Posts Tagged ‘Dark Sun’

Return of the Dragon King

November 30, 2018

Back in the days of AD&D 2nd Edition, the Dark Sun campaign setting was the campaign world that epitomized what we’d now think of as “epic-level gaming.”

Of course, if you knew where to look, you’d find plenty of epic-level material elsewhere. The Player’s Option books had rules for True Dweomers and characters of up to 30th level, after all. Not to mention how the Forgotten Realms had plenty of level 20+ wizards running around, Greyhawk had evil demigods that needed to be fought (Iuz being the most famous, but there were also such notables as Vecna or Kyuss), and if you were playing in Mystara then you might be on the road to becoming a god yourself!

Even so, Dark Sun was perhaps the only campaign that really made its epic-level characters into a fundamental part of the setting, rather than an adjunct. The Sorcerer-Kings set the tone for the game world, serving as background elements and aspects of the setting’s meta-plot. Being able to grow powerful enough to defeat them was the ultimate lure for characters that adventured in Athas, even if very few ever actually succeeded.

For those that wanted to become one, however, a different path was open.

When you don’t need no “Council of Wyrms” to rule.

The Dragon Kings book detailed the mechanics behind the process of fusing arcane magic and psionic powers to become an immortal dragon, as the Sorcerer-Kings were in the process of doing. While stat blocks for the Sorcerer-Kings themselves were printed elsewhere (such as in Beyond the Prism Pentad), this was the book that let you be like them. (Though it still flat-out denied you the ability to grant spells to templars of your own the way they could.)

Spread across ten levels, from 21st to 30th, the power of a dragon was difficult to attain, requiring numerous preparations and special circumstances. Ironically, these were so esoteric that they didn’t translate well into fiction written for the game world; in every single novel that dealt with the Sorcerer-Kings in any great detail, the discussion as to how they were progressing through their transformations disagreed with what was written in Dragon Kings. Fortunately, the powers that they gained as a result were more notable, and were far easier to put “on screen,” as it were. Having awesome natural defenses and potent physical, magical, and psionic powers tended to be the part that grabbed most readers’ and gamers’ attention anyway.

Unfortunately, Athasian dragons didn’t translate well into D&D Third Edition. Not only had the Dark Sun world been shelved (getting only a few brief articles Dragon magazine and one adventure in Dungeon), but the rules for becoming a dragon were unbalanced under the d20 System, even by the rather poor standards of epic-level games. Despite that, while an official version of an Athasian dragon progression would never be seen again (notwithstanding as an epic destiny in the D&D 4th Edition version of Dark Sun), numerous fan-sites would write up their own versions, typically as an epic-level prestige class.

In that vein, today’s post is my take on how such a write-up would look using Eclipse: The Codex Persona.

The Eldritch Dragon (10-level progression)

Available Character Points: 240 (10 character levels) +20 (restrictions) = 260 CPs.

There is, strictly speaking, no need for this “prestige class” to be taken at epic levels. As written, it could be taken virtually anytime, even starting at 1st-level! That said, most characters will want to progress in both a magic progression and a psionic progression – at the very least – before delving too deeply into what’s here.

An eldritch dragon has a restriction against wearing armor of any sort (which their metamorphosed bodies can’t really wear anyway). Their second restriction is actually a variant rule: they take a cumulative -1 penalty per level to saves against pain-based spells and effects (including spells with the [pain] descriptor in Pathfinder), to a maximum of -10. This approximates how the continuing metamorphosis is described as increasingly painful, without the rather unwieldy “animalistic period” described in Dragon Kings, which presented the transforming dragon as being in too much pain to think straight, even as further progression required them to build ziggurats and make bargains with elemental powers.

Defiling Magic

If you want to make a character that practices defiling magic – the practice of draining the local plant life to death to power your spellcasting – in Eclipse, my recommendation is as follows: defiling magic is taken as a variation of the Restrained limitation on a magic progression (Eclipse, p. 11). Rather than restricting what sort of spells you can learn, it restricts your ability to gather the necessary energy to cast your spells.

  • In lush, natural surroundings (such as jungles, prairies, forests, etc.) you have to spend a swift action in order to gather enough power to cast a spell. This does not provoke an attack of opportunity. Gathered power lasts for 1 round before dissipating.
  • In areas of restrained plant life (such as in urban areas, caverns, areas of water where the seafloor is less than 200 meters deep, etc.), you have to spend a move action (which provokes an attack of opportunity) gathering power before you can cast a spell. Gathered power lasts for 1 round before dissipating.
  • In areas of severely restrained plant life (such as deserts, arctic tundras, places of extreme devastation, etc.) you must spend a full-round action gathering enough energy to cast a spell, which provokes an attack of opportunity. Gathered power lasts for 1 round before dissipating.
  • In areas of no plant life whatsoever (such as the areas of water where the seafloor is more than 200 meters deep, outer space, the Elemental Planes, etc.) you cannot cast spells at all, unless you have an alternate power source, such as Body Fuel or Mana.

