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D&D 5E (+) What would you want for 5e Dark Sun?

Steampunkette

Shaper of Worlds
I think the Dragonlance topic of the same name is pretty great and I'd like to follow through a similar course with Dark Sun under the following precepts:

1) Narrative Elements will almost certainly change to adapt the setting toward more modern sensibilities. More female characters, LGBT inclusion, wider ethnic diversity, and some elements may be trimmed or re-framed to be less offensive. This isn't inherently a bad thing. But if you're down with it, what kind of changes would you want to see?

2) Dark Sun has a ton of Systems Changes. From Defiling to Psionics to Environmental Survival. How drastically would you want to see those systems altered, or perhaps do you have ideas on how they could be carried forward? Or do you think that such changes should even be -applied- to a modern table sensibility due to the preponderance of roll-playing as opposed to role-playing in modern game design?

3) Power Level. While it could be included in the Systems changes, Dark Sun's monsters were stronger, it's characters had higher stat generation methods, and magic items, or even good quality weapons and armor, were rare to make things even more challenging. Should that stylistic and mechanical gap remain in 5e, or should it be brought into a more "Modern Balance" spirit where any Athasian character is no stronger or weaker, by default, than any Faerunian one?

I'll go first.

Narrative Changes for Modern Sensibilities:
  • More Female Sorcerer-Kings.
    • On Athas there were only 3 female sorcerer-kings. Abalach-Re, Lalali-Puy, and Yarmuke. And Yarmuke was destroyed by Hamanu who also wiped her city from the world.
    • Thankfully, most of the Sorcerer-Kings gender is pretty irrelevant to who they are and what they accomplish. So making Oronis, Tectuktitlay, or even Andropinis (Who has the most masculine name of them all, Man-Penis) into Female Characters wouldn't actually change much of anything.
    • Could even have one of the Sorcerer-Kings be transgender. Nibenay presents a draconic form and largely hides from the public eye. It could be interesting if that draconic form were feminine.
  • LGBTQ+ loose organizations could be neat.
    • I don't mean big and broad-ranging LGBTQ Lobbyists. I'm talking about smaller organizations of protection. Athas is a harsh place and having trans characters know that, for example, a building with a painted Kank's Head on the front wall wall is a safe space could be interesting. It would also set Athas aside from other settings as one that is harsh, but not without it's mercies.
    • Similarly, an alliance of people with different sexualities creating a group-atmosphere of protection and solidarity might be nice in a cruel world. Like maybe no one cares if some courtier is slipping into silk-sheets with courtiers of similar genders, or whether gladiators are coupling in the barracks between matches, but there's still plenty of reason for abundant caution and escape plans and the like for when bigots -do- rear their ugly heads
    • Though it would also be kind of great to just have no societal stigmas tied to LGBTQ+ existence, of course.
  • Slavery is a tough call. But I think they could largely keep it.
    • 5e D&D tries to keep slavery in the hands of evil people. Which is why the Drow are totally willing to enslave you at the start of Out of the Abyss. The main thrust of slavery in modern fantasy is that it exists, it is evil, and only evil people enslave others.
    • Therefore having slavery as a thing in the setting would still work, but the players would be actively encouraged to fight and kill slavers when possible/reasonable, and free any slaves they find. Which is what good people should do in any setting.
  • Points of (Dim) Light?
    • Athas has always been a place with a handful of real "Towns" and a few villages scattered across the sands between them, often 2-3 days travel apart (On foot) and usually plagued by cannibal Elves, cannibal Thri-Kreen, and cannibal Halflings. Because, honestly, cannibalism is just super popular as a dining option on Athas.
    • This sort of physical structure lends itself well to a Points of Light campaign. And, honestly, making that the style du jour for Athas could fit really, -really-, well. So long as the lights are dim. So long as the safety is fleeting, the comfort expensive, and the danger swift to return.
  • Ethnic Variety
    • Honestly, Athas could do this fairly easily if the art department goes for it without any sort of backlash. I don't think there's much chance, at all, that people are going to complain if Tecuktitlay isn't white as snow, or Lalali-Puy doesn't have blonde hair and blue eyes. Honestly, ruddy and dark skin tones should -probably- be the default for the whole setting, with pale skin being a rarity even among the wealthy.
Systems Changes:
  • Arcane/Divine/Psionics as different.
    • 5e's "All magic is just magic" is just not good for Athas. Athas uses Defiling and Preserving as a powerful narrative element, and one that Clerics and Druids are incapable of doing because their power doesn't defile.
