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"I live in a world of fire and sand. The crimson sun scorches the life from anything that crawls or flies, and storms of sand scour the foliage from the barren ground. This is a land of blood and dust, where tribes of feral elves sweep out of the salt plains to plunder lonely caravans, mysterious singing winds call travelers to slow suffocation in the Sea of Silt, and selfish kings squander their subjects' lives building gaudy palaces and garish tombs. This bleak wasteland is Athas, and it is my home."
The Wanderer

Dark Sun is a Campaign Setting mostly for the second and fourth editions of Dungeons & Dragons (although some material for 3.5 was published in Dragon magazine). Originally conceived as the default setting for a miniatures based wargame, the setting survived as a regular D&D world even after the minis game failed. There were two editions of Dark Sun, the second advancing the timeline a few years, inserting a bit of hope along with a whole lot of new troubles and detailing a larger portion of the world. After the end of Second Edition D&D, a group of fans kept Dark Sun alive using the Third Edition rules until an official set was published in Dragon, which was followed by a standard Fourth Edition version in 2010.

The setting of Dark Sun is Athas, a once-beautiful fantasy world turned into a post-apocalyptic wasteland by centuries of corrupt magic and genocidal warfare. Most of the setting's land mass is made up of desert. Metal is extremely rare, requiring weapons to be made of less durable alternatives like bone, wood and obsidian (with game mechanics for their breakage during combat), and a small, pathetic iron mine that wouldn't be considered even slightly worthwhile on another world is instead here a priceless resource that has made the city-state that owns it rich, with wars having been fought over its possession. There are no actual gods, and most of the standard fantasy races players might expect to find are either extinct or drastically different from their normal forms; one of the common player character races is the Thri-Kreen — four-armed humanoid insect mantis men. Even normal everyday flora and fauna have been twisted into deadly, grotesque mockeries of themselves; Athasian bears are gigantic clawed monstrosities with an insect-like carapace, and dangerous mobile carnivorous plant life dots the landscape. Horses are long extinct such that no one even remembers them, and common mounts are instead such things as the giant ant-like kanks, the scaled and beaked ostrich-like lizard crodlu, and the huge howdah-carrying inix lizards.

It was one of the first settings to incorporate the psionics rules to a large extent — to the point where all Player Characters and potentially any intelligent creature on Athas has at least a psionic wild talent. (The Third Edition Expanded Psionics Handbook was largely built off of Dark Sun, though it made no open mention of the setting.) Psionics has replaced the common fantasy role of magic on Athas, with psionicists taking the usual place of wizards in fantasy society. Magic-use draws its power directly from the lifeforce of the land itself; drawing too much energy reduces any plants around a spellcasting wizard to grey ash, and the land itself to infertile dust in which nothing can grow... powerful enough spells can even effect nearby animals and cause them pain as their lifeforce is drained away to fuel the magic. As a result, wizards are feared and hated for their destruction of the land, and the wanton overuse of magic that caused the ecological collapse that has rendered almost the planet a vast desert. Wizards must hide their activities and disguise their powers as psionics since the vast majority of people see no distinction between the dangerously irresponsible Defilers who actually caused the ecological destruction, carelessly siphoning as much energy from the land as they can to fuel their magic regardless of the destruction it would cause, and the responsible magic-users called Preservers who have learned to use magic without doing harm to the environment, only taking just as much energy as is needed to power their magic.

Reading is outlawed for the common people, only legal for the nobility, and death is the punishment for illegal literacy. Slavery is commonplace, gladiatorial bloodsport is ubiquitous, and slave gladiators are prized commodities used as symbols of prestige and power among the noble houses.

In short, Athas is a horrible, deadly place, and only the strongest survive on the world of the Dark Sun. The feeling of the setting may best be described as a combination of sword and sandal gladiator movies, post-apocalyptic science-fiction, sword and sorcery fantasy, and the planetary romances of Edgar Rice Burroughs, with a dash of ancient Mesopotamia for flavor. Exactly how bleak the setting is depends on edition; post-AD&D versions tend to be Lighter and Softer.

Dark Sun is also known for its metaplot, some element of which is present in all editions of the setting. The bare bones is as follows: the Tyr region is dominated by seven tyrannical city-states, the most powerful of which is, naturally, Tyr. Each city-state is ruled by an oppressive sorcerer-king (or, in some cases, sorcerer-queen); powerful spellcasters that are universally cruel and nigh immortal (the youngest sorcerer-king has over eight centuries under his belt). Tyr's sorcerer-king is Kalak, and on the verge of his ascension the unthinkable happened: Kalak was slain at the hands of a slave revolt. Power immediately shifted hands to his former High Templar and killer, Tithian, who quickly outlawed slavery and declared Tyr to be a Free City. There are even talks of setting up a senate, giving people rights, and establishing a rudimentary justice system. However, all is not well in Tyr. Multiple factions with opposing interests are vying for both power and a place in the new government, and almost all of them need to be in agreement in order for anything to get done. On any given day, the Free City of Tyr is teetering between anarchy and full-blown civil war. If that weren't enough, the vultures have begun to circle; with Kalak gone, the numerous bandits and raiders of Athas have declared open season on Tyr's trade roads. Worse, word of Kalak's death has begun to reach the ears of his rival sorcerer-kings, who, aside from consolidating their own power bases to ensure that they avoid Kalak's fate, have begun their machinations against a Tyr they view as hopelessly exposed. The first truly good thing in written Athasian history has happened in Tyr, but it is a meager candle in the face of the tidal wave of darkness hoping to extinguish it.

Dark Sun games are designed to be not nearly as deadly as the setting suggests. When other settings in 2nd Edition had ability scores for player characters running 3-18, Dark Sun ran them 5-20, along with secondary bonuses such as immunity to certain spells and even regeneration, on top of psionic powers for everyone... and they started out at level three. Since both characters and world are tougher and stronger, in practice Dark Sun games are pretty much exactly as dangerous as any other D&D campaign. Nevertheless, the boxed set also introduced the "character tree": players were advised to keep three backup characters, who would level up with their main character, in case their current one died.

The Prism Pentad takes place in Athas, as does Tribe of One, which is set several years later.

Three video games set on Athas were released by SSI in the mid-90s. The first, titled Dark Sun: Shattered Lands, released in 1993, centered on the city-state of Draj. The player's party begin as gladiators in the city's arena, but soon escape to the surrounding wilderness. At the same time the sorcerer-king of Draj is preparing to crush the defiant settlements of free people around the city. The player takes on a central role in uniting the disparate villages and searches for ancient lost magics to help in the upcoming battle. The second game, Dark Sun: Wake of the Ravager, released in 1994, takes place around Tyr. The player becomes entangled in the activities of the Veiled Alliance, working against the Dragon who has put into motion plans to awaken and control the titular Ravager (actually a Tarrasque). Wake of the Ravager was plagued with early bugs and crashing issues but was quickly fixed through downloadable patches. While this is routine for modern games, it was practically unheard of for its time. The third game was an early MMORPG titled Dark Sun: Crimson Sands released in 1996, again using Tyr and the surrounding areas as its setting. Unfortunately, the game was shut down in 1999 due to a plethora of technical errors and a hacker problem that could not be solved.

The MUD Armageddon is loosely based off of the Dark Sun setting.

In 2023, Wizards of the Coast announced that it had no plans for Dark Sun in the foreseeable future, citing the setting's "problematic" themes. Needless to say, D&D fans were outraged.


Contains examples of:

  • After the End: It is painfully clear that Athas used to be a nice place. Tombs and ruins from the Green Age dot the Tyr region, hinting at a wondrous time when the world was full of water, fertile soil, and metal. Of particular mention is that since metal is (now) so rare, even a mundane iron sword is accorded the respect (and the price) that a magical blade would fetch in a traditional D&D world.
  • Alien Sky: Athas has two moons; Ral and Guthay. Ral is the largest and is a green color. Guthay is smaller and is gold colored. The sun also looked weird in ages past: During the Blue Age, it was a deep blue like an ocean. During the green age it was yellow, and in the present it is scalding and red. The changes to the sun were due to overuse of magic. (Real stars also change colour, but on longer timescales and accompanied by changes in size.)
  • Always a Bigger Fish: The sorcerer-kings are all immensely powerful, but all of them choose to offer tribute to the Dragon of Tyr rather than try to fight it. And both the Dragon and all the sorcerer-kings combined could not kill their mentor, the Omnicidal Maniac Rajaat. Yes, Rajaat was/is so powerful that the setting's equivalent of gods all working together could only seal him away. Oh, and the seal is not permanent and needs to be reinforced yearly or else he'll break free.