Defiling magic scars the soil where it’s used, to a radius of 10 feet per spell level (5 feet for 0-level spells), requiring generations before it can be restored to the point where it can support vegetation again (if it ever can). Naturally, those who use defiling magic find that it makes druids, fey, sapient plant creatures, and numerous other entities automatically hostile toward the them (outside of special circumstances, at the GM’s discretion).

This is a variant on the original rules about defiling in order to make the mechanics match the original idea more closely. Defiling magic was always presented as “the easy path to power” in comparison to preserving magic, which was taking enough life energy from the surrounding vegetation that you did no permanent damage to it. In this case, that’s presented as being the CPs that the user saves by having an additional limitation on their magic progression.

If you want to play a character that utilizes preserving magic instead, take this variation of the Restrained limitation, but corrupted for two-thirds benefit (that is, they only receive two-thirds of the CPs they’d otherwise save from applying it to their magic progression; you can’t usually corrupt a limitation this way, but this is an exception). Such characters are still required to spend extra actions to cast spells as outlined above, but do not kill the soil around them and do not automatically earn the hatred of numerous ecologically-minded people and creatures.

Draconic Form (90 CP)

  • 10d4 Hit Dice (0 CP).
  • Int. bonus x 10 skill points (0 CP).
  • +0 Fort, +7 Ref, +5 Will (36 CP).
  • Three levels of Growth, specialized and corrupted for reduced cost/treated as a dragon for all effects related to type (e.g. Favored Foe, arrows of slaying, etc.), worn magic items do not function unless upgraded to “slotless” items (i.e. pay double their market cost if they aren’t slotless already) or are built into the body (e.g. Innate Enchantment, Siddhisyoga, etc.) (48 CP).
  • Extra Limb/tail, specialized for one-half cost/cannot function as prehensile limb (3 CP).
  • Extra Limb/jaws, specialized for one-half cost/does not gain extra limb; only functions as a prerequisite to use a bite attack (3 CP).

A few things here deserve explanation. While the Hit Dice and skill points are part-and-parcel of gaining 10 levels, the save bonuses are here to represent that gaining ten levels should modify your saving throws appropriately. While that should, at epic levels, result in each of your saves going up by +5, the modified totals there represent the adjustments by your size: you’ll gain a +6 to your Fortitude save just from your modified Constitution score, and so there’s no need to purchase anything there. Likewise, Reflex is overbought to compensate for your Dexterity adjustment.

The full list of the changes made on account of your size (presuming that you start off as being Medium) are as follows: Strength +24, Dex -8 (treat as Dex -4 for modifying AC, initiative, Reflex saves, and ranged attack rolls), Con +12, -4 to attacks/AC, 20-foot space, 20-foot reach, -12 to Hide/Stealth, +9 natural armor bonus, and base 60-foot speed.

While it’s not portrayed as such in the source material, requiring a dragon character to upgrade body slot-based magic items in order to utilize them is thematically consistent. The character has so much raw power flowing through them now that they have no “slots” open on them anymore for typical magic items to interface with. It also helps explain why we don’t really see the Sorcerer-Kings as being draped with magic items the way most d20 characters are.

Engine of Destruction (56 CP)

  • Celerity with the Additional modifier and five instances of Improved, corrupted for increased effect/flight is based on being able to bring wings to bear, 120-foot fly speed (perfect) (33 CP).
  • Martial Arts for 2d10 damage, specialized for one-half cost/cannot utilized manufactured weapons (10 CP).
  • Persistent metamagic theorem, specialized for one-half cost and corrupted for increased effect/only to use the Sacrifice option on a single 9th-level spell slot, requires waiting 1d4 rounds between uses. May use 6th-level spell sand blast, which causes 1d10 points of damage per caster level (25d10 maximum), Reflex save for half (DC 10 + ½ Hit Dice + Con modifier), despite it being of instantaneous duration (3 CP).
  • +5 BAB, specialized for one-half cost/only for use with natural weapons, touch attacks, or ranged touch attacks, corrupted for two-thirds cost/does not contribute to iterative attacks (10 CP).

Note that their natural attacks causing 2d10 points of damage goes for their bite, tail, and two claw attacks. Moreover, this is before their size modifier is taken into account. While it’s not exactly clear how to bump up 2d10 damage dice even further, I’d recommend adding another d10 per size category, for a total of 5d10! This should help drive home just how dangerous a foe eldritch dragons are, even before they start utilizing their magical or psionic abilities!

