December 13, 2010

Dark Sun: Psionic Artifacts of Athas

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 Psionic Artifacts of Athas published in 1996. It is softcover and runs 128 pages. The book is divided into 4 chapters, with an appendix. It has the distinction of being the last 2E book released for the Dark Sun line.
I will note now that while the title indicates the book is about psionic artifacts, in fact, it covers non-psionic artifacts as well and also non-artifact magic items. Despite these discrepancies, the items are definitely Athas in origin and feel.


Chapter 1: Artifacts of Athas
The chapter doesn’t waste a lot of time getting straight to the artifacts. Each artifact follows the same format. It starts with a brief description of what the artifact looks like.

History gives an excellent discourse on its background within Athas. This can be used as a seed for designing adventures, adventures that do not even have to include the artifact. However, most of the described history is in more detail and covers more history than the 4E setting outlined.

Campaign Use gives a rough description of how powerful the artifact is deemed to be by the inhabitants of Athas. Also here are straight up suggestions for adventures focusing on the artifact. However, I don’t want to mislead you, the suggestions are simply ideas that would require a lot of work to get them up to module form.

Powers is a list of powers the artifact has. In the 2E style artifacts had multiple powers similar to 4E powers, though without a graded system of Concordance. However, it would not take much to spread the powers out into the 4E style. Also included is a Curse. This is usually something detrimental to the wielder of the artifact, especially with prolonged use. This can also be added as a consequence of the artifact being unsatisfied or angered. All in all, it would be pretty easy to transform the artifacts into the 4E rule set.

Suggested Means of Destruction are a couple methods by which the artifact can be destroyed, usually something very difficult to accomplish. 2E’s artifacts were world shakers and sometimes the whole point of an adventure was to destroy an artifact, especially if a character was stuck with one and it was going to kill him soon from prolonged contact/use. 4E doesn’t really allow for the destruction of artifacts, by virtue of moving on, but if a DM likes the idea he can include the conventions for destroying artifacts.

There are 11 artifacts in this chapter each getting at least, and most times more, a full page of description. Most of the artifacts are from the series of novels based on the Dark Sun setting that came out at the time, though some seem unique to the book.

The chapter ends with 25 tables of random powers. Some of the artifacts have a couple of random powers in addition to their core abilities and these tables fill out the artifact’s powers. These tables can also be used as source material for creating your own artifacts as they are very extensive.

Chapter Two: Life-Shaped Items
This book introduces a new type of magic item, magic items that are “living”. They are organic and often bond with the user. In a lot of ways they remind me of cyberware from Shadowrun; actually, they more remind me of the organic weaponry and items from the Space Gods sourcebook for the TORG gaming system.

The items originated in the ancient past of Athas and as such are not part of the 4E setting, so you will need to take a good hard look at them to determine if you want to add them to your game. There are a couple of pages on how to do just that. There is a page of how specific spells affect the items, but since 4E spells and powers usually do not affect magic items the information is lost on a 4E game (not to mention that 2E spells and 4E powers do not mix well).

These are not artifacts and should be considered magic items. Thus their write-ups are not as detailed as the artifacts were; they give basic information and the game effects.

There are 65 life-shaped magic items listed. Besides adding them to a Dark Sun campaign it is also possible to add them to a regular 4E campaign. Again, it would take some work to convert them to the 4E rule set but it should not be that hard.

Chapter Three: Rhul-tal: Life-Shaped Artifacts
Here we have the life-shaped artifacts. They are written up the same as the previous artifacts from Chapter One. There are 8 artifacts listed.

Chapter Four: Dark Sun Magical Items
We now have a plethora of new magic items for Dark Sun, 77 of them in fact. A lot of them could be considered “standard” magic items adapted for the Dark Sun setting. For instance there is a scroll of protection from silt horrors; protection scrolls are something fairly basic in the 2E setting but this one is adapted for Dark Sun since there are no silt horrors in other settings. So a lot of the items do the same thing as another item, but with a slight variation.

Another thing to keep in mind is that the 4E sourcebook recommends limiting or eliminating items/powers that negate the harshness of the game world. For example, this book includes a ring of coolness. This ring allows a person to suffer no ill effect from the sun and can even wear full armor in the hottest part of the day. This completely negates the harshness of the setting and should not be allowed. However, the majority of the items can be safely used, just beware.

There are two appendixes. The first one has additional life-shaped items. There are 61 of them and each has a brief description with stats. I am not sure why they were not included in Chapter Two, though the font is smaller and no pictures of the items are included. Perhaps they simply ran out of enough space in the book to give them a better write-up, though the items are functional as written (for the 2E rule set).

Appendix 2 is a set of 21 tables of random magic items. It appears to incorporate the 2E regular items and integrates those with the items from this book, thus allowing a GM to randomly roll for a wide variety of treasure. 2E did not include gold prices for magic items, instead offering up an xp value for each item. This by itself is not of much worth in a 4E game, but the xp values do offer an insight into the relative value of each item with each other and it would be possible for an enterprising math wiz to extrapolate these numbers into 4E gold values.

All the artwork is in color. All the artifacts have their own picture as do the life-shaped items that are given stats. Altogether there are a lot of pictures here. They do an excellent job showing each item. An enterprising GM can easily scan/crop them onto item cards to hand to the players as they find the items during play.
There are no pictures beyond the items, but that is ok for such a book as this one.

Overall: The 4E Dark Sun setting book has a total of 5 pages of magic items and no artifacts at all. If you like artifacts, or just like a variety of magic items, then this book has a lot for you to work with. The book has a lot of uses but is not ready to use. It will require some work to make it work, but it might be worth it since the book is rich in details.

Even if a DM doesn’t want to do the work of converting the magic items, there is still a lot of background information about Athas that can be mined for story ideas. One thing, however, to bear in mind about the background information, is that the book utilizes information near the end of the game setting’s life cycle so there is a lot of information here, information that is not part of the stated setting for 4E. Mostly this pertains to ancient history of Athas. A DM has a couple of choices here; to ignore the information and stick solely to the 4E setting or to integrate it into his campaign.

The book can not be picked up and used immediately at all. It will require some measure of work to convert the items to the 4E rules and to make sure you want to incorporate the history as stated. But if you are willing to do either of those, then this book will be of a lot of use for you.
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