Updates or Info on "Secrets of the Dead Lands" or "The Emissary"

Has there ever been any further work or possibility of releasing the unfinished conversions for “Secrets of the Dead Lands” or “The Emissary” adventure? I know they got close a few years ago and tried to reach out for help testing stuff but I haven’t found an update on them beyond comments about it being abandoned for a few years now.

I have been working on converting (just for my own self because I don’t think its fit for public consumption) for Dark Sun to play in 5E. Plus it’s currently a kitbash of my ideas and probably I don’t know at least a dozen other peoples half-finished, finished and in progress attempts. I’ll probably tweak and smack at this for years mostly because I don’t think WOTC (if they release Dark Sun at all) will have the right feel. Kinda like I want to play Dark Souls but they’re gonna be like here’s Zelda they both got exploration and bosses they’re real close right?

Anyways enough rambling, is there any way or chance Secrets of the Dead Lands will ever get even a partial release? I’ve got all the other content for Dark Sun even read all the Prism Pentad when I first got really into the setting years ago (liked the first book at least) which I personally both loved (the glimpse and descriptions of so much and the interactions, things like the Beast Head giant’s rituals and that pit full of angry disembodied heads) but MOSTLY was rather angry with by the end. I really don’t like seeing so many of the SKs so casually murdered, the uber Sun power, etc. Mostly because the revised version left a lot of fun and feel of the setting off to me.

Anyways looking for anything helpful or a way to get hold of either “Secrets of the Dead Lands” or “The Emissary” if possible. I know most who have copies aren’t willing to spread or share them at all but you never know if you don’t ask. I’d just love more insight into it and getting to read about the Dead lands in those vast obsidian flats would be great.

One last thing in case anyone reads all this, what is with this massive undead bug army? Is there another Thri-Kreen nation to the FAR FAR south? They beetles or something like in that Dragon King (of course they’re not undead but I know that different colors of them hate one another) setting one of the original developers from Dark Sun worked on and released?


The undead bug army are known as “bugdead” and are commanded buy the scarlet wardens. Scarlet wardens are a sort of larger kreen-like creature but instead of mantises their ancestry is tied to spiders. Their leader is a giant undead scarlet warden named Ahnthyarka.


Thank you very much for the reply.

Are the undead in the Dead Lands trapped or just unaware there is life to the north?

So the Wardens are all spider like, are we talking Ettercaps sorta, Drider-esque or more like a mix of kreen and spider something more unique like large Neogi w/o the weird eel/worm trunk mixed with spider limbs. Or did they even get much of a physical description?

Are the bugdead armies also spider-esque like their commanders? Are they trapped by the obsidian flats?

Is there even a partial list of the powers or cities in the Deadlands beyond the very few mentioned in the books released. Is Rajaat at all involved with what happened in The Dead Lands?

Its been awhile, but they are not trapped to the Dead Lands. Not sure why they haven’t ventured north. The undead rulers simply forbid it (which is a weak explanation IMO).

The wardens look more like exoskeleton crab-esque humanoid spiders. You can find their stats and description in Terrors of the Dead Lands by athas.org.

Their armies include a variety of undead insects, from giant zombie wasps to undead ant swarms.

The Dead Lands were created due to an experiment conducted by one of Rajaat’s defiler lieutenants, Qwith. She was charged with breeching the outer planes as a source of power to use as a possible weapon for the Cleansing Wars. She accidentally opened a portal to the Demiplane of Obsidian which flooded the northern lands with molten obsidian killing everything.

I don’t remember anything mentioned about the lands south of the Black Basin. I’ll have to search the doc later for that.

Here’s a picture of what I envisioned wardens look like per their Terrors of the Dead Land block:



There were some snags on why the undead hordes did not leave the obsidian plain for sure. One of the rulers had a crystal ball and there were others that definitely had magical potential to travel or scry. So there was no reason why they wouldn’t be aware of the living city-states and at the very least the random living beast that died in their realm.

