Restoring the defiling and preserving dichotomy to the Dark Sun setting

In the original box set it was clear that there were only two ways of doing magic. Defiling, and preserving. Both methods drew energy from plant life, but defiling was more destructive, destroying even the ability of soil to grow plant life.

In the later Dark Sun products, other sources of magical energy became available. I have criticized this in the past, but people seem to like these energy sources. Here is what I wrote, so I do not have to repeat it again.

Lets restore the defiling and preserving mechanic by making wizards that use alternative power sources choose between defiling or preserving. Let me explain how.

Magic touches on plant life, no matter how you draw energy. If you draw from the Black or Gray or Tyr Storm, the medium is still plant life from which the energy is drawn though. If a wizard does so recklessly, energy from the Black, Gray or Tyr Storm can destroy plant life. Effectively, its defiling. Or they can choose to be careful, in which case it is preserving.

This is a necessary innovation to fix what was done to the setting. Nor is it a radical change; it simply harmonizes the various power sources along the lines of the preserver/defiler dichotomy that is central to the Dark Sun setting theme.


I like the alternative energy sources, but I get where your coming from.
Instead of tying all anergy sources to plant life , I would have given each source its own detramental effect, so a wizard can still choose to either preserve or defile, but at there own peril. I remember seeing someone on proposing similar ideas somewhere on these threads.

using the grey or black for example, could blur the borders between the planes, leaving an area cold and dead, and possibly allowing all sorts of nasty critters to slip through into Athas. If you choose to preserve, this area returns to its normal state after a relatively short while, but if you defile it will take a long time to vanish.

I would also have the access to these alternate sources possible only under certain conditions. For example, only someone who survived in the black for an extended period of time could gain the ability to channel it.
At any case I would allow PC to use alternative sources only at higher levels, and as part of the story.


Speaking from my campaign. I have both the black and the grey as energy sources. The cerulean storm is gone in my campaign so although that source existed for a short time the source essentially dried up.

Back to the other two. The black is a source of energy so rare sorcerers who use it in my campaign verge on being unique. Necromancers are rare but not unheard of. Both sources are dangerous to use. The system I created for arcane magic has a section where using these sources causes damage to the casters body. So there is the tradeoff for me. Plant life energy is relatively safer but of course potentially destroys part of the ecology.


I don’t mind the other sources for magic, but as Kal said, not without some sort of price or negative effect. Be it to the character themselves or the environment.


I’ll actually comment briefly here, under my guise of “harmony with the players of the game”. ( ^-^)b

I agree that all Athasian magic should be inextricably tied to defiling no matter the power source, with the option of “trying to be careful ala preserving”, though I’ve personally never believed that preservers are doing anything other than fooling themselves and staving off briefly the inevitable consequences of their stupidity in using magic… cough… anyway.

I also think that this defiling mechanic should be world-wide and overriding, meaning that even if people from other planes or non-Athas locations arrive on Athas “charged up with magic” that works their way, once they expend it, it’s gone and the only way to “recharge” their arcane reserves is to learn how to defile so long as they remain on Athas. And as for divine magic types, once they expend their reserve of magic, tough luck sucker, they aren’t getting any more magic back unless they make an agreement with an elemental lord or spirit of the land or leave entirely, with whatever RP consequences that has.


I feel like there’s some pretty hefty penalties to using the other power sources already, at least as I’ve put them in my game. I do like the idea of also adding in an environmental side effects. For Cerulean it was simple enough to use the Tyr Storms. For the Black and the Grey though I didn’t like any of the ones I had thought of, so went with the far more personal side effects at each level and potentially even casting spells until they become advanced beings.

I used this as the reason the Githyanki were holding defilers and why there were very few casters in the Black Spine adventure. I even had a dragon try to come through the gate at one point, it lost the ability to fly, cast spells, and died in a matter of days since I view dragons as inherently magical and it did not know how to convert life energy into magic.


I put part of the quoted text in bold because by the rules as written, there are no downsides whatsoever. The alternative power sources are better, period. The alternative power sources have to deliver negative consequences to other people, not just the magic wielders.

