“Though the world is shattered, and magic decays what remains, you survive. This is your story”
This is my custom Dark Sun Setting I will be using for 4th Edition games until 5th Edition is settled or falls on it's face. If you intend to play in a Dark Sun game with me I encourage you to not read the “DM Knowledge/Party Hooks” section at the very end, as I will likely be using them in my games and it really isn't fun to read ahead. Also, yes I use a lot of Troy Denning's established canon, heavily, almost to the point of copy-paste, and by no means assert them as any more unique than the Dark Sun setting itself. I am not trying to make a unique intellectual property, just my own spin on this setting where I can tell compelling stories and give players a realm to explore. I will put above this section a version number so you know if there is anything big to check out other than “fixed spelling/grammar errors”
Dray: Dragonborn created as slaves to Rajaat, these days they are an honor-bound people just trying to make a place in the world. Most Dray are native to, or drawn instinctually to Kurn.
Dwarves: Less Gimli and more short muscular stoics with some obsessive goal or priority that can not be ignored. Only in the past few centuries have they become a slave race, usually as Gladiators.
Eladrin: closer to Islamic Efreeti, generally modeled after the Fiery Mid-day Sun or Cold Desert Nights. These are extremely rare in Tyre.
Elf: Knife-Ears, Desert Roamers, distrusted in every port, and for good reason. A shop run by one is likely ripping you off, a caravan of them in all likelihood are bandits, and though not compulsively a slave race, many would choose to serve a household (with plans to eventually murder them or run) than die, thus you see many elf slaves in Tyre as well.
Halflings: Cannibalistic pygmies, master hunters and witch doctors, but as a PC you likely are not “from” the Oases thus you carry only their innate skills and aptitudes, not their culture.
Humans: Nothing new, just as versatile if not more so. Humans tend to only be slaves if they are criminals or indebted to a household, many will intentionally sell themselves into gladiatorial service while young for the chance at enough funds to feed a family later in life.
Mul: Half-Dwarves, with the stature, agility, and flexibility of a human but the toughness of their dwarven parent. Much like Dwarves they are generally hairless and considered a slave race in Tyre.
See DM for Racial Details.
Thri-Kreen: Mantid...pretty much to a tee. You will NOT be from the Scarlet Plains though.
See DM for Racial Details
Available Classes (As of 1/2014)
Fighter (Weaponmaster(PHB1) Knight(Essentials) or Slayer(Essentials))
Rogue (Scoundrel(PHB1) or Thief(Essentials))
Ranger (Normal (PHB1) Hunter(Essentials) or Stalker(Essentials))
Warlock (Sorcerer King Pact or something VERY CAREFULLY picked with the DM)
No Psionics starting out, this is very unusual in Dark Sun where even the plants can Mind Blast you
Expect short, brutal battles. Because Equipment rules and difficulty tuning you generally want in and out of combat quick, focusing fire, any kind of way to use the environment to your advantage. If combat reaches 30 minutes on anything but a boss battle consider the enemies “enraged”. Don't be afraid to run.
Metal is Scarce, so your weapons made of wood, bone, and stone, and equipment made from the same will have to do. Consider every material in the game to be “brittle” both yours and your enemies. Critical Failures "damage the implement to the point it needs repair". Magical weapons have Tier+1 toughness, and normal weapon would have 1+0, so 1 crit failure breaks your run of the mill vendor weapon, heroic magical would have 1+1, so if you fail once, you risk breaking it on the next fail, 2+1 for paragon, 3+1 epic. Crit Attacks can have 1 of 2 results, either you/enemy can deal max damage or sunder armor. This follows the same rules as above, mundane armor is sundered on the first crit, magical by tier. Ingenuity is encouraged if I place something in the world you think could make an interesting material for weapons or armor, just be ready for a Thri-Kreen to not exactly be friendly if you are wearing his brother for a chestplate.
Journals are strongly encouraged with surprise extra loot, power cards, and xp as rewards. You will want all the XP you can get, this place is brutal!
Themes and Power Cards will be distributed at certain points of the story, be it by achievement, finding a teacher, or as a form of “loot”. Don't worry if something you think of iconic isn't there at first, it may find it's way later.
Dark Sun is prone to pissing people off, be it a monster breaking your favorite weapon, a party member letting the enemy destroy your last ration of water or food, or seemingly endless “hurdles” to what in any other fantasy setting would be simple. I ask for a level of patience, and an understanding everything is to create a setting that feels desperate, brutal, and almost alien to traditional fantasy.
