Dark Sun: New Rules

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on June 1, 2010

The Dark Sun Campaign Guide won’t be out for another two months. But you can get your Dark Sun fix starting on June 9 when the the second season of D&D Encounters begins. The adventure – Dark Sun: Fury of the Wastewalker – gives players and DMs their first taste of Athas, the world of Dark Sun. Yesterday we posted the pre-generated characters Wizards of the Coast provided with the D&D Encounters kit. Each character has some flavour unique to the Dark Sun setting, including character themes. What are character themes you ask? Good question. Here is the sidebar from the page 8 of the adventure.

Character Themes

The Dark Sun Campaign Setting presents a new character option: a theme. All six characters included in this adventure have it. A theme is a career, calling, or archetype not tied to a particular class or role. Just as race or class helps to identify you, a theme serves to refine your place in the world. You might be an elf rogue, but are you an elf rogue dune trader, an elf rogue nomad, or an elf rogue who spies for the Veiled Alliance? Each theme offers a different twist on a basic concept. If a background details how or where your character grew up, theme describes how and why your character became a hero.

A theme embraces characters of any class. For example, many templar characters are warlocks, but a templar who serves chiefly as commander of the sorcerer-king’s troops could be a warlord, whereas a templar who is part of the sorcerer-king’s secret police might be a rogue. Similarly, gladiator characters are often fighters – but barbarians, battleminds, rangers, rogues, or warlords can be just as successful in the arena. “Templar” and “gladiator” are themes that, although particularly appropriate for warlocks and fighters respectively, extend beyond the warlock and fighter classes.

Combat in Dark Sun presents new perils now that you have to worry about whether or not your weapon will break during combat. Since Athas is a world where metal is extremely rare, weapons are made of inferior materials. But just because your weapon may break doesn’t mean that you need to take it easy. Rule for reckless breakage present players with a new dynamic to consider during combat. Here is the sidebar from the page 8 of the adventure.

Weapons of Inferior Materials

Metal is so scarce on Athas that most armaments are made of bone, wood, or stone. These substances are weaker than metal and fracture more easily. A broken weapon is at best an improvised weapon. Damaged magic weapons loose their enhancements, properties, and powers until repaired. The following option simulates the relative fragility of nonmetal weapons, making combat more unpredictable and exciting.

Reckless Breakage: When you roll a natural 1 on an attack roll, your weapon has a chance to break. You can accept the result, automatically missing the attack as usual, but keeping your weapon intact. Alternatively, you can reroll. Regardless of the reroll result, a nonmetal weapon breaks once the attack is complete. A metal weapon breaks only if you roll a natural 5 or lower on the reroll. This rule gives you a say in whether a weapon breaks. You can play it safe and except the errant attack, or you can attempt to avoid a miss by risking your weapon.

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1 The Last Rogue June 1, 2010 at 2:17 pm

More good stuff. Thanks.

I like the weapon breakage – classic Dark Sun.

I am both excited and a bit worried about DS 4e — Epic tier 4e doesn’t seem right to me in Dark Sun, and I’m interested how they approach that subject.

Keep the sneak peeks coming.

2 Kenneth McNay June 1, 2010 at 3:00 pm

Shoot!. I was going to keep that rule a secret until D&D:E started! I’ve already been advertising your blog on my meetup site for all players to get some insights about Dark Sun from other perspectives.

3 mysticknight232 June 1, 2010 at 3:17 pm

I like the idea of the breakage rule, but not the execution of it. Why would anybody ever want to reroll an attack with a bone weapon if it’s going to break right away?

Seems to me they should have made non-metal weapons break if your second roll is a natural 5 or less and metal weapons break on a natural roll of 2 or less. Then you’re playing the odds instead of it being 100% certainty. I just find it pointless as is because I feel you’ll only see 1 person in your lifetime use that rule and then they’ll be upset afterwards because they still missed and now they have an improvised weapon.

4 Phaezen June 1, 2010 at 3:58 pm

Epic is actually built into old Dark Sun with high level psion/mages, clerics, and druids being able to transform their very incarnations.

