Dark Sun is a 1990s setting from TSR, later adopted by WotC.
The setting of Dark Sun is Athas, a harsh desert world where metal is rare, there appears to be no actual gods, and the seven cities, which could have been "points of light", are instead, ruled over by malevolent sorcerer kings.
The different races are different from standard DnD. Some are entirely missing, some are only a little different, some are virtually unidentifiable, and there are a few new ones too.
Jon: Finn Sky-Breaker, monster, hero, slayer of men, eater of dreams.
Mike: Jorann, Defender of the Meek, the Dwarven cleric Primal Guardian. Current Status
Ben, Tribe the eladrin telepath
Aaron, Erik the paladin
Jason, Ildaz Fyume,
Targus Martok, mul shaman (Deceased)
Winston, Bangene Fortato
Alex B., Ivan, Elf Pursuing Avenger
Please make magic item requests at Dark Sun item requests.
Foils and Enemies
The biggest rules changes are based on the lore of the setting. There are no deities and arcane magic relies on plant energy. As a result, arcane and divine classes have undergone a few rules changes. Divine classes use the primal power source.
The seven cities are "points of light" in the uncivilized wilderness. They're all ruled by despotic sorcerer-kings; the titles indicate they are defilers, although some (The Dictator and The Oba) swear this is not the case. The sorcerer-kings control propaganda and all the schools. They ration literacy, so only templars and nobles are allowed to read. (Merchant houses had to invent their own script to circumvent the laws, although this is no secret.)
Unsurprisingly, the desert is home to ruins, of which there are eight well-known ones.
Between the cities are empty wastes and monsters. Many monsters are "New Races" which have suddenly appeared with little warning. These tend to be powerful, as they must be capable of not only living in the desert, but also fending off other monsters. Thus, the newest races tend to be more powerful than the older ones.
The most powerful monster, though, is the Dragon, a seemingly (hopefully!) unique thousands-of-years old giant fire-breathing beast which walks on two legs like a man. It's only ever seen at a distance. It will sometimes rampage throughout the Tyr Region for unknown reasons. It's also at least somewhat intelligent, demanding a levy of 1000 people from each city-state every year.
There are seven main cities, each led by a sorcerer-king, located in a green belt with barely enough wells to keep their people alive: Balic, Draj, Gulg, Nibenay, Raam, Tyr and Urik. Each year, each city pays "the Dragon's Levy", a thousand slaves who are taken out into the desert by templars, never to be seen again.
Nibenay, a large city in the more barren part of the Ivory Triangle, is ruled by the Shadow King, who is rarely seen in public outside of his Forbidden Palace. All of the Shadow King's templars are female.
Each of the cities is theoretically ruled by a dual-elite of the sorcerer-king plus templar servants, and the nobility. In practice, the nobility get to dominate everyone except the templars. However, each city varies a bit.
Beneath the sorcerer-king are hundreds of templars. These fill multiple roles "horizontally" and "vertically". "Horizontally" templars fill at least three roles in most cities; bureaucrats (pushers of paper, storers of grain, removers of waste, etc), police officers and military officers. Each group has non-templar servants, with half-giants being popular in Nibenay and Urik. In many cities, templars also fill the role of priests, leading the citizenry in the worship of the sorcerer-king. "Vertically" there are a few high templars, many mid-ranking templars and numerous relatively low-level templars.
- Main article: Templars
In addition, each city has a noble caste. The nobles run large family estates just outside the city walls, which are farmed by slaves. Each noble house sponsors professional mercenaries or slave soldiers, giving them a lot of power, although not enough to face a sorcerer-king. When a city is at war, each noble house is expected (forced) to provide a company of soldiers, which operate under the supervision of a templar. Competent nobles are often skilled tacticians, psions, fighters or duelists.
Some city states have a "senate" composed of the most powerful nobles. Tyr had one before King Kalak died, and Balic has a notable one too.
- Main article: Dune trader
There are several major human trading houses, as well as smaller ones operated by humans or elves. Each major trading house is associated with a city. They all employ numerous dune traders.
Within the Tyr Region are several towns and villages. There are numerous human villages (many of which are ex-slave villages), roving elf tribes, a few dwarven towns (the largest are the sun-worshippers of Kled) and the Silt Sea.
Near the Tyr Region are the Ringing Ridge mountains. On the other side of the mountains is the Forest Ridge (populated by halflings). West are the Hinterlands, which are generally known for being filled with thri-kreen and pterrans, which end at the Jagged Cliffs.
A wide variety of creatures inhabit the Tablelands. All are dangerous, for Athas is a harsh place with one natural law that prevails over all others: kill or be killed. Even animals which subsist entirely on plants have deadly defenses, for they must fight off vicious predators almost daily. My advice to the hungry traveler thinking to make an easy meal of any innocuous-looking beast is this: be as prepared to fight for your life as the animal you are hunting will be to fight for its own.
