D&D General 1991 Dark Sun Setting Overview and Speculation

squibbles

Adventurer
The existence of a giant crater-like ring could at the minimum imply the existence of the astronomical phenomena that make craters. But more than that, it is a nod towards the sorts of sword and planet fiction that have inspired Dark Sun. I’m thinking of Barsoom.

It doesn’t have to be a published reason for why “civilizations” are clustered inside the crater, there could be any number of options open to DMs, like after the Cleansing Wars we’re over the Sorcerer Monarchs settled within the crater to “start over”, but outside the crater the rhul thaun halflings and their kreen and other desert survivors dominate. Or, the Cleansing Wars destroyed the planet but the Sorcerer Monarchs did not win and had to retreat within the protective mountains of the crater.
I could dig it if Dark Sun leaned heavier into its Barsoom inspirations. Kreen dominating beyond the crater would certainly have a green martians roaming dead sea bottoms vibe. If I'm being honest, I like that better than the Crimson Savannah.

We have to remember the time travel was oficially canon in DS, and this means the possibilities of alternate timelines where you can customize to your linking.
Wait, really? Where does that crop up?

I have to wonder, though--do Dark Sun fans want to deal with armies and mass battles? From what I've seen, the draws appear to be the Mad Max-y post-apocalypse-ness plus biotech and psionics and mutants and stuff like that, illustrated (by Brom, of course) in a planetary romance style.
Perhaps not, I can only speak for myself.

I'm thinking of the intensified conflict more as background context for PCs to get involved in at higher levels if they want. It'd be a way to foreground defiling and the vehicle driven parts of the mad-max milieu, as well as making the world the PCs live in dynamic. The reason I like it is that it would allow Dark Sun civilizations to have the scale that lots of the setting materials want for it to have. The too big armies listed in the 1991 set, the unfeasibly large draft animals, the spectacular monumental buildings--at larger levels of social organization, those things make more sense.

But, in fairness, that's just one answer to the 'what would make new areas significantly different from the Tyr region' issue you posed. I would welcome other novel and interesting responses to that question.
 

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About the time-travel in Athas:

Somebody from the future travelled to the past to warn, but the (future) Mind-Lords of the Last Sea thought the fate couldn't be avoided and then they chose only to save their region.

I understand the coherence in the lore is very important, but this also should be flexible for the homebred changes. If I want there is a crossover with Jackandor, or a new demiplane is discovered but this has been colonized by a mixture or a previous wave of explorers from Athas and also from Krynn (from the alternate timeline where Raistlin caused the apocalypse). Or I can add drows as elves slavered by the shadow-spiders, or shardminds, living constructs, whose weak point is the erosion by the termical change day-night (added to necrotic aura by defiling magic). Or I can say the dromites are possible in Athas because sorcerer-kings tried to create new slave races. Or the dark lady of Kalidnay returns to Athas becoming ruler of the death lands.
 

Actually, with dark gifts and the theros heroic gifts or how they are called, you can easily create a wild talent along those lines, and if you don't want that just get an extra feat.
Also the sorcerer (not the aberrant mind, but something along those lines) would make a fine psion (with a seperate spell list and subtle spell for free).
 

If WotC doesn't publish the mystic class, then this will be by Dreamscarred Press, or somebody using an adaptation of the ocultist classes from Pathfinder. If the warlock is a core class, why not the mystic?

The sorcerer could be possible in Athas if arcane is replaced with divine or primal magic.
 



Urriak Uruk

Gaming is fun, and fun is for everyone
There are clerics, but they're clerics of the elements, not of gods.

Magic exists, but it drains the life force out of nature, causing further desertification.

Right right... would we still call it divine magic though if it is calling the elements?
 

Rikka66

Adventurer
4e had primal magic, which was non-defiling but involved contacting the super angry and scarred nature and elemental spirits of Athas. I liked it, but it wouldn't be everyone's cup of tea. Also has sorcerer's with arcane magic, so while you could lean on the Abberant Mind as the main Athasian version, they are possible in Athas without being divine or primal as well.
 


June Soler

Explorer
Although I would love to have a Dark Sun reboot. However with the zeitgeist of the current era we live some of the core elements will either have to be removed or downplayed to a point that the feel of the setting will not be the same. But I am a Dark Sun originalist and really dislike most of what came out of revised and the specifics of the Rajaat/SK's war/timeline as well as the PP novels outcome (which I enjoyed reading). If these parts are included I would prefer their mentioning be as vague as possible to leave open to individual GM interpretation.

