D&D 5E WotC: Why Dark Sun Hasn't Been Revived

In an interview with YouTuber 'Bob the Worldbuilder', WotC's Kyle Brink explained why the classic Dark Sun setting has not yet seen light of day in the D&D 5E era. I’ll be frank here, the Dark Sun setting is problematic in a lot of ways. And that’s the main reason we haven’t come back to it. We know it’s got a huge fan following and we have standards today that make it extraordinarily hard to...

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In an interview with YouTuber 'Bob the Worldbuilder', WotC's Kyle Brink explained why the classic Dark Sun setting has not yet seen light of day in the D&D 5E era.

I’ll be frank here, the Dark Sun setting is problematic in a lot of ways. And that’s the main reason we haven’t come back to it. We know it’s got a huge fan following and we have standards today that make it extraordinarily hard to be true to the source material and also meet our ethical and inclusion standards... We know there’s love out there for it and god we would love to make those people happy, and also we gotta be responsible.

You can listen to the clip here.
 

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The entire setting is based around a bunch of problematic and offensive forces being entrenched all over the setting and attacking you for trying to fix it. And your PCs being broken overpowered supers being the only reason they aren't all slaughtered.

I'm not terribly sure what you're arguing here. The post I answered for was saying that Dark Sun was a setting in which nobody could be good without being killed, and when I pointed out that's the setting was entirely built around opportunities for people to make a difference, now you're saying this is a bad thing? This seems like a bit of a circular argument. You can't really logically say that the only Real Dark Sun is overwhelmingly oppressive hopeless and so awful the the PCs are doomed if they try to make any change at all, and then complain that Dark Sun is too oppressive hopeless and awful and that the only good PCs who can survive there are superheroes. There's a middle ground. There's always been a middle ground, since the inception of the setting. It's a game setting, if it had no scope for genuine heroism, at all levels, it'd be a very poorly-designed one (which was one of my complaints about VRGtR).

And moreover, the initial few DS modules (Freedom and Road to Urik in particular) had the PCs playing second fiddle to the NPCs of the Prism Pentad. Which was absolutely dreadful adventure design, but in context of this conversation, rubbed it in that the PCs could NOT overthrow all the evils of the world alone, that small victories were still worth winning, and that allies and collective action and cooperation matter.

WOTC doesn't think there is enough money in either a purist or sanitized version of Dark Sun to bother. A literal TSR situation of a too niche product. If not for being the main setting vehicle for psionics, it likely would have been shelfed long ago.

Every time WotC runs a survey about legacy settings, by their own testimony, Dark Sun is at the top of the list of settings that people vote to bring back. Wotc even brought back Spelljammer, remember, at that was far more of a minor niche setting than Dark Sun. I don't know about raw numbers, but at least in the context of legacy settings, Dark Sun is popular - more popular than either Dragonlance or Spelljammer, by WotCs owjn testimony.

Here's a thought experiment though. If DS came back in adventure form, avoiding the hot-button 'problematic' topics completely, would you be ok with it? This is what Dragonlance did, after all. DL always had its problematic areas, from the role of the good gods in the Cataclysm and the subsequent debates about the meaning of the word 'good' in context, to the portrayal of gully dwarves. So what did WotC do? They released a DL book, in adventure form, which contained pretty much all the play material you needed to run a DL game, but which carefully and deliberately navigated around the areas where old canon was a most uncomfortable fit with modern mores. And yeah, they retconned sufficiently to put women in the Solamnic Knights. but in the context of the setting that'd be like renaming muls as half-dwarves and deciding that bearing a mul child no longer kills a human mother. A small, low-hanging fruit change to a minor lore element that nobody would miss. If you want to run a DL campaign exploring the history of the Cataclysm, you have all the tools you need, but this approach saves WotC from having to commit to THEIR canon on the matter.

