Friday, December 2, 2016

A Different Dark Sun: Races, Part One

As I work on this homebrewed version of Dark Sun, I accrue much of its product run in the form of hard copies and PDFs available on the DM's Guild. Some of it, of course, I've had on my shelves for years. I never had the opportunity to run a Dark Sun game for any extended period of time back in its heyday, and a big portion of that had to do with the esoteric and often spastic design of the 2nd Edition psionics rules chasing away more traditional fantasy gamers.

Fortunately, I don't need to develop psionics for this edition, as Wizards is already doing that. It's not quite as weird as its predecessors -- I could write a half-dozen articles on the history of psionics alone, and Brandes over at Tribality has already done that.

I've made a list of the things I will need to re-examine and consider for my homebrew's use, but let's start with character races.

This is the first and probably the trickiest bit to get right. There are a lot of expectations from the Dark Sun character races, and even familiar ones are nothing at all like their counterparts from other settings. All are more savage, shaped by their environment over the course of a few thousand years of life on a blighted, arid world.

My homebrew is going to allow the use of the dragonborn (or dray as they are known on Athas, introduced as a playable race in 4th Edition), dwarves, elves, half-elves, half-giants (once their own race, reincarnated as goliaths in 4th edition), halflings, humans, muls, pterrans (think flightless pterodactyl people akin to lizardfolk), and thri-kreen. In some incarnations, aarakocra were also available as a player race, but I personally have reservations about giving players unfettered access to flight speeds.

The Athasian Elf

The standard subraces for many of those picks, specifically dwarves, elves, and halflings, don't really mesh with their Athasian counterparts. This is the place to do a subrace variant for the setting. Enter the Athasian elf for dissection (I'll do dwarf and halfling another time).

Ability Score Increase. Your Intelligence score increases by 1.
Size. You are taller than elves from other worlds, ranging anywhere between 6 and 7 feet in height with a wiry, athletic build. Your size is Medium.
Speed. Your base walking speed is 40 feet.
Elf Weapon Training. You are proficient with the longsword, shortsword, shortbow, and longbow.
Athletic. You are proficient in the Athletics skill.
Runner's Endurance. If you travel overland alone or with a group consisting only of elves, you can travel at twice the speed of a normal travel pace without incurring a penalty to Perception skill checks.

These are, of course, in addition to base traits of the elf race.

Athasian elves are regaled for their swiftness. Elven bands can travel extreme distances in the course of a day, bringing (or pillaging) goods far and wide. They are crafty (hence my opting for an Intelligence bonus in keeping with their 2E version), but have a regrettable reputation for being thieves and killers. Elven markets are tolerated in some city-states despite this reputation; rare and useful goods are still desired, and many are willing to overlook where they came from if the price is right.

Proficiency in Athletics is handy for anyone. It helps even weak characters who get grappled by someone (offsetting their ability score penalty, if any), and helps them sprint and jump and climb as befits the long-limbed and, well, athletic elves.

Runner's Endurance is somewhat more situational. If the party consists only of elves, or they send the elf character out as an advance scout, they can cover an insane amount of terrain. Athas's elves are repeatedly praised in source material as being tireless runners, jokingly inferring that their infants learn to run before they learn to walk. This ability might stand further scrutiny to give it a means of helping a party out though, as D&D is a cooperative game and all. Maybe it can provide a lesser general speed increase to a group? The less time spent wandering the desert heat, the better.

The Half-Giant

We're also introduced to half-giants in Dark Sun, and they reappeared in both 3rd Edition as the same and 4th Edition as goliaths (even though late-3rd also released goliaths in Races of Stone, though I never owned it to compare). There are some key differences between its incarnations; 2nd Edition didn't really have a concept of size categories for player races in strict terms, though they did have height ranges. The half-giants of 2E would have unmistakably been Large creatures, as they were anywhere from 10 to 12 feet tall!

There are several important combat-related reasons why Wizards of the Coast made future versions of half-giants more sanely Medium sized. The combat advantages afforded to a Large player character race are many, including reach and what is likely a prodigious increase to their Strength score compared to other player character races.

In the interest of maintaining balance, at the cost of the continued retcon from 3E and 4E, I will likely continue to use the goliath as the base chassis for half-giants. To my benefit, Volo's Guide to Monsters recently released, and has an official version of the goliath for play!