The use of the Persistent metamagic theorem gives us the eldritch dragon’s signature breath weapon: a cone of super-heated sand. The cone is 70 feet long, and the damage is considered to be half fire damage, half slashing damage (representing abrasion). The slashing portion is subject to damage reduction, but is treated as a magic weapon (an epic weapon at caster level 21+).

Living Fortification (48 CP)

  • Augmented Bonus with the Improved and Advanced modifiers/add Strength modifier to Armor Class as natural armor (18 CP).
  • Defender/dodge bonus, specialized for double effect/may not be used while wearing armor (6 CP).
  • Damage Reduction 5, specialized for double effect/only applies against physical damage, corrupted for increased effect/does not apply against magic weapons (12 CP).
  • Improved Spell Resistance (12 CP).

In the Dragon Kings book, a 30th-level dragon has an AC of -10, whereas they start out with (in their natural state) the same AC of 10 as everyone else. That’s an improvement of +20 over ten levels. While their +9 natural armor from being Gargantuan size helps, it’s offset by taking a -4 size penalty to AC. Hence the use of Augmented Bonus and Defender here (the latter set to being a dodge bonus to help bolster their terrible touch AC). Similarly, DR 15/magic seems to be a fairly decent equivalent for “requires +2 or better weapons to hit.” Improved Spell Resistance isn’t quite as good as 80% magic resistance, but the two mechanics are dissimilar enough that it’s an acceptable translation on its own.

Magical Juggernaut (54 CP)

  • +10 caster levels, corrupted for two-thirds cost/only for one arcane spellcasting class and one psionic class (40 CP).
  • Mighty Invocation, specialized for double effect and corrupted for two-thirds cost/can only be utilized with specially-prepared foci of ten obsidian orbs, causes 10d6 damage to all living creatures within 100 feet of you (Fort save for half, DC 20 + spellcasting modifier) (8 CP).
  • Augmented Bonus/add Strength score to one mental ability score for determining bonus spells/psionic power points (6 CP).

The additional caster levels, and the use of Augmented Bonus, cover a lot of the magical and psionic strength that a fully-transformed dragon has. In Dragon Kings, a dragon gains one psionic science and one psionic devotion, along with the standard PSP gain, per level. They also gain additional spell slots for each spell level they can cast (and four 10th level spell slots by 30th level). In this case, we’re utilizing the increased caster levels in conjunction with their Augmented Bonus to approximate that, since together those increase their bonus spells per level through the roof; it’s taken as a given that the same mental ability score, typically Intelligence, will be the one that affects spellcasting and psionics both. (Though this brings up the question of whether or not it’s possible to gain bonus spells for a 10th level spell slot, like the one gained by Mighty Invocation. If the GM says that they don’t, then the dragon character will need to look into purchasing it a second time, or taking an Immunity, etc. if they want to be able to cast four 10th-level spells per day.)

The more controversial aspect of what’s here, however, is likely to be the damage inflicted by casting those 10th-level slots. At first that’s likely going to look like an advantage, rather than a limitation. The salient point to remember is that it affects ALL living creatures other than the caster, without exception. So your party members, their familiars and animal companions, non-hostile NPCs, summoned creatures, etc. are all going to take the damage every time you cast a high-level spell, unless they get far away from you. (For those of them that want to try and mitigate this, treat the damage as being caused by negative energy.)

Beneficial Side Effects (12 CP)

  • Immunity/aging (common/minor/major) (6 CP).
  • Immunity/having to speak a language to be able to communicate with it (common/minor/major), specialized for one-half cost/does not allow for reading and writing; only speech (3 CP).
  • Imbuement, specialized for one-half cost/only to allow natural weapons to overcome magic-based damage reduction (3 CP).

While their agelessness was a salient feature of dragon characters, their ability to speak any language was an oft-overlooked benefit. Likewise, while it wasn’t expressly spelled out, the AD&D 2nd Edition game rules implied that a dragon could hit creatures that needed magical weapons to damage, at least to a certain degree. Hence, they have Imbuement here.

From Dragon to Dragon-King

As originally written, PC dragons could gain the power of the Sorcerer-Kings in every way except for granting spells to templars that worshiped them. Hence, that particular ability has not been written into the above progression. If you want to create a character with that ability, try the following:

  • Dominion with the Manipulation ability, specialized for one-half cost/only as prerequisites (6 CP).
  • Sphere of Influence, specialized and corrupted for triple effect/you do not sense events related to your portfolio, you do not pay a reduced cost for using magic related to your portfolio, your ability to grant spells does not increase when you’re on a plane that’s otherwise appropriate for doing so, and you cannot elect to merge with your sphere of influence (6 CP).

