What I would change in a future version of the Dark Sun setting

It’s not what you think. Not slavery. Not supposed racism (Athasian elves are racist? Lol). No. Dark Sun is for mature audiences, which is not connected with biological age.

The Changes

  1. Make defiling or preserving the sole mechanic for arcane spellcasting on Athas. No exceptions. Creatures from other worlds that come to Athas defile until they can figure out how to hold back and cast spells in the preserving way instead.

  2. Ditch the metal shortage. In real play, the PCs all have metal items after a certain level anyway. what this means in practice is that ceramic pieces are still used, but have the face value of a metal coin (and are hypothetically redeemable - but only for a money changing fee). That doesn’t mean changing the lore. Tyr still produces most of the iron, but not because that is the only iron around, but because they produce iron at the best price and quality of ore. Many still use bone and other unusual weapons, due to the fact that on Athas, the bones of certain creatures are very strong, readily available, and inexpensive.

With this change, you don’t have to worry about your PCs mining the plane of mineral, or spelljammer traders.

  1. Obscurity of the past; the past is a series of options for the DM. The events of the past led to the circumstances of the present, but the exact past is left to the DM. Instead, the DM is given several versions of the past with co-equal standing in canon. The past could be the 4E version, the battle against the primordials by the gods. Alternatively, the gods could have been cast down by the Sorcerer Monarchs. Or perhaps the original boxes set is the past. Alternatively, Rajaat and his champions waged a genocidal war. This should satisfy everyone.

  2. Expand the setting to new lands in the Tablelands and the horrors of the Hinterlands. Simply rebooting the same region over and over is a disservice to the setting and to the fans. At the same time, it’s worth looking at the demographics of Athas to ensure that they are consistent with the lore.

  3. Fix the cosmology. Decide how the various planes interact with Athas. Figure out exactly where the Gray is metaphysically in relation to Athas and the planes. Open up Athas to the outer planes in terms of summon and calling from the Conjuration school of magic. Athas would be easy to get to, but hard to leave (Hotel California, anyone?). Outsiders, due to their strong connection with their outer plane of origin, can still pass through the Gray without issue when they are banished or otherwise return home. Not so native Athasians.

This brings another facet of gameplay to the Dark Sun campaign.

  1. PC centrism: put the player characters at the centre of the campaign and the events of the world. There are already many powerful players in the Dark Sun campaign setting, which is effectively static (even if you play post Prism Pentad). That means no metaplots that the PCs are not directly involved in. So let’s say that you are running the events of the novels. Agis, Sadira, Rikus etc, become patrons or advisors of the PCs. The PCs do the rest because they are heroes (or possibly antiheroes). Sadira doesn’t become a sun wizard. That happens to one or more of the PCs.

  2. Flesh out the city states with lots of adventure hooks, without creating content (especially backstory content) that serves as a straightjacket to creativity. A good example of a product with lots of hooks is Volo’s Guide to Waterdeep. I am not suggesting that this format be copied, but rather the methodology. Ed Greenwood, the author, purposely chose an unreliable narrator (Volo) to keep the door open for the DM to create content (TSR wanted the narrator to be Elminster). The original Dark Sun boxed set had an unreliable narrator. From the revised campaigne setting onwards, the narrator, if there is one, had become increasingly authoritative. By the time 3.5e Dark Sun came along with the publication by Athas dot org, all the narratives were omniscient, even aggressive, in pushing a particular view of canon. This, in my opinion, is a mistake.

  3. Make the wasteland more dynamic. There should be constant conflict out there. If the PCs want fight, they should have to look far to find one. That means there has to be a lot more out there than what has been suggested until now.

That’s all I can think of for now.

I asked ChatGPT-4 for an easy read summary.