You also run into the fact that the Tablelands are relatively small. Flyers could easily know more than just the rumors of the Deadlands. So could anyone with teleport, dream travel, etc… even elves with the speed they run or kreen since they could easily travel the distance with less water.

Borys also had to be aware of the threat of the plain… and by default the SKs and Queens. And the Order too.

That being said, I think the easiest way to deal with that would be to say that while the undead can leave, there’s something about the extraplanar bond of their undeath that makes them stay there subconsciously - a bond that keeps them from progressing too far from the black borders. Perhaps they decay or chance permadeath if they stay away too long… much like the elemental guys that are tied to a that specific island in the Silt Sea (pardon my mind blank).

None of these major players probably want to hit the wasp’s nest that is the Obsidian Plain, for sure, and the Emissary adventure of having Dregoth trying to tap into the land and it’s inhabitants should be drawing the attention of just about every major player in Athas.


Thanks again for more clarification this is interesting, like all the possibilities the Crimson Savannah opens up and the Thri-Kreen of Athas stuff (im not keen on ALL of it but parts are fun and some interesting ideas) but at the same time I like the Jagged Cliffs stuff but it was surprising how utterly bizarre HR Geiger looking life shaping was… too bad we didn’t get more Brom art for that stuff.

Ok, I like that art Sysane it was where I was leaning in a way honestly. Are these insect swarms mundane undead like small / tiny / miniscule even, giant or a mix. I mean thinking on it those Giant Goliath beetles the SKs use as undead war machines seem to me a good sign they’ve had some undead contact or at least a war some when or where with these forces or a lesser former hive? of them at some point. I’ve never seen or heard of a living version of those big beetles come to think of it.

It feels to me like after the sealing of Rajaat and Cleansing Wars a lot of stuff happened. I know Sasha and Wynn (memory bad unsure) mention a ton of events never alluded to elsewhere. I mean lots of stuff has happened the SKs are too schemey and ready to pounce. It honestly reminds me kind of George RR Martins “Sand Kings” short story. Warring, raging each others cities and raising up castles.

I stumbled upon a Net Project of the Dead Lands and a 4E style version (looked like near same text but one had a map) is anything in it accurate? Or sources from Secrets of the Dead Lands?

I almost feel like if they ever brought Dark Sun back, I’d almost want more rules then fluff and to at least get some fun stuff outside the Tablelands dug up more and in one book as a quick reference (some stuff I just need a paragraph or two to look at and kick my brain in gear like the Gazetteers they’ve made for various cities). I don’t like the Realms myself much though I do like some Sword Coast cities I just ignore everything else and replace it with ruins. I hate this city… its a ruin now… i hate this kingdom… let’s put a sleeping elemental kaiju tarrasque thing in it maybe a Voclano but also ruins… I blame Dark Sun for this mindset. With travel generally becoming for me as Cities, towns or remote villages, then lands where mortals should not tread where lies ruin and glory along with the horrors between.

Plus with their current mindsets (and the fact players don’t use the new rule options when they add em, I do damnation! Unless they’re bad then I’ll make my own!) the fluffs probably going to be the only part of a 5E Dark Sun im gonna like provided they add anything or else im good with the original & glancing at the 4E quick blurbs to avoid digging deeper into the older books (which do not have the greatest of layouts at times to say the least).

Killer_DM, yeah the Tablelands are quite small and even looking at it like a time period when 90% of people aren’t going to travel farther than 20 or 30 miles in a lifetime if that it’s still small enough to cause odd issues in my head. I generally upsize the Tabelands a bit more instead of being the size of just Arizona or some such, I like em around 3 or 4 states or maybe just a big squared off Texas. It has always seemed to me Athas was a rather small planet anyways. I assume it was probably 90%+ Water in Blue Age to 60-75% in green to 0.1% or less in the Age of the Sorcerer Kings. Not sure what or if it was ever even remotely hinted at or brought up canonically.


I think the Athas as a small world is a misnomer built on the fact we weren’t given a large map on the onset. There were early theories about Dark Sun being a post apocalyptic Faerun or Oerth at one point.

