DARK SUN Gets Awesome-O-Fied

edited October 2006 in The Best of Story Games
OK, it's that time again. Just to recap, here's where it began.

To recap the Intention:

You all know what happened with Battlestar Galacrica. That corny period-piece got not only a facelift, but an entire re-imagination almost from scratch. Most of the character names were the same, and the Cylon Threat remained, but after that it was basically put through some really creative gymnastics, and what emerged was awesome, pure awesome. Well, much of that is the screenwriting and direction, but still, you get my point.

Here's an art project where someone Awesome-O-Fied HE-MAN (the anime/action figure line), and was such a jaw-dropper that it directly inspired this line of threads.

Anyway, I was thinking that maybe the same can be done to old D&D (or other) campaign worlds. Take the core ideas that are there, and shake them up. Reimagine them.

To recap the Rules:

If you're tangentially familiar with the setting, join in the brainstorm session.

Just throw out a few ideas (or one) per post. You don't have to write paragraphs, even a sentence or two is ok.

You do not have to build upon yourself (you could say "There are Elves, and they are badass!" and "There are NO Elves!" in the same post, just to throw out some ideas). You can build on your own ideas if you want.

You do not have to build upon the ideas of others; you are absolutely free to contradict or ignore them. You can build on others' ideas if you want.

It's not "group setting creation" so much as simply brainstorming.

Also, feel free to pull things out of Dark Sun that you liked and talk about them (and why you liked them), which can maybe set off some cool ideas.



  • I loved the idea of half-dwarves. Could they get the cylon treatment? Perhaps there are viable half-dwarves that can breed and secretly pass for "normal" amoung the populace in addition to even cooler CGI sterile Muls. Riffing on myself, I could see the half-dwarves staging a rebellion/war against their oppressors.

    Core to the setting is the destructive nature of magic. This worked for me, but I never 'groked' the mechanics. Is there a way/system to make the corrupting effect cooler and more explicit? Maybe throw in a corruption of the mage aspect as well - I get visions of grotesquely warped mages each different, perhaps one skeletal, another essentially a living hive of chaos insects - something feeling like a mix of Exalted, Ravenloft, and Thundarr the Barbarian.
  • Man, this is a tough one. Dark Sun was pretty awesome to start with. I guess you could run it with Iron Heroes; that's been something I've wanted to do since IH came out.

    Let's see, half-giants, obsessed dwarves, huge beefy half-dwarves, cannibal halflings, nomadic elves that everyone hates because they constantly lie, bards that use poison, elementalist clerics, renegade wizards, the Sea of Silt, dragon-kings so powerful they grant spells... I can't see anything really bad there. Perhaps if you had more dangerous magic, something that actually caused problems for you personally rather than just wrecking your surroundings?

    I'll keep thinking about it.
  • Heya,

    Dark Sun was one of my favorite DnD settings. I'm glad this was next on the Awesome list. It looks like you only want one idea per post, so I'll honor that here.

    First thing I'd do is get rid of all the lush and green areas that I felt ruined the game. The planet is a desert. Period. No valley paradise, no woods off in the corner of the map, it's a hot, dry, scorching desert. That is how the setting impacts play, and in the end it was my favorite part of the idea. To amplify that, I'd want some simple mechanics that deal with heat exhaustion, sunburn, and dehydration. I'd also like to have some nifty mystical mechanics revolving around mirages. Maybe they are portals to another place on the planet. But the main thing would be to emphasise the desert-ness of the planet and make the PCs content with that.


  • edited October 2006
    Blue/David, that's totally hot, on both ideas.

    First off, I forgot to preface my post above, but I'm totally taking Dark Sun from the Original boxed set; before the Novels, before the setting was Metaplot-ted and rebooted, and before it tanked into suckland. However, if suckland is the Dark Sun that you (the reader) loves, feel free to make the Suck into UnSuck!

