Tech Levels on Dark Sun?

the discussion of Dark Sun Tropes got me thinking about tech levels on Dark Sun. Though there are always rare magical, psionic or life shaped artifacts, where would you say the tech level of most tablelanders is?

Tech Level
  • Stone Age
  • Bronze Age
  • Iron Age
  • Renaissance
  • Industrial
  • Post-Industrial

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And maybe what I’m really interested in as how common psionic tech and artifacts are:

psi tech spread
  • Slaves use it daily
  • Commoners have access
  • Only rich merchant houses or noble houses can afford them
  • Only the Sorcerer Monarchs use them

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And to provide some examples:

  • Slaves are marked with psionic seals that identify them as slaves and who they are owned by, they must use these seals to get their food and water allotment for the day and it can be used to track their movements and punish them.
  • Commoners may have psionic locks on the homes of their doors or on the chest where they keep their coins. They may, on occasion, avail themselves of the services of a Truth Teller to learn if their spouse is adulterous or the services of a Mentat to predict demand in the cloth market.
  • Merchant houses may have a Telepath on staff to communicate with their outposts as well as Mind Readers to steal the secrets of their competitors.
  • Nobles may have psionic crystals lighting their homes or eternally flowing fountains powered by psionic pumps. The richest nobles hold parties on levitating barges, floating lazily through the cool evening breezes.
  • Perhaps the gates of the city are powered by psionic valves controlled by the City Guard and the main thoroughfares are lit by psionic lanterns. Crystalline surveillance orbs float above important intersections in the city, monitoring the populace.
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My idea is more to the effect of WHERE the different tech levels lie in Athas.


Do you mean the psionic tech level, magic tech level, lifeshaping tech level, the science tech level, or some combination thereof?

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A combination of all.
I kinda assumed magitech would not be much visible in most human settlements given their fear and hatred of wizards?

Well, I’m famously against magic in all forms, so I just thought I’d ask to be sure.

I think that the tech levels would vary on “Modern” Athas. Psi would be higher, magic would be low, except for the Government (conspiracy theories, anyone?) who obviously sponsors fear via Templars. Science would be mostly low, with the remnants of very high (ie: Lifeshaping, if you go the science route for this), and the same for lifeshaping if you don’t link it to science.

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I’ve gathered this, but I don’t understand why. Can you explain?

see here: Why one should NOT magic

I assume this is a callout to the Jagged Cliffs region?

For me, if you’re in the city states its the merchants or nobles who have access to this. Yes psionics are common but psionic artifice is rare and equivalent to spellcaster services on other worlds.

Villages and outposts might or might not have access to psionic tech, depending on the personnel there.

Exceptions would be Saragar, where psionic tech is available to ordinary citizens in the city (albeit less as the ages wear on), Giustenal, where I can see Dregoth restricting Green Age psionic tech to his palace, templars and defilers, amd New Kurn, where I imagine psionic tech and magical improvements are quite common, but more for public good, not personal use.


I voted for renaissance, and commoners have access to psionics.

The latter is not so controversial, but you are probably scratching your head, asking yourself how on Athas could Dark Sun be a renaissance setting. Here is how I see it.

Think about the vast slave plantations of the New World. And think about the situation on Athas. Is Athas really much lower tech than these people? It does not seem so. Rather, resource deprivation on Athas prevents implementation of technological innovation. The innovation is there, but widespread adoption among the public at large is difficult.

The people of Athas do not ride simple chariots like the people of the classical age of Earth. They have war machines, the construction of which means that they have knowledge of screws and bolts, a technology that came much later.

Sorcerer Monarchs ban literacy for all except its Templars and noble class - maybe 10% of the population. Yet, in the ancient world, literacy was only around 10% anyway. The ban is superfluous, unless of course written languages were more highly developed on Athas than in the ancient world on Earth. That means no difficult writing systems like hieroglyphs which are difficult to learn and do not convey concise meaning. My guess is that writing on Athas is similar to our modern forms of reformed written language. It must be easy enough to learn to bother banning it. This is a social technology.

Athas has other advantages such as central government, census taking, labor mobilization and infrastructure building. Athasian bureaucracy is far more advanced than that of Rome or Greece. Certain time periods of China comes close.