  • Apocalypse How: Planetary Societal Collapse. Defiling magic has rendered the whole planet uninhabitable except for the Tyr region. The remains of society exist in the dozen-or-so city-states most of which are ruled by the tyrannical sorcerer-kings. Any groups living outside a city have reverted to hunter-gatherer tribes or roaming bands of marauders. Technology has regressed to the point that metal smithing has become a lost art, any form of worked metal is seen as a priceless piece of Lost Technology.
  • Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence:
    • Any sufficiently powerful wizard/psionicist can try this in 2e, though it is a long, painful, multistage process in which a single mistake will kill you dead. Evil characters turn into dragons while good ones turn into angelic energy-winged bug beings called "Avangions". All of the big bads are in the process of becoming dragons. Did we mention that becoming a dragon is a process that requires life energy as a catalyst, meaning that every single dragon is the product of an act of genocide? This is why there are no gnomes, orcs, goblins, kobolds, ogres, trolls, or pixies on Athas.
    • Thematically remains, though simplified, in the 4e version. The Avangion, Dragon King, and Pyreen are epic destinies for Arcane characters who use Arcane Defiling, and Primal magic respectively.
  • Asskicking Leads to Leadership: A general rule. One of the main reasons the sorcerer-kings have been able to hold power for so long is because they can defend their citizens in times of crisis. Also, many slave tribes greatly value wizards or powerful clerics for their magic.
  • Awesome, but Impractical: Plain old metal armor that you wouldn't think twice about in another D&D world. In the heat of Athas's wastelands, wearing metal armor of any kind will incapacitate you via heatstroke long before your enemy's weapon could put you down. Metal armor is also so appallingly expensive that the rules mention that for the same cost, a sorcerer-king could buy a few suits of field plate armor for his guards or he could fund a substantial expansion of his city-state's defensive walls.
  • A World Half Full: Exactly how bleak the setting is supposed to be varies between editions. Even in the original boxed set (which offered the bleakest incarnation of Athas), it's stated that there is beauty left in the world despite its ruined state. Subsequent iterations of Dark Sun are more overtly hopeful.
    • The Revised Edition is blatantly hopeful; many of the sorcerer-kings have been slain, the Dragon of Tyr is dead, and Rajaat has been permanently banished, without the need for the yearly mass sacrifices that the sorcerer-kings had relied upon. Athas is still a damaged world and struggling to survive, but it also has a chance to heal. There are still problems to deal with, such as the threat of impending invasion from the tohr-kreen empire, but the world is much better off.
    • In fourth edition, the people of the city of Tyr have managed to kill the sorcerer-king Kalak. This is actually a huge event as the sorcerer-kings were previously thought to be invincible, and the city is now known as the Free City Of Tyr. Furthermore, news of this has traveled to at least some of the other city-states and emboldened the people there, suggesting the millennia-long reign of the sorcerer-kings may finally be coming to an end. That's where your character comes in. It's essentially a slightly Lighter and Softer version of the original boxed set.
  • Badass Normal: Thanks to the increased attributes, most non-magical/non-psionic PCs in this setting default to this. New characters also begin at level 3, as opposed to the level 1 characters of other settings.
  • Ban on Magic:
    • Openly practicing arcane magic, defiling or not, in a city-state without a license is a serious offense. Luckily, most folks aren't too adept at recognizing magic unless it actively defiles, because of how rare it is. So, casting a fireball can be passed off as using pyrokinesis — unless you cause all the nearby plants to die when you do so.
    • In Tyr after Kalak's death, it becomes legal to practice Preserving. Practicing Defiling is still illegal, though.
  • Beach Episode: Subverted. Your characters might think they're in for a break if they find the idyllic Last Sea, but they'll soon learn otherwise.
  • Big Creepy-Crawlies: Lots and lots. In fact, most of the living monsters that aren't reptiles are arthropods. Kanks are giant ant/beetle things used instead of horses, while thri-kreen (mantis/beetle humanoids) are an important species and even a playable race, as well as having varieties like the Trin (which are to Thri-kreen what apes are to humans).
  • Black-and-Gray Morality: An intentional part of the setting is the concept of "What will you do if the circumstances are bleak enough?" In Dark Sun, even heroic characters might have to commit immoral acts just to survive. One of the first adventures for the setting opens with the party being part of a band of slaves whose slavers have perished, but there isn't enough water to sustain everyone. The party is thus given a Sadistic Choice: do they kill the other slaves to spare them the agony of death by thirst, steal all the water and abandon them to the wild, or insist on sharing the water and risk no one surviving? Depending on a particular campaign, though, this could be darkened to Black and Black Morality, or lightened to Grey-and-Gray Morality. All the same, it says something that The Paladin class — a mainstay of every other D&D setting — is not available in Dark Sun.
  • Black-and-White Morality: The usual Character Alignmentinvoked system of D&D is unchanged in Athas, and the conditions and culture of Athas are irrelevant; slave-ownership, for example, is canonically incompatible with a good alignment. That isn't to say you can't survive on Athas with a Good alignment, you're just going to have to accept that you're a small spark of goodness in a vast darkness of selfishness and abject brutality.
  • Black Magic: Arcane casters can choose to be "Defilers", who get a bonus (depending on what edition you're playing) ranging from faster level gain, free rerolls on spell results, or boosted spell levels... at the cost of further desertifying the world around them.
    • The post-The Prism Pentad "Revised Edition" added three other kinds of wizard to the setting; Necromancers, Shadow Mages, and the unimaginatively-named Ceruleans, who draw their power from the Cerulean Storm.
  • Brain in a Jar: Guardian orbs from the Green Age, which contain the minds of long-dead mortals. The Mindlords who rule and preserve the Last Sea are themselves confined to these orbs. Who Wants to Live Forever? is in full effect, as most of these guardian orbs (including the aforementioned Mindlords) went insane ages ago.
  • Bread and Circuses: The sorcerer-kings, being tyrannical rulers, must keep their subjects placated in various ways. Gladiatorial arenas are standard, but some of them also claim to be gods (or the servants/avatars of gods), or to be protecting their city from some nonexistent threat.
  • Breakable Weapons: On Athas, metal weapons are rare and horrifically expensive. Most weapons are made of bone, obsidian, or even wood, which makes them not only inferior stat-wise, but gives them a non-zero chance of breaking if you do too much damage with them.
  • Burn the Witch!: If you're not a sorcerer-king or one of their agents, getting outed as a wizard (defiler or not) will probably end with you being dogpiled by both the local templars and the common townspeople.
  • Butterface: The sorcerer-queen Abalech-Re is described as having a shapely body, but in her picture she also has a hideous, magically deformed face.
  • The Caligula: Personality-wise, Abalech-Re acts almost like a female Caligula. Kalak also entered this trope in the generation before his death, as his obsession with completing his ziggurat lead him to appropriate too many slaves and other resources from his increasingly-discontent city-state.
  • Canon Discontinuity:
    • The 4E revamp follows more-or-less the original story, but with a few changes. The Primordials either kill or drive off the gods, so there's no more divine magic for the world. A powerful psion named Rajaat discovers arcane magic, which exists (at least in the flavor he finds) due to a flaw in the world caused by the lack of divine magic. Arcane magic, being flawed, defiles the world with each use, so Rajaat decides to teach people how to use it. Then, he and his closest disciples start a genocide on races that he considered impure.
      The world was dying quickly, and it got to the point where entire continents that hadn't even been touched by the disciples were dying. This made them take pause, so they turned on Rajaat and imprisoned him in the nothingness outside the world. Having done that, the disciples grabbed their own plots of land in the Tyr region (the only habitable region), the strongest of them turned into the Dragon of Tyr, and things were like that for a few hundred years until a revolution in Tyr started, which is where the setting picks up.
    • The Last Sea expansion from 2e has also been pretty much ignored.
    • Several player races added in 2E and 3E have also been ignored and replaced with new additions.
  • Canon Immigrant: Psurlons, a species of worm-headed psionics trapped in the astral plane, first showed up in the Dark Sun: Shattered Lands computer game. They have since been officially introduced to the tabletop setting in sourcebooks.
  • Casts No Shadow: Several types of undead in the setting don't cast shadows.
  • Cheap Gold Coins: A notable aversion. Metal currency of any kind is extremely rare, mostly the relics of earlier ages; most money is instead ceramic pieces and is backed by the city-states that mint them, usually with intricate stamps to discourage forgery.
  • Combat by Champion: A very common way of settling disputes, whether it be nobles betting on gladiators or nomadic warriors fighting for their tribe's right to a watering hole.
  • Continuity Reboot: The 4e version ignores several of the later changes in the setting and starts all over again with essentially an "updated" version of the very first box set continuity. However, there a few more additions to keep it in line with the rest of 4e.
  • Continuity Snarl: Because there are four different iterations of the setting — the original version, the Revised Edition released after The Prism Pentad novels, the slightly tweaked iteration of the Revised Edition from Dragon #319, and the 4th edition version — there are a number of details about the setting that can get rather contradictory.
