Making Dark Sun Defiling a bit more…..brutal.

So, I’m digging the Dark Sun setting for 4E. I never got to play 2E, but I did get to hear the brutal tales of it from an old roommate and good friend.

But there is one part that bothers me….the “Defiling Magic” system.

You see, the big appeal to me here is that this was a setting where magic has dire consequences. Wizards and Magic Users are supposed to be feared — with good reason! The whole world is supposed to be like a fantasy Mad Max nightmare; the powerful magics of a war long ago resulted in a defiled, dying world. I’m cool with no Clerics because the Gods gave up and walked away…I’m okay with Primal powers still being around to channel the elemental and dying spirits of the world. I think it’s kind of cool where Magic and Divine powers left, Psionics became common place. But I want what little magic is in the world to have consequences. What drew me to this setting was the description that most arcanists were defilers, and when they cast magic it drained life from the world around them. And then there were preservationists, who were explained in the setting fluff (especially in the marketing of the lore) to be those who were capable of casting without causing harm….pending they tried a bit harder. Defiling was supposed to be easier.

But, instead, it seem to be mechanically the opposite: All players are assumed to practice “Preservation” magic until they use a nifty, and optional, At-Will arcane feature that lets them re-roll an attack or damage, at the cost of hurting allies within a huge area. And that’s only for Dailies. To me, that isn’t magic with consequence. It’s not making the path of the righteous harder or the wicked ways of the Defiler easier…..it’s simply making the “bad guy” decision being an optional choice on particular power plays. I may fall off the wagon and decide to inflict pain on my allies just so I can squeeze out that much harder of a nuke….but I’ll keep on slinging Magic Missile all day at no price!

Let’s kick this up a notch.

I know, I know, the real consequences come in the form of the setting and role playing. Get caught casting, and you’re likely to get reported to authorities or shived by some loyalist to a Sorcerer King. But, for me, I wanted Arcane magic just a smidgen more deadly.  And I still wanted to leave in the temptation to walk on the wicked side, and inflict harm on your buddies just to squeeze out some extra results. And, thankfully, I have the most powerful DM’ing tool in the world: Imagination and Creative thinking. I don’t have to sit around crying on forums to get results….I MAKE MY OWN!

Making Dark Sun Defiling……Darker.

  • That lovely At-Will Feature arcane magic users get in the Dark Sun setting? Keep it around. It can still be played.
  • But also go ahead and print out these bad boys out and hand them to your spell slinger too:
    There, problem solved. Now, ANY arcane power attacks are likely to cause some pain. You’ll notice I kept the range in half for “regular” casting. If a PC wants to “Do the right thing” and CHOOSE to Preserve, they get to spend a Standard Action preparing and properly channeling the necessary energies (as opposed to just blatantly sucking them up like a vaccum.) In essence, they’re giving up a turn to cast a spell safely the next turn. Or they can blow an Action Point to go that round. There, I feel like Arcane Power is a dangerous path in Dark Sun again.

13 thoughts on “Making Dark Sun Defiling a bit more…..brutal.”

  1. Interesting, though from a gamist perspective it pretty near halves the capabilities of arcane classes (since they can either start killing the party or can only act half the time). If this came in as a house rule, I’d argue for something hefty to balance it out.

    Personally, I’d make Arcane Preserving a minor action that gives a sizable penalty to your defences (-4 to all?) until the end of your next turn instead (since your concentration is elsewhere) so that the mage still gets to be involved in combat.

    Also, given Defiling Magic draws on life force, shouldn’t it hurt everyone around the caster equally, not just the caster’s allies?

    1. @Ben: I based it on how the normal Arcane Defiling worked according to the WoTC book, which states it affects Allies only. Which, if you think about it, makes sense from a gamist standpoint (because otherwise we’re just going to send the Wizard in and have him go crazy sucking life from everyone and spells a blazin.) In the actual (4E) lore, it states that defilers draw on the energies of people they share an emotional or mental link with, such as allies or slaves.