1. Arcane Spellcasting Mechanic

The unique feature of the Dark Sun setting is its harsh, arid environment where the act of arcane spellcasting has a direct impact on the world. In this updated version, the concept of defiling or preserving magic would be the exclusive mechanic for arcane spellcasting on Athas. This necessitates that all arcane spellcasters, including creatures from other worlds, must initially defile the environment, consuming life energy to power their magic. Over time, these spellcasters could learn to preserve, using their magic in a way that doesn’t harm the environment. This change emphasizes the importance of choice and consequence in magic use, making magic a double-edged sword where its use could mean life or death for the surrounding environment. This mechanic further deepens the moral and ethical decisions that players must face, enhancing the maturity and complexity of the Dark Sun setting.

2. Metal Shortage

The scarcity of metal has been a distinctive aspect of Dark Sun, which shaped the economic and cultural landscape of Athas. However, the removal of this scarcity does not mean a radical change in lore but rather a shift in the economic dynamics. Tyr would still remain the primary producer of iron, not because it’s the only source, but due to the quality and price point. The use of bone and other unconventional materials for weaponry and tools would persist due to their strength, availability, and cost-effectiveness. This would also eliminate the meta-issue of high-level characters hoarding metal equipment, making gameplay more fluid and less focused on the acquisition of metal. The value of ceramic pieces would be equivalent to metal coins and would remain the standard currency, adding another layer of complexity and realism to the game’s economy.

3. Obscurity of the Past

The past in Dark Sun has often been presented as a monolithic, singular narrative, yet this revised version proposes a shift towards a more flexible and subjective interpretation of history. The game master will be given several versions of the past with equal canonical standing, allowing them to shape the world’s backstory according to their preferences and their campaign’s needs. This approach embraces the idea that history is often subjective and multi-faceted, giving game masters the power to mold the past and determine how it has shaped the present. This freedom to choose from a variety of possible histories allows for a more personalized campaign experience, encouraging creative storytelling and world-building.

4. Expansion of the Setting

In this updated version, Dark Sun would move beyond the familiar territories of the Tablelands, introducing players to new lands and the unsettling horrors of the Hinterlands. This expansion would not only enrich the world of Athas but also provide game masters with a wealth of new settings to explore and exploit. This change also requires a closer examination of Athasian demographics, ensuring consistency and coherence with the established lore. A larger, more diverse world enhances the setting’s appeal and encourages creative exploration, offering a wider scope of adventures for the players to undertake.

5. Cosmology

The cosmology of Dark Sun would undergo a significant overhaul, providing a clear understanding of how the various planes interact with Athas. The metaphysical position of the Gray in relation to Athas and the other planes would be explicitly defined, making it more accessible and navigable. This change also introduces the idea of Athas being easily accessible from the outer planes, but challenging to leave. This would add an intriguing new layer to the gameplay, allowing summoning and calling from the Conjuration school of magic. This shift would introduce a whole new facet of gameplay to the Dark Sun setting, expanding the possibilities for adventures and encounters.

6. Player Centrism

This updated version of Dark Sun would put the player characters at the center of the campaign and the world events. This change ensures that the narrative revolves around the players’ actions and decisions, making their roles more significant and their experiences more immersive. Instead of having powerful non-player characters drive the storyline, these characters would serve as patrons or advisors, guiding and supporting the player characters. This player-centric approach ensures that the game’s narrative is dynamic and responsive to the players’ actions, making their characters’ stories the heart of the Dark Sun campaign.

7. City State Adventures

Another crucial change would be to provide the city-states with a wealth of adventure hooks, offering endless possibilities for thrilling quests and dramatic conflicts. However, care would be taken to avoid overloading the game with lore or backstory that could potentially restrict creative freedom. The approach would be similar to the methodology used in Volo’s Guide to Waterdeep, where an unreliable narrator leaves room for game masters to create their own content. The goal is to strike a balance between providing enough information to inspire and engage, without imposing a rigid view of canon that could hinder creativity.

8. Dynamic Wasteland

The vast wastelands of Athas are known for their desolation and danger. In this updated version, the wastelands would be more dynamic, teeming with conflicts and challenges that the player characters would have to navigate. The notion that danger and adventure lurk in every corner would be emphasized, ensuring that the players don’t have to search far for a fight or a quest. This change would breathe new life into the wastelands, transforming them from empty, lifeless expanses into vibrant, perilous landscapes teeming with possibilities.