    • In the original setting boxed set, mention is briefly made of a creature called a "baazrag", with no further details aside from some sketchwork art of a strange, mutant humanoid. The Prism Pentad novels promptly establish baazrags as a kind of hulking man-ape often enslaved as a beast of burden. Dragon #185, however, then contradicted this by saying that baazrags were a kind of small, armor-plated reptilian scavenger, which sometimes produced oversized mutants called "boneclaws" — this is the version that TSR canonized into the game in the subsequent Monstrous Compendium expansions, and which Wizards of the Coast would continue into 3rd edition (via Dungeon #110) and finally into 4th editions. Fans of the setting, however, inspired by a comment from Dark Sun writer Skip Williams in Dragon #190 that perhaps the two creatures both existed on Athas and have different pronunciations, with the scavenger being called "BAAZ-rag" and the man-ape being called "baas-RAG", would create a 3rd edition update to the setting that featured the man-ape as the baazrag (even giving it stats as a PC race) and renamed the scavenger as the boneclaw.
    • The precise relationship Dark Sun as a setting has to deities is notably different depending on which iteration you look at. In the original version, the gods are presumed to be dead or banished and their faiths were wiped out by the Sorcerer-Kings, leaving only the raaigs and ancient ruins to hint they ever existed. The revised version instead states that Athas never had true gods on it (despite not removing the ancient temple ruins or the raaigs). 4th edition makes it explicit that the gods were once a thing, but they have been dead for eons and their faiths stamped out to prevent them from reviving.
    • In the original edition, halflings were capable of becoming wizards, though only illusionists and only using the Preserver mechanics, to the point that halfling chiefs were stated to always be multiclassed illusionist-psionicists. In the revised edition, halflings lost this class. But Defilers & Preservers, the Athasian wizard sourcebook and one of the last books published for the setting in 2nd edition, features a halfling illusionist amongst its sample NPCs.
    • Defilers & Preservers states that specialist wizards cannot be played on Athas, as their traditions have been lost. Not only does this contradict the existence of halfling illusionists from the original boxed set, who also appear in this book, the book contradicts itself by stating that you can play wild mages, as well as necromancers, shadow mages, and ceruleans.
    • Defilers & Preservers introduced the idea of the Gray, Athas' equivalent to the Ethereal Plane, acting as a barrier to certain planar-based spells. Not only had this idea never been mentioned before, but it explicitly says nothing about impeding the admittedly uncommon psychoportation powers that allow access to the other planes.
  • Cosmic Horror Story: Both pre-4e and 4e Dark Suns apply; in pre-4e Dark Suns, the sorcerer-kings are the closest thing that the world has to gods... and not only are they are also responsible for the state Athas is in, but they don't even care about that fact — almost all, if not all, of them only desire power, and nothing else, to the point the adventure "Forest Maker" has the Sorcerer-Queen Alabach-Re discover a powerful Avangion ascension artifact... and promptly try to exploit it to leapfrog several stages forward in her own draconic ascension. Even Lighter and Softer 4e is little better — there used to be gods, but they lost a war against primordial forces and were either driven to extinction or exiled, leaving the world under the command of purely elemental forces who couldn't give two shits about the mortals on it. Aside from that, well... everything else about Athas speaks for itself.
  • Crapsack World: The world is dying (and hellish), the sorcerer-kings responsible are still in control of everything, slavery is a massive part of the economy, abolishing slavery or the sorcerer-kings (if either is even possible) would probably end what's left of civilization, most people can't even believe in heroism anymore because sheer survival demands brutality and selfishness, and the easiest roads to power involve serving the sorcerer-kings, further draining the world for magical energy, or just being a ruthless bastard who preys on others to get ahead. Welcome to Athas.
    • Canonically, Athas is such a hellhole that the only D&D setting that's worse is Ravenloft. And in spirit, Athas might still be the nadir, because unlike Ravenloft, Athas got to where it is WITHOUT any help from Dark Powers.
  • Crazy-Prepared: Sorcerer-kings will generally have plenty of psionic receptacles, any magic item they might need, be oozing with defensive spells, and have a whole company of high level templars with them at all times. They won't step foot outside their palace without serious preparation unless they absolutely have to. Justified, as a lot of people want them dead.
  • Creepy Centipedes
    • The Cilops: 15+ feet long with an amazing sense of smell who don't have to sleep and will track and pursue you for weeks.
    • The Megapede is 100-150 feet long and has a poisonous bite. They hide beneath the sands of Athas, rising above them only to devour other creatures.
  • Crossover: Very infrequent; back in 2nd Edition, when every other setting was crossing over left and right, it was made clear that Athas was a backwater with very limited knowledge of planar travel and no knowledge of spelljamming. It did cross over with Ravenloft, though — the city-state of Kalidnay was drawn into the Dark Domains when its ruler attempted to become a dragon and his high templar murdered her family in his name. A bunch of the notorious cannibal halflings also make a quick cameo in Baldur's Gate II, of all places. There was also an attempted Githyanki invasion, but after discovering what Athas was like, they sealed the portal to it. Those who failed to get out are believed to have devolved into the savage, near-animalistic "Gith" who roam the deserts.
  • Cultural Translation: In-Universe. Urik government got a clue about Kreen pack mentality long ago and established a simple policy: gate guards explain to every entering thri-kreen that the city is a large pack, and the newcomer is welcome to join any of its many clutches but must obey the laws of the pack. Humanoids in the city have little to no problems with local thri-kreen as a result.
  • The Dark Arts: Defiling is more or less abhorred by everyone, up to and including other defilers (they don't want competition).
  • Dark Fantasy: Dark Sun is not your usual gonzo Epic Fantasy experience. The world has been ruined by centuries of magic abuse and genocidal conflict, slavery and cannibalism are just everyday norms, every city-state is run by unimaginably powerful and wicked sorcerer-kings who have absolute power, and there's hardly any good in the world, just sand and misery.
  • Darker and Edgier: See Dark Fantasy above. Then compare to most other D&D settings of early 90's.
  • Death of the Old Gods: Both versions of Athas are defined by lacking any of the traditional deities; clerics pray to the elements, whilst druids worship the dwindling lifeforce of Athas itself in pre-4e and a mixture of elemental powers and nature spirits in 4e. It's implied that there used to be gods on Athas, as one of the setting's unique undead monsters, the Raaig, is the maddened ghost of a cleric or paladin from a long-lost faith, but pre-4e Athas never elaborates on who or what these faiths might have been. 4e expands on this minimalistic existence by stating that they all died fighting the primordials so long ago that most people are unaware that they ever existed.
  • Death World: Athas is so unsuitable for life — and yet simultaneously so full of ridiculously deadly forms of it — that your party is almost as likely to be wiped out on the way to the dungeon as to die in the dungeon itself.
  • Dracolich: There's just one of these on Athas; a sorcerer-king named Dregoth, who had almost completed the transformation into a second Athasian Dragon before the other sorcerer-kings ganged up on him and killed him. Then he brought himself back to unlife as a lich. He's rather ticked that doing so has seemingly stopped his ability to complete the transformation.
    • 4e canon has a potential second one, in the form of Kalid-Ma, a sorcerer-king whose mind has been trapped in a group of scattered obsidian orbs. If these are all brought together, he'll be able to restore himself as an undead dragon of animate shadow, equal in power to the Dragon of Tyr.
  • Draconic Humanoid:
    • As all dragons on Athas begin their lives as humans and warp themselves into dragons, they go through multiple intermediary states where they blur the physical line.
    • Dregoth the Athasian Dracolich became convinced after his undeath that the draconic transformation was humanity's destiny, and conducted experiments that successfully transformed his human worshippers into less powerful, but sane, draconic humanoids called "dray". These come in two distinct versions; the prototype model, who are more asymmetrical and mutation-prone, but still exist in a tribal society outside of Dregoth's reach, and the completed model. Both versions are not Always Chaotic Evil and can even be played, but because they only appeared in a single adventure (City by the Silt Sea), few people remember their existence. 4e used their presence as a way to justify including dragonborn as a PC race in the setting.
  • Dragons Are Demonic: Unlike most of D&D, there are no "good" dragons on Athas. Just starting to become one requires an act of mass murder, and continuing down that road means giving up more and more of yourself, and the better parts of your personality, to animalistic rage. The closest thing to a "good" dragon are the Avangions (which are less "dragons" and more "giant butterfly angels") and the Elemental Drakes (which are "merely" very powerful psionic reptilian predators).
  • Dragons Are Divine: While Dark Sun lacks true deities, the sorcerer-kings would qualify as they are the closest thing the setting has to gods, and their templars do derive power from them.
