Jesse Heinig (trekhead) wrote,
Jesse Heinig

Running Dark Sun: The Order

In the DARK SUN campaign setting, spellcasters face specific threats and challenges in tandem with the powers that they wield. Preservers and defilers are both pariahs and social outcasts; defilers have special difficulty concealing their magic, while preservers are specifically hunted and killed by the sorcerer-kings (not to mention angry mobs who don't understand the distinction between the two styles of arcane magic). Clerics are constantly pushed to promote the agendas of their elemental patrons, while druids will find themselves fighting against the encroachment of city-dwellers and resource exploiters, not to mention against mages who might defile the druid's guarded lands. Psionicists, by contrast, are largely accepted in society; nobles send their children to psionic schools, psionic mercenaries work for merchant houses as guards and information-gatherers, and slave tribes rely on both wild talents and trained psionic abilities for defense. Psionic powers don't have the stigma attached to wizardry, nor do they have repressive pall of the templarate or the revolutionary cast often attributed to elemental clerics. Psychic powers are, for the most part, free of any prejudices. This means that playing a psionic character is an attractive path for players avoiding the difficulties that spellcasters face.

If you're looking to throw a few curves at your campaign's psionic characters, though, perhaps you want to give your psychics a hard time with some enemies and some covert agendas. The Dragon Kings sourcebook introduced the Order, a loose association of very high-level psionicsts who police the use of psychic powers and pursue psionic knowledge as its own end. The Order refrains from taking a stance on any moral or ethical issues, instead considering the pursuit of psychic development their highest and only calling. To this end, though, the Order also polices other psions -- and those who use psionic power as a tool to greater ends, whether good or evil, will face the retribution of the Order for "polluting" the purity of psionic thought.

Normally, the Order is a problem for very high-level characters. Powerful psionicists are pressured to join, or they must avoid the Order while pursuing their personal agendas. If you want to create some issues for your lower-level psionic characters, though, the Order is a great way to do it!

Here are a few ideas for how you can use the Order to create complications for lower-level psionic characters.

  • As the Order consists solely of very high-level psionicists, its membership is small. If the Order lacks a member who specializes in a particular field of psychic power -- telepathy, psychometabolism, whatever -- they might look for a "promising recruit" who has a gift for that discipline and subtly groom the character for later membership. At first this could take the form of mysterious assistance, "chance" encounters with helpful people or strange visions or dreams (sent telepathically, of course) that help to guide the character. As the PC becomes a powerful psion, the Order takes a more active hand and tries to influence the character to pursue psionic power devoid of any other attachments. Naturally, PCs in DARK SUN always have other attachments -- at the very least, their friends and allies in the adventuring group -- and the Order may try to remove these attachments by any means necessary!

  • The Order could take an interest in collecting certain psionic items or pieces of creatures and serve as a patron at arm's length. While the PCs might not realize right away that they're working for the Order, an agent could offer jobs for the PCs to collect items that one of the Order's members finds useful for research. Later, the PCs might realize that they've been helping a ruthlessly amoral psionicist to improve his or her power.

  • A character with some promise but a particular flaw that the Order finds insurmountable -- such as a strong attachment to a specific ethos, or a decision to abandon the study of psionics for some other field such as arcane magic -- is maneuvered into a relationship with an agent of the Order, with an eye toward the long goal of capturing the character's children in hopes of breeding powerful psions who can be raised by the Order's agents.

  • Since the Order's membership is small, the personal agendas of individuals in the Order might come out. Rivalries between two members of the Order could trickle down to using the PCs as pawns set against the minions of another member of the Order. At first the PCs simply think that they're hunting down slavers or evil psions or other undesirables, but later they discover that they're enmeshed in a conspiracy, and the Order members use their psychic powers to cover their tracks, make people forget what's happened, and erase all signs of their tampering.

  • The PCs are pegged as likely candidates for experimentation and whisked away to an Order stronghold from which they must escape.

  • A member of the Order learns that a particular location is a wellspring of psychic power, and decides to arrange events so that the PCs will clear the path there and incidentally trigger any traps or guardians before the Order member moves in to claim the location.

Depending upon how you set up the Order in your game, you might decide that there are only a half-dozen psionicists in the world who are powerful enough to be members, or you could decide that the Order numbers dozens. If there are very few members, then they will tend to be very cautious, and a PC reaching the exalted levels of mastery necessary to join would be a big event. Everyone in the Order would jockey to sponsor the PC and influence him or her, in hopes of using the PC to strengthen a personal power bloc. If the Order is larger, the addition of a single person might not make as much of a big splash, and instead the PC may have many tasks to complete to find sponsorship.

Since a very high level psionicist is probably too much of an antagonist for lower-level parties, you'll want to use intermediaries and agents who work for the Order, whether they know it or not. (Any psionicist above 20th level should have no trouble either mind-controlling people or simply creating agents from the ether.) Here are some new game systems to help flesh out such characters!

New Kit: Order Operative (2nd edition DARK SUN)
Though the Order's members are incredibly powerful, they shroud themselves in secrecy to avoid drawing the attention of other potent beings such as the Dragon or the sorcerer-monarchs. To enact their whims, they rely upon operatives who have been conditioned to work in the interests of the Order without necessarily realizing it. Especially competent operatives are sometimes told of their role so that they can work more closely with the Order's goals, but most simply follow the direction of a member of the Order without ever realizing that they are being manipulated.
Requirements: An Order operative does not need any specific ability scores -- in fact, many operatives have somewhat low Wisdom scores, as such people are easier to manipulate. The Order does tend to avoid imprinting people of extreme alignment convictions (Lawful Good, Chaotic Good, Lawful Evil, Chaotic Evil), as such people tend to interpret their Order instructions in ways that do not fit the Order's general agenda.
Role: Low-level Order Operatives are essentially cogs in a conspiracy. Higher-level Order Operatives are valued minions, and those whose goals mesh well with the Order -- that is, those who believe in the essential purity of psychic power and psionic thought, even if they are not themselves psionicists -- can become useful allies called upon for their specialized knowledge. Those who are not psionicists, though, will always be considered second-class citizens.
Secondary Skills: Any -- the Order can find use for people from all walks of life.
Weapon Proficiencies: Recommended: Club, dagger. Order Operatives are encouraged to use simple, easy-to-conceal weapons.
Nonweapon Proficiencies: Bonus: Observation. Recommended: Alertness, Reading/Writing, Rejuvenation. The Order values members who keep their eyes and ears open and have the means to pay attention to useful rumors and events. Study of psionic meditation is also encouraged.
Armor/Equipment: An Order Operative does not have any specific armor or weapons -- an operative who is a gladiator will likely be well-armed, while a shopkeeper would probably only have weapons for defense of his or her shop -- but an operative who is sent on a specific dangerous task might be loaned a useful psionic item.
Special Benefits:
Awakened Talent: To make better use of their agents, the Order "tweaks" its operatives to unlock more of their psionic potential, generally via psychic surgery. Every Order Operative gains an additional Wild Talent, even if the character normally would not qualify for a wild talent. If the character already possesses a talent that is rolled, roll again. As usual, add the PSP necessary to invoke the talent to the character's PSP pool.
