main claim to fame is life-shaping, or bio-engineering. The Blue Age ends with a failed experiment of some sort causing a Brown Tide that threatens to choke out all life, so they used the sun's power to destroy the Tide, and in the process changing the world. This lead to:
  • About 14k years ago: The Green Age. The water recedes, leaving verdant land under a now-yellow sun. The remaining halflings mutate into "traditional" fantasy races. The mutations caused by the Rebirth lead to a flourishing of psionic power, which becomes the dominant power of the age. The books describe amazing wonders made using now-lost psionic techniques. This is essentially the psionic equivalent of the "ancient super-magical empire" trope that many other settings have.
  • About 8k years ago, one particular mutant called Rajaat discovers arcane magic and experiments with it for a couple of centuries, discovering both the principles of defiling and of preserving magic. He publically teaches people about preserving magic, and secretly teaches a select group about the more powerful defiling magic. Among the defilers who also prove capable psionically, he chooses a handful of Champions to start...
  • The Cleansing Wars, starting about 3500 years ago. and lasting a millennium and a half. Rajaat turns his Champions into nascent dragons and sets each of them on a genocidal quest to eliminiate one of the "lesser" races, leaving them to believe that he intends to make humans the only remaining intelligent species. This is basically what turns Athas into its current state. Eventually, they learn that his real goal is to then eliminate all humans and leave the world to the halflings, and the Champions turn on Rajaat and imprison him in a pocket dimension. The remaining ones then each claim a city to rule as sorcerer-kings, while secretly sending sacrifices to power the prison keeping Rajaat away. That's about 2000 years ago, and started the "modern" age of Dark Sun.
So basically, psionics is an old, established power on Athas. It was more-or-less the only supernatural power around for 6000 years before arcane magic was discovered. Also, at least at the time of its introduction, taking the step from preserving to defiling was not obvious, or Rajaat couldn't have taught defilers in secrecy. One of the adventures features a document from the Cleansing Wars where the writer describes figuring out the principles of defiling as a breakthrough and, IIRC, "putting sails on a ship". But it's eminently possible that such techniques have been disseminated widely enough in the millennia in between to make it easy to make the jump.

Now, I don't see this backstory as being strictly necessary for a current Dark Sun, but I'd prefer it if they kept it rather than involving the Far Realm or the Dawn War or such things.
Sure. I don’t think WotC would or should change the canon backstory of Dark Sun. I’m just spitballing about how I would want to do Dark Sun. Think of it as a reboot or a reimagining.
 

bulletmeat

Explorer
Basic idea: Wizards defile by default (destroying plant life in an area of 5' per level of the spell, and doing spell level necrotic damage to every living creature in the area.).

There's a preserver subclass that lets the wizard not defile if they make an Arcana check. if they fail the check, they can spend a hit die (and take damage equal to a roll of the Hit Die) to prevent the defiling, otherwise the spell defiles. You can only preserve spells up to one level below your max. (So a 5th level wizard can only preserve 2nd level spells.)

When a spell is cast defiled, it automatically casts as if it was cast one spell slot higher. Wizards can prepare spells up to one level higher than their normal spell slot max (the same 5th level wizard could prepare and learn 4th level spells) and cast them using a defiled spell slot.

This makes defiling a powerful, tempting option for ANY wizard, and only the strongest and most patient of wizards will actually become preservers. Ideally, defiling is a powerful temptation for the PLAYER, as that emphasizes the allure of defiling (even if it's just this once because things look grim!)

Maybe it would be better to have the perserver as the default wizard so players don't expect anything different from the class but the defiler be the subclass.
Or defiling can do the following:
A) gain bonus xp equal to 2 times the spell level or spell level +2 when cast as a defiling spell
B) drain 1d4+spell level HP from a random target in the area (if no creature or vegitation is in the area the caster takes HP from their own pool).
 

TwoSix

Unserious gamer
Supporter
Maybe it would be better to have the perserver as the default wizard so players don't expect anything different from the class but the defiler be the subclass.
Or defiling can do the following:
A) gain bonus xp equal to 2 times the spell level or spell level +2 when cast as a defiling spell
B) drain 1d4+spell level HP from a random target in the area (if no creature or vegitation is in the area the caster takes HP from their own pool).
Not to my taste. I think the class should explicitly and intentionally be very different from the normal wizard to emphasize the perils of arcane magic on Athas.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
Basic idea: Wizards defile by default (destroying plant life in an area of 5' per level of the spell, and doing spell level necrotic damage to every living creature in the area.).