    So, there's a bunch of City-States and each City-State represents a different culture. I'm thinking that instead there's just ONE Huge, Sprawling city-state that represents basically 5-7 fallen civilizations whose people bound together under one city to survive. That city is ruled by the typical mysterious Dark Sun tyrant oppressor. Everything past the city-state's holdings (farms) is total hostile batshit insane-ville.

    Continuing that theme, I'm thinking that there is one City-State, but it's extremely far away. Trade is rare. Rumors of what that other city-state is like abound. Every time a caravan comes in from that city-state the merchants are always totally different than the previous ones, so nothing consistent can be said about "all people from that city-state".
    Posted By: Troy_CostisickIt looks like you only want one idea per post, so I'll honor that here.
    Actually, more than one idea is fine. One idea, a bunch of ideas, conflicting ideas, it's all good. I guess what I meant was "post as little or as much as you want, and feel free to turn right around and Post More if you want".
  • Dark Sun: Manapunk

    Could you imagine an illusion spell so vast that everyone could see it world-wide? But only if they took this drug over here ... not only does it ameloriate the effects of the suns' heat, but it makes the world look like the lush paradise everyone wished it was. Who needs reality when they can live their day to day lives seeing what the master illusionists create for them to see ... Could you imagine the power that cadre of illusionists would have? And the people that want to eradicate them because their very acts of illusion are what're killing the planet in the first place?
  • Okay I love the idea of "One City-State" and a mysterious "Other City-State". I don't know what I like more - the idea of traders showing up from the other place - or the idea that "Your Dragon King" is waging war with "Their Dragon King" and that "volunteers" are periodically culled from the populace to go fight the war... Or Are They.

    Second, I think Dark Sun: Manapunk is hot. And explains to me why the species don't just adapt to the desert. Cause otherwise it seems like you wouldn't need survival rolls because 'people' just get used to the desert over the generations.

    Third, GIANTS. How did I forget about GIANTS. For me, if I were running Dark Sun: The Awesome (in d20) I would directly port Monte Cook's Giant Race/Class from Arcana Unearthed into the setting/system to replace the Half-Giants. I think the idea of Giants that grow during the game and that the advancement rules build that in is too cool for words.
  • I just realized that Dark Sun: Manapunk is actually Dark Sun: Matrix in disguise.
  • One of the things I thought was weak about Dark Sun was that everyone had a mutant power. (Excuse me: psionic power.) (I don't know why D&D needs so many magic systems, but that's another topic.)

    The rule for magic in Dark Sun should be: all magic comes from stealing the life-energy of something else. The Dragon King guys do it by siphoning the life from an entire city's worth of dudes, and spreading it around to their flunkies--who may end up being like vampires, sucking the blood from their king. And then there are freelancers--the defilers, who steal the energy from other stuff. And there are druids, who have figured out how to use magic in a helpful way.

    All of these guys--the Templars, the Druids, the Defilers--are essentially doing the same stuff, with the same kind of magic, but the means are totally different.
  • I have always imagined a post-Yellow Age Dark Sun, where water is still rare and costly, but it has become the province of the middle class rather than the magical aristocracy.

    In this new age of wealth and leisure, homespun wools and animal skins give way to silks and transparent gauzes, and the new weapons are dazzling jewel-colored ceramics.

    But something in the desert was making us mighty, making us vital. In this new age of comfort and ease, we are weak and sickly. Plagues sweep the world. Children are born sleeping and never wake up. What happened?

  • RE: James & Magic

    -I agree with you 100% bro. That's exactly how I'd like to see it.


  • cannibal halflings ... Everything past the city-state's holdings (farms) is total hostile batshit insane-ville ... 'people' just get used to the desert over the generations

    (Curse you Andy for starting me on this - not only is it eating my brain today, but now I want to run it)

    What if the cannibal halflings are just that because they are the hostile, insane people who didn't enter the City-States? They get smaller over the generations so they need less water, etc. And blood is a great alternative source of liquid, etc.

    Psionics. I had blocked those. This is me agreeing with James as well.
  • Yay, first post.

