Sunday, October 10, 2021

Game 434: Dark Sun: Shattered Lands (1993)

SSI optimistically launches a new franchise.
    
Dark Sun: Shattered Lands
United States
Strategic Simulations, Inc. (developer and publisher)
Released 1993 for DOS
Date Started: 2 October 2021
    
As I think I've mentioned in previous articles, the entire period of 1992-1998 is a bit of a blind spot for me, as I missed it when it was "live." During that period, I managed to put my CRPG addiction on hold while I attended school, courted Irene, and established myself in my profession. The only computer I owned during the period was a Mac, which wasn't exactly teeming with RPG titles. (I did play a small number of RPGs, but that's not important for the overall anecdote.) By 1999, I was well into my career, I had married Irene, and we had bought our first house, and I finally felt comfortable having hobbies again. My first purchases were Might and Magic VI and Baldur's Gate, and naturally I was blown away by what had happened in the intervening years. I still remember sitting down with a pad of graph paper to play Might and Magic VI. I was expecting tiles.
   
Might and Magic VI, Baldur's Gate, and their sequels remain among my favorite RPGs, and my GIMLET was largely based on them. That isn't to say that either would score a perfect 100, but both of them would probably score at least a 5 in every category. In other words, while there was clearly room for improvement, neither game was obviously lacking in anything that I'm looking for in an RPG. I'm using those games as examples, but what I'm saying is true of a lot of games in the era. By 1998, and certainly by the mid-2000s, an RPG without a fully fleshed backstory, intricate character development, solid combat tactics, memorable NPCs, copious side quests, and frequent role-playing options was a rarity rather than a rule. Some games have done it better than others, but the genre as a whole "arrived."
    
An opening cinematic dramatizes the transformation of the world into a desert wasteland.
      
Ever since I began 1992--began, effectively, my "dark period"--I've been wondering when we'd hit the first game that crossed that threshold. Unless its opening hours have fooled me, Dark Sun: Shattered Lands seems to be it. This game is the complete package. There's still room for improvement, particularly in graphics and sound, but otherwise I'm not seeing anything that the Infinity Engine lacks. Again, I'm only judging it by its opening hours, but I can't see why this game isn't going to rocket to the top of the list.
   
Many of my commenters have praised the game, but these opening moments have been so good that I don't understand why it isn't far more famous than it is. Everything about it so far has been as good or better than the best Gold Box game, starting with the much more interesting setting, and continuing to tactical combat, interesting role-playing choices, multiple ways to solve problems, and the first regular, full-text dialogue options. If I had encountered this, rather than Baldur's Gate, in 1999, I would have been no less impressed.
   
Dark Sun takes place in the D&D campaign setting of the same name, and to me it's the most interesting setting in the D&D multiverse. (Planescape is too wacky for me.) In fact, it's almost too interesting for D&D--I think I would like it better without the various baggage that comes with the rest of D&D's second edition, including the canonical races. This is not a setting that particularly needs elves. The world is called Athas, and it is a post-apocalyptic wasteland. It was once green and blue, and ruled by a peaceful halfling civilization, but sorcerers competing for power drained energies from the biosphere and somehow caused the sun to flare. The oceans burned away and much of the remaining planet turned to inhospitable desert. The remaining people live in city-states ruled by cruel sorcerer-kings. Slavery is common, metals are rare, and water is more precious than gold. It's Tolkien meets Mad Max. I love it.
   
Person 1: "Great setup! Clearly, we should call the setting 'Bright Sun!'" Person 2: "Nah. Let's call it 'Dark Sun.'" Person 1: "But the sun is bright." Person 2: "Exactly!"
      
The setting creates some unusual changes in the standard D&D template. Races, for instance, start out on familiar ground with humans, dwarves, elves, half-elves, and halflings, but they include three new races that are all in some ways unfortunate. The first is half-giants. Their existence raises questions I don't want to answer, especially given that half giants are 10-12 feet tall and weigh "in the neighborhood of 1,600 pounds," so actually giants must be even taller and heavier. Obviously, that creates an alarming picture that you don't need me to draw.
   
Then we have "Muls," which are a crossbreed of humans and dwarves, which there's nothing wrong with except the likely source of the name. [Ed. For clarification, I was speculating that the term was a shortening of mulatto, which to be fair wasn't quite as controversial a word in 1993. To be even fairer, though, mule is an equally probable source.] Finally, you inexplicably have the option to play a thri-kreen, an insectoid monster that appears in other settings but never as a PC. I'm not sure why this monster, and no other, becomes a playable character class. 
   
The classes also have some weird modifications. You can play single or (if non-human) multi-classed fighters, gladiators, rangers, preservers, clerics, druids, thieves, and "psionicists." Gladiators seem to have all the strengths of fighters, none of the weaknesses, and some additional special abilities. Their only drawback is they can't be multi-classed. Preservers are this setting's magic-users, regarded with suspicion given what mages have done to the planet, although the manual says that preservers somehow "cast their spells in harmony with nature, giving back the energy they take from the land." I take it this means that regular mages exist in the setting, but you just can't play them. 
     
There's clearly some influence of Mesoamerican mythology on the proper names of the setting.
       
Clerics go through the oddest transition. There are no gods in the setting, except the cults dedicated to some of the sorcerer-kings, so clerics worship elements rather than gods. When choosing to be a cleric, you have to decide whether to worship earth, air, fire, or water, and the selection limits your spells and equipment. I'm frankly not sure I see what the difference is between clerics and druids, who also worship the elements but "unlike clerics . . . are responsible for guarding a section of land." I feel like it would have made more sense to dump clerics entirely from a setting that has no gods and thus give druids an emphasis that they don't typically receive. 
   
Supposedly, every character in this setting has some level of psionic ability, which comes in three forms: psychokinesis, psychometabolism, and telepathy. During character creation, you identify each character with one of these types of psionics. "Psionicists" (what a cumbersome name) specialize in psionics. 
   
This is the party I created, but I welcome other suggestions as I'm very early in the game and don't mind replaying the opening moments:
   
  • Violencia, a human female gladiator with psychometabolism
  • Sunstroke, a half-giant male fighter/cleric, neutral good, fire sphere, psychokinesis
  • Featherweight, halfling female ranger/thief, chaotic good, earth sphere, telepathy
  • Yester, half-elf male preserver/druid, true neutral, water sphere, psychometabolism
    
I figure if Violencia seems to be reaching a level cap, I can always dual her to something else. I eschewed psionicists because everyone gets some psionic abilities anyway, but let me know if you think the class is mandatory. I could probably give up Sunstroke's cleric half. I couldn't bring myself to try to role-play something as alien as a thri-kreen.
    
Attribute rolls are extremely generous. It takes only a few re-rolls to get everything above 16, and if that wasn't enough, you can modify your statistics to "match your favorite D&D character" right on the creation screen. If that wasn't enough, any character of any race can have statistics up to 20. Characters start at Level 2 or 3 and have fairly generous hit point totals.
     
"My favorite character just happens to have 20s in everything"--at least half of contemporary players.
       
The characters all begin the game as slaves in the fighting pits of the city of Draj, whose sorcerer king is temporarily missing. The opening moments allow you watch a combat between another gladiator and a "rampager." Then, it's the party's turn.
     
Characters come with equipment appropriate to their classes, put in appropriate slots in a paperdoll inventory. I like lots of opportunity for equipment upgrades, and this game offers it, with separate slots for chest, leg, and arm armor, boots, belts, rings, and cloaks. You equip missile weapons and melee weapons in different slots, and the game chooses between them based on distance. This system is a nice improvement over the Gold Box requirement to go into the inventory and switch between the two in the middle of combat. I also like that the inventory clearly shows the statistics for each item without requiring the player to look things up in the manual. There are considerations of equipment material (bone, wood, metal), and associated class restrictions, that I still have to learn.
     
Equipment on my halfling ranger/thief. She starts with chest and leg armor, a bow, and a long sword.
     
The combat system is a clear evolution from the Gold Box, perhaps with some lessons taken from Spelljammer. It is turn-based, offers numerous potential actions for each character, and emphasizes the importance of terrain and positioning. There are some interface elements that I don't love, but I'll cover that later after I have some more experience. There's a right-click-to-change-action-icon system that may have been lifted from the Quest for Glory games.
     
The party (right) faces approaching enemies (left). I'm about to cast "Magic Missile" at one of them.
     
With weapons and "Magic Missile," I defeated the group of ravagers who opposed us. The announcer belittled and sneered at our victory, and right away we had a role-playing choice: whether to go back to our pens or shout something back at the announcer. I tried the latter ("Pathetic?! I'll take on your best!") and was soon torn apart by mountain stalkers and other high-level foes.
    
