D&D4E, Dark Sun

DS4e – The Mul, and Others

I’ve always sort of found it strange that Dark Sun, which came out in 1991, was the first product (that I’m aware of at least) to introduce the concept of the half-dwarf, which on Athas is called a mul.

A mul warrior, from the Dark Sun Monstrous Compendium II.
A mul warrior, from the Dark Sun Monstrous Compendium II.

Muls combine the height and cunning of their human parent with the durability and raw strength of dwarves. Unlike the other half-breed races (half-elves and half-giants), the mul is infertile – all muls come from one human and one dwarf parent. Given the cultural differences, muls tend to be a slave race intentionally bred in the pits – they make excellent gladiators and laborers.

Not a lot has been released about the mul, at this time. What little information I have comes from two sources: the D&D Experience panel and the sample character sheets, both of which I mentioned during my post about the thri-kreen.

During the panel, Baker stated that Mul characters would receive a +2 to Constitution and then another +2 to the player’s choice of either Strength or Wisdom. Further, it was mentioned that the Mul would have some sort of resistance ability against status and condition effects (such as being blinded, prone, or stunned – I picked three conditions at random, Baker didn’t specify).

Meanwhile, the sample character sheets (Morg, a Mul Barbarian, is on page 3) allude to an ability called “Tireless” which states that he needs only sleep 6 hours every 72. Not particularly useful in combat, though handy if he needs to press on without stopping much in a dungeon. He’s also receiving a +2 bonus I can’t otherwise account for to both Endurance and Streetwise – which would make good racial skills for the Mul.

I see no sign of how the “condition resistance” Baker alluded to is implemented, so I guess we’ll either have to wait for Baker to blog about it or for the book to come out.

The Other Races

I’ve covered all the races of 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons, and the additional Athasian races introduced by the original Dark Sun boxed set. Of course, if you owned the “Expanded and Revised” Dark Sun boxed set (released in 1995), you may recall a few other player races being introduced. What about them?

There’s been no mention of the Aarakocra – though I have to assume a race that can fly is going to get the axe, given how difficult that would be to balance out.

As far as the Pterrans go, I don’t see anything wrong with them – I’m sure they could be built as a perfectly balanced option. I don’t really think they will be – they seem to be a pretty minor footnote in Dark Sun, I (a pretty massive Dark Sun fan with access to virtually every Dark Sun product) had pretty much forgotten them until I went to do my research for this article.

Ultimately, the Pterran just doesn’t seem as authentically Athasian as the mul, thri-kreen or half-giant – and given as how Baker was asked point-blank at the panel about “other” new races (after discussing half-giants and the kreen), he only mentioned the muls? It doesn’t look good for Pterran fans, sad to say.

One final addition. In my original post on the core 4e races, I discussed my own guess as to the Eladrin’s place in the Athasian ecology. Well, it turns out that I was wrong. Baker’s concept is good – very good in fact. In fact, it’s the first “this is new to the world” thing I’ve genuinely gotten excited about. I mean, character themes are kickass (I’ll be touching on them soon, I think) but ultimately that’s just rules stuff. And while the rules are the vital infrastructure on which the game is built, it’s the in-game stuff about the world of Dark Sun that always got my engine running.

Before, I was excited about Dark Sun coming back. Now I’m excited about Dark Sun 4th Edition coming out. Which makes me pretty damn happy.

Alright, races down. I figure character classes come next, then character themes, then on from the basic building-blocks of character creation and on to some other cool shit.

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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.

D&D4E, Dark Sun

DS4e – The Half-Giant

Haters, welcome to your first big beef. If you’re the sort of person who gets angry when outdated material is adapted to a new edition, instead expecting a new edition to be adapted to the outdated material, then you’ll probably hate the new take on the half-giant.

For those new to the Dark Sun party, half-giants are (as you might expect) similar to half-elves; human/giant hybrids, though half-giants are the result of sorcerous experimentation rather than interbreeding. As an aside? I really want to create a bard who sings a soul song called Giant Fever, but that’s completely irrelevant to the topic at hand.

An Athasian half-giant, towering over a human or elf.
An Athasian half-giant, towering over a human or elf.

So, the original Dark Sun half-giant? Was, perhaps unsurprisingly, pretty big: 10 to 12 feet tall, weighing approximately 1,600 pounds. This enormous stature made them powerful, granting a +4 to Strength and a +2 to Constitution – of course, their gigantic heritage also gave them walnut-sized brains, resulting in half-giants suffering a -2 to Intelligence, a -2 to Wisdom, and a -2 to Charisma. They also received double hit points at every level (so while most fighters got 1-10 hit points for each level they gained, half-giant fighters got 2-20 each level).

