Read Dark Sun, Post Ideas Thread

edited August 2014 in Make Stuff!
I'm reading old Dark Sun books for inspiration right now, so this is a thread where I will post some of those ideas in rough form, and probably some commentary, too.

Dark Sun World
That's what the logo on the box set says. There's at least a couple of Dark Sun World hacks out there.
edit: one two three four five

Anyway, that moon on the cover is fucking huge. I guess there's no oceans, so tidal insanity isn't much of a thing. What else would a moon that close do? Gravity would pull you toward the planet less if that moon was overhead, right? Maybe that's how you can leap around like John Carter on Mars.

I don't understand why the light in all the colour pictures seems pretty normal even though the sun is "dark" or whatever. It's supposed to be huge and red with veins all over it right? Just like in the art? I prefer the 3 suns of Planet Algol, because then I can assume that when all 3 (or just the main 2) are in the sky, light is normal and when only one is in the sky, the light is all weird and fucked up. So there can be Psychedelic Happy Hour once or twice a day.

The racial stuff is a bunch of weird ideas from biology transposed onto sentient people, which is how we got scientific racism in the first place. So Dwarves are obsessive-compulsive. So much so they continue to be obsessive after they die, because they come back as ghosts. Elves are white Kenyan sprinter-hobos who never ride but still get a Constitution penalty, and the Mul are basically Gladiator: The Species. I mean, sure, we can go for a more nuanced look at race and stuff, or we could do something awesome and say that OCD people can swear magical oaths to get shit done and if they die first, they come back as ghosts in order to get it done, dwarf or no dwarf.

Oath Stones
There are these monolith stones scattered across the land. Some are in cities, some are in the wilderness, some are next to desolate roads, whatever. Probably there is some long-ago history reason for why they exist, and they used to have sacred groves growing around them but then the earth was defiled.

If you go to an oathstone, you can shed your blood on it and swear an oath to the ghosts of the oathstone. They will hear you and touch you. When you make efforts to pursue your oath, the ghosts will aid you, if they can. They are fickle and sometimes useless, so there is no real guarantee. But that is not why people use oathstones.

If you die before completing your oath, you are still tied to the world of ghosts. Their hands will stop you from passing on and disappearing from the world. You become a ghost, instead, and continue to work to fulfill your oath. Since you are a ghost, you don't have all that much influence upon the world, but there are those who would come to you for advice and knowledge, and there are occasions where you can have a physical effect on the world that is even more powerful than what mortals can do (without magic). Maybe I will think of some of those instances later, maybe I won't. Anyway, as a ghost, you can bargain your services in exchange for mortals fulfilling your oath, or trying to. You can try to fulfill your oath using your limited influence, after all, you have forever. Unless someone else dying makes it impossible to fulfill your oath, in which case you are stuck in ghost-land.

So that's why people use oathstone: to cement bargains they want to be super-binding. Or if they really, really, really want revenge on someone.


  • Bug Cities
    It says elves still get their +1 bonus to wielding bows and swords, but where are they supposed to get the metal to make a sword? I would expect nomads to have even less access to metal than, you know, people who run cities or own slaves and can organize mining. It doesn't quite feel like a sword if you can make it out of bone or something, although stone I guess, but considering how easily obsidian breaks, you would need magical obsidian to make something like a sword. This reminds me, looking through the art, I think there should be more pictures of bugs. Yeah, there's a woman with a centipede steed on page 47, but there should be lots and lots of domesticated giant insects and arthropods, carts pulled by pill-bugs, and beetle-fights when human gladiators aren't entertaining enough. People grow giant bugs for chitin that is as strong as metal and make armour and weapons out of that, right? Or do they just hunt for it? No, there is a bug and a couple of lizards listed in the equipment chapter, so they do both. Still! Needs more domesticated bug illustrations! They could get mirrors from the cocoons of giant Tithorea butterflies. Maybe these domesticated butterflies even have something to do with the transformed preserver dude from a way-later supplement, that would be creepy and sinister. They could be the reincarnated ghosts of slaughtered preserver-mages or something.

    Maybe this is the root of conflict between Thri-Kreen and humans. Humans keep giant bugs like any other animal, so they see the Thri-Kreen as animals, but the Thri-Kreen also keep other mammals, perhaps even monkeys and apes and hairless cats, as domesticated animals, so they see humans in the same light. Nevermind that both have highly-sophisticated cities, technological manufacturing bases, and bodies of philosophical literature. Yeah, in the Dark Sun book it says they just live out in the desert but I don't see why we need to populate the wilderness with yet more noble savage archetypes when we have how many monster manuals? What we need more of now are monster cities: the Mantis Metropolis!

    Speaking of Thri-Kreen, the art for them seems a little boring. Maybe it was cool back in the 80s and 90s, but we live in an era where you can google the various types of flower mantises or a mantis shrimp and wut i dont even its full of stars
  • edited August 2014
    A Race of Hairless Bodybuilders
    Normally, fantasy literature gives us weirdly-spelled words with normal pronunciations, like you see Tchjehzzychah on the page and then find out it sounds the same as Jessica. But then Dark Sun tells you that mul is pronounced like mül, even though English speakers don't know how to pronounce that. Are those just röckdöts, or am I supposed to know German to read this book?

    Why are there even all these other races at all? Humans come in all sorts of mutant varieties, you can have pointed ears or webbed feet, so you can just be whatever race you want by describing how your character looks. You wouldn't get a stat bonus, but all I have to say to that is 3d6 in order or gtfo.

    Actually one good thing the races do (I guess) is describe some of the game setting. Like there is lots of slavery and people who wander around the blasted landscape, and how humans are mostly pretty tolerant of other races. EVEN THOUGH THEY ENSLAVE THEM. Hashtag notallhumans, hashtag sorcererkingsdontrepresentusall.

    Dark Sun actually seems like a decent setting to have dragonborn in. Not so much eladrin or tieflings. Or half the standard races, either. Lizard people are way more interesting than a race of bodybuilders, and I mean, who would play a giant when you can play a giant preying mantis? The actual race list for Dark Sun should be more like:
    - Human person (includes elf, halfling, mutants, and bodybuilders).
    - Dragonborn (includes kobolds and yuan-ti).
    - Minotaur (includes goat-men etc).
    - Thri-Kreen.
    - Umber Hulk.
    - Wemic.
    - Gnoll.
    - and Drow for the publicity cuz FUCK IT WHY NOT

    If you're an Umber Hulk, roll a d6. Increase Strength by that amount, lower Charisma by the same amount. Roll another d6. Increase Constitution by that amount, lower Wisdom by the same amount.

    I mean hey, it says right in the book that the wilds of Athas are teeming with intelligent monsters. Why can't I play one of those?

    On page 23, it says "In the course of a campaign, a player who wishes to roleplay the situations might raise huge armies." Gawd, I hate it when players want to roleplay the situations!

    The classes could use some work, like the gladiator class is kind of redundant, I think, since it's just a dual-classed fighter/bard, I mean duh. And illusions should totally be a psionic power, not magic. This setting needs a merchant class or something. Someone who is good at influencing people to do things, who knows a lot of people, who does all those bard things but doesn't rock out. It could be combined with bard and just be the Mastermind or something. Hell, combine it with the Psionicist class, too, since everybody has some latent psi ability, and you have a setting where being a smooth talker and able to convince people of things is considered a psychic power. You could have your NPCs say things like "Nooo! Your evidence and common sense are psychic mind control! I will murderize you for this mental assault!" Elemental cleric is cool, but kind of seems like just another type of wizard? It must really suck only being able to use weapons once you have set them on fire. How much damage does a torch do? Oh shit, do you even go into dungeons in this setting? Having a sorcerer-king for a deity is dope, though. Convince your DM to run a city full of dungeons and you can round up 3d4 meatshields any time you want!

    The City of Monster Tombs
    Okay, the sorcerer-king Wyvarthas came to the city of Karduak 1,000 years ago and conquered it, driving its inhabitants underground (literally underground). Karduak is built on a giant mesa, or maybe something like Uluru (Ayers Rock) or the acropolis, so it's super-defensible, but Wyvarthas had become a dragon, so he flew in and flamed it up. There are tunnels and caves all through the rock and underneath the ground, although they don't spread out too much, because there's like a sand sea in several directions, full of shai hulud.

