Dark Sun by PurpleXVI
Fallout with more giant bugsOriginal SA post Dark Sun!
Fallout with more giant bugs
Dark Sun! Dark fucking Sun! The most metal of all settings!
Oh yeah, we're fucking doing this. I'm expecting that everyone here has at least heard of Dark Sun, but just in case someone doesn't know the basics, I'll run through everything. Make sure we get all the nuances and niches. I figure we'll be doing the basic campaign setting, then the expanded campaign setting(to see what they improved, and what they fucked up, because boy did they fuck some things up), Thri-Kreen of Athas(giant bug is BEST BUG) and Mind Lords of the Last Sea. I might also do Elves of Athas just to contrast with Cirno's review of the Complete Book of Prancy Fuckfaces. And if anyone has a specific adventure or supplement they want looked at, I can do that, too(personally, City by the Silt Sea is a permanent favourite).
Campaign Setting: The Wanderer's Journal
The book actually starts with the rules, but the cool thing about Athas is more the setting. So I figure that for each post, I'll cover a chapter of the Campaign Fluff, and then point out how a chapter of the rules diverges from "baseline" 2nd edition AD&D. Some of the changes are minor, others are massive (and awesome).
Chapter One: The World of Athas
The Wanderer posted:
I live in a world of fire and sand. The crimson sun scorches the life from anything that crawls or flies, and storms of sand scour the foliage from the barren ground. Lightning strikes from the cloudless sky, and peals of thunder roll unexplained across the vast tablelands. Even the wind, dry and searing as a kiln, can kill a man with thirst.
This is a land of blood and dust, where tribes of feral elves sweep out of the salt plains to plunder lonely caravans, mysterious singing winds call men to slow suffocation in a Sea of Silt, and legions of slaves clash over a few bushels of moldering grain. The dragon despoils entire cities, while selfish kings squander their armies raising gaudy palaces and garish tombs.
This is my home, Athas. It is an arid and bleak place, a wasteland with a handful of austere cities clinging precariously to a few scattered oases. It is a brutal and savage land, beset by political strife and monstrous abominations, where life is grim and short.
For those who want the Cliff's Notes: Athas fuckin' sucks. The known world is basically 90% desert or similar wasteland, it's boiling hot all day, and the third-person description of the world starts off by describing the functioning and feeling of dying of thirst and heatstroke. Delightful . And of course, like a proper desert, at night it's goddamn freezing. Can't get any breaks on Athas, this world is out to fuck you raw and dry.
The part of the world that the game is mostly set in(though this is expanded in supplements and the aptly-named Expanded Campaign Setting) is a semicircle of miserable desert wasteland around the "shores" of the Silt Sea. The Silt Sea is basically the basin that once contained an ancient sea(or perhaps a vast lake, no one's explored all of its shoreline), which is now full of choking dust and sand. This is in the northeast, and "dry land"(ha ha!) is to the west, southwest and south.
It's not entirely dead, though, that would be no fun to explore. There are a few oases, ranging from actual forests through muddy flats that support the occasional rice-farmer. And I do mean it when I say few . Aside from a few minor settlements scattered around the place around the smaller oases, there are also the City States, each ruled by a more-or-less insane king or queen, we'll get to their details later.
The Wanderer posted:
The cities, surrounded by golden fields of crops, stand at sizable oases. They are bustling enclaves of humanity, stinking of garbage and ringing with the supplications of beggars. Their tawny towers of fired brick rise from behind thick stone ramparts designed to lock residents inside as well as keep strangers out. In the center of every city, a powerful sorcerer-king lives inside a secure fortress, ruling his subjects through a sophisticated hierarchy of bureaucrats, nobles, and rapacious clergymen. Each city is a state unto itself, its king wielding absolute authority over every living thing inside its walls and crawling through its fields.
And of course, outside the cities and settlements, we have the requisite raiders and maniacs. Because it wouldn't be a post-apocalyptic world without having to kill some asshole wearing a skull for a hat to survive.
Clerical Magic: Now, you might be thinking: Why don't people pray for deliverance from this shitty state of affairs? Because Athas has no fuckin' gods! There are two kinds of divine magic around, #1 is to worship one of the four elements(or one of the weird combined para-elements that exist on Athas, which are not quite the same as the para-elements of Planescape), which means you're out to further the growth of that element. For priests of Water it means you're an awesome dude who guards oases and revives springs. For priests of, for instance, Fire, it means you're a huge jackass and no one likes you. #2 is to worship a Sorcerer-King(or Queen), the lords of the city-states are powerful enough to actually grant minor divine magic to their most trusted worshippers, the Templars.
Wizardry: Wizards are why Athas is fucked, we'll get into the exact details of that later, but suffice to say that when your average mage casts or memorizes a spell, all plants within a distance of him wither and turn to ash. These are Defilers. There's a minority, Preservers, who cast spells like normal mages, but since there's no visual distinction between the two, most mages who reveal what they are, get pursued by angry mobs.
Psionics: Dark Sun is probably the setting that's got Psionics most as an integral part. Pretty much every PC has at least a Wild Talent(randomly assigned psionic power), even if they're not a full Psionic. But to my knowledge, Dark Sun is the only book that has chargen rules for Psionics in its core volume. Has the benefit of not getting you beaten to death by mobs and not melting trees near you.
So what lead us here? Well, the author doesn't know too much about it, because the current Sorcerer Kings are mostly interested in writing books about how awesome they are, as are their lackeys. So according to their own accounts, they've existed forever(and will continue to do so), and everyone had better be fucking thankful. The author says that they HAVE, as far as he can tell, actually been around for hundreds, if not thousands, of years... but they're not eternal. City states have fallen, their Sorcerer Kings have been cast into the ground, and now the old cities lie as ravaged husks of their former glory.
Still, go further back, and the world wasn't always a shithole. There are ruins all over the damn place, many speaking of a better, more enlightened, more peaceful, prosperous and glorious age. And then the author, in his musings, stumble upon something that's quite true:
The Wanderer posted:
Athas is a barbaric shadow of some better world. Like men, the elves, dwarves, halflings, and all the demihuman races are but brutal descendants of worthier ancestors. The dragon, the lions, and the other great beasts are horrible abominations of their noble progenitors. Even the plants, such as the blood-blossomed tamarisks, are deadly scions of the foliage that once blanketed the land.
The essence of every living thing, from the highest to the lowest, has been warped in some grotesque way that makes it more vicious‚ more cunning‚ and more terrifying than its forebears.
If we can discover the truth‚ we may yet attain the glory of the ancients. Somewhere out there‚ buried beneath tons of sand and dust, lost in centuries of fire and blood, is an Athas that we have never known: a world of abundance and splendor, where honor is as precious as water.
Welcome... to Athas!
Major Differences: Stats & Races
So on Athas, things are a lot fucking tougher than other campaign worlds, and the rules section starts telling us out that the weak are corpses. If you don't want to be a corpse, use one of the book's chargen methods instead of the normal ones. Normally you get 3-18 from AD&D chargen, Athas' methods get you 5-20 and weight it towards higher stats.
Compared to the basic book of AD&D, we're missing one race(gnomes), and have three new ones: Mul, Half-Giant and Thri-Kreen. And even the races we thought we knew get modified. Dwarves are even tougher, elves are smarter, halflings are wiser, and half-elves finally get some racial stat mods! Racial level limits are also relaxed, Dwarves have infinite advancement in the new class of Gladiator, Half-Elves in Defiler, Fighter and Gladiator, and everyone(except for dwarves, who cannot be one) have infinite advancement in the Psionicist class.
So what's changed about the races in way of fluff text, and what the fuck is a Mul?
Dwarves are physically much the same, but mentally they now have what's called a Focus. At any given time, a dwarf must have a Focus, some extended task or quest that takes at least a week's time to complete. Dwarves get a boost to accomplishing their Focus, to saving throws and proficiency rolls. Unfortunately, a dwarf who dies with a Focus unfinished becomes a Banshee. Ouch. It doesn't say whether there's any sort of downtime between Foci where dwarves can die without becoming undead, but since not everyone is up to their asses in undead half-pints, I think we can safely assume that there is.
No prancing in forests here
While normal D&D elves are shorter than humans, the shortest Athasian elf is 6-feett-6-inches, and they cap out around seven and a half feet of height. They're tall, leggy, lean and fast as balls. They tend to distrust anyone not of the same tribe as themselves, and their tribes form a sharp, spiky ball of dickishness towards other races. Even other tribes of elves aren't trusted.
They refuse to ever ride anything, barring elves that are near-death and need dragging somewhere. Even the old and the pregnant run. They run everywhere. An elf in good health can cross some fifty miles of barren and miserable terrain in a day on foot. A lot of elven tribes are herders, travelling with their tribes, but some are traders(they can get goods places, fast), and of course there are also jackass raider elves.
Roleplaying Elves on Athas posted:
Elves have no great love of creatures outside their tribe. Even when found in the company of others, an elf will keep to himself, often camping near but not directly with his companions.
When encountering outsiders, an elf will often fabricate tests of trust and friendship. For instance, an elf might leave a valuable object in the open to see if his new companions attempt to steal it. After a series of such tests, the elf will gradually learn to trust or distrust the outsiders. The severity of these tests of loyalty may take an alarmingly dangerous turn, even revolving around life-threatening situations, before an elf accepts an outsider as an equal.
Something tells me that Athasian elves may be of Sylvan stock... hmmm...
Half-Elves get mistreated by pretty much both of their parent races. Elves don't like them, humans don't trust them, so usually they're loners who strike out and hang out with neither race. Their special Thing is that since they get along so poorly with people, they tend to get along great with animals, and after a few levels they pick up a well-trained pet that's almost a familiar. It doesn't say what sort of animal we're limited to, but it says to refer to the encounter tables for potential wildlife and, well, Athasian wildlife is pretty metal. You probably don't want to fuck with these guys.
Thankfully we're told that this crossbreed originally came into existence thousands of years ago because of magic , not xenophilia.
If you want to be 10 or 12 feet tall and a fucking mountain of meat, Half-Giants are the race for you. Their weirdness is in their psychology more than their huge meatiness. See, we've still got alignments here. But only half of a half-Giant's alignment is fixed. You may be Lawful Good, for instance, with the "good" section being variable. But they're very easily influenced by those around them, so if you get exposed to a lot of evil characters, suddenly you turn Lawful Evil instead.
It's honestly kind of a weird mechanic and not one of the ones I'm a huge fan of.
West of the Tablelands where the proper setting and civilization of Athas hangs out are the Ringing Mountains, immediately beyond those are jungles which you'd think would be great on such a shitty, dry world, but in fact they're just as happy to kill you as the rest of the world is. Plus now you've got tropical diseases to add into the mix. Just stay in the deserts.
Halflings come from these jungles.
Halflings never fight other halflings, but happily fight other races, and tend to have trouble communicating with them because so much of their inter-halfling communication is made up of cultural references, rituals and common knowledge. Oddly enough they end up being some of the nicer people of the setting, generally having few issues with greed, avarice or other harmful impulses.
The usual, 'cept for the occasional cosmetic mutation.
Mul are half-dwarves, usually the result of forced interbreeding for the purpose of producing tough assholes for use as slaves and labour. More pliable than dwarves, but tougher than humans, Mul are also sterile. Their thing is that they can literally work for days with no rest, even hard labour, then sleep eight hours and be ready to resume it all over again. Tough bastards. But not as tough as...
Seven-Foot Mantis Men from the Desert! Thri-Kreen are awesome .
We're going to hear more about how awesome they are in Thri-Kreen of Athas, but for now let's cover the basics:
They're huge, they're tough, they're armoured(natural AC equal to chainmail), they never sleep, they can leap fifty feet with ease, they can see in the dark, they have toxic spit, they can mix their spit with sand to create crystalline weapons and they're carnivores. They're carnivores who really like the taste of elf. Elves tend to be on edge around these huge predators who love to eat them, predictably.
Roleplaying Thri-Kreen posted:
A thri-kreen’s obsession is the hunt. Thri-kreen are skilled and wise hunters-skilled enough to bring down the animals they need, wise enough to move on before they completely deplete an area of prey.
From birth, all thri-kreen are involved in the hunt —the young are concerned with preparation and preservation of hunted food, elders are hunters. There are no distinctions between male and female thri-kreen in their pack society.
To outsiders, thri-kreen sometimes seem overly preoccupied with gathering food, hunting, and maintaining stocks of travel food. Since they do not sleep, thri kreen often hunt through the night while other races they are working with are “needlessly lying around.”
Their pack intelligence also makes them protective of their clutch-mates. To a thri-kreen, his clutch or pack includes whoever he is with at the time of danger. It is instinctive for a thri-kreen to leap into battle to protect those he is with, regardless of personal danger.
Fun fact from the Thri-Kreen race book: They tend to find sleeping a very odd and fascinating habit that other races have, so they love watching them sleep. It's just so strange and adorable to them! Less strange and adorable is waking up to a seven-foot bugman staring at you intently.
They also changed around the random tables for generating height and weight, and screwed with the ages, but I am not obsessive enough to go through all those differences, though it's worth noting that on Dark Sun, dwarves live longer than elves, and elves no longer have their centuries of lifespan.
Next time: Athasian Society! And how bards are actually awesome on Athas!
BartertownOriginal SA post Dark Sun!
Currently all we know about the people of Athas is that life sucks for them, and so they do their damn best to make life suck for the next guy over by raiding him, enslaving him or ruling over him. But there is a tad more nuance to it, and that's what this chapter is about.
The chapter starts by re-emphasizing that Athas is barren as hell, and that the city-states only survive on the back of thousands of slave labourers, working both within the walls and outside, in the fields. Additionally, it seems like the local herders don't have cows and pigs, instead they have something called "Erdlus," which are essentially 200-pound ostriches that can kick your head off and lay delicious eggs.
Other farm-animals encountered include Kanks, which are basically horse-sized ants that produce honey, but are otherwise inedible(though you can use their chitin plates as serviceable armor).
There's also another thing: Every post-apocalyptic world has something that's in short supply, besides bare necessities required for life, which are almost always lacking. In Mad Max, the earlier civilization had deprived everyone of the fuel they needed for vehicles and electricity, on Athas the earlier civilizations used up practically all the metal. Instead of metal equipment, everyone uses bone, stone or, rarely, obsidian. Occasionally you will still find metal tools and weapons, but they're rare and valued, especially as the only surviving pieces are often magical, hence explaining why they've stood up to the ravages of time. Metal armor would be awesome except... Athas is fucking hot. You do not want to be wearing a set of steel full plate. You'd maybe manage five steps at noon and then you'd be dead from heatstroke.
Money on Athas, such as it exists, is also not copper, gold, or silver, it's usually ceramic pieces, or more commonly people just barter with trade goods. But if anyone DOES find a motherlode of metals from an earlier age, it's going to make them rich beyond their wildest dreams.
As the chapter gets into full swing, it's made clear that society is 90% centered around the grand City States ruled by the Sorcerer Kings. There are villages, oases, raider tribes and other things, but most of the time they're scraping by just to survive. Where there's trade, research, art and advancement, that's the City States. Of course that's also where the Sorcerer Kings and their unpleasant Templar buddies are.
Magicians and City States
Psionics are also recognized enough that there are schools teaching people to use them, and they're part of what makes people not trust each other, since practically anyone could have a hidden psychic talent that lets them fuck with your head, take your stuff or outright kill you.
Magic is usually Defiling magic, since it's easier to learn and gives faster advantages to its users, so it's outlawed and banned by the Sorcerer Kings. In part because it's a threat to their power, fireballs can do a lot of damage, and in part because it's a threat to their life of their cities. One careless asshole engaged in a magical duel could wither all their fields to dust. Sorcerer-Kings don't care if the magic-users are defiling or preserving in most cases, though, as preservers could be just as great a threat to their power, and most non-mages can't tell the difference. All they know is some asshole is using magic that could be dangerous to them and everyone around them.
The preservers tend to band together, though, and almost every city state has a branch of an organization known as the Veiled Alliance. Largely good-aligned gatherings of preservers who struggle to save what remains of Athas' nature and to eventually throw the Sorcerer-Kings down from their thrones. And of course, y'know, if the local Sorcerer-King or his templars find out about you being a member, you are in for a severe asskicking.
The Sorcerer Kings
Like the Dragon, the Sorcerer Kings have been around for centuries if not thousands of years. And they are also all powerful Defiler/Psionicists, though none as strong as the Dragon. Despite being tyrants, most of them are also competent rulers, because if their city was to grow weak, either they'd miss the Dragon's tribute or one of the other city states would invade and destroy them.
Their actual styles of rulership vary wildly, though. Some are direct dictators, some have a skein of democracy over their tyranny, some proclaim themselves gods and are worshipped as such and others just stay secluded until the city almost bubbles over into revolt, then show up and annihilate the rebels in a display of fury and arcane power.
As mentioned before, the Templars are the most loyal, trusted and dedicated servants of the Sorcerer-Kings. Each is devoted to one King who grants him divine powers in addition to his considerable martial skill, and in return he dutifully carries out the King's orders. The Templars are as varied as their lords, some are genuinely devoted to their lords and city states, some consider their duty holy, and some are corrupt assholes who spend as much time backstabbing each other and getting rich as they do actually serving their state.
Despite the differences from city to city, generally the society is stratified as such: Nobles, Merchants, Freemen, Slaves(and gladiators). And often the Nobles are the ones who own the powerful merchant houses, anyway. Merchants and merchant houses also stand out in that they're pretty much the only peaceful contact between the cities. Most other citizens are either not allowed to leave, or only ever see another city state when they're at war with it.
Oh and, of course, if you want absolutely, mind-bendingly illegal and exotic shit, you buy from the elven traders in the bazaars. Just be prepared to get ripped off every second time.
Gender on Athas
It's a non-issue, women and men are treated much the same, and at least two of the Sorcerer-Kings are actually Sorcerer- Queens . There's even a plentiful supply or female gladiators, and the only place men are favoured over women is for hard-labour slavery where they've got a bit more muscle.
Race in Cities
Humans: The majority and baseline. We're told that humans are the best at treachery and politics, hence why they're usually the Templars and nobles.
Dwarves: Usually soldiers, gladiators and craftsmen. But apparently through sheer force of stubbornness they can DO THE IMPOSSIBLE, DEFEAT THE INVINCIBLE, and attain just about any role in city-state society they want.
Elves: Flashy, fast and utter assholes. Shady smugglers, exciting gladiators, and usually way too fast to get caught as slaves.
Half-giants: Too dumb to stay free.
Mul: Usually born into slavery, so they don't get much of a choice. But they tend to make good soldiers and templars when they win their freedom.
Thri-Kreen: Tend to find cities too weird and different from their usual hunting lands to fit in well. If they lose their pack out in the wilds, they sometimes seek out the cities to find new packs, in which case they make excellent mercenaries or assassin templars.
Halflings: Essentially the same as the Kreen, though when they work they always refuse wages, considering them a form of slavery, and will only work for food and a place to live.
Little to say about them, they're city-states with less walls and safety, but also usually without a Sorcerer-King. Some villages get bullied around by Templars and city-state armies enough to basically be vassals, but many are too far out in the hinterlands for anyone to control them.
Again, nothing to say about them that isn't blatantly obvious from the very idea of them, except for the fact that they are goddamn serious about their caravans.
Yeah, that's a goddamn rolling fortress pulled by giant... whatever the hell those things are. I think they're lizards, but they could be bugs. The merchants tend to be among the more balanced and well-meaning forces on Athas, though, usually maintaining strict codes of ethics, though less due to being nice people, more due to not wanting to get their house in trouble with the authorities.
There's some info on the behavior of elves and other races which is kinda vital to understanding them, yet which is stashed back here rather than during the races section in the front, which is what you'd be reading while making a character. A bit poorly planned, but I'll be providing some of the more interesting bits here.
Elven "Merchants" posted:
I was once with an elven tribe when another elven tribe camped nearby. On the first night, my host tribe arranged an evening of entertainment for the purpose of luring the other tribe away from its camp. While their guests were enjoying the party, my hosts sent a contingent of thieves to rob the guests’ camp. The guests reciprocated the next night, stealing back not only their own property, but a considerable amount of my host’s (and my own) property as well.
These affairs continued for about a week, with the parties growing progressively more wild and ribald each night, until finally both tribes claimed that they had gotten the better of the contest and parted ways. In truth, I don’t know who won the contest; I lost a precious rusty steel dagger and four copper coins, but my share of the host tribe’s booty was a shiny helmet of bronze!
Lest anyone make the mistake of thinking it is easy to join an elven tribe, I should point out the circumstances by which I came to be among them. Before being accepted as an equal, I had traveled with the tribe for two years and single-handedly saved the chief’s daughter from being eaten by a pack of wild thri-kreen. Still, the experience was worth the effort, hardship, and risk and I would not have passed it up for anything on Athas.
Just re-affirming that elves are crazy maniacs and kind of dicks. Actually, let's have another example of why Athasian elves are kind of hilariously awesome.
Crazy fuckers posted:
What other races fail to understand is that the elf would rather live a short and happy life than a long and cheerless one. Elves have adapted to the rigors of the Athasian wastelands in a unique way: they embrace the inevitability of death and hardship and make no attempt to escape it. In their view, the future is bleak and terrible-so one should do all he can to enjoy life today!
This free-for-all attitude applies even in the area of courtship. When a young warrior is ready to take a mate, he spies upon other tribes, trying to pick out a suitable woman. If he finds one he likes, he hides outside the camp until an opportunity comes to steal her. If the elf has already approached the maiden and she is agreeable to being abducted, she will no doubt make his wait a short one and accompany him with only a token show of resistance. However, if the maiden does not wish to go with the warrior, his wait may well be a long one, and when he finally does have an opportunity to seize her, she just might kill him. It should also be noted that I have met several elven women who, wishing to stay with their own tribes, stole the male elf of their dreams in this same manner.
Whatever the sex of the victims, once they have successfully been taken to the abductor’s camp, a messenger is sent to the old tribe to announce the safe arrival of the newlyweds. The abductees then become members of their mates’ tribe, and all ties with their old tribe are broken. Even if they returned, they would be regarded as outsiders. This may seem a cruel custom, but I doubt that most elven marriages would last for more than a few weeks without it.