Also a soft time reboot perhaps 40 or 50 years ahead so that some Athasians are alive to remember the events but most adults of the era ( Free Year 1 to Free Year 10) have died off. Therefore creating some room for haziness in survivor memories.

To answer your question I, and I'm sure many other fans have had these ideas that other SK's do exist elsewhere and others cities do exist. I'm Sure there is an Elemental Arch-Cleric in charge of a sun worshipping city-state. I pushed a document a while back on the Dark Sun FB group regarding some differences from canon. (attached)

So yes I'm all for a different section of Athas, One that is Beyond the Horizon!

Beyond the Horizon logo 2.png
 

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squibbles

Adventurer
Although I would love to have a Dark Sun reboot. However with the zeitgeist of the current era we live some of the core elements will either have to be removed or downplayed to a point that the feel of the setting will not be the same. But I am a Dark Sun originalist and really dislike most of what came out of revised and the specifics of the Rajaat/SK's war/timeline as well as the PP novels outcome (which I enjoyed reading). If these parts are included I would prefer their mentioning be as vague as possible to leave open to individual GM interpretation.
Yes, I agree that this is the right approach. As I mentioned upthread, I'd prefer that setting alterations WotC makes to accommodate our 21st century zeitgeist be applied to a new region that is purposefully tailored for them. And, in similar vein, I'd like new materials to have some level of remove from the Prism Pentad and Revised Campaign Setting--such that players have the ability to include their contents or not, per their preference.

Also a soft time reboot perhaps 40 or 50 years ahead so that some Athasians are alive to remember the events but most adults of the era ( Free Year 1 to Free Year 10) have died off. Therefore creating some room for haziness in survivor memories.
Again, totally, agree. There is a lot of potential in simply moving the Dark Sun timeline forward to the point where the Prism Pentad characters are dead of old age and few others remain who know what happened with any clarity (which also provides opportunities for subtle retconning, if desired).

To answer your question I, and I'm sure many other fans have had these ideas that other SK's do exist elsewhere and others cities do exist. I'm Sure there is an Elemental Arch-Cleric in charge of a sun worshipping city-state.
Huh. I always considered elemental clerics a bit vestigial to Dark Sun, but that's an interesting take.

I pushed a document a while back on the Dark Sun FB group regarding some differences from canon. (attached)
The Dune Trader quote in item 14 is curious. Kalak being 'newly ascended' 800 years before the setting start date--whereas the city states are said to be thousands of years old in the Wanderer's Journal--kind of brings home that the 7 originally described sorcerer kings were not intended to the setting's central historical fixtures.
 

June Soler

Explorer
Yes, I agree that this is the right approach. As I mentioned upthread, I'd prefer that setting alterations WotC makes to accommodate our 21st century zeitgeist be applied to a new region that is purposefully tailored for them. And, in similar vein, I'd like new materials to have some level of remove from the Prism Pentad and Revised Campaign Setting--such that players have the ability to include their contents or not, per their preference.
Yep, opportunities are abundant to create new lore in a new area that doesn't conflict with the Tyr region. Or perhaps by briefly re-touching/updating the Tyr region (a little fan-service). Maybe there is a foliage covered city covered in greenery and fantastic waterfalls on the South Eastern side of the Silt Sea ruled by Druids and Water Priests that secretly sacrifices the populace to a vengeful Spirit of the Land who requires life energy in order to provide the city its sustenance.
Again, totally, agree. There is a lot of potential in simply moving the Dark Sun timeline forward to the point where the Prism Pentad characters are dead of old age and few others remain who know what happened with any clarity (which also provides opportunities for subtle retconning, if desired).


Huh. I always considered elemental clerics a bit vestigial to Dark Sun, but that's an interesting take.
Perhaps I wasn't clear. I meant that there could be other SK's (i.e rulers) that are not actual SK's (have templars) Maybe a powerful cleric was able to organize his fellow elemental priests and maintain a hold on a city-state area.
The Dune Trader quote in item 14 is curious. Kalak being 'newly ascended' 800 years before the setting start date--whereas the city states are said to be thousands of years old in the Wanderer's Journal--kind of brings home that the 7 originally described sorcerer kings were not intended to the setting's central historical fixtures.
Therein lies one of the issues with Dark Sun is the inconsistencies in the lore throughout a host of books.

