Lets Create: Dark Sun Characters (AD&D 2e): Planning the Character Tree Part Two

In the previous entry on creating Dark Sun characters and a character tree, we discussed how it worked and rolled up four sets of stats to use to actually create the characters.

Now the time has come to actually create them.

Our very first choice is about as iconic as you can get for Dark Sun – a mul gladiator. You almost kind of have to have a mul gladiator at some stage.

Each race and class has various ability requirements that have to be met For a mul, we need the following before racial adjustments; STR 10, CON 8. For a gladiator it is STR 13, DEX 12, CON 15. So for this character we need STR 13, DEX 12, CON 15 and the rest can be anything.

The stat array we are going with is 1, 1, 2, 3, 3, 3, 3, 4, 4, 4.

We could go a couple of ways – one purely stated towards combat, putting everything in strength, dexterity and constitution, or one a little bit more rounded out. In the end I choose the later, assigning the dice as follows;

STR 4, 4

DEX 3, 3

CON 4, 3, 1

WIS 3, 2, 1

This gives a base of STR 18, DEX 16, CON 18, INT 10, WIS 16, CHA 10. When factoring in racial modifiers (+2 STR, +1 CON, -1 INT, -2 CHA) we get;

STR 20, DEX 16, CON 19, INT 9, WIS 16, CHA 8.

He may not be all that smart and is a little bit crude, but he is cunning and very athletic. There are a number of very useful proficiencies that key off wisdom for him.

That is our fighting expert out of the way. Next we will go with one who is more adept with people and in the cities, and for this I am taking full advantage of the many multiclass opportunities available in Dark Sun – a half elf bard/preserver/psionicist.

For a half elf we need a minimum of 8 DEX, a preserver needs 9 INT, a psionicist need 11 CON, 12 INT, 15 WIS and a bard needs 12 DEX, 13 INT and 15 CHA. So we need a minimum 12 DEX, 13 INT, 15 WIS and 15 CHA.

Obviously charisma is very important to the character concept. Intelligence is needed for the preserver but also for the psionicist. Psionicists powers are keyed off one of three stats – CON, INT or WIS. We will concentrate on the WIS and INT powers and mostly ignore the CON ones, as they are more combative ones.

Our stat array for this one is 1, 1, 3, 3, 3, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4 which we assign as follows.

DEX 4, 3

CON 1, 1

INT 4, 3

WIS 4, 3

CHA 4, 4

This gives a base of STR 10, DEX 17, CON 12, INT 17, WIS 17, CHA 18. With racial modifiers (+1 DEX, -1 CON) , that turns out as;

STR 10, DEX 18, CON 11, INT 17, WIS 17, CHA 18.

Not a very physical character, but quick, sharp and very likeable.

This character covers a range of options anything to do with people, cities and magic. Now we turn to a character who can do well in the wilds, and that means a thri-kreen. Specifically a thri-kreen ranger/druid. Okay, that might be a bit of a controversial choice for some who say that isn’t a valid option. Druids need to be neutral and rangers need to be good aligned but I have always read it that they can be any kind of neutral and not true neutral as the rules don’t actually specify that. So neutral-good is an allowed choice. Besides a ranger/druid is thematically very appropriate. That’s my view at least and how I’ve always run it.

The requirements for a thri-kreen ranger/druid are fairly steep. A thri-kreen needs 8 STR and 15 DEX, but can only have a maximum of 17 CHA. A ranger needs 13 STR, 13 DEX, 14 CON and 14 WIS. A druid needs WIS 12 and CHA 15. Why such a high charisma is needed for a druid I do not know. But it makes having a thri-kreen druid tough. They have to roll a 17 for CHA, because that is the most they can have before their racial modifier of -2, which means the actual highest CHA they can have is 15, not 17. And 15 is the minimum required for a druid.

Our stat array is 1, 1, 2, 3, 3, 3, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4 which we assign as follows;

STR 4, 2

DEX 4, 1

CON 4, 1

WIS 3, 3

CHA 4, 3

This gives a base of STR 16, DEX 15, CON 15, INT 10, WIS 16, CHA 17. With racial modifiers (+2 DEX, +1 WIS, -1 INT, -2 CHA) , it turns out as;

STR 16, DEX 17, CON 15, INT 9, WIS 17, CHA 15.

Not exactly smart, but well rounded otherwise. They can do the whole wilderness exploration and survival thing, as well as handling priestly magic and being able to fight fairly well on top of that.

On to the last character and given we have covered most of the different areas you might run into, so this one is a bit more of fun, while still being useful. We don’t yet have a half-giant, so we are going to take one. Rather than the obvious, a half-giant gladiator or fighter, we are going a multiclass psionicist. The other choices for multiclass for a half-giant are fighter, ranger or cleric. While the idea of a half-giant ranger is tempting, having them sneak around dual wielding two handed swords, we are going to stick with a fighter/psionicist, mostly focusing on the CON based psionics powers to boost their combat potential.

A half-giant requires a minimum of 17 STR and 15 CON before modifiers, but can’t have more than 15 DEX and INT and 17 WIS and CHA. Before modifiers. A fighter needs just 9 STR and a psionicist needs 11 CON, 12 INT and 15 WIS. So we need 17 STR, 15 CON, 12 INT and 15 WIS.

Our stat array is 1, 2, 2, 3, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4 which we assign as follows;

STR 4, 4

DEX 2, 2

CON 4, 4

INT 4, 1

WIS 4, 3

This gives base stats of STR 18, DEX 14, CON 18, INT 15, WIS 17, CHA 10. With racial modifiers (+4 STR, +2 CON, -2 INT, -2 WIS, -2 CHA), that gives us;

STR 22, DEX 14, CON 20, INT 13, WIS 15, CHA 8.

While fairly average intellectually compared to other races, for a half-giant he is a genius, as wise and smart as they come. On top of that he is still physically imposing.

So that is how they have turned out stat wise. Next time we will start the builds proper.

Lets Build a World: Part Eighteen: Government Form and Social Alignment

In the small part of the world we are concentrating on, we have worked out the cultural archetypes, racial makeup and technology of the realms we are working with, resulting in an interesting mix, ranging from the more advanced socially and technologically tabaxi to the rather more backward giants.

Our next step on the path of building the world is to look at how the realms are ruled. Each culture can have a number of realms in it, each with differing forms of government. For this region we have five thri-kreen realms at the heart of it. Studying the maps, I have decided that there is room on it for 1 giant, 1 tabaxi and 2 human realms as well.

We start with the giants to the east, rolling a 1d100 on the Government Form table. The dice come up with a Dictatorship – a supreme ruler holds absolute power, but not necessarily dynastic. For their social alignment we roll another 1d100 and get chaotic evil.

From what we previously knew of the giants, this all fits together. The nation is ruled by the principle of ‘might makes right’, with local strongman bosses and their warbands obeying those above them out of fear, and at the top being the most dangerous of the lot. They may call themselves a king or warlord or by another title. Treachery and violence are an acceptable route of promotion, with one strongman taking down another while being on the lookout for other rivals. Beneath them are the slaves – ogres, orogs, orcs and humans, keeping society running. They are kept in check by the neogi slavemaster, valued and respected parts of the realm. And then there are the dwarves, living a precarious existence where only their valued skills keep them from being enslaved.

Next we come to the tabaxi. They roll confederacy for the Government Form, where individual cities and towns govern themselves but contribute to a league or federation for the common good of all, and neutral good for the social alignment.

Initially we were meant to have three tabaxi realms in the region, including an area across the water to the southwest. After this I decided to collapse them all into this single confederacy and model it in part on the Hansaetic League. The tabaxi are a confederation of mostly independent mercantile city-states that have banded together for mutual trade and protection, where their traders travel far and wide and brought back wealth and knowledge. They believe the well-being of all comes before the rule of law and the rule of individual liberty, and they extend that to all who live among them, regardless of race.

All in all, a place that stands starkly different to the land of the giants.

Moving on, we turn to the first of the human nations. They turn out to be an oligarchy, a small group of absolute rulers who share power, and the social alignment is lawful neutral.

For this I picture a feudal nation that is nominally a kingdom, but the king is weak and ineffective, and the true power in the land is a small group who form the King’s Council, ruling the land in the name of the king. They do it for what they perceive as the good of the nation, ruling through a slowly growing bureaucracy, where law and order is paramount and everyone is treated the same, regardless of circumstances. They see it as necessary to bring peace and stability to the land and to preserve their feudalistic system in the light of outside dangers.

The other human nation rolls up a hierarchy, a feudal or bureaucratic system of government which proceeds through different levels of a religious institution. Basically a highly stratified religious government, with power being concentrated at the top in the form of High Priest. The roll for social alignment also turns up as chaotic evil, which at first I don’t think would work with the stratified nature of the nation, but on second thoughts can see it working if there is a lot of infighting within the ranks of the religion, with frequent assassinations, blackmail, treachery, corruption and the works.

Given the nature of the place, I can see which of the gods they worship, that being the lesser power of fire and war we rolled up back in the deities section, a chaotic evil goddess who reveled in the destructive aspect of war, of burnt offerings and sacrificial victims set aflame. Not the most pleasant of neighbours.