  • Early-Bird Cameo: For D&D in general, the Halflings and the Dwarves. While 2nd edition halflings were basically Tolkienesque hobbits with serial numbers filed off, and dwarves were your stereotypical 4 feet tall fantasy humanoids, their 3rd edition versions looked a lot more like the ones from Dark Sun (where all PC races had their unique spin): lithe and pretty-ish halflings and 5 feet tall square-shaped dwarves with protruding brows (the most notable difference being that Athasian dwarves are completely hairless).
  • Elemental Powers:
    • In the absence of true gods clerics receive their powers from the elemental planes. This does not excuse them from the normal clerical conducts—they are entirely capable of losing their clerical powers in a manner quite similar to how a normal cleric can have them taken away by their god.
    • Ironically, arcane users of elemental magic, be it the elementalist from the Tome of Magic or the Domains of Dread iteration of Ravenloft or the Zakharan Sorcerer from Al-Qadim, are officially banned from the setting.
    • Changed up in 4e. Athas has no canonical divine magic and no clerics or paladins (though there's a couple of options for "But I really wanna play a cleric anyway!"). Elemental powers are now Primal, and Elemental Priest is a theme rather than a class.
  • End of an Age: In the first edition boxed set and the fourth edition core book, the assassination of Kalak signals that the age of the sorcerer-kings is approaching its end. In the revised second edition, the age of the sorcerer-kings is already over.
  • Enemy to All Living Things: All arcane casters, to some degree. Arcane magic (rightly referred to as "defiling") inherently saps the life out of the surrounding terrain, killing plant life, sterilizing soil, and (in some cases) actively siphoning vitality from living creatures. There is a method of safe spellcasting known as "preserving", but defiling is both easier and inherently more powerful, so more people do it. Thus, arcane casters (even the preservers) are viewed by the common folk as walking embodiments of death and hubris.
  • Even Evil Has Standards:
  • Everything Trying to Kill You: Those three backup characters? You'll probably need them — even if you'll find a high-level priest friendly enough to resurrect, it's not likely that there's going to be the body left. Athas has huge elemental creatures, sentient (and evil) walking worms and so on. But encountering a normal-sized beetle, a small tortoise, a cactus, a field of flowers, or a patch of grass can be just as fatal, and in even more unpleasant ways. Simply having a little seed blown by the wind off a seemingly inert tree onto open skin can end up in taking a walk when companions don't look and feeding oneself to it.
  • Evil Is Easy:
    • Sure, if you're good-aligned, it's possible to avoid the ecological problems that come from using arcane magic. It's naturally harder, slower, and is less powerful. Plus, even if you've advanced enough that plant life starts coming back due to your spells, people still will react towards your arcane magic like they react to a defiler's magic. Oh, and if you do manage to get that powerful, you basically paint a huge target on yourself for the sorcerer-kings to focus on — not necessarily because they're Captain Planet villains who hate plant life, but because the last thing they want is some idealistic do-gooder who's powerful enough to contest their rule.
    • This trope underpins the entirety of the setting, from defiling being much easier than preserving, to the predatory cruelty of day-to-day life. Civilization is ruled by villainous sorcerer-kings who control the water supply and lead corrupt legions of loyal Templars. Slavery is rampant and brutal, and is the punishment for any crime that doesn't merit execution... or for just having something that a Templar wants. The rules point out that anyone with an actual Good Character Alignmentinvoked should be unwilling to own slaves or take part in the more corrupt and horrible parts of society — being willing to compromise just to stay safe makes you Neutral rather than Good, after all — and so likely mark themselves for Templar attention. But even out in the wilds, the harsh environment can push Good people to cruel acts, such as when you must decide who merits full rations during lean times. On the top of the power scale, the process of becoming an Avangion is so hard with so many points of potential failure that it's almost a sick joke. Athas is as awful as it is because the "good" option is often an empty promise.
  • Evil Old Folks:
    • Andropinis, the sorcerer-king of Balic, has a human form of a stately old man. He's also the President for Life of his city-state, and puts on a facade of allowing free speech while ruthlessly quashing any dissenters against his rule. (Oddly enough, older editions mark him as Lawful Neutralinvoked, not Evil.)
    • Kalak, former sorcerer-king of Tyr, also looked like an ancient old man, and was willing to wipe out his entire city-state in pursuit of a ritual that he believed would allow him to completely ascend to a full-fledged dragon in one casting.
  • Evil Versus Evil: What 90% of politics on Athas consists of, especially when it comes to the Sorcerer-Lords and the Dragon. Every Sorcerer-Lord save one is evil by any sane measure, and while their moral spectrum runs from the level of pure evil to "relatively" Affably Evil, all are genocidal tyrants.
  • Evil Versus Oblivion: The sorcerer-kings are evil and have always been evil, but even they have no wish to see Rajaat kill everyone on Athas.
  • Expansion Pack World: The original world map of Athas consisted of just the Tablelands; a relatively small band of terrain hemmed in between the Ringing Mountains to the west and the Sea of Silt to the east. Later sourcebooks vastly expanded the map, revealing things like the Last Sea far to the north, the giant undead-infested obsidian plains of the Dead Land to the south, and the mysterious Hinterlands, Jagged Cliffs and Crimson Savannah to the west and northwest beyond the Ringing Mountains. The Last Sea in particular got its own dedicated sourcebook.
  • Expy:
    • The Draxan minions of the Dragon of Tyr have quite a lot in common with their almost-namesakes from Stirling's novels: Being outnumbered ten to one by their slaves, which they make up for by treating them more brutally than any other slaveholding society that has ever existed on their planet, being fond of genocide, and having a warrior society where martial (OK, and magical/technical) prowess trumps everything else.
    • Zeburon seems very like a fantasy version of Lord Humungus, even having a metal mask and wearing no shirt. He has a metal chariot instead of a Cool Car, for obvious reasons.
  • Fanservice: The artwork in spades. Word of God has it that the designers threw out the alternative of a frozen dying world specifically because the concept-art didn't have enough skin.note 
  • Fantastic Nuke: The 4e Monster Catalogue claims that when Borys of Ebe ascended to become the Dragon of Tyr the ritual drained the Life Energy of everyone in his city-state. Kalak's ritual would have done the same had he not been assassinated during it.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: Many of the city-states fall under this trope. This includes Balic (ancient Rome, complete with Patricians and Praetors), Draj (very obviously the Aztecs), Raam (either Egypt or India — there's evidence for both), Gulg (Darkest Africa), Tyr (the Phoenician city of Tyre, presumably), Urik (Sumer), and Nibenay (vaguely reminiscent of Angkor, capital of the Khmer Empire in what is now Cambodia). The halflings of the Forest Ridge seem vaguely Amazonian.
  • Fantasy World Map: Being a Dungeons & Dragons setting, naturally Dark Sun has a map. Initially, it was relatively small, focusing on just the so-called "Tablelands" surrounding the seven current city-states, but further sourcebooks and adventures created a surprisingly large and detailed map.
  • Flight, Strength, Heart: There was a special kit to make characters with a non-coherent set of abilities by combining normal powers and random wild talents ("Tribal Psionicist" in The Will and the Way).
  • Flying Seafood Special: Sure, there isn't much water to swim in, but there are flying silt terrors aplenty. Choice examples include the "Cloud ray", a huge levitating manta that can devour everyone in a village if it's hungry, and the "Floater", a somewhat-sentient hydrogen-supported jellyfish.
  • Frazetta Man: The Tareks, a race implied to be the mutated descendants of orcs, are mountain-dwelling brutes that look a lot like a cross between a man and a hairless gorilla. The Tul'k are a race of mutated elves who appear as tall, spindly, hairy ape-men with armored bony plates on their skull, and who have mentally regressed to a near bestial state.
  • Gaia's Lament: Athas used to be a nice place. Now it's just a dying world of deserts and misery.
  • Gaia's Vengeance: In the 4e versions, the Primal classes (more so than usual), and to an extent the Primal-based Elemental Priest and Primal Guardian themes. Quite literally the "Voice of the Ravaged" paragon path, which is a character who deliberately seeks out the most scarred and psychotic primal spirits to act as a conduit for their rage and hate.
  • Genre Throwback: Dark Sun is an escape from the traditional Tolkienian High Fantasy of regular Dungeons & Dragons back to the weirder stuff of the pulp era, particularly the Dying Earth works of Jack Vance and Clark Ashton Smith, and Planetary Romance fiction like the John Carter of Mars series (albeit with a much Darker and Edgier tone than the Carter books got).
  • Gladiator Games: Almost every community has an arena or fighting pit, and Gladiator is one of the setting-specific player classes in the pre-4th editions. In 4e, it's a character theme, and also a new build for the Fighter.
  • A God Am I:
    • The sorcerer-kings. They're not technically deities in game terms, but they still enforce worship of themselves and channel divine magic to their templars. Not to mention that almost nobody else is powerful enough to contest them.