Lesson learned: Don't antagonize the announcer.
   
Reloading, we adopted the meek approach and went back to the cells. We had some dialogue options with Kurzak, leader of the guards, as we entered. Our choices in response to his orders were:
  
  • Help me escape, or I'll kill you.
  • Tell me about your job.
  • Who is the half-giant?
  • Have many slaves escaped?
  • How well-guarded are the exits?
     
I've been waiting for this moment in RPG history. We've had dialogue keywords before (e.g., Ultima IV-VII; The Magic Candle). We've had dialogue "stances" (e.g., Pool of Radiance, Starflight). We've even has some full-text responses (e.g., Sentinel Worlds: Future Magic, Hard Nova). The Gold Box sometimes offered dialogue choices as part of occasional role-playing encounters. There were lots of precursors. This is the first game I can remember, however, in which full-text dialogue is a constant gameplay mechanic, and in which the dialogue options regularly embody different role-playing choices rather than just requests for different types of information. Part of me was worried we wouldn't get these until Baldur's Gate in 1998.
    
The first choice leads to combat--unwinnable, in my case, but I suspect an experienced player could get through it. The ultimate goal seems to be for the party to escape from their life of slavery, and the game seems to offer several macro-level ways to go about it. The first is just to attack Kurzak and his guards ("the half-giant" is Legcrusher, the monster trainer); the second to hitch the party to one of two prison kingpins and join their escape attempts; the third to figure out a route for themselves. There may even be more. Dumb options, like bluntly asking the slavemaster "how well-guarded" the exits are, end in failure or punishment.
     
But no monsters rejoice.
    
In further conversation (after a reload), Kurzak explains that most slaves have to work building the pyramid, so the life of a gladiator isn't so bad. We'll be called every once in a while to fight in the arena, but the time is otherwise ours. It later transpires that "the call" comes about once every 8 hours game time, which is plenty of time to do other things unless we sleep. We can demand a new battle at any time by knocking on the door to the pens.
    
Wandering around the slave pens.
         
I continued playing until the end of this sequence, but it was a week ago. I didn't have time to finish this entry in the intervening period, and while I can reconstruct what happened from screen shots, I'd rather replay it and blog about it fresh. So I'll wrap up here, a bit short, and pick up again in a few days, after I've had a chance to hear some thoughts on the party composition. If the game can't be won without a psionicist, or a "Mul," or whatever, I'd rather know now.
     
The party talks to another gladiator about escaping.
    
One thing that surprises me is that the game offers no food and water system. Perhaps that's a blessing, but I would think a game set on such a world would be partly about survival, and that "where am I going to get my next drink of water?" would be a major consideration for a party considering escape into the desert. 
   
Dark Sun otherwise makes a great first impression. I'm really hoping that it holds together.
 
Time so far: 3 hours
 

195 comments:

  1. The two classes missing from this game but present in the tabletop are Defilers (mages that burn up plant life when they cast spells) and Templars (clerics that get their spells from the local Sorcerer King). They're both more or less aligned with evil, so that's probably why they got skipped.

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    1. That's interesting. The game does allow the creation of evil characters, though, so it's surprising you can't play those classes.

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    2. It's probably because of their place in the setting. Templars serve Sorcerer Kings, who are the big bads--the only like Sorcerer King who might grant your templar power is likely to be your opponent. Defilers are usually reviled by anyone not totally psychotic.

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    3. Really? I thought defilers where THE standard caster in Dark Sun (because of how "edgy" the setting is), and preservers were supposed to be extremely rare.

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    4. I think they are supposed to be rare on the world, but not as player characters.

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    5. When I started Tabletop AD&D, Forgotten Realms was out of stock so I picked Dark Sun. No regret. We later played a bit of FR but all players asked to back to Dark Sun.

      In the Dark Sun ruleset, Defilers level up twice as fast as Preservers (so basically as fast as Rogue). When they cast spells, they destroy ("drain") all vegetations in a circle around them depending on the terrain and the level of spell, but you can count in metters. It also kills critters and deal damage in that circle - including to their buddies.
      Magic is forbidden in the world of Athas, so casting a spell as a defiler in a city is going to get you killed either by the mob, by Templars looking for who cast a spell, or by the Veiled Alliance, a secret society of Preservers.

      Preservers are normal AD&D mage (the spell list is a bit different though), but of course magic is also forbidden to them - at least it is more sneaky. Finding spells to write is a quest in itself in the world of Dark Sun.

      Templars (aka Archons) are Priest that draw their spells from their Sorcerer Kings, who can just stop providing spells to them on a whim. They have a lot of "powers" as they level up that are "political/administrative" powers (call the guards, seize stuff, imprison anyone without reason, that kind of things) - extremely fun if you play a tabletop campaign with a political scenario, not at all fit for a cRPG.

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    6. Forget to add that the Bards are particularly fun (though sadly none of my players ever take any) : they don't cast spells, but are masters of poison.

      An additional book added the Negociator/merchant class, and this one was taken by one of my players, because we had tabletop campaign which was basically a "from shackles to riches" campaign, where my players built a commercial empire.

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    7. It often feels like alignment is pointless in D&D videogames. Sure, you can arbitrarily declare that your fighter is evil, but they're still going to be saving the world and fighting evil nine times out of ten.

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    8. Preservers _are_ the "regular mages" of the setting--rare as they are, they function as D&D wizards, who are powerful enough already. Defilers are:

      1) Always evil, as noted.
      2) Vastly more powerful.
      3) Either every time they cast a spell, or every time they prepare one, plantlife dies.
      4) If they're identified as defilers they'll be killed by nearly everyone in the setting. Even the most vicious cannibal halfling can generally understand "the world I'm in is on the brink of becoming uninhabitable, and you just pushed it closer for your own selfish benefit."
      5) All the sorcerer-kings are defilers, though even they try to maintain at least plausible deniability about it.

      Points 2 through 4, not 1, are likely the reasons your wizards have to be preservers in the computer game.

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    9. 6) In the tabletop game, players are strongly encouraged to be defilers instead of preservers, largely because of point 1 and 2; and to pressure the DM to be lenient on point 4 (or just handwave it entirely).

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    10. It may be missing as a class, but it is present as a hostile NPC. The bald-head white haired dude in a cloak, whom you watch fighting at the very beginning of the game, is a Defiler

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  2. Good call on the lack need to find water. It kind of wastes the setting.

    One thing Baldur's Gate had which this and many other highly regarded games lack is fog of war.

    While the dialogue and quest system was an improvement compared to the GB games, I thought the combat system was worse. Less control, and too unbalanced.
    I never bothered with Psi myself.

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    1. The combat is unbalanced because of the Dark Sun rules, though, not anything inherent in the game engine.

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    2. I'll be interested in some elaboration on this as I progress further.

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    3. Here's an example: half-giants get double hit points with no drawbacks. That means that balance-wise, if you want to play a melee character, there is little reason NOT to be a half-giant.

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    4. Yes, the lack of fog of war definitely feels off for such an otherwise advanced game.

      Being able to scan through the whole map as soon as entering it feels like cheating, and removes some of the tension and sense of discovery from the exploration.

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    5. FYI, you get extremely good rolls for your characters because in Athas, stats rolls are 5D4 and not 3D6. Supposedly because like on Athas is hard and the weak die. Half Giant get +4 in Strength and +2 in constitution in addition to double HP ^^
      Also, according to the rulebook, all PC start at level 3 (or 2-1 for multiclass).

      The half-giant is balanced in tabletop by how common Psionic powers are. All characters with sufficient wisdow start with one random psyonic power, whatever their class is. Half-giants can be psionics, but with -2 WIS -2INT -2CHA they are a prime target for psionic attacks to.

      For a melee character, Thri-kreen is OP too : 5 attacks from the beginning of the game (if not using a weapon - only 2 else), including a paralysing bite starting from level 5 and 50% or so chance to dodge any missile attack, including magical.

      The other races, including the Mul, just can't compete with those two in melee. But the settings invite a strict control on what your players use as character. Good luck having a story that makes sense with an Half-Giant psionist, a Thri-Kreen gladiator, a couple elves defilers and a human archon. My instruction to my players was "no half-giant thank you very much" and that was nice.

      Last note : in the Dark Sun universe, Halflings are actually cannibalistic and live in the one (large) jungle that still exists, and Elves are ... different (desert-dwelling traders & travellers that run very fast but don't get most of the racial bonus from the "non-Athas" elves). Only the humans and dwarves are pretty much normal.


