Explore a savage, wondrous world.
Aimed at players and Dungeon Masters, this game supplement explores the heroes and wonders of Athas—a savage desert world abandoned by the gods and ruled by terrible sorcerer-kings. Use it to build Dark Sun heroes and thrilling D&D adventures set in the Seven Cities of the Tyr Region, the Ivory Triangle, the Sea of Silt, and monster-infested wastelands—or plunder it for your own D&D campaign!
The Dark Sun Campaign Setting provides exciting character options for D&D players, including new races, new character themes and class builds, new paragon paths and epic destinies, and new equipment. It also provides everything Dungeon Masters need to run 4th Edition Dark Sun campaigns or include Dark Sun elements in their homebrew campaigns. It has rules and advice for handling survival challenges, arena encounters, desert terrain, and adventure creation. It also presents a short, ready-to-play introductory adventure.
The Dark Sun Campaign Setting (2010), by Richard Baker, Robert J. Schwalb, and Rodney Thompson, was the core book for the Dark Sun setting in D&D 4e.
Continuing the Campaign Settings. When Wizards of the Coast began work on 4e (2008-2012), their plan was to release one campaign world a year, with each world being supported with a "Campaign Guide", a "Player's Guide", and a standalone adventure. They maintained this plan through the 2008 release of the Forgotten Realms and the 2009 release of Eberron, but by 2010, times were a'changing. That year their third 4e campaign world, Dark Sun, was instead supported with a Campaign Setting (2010), a Creature Catalog (2010), and the adventure, Marauders of the Dune Sea (2010) … as well as numerous freebie releases that we'll return to.
It would be the last year that 4e's campaign setting of the year received three books of support.
Returning to 2e. During the AD&D 2e era (1989-2000), TSR released an impressive array of new and innovative campaign settings, including Spelljammer (1989), Ravenloft: Realm of Terror (1990), Dark Sun (1991), Al Qadim (1992), Planescape (1994), Mystara (1994), and Birthright (1995).
However, during the 3e era (2000-2008), Wizards of the Coast turned away from these 2e worlds to instead focus on the more traditional campaign worlds of the Forgotten Realms and (to a lesser extent) Greyhawk — as well as their new campaign world of Eberron (2004). Control over the 2e settings was largely handed off to official fan web sites, such as Dark Sun's athas.org.
The announcement of the Dark Sun Campaign Setting was thus a big deal for 2e fans, as it marked the first sighting of an AD&D 2e campaign world at Wizards of the Coast in a decade.
Marketing Dark Sun. In order to sell this bold return, Wizards of the Coast kicked off one of their most coherent and extensive marketing programs during the entire 4e era. They previewed Dark Sun with adventures at Winter Fantasy 34 (2010) and Pax East (2010), then produced another Dark Sun adventure for Free RPG Day 2010, "Bloodsand Arena" (2010). At the same time, they made Dark Sun the focus of their second season of Encounters, resulting in the long-running "Dark Sun: Fury of the Wastewalker" (2010) adventure.
As a result, there were actually a total of five books available for Dark Sun, not the three campaign books of 2008 and 2009. In addition, players had been teased all year by the time the Dark Sun Campaign Setting release in August at Gen Con Indy 2010.
Expanding D&D 4e. The original Dark Sun box was one of the most innovative settings released for AD&D 2e, in part because it dramatically revamped the AD&D rules, changing everything from how experience was gained to what the standard classes did.
This sort of revamp was much easier in D&D 4e because of the design of its powers, which could easily introduce colorful special abilities. As a result, the Dark Sun Campaign Setting isn't nearly as different from the core rule set as the original Dark Sun box was; even the sorcerous art of defiling has become what's essentially a tactical power.
However, Dark Sun Campaign Setting did expand the 4e rules in one notable way: it introduced "themes", a third way to define characters, alongside class and race. These themes provided colorful backgrounds for characters … and new powers, of course. Some of them, such as "elemental priest", "gladiator", and "templar", also replaced some of the variant classes found in the original Dark Sun game.
In the final years of 4e, themes proved very popular and were widely used in other settings.
Expanding Athas. The new 4e version of Dark Sun wasn't quite a reboot, but it did rewind the clock of Dark Sun's metaplot. Tyr has become a free city, which means that it's set after the original Dark Sun's first adventure, DS1: "Freedom" (1991), but other than that the future of Athas is a clean slate. Richard Baker described the team's intent in this by saying, "We decided to create a version of Dark Sun in which the Prism Pentad storyline would be *possible*, but not mandatory."
The new Dark Sun rules changes implicitly created some changes in the Athas setting too. For example, the templars, who worshiped the sorcerer-kings, have become warlocks; while elemental clerics were somewhat decreased in importance due to the fact that their role became a theme. Similarly, the difference between defilers and preservers was much less black and white.
Finally, Athas was slightly revamped to include 4e's standard tropes. The dray of Giustenal were turned into dragonborn, while tieflings also made an appearance. The standard cosmology of 4e was also introduced to Dark Sun. This was a pretty big change, as Athas had formerly been distant from the rest of the D&D multiverse — far from the spacelanes of Spelljammer and the planes of Planescape.
Beyond that the Dark Sun Campaign Setting includes a new iteration of the Tyr Region for a new edition of D&D. A few locations were slightly moved and the scale of the map was decreased, but otherwise it was Athas for a new generation.
About the Creators. Baker had been working on D&D since the early '90s, including extensive work on 4e supplements; he also co-authored the Dark Sun Creature Catalog. Schwalb and Thompson both got their start as freelancers in the d20 industry that Wizards created. Schwalb started writing extensively for 4e in 2009, Thompson in 2010.
About the Product Historian
The history of this product was researched and written by Shannon Appelcline, the editor-in-chief of RPGnet and the author of Designers & Dragons - a history of the roleplaying industry told one company at a time. Thanks to Robert Adducci for Dark Sun advice. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to firstname.lastname@example.org.