Finally we come to the thri-kreen, with their five small nations that are in effect little more than city-states in the jungles. Given their small size and that they are all of the same culture, it is probable that they are fairly similar in the way they are governed and their outlook. They won’t necessarily be all the same, but I can’t see their being any extremes in differences, which we will have to keep in mind as we develop them.

Rolling up for the first one, we get a militocracy, where military leaders rule under martial law, while the alignment comes out as chaotic-neutral, a place where there is no central authority and no law. At first I consider throwing this out but after some reflection I can see how to make it work. A CN country can be one in the process of disintegration, such as through an invasion. Given the neighbours around them, this seems a good choice – the city-state has been invaded, the rulership fled or dead and the army is all that is left, trying to hold the nation together. It also makes a great place for adventures for players, to try and help stabilise and rebuild in the face of an aggressor army.

Following that up we roll up lawful good feudalism for the next state, a fairly standard state for a fantasy setting, if one that is someone unusual in its racial makeup.

The third is a chaotic good monarchy, one with less laws and more freedoms, which makes it less stratified and lacking the peasants the previous city-state had.

The fourth is another lawful good state, but this one another hierarchy – basically feudalism but with priests in place of nobles. Interestingly there is only one lawful good deity in the pantheon, the sole demigoddess whose portfolios are war, redemption and guardianship. Given who some of their neighbours are, including one that worships the evil goddess of fire and war, I can see how one city-state may have taken to worshiping her.

The last thri-kreen city-state is a neutral-good republic, where government is in the hands of representatives chosen by electors. This is an interesting place, having thrown off the shackles of the old style feudalism that was once common to the thri-kreen and instead embracing new ideas coming from their tabaxi neighours.

All of this does make the concept of giant slaves a bit hard to work in as good societies tend not to have them. What I am thinking is that the giants are actually captured raiders made into indentured servants and prisoners, not quite free but not true slaves either.

The final step of this part of the chapter is what is labeled situations – elements we want to introduce into the immediate area. This is one we don’t roll for but make up, and a number of suggestions are made.

This can range from typical things like raids, famines, wars and the like, to more unusual things like unusual laws, technology, the way magic works and even racial roles. Maybe only gnomes are allowed to be bards or maybe only red-heads can use clerical magic.

We have already come up with some as we designed our small nations – the main one being the invasion of one of the thri-kreen city-states and its fight for survival. The best fit for this is that the neighbouring giants have launched a large invasion. The other thri-kreen are aiding them in the fight, and most likely the tabaxi as well. Meanwhile the humans are not involved, though the evil human nation is probably involved in some raiding for victims to take off for sacrifice, and if keeping an eye out for weaknesses to exploit should the situation arise.

I would like to add some more unusual elements to the tabaxi at some point – it sounds an intriguing place and deserves more fleshing out.

Next time we return to the map and the physical cartography of the region.

Lets Build a World: Part Seventeen: Realm Culture and Technology

Previously we finished up Chapter Three: Continents and Geography in the World Builders Guidebook. Now we are moving on to Chapter Four: Kingdoms and Sociology.

For this we pick a kingdom or region of the continent map and zoom in on it. For us, given the small size of kingdoms on the map, we will go with a region which contains a number of small kingdoms, though in reality a lot of them will probable be more like city-states.

Like all parts of the guidebook, you could jump in and start here, designing a kingdom before going up or down in size.

For the part we are working on I have chosen this part of the world;

What really got me intrigued was the jungle-dwelling thri-kreen, and so it is there that we will be concentrating. To flesh it out a bit more, we will also include some of their neighbours – giants to the east, humans to the north and tabaxi catfolk to the west. Certainly interesting neighbours.

The first step of the process is not actually working on the map but detailing the people and their culture. There is nothing stopping you doing the map first if you want, as with anything in the guidebook, but we are following the book as it was written.

Each culture has a cultural archetype. There is a list you can roll on but it points out that it isn’t an exhaustive list and that you can come up with your own if you want. I have decided that I won’t roll for the thri-kreen. Instead I am going to chose a Mesoamerican archetype for them, based on cultures like the Aztecs, Incan and Mayans.

For the humans we roll Middle Ages European. Basically your standard fantasy setting then. The giants get Dark Ages Europe. This is a pre-feudal setting, where chieftains and their warbands rule. The Anglo-Saxons are a good example of this. The tabaxi roll up Renaissance Europe, where arts, literature and technology are flourishing and a wealthy merchant class has risen up, resulting in mercantile city-states.

The next step is to work out who lives in the nations. Realms can have any number of different demihuman, humanoid and even monstrous races in them. The number varies, with small kingdoms having less than empires. For this I am saying the thri-kreen are a small kingdom, with 1d2 primary and 1d4+1 secondary races, while the other three are moderate kingdoms, with 1d2 primary and 1d6+1 secondary races. Primary races generally have 25-50% of the total population, while secondary ones account from 1-10%, though there are exceptions where a small group of overlords are a primary race but rule over a more populous secondary race. The giants we rolled up may fill that role.

Rolling up we get;

  • Thri-kreen – 1 primary, 4 secondary races
  • Humans – 1 primary, 6 secondary races
  • Giants – 2 primary, 5 secondary races
  • Tabaxi – 2 primary, 4 secondary races.

For the exact type of each race we can roll up for them on the race table we used earlier when determining the cultures of the region previously. We can also assign or change things up as we see fit.

For the thri-kreen, they are obviously the primary race. For the secondary ones we roll up humans, giants, orcs and goblins. Humans and giants are neighbors and orcs live not far away so it makes sense that they may have communities within thri-kreen lands. Goblins are a new race though, one not powerful or large enough to have their own lands.

The humans are the primary race in their culture, with orcs, giants, dwarves, orges, goblins and kobolds as secondary races. Once again orcs, giants, dwarves and ogres are neighbours or near neighbours. The goblins turn up again, so a pocket of them seem to be spread between the human and thri-kreen lands. It may be that their homelands may have been conquered at some point, something we will have to explore. The kobolds are another new race that has turned up.

For the giants, we make the giants and their ogre slaves the two primary races. For secondary races, we start with humans and dwarves. Then we roll up orogs, who are an ogre-orc cross. From that I decide to add orcs to the mix, to facilitate that. Lastly we get neogi, a race of spiderlike creatures who are generally slavers. We might make them slavers who work for the giants, capturing or trading slaves for them. The other races, including humans and dwarves, may have been captured in slave raids along the borders.

Lastly are the tabaxi. They are one of the two primary races. For the second we roll up gnomes. While there are gnomes on the continental map, those are a long way away so these may be a different type of them. The secondary races are humans, ogres, thri-kreen, again all local races, and yuan-ti, normally depicted as jungle dwelling snakepeople, so they fit the region.

Now we know who lives in each realm, we need to know how they fit in, their status and position in relation to the main race. Once more you can roll, pick or do both.

For the thri-kreen, the humans, orcs and goblins all live among the thir-kreen, though in their own districts but the thri-kreen are the dominant race. It means that they may not be seen or treated as equals to the thri-kreen, may not have the same rights, may be seen as children to be protected or one of a number of other options. In a surprise turn of events, the giants turn up to be slaves to the thri-kreen. That is something we will have to work out how happened, but it certainly puts a new spin on relations with the giant neighbours.

For the humans, the goblins live in human communities in their own districts and are treated as equals to the humans. The dwarves are also treated as equals, but live in their own communities. The others, the giants, orcs, ogres and kobolds, have their own communities but aren’t seen as equals.

For the giants, the orcs, ogres and orogs are made slaves rather than rolling. The humans roll up being slaves as well, but the dwarves aren’t. The live in their own communities, though are seen as beneath the giants yet somehow have preserved their freedom. The neogi turn out to be seen as equals by the giants, living among them, no doubt valued for their slaver ways.

For the tabaxi, the first two rolls see the gnomes and ogres seen as equals, so on a whim I decide that the tabaxi are more enlightened due to their renaissance ways, and treat all others as equals. The gnomes live among the tabaxi, while the ogres, thri-kreen and yuan-ti have their own separate communities.

The next section is on language. There is nothing to roll here, just a short bit on language as social distinction, the common tongue and literacy. We could, if we want, go into depth on working out how it functions, but we will for this example, keep it simple.

There is no common tongue, as such, due to the fragmented balkanised nature of the region. Giantish, dwarvish and human tend to be more dominant due to their spread and size. Among the thri-kreen, they speak their own language. The humans, orcs and goblins who live alongside them do have their own languages but favour thri-kreen in day to day use. The giants are given no choice – they are banned from speaking in giantish and must speak thri-kreen.

Lastly, in this section of the chapter, is technology. The technology used during ancient times was different to that of the middle ages. It is something that we can roll for, or select depending on what we rolled up for cultural archetype earlier, though just because a nation is culturally of the dark ages, it doesn’t mean their technology has to be either. For the giants, humans and tabaxi though, we will do that. The giants have dark ages technology, without much intensive farming but plenty of animal husbandry, with crude warbands and levies as standard military units. The humans are feudal, with kings, vassals and peasants, and the start of the merchant and specialised craftsmen class. The tabaxi are at a renaissance level, with such things as the printing press and waterwheel and improved sailing vessels able to undertake long voyages. They may even have firearms and cannons.