    • Athas would need to break the "Weave Narrative" to work. Different types of magic -need- to be different to interact with this core identity of the setting.
  • Psionics as Default
    • A Psionicist Class (I love KibblesTasty's) would be great. Especially one that takes cantrip-casting to heart and builds off of it.
    • Probably a Psionic-Warrior option or something similar as well. Likely as a Subclass of Fighter or maybe Ranger?
    • Maybe just a whole mess of Psionic Subclasses in general.
    • Definitely a ton of Wild Talents as Feats.
  • Defiling as Default
    • Preserving should be something you actively choose, rather than a default. And it should cost you.
    • Yes. This makes Wizards and Sorcerers (if they're even in the game!) weaker unless they defile. That's the point.
    • Playing a Wizard should be unattractive in the setting to keep the Arcane magic level low. Not impossible, so people can still play their Wizards... but less attractive.
  • Travel Mechanics
    • Traveling from place to place isn't hard, really. Pick a direction and go. Getting there -alive- is the trick.
    • Heat Mechanics, Environmental Hazards, Dangerous Monsters, and most importantly LIMITED RESOURCES.
    • Water isn't always available on Athas. And even when you -can- get some it's often dirty.
    • Some sort of mechanical structure that makes survival against the World into it's own unique danger layered on top of everything else would be spectacular.
Power Level
  • Stronger Characters. Harsher Challenges.
    • Athasian characters have been stronger than those of other settings, often with less magical power available. Previous editions handled this with higher attribute scores, which is also an option but consider replacing Magic Items with "Heroic Power"
    • To replace magic items, there should be a new "Internalized Power" system that allows characters to function as if they -have- magic items in many cases and situations, without actually having them.
    • Perhaps give people a number of "Heroic Power" slots equal to their Attunement availability and allow the player to gain these heroic powers through gameplay.
    • Belt of Giant Strength? Nah. Your strength score gets boosted 'cause you have "Mighty Thews" which gives you a +4 Strength Bonus (Max 22) or a +6 bonus (Max 24
  • Bigger Stats
    • Maybe give players their level 4 ASI at level 1? Or their level 8 at level 1 so they just don't get one of the two during leveling.
    • This would keep their overall power level similar while boosting them at low-level play before they can play into the "Heroic Power" system.
  • Wild Talent at level 1?
    • Wild Talents are an important part of Athasian culture. Not -everyone- has them, but enough people do that it's just considered normal.
    • Maybe give all players a single level 1 "Free Feat" which can be a Wild Talent or not, as they personally prefer.
  • Interesting Weapon and Armor Rules.
    • In addition to having some really cool and slightly freaky weapons, Athas also had rules relating to Bone, Stone, and Wooden weapons that probably should be updated.
    • Weapon Breakage was a common problem for Athasian Heroes who would often see their favorite Carrikal break off in the thick armored hide of a Braxat or crushed under the bulk of a rampaging Mellikot.
    • Armor/Shield Breakage was also an issue, but slightly (SLIGHTLY) less common. Maybe give players the ability to actively sacrifice shields and armor to negate a critical hit altogether, or something? Not sure.

What are your thoughts?
 

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Steampunkette

Shaper of Worlds
legally no as that map is for another setting hence the inspiration as darks sun cant really go forward in timeline with out mucking it up thus it must go wide hence anything similar is a good idea to steal from.

it looks like a singular continent and a small one at that maybe it is bigger they just can see it yet?
Well, yeah. Can't explicitly use that specific map, but I mean that kind of detailed regional map and revamping the Tyr Region to be wildly reformed from it's current stylings.

So that you've got really nice and detailed regional maps for the areas surrounding the city-states (Which have been pretty thoroughly explored, probably) and then the bigger map with less details. And then beyond that map's borders is "Here there be dragons" type stuff.

As far as the small continent, it may have been a high sea plateau that never breached the surface of the ocean before the waters dried up. Would explain why it's greener and more blue than most of the rest of Athas. Though it is a fan-made map. Just thought it was interesting.
anyone got any ideas on expanding on the elementals and the undead as they could be interesting in darksun?
Krags are what you get when a Water Elemental Cleric burns at the stake or a Fire Elemental Cleric drowns or whatever. And they spawn Kraglings with their elemental attacks if you die to it.

