Mirrors in the Desert
Dark Sun takes place in the world of Athas and, for our campaign especially, focuses on the region of Tyr. If you want to get to know Dark Sun, Rich Baker and Rodney Thompson put it best when writing for the official Dungeons and Dragons website…..
Athas in Seven Sentences
The world of the Dark Sun setting is unique. This is not a world of shining knights and robed wizards, of deep forests and holy shrines. Athas draws on different traditions of fantasy storytelling; simple survival beneath the crimson sun is often its own adventure. With that in mind, here are the seven most important things you need to know about the Dark Sun setting:
The world is a desert.
Athas is a hot, arid world covered with vast stretches of desert—endless seas of dunes, stony wastes, thorny scrublands, and worse. In this forbidding world, cities and villages can only exist in a few oases or verdant plains. Beyond these islands of civilization is a barren wasteland roamed by nomads, raiders, and hungry monsters.
The world is savage.
Life is brutal and short in Athas. The vile institution of slavery is widespread in Athas, and hundreds, perhaps thousands, are sent to their deaths every year in bloody arena spectacles. Metal is quite scarce. Arms and armor are often made of bone, stone, wood, and other such materials, because steel is priceless.
Arcane magic defiles the world.
Athas was reduced to a wasteland by the reckless use of arcane magic in ancient wars. To cast an arcane spell, one must gather power from the living world around. Plants wither to black ash, crippling pain wracks animals and people, and the soil itself is sterilized; nothing can grow in that spot again.
Terrible sorcerer-kings rule the cities.
The city-states of Athas are ruled by defilers of immense power. These mighty spellcasters have held their thrones for centuries. The sorcerer-kings govern through templars, a class of officials and lesser defilers who can call upon the kings’ powers.
The gods of Athas are silent.
Athas is a world without gods. There are no clerics, no paladins, no prophets or religious orders. In the absence of divine influence, people have turned to other sources of power. Psionic power is well known and widely practiced in Athas, while shamans and druids call upon the primal powers of the world—even though the primal spirits of Athas are often wild and vengeful.
Fierce and deadly monsters populate the world.
Athas is home to its own deadly ecology. Cattle, horses, camels—none of these animals can be found in Athas. Instead, people tend flocks of erdlus, ride on kanks or crodlus, and draw wagons with inixes and mekillots. Wild creatures such as lions, bears, or wolves are almost nonexistent. In their place are terrors such as the id beast, the so-ut, or the tembo.
Familiar races aren’t what you expect.
Many of the fantasy stereotypes don’t apply to Athasian heroes. On Athas, elves are a nomadic race of herders, raiders, peddlers, and thieves. Halflings aren’t amiable river-folk; they’re xenophobic headhunters and cannibals who hunt and kill anyone foolish enough to venture into their montane forests. Each of the major races has adapted to Athas in new and unexpected ways.
In addition, I’d like to add two more rules that are emphasized in my campaign.
Heroism is rare.
Even after the overthrow of King Kalak, heroism and good deeds are rare. The revolution in Tyr was more of a sporadic trick of radiance than a beacon of freedom, and in its aftermath other attempted revolts have been spread. Most still think only of themselves, their families, their friends, and their interests; any individuals that seek to “save the world” are extraordinary in their virtue.
Knowledge is tightly controlled.
In Athas, knowing more than everyone else is what keeps you alive. If you know the safest trade routes, you’ll outlive your competitors; similarly, Sorcerer-Kings guard closely both their arcane lore and the world’s true history. Even agents of the Veiled Alliance, when undertaking missions to fight bank against the Sorcerer-Kings, operate on a need to know basis — anybody could be a double agent, after all. What is this, a world of heroes?