As a proud citizen of Tyre, you were raised on the stories. You know how Athas became the desolate wasteland it is, and even though you have never left the walls of the city, you have heard stories that reassure you that you are blessed to live in such an opulent and successful city, Tyre, Jewel of the Desert. As the story goes, Athas was once a beautiful land with great trees, rivers, and bodies of water so great you do not even have words for them. Philosopher Kings, capable of great magic and feats of the Mind governed the world in peace and harmony. Then 4 millenia ago a king rose up, Sorcerer King Raajat. He was not content to only rule his own land, he conquered the whole world under a tyranny of Magic and Mind. In his endless thirst for power, he attempted to absorb every drop of magic from the planet. As the rivers of magic dried up, so did the rivers of the land. As the deep wells of magic buried deep in the earth gave their last gasp, so did the life-giving nutrients of the soil. Precious metals lost all glimmer and shine, decaying into dust while Rajaat's own skin became like shining brass. By the time Raajat had drained the land of all life, magical and terrestrial, he was no longer a man, but an immortal beast of endless power. The damage he wrought was too great for any one act to repair, forever shaping the way magic is crafted in Athas. The Gods, for there were Gods at that time, chose to spend their last ounce of power to give strength to 5 great Champions. Andropas the Soft Hearted, Kaz'tika the Puppetmaster, Bodan the Necromancer, Shanti-Puli the She-Wolf, and King Kailen, may his line rule forever, joined forces in this very city, Tyre, and rid the world of Raajat once and for all.
Seen as the saviors of the world, each Champion took a city within Tyr to protect, and rule over with a just hand and noble spirit. Andropas took Kurn, home of his people, the Dray, in the mountains far north of Tyre. Stories of those who cross the Silt Sea say his people live lives of forced poverty, an idea he called “communism”. Kaz'tia returned to his own people, the Thri'Kreen, in The Scarlet Plains, not far from here to the northeast. It is said to this day not a single member of that hive is born without extraordinary skills in The Way. Bodan, well the gods granted him eternal life, of a sort. He now rules over the city of the dead, Quaros. a safe-haven for intelligent undead unable or unwilling to move on to the nothingness that awaits us all. As for Shanti, no one is sure, but her name can be heard in the words of the savage halflings and goblins of the Golga Oases. It is said if you say her name 3 times in your mirror, a halfling will steal you from your bed and cook you into a stew. Great King Kailen decided to lead Tyre, and his line has ruled since, bringing peace and joy to the land. As a reminder of the Gods' blessing upon Kailen's line, a great river sprung up from what was once a small stream. At the death of each king the river rescinds, and upon the coronation of his heir the banks overflow, renewing the promise made between God and Man, that for as long as an heir of Kailen sits upon the throne, this land will bless Tyre. This covenant has held strong for 2 millennia, and that is where history becomes news.
King Ceaburt, heir of Kailen, May his line rule forever, passed two weeks ago. He died the way he lived, surrounded by the most beautiful of lovers and strongest alcohols in the land. He was laid to rest the next day, and as tradition the great river Iteru descended into nothing but a trickle. His son, Prince Jalak was crowned that night in the presence his Templars, knights sworn to the king, given magical powers from his divine pact, and his mother, Queen Regent Cimera. The people of Tyre awoke to see Iteru has decreased even more, now nothing but a narrow stretch of wet silt leading from the southern districts of the city into the great Sea of Silt to the North. Diviners and the greatest masters of The Will and the Way were brought before the King, and assured him that he is indeed the son of Ceaburt, but far from the only. Ceaburt spread his seed wide, using his vast powers of Will and Way, and not a single beautiful woman in the realm had not felt the king's ahem..embrace. Outragedm Jalak ordered his Templars to hunt down and kill anyone the diviners saw as having the blood of Ceaburt in their veins. Templar attacks were blanket, wiping out entire buildings as diviners made educated guesses at bastard locations. One such building you had the misfortune of visiting today.
There were never any gods of Athas, and magic has always had a cost upon the land. The weave is not broken, it just was never made in such a way where magic is “free”.
Rajaat was every bit the monster the stories make him out to be, but the current sorcerer kings are not saints either. His “Rein of terror” was only upon Tyr, the rest of the world had other issues to deal with. The current kings did not kill Rajaat, but actually imprisoned him and draw on his power to maintain their own positions.
Kaz'Tika altered his entire brood with Rajaat's power to make them psionic, and preserves a kind of immortality through a meta-mind presence in the royal guards. He has kept out of the mind of the Queen's line in a hope one would rise to lead his people without his influence, but with each generation the meta-minded guards build less of an example and more of a prison for the increasingly unstable Queens.
