D&D General Dark Sun fans: What are the essential elements of Dark Sun to you?

What makes a setting "Dark Sun?"

  • Art by Brom

    Votes: 39 39.4%
  • Dragon Kings and their counterparts

    Votes: 81 81.8%
  • Elementals

    Votes: 28 28.3%
  • Environmental collapse

    Votes: 91 91.9%
  • No gods

    Votes: 75 75.8%
  • No planar travel

    Votes: 46 46.5%
  • Psionics

    Votes: 77 77.8%
  • Slavery

    Votes: 43 43.4%
  • Sword & Sandals

    Votes: 83 83.8%
  • Wildly different core races

    Votes: 49 49.5%
  • Other (explain in a post)

    Votes: 15 15.2%

Really, it's all of the above but I tried to strip out things that I have not used during some Dark Sun games without the game feeling like it wasn't DS. So I ended up with Dragon Kings, environmental collapse, swords and sandals, and slavery. Oh, and Brom art but that's a vain hope these days.

For me, swords & sandals is the big one. This isn't Tolkien fantasy and it needs to have that specific S&S feel at its core before all else.

Dragon Kings and slavery are actually part of the same point to me. So if there had been a poll option for "Massive Wealth and Power Disparity", I would have chosen that instead. I'm not wedded to the idea of slaves, or to the idea of Dragon Kings, but there must be massive inequality, oppression, and societal horror of that nature because this is the reason the world is in the state it's in. Abuses of power in one form or another led to the state of Athas and that needs to be a core theme so the PCs can fight against it and smack slavers in the face and free slaves and overthrow the Dragon Kings and make the world a better place.

So environmental collapse is tied into that same point - it's the result of unchecked power and needs to be there to reinforce what the world has become and why it needs saving. Or maybe it can't be saved (can ours?) and then you have some interesting decisions to make about what you do in the face of extinction.
 

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EzekielRaiden

Follower of the Way
Promised explanation:

Before the heroes arrive, the world is fully hurtling toward total destruction. Even with their presence, the world may still meet its end. For those who want it so, they may decide this darkness locked in, it cannot be changed: the world was already doomed, the best they can do is make the most of the remaining time they have.

For those who do not want that, they are not required to hold it so, and the official (but now deprecated) 2e metaplot shows one possible path things can follow. The heroes will be tested against the darkness of the setting, rather than simply guaranteed to fail or succeed.

As far as I can tell, it is the latter that is the most interesting for fans of Dark Sun. The world sucks. It's miserable and cruel and savage. Full of darkness and monsters, and the worst monsters are sapient. But, crucially, it isn't totally beyond saving. Many in Athas will claim it is! Many will look at that darkness and be filled with rage or despair or nihilistic hedonism: why bother saving a corpse? Just feed on the still-warm blood while you can. But the PCs can be people who dare to believe that even a world this dark can still come back into the light, that doing something can in fact make a difference, that being alive means you still have a chance. That it is better to burn out trying to do something worthy than it is to fade away.

In some sense, it is a world where Greek heroism (great people doing great things, whatever their goals) and modern heroism (morally upstanding souls struggling for what is right and good) cease to be separate things. That's a compelling idea, especially when many folks could rightly say that there is nothing worth saving in Athas, and thus heroes trying to save it have their work cut out for them just to sell people on the idea of the world being worth saving.
 

Scribe

Legend
But the PCs can be people who dare to believe that even a world this dark can still come back into the light, that doing something can in fact make a difference, that being alive means you still have a chance. That it is better to burn out trying to do something worthy than it is to fade away.

Doing something will always make a difference, just not on the grandest scale. There is still 'doing Good' in a crapsack grimdark world.

(This message brought to you buy one who lives and breathes for grimdark crapsack worlds ;) )
 

James Gasik

We don't talk about Pun-Pun
It's weird, and I don't really know how you would remotely put this into a bespoke game that generally takes place on Athas, but the John Carter-esque superhuman feats that Athasian PC's are capable of were a fairly integral part of the setting.

Especially in my favorite adventure, Black Spine, where the Githyanki find a portal to Athas and make the mistake of thinking "pfft, these people barely have magic, it should be easy to conquer them"...only to have their pasty butts beaten back to the Astral Plane for their hubris.
 


EzekielRaiden

Follower of the Way
Doing something will always make a difference, just not on the grandest scale. There is still 'doing Good' in a crapsack grimdark world.

(This message brought to you buy one who lives and breathes for grimdark crapsack worlds ;) )
Yeah...sorry, I just don't really feel the tiniest bit of positive response to that, based on the grimdark crapsack worlds I've seen. Any "good" you do is instantly and usually very thoroughly slapped down, often with extreme and graphic prejudice. That's literally what "grimdark" is. It's a world where heroes don't exist and nothing ever actually improves--the world is either static, or it only changes in one way, getting slowly worse. If you made something better it's always because something else got even worse to compensate.

Lest we forget, "grimdark" was defined by Warhammer 40,000, and elaborated upon by the World of Darkness games, where it...pretty much literally is the case that you can't ever make anything better, unless you make something else even worse, and even then, the good you did probably won't last beyond your own lifetime if you're lucky, and that lifetime is almost certainly going to be very short because you tried to change things.
 


James Gasik

We don't talk about Pun-Pun
Genuine question - Why is it ok to watch a movie or tv series about the protagonists being slaves etc but when it comes to RPGs we lose our minds? What is it about the latter type of entertainment that somehow makes us brittle?
I think people have come to view the gaming table as a safe space for things that would bother them (at least in good games). You can choose to avoid a movie about slavery, for example. So the analogy you're making is that you could just avoid playing Dark Sun.

And you could, but you can see how that creates a barrier; I want to play D&D, but the local group plays Dark Sun. I am bothered by depictions of slavery, but to play D&D I would have to play Dark Sun.

I don't think that's something positive, but, that's just my opinion.
 

I think people have come to view the gaming table as a safe space for things that would bother them (at least in good games). You can choose to avoid a movie about slavery, for example. So the analogy you're making is that you could just avoid playing Dark Sun.

And you could, but you can see how that creates a barrier; I want to play D&D, but the local group plays Dark Sun. I am bothered by depictions of slavery, but to play D&D I would have to play Dark Sun.

I don't think that's something positive, but, that's just my opinion.
I've no idea whether that's why there's resistance to depictions of slavery or the like but I have heard members of my own groups describe their gaming time in similar terms - it's their sanctuary from real-life stresses. And for some people being confronted with the ramifications of slavery is a real-life stressor. So I can empathise with it. That said, I do strongly believe that there needs to be space for different types of game or gameworld. I don't think gaming should be homogenous and I think there should definitely be space for games that touch on difficult subjects (just as there should be pastoral games that are safer and more comforting). I just don't think that Hasbro is the company that is going to make them. They need to maximise profit and that means appealing to the mainstream.
 

aco175

Legend
Is there something about the 80s mindset that made DS work? Is it still true in the 2020s? Back then we still had the cold war and threat of nuclear destruction. Climate change was more just recycle and such. Was there some sort of backlash from making just another Greyhawk or FR? What about today can work, and can it modify DS?
 

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