The Darkness Before the Dawn Dark Sun novel

So I did a quick skim of this novel, trying to refresh my memory of a book that I read more than 20 years ago. I remember liking the novel back then - but I’m not so sure I like it that much now. But my point lies elsewhere.

The novels present crystals that are world spaces in which wealthy and powerful ancient Athasians would enter thier souls into before death. Inside the crystal world there are no limitations on space or environment, even though the crystals themselves can fit in the palm of your hand in the real world. The ancients had their crystals linked up so they could meet each other across their crystal worlds. Over thousands of years this system broke down and they became isolated and alone within their crystals.

This brings up an interesting notion. If you accept this part of the novel as canon, then the ancients must have had a good understanding of the Gray, and that there was no reward in the afterlife, only slowly having their souls drain away before oblivion.

This must have been a terrifying thought. With no afterlife, the ancients came up with a psionic means of providing themselves with a man made afterlife, inside an artificial crystal virtual reality.



It’s pretty canon, assuming you agree that Mind Lords of the Last Sea is canon.

If you think that you can “live” forever in an idyllic world as opposed to nothingness that seems pretty great. I’m all for it once we can figure out persistent VR worlds and figure out who to upload our consciousness digitally.


When you say the Ancient, do you mean the Rhulisti or the Green age’s first generations of the new races?

Also this would mean that those crystals are still on Athas somewhere. What would happen if one would find such a thing. (don’t have the novel)

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No. I mean ancient Green Age humans and humanoids. Yes, according to the novel these crystals still exist, and the people inside them are quite possibly insane from loneliness.

Implanting the mind in crystals is pretty well established. An argument could easily be made that obsidian orbs allowed interaction with the outside world while standard crystals did not. Psionic travel was a thing, so there’s no reason the green age psions wouldn’t know about the Grey.

There was a stigma attached to being implanted in the orbs, that was for criminals and other unwanted folk. That stigma could be more associated with the mind wipe and being turned into a slave than the ability to live forever. The reason only the rich and powerful used it is because it wasn’t easy (or cheap) to implant yourself in something small enough to hold in the palm of your hand but doing so required you to lose the ability to interact with the real world.

As the Mind Lords have discovered, physical beings without a body eventually go insane. The crystals from the novel show the same thing happening. A mind can be removed from the crystal and placed in a new body, much like mindswaps are done normally and we see in City by the Sea of Silt that obsidian spheres can be used to hold the mind of a being that’s been killed (lost their body) until resurrection (a new body is found).


Got a page number for City by the Sea of Silt?

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Adventure Book, pg 62. Check the encounters section and it talks about a rack of small obsidian spheres that are to be used to bring back some of Dregoth’s followers. One’s already been brought back (and presumably awaiting a body or to be left in the sphere forever ad used as needed), there’s another 6 that can be used to bring back anyone stuck in the Caller of Darkness.Once retrieved they can be rezzed.


What’s your opinion on the following:

Is …

A. a person’s brain brainwashed or lobotomised, surgically or psionically, followed by transference into an obsidian sphere, resulting in a mind that obeys commands perfectly?

B. a person’s mind transfered wholesale in a sphere, but the psionics of the sphere twist the mind into obeying and otherwise not manifesting its personality?

C. only part of a person’s mind transfered in a sphere, but how much is transfered can vary? with only a partial mind it might exist in a perpetual altered state, like a waking dream or heavy drugs, unable to say no to commands

This is the single most fascinating speculative aspect of DS for me that remains (after being fascinated about dozens of things across the years).

I suspect it’s possible to trap a mind that would be in extreme distress until it goes insane within the year, a form of long duration torture requiring no torturer.

But the Green Age was pragmatic enough that sphered minds were meant to be put to work as slaves rather than tortured for the sake of cruelty. Since the work output would be impacted in a distressed mind, I think they were not distressed.

I think these “altered” minds, when isolated from others, took millenia of loneliness (instead of months or years) to turn insane only because the mind in question was no longer like a normal living mind.


I’ve given this some thought actually. Without addressing what you’ve written individually, I’d like to just go the whole hog.

I suspect that the orb is what keeps the minds inside in check and under control, but due diligence was not done on these minds before insertion.

Due diligence would have involved using Psychic Chirurgery to prepare the mind for the new modality of existence within the orb. I think what happened is that the ancients were focused on control, and fear of their “robots” (for lack of a better word) slipping free. They did not consider the mental welfare of the creatures being transferred.

This has even impacted the Mind Lords. They could have prepared themselves for the transfer by psychic chrirugury but didn’t even give it any thought. Now they are going insane too.

So what you have in the worker orbs is that they are controlled but insane. That means that they don’t act maliciously, but experiencing hallucinations and delusions can make the orbs malfunction and act outside the parameters of their “programming”.

I would say that the soul is the animating force for the minds in the orbs.

I agree with this.

But, I do think there’s a possibility that worker orbs were somehow “stripped” with psychic chrirugury to make them impossible to resurrect (it’d be dumb to put criminals/ your enemies in a form that they could be recovered from). A resurrected criminal mind from a worker orb might be lobotomized when recovered.

If so, though, then preparation/reformatting of the mind/soul for centuries of existence in an orb would have likely happened as well.

I think an easier and more logical answer is that the growing insanity of orbs in general is just due to the breakdown of the “magics” (“psionic powers” feels weird to use here in that context, word usage-wise). Obs were maybe just not meant to last forever - centuries? yes; millennia? Mayne not.

The insanity of the Mind Lords might be explained as something like free will and preparation for existence in an orb were mutually exclusive.

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To be honest, this sounds like an upgraded and or modified version of the Astral Seed power.

Astral Seed creates a storage crystal, and stores the spirit for up to a month at one level lower than when you manifested the power (…upon the death of your original body, whereupon the spirit jumps across space and dimensions, so works across planes). During that month, you have the abilities of a psicrystal of your (lower) level.
This means you have senses and potentially mobility.
During the month you can take 10 days to regrow your body. These 10 days must be uninterrupted and the growing body must be undamaged to succeed.
It is possible to Mind switch while in this crystal form.
If the month ends without successfully growing or otherwise obtaining a body, you die.

(However, nothing seems to prevent you from manifesting the power again… except for cumulative level loss?)

The differences between those crystals and this power seem to be the loss of mobility, loss of external senses (? Or was it just that no one was around within sensory range of the storage crystals), and the dream network virtual reality thing ala the Microcosm power - plus the novel specific sharing world augmentation.

Speaking to the storing of minds / spirits in general, the storage container should replicate and provide the expected sensory feedback of a bio-body in order to keep a mind healthy and sane, something any advanced psionic civilization should be well aware of… thus any lack thereof should imply a deliberate choice, or lack of technical capabilities - but with the existence of Microcosm and other dram offers, that lack is clearly not the case, thus leaving deliberate choice or tampering as the remaining option.

One of the ways I was thinking about reconciling the 4e athasian feywild with DS cosmology is that it was a sort of psionic/magical “pocket dimension” created in the gray by races like the elves and pixies as an artificial “afterlife.”

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