Welcome to Athas.
The world of the Dark Sun setting is unique. This is not a world of shining knights and robed wizards, of deep forests and holy shrines. Athas draws on different traditions of fantasy storytelling; simple survival beneath the crimson sun is often its own adventure. With that in mind, here are the seven most important things you need to know about the Dark Sun setting:
The world is a desert. Athas is a hot, arid world covered with vast stretches of desert—endless seas of dunes, stony wastes, thorny scrublands, and worse. In this forbidding world, cities and villages can only exist in a few oases or verdant plains. Beyond these islands of civilization is a barren wasteland roamed by nomads, raiders, and hungry monsters.
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. Metal is quite scarce. Arms and armor are often made of bone, stone, wood, and other such materials, because steel is priceless.
Metal is scarce. Most arms and armor are made of bone, stone, wood, and other such materials. Mail or plate armor exist only in the treasuries of the sorcerer-kings. Steel blades are almost priceless, weapons that heroes never see during their lifetimes.
Arcane magic defiles the world. Athas was reduced to a wasteland by the reckless use of arcane magic in ancient wars. To cast an arcane spell, one must gather power from the living world around. Plants wither to black ash, crippling pain wracks animals and people, and the soil itself is sterilized; nothing can grow in that spot again.
Terrible sorcerer-kings rule the cities. The city-states of Athas are ruled by defilers of immense power. These mighty spellcasters have held their thrones for centuries. The sorcerer-kings govern through templars, a class of officials and lesser defilers who can call upon the kings’ powers.
The gods of Athas are silent. Athas is a world without gods. There are no clerics, no paladins, no prophets or religious orders. In the absence of divine influence, people have turned to other sources of power. Psionic power is well known and widely practiced in Athas, while shamans and druids call upon the primal powers of the world — even though the primal spirits of Athas are often wild and vengeful.
Fierce and deadly monsters populate the world. Athas is home to its own deadly ecology. Cattle, horses, camels — none of these animals can be found in Athas. Instead, people tend flocks of erdlus, ride on kanks or crodlus, and draw wagons with inixes and mekillots. Wild creatures such as lions, bears, or wolves are almost nonexistent. In their place are terrors such as the id beast, the so-ut, or the tembo.
Familiar races aren’t what you expect. Many of the fantasy stereotypes don’t apply to Athasian heroes. On Athas, elves are a nomadic race of herders, raiders, peddlers, and thieves. Halflings aren’t amiable river-folk; they’re xenophobic headhunters and cannibals who hunt and kill anyone foolish enough to venture into their montane forests. Each of the major races has adapted to Athas in new and unexpected ways.