January 3, 2011

2E - 4E Dark Sun

And so ends my look at the 2E Dark Sun books and seeing if and how they can be integrated into the new 4E setting. I have had a lot of fun writing this series of articles as it allowed me to dig out my old Dark Sun books and take another look at them. I have always loved the setting and just reading about the setting is fun for me. Part of the fun was to randomly grab a book off the shelf and start reading it; this is why the articles were in no particular order.

I did not cover all the material that had come out for 2E Dark Sun. I do not own Terrors Beyond Tyr(Dark Sun Monstrous Compendium II), Beyond the Prism Pentad, and Windriders of the Jagged Cliffs, so they could not get covered; in fact I ended up getting Mind Lords of the Last Sea and The Will and the Way off of EBay, just so I could read them for this series. I also did not cover the DSQ/DSE series of adventures (Road to Urik, Arcane Shadows, Asticlian Gambit, Dragon's Crown) because in the end the same problems kept creeping up (2E stats making the books of limited worth) and the final analysis became one more of personal opinion than a discussion of 2E-4E integration. Suffice it to say, the modules can be a lot of fun if run correctly.

I have, however, covered a lot of different sourcebooks from the 2E era of Dark Sun. Some can be easily and readily (with minimum or no work required) integrated into a 4E campaign. There was a lot of “fluff” in the books as they were attempting to describe a whole new concept in role-playing. The setting was a sharp break from the traditional fantasy setting, post-apocalyptic and harsher, and as such needed a lot more fluff to fill in the spots that previously had been assumptions in a fantasy setting. Every difference had to be explained and given a reason why the change was made (usually in an in-game manner) so there was a lot of fluff, especially in the earlier sourcebooks. The earlier books were more about adding new setting material and less about adding character options.

One issue to be aware of is information overload. There was a lot of material released for Dark Sun in previous editions. This can lead to a sense of too much information. In this regard I recommend when prepping for a Dark Sun campaign, select one area you want to highlight. Use the appropriate book and for now ignore the rest. You can always take a look at a different sourcebook if you move the focus of your campaign, or after you have a good handle on the previous material.

With so much available information I would recommend using all that falls within your chosen area. All too often a GM will “save” named characters, locations and encounters for a special occasion. With so much unique information, using all the “special” notes will not deplete your store of background information. For example, if you need a slave tribe, use one that is written up; need a templar as a protagonist, use a named one from a sourcebook. Let the player characters interact with the “famous” people and places.

One thing I have noticed while doing my reading and comparisons is that the 4E setting includes a lot of information from the earlier releases. It may only be a single line where the earlier book gave over a paragraph or more, but the core concept is still there.

In addition, the 4E setting didn’t change much. When the Forgotten Realms setting came out a lot of fundamental stuff was changed. That is not the case here. It is the 2E setting brought up to 4E rules. That is something I liked. I can play in the Dark Sun setting I am familiar with, just with the 4E rule set.

For those interested, I started writing this series back in August, writing up a sourcebook every couple of days and taking weeks breaks in between. I did not in fact write one up each day and post it the next day. I am no where remotely that good. I will likely have an article or two about Dark Sun still upcoming, but will be different from this series.

I hope people enjoyed taking a look back at the older Dark Sun stuff as much as I did. For me, those days are filled with nostalgia and a sort of role-playing innocence. Now go on and run a Dark Sun game or two, even if it’s a short campaign. The world is rich with history and detail and is something just different enough from the typical fantasy setting, while still remaining pure fantasy to be a memorable experience.
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