    But then Zothark betrayed and murdered Wyvarthas and claimed the throne of Karduak for himself. It was kind of a dumb move, though, since all the seals that held the underground monsters at bay crumbled upon their creator's death. Now there are openings to a megadungeon all over the city, in peoples' basements, in public wells, and most especially in the city's hundred tombs. To make things worse, the many monsters whose desecrated bodies Wyvarthas built his new city upon have started to rise again as undead monsters, he writes, desperately trying to shoehorn in something that will make the original title of this section at least somewhat relevant so he doesn't have to think of a new one. Zothark is scrambling to find solutions, and the various noble families who assisted him in his rise to power have turned to outside mercenaries (and they have become a whole different problem).
  • A Race of Hairless BodybuildersThis setting needs a merchant class or something. Someone who is good at influencing people to do things, who knows a lot of people, who does all those bard things but doesn't rock out. It could be combined with bard and just be the Mastermind or something.
    Your posts made me look up Dark Sun on Wikipedia to refresh what little I know about it (in particular I wanted to see if it said something more about this giant moon you were talking about), and in the Classes section they say this: Traders were a new character class specific to the Dark Sun setting, introduced in the separate Dune Trader supplement. They have access to many of the same rogue skills as Thieves, but to a lesser extent. In addition, they have several abilities unique to Traders, including the cultivation of extensive networks of useful contacts. Traders either belong to and enjoy the backing of an established Merchant House, or can work to create their very own Merchant House.
  • edited August 2014
    Aw, sweet, I'm reading that one next after the boxed set, then.
  • For swords, the three staples are sharpened bone femurs/ribs from large animals, scythe-blade legs from giant insects, or wood swords with obsidian shard 'teeth' as their edge. Obviously, they need constant repair and will eventually break.
  • That makes me think there should be something to do with obsidian being a by-product of magical activity. I dunno what it would be, maybe elemental clerics cause volcanic activity to happen, or they did at some point in the past, so it's not just one reason why the world is so messed up. Or maybe something to do with the dragon sorcerer-king.
  • Multiple PCs
    The rule where you can maintain multiple PCs at a time (even though you only play one during each adventure) but they all have to be good or evil or neutral is the stupidest rules so far. So instead of taking your evil character to the Adventure on Scumbag Mountain and your good character on the Quest to Find Something Good to Say About the People Who Raided Scumbag Mountain, you basically have to continue role-playing the same good PC vs. evil PC arguments just with different characters. There’s not much point having different characters if they’re just going to be the same, Dark Sun, especially when the main selling point of your idea is different characters for different situations.

    Also, starting a new character at level 1 when one of your four PCs dies is pretty bad, when are supposed to start at level 3. The rules I’m used to are that you can have as many characters as you want and you can play 2 at a time if not a lot of people show up to the game. Otherwise, 1 each, whichever you want, and another can show up if the first gets killed or knocked unconscious.

    Psychic Drugs
    If psionic detection is a skill, and a semi-psionic skill at that, there should be other detection skills that are sort-of psionic in nature. You should be able to detect emotions, diseases, magical influence in people’s minds, alignment maybe (not that I care much about the alignment rules, to be honest), even the presence of a sorcerer-king. Maybe this cuts down on the opportunities for espionage and secret societies, though, so maybe it shouldn’t work all that accurately? Maybe there are easy ways to block it. But then you get a weird Dune-like thing where there’s all this stuff happening inside the characters’ minds, picking up on tiny clues, and whatnot, so maybe we should go even more Dune and say that maybe you tend to need psychedelic drugs to strengthen your psychic powers! So either you choose the Psionicist character class or you must drop acid to be psychic, and then we can have the kind of astonishingly bad failures that create misunderstandings that drive play for months on end. That would be rad.

    Magic Trees
    Trees of Life are cool. Defilers turn vegetation to ash around them when they use magic, and nothing grows in that spot for at least a year. But if you’re near a Tree of Life, you can just deal HP damage to a Tree and that’s that, they heal in a day or so. Trees are good because:
    - Sorcerer-kings keep gardens of them so they don’t defile their cities when they use magic.
    - They grant spells to druids and clerics.

    But these things should also be true:
    - Trees of Life are conscious beings, and they communicate psionically. They have weird thoughts and aren’t human. This is how they give spells to people, psychically.
    - They grow based on their environment and what’s around them. So maybe they grow in the shape of a sorcerer-king’s face. Maybe they are actually mushrooms instead of trees if they grow underground. Maybe some are giant vines, or mosses. If they grow in a particularly vicious place, they can become partly carnivorous. Giant bugs means giant venus fly traps, come on.
    - Some communities of Trees of Life are at war with others. The ancient grove that Wyvarthas kept at Karduak hated him for abusing them, but they also hated the mushroom grove that dwells deep down beneath the surface of the earth. So they used their psychic influence to encourage Zothark to usurp his power (and many others before him, but they were unsuccessful). Now they want adventurers to come to their city and murder all the monsters who live underground near the hated mushroom grove and they offer spells in return.
    - Eating parts of a Tree of Life sends you on a super-acid trip like the spice agony. You either die or you get fantastical psionic powers. Maybe the sap or fruit has to be treated first? Treated with magic, yeah, and then you have to be bound and left alone in the desert or your psychic reception will make you think you are nearby people because you are reading their thoughts. A Psionicist should have to do this in order to level up, every time. Slight chance of death, large chance of random mutations and behavioural disorders. Just make the class more powerful to compensate for the risks.
    - If a Tree dies, its psychic death-cry echoes on the wind for years afterward, and ghosts congregate around it. Plus maybe other bad stuff? This is one of those places where ghosts can have influence on the physical world. Maybe when the moons all go dark, ghosts near a dead Tree can touch people… and kill them.
  • Races Again
    In the XP section, it seems like the rules for role-playing each race lead like advice on role-playing single characters. Like they had one idea for an Elven Sprinter and that’s how they should all be. This section might be better suited if each of these were specific cultures in the setting, with a list of expected behaviours and the social rewards of following them, plus a list of proscribed behaviours and the social penalties for indulging in them.

    So maybe the city-state of Arheym has within its walls more oathstones than any other known location. The people frequently (some would say too frequently) use them, which maybe leads to less-OCD people becoming the majority of the cranky ghosts and obsessive dedication to a goal becomes a prized virtue. The people of Arheym also make lots of charms against ghosts, so they aren’t bothered all the time. If someone wants their character to be from Arheym, they can choose whatever race they want. Then ask them if everyone is the same race as them, or if they’re a minority. And there you go, you know what these people are like and you’ve made them unique to your campaign.

    The tests of trust and friendship that the elves do is cool. I dunno why it’s only elves that are wasteland nomads, especially when they don’t even consider other tribes to be any closer to them than humans or dwarves. But I guess that’s maybe why there are half-elves, who all have shitty mixed-race childhood baggage that fucks up their xp-for-rp awards as adults. Why do only humans fuck other races? Why are there no elf-dwarves? What about Orlfs? Or dworcs? Especially since halflings get xp bonus for trying different cultures, shouldn’t there be a whole set of half-halfling races?

    Gladiator Again
    There’s a section in the combat chapter on arenas, but since I’ve read Those About to Die by Daniel P. Mannix, I find it boring as shit. Hey, did you know that Russell Crowe got Nick Cave to write a sequel to Gladiator? Cave was like "Didn’t you die in the first one?" and Crowe said "You can fix that." So he wrote Gladiator 2: Christ Killer, in which Crowe gets resurrected by the pagan gods and sent on a mission to, wait for it…

    Leather Pants
    I dunno what to think of the restrictions on metal armour. I guess I can see the balancing act that is going on here, though: bump up the ability scores, start at level 3, psionic bonuses, and yet for all that, you can’t wear really good armour no matter how much money you loot. Cripple the defence and give them more offensive capability. Did this result in shorter fights? I wonder if they ever came up with magic solutions to the armour and heat problem in any of these books. Anyway, the idea that you can wear scavenged armour is kind of cool except for one thing: a pair of leather pants gives you no bonus, but a leather jacket is basically the same as a full suit of leather armour! Unless the pants give you the Charisma bonus, unacceptable!

    Oh, of course: magic armour and demon armour. Or chaos armour, I guess. One of my D&D characters found a shield that was magically light and didn’t count towards encumbrance. Too bad we don’t even use that rule! Maybe some crazy wizard makes suits of plate that always feel cold to the touch? Or you can make a pact with a demon god and get magical, symbiotic armour that isn’t subject to heat penalties. Then you can look like an Ian Miller drawing. I mean, there are priests who make deals with the sorcerer-kings and then get spells and stuff, and there’s the occasional defiler in the employ of a sorcerer-king, so why not have warriors who sell their souls and become living tanks in exchange?