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    6. I'll bet that a lot of players aren't bothered by having the story make less sense, as long as they get to play something powerful :)

      "Balancing" strong races/classes with non-mechanical flavor-only restrictions has never worked well.

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    7. I guess if you start as a bunch of escaping gladiators as in the game, it can explain immediately why the group is a random medley of races, and everyone is good at combat.

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    8. I don't see unbalanced races and classes as a problem in a CRPG, as long as the game remains playable with at least a somewhat sensible party. It's more of a problem in a tabletop game, but there you have the DM who can just say no to a character that wouldn't fit a campaign, or would completely dominate it.

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    9. >Only the humans and dwarves are pretty much normal.
      I hate to be that annoying 'well, actually' guy, but you'd call dwarves with no facial hair at all pretty much normal? ;-)

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    10. Also, in tabletop, the DM can increase the power of opponents to match a really min-maxed party.

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    11. Are double hit points for half-giants mitigated somewhat by weapon damage? That long sword that does d8 vs. Medium opponents does d12 vs. Large. Ditto with a 2H sword that does d10/3d6. Does that not carry over from the core rules, or are the weapons available in the setting less effective vs. Large creatures?

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    12. Yeah mitigated somewhat. Nothing does double damage against larger-than-man-sized though (and some things do less, eg broadswords) so it’s basically a strict benefit enjoyed by half giants.

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    13. @Narwhal ...and after further reflecting my comment I feel the need to add that as someone always interested in the topics of D&D and PnP I really appreciate your informative posts.

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  3. Your party looks good! The only thing I might change is adding fighter or ranger to Yester. You know that in most D&D games, a multiclass character is hit by the equipment restrictions of their more limited class. Dark Sun goes the other way, so a fighter/preserver can use swords and armor just fine.

    That's one of the reasons I suggested multiclassing all your non-human characters. The other is that the level cap is low, and I'm pretty sure you're not a fan of bumping your head against it. Multiclassed characters will probably max out anyway, but it'll at least take longer. And your human character will definitely reach it, but that's okay. The gladiator class is practically made human dual classing.

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    1. I second that. I hit the level cap in my original party easily when I played all single classes. Later on I did a party of 3 triple classes and 2 multi-class and even then I was almost at the level cap at the end. Granted it took doing every side quest that I could find to get that close to it.

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    2. Correction, 3 triple classes and 1 multi-class Fighter/Psionic. Typo.

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    3. iirc, like Eye of Beholder, Dark Sun puts a limit on class levels (something like 7/7/7) not xp, so worth it to multiclass all characters... right?

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  4. I've always had trouble seeing a MEANINGFUL difference between psionics and arcane magic; because psions study hard to use the power of the mind, whereas wizards... study hard to use the power of the mind! So I've never bothered with psionics in any version of D&D.

    Funnily, the Psion Handbook for second edition starts by pointing out that the game already has two kinds of magic (i.e. arcane and divine) and asking if it needs a third, then answering "no". Of course it goes on to explain on how this is "technically not magic" but at that point I closed the book.

    Anyway, mechanically speaking, psions use spell points whereas wizards use the memorization system also seen in Gold Box or Eye of the Beholder. The effects they create are, by and large, identical.

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    1. I think you're far from alone on that opinion; most discussion of Psionics in D&D that I've seen seems to agree that they don't offer enough difference mechanically from arcane magic and feel redundant and kind of underdeveloped. The difference between wizards and psions is supposed to be that wizards learn a wide array of spells while psions develop a couple of themed powers more thoroughly, but this just ends up making them feel redundant AND limited to boot.

      For me, the issue is more that they clash with the intended tone of the setting and end up feeling out of place. Dungeons & Dragons is (mostly) a medieval fantasy-based setting based around Vancian magic, but psychic powers are a 50s science fiction trope that never really fits in anywhere. It needs to be either-or. You could develop a cool setting where the only magic users are Espers with innate psychic gifts, but you'd have to leave out the other two.

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    2. Psionics in D&D was always an afterthought reserved for splat books, since 4th edition WotC did away with it entirely.

      3e offered several takes on this, but the easiest way was to treat psionics as just another school of magic, so creatures with spell resistance also had psionic resistance etc.

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    3. "Psionics in D&D was always an afterthought reserved for splat books,"

      This turns out to be not entirely accurate.

      It's right there in the 1st edition core rules.

      The Players Handbook part of it is in an "Appendix", but it's still right there, and the Monster Manual lists psionic capabilities (or, mostly, lack thereof) for every monster.

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    4. In fact it was originally introduced in Eldritch Wizardry as part of the original D&D books. Naturally Gygax INSISTED (as he did with everything) that it was an essential part of the game.

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    5. It's in the first edition of Advanced D&D, which (confusingly enough) is not the first edition of D&D. Neither the 1974 ruleset (the first one) nor the 1989 ruleset (on which most D&D computer games are based) do not include psionics except in an optional splatbook; nor does any edition since.

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    6. I have to agree with the first anonymous (will you people please choose NAMES!?!) in his or her analysis of the clash in tone. They've always seemed not quite right to me.

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    7. I think that psionics can certainly provide opportunity for a different role-playing experience in a tabletop game. Even if the game mechanics are similar, there is a difference between someone who studied at an academy to learn magic and someone who discovered latent powers inside themselves that they don't fully understand. But that doesn't translate to a video game.

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    8. That just ties into not feeling special, though. Being born with the ability to move objects with your mind is a lot less impressive in a world where everyone else can just cast Mage Hand for the same effect.

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    9. Actually, there's some stories about Dark Sun setting originally being intended to have ONLY psionics and NO magic.

      Psionics would be out of place in medieval fantasy setting, yeas; but, on the other hand, on the desert planet? Paul Attreides did have psionics on Arrakis, and so did Luke Skywalker on Tatooine; desert planets and psionics go together nice!

      Besides, tha apocalypse that happened was caused by magic, so it would be only natural that the magic died out with it.

      Sadly, TSR could not allow DnD setting without magic, so the magic got in, too, creating a kind of redundancy with psionics.

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    10. Though psionics have the advantage in Dark Sun that magic users are hated and feared whereas everyone is at least mildly psionic-gifted, so your psionicist can do all their tricks publically without any real consequence and mages have to operate on the down low - in fact, disguising their magic as psionics use is a way preservers hide, IIRC. (Defilers are a *bit* too blatant for that.)

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    11. It makes total sense to me that DS was initially envisioned as having psionics (but no arcane magic) and druids (but no clerics) but was forced to include those because it's traditional.

      Also, later editions of D&D use the wizard class for someone who studied magic, the sorcerer class for someone who discovered latent powers... and then STILL think they need to include a psion for some reason.

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    12. @Unknown Yeah, the problem with Dark Sun as a whole has always been that it's just a LITTLE too beholden to the Dungeons & Dragons Brand. There are a lot of cool ideas, and I really want to like the idea of a gritty post-apocalyptic roleplay setting where the hardest opponent is the environment itself, but they just couldn't let go of all their elves and dragons and wands of fireball so the cool Mad Max atmosphere gets half-buried under a bunch of high fantasy nonsense. The whole thing ends up coming across a little hokey as a result, and not nearly as cool as it could have been - IMO, it's a mashup of gritty and goofy that don't quite join together in the middle.

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    13. One thing to remember about Magic Users vs Psionics....Magic Spells almost always require ingredients, which in a desert world would be almost impossible to find (or at best very costly to aquire). With Psionics, you don't have ingredients for a spell...you have a natural talent/ability that lends itself to your manipulation. I think that is why Dark Sun had Psionics, and that it was intended to play a bigger role in the setting.

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    14. While technically spells require components, those rules are universally ignored in tabletop (as well as literally all D&D computer games). Because nobody wants to keep tracky of fiddly little different things for every single spell. These rules still exist (and are still ignored) in the current edition, too.

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    15. True....but the worlds are still built with that issue in mind.

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    16. I interpret the existence of psionics in this kind of a setting as a consequence of the science fiction/ fantasy divide in the 80s, combined with the obsession with ESP that you can see in otherwise "hard SF" writers, like Asimov, for example, beginning in at least the 1940's. Despite seeming like a complete impossibility to today's conventional wisdom, psionics were always a sci-fi thing, seen as a legitimate realm of inquiry, a trend which climaxed with the ESP experiments of the late 60s and early 70s. This is also why Star Trek is full of this stuff. For whatever reason, psionic powers are perceived to violate suspension of disbelief less dramatically than explicit magic, which is why it seems like a more natural fit in a Mad Max style setting, even though those movies have no supernatural elements at all.

