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%

James Gasik

We don't talk about Pun-Pun
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?
The TTRPG market in the 80's was very "throw a concept at the wall and see if it sticks". TSR was a juggernaut with D&D, but they were always trying to break into other genres, without a lot of success (Boot Hill, Top Secret, Star Frontiers, Gamma World, Marvel Super Heroes, Alternity, Buck Rogers, and a few more that I'd instantly go "oh yeah, that one!" if you mentioned it, but my old man brain is forgetting at the moment.

Dark Sun itself is a Frankenstein monster of a setting, since they wanted to push the new Psionics book and their latest attempt to get back into the wargaming market, Battlesystem, so the setting was literally built around these ideas (even if the Battlesystem stuff was largely marginalized, even with the high level rules in Dragon Kings, Athas isn't really a great setting for large scale battles to happen very often; I mean, just think of the logistics required!).

They wanted a "Battlesystem" campaign setting, and originally, their concept was "War World." The team envisioned a post-apocalyptic world full of exotic monsters and no hallmark fantasy creatures whatsoever. TSR worried about this concept, wondering how to market a product that lacked any familiar elements. Eventually, elves, dwarves, and dragons returned but in warped variations of their standard AD&D counterparts. The designers credited this reversion as a pivotal change that launched the project in a new direction

Steve Winter came up with the desert setting, and from there, the idea to make it a post-apocalyptic Swords & Sandals/Swords & Sorcery setting followed.

It got popular simply because it was something completely different than what D&D was usually about...and some great Brom art. I don't think it was a reaction to any specific real-world events, any more than the other post-apocalyptic TTRPG's of the time were (but I don't know that for sure, having never played Twilight 2000, Aftermath, or even the TMNT After the Bomb setting).
 

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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?
Dark Sun is 90s, not 80s. Climate change was waaay more than just recycling - it was a huge issue that everyone was aware of. Several games (Werewolf: the Apocalypse most notably) and a variety of media made it a central theme. Although the Cold War was over in the 90s, we instead got to see ethnic warfare up close and personal in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda and western society had to come to terms with the fact that these things had never really gone away (and still haven't). This is part of why I think that DS is just as appropriate now, even moreso than back then. Its themes are not just abstract concepts to anyone anymore. You just have to look outside.
 

Digdude

Just a dude with a shovel, looking for the past.
Id like slavery, enviromental vs magic themes, psionics for all, dragon king overlords, as well as non typical dnd weapons and armors for my Dark Sun themes. It should be oppresive with the pcs trying to be the force of change. Give extra xp for freeing slaves or breaking up those orginizations. Plus archaeology of maybe a pre dragon king civ.
 

Scribe

Legend
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.

Changing the world doesnt have to be the goal. Doing a small kindness for the people close to you, still counts as doing good, and even the comically satirical 40K doesnt prevent that.
 

Arakhor

Explorer
I went for Dragon Kings (or similar corrupt, all-powerful, oppressive overlords), environmental collapse (especially if the overlords caused it), psionics (or other variant magic style) and the sword & sandals theme. Everything else can be ignored or iterated upon.
 

Staffan

Legend
Dark Sun is 90s, not 80s. Climate change was waaay more than just recycling - it was a huge issue that everyone was aware of. Several games (Werewolf: the Apocalypse most notably) and a variety of media made it a central theme.
My recollection of the 90s is somewhat different. Focus on environmentalism and pollution was definitely a thing, but climate change as such took a back seat to things like toxic waste, acid rain, and the ozone hole.
 

bloodtide

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?
Most Defiantly. Dark Sun is a brutal, difficult game with no easy buttons or nerf padding. The Nickname for Dark Sun is Hard Fun.

It's not really "society at large" it's just more how people think. A typical 2023 game has no character death, a typical 1973-2000 game had TONS of character death.

Dark Sun has very little "auto heal" like in modern games: nearly all the clerics in the world are your enemy. So they are not going to heal you. You can't do the modern "fight a little" then "auto heal" in a Dark Sun game.

Lets take a typical Dark Sun plot:

The character is born a slave and has nothing. One day you develop of strange mind power, to whip your ego at foes. With this power you escape slavery and run out in to the wastelands. Your only possessions are your torn ragged clothing, and your lone weapon: a dagger made from the jaw of a kank(aka giant ant monster). It's a daily, harsh struggle to find food and water. Plus survive against the monsters in the wastelands. Plus avoid the bounty hunters and templars(evil clerics) looking for you.

Your character might be able to find a couple others like themselves, but the can trust few. Nearly the whole world is your enemy, and the few that are not are neutral and might still harm you. Evil oppressive society on one side, harsh wasteland on the other, and your character is stuck in the middle.
 

cbwjm

Seb-wejem
The two things that I don't require are psionics and different core races. I'd like psionics, but I don't think it is necessary to the setting.

I'd definitely want to keep the sorcerer kings, the wastelands, the focus on the elements, and the destructive power of magic.
 

My recollection of the 90s is somewhat different. Focus on environmentalism and pollution was definitely a thing, but climate change as such took a back seat to things like toxic waste, acid rain, and the ozone hole.
I guess it depends where you were. I spent the 90s in the Netherlands and Thailand (with travel to a handful of other locations), where climate change was (and remains) a central issue. I don't mean to dismiss your experiences, only to reaffirm that awareness of the larger climate picture gained public traction at different rates in different places. It had to have at least been on the Dark Sun designers' minds in the USA, I feel, given that they made it such a central part of the setting :)
 

I've never played in Dark Sun. But, given what I've absorbed from the Net over the years, the image I get is a "best of" blend of Zothique, Barsoom, Hyborea, and Mad Max's Australia.
 

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