A reinterpretation of defiling in 3.5e (and possibly 5E)

I aim to provide a detailed explanation of a spell point system designed specifically for defilers, while leaving preservers with the traditional spell slot system. This approach is intended to accurately depict the thematic differences between these two types of arcane casters, offering an engaging and immersive experience.

Defilers and Preservers: Fundamental Differences:
To comprehend the reasoning behind this proposal, let’s first revisit the core distinctions between defilers and preservers in the Dark Sun setting. Defilers harness life energy from their surroundings to fuel their spells, often causing devastation in the process. In contrast, preservers practice a more sustainable form of magic, tapping into natural energy sources without inflicting harm upon the environment.

Implementing the Spell Point System for Defilers:
The proposed spell point system offers defilers a more flexible way of preparing spells, allocating spell points instead of being confined to traditional spell slots. Here is a breakdown of how the system would work for defilers:

  1. Defilers would have a reserve of spell points based on their class and level, as well as bonus spell points from a high ability score.
  2. Defilers would still need to prepare their spells ahead of time but would allocate their spell points to the spells they wish to prepare.
  3. Spell points are expended upon successful preparation. Once a spell is prepared, it can be cast once without consuming any additional spell points.
  4. Defilers can prepare multiple copies of the same spell, as long as they have enough spell points. Each copy of the spell consumes the appropriate number of spell points during preparation.

This increased flexibility in spell preparation mirrors the defilers’ ability to drain life energy as needed, depending on the situation at hand. By utilizing the spell point system, defilers gain a more authentic portrayal of their volatile and destructive magic.

Maintaining the Traditional Spell Slot System for Preservers:
By preserving the traditional spell slot system for preservers, we emphasize the distinction between their controlled, conservative approach to magic and the defilers’ more reckless methods. This separation reflects the preservers’ commitment to preserving the balance of nature and highlights the contrasting moral implications of their magic.

Addendum: Defiler Sorcerers and the Spell Point System

For defiler sorcerers in the Dark Sun setting, I propose an adaptation of the spell point system that accounts for their spontaneous spellcasting nature. Defiler sorcerers would follow the same rules as regular sorcerers, with a few adjustments to incorporate the spell point system. Here is a breakdown of how the system would work for defiler sorcerers:

1 Defiler sorcerers would have a reserve of spell points based on their class and level, as well as bonus spell points from a high ability score.
2. Unlike prepared spellcasters, defiler sorcerers do not need to prepare spells ahead of time. They retain their spontaneous casting ability, which allows them to choose which spells to cast at the moment of casting.
3. Defiler sorcerers would expend spell points upon casting a spell, rather than upon preparation. The number of spell points consumed would correspond to the level of the spell being cast.
4. As spontaneous casters, defiler sorcerers can cast any spell they know, provided they have enough spell points to cover the cost. They are not locked into spell slots, offering increased flexibility in their spellcasting choices.

By adapting the spell point system for defiler sorcerers, we can maintain their spontaneous casting abilities while still reflecting their unique defiling magic. This approach creates a cohesive and thematic experience for defiler sorcerers in the Dark Sun setting, aligning their mechanics with the core principles of defiling magic without sacrificing their inherent spontaneity.

How the system works: The system is a modification of the system in Unearthed Arcana.


The spell point system presented here allows prepared spellcasters to have more flexibility in preparing their spells each day, without giving them the full spontaneity of spontaneous casters like sorcerers.

Every spellcaster has a reserve of spell points based on their class and level (see Table: Spell Points Per Day). Characters also gain bonus spell points from a high ability score (just as normal spellcasters would gain bonus spells from a high ability score; see Bonus Spell Points and Bonus Spells, below).

Cantrips or 0-level spells consume 1/2 spell point per preparation.