For the thri-kreen we don’t have an indication so we will roll for them. The roll for them comes up as late middle ages, between that of the humans and tabaxi. The feudal system is beginning to break down as the merchant class grows in importance and trade guilds increase production and importance. Power moves away from the nobles into the towns. If firearms are allowed, the first crude ones show up here.

Next time we will move on to looking at the governments of the nations, how they are ruled and what their social alignments are like.

Lets Build a World: Part Sixteen: The Culture Map

Previously in our world building exercise using the World Builders Guidebook, we started to sketch in the locations of the dominate races on the map. This time around we shall fill in the rest of the races, the major and minor ones.

For some we roll for locations as we did with the dominate races, but for others we just squeeze in where we have room. Given this is a mostly water map, there is a shortage of land and so we have to make do with what we have for the many races that we have.

hat we get is a map that looks like this;

  • 1 – Giants (3 cultures, 6 realms) – Ogre slaves
  • 2 – Dwarves (4 cultures, 9 realms)
  • 3 – Humans (3 cultures, 8 realms)
  • 4 – Tabaxi (3 cultures, 7 realms)
  • 5 – Bullwugs (3 cultures, 12 realms)
  • 6 – Kobolds (1 culture, 1 realm)
  • 7 – Thri-kreen (1 culture, 5 realms)
  • 8 – Orcs (2 cultures, 7 realms)
  • 9 – Ogre-mages (1 culture, 5 realms)
  • 10 – Gnomes (2 cultures, 5 realms)
  • 11 – Aaracokra (1 culture, 1 realm)
  • 12 – Tasloi (2 cultures, 6 realms)
  • 13 – Grell (1 culture, 5 realms)
  • 14 – Beholders (2 cultures, 5 realms) – Lizardmen slaves
  • 15 – Ogres (1 culture, 4 realms)

From studying the map and locations of various races, we can start to form ideas as to what they are like. Some of the cultures are obviously sailors and mariners, coming from the dwarven, human, tabaxi, bullywug and orcish races. The free ogres live alongside one of the giant nations, who keep ogre slaves. The second group of giants is not too far away from them either.

While those two groups of giants live in the warm southern parts of the map, far off in the cold north lives another giant culture. Given the distance, it would seem unlikely that they also have ogre slaves. They may not even have slaves at all.

Meanwhile in the center of the map you have a widespread human culture made up of 2 realms spread across many islands, the center most one of which is the most important in the world. Every since placing it on the map the idea was that it tied into the mythology of the world, except at the time I didn’t know who would live there. It is First Land.

If you can remember back when we designed the pantheon for the world, we came up with Father Earth, the Lord of Volcanoes, whose birth to Mother Ocean resulted in a volcanic eruption that turned into the first island and the first land in the world.

This is that island, the holiest site in the world for followers of Father Earth, where his temple is built upon the volcano there.

But with all the cultures filled in, we move onto the next part of the book, Kingdoms and Sociology. For that we zoom in again, creating a home region and work on the kingdom, or kingdoms, there, making a place for the players to adventure in. Fleshing it out, seeing who lives there, exactly how they are organised and more.

And I have region picked out, which I will reveal next time.

Lets Create: Dark Sun Character (AD&D 2e): The Charismatic Fighter

In my previous post about setting up Dark Sun character trees, I made mention of how you could make high CHA, high INT fighters in 2e and that they could be the social face of the party as a result, unlike in later editions.

Thinking it over, I wanted to do just that to show how effective it could be, and decided to go with a Dark Sun character given that it what I was already working on . This character isn’t part of the character tree, but another one off example. Besides INT and CHA being the best stats, I am going to make STR the worst one.

That may sound crazy, but for 2e it is not an issue like with later editions were you needed to max out your primary stat to remain viable. In 2e, the difference between 9 (the lowest a fighter can have) and 17 STR was +1/+1 hit and damage. Admittedly, it could get a little crazy when you hit 18 or higher STR, which was very possible in Dark Sun, but not so much in vanilla 2e.

For races, there are only three options really; elves, half-elves and humans. The other races (dwarves, muls, half-giant, halflings and thri-kreen get a penalty to CHA. Half-giants, muls and thri-kreen also have penalties to INT to go on top of that.

Elves do get a bonus to INT but they also have a penalty to WIS. Plus you’d have to play an elf.

That leaves humans and half-elves, and given half-elves in Dark Sun have no level limits for being a fighter, that added with their other benefits gives them an edge. So half-elf it is. You get to be the moody loner wandering into town and rallying the locals to your cause through sheer charisma and intellect.

For stats, I am going to use the 6d4 drop the lowest and assign method. The end result is 13, 13, 17, 17, 17, 19 which are arranged as STR 13, CON 17, DEX 17, INT 17, WIS 13, CHA 19. Half-elves get +1 DEX and -1 CON, giving us STR 13, CON 16, DEX 18, INT 17, WIS 13, CHA 19.

STR 13 gives no bonuses.

DEX 18 gives +2 to reactions and missile attacks and -4 AC.

CON 16 gives +2 HP a level.

INT 17 gives 6 bonus nonweapon proficiencies.

WIS 13 gives no bonuses.

CHA 19 gives 20 henchmen, +10 loyalty base and +8 reaction adjustment.

While he might not be a beast in combat, he is still difficult to kill, and those that fight for him are exceptionally loyal.

Varus never knew his father. He had been a trader that had encountered his elven mother’s tribe but had moved on before even knowing she was pregnant. When he was born though, the tribe had driven his mother out with the newborn Varus for dishonouring the tribe. They were luck that his mother was able to find refuge in a small village of escaped gladiators, under the protection of a preserver/druid, Thaxar Stonehand, a half-elf like him.

Varus grew up in the village, learning all he could from Thaxar, though the druidic and preserver arts were beyond him. He likewise learned all he could from anyone else willing to teach him, whether trader, psionicist or gladiator. He trained with the local militia, becoming a competent fighter, helping defend against slavers, raiders and wild beasts. It was here that his natural talent at leadership and inspiration came to light, his quick thinking and way with words.

As he grew older, it wasn’t enough to simply defend the village though. While Thaxar was content to stay with the village and defend it and his guarded lands, Varus wanted more. He wanted to make it safe, to go beyond the village and provide its security for the long term. And so he has set out, armed for battle with spear and shield, intellect and charisma, to make his mark.

As a third level fighter, he gets 1d10+2 HP a level. We roll 5, 7 & 7, which, adding the bonus HP, comes to 25 HP.

For his wild talent, we roll a 63 – Life Detection. In effect we can scan for living creatures like a radar. The power score is INT-2, which is 15 for us. Initial cost is 3 with a maintenance cost of 3/rd. We start with enough PSPs to activate it once and to maintain it for 4 rounds, for 15 PSPs, and 4 more per level, for a total of 23 PSPs. Interesting talent, though fairly situational.

Saving throws for a 3rd level fighter are; PPDM 13, RSW 15, PP 14, BW 16, SP 16.

Fighters start with 4 weapon proficiencies and gain another at 3rd level, for a total of 5 proficiencies. I am using the Complete Book of Fighters, which has more options. He spends 2 slots on the Spears tight group, giving him proficiency in things like spears and javelins. He spends one slot on specialisation in Spear. The Complete Book of Fighters changed up spears (and added Long Spear as well), making them able to be used 1 handed or 2 handed. So it can be thrown, used with a shield or used 2 handed for extra damage.

For the last slot we are going with Two Handed Specialisation from the CBoF. When a weapon is being used two handed, the weapon gets -3 to weapon speed, making it faster. So a spear used two handed becomes speed 3 and does 1d8+1 damage, though it does lose the AC from not using a shield. All up it gives him a lot of flexibility with spears.

Fighters start with 3 NWP slots and get 1 every 3 levels. We also get 6 bonus ones from our INT, for a total of 10 NWPs. Fighters have access to the General and Warrior groups of NWPs, but can buy from the other groups (Priest, Rogue, Wizard) at the cost of 1 extra slot.

So, going through the Dark Sun book and the PHB, we go with the following NWPs; Etiquette (CHA), Heraldry (INT), Gaming (CHA), Bureaucracy (CHA -2), Heat Protection (INT -2), Armour Optimisation (DEX -2), Sign Language (DEX) & Modern Language (Elven & Thri-kreen). Bureaucracy comes from the priest group so it costs us 2 slots. In addition, at level 3 half-elves receive a bonus Survival (INT) NWP in one type of terrain. For this I go with Stony Barrens, one of the most common terrain types in Dark Sun.

Heat Protection and Armour Optimisation are mostly about surviving in the harsh world, but the rest are about various forms of communication and knowledge when dealing with people, especially in cities. Thri-kreen don’t start with the common language that others do (they have to buy it, as do halflings), so there will be plenty of them around who can’t be spoken to unless someone knows their language. And his heritage lends himself to taking Elven – plus elves can be a little bit difficult so them refusing to speak common wouldn’t be that uncommon.

For equipment, fighters start with 5d4 x 30 cp. We roll a 14, which comes to 420 cp to spend. For the basics, we go with a set of inix scale armour at 120 cp and a leather medium shield at 7 cp. A spear costs 8 sp in the phb, or 8 bits in dark sun if not made with a metal spearhead. We have enough to afford one of those, as it works out as 80 cp. Javelins are just 5 bits each, so we get 4 non-metal ones at a total cost of 2 cp. We could afford iron headed javelins at 50 cp each, but there is a risk in throwing iron headed weapons at an enemy, in that they may not come back. We go with bone tipped javelins. That still gives him a lot of money left over for other items, such as clothes, mounts, adventuring gear, bribes and the like.