Initially the WJ (pg. 6) said "that most [not all] city-states are thousands of years old. The same sorcerer-king rules over the city for spans of hundreds of years, sometimes [not all the time, which means not often] for more than a thousand. There are even cases where the current sovereign is credited with founding the city."

This is why I like the 'Silt was in my eye - so I think, this is what I saw' or the Silt got in my ears - so I think this is what I heard' or 'Can't trust the Templars to tell you the truth, or even write it down, their too busy obfuscating events in the history books to make their Sorcerer-king look good'

Hazy history is good history for Dark Sun.
 

Color me puzzled guys.

The 1991 set and the 4e redo are still around. They haven't gone bad or anything; you can still use them regardless of what 5e does. There are lots of Dark Sun fan resources for 5e too. @toucanbuzz did an excellent campaign guide and monster manual for it. It wouldn't be hard to run the the 1991 set or (inferior) revised setting in 5e--or 4e, or 2e. Forgodsakes there are fan conversions of Dark Sun for Dungeon World, Savage Worlds, and Lamentations of the Flame Princess. Anything that WotC does now would be an addition to the very large trove of Dark Sun resources that already exist.

The flavor is not what's holding 5e Dark Sun back. It's all the missing mechanics.

Dark Sun isn't just a setting. It's both a deconstruction of the default high fantasy setting and lore, and a total conversion of the AD&D rules. There's virtually nothing in the game rules that was left unchanged from the base game. The game goes so far as to list spell descriptions that were modified or eliminated. Even alignment has extended, optional rules in Dark Sun because the game world doesn't really work with alignment.

Look, 5e Dark Sun needs game rules for:

Races or subraces: mul, thri-kreen, Athasian half-giant (and not just "LOL use goliath"), Athasian dwarf, Athasian elf, Athasian halfling.

Classes or subclasses: preserver, defiler, gladiator, templar (especially NPC stats), Athasian psionicist, elemental clerics, elemental druids, Athasian bard, trader.

Other missing mechanics or rules: Athasian psionics, psionic wild talents (which all DS PCs are), expanded travel & survival rules and mechanics (heat, water, etc.), alternate weapon and armor materials, crude weapon rules, piecemeal armor, new weapons and armor, defiling rules and mechanics, Athasian vehicles, Athasian monsters, Athasian mounts, NPC blocks, etc., etc., etc.

That's just to reach parity with AD&D Dark Sun Campaign Setting.

So, you say, "Oh, they've already published this before." No, they haven't. Not in a manner that's usable for 5e. The DSCS came with a 100 page Rules Book and everything in that was entirely new and altered mechanics. The structure of the Rules Book matches the structure of the PHB because the changes are that extensive. This is a book for the players of a Dark Sun campaign. The Wanderer's Journal that details the world and lore of Athas was the shorter of the two books in that box. And DSCS didn't detail the rules for psionics! Dark Sun has always been 50% lore and 50% rules overhaul. No other campaign setting did that.

You know how much time Planescape devotes to new PC rules in the original Player's Guide? 3 pages for new races, no new classes, then one page per faction over the next 16 pages. Everything else is for the DM, detailing the 16 factions, describing the 16 outer planes, describing Sigil, describing Outlands, and then trying to explain how to run a campaign in this unwieldly mess. You know how many new spells there are? Two. And they're in the DM book.

The reason I haven't homebrewed Dark Sun is because it's a monumental amount of effort. I've tried doing it. It's literally like rewriting the entire PHB. The reason I'm not using existing homebrews is because they're usually incomplete, often poorly designed, or otherwise not fit for purpose. That's not meant to attack those who have done the work, more a reflection on the difficulty of the task. There's like a dozen new or heavily modified major mechanics in Dark Sun. It's not a trivial thing to design or convert. Playing a different game system with Dark Sun would be just as much if not more work to accomplish, and even that sets aside that Dark Sun is quintessentially D&D more than any other setting. The reason I don't simply use the original rules entirely as presented is because... AD&D pretty much sucks as a game system at the table. It's a 1970s design with more issues than National Geographic. I love it, but I'm never playing it again.

If WotC wants to introduce new things that's fine. I'm very happy to see new narrative elements or adventures. However, my interest and what I think is the actual draw to the setting is in playing the setting largely as originally presented, especially the original boxed sets: a "points of darkness" setting. If they release new content that runs contrary to the original vision or themes of the setting I'm not going to be happy. I'm not interested in WotC adding new races or classes, and if there's anything that WotC has proven it's that making everything a kitchen sink is their marketing strategy. I'm not really interested in a kitchen sink Dark Sun book. That's the antithesis of what DS is to me.