If the herbivores are dangerous, the carnivores are truly nightmarish. Intelligent races receive no special consideration in the deserts of Athas. In fact, many predators consider them a special delicacy and lurk near places where human and demihuman races conglomerate—i.e., near villages, roads, oases, etc. When you travel outside any city, always assume that you're being stalked by something as large as a mekillot, as quiet as a halfling, as fast as an elf, and as vicious as a mul: chances are that you will be correct.
On Athas, psionics is called The Way and those who use it (especially telepaths) are called mindbenders. Everyone there is at least minimally familiar with it.
Psionic talents are common (essentially, using a feat to "multi-class" into a psionic class). Each city has at least one psionic school, and some have several. Nobles are especially proficient in psionics, often having special family techniques. Rumors abound that at least some "templars" are in fact mindbenders.
People who have not undergone formal psionic training are often characterized by having raw power but "sloppy" use of psionics. These are called wilders. They usually arise from more savage races (elves, halflings, thri-kreen) or were humans or dwarves raised in a village away from the seven cities.
Many monster types have incredible psionic powers, making them mindbenders (wilders, really) as well.
Arcane magic is the source of most of Athas' problems. It is poorly understood by the mostly-illiterate populace, and seeing it generally provokes hostility. (Commoners will usually rush to the nearest templar if they realize arcane magic is going on.)
Arcane magic must be drawn from plant life. To do so, the wizard holds one hand palm downward briefly to gather the energy, then move their hand to another position when they want to stop. Most areas in the desert still have enough plant life to sustain arcane magic. Unfortunately, some types of gathering energy kill surrounding plant life, not only making things harder for wizards and other arcane casters, but also rendering the area barren for years, even centuries.
Preserving is one arcane magic technique. The preserver collects only enough arcane energy to power a spell, then cuts off the flow. This preserves most of the plant life, hence the name. Fortunately preserving is relatively subtle, and can be easily passed off as the Way or using primal powers to those who don't know better (eg anyone who isn't a spellcaster, psychic or templar). The Veiled Alliance has even learned techniques for hiding their use of arcane magic from templars (usually disguising it as the Way). This technique is difficult to learn, and many arcane casters have simply never learned this technique. There are no public schools for teaching arcane magic, so preservers generally learn their techniques from the Veiled Alliance, an organization illegal in just about any city you can name. Commoners are unaware of the existence of preserving, and tend to call any arcane caster "defilers".
Defiling is the infamous form of spellcasting. The defiler collects more plant energy than they need, killing plants, turning the soil to ash, causing pain to nearby creatures, and wasting the excess energy. The feel of plant energy gives a nearly-addictive rush, which is one reason defilers won't stop, even if they have learned how to preserve. Defiling is not subtle, and even the most ignorant person will recognize it for what it is.
Templars are given the task of hunting down arcane spellcasters, as they're rivals to the sorcerer kings. Even defilers are dangerous, for letting arcane magic go uncontrolled can cause consequences like destroying the very plants the sorcerer kings use for their own spells.
All arcane-using PCs who can use arcane daily powers have the option of using Arcane Defiling, a special power which allows them to reroll an arcane daily power's attack or damage roll, at the cost of inflicting pain on their allies. There are a variety of feats which can enhance defiling. However, please note that defiling is illegal, visible, and almost automatically provokes hostility. Using it in a city is a really bad idea. Using it in a small village is still a bad idea, but less lethal. Using it out in the open desert is bad from an environmental perspective, but at least it won't get you killed. A preserver would only use defiling in an emergency, and some would never, seeing the risks of addiction as too high or for moral reasons. A preserver who uses defiles often (or is even seen once by the Veiled Alliance doing so) risks being hunted down by the Alliance and killed. (The Alliance isn't above outing a defiler to the templars if they can't get to them themselves.)
You draw upon the vitality of nearby life to fuel your magic, heedless of the harm you cause to the land and your allies.
At-Will * Arcane, Necrotic
Free Action Personal
Trigger: You make an attack roll or a damage roll as part of an arcane daily attack power.
Effect: You can reroll the triggering roll but must use the second result. In addition, each ally (willing or unwilling) within 20 squares of you take necrotic damage equal to half his or her healing surge value. This damage ignores immunities and cannot be reduced in any way.
Special: You can use this effect once for any arcane daily attack power you use, affecting any single attack roll or the damage roll for that power.
Savages and monsters sometimes become arcane spellcasters. Halflings are capable of using arcane magic, and given their nature-based culture, are inevitably preservers. If you run into a halfling defiler, you have met someone who has gone irrevocably mad.