    • Ironically, averted by the Dragon of Tyr. It played at being a god millennia back, but got bored with it. Today, it's secure enough in its power that it doesn't need to bother with manipulating its people through worship.
  • Godhood Seeker: Dregoth spent centuries exploring other planes via his Planar Gate, seeing the Gods of other settings. He plots to become an actual god in the adventure City by the Silt Sea. It's outright stated he's going to fail, as the strange nature of Athas makes godhood impossible... but that doesn't mean he can't cause a lot of (further) misery to Athas anyway.
  • Good Is Not Nice: The Veiled Alliance is an order of preservers across Athas dedicated to undermining the sorcerer-kings, stopping defilers, and ending the societal persecution of preservers. Sounds like a fantasy Underground Railroad, right? Well, Athas being what it is, the Alliance's two biggest priorities are to itself and other preservers, and if they have to sacrifice non-wizards to save themselves, then so be it.
  • Good Is Not Soft: Avangions embody the pinnacle of preserver magic, learning to work magic and psionics into a force of restoration that breathes life back into the deying world of Athas. They even lose the ability to fight as they complete their transformation, countering the dragons. But they are still fully capable of wielding a massive arsenal of offensive spells and psionics, have no moral restrictions on their status, and are more than capable of slaughter on a massive scale if that is the only way to stop further ravaging of the world.
  • Half-Human Hybrid: The half-giants, a magically engineered race. Muls are also more or less setting-specific; they're half-dwarves. They don't occur naturally, in part because (in 2e at least) they're sterile and prone to killing their mothers in delivery, but slavers will force-breed them because muls are considered some of the best gladiators in the world. There's also half-elves, but they're not terribly different from those on other worlds.
  • Happiness in Slavery: Muls are almost always born into slavery. That said, they make exemplary gladiators and manual laborers. This, combined with how expensive muls are to breed in the first place, usually leads their masters to be protective of their "investment" and give muls special treatment that would be unthinkable for a human slave. As a result, muls often feel that their slavery isn't that bad a deal.
  • Heinz Hybrid: The pyreen, in AD&D lore at least, were created when the halflings first began mutating themselves into the various demihuman races of Athas; created to be immortal guardians of the world, they visibly combine traits of humans, elves, and dwarves with their halfling base-stock. Ironically, Athas was reduced to its current state when a pyreen named Rajaat went insane and became obsessed with wiping out all non-halfling sapient races, in order to restore halfling dominance of the world; he went on to invent defiling magic and lead the Defiling Wars.
    • In 4th edition, pyreens are instead an epic destiny transformation, essentially the druidic equivalent of the Avangion.
  • Hobbits: Athas' surviving halflings are savage cannibals who inhabit its few remaining jungles.
  • Horrifying the Horror: The Githyanki are known as the most feared and badass warriors in the multiverse. They live on the corpse of a god, are immortal, and dedicate their lives to raiding whatever they can get their hands on. The initiation ritual for young Githyanki is killing a mind flayer, a nightmarish cthulhumanoid with genius-level intelligence, mighty Psychic Powers and a diet made up exclusively of sapient brains. When the Githyanki discovered Athas, they packed their bags and went straight home, sealing the portal behind them.
  • Horse of a Different Color: The local equivalent of a horse/camel is the kank, a mostly docile and mildly social large insect, that eats almost anything, nearly tireless and thus fastest in the long run — they're used as riding-, pack- and even chariot- beasts, or as herd animals, because they give "honey" and though their meat is inedible, chitinous carapace is useful. The Erdlu is a flightless bird which can be mounted and is a good sprinter, but mostly get used as a herd animal for eggs, meat and a few byproducts. The inix is a large lizard which can do both sprint and sustained run, but needs to eat too much vegetation to be practical in the desert. The Mekillot is a six-ton lizard and the local equivalent of an elephant — used for a howdah or wagon and is never really "tame" — they are a bit infamous for eating their handlers, suddenly sitting on anyone who tries to walk under one and randomly deciding to wander off the road and ignore commands not given via direct Mind Control.
  • Humans Are Bastards: Aside from the normal horrible conduct most people must get up to just to survive in a world as harsh as Athas, the original campaign setting boxed set notes that humans are the vast majority in the templars and nobility because they "have a talent for treachery and political intrigue". And let's not forget that the sorcerer-kings, who are to blame for why Athas is a wasteland, were all originally human, too.
  • Humans Are Special: Avoided and played straight. The humans weren't the original inhabitants of the planet (those were the ancient halflings), but they are the only ones able to become avangions, and in the original box set, the only race with no level limits in any class.
  • Humans Are the Real Monsters: The humans, led by a pyreen, conducted a genocidal campaign against the other races, driving many (including orcs, goblins, and gnomes) to extinction. His human lieutenants turned against him and gave him A Fate Worse Than Death after, though, but more because he intended to wipe out the humans after the war and give the place back to the halflings than because they weren't bastards.
  • Human Subspecies:
    • The "Terrors of the Desert" monster manual for 2nd edition features the Villichi; a race of psionic albino amazons who are born at random to human parents (roughly one in 30,000 female humans born, though their fan-made 3e update changes that to one in 3,000). They are always skilled psionicists, mature rapidly but then live for centuries, and whilst largely peaceful people who prefer to just dwell in their fortified city in the Ringing Mountains, have made it very clear to the people of Athas that hurting their kind will NOT be tolerated.
    • The 3rd edition setting update in Dragon #319 added the Elans, humans transmuted by psionic ritual into an idealized body better able to wield psionic power.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: Several races are noted as regularly enjoying a bit of long pork, of one species or another. The cannibal halflings are brought up whenever the setting is mentioned, and some monster races are known to eat other intelligent beings too. Then there are the thri-kreen, another major playable race, who are noted as preferring elf when they can get it.
  • Inconsistent Spelling: One of the more iconic monsters of the setting is a four-armed ogre-like giant. In 2nd and 3rd edition, it's referred to as a "B'rohg", with an apostrophe. In 4th edition, it dropped the apostrophe.
  • Judge, Jury, and Executioner: Templars can be summed up as this. In AD&D, by second level they could charge a free citizen (without evidence, of course), and have them thrown into the dungeons for however long, or just have them killed outright if they were seventh level or higher. Luckily, they can be bought off.
  • The Juggernaut:
    • So-ut, aka the Rampager. It's not a Tarrasque, but it tries as much as can be packed in 15' body. It's even better armored, semi-sentient and Chaotic Evilinvoked, has red Glowing Eyes of Doom, drips acid from its claws and causes fear when it charges. And until beaten really hard, it prefers to destroy manmade items rather than the puny creatures attacking it — unless said creatures were "fortunate" enough to have metal armor, in which case it’s going to be torn into small corroded pieces right on the wearer.
    • Even worse than the So-ut is the Nightmare Beast, basically a cross between a trunkless elephant and a huge demonic bulldog, but stronger and tougher, capable of tearing apart your party's best melee specialist in one or two rounds, also Chaotic Evilinvoked, with staggering Psychic Powers... oh, and it's fully sentient.
  • Left-Justified Fantasy Map: Averted; the Sea of Silt, Dark Sun's equivalent to the standard ocean on a Fantasy World Map, is on the right side of the map.
  • Lighter and Softer: Post-original boxed set versions of Dark Sun tone down the bleakness and make enacting major setting changes much more possible; the 4e version in particular makes attaining the status of an Avangion or a Pyreen far less impossible, and the Dragon of Tyr is no longer explicitly unbeatable.
  • Living Gasbag: Floaters are a species of sentient (if somewhat dumb) hydrogen jellyfish that float through the air.
  • Lizard Folk:
    • Ssurran are savage nomadic carnivores. They prefer halflings, by the way. Though via being enslaved and then getting freedom some live in human cities, mostly as hired warriors of some or other sort, but occasionally even as templars.
    • Mind Lords of the Last Sea reveals Athas also hosts a non-evil culture of lizardfolk who have become much more intelligent and civilized than normal lizardfolk of the AD&D multiverse.
    • The Nikaal are a race of purple-scaled, snake-eyed, acid-spitting humanoids with a fairly advanced culture — they regularly trade with the humanoids of the Tablelands, but are believed to be merchant tribes whose origins lie in a mysterious land past the Ringing Mountains.
    • Jozhal are small, highly intelligent, nomadic reptilian humanoids who actually revere magic — so long as it's Preserving Magic or Elemental Magic, at least. They regard the larger humanoids as dangerous and unpredictable, so prefer to avoid coming in contact with them.
    • Silt Runners are small, slender, extremely fast-moving reptilian humanoids that dwell on and around the Sea of Silt. As their moniker suggests, they have the ability to race across the powdery surface of the silt, which they use to hunt larger prey.
  • Long-Lived:
    • Subverted by muls, who are the offspring of humans and dwarves. Unlike dwarves, they live shorter natural lives than humans.