    I was a huuuuge dark sun fan as a kid and teenager, and I remember wanting to change a couple of things to the setting even then to make it full of more badassery. So, as I remember:

    When the sundering came, all of the peoples of the world were left with nothing. Magick robbed them of their lands, their food. Many women found their wombs unable to hold child. Milk curdled and seeds turned to dust. But there were people left behind. Many people, and those many people that wanted to fight and live found themselves and gathered together. They created a city-state, Tyr, and lived together, fighting against a dying world for life. It has been thirteen generations since the sundering of the lands.

    The old races are still there: Human, Dwarf, Elf, Halfling, Thri-kreen. The common tongue that has developed over the years is a polyglot of all of their languages. Indeed, there are very few culutural boundaries left between the races.

    All of the races, excluding the Thri-kreen, can have children together, that's why their called races and not species. Most of those children are born dead, sadly. Some rare few do live on, sickly and twisted. All of these half-breeds are called Mul, from the dwarven tongue meaning "bent". Oddly, the dwarves seem to be the most capable of interbreeding, their children coming out strong, hardy and healthy. It is rare for Mul to make children, but it has been known to happen on occasion. The less said of these, the better.

    No gods. No clerics empowerd by gods. There are many different strange faiths on this world, but none grant mystical powers. There is no proof of any god existing. You are all alone.

    Magic users could syphon life energy from anything that was alive. Plants, sure, and animals too. But they could also take from their own bodies, or the worst amongst them would steal lifeforce from other people. The energy could in no way be stored. It was through the syphoning and weaving of this energy that magick was created.

    One gigantic city-state. Huge, sprawling, monstrous. It's impossible for many people to live in the far-off desert for very long, so the city-state, let's just use Tyr 'cause it's a cool name, must be gigantic. It houses most of what is left of humanity. There are plots of land inside of it that have, over a couple of generations, been nursed back enough that they can hold resilient crops like wheat. Legionnaires guard this land constantly and any caught stealing from it are seen as the worst of criminals, akin to rapists and murderers. The city is a loud, bustling, vibrant place, full of weird music and alien art and architecture from the many different cultures that were forced to live together when the magic burned up the fertility of the planet.

    Why go outside of the walls of Tyr? Because there are fortunes to made on the rare bits of gold that can be found there. There are the remnants of the old civilization to be found. There are creatures that threaten the borders of Tyr, horrible monsters that attack the farmlands and water supplies. Because there are still small outposts of people out there that need supplies and may be rich in rare supplies of their own. Because of those rare people that come to Tyr selling mysterious objects and claiming to come from another city-state well south of Tyr. Because, in your heart you know there is more.

    Just like in Rome, Gladiators are celebrities. It is foolish to waste expensive slaves on death in the arenas, so many Gladiators are free men searching out fame and fortune. Indeed, most Gladiators do not kill in the arenas, though they may beat and break their opponents quite readily.

    Lose the psychic powers. It dilutes the power of magick.

    More about class culture. Show more of what it's like to live as a slave, a freeman, a merchant, artisan, etc. Rather than having the rich, the slaves and a vast and muddy middle, discuss more of what is in that cream in the center of the oreo.

    I like what Blue said about the halflings. Keep that shit around.

    That's all that I've got for now. Off to work.

  • Heya,

    Speaking of Psionics, I'd want to toss that out completely. Here's why: The main metaphysical source of power should come from Magic. The process of using up life to exert force is an issue the PCs should have to deal with- one way or the other. Psionics bypasses that issue way too neatly for my tatste.


  • I have my awesome-o-fied Dark Sun; it's called Dictionary of Mu.

    Not trying to be flip, but really, hot damn, that's where it's at.
  • Speaking of Psionics, I'd want to toss that out completely. Here's why: The main metaphysical source of power should come from Magic. The process of using up life to exert force is an issue the PCs should have to deal with- one way or the other. Psionics bypasses that issue way too neatly for my tatste.

    I know zilch about Dark Sun, or any of the other settings everyone's awesome-o-fied (which is why I haven't participated,) but: couldn't you keep psionics by saying it's magic that uses up your own life? Which would keep it sufficiently rare: people would prefer to use up someone else's life, instead of their own, so they would turn towards the traditional magical arts.

