D&D General 1991 Dark Sun Setting Overview and Speculation

This is a magnificent post - massive respect for the work and thought that went into this. I'm a huge Dark Sun fan and really I can't take issue with anything you've written here. Great stuff :). Like you, I was struck by the stuff in the WJ that described the Sea of Silt as being as the centre of the explored world - it's a shame that this concept was never further developed, because it's a pretty important one for a good understanding of the world imho

The population levels of the cities of the Tablelands are a source of constant debate (first listed in the Veiled Alliance book). 4e had a decent approach to this, which you have espoused as well, namely that each city-state has plenty of client villages surrounding it. This means that the population figures are urban-only. 4e says that there are about as many again living in the surrounding areas, so Tyr, with 15,000 in the city, has about another 15,000 in its surrounding villages. I don't know that I agree completely with these figures, but I do find the concept sound. Lynn Abbey, in her DS novels, added some detail to Urik's surrounding settlements, which is a good template to work from for DM who want to do the same for their own games.

And I completely agree with the idea that the various cultures of the Tablelands came there from elsewhere. If you adopt some of the later DS lore, the sorcerer-kings were once the leaders of great armies and I have always thought that they brought great trains of troops, followers, settlers, and refugees into the area as the Cleansing Wars (or whatever ancient cataclysms you prefer) devastated the surrounding world. The Tablelands are the last safely habitable part of Athas (or one of the last) under this approach and I think it fits well with the setup that we have. In my games, I rule that the people of Gulg are the actual original inhabitants of the area - there are a few bits and pieces on Gulg that suggest this - and now dwell in all that remains of their formerly lush habitat (the Crescent Forest).

I also think that the proximity of the Pristine Tower is significant. The cities ruled by the sorcerer-kings are arrayed in a loose group to the west of the Pristine Tower and I have, over the years, toyed with the idea of it being the focal point of some geomantic web that the SKs and Dragon are maintaining in order to keep Rajaat where he is, but I've never taken this idea anywhere.
 

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briggart

Adventurer
Yes, or Mesopotamia in the late Neolithic, so 6000-4000 BC. Also, with newer theories (or revived older theories) that there was a cataclysmic event around the Younger Dryas that ended a prior civilization (Atlantis), another comp could be 12-9,000 BC, with a greatly reduced world population and people living in the ruins of a past civilization. Either way, I hear your point, but still think early Mesopotamia (4-3,000 BC) is the best known Earth comp.

That ones prettier and was the one I was actually looking for. The one I posted was drawn from it, I think.

I don't mind the fantastical nature of it. Plus, there is some green there to provide oxygen, although not much. Of course you could try your hand at a world map...

Do you know where they got the idea for the "coastal" outline, whether it was based upon anything official?
If you mean the sharp division between the greenish lowland and the yellowish tablelands, those are the Jagged Cliffs, which are described in Windriders of the Jagged Cliffs and in Three-kreen of Athas.

Anyway, IIRC the world map above was a draft for an official product/setting bible that was abandoned with the move to 3e, and released to the community. Then Brian Sanchez made the smaller region maps for his home campaign, and posted them on a thread in old Wizards boards, together with some of his campaign notes for each area. Not 100% sure on the first part, it's been a really long time.
 

Anyway, IIRC the world map above was a draft for an official product/setting bible that was abandoned with the move to 3e, and released to the community. Then Brian Sanchez made the smaller region maps for his home campaign, and posted them on a thread in old Wizards boards, together with some of his campaign notes for each area. Not 100% sure on the first part, it's been a really long time.
No, the world map was just a fan thing which Brian expanded on (along with a few others). WotC did hand over a bunch of materials to us at athas.org but the map wasn't one of them :)

I love the map, though. There was a version that had been wrapped onto a globe as well that was particularly awesome.
 

briggart

Adventurer
No, the world map was just a fan thing which Brian expanded on (along with a few others). WotC did hand over a bunch of materials to us at athas.org but the map wasn't one of them :)

I love the map, though. There was a version that had been wrapped onto a globe as well that was particularly awesome.
I stand corrected, thanks!
 


opacitizen

Explorer
Excellent post, though I somewhat miss the inclusion of crucial world-building/altering factors as magic, psionics, and (giant or otherwise impactful) creatures and monsters.
 

dmar

Explorer
I always thought it was unrealistic and weird that the Tablelands were symmetrical, with mountains on both sides. This removes the somewhat setting-breaking need for a forest in the eastern edge.

