Darksun

Athas is Different
Things that are good to know

Athas (the world of Dark Sun) is a special place. Here are some obvious differences, but more will be provided as time goes on:

  1. Athas is mostly an extremely harsh desert. Water is extremely scarce and precious. Food is hard to come by. Cities are sporadic (in fact, there are only seven real cities in the primary region).
  2. The world is simply brutal. In addition to a lack of the basics, the creatures are extremely tough and there is little trust. The concept of “good” is pretty weak in this world.
  3. There no gods on Athas. No gods, no paladins. Divine magic tends to be linked to the elements (Fire, Air) or land spirits. The land spirits are pretty pissed off, by the way, since the world is so screwed.
  4. Most arcane magic comes from defiling – the process of ripping the life force out of stuff around you in order to create effects. This is why the world is wrecked – LOTS and LOTS of powerful defiling magic.
  5. There are a handful of very powerful wizards running around and they want to keep all the magic to themselves. Thus, they make it a top priority to kill off upstart wizards. They also have legions of elite servants working to help them murder off people that make them unhappy. Further, systemic misinformation campaigns for centuries have left the world in a state where basically everyone hates and fears wizards. Casting spells or even writing (when you aren’t one of the elites that has a reason to write) can literally get you killed in the street.
  6. Metal is extremely rare and valuable. Most weapons are made of bone, stone, or wood. These weapons are less effective and prone to breakage. Magical items are unbelievably rare and valuable and draw lots of attention. Powerful characters are lucky to have even a few magical items which require careful guarding.
  7. Familiar races aren’t what you’d expect. Elves are tall nomadic people notorious for being lazy and treacherous. Halfings are feral forest dwellers who are known to engage in cannibalism now and then. Half-giants (Goliaths) are pretty much brutal mercenaries, not friendly giants. There are new races too: Muls (half dwarves) and Thri-Kreen (insectoids with a bizarre culture).
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Rejected Classes
Some things don't fit

So, I have tried to keep an open mind about the direction that D&D 4E took with the Darksun campaign setting and many of the changes I agree with. Some of them are just hurtful in how dumb they are. So, if you open up the D&D Insider character creator and select “Dark Sun” as your campaign setting, you will get a wide variety of class choices. The following are banned from this campaign (at least initially):

  • Artificer: Does not fit a world of very low technology, magic, and engineering. Doesn’t make sense.
  • Swordmage: Arcane magic is too rare for such extraordinary specialization. Doesn’t make sense.
  • Sorcerer: Arcane magic doesn’t come from blood like this on Athas.
  • Vampire: What the hell? Seriously. Yes, there are undead on Athas, but this isn’t frickin’ Twilight. No vampires.
  • Warlock: I’m willing to accept that various dark pacts could exist to get warlock powers, but warlocks are extremely rare and almost always in the service of extremely powerful, evil wizards. I may allow them eventually, but not to start with.
  • Wizard bladesinger. Same argument as Swordmage.
  • Bard (skald). There are plenty of less magic-focused bards that make more sense. Play one of them.

If you have your heart set on one of the above and just can’t live without playing that particular class, talk to me and maybe we can come up with some alternate explanation of why you have your powers or what have you.

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Races
Genocide Happens

Similarly, if you open up the Character Builder and try to choose a race, it is basically ridiculous. Almost all of these races are absurdly out of place. It is easier to just list approved races.

Races that certainly make sense on Athas:

  • Humans
  • Thri-kreen: These insectoids are plentiful and have an interesting culture based on small bonded groups.
  • Dragonborn: These are the hideous dragon spawn (Dray). They are uncommon, but not unheard of on Athas.
  • Dwarf
  • Elf: Remember, elves aren’t forest people on Athas – they are lazy nomadic people with a reputation for treachery. Even “good” elves get a really bad rep on Athas.
  • Goliath (half-giant): Tons of these monsters running around. Often mercenaries/guards.
  • Halflings: Feral tribal people. Not afraid of a little cannibalism.
  • Kenku: Bird men that are fairly common. I’ll allow it.
  • Mul: Dwarf/human hybrids, typically raised to be slaves. Common race.

