Lets Create Dark Sun Characters (AD&D 2e): Pyras the Golden – Half-elf Bard/Preserver/Psionicist

Returning to our Dark Sun character tree, we move on to the second, and most complex, of the characters, the half-elven bard/preserver/psionicst. Already I have a picture of them, so lets try and build a character to match.

On face value, Pyras ‘the Golden’ is a typical half-elven bard, craving acceptance yet at the same time standing apart and remaining self-sufficient, and an entertainer that is accepted to be a spy and assassin.

This is just a facade, a role that he plays well to mask his true nature and calling, for he is an agent of the Veiled Alliance, and with them he has found acceptance and a purpose.

While noted for his graceful and charming performances, Pyras has hidden skills as well, with access to powers of the mind and the arcane. He favours subtle psionics and even subtler preserving magic that he can pass off as psionics should the need arise, using them to aid his subterfuge and investigations.

He knows that as a bard, people will suspect his intentions, but he counts on that to misdirect his foes. After all, if they think they know who he is and what he is doing, and if he lets them do so, then, in the surety that they are right, they won’t dig any deeper.

It is a dangerous game but one that so far he has survived.

We have the concept so lets see what we have to work with and how to build him.

  • STR 10 gives no bonuses.
  • DEX 18 gives +2 reaction, +2 missile attack and -4 defence.
  • CON 11 gives no bonuses.
  • INT 17 gives 6 NWPs, up to 8th level spells, 14 spells a level and a 75% chance of learning a spell.
  • WIS 17 gives +3 magical defence.
  • CHA 18 gives 15 henchmen, +8 loyalty bonus and +7 reaction.

Being a half-elf gives him 60′ darkvision at creation. When he hits 3rd level he gets a free survival proficiency in one type of terrain. At 5th level he gets a free pet of a local animal no larger than man sized. Not a whole lot of bonuses, but he gets the widest array of class options and highest level of advancement in them of any race that isn’t a human.

A preserver is no different from the regular wizard as in the PHB and a psionicist is as described in the Complete Psionics Handbook. It is the Athasian bard that is different than regular ones. They can still influence reactions, inspire and know a little bit of everything as per normal, but they loose the ability to cast magic. In exchange they get to use all thief abilities instead of the limited selection vanilla bards have, though they aren’t quiet as good as normal thieves. They are also masters of poisons; at each level they roll to see if they have mastered a new poison.

Athasian bards are a class of entertainers and storytellers prized by the city dwelling aristocracy. They are also known to lead double lives as blackmailers, thieves, spies and assassins. The nobles often use them as tools, sending them as gifts to other houses. Despite knowing who and what they are, it is considered rude to turn them down, and so a merry game of deceit and subterfuge begins. Consider that – your worst enemy sends a known assassin to your house and you can’t turn them away because it would be rude. After all, you have a reputation to maintain. Yeah, Dark Sun bards are a really cool concept.

As we are a multiclassed character, we start with enough XP to start at 2nd level with our most expensive class. In this case it is the preserver. That gives us enough XP to also be a 3rd level bard, but only enough for the psionicist to be 2 level. So that makes us a 3/2/2 bard/preserver/psionicist.

HP for multiclass characters can be a little tricky. For the first level we roll the dice for each class and then divide by the number of classes we have. In this case it is 1d6 for bard, 1d6 for psionicist and 1d4 for preserver, totalled up then divided by 3. After that, whenever we level up we roll the dice for the class and divide by 3, rounding down. That it the downside of a mutliclass character – you can easily roll badly and get no HP. Especially for multiclass wizards. So we roll (1d6+1d6+1d4)/3 + 1d6/3 + 1d6/3 (for 2 levels of bard) +1d6/3 (for 1 level of psionicist) + 1d4/3 (for 1 level of preserver).

We roll (6+2+2)/3 + 1/3+ 4/3 +6/3 +3/3 = 3+0+1+2+1 = 7 HP. When you consider Arkun our gladiator starts with 28 HP, you can see Pyras is a little squishy. And later, when we do our half-giant, he will look even more so.

Our next choice is kits. The rules for kits were never properly worked out. Some books (like the complete fighters) said that they were only available to single class characters, while others allowed them to be used for multiclass characters. And when it comes to Dark Sun, some races and classes had Athasian themed kits provided for them in some of the supplements, like elves, thri-kreen, gladiators and psionicists, while others got nothing as they never had books. Dwarves, especially, never received any love in Dark Sun. They were rather under-developed.

