I came to love Dark Sun through an online mud called ArmageddonMUD. I discovered much to my disappointment that while ArmageddonMUD is inspired by Dark Sun, it has very loose connections with the game. It took some of the core concepts and then totally turned them into a new setting. As such, there are a lot of things about Dark Sun that I straight up hate. I hate the idea of templars being defilers. I hate the idea of the sorcerer-kings being evil entities that need to be overthrown. I hate the idea that the Dragon is actually an alright bloke and just severely misunderstood. I also think that Dark Sun is simply too high magic for my tastes (that's right. Dark Sun has too much magic in it).
I've got one campaign planned for Dark Sun using the original modules that were published (with a small twist on my part to completely turn the intended storyline on it's head). I've got a second campaign worked out as well where the players are members of a criminal gang who live in the slums and eventually cause all sorts of trouble with gith being the primary antagonists. But I've been struggling to come up with a third campaign. The previous two campaigns are set in Urik and Tyr, because I'm not a big fan of any of the other city-states (and even then I'm not sure if Tyr survives the first campaign or not). So I can easily have a zombie apocalypse with the bottom half of Athas and it not a wick of difference for the campaign in the long run. Here's my idea so far.
The Walking Dead: Athas Edition
The PCs are starting in the city-state known as Steinal (geographically located where Balic is suppose to be). The PCs can make whatever they want in terms of being either a noble, merchant, Templar, elementalist, or a mundane class. Hell, I'll be generous. I'll even let them play defilers or preservers. For one campaign we're going to have a big bad guy that's worse than even a defiler.
In terms of races they can again play any of the standard Dark Sun races (some races are locked into certain roles. Such as halflings which must be a slave of some sort). They get given a write up on how Steinal is so much nicer then the rest of the world. Elementalists work for the sorcerer-king in order to create an eden. Fountains exist everywhere and plotted plants line the main streets.
The campaign starts in Steinal’s great bazaar. The PCs are there for various reasons (perhaps they own a stall. Perhaps they are soldiers and are patrolling the area looking for criminals. Perhaps they’re criminals looking to steal some coin. Perhaps they’re there to buy some clothes or food). Whatever the reason they mill about a bit, if there’s a pickpocket PC they’re given the opportunity to get caught by a Templar PC. If someone’s a beggar, they’re given the opportunity to beg for some coins from a noble PC. Whatever happens, they suddenly hear some screams coming from one end of the bazaar. The PCs are given a brief moment to react (walk towards it, walk away, do nothing). Before they go too far they start hearing more screams and people start running. Suddenly there’s a stampede of people running as the PCs discover there is a mob of undead running towards them. Roll for initiative.
This will be a deadly fight. If any of the PCs engage in combat there’s a good chance they die. If they run, there’s less of a chance they die, but they’ll need to hide somewhere. Those PCs who fight. If they survive they get the opportunity to either lead an army against these undead (if they’re a soldier or Templar) or join an army against the undead. Eventually the undead are destroyed and although the city suffered a heavy loss of life, those who have survived are glad to be alive.
That night the living are celebrating their good fortune in a tavern. They celebrate late into the night with heavy drinking. At midnight those who died to the undead attack start to rise once more. The city is attacked once more. This time it’s from the inside and it’s while everyone is asleep or drunk. The PCs are once more forced to flee for their lives. Come morning everyone is either hiding or lying dead in the streets (which means that night they’ll rise as undead). Any PCs who died before they found a safe hiding spot get to roll up new characters who are hiding nearby and join the rest of the PCs.
What’s happened is a Nilazi Elementalist (more information on these guys is available here) has been raising an army of undead south of the Known World. He has amassed a large enough army that he now plans to march onto the rest of the Known World and kill everything in sight. He’s heading straight for Tyr as his base of operations. All this is possible thanks to a powerful gem he found. An artefact from before times of antiquity. If this gem is destroyed, then he’ll lose control of his army of undead and those who fall to the bite of the undead will stop rising as undead themselves.
Of course the PCs don’t know any of this yet. All they know is that almost everyone in the city is undead and they’re the only survivors and who knows for how much longer they’ll be able to survive.
They can either hole up in a noble’s Estate and try to live life peacefully here. It might even work for a few years depending on the composition of the party and the NPCs they save. But eventually they’ll slip up (or an NPC will). Or they’ll have to contend with raiders who lead the undead into the noble estate. At which point they’ll have to abandon their home and brave the wilds once more. If the PCs flee the city straight away they walk right into an army of undead and need to go hide somewhere until the main forces pass by. At which point they’re blocked off from the rest of civilisation (the northern cities of Gulg, Urik, Draj, Raam).
Other highlights of the campaign:
- A loving husband: a husband who has his zombie wife chained up in their bedroom. He goes out into the city at night, looking for survivors so he can feed them to his wife.
- Cult of the Zombies: survivors who form a cult around the zombies and are trying to transform themselves into zombies while still keeping their personalities.
- Defilers: Hey guys. We’re not actually so bad at the moment. We can use our powerful magicks to destroy the zombies. All we ask in return is some of your hit die each day. That isn’t so bad is it?
- A bandits camp: this has a stash of weapons and mountains of coin. Unfortunately it’s completely worthless now that civilisation is destroyed and far too heavy to carry north with them up to the civilised cities. I’m such an evil DM.
- Silt Skimmer Pirates: Hey guys. Come live with us. We’re out in the islands where it’s nice and safe. The undead can’t get us on the islands. You’ll be safe with us. And they are for a year. Until a flock of undead Silt Flyers come and kill a little boy. Even if they destroy the boy and the silt flyers, soon after come the Undead Silt Giants. Did I mention I was an evil DM?
NOTES: The reason I've changed the name from Balic to Steinal is because in Armageddon there was the legendary city-state of Steinal that was destroyed Ages ago. Ever since treasure hunters have searched for the legendary city-state of Steinal. Some even claim to have found it. This is obviously inspired by Guysteinal.
After the "Undead-Pocalypse" I'm going to fast forward the timeline by an Age or two and allow Steinal to become a legend that people search the desert sands for. This is also why I've made Steinal a paradise (the only paradise on all of Athas). I'm happy for it to break the grim and gritty harsh landscape for a whole 5 minutes.