Dwarven Banshees are basically intelligent zombies that perpetually rot away.

Faels are people who died without filling their need to consume in life so they become bloated hungering undead.

Dune Runners are elves who died while in the running trance state on their way to some important event.

Meorti are Green Age Psionic Undead Guardian Noblemen.

Dhaots are incorporeal undead created from people who die far away from home and wishing they were there.

Zombie Plants create zombies because obviously.

Kaisharga are Psionic Liches.

Racked Spirits are people who died after betraying the core of who they are and are tormented by that choice, so they torment others for relief.

Raaig are ghostly temple-guardians who keep watch over Holy Sites from the Green Age.

T'liz are Defiler-Undead. Sorcerers who didn't get enough destroying the world finished in life and continue it after death.

Athasian Wraiths that possess objects, unintelligent animals, and corpses.

And the aptly named "Thinking Zombie" which is just what it says on the tin.

They also added a boatload of "Undead Traits and Weaknesses" you could slap on a 2e Undead to make it more interesting.

It also introduced the Athasian version of 8 elementals (Greater and Lesser of each variety) plus Spirits of the Land.

And then it's got "Elemental Beasts" for each of the four elements. They're basically cat, dog, snake, and fish-shaped elementals. Plus Paraelementals, of course.

Do Drakes count? Athas has 8 Elemental Drakes. Well, 4 elemental and 4 paraelemental.

Do Sand Brides count? They're Negative Energy creatures that reform sand around themselves in the facsimile of a pretty girl to lure people in.
 

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Yora

Legend
Correction, it's actually a good deal larger than Colorado.

athas_scale2.jpg
 




Once more, Squibbles did the math and map scribbling for us!

1620852848614-png.136860

The "Known World" including everything within the Ringing Mountains.

1620852953023-png.136863

The Tyr Region.
we need a bigger map as this is far too small.

by the undead and elementals make them less pure encounter fodder and more power-players, can't really ever go wrong with a lich king?
on elementals, they need a face and a name so they are more than just summoned entities some goals would be nice.
 

Steampunkette

Shaper of Worlds
we need a bigger map as this is far too small.

by the undead and elementals make them less pure encounter fodder and more power-players, can't really ever go wrong with a lich king?
on elementals, they need a face and a name so they are more than just summoned entities some goals would be nice.
It's been suggested that the Dead Lands in the distant south are a plagueland of undead that may form a hierarchical structure as a potential threat to the rest of the world, yup.

As far as faces and names, you'd have to look for Adventures for those. I was just listing off monster types from memory and then a quick google search for names I'd forgotten just to be thorough.
 

Yaarel

Mind Mage
anyone got any ideas on expanding on the elementals and the undead as they could be interesting in darksun?
Elementals locate among their corresponding features, such as water in water sources, air in upper atmosphere, fire in volcanoes or harsh deserts, and earth in the wild lands.

Humanoid undead are wherever humanoids are or were.
 

Stormonu

Legend
Dark Sun had quite a bit of influence from John Carter of Mars - and Mars is half the size of Earth.

One thing that bothers me about the enlarged map - The cliffline on the west is "thousands of feet" deep, meaning that the entire Crimson Savannah is BELOW sea level - quite a bit below the level of the Silt Sea. Either the Silt sea is only "Gulf of Mexico" deep, or there is a serious imbalance between the once-oceans on the West/East side.

If that is the case, if you turn the Estuary of the Forked Tongue so West is North, it kinda reminds me of the Bayou area of Louisiana...only recently noticed it because I was looking at some Google maps of the area last weekend.
 


Steampunkette

Shaper of Worlds
Dark Sun had quite a bit of influence from John Carter of Mars - and Mars is half the size of Earth.

One thing that bothers me about the enlarged map - The cliffline on the west is "thousands of feet" deep, meaning that the entire Crimson Savannah is BELOW sea level - quite a bit below the level of the Silt Sea. Either the Silt sea is only "Gulf of Mexico" deep, or there is a serious imbalance between the once-oceans on the West/East side.

If that is the case, if you turn the Estuary of the Forked Tongue so West is North, it kinda reminds me of the Bayou area of Louisiana...only recently noticed it because I was looking at some Google maps of the area last weekend.
Not... exactly.

If you look at where the Sea of Silt is on the globe it's a purely inland sea, rather than being the "East Coast" of the continent.

