D&D 5E How I'd rewrite Dark Sun... what changes would you make?

Steampunkette

Rules Tinkerer and Freelance Writer
Supporter
1) There would still be slavery and cannibalism.

Heroic characters would not participate in Slavery or Cannibalism. They'd be the province of the wicked, the cruel, and the desperate. Mul would not be a "Slave Race", specifically. They would just be Mul. Thri-Kreen wouldn't be cannibalistic as a species, and instead often accused of it because of their strange mindset and weird appearance. Similarly, Halflings aren't cannibals, but there are halfling cannibal tribes that are becoming 'living ghouls' just like all other cannibals.

2) It'd be Points of Light.

Small desert encampments of good people trying hard to survive in a terrible world. Good people in terrible situations in various city-states. Yes, the world is largely destroyed, but even the Sorcerer Kings couldn't wipe out -everyone- on the planet.

3) The Sorcerer-Kings would not be working towards Draconic Apotheosis.


They'd have their goals for "Ever More Power!" with various paths to it rather than one for all of them doing the same boring thing.

4) Kalak is dead.

Tyr the Free City would not be devoid of problems. But Kalak would be in the ground having been killed several days before the start of the campaign setting timeline. Yes. Days. Meaning it's still Chaos in Tyr. Wealthy merchants vying for control of the city through brute force being killed in their homes by revolutionaries.

5) Defiling is not the basic nature of Magic, but a specific use.

Defiling isn't how spellcasting works, but is a tempting and constantly available power boost. Withering a 5ft patch of grass adds +4 damage to any spell. Killing a tree adds +30. Things of that nature. HP taken from party members is a straight 1 to 1 damage boost, but reduces your ally's hit points by the same value until restored, or 1hp per long rest.

6) What happened to the World would not be answered.

Leave it to be a question for philosophers. But there would be no knowledge of the Blue Age or whatever. There'd be some legends of the world before the Sorcerer Kings conquered it, but practically nothing explaining -why- or -how-. You don't need to know everything.

7) Borys would be the "Dragon of Athas" as a unique creature.

He would still demand tributes from the other Sorcerer Kings but it wouldn't be 1,000 people from each settlement or whatever. Resources, Wealth, Food, a true Tyrant King above all others, who sometimes finds little encampments in 'his' deserts and wipes them out.

8) Preservers are trying to save the world.

Largely outside of cities, the Preservers are a group of people who are doing all that they can to preserve what remains of the world and restore some measure of what was lost. They have hope. Maybe it'll work. Maybe it won't. But they're trying to find pockets of life and plants and good soil in the world... and collect them. Bring the soil and the seeds and the life together to try and slowly restore the world.

9) It's not just the Tablelands.

The Tablelands are Borys' place. His territory, with the heart of his "Empire" in the Silt Sea. Beyond it are things like the Crimson Wastes and the Stone Jungle, a place the defilers destroyed but the petrified trees didn't collapse like they largely did in the Tablelands. Yes, there are people in the Stone Jungle and the Crimson Wastes. No. They're not more friendly than the people of the Tablelands. They may or may not have Sorcerer Kings of their own. No one knows. Their languages aren't known in the Tablelands.

10) There are still Gods.

Oh, this one would be controversial... but yeah. In addition to the Elementals, there would be gods in the world, yet. But they'd be practically titans and forgotten gods (a5e Monstrous Menagerie). Creatures you could theoretically kill that exist on a mortal level. But they exist and could grant some measure of power to a hundred followers or so... but as the world dies, so too do they. And they are greatly weakened, and occasionally wrathful. They fear the Sorcerer Kings... who have stolen much of their power. And may yet take the last of it. They tend to masquerade as mortals and hide, acting almost exclusively through their agents.

11) The Sorcerer Kings are also Gods, basically.

They're not full power external to human experience god-beings that drift across the cosmos creating things... But they can directly grant power to their servants like a god would. And have more servants than the "Old Gods". Also killing one of the Old Gods in a ritual could be a path to power for, say, Nibenay or one of the others.

12) There would be rain.