Dark Sun as a whole is almost entirely defined by what is absent than it is by what they added. Weapons and armor are absent, so here are rules for doing that. Gold and metal and material goods are absent, so here is what that means. Magic is not really magical, so here is what happens when that system is corrupted. Deities aren't around so don't bother praying; you'll old die thirsty. Nobody has friends or allies or safety, so you'll have to deal with hostility, chattel slavery, gladiatorial games, and tyranny. The new additions like psionics and monsters are atypical or alien. Travel and survival are not foregone conclusions that can be handwaved away. Extraplanar travel is virtually impossible. It's post apocalyptic in ways that D&D settings generally aren't. Dark Sun is basically an inescapable megadungeon. I want it to stay that way, and if WotC releases a book that undermines that lore then I'm not interested in it.
 

grimslade

Krampus ate my d20s
I think you are bound for disappointment Bacon Bits. 5E DarkSun is coming and I don't know that we are getting all the proper subsystems, judging by how psionics are handled so far. I think they will produce an adequate defiling system and rules for wilderness survival. I am apprehensive about psionics.
 

squibbles

Adventurer
The flavor is not what's holding 5e Dark Sun back. It's all the missing mechanics.

Dark Sun isn't just a setting. It's both a deconstruction of the default high fantasy setting and lore, and a total conversion of the AD&D rules. There's virtually nothing in the game rules that was left unchanged from the base game. The game goes so far as to list spell descriptions that were modified or eliminated. Even alignment has extended, optional rules in Dark Sun because the game world doesn't really work with alignment.

Look, 5e Dark Sun needs game rules for:

Races or subraces: mul, thri-kreen, Athasian half-giant (and not just "LOL use goliath"), Athasian dwarf, Athasian elf, Athasian halfling.

Classes or subclasses: preserver, defiler, gladiator, templar (especially NPC stats), Athasian psionicist, elemental clerics, elemental druids, Athasian bard, trader.

Other missing mechanics or rules: Athasian psionics, psionic wild talents (which all DS PCs are), expanded travel & survival rules and mechanics (heat, water, etc.), alternate weapon and armor materials, crude weapon rules, piecemeal armor, new weapons and armor, defiling rules and mechanics, Athasian vehicles, Athasian monsters, Athasian mounts, NPC blocks, etc., etc., etc.

That's just to reach parity with AD&D Dark Sun Campaign Setting.

So, you say, "Oh, they've already published this before." No, they haven't. Not in a manner that's usable for 5e. The DSCS came with a 100 page Rules Book and everything in that was entirely new and altered mechanics. The structure of the Rules Book matches the structure of the PHB because the changes are that extensive. This is a book for the players of a Dark Sun campaign. The Wanderer's Journal that details the world and lore of Athas was the shorter of the two books in that box. And DSCS didn't detail the rules for psionics! Dark Sun has always been 50% lore and 50% rules overhaul. No other campaign setting did that.
Respectfully @Bacon Bits you seem to be responding to a point of view which I do not hold.

I too would like to see WotC publish rules analogous to what is in the 1991 Dark Sun Rules Book. I am not at all in disagreement with you about that.

The "Oh, they've already published this before" that I am referring to is the Wanderer's Journal. In my opinion, they needn't publish it nor a gazetteer of the Tyr region again. That setting background is already available. I commented on fan created content (in the bit you quoted) to note the amount of effort that has been spent making the setting playable, not to argue that official rules are unnecessary--though I do think that some fan resources are quite good.

The main intuition I'd like to point out is this: If WotC were to release a Dark Sun book that was set on the opposite side of the Sea of Silt--or anywhere else in the explored world--they would be in no way hampered from releasing the mechanics that you and I both want to see. They don't need to write another Tyr region gazetteer to publish a full set of Dark Sun mechanics.

And, in the interest of keeping Dark Sun a living setting with new and creative content, I personally would like them to publish something, anything, other than a gazetteer of the Tyr region set around Kalak's death.

If WotC wants to introduce new things that's fine. I'm very happy to see new narrative elements or adventures. However, my interest and what I think is the actual draw to the setting is in playing the setting largely as originally presented, especially the original boxed sets: a "points of darkness" setting. If they release new content that runs contrary to the original vision or themes of the setting I'm not going to be happy. I'm not interested in WotC adding new races or classes, and if there's anything that WotC has proven it's that making everything a kitchen sink is their marketing strategy. I'm not really interested in a kitchen sink Dark Sun book. That's the antithesis of what DS is to me.