So the rest of the world's ocean-beds having a lower level than that inland sea makes perfect sense.
 
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Zardnaar

Legend
Reading through my revised revised Boxed Set based off the novels andPP and taking into account the differences in rules between 3.5 and 2E.

I used the original boxed set locations. Advanced the timeline by 1000 years.

Kind of restored the concept of a Dragon and 7 Sorcerer Monarchs.

Andropinis returned to Balic, Dregoth got Raam, Azetuk has become an SK in his own right.

Two new queens. Sadira as a side effect of her transformation via Rajaat can grant Templars spells. She's immortal and not a Dragon but is a Sorcerer Queen.

The other new queen is Razia. She is my own invention and comes from across the sea of Silt.

There's water flowing under the elven bridge in Tyr and the Cerulean Storm has lessened but increased rainfall. The river runs to the nearest estuary and created a mud flat.

There's around 18 pages detailing the new Athas with a focus on restoration vs the brutality of the original set.

I didn't want to retcon everything to much but wanted the changes to at least make some amount of sense.
 

squibbles

Explorer
[...] Like I get the desire to throw Weirdness into the setting in general, but anything you add needs to enhance the story of the setting, expand on it, enrich it. Not undermine it, or go off in a completely different direction that changes the tone drastically.
[...] Monsters and Creatures and Wild Effects? Sure. As long as they continue the narrative that Athas the -planet- has been ravaged by the Sorcerer-Kings rather than "Oh, this one part of the middle east kind of sucks, but the rest of the world is totally different! Like... Squibbles did the map-math back in May to show how big the known world is:

1620852848614-png.136860


That's everything inside the Ringing Mountains, which surround the known world. Here's the Tyr Region for comparison:

1620852953023-png.136863


While I know the world is WAY bigger than that tiny square, or slightly larger shuttlecock shape, the further out we go the more the impetus to put in forests and oceans grows.

Making 98% of the rest of the world a massive desert largely devoid of life, or with minimal life that is largely inimical to humanoid life, fits the setting by making the Tablelands the last bastion of real -life- on the world. The only place people can reasonably live which is why they accept the rule of the Sorcerer Kings... they just don't have a choice. There's nowhere else to go. [...]
[...]For the sake of argument, let's say you create a New Place. This new place is desolate AF and it's within the Ringing Mountains on the other side of the Sea of Silt. There's a handful of cities, there, largely like the ones in the Tyr region, but different. They're ruled by other people and there's no Dragons or Sorcerer Kings there. Defiling magic is punishable by death, and psionics are still the rule of the day.

What's happening, there, what story are you telling, that you can't tell in the Tyr region? And how does that story, and the existence of these other "Free Realms", impact the narrative of a desolate world where your only real choice is to live under the oppressive regime of the Sorcerer Kings?

Okay. So let's try it with Sorcerer Kings. Let's say there's 8 city-states with only 6 Sorcerer Kings. And somehow they're unknown to the Tyran Sorcerer Kings and in the dark about the Tyran Sorcerer Kings. What story are you telling, there, that you can't tell in the Tyr region?
[...] Putting NEW Sorcerer Kings out there means very little. Both because all the setting-important stuff (The Pristine Tower, Borys, the Tithe, the Obsidian Oracle, and Rajaat's Prison) is in the Tyr Region and their complete disconnect from the rest of the Sorcerer Kings will result in either a campaign with no interactions with other communities or a second "Tyrish Region" where you cluster the other Sorcerer Kings around some setting-important thing (That you have to make up) which basically makes it it's own separate setting while holding the same environment as the original Athas. Tablelands Part 2: Electric Boogaloo. [...]
I'm glad you found the map/number crunching useful, and am in general agreement with you that Athas works best at a small scale without many verdant biomes. But there's also plenty you could add that would be perfectly themed--a forest of giant redwoods petrified by ancient defiling or a mountain of bones deliberately collected during the purification wars. There's lots of novel high concept wierdness that can go with Dark Sun.

I also think you are giving the existing lore more credit than it deserves. A lot of ideas that got added after the first boxed set--the pristine tower, rajaat (& a definitive catalogue of rajaat's champions), ur draxa, the cerulean storm, the dead lands--ARE major departures from the themes of the setting and often quite bad. And, indeed, the first iteration of Dark Sun very clearly intended for there to be 8+ city states on the far side of the sea of silt, as well as 8+ to the south of it and 8+ to the north of it. That fitting new sorcerer kings into the established lore is hard and doesn't make sense is a failing of the established lore, not an inherently bad idea.