Prepared spellcasters (such as wizards) must still prepare their spells ahead of time, but they allocate their spell points to the spells they wish to prepare instead of using the traditional spell slot system.
Spell points are expended upon successful preparation. Once a spell is prepared, it can be cast once without consuming any additional spell points.
Prepared casters can prepare multiple copies of the same spell as long as they have enough spell points. Each copy of the spell consumes the appropriate number of spell points during preparation.

Metamagic enhancements must be chosen when preparing spells, not when casting them. This means that wizards and other prepared casters must decide which spells to enhance with metamagic when they prepare their spells for the day.

Spontaneous casters, like sorcerers, still have an edge in flexibility, as they can decide which spells to cast on the fly without having to prepare them ahead of time.

For example, a 4th-level generalist wizard with a 16 Intelligence score would have 15 spell points. This wizard could use his 15 spell points to prepare glitterdust (3 points), invisibility (3 points), scorching ray (3 points), featherfall (1 point), color spray (1 point), sleep (1 point), grease (1 point), detect magic (1/2 point), mending (1/2 point), mage hand (1/2 point), and light (1/2 point). Alternately, he could prepare five 2nd-level spells (each costing 3 points) but no other spells. If he wanted, he could prepare three copies of scorching ray (3 points each) and have 6 points left to prepare other spells.

In this system, prepared casters can use their spell points to prepare multiple copies of the same spell, giving them more flexibility in choosing their daily spells.

A character who would normally receive bonus spells from a class feature (such as from wizard specialization) can instead prepare extra spells of the appropriate levels and schools. The character doesn’t get any extra spell points (and thus can’t cast any more spell than normal), but the added flexibility of being able to use the bonus spell more than once per day makes up for that.

For instance, a specialist wizard can prepare one extra spell from the chosen school of each spell level that she can cast.

For example, if a 4th-level wizard were an evoker, she could prepare one additional spell per level, but that spell would have to be from the evocation school. Once it is prepared, she can use that spell just like any of her other spells, casting it once.

Table: Spell Points Per Day

Level Wizard Sorcerer
1st 2 3
2nd 4 5
3rd 7 8
4th 11 14
5th 16 19
6th 24 29
7th 33 37
8th 44 51
9th 56 63
10th 72 81
11th 88 97
12th 104 115
13th 120 131
14th 136 149
15th 152 165
16th 168 183
17th 184 199
18th 200 217
19th 216 233
20th 232 249

Spell Point Costs

Spell Level Spell Point Cost
0 0.5
1st 1
2nd 3
3rd 5
4th 7
5th 9
6th 11
7th 13
8th 15
9th 17

Disregard the extra costs for damaging spells detailed Unearthed Arcana. It is not used in the spell point defiler system.

The Decision to Defile: A Dilemma for Preservers

In the Dark Sun setting, the distinction between defilers and preservers is critical to the campaign’s themes and moral dilemmas. In light of this, I propose a revised variant rule called “The Defiling Choice,” inspired by The Amber Enchantress. This rule allows preservers to make a desperate decision to defile in exchange for regaining the use of a previously cast spell, emphasizing the consequences of choosing to defile.

The Defiling Choice - A Revised Variant Rule for Preservers:

  1. In dire circumstances, a preserver may choose to expend their prepared spell slots to gain spell points in order to regain the use of a spell they have already cast that day and no longer have prepared.
  2. The preserver must sacrifice a number of prepared spell slots with a combined spell point cost equal to the desired spell’s spell point cost.
  3. Upon choosing to defile, the preserver immediately gains a number of spell points equal to the combined spell point cost of the sacrificed spell slots. These spell points can only be used to regain the use of the specific spell the preserver wishes to cast.
  4. The act of defiling has severe consequences, causing environmental destruction and potentially impacting the preserver’s alignment or reputation. The preserver may also face consequences from other characters or factions who are aware of their decision to defile.
  5. As this choice represents a significant moral dilemma for the preserver, the player and the Dungeon Master should carefully roleplay the decision-making process and its aftermath.