Combat wise, his AC with the scale armour, shield and dexterity is 1, meaning he is rather hard to hit. Without the shield he is still AC 2.

His base THAC0 is 18.

Wielding the spear 1 handed he is THAC0 17, speed 6, doing 1d6+2 damage and can make 3 attacks every 2 rounds. If he throws it his THAC0 is 16 but damage is just 1d6 – specialisation bonuses only apply in melee except for the rate of fire, but he does get a bonus to hit due to his high dexterity.

Wielding the spear 2 handed he is THAC0 17, speed 3, doing 1d8+3 damage and can make 3 attacks every 2 rounds.

Throwing his javelins he is THAC0 16, speed 4, doing 1d4-1 damage and can throw one per round. As it is bone tipped, it normally has -1 to hit and damage but the to hit penalty doesn’t apply to missile weapons. If he used it in melee it would apply. The benefit of the thrown javelin over the thrown spear is that it is faster and also longer ranged, with twice the distance of the spear.

Finally, age, height and weight. Half-elves are 70+2d6 inches tall and 120+3d12 pounds in weight. We roll a 7 for height and 29 for weight, making him 77 inches (6′ 5″) tall and 149 pounds in weight. Average half-elf height but slightly stockier than normal. For age, half-elves start at 15+2d4 years old and live to 90+2d20 years. We roll a 5 for starting age and 39 for maximum age. He starts at 20, again average for a half-elf, but will live to 129 years if he survives, about as old as a half-elf can get.

Of course, this is all put together in Dark Sun, so the stats are slightly better than normal, but the principle is still the same if playing in a vanilla campaign. A charismatic fighter can work just as well as just about anyone else, with the exception of a bard who gets an influence ability. You could go through the various source books looking for kits, other NWPs or the like to adapt it, even shop for magic items but the principle remains the same.

Varus: Ftr 3; AL NG; AC 1 (Scale, shield & dex); MV 12; HP 25; THAC0 18 (17 with spear, 16 with thrown spear or javelin); #AT 3/2 (iron spear), 1 (bone javelin); DMG 1d6+2 (1 handed spear), 1d8+3 (2 handed spear), 1d4-1 (bone javelin); Str 13, Dex 18, Con 16, Int 17, Wis 13, Cha 19.

Psionic Summary; PSPs 23; Wild Talent – Life Detection (PS Int -2, Cost 3, Maintain 3/rd).

Saves; PPDM 13, RSW 15, PP 14, BW 16, SP 16.

Weapon Proficiencies; Spear Tight Group.

Weapon Specialisation; Spear, Two handed.

Non-weapon Proficiencies; Etiquette, Heraldry, Gaming, Bureaucracy, Heat Protection, Armour Optimisation, Sign Language.

Languages; Common, Thri-kreen, Elvish.

Gear; Scale armour, medium leather shield, iron spear, 4 bone javelins.

Lets Create: Dark Sun Characters (AD&D 2e): Planning The Character Tree

Athas is a brutal, unforgiving world, and death is not uncommon, even to player characters. Loosing a character, especially an advanced one, and having to shoehorn in a new starting character is never easy. And low level characters are going to have trouble surviving what high level ones can.

So Dark Sun introduced the Character Tree. For it you roll up four characters to form the tree – at the start of any adventure you decide which is the active character and which are the inactive ones. When a new adventure starts you can switch characters or keep playing with the current ones.

There are some rules though. While any race and class combination is allowed, there are alignment restrictions – all four characters must be good, neutral or evil. The lawful-chaotic alignment doesn’t matter. Which means they are all either LG/NG/CG, LE/NE/CE or LN/N/CN.

While the characters do know each other and are assumed to be working towards similar goals, their gear is their own. No swapping gear between characters – the other characters need it to survive themselves after all. They aren’t going to be giving up that precious magic sword of theirs for anything.

Character swapping is limited to a few situations. Firstly, at the start of an adventure. Second, during an adventure, but only at the discretion of the DM, and usually with a 3d6 day delay to represent sending messages and the other character journeying. Swapping characters when they are in distant cities should not really be considered, but if they are both in the same location it would make more sense. And also when an active character dies. An inactive character arrives within one day to take over and the player rolls up a new 1st level character.

As an active character adventures and earns XP and levels up, the player may advance one of his inactive characters 1 level. It does get a little tricky when dual and multiclass characters are involved, as multiclass characters can only advance one of their classes.

So what to put into the character tree? You could go with four gladiators but that is kind of redundant. The dice rolls do determine the exact make up but a spread of characters able to handle a number of situations would work best. You could have one for fighting, one for wilderness travel and adventures, another for city adventures, someone good at magic or psionics or whatever you decide. Some character may cover more than one area, such as rangers, who can both fight and survive in the wilderness. Given the way 2e works, you can have unusual characters covering various aspects for the group. A high INT, high CHA fighter is feasible in 2e, able to be the social face of the party in a way that isn’t really possible in later editions.

I do have a number of ideas in mind for this character tree, but first we need to roll the dice to see what we get. There are a number of options for how to do it, with more or less control over what we get.

The basic option is rolling 4d4+4 6 times, once for each stat in order. It gets good stats, on average around 14 per stat, but lacks control.

Option 1 is rolling 5d4 twice for each stat, keep the highest.

Option 2 is rolling 5d4 6 times and assigning them as desired.

Option 3 is rolling 5d4 12 times and assign the 6 best as desired.

Option 4 is rolling 6d4, discarding the lowest dice, 6 times and assigning as desired.

Option 5 is each stat starts at 10 and rolling 10d4, with dice assigned as desired. No score can be higher than 20 and all points on a dice must be added to the same stat.

The basic option will probably give you better overall stats than the first three options, while the other two will be about the same, on average.

As an example, I used option 4 to roll 4 lots of stats and got one with 19, 19, 17, 16, 14, 13 and one with 16, 15, 14, 14, 10, 8. It is a shame that first was a test run as they would be a very powerful character.

In the end I go with option 5 and get the following 4 sets of dice rolls;

1, 1, 2, 3, 3, 3, 3, 4, 4, 4.

1, 1, 3, 3, 3, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4.

1, 1, 2, 3, 3, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4.

1, 2, 2, 3, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4.

Those are above average, yes. I do have some character ideas in mind that will require them for prerequisites though.

And next time we will start creating those characters.

Lets Create: Dark Sun Characters (AD&D 2E): Thakur Swiftstride

After the long post about the changes and options for character creation in 2nd ed Dark Sun, it is time to make a character.

Normally we would make four characters as part of a character tree, and we will do that, but first we will do a one off character, using the basic rolling method of 4d4+4 once for each stat.

Six rolls later and we get Str 11, Dex 17, Con 16, Int 15, Wis 16 and Cha 14. A little above average, but not anything exceptional.

The first step to do is to see what we can’t play; the races and classes have various minimum stat requirements needed to play them.

For this character, their low strength means they can’t be a half-giant. They also only just qualify for dwarf and mul, but it is unlikely I will choose them either. The other races are all available.

For classes, we also lack the strength to be a ranger or gladiator, and the charisma to be a bard or druid. That leaves fighter, thief, cleric, templar, defiler, preserver and psionicist available.

It does give us some choices. For this character, though, I am thinking of doing something different to normal, and that is to design a really evil character. The best choices for that are templar and defiler. A templar can be a human, elf, half-elf or dwarf, while defilers are humans, elves or half-elves.

There is only one really option for an evil backstabber, and that is an elven templar/defiler. Elves are duplicitous, templars are power hungry and defilers are plain evil. Together you have something truly unpleasant.

The first choice I am going to make is the characters alignment, as it might help with later choices as to how the character is built. We know they are evil, but what variety? AD&D has an alignment system built on two axis – law-neutral-chaos and good-neutral-evil. That gives us three options – lawful-evil, neutral-evil and chaotic-evil.

Chaotic-evil characters act on evil impulses, do not value any laws and value their own freedoms over everything else. They tend to be a bit psychotic. It doesn’t really work for this character, as, while being a templar gives them some protections, there are always those above them ready to step down hard if they get out of hand.

Lawful-evil characters have moral codes and belief in laws and order and even honour, but it is bent towards evil, repressive outcomes. Peace through tyranny. Again, not I think for this character, as elves tend to be a bit more free spirited.

Which leaves neutral-evil. NE characters are out for themselves, and will do whatever it takes to get what they want. If that involves following the law and working with others, then they will do so, but the minute that is no longer convenient, they will abandon or even betray them. Perfect for an elven defiler/templar looking out for themselves.

Thakur Swiftstride was one of the city elves of Tyr, living in the elven slums there. Always ambitious, always on the look out for a better way, he could see that slum life would never see him obtain the power he craved, and that the only power to be had came through the ruler of Tyr, King Kalak, the mighty sorcerer-king. And so it was that Thakur pledged himself to Kalak, becoming one of his feared and dreaded Templars. Thakur had a secret though – he also was a defiler, a status he kept hidden from all. Through templar magic and defiler magic, Thakur had great ambitions to rise high in the ranks of service to Kalak – and perhaps even higher in time.

