The Desert World of Athas — Dark Sun Campaign Setting
Hello friends, Nerdarchist Ted here to talk about Dungeons & Dragons campaign settings. Today I would like to talk about Dark Sun or the desert world of Athas. With most D&D campaign settings the world is mostly good. That is not the case in Dark Sun. In most campaign settings magic is prevalent and not harmful at its core. In the desert world of Athas magic destroys life just by being cast.
A harsh campaign setting of grim survival
If you are new to Dark Sun it is not for the faint of heart. It is highly recommended to start the game with a character tree. This is where you make 3-5 characters, so you are ready for when one of them dies.
But I am getting a little a head of myself. Athas is the harsh world of grim survival. The major cities are run by evil sorcerer kings or Dragon Kings. They are epic level spellcasters, some of who are in the process of changing themselves into dragons.
The land has been turned to sand and ash by magic. All arcane spellcasting either defiles the ground and destroys all plant life in a radius based on the level of the spell or is cast by a preserver who uses as little power as possible as to not destroy plant life.
Many races are either changed at their core because of the harsh world or have been eradicated during wars. The minions of potent sorcerer kings each picked a race and exterminated them in what became known as the Cleansing Wars. To return Athas to glory, the thinking was they must first destroy all the humanoids that had evolved since that time.
Next, there are no gods in the realm. Some speculate they may have existed in the past and left when they felt the world was no longer worth it. Either way, clerics offer direct worship to the elemental forces and are considered odd at the minimum, completely wacko at the extreme.
In order to be an official cleric you have to offer your life to an element. Attempting to burn yourself alive for fire, throwing yourself off a cliff for air or burying yourself alive for earth. For water all you have to do is find a body of water large enough and attempt to drown. No big deal. If you some how survive the elements have considered you worthy and you get to worship them.
There are also templars, clerics who receive power directly from sorcerer kings and act as their representatives.
Having mentioned water above I had better get around to the big drop. Athas is a desert world and you guessed it, there is no real large bodies of water. In the fourth edition D&D Dark Sun campaign setting release they offer there is one no longer a rumor but actually exists. Desert oases exist here and there and when they are found mercenaries take them over and demand obscene prices for travelers to get water from it. I mean, you never know when it will run dry.
If the harsh weather and blazing sun doesn’t kill you you also have silt which is essentially quicksand. If the blazing sun does not kill you and the silt does not kill you there are monsters — it is D&D after all. Even the plants have developed defensive abilities. And everything is psionic.
Metal is scarce so most things are made of stone, wood, bone or obsidian. This offers more challenges to adventurers.
Now with all this harshness what is the incentive to play you might ask? Overcoming adversity in a challenging world with new and exciting races! You are offered a unique experience to be the outcast as a good character doing good things, the epitome of a hero, in a world devoid of heroes. You can play character options that do not exist in your typical high fantasy setting such as Forgotten Realms. [NERDITOR’S NOTE: If you want to run 5E D&D games set in the Dark Sun campaign setting, here’s my advice.]
I was introduced to it via some awesome novels. Nerdarchist Ryan is currently running a Pathfinder game in this setting now. Feel free to go over to our YouTube channel and watch some of the game play videos located here. You can check us out on Facebook. As always I thank you for tuning into us here. This is Nerdarchist Ted saying, until next time, stay nerdy my friend!