30 Days of Dark Sun 4: What's your favorite game mechanic?

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30 Days of Dark Sun 4: What's your favorite game mechanic?

Postby Big Mac » Tue Oct 11, 2016 7:05 am

It's the Dark Sun 25th Anniversary and The Burnt World of Athas (aka Athas.org) is celbrating with "30 Days of Dark Sun".

Here is what Athas.org is doing for Day 4: 30 Days of Dark Sun 4: What's your favorite game mechanic?.

Raddu liked the Dehydration/Alignment mechanic, from the original boxed set and Robert Scwalb, designer for 4th edition Dark Sun, liked the way that Dark Sun made psionics a core part of the setting. What did you like?
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Re: 30 Days of Dark Sun 4: What's your favorite game mechani

Postby Tim Baker » Tue Oct 11, 2016 8:12 am

I'm in agreement with Rob Schwalb on this one. The inclusion of psionics as a core part of the setting, with PCs receiving wild talents, is a critical mechanic.
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Re: 30 Days of Dark Sun 4: What's your favorite game mechani

Postby agathokles » Tue Oct 11, 2016 10:07 am

Yes, Psionics are critical to Dark Sun. Dehydration rules are nice, but not fundamental.

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Re: 30 Days of Dark Sun 4: What's your favorite game mechani

Postby Havard » Tue Oct 11, 2016 10:40 am

Rob Schwalb is an awesome guy and an amazing game designer so I have to agree with his statement that the integral use of Psionics is a huge part of Dark Sun. For the original AD&D 2nd Edition version of Dark Sun however, I was also really fascinated with how Dark Sun expanded that ruleset with high level options and streamlining rules for going from 20th to 30th level. It reminded me of BECMI which is always a good thing. :)

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Re: 30 Days of Dark Sun 4: What's your favorite game mechani

Postby Havard » Tue Oct 11, 2016 10:41 am

agathokles wrote:Dehydration rules are nice, but not fundamental.


I read this as "Dehydration is nice, but not fundamental". For some reason it made me laugh :lol:

Sorry GP :)

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Re: 30 Days of Dark Sun 4: What's your favorite game mechani

Postby Big Mac » Tue Oct 11, 2016 8:47 pm

Tim Baker wrote:I'm in agreement with Rob Schwalb on this one. The inclusion of psionics as a core part of the setting, with PCs receiving wild talents, is a critical mechanic.


Good point.

Spinning this around the other way, psionics are one of those rules that (unlike arcane and divine magic) almost always feel like they are tacked onto all of the pre-Dark Sun campaign settings (at least the ones I know well enough).

Psionics are a good idea, but they feel like a gimmick. That's a real shame. There just isn't support from them (aside from from a few iconic monsters, like mind flayers) and that just doesn't give a GM much to work with. I guess that is OK for a GM running with something like OD&D, where you are expecting to have a tiny number of rulebooks to spin a game from, but if you are trying to play with dozens of rulebooks that all have no secondary-support for psionics, that gives you a lot of work to make the concept feel like a "real" part of the campaign setting your game is set in.

Dark Sun stops them from being a gimmick, because they are embedded into the world on a fundamental level and you get a ton of plot-hooks for them.

Of the post-Dark Sun campaign settings, I don't recall anything having better support for psionics than Eberron.
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Re: 30 Days of Dark Sun 4: What's your favorite game mechani

Postby agathokles » Wed Oct 12, 2016 8:54 am

This is an interesting consideration. Indeed, in most of AD&D, psionics look just tacked on. In Dark Sun, there was a conscious effort to make them integral in the setting. I think this was part of the later trend, where catch-all settings were not anymore as interesting, and attempts were done at creating more thematically defined ones (Al Qadim, Dark Sun, Birthright). It was a good idea, too bad it didn't work from the business point of view (for a long time, it was considered merely a wrong business decision; now I see it more as something ahead of times -- in the era of crowdfunding, they'd have worked perfectly).

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Re: 30 Days of Dark Sun 4: What's your favorite game mechani

Postby Zeromaru X » Wed Oct 12, 2016 8:15 pm

Taking into account that I was introduced to Dark Sun with the 4e version, my favorite mechanic was the Defiling Magic power. It was something that made arcane casters feel different from other classes (a issue of 4e). I like it so much at the time that I adopted it in my Nentir Vale campaign.
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Re: 30 Days of Dark Sun 4: What's your favorite game mechani

Postby Big Mac » Thu Oct 13, 2016 6:06 pm

agathokles wrote:This is an interesting consideration. Indeed, in most of AD&D, psionics look just tacked on. In Dark Sun, there was a conscious effort to make them integral in the setting. I think this was part of the later trend, where catch-all settings were not anymore as interesting, and attempts were done at creating more thematically defined ones (Al Qadim, Dark Sun, Birthright).


I sometimes hear people refer to Greyhawk, Mystara, Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms as "generic settings" (as if they are all the same. (Oddly, these people usually leave Blackmoor out of the "generic setting" pigeon hole. Sometimes they leave out Mystara too.)