The Defiling Choice variant rule provides an opportunity for preservers to face difficult moral decisions and highlights the consequences of choosing to defile. By incorporating this rule into your Dark Sun campaign, you can emphasize the thematic distinction between defilers and preservers and enrich the roleplaying experience for players navigating the harsh world of Athas.

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I may have been overthinking the defiling problem. Here is an alternative. There are 3 minor revisions.

  1. Arcane spells of 0 - 2 do not really defile. They aren’t powerful enough to demand the energy to defile, although some defilers have feats or abilities that make it possible.

  2. Spells of level 3+ defile if you aren’t a preserver. You are a preserver if you have the Preserver Training feat.

  3. Instead of being a mere feat tax, the feat offers a concrete benefit as well.

In the arcane traditions of Dark Sun, magic often draws upon the life energy of the surrounding environment, with the potential to cause damage, particularly when using more powerful spells. However, through dedicated practice and study, some spellcasters learn to harness their magic in a way that minimizes this harm. This practice, known as Preserving, can be mastered through specific training, often represented as a feat.

For lower-level spells (those of 2nd level or below), the energy required is relatively small. These spells, while drawing on the life energy around them, are unlikely to cause significant harm to the environment, akin to picking a single fruit from a tree. Thus, even without specific training, spellcasters can often cast these spells without defiling their surroundings.

This allows nascent magists to begin their arcane spellcasting careers without being found out right away. Similar to the way the Orders of High Sorcerery in the Dragonlance setting leaves minor mages be unless they are able to cast 3rd level spells, spells level 0 - 2 should be non defiling.

However, once a spellcaster begins to cast more potent spells (3rd level and above), the energy required increases significantly. Conjuring a lightning bolt or a fireball, for example, demands a far greater share of life energy, comparable to uprooting an entire tree. Without proper training, casting such spells can cause widespread harm, wilting plants and scorching the earth - this destructive practice is known as Defiling.

Preserver’s Training

Prerequisite: Ability to cast arcane spells

Benefit: You cast arcane spells of 3rd level or higher without defiling. Additionally, a number of times per day equal to your highest arcane spellcasting ability modifier (Intelligence or Charisma, depending on your class), you can treat the environment as one category richer for casting purposes.

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Here’s the rules we’ve been using in our 5e campaign. I can’t claim to be the mind that first created them. I believe I blended them from a couple of published 5e fan rulesets with a twist or two of my own.

This first part is definitely 100% lifted from someone else:
Wizard Feature: Arcane Defiling
All wizards, regardless of their path, must draw the energy of the land in order to cast spells. A wizard who does so without care defiles the land, withering plants and ruining soil. The power of the land however, can strengthen spells. Wizards who choose to defile when they cast a spell treat those spells as if cast with a spell slot one level higher than the spell slot actually spent. Also a wizard adds their spell casting ability modifier to the total of any damage dealt by the spell, and the saving throw DC of any such spell is increased by one.

When the land is defiled in this way, it leaves a ring of lifeless earth and ashen plant remains for a radius (in feet) around the based on the amount of vegetation and power of the spell. Defiling with a cantrip leaves a barren area of half the radius of a 1st level spell, based on environment, with a minimum of a 5 foot space, centered on the caster.


Casting Multiple Spells from the Same Location:
If a defiler casts more than one spell from the same location, the radius of destroyed vegetation expands around him. Consult the Defiler Magical Destruction Table (above) for the highest level spell cast from that location, then add five feet for every other spell cast. (Spells equal to the highest level spell are treated as additional spells).

For example, the defiler Grifyan casts a lightning bolt, a 3rd level spell, while in the scrub plains. The area of ash around him will be 20 feet. In the next round, he casts a magic missile spell, expanding the radius of ash by 5 feet, bringing the total of burnt earth to 25 feet. In the third round, Grifyan decides to unleash Cloudkill, a 5th‐level spell. Since this is the highest‐level spell cast from this location, the area of ash is recalculated; 25 feet for the 5th‐level spell, plus 5 feet each for the two lower‐level spells cast, for a total radius of ash of 35 feet.

