How to start off a Dark Sun game?

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So my current campaign is coming to a head.  The party has split in two, one side wants to increase the power of the Book of Vile Darkness and the other side of the party wants to destroy them.  I say "them" in two ways.  One way represents the other party members, those wanting to use the Book.  The other is that the party has found 2 copies of the Book of Vile Darkness, one from the material plane in the Nentir Vale,  and one from the Shadowfell side of the Forgotten Realms.

But that's besides the point, and another story.

I'm curious as to how I'm going to start my new campagin set in the Darksun world.  I was thinking about making all the characters start as slaves and fight in teams or alone against creatures in the Tyr Arene for an entire level, just to get the party to get to know each other.  Around level 2 I was thinking of letting the party escape slavery and becoming wanted in Tyr and have to try to escape, or letting the party win their freedom, or be bought by a kinder slave owner and made to do work for the merchant houses guarding carravans or baby sitting merchant nobles doing business around Tyr.  I want the players to know how harsh Athas is first hand.  They got to do A LOT of things they probably shouldn't have gotten away with in the Nentir Vale, so I want them to know that Athas is deadly, in both environment and population.

What say you? 
Athas is dead sure.... or per  say its a dying world.

The only way in and out of that setting is by arcane magic via portals and the like or by spell jamming boats...
viscious world that one, when back in the day it was said to start your character at level three and to make multiple cahractesr being that you would die and die often.

that said, you could have them start out as slaves in the service to some noble who lost his property to a fire and it was thought that all his slaves died in the fire save the pcs who managed to escape unseen during the fire chasing those who started it...

or you could have them as arena gladiators and win their freedom or manage to over throw their guards and escape during the night, sure if you just esscape the guards know who did itm if you free others than the guards and other city officals wont know right away and most of the former gladiators would likely band together and form a criminal gang anyway....

there is one other way, ahve them start out as caravan guards until around level two or three and the caravan is overran and almost to a member is wiped out leaving the party to salvage what they can from the dead and the caravan and try to make it to where ever their desitnation is.  just remember that sould you do this one, the monsters in the encounter must be what one would throw at a lvl 7 pc.

Thats Athas, even the easiest way to start is not so easy...  

a mask everyone has at least two of, one they wear in public and another they wear in private.....
I like your basic idea of starting them as slave-gladiators and then sending them as slave-guards on a caravan run. A elf raid on the caravan could be their cue to escape. Let them get lost in the desert and find an ancient elemental temple from an earlier. Perhaps a defiler died exploring the temple and his ghost haunts the place. Eventually, another party - possibly sponsored by a merchant house - arrives at the temple also.

It's a fairly basic structure, it will get them from 1st to 2nd - even 3rd - level, and it will introduce them to some of the essential themes of Athas.
Cheers Imruphel aka Scrivener of Doom
I dunno. Maybe its because I've seen a few Dark Sun games start out that way, but the slave gladiator setting for starting characters is a bit standard fare (about as common for DS as meeting everyone in a bar is for every other campaign setting). It works to be sure, don't get me wrong, but Athas is a place where the lethality can be described no matter what resources and tools a PC has at their disposal.

Rather than thrusting them straight into the gladiator pits, I'd save that one for a bit later (mid heroic seems a good place). Instead, have them see the harshness of Athas' people from the other end of the whip first, as slavers. Hunting down potential slaves, possibly working with criminal elements within Tyr's walls that still support the actions of slavery. This could lead to the Tyrian authorities discovering the characters and imprisoning them, forcing them to clear their name in the ring. Victory might give the characters their freedom, but now their former employeers are looking to eliminate any loose ends  that could be considered a threat to their operation. This could lead to the characters being forced to flee into the open desert or have an entire crime gang after their heads. What could happen from there is anyones guess.

Hope this helps. Happy Gaming
Another option is to "drop them" into Athas from either the Past or another DnD world.  Have the world nearly or completely unknown to them.  Start them in a Lost Tomb in the desert and have them discover where they are as they exit the tomb.


