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DSE2 Black Spine (2e)


Unknown to even the mightiest of the great sorcerer-kings, a fire is stirring deep beneath the barren soil of Athas. Sheltered by the titanic bulk of the Black Spine Mountains, a terrible force has ripped open the very fabric of time and space. Now a shimmering portal stands open and a long-forgotten enemy assembles its sinister forces to invade the kingdoms under the dark sun.

The only thing that stands in the way of this terrible fate is a band of heroes. Assembled from the four corners of this tortured world and bound together by the tangled cords of fate, they must face an enemy the likes of which they have never seen before. The odds are against them, but they dare not fail. The fate of the world is in their hands.

Black Spine is an adventure for 4 to 6 characters of 10th through 13th level. The previous flip-book modules (Black Flames, Merchant House of Amketch, and Marauders of Nibenay) precede this adventure, but they are not necessary to enjoy Black Spine.

Product History

DSE2: Black Spine (1994), by Walter Baas, Dustin Browder, Tom Prusa, and Jonathan Tweet, was the second and final "epic" adventure for Dark Sun. It was published in February 1994.

Continuing the Dark Sun Series. In 1993, TSR became publishing their second adventure series for Dark Sun with DSM1: "Black Flames" (1993), DSM2: "Merchant House of Amketch" (1993), and DSM3: "Marauders of Nibenay" (1993). Unlike the original Freedom adventure path (1991-1993), the "DSM" adventures weren't connected. Nonetheless, they were set at appropriate levels so that players could play one after another. Black Spine was the conclusion to this adventure sequence. It jumped from the levels 5-8 of "Marauders of Nibenay" to levels 10-13 and also begins where the previous adventure ended: Nibenay.

Though module codes fell out of favor in 1994, TSR later indicated that Black Spine would have been "DSE2". And that's appropriate, because it's epic — just like DSE1: Dragon's Crown (1993), the module that completed the Freedom adventure path. Beyond that, Black Spine is a clear match for Dragon's Crown: the flipbook format of the other Dark Sun modules is abandoned to allow for a massive adventure laid out in three 96-page books; the plotline of alien invasion is epic as well.

Black Spine marked the end of Dark Sun's adventure series, though two standalone adventures followed later in the year: Forest Maker (1994) and City by the Silt Sea (1994).

Adventure Tropes. Black Spine is an episodic adventure built on an extensive backstory, as was common in the 2e era. Early parts of the adventure focus on some by-then cliched Dark Sun tropes like escorting someone across the desert (here, a slave tribe) and being captured and imprisoned. However from part three of the adventure onward, Black Spine turns instead to more classic D&D tropes, including explorations of tunnels, caverns, and dead cities. These encounters are still somewhat episodic and still built around a grand storyline, but they may be closer to OSR adventuring than anything else published for Dark Sun.

The Battlesystem Connection. Though Dark Sun was originally created as a War World, this idea largely faded away after the first year or two of publication. However part 1 of this adventure includes a rare return, as Battlesystem (1985, 1989, 1991) is used to portray the defense of a slave tribe encampment.

The Psionic Connection. Dark Sun was also built around the idea of psionics, but many of its adventures didn't take good advantage of that. Black Spine was an exception, as it features the Githyanki, one of D&D's classic psionic races.

Expanding Athas. Black Spine doesn't expand the world of Athas much because it's mostly set either in generic desert or in tunnels and caverns beneath the Black Spine Mountains.

However, it does provide some interesting insight into the history of Athas. The Gith race had been part of Athas since the Dark Sun Boxed Set (1991), but here they were revealed as the savage descendents of the Githyanki. It's also suggested the psionic excesses of Athas could be the result of a psionic bomb used by the Githerzerai to assault the Githyanki ages ago.

"Could the psi-waves have jarred non-psionic people and creatures, releasing deeply buried psionic talents? Could the psi-waves have wiped out the psionic parasites that usually plague psionic sensitives, thereby paving the way for the development of psionics in many more creatures? Or is this just a coincidence? No one knows for sure."

Expanding the Outer Planes. Dark Sun was usually kept separate from the other D&D planes by "The Gray" — leaving it largely distinct from the settings of either Spelljammer (1989) or Planescape (1994). However a few exceptions were made in Dark Sun's later years, such as in DSM2: "Merchant House of Amketch", which revealed that one of Athas' cities had been stolen by the Demiplane of Dread. Another exception occurs here, when players travel to the Astral Plane to fight Githyanki in their home.

About the Creators. This was Baas' last book for TSR (after a few publications in the previous years), Prusa's last (though he'd do some work for Wizards), and Browder's first (after some work for White Wolf). This was also Tweet's last book for TSR, but that's because he was by then doing work for Wizards of the Coast, which would eventually lead to D&D 3e (2000).

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

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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Customer avatar
Pieter-Jan D February 24, 2023 8:19 pm UTC
POD option please. <br /><br />
On all Dark Sun adventure modules! Combine them in one book even
Customer avatar
Brandon G April 05, 2022 11:50 pm UTC
POD please.
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