Arcane Recovery
As per the PHB, but you may choose to defile to recover expended spell slots, reducing the time to 1 action rather than a short rest. The land is defiled as if you cast spells of the same levels as the slots recovered.

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I think this part about the Preserver is homebrew.

So long as a spell is cast by a Preserver using preserving magic, the caster may use sleight of hand and deception checks in an attempt conceal his arcane nature or to conceal that they were the source of a spell. The visible effects of a spell (for example, a lightning bolt or fireball) cannot be concealed.

I do really like the idea of your Preserver feat though. It extends the time players have to decide whether or not they are going to be a Preserver or a Defiler, giving time for their early play experiences to shape their thinking.

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It’s a decent point, that defilers need a way to start their careers without immediately being found out and shut down, otherwise only really state sponsored and tribal defilers make sense.


Not sure about that. Given that wizards are nearly universally maligned, any nascent defiler or preserver in a town/city-state would be taught to hide their magic from an early age, unless they happened to teach themselves.

Maybe there’s a first level feature choice of Hidden Magic or Reflexive Magic. Hidden Magic allows you to use your Proficiency bonus when using Sleight of Hand and/or Deception to hide casting, even if you’re not normally proficient. Reflexive Magic allows the caster to opt to cast a spell at an enemy who provokes an opportunity attack from them as long as the spell targets only that creature and must have a casting time of one action. (part of the Warcaster Feat)

5e tends to avoid using feats in class design. Instead of making Preserver Training a feat it could be made a class feature choice. You choose either Preserver Training or Defiler Power. Defiler Power, when you choose to defile you cast the spell as if it were one level higher.

Late reply, but figured I’d post my house rules for this sort of thing:

Arcane Magic:
Arcane Magic do not defile unless casting spells of 1st or higher. 
	Wizards gain free feat at level 1 
		Preserver Training (no plant damage) 
		Defiler Training (CL +1, stacks with longer casting and raze feats) 
	New Feat
			Gain knowledge of 3 level 0 spells
			Can cast 3 + Int modifier spells per day

Spell point system from Unearthed Arcana
	Defilers can cast spells using spell points one spell level lower than the actual spell cost
	Daily spell list house rule in effect from Unearthed Arcana
	Spontaneous casters always have their spells prepared
	For wizards and others who prepare spells, spells remain in memory until another spell is prepared in its place. 
		A 4th level wizard with 11 intelligence will always have 3 1st level spells prepared.
	Spells can be swapped/prepared at any time 
		15 minutes for the first spell
		30 minutes for up to half the total of prepared spells 
		60 minutes for over half
	Metamagic can be applied on the fly per Unearthed Arcana option 1.
	Spell point recovery
		1 hour rest = ⅓ spell points returned
		2 hours rest = ⅔ spell points returned
		6 hours rest = full spell point recovery
		Defilers can recover spell points in half the time by defiling
			Damage done is (CL x 2) x 5 ft

Energy gathering 
	Normally done at time of casting
	Energy can also be gathered and stored when preparing spells
		Concentration check (DC = Caster Level) to store spell points equal to bonus spell points 
			Failure takes damage equal to spell points that would have been gained
		Can store a number of times equal to Con modifier
		Defilers defile the land when doing this

Overall this makes Defiling pretty attractive. Their spells are more powerful, they can cast more spells in a day via speedy recovery and using less spell points to cast (since they draw all the energy out of the plant). I think it more closely matches the 2e version of defilers advancing faster by needing less XP but still keeps it within the 3.5 ruleset.

There’s also the Magecraft feat that allows some dabbling to learn magic without having to defile or preserve, if you gain any kind of real power (the wizard class) then you have to choose. I don’t think I ever had a PC take it, but I used it for some NPCs who were flirting with magic on their own before the VA, the SM’s bloodhounds, or an independent wizard found them.

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