Madrius Dark Sun
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The following is a summary of what the average moderately-educated city-bred Athasian believes about the world. Your character might know less, especially about the various areas of the Tyr region. Of course, your character has more information than given below about his own race, class and home
area. Consult the DM for details on what your particular character knows.
Eight Characteristics of Athas:
The world of the Dark Sun campaign setting is unique in several ways. Many familiar trappings of the Dungeons & Dragons game are missing or turned on their heads. Athas is not a place of shining knights and robed wizards, of deep forests and divine pantheons. To venture over the sands of Athas is to enter a world of savagery and splendor that draws on different traditions of fantasy and storytelling. Simple survival beneath the ancient red sun is often its own adventure.
Newcomers to Athas have many things to learn about the world, its people, and its monsters, but the following eight characteristics encapsulate the most important features of the Dark Sun campaign setting.
1. The World Is a Desert
Athas is a hot, arid world covered with seemingly endless seas of dunes, lifeless salt flats, stony wastes, rocky badlands, and thorny scrublands. From the first moments of dawn, the crimson sun beats down from an olive-tinged sky. Temperatures routinely exceed 100 degrees by midmorning and can reach 130 degrees by late afternoon. The wind is like the blast of a furnace, offering no relief from the oppressive heat. Dust and sand borne on the breeze coat everything with yellow-orange silt.
In this forbidding world, cities and villages exist only in a few oases or verdant plains. Some places don’t see rain for years at a time, and even in fertile regions, precipitation is little more than a humid mist that falls for a few weeks before giving way to long months of heat and drought. The world beyond these islands of civilization is a barren wasteland where nomads, raiders, and hungry monsters roam.
Athas was not always a desert, and the crumbling ruins of a planet once rich with rivers and seas dot the parched landscape. Ancient bridges spanning dry watercourses and empty stone quays facing seas of sand tell the tale of a world that is no more.
2. The World Is Savage
Life on Athas is brutal and short. Bloodthirsty raiders, greedy slavers, and hordes of merciless savages overrun the deserts and wastelands. The cities are not much safer; each chokes in the grip of an immortal tyrant. Slavery is widespread on Athas, and many unfortunates spend their lives in chains, toiling for brutal taskmasters. Every year, hundreds of slaves, perhaps thousands, are sent to their deaths in bloody arena spectacles. Charity, compassion, kindness—these qualities exist, but they are rare and precious blooms. Only a fool hopes for such riches.
3. Metal Is Scarce
Most weapons and armor are made of bone, stone, wood, and similar materials. Mail or plate armor exists only in the treasuries of the sorcerer-kings. Steel blades are nearly priceless; many heroes never see such weapons during their lifetimes.
4. Arcane Magic Defiles the World
Reckless use of arcane magic during ancient wars reduced Athas to a wasteland. To cast an arcane spell, a magic user siphons power from the living world. Nearby plants wither to ash, crippling pain wracks animals and people, and the soil is permanently sterilized. As a result, wizards and other wielders of arcane magic are reviled and persecuted across Athas. Only the most powerful spellcasters can use their arcane abilities without fear of reprisals.
5. Sorcerer-Kings Rule the City-States
Terrible defilers of immense power rule all of the city-states. These mighty spellcasters have held their thrones for centuries; no one alive remembers a time before the sorcerer-kings. Some claim to be gods, and some profess to serve gods. Some are brutal oppressors, while others are subtle in their tyranny. The sorcerer-kings govern through priesthoods or bureaucracies of greedy, ambitious templars.
6. The Gods Are Absent
Athas is a world without deities. No clerics, no paladins, and no prophets live on Athas. And religious orders are dedicated to sorcerer-kings who claim godhood. Old shrines and crumbling temples lie amid ancient ruins, testimony to a time when perhaps the gods spoke to the people of Athas. Nothing but the sighing of the desert wind is heard now.