Elven arcane spellcasters of both types are actually quite common. Indeed, the elves almost-but-not-quite-openly sell magical components in the markets they open in each city, often finding ways of doing so right under the noses of the templars.
Thri-kreen are another story. Between not having a settled culture and not living long enough for tutoring to matter, thri-kreen are barred from becoming arcane spellcasters.
Monsters can only very rarely be trained in arcane spellcasting, and only in a city. Of course, only an arcane spellcasting templar has the authority and resources to do so. However, many monsters have natural arcane spell-like abilities, many of which defile as a matter of course. Some monsters have enough of a settled culture to teach arcane magic "properly" as well.
There are no gods on Athas, so there's no divine magic.
Of the two divine classes in the PH, the cleric and the paladin, the former becomes primal, and the latter simply doesn't fit. (The elements don't hire champions. The closest thing is the Primal Guardian theme and Voice for the Ravaged paragon path.)
"Clerics" come in two forms: elemental priest and templar. Player clerics have to take the elemental priest theme since templars are evil servants of the sorcerer kings and thus not allowed.
Shamans can take any theme, but elemental priest is still a good fit. (This combination can practically spam the battlefield with summoned spirits.)
Martial characters work the same way on Athas.
Rogues only make sense for cultures that live in settled areas, such as villages or cities. Elves often enter human cities, and rogues are common among them. Halflings make good rogues, but are generally uninterested in wealth; any halfling rogue is essentially an assassin or a different take on a hunter. Thri-kreen rogues are unknown.
There are fighting monks on Athas, but they're rare and only trained in a few cities, such as Draj. Many monks are also mindbenders, but not all.
Generally only humans, half-elves, muls and dwarves can be trained to be monks, and the vast majority are human. (Other races are banned, are improperly-shaped and use other fighting styles (eg thri-kreen), or just aren't civilized enough (halflings, thri-kreen)).
Athasian Minstrel (aka "Bard"): Minstrels frequently visit noble houses, as there are cultural prohibitions about keeping them out. A noble can do so anyway, but at great social cost. Minstrels are known for poisoning their victims, so they're often watched when they visit. (Un)fortunately, they're well aware of that, and have devised techniques for avoiding being caught in the act.
Minstrel works best with the rogue class. Thri-kreen generally wouldn't use this class, nor would anyone raised outside of a city. The exception are elves; although they live in the desert, some of them visit cities on a regular basis. Halflings are also adept at using poison; although no one would actually accept one as a "minstrel", a halfling could reflavor the theme to something that makes sense for their own culture.
Dune Trader: None of the cities are self-sufficient. As a result, dune traders quite literally keep people alive and even the sorcerer-kings don't pick fights with the major houses. However, the common people tend not to be grateful to them, since they tend to rob their customers with words rather than force.
Dune trader is a martial leader theme, giving warlord-like powers to any class. Most dune traders are rogues, but fighters and psions are fairly common. Arcane spellcasters are rare. Primal dune traders are essentially unheard of.
Elemental Priest: This theme works best with the cleric and shaman class. Any elemental priest can use powers from any element, but many focus on only one element.
Gladiator: All cities have gladiator arenas. Gladiators are slaves, although relatively pampered. It's hard to bully someone who can kick your guards' butts. Escapes are common, despite the large number of guards (and mindbenders!) hired to control them. Gladiators are valuable; a novice gladiator is worth as much as a steel dagger! Thus, while usually slaves, gladiators are pampered. Gladiator stables are usually owned by noble houses, although at least some templars own some as well. The gladiators of Tyr don't fight to the death anymore and aren't slaves.
Any class can take the gladiator theme, but fighter, slayer and barbarian are the most common. There are numerous specialized types, and some gladiators don't take a "typical" gladiator theme. Thri-kreen gladiators are among the few kreen who will use weapons of other cultures.
Noble Adept: A mindbender who has gone to a noble school (or formal family training) is eligible for this theme. It doesn't make sense for anyone who isn't psychic. (I'm not counting monks here.)
Primal Guardian: A primal-using melee class theme.
Templar: The templar theme is banned for players as templars are evil servants of sorcerer-kings.
Veiled Alliance: A faction of preservers found in each city. The Veiled Alliance serves to "preserve" preserving magic, generally from the ignorant populace which would summon the templars on them with cries of "defilers!" Veiled Alliance members don't have to be arcane spellcasters, but most of the theme powers involving hiding arcane magic from others, so the theme itself makes little sense for anyone else.
Wasteland Nomad: Solitary warriors and hunters, wasteland nomads aren't particularly suitable for an adventuring group.
Wilder: Powerful but "poorly"-trained psions abound, especially among the thri-kreen, halflings, elves and of course human and dwarven villagers. Masters of the Way inevitable disdain wilders, even though some (thri-kreen and halflings) come from societies which have developed very good training techniques. Many Masters of the Way are arrogant nobles who simply can't see how someone of "lesser blood" can be any kind of psionic threat to them.