Also, there's the micro-cultures next to each other. Something they realized had to fix for Ravenloft and can be done there thanks to the nature of the setting.
I am guessing, as the environment is so harsh, that travel between this cities should be more difficult and infrequent, thus explaining the cultural differences. Trade happens between city-states and client villages. Conflict between then is extraordinary, raids by tribes and monsters the most common conflict. Make each city-state more relevant and different, give the sorcerer-kings a personality, etc...

My guess is it's begging for a bigger, about 2x, scale.
 

squibbles

Adventurer
Thanks for the explanation of the Athas map @Mark Hope & @briggart I'd have never known otherwise.

It seemed as if the boundaries of reality were breaking down in remote areas. Other realities would bleed into the world as it had just become old, tatty and tired. ‘Thinies’ where worlds would overlap (like the elemental planes) would intrude into the prime plane would exist.
I'm not sure I'd want to do that with Dark Sun, but it's a sensible way go, for sure. In any case, thanks for the succinct description.

The population levels of the cities of the Tablelands are a source of constant debate (first listed in the Veiled Alliance book). 4e had a decent approach to this, which you have espoused as well, namely that each city-state has plenty of client villages surrounding it. This means that the population figures are urban-only. 4e says that there are about as many again living in the surrounding areas, so Tyr, with 15,000 in the city, has about another 15,000 in its surrounding villages. I don't know that I agree completely with these figures, but I do find the concept sound. Lynn Abbey, in her DS novels, added some detail to Urik's surrounding settlements, which is a good template to work from for DM who want to do the same for their own games.
Yeah, that'd make sense. An equal population in villages isn't enough to support the cities agricuturally--and they'd probably struggle to feed themselves--but if the cities are principally fortified shelters, as I described, they would still benefit from having a surplus rural population. And, from the point of view of the villages, the cities would offer at least some protection, even if it's only the protection of having lots of other people nearby. Some individuals would prefer to sacrifice their independence for that marginal increase in security.

And I completely agree with the idea that the various cultures of the Tablelands came there from elsewhere. If you adopt some of the later DS lore, the sorcerer-kings were once the leaders of great armies and I have always thought that they brought great trains of troops, followers, settlers, and refugees into the area as the Cleansing Wars (or whatever ancient cataclysms you prefer) devastated the surrounding world.
That's a good point. I hadn't thought of it this way, but I suppose the pentad/later lore implicitly explains that puzzle.

One thing to note here is that magic lets you cheat labor requirements for construction, at least as long as you can keep the spellcasters interested. Wall of stone cast by Kalak, for example, would create over 260 cubic feet of stone (using 2e rules, as a 25th-level caster). Five times a day for as many days as he can keep his interest up . . .
I somewhat miss the inclusion of crucial world-building/altering factors as magic, psionics, and (giant or otherwise impactful) creatures and monsters.
Fair critiques. It's always dubious to apply IRL assumptions to a constructed world for which IRL assumptions do not apply.

I assumed away the use magic to some degree because of the heavy tradeoff of defiling. How useful is it to create 260 cubic feet of stone if it costs you a several yard radius of the city's painstakingly cultivated vegetation? Maybe that tradeoff is worthwhile, but it's a big one--it is inconvenient enough to deter anyone who has to live in a place from using convenience spells freely in that place. As a defiler, you'd mainly want to cast spells in places you have no intention of coming back to, or to deliberately desolate your enemies' turf.

Regarding Athas unique creatures and monsters, I did mention some of them briefly. Erdlu or Kanks would both be bred and ranched intensively as well as being used for muscle power--which would considerably raise the utility of raiding and banditry. I'd expect most Athasians to have a visceral hatred of this in the way that the people in the American west looked down on horse thieves.