This grants you the ability to grant divine spells of up to 9th level, along with up to three domains (traditionally, these will include domains that match the non-neutral portions of your alignment), to those who worship you. Since this costs only 12 CP to achieve, you could conceivably take this as a package deal if you want to say that it was gained due to some circumstance that you weren’t aware of at the time (as it was for the original Sorcerer-Kings). Most characters will want to quickly scrounge up another 6 CP so that they can use Dominion and Manipulation once they decide to begin formally establishing a seat of power for their burgeoning clergy.


The eldritch dragon progression recreates the Athasian dragon almost perfectly. While a few figures are slightly off from the original, the sum total is so close that it’s functionally the same. The one thing it doesn’t have is the major requirements to progress through each successive level, but that’s probably for the best.

If you do want to make gaining each level of eldritch dragon into a quest in its own right, consider requiring that the dragon character take Occult Ritual (Eclipse, p. 96), and having each level require that a successful ritual be cast. Alternatively, you can say that becoming an eldritch dragon is a form of mythic progression (the ten levels make it perfect for that), requiring various epic deeds to advance. Either way will make the character be a source of adventures unto themselves.

Just remember that sleeping on a big pile of treasure is optional.

Epic Magic in AD&D 2E

July 15, 2017

The concept of “epic” levels – and all of the accompanying features therein, such as epic-level spells, magic items, etc. – was named such in D&D Third Edition. While most people ascribed that to the eponymous Epic Level Handbook, in truth the term had been introduced roughly a year prior, in the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting. While the mechanics were brief and somewhat dissimilar from how their finalized form would look, that was where we were told that characters of great power (i.e. level 21+) were “epic” in what they could do.

Naturally, this term has since been retroactively applied to earlier editions of D&D.

Doing so, however, brings up some interesting issues. While there’s little problem with maintaining that “epic” characters are those above 20th level – despite most earlier editions not placing any special emphasis on 20th level as a stopping point – this becomes more difficult when applied to magic. While most earlier incarnations of D&D didn’t really have “epic-level” magic anyway, AD&D 2E had quite a few – several of which could be used before you hit 20th level!

What follows is not meant to be an overview of all alternative systems of magic in AD&D, but rather is a listing of spells and magic systems that “go beyond” what conventional magic can achieve in AD&D. Whether by scope of effect, exceptional requirements to cast, or sheer power, this is magic that cannot be represented by traditional spells and spellcasting. (Also, keep in mind that all of the systems covered here are “player-facing” in their presentation. What that means is that these are all systems that are meant to be (potentially) utilized by PCs, and so have game rules that depict and regulate them. Forms of magic that are meant to be plot devices, and as such have no game rules – such as the Last Word from the Planescape adventure Dead Gods – are not covered here.)

As such, let’s take a look at the “epic-level magic” of AD&D 2E.

10th+ Level Wizard Spells

The most straightforward understanding of epic-level magic, these are the wizard (i.e. arcane) spells of 10th level and above. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there are rather few of them, most being found in Netheril: Empire of Magic, part of the Forgotten Realms’ “Arcane Age” line of products. Even there, it was made clear that spells of level 11 and above were allowable only during the specific time specified in that sub-setting. Only 10th-level spells were usable after that, as demonstrated by the two 10th-level spells found in The Fall of Myth Drannor.

Note that the 10th-level spells from the Dark Sun setting are listed under “Psionic Enchantments,” below.

10th-Level: Lefeber’s weave mythal, mavin’s create volcano, mavin’s earthfast, moryggan’s mythaleash (The Fall of Myth Drannor), proctiv’s move mountain, the srinshee’s spellshift (The Fall of Myth Drannor), tolodine’s killing wind, valdick’s spheresail.

11th-Level: Mavin’s worldweave, proctiv’s breach crystal sphere.

12th-Level: Karsus’s avatar (reprinted in Powers & Pantheons with some changes).

It’s interesting to note that, while Netheril: Empire of Magic has very little to say about using 10th-level spells after the fall of the titular Netheril, The Fall of Myth Drannor outlines that casting 10th-level spells in the Forgotten Realms is a process restricted only to the highest-level spellcasters, and is subject to divine review. Secrets of the Magister would later impose even more stringent penalties and restrictions upon casting 10th-level spells in the Realms.


While there were a few third-party products with level 10+ spells for pre-Third Edition D&D (The Tome of Mighty Magic, from North Pole Publications and later reprinted by Gamescience, comes to mind), Mayfair Games’ Archmagic boxed set deserves special mention for the quality of what it offers. Part of their “Role-Aids” line of AD&D-compatible materials, this boxed set introduced numerous epic-level spells, going all the way up to level 15! It should be noted, however, that this boxed set was printed before Netheril: Empire of Magic, and so has its epic-level spells scale differently (e.g. there are no 12th-level spells that will make you a god the way karsus’s avatar will). Nevertheless, for the sake of completeness they’re listed below:

10th-Level: Dual identity, twisted path.

11th-Level: Glory everlasting, minions.

