Quick player's Primer for Dark Sun: Fury of the Wastewalker

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With thanks to James Zack.


Welcome to Athas: A Quick Player’s Primer


The world of the DARK SUN Campaign Setting is unique in several ways. Many familiar trappings of the DUNGEONS & DRAGONS game are missing or turned on their heads. Athas is not a place of shining knights and robed wizards, of deep forests and divine pantheons. To venture over the sands of Athas is to enter a world of savagery and splendor that draws on different traditions of fantasy and storytelling. Simple survival beneath the deep red sun is often its own adventure.

Newcomers to Athas have many things to learn about the world, its people, and its monsters, but the following eight characteristics encapsulate the most important features of the DARK SUN campaign setting.

The World is a Desert: Athas is a hot, arid planet covered with endless seas of dunes, lifeless salt flats, stony wastes, rocky badlands, thorny scrublands, and worse. From the first moments of dawn, the crimson sun beats down from an olive-tinged sky. Temperatures routinely exceed 100 degrees by midmorning and can reach 130 degrees or more by late afternoon. The wind is like the blast of a furnace, offering no relief from the oppressive heat. Dust and sand borne on the breeze coat everything with yellow-orange silt. In this forbidding world, cities and villages exist only in a few oases or verdant plains. The world beyond these islands of civilization is a barren wasteland roamed by nomads, raiders, and hungry monsters.

The World is Savage: Life on Athas is brutal and short. Bloodthirsty raiders, greedy slavers, and hordes of inhuman savages overrun the deserts and wastelands. The cities are little better; each chokes in the grip of an immortal tyrant. The vile institution of slavery is widespread on Athas, and many unfortunates spend their lives in chains, toiling for brutal taskmasters. Every year hundreds of slaves, perhaps thousands, are sent to their deaths in bloody arena spectacles. Charity, compassion, kindness—these qualities exist, but they are rare and precious blooms. Only a fool hopes for such riches.

Metal is Scarce: Most arms and armor are made of bone, stone, wood, and other such materials. Mail or plate armor exists only in the treasuries of the sorcerer-kings. Steel blades are almost priceless, weapons that many heroes never see during their lifetimes.

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 power from the living world nearby. Plants wither to black ash, crippling pain wracks animals and people, and the soil is sterilized; nothing can grow in that spot again. It is possible to cast spells with care, avoiding any more damage to the world, but defiling is more potent than preserving. As a result, sorcerers, wizards, and other wielders of arcane magic are generally reviled and persecuted across Athas regardless of whether they preserve or defile. Only the most powerful spellcasters can wield arcane might without fear of reprisals.

Sorcerer-Kings Rule the City-States: Terrible defilers of immense power rule all but one of the city-states. These mighty spellcasters have held their thrones for centuries; no one alive remembers a time before the sorcerer-kings. Some claim to be gods, and some claim to serve gods. Some are brutal oppressors, where others are more subtle in their tyranny. The sorcerer-kings govern through priesthoods or bureaucracies of greedy, ambitious templars, lesser defilers who can call upon the kings’ powers.

The Gods are Silent: Long ago, when the planet was green, the brutal might of the primordials overcame the gods. Today, Athas is a world without deities. There are no clerics, no paladins, and no prophets or religious orders. In the absence of divine influence, other powers have come to prominence in the world. Psionic power is well known and widely practiced on Athas; even unintelligent desert monsters can have deadly psionic abilities. Shamans and druids call upon the primal powers of the world, which are often sculpted by the influence of elemental power.

Fierce Monsters Roam the World: The desert planet has its own deadly ecology. Many creatures that are familiar sights on milder worlds have long since died out or never existed at all. Athas has no cattle, swine, or horses; instead, people tend flocks of erdlus, ride on kanks or crodlus, and draw wagons with inixes and mekillots. Wild creatures such as lions, bears, and wolves are almost nonexistent. In their place are terrors such as the id fiend, the baazrag, and the tembo.

Familiar Races Aren’t What You Expect: Typical fantasy stereotypes don’t apply to Athasian heroes. In many DUNGEONS & DRAGONS settings, elves are wise, benevolent forest-dwellers who guard their homelands from intrusions of evil. 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 trespassers in their mountain forests. Goliaths—or half-giants, as they are commonly known—are brutal mercenaries that serve as elite guards and enforcers for the sorcerer-kings and their templars in many city-states.
Excellent post!!
Mudbunny SVCL for DDI Before you post, think of the Monkeysphere
Just to be clear, this is what came to store organizers in the initial information from WotC.