The 2nd Edition certainly brought in some settings with strong themes (Spelljammer is "D&D in space", Ravenloft is "gothic horror D&D", Dark Sun is "hot desert planet" (as the Magecrammer advert said) and Planescape and Birthright were also worlds with strong central themes.

I don't feel that they were needed because the earlier ideas were not "interesting". The long survival of the various fan communities for those pre-2e settings (and the fact that all the pre-Spelljammer campaign settings have more than 2,000 posts at The Piazza - while all the post-Spelljammer TSR settings up to Birthright have only beaten the 1,000 barrier) shows that those "generic" concepts still have legs.

I think that where settings like Dark Sun come in is "choice". You already have D&D. Settings as radical as Dark Sun allow you to play D&D differently. I think that moving to Dark Sun is as radical as moving from one edition of D&D to another. You get new rules and things play differently. But in the case of Dark Sun, the changes are there to facilitate a new world. They are not just there for the sake of change.

agathokles wrote:It was a good idea, too bad it didn't work from the business point of view (for a long time, it was considered merely a wrong business decision; now I see it more as something ahead of times -- in the era of crowdfunding, they'd have worked perfectly).


I don't really buy into the "too many settings killed TSR" mantra (because I'm hearing from multiple sources that the TSR management bypassed the designers and spent a ton of cash on a lot of weird products. That's cash that D&D put into their fighting fund.

However, I do find it interesting (and maybe a bit disappointing) that if you read down the campaign setting list at The Piazza, which is mostly* in chronological order of publication down to Eberron, we are totally missing the late TSR settings, like Tale of the Comet, Council of Wyrms and Jakandor.

I suppose it is possible that fans felt that some of those settings "jumped the shark", but I am just getting to look at some of those settings now (after getting fed up with 2nd Edition AD&D and giving up D&D until 3e came out). I think there are other factors there and that the 2nd Edition brand itself had issues that may well have impacted on the last few settings. Did they get the same level of marking support as earlier campaign settings? They certainly didn't seem to have any sort of support on the WotC forums, when I first came online. If TSR created settings and then abandoned them as they were coming out, that could well have made some GMs avoid looking into running games with them.

But, at the end of the day, the "too many settings killed TSR" claim boils down to a "too many settings is bad for Dungeons & Dragons. But if we look at the 3rd Edition Era we see that the Eberron Campaign Setting was very very successful. I'm not sure if it was "more successful" than the early 2nd Edition campaign setting, but it was clearly more successful than the late 2nd Edition campaign settings.

If you look at Al-Qadim (which was out the same time as Dark Sun and which also played with desert themes) you can see that Jeff Grubb designed it to have a build in ending, so that the setting could be retired without loose ends being abandoned. That worked really well, so TSR had the ability to do things on a tighter budget than Dark Sun got and still make a profit.

WotC seem to want D&D to be a big thing, but I think they could easily have swapped out DDI for some sort of "internal crowdfunding system" where fans of settings like Dark Sun could pledge to fund ex-TSR designers to come back and create Print on Demand books that could be published via Dungon Master's Guild. All the technical stuff to ship books from both the USA and Europe already exists.

The Dark Sun designers came back to make the Dragon Kings project. So the talent is out there and willing to publish things for the fans. WotC would just need to wort out how the money gets split. I would really like to see something like that happen, so that we could see new Dark Sun books.

(I suspect that WotC are going to hold back all the campaign settings until they can push out one or more "big" products themselves, before allowing for "small" products to follow up. I also think they are going to force everyone to use 5e, which might mean that some Dark Sun rules would no longer be appropriate to the core D&D system they would be used with.)
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Re: 30 Days of Dark Sun 4: What's your favorite game mechani

Postby agathokles » Thu Oct 13, 2016 9:31 pm

One fact is that by nature, a thematically focused setting is going to attract less attention than a catch-all setting, since it will draw only the interest of people who like the theme. Back in the 90ies, there were many active catch-all settings (FR, GH, Mystara, and to a lesser extent Dragonlance). That market was full, so there was no interest in doing yet another catch-all setting, while there was an idea that TSR could run smaller, more focused settings, initially with the same scope as the others (RL, PS, DS), then as shorter runs (AQ, a line that, as you said, was designed to finish after a fixed number of books). All of this would have worked out fine, if it had been done now -- the purported big budgets for DS or Birthright are not that bigger than what you see in modern kickstarter supported settings, such as Numenera (which proved you can do a boxed set setting with economic viability, even after you have published the same game as a hardcover...). It didn't work out as well at that time (in the end, even AQ was prolonged over the originally foreseen books, but the last were not as successful as the first), and not necessarily only for the incompetence of managers.

