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 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.

30 Years of Dark Sun

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the release of my favourite fantasy setting. October 1991 saw the release of the Dark Sun boxed set by TSR for AD&D 2ed.

When I say favourite fantasy setting, I don’t just mean for gaming, but overall. Books, movies, gaming, this is my favourite fantasy world.

I remember picking up the boxed set in my local (long since closed) gaming shop and being intrigued by it. When I got it home and opened it up and read it, I was amazed. Here was a world so unique, so different to any other fantasy world I had come across before. At the time, most fantasy was very similar, a fantasy world of vaguely medieval European influence. Dark Sun was nothing like that.

Here is the opening of the campaign setting journal that came with the boxed set;

I live in a world of fire and sand. The crimson sun scorches the life from anything that crawls or flies, and storms of sand scour the foliage from the barren ground. Lightning strikes from the cloudless sky, and peals of thunder roll unexplained across the vast tablelands. Even the wind, dry and searing as a kiln, can kill a man with thirst.

This is a land of blood and dust, where tribes of feral elves sweep out of the salt plains to plunder lonely caravans, mysterious singing winds call men to slow suffocation in a Sea of Silt, and legions of slaves clash over a few bushels of mouldering grain. The dragon despoils entire cities, while selfish kings squander their armies raising gaudy palaces and garish tombs.

This is my home, Athas. It is an arid and bleak place, a wasteland with a handful of austere cities clinging precariously to a few scattered oases. It is a brutal and savage land, beset by political strife and monstrous abominations, where life is grim and short.

That description right there just invokes everything you need to know, of a inhospitable world where survival is a struggle. And it was amazing. The artwork that went with it too, especially from Brom, really helped get a feel for the world.

For those who haven’t run across Dark Sun before, it is well worth. Athas, the world of Dark Sun, was once a pleasant world, but magic was fuelled by life energy, and spell casters plunged the world into an ecological disaster through rampart and greedy use of magic. Civilisation, what remains of it, clings on in a few city-states on the few remaining patches of fertile land, ruled over by tyrannical and all powerful Sorcerer-Kings and Queens. The races, those that have survived, bear little resemblance to their traditional fantasy counterparts. Metals is rare and water is a precious resource to fight and kill for. And everywhere there are deserts.

Yeah, a very different world. The creators of the setting, Tim Brown and Troy Denning, and its best known artist, Gerald Brom, were recently interviewed for the 30th anniversary of the release of the setting, going into how it all came about as well as other thoughts on Dark Sun, including thoughts on if it could have been released in current times or not, and on the direction the setting took after they were no longer working on it.

If there is one world that I wish I could have created, it would have been Dark Sun. Of course, my version would have been a little different – I tend to stick to a vision of it as first seen through the original boxed set. A lot of what was released later on, including the metaplot and revealed history of the setting I would have ignored, but most of that is fairly irrelevant when playing the game. When you are out on the desert with no food or water, being stalked by hungry braxat, the history of the world doesn’t matter much. In this regards I am a bit of a original boxed set purist – or heretic, depending on your view.

But one thing the setting did do is heavily influence my view on what fantasy could be. It didn’t have to be knights and castles and dragons in a psuedo-European setting. It could be something else entirely. And ever since then it has fashioned the way I have GMed and written. It may not always be front and centre, but something of Dark Sun seeps into the fabric of all those worlds I have played with and made them different.

And it is for that reason I am eternally grateful for Dark Sun. It may have been a brutal world where life was cheap but it made me a better GM and writer for it.