Right now, I’m caught up in general work and Gen Con preparation, and you benefit. I’ve decided to kill two proverbial birds with one metaphorical stone. I’m using my blogging time to prep for Gen Con! Did I mention you benefit? My minions shall return in a couple weeks.
At Gen Con this year, I’m running a few D&D game sessions set in Athas. This Dark Sun game, known affectionately as Welcome to Dark Sun, B!#@&s!, is a version of the campaign opener for my Dark Sun playtest campaign that started when I still worked for Wizards. It’s still going strong. I’ve been making pregenerated characters, refining my encounters, and having a good time. I’m showing my work and, well, here it is.
The benefit is that this is somewhat of a Dark Sun preview. It also includes the characters, in a form I’m experimenting with. I have some caveats for you, though. Some of what you’re going to see here works according to my house rules, some is my creation, some is reskinning, and some is bona-fide Dark Sun content. I’m not going to tell you which is which. You don’t have to wait much longer to look in the Dark Sun Campaign Guide and find out. My aim was fun characters for the players to use. They’re not totally finished, either.
I’m hoping this fires you up for Dark Sun. My players and I sure have been enjoying it.
King Kalak is dead. Tyr is free. Slavery is illegal. Life goes on as usual in the city’s seedy underbelly, and rumors persist that a slave-trading underground still exists. As an auxiliary unit of the Crimson Legion, your party of ex-gladiator slaves and other unusual folk is investigating the problem. Asking around, you’ve already tracked some disappearances to the Cracked Jack, a watering hole in the city slums, and a gang known as the Red Hands. It’s as good a place as any to start.
Part of this content is based on the characters, most of whom still live, my friends created for my Dark Sun campaign. Another aspect of my challenge and my content comes from Sarah Darkmagic. I designed these characters and their stories to work without much gender bias. The players will be able to take as much or as little as they want from the stories to form party relationships. They’ll be able to name and personalize these Athasian heroes. I’ve done some for the sake of easier writing.
You’ve been a disappointment all your life, to yourself and, you thought, your relatives. Born into a family of dwarves closely tied to the ancestor spirits, you never showed any ability to tap the spirit world. Everyone else could, at least to an extent, even your younger brothers.
When your folks finally settled in the mining town of Kled, they and your siblings became heavily involved in unearthing an ancient site thought to be a dwarf city of old. You took the chance to make yourself scarce. Instead of helping with the pet project, you took to roaming the road with traders.
Your mother and father must have uncovered something in those ruins. The templar, Veermas, who oversaw the Kled excavations for Tyr, accused your family of blasphemy against Kalak. The death sentence was swift.
You were away at the time, but the templar’s agents caught you on the road. They beat you and, thinking Veermas would never know, sold you into slavery. Surely you’d die in the arena, anyway.
Only you didn’t. Your amicable ways won you a few friends in the pits. Then, one day, when you were cornered, standing over Iaran’s unconscious, pale, and changing form, you cried out to your ancestors. They listened. The power came. Iaran returned to normal, and you both lived another day.
When Durroth came to lead your gladiator band, you saw a kindred spirit. The wrathful spirits around the mul spoke to you. You taught Durroth to tap into this primal force and gained another friend.
Joining the Crimson Legion seemed natural after Kalak’s fall. Your family is dead, or so you suppose, and a new family exists here in Tyr. A hunger for vengeance gnaws at you, though. Perhaps a trip to Kled can quench that thirst. Is Veermas even there anymore?
And what was it that happened to Iaran in the arena that day? Is Iaran human or not?
Firstborn in House Kliethra, a small merchant house, you spent your early years used to more than the commoners of Tyr hope for. Your mother, Ayleen, doted on you, and your father, Klellen, spared coin when he could not spare feeling. That was most of the time.
Neither he nor you knew that you were no child of his. