Richard Baker on the 4E reboot of Dark Sun

Richard Baker interview on the reasoning behind rebooting 4E Dark Sun to the same time setting as the 1991 boxed set.

Old Dark Sun or New Dark Sun?

Rich: One of the big questions we hit early on in the process was how Dark Sun 2010 should relate to the 2nd Edition product line. Over the course of its five-year run in the ‘90s, the world of Athas evolved tremendously; Troy Denning’s Prism Pentad novels revealed great secrets about the origins of the world and brought the rebels of Tyr to a climactic confrontation with the sorcerer-kings and the Dragon itself. Game products expanded the known world to places such as the Last Sea, the Jagged Cliffs, and the Crimson Savannah. Should our new Dark Sun books pick up where 2nd Edition left off? Advance the timeline by centuries, as the 3rd Edition Dragon Magazine article did? Or return to the world’s beginnings, re-envisioning Athas for a new generation of gamers?

Rodney: There was also the question of information overload. Trying to do everything in one or two books would shrink the space we had to cover each topic. The original 1991 boxed set devoted only a paragraph or two to most topics (even the city-states only got a page or two), so we knew it could be done. At the same time, we also knew we were going to want to include lots of new mechanics to make sure the 4th Edition game system could be adapted to a different play style–one that felt like Dark Sun but still had the familiar trappings of D&D.

Rich: We kicked around the options available to us off and on through several design meetings, weighing the advantages and disadvantages of each one. A clear consensus soon emerged: We all felt that the best, purest, most captivating moment of Dark Sun’s previous run was the moment in time presented in the original 1991 boxed set. The 1996 set that captured the events and developments of the Prism Pentad—half the sorcerer-kings dead, rain falling in the Sea of Silt—felt like it had wandered into a place where it wasn’t quite Dark Sun anymore. So we settled on the idea of producing an “ultimate” Dark Sun, returning to that golden moment of the original set. The events of the Prism Pentad may unfold in your new Dark Sun campaign more or less as they did in the novels, or they might not. This is a world where the exploits of Rikus, Neeva, Sadira, and the rest are only one possibility among many.

Rodney: While the things that followed the original Dark Sun boxed set had many interesting ideas, I think most Dark Sun fans can agree that there was a certain magic to that first set that really captures the imagination. It wasn’t just that it was different, it was also that the world had a really great foundation for some compelling stories. One of the big philosophies that we try and embrace with D&D is that it’s the players that should be the heroes of those stories, so we try to avoid metaplots too much. The Prism Pentad and follow-up material explore one way those stories could unfold, but those of us that used to play Dark Sun all had our own stories of the way things played out, with ourselves as the heroes. We wanted people approaching the 4th Edition Dark Sun books to get the same sense of magic that we all got when opening that 1991 boxed set, and then to go on to tell stories with themselves as the stars.

That all said, there are plenty of neat things from those later products that were just too interesting to pass up. I’m looking at you, Dregoth. So, we did some cherry-picking of things to add to our version of the setting