Andropas swore off defiling a millennia ago and has ascended by his own study and merit as a preserver, but it was Rajaat's example that allowed him to transcend his form into an immortal Avangion. He has traded with Tyre quite a bit in the past but never lets visitors into the mountains. The rumour of “communism” stems from a view of centralized wealth and distribution to citizens. In fact the city is quite wealthy and shows evidence of trading with lands outside Tyr, repeat they KNOW of cities outside Tyr.
Mama Shanti meant the best, bringing into existence a haven of primal forces, draining back the druidic energies first stolen by Rajaat to give her people, the halflings, a home, but just as with the rest, the power wanes, and what power comes is corrupted. Every year the halflings become more primal, bordering more on superstitious animal than humanoids, and with every passing season Shanti drinks deeper of the corrupted waters to keep her “haven” alive.
Bodan is a lich, with everything that comes with it. You could argue that he only wanted to preserve knowledge, but that preservation has now become a god-complex where he believes his city IS the afterlife. The city itself is equal part serenity and hopelessness. For many people this IS their afterlife, and that is both calming and depressing.
Kailen, the great king, was a master Warlord and Mind General. He drew his power from feeding off the minds of his subjects and directing that power through his Templars, and acting as the central warden of Rajaat's prison. This is also why very few people in Tyre show any psionic ability until they leave the city. Kailen's power essentially robs them of their own. The river Iteru was always nothing but a muddy stream, and that is why at death the people see it for what it actually is. The city actually barely survives, it is the general “placated sedation” of it's subjects, along with indoctrination that keeps Tyre “the jewel of Tyr”. The most recent King, Jalek is completely devoid of psionic or arcane power, either through not really being Ceaburt's son, or simply by the blood growing too thin over generations. Either way the Templars are diminishing and the King is on a witch-hunt. Unable to take the mantle, the city flounders.
Over time Rajaat has grown stronger, and is taking this chance while one of the “Wardens are Away” to strike out against his prison. He wishes to be reborn, to reascend, and to take over Tyr once and for all.
The Rest of Athas
Sorcerer-Kings and Dragons are nothing new, Avangions wage wars against Dragons, kingdoms rise and fall with more ruins scattering the desert than cities.
Animal and Beastial races are extremely more violent and psionic outside Tyr, where defiling and preserving magic has wiped and refreshed the land more times than can be counted. People of all races are commonly born more powerful in “the way” than the most powerful among any race but the Thr-Kreen
Speaking of the Thri-Kreen, they are EVERYWHERE. Think of ants, even when you don't see a hill you can be sure somewhere underground is a tunnel.
It isn't that Tyr is somehow special, in fact the opposite, as long as Tyr only cared about it's own affairs, it kept it's troubles contained as well, and that is great news for kingdoms always at war.
The best way to think of it is Tyr is Westeros and the rest of the world is Essos
This is also where you would see Eladrin in more prominence, Gensai, Half-Giants, and Tieflings
Slavery is drasticly more common in the rest of the world, in Tyr the only real places you see it is in Tyr, the rest of the world, it's everywhere.
In my own personal “next act” to “World Tour” turns it into a real world tour, Andropas teleporting the party across the sea to deal with issues over there, to return at a much later level to a reascending Rajaat.
“The World Tour”
Starting at level 3
Party flees Tyre, ends up meeting and helping the other 4 sorcerer-kings, eventually finding out the truth of their “Heroes” and the world of Athas.
Party have all been marked by the templars, surviving the attack on the pub their only option is to run. The mark is essentially a “kill on sight” in Tyre, so they attempt to book transit across the Silt Sea, When they speak to the vendor they find a ship has already been chartered for them to Kurn, although the vendor doesn't seem to be able to make eye contact, always looking above or below where the party's eyes would be.