Dark Sun as a whole is almost entirely defined by what is absent than it is by what they added. Weapons and armor are absent, so here are rules for doing that. Gold and metal and material goods are absent, so here is what that means. Magic is not really magical, so here is what happens when that system is corrupted. Deities aren't around so don't bother praying; you'll old die thirsty. Nobody has friends or allies or safety, so you'll have to deal with hostility, chattel slavery, gladiatorial games, and tyranny. The new additions like psionics and monsters are atypical or alien. Travel and survival are not foregone conclusions that can be handwaved away. Extraplanar travel is virtually impossible. It's post apocalyptic in ways that D&D settings generally aren't. Dark Sun is basically an inescapable megadungeon. I want it to stay that way, and if WotC releases a book that undermines that lore then I'm not interested in it.
I like all of those themes and conventions too, that's why I like the setting.

But I've got the points of darkness setting already. They can't add anything to it by making a perfect facsimile.

So, in addition to the rules update that needs to be in a 5e Dark Sun book, I'd like them to take a shot at making new setting content that is thematic and also good. I can always ignore it if it sucks; the Try region isn't going anywhere.
 
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nevin

Hero
I really like the Dark Sun setting and especially the 1991 Dark Sun Boxed Set—though, sadly, I have never played using it. This is my attempt to rationalize the Dark Sun setting as it was originally described, while ignoring content that came later.

Fair warning: this post is LONG, pedantic, and anal retentive.

What I’m going to call the explored world of Athas is described in the Wanderer’s Journal thusly:

"Athas, or at least the explored portion, consists of about one million square miles of desert. In its center, covering an area of about 120,000 square miles, is a vast, dust-filled basin that I call the Sea of Silt. […] Surrounding this dry sea is a band of Tablelands, ranging from as much as 400 miles wide to as little as 50. The Tablelands consist of many types of terrain: golden dunes, stony barrens, dust sinks, white salt flats, rocky badlands, and plains of yellow-green scrub-brush. This is where civilization—if you can call it that—still lingers. […]​
The Tablelands are encircled by the various ranges of the Ringing Mountains. These ranges all run north and south. To the east and west of the Sea of Silt, the mountains form solid walls separating the tablelands from the unknown regions beyond. To the north and south of the dusty sea, they form a series of parallel ribs. The deep valleys between the ridges lead away from central Athas like a series of long (and hazardous) corridors.​
In every direction, beyond the mountains lie the Hinterlands. We have little knowledge of what abides there. Many men have set out to explore the depths of this unknown region, but I have never met one who returned." (The Wanderer’s Journal, p. 3-4)​

The Wanderer’s Journal is organized such that it covers the broad strokes of the explored world first—general information about society and terrain—and then moves to describing the details of the Tyr region—specific information with which the Wanderer has personal experience. The Wanderer presents the Tyr region as being broadly similar to the rest of the explored world and as having some level of interaction with other regions through trade and travel. The major roads on the Wanderer’s map lead off its edges to both north and south, indicating sustained connectivity. And, as he states:
"The Tyr region lies on the western shore of the Sea of Silt. Judging by what I have heard from other explorers and travelers, the land around Tyr is fairly typical of the regions bordering the Sea of Silt, with about half of its entire area taken up by Tablelands." (The Wanderer’s Journal, p. 67)​

The explored world around the Sea of Silt—as an interconnected region—has been retconned in subsequent products, making the Dark Sun setting a lot smaller. In the Revised Dark Sun Campaign Setting, the people of the Tyr region are generally ignorant of even the next closest set of cities. Terming Kurn and Eldaarich as lost city-states, it asserts: “few inhabitants of the Tyr Region know the names of the northern cities—let alone that they even exist. For most, rumors of cities to the north are just that […]” But, in the 1991 set, the Tyr region is not asserted to be insular or ignorant of its neighbors—as I have quoted above, the wanderer literally describes the whole explored world’s geography.

In the rest of this post, I’ll obsessively work out the land area, population, and geography of the explored world and discuss what it says about the Tyr region and 1991 Dark Sun campaign setting writ large.

