December 9, 2010

Dark Sun: Earth, Air, Fire, and Water

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 Earth, Air, Fire, and Water (DSS2) published in 1993. It is softcover and runs 96 pages. The book is divided into 8 chapters, with an appendix. This supplement covers the cleric class and priestly magic in general.

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Chapter 1: The Elemental Powers
The chapter is an overview of priestly magic and starts with the topic of the priest class (roughly the same as the 4E cleric). It goes into how there are no gods on Athas, certainly none that answer prayers or give divine powers. Basically gods are not a power source. It then goes on to explain that priests can still exist within the setting, but they gain their powers from the world itself, elemental powers. This is similar to how the 4E setting explains it.

The first chapter goes on to explain that those who use the powers set up pacts with the elementals (not the same as 4E warlock pacts) and the priests act as pawns doing the bidding of the elementals. Again this is the same as how the 4E setting describes the interaction.

Chapter 2: Elemental Clerics
To start I want to note that this chapter has a tendency to meander all over the place. Ideas seem to be thrown haphazardly onto the pages with only a vague organization. Topics are discussed in one spot and then again in another.

The chapter starts by going into greater detail on elemental clerics, specifically the elements involved (fire, air, earth, water). An elemental cleric needs to choose a specific element to make a pact with, though at this point there is no information as to exactly what that means in a game mechanic aspect. It does go slightly into the base game mechanics of a cleric, such as minimum stats required, but these are of no use in a 4E campaign. It gives greater detail on the duties and pacts with the elementals, including what happens if a character breaks said pact.

It should be noted right now that the 4E sourcebook has the Elemental Priest as a character theme and this theme corresponds nicely with the concepts found within this 2E sourcebook. This theme will be our main comparison with the 2E book.

The chapter next lists various powers and limitations of an elemental cleric. These are base abilities that every elemental cleric has irrespective of other factors. These abilities do not mesh well with a 4E campaign. For example, one base ability is the power to gate in a small amount of your chosen element. At first glance this seems fine until you think about the water element. The 4E setting specifically suggests avoiding rituals and abilities that minimize the harshness of the Dark Sun setting, such as the lack of and need for water. The ability to gate in water negates this hazard.

The chapter also mentions that clerics over level 20 can begin the process of turning into an Elemental himself. This is similar to turning into the 4E Dragon King or Avangion epic destinies. However, since more is discussed on this topic further into the sourcebook I’ll wait until then to discuss the idea.

Seemingly randomly the next topic is Recharging Spells, which requires a cleric to be in contact with his chosen element when he is learning his spells after a rest period. Since 4E classes don’t have to memorize their powers (except the wizard) this restriction is moot.

Next is the topic of character kits (the 2E version of character themes). Four are presented here; the Wanderer, Guardian of the Shrines, Clerics of the Cities, and Shamans. 2E character kits are roughly the same in concept as character themes, but they are more for role-playing as they confer relatively weak bonuses. These particular kits are geared even more as a role-playing background than other 2E kits and I’m not sure these kits could even be used as a basis for a 4E character theme or paragon class conversion.

A discussion of races and the various elementals comes up next. This explains which elemental affinity each race has and includes a table wherein a race is limited in the levels he can advance in cross-referenced by his chosen element. Since 4E does not limit class levels by race this information is of no use in a 4E campaign.

Next we start to get into the meatier parts of the book. It starts to go into more detail on the four types of elemental priests. It goes into how a cleric looks at the world based on his chosen element. It also goes into such things as initiation, pacts, weapons and armor. It also lists a bunch of granted powers based on the element chosen. It then explains how the earlier kits affect an elemental cleric. Most of the powers listed could be considered the same as class powers. In this case, they are of little use in a 4E setting campaign, though they could be integrated into a character theme or paragon class based around that particular element. The 4E sourcebook did just that and shows 2 examples of specific element powers with their Rainbringer (water/rain) and Smoking Crown Initiate (fire/magma) paragon classes. New paragon classes could be created based around the other elemental types.

The chapter ends with a discussion of Combination Casting, the ability to have two elemental priests cast together to access the paraelemental. This is problematic for a 4E campaign since it relies on being able to learn and use single spells outside their class’ normal power set.

Chapter 3: Paraelemental Clerics
This chapter takes the concept of fusing two elements together and brings it up to the level of a regular elemental cleric. It specifically covers the Silt, Sun, Magma and Rain paraelements. The chapter covers the paraelemental clerics in much the same way as the elemental clerics were covered in the previous chapter. As I had hinted at in the discussion of the earlier chapter, the 4E paragon classes cover the paraelemental clerics as well. The Rainmaker could be considered to be a Rain paraelementalist and the Smoking Crown Initiate to be a Magma paraelementalist in addition to their “base” element.