The main thing you gain by adding new territory and sorcerer kings is artistic license. You led the OP with the goal of adding more female, LGBT, and ethnically diverse characters. That would be very easy to do on the opposite side of the sea of silt, or to the north or south of the Tyr region. There are many other cool things that could be done by adding more canvas to the picture.

For example: @Yaarel 's utopian advanced city with water, but not enough water to share with others, that turns away outsiders would allow you to play with lots of lifeboat ethics style questions which you otherwise could not, and which would still be very Dark Sun appropriate if you handled them well (and didn't wall them off from the wider setting so as to be basically irrelevant, as is Kurn). That partiular setup isn't in my headcannon, but it's not a bad idea either.

I also like the idea of adding more sorcerer kings because of how it collectively diminishes them. Rather than being big world-consequential figures--who, though they be dicks, have protected the world for centuries from not-Sauron--they are petty, small-minded, unimportant, fossil fuel executives who, in the twilight of the world they destroyed, get to rule toy countries like little defeated Napoleons exiled to Elba.

But regardless, I think you're already pretty confident of what is in your headcannon, so, as to that:
[...] With regard to the city-states being far away from each other, is it enough to just change the scale of the map, such as moving the decimal place for the miles? Or are there certain sites that need to be nearby each other − thus requiring a new map?
Changing the map scale works just fine, sure. I just like the idea of doing more stuff in and around each City-State than there is, currently. Spreading them out and populating their areas would be a great step toward that.

Would also make room for some of the weird stuff people want while still keeping it in the Sorcerer Kings' territory for narrative purposes.
we need a bigger map as this is far too small. [...]
There are a couple of priorities to think about when setting scale, each with its own proscription.
  1. You can try to make a fantastical place verisimilituniously plausible and work out the logical consequences of its size, resources, and population (my preference, obviously).
  2. You can try to make a fantastical place with distances and organization that feel right in evoking a particular milieu.
  3. And, what is best for gaming, you can think about how scale actually matters in the process of play.
1991 Dark Sun, with it's 30-mile key, was conceived somewhere between priorities 2 and 3. It has an awesome ancient world aesthetic, with a near eastern feel, and greek political organization and land area. But though its city-states look like south asian or near-eastern metropoli, it lacks the fertile river valleys or large bureaucratic empires that made them possible; it doesn't quite make sense as a believable place despite how awesomely evocative it feels.

To make the Tyr region more believable in service of priority 1, you either need to reduce the size and magnificence of its societies (my choice) or increase its land area--which 4e did by giving its maps a 75-mile key. But increasing the scale by, say, moving the decimal place creates problems with 3. Because the Tyr region really doesn't have that many points of interest in it, increasing the scale creates A LOT of empty space. And, given that human populations tend to build towns and villages in about 10-mile intervals (fun video explainer), that deficit of settlements creates problems of verisimilitude too, even in a population depressed place like Athas.

If you prioritze 3, you usually want to make things more content dense and, to not go insane, smaller (which is also verisimilitudinous in its way, since most places have a seriously large amount of adventurable stuff in a small area; see this brilliant exploration of a 1-mile hex scale via google maps). Most D&D settings with giant continents over thousands of miles are gameplay-useless leisure reading (enjoy them though I do).

So, though I'm not sure what your predilections are (I haven't read through pages ~5-30) you'd probably be best served by increasing the scale of the map a little, tuning down the impressiveness of the Tyr region's city states (especially the army sizes), and filling the map--and cutouts of it--with points of interest. The wierdness that gives you pause at a setting scaled level of importance is probably fine as a local point of interest, i.e. an oasis/pond that is a giant quiescent ooze creature rather than a whole ocean that is ooze creature.

If you're concerned about the remoteness of the cities from each other, think of it this way: most pre-modern people never traveled more than a few days walking distance from home, if that. Even Gulg and Nibenay, the closest cities, are 30 miles apart on the 1991 map; that's a big enough distance that ordinary people would rarely if ever walk it. Making the cities feel far apart is, therefore, a player mechanics problem, and you can figure out limiting factors that make travel inconvenient, take longer, or otherwise feel like a big deal. Maybe it just takes expensive desert survival consumables to get from A to B safely, and starting PCs don't have any (but all the merchants and nomads do).
 
