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When I was in High School, the original Dark Sun 2e box came out after much (for the time) fanfare. I couldn't wait to get my grubby little paws on it, and once I did, it started a love that's lasted for almost 20 years.
Sure, at the time, I was largely interested in the powergamey stuff - the wild talents, the four-attack-per-round thri-kreen, the Strength 24 half-giants, and so on. But over time, as more outstanding supplements came out, I was enthralled by the setting itself. It's bizarre and unique and nothing quite like it has ever been released before or since. I mean, a desert world with unique and deadly flora and fauna, where psionics are commonplace, and powerful wizard-psions rule city-states while turning into dragons? It was insane and utterly captivating. And then TSR basically blew up the setting by throwing a common-for-the-90's metaplot at it. (A metaplot, fwiw, which my players and I completely ignored.)
Anyway, I've been anticipating Dark Sun 4e since it was announced a year ago. The book has been well worth the wait, and sets a new high water mark both for 4e settings (admittedly not a high bar at the moment) and 4e books in general.
Okay, so what can a fan of the 2e setting expect? Well, the most important thing to remember is that, just like Dark Sun 2e took the iconic parts of the 2e setting, Mad-Maxed them up, and added spiky bits, Dark Sun 4e does the same to the iconic parts of the 4e setting. So there's some new stuff - Tieflings, Eladrin, and Dragonborn for example. Much like the other races, these are thrown through the Athasian blender. Tieflings are "desert devils" - cruel, bloodthirsty raiders in service to demons.Read more ›
I've been coordinating and running a table for the D&D Encounters Dark Sun adventure. The Encounters format and the Dark Sun adventure in particular leave a lot to be desired.
But in my opinion the new mechanics, the races and classes (and themes), and the setting descriptions have done a great job.
The game feels like a blasted world where survival is a challenge even when you aren't being chased by a powerful primal shaman and his hirelings or captured by a tribe of evil hobbits that plan to eat you.
Only 4 stars though, because the book feels about 75% done: * There are "page [xx]" typos. Simply inexcusable from a major publisher. Michele Carter, Greg Bilsland, M. Alexander Jurkat, Ray Vallese, and Kim Mohan (the credited editors) should be ashamed and embarrassed when even one of these gets through. * A lot of the little incidental art scattered through later chapters is just plain bad. Also, no one knows how to illustrate thri-kreen. * There are waaay too many small portraits of characters doing stuff throughout the rest of the book. There is not enough world building, setting defining medium-sized (like half-page or so) pieces. Which leads to: * The book feels very light on art, especially in later chapters like "Atlas of Athas" which contributes to the next point: * It feels short. The original Dark Sun had something like a dozen books and boxed sets released with three years of its release full of stuff to draw from. I expected more detail about everything: only four new rituals? the entirety of the forest ridge gets two pages? twenty pages of advice to DMs?
But a lot is really good: * It has the polished layout we expect from 4E at this point. * Though the art is a mixed bag, there is some really good stuff here.Read more ›
The previous campaign settings for 4e, Forgotten Realms and Eberron respectively, were pretty good books in my opinion. If I had one complaint about those, is that the books thought for you too much. They told you exactly who was important, where was important, why they are important, and in some cases, what would happen if they ceased to be. While some may like the amount of detail put into the world, I do not. I can appreciate what Wizards of the Coast was trying to do with those worlds. They tried, and certainly succeeded, in making both settings living, breathing worlds, full of history and culture. I found the amount of information nice to read, but stifling to make adventures for, and thus continued playing the default campaign setting, the unnamed "points of light" world that Wizards introduced in 2008 as the core setting.
Dark Sun is, without a doubt, a world rich in history. It became apparent as soon as I opened the book and started reading. However, there is a major difference between the Dark Sun Campaign Setting book and the campaign setting books of Eberron and Forgotten Realms: the information here is bare minimum. It is still enough to give you a detailed look at the world, but scarce enough to let you truly take any area of the world and do as you wish with it. I have already run two games in this setting, and I love the amount of freedom the world gives me. In Forgotten Realms, they tell you why Goblins are here and why Goblins would never be here. In Dark Sun, any creature of any level can be found in the vicious wastes. They don't tell you "Silt Runners won't be here because...", and that's what the previous campaign settings did wrong. In short, this book doesn't think for you, it thinks WITH you.Read more ›