It is very good information! I have also begun a daily Twitter and weekly blog on Dark Sun. It is specifically aimed at the new players and DMs looking to get involved with the campaign setting.

Follow my blog and Twitter feed with Dark Sun campaign design and DM tips!
Dark Sun's Ashes of Athas Campaign is now available for home play (PM me with your e-mail to order the campaign adventures).

I think I posted this somewhere else, but this appears to be the more appropriate thread for my question:

Are the pregen characters available for download?  If so please let us know!


So, what, all I gotta do is show up at a participating location? Time to head to my FLGS for some recon.
hooray. i just grabbed a seat and looked over things at the FLGS where i've been DMing season 1. I love the material. I didn't read in great depth, but didn't happen to see any details of defiling/preserving. There is only one arcane PC, so it might not get chosen from among the players, but I'd like to know how that will be handled.

Gotta say. I like the thri kreen. I like it a lot.
I think I posted this somewhere else, but this appears to be the more appropriate thread for my question:

Are the pregen characters available for download?  If so please let us know!

According to the package that should be in most stores, the pre-gens should be available as a download from the main Wizards/DnD page, under Events, then Downloads.  They are not there yet, though.

So, what, all I gotta do is show up at a participating location? Time to head to my FLGS for some recon.

Pretty much do just that.  At the store I have been running things out of, we are pretty full with two tables, but I always try to accommodate anyone who shows up if I can manage it.  Knowing ahead of time how many players to expect is nice.

hooray. i just grabbed a seat and looked over things at the FLGS where i've been DMing season 1. I love the material. I didn't read in great depth, but didn't happen to see any details of defiling/preserving. There is only one arcane PC, so it might not get chosen from among the players, but I'd like to know how that will be handled.

Gotta say. I like the thri kreen. I like it a lot.


I was a little surprised that there was no mention of Preserving or Defiling in the Arcane character, too.  I think the Dark Sun preview characters from DDXP are available on the net in PDF form, I know the Warlock from that had a Defiling ability - something along the lines of "You miss with this attack, you can reroll, but all allies within 20 squares take 2 points of damage".  I can't promise that that is accurate, but it was along those lines.
What makes me sad - no more compiled magazines: http://community.wizards.com/go/thread/view/75882/27580349/Dungeon_and_Dragon_Magazine_PDFs&post_num=24#495423645
Most of this is right out of the Dark Sun: Revised box set XD

Since not all DMs will be familiar with Athasian creatures, I thought it would be a good idea to post a Quick DM's Creature Primer...

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Silt Runners: These small lizard-like men are common on Athas. They usually live the life of raiders, although occasionally a lair will be found. Silt runners move very quickly and have broad, flat feet. They can even run across silt for short stretches. They hate elves with a passion; an entire raiding party of silt runners may turn aside from a caravan to attack a lone elf. Silt runners are small, green, scaled, and ugly. They have protruding snouts filled with sharp teeth. Silt runners wear little or no clothing. What they do wear is usually more of a trophy than any covering for the sake of modesty or protection. [Source: AD&D Dark Sun Monstrous Compendium Appendix]


Kanks: Kanks are large, docile insects with black, segmented, chitinous exoskeletons, covering their head, thorax and abdomen. Kanks grow up to eight feet in length, four feet in height, and can weigh as much as 400 pounds. At the front of their head, kanks sport a pair of sharp pincers which they use for both feeding and fighting. The thorax of a kank has six legs. Each leg has a strong claw at its end, allowing the creature to grip the surfaces it walks upon. Like most insects, the kank's abdomen has no appendages and is supported by the rest of its body. [Source: AD&D Dark Sun Monstrous Compendium Appendix]


Goblins: If you don't know what goblins are, you haven't been playing D&D. Check the Monster Manual.


Spiretop Drakes: Spiretop drakes have folds of loose skin that stretch between their front and back legs. This skin unfolds when they extend their legs creating a wing membrane. They have a long, lean frame and are light of bone, contributing to their speed and agility. [Source: Drake, Air from AD&D Dark Sun Monstrous Compendium Appendix]


Ssurrans: Ssurrans are nomadic, humanoid reptiles. Some are raiders while others are simple hunters. As lizard men of the desert, they have adapted to the heat of the Athasian day and are active even during the blazing mid-day heat. Adult ssurrans are 4 to 6 feet tall, weighing from 180 to 225 pounds. There is little difference between males and females. Their skin tones range from light green to brown to red. Their faces are humanoid. but they have forked tongues. Ssurrans speak their own language that sounds like grunts, growls, and hissing. Their tails are 2 to 3 feet long and are not prehensile. Ssurrans typically dress in little more than loin cloths, bone jewelry, and armor. They usually carry weapons they have taken from past victims. [Source: AD&D Dark Sun Monstrous Compendium Appendix II]