      Compared to fantasy, SF was (and to an extent still is) the big brother genre, seen as a little edgier and more sophisticated both literarily and philosophically. To include psionics in Dark Sun is an attempt to show that it takes itself seriously, to align it with cooler, grittier, more adult Science Fiction. It's Dark! It's Edgy! It's Grim! Psionics is part of what creates that tone.

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    17. We always played with the spell component rules in 2nd ED as long as the component was something that would be costly or difficult to acquire. Or if you get captured and all your things are taken you can't use spells that require the material components. I never found this "fiddly" (a term I've never really understood).

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    18. What is "fiddly" is that if you play by the ACTUAL component rules, you'd have to keep track of your exact supplies of bat guano (for fireballs), wool (for illusions), tin cans on a string (for telepathy), spider legs (for climbing spells) and similar things.

      Your post suggests that you're not actually doing THAT, and my point is that neither did anybody else.

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    19. Anonymous

      Was that ever actually the rule though? Serious question. IIRC, the 2nd Ed. rules just let you stock up on spell components generally. If a spell required precious components, the gp value was specified in the spell description.

      Anyway, neither I nor anyone I knew tracked pinches of bat guano. But everyone certainly had a "Spell components" line in their inventory list.bwe considered playing without spell components akin to allowing mages to cast spells without memorizing them first.

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    20. Yes: in 1st edition, bulky or rare components must be explicitly tracked (PHB page 40). In 2nd edition, rare or expensive components must be tracked (PHB page 171), but the whole rule is optional. In 3rd edition, only expensive components must be tracked (which I infer is what you've been doing), and this is not optional.

      No word on what exactly IS rare, but the first ten spells in the book require a tiny bell, a strip of blessed leather, and phosphorus (not discovered until 17th century IRL). None of that sounds like it would be commonly available in a random medieval village or the wilderness.

      So the point is that psionics don't have components, and arcane magic in practice doesn't have components either (except for the VERY few spells with expensive components), so this is not a meaningful distinction between "magic" and "psionics", and not a good reason for a setting to have both.

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    21. "Anonymous" - If you want to be anonymous, that's your right, but it makes it really hard to follow who is saying what. The Addict himself has requested that you use some sort of identifier. If privacy is your concern, use a unique fictional handle like Thecla does, so that we can associate a word with your information. For my part, I'm just not going to read anything by Anonymous going forward.

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    22. Yeah, that'll show them! :P

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    23. Oh no it doesn't!

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  5. Been anticipating this one for a long time! I remember going through all the possible levels of the arena fights at the beginning, and then some more for good measure, to where I outleveled the beginning part of the game significantly. I played a psionicist in a long term tabletop 2E game and the Dark Sun games were I think the only CRPGs that implemented that weird but fun system. I loved this game, but the sequel I had to abandon because the amount of time it took to save and load increased dramatically as you progressed through the game, and it became unbearable.

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    1. Presumably that won't be an issue with modern emulation.

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    2. It's not an issue, but even with an emulator it can be seen that the game was not well optimized, to say the least.

      It has noticeable slowdowns when scrolling through more complex backgrounds, and increasing the Dosbox cycles will make it run faster than intended in sections without the slowdowns (which once again is not a big deal since the combat is turn based and NPCs are mostly static).

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  6. I'm not sure of you need a psionicist or a Thri-keen, but one of my favorite memories of this game is one shooting a big boss with my Thri-keen psioicist (maybe dual classed with ranger?).

    His name was Pyscoroach and he used disintegrate on the first round of combat and that was that. Good times!

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    1. Heh, I have a similar memory of Planescape Torment with the Deathbolt spell (which has an epic animation as well). Boss monster, open with this one spell, battle over.

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  7. This is my favourite isometric PC RPG, I think, this is one of the best, if not the best. Much better than any of Baldur´s Gate type game.

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  8. I always played with a psionic (multi-classed with thief in my last game) but rarely used his psi powers, so he was kind of wasted. I'm sure they can be powerful with a player who knows how to use them, but you don't need them.

    And I usually have a mul gladiator and a thri-kreen in my party, which I think makes the start a bit easier. I know the fight after talking back to the announcer was challenging, but quite doable. But neither is necessary, either.

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    1. Thri-Keen psions are notable in that unarmed Thri-keen have four claw attacks (Plus one bite attack that they can also use armed).

      Those unarmed attacks have low base damage (1d4) but psions have access to a buff that increases unarmed damage to 1d10, and another buff that increases strenght.

      With those a Psion Three-keen becomes an unholy blending machine right from the start.

      (Later on, with magic weapons and extra attacks from high level, they get superceded, but that takes a while).

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  9. I hope he doesnt get the dreaded final battle bug.

    https://www.rpgwatch.com/forums/showthread.php?t=14251

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  10. No race or class is technically mandatory, but gladiators, druids and high strength races like muls and half giants are the most useful characters.

    Clerics don’t get 5th level healing spells but Druids do.

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    1. Right. There aren't any choices you can make that will put you at an impasse to completing any particular quest. James offers an important note here, too: Druids are going to get the higher level healing spells while Clerics will not.

      It's also worth mentioning that Humans can change class twice (not a bug, it's in the manual) in this game. So if you want one of your human characters to try for something bizarre like a 5/6/7 Gladiator/Thief/Druid or what have you -- you can realistically do that in the course of a normal game provided you have the stats and alignment to qualify for each class change.

      The spell system is also a joy to play with at higher levels. I would highly recommend trying to stategically control the terrain by casting a wall of flame or wall of force spell at least once during your play.

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  11. I loved the setting. To me it had a very ancient mesopotamian feel. I wish more RPGs used a similar setting for inspiration as opposed to Europe/middle ages.

    As for party composition, I remember the game was very easy overall, up until the final battle which was brutal. Since I wasn't forced to optimize my party throughout the game, the last battle took a lot of save scumming to win.

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    1. IIRC there are 3 waves in the final battle. With no opportunity to heal in between.

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    2. Hey spoilsport, don't get Harland all worked up now!

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    4. There was also a lot of Middle Eastern feel, with cities named Tyr, Urik (from Uruk) or Nibenay (from Niniveh). Balic (whose sorcerer-king was named Andropinis) had also an Ancient Rome feel.

      I love that the Dark Sun Boxed Sed came with a setting guide called "The Wanderer's Journal", which was a guide of the world written as a first-person memoir. All fluff, no rules (these came in a separate book of the Boxed Set).

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    5. I agree that the setting is great, just original it is not, but rather a thinly veiled copy of C.A.Smith's ZOTHIQUE cycle, which has been around since the 30s.

      The similarities, bloated sun turned land to desert, evil sorcerer kings rule the few cities, while dark magic has returned, far outweigh the differences, only human races and plenty of gods in Zothique.

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    6. I get a Tekumel vibe from the thri-kreen, psionics, Mesoamerican aesthetics, and emphasis on non-metal equipment.

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    7. Not sure about the Mesoamerican aesthetics, but there are indeed intersections if you squint hard enough...

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    8. Tekumel was indeed a big influence on Dark Sun. When are we gonna get a CRPG in the very first roleplaying campaign setting...?

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    9. Each of the 7 (iirc) cities have an "historical" theme and organisation : Egypt, Rome, Greece, Babylone, Tenoctitlan, ...

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  13. Excited for you to finally get to this little gem. Expect a lot of primordial-Baldur's-Gate vibes as you play!

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  14. An interesting feature-cum-bug is that you can move objects from one character's inventory of another even in the middle of combat. Very useful with a certain vampiric sword...

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  15. This might also be one of the first RPGs where the race of one of your characters can open up additional options to you. For that reason, I would have recommended a halfling or dwarf. I can't remember if Muls count. I think Half-giants also have a racial option present, but it's been a long time since I played Dark Sun.

    I usually went for a Ranger/Psionic Thrikreen, mostly because they get extra attacks IIRC. They also start with a neat returning throwing weapon. But I don't think race or class matters all that much in the end.

    I think Psionic classes characters not only can pick powers from all three fields of psionic abilities, but can train those to higher levels (you can keep training the same ability to make it more powerful). I actually pulled that particular mechanic for my spell casting system in my RPG. The more you cast a spell you have memorized, the more powerful you can cast it at lower costs. Trade off is you may be stuck with a suboptimal spell or worse.

    The main problem with Dark Sun is that it was horribly rushed, and has some game-breaking bugs. Both in the end fight, and with the inventory. Make copious backups of your saves. And maybe sacrifice a goat just in case. Still a highlight of SSI's RPG output, and one of my personal favorites.

