AD&D Second Edition remains my favorite edition of Dungeons & Dragons. Well, sort of. I find the concept of “favorites” for an RPG to be a term that’s too broad to be used easily, since it encompasses multiple aspects which should be judged independently.
It’s more accurate to say that I think that, of all of the editions of D&D released to date, Second Edition had the best flavor attached to it. Specifically, its myriad campaign settings. I have virtually all of them, and each of them is enjoyable for what they offer.
Of course, there are still some I like more than others. While it’s not my most favorite, I do like the Dark Sun campaign setting quite a bit. I’ll often catch myself pulling an old book for it off the shelf and perusing it for a minute or two, just for kicks.
Unlike most Dark Sun fans (or at least, most fans that I’ve talked to online) I didn’t get into the setting by way of its initial boxed set. Rather, I was introduced to Athas (the Dark Sun campaign world) via the first set of novels for it, Troy Denning’s five-book Prism Pentad series. Those novels are highly controversial among the fans nowadays, because they introduced sweeping changes to the world. Moreover, they were changes done by a group of NPCs, as part of the setting’s meta-plot. To many gamers, that’s a cardinal sin.
I personally didn’t mind it, but that’s because I wasn’t able to get a regular group together until college, and even then we didn’t play in that campaign world. Between that, and that those novels were my first exposure to the world, I simply took the stories for what they were, and found them fairly enjoyable.
While the initial novel is the story of the heroes liberating their city from its dreaded sorcerer-king, the remaining four books can be said (in a massive simplification) to be the story of them preparing to face the Dragon of Athas, the most powerful foe in the world (or so they think). The second, third, and fourth books are basically the story of them collecting the weapons, magic, and psionics, respectively, that they’ll need to fight it on even terms. The fifth book is the actual battle.
It’s the third book I want to look more closely at, here. In it, a half-elf sorceress named Sadira goes on a quest to have her magical powers enhanced to the point where she can match the Dragon’s magic. By the end of the book (*spoiler alert*) she’s become able to draw energy directly from the sun, enhancing her magic drastically…but only during the day.
Whereas the physical and psionic methods of fighting the Dragon are based around obtaining powerful artifacts, Sadira’s magical enhancement is unique to her, at least as it’s presented. Thus, while any character could theoretically find and use those artifacts (as presented in Psionic Artifacts of Athas), that’s not the case for Sadira’s powers.
Instead, the closest we get to seeing game rules for her powers are found in Beyond the Prism Pentad, a short game supplement meant to help bridge the gap between the novels and the original campaign setting (in preparation for the revised campaign setting that came shortly thereafter).
In that book, we get two stat blocks for Sadira; one for her unenhanced powers (e.g. her “normal” stats, used during nighttime), and one for her enhanced form, which is called a “sun mage.”
The differences are quite dramatic; as a sun mage, Sadira’s level as a preserver (a type of wizard) skyrockets from 10th to 18th level. She also receives some enhancements to her strength, physical toughness, and even a slight boost to her mental defenses. It’s a fairly unique build, if a straightforward one in what boosts it grants her. That’s not unusual for AD&D Second Edition, of course, which inherited the attitude of previous editions with regard to unique powers, abilities, items, etc. popping up when it served the game to have them.
Of course, Third Edition had a very different take on that particular stance, and its preference of standardizing the game mechanics had an elegance all its own…though to me, that particular aspect of game design didn’t reach its zenith until the publication of Eclipse: The Codex Persona, which allowed for the freedom of character creation that best utilized that unified game system.
It’s in that spirit that I’ve decided to write up Eclipse stats for what it means to be a “sun mage.”
Sun Mage Template (133 CP/+4 ECL)
A sun mage is a spellcaster that draws the power for their spells, not from ambient or diffuse sources, but from the sun itself. Because this grants great power during the daytime, but leaves them vulnerable at night, only accomplished spellcasters are allowed to undergo this transformation. That way, they at least have some power to fall back on (via their traditional spellcasting) if attacked after nightfall.
Solaric Enhancement (246 CP)
- Eight wizard spellcasting levels (112 CP).
- 8d4 Hit Dice (64 CP).
- +4 BAB (24 CP).
- Fort +3, Ref +3, Will +4 (30 CP).
- 16 skill points (16 CP).
Power Bleed-Over (26 CP)
- Innate Enchantment; spell level x caster level x 2,000 gp x0.7 personal-only modifier (23 CP).
- Mage armor (1,400 gp).
- +6 enhancement bonus to Strength (21,000 gp).
- +2 Will save vs. psionic attacks (3 CP).
The strength that a sun mage draws upon is so vast, so incredibly potent, that it doesn’t stop at simply enhancing their spellcasting. Though the majority of the energy drawn forth is used to strengthen their magic, parts of it leak out, enhancing their body and their mind as well.
Altogether, the entire template costs 272 CP, or +8 ECL, which makes sense, since this is basically encapsulating eight levels of wizard (with a couple special abilities added in). However, the entire template is specialized for one-half cost/only functions during the daytime. That brings things down to 136 CP. To better match with the novels, we’ll add the Accursed disadvantage. When using the sun’s power, a sun mage’s skin turns as black as obsidian (the better to absorb solar energies with), and as a side-effect of this, their eyes turn solid blue, and their breath is visible as black fog. That brings the final cost down to 133 CP, for a +4 ECL modifier.
The above template is, in all honesty, a fairly artless one. It updates the 2E stat block that has Sadira gaining eight levels – including better hit points, THAC0, and while not explicitly written, likely better saves and proficiencies as well – to model her increased spellcasting ability, along with a very small number of other enhancements.
The end result is highly straightforward in what it presents: literally eight wizard levels, that only work half of the time each day, and so only have half the cost. It’s very workmanlike in terms of its presentation.
…but then again, that fits on a harsh world like Athas, where form follows function as a necessary rule of survival.