|“||I know that this was once a green world, a world of seas and forests. I know that this cruel and tormented world in which we live was shaped by our own hands. Sorcery, dark and evil, made Athas what it is today.||”|
|— Garek Sandstrider, extracted of Garek's Journal|
Athas is a post-apocalyptic desert world. One need only see the ruins of the ancients that litter its shores to realize that Athas was not always the arid waste it is today. Athas is a world without seasons.
To venture over the sands of Athas is to enter a world of savagery and splendor that draws on different traditions of fantasy and storytelling. Simple survival beneath the deep red sun is often its own adventure.
It is a world where magic drains the very essence of life. Ancient wars have left vast swaths of the planet sterile; even now, Druids fight a losing battle to preserve the environment. To practice magic is to tempt death at the hands of the mob, yet the cities themselves are ruled by the most powerful of defilers.
An old say tells: Nothing changed in Athas: What was would always be. The will of man or woman could leave no lasting mark upon the world. These were the laws seared into the understanding of each child born beneath the blood-red sun.
Really, Athas, like all the worlds of the multiverse, changes with the passage of time. And, like all worlds inhabited by Humans, time is marked by the occurrence of great events.
The Physical World
Once a blue planet teeming with life, Athas has since been stripped of its fertility by the use of corrupting magic known as Defiling Magic, and the decay of its sun. It is a sun-burnt land forsaken by the gods, water, and hope. The natural resources have been depleted and a lack of metal has resulted in the use of wood, obsidian and bone for weapons, tools and common equipment. In such a harsh and unforgiving land, even the most mundane of creatures have developed psionic abilities in the constant struggle of survival of the fittest.
In such a world as Athas, a death by natural aging is considered to be a great achievement and an event worthy of celebrations.
The World 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 100ºF degrees (38ºC) by midmorning and can reach 130ºF degrees (55ºC) 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 for a few weeks each year before giving way to long months of heat and drought. The world beyond these islands of civilization is a barren 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.
The sun of Athas is not the bright yellow ball most are used to, but a large dull orange one that puts out intense heat.
The land itself is arid, with patches of fertile land rare and water sources hard to come upon. The rest of the land is comprised of deserts, silt bowls, salt flats, rocky badlands, stony wastes and scrublands of dry grass and hardy bushes. Dotting it all are the ruins of previous ages, and it is populate by fearsome monsters, raiders and savage tribes.
Many familiar animals – such as horses, cattle, sheep, dogs, cats, camels and elephants – have died out. Some, such as spiders, snakes, lizards, insects, small rodents, hyenas and lions have survived. In place of traditional beasts of burden are a number of insect and lizard species.
The World is savage
The world of Athas is brutal and unforgiving. It is a savage world with frightful challenges beyond every dune. Athas is not a world for the weak or the simple-minded —those who cannot adapt, who cannot meet every challenge with confidence in their skills and abilities simply won't survive. The world of Athas has produced races of beings that are generally superior —of greater strength and endurance, capable of greater intellect and vision— to those who inhabit other campaign worlds.
Life on Athas is brutal and short. Bloodthirsty raiders, greedy slavers, and hordes of inhuman savages overrun the deserts and wastelands. The cities are little better; each chokes in the grip of an immortal tyrant. The vile 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 blooms. Only a fool hopes for such riches.
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.
Arcane Magic Defiles the World
Athas is a world where the essential, fundamental nature of things has been twisted through years of unchecked, environmentally-abusive magic.
On Athas, magic and the ecosystem are irrevocably bound —no one, not even a wizard, can affect one without affecting the other.
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, avoiding any more damage to the world, but Defiling Magic is more potent than Preserving Magic. As a result, sorcerers, Wizards, and other wielders of arcane magic are generally reviled and persecuted across Athas regardless of whether they Preserve or Defile. Only the most powerful spellcasters can wield arcane might without fear of reprisals.
Sorcerer-Kings Rule the City-States
Terrible Defilers of immense 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.
The Gods are Silent
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.
Fierce Monsters Roam the World
The desert planet has its own deadly ecology. Many creatures that are familiar sights on milder worlds have long since died out or never existed at all. 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 almost 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.
Familiar Races Aren't What You Expect
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 that serve as elite guards and enforcers for the Sorcerer-Kings and their Templars in many city-states.
- The Brazen Gambit. Dark Sun: Chronicles of Athas #1, by Lynn Abbey.
- DnD Wiki. Canon: Dark Sun.
- DSR4. Valley of Dust and Fire. Dark Sun Accessory. TSR Inc, by L. Richard Baker III (1992). ISBN 1-56076-316-7.
- Beyond the Prism Pentad, by Bill Slavicsek. (1995). TSR Inc. ISBN 0-7869-0308-2.
- Roll 4d6 webpage. A view of Dark Sun.
- Fury of the Wastewalker. Adventure. Wizards of the Coast, by Nicholas K. Tulach.