Review: Dark Sun Campaign Setting, Part 3: Still More Player Options?
In the previous installments of this in-depth look at the Dark Sun Campaign Setting, we’ve examined the new builds for existing classes and the new races introduced by this well-hyped book, as well as the new options introduced for players such as character themes, wild talents and arcane defiling.
In my opinion, the entirety of the material we get from the Dark Sun Campaign Setting alone is greater than what we got for Forgotten Realms in 4th Edition (Campaign Guide, Player’s Guide and Insider articles). Which is okay, because I really don’t care about the Realms.
In this final installment on the player options, we look at paragon paths, epic destinies, feats, equipment/items and rituals and how they expand on the basic conceits of D&D to provide a very Athas-specific flavor.
Athas is supposed to be a metal-poor world, so few people carry steel longswords or even brass daggers. Therefore it is assumed that all your weapons and armor are made out of bones, chitin, wood or stone. True metal items are considered of masterwork quality. Mechanically, this means starting with mundane weapons is as normal, just none of them are made of ore.
We also get some neat new weapons specific to the setting. I haven’t analyzed the mechanical potential to be had in them, but many of the old favorites return such as the gythka, (you say bladed double staff, I say Thri-Kreen ‘lirpa‘), the chatkcha (or the Athasian boomerang) and the wrist razors (also known as ‘everybody wants to be a bad-ass X-man.’) We also get some desert-specific survival equipment like distillation kits, sun balm (roll 6d10 for SPF, perhaps?) and lengths of woven giant hair (i.e. rope with resist 10 all). Basically, everything you need to show to a DM in any campaign when he’s trying to torture you with prolonged desert scenarios.
As for rituals, we get two pages devoted to it for five new rituals: Create Primal Element, Land Ward, Silt Walk, Revitalize and Create Tree of Life. The real importance of the rituals sections is to provide the various restrictions and considerations that need to be made regarding the use of rituals from sources outside the pages of the Dark Sun Campaign Setting.
In short: ritual divination is risky, conjuring food and water is unknown, weather control is defective, planar travel is mostly impossible, teleportation is guarded and religious rituals involve ringing a bell for gods that won’t answer. Basically people like me who like to confound their DMs through ritual use are pretty much screwed on Athas.
As for adventuring in the post-heroic tiers, the focus of paragon paths and epic destinies get very specific orientation. Paragon paths in this book emphasize the development of character themes and races, while the epic destinies are directed towards a setting-specific flavor.
The Arms-Troubadour paragon path for Athasian Minstrels makes aspiring swashbucklers even more obnoxious. Your failure margin with Acrobatics, Athletics and Stealth checks becomes smaller, you begin to gain combat advantage against melee combatants that miss you and skill checks made with an action point get a +5 bonus (great for people who love using skill powers).
The Master Preserver paragon path transforms non-defiling arcanists into healers. In addition to a minor bonus to Nature, Perception and Endurance and the ability to reroll an arcane attack roll made through an action point, you grant heals when you surge and wield various leader-ish encounter powers. Basically, if you want to be the wizard or swordmage turned valorous leader, this is the way to go.
The Smoking Crown Initiate paragon path for Elemental Priests turn you into a zone for damage dealing, as you acquire the power to deal fire damage as a close blast 3 and make 35 square feet of ground around you into damage dealing difficult terrain. In addition, you gain bonus fire resistance and can assist defenders by giving them more marks for every attack made with an action point.
The Dragon King epic destiny for defiling arcanists is about taking your dastardly power-mongering up to eleven and transforming into a dragon. Mechanically, you get to defile in a more defiling manner and by level 26 you get to ‘rampage’ which gives you the power to smack people who dare to approach squares adjacent to you and by level 30, you vomit hot blinding ash on a 25 square foot area.
The Hordemaster epic destiny basically turns you into Mad Max. You become a hero who turns his or her back on the temptations of ‘civilization’ and eventually acquire an entourage of individuals that admire your moral clarity. Mechanically, you reduce the cost of shifting for allies who join you in melee and by level 26, allies begin to get double hit points for surging and bonuses to saves. My favorite thing though is the level 24 feature The Legend Lives On. I’ll let the text speak for itself:
If you die and do not return to life within 12 hours, a devoted follower such as a trusted lieutenant takes your place, adopting your identity, your equipment, and your goals. This follower is identical to you, with the same level, race, class, paragon path, epic destiny, feats, and so forth. The two of you are essentially the same person and even have the same memories and experiences, if only because your follower listened so closely to your tales. If you are revived after being dead for more than 12 hours, your trusted follower returns to his or her former role.
A lot has been said about the inconsistencies in power level of epic destinies and paragon paths in 4e. As far as these paths and destinies go, I couldn’t confidently say whether they are weaksauce or power creep. And honestly, I don’t care. My preference in balance (as far as D&D goes) is that I don’t worry about whether PCs are in fact, too powerful for encounters but worry instead about whether or not they are equally powerful as one another. So yeah, as far as I’m concerned these new destinies and paths just mean ‘setting-specific options for higher level bad-assery’.
What’s being impressed upon me about these parts of the Dark Sun Campaign Setting is how the harshness of the world instantly makes paragon and epic play look all the more tantalizing. When the world is so much more brutal, a hero of the wastes who lives on in legend and a villainous spellcaster who becomes a dragon-tyrant become so much more full of campaign win.
So tune in next time, when we will discuss the DM-specific material of the Dark Sun Campaign Setting such as the advice on how to run a Dark Sun campaign and the information provided on the politics and geography of Athas. Also, don’t overlook our friends at Points of Light, who also posted a review of the Dark Sun Campaign Setting.
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