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okay, other than dragon kings do we have any other groups of bad guys?
The Mind Lords. The Order. The undead of the Obsidian Lands. A huge number of slaving bands, non-sorcerer-king defilers, corrupt and awful city-state nobility. Petty despots ruling over nominally ‘free’ villages in the wastes. Psurlons. The shadow giants and the other lingering servitors of Rajaat. Cannibal halfling tribes. Invading gith, if you decide not to ignore Black Spine. Borys’ kaisharga. Some Athasian monsters, nightmare beasts and gaj for instance, could easily act as BBEGs with mindslaved or befuddles minions too.
 

The Mind Lords. The Order. The undead of the Obsidian Lands. A huge number of slaving bands, non-sorcerer-king defilers, corrupt and awful city-state nobility. Petty despots ruling over nominally ‘free’ villages in the wastes. Psurlons. The shadow giants and the other lingering servitors of Rajaat. Cannibal halfling tribes. Invading gith, if you decide not to ignore Black Spine. Borys’ kaisharga. Some Athasian monsters, nightmare beasts and gaj for instance, could easily act as BBEGs with mindslaved or befuddles minions too.
the mind lords sit in one area and maintain it and everyone hates that module, not the area just the plot. never heard of the order do they have a face and a goal?

the undead of the obsidian land do not do much and lack any focus thus they need development.

slaving bands who have no more description than you average bandit needs more fluff, ditto with the nobles.
psurlons are multi-setting thus can be done in any book.
the shadow giants and rajaat need more lore but they at least have a solid foundation.
cannibal tribes see the slaving bands.
kaisharga?
 

Steampunkette

Shaper of Worlds
I'm glad you found the map/number crunching useful, and am in general agreement with you that Athas works best at a small scale without many verdant biomes. But there's also plenty you could add that would be perfectly themed--a forest of giant redwoods petrified by ancient defiling or a mountain of bones deliberately collected during the purification wars. There's lots of novel high concept wierdness that can go with Dark Sun.
I 100% agree. The only issue I have is trying to keep theme, part of which is scale, while adding weirdness. 'Cause some weirdness is more fitting to the setting than other weirdness. The aforementioned bone mountain, for example, compared to a lush forest made up of giant mushrooms and ferns. Something you might find in Forgotten Realms or a Fantasy MMORPG.
I also think you are giving the existing lore more credit than it deserves. A lot of ideas that got added after the first boxed set--the pristine tower, rajaat (& a definitive catalogue of rajaat's champions), ur draxa, the cerulean storm, the dead lands--ARE major departures from the themes of the setting and often quite bad. And, indeed, the first iteration of Dark Sun very clearly intended for there to be 8+ city states on the far side of the sea of silt, as well as 8+ to the south of it and 8+ to the north of it. That fitting new sorcerer kings into the established lore is hard and doesn't make sense is a failing of the established lore, not an inherently bad idea.
A lot of it I do give credit to, yeah. Not the Cerulean Storm or Surfer-Druids... but... yeah. And there's definitely -room- around the Sea of Silt for more societies and more Sorcerer-Kings, I just feel like having 4 or 5 different "Tyr Regions" each with their own thing going on is going to feel like different settings. The amount of focus put on the Tyr Region is similar to the whole of other settings and I've quite enjoyed that.

Granted it's not the best storylines in the world, and a lot of the characterization is... hmmn... Weird... But yeah.
The main thing you gain by adding new territory and sorcerer kings is artistic license. You led the OP with the goal of adding more female, LGBT, and ethnically diverse characters. That would be very easy to do on the opposite side of the sea of silt, or to the north or south of the Tyr region. There are many other cool things that could be done by adding more canvas to the picture.
Not with the goal. I do wanna make that one super clear. We know for a fact that Dark Sun is going to change a buncha stuff to get more modern, which isn't a bad thing. Knowing that it's going to change, those are the ways I would prefer for it to change. I wouldn't mind if they left the Sorcerer Kings more dudely and the setting pretty straight. The Ethnically Diverse one... kinda. I think most people in the setting should be heavily mixed and largely brown in skin tones, rather than a buncha white people in the desert. But that's probably more an issue of the TSR Art Department just defaulting to white without questioning it, y'know?
For example: @Yaarel 's utopian advanced city with water, but not enough water to share with others, that turns away outsiders would allow you to play with lots of lifeboat ethics style questions which you otherwise could not, and which would still be very Dark Sun appropriate if you handled them well (and didn't wall them off from the wider setting so as to be basically irrelevant, as is Kurn). That partiular setup isn't in my headcannon, but it's not a bad idea either.
I disagree that it empowers you to do Lifeboat ethics. A party in the wasteland with limited water is doing lifeboat ethics when they find a half-dead person hiding from the sun in the lee of a sand dune, parched and panting, and have to figure out whether to share their water with them.