Humans are the most common race in the Tablelands (also called the Tyr Region). Each sorcerer king at least poses as a human, and all the noble families are human. Virtually every templar is human. While humans form the largest single group in each city, in some (such as Raam) they are not actually the majority.
Dwarves are hardy, strong and focused. Very focused. Dwarves often declare something important to them to be a focus, but this is dangerous because if a dwarf dies with a focus unfulfilled, they come back as a banshee (oath wight).
Unlike dwarves of other worlds, Dark Sun dwarves are completely hairless. They generally don't live underground; most worship the cruel sun, and their priests focus on it rather than elements (other than earth, of course). Dwarves are the only race willing to wear metal armor, and outside of the city of Tyr, only dwarves mine iron.
The main dwarf town is Kled, but many dwarves live among humans in their cities. Dwarves are frequently enslaved, although not to the extent muls face.
Elves live in nomadic groups. Many are savage, acting as hunters or even raiders. On the other hand, many operate small trading houses. Each city boasts an elven market, a barely-governed black market where anything, even arcane magic items, can be sold. The templars have a devil of a time controlling these. If a group of elves get into trouble, they'll just slip out of the city, often being replaced by another group of elves within hours. (Sometimes a group that looks exactly the same, except they have different names and clothes!)
Half-Elves are fairly rare, and are generally culturally treated as if they're human. They can be produced through human/elf crosses and also breed true with each other. Elves tend to beat them up on sight.
Half-Giants were created long ago by sorcerer-king breeding experiments. They have a reputation for being unintelligent and easily led.
- Main article: Half-giant
Halflings are savages. Most of them live in the Forest Ridge around the Ringing Ridge mountains, near Urik, which they're fiercely protective of. Halflings have a unique and confusing culture. They have no trouble cooperating with other humanoids, at least until said humanoids prove to be useless, at which point they're tied up in front of the feasting stones. So if you're not a halfling, stay out of their forest!
Halflings often believe that using a weapon made from the bone of a certain race will have special properties against that race. So a halfling will want to use a human bone dagger against a human, an elf bone dagger against an elf, etc.
The halflings of Ogo have made a deal with Urik. Every year it sends a hundred halflings to serve as Urik's scouts and assassins. Some of them prefer to stay in Urik, and those who returned bring new ideas to the old halfling culture.
Muls are human/dwarf crosses. They are considered prime slaves.
- Main article: Mul
Thri-kreen are often referred to as "mantis warriors".
- Main article: Thri-kreen
Dray are often referred to as dragon-men.
- Main article: Dray
Characters gain inherent bonuses instead of magic items. At 3rd-level, that's a +1 bonus to attack and damage. You also do +1d6 damage on a crit. (These bonuses apply to all attacks, including spells.)
Actual magic items are available, but their flat numerical bonuses are subsumed by the inherent bonuses and don't stack. (So a flaming sword still does fire damage and still has its special power, but you use your character's numerical bonus or that of the magic item, whichever is higher.)
Armor equivalencies can be found at Dark Sun armor.
Badge of the Berserker loses it's property (no attacks on movement made as part of a charge). Changed to 2 + 1/tier past heroic vs OA attacks?
Highlights of July 21, 2013 session
- Gith attacked Ledopolus, stealing a big quantity of iron. The dwarves used Sending to call for help.
- The PCs arrived, and discovered three gith tribes had gotten together to do the job -- the Hand, Eye and Rune (in order of wimp to badass). The PCs specifically hunted a patrol in order to hear their language to perform the Comprehend Languages ritual.
- The captured gith was a zealot of low intelligence. He told them about the Sword Stalkers, whom he insisted were a top-of-the-line force who would kill them for the silver sword they took off of him.
- The PCs arranged (through Gith Lord Askai's psionocus, a type of familiar) to meet. They were ambushed by a dimensional horror, a type of nightmare monster, attempting to establish one of three mental "contacts". Bangene didn't enter the dreamscape, and pretty much took out a Sword Stalker by himself.
- Afterward the PCs hunted down and took out most of the 150 gith, prompting two of three tribes to run away.
- Askai and his Rune tribe can't escape, and will fight a final battle.
- The heroes clashed with Queen Trinth, the dead anti-paladin's twin brother, and four Guardian Orbs, effectively much more powerful versions of Primik. Tribe got killed. Trinth was so impressed, and exasperated by trying to kill the heroes, she ended up inviting them into her service. After Tribe was revived, the heroes then left Athas through the planar portal. Trinth decided that defeating Athas was just too difficult. The heroes, meanwhile, have settled on a world where it rains every once in a while, people wear shirts made of money, and they haven't yet heard about Vectron...