Fitful, hot, and unsatisfying. Occasionally toxic. There would still be rain on Athas... but the thirsting sands consume it and drag it away... The Sea of Silt is actually a -sea-. With some water intermingled with the Silt. And Silt Sea Raiders do all they can to filter out another mouthful of greywater from what moisture remains. After rains cross the Silt Sea, there are -days- of ease and leisure for the Silt Sea Raiders... but once the water slips down past the first 20-30 feet of silt, it's practically impossible to get at. Never enough rain to slake the thirsty masses in the City-States... but enough to let the rovers barely survive.
 

log in or register to remove this ad

1) There would still be slavery and cannibalism.

Cannibalism, yes. Slavery - I'm in two minds. If you're going to do it, you have to really research this history of slavery across history and go deeply how it fits into the different cultures of the citystates etc, and not just grab the setting assumptions from 60s gladiator movies and call it a day. I'd certainly include slavery in a campaign I ran, assuming my players would be ok with it, but i understand the counterarguments too, especially those about putting it in an official product line.

2) It'd be Points of Light.
Yep. You need light to contrast the darkness, and to give something worth defending.

3) The Sorcerer-Kings would not be working towards Draconic Apotheosis.

I like Lynn Abbey's idea here, where the sorcerer-kings would be just fine with the idea of BEING a dragon, but know that the process of BECOMING a dragon involves losing your mind agonisingly for many years (and probably getting killed by Borys before they can mature to rival his power). So they actively avoid progressing along the path to dragonhood - unless they think they can find a way to skip the nasty bits.

4) Kalak is dead.
Yep. I liked how they did this in 4th ed. Dead Kalak means that Tyr is an easier starting point for low level characters, plus it adds a bit of variety to the city-states, and an impetus for war if that's the campaign you want to run. Though I'd make him dead a bit longer in the past. My idea of post-Kalak Tyr is kinda like the post-Reconstruction US South, where the slaves are technically free but the nobles etc are trying to reassert their authority and condemn ex-slaves to perennial second-class-citizenship using their hold on lawmaking institutions, and nighttime terror tactic.
5) Defiling is not the basic nature of Magic, but a specific use.
I'd have to think about the exact mechanics, but agree that defiling should be a temptation available to any mage, at any time.
6) What happened to the World would not be answered.
Yeah, that's fair. Some things are very unlikely to ever actually matter in a game. Rajaat is the biggest oldest cosmic horror the setting needs to think about, I reckon.
7) Borys would be the "Dragon of Athas" as a unique creature.
I'd keep Borys as an ascended sorcerer-king, and I'd keep the Dragon's Levy. It's such a great plot hook.
8) Preservers are trying to save the world.
SOME preservers are actively trying to save the world. Others just just want to be able cast spells in peace without ruining their fields or arousing their neighbours into an angry mob by defiling the crops. Druids are the real crusaders to restore Athas.
9) It's not just the Tablelands.

Yes yes yes. The world is bigger than the Tyr Valley.

10) There are still Gods.

That's a tougher sell for me. I'd have all sorts of creatures that people could make warlock pacts with, and certainly all sorts of pre-Cleansing Wars ancient temples etc, but actual gods, maybe not. They probably existed once, but they're dead now.

11) The Sorcerer Kings are also Gods, basically.
Able to grant spells, yeah. Practically immortal and enormously powerful, yeah. But also deeply flawed, ancient, jaded, callous, tired, possessive, controlling, sometimes petty and sometimes uncaring and sometimes cruel and vindictive. The scary thing about the sorcerer-kings is that they have the power of gods controlled by this ancient mortal mind that was never designed to see what it's seen, or live as long as it has, or handle the power under its control, or to do what it's done. Gods know how to be gods. The sorcerer-kings don't. They're still very human, which is why they're so awful.
12) There would be rain.

Yeah. I mean, crops have to grow SOMEHOW if the population of the place is ever going to eat.
 
Last edited:

Bitbrain

ORC (Open RPG) horde ally
Except for points 9 and 10, yeah this is mostly how I run Dark Sun myself.

The sea of silt is still an ocean of dust in my version though.
 


delericho

Legend
If I were rewriting Dark Sun I... well, I wouldn't. I'd try to start fresh and create a new setting with similar themes and motifs, but very deliberately not Athas and all that it implies.

