Hi, everybody, welcome back!
As I promised last time, itâ€™s back to Dark Sun for this blog post. First, Iâ€™ll take the liberty of confirming what a number of you have already inferred from the catalog copy thatâ€™s availableâ€”the timeframe of the Campaign Guide is a few weeks after King Kalakâ€™s death, when Tyr is still seething in revolutionary fervor and various factions are struggling for control. Tithian might be king, but heâ€™s king over a city that just deposed a much more fearsome and capable king than he currently is, so he has to tread lightly and cement his rule with great care. There are a couple of reasons we chose this specific moment for the setting of the new 4th Edition Dark Sun, but Iâ€™ll leave that discussion for another venue.
Once we decided to set our new edition of Dark Sun in this particular era, we naturally saw an opportunity to fix something that bugged us game designers at TSR for years. The 1991 boxed set presented a beautiful snapshot of this incredibly evocative, unique D&D worldâ€”and it was rendered partially obsolete by the very first adventure and the very first novel to come out for the setting, because what the boxed set said about the city of Tyr was no longer true. Rather than give people pre-revolution Tyr again, we thought weâ€™d be wiser to give people Tyr as itâ€™s going to be for a while. Itâ€™s a dynamic and unbalanced situation, one full of adventure possibilities, but it could go on that way for months or years. It means that thereâ€™s a years-long in-game window for your games to run in accordance with the canon of the new Campaign Guide, instead of a window of days or weeks before Kalak gets killed and what we printed ainâ€™t true anymore. So tip your hat to the new revolution, take a bow for the new constitution!
All right, with that much out of the way, Iâ€™ll move on to another topic I feel pretty safe in talking about: The Ringing Mountains and the Forest Ridge. Just like the Dragonâ€™s Bowl always bugged me (see my blog post of a few weeks back), the mountains troubled me too. Why didnâ€™t people living in the blasted desert take the Forest Ridge for their own? I mean, here are these mighty sorcerer-kings with huge armies and loyal spellcasters at their beck and call, and theyâ€™re happy to live in the wasteland when thereâ€™s a cool, well-watered paradise right next door? It always seemed strange to me. So in revising Dark Sun this year, I found myself wondering what sort of obstacle those mountains had to be in order to keep everyone else from moving in on the halflings.
The first thing I realized is that these might be really serious mountains. What if weâ€™re talking about the Andes here? The Forest Ridge might be like the altiplano of Bolivia. If itâ€™s 10,000 feet up, that is a truly significant obstacle. Back in 1991, I totally didnâ€™t get the whole â€śringingâ€ť thing and the Wandererâ€™s Journal emphasis on how travelers found themselves dizzy from the thin air (I grew up on the flat, flat, flat Jersey shore). It just didn't seem like anything that would be a real impediment to me. Well, last September I had the opportunity to drive through RockyMountainNational Park with my wife and kids. The pass we went through was over 11,000 feet in elevationâ€¦ and I discovered how much altitude can just knock you on your butt. Iâ€™ve done a lot of hiking in the Cascades around 5,000 to 7,000 feet in the last few years, but going over the Rockies I hit a real wall right around 10k. I almost felt like I was drunk. I mean, I had no idea. So thatâ€™s one more place where Colorado native Troy Denning clearly had some personal experience and insight that I hadnâ€™t ever appreciated. He knew what he was writing about when he was talking about those darned mountains. (Sorry I didnâ€™t believe you before, Troy!)
(For that matter, I finally made it down to Arizona a couple of years ago and saw the spectacular mesas around Sedona. I tried toÂ slip a little bit of the mesa landscape into the writing and art descriptions of the Tablelands. Living out here in Washington State, traveling a little more in this half of the country,Â and seeing more of real mountains and desert over the last few years really has given me a different perspective on the scenery of Athas. Looking back on it, the magic of the Wanderer's Journal was how well it conjured up such a complete and evocative description of Athas for someone who'd never really seen desert before, which was certainly true for me back in 1991. It's really a remarkable piece of writing, with some wonderfully lyrical passages and imagery... we've borrowed from the Wanderer's Journal in quite a few places for call-outs and flavor quotes, and I think it works really well. Your mileage may vary, of course.)
All right, so say the RingingMountains are like the Andes. The passes arenâ€™t 4,000 or 5,000 feet, theyâ€™re more like 12,000 feet up. Getting an army up there would be incredibly difficult. (Jose de San Martin lost a third of his army in three weeks when he crossed the Andes in 1817. Look it up, itâ€™s a hell of a story.) Well, when you say â€śAndes,â€ť I naturally think of things like Macchu Picchu, Incan roads, lost cities, all sorts of interesting things. And that suggests something interesting about the halflings of the Forest Ridge: Maybe theyâ€™re living in the ruins of their own ancient empire. Some folks speculate that the Incas werenâ€™t actually the builders of many of the fortresses and cities they lived in at the time of the conquest. Likewise, the savage halfling tribes might be living among the ruins of an older, more advanced halfling civilization thatâ€™s long since vanished. Imagine that the Forest Ridge is crisscrossed by mysterious ancient mountain roads, with old long-abandoned halfling Macchu Picchus hiding among misty peaks. Maybe that old halfling empire was resilient enough, vital enough, to stand up to the armies of Rajaat back in the day, and thatâ€™s why the Forest Ridge wasnâ€™t defiled. What sorts of treasures--or threats--might be buried in vaults in those ruined mountain fortresses?
The idea of the old halfling civilization led me to think about the bits here and there in old Dark Sun about â€ślife scienceâ€ť and â€śnature magic.â€ť In the context of 4e, that points pretty squarely at the primal power source. Well, we know the old halfling empire wasnâ€™t likely using much divine or arcane magic. What if they were an empire whose magical might was founded on primal magic? What if, in fact, they used their mastery of primal magic to create powerful wards and defenses against defiling? Maybe the forestâ€™s borders and the mountainsides are dotted with ancient moai statues anchoring an ancient interdiction or ban against defiling within the bounds of the halflingsâ€™ old kingdom. The old wards are fading now, but defilers calling upon their powers inside the ban still suffer shooting pains, nausea, nosebleeds, and so on instead of the â€śrushâ€ť of defiling. Or maybe the wards somehow mark defilers as enemies, so that the natural flora and fauna seem to direct all their attention to driving off/killing the offender. Any army of the sorcerer-kings heading up into the mountains would be physically crippled by the grueling ascent, and magically blunted by the halflingsâ€™ ancient interdictions. So, in a scenario like that, the sorcerer-kings would have long ago realized that conquering the Forest Ridge just wasnâ€™t feasible without risking everything they already controlled, so theyâ€™ve decided to leave it alone. Itâ€™s not like theyâ€™re thirsty or hungry down in the desert, after all.
So there you have the RingingMountains of Athas. You start thinking about one small question in world-building, and like pulling a thread out of a sweater, you find yourself drawn on from one topic to the next. In this case, I think it led me to a pretty interesting place. But then Iâ€™m a goob for that sort of world detail.
For you War at SeaÂ fans: Next week it's your turn.Â I'll tip off a few units fromÂ Condition Zebra. And for you general D&D fans, I've got a small secret about warlocks I'm just itching to spill sooner or later. If I can talk about three ships for Christmas, maybe I'll talk a little bit about stars too.