Returning to the Shattered Lands

After my attempt at playing Dungeons and Dragons last spring was foiled by homework, I decided to sign up for the summer season of Encounters. This summer’s campaign, Fury of the Wastewalker, features the unforgiving desert world of Athas, defiled by magic and lit by a Dark Sun.

The titular Dark Sun may not be as bright as a normal sun, but it is certainly as hot as one. The reason Athas is a desert is because arcane magic, used by wizards and sorcerers, drains the life force out of the surrounding nature when used, causing plants to wither, water to turn to silt, and soil to parch and lose its fertility. The tyrannical sorcerer-kings who rule most of the Athasian city-states used vast amounts of magic to build their empires, and the planet suffered as a result. Sorcerers became known as Defilers, because of the effect they had on nature. They were feared and hated, but their power was so great that no one could challenge them.

Some creatures on the planet learned to adapt to the new, harsher world. The monsters of Athas are much tougher and deadlier than their counterparts in other fantasy worlds, with thickened hides, razor-sharp claws, corrosive venom, armored carapaces, and superhuman resistance to the elements. In order to survive, the humanoid races became tougher as well. Those who refused to bow to the sorcerer-kings learned to wander the wastes and make the best use of limited natural resources. Those who lived in the city-states were often toughened by the abuse they suffered, or the crimes that ran rampant, or being forced into gladiatorial combat in the sorcerer-kings’ arenas. Since the gods had abandoned the world, in order to challenge the stronger monsters and the magic-using Defilers, many people evolved to be able to alter reality with their minds alone – becoming psychic power users, or espers.

Everything else just died.

Fury of the Wastewalker is the story of six heroes who were the only survivors of a sandstorm that struck the merchant caravan they were traveling in. This was no ordinary sandstorm; the sand was filled with razor-sharp shards of obsidian that seemed to seek the flesh of the living. When the storm died down, the survivors could gather only limited supplies from the remains of the caravan before they were driven off by a horde of lizard men. Together, the six heroes must make it to a settlement before their supplies run out, traveling through a wasteland where the terrain can be just as deadly as the monsters that infest it.

The Dark Sun rulebooks won’t be out for another two months, so this is a sort of “pre-release” event, where you get to play with the rules and the setting before they’re publicly available. That means we don’t get to create our own characters; we have to use pre-made characters. This sucks in that you don’t get to build the character to suit your personal style, but it does help the story in that you have a background and relationships with the other characters already defined.


Yuka official art

Yuka is a Mul, a cross between a Human and a Dwarf, having the size of a Human and the toughness of a Dwarf, but lacking the ingenuity of a Human and the wisdom of a Dwarf. With a name invoking the flowering desert plant, Yuka has always had a strong connection with nature. His parents, both desert nomads, raised him moving from camp to camp across the wasteland. Their last words to him before they died were, “Go north to the green forest. There, you will find peace.” Yuka set his ambitions higher than that. He would not only find the green forest that his parents spoke of, but help bring about the reflowering of the dead world. If he had to cut down a sorcerer-king or two, then so be it.

Yuka is a fearless fighter, with by far the best defense, endurance, and reflexes of any member of the party. He wields a sword or flail in one hand and leaves the other hand free to grapple with opponents. He can immobilize an opponent twice his size, drawing its attacks toward him and away from his “softer” allies. Although he has no psychic powers to speak of, his survival and combat skills make him the party’s first line of defense against any threat.


Barcan official art

Barcan is a Human former noble, and one of the few born with the gift of magic. Normally that would make him feared and hated by common people, or targeted for recruitment by the sorcerer-kings. But he has avoided both destinies, by willingly putting a limiter on his magical power. While that makes his magic weaker, it also makes it so it doesn’t drain the life out of nature. He has devoted his magic to helping people and has no desire to perpetuate the crimes of the sorcerer-kings. The commoners who would normally hate him are won over by his kind personality and overflowing, vampire-princess-esque charisma (a Charisma score of 20!). As a former member of one of the noble families serving a sorcerer-king, his name is already being mentioned by royal advisors as a potential threat to power that may need to be extinguished.

Even with the limiter on his power, Barcan is a magical prodigy. He draws his power not only from the land around him, but also from the moon, stars, and the Dark Sun itself. His offensive arsenal consists of falling meteors, piercing rays of moonlight, and dark solar flares. His power is so great it threatens to break the limiter, and even his close friend Jarvix and his sister Phye have bleak visions of what might become of the world should he turn to evil.


Phye official art

Phye (rhymes with “sky”) is Barcan’s older sister. Although she was from a noble family, she grew tired of the corrupt laws of the land. When Barcan disappeared mysteriously one day, she used that as an excuse to go search for him. She ditched her companions and fled her home city for good. When she finally found Barcan, he had been recruited into the Veiled Alliance, a secret organization of espers and limiter-using sorcerers devoted to opposing the sorcerer-kings.

