Troy Denning regrets easy defeat of SMs

Eric Arondson writes:

It is much less a slip up than Troy couldn’t or wasn’t skilled enough to describe such an epic battle. We was trying to wrap up the story showing that the “PC heroes” could change the world, and everything in the series and setting was building up to that fact. Troy has said if he could do it over again he would write the ending differently so that the dragon-kings didn’t look like mooks.

Is there a source for this hearsay attributed to Denning? The easy defeat of the Sorcerer Monarchs at the end of the Cerulean Storm was disappointing to me.


I don’t have a source to verify this, but I find it hard to believe that an author of Denning’s calibre couldn’t write his way out of that. Maybe he was having issues at the time? shrugs

When it comes to the disappointment, I’m in 2 minds. Yes, it rather screws with the setting, but on the other hand, it did demonstrate just how big a threat Rajaat was. I mean this is The First Sorceror. The Warbringer. His titles are pretty big stuff in their own right so Rajaat himself had to be an Alpha Plus Plus threat. Trashing Borys makes sense and leaves the field open for a certain 3rd Champion. Just for kicks and giggles I’d have left Abalach-Re alive because Draj without a SK inverts what we’d all expect the paradigm to be if Uyness got munched but Tec didn’t. Sorry, rambling now.


I don’t know precisely where this comes from, but has anyone just checked the Denning interviews? I seem to remember that at one point that he claimed he never intended the novels to be cannon or something equally absurd (don’t quote me on this until someone finds his exact words). In general, I get the sense that he realized that he screwed up several important things throughout the series and later tried to retroactively course correct.

Denning is not a good author, he’s slightly above okay only by the standards of fantasy literature tie in novelists. That said, I think he’s a better world builder than he is a novelist, and he’s certainly a better novelist than, say, Ed Greenwood (talk about damning with faint praise!).


Me here. Different account. The source was simply me interviewing Troy after a panel at Gencon in Milwaukee. Brax was there with me, Troy was kind enough to give us two Dark Sun fans an hour of his time to ask question after question of anything we thought of.


Sounds like you have a story to tell.

Interesting. And indeed, in The Cerulean Storm the SMs seems quite weak. On the other hand, at the hand of The Crimson Legion imho Hamanu showed the true power of a SM (that’s why it’s my fave scene in all the Pentad).

I also think that the Dragon at the end of The Amber Enchantress was quite… underwhelming power-wise.


The Dragon was underwhelming in The Cerulean Storm too. Sadira was casting nonsensical, broken, made-up spells left and right like she came out of an Ed Greenwood novel starting in book 3. The Dragon, the most powerful spell caster on the planet until Rajaat’s release, only cast a single spell that actually accomplished anything in the entire series, the simulacrum/polymorph/something he simply used as a distraction.


It was quite few years back now, and I remember being stunned he was so generous with his time. I also remember rushing back to the forums after GenCon to get down as much as I could remember. It was many days later, and I got most of it down it the posts immediately after but more of what we spoke about dripped out over the course the following months during forum discussions that wandered into things we talked about.

Back then I was extremely solidly on the side of strictly hewing to the intents of the designers. I went into the interview with a bunch of naive ideas about RPG setting design, believing Troy was involved in the crunchy rules. That was Tim. Troy was the creative writer. And there was strong collaboration between them and with the artists. Our questions about rules stuff was way outside his wheelhouse of involvement. A lot of the questions we thought we could get insight on we’re just never going to get an answer from Troy. I tried corresponding with Tim after this interview for rules-type questions, but the emails went back and forth maybe twice and he stopped replying. Hard to read tone from emails but he did not seem interested in a conversation about it as he too had been moved off Dark Sun by that time.

I’ve stumbled upon them over the years when I had another Dark Sun itch and dug around the old forum posts. I’m always taken aback by how little Troy was involved in the rules of the game. I recall at the time he expressed disappointment that TSR shepherded him off Dark Sun so quickly after those novels were published.

Oh, hey everyone! I’ve been a lurker for a few months now having gotten a Dark Sun itch yet again (looking for 5e conversion ideas). Just had to chime in when I saw my name cross my inbox in the weekly summary.