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  16. You want at least one character with a 24 Strength for the sequel which necessitates a half-giant. Every character except for the gladiator should multiclass, racial level limits are higher and combined with the higher ability scores only a few race/class combos will not hit maximum levels in the sequel. By this token every character should have some fighter/ranger/gladiator. Clerics and Druids work interchangeably here, clerics significantly outclass druids in the sequel due to 2E's xp progression for the classes (same thing with Jaheira in BG2). A Psionicist isn't necessary but can help cheese an encounter a couple of maps away that can be very difficult to play straight. Also every race can multi-class into one. My last play through looked something like: Half-Giant Gladiator, Dwarf Fighter/Cleric/Psionict, Thru-Kreen Fighter/Druid/Psionicist, Half-Elf Ranger/Thief, Elf Fighter/Mage/Cleric. The "Fighter" classes also let everyone dual wield effectively. Also, welcome back this has been a long week waiting for a post

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    1. You can boost the Strength with magic and items. In the second game half-giant can't get through the narrow passage in one of the areas, and you have to go on without him/her.

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    2. Nothing booats strength that high. Not sure how to do the crypto jumble, but there area couple of magic items in the sequel that it pays to have 24 to start with

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    3. To quote the game's manual:

      Strength
      RANGE: Touch DURATION: 1 hour/level AREA OF EFFECT: Person touched SAVING THROW: None
      Strength raises the target's Strength by I to 8 points depending on the class of the target. The
      target's Strength can only be raised to a maximum of 24.

      Share Strength
      POWER SCORE: Con -4 INITIAL COST: 6 MAINTENANCE COST: 2/round RANGE: Touch AREA OF EFFECT: Individual
      With share Strength, the psionicist transfers his or her own Strength points to another. Two points are taken from the psionicist for every one received.

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    4. There are also the "Adrenalin Control" and "Enhanced Strength" psychic abilities to raise the caster's strength. Eating bananas gives temporary +3 strength too.

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    5. ROT13: Gurer vf n Uryz gung tvirf +1 Fgeratgu naq n Jneunzzre gung pnfgf Fgeratgu bs Bar ba gur cnegl (tvirf lbhe jubyr cnegl gur pnfgref Fgeratgu). Jvgu n znk Fgeratgu Unys-Tvnag lbh pna tvir lbhe jubyr cnegl 25 Fgeratgu gur znkvzhz sbe gung rqvgvba bs Nq&q

      Sorry dude I forgot they buffed Strength (the spell) in this game. The original 2nd Edition version maxed at 19 and Enlarge at 22. You had to go the the 6th level spell from the Greek Pantheon on Legends and Lore to get 24. Still I think rolling a 24 Strength on a Half-Giant to start is easier than casting a spell all the time

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  17. Inspired opening there, Chet!

    I went through a similar hiatus during the early aughts, but I literally left at 'Might&Magic VI' and 'Baldur's Gate', and returned when something like 'Assassin's Creed 2' released, and the technology jump was jaw-dropping.

    I guess we're about ten years apart age-wise as well ;)

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  18. "My favorite character just happens to have 20s in everything"--at least half of contemporary players.

    Do you really believe so? Don't you think the early 90's nerd who just dropped 60$ on a crpg wouldn't take the same pride as we do in not cheesing the game from the get-go?

    As far as social experiments go, I think average people show more restraint when giving full freedom, and therefore responsibility.

    (I'd maybe nudge dexterity a bit still, y'know ;)

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    1. ahem... *would* take the same pride...

      and *given* the freedom...

      English as a second language, guys!!!

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    2. That's a good question. The answer is yes, I suspect the AVERAGE player of any era would take the opportunity to both max the statistics and create fake characters to steal their weapons and gold before deleting them. I specifically suspect the number is around 60%. But it would be interesting to get hard data on it someday.

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    3. I always full 18 or 20 my Gold Box and Dark Sun characters without any shame :p

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    4. If it is in the game as a mechanic in character creation why would I feel any shame in maxing stats over feeling any pride in beating it with minimum stats? Playing the game I purchase is for my enjoyment, no matter what my interactions within in look like

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    5. Not being disrespectful, but you guys totally ignore the noble 'recreate your exact pnp character' idea here...

      If your 'Dark Sun' tabletop character had xyz stats, you wouldn't hit the reroll button a gazillion times to reach that near improbable circumstances, you fill in the xyz stats of his sheet and start adventuring.

      You're basically saying: I've beaten 'Contra' with the Konami-Code and call that legit...

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    6. I always had the idea that the goal was to beat the game by any means necessary short of hacking the game or using external cheat programs. I would use any kind of walkthrough, maps, guides, etc. that were available to me without question. I think I was an adult before I learned the concept that you should try to beat the game without help, and without using cheap tactics like "set everyone's stats to 18."

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    7. I know personally I tried to go with what I rolled. Minmaxing tends to put a bad taste in my mouth, and just changing everything to max very much feels like that. That being said, as long as you aren't editing saves or massively abusing savestates or something I really don't care what you do. Use the Konami code and say you beat Contra? Sure, I don't see the problem there, it's in the game for a reason, especially considering it has limited continues and that's the one thing that I absolutely can't stand.

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    8. Maxing your stats fits with the Dark Sun world fairly well. In the tabletop version, the method of rolling for stats in Dark Sun gives MUCH higher stats than the method in standard D&D. The rulebook "justifies" this by pointing out how harsh the world is.

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    9. I like the Ultima 1-2-3 approach: I decide a pool of points (usually around 70) and allocate them to the attributes. For no reason I would set all attributes to 18. For example, my Gold Box cleric will always have wisdom=18, but one or two other attributes will be very low.

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    10. "Oh, look at that. 20, 22, 20, 19, 21, 15, a completely honestly-rolled set of stats for your thri-kreen fighter, Greg. And it's okay, because Amy signed off that she saw you roll your stats. Now let's look at Amy's sheet. Huh!! 22, 20, 21, 19, 20, 18! Perfect stats for your mul cleric of water, Amy! And of course it's kosher because Greg saw you roll six twenties for chargen!"

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    11. "Maxing your stats fits with the Dark Sun world fairly well. In the tabletop version, the method of rolling for stats in Dark Sun gives MUCH higher stats than the method in standard D&D." Yes, as I pointed out, the game is ALREADY generous with attribute rolls. Editing the character to max attributes on top of that is just a little lame.

      I've never bought the "as long as I'm having fun, what's the difference?" argument, which is why I'm always critical of cheats and exploits. I understand that not everyone follows my philosophy, but it's nonetheless a part of the perspective from which I blog.

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    12. If it's how the game's character generator works, it's not a cheat. I can't stand random attribute generation in RPGs so if the game doesn't come with a sensible point-buy system and does come with a "set your own stats" system then yeah I'm going to use the latter.

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    13. Yeah, I never got random chargen in tabletop RPGs either. Either it goes as Snorb says and players cheat; or you get nonsense like one honestly-rolled character having an average stat of 17 where others randomly have an average of 12. I've never seen the appeal.

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    14. To me, if the game allowed me to set all my stats to the max, I'd assume that it was balanced around having a full maxed-out character and so would assume that having less than that was the "challenge mode".

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    15. In tabletop, I think random chargen can work as long as players are willing to play any class and are willing to switch for what ends up being optimal. It can lead to some more creative role-playing decisions when you wind up with that Wizard with 1 WIS or that Rogue with 1 INT.

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    16. It's a single player computer game. The only way to do it wrong is to not have fun doing it. If you have more fun knocking the difficulty down a peg, go for it!

      Not everyone enjoys rolling characters
      I also remember having fun in Doom setting the difficulty far higher than I could handle and using the invincibility code

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    17. When given the chance to maximize stats in games I usually do it. Not because I want to breeze through the game, but because it's impossible to know whether the game expects you to or not. Finding out your character is too weak because you rolled too low feels pretty bad, I think.

      Point buy systems solve this problem, so that's what I prefer.

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    18. From a game design perspective, I'm curious what those of you who maximize their stats to 20 would do if the character generator allowed setting all stats not only to 20, but to 999999, resulting in an invincible character.

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    19. The funny thing is that stat bonuses in 1E/2E D&D are not calculated; rather, they're read from a table (because they grow at an irregular rate).

      This means that in at least some computer games, the table only goes to 20 and hacking your stats to 25 or 99 gives a much lesser bonus, or even a penalty.