      And I’ll be honest, I schemed these up with a “Game Balance BE DAMNED” attitude. I was less concerned about how to “fairly” let folks play Arcane spell casters and more concerned about magic having deadly effects and being much harder. I didn’t want to completely say “No PC spell casters” because there is some damn good RP potential in there. I would mostly hope that what the caster lacks in spell fire power, he brings to the table with skill use, and a good selection on his or her Backgrounds and Themes.

  2. I don’t know. It seems to me more of an open discouragement to players to play arcane classes. The setting is already brutal enough as it is. Nobody is going to actively want to play an arcane class with rules that make them total crap in combat… unless they are a glutton for pain/actively attempting to prove that they can beat the Dark Sun level monsters even with a handicap like that.

  3. I loved the house rule, because I agree that the DS Campaign Setting rule for Defiling deals more with the Temptation idea than with de Corruption ideia. It sounded like the Dark Force wich is a more “potent” and vile form of the Force.
    But, like Benmiff, I think that a Standart action is a little too much to ask. I would change it to Minor Action and the Wizard grant combat advantage until the start of his next turn. It continues to be challenging to a Arcane Caster but its something that would worth the investiment and the risk…
    And about the Defiling, I would keep the 20 square distance, Hell Yeah.

  4. Hey, I make no bones about it: I WANT it to be an open discouragement to play Arcane Casters. The setting fluff states that Arcane Magic use is dangerous, corrupted the world, and feared by everyone. Defiling is supposed to be “easier” than preserving, yet WoTC wrote up a mechanic that pretty much lets the players be good guys without consequence, which I felt was bunk.

  5. R.E., I totally agree with the spirit of your house rule. Athas is meant to be tough world and it took the bold step to outlaw some core classes like Divines. I appreciate 4e’s ‘let’s be lenient for the sake of everyone’s fun’, but when leniency comes at the expense of enjoying the full flavour of the game setting, its not exactly a balanced trade-off for combat maximisation. Unless, of course, you are playing a combat-intensive, min/maxing campaign.

    Defiling is very similar in flavour to use of the Dark Side in Star Wars. I agree that it should be easier and quicker as a means AND path to power.

    I feel a Dark Sun player should really feel the tension of the temptation of destructive selfish power, or slower altruistic power.

    I toyed with the idea of awarding +10% XP to a defiler if they used the Arcane Defiling power for daily spells. Potentially very tempting.

    The fluff on preservers since 2e has been that preserving magic does take longer than the hasty defiling.

    I agree skipping a whole turn is tough, though. Maybe imposing a stiff initiative penalty (taken as prep for preserver-style arcane channeling) could be a softer solution.

    Similar to another option I saw elsewhere would be to remove the penalty of Arcane Preserving if you chose the Master Preserver PP and hit lvl 11.

    So, a preserver sucks up arcane combat penalties for 10 levels, but they earn a sustainable path to power. And I would think a player who makes this milestone will feel a tremendous sense of achievement that cannot be traded for any combat bonus.

    Of course, at the end of the day these kind of flavourful house rules will only work with a group of players similarly invested in creating a setting of harsh magic.

    Defiling is one of the key pillars of Dark Sun’s identity. Being able to experience the moral, mechanical, and roleplaying consequences of that should be part of anyone’s experience in this setting.

    Arcane and Divine power sources are supposed to have a tough time in Dark Sun, that’s why its primarily a Psionic and Martial campaign, even since 2e.

  6. I guess a lot of my opinions about the delayed turn thing are linked to my experience in games like Rolemaster and other systems (especially low magic games) that had spell-casting feel delayed.

    I do like the idea of the Paragon Path that lets the Arcanist earn their lax freedoms. I would LOVE to run a long enough game to let someone achieve that.

    Also, I sometimes forget what delaying a turn can sound like in 4E terms. Some combats and groups, that can be an eternity. When I fathomed the idea, it was with the intentions of running a group of no more than 3-4 players, tops.

    Still, some good alternative solutions have been presented here. I’d almost be tempted to use them….but I’d probably use ALL of them just because I’m an evil bastard like that. Minor action, grant combat advantage and next turn your initiative is reduced 4 points.

