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%

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
Essential themes: environmental collapse due to exploitation of natural resources, extreme wealth inequality and class struggle, the corrupting influence of power. Questions of faith in an explicitly godless world are welcome but not essential.

Essential tone/aesthetics: “sword and sandals” in a post-apocalyptic desert world with elements of pulp and weird science. Extreme resource scarcity. Little to no metal.

Essential gameplay elements: Heavy focus on survival in extreme environments with limited resources. Highly curated player options, including a different set of races (preferably human, elf, dwarf, mul, thri-keen, half-giant, and aarakocra; Dray are welcome but not essential) and no divine-powered classes. Highly limited access to magic, especially healing magic. Rules for defiling and preserving as distinct ways of doing magic (although see the note regarding psionics). Above-average PC power levels, far above-average combat difficulty.

Regarding psionics: For me personally, psionics are not an essential element to the setting, but I know they are important to a lot of people. My feeling is that they can serve the setting well, particularly in terms of aesthetics and tone, as they fit very well with the weird science elements. On the other hand, they have to be handled very carefully to avoid conflicting with the themes of environmental collapse due to exploitation of natural resources and the corruption of power. Those themes require that the world have been ruined by the greed of fallible mortals, who prioritized their own power over the health of the world. If psionics exist as a viable alternative to arcane magic, those thematic elements are significantly weakened. It is therefore paramount that if psionics are incorporated, they must not be able to reproduce the effects of arcane magic, or at the very least, must require far more personal investment to be able to do so. Even then, it can step on the toes of preserving magic as the more difficult, responsible path. If going this route, it may be best to remove preserving magic and make all arcane magic defiling.
 
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Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
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 :)
Having been a kid growing up in the US in the 90s, my experience was that climate change was a known issue, though the focus was much more specifically on the global warming aspect rather than the slew of environmental changes said warming would cause. Additionally, the focus was almost entirely on personal responsibility: do your part to help fight pollution and global warming by making small changes in your own daily habits. Reduce, re-use and recycle! Save power by not leaving lights on while you aren’t using them! Use a sponge instead of paper towels to clean spills! It was always presented as this far-off problem that we could avoid just by being responsible individuals. Never as a systemic, institutionalized issue that was going to have a significant impact within our lifetimes unless significant policy changes were implemented in a very short timeframe.

Then again, I was a child. So it’s quite possible that I was only getting the sanitized, family-friendly version, and that the adults were more conscious of the immediacy and scale of the issue.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
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.
This does come across to me as an element that may need updating if the setting were to be revised for a modern audience. It very much plays into the 90s attitude towards environmentalism that I noted in my post above: If everyone just does their part by making a few small changes, together we can make a real difference. Unfortunately, if that was ever really true and not just an overly-optimistic fiction we told ourselves, it certainly doesn’t ring true today. We’re at a point where significant global change is necessary, and immediately so, and I think a setting with as overt environmentalist theming as Dark Sun would need to address that these days.
 

Having been a kid growing up in the US in the 90s, my experience was that climate change was a known issue, though the focus was much more specifically on the global warming aspect rather than the slew of environmental changes said warming would cause. Additionally, the focus was almost entirely on personal responsibility: do your part to help fight pollution and global warming by making small changes in your own daily habits. Reduce, re-use and recycle! Save power by not leaving lights on while you aren’t using them! Use a sponge instead of paper towels to clean spills! It was always presented as this far-off problem that we could avoid just by being responsible individuals. Never as a systemic, institutionalized issue that was going to have a significant impact within our lifetimes unless significant policy changes were implemented in a very short timeframe.

Then again, I was a child. So it’s quite possible that I was only getting the sanitized, family-friendly version, and that the adults were more conscious of the immediacy and scale of the issue.
Sure, that's possible - we just miss things when we're kids. I remember environmental issues being raised in the 70s when I was a child but didn't really grasp their significance until my teens in the 80s when things like the Bhopal disaster, Chernobyl, and the Exxon Valdez oil spill really brought it home to me that the world was in a very bad way. It was just a huge issue in the 90s (and onwards) from my perspective which is part of why Dark Sun spoke to me so strongly. That, and seeing ethnic cleansing in Europe in that same decade really brought it home that these were not abstracts at all. But those were just my experiences and I don't presume them to be universally experienced by everyone else :)
 

Scribe

Legend
This does come across to me as an element that may need updating if the setting were to be revised for a modern audience. It very much plays into the 90s attitude towards environmentalism that I noted in my post above: If everyone just does their part by making a few small changes, together we can make a real difference. Unfortunately, if that was ever really true and not just an overly-optimistic fiction we told ourselves, it certainly doesn’t ring true today. We’re at a point where significant global change is necessary, and immediately so, and I think a setting with as overt environmentalist theming as Dark Sun would need to address that these days.