Races that would be very uncommon, but allowable/conceivable:

  • Genasi: In the absence of gods, elemental powers are pretty much all that is left. These guys would be targets of dragon-kings and templars alike, but probably would be just fine outside of the major city-states.
  • Eladrin: This is pretty sketchy, but I guess I can buy the argument that these Fey-kin are basically an extremely rare group of folks that just haven’t committed suicide yet based on how much it sucks to be on Athas. Again, don’t expect to be popular with dragon-kings or templars.
  • Githyanki/Githzerai: So, there is virtually no planar travel, so these guys are just stuck on Athas, descended from their plane hopping brethren. Things have gone downhill for them a lot. Don’t expect the level of magic and tech from their “culture” that you might expect otherwise. Gith in general are pretty feral.
  • Revenant: I’m banning Vampires, but I guess you could be a revenant. Don’t love it, but I could imagine such a thing. You need one heck of a story as to why you haven’t been destroyed by… basically everyone who hates the undead?

Pretty much EVERYTHING ELSE on that list is ridiculous, but let me call out some things that extra special banned due to how insane it would be:

  • Orcs, bugbears, goblins, hobgoblins: As part of the plot of Athas, these races have been destroyed by genocide long ago. They are all dead and have been for thousands of years.
  • Pixies: There are absolutely no damn pixies on Athas. None.

If you have other race ideas that seem like they fit, ask.

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Character Branches
It's always good to have a backup plan

For characters, I have decided to create a “Character Branch” scheme instead of a full blown character tree.

Create two characters: a level 5 and a level 4.

When your primary character gains a level, you can apply that level to your “protegee” as well. If your primary character dies, you can bring in your protegee to play. Then you can create a new protegee one level lower than your new primary.

Let’s have a example.

Paul’s primary is level 8 and his protegee is level 7. Paul is playing his primary and gains a level! He now levels up to level 9 and 8 respectively. The very next session, his primary dies (in the most unexpected manner imaginable, I’d wager). Now his level 8 character is his primary and he creates a new protegee at level 7.

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Character Starters
Kick starters

So, here’s the deal. I’ve written up a bunch of character starters that should generally be able to be mapped to many different race/class combinations. I will roll randomly an order in which people will pick one choice. I will email you the list of what’s taken on your turn and you pick. You should only tell me (some would be very unfavorable to reveal, so it is best if none reveal). I will continue to email people asking for choices until everyone has 2 character starters. Here they are:

  1. You are all about family, through and through. So what if some members of your family aren’t really “competent” or “productive” – blood runs thicker than water and you gotta take care of your own. Besides, you are smart and dedicated enough for five people.
  2. You are all about family and thank goodness, because if not for them you’d probably be dead or on the streets or maybe even both. You aren’t the smartest or most reliable guy, but you are definitely loyal.
  3. The good life is what you want. Wealth and power. You definitely aren’t there yet, but you’ll do what it takes to get there. You aren’t a terrible person, just ambitious. At least, that’s what you tell yourself at night to get to sleep.
  4. You are a simple person who just wants to find a little peace and tranquility in this broken world. Unfortunately, there is so much misfortune that you can’t rest until you’ve done something to help improve the lot of the suffering.
  5. Let’s face it, you are dumb as dirt. Thank goodness for other people telling you what to do or you might not even be able to dress yourself in the morning. Luckily, there is one thing that you do understand and that’s how to kill a monster. Kill things, smash smash!
  6. You were born to lead. You are decisive and almost foolhardy. Everyone else in the party is on /your/ team, but you’d do anything for them. People who aren’t on your team need to get with the program or get dead.
  7. You are quiet and thoughtful, searching for something greater than yourself. You haven’t found it yet, but need to experience a lot on your way. It’s all about the experience.
  8. Technically, you are a criminal in the sense that you are compulsively stealing constantly. It is hard for you to make lasting friendships, since you are robbing your new friends so often. Even if you don’t need the money or the items, you just can’t stop. Worse still, you are very good at stealing, so the problem just compounds itself.
  9. You live to get attention and validation. You will take undue risks to get attention and to get credit for accomplishments. You will always do things in the most ostentatious manner possible, even when this brings risk upon yourself (or others). Any day where you can take a few bows, is a good day.
  10. You love your spouse so much that you can barely even talk about it, but he/she needs powerful healing. You can’t afford bribes for the templars and you know that you will have to seek out a cleric for him/her, but how to find someone with enough power? Somehow, you have to find a way…
  11. You love learning and knowledge, but in a realm where scholars are few and far between it is a difficult task. Maybe if you spent more time out of the cities, you could go beyond what you have available to you under the thumb of the templars and sorcerer-kings.
  12. You want to save Athas. Sure, some terrible things have happened and evil runs amok. Sure, it is basically like the apocalypse has already happened. So many take a negative attitude and focus on how doomed everyone is. Not you, you are bringing it back: the water, the forests, the rich farmland… everything. It’s going to take a long time, but you will do it.
  13. You can’t stand your family. You have to get away from home and stay there. Any excuse will do as long as you get the hell out of here. Beyond defining yourself in terms of how much you hate your family, you’ll have to figure out who you are exactly…
  14. You are convinced that you are thri-kreen who has been separated from your clutch and clings to the first group you found. You have a thri-kreen’s worldview. (DM’s Note: This does NOT require you to be a thri-kreen)
  15. You seek fame and glory through battle prowess. You want to be known the world over for your exploits and heroics.
  16. You are actually a templar (servant of a Sorcerer-King) who is on a sinister mission on behalf of the sorcerer-king. You keep this is a close secret and have a cover story. The details of your secret mission will be revealed to you.
  17. You want power for yourself and will use whatever tricks you need in order to get it. You want to twist the world towards your will.
  18. You have an unhealthy mental obsession: maybe it is delusions of grandeur, maybe it is multiple personalities, maybe it is necrophobia, maybe it is all of the above. Otherwise, you seem normal, but eventually everyone will find out.
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Random Character Gen Notes