In conclusion, these changes aim to build on the strengths of the Dark Sun setting, maintaining its unique appeal while enhancing its gameplay mechanics, narrative depth, and world-building potential. The objective is to create a more engaging, player-centric campaign experience that encourages creative storytelling, moral decision-making, and immersive exploration. These proposed changes underline the belief that the Dark Sun setting, with its harsh environment and complex history, is indeed for mature audiences, offering an intense, challenging, and rewarding role-playing experience.


To be honest, why not just run your campaign like this full stop?

These are all good ideas, I agree with you on every single change you mentioned except point 3. But even on that one I can see and respect your point. I just like the timeline because I love time travel and archaeology and can get plenty of traction out of said timeline.

Indeed, points 4, and 8 we’re actively doing right now with the supplements we’re working on in the PT group. And point 5 was already addressed to quite an extent (at least enough for DMs to build upon) with the Crimson Sphere book we released last autumn.


I agree with all of your points, except 2 and 5.
I love starting characters off with subpar weapons. By the time they get metal weapons, it’s like getting magic items in other campaigns. I’d actually like to see official rules for copper and bronze weapons.
I also enjoy Athas being a closed crystal sphere and difficult to reach by the planes. It keeps Athas from being overrun by all the generic creatures of other, lesser, settings.
Everything else is spot on, especially the PC centerism. One of the things that drew me to the original setting was that there were no other heroes. It was a small ragtag band of fools, out to change the world.

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The only point on this list I’m not keen on is the idea of removing the metal shortage altogether. I agree that it some becomes less of an issue once characters are past a certain degree of experience, but the simple fact that the characters possess such items marks them out as powerful individuals in the setting. In terms of personal power at least, not necessarily temporal power.

The contrast between the metal they themselves carry and other figures in the setting is a powerful contract. It also provides numerous plot hooks, such as greedy individuals trying to steal this wealth for themselves, whether by stealth or open challenge. And it also explain why -they- are the individuals approached by NPCs for certain tasks, rather than that other group of random adventurers in the corner armed exclusively with bone or stone or wood.

It also makes it a lot easier for the characters to keep their wealth portable. Characters are walking around with sacks upon sacks full of coins or gems because they’ve invested that wealth in the metal longsword they are carrying instead.


I don’t think getting rid of the metal shortage is all that different in practice. It’s simply economic slight of hand. Athas is poor. The average person struggles to purchase metal items, but not because metal is especially rare, but because metal is beyond their means. In other D&D settings, peasants just have a higher standard of living, period. Bringing in a few tonnes of iron from another setting won’t change the price of iron much and the peasants of Athas will still not be able to afford it.

It would still be closed. There would just be an exception for planar binding or summoning spells.

Me too. The Dragon Kings supplement promised this too. Unfortunately, that’s not what happened.

To spin this around, maybe the PCs are approached to work for an employer because they use bone weapons and this is an indication that they are poor and desperate.

I do like that spin-around, but I’m still reluctant to change something so essential to the core identity of the setting. The lack of metal is one of the core things that sets Dark Sun apart from other campaign settings. If you restore metal in high amount, it takes yet another step closer to being just another “sword and sandals” D&D setting.


I never fully agreed with metal-scarcity; it’s not that metal’s rare, it’s just not easily-accessible. Thousands of years of sand have buried a lot of it.

Dark Sun’s more of a mind-set; I could run an AD&D2e The Glory of Rome game (Green-book), that would be more Dark Sun, than Dark Sun.

And I have yet to really play it in 4e. Maybe they’ll do a 5e, who knows.


Being metal poor and having to use inferior weapons has always been a problem for low levels. And then you have the survival aspects, while they are important initially they become easily overcome problems by 10th level.


Fiends can be conjured on Athas, or at least they are supposed to be. This woman is conjuring a glabrezu!

Here is how I would fix it. Elaboration of point 5 Cosmology. This isn’t a major change at all. It was the status quo until the second last publication of the Dark Sun setting (Preservers And Defilers).