So we know his alignment and a bit about him, we are going to look at his stats and what they provide.

Elves have the stat modifiers of +2 DEX, +1 INT, -1 WIS and -2 CON, giving us final stats of STR 11, DEX 19, CON 14, INT 16, WIS 15 and CHA 14.

STR 11 gives no bonuses to combat and a fairly limited carrying capacity. Thakur is on the weaker side for a Dark Sun character. Not that it bothers him – he has no desire to be in combat or to carry much. That is what other people are for.

DEX 19 is quite good, giving +3 to reaction adjustment and missile attack and -4 to AC. He is less likely to be surprised, a definite bonus in the backstabbing world of Templars, is harder to hit and, if it comes to combat, he is better with ranged, which is the only place an elf would want to be.

CON 14 is average, providing no bonus hit points – it would have done without the elven CON penalty. The system shock resistance is 88%, which at least is good, should it ever come to that.

INT 16 provides 5 bonus non-weapon proficiencies, giving him plenty of choices. He can also learn up to 8th level spells, can know 11 spells per level and has a 70% chance to learn a spell.

WIS 15 gives him 2 bonus 1st level clerical spells, and 1 bonus 2nd level (when he can cast them), as well as +1 magical defence adjustment for saves against spells that attack the mind.

CHA 14 means he can have up to 6 henchmen, and that they get a +1 loyalty bonus. He also get a +2 to reaction adjustments. He has some charm and the ability to swift talk others, to get them to do what he wants.

A single class character starts at 3rd level, but multi-class characters start with enough XP to be second level in their most expensive class.

Priests need 1500 xp for first level, while defilers need 1750 xp, so he start with 1750xp in both classes and at level 2/2.

Hit points are calculates as follows for multiclass characters; at first level, add the dice rolls for the classes, then divide by the number of classes before adding bonus HP due to CON. After than, when a class gains a level, roll the appropriate dice and then divide by the number of classes. You round down in all cases which means bad dice rolls can really hurt.

Templars get 1d8 HP and defilers get 1d4 HP per level to start with. For first level we roll a 7 and a 3, totaling 10. Dividing by 2, we get 5 HP at first level. We roll again once per class as both have leveled up. For the templar we get a 3, divided by 2, for 1 HP, and for the defiler we get 2 divide by 2, for 1 more HP, for a total of 7 HPs.

As we are not a psionicist, we get a wild talent. For that we roll a 1d100 on the chart in the psionics hand book to see what we get. Our roll is 80 – Dimensional Door. To activate it requires a CON-1 roll (13 in our case) and allows the opening of a portal to a nearby location briefly. For wild talents, characters get psionic strength points (PSPs) enough to activate it once, and bonus points if it requires maintenance to last for 4 rounds. Dimensional Door requires 4 points to activate and 2 points per round to maintain, which mean we gain 12 PSPs in total. Each time he levels up he gains 4 new PSPs, bringing the total to 16. Its a situational wild talent but could be of use from time to time.

For saving throws we get the whichever is best from our two classes, giving us the following; paralyzation, poison or death magic: 10; rod, staff or wand: 11; petrification or polymorph: 13; breath weapon: 15; spells: 12. Those are the numbers we have to roll equal to or above on a 1d20.

We have two types of proficiency; weapon and non-weapon. Weapon proficiencies enable us to use a weapon without penalty. For both of them we receive whichever class has the most, which is 2 weapons for the templar, and 4 non-weapon for both classes. We also receive 5 bonus non-weapon proficiencies for the high intelligence, giving us 9 in total.

Our choice for weapon proficiences are the longsword, the preferred melee weapon of the elves, and the longbow, the preferred ranged weapon of the elves and also our characters preferred weapon should the need arise. If he is using a longbow and longsword made by a member of his tribe, he gets +1 to hit with them.

For non-weapon proficiences, they have access to general, priest, wizard and rogue NWPs, the rogue being thanks to being a templar. We select a few that we think fit our character and what he does; read/write, spellcraft, somantic concealment, bureaucracy, heat protection, forgery, etiquette and rope use. A number of those come from the Dark Sun campaign guide, designed for the setting.

On Athas, only templars and nobles are legally allowed to know how to read and write, at least in the cities. There are ways around that but generally if you are found out, especially if you are a slave, then the penalty is death. Being a templar, our character doesn’t have to worry about that. Spellcraft helps with his magic, both templar and defiler, while somantic concealment helps disguise the otherwise elaborate gestures that are required to cast a spell. Very useful when trying not to give away what you are. As a member of the bureaucracy, being able to use it effectively is probably a bonus, while being in a boiling hot world, knowing how to protect yourself from the heat and conserve water consumption helps. Forgery covers not just how to forge documents and the like but to also recognise forgeries. A templar should find plenty of use for that. Etiquette covers the correct forms of address and behavior when dealing with people of rank. Probably useful when dealing with nobles and templars of higher rank than our character is. And rope use is for using ropes well, including escaping bonds, but has another important aspect for this character, as we will discuss in a bit.

A second level Templar has 1 1st level spell, but we gain 2 bonus 1st level spells for our wisdom. Unlike Clerics and Druids, Templars have access to all priest spells. His spell loadout can change as required, but his standard spell list is; Command, Create Water and Sanctuary. At his level, Create Water creates enough water for his needs in a day, but obviously can be put to other needs as required.

A second level defiler can cast 2 1st level spells. At first level they start with a spellbook (or not a spellbook) with Read Magic, Detect Magic and 4 other spells in it. (Usually. It all depends on the DM though.) The four he goes with are Charm Person, Armour, Sleep and Identify. He normally has Charm Person and Sleep memorised.

So, about spellbooks. In vanilla they are big, bulky things and very obvious what they are. Given that Athasian wizards of any variety really don’t want to advertise what they are too much, they have found ways of disguising their spellbooks. The exact manner is up to the player, but it could be via tattooing or ritual scaring on the body, woven into cloth, in complicated string and knot patterns, hidden in maps or something else besides. Our character uses his rope use NWP to craft knotted ropes that hide his spellbook in them.

Lastly we have equipment. On Athas, metals are rare, which makes items, including coins, made of metal much more valuable. The common coin used on Athas is the ceramic piece, which are glazed in specific colours and designed to be broken into 10 pie-shaped pieces known as bits. A cermaic bit is worth 1% of a gold coin. All nonmetal items are worth 1% of their vanilla value. All metal items are worth their listed vanilla cost. Given the ceramic bit takes the place of gold coins on Athas, including for starting sums, this makes metal items worth 100 times as much on Athas as elsewhere. A set of full plate normally costs 2000 gold pieces, but on Athas it is worth the equivalent of 200,000 gold coins. Not that you would want to wear it.

Luckily there are alternatives for most things.

Weapons easily made without metal, such as bows, clubs, spears, slings etc , cost 1% of their vanilla prices. For the remaining weapons, such as axes, swords, maces and the like, they use alternatives to metal, such as bone, stone, obsidian and wood. It makes them cheaper, but comes with penalties to hit and damage, and has a habit of breaking as well. Bone is the best, giving -1/-1 penalties, but wood, the cheapest, is worst, with -2/-3 penalties.

For armour there is a limited to what can be done. The lighter armours like leather and hide, are as normal, and others can use pieces of bone and chitin in the manufacture, but the best armours, basically chain and higher, have to be made of metal. You just don’t want to be wearing it – the intense heat on Athas would cook you alive if you wore metal armour.

For Thakur, we would calculate how much money he has based on which class starts with the most – priest for him. He gets 3d6x30 cp. We roll 12, giving him 360 cps. 2nd ed has very large lists to select from for gear, but in this case I am not going to do so. Instead I am only giving him the basics; studded leather armour (made from bone studs) and a medium hide shield comes to 27 cps. A wood longsword costs 10% of vanilla price, which comes to 150 cp. A longbow costs 75 cp and 30 bone sheaf arrows (at 30% of vanilla price) comes to 45 cp. That is 297 cp, leaving him 63 for other expenses. (Note; a multiclass wizard may or may not be able to wear armour depending on the DM. If they are allowed to wear it they can not cast wizards spells while wearing it.)

With that we have largely finished the character. All that remains is to roll up age, height and weight and then stat him out. An elf starts at 15 + 3d4 years old and lives to 100 + 2d20, though very few make it that long. For Thakur, we roll 1, 2 & 4 for starting age, making him 22, and 2 & 4 for max age, meaning 106 is as old as he will be. For height elves are 78 + 2d8 inches high and 160 + 3d10 pounds in weight. Thakur rolls 3 and 2 for height, making him 83 inches ( 6′ 11”) high, rather short for an elf, and 10, 9 & 8 for weight, making him 187 lbs in weight, rather heavy for an elf. So a short elf, which no doubt he has inadequacies about, but heavy as well as a result of the opportunities and lifestyle that a templar has.

Thakur Swiftstride: D2/T2; Al NE; AC 6 (dex), 5 (dex & shield), 2 (armour, shield & dex); MV 12, hp 7; THAC0 20 (22 with wood longsword (21 if tribal made), 18 with longbow(17 if tribal made)); #AT 1; Dmg 1d8-3 (wood longsword); #AT 2/1; DMG 1d8-1 (longbow); Str 11, Dex 19, Con 14, Int 16, Wis 15, Cha 14; Spells 4 1st (templar), 2 1st (defiler).