Giant creatures--as a technology--present a tradeoff similar to defiling. The mekillot caravans that the 1991 set pictures so evocatively are very high cost; they need lots of meat and lots of water, and this would seriously dampen their impact. Each major merchant house likely wouldn't run more than a handful of mekillot caravans, if any.

The prevalence of monsters out in the world would, I think, do the same thing to Dark Sun that it does to any D&D setting; make it into more of a 'points of light' world--harder to travel and maintain communications, harder for small groups to survive, more of a self-help outlook, heavy militarization, walls wherever they are affordable, concealment wherever they are not. This seems to me to be built into the 1991 set's descriptions already. And, again, it reminds me of the American west.

Psionics... well, I dunno. They're prevalent enough on Athas that they affect every part of daily life. But I don't have very good intuitions about what they would affect. What do you all think?
 
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Urriak Uruk

Gaming is fun, and fun is for everyone
Well, to each their own.

I would likely enjoy Dark Sun content regardless of the subject. Though I would appreciate it if they didn't replicate 4e and thereby freeze the setting in amber--set new stuff in the time before the destruction of Yaramuke and Guistenal, set it 200 years after the Pentad, set it in Kurn and Eldaarich, set it in Waverly and deeper into the sea of silt.

New content is awesome. Repetition is merely okay.

Also, drow silt pirates from an underground upside-down pyramid mummy realm sounds cool as hell.

I do understand the desire for progression in a setting, and I'm someone who enjoys the method of how Warhammer has taken both 40k and Warhammer Fantasy (or Age of Sigmar) and given them steady progression in story. And I like how the Forgotten Realms has taken a steady progression in 5E with new adventures that seem to progress the timeline, instead of merely updating for 5E old adventures.

That said, I do think Dark Sun in 5E needs to be close to the time of Kalak's fall (either right before, or shortly after). Part of the strength of that setting is the lore of the Sorcerer Kings and their tyranny, and I do believe that to set Dark Sun 5E in a different region in a different time period is a risk that WotC should not take. People really do like that established lore (myself including), and I don't have great faith that WotC can create entirely new stuff that is tangentially tied to the old, with the same caliber I enjoy from the old stuff. And I also enjoy the freedom of having some "unexplored territory" that I can homebrew my own lore to if I'd like.

That said, I would love new Dark Sun modules to accompany 5E Dark Sun, including those that progress the timeline and explore the region beyond the city-states.
 

Bacon Bits

Legend
That said, I do think Dark Sun in 5E needs to be close to the time of Kalak's fall (either right before, or shortly after). Part of the strength of that setting is the lore of the Sorcerer Kings and their tyranny, and I do believe that to set Dark Sun 5E in a different region in a different time period is a risk that WotC should not take. People really do like that established lore (myself including), and I don't have great faith that WotC can create entirely new stuff that is tangentially tied to the old, with the same caliber I enjoy from the old stuff. And I also enjoy the freedom of having some "unexplored territory" that I can homebrew my own lore to if I'd like.

This I would agree with. I think a lot of Dark Sun fans primarily remember the 2e days and the 2e art. Furthermore, I agree a draw to the setting is the tyrannical sorcerer kings and their templar. The wilderness is extremely inhospitable, and the cities make the wilderness look welcoming by comparison. That is an interesting idea even if hyper grimdark has worn a little thin in recent years.

I think a 5e setting book needs to support play prior to the Prism Pentad novels. The whole problem is that the books start out with a much more interesting setting than exists at the conclusion. This is the problem with Dark Sun, Dragonlance, and Planescape (although I think Planescape has big problems even with the original lore). The most interesting bits of the settings happened before the "current" time, and they're just less interesting settings for adventure because of it. Many of the Magic: The Gathering settings have this problem, as does the Star Wars universe, the Lord of the Rings universe, the Harry Potter universe, etc. The draw to the world is partially that initial setting and conflict.

That said, I would love new Dark Sun modules to accompany 5E Dark Sun, including those that progress the timeline and explore the region beyond the city-states.

Eh, I could take that or leave it. I think there's still quite a lot to do in the region of the city states. I'm not sure that FR was actually well served by moving everything away from Cormyr, Sembia, and the Dalelands to the Sword Coast. Basically, I don't have faith in WotC, either.
 

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