  • I want that environmental message, where the more powerful form of magic destroys the world, bit by bit.

    I want that harried resistance, that underground trying to be an insurgent force against the various sorcerer-kings and queens.

    I want that hint of a hint of a hint that once this was a normal, vanilla fantasy world that has gone horribly wrong. Hence the traditional D&D trappings twisted up for our pleasure.

    (thanks, Fred)

    (Wow, Andy, that He-man thread is fantastic!)
  • Heya,

    Judd, you and I want the same thing. To that end, someplace not too far from the gigantic City-State I'd love a huge ruins. Say, it's archetecture is similar to the big city but on a much much grander scale. Dust filled wells, abandoned arenas, wizard towers, the whole bit. Now it would be haunted by spectres and infested with hungry halflings (insert Blue's idea about Halflings being the decendants of human otcasts). That would be a fun place to explore, IMHO.


  • Posted By: Judd
    I want that hint of a hint of a hint that once this was a normal, vanilla fantasy world that has gone horribly wrong. Hence the traditional D&D trappings twisted up for our pleasure.
    Oh, totally. That's why the original Dark Sun was awesome (there was always that hint that it was, like, the Forgotten Realms 10,000 years in the future or something; a vanilla fantasy world that got nuked cause too few wanted too much). And incidentally, it's why I hated the Revised/Second Dark Sun set ("Oh, forgot to mention; This planet has its own history, was never a vanilla fantasy world, and only has about 3,000 years of history; Also, all that environmental crap doesn't really mean anything anymore either").
  • You discover that the dust and sand of the desert is half populated by crumbling cities that once covered the entire planet. It's now in at least its second age without any viable wilderness.
  • You know, the thing with "only one city state, and maybe another wayyyy far away"--all that takes, is to take the scale of the setting seriously. Back in ancient times, trekking across a desert was a serious undertaking that took weeks if not months. Even into the Middle Ages, most peasants didn't know what was a day or two's travel beyond their village.

    Here's something that was already awesome in Dark Sun: the Dragon was one of the kings, until he siphoned off all the life force of his city and became Godzilla. There's your ruin.
  • Sounds like the Myth Drannor of Dark Sun, Troy. Rock.

  • Imagine if the spells of the Dragon Kings that were leeching the life of the planet were only a drop in the bucket to still active, abandoned and lost artifacts buried in ancient cities and you had to destroy them (if you can find a way there and a way to do it) to save the planet.
  • Half-Giants

    I could never buy the "They change alignment daily" thing, because it was so clothed in the terms of that inadequate personality mechanic from AD&D. But I'm at a loss as to what to use to replace it. I know I DID have this awesome idea a few months ago about how to reinvent/interpret this, but I didn't write it down so it's totally lost now.

    Modular personalities? Half-giants have very little sense of individuality on their own. They tend to always be a mirror of what's going on in the people around them: Gladiator HGs are as brutal and boastful as the people around them; just as HG scholars are as calm and perceptive.

    Bipolar? The phases of the moon dictate their behavior in this complex, but chartable, flow?



    The most ambitious, self-serving folks become templars. They usually come from the families of the wealthy or priveleged. Very rarely does a well-meaning person strive to be a templar because they see the order as a source of stability and justice (it'slike wanting to join the Empire as an officer so that you can change it from the inside-out). Little do they know that those who "graduate" get to attend a secret audience with the Sorcerer King... who promptly sucks out their sould and turns their bodies into living containers of his own power. The templars literally are the sorcerer's Eyes and Ears.
  • Posted By: Mark CauseyYou discover that the dust and sand of the desert is half populated by crumbling cities that once covered the entire planet. It's now in at least its second age without any viable wilderness.
    I misread this quote as the sand and dust actually being the crumbled ruins of ancient cities. All the vast world-spanning metropoli have been completely pulverized.