Psionic Summary: PSPs 16; Wild Talent – Dimensional Door (PS Con -1; Cost 4: Maintain 2/rd).

Saves; PPDM 10, RSW 11, PP 13, BW 15, SP 12

Weapon Proficiences; (Long sword, long bow)

Non-weapon Proficiences; (read/write, spellcraft, somantic concealment, bureaucracy, heat protection, forgery, etiquette, rope use)

Spellbook; Read Magic, Detect Magic, Charm Person, Sleep, Identify, Armour

Gear; Studded leather, medium shield, wooden longsword, longbow, 30 bone tipped sheaf arrows.

Lets Create: Dark Sun (AD&D 2E) Characters

I have mentioned a few times how much I enjoy the Dark Sun setting, so it is about time I made some characters for it. For this we are going to be using AD&D 2e, because, in my mind, it is the best version of D&D but also because the setting was designed using 2nd ed, which makes it work best for the setting.

There have been fan-made rules using 3rd and 5th editions, as well as the official 4th edition rules. I will look at 4th edition to make characters in Dark Sun at some point – I actually liked 4th ed, more so than 3rd ed, as it has some interesting ideas for Dark Sun, as well as some interesting classes, but for me Dark Sun has and always will be 2nd ed.

Before we get started, there are a few things to cover. Dark Sun characters are a little different to vanilla 2nd ed characters. The setting was designed to turn traditional fantasy on its head, and that is reflected in character creation as well. Races are changed, classes are changed and even character generation is a bit different as well.

Back in 2nd ed, characters were not equal. Players rolled for their stats, which means sometimes you got characters with really good stats and sometimes you got bad stats. Those days are gone, which is sad, because rolling stats was fun. You never knew what you were going to get.

For vanilla AD&D, your stats were in the range of 3-18. The basic methods was you rolled 3d6 for each stat in order and noted what you got, which meant the outcome of the dice often determined what race and class you could play. There were alternative options provided as well, the most common one from what I have seen and heard was roll 4d6 and drop the lowest, then assign the results to the stats you wanted. Then end result was slightly higher stats and more choice as to what you played.

Dark Sun characters had better stats than vanilla AD&D. The basic method for them was not 3d6 but 4d4+4, meaning your stats were in the range of 8-20. The equivalent to 4d6 drop the lowest for Dark Sun was 6d4 drop the lowest and assign, but once again there were other alternatives provided as well.

On top of that, the races had bigger stat modifiers. Vanilla races got +1 to one stat and -1 to one state (except half-elves and humans, who got none.) Dark Sun races had more stats modified, with bigger modifiers. A vanilla dwarf had +1 CON and -1 CHA. An Athasian dwarf is +2 CON, +1 STR, -1 DEX, -2 CHA. The most extreme example is the half-giant, who gets +4 STR, meaning that with good rolls it can start with 24 STR. The maximum possible is 25.

Dark Sun characters also start at 3rd level, so they are a little more capable when they start playing.

And all Dark Sun characters are a little bit psionic. If they don’t have the psionicist class they have a random wild talent, which could be anything, ranging from near useless to amazingly useful. Normally the chance for a wild talent is around 1%, if you play with the Complete Book of Psionicists. Dark Sun PCs automatically get it.

So, yes, Dark Sun characters are a lot more powerful than regular vanilla characters. They need to be just to survive. When you start playing, you make up a character tree of four characters which you can swap in and out as you need.

You are going to need them, as Dark Sun is a setting with a high chance of death. 2nd ed tended to see more character deaths than later editions, which toned that down, but Dark Sun, by its very nature, if run properly, was even more brutal than vanilla 2nd ed.

There were no places of safety; everywhere was a battle for survival. Cities weren’t places of refuge; they were places of corruption, suffering and arbitrary laws, ruled over by ancient and incredibly powerful sorcerer-monarchs who were evil to the core. Outside of the cities was wasteland where every drop of water was precious and everything was dangerous, even the plants, many of which had psionics as well.

For regular D&D, the adventure started when you got to the dungeon. In Dark Sun, getting to the dungeon was an adventure in itself. The oasis you stumble upon? Yeah, in a regular world that would be a nice place to rest, but on Athas if the inhabitants, be it people or monsters, don’t try to kill you then the plants just might. And if there are none of those it might be because the water might try to kill you as well.

Yes it was brutal. Yes, you might lose characters. But it was different, had atmosphere and was fun for it.

So tougher characters, but what else was different?

Well, the races for starters. Standard races had a different spin on them and there were also new races added in.

Humans were pretty much humans, not really that much different than elsewhere, except for on average being a little bigger and maybe having a few cosmetic mutations due to centuries of abusive magic scarring the world. They might have slightly odd colourations, or webs between fingers or limbs of odd length but they could fit in anywhere.

Halflings are not the jovial, relaxed types normally seen. They don’t live in peace in The Shire. No, in Dark Sun they are feral cannibals that live in the last remaining pristine part of the world and kill any interlopers who trespass in their territory. (Technically they aren’t cannibals as they don’t eat other halflings but they see all other races as food.)

Athasian Elves aren’t the wise, long lived types who make their homes in the forests so typically of elsewhere. They are instead taller than humans, live not much longer than humans and are mostly members of nomadic tribes who travel everywhere on foot. To ride a beast of burden is seen as weakness. They are also traders but seen by everyone else as untrustworthy, underhanded, swindlers and thieves.

Half-elves are solitary self-sufficient loners rejected by both their human and elvish sides, as humans don’t trust them for their elvish blood and elves look down on them as not being pure elves. Yet at the same time they crave acceptance of those who have rejected them. They tend to get on better with other races who don’t judge them because of their blood.

Athasian dwarves are bald and beardless. Probably for the best in the heat of Athas. They also love toil, becoming hyper-focused on the task they are attempting. This foci they concentrate on with single-mindedness for weeks, months, years or even decades until they complete it. If they die with a focus unfulfilled, they return as a banshee to haunt their worksite.

Gnomes don’t exist. Technically, they don’t exist anymore. A lot of standard fantasy races, like gnomes, orcs, trolls, ogres and more used to live on Athas but went extinct at some point in the past.

Three new player races were added for Dark Sun; muls, half-giants and thri-kreen.

Muls are sterile half-dwarves who have the toughness of their dwarven parents and the height and cunning of their human parents. They are also noted for their extreme endurance, being able to continue working long after anyone else has collapsed from exhaustion. For this reason they make prized slaves and most are bred into captivity.

Half-giants are large and extremely strong, but not exactly bright, though they are friendly and eager to please. This eagerness sees them tend to have a fluid alignment, mimicking whoever they are trying to fit in with. While their size may give them formidable strength, it is not without its downsides, namely needing to consume much more food and water than others and needing to pay more for larger equipment.

Thri-kreen are a race of mantispeople. 2nd ed’s thri-kreen looked more like actually mantises but later editions turned them into mantismen, walking upright and with a more humanoid look. They are incredibly short-lived, at most reaching 35, but they make up for that by not sleeping, needing very little water, having natural armour, being able to leap, having natural weapon attacks and being able to produce poison. They really are the most alien of all the player races though.

So that is the races, but what about classes?

For starters there are no paladins on Athas. This is because there are no gods (though the sorcerer-monarchs like to pretend they are.) So how does this affect the priest classes? Instead of gods they worship the elements – earth, air, fire and water.

Clerics choose one of the elements to worship and receive a spell list based on that element. As can be understood, a cleric of water is very much in demand as they can produce water, albeit on a much reduced amount compared to vanilla. Their weapons and armour are shaped by their choice of element as well.

Druids nurture and protect a specific geographical feature of the land, and draw their strength from that feature. What element they have access to depends on the feature they protect – a mountain would give them access to earth while a volcanic vent would be fire. Within their guarded lands they get many bonuses but they are enemies to all defilers given the way they have ravaged the lands.

Templars are a new priest class, the disciples and bureaucracy of the sorcerer-monarchs, with access to cleric spells granted to them via the sorcerer-monarchs they work for. Inside their home city they have vast arbitrary powers which get stronger the higher level they are, but outside their city those powers are non-existent, and they really have to take care in rival cities. Even in their own city, infighting and back-stabbing are rife.

Thieves are mostly unchanged from vanilla for the most, with the difference being they eventually find a noble patron to work for. Bards are still entertainers, but they are also spies and assassins. They lose the ability to cast magic and instead pick up the full array of thief skills and also the ability to use poisons, including some very nasty ones, even at low level.

Rangers are also largely unchanged, except that they also choose a elemental plane to worship and get their priest spells from that list. Athasian Fighters are masters of mass warfare. Eventually they begin to attract followers in the form of a small army that grow more and more numerous the higher level they reach. Dark Sun was designed with the Battlesystem rules for warfare in mind, which is what fighters use.

There is also a new warrior class available, the Gladiator. They do one thing, and they do it very well – fight. They can use any weapon without penalty and specialise in more than one as well.

The remaining classes are wizards. Arcane magic draws life out of the land to power it, and rampant use of arcane magic over the centuries is what led to the ecological devastation on Athas. Needless to say, it makes people not exactly fans of wizards. There are two types of wizards, the Defiler and the Preserver. The Preserver takes care to minimise or negate the damage they cause when casting spells but the Defiler doesn’t. They rip what they need from the land, leaving destruction in their path. It means the Defiler gains power faster than a Preserver, but they are hated by everyone, even other Defilers who see them as rivals. Preservers at least have some that won’t hate them.

