Tuesday, April 26, 2011, 8:04 PM
In June 1991, Dragon #170 contained a single page ad with the now familiar sun logo:
I knew from this simple ad that something great was about to be released that would change the D&D experience for all time. Another teaser ad was found in Dragon 171, and full detail ad about Dark Sun found in Dragon 172. Here is the excerpt from the Dragon 171 ad: A drama of unparalleled heroics unfolds. Through centuries of magical abuse, the once verdant Dark Sun world has become a desert wasteland, and its oasis cities are rules by decadent sorcerer-kings. In their desperate struggle for survival, three steadfast people seek to turn their world to its early splendor. So they set forth to overthrow their magic-wielding rulers and liberate their land. Little do they know of the perils standing before them.... From humble beginnings, the most unique Dungeons and Dragons setting has endured for nearly 20 years with an amazing library of content. This post covers that content and, where needed, commentary on that content.
In putting this post together I looked through all the content that has been produced for the Dark Sun setting and compiled a spreadsheet. The method of listing I’ve taken is in chronological order based on the publication date. This means that the development of the product occurred well before publication, but the publication date is telling in that one can imply when changes to the setting began to occur and how quickly.
Though Dark Sun was announced well before September 1991, Dragon 173 had its main features dedicated to the Dark Sun setting which was slated to be released in October of 1991. The main purpose of these features were to advertise, and get gamers accustomed to, the new setting. 2 1991 A New World to Conquer Accessories Polyhedron Magazine 59 2 1991 Psi-Shadow Accessories Polyhedron Magazine 59 6 1991 Bookwyrms (The Prism Pentad) Accessories Polyhedron Magazine 63 9 1991 The Monstrous Side of the Dark Sun World Accessories Dragon Magazine 173 9 1991 A Letter from the Wanderer Accessories Dragon Magazine 173 9 1991 Random Magic for Organized Minds Accessories Dragon Magazine 173 9 1991 A Little Knowledge Short Stories Dragon Magazine 173 The official material for 2nd Edition I separate into 2 periods: The Golden Age and The Revision. Each had points of interest and the novels were interwoven into both periods.
The Golden Age (1991 to 1995):
Dark Sun arrives, and it is different. This re-envisioning of the typical Dungeons and Dragons setting is a stark contrast to previous settings like the Forgotten Realms, Greyhawk, and Dragonlance. There are a great deal of publications during this period which revel in the uniqueness of the setting as well as the only Dark Sun miniatures produced (in 1993 and 1995, which I list in a separate tab in the spreadsheet). The Golden Age is a paradox, because with the release of the campaign setting came the release of the first novel of the world-changing book series “The Prism Pentad”. The series was in essence the beginning of the end since it is the start of changes and explanations of the world which was to be reflected in the revised edition which heralded the end of the 2nd edition setting.
The Revision (1995 - 1999):
In August 1995, Dragon 220, The Game Wizards article entitled “A New Age Dawns for the DARK SUN Campaign” by Bill Slavicsek noted that is was “time to take the campaign world to the next level.” This was the death knell of the 2E Dark Sun setting. It consisted of expanding the world further. In some cases expanding and codifying well accepted canon (e.g. the Cleansing Wars) and in other cases adding new rule concepts to Dark Sun (e.g. life-shaping). This revision saw published products with a new Dark Sun logo, layout changes, and in most cases a reduction of cover art quality. With this failed attempt to make Dark Sun viable, TSR ceased support of the setting. Though the revision really diverged from the simplicity of the first release of the campaign setting there were some very interesting ideas that were introduced such as the Dead Land, Life Shaping, Kalidnay’s Domain of Dread, and cities beyond the Tyr Region like Eldaarich. Luckily, the 4E setting touches on these points (lightly) and there has even been a very nice 4E article on Eldaarich in Dungeon. It was clear that the end was near with Brom no longer being a contributing artist and with the classic DS logo in use only on “Beyond the Prism Pentad”. The novels were continuing with the original logo, with only two more by Lynn Abbey produced until a new Dark Sun novel is published in 2010.
The Dead Years (2000 - 2008):
With the release of 3E, the year 2000 found Athas.org becoming a Dark Sun caretaker as well as die hard fans of Dark Sun continuing to create content and conversions of the setting for 3/3.5E. There were numerous posts and articles on the subject with different groups producing content. A very good all-encompassing 3.5E rules set came from Paizo’s Dragon and Dungeon Magazines. Athas.org also provided rules for Dark Sun but also began producing accessories and adventures. The publication dates I list below are from the last revision’s publication date, so though I have the Athas.org rules published in 2008, there were earlier releases and even preview releases as early as 2000. More content came from fan sites (Siltskimmer.org), and still more from loyal fans on the Dark Sun mailing list and forums. It’s hard to say what should be on the list since I have a lot of content covering quite a lot in those days, but the ones I mention in the list are certainly worth having in any digital collection. Like The Golden Age, The Dead Years are also paradoxical since though official support for Dark Sun didn’t exist, the continued support by fans and their websites helped increase its popularity to such a degree that it was released in the 4th edition. It should be noted that WotC Dragon 364 in June of 2008 contained the first 4E content for Dark Sun well before the Dark Sun 4E announcement.