    Or what about bug chitin armour? Maybe you can use plates harvested from bugs, but you have to glue them together with a flexible resin whenever you put the suit on, and then the resin gradually hardens over the course of a day, and you have to use a solvent to get the plates off. Maybe you can save the resin after using the solvent? Or maybe you have to get new resin every time? If you can get it from your giant-bug steed, great! Otherwise, you spend money each and every time you wear your armour. It is such a hassle being a private military contractor, isn’t it? You have to do all of your own accounting! Aargh!
  • Magic Berries
    There are no werewolves in Dark Sun! Also, instead of potions, there are magic berries. Because, I guess it’s easier to magically enchant a piece of fruit to not only have some kind of magical property but to also not spoil, than it is to enchant some liquid and just keep it in a ceramic vial like normal people do in other settings. The idea of magic fruit is cool and everything, but maybe just add it to a list of options? Along with other types of food, too? Turkey Sammich of Avian Control!

    Removers of Waste
    Templars are the clerics who worship a sorcerer-king patron and are granted spells in return. There is a list of what kind of jobs they do. So like a templar of level 9 or higher could be the mayor of the city or the governor of the farmlands, a templar of level 5-8 could be in charge of tax collection of slave control, and a templar of level 1-4 could be someone who moves grain or is in charge of wall construction. Or is a remover of waste. The shit job! This is totally what every badass super-ninja assassin character should start off doing. Level one, you ship the poop out. Level 5, you decapitate criminals in public. Level 9, you assassinate the hostile rulers of foreign cities. I’ve always thought the badass assassin trope was dumb. Most assassins also have, you know, real jobs? Like being a senator, or in the military, or running a criminal operation (which doesn't tend to kill people unless profits are suffering). It's also good cover, being a shit-shoveller. Nobody wants to pay much attention to you or poke their noses into your business, they just want you to leave already.

    It says that the lower jobs are given to templars between levels 1-4, who are given "fewer slave laborers than they need to perform their tasks effectively." Too bad they aren't PCs! Then they could just summon 3d4 meatshields whenever they wanted!

    Hunger and Thirst… Okay, Just Thirst
    According to the dehydration rules, if you don't have enough water to last a whole trip across the desert, you should dehydrate first and save your water for when your Constitution gets real low, and then drink a full day's worth, because you gain more from a day of rehydrating than you lose from a day of dehydrating. Just an observation.

    Okay, there's some other stuff in the Rules Book but I don't really want to read the spells right now. Maybe I'll come back to it, but AD&D spells tend to annoy the shit out of me.
  • Man, I love me some Dark Sun. And I love some of these ideas you've got but for reals CANNIBAL HALFLINGS don't even spark anything in you? Come on, halflings and Thri-Kreen should be so tight, just all the time raiding elf tribes and feasting.
  • edited August 2014
    Re: Mantis Metropolis: in the canon (and in the revised Darksun Campaign for 2nd Ed), the Kreen Empire existed to the west, beyond the Ringing Mountains, past the halfling jungles and down the Jagged Cliffs, down into the Crimson Savanah. The Kreen Empire rivaled the size of the Tyr Region, and had a variety of Kreen sub-species, the 'soft' wandering Thri-Kreen, the more stodgy, conservative Thor Kreen, etc. They kept halflings and other races as slaves and snacks.
  • God, like how annoyed would you be, when your halfling slaves are always eating the best cuts themselves before you can get to them? Ugh, the worst.
  • edited August 2014
    The Wanderer’s Journal
    The temperatures are given in Fahrenheit, so I have no clue what they mean unless I look them up (I only know length and distance better in Imperial). So on Athas it’s like 40 degrees C in the morning, which is hella hot, but like you can get that in Greece in the summer. But then at noon it gets up to 63 degrees, so you can slow-cook your eggs without a water bath! Honestly, I think this part is a bit over-wrought. Death Valley holds the record for highest measured air temperature at 134 F (or 56.7 C). A friend once told me of his summer trip to the salt flats in Death Valley. If you open your mouth, you can feel your tongue drying out immediately. It was so hot he and his friend got into a fistfight while driving along a thin stretch of solid ground, because they were so loopy. So really, if the temperatures get up to 150 F (65.6 C), you might as well start rolling hit point damage for the PCs. I think it’s fine to say that Dark Sun is as hot as Death Valley, no need to go even further.

    Cultures Again
    Okay, so after a description of Athas (a scorching desert surrounded by the Sea of Silt and some giant mountains), we get a breakdown of the various cultures: city dwellers, villagers, merchant caravan dynasties, herdsmen, raiders, hunter-gatherers, and hermits. Slaves aren’t mentioned in this list. It seems like the non-human cultures either fall into the hunter-gatherers category (elves, thri-kreen, halflings) or are slaves (mul, half-giants). Except the dwarves, I guess, dunno what their deal is yet, aside from being obsessive. Not having thri-kreen city-states in the box set is still a bad idea. Anyway, I think all of these could be presented as being more important than fantasy race, and after you choose which characters come from which culture, then you can decide what kind of fantasy race they are, if they’re not human. Sure, half-giant impacts your stats a lot, but whatever. You should just play an umber hulk instead.
    but for reals CANNIBAL HALFLINGS don't even spark anything in you?
    Sure, I appreciate the efforts Dark Sun makes to turn the traditional fantasy races on their heads, I just feel like it's still too boring. There's a lot of cheap shots one could take at the concept of the jungle-dwelling pygmy headhunter who always looks like a white kid no matter how old they are, but mostly I think it's better off used for a single character or one settlement, amongst a larger variety of humans, than as one of the main race choices. I mean, it says humans can have all sorts of weird mutations so they actually vary more between each other than they vary with halflings.

    THAT SAID, a caste of people who work in the thri-kreen metropolis, look like children because of artificial hormone/chemical influence, and steal all the best cuts of the other humans they cook up for their insectoid masters is deep-fried gold straight out of Jack Vance's planet of adventure series.
  • edited August 2014
    The Middle-Eastern Parts of Game of Thrones
    City-states are basically Mesopotamian in concept, each ruled by an evil wizard. These sorcerer-kings can live for centuries, some are even credited with founding their cities. But they do die sometimes, because there are at least two deserted city-state—or rather two megadungeon opportunities, if we’re gonna be accurate. But then there’s also the ruins of ancient kingdoms, from when the world was green. The text really hammers home the post-apocalyptic nature of Athas.

    The four key aspects shaping society are: scarcity, shortage of metal, magic, and psionics. The metal shortage lends weight to the tropes of dungeoncrawling. It is preposterous that people can’t have proper currency without metal, sure, but since the main loots recovered from a dungeon tend to be gold coins and magic swords, these would seem even more precious when the outside world doesn’t even have much in the way of normal swords. There is no mention anywhere that raiders are ex-adventurers who struck it rich and found a storehouse of magic swords in the belly of some ancient ruin, but you know that would totally happen.

    Psionics in Dark Sun are obviously influenced by the Barsoom novels, but then you get psychologist foundations in every city. Unlike Asimov’s foundation, they are politically motivated (also they teach you real psionic powers so maybe I’m unfairly conflating Burning Empires stuff into this paragraph, but then again, in the first Barsoom novel, after Carter kills some guys, the Zodani summon a "psychologist" to look into their eyes and find out who killed them). Language doesn't seem to be partly psionic in Dark Sun the way it is on Barsoon, though, it's more about having superpowers. And there’s no real description of how psionics influence society, aside from the fact that some people have these powers and apparently everyone has the potential to develop them.

    Later on, though, it says there are jedi schools for psionic training, either noble-dominated urban academies, or hermits living out in the wilderness. The art shows a cliff-side citadel. Plus, in any culture that accepts defilers, wizards are top dog, but any culture that only respects preservers and hates defilers has psionicists for leaders. Why the elemental clerics aren't leaders, especially clerics of water, I have no idea. I would think if you have water magic, you could easily pass yourself off as the messiah.

    aka God-Emperors of the Dunes
    It says that while the sorcerer-kings are worshipped like gods, and even have clerics they grant spells to, that slaves and free people regard them as evil gods. I find this a bit odd. Sure, they are bad people who use their powers unscrupulously to gain power. But what is it that they do bad that would make people regard them poorly? The fact that they're defilers? If they have a grove of them life-trees they don't have to destroy any of the plants in the city that belong to normal people, so… seems to me it's perfectly legit for some of them to build up cults of personality and populaces that really do look up to them like gods. After all, these people are living in a super-deadly environment full of giant monsters, savage raiders, and deadly heat. If this god-king and his clerics protect the city, why would they be resented so much? Maybe some sorcerer-kings can't help but act like scumbags, but others would probably be really charismatic and manipulative people, and really good at playing the cult leader.