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    20. "If it's how the game's character generator works, it's not a cheat." The manual specifically says that the facility is there to allow you to replicate a tabletop character. If you don't have a tabletop character, manually adjusting the character attributes is a "cheat."

      That said, in my second session, I had reason to at least wish that I'd held out for some better stats. I can see why players would be tempted.

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    21. I agree with some of the comments above. It's impossible to know whether you should max stats until you play the game, because you don't know how the game is balanced or what sections are unfair. Letting players go in blind and ruin their experience either way is bad game design, especially in this era in which few games were polished or carefully play-tested.

      Also, if giving yourself better stats really does make the game easier, then that's just like setting the difficulty level in a modern game, and moralizing about it is a form of showing off.

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    22. Well… I did use a cheat program and a walk through to beat The Bard’s Tale back in the day.

      I’m glad I didn’t spend hours and hours hacking my way through it. Ultima and Starflight were much more compelling and absorbed pretty much all my time open for CRPG playing.

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    23. Well... I am a white wealthy man in my forties. Why would I settle for less than a set of 18s for my character attributes! ��

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  19. I like the setting very much and had fun reading the Prism Pentad books. Of course nothing which would satisfy high reading standards, but I think they fit the setting and provide a nice way to get into the lore.

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  20. I've been looking forwards to this one, so I'm glad to see that the opening impressions have blown you away. I would have liked to see you pick a Psionicist in your party as it's the one class that isn't really represented in all the other D&D games you have played, although lets be honest they are pretty similar to mages. Seeing it come up in your "upcoming" list inspired me to do a play through of my own, my first in probably 10 years, so it will be interesting to see how our experiences differ.

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    1. That's a good point. It would make sense to try something new.

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  21. Dark Sun: Shattered Lands! Finally! It's really, really good.

    I first played it in... 2018 or 19, I think? I had always avoided it before because of its reputation for bugginess and I don't like getting into a walking dead situation due to a game breaking bug. But I finally gave it a chance a few years ago, and it instantly became a favorite.

    There is one thing that can lead to a game breaking bug, so I better tell you about it before it happens. Very minor spoiler: you will have two ways to escape a certain area early in the game. One of the two maps you can end up in after the escape will have a dead guy carrying a letter. You MUST pick up that letter and read it. If you reach the endgame without picking it up, the game will bug out and become unfinishable.

    The good news: you can pick it up at ANY time before the endgame, and you will be fine. So just play the game naturally and don't sweat it. Just make sure you picked up a dead guy's letter at some point. You'll know when it happens.

    As for the game's quality, it does stay consistently high, except for encounter difficulty. Most mid game encounters are pretty easy. Only the final battle is hard (and it really IS hard), but other than that you won't have many problems.

    The quest design is some of the best of the era. The game really feels like a Baldur's Gate before Baldur's Gate. Except its setting is more creative, and the quests offer more choices. Many quests offer you more than one way to complete them, and some of them have nice twists and turns to them. The game is a real joy to explore.

    You're in for a real treat.

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    1. First played this in about 96 as part of the 3 worlds of ad+d collection with al-qadim and ravenloft: strahds possession.
      Al-qadim I played through once, was a bit too simplistic for me.
      Strahd's possession I've played through a couple times.
      Shattered lands I've played through a lot of times and has never not been installed on my pc since 1996...
      I don't ever remember getting the game-breaking bug oddly, though had game-breaking bugs in nearly all runs of wake of the ravager that I attempted.

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    2. I appreciate the warning. I'll look for the map.

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    3. Dark Sun 2 was REALLY buggy. I mean, buggy to the point of SSI at a certain point saying they would patch it no more - first time I remember this happening in the history of gaming.

      I don't remember anything similarly bad in Dark Sun 1 except for weapons disappearing

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  22. The reason why these games aren't well known is that the entire RPG genre went out of favor around the mid-1990s. Might and Magic and Wizardry went on hiatus. Ultima had one bad release. Bard's Tale was done.

    The CRPG genre had been popular practically since the beginning of computer gaming so it may have just been a cyclical thing for it to lose popularity. I'm sure the rise of first person shooters like Doom and Wolfenstein 3D was also a factor.

    Another thing is that non-generic fantasy settings for AD&D games never seemed to be that popular. And the Gold Box games had also run their course by this point with the first two being the most popular and best ones. This game wasn't a Gold Box game but the combat clearly takes a strong influence from those games.

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    1. The reason I avoided this game and its sequel for years is the reputation for bugginess. I discovered abandonware in the mid 00s and played a lot of DOS classics I missed in the 90s. But whenever I looked at discussions about the Dark Sun games, a common topic was "they weren't very successful because of game breaking bugs".

      Now, for Shattered Lands that isn't much of a problem, there's only one critical main quest destroying bug that can easily be avoided.

      But Wake of the Ravager? Yeah, the game breaking bugs are real in that one. And in the days when most people didn't have internet and those who did would have to wait hours or even days to download a patch due to the slow speeds... yeah.

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    2. Oh and even if you had the capability to download a patch... Wake of the Ravager was never fully fixed. You still have to be careful not to trigger game breaking bugs.

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    3. I got the last battle bug on this one and rage-quited. When I tried playing Wake, the first graphic and inventory problems made me abandon it after around 1h

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  23. I tried to get into thus but struggled. I knew you’d dig it through.


    I played through the first two areas and was impressed by the roleplaying options but a couple things turned me off:


    I couldn’t easily tell what squares were being occupied by what characters.
    The map’s lack of a fog or war really infringed on the sense of exploration.


    Dark sun stat rolls are 4d4 + 4 with a lot of racial bonuses. Thri-Kreens are interesting to play, and that’s probably reason enough to include one, maybe a psionicist or druid. Characters are very unbalanced - even more than they were in the gold box games - the difference in damage output between two different fighters can be enormous.


    You mention water; it’s actually a big part of the tabletop game, and the settings include detailed rules for dehydration. The Dark Sun setting is very dystopian/discouraging, but I feel like the overpowered PCs (relative to regular D&D) do detract from than a bit.

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    1. The reason you start with powerful PCs is that the world of Dark Sun is so dangerous, your average level 1 group would stand no chance.

      Of course, in the end it all depends on how the DM designs the encounters and environmental hazards.

      Shattered Lands errs a bit on the side of too easy in its encounter design.

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    2. Tristan has a point though that making the world extra-harsh then making the characters extra-strong to compensate results in, basically, the exact same gameplay as in a regular world.

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    3. And the best part is that the game encourages you to make FOUR characters who (kinda-sorta) know each other. This is called "the character tree" and you change which character you're playing as if, say, Matt's water cleric got killed and eaten by psychic cacti (this is not out of character in this setting) and he didn't make any other clerics, or if you decide you're going to just go fight in the arena for some quick cash and you need as many fighters as you can get.

      Basically, you swap out who you're playing as for another one of your characters to suit the needs of the party (or in case the local wildlife gets you.) When one of your characters levels up through XP gain, you choose another one of your characters to immediately level up as well, so they stay more or less close in level.

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    4. I think there's a pretty big difference gameplay-wise between a powerful party (with correspondingly better stats, more abilities, etc) in a difficult world, vs a weak party in a less-dangerous world. Unless you're playing a game where the only distinction between low and high levels is "bigger numbers", the high level party is going to have to make more and tougher decisions but also have more options to do so.

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    5. You'd THINK that, but in practice D&D has traditionally tackled that by (e.g.) giving all monsters +4 to their armor class while also giving the party +4 to their attack rolls.

      "Better stats" precisely means "bigger numbers", after all. "More abilities" would make a difference, except that most classes (in 2E D&D) do not get more abilities when they level up.

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    6. Are we not counting additional attacks per turn or a larger spellbook as more abilities? I guess "I hit 3x rather than 2x" isn't the most interesting of choices (which has always been the issue with martial classes, really), but I'd say that's still more elaborate than "+4 attack vs +4 defense".

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    7. Seems to me that hitting 3x instead of 2x is just bigger numbers.

      (technically you could attack three creatures once, but attacking one creature three times is pretty obviously more effective)

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    8. I basically agree that from a gameplay perspective that there's not much difference between powerful party / dangerous world vs weaker party / safer world, but from a marketing perspective bigger numbers was an easy way to further distinguish Dark Sun from all of the other D&D settings.

      One of TSR's main issues at the time was having too many settings which was cannibalizing their own sales. Dark Sun partially stood out because the numbers / mechanics were also different in addition to the setting story / fluff.

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  24. Mul are unable to have kids because of their weird hybrid generics so, yes, you were right about the origin of the name.