I am hoping to see Dragon, Elemental and the the other transformation paths being released as epic destinies.
.-= Phaezen´s last blog ..Dark Sun Previews =-.

5 Chromed Cat June 1, 2010 at 7:01 pm

The eloquence of the weapon breakage rules escapes me also. Perhaps Metal breaks on a 5 or less and bone or stone on a 10 or less would be better. I can’t see any of my players breaking a weapon on purpose if they don’t have to.

Dark Suns flavor is starting to tempt me quite a bit with the unfolding of the Dungeons Master reports and the PvP/Penny Arcade pod casts at Insider. I imagine everyone involved with the new season of Encounters is very excited.

6 Ben McKenzie June 1, 2010 at 9:58 pm

Just getting more and more excited for D&D Encounters; now I’ll have to go! But I do wonder about the proofreading on this stuff; quite a few little errors in the character sheets, and here there’s an “except” instead of “accept”. I guess the Encounters are using a draft version of the rules, which is okay – nothing like a bit of extra last-minute playtesting!
.-= Ben McKenzie´s last blog ..Science gives us monsters =-.

7 Dungeon Newbie June 2, 2010 at 1:18 am

I agree, but it only says that magical weps lose powers and stuff. What about non magical ones? Will it have no effect?

8 Neuroglyph June 2, 2010 at 8:11 am

Yea, I’m really intrigued by the Themes for Characters, and got to experience it when I went to PAX East and played the Dark Sun Preview. I look forward to seeing what all they have to offer Characters with the full release.
.-= Neuroglyph´s last blog ..Review of DDS1: Temple, Castle and Wilderlands by Zodiac Gods Publishing =-.

9 Kaigen June 3, 2010 at 5:50 pm

Partly it will depend on whether or not “broken” mundane weapons are irreparably damaged and how much effort it takes to repair them (can you do it during a short rest? An extended rest? Does it cost money or even take days?), but I could definitely see intentionally breaking my weapon if it gave me another shot at hitting with an important daily or encounter power, especially if I have a backup to see me through the rest of the encounter (or can quickly pick one up from a fallen combatant).

10 jadedhawk June 5, 2010 at 4:38 pm

Anyone else notice that the tiefling character didn’t have the tiefling errata applied? Oops.

11 Wally Kovacs June 6, 2010 at 5:49 am

They’ve shown off three more Dark Sun characters as part of the Penny Arcade podcasts. One has a new fighter build called Arena Fighter. It seems to give him proficiency (+2) and better damage (1d8 for one handed, 1d10 for two handed) with improvised weapons. That seems to at least make for one type of character willing to break a weapon to get a hit.

12 Gomai June 8, 2010 at 8:04 pm

If non-metal weapons didn’t auto-break, this rule would lose it’s teeth. Knowing your bone studded club is about to shatter BUT that hitting with one more attack might vitally down a foe is the kind of dramatic tension I love in my games.

13 beej! June 9, 2010 at 4:13 am

I recently blogged about this topic, but in a nutshell, I tried this out in my Homebrew Dark Sun game soon D&D XP, when the weapon-breakage rules first came to light. And in my experience, (especially when coupled with the inherent-bonus system in DMG2), characters think about reckless barrage, but use them from time to time.

And did I mention that the campaign’s BBEG was defeated when a natural 1 was rerolled to get a natural 20? That was a blast!

14 Ameron June 15, 2010 at 3:10 pm

@The Last Rogue
We’ll be posting a Dark Sun “round up” in the next week or so. It will combine all the tid-bits we’ve come across so far. It will also include the details in the Wizards Dark Sun podcast from last month. If you haven’t listened to it yet and you’re looking for more Dark Sun goodies, I’d recommend you do so.

@Kenneth McNay
Sorry to steal your thunder. I think reading about the rule and seeing them in practice will be two very different things.

I think we’ll only see players risk breaking weapons on encounter or daily powers that do a lot of damage or have an effect (like healing) that absolutely needs to happen that round. Once we’ve had opportunity to use the weapon breakage rules in play we may find that that do indeed need to be errataed.