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I’d like to point out that there should still be a decent benefit to using alternate energy sources that makes them desirable despite the risks, otherwise they are no different than regular plant draining magic, and therefore pointless.


OK. But speaking of “risks” is begging the question, because there are no risks as written in 2E or ADO 3.5e. Far from risks, because the necromant, shadow wizard and cerulean do not need to draw from plant life, they do not risk exposure from defiling (either willingly or accidentally). Here is how it is written in Prestige Class Appendix Volume I 3.5.

Shadow Wizard
Shadow Casting: Shadow wizards have discovered how to draw energy from the Black to fuel their spells. They can choose whether to utilize plant energy or energy from the Black when casting spells. Black energy has no impact on the environment.

Cerulean Casting: Ceruleans have discovered how to draw energy from the Cerulean storm to fuel their spells. They can choose whether to utilize plant energy or cerulean energy when casting spells. Cerulean energy has no impact on the environment.

Gray Casting: Necromants have discovered how to draw energy from the Gray to fuel their spells. They can choose whether to utilize plant energy or energy from the Gray when casting spells. Gray energy has no impact on the environment.

Entering each class that provide these class features is a trivial matter. Entry at character level 6. The alternative power source is provided at level 1, and generally speaking the 1st level dip is probably best (although fear immunity for necromants at level 2 is tasty).

Its not the power level of these alternative power source wizards that bother me. What bothers me is that they completely undermine the setting narrative of preserving vs defiling. Let me put it this way - there is no way, none, that a Sorcerer Monarch is going to be a defiler when he can just draw magical energy from the Gray or the Black. No more expensive trees of life to be maintained in the palace grounds!


My comment probably belongs under the Dark Sun Heresy thread, but I don’t use perservers or defilers in my DS. When I have sorcerers at all (sometimes I say there are psions only when I want a more Sword and Planet feel to my game) then sorcerer’s magic is not a list of discriminate packet of tidy spells but rather the conjuring of [Lovecraftian] Outer Beings to do their bidding – the more powerful the sorcerer the more powerful the creature they summon. The risks and downsides of being a sorcerer (and what makes the populace burn them at the stake when they find them):

  1. The creature summoned has a chance of turning on the caster
  2. Even if the creature obeys the summoner, once they have completed the task they may not return to their place of origin but instead stay to wreak further havoc on Athas
  3. The very process of contacting these creatures may drive the sorcerer mad

This way, instead of merely making the world more barren than it already is, it helps explain why in such a barren world there are so many nasties running around preying on everyone.


Extremely heretical. Put a link to your post in the Dark Sun Heresy thread.


God forbid we ever use ‘evolution’ as an explanation in our make-believe games :wink:


I agree with you redking, the canon does state that there are no environmental impact when using alternate energy sources, which begs the question why the SMs doesn’t use them.

A possible explanation is that they do carry greater risks, but normal wizards rediscovered these sources only recently and are not yet aware of their consequences. This is perhaps especially true for the ceruleans.

Maybe spells powered by alternate sources are more potent, but are also more prone to get out of control and hurt both the caster and/or his allies, making it unappealing to the SMs, who kinda need their subordinates alive.


There are negatives to all of the alternate energy sources in Defilers and Preservers.
Cerulean’s are unable to hide their spellcasting, can call a tyr storm down on himself, and is influenced by Tithian.
Shadow wizards have negatives to their reaction scores, cannot cast spells in total darkness, and sometimes takes damage when spellcasting.
Necromancers sometimes take damage and their spells fail, and they get a reaction penalty.
So, there are negatives, just not to the environment, which may be your point.
Perhaps the alternate wizards, especially defilers, still destroy the land, but do so at a lower rate, maybe half. The destruction is different for each one. Cerulean’s create mini-lightning storms that set all the plants around them on fire. Shadow wizards freeze all the plant life, and Necromancers turn them into obsidian.
I’ve never used the alternate sources myself, as I have never run a DS game past Free Year 10.
What I thought threw off the balance was the optional rule of drawing energy during memorization. Why would a defiler choose anything else?