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Re: 30 Days of Dark Sun 4: What's your favorite game mechani

Postby Big Mac » Thu Oct 13, 2016 10:40 pm

agathokles wrote:One fact is that by nature, a thematically focused setting is going to attract less attention than a catch-all setting, since it will draw only the interest of people who like the theme. Back in the 90ies, there were many active catch-all settings (FR, GH, Mystara, and to a lesser extent Dragonlance). That market was full, so there was no interest in doing yet another catch-all setting, while there was an idea that TSR could run smaller, more focused settings, initially with the same scope as the others (RL, PS, DS), then as shorter runs (AQ, a line that, as you said, was designed to finish after a fixed number of books). All of this would have worked out fine, if it had been done now -- the purported big budgets for DS or Birthright are not that bigger than what you see in modern kickstarter supported settings, such as Numenera (which proved you can do a boxed set setting with economic viability, even after you have published the same game as a hardcover...). It didn't work out as well at that time (in the end, even AQ was prolonged over the originally foreseen books, but the last were not as successful as the first), and not necessarily only for the incompetence of managers.


I believe that Jeff Grubb said that Al-Qadim was in production at the exact same time as Dark Sun and that it was more profitable (on a unit basis) than Dark Sun, because it was designed to be a lot cheaper to produce. (And he even factored in the fact that they designed the books to have gold coloured ink and that coloured ink would become less profitable if they switched to smaller print runs later down the line.)

I believe that Jeff also predicted that the product line would also make the most money if they cut it at the first cutoff point, but that they could add on another year if it was successful, and a second year if it was highly successful.

But it's been a while since I watched the Secrets of TSR video.
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Re: 30 Days of Dark Sun 4: What's your favorite game mechani

Postby agathokles » Fri Oct 14, 2016 9:12 am

Yes, because Dark Sun had a lot of cards, spiral bound books, etc. However, even AQ was not sustainable in the long term.

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Re: 30 Days of Dark Sun 4: What's your favorite game mechani

Postby Big Mac » Wed Oct 19, 2016 8:44 pm

agathokles wrote:Yes, because Dark Sun had a lot of cards, spiral bound books, etc. However, even AQ was not sustainable in the long term.


To be honest, while I thought that Dark Sun was cool, I really hated all that stuff. I was used to the normal 2e products and thought it was a pointless gimmick.
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Re: 30 Days of Dark Sun 4: What's your favorite game mechani

Postby Havard » Wed Oct 19, 2016 9:59 pm

I'm a sucker for gimmicky things! :)

What were the Dark Sun cards used for?

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Re: 30 Days of Dark Sun 4: What's your favorite game mechani

Postby agathokles » Wed Oct 19, 2016 10:37 pm

Cards in the sense of cardboard npc sheets , maps, etc, not playing cards.
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Re: 30 Days of Dark Sun 4: What's your favorite game mechani

Postby Big Mac » Thu Oct 20, 2016 10:58 pm

Havard wrote:I'm a sucker for gimmicky things! :)


All those gimmicky things had content that was very useful, but I found the format a bit frustrating.

For example, spiral bound notebooks are things that chop through the paper. I've never had one that didn't start to rip. I don't need D&D books with built in self-destruct mechanisms. I want my stuff to last. It's nice to be able to open up a book, but I don't need a spiral bound notebook for that. I can do that with a stapled format.

This sort of gimmick is the enemy of Print on Demand publishing, so I hope that future Dark Sun material (and I do hope there is more) is designed to (eventually) be sold in Print on Demand format from DMs Guild. Anything that makes PoD harder (or impossible) is bad for long-term survival of Dark Sun as a setting that new fans can buy into at an affordable price.

But I'm getting off of the game mechanics, so I should stop this derail of Athas.org's question (or go get a new topic).
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Re: 30 Days of Dark Sun 4: What's your favorite game mechani

Postby agathokles » Fri Oct 21, 2016 8:06 am

There was a point to this things. The spiral-bound books were only the adventure modules. The idea was that you could flip over the illustration pages, showing them to the players, while keeping on the other side the encounter text. So in some sense it was also tied to a "game mechanics" element ;-)

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Re: 30 Days of Dark Sun 4: What's your favorite game mechani

Postby Big Mac » Sun Oct 23, 2016 9:32 am

agathokles wrote:There was a point to this things. The spiral-bound books were only the adventure modules. The idea was that you could flip over the illustration pages, showing them to the players, while keeping on the other side the encounter text. So in some sense it was also tied to a "game mechanics" element ;-)


I put that down to TSR having good designers who were able to make constructive use of the bizarre formats that management were forcing on them.

Jeff Grubb has said that the cards in the Spelljammer boxed set were forced on him and that they came up with the idea of using them for Spelljamming ships. That worked really really well, but the Spelljamming ships could easily have gone into a third book.

A cheaper Dark Sun product format would have made the line last longer, and would have made additional printings more economical too.
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Re: 30 Days of Dark Sun 4: What's your favorite game mechani

Postby agathokles » Sun Oct 23, 2016 12:07 pm

More economical, yes. Last longer, I don't know. Dark Sun was a pretty long line for a very thematically focused setting. It would have been difficult to do more books.

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