There's a preserver subclass that lets the wizard not defile if they make an Arcana check. if they fail the check, they can spend a hit die (and take damage equal to a roll of the Hit Die) to prevent the defiling, otherwise the spell defiles. You can only preserve spells up to one level below your max. (So a 5th level wizard can only preserve 2nd level spells.)
I like the basic idea, but I would not have it require an Arcana check on casting. An extra dice roll before every spell seems like busywork. What if instead the Preserver can cast spells one level bell their max without defiling, up to 5th level spells. For spells of their max level and all 6th level and higher spells, the preserver has to do the hit die sacrifice to cast without defiling. Then it’s always a choice, but it’s always a very tempting one.

When a spell is cast defiled, it automatically casts as if it was cast one spell slot higher. Wizards can prepare spells up to one level higher than their normal spell slot max (the same 5th level wizard could prepare and learn 4th level spells) and cast them using a defiled spell slot.
I like that, but I would make it a feature of a Defiler subclass. Everyone defiles by default, but Wizards of the Defiler Arcane Tradition learn to defile actively, weaponizing its destructive nature. Another Defiler class feature could be the ability to sap hit dice directly from opponents to power their spells.

This makes defiling a powerful, tempting option for ANY wizard, and only the strongest and most patient of wizards will actually become preservers. Ideally, defiling is a powerful temptation for the PLAYER, as that emphasizes the allure of defiling (even if it's just this once because things look grim!)
Agreed, this is the feel the Defiling/Preserving dichotomy should aim for.
 

Bitbrain

Black Lives Matter
Reply to OP.

Dark Sun may not need Psionics, but it is a nice addition that makes thematic sense in my opinion.

...that lets the wizard not defile if they make an Arcana check. if they fail the check, they can spend a hit die (and take damage equal to a roll of the Hit Die) to prevent the defiling, otherwise the spell defiles.

This is a really cool idea. I think I might use a modified version of this.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
So, in poking about the web, I learned a few things. First, RPG Pundit apparently asked the same question back in 2011. Not sure that's something I like, but it means it's not a new question. And, it led me to the second thing -- Pundit references, half-donkey-ly, an interview with the designers that Pundit recalls them not wanted to include psionics to begin with. So, I went digging for it, and found it, despite it being a bit challenging. Pundit, unsurprisingly, had it a bit wrong and here's the passage I think he was partially remembering:

Q. Were you afraid the important inclusion of psionics would turn people off from Dark Sun?
A. No-when we made the decision to include psionics, it was the new thing under development and we thought it would be a selling point. We didn’t know about all the problems until it was too late to do anything about it, but even so, it’s hard to imagine DS without psionics- If it would have been up to me (and if I had realized it at the time), I would have just fixed the basic psionics rules and limited the application of wild talents to PCs and important NPCs-I think we got a little carried away spreading them as far as we did.

The whole interview is very interesting, and you can find it here: Interview with Troy Denning
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
Maybe it would be better to have the perserver as the default wizard so players don't expect anything different from the class but the defiler be the subclass.
Or defiling can do the following:
A) gain bonus xp equal to 2 times the spell level or spell level +2 when cast as a defiling spell
B) drain 1d4+spell level HP from a random target in the area (if no creature or vegitation is in the area the caster takes HP from their own pool).
This is the opposite of how I would want it to work. Again, for the fossil fuel allegory to really work, preserving can’t just be a choice not to over-indulge. It has to be a choice to give up something that you’re so used to having you don’t even appreciate it. Regular spellcasting should be defiling (and a Defiler subclass can take it a step further for the “UNLIMITED POWERRRRRR” option), and preserving should be a ton of work to learn to do (preserver subclass) and put you at a disadvantage compared to casters who don’t take pains to cast carefully. That’s the price of doing the right thing.
 

TwoSix

Unserious gamer
Supporter
I like the basic idea, but I would not have it require an Arcana check on casting. An extra dice roll before every spell seems like busywork. What if instead the Preserver can cast spells one level bell their max without defiling, up to 5th level spells. For spells of their max level and all 6th level and higher spells, the preserver has to do the hit die sacrifice to cast without defiling. Then it’s always a choice, but it’s always a very tempting one.
Makes sense. I wanted to emphasize the "risk" aspect of arcane casting, but I do agree it would get to be a lot more dice rolling.
I like that, but I would make it a feature of a Defiler subclass. Everyone defiles by default, but Wizards of the Defiler Arcane Tradition learn to defile actively, weaponizing its destructive nature. Another Defiler class feature could be the ability to sap hit dice directly from opponents to power their spells.
I went back and forth on that, but I really wanted to make the act of arcane casting inherently tempting, even (and especially) to preservers. I'd want all the powerful, easily accessible features to be part of the base class.