To balance out these incredible benefits? Half-giants suffered the aforementioned penalties to Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma. All half-giant equipment (weapons, armor, clothing, etc.) cost double since they were so much bigger. They were so heavy they couldn’t really ride many animals, or ride in wagons. But the primary balancing mechanic was their shifting alignment – effectively, there was a daily chance a half-giant would wake up evil instead of good, and kill the rest of the party. Seriously.

So, in a nutshell, half-giants were stupid piles of muscle, that existed for a single purpose – to kill shit. This was supposed to be balanced by the fact that the other players might wind up being the shit that got killed.

So, yeah, the half-giant was broken. Seriously fucking broken. Which was fine since (as we’ve already discussed) 2nd Edition, and Dark Sun in particular, weren’t really worried about game balance – broken shit was fine. However, that doesn’t really fly in 4th Edition, meaning the half-giant isn’t the same. Haters, start your engines (of hate!).

A pair of goliaths, the new face of the half-giant for DS4e.
A pair of goliaths, the new face of the half-giant for DS4e.

In my last races post, I mentioned that I wasn’t going to be talking about the PHB2/PHB3 races for now, with one exception. That exception is the Goliath – the new face of the Athasian half-giant. Introduced in the PHB2, fitting them into that “big, strong, smash” niche isn’t exactly a stretch:

Tribal nomads of the mountains, strong as the rock and proud as the peak.

Play a goliath if you want …

  • to be tougher and stronger than nearly anyone.
  • to master the rugged mountain slopes.
  • to be a member of a race that favors the barbarian, fighter and warden classes.

Doesn’t exactly sound that far off the mark, does it? Of course, there’s no such thing as a perfect conversation and this is no different. I don’t hate the goliath as a half-giant, but I do have mixed feelings about it – though those mixed feelings are tempered by the fact that I can’t imagine a better way to incorporate the half-giant into 4e. So let’s take a look at the goliath.

Goliaths get a +2 to Strength and a +2 to Constitution, which certainly scratches the right itch. They get to choose between dwarven or giant as a bonus language, which I’d switch to just giving them giant for obvious reasons. They get a bonus to Athletics and Nature checks, a bonus to their Will defense, get to roll twice and keep the better result for all Athletics checks, and have an encounter power than grants them resist 5 (more at higher levels) to all sources of damage for one full turn. All in all, they have the right “Hulk SMASH!!!!” feel, in my opinion. So why the mixed feelings?

They’re Medium-size creatures – just like humans, dwarves, elves and most player races. They range in height from 7’2″ to 7’8″, and weigh between 280 and 340 pounds. It’s worth noting that this is taller than all other player races, and heavier than all but the minotaur (which weighs a little more). So you know, they’re big, but not giant – and half-giants were giant compared to the other races (implying that propert giants were really big – and they were).

Now I get why the half-giant is medium-size. A large creature uses larger weapons – and larger weapons dish out more damage. An ordinary (medium-size) longsword deals 1d8 points of damage; a large longsword deals 1d10 points of damage. Large creatures also have “reach” – meaning they threaten and attack all squares within two spaces of them. Medium-size creatures only threaten one square – meaning a large half-giant can smash people in melee combat (which they’re good at) who can’t attack her back. Further, anyone approaching a large half-giant so they could make a melee attack against her will trigger an opportunity attack against himself – an opportunity attack made with that bigass weapon that deals more damage. Those three factors combined, mean a size-large player race probably can’t be balanced under any circumstances – at least not without introducing “level adjustment” style rules.

So, given those factors I’m not angry or otherwise upset by this change in the half-giant. At the same time, I really liked the idea that half-giants were very distinctly larger than humans or the other races. I see two different ways to handle this issue. The first is to just get over it, and move on. Half-giants were part of Dark Sun, but Dark Sun wasn’t about half-giants. The second option is through “rule zero”-style DM Fiat. Off the top of my head? Half-giants can procreate with one another, or with other giants. Half-giant/giant pairings yield other, large-size half-giants. Half-giant/half-giant pairings tend to thin out the giant blood – yielding “giant-blooded” i.e. goliaths.

I’m not married to it, but it’s just a thought. At least it allows me to use big half-giants as monsters without having a logical fallacy. So, there’s that.