    For randomness, you can just roll 3d6 to determine the sorcerer-king's Charisma and then compare it to the B/X modifiers:
    3: Everyone hates this sorcerer-king. Everyone. The populace is openly hostile and riots frequently. Sometimes the templars and nobles riot, too.
    4-5: This is still a low score. Only a few people like this sorcerer-king, but they have a devoted cadre of followers who both benefit from their rule and agree with their politics.
    6-8: Not real popular, despite any attempts to the contrary. Charismatic followers might be able to smooth things over, but this sorcerer-king is constantly doing things that make city-folk dislike them.
    9-12: Average charisma, which means people remember the bad more than they remember the good, but effective propaganda people can erase those bad feelings with a bit of work. The problem with those kind of propagandists is that they think they are more important than they really are (or than they would be when working for someone with an actually low charisma), so they get uppity and demanding and have to be killed on a semi-regular basis. If you're a ruthless sorcerer-king, anyway.
    13-15: Hey, people like this sorcerer-king. They get the benefit of the doubt for a lot of stuff. People are always saying they are better than those other sorcerer-kings who are evil and bad. People might even be proud of being a peasant under this sorcerer-king.
    16-17: The envy of other sorcerer-kings, this ruler doesn't have to do much in the way of coercion to get the city and the bureaucracy to fall into line. The populace is really patriotic.
    18: This sorcerer-king is worshipped as a literal god by everyone they rule over.

    (or if you want more interesting and varied sorcerer-kings, roll a d6 and count down the results, ignoring "average")
  • Notes on Sex and Gender and Race
    There is a short section explaining how patriarchy isn’t the norm, and that "both sexes seem equally capable of the treachery required to attain and hold power." Women can rule, even though the term is "sorcerer-king," noble families can be represented by matriarchs just as easily as patriarchs, the eldest competent child (not male child) inherits the merchant business, and treatment of slaves is based on their abilities. Because, like, even though this setting includes a malicious, exploitative, slave-owning hegemony, at least they aren’t sexist! Or racist! Elves and dwarves can hold any job a human can hold! But then they go and kind of ruin it by saying there’s "a slight preference to make males laborers due to their slight advantage in strength." Having worked as a labourer before, dawg, lemme tell you, if you think physical strength is the main factor determining how good a labourer you are, then you ain’t never worked as a labourer before.

    So anyway, this further breaks down the actual differences between humans and the demihumans. Elves are basically built out of gypsy tropes, and the halflings are jungle cannibals, but the other demihumans are even less distinct. If they only sort-of have their own cultures and can interbreed with each other, then what is the actual point of having them? Oh right, fantasy game conventions, what was I thinking.

    Things That Dwarves Do
    - Build toll bridges. No, there’s no rivers, just oceans of dust.
    - Drilling for water on the salt flats of the Ivory Plain.
    - Build villages amongst the sand dunes (wtf?).

    Drilling for water is cool, obviously there should be a caste of well-diggers in Dark Sun. They can find water underground, and then they know how to dig it up properly. But this would have to happen in the low places, like valleys and plains. They could build toll bridges up high, over the tops of canyons, linking mesas together and stuff. Maybe if you pay the dwarf tax, you can take your caravan over bridges that link the tops of the plateau mesas together, instead of having to descend into the ravines and valleys below. Yes, it’s cool and shady down there, but it’s a maze and there are monsters. And maybe there are also subterranean mesa-dwellers down there, easily safe from military conquest, with special underground wells for water. And they hunt monsters to eat. And they charge even higher tolls, and don’t give you good directions, so you might end up going in a circle. This is totally where you put the drow (blah blah blah with the Drow controversy stuff, the real bullshit is putting white people in Dark Sun—it gets hot enough to slow cook an egg but apparently there’s fuck-all UV, even though the sun is red and red stars emit more UV light than yellow stars, but oh right this is fantasy, that’s why people with UV-blocking melanin in their skin live underground where there’s no sunlight and white people live under a red sun that creates normal yellow-spectrum light, but like men are stronger than women because).

    Bugs in the Desert
    A lot of these setting details are really boring, like do I really need an rpg book to explain the basics of slavery or merchant caravans to me? That said, the picture of the mobile merchant castle pulled by two giant turtles is awesome. Also we get more domesticated insects in this book than in the rulebook. Plus the flightless lizard-birds that people herd. If you cook one of their eggs, it tastes like a sharp cheese. Uh, where do they get cheese from in Dark Sun? There’s no mention of any domesticated animals that produce milk…

    But herding birds is better than herding bugs. You can’t eat the bugs because they stink, although you can wear their chitin as armour if you’re not too lazy to scrub the stink off (and I mean, elves, right, all they do is have parties and steal stuff), as if people in the real world didn’t do things like eat rotting fish, drink cows’ blood, or coat themselves in the ashes of animal dung. On purpose. Then again, it’s 1991, so I guess you can’t just google this stuff to know about it, you actually have to have like a subscription to National Geographic or something.

    The Silt Sea is Weird
    So there are like sand dunes and whatnot, right, but there’s also the Silt Sea. Giants live on islands in it and wade ashore sometimes, so we know that this silt is at least not like sand or quicksand enough so that a 20-foot-tall person can’t wade through it. So what is it? Are we talking like ten-foot sand dunes or something? Does a normal person "wade" through four feet of sand loose sand? Or just awkwardly walk across it? These giants are basically like the cyclops in the Odyssey, except they can be polite sometimes. And they live in the Hell of Dust, since the longer description of the sea describes what wind does to sand and dust.

    To be honest, aside from the dehydration rules, I’m not really getting a super-clear sense of how much of this setting detail is supposed to be, like "gritty awful fantasy world colour" and how much is supposed to actually be harmful. Like, in some games, I can see a dust storm just limiting visibility and the GM not really describing much else about it, and in another, sandstorms and dust storm are super dangerous. Maybe that’s intentional and up to the GM?

    Report by the Oversight Committee on Oversights

    White tentacles can emerge from the silt sea, which is basically like the lake encounter outside the Mines of Moria, but there’s no shai hulud? Looks like an oversight to me, if there’s something that should be stolen from Dune for this setting, it’s that. Also, if kluzd is pronounced "kloozd" why didn’t they just spell it kloozd?
  • Tablelands
    Let’s extrapolate some places that might be in the tablelands...

    A Village in the Middle of the Salt Flats
    Where do they get their water from? They buy cactuses and aloes from neighbours in exchange for salt and salted meats. They drink the milk and blood of their domesticated animals. Yes they have domesticated mammals, I want variety, not just exoticism.
    Where do they get their food from? They have domesticated animals. Preserving meat isn’t a big problem for them, after all. Instead of growing vegeatation, they trap flying insects to feed themselves and their animals. There should be some really big insects in this setting, large enough to have fungal, mushroom-like parasites in them. Looks like shit but it tastes like shitake. So obviously these people really appreciate the umami.
    What do they want from outsiders? Water and weapons. They want to extend their influence to the very edges of the salt flats, so they can stop herders and other nomads from helping themselves to salt without paying a tax.

    A Village Hidden in the Labyrinths of the Rocky Badlands
    I think I covered this one before with the Dwarven bridges and the Drow jokes. They are probably just like the people who live on the side of a mountain.

    A Village Clinging to the Side of Isolated Mountains
    Where do they get their water from? Underground cave systems in the mountains. When it does rain, it rains on the mountains, not on the plains, so that’s where the water ends up.
    Where do they get their food from? They keep domesticated birds, including homing pigeons (so they are more than just food), grow mushrooms in their caves, and they trade their metal for food. They have a mine going in the mountain. It doesn’t produce much, but it’s enough to feed everyone.
    What is unique about this village? Maybe the people ride pterodactyls, like Arzach or something? No, wait, they have tame cliff centipedes that they ride on. These things are giant but don’t actually climb the cliff because their muscles are atrophied, they have the power to levitate. Maybe they have webs or some kind of sticky tongue that they scrape their food off the cliffs with. So they usually levitate in a vertical position, instead of horizontal, so riders look more like seahorse riders than broomstick riders. Oh and you can make psychic drugs out of them because they are psychic centipedes and also Naked Lunch.
  • I think you're missing the major appeal of the fantasy races in dark sun--It heightens the post-apocalyptic feel of the setting. As presented in the core book, you can look at dark sun and think, hey maybe 5000 years ago, this was greyhawk or the forgotten realms.

