- Series: 4th Edition D&D
- Hardcover: 224 pages
- Publisher: Wizards of the Coast; 4th Revised edition edition (August 17, 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0786954930
- ISBN-13: 978-0786954933
- Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 0.6 x 11.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #233,329 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Dark Sun Campaign Setting: A 4th Edition D&D Supplement Hardcover – August 17, 2010
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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. Eladrin are xenophobic, mage-hating psions clinging to the last vestiges of the rapidly-dying Land Beyond the Wind. Dragonborn are the Dray - which were around in 2e, reskinned. Half-Giants simply use the Goliath mechanics, which is fitting. Setting favorites Muls and Thri-Kreen make their 4e debut. There are very few other races still around, unless you wheedle your way into them with your DM.
By default, the gods are dead and gone. That means no divine classes, either. This was a jump a lot of people didn't expect them to make, but I'm glad they did. Taking the place of 2e's Elemental Priests are new options both for Shamans and for all other classes as well.
Mechanically, the biggest innovation for Dark Sun are Character Themes. More or less, these are paragon paths you take at 1st level; they sit on top of your class, and tie your character further into the setting. Among these options are Gladiator, Elemental Priest, Templar, Wilder, Noble Adept, Dune Trader, and Athasian Minstrel. They give you a handy Encounter power, and down the road, you can pick a series of Powers from your Theme instead of your class.
It also takes a major step back from magic items. An inherent bonus system, similar to the one from DMG2, is presented as the default, thank goodness. This makes the characters "work" mechanically, even without magical gear at all.
OK, enough about mechanics. The setting itself? Gorgeous. WotC listened to fans, and reset the timeline to just after the death of Kalak. This means no Cerulean Storm, no dead Dragon, etc. It's awesome. Each City-State gets a few pages all to itself, and every one gets a nice map. There's a lengthy section on adventuring in Athas, with (harsh and deadly) rules for travel and desert survival.
All in all, it takes all the stuff I love about Dark Sun and all the stuff I love about 4e, and puts them in a neat little package which my players are already clamoring for me to run.
I recommend this book to anyone who's a fan of Dark Sun of any edition, any DM looking for something other than typical fantasy, and anyone who was on the fence about 4e and needed something awesome to convince them to take the jump.
One note - if you are new to 4e, and Dark Sun has convinced you to take a swing at it, I'd strongly suggest a DDI subscription. It will let you get all the character options included in Dark Sun for an intensely low price.
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. The splash page art at the beginning of chapters is mostly really good. The portraits in the Races and Themes chapters are mostly good. I love the city maps.
* I love the pictures on p139 and p183. I wish they were larger and there were more like them.
* I love the themes, muls and thri-kreen. They have "felt right" the ten sessions I've played with them. I don't have a problem with goliaths being plopped in for half-giants. In fact, I am likely to retcon goliaths in my games in other worlds as being descended from half-giants from Athas.
* The few pages for DMs are pretty well done. The adventure looks lame, though.
* The new mechanics unique to Dark Sun are just right. I like survival days, sun sickness, and weapon breakage.
So, I'd say WotC has succeeded in bringing Dark Sun to 4E.
It's a strong setting despite some failures in execution and presentation. Players will enjoy creating and running unique characters. DMs will enjoy new and unique ways to kill those players.