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Athas, the desolated world of deserts, obsidian and ecological ruin that is the focus of the Dark Sun campaign setting, is generally portrayed as a prime world nearing the end of its life expectancy.

It's also said to be the distant future of Oerth. When I first heard this, my immediate thought was that it was absurd; After all, I'd read about it in the context of the Planescape setting, where it was described as a Prime world, albeit one that was even more isolated and obscure than most clueless worlds tended to be. I therefore dismissed it as mere fan speculation.

But then it occurred to me: Could it be that there was a time when Dark Sun was the future of Greyhawk, not just in rumour amongst players, but in some officially published material? Canon can be changed at the whim of its creators, after all, and it's not like D&D's designers and developers never wrote any contradictions or errors; Anything is possible.

Therefore, I must ask: Does anyone know the origin of the rumour that the Dark Sun campaign setting lies in the distant future of the other major D&D campaign settings? Was it ever canon? Or is it merely a popular speculation that became so well known as to be indistinguishable from Truth?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 7 down vote accepted

I asked Tim Brown, one of the setting's creators, and this is what he said:

That was just rumor, nothing more, don't know where it started. We got people telling us that the Athas map laid directly onto the Forgotten Realms map, but that wasn't actually true.

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Doesn't answer the fundamental question, " Does anyone know the origin of the rumour that the Dark Sun campaign setting lies in the distant future of the other major D&D campaign settings? " –  aramis Dec 27 '13 at 0:18
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@aramis That is your reading/interpretation only. It does answer two of the three questions posed at the end of the Q: "Was it ever canon?" (No.) "Or is it merely a popular speculation that became so well known as to be indistinguishable from Truth?" (Yes.) It also answers the question in the title, which - being in the title - seems more fundamental than your interpretation. "Athas: A terrifying vision of the future?" No. Also, it's as official as it can get. –  OpaCitiZen Dec 27 '13 at 0:44

Edit/Note: I've just undeleted this answer of mine, originally posted practically minutes after Raddu's. Having had the exact same wording of the exact same answer, I didn't feel like "contending" - in fact, I don't feel like that now either, but have decided to bring this back anyway, for history's sake - and to present a link.

Just like Raddu, I also asked Timothy Brown about this (on the 23rd of December, 2013) on the Facebook page of his new Dragon Kings game. Here's his answer:

That was just rumor, nothing more, don't know where it started. We got people telling us that the Athas map laid directly onto the Forgotten Realms map, but that wasn't actually true.

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While Tim Brown denies that the Athas setting was the future of any of TSR's game worlds, that it was inaccessible via Spelljammer and via planar travel in Planescape tends strongly to imply that others at TSR felt it to be either the future of one of the settings, or that it's majorly imbalanced; perhaps both.

Given the post-holocaust feel, it was a logical conclusion that, given the inaccessibility via Spelljammer, it wasn't in the same portion of the timeline. And, in discussions on both Usenet and WWIVnet, many came to the conclusion that the unreachability was due to being either Krynn or Oerth, 15000 years later.

The only other "unreachable by Spelljammer" official TSR setting was Ravenloft, and it was accessible via planar travel.

So, while not explicit, it was a reasonable deduction.

Note that the more recent D&D 3E versions from Athas.org makes it clear it is not the future of any particular other D&D world, early drafts lead one towards the conclusion that it was the future of Grayhawk's Oerth, just as the AD&D 2E version had done.

As an aside: I suspect now the inaccessibility was intended simply to prevent importation of metal into Athas; still, at the time it came out, I was one of the many looking at the limited evidence, and seeing Athas as FR+15K years.

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Yeah, you can definitely make whatever you want as a history for any place. In my opinion the reason for closing Athas was both to limit metal getting to Athas, but also to limit Athasians with their high ability scores going to other worlds. We had a short lived Planescape game with a half-giant or mul (can't remember which) with a 22 str...it was pretty ridiculous...good times! –  Raddu Dec 24 '13 at 22:47

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