“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.”
Athas is the world of the Dark Sun campaign setting. It is a world that is dying, defiled by arcane magic and ravaged by races gone savage. Athas is not a place of fantasy, magic and honor. It is a tragic place, its setting barren and its species neutral-at-best. Even the weather is harsh, being as much of a battle as the monsters themselves.
Athas is a desert. It’s filled with endless views of sand dunes, barren flats, stony badlands and worse. The weather is deathly hot, easily reaching temperatures of 130 degrees, with wind equally as hot. The view is constantly a yellow-orange, with dust and sand being blown constantly in the faces of Athas’ travelers.
There are a number civilizations around Athas, but they are separated by wastelands crawling with monsters as vicious as the landscape itself. Due to the rarity of water sources, any successful cities are built around the few oases or verdant plains. Many places don’t see rain for years at a time, so water has become something of a commodity. Throughout the land, adventurers will find wreckages and ruins of old cities which flourished in a time not quite as drastic as the current state of Athas – a time when plantlife flourished, water flowed free and children could wander cities without fear of being kidnapped into a life of slavery. A time before the gods grew silent and arcane magic defiled the landscape.
The civilizations, known as City-States are ruled by terrible defilers known as Sorcerer-Kings. These kings have ruled for centuries, as long as many can remember. Many claim to be gods, holding vicious amounts of defiling arcane powers. The Sorcerer-Kings and their courts of greedy, slaving templars are often brutal oppressors who laugh in the face of freedom for their people. There lies only one city that defies this stereotype, and that is Tyr. Tyr is a seemingly impossibly large city ruled by a King who rejects the ways of his fellow Sorcerer-Kings. Slavery, which seems to be the largest “profession” in all of Athas, has recently been outlawed there.
The races of Athas are not what one would expect. Characteristics of familiar races are completely different in a world so different from the deep forests and fantasy heroes of The Forgotten Realms. Rather than being benevolent forest dwellers, elves are nomadic herders, raiders, peddlers and thieves. Halflings are more than just mischevious – they’re xenophobic headhunters and cannibals who rarely venture outside of their mountain homes. Half-giants are just as brutal as the Sorcerer-Kings themselves, often serving as elite guards who relish in the oppression they are free to lay upon their people. For more information, visit the Character Creation page.
Gods and Magic
Adding to the desolation in Athas is the fact that the Gods have forsaken the desert dwellers. Long ago, when Athas was a beautiful planet filled with life, the mighty primordials overcame the gods. Since then, the gods have fallen silent. There are no clerics, no paladins, no prophets or religious orders. All that’s left to remember the holy powers are crumbling temples to the deities that were.
That absence of divine influence does not leave the people powerless. Psionic power is well known and practiced, residing in the minds of even the lowliest monsters and poorest peasants. Lack of holy healing powers gave rise to the primal powers of the world, empowering shamans and druids to call upon their primal abilities by channeling the elemental powers that bathe the desert world.
Arcane power also exists, but it is certainly not widely accepted. Sorcerer-Kings use arcane power freely, although nobody has the power to disapprove. Other wielders of arcane magic are forced to disguise their casting so as not to be persecuted by the Sorcerer-Kings for illegal practice or hunted by an angry mob of civilians. The reason? Arcane magic further defiles the lands of Athas. When using arcane magic, all life around the caster is sucked into the spell, killing plants, the ground beneath them, and even harming allies. Arcane magic is often blamed for the state of Athas, and the evil Sorcerer-Kings wielding this power with no care only add to this global thought. Many casters, aside from those seeking to destroy the landscape on purpose, venture down the path of “preserving”. They use their arcane powers to heal the landscape, even though it doesn’t grant them as much power as defiling would. Regardless, even these casters are forced to disguise their casting to prevent persecution and prejudice.