    If there are no elves and dwarves and halflings, it's a lot harder to do that.
  • I agree, BUT with the caveat that the genocide of the 'less human' mythical creatures does feel correct for a post-apocalyptic setting.

    Now that I think of it, some of the 'civilized' non-humans started devolving to fit some of the tribal niches of the eliminated races; elves took over for the centaur as plains-running, fast moving nomadic tribes. Halflings took over the small, swarming, cannibalistic niche from the goblins.
  • edited August 2014
    Yeah, that's a good point, and it definitely works from the perspective of marketing Dark Sun to existing AD&D players.

    BUT, it only does that when there's a Greyhawk or Forgotten Realms setting to reference. Personally, I doubt I could care any less about the standard fantasy D&D settings, so the races don't feel all that post-apocalyptic to me (I mean, intellectually, I get it, and the idea that halflings have replaced the goblins is interesting and probably deserves more work, but otherwise, no). It was smart of them to do that, just like it is smart of them to keep dragonborn in the game, it's just that I am not the target audience for it (and most people I play with don't care about it either).

    Here's a thing I think is true about most settings over the course of rpg history: They appeal to the reader. They detail things out for the DM and try to paint a picture in DM's mind. But they don't do a very good job of giving the DM tools to communicate that to the players. Like, so far the Dark Sun setting book has tried to explain a bunch of basic facts and truths about the kind of environment it depicts. What it's like climbing in the mountains, what dying of thirst in the desert is like, the basics of travel and trade and politics. But then the DM is supposed to absorb all of it and then describe it to the players as their characters wander through it.

    But there's no bullet point lists of key concepts. There's nothing that explicitly tells you how to describe stuff to the players, not even boxed text as awful as it usually is. It's mostly written from a perspective/POV that helps you describe it to the players, but there's no "say this" section anywhere. It could use something like:

    Senses: Rough stones in red, grey, and white. Soft grey and brown clay. Clean, dry air, becoming thinner and thinner as you get higher up. You can see the whole desert laid out before you beneath the yellow-green sky. It is eerily quiet most of the time.
    Dangers: Territorial predators. Rockslides. Twisted ankle on rough ground littered with stones. Drowning by flash floods in the valleys when it rains on the other side. Dehydration when it doesn't.

    And that's just a 2 minute write-up off the top of my head. But you could do the same sort of thing with post-apoc stuff: create a list of images and location details or even stories told by villagers that enhance the feeling that the land and the people in it used to be different, that will appeal to everyone playing the setting, and not just people who already play AD&D.
  • The City-States of Dark Sun
    This section continues a long tradition of god-awful fantasy names in D&D. Andropinis, Tectuktitlay, Lalali-Puy, baaarf. Even Balic, Draj, and Gulg are pretty bad. Anyway, right out the gate, we get a major blast of Classical influence. The sorcerer-king of Balic lives in the acropolis, is served by the Ten Thousand, his city has an agora (even though that just means an open plaza in a city), he was elected to a post called dictator, and the nobles are called patricians (even though the culture isn’t patriarchal). Three of those are Greek, two are Roman, do you know which is which? There are probably better ways of communicating the Classical influence on the setting—certainly just having gladiators does that quite well. This city is threatened by giants a lot and every person who lives there is a part-time member of the militia. Obviously, this sorcerer-king isn’t afraid of martial enemies, if he’s cool with training the entire populace in the arts of war. There’s another one who trains his soldiers himself.

    Meanwhile, Draj (city#2) is basically Aztec. Its warriors wield obsidian-edged swords and try to capture people so that the sorcerer-king can tear out their living hearts at the top of his ziggurat. This city is easily defended because it is built on a mudflat (so it basically has a natural moat), and it has lots of hemp and grain. But no mention of people getting high. Which there should be, I mean, if you want to rule a populace, pacifying them with drugs is one way to get a leg up on that. It also paints a nice picture of contrasts: yes, this is the city where everybody gets high all the time and are really lazy, but it’s also the city with a huge armed force that is constantly fighting with other city-states. Fiercely violent belligerency fueling gruesome entertainment for a population that is perpetually dazed and confused. DEVIL HORNS

    The communist forest city seems like it would be the exact opposite of communism: people would want to defect from the scorching desert cities and move there. The desert cities would have to build a wall around the forest city to keep people from going there, instead of the forest city building walls to keep people out.

    There’s another city in the forest, or at least on the edge of it. The sorcerer-king who rules this city is never seen by his subjects until there is a revolt or something. He has a special walled-off section of the city where his palace is located but nobody has ever seen it—despite the fact that this setting includes the ability to fly. Anyway, his palace is supposedly built in the shape of his own head and I lurvs me some Zardoz. This head even has dancing girls for hair! In fact, there’s sculptures all over this city. Where the first forest city with its blow-dart-wielding hunters was obviously influenced by natives of the Amazaon, this is the South Asian one. Not that anyone in the art looks particularly South Asian, unfortunately. Then again, maybe that would be too colourful. Dark Sun is supposed to look like fantasy Road Warrior, it seems like. Anyway, it would be cool if they had magic in this city tied to all these sculptures. Like, you could carry around tiny statuettes that would have special powers depending on who they looked like. And you could get special bonuses if you had a statue made in your image and then blessed.

    Hell Yeah Statue Magic
    You could base an entire old school D&D setting on this statue idea. You need to raid the dungeons of lost empire to find gold so that you can level up and the only way to level up is to commission magical statues of yourself, to be stored in temples and palaces and whatnot. Each statue gives you special powers, ie levels. Perhaps level drain would be more than just an undead thing where the undead reaches into your soul and snuffs out your life but then a statue crumbles in a temple somewhere. Even better than that, if you get cut down in battle or by poison, you could transfer the effect to one of your statues, lose a level, and return to life. So a save vs. death would turn into a level drain. You might be mortally wounded and decide to burn a level and return to life instead of waiting to see if your companions will rescue you or not. Of couse, if your body is lost—eaten, submerged in lava, transported to another dimension, or drowned at sea—you would just be dead and have to make a new character. Basically, this would turn undead level drain into a simple save or die effect, like poison, and poison would become a level drain power. I dunno if making it easier to level up would be better or worse, maybe each level should be about the same amount to buy or something.

    This level per statue game would also have to have an elaborate political sub-game, so that one city-state might end up attacking and sacking another, destroying all their statues in the process. Or a temple might be attacked by the city’s ruler, or savvy politicking might see bribes exchanged for access to a temple or storage unit so that a specific statue might be irrevocably vandalized. There could be adventures that are all about hiding yoru statues, like the terracotta warriors in China—those are all some king’s levels. Or maybe his army’s levels (because they’re not all the same guy), so that they’re not all just level 1 soldiers. He pays for statues based on your length of military service. That might be a totally different game though, where you’re trying to finagle your way out of dangerous missions so you can stay on a cushy desk job until it’s time for you to level up again.

    Back to Cities
    The city of Tyr is the one that has the main metal mine. The ruler has gone crazy and is diverting all resources into building a new ziggurat. The people are ready to revolt. If I remember correctly, he was trying to turn himself into a dragon and the revolt stopped him and Tyr became a free republic. That was the point of the novels, yeah? Anyway, there’s a good campaign idea right there. The first ruler goes nuts, there is a revolt, then you find out why he went nuts, and at that point, the goal of the player characters is to stop other sorcerer-kings from attempting the same thing. Like pro-republican covert special forces. They need to identify which one(s) are about to try it, and find a way to stop them. I’m really trying hard to make this paragraph not super-anticlimactic after the statues-as-levels idea, work with me here.
  • Thanks for doing this @Johnstone. We've been pitching Dark Sun Torchbearer or DW game back and forth. This is helping to solidify our ideas. Not sure if we will dive into it.

