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D&D 5E Wild Speculation: Athas, the World Without Dragons

MonsterEnvy

Adventurer
And one Wizard Spell shuts off -all- magic. The GODS cannot cast magic into an Antimagic Zone. The freaking GODS. Shuts down Vecna -instantly-. Correlon? No magic for you! Mystra? Nuh huh, even though MAGIC IS HERS IN THE FORGOTTEN REALMS...

She can't cast a spell inside the Antimagic Zone 'cause the Weave breaks.

It's -so- bad... It's -so- limiting from a narrative perspective.
It sounds more like you got an issue with Anti-magic field then anything else.
 

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Steampunkette

Shaper of Worlds
Supporter
It sounds more like you got an issue with Anti-magic field then anything else.
I don't think I've been even -remotely- unclear that I despise the idea that all magic comes from a single source, dragons exist like demons and angels "seeded" across the entire multiverse, and that the planes exist in a specific, explicit, and exclusive manner across that multiverse.

Please do not try and minimize what I'm saying here. Please do not try decide what I "Really" have a problem with. You don't get to.

It's narratively homogenous and limiting. And as a writer, amateur as I am... I dislike that and think it's a bad idea.
 

squibbles

Adventurer
[...] Athas exists within the material plane, so in this canon it must be a seedling of the First World, right? But apart from the Sorcerer Kings, there are no true dragons there. No echoes of the original inhabitants of the First World, which are deeply metaphysically connected to the substance of the material plane itself. Could it be that, in this new canon, this is the reason Athas is so messed up? That without these echoes connecting Athas to the First World, it has become unmoored from the rest of the cosmos, leading the gods to be unreachable, and arcane magic (which also has a connection to dragons) to damage the world, depleting it of what little of its quintessential material substance remains in the absence of dragons?

To be clear, I don’t especially like this idea. I rather hope it’s just the tinfoil making total nonsense seem plausible. But, it’s a direction I could see them taking for a Dark Sun re-imagining.
Even if they do make that the 5e background fluff of Dark Sun--which I agree is not terribly appealing--the setup is flexible enough that the setting themes could still largely work.

In Dark Sun, it isn't really important WHY arcane magic defiles, just that it does. The defiling downside of Dark Sun's arcane magic can be a consequence of decisions made by a specific lore figure (the prism pentad backstory), a result of Athas's being damaged relative to the baseline D&D cosmology (the first world retcon you have described), or mostly unexplained (the setting's original premise). At bottom, what matters is the incentives that defiling creates in wizards--defilers get selfish short term payoffs from destroying a shared common resource--so much so that they perpetrate an existential global tragedy of the commons. Even if Athas started out as a dragon-less, god-less, isolated dimension--its defilers can still be jerk-asses who desiccated the world's biosphere, burned out the sun, and created a hobbesian hellscape.

Also, the "echoes of the original inhabitants of the First World, which are deeply metaphysically connected to the substance of the material plane itself" in this setup ARE high level defilers like the sorcerer kings. Anyone who goes far enough into defiling becomes a dragon (as @TheSword mentioned in respect to Black Sands, this is not limited to sorcerer kings). That setup has weird metaphysical implications. I'm not sure why, but to me it suggests a gnosticism and body-horror vibe--which I don't hate. And there are interesting directions in which that could be taken.

But, ultimately, retconning the Dark Sun setting to have a first world backstory could very easily go wrong and AT BEST would make the setting interestingly different, not qualitatively better. So, hopefully, it doesn't happen.

In my ideal version of the setting, no one relevant to PCs will ever know the answers to the setting's cosmological questions.
 

Retreater

Legend
We won't be getting the Dark Sun I remember (and I think that's fine): Modern sensibilities would prevent the themes; 5e's mechanics can't duplicate the feel (imagine a "character tree" concept in today's story-driven landscape); 5e psionics as presented thus far don't fit the setting.
I think the best thing to do for those wanting Dark Sun in 5e is to get the original boxed set (or PDFs) and just run it with the maps, NPCs, etc. Same thing with Forgotten Realms, Ravenloft, etc.
 


squibbles

Adventurer
We won't be getting the Dark Sun I remember (and I think that's fine): Modern sensibilities would prevent the themes; 5e's mechanics can't duplicate the feel (imagine a "character tree" concept in today's story-driven landscape); 5e psionics as presented thus far don't fit the setting.
I think the best thing to do for those wanting Dark Sun in 5e is to get the original boxed set (or PDFs) and just run it with the maps, NPCs, etc. Same thing with Forgotten Realms, Ravenloft, etc.
I can't really disagree with your subjective experience of playing Dark Sun, and I agree with you that the original boxed set is the best way the setting has ever been presented.

