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Marauders of the Dune Sea (4e)


A D&D adventure set in the world of Athas or your own campaign world.

Now that Tyr is free of Kalak the Sorcerer-King, opportunity abounds in the city and the surrounding wastes. But some see Kalak’s fall as the beginning of Tyr’s end, and the unpatrolled deserts nearby are rife with danger. Outlaws openly defy the city’s Revolutionary Council and threaten outlying holdings. If Tyr is to thrive, heroes must arise to tame the lawlessness and evil that threatens the free city.

This stand-alone D&D adventure is designed to take characters from 2nd to 5th level. Although nominally set in the Dark Sun campaign setting, Dungeon Masters can easily incorporate it into their "homebrew" D&D campaigns.

Product History

"Marauders of the Dune Sea" (2010), by Bruce R. Cordell, is the official adventure for 4e Dark Sun. It was published in August 2010.

Completing the Dark Sun Line. In 2010, the model for 4e's campaign setting lines changed — not just in the fact that a player's guide was replaced by the Dark Sun Creature Catalog (2010), but also in the structure of the obligatory setting adventure. Where previous setting adventures had been large folios intended to move players from 2nd to 5th level, "Marauders of the Dune Sea" was a much shorter 32-page book that covered just 2nd and 3rd level.

Fortunately, Dark Sun GMs had other options for adventures thanks to Wizards' giveaway, organized play, and digital programs. In all, there were three other major Dark Sun adventures. Bloodsand Arena (2010) was a pair of mini-adventures given away as part of Free RPG Day 2010, while "The Vault of Darom Madar" was a major introductory adventure that appeared in Dungeon #181 (August 2010). Game-store players could also enjoy "Dark Sun: Fury of the Wastewalker" (2010), a massive 15-week adventure that ran as season 2 of Encounters (2010).

The previous two campaign settings had each carefully lined up the setting's major adventure to run right after the short adventure found in that year's Campaign Guide. Unfortunately, this didn't work here, because the adventure in the Dark Sun Campaign Setting (2010) consisted of just three encounters; players wouldn't level up to second level, nor would they end up in the right part of Athas. The many other adventures available for 4e Dark Sun resolved this issue. "The Vault of Darom Madar" was very popular as the lead-in adventure for "Marauders of the Dune Sea", but some GMs used Bloodsand Arena instead.

Adventure Tropes. "Marauders of the Dune Sea" starts off with a type of encounter that's grown a bit cliched in D&D circles: a shocking encounter that players are intended to lose! Fortunately, the adventure isn't important to the plot and can be skipped if desired.

Beyond that, "Marauders of the Dune Sea" is a very linear series of encounters. Even the dungeon is totally linear — a trope that originated in 4e with its focus on set-piece encounters; this sort of linear dungeon can also be found in previous adventures such as P3: "Assault on Nightwyrm Fortress" (2009).

The encounters in "Marauders of the Dune Sea" are mostly combat-focused. There's no meaningful roleplaying in "Marauders of the Dune Sea", except in the plot hooks leading into the adventure. Two skill challenges do provide some variety, but one of them was widely disliked because it required players to repeat the challenge until they succeeded.

Overall, "Marauders of the Dune Sea" is one of the most prototypical examples of default 4e adventure design — with encounter-based, tactical-focused adventuring.

About the Product Tie-Ins. In the latter days of 4e, Wizards started illustrating its encounters with Dungeon Tiles, which created a more standardized look for the line. Unfortunately, this didn't work well with a very unique world like Athas. The poster map in "Marauders of the Dune Sea" shows oxen and horses, even though these beasts were long extinct on Athas, while one of the underground encounter maps depicts a stream, even though water is rare and precious on Athas.

Expanding Dark Sun. Superficially, "Marauders of the Dune Sea" is a nice introduction to the world of Athas. It starts in the setting's core city of Tyr and quickly takes players out into the desert — a common trope in Dark Sun adventures of olde. These classic Dark Sun ideas tie in to the new 4e setting when the players unearth the tomb of a primordial.

Newer players appreciated the unique setting, but older players (who had enjoyed Dark Sun in its AD&D 2e days) were put off by numerous small details that were wrong — such as the stream, oxen, and horses revealed by the Dungeon Tiles.

Other canon problems included:

  • The use of apparently steel weaponry on the cover, despite the fact that Athas is metal-poor.
  • The appearance of a Urikite templar in the heart of Tyr.
  • The use of a written note as a plot hook in a world that is primarily illiterate.
  • The alliance of Thri-kreen and elves, two races that hate each other.
  • The inclusion of magic items in treasure parcels, rather than the alternative treasures suggested in Dark Sun Campaign Setting.

Some of these elements, such as the question of illiteracy, were less important in D&D 4e Dark Sun than they had been in AD&D 2e Dark Sun. Others can easily be explained away as specific plot elements, and they're all pretty simple to fix. However, when combined with the mapping issues, these issues tended to put classic fans off of the adventure.

Whoops!: Math is Hard. Many players found the encounters in "Marauders of the Dune Sea" to be badly balanced, so that they could easily overpower players. This appears to be an unfortunate side-effect of "Marauders of the Dune Sea" being published right when 4e was redoing its math for monsters. "Marauders of the Dune Sea" freely mixes critters from before and after the math changed in Monster Manual 3 (2010), and the result is sometimes off-kilter. GMs take warning!

Future History. Players can continue on with a sequel adventure, "Revenge of the Marauders", in Dungeon #183 (October 2010). It was also by Bruce R. Cordell.

About the Creators. Cordell had been one of D&D's most esteemed adventure writers since classic '90s adventures like The Gates of Firestorm Peak (1996) and the Illithiad trilogy (1998). More recently, he'd worked on half of the "HPE" series (2008-2009). This was his first and only contribution to the Dark Sun setting.

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. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to

We (Wizards) recognize that some of the legacy content available on this website does not reflect the values of the Dungeons & Dragons franchise today. Some older content may reflect ethnic, racial, and gender prejudice that were commonplace in American society at that time. These depictions were wrong then and are wrong today. This content is presented as it was originally created, because to do otherwise would be the same as claiming these prejudices never existed. Dungeons & Dragons teaches that diversity is a strength, and we strive to make our D&D products as welcoming and inclusive as possible. This part of our work will never end.

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January 8th, 2020
While challenging to adapt for 5e, I've had to change nearly all the mechanics, the story is evocative and pulpy and a great adventure to slip into your Dark Sun campaign's early levels. I'm currently running this for a group that's new to D&amp [...]
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