Athas, cocooned by the metaphysical fog known as the Gray, plays a unique role within the multiverse. The Gray, while hazardous, does not outright bar entry, acting as a shrouding veil that can be braved by entities both mortal and outsider. However, the Gray asserts its true peculiarity not in accommodating arrivals, but in governing departures from the plane.

For those native to Athas, and for entities lacking an inherent bond to an outer plane, the Gray forms a daunting, impenetrable barrier. It reflects their attempts to transcend it, enclosing them within the stark, unforgiving reality of Athas. But for outsiders, those beings from other planes called to Athas through spells akin to planar binding, the story is different.

Outsiders such as Slaadi, Demons, and Devils, possess an inherent, unbreakable connection to their home planes. Slaadi, born of the chaotic plane of Limbo, resonate with its essence, regardless of their physical location. Demons, sprung from the chaotic evil Abyss, carry a piece of their home within them, an indissoluble link that transcends physical boundaries. Devils, the denizens of the lawful evil Nine Hells, bear an intrinsic resonance with their home, a bond that persists no matter where they roam.

Upon dismissal or banishment, these outsiders can utilize their inherent ties to form ephemeral pathways through the Gray. These conduits, as fleeting as they are, allow the creatures to navigate the Gray, a privilege denied to those native to Athas. It’s as if their bond to their home plane magnetically draws them back, facilitating their passage through the Gray’s barrier to return to the plane that forms an integral part of their very being.

Thus, the Gray and Athas present a unique cosmological interplay. The Gray permits hazardous entry, yet selectively grants egress, favoring only outsiders bound to their home planes. This dynamic makes Athas an accessible destination to reach, yet a challenging departure point for those lacking the inherent bond to another plane.

Normally, without special knowledge or abilities, practitioners of the arcane arts on Athas can only summon or call creatures from within the Athasian side of the Gray, such as entities from the Athasian elemental planes, the Black, and the Gray itself. However, there are those skilled in arcane practices that have found a way to exploit this cosmological interplay.

These rare individuals have developed a technique, crystallized in a feat known as the “Planar Breach”, to emulate the inherent bond of outsiders, enabling them to call forth beings from the outer planes, despite the Gray’s typical restrictions.

Planar Breach [General]

You have honed your skills in the arcane arts of summoning and binding, and now you can call forth powerful entities from the outer planes to do your bidding on Athas, despite the obstacles presented by the Gray.

Prerequisites: Ability to cast 5th level spells, ability to cast at least one spell from the summon monster, planar binding, or planar ally line of spells.

Benefit: You gain the ability to summon or call creatures from the outer planes via the Conjuration (Summoning) and Conjuration (Calling) subschools of spells. A spell cast using Planar Breach uses up a spell slot one level higher than the spell’s actual level.

Normal: Without this feat, you may only summon or call creatures from the Athasian side of the Gray, such as those from the Athasian elemental planes, the Black, and the Gray itself.

With this feat, the Gray’s barrier becomes less of an obstacle and more of a challenge to be overcome. It allows conjurers on Athas to fully utilize their magic, calling and summoning beings from beyond the Gray, enhancing their ability to influence the cosmology of Athas. Through this mastery, the intricate dance between Athas, its denizens, and the cosmological forces at play continues, enriched by these new participants drawn from the outer planes.

You could even do it without the feat. The feat does make it a bit more challenging, however.

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Metal scarcity was never a problem. The mechanics for metal scarcity always were. D&D has always assumed a level of technology pitched at about 13th or 14th Century Europe and doesn’t cope well with representing other tech levels - whether you’re trying for Mesoamerican macuahuimeh or flintlock firearms.

Really just because metal is scarce it doesn’t mean it needs to be drastically better or more robust than non-metal, certainly for weapons. The implications of metal scarcity are more around manufacture and maintenance. Knapping is much more labour intensive than forging.