However, I absolutely want to see 5e try to duplicate the feel. 5e so far under-serves low fantasy, sword and sorcery, and sword and planet. Perhaps--in the same way that WotC is serving a new noncombat style of play in Wild Beyond the Witchlight--they could give those S&S styles and themes a try in a Dark Sun book. The ultimate outcome might not suit you (or me), but maybe it would--and the original version of Dark Sun will be around whether the setting is revisited or not.

This is an absurd statement. Dark Sun’s themes are pro-environmentalist, anti-fascist, anti-imperialist, and anti-racist. They could not be better aligned with “modern sensibilities.”
Dark Sun is probably the most pro-environmentalist secondary world that has ever been conceived (if anyone can think a better one I'd love to be corrected here), and it's anti-racist in that it critically depicts prejudice and has genocide in its deep backstory. But the other themes you listed strike me as a bit curious.

Dark Sun is anti-authoritarian, I think, with all its petty despots and oppressive social structures.

But is it anti-fascist? The sorcerer kings exercise state power with no ideology--or with a religious one--and all their societies are very traditional. The pervasive cruelty feels Biblical Egyptian or Assyrian, not modern. I realize there are many definitions of fascism, and that Dark Sun's prevailing societies might fit some of them, but this seems incidental to me. What makes it strike you that way?

And is it anti-imperialist? There aren't any empires in Dark Sun, just city states, and they don't control large or diverse territories like, say, the Athenian empire did. There aren't client kings that carry out the sorcerer kings' wishes or mercantilist trade dependencies of raw goods for finished goods. It's just old-school stationary bandits collecting taxes with the help of an oppressive professional bureaucracy. Even the genocidal wars of the deep backstory come across more as movements than as imperial conquests, like decentralized 15th century religious strife or 19th century nationalist uprisings. Where does the anti-imperialism come in?

...Just a bit of friendly pushback--I agree with your point in general.
 
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AtomicPope

Adventurer
You've got Wizards, who learn how to manipulate the weave directly.
Psionicists, who realize there is no spoon and thus access the weave directly.
Sorcerers who are made of the weave.
Clerics who are apparently too ignorant to actually harness magic, themselves, but fortunately they can beg -really- well and someone else does on their behalf.
Warlocks didn't wanna study or beg so they made a trade for magic.
And Druids. Honestly I've got no idea how they're supposed to be interacting with the weave. Naturally, I suppose.

And one Wizard Spell shuts off -all- magic. The GODS cannot cast magic into an Antimagic Zone. The freaking GODS. Shuts down Vecna -instantly-. Correlon? No magic for you! Mystra? Nuh huh, even though MAGIC IS HERS IN THE FORGOTTEN REALMS...

She can't cast a spell inside the Antimagic Zone 'cause the Weave breaks.

It's -so- bad... It's -so- limiting from a narrative perspective.
Everything you described works really well in novels, but not in RPGs and especially not in heroic RPGs. Those limiting factors are great for metaplots that drive a novel, or series of novels, but they limite all RPG tables to the same metaplot unless the GMs consciously throw out the core components of the setting and craft their own. And that's a bad way to interact with a campaign setting as it takes time and creativity away from other things.
 

Steampunkette

Shaper of Worlds
Supporter
But is it anti-fascist? The sorcerer kings exercise state power with no ideology--or with a religious one--and all their societies are very traditional. The pervasive cruelty feels Biblical Egyptian or Assyrian, not modern. I realize there are many definitions of fascism, and that Dark Sun's prevailing societies might fit some of them, but this seems incidental to me. What makes it strike you that way?
The whole destruction of the world came from a massive "Ethnic Cleansing" involving literally everyone that wasn't a human or a halfling.

All the Sorcerer-Kings were/are motivated by fascistic desires and structures. In large part through nationalistic fervor and the group-worship of a cult-leader in the form of the city-state's Sorcerer King.

