Where did all the water on Athas go?
- a) Deep underground
- b) Evaporated into space
- c) Broken down into hydrogen and oxygen by aerial phytoplankton
- d) The Elemental Plane of Water
- e) Other
Where did all the water on Athas go?
I’d go with the Pristine Tower’s use literally burning it out into silt after destroying the brown tide. Any ground water is fine, but the stuff on the surface was literally blown out by the aftereffects of harnessing the Sun’s power,
Some of it? Probably, but there were still oceans during the Green Age. Defiling is responsible for the majority of the damage to Athas’s water supply.
A fun thing that can happen with global warming is a sort of accelerated water cycle. Basically you’re stuck with long droughts interrupted with intense downpours that accomplish relatively little as the water evaporates more quickly. Plants also help make sure that water that does rain down is retained in the soil, but long droughts leave us with less plants and so the soil continues to be bad at keeping the water that rains down. Bonus points for the fact plants also help keep the ecosystem cool, so less plants also leave us with a warmer environment, making things even worse.
So the water didn’t go anywhere, it just isn’t able to make as much of a difference in a world with poor soil, few plants, and a more intense water cycle. Just in this case the world got warmer because the Pristine Tower turned the sun all red and spooky.
Edit: I realized my point failed to acknowledge the topic of oceans on Athas. In my campaign I depict the Sea of Silt as an inner sea akin to the Mediterranean. If my PCs were to somehow reach the southernmost portions of the Deadlands they would find a coast to one of the world’s oceans. I personally don’t see any problem with oceans still existing. The Crimson Savannah and Deadlands regions don’t exactly have their harsh natures undermined by having coasts after all.
I always felt that the presence of the Forest Ridge on the west side of the Ringing Mountains betrayed the existence of a large oceanic body of water way, way to the west… just in unexplored territory. Similar to the climate differences of California to say, Nevada in the US.
Using the global map that’s floating around out there, mostly around the poles that could still be classified as ocean. All the silt forms one large interconnected body.
What I use is the the brown tide was “defeated” by the halflings just before the Rebirth by using the power of the sun. The defeat was really just making the water eating brown tide (destroying water molecules and creating a brown sludge much like defiling destroys life and leaves ash) go dormant.
Later during the cleansing wars, along came Keltis, faced with a lizardman city he simply could not defeat he created an epic spell to dry up an area of water that they used as a source of power. Unfortunately the spell actually triggered a reawakening of the brown tide (something not realized at the time) at the same time altering it and linking it to the plane of silt. Rajaat finds out, wipes the spell from Keltis’s mind and alters it so he would never try anything like that again but is unable to actually reverse the damage. He does come up with a way to fend off the tide of silt and makes sure that knowledge is spread among coastal cities.
Fast forward a number of years and it has spread greatly, engulfing a number of cities that couldn’t keep up with the demands of the protection spell. Long after Keltis had cleansed the last lizardman (so he thought) and returned to Kurn intentionally ignorant of the scope his runaway spell has grown to, he makes his way to the coast for the first time in an age to check in with Daskinor (a friend) and realizes exactly what his spell has done as he sees the coast having turned to silt. This triggers his reform into Oronis, a preserver, and eventually an avangion.
That explains why water suddenly became so much more scarce, so quickly, as we have no in game explanation that I’m aware of where water is destroyed by defileing (just life).
Mind Lords of the Last Sea has a special table for defiling the Last Sea itself. That said, I don’t recall it discussing the water directly. However, the 4e Dark Sun campaign setting, under the Secret History of Athas sidebar, has this to say on the topic:
As the Champions waged the genocidal Cleansing Wars, their reckless defiling withered Athas. Forests and grass- lands perished; the seas retreated and then vanished. Entire continents began to die, even where no Champion had set foot. (emphasis mine)
And this: Over the preceding centuries, the peoples of Athas had migrated toward the hospitable lands remaining in the world.
And this: On most of Athas, nothing resembling culture remained.
On another note, the 4e book also tries to explain why the heck the sorcerer monarchs just didn’t take over the far more abundant Forest Ridge. A bunch of ancient wards and constructs inhibit defiling and cause the jungle to attack those who do so. (Question: which designer decided that having a forest almost the size of tablelands just next-door was a good idea? I honestly believe that if the Forest Ridge wasn’t in Dark Sun from so early on that it would have been as controversial as the Last Sea.)
I use the global map for a good deal of inspiration myself, but took creative liberties with it since afaik it is an unofficial map. I went back and forth on the extent of the silt sea’s spread for a while before settling on a more limited scope.
That being said I do really like the idea of the brown tide being accidentally reawakened. I could see the tide not even having to be linked to an elemental plane. Perhaps the tide simply consumed the seas before starving to death, withering away into silt. After all the halflings of old encountered the tide when the world was covered in 99% ocean. Its possible the tide requires large quantities of moisture to survive.
Mind Lords just says it’s so dense with life that defiling doesn’t have as much of an effect. If that’s true of most seas, it would take far more defiling than even the cleansing wars saw in my opinion to destroy all the seas in the world.
As for the sidebar, the seas retreated, but it doesn’t say why, just that it happened. Arguably, remove the seas from the world, and you end up with a small enough concentration of water that the land dies.
Coming up with an in game reason for that I fell back on the brown tide since it was something that destroyed water in the past and wasn’t fleshed out on how it was stopped. It didn’t exactly match up, but twist it with magic and suddenly it becomes possible. It’s not directly the brown tide, it’s not directly the epic spell, but the two mixing had unforeseeable results.
I’m sure my explanation isn’t the only one, but one of the things that I love about Dark Sun is how open they are. “This thing happened and it had something to do with defiling, oh and champions.” Details… up to you to figure it out.
I’m not saying that the explanation in the 4e book is perfect, but the preceding and ending sentences of the paragraph you quoted rather strongly identify the Champions as the main culprits.
Edit: that said, I do like including the brown tide, rajaat’s continued experiments, or any number of other explanations you want to add to it in your own game. There does not need to be just one factor at work.
Always thought it was in Rajaat’s grand plan for the oceans to disappear. Strip it all away before building everything back up for the return of the Blue Age.
Water vapor is also a greenhouse gas. So its possible that water is trapped high in the atmosphere, contributing to the heat of Athas. When a spell is used to create weather effects like rain, there is plenty of water vapor to draw from, entire oceans worth.
Fun fact, that runaway greenhouse effect is essentially what happened to Venus. Mind you, Athas isn’t that badly off, but it really puts into perspective how bad it could’ve gotten.
I think the lore says much of the water was destroyed by defiling magic. Thousands of years of war involving armies of defilers can destroy a lot of stuff. Especially when those armies of defilers include multiple epic level defilers.
I believe that a lot of water is trapped under the sea of silt. The silt is not a natural phenomena otherwise it would compact and become a hard surface water could rest on. Instead I imagine a larger supply of mud trapped at the bottom of the sea of silt. I can’t say where I got that idea.
I think the lore says that water will sink through silt, If this is true then there could be water trapped between the silt and the ancient sea floor. Though I think that water’s presence in shallower areas of silt would be noticed by the giants that wade through the shallower parts of silt basins, but that does not preclude the presence of water trapped benith the deeper parts of silt basins. .
Given that water will flow downhill and we know that the silt sea is hundreds of feet deep the further out one goes I agree with you. I can easily see why giants wading waist deep in fifteen feet of silt don’t get their toes wet. If this idea is sound then anytime it rains over the silt sea or coastlines that water will become trapped and can’t return to the atmosphere. Athas is truly a bleak world. One that I love.
That does help explain the mudflats. I like it.