Dont get me wrong. I'm not saying 'the small things add up'. They dont. The world doesnt change, and it doesnt matter when its all added up in the end. It matters to the individual that the kindness is done for though, and thats where a grimdark setting can still have its 'good'.

The world doesnt get saved in the end. Just like ours. ;)
 

This does come across to me as an element that may need updating if the setting were to be revised for a modern audience. It very much plays into the 90s attitude towards environmentalism that I noted in my post above: If everyone just does their part by making a few small changes, together we can make a real difference. Unfortunately, if that was ever really true and not just an overly-optimistic fiction we told ourselves, it certainly doesn’t ring true today. We’re at a point where significant global change is necessary, and immediately so, and I think a setting with as overt environmentalist theming as Dark Sun would need to address that these days.
Just to touch on this (and not to be singling out your replies :)) but the whole "everyone does their part by making a few small changes" struck me as utter nonsense back in the day and even more so now. Like sure, OK, I'll buy a better lightbulb (or use a paper straw today) but we all knew that this was a drop in the ocean compared to the behaviour of industry and government. Such a frustrating pile of deceit. Many of us just didn't buy it and made our way into careers that gave us a chance to engage in direct action (for me it was working for humanitarian aid agencies and eventually investigating and prosecuting war criminals from the former Yugoslavia with the UN, and for others of my friends it was to work for environmental groups or whatever) because we couldn't just stand by and be happy with turning off a few more appliances. This speaks directly to the importance of Dark Sun, even more so now than back then. I completely agree that a modern version of the setting would need to highlight those elements and their metaphorical connection to the real world very strongly and would be a great chance for a game to give a voice to these issues.
 

guachi

Hero
Yes on: Brom art, Environmental collapse, No gods, No planar travel, Sword & Sandal, Different core races.

My top 2 are also the two most voted elements. If it doesn't have environmental collapse and it's not sword & sandal then it's not Dark Sun. The other things I labeled "essential" I could probably be convinced aren't absolutely necessary. Mad Max + Conan the Barbarian.

I also find it very interesting that art by Brom is more essential than slavery.
 

Stormonu

Legend
Brom (and Braxa) art. Defilers, Preservers. Mutant creatures and the existing races wildly altered by the new environment. World devastated by climatic upheaval. Sorcerer Kings worshipped as gods, and the "real" gods are dead. ONE Dragon. Psionics. Extremely limited access to iron, as well as terrible living conditions, including slavery.

A short but brutal world. And if anyone were cowardly enough to completely remove slavery from that setting, I'd turn heel and walk away. To me, one of the most brutal things about Dark Sun is that those that "have" force everyone else to submit to them to survive. A good portion of the hope in Dark Sun is about reclaiming your own freedom from the tyranny that surrounds you, and making your own way without being forced to enslave yourself to someone else to survive.
 

briggart

Adventurer
Voted "All of the above", with few qualifiers:

  • I would be ok with "Art in Brom style", even if not by Brom himself;
  • I take "No gods" as meaning: no god is currently active/present in the world. Gods could have existed in the past and left an actual imprint in the world;
  • "No planar travel" means: planar travel is currently restricted to planes in Athas cosmology (i.e. quasi/para/semi/elemental planes, the Gray, the Black and possibly modified Ethereal and Astral). As with gods, I'd be OK if planar travel happened in the past.
  • "Wildly different core races": I want race options specifically tailored to the setting (which would implicitly make them very different from default D&D), I don't care if they are presented as altered versions of core D&D races or entirely new ones.
 

Yaarel

🇮🇱He-Mage
Not elementals, but elementalism.

Compare Daoism. It has the philosiohical cosmic principles of Yang and Yin, that build each of the five elemental ways of moving.

The five motions are: Soil, Metal, Tree, Water and Fire.

Soil is motionless, which is why Soil and empty Space are both the same element. Meanwhile, Tree expands and encompasses, whis why Air and Tree are the element. Metal contracts and concentrates, whence also crystal.

The universe is made out of interconnecting cosmic principles. When these are in balance (Positivity) the world is healthy and well. When the elements are out of balance (Negativity) the world is unhealthy and unwell.

I love how the Dark Sun setting has a deeply religious setting that shares a comparable elementalist worldview.

In Dark Sun, there are five elemental sumstances, that things are made out of: Earth, Air, Water and Fire. Plus, there is the empty Space in which they move. When they are in balance, the world is Positive. But the element of Water is being annihilated for the release of magical energy. (Compare nuclear fission.) The world is out of balance and Negative.
 

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