December 29, 2010

Dark Sun: The Will and the Way

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 The Will and the Way published in 1994. It is 96 pages long with 8 chapters and 3 appendixes. Its goal is to try and cover psionics in Dark Sun.
I will say it now, psionics has changed considerably between 2E and 4E. All of the mechanical aspects in the book are of no use in a 4E campaign.

I don’t normally cover the introduction because it is usually just an overview of what is to come and doesn’t provide any relevant information. However, this introduction does have a couple of interesting bits in it.

We get a definition of what the Will and the Way mean. Will is innate psionic ability while Way is the study of psionics. With the prevalence of psionics on Athas the distinction has merit. The 4E setting book describes the Way as the use of psionics, a semantic divergence.

Also, mentioned is made of Tarandas, a noble of Raam who codified the disciplines of psionics and opened a public academy for the stuffy of psionics, in effect opening up the power of psionics to the non-privileged. The 4E setting book makes no mention of Tarandas; in fact, 4E psionics do not make use of disciplines as a concept.

As a side note, I have always felt that psionics was a core concept of the Dark Sun setting, one of its main characteristics. However, in the Introduction of the 4E book, the prevalence of psionics is not listed as one of their Eight Characteristics of Athas. I understand that the concepts of psionics have changed between 2E and 4E, but with the inclusion of wild talents for characters, I still see psionics as a core part of the Dark Sun setting.

Chapter One: Masters of the Way
The chapter starts with a discussion on how each of the various races looks at and uses psionics. This is then followed by how those in Society deals with psionics, covering such social strata all the way from sorcerer-kings down to tribesmen. The chapter ends with how psionics can affect laws and vice versa.

This chapter has some good insights into how a character can role-play their reaction to psionics. Players can use it as a guideline and DMs can use the information to help play an NPC. Since it is all fluff it does not interfere with the 4E setting.

Chapter Two: Psionicists of the Tyr Region
This covers the city-states and a lot of the major villages throughout the Tyr region. Each section goes into a brief (very brief) description of the prominent people and schools within that location. Sometimes a map is provided of a school, or 2E stats and a background is provided for a major NPC in the settlement. All together this chapter is a nice overview for each location, if sparse. The information herein could be used as a catalyst for adventures.

Things mentioned in this book as well as in the 4E setting book include the House of the Mind school in Draj, the Gulg Seers, the Exalted Path Monastery and Temple of Thought in Nibenay, Urga-Zoltapl in Ogo, the Psiumarkh school and Yellow Monastery in Raam, and the King’s Academy in Urik. A lot of other information is not mentioned in the 4E book, but including them does not present a problem with using this chapter in a 4E campaign.

Chapter Three: Psionicist Character Kits
A number of 2E kits are presented here. With some work they could be used as concept pieces for a paragon path.
Auditor- A person who works with contacts to gather information. An interesting concept, but I’m not sure how it fits into a psionic class; this seems like something that could be used by anyone. It also reminds me of the contact system in Shadowrun.
Beastmaster Psionicist- Works with animals. Simply taking a multiclass or hybrid with Ranger should cover this.
Mercenary Psionicist- Sells his abilities, pretty straightforward.
Noble Psionicist- The character would start as a noble, which is more of a feat or DM decision than a path.
Psiologist- An academic of psionics. Feats can cover this kit.
Sensei- Basically this is a multiclass or hybrid with a martial class.
Tribal Psionicist- This is more of a role-playing and background shtick than a path.

Chapter Four: Proficiencies
This short chapter provides some skill-like abilities. Unfortunately, they will not work at all for a 4E campaign.

Chapter Five: Mental Combat
Combat between two people wielding psionics in 2E was ever evolving (mostly because no one liked the psionic sub-systems). This chapter provides for a sub-subsystem wherein psionic combat could be further broken down into what they called Constructs (defenses) and Harbingers (attacks). A chart is provided for their interactions (some attacks work better or worse depending on the defenses chosen). Basically this was a visualized form of combat where the participants imagined what an attack would look like and used that vision to reinforce their attack or defense. Charts are provided for sample visualizations. An extensive sample combat is even provided.

Does this fit into a 4E campaign? Not at all. However, if a GM and players like the concept of visualizations they can still make use of the examples provided to enhance their descriptions of a character’s use of psionics.

Chapter Six: The Disciplines
2E divided psionic powers into a variety of Disciplines that more or less organized them by type. This chapter goes into a general overview of each Discipline and even provides a list of which powers are gained at what level. While providing exhaustive information, none of this is of use in a 4E campaign since psionics are radically different than the 2E version.

Chapter Seven: Meditation and Research
In 2E characters had to do research to gain access to new powers. This chapter provided for a means to do just that through the act of Meditation. It provides a general overview of Mediation and then goes into how it can be used to learn new powers. At the end of the chapter mention is made of the High Sciences, high end powers that are meant to be the ultimate power for each Discipline. Again there is no use for any of this information in a 4E campaign.

Chapter Eight: Psionic Items
This short chapter is designed to help DMs and players design their own psionic items. 3 items are provided stats here as examples. Other than providing some ideas for conversion, there is nothing here for a 4E setting campaign.

This is divided into 3 parts, A (New Psionic Powers), B (Complete Psionic Powers Index), and C (Revised Wild Talent Charts). This is a colleting of psionic information from other source material and some new powers. Obviously none of this information can be used as written, but the new powers can be used as a source for ideas for new 4E powers.

There are 17 pictures in the book, all by Baxa, and none that can be shown to the players to set a scene.

Overall: Only the first two chapters can be readily used in a 4E campaign. The rest of the book is given over to mechanics, mechanics grounded in 2E concepts. There is not even enough information here to make it worth converting the mechanics into the 4E system. Unfortunately, the fluff information to be found in the first two chapters are fairly generic and I’m not sure they offer enough to make this sourcebook of value to a 4E campaign.
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