    • Played straight with villichi, whose average lifespan is over 150 years and who can potentially live longer than that.
  • Lord British Postulate:
    • The Valley of Dust and Fire module describes the Dragon of Tyr's city. If the PCs face the Dragon in combat, the module suggests that, properly run, the PCs should never be able to destroy the Dragon, and if the PCs somehow win, the Dragon probably has a contingency spell or clones or other cheats available to keep it alive anyway. It's been around for untold millennia, it doesn't exist to be killed by some epic-level adventuring party, and (more importantly by the standards of TSR at the time) the Dragon's death would completely annihilate the status quo and the Metaplot. This trope only applies to the AD&D version of the game.
    • The 4th edition of Dark Sun gave explicitly stats to most of the sorcerer-kings, with the implied assumption that a high-level party could face them in combat (and even win).
  • Luck Manipulation Mechanic: 4th edition suggests an optional rule that allows a player the choice to re-roll the D20 attack roll whenever they originally roll a "1" (indicating a "critical miss"). The new die roll must be accepted, and the character's weapon breaks. Enhanced weapons break if the result is a 5 or less.
  • Magic A Is Magic A:
    • Magic is firmly divided between Arcane Magic (fueled by the planet's life-essence), Psionics (which draws from internal power), Druidic Magic (granted by the spirits of nature) and Elemental Magic (bestowed by powerful elementals to create clerics).
    • The sourcebook Defilers & Preservers states that the elementalist, a wizard who practices elemental magic featured in several other sourcebooks, explicitly doesn't exist on Athas; the only elemental magic user is the elemental cleric.
  • Magic Is Evil: Played with. Arcane magic is inherently evil, but there are ways of casting it that don't involve killing plants and sapping the life from the soil. However, the "healthy" way of casting magic is inherently more difficult, which means that people looking for a quick route to power generally choose the evil way. Thus, even if your wizard has never hurt a fly, people will still assume they're an evil, life-destroying spellcaster.
  • Massive Race Selection:
    • In addition to the usual humans, elves, half elves, halflings, and dwarves, players could play half-giants, thri-kreen (Multi-Armed and Dangerous hunting-obsessed tribal mantis people), pterrans (flightless pteranodon people), aarakocra (bird people), muls (half-dwarves) and dray (Draconic Humanoids).
    • The 3.5 Dragon update added maenads (psychic berserkers brought from off-plane by Andropinus and then abandoned), and elan (a Human Subspecies subjected to psionic rituals to transform them into a super-human strain).
    • Official 4E races: Humans, Elves, Eladrin (the rulers of "The Land Within the Wind", the almost-destroyed Feywild), Goliaths (reflavored as Half-Giants), Dwarves, Half-Elves, Mul, Dragonborn (reflavored as Dray), Halflings, Thri-Kreen, Tieflings (humans with demonic ancestry), Genasi (elementally-imbued humans), Kalashtar (psionically adept humans first introduced in Eberron), and Minotaurs. Suggestions for including other races, at DM's discretion, includes time travelers, planewalkers, and mutations spawned from the Pristine Tower or the Sunwarped Flats.
    • Fans of the setting in 2nd edition were inspired by the Complete Book of Humanoids sourcebook to create an online sourcebook called "The Complete Book of Athasian Humanoids", which adds Anakores, Belgoi, B'rohgs, Gith, Jozhals, Nikaals, Silt Runenrs, Sligs, Ssurrans, Tareks, Tari, Tul'k and Villichi as playable races. They all were also presented as playable races in the subsequent 3e fan-made monster manual "Terrors of Athas".
  • Master Poisoner: Dark Sun bards are known for such a practice and learn to prepare and use more poisons with the level advancement.
  • Matriarchy: Some of the sorcerer-kings happen to be female, but the best example of this trope is actually Nibenay. Nibenay himself is male, but the templars of the city are all his wives, and it is they rather than Nibenay who run the administration of his city (as he just can't be bothered).
  • Merger of Souls:
    • The Zwuun, a mysterious entity that resides south of the city-state of Nibenay, is believed to be the combined life force of many ancient preservers. It is said to be benevolent and helpful, providing useful information to those who contact it (provided it's in a good mood).
    • The Caller in the Darkness is a malevolent example, being an entity formed from the souls of everyone who died when the sorcerer-kings killed Dregoth (and wrecked his city-state of Giustenal). Now it haunts the ruins of Giustenal, adding souls to itself by terrifying and then murdering those who intrude into its domain.
  • Metal-Poor Planet: Metal is extremely rare on Athas, to the point that Tyr's meager iron mine (which would be considered not even worth bothering with on a normal planet) is central to its economy.
  • Multi-Armed and Dangerous: Thri-Kreen have four arms, as do the giant-like brohgs. The former are a playable race.
  • Nigh-Invulnerability:
    • In the original AD&D, the Dragon of Tyr cannot be killed. Period.
    • All the sorcerer-kings are powerful enough to be Physical Gods in their own right, but each has their own contingent of elite followers and small armies worth of templars backing them up. Adding to this each rarely leaves their stronghold (see Crazy-Prepared above) and have had centuries to prepare for and counter any would-be assassins.
  • Nintendo Hard:
    • Valley of Dust and Fire, the module detailing the city of Ur Draxa, home of the Dragon of Tyr. It is by far the single most impossible and impenetrable fortress ever statted in the history of AD&D. Yes, that includes the module where you have to go to Orcus' layer of the Abyss and steal his wand, and the friggin' Tomb of Horrors. It is entirely possible for a high-level adventuring party to die without ever having made it within thirty miles of the place, just from the weather. Not to mention the surrounding sea of lava. Which can only be crossed either by flying over 30 miles of open lava (and the regular firestorms over it) or by a series of jumpgates directly linked to the Dragon's mind. Then you reach the outer walls. Which are 720 feet high and a quarter mile thick. And have no gates, but instead require you to win a psionic power contest with a ginormously powerful psionic construct before the passwall portal will temporarily dematerialize for you. Did we mention that the gate sends out a mental alarm whenever unauthorized psionic contact is initiated? Assuming you've gone through all this, congratulations, you're now past the introduction and actually get to try and survive in the city. Good luck! And no, it doesn't let up once you get past the outer defenses.
    • More generally, life on Athas is such a meat-grinder that in the original AD&D rules, PCs were allowed to start at 3rd level, could have attributes from 5 to 20 (instead of 3 to 18) before racial modifiers, and got a free psionic talent even if they weren't the Psionicist class. Yet even with these power-ups, players were still encouraged to create a "character tree" — a set of backup characters to pick from in the (probable) event that their current character dies!
  • Noble Tongue: The court of Lalali-Puy uses an archaic dialect, presumably from the age of her youth, which they are taught when ennobled — the sorcerer-queen of Gulg is known to be a little quirky in general.
  • Non-Combat EXP:
    • Fighters receive XP for constructing defenses and Siege Engines.
    • Rangers get XP for using their thief abilities, making good use of followers and casting spells.
    • All wizards can gain XP for casting spells to overcome problems. Preserver wizards get them for successfully hiding the fact that they are wizards, while defilers obtain them for casting spells for a sorcerer-king.
    • Priests receive XP for casting spells and using their chosen element (earth, air, fire or water) creatively.
    • Rogues get XP for using a special thief ability successfully.
    • Templars obtain XP for carrying out their police/judicial functions (accusing, judging, and pardoning other people), as well as for furthering their sorcerer-king's goals.
    • Psionicists can gain extra XP for defeating problems and avoiding combat.
    • Dwarves get XP for pursuing their focus and for completing a major focus.
    • Elves receive XP for refusing a ride or magical transportation, testing their friendships with other beings and running (10 XP per mile).
    • Half-giants gain XP each time they shift alignment and for imitating a charismatic friend.
    • Halflings get XP for aiding other halflings and practicing another race's customs.
    • Muls (Half-Human Hybrids of humans and dwarves) get it for exerting themselves in heavy labor.
    • Thri-Kreen obtain XP for each kill (animal) they bring back for food.
  • Non-Health Damage: Monstrous Compendium Appendix II: Terrors Beyond Tyr. On the world of Athas, undead can have a variety of random powers. One of those powers is to drain 1-4 points of a specific attribute by touch, such as Constitution.
  • Omnicidal Maniac: Rajaat, the being obsessed with returning the world to its Blue Age where the Halflings were the only intelligent beings living on a water-rich Athas. His solution was to destroy every other sentient race in massive Cleansing Wars. He was only stopped when his human champions (who became the sorcerer-kings) learned he planned to kill them as well and sealed him outside Athas in a plane call 'the Hollow'.