So, returning to the Wanderer’s description of the explored world, it consists of:
  1. A million square miles of desert.
  2. With the Sea of Silt in the middle.
  3. With the Tyr region on the sea’s western shore.
  4. Bounded east and west by the Ringing Mountains.
  5. Bounded north and south by ribbed valleys of the Ringing Mountains.
  6. With everything around it being unpeopled Hinterlands from which no travelers are known (by the Wanderer) to have returned. Note that the parts of the explored world which are NOT the Hinterlands are implied by comparison to have some degree of sapient habitation.
Rendered in its full glory with MS paint, the explored world looks about like this:


So, how big is that?

Well, 1,000,000 square miles is about the area of Argentina (1,056,640 mi2) or Kazakhstan (1,042,400 mi2) and the Sea of Silt at 120,000 square miles is somewhere between the area of the Caspian Sea (143,000 mi2) and the Persian Gulf (97,000 mi2).

Taking the Persian Gulf as a starting point—since many of its surrounding landmasses are arid and since Dark Sun has always had some degree of Biblical near eastern theming—how much territory would Dark Sun’s explored world cover? About this much:


And, within that area, how much does the Tyr region cover? If we extrapolate from the Wanderer’s map, which has a 30-mile scale, the area contained within the Tyr region is about 100,000 mi2 (if you include the hinterlands bits but not the map border). The 4e maps use a 75-mile scale instead, giving them a roughly 590,000 mi2 area—but that’s updating the scale of the Tyr Region to accommodate that the explored world is gone from the setting. In 4th Edition, “Beyond the borderlands of [the Tyr Region] lie desolate wastes; some people believe that the Tyr Region is the last habitable area on Athas, and that all the people remaining in the world live in these lands” (Dark Sun Campaign Setting, p. 130).

Lame. From here, I’ll assume the 30-mile scale is correct.

If you overlay a 104,000 mi2 rectangle over the Persian Gulf, i.e. literally the US state of Colorado, it looks as pictured below. And this orientation feels to me like it corresponds pretty well to the Wanderers description of the explored world.


So, how many people live in that area? According to the Wanderer’s description of the Tablelands—which, as I take it, is not meant to include the Ringing Mountains, Forest Ridge, or Sea of Silt:

In the Tyr region alone, there are tens of thousands of square miles of plains, and I am sure that fewer than a million people live in that area—most of them in cities, villages, or other groups located near a good source of water. By and large, the plains are empty and wild, populated by untamed tribes and savage beasts. (The Wanderer’s Journal, p. 46)

So, almost 1 million inhabitants. That is nearly 10 people per square mile, which is on the low end of the widely used—and malignedMedieval Demographics Made Easy essay (and generators based on it). I think that level of population density feels a bit high—but not unreasonable. For reference, the Arabian Peninsula (that’s Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, and Kuwait) had a population density of about 7.5 inhabitants per square mile IN THE YEAR 1950.

But, if we accept the 10 person/mi2 population density, that is still a bit low to support the level of urbanization in the Tyr region. The 1991 Campaign Setting doesn’t list city populations, but the Wanderer does give the numbers of soldiers in several cities’ armies. They are gobsmackingly high: “Andropinis' personal army consists of ten thousand highly disciplined foot soldiers…” (p.67), “Hamanu can personally send more than ten thousand slave soldiers led by a thousand lance-carrying half-giants into battle.” (p. 75). For single city-states, standing armies of those sizes induce starvation—so these would necessarily be militia armies, like hoplites or republican legionaries, who fight (at most) for a campaign season and then go home to tend the harvest. Inter-city wars would probably be pretty indecisive—one set piece battle followed by a brief and, therefore, unsuccessful city siege during which the defender’s unwalled territory is pillaged. Though, on occasion, city sieges would be successful as was Hamanu’s siege of Yaramuke.

Ahem… population density, sorry…

The Revised Campaign Setting does give city population numbers (so we’ll have to tolerate it, for now).
Tyr: 15,000​
Urik: 30,000​
Raam: 40,000​
Draj: 15,000​
Nibenay: 25,000​
Gulg: 12,000​
Balic: 28,000​

Altogether, that’s 165,000 of the less than 1 million people in the region. That’s a very high urbanization rate for a Medieval society—medieval Europe was about 5% urbanized—but for an ancient one with a robust centralized bureaucracy (like Dark Sun’s templars) and sophisticated irrigation technology it’s not totally crazy. The Roman Empire at its peak had urbanization rates of 25% to 30%, while Spain in 1300, with a comparable population density of 10.9 people/mi2, had an urbanization rate of 12% (probably due to Andalusian technological sophistication). Finally, comparing to the world’s most famous city state, Athens had an estimated 20,000-40,000 residents in the 5th Century B.C.E.