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First, I agree that you should just DM Dark Sun this way if this is what you like. Go for it,

I really love this idea, and I think the idea of a world with well-developed but competing histories is really intriguing. I wouldn’t really trust the current WoTC to pull it off, but it would be very cool to develop a world that has coherent, but contradictory, histories and develop adventure ideas where it matters for the PCs to figure out which is correct. This is actually something that fits very well with the ideas in the original boxed set. Here’s the Wanderer:

What generally passes for the history of Athas is, in my opinion, a jumble of folklore and propaganda. Most people are too concerned with the problems of the present to devote themselves to the lessons of the past. The few who have any interest in history are the flattering lackeys of kings undertaking the project to glorify their sovereign. The resulting chronicles are implausible fables or mutually incompatible fabrications, and never should you trust what you hear in them.

It would have been very cool and very fitting for Dark Sun to have developed this idea more. Even the Wanderer himself, as an unreliable narrator, opens the possibility for the things he says to be wrong. If you assume the Wanderer’s Chronicle is merely one version of history, then there really is the scope to develop alternate ideas of history as well. After all, we know there are false chronicles on Athas. What do they claim?


You could even play on this theme with the lore in-game. The Wanderer’s Journal and Wanderer’s Chronicle is not only chronically mismatched in terms of publication, but also has a different tone. There could be other unreliable Athasian narrators out there that claim that the authors of these two works are different people. “The Wanderer’s Chronicle was authored by a templar!”, says the wasteland conspiracy theorist.

I can remember, before the canon was set in stone, how imaginative the fans were about the possible past of Athas. We can bring that sense of wonder and discovery back. Even small changes to the canon version of Athasian history can really change the perception of the setting.

Anyway, the idea is to focus on concrete measures that is conducive to having fun in the game. Basically the opposite of this -

Narrative Changes for Modern Sensibilities:

More Female Sorcerer-Kings.
On Athas there were only 3 female sorcerer-kings. Abalach-Re, Lalali-Puy, and Yarmuke. And Yarmuke was destroyed by Hamanu who also wiped her city from the world.

Thankfully, most of the Sorcerer-Kings gender is pretty irrelevant to who they are and what they accomplish. So making Oronis, Tectuktitlay, or even Andropinis (Who has the most masculine name of them all, Man-Penis) into Female Characters wouldn’t actually change much of anything.

Could even have one of the Sorcerer-Kings be transgender. Nibenay presents a draconic form and largely hides from the public eye. It could be interesting if that draconic form were feminine.
LGBTQ+ loose organizations could be neat.

I don’t mean big and broad-ranging LGBTQ Lobbyists. I’m talking about smaller organizations of protection. Athas is a harsh place and having trans characters know that, for example, a building with a painted Kank’s Head on the front wall wall is a safe space could be interesting. It would also set Athas aside from other settings as one that is harsh, but not without it’s mercies.

Similarly, an alliance of people with different sexualities creating a group-atmosphere of protection and solidarity might be nice in a cruel world. Like maybe no one cares if some courtier is slipping into silk-sheets with courtiers of similar genders, or whether gladiators are coupling in the barracks between matches, but there’s still plenty of reason for abundant caution and escape plans and the like for when bigots -do- rear their ugly heads

Though it would also be kind of great to just have no societal stigmas tied to LGBTQ+ existence, of course.
Slavery is a tough call. But I think they could largely keep it.

5e D&D tries to keep slavery in the hands of evil people. Which is why the Drow are totally willing to enslave you at the start of Out of the Abyss. The main thrust of slavery in modern fantasy is that it exists, it is evil, and only evil people enslave others.

Therefore having slavery as a thing in the setting would still work, but the players would be actively encouraged to fight and kill slavers when possible/reasonable, and free any slaves they find. Which is what good people should do in any setting
Points of (Dim) Light?

Athas has always been a place with a handful of real “Towns” and a few villages scattered across the sands between them, often 2-3 days travel apart (On foot) and usually plagued by cannibal Elves, cannibal Thri-Kreen, and cannibal Halflings. Because, honestly, cannibalism is just super popular as a dining option on Athas.

This sort of physical structure lends itself well to a Points of Light campaign. And, honestly, making that the style du jour for Athas could fit really, -really-, well. So long as the lights are dim. So long as the safety is fleeting, the comfort expensive, and the danger swift to return.