I ran an Athasian one shot. I had my party start out as passengers and guards on a caravan. When we sat at the table, the group of them were the sole survivors of a disastrous raid on the caravan. They'd been trying to make their way to Tyr since then, crossing the Athasian wastes. If it were a campaign, I probably would have dropped them all down to a healing surge each (or maybe make it a skill challenge to see how many healing surges each of them end up with ), and they were being pursued by a group of baazraag which were hunting them. They then got cornered and had to fight the baazraag, which was the first encounter. At that point, they stumbled into Tyr and were given some time to get to know each other a bit better. My PCs actually were "rescued" from a second onslaught of baazraag by a Tyrian Templar out on patrol with his guards who then offered the plot hook I needed to get them moving.

The caravan allowed for a diversity of backgrounds, though, in contrast to the whole gladiator thing which tends to kind of pigeon hole the PCs.
Start them in the ruins of a caravanserai under which is rumored to be a vault containing the accumalated wealth of The Sandborn, a tribe of elven sand raiders of legend, now long gone. The elves hid the vault's entrance through arcane means though it is said there are clues in the ruins above that point to its location and key.

Let them tell you how they got to that point, how and why their characters are working toward the same goals, and what the treasure in the vault is said to be. Then start with action.

A defiler by the name of Lah Shiphrah is also seeking The Treasure. She doesn't tolerate competition.
Ashes of Athas began their campaign arc by having the PCs attend a secret meeting and get ambushed by slave-takers.  This is a standard Dark Sun trope.

If I was the DM, I would begin with a caravan between two of the big cities.  Let your PCs introduce themselves to each other, and tell why they are travelling.  This saves you some work by making the players do it.  Then have the caravan get jumped by monsters in the desert.  (Maybe a half-dozen baazrag being pursued by something really TOUGH.)

Based on what your PCs want, you can easily...
1. wander the wastes
2. explore some convenient ruins
3. go on to the Big City
4. divert to some other town
5. get in on the caravan industry
6. start trying to kill all the world's monsters

My AoA character - a Dwarven Druid - has an unusual motivation: he wants to learn to read/write Dwarven (they see it in old ruins, but nobody remembers Davek script any more) because he thinks it contains the secret to restoring life to the world.  Your players might come up with something similarly off-the-beaten-path.  Encourage this!  And work it into your plot threads.  You will create your own Dark Sun, not just a generic desert planet.

Get ahold of both the Dark Sun Campaign Guide and the Dark Sun Creature Catalogue and read them through.  They should start your creative juices flowing.

Best complements I have yet received:


Making it up as I go along:

{BRJN} If I was writing the Tome of Lore, I would let Auppenser sleep. But I also would have him dream. In his dreaming he re-activates the innate powers of (some) mortal minds. Or his dreaming changes the nature of reality - currently very malleable thanks to Spellplague &c. Or whatever really cool flavor text and pseudo-science explanation people react positively to.

{Lord_Karsus} You know, I like that better than the explanations for the Spellplague.


{BRJN} If Bhaal approves of The Joker, does he approve of Jack Nicholson's portrayal or Heath Ledger's protrayal more?

{stigger} That question is utterly classic, and completely on target.


Prepped ahead of time:

I started the thread "1001 Failed Interrogation Results" (which seems to have faded into that great electronic goodnight, alas)

{ADHadh} These are all good and make sense! I just can't come up with something that's not covered here and is not completely ridiculous.


My 4e characters:



LFR Half-elf StarLock8 Gondolin Nightstar

AoA Dwarf Guardian Druid8 Narvik from House Wavir

Character Ready-to-go:

Neverwinter Dwarven Invoker / Heir of Delzoun, worships Silvanus (!) "Truenamer" - speaks Words of Creation

Concepts I'm kicking around:

"Buggy" Wizard - insect flavor on everything.  His DMPC version is going to become a Lamia.  Becauae lichdom is so cliche.

Halfling Tempest Fighter - just because nobody else is doing it

Shifter Beast-o-phile Druid - for Nentir Vale campaign