Chapter 4: The Druids
Here we start to relate the concept of elemental power sources and the cleric class to other classes found within 2E. IN 2E druids were considered a sub-class of the priest class and as such this book has chosen to discuss how they fit into the elemental priest concept. It should be quickly noted that as a class, the 2E druid is very different from the 4E druid.

We take a look at how the elemental pacts work with a druid and how their initiation works. It goes into the concept that druids watch over “groves” (a 2E character concept) or in this case they call it guarded lands. This is almost exactly the same as the Primal Guardian character theme from the 4E setting, especially the Guardian of the Land paragon class. Also included are specific powers elemental druids gain as they level up, but this is covered in the theme from the 4E book very nicely.

Chapter 5: The Templars
Since the templars are technically a sub-class of the priest mention is made of their interaction with the elements as well. The chapter starts by giving a brief overview of the various templars for each city, but oddly without any mention of the elements.

Next the chapter discusses how templars can not in fact directly access elemental magic at all. It does give a list of abilities templars gain as they progress in level, but this information is already covered with the 4E Templar character theme.

Chapter 6: Shrines and Power Conjunctions
Here we have the most useful chapter in the book. This details various elemental shrines to be found throughout the Tyr region of Athas. There is one for each of the elements and paraelements mentioned in the book; earth, air, fire, water, silt, sun, magma and rain. Included is a general overview, a numbered map, and any NPCs that may be found there (usually a guardian druid). This information is excellent for creating any number of adventures.

The chapter also goes into the concept of Power Conjunctions. This is basically when an elemental priest is standing in a whole bunch of his chosen element. The section describes what constitutes a conjunction (a slight breeze is not enough to be considered being in an Air Conjunction) and what the benefits are (the casters effective level is considered to be 2 levels higher). The benefit does not translate well into 4E, however, at their core, the concept of a power conjunction is the same as fantastic terrain as found in the DMG and DMG2.

Chapter 7: Advanced Beings and Adventures in the Inner Planes
Herein they discuss the process of turning into an advanced being. As written, clerics can turn into elementals and druids into spirits of the land. While in concept they are the same as transforming into a Dragon King or Avangion, the rules as presented are far weaker. There is also no 4E equivalent for an elemental epic destiny. I would be interested in seeing these written up as a 4E destiny and making them on par with the other advanced beings.

The chapter next goes into the Inner planes. These are elemental planes and the book does a good job describing how a character interacts with them and what a character can expect to find once there. In 4E they would be roughly the same as the Elemental Chaos, which, unfortunately is not quite the same as the 2E version of the elemental planes. In 2E the elemental planes are more ordered and separated from the Chaos. Therefore, it would be difficult to integrate the two concepts into a 4E campaign.

Chapter 8: New Priest Spells
This presents new spells for the priest class, with the Dark Sun spin put on them. However, they are of limited use in a 4E campaign. First, because they are written in the 2E format, but also because it is harder to add single spells/powers to a 4E class. However, with a little work, these spells could be converted into 4E powers (as additional choices at their respective level) or as rituals. They could also be used as material for any paragon classes a person wanted to design.

Appendix
The book ends with this appendix, which lists all the spells allowed in the 2E Dark Sun setting. This list was gathered from the core setting book and the various supplements released up to that point. For a 4E setting this list is on no value.

Artwork
There are 24 pictures included. When looking at artwork I am looking for pictures that I can use to show off a scene or location. In addition, if there is a good picture of an important NPC, I will also make a photocopy of the NPC. The goal for the pictures is to be able to present my players with a visible representation of something their characters would be able to see.

Most of the artwork is done by Baxa. I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned how I dislike his style, so my evaluation of the quality is going to rate it as poor. However, there are not a lot of pictures that show good scenes that I can show my players. There a few pictures that can show an NPC, but not many of these.

Overall: The sections dealing with elemental shrines is the best this book has to offer to a 4E setting campaign, as it provides some locations and adventure ideas that could be easily used for a game session.

Unfortunately, the rest of information found within this sourcebook can be boiled down to 8 pages in the 4E sourcebook. The Elemental Priest character theme and its two related paragon classes, the Rainbringer and Smoking Crown Initiate, cover the majority of the information to be found in this 2E sourcebook. The Primal Guardian character theme, as well as the Guardian of the Land and Voice for the Ravaged paragon classes, covers the rest. The writers of the 4E book did a superb job incorporating the information found in this 2E book, rendering this book of little practical value. While there is still some information that could be gleaned from the 2E book, particularly to make some more paragon classes, by and large there is little need for this book.
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