I reckon could, without too much trouble, put together a Dark Sun adventure outline that visited some or all of post-Kalak Tyr, Kemalok, the Obsidian Wastes, the Ringing Mountains, Guistenal, the giant islands in the Sea of Silt, the ruins of Yaramuke, Kurn, the Crater of Bones, Under-Tyr, the haunted remnants of vanished Kalidnay, and the Pristine Tower, without requiring the PCs run across institutional slavery at all (and if the PCs started in Tyr, I wouldn't have to bother supporting PC templars either, any more than SotDQ felt the need to support PC gully dwarves). The bad guy could be Dregoth, it could be a brand new defiler we'd never heard of, it could be one of Borys' kaisharga minions, it could be the templars of someone like Nibenay trying to loot Kalak's stuff, it could be an undead horror from the Obsidian Lands, it could be a psurlon brood, it could even be Tithian or Wyan/Sasha or something completely new. Simply stick 50 pages of player options, setting rules, and a brief gazetteer at the front of the book to give a general Athas mechanical toolkit, lay out an adventure with the rest of your pagecount, then leave individual playing groups to do what they want.
 

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Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
I'm not terribly sure what you're arguing here. The post I answered for was saying that Dark Sun was a setting in which nobody could be good without being killed, and when I pointed out that's the setting was entirely built around opportunities for people to make a difference, now you're saying this is a bad thing? This seems like a bit of a circular argument. You can't really logically say that the only Real Dark Sun is overwhelmingly oppressive hopeless and so awful the the PCs are doomed if they try to make any change at all, and then complain that Dark Sun is too oppressive hopeless and awful and that the only good PCs who can survive there are superheroes. There's a middle ground. There's always been a middle ground, since the inception of the setting. It's a game setting, if it had no scope for genuine heroism, at all levels, it'd be a very poorly-designed one (which was one of my complaints about VRGtR).

And moreover, the initial few DS modules (Freedom and Road to Urik in particular) had the PCs playing second fiddle to the NPCs of the Prism Pentad. Which was absolutely dreadful adventure design, but in context of this conversation, rubbed it in that the PCs could NOT overthrow all the evils of the world alone, that small victories were still worth winning, and that allies and collective action and cooperation matter.
My point is the old guard will hate the middle ground and the new crew will call the miggleground lame and STILL find the offensive parts WOTC left in.

Again, the majority of people who play were small children, babies, or not born when Dark Sun was created. They are not the audience of Dark Sun. You would have to change Dark Sun A LOT, losing most of the original fans, to match the 5e audience.

That's super risky.
WOTC is probably better off crating a new post apoc setting from scratch than updating Dark Sun and screwing it up and getting bad press.

And 2008-2022 WOTC would 100% screw it up. They would have to change how they make setting completely to not screw it up.
They know they will screw it up and not make any money.
You have more faith in WOTC than WOTC does in themselves.
 

OldOwlbear

Explorer
Elder Scrolls is dark it isn't bleak.
Dragon Age is neither dark nor bleak
And the Souls series is the definition of the "super hardcore cult classic game" that only got worked because there are a ton of gamers, is sngle player, and it lucked out to get viral.

The 5e audience skew heavily under 40 and to having a lot of control and freedom over your PC's actions. Medieval Fantasy without all the Fuedalism, Caste systems, and Dark Age chains holding you down. I mean D&D nobles should be extorting the hell out of PCs past level 6 as they are powerful classless dangerous vagabonds.

Dark Sun is niche. Dark Sun'sfocuses on themes that go in and out of popularity. There's not getting around that. So it quickly becomes a "how much money are you expecting to make via the e audience with this niche product with problematic themes in its core?" question for WOTC. And Brink stated "not enough"
Each of those examples deals with slavery, persecution, and racism. Elder Scrolls has an entire nation where religious conflict and slavery are accepted institutions and your character is even referred to by derogatory terms (using in game language) depending on their background. Those examples don’t make light of the topics, but use them as narrative elements. And that’s okay because it’s the only way for stories to explore real world issues.

Again, I haven’t seen actual metrics of the average D&D fan not wanting these topics at all. Some do, some do not, and age has little to do with it. I’m not yet 40 and I adore these settings and enjoy that they portray complex societies with very realistic issues contrasted by the fantastic elements.

Having total control and freedom in a game means nothing without consequences and challenges. Again, Soulsborne games reflect that, and I’m not sure discounting their popularity because they’re single player or viral makes sense in the context of this discussion; it still shows that a critical mass of people like these settings and themes.

