D&D4E, Dark Sun

DS4e – The Thri-Kreen

I’m pretty much of the opinion that Dark Sun’s original creators had some kind of bug fetish. Well, bugs and lizards. Horses didn’t exist – instead you rode on a kank (a horse-sized beetle) or a crodlu (a lizard that ran on its hind legs). Instead of oxen or mules to pull wagons and carts, there were inix (sixteen foot long, four-legged lizards) and mekillot – enormous, dragon-sized lizards who could drag a small fortress on their backs.

Maybe they just didn’t like mammals. I don’t know.

The original thri-kreen, of 2nd Edition Dark Sun.
The original thri-kreen, of 2nd Edition Dark Sun.

But this fascination with an ecology dominated by reptiles and insects gave rise to one of the strangest, coolest, most alien (and most mechanically busted) player races in all of 2e – the thri-kreen. I have no doubt that if you hated the 4e half-giant? You’re going to loathe what’s being done to the thri-kreen.

I’m not even going to name all the issues with the 2e thri-kreen, but in summation? They were a mess. Incredibly overpowered. Let me give you just the highlights:

  • Quad-wielding. Yep, quad-wielding. The thri-kreen had six limbs, and four had opposable thumbs. Which meant four claw attacks, or carry four weapons and use whichever they wanted in a given turn.
  • They had a bite attack, which they got in addition to their claw or weapon attack. After 5th level, this bite delivered paralyzing venom.
  • Their exoskeleton was the equivalent of chain mail armor.
  • At 7th level, thri-kreen received a 90% chance to dodge incoming missiles, such as arrows or other ranged attack.

Their only real weakness was that they couldn’t wear armor, or use other “wearable” magic items – which made sense when you consider how almost any magic item wasn’t designed to be worn a six-limbed bug-man.

I have to assume that no one is surprised that the thri-kreen are getting a face-lift for DS4e. I mean, during the Dark Sun panel at The D&D Experience, Rich Baker referred to the thri-kreen as “just broken”:

So, we went to the thri-kreen and we said we’re just going to have to take this guy and put him on the same power framework, on the same footing, the same level as other characters. We can’t just have this guy be the best.

Not only did Baker discuss some of the changes but Wizards has released a PDF of the pre-generated character sheets used for the introductory Dark Sun adventure, and one of them happens to be a thri-kreen (Pak’cha, on page 5).

While there’s not really any way to tell what ability scores have been modified, my guess is that the thri-kreen will receive a +2 to both Dexterity and Wisdom. Pak’cha also has an encounter power called thri-kreen claws, that basically lets her make a second attack with her claws against up to three nearby enemies. She can also draw, sheathe or otherwise access an item once per turn as a free action because of her multiple limbs. She doesn’t need to sleep, only rest for a brief period of time once per day, during which she remains fully aware. Also, she’s wearing armor, meaning they seem to have dropped (or at least severely relaxed) the equipment restrictions.

Beyond that, I don’t know what’s in store for the thri-kreen, though I could make a couple guesses. They were designed to be the ultimate desert survivor and were also incredible jumpers, which means I’m expecting to see them get a +2 bonus to Athletics and Nature checks (every race seems to get some skill bonuses). Baker also mentioned that the racial paragon path will address some of the more powerful aspects of the race (like venemous bite, crazy jumping, and the like – I assume, he didn’t get specific).

There’s one more change that I have no doubt will bug (no pun intended) people. Much like my instinctual aversion to changing the backstory of the dray, I’m of a mixed mind on this one – I’m fine with changing mechanics and game rules, but I tend to be leery of changes to the in-character reality of the setting itself. That said, the reasoning behind the change is sound, and I trust Baker and Schwalb – listening to them speak about Dark Sun, you can tell that DS4e is being designed by a couple of fans who really want to be bringing it back to life.

You see, the thri-kreen are going to look different in DS4e. In effect, they aren’t going to look like thri-kreen anymore – at least, not the thri-kreen I know.

A DS4e thri-kreen, riding what I think is a kank. Click here to go to the artist's deviantart page.
A DS4e thri-kreen, riding what I think is a kank. Click here to go to the artist's deviantart page.

Rather than try to explain Baker’s statements on the change, I’m just going to quote him. And post the picture of the 4e thri-kreen, as featured on the cover of one of the new DS4e books (Marauders of the Dune Sea).

Back in the 1991-1996 stuff, thri-kreen were really built like giant preying mantises which essentially is almost [a centaur-like] build. They have a long body, they have a head/torso area, two arms up front, four legs, and they weighed five hundred pounds! And size Large – they’re immense. We went […] back to the way they looked way back in 1st Edition, we’re going to stand them upright and have them be insect-men not giant preying mantises that can think.

The decision makes good sense – centaurs are Large-size creatures, which means the centaur-like thri-kreen would be Large-size as well. All the issues and problems I discussed in my writeup on the half-giant apply in this case too. Some people will hate it – both because the thri-kreen is watered-down from its previous, killing-machine status and because it looks different. From my perspective, however, they really had two choices – make the changes, or make the thri-kreen a monster and not a player race.

Me? I’d rather be able to play a thri-kreen.

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4 thoughts on “DS4e – The Thri-Kreen

  1. Just like with the half-giant, this attempt to change thri-kreens in the name of game balance was short-sighted. Once you take away the quad-wielding & put them on 4 legs instead of 2, they’re not much more powerful than a human or elf that started the game with a kank for a mount & a set of chitin armor. (I played a thri-kreen as my first PC in Dark Sun, and I was envious when the others got their braxat plate armor & I was still stuck with my mediocre chitin.) Also, even though they might count as large for some game mechanics, there’s no reason they should get the extra reach since their arms aren’t any longer than a human or elf’s. In fact, their natural AC bonus could be counterbalanced by saying they’re easier to hit as a size large creature. The Thri-kreen’s Handbook from 2nd ed already did a decent job of balancing them by saying that they start the game as immature hatchlings at 1st level and only gain the poisonous bite, thicker shell & dodge missiles ability as they “mature” (i.e. go up in level). Also, their chitin shell was supposed to take longer to heal than humanoid flesh if it got cracked, and a couple specialized Athasian weapons were made to do just that.

    1. Much like with the half-giant, I again see where you’re coming from, but don’t agree. While your suggestions make sense on the face of them, the problem is simply that they go against the grain of the 4th Edition rules set.

      In 4e a Large creatures gets reach and a player’s race does not give additional abilities/powers as he levels – that’s what a class is for. And while you and I might be nostalgic for the old thri-kreen, our nostalgia is less important than a functional and balanced game. If the designers chose to change the rules of the new edition to accommodate the thri-kreen, it would represent a set of backwards priorities.

      Also, it’s worth pointing out that the product isn’t out yet. For all we know there are thri-kreen exclusive feats that give them their paralyzing bite, missile dodging, etc.

  2. I’m dming a Dark Sun campaign and one of the my players will be a Thri-kreen (Ardent). I can accept the changes from 2e (ran an awesome Dark Sun campaign back in the day) to 4e except one: the armor. I’m going to house rule that the Thri-kreen at level 1 start off with hide equivalent armor and as they mature (gain a tier) it gets harder (chainmail to scale armor equivalent). If they are a defender class, then it starts as chainmail equivalent. I just can’t see them wearing armor on top of their natural armor. I think that makes the most sense at this point without breaking the race.

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