Dust Devils: A living mote of elemental air, a dust devil is a destructive creature that sends its enemies flying. [Source: D&D Monster Manual 2]


Ankhegs: Loathsome insects with a taste for bipedal prey, ankhegs burst from hiding to seize the unwary. An ankheg moves with great stealth, but might be detected by the faint whiff of acid dripping from its twitching mandibles. [Source: D&D Monster Manual 2]


But I thought...
...that gobbos were an extinct species on Athas. I was going to play that Encounter as "WTF ARE THESE THINGS OMG THEY'VE BEEN EXTINCT FOR 3 MILLENNIA!"
[sblock=spoiler on Athas' past in previous editions and a certain monster]
Daskinor, the 14th Champion, bore the title of "Goblin Death". It had been previously reported that (after 822 years) he had managed to kill the last goblin. I am not aware of any previous (live) goblin mentions in DS material.

It could be in error, or it could be that they are bringing them back. Goblins are like roaches. Then again, I think Athasian roaches are way cooler than everyday goblins. I will likely reskin them to something else.
[/spoiler]

Follow my blog and Twitter feed with Dark Sun campaign design and DM tips!
Dark Sun's Ashes of Athas Campaign is now available for home play (PM me with your e-mail to order the campaign adventures).

Really?
I am sorely disappointed that there are goblins in this adventure.  Goblins, seriously?  In Dark Sun?  In the adventure showcasing Dark Sun?  Why goblins?
well I'm going to resolve this by...
...reskinning the gobbos into caniballistic halflings XD That should sufficiently freak everyone out and properly showcase a feature of Dark Sun!
So...
DMs should definitely do whatever they want to flavor their game to their liking/style, but there are some things that are different about 4E Dark Sun than the previous edition. I haven't looked at all the monsters, but it's possible that gobos weren't omitted from 4e Dark Sun for whatever reasons. There was also a crazy amount of convoluted and confusing contradictions (do I get points for alliteration?) just within the previous edition of Dark Sun source material and novels. I just want people to be aware that while the upcoming version of Dark Sun feels very much like the deadly wastelands and vicious city-states of the older version, expect some details to change. Oh, and yes, there are definitely still canabilistic halflings

But again, all that said, definitely reskin things to be more fun/flavorful if you want to!

Trevor Kidd Community Manager

I'm always a big fan of "what is" as opposed to "what was" in terms of a new, or re-newed, campaign settings.  That said there are some ways a DM can work a particular monster to make it feel more Dark Sun -ish

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  Don't call the goblins goblins at all!  Make up a cool decription of something else, or at least flavor them differently.

"A tribe of small dusty skinned creatures emerge from atop the badlands.  Their skin looks dried and scaley, giving them the appearance of wind beaten rock.  Their beady black eyes peer out at you hidden behind bone armor arranged to make them appear as skeletons.  Their trappings seemingly more ceremonial than practical.  Two creatures have odd fins attacked to their legs."

You could easily call the race Sandlings and give historic details similar to the goblin race, but time in the sun blasted wastes of Athas have changed them.  These are the poor surviving species of a once far more numerous race.

Ok guys, now you're all being cruel. You can't keep posting in a thread called "Quick Player's Primer for Dark Sun: Fury of the Wastewalker" and tease us players with potential spoilers in each post.
That is a good point. DMs should note there are now better threads for the DM-only stuff!

Follow my blog and Twitter feed with Dark Sun campaign design and DM tips!
Dark Sun's Ashes of Athas Campaign is now available for home play (PM me with your e-mail to order the campaign adventures).

With thanks to James Zack.


The Gods are Silent: Long ago, when the planet was green, the brutal might of the primordials overcame the gods. Today, Athas is a world without deities. There are no clerics, no paladins, and no prophets or religious orders. In the absence of divine influence, other powers have come to prominence in the world. Psionic power is well known and widely practiced on Athas; even unintelligent desert monsters can have deadly psionic abilities. Shamans and druids call upon the primal powers of the world, which are often sculpted by the influence of elemental power.



Reading through the old version of 2nd edition Dark Sun it says that the gods were never part of the world and there was a grey mist that surrounded the Dark Sun Sphere that prevented deity access to the world.

I guess they changed the origin story to fit better in their Primordials/God war.