That way you know you've gone down the rabbit hole when you prepare a higher level spell just in case.
:devilish:
 

nevin

Explorer
I would say normal magic iscan be done in balance so to speak. every day the mage can gather so much power without harm. the temptation should be there for greedy and the desperate to pull out more power.

if you use it as a disadvantage to the wizard class would be really unfair.
all the casters will be play druids and cleric. or those players you don't want at your table.
 


bulletmeat

Explorer
I would say normal magic iscan be done in balance so to speak. every day the mage can gather so much power without harm. the temptation should be there for greedy and the desperate to pull out more power.

if you use it as a disadvantage to the wizard class would be really unfair.
all the casters will be play druids and cleric. or those players you don't want at your table.

I know of the 4 groups I have played with in the past 5 or so years, NONE of them would have said yes to penalty for a basic PHB class. I'd get the 'then just run FR'.
That's why I think a subclass or benefits to using defiling are better. They give the option to fall into a trap with greater benefits.
I wonder if the corruption rules from Adventures in Middle-Earth might work here.
 


Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
who would want to play that? Not me.

I'd just go play Gamma World
Yup, which is why this whole chain of discussion is going to be largely fruitless. Designing new mechanics for defiling is going to have the same issues psionics does -- no one's going to agree.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
I would say normal magic iscan be done in balance so to speak. every day the mage can gather so much power without harm. the temptation should be there for greedy and the desperate to pull out more power.

if you use it as a disadvantage to the wizard class would be really unfair.
all the casters will be play druids and cleric. or those players you don't want at your table.
No, no, not a disadvantage to the Wizard class. All magic would be harmful to the environment by default (no mechanical effect to this; just any plant life around you dies, moisture dries up, etc. when you cast.) Preserver would be a subclass of Wizard that could voluntarily take a penalty of some kind when they cast to avoid this effect.

The fact that no player would choose to do this is the point. If it didn’t require sacrifice, everyone would do it. It’s supposed to feel thankless, like you’re giving something up to do what’s right, and like it won’t even matter because no one else is going to make that sacrifice anyway. That’s the reality of conservationism.
 

nevin

Explorer
Yup, which is why this whole chain of discussion is going to be largely fruitless. Designing new mechanics for defiling is going to have the same issues psionics does -- no one's going to agree.
especially if changes punish one or more classes and everyone else gets to play them as written.

I don't really understand why everyone thinks you have to change that much.
you treat defiling like dealing with demons. allow preservers to gain 1 or two levels in power if they do it. no higher level spells possibly extra spells.
If I were house ruling it I'd make. a defiler prestige class and if a mage got enough points of corruption (Tracked by me) thier next level would be as a defiler. after say 3 to 5 levels in defiling class that's all they'd be able to take levels in. At a some point they'd start exuding an aura of death and wrongness. at that point it would be an evil act to associate with them. Assuming the party didn't already know what they were doing.
 

nevin

Explorer
No, no, not a disadvantage to the Wizard class. All magic would be harmful to the environment by default (no mechanical effect to this; just any plant life around you dies, moisture dries up, etc. when you cast.) Preserver would be a subclass of Wizard that could voluntarily take a penalty of some kind when they cast to avoid this effect.

The fact that no player would choose to do this is the point. If it didn’t require sacrifice, everyone would do it. It’s supposed to feel thankless, like you’re giving something up to do what’s right, and like it won’t even matter because no one else is going to make that sacrifice anyway. That’s the reality of conservationism.
One of the big things about defilers was that anyone with talent could cast as a preserver. So defiling was a choice to gain, initially, a small bit more power than other mages. The act of doing it at low levels was like burning fields of grass or a tree just because you could. If it's all black and white anyone does it and their wrong you lose a lot of the original flavor of magic.

one of the most fun things for me as a DM was everyone hates mages even preservers who are fighting the good fight. that drove lots of story lines and hooks.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
especially if changes punish one or more classes and everyone else gets to play them as written.
No one is saying punish any classes. The idea is that you can cast normally, but doing so is harmful to the world around you. There’s no penalty for this; no real drawback except the knowledge that you’re contributing to the world being in the state it’s in (but how bad can it be? everyone else does it, what’s one more spell in the grand scheme of things? The world is already too far gone to save anyway...) But if you want to cast responsibly, that’s an option. You can willingly accept a drawback to do your magic carefully enough not to kill the world just a little bit more. It shouldn’t feel good. It should feel like choosing to bike three hours to work when you have a car and can drive there in 30 minutes.
 

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