In each of those historical cases, though, urban concentration was supported by a large pool of nearby agricultural clients. When Athens was the size I quoted above, it was being supported by 80,000 to 150,000 Attic farmers and still needed to import foodstuffs. But while some Dark Sun materials, like Beyond the Prism Pentad (p. 13), do mention city states as having client villages throughout their periphery, it’s nothing near the appropriate order of magnitude.

I’ll square this circle by making some assumptions about Athasian society and technology.
  1. There are indeed many client villages serving the cities of the Tyr region—not enough to agriculturally support them, but still quite a few. These people are incredibly insecure; the city states tax their food production but provide minimal security, so raids and famines always affect them first. Declines in city population can be offset by intermittently abducting people from this periphery.
  2. The land around each city is very intensively farmed. Each city is served by sophisticated irrigation systems, can dig deep wells, and is highly competent at storing its surplus water and grain. Athas’ precious iron is used to make plows, and the fields are tilled with the muscle power of Erdlu or Kanks as well as human beings. Incidentally, these movable goods increase the payoff of successful raids.
  3. Even with all this, though, the cities of Athas are primarily fortified shelters—and not centers of specialized goods production. Most of the people who live in the cities are agricultural workers and people who own, administer, or maintain agricultural infrastructure. They move about the fields by day but retreat into the city walls at dusk or during raids as, for example, in Balic where “hungry giants raid semi-weekly” (p. 12). Proportionately few urbanites are the artisans and traders described by the Wanderer; they are present but only as a powerful minority.
However, the grandeur of the Tyr city map in the 1991 set suggests a far more impressive civilization than the fortified shelter builders I have just described. The Golden Tower, Grand Gate, gladiatorial stadium, ziggurat, and city wall are constructed at a cyclopean scale. But, remember, the ziggurat building peoples of ancient Mesopotamia exerted central control over a large fertile river valley; they had lots of surplus to support major building projects. The city of Tyr doesn’t. It would make sense, then, that much of this monumental architecture was built sometime in the past, when Athas was greener, or accreted over centuries of effort. Kalak’s ziggurat, the only one of these buildings that we know is recent, has been under construction for 20 years and is ruinously costly.

Perhaps—and there’s a certain romanticism to this—Athas’ surviving cities are ruins. They’re not abandoned like Bodach, Guistenal, Kalidnay, and Yaramuke, but they’re still the decaying remains of a better age. Their inhabitants’ ancestors built the pyramids, walls, and palaces but their present residents can no longer easily replicate that.

So, let’s extrapolate this to the rest of the explored world:

The Wanderer claims that “the land around Tyr is fairly typical of the regions bordering the Sea of Silt” (p. 67), that cities “respond to the rigors of barren Athas by organizing in the same general manner” (p. 12)—i.e. by being small, heavily agrarian, fortified shelters—and that “Every city is led by a king” (p. 12). The explored world of Athas, then, must contain many more cities and many more sorcerer kings than are described. That the Wanderer states, as a generality, sorcerer kings “may be addressed as "Magnate" in one place and "Vizier" in another…” (p. 12)—despite that none of the ones in the Tyr Region call themselves “Magnate”—clearly suggests this. So then, if the Tyr Region occupies ~100,000 mi2 of the ~1,000,000 mi2 that make up the explored world, there should be another ~60 ‘fortified shelter’ cities and ~60 defiling sorcerer kings in that sandbox…

Jeez.

Do they all have their own micro-sized cultural enclave? Wait… why do all the Tyr region’s cities have micro-sized cultural enclaves?

Yeah, yeah, sure, rule of cool. Fair enough…

But let’s speculate: The small size of the explored world relative to the probable surface area of the planet Athas, the purported absence of sapient life in the lands beyond it (though, oddly, the Wanderer notes that many large animals live in the Hinterlands), and the cultural diversity of the city-states suggest to me that the explored world’s inhabitants all MOVED THERE FROM SOMEWHERE ELSE. The Mesopotamian, Indian, Aztec, Central African, Cambodian, and Greek inflected cities of the Tyr Region—none of which are especially adapted to a Mad Max-esque wasteland—could well be descended from larger culture groups that immigrated there centuries ago when the rest of their world died. Maybe the cultural diversity of a whole planet has been condensed into an enclave the size of Kazakhstan.

