In my post last month, I discussed how I was combining themes and backgrounds for my Dark Sun game. Since then, I’ve fleshed out a few more ideas for the game.
Different settings require different adaptations of the rules. I firmly believe that a Dungeon Master should feel at liberty to adapt the rules to best match the tone that he or she wants out of a game. There are no rules to rule them all. In a game that is meant for the enjoyment of all, a rules system should serve its players. It doesn’t need to be a slave to the players, but it should promote elements appropriate to the game: competition, fun, immersion, challenge, etc.
One of the qualities that makes the Dark Sun campaign setting interesting is that it removes the traditional elements of a fantasy setting. The paucity of metal, water, and life, as well as the complete lack of gods and divine magic, are the defining characteristics of Dark Sun. The setting is characterized not by what it has, but rather, what it lacks. I find this concept fascinating, and as an experiment, I’ve decided to mirror it in the way I use the D&D rules in my Dark Sun game.
Fewer healing surges
I’m limiting characters’ healing surges to one or two. If a character is a defender, or if he or she has a class feature based on the use of healing surges, such as the druid from Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms, then a character has two healing surges. Otherwise, each character has only one healing surge.
What about damage?
I plan to adjust monster damage on the fly. I’ll be dividing monster damage in half. I might also make a few tweaks to accuracy, especially on soldiers. I’m also altering my expectations. I don’t expect the characters to go into every fight with full health. And I expect them to have to run away sometimes. If the party has already had a couple encounters during the day, the characters are unlikely to want to fight a third or a fourth unless they have to. Sometimes they will. Other times, running away will seems like a better choice. Athas is a world of pragmatic people, so if the character needs to flee to fight another day, they’re just acting consistent with the setting.
Healing outside of combat?
I haven’t figured this one out yet. I don’t want all the character to merely spend their healing surges after the first fight and leave the healer’s healing word meaningless in the following combat. I’ll have to see what happens in the game. I might allow characters to heal outside of combat, but if they want a nice, juicy healing word, they’re going to have to wait until they’re in battle. Alternatively, the druid might be able to use healing word on a character with no healing surges remaining, but he or she only regains 1d6 hit points.
And how about second wind?
I contemplated eliminating second wind, but ultimately I decided against it. If I had a party of experienced players, I would have eliminated it (with the exception of the dwarf). However, I have three new players in my Dark Sun game, and I don’t want to overwhelm them with too many house rules. The healing surge change will be difficult enough.
You only get one each day. Period. I know, I’m a big mean Dungeon Master. I’ve implemented this rule for two reasons. One—I think it fits with the tone of the game. Athas is a harsh, abusive world. It doesn’t care much for heroics. You already get to be extraordinary in that you can beat up templars and travel the wastes. Two—When a character uses an action point, I want it to be extraordinary. The action points are for life or death moments—when extra action is required to survive.
I’ll be using the inherent bonuses rule in my game, which divorces characters from the need to acquire weapons, armor, and neck slot items of a certain enhancement bonus at a certain level. I plan to give out more boons and expendables. The people of Athas closely guard their treasures. You’re unlikely to just find any person in possession of more than one magical item. When I give out items, they’re going to be rare items. The party might only get one of these each level. When a character acquires a magic item, I want to give it the attention it deserves. I want the item to have a legacy stretching back to the Green Age. I want it to be something that gives the villains and monsters pause.
Despite how tough and “unfun” some of these rules might sound, I’m not worried about the players dying or feeling disappointed with combats. It’s true that if the character assume they can defeat any foe, they will quickly learn otherwise. Still, I’m a big softie when it comes to character death, and Dark Sun affords so many delightful non-death options for defeated heroes. They can become gladiators, or slaves, or servants of a noble. Short of stalking into the desert to go hunting for crodlu with their teeth, the players don’t have much to worry about. And as for XP, they’ll be getting story rewards for exploration and social interaction. An hour spent exploring the elven marketplace and negotiating with merchants to locate the Veiled Alliance offers just a many rewards as an hour spent battling an id fiend—probably more.
One of the crazy goals I have for the campaign is to have the party visit every one of the major city-states. If the players are particularly enjoying a location, I’m not about to railroad them on to the next location, but I do plan to allow plenty of plot hooks to allow them to explore the other locations and get exposure to the various cultures. This goal also allows travel to be a central element in the campaign, which is appropriate for a Dark Sun game. After all, what’s a game set in Athas without a little sun fever to cause a party of delirious adventurers to wander into a cacti field.