Recently WotC rereleased the Dark Sun setting for 4E. This article is part of a series that examines a release from 2E Dark Sun and sees how and if it can be integrated with the new 4E version of the world setting.
The sourcebook we’re looking at today is Dragon Kings published in 1992. It is hardcover and runs 160 pages. The book is not divided into chapters, but instead has 8 sections (very much like chapters), 3 appendixes and some new monsters at the end.
I would like to note that I have already written about the Foreword for the book (that article can be found at http://bigballofnofun.blogspot.com/2010/11/foreword-of-awesome.html). Usually I would not cover in detail a foreword, but I liked that one so much I had to write about it.
Legends of Athas
The section starts by making mention that Athas has no gods and to make up for that their society has replaced their mythos with their own tales of legends and myths. The section provides 4 such legendary stories. They are written as old parables or fables, but with a Dark Sun twist to them. They are actually good stories and would work well as told by an NPC around a camp fire. The beginning of each section also includes another legend.
One change from the 4E setting lies in the second story, Drake and Maiden. In it the drake is intelligent which is contrary to the write-up for a drake as found in the Dark Sun Creature Catalog. However, since this is a legend, perhaps legends state drakes were once intelligent.
This provides a general overview of the concepts of Advanced Beings; the epic destinies in the 4E setting. It describes the Psionic Enhancement concept. This is not a form of psionics, but rather the use of psionics to advance oneself into an advanced being. This falls outside the 4E version of advanced beings and really has no place in a 4E setting.
There is a nice list of the Sorcerer-kings and how close they are to becoming dragons, but the Dark Sun Creature Catalog already covers this information.
The section also goes into where the sorcerer-kings harnessed their ability to grant clerical magics, the living vortexes. According to the section these vortexes were a unique occurrence and can not happen again, so any future sorcerer-kings will not be able to grant powers to their followers. This is different from the 4E setting. The section ends with a brief description of what Kalak of Tyr tried to do and why it failed.
The main thrust of the book is about how to bring characters up from the previous level limit of 20 to the new limit of 30. In essence it was bringing an epic tier of adventure to the 2E rule set. This book covered each of the predominant classes of 2E and explains how each class can progress up to level 30. The first classes covered are the warriors; fighter, ranger, gladiator.
It starts off discussing arguably the most prominent “ability” an advanced warrior had access to in 2E, followers. It talks about how a GM can arrange their arrival and what options might be available to a warrior as far as use of these followers. While 4E does have companions to augment a party, it does not have followers in the tradition of 2E. There are no rules for armies in 4E and that is the ultimate goal of having these followers. As such this is of no use in a 4E setting. There is a Hordemaster Epic Destiny in the 4E Dark Sun Campaign Setting book, but it utilizes allies instead of followers and is not a direct relation to the 2E version of an advanced warrior.
From there it talks about Challenge Combat. This is a ritualized form of combat between two army’s champions. It discusses what is allowed in the fight and what is not. Of note is how each race approaches challenges. For instance, a thri-kreen will only accept a challenge from another thri-kreen and the two will use no weapons. Also mentioned is what happens if someone cheats during a challenge. The topic ends with an interesting note on how these challenges can bring the fight of armies back down to the level of the party; this is of particular worth in a 4E campaign.
The warrior section ends with an extensive list of army units that can be used in Battlesystem. This was a sub rule set for 2E that allowed for combat between large armies. This is not something to be found in 4E and is of no worth in a 4E setting campaign.
At first glance this would appear to be a subset of the Warrior section, since it pertains to combat vehicles, but it is given its own section in the book. There are 6 vehicles noted; heavy Chariot, Light Chariot, Cliff glider, Mekillot Ram, Undead War Beetle, Silt Skimmer. Each vehicle is discussed as far as Construction, Crew, Tactics (special rules hat apply) and Battlesystem Game tactics. There is also a picture provided for each vehicle. While the vehicles are interesting, the game information is useless since it is all in 2E. With some work however, they could adapted to the 4E rule set.
Wizards progress beyond 20th level by either transforming into Dragons or Avangion. Each is discussed as far as level requirements, the Metamorphosis spell, how they interact with psionics and magic, the progression of advancement, and how they can be role-played. The 4E Dark Sun book does provides for the Dragon and Avangion Epic Destiny, so many of the core concepts are still in place, but done in a 4E manner.
Psionic Enhancement, the 10th level spells, were new to 2E and allowed for spells beyond the highest level of spells up to that point; in 2E spells did not progress past 9th level until this sourcebook came along. Also included is a discussion on how to deal with the Wish spell since that was the former ultimate spell. Also covered are some specific spells from a 2E source book, the Tome of magic, and how they apply to Dark Sun.
All of the above is of no use in a campaign utilizing the 4E rule set. They are far too specific to the 2E system.
