Third Dawn Campaign Setting [Review]

The Third Dawn Campaign Setting is a psionics-themed game setting for the OGL system, available in PDF from Dreamscarred Press. Written by Andreas Rönnqvist and Jeremy Smith, the architects of Dreamscarred Press craft a world that lost its magic in a terrible cataclysm only to have the world reshaped into one with the power of the mind. All the typical elements of fantasy roleplaying games have been preserved, while magical elements have been replaced with psionic ones.

I preordered Third Dawn Campaign Setting from the Dreamscarred Press website a number of months before its release and had waited eagerly for its release. This is a product that I wanted to love when I received it, but in the end I feel mixed about the content it provides. The Third Dawn Campaign Setting presents a rich new world to adventure in that extends naturally from the other work of Dreamscarred Press. However, the implementation of what is and what isn’t included (to avoid reprinting material) is going to make this product feel incomplete to new customers of Dreamscarred Press.

The first third of the product was the most disappointing for me as I worked through the book. This section deals with the character options for new players.  Being a completely psionics-based setting, there are many changes to the world of Ksaren. Over three thousand years ago, Sorcerer-Kings of old caused a comet to crash into Ksaren, severing magic from the world, removing the gods, and cutting off all access to planar worlds. In that time, concepts and adventurers known as Bards, Clerics, Druids, Wizards, Sorcerers and Rangers have all been lost or changed. Many of the typical fantasy races have been lost or modified by the cataclysm as well.

The product only includes five base classes: a revised Ranger; the Society Mind; a variant Soulknife; the Thoughtsinger; and a variant Wilder class. The Society Mind is a class that sets up psionic networks through which powers, abilities, or even healing can be shared, while the Thoughtsinger is a psionic-flavored bard – both are essential additions to the world of Ksaren. The Soulknife and Wilder are included, according to the authors, to smooth out those classes from their original presentations in the Expanded Psionic Handbook. However, there are other classes mentioned but not included, such as the Enlightened Monk, Halo Knight, Marksman, Morphean, and Worldthought Medic. I was shocked to see that the Worldthought Medic was not included in this release because it is the closest thing the people of Ksaren have to a Cleric in terms of healing potential.  It feels wrong to have this key role neglected while including a variant Soulknife and Wilder, instead of just referring customers to Dreamscarred’s Untapped Potential supplement if they want a variant.

All of the materials in the character option sections are definitely keyed to the world of Ksaren. All the +0 races typical to fantasy settings have been given a slight power boost to make them on par with their +1 psionic brethren. Most of the races have been reworked in flavor somewhat to make them fit more with the setting. For instance, Half-elves have been replaced with psionically neutral half-breeds called Chirmerans, and the Half-giants from the Expanded Psionic Handbook are reenvisioned as a former slave race known as Jettur. All of the six prestige classes included have a direct role in the life of the campaign world, compared to the more generic ones from the DMG.

There are a number of new cultural feats to provide your character with background features from their culture, much like the character traits from the recent Pathfinder campaign paths. Not all of the feats make sense though because they are presented out of context from their original sources. One of these is Access Psionic Node, which is used to tap into a power list based on your adherence to a godmind’s tenants. The problem is that even though this feat is present and the godminds of Ksaren are present (such as Maquora, who guided the Manaeds) the power lists are not present in this book (so from reading this book, I have no idea what the Maquora’s node of Battle, Healing or Passion grant). Since godminds have replaced the gods and people are able to access power through them, it would have been good to list what the power was at this point. For that information you need to pick up the company’s godmind supplement, The Mind Divine. Of course if you do, 10+ pages of that will be reprints of material included in this book.

Most of the book’s strength comes from the last two thirds of the book, focusing on the cosmology, philosophy, geography and organizations common on the world of Ksaren.

Ksaren’s history is filled with slavery, struggle and discovery. Dromites, Maenads and Jettur have escaped from the slavery of other races, all nations struggle for stability and dominion, and the world is filled with lost and unexplored places from before the cataclysm (known as the Impact). The world of Ksaren has two continents, a great ocean and series of islands created in the Impact. For many years there has been relative peace, but as nations grow, borders will be tested and the world may soon be plunged into chaos again. From an ecology standpoint, many of the typical monsters of fantasy, such as dragons, have been changed, while others such as demons and angels are gone completely due to Ksaren being cut-off from the other planes. With the loss of gods, powerful psionic entities known as the godminds provide a philosophical framework by which the people of Ksaren can model their behavior.

One of the reasons I liked the geography section so much was that each major nation gets a couple pages of detail. From demographics, culture and geographic features to its military, regional history and important people, each section provides you with a good look at each power base. But more important than those features, every section has three or more rumors that can serve as adventure ideas or hooks to kick off your campaign in the world of Ksaren. Outside of the Maenad and the Elans, most of the races have some good degree of racial integration, making mixed parties of adventurers reasonable throughout the world.

Rounding out the book, authors Jeremy and Andreas provide us with a look at over a dozen organizations that may shape the future of the world of Ksaren. These organizations, for the most part, are not linked to any prestige class, but instead help support the story of Ksaren. Of particular note are the Crimson Knights and the Cult of the Broken Staff who are adherents to the old ways, that of magic and faith, who work to return the old magic to the world or still wait for their returning god.

From a usability standpoint, the Third Dawn Campaign Setting suffers from several problems. The first problem is the lack of an index – at 147 pages, using Find in Adobe Reader is not the most efficient way to locate content. The second problem is the lack of a map. This might be the only single-world campaign setting I’ve seen that doesn’t include a map. Sure, the geography section gives me a good idea of the world’s layout, but if I have to draw the map it is going to look pretty awful. The final weakness for usability is the lack of a cross-product index. There are many classes, powers, items, and feats from other Dreamscarred Press supplements mentioned in this book, but only a few of them include where to find this other information.

Ultimately, I think the Third Dawn Campaign Setting is a very interesting psionics campaign setting that stumbles a bit in its execution of what to include and what not to include. If you have been an avid collector of Dreamscarred Press’s other psionics supplements then you probably have all the additional pieces to begin your adventures in Ksaren. If you are new to Dreamscarred Press, then the Third Dawn Campaign Setting should provide you with a solid psionics-based campaign setting, but you will probably need to pick up a couple more supplements to fully realize its true potential.

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