The Rebirth (2009 - Present):
On August 14th, 2009 WotC announced that Dark Sun would be the next campaign setting for the 4E line. This choice was likely driven by the numerous fans and fan support during the dead years and it’s increased popularity during the same period. The Dark Sun 4E campaign setting was to be released with the same design philosophy as the other 4E products in that there would be little specific published products in favor of products which could be used in any campaign setting. So feasibly, most products for 4E could be used with any game regardless of campaign setting. This appears to be the case when looking at current publications. In the initial release, there were several special events that provided Dark Sun adventures that weren’t available for purchase or download so I list the publication dates when the special event began. If the publication philosophy of WotC was to make most products usable in any setting, this was not necessarily true for Dragon and Dungeon Magazines. There have been numerous Dark Sun specific content provided to readers which are usually quite good and not so specific that they do not give some room for further in-game enhancement (which I claim the revision period lacked). This continued content provisions can be seen as vindication that Dark Sun 4E has shown strong sales and play. The rebirth also saw the first comic book series for the setting which incidentally contained an short adventure in a variant of the first issue. Though the below list mainly the products of WotC or IDW, I’ve included the Ashes of Athas series which was created as a convention-only series of adventures and will soon be released for local-game play.
Much like after the release of the Forgotten Realms and Eberron, and taking into account the release of the 4E Essentials line and the upcoming Neverwinter campaign setting, it’s likely WotC’s support for the setting will diminish slightly to better support the overall D&D systems and newly released content. Despite this, the release and adoption of the Dark Sun campaign setting in 4E and its very loyal fan base can only mean the future of Dark Sun as a campaign setting is secure.
Wednesday, March 30, 2011, 7:25 PM
Remember the box with the pit? I decided to reuse it with a veneer to simulate the silt sink in the first encounter of “Revenge of the Marauders”. It doesn’t add much since the characters might be surprised by the silt sink and once they see it it’s obvious, but it’s one of those props that make it fun. There’s nothing like seeing your mini vanish into silt.
Monday, February 28, 2011, 8:24 AM
As the characters flee Slither in "Marauders of the Dune Sea" I changed the last encounter to have them choose where they would make their last stand against the outriders. With some good role-playing and some good skill checks, they evade Slither long enough to find the exact location they wanted to meet the coming enemy. With one of the players doing some extra things, the group is allowed to make their way to canyons rather than meet the outriders on open desert. This translated into me providing the group the pieces of canyon and sand terrain and had them assemble it however they wanted. This is what they came up with:
It worked out quite well though most of the encounter occurred in an open area since the group didn't all agree how to best attack the enemy.
Saturday, February 26, 2011, 8:35 PM
I made a silt skimmer for a future paragon encounter(s). You can see the construction process at my other site, or you can take a look at the result:
Tuesday, February 15, 2011, 8:47 AM
In one of the final encounters of the “Marauders of the Dune Sea” adventure the group enters it’s most important battle. The battle is set in a 15×12 cave with a 4x4x4 pit in the center, two fountains, and an alter. It’s quite a plain looking room and my original intention was just to draw it on my battle mat. But for the finale of the adventure I couldn’t diminish it with such simplicity, so I decided to create a 3D set where combat would take place.
As I’ve shown before, when you need to go down you have to build up. If I was to incorporate the 20 foot (4 inch) deep pit in a model, I would have to raise the entire set 4 inches. That alone took some effort. Since I couldn’t find a box of the exact (or close to) size I needed, I constructed my own with my most abundant building material: cardboard from the recycling bin. This proved to be more intricate than I thought it would be.
I needed a great number of support columns for the floor, so were you to look underneath the box you would find a Frankenstein monster of disparate pieces of cardboard in a variety of shapes and locations. The pit section itself (where I’ve placed an infinite-use electric tea light) is actually a piece I did separate from the main cave floor and and became the central support column for the whole box. After using varying sections of cardboard I could scrounge up for the floor, I realized it would have been better to have found a large cardboard piece and create a veneer that would give the floor a more uniform look. But since I enjoyed the fact I had done the work without purchasing anything, I kept it as is.
The additional pieces to the model were two fountains and an alter. The alter was no problem and I new what I wanted to do with it (again, in cardboard), but the fountains were something I wanted to expand on. In the adventure, the fountains were described as “dragonhead fountains.” The fountains being dragon heads made very little sense to the story and I suspect they were chosen because there are dungeon tiles for them. I decided I wanted the fountains a little closer to the story so I came up with a fountain with kraken tentacle statues reaching out from them.