See? Fucking crazy.
We already know the most basic things, except for what Thri-Kreen do in parties. See, Kreen packs have a very clear and obvious pecking order, so when a Kreen is in a mixed race party, he or she will start bullying everyone around them until accepted as leader, or until someone browbeats them into accepting a position as a subordinate. Or just physically beats them into it, either way.
Honestly the "Society" chapter is kind of a mess of mixed information on racial behavior, what sort of groups you can encounter on Athas(you could have guessed most of them already) and how racial groups behave. Largely the stuff that's interesting to learn here is a bit more about the races, how awesome herders are for keeping Erdlu and Kanks, and how City-States basically work.
The Worst Scourge
There's one thing that's worse than everything else mentioned so far. The Dragon .
He is basically psi-Godzilla. 40 feet tall, incredibly evil, a master Defiler and a powerful psionicist at once. While other Defilers just kill the soil and plant life, the Dragon's magic is powerful enough that it actually drains hit points from living creatures. None of the City States can stand up to the Dragon, nor can any adventurers(so far). It's powerful enough to extort regular tributes of goods and slaves from every city state every year, and every Sorcerer-King dreams of being powerful enough to kill off the Dragon.
Predictably, the Dragon is not just a huge "FUCK YOU" to the players, it's actually defeatable by a powerful party, and it's strongly tied into the metaplot of why Athas is a shithole these days.
Things that have changed: Classes
So what's different about the CLASSES in Dark Sun? Well, firstly we've got some we didn't have before, and one that's missing. Paladins are replaced by Gladiators, Psionicists are now on the roster as a basic class rather than a special thing out of the Complete Psionicists's Handbook, Templars are added as a variant of Clerics, and Mages are split into Defilers and Preservers.
Oh and, to go with the "YOU GOTTA BE TOUGH TO SURVIVE HERE"-thing from the first post? Everyone starts at 3rd level because otherwise you're going to be eaten by some animals or something.
Fighters are much the same, though they get their followers a level later. However, they also get the neat ability to teach other people their weapon proficiencies, and they rapidly pick up how to use siege engines.
Gladiators, our paladin-replacement, are all about being murderous warriors. They are instantly proficient with all weapons and can specialize in any number of them. Additionally they're also the only class to gain a bonus when trying to drop someone bare-fisted, and they're the only class to get an AC bonus as part of their class abilities.
Rangers are much the same, except their options for randomized followers now include some of Athas' somewhat-trippy creatures.
Preservers work as PHB mages but with a slightly hippie bent, the only real mechanical difference to Defilers(aside from nuking everything around them when they cast spells) is that they advance through the levels roughly twice as fast as a Preserver does.
As mentioned, basic Clerics are elemental, not divine. This strongly limits their access to magical spheres, predictably, and their choice of weapons. For instance, an Earth priest's weapons are often stone or wood, since it came or grew from the soil. Air Priests use spears or ranged weapons. Fire priests use obsidian or burning weapons. Water priests use anything organic, hence wood or bone weapons.
At higher levels they get to "ignore" their elements for several rounds per day, either phasing through it or taking no damage from it. And then they get to literally gate in huge amounts of it. Which is awesome for water priests, since it makes them damn popular, and for the other classes it mostly means they have an awesome offensive power to whip out.
Druids are slightly less available as a player class, since they have to all choose a Guarded Land. An area or terrain feature which they protect from damage or change. Like an oasis, a desert spring, a small stand of trees or something similar. They can use all weapons, no armor, and their spell selection is like a Cleric's, but decided by what their Guarded land is. For instance, a druid guarding an oasis definitely has access to Water-related spells.
Templars are, mechanically, fighter/clerics with no locked-in elemental direction. However, as they gain a few levels, they start getting some hilarious powers within their own city state. The freedom to order around slaves, walking into people's homes to look for TREASON, requisitioning troops, accusing people of treason, using the city treasury, pardon criminals and having people locked away pretty much indefinitely for laughs.
Templars also get some pretty amusing art
Standard rogues are completely unchanged, but bards... oh boy, bards get awesome .
See, 2nd ed was back when poison was pretty brutal. Half the poisons would do enough HP to drop a low-level fighter instantly, and a quarter of the basic options had save-or-die results. In several cases the save still delivering a massive load of injury. By this point you probably know what Bards on Athas get to do: They get to make poison.
It works like this: Every level you roll 1d4 on a table, and add your level to it. You get to make the kind of poison it results in. At chargen you start at level 3, as the book says. Result 6 and 7 are immediate-onset poisons, "injected" method of delivery(for instance on a sword) and a failed save results in death. In the case of result 6, a succesful save is still 20 HP worth of unmitigable damage. He can make a single dose per day, with no special materials needed, and no one said he had to use the poison himself. He could pass it to the party's gladiator to get instakill attacks, and after a week of travelling or downtime in a city, they have enough poison to murder half the world.
The "downside" is that bards don't get magic on Athas but, you know, this is a pretty awesome trade.
Oh and unlike "basic" bards who only get a small selection of a thief's skills, Athasian bards get ALL of them. They're capped lower and the skills rise slower, but... yeah, add in the poison and DAMN Athasian bards are a good bit more metal.
Now, if Templars reminded you a bit of Paranoia, so will this next part. The book plainly states that Dark Sun is a world where people die horribly, so everyone should roll up at least four starting characters. They know each other well, and all share the same position on the Good-Neutral-Evil axis, every time a character you're currently playing levels up once, so does one of the other characters on the tree.
Players are also free to switch in other characters during adventures(assuming there's time for them to arrive on the scene). The example given by the book is a ranger character used for a long trek through hostile lands to an ancient mansion, and then a thief swapped in for the actual penetration of the mansion's defenses.
On the surface it seems a bit metagame-y, but on the other hand it could also be a decent mechanic for making sure that everyone always has a character ready that's relevant to a given situation.
Athasian GeographyOriginal SA post Dark Sun!
Athas hates you
So by this point, the general appearance of Athas, the world, may seem a bit boring. The descriptions have largely made it out to be SAND SAND SAND WASTE SILT ROCKS CITY SAND SAND SAND WASTELAND GIANT ANTS. But the author assures us that even though it's generally dry and miserable, it's impressively so, with towering spires of wind-worn rock and raging weather.
The Sea of Silt
Has more similarities with an actual sea than just being in the basin that once contained one. On calm days(kinda rare, mind you), the dust just lies flat and undisturbed as far as the eye can see, but as soon as there's any wind, there's a haze in the air that can become a solid wall of dust if the wind has any strength to it. But when the wind isn't too extreme: You can sail on the goddamn dust.
It takes specialized craft, sure, and maybe some magic at times, but there's just enough density to the dust that some craft are viable. You can't swim in it, you'll just sink like a rock and choke, so it's dangerous that way, but with the right craft you can go exploring "off-shore" islands in the Sea. Hell, you could even go fis-
Oh, wait, no, you can't, because like everywhere on Athas, the Sea of Silt is full of horrible things that will drag you under and eat you alive. In this case they look like the horrible crossbreed or a carnivorous, half-formed human fetus and a squid. Silt Horrors . Jesus Christ.
There's reason to visit the islands, though, as a lot of them have interesting ruins, and some of them contain relatively unmolested plant-life, since Defilers might not have been there to fuck them up yet and the locals tend to be protective of their homes. Also sometimes the locals are giants , and Athasian giants are huge and grouchy a lot of the time, though not always malevolent. Inexplicably a lot of them also have animal heads, don't ask me why. Giants deal with the Sea of Silt by the simple expedient of wading.
they are also some hideous fuckers
Of course, since the Dragon tends to come from the Silt Sea when he's wading into the Tablelands to collect his tribute and generally be an asshole... it may be a good idea to be careful when adventuring there.
This is what we've had described so far. Desert, waste, scrubland, salt pans, oases, city-states, raiders, hermits and traders. All of it's going on in the Tablelands, which consist of pretty much the entire terrain between the Silt Sea and the Ringing Mountains. Travel here's less of a pain since, y'know, there's less chance of falling overboard and drowning in dust. Plus you can be pretty awesome and ride giant lizards or kanks(those giant ants mentioned earlier).
Of course, these lands aren't entirely dead, as mentioned, there's all sorts of interesting flora and fauna. For instance, you can survive by eating cac-
Ha ha, no, on Athas, even the fucking plants hate you. This thing is basically a living caltrop trap, except the caltrops are barbed and hook you in place, and then as you lie there, bleeding out on the sand, it drinks your fucking blood. Then there's the Zombie Plant, which isn't interesting enough in appearance for me to in-line the picture, basically it's a bush full of nice berries that can sustain you pretty much indefinitely in the wastes. Oh and they're also addictive and will turn you into a semi-zombified, mindless defender of the plant itself. Did I mention it's also psionic and can make itself and its berries look delicious ? Yeah, Athas is really the world of psionics, even the plants are liable to be telekinetic.
And these are hardly the only plants that want you fucking dead.
Did I mention some of these cacti can also fire their thorns at you like an organic artillery barrage? Fuck Athasian plants! It's as bad as the sea!
There's also the Dune Trapper. It's not described whether it's plant or animal, but it goes so far as to replicate the appearance of an entire oasis , and then when you get near it, it pulls you down under the sand with it and digests you like a huge pitcher plant. Athas hates you.
But there's little to say about the Tablelands in general since they're the most varied area. So let's move on.
The Ringing Mountains
The Ringing Mountains are, as the name suggests, mountains, separating the Tyr Region of the tablelands from the Forest Ridge and the lands beyond. In addition to having new varieties of horrible creature to menace you, crossing the Ringing Mountains also means dealing with altitude sickness(lack of oxygen) and the cold of the high mountains. Most people on Athas are unlikely to have had much experience with genuine cold aside from the freezing nights, so don't expect to find fur mittens to keep your hands warm.
And then you've got rockslides, chasms and all sorts of other delightful environmental dangers to keep you busy. It doesn't help that there are actually even MORE carnivores around here than in the Tablelands, as the foothills have a lot of decent grazing lands. Which means lots of herbivores. Which means a lot of creatures feeding on herbivores.
The entire section of the chapter describes what a misery mountaineering is going to be. And also that the local carnivores are specifically happy to be assholes to their meals.
The one good thing about [the high mountains] is that predators will not be as great a concern as they are in the canyons. Few land animals have any desire or reason to journey into the mountains, so the only hazard will come from large flying creatures that may be looking for an easy meal. Usually, the purpose of their attacks is not so much to kill you directly as to cause you to lose your footing and plunge to your death. In fact, they seem to prefer meat that has been tenderized in this fashion. I once saw a wyvern ignore several pounds of freshly killed erdlu in order to knock a man off the mountainside, then fly down and feast on the pulverized body.
The Forest Ridge
Vegetation at last! This should be joyous for Athasians, shouldn't it? The goddamn Valhalla after their lifetime of fighting their world for survival?
You should know better by now. The new terrain just means a new variety of animals that want to eat you! That's an Athasian Sloth, by the way.
The Forest Ridge would, if not for the inhabitants, be a goddamn paradise to most people on Athas, though. There are plentiful trees for shade, loads of water(sometimes even snow near the mountains!) and it's otherwise no more harmful than a terrestrial jungle. Oh except for Thri-Kreen for whom the high humidity will most likely cause some horrible kind of chitin-rot. Sorry, bug-friends.
Everyone else just has to worry about getting eaten by halflings. Yeah, you know how halflings were largely described as benevolent, honourable and not concerned with earthly things?
Goddamn Halflings posted:
It is the halflings that you must watch out for. They consider anything that enters their territory - including other intelligent races - fair game. Once they become aware of your presence, they will silently stalk you through the forest, awaiting just the proper time to spring ambush. If possible, they’ll take you alive and present you as a gift to their king. Should you be taken alive, this is not a fate you should hope for. Some halfling kings are so savage that they prefer to eat humans and demihumans presented to them alive. Others are more civilized, and will at least have the decency to kill and cook their meals first.
I can only imagine what Athas would have done to kender if there were any around. Well, probably it would have had them die whole as their curiosity got them to poke a blood-drinking cactus.
Beyond the Forest Ridge are the Hinterlands, capital H, not just any hinterlands that may have otherwise been referred to just for their general remoteness. What's out here? The Tablelands, 'cept slightly more moist, with no cities, raiders or maps of the oases. Oh and one very big surprise that we'll get to when we read Thri-Kreen of Athas.
What's changed: Equipment, Experience and Magic
As mentioned before, Athas doesn't have much in the way of metal except among the rich, lucky or adventuring. The average coin is the ceramic coin or ceramic "bits," pieces of ceramic coins, rather than copper pieces. Barring exceptional or rare materials, enchantment or craftsmanship, bone, wood, stone and obsidian weapons always suck more than metal ones. They're worse at hitting and at doing damage.
Oh, yeah, and whenever you roll maximum damage with a non-stone, non-metal weapon, it has a 1-in-20 chance of just up and breaking on you. Swell , I really wanted to face down this horde of angry giant bugs with my bare hands! But it does kind of help to emphasize the scavenging, short-on-equipment nature of Athas. You're pretty much always going to be short on something, or in need of something, because everything is crumbling, fragile or just plain old.
There's also a few new weapons, mostly Thri-Kreen racial ones, and some fancy new animals we can ride. Like mekillots(giant lizards), the multiply-mentioned kanks and inix(another kind of riding lizard).
Experience has a few additions: In 2nd ed AD&D there were optional rules for class-specific individual XP awards(most XP was split evenly with the party), for instance, thieves getting XP for getting rich, fighters extra XP for beating stuff up, clerics and mages for casting spells usefully. In Dark Sun, Templars get extra XP for being corrupt and enriching themselves by accusing, pardoning or executing citizens. Or advancing the goals of their Sorcerer-King. But, you know, whichever you prefer. And of course Bards get extra XP for poisoning people.
We largely already know the major differences: Specialist clerics, defilers and preservers, templars added. The changes from here on mostly involve new magical items, changes to old ones and some new spells. Most magical potions and oils are no longer in proper potion form, but instead secreted by magical fruits, presumably produced by enchanted trees. A new kind of powerful magical "item" is also the Tree of Life, a tree that can only be truly destroyed by magic(or excessive Defiling), and buffers the surrounding area against defiling magic.
Sorcerer-Kings tend to have groves of these so they can unleash potent defiling magic without wiping out their own cities in the process.
The new spells are mostly various forms of survival, or manipulation defiling/preserving mechanics to kill or revive areas of the world. But there are a few cool ones, Doom Legion, which revives ancient armies as undead... complete with a chance that they'll ignore the caster and go about their original missions of conquest instead. Air Lens, which lets you conjure up what's essentially a magical magnifying glass and use it to roast your enemies with the focused rays of the sun. And some other amusing new attack spells like being able to conjure up sandstorms.
A guided tour of the apocalypseOriginal SA post Dark Sun!
A guided tour of the apocalypse
Atlas of the Tyr Region
This is where The Wanderer finally leaves general descriptions behind and starts talking about the actual cities of the Tyr Region. To go with it, I've dredged up a poor-but-serviceable map of the place, though I'm sure you can google up a higher-res one with a bit of work if you really MUST know where a certain thing is.
Each city state is ruled by a Sorcerer-King(or Queen), and aside from the fallen or lost, the author knows of seven(There are three or four he doesn't know about but which we'll be introduced to in the expanded setting, and one that's not as dead as everyone thinks). We'll take them alphabetically since they're all somewhat interesting.
Some of the city-states sort-of rip off a real-world culture, and Balic, as you can probably guess when its ruler is named Andropinis, ganks ancient Greece. Their cultural Thing that makes them stand out is that supposedly they're democratic, of course, this being Athas, it's not as great as that: The people's ancestors elected Andropinis to be their dictator for as long as he lived... but none of them knew that Andropinis and the other Sorcerer Kings had become something new, something with no limited lifespan.
Still, the Templars, at least, still get "elected," and by putting that in "quotes" I mean that it's about as transparent and fair a process as democracy in a People's Republic. if the wrong person gets elected, Andropinis has him executed and calls for a re-vote. Charming!
Though as the cities go, it's relatively egalitarian as everyone, slave or freeman, male or female, elf, man or Kreen, ends up serving in the militia for some time to help defend the city's farms.
"The sorcerer-king of Draj calls himself "The Mighty and Omnipotent Tectuktitlay, Father of Life and Master of the Two Moons.""
Draj is pseudo-Aztec and Tectuktitlay bases his authority on the claim that he's divine and personally raised the city from the dust, as well as making the surrounding lands fertile. So it's half Aztec and half North Korean. Predictably, Kim Il Tec sends out his soldiers not just to fight, but also to collect slaves, and they lose their hearts on top of a giant pyramid. Apparently he likes to handle the heart-ripping with his own bare hands. Delightful guy.
Gulg is one of the few cities to be within not just a fertile zone, but within an actual forest. Lalali-Puy, their Sorcerer-Queen, is worshipped as a goddess like Tectuktitlay, but unlike him, her subjects are actually the ones who decided she was divine, she never had to claim it herself. They're at permanent war with the city known as Nibenay because Nibenay's at the far end of the woods and while Gulg worships the forest and feels like hey, maybe they should be a bit careful with this last forested area in the Tyr region, Nibenay's approach is: "HEY GUYS LET'S SEE HOW MANY TREES WE CAN CHOP DOWN IN ONE DAY."
Gulg is also communist, all resources are essentially shared, and foreign traders do not deal with people directly, but with Templars assigned to trade on behalf of all of Gulg's people.
Unlike other nations where the Nobles are the most backstabbing assholes, in Gulg nobility is granted depending on how good you are at sneaking and literally backstabbing enemies. So Gulg's entire nobility is a cadre of elite ranger/rogues.
They also collect enemy heads.
Nibenay is named after its ruler, Nibenay, called the Shadow King because he just fails to give a fuck about his city most of the time. His templars are all female and referred to as his "wives," and he mostly just lets the city run itself until rebellion starts brewing, then he wades out of his palace(probably wearing a pair of boxers and a bathrobe), singlehandedly turns the entire rebellion to salt statues or burns them to ash, nods at the bystanders, and heads back home to do whatever the hell it is he does.
Oh and his palace is carved to resemble a giant bust of his head.
Nibenay's Thing besides this barely-controlled anarchy is that they've got lots of crazy architecture and farm rice. Not sure which nation they're ripping off, but I think it may be something Asian.
Raam is ruled by Abalach-Re, self-styled "Great Vizier" of the city. While Nibenay has borderline-rebellions because Nibenay is lazy, Raam is close to a genuine rebellion because Abalach-Re is insecure and incompetent, even her Templars live in constant fear, whereas in the other cities, trying to kill a Templar is just asking for an asskicking from the authorities.
Abalach-Re professes to be the representative of some greater power, and claims that her powers are gifts from this mysterious being. According to Abalach-Re's theory, this mysterious being has picked her to watch over the city of Raam and its people. When she is no longer performing his task well, this same mysterious being will strike her dead and assign someone new to the office of Great Vizier.
This is one of the more original ploys a sorcerer king has used to legitimize his or her power. By claiming to be the humble servant of a higher power, and by claiming that this same being approves of what she is doing, Abalach-Re hopes to focus the inevitable discontent of his subjects away from herself. Unfortunately for her, the citizens of Raam are smarter than she thinks. Although they pay lip service to the being she professes to serve, and may even attend the ceremonies the templars of Raam organize to honor this mythical creature, few people truly believe in its existence. Instead, they secretly despise Abalach-Re for being such a weak ruler that she must resort to these ploys, and they flout the authority of the Great Vizier whenever they feel they can get away with it.
Ultimately Raam ends up similar to some sort of Libertarian paradise, where the authority is basically vested in whoever can hire the most and nastiest mercenaries to defend their corner of the city.
Tyr is ruled by Kalak, just about the only Sorcerer-King who doesn't have some long-winded excuse for why he should be in charge. The city actually works pretty well, because Kalak doesn't pretend to care about anything but the security of himself and his city, and everyone knows that the best way to stay in his good graces and not get sent into the arena to fight for his entertainment is to further those two goals.
It's also one of the only cities that has any iron mining going on(even if it's rather pitiful), but metaplot is interfering in Tyr's good times! It seems like Kalak has gotten some sort of crazy(or senile) scheme that involves sending as many slaves as Tyr can spare(and then some) to build him a giant ziggurat! He's insisting that it's a superweapon that will protect them from the Dragon, but no one's believing it.
Also not entirely sure what flavour Tyr is cribbing.
Urik's easier to guess because they're definitely Babylonian in flavour. The ruler is Hamanu, who likes to show up as a half-lion and various other weird, lion-related guises.
I am Hamanu of Urik, The Great King, The Mighty King, King of the World, King of Athas, an unrivaled potentate who holds sway from the great Ringing Mountains to the shores of the endless Sea of Silt, the bringer of death and peace, to whom all must submit.
And owner of a mighty big pair of balls. Hamanu isn't just boasting like some of the others, though, whenever his army has taken to the field with him at the lead, it has never lost. Urik's signature resource is obsidian, and Hamanu trades it to the halflings of the Forest Ridge in return for halfling mercenaries, which doesn't jive all that well with the book's earlier claims that halflings don't give half a sideways fuck about material possessions.
Maybe the particular shaman who sends his dudes off to die for Urik is just an exceptional cock.
Most of the other noted locations are largely just unmemorable villages and oases, though there are some interesting ruins and lakes around. Mostly the noted oases and lakes are noted because there's something about them that makes them bad places to stop, like the water is poisonous, or elves will charge you money to have any(and then probably steal your shit and stab you in the back anyway), or it's at the bottom of a mysterious crater that's supposedly where the Dragon tore his way free from the soil in ages past(which he didn't, we'll get to that in the metaplot).
Lake Island is also kind of hilarious, it's basically a volcanic island rising slowly from the Sea of Silt, with a clear blue lake of scalding water at the top. Psionicists often visit to meditate by the fumes, claiming that the induced trance allows them to tap deeper powers. Hard to say if it does, because the local giants think it's the greatest fun ever to sneak up on the meditating psychics and shove them into the boiling lake. Athasian giants aren't just ugly, they're as huge dicks as the elves!
There are also three(known) dead city-states once ruled by sorcerer-kings: Kalidnay, Giustenal and Yaramuke. Kalidnay and Giustenal have published, and somewhat interesting, modules regarding their various adventures and secrets, but I'm not sure if there's one for Yaramuke.
But at any rate, let's go to something I've been hinting at for a while now...
What the hell is going on with Athas? Well, if you have the basic campaign book: SUCKS TO BE YOU. Because all you're going to get is vague goddamn hints in some of the modules. Either you have to read the Prism Pentad or buy the expanded campaign setting to find out. Good thing I have the latter and can tell you just what the fuck has happened to Athas! Because man, Athas wasn't always this big a shithole.
The Blue Age!
Once upon a time, Athas was a sea world with a blue sun. Scarce amounts of dry land, idyllic and ruled by... not elves, not humans, not Kreen, not dwarves, not kender, but halflings . Halfling bio-engineer psionicists in floating cities. In their hubris they decided that they needed more food than the sea could supply, and ended up fucking it up with their biotechnology, inflicting some sort of horrible plague on it. So they did what any sensible race would do after a major fuckup: Constructed a huge, psionic artifact structure known as the Pristine Tower and used it to focus the sun's energy as a death ray to banish the plague.
This sucked enough energy from the sun that it turned yellow, and the seas began to retreat, revealing more dry land, this turning us to...
The Green Age
Evolution turns out to be real as races pop up left and right, including all the ones currently living on Athas. The halflings largely go into seclusion, and many turn into the feral assholes currently around. Then, out of the blue, in pops the Pyreen! They're a race of Sues. Perfect, awesome, brilliant, best psychics, super-great, beautiful, all the good stuff. Except for one poor guy called Rajaat who's a mutant, he's ugly as sin and no one likes him.
Still brilliant, though, so he decides to try to fix his own body. Psionics aren't doing him any good, but he somehow taps into sorcery, learning defiling and preserving magic(the latter also relies on the lifeforce of surrounding things, but only takes as much as is needed, doing no damage, the apparent explanation for there being no "normal" magic on Athas is a lack of a proper connection to the Astral plane). Learning magic does nothing for his mental stability, as he loses his shit over the fact that he STILL can't fix his damaged body.
He decides that, obviously, this is all the Green Age's fault. If only it was the Blue Age again, everything would be great. And what did the Green Age bring? That's right: More races. So obviously they all have to go, except for the halflings. He hides his movement as a pro-human war, instead of just an anti-everything war, and recruits 15 supremely powerful psionicst/defilers. The Champions of Rajaat. He empowers each to hunt down and destroy a specific race... with the force of the Pristine Tower.
This turns the sun red.
It all goes to shit
So, big cleansing war, races dying left and right, defiling magic fucking up the world. Then, after Athas is already severely fucked and many races are gone(pixies, sprites, wemics, orcs, gnomes and trolls, just to name a few)some of the Champions figure out Rajaat's true plan, and all but two rebel against him(those two have their heads cut off). Rajaat is banished with his halfling buddies(the last enlightened halfling bio-engineers) to a pocket plane called The Black.
But something's started happening to his Champions. Past the step of being immensely powerful psionic/defilers, they have started entering the transformative stages of creatures known as Dragons(Athas has no proper Dragons). So they choose one of their number, Borys of Ebe, and rush him through the transformation so he has the power to keep Rajaat locked away forever... which promptly turns him screamingly insane and very, very fucking powerful.
So he is now The Dragon(who rules the city of Ur Draxa deep within the Silt Sea), while the others are merely on the approach to becoming proper Dragons(something that takes centuries, along with thousands of living sacrifices). One was ahead of the others(Dregoth, who ruled Giustenal), so the others all banded up and destroyed him, not wanting another as powerful as Borys to mess them up. Dragons become immensely physically powerful as they grow in power, immensely magically powerful, and usually very crazy.
And this is how things pretty much ended up as they are now. With Athas being fucked and Sorcerer-Kings being in charge of everything.
The expanded setting also introduces inverse Dragons(though Preservers & Defilers did this first), called Avangions. Preserver/Psionicists of immense levels start becoming ethereal and incorporeal through long years of meditation, enhancing their mental powers while seeping away their physical body.
So does this all seem kind of crazy to you? It is a bit weird.
What else does the expanded setting change?
Firstly it adds Aarakroca(bird dudes) and Pterrans(pterodactyl dudes) as playable races, and otherwise doesn't fuck too much with the actual rules you're using. What it mostly screws with is the plot.
See, the Prism Pentad happened. A bunch of books where a group of AMAZING HEROES went around solving EVERYTHING. They stopped Kalak from copying the ritual rushing Borys through his stages of development(what the ziggurat was for, technically becoming another full Dragon WOULD have made Tyr free of the Dragon's demands, I suppose...) by killing him, so Tyr is now an AMAZING FREE CITY OF HOPE. Oh and Rajaat kinda returned for a while, now known as the Warbringer, offed several Sorcerer Kings and banished several others to the Black.
Oh and the Dragon, one of the big defining villains, got offed.
Remember how magic is either the HARD PATH OF PRESERVING or the SINISTER PATH OF DEFILING? Yeah one of the main characters became a SUN WIZARD and now doesn't have to be a dick about the world's lifeforce because she's SPECIAL and we're repeatedly told that no one can ever copy this! Canon characters only!
It also adds two new City-States. Kurn, which is ruled by the world's only Avangion, Koronis(a redeemed Dragon, one of Rajaat's champions), and Eldaarich, which is basically the Alpha Complex of Athas, being run by an extremely paranoid Dragon(Daskinor) who refuses his subjects all contact with the outside world and constantly assumes there's some new force or conspiracy out to get him.
In case anyone can tell, I kind of find the Expanded setting to be a sort of pointless and stupid change and I don't like the Prism Pentad. The only good thing the Expanded setting does is summarize a bunch of the changes added and included in other books(City by the Silt Sea for Dregoth and Giustenal, Preservers & Defilers for Avangions, Mind Lords of the Last Sea for Saragar, etc.).
Next up... Thri-Kreen of Athas or Mind Lords of the Last Sea! Pick one! The former has Kreen, the latter has surfers!
By your powers combined, I am Captain This Planet Is Fucked!Original SA post
Semi-related to the Sun priests bit, but from what I recall on reading from the Dark Sun priest book Earth, Air, Fire, and Water, there's a fun dichotomy between the elementals and the para-elementals, where the elementals (the just mentioned earth, air, fire, and water) drive their priests to try to rejuvenate and revive Athas, even as the para-elementals (silt, sun, magma, and rain) try to destroy it further . Except rain, I guess. But silt, sun, and magma totally drive their clerics to wreck even more havoc on the planet.
By your powers combined, I am Captain This Planet Is Fucked!
Just a quick aside before we get to the Kreen, I promise they're next on this list. Earth, Air, Fire and Water is the priest/druid handbook for Dark Sun. Psionicists and Defilers/Preservers get addition books, too, but sadly, as far as I know, the rogue(speaking of, I missed one more expanded setting edition: The Trader, a rogue class with some thiefy skills, slightly better combat than a base thief, albeit no backstabbing, and a talky focus) and fighter classes do not.
The book has two parts, first it explains the relations between Clerics and their elements better, and secondly it expands the class with, as mentioned, Para-Elemental Clerics, more spells and finally epic-level(20+) rules.
Clerics in brief
Athas is, as we've established: Fucked. And none of the elementals are happy about this, even the fire elementals are kind of nervous, because as much as they love stuff burning, there's just so little fuel left on Athas that they're fearful of consuming anything that remains. The world will soon be completely burned out if nothing's done about it.
Unfortunately, the remote and chaotic elementals realized Athas impending doom far too late. Most sages agree that the planet's spiraling decline has become irreversible.
Regardless, these beings have deigned to forge a pact of Earth, of Air, of Fire, of Water, with a few selected beings of the Prime Material Plane. Through these few clerics and druids, the elemental powers hope to replenish the decaying planet of Athas and return to the ancient, carefree days of power.
So if you don't mind lacking heart, you could have a Party of Planeteers out to save the world of Athas from itself. Maybe Heart can be a Bard or something.
Now, as much as Clerics are usually tolerated, they're also enemies of Defilers, and the Sorcerer-Kings are big-time Defilers directly to blame for much of the planet's current state, so Templars generally hunt Clerics unless they're doing something directly beneficial to the city-state they're in. To make matters worse, as tapped-out as the elemental powers are, they can only recruit limited numbers of followers and still grant them powers, so you're never going to have armies of Water priests gating in vast amounts of fresh water to replenish Athas.
Clerics also have the unique power to counter defiling damage by directly sacrificing hit points when near a defiler casting spells. It doesn't stop the spell, which may very well nuke them out of existence shortly thereafter, but at least the land is preserved.
Each element also has its own initiation rite for its clerics.
Earth : Buried alive for half a day. If the elemental spirits reject you, you STAY buried.
Air : Thrown off a fucking mountainside. Better hope the elementals catch you!
Fire : Left inside a bonfire. Predictably, if you get rejected for the role of elemental dude, you get kinda crisped.
Water : Your mentor finds a lake, weighs you down and chucks you in. Once again, you don't want to fuck this one up.
more goofy headwear than a Touhou game
Silt(Ooze), Rain(Ice), Magma(Magma) and Sun(Smoke) expand the spell lists and spheres of Athasian clerics. For normal clerics, they're combination schools, for instance, an Earth and a Fire cleric could combine their powers to cast Magma spells. Alternately someone could be a maniac singularly worshipping one of these forces.
Unlike the older and purer elements, all of these(Rain aside) are actually getting more powerful as Athas dies, cracks and turns to sun-baked dust with magma flows. Their initial rituals are also similar, except for Rain clerics, who get a hilariously Mad Science initiation that basically involves tying them to a pole and sticking them into a passing storm cloud(rare as those are).
Silt clerics wish to destroy the trees, grasses, and fauna that retain moisture, preventing wind erosion and holding the land together. When the plants are finally destroyed, the land will crumble and turn to silt, and the moisture from the ground will be trapped below the silt, rather than allowing normal evaporation through the plant’s stems and leaves.
The paraelementals of magma are desperate and scream constantly for succor. Some clerics have been driven mad by their eternally beckoning pleas, and they pursue the pact with maniacal hatred. When they are encountered as wanderers, it is generally because their most recent magma eruption failed and they seek another to tend. Others may simply be trying to escape their patron lords for short periods of time. A wandering magma cleric may take several years to find another source of lava, and often he is in no hurry to reach his destination. Fortunately for him, the magma paraelementals don’t seem to notice large amounts of wasted time—probably because a decade is but a second in their almost eternal time frame.
Magma clerics are dangerous, unstable, and unpredictable beings. Fortunately, they are also extremely rare, and usually confined to places most folk wouldn’t want to visit anyway.
Not fun folks by any stretch of the imagination.
The book also has a short chapter on the character of the various cities' templars. In Balic, for instance, the Templars are all shady fuckers who abuse legal loopholes like it was second nature. In Raam they roam in small squads that constantly fight each other and the citizens. In Nibenay they're disciplined warriors and masters of defense.
Much like a level 20/20 Defiler/Psionicist becomes a Dragon, and a 20/20 Preserver/Psionicist becomes an Avangion, 20/20 Cleric/Psionicists become something new and interesting: They start to become their element. The more they advance, the longer they spend each day in elemental form. For instance, a 21st-level cleric must spend at least an hour each day in elemental form. If he doesn't assume the form on his own, he spontaneously snaps into it as the day nears an end.
Interestingly enough, these clerics also get summoned to do war on their "home" planes. As Athas is kind of shut-off from the planes in general, it also has splinters of each of the elemental planes, and they're close enough to Athas that, say, a major victory for the forces of Water over the forces of Fire or Sun could bring a direct change to Athas itself, for instance in the form of more rainfall.
Silt Realm posted:
The realm of silt bears a striking resemblance to the Sea of Silt on Athas, and some wonder if the similarity is more ominous than anyone imagines.
Air Realm posted:
The Plane of Air is a vast, seemingly endless expanse of nothing —except air. Dark clouds from the plane of Steam sometimes float through here, and a traveler can leap from cloud to cloud without fear of falling. If he falls, he simply lands on another cloud. The creatures that live here float on fierce breezes, or dwell in secret in the very center of a floating cloud.
Water Realm posted:
Water’s plane is a series of sandy islands, drifting through from the Plane of Earth, and surrounded by muddy tides of murky brine. Most of the spirits live beneath the rippling surface, and one may venture anywhere without fear of drowning. Here, a traveler will see little but water and the pillars of sand that form the islands.
And of course, being so close to Athas, these elemental splinter planes are much more habitable than their originals.
There's not much more left to the book, it's really a somewhat-minor supplement you won't get that much use out of unless your characters survive up to what is effectively level 40+ on Athas, which is about as likely as Paranoia characters becoming clearance Ultraviolet.
Bug-men from the post-apocalyptic sands!Original SA post Dark Sun!
Bug-men from the post-apocalyptic sands!
Thri-Kreen of Athas
This book has a fucking hideous cover. There you go, that's the worst damn thing about it, the cover. The content is all gooey goodness, and the internal art kicks ass(and in at least one case it's fuckin' adorable). If anyone cares, by the way, the internal art is by an artist named John Dollar who also did internal art for several other Dark Sun books, several pieces for Birthright books and a good pile of art for White Wolf(primarily Changeling: The Dreaming art, it seems).
Thri-Kreen of Athas is, predictably, about the Thri-Kreen(of Athas), explaining their mentality, physiology and culture. Because as alien as, say, the Elves of Athas may be, they're still basically just eccentric humans compared to the Kreen.
The main thing that sets Thri-Kreen apart from humans in mentality is loyalty. Humans may be loyal, but compared to a Thri-Kreen's loyalty to his pack, clutch and nation (for the "civilized" Tohr-Kreen of the far west. SPOILERS.), even the most steadfast human fanatic is small-time. The clutch is the most central of these organizations, each Kreen has at least two, firstly his Birth-Clutch, the other Kreen he's born with, and later on in life a willingly chosen clutch that may include non-Kreen.
Now, it may seem like a clutch is basically just an adventuring party, but there's more to it than that. A Kreen who has no clutch to be with, work for, and be supported by, feels distinctly unsettled. He's got no place in the universe if he doesn't have a clutch. An effect of this is also that, no matter how the Kreen might regard and handle the outside world, towards his clutch he's as loyal and selfless as a paladin.
As already described, of course, with regards to other races, this can sometimes be a bit odd for them to understand. As the Kreen may come across as a bullying jackass when he's just trying to figure out who's in charge. Secondly, two Thri-Kreen pretty much instantly know when they're close enough to form a clutch, or for one to join the other's clutch, and they hold to the "Laws of the Clutch" pretty fanatically. Non-Kreen, though, can both break these rules or may simply not understand how deep the clutch-loyalties are to the Kreen who invites them to join one.
Clutch Leadership posted:
As previously stated, a clutch is organized along a strict hierarchy based on dominance; each clutch member knows who is more powerful and who is less powerful. In most cases, determination of clutch hierarchy is peaceful; most thri-kreen can tell who is more or less powerful and aggressive, and give or take orders accordingly. Most positions in the hierarchy are determined by someone giving an order or making a suggestion, and others following it; the one whose suggestions are followed the most is the clutchleader, while the clutchsecond is the one followed next most frequently, and so forth, to the thri-kreen who takes the dominance (and orders) of all other clutch members. When hierarchy is determined in this manner, it relies partly on the thri-kreen’s charisma; however, the other thri-kreen in a clutch also judge a potential leader’s intelligence, aggressiveness, and strength before taking an order. Thus, a non-charismatic warrior who the clutch recognizes as a strong and cunning hunter will be accepted as leader more readily than a charismatic, but weak, individual.
A thri-kreen unhappy with his or her place in the order— either a clutchsecond unhappy with the leader, or someone lower trying to move up a little for the good of the clutch—can make a dominance challenge. The two contenders fight until one surrenders or dies. After the fight, no bad will exists between the contestants; once the issue of dominance is resolved, they both go about their business with the full security of knowing just where they stand in the clutch.
Packs are collections of clutches that work together in some fashion, and in the Tyr region this is what everyone assumes a Thri-Kreen "nation" to be. There are six sub-races of Thri-Kreen(which we'll learn about later), but packs are almost always purely one-subrace, as are the nations of the west. So really, all that defines a "nation" is some sort of racial unity.
Another thing central to Thri-Kreen mentality is the " Hunt ," not always a literal hunt, but they tend to regard everything in terms of predator and prey, or some sort of hunting challenge. Even trading usually goes like this, and they will often seek to be the one initiating bargaining so they can assert themselves as the "predator" of the situation. With regards to actual hunting, though, they will hunt and eat pretty much any damn thing, even species that other races cannot stomach(like Kanks), but despite rumours to the contrary, they tend to put intelligent species lowest on the list for hunting. Though at least part of that is because intelligent species are fucking dangerous to fight just for food.
Elves and other intelligent species are cunning opponents; while this might make for an exciting challenge, it does not make for a ready meal, so hunting for elves and other sapients is not really conducive to the continued existence of the thri-kreen species.
The book also straight-up states that if the Thri-Kreen wanted to eat elves primarily, they could depopulate the entire Tyr region of its elven people with minimal effort. Why? Because Thri-Kreen are fucking badass, is why. Elves are preferred prey when hunting intelligent prey, though, because A) they're competitors for other prey animals(and hunting intelligent prey is usually done when other prey is scarce), and B) Elves smell really delicious to Thri-Kreen when exerting themselves or terrified. Despite all of this, though, Thri-Kreen rarely actually feel bad about killing and eating intelligent prey. If it's not Thri-Kreen and not accepted as a clutchmate, it's usually not regarded as "people."
If the hunt goes badly enough that eating sapients and seeking new territory doesn't cover the pack's appetites, they visit the big city, and either join arena battles to eat their prey, or just stalk the city's avenues and alleyways after dark to eat hobos and elves. Or elven hobos. Mostly just elves, though. This is part of why Thri-Kreen have such a bad rep: Most of the ones who visit the cities are the ones who're half-mad from starvation and will happily prioritize you for eating.
Thri-kreen in cities might be found eating prepared food in taverns or inns, if they can figure out how money work, obtain some, and use it to buy the food. However, despite a well-known eatery in Tyr that caters to and is popular among thri-kreen (The Hungry, Hungry Halfling, run by a halfling thief and a thri-kreen fighter named K'kikrik, few thri-kreen like prepared food enough to make a habit of eating it. They like fresh meat and the hunt far too much.
Overall, the special cases are rare. A thri-kreen prefers fresh meat from an unintelligent mammal or reptile. Dried food is next, then city food, then the flesh of sapients, then carrion, then other thri-kreen.
But clutch-loyalty is always the most important thing, even in the last case. Other packs are attacked first, then clutches split to battle within their own pack, but Thri-Kreen would literally rather starve than kill a clutchmate for cannibalism(though they WILL eat a clutchmate killed by something else if that's the only way to survive).
Other details on the Thri-Kreen mind: Everything is shared within the clutch, they mate for life, they do not like to be called "bugs" or "it" and their religion is really just a rudimentary belief in reincarnation(they like to lay their eggs at burial sites, and then see if the hatchlings recognize any old items once they're born).
Thri-Kreen and Other Races
In fact, thri-kreen test members of other races. If the thri-kreen are the majority, the tests are mainly to see if the other is worthy of acknowledgement as a person; if so, the other might further be considered as a potential clutchmate, and tested for that status. However, if a thri-kreen is among members of another races, the tests determine if the others are worthy of becoming clutchmates, and the place and ranking of the thri-kreen in their group.
The tests are subtle, almost unconsciously performed by the thri-kreen: The thri-kreen observes the other, mentally noting if the other is honest and seems willing to defend the clutch. Strength, intelligence, and cunning are judged, as are various special abilities, such as psionics or spellcasting skills.
A lone thri-kreen may try to exert control on the group, perhaps bullying others in many ways, because this is the quickest way for the thri-kreen to determine his or her place in the group dominance order. If others accept the bullying, the thri-kreen figures that he or she is leader of the pack; if someone stands up to and wins a challenge against the thri-kreen, the thri-kreen accepts a lower place in the dominance order and does what the “superior” says.
When among non-kreen, more experienced thri-kreen are aware of the threat their carnivorous nature presents; though no other intelligent creatures eat thri-kreen, thri-kreen are known to eat members of other races. Whether the thri-kreen has ever developed such tastes, or has inclination to, he or she usually understands the value of the threat, and the power it can provide over members of other races, when determining dominance order. Those susceptible to such a threat are not worthy of being clutchleaders.
I still think Thri-Kreen are hilariously awesome. "OH, REALLY NOW? YOU'RE AFRAID OF BEING EATEN BY AN EIGHT-FOOT GIANT MANTIS? I GUESS THAT MEANS YOU'RE A PUSSY WHO SHOULDN'T BE IN CHARGE. NOW LET ME WATCH YOU SLEEP."
They tend to get along with dwarves and Muls because boths are about as sturdy as Thri-Kreen and have much of the same sense of loyalty and honour. And it's not rare for escaped Mul slaves to join Thri-Kreen packs. Humans take a bit longer to figure out, and it's more individual, but usually humans are flexible enough to get with the program after some exposure.
Halflings' loyalty to their own race makes it easy for them to understand the Thri-Kreen clutch-mentality. On the other hand they're some of the only sentient creatures who'll chow down on Thri-Kreen, so it's rare that they hang out together.
Half-Giants are respected for being HULKING MEAT MOUNTAINS, but are a bit too slow to keep up with raiding or hunting packs a lot of the time.