In the absence of divine guidance, other powers have come to prominence in the world. Psionic power is well known and widely practiced on Athas; even unintelligent desert monsters can have deadly psionic abilities. Meanwhile, shamans and druids call on the world’s primal powers, which are often sculpted by the influence of elemental power.
7. Fierce Monsters Roam the World
The desert planet has its own deadly ecology. Many creatures that are familiar sights on milder worlds have long since died out or never existed on Athas. The world has no cattle, swine, or horses; instead, people tend flocks of erdlus, ride on kanks or crodlus, and draw wagons with inixes and mekillots. Wild creatures such as lions, bears, and wolves are almost nonexistent. In their place are terrors such as the id fiend, the baazrag, and the tembo. Perhaps the harsh environment of Athas breeds creatures tough and vicious enough to survive it, or maybe the touch of ancient sorcery poisoned the wellsprings of life and inflicted monster after monster on the dying world. Either way, the deserts are perilous, and only a fool or a lunatic travels them alone.
8. Familiar Races Aren’t What You Expect
Typical fantasy stereotypes don’t apply to Athasian heroes. In many Dungeons & Dragons settings, elves are wise, diminutive, benevolent forest-dwellers who guard their homelands from intrusions of evil. On Athas, elves are tall, long-legged nomadic herders, raiders, peddlers, and thieves. Halflings aren’t amiable hole-dwellers; they’re xenophobic headhunters who hunt and kill trespassers in their mountain demesnes. Goliaths—or half-giants, as they are commonly known—are brutal mercenaries who serve as elite guards and enforcers for the sorcerer-kings and their templars.
The remains of Athasian civilization tenuously cling to life in the Tyr Region, an area that takes its name from the oldest city-state. The Tyr Region boasts dozens of towns and villages, but most Athasians live in one of the seven great city-states. Ancient and despotic sorcerer-kings rule the Seven Cities, defining life for city-state residents as well as the smaller societies that dwell in the expanses between the urban centers. The Ringing Mountains, a massive chain of peaks, and the vast Sea of Silt border the Tyr Region. Beyond them stretch wastelands devoid of settlements and culture.
The following paragraphs briefly describe the city-states and other major Tyr Region features.
Tyr: The massive nearly-completed Ziggurat of Kalak and the imposing Golden Tower dominate the skyline of Tyr, the oldest Athasian city-state.
Balic: Perched on the shores of the Forked Tongue Estuary, Balic is wealthy and touts a rich cultural heritage. Its mercantile prowess brings prosperity, and its Chamber of Patricians upholds the city-state’s democratic pretense.
Draj: Farthest from the hub of civilization, Draj is an isolated city-state embroiled in endless warfare. Mad Sorcerer-King Tectuktitlay rules the City of Moons through fear and bloodletting.
Gulg: Within the verdant confines of the Crescent Forest, the smallest of the city-states exists as a collective of villages that draws sustenance from the bounty of the lush land. Gulgans have no doubt the Oba, as they call Sorcerer-Queen Lalali-Puy, is a goddess, and most willingly serve her.
Nibenay: Residents believe Nibenay, the City of Spires, is the last bastion of true civilization on Athas. That vaunted worldview is reflected in every aspect of Nibenese culture, ranging from the city-state’s opulent architecture to its resplendent dance forms. The reclusive Shadow King, who shares his name with the city-state, has spent centuries tucked away in his arcane studies.
Raam: The populous city-state of Raam, once ripe and magnificent, is crumbling. The hedonistic Sorcerer-Queen Abalach-Re ignores the starving rioters and violent warlord-sword factions as she indulges in every pleasure.
Urik: Hamanu, a rigid and brilliant strategist, rules this powerful, militarized city-state. The self-styled King of the World long ago erected fortress walls around Urik, and the authoritarian nature of his rule demands peace and order be kept within the city-state’s gates.
Forest Ridge: Most Athasians don’t believe it exists, but legends tell of a sweeping expanse of lush jungle wilderness behind the Ringing Mountains, a primeval land filled with bounty, danger, and ruins, where fierce halfling tribes eat intruders.