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    1. I'm not sure that was the possible origin the Addict had in mind. I assumed he was referring to a different term once applied to people of mixed race.

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    2. Instantly thought of mules here, possibly because I read some Asimov as a kid. The other interpretation hadn't honestly even crossed my mind before I read this post.

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    3. The other word would be mutt? I don't see the similarity. But mule for sure.

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    4. I made an edit in the post for clarification. Kyle is correct as to what I was suspecting, but as this thread has made clear, mule, which somehow didn't occur to me, is perhaps more likely.

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    5. It is indeed pronounced Mule, as they are sterile by birth. Interesting also taller than an average human for being Half Dwarf

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    6. Makes you wonder about genetics of the process. Like, maybe, dwarf females have growth-supressing genes that halt the growth of dwarf embryo, while dwarf males have counteracting growth-inducing genes and on the average they give a usual-sized dwarf; but when dwarf male mates with human female which does not have growth-supressing genes, embryo naturally grows bigger? Kinda like ligers (lion father, tiger mother) are bigger than either tigers or lions - but tigons (tiger father, lion mother) are not.

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    7. It is not pronounced "mule", but "mool", actually - sort of. I don't think the AD&D books ever said, but the 4e Dark Sun books were clear about that, while noting in-setting that other pronunciations were common but not technically correct.

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    8. Sorry to be that guy, but I still own all my Dark Sun books. Page 14 of the Player's Guide, long u as in Mule

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    9. I also hate to be that guy, but I doublechecked the 4e Dark Sun Campaign Guide.

      It chickens out and says "mool," "mull," and "mule" are acceptable pronunciations, but the third one might start a fight depending on where in the Tyr Region you are. (The word "mul" itself comes from the Dwarven word "mulzhennedar," or "strength.")

      (I prefer the second pronunciation, myself.)

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    10. I read it it as mull when I was a teen. But then again I also read the more famous noun as Drizzit =p

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  25. Fun game; frustrating game. I found most of it too easy, but the final battle too hard. It is a beautiful game. The designers got the look and feel of the world just right. I also like the music of this game. It has a jazzy sense that just works well.

    I often used an elven fighter/psionicist. As a psionicist I have the character specialized in Bio Modifications to make her a better fighter.

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  26. Thri-kreen have always been a dry-biome race, so they were included in a desert setting. Making them a player race was probably just to make the setting more unusual.

    Magic in the setting is gathered from the environment. The stronger the spell, the farther out you have to reach to collect the energy. Defilers don't care about the effects of this, which kills plants, hurts animals (including intelligent ones like the player races), and can render the ground sterile. Preservers avoid this by limiting how much energy they gather at once, meaning an increased cast time and/or weaker spells (can't remember). Preservers are distrusted because they can still Defile if they want to.

    From what I remember (and could be wrong or retconned) originally there was a group of genocidal bigotes, mainly humans, that targeted other races, wiping out many. But then they learned that their leader thought the same of humans and was just using them. I THINK the Dragon was the leader, and the sorcerer-kings were the survivors of the fight. They're all extremely high level (I think the Dragon has at least 50 levels spread between three classes) and the sorcerer-kings, as mentioned, are served by their Templars, are dual-classed defiler/psionicists with at least 40 levels between those classes, and practically considered gods by the rest of the population. And they're the main source of what surviving civilization there is, so most people don't pay too much attention to any possible evil coming from them. What other sources of civilization are still out there are arguably worse than them (something about a last sea), or cannibalistic halflings.

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    1. From what I remember of Prism Penrad that's exactly the background story of the setting. IF they belong to the canon.

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    2. Mechanically Defilers got more spells per level vs Preservers who used normal Wizard spell progression

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    3. Defilers also leveled up significatively faster than preservers.

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    4. So the theme is that your character is stronger if he doesn't give a damn about destroying the world. Edgy!

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    5. Don't forget the halflings turned out to be the Progenitor super high tech race that degenerated into their current cannibalistic state.

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    6. Let's see if I remember it right. Twenty levels in cleric/druid/preserver/defiler, dual into twenty levels in psionicist, THEN dual into your original class's power class for ten levels. The sorcerer-kings are several levels into Dragon, with THE Dragon being all the way there.

      Nothing that happens in the computer games though.

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    7. Just 20 levels of defiler + 20 levels of psionicist (multiclass if a half-elf, dual class if a human) before starting the dragon levels which require rituals to advance. Swap out defiler for preserver to become an "avangion" instead.

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    8. That's basically what I said, though I didn't know about the half-elf part. Once you hit 20 in both classes, you change class again by going through some lengthy and noticeable rituals to go up to the next level, once you have the experience. EACH level, with increasing costs, and most likely being noticed by something and having the ritual interruped (and likely you killed).

      But I do remember elementals for the clerics being part of it.

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    9. I don't think players reaching multiple level 20 and starting transition to Dragon really happened in tabletop either. Actually, I pretty much rejected the whole "Sorcerer-Kings are dragons" part of the fluff, except of course for the Dragon, and I can't imagine being the only one.

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    10. Nah nobody that played at a normal XP pace ever legit turned Dragon. It was just a fun supplement to read (which was the point of most TSR products at the time).

      I predict someone will claim otherwise very soon!

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    11. LOL, much like your own comment, "Anonymous".

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    12. My bard hit 22 but none of our Casters ever got past 20/20 (probably more like 18/18). Druids would turn into Spirits of the land and Clerics into Elementals as someone also mentioned. The Dragon (Borys) was a 10th level Dragon, Dregoth (introduced later was 29 and undead) and the rest of the Sorceror Kings/Queens were 21-23

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    13. The Dark Sun backstory is a pretty gonzo take on racism & environmental collapse. A quick summary is:

      * Athas starts in a Blue Age where the world is mostly ocean. The only races are halflings and thri-keen. There's no magic or psionics, but halflings are big users of bio-organic technology. A halfling civil war leads to an environmental disaster where the oceans recede and many halflings change into the familiar D&D races.

      * This starts the Green Age. Sorcery is discovered by Rajaat who decides to try to revert the world back to the Blue Age by wiping out all races other than halflings & thri-keen. He recruits a bunch of human champions each of whom were tasked with wiping out one species. As Drawde points out, Rajaat's plan was to wipe out the humans afterwards. Some champions were successful (explaining the absence of some common D&D monsters like orcs & trolls), while others were not, which is why there are still elves & dwarves. The champions find out this plan & revolt, trapping Rajaat in a dimensional prison at the cost of another environmental disaster making the world into a desert planet that is the Dark Sun setting.

      The Dragon was Rajaat's 2nd in command who's tasked with watching the prison. The other surviving champions become the sorceror-kings, each of whom were partially on the path to becoming dragons themselves.

      IIRC, this info was released slowly over several TSR products. At the time I thought it was cool due to how different it was to all other D&D settings at the time although it could be that the edginess of the setting also appealed to my teenage self. Amongst the Dark Sun diehards I think some of this backstory was pretty divisive.

      None of this relevant to any of the CRPGs. I think Ravager might even contradict some of this, but I only played that once when it came out so my memories are vague on that.

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  27. Dark Sun was created specifically to give psionics a place in AD&D. They didn't public psionic rules initially with 2nd edition, but they also wanted them to have a prominent place in a setting.

    Also besides Mad Max, a big influence on the design came from Clark Ashton Smith's Zothique short stories, which were based on an Earth in the far future where the sun has gone red, magic and fantasy have returned, and everything is dark and grim. (Funny enough, still has oceans. And a world's edge you can sail off.)

    Dark Sun was at it's best before the Prism Pentad series, though. The original game materials explain nothing and leave a lot of it open-ended. The books halted that, and rendered whole supplements pointless.

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    1. "Dark Sun was at it's best before the Prism Pentad series, though." Agreed! They really seemed like they were in a hurry to get to Dark Sun 2.0 for some reason, probably because advancing the story of a setting was the trend at the time.

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    2. Plus the Prism Pentad series author clearly had ideas that didn't fit the rules.

      For example, he calls arcane spells "sorcery" and users of it "sorcerers", and the term "preserver" is never brought up. Psionics is "The Way of the Unseen" or just "The Way".

      The crux of it though is it's inferred very strongly that Boris the Dragon was a Mul. This under 2nd edition rules would be impossible because only humans could advance as a magic-user/psion combination to the necessary levels for dragonhood. From a narrative sense though, it's perfect.

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  28. Wow, this comment section exploded in a hurry. A lot of folks were waiting for Dark Sun, evidently.