12th-Level: Saving grace, unbearable insight, unnatural fortitude.

13th-Level: Bane divine, blight, enslave the sky, entropy unbound, exclusive essence, knell of darkness, manifest destiny, open gate, persistent rebirth.

14th-Level: Celestial realignment, doom inexorable, genesis.

15th-Level: Greater apocalypse.

Quest Spells

Introduced in the Tome of Magic, quest spells are divine spells of exceptional power that deities will grant to their priests under exigent circumstances. Priests can receive a quest spell without being epic-level, however; the Tome of Magic outlines that priests can receive a quest spell at as low as 10th level (though 12+ is more typical)! Several more quest spells were introduced in The Book of Priestcraft, with each one being specific to a deity of the Birthright campaign setting.

Interestingly, the alternate progression charts for characters in Netheril: Empire of Magic placed quest spells as being something gained via advancement, allowing the strongest priests (level 40+) to receive and use quest spells as a matter of course, instead of deities granting them to higher-level followers in response to notable events. It also had a table showing what quest spells were granted by each deity in that sub-setting.

Note that, in AD&D 2E, the highest level of divine spells that could be granted to clerics, druids, and other full-progression divine spellcasters depended not only on the priest’s level, but also on the strength of the deity. Various near-divine entities could only grant spells of up to 4th level (and often with additional restrictions), demigods could grant spells of up to 5th level, lesser deities could grant spells of up to 6th level, and intermediate and greater deities could grant spells of up to 7th level (the highest level normally available in AD&D 2E). This created a question of which deities could grant quest spells.

While the Tome of Magic is silent on the issue, The Book of Priestcraft lists quest spells for all of its deities, including lesser deities. However, the Greyhawk Player’s Guide states that only greater deities can grant quest spells. (I also distinctly recall – but cannot locate – a question in Dragon magazine’s “Sage Advice” column where Skip Williams stated that only greater or intermediate deities could grant quest spells. Note that the “Sage Advice” column in Dragon #182 says that Dark Sun priests – elemental clerics, druids, and templars – can all receive quest spells.) As such, individual DMs will need to make a final ruling, there.

Quest Spells: Abundance, animal hordeavani’s resuscitation (TBoP), avatar form (TBoP), circle of sunmotes, conformancedaythief (TBoP), elemental swarmerik’s animal compulsion (TBoP), etherwalk, fear contagionhaelyn’s wisdom (TBoP), health blessing, highway, imago interrogation, implosion/inversion, interdictionkriesha’s cursed quest (TBoP), laerme’s emissary (TBoP), mebhaighl touch (TBoP), mindnet, planar quest, preservation, revelation, reversion, robe of healingsera’s blessed luck (TBoP), siege wallship of tears (TBoP), shooting stars, sphere of security, spiral of degeneration, stalker, storm of vengeancetattoos of protection (TBoP), transformation, undead plague, warband quest, ward matrixwarlords of cuiraécen (TBoP), wolf spirits.

Psionic Enchantments

Although presented under the slot-based system of spell memorization, the psionic enchantments of the Dark Sun setting – presented in Dragon Kings and then reprinted (albeit only for the arcane spells, and even then only a few) in Defilers and Preservers: The Wizards of Athas – are different enough to warrant their own section. (The rules for priest characters above 20th level are reprinted in Earth, Air, Fire, and Water, but not the actual spells themselves.)

What makes psionic enchantments so different is the requirements to cast them. Rather than needing exotic components or lengthy preparation times (though these are also oftentimes needed), characters must reach 20th level in their requisite spellcasting class AND be a 20th level psionicist! More than that, however, they must also have begun to transform into an advanced being: an elemental (clerics), spirit of the land (druid), avangion (preserver), or dragon (defiler). Such beings are the only ones capable of utilizing psionic enchantments. As such, while it’s technically possible that characters beyond the Dark Sun setting could learn to use these spells, it’s unsurprising that such a thing has never been seen.

10th-Level (arcane): Abrasion, advanced domination, defiler metamorphosis, defiling regeneration, defiling stasis, dome of invulnerability, enchanted armaments, enslave elemental, immediate animation, just sovereign, life extension, magical minions, magical plague, masquerade, mass fanaticism, mountain fortress, pact, preserver metamorphosis, prolific forestation, prolific vegetation, pure breed, raise nation, recruitment, reverse loyalties, rift, rolling road, undead’s lineage, wall of ash.

8th-Level (divine): Alter climate, create oasis, forever minions, hasten crops, reverse winds, wild weather.

9th-Level (divine): Air of permanence, disruption, mountainous barrier, pocket dimension, prolific vegetation, storm legion.

10th-Level (divine): Cleanse, insect host, planar vassal, prolific forestation, rift, silt bridge.