  • Our Angels Are Different: For one thing, they don't exist; the possibility of one coming into being is purely theoretical. An avangion is an anti-dragon, a preserver and psionicist who has reached apotheosis and is mighty enough to potentially turn the world green again. The emergence of a fully-realized avangion would be an example of Earn Your Happy Ending on a global scale.
  • Our Dragons Are Different:
    • There is only one true dragon in the entire world, it's an unbelievably powerful defiler and psionicist, lacks wings, and is the closest thing to a Physical God wandering Athas. It's bad news.
    • There are also several other lesser "pre-dragons" around the world, including all of the sorcerer-kings. The dragons of Athas aren't naturally born creatures, but rather are actually super powerful Human (or possibly Half-Elven, by the rules) Defilers who take up the study of psionics after mastering the most powerful of spells (in the terms of the original AD&D 2nd Edition rules, they dual-class as Psionicists after reaching 20th level as Defilers), and once they master the highest levels of psychic power (after they reach 20th level as Psionicists) they begin to transform into Dragons. They then go through 10 stages of sometimes painful transformation (they have to gain 10 levels in the Dragon class, in which both their magical and psionic powers continue to increase) until, at last, they become full Dragons at 10th level, at which point they are fully 50th level characters. Needless to say, they are some of the most powerful characters ever presented with rules for play in Dungeons & Dragons, and some of the most powerful characters in all the planes of the D&D multiverse, rivaling gods (they are, in fact, worshiped as gods on Athas).
    • Drakes take up the "common" dragon role, being giant, semi-sentient dragon-like reptiles who possess a psionic form of elementalism, dividing them into Earth, Air, Water and Fire Drakes.
    • 4th edition discuss the possibility of introducing other dragons to the setting, but advises care and recommends presenting them more as feral beasts, or weaker versions of the true Dragon of Tyr.
  • Our Dwarves Are All the Same: Averted — they're hairless brutes who are generally found being used as slaves due to their amazing endurance. Also, they can become so obsessively focused on a goal that dying before they finish it can cause them to come back as undead — not exactly a move from either Tolkien or the standard D&D playbook.
  • Our Elves Are Different: They are quick, sneaky desert raiders who no one else fully trusts, often for very good reasons. Oh, and they're seven feet tall.
  • Our Fairies Are Different: In 4E, the inherent haughtiness and xenophobia of Eladrin has been ramped up to the point that the majority of Athasians don't even believe they exist. With rampant defiling rapidly shrinking the Land Within the Winds (the Feywild), most Eladrin that people encounter are wandering assassins charged with slaughtering any and all arcane spellcasters they meet in hopes of saving their homeland.
  • Our Ghosts Are Different: The Caller In Darkness is a spectacular example of this trope, both for its origin (it was a fusion of the souls of a Sorcerer-King's subjects after he and they were all massacred in the same day) and its tactics. For all its power, it never appears directly, but uses its psionics to mess with intruders' heads (helped greatly by the creepy environment of the ruined city that the Caller haunts) until they're killing each other or are so terrified that the Caller can easily finish them off.
  • Our Giants Are Bigger: In pre-4th Edition days anyway, as the giant races of Athas were unique to that world and general D&D giants were nowhere to be found. The most different were the Beasthead Giants.
  • Our Gnomes Are Different: The monstrous hej-kin, a race of burrowing humanoids that live underground and despise all surfacers, to the extent that torturing and consuming them is a significant part of their culture, are implied to be mutated and deranged descendants of the presumed-extinct gnomes.
  • Our Mages Are Different: Traditionally, wizards in Athas work magic by drawing Life Energy from the planet and shaping it into their desired effect, being divided into "Preservers" or "Defilers" based on their approach; those who take only what power they need, draw it out slowly, and construct their spells so the energy returns to the planet once the spell is finished are Preservers, who do no harm. In contrast, those who brutally rip the energy they need from the world and let the excess bleed away are the Defilers, whose spellcasting kills any plant-life around them and burns soil into barren ash. Initially, these types were set in stone, but after The Prism Pentad, the rulebooks began experimenting with making them more "flexible" and allowing a wizard to switch between the two methods. This ultimately culminated in the 4th edition expression of the concept, where Preserving is the "default" casting style and Defiling is a conscious choice made each time a spell is cast, empowering one's casting at the cost of destroying the world.
    • Post-The Prism Pentad sourcebooks for 2nd edition added three more types of Athasian wizard; Necromancers and Shadow Mages, who fuel their magic by drawing upon the powers of the planes (the Gray and the Black, respectively), and the newly emergent tradition of Ceruleans, wizards who have begun tapping the elemental energies of the Cerulean Storm for power. Because of this, all three actually do not defile when they cast or prepare spells, meaning that necromancers on Athas are, ironically, less evil. That said, these methods do have some problems; exactly how much energy they can draw for power at a time is unpredictable for all three, Shadow Mages slowly transmuted into living shadows, and Ceruleans risk summoning a highly destructive Cerulean Storm if they work too much magic in a given area.
    • The sourcebook "Defilers and Preservers" also divides magic into three categories, the Paths Sinister (Conjuration & Necromancy), Dexter (Abjuration, Divination) and Concurrence (Enchantment, Evocation, Illusion, Transmutation). Defilers have an easier time learning Path Sinister spells but suffer a penalty to learning Path Dexter spells, and Preservers are the other way around. It also states that the specialist wizard traditions don't exist on Athas anymore, except for wild mages.
  • Our Minotaurs Are Different:
    • Beasthead giants are a strain of giant unique to Athas who have a mythical minotaur-like appearance, being human from the neck down with the head of a beast. Many do even have the heads of cattle, sheep or goats. However, they can also have the heads of any animal, be it mammal, reptile, bird or insect.
    • The 4th edition version of the setting canonizes minotaurs as existing in the world, saying they are a variant strain of half-giant created from beasthead giant stock by an elemental cult that wanted to create super soldiers to fight against the Sorcerer-Kings. Their creators were destroyed and they have scattered into the wilderness, largely living as tribal raiders, though small clans have integrated into civilization. Whilst not explicitly mentioned, it would be appropriate to give them appearances based on sheep, goats or antelopes instead of cattle, similarly to the sheep-featured minotaurs of [[Magic The Gathering/Planes Amonkhet]].
  • Our Monsters Are Weird: The setting is very "atypical" for Tabletop Game/Dungeons And Dragons, and contains few of the "traditional" fantasy monsters, as well as few real-life Earth animals, although many of them have some Athas equivalent.
  • Powered by a Forsaken Child: The seal that keeps Rajaat from returning to Athas. Each year the Dragon of Tyr demands a tithe of a thousand souls from each city-state, the Dragon takes them, defiles them, and uses their power to reinforce the magic that keeps Rajaat imprisoned in the Hollow.
  • Plot Armor: In 2nd Edition, the Dragon of Tyr is supposed to be completely unbeatable — too powerful for the standard Character Levels, too Crazy-Prepared for a stronger party, and, most importantly, vital to the Metaplot. Valley of Dust and Fire explicitly warns the Game Master not to allow him to die unless they're prepared to make major changes to all subsequent modules.
  • Points of Light Setting: Unusually for a Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition setting, Dark Sun remained largely defined by small clusters of civilization in a vast, untameable wilderness, even as sourcebooks and adventures expanded the world map.
  • Rat Men: The Tari are a race of humanoid rats introduced in the second of the 2e monster manuals; "Terrors Beyond The Tablelands". They're largely inoffensive scavengers, but are loathed by humans, who widely refuse to recognize they're even sapient; they used to have their own empire south of the Tablelands, but it was destroyed centuries ago and the survivors reduced to barbarian tribes who either hide in the fringes of civilization and scavenge or wander the wilderness as nomadic hunter-gatherers.
  • Razor Wings: The razorwing, a pteradon-like semisentient creature.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: As long as you don't actively defy them, some of the sorcerer-kings aren't that bad to live under.
    • Lalali-puy of Gulg, the only sorcerer-monarch who is actually popular among her subjects, who see her as the only goddess that didn't forsake Athas as the planet died — and unlike the other sorcerer-kings who claim to be gods, it was her subjects who first came up with that notion. Her alignment is still listed as evil (the local primal spirits want her dead for enslaving them), but supplementary materials note that if any of the sorcerer-kings were to perform a Heel–Face Turn, it would be her.
    • Andropinis is an able statesman, and his citizens have rights, boast genuine civic pride, and are even allowed to vote for who gets to be the sorcerer-king's templars. Granted, if a candidate Andropinis doesn't like wins an election, he's known to have them executed and call for a revote, but he's also known to throw the occasional bone to idealists and reformers by NOT doing this. Meanwhile, the other sorcerer-kings don't even give you the illusion of choice.
    • Hamanu, while egomaniacal even for a sorcerer-king, has developed a systematic code of law and a meritocratic system which allows anyone who is worthy to rise to the highest ranks. This efficiency makes him one of the most powerful yet "fair" tyrants in the Tyr region.
