Dark SunAugust 20, 2008
A week ago i picked up the old Dark Sun boxed set and finally started looking at it. There’s a lot of neat, and weird things about it- and I get why it’s both one of the most clamored for, and low on the list, of campaign worlds for folks to update.
What makes it different and unique is also what makes it not fit in so well with the rest of D&D’s extra bits- which is also kind of key for WOTC to sell more books. It’s not very dungeon crawl-centric, few of the monsters are really going to fit, and pretty much the only extra set of rules it seems well suited to sell are the psionic ones (which, generally don’t see common play throughout all their versions.)
Dark Sun takes 2E’s idea of different classes get rewarded XP for different things and gives it even more spin, and then includes in demi-human races- rewarding them (or even taking away XP) for following certain behaviors. While this is not expecially strange these days, the fact is that the behaviors seem somewhat at odds with the idea of a party, and probably changes the focus of the game to “Why am I hanging out with these weirdos?” Actually, a lot of the demihuman cultures seem like they’re set up to interact with each other and humans tangentially, which kind of increases the effect. Though, the half elves getting points for trying to fit in both with humans and elves is a great touch.
There’s a neat setup for multiple characters- with the understanding that the setting is lethal enough that you might need extra PCs ready so you don’t end up not-playing for hours on end. Though, I’m curious how that is much different than any low level D&D (“Carrion Crawler, RUN RUN RUN”), and whether it’s an encouragement to more ruthlessness on the part of the DM?
Finally, there’s also the idea that most weapons and armor are not made of metal- this actually gives a pretty good incentive to specialize in quarterstaves and other wooden weapons- or at least knives, you’re not likely to be able to afford real metal weapons anytime soon, and the penalties for using other materials makes it rarely worth it.
It also sets up an interesting way for characters to wear less armor and not be woefully underprotected- yeah, you’re wearing lighter armor, but your opponent has a penalty to hit and a penalty to damage since he’s using an obsidian axe.
The magic/ecological aspect is the most interesting to me. It’s cool that magic can literally rip away the life force of the planet, though, it has a big chart of how much vegetation turns to ash which doesn’t really tie into any kind of larger sense of scale for the amount of effort you put in. In many ways, to actually track what kind of damage that means in the big scale would be more effort than any GM I imagine is putting in.
Color-wise, it’s very Brom, very 80’s, very european comic fantasy (most of which, we only see in Heavy Metal out here in the US). Imagery-wise, it’s a bunch of white folks in the desert, women who have 80’s hair styles and weird pseudopunk gear, oh, except the Athasian Giants, who fit the black brute stereotype in image and are the sketchiest thing in the books.
In many ways, I feel that the kinds of conflicts beyond “survival in the desert” would probably be best served by another game system- Shadow of Yesterday or In a Wicked Age spring to mind. Maybe even HeroQuest.
It’s an interesting setting, and in it’s difference, it highlights very well a lot of the issues of D&D setting logic (as well as other games that ride the supplement treadmill, Palladium I’m looking at you). As a smart business decision, you want as much of your products to encourage the customers to Pokemon collect’em all. Products which are narrow in what they work with in your product line, are not so good for that.