Arondson - that makes a lot of sense. I got the chance to ask Troy some questions on Facebook. Unfortunately, his answers were extremely vague, often ending with “yes, if that’s what you’d like to see in your Dark Sun game”. I asked whether Rajaat was responsible for turning the champions into dragons - he had forgotten! Other people were asking questions also. He simply couldn’t remember any of the details, or what he was thinking at the time.

I had long held out hope that Troy would be able to answer long standing questions for over 20 years. No such luck.


The Silly frog is happy to see you! :slight_smile:

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Here you go SKs; I have a gift for you! It’s a red-shirt!

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@Bdmdragon Indeed: that was a far cry from “The dragon wields sorcery powerful enough to crush entire cities, and so destructive that we must measure the devastation caused by its spells in square miles.” (right from the first boxed set).

And seriously, the Champions were chosen among thousands of apprentice and empowered by Rajaat himself using both the Dark Lens and the Pristine Tower. The fact that Sadira obtained such power with “just” the help of the Shadow Giants and the Tower alone (she fought an even match with Abalach-Re) imho was nonsense.

@redking really unlucky that Troy forgot about the whole “Champions - Dragons” thing… We could’ve had the definitive answer. For now I stick with the idea (correct me if I’m wrong) that Rajaat empowered the Champions at the beginning of the Cleansing Wars, and after the rebellion they used the Dark Lens and the Tower powers to become I stage Dragon (and made Borys a full X stage Dragon). As a side effect of this ritual they were bound with Elemental Vortexes, allowing them to grant spells.


This is completely correct and supported by multiple sources :slight_smile:


I agree Andrea. Legands of Athas gives us the Champion of Rajaat template which I like - it differentiates a Champion from a Dragon (and putting all the SMs on a different level to ‘standard advanced beings’).

I respectfully disagree here. Sadira got a fairly raw power boost, and then only during daytime hours. It’s conceivable that the raw power was enough to go head to head with Uyness, at least for a while. Remember, the combat is cut short by the shard of the Scourge doing her in. A longer combat would have seen Abalach-Re take Sadira more seriously as a threat and her greater experience and knowledge would beat Sadira’s raw power.

Bear in mind that none of the SMs have faced a serious threat in 2,000 years. Even Kalak’s downfall was a distant event (even if it rumbled like an earthquake across the Tablelands) and a common view was that the Tyrant of Tyr was going senile.

“Well, it might have happened to that doddering fool Kalak, but I’m the Queen of Raam, I won’t be so easily despatched!” squish

Arguably this goes back to the fundamental problem with any fictional Big Bad Evil Guy/Gal - they’re invincible and untouchable, until they’re not, and then everyone complains about how easily they get taken down (B5’s The Shadows, ST’s Borg, Elminster from the Realms, the Circle of Eight in Vecna Lives etc). Ah well, I have 7-8 years of game time before I have to worry about how/if I’ll represent the events of The Cerulean Storm to my players. Thanks goodness for Clone, Contingency and Wish spells!


I respectfully disagree. As I’ve mentioned on another thread, Kalak’s death was narratively satisfying because his own failures led to his demise. His arrogance and desperation to obtain ultimate power in one stroke left him blind and desperate, something that the Verdant Passage made really clear. It was that, more than the Heartwood Spear or anything else, that led to his defeat.

The problem with how both Borys and Rajaat were defeated is because they lacked this narrative through line that explained how they were defeated. Rajaat was defeated by pure author fiat, but Bory’s is possibly worse, because he was functionally defeated by brute force. Borys was fully aware of the capabilities of all of his opponents, the artifacts they had, and the sources of their power, and he had the backing of five sorcerer monarchs. He in no way underestimated his opposition, and had thousands of years of experience on them, and he proceeds to lose the fight, not because of his own mistakes or personality, but because Troy Denning needed it to happen.