I prefer the older version the mystery on where this grey mist came from is more interesting.
James Playing D&D since the Red Box of '83.
That is the fantastic thing about D&D!  We as DM's (and players) can change the settings (and rules) as much as we want!

I'm running a 4E Forgotten realms game where old PC's from 3.5 still have had an impact on the world and their grandchildren (and great GC's) still roam.

That said, for Dark Sun I've got a ton of the old material and I'm sure I'll still use a bunch of it.  The Thri-kreen book is great and I'm hoping a Dragon/Dungeon article about the kreen pops up at some point!
The other fun thing is watching how what we love and hate is so firmly dependent on what we grew up with. If you grew up with 1st ed, with the first Manual of the Planes, with Planescape, with 3.5, with 4E's Primordial vs Gods...

The hard truth is that they are all cool concepts based loosely on real myth. Some aspect is bound to resonate with us at a base level, plus seem imaginative and fantastic and cool.

That aside, certain things do seem to fit better for certain campaigns. The Greek/Roman pantheon concept works very well in some settings, for example. The idea of Sigil works well in others.

Dark Sun has always been a bit hard for me to peg. On the one hand, I love the uniqueness of never having had gods. On the other, I love the idea of having lost them. (And, unlike Dragonlance, in a "they will never come back, ever" kind of way).

The literature is all over the place. There are plenty of references (such as in Troy Denning's novels) to religion being something that was lost and with real remnants of faith and power left behind. On the other hand, the official history of Athas is completely godless. *shrug*

I do miss the idea of the elemental clerics. While non-divine leaders through other forces work fine mechanics-wise, I really miss the elemental worship. I would like to see that return. If anything, the 4E cosmology seems to support this more than ever.

Follow my blog and Twitter feed with Dark Sun campaign design and DM tips!
Dark Sun's Ashes of Athas Campaign is now available for home play (PM me with your e-mail to order the campaign adventures).

I feel ya Teos.  I definitely think some kind of Avenger works really well with the elemental clerics...even though it's Divine.  I guess we're looking for some sort of Primal Paladin of sorts...



The other fun thing is watching how what we love and hate is so firmly dependent on what we grew up with. If you grew up with 1st ed, with the first Manual of the Planes, with Planescape, with 3.5, with 4E's Primordial vs Gods...

The hard truth is that they are all cool concepts based loosely on real myth. Some aspect is bound to resonate with us at a base level, plus seem imaginative and fantastic and cool.

That aside, certain things do seem to fit better for certain campaigns. The Greek/Roman pantheon concept works very well in some settings, for example. The idea of Sigil works well in others.

Dark Sun has always been a bit hard for me to peg. On the one hand, I love the uniqueness of never having had gods. On the other, I love the idea of having lost them. (And, unlike Dragonlance, in a "they will never come back, ever" kind of way).

The literature is all over the place. There are plenty of references (such as in Troy Denning's novels) to religion being something that was lost and with real remnants of faith and power left behind. On the other hand, the official history of Athas is completely godless. *shrug*

I do miss the idea of the elemental clerics. While non-divine leaders through other forces work fine mechanics-wise, I really miss the elemental worship. I would like to see that return. If anything, the 4E cosmology seems to support this more than ever.



I felt that 4e will really give the Athasian "cosmology" a chance to shine actually. Primal classes seem to fit right in for me without the shoehorning we had to do in 2nd. I played a lot of Darksun back in the day. Clerics were one of my pet peeves! Shamans take over that same role and do so perfectly IMO. Obviously you need to change the Animal name to something Athas appropriate but that is mere flavor and easily done. I feel losing divine power is an easy drop in 4th. 
Bouncing In and Out of Nowhere The Watchmen- In the Trees
I guess I just loved the image of that Athasian cleric kneeling before the rising sun each day, or the water cleric blessing every precious drop. This just really spoke to me. Easy to do in a home campaign, but I would like to see it back in the setting.

I love the shaman class, but I see it as really spirit driven and not the same kind of worship of the raw elemental energy and their manifestations. A fire spirit/elemental is not the sun, the burning sand, etc.

I also see the idea of the Primordials winning as contradicting there being no clerics. And, as not really fitting. They win and then do nothing? If they won, shouldn't they rule all and be worshipped even more? I can work around that, but it just doesn't fit as well as "no gods".

Follow my blog and Twitter feed with Dark Sun campaign design and DM tips!
Dark Sun's Ashes of Athas Campaign is now available for home play (PM me with your e-mail to order the campaign adventures).