Sunday, 3 April 2016

The CSR Dark Sun Primer: Part 1


Greetings Readers! 
Welcome to Part 1 of my special Cypher System Primer.

I knew as soon as I read the ‘Genres’ section of my new Cypher System Rulebook, that I would want to run a Dark Sun campaign using these rules. One can very easily adapt the content from the original boxed sets, as well as the more recent D&D 4th Edition publications (I’ll admit up front that I am a fan of the 4th Edition material, and enjoy the slightly more epic and heroic spin it puts the World of Athas). Regardless of your opinions on either set of published material, there is a lot of great stuff in both that you can use to make your game run the exactly way you envision.

There is also a wealth of material and information on the setting available here: The Burnt World of Athas
For the first of my articles I will take a look at Dark Sun’s basic principles, and decide which I want to apply to my campaign. 

I chose to start with the rules for survival while travelling in the wastelands.

Rules for Surviving on Athas
Athas is a harsh place, and unprepared adventurers will find that they do not last long once they head out into the wastelands and deserts.  The environment itself is a foe that can grind even the strongest heroes down and leave them dying in the sands.

I definitely wanted to include a simple system for keeping track of party supplies. Food and water are super important, but I didn’t want to bog our game down with a great deal of resource tracking.  This is supposed to be a game of adventure, exploration and excitement after all!

I decided to adapt the Survival Days system from the 4th Edition Campaign Guide. I had already used it before, and found it suited my needs perfectly.

Supplied and Unsupplied
While exploring and travelling in the vast wastelands, characters must keep themselves Supplied in order to stay ‘relatively’ comfortable.  If they do not have the proper supplies and resources, then they will become Unsupplied. Any unprepared characters can quickly find that they are in a desperate situation!

Supplied characters must consume a certain amount of water and food to avoid dehydration, exposure and starvation. Unsupplied characters must find a way to survive without the resources they require (a dire set of circumstances indeed).

In order to count as Supplied a character must do one of the following:
  • Spend the better part of a day sheltered in village, town, oasis etc.
  • Expend a Survival Day
  • Forage or hunt for supplies by making a Roll.

Survival Days
Survival Days serve as a simplified way to manage resources needed to survive in the wilderness.  Each Survival Day represents sufficient food, water and other supplies to make it through a day’s travel. During their 10 Hour Recovery Roll, a character can expend one survival day to become Supplied until their next 10 Hour Recovery Roll is used.

Survival days should be purchasable from any settlement, or occasionally handed out as rewards for completing quests and so forth.
  • Characters can purchase Survival Days at a cost of 5 ceramic pieces per unit.

Sun Sickness
For each daylight period an Unsupplied character (or mount, animals need food and water too) spends travelling in the wilds they must make a Might roll. The difficulty for the roll is equal to the total number of days the character has spent Unsupplied (1 Day = Target # 3, 2 Days =  Target # 6 and so on).  A failed roll means the character becomes Sun Sick, and they take 4 points of Ambient damage per day until they are resupplied and rested.  Points lost from your Stat pools in this manner cannot be replenished until your character is no longer Sun Sick.

Clever characters may think of travelling at night to avoid the effects of Sun Sickness. This is a valid strategy, however night time travel has it’s own perils. Temperatures drop extremely quickly once the sun sets, and many dangerous animals use the cover of darkness to aid them in their hunt for food. I’d suggest Might Rolls for exposure to below freezing temperatures, and ambient damage upon failure for each hour exposed (See the CSR, PG. 201).

The Heroic Combat Rule
I wanted to convey a slightly higher power, more heroic feel for my games on Athas.  So I added a simple house rule to help make my players feel a bit more awesome while they are swinging their weapons.

When players achieve special roll results on Attacks, I would grant them the normal extra damage for that result AND a minor or major effect if applicable. This allows for a very satisfying ‘critical hit’ result on some attacks. The player`s really like this, it makes combat feel dynamic and lends a sort of action movie feel to our battle scenes.