Not sure if I’ll get a chance to do another one of these from the road or not. Depends on how tomorrow goes. But next time the haters will once again get to rev their engines of fury and rage, because I’ll be discussing another broken (were any of the Dark Sun-specific races not broken?) race – the thri-kreen.

D&D4E, Dark Sun

DS4e – Core Races, Part 2

So, four days later, I’m back at this. My apologies for the delay – my workload from school picked up, my stress level went through the roof, and when I wasn’t killing myself working with Flash (one of my courses is on animation) I was getting ready for my trip. However, found out yesterday that my departure’s been delayed, which means I’ve got nothing to do today. So, at long last, I’m diving back into the Dark Sun races post I left woefully incomplete.

So no mucking about, let’s get to this thing.

Half-elves

A pair of 4th Edition half-elves.
A pair of 4th Edition half-elves.

The half-elf has undergone a pretty significant makeover in the transition from 3rd to 4th Edition. For three editions now, half-elves have been the bastard offspring of two different races – and like most bastard children in the medieval era, polite company wanted nothing to do with them.

In 4th Edition, however, they’ve undergone a significant shift – from a scorned half-breed to a beloved example of the best that both races have to offer. They’re open-minded and insightful, confidant and charming – making them natural leaders and diplomats. The end result is a pretty cool race that, thematically, doesn’t really have a place on Athas.

Half-elves in Dark Sun, by way of comparison, are even more loathed than they were in standard Dungeons & Dragons. Some tribes of elves are known to not only kill half-breeds on sight, but exile elven women who give birth to them – effectively damning mother and child to die under the merciless Athasian sun. Dark Sun half-elves were also very strange, with most of their racial abilities coming from their fierce independent streak. I wouldn’t be surprised if the half-elf’s +2 to Diplomacy checks gets swapped with Nature, along with a similar change to their Group Diplomacy ability (which normally gives nearby allies +1 to Diplomacy checks), but otherwise I’m not sure there’ll be many mechanical changes.

A half-elf of Athas in her natural habitat - solitude.
A half-elf of Athas in her natural habitat - solitude.

The other two big racial benefits received by the Dark Sun half-elf were A) the half-elf could play as any character class (which is now true of every race and thus isn’t really a benefit) and B) the half-elf could “befriend” a pet, king of like the 3rd Edition Ranger’s animal companions. Of course, as 4th Edition has eliminated the whole concept of “allies as class features” (no animal companions for rangers or druids, no warhorse for paladins) that feature is almost certainly going to be dropped.

Given the fact that pretty much every benefit the Dark Sun half-elf received doesn’t work under the new edition, I have to assume that the half-elf will make the transition pretty much as-is, with a few possible minor changes (like Diplomacy to Nature) and a redefinition of the race’s flavor component.

A 4th Edition halfling, lunging with a pair of blades.
A 4th Edition halfling, lunging with a pair of blades.

Halflings

If Bilbo Baggins and Hannibal Lecter had children, the resultant offspring would be the halflings of Athas.

Dark Sun’s halflings were very much outsiders, even more so than the half-elves. They came from a region called the Forest Ridge – a tropical jungle which was itself on the far side of the Ringing Mountains, isolated from the rest of Athas. The halflings were feral and dangerous, considered any living thing that wasn’t a halfling a potential source of food, and had a very internal-focused culture that made it very difficult for outsiders to even fully communicate.

A feral Athasian halfling.
A feral Athasian halfling.

I really only see one problem with the halflings of Athas vs. the halflings of 4th Edition. Halflings are small, and halflings are fast. Every D&D player knows that halflings are small, and halflings are fast. The 4th Edition halfling is almost completely built around being small and fast (bonuses to Dexterity, Acrobatics & Thievery checks, and two other traits that make enemies more likely to miss them). However, the Athasian halfling was also wise and a part of an ancient culture that had a special union with nature. The 4th Edition halfling doesn’t really suggest that. I don’t know that this concept necessitates a mechanical change to the race – but I don’t know that it doesn’t either.

The end result? I figure a 50/50 chance that halflings will see significant mechanical changes for their Dark Sun incarnation. I just find this one to be too close to call, and I can’t find any official commentary on halflings in DS4e.

Humans

A 4th Edition human.
A 4th Edition human.

For as long as I’ve been playing Dungeons & Dragons, humankind has been the benchmark against which all other player races have been measured. In every edition, humans have always been cited as being incredibly versatile and adaptable.