    Believe it or not, my players love the idea.

  7. I think if your players are game for toughing it up, then your main challenge is to find a solution that is both flavourful, fun and doesn’t make book-keeping burdensome.

    Let’s take a look at 2e defiling. Preserving is considered the same as vanilla wizard casting in other settings, although its described as slower than defiling.

    Defilers up to 20th lvl drain plant life (and plants only) in a given radius when they memorise or cast spells. Only lvl 21+ defilers, i.e. sorceror-kings suck life from animals. Living creatures in a lvl 1-20 defiler’s ash radius get an initiative penalty equal to the level of the spell cast on a failed saving throw. Defilers also get quicker level progression and a random chance to gain or lose more spells per day. Defilers also develop a Charisma penalty due to an increasingly bad aura.

    So, 2e defiling only buffs a defiler’s # spells/day on a random roll. It also imposes initiative penalties on those nearby and, over time, on the defiler herself.

    While the fluff describes the fastness of defiling as taking place when spell power is marshalled, it translates this into lower XP requirements for levels. Not so accurate.

    Compared to this 4e isn’t different for preservers.

    For 4e defilers it is optional to defile for at-will and encounter powers, and the use of arcane defiling re-rolls allows defiling at any level to incur damage on allies and (optionally) plants. Defiling abilities can also improve at higher levels with the Master Defiler PP. However, defiling can no longer be described as a ‘quicker’ route to power. Defilers progress the same as preservers, they just have the chance to be more damaging.

    I think its important to have some consequences to defiling for balance purposes vis-a-vis preserving. But I also think that imposing hp damage for all spells might wear thin on allies.

    What defines defiling? Its quicker and it offers more power to the defiler at the expense of life around him.

    Here’s my suggestion:

    1. All arcane power attacks are considered to be defiling. Effects:
    a) Daily powers defile a radius of half power level and force a terrain change as described in the Creature Catalog. All other powers defile a radius of 1. Further use of powers increases defiling radius on a similar basis.
    b) All allies within 10 sq or the defiled radius, whichever is larger, get -4 initiative penalty, except the defiler. If the defiler takes the Master Defiler PP then at lvl 11 this effect extends to all living creatures within the radius as part of Offensive Defiling.
    Optional: Daily powers incur an initiative penalty of half their level.

    [Upshot: Defilers act relatively faster than their allies, and Master Defilers act relatively faster than everyone else. Defiling is faster, depending on your initiative roll.]

    Arcane Defiling remains as a free-action option with its associated hp penalties.

    If you used vanilla rules then preserving would be just like vanilla casting, but RELATIVELY slower than defiling.

    Or, if you used your proposed house rules, preserving incurs a minor action, combat advantage, and -4 initiative. In this case preserving is more cumbersome and slower than both defiling and any other form of action (martial, primal, psionic, etc.). Put this way, I’m not sure whether preserving should be so heavily penalised in relation to non-arcane powers. I think it should definitely be disadvantaged relative to defiling.

    If you don’t feel that you can’t not penalise preserving, but want to lessen the burden then you could impose the minor action & combat advantage costs on the first spellcasting round of the encounter and let the initiative penalty remain for the rest of it. This represents the initial investment a preserver makes to cast sustainably, after which she can cast normally, but has to still maintain somewhat more mindfulness and concentration than a defiler (represented by the initiative penalty).

    By Master Preserver level they are so practised in preserving that it doesn’t incur penalties.

    In order to limit defiler nerfs on enemies you may want to rule that after a certain amount of defiling an area is ‘tapped out’ and the defiler needs to move to access fresh life force.

  8. Oh, and if a preserver chooses to defile, then they lose their initiative penalty until they choose to preserve again. At that point, depending on how hard you are, you can slap the minor action and combat advantage penalties as a price for re-connecting to the Light Side.

    The 2e system had a scoring method for preservers who chose to defile, and this would incur class consequences over time. Any arcanist who chooses to go the Master Preserver/Avangion route shouldn’t be someone who uses defiling regularly. A DM may have adjudicate some form of penance.

    Temptation!

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