Beneath a crimson sun lie wastelands of majestic desolation and cities of cruel splendor, where sandal clad heroes battle ancient sorcery and terrible monsters. This is Athas, the world of the DARKSUN campaign setting, a dying planet of savagery and desolation. Life hangs by a thread in this barren land, and now it is up to you to write your own story in blood and glory.
EIGHTCHARACTERISTICS OF ATHAS
1. THEWORLD IS A DESERT
Athas is a hot, arid planet covered with endless seas of dunes, lifeless Salt Flats, Stony Wastes, Rocky Badlands, Thorny Scrublands, and worse. From the first moments of dawn, the crimson sun beats down from an olive tinged sky. Temperatures routinely exceed 100 degrees F. by midmorning and can reach 130 degrees or more by late afternoon. The wind is like the blast of a furnace, offering no relief from the oppressive heat. Dust and sand borne on the breeze coat everything with yellow-orange silt.
In this forbidding world, cities and Villages exist only in a few Oases or Verdant Plains. Some places don’t see rain for years at a time, and even in fertile regions, rain is little more than a humid mist that falls during a few weeks each year before giving way to long months of heat and drought. The world beyond these islands of civilization is a wasteland roamed by Nomads, Raiders, and hungry Monsters.
Athas was not always a desert, and the parched landscape is dotted with the crumbling Ruins of a planet that once was rich with rivers and seas. Ancient bridges over dry watercourses and empty stone quays that face seas of sand tell the tale of a world that is no more.
2. THEWORLD IS SAVAGE
Life on Athas is brutal and short. Bloodthirsty Raiders, greedy Slavers, and hordes of inhuman savages over run the deserts and wastelands. The cities are little better; each chokes in the grip of an Sorcerer-Kings|ageless tyrant. The institution of slavery is widespread on Athas, and many unfortunates spend their lives in chains, toiling for brutal taskmasters. Every year hundreds of Slaves, perhaps thousands, are sent to their deaths in bloody arena spectacles. Charity, compassion, kindness— these qualities exist, but they are rare and precious. Only a fool hopes for such riches.
3. METAL IS SCARCE
Most Arms and Armor are made of bone, stone, wood, and other such materials. Mail or plate armor exists only in the treasuries of the Sorcerer-Kings. Steel blades are almost priceless, weapons that many heroes never see during their lifetimes.
The reckless use of Arcane Magic during ancient wars reduced Athas to a wasteland. To cast an arcane spell, one must gather power from the living world nearby. Plants wither to black ash, crippling pain wracks animals and people, and the soil is sterilized; nothing can grow in that spot again. It is possible to cast spells with care, preserving the world and avoiding any more damage to it, but defiling offers more power than preserving. As a result, sorcerers, wizards, and other wielders of arcane magic are reviled and persecuted across Athas regardless of whether they preserve or defile. Only the most powerful spellcasters can wield arcane might without fear of reprisal.
Terrible defilers ofimmense power rule all but one of the city-states. These mighty spellcasters have held their thrones for centuries; no one alive remembers a time before the Sorcerer-Kings. Some claim to be Gods, and some claim to serve Gods. Some are brutal oppressors, where others are more subtle in their tyranny. The Sorcerer-Kings govern through priesthoods or bureaucracies of greedy, ambitious Templars, lesser defilers who can call upon the kings’ powers. Only in the city-state of Tyr does a glimmer of freedom beckon, and powerful forces already conspire to extinguish it.
Long ago, when the planet was green, the brutal might of the primordials overcame the gods. Today, Athas is a world without deities. There are no clerics, no paladins, and no prophets or religious orders. Old shrines and crumbling temples lie amid the ancient ruins, testimony to a time when the gods spoke to the people of Athas. Nothing is heard now but the sighing of the desert wind. In the absence of divine influence, other powers have come to prominence in the world. Psionic power is well known and widely practiced on Athas; even unintelligent desert Monsters can have deadly psionic abilities. Shamans and Druids call upon the primal powers of the world, which are often sculpted by the influence of elemental power.
The desert planet has its own deadly ecology. Athas has no cattle, swine, or horses; instead, people tend flocks of erdlus, ride on kanks or crodlus, and draw wagons with inixes and mekillots. Wild creatures such as lions, bears, and wolves are nonexistent. In their place are terrors such as the id fiend, the baazrag, and the tembo. Perhaps the harsh environment of Athas breeds creatures tough and vicious enough to survive it, or maybe the touch of ancient sorcery poisoned the wellsprings of life and inflicted monster after monster on the dying world. Either way, the deserts are perilous, and only a fool or a lunatic travels them alone. =:
8. FAMILiAR RACES AREN’T WHATYOUEXPECT
Typical fantasy stereotypes don’t apply to Athasian heroes. In many DUNGEONS & DRAGONS settings, elves are wise, benevolent forest dwellers who guard
their homelands from intrusions of evil. On Athas, Elves are a nomadic race of herders, raiders, peddlers, and thieves. Halflings aren’t amiable riverfolk; they’re xenophobic headhunters and cannibals who hunt and kill trespassers in their mountain forests. Goliaths or Half-Giants, as they are commonly known are brutal mercenaries who serve as elite guards and enforcers for the Sorcerer-Kings and their Templars in many city-states. =:
Almost all of Athas is a desert wasteland, but that does not mean that the landscape is monotonous. Far from it; over each hill, behind each dune, the terrain is more awesome, more spectacular, more beautiful than what you have already seen. In my travels, I have been overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of this land, cowed by its indifferent brutality, even overpowered by the unrestrained might of its elements, but never have I been bored.
It is beyond my modest capabilities as a geographer to impart all the grandeur and majesty of Athas. I can write of storms blowing in from the Sea of Silt, of watching a wall of pearly dust billow ten thousand feet into the air, then come roiling ashore like a mountain range crashing down about upon you. I can say that to breathe the steam of the Yellow Caves is to lose your wits in a cloud of euphoria, or describe the queasy feeling of sliding down the black, glassy slopes of the Smoking Crown. I can terrify you with stories of being stalked through the forest by hungry halflings, and perhaps I can even make your eyes sting by describing what its like to cross a salt flat on a windy day. But all you will know is what I say of it, and my words could never do justice to this magnificent land.
There are hundreds of different kinds of terrain on Athas, from wind-scoured pebble flats to twisted badlands canyons to gleaming sands to jumbled boulder fields. Unfortunately, it is impossible to relate in detail the geography of all these places, at least in the number of days remaining to my life. Instead, I will describe what Ive learned of the four general terrains of Athas: the Sea of Silt, the Tablelands, the Ringing Mountains, and the Hinterlands. Armed with this information, you must see Athas for yourself. Perhaps that is as it should be; each person must find his own way through the splendorous deserts of our world.
The rains of Athas are as harsh as the sun, torrential downpours that can flash down the gulches and aroyos of Athas battering and drowning anything in their path, and vanish just as fast leaving no trace of the life giving water that gave birth to them.