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There isn’t anything keeping the undead inside the basin. One of the snippets of tablelands knowledge about the dead lands is a Balican slave’s recollection of being part of an expedition south. Their expedition reached and began skirting the edge of the obsidian before ultimately being mostly massacred by undead who crossed into the desert to murder them.

The best explanation I can remember is this: when the obsidian flowed form the gate and entombed everyone it was towards the end of the Cleansing Wars. By the time the various intelligent undead clawed their way free, the world they remembered was gone. The basin was completely covered in the obsidian, while the land outside the obsidian was totally desert. for all they know, the entire planet is dead. Anything contrary to that is just rumor and hearsay. They don’t leave the dead lands because they have no REASON to leave, or believe that there is any life to be found anywhere else. Qwith’s kingdom is a perfect example of that kind of willful solipsism: the whole place is blanketed in a constant illusion that makes the place look and sound like a verdant fairy tale knight and princess castle kingdom. Of course it’s still a deadly hot oven of a desiccated desert, but it’s not like the temperature and utter lack of moisture bother the undead, so . . .

Another thing to keep in mind is the overall theme of undead in TSR’s 2E design philosophy: becoming an undead is kind of a trap. Sure, you become immortal as a lich. Or vampire. Or kaisharga. But you no longer advance. You’re just kind of . . . stuck. Going through the same motions, but ultimately incapable of growth or newness. That’s a major plot point with Dregoth (and his entire motivating backstory and frustration, really). Azalin in Ravenloft is also a good example. Even Strahd.

The undead of the dead lands are stuck. Going through the same eternal motions, without outside interference to galvanize them into anything different. Combined with the constant state of cold war (that occasionally flares hot) with the perceived existential threat of the budged to the south, they just have no reason to try to break the cycle and look outward.

Not until Dregoth’s emissary shows up, that is. Dregoth’s expedition isn’t so dangerous simply on account of the fact that he’s going to secure an alliance with Qwith’s kingdom. It’s dangerous because it will clue the entire dead lands into the fact that the tablelands is just sitting there like an overripe fruit, full of all kinds of fleshy meatbags. Fleshy meatbags with all that bone and meat. And if there’s one resource that the deadlines kingdoms crave above all else, it’s bone and meat to make new subjects.

Edit: Whoops. I made a mistake. It isn’t Qwith who has the illusory fairy tale kingdom, it’s Ceeryl, one of the kingdoms of Gretch. Ceeryl herself was a woman Gretch creep-obsessed over like an incel before reanimating her after she died young. Ultimately she betrayed him and now is invested fully in her illusions. Those who play along have her favor and friendship, but those who point out that none of it is real become enemies of the state.

Yeah I got curious and dug up stuff. Really wish we’d gotten real maps and illustrations for this stuff. Qwith as a kind of victorian modesty-themed beautiful undead monster is something I’d very much like to see.


Also, none of the intelligent undead know what caused the obsidian cataclysm. Qwith WAS in charge of the experiment, but she got sidelined for perceived lack of progress, and one of her overeager subordinates who replaced her caused the mistake. When it happened it was like an atom bomb going off. It was super fast and caught everyone by surprise. It’s also still active: if not for the Last Tree blocking the gate with its own biomass, the obsidian would eventually fill the entire crystal sphere Athas is inside. A major worrying possibility is that undead quarrying the obsidian may eventually uncover the gate and inadvertently hack through the tree of life and unclog the gate again.


Oh yeah, one more thing: it’s specifically pointed out that in life the residents of the basin submitted to magic that deliberately stripped much of their free will, binding them to the area and their research and dulling their ambition. That would also contribute to a lack of interest in exploring beyond the obsidian.


Thank you Naggaramakam, I never considered the existential point behind undead in 2E. I knew it for Kaisharga because nearly every time they come up or get mentioned in anything their lack of ability to improve is always brought up or flipped into a version of saved at their peak not deteriorating but never progressing instead. I like how that sheds a new light on Strahd in a way as well. It also leaves nearly all undead as stationary targets unless an outside force spurs them into action or change quite nearly.

