Stealing from Athas

One of the AD&D settings that I really liked was the Dark Sun setting, it gave me that feeling of my character struggling to survive on the magic blasted desert world of Athas, with bone weapons being the norm and metal being a preciously guarded resource; one of the other things I liked about it was that it was (as far as I am aware) one of the first AD&D campaign settings to incorporate psionics into it as part of the core world rather than as just an extra tagged on almost as an after-thought.
I’ve been looking for an alternate ‘magic’ system for my nordic god-pocalypse campaign that differs from the standard Vancian magic system used in D&D/Pathfinder; this is not because I have any great dislike of vancian magic, I think it works fine with D&D, it’s not the best system in the world but it’s far from the worst, however I generally prefer a points based system and in my setting magic of all types failed when the gods died in the apocalypse. Psionics seems like a natural alternative to the standard D&D magic systems and I am avidly reading through Psionics Unleashed by Dreamscarred Press; in the Dark Sun campaign setting every player character had a randomly determined wild psionic talent, I want to emphasise that only the strong or those with an edge survived the god-pocalypse and that those races surviving the night of the burning stars were changed by the events of the apocalypse. Although I don’t fancy having random psionic talents for my character, I do like the idea of each PC having a random psionic talent and am considering giving each of the PCs the following feat at character gen for free:
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Hidden Talent
( Expanded Psionics Handbook, p. 67) 
Your mind wakes to a previously unrealized talent for psionics.
This feat can only be taken at 1st level.
Your latent power of psionics flares to life, conferring upon you the designation of a psionic character. As a psionic character, you gain a reserve of 2 power points, and you can take psionic feats, metapsionic feats, and psionic item creation feats. If you have or take a class that grants power points, the power points gained from Hidden Talent are added to your total power point reserve.
When you take this feat, choose one 1st-level power from any psionic class list. You know this power (it becomes one of your powers known). You can manifest this power with the power points provided by this feat if you have a Charisma score of 11 or higher. If you have no psionic class levels, you are considered a 1st-level manifester when manifesting this power. If you have psionic class levels, you can manifest the power at the highest manifester level you have attained. (This is not a manifester level, and it does not add to any manifester levels gained by taking psionic classes.) If you have no psionic class levels, use Charisma to determine how powerful a power you can manifest and how hard those powers are to resist.
Note: This is an expanded version of the Wild Talent feat, intended for use in high-psionics campaigns
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My current idea is that, since I am planning to lift the non-psionic classes from Iron Heroes, I will mesh the token-pools acquired to power class abilities (see my review of Iron Heroes for details) in the Iron Heroes classes with the Psionic Point Pool from Psionics Unleashed; each class will have a single pool of tokens that they can use to both power class abilities and psionic powers.
I can see a couple of parallels between the world of Athas and the campaign that I want to create, both settings have suffered an apocalyptic event which has ravished the land and made it harder to survive on the planet and psionics are more prevalent in Athas (and will be in my campaign) than traditional D&D/Pathfinder settings; I also intend to lift the idea of most weapons and armour being made from bone and other materials more easily located than metal, also metal items tend to cause people to lose body temperature far more quickly and thus would not be particularly common in my setting – given that most items will not be made of metal I will probably use normal equipment stats and then add a small bonus for metal items but say that it increases the cold damage from the environment by some amount.

Ideas for a nordic world

So continuing on with my theme of designing a post Ragnarok god-pocalypse world (a term that I may use in the game material I knock up for the players should the campaign get off the ground) i’ve started looking at the Norse creation mythos and diagrams of the nordic mythological cosmology.
Creation Mythos
A brief description of norse mythology can be found here:
Since my idea is not going to be a strict duplication of norse mythology, I am going to select elements from it for inclusion in the game, thus far i’m looking at the following as possible aspects for incorporation:
  • Prior to the creation of the world there exists a void between the lands of Muspelheim (realm of fire) and Nifelheim (realm of ice).
  • The fire and ice meet, the ice melts forming Ymir the first of the giants.
  • Ymir reproduces asexually, his sweat forming the first race of giants.
  • As the frost continues to melt it reveals the cow Audhumbla who nourishes Ymir with her milk and licks the ice for nourishment.
  • Audhumblas licking of the ice uncovers the first of the Aesir gods.
  • The Aesir, lead by Odin slay Ymir and form the world from his corpse, the oceans are made of his blood, the soil from skin and muscles, vegetation from his hair, clouds from his brains and the sky from his skull.
  • Four dwarves at each cardinal point hold up the sky.
  • Dwarves originate at maggots in the body of Ymir.

