Dark Sun Tropes Redux

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Though I previously posited three primary tropes for the inspiration of Dark Sun, I am wondering which themes most GMs draw from. Here are a handful that I gathered from tvtropes.org:

  • Raygun Gothic
  • Crystal Spires and Togas
  • Low Culture, High Tech
  • Magitek
  • Scavenger World
  • Anachronism Stew
  • Sufficiently Advanced Bamboo Technology
  • Other?

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And here are the links describing each theme:
Raygun Gothic
Crystal Spires and Togas
Low Culture, High Tech
Magitek
Scavenger World
Anachronism Stew
Sufficiently Advanced Bamboo Technology

None of these, for the most part. Tech anything doesn’t really fit - Dark Sun is a bronze age setting. There are powerful magic items that are owned by the wealthy or buried deep in dangerous ruins, but they aren’t a part of everyday life or the everyday setting. Psions are plentiful, and you can find someone who can use their powers for a price, but there isn’t technology, or even organized guilds providing consistent services. That’s more Eberron.

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@objulen That isn’t necessarily true. There could be ancient life shaped tech. If the moons hold other intelligent civilizations, there could be alien tech involved there. Some light off world tech, such anything available for Dregoth to have brought back from the Planes, could exist… as well as anything Orcus & Company could have brought into the setting. Couple these things with psionics and psionically crafted items, crazy inventions and such could totally exist in Athas. Perhaps not common, but possible to exist or influence the society that remains.

And if you disregard Spelljammer as a setting as far as influencing Dark Sun canon, alien entities could exist or visit. Psurlons/Githyanki/Summoned Outer Planar Beings (possibly Inner Plane as well depending on if Djinn are able to be contacted) could also have interesting items, inventions, etc… not common to the Prime. There’s also little detail about how advanced the world was before the decimation of the Cleansing Wars.

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Well, there is ancient life shaping tech - the halfings had it during the Blue Age, but like most things, it was lost. The glories of the past were burnt to ash by war and the naked pursuit of power.

As for the rest, it’d be hard to properly fit it in Dark Sun IMO. Highly advanced moon civilizations? Maybe, if they wanted nothing to do with Athas, and had no concerns about the state of the planet, walled off gardens that saw only to their own concerns. Outsiders are killed or mind wiped and returned. They don’t want greedy eyes turned their way, unless they’re just trying to wipe everyone out.

I’d have to say no to Orcus outright. Demons and other outsiders have no place in Dark Sun IMO. There are no gods or outer planes - just the Grey and the Black.

There would be psionically empowered items, but it wouldn’t be like Eberron, where they are a part of daily life and guilds exist to maintain them in cities. Dark Sun is resource pour, and you can’t really have a Bronze Age setting when it’s Fantasy Industrialized. That would fit better in something along the lines of Arcanum IMHO.

Crazy inventors aren’t generally a thing unless what they make is really useful, and then they’ll be snapped up by a powerful patron and monopolized or killed. None of the powers that be in the Tablelands have any interest in sharing power or improving the lives of their citizens unless there’s a direct benefit to them, except for Oronus.

I’d keep out most of the Spelljammer material. Rare visits are OK, but it’s the same problem as allowing easy planar travel - if it’s not hard to leave Athas, why would anyone stay? A Spelljammer craft is more likely to get swarmed and destroyed or, less likely, taken over.

During the Green Age, the sky is the limit, but I don’t think that’d affect planar travel. The Green Age could easily have psi-tech societies - it was was a gentler, more prosperous time.

Orcus is canon. Also are Outer Planar beings. If you don’t have it in your game, that’s on you.

There’s also no detail on any of the rest of the world, just the small snippet that’s the Tablelands. There is plenty of room to build any type of fantastical campaign you’d like in Athas. Just because the Tablelands are resource poor, does not mean the entire world is completely bled dry on on the same developmental scale.

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They are canon, and they are cut off from Athas by and large. There have been instances of cross overs, but they are rare, and generally have little long-term impact and aren’t very strong part of the base setting. Specifically, wasn’t the thing with Orcus basically a name drop for Planescape where Orcus traveled to Athas to get an ancient Blue Age life-shaping artifact to try to sustain himself as Tenebrous? Sure, you could take that and run with it and have a base of Demons on one of the two moons or somewhere on Athas, but it clashes. Outsiders, other than Elementals, are effectively aberrations in Dark Sun, and it begs the question of how they would sustain themselves in the long-term if they were largely cut off from the Outer Planes.

You could put a well-off, technologically advanced society some where else on Athas. Before 2e DS died, they were developing the Tohr-Kreen empire, IIRC, and an outside enemy that wanted to invade and conquer the Tablelands, maybe wipe out or enslave everyone there, but this was after many SK’s were dead, Bory’s death, etc., etc, though it wasn’t really shown that the Tohr-Kreen had better fantasy-tech than the Tablelands, except for some flesh-warping. Either way, this hits the same problem - how does that mesh with the base underlying setting?

The setting and the stories the setting is meant to tell are resource-starved. You could have a flush, prosperous civilization somewhere on Athas, but how would that work in a way that doesn’t undermine the setting? The options are very limited - some flavors of “criminally apathetic”, “would attack to destroy them if provoked”, and “wants to wipe them out”. Maybe they wiped out a city state that antagonized them, or were destroyed by an SK. Maybe, instead of the typical smaller-scale stories that Dark Sun lends itself to, you have a greater-scope villain to give the setting a more epic scope. It’s a great way to introduce drastic change to the setting, if it’ll make the game more enjoyable for you. There is no wrong way the play, but at a certain point it’s maybe better to look at making a DS spin-off.

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Your description seems like it would fit the Scavenger World and/or Low Culture, High Tech tropes, where Athasians can find and use artifacts from the Blue or Green Ages, they just don’t have the level of knowledge to build their own (or repair one if it broke).
Sufficiently Advanced Bamboo Technology would be illustrated by things like the Pristine Tower, The Dark Lens, The Crimson Monolith (assuming you have these things in your Dark Sun) - artifacts of immense power which most Athasians not only could not build, but would not even have an inkling how to operate or even its purpose.

Curious you mention Eberron - I am just about to ask (in a different thread) how difficult it might be to adapt Eberron adventures to Dark Sun…

Addendum: @objulen you’ve probably already seen this post on Tech Levels in Dark Sun but in case you haven’t: Tech Levels on Dark Sun?

Though Athas may be cut off from the multi-verse, its own universe might be vast and include all sorts of interesting life forms and civilizations.
I’m wondering how often GM’s bring ‘aliens’ into their Dark Sun.

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Yeah, that kind of thing can be difficult to properly balance in Dark Sun. “Less is more”. I generally assume that powerful psionic items are the providence of the rich and city states, and generally rare. It’s balancing between Dark Sun and Numenera - these ruins are great story pieces, and an occasional artifact, but weird/fantasy science and archeology aren’t a primary focus, but something a PC may be interested in if they are the right sort, though actually getting a person who knows about them to the location is even harder than having any kind of useful knowledge in the first place. Age of Decadence did a good job with this IMHO.

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Scavenger World fits much better than Low Culture, High Tech IMHO. Everyone has an idea how psionic artifacts work, after all, and the truly rare and strange things are effectively lost to society as a whole.

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Yeah, I keep finding myself wanting to veer off into Masters of the Universe/He-Man/Eternia territory…:stuck_out_tongue:

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