D&D4E, Dark Sun

DS4E – Core Races, Part 1

So I’ve been blogging for six days now, and I’ve learned something. I have a lot more to say about shit than I originally realized. With that in mind, I’m going to to be breaking some of these posts up – today, for example, I’m going to be discussing the “core” D&D races (those that can already be found in the Player’s Handbook I, II or III) and their Athasian counterparts. I’ll be dealing with Dark Sun-specific races next time.

Oh, and for the sake of clarity, let me toss out some terminology right off the bat: when I refer to something as being from 2e, I mean ordinary 2nd Edition Dungeons & Dragons. DS means the original Dark Sun (which was a 2nd Edition product, but changed some rules). 4e means 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons, and DS4e refers to the new Dark Sun book being released in August 2010. PHB1/PHB2/PHB3 refers to the Player’s Handbook 1, 2 or 3, respectively.

The Dragonborn, a 4th Edition player race.
The Dragonborn, a 4th Edition player race.

Unfortunately, I don’t happen to have a copy of the 2nd Edition Player’s Handbook, so my references to 2e races are from memory. If I flub something, feel free to correct me.

Dragonborn

Rich Baker spoke at a panel about Dark Sun in January, and one of the things he said was that he felt it important to create a place for all of the races presented in the PHB1. That’s really no big deal and his logic is pretty sound – effectively, Baker said that DS4e will hopefully be introducing Dark Sun to a lot of new D&D players, ones who will be expecting access to the options presented in the corest of core rulebooks. And, realistically, it’s no big deal – of the eight races presented in the PHB1, five of them are represented in the original DS boxed set. The Dragonborn are one of the three who aren’t, but long-time Dark Sun fans know there’s a pretty easy fix. They’re called the Dray.

The Dray are a dragon-like race introduced in the City by the Silt Sea boxed set – a Dark Sun product published in 1994. The dray are, in most ways, dragonborn with a different backstory. They’re not exactly identical, mechanically – Dragonborn really shine as melee fighters, while the Dray were more suited to magic- and psionic-use. But, honestly, you don’t need to make many changes. I might replace the dragonborn’s breath weapon with some natural armor and fire resistance, and drop the bonus to History checks, but otherwise I think the dragonborn is pretty much good to go.

The Dray, a Dark Sun player race.
The Dray, a Dark Sun player race.

I’m a little less thrilled about what’s being done to the race in-game. Baker’s blog entry on the dray includes this particular quote:

The dragonborn (or dray) are a race of sorcerous merchants, hired spellcasters, pragmatic mercenaries, and maybe even slavers. They’re not especially numerous, so you don’t see a lot of them around. Their clans are like small, insular merchant houses, and they might serve as deal-brokers and moneylenders: disliked in many places, but regarded as very useful to have around.

I decided early on I was going to try to avoid dropping setting spoilers as much as possible, so I won’t go into how that concept doesn’t really jibe with the original Dray. At the same time, the original backstory/concept of the Dray doesn’t really work, if you want them to be a viable player race in any of the seven cities (or wherever on Athas your campaign is set). So, I don’t like it, but I understand it. And, realistically? If, upon reading the DS4e entry on Dray, I really don’t like it? I’m the DM – I can change it.

A pair of 4th Edition dwarves.
A pair of 4th Edition dwarves.

Dwarves

I honestly thought that Athasian dwarves were better, flat-out better than their standard 2e counterparts. But that was based on a ten-year old perception, rather than a legitimate comparison. I just read the entry for dwarves in the original DS material, and now I really don’t know.

In 2e, dwarves got a +2 to Constitution and a -2 to Charisma. Athasian dwarves got all that and an additional +1 to Strength and -1 to Dexterity. Both versions had a pretty potent bonus to shrugging off the effects of poison or magic. 2e dwarves got some bonuses when fighting larger opponents, and had the innate ability to determine things about subterranean construction (is this passage sloping downward, how far underground are we, etc.). Athasian dwarves lost both those abilities, instead getting a focus – basically a sort of semi-quest they made their own personal mission, getting all sorts of bonuses while pursuing. So a dwarf escorting a caravan across the desert makes protecting the caravan his focus – boom, he’s a better caravan guard than before.

An Athasian dwarf.
An Athasian dwarf.

Realistically, dwarves don’t need to change much either. I might drop their +2 bonus to the Dungeoneering skill, and increase their bonus to the Endurance skill to +4 (from +2) and maybe change the weapons they get automatic proficiency with (I can’t recall if hammers get a lot of use on Athas), but that’s it. My guess is that the focus mechanics will be dropped from the race itself, though I wouldn’t be surprised if some focus-themed dwarf feats made the cut. Otherwise, I think these fellows are ready for the desert sands.

