Problems with Athas' occulted history

From the very first box set, it was clear that the history of Athas before the reign of the Sorcerer Monarchs was unknown. The Prism Pentad series of novels revealed some of this history in broad strokes, giving us a tale of genocidal race wars and of halflings being the original race of Athas (later barring thri-kreen).

The Revised Boxed Set embraced this history in earnest, although you could argue that the designers misunderstood some of the content of the Prism Pentad.

The problem with this is that a lot of effort must be expended to detail this history, history of which most of the player characters will learn nothing. Something has taken place in the past which is over shadowing the present and the player characters cannot really interact with it.

Secrets of the Dead Lands suffers from this issue. There is an enormous amount of information presented that the DM will read and no one else. It’s easy to get bogged down in the history and devote and inordinate amount of energy to it.

What is the solution? I don’t have one. I enjoyed the Prism Pentad novels. I am one of the few people that enjoyed the novels and think that they shouldn’t have become cannon. Most people either hate PP or like PP, and their position on whether it should be canon depends on whether they liked or hated PP.

With things slowly moving forward here at Athas dot org - meaning the unconditional release of all materials under production from a decade ago - and the prospect, and this might be wishful thinking - of fresh blood being brought into the templarate, I renew my call for the production and publication of Mysteries of Athas.

One thing is certain - everyone has their own twist on the history and other aspects of Athas. The first boxed set embraced this implicitly. Let’s detail all the possible histories of Athas. These can be presented as rumor, apocrypha, or interpretation.

“Rajaat the First Sorcerer? Balderdash. Let me tell you the story of Rajaat, the First Elderbrain” - Aleris Hordin, elven storyteller.

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This is an issue I’ve ran into for more than one RPG, Athas included. As a DM it is all too easy to get lost in millenia long histories and far away lands that your players will never hear about. Hell a lot of players will probably not even care all that much if you do show snippets of the setting’s broader history and scope unless it affects the campaign in some meaningful way. So if I want to get mileage out of a setting’s history I’ve learned I need to make it a key part of whatever quest/story is going on.

Maybe some of those buried secrets of history are coming back to haunt us centuries later and the PCs have to uncover the reasons of why this is happening if they want to be able to stop whatever’s happening. Life shaped creations from one of the buried cavern cities of the rullisti have been set loose by treasure hunters who dug too deep. A mysterious wanderer sold an artifact to a Dune Trader, claiming it was from the Dead Lands of the south. Only for the artifact to whisper to the man, and slowly drive him mad as spirits from the Dead Lands travel north to haunt him.

Or maybe those secrets of the past don’t directly matter to the PCs, but they do to someone very powerful the PCs have to deal with. A shadow giant is manipulating a noble house as it searches for a way to free Rajaat. A very powerful templar from the north, accompanied by heavy guards, is seeking a runaway slave and is willing to pay very handsomely for the slave’s return. In truth the slave was a former noble of Eldaarich that stumbled across a powerful magic item that seems to have a mind of its own, a mirror shard that shows fantastic distant lands on its surface and speaks in your dreams.


I have been a Dark SUN 1st box setting originalist for a while. I like the mystery the original setting gave. The thousands of questions it conjured, the innumerable ways a GM could flesh out his version of Athas. But as I reflect more on this, and the inevitable continuation of the setting, I think canon should stay in the edition in which it was created.

Newer editions take what fits them for their time and move on. @Star-Sage said it well, " secrets of the past don’t directly matter to the PCs" unless it part of their past. Considering the light fleshing of the campaigns that the current edition has published, it looks like the world details will take place on DM’s Guild products, their popularity will drive acceptance, until the next iteration of the game and the world come to head and we start over.

Remember that many of the earliest fans of Dark Sun are in their mid to late 40’s, the newer generations don’t have the attachment to the stories or novels nor will they put much stock about what version is best.

So story ideas about the ‘what if’ of Athas are good, but probably if angled to represent adventure hooks, personal arcs, or place descriptions without much mechanics to get in the way. Long treatises are not good unless you are looking to push your version of things and plainly say so. Because amongst the many older fans of the game, there is not consensus. Most take what history they want like shopping ‘A la Cart’.


While I can understand the issue of giving too much history too early, I do think having all that ancient history opens up a lot of opportunities for certain types of adventures (time travel, archaeology, and relic hunting for example).

Indeed, it’s the extended history of Athas which was single-handedly responsible for drawing me back into D&D in the first place after 15 years of absence, so I have no problem with using it.

But then again, I feel purism is overrated. Let people do what they want with the stories. So long as you can get a good adventure which entertains the players, go with it!


Just like there can be alternate futures, there can be alternate pasts…

Present them all and let DMs sort and cherry pick.


So one of my things is this statement “Athas is a world without deities” in the original boxed set. It’s great. It’s also the only statement about gods in the whole box. It also say the SK’s portray themselves as gods but are not, not even demigods.

Definitive and Simple and it still leaves a lot to be asked.