After searching around a bit, the kit picked for Pyrus comes Dragon Magazine #194, which had an article on kits in Dark Sun. It listed some from the various Complete books that were appropriate for Athas, as well as a few new ones, including a wizard kit called Veiled One. A Veiled One is a member of the Veiled Alliance, an underground movement of preservers and psionicists who oppose Defilers and the Sorcerer-Kings.

To be a Veiled One, a character is required to have WIS 13, which we do. They have a cover profession that they need to carefully maintain, in this case a bard. They receive the free NWPs of Reading/Writing, Disguise and Somatic Concealment, and are required to have at least one craft proficiency related to their cover identify. The benefits of being a Veiled One include access to safe houses and escape routes should you be compromised, as well as access to the spells and research of others wizards, allowing them to add one spell to their spellbooks each time they level. The hinderances of the kit are that they must carefully maintain their cover at the risk of being outlawed and hunted down, and that they have to honour requests for assistance made by other Veiled Ones.

So, with the kit decided, we move on to NWPs. Pyras starts with 4, due to being a wizard, and gains 6 bonus NWPs due to his high intelligence. He receives free for being a Veiled One 3 (Reading/Writing, Disguise and Somatic Concealment. As he has hit 3rd level Bard, he gains Survival as a bonus for being a half-elf. He chooses scrublands for his terrain. And for being a Bard, according to the Complete Bard’s supplement, he gets Play Instrument, Singing, Local History and Reading/Writing again. For Play Instrument, Pyras chooses the Harp and for Local History he goes with Tyr. That is a few bonus NWPs before he even starts spending his slots.

First up, because of his kit, he needs a proficiency related to his cover identity, in this case a bard. For this we go with Artistic Ability (Composition). Pyras is a crafter of songs and tunes, used to impress and inspire. He also picks up Spellcraft, an important proficiency for those involved in magic. For the rest, he chooses one that will help out his spying and bardic activities; Sign Language, Gaming, Tumbling, Etiquette, Dancing, Heraldry, Forgery and Juggling.

Next we move on to Weapon Proficiencies. Pyras has only two. He isn’t much of a combatant, and due to his role, he prefers small and easily concealed weapons. He goes with Dagger, which can double as a thrown weapon, and Ambidexterity from the Complete Fighter’s Handbook. As a Bard is part of the Rogue group, he can wield two weapons at once, in this case, two daggers. Normally he would suffer a -2/-4 penalty to his main hand and offhand, but ambidexterity means it is reduced to just -2 for both hands. Due to his high DEX, those penalties are negated so he can use two daggers without penalty, should he need to.

Now for his Bard abilities. Each level, a bard rolls 1d4 and adds his level to the number to find out wha new poison he has learned to make. On a duplicate roll he learns nothing new. Our rolls are 2, 3 and 5, meaning we know type A, B and D poisons. We missed out on the E poison, which is the best one around. All three are injected poisons with onset times of 10-30 minutes for Type A, 2-12 minutes for Type B and 1-2 minutes for type C. A combat round in 2e lasted 1 minute, to only really Type C is likely to have an impact. Damage is 15/0 for A, 20/1-2 for B and 30/2-12 for D. The first number is for a failed poison safe, the second for a successful save. A bard can make a single does of each poison he knows per day using easily obtainable materials.

Bards also know all thieving abilities, using the same starting values, but with fewer points to spend. They don’t get any at first level and only 20% per level after. As a half-elf, Pyras gets +10% to Pick Pocket and +5% to Hide in Shadows. His DEX gives +10% Pick Pockets, +15% Open Locks, + 5% Find/Remove Traps, +10% Move Silently and +10% Hide in Shadows. Wearing no armour, which he almost never does, gives +5% Pick Pockets, +10% Move Silently, +5% Hide in Shadows and +10% Climb Walls. The bonus points are split as follows; +10% Read Languages, +15% Move Silently and +15% Hide in Shadows. The final totals are’

Pick Pockets 40%, Open Locks 25%, Find/Remove Traps 10%, Move Silently 45%, Hide in Shadows 40%, Detect Noise 15%, Climb Walls 70%, Read Languages 10%.