Having a city-state do it as a matter of course presumes an answer. Meanwhile Tyr the Free City itself is a good example of the Lifeboat Ethics problem as it's welcoming a bunch of slaves to come be free and taxing it's water and food supplies in the process, drawing ever closer to a day when the choice must be made whether to close the gates and expel a surplus in order to save those inside... A society that needs to -make- that choice has far more to explore than a city that made it centuries before the game started.
I also like the idea of adding more sorcerer kings because of how it collectively diminishes them. Rather than being big world-consequential figures--who, though they be dicks, have protected the world for centuries from not-Sauron--they are petty, small-minded, unimportant, fossil fuel executives who, in the twilight of the world they destroyed, get to rule toy countries like little defeated Napoleons exiled to Elba.
That... oof...

That is a -strong- image. And much more topical to the present day. Rather than being the handful of "True Powers" in the world they represent a Powerful Interest which they are each petty tyrants of. DAMN. That is a powerful narrative. Holy crap...

I mean you'd have to recontextualize a lot of the destruction of the world in the service of genocidal violence into a context of destruction of the world in service to Personal Gain to make it work... Rewrite hefty parts of the rationale behind the Cleansing Wars, just as a start...

But that would be a powerful narrative allegory to hinge the setting on. It would update the setting's politics to a more modern understanding of Climate Change and Environmental Apocalyptica...

DAMN. I'm gonna be rolling this thing over in my head for a -while-... DAMN.
But regardless, I think you're already pretty confident of what is in your headcannon, so, as to that:
You know, I freaking -was- before you dropped that powerful literary allusion on me and now I'm starting to clamber into the "Rewrite it all" boat.

I may be stubborn and have my own mental image of what "Dark Sun should be" but it's not so myopic and strained against intrusion that something that -central- and -powerful- can't shake my position... Because holy crap that is a great big optical shift.

2e's canon remains within that context as the world not knowing the bigger truth behind things, but that bigger truth isn't an M. Knight Shyamalan twist.
There are a couple of priorities to think about when setting scale, each with its own proscription.
  1. You can try to make a fantastical place verisimilituniously plausible and work out the logical consequences of its size, resources, and population (my preference, obviously).
  2. You can try to make a fantastical place with distances and organization that feel right in evoking a particular milieu.
  3. And, what is best for gaming, you can think about how scale actually matters in the process of play.
1991 Dark Sun, with it's 30-mile key, was conceived somewhere between priorities 2 and 3. It has an awesome ancient world aesthetic, with a near eastern feel, and greek political organization and land area. But though its city-states look like south asian or near-eastern metropoli, it lacks the fertile river valleys or large bureaucratic empires that made them possible; it doesn't quite make sense as a believable place despite how awesomely evocative it feels.

To make the Tyr region more believable in service of priority 1, you either need to reduce the size and magnificence of its societies (my choice) or increase its land area--which 4e did by giving its maps a 75-mile key. But increasing the scale by, say, moving the decimal place creates problems with 3. Because the Tyr region really doesn't have that many points of interest in it, increasing the scale creates A LOT of empty space. And, given that human populations tend to build towns and villages in about 10-mile intervals (fun video explainer), that deficit of settlements creates problems of verisimilitude too, even in a population depressed place like Athas.

If you prioritze 3, you usually want to make things more content dense and, to not go insane, smaller (which is also verisimilitudinous in its way, since most places have a seriously large amount of adventurable stuff in a small area; see this brilliant exploration of a 1-mile hex scale via google maps). Most D&D settings with giant continents over thousands of miles are gameplay-useless leisure reading (enjoy them though I do).