True Dweomers

Presented in Dungeon Master Option: High-Level Campaigns, true dweomers are quite clearly the ancestor of D&D Third Edition’s epic spells. Both utilize guidelines and tables to allow players and DMs to construct custom spells of great power, usable by wizards or priests. Although High-Level Campaigns compares these to psionic enchantments (calling the latter a formalized development of the former), in fact the two are quite obviously different in virtually every regard.

Other than the example true dweomers in High-Level Campaigns, we don’t see any others…for the most part. One partial exception stands out, however. In Reverse Dungeon, it’s possible for characters to locate the spells invoked devastation and rain of colorless fire. Initially stated as being “9th-level wizard spells that […] have only one-third chance to learn,” a parenthetical note says to use true dweomers from High-Level Campaigns if that book is in play. Both are limited recreations of the original versions, and although they’re not presented with full write-ups, they do have enough described about them to make use of them in a game (though, given the utter annihilation both unleash, including killing the caster, that’s not saying very much).

True Dweomers: Hurd’s obligation, kolin’s undead legion, kreb’s flaming dragon, kreb’s stately veil, nazzer’s nullification, neja’s irresistable plea, neja’s toadstool, neja’s unfailing contempt, ratecliffe’s deadly finger, tenser’s telling blow, wulf’s erasure, wulf’s rectification, yunni’s herald.

War Magic and Battle Spells

Introduced in the Birthright Campaign Setting, and expanded with naval war magic in Cities of the Sun (the latter of which was reprinted in Naval Battle Rules: The Seas of Cerilia), war magic sounds like an incredibly powerful form of new magic. In fact, “war magic” is an entirely artificial distinction, one made solely by Birthright’s mass combat rules. Specifically, “war magic” is the term for existing spells that are large-scale enough to have an effect on mass combat; any other spells cast are simply too insignificant to be represented under the mass combat rules. War magic is broken up into categories based on their effects on a mass combat scenario. The list of war magic spells can be found on war cards #94-101 in the Birthright Campaign Setting.

Transmutations: Transmute rock to mud, transmute water to dust, dig, move earth.

Fogs: Wall of fog, fog cloud, pyrotechnics, solid fog, obscurement, control weather.

Massmorphs: Massmorph, hallucinatory forest, mass invisibility.

Hallucinatory Terrain: The hallucinatory terrain spell has its own war card in the Birthright Campaign Setting explaining its effects in battles.

Walls: Wall of ice, wall of fire, wall of stone, wall of force, wall of iron, wall of thorns.

Blesses: Bless, chant, prayer.

Wizard Spells (D – attacking unit is destroyed): Cloudkill, death fog, prismatic spray, incendiary cloud, meteor swarm, prismatic wall, prismatic sphere.

Wizard Spells (R – attacking unit is routed): Fireball, lightning bolt, ice storm, death spell, delayed blast fireball, symbol, power word stun, power word kill.

Wizard Spells (F – attacking unit falls back): Phantasmal force, improved phantasmal force, spectral force, fear, advanced illusion, chaos, permanent illusion, programmed illusion.

Priest Spells (D – attacking unit is destroyed): Fire storm.

Priest Spells (R – attacking unit is routed): Call lightning, flame strike, blade barrier, fire seeds, creeping doom, symbol, earthquake, holy word.

Priest Spells (F – attacking unit falls back): Pyrotechnics, insect plague, sunray, illusory artillery, spike growth, spike stones.

The following listings are from war cards #CS91-CS98 in Cities of the Sun (reprinted as war cards #SC44-SC51 in Naval Battle Rules). These are specifically with regard to naval war magic, meaning that they target ships and crews rather than ground-based armies. While these have some overlap with the war magic spells listed above, there are enough differences (i.e. spells being added, deleted, and moved between categories, as well as aggregating wizard and priest attack spells into a single entry) to warrant listing them separately here:

Crew-affecting Spells (D – attacking unit is destroyed): Cloudkill, death fog.

Crew-affecting Spells (R – attacking unit is routed): Blade barrier, chaos, symbol, mass charm, fear, prismatic spray, death spell.

Crew-affecting Spells (F – attacking unit falls back): Confusion, pyrotechnics, insect plague, web, rainbow pattern, hypnotic pattern.

Illusions: Phantasmal force, improved phantasmal force, spectral force, advanced illusion, permanent illusion, programmed illusion.

Fog: Wall of fog, fog cloud, pyrotechnics, obscurement, control weather.

Movement Spells: Control weather, control winds, gust of wind.

Barriers: Solid fog, wall of force, lower water, otiluke’s freezing sphere, wall of ice.

Bless: Bless, chant, prayer.

Turn Wood: The turn wood spell has its own war card, allowing the caster to move a single vessel one “battle area” in the direction of their choice.

Attack Spells (D – attacking unit is destroyed): Disintegrate, incendiary cloud, meteor swarm, fire storm.

