Face The Brutality Of The Dark Sun Campaign Setting
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    Myrmidon (Lvl 10)



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    Face The Brutality Of The Dark Sun Campaign Setting

    The world of Dark Sun existed as an eco-disaster with most uses of arcane magic burning life to dust. Steel exists only as lost treasure and iron is as rare as gold. Water gives life but is a rare commodity and even if an oasis can be found it is likely protected or may be the hunting grounds for some menacing beast. Heavy armor is not only rare but likely to bake its wearer beneath the brutal sun and lead to death even without a battle.

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    Dark Sun is an Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Second Edition boxed set and world. This review covers the original boxed set and not the revised version or the fourth edition hardcover.

    The boxed set includes a 96-page rules book, a 96-page campaign guide, a booklet titled "A Little Knowledge" (featuring a short story and a few Monstrous Compendium entries), a pair of color maps, a poster with Broms art, and two spiral-bound flip books featuring an introductory adventure with art for the players to see.

    In this first boxed set, Dark Sun required the three core rulebooks, the Complete Psionics Handbook, and Battlesystem. While the Dark Sun Monstrous Compendium came out later, I think it is easier to use than a monster here or there from various compendiums as detailed in the rules.

    Dark Sun takes the rules of second edition and turns them up to 11. Starting ability scores go up to 20. All characters start at 3rd level and everyone has psionics. Dwarves can be triple-classed and yes you can actually play a cleric/mage/psionicist.

    In the campaign Im running, the 3rd level psionicist can use dimension door nine times a day. By comparison, a mage in the "standard" rules would have to be 7th level to cast that spell and could only do so once a day. The gladiator has weapon specialization in multiple weapons and does +6 damage on a hit (even with a fist). The thief has a high enough dexterity that he can hide in shadows 50% of the time, so he can backstab often. Everyone is effective and powerful so it works. Characters have to be rough because the world is so brutal and unforgiving.

    These wild powerful rules combine with the desolate world of Athas. Sand and dust cover a world that barely supports the lives of violent and dangerous races. The sun hangs bloated and massive, a dying orb. Elves are shifty double dealing nomads while halflings thrive in jungles and hunt other races as food. Mul are half-dwarf/half-humans frequently serving as gladiator slaves. Thri-kreen are mantis-folk who eat everyone else.

    In short, the world is as wild as the rules. And again, it works. Things are mutated. Creatures that look like dumb brutes may wield hidden psionic or magic power. Most of the monsters on Athas are unique and unlike anything on other D&D worlds. Even the familiar races are twisted and strange.

    What do characters have to face? Powerful sorcerer kings rule each city. Ancient and deadly mages called defilers, each sorcerer king wields vast arcane and material power. All command powerful armies and legions of slaves. And the dragon (there is one) consumes all, burning entire city states to ash and condemning an entire city culture and its sorcerer king to oblivion when it awakes.

    Dark Sun shines with dazzling visuals, an amazing layout and structure of the physical products, and the well detailed burning world of Athas. Some of the adventures can still be bought new for a decent price and most of the products are for sale used at a reasonable value if you are willing to wait for the right offer. The game runs well with PDFs as well as the books are black and white.

    This article was contributed by Charles Dunwoody as part of EN World's Columnist (ENWC) program. Please note that Charles is a participant in the OneBookShelf Affiliate Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to DriveThruRPG. We are always on the lookout for freelance columnists! If you have a pitch, please contact us!

  2. #2
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    Waghalter (Lvl 7)

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    Last summer I bought a mint condition Dark Sun Boxed Set for 50 bucks on eBay. I keep it in a safe place.
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    I started D&D in highschool playing dark sun. It can be such an immersive world. Lots of books as well provide a colorful world of dust and ash.
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  4. #4
    I loved Dark Sun during my AD & D days. It never captured my interest quite like Spelljammer or Dragonlance, but certainly holds a special place in my heart. The Thri-Kreen are bad ass. I spent far too many all-nighters playing the computer game.
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    Myrmidon (Lvl 10)



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    Quote Originally Posted by Nostalgia Ward View Post
    I loved Dark Sun during my AD & D days. It never captured my interest quite like Spelljammer or Dragonlance, but certainly holds a special place in my heart. The Thri-Kreen are bad ass. I spent far too many all-nighters playing the computer game.
    We have two thri-kreen in the party. The ranger struggles with his hunger when he promises a defeated enemy he won't eat them. He hasn't reneged on a promise yet.
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    Defender (Lvl 8)



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    Never played Dark Sun...with the players higher powered compared to normal 2e, how did game play balance out for monsters in combat? Just throw another in there or max hp etc?

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    Grandmaster of Flowers (Lvl 18)



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    Quote Originally Posted by EthanSental View Post
    Never played Dark Sun...with the players higher powered compared to normal 2e, how did game play balance out for monsters in combat? Just throw another in there or max hp etc?
    Game balance wasn't really a thing in 2e, at least not to the formalized degree it was in 3e and beyond. There's no concept of a "fair" encounter.

    But still, there were a few things that somewhat made up for higher stats and such. One was crappier gear. The best armor commonly available would be scale or hide - better armor than that required metal, which effectively multiplied the price by 100 (and could also cause problems if wearing it in the desert heat). Similarly with weapons - some weapons could be effectively made without metal, but for most of them you would get a penalty and risk breakage if using weapons made of wood, stone, or bone.

    Wizards don't have as much trouble with gear, but all the city-states outlaw arcane magic except for that specifically sanctioned by the state (which mainly means the sorcerer-monarch themself and a handful of more-or-less trusted wizards). That means that components and new spells are hard to come by, and you need to take care not to be noticed as a caster. Wizards in 2e also benefit less from having a high Intelligence - it will mostly determine their peak power level many levels down the road, as well as how easy it is for them to learn new spells, but there's pretty much no difference between a fireball cast by a 7th level wizard with Int 12 and one cast by a 7th level wizard with Int 21.

    You also needed to take care when venturing out of the relative safety of the city-states. You needed to account for water: about 10 lbs for a day's consumption (1 gallon). Going from one city to the nearest one is about a 10-day trip (with the exception of the neighboring cities of Gulg and Nibenay), so food and water for the trip takes about 100 lbs, and that's before actually carrying any adventuring gear, or accounting for delays. And the random encounter tables are fairly harsh.

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    Lama (Lvl 13)

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    Ran a fun 4e game in Dark Sun, which is on hiatus. The warlord and ranger class were an especially good fit with the low magic setting. The (low-level party) managed to acquire the Dark Lens, and they're terrified of it. They know they can't safely use it, and they know they can't trust most authority figures with it. They're trying to find a place to hide it, and a guardian who can adequately protect it.

    Not sure if I'm going to go back to 4e to complete it, or adapt it to 5th.

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    Waghalter (Lvl 7)



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    Such an awesome, evocative setting. Best one that 2E produced IMHO.

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    Magsman (Lvl 14)

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    I never got to play in the setting as much as I wanted with only a brief campaign waaaay back in high school, but during the 4e era, I always thought it seemed like it would be a good fit for the setting.

    I still have tons of ideas for Dark Sun characters and campaigns sitting in an old Trapper Keeper somewhere that were never meant to be. But, dang, this is getting me nostalgic to dig it out sometime and play some Dark Sun!

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