So, though I'm not sure what your predilections are (I haven't read through pages ~5-30) you'd probably be best served by increasing the scale of the map a little, tuning down the impressiveness of the Tyr region's city states (especially the army sizes), and filling the map--and cutouts of it--with points of interest. The wierdness that gives you pause at a setting scaled level of importance is probably fine as a local point of interest, i.e. an oasis/pond that is a giant quiescent ooze creature rather than a whole ocean that is ooze creature.
So... Before now. My thought was to spread the Tyr Region across the Tablelands. To have Raam on the north side of the Silt Sea, west of Urik, East of Draj. To have Tyr still be on the Western Side, but the ruins of Giustenal to be on the far side of the Sea of Silt. Then, in the south, Gulg and Nibenay on either side of the Crescent Forest on the southern shores of the Sea of Silt with the Deadlands encroaching from the south. Throw Ur-Draxa on a central-ish island with Rajaat's prison out there, and make the Pristine Tower a Lighthouse in the West-Northwest area of the Silt Sea itself.

That way the Sorcerer-Kings were a specific set of important powerful enemies that a player could work for, fight against, or whatever, with great distances between that are largely unmapped and detailed maps of the environments near to the City-States themselves.

Even now I might like to spread them out further, reduce some of their splendor, too... But I'm also moving into the "Let's reduce their overall importance by adding more Sorcerer Kings". Possibly with a hint of "Rewrite Rajaat and the Cleansing Wars"
If you're concerned about the remoteness of the cities from each other, think of it this way: most pre-modern people never traveled more than a few days walking distance from home, if that. Even Gulg and Nibenay, the closest cities, are 30 miles apart on the 1991 map; that's a big enough distance that ordinary people would rarely if ever walk it. Making the cities feel far apart is, therefore, a player mechanics problem, and you can figure out limiting factors that make travel inconvenient, take longer, or otherwise feel like a big deal. Maybe it just takes expensive desert survival consumables to get from A to B safely, and starting PCs don't have any (but all the merchants and nomads do).
Remoteness is fine. My issue was always the diluting of the Sorcerer King narrative. But... yeah. Holy crap.
 

Yora

Legend
I think the whole revised edition of Dark Sun was a huge mistake. I see plenty of people being big fans of Rajat and all that stuff, but I think all of that greatly diminishes the setting as a whole.

The original box presents a relatively small surviving region that might very well be the last habitable place in the world, with there being nothing out in the sand than barren ruins, and where the past is a mostly forgotten myth rather than a memory. You got a few tyrants who try to convince their slaves that they are the only chance of survival, and while their magical powers are impressive, their domains are laughably small.

By adding a big cosmic backstory and metaplot to it, the whole setting was smashes to shambles.
 

Steampunkette

Shaper of Worlds
I think the whole revised edition of Dark Sun was a huge mistake. I see plenty of people being big fans of Rajat and all that stuff, but I think all of that greatly diminishes the setting as a whole.

The original box presents a relatively small surviving region that might very well be the last habitable place in the world, with there being nothing out in the sand than barren ruins, and where the past is a mostly forgotten myth rather than a memory. You got a few tyrants who try to convince their slaves that they are the only chance of survival, and while their magical powers are impressive, their domains are laughably small.

By adding a big cosmic backstory and metaplot to it, the whole setting was smashes to shambles.
I mean... kind... of...?

Rajaat and the Cleansing Wars were always part of the story of Dark Sun that was supposed to be told. The Prism Pentad came out the same month as the box set and the adventure within had spoiler warnings for the Book.

All that stuff was part of the plan from day one and would be revealed through the novels and the adventure paths as the DM and Players went on through it as a "Living Setting". The very first, and one full of mysteries that slowly get solved.

I do agree that the revised setting being released was essentially saying "Here, now you don't have to play all the adventures and read the books to know the answer to the mystery!" which was pretty crap...

But everything from Kalak's Death to the Cerulean Storm was probably loosely plotted out before they started putting the box together.

... the Surfer Druids, though... pretty sure that wasn't part of the plan...

Closer to the heart of things, I think... Do you think you would prefer an Athas where not just the -setting- was reset, but the -mystery- was reset...? One in which the ultimate functions of society and metaplot are once again hidden and the DM is free to come up with their own explanations, but the setting itself is instead heavily fleshed out vis a vis peoples, places, and things to do..?

Like... Explicitly in the Page 1 Preface says "This is not the Athas you knew. While some of the places, names, and ideas are still here but the Rajaat Metaplot is no longer canon to the Setting. The best part of Athas was exploring the reasons the world is like it is, and we're resetting the clock, and the world, to do just that. Borys may still be the dragon, but what he hoards is anyone's guess."
 


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