That said, I'd also be tempted to publish it more or less as-is, but as part of a "mature themes" subline, or under an arms-length spin-off company. (Birthright too, moving it closer to "Game of Thrones" in nature.) But then, I'm not WotC and so don't have to worry about any backlash. :)

And all of that said, most of the OP's points are good ones. I wouldn't go for #3, #9, and #10, myself, but they're not horrible. #4, in particular, is a very good starting point.
 

Blue Orange

Gone to Texas
I really like your ideas. Remove the Product Identity and sell it on...whatever they use nowadays!

I like the hidden god thing. Very creative!

I always wondered how the low agriculture level supported those big cities, but if you start looking too deeply I guess they all fall apart.
 

- It is not canibalism but antropophagy.

- Slavery is not allowed.... for private citizen....but if you pay a special tax. The usual origin of slavery is juditial comndenation or unpaid debts...by some ancestor generations ago. There are some slaves working in the noble houses, but these are as "hired staff" when the "goverment" has the complete monoply. The PCs shouldn't can buy or sell slaves, but only the sorcerer-kings can "rent" them. Most of time the "freeded slaves" or ex-convicts are people who have suffered a brainwash as a penal punishment.

- There are horrible consequences for your bad karma. In DS being nice is not easy, but it is not a pleasant place to want to be the bad guy.

- The sorcerer kings are the secret rulers of "mirror realms", demiplanes working as alternate timelines. This can be a double edge swords, because someones can be source of food and supplies, but also suffer epidemics, plagues or worse things.

- There are points of light. There is a forbidden sect, "the children of Coalt" whose first apostles where yuan-ti who rejected the badness. Some "Coaltians" are divine spellcasters (or psionic ardent class).

- Arcane magic is forbidden, primal magic is allowed but not wellcome, divine magic is too wished. When the templars discover a "divine spellcaster" this is hunted and catched to be "milk".

- Spynewyrms are true dragons, even with age categories, or vestiges.

- Reincarnation works, but not always in the way you wish. This is the reason you can find strange PC species: tielflings, minotaurs, Athasian genasies, dromites, xephs, elans, maenads, dracs...

- There are gladiator arenas, but most of times the deaths and violence are fake thanks illusory effects. There are also fights among monks/martial artists and ki martial adepts.

- Maybe there are deities. Sorcerer kings allow cult to the ancestors or patriotic heroes, always when the cult to the "leader" is the main "faith". In wild zones some (no-sentient?) kaiju-like creatures are worshipped. There are rumors of "living idols" who can help with divine magic. Some psionic ardents self-proclaim to the prophets of the "egregore" (a collective mind-entity),

- There is rain usually, but some times there are strange storms, and then alien "visitors" arrive. (Do you remember the husks and mist monsters from Fortnite: Save the World, or Stephen King's "the Mist"?).

- There are werevernims.

- Muls were created artifically, and reproduction is not totally impossible.

- Living constructs as psiforged and shardminds but they also need water and some nutrient to vaid the fall into a state of lethargy (and usually with (temporal) amensia when they awake again. Other secondary effect is without oil they cause a potential toxic aura, like the disquiet from Promethean: the Created. Forget the idea with a psiforged PC shouldn't worry about the survival.

-
 

dave2008

Legend
Thanks for sharing your ideas Steam! Here are my thoughts.
1) There would still be slavery and cannibalism.
Yes and yes. I would think about changing the term Mul to a generic word for slave or a specific type of slave as opposed to a race. So any race could be a Mul.
2) It'd be Points of Light.
Sounds good to me.
3) The Sorcerer-Kings would not be working towards Draconic Apotheosis.
Undecided. I'm open to the idea, but I do love me some dragons, so...
4) Kalak is dead.
Sounds good to me. I like the idea of starting in a city in chaos.
5) Defiling is not the basic nature of Magic, but a specific use.
I would have to think about this one. I think my ideas for DS would probably require a price to use any arcane magic. You defile yourself or that which is around you. Perhaps you can spend HD or something to not defile per se, but there is always a cost. Or maybe that is just higher level spells, not sure yet.
6) What happened to the World would not be answered.
Agreed
7) Borys would be the "Dragon of Athas" as a unique creature.
That works for me.
8) Preservers are trying to save the world.
I need to think about it some more, but in general that seems about right.
9) It's not just the Tablelands.
Yes, that has always been the case in my mind
10) There are still Gods.
That is an interesting idea, and I like it, but not for DS to me.
11) The Sorcerer Kings are also Gods, basically.
I would say "gods" not "Gods," but basically yes. I imagine them controlling the access to water like in Mad Max Fury Road. Another reason there is Chaos in Tyr. Who controls the water controls the city!
12) There would be rain.
I agree there would be some rain, but I prefer the Silt Sea remain silt. Now a could sea a polluted body of water somewhere else.
 