Finally, one last piece of speculation I wasn’t sure where else to put:

I anticipate that the eastern side of the Sea of Silt has a somewhat more habitable climate than the Tyr Region. The placement of the Tablelands and Forest Ridge suggests that the west of the Ringing Mountains is its windward side. Clouds are blown against the Ringing Mountains’ western face, depositing rain on the Forest Ridge as they rise, and leaving the Tyr Region in the range’s rain shadow. If this is due to westerly atmospheric circulation (and Athas’ atmosphere works like Earth’s), then the same is true for the eastern range of the Ringing Mountains. Rainfall would be deposited on their western side too—within the Tablelands. Also, since westerly winds blow between 30- and 60-degrees latitude north and south, that places the explored world well beyond Athas’ equator, which suggests that the equatorial regions of Athas are even more hellish than the parts the Wanderer describes.

-----

Okay, by this point I have almost certainly lost all of you. But I have 100% talked myself into the idea that what I want from future Dark Sun publications is a book about the eastern shore of the Sea of Silt—new cites, new sorcerer kings, new borrowed cultures, and a status quo that is not in any way hidebound to the lore of the Tyr Region. Its timeline could start from Kalak’s death, the end of the Prism Pentad, well before, well after, or be completely different—each gaming group would decide for themselves and any new lore would be timeline agnostic.

Tell me what you think. Thanks for reading.
There were other area's detailed in differeint supplements. Remember Dark Sun was originally inhabited by halflings who built a fantastic civilization, they were called the lifeshapers. It's inferred that they created the Elves and Humans who then went on to cause the catyclism.

The rest of the world was never really laid out. It is stated that most of the seas dried up so I imagine most of the world is like Athas. large swaths of desert with scattered areas of life. Perhaps one vestigal ocean left that is more sea than ocean. but I like the unknown aspect of it. to the citizens of Athas where they live is where everything that survived retreated too. They assume there is nothing else left so they struggle to keep thier home alive. I think that adds to the dark and gritty atmosphere. There is no where else to go. No plane shifting out, no gods to save them they are on thier own. I'd hate to see supplements ruin that feeling.
 

squibbles

Adventurer
There were other area's detailed in differeint supplements. Remember Dark Sun was originally inhabited by halflings who built a fantastic civilization, they were called the lifeshapers. It's inferred that they created the Elves and Humans who then went on to cause the catyclism.

The rest of the world was never really laid out. It is stated that most of the seas dried up so I imagine most of the world is like Athas. large swaths of desert with scattered areas of life. Perhaps one vestigal ocean left that is more sea than ocean. but I like the unknown aspect of it. to the citizens of Athas where they live is where everything that survived retreated too. They assume there is nothing else left so they struggle to keep thier home alive. I think that adds to the dark and gritty atmosphere. There is no where else to go. No plane shifting out, no gods to save them they are on thier own. I'd hate to see supplements ruin that feeling.
I would also prefer that the status of the wider world remain hazy. In fact, I would prefer the cosmology and backstory to be made more hazy than it currently is. The halfling lifeshapers that were added after the 1991 set, for example, explain the setting's deep lore in a way that I do not particularly like.

Adding new cities and sorcerer kings around the sea of silt would not lay out very much of Athas because the explored world doesn't cover very much of Athas's geographical territory. The seas would still be dried up and the explored world would still surrounded by unpeopled and unknown hinterlands.

I think I'm in general agreement with your comment, I just disagree in that I don't believe adding new areas wouldn't inherently undermine the setting's gritty atmosphere. I do admit, though, that WotC might add new content that seriously undermines the setting's atmosphere if they were to expand it--and I accept that that is a reasonable fear that many fans of the setting have.
 
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Alzrius

The EN World kitten
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 . . .
Not to nitpick...well, no, that's a lie; to gleefully nitpick, Kalak was a 21st-level caster, according to page 11 of Dragon Kings (affiliate link).
 

see

Pedantic Grognard
Not to nitpick...well, no, that's a lie; to gleefully nitpick, Kalak was a 21st-level caster, according to page 11 of Dragon Kings (affiliate link).
It is true that Dragon Kings said that.

However, that book came out in 1992.

In 1993, in City-State of Tyr , on page 71, it is clearly stated he was a "25th-Level Human Male Defiler/Psionicist".
 


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