    So anyhoo... what's the verb of Dark Sun?
  • Daniel: That's what I meant.
  • The first thing that struck me when I cracked open the boxed set was the Brom art with all the weird materials. No metal weapons, it's ceramic or bone. Wood and metals are stupid-rare! I'm still a big fan of the whole "no metals or wood, your weapons are crazy weird bone spurs. And if you do find a metal weapon, treat it like it's enchanted".

    That and big undead bugs. I'd increase the bug stuff a ton so you can have carapace stuff all over. Rapiers made from sharp antennae or scything bug legs.

    The one thing I remember liking from the books (other than gigantic undead bugs) was when the main character gets a magic item embedded into his flesh. It festers and gets all gross. That's the kind of sacrifice you make when you use magic.
  • Yes! The "no wood, no metal" was tres cool. Keep that!
  • Posted By: Mark CauseyDaniel: That's what I meant.
    Cool. 'Cause that's friggin' awesome. I want a bottle of city-dust.
  • Zak, rock on with your undead bugs and funky-ass weapons.
  • Posted By: DanielSolisSo anyhoo... what's theverbof Dark Sun?

    Everything about the setting tried to be deadly. The social and physical environments were harsh. There was even a suggest that player make a bunch of characters since it was very likely that they would die.
  • Heya,

    Ditto nice, Zak, on how you use Magic Items in the setting. That rawks!


  • I recall a game design seminar where John Wick and Jared Sorensen said that "survival" was one of the most common and least effective premises for a game. :P

    I don't know anything about Dark Sun, but from what everyone here has been describing, the big hook seems to be the cost of survival. Like, magic has a cost paid by the environment, right? So why the heck would anyone use magic? What can magic get you that nothing else can? Do you need magic to survive?
  • Survival is huge theme in Dark Sun, but yeah it is totally implemented weak:

    "Fight killer Monsters! Constantly! In the desert! Ohh, here come more!"

    That, and some dehydration checks. I guess you could implement some Wilderness Survival Guide nuttiness in there and make all sorts of survival and water finding checks... but for what? Most checks won't really result in "If you fail, you DIE" results anyway.

    So what DS also needs is some kind of new subsystem for really portraying that gritty "survive outside the city" environment. I'm thinking some weird kind of Czege-style thing with colorful polyhedrals that each mean something, and use a fotrune-in-the-middle style method of rolling the dice then describing the harsh conditions that happen as one tries to trek from Here to There.

  • So we're assuming there is an impetus that makes characters leave the safety of this big giant city? Is this a setting-wide motivation or is it something decided on character creation on an individual basis?
  • Isn't it more about change the world for the better, rather than survive in this world that the Sorcerer Kings and Queens have fuct?
  • The original setting was Survive / Smack Down A Sorcerer King.

    As we've been brainstorming today, I find myself much more intrigued by the potential for politics and intrigue in the setting. Half-Dwarves planning rebellion. Who and where is the Other City-State and why does our Sorcerer King keep it a secret? Templars who wanted to change things from within and who now may or may not be the soul puppets of the Sorcerer King and/or their struggle to literally maintain thier soul.
  • Heya,

    How about Restoration as a theme? Not the whole world, but enough to create a small paradise for yourself and closest friends/family.


  • Restore is a cool verb because you immediately get two camps: People who do the restoring and people who want to steal fruits of the restorers' labors.
  • edited October 2006
    Posted By: DanielSolisRestoreis a cool verb because you immediately get two camps: People who do the restoring and people who want to steal fruits of the restorers' labors.
    And those that want to thwart Restoration.
  • So: in the 3e Fiend Folio, there is an awesome monster that is pure Dark Sun. It's called an Ulstalaggator (or something.) It's a colossal undead worm, with genius-level intelligence, with whip-like hairs that rip anything that comes near to shreds. And it vomits up armies of skeletons.