  • edited August 2014
    Re: Kalak (the sorcerer king who got offed). Basically, being a dragon is a very slow, painful process that forces you to carefully portion out your transformation, or risk becoming like Borys, the Dragon who rampages insanely across the Tyr Region. Technically, Borys is also the only thing keeping the creator of the sorcerer kings imprisoned, so the other Sorcerer Kings pay tribute to the Dragon by feeding it thousands of slaves whenever it gets the munchies so it goes away. In addition to worrying about losing their mind to gain all that power, the Sorcerer Kings keep each other in check. No one wants two frikkin full Dragons stomping around. Dragon transformation is fueled by life force. The more draconic a sorcerer king is, the more sacrifice he needs. Once upon a time they could draw upon the sun for life force. And when that went red and cracked, they could draw upon nature. And when that went dry, they could draw upon animal and human life energy. Blood. The ziggurats, the altars, the priesthoods, all are there to spill blood and burn offerings for the sorcerer king, so that they can maintain whatever stage of draconic transformation they're at.

    Kalak must have gone completely loopy, because he basically tried to cheat and force his own full transformation by holding a massive festival, building a colosseum/ziggurat, and intended to mass-murder his entire city at one go, channeling the sacrificed life into the ziggurat/'dragon egg' to hatch himself. (The ruined city of Ur Draxa, where Borys once ruled, is 'dominated by a giant, hollowed out ziggurat, cracked open from within like an egg', according to the Wanderer's journal)
  • edited August 2014
    The last D&D campaign I DMed was Dark Sun. The PCs were attached to a merchant house, a smaller one that did not deal in slaves. One of the house's former allies was a band of brigands who used to run raids on slavers and rival trading houses associated with slavery. Some time before the campaign, the Templars of Nibenay managed to capture the brigands, executed their leaders and sent the rest to the quarries. Recently, though, the brigands have returned, and now they're engaging in indiscriminate banditry with no regard to former allegiances. Little did the PCs know (at first), these new brigands were acting at the behest of a secret conspiracy within the ranks of the Templars.
  • Oh, they used up the sun with their magic before the earth? Huh, that makes a lot of sense, actually.

    So your republican special forces unit would often be working with the assistance of other sorcerer-kings. They couldn't show support openly, but they could help you along under the table if it meant stopping a rival from turning into a dragon. Also they could put all the blame on the republic and use its existence to strengthen their own internal power.
    Thanks for doing this @Johnstone. We've been pitching Dark Sun Torchbearer or DW game back and forth. This is helping to solidify our ideas. Not sure if we will dive into it.
    I'm interested to hear what you do with either of those, if they happen. Didn't you do Tekumel Torchbearer? Does Dark Sun bring something new to the table, or is it just a change of colour?
  • Oh, they used up the sun with their magic before the earth? Huh, that makes a lot of sense, actually.

    So your republican special forces unit would often be working with the assistance of other sorcerer-kings. They couldn't show support openly, but they could help you along under the table if it meant stopping a rival from turning into a dragon. Also they could put all the blame on the republic and use its existence to strengthen their own internal power.
    Indeed. After Kalak's death, Hamanu of Urik (Tyr's closest neighbor) actually ended up subtly supporting the republic while overtly opposing it. With the abolition of slavery in Tyr, the city's economy has tanked and the iron mines are producing practically nothing (not to mention the bands of starving, socially maladjusted former slaves roaming the streets, "taking back what's rightfully theirs" from anyone who owns property). Hamanu can't afford to conquer the chaotic, rioting city of freed slaves, and he wants the iron mines back in order. Hamanu is very big on order and the rule of law (being patterned after Hammurabi).

    That's a good mission right there; the players are agents of Hamanu (possibly even a Templar among them), sent to stabilize Tyr for the greater prosperity of Urik. Possibly get a few pro-Urik councilors/senators into the Tyrian government, re-establish order, get the iron mines operational, etc.
  • Yeah, although I might draw more on modern Zimbabwe, or the jobs that Executive Outcomes did during the 90s, for a campaign like that, as opposed to the Classical tropes that Dark Sun has on display.
  • in the first Barsoom novel, after Carter kills some guys, the Zodani summon a "psychologist" to look into their eyes and find out who killed them).
    Ahaha, I only now just realized I typed "Zodani," when the enemy city in Princess of Mars is Zodanga! The Zodani are the not-human humans in Traveller that have their own empire and psychic powers. Their anti-psychic helmets keep popping up in the long-running Traveller game I've been playing in, so I got the two words mixed up. Also maybe because of psionics and how the psychics in my Traveller AW-hack are called psychologists.

  • Kalak must have gone completely loopy, because he basically tried to cheat and force his own full transformation by holding a massive festival, building a colosseum/ziggurat, and intended to mass-murder his entire city at one go, channeling the sacrificed life into the ziggurat/'dragon egg' to hatch himself. (The ruined city of Ur Draxa, where Borys once ruled, is 'dominated by a giant, hollowed out ziggurat, cracked open from within like an egg', according to the Wanderer's journal)
    I just wanted to mention that this is darn cool. I'm now going to put "trip to Dark Sun" on the to-do list for my Planarch game.
  • *Wild applause*!
  • Re:
    - Some communities of Trees of Life are at war with others. The ancient grove that Wyvarthas kept at Karduak hated him for abusing them, but they also hated the mushroom grove that dwells deep down beneath the surface of the earth. So they used their psychic influence to encourage Zothark to usurp his power (and many others before him, but they were unsuccessful). Now they want adventurers to come to their city and murder all the monsters who live underground near the hated mushroom grove and they offer spells in return.
    Did you know that fungi are more closely related to animals than they are to plants? Crazy! No wonder the grove at Wyvarthas was at war with the magic mushrooms in the underground below them. Also, why trees and not cacti? Cactus trees would be awesome.
  • Re:
    Or what about bug chitin armour? Maybe you can use plates harvested from bugs, but you have to glue them together with a flexible resin whenever you put the suit on, and then the resin gradually hardens over the course of a day, and you have to use a solvent to get the plates off.
    Tithorea butterfly cocoons give you the materials to make reflective plate armour. It's probably just parade armour, and not something you would actually wear into battle though, because it would be expensive. Unless there are giant Tithorea butterflies all over the place. Which isn't that weird for this setting. Parade armour needs to be more of a thing in rpgs, though, that's for sure.
  • Reservoir Dogs
    The largest lake in the section of the Dark Sun world covered by the box set is located inside a steep crater. Nobody fucks with it because a powerful druid runs it. But there are rumours of undwater caves and a sunken city full of treasure. This is kind of a cool idea: have there be a real treasure-house tucked away somewhere and to get it you need to completely screw up a section of the setting. Probably it's just a reservoir and there's nothing living in it, like monsters or whatever, and if you could just get past the the guardian druid, you could get the phat lootz clean and simple. But probably somebody would die in the water and that would be the end of the reservoir! Or maybe that's why everyone drinks coffee and tea, so they can boil the dead adventurer sickness out of their water.

    Impermanence and Capitalist Enterprise
    Villages apparently get trashed all the time? That seems weird. Like, I get that they are going for a harsh environment vibe, but wouldn't that just continually reset agricultural knowledge of an area to zero? Oh well, let's roll with it. What could make this interesting? Maybe villages are like corporations. You want to start a business, because life is crap, so you go and hire some agriculturalist peasants and some industrialist proletariats, and you hire some security, and you go build a town in some spot that you figure is going to be good. If you are right, you can make a profit, hire the right security firm, and provide a comfortable standard of living for your shareholders, by which I mean villagers.

    I feel like there should be towers in this equation somewhere, so I can work in high rises as machines for living vs. machines to make the land pay, but that's maybe too industrialized. Towers are good security, though. A high rise is like the worst kind of building to invade.
  • edited September 2014
    Impermanence and Capitalist Enterprise
    Villages apparently get trashed all the time? That seems weird. Like, I get that they are going for a harsh environment vibe, but wouldn't that just continually reset agricultural knowledge of an area to zero? Oh well, let's roll with it. What could make this interesting? Maybe villages are like corporations. You want to start a business, because life is crap, so you go and hire some agriculturalist peasants and some industrialist proletariats, and you hire some security, and you go build a town in some spot that you figure is going to be good. If you are right, you can make a profit, hire the right security firm, and provide a comfortable standard of living for your shareholders, by which I mean villagers.