Their relationship with elves is somewhat entertaining as, while elves hate them enough to have a Thri-Kreen-slayer specialist kit, Thri-Kreen don't really mind elves as such. Of course it could be argued that elves have a point, but most Thri-Kreen have never eaten elf(but the ones that do tend to keep on doing it, as elf tastes SO GOOD to them that it has addictive properties).
This is rather a shame, because elves and thri-kreen have a similar mentality: a love of freedom and running, hunting and taking, and strong racial unity and a disregard of other races. This similarity is another problem; neither race trusts easily, and tends to wait for others to make the first move. When a thri-kreen and an elf are together, each waits for the other to show they can be trusted, neither willing to make a beginning.
Thri-Kreen & Magic
They really do not like wizards, and they can't cast arcane spells. On the other hand, up to half the Thri-Kreen population has wild talents, so they're ass-deep in psionics.
And that's about all you need to know to get along with a Thri-Kreen, or roleplay one.
Adorable Thri-Kreen kids!
crystalline throwing wedges and armpit nostrilsOriginal SA post Dark Sun!
crystalline throwing wedges and armpit nostrils
After we learn how Thri-Kreen work mentally, we get into how they function physically, which includes their childhood and aging. Which means that we get flooded with absolutely adorable art of Thri-Kreen kids. At least, it's super-cute to me.
I love the one in the middle foreground, "'yo 'sup I'm a bug and it's fuckin' awesome"
But, yes, Thri-Kreen! Once they're adults, which most of the ones we're ever likely to deal with or hear about are, they're seven feet tall, or eleven feet if you measure from tip of head to end of abdomen. By this point we also know that they're bugs, so they don't really have much in the way of external differentiation(aside from sub-species) unless they're scarred or painted up or wearing something funny. No hair, fat or weird faces to remember.
Not being able to tell different Thri-Kreen apart is incidentally part of why other races have some trouble with them.
How their bodies work
Physically they're otherwise pretty insecty. Chitin exoskeleton reinforced with internal cartilage, limited mobility due to the chitin's stiffness(cannot shrug or curl into a ball, as per the book's descriptions). Oddly enough they also have a "very powerful backhand," so you can fluff your Thri-Kreen's unarmed attacks as brutal pimp slaps, if you favour that sort of thing.
There are, as mentioned, six sub-species of Thri-Kreen, only two of which live in the Tablelands. They are the To'ksa and the Jeral. There's a lengthy description of their differences, but I'm lazy, so you get AWESOME PICTURES of them instead.
They look relatively alike, but the main differences are that Jeral have three fingers and mainly smooth chitin, while To'ksa have four fingers and are kinda spiky along their back and the upper side of their abdomen. Psychologically, Jeral tend to be more peaceful, and To'ksa tend to be more prone to stabbing the fuck out of people. To'ksa are also the ones more prone to being addicted to eating delicious elves for lunch. There are also a few little oddities besides that, such as Jeral breathing through holes in their thorax between their two sets of arms(essentially in their upper armpits), while To'ksa breathe through their head(like humans do).
The few remaining things that you can't pretty much guess from looking at the images of Thri-Kreen and remembering that they're insectoid is that their blood is a dark yellow colour. With regards to senses they're functionally the same as humans aside from their antennae which give them a boosted sense of smell(and which also makes them more vulnerable to any sort of attack or irritant relying on harassing someone's sense of smell). They also cannot swim for shit as they have basically no natural bouyancy, and in the case of a Jeral, they have to keep much more than just their head above water to avoid drowning.
Reproduction and Aging
So, as we already know, Thri-Kreen are monogamous, and they choose their mates-for-life pretty early, usually around 3 or 4 years of age(at which point they're almost completely physically and mentally mature). This might sound kind of early, but maximum age for most Thri-Kreen, barring mutations or magic, is 35 years, so that's still a sizable chunk of their lifetime.
When someone gets knocked up they take a break to dump a pile of eggs in one of their graveyards... and then move on. If the eggs get eaten by scavengers or predators, that's just life. Jeral tend to arrive back at the hatching site within 60 days, the usual hatching time, to check up on the youngsters and raise them properly. To'ksa, on the other hand, are kind of cunts about the whole deal, and just leave the eggs to deal with life as it happens(or death, more likely). Thankfully Thri-Kreen have an impressive amount of instinctual knowledge, permitting them to become efficient hunters despite no actual training. Oh and, To'ksa sometimes eat their own young if they get hungry or bored. Did I mention To'ksa Thri-Kreen are kind of dicks?
So, as someone might've figured out from the images above, Thri-Kreen, when first born, have four legs and two arms instead of the other way around for adult Thri-Kreen. Their arms are also more like those of proper mantids, instead of the reasonably well-developed digits and such that Thri-Kreen have. Predictably, this changes as they grow, molting into new shells of chitin which allow them to use their middle limbs more like arms and to balance on two legs, and part of it is also simply learning to do these things.
At around 5 or 6 years Thri-Kreen are physically mature, though they're not actually recognized as adults by the pack until they go through the "Chatkcha ceremony." A chatkcha is basically a boomerang, usually made of a crystalline material called "dasl"(which is produced when Thri-Kreen mix their venom with sand after eating a special herb). The ceremony involves four steps: First the Thri-Kreen must construct the dasl chatkcha and have it approved by the clutch or pack leader. Then they must hit a target with it. Next they have to throw it without hitting a target, but such that it returns to them and they catch it. And finally they must use it in battle or hunting and have it draw enemy/prey blood.
THEN they're considered adults.
and they look badass
They change little until they turn 25 or so, where they become Old Bugs. They tend to become a bit more fragile and slow, and stop hunting and ranging, and hang around hatching sides to teach the new kids how things work. And, eventually, they die, somewhere between 25 and 35 years of age(though, to be fair, with no sleep, and only four years of childhood/being a "teenager," they get more out of that time than most humans do.). When they die, their clutch usually throws them into a hatching site after a short elemental burial rite(shallow burial for Earth, being left somewhere high for Air, dousing with liquid for Water and cremation for Fire). Barring the exception for Fire, they're usually also left for the young to eat, as a purely practical measure.
And that's the life of a Thri-Kreen. Born, grow, hunt, die... and maybe reincarnate, if the Thri-Kreen are right about how things work.
Combat & Special Abilities
After the fluffy chapter on how Thri-Kreen work physically, there's a chapter on how they work with LOTS OF NUMBERS. Alright, not LOTS of them, but a handy, condensed chapter of how all their bits work, like their physical attacks, their poison and their antennae.
It starts with this badass.
If anyone cares, here's the condensed list of their awesome abilities: Antennae for seeing in total darkness, an exoskeleton that means even the weakest Thri-Kreen is basically wearing chainmail at all times, they're as fast as horses(which Athas doesn't have, so, as fast as some sort of horrible lizard thing, I suppose), they never sleep, though they do sometimes rest, they can survive for a week in Athas' blistering deserts on just a gallon of water, they can jump 50 feet effortlessly, they have a paralysing poison bite and they can dodge projectiles like they were in the goddamn Matrix(a 9 or better on a D20 just overrides any non-magical missile attack against them and evades it, assuming there's enough space to do it).
As for disadvantages, aside from what we already know, they're allergic to the smoke of one tree, and if they're in high-humidity environments(on Athas that basically means "The Forest Ridge" and nowhere else), Thri-Kreen of five of the six subspecies are subject to "chitin rot" which is basically a fungal infestation that makes their chitin brittle and itchy like hell(alternately they may catch a severe case of pneumonia.
Also a bit of NUMBERS for anyone who's groggy enough to recall 2nd edition: A first-level Thri-Kreen fighter can throw out five 1d4+2 damage attacks with a +1 to hit for each of them, if he specializes in the use of his claws, plus a 1d4+1 damage bite attack that allows him to pump someone full of his paralytic poison. For anyone who's not groggy enough to recall AD&D rules, this is balls-out insane, as there's no fucking way any other species' melee combatants are ever going to be doing 6d4+11 damage in a round maximum, and 17 to 35 damage plus a chance of paralyzing an enemy is going to drop just about anything. And this is before considering the fact that a Thri-Kreen fighter may well have bonuses to damage from high strength.
Dwarves, Mul and half-giants can somewhat keep up due to their potential for staggeringly absurd strength, but even a half-giant with 24 strength and swinging around a 1d12 or 1d10 damage weapon(the maximum you'll ever get on anything actually in the rules) won't be able to match the damage output.
And yes, if anyone cares, the book does have optional rules for quad-wielding weapons.
Next time: Thri-Kreen Society/Rituals and the Thri-Kreen nations of the West!
Rituals & CultureOriginal SA post
Curdistan: Well, I'd respectfully disagree. Aside from the Thri-Kreen, there isn't much in the way of bad balance problems in 2nd edition, and balance issues are hardly anything that magically disappeared in the later ones(I'd argue it even got
in third edition). Yeah, it's a problem that needs fixing in some form or another, but it's something that justifies errata, not an entire rewrite of the system(though that's not to say that there aren't other things about 2nd edition that justified a new edition.).
Also, I just remembered one thing: Thri-Kreen are actually not overpowered in melee combat. See, in 2nd edition, all weapons had a damage range for small/medium enemies, and one for Large enemies. Thri-Kreen are huge enough to be in the Large category, and usually that one's a bigger die of damage. And Thri-Kreen do not get more HP than other races. Also despite their hefty starting/base AC, they can't wear armor on top to improve it any further than that. So barring magical intervention they're never improving that AC.
Rituals & Culture
We largely know most of what we need to know about how Thri-Kreen function as a group, but this chapter fleshes it out considerably. For instance how challenges for authority work(pretty predictable), how inter-pack clashes work(usually resolved by a duel of champions) and similar issues. But we also get some new stuff, like what Thri-Kreen have in the way of religion.
Largely their "faith" can be split into three sections.
Priests & Druids : Are respected, but not worshipped. This respect extends to priests of other races, too, and the Thri-Kreen largely appreciate that they're cool folk who are a boon to the nature that they rely on to survive.
The Afterlife : Or rather, the mid-life, as the Thri-Kreen only believe it's a temporary stop between reincarnations. It's never said if they're right or not, but they have a heaven and a hell. Their heaven is called Dej and is basically an easy-going place full of prey to hunt where the days are always nice. While their hell is called Kano and is a frozen wasteland guarded by a frozen insectoid monster called Gelug. Both are things they know of as racial memories, and if they ever get hit by sharp cold, they'll be reminded of Kano(and probably scared shitless).
The Great One : Way back, WAAAAAAY fuckin' back in the mists of time, a legendary Thri-Kreen now known as The Great One was allied with an Avangion for the purpose of restoring Athas to its true glory. This memory has fossilized as racial memory in Thri-Kreen minds to the point where they now consider all Avangions to be vaguely holy and will, if not directly follow them, at least respect them as soon as they encounter them. They also worship images of the Thri-Kreen known as the Great One. Though their legends have become somewhat muddled, and they now consider the Avangion to merely be a form or aspect of the Great One. Essentially, any Avangion could probably command the loyalty and support of the majority of all Thri-Kreen on Athas. If said Avangion knew about this, odds are he could steamroll pretty much any opposing force...
A side effect of being reminded of the Great One either by an Avangion or by an image of him is that the Thri-Kreen who is so reminded temporarily has all aggression sapped away. They don't become docile as such, but they lose all urge to fight and become more easy to approach.
We also get a little side-note on Thri-Kreen romance. Awwww.
Bug Love posted:
Male and female thri-kreen are treated exactly the same in thrikreen society, except when a female is carrying eggs, at which time she is protected by the entire clutch. The duties of the tribe-hunting, food preparation, caring for the young, making weapons, and so forth-are equally divided between male and female thri-kreen; neither gender is especially better at any task than the other gender.
Thri-kreen courtship reflects this; it can be initiated by the male or the female, and rejected by either party. Courtship begins when a thri-kreen gives a clutchmate a small gift. Both parties give such gifts over the next few weeks, and the thri-kreen spend hours together, hunting together, making weapons together, and talking. If they decide they enjoy one another’s company enough, they declare themselves mated and announce their decision to the clutch. When they choose a mate, thrikreen mate for life. For the actual act of mating, thri-kreen prefer privacy, and a couple wanders off together into the desert for a few hours, or constructs a special burrow for the purpose. The pack does not wait for such things, and a thri-kreen couple might have to scramble to catch up if the pack has moved on. This does make mating a little dangerous, for Athas is not a safe place for two lone thri-kreen.
Thri-Kreen and Grudges : Thri-Kreen never sleep and they never forget. If you fuck with a Kreen and his pack, they WILL stalk you day and night waiting for the perfect chance to ambush you when you're alone and kill you. Otherwise, they're largely respectable enemies who do not indulge in pointless cruelty or eat sapients when they don't have to. Well, at least not the Jeral, the To'ksa have a tendency to snap into the murderous raiding mentality, especially if they've ever eaten an elf and gotten addicted to the taste, and some particularly vicious packs will bring along captured humans and other slaves as mobile food supplies. Thri-Kreen do have ethics and morals, though, and the only pack ever to actively employ torture(Riik-kek) was hunted down and destroyed by every other pack in the region as an aberration.
Thri-Kreen and Death posted:
When a thri-kreen (especially a packleader or other clutchleader) dies, other thri-kreen issue a whining wail, to mourn the passing of their clutchmate. Some non-kreen jokingly refer to this as “thri-keening;” those thri-kreen who understand the pun are not amused.
No other death rites are consistently observed, though thri-kreen often try to carry off their dead to a circular grave site. Many of these sites exist throughout the Tyr Region, though they all emulate “the” Circle, Dej, in the Hinterlands. Dej is a huge, smooth, perfectly round bowl in the earth, 500 feet deep at the center, but almost filled with sand and thrikreen exoskeletons accumulated over the centuries. The exact location is a closely guarded racial secret; it is even unknown to most thri-kreen, until a happenstance visit to it triggers racial memories of its centuries of service.
In Dej, or any of the lesser grave circles, thri-kreen bodies are lined up so their heads face the setting sun, preferably near the bodies of other members of the same clutch and pack. Leaders, though, are given special treatment and taken to the center of the circle. As mentioned, the grave circles often serve as egg-laying grounds as well.
Thri-kreen hatched from eggs laid in grave circles are believed to sometimes absorb the essence of departed thri-kreen. Though a thri-kreen normally has to fight for dominance order, those deemed reincarnations are given special status. To determine if a reincarnation has taken place, three items are placed in front of a youth; if the youth, in three separate and similar tests, pick items that once belonged to the same deceased thri-kreen, the youth is deemed a reincarnation. This seldom happens in the smaller circles away from Dej, because the thri-kreen of the Tyr Region do not usually carry around the items that belonged to generations of long-dead thri-kreen. Dej has storage facilities for such things, and thri-kreen to watch over the place.
Art : Despite being rather vicious and somewhat primitive in their own way, Thri-Kreen are often artistically inclined, producing everything from statuettes to vast stone sculptures. They're also fond of painting up their own chitin. Occasionally they also actively carve designs into their own chitin, or even more rarely, pierce it, though predictably this is a rare talent as not everyone can pull it off without fucking it up. They also dance, play games and even play music, though anyone who pays attention will notice that all the games, and even the dances, are related in some way to fighting or hunting. The music's just because everyone likes to have a nice rhythm when they dance.
Thri-Kreen in the Cities
There's also a subsection on what Thri-Kreen are like in cities and the various city-states, starting by extolling what an awesome addition they'd be to anyone's group or enterprise. They're common in Raam(about 4% of the total populace), where it's also very common for them to hang around and eat elves if they get bored or hungry, the law frowns on this, but can't do jack shit to stop a hungry To'ksa.
They're surprisingly peaceful in Urik because the guards simply tell the Thri-Kreen that when they enter the city of Urik, they're joining the pack of Urik, and the Thri-Kreen loyalty to the pack takes over and keeps them from starting too much trouble.
In the other cities they're extreme minorities, and they particularly stay out of Gulg because the humid forest-environment is likely to give them lung infections or chitin rot.
Packs & Nations
As mentioned, there are six subspecies of Thri-Kreen. Beyond the Tyr Region, out in the Hinterlands, three of them have names starting with J, the other three with T. The J-species are the ones that have their own nations, and the T-species are the ones that work spread out over the entirety of the Thri-Kreen domintion. Let's see what the four new ones are!
J'hol and J'hez are rather warlike, aggressive bastards who don't particularly stand out much in appearance or personality, aside from the fact that J'ez look more like ants than mantids.
T'keech have this greenish, foresty camouflage and are the only Thri-Kreen who are never afflicted by lung infections or chitin rot, apparently having some sort of natural immunity to it. Predictably they tend to be somewhat big fans of forests.
Tondi, however, are even more fascinated with nature, and practically every Tondi who has character levels is a druid. Interestingly enough, there are apparently some gaudy cacti that have much the same colouration, and when they fold up on themselves to the best of their ability and hold entirely still, they can pass for them at a distance. They're also biologically distinct from the rest of the Thri-Kreen in that every Tondi is female and they reproduce parthogenetically.
There are two very unique packs in the Tyr region, or were. The one that was was Riik-kek, the "Fire Raiding Pack." Their story is that a Tohr-Kreen(what the "civilized" Thri-Kreen of the west are called, City-People, rather than the Thri-Kreen Wandering-People.) travelled to the Tablelands and taught a Thri-Kreen pack how to settle down. This, however, primed them to learning new ideas, and when some of their number returned from a city with lessons of cruelty, torture and raiding, the pack rapidly picked those up. Eventually, they had to be hunted down and destroyed by the other Thri-Kreen in the area before the local humans went on an all-out Thri-Kreen destroying rampage.
The other special pack is Kiltiktet(Learning-Pack-Who-Enlightens), another result of Tohr-Kreen interference. In this case, he found some young Kreen and taught them to embrace knowledge, and hunt knowing . They eventually became a pack of nomadic monks that seek information and share it with all the Thri-Kreen packs they encounter.
So out in the west(or northwest, to be precise), lie the Thri-Kreen nations. Beyond the Ringing Mountains, Forest Ridge and Hinterlands. To get there, you have to travel for months, if not the better part of a year, past plains full of these:
Trin("almost-people"), to Kreen what apes are to humans and very aggressive. Oh and those plains are also full of aggressive, hunting To'ksa. But if you do make the journey, you'll come to the lands of the Tohr-Kreen.
They're much like their Tablelands brethren, except that ruling over all the Thri-Kreen nations and their people is the Kreen empire, ruled by the Zik-Chil, the Priests of Change. They've got some eerie psionic powers that allow them to mutate and brainwash Thri-Kreen into Zik-Trin("altered almost-people"). Programmed for selected tasks, most are hulking warriors, while other are fleet scouts, they've got armies of these things, and all are fanatically loyal.
In the Tablelands, the Thri-Kreen think they're what all Tohr-Kreen are like, while humanoids usually refer to them as "mantis nobles," because they've been programmed to be more cultured and knowledgeable(not to mention far more deadly if it comes to combat). Everything they don't need to know has been broken out of their brains, and they perform two functions: Firstly, they are programmed to "enlighten" and unite the scattered Thri-Kreen of the Tablelands. Secondly, they are to scout out the human nations and learn as much about them as possible.
Anyone with half a brain can see what this is leading up to: The Tohr-Kreen are planning to invade, they're gathering information and building an army.
Because that's what Athas needed: A looming threat of thousands upon thousands of disciplined, fanatical, augmented Thri-Kreen ready to die for the cause of the Empire.
The book finishes off with class kits for Thri-Kreen characters. For those unfamiliar with 2nd edition, kits were introduced in just about every supplement. They're not actual classes, but attachments to classes that usually come with restrictions(mostly roleplaying) and some minor bonuses. Mostly the kits are for various Thri-Kreen pack roles: Hunter, Guardian, Scout, Raider, Pack Psionicist, Kiltektet Student Missionary. Mostly the advantages are in a few bonus proficiencies, and the limitations are a few proficiencies they cannot have and a certain role they must fill. The exception is the Guardian who gets a whopping permanent +1AC due to more massive chitin. Of course the downside is that they're extra large which, in addition to the other problems it presents, makes them a prime target for any attackers who decide that they've gotta go first because they're the largest threat on the battlefield.
And that's mostly what there is to know about Thri-Kreen on Athas. So, by demand, next we'll be moving on to Mind Lords of the Last Sea , one of the weirder fucking supplements, as the name might have clued you in to.
MIND LORDS OF THE LAST SEAOriginal SA post Dark Sun!
MIND LORDS OF THE LAST SEA
Welcome to Mind Lords of the Last Sea, where the cover has not a fucking thing to do with the contents.
What's in this goddamn book?
As you can tell by the title, this book has a SHOCKER for us: There's actually a surviving Sea somewhere in/around the Tyr region! Gasp! Now admittedly you have to travel through a remarkably shitty amount of terrain that will set you on fire and otherwise murder you to get there. But the Last Sea exists.
The book contains THE LAST SEA, a description of its environs and cultures, stuff about its history and an EPIC ADVENTURE for any PC's who blunder into the area.
The Last Sea
As the name suggests, the Last Sea has a rather cruel surprise in store for any Athasians who find it: It's a sea, meaning it's salt rather than fresh water. So there you go, you've got a huge load of water! But you can't fucking drink it. Still, some people live in and around the Last Sea.
On the shores, you've got the CITY OF SARAGAR, where the MIND LORDS rule, and in the lake itself you've got lizardmen. Now, lizardmen were supposed to be extinct on Athas on account of the Cleansing Wars getting them murdered. But how they ended up NOT murdered is another TWIST that this book has prepared for us! The lizardmen are lizardy, and not very interesting, what is interesting is Saragar itself.
It's a remnant from the Green Age, meaning that it is ass-deep in powerful psionics and psionic "mechanics." Back then they had an amazing idea for punishing miscreants: They crammed their brains into obsidian orbs and then used their psychic energy to persistently power simple mechanisms. In ruins around Saragar, and in Saragar itself, their telekinetic powers provide everything from public transport to powering some of the desalinization plants that keep the citizens of Saragar drinking fresh water.