Attack Spells (R – attacking unit is routed): Fireball, lightning bolt, delayed blast fireball, wall of fire, chain lightning, call lightning, produce fire, fire seeds.

Attack Spells (H – attacking unit is damaged): Flame arrow, melf’s minute meteors, warp wood, flame strike.

Battle spells – listed in The Book of Magecraft and The Book of Priestcraft – are a related category of war magic, in that a “battle spell” is a mass combat variation of a spell that would ordinarily not have an effect on large-scale battles. So while a magic missile spell would not have any notable effect on a mass combat, rain of magic missiles would. Both books list the methods by which battle spells may be researched (and improved upon). Battle spells do not take up a higher level than their tactical counterparts, but often require greater components to cast. Moreover, the books mention that battle spells are not made for a small-scale tactical engagement, and that DMs will need to adjudicate when a situation is or is not a mass combat encounter.

In the listings below, the parenthetical number indicates the spell’s level:

Wizard Battle Spells: Charm unit (1), rain of magic missiles (1), glittering shower (2), rolling fire (2), flying troops (3), monster unit summoning I (3), slow unit (3), aura of invulnerability (4), enchanted weapons (4), stoneskinned army (4), animate army (5), shadow troops (5), wolf in the fold (5).

Priest Battle Spells: Erik’s entanglement (1), avani’s asylum (1), oaken strike (1), turn undead unit (1), barkskinned unit (1), charm unit (2), hammer storm (2), animate army (3), dispel battle magic (3), haelyn’s holy warding (3), cure unit (4), ruornil’s silver robes (4).

Elven High Magic

The idea of elves having a form of subtle yet supremely powerful magic is one that predates D&D. However, while the game was quite comfortable with nodding in that direction, the demihuman level limits for elves caused a contradiction between what was alluded to and what was possible under the game rules. Insofar as the Forgotten Realms was concerned, the answer to that was that elves had a powerful form of ritual magic known as “High Magic.” While typically used as a background element, game rules for High Magic were finally presented in Cormanthyr: Empire of the Elves, another product in the “Arcane Age” line.

High Magic rituals are, at the top end, extremely powerful, but this is balanced by extremely stringent requirements and heavy backlash effects on the casters. Rituals are divided into three categories (from weakest to strongest): Solitude, Complement, and Myriad. Each ritual has two listings, the first in Elvish and the second being the Common translation. Both are given below:

Rituals of Solitude: Adoessuor/”The Reverie of Ages,” Akh’Faen’Tel’Quess/”Life of Duty, Form of the People’s Need,” Daoin’Teague’Feer/”Starshine Upon the People,” Evaliir’Enevahr/”The Song of Evenahr,” Kai’Soeh’takal/”Skin and Breath of the Wyrm,” Ol’Iirtal’Eithun/”Flights of True Mark, Arrows of Art,” Saloh’Cint’Nias/”Gift of Alliance,” Theur’foqal/”Summoned Shield, Conjured Screen,” U’Aestar’Kess/”One Heart, One Mind, One Breath,” Vuorl’Kyshuf/”A Message on Birds’ Wings to Silver.”

Rituals of Complement: Ahrmaesuol/”The High Revival, Restoration,” Ghaatiil/”The Traveling Path,” Ialyshae’Seldar’Wihylos/”Sacraments of the Seldarine Blessing,” Fhaor’Akh’Tel’Quess/”Tribute of One’s Duty to the People,” N’Maernthor/”Hidden Homeland,” N’Tel’Orar/”Corrosion/Erosion,” Oacil’Quevan/”The Forms of Unity and Age Among Forests,” Quamaniith/”The Vow Tangible,” Suyoll/”The Revival.”

Rituals of Myriad: Arrn’Tel’Orar/”Storm Erosion,” Elaorman/”Place from All Around and Nowhere, Home of Summoning,” N’Quor’Khaor/”The Banishing, Binding Outside of the People’s Lands,” Uaul’Selu’Keryth/”The Sundering, At War with the Weave.”

Realm Spells

Realm spells are another type of large-scale magic found in the Birthright setting. Initially presented in the Birthright Campaign Setting – with more found in The Book of Magecraft and The Book of Priestcraft – realm magic requires that a wizard or priest not only have a divine bloodline, but also have mastered a domain and formed a connection to it. Casting a realm spell requires a realm with enough inherent magic (or enough devotional energy, for priests), sufficient gold, enough of a connection to the land, requisite personal power, and a month of time. But as exacting as that is, the results can be well worth it.

Realm spells do not have spell levels. Instead, each requires a sufficient character level (that is, level of wizard or priest; these days we’d call it “caster level”) in order to cast, among other prerequisites as listed above. In the listings below, the parenthetical numbers indicate the necessary character level in order to cast each realm spell.