    I feel like there should be towers in this equation somewhere, so I can work in high rises as machines for living vs. machines to make the land pay, but that's maybe too industrialized. Towers are good security, though. A high rise is like the worst kind of building to invade.
    Nobility establishes the farming communities. They have the wealth to purchase the slaves, building materials and tools, and can lobby for parcels of land from the sorcerer king's Templars. The biggest concern is, of course, water; a deep, easily accessible well is key to establishing a plantation or village. The day-to-day running of the plantation would be left to loyal taskmasters and plantation owners, who are most likely corrupt, loutish, violent or evil to one degree or another, or otherwise useful but unsuited for city life. Perhaps a second or third son, or a prized retainer is made 'mayor' or chieftain when these towns become self-sustaining. The nobleman collects the produce of the farm and taxes the workers who live there. In turn, the city-state prospers as it receives an influx of food and taxes the noble's earnings.

    Attacks on villages happen for a number of reasons. They may be directly or indirectly ordered by one noble against another, to diminish a rival's economic base. Perhaps it's a more personal grudge between taskmasters/overseers of rival plantations. Maybe one crop spoiled or the well dried up, and either the workers steal crops from another neighboring village, or their noble owner will flay the village's children alive for the failure. And then there are simply the 'forces of nature' that threaten small communites; raiders, barbarians that descend out of the wastes, Thri-Kreen hunting parties, Halfling cannibal groups near the ringing mountains in the west or giants wading in from the islands off the Sea of Silt in the east.

    Guard towers*, fortifications and armed guards are provided by nobles for especially important plantations and vineyards, which forces would-be attackers to prey on caravan routes rather than fortified towns. Politically, it's in the Templar's best interest to put a cap on the size of a noble's regiment of guards, lest they start acting like a military threat, threatening neighboring plantations and communities. At the same time, having the protection of the surrounding country-side come out of the noble's purse lessens the burden on the city-state's coffers.

    *Traditional desert guard towers were squat, made of clay and stone, and built on strategic hills overlooking roads in and out of the area. For Example. If you want a more "highrise" feel of taller towers, you may want to look to a more 'minaret' style
  • edited September 2014
    There's a lot to be done with the Nobility v Templars. Nobility are the landed elite of the city states, and owe their status and power to a Sorcerer King. They need the hierarchy in order to be at the top of that hierarchy. At the same time, they are not Templars. The Templars are the clergy of the city-state, the administrators and judges who enforce the laws, arbitrate disputes and act as a balance to the nobles. While the Templars' loyalty to the city is based on devotion, the nobility's devotion is based on enlightened self-interest.

    Many noble-born are recruited into the Templar orders. The noble family gets a member on the inside of the administration, able to bend the laws in the family's favor. The Templar gain a political/ideological hostage, ensuring the nobility's continued support of the Sorcerer King, turning the noble's sights to competition with their neighbors, rather than competition with the clergy. In fact the city-state greatly benefits from the competition between the noble houses. By judiciously awarding favor and opportunity, the state can 'delegate' a lot of financial responsibility onto the noble houses, bringing stability at minimal cost. Of course, when the Sorcerer King and the templarite stop carefully tending that garden, the noble houses quickly degenerate into feudal warlords, trading stability for rebellion, predation and bloody conflict, as evidenced by the laissez-faire ruler of Raam, Abalach-Re.
  • You can probably get a lot of ideas from looking at the relations between nobles and divine right kings. Even though the King of France says he's all-powerful, he still has to cater to the nobility, manipulate them, and set them against each other.

    An alternate take might be to look at the ways peasant landowners in China interacted with the central bureaucracy. One interesting note there is that there were no horizontal legal relationships--if you had a beef with somebody at the same rank as you, you'd go to your superior and petition them. You wouldn't work anything out with your peers. In a game about nobles, that might be structured so that if you want to get anything done, socially, you either charge your underlings with a task, or you petition your superior for redress. In AW terms, you've got 2 moves and you don't need more.

    For settling villages, the nobility would do that directly when it comes to strategically important areas, or when it's a "sure bet." Or the sorcerer-king's templars would do it directly, even, although the further afield things get, the more likely they are going to devolve onto clients, usually from the nobility.

    When it comes to a risky venture, though, the status quo would want to distance themselves from it to a certain degree. It might not be a noble leading the project, either because a) nobles are funding it and don't want their name attached until it succeeds, or because b) they are giving tacit support to a non-noble who has somehow gathered enough money.

    The point being that if the status quo backs a project outright and it fails, their reputation suffers. But if they have ties to a project that succeeds, they can welcome the entrepreneur back into the fold and gain the benefits of a success in exchange for the granting of prestige. You also want projects like this led by people who will put all their eggs in one basket, so it is easier to excise them from the community when they become a liability.

    This is why you might have corporate financing structures for maverick-led projects. Many people can contribute, but only one person takes the blame when it fails. And if it succeeds, lots of (rich) people benefit (ie the noble status quo).

    Of course, if the community is small enough, everybody will know everybody else's business anyway, and it won't matter quite as much. Anybody who loses money on a risky venture will still catch shit for it, regardless. But in that case you're also going to mostly see people sticking to strategically important areas and sure bets, and only the occasional risk.
  • *Traditional desert guard towers were squat, made of clay and stone, and built on strategic hills overlooking roads in and out of the area. For Example. If you want a more "highrise" feel of taller towers, you may want to look to a more 'minaret' style
    Yeah, this is all par for the course and pretty much mandatory stuff.

    I was more thinking about the research I did on high rises for university and looking for a way to get that stuff into a game somewhere, but I dunno. There have been some pretty high buildings built in desert cities before, but will they work in this desert setting? I think this might not be the place.
  • I don't see any reason you couldn't have pre-constructed or "natural" towers. Enormous bone stalagmites rising out of the desert, supposedly the tips of the vertebra of a huge underground skeleton, hollowed out into living spaces in a time before living memory.

    The hulls of ancient spaceships, like tall rockets which landed on the surface of the planet in a similarly forgotten time, could form another example of vertical living spaces.
  • Kreen hive towers. Makes for a nice alien landscape.
  • Construction itself isn't really an issue. I'm sold on enormous bone towers, ancient spaceships, and kreen hive towers, that's all cool.

    Question is: Why are people living/working in towers?

    Living in Towers
    All societies need agricultural production, including a tower full of people. So maybe they produce it themselves, that probably means they produce it in the tower itself. They could grow fungus, that doesn't need light. And then they sell their fungiform foodstuffs to merchants for money (if they are rural) or in the marketplace for money (if they are urban). If they grow plants, they need light, so maybe they have open terraces and stuff. Or vines growing all over the sides of the tower.

    If they don't produce agriculture, they need some kind of job that pays hella good, or they need hella good agricultural production nearby that doesn't require 90% of all people to be farming so the 10% that don't can eat. Because if they're out working farms, why would they be living in a tower?

    In urban areas, you might have the issue of limited space, which forces expansion upward. But, you also have to wonder why a sorcerer-king would allow high-rise residences to exist in his city, since they probably come with all the pernicious influences of Le Corbusier on project housing in the US. If they are built for poor people, gangs move in and defend themselves from the authorities with ease. If they are built for rich people, they need to be extremely well-built, comfortable, and stylish. Rich people have money, so they can afford to sprawl out over the land. You might be able to cultivate a middle class and move them into towers without them making a fucking mess, but then you need some sort of advanced economy for them to participate in.

    Working in Towers
    And if there's going to be some sort of advanced economy, it probably makes more sense for people to be working in towers, not living in them. The office tower is a "machine to make the land pay" because you buy one plot of land, but each floor you build gives you a new opportunity to rent out that same plot of land. The problems with office towers are that you need businesses to rent that space out to (a business sphere which simply doesn't exist in Dark Sun canon), and you tend to need elevators. But you do avoid all the problems with project housing because people only work in these places, and they actually live somewhere else. In other words, living in a tower gives you a defensible structure, working in a tower makes you vulnerable.

    So, let's try out some excuses for having this stuff in a Dark Sun style setting:

    1. Tower City
    There's a "natural" tower in the desert, either a titanic rib or skull, or an ancient spacecraft, or just a mesa. People live in it and grow fungus and stuff. They study the architecture of their tower and this makes them good a building guard towers. They have their own bit of land with good defences and maybe they lend aid in exchange for pay to merchants or other cities. This place is maybe run by a sorcerer-king? Or maybe not, maybe it's a "free city" run by a council of elders and executive power in the field devolves to whichever one of two kings has been given control of the troops there. For elevators, the city has a small cadre of preservers who specialize in levitation, or (because it's Dark Sun) a cadre of telekinetics.