Except Raam... Where Abalach Re presents herself not as the godly power, -herself-, but as the high priest of a made up religion in which only she can interpret the will of Badna. No one believes her, but everyone gives lip-service to Badna to avoid her killing them for being heretics.
And is it anti-imperialist? There aren't any empires in Dark Sun, just city states, and they don't control large or diverse territories like, say, the Athenian empire did. There aren't client kings that carry out the sorcerer kings' wishes or mercantilist trade dependencies of raw goods for finished goods. It's just old-school stationary bandits collecting taxes with the help of an oppressive professional bureaucracy. Even the genocidal wars of the deep backstory come across more as movements than as imperial conquests, like decentralized 15th century religious strife or 19th century nationalist uprisings. Where does the anti-imperialism come in?
Tectuktitlay of Draj wants to conquer the entire Tablelands. He's only held in check by Hamanu the Lion of Urik.

Each of the Sorcerer-Kings (Outside of Oronis of Kurn) seeks to attain Dragonhood and take over what remains of the world after their rampage. Only Borys was willing to take up the role of guarding Rajaat with the stipulation that the other City-States bring snackrifices to Ur-Draxa on his behalf.

In fact, when Dregoth was close to achieving his draconic rising, the other sorcerer-kings, lead by Abalach-Re, slaughtered him mid-transformation and caused him to become Athas' first and only "Dracolich" because they wanted the detente to continue and felt he was too powerful in the wake of Borys' change.

Most of the adventure paths have you working against the Sorcerer-Kings because anti-authority to some degree... but you're also always stopping them from expanding their power and influence, except at the Black Spine mountains, where you're -actually- trying to stop Gith from absolutely wrecking Nibenay and everyone else in a planet-wide takeover with superior weapons from another dimension.

Which is still pretty anti-imperialistic.
 

Retreater

Legend
This is an absurd statement. Dark Sun’s themes are pro-environmentalist, anti-fascist, anti-imperialist, and anti-racist. They could not be better aligned with “modern sensibilities.”
I agree with your assessment of the themes.
I just don't think a major corporation would publish it in today's world.
We've seen companies like Pinnacle back away from the Confederacy in Deadlands.
It's different to present a world where a few groups uphold these awful practices. It's quite different when it's the standard, core themes of the setting. And your characters can't do anything about it.
 

Steampunkette

Shaper of Worlds
Supporter
I agree with your assessment of the themes.
I just don't think a major corporation would publish it in today's world.
We've seen companies like Pinnacle back away from the Confederacy in Deadlands.
It's different to present a world where a few groups uphold these awful practices. It's quite different when it's the standard, core themes of the setting. And your characters can't do anything about it.
Yeah, they can.

Kalak dying proves that you can kill them. And even if you couldn't kill them, you can -fight- them. Fight their aims.

Yeah, Deadlands backed away from the Confederacy... because in Deadlands they were a -heroic- option rather than being bad guys. The bad guys can be -horrible- so long as they're clearly horrible and the heroes oppose them.
 

DEFCON 1

Legend
See, I find the First World idea merely as the designers trying to put an in-game spin on something that has 100% been true out of game this entire time...

...that despite countless players continually insisting that THEIR D&D world is not connected to any other D&D world or universe or setting or whatever, their D&D world just happens to include the exact same monsters, monster abilities, races, race abilities, classes, class abilities, magic items, planes, physical abilities, mental abilities, attacks, defenses, armor, equipment, and every single other thing that gets taken out of the rule books that we all use to play D&D. Even if some things here and there get changed or removed by a player for their world, the predominant amount of stuff that shows up in a person's game is exactly the same as what shows up in everybody else's.

Which means like it or not, every player's D&D world * IS * connected to every other D&D world played by every other D&D player across the globe because we are all playing D&D. It is a single game and we are all sharing it. And that's why they've been trumpeting the whole Multiverse thing... to actually bring all of the players of D&D together. You might not want to admit it... but your D&D game has more similarities to every other D&D game out there than differences. And this First World fluff is just giving an in-story reason as to why its the case.

Now, did the D&D designers NEED to write in-game stories about why this is true? Nope. They didn't have to. It hadn't been done in editions past and everyone just sort of understood it at a baseline level even if it wasn't explicitly said. But now they've decided to actually write it down. Okay. But now that they are saying it... the question to ask is "does it actually change anything?" And to that of course, the answer is as always "No." Because those who refused to accept the idea that their D&D game was at all connected to any other D&D game is still going to say that. That will NEVER change. It doesn't matter whatever stories or fluff WotC writes for the game going forward because those who have their own way of doing things from the past will continue to do so regardless of what the books say. It's the same reason why it doesn't matter if D&D books going forward do not make all orcs Chaotic Evil by default-- because if you are a classical D&D player and you want all orcs to be CE, you can do it for your world as much as you want and ignore what WotC writes. Same as it's always been. And the First World stuff is the same way.