It kinda makes Dregoth vary analogous to Vecna as well, essentially only having the goal of circumventing his stagnant state to rise to power and scouring everywhere to access secret or lost knowledge, since he was always motivated in such a manner before being undead doesn’t change that just curses and curtails his success. I know lorewise Dregoth is essentially an incredibly powerful Kaisharga. Isn’t there also some Dragon level undead creature sealed in an obsidian tomb somewhere in The Dead Lands?

Looking over it all, TSR seemed to want several series of wars hinted at upcoming in Dark Sun or at least have them ready for DMs to unleash. The last meta plot advance they had ready to go was “Dregoth Ascending” from what I have been able to find out and see on here. I’m not sure if they were going to advance any more meta-plot stuff beyond that or just leave them as adventures or hooks as options just because there is very little fondness for The Revised setting. Not to mention everyone working on it had different opinions and ideas for the various plot hooks like The Messenger for instance.

One question I always had was it seemed like once they showed more details on the Dragon Borys that most of the slaves he kept taking were just to replenish his city. I mean considering the insane nightmare hellscape all around outside it almost makes me worry some people there are stupid enough to wander outside and just die with enough that he is always needing more fodder for labor and such. I know there isnt a lot of concrete detail about whether or not he is even really using em to keep Rajaat sealed. I kinda doubt it with all those obsidian orbs he had laying around it felt more like he was amassing a stockpile of magic & psionic energy with Rajaat pretty well stuck forever with out some MacGuffin like the Dark Lens or the Pristine Tower throwing him some get of jail free card.

It seemed like they really wanted The Tablelands besieged by big ole’ bug people quite badly after something rose up from The Dead Lands. You get a threat from the Dead Lands and then the ensuing infighting between their factions along with SKs forced to work together along with probably a PC army as well temporarily aligned. Then a war for the undead on two fronts with the Bugdead. Now, throw in some Kreen Empire for flavor. Now you just need some random threat from the north and their various lands of don’t go here you’ll die we like fire… fire good… welcome to the Prairie of FLAME! Then toss in something coming from the far side of the Sea of Silt past Ur Draxa arriving on some new kind of silt fairing vessels or biological constructs, and for one last touch The Messenger smashes down and a couple life-shapers along with some insane Nature-Master crashes back to just toss in Chaos. Welcome to Athas Empires at War choose your faction, heh. Also, whatever the Pyreens were up to, and I am sure they were going to probably drop in or uncover at least one example of the Epic level transformations each just to show PCs what they could become but who knows. Maybe they’d finally give The Order something to do that wasn’t IMO really dumb and boring.


That’s also a major issue. Illusions. Two of the undead rulers use them.

Undead are immune to illusions for the most part. The only reason to cast them would be to fool the living.

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Secrets of the Dead Lands as a whole isn’t a phenomenal accessory IMO. Some good ideas, but the execution of them seem half worked out. Feel a lot of it was over the top even for DS standards.


The power scaling was definitely off. No reason for the undead necromancers to have 10th level spell access without an explanation. I like the idea of tying them to the obsidian mainly to cover the plot hole of them not leaving or being aware of the living to the north. The number of fael bothered me too, what would these things consume? I’d probably re-skin them as another type of undead if I ever decided to run the accessory… or maybe make another subtype of fael.

I’d also consider writing a few new illusion spells that were necromantic in nature (that’s another issue - if they’re all necromancers, isn’t illusion the opposition school?) that specifically affected the non-living.


A new type of Fael…I like that. Take the deadly sin they represent, gluttony, invert it to famine, and you could have a whole host of emaciated, flesh covered undead that are desperate to devour food but can never ever put on so much as an ounce of weight, nor regain the vitality they had as living beings.