Athas is a renaissance setting, but you won’t see it outside the noble villas and estates, the king or queen’s gardens or palace, and the dwellings of the templars.

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My sense is that the City-States of Athas are modelled on the palace economies of the Late Bronze Age. This is more a question of social institutions than technology per se though.

For me, Dark Sun is a post-apocalyptic setting. What technology there is - even simple metal weapons - is scavenged from earlier more abundant age. Power should reside in the person - whether muscle or psionics or magic - not in their equipment. Yes you can do a lot with psionics but I think it works best as a service industry, not manufacture. A noble house might retain (or own) a psionicist. They wouldn’t possess psionically powered tools or automata.

Even in the Renaissance screws and bolts were a rarity and certainly not widely used in carpentry. Manufacturing screws by hand is incredibly laborious; you need a very precise lathe to manufacture screws in any quantity. These did not exist until the start of the Industrial Revolution.


Psionic fabricate. Athasians must have access to screws and bolts to produce those gnarly war machines.

You still have to make a craft check. The number of folks TODAY who have the skill (not the equipment) to handcraft screws is not particularly high, i’d bet.

Psionic craftsmen shaping materials into tools and parts seems bonkers and stinks of Eberron (which i actually really like, but…)

Besides, if its a warmachine, then its big enough to use lynch pin pegs to secure it.

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The Prism Pentad has this section which is, I believe, the one time we see technology - as in a mechanism - being used in modern Athasian times.

The thirsty Tyrians stood beneath an arch of golden sandstone, taking what shelter they could from the white-hot sky. Their eyes were fixed far below, on the slowly spinning sails of a small windmill. With each rotation, the mill pumped a few gallons of cool, clear water from a deep well and dumped it into a covered cistern

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Yes. A craftsman has to handcraft screws and bolts, and it isn’t easy. Its possible, but difficult and time consuming. Psionic fabricate doesn’t take away the difficulty (the Craft check DC), but removes the time constraints.

You are missing my point, however. Sure, there are screws and bolts in warmachines, but not in the homes of freeman, who simply cannot afford the metals. Let me ask you: do you use solid gold for taps, shelves, utensils and so on in your home? No? Nor can Athasians do so with metals. However, a Sorcerer Monarch that builds warmachines can.

So when I say this or that can be done, it doesn’t mean that it is being done in a way that appears to warp the setting. The lack of resources puts a hard cap on the adoption of metal based technologies, but the technologies are there.

Yeah, i see your position, but i think it’s wrong. You’re going to get anachronisms in any move to a different world.

The key, i think, is to look at what level of technological society you want Athas to have (or think it has) and go from there.

Forcing DS to be Renaissance because of a ban on reading and having warmachines is an interesting thought experiment, but a bad path, IMO.

Most of those war machines are built into giant undead beetles or reptiles and the reading ban can easily be explained by just HOW bad for a SM other wizards or knowledge of the past are - a theoretically widespread availability of reading materials is not the simplest answer. (It is, IMO, the most mind-twistingly bonkers one though - which I love).

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However, as i think about it, i would say the Green Age was pretty advanced. The SM’s would still have acess to knowledge from whatever level of tech was common in those days.

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Mere examples. I could have pointed out how similar Agis’ plantation is to the plantations of the Antebellum South

Again, I am not saying there are widespread reading materials, but rather that the social technology of language, including writing, is concise and relatively easy to understand. If you want to know why certain isolated tribes remained backwards for millennia, it is for this reason. You can’t properly think about concepts that you cannot express by language. If Athas was really at the bronze age tech level, for example, the writing systems would be beyond the ability of freemen to learn, much less slaves. It would be difficult to learn, time consuming, and not even very good at conveying information.

Its literally the same societies, albeit smaller scale. The difference is that in the Green Age there were apparently plentiful resources to go around, while in this age of Athas, they cannot properly implement a renaissance society even if they wanted to due to lack of resources. Let me give you an example. You got a tin of food, but no can opener. You can’t eat the contents because you can’t open it. That’s Athas. Knowledge of technology is the tin of food. The can opener is the resources.