Thursday, July 23, 2015

Dark Sun on 5th Edition

I remember back in the late 90s when I flip to the back of my AD&D Dungen Master Guide. There was this list of campaigns, with cool logos an tiny covers of material on the side page. There they were all of the now classics, Mystara, Forgotten Realms, Ravenloft, Planescape and Dragonlange. But from all the descriptions this one catched my imagination like no other:

The Dark Sun world is the AD&D game's most savage game setting—a desert realm scorched by a relentless sun, blasted by the destructive magic of generations of evil wizards. It is a land of evil sorcerer-kings and powerful psionincists who command astounding mental powers. In this wild and brutal landscape, a single adventurer can alter the course of history and forever change the world. One of those heroes could be yours!

Most savage game setting! I wanted it so bad. Unfortunately, back in the day getting D&D material in my country (Mexico) was quite hard. Specially in my home town. When I finally got a chance to visit a gaming store in Mexico City, I had to suck it up and buy the only box they had, Forgotten Realms.

Ever since the Dark Sun setting it's a thorn in my side. Now the material is available as PDF in but my players and I had stopped playing 2E long since, 3E didn't see any Dark Sun official books, and even though there was a Campaign Setting book for 4E, the fourth wasn't my edition at all.

Now I'm back playing 5th Edition. And as I said in my last post, there's a psionics playtest for 5E. Thus and the fact that I'm about to finish my Rise of Tiamat game (All players must die!) I've decided to take that thorn out and play a Dark Sun campaign, even if that means making a whole bunch of house rules.

Starting with the house rules, I present to you my take on the wizards of Athas. I tried to capture the feeling of careful casting and mastery of the Preserver vs reckless casting and quicker advancement of the Defiler. I hope you like it! (Italics are text taken from the original boxed set)

Athasian Wizard

A wizard is able to capture and master magical energies. However, in Dark Sun, magic is irrevocably linked to the environment. The casting of magical spells and the enchantment of magical items always draws energy directly from the living ecology in the vicinity, destroying the life there. Wizards can choose two paths toward mastery of magical energy.

Class Features

You get all the class features from the Wizard class as presented in the PHB, unless noted otherwise.


As presented in the PHB, but replace Religion skill for Deception. You also get the ability to read and write any language you know at character creation.

Arcane Tradition

As a wizard of Athas you must choose an Arcane Tradition at 1st level. The Arcane Traditions presented on the PHB are not available to you, instead choose between the Path of the Preserver or the Path of the Defiler.

Defile the Land

You can draw carelessly upon the energy of the land, transforming it into magical energy and destroying the plants in the vicinity in the process. This act is know as defiling.
As an action, you can defile the land around you to get the benefits of the Arcane Recovery feature without the need of a short rest. You can use this feature safely a number of times equal to your proficiency bonus, before taking a long rest. After that, you gain one exhaustion level every time you use this feature again.

Arcane Traditions

All wizards must decide at the beginning of their careers whether they are trying to work with nature or without regard for it. In Dark Sun, this means a wizard must be either a Defiler or a Preserver.
The Preserver learns to tap magical energies in such a way as to minimize or even cancel his destruction through balance and in-depth study.
The Defiler, on the other hand, casts magical spells without regard to the havoc he plays upon the environment —compared to a Preserver, a Defiler learns spells very quickly, but his very existence destroys the life around him.

Path of the Preserver

Wizards devoted to this tradition are known as Preservers.
The preserver is a wizard of the old, established school of magic. In the give and take of spell casting, preservers have mastered the balance. A preserver’s magical spells are cast in harmony with nature. When a preserver casts a spell, there is no damage to the nearby environment.

Preserve the Land

Beginning at 1st level when you choose this path, you’re bound by your conviction to preserve the land, thus your spells are cast in harmony with nature. When you cast a spell, there is no damage to the environment. But to be able to do so, you have to prepare your spells more carefully. It takes you at least 2 minutes per spell level for each spell you prepare.
You can still use the Defile the Land feature, but every time you do so you must make a Constitution saving throw (DC 10 + the number of times you’ve defiled the land before that day). If the save is a fail, it means that the life energy didn’t come from the land, but from your own body, so you gain 1 level of exhaustion.

Arcane Subterfuge

Starting at 2nd level, you can disguise your spell casting by forgoing the use of either Verbal or Somatic components of a spell you’re casting. If anyone familiar with arcane magic is paying attention to you, you can make a Charisma (Deception) check with advantage to fool them into thinking you are using another type of power (divine or psionic).

Arcane Filter

Starting at 6th level, your knowledge of the flow of arcane energy (and the ways to send in back to the land) lets you use your reaction to grant advantage on a saving throw against arcane magic made by you or another creature you can see within 30 feet of you.