Why they would be present at all would be described in part of the Ul-Athra mythos that the players would obtain:
…and so the Dust Kraken reached up from the sea and swallowed it whole, but it found itself still wanting.
And here’s the box in play:
Monday, January 24, 2011, 8:03 PM
An upcoming encounter calls for the players to go down a passageway and then down some stairs into a chamber. As I am fond of ensuring my players have as 3D an experience as possible on a 2D grid, I wanted to create that stair case.
Of course, since the main area was down the stairs and not up them, I decided to raise the entire passageway so that the players could walk down the stairs and onto the main area which would be drawn onto my battle mat. I decided to only raise a portion of the passageway since I didn’t think any encounter would extend back a certain distance, but even if it did I could always draw the rest of the passageway on the mat. In the spirit of re-usability I created several different pieces and just pushed them together. That way, I might make use of a different configuration when the need arises. Here’s what the final set up will look like (sans battle mat):
When seeing how the D&D game tiles do stairs I was a bit perplexed. I noticed that they had 2 steps of a stairs per 1 inch square. When making a 3D step block to match the tiles I immediately realized that having anything less that a 1 inch square would make it odd for minis to stand on them. So I took some license and just made two steps and drew a line through each to give the representation of more stairs. The two blocks adjacent to the squares will be were I’ll put some braziers which are those electric tea lights that are so popular.
Friday, January 21, 2011, 6:52 AM
The props that I’ve been crafting aren’t meant to be exact miniature replicas of the objects they represent. That’s fairly clear. Even though they aren’t exact replicas I do quite well with crafting raw cardboard into interesting terrain, and occasionally I make something of interest. Here are 2 items for an upcoming game that I liked.
Nothing special here, but I needed obelisks with very specific dimensions. So with some cereal box cardboard (the thin stuff) and some choice scoring lines, here they are at 4.5 inches high and fitting on a 1 inch square. For a little more interest for the players I added barazhad script since the adventure has a connection with a primordial.
The map in an adventure had a picture of a skeleton in the center of the room. Originally I thought of buying a wooden 3D puzzle of a snake or dinosaur and using that, but I needed a very specific size and I had a very specific idea on what it should look like. So again, diving into my paper recycling bin I found some heavy cardboard (the kind you find at the back of a notepad) and put together the following using the same principles as the wooden 3D puzzles.
Friday, January 21, 2011, 6:47 AM
I’ve found it fun to create little props for each game. Initially I thought I would create generic props I can use all the time, and those that I have created for such a purpose work quite well. However I’ve come to make specific props for one or all encounters in the game. For game 3 of the campaign I’m in I created generic terrain, but thought it could use some specificity as well.
Be it rocks or wall, I found these two items of use creating more vertical levels available for players to traverse. They were created using furniture packing material and some cereal box sides for the bases. Having two islands allows different configurations.
In the encounter where I was to use these there was some crystal web (from – you guessed it – a crystal spider) amongst the rock. The players don’t see it right away, so I came up with a way to make the webs show up later and look very crystal-web like.
What you see are cardboard covers for the rock terrain with fishing line thread between them to give the web feel. Here are the covers on their own:
I think the terrain went well, and the presentation of the webs later certainly surprised everyone, especially the person who got caught in them (as you can see in the below in-game image).
The terrain is great because I can use it again as rock formations in the Athasian desert. The web covers where very much worth adding because it brought the players that much closer to the how the action was really playing out.
Saturday, November 27, 2010, 9:49 PM
Given that I have no real desire for more gaming books thanks to WotC's pushing of the Essentials line, I've started to work on making the games I DM more interesting. Here enters arts & crafts. As you can see in the below image, I've been putting together some gaming accoutrements.
The first idea came to me after remembering something Raddu76 said in his review of the desert gaming tiles: that not every terrain is a flat surface. I put some wood boards together, glued them, cut them to various sizes, and drew a grid on both sides. One side has a difficult terrain grid, and the other a plain grid. By stacking them in various ways, I can simulate all sorts of three dimensional terrain like dunes or rocks.
The second idea came from a package sent in a 6 foot 4 1/2 inch diameter cardboard tube. I've always had the idea to bring facsimiles of structures onto a plain 2D grid and the tube provided the materials to do so. Sawing the tube into 4 and 8 inch increments, adding a support dowel at one end, layering and gluing two thin pieces of cardboard on top of the dowel and having a grid on that now-layered cardboard gives me a very nice tower-like structure.
I'm interested in seeing how they fair in game and with players as time progresses!
Saturday, November 27, 2010, 9:46 PM
I hope you recall the love I have for my most senior dice. As I have mentioned, they need wax administered to the numbers to provide contrast. However as time passes and the dice are rolled time after time, the wax is dislodged and new wax is needed to restore the luster of past glory.
As I prefer the color white in my numbers, I am hard pressed to find a white crayon given that most free crayons are of the pigmented variety. So when a white crayon finds itself in my presence, rest assured it is used to its full potential, and my dice get a fine new coat of wax.