Dark Sun Campaign Setting, Expanded and Revised

PDF EBook by Bill Slavicsek

EBook Description

I wasn't originally planning to read the revised boxed set. Dark Sun Campaign Setting, Expanded and Revised PDF EBook I remember paging through it a long while ago, not liking most of the changes, and never really thinking about it again, and nothing I've heard since then had convinced me that I'd like it any better. But I'm reading through all of Dark Sun, and it seems like I should make sure that I do all of it. So what did I think?

It was okay. Don't get me wrong, there's a lot of stuff here I didn't like, but there were more parts I liked that I expected. Most of the changes to the Tyr region are awful, but a lot of the areas expanded on outside of it are great additions to the world.

As an example, take Saragar. I've seen people who don't like it because it's a verdant paradise with an actual lake of water and Athas' only surviving lizardmen, and it's well protected by the three Mind Lords, and life is relatively peaceful, but this is a society where one of the laws is "happiness must be maintained" and there are literal thought police who "adjust" citizens who demonstrate too much discontent. I love that contrast, because it drives home one of the main problems for people who want to improve life on Athas—what price are they willing to pay to achieve it? Saragar has peace and security, but at the cost of their freedom even down to the freedom of their minds. Is that worth it? Are the city- PDFstates brutal because they have to be to survive, rather than because the sorcerer kings are dicks?

In comparison, Kurn is awful because it undercuts this. There's no tradeoff at all. Oronis is an avangion—a literal magical being of peace and light—and he's founding New Kurn as a magical marble city with flowing water and trees and there's no want or slavery and everyone lives in peace and  photo emot-doh.gif. Suddenly, there's no moral quandry about how to improve Athas because there's a template set and the answer is obvious. Just be Lawful Good and throw a bunch of magic at it and your problems are solved. What an incredible letdown.

I like the Deadlands because they're so over the top. How do you get even less hospitable than blasted rocky wastelands and endless expanses of salt flats? Plains of pure unbroken obsidian crawling with zombies!

One thing I don't like is how they're zombie gnomes and zombie pixies and zombie orcs and so on, though. This ties into the larger point that I don't how much Athas' past has been nailed down. Like I said in my Black Spine review, I like Athas better when the past was a weird science fantasy world of psychic technology and bizarre creatures rather than just being any other D& download; D world, and the Cleansing Wars and Rajaat and the Champions killing off the wemics and trolls rub me the wrong way. I like the Blue Age/Green Age/Brown Age distinction, but the transition between the Green Age and Brown Age, less so.

There's an area called the "Bandit States," but the cities have names like Plunder and Ravish so I can't take them seriously at all.

In the Tyr Region, the sorcerer kings of Balic, Draj, Tyr, and Raam are now either dead or imprisoned, and so is the Dragon, which is silly in the usual fantasy sense of nothing happening for millennia and then multiple world-shaking cataclysms all at once. I do like a couple of the changes, like Draj being run by the psionic schools with a puppet king in place or Balic being taken over by the merchant houses, but not enough that I want the sorcerer kings gone. That just brings to mind how incredibly awful Freedom was and how all of these changes happened when Dark Sun got on the metaplot train. There's a quote in the beginning that stood out for me:
But heroes are desperately needed in this harsh, savage world. . . . Heroes like the ones who stepped forward to destroy the sorcerer-king Kalak and set Tyr free. Heroes like those who risked everything to kill the Dragon and keep Rajaat the Warbringer from devastating the land.
"Heroes." Most of the adventures were about heroes solving problems, but I've always thought of Dark Sun as much more traditional sword and sorcery, like the Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser stories, where the protagonists are motivated by survival and wealth and living another day, not saving the world. Second Edition's obsession with the PCs being heroic do-gooders was often an odd fit, and rarely did this stand out more than under the crimson sun.

The mechanics side is mostly the same, so I won't cover it in major detail. There are two new races, aarakocra and pterran, but they seem like odd choices since each of them is from a single, relatively low-population village. Warriors get an extra 1d4 strength, which is a great benefit even if the warrior/caster divide isn't as strong in Second Edition. Some of the thief skills from Dragon Kings are included in the base game, though there's no Detect Illusion or Dig Tunnel. A few magic items that never really made any sense, like the potion of dragon control, are removed instead of half-heartedly shoehorned in. These are all good changes.

The weirdest thing is that there are rules for defiling magic and drawing different levels of energy, possibly letting defilers cast more or fewer spells, but they make it obvious that the defiling occurs when the spells are memorized, not when they're cast. So the iconic image of the defiler chanting and the ground turning to ash around them...no longer happens? What an incredibly odd thing to change.

There's a separate booklet with rules for psionics. They're the same as the system in Player's Option: Skills & Powers, with MTHAC0 and MAC and contact as a proficiency and wild talents no longer being able to get super lucky, roll disintegrate when they make their character, and have a 50% chance to kill anything and a 5% chance to kill themselves. As with all balancing, some of the wild energy is lost in the transition.

However, it's overall awful because it makes psionic combat, and thus the whole Telepathy discipline, useless. Powers require open minds to use, and a mind with PSPs left is still closed, so psionic attacks reduce the target's PSPs. But attacks all cost more PSPs than they reduce the target's PSPs by, on average, so the attacker will run out faster than the defender. Thus, the ideal action in psionic combat is to do literally nothing, not even defending, until the attacker exhausts themselves, then the defender lashes out and reduce their attacker to zero PSPs, followed by mentally enslaving them. And since most Telepathy powers require an open mind to use, the whole Telepathy discipline is basically nonfunctional. Non-psionic minds require only a single successful attack to open, but how many of those are there on Athas?

The Complete Book of Psionics was a weirdly complicated mess, but these mechanics do the opposite of what they're supposed to so they're even worse.

There's also an adventure in the boxed set, but it only stood out because since the Blue Age is the new hotness, that's what it's all about. The mission is to escort a pterran back to his village in the Hinterlands, and along the way the party runs into a halfling druid who seeks stories from the Blue Age, finds Blue Age ruins, fights a symbiotic Blue Age lifeshaped artifact, blue blue bleu. The Blue Age was longer ago than the entirety of real-world recorded human history and Athas has been through a lot more world-shaping cataclysms in that time, and I find it amazingly unlikely that anything would have survived, especially not a nearly-intact city.

Seeing the picture of halfling tablet about the "wanderer" and the rhulisti returning and the note that the Messenger didn't come back on schedule in the back, now I understand the rumors about the Messenger being a Blue Age lifeshaped starship with some rhulisti in stasis I've heard. I actually think that would have been pretty cool, and a better way to introduce lifeshaped technology back into the setting. But that one picture is all the development it got, so we'll never know.

So that's Dark Sun Campaign Setting Revised. A few good ideas, and some good places, but buried in a lot of faff and annoyance and actively terrible changes. If I ran a game myself, I'd keep a few places like Eldaarich and the Deadlands and the Last Sea, throw out all the other plot developments, and let the PCs do what they want without trying to force them into being heroes. This is one product of 90s metaplot obsession I think we could have done without. Like this book? Read online this: Blue Hole Back Home, Pathfinder Campaign Setting.

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