Order Resources: When the Order needs to use an operative for a mission, the operative may be temporarily loaned a psionic item that is useful to the task at hand. The item will generally be a single miscellaneous item, or possibly a charged item (often with only some of its normal charges remaining). If the Order Operative is an unwitting agent (see below), then the item will come into his or her hands through happenstance, a lucky trade, a sudden will from a distant relative, or other unusual "coincidence" (all arranged, of course). Note that unwitting agents do not have the ability to ask for specific items; rather, they will simply find that from time to time they happen to acquire something that winds up being useful (like a device that influences the reactions of a nosy templar, a tattoo that causes fear in an enemy warrior, and so on). An awakened agent (an operative who knows about the Order and his or her position with respect to it) can request Order resources from a patron, but the masters of the Order are not beholden to supplying anything if they decide it isn't necessary.
Single Agent: When the Order imprints an operative, they make sure that the agent won't be suborned by outside control. An Order Operative gains a +4 bonus on all saving throws vs. mind control powers from someone who is not a member of the Order.
Special Hindrances:
Lack of Agency: The Order might call upon one of its Operatives at any time, and when this happens, the character has little choice but to obey. Perhaps the character was created as a construct and imprinted to obey, or an Order telepath might have deeply implanted memories and feelings that cause the character to respond to certain phrases or actions. An Order Operative who is not aware that he or she is programmed in this fashion is called an unwitting agent, and generally believes that he or she exercises free will and has no conscious knowledge of the Order's conspiratorial plans. Unwitting agents find that they sometimes have odd dreams or sudden desires that they can't explain, and this pushes them to undertake risky acts -- defying templars, seeking out criminal enterprises, or meeting with rogues and bards. The DM is encouraged to structure adventures such that, from time to time, the Order Operative will suddenly feel an uncontrollable urge or impulse to do something, often something either dangerous or foolish, and won't know why.
Order Operatives who have been brought fully into the fold and who know about the Order are called awakened agents. An awakened agent knows about the Order, understands its agenda, and works to complete missions via free will. Such operatives often have means to contact at least one member of the Order and can make special requests for equipment if needed. These requests are not always granted, though if an agent makes a good case for how a specific item can complete an important mission, an Order patron will usually provide it.
Players can choose whether their characters are unwitting or awakened agents, subject to the DM's needs for the campaign, but in general characters aren't awakened to the Order's agenda until at least 10th level.
Programmed: Order Operatives are deeply programmed by the Order, and members of the Order can command them without even using psionic abilities. The mere invocation of certain phrases, inflections, and stances will cause a subconscious trigger that brings about compliance from the operative. If a member of the Order invokes this level of control on an operative -- which can be done simply by speaking directly to the operative -- the player must make a saving throw vs. Spells with a -4 penalty, or the character is compelled to obey. If the saving throw is failed, the player may attempt a new one on each successive round. A successful saving throw manages to throw off the control, but if three saving throws are failed in a row, the character is completely dominated by the commands of the master of the Order, and the master can also choose to cause the character to forget everything that happened during the period in which the commands were executed. The control continues to last so long as the Order master remains in the character's physical presence.