Now his bardic abilities are sorted out, we move onto his psionic ones. At first level, we start knowing one of the 5 psionics disciplines, which is to be our primary school. At second level we get to choose a second one we can gain powers from, and later on we can add further disciplines. There are some restrictions on what powers we can take – firstly we must know twice as many devotions as sciences in any discipline, and secondly no other discipline can have as many sciences or devotions as they have in their primary discipline.

The five disciplines to choose from are telepathy (used to make direct contact between minds), clairsentience (used to gain knowledge though means other than normal senses), psychoportation (used to move characters or creatures around), pyschokinesis (used to move objects around) and psychometabolism (used to affect the body). (Technically there is a 6th, metapsionics, but it doesn’t really concern starting characters.)

Pyschometabolism especially, as well as pyschokinesis and pyschoportation, are not subtle enough for the style of character Pyrus is. Both clairsentience and telepathy work for a gatherer of knowledge that Pyrus is. In the end we go with Telepathy for his primary discipline, and take Clairsentience as his second one, mostly because telepathy allows the option of extracting secrets directly from other people’s minds.

For powers, at first level he starts with 1 science, 3 devotions, all of which must come from our primary discipline, and 1 defence mode. At second level we can add 2 more devotions, which can be taken from any of the two disciplines we know.

Our first devotion and science are pretty much mandatory – Contact (WIS) and Mindlink (WIS-5). So many other telepathic powers have these are prerequisites. Contact allows the mind of the telepath to touch that of any non-psionicist or willing psionicist mind. If they aren’t willing a psionic contest needs to take place. Mindlink allows for telepathic communication to take place between contacted minds. Our other two starting devotions are Conceal Thoughts (WIS), which prevents the reading or detection of thoughts through magic or psionics unless a psychic contest is won, and ESP (WIS-4), which allows the reading of surface or active thoughts of a contacted person.

For the first of the next 2 devotions, we are going with another Telepathy power, and this one a Telepathic Attack. While all psionicists start with 1 defence mode, chosen from a list of 5, they need access to the Telepathy discipline to choose any of the 5 attack modes. The only way to break through an unwilling psionicists defences to establish contact is through a psionic contest, which requires the attacker to make 5 successful attacks. So if Pyrus runs up against another psionicist, he needs at least 1 attack mode to use most of his powers.

The one we go with is Ego Whip (WIS -3). Not only can it be used against psionicists, but against any contacted individual it hits, for 1d4 rounds they suffer -5 (or -25%) to all dice rolls, such as attacks or saves, and they cannot cast any spells above 3rd level.

For the last of our devotions, we go looking at the Clairsentience discipline, and from The Will and the Way sourcebook released for Dark Sun. The devotion we go with is Sensitivity to Observation (WIS). This is a power that is always on, unless otherwise chosen, and alerts the user to when they are being watched, even by means such as clairvoyance or clairsentience. Very useful for a sneaky character.

For his defence mode we go with Mind Blank. While in some way the weakest of the defence modes, it has no cost and is considered to always be on, even when sleeping.

Now to calculate PSPs used to power his abilities. With WIS 17, he starts with 24. INT 17 gives a bonus +2, but CON 11 gives nothing. At 2nd level, he gains 10 + 2 from his WIS, or 12. So in total he has 38 PSPs.

On to his wizard spells. A starting character has read magic, detect magic and 4 other 1st level spells. Due to our kit, we get one more 1st level spell when we reach level 2, so we have 5 1st level spells to choose from. Given our character description, any spells we do take will have to be subtle, so illusionary and enchantment style spells work best. In the end we choose Change Self (to help with disguises), Audible Glamour (to create fake distracting sounds in the distance), Charm Person (when we really have to get a person to like us), Message (when we need to send a message to someone without telepathic powers) and Hypnotism (to make suggestions to people to do what we want.) At any time he has 2 memorised, usually Change Self and Charm Person, though it can vary depending on the job.

As for a spell book, what he has is a song book, where he composes tunes in – and disguises his spells using Artistic Ability (Composition) to look like tunes.

His saving throws are as follows; Paralyzation, Poison or Death Magic (PPDM) 10, Rods, Staffs or Wands (RSW) 11, Petrification or Polymorph (PP) 12, Breath Weapons (BW) 15, Spells (SP) 12. We do have some bonuses to those rolls. We get +3 against illusions and spells that attack the mind due to our high WIS and +4 to attacks that can be dodged, like lightning bolts, due to our high DEX.