    I also like the idea of the Garthim from "Dark Crystal"--but as suits of armor, worn by the most bad-ass warriors.
  • Water should have a narrative cost. Rather than "do I make my dehydration check? what about my forage?" it should be a choice: take a point of Con damage from thirst, or drink the blood of the raider you killed. Or beat the horses to get you to the outpost on time. Or trade your mother's ring for a canteen. Or steal one from your lover. Or cast a spell, and let the world pay the cost.
  • About restore: If you can only restore a small area, who do you let in? Who deserves it? As a mid- to high-level PC (in D&D terms), you probably have enough companions/retinue to outsize a small oasis.
  • Whoa. That is perfect.
  • A twisted and bored part of my brain has begun outlining Burning Wheel lifepaths.
  • I must refer you to this RPG.net review, translated from the original Spanish:


    If this doesn't get you psyched about Dark Sun, nothing will. As one of the commentors says, "This is awesome. I want to play a Mul Gladiator that wears a sequined mask and calls himself El Destructore."

    (That He-Man thing was wicked awesome.)
  • Little things:

    Kalak the Sorcerer-King (who dies in the first metaplot adventure).

    The leader of Tyr is Prince Ahmad Ibn Kalak al-Tyr. He is seen as beautiful, generous, trustworthy, cruel but fair, often compassionate, and also secretive and mysterious. He is recognized as a celebrity ("Did you see him? Who was that lovely woman on his arm? Did you see what meal he ate? The restaurant he ate at will certainly become popular now!" etc), and in fact has lived for several hundreds of years, forever young, and often goes among the people (to meet them, to go out to eat, to rest in various parts of the city, etc). His father Kalak is the True King of Tyr, but rarely emerges from his palace and is even more shrouded in mystery.

    Of course, this is all an elaborate ruse. How deep it goes, at what lengths Ahmad goes to retain the peoples' loyalty, and what dark, so utterly dark arts he engages in back at the palace... The Prince's True Form... that may all come out one day.


    There is only one dragon, and it inhabits a spectral dreamtime-plane that intersects with the material plane. People can only ever encounter the Dragon in Dreams, while Unconscious, or more often when under a heavy Soma-trance or in an elaborate Dream-Ritual. The dragon is a cruel being, but also wise. It teaches those it finds worthy. Every once in a long time it makes its presence felt in the world, and that's usually when horrible disasters (natural and unnatural) occur.
  • Heya,

    Anyone want to tackle Thri-kreen? Personally, I never cared for them but I know they are quite iconic to Dark Sun. Any ideas of the insect people of the desert planet?


  • So... what if magic isn't tied to some ephemeral mystical life energy? Maybe I'm just jaded when it comes to fantasy magic, but it always seemed very invisible and new agey. That doesn't seem to fit this world at all, so what if it's tied to that which is most obviously lacking in a desert? What if magic is literally water? When you absorb magical power from a living thing, it comes out in a cloud of mist. You need a little bit of water just to survive, because water is literally life, but if you have some extra water, that grants magic and the ability to restore.
  • Cloud of mist, Daniel? Dude, cloud of blood.

    As for the Thri-kreen, you could always make them the ones in charge. You can keep the dragon kings, their templars, etc., and just make them all into Thri-kreen. They're the Old Race, the ones who discovered magic and psionic power. They're the people who grew all those other giant beetles and thick-carapaced insectoid monsters that Dark Sun loves. When things started turning bad, they rounded up their food source and trapped them in the cities.

    I think that running Dark Sun in D&D 3.5 would require removing all the heavy-damage psionic powers. These days psionics and magic are nigh unto identical in terms of what they can do, but back in AD&D psionics had a very different feel, with only 2-3 damaging powers in the whole book. (Admittedly, in 2nd ed. you could get Disintegrate as a 3rd level character, but let's fix that one up, shall we?) Keep the 3.5 psi rules, scrap all the damaging powers, reinstitute the psi/magic difference, and give everyone a free level of Psion, Psychic Warrior, or Wilder, that's what I say.
  • I think (unsurprisingly, this is always my answer to these threads), that Judd has it right in that all DS needs is to be played with a better system. I would, of course, use Hero Quest, but that's just me. The point is that DS is already awesome, it's just defined with a system that doesn't evoke it's awesomeness well.

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