Below is a diagram showing the nine worlds of the nordic cosmology:
I’ve started jotting down a few ideas for how the worlds/elements may look in my campaign world after the apocalypse:
  • Asgard: Following the deaths the gods their golden halls and their dwellings crashed to earth in a night known as the ‘night of burning stars.’
  • Midgard: The main setting of the game, following the apocalypse Midgard is reduced to a frozen wasteland where only the strongest survive against the predation of the Jotun and the Fenrir.
  • Jotunheim: When the final winter was unleashed in the aftermath of the apocalypse, Niflheim surged forward, engulfing Jotunheim and bringing winter in it’s wake.
  • Svartalheim: The land of dark elves, a realm of tunnels and darkness lies below the ground, hidden from the eyes of most, unwary travellers occasional find hidden entrances – few return.
  • Hel: With the demise of the Goddess of Death, her realm ceased to exist, meaning that the spirits of the dead have nowhere to go after their death and often return to haunt the living.
  • Muspelheim: Exists beneath the realm of Svartalheim, providing some heat to the centre of the world; it is rumoured that the following the aftermath of the apocalypse the last dwarves retreating into such deep realms and were not seen again.
  • Yggdrasil: The scorched and shattered trunks of the world tree lies in the centre of the world, small twinkling fragments of Asgard that did not fall orbit around the unobtainable upper reaches, forming the only stars in the night sky.
  • Rainbow Bridge/Bifrost: Destroyed at Ragnarok, the Bifrost shattered and fell to earth as tiny scattered glittering shards, these shards contain dim flickerings of godly magic and are jealously horded/guarded by those who possess them.
  • Midgard Serpent: Slain in the apocalypse the giant skeleton of the Midgard Serpent can be seen poking through the soil in various places of the earth, the bones are often scavenged to make equipment or dwellings.

