View Full Version : Pathfinder [Dark Sun] Defiling for Fun and Profit

2016-07-03, 05:05 PM
Note: this posting is about an aspect of arcane magic in the setting of Dark Sun. If you don't know what Dark Sun is or why its arcane magic is a bit special, look here (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dark_Sun) for the Wikipedia article (setting spoilers!) or here (http://www.athas.org/products/ds3) for a PDF of the semi-official 3E setting. There are tons of related gaming wikis and messageboard discussions, too.

So for my upcoming Dark Sun game I looked at the various homebrews and conversions for the defiling mechanics. As it turns out, there are a lot out there. The problem is that almost every approach I've seen so far is either too powerful for my tastes (granting free metamagic and such to defilers), or that it's too complicated, with derived tables for defiler points or terrain types or some such detail. Pathfinder is fiddly enough as it is, more arcane bookkeeping is not what I'm after. So I sat down and came up with my own system.

I worked under the following assumptions:

Magic in Pathfinder is powerful enough as it is. There are fewer infinity-loops compared to 3.5, but "free" metamagic is not what the doctor ordered. Therefore, any bonuses granted by defiling should be somewhere below what a metamagic feat grants. If this becomes a problem of diminishing returns in later game stages, I might need to come up with an alternative.
The only classes viable as defilers are wizards, nothing else (maybe arcanists? Would need additional work).
The standard way of casting arcane spells in Pathfinder translates to preserving (more or less), not defiling. Otherwise, preserving would have to be a sufficiently nerfed form of spellcasting and that's hard to sell to players in a setting where a random cactus might be a psionic, flesh-eating monster. There are drawbacks and benefits to both casting traditions, but I won't introduce nonsense such as "casting a preserving spell always takes a full-round action".
The effects of defiling should be easy to grasp and not involve long tables that need referencing whenever a character defiles something. Point pools and mini games are ok, but they must be straightforward and relate directly to something on the character sheet and not a randomly derived number.
In relation to that, defiling should be a fun mechanic and not something that punishes a player character unduely for setting reasons. A defiler needs to be able to participate in adventuring, he needs to be able to calculate how dangerous his defiling is in terms of consequences, and defiling cannot interfere with the character's core abilities (that is, being an arcane spellcaster).

This is what I came up with:

When an arcane spellcaster decides to add a bonus (see below) to his spell or to use metamagic, or both, the spell becomes a defiling spell and the character becomes a defiler. This has three main consequences.

First, the caster defiles a radius equal to 10 ft. per spell level around him (5 ft. for 0-level spells). The soil and any vegetation, insects and tiny animals within this radius wither and turn to ash. Magically created or summoned creatures or plants are not affected by defiling (note: maybe with a feat?). A preserver can't cast spells within a defiled area unless he succeeds on a concentration check with a DC equal to 10 + the defiler's caster level. A defiler can cast multiple defiling spells from the same position, increasing the defiled area with each casting, but he can do so only a number of times equal to the modifier of his spellcasting attribute (minimum 1). Beyond that, he must change his position (that is, step outside the defiled area) to cast more spells, even if he doesn't want to defile.

I think this adds a nice tactical quality to the idea. You can stand in one place and cast three or four spells, and then you need to move. Not sure about the DC for preservers, though. For now I'm completely ignoring terrain types because I see no way of including that in an actual game and retain my sanity as a GM. Any ideas on this are welcome!

Second, a defiler can add one bonus to his defiling spell, chosen from the list below. This is part of the defiling and not a separate action. Any bonus such gained stacks with other bonuses, even metamagic effects.

+1 to the spell's attack roll.
+2 to a concentration check.
+1d4 to any variable, numerical effect of the spell.*
+1 to the spell's DC.
+5 ft. effective range of the spell.

* Only once per spell. Level-0 spell get a +1 bonus instead.

This is where I see the most problems right now. The bonuses are probably flexible enough, but they are fiddly (which I explicitly wanted to avoid) and during later levels you might not care that much about them. Maybe I should write a feat or two to allow mid- and high-level casters to increase these bonuses or further modify their spells, I dunno.

I would love to just let defiling add +1 CL to the spell, but I feel that's just too powerful over an entire adventuring day.

Third, casting a defiling spell nets the caster defiling points. They represent the disconnect between him and the natural world of Athas and mark him as a defiler. The amount of defiling points gained this way is equal to 1 point per effective spell level (level-0 defiling spells without metamagic net 1 defiling point per day, no matter how often used). Note: I think I want to make it that defilers with defiling points are detectable with an appropriate detect spell as per cleric aura rules.

The first time a caster gains a defiling point, he also immediately gains a tainted trait (see below). A tainted trait remains even of all defiling points are gone, and they can only be removed by a willing druid who casts atonement on the defiler or by some extraordinary task that the defiler fulfills on behalf of Athas' mistreated nature (GM's discretion).
The maximum defiling points a character can handle is equal to 10 + his caster level + his spellcasting attribute's modifier. The sum of all defiling points acts as a penalty on Fortitude saves against nonmagical effects and on Diplomacy, Handle Animal, Ride and Survival checks. It's also the DC for any other spellcaster attempting to bring the defiler back to life via reincarnation, raise dead, and similar effects.

Defiling points heal naturally at a rate of 1 point per day. The spell lesser restoration removes 1d4 defiling points, and restoration removes defiling points equal to the caster's level. Limited wish or wish remove all defiling points, but they can't remove any tainted traits.

I think 1 point per day is ok, especially at low levels. That way, a character isn't forced to spend money on recuperation. Maybe a feat can unlock faster healing at higher levels? Not sure of that's worth a feat slot.

If a defiler with maximum defiling points casts additional defiling spells, he gains an additional tainted trait for any spell cast beyond his limit (except for level-0 spells). He can only have a number of tainted traits equal to his caster level though, and should he ever gain more tainted traits than that he becomes an undead t'liz and an NPC under the GM's control.

I think the defiling point limit is pretty ok, at least until mid-levels. A level-1 wizard (assuming you'd start a Dark Sun game that early) with a bonded item and Int 18 would be able to cast all his spells as defiler spells for 4 consecutive days before gaining additional tainted traits (assuming he heals 1 defiling point per day naturally). A level-5 wizard with a bonded item and Int 20 could go defiler nova on all his spells, but then he'd only have three defiling points left in his budget for the next day (assuming he heals 1 defiling point naturally), so it's doable but not a sustainable long-term strategy. At higher levels a defiler reaches the point where he can't defile all his daily spells without suffering tainted traits, and I think I like that.

The penalties on Fortitude saves might be a bit harsh, especially with Athas being a desert environment, but I think the skill check penalties are ok. They make it hard to just completely ignore being a defiler, but they don't cripple a character at being good at Knowledge checks and the like.

Tainted Traits

Note: I only have a few entries so far and not a complete table. Also, I'm not sure if tainted traits should be rolled randomly or gained in order. I'm always a fan of random effects, and presenting a fixed sequence will surely result in some metagaming, but I can also see that random effects aren't always fun. Like I said, not sure what to make of this...

A -4 penalty to your negative Constitution score for determining when you die.
A -2 penalty to your Strengh score.
You need twice the amount of water per day.
All creatures have their initial attitude towards you lowered by one step.

The problem here is to find some form of balance between something that imposes a clear penalty and something that renders a character effectively unable to continue being an adventurer. I feel that penalties to physical attributes and survival stuff such as food and water are ok (since magic can help with that), but I have problems finding the line.


So, what do you guys think?

2016-07-03, 05:06 PM
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