However, next up we have Sensory Effects of Spellcasting. This is a comprehensive look at spell effects and how they can be customized to an individual spell caster to allow his spells to give off a unique effect. The effects usually work on the senses; sight, sound, smell, taste, touch. Such things as variant color or sounds can be added or changed for the spells each caster is capable of using. This part of this section is a nice addition to allow a spell caster to tailor their own character to make them unique.
The section ends with a brief discussion on Familiars and Hideaways. Familiars of a spellcaster on Athas tend to be unobtrusive, due to the biases against spell casters. Hideaways of a wizard are their lairs and some suggestions are given of what to expect in such a hideaway, but these suggestions are very broad and common.
The 2E setting still allowed clerics to exist; they worshipped the elements instead of the gods. In fact, instead of turning into a Dragon or Avangion at 20-30th level they transformed into Elements themselves. Similar to the portions in the Wizards section, this section includes all the same information on how to turn into an Elemental higher being.
Mention is made of the Templars and how they can not progress past the 20th level. Druids are also mentioned and they are allowed to progress past 20th level. However, they do not have access to an advanced form, but instead forge closer ties to the land they are sworn to protect. Druids in 2E are divergent from the 4E version and much of the information is of no use in a 4E campaign. Also, thankfully, templars are a theme in the 4e campaign setting and as such they can progress as their core class.
Next the book discusses the priest spells beyond 7th level. Similar to the wizard, clerics in 2E were limited to 7th level spells and this supplement allowed them to learn spells beyond their normal restrictions. Again notes are made of specific spells from the 2E Tome of Magic sourcebook. Since 4E uses a different spell and power system this information is moot.
From there the section goes into the Planes Beyond. It is a discussion on how the various planes all fit together. The 4E campaign book sticks fairly close to the typical 4E cosmology. This is slightly different from the 2E version of planes, different enough that the two bits of information are just incompatible enough so they can not be used together.
The section deals with the topic of Clerical Organization. The basic gist is that clerics are loners and rarely form congregations. Mention is made of these rare exceptions. Since the 4E sourcebook recommends not allowing clerics (or divine characters) into the campaign this information is useless unless a GM wanted to use it for a charlatan NPC.
Here we get into the rogues and bards and how they progress past 20th level. This is fairly straight forward as they gain more points to spend in their thieving abilities (in fact this is the shortest character section in the book only running 5 pages). In 2E thieves gained access to exclusive abilities, such as Climb Walls or Open Locks. This sourcebook added some new abilities, Detect Magic, Detect Illusion, Forge Document, Bribe Official, Dig Tunnel, and Escape Bonds. Specifics are given for each of the new abilities. However, these abilities now fall into the skills of 4E and thus this information is of no use in a 4E setting campaign.
This sourcebook introduces the Order. This is a group of high level psionicists above 20th level that have loosely banded together to control psionicists above 20th level. It provides a brief description of the organization, how it is laid out, how to enter it, what its agenda is, how a person can fit in, how to integrate the Order into a campaign and its outlook on the sorcerer-kings and other advanced beings. As written the Order is exceptionally controlling and if a character does not adhere strictly to their mandates (doing “good” is considered to be non-neutral and thus prohibited), the character is hunted by the Order. The Order is set up to antagonistic toward adventurers and it will be rare that a psionicist character will be able to stay on their good side.
In contrast, the 4E Epic Destiny, Mind Lord of the Order (the only mention of the Order in the 4E book), is a bit less stringent. While they still want to keep wild use of psionics under control, the definition of what constitutes a divergence from a neutral outlook is more lenient. However, if a GM wanted to play up the harsher constrictions it could make a campaign more intense.
There are three Appendixes, each describing new spells and powers for wizards, priests and psionicists, including the new 10th level spells. This fully covers 72 pages of the book, nearly half the book. Since the 4E rule set takes a completely different approach to spells and powers, as written, all of this information is of no use. However, if a GM is willing to do the work he could conceivably convert these spells into powers and rituals for the 4E rules. Otherwise, half the book is of no use in a 4E campaign.
Monstrous Compendium Entries
Here we have the Dragon, Avangion and Element advanced beings written up as 2E monsters. And when I say they are written up, they are all given stats of varied and then a chart is provided for the stats of the various advanced beings at each level of their progression. Because they are written for the 2e rule set, they are of no use in a 4E campaign. If you wanted to use them in a 4E game you can use the Dragon of Tyr entry in the Dark Sun Creature Catalog as a basis for the other two.
There are 45 pictures to be found in this book. Other than the pictures of the war vehicles and progression of the Dragon and Avangion forms, the artwork can not be used to showcase things the characters will see during an adventure.
Overall: While this book was something innovative for its time, it usefulness for a 4E setting is minimal at best. Class structures have changed radically from their 2E counterparts and translating the two is too difficult to truly be effective. Bringing the information herein into the 4E rule set is simply not worth it. There are a couple of interesting bits that could be brought into a 4E game, such as the Sensory Effects of Spellcasting, but overall the book is not of any use for a 4E setting campaign.