Ideas for a D&D/Pathfinder game

As my Rogue Trader game progresses and I do the odd bit of work on my D&D FAE hack here and there (in between making Youtube videos for my channel –, my thoughts turn to what sort of campaign and game system I might like to run next; for the last few months it’s been the Lorien Trust LARP mainline season (the time when they run their big 4 events) and i’ve pretty much been concentrating on that and running the odd tabletop session, now that the mainline season has finished i’ve got a bit more time to think about potential future games (also to write up my last Rogue Trader session).
I’m reading a couple of fantasy books at the moment and, inspired by a lot of youtube videos that I have been watching, have been leafing through my old D&D books; i’m also playing in an interesting Pathfinder game run by my friend John Miles which has us exploring a strange other world via a fantasy equivalent of the stargate, the idea of character from one D&D world exploring other planes of existence has always been one that i’ve enjoyed since the original AD&D Planescape setting and so i’m quite enjoying playing the bespectacled scholar who is on his first trip out of the library (despite his age) and is overwhelmed by the potential wealth of information in this strange magic-rich world. All of these factors have got me thinking that it’s been a long while since I actually ran any fantasy/D&D-esque style games, I tend to go for grim contemporary settings like the nWoD or, more recently, darker sci-fi settings such as Shadowrun and Rogue Trader.
D&D with a twist
When running D&D/Pathfinder or any other similar games I generally try to put a little bit of an interesting spin on it, this is mostly because myself and my regular group of players have played in numerous D&D games over the years and the standard Greyhawk or Forgotten Realms game can seem a little stale after a while; not to say that we don’t still enjoy breaking out the Forgotten Realms books on occasion, certainly I have a fondness for Faerun as do a number of my players, we’ve also played numerous Eberron D&D games (and I know John is a big fan of that setting). Possibly my favourite D&D setting that i’ve ran sticks in my mind not so much for the setting but because it introduced elements of time travel into it; being aware that time travel games can create all sorts of problems it was done via a plot device to restrict temporal travel.
Although a lot of details in the setting faded from my memory I do remember that in the past of the setting at some point an evil sorceror had attempted to summon an army of undead to overwhelm the globe and had narrowly been prevented from doing so; the player party (although they had lost a couple of characters including the halfling Pip Ratcatched and the Paladin Delembrandt by then due to various incidents) were sent back in time to this point where, due to their interference the ritual to summon the dead army was interrupted at a crucial point, causing the energies to run wild and tearing a large portal open to the plane of undeath. When the player characters made it back to the present time they found that this portal had allowed legions of undead to storm onto the prime material plane and the future now choked under the oppresive regime of a vampire monarchy lead by none other than the Vampire Lord Delembrandt, a darker version of their old friend who had fallen to the undead hordes and had been raised as a vampire, becoming a fearsome Blackguard; one of the other players was also able to “resurrect” the fallen Pip Ratchcatcher but playing a much grimmer, vampire hunting alternate future version of the character. The game was a bit of a mess (mainly due to my own youthful lack of planning and foresight) and we never really got to finish it, but I certainly found it enjoyable and the players seemed to quite enjoy it.
So what to do now?
I’ve been knocking around the idea of doing a setting with a Nordic flavour for a while, even going so far as to by the D&D book Frostburn because I find the idea of a world encased largely in ice a very cool visual and it would allow me to pull on a lot real-world mythological resources and forteana; in the Nordic myths the gods are set against the background of an apocalyptic Ragnarok that will result in the deaths of most deities and this idea has been visited a few times in various RPG settings. I was reading about the Midnight setting (which i’ve only played briefly), a setting that basically retread the same ground as Lord of the Rings but at a point where the Dark Lord has effectively won the day and subdjugated most of the known world, the players taking on the roles of resistance fighters trying to overthrow the evil regime; it struck me that this ‘after the bomb’ style might be what i’m looking for in a D&D setting.
I’m sure this has been also address in a number of RPGs as well, however, it’s not something that i’m aware my regular group has particularly played before.
So i’ve started jotting down a few thoughts and ideas about what i’d do in this setting, i’ve jotted them below:
– Before the world was a land of fire and ice.
– Gods pushed back the ice giants to the northern and southernmost parts of the world.
– Gods pushed the fire giants down to the centre of the world and imprisoned them there, providing heat that their new creation might live.
– Deities used to exist.
Signs of Ragnarok:
– It sates itself on the life-blood of fated men.
– Paints red the powers homes with crimson gore.
– Black become the suns beams.
– A wind age, a wolf age.
– The world tree shudders.
– The Jotun come from the east.
– Loki breaks free of his imprisonment.
– The fiery inhabitants of Muspelheim come forth.
– Surtr advances from the south.
– The gods go to war.
– Odin is swallowed whole fighting Fenrir.
– Freyr fights Surtr and loses.
– Jormungandr is met in combat by Thor, he defeats it but only takes 9 steps before collapsing.
– The sun becomes black while the earth sinks into the sea, the stars vanish, steam rises, and flames touch the heavens.
– An apocalyptic event occurred that resulted in the deaths of the deities.
– Their bodies fell to earth from the heavens where they because some sort of features (possibly statues that have a minor magical effect around them).
– Divine magic ceased functioning.
– No longer in fear of the Gods, the ice giants moved across the world once again, bringing the cold and snow with them.
– Many peoples perished in the climate changes but some societies were able to survive, albeit reduced to a primitive state.
– Low magic game (possibly using the Iron Heroes alternate players handbook).
– Main focus of the game would be survival at first, followed by discovering the history of the world, then possibly having the player characters push back the ice and rise to replace the old dead gods.
Obviously i’ll be intending to do some more research on this and formalising some of these ideas before actually running it ad a game, but this is my starting off point.
Any thoughts/comments gratefully received.