Once the party is clear of Tyre, hand out random Wild Talents, see DM Secrets on why. After a few sessions of “survival in the wilds” their ship is attacked by insane Thri-Kreen in the Scarlet Plains. A Thri-Kreen helps the party then implores them to help him with their insane Queen, assuring them safe travel once the issue of the Queen is resolved. Root of problem is the Metamind of Kaz'Tia was ruling the hive through 7 Paragons, essentially dividing his consciousness among their bodies, who were then attempting to shape the Queen. Something weakened their sway over her, and breaking free of the mind-control went insane. Party “solves the problem” (combat, diplomacy, puzzles, whatever, be creative) and are granted two Thri-Kreen that agree to fly them to Kurn
The Thri-Kreen are shot down by halflings over the Golga Oases, the party wake up being prepared to be sacrificed to “Mama”. Mama has stopped speaking to their shamans, the jungles are shrinking by the day, and their prey grow stronger by the hour. As a fun reference throw in a line or evidence to show they have sacrificed many travelers recently, possibly seeing some corpses with the same Templar's Mark upon them. Before the party can go on a Killing Spree Mama's Wolf appears to the village as a vision, telling the adventurers to meet her in the heart of the forest. The halflings insist upon a set of tasks, “coming of age” type rituals before eventually drugging the party and “sending them to the heart” (tripping on the drugs while asleep in the camp). In the heart they fight a mini-game where they are transformed into wolves and have to help the red wolf fight off shadowy invaders (wyverns). There are 5 stumps, the first 4 each have a wolf upon them barking and attacking the wyverns, the Red one (Mama), a wolf with a third set of legs ending in pincers (Kaz'Tia), a skeletal wolf, and a wolf with gossamer wings. The 5th stump has a fat dead wolf with a crown on his head, and next to him a pup that seems completely oblivious to the wyverns, instead barking random directions, and at the party. Each round 5 invaders are spawned from each stump, then the wolves (well..4 of them) swipe killing 5. The 5 coming from the dead wolf's stump go to other stumps, overwhelming them. The first round the party see ghost versions of themselves killing the “spare” wyverns around Kaz'Tia's stump, the party then gets to thin the numbers themselves using powers like Howl, Swipe, Mark, and other fun things to keep people interested. After completing the task the area between the stumps begins to crumble and the party sees the head of a Dragon rising up right before they awaken. The party wake up to the shamans chanting and the hunters preparing a feast. The party succeeded (maybe, again up to players/dm) and the natives are holding a great feast before sending them on their way in the morning.
The next morning, other than being hung over and quite well fed, the party are wearing chokers with a clear gem in the middle. Looking into the gem each members sees what they looked like inside the dream, the “wolf”. The halflings stock up rafts with food, water, some primitive weapons, and 1 Thri-Kreen corpse in perfect condition. The Halflings ate the other one but this one has had 3 “big jujus” cast on it, the body has been protected from decay, it's soul is bound inside it's body, and it's arms are enchanted to direct the party to “the best ferrymen in all of Athas, The body is your bribe.” Shortly after getting out of the Oases the party are trekking across the desert surviving on limited rations while playing hot-cold with the corpse. Eventually they make it to The City of the Dead, obvious by the visible “ghostly ferries” from every direction carrying the souls of deceased to it's gates and shambling skeletons doing the same. They are greeted by Reverants at first, but the corpse directs them straight to Bodan's Tower. Bodan, a Lich appears not nearly as malevolent as the party might expect, is honored by the gift, and intrigued by the necklaces. He then sends the party on a list of menial tasks like retrieving a scroll from his vault, a quill from the Raven Queen, a large bird that has the party answer increasingly harder riddles, even asking for a drink of water from across the city. Eventually the party confront him on these tasks and he admits at wanting “you to get your money's worth out of those necklaces, any other mortal would have been dead hours ago, instead somewhere deep in that jungle 2...3 halflings prepare to take their ferry to my gates” Essentially the party can stay alive inside the city because they are voodoo linked to the lives of halflings in the village, the longer they stay the more halflings grow sick and die. Of course at this point the party hurry Bodan along and he grants them passage on a “modified ghost ferry” that passes over the desert and eventually back onto the Silt Sea, then north to Kurn
Kurn, a beautiful city situated in the mountains is home to Dray and Half-Giants, the ladder an oddity for the party. The party are greeted cordially, having “endured quite the journey” and each given a small bouquet of flowers. A wizard removes their marks and notably the flowers do not wilt. When they seek audience with Andropas he is a huge Avangion, Preserver Dragon in a large garden. He tells them the “real” history of Athas, as seen above, and that the strength of the sorcerer-kings are failing. Kailen's blood now runs too thin to draw on his people, Kaz'tia's mind is too divided among the paragons, too much lost with each new brood, Shanti can barely keep her jungle alive much less fight the rise of a dragon, Bodan's hold grows feeble as his population explodes, and Andropas feels the call of the elementals to transcend this world at any moment.
From this point forward it is up to the players and DM, are the players going to unite the cities against the coming Dragon? Are they going to combat cells of his corruption scattered around Tyre? Is it just “too late for Tyr”, so Andropas has to portal them away into the huge unexplored world of Athas? This is as far as a “Script” can go, now it's their story.
A Local Problem
Fewer than 5 Sessions
Start at an Appropriate Level
Party, as survivors of the tavern bombing, are brought into the Veiled Alliance or another secret Society planning to overthrow or screw with the monarchy of Tyre, small goals, pieces of a chess game.
Party meets organization, given a run down of a plan
Party is offered to fill certain “roles” in a grand hoax, good time to hand out “themes” as the members are trained in different specific skills. Gladiatorial Arenas, High Society, Terrorism, Whatever