Cancel Defiling

Starting at 10th level, you can use your reaction to attempt to interrupt a creature in the process of defiling the land. You and your target both make a contested Intelligence (Arcana) check, if you win the contest the defiling is canceled, but the attempt still counts towards the number of defiles the target can make per day. If your wizard level is higher than the level of the wizard trying to defile, you have advantage on the roll.
You can also use this feature to stop a Defiler from casting a spell—since they always defile while casting. As a reaction you make an Intelligence check. The DC equals 10 + the spell’s level. On a success the spell has no effect.
You can use this feature to counter a Defiler spell a number of times equal to your Intelligence modifier (a minimum of once). You regain expended uses when you finish a short rest.
Also, because you are so committed to stop the defiling of the land, you can no longer use the Defile the Land feature.

Aura of Preserving

Starting at 14th level, your expertise in the flow of arcane energy and the preservation of life creates a protective aura around you that dissolves hostile arcane magic and returns it to the land. You and friendly creatures within 10 feet of you have advantage on saving throws against arcane spells and resistance to damage from such spells.
At 20th level, the range of this aura increases to 30 feet.

Path of the Defiler

Wizards devoted to this tradition are known as Defilers.
Defilers are wizards who have decided to take a faster, darker approach to mastering the use of magical spells. In the give and take of spell casting, Defilers are well versed in the taking, but give nothing in return. With every spell cast, a Defiler leeches the life-energy out of the plants and soil around him, leaving a lifeless zone. Because of this, defilers can only have non-good alignments.

Rush to Power

Beginning at 1st level when you choose this path, you decide to take the quick road to power without caring for the damage you cause to the land. As a result you always defile when you cast a spell.
Your careless practice also reduces the time you need to prepare your spell list. It takes you only 1 round per spell level for each spell on your list.
At 1st level your spell book contains an additional 1st-level wizard spell of your choice. And each time you gain a wizard level, you can add one extra wizard spell to your spell book.

Arcane Myriad

Starting at 2nd level, you learn one additional wizard cantrip or your choice. You can also prepare two extra wizard spells from your spell book each day.
The extra prepared spells per day increases to three at 6th level, four at 10th level and five at 14th level.


Starting at 6th level, you gain the ability to boost your spells by drawing extra energy as you cast them. You must use your bonus action to gather this extra energy before you cast your modified spell. If the casting time of the modified spell is a bonus action, you use your action instead. You get one Metamagic option of your choice from the list below. You gain another one at 12th and 18th level.
You can only choose from the following options: Distant Spell, Empowered Spell, Extended Spell, Heightened Spell and Twinned Spell. See the Sorcerer class in the PHB for the effects of each Metamagic option.

Painful Defiling

Starting at 10th level, when you use the Defile the Land feature living creatures within 30 feet of you are caused great pain. Each creature must make a Constitution saving throw against your spell save DC or be stunned until the beginning of your next turn.
The area of pain increases to 60 feet at 18th level.

Improved Defiling

Staring at 14th level, you can add your Intelligence modifier to the number of times you can use the Defile the Land feature without suffering any adverse effect.


  1. Haha Defilers FTW.

    All players must die? You evil DM.

    Haha te pasas Mike

    1. It's not me... it's Tiamat talking >:)

  2. Haha Defilers FTW.

    All players must die? You evil DM.

    Haha te pasas Mike

  3. Nice work!

    Question: in a battle between 2 level 10 wizards, one Defiler, one Preserver:

    Der Defiler casts a spell. The Preserver wants to cancel it. Does the Preserver has to make a Saving Throw against Painful Defiling before he can use his reaction to do a Cancel Defiling?
    If not a Defiler has no chance against a high level Preserver imho. A DC of 10 + the spell’s level on the intelligence attribute is to easy to beat. It should be at least 12 + the spell’s level.

    1. Thanks! Glad you liked it.

      Painful Defiling only works when a 10th+ lvl Defiler uses the Defile the Land feature to regain spell slots. Not when defiling by casting.

      And about the DC for cancelling a spell, I'm using the same as the counterspell. It may be easy, but you can only use it a number of times equal to your Int modifier before needing a short rest. And the Defiler can recharge spell slots in the middle of the battle (Painful Defiling effect included) a number of times equal to his proficiency bonus (in the case of your example, 4 times!). Maybe the defiler has the upper hand after all.

      But perhaps you are right, maybe it should be 8 + Int mod + spell lvl. Although this may be too tough. It sure needs some playtesting.

      In any case, I'll take your concern into account. In a battle between a Defiler and a Preserver of the same level I surely want the Defiler to have the upper hand. The way I see it is that, back in the day, the main difference between them was that the Defiler advanced faster (less XP needed). So if we give the same amount of XP to both wizards, the Defiler will always be higher level. In 5E they'll be both the same level, but I want the Defiler to be more powerful, that's the main flavor of the magic in Athas. Defilers taking the quick road to power, without caring for the land.

      Whatever the case, a battle between this 2 wizards would be a thing to behold, a battle of wills as one tries to suck the magical energy from the land and the others sends it back, the energy visible flowing up and down in this arcane showdown! =)

  4. Thx for your reply. Maybe my concern about the Cancel Defiling comes from the feeling, that Counterspell is too easy in the core rulles, too.

    Hope to hear from your play experience soon!