Yes, Dark Sun May be niche, but WotC and Hasbro are relying on one setting to hold up a major part of their portfolio. That bad business management - they should be diversifying their portfolio by offering niche settings that will appeal to enough people while still offering their main line. That way they get their core audience and retain the niche players too.
 

mangamuscle

Explorer
As much as I love Dark Sun and psionics, the old 2E system for psi was kinda bad and overly complicated. You’re better off grabbing or making psi stuff if the official stuff leaves you cold. ... Depending on the psi stuff, it might take an hour or two to whip up everything you’d need.
Maybe adapting Ultimate Occult by Rogue Genius Games might probe to be the least resistance road to that end.
 

Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
Each of those examples deals with slavery, persecution, and racism. Elder Scrolls has an entire nation where religious conflict and slavery are accepted institutions and your character is even referred to by derogatory terms (using in game language) depending on their background. Those examples don’t make light of the topics, but use them as narrative elements. And that’s okay because it’s the only way for stories to explore real world issues.

Again, I haven’t seen actual metrics of the average D&D fan not wanting these topics at all. Some do, some do not, and age has little to do with it. I’m not yet 40 and I adore these settings and enjoy that they portray complex societies with very realistic issues contrasted by the fantastic elements.

Having total control and freedom in a game means nothing without consequences and challenges. Again, Soulsborne games reflect that, and I’m not sure discounting their popularity because they’re single player or viral makes sense in the context of this discussion; it still shows that a critical mass of people like these settings and themes.

Yes, Dark Sun May be niche, but WotC and Hasbro are relying on one setting to hold up a major part of their portfolio. That bad business management - they should be diversifying their portfolio by offering niche settings that will appeal to enough people while still offering their main line. That way they get their core audience and retain the niche players too.

Like I said in another thread

"The issue isn't its existence in the work but its focus in the work."

The Eastern part of Essos in ASoIAF has tons of problematic stuff in theme.
You know where you never get to go in any GOT game?... Eastern Essos.
You know what you don't get to play... a Dothraki Warrior or Slaver's Bay Merchant or Qarth Pureborn
 

guachi

Hero
Same, but it goes to show that they don’t really care about the actual messaging of their content, all they care about is avoiding controversy. Dark Sun is thematically straight-up woke, it’s just tonally edgy and that alone is enough to make WotC scared they’ll get “canceled” (inasmuch as a giant corporation can even meaningfully be “cancelled”).

This is my take, as well. Dark Sun is straight-up woke before that was even a thing in the mind of most of the public. A setting showing slavery and uncontrolled climate change as bad isn't something Hasbro can do.
 

MGibster

Legend
Slap a mature label on the game it is what we do with movies right?
It certainly is. And I always thought it odd I could go down to the local library and check out a book with content that no theater would allow me to buy a ticket for.
he 5e audience skew heavily under 40 and to having a lot of control and freedom over your PC's actions. Medieval Fantasy without all the Fuedalism, Caste systems, and Dark Age chains holding you down. I mean D&D nobles should be extorting the hell out of PCs past level 6 as they are powerful classless dangerous vagabonds.
I'd argue that this has been at the core of the D&D experience for at least 36 years and possibly longer. It's essentially an adolescent power fantasy.
 


Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
You have some valid points but it's a publicly held company that is currently flying high due to unexpected success which has it dead in the sights of any whiner on the internet. One of the problems with being the biggest cash cow in the room is that no one wants to mess that up. And publicly held companies are so risk averse in these kinds of situations they often lose lots of money hanging on to that cash cow. Big players rarely innovate or risk. They don't have to until they have to.
HBO which made Game of Thrones is owned by Warner Brothers which is publicly traded. Game of Thrones had slavery, rape, and more. WotC is risk averse, not necessarily publicly traded companies.
 

Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
I'd argue that this has been at the core of the D&D experience for at least 36 years and possibly longer. It's essentially an adolescent power fantasy.
Dark Sun is almost 32 years old and written where the setting attempts to limit the power fantasy.

You'd have to write adventures that give the power back. Because the core setting has problematic stuff take away your power if your DM isn't giving it to you.

You don't even get to have metal! Or easy access to water.

5e gamer don't want to count arrows but people want them to deal with multiple magic urban slavers with only pointed bones!
 

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