New Feats (3rd edition)
Order Programmed Defenses

No manifester level.
You gain a +4 bonus on all Will saves against mind-affecting psionic abilities that are not manifested by a member of the Order.

Order Patronage

Must have peaceful contact with a member of the Order, alignment any neutral.
You have patronage from a member of the Order. Your patron will occasionally offer you jobs or provide you with important tasks, but the patron will also give you charged psionic items or temporary use of items so that you can complete important tasks for the Order. When your patron requests that you undertake a job, the patron will provide you with a psionic item with a value equal to 15% of your expected character wealth by level, as shown in the Dungeon Master's Guide. For instance, a 3rd-level character (expected character wealth of 2,700 ceramic pieces) could gain the use of a psionic item or items totalling no more than 405 ceramic pieces. Any item not used must be returned at the end of the mission.

Order Awakened Talent

No manifester level.
You gain one additional wild talent, randomly determined from the list of 1st-level general psion powers. You gain two additional psionic power points.

Background: Order Operative (5th edition)
You were chosen to work as an agent of the Order, the shadowy psychic conspiracy comprising the most powerful collection of psionicists on Athas. You may not even be aware that you work for the Order's goals, but they have subtly steered your life to make sure that you develop skills and motivations useful to them.
Skills: Insight, Perception.
Languages: Dwarven, Elven, or Kreen.
Tools: One set of artisan's tools.
Equipment: An extra set of common clothing, one set of artisan's tools (matching your tool proficiency), one simple weapon, a pouch with two days' worth of food, a toy or trinket with a faint residue of psychic energy, 10 ceramic pieces.
Feature: Order Patronage. A member of the Order (or possibly a higher-placed agent) watches over you and calls upon your talents from time to time. You may or may not be aware of when you are performing jobs for the Order -- it's possible that opportunities simply "fall into your lap." When you are sent on a job for the Order, a contact usually provides you with a specific set of gear that will be useful for the job. Since the Order includes psychics who can see the future with great clarity, you may find yourself "gifted" with a strange device that has no obvious function, but which suddenly becomes critical to a particular adventure at hand. The nature of this device will depend upon what the DM has planned for your adventure -- if you are undertaking a mission to recover an item from an ancient ruin, the loaned object could be something used to locate the objective, or a weapon to control or defeat the monsters in the ruins. If you're expected to fight against another psionicist, the item might be a protective object that grants you a bonus on your saving throws against psychic powers. In general, the object will have a bonus no greater than +1 per three full character levels (and you will only receive mundane aid if you are 1st or 2nd level). Alternatively, you might be temporarily gifted with a charged item, such as a dorje (psychic wand) or tattoo (a one-use psychic power, much like a potion). If you've been fully brought into the fold and you understand your role as an operative of the Order, you can make special requests, but your patron is under no obligation to honor them.
Suggested Characteristics:
Personality Trait (d6)

  1. I have strange habits and mannerisms that result from too many subconscious manipulations.

  2. I am determined to learn more about psionic ability even though it is not one of my greatest talents.

  3. I fear psionicists, because my subconscious mind recoils at the control that the Order exerts over me.

  4. I have become enamored of seeking out treasures and histories of the ancient world, in order to better understand the psionic arts as they evolved in the current age.

  5. I believe that if the sorcerer-monarchs are overthrown and replaced by the compassionate and fair hands of guiding psychics who can monitor thoughts and see the future, a new age of paradise will come about.

  6. I am slow to trust others because everyone has some role, willing or otherwise, in the conspiracies that crisscross Athas.

Ideal (d6)

  1. Awakening. I hope to one day hone my own psychic power to the heights that the Order has achieved. (Lawful)

  2. Dominance. I will use my connections with the Order to bring other people to heel and carve out a niche of my own power. (Evil)

  3. Scholasticism. Pure knowledge for its own sake is the highest calling. (Neutral)

  4. Rejuvenation. Psychic power allows the user to give of himself or herself to others, rather than damaging the world further. (Good)

  5. Rebellion. The world is choked by those who grasp at power, and only learning to throw off mental control and hidden influence will give people a chance to forge a new way. (Choatic)

  6. Despair. The world is long past any chance at repair, and now the only way to survive is to grasp what meager resources are left and turn them to personal causes. (Any)

Bond (d6)

  1. I have worked on many missions with another Order Operative and we have come to trust each other, even if we can't trust anyone else.

  2. I was originally approached by the Order while I was working for a psionic academy, and I am still well-known at that school.

  3. A patron in the noble families raised me up and gave me an opportunity to develop my skills, and those skills and connections brought me to the eye of the Order.

  4. A was once a street urchin and criminal and have not forgotten those bad days, nor have the people I met in those lean times forgotten me.

  5. I was once a slave, but the Order freed me so that I could perform important tasks, and in doing so earned my loyalty -- or as much loyalty is left in me.

  6. I was caught between worlds when I was associated with a small tribe that included both a psion and a wizard, and the two competed as much as they shared knowledge. I still remember lessons from both of them as they tried to win my favor.

Flaw (d6)

  1. After being an operative for so long, I often lack a sense of my own desires or agendas.

  2. When confronted by mentalists who are not of the Order, I become enraged, either because of their short-sightedness or because they remind me of the freedoms that I now lack.

  3. I am deeply suspicious of all psychic items that were not given to me by my patron, because any of them could contain curses or foibles meant to injure or control the agents of the Order.

  4. I don't realize that I am a pawn, and when that realization comes to pass it will shatter my life.

  5. I regard spellcasters with grave suspicion, as they practice a corrupted form of supernatural power that is dangerous and not nearly as controlled as the psychic ways of the Order.

  6. I have trouble working well with those who espouse extreme moral and ethical views because they threaten the balance that the Order seeks for spiritual harmony.

Enjoy . . . minion!
Tags: dark sun, game design
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