    2. Diplomatic Immunity
    Some of the sorcerer-kings have made a pact with the cities of the Thri-Kreen. This means an exchange of merchants and ambassadors. So there are Kreen hive towers in several human cities, and some human high-rises in Thri-Kreen cities. They are all well-defended against attack or intrusion by the people of the city, and perhaps they are even built near the walls, so that in the event of a siege, their fellows outside the walls can get to them more easily. Or they can work together to break through the wall that lies between them. Obviously, none of the sorcerer-kings are too happy about these hive towers, but the wealth that comes from trade due to this alliance is seen as well worth it. You could even have a campaign where one city rises to dominance over the others because of this alliance with the Thri-Kreen, which leads to the other cities scrambling to make their own alliances and import their own hive towers. And then the twist happens when there is a full-blown dispute between one sorcerer-king and his hive tower, and the hive tower wins. Then the other sorcerer-kings are scrambling to get rid of their hive towers, and it's all a bit fubar.

    3. Money Talks
    One sorcerer-king wants to turn his city into an economic metropolis, so (instead of thri-kreen) he tries to attract the various merchant houses. Cheap rents in several centrally-located office towers (or expensive rents with generous subsidies). And the modernizing of the city follows soon after. If the merchants find it's a good deal and good for trade, they ignore the excesses committed by the sorcerer-king upon the peasants. If the sorcerer-king finds he gets enough taxes and prestige, not to mention tacit or explicit support from the mercantile community, it's all worth it.
  • Villages in Dark Sun
    So there’s one village where the dwarves are constantly building a bridge across the dust sea, but then giants wade in from the islands periodically and destroy it. I dunno, this sounds kind of dumb. Why can’t they just build the whole thing out of large pieces of stone? Why do they need stone pillars with wooden spans overtop of it? I like this idea better for the bridges built across the tops of deep ravines that is mentioned upthread. There are monsters and stuff in the ravines below, and when the people down there don’t hunt enough of them, they come up and destroy the bridges up top. Sometimes they even let monsters do this deliberately, if the upstairs people don’t pay them protection money, maybe. Or when they are at war over resources. The people up top are at an obvious advantage, because they can just dump horrible stuff down into the ravines, and they have more contact with outside cultures and their trade goods. They maintain a trade route after all.

    Salt View is a village comprised of ex-slaves and they also have really good theatre troupes. They probably sound like wusses to you but actros can be badass, too, sometimes. The ancient city of Teos once imported a troupe of Dionysian actors, instead of paying their debts (actors boost tourism). But then the actors staged a coup! Luckily for Teos, they were defeated and driven out. Unlucklily for Teos, these actors went to the nearby city of Myonnesos and joined forces with the pirates there. Myonnesos had been a colony of Teos that had become independent, and there was bad blood between them. The Myonnesians also had an alliance with the people of Korykos, on the other side of Teos—the Korykians would give the Myonnesians info about trading ships in exchange for a cut of the pirated goods. So they accepted the actors into their city, and then attacked the city of Teos, holding the majority of the citizens captive for 23 days until the remaining Teians raised the ransom money. After that event, building walls and learning archery became of paramount importance for the Teians, and even hundreds of years later the people of Teos were divided into social units based on the towers along the walls and which families were supposed to man which ones. So yeah. Actors and pirates, you can defeat them on their own sometimes, but together they are invincible!
  • Oasis is a band you shouldn’t listen to, says the narrator.
    Okay, he actually says don’t go to this oasis, or that one, or the other one. They are expensive, or poisonous, or guarded by invisible attack druids. Two of them have dungeons underneath, although one is made of boiling sulphurous water (this is not called an "oasis," Dark Sun writers!). And there’s a dungeon full of treasure underneath a fortress next to one oasis, instead of underneath the waters. Curiously, it belongs to the guy who only charges a copper piece for drinking water. They tribe that charges a silver piece are big spenders, apparently?

    There’s a mud flat island out in the dust sea full of monsters the likes of which no one has ever seen before that has a white tower with no doors or windows except some openings at the top out of which water comes. Why aren’t the dwarves constantly building a bridge over to this island?! Free water! Sounds like a great place for murderhobos to ply their trade.

    So the deal with islands is that only giants inhabit them because they are tall enough to walk through six feet of dust and not suffocate. I like H. J. Ford’s drawings of giants, they are pretty cool. But I also can’t help but think there should be various other monsters out on these islands? Giants are a wee bit on the boring side, you ask me.

    Also the siren’s song is pretty cliche. Are all these Odyssey references deliberate? There’s classical names and stuff going around, giants living on islands, plus sirens. Maybe think of something other than a beautiful woman singing a song that makes men kill themselves through their uncontrollable desires? I mean, I’m all for classical references, but I don’t think we need to import the misogyny of the ancient Greeks wholesale along with it. Like maybe:
    1. The illusion of water calls people towards a trap.
    2. Crazed, rhythmic music starts at the edge of hearing, gets louder, forces people to dance off into the unsafe desert (is it techno, or is it Phish?), and keeps people from sleeping through the night because it’s both loud and also makes people excited and anxious.
    3. Mind-reading mimics or ghosts disguise themselves as a person’s loved ones and call out to them, from places of danger.
    4. The air itself is hallucinogenic, and it’s like living on the Event Horizon. Whatever you do, don’t bring Sam Neill!
    5. Invisible creatures steal your valuables, and you can see them floating off, so you chase them, and that’s when bad things happen.
    6. There’s a constant sound a nails on a chalkboard, and that’s why travellers stuff wax in their ears.
    7. Some dude ringing a bell, maybe?

    On Volcano Island, you can breathe in the fumes of the active volcano and expand your mind, in order to improve your psionic powers (or just get high and expand you mind, not judging). I like that part, but where is the psychic junkie community? It’s phrased like some kind of half-assed adventure hook (like most of the stuff in this book) that the PCs might want to go look at because they have nothing left to live for except risking death on the off-chance of fabulous treasures. I guess they should go to Arkhold, the narrator says there's magic metal swords just lying around.

    Kalidnay is the ruined city with the ziggurat cracked like an egg that was mentioned upthread. Sucks to be the DM who took this particular seed and ran with it and then bought the later supplements about changing into dragons.

    Bodach is the ruined city that is full of undead zombies after dark. This sounds pretty dangerous on the face of it, but if you're playing the kind of AD&D 2nd edition that eventually morphed into the new school D&D where you get all your XP from killing monsters, that sounds like a goldmine!

    Meanwhile Giustenal has its own siren song, some psionic mind that calls out to the vulnerable. It would be a stronger hook without the crappy version preceding it.
  • Monsters
    Oh oh oh, the first entry is so exciting! Can you guess what it is? That's right: “Animals, Domestic!” One flightless bird, one giant insect, and two giant lizards. Not quite as good as the animals in Nausicaa, let's be honest. This game needs more beetles. Maybe also wetas, they are already super-large as far as insects go. Also grasshoppers and ohmu and things that make silk. Maybe these giant grubs that produce silk, and then when the adult form hatches from the chrysalis, people either breed it or eat it. Riding lizards around is pretty cool though. If I was writing fantasy novels I would be writing about lizard-riding French Foreign Legion dudes out in the desert fighting vampires. Or maybe they only fight vampires when they leave the desert.

    Evil psychic zombies that suck life out of the earth. No explanation is given for why they ring a bell before psychically attacking a person. Aside from them being Lawful Evil, anyway. It's basically another version of the siren song. This is the kind of thing that sounds like it would make a better individual villain than a whole race of monsters, but that's D&D for you, the DM just rolled 13 Type IV Bill Cosbies on the encounter table.

    This dude could be cursed maybe, and/or he has a sense of honour, so he's obliged to only attack people if they know he is there. And maybe he is cursed with invisibility if he doesn't announce himself or something. So people don't even know he's there unless he makes a show of himself. Probably he was cursed for being both vain and vengeful. He would ambush his foes and kill them, and then boast about it later. Somebody cursed him, and now he still ambushes people but he uses a bell to announce himself. If he can do it right, only one person notices him, and then he psychically dominates them and steals their youth so he can stay immortal. If everybody sees him, well, he's pretty easy to attack while he's standing there staring intently at one person. Of course, there's only one of him because he's an asshole and nobody wants to hang out with him. That's Belgoi. Or Belgos, I guess. Maybe Vilgos in modern Greek.
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