Wednesday, July 29, 2015

More Fifth Edition Shenanigans

Yeesh, been a whole month already? Where does the time go?

Been kicking around some fiction stuff, but man, am I rusty. In true creative fashion, I hate everything I've churned out draft-wise, but I'm continuing to bang away at it. In the meantime, I figure I can brain-barf some design ideas I've been noodling over.

One of the things I love about D&D's new design process is their use of Unearthed Arcana articles to give the players an idea of the types of things on which they are working. Fairly recently, they released their prototype (PDF link!) of 5th Edition psionics and the Mystic class. My misgivings about the class name aside (since it shares name real-estate with some older classes that are decidedly not the same thing), I like the direction in which they are going and look forward to seeing what comes out of it.

Naturally, this takes us in the direction of a 5th Edition incarnation of the Dark Sun setting. What do you mean, no it doesn't? It's only one of their more popular product lines and was recently among the top five voted for settings they'd like them to cover in the future. I really love Dark Sun, though surely not as much as Birthright -- I'm pretty sad that didn't make it higher in their survey results, but hey, it's definitely not for everybody.

So yeah, there are a few things that would need to be made in order to make a bona fide update for the setting, and since they're working on psionics, I can take a crack at some other aspects.

Athas, the world of the Dark Sun campaign setting, certainly has some unusual player character races in the lineup presented in the original setting box. The standard races from the Players Handbook, consisting of humans, dwarves, elves, half-elves, and halflings, still holds true here; though I suspect you may need to make different subrace packages to really make it feel at home. Additional races consisted of the half-giant, the mul, and the thri-kreen, and 4th Edition reskinned the dragonborn as dray (the cast off children of one of the sorcerer-kings).

Half-giants were definitely an outlier -- in 3rd Edition and later, they'd be classified as Large creatures purely due to stature and mass, which has a lot of mechanical complications in the more tactical-minded later editions. In 4th Edition, they were simply reskinned as goliaths (which originally showed up in late-3rd-Edition's "Races of Stone" splatbook despite 3rd Edition already redoing the half-giant in one of their expanded psionics books).

This didn't bother me so much, since it neatly condensed the half-giant into a more friendly package for players to use that wouldn't allow them to abuse encounters in a heinous fashion. As goliaths have already been released in the Elemental Evil Player's Companion, it seems reasonable to let this trend continue; with, of course, the obligatory lore-reskin of what they are on Athas.

Mul is a bit trickier. Athas has no orcs, so you could conceivably use the PHB half-orc to emulate muls. They're fairly similar, though muls historically had that "can work or move for days without tiring" benefit. Might be worth taking a crack at it, but I feel like effort could be spent elsewhere.

Thri-kreen is tough, as even Mike Mearls himself points out in the July Survey article linked above:

Thri-kreen are pretty tough to model using our existing races, but are key to the Dark Sun setting.

And he's definitely not wrong. Thri-kreen had a whole bunch of crazy stuff worth listing:

  • Chitinous armor that nullified or reduced their need to even wear heavy regular armor (which itself was pretty hard to come by on Athas)
  • Poisonous, paralyzing bite
  • Superior jumping mobility that let them leap up to fifty feet forward
  • Four clawed limbs that gave them an array of vicious natural attacks (combined with aforementioned bite) and the potential to wield up to four weapons

This has some obvious balance problems. You could easily pare back many of these, but I think I'll wait to see what Wizards pumps out. I think I'd overdo it and make the race far less palatable to play compared to the others.

What I really think is worth putting design effort into is classes. Athas's representations of certain classes are rather unique, particularly their bard; no mere foppish minstrel, bards are culturally and mechanically excellent spies and poisoners. In some ways, inviting a bard to a function is like asking a culturally-accepted assassin into your midst so you can offer him work.

That'll probably be where I start. Tentatively, using the existing class feature layout, I will propose a new "college" the College of Shadows. This bard will be more of an infiltrating, poison-using secret agent with a broad toolkit consisting of combat prowess, magical tricks, and stealth.

I'll get to work on that and churn something out. Happy gaming in the meantime!


  1. The only way I could see of fully using the Thri-kreen for 5e would be to do something analogous to the Palladium Racial Character Class. Basically playing that race constitutes a class in and of itself. You could do thri-kreen "paths" to add a bit more flexibility, like Hunter and Shaman, but the core progression is set when you pick the race.

  2. That's definitely an interesting idea. I am curious if it might also be worth it to leverage racial feats like they did with the deep gnomes in the Elemental Evil Player's Handbook. I feel like the most egregious conundrum is with their four arms, and whether it should, for purposes of gameplay balance, never allow that many attacks. It changes some physiological features of the thri-kreen if that's taken out, though.