In the system I’ve homebrewed the wizard memorizes the daily allotment of spells. But to cast a spell they must gather the spell points from the land or other source. I have a chart based on terrain that explains how many points the caster gets. I refuse to allow a caster to gather spell energy during memorization. I consider it contrary to the intent of the world. An alternate source caster Has to roll on a random chart per spell to see how close the grey is or how much shadows are present to access the black. The randomness makes it more dangerous and the black and the grey damage a living body when channelled.

Also the spell is not forgotten so a spellcaster standing in the halflings forest potentially has an nearly unlimited supply of energy. It really tempts the caster to go nuts with power my system.


Perhaps we can reach a compromise on these alternative power sources. Lets do it logically.

Necromant: A necromant draws power from the Gray, but only for spells from the necromancy school. For spells not of the necromancy school, the necromant must choose to be a defiler or preserver.
Cerulean: A cerulean can choose to cast an evocation spell as a spell with the electricity descriptor, instead its normal descriptor. For example, a cerulean could cast an electrical fireball. If the cerulean does this, then it draws its power from the Cerulean Storm instead of plants. For spells not of the evocation school cast with the electricity descriptor or spells of other schools, the cerulean must choose to be a defiler or preserver.
Shadow Wizard A shadow wizard draws power from the Black, but only for spells from the illusion school. For spells not of the illusion school, the shadow wizard must choose to be a defiler or preserver.

How about it?

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I have created a Sorcerer subclass called the “Primordial Renewer” for 5e. Which not only is a Preserver, but the diametrically opposed version of the Defiler, a Renewer actually takes ash and other entropic materials left over from defiling and necromancy etc, and uses them as components for their spells.

Here is the link:
(Primordial Renewer (5e Subclass) - D&D Wiki)

I have also created a 4th level spell to go with the class called “Un-Blight” (the opposite of Blight) which is a type of heal/damage spell, that is mainly focused on healing plants and destroying undead, elementals, and constructs.
Un-Blight (5e Spell) - D&D Wiki (

Feel free to use them if you want. I think the Primordial Renewer subclass is a really cool idea, although maybe you can just use it for one hermit NPC to start, and the PC has to be discipled by the NPC to learn of his or her ancestral lineage to obtain it… Obi-Wan-esque.

I also put it up on DnD Beyond last night.

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I agree. If I were going to make a 100% custom Dark Sun 5e conversion, with a full 20-level Templar class, I’d make the Black, the Gray, and, if that part of the metaplot is used, the Cerrulean storm into Warlock archetypes. Giving wizards alternative power sources really weakens a key dichotomy that is central to the setting.


Alternate Source wizards can still cast using plant energy (right up until a metamorphosis if you have that in your game). Using an alternate source is dangerous to the caster, to the world, to the people around the caster. Add in the mob that already hates wizardry, add in the fear of these new side effects and you end up with not a lot of wizards pursuing these alternate sources, and even less that survive it.

As a preserver, nobody notices the harm and nobody has a problem with them being in game. As a defiler, everyone notices the harm immediately. As an Alternate Source Wizard, you still harm the environment (or at least there’s a chance to), along with a chance of harming people (including yourself). It’s a middle ground that is nearer preserver in environmental effects, nearer defiler in social effects. Rule that defiler feats can’t be used unless actually defiling, and you have something that’s no worse then preserving. Rule on the limits of spell levels being linked to class level and there’s a reason to continue using standard preserver and defiler casting until higher levels (10th level is the earliest an arcane source wizard would be able to fully convert to the alternate source if used it).

Are you trying to solve for:

  1. I want to penalize min/maxers from getting an advantage so I need something mechanical.
  2. I just don’t like alternatives so I need to make it worthless to play.
  3. I’m not comfortable making social outrage a reason for not being a wizard.
  4. I think these power sources dilute the purity of magic to much.
  5. I can’t decide why everyone wouldn’t use these.
  6. Something else.

My reasoning is in the OP. The alternative energy sources undermine the setting as it was originally conceived.