A few random things that I’m collecting here:

  • Yes to inherent bonuses. You won’t be seeing many magic items and inherent bonuses seem reasonable.
  • Equipment: Metal equipment is extremely rare on Athas. If you can’t imagine a non-metal substitute, then the equipment may not exist at all.
  • Themes or other RP stuff: In general, these are fine with me.
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Equipment Particulars

So there are several “Optional” rules for Athas that apply to equipment. I’m pretty much taking all of them:

  • Metal stuff costs 100x the listed price. For example, if you want an actual iron long sword (instead of stone, bone, etc.) it costs 1500 gp, not 15 gp. Rare metals (cold iron, titanium) cost /at least/ 1000x the list price.
  • Metal armor: If for some insane reason you insist on wearing metal armor in the blazing heat of Athas, where daytime temperatures routinely exceed 120 degrees F, you incur a -5 penalty to Endurance checks and must consume double water rations.
  • Non-metal weapon breakage: If you are using a non-metal weapon and then you critical fumble, the weapon breaks and the attack is a miss. Broken weapons do only half damage until repaired. Metal weapons do not have this property (a critical fumble is just a miss).
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Campaign Arc Info

The game is going to start in the City-State of Tyr. Tyr, a city of about 20,000 people, is ruled by the maniacal and cruel sorcerer-king Kalak who has spent the last ten years or so building a ridiculous ziggurat that consumes much of the interior space in this walled city.

Tyr has one dominant claim to fame: it hosts the last significant iron mines in the entire region. Even though they are sparse and require massive amounts of manual labor labor to extract from, iron gives Tyr a major advantage. Metal tools last longer and work far better. Metal weapons are far more effective and not prone to constant breakage. Metal gates are all but impenetrable by Athasian standards. Further, what little metal is allowed to be traded to other cities and villages fetches extremely high prices.

Every City-State has one dominant (some would say dynastic) trading house that concerns itself with the monumental task of keeping the city well supplied (and making a tidy profit while they are at it). Tyr exports iron, cloth, and pelts. It imports food, slaves, and a great deal of other stuff. In recent years, it has imported a tremendous amount of building supplies for the ziggurat. In Tyr, the dynastic trading house of interest is the mighty House Vordon, led by warrior patriarch Thaxos Vordon. They were entrusted for centuries with the iron trade of Tyr, but in recent years, Kalak has demanded that all trade support ziggurat construction and this has caused Vordon tremendous financial damage leading to quite a bit of anxiety.

Within trading houses, there is a clear hierarchy. House Leadership calls the shots and owns shares in the “company” meaning they are almost always blood relations of the House’s namesake (though there are exceptions for extraordinary individuals). Blood Agents are people directly related to the family in charge who have partial ownership and work on behalf of the house. Agents are those who have status in the House and do work, but can never actually take ownership – they are always paid a salary. It takes dedication and work to become an Agent or a Blood Agent (and to gain the corresponding perks).

Arya Falconsflight is the daughter of a blood cousin to Talara Vordon (a Blood Agent and Leader of House Vordon). Although a monk who by training cares little about the pursuit of wealth that obsesses most of the members of House Vordon, she recognizes that these are troubled times for House Vordon and the City-State of Tyr. In recent times, she has been called upon to perform services for the House such as helping to protect food shipments. This is extremely dangerous work and she has enlisted the aide of a extensive pool of mercenaries.