Ivory Triangle: Major trade routes cross this wasteland in the center of the Tyr Region, and only a handful of villages and city-state outposts are scattered across the empty land.
Ringing Mountains: At the western edge of the Tyr Region, the Ringing Mountains are the largest range known to Athasians. The highest peaks top 20,000 feet, and the lowest passes stretch about 12,000 feet above the lowlands. Tribes of half-giants, halflings, and other folk eke out an existence in the thin air. These herders, miners, and nomads live their lives out of reach of the sorcerer-kings. The high vales are also home to a smattering of monasteries.
Sea of Silt: A great dust sink that extends into the unknown reaches of the world, Athasians consider the Sea of Silt impassible. Silt skimmers and waders can skirt the shoreline where the dust is shallow, but traveling deeper runs the risk of monsters, drowning, and Gray Death—suffocating in airborne dust. Thus, this eastern edge of the Tyr Region lies almost completely unexplored.
Tablelands: An expanse of scrub plains, desert, and rocky badlands forms the western cradle of civilization in the Tyr Region. Tyr and Urik claim dominance over the Tablelands, and most settled Athasians who dwell outside the city-states live in this area. The fortified town of Altaruk, abutting the Balic-Tyr trade route, is an important Tablelands settlement. Oases, such as Grak’s Pool and Silver Spring, and a few well-used caravan routes make this Tyr Region wilderness more hospitable than other areas.
People of Athas
Athas’s savage environment and its populace make it unique among the Dungeons & Dragons worlds. Each city-state’s social order starts with the sorcerer-king at its pinnacle. Templars and nobles make up the upper caste. Merchants and other free citizens form the middle ranks, and the ubiquitous slave laborers act as the city-state’s foundation.
Humans dominate the racial composition of most city-states. Indeed, all the sorcerer-kings are (or once were) human. Elves ply the dunes and marketplaces; many are known as shifty traders or opportunistic raiders. Dwarves labor, often as builders or farmers, with resolute determination. Many half-giants work as bodyguards or mercenaries for the wealthy and powerful.
In addition to the more familiar D&D races, Athas is also home to muls and thri-kreen. Taller than most humans, muls are a bred race of sterile half-dwarves. Strong, tough, and quick, muls often serve as slaves, gladiators, and laborers. The nimble, mantislike thri-kreen can survive on little. Their packs hunt in the wastes and view everything through the predator-prey relationship.
Adventurers of Athas
Heroes of Athas are fired from a different kiln and have little in common with adventurers from other Dungeons & Dragons worlds. Every day is a fight for survival and opportunity in an unforgiving land. In addition, Athasian history has severed access to a swath of religious and magical paths.
Martial adventurers, such as fighters, rangers, rogues, and warlords, are common in settlements and outlands. Anyone who can wield a weapon and has a bit of ambition can find work as a guard, hunter, gladiator, or agent. In the wastes and wilderness, primal magic is powerful, revered, and on occasion feared. City-state dwellers, however, rarely understand primal power and are suspicious of people who wield it. Meanwhile, most travelers are nonplussed when they encounter a barbarian, druid, shaman, seeker, or warden, especially when venturing far from settled areas.
Arcane magic is dangerous. Its misuse is what despoiled the world and continues to defile the land. The sorcerer-kings are the mightiest arcanists and punish any unsanctioned use of arcane magic while at the same time granting power to their warlock templars. Wizards are hated and persecuted for wielding arcane power.
Psionic talent is common, and many people practice the Way. Nobles, merchants, and warlords employ psionic adventurers to engage in tasks both overt and covert. Ardents, battleminds, monks, and psions are found across the Tyr Region.
Whereas psionic power is widespread on Athas, divine magic is nonexistent. There are no gods on Athas, though old temples testify to a time when things may have been different. Instead of true deities, Athasians worship sorcerer-kings, primal spirits, or the ancient elements: Earth, Air, Fire and Water.