December 24, 2010

Dark Sun: Elves of Athas

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 sourcebook we’re looking at today is Elves of Athas (DSS3) published in 1993. It is 96 pages and has 5 chapters.

Chapter One: Physical Nature
In several ways the elves of Dark Sun are different than the typical elf of D&D and this chapter sets out to define those differences. It starts of by going into the exactly how they are different in the first section. From there it goes into what types of physical activity the elves commonly partake of.

The next section is fairly long and goes into the elven racial abilities. This is fairly standard except for the “Elf Run”, the ability for an elf to run for extended periods of time. While there is no similar ability in the 4E setting, there are multiple feats that can cover it.

Next is a discussion on the Stages of Life. Not only does it over the physical changes that will affect an elf as he gets older, but also the cultural changes that place as well. There is a chart that details stat changes at each stage of life, but this not something 4E has decided not to include in their rule set so it wouldn’t really fit in a 4E Dark Sun game. However, this section does have some good role-playing bits so it is still overall useful.

The chapter ends with a look at what elves think of half-elves (they don’t like them) and this is the same in the 4E setting book.

Chapter Two: Psychological Nature
As expected this about what the elves think like and their outlooks on the world around them. We start with an overview and their relationship with the world as a whole. From there the chapter quickly covers the elves’ stat bonuses and how they apply to their outlook on life.

Next we get into more specific attitude. This deals with Outsiders, Tribal Bonds, Independent Spirit (Love and Madness), and Honor. The chapter further goes into Mental Pursuits, also detailing their outlooks toward magic, clerics, and psionics.

This chapter has a lot of good information for role-playing an elf. The information is along the lines of that found in the 4E setting book, so this chapter only enhances the playing of an elf.

Chapter Three: Elven Society
Here we get into the culture of a Dark Sun elf. It starts with a section on Tribal Life and continues with City Life, Wilderness Life, Enemies, Beliefs, Music and Dance, Courtship, Families, and Native Dress.

There are a couple of special sections inserted within the chapter. One deals with some new haggling rules. 4E tends to abstract the purchasing and selling aspect of the game so there is little that can be directly used here, though if a GM did want to add such a subsystem this would a good place to start. There is also a section on Language which includes sample elven names along with tribal surnames. There is even a short list of elven insults.

As in the preceding chapter, this one contains more detailed information on the role-playing of an elf without contradicting anything in the 4E book. As such this is good stuff.

Chapter Four: The Elf Tribes
While the previous chapters have provided us with a lot of good information for running an elf, this one puts it all together and gives us a bunch of sample elven tribes that could be used by a DM as an adventure setting or by a player to fill out their background. The information is very detailed and can provide a wealth of adventure ideas. There are 6 tribes described and they follow the same format of brief Overview, Organization, Recent History, Relations with Outsiders, Current Endeavors, and Area of Activity. In addition, there is usually a numbered and detailed map along with the stats and backgrounds of some important tribal members.
Sky Singers- A trading tribe. The map provided is of their market in Nibenay.
Wind Dancers- A former trading tribe, now taken to raiding to sustain themselves.
Silver Hands- An atypical tribe that has settled and built walls around an oasis.
Water Hunters- A traditionalist tribe maintaining the old ways, primarily herding.
Silt Stalkers- A raiding tribe given over to evil.
Night Runners- A mysterious tribe that sells nefarious activities; espionage, theft, kidnapping, smuggling, assassination and extortion.

Chapter Five: Athasian Elf Kits
The last chapter of the book goes into kits; the 2E version of themes. As a whole it has almost nothing to provide for a 4E setting campaign. The kits are more of a role-playing guideline with little to no in-game benefit. While a DM could work on the kits to try and bring them up to a theme or paragon class, there really isn’t enough to work with here. It would almost be like starting from a concept rather than converting mechanics. In all honesty, a few feats or skill choices could cover the kit in a 4E game.

There are 19 pictures, most done by Di’Terlizzi. Most of them can be used to either show an elf NPC or to show portions of an elven tribe.

Overall: The information to be found in this sourcebook would see a lot of good use for a DM or a player. The information, especially in the first 4 chapters, is mostly fluff so it is easy to utilize without diverging from the 4E setting campaign. I would recommend this book for players with an elf character or for a GM looking for adventure ideas. In addition, the Dark Sun elf is iconic to the Dark Sun setting simply because of its divergence form the traditional elf. As such, I recommend including at least a few adventures with the elves of Athas and this book can help in that regard.

A note on the Eladrin. The Eladrin are not mentioned at all in this sourcebook, nor is there anything even remotely similar to their race and culture. I would not recommend trying to use this book with the Eladrin. While the Eladrin and Elf are related in the core 4E setting, in Dark Sun they would not be.
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