Did they leave? Did they ever exist? Why are there temples in the ancient villages, why are there many great temples in the ancient cities? What do some undead priests(raaigs, etc) from millennia ago worshipping? It leaves a whole lot for the GM to invent his own spin.

Another of my favorites “Athas is metal poor, not metal-depleted” from the rulebook, but the wanderer’s give his opinion. " As I have stated earlier, it is my belief that metal was not always scarce on Athas. For the last few centuries, our main source has been debris from the ruins of ancient castles and cities. Apparently, our ancestors devoured Athas’ ore supply, leaving to us little but their scrap. Now, even that meager supply is all but exhausted, and with it fades the ghost of civilization."

This is great. Ruleswise you know it metal-poor but game wise someone else thinks differently.

Now I dont say stick to the Original boxed set, as it too is different from products that came after it. That may be a result of several things. No continuity manager, lack of awareness of the setting from writers, some of the details were never fully fleshed out prior, need to make products for purchase, etc

So cherry picking is the best, it only gets contentious with us nerds disagreeing on whose version is right or wrong, just like the SK’s wanted!


My solution is simple - I just ignore anything after the original boxed set pretty much. But then again I am a heretic. :slight_smile:

I liked the mystery of the original boxed set - it left so much open to the DM. And the reveals in later works and books just changed too much and didn’t always make sense. (I feel the same way about Mass Effect as well, but that is another kettle of fish.)


lol I wrote something like this on the FB group to someone yesterday.


I’d certainly be pro seeing a What If / Alt-History book come to light (and even working on it, if i wasn’t working on Faces of the Deadlands) as a source of adventure hooks and a way to ‘reconcile’ different views on the history / meta-plot of Dark Sun.

It sounds like a great idea, as long as it doesn’t split the efforts of the community over much…


I for one would enjoy reading other creators ideas about the past. I would hopefully not allow myself to be drawn into a geek off over who’s right about what in the past. The wanderer was an unreliable narrator. Purposefully so. So the DM would have the freedom to tailor the campaign as they see fit. I see no difference with a compilation of fan created alternate histories.


If a novel, or collected series of short stories were to be released from as a non-profit book, it would be totally doable due to the co-ownership clause in’s Charter, so long as the mechanics described in said stories matched up with 3rd edition ruleset. Preferably 3.5 specifically.

(Or, as I’ve said before OUR version of 3.5 given that we have the SRD, the OGL, and the Athas Charter on our side.)


Just saying.

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I used to be a dreamer just like you. Then I took a spear to the chest.


That Justin Moneymaker guy likes to stir things up. He’s also had some really cringe posts in the past.

Sounds like a story… you should write that up and publish it. Probably become a bestseller.

One thing I have done with my games is have all the ancient history stuff like the green and blue age be part of the elven oral tradition. Like we have oral traditions on earth dating back 20k years so in a fantasy I could for certain see that being something that lives on. But I have the rest of the history very intentionally unknown to any city dweller outside of maybe the top officials of a sorcerer monarch. It’s a nice way to have both going on because I think an imbalance of information is always something fun in a game.


For my world, it has always depended on the players themselves Since the beginning I’ve just advanced a single world and even when I GMed multiple groups what one did affected the others and sometimes they even heard about what another group did.

I’ve had trader based adventures where history was basically unknown. A group that ended up trying to bring back the druids to their old power levels are very interested in history but with a focus on how the world was basically destroyed.

Those trying to unlock the secrets of immortality or how to restore the world or profit off the ancients tend to pick up more history than those who are interested in good trade routes, protecting the village or surviving the death (or survival) or the SMs. I’ve done a few games focused on politics when local history going back a few hundred years was kinda important, but only in regards to how grudges and decisions were made and for the most part history was ignored in favor of the now.

As GMs we often find ourselves very interested in history, how things interact so we can present an immersive world to the player, but as players while some how an interest, many just need to know recent history or big things. As character in a world where reading and writing is basically outlawed, where oral traditions are the best you have and even those can be sketchy depending on how old the story is and who tells it is,history becomes far less important.

How many of you know the history of the city or town you live in back to it’s founding? How many of you can remember who the 3rd governor of the state or province you live in was? Which US president was assassinated in 1881 and who designed the Great Library of Alexandria? People learn what they need of history, and what interests them. When your interest is surviving day to day and communication is hard, what happened 10 years ago outside some city that you know the name of but have never seen doesn’t really affect you more than remembering when oranges were a bit more common when you were a kid.


If I had a dollar for every planned power score on Object Reading or Bone Reading in my games, I’d have enough to buy myself a nice dinner.

Normally it isn’t a big deal, but when something has theoretically had over a dozen owners or more or on items over a 1,000 years old in game time it gets a bit nuts given the amount of thought you need to put into things.

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That’s why there should be a section titled “The effects of extreme environmental exposure on psychic imprints on objects and locations” as well as a section on “The effects of defiling on psychic imprints on objects and locations” in the books…

Just saying.

Nah. The fact they’re interested is enough reason to write more background. I’d hand wave more if my games weren’t post-based though.