Sunday, November 27, 2016

Homebrewing Athas - A Different Dark Sun

Dark Sun is up there among my favorite intellectual properties as far as settings go. It is a brutal world, slowly dying as its sun bloats and burns ever hotter in the sky. For thousands of years, terrifying dictators dominated the few known cities left on the face of the scorched world, and you could either live a short life as a slave in relative safety or live a shorter life out in the dunes with a modicum of freedom.

And yet, the setting had its own... quirks. I won't get too deep into them here, but there is a convoluted progression of canon history (I know, I know, no one is forced to use it, but I hate messing with established works) where the halflings are actually a progenitor race and were masters of weird quasi-science-fictiony biomanipulation, and there was... I'm just going to not get into it much further. It's complicated and kind of strange even for D&D, in my opinion. To each their own.

It was odd enough that its fourth edition reincarnation did away with (or at least glossed over) much of that and instead focused on the meat and potatoes of the setting, the Tyr Region, and its attendant sorcerer-kings. The implied uber-big-bad was the obscenely powerful Dragon of Tyr, once known as Borys of Ebe. Using a mixed arsenal of overwhelming brute force, magical supremacy, and psionic dominance, this guy was designed to wreck your day.

He'd come around to the city-states every few years and demand a levy from them -- mostly slaves and metal -- which he then took back to his literal volcano death island out in the Silt Sea. Unfortunately for him, his one-time comrades are the rulers of those city-states, and they want the same thing the Dragon has -- ultimate power.

You see, in Dark Sun, arcane spellcasters have a tendency to defile the land around them when they cast their spells, unless they exert a measure of self-control. Like the Force, though, the Dark Side is a quick and easy path to power, so bad guys tend not to care. They can eventually choose a route of ultimate ascension that turns them (slowly) into dragons -- the only such creatures of the setting.

Anyway, the shadow of this guy hung over the Tyr Region for thousands of years as people clung to their crapsack world existence. Then in some books, he and a bunch of the sorcerer-kings get killed off like chumps and things get marginally better.

Well I ain't having none of that. If I'm gonna run some Dark Sun, I need my horribly depressing world back while not needing to "correct" people on what I want to use for canon. What's my answer?

Time skip forward one hundred years, that's what!

Things seemed better, at least for a while. Some of the city-states are now legitimately free -- others collapsed into anarchy without a powerful monarch to protect (and dominate) them. When you have societies that dwell in enforced-ignorance for thousands of years, it turns out handing them the keys to the kingdom doesn't always end well. Sometimes the wicked templars take command, or sometimes slave revolts just out and out annihilate cities.

Over the next few entries, I'm going to talk a bit about my homebrew for Athas and mix in some systemic crunchy goodies to go along with each entry. I'll talk a bit about the history of the subject I'm addressing, as well as shedding some light on the reasons for any changes I deem necessary to make.

And maybe by the time I'm done, we'll have an official book announced that includes final psionics rules, since it's so bloody important to the setting.

Until next time!

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