In 2nd Edition (and the original Dark Sun), this meant that humans were the only race capable of playing as any character class, and reach maximum level. In 3rd Edition, it meant that instead of getting a lot of specific racial features, humans got a free skill and a free feat – on top of what every character already got. 4th Edition humans continue to follow in the mold of 3rd Edition: +2 to one ability score, one extra at-will class power, one bonus feat, one bonus skill, and +1 to all defenses. Very well-rounded, very open to customization.

Frankly, there’s no need to change anything for Dark Sun. Make sure all the humans are scowling in the concept art, give them all a tan, and call it a day.

An Athasian human.
An Athasian human.

As an aside – and completely off-topic – ever since the shift from 2nd to 3rd Edition I’ve seen online comments stating that the whole “humans tend to be the dominant race” concept is flawed, and should be reworked. Apparently the logic goes that the dominance of humans was based on their ability to progress in more character classes, and farther in those classes, than any other race. Therefore when dwarves (who had no arcane magic-users) came into conflict with humans, their wizards smacked them down – when elves came into conflict with humans, their higher-level clerics and fighters provided the needed edge, etc. etc.

That certainly contributed to their dominance, I’m sure, but is really a secondary factor. The primary factor? Birth rates. You see, virtually every race in Dungeons & Dragons is longer-lived than humans. Yet – and I’m speaking as a person who has owned virtually every racial sourcebook (Complete Book of Dwarves, Complete Book of Elves, etc.) – there’s never really any mention of the dwarven or elven nuclear family being noticeably larger than that of humans. Which suggests that humans? Way outnumber the other races. Eleves take an entire century to hit physical maturity – meaning four or five generations of humans will be born, grow up, have children of their own, and die before a single elven generation is ready to perpetuate the species.

Anyways, that really has nothing to do with anything, just a minor rant I’ve been holding inside for some time.

Tieflings

A pair of tieflings, a new race in 4th Edition - and possible spawn of the Pristine Tower.
A pair of tieflings, a new race in 4th Edition - and possible spawn of the Pristine Tower.

Finally, we reach the third race that is brand-new to 4th Edition, and thus has no established place in Dark Sun. Dungeons & Dragons veterans will recognize tieflings as being humans with a minor trace of of infernal (read that: demonic) blood. In 4th Edition, however, they’re a race unto themselves – the descendants of a now-fallen empire who struck foul bargains with infernal creatures. So, you know, still got the demon-taint, just a different flavoring of it.

Dark Sun doesn’t have any gods to speak of, and in the absence of any sort of divine presence angels and demons seem to stick out like a sore thumb. I for one don’t really think the Judeo-Christian feel of Dungeons & Dragons’  Angel/Demon/Devil concept really works with Athas. That might just be my personal opinion, but I don’t actually recall any references to them in any of the old Dark Sun material – which itself says something (again, in my opinion).

However, Chris Flipse (one of the administrators over at athas.org) made a rather brilliant comment during his interview with the Dragonlance Canticle (the interview is in two parts, and I don’t recall which part the comment is in) – brilliant enough that I wish I’d thought of it! Basically, he mentioned a structure called the Pristine Tower – an ancient spire of white rock that was once the site of a great investment of power and energy. These days, anyone who is injured near it – even so much as a scratch – turns into a hideous, mutated creature. So that’s certainly one option for the tiefling’s backstory.

Mechanically, the tieflings are fine. Clever, confidant, deceptive and bloodthirsty – they’re pretty much a natural fit for Dark Sun, and I think they’ll make a really solid addition.

The Rest

Okay, so there’s the eight player races introduced in the PHB1. However, between the PHB2 & PHB3 nine (or ten, depending on how you count) additional races have been introduced: deva, githzerai, gnomes, goliaths, half-orcs, minotaurs, shardminds, shifters (two varieties), and wilden. Not a single one of them has an established place on Dark Sun! What about them?

At the Dark Sun panel at the D&D Experience, Robert Schwalb explained the official policy on Gnomes – basically they decided not to bother talking about non PHB1 races that don’t have a place already defined for them in Dark Sun, leaving it up to individual Dungeon Masters whether or not to incorporate them into their campaigns. In the future, I may blog about the PHB2/PHB3 races and my thoughts on incorporating them into a Dark Sun campaign – but that will, at the very least, be after DS4e is out and I’ve got my hands on a copy.

Until then, I won’t be discussing the “extra” races – with one exception you’ll be hearing about soon. More on that next time.

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.