D&D4E, Dark Sun

DS4e – Hitting the Reset Button

One of the more interesting things about the new, 4th Edition take on Dark Sun is that they’re doing something I normally abhor – but in this case am actually right on board with. Am I making an exception for Dark Sun just because it’s Dark Sun, thus proving my pathetic fanboyish-ness? Probably – but I run a blog about Dungeons & Dragons. So I’m not exactly “Mr. Cool” to begin with.

The Prism Pentad series really gave Dark Sun most of its details and iconic characters. Rikus and Neeva, Agis of Asticles, Rajaat War-Bringer, Borys of Ebe, Tithian the Turd (though he may not have gotten that nickname until the Chronicles of Athas books) were all introduced by the Pentad. Well, to be fair Borys already existed, but just as “The Dragon.” It made the sorcerer-kings truly cool by revealing who they were and how they had come to power – then proceeded to take these amazing, awesome characters of near infinite power and kill most of them.

Similarly to what Hayden Christensen did to Darth Vader, the Prism Pentad series did to the sorcerer-kings – took something you used to think was cool, then ruined them. The sorcerer-kings didn’t become lame like Vader did, but it’s a moot point because the majority of them died, which meant – if you ran an “official” Dark Sun campaign – they weren’t of much use to your game anyways.

My favorite sorcerer-king was always Hammanu, who happened to survive the Pentad series, only to get bumped off in Rise and Fall of a Dragon King. Spoiler Alert. Don’t worry, the entire Chronicles of Athas series has been retconned as being non-canonical anyways – Lynn Abbey (and possibly the other contributing authors, I’m not sure) were pretty well known to have taken some “liberties” with the established material. Besides, there’s a statute of limitations on spoilers for novels published 14 years ago.

Anyways, the point I’m getting at – in my patented rambling fashion – is that the progression of the Dark Sun timeline was a mixed bag. The original Dark Sun was very mysterious, with little of the history of the world known or understood. The Pentad revealed most of that history – and, to give Denning his due, it was brilliant – but at the same time, some of the mystery and confusion was lost. And there is a very vocal contingent on any Dark Sun-themed board or community that wishes the “revised” Dark Sun campaign setting (the one that incorporates the Pentad) had never happened.

So it’s not that surprising that DS4e will be winding the clock backwards. Apparently the wayback machine will be transporting Sherman and Mr. Peabody to the time immediately following The Verdant Passage – i.e. directly following the death of Kalak, and prior to the war between Tyr and Urik. It’s weird, because retcons typically piss me off, but I’m cool with this. In fact, in my own eventual Dark Sun campaign I intend to wind the clock back even further, to the time when sorcerer-kings were seen as undying gods-made-flesh. The minute one of them bites it, the entire society and culture of the entire Tablelands is almost certainly going to begin to shift and change.

My attitude toward the Pentad, when I run the game, is that it’s a great novel series and an excellent go-to guide for Athas’ history – and that’s it. I guarantee, that even if I do start bumping off sorcerer-kings, the progression will be a very different thing than what’s detailed in the Pentad.

If nothing else, most of my friends are very literate. I don’t dare follow a roadmap that exists anywhere but inside my head if I want to keep them on their toes.

I’m excited to say that, my last Shameless finally garnered some commentary from people I’ve never met before – at long last, a chiming of thought and opinion from someone I didn’t date or go to school with. This is a trend I want to continue, so I’m going to start ending some of these posts with a call for commentary. How do you let novels and other sources of “official” canon affect the plotlines of your games? And, as a follow-up, when basing your campaign on a novel or movie, what do you do when you later find out one (or more) or your players has read it or seen it?

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2 thoughts on “DS4e – Hitting the Reset Button

  1. I completely agree with your take on the Prism Pentad, and judging from the posters at Athas.org I think like 95% of Dark Sun players & DMs do. It gave the campaign world some great detail that most of us plan on keeping, but it changed the campaign world too much & took away some great advesaries & potential adventure options.

    “How do you let novels and other sources of “official” canon affect the plotlines of your games?”
    I pick & choose what I want to keep, and let the canon’s official plot be only one possible way things can turn out. In general, I’d like my PCs to have a direct role in any major changes in the campaign world, not merely sit there as bystanders or lackeys of the NPC heroes in the novels.

    “And, as a follow-up, when basing your campaign on a novel or movie, what do you do when you later find out one (or more) or your players has read it or seen it?”
    If I see a movie or read a novel & want to base an adventure off of it, I’d ask my players right away if they’ve seen/read it & if not I’ll ask them not to for the time being so they don’t spoil the surprise. If they already did see/read it or plan to anyways, I’ve gotta significantly alter the plotline to keep it fresh. It’s easier to transport characters from a movie or book to Athas, since even if they’re recognized by the players it doesn’t usually spoil anything. Often, it’s kinda fun to have Dark Sun characters get hired to chase down Riddick, team up with Logan (a.k.a. Wolverine), or fight a half-giant/dwarf gladiator pair that reminds them of Master Blaster from Mad Max.

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