Eladrin

Eladrin weren’t a part of Dark Sun before, but I don’t anticipate much difficulty incorporating them. Graceful and wise keepers of arcane mysteries, eladrin are technically fey creatures – a rung or two up the ladder from elves. Although nothing has been said regarding their place in DS4e, I expect they’ll likely be a part of the whole nomadic tribal culture alongside the elves.

The Eladrin are a new player race, first introduced in 4th Edition.
The Eladrin are a new player race, first introduced in 4th Edition.

For most of Dungeons & Dragons, the race of elves represented two distinct stereotypes – the wise keeper of ancient, arcane lore (lets call them Galadrials) and the bow-wielding warriors of the forest (who we’ll call the Legolai). Whereas this used to be represented with the various elven “subraces,” in 4th Edition they’ve divided them into two distinct races. The eladrin are the wise, arcane fey (Galadrials).

I don’t see any real problems, mechanically, with the eladrin being put on Athas as-is. Much like the Dragonborn, I’d drop the eladrin’s bonus to History checks: Athas is a world where literacy is punishable by death and where the sorcerer-kings have worked very hard to destroy all records of the past. Given that, I’m pretty much in favor of dropping History bonuses for any race that has them. I can see some pretty cool visuals for the Eladrin’s Fey Step power (which lets them teleport up to 25 feet, once per encounter) – an Eladrin warrior bursting apart into a whirling cloud of sand, only to explode up from the ground behind a foe. That kind of stuff.

A 4th Edition elf, longbow in hand.
A 4th Edition elf, longbow in hand.

Elves

When I was listing off all the things that made me love Dark Sun, I named their unique take on racial stereotypes as one of them – specifically quoting the description of Athasian elves. A nomadic, tribal people, the elves consider all outsiders – humans, dwarves, even elves from a different tribe – to be an enemy. Depending on the tribe, elves make their way through life as either herders, traders or raiders. A tribe of elven merchants will appear in one city, engaging in trade until they are unwelcome and then slipping back into the desert. Elven markets have a notoriously unsavory reputation as a place toget anything – even things that are stolen or otherwise illegal. Some cities even have semi-permanent elven ghettos.

In some ways the half-feral, untrusted and untrusting elves of Athas are a fusion of two medieval stereotypes – that of the nomadic, thieving gypsy combined with the knowledgeable but different (and thus shunned) Jew.

An Athasian elf, sprinting across the dunes.
An Athasian elf, sprinting across the dunes.

Mechanically speaking, elves are pretty much ready to go. I’d swap their +2 to Perception checks with Stealth, and similarly modify their Group Awareness ability (which normally gives nearby non-elf allies +1 to Perception checks). Elves already have a speed of 7 (at least 1 more square than any other player race) and Wild Step (permitting them to ignore difficult terrain in certain circumstances), which is appropriate as being able to move fast is integral to the Athasian elven concept. I might even drop the Group Awareness ability instead of modifying it, and up their speed to 8 just to emphasize that. Not sure how that’d pan out, is just an idle thought.

Interlude

Okay, so of the eight PHB1 races, I’ve gone through half of them and to be honest I’m kind of surprised – I was operating on a memory of the Dark Sun races being noticeably more powerful than their 2e counterparts, but they really don’t seem to be. At least not yet – though, in retrospect, the two most broken-powerful races weren’t Athasian conversions but Dark Sun-specific races. Also, my lack of a 2e PHB isn’t making the comparison easier, though I’m getting lots of reminders because the Dark Sun material is pretty helpful in listing what normal dwarves (or whatever) don’t have compared to what ordinary dwarves have.

Now, I know I just made a post saying I wasn’t going to lock myself into having to post this-or-that by saying “next time I’m doing X.” But, I think the exception to that rule is whenever I make a post that says “Part 1” or whatever. If I split it into pieces, I’ll probably do them one after the other.

So, tomorrow I’ll be covering the final four PHB1 races – half-elves, halflings, humans, and tieflings.

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3 thoughts on “DS4E – Core Races, Part 1

  1. Nice rundown! Hope you don’t mind my comments… I think porting the dragonborn, eladrin & tieflings over to Dark Sun would be fine as long as it’s done with a bit more understanding of the setting’s background. The dragonborn really should have been converted to one of the more common reptilian races like the pterrans, ssurans, or nikaal if they wanted them to be available for play in any of the city-states. I won’t spoil it either, but the Dray were a rather important NPC race that played an integral part as adversaries in 1 or 2 adventures. Why screw that up?

    As for Tieflings, they actually fit the gritty tone of the setting just fine, so no gripe there. But the Eladrin? I ran across Rich Baker’s explanation for them you alluded to in your “Mul and Others” writeup. The question that occurred to me is why not just convert them to pyreens, the do-gooder eco-mancer race that already existed in the setting?

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