For money, he chooses the best option from his three classes, in this case 3d4 x 30 ceramics for a psionicist. The rolls are 2, 3, 4 for a total of 270 ceramics. And he is going to need them.

For started he needs a lyre, which in the Complete Bard’s book comes out to 75 ceramics. A set of thieves picks is another 30 ceramics. For clothing purposes, he selects a set of plain clothes, which comes out to 5 ceramics and 6 bits when totalled up, used for when he doesn’t wish to stand out. He also needs a flashy set, for when entertaining among the nobles, and so buys another set, paying 5 times the price to make it really good, which comes out at 28 ceramics. For weapons, he goes with a pair of bone daggers, each at 60 ceramics. All up he has spent almost all his money, leaving just 11 ceramics and 4 bits for anything else he should need. Luckily he is good at being a bard, meaning he can earn a living from it.

For his alignment, there is only one option available to us. We have to be good aligned to fit in the character tree, and a bard needs to be at least part neutral, so we are neutral good.

He wears no armour, as it would be a little obvious, but due to his DEX he is AC 6. Still, combined with his low HP, he really doesn’t want to get into melee.

His base THAC0 is 19, due to being a 3rd level bard.

Wielding the dagger he is THAC0 20 (-1 due to being made of bone), speed 2, doing 1d4-1/1d3-1 damage. He can wield 1 in each hand without penalty, attacking twice a round.

Throwing the dagger he is THACO 17 (+2 due to DEX), speed 2, doing 1d4-1/1d3-1 damage, and he can throw 2 a round.

On top of that he can coat the dagger with the poisons he knows.

And now for the physical characteristics. A half-elf starts at 15+2d4 years old and can reach 90+2d20 years old. They are 70+2d6 inches tall and weigh 120+3d12 pounds in weight. For his age we roll 2 & 3, making him 20 years old, and 2 & 19 for maximum age, meaning he could live to 111 years of age. For his height we roll 4 & 6, making him 80 inches (6′ 8″) tall and 8, 10, 11 for weight, making him 149 pounds in weight. For a half-elf, he is rather tall, as tall as some elves, and almost stocky. He certainly cuts a noticeable figure.

Pyrus the Gold; Bd/Pre/Psi 3/2/2; Kit: Veiled One; AL NG; AC 6; MV 12; HP 7; THAC0 19 (20 with dagger, 17 with thrown dagger; #ATT 1 + 1 (offhand attack), 2/1 (thrown dagger); DMG 1d4-1; STR 10, DEX 18, CON 11, INT 17, WIS 17, CHA 18.

Psionic Summary; PSPs 38; Disciplines: Telepathy, Clairsentiance; Defence Mode: Mind Blank (WIS -7, Cost 0, Maintenance 0); Sciences: Mindlink (PS WIS -5, Cost Contact, Maintain 8/rd); Devotions: Contact (PS WIS, Cost varies, Maintain 1/rd), Conceal Thoughts (PS WIS, Cost 5, Maintain 3/rd), Ego Whip (PS WIS -3, Cost 4, Maintain NA), ESP (PS WIS -4, Cost Contact, Maintain 6/rd), Sensitivity to Observation (PS WIS, Cost 5, Maintain NA).

Spell Book; Read Magic, Detect Magic, Change Self, Audible Glamour, Charm Person, Message, Hypnotism. Memorised; 2 x 1st.

Poisons: A, B & D.

Thieving Abilities; PP 40%, OL 25%, F/RT10%, MS 45%, HS 40%, DN 15%, CW 70%, RL 10%.

Saves; PPDM 10, RSW 11, PP 12, BW 15, SP 12.

Weapon Proficiencies; Dagger

Weapon Specialisation; Ambidexterity.

Non-weapon Proficiencies; Reading/Writing (18), Disguise (17), Somatic Concealment (17), Local History (18), Singing (18), Musical Instrument – Lyre (17), Survival – Scrub Plains (17), Artistic Ability – Composition (17), Spellcraft (15), Sign Language (18), Gaming (18), Tumbling (18), Etiquette (18), Dancing (18), Heraldry (17), Forgery (17) and Juggling (17).

Languages; Common.

Gear; Bone dagger x2, clothes (breeches, belt, tunic, cloak, hat, soft boots), expensive clothes (breeches, belt, tunic, cloak, hat, soft boots), thieves tools, lyre, 11 ceramics, 6 bits.