All this has gone on a bit longer than I first planned, which means next time we will start actually working on characters, rolling the dice and seeing what we come up with.

Lets Build: Pantheon #2: Expanding on the Pantheon

Previously I rolled up a new pantheon utilising the World Builder’s Guidebook, which resulted in an interesting mix of deities.

I felt that it would be fun to expand on what had been created, and even utilise them for a future project. So I started to write up a bit more about the deities, and the people who follow them. This is still a work in project, and names are not finalised.

Skokaya, The Glorious Queen, The Radiant Empress of the Heavens and Earth, Creator and Destroyer, She Whose Right Hand gives Life and Left Hand brings Death.

(Chaotic Evil Greater Goddess of Death, War and the Sun.)

Skokaya currently stands as the most powerful of the gods, though it was not always so. She rose to the top through the deaths of millions, for, as with all the gods, her strength is tied to that of her chosen people, the Uskaya, and for now they are ascendant, a brutal and expansionist empire that have crushed all that have stood before them.

Skokaya is a cruel goddess who feeds upon death and war and who preaches that the strong should rule the weak simply because they can. Compassion and understanding are seen as weakness by her. Lives sacrifices in her name give her power, and to those who perform the sacrifice in her name, the blood split fueling prolonged life.

Yet she masquerades as a bringer of life, a radiant being whose glory shines upon the earth in the guise of the sun, without which none could live.

When the Uskaya began their march to dominance over their neighbours, Skokaya was seen to manifest and to lead her armies to war, taking on a more active role in the world than other deities had in the past. In the capital of the Uskaya Empire, a temple-palace has been built for her, one as large as any city, and she has been known to manifest there, to lead vast sacrificial offerings in her name, for she says that without due reverence to her that her radiance would be withdrawn from the earth and all would perish.

Ever hungry for war and sacrifice and conquest, she looks upon the lands of all other nations with envy and greed, and she preaches that in time all will bow down to her and she alone will rule the heavens and earth.

Aman Ala, The Hearth Goddess, Queen of the Fields, Mother of Civilisation

(Chaotic Good Intermediate Goddess of Fire and Agriculture)

One of the oldest of the gods, Aman Ala was the one who first raised her people from their simple tribal nature into the first civilisation. She instructed her people in the matter of establishing villages and fields, of agriculture, herding, of brewing and cooking.

Hers is the bounty of the fields, and the fires upon which they are prepared, and the feasting that follows.

While her people, the Irhalan, are many and numerous, they never established great kingdoms or empires as others did, for they are scattered across many smaller nations and tribes. She values freedom above all, of co-operation rather than rigid rules, laws and hierarchies. It is more at the level of village and towns that her culture functions and flourishes, giving respect to any kings over them only if they deserve it.

For long years have the Irhalan been sheltered behind the Rhikari and Zhurqavi from the Uskaya, but those days are no more and now the Irhalan stand open before the expansionist empire.

Qasari Rhun, Queen of the Mountains, The Divine Protector, The Stalwart Shield, She Whose Hands Spill Forth Gold.

(Lawful Good Intermediate Goddess of Prosperity and Guardianship)

In the mountainous regions that border the lands where once the Rhikari dwelt live the Zhurqavi, the dwarves, under the protection of their goddess, Qasari Rhun.

Qasari Rhun values law and order, honour and disciple, and rewards those who adhere to that with wealth and prosperity. She, and her people, have long tended towards the insular, shut away in their mountain holds and lands, defending them as needed and not getting to involved in the affairs of lands not their own. Yet their traders and artisan are well known in the world, and well regarded, traveling far and wide in the pursuit of wealth.

Recent events with the Uskaya, and their wards of conquest have shaken up Qasari Rhun’s views and she and her people have started to take a more active role in the affairs of the world.

Karhi Zel, The Fortunate One, Lord of Magic, The Trickster, Father of the Land.

(Neutral Good Intermediate God of Earth, Magic and Fortune.)

Karhi Zel remains one of the more powerful of the deities, despite recent set backs, though his power is fading, for his people are scattered and conquered, the most recent victim of Skokaya’s rampages. Most others would have fallen far but he clings on, for he has plans and stratagems and more than a few tricks that remain unknown to any but him. Time is not on his side, and unless his plans come to fruition soon it may be that he fades as others have before him.

He has long been a force for good, a caring and compassionate god, the most active of the deities in this regards. He sought to thwart Skoyaya as she rose to dominance, and it may be for that reason his people were so ruthlessly targeted by the Uskaya, subject to death and enslavement.

While a believer in the need for laws, even ones for the gods as well, he has no qualms in breaking them should they prove unjust or conflict with the need for good, and in this his people have long followed.

It is in the lands of his people, the Rhikarians, that his greatest strength resides, in the earth, for the magic he wields and provides comes from the earth. As long as the Rhikari dwell in the lands he provided for them, they are blessed with good fortune, though to interlopers upon it falls a curse that hounds them.

With the Rhikari scattered, though, and Karhi Zel himself in decline, the magic and fortune that the lands provide is fading.

Iren Issa, The Silver Goddess, She Who Inspires, Giver of Knowledge

(Lawful Good Lesser Goddess of the Moon and Wisdom)

Iren Issa is a goddess who values knowledge and wisdom, understanding and the uncovering of mysteries. Just as the moon follows an ordered path across the heavens, so too does she value order.

Long has she stood in opposition to Skokaya with all her might, for even though she is a peaceful goddess, Skokaya stands for all that is wrong in Iren Issa’s view; war and death over knowledge and understanding.

Alone, she and her people could not hope to stand against the evil of Skokaya and the Uskaya, but she seeks to bring the free peoples of the world together in common cause.

Her people, the Selanysa, are not overly warlike, being a creative people, with a deep understanding of the world, and their progress and inventions have made their lands a beacon of knowledge and development.

Zhor Tal, The Warbringer, The Celestial Tactician, Marshal of the Hosts of the Heavens

(Neutral Good Lesser God of War and Fortune)

Zhor Tal is a warrior god, but not simply a mindless brute who fights to fight. He values life and peace and prosperity, but understand that to defend that requires a willingness to fight. As well as being a skilled fighter he is also a master tactician. As long as they do not involve cruelty or attacks on the innocent, Zhor Tal considers all ruses, tricks and stratagems in war open to him.

His people, the Zaratai, are a warrior people, though they only form a small nation. Man for man they are the finest warriors to exist, and are blessed by their god with good fortune in battle and war. Likewise, those that fight against them seemingly experience mishaps and bad fortune.

Oriansa, Lady of the Clouds, the Skyborn Goddess.

(Chaotic Neutral Lesser Goddess of Wind.)

Every mercurial, the Skyborn Goddess rules aloft, favouring the form of an ethereal, mist-like dragon when she manifests. Hers are the wind and the clouds, the gentle rains as much as the fearsome storms that can rage in destructive might.

She dwells not in the realm of the gods, but in a city in the clouds that drifts above the world, never settled in one place. There her children dwell also, not just the drakes, but also the Cloudborn, humans that have adapted to living in the city she has provided for them.

From the cloud city, the Cloudborn, riding the drakes, descend on the lands that they pass over, sometimes to plunder, sometimes to trade, or to simply explore, depending on whim, for they are as mercurial as their goddess.

Once Oriansa held greater power than she does now, for she has diminished in strength. In the past ages there were few that could challenge the might of her drakes and most were helpless their marauding ways. As the land dwellers grew in numbers and gained new weapons and powers, though, they were able to stand against the drakes and many were felled until now few remain, and those of a lesser kind compared to their ancestors. For the Skyborn Goddess, patience does not come easily but she has little choice if she is not to fade away like mists in the light of the sun.

Erissan, The Shrouded, Lord of Dreams and Nightmares.

(Chaotic Neutral Demigod of Darkness.)

In the mist shrouded lands of the Alassan elves dwells Erissan, the ancient and immortal lord of Alassa. It is by his will that the lands lay in perpetual gloom and darkness, and by his whims that dreams and nightmares afflict any who trespass into it.

His people, the pale and ghostlike elves, are a sombre people, but as fickle as their ruler, caught within the dreams, a shadow of whom they once more, much as their god was.

Erissan was once a true god, but he had descended into the ranks of the demigods, walking the line between god and mortal, neither fully one nor the other. He has largely closed his people and himself off from the wider world, seeking to preserve the power that remains to him least he join the ranks of those that have fallen and been forgotten.

Hutuata, the Cruel Tide, Reaver of the Seas.

(Chaotic Evil Demigod of Oceans.)

Hutuata is the vicious ruler of the Ahuaga fishmen, a cruel and heartless people who live int eh seas and who launch raids upon the shores of the land dwellers, seeking and prey. Hutuata is not a true god, though his people worship him as the Shark-God. He is semi-divine, on the cusp of true godhood, feeding on the death and destruction his people cause in an effort to elevate him to the status of a true god.

He has no allies among the existing gods and none, not even Skokaya, wish to see him rise to join them, for most abhor his cruel nature and the carnage he inflicts on their followers, even Skokaya’s. In him, Skokaya sees him as one who seeks to rival her in her domains, though for now she sees him as an irritant and not a true threat.

