Introduction to Dark Sun

Post-apocalyptic desert wastelands await

Dark Sun is a campaign setting for Dungeons & Dragons set on the world of Athas, a post-apocalyptic wasteland of a planet. It was originally published in 1991 and was the first setting to also come released with a narrative for players to be inserted into. It also introduced brand new races like the thri-kreen, aarokocra and pterrans.

Geography of Athas

The land is primarily a desert wasteland interspersed with pockets of civilisation that have somehow managed to survive the arid conditions. These civilisations are ruled by sorceror-kings. The primary civilisation handled in the source material is Tyr with 6 other civilisations also detailed; Balic, Draj, Gulg, Nibenay, Raam and Urik. The land of Athas has been transformed by magic that has defiled the land long ago.

The Ringing Mountains

It’s in these cities and their outlying villages that you’ll find most of the inhabitants of Dark Sun with Tyr being the biggest region. West of Tyr are the ringing mountains, a 10,000 ft above sea-level range of mountains that is so bereft of oxygen, that it causes a “ringing” sensation in the ears of those that travel there. Beyond these mountains though, is a lush expanse of jungle known as the forest ridge. Flora survives here due to hidden rivers and waterfalls that keep the plants watered, however, the jungle is also teeming with hostile life, including savage, xenophobic halflings that attack all on site. If you search carefully enough though, you might discover ancient ruins with hidden treasures under the canopy of the trees.

The Deadlands

To the South of Tyr are the Deadlands, so named because undead creatures inhabit the area. It is a place of greater danger than most in Athas (which is saying something!) and is to be avoided at all costs. It appears to be completely uninhabitable by the living.

The Jagged Cliffs

North of Tyr are the Jagged Cliffs, another vast desert region of crimson plains (due to the light of the sun and the vast amounts of blood soaked into the ground). 2 more city states can be found in this desert; Eldaarich and Kurn. There’s also an army of mantis-men (thri-kreen) living in an area known as the Crimson Savannah.

Beyond the Jagged Cliffs are the Burning Plains where everything is on fire and even further beyond that is the Last Sea; the largest body of water left on Athas. This sea has been preserved by psions that occupy obsidian gems and have gone mad over the centuries of their lifetime. Needless to say, they are hostile and dangerous and should be regarded with great caution.

The Sea of Silt

To the East of Tyr is the Sea of Silt, so named because long ago, magic transformed the sea into a fine silt that is not solid enough to stand on. Many unusual monsters live in this area, particularly within the wastelands of the Valley of Dust and Fire.

Inhabitants of Dark Sun

Athas is inhabited by several city states which is where the majority of the people live. Each city state has its own individual culture, but generally, they follow a similar hierarchical structure. At the top is a sorceror-king (or dragon-king), below them is everyone else that they rule and below them are the slaves traded for profit and work.

Magic is generally distrusted in Athas as the source of the destruction of much of the world. Athas also has no gods, instead, clerics and priests draw upon the magic of the elements to perform their spells and tend to the people.

Athas is home to many civilised races such as humans, elves, dwarves, half-elves and halflings. It’s also home to more exotic races such as muls (half dwarf, half human), half-giants, pterrans (humanoid lizardmen related to pteradactyls), thri-kreen (insectoids) and aarokocra (bird-like humanoids).

History of Athas

Athas’ history can be summarised in 5 ages:

The Blue Age – A period of general peace and prosperity. The land was ruled by halflings during this time, until they destroyed the oceans which signalled the end of this age.

The Green Age – A time when the land remained lush, full of plant-life and quite unlike the arid wasteland we know now. This age ended when Rajaat (a setting villain) came along.

The Red Age – This was a time when Rajaat discovered ancient, arcane magic, wielding it to bring destruction to the land. This time is also blighted by the cleansing war which lasts hundreds of years and Rajaat uses to start to destroy all-life on Athas.

The Brown Age – A time of uprising when the sorceror-kings rose up against Rajaat, realising that Rajaats goal to wipe out all life on Athas would include themselves. The sorceror-kings rose to power as the leaders of new city states.

The Age of Heroes – The age that players find themselves in now following the events of the previous ages.

There are rumours swirling that Wizards of the Coast may be updating the setting of Dark Sun for 5e in the near future so hopefully, we’ll be experiencing all new adventures in Dark Sun soon.

Published by DM Ben

Ben is an experienced dungeon master and player who's been immersed in the D&D universe since he was a teenager over 20 years ago. When he's not writing for Dungeon Mister, Ben loves creating fiendish puzzles and devious dungeons for his players. He's an especially big fan of the Ravenloft and Dragonlance settings.