The Dark Side of Athas
“Beneath a crimson sun lie wastelands of majestic desolation and cities of cruel splendor, where sandal-clad heroes battle ancient sorcery and terrible monsters. This is Athas, the world of the Dark Sun campaign settings, a dying planet of savagery and desolation. Life hangs by a thread in this barren land, and now it’s up to you to write you’re own story in blood and glory.”
The Physical World
Once a blue planet teeming with life, Athas has since been stripped of its fertility by the use of corrupting magic known as Defiling Magic, and the decay of its sun. It is a sun-burnt land forsaken by the gods, water, and hope. The natural resources have been depleted and a lack of metal has resulted in the use of wood, obsidian and bone for weapons, tools and other common equipment. In such a harsh and unforgiving land, even the most mundane of creatures have developed psionic abilities in the constant struggle of survival of the fittest.
In such a world as Athas, a death by natural aging is considered to be a great achievement and an event worthy of celebrations.
There are effectively eight major characteristics of Athas:
- The world is a desert wasteland – Athas is covered with endless seas of dunes, lifeless salt flats, stony wastes, rocky badlands, thorny scrublands, silt seas, and much worse. Civilization is few a far between, with metal and water even more scarce.
- The world is savage – Life on Athas is brutal and short. Between savage raiders, monsterous beasts, greedy slavers, and tyrannical sorcerer-kings, there are few safe places for people.
- Metal is scarce – Metal is a priceless commodity that even the sorcerer-kings rarely see much of it. Most weapons, tools, and armors are made out of leather, bone, wood, and obsidian.
- Arcane magic defiles the world – Ancient arcane magic defiling is what has caused Athas to go from a lush life filled planet to what it is today. Defiling effectively drains life around the caster to boost the spell being cast.
- Sorcerer-Kings rule – Terrible immortal defilers of immense power founded the city-states. Several have met their deaths in epic conflits, but some still rule. They have done so for centuries upon centuries. Some are insanely brutal, while others more subtle in their oppression. Each all strive to complete their transformation into an Athasian Dragon.
- The gods are gone – Athas is a world without deities. There are no divine powers to draw upon, so divine classes are not possible. In the absence of divine influence and with the devestation caused by arcane defiling, both the psionic and primordial powers have come to prominence.
- Fierce monsters roam the world – Between racial genocidal wars and the harshness of the current planetary environment, the remaining creatures of the world are quite dangerous. The generic wild creatures of other worlds (lions, tigers, bears, etc) just did not survive.
- Familiar races are quite different – While the world of Athas has many of the “normal” races, they are substantially different. Most halflings are vicious cannibals, elves are desert-running nomads, and dwarves are bald, with a tendency to become mentally focused or obsessed on achieving designated goals (like the derro).
The Sea of Silt
Water has long since ceased to flow on the surface and can only be found in the last sea, some oases, tiny lakes and streams, as well as west of the Ringing Mountains in the Forest Ridge. Not only are the mountains nearly impassable (the name Ringing Mountains refers to the lightheaded feeling one feels from lack of oxygen when traversing them) but the Forest Ridge is the home of halflings, which in the Dark Sun world are small creatures that live in tribes in the forest and do not hesitate to capture and eat intruders to their realm. This makes the prospect of going west across the mountains nearly impossible.
In the place of an ocean, the world of Athas, due to defiling magic, has a sea composed entirely of silt. The silt is dangerous as it is not capable of supporting the weight of humanoid creatures, and the particles themselves are extremely fine and get into the lungs quite easily. A strong wind from the Silt Sea can force people from nearby villages to remain indoors all day, though with a certain amount of water some people often make use of a mask-like object called a silter which is placed over the mouth and nose and kept wet in order to help the user breathe.
The silt actually becomes hard-packed a few metres below the surface, but this is of no help to a human as the level within the first two metres is extremely loose and fine. However, giants often make use of the packed silt roads further below and can be seen wading chest-deep through the silt. Humans have sometimes built crafts that can navigate these silt roads much like giants do, though the going is much slower and both humans and giants still have to deal with the creatures that live in the sea. Another method of travel is the shipfloaters, psionicists who use a large obsidian orb to focus their power to telekinetically levitate and a sail the ship as if it were sailing through water.
The Tyr Region
The Tyr region is a region of Athas encompassing thousands of square miles, and stretches from the Hinterlands in the West to the Valley of Dust and Fire in the East within the Sea of Silt, to the Dead Lands in the south, and the Troll Grave Chasm to the North, it contains all but two city states of the sorcerer-kings.
The rulers of the isolated city-states are called the Sorcerer-Kings and are powerful Defilers and Psionists. There are cities further to the north and to the south but the land is extremely unfriendly and most people do not wish to risk a journey of such length, and the location of other cities beyond the region is uncertain at best. As a whole, life within the Tyr Region itself is hard enough, and that risking one’s life for adventure or altruism is a foolish notion, and survival from day to day takes precedence.
The Jagged Cliffs Region
The Jagged Cliffs area is another region of hundreds of square miles of Athas, north of the Tyr Region, and extends from the Crimson Savanna to the west, The Sea of Silt to the east, and the Burning Plains to the north.
The Dead Lands
The Dead Lands is an area of a vast obsidian plain to the South of the Tyr Region, inadvertently created by defiling magics gone awire during the Cleansing wars. While there are many a rumor about what in the dead lands, one thing is for sure. It’s teaming with undead.
Races and Monsters
Due to the harsh conditions of the planet, all the forms of flora and fauna have evolved to be extremely hardy and powerful as compared to their counterparts on other worlds. Most, if not all, races on Athas have a unique self-defense mechanism that consists of a psionic ability, enhanced strength, augmented agility, increased mass, lower food/water intake, superior visual/aural capabilities and/or various physical weapons.