Speaking of the citizens of Saragar: Did you know they're always happy ? Despite the fact that their sea is full of flesh-eating jellyfish? Literally flying carnivorous fish? Squidsharks and worse? Of course they're always happy, because happiness is enforced as mandatory by the Mind Lords! Barani, Kosveret and Thesik are the titular Mind Lords of the Last Sea. A female human, a male elf and a male human. All of them powerful psionicists and all of them dead. Sort of. We'll get to that in the history section.
But suffice to say that they're all ridiculously powerful, a bit insane(with Kosveret the craziest and Thesik the sanest) and very obsessed with keeping Saragar running as a model state that's excluded from any contact with the outside world. They know the Sorcerer-Kings are still around, though the Sorcerer-Kings have long forgotten Saragar, and they'd rather not have any of the city states of the Tyr Region attempt to invade, or get themselves flooded with refugees from the less-gentle tyranny of most of the Sorcerer-Kings.
If anyone happens to be non-happy and non-conformist in Saragar, they get "harmonized," which is a nice way of saying they get psychically lobotomized to the point of losing all capacity for anger or other "anti-social impulses." Oh and the Mind Lords are rather absent from their work most of the time, handing over enforcement to the Lawkeepers, a deeply corrupt police force that'll "harmonize" you for littering half the time as eagerly as they would for murder.
On the rules-side, we're given rules for drowning, catching colds and surfing . Yes, that's right, in Saragar they surf , and PC's can spend their proficiency points on this ability that will be completely useless anywhere else on Athas unless they find a way to surf silt waves. Oh and since magic is illegal in Saragar, as soon as anyone casts a spell there, the Mind Lords instantly know about it, know where you are, and send Lawkeepers to lobotomize you.
Saragar is also the only place on Athas with indoor-plumbing, flush toilets and, resultingly, plumbers.
The Last Sea itself contains the aforementioned monstrosities, pirates, dolphins, tentacled sharks, lizardmen towns, an island full of giants and little else of interest. As much as the whole place is named after the Last Sea, it contains very little that actually matters or is worth exploring.
How the Last Sea Became the Last Sea
This is a weird damn story. But let's rewind to the Green Age, where everyone was psychic and things were great and idyllic. Saragar and its Sea, back then much less of a Last Sea than now, were also around! Thesik, Barani and Kosveret were awesome psionicists back then(and all good friends), with Thesik and Kosveret competing to get into Barani's pants. The three of them, when not busy goofing off with such sitcom bullshit, were working at a psionic academy under the lead psychic called Mareet.
One day, Mareet gets a psychic message from THE FUTURE, warning of TERRORS that will occur MILLENNIA AWAY. It is, however, also extremely vague, so he sets the three future Mind Lords to probing the future to figure out what the fuck is going to go down. Against everyone's predictions, they succeeded, jumping three-thousand years into the future, to a point after the Cleansing Wars, and seeing everything all fucked up. This was bad, oh man, this was BAD NEWS of a major caliber.
They tell their boss, and Mareet goes: "ALRIGHT, WE HAVE TO TELL EVERYONE THAT MAGIC IS BAD AND GET IT BANNED." But they figure that it's impossible to stop the catastrophe on a great scale, and that if anything was to be done, it would have to be more drastic than just talking to people. So they psychically lobotomized him, took over the city and started turning the Saragar of the past into the Saragar of the future. Building up defenses against the destruction of the city and its necessities. Cutting contact with the rest of the world slowly but effectively.
Oh yes and since they needed a bunch more brains for their obsidian orbs, to turn into powerful psychic guardians, they started grabbing all the hobos, beggars and poor people they could find for that purpose.
By this point, of course, defiling magic was starting to pop up in the outside world, and everyone accepted that the extreme measures were just to protect Saragar against evil wizards.
But there was one thing that'd still get them the outside world's attention: They had lizardmen hanging around, who were on Rajaat's "to murder"-list. So what they did was that they put them all in suspended animation under the Last Sea until Rajaat's champions had fucked off, pretending that their little nation was a beautiful, mono-racial paradise of nothing-but-humans. Though you have to wonder why they didn't just kill off the lizardmen since they were happy to murder and lobotomize hundreds of others for the sake of keeping Saragar safe.
At any rate, time passed, Mind Lords grow old, throw themselves into orbs, slowly go bonkers as the outside world turns to dust. Of course, no one in Saragar knows this, they think the Mind Lords are eternal, as they appear in the city as psionic holograms and have the telekinetic and psychic powers to really seem godlike to the city. Barani is the MOTHER GODDESS OF THE EARTH, Thesik is the GLUM DUDE OF DEATH and Kosveret is the CRAZY DUDE OF GOOD TIMES in their little pseudo-pantheon.
Left to right: Barani, Kosveret, Thesik
Thesik is mostly just depressed with how badly everything has gone. Best of intentions gone wrong, body lost, Barani so insane that he no longer has any sort of connection with her. He's largely uninvolved in daily life.
Barani is manic-depressive, snapping between JOY & LIFE and being a vengeful divine fury that smites people for looking at her funny.
Kosveret is a fishmalk. Like the book literally states that he will do shit like appearing as an omnipotent psychic duck just to fuck with people and fling them into the air for laughs. This is punctuated with periods of extreme paranoid delusions, where he's convinced that THE SORCERER KINGS ARE COMING, THEY'VE ALL BANDED TOGETHER TO KILL US and is even more irrational than usual. The book speculates that the fact that he banged Barani once while disguised as Thesik has given him some severe guilt issues that have helped make him even more goddamn crazy than the other two.
Mandatory happiness in Saragar
Of course, that's just the official story. There's even more craziness under the surface and most of it is contained within an adventure set in the Last Sea area that's attached at the end of the book.
See, Kosveret has, in a lucid moment, decided that it's all so fucked up it would have been better if the Last Sea never survived. He wants to travel back in time and prevent the initial message that set them on the path of researching their psychic future-glances and eventually to becoming the Mind Lords. Unfortunately, they did all the other time travel as a team, and Barani and Thesik do not want to disassemble Saragar or change the past. So he needs to work alone. And he needs a special ritual for that. One that involves hundreds of fresh humanoid brains to power it.
Basically what he does is that he lobotomizes people with his psychic powers and then teleports the brains out of their skulls after they're dead. Rather grisly, and very direct.
The entire adventure casts the PC's as outsiders who've arrived and who get involved in the mess as investigators. Assuming that they don't litter on the street and get lobotomized by the lawkeepers first. The crack in Kosveret's plan is that he had some dwarves carve out a SECRET SAFE HAVEN for him to do his ritual in, and he wasn't fast enough at killing them afterwards to prevent a few of them from blabbing about the place.
Oh yes, and the intended hook for keeping the players on the mystery is that one of the brains Kosveret steals is a PC's brain. He teleports in, psi-stuns him, teleports out his brain, and then warps away, probably cackling madly. So yeah, this adventure starts with a fucking save-or-die event. Without the save part. So I guess it's just a "die"-event.
So the entire adventure is about finding out that Kosveret is to blame, tracking down his lair, and stopping him from fucking up the past and breaking the present-future. If they fail, Thesik, who's been shadowing them all along but not helping , the huge prick, will step in and make everything right again. If they succeed, then they succeed, and they can recover their dead friend's brain and have him resurrected by a priest. Oh that's assuming any of them survive the fight with the aeons-old psionicist elf who cannot be harmed by physical weapons(though they can attempt to batter apart the obsidian orb containing his psyche) and can two-shot most of them by stunning them and teleporting out their brains.
Oh and of course no one will ever believe them, and Thesik takes up masquerading as Kosveret, so no one knows anything's changed.ALRIGHT, WE HAVE TO TELL EVERYONE THAT MAGIC IS BAD AND GET IT BANNED.
Fuck the Last Sea
The attached adventure is stupid, the place is full of "fuck you"-traps like Kosveret teleporting in and fucking the party over, or magic setting off the LOBOTOMY ALARMS, the sea itself contains nothing of interest except for a chance to fuck over Athasian PC's(who of course can't swim) with the risk of drowning and getting colds. And I still have no fucking clue what's up with the cover.
Fuck the Last Sea.
I need something new. Do people want me to do...
The Book of Wondrous Inventions , a first-edition D&D supplement full of amazingly dumb magical machines.
More Dark Sun , name a supplement or adventure and I'll take a poke at it.
Maztica , since that was brought up, it's Forgotten Realms Aztecs.
Aurora's Catalogue , assuming no one else calls dibs on it.
City by the Silt SeaOriginal SA post
I'll do Elves of Athas and/or Wondrous Inventions after this one.
City by the Silt Sea
Unlike Mind Lords of the Last Sea, the cover for City by the Silt Sea is actually related to the content, and it also gives away something pretty huge right away: Yeah, Dregoth isn't dead, he's un dead. And Giustenal isn't quite as dead as it might seem either.
“One rampaging Dragon is all we want to deal with at a time, Dregoth. “she said, carving her words into his fading consciousness with the Way. “Besides, you’re too powerful for our own good.”
Distantly‚ Dregoth felt her long nails dig in to his throat‚ slowly‚ almost sensually. Blood flowed freely, drenching her hands. Except for a telling smile, she didn’t seem to notice. Then Dregoth, Ravager of Giants, Third Champion and Betrayer of Rajaat, the Dread King of Giustenal, died.
For a while.
The Past: What Happened?
Dregoth was one of the most powerful Sorcerer-Kings and Giustenal a remarkably prosperous city after the Cleansing Wars. Unlike the other survivors, however, Dregoth wasn't so sure Rajaat was wrong. He agreed that returning to the Blue Age in some fashion was a grand idea, but not that halflings or humans should be the race to do it, no. Dregoth was pumped up about the idea of dragons or some form of draconic people ruling the world. He was also powerful as hell, only one step in Dragon(as per the advanced class)-evolution behind Borys of Ebe, The Dragon.
So the other Sorcerer Kings got nervous and, for once in their paranoid lives, banded together to do something: Kill Dregoth and raze his city. They teleported in and hammered him with everything from swords to magic to psionics, then razed the city, butchering almost every last survivor of the original onslaught.
Giustenal had always been a city of mysteries, though, as far back as the Blue Age, cities had been built there, and new ones on the foundations of the old as they fell to war or disaster. So it's placed on top of at least a half dozen other, more ancient, cities, each with their own secrets.
And this was what Dregoth needed when he died, through essentially pure force of will, he returned himself to life as an undead creature similar to a lich(albeit huge and draconic in form). When he returned, he entered the wilds around Giustenal, rallying his templars and the survivors of Giustenal's citizenry, leading them into the tunnels and ruins below the destroyed city to start anew.
The Present: Giustenal Environs
Several groups live near and around, but none in, the ruins of Giustenal. Elven raiders, herders and traders, tribes of escaped slaves, and the village of Cromlin, on the shores of the Silt Sea, which houses several bands of pirates who raid shore villages. No one dares approach Giustenal itself, though, for the magical assault that destroy Dregoth has lefts its surroundings twisted and dangerous, and for anyone with even a hint of psionic power, there lurks another danger: The Caller in the Darkness. A rumoured terror that drives men insane.
In particular, everyone keeps their distance since some of the elves dared approach the city. One, named Jessareen, was contacted by an apparently friendly psyche which, when she asked it for knowledge, flooded her mind with images that drove her insane. Another was a group of elves whose psionicist was driven mad by the Caller and who had to kill him to avoid being killed in turn.
Approaching Giustenal would require wading through pits of boiling tar(often concealed below a crust of silt blown across them by the wind), jagged crystal plains that slice open boots and feet, magma forests(forests of ancient, heat-resistant trees covered in molten rock during an ancient volcanic eruption) and that's just the environmental hazards that don't chase you. There's everything from dwarven banshees through elven raiders, horrible things that live in the tar pits or rampaging Gith.
In the end, travellers have three options if they truly wish to reach Giustenal: Approach from the East or West, along the shoreline, avoiding the worst of the land's hazards, but mixing in the hazards of the Silt Sea. From the North, sailing in across the Silt(Giustenal is slowly being consumed by the spreading Silt Sea and it's possible to sail right across the city walls on that side) or, for those who rightfully fear the Silt Sea, from the South, which means going straight through the tar, crystals and beasts of the mainland.
Also, unlike the Last Sea, PC's actually have a reason to go poking around here: It's a lost fucking city! Of course it's bound to be full of sweet loot and treasure! It plays to every PC's motivations.
The Caller in the Darkness
The Caller in the Darkness is literally a vast gestalt mind of all those who died in Giustenal on the day when Dregoth did, trapped there by the combined force of all the powers gathered and unleashed. In the last few years, thankfully, the supernatural forces there have been weakening and spirits have been slowly slipping away into the Gray to eternal rest... but the gestalt mind doesn't understand it as such, it thinks that it's slowly dying, and is desperately summoning psionically capable people to it so they can die with it and replenish its fading numbers.
It's more complicated by the fact that the emotional state of the dying effect how much energy they add to the Caller. The ones who die utterly terrified are the ones who replenish it the most. Those who are psionically capable, or just have wild talents, are slowly and carefully assaulted as they approach the walls of Giustenal. With phantom hints just at the edge of perception, barely-seen shadows, barely-heard sounds, slowly driving them more and more terrified. It's not until it has someone fully within its grasp or they're terrified enough to try and leave, that the Caller grasps their mind with a frontal attack.
(It also only hunts the minds it knew from life: Halfling, dwarven, human, half-elven and elven. Thri-Kreen, Mul, giants, half-giants and Dray are spared.
Running the Caller in the Darkness posted:
The Dungeon Master must take care not to make the Caller simply another monster for player characters to confront with swords and spells. The Caller is a strange phenomenon that will probably never be created again and is as unique as the sorcerer-kings themselves.
The Caller constantly uses psionic probes to search a five-mile area around the ruined city. When it finds a psionic mind, it attacks. The Caller's initial attack is basically a more powerful form of contact. To determine if contact is established, the victim must make a saving throw versus spells. The Caller can attempt to make contact with a psionic character once per day. If contact is established, the Caller begins to summon its victim to the ruins. If contact isn't established, nothing else occurs that day, though the intended victim will feel some unseen threat in the wilderness. Inside the ruins, the caller can attempt to establish contact with the same victim twice per day.
Once contact is established, a victim will begin to suffer delusions. If the character is outside of Giustenal, she will see a lost loved one beckoning to her from atop the city walls, and she will call to him-often in the language of the ancient city. Those who are unaffected by the Caller will hear only her strange words and will see nothing. Others who are influenced by the Caller will hear the name of someone dear to them, as opposed to what the contacted character is actually saying. They believe that the character is seeing exactly the same person that they are. Any words spoken by unaffected characters are heard as threats and taunts by the victims.
At this point, each victim should make another saving throw versus spells. Failure indicates that they can no longer hold back must search for a way into the ruins. Success means that they want to enter Giustenal but are still wary of the dangers. Success doesn’t mean that the character is alerted. She simply fights back the urge for a while longer. This roll should be repeated once every hour, as the affected see loved ones appear and summon them inside once again.
Sometimes a victim doesn't see visions of loved. Instead, the character might see gleaming treasure just beyond the city walls or something else he desires. The victim's mind is an open book to the spirit storm. The Caller uses whatever the victim desires most to entice him into its lair. Eventually, the Caller will win and victims will head toward the ruins. The only way to stop this is for disaffected companions to tie them down or hold them in some way, and this will usually cause resentment as the companions' comments are twisted into harsh threats.
Now, while this may seem somewhat unfair, PC's actually have a way to avoid this: If they do their research instead of blindly charging in, they'll know that only psionicists in the area go mad(and with the whole Character Tree mechanic, psionicist players probably have an alternate character to bring). And, additionally, only psionicists who actually use their powers within the area of the Caller have any chance of being noticed by it. Personally I rather like the Caller, it's an excuse to make the dead city even creepier than it already is.
Other things of note on the approach are an island and a spire just off the "coast." One houses an undead creature called a Krag, created when an elemental cleric died in his opposed element(Rain in Silt, in this case), and the other a cleric of the Silt who wishes to dispose of this Krag. If the PC's help him with it, or in general are just friendly with him, he'll share his magic, his knowledge, and a special herb that wards off some of the monsters dwelling in the Silt Sea near Giustenal.
Within the City: On the Surface
The Surface of Giustenal is dead, except of course for all the animals and other unintelligent terrors lurking there. Near the Silt Sea is the added danger of slipping into a hole or crevice full of silt and drowning in a horrible fashion. The place is dusty and decaying, and everyone is likely to be constantly choking and coughing as they explore, the dust further working to lower range of vision and making the place even creepier.
The Caller within Giustenal posted:
Also, within the walls of Giustenal, the Caller’s proximity causes fear and terror to spill over and affect every intelligent creature, regardless of its psionic abilities or race. Some of the fear is directed at specific targets, but everyone feels at least part of the effects. This manifests in a number of ways.
First, all characters feel a sense of dread once they pass through the gates or otherwise enter the city. They can't name what bothers them or see a logical cause, but they feel strange and slightly paranoid nonetheless. Paranoia rises in others, and every shadow becomes an assassin, every noise a stalking monster. As characters wander the silt-cloaked streets, the ruins seem to lean toward them. Open doors appear like dark, hungry maws. They feel they are being watched, even hunted, as they progress farther into the ruins. Some characters may also begin to experience actual visions. These are residuals of the caller’s attacks on other characters.
As for those characters actually being attacked by the Caller, the undead creature manifests illusions of terror that constantly wash over those it has contacted. Beyond the walls, these illusions are benevolent, tempting the characters with the things their hearts most desire. Inside the walls, these visions turn dark. The Caller will never manifest an illusion capable of attack. Subtlety and anxiety are its weapons. Remember that these are always used on one target at a time, so take the player aside or pass a note whenever a character is the victim of the Caller's terror attacks. The Caller will rotate through its victims, directing an attack at one contacted character, then attacking a different contacted character next.
Mechanically, whenever a PC fucks up a save to resist terror, his wisdom drops temporarily. When it hits 0 he's a panicked, gibbering wreck and the Caller attempts to slay him(it has some direct offensive psychic powers, but not many) or make him commit suicide so it can add him to the flock. The book also contains a list of subtle and creepy visions to spring on the PC's, to give you an idea of what it should be like. The in-quotes part is what the GM should read to the player, the rest is for the GM.
"You've stopped to take a drink of water. You rub the back of your sunburned neck and see the shadow of your friend fall across the silt. When you turn, your friend isn't there!" The shadow does not move after it appears. When the character calls for his companions, the shadow disappears.
"You nervously finger the hilt of your weapon and feel the comfortable sharpness of its edge. You feel a slight sting at the end of your hand and see that you've managed to cut yourself: A dark drop of blood falls as if in slow motion, where it lands on a bleached skull. You watch in fascination as the drop splatters, then rolls down to congeal in the silt below." Let the character think that his blood has somehow given life to the skeleton, mentioning that he sees a glow in the previously dark eye sockets after the drop hits it.
"There's a strange sound high above, as if something is scratching at stone in the upper floors of the building to your right." When the character investigates, he finds a room locked from the outside. Inside is the withered body of a trapped slave who tried to claw his way through the door long, long, ago.
Subtle, subtle stuff just to make the players feel distinctly worried about being in Giustenal at all.
The main thing of interest in the city is the remnants of Dregoth's palace. Which is, of course, close enough to the encroaching Silt Sea to be partially buried and invite all sorts of nasties in to play once the PC's make a bit of noise...
The two important things to do there, besides of course looting the place and getting into fights, is to collect some of Dregoth's old holy symbols worn by his Templars back when he was alive(nicely crafted, worth money, enough reason to pick them up) and to poke around Dregoth's old lab and, in their greed, release a Venger. Vengers are neutral, created when someone was GRIEVOUSLY FUCKED OVER in life and pissed enough to keep hunting revenge afterwards. In this case, Dregoth had some... experiments that we'll learn about, and one of the results of a failed experiment became a Venger that remained locked in his lab. The PC's will undoubtedly free it as they poke around, at which point it'll ignore them and start dragging its way through the palace(it's so ancient and badly damaged that it cannot use its legs).
Either they'll flip out and attack it, and have to find their way downwards on their own, or they'll be curious and help it. Opening doors and clearing obstacles for it, as it works its way downwards... into the ruins below Giustenal.
Next time: Below Giustenal
Below GiustenalOriginal SA post Dark Sun!
Alone, with no leader to guide them and no walls to protect them, the survivors of Giustenal began to die. Some found places in faraway villages. Others became slaves of the other cities. But a few hundred remained huddled together not far from the ruined city by the dying sea. It was there, in a protected valley, that High Templar Mon Adderath found them.
“Come, children of Giustenal,” the templar commanded. Dregoth has returned and he has need of you.” Confused but suddenly full of hope, the survivors followed Mon Adderath back in to the ruins. . . and down in to the depths beneath Athas.
The Depths of Giustenal
As mentioned, below Giustenal is a layer cake of explorable dungeons made out of ruined cities and natural geology. In order from highest to lowest: The Tunnels, The Sunken City, The Groaning City, Kragmorta and New Giustenal. There are two ways for the PC's to find their way down here, either they can descend through Dregoth's ruined palace, probably lead by the Venger, or they can defeat the Krag that rests in the spire off the "coast" and explore their way down through its lair.
These were made by the halflings back during the Blue and Green ages as they tried to make underground refuges to hide from all their fuckups on the surface. If you recall the obsidian slave orbs from Mind Lords of the Last Sea, there are a few of these around, and if anyone can make contact with them, they can either milk them for a bit of info(if they're still coherent, like Kataal the Mover, the one that made Jessareen the elf go mad) or they can ask them for rapid transport.
The tunnels provide a maze of routes to pretty much every location short of New Giustenal, complete with navigational hazards like lava rivers and vertical shafts that must be navigated with magic, psionics or climbing skills. Fortunately the Caller in the Darkness doesn't extend below the surface of Giustenal and navigation down here is much safer.
The Sunken City
This is the part of Giustenal that was swallowed up by the Silt Sea immediately after the attack on Dregoth. One of the other Sorcerer-Kings, Abalach-Re, expected to find some sweet salvage, so she stabilized it in an air pocket via use of magic. So it's kind of eerie in that it has a magically stable dome of stand above it that cuts off a lot of buildings and spires at the roof, and since it's still slowly sinking, everything is tilted at a 30-degree angle that makes navigation kind of clumsy and a bit dangerous.
On the bright side, Abalach-Re missed several magical items and one location entirely, so exploring this place is actually quite worthwhile to persistent adventurers. On the other hand, it also has some undead lurking around, and if the PC's arrive through the spire they'll be walking right into an encounter with one... who has level-draining attacks and can only be hit by +1 or better weapons. Yeah, so that's kind of a dicktastic move. But the magical loot really is staggering, if a PC party could just loot the Sunken City comprehensively and return alive, they'd be set for life.
For anyone interested in busting up Dregoth or another Sorcerer-King, they can also find the Tomb of Taraskir, one of the last rebels against Dregoth's rule, who was slain and entombed here. His weapons now have a considerable bonus to busting up any Dragons, and since on Athas "Dragon" means Sorcerer-King(or Borys of Ebe), there's only one thing you can use those for.
Ultimately, this area is largely just a reward for players.
Well, assuming you can defeat the tomb's guardians, anyway
The Groaning City
This city existed before Giustenal was destroyed. When Dregoth decided to start purging demihumans from Giustenal(back when the Cleansing Wars were still going, before Rajaat was betrayed, later they moved back into the city after Dregoth got more chill about the whole thing, otherwise there's no explanation for how any would ever be part of the Caller in the Darkness) they predictably didn't just sit there and take it, instead they ran like hell, discovering the tunnels below the city and the Groaning City, which was originally made as a refuge for Halflings during the Blue Age.
This was after Taraskir's rebellion, and by now he was regarded as a full-fledged deity(even though, on Athas, there aren't any, so he didn't have any clerics). Of course, this was also why Dregoth eventually found the place as he hunted for the escaped refugees. When he did, he killed fucking everyone .
The main thing to make this place interesting is that firstly it has some of the weird, semi-organic halfling architecture from the Blue Age(you can see it in that image, the melty-looking stuff) and it's covered with leonine motifs(Taraskir was, after all, called The Lion). It also has some unsettling encounters, as there's a tree full of hanged dwarves(Dregoth's work) that will animate and attack anyone who comes near, trying to grapple and choke anyone who approaches the tree.
They're pretty creepy. There are also some other undead dangers, and the reason for picking up one of Dregoth's holy symbols in the palace above becomes obvious here as some of the undead are Dregoth's creations and will ignore anyone carrying one of his symbols.
But there's more to the underground, for immediately below this, we reach...
And start learning what Dregoth has been up to.
The place is a large, natural cavern full of magma with a raised islands connected by bridges either natural or artificial. It's here that the first generation of Dray live. As we was mentioned earlier, Dregoth was obsessed with dragons and thought they were the top of the evolutionary line, so he wanted to make draconic humanoids, and the Dray were his shot at that. The first generation wasn't quite perfect, though, they suffered from mutations and were just generally not as beautiful and graceful as he had expected them to be. Resultingly, he cast them out and they eventually settled in Kragmorta where they survived and, to some extent, thrived.
The current leader of Kragmorta's dray is Mosak Eggstealer. Like the leaders before him, he carries the title of Clan Father (though there have been Clan Mothers in the past, too). Mosak is a planner. He is not known as a talker, but when he speak his words are revered by the rest of his clan. He distrusts outsiders, fearing they may be from Dregoth. Neither he nor his dray know much about the surface world. If visitors can convince Mosak that they are friendly, he would love to hear tales of the world above. He also seek help against the Spirit of Kragmorta (see below). If adventurers confront the spirit and expose it for what it is (thus saving more of Mosak's clan), they will earn the respect and gratitude of the Clan Father.
Yeah, the Spirit of Kragmorta. Basically this jackass ghost has been popping up and convincing the Dray of Kragmorta that Dregoth fucked them over and that they should go make war on him. So far, three-hundred Dray have set off to raid New Giustenal deeper below, but none of them have returned. Dregoth plans to conquer the surface world some day, and to help him do that he needs an army of the undead, so he's luring poor suckers to him so he can murder them and add them to his army, the first generation Dray are part of that. Hence he's rigged up the spirit to make them wander down and get killed.
The Spirit is pretty much nothing but words, so all they need to do is piss it off sufficiently that it loses its cool and stops seeming deep and mysterious. Then the first-generation Dray will smart up to the fact that they shouldn't be listening to it.
The Dray themselves are generally pretty rad. They'll accept any surfacers that don't attack them as friends, and as equals if they take the rites of adulthood, which largely involve screwing around with the giant spiders and lizards that dwell in Kragmorta. There's also a chance that they can make friends with some Dray scavengers they might meet in the Groaning City, in which case they have guides for Kragmorta and are labelled as buddies from the get-go.
Pretty much everything else in Kragmorta is a hostile animal(or in the case of the Dark Naga, a hostile intelligent creature). It's a dumping ground for those of Dregoth's acquisitions that he either doesn't feel are worth keeping or just wants to turn loose on the first-generation Dray for laughs. The thing is that Dregoth has an artifact in his palace, a Blue Age artifact, that allows unhindered Planar travel, and he's been using it for three purposes.
Firstly: he's been researching how becoming a God works, once he realized that they existed on other worlds. He cannot become one on Athas, no one can, but he hasn't figured that out yet.
Secondly: He captures weird creatures he finds and sets them loose for kicks, or recruits them to be part of his army.
Thirdly: He's been making an alliance with the Baatezu. They plan to fuck him over for ALL of Athas, of course, but so far it means he's got a few Abishai to add to his army.
Still, any proper adventurers won't stop here after they get some hints of Dregoth's plans, they'll keep going deeper. And sure enough, there are tunnels heading down...
This is where the action is. The first generation of Dray were a "failure," but the second generation were not, and this is their city, their new city, where they dwell as Dregoth's loyal servants.
The first generation Dray were largely good guys, but the second-generation have had Dregoth's hatred for all surfacers and all non-Dray hammered into their heads. All the demihumans(elves, half-elves, mul, dwarves, half-giants and giants) are to be hated and destroyed, while humans are to be pitied for not having yet been turned into Dray. Thri-Kreen are a sort of weird surprise to Dregoth, as they weren't yet around in large numbers when Giustenal was destroyed, but eventually he'll decide they have to be destroyed as well.
The first generation dray continued to mutate, changing from the perfect draconic specimens Dregoth had envisioned into flawed reflections of his dream race. He wanted tall, lean beings with muscular frames. They were to be proud, near-replicas of the dragon kings. Instead, most were hunched over, not tall and straight. Their claws were jagged, not long and sharp. Their scales were mottled, uneven. What was worse, unlike his failures of the past, these mutations did not die out. In fact, they were capable of breeding. Dregoth considered them to be mockeries of his perfection. He ordered Mon Adderath to banish these hideous creatures, to bar New Giustenal'’s gates to them forever.
By Athasian standards, New Giustenal is a paradise. It has an excess of water from underground rivers, no particularly bad predators(there's the Squark in the river, but the local giant spiders, the Kalin, have been domesticated as riding beasts for the Dray cavalry) and decent levels of affluence for everyone. Here the second-generation Dray live, work and die as they prepare for the Day of Light, when they will emerge unto the surface once more and Dregoth will lead them to victory over all his old foes.
Over the centuries, Dregoth has established a religion dedicated to himself and built a mighty military force. Someday the Dread King plans to lead his army to the surface. He has old debts to pay and a world to win. Even the Dragon will bow to Dregoth the god! At least, that is the delusion that the undead dragon king lives under. However, no matter how insane he is, he also has the power to see his vision through to completion.
Besides Dregoth himself, the two main NPC's in New Giustenal are Absalom and Mon Adderath. Absalom is the first Second Generation Dray, before Dregoth could properly stabilize the transformations, he hit upon a good one with Absalom... then killed him to stop the transformations and revived him as an undead creature. Absalom is less of an ass than most of the other Dray, he likes the ones of the first generation and doesn't want them turned into undead slaves, he visits them with some regularity to teach and preach and regards them as still being some of Dregoth's children. Mon Adderath, on the other hand, has been with Dregoth ever since Dregoth was still human and alive, one of his oldest friends, whom Dregoth somehow granted immortality, and who is the only human still living in New Giustenal(somehow the immortality has rendered him immune to the Dray transformation process). Mon Adderath is a huge dick and disapproves of Absalom being friends with the first-generation Dray. Also if the PC's really wanted to piss off Dregoth, they'd stab him in the neck, because Dregoth and Adderath are, surprisingly, 100% genuine friends and like each other.
While he may eventually have his revenge on the sorcerer- kings who killed him, Dregoth will never become a god-at least not on Athas. Athas has never had any gods, and it never will. Why this is may never be completely understood, but the fact is that the conduits that allow gods (or powers, as they're called elsewhere) to draw strength from their worshipers simply don't exist on Athas. No matter what Dregoth does, he won't be able to change that fact, and he isn't even aware that this is a problem. Without these spiritual conduits, divine power can't be attained.
So what the hell can we do?
Obviously this is pretty bad news. While Dregoth can never become a God, he's a powerful fucker who can ruin everyone's day and on a more personal level he directly threatens the dray of Kragmorta whom the PC's may or may not have come to like after meeting them.
There are in fact several ways they can fuck with him, either by skirmishing on the edges of New Giustenal or by infiltrating the city itself. On the edges of the city, they can destroy the magical items that keep his undead army animated. It won't be a crippling or even a final blow, but it will take Dregoth quite a long time to recover from.
Within his palace itself, they can destroy what he thinks is a holy relic that he's empowering to turn himself into a true god. It'll mostly be a smash against his morale, but it'll definitely make him believe himself less infallible and make him slow his plans down. They can also find Dregoth's planar gate artifact, which serves two purposes: Firstly they can use it to recover any friends consumed by the Caller in the Darkness, and secondly, if they destroy it, no one on Athas has the knowledge to repair it and Dregoth can no longer either recruit an extraplanar army or find it quite as easy to learn about how to become a god.
Difficult as it may seem, the PC's are not completely alone in this task. Absalom has enough disapproval of his lord's plans that he will delay Dregoth's fury long enough for the PC's to escape or finish doing important things, like destroying the Planar gate. And not all of the second-generation Dray must necessarily be enemies, some can become friends.
So, if the PC's get in, do some damage, and get out alive, they can be richer, more powerful and do something to ensure Athas' future security.
In the Expanded Setting
Dregoth's plans have not yet been interrupted by meddling PC's, and the Dray have started entering the surface world. Disguised agents of the undead sorcerer-king, they preach his divinity to the masses and praise him as a savior, encouraging converts and rebellions in his name.
Coming up Next: Book of Wondrous Inventions, and after that, some more Athas, probably
Save-or-Die SummerOriginal SA post
Yup, the Trapper's been in since 1st edition. Even better, it can make a part of itself look like a treasure chest to attract prey!
Yep! I was missing it because it was under the Lurker entry as a sub-entry(the Lurker being a Trapper that drops on you from the ceiling!).
Valley of Dust & Fire
I know I've mentioned it before, but I'd like to bring it up again, why the hell did the Dragon(and Dragons in general) have to start getting wings? I preferred it back when they were just psi-Godzilla.
At any rate! THE DRAGON! If we were straight-up using the original campaign setting we would know nothing about him except that he is a huge badass monster that collects occasional tribute from the cities of the Tyr region, largely in the form of shitloads of slaves. Of course, we've read more than that, and now know that he is, or was, Borys of Ebe and is all tied into the metaplot and shit.
But where the hell does a 40-foot monster like Borys hide out when he's not collecting tribute and being a menace? That's what we're going to find out. Also for some reason it's expected that PC's would find the place, go there and maybe not instantly die.
The Valley of Dust and Fire, an accessory for the DARK SUN campaign setting, describes the most terrible, most dangerous spot in the entire Tyr Region of Athas: the realm of the Dragon King. No other place in that warped landscape rivals the sheer grandeur or the stark evil of Ur Draxa, the City of Doom.
Getting to the Valley
First we need a motivation, which is simply that some people are all: "Oooh, I believe there's a magical city at the center of the Silt Sea!" And a few others are: "Oh no! I saw The Dragon emerge from the Silt Sea!" so either the PC's are idiots who regularly lose all their money to scam artists or they're idiots who think that taking on the Dragon is a great idea.
Alternately, and somewhat more credibly, they might find the journal of Galen, a single explorer who reached the Valley long ago. But in that case, he also details the miserable shitlands that surround Ur Draxa, meaning that the PC's would be aware that they'd have to wade through knee-deep magma to get anywhere, and probably making them even bigger idiots if they go there. Oh and he also confirms that it's the Dragon's lair, so... yeah. Idiots only.
Lastly, very powerful characters might decide to take a shot at the Dragon. Their research should show that it frequently travels the silt, implying that it maintains a lair in the wastes. Of course, destroying the Dragon in its own demesne is a herculean and probably doomed task, but your players can find that out the hard way.
LEARNING BY DYING.
AMAZING SCENIC VISTAS
But if we're going to get underway, the very first step to deal with will be the Sea of Silt. As we've already seen from City by the Silt Sea, it's full of Silt Horrors, which are utterly disgusting(and pretty powerful) and worse. Just about anything in the sea is like a sandy version of giant squid or sahuagin, with the added problem that anyone going overboard in the Sea of Silt won't be able to swim without magic and is probably instantly going to be a lost cause. Travelling along island archipelagos can keep the PC's away from the worst horrors in the sea, but puts them at risk of pirates, raiders, more conventional monsters and hostile giants.
And of course no matter which route they take, they'll be spending a lot of time out in the open. Perhaps they'll be attack by Cloud Rays(which we're specifically told to watch out for), 100-foot flying manta rays which can attack for 5d10 or 10d10 damage depending on whether they slice you apart with their tails or just swoop down and bite you. Or swarms of 3-foot flying jellyfish that attack in swarms, have paralyzing poison attacks and six 1d4-damage tentacle attacks. Each of which risks paralyzing you if it hits. Oh and they float because of hydrogen gas bladders, so puncture one with flame and it'll explode, potentially sinking the craft you're on. Or Razorwings! 8-foot pterodactyl/razor crossbreeds that SPECIFICALLY hunt in and around the Sea of Silt, gliding through the silt just under the surface, and then exploding out of it to slice you in half with their wings! And of course they hunt in packs.
And that's assuming you even get to the shore in one piece, aside from all the other bullshit, there's stuff like Burnflowers, which are literally death ray tulips. They gather the sun's rays all day, and then when you approach, they reflect them in your face, incinerating you for something like 10d4 damage
But let's assume you survive that hostile residents. After all, you live on Athas! you're a badass! Ain't no goddamn jellyfish gonna eat you, right?
Then the Sea itself is going to fuck you over.
The slightest trace of moisture causes it to stick and clump; it can cake the eyes, nose, and throat in seconds. Breathing the airborne silt slowly lines the lungs with powder and chokes the life from even a giant.
Basically, if there's even the slightest wind, the book instructs us to refer to the rules on drowning . It tells us to refer to the "rules for holding your breath" in the 2nd ed AD&D PHB. So let's see.
Under normal circumstances (with a good gulp of air and not performing strenuous feats), a character can hold his breath up to 1/3 his Constitution score in rounds (rounded up). If the character is exerting himself, this time is halved (again, rounded up).
Johnny Average can hold his breath for roughly 3 rounds(3 minutes), maybe 4. This is multiplied by 10 for the silt, so 30 to 40 minutes. The odds of weather that'll choke our shit to death is 8 out of 11 possible weather situations, decided on a day-to-day basis. Oh and 5 of 11 chance that it'll also be strong enough to affect us if we hide on an island or something until it passes. So without gas masks or magic we're probably going to be dead just venturing near the fucking Sea of Silt. Oh, no, wait, hang on, what's this note... "Check weather at midmorning and midevening," so there's two chances for the weather to kill us per day! It also presumably means that whatever weather we roll will last until the next roll, which is well over that half hour we can hold our breath.
(Note, I had to spend ten minutes trying to find the weather chart since the book says it was under "encounters" and I flipped to every chapter labelled "encounters" but it turned out to just be on the next fucking page!)
Oh and in case anyone thought they had a clever idea, those 5 of 11 "strong winds or worse," results, will also choke the shit out of fliers that aren't at least 500 feet over the Sea. Flying mounts also, understandably, tend to get completely fucking whigged out by crossing the trackless Silt Sea, the only reliable flying mounts would be air elementals.
Did I mention there are also swarms of poisonous silt spiders ? At least the Silt Sea is as horrifying as the real seas.
So assuming that we manage to be incredibly lucky with weather, get an air lemental to carry us and don't get intercepted by Roc-riding Dragon Warrior patrols(which will be detailed in three chapters, the book kindly informs) or Cloud Rays, we'll probably be able to cross the Silt Sea without dying.
Of course there are some Fuck Yous on the way if the PC's are curious. Aside from islands full of horrible creatures, there's also The Black Isle which has horrible creatures and a lake! Oh and if anyone drinks from the lake they don't even get a save for its effects. Those effects? They can never drink any other water than the lake's. Hope they like living on that island for the rest of their fucking lives. Jesus Christ.
The center of the Black Isle holds a deep, still lake of dark water. Nearly half a mile across, the lake seems to be fed by some deep, hidden spring. A few quiet streams wind away through the jungle to trickle over the cliffs. The water possesses a dark and powerful enchantment: once a person has drunk from the lake, any other water becomes deadly poison (save vs. poison or suffer 5d6 points of damage).
And that's only the start of our problems.
Coming up next: Traversing the Great Ash Storm! And worse!
The Great Ash StormOriginal SA post Dark Sun!
The Great Ash Storm
Quick! If we run out of the frame it can't follow us!
The Valley of Dust and Fire
Alright, so we're assuming that our brave, if somewhat mentally deficient, adventurers have actually crossed the Silt Sea without drowning, crashing, being eaten or being hijacked by Fuck You Island and the Sucks 2 B U Lake.
This means they make contact with the Great Ash Storm. In effect it's a huge hemisphere of howling ash and silt, roaring into the air, and presumably part of what's scoured a good part of the Silt Sea's sea bed clear(which is where the Valley proper is). So we need to cross some 12-ish miles of this, no secret ways in, and every ten minutes spent within the storm does damage equal to our base AC -4(before dexterity is involved), meaning that anyone with higher than 4 AC from their armor and any magic is probably going to be taking damage for a while. Seeing as how our most likely sources of movement are either wind-based(a seagoing vessel with a sail) or require the wind to be stable to move decently(flying creatures), we're probably going to be stuck in the storm for a while and anyone who's taking any damage at all will either be half-dead or wholly dead by the time we get through it.
There are also lightning strikes, with no mentioned method for adjudicating when they hit, or how often, but 10d6 damage to anyone struck. Fliers have the advantage in that a successful save means no damage at all, while anyone sailing or "on the ground," somehow wading through or on the silt's surface, takes half damage even on a successful save.
Oh and of course, the whole "drowning from silt dust"-mess will be afflicting us during the crossing as well.
But let's say our Brave Adventurers planned for this. They teleport through the storm dome! Within it, there's no choking silt, and no storms to knock them around! Of course then there's the Valley itself:
The Valley of Dust and Fire is not without its own perils, though. The heat of the Ring of Fire, trapped beneath the storm, greatly intensifies the heat of the day. This is reflected in the Weather Chart for the Valley. Powerful creatures roam the blasted hills and smoking plains, searching for prey. Lastly, the ash storm overhead occasionally descends to ground level in the form of a massive dust funnel or cyclone. These cyclones are 1d6 miles in diameter and duplicate the conditions of the Great Ash Storm. They form and descend in 2d10 minutes. The cyclones move at a rate of 2d20 on the ground, traveling in a random direction.
The Valley is a terrible thing to behold. Its floor is a shattered, broken tangle of rock and ash. Fierce winds sweep stinging clouds of hot ash and silt through the winding canyons. Great columns of ash descend from the broiling red storm overhead, weaving slowly over the Valley and destroying everything in their path. Scarlet lightning flares constantly. By day, the blasted scenery is revealed in a reddish-brown haze of tremendous heat. By night, only the flashes of lightning and the hellish glow of the Ring of Fire bring light.
WHOOPS, looks like the storm can still fuck us up even in here! And of course, since we're basically inside a dome full of MAGMA and with a certain lack of water, our water supplies will be strained on most days by extreme heat. Also the lack of being able to sea the sun means that unless we have a light source or are fighting in the glow of a lava pool, we're penalized as though we're doing battle in a pitch-black nighttime environment.
As for the creatures, aside from encountering the Dragon or his minions straight-up, the place is also stocked with the worst that the DS monstrous manuals have to offer. Like Nightmare Beasts!
Besides being fucking hideous, they can disintegrate you with psionics, teleport with psionics, smash their way through walls, have five attacks that range from "benign"(2d6 damage) to "monstrous"(4d10 damage), require magical weapons to hit, are themselves magic-resistant(20%), have -5 AC(anyone worse at fighting than a level 5 Fighter needs a 20 to hit) and 5 Thac0(anyone with worse than 5 AC is only missed on a 1) and they can cast a bunch of offensive spells ranging from Fireball to Cloudkill.
Oh and it can hunt you in your dreams before it actually chases you down so you'll be wrecked from nightmares and sleeplessness.
If you don't meed that, how about a So-Ut?
Also fucking hideous! Slightly(and I do mean slightly) less obscene stats than a Nightmare Beast, but if it fights you, its attacks have good chances of destroying your weapons and armor whenever it lands a hit!
More standard encounters include generic 2nd ed Wyverns who have a save-or-die poison sting.
But what about the terrain itself? Just about the safest we can travel through are dead forests, which just have a risk of deadfalls full of jagged rocks and sticks.
Next there are "Smoking Lands," basically toxic mud pits and volcanic vents. The book suggests staging random "save or take damage" events with no logical way to avoid or detect them beforehand. If you screw the roll, you missed the poisonous mud pool and now you're hurting. On the bright side, there ground can't support large, horrible predators. So it's a respite for the Nightmare Beasts for now.
Lava plains: Also shit! But less because of the terrain, more because all of the flying creatures in the Valley love to hunt people here. Like wyverns. Or Rocs(for anyone not up to date, the Roc is basically a 60-foot eagle drawn in the Monstrous Manual as effortlessly carrying off an elephant for lunch, 65% chance per attack of grabbing a victim for carrying off and then doing just that, sailing off with him to eat him in its lair. Hope you have the stats to kill a Roc alone, buddy.).
Also Silk Wyrms, did I mention these before? They're 50-foot flying snakes that turn into shadows, sneak into PC's camps at night and then bite someone. If no one spots them, their poison paralyzes the victim, whom they then carry off silently and drink their blood back at their lair. If no one saw it happen or the party isn't quick enough to track the Silk Wyrm down, the victim is dead.
But back to the terrain! There are a bunch of locations that mostly just list what sort of horrible creatures the PC's will have to deal with when travelling through them, and are all just another place to the note of: "And this place had some plants and stuff once but now it's fucked by lava and ash." And occasionally an environmental hazard like: "The ground is made of sharp obsidian, either you give up your dex bonus when flying stuff swoops down to eat you or your cut your feet to shreds.
The main point of this place is to make a beeline for the "Ring of Fire," a huge, roughly circular, canyon/moat full of lava which surrounds Ur Draxa. The most obvious way to attempt to enter would be the Gate of Doom, a psionically empowered arch that can teleport people to and from a matching gate on the other side of the Ring. Of course, what the PC's don't know is that the gate is intelligent and that the Dragon can shut it from any location on Athas by an act of will. So if they approach it, it'll most likely tip the Dragon off, the Dragon will shut it and now know that adventurers are hanging around his realm , and then like a dozen Obsidian Golems will march out to punch the PC's up.
Obsidian Golems are like So-Uts and Nightmare Beasts in a straight-up melee fight, but can just bypass all that bullshit and smash themselves apart to shower the area with unavoidable obsidian shrapnel that'll shred pretty much any party in short order. A clever party would just fucking run for it, but considering that the Obsidian Golems are standing around the arch, hidden, and the PC's are probably investigating it, they may not get the chance.
About the only non-"fuck you" encounter in the Valley is if the party stumbles upon the lair of the Clan of the Roc. A bunch of slaves who somehow escaped from Ur Draxa, the city in the middle of a lava moat with soldiers who regularly ride Rocs on patrol, to hide out in one of the few hospital locations in the Valley. And by "hospitable" I mean "there are a few ash-choked streams around to sustain marginal life."
They can warn PC's about things like "don't go poking the Gate of Doom, morons."
Crossing the Ring of Fire is enough of a mess that the lava moat gets its own chapter.
The Ring of Fire
The center of the Valley of Dust and Fire contains a seething sea of lava, the Ring of Fire. Enclosing the island of the City of Doom, the Ring is 150
miles from north to south and 100 miles from east to west. It is the largest caldera of open magma in the known world and the principal cause of the devastation of the Valley.
The Ring of Fire is an awesome spectacle, a boiling river of red, glowing molten rock that swirls and seethes continuously. In some places, hardy spires of dense stone pierce the lava sea to stretch like black fingers at the red sky. In other places, lava eddies drain in endless, slow-moving whirlpools, only to reemerge as violent fountains of magma hundreds of feet high. Black cliffs of basalt tower along the shoreline.
Only the Dragon knows whether the Ring of Fire preceded the City of Doom in its center, or vice versa. Regardless of whether the city was placed here first or the ring was made around the city, the Ring forms an impassable barrier to all but winged creatures. The isle of Ur Draxa is 20 to 30 miles from the shores of the outer valley. Even strong fliers think twice about crossing 30 miles of open lava.
The Ring is impassable by teleportation or extra- dimensional travel, including dimension walking, etherealness, or plane shifting. This property probably results from the Dragon’s awful magic. The only practical options remaining are flight or the Gate of Doom, and the gate is closed to enemies of the Dragon.
So if you got this far without being able to fly? FUCK YOU. YOU'RE SCREWED. Maybe you can jack a Wyvern or a Roc and try to make the flight that way, hope your characters know how to train giant, feral birds bigger than elephants! Alternately MAYBE you could ambush a Templar patrol and use them to gain access through the Gate of Doom, but the Gate is intelligent enough to bar access and would probably just alert the Templars on the far side anyway, so flight is literally the only way with any chance of working.
No signs posted at the border of the lava sea warn travelers of this phenomenon; player characters must discover it the hard way.
The Lava gets its own subheading, informing us that anyone touching it without a Fire or Magma priest's divine protections is instantly dead, and just being near it means you start crisping up, barring magical protections.
Weather-wise, while the outer valley "just" had dust storms, here they're replaced by "firestorms" which basically become tornadoes of magma and flame, doing 6d6 to anyone in the air. You know, like players trying to fly across the Ring of Fire. Something which we have established and been told is our only fucking option .
Aside from the standard roc-riding jackasses, though, "all" we have to worry about here are rampaging fire and magma elementals.
But anyway, let's assume we can fly. Our Fly spells only last a limited time and our creatures are tired out, or we may need to wait out a firestorm. So how about we land on some of the rare islands in the magma river to take a rest? Well we have some options! Like the Dragon's Causeway, where we will instantly be assaulted by magma golems the moment we land! Or Sith! The island where we'll be backstabbed by a bunch of evil raiders! Assuming we aren't caught up in a templar raid while we're there! Or how about the Iron Citadel? An 800-foot, cast-iron spire that houses some of the nastiest templars and roc riders that the Dragon has at its disposal?
Let's assume we're dumb enough to get within view of them. That means pissing off 40-something Rocs and a 15th-level Gladiator who leads the citadel. And probably they'll tip off Ur Draxa we're coming, so even if we somehow escape or win , they entire city will be on high alert looking for invaders. There's a footnote that the leader of the citadel may actually try to capture the PC's, bring them to Ur Draxa as prisoners, and then let them escape in exchange for them murdering one of her political rivals.
It's a shame it's just a footnote, because it would actually be a more reasonable way to gain entry and also a somewhat interesting introductions to Ur Draxa itself.
Also note that, so far, unlike the City by the Silt Sea, there are literally no rewards. No interesting items or magic to score. Not even a pocket full of old coins. So far all we've had is pain for no gain.
Next: Chapter Four, The City of Dooooooooooom
The City of DoomOriginal SA post Dark Sun!
The City of Doom
So somehow our plucky PC's have gotten this far. What awaits them? Ur Draxa, the City of Doom, The Dragon's city. There's been nothing for them in the trip up to this point, aside from misery and potentially some experience points. Just endless chances to die at the whim of the dice or the GM.
This has to be the payoff point.
Before we get into that, however, let's look at the city itself. It's on an island in the middle of the Ring of Fire(its delicious lava moat), and the city walls form a circle. They're 700' feet fall and a quarter of a mile thick, so you're not just going to be blasting your way through them or digging under them.
The walls have an outer diameter of 24 miles and a circumference of more than 75 miles. It would take days on foot to circumnavigate the city.
Pretty big place. On the inside it's split into 10 sections, in the center is the dragon's sanctum and around that are the remaining 9 sections, wedge-shaped, going from the walls of the city to the walls of the sanctum. Each edge also has a gate through the outer wall... made of solid rock that can phase out of existence if approved persons approach it.
Each of the nine wedges are populated by a segment of Draxan society, which is largely pretty homogenous. There are slaves, and not slaves. All of the slaves are miserable and would dearly love to rebel(but every time they've done so, they've been burnt to a crisp, hence why the Dragon keeps having to demand new ones as tribute from the Tyr region and why several of the wedges are basically lying fallow). The not-slaves are not miserable because they have slaves to keep their lives comfy, and are the equivalent of white supremacists. That is to say, they're all human and consider themselves THE EPITOME OF THEIR SPECIES when in fact they're barely literate, overly violent, somehow cowards at the same time and have no respect for anything that doesn't involve brawn.
The exceptions are the higher ranks of the military, the clan leaders(who are experts at manipulating their dumb-as-bricks subjects) and the Dead Lords. The Dead Lords are liches, by the way(or their Athasian equivalent, Kaishargas), and there are about 40 or so of them who run the city because the Dragon has mostly gotten bored with micromanaging things.
Ur Draxa is the perfect society. The noble sons of heroes are free to pursue the constant honing of their military and scholarly skills (most are illiterate and bloodthirsty slave overseers), and the slaves have accepted their lots as lesser beings and gladly serve their superiors. (Not quite.) Disputes are settled honorably, in the arena of noble struggle (brutal killings before screaming crowds mad with bloodlust), and all sides are happy to allow differences to be judged by trial of arms. (Oddly enough, skilled fighters often have “accidents” just before they are due to enter the arena.)
The typical Draxan is intoxicated with superiority and the belief that he or she is a hero of a race of heroes. Despite this, Draxans are less educated and enlightened than they realize. Draxans can go on for hours concerning the deeds of their clan, their lineage, the wrongs and redressals of past generations - —but most change the subject in embarrassed anger if asked to actually read an account of the past or to recite a piece of epic poetry. The Draxans have become a nation of megalomaniacs. Most would kill a slave in a moment for not properly abasing himself.
Some Draxans do not fit this stereotype. The leaders of the clans, the viziers, and some templars and slave scribes maintain records of the city’s history and true greatness. They understand that they live in a violent society where true knowledge is often scorned in the face of martial prowess. Despite this, the literate of Ur Draxa are the ones who direct the affairs of the city.
Elemental priests are also inexplicably banned, for some reason the Dragon just hates them.
So what DOESN'T suck shit about Ur Draxa? Well, within the walls things are actually reasonably nice with regards to ecology. They've got forests and fields and it's pretty bounteous, I believe they've even got some lakes. Thanks to all the tributes the Dragon's collected over the years, they've also got a large amount of the remaining refined metal in the Tyr region, and most of their military boasts metal weapons(though not armor, it'd still be too miserably hot to wear that out in the Valley, and it's too expensive in rare metals to make more).
or maybe the Dragon got tired of them wasting it on stupid pauldrons
There are three ways to enter the city, the book tells us, at this point.
#1: As Intruders. Beat up some guards, get over the wall and start kicking ass, then run for cover in one of the fallow sections or see if sympathetic slaves will help you hide. Most of the slaves are from the Tyr region and really hate their masters, so they probably will if they think you'll wreck some shit up good. Or you could sneak in.
#2: As prisoners. Maybe we were dumb and got caught, maybe we got taken as slaves for tribute to the Dragon back in the Tyr region. Point is, we're entering in manacles and shackles. The suggestion here is that some politician notices we're pretty burly and offers to have someone slip us our gear and the key to the cell as long as we promise that our marauding route out involves offing some of his political opponents. Then resume as Intruders.
Underlings may view the party as tools to advance their careers; the party, in turn, can exploit this ambition to escape and cause trouble. For example, the characters' arrival soon brings a visit from Hitasho Ken, the mortal Grand Vizier from the Hall of Learning in the Seventh Sector (see below). Ken aspires to replace one of his Dead Lord superiors, and he may enlist the party as assassins or spies against it. He promises an arranged escape if they cooperate; whether he means it is up to you.
#3: As visitors. Draxans are A) dumb as dirt and B) terrified of the Dead Lords and viziers who can have them killed. Fast-talking and a bit of playing to their egos(and fears) is noted as a perfectly legitimate way to get inside. Just insist that you're completely legitimate visitors and that someone important is waiting for you.
Clever heroes might persuade the Dragon Warriors in the Ring of Fire that they are scheduled visitors, guests of the Dragon or a Dead Lord. Unlikely as this sounds, the Warriors know that an unfriendly templar or vizier is well able to block their access to important information. They may escort the party under heavy guard into the city, where fast-talking player characters could ingeniously gain official approval and free run of Ur Draxa.
This is about the first sign that the adventure isn't made just to shit on the PC's. Potentially the PC's could have some fun fucking stuff up, looting some mansions and scoring some decent metal gear before making it for the edges of the city...
Or they could head for the Dragon's sanctum. That's gotta be where all the good shit is, right?
Okay, so there's literally no one there. This is the good part, the Dragon only allows the Kaisharga Dead Lords to enter and even then only rarely, and he spends a lot of time hanging out outside of the Valley for various reasons, so we're not dead or caught the moment we approach it. It is circular and there's a pretty aurora of flickering lights above it. On the inside it's just a huge swathe of parkland that's perfectly pristine and has an absence of non-plant life.
Oh and if you try to fly over the walls the aurora both stops you and roasts you. So don't do that. You're guaranteed to take about 11d6 damage just from hitting it.
We could try to phase through the walls, and that's really what we should try to do, because fucking with any of the nine gates gives us exactly five rounds until the Dragon arrives. In 2nd ed time that means five minutes until he's there, from ANY location on Athas. Also since it's a psionic alarm we'd probably never know we set it off, anyway.
If the party triggers the alarm but manages to get away before five rounds pass, the Dragon may be able to track them. Its psionic abilities do not include retrospection, sensitivity to psychic impressions, or other pertinent talents, nor do its usual spells relate to tracking. However, the Dragon has all proficiencies, is superhumanly intelligent, and certainly can get any known defiler spell; also, it can bring in kaisharga with the requisite psionics.
In general, if the players are clever, cautious, and fast-moving, stage a suspenseful climax to their invasion and then let them elude detection. But if they make a mistake, don’t feel obligated to forgive it. Only the greatest heroes can escape the Dragon.
And we don't want to do that because the book kindly informs us that the gloves are off when it comes to the Dragon. If we meet the Dragon it might not roast us instantly, though, it might interrogate us first and THEN kill us(usually what it does) or hand us over to a Kaisharga as prisoners(in which case we have no chance of escape, because the Kaisharga knows that if we escape, it's going to be rendered to dust, so good luck).
The Dragon's sanctum is also about the only location that has any interesting stuff to snag, as the Dragon has a bunch of caches of magical items buried around the place... but as they're buried unmarked, PC's will never even know they exist unless they decide to start digging the place up for no reason. And aside from those caches, there's nothing there to be worth investigating. There's a single, huge obsidian sphere at the center of it all, but we're told it's impossible to damage and fuck all about what its purpose is except that it RADIATES SHITLOADS OF MAGIC(I believe this orb is Rajaat's prison, or what powers it or something, but hell if I can remember).
So we came all this way, through all this shit, and all we're likely to have to show for it is some prison time and maybe some metal items? I'd be pissed, and now the Dragon's here. LET'S KICK HIS ASS!
For most parties, confrontation with the Dragon means certain death. Make this explicitly clear to players who are unaware of it. Try to stage the uneven battle with many opportunities for heroic death scenes . A fighter might rush the Dragon and wound it bitterly as he dies; a mage might engulf both herself and the enemy in a colossal fireball; a thief might backstab the Dragon, sacrificing himself but distracting it at a critical moment so that a companion can escape.
Let the characters damage the Dragon severely; it can heal after they are dead , and it makes their passing more dramatic.
Because that means our characters can die "heroically" but utterly pointlessly! Just so one or two party members might escape!
If we have an evenly matched party, however, the Dragon fights until wounded, teleports away, digs up a cache full of invisibility+inaudibility items and some rods and staves, eats healing fruits from the cache, then stalks the party, distracts them with illusions and proceeds to roast them with the rods/wands its own spells. And it'll repeat this over and over and fucking over. And the party can't really counter or copy it, because they have no idea the caches exist until they start coming across the dug-up holes, and even then it'd take a lot to make the connection. And there's no specified limit to the number of caches except "many" and that the Dragon has spent hundreds of years preparing them all.
That is the specific strategy for the Dragon that the book gives us.
Oh and then it starts summoning Kaisharga and companies of troops to supplement itself. It's an unwinnable battle unless we brought an army.
Even in the unlikely event that the PCs encounter and fight the Dragon, they should not be able to destroy it. If properly run, the Dragon is able to defeat even a party of the highest level adventurers.
The Dragon has had thousands of years to prepare its defenses. It must have many contingency spells, and possibly clones, to ensure its survival. The realm of psionic enchantment opens up still more amazing possibilities. You have many devices - to keep the Dragon alive, if you want to.
We should want to keep the Dragon alive, the book insists, because it'd mess up the setting without him around. Basically presenting him as the Athasian version of the Lady of Pain... except that's completely bullshit. The Dragon does nothing but piss everyone off and keep the Tyr region more miserable. The city-states manage to throw armies at each other from time to time even with the Dragon around as a persistent threat. In the basic campaign setting(which this must be based off, since he's even around), he's barely even a footnote.
Then it advises you that all the Sorcerer-Kings should band together to kick the characters' ass if they manage to take down the Dragon. Don't give them any breaks, now!
And again, keep in mind, if the PC's don't go fuck around in the Dragon's sanctum, they're very unlikely to find anything that'll make the whole, miserable trip worth it.
The final chapter in the book tells us about "campaigning in the Valley," yes, because someone might totally want to have their entire campaign there! I cannot see why anyone would want to do this, and apparently the book has trouble with it, too, since the chapter's remarkably short. About the only new thing it introduces to us is the idea of "native campaigns," where we play characters born and raised in the Valley of Dust & Fire or Ur Draxa.
Fuck the Valley of Dust & Fire!
Next: Marauders of Nibenay, a supplement that doesn't suck!
Marauders of NibenayOriginal SA post
Hyphz: I think the delay is appropriate. I imagine that it'll take a couple of months to get through these books and chargen in person, too.
Marauders of Nibenay
This adventure is what gave me a soft spot for Nibenay after reading it. It's rather nicely set up(at least in my opinion) and not grievously punishing, and still actually rewards the PC's. Like a lot of the DS modules, it also takes into account where the PC's are and what they choose to do, while giving them a reason to undertake the adventure.
The above was written entirely from my nostalgic memories of it.
So let's get started and see if my nostalgia goggles were too rosy.
So Nibenay, in case anyone recalls, is the city that's named after its Sorcerer-King, Nibenay, also known as the Shadow King. It's located at one end of the forest that Gulg is inside, surrounded by hot springs and mud flats, and has a lot of farming going on. They're at war with Communist Gulgistan because they love to harvest the forest for trees without too much consideration for not breaking the environment.
Nibenay himself is one of the less harsh Sorcerer-Kings because he's very hands-off, and largely leaves running the city to his all-female band of Templars, referred to as his "wives" who are somewhat less corrupt than many of the other Templars. He really only pokes his head out to nuke stuff in case there's a rebellion on the boil or some really big trouble.
Nibenay is ruled by and named for the sorcerer-king who founded it centuries ago. He is seldom seen by his subjects, and rumors that he has died are frequently rife within the city. On occasion, these rumors have swelled to the point where civil disturbances and revolution seem imminent. At such times, the so-called Shadow King appears just long enough to crush the insurgents and prove to all that he still lives.
The power of the noble class in Nibenay lies in the springs of the Plain of Burning Water. Each noble family owns one of these springs and has absolute say over the use to which its waters are put. The nobles are entrusted with the appeasement of the various spirits associated with these springs. If a spring runs dry, the family that owns it is disgraced and loses all status in the city.
All of Nibenay’s templars are women. It is said that they are all the wives of the sorcererking. Regardless of the truth of the rumor, it is important to keep in mind that these women have absolute power in the city. Making an enemy of one of Nibenay’s templar-wives can be a fatal mistake.
Visitors to Nibenay cannot help but be awestruck by the city. The architecture makes the entire place a veritable work of art. Strange tastes and unusual building techniques can be seen everywhere. Some structures are decorated with the images of their owners, while others are marked with caricatures of some of Athas’s most terrible monsters.
An important aspect of life in Nibenay is ritual dance. Because only nobles and templars are permitted to be literate, stories are often handed down through dances that are passed from generation to generation. Anyone with musical or similar talents will find an eager. demanding audience in the streets of Nibenay.
After quickly re-introducing us to the city with this stuff, a bit more detail than is contained in the basic campaign setting book, it launches into writing an individual intro to the game for each character class. This first part of the module, by the way, is the part that's "For Players," containing some pre-made PC's, these class-by-class introductions, the introduction to Nibenay, and art of various events during the adventure for the PC's to check out. Also a few maps of areas that they would reasonably know the layout of.
The class-wise introductions mostly just explain what sort of roles a given class would have in the city, and why they would be there. The nobles of Nibenay often hire rangers, for instance, to guard their loggers in the Crescent forest, and it's one of the few cities with freemen Gladiators. The entry for mages also gives us an interesting tidbit that will be very relevant to this adventure:
There is a mysterious force living in the Plane of Burning Waters south of the city. It is believed to be a compilation of the life forces of many ancient preservers. From time to time, preservers are able to contact the Zwuun. Whatever its nature and other powers, the Zwuun is an almost unlimited source of information. On most occasions, the Zwuun will be cooperative. When it is not feeling helpful, however, the Zwuun provides false, deceptive. and even dangerous information
Still, there's little to surprise us here. Mostly it's just to inspire a party to have reasons for their PC's to be in the city and perhaps to give the GM some ideas for what they can be doing when the game itself kicks up(or how to throw the party together if it's somehow one of their first adventures).
We'll be skipping the adventure overview since I wouldn't want to spoil anyone on the exciting conclusion .
The very first event is the Starlight Pageant, a bangin' street party through all of Nibenay, described in the book as similar to the Mardi Gras. I imagine that any group of adventurers that wouldn't take the chance to party down a bit aren't the sort of adventurers who'd have very fun lives at all, so it seems like a good way to introduce players to Nibenay and make sure they're in the same area at once.
Depending on whether the PC's are more or less sympathetic to the Veiled Alliance(neutral/good Preservers) or the local Templars, they're then made an offer by an agent from one of the two sides. The Templar agent is a humourless lady who offers the PC's a chance to Protect The City from a dangerous magical item that the Veiled Alliance is smuggling into Nibenay. The adventure's very generous and says that even if the PC's decide to try and beat her to a pulp, the arriving Templar backup will only try to subdue the PC's so that the agent can deliver her offer in full.
On the reverse, an OLD WIZARD from the Alliance offers them to take part in smuggling said artifact into the city. And of course, the smugglers are elves .
So either the PC's are being ambushed by Templars or they are the ambushing Templars. The next encounter is pretty straight-forward, and the book says that whatever plan the PC's come up with, as long as it isn't "obviously flawed" will work for ambushing the elves, and in the other case they've just got to beat down a bunch of templars and make the trade. Again, though, the book happily tells us that if the PC's flub it and the Alliance contact escapes with the crystal, or they have to run from the Templars, the adventure just picks up later.
the Templar contact
the Alliance contact
Difficulty-wise, there's nothing absurd going on here. The pre-made PC's are 4th-level characters, and whoever they're up against on either side of the fence is an evenly-numbered ground of third-level characters for the most part.
So whoever they signed up with, they get the next bit of the story. The Alliance thinks they're about to be attacked by Nibenay and are preparing a ritual to assfuck him with his own magic, while the Templars genuinely are preparing to root out the Alliance. The PC's participate on their chosen side of the fight or they can say they're not interested and, again, wait until a later point in the adventure where events will drag them in anyway. At every step, they're offered payment and encouragement to continue, as both sides are genuinely thankful for their help and not trying to fuck them over.
No matter what happens, though, whether the PC's are lurking with readied weapons behind pillars and waist-high walls, or whether they're kicking down the doors with a Templar strike team at their backs... the fight gets interrupted a few rounds in as everything goes right to shit. This is also what draws them back into the adventure if they refused the job offers earlier, fucked up their first mission, or decided not to go along with the second job.
See, Nibenay decided that the Zwuun was what was making the Alliance such a pest in his city, so he decided to try to mind-nuke it... which promptly starts fucking up the city with earthquakes and steam-eruptions from underground. The PC's are offered plenty of chances to help people out here, but they can just run for cover if they think that's a better idea, and there are no save-or-dies. The only people in danger here are NPC's, and the PC's get a chance to be brave heroes at no danger to themselves. If they were busy fighting either the Templars or the Alliance, everyone drops what they were doing and starts helping bystanders(Templars because they're THE COPS, Alliance because they're usually nice).
"At long last, the earth stills end the trembling after shocks fade. Still, all is far from quiet in the city. Cries of pain and fear can be heard everywhere, fires burn throughout the city, and geysers of scalding steam roar out of the ground. The sky above Nibenay darkens as the black smoke mingles with white steam to form a sticky gray cloud. Slender traces of blue-white lightning flash back and forth in the tumbling vapor, producing not thunder, but en eerie crackling sound."
After a few minutes, a spitting rain begins to fall from the sky, It will quickly increase in intensity It becomes a pounding downpour. This is not life-giving water, however, but a caustic chemical that burns flesh like acid. The DM should be aware that this scene is not meant to be deadly; purpose is to reinforce the scope of the disaster that has struck Nibenay.
Nibenay's palace, Naggarakam
And at most it'll do 1d4 damage, and that's only if PC's decide not to get under cover after the rain starts eating away their skin.
Then there's a lull in the action where the PC's get a chance to do some RESEARCH and try to figure out what the hell just happened and what's coming next. If they have any psionics or divination stuff, they quickly learn that the Zwuun has gone insane and camped out in the Naggarakam, Nibenay's palace. Also that it's charging up to do some crazy necromantic bullshit.
After the fall of the burning rain, a shocked calm settles over the city. During this time, the characters will have a chance to explore the city a bit end see just how badly the devastation has struck Nibenay. In short, it's terrible. Wherever they go, they'll find teams of people clearing away rubble to rescue those trapped beneath, templars and clerics using magical powers to heal the injured, and members of the city watch policing the streets, controlling lawlessness and preventing looting. The DM is free to introduce encounters that call on the characters to use their powers end abilities to help with these efforts.
So, three ways to continue the adventure from here, again based on what the PC's did. Either the Templars or the Alliance(whoever they impressed) will contact them, or if they impressed neither, ASTROLOGY(because the people of Nibenay are chumps who believe in that shit) predicts that "BRAVE OUTLANDERS" must be recruited to help with the crisis. No one's committed enough to their ideological shit in Nibenay to prevent them from partnering with their enemies when the city is literally collapsing around them.
Showing some initiative, they organize a meeting in the Temple of Elemental Water and pool their knowledge.
The Templars : The gates of Naggarakam have become magically sealed, and what's worse, all the Templars of Nibenay have lost their magical abilities, prompting fears that Nibenay himself might be dead or gravely injured. To maintain order and the people's loyalty, they're now busy doing their best to help everyone.
The Veiled Alliance : Trying to commune with the Zwuun drives you to a crazy berserk rage against anyone and everyone around you. Like the Templars, they're doing their best to help the people.
House Shom : Most of the city's water and food has been ruined by the acid rain, so now they're calling in all their trading caravans to bail everyone the fuck out(and then once the city's in working order again they plan to bill the government of Nibenay for it at an exorbitant rate).
Some Psionic Fuckheads : Apparently they've studied the stars and signs and declare that the only thing that can save Nibenay is a child. This will certainly not be a vital future plot point(it totally will be in about ten lines).
A Noble : Most of the city's nobles were chatting it up with Nibenay when shit went down, and they're now sealed in the Naggarakam, meaning that Nibenay's government is well and truly beheaded. He also points out the whole "Zwuun gone crazy bad because Nibenay wanted to destroy it"-thing if the PC's have somehow not heard or figured it out yet.
What it all leads to is this: Nibenay is a bit of a weirdo, and one of his templars is apparently a 10-year-old (named Siemhouk) who's also within the Naggarakam. The PC's should hear of this and conclude that this is the kid they need to save to bail the city out. At this point there's no argument for why the PC's should do it with next-to-no backup when everyone in the city is agreed on what the problem is, but presumably the Templars would be a bit unhelpful without their magic and no one is trusting the Veiled Alliance to run rampant within the Naggarakam.
Oh and then, just when everything's looking like they've got a plan and the worst is behind them?
Zombies fucking everywhere
Next Time: Naggarakam and the undead
The Part With All the ZombiesOriginal SA post
Yeah, Dark Sun, ACKS, and now DCC RPG - that's a solid old school bundle allright. I can't recall, do we have a writeup of Stars Without Number? I really liked that one. Also Mutant Future - that's some gonzo grog right there.
I did a brief look at Mutant Future some ways back, check the index if you haven't already read it.
the part with all the zombies
The part where they eat you
This is another of the jump-to points if the PC's are being intractable about joining the adventure but decide to stay in the city anyway, otherwise it's just an interruption as they finally set out for the Naggarakam. Essentially every pace on Athas is, if you dig deep enough, paved on top of a dozen ancient graveyards, battlefields and massacres, and Nibenay is no different. By now the Zwuun has kicked it into high gear and is re-animating all these old corpses to murder every last motherfucker in Nibenay. This gives a good excuse for the Templars and Alliance not to help out, as they're busy blasting zombies to dust or beating them apart.
Without warning the ground seems to shift beneath your feet, and the stone crack and splinters, revealing the dark yellow earth below. One by one, several withered corpses begin to claw theirway free of the soil. As onlookers scream in terror, you look around and see that this is not an isolated incident - dozens of cadavers have somehow been freed from their graves.
The DM should keep dropping zombie encounters into the game, making each one tougher than the one before, until the PCs finally decide to explore the Naggeramakam or flee the city end end the adventure.
Okay, Naggeramakam. I got the damn name wrong. Fucking words.
Anyway, remember the Valley and the City of Doom from Valley of Dust & Fire? How we had maybe one or two ways to get in and only if we were high-powered? Here, only magical or psionic entry is barred to us(the latter is actually workable, but risky). We can climb the walls, tunnel in(though that's going to uncover a LOT of wriggling corpses, so it'll require ingenuity to pull off), use a secret tunnel from the earthquake-struck Temple of Law or... we can walk in the front fucking door. Bam.
It gets a lot less linear at this point, as how the PC's enter the Naggeramakam decides where they end up and what they bump into first, and they can of course walk around and experience all the encounters pretty much at their leisure. Aside from all the goddamn zombies, anyway.
So let's take the Encounters that are here outside of various encounters and some generic palace areas to explore.
Encounter One: Blossoms of Death
You thought this was going to be a save-or-die, didn't you? Fooled you! Actually if the PC's decide to go poking around the gardens, they find some magically mutated roses that attack them with thorns and Color Spray spells. It's a brief interlude reminding the players that there are dangers inside the fortress, too.
Encounter Two: Fire of the Ancients
The main goal here is to locate the giant iron gates guarding the way deeper into the fortress and to Nibenay, and then open them. This one is actually somewhat cruel, as the doors are enchanted and were forged in the Abyss(how the hell Nibenay got his hands on them is never explained). Straight-up attacking them will either get us blasted with lightning(3d6 damage, reasonable), target us with our own spells(nasty if we tried to Disintegrate it) or have no effect, unless we directly try to Banish the doors(which catapult them back to the Abyss). High-level Dispel Magic can also do it. The only "instakill" here is if someone tries to phase through the door somehow, which can work, but as they pass through them, they have to make a save or they'll be gated to the Abyss. It's perfectly legit for the PC's to back off until they can find the key.
Encounter Three: Lightning Zombies
Regular undead not enough for you? Try the electrified kind. And by "electrified" I mean "fast as lightning."
The first attack by the lightning zombies should maximize the surprise of their speed and ferocity. The PCs should have plenty of warnings that something is moving around them, but never directly see whet might be stalking them. After a few minutes of this has created some paranoia, a pack of zombies (1 or 2 per character is a good number) flashes in from the ruins around the party and attacks. (DMs familiar with movie Aliens would do well to model these attack after the chaotic battles in that film, with the zombies swarming over their enemies and striking from the shadows.)
Subsequent attacks by the zombies should again catch the PCs off guard. For example, the zombies might weaken the roof of en underground passage so that one or more of the characters fall into it from the surface, like a tiger trap. As soon as victims are in sight, the zombies swarm in and attack. These kinds of tactics will make the lightning zombies a horrific menace the players will long remember.
Stats-wise, the zombies aren't hard to hit or kill, but are REALLY good at getting their own hits in(Thac0 13), meaning that if the PC's dither, they WILL eventually succumb to the hordes.
Encounter Four: The Killing Field
A damaged park that's just a pass-through area. The only real ass-fuck here, aside from some random encounters, is the Carrion Bees, whose poison causes temporary level and stat loss(it only takes a few hours to recover, thankfully), but they'll only actually attack anyone who starts poking around their hives or climbing the trees they're in. Since there's no real bait to get the PC's doing that(unless they're hungry for honey, I guess), it's not anything too likely to hit them, but I suppose it could be added to weaken really high-level PC's a bit to make the next few encounters tougher on them.
Encounter Five: Lurker in the Deep
Acid-spitting octopi lurking in a pond.
Encounter Six: The Vortex
Within a structure devoted to magical learning, one of Nibenay's servant defilers sealed away the key to the gates leading deeper into the Naggerakaram. Unfortunately THIS ONE is a real piece of dickery. The key is inside a vortex of electrical power that can only be destroyed with Dispel Magic, and it'll blast everyone within 50 feet for 6d6 damage(save for half), which could probably wipe out most spellcasters who could Dispel it unless they're paranoid and keep their distance.
Into the Darkness
So how are the PC's meant to get inside the Naggarakeram's core? It turns out that the only way in is through the front gate. Meaning that either they need the iron key from the Vortex(It doesn't say so, but presumably a GM could let them develop some way of lifting/knocking the key out if they had some rope or throwing weapons or something) or some magic to disrupt the front gate so they can get inside(despite the earlier point saying Knock doesn't work, this one says it does work), or a really strong character can try to simply shove it open.
If we were using the pre-made characters, this hideous asshole could probably handle the shoving, even if no one else had the spells to disrupt the gate.
So anyway, the party stumbles into the Naggerakaram proper, probably somewhat bloodied by this point. They first enter the big, grand entry hall and as soon as they start messing with a door, they get attacked by a Jade Golem, a creature that's grossly overpowered for the pre-made party or any party of equal level. Firstly it has a ridiculously good Thac0 and deals 4d10 damage, enough to potentially drop even the strongest 4th to 7th-level fighter/gladiator/ranger in two hits. Secondly, it has a flesh-to-stone gaze attack and no particular weaknesses.
Did I mention that a new one spawns for each door they try? And that if they leave the room and return, ALL of them will be ready to go again? Even if they try to open a door they'd been through previously?
Assuming they survive, they can then get on with their main goal: Finding Siemhouk, getting her to help Nibenay however the hell she's going to, and trying not to die in the process.
Mostly there's little to find in the fortress itself except for Nibenay's torture victims, a safe place to rest after fighting the fucking jade golems and Siemhouk. She's basically an extremely severe autist and will do whatever she's told because, according to the book, living in Nibenay's house teaches you "the value of obedience." Creepy.
Oh and they can find Nibenay's private chambers! Gasp! What wonders could it hold?! Shitloads, but...
These are indeed the private quarters of Nibenay and, as one might expect, they are protected by some very potent magical spells. The most obvious of these is the shimmering barrier across the entrance.
Anything that contacts this obstruction will suffer the effects of a disintegration spell. Objects that make their saving throws to avoid the effects of that spell are thrown backward, crashing to the floor some 25 feet away from the portal end suffering 2d6 points of impact damage.
Other attempts to enter the room should be similarly turned aside by the DM. Nothing the characters do will enable them to enter this room. The treasures within it are protected by the full might of Nibenay, one of the most powerful creatures on Athas. This place is simply meant to tease the players, for they can only imagine the wealth that lies beyond the barrier.
Whoever wrote this was just a bit of a cock.
There are another couple of look-but-don't-touch areas, an art gallery that will start spamming psionics at anyone who tries to gank a statuette or do anything the DM determines as "detrimental" to the art pieces there, and an orrery. The orrery will actually let characters try to predict the future with astrology, but if they fuck with it in any less-gentle ways it'll explode in their faces for a ton of damage.
There's also a library! Oh man, I bet a Sorcerer King has all sorts of cool knowledge! Right?
If the characters wish to read any of these records, they will find themselves learning a great deal about things that happened a long time ago and are of no importance to them.
But alright, that's not why we're here anyway. If the PC's remember to pick up Siemhouk rather than leaving the autistic girl standing around staring at air, they can enter the throne room.
The Throne Room
I guess now we know why Nibenay usually stays inside his fortress instead of going outside.
Okay, so Nibenay is stuck having a mental slap-fight with the Zwuun which is the cause of all this trouble. Only Siemhouk can bring him out of his trance, but oh shit, there's a Greater Air Elemental in the room and it is fucking PISSED. The task here is for the PC's to distract or destroy the air elemental while Siemhouk brings Nibenay out of the trance. If she gets killed, everyone is fucked(the book advises the GM not to be a dick and let this happen, but to make it LOOK as though she's in danger so the PC's can do ridiculously brave things to save the day).
We should probably assume that the PC's pull this off and do nothing stupid like trying to attack Nibenay or Siemhouk once the fight is over. Nibenay will be pretty cool about the PC's being at the heart of his LADIES ONLY fortress, banish the air elemental and have a talk with them.
“I foresaw that a time of great change was coming,“ he begins. “I was shown a time in which the internal struggles of the city were diminished. I assumed that this meant the destruction of my enemies and the cleansing of the rebels from my city. I see now that I was wrong. Throughout the city, I sense great suffering and torment. Truly, this is the darkest day of my long reign.”
For a time, the dragon king is silent. Then he speaks again. “I sense, however, that it is also one of the brightest. Throughout Nibenay, people who should be battling each other work together to heal the wounded and rebuild that which has been destroyed. Perhaps this is the way of the future.”
The PCs are then tasked with collecting all the factions of the city to have a peace conference with each other and Nibenay himself. He actually wants to do something good for his city. The GM is given three ways things can go...
Everyone Lives Happily Ever After... posted:
If the DM wishes, the attempts at coexistence in Nibenay can prove to be more successful than anyone could have hoped. After all, the city has always been known as a center of humanitarian thought, ideals, and liberal thinking. If the DM opts to follow this path, Nibenay can become a shining example of all that is good on Athas. Of course, the other city-states are likely to look upon such a culture as weak and ripe for the picking, so Nibenay will be frequently called upon to defend itself from outside aggressors.
This ending is a pretty good curve-ball to throw to the players. They won’t know what’s up and may spend months looking for a hidden conspiracy that isn’t there. It’s also especially good if the player characters have devoted themselves to making Athas a better place to live.
Everyone Lives Happily Ever After... But Then! posted:
This is probably the ending most of the players will expect. The conference goes over pretty well. In the days and weeks that follow, Nibenay begins the painfully slow process of reconstruction. It looks as if everyone is going to get along and forge a new era of peace and happiness in Nibenay, just as in the previous finale. And then, when it seems like the golden age of Nibenay is a sure thing, someone reveals his or her master plan and attempts to seize control of the city. After that, life returns to normal and everyone is out to kill/betray/undermine everyone else.
If the players are conspiracy buffs, this is a good ending. It’s especially useful if the players stumble upon the truth and have a chance to thwart the coup before it is pulled off.
Business as Usual posted:
This is the most probable ending. The meeting is called and quickly breaks down into an endless chain of threats, accusations, and lies. Each faction accuses the others of causing the disaster, and the attendants of the conference almost come to blows. Everyone goes his own way, and the factionalism in the city is as bad (or worse) as it ever was. In short, nobody learns anything from the terrible lesson they received. This leaves the door open for lots of carnage in the shattered city.
So ultimately, it wasn't quite as perfect as I remembered it. Once the PC's get to the Naggeramakam and it's core, it's about a lot of unavoidable, unpredictable encounters and damage. Most of them are survivable, but those fucking Jade Golems will screw over any party, and within the core of the Naggeramakam the PC's get to look at a lot of pretty things, but not to touch anything. It's even stated that if the PC's ask Nibenay for a reward for all of their trouble, he'll give it to them, and then ask them to fuck off and not get involved with making the city better.
Still, at least it's not the fucking Valley or the Last Sea.
What's next? You tell me. Request a Dark Sun book or something else.
Creepy Critter SpecialOriginal SA post
In the deep desert. They're sixteen feet long, know telekinesis, and collect skulls instead of nuts, but otherwise, they're just like normal squirrels.
Creepy Critter Special
Let's take a look at some of the goofy bullshit you can run into in an Athasian desert, how about that?
Not an Oglaf strip
The Sand Bride is made of sand. It's a sand elemental. An evil one.
So these assholes use illusions to transform themselves into BEAUTIFUL WOMEN, stalk parties short on water, and just as they're on their last drop, they bust out an illusion of a WONDROUS OASIS with this busty lady being all: "HEY, TRAVELLERS, COME AND HAVE A DRINK!" and of course desperate people fall for it every time. In fact it's so every-time that only high-level rangers and druids even have a chance of seeing through the illusion.
What happens is that you then have a mouth full of sand, preventing casting of spells with verbal components and giving you considerable penalties in general because this isn't fun . At which point the Sand Bride has fists like two-handed swords that drain levels, oh and being made of sand she can stand there until the end of time ignoring it as you whack away at her with non-enchanted weapons. Also if you're about to kill them they can just melt into the sand and then it's GOOD LUCK, ASSHOLES because she's gone and so are (probably) your levels.
Their one weakness is that they're about as good at conversation as an Oblivion NPC, and anyone who talks to them instead of trying to get his hands on their sand-boobs and drinking their water will probably realize something's up. You still have to wonder what sort of GM would ever use these, though. They only ever attack parties that are about to die of thirst, so it's like the GM sets you up to be fucked, and then he fucks you even harder with a level-draining undead that you probably can't hurt because your spellcaster is choking and no one else has a magical armory.
Oh and if your GM is an extra-huge cock there are also "Sand Mothers" that look like kindly old women and will disintegrate the water you've got just to make sure you end up in need of her oasis.
You know the start of Cube? (somehow there's no better video of that scene on YouTube that I can find, but you should go rent the movie anyway) The part where the guy is sliced to bits? And then falls apart? Imagine if there was a spider that could do that to you. With its webs. That's the Crystal Spider.
It spins invisible webs made of supersharp glass, and at night they're basically invisible, so you'll walk into them and SLICE, your bits came off(4d6 damage)! Oh and you still get somewhat stuck in them so it's SLICE again as you try to get free(another 3d6 damage if you flub a dex check)! But in the day it should be easy, right? You can see the webs reflecting the sunlight! Yes, right into your face, as a death ray . Athas is not the world for arachnophobes unless they like spiders that can burn their faces off from a dozen feet away.
And then it bites them with save-or-die poison!
Creepy little 1-foot hideous men who eat your brains while you sleep. I was originally just going to include them because they look so incredibly fucking ugly , but then I realized they were pretty dickish, too.
If you're camping, it basically spams undetectable psionic attacks on the sentries until they stop guarding and start daydreaming, then it uses a SUPERSPEED power to zoom past them into the camp and start eating people's brains, they only notice the fact that they're slowly going retarded in their sleep if they succeed at a massively penalized saving throw.
So, if you recall, dwarves on Athas who die with unfinished business turn into Banshees. Something similar, it turns out, happens to elves who die on missions of great importance, they become Dune Runners. Crazy undead who sprint across the wastes all night, and if they encounter anyone, those they encounter are compelled to run with them until either the sun rises or they collapse from exhaustion(which they may survive). Elves who die of exhaustion while running with a Dune Runner risk becoming a Dune Runner themselves, joining the other in their eternal sprinting.
Apparently some crazy people have actually taken the Dune Runners up on their challenge, running an entire night with them to see what happens to the Dune Runner at dawn, but it was supposedly so horrifying/weird that they never speak of it.
In actual implementation in the game, sadly, the Dune Runner is just a monster that runs up to players, spams mental attacks at them, and if they fail their saves(or fail to frag the Dune Runner before it can dominate them), they have to run with it until they collapse and are forced to make saving throws to avoid dying from exhaustion. Oh and then they'll probably spend a couple of weeks with their Con scores severely impacted.