December 31, 2010

Dark Sun: Campaign Setting Expanded and Revised

Recently WotC rereleased the Dark Sun setting for 4E. This article is part of a series that examines a release from 2E Dark Sun and sees how and if it can be integrated with the new 4E version of the world setting.

The product we’re looking at today is the Campaign Setting Expanded and Revised, published in 1995. It is a boxed set that includes 4 softcover books; The Age of Heroes (rules for characters) which runs for 96 pages, The Wanderer’s Chronicle (setting information) which runs 128 pages, The Way of the Psionicist (a new psionic system) which runs 32 pages, and Mystery of the Ancients (an adventure) which runs 32 pages. Included are 3 maps and a Dungeon Master’s Screen.

This is a redoing of the Dark Sun setting, attempting to incorporate all the changes that had occurred within the setting and the 2E rule set since the time of the initial Dark Sun release in 1991.

I will be taking a look at this material in a different manner. Yesterday’s article took a look at the original boxed set, so rather than repeat much of the same stuff I did for that write-up (and to avoid a simple cut and paste), I will be looking to see what this product provides that is different between the original boxed set and the 4E campaign book. I will assume much of the issues the last article pointed out are still valid until I see otherwise.

The Age of Heroes
The book has 8 chapters: Creating Characters, Proficiencies, Money and Equipment, Magic and Spells, Experience and Treasure, Combat, Encounters, and DM Material.

The first chapter presents us with two new races made available for the players, the Aarakocra and Pterran. The Aarakocra is listed as a monster in the 4E Dark Sun Creature Catalog, but no method is provided for turning the race into a player one. There is no mention of the Pterran in 4E.

The classes are expanded with much of the material from the Dragon Kings. In addition there is a new class, the Trader, which was taken from the Dune Traders sourcebook.

Finally, the calendar for Athas has been changed from that found in the 2E and is now the same as the one to be found in the 4E campaign book.

There is not a lot of new material here; it was a lot of consolidating from other sourcebooks and a neater organization.

The Wanderer’s Chronicle
This book has 5 chapters: The Nature of the World, The Tyr Region, The Jagged Cliffs Region, Beyond the Tyr Region, and Monsters of Athas. As the Introduction mentions, this book incorporates all the information released for the setting since 1991, so about 5 years of material, including the novel series. Therefore, the information to be found in this book is far advanced in time from where the 4E campaign book starts and ends. To include the majority of the information to be found in this book is a major divergence from the 4E setting. This is not necessarily a bad thing but a lot needs to be taken into consideration if you wanted to do such a thing.

In a roundabout sort of way this book can be a good source of adventure ideas. By peering into the future a DM could tailor his campaign to include these events, even if they are only used as background.

The Jagged Cliffs is a completely new area to the north of the Tyr region. It considerably extends the area of Athas for the characters. However, it is definitely outside the area described in the 4E campaign book. Not only is the area new, but so are some of the peoples, including a couple of new sorcerer-kings. The book also explores other new regions beyond the Jagged Cliffs, though it the Jagged Cliffs area that would be given new sourcebooks further down the production line (Windriders of the Jagged Cliffs and Mind Lords of the Last Sea).

The Way of the Psionicist
Comprised of 3 chapters (Using Psionics, Psionicists and Wild Talents, Psionic Powers) this book set out to reinvent psionics for 2E, or at least for the Dark Sun setting. Other than new psionic mechanics there is nothing truly new here and it is still incompatible with 4E psionics.

Mystery of the Ancients
This adventure is firmly entrenched in the revised setting. It picks up after the 5th novel with earthquakes ravaging the region. A trading contingent of Pterrans is looking to set up trade routes with Tyr. The player characters are hired to find a stable travel route across the Ringing Mountains to where the Pterrans are from. There are various encounters to be had as they traverse the mountains. Once of the far side they stumble into an ancient ruin from the Blue Age.

There are plenty of encounters to be had including a couple that could easily be made into skill challenges. However, the main focus of the adventure is to present the new areas to the west and northwest to the players. The adventure is full of stuff that is not to be found in the 4E setting; Pterrans, the Blue Age, the death of the Dragon. All these changes are radical departures from the 4E setting, but it would be difficult to use the adventure without these changes. Perhaps this adventure could be saved for further in a campaign, when the DM is looking for new areas to explore.

Maps
There are 3 nice maps included. The first is much the same as the 4E map, but with an extra 200 miles of territory along the edges, expanding the map considerably. The second map is the Jagged Cliffs region north of the Tyr Region; again it is a nice map, but outside the 4E setting. However, the coolest map is the third map. This is of the original Tyr region and is the same as 4E version, however, it is printed on cloth and has a really nice feel and look to it. It is perfect for hanging on the wall during your 4E games.

Dungeon Master’s Screen
This four-panel screen has a nice picture on the front of it. The information on the inside is of no value to a 4E game. In fact, only half a panel has Dark Sun specific information on it and the rest is given over to 2E rules and charts. However, if you simply want a Dark Sun screen to hide your stuff behind this is a nice screen.

Artwork
Between the various books there are 53 pictures. Most of the art is of poor quality (according to my personal tastes) and is of very little use if you want to show the players a scene.

Overall: The information to be found in these books is either a rehash of what came before it or the same as 4E. If it is different from 4E then it is radically different. Unlike other sourcebooks that can be used to augment a 4E campaign, this set alters the world and the setting. If a GM is comfortable with this then it can be of use, especially if the GM is looking to explore other areas of Athas beyond the core.

However, it is my belief that the only things of value are the cloth map and the Dungeon Master’s Screen and both of these are purely for aesthetic reasons, not for any practical one.
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