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What's wrong with Dark Sun?

   
What's wrong with Dark Sun?

I've been wanting to talk about this for a long time. It could be my favorite setting of all time, except for a number of things. Seems to me it could've been better if it wasn't tethered to the game system that inspired it, no matter which edition. I've mulled over it for years, but I think its about time I start putting some ideas out there and get a discussion going to invoke some ideas. So here it goes.

This is not your standard D&D game. I don't mean the departure of stereotypes or twisting the conventions of typical fantasy tropes. That's already baked into the character of the setting. I'm referring to the style of play. Characters can't expect to suit up, kick down the doors, loot the bodies, level up, and live it up at the local tavern. Food and water are scarce. The environment is brutal. Weapons and armor often break, and everything that lives is a threat.

Survival is a major theme in this harsh world, yet the mechanics do little to support this. Granted, the rules of D&D were not designed for that particular style of play without some major modifications. But, for a setting with a strong departure from what is standard, wouldn't greater deviation from the rules make more sense?

My first step shouldn't be a surprise to anyone who knows me--I'd ditch the d20 mechanic and replace it with 3d6. I do that in most of games already. Its just a preference. In this particular case, however, the dynamics of the dice will actually create more opportunities for exploring new mechanics that could work specifically within the Dark Sun setting. For example, I can now say that rolling doubles is part of the check. A high double might trigger a special ability, like psionics, or indicate a critical hit on an attack. On the other hand, a low double might be something negative, like breaking a weapon or losing your concentration.

I've got some more ideas, and a lot more to discuss. But I'm holding back for a change. I want to leave it open to hear some other ideas or opinions anyone else might have. What changes would you make, if any?

You might have better luck changing systems entirely than introducing a new core mechanic like rolling doubles. Seems like less work overall, and allowing for greater possibilities altogether.

I know that's not the advice people usually seek out, but I feel like you'd be working against D&D's rules rather than with them with those sorts of changes. Dark Sun was originally a pre-3e setting, when the rules themselves were a lot grittier and more deadly - it was easier to capitalize on the harshness of the world. Post 3e just doesn't have the same design in it, so you might want to look elsewhere. Either in the d20 market or out of it, both have an ample store of games and many of which are free too.

Just to be clear, I am absolutely working towards a new (or revised) system tailored specifically for this setting. And, yes, it will be a lot more work. So, rather than waiting and hoping that someone else will do it for me, I am opening a discussion to see who else might be ready to dig in. This forum is, after all, a Workshop.

Ah, I see. In that case, I like the added idea of rolling double digits on a 3d6. That said, you should very strictly define the patameters at which the positive and negative effects occur, tying it inherently into the system as a core mechanic rather than just having it tacked onto the rest. It'll give you the most bang for your buck in terms of making the system's core rolling process itself interesting.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Actana View Post
Ah, I see. In that case, I like the added idea of rolling double digits on a 3d6. That said, you should very strictly define the patameters at which the positive and negative effects occur, tying it inherently into the system as a core mechanic rather than just having it tacked onto the rest. It'll give you the most bang for your buck in terms of making the system's core rolling process itself interesting.
That is also my intention. I have a number of ideas in the works for a long time, but what I need are new perspectives and a fresh set of eyes. I am also limited on my free time, so in a way, this thread was a means to focus my resources and attention into something more productive. I tend to work better when there is more involvement and investment than my own. When I have some time, I will divulge some of those specifics.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jacob Lewis View Post
I'd ditch the d20 mechanic and replace it with 3d6. I do that in most of games already.
Is that the 3d6 mechanic from Unearthed Arcana, or a different one? If its the former, I'd like to hear your thoughts about how it's worked for you.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bobcloclimar View Post
Is that the 3d6 mechanic from Unearthed Arcana, or a different one? If its the former, I'd like to hear your thoughts about how it's worked for you.
Yes, for the most part. I've tinkered with it before when I used it in my 4th Edition campaign here many years ago (LINK). My players were having a difficult time in the beginning with too many of their rolls going low. It made for some pretty long fights, and frustrated players who were expending their abilities on a miss. Overall, I'd say it was well-received. Rolls were more consistent, and character choices seemed to have a greater impact than being at the mercy of the dice. Suddenly, a +1 bonus (or a -1 penalty) was far more significant.

But that was a long time ago, and I catered to that particular campaign using that particular edition. A 3d6 roll would still have the same general effect of creating a grittier game where character choices had more influence than the swinginess of a d20 roll. But now that idea of bounded accuracy has been introduced, showing us that the game can be done with smaller numbers and keep threats viable at all levels, its a whole new dice game. Here's an example:

Advantage and Disadvantage
A character that has advantage on a roll adds an additional die to the pool of dice (i.e. roll 4d6), and then discards the lowest die before adding for the result. Conversely, a character with disadvantage adds the extra die, and then discards the highest. And just like in 5e, the having both will negate their effects so you roll normally.

Yeah, I've thought about implementing 3d6 if I ever get around to GMing a d20 game, due to the volume of bad rolls (on here and IRL) . I think it'd work really well for E6-style games, where accumulating more modifiers has a greater relative impact on target numbers.

Weapons of Athas
One of the themes of the setting is survival in a world where resources are scarce. Most weapons and armor are fashioned from poor materials, like bone and obsidian. The equipment a character carries is not expected to last more than a few battles before it is rendered useless or breaks. But we don't see a lot of this in actual play. I think 4e may have had the best version of rules for breakage. It was simple and gave players some choice in whether to save their item, or sacrifice it for a small reward. I was disappointed, however, that the rule treated all weapons of inferior make exactly the same.

The world doesn't need a slew of exotic weapons and armors with different styles or shapes to make it unique. Dark Sun has quite a few in its pocket already that help define the look and feel of the world. What's more interesting, and largely overlooked, is the materials that can be used to create items with a bit more character. Magic items should be rare in the campaign, but that doesn't mean players can't look forward to finding something nice.

So, looking back at the 3d6 roll, I mentioned special triggers for rolling doubles. More to the point, rolling doubles with high values, like 5s or 6s, has a positive result, while rolling low doubles, like 1s and 2s, could be bad. When dealing with weapon attacks in any edition, only two extraordinary cases ever really come into play: you deal extra damage (Critical hit), or you drop your weapon (Fumble). In Dark Sun, however, your weapons tend to break frequently, especially if they are not made of good materials.

Now we have a new feature for our 3d6 mechanic, and it doesn't take any extra rolling, looking up tables, or whatever. Roll double 1s or 2s, your weapon fails. Roll double 5s or 6s, your weapon does extra damage. Notice that 3s and 4s don't do anything on their own... but that doesn't mean they never will.

And I'm out of time for tonight.

A (hopefully polite) request: I'd be really interested in hearing you return to this topic and tell us about it, after you've played with this in 5e with its low modifiers and seen what sort of play experience results.

I'm particularly interested in how 3d6 interacts with the saving throw system, where even a high-level character will have at least 3 saves that s/he will fail the large majority of the time, and 2 or 3 that s/he will make the large majority of the time.

I've been playing around recently with the idea that the swingy game that bounded accuracy plus the flat d20 distribution tends to produce could be viewed as a mechanical representation of an aspect of a setting that I've been thinking about: it's a mechanic that reflects the (pretty common premodern view) that somewhat capricious gods and/or fortune can be a dominant factor in success or failure, no matter what one's own talents or efforts are. In this world that would be more or less true, and would be how people reacted to the Greatest Warrior in the World repeatedly rolling a string of low rolls - the gods had just decided to take him down a peg.




 

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