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Introduction“I live in a world of fire and sand. The crimson sun scorches the life from anything that crawls or flies, and storms of sand scour the foliage from the barren ground. This is a land of blood and dust, where tribes of feral elves sweep out of the salt plains to plunder lonely caravans, mysterious singing winds call travelers to slow suffocation in the Sea of Silt, and selfish kings squander their subjects’ lives building gaudy palaces and garish tombs. This bleak wasteland is Athas, and it is my home.”
-The Wanderer’s Journal
The world of the Dark Sun setting is unique in several ways. Many familiar trappings of the Dungeons & Dragons game are missing or turned on their heads. Athas is not a place of shining knights and robed wizards, of deep forests and divine pantheons. To venture over the sands of Athas is to enter a world of savagery and splendor that draws on different traditions of fantasy and storytelling. Simple survival beneath the deep red sun is often its own adventure.
The World of AthasAthas is an endless wasteland, yet it has a majestic and stark beauty. When first light casts its emerald hues over the Sea of Silt, or when sunset spreads its orange flame over the Mekillot Mountains, the world’s feral beauty stirs the untamed heart in each of us. It is a call to take up spear and dagger, to flee the cities, to go and see what lurks out in the barrenness.”
-The Wanderer’s Journal
Sand, rock, sun, burning heat – these are the only properties that Athas possesses in abundance. Every living creature in the world works constantly to obtain food and safeguard water. Hunters might go days without finding suitable prey, and herders must drive their flocks from place to place to find good grazing. Water is scarce in the known regions of Athas, and those who control life-giving wells or springs jealously guard access to such riches.
City dwellers enjoy more security than do nomads or villagers living in the deserts, but it takes legions of workers – most of them slaves – toiling in the fields to support a city’s population. Great and terrible sorcerer-kings rule the city-states, each a long-lived tyrant who crushes dissent. Rapacious nobles, corrupt templars, ruthless merchants and legions of brutal soldiers profit from or support the sorcerer-kings’ reigns, while the common folk groan under unjust laws and harsh taxation. Slaves survive only as long as they can earn one more day’s worth of food and water with their backbreaking toil. For most people, life is a choice between struggling to survive in the wasted wilderness or trading freedom for the relative safety of the oppressive city-states.
This is Athas, a world of cruelty and tyranny. Yet it is also a place of savage beauty and barbaric splendor – a world of heroes.
Development and progress in the known lands of Athas rely heavily on the presence of water and food. Most oases can support no more than few hundred permanent residents, but in a handful of verdant areas or very large oases, bigger settlements can grow. Such is the case with the Seven Cities that still stand (the great city-states of Tyr, Balic, Draj, Gulg, Nibenay, Raam, and Urik), as well as others that have fallen into ruin. Reliable water supplies and wide tracts of arable land provide (or once provided) for a large population. Without water, life is a hardscrabble existence that requires moving from location to location in search of limited resources. Barbarity is all too common in the wastes; a stranger is likely to be an enemy willing to take what he or she needs at weapon’s edge.
Within the walls of a city-state, every person has a specific place in the social order. Sorcerer-kings rule, supported by nobles and templars – the priests and warriors of the monarchs. Merchants and craftsfolk, as well as warriors in their employ, enjoy positions slightly higher than those of beggars, farmers, herders, and laborers. Slaves toil in the lowest level of society, giving their lives in forced labor, gladiatorial spectacles, or outright sacrifice.
On the other hand, those who dwell in villages or nomadic tribes in the wilderness value freedom and competence, and they believe, perhaps rightly, that city residents lack both. (Of course, the most independent tribes still have leaders and members with more wealth or status than others.) Liberty comes at a high price, however, since the wastelands of Athas are treacherous even for the well prepared.
Matters of Learning
In the urban societies of Athas, knowledge – especially information about arcane magic – is tightly controlled. Those who rule know that truth and enlightenment make the governed less likely to accept the status quo. People who gain abilities that allow them to challenge or escape authority become threats to the stability of the system.
The sorcerer-kings and their templars strive to keep the people of Athas ignorant of the true history of the world and the secret forces that move through it. The following information persists despite their best efforts.
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