The above quote is trying to deal with a perceived problem of toxic fandom. Gender swapping Sorcerer Monarchs or making some of them transgender doesn’t do the work that needs to be done for a reboot of the setting. Neither does having in game support groups. Perhaps some people might have trouble understanding why this is problematic, but imagine if you had some women insisting that the Veiled Alliance should be recast as Muslim women wearing a burka for representation and inclusion. If it sounds absurd, so should this other stuff. /Rant end.

Ho boy, okay, I love the idea of alternate history for Athas, but I’d prefer to discuss it without it being some sort of culture war proxy battle.


Actually I’m glad you posted this forum post. Thank you. It’s nice to know other people are actually thinking about Dark Sun’s predicament besides us, and it’s nice to read a fresh take from the outside world on how to approach Dark Sun with some new ideas. (It’s funny how if she only knew a bit more of DS lore, she’d already know that Abalach-Re was essentially already transgender thanks to contradictory canon…)

I don’t agree with some of her suggestions of course, but then again I don’t agree with some of your responses either. But discussing these new ideas in a constructive way is good. :slight_smile:

On that note, as the audience becomes more diverse in an interactive game, they ask for more diversity and representation in said game. That’s just how games work. Old school Dark Sun in the 90s was visualised for and by straight white Midwestern American men (much like many other of AD&D’s innovative 2e settings back then). Just like all the 5e books have seen, the new audience of D&D (the next generation from us, the children of 1e and 2e players) are necessarily more diverse. And so the presentation of characters for and by this generation will be similarly more diverse. That is not a sign of watering down or weakness. It is a sign of the game opening up to new audiences.
Straw-man comments about the new generation’s oversensitivity shows a lack of understanding and/or acceptance of this generational shift. It just makes us look old, stubborn, and like we’re trying to make ourselves into the obstacles of Dark Sun reaching a new generation of players.

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Yeah, sorry about that. It wasn’t my intention to introduce culture war stuff into the topic, but rather a hamfisted attempt to demonstrate the difference between real problems and perceived problems.

Even I agree with some of her suggestions (it’s a long thread). What is disagree with is the idea that you make the Dark Sun game “safe” by introducing themes of LGBT haters, gay identity, and bigotry into the setting, necessitating an LGBT version of the Veiled Alliance. As for gay gladiators getting it on in the slave pits, uh, yeah.

It would be helpful to know what you agreed with and what you disagreed with. It may turn out that we agree with and disagree with exactly the same things, where the only difference is tone. I find this to usually be the case.

I consider myself reasonably well versed in all the canon and haven’t seen this or even seen this suggested anywhere. All the context is that Abalach-Re is a rather lusty heterosexual, a good thing too, because her kids are good material for creating adventurers. Is there a typo somewhere?

In my experience, most of “diverse” people whom I count among my friends do not support race or gender swapping. I do not believe that the demand for that is out there. Representation is rightly done through creating new characters, but this is apparently difficult, so lazy writers do the race and gender swaps.

Is that what I did here?

Are you maybe thinking of Kalid-Ma - SM of Kalidnay and victim of gender-swapping with each successive product they were mentioned in?


Ugh. Yes. That’s what I meant. Apologies folks.


Thank Ral! I thought I was going crazy for a minute. :crazy_face:

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Even Ral isn’t saving anyone from this one. Even if we are talking Kalid-Ma, the canon errors about Kalid-Ma’s gender is hardly indicative of a transgender modality. In my headcanon, both Kalid-ma and Thakok-An are males. And yes, it means what that means, at least as far as it goes for Thakok-An.

In RaFoaDK Hamanu is a gender bender who takes the form of a female elf and sleeps with one of his male templars, and given that they are all shapeshifters it’s likely that the SMs have all had various dalliances in all forms, they’re thousands of years old and probably bored out of their skulls. Honestly on a world where psychometabolism and later arcane polymorphing have been baked into society for millenia, one one imagine they’d have a very different perspective to sexuality, gender roles, ect. given it’s quite easy to swap gender, sex and rebirth “ethnicity” on the fly if you’re a powerful psion, lifeshaper, or magic user.