“This rule reflects the fact that daily life on Athas is much harsher than it is in other AD&D realms, forcing characters to mature more quickly if they are to survive.” – AD&D 2e Dark Sun Rules Book
The rule in question is the one which states that characters start at level 3 in the AD&D version of Dark Sun. With the changes in the game since this edition, especially the fact that in 4e level 1 characters are a lot tougher than their previous counterparts, this rule is no longer needed.
“Dark Sun campaigns are set in a violent world. Powerful magics and psionics, desperate hordes of raiders, and even the unforgiving desert wastes all conspire against player characters – death is not at all uncommon on Athas, nor is it uncommon for player characters in Dark Sun campaigns.” – AD&D 2e Dark Sun Rules Book
This statement comes out of the section in the original setting that described the Character Tree. A system that allowed a player to have several characters as backups. The player was free to swap characters between adventures, so long as doing so made sense to the campaign. In this way the player was able to play different characters and always keep his Character Tree full with roughly equal levelled PCs.
For myself I don’t need a character tree and I doubt we’ll see this rule implemented in the 4e version of Dark Sun. Simply create a new character in consultation with the DM. Why complicate things?
What the Character Tree and the statement above emphasises is that Dark Sun is not like any other campaign setting. The DM is creating encounters that will test and challenge the players in multiple ways. The players are trying to survive, not necessarily to conquer, but survive to fight another day. Dark Sun is deadly.
We’ve been spoiled since Dark Sun was left behind with AD&D 2e. In many ways the existing campaign settings that have been supported have been soft. Set in high fantasy worlds, players and DMs have been given settings with rich histories, various personalities to interact with and countless novels to inspire us. The worlds themselves weren’t overly violent, no more than any fantasy RPG could be said to be. Sure Eberron was a little darker with a campaign taking place just after a 100-year war. The world was in a cold war setting, with a focus on deliberate action that propelled the plot forward. Even the 4e revision of The Forgotten Realms was darker, more mature.
However, neither of these worlds is as deliberately violent or deadly as Dark Sun. Neither of these worlds arrive heralded by warning all PCs that they should consider themselves lucky to survive an encounter. Other campaign settings don’t try to kill PCs through the physical environment. In this regard Dark Sun stands alone.
“Dark Sun is a particularly dangerous place; one where character death is frequent and, at times, gruesome. High PC mortality rates find some relief in the character tree … Still, as deadly a world as Athas is, player characters, especially those at low levels, may die too frequently.” – AD&D 2e Dark Sun Rules Book
If this statement doesn’t say expect your PC to die, I don’t know what does. Knowing that Dark Sun is such a deadly campaign setting the designers at WotC have also been doing some tweaking. Monster Manual 3 is full of beasties that are much tougher than anything present in the previous two releases. It makes one wonder how deadly the monsters in the Dark Sun Monster Manual will be.
The other indication of the difficulty of Dark Sun is evident in the current season of Encounters. Ameron has been a DM for these sessions and has reported on how the players have dealt with the adversity of Dark Sun. Many of our readers have also been sharing their experiences through comments. In reading Wednesday’s encounter (D&D Encounters Dark Sun Week 4) it is evident that Dark Sun is not a campaign setting for the meek. The Dark Sun world of 4e seems to be living up to the standard set by the original release.
Now, there are many complaints about the quality of the characters that are provided. Others have indicated that the encounters are simply too tough. While the pre-generated characters might be weak, would a tougher level 1 character fair much better? The encounters might be too difficult, but is this just what we should expect from Dark Sun?
I’m personally looking forward to Dark Sun. I think it’s going to provide the punch in the gut, oh my goodness my PC could actually die feeling that gets the adrenaline pumping at the game table. I think it could make 4e D&D even more exciting to play than I already find it. I also think it’s going to be just as tough in 4e as it was during it’s original release.
“The world is savage. Life is brutal and short in Athas. The vile institution of slavery is widespread in Athas, and hundreds, perhaps thousands, are sent to their deaths every year in bloody arena spectacles.” – Returning to Athas, Part 1 (DDI Subscription required).
If this is what the designers are stating about the 4e version of Dark Sun I think it will live up to expectations and hopefully satisfy fans of the original campaign setting.
What are you looking forward to with Dark Sun? Are there any aspects of the 4e version of the setting that you are wary of?