Sand and Ash
A little about Dark Sun
This campaign will be set mainly in the Tyr region of the world of Athas. Athas is a dying world, ravaged by the destructive nature of arcane magic. It is a brutal and unforgiving land in which mercy, kindness, and generosity are commodities as rare and valuable as life giving water. Following are eight characteristics of Dark Sun taken directly from the Campaign Guide. Some of you may already be familiar with these, some of you may not. Regardless, these are some important differences between Dark Sun and the standard D&D campaign setting.
1. The world is a desert. There are innumerable varieties of desert: sandy dunes, salt flats, stony wastes, rocky badlands, thorny scrublands, and worse. They are all battered daily by the unforgiving light of Athas’ crimson sun. The heat of the day is more deadly than the terrible creatures that hunt the wastes and, without supplies, a traveler will quickly succumb to Sun Sickness.
There are a few cities and villages in this desert waste, communities which sprout up around small oases and areas of verdant plains. Even in these relative paradises, rain is little more than a humid mist which barely sustains them.
The world was not always so. The wastelands are dotted with ancient ruins which tell of a planet once rich with rivers and seas: bridges over dry riverbeds and empty stone quays facing seas of sand are among the signs of ages long past.
2. The world is savage. “Life on Athas is brutal and short.” Raiders, savages, and horrendous monstrosities roam the deserts and yet many still flee there to escape the tyranny of the cities. Slavery is widespread and the rule of the sorcerer kings cannot be questioned.
3. Metal is scarce. Most weapons and armour are made of bone, wood, stone, or other materials. Mail or plate armour exists only in the treasuries of the sorcerer kings and steel blades are priceless weapons that most people will never even see. Unfortunately, bone, wood, and stone are not nearly as strong as steel and iron so there’s always a chance for weapons to break in combat. Even magical arms can be damaged beyond usefulness in the heat of battle. These weapons can be repaired by a skilled weaponsmith, but it still pays to carry a back up.
4. Arcane Magic defiles the world. The reckless use of arcane magic during ancient wars reduced Athas to a wasteland. To cast an arcane spell, one must gather energy from the living world nearby. Plants wither to black ash, crippling pain wracks people and animals, and the soil is sterilized. It is possible to cast spells with great care, preserving the world and avoiding damaging it further, but defiling offers the quicker way to power. As a result, wielders of arcane power are reviled and persecuted across Athas regardless of whether they preserve or defile. Only those sanctioned by the sorcerer kings, or those with incredible power, can wield arcane power without fear of reprisal.
5. Sorcerer kings rile the city-states. I’ve mentioned these guys a few times already. These terrible defilers rule all but one of the city-states. They have ruled for centuries and no one remembers a time before them. Some claim to be gods, others claim to serve gods. Some are brutal tyrants, while others are more subtle in their despotism. One thing that is true of all of them: their rule is absolute. Only in the city-state of Tyr, where the sorcerer king has been slain, is there a glimmer of hope.
6. The gods are silent. In time long forgotten, the primordials overcame the gods, silencing them for all time. Today, Athas is a world without deities. Some worship the primordials, some the sorcerer kings, and still others follow the path of demon worship. There are no clerics, no paladins, no intact temples, or religious orders. Nothing is heard now but the sighing of the desert wind. With no divine power, other forces have risen to prominence on Athas: Psionic power is widespread with almost everyone having some shred of talent, shamans and druids call on primal spirits driven insane by the destruction of their world, and the mysterious power of The Grey is wielded by a few.
7. Fierce monsters roam the world. Wait a minute. This isn’t any different from the normal D&D world. Why is it on this list? Well, the point is, the creatures of Athas are quite different from the norm. There are no cattle, swine, or horses. Instead, people tend flocks of erdlus, ride kanks or crodlus, and draw wagons with inixes and mekillots. In the place of wild animals like lions, bears, and wolves are the terrible id fiend, baazrag, and tembo. Regardless, the perils of the desert are best not faced alone.
8. Familiar races aren’t what you expect. On Athas, elves are a nomadic race of herders, raiders, peddlers, and thieves. Halflings are xenophobic headhunters and cannibals who hunt and kill trespassers in their mountain forests. Goliaths, or half-giants, are brutal mercenaries who serve as elite guards to the sorcerer kings and the templar who serve them. Of course, they’ll work for others as well, if the coin is right.