Phye has a spear and knows how to use it, but is nowhere near the level of Castri or Yuka. Nor does she share her brother’s magical gifts. But she is indispensable to the party because of her psychic powers. By linking the minds of her party, she makes all her allies faster and more alert. And most of all, she has the psychic power of healing. Of all the party members, Yuka is the only one who would not have been a corpse on the sand if not for her.


Castri official art

Castri is an Elf slave who was forced to fight in the gladiator arena of a large city. He eventually became good at it, and was soon sold to a merchant who needed an armed escort for his caravan. As luck would have it, this caravan was the one that was attacked by the obsidian shards, and soon Castri found himself with a dead owner. Alone with five strangers in the middle of a monster-filled wasteland, but free.

As a gladiator, Castri focused on speed. As a nomadic race, Elves have faster movement speed than Humans, and his Marauder training made him even faster. In battle, he functions as a striker, maneuvering across the battlefield, designating a target, and taking it out quickly with powerful blows from his battle axe. He doesn’t have Yuka’s endurance or defense, but Yuka can’t match his damage output. Together, the two “normals” are highly effective in combat, with Yuka drawing attention and deflecting attacks, and Castri moving into a flanking position to set up a deadly blow.


Jarvix official art

Jarvix is a Tiefling, a human with diabolic ancestry, and a member of the Veiled Alliance. Despite the fact that he looks like a Devil, he is actually a kind person. He saved Barcan from a gang of thugs, recognized the boy’s magical gift, and recruited him into the Veiled Alliance. Jarvix is a Psion, who most closely fits the conventional image of a psychic. Jarvix can read minds, communicate telepathically, and, to a small extent, predict the future. It was his warning that allowed him and the five other members of the party to prepare for and survive the obsidian storm. And when he says the storm was a targeted act of magic and not a natural occurrence, the others are inclined to believe him.

The monsters of Athas have naturally tough skin, scales, or shells that even Yuka’s sharp blade and immense strength cannot easily break. Some other monsters have quickness that surpass Castri’s. But their minds are much easier to break, and Jarvix can make a monster become confused, see things that aren’t there, ignore a threat right in front of it, or leave itself open for an attack. It’s all in the mind, but the results can turn the tide of battle.


Shikirr official art

Shikirr is a Thri-Kreen, a bipedal mantis. Like Castri, he was a slave of the caravan owner who became free when the owner died in the obsidian storm. He is a Battlemind, a warrior who uses psychic powers to augment his physical combat ability. Not much is known about him, even by his fellow slave Castri, but the members of the party have no choice but to rely on his psychic-powered polearm to help beat the monsters they face.

All in all, I’m pleased with how the new edition of Dark Sun has turned out so far. The monsters are truly terrifying. Someone even went “We’re not in the Forgotten Realms anymore!” after taking a hit from an enemy in the first encounter, which the party ended up fleeing from. The Fury of the Wastewalker module really brings out the feel of survival in a harsh environment, having players try to salvage food and water while under attack, then watching those supplies deplete dangerously while traveling. I didn’t like the fact that we couldn’t build our own characters, because I was kept from making Toho references. But it made up for it somewhat because we had fun adapting to the character’s personality.

But I have a problem with Yuka’s character design. Why is he bald? He has to have green hair. And why is the sister the elder? Everyone knows younger sisters are better. And maybe that insect dude should have been named “Wriggle” instead. Just saying.

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3 Responses to “Returning to the Shattered Lands”

  1. Anon says:

    Ha.

    Hey, does Phye use the human race template, or that one Eberron CHA/WIS race template?

    I assume she is an ardent, given that the 4e ‘healer’ classes tend to be melee based. (I am a bit more aware of PHB2 classes, given that I really like the pursuit avenger, because I like being telekilly)

    I ask because Dark Sun is much futher from the standard points of light setting then FR or Eberron.

  2. Sixten says:

    Phye is a Human Ardent, using the base stat array of 10/12/12/8/16/16, with the Human racial bonus going to Charisma for CHA 18. She also has the Noble Adept “theme” that seems to grant her an additional psionic power point and the “Adept’s Insight” power. (Dark Sun characters have a “theme” in addition to their class that makes them slightly more powerful than their FR counterparts.)

    All the pre-generated characters can be seen here.

  3. Anon says:

    Ah, I kinda thought she might have had the telepathy 5 thing.

    Hey, does this mean that in some sense, Phye is reverse River Tam? (I CAN HEAL YOU WITH MY MIND!)

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