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Iron, Zombies, and Intrigue: Part 1
RIP Digsby Slappyhoes

Arya Falconsflight, employed by her aunt Sariah Falconsflight (Blood Agent of House Vordon) is told of the troubles in Tyr caused by the iron embargo. She learns of some old iron mines that might not be quite mined out that could, theoretically, but outside of the legal jurisidiction of King Kalak who imposed the iron embargo. While it is almost certain that King Kalak would disagree, nonetheless, Sariah gathers a few “faithful” mercenaries to support Arya and sends an iron mine surveyor (the halfling Digbsy Slappyhoes) to check out the mines and to determine business value.

On the way, the party gets to know each other a little bit. They have to sweet talk their way past some templars who are supposed to be keeping the mine roads shut down.

The party does a little mountain climbing as they approach the Old Iron Mines. They appear to gain the attention of a mighty Sun Drake, but apparently he was more interested in eating a mountain bear (who was, in fact, just interested in eating the party). The drake devours the bear and the party dashes ahead.

The party comes upon the mines which seem to be in a sad state of repair, with the exception of one quite functional explosive trap which scorches a few folks. The party discovers a barricade (breached) and some miner zombies and dire rat zombies, which they quickly dispatch. Obviously somebody was mining here fairly recently…

The party investigates further into the mines until oppressive darkness leads them to realize that something is definitely wrong. Soon more horrifying Black Reaver zombies begin to emerge from the darkness. A mighty leader in particular had a glorious metal sword… embedded in his chest (why bother pulling it out – he’s already dead). Despite the intensity of battle and several comrades being brought to negative HP, the party survived (albeit with not many Daily Powers left intact). Unfortunately, Digsby Slappyhoes perished in the ferocious combat.

A friendly neighborhood Belgoi Hunter informs the party that he wants his sword back and he thanks them for killing the foes that took it from him. Recognizing the weakened state that they were all in, the party gives away the sword to avoid another nasty fight. The Belgoi even throws them some ceramic coin for their trouble and hastily exits before they change their mind.

Tired, battered, the party rests for 5 minutes.

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Iron, Loss, and Dark Magics
RIP Tianna

The party, exhausted, wounded, yet triumphant stood in the Old Iron Mines of Tyr. They were on the verge of heading back to town when a massive noise from deep inside the mines caused a cave-in, blocking the most logical exit. The party seemingly had no choice but to go deeper into the mines via the lift.

Going much deeper, the lift stopped abruptly at what appear to be some strange puzzle surrounded by flaming skeleton archers. After a failed attempt to solve the puzzle, the skeleton archers began to assault them. A little damage and suffering later, the archers were de-activated via the “Reset” button the puzzle. Eventually, the party solves the puzzle, enabling the lift to delve deeper into the mine.

When they arrive at the deepest portion of the mine, they discover a massive thriving iron mining operation. Further, this portion of the mine is huge and hosts a substantial forge. The whole place makes little sense and begs many questions: What are those hideous Ash creatures working dextrously over the mines? What carved out this massive chamber in the hard stone? Who is responsible for this place?

The party discovers crates of food, eats some of the food, and then discovers a strange, morbidly obese man who appears unable/unwilling to speak. Tianna, a bard herself, recognize the man as Mega-issimo, the legendarily obese star of the Tyrian Opera. It becomes clear that Mega-issimo is a prisoner here for some sordid purpose.

The party investigates further, discover tons of spell components for golem-making and, indeed, a number of MASSIVE STEEL GOLEMS. Such machinations are all but unheard of on Athas and a terror to imagine in battle. Luckily, the golems were not active and the party quickly extricated themselves from any perceived situation that might lead to them becoming activate.

The party discovers a small “work room” with spells and diagrams. Notably, there are specifications for a powerful voice enhancement, a defiling glove designed for lifting heavy objects, and golem making instructions. The party takes the glove and Sety attempts to understand it, keenly aware of its dark origins.

While exploring yet another lift, the lift suddenly starts to be lowered on its own (presumably by somebody below summoning it). Most of the party dives out of the lift in time, but unfortunately Tianna doesn’t make it in time. Mid-way to the bottom level, Tianna jams the control mechanism for the lift, stopping it long enough for Sety to use the defiling glove of lifting to lift the entire lift. With that, the “miners” below are alerted and begin flooding up the lift. The party begins making their escape via a combination of climbing and making use of lifts. A terrible battle between the Ashgaunts (the miners) and various splits of the party ensues. The brutality of these beasts cannot be overstated – this was a touch and go fight.

While riding a lift up, Tianna gave her life to save the life of Vakken. Tianna was raised by the Ashgaunts as a zombie servant, but ultimately that servant died as well. Sety again invokes the dark power of the defiling glove of lifting to move the stones from the cave-in that had occurred earlier. The party escapes, down one bard.

RIP, Tianna.

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