This is why I mentioned above that Borys was underwhelming. The narrative makes it clear that he is not holding back, yet strangely his feats aren’t very impressive. The sorcerer monarchs likewise have the same problem. Troy Denning had the heroes fight strength with strength, and they should have lost horribly, but didn’t purely because they were the good guys (Tithian excepted).


Sadira’s problem goes far deeper than the sun wizardry. In the Verdant Passage, she was maybe level 5 at most, but in book 3, she was far, far stronger with no explanation, and somehow defeated Nok in a mental duel. Moreover, Troy Denning went to the Ed Greenwood school of pulling made up spells out of nowhere that would blatantly violate game balance if one were to try to put them to print, the only difference being that much of Greenwood’s nonsense actually has made it to print over the decades. And all this was before she became a Sun Wizard.

Moreover, she got far more than a raw power boost from sun wizardry. A thread on the old forums called The Sadira Problem discussed this. She was functionally invincible and was almost as physically strong as Borys. Further, she could basically shape spells at will, without memorization, and with multiple examples of whim based abilities. Does this sound familiar? Well it should, because Lynn Abbey took this to its logical extreme in RaFoaDK.


The Borys takedown issue is one I wasn’t tackling above. Mostly because as all canon material makes plain, and as discussed on this forum, Borys should walk over pretty much any opposition, bar Rajaat.

I was focusing specifically on the Sadira/Abalach-Re fight on the Ivory Plain. I stand by my comments about the 2 of them. Abalach-Re has the arrogance and necessary blindspots for Sadira to give her a bloody nose. Plus Sadira has a lucky ace in the hole - the deus ex machina (or perhaps the literal deus ex makhaira?) of Rajaat’s goo emerging from the shard of the Scourge. WIthout that, even Abalach-Re beats Sadira.

Swap Abalach-Re for Nibenay, or Andropinis, or Hamanu and I think you’d have a very different outcome - round 1, SM wipes the floor with Sadira. I could potentially see Sadira going a few rounds with Tec or possibly Lalali Puy, simply because they have the arrogance and grandiosity that Abalach has. That’s not to say either case would be a certainty of Sadira lasting a few rounds, but I figure both are less likely to wipe her out in round 1 than the other 3.


Ah, thank you for the clarification. Sorry.

The problem I have with this is that I don’t feel it would go that way if Denning wrote it. Sadira gained so much power so quickly that it breaks immersion completely. She was doing just fine against Abalach Re up until the sorceress queen focused herself entirely on psionically attacking her, and even then she didn’t drop immediately. As I said, Nok is another example of such a thing. Sadira is absurdly telepathically resistant for somebody who is untrained.

More importantly, the fact that she can magically rival a sorcerer king or queen to the degree where they have to use psionics to beat her is the problem I and several other people have. If the shadow people, magically incapable halflings, were capable of using the Pristine Tower alone to produce someone like Sadira, how powerful should the Rajaat created, Dark Lens and tower empowered, dragon metamorphosing sorcerer-monarchs be? Lynn Abbey actually tackled this question, and regardless of the issues I have with her work, I can see how she ended up with her Godlike Sorcerer Monarchs simply by asking the logical questions that Denning didn’t even consider.


The way I see Sadira is that in addition to her normal abilities as a wizard, she has the powers of a 20th level sorcerer in the day time. At the start of each day she selects her sorcerer spells known for that day, drawn from Rajaats personal selection of spells (ie, the spells from the sorcerer/wizard list in the SRD). This accounts for her flexibility.

Could she have given Abalach-Re a bloody nose? Yes. Defeat Abalach-Re is another matter altogether.

I’ve written about this before, but if I were to keep the prism pentad in place, I could simply treat the events as having happened, but the fallen SMs as simulacrums. The plot proceeds apace, and the implications post PP is that the post Kalak status quo is retained as is.

I think the main problem with the easy defeats of the Abalach-Re and the other SMs was that Troy was not giving the devil its due. Consider - Maetan of House Lubar from the Crimson Legion is a far more interesting villain than the easily defeated SMs (with the exception of Hamanu, when he was fighting for fun in Urik against the Tyrian revolt).


Definitely a name I remember from those old forum days! :older_man: