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I am DMing a campaign in which the characters are going to begin shifting form plane to plane every few missions or so. I am considering dropping them into Athas (Dark Sun), but before I do I want to make sure that I don't get myself too far in over my head. The current party composition might be problematic in Athas (Sorcerer, Cleric, Arcanist, Warden, Rogue and Barbarian), but I feel like it might be an opportunity to explore the world for a few levels and create some interesting conflict in my overall campaign.

What should I take into account before I land my characters in the middle of Athas? I know many of their powers and weapons will be problematic so how can I do it well?

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What level are the PCs? The considerations change depending on level. –  wraith808 Oct 18 '11 at 16:51
    
Currently 8 will be between 9 and 11 when I send them. –  wax eagle Oct 18 '11 at 16:51
    
I was able to integrate the differences in my answer, so hopefully it's a bit more level agnostic. –  wraith808 Oct 18 '11 at 17:14
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up vote 9 down vote accepted

Athas is a harsh and dangerous environment to PCs of any level. But the level will change the nature of a lot of these dangers and considerations.

  1. Magic is Rare. With characters that are sorcerous in nature, will they be Defilers or Preservers? Athas is a world in which magic doesn't flow through the environment like most fantasy worlds- it comes only from living beings. Preservers take enough to fuel their spells and return the rest, being careful not to drain too much. Defilers take as much as needed (and more in many cases) killing the already fragile ecosystem even faster.

  2. Magic Items are rare. Most adventuring parties accumulate magic items over the course of their travels- these are very rare on Athas. How does the existence of these items (especially items not seen on Athas) interact with the magic void environment?

  3. Metal is rare. Adventurers are stores of metals that are rarely seen on Athas. Repairing said weapons will be an issue, as will maintaining them. Also, in the desert world of Athas, this metal and heavy armor will soon become a burden under the blazing sun and with little water.

  4. The climate is unforgiving. Athas is desolate and the climate is very hot to say the least. How are your adventurer's survival skills? And how much do they carry in the way of water/rations? Athas is one endless desert for the most part, and adventurers are not used to such environments in general, especially in regards to dress.

  5. Slavery is rampant. At lower levels especially, PCs are very easy prey for slavers of higher levels. How much this is played up is up to you.

  6. The Sorceror-Kings rule and are very jealous. The abundance of metal and magic is likely to bring unwanted attention sooner than later, from the templars of the sorceror-kings, if not the sorceror-kings themselves.

  7. People mistrust magic. On the other side of things, indiscriminate use of magic, and the attention that the party brings will alienate the people, leaving the PCs without any support system if not managed correctly.

  8. The gods are silent. How this affects your divine characters is up to you, though their are rough guidelines in the book (DS9).

  9. Fixed Enhancement Bonuses. Dark Sun characters get fixed enhancement bonuses (DS209) instead of magic items, to make up for the fact that with a lack of metal, things break. If the PCs are deprived of their magic items, they will be at a handicap compared to other Dark Sun characters.

Those are just a few guidelines off the top of my head. There are mentions of other settings a few times in the rulebook on DS125, DS116, and DS4 gives some tenets of Dark Sun which should definitely be kept in mind.

NOTE: DS = Dark Sun Campaign Setting book

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Would I be totally out of line having them stash their magic items/weapons (either before or after planar travel) and making them deal with DS native weapons (while giving them the intrinsic bonuses?) Or make them deal with the consequences of wielding shiny magic weapons (which might break) and not give intrinsic bonuses? –  wax eagle Oct 18 '11 at 17:38
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Fixed enhancement bonuses are a fudge more than a feature of the setting, so there's no non-rule reason for it. That can be used to justify whichever approach you choose- without magic items, they could go much more "native" in their approach, and experience a more dark sun feel- but the other way gives a more stranger-in-a-strange-land feel. I don't think the idea is out of line, but definitely something for discussion rather than imposition. And breaking isn't the problem- it's more the taking and the attention... –  wraith808 Oct 18 '11 at 18:26
    
This is a solid answer. +1 Besides working around your cleric's lack of god connection focus on understanding the climate and how survival skill challenges work. In the Dark Sun books they mention that the races of Athas have evolved to need less food and water to survive. –  Iain Anderson Oct 18 '11 at 18:28
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Just a couple extra things to keep in mind.

Since Magic is rare, your charachters are likely to stick out like a sore thumb, especially if they do any magic. This might make a good plot point though. The first time they cast magic, they are likely to suck the life out of anything nearbye and defacto brand themselves as defilers. (Even if they don't want to, they likely wouldn't know how to be a preserver yet.. except for the Warden maybe?)

Sine Metal is valuable, most of the players equipment will be seen as being made out of astral diamonds to those on other planes. They would likely again be subject to many robbery attempts.

The breakage rules exist I believe because things are made of softer more/brittle materials. I don't think that metal items get breakage rules.

As long as you are willing to have the party become instant bad guys and pariahs in a harsh world that hates everything, they should be fine.


If you want to avoid them being instant bad guys and pariahs then I would suggest the following.

  1. Give them a guide from DS before they portal out of where they are now. This could be in the form of a warning on a relic, or a guide from that plane etc. That is, let the characters know what they are getting into. 1A. This gives them the choice of how they want to go. They can sell their equipment for gold and gems which they can use to buy equipment in the Dark Sun world, or choose to bring it along any how. They can choose to stash it or other options.

  2. For the Cleric, allow a link to their god to come through the portal. Or if you want to restrict them, possibly make divine at-wills into Encounters, Encounter powers into Daily powers and Daily powers into Every-Two-Days powers? Another option, is to have a crystal which turns the divine powers into psionic ones through some ritual.

  3. For the magic users, allow them to learn how to be a preserver through some mechanism, or let them choose. You can also provide the option for their sorcerer powers to become psionic ones through a crystal implement.

  4. As a balance, the primal characters might find their skills more powerful in such a godless world. (A general plus 1 to abilities?)

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I like the idea of a guide from Athas. Perhaps a slave who has been launched like a cosmonaut or a space probe into your world by a mad sorceror-king! This slave - call him Yuri - shows up in the middle of a fight that your PCs are winning handily and sees the commonplace magic. He notes the lush greenery, sees a running stream, and observes warriors clad from head to toe in metal. He completely panics.

With some effort the PCs are able to make themselves understood, but even more critically, the cosmonaut tries for 24 hours to get the PCs to stash their metal and magic items somewhere. At the end of 23 hours, the engraved iron collar he wears starts to glow and the PCs find themselves pulled via forced teleportation to within ~3 squares of him. At the end of 24 hours, he and the PCs are pulled back to the sorceror-king's recovery chamber where the Quarantine and Vivisection team is waiting to tear them apart for SCIENCE.

Among the Q&V team's items are:

  • a Babelfish-like enchanted necklace that enables them to speak one or two Athasian languages
  • sharp shell weapons
  • level-appropriate armor
  • etc. etc.

The PCs fight their way free and immediately have an ally (Yuri, who might die nobly trying to free them, but who exhorts them on a quest), an enemy (the sorceror-king), gear, and a quest.

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