Wizard Realm Spells: Alchemy (1st), dispel realm magic (1st), scry (1st), subversion (1st), battle fury (2nd) (TBoM), coffer credit (2nd) (TBoM), detect ley line (2nd) (TBoM), inflame (2nd) (TBoM), royal facade (2nd) (TBoM), trace ley line (2nd) (TBoM), demagogue (3rd), ley trap (3rd) (TBoM), mask ley line (3rd) (TBoM), mass destruction (3rd), summoning (3rd), transport (3rd), gold rush (4th) (TBoM), protect source (4th) (TBoM), regent site (4th) (TBoM), death plague (5th), feign destruction (5th) (TBoM), protect ley line (5th) (TBoM), stronghold (5th), warding (5th), defection (6th) (TBoM), legion of dead (7th), ley ward (7th) (TBoM), raze (7th), shadow block (8th) (TBoM), deactivate ley line (9th) (TBoM), enhance source (9th) (TBoM), deplete mebhaighl (10th) (TBoM), siphon mebhaighl (12th) (TBoM), sunder ley line (12th) (TBoM), poison source (16th) (TBoM).

Priest Realm Spells: Bless army (1st), bless land (1st), dispel realm magic (1st), investiture (1st), protection from realm magic (1st) (TBoP), true believer (1st) (TBoP), holy war (2nd) (TBoP), magical tithe (2nd) (TBoP), maintain armies (2nd) (TBoP), blight (3rd), population growth (3rd) (TBoP), ward realm (3rd) (TBoP), bless holding (4th) (TBoP), conversion(4th) (TBoP), excommunicate (5th) (TBoP), honest dealings (5th), legion of dead (5th) (TBoP), erik’s mighty forests (6th) (TBoP), one true faith (12th) (TBoP), consecrate relic (16th) (TBoP).

High Sciences

Unlike everything mentioned up until now, the high sciences are not a form of magic. Rather, they’re psionic in nature. This is not an insignificant point, as psionics – initially presented in PHBR5 The Complete Psionics Handbook, and later updated in Player’s Option: Skills & Powers (with the updated rules being reprinted in the Dark Sun Campaign Setting Revised and Expanded) – in AD&D 2E are very different from magic, and the default is that they don’t interact with each other unless something says that they do.

While psionics are used in psionic enchantments (listed above), those are more magical in nature than psionic. Rather, psionic enchantments utilize a character’s psionic abilities to hone their mind to handle stronger magical powers (to paraphrase what it says in Dragon Kings). However, high sciences – presented in The Will and the Way – are entirely psionic in nature. Each one of the apex of a particular psionic discipline, and only a single-classed psionicist can attempt to learn one (so would-be users of psionic enchantments should become a psionicist first in order to learn a high science, and then dual-class). Even then, they can only learn the high science for their primary discipline, and learning it requires intense research. Each one is listed below, with its associated psionic discipline noted parenthetically.

High Sciences: Cosmic awareness (clairsentience), elemental composition (psychometabolism), mass contact (telepathy), megakinesis (psychokinesis), planar transposition (psychoportation).

Bonus: Immortal-Level Spells

Everything up until now has been with regard to AD&D Second Edition, largely because that’s the only edition that really had magic that went above and beyond standard spellcasting…with one exception.

The Immortals of (what’s now called) Basic Dungeons & Dragons, or BD&D, were initially introduced in Set 5: Immortals Rules. While this provided rules for PCs to ascend beyond mortality and become gods (strictly speaking the Immortals were said not to be gods, but in practical terms this was a distinction without a difference), it had comparatively little to say about what magic Immortals used, largely restricting itself to how mortal spells could be invoked via expenditures of an Immortal’s innate power.

This was tweaked when the Immortal-level rules were revised in Wrath of the Immortals. While these rules still kept the ability of Immortals to directly invoke mortal spells (often with a few upgrades), this set introduced Immortal-level spells, being magic that only Immortals could learn and cast. These spells are as follows:

Immortal-Level Spells: Bestow, conceal magical nature, create species, detect immortal magic, hear supplicants, immortal eye, increase spell duration, power attack, probe, probe-shield, reduce saving throw, shape reality, transform.


With eight different listings for AD&D 2E and one for Basic D&D, these represent the sum total of what could reasonably be considered “epic” magic in pre-Third Edition D&D. As noted at the beginning of the article, there are plenty of other magic systems out there for AD&D 2E – such as the rune magic of vikings and giants, for example – but these are the ones that push the limits of what magic (and psionics) is normally capable of under the game rules. If you plan on using them in your game, take care that they don’t make a mess of your campaign, as using epic magic without due consideration can result in a catastrophe of epic proportions.

Dark Sunstroke

September 27, 2015

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.

Solar Analysis

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.