Lets Build a World: Part Fifteen: Rivers, Lakes, Races and Cultures

Having complete the weather and terrain for the region, we move on to rivers, lakes and other waterways.

Except for in the harshest of deserts and barren regions, each hex on the regional map will contain waterways of some form; creeks, streams, rivers, ponds or lakes. They are too small to be represented at the regional level though. Major lakes, inland seas and river systems do show up, and it is these we are looking at. These are things like the Nile, the Amazon, the Dead Sea, the Great Lakes, very large and prominent bodies of water.

Inland seas and lakes are fairly similar, with the exception that while both have inflows, only lakes have outflows. Inland seas tend to form in warm, arid regions where evaporation is in equilibrium with inflow. They also tend to form in low laying regions, depressions and basins and the like which traps the water in them. Lakes can form anywhere, even in mountainous regions, and generally in humid regions where there is plenty of water to feed into them and then spill over into an outflow.

For our map, we lack large arid regions that can result in the creation of inland seas. It is suggested that a region would have 1d6-3 (0-3) inland seas, of 2d8 hexes in size.

In general a region will also have 2d6 major lakes, each one of 2d6-2 hexes in size. We kind of lack much room for large lakes given the limited amount of land we have. It is humid enough that they could though, if we have more space.

I will be doing an example of a more land-based region in the future so that we can use lakes and inland seas on it.

What we can do is add some rivers. The suggestion is for 4d6 major rivers per region. We have less, for the aforementioned reason of lack of land. The ones that we will have will also be fairly short.

Rivers start at higher altitudes, in mountains and highlands and major lakes, and flow downhill following the path of least resistance. So on your map, start with connecting lakes to nearby seas or oceans, and then connect mountains to nearby bodies of water, whether seas or lakes. Rivers don’t cross mountain ranges (unless something very unusual is going on). In especially humid regions, a number of short rivers can parallel each other from the mountains to the sea.

Using these guidelines, I sketch in a few major rivers, mostly on the large island in the southwest, as seen below. And with that the waterways are done.

The final part of the regional map is to work out the Human Geography as the book calls it, by which they mean the people and cultures that call it home. It has several parts that can be rolled for, or chosen; races, cultures and kingdoms/states, as well as their locations on the map.

The first step is to work out what races are present in sufficient numbers to form states. Solitary monsters, non-intelligent creatures and those that don’t organise into political or tribal groups are not considered at this stage.

Firstly we work out how many races to roll for – each region has 0-2 (1d3-1) dominate races, 3-6 (1d4+2) major races and 4-16 (4d4) minor races. A dominate race makes up 25%+ of the sentient population of the region, a major race has 5-20% and the minor races are less than 5%. Some races, such as dragons, may skew these numbers, as they may be few in number but rule over a subject population.

Our rolls come up with 2 dominate, 3 major and 10 minor races. Table 19 in the book has a lot of races to roll from, all taken from 2ed. Some are well known, but others are more obscure, such as Tasloi or Wemics. While all races listed can be minor ones, there is a limited number who can be major, and even more limited as to who can be dominate. Of course, as with anything, you can change all that.

We start rolling up, sticking to as is listed. The rolls for dominant races come up with 28; giants and 15; dwarves. Giants are one of those races who can be of a more limited number but who rule over subjects.

The rolls for major races give us humans, tabaxi and giants again. Duplicates can either be rerolled or can represent a variant group. I go with a reroll and get bullywugs. The rolls for minor races give us kobolds, thri-kreen, orcs, ogre-mages, gnomes, aaracokra, tasloi, grell, beholders and ogres.

Given both giants and beholders can rule over subjects, I roll for each to see who they are. The giants end up with ogre subjects, which means there are two groups of ogres, some free and some subjects, which will make things interesting. The beholders end up with lizardmen slaves.

Each race has listed for them habitat types, where they can live. Some, like humans, can be anywhere, but others are limited. Yetis can only be found in mountains or arctic regions for example. If you roll up a race that has no appropriate terrain for it you are meant to roll again. To my mind, I prefer not to – if you just stuck with races being in their normal habitats we’d never have gotten the glorious setting that is Dark Sun. Thri-kreen are meant to only be found in arid tropical and sub-tropical regions but if I want to stick them in a jungle, where they hunt with blowpipes, springing from tree to tree and building mysterious stone temples deep in the jungles, then I should be allowed to. Actually, that sounds like a good idea that I am going to use with the thri-kreen we rolled up.

In addition to land based races, you can also roll from subterranean and marine races. Normally I don’t but in this case I will, because this region has a lot of water for marine races and also as a example of doing so. The seas have 0-1 dominate, 1-3 major and 1-4 minor races while subterranean sees 0-1 dominate, 1-4 major and 1-6 minor races.

There isn’t a whole lot of room on the map for subterranean races, so I only roll for major and minor races, getting 2 of each. Rolling on the subterranean chart gives up drow and duergar as the major races and grimlocks and troglodytes for the minor races. They may not have any contact with the surface world, or they may have plenty. We shall have to decide on that later.

For the marine races, I decide that there will be a dominate race, and roll up 3 major and 3 minor races. The dominate marine race is locathah, the major races are mermen, aquatic elves and giants and the minor races are tritons, ixitxachitl and tako.

So we know who the races are that live in the region and they are an interesting mix. Certainly not your typical fantasy setting, and the best part is no elves. Well, apart from the drow underground and the wet elves at sea, but no elf cultures on the surface. Maybe. They may creep in later, so we’ll have to watch out for that.

The next step is to work out the number of cultures/sub-races and realms that belong to each race. Dominate races have 1D4+1 seperate cultures or sub-races, major races have 1D3 and minor races have 1D2. Each culture/sub-race has 1-5 realms or kingdoms. Realms for dominate races are around 6d6 hexes in size, major races are 4d6 hexes in size while minor races are 1d8 hexes in size. Given we have less land than is normal and back in the world hook stage we got a very balkanised world with no large nations, we might have to adjust that a bit.

Some races, like elves or dwarves, have plenty of sub-races already, while others have none. In theory sub-races are meant to be culturally uniform, no matter where they are in the world, but this is another rule that I tend to play around with. Why would insular wood elves thousands of kilometres apart retain the same culture?

With all that we can start rolling, starting with the dominant races, working out their cultures, realms and then their positions on the map. How exactly you mark it on the map is up to you. You could only mark in where each culture is, or you could try and mark in all the kingdoms. That could result in a lot of them. As way as example, we start with the two dominant races in this region, the giants (with their ogre subjects) and the dwarves.

The giants roll up three cultures, with three, two and one realms in each culture, while the dwarves have four cultures, with four, two, one and two realms in their cultures. Thats seven cultures and fifteen realms already to place on the map. While the realms within cultures typically are close to each other, different cultures may be spread out.

The major races (the humans, tabaxi and bullywugs) each have 3 cultures, while for the minor races, the orcs, gnomes, tasloi and beholders (with the lizardmen slaves) have 2 cultures, and the kobolds, thri-kreen, ogre-mages, aaracokra, grell and ogres have 1 culture each. Between them all they have around 71 realms as well.

Table 20 lets you roll for where on the map the cultures are to be put if you don’t want to decide yourself. The settlement patterns they can follow could be hydrographical (along various water sources), favoured terrain (such as hills or grasslands), favoured climate (such as temperate or tropical), or simply a quadrant of the map.

We start rolling for the giant and dwarf cultures to see where they are. For the giants we get on a 1d100 5 (coastal/seafaring), 11 (riverine) and 18 (grasslands). For the dwarves we get 28 (marshes/swamps), 44 (sub-tropical), 73 (southeastern) and 19 (forests).

Now to fit them on the map. You may have noticed we have a lot of cultures, 30 to be exact, and even more realms, some 86 in total. The bullywugs ended up with the most, with some 12 realms across their 3 cultures, while the kobolds and aaracokra have just 1 small realm each. We also only have a little more than 200 land hexes to distribute them all across. The dominate races are meant to have realms 6d6 in size, but we are going to reduce them to just 6 hexes each. Likewise the major races will have just 3 for their 4d6 hex size realms and the minor races just 1 hex in size for their 1d8 sized realms. That comes out to around 215 hexes in total, so we can just squeeze it in, hopefully. This means there are going to be a lot of very small city-states scattered across the map, which is just fine for the balkanised nature of the world.

Starting with the giants and dwarves, we start to draw them in. The first giant culture, the coastal one, has three realms, making it around 18 hexes in size. The second, riverine culture, has 2 realms, so it will be around 12 hexes, while the third, grassland culture, has just the 1 realm, so it gets six hexes. We do the same for the dwarves. The end map for the dominate cultures looks like this;

1A is an giant culture of 3 realms, 1B of 2 realms and 1C of 1 realm. 2A is a dwarf culture of 2 realms, 2B of 1 realm, 2C of 4 realms and 2D of 2 realms. The dwarven culture that makes up 2C would appear to be some form of maritime power, with its four realms spread over four islands, and with a bunch of minor islands spread between them, which may be a point of conflict between them. From such placement on the map we can begin to form ideas.

Next time we will finish up the map, and the work on the region, by placing all the major and minor cultures, and possibly the marine cultures on the map. And that may get crowded.