    Not much to add, except that I mirror what some commenters have already said about thri-kreens being absurdly powerful with the right build and how it's tempting to just keep taking on tougher encounters in the arena until you can bulldoze everything once you make your eventual escape. I always appreciated just how many opportunities it presented to you to get out of there and how amusing it was to turn them all down for the sake of more gladiatorial fighting; reminds me of that joke about the man waiting for God to save him from the flood ("I sent the guy in the speedboat, I sent the helicopter...").

    I hope you continue to enjoy it and I look forward to your further escapades across Draj. I remember so very little about the game outside the arena that it's possible I grew bored of stomping everything and abandoned the playthrough. Adjusting to life outside of prison can be tough...

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    1. My experience exactly. I already hit the level cap when i considered leaving the glorious life of arena fighting.

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    2. Yeah staying in the arena too long gives you way too much XP and nothing you encounter in your initial explorations is going to be as tough as the harder arena fights, so it's better to just take one of the early escape opportunities and GTFO before you over level yourself.

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    3. It's an interesting way to set the difficulty in-game, much less intrusive than a difficulty slider.

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  29. Glad to see this one finally come up, and very happy that you seem to be enjoying it a lot so far. I agree that it ticks pretty much all of the major boxes for "modern, interesting RPGs", including having a modern UI, which IMO holds up much better than, say, Ultima VII and its contemporaries.

    The amount of reactivity and flexibility in the game is quite surprising - it's worth taking a look at the FAQs for this game, once you finish it, to see it all laid out.

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  30. About your party - having only one mage is poor idea. You probably can dual your gladiator to preserver, but that means she'll have a sub-par fighting ability in the second game. You'll need both buffs and crowd-control spells in major battles. You have only 4 characters and no NPCs, so everyone need to pull their weight in melee or magic, preferably both.

    I completed the game with four triple-classed characters and hit the level-cap in final area of the game. Although I grinded a bit on the random encounters in the desert areas. Making some characters triple-classes is a good way to both avoid hitting the level-cap early and making your party versatile.

    Having a psionicist (multi-classed, they work poorly as a single or a dual class) is nice. Their powers can be used in dialogue on a rare occasion. But you have to make psionicist the party's leader for that. The thief also must be in the leader's position to do some of their tricks, like scaling walls.

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    1. On the other hand, I completed the game with four single-class characters and had no issue with that. Although multiclassing is clearly more optimized, I feel the game is not so difficult that you need optimized characters.

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    2. When I played this back in the day I wasn't familiar with the setting and didn't have preserver in my party. I had a cleric and a dual-classed psionicist, and that was enough to get through even the tougher battles and complete the game. The system is very flexible.

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  31. I gave my characters max stats in Pool of Radiance and I didn't feel any compunction about it. AD&D was very stat-centered so why not give myself those stats if the game allowed for it? The games were still fun to play that way.

    This playthrough is making me seriously consider getting Dark Sun. I'm glad it doesn't track food and water . . . I get the impulse to include that kind of thing but I hated it in the Ultima series and wouldn't like it any more here.

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  32. Do you think it's fair to die from making an encounter choice (to taunt the announcer)? In this specific scenario, you're kinda asking for trouble, but, in general, do you think that's fair? or would you rather have your choices displayed along with an overt outcome? or maybe it depends on whether the outcome is severe or not?

    I raised the topic recently on the special topic post about encounters so sorry for the 'double post', but this scenario here is a perfect example for discussion.

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    1. On my latest playthrough I managed to survive taunting the announcer not only once, but twice! You just have to conserve your spells for the tougher encounter, and I think having a half-giant gladiator in my party helped, too.

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    2. I didn't cover it in detail, but you not only have the option whether to yell back at the announcer, but the specific words to say, including an option ("You're the best announcer I've ever heard!") too meekly retreat. I think the consequences are fair, yes, especially where it's not a permadeath game.

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    3. I think it also helps that its so early in the game, too. It would potentially be a lot more frustrating if it only happened after hours of gameplay (and especially if it seemed like a winnable fight but wasn't intended to be).

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    4. It *is* intended to be a winnable fight btw. It's just hard, and it makes sense to be so: you taunt the announcer and he throws some real hard stuff at you!

      I don't remember if any NPCs comment on it if you provoke that fight and win it, but that may be the case.

      I maxed out my party's attributes which some people might consider cheating, and it does enhance their survivability quite a bit, but it wasn't a very close fight so it's definitely winnable with a "legit" party too.

      I had a half giant gladiator, and multiclassed fighter-cleric, fighter-preserver and fighter-druid characters (don't remember the races). I had my half giant gladiator soak up and dish out most of the damage in the first fight, then healed her with the cleric and druid. Didn't use any of my preserver's spells. IIRC my preserver had web, which came in VERY useful in the second fight as it got all the tough monsters stuck and allowed me to pick them off one by one.

      Just don't waste your spells in the first fight and you'll be fine.

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    5. I'm sure you're all right, but when I taunt the announcer, the party he sends has a defiler who always seems to go first, casts a mass-damage "Ice Storm" spell (or something like it), and knocks out two of my characters before I can even act.

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    6. The taunt combat is random, possibly being set specifically each timw you enter the arena. Almost all of the monsters in the beastiality can show up with the exception on one race confined to a late game map

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    7. The word is "bestiary", Chris, or sometimes "beastiary".

      "Beastiality" means something far more unfortunate.

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    8. Just gonna assume that was an unfortunate accident with autocorrect.

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  33. Dark Sun, it's sequel, and Dark Sun Online are some of my favorite games ever for the great setting, encounters, and role playing opportunities. The mechanics are rather unbalanced though and some characters will be much stronger than others. The level cap contributes to this.

    For pure combat power multi classed fighter, druid (or cleric), preservers become ridiculously strong after about the first 25% of the game. Earth is a great element to get the ironskin spell. Dual wielding magic weapons, haste, strength boosting spells, and ironskin make a group of 4 of these characters able to stomp through the whole game with ease, including the ending. Don't make a party like this if you want challenge or RP variety.

    On a separate topic, Id be not too worried about choosing characters based on carrying over to the sequel. In my experience carrying over characters tends to make the sequel buggier than it already is. Additionaly the sequel scales up the difficulty a huge amount if you use an imported party. You may or may not want this.

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  34. Oh I bought this game way back. For a casual player curious about rpg stuff, it was murder. It was both boring, hard to understand in story and the fights just got difficult.

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    1. I had a similar question experience. I was about 12, and had never played an RPG or D and D before. I never could figure out the game nor beat the last battle.

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    2. If you got to the last battle, you surely did something right?

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  35. This is your best entry yet.

    Even if you are an unrepentant athiest ;)

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    1. I may have described myself as such at one point or another, but a more accurate term would be agnostic apatheist.

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    2. Hah, don't know, don't care.

      Are you familiar with: http://www.sciacchitano.it/pensatori%20epistemici/scettici/outlines%20of%20pyrronism.pdf

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    3. I dunno, Unknown, I think I disagree. It's a good post, but not his best. That said, I am very looking forward to his experience with this game given his prior coverage of Gold Box titles. He's getting better as he continues to write and this is going to be a good one.

      Perhaps save the proselytizing for another venue?

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    4. Yes, I will henceforth promote Pyrrhonian Skepticism in other venues.

      Thanks for the reality check!

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  36. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  37. The Half-Giants' incredible strength and HP is supposed to be counter-acted by their oversized equipment and cost of living being extremely expensive. But those only happen in the tabletop game; Shattered Lands lets you play as Half-Giants with very few drawbacks. Definitely have at least one in your party.

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    1. I don't think that's a noticeable drawback in tabletop, either...

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    2. Depends on how strict your DM is. And for a Dark Sun campaign, if it's not strict, what's the point? Make them fight for basic resources.

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    3. That's easy: if the DM is not strict, then the point is power play. Compared to other campaign worlds, you start with higher numbers, much more powerful races (half-giant, thri-kreen) and classes (defiler), and at high level you turn into a dragon. I think a major appeal of Dark Sun is that your character is so much more powerful than in other settings.

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    4. As a DM, I would not hesitate to make resource allocation an important part of the game, and frequently point out that the half giant uses many times more food and water than anybody else.

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  38. There is some Ultima like item interaction too in this game. You can get yourself a minor magic sword by just interacting with items in a logical order.... won't say much more, but it begins with hot air vents. The sword itself is nothing special. But it shows something how much more influential Ultima was back then and how much more influential it could have been. Even a minor optional item puzzle like this, is more than the current norm.

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  39. Interesting. We will see if the CRPG Addict is ruthless enough to survive in Athas...

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