Having no experience with the old Dark Sun setting I am intrigued by your mention of Dragon and Elemental transformation at epic levels.

@Chromed Cat
I don’t know, a non-reliable daily power that deals a stupid amount of damage on a hit may be rerolled by a player who wants to seem truly heroic. But that’s just me.

@Ben McKenzie
Considering how heavily hyped D&D Encounters is, I too am a bit surprised that the materials made it to print with so many errors. Perhaps that’s part of the reason that this season is split into 3 packages. Part 1 was rushed while parts 2 and 3 go through rigorous editing. We’ll know soon enough.

@Dungeon Newbie
I’m pretty sure a broken weapon is a broken weapon regardless of its magical properties. But all I have to go on is what’s posted above, so more details may yet be forthcoming with the actual rule book in August.

When I first read about Themes I though to myself “These sound like Kits from AD&D.” When I listened to the Dark Sun podcast they said exactly that. That intrigued me a lot because I thought Kits were an excellent way of fleshing out a character without taking a multi-class option.

I’d like to think that with a certain check or series of checks during an extended rest, normal weapons can be repaired. If PCs can do it during a short rest, then so much the better.

None of the characters are perfect. If you see a problem when you’re using these characters I’m sure the DM will let you make the necessary adjustments. I know I will as the DM.

@Wally Kovacs
Sounds cool. Thanks for the additional info. I haven’t listed to the new Penny Arcade podcast yet, but it’s on my to do list.

In a world where metal and magic are rare, the weapon breakage rules add a sense of danger. As long as the mechanics are applied to the monsters too then we’ll be in for some very cool combat. If the monsters just use claws and teeth then the PCs will be at a serious disadvantage.

Never underestimate a PC’s greed when given the option to reroll a missed attack. Going from a 1 to a 20 is the stuff of legends. That PC will never forget it and will no doubt reroll every miss from now on.

15 Reno June 15, 2010 at 7:43 pm

I can forsee the ‘Make Whole’ ritual gaining widespread use in DS. The component cost is only 20% of the value of the item being repaired, and these primitive weapons of bone and stone probably cost a fraction of the gp their steel counterparts vendor for in the standard fantasy realms. If I knew my weapon could be repaired good as new 15cp during the next short rest, I’d break it every chance I got.

Another way of making the prospect of weapon breakage easier for your players to contemplate would be to train them to pick up their enemies’ weapons before they move on. A round of minor actions at the end of the first encounter, and they get a couple of spears and a bone sword. I tossed Item markers down where the bodies of the slain ragers and inciter fell, so they’d get the clue.

16 Al June 22, 2010 at 9:46 am

I have given this a bit of thought, and I think that when I run my Dark Sun game, the way I’ll be doing weapon breakage is this:

On a Natural 1, the player will be given the option to miss as normal, or will be allowed to re-roll their attack. Regardless of the result of the new attack roll, the player must make a saving throw, with failure resulting in weapon breakage. Metal weapons will be given a +2 bonus to their saving throw, and magic weapons will receive a +2 saving throw bonus for each +1 of magical enhancement.

Make Whole will repair a broken weapon back to “showroom new” status. But don’t forget: MW has a gp cost for materials!

I am also considering putting together a skill challenge of some kind that would allow players to repair their weapons in the event that Make Whole is not immediately available. In many cases, it would likely involve scavenging and/or negotiating and bartering for appropriate materials before performing the actual repair.

I’m also considering a situation in which magic weapons, when repaired, might lose one of its plusses or special abilities, and the players must complete some form of quest to in order to bring the weapon back to its prior glory.

17 Chris July 9, 2010 at 12:09 am

When you use a sub par weapon you get to reroll to attack but it breaks….that is about the stupidest thing I’ve seen. Junk weapons should never hit more often than quality ones even if there is a “cost”. I am going to have to house rule so many things…

18 Kuster Jr July 13, 2010 at 11:02 am


Actually, if you read everything, you will note that these rules apply to all weapons in the DS World. They just make a reference to the lower quality weapons because they break much easier (doesn’t matter what the re-roll is) than their metal counterparts (have to roll a 5 or less on the re-roll).

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