Fact is... if you don't want your game to be considered a part of the grand tapestry of Dungeons & Dragons... if you really need your game to be off on your own island somewhere and not a part of the D&D Multiverse... the answer is simple.

Don't play Dungeons & Dragons.

Play a different game. Then you never have to worry about it. Do that and you will never have to be considered part of the D&D Multiverse, with all the stories, ideas, and identities that it brings. You can be your own thing if that really matters to you and you'll never have to read anyone else saying you are a part of something you don't want to be.

Or just play D&D and not care what WotC writes down in their books. Which seems to me to be the easiest answer of them all. :)
 

Steampunkette

Shaper of Worlds
Supporter
Fact is... if you don't want your game to be considered a part of the grand tapestry of Dungeons & Dragons... if you really need your game to be off on your own island somewhere and not a part of the D&D Multiverse... the answer is simple.

Don't play Dungeons & Dragons.

Play a different game. Then you never have to worry about it. Do that and you will never have to be considered part of the D&D Multiverse, with all the stories, ideas, and identities that it brings. You can be your own thing if that really matters to you and you'll never have to read anyone else saying you are a part of something you don't want to be.
What a spicy hot take. Spicy as mayonnaise. Edgy as safety scissors.
Or just play D&D and not care what WotC writes down in their books. Which seems to me to be the easiest answer of them all. :)
Which is why...
I recognize that WotC has made a decision.

But given that it's a stupid decision I have elected to ignore it.
I can still rant and rave and express my frustration at their terrible design decision, though.
 


Aldarc

Legend
See, I find the First World idea merely as the designers trying to put an in-game spin on something that has 100% been true out of game this entire time...

...that despite countless players continually insisting that THEIR D&D world is not connected to any other D&D world or universe or setting or whatever, their D&D world just happens to include the exact same monsters, monster abilities, races, race abilities, classes, class abilities, magic items, planes, physical abilities, mental abilities, attacks, defenses, armor, equipment, and every single other thing that gets taken out of the rule books that we all use to play D&D. Even if some things here and there get changed or removed by a player for their world, the predominant amount of stuff that shows up in a person's game is exactly the same as what shows up in everybody else's.

Which means like it or not, every player's D&D world * IS * connected to every other D&D world played by every other D&D player across the globe because we are all playing D&D. It is a single game and we are all sharing it. And that's why they've been trumpeting the whole Multiverse thing... to actually bring all of the players of D&D together. You might not want to admit it... but your D&D game has more similarities to every other D&D game out there than differences. And this First World fluff is just giving an in-story reason as to why its the case.

Now, did the D&D designers NEED to write in-game stories about why this is true? Nope. They didn't have to. It hadn't been done in editions past and everyone just sort of understood it at a baseline level even if it wasn't explicitly said. But now they've decided to actually write it down. Okay. But now that they are saying it... the question to ask is "does it actually change anything?" And to that of course, the answer is as always "No." Because those who refused to accept the idea that their D&D game was at all connected to any other D&D game is still going to say that. That will NEVER change. It doesn't matter whatever stories or fluff WotC writes for the game going forward because those who have their own way of doing things from the past will continue to do so regardless of what the books say. It's the same reason why it doesn't matter if D&D books going forward do not make all orcs Chaotic Evil by default-- because if you are a classical D&D player and you want all orcs to be CE, you can do it for your world as much as you want and ignore what WotC writes. Same as it's always been. And the First World stuff is the same way.

Fact is... if you don't want your game to be considered a part of the grand tapestry of Dungeons & Dragons... if you really need your game to be off on your own island somewhere and not a part of the D&D Multiverse... the answer is simple.

Don't play Dungeons & Dragons.

Play a different game. Then you never have to worry about it. Do that and you will never have to be considered part of the D&D Multiverse, with all the stories, ideas, and identities that it brings. You can be your own thing if that really matters to you and you'll never have to read anyone else saying you are a part of something you don't want to be.

Or just play D&D and not care what WotC writes down in their books. Which seems to me to be the easiest answer of them all. :)
Uncoincidentally enough, this is the approach that Mattel and Fandom are going with for their Greyskull Legends RPG. Instead of trying to create a singular "canon" for the different versions of Masters of the Universe or the TTRPG, they have declared that it's all part of the MotU Multiverse plus anything else you create for your games.
 