It does have one racial trait (Mountain Born) that isn't really appropriate for Athas given the backstory of the half-giants. In brief, they were bred by the sorcerer-kings to be obedient slaves and soldiers that adapted quickly to new cultures and mindsets -- presumably as they were bought and sold, or given new jobs each day by mercurial masters. This manifested in 2E as the half-giant being able to change its alignment every morning, something that... eeeegh... I am not enthused about. Alignment is far less important of a mechanical tool these days.

Instead, I would replace Mountain Born with this:

Uncannily Observant. If you spend at least 1 minute observing a humanoid creature, you can mimic its behaviors and/or speech patterns (provided you've heard the creature talk and can understand its language), and can appear as though you are a member of its culture, social class, or colleagues provided the circumstances are sound. You have advantage on Insight checks made to determine a creature's mood and demeanor, and advantage on Deception checks made to convince someone that you belong to their group.

That's probably some vague wording in there, which can be tuned up, but it plays well into the half-giant's penchant for picking up new things by watching others. It has some great roleplaying potential to boot; if a group needs to sneak into a compound protected by observant templars, the half-giant can spend some time watching the guards from afar and then stride up to them and bill himself as one of the sorcerer-king's legbreakers bringing in a new set of prisoners (the rest of the party).

The Mul

Continuing, we have the mul. This half-human, half-dwarf, is a workhorse capable of performing feats of incredible endurance and remain awake and laboring for days at a time. I've seen a couple versions of this race in DM's Guild products and while I think they are serviceable, there are a few nitpicks I have about the proposed mechanics that make them unsuitable for my particular homebrew's needs.

As such, my mul looks something like this:

Ability Score Increase. Your Constitution score increases by 2 and your Strength score increases by 1.
Age. Muls mature and age at the same rate as humans, though they rarely live longer than 90 years.
Size. Your body is tough, dense, and sinewy. You stand between 6 and 61/2 feet tall and weigh between 250 and 300 pounds. Your size is Medium.
Speed. Your base walking speed is 30 feet.
Vigorous Body. You are proficient in Constitution saving throws. If your class is already proficient in Constitution saving throws, or if you later gain a feat that gives you proficiency, you have advantage on all Constitution saving throws against effects that apply disease, exhaustion, and poison.
Steadfast. You can fight, travel, and perform heavy labor for long periods of time without tiring and can ignore exhaustion from such endeavors. You can remain awake and active for up to 72 hours without requiring a long rest, after which time you begin to suffer at the same rate as other character races.
Languages. You can speak Common and Dwarvish.

So Vigorous Body is probably overpowered. There are a lot of Constitution saving throws in the game, and being proficient in them by default is nothing to sneeze at. It also avoids being redundant with certain classes and feats, becoming slightly stronger. Steadfast lets the mul perform extended feats of endurance and travel for days at a time before needing to rest.

The Pterran

Dark Sun sure does have quite the panoply of races, doesn't it? The pterrans are a flightless saurian race from distant parts of the setting map with a culture that worships an "Earth Mother" that is not defined as an actual divine entity. They are fairly primitive and reclusive. Druids seem like they would be common among such a species, and lo and behold there is a new race introduced in Volo's Guide to Monsters that is pretty much exactly what I'd need to use: the lizardfolk!

It's pretty much perfect. It's got tough scales. They can make equipment out of natural resources both quickly and efficiently (is this the first 5E race with a crafting racial? Brandes, look!), has tough scales, bonus skills to pick from, and a bite attack. It's pretty much all I'd need and with minor physical description changes, it works fantastically. Just one small problem. Well, two-ish.

Lizardfolk have a swim speed and a Hold Breath racial. As you might imagine, there's not much standing water on Athas. Pterodactyls weren't known for their ability to stay submerged.

So really, this ability and the swim speed would probably just come out. Lizardfolk have a lot going for them already, and I don't feel like those abilities would be missed given the setting. I would also be changing their racial language from Draconic to the newly-crowned "Sauric" and give them their own tongue as a result.

A Break!

A fair bit to chew on here, so I'll let this sit for now and work on the rest. I'll dig into the other subraces for dwarves and halflings next time, as well as what Athasian dragonborn are like. And maybe, if I'm feeling brave enough, I'll tackle thri-kreen. That's gonna be a doozy.

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