Example: Gator, the Mul Gladiator attacks a Cylops with his axe and rolls a 20! He deals 4 additional damage, AND sends the best flying backwards to land on its back a few feet away.

Non-Metal Arms and Armor
Thanks to the scarcity of proper metals in our chosen setting, most characters are equipped with weapons, armor and tools made out of other materials that are readily available.  Weapons are wooden, stone, bone and chitin.  Armor is composed of skins, scales, shells and so on.  To represent this I implemented a simple durability system. It is used to simulate this less robust equipment breaking down and losing effectiveness as it is used.

Each time a non-metal weapon deals extra damage because of a Special Roll, the wielder marks one point of durability loss (we use asterisks*) on the weapon.  If a weapon accrues three total points of durability loss the weapon is damaged becomes useless until it is repaired.

Example: Below, Gator`s axe is marked for 2 points of durability loss. One more and the weapon will need to be repaired!

Gator`s Axe - Heavy Weapon, Damage 6 (Slashing) **

I use the same system to record damage to armor as well, except armor only gets marked for durability loss if the wearer is hit by an attack that causes 6 or more points of damage (or has a particularly nasty special effect or ability attached to it, fire, acid etc.).

Armor that is damaged provides one or two less points of protection depending on the situation (and the GM’s mood of course).

Defiling Magic
I wanted to be able to simply capture the concept of defiling magic.  I only had one player who was considering an arcane or adept style character, but I wanted to make this a part of the game since it is so integral to the setting.

When players are creating their characters, if they choose an adept, or any special Intellect abilities, they can choose to flavor these as magical or psionic powers.  Players who choose magical flavors for their characters can be allowed access to the following special rule.

Defiling the World
When a player or character uses a magical or arcane power, they may choose to defile the terrain around them in order to gain more power for their spells.  Depending on the type of terrain they have access to they receive a bonus to their Action roll and Damage.
  • If the character is in rocky, barren, or desert terrain: +1 to Action Roll and Damage (if applicable).
  • If the character is in scrub land, a grassy area, or there are bushes or cacti within immediate distance: +2 to Action Roll and Damage (if applicable).
  • If the character is in a farmland area, or there are small trees or bushes in immediate distance: Grant them an Asset for the Action roll and +3 damage (if applicable).
  • If the character is in a forest or jungle (such as the Forest Ridge, or Crescent Forest) grant them an Asset for the Action roll and +4 damage (if applicable). These areas are exceedingly rare.
This is a fairly simple system, and the GM should apply modifiers based on the current situation in game, but if a character chooses to defile be sure to describe the earth and plants around them dying. The sand blackens and turns to ash beneath their feet, insects and animals nearby wither and die, and larger creatures suffer extreme nausea or weakness.  Defiling is considered a very terrible act by most beings, and it is impossible to disguise or hide.

The currency of choice for my game is ceramic pieces. I am simply using an the equipment charts from the Campaign Sourcebook with the prices as listed.
  • In addition to their normal starting equipment, I allowed each player to begin play with 200 Ceramic pieces (CP).
Putting it all Together
I decided I wanted to create a custom character sheet for my players to use. I printed these on heavy stock paper to hold up to the erasing and scribblings of furious roleplayers.  

The sheet contains sections for my special rules, as well as removes the original CSR sheets division of skills into categories based on Stat Pools.  It seems unnecessary to me, and confuses new players (since the skills are not always linked to any one particular stat).

Below is one of the sheets I created, including a portrait from the D&D 4th Edition Campaign Setting Cover art.

Gator's Character Sheet - A Mul Gladiator (warrior) who Master Weaponry!

What’s Next?
In part two of my primer, I will discuss the different character options available to each player. I’ll review the list of Foci I deemed appropriate to the setting, and present my custom Racial Descriptors for a each of the original Dark Sun races that my players had access to.

Thanks for reading.


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