Steampunkette

Rules Tinkerer and Freelance Writer
Supporter
To be clear on the Borys thing:

He was still a Sorcerer King before his Draconic Apotheosis. I just mean that not -all- of the Sorcerer Kings are aiming for the same sort of ascension. And while he is "The Dragon of Athas" it's a title for a unique entity not the exclusive domain of him to be the only "dragon" on the planet.

Maybe one of them just wants to become a true God with full on divinity and needs to capture one of the forgotten gods to consume their essence in a big ritual that can only be performed when the stars and planets align in some great celestial convergence or whatever ritualistic limits fit the story best.

Maybe another wants to become a "True Demon" of legend like a Balor or something. And a third doesn't have a specific "End Goal" and just wants to continually accrue power in an example of pure capitalist greed where there is no end goal only continually increasing power, quarter over quarter.

Just not "all dragons".
 

Dragonhelm

Knight of Solamnia
Excellent post. Glad to see that you're trying to be part of the solution. :)

1) There would still be slavery and cannibalism.

Slavery - This must be handled extra carefully and must absolutely be seen as an evil to fight against. Years (decades) ago in the 2e Dark Sun days, I ran a short campaign that amounted to the player characters being ex-slaves who freed other slaves and were raising an army to fight against the local sorcerer-king. Lots of muls, half-giants, and thri-kreen in there.


2) It'd be Points of Light.

I like this, but keep in mind that with the sorcerer-kings controlling the various city-states, this may be more of "points of darkness." But yes, agreed that this is a good theme for Dark Sun.

3) The Sorcerer-Kings would not be working towards Draconic Apotheosis.

I'm not certain about this one. Maybe they're all working towards it, seeing the success of Borys, but they try different things with different results. Some good, some very bad.

4) Kalak is dead.

I like the idea that Kalak is gone, the people are free, but they don't know what that means yet. So everyone is out for themselves until someone fills the vacuum.

5) Defiling is not the basic nature of Magic, but a specific use.

I like this, but would it then be available to players?

6) What happened to the World would not be answered.

Possibly, though I would approach it with the players exploring ruins and discovering that the world was once a very different place and could be so again.

7) Borys would be the "Dragon of Athas" as a unique creature.

I always liked the idea of Borys being the only dragon on Athas. I'm not wholly a fan of his art and I really dislike his name. Borys sounds like a dude from Russia, not the big bad of the setting.

8) Preservers are trying to save the world.

I like this. Would everyone hate arcane magic still?

9) It's not just the Tablelands.

I'm down with expanding the known world.


10) There are still Gods.

On this one, I disagree. Maybe they died. Maybe they realized this world wasn't worth saving.

I liked how 4e had no divine power source, so no clerics or paladins. I like the idea of a primal magic source, kind of like what they did in 4e. It looks like they're going back to that in One D&D.


11) The Sorcerer Kings are also Gods, basically.

I liked how in 4e, there was a sorcerer-king warlock pact. I think that would work well in this case.


12) There would be rain.


I would really like to see some research on rain in real-world deserts, such as the Sahara. Mimic that.

Some things I would add...

1. Psionics are a must. I would love to see a focus on that in 5e. Now, the question is, does psionic magic allow for defiling?

2. I want to see druids trying to restore nature. They know it's off in a bad way.

3. Elemental Magic - This would be good for the druid. I liked the elemental priests. Don't go with earth, air, fire, and water, though. That's too cliche. Go with sand, sun, wind, and rain. It's essentially the same, but that sounds cooler for a Dark Sun campaign.

4. Make Dark Sun more recognizable. Let's see Dark Sun versions of a lot of monsters, rather than most monsters being new ones just for Dark Sun.

5. How scarce is metal?

6. What about magic items?
 

Remove ads

AD6_gamerati_skyscraper

Remove ads

Upcoming Releases

Top