    • Oronis of Kurn takes the cake, since he's the only sorcerer-king to not only repent for past sins and forsake defiling, but he's become a budding Avangion and is actively trying to improve the state of Athas.
  • Really 700 Years Old: The sorcerer-kings. They are all thousands of years old, and even the ones that look like old men still don't look that impossibly ancient.
  • The Republic: Balic is theoretically a republic with strong democratic traditions, and most offices are elected, including the city's templars. However, the office of dictator is for life, the current dictator is an immortal sorcerer-king like most other place's rulers, and while it's a freer city than most, he does not tolerate open dissent or any votes or elections that don't go the way that he wants.
    In Balic, we treasure our freedoms. You are free to speak as you will. Of course, Andropinis is also free to speak as he will, which may very well be an order for your execution. Choose your words with care, my friend.
  • Precursors: The rhulisti (ancient halflings) from 2nd Edition.
  • Promoted to Playable: Fans updated a number of the more civilized humanoids (as well as, weirdly, some of the humanoid-shaped monsters like anakores and sligs) from the 2e monster manuals to playable races in both 2nd and 3rd edition.
  • Psychic Powers: Presented as the evolutionary alternative to magic, referred to by the locals as The Way. Some people have them through training, some people spontaneously manifest them, but almost everyone has them to some degree, including most of the nonsentient monsters. With the exception of Planescape with its cranium rats, this is the only campaign setting where you risk having your head exploded by vermin.
  • Sand Is Water: The Sea of Silt, which is more or less exactly what you'd suspect.
  • Sacred Hospitality: Traveling minstrels and entertainers benefit from this. It's well known that many of them are quite willing to utilize this for spying and assassination purposes, but they cannot lightly be refused quarter, even if I Know You Know I Know they've been sent by an enemy.
  • Scaled Up: The goal of pretty much every sorcerer-king, at least in theory, is to ascend to the status of a super-powerful Athasian Dragon.
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: After the Champions of Rajaat realized that Rajaat's Cleansing War was to eventually include humans (which all the Champions were), they revolted and sealed him in a prison dimension.
  • Serious Business
    • Using Arcane magic.
    • For those who understand and accept the preserving way of casting Arcane magic: using defiling Arcane magic.
  • She Is the King: Zig-zagged. Depending on the sourcebook, Lalali-Puy and Alabach-Re are either called sorcerer-kings or sorcerer-queens. Some supplements use sorcerer-monarch as a gender neutral term.
  • Single-Biome Planet: Defied, barely. The terrain of Athas is mostly variants of "desert wasteland" (sandy wastes, rocky badlands, stony barrens, salt flats, etc), but it also has mountains, forests, a Last Sea, and even worse wasteland variants (the dust basin that is the Sea of Silt, the frigging entirety of the Valley of Dust and Fire, etc).
  • Slave Race: Muls are, in the vast majority of cases, bred in captivity from humans and dwarves. (The various rulebooks don't explicitly say "all Muls are born into slavery", but the only exception we see in the novels is Rkard.)
  • Sorcerous Overlord: All of the sorcerer-kings.
  • Stamina Burn: Monstrous Compendium Appendix II: Terrors Beyond Tyr. On the world of Athas, undead can have a variety of random powers. One of those powers is to drain 1-4 points of a specific attribute by touch, such as Constitution.
  • Stepford Smiler: Everyone who lives around the Last Sea, where happiness is enforced by law. You had better have happy throughts, or the psychic police WILL MAKE YOU HAVE HAPPY THOUGHTS.
  • Stripperific: The setting is made of this trope, for both males and females. Designers who'd worked on its initial development have openly admitted choosing a desert setting (as opposed to, for instance, an arctic one) because of the ample beef-and-cheesecake opportunities afforded by the artwork.
  • Super-Persistent Predator: Monstrous Compendium Appendix II: Terrors Beyond Tyr. Cilops are 15 foot long Creepy Centipedes that don't require any sleep and will track their prey (using both their sense of smell and psionics) for weeks without stopping.
  • Time Skip: The 3E revamp in Dragon.
  • The Undead: Lots, including the elves who died on the run and continue to run every night, with everyone alive who gets too close joining and running themselves to death.
  • Underground Monkey: Whilst the setting is famous for killing off a number of "classic" D&D monsters, several left such notable absences that the setting ultimately plugged them in with what were easily recognizable as replacements. The stand-outs are Tareks for Orcs, Ssurrans for Lizard Folk, and Silt Runners for Kobolds.
  • Unreliable Canon:
    • In one place Lalali-Puy of Gulg is named as the Champion of Rajaat who cleansed the Ogres ("Inenek the Ogre-Naught"), while in another it's Kalak of Tyr, the "Ogre Doom" (in this place, Lalali-Puy is the "Aarakocra Scourge").
    • The "Book of Artifacts" mentions Irikos as one of Rajaat's champions (and also as the one who cleansed the Orcs), while he isn't to be found in the conclusive champions' list (also, Abalach-Re of Raam is named as the destroyer of Orcs on that list)
    • The Monarch of Kalidnay, Kalid-Ma: In the Book of Artifacts, this champion is essentially trapped in his obsidian orbs and can be restored if a high level psion/defiler swallows these. In the Ravenloft source material, however, the city of Kalidnay, including its ruler, was swallowed by the mists (leaving only ruins on Athas). Also, Kalid-Ma and Thakok-Ana were described as female and male respectively in their earliest Ravenloft sourcesnote , but as male and female in Dark Sun lore, which was ultimately retconned into Ravenloft from "Domains of Dread" onwards.
    • The Prism Pentad series states that the Dragon takes an annual levy of a thousand lives from each city state (which are then used as fuel to enable Borys to keep Rajaat imprisoned). The The Veiled Alliance sourcebook however gives so unrealistically small population numbers for most city states (even for Raam, the most populous city with 40,000 inhabitants, such a drain would be serious problem; not to mention Gulg with a mere 8,000 souls) that this course of action could barely be sustainable — and certainly not for thousands of years straight.
  • Unreliable Expositor: The "author" of The Wanderer's Journal (part of the original boxed set) is a self-confessed Unreliable Expositor as he notes that what he has written is the product of sifting a little truth out of quite a lot of lies. Especially since official histories are little more than works of self-aggrandizing propaganda spread by the sorcerer-kings to make themselves look powerful, wise, and impossible to depose. Obviously done so the potential Game Master wouldn't feel too constrained by what was in the Journal if they wanted to change something.
  • Villain World: The world is full of savages, bandits, slavers, and monsters, and what little civilization remains is ruled by the evil sorcerer-kings.
  • Walking Wasteland: One of the two types of playable wizard in the game, Defilers, drain the energy of all plant life in a radius equal to the level of the spell they're casting in feet or yards. If that weren't enough, defiling also sterilizes the soil, ensuring that nothing will grow in that spot again.
  • We Are as Mayflies:
    • Not just humans: every race is shorter lived here than in other settings (and less likely to die of age anyway) but the champions are the thri-kreen, who reach maturity at six years old and never live past thirty-five. The exceptions are the half-dozen sorcerer-kings (and a few others) who have been around for millennia.
    • The mysterious pyreen regard almost everyone else as being beneath their notice due to this attitude. They are more concerned with the survival of the planet, compared to which the lifetime of even an elf is inconsequential.
  • With Great Power Comes Great Insanity: At 25th level, dragons go through an "animalistic stage" of berserk insanity. This insanity is temporary, but lasts until they're 30th level (which requires another 5.6 million XP). This, as much as the mass sacrifice of living beings required, is what has deterred the sorcerer-kings from evolving even more than they have.
  • World of Badass: Athas is so harsh that just living here qualifies as The Spartan Way. In earlier editions, the rules stated that the average human in Athas was a third-level fighter, equivalent to a decently experienced adventurer in most other settings; in most settings back then, average humans wouldn't have any levels at all. Also, the default maximum for attribute scores is 20 instead of the usual 18 in AD&D. In fact, an extraplanar invasion by the githyanki ended with the githyanki running away from the desert full of psionic survivalist badasses and deciding, "Do not EVER try invading here again—as a matter of fact, just seal the whole damn portal!"
  • Your Magic's No Good Here: The sourcebook Defilers & Preservers introduced a brand new mechanic where the Gray interferes with certain planar spells, giving them a chance to fail. Spells contacting the Elemental Planes or the Ethereal Plane are more feasible, working on a 66+ on a d100 roll, but contacting the Outer Planes or the Astral Plane are virtually impossible, requiring a 96+ on a d100 roll. As wizards add their level to their roll, directly transitioning from Athas to the Outer Planes (or viceversa) is usually only remotely reliable for epic level wizards... though nothing stops them from traveling to the more accessible Inner Planes and then traveling to the Outer Planes without impediment.


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