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Most magic on Athas functions solely by defiling, or life draining. Even preserving magic works the same way, only the consequences are less severe.

But magic on other Primes doesn't function this way. One wonders if "Magic is Different" in different locales. If so, one wonders if such differences could be learned and trained in.

Should a being from another Prime (Greyhawk, Birthright, Spelljammer, Forgotten Realms, Dragonlance, Mystara, Ravenloft, and so forth) or other non-Athas plane (the astral, ethereal, shadow, foreign elementals or outer planes, etc., ) somehow arrive on Athas, would their magic still work and how (ie: impeded, boosted, other)?

Looking for answers from the source materials, regardless of contradictions.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Aug 5 at 2:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ Updated question based on answers giving sources for possible alternatives to defiling magic. \$\endgroup\$ – nijineko Sep 29 at 20:50
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3e Answer from the Dragon Magazine

There is a canon (semi)answer in the Dragon issue 351 (January 2007, 3.5e), under the article "Athas and the World Serpent Inn". Some details from that article can be found in this post about entering and exiting Athas.

As a part of the article a new feat is described, aptly named "Defiler", for those casters that arrive to Athas from other worlds. The feat allows the caster (if they like) to increase their caster level by +1 by destroying surrounding plant life permanently. What is directly relevant to your question is below (read full text here):

You cannot cast arcane spells on Athas unless you possess this feat, even if you intend on never defiling. Wizards native to Athas gain this feat as a bonus when they gain their first level of wizard.

So, a foreign caster can not cast spells without learning how to tap plant energy, but once they do so, they can choose to cast by defiling or preserving.

Please note that in 3.5e casting arcane magic without defiling appears to be possible also for native casters, as described in another Dragon article on issue 315 (January 2004, page 33), though the article itself warns that the new system proposed might represent too radical a change for an ongoing game.


Information from 2e to Supplement the Answer

Your question starts with the following statement: "Magic on Athas functions solely by defiling, or life draining." This is not entirely correct. The 2e sourcebook Defilers and Preservers: The Wizards of Athas, describes wizards that can fuel their spells with energy drawn from the Gray (necromancers), the Black (shadow wizards), or from the Cerulean Storm (Ceruleans). In all these cases, the character's class has to be still either defiler or preserver and the differentiation happens through character kits. So it looks like even when one got their energy from another plane, they needed to know 'defiling' in 2e. (This information also supports the excellent answer by afroakuma.)

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There does not appear to be a hard canon answer

The general plan for Dark Sun as a setting was "you're either here or there, not both." Athas is intended to be remote and inaccessible, and on the rare occasions where some form of portal existed allowing departure from the Crimson Sphere, that was... sort of the point. Leave and don't come back - who would want to?

Dark Sun books tell us spelljammers simply cannot enter the crystal sphere, at least not via spelljamming. They also tell us it's surpassingly hard to use normal transitive methods - effectively impossible through the Astral and very, very unlikely through the Ethereal. So the message is pretty clear - outsiders out, insiders in, no need to address the question because it'll never happen, right?

...right?

Wrong. Let's pop into the super-adventure Black Spine and discover that, why yes indeed, outsiders can enter Athas. The githyanki did, in fact - that's where the degenerate gith of Athas originated, thousands of years ago. The conceit of the adventure is that the githyanki have come back, and they're planning a full-scale invasion once they can stabilize a portal.

The fact that some of the githyanki can use magic, and do within the context of the adventure, gives us an unambiguous answer to the question of whether foreign casters can use magic while on Athas.

...with caveats

...but doesn't answer exactly how that works, or what the limitations might be. It could be that the githyanki general encountered at the Nightmare Gate is using its flickering Astral Plane connection to source his magic energies from another plane, and wouldn't be able to pull off such casting elsewhere or if it was closed.

What we know from official Dark Sun material are the following points:

  • Arcane magic has to be sourced, and the primary source on Athas is life energy.
  • Other valid sources are other planes, the Sun (only one wizard is noted to do this), and (in the most recent development) the Cerulean Storm, which is basically an elaborate blend of these when you get right down to it.
  • The githyanki were able to use magic while on Athas, both in the distant past and more recently.
  • Some of the applications that the githyanki put their magic to were to grow and sustain large and thriving biomes of plant life (for food supply in their underground fortress). This essentially tells us that the githyanki were not casting in the defiler manner, as the spells would have vaporized the life they were trying to generate.
  • Statistically, the default wizard of other worlds is cognate to a preserver, not to a defiler.

So what's the answer, in the end?

As noted above, the fact that the githyanki were operating with an active portal leaves a literal backdoor open to saying that they were never limited to Athasian sources of arcane energy. My personal takeaway would be this:

  • Traditional arcane magic from other worlds is cognate to preserver magic, which was what Rajaat originally discovered before pushing the boundaries. An Athasian preserver could easily cast spells on other worlds and would likely be shocked to find herself not limited by the fecundity of the nearby terrain and the ready availability of arcane energy. Conversely, while a foreign mage can also cast on Athas, they would encounter unexpected limitations:
    • The arcane energies of Athas are bound up in life force and are more complex to tap into. In 3rd Edition, for instance, this would require a Spellcraft check to be able to cast a spell - and the more powerful the spell, the more challenging the check.
    • Spells tapping the elements are no less irksome to the elemental forces that watch over Athas when cast by a visitor than when cast by a native. The penalties associated with wielding elemental magic apply equally.
    • Spells that create water in any form or manipulate life/positive energy are likely impeded, functioning with reduced efficiency and/or requiring a caster level check to make work.
    • Metamagic may not function properly without accidentally defiling, unless the caster learns the local methods of preservers for using metamagic.
    • Spellcasting may be less efficient without practice drawing on life energy. A spell may take a full round to cast rather than a single action. The caster may attempt to push this but might accidentally defile in doing so. After a short period of learning how to tap arcane energy locally (few days to a week), the average caster should be able to pass a Wisdom check and thenceforth be able to operate in the same fashion as a preserver does.

That's what I've got for you. Hope it helps!

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Nicely done, thank you! \$\endgroup\$ – nijineko Aug 5 at 20:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ Note that the part about being able to draw energy from other planes combines nicely with Athas being cut off from other planes. It's entirely possible (and hinted at in some materials IIRC) that non-Athasian magic draws on another plane as the source of power (the Astral being an obvious candidate; it's the plane of thought, teleportation/planar travel uses it implicitly, and in some editions, spellcasting is strengthened there). Athas being cut off from the Astral explains the need for a different source, and the githyanki's Astral portal explains why their magic still works. \$\endgroup\$ – ShadowRanger Nov 13 at 17:39

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