Steampunkette

Shaper of Worlds
Supporter
Of course. And I can rant and rave about the people who are ranting and raving. ;)
"Don't play D&D" isn't a rant and rave about the people who are ranting and raving.

It's "Get outta my game if you don't like it". Which is just shutting down conversation.
 

DEFCON 1

Legend
"Don't play D&D" isn't a rant and rave about the people who are ranting and raving.

It's "Get outta my game if you don't like it". Which is just shutting down conversation.
I wasn't telling you not to play D&D. I was merely stating the fact that the only way for someone to not be a part of the D&D Multiverse was to not play D&D. If you play D&D, your game is a part of the D&D Multiverse. And it's not me saying that... it's the people who own the game that are, because they can write down whatever they want and they can say whatever they want in the books that they write. And if it's written down in the books, then those are "the rules" for those books.

And once that happens, players can then choose to ignore or change those rules if they wish (which is already true for every single other aspect of the game, so this is no different). If a person wants to ignore the fact that their D&D game is a part of the D&D Multiverse, they absolutely can. Or if that's not good enough for them... they can make the choice not to play D&D at all (and thus are by definition no longer be a part of the D&D Multiverse). Entirely up to them, and no one's forcing them either way.
 

Amrûnril

Explorer
See, I find the First World idea merely as the designers trying to put an in-game spin on something that has 100% been true out of game this entire time...

...that despite countless players continually insisting that THEIR D&D world is not connected to any other D&D world or universe or setting or whatever, their D&D world just happens to include the exact same monsters, monster abilities, races, race abilities, classes, class abilities, magic items, planes, physical abilities, mental abilities, attacks, defenses, armor, equipment, and every single other thing that gets taken out of the rule books that we all use to play D&D. Even if some things here and there get changed or removed by a player for their world, the predominant amount of stuff that shows up in a person's game is exactly the same as what shows up in everybody else's.

This may be true of some worlds, but certainly not of all of them. As I see it, published monsters and magic items are a list of suggestions, not any sort of fixed cannon, and there are enough of both that you're only likely to see a fraction of them in any campign, even before you start factoring in homebrewing. This latter point is even more true about classes and subclasses. Ability scores and associated mechanics may stay the same, but that's because a game needs a consistent rules framework to be a game, and any number of distinct settings can be built around that framework.

As for planes and cosmology, yes, some people do assume they remain constant becasuse the designers describe them as a constant, but that's very much an active choice by the developers rather than a response to any pre-existing pressure. I'd be very much in favor of eliminating such descriptions, not just to support setting differentiation, but because I find such concepts far more compelling when they can remain mysterious.
 

DEFCON 1

Legend
...but that's because a game needs a consistent rules framework to be a game, and any number of distinct settings can be built around that framework.
Exactly. If you play a D&D game, regardless of the number of rules you change... you are by definition playing D&D. Which means you are a part of the D&D Multiverse, because everything to do with D&D is within the Multiverse, as defined by the people who own it, control it, and write it.

But look... I am by no way saying this is how it is always going to be. Some time down the line a new set of writers and designers for D&D might change that fluff and story and remove the idea of the Multiverse. And if that happens, then everything goes back the way it was back in Ye Olden Days when no one thought about it or wrote any of it down. You'll just have to wait long enough to hope that it happens.
 

Amrûnril

Explorer
Exactly. If you play a D&D game, regardless of the number of rules you change... you are by definition playing D&D. Which means you are a part of the D&D Multiverse, because everything to do with D&D is within the Multiverse, as defined by the people who own it, control it, and write it.

This is one possible definition of the D&D multiverse, but it's a broad enough definition to be effectively meaningless.

My understanding of the D&D multiverse, and the understanding that I think others object to, is based on the shared cosmology described in Appendix C of the Player's Handbook. Plenty of D&D games don't share this cosmology, and I think it's a mistake for the designers to treat it as a universal or default setting element.
 

Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
I recognize that WotC has made a decision.

But given that it's a stupid decision I have elected to ignore it.

Having Dragons "Tied to the Prime Material Plane" like outsiders are to their planes is just so, so, myopically bad. T

well.... why aren't there dragons in non-material planes? It seems that, much like giants, dragons really prefer the material plane. Why is that?
 

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