It’s important to point out that athasian grey-powered necromancers aren’t the same as traditional TSR necromancers: i.e., they weren’t opposed to illusion in the same way, at least not by the time of the revised setting that introduced them. Nor do I recall 2e undead being immune to illusions.

Those rulers with access to 10th level spells were all 20+ level. They’re also all necromancers. Also, outside one of the stated t’liz in the MC 2 accessory and the possible exception of Kalak’s stats in City-State of Tyr (where he’s listed as a defiler/psion 25/25, instead of a dragon 25: which may just be an editorial oversight), there are ZERO instances or examples of 20+ level arcane casters other than dragons. Bearing in mind that the accessory was never a final product, this is likely an oversight of one kind or another: either “epic” level necromancers somehow also gain access to psionic enchantments and that wasn’t part of the text yet, or (more likely) a final edit would remove that capability from them. Especially because while some of the examples are dual-classed psion/necromancers, two of them aren’t. Edit: also worth bearing in mind that at this point in the late 90s there were instances of wizards in other settings having access to 10th level magic, so it’s possible that whoever was statting the deadlands necromancers didn’t immediately realize that 10th level magic / psionic enchantments were the sole province of advanced beings in dark sun.

D’thul: Necro/Psion 22/13
Harkor: Necro 24
Harkor’s Lieutenents: Necro/Psion 22/14
Rhokhan: Necro 25
Gretch: Necro/Psion 22/13
Oskyar: Necro/Psion 24/8

I disagree that the undead staying in the basin is a plot hole. The text points out their singular mindset and abnormal psychology that discourages deviation and exploration, and presents reasons for the various rulers to stay focused on maintaining their respective power bases inside the basin.

Nor do I see a problem with the fael: there aren’t THAT many of them present. It would just super suck to BE them, on account of there being literally NO food for them to consume. I like Kalindren’s interpretation of them as desperate and emaciated.

There isn’t some catastrophically powerful undead trapped in a tomb: I think that was a plot point in one of the old fan websites that had an interpretation of the dead lands that wasn’t based on the actual manuscript so much as the snippets in the revised setting box. Which was cool in its own right, and it’s unfortunate that I can’t seem to find it anywhere anymore.

I think what what inspired the “something” in the obsidian is what is essentially some kind of god-level obsidian elemental that was summoned by demihumans in defense against Rajaat, which then bonded with the obsidian from the cataclysm and now inhabits kind of essentially the entire basin. All of the contiguous obsidian is treated as its body, and its consciousness kind of wanders about as it remains in a content sort of dreaming fugue state. When the obsidian is disturbed (such as via mining for new corpses or to create fortifications, which all of the undead rulers partake in), this in turn causes the being to “awaken” further. Nobody really knows about this thing in any real way, because of all the confusion related to the cataclysm, but some are aware and treat it like a god. And it’s explicitly stated as being the most powerful being in the region, even if it is asleep/unaware. Kind of Cthulhu-y. It’s stats are basically a massive elemental that hits like a dumpster truck on steroids with functionally infinite hit points.


My biggest issue with them not leaving the basin is that it states the undead lords covet mindless dead like zombies and skeletons. They’re so desperate to increase their armies’ numbers they’ve resorted to piecemealing bodies together in order to reanimate them. You’d think the lords couldn’t resist the fresh meat to the north to replenish their legions and gain an edge over their rivals.


Exactly. Don’t defend an unfinished, edited, director-less text. All in all, these are legitimate issues one has when reading the supplement. I agree with Bryan Bock (Sysane) entirely.


You could make a similar argument about why various sorcerer-monarchs don’t invade Saragar, or move to the forest ridge, or pick up shop and go invade 5th Age Dragonlance. All of those would be greener pastures than the Tablelands. Or why not have the Order curb stomp the sorcerer-monarchs. Or any number of things.

I LIKE secrets of the dead lands. I’m not going to apologize for that. It’s an example of some of the crazy gonzo stuff TSR was putting out in its death throes, yes. It’s rough around the edges, yes. Some of it has issues that people can legitimately criticize, yes. That doesn’t mean it’s a steaming pile of crap, nor that it was director-less (direction-less? Timothy Brown,Doug Stewart, and Harold Johnson all worked on it, and Bill Slavicsek and Bruce Nesmith both had input).

People criticize the dead not leaving the basin. Ok, I get it. But I still feel there are legitimate reasons they stay down there. Two people with opposing views on a thing can still have legitimate critiques and points about the same thing. Surprise.

My acceptance of them mostly staying there is based on the following:

  1. Rajaat’s followers were explicitly stated to have willingly subjected themselves to psychology-altering magic and drugs that stunted/destroyed their capacity for free-ranging thought. They were made to remain singularly focused on a task at hand, to the exclusion of all else. This effect was so strong it spanned GENERATIONS.

  2. Undead in general under 2e are static and generally unchanging in behavior, locked into loops and incapable of growing beyond what they were at the time of death / undeath. There are exceptions like Dregoth and Vecna, but they’re also exceptional in a lot of other ways, too.

  3. Those who die near the gate become undead. The obsidian plane (not plain, I mean the literal extraplanar source of the basin’s obsidian flow) is stated to have a weird relationship to reality that blurs the states of life and death and is apparently the source of the zhen. Because of this, there is an explicitly stated link between the undead (or at least certain members of the ruling class that directs the various factions) and the obsidian.

  4. The text explicitly states “From their point of view, the Cataclysm that created their tomb must have been all encompassing, choking the life out of the world completely, leaving them as the sole masters of what remained of Athas.” Qwith is stated to have uneasy thoughts about the sand dunes that border her land. When they all died, the basin wasn’t surrounded by a desert. If there were still life out there, surely someone (like all-powerful Rajaat, or one of his agents) would have checked on the basin. Right? Except the only living things anyone in the basin has encountered (generally, for the most part) have been giant insects. And when you raise them to unlike you get bugdead. So for all anyone knows, except the basin, the entire planet is now dead and infested with potential bugdead. Which everyone is afraid of to the point of drafting and (generally) adhering to a kind of mini UN defense pact against bugdead.

Those points combined spell out to me that the undead (generally) have no reason to believe anything survived, and their psychological damage/conditioning combine with their undead state to reinforce that idea and keep them in the area that was their genesis.

That being said, there isn’t actually anything keeping them from leaving the basin. There’s the one slave’s account of undead slaughtering her expedition, and the whole point of the Emissary is that, should the PCs fail, in two years a massive army of undead will swarm north. That whole can of worms just reinforces the whole idea that the undead staying away from the Tablelands is a combination of psychology and lack of information. That’s not a plot hole. It’s a plot point.

Now. If I were going to do things a little differently . . .

I would explicitly have a section addresses this that definitively explains the whole situation. "So why haven’t the undead lords attacked the Tablelands? Why do they expend so much effort mining new corpses and recycling the ones they have, instead of attacking relatively defenseless Celik or living creatures to the north? Because psycho-magical alterations and returning to “life” in a world unlike the one they remember, having the belief that the entire world is now dead.

Actually, wait. It does EXACTLY THAT.

Except it’s almost treated like a throwaway line, and (in my opinion) not enough attention is called to it. Apparently? Because now people are acting like it’s a big mystery?

Something else I’d do is more fully explain/address the genesis of the zhen. If a bunch of people die and come back to life and the word “zhen” is imprinted in their mind, that has to mean something, right? Except it never goes into it.


For the record, I don’t feel SotDL is crap. There are some good ideas in it, but a lot of it falls flat for me. I can suspend my disbelief on the sorcerer-monarchs not invading Saragar. The Mind Lords are the most powerful psionicists on Athas and the border guardians hiding it have only recently started to fail. The Order isn’t powerful enough to take down ALL the sorcerer-monarchs without being crushed by a unified front of the former Champions.

I get the Dead Lords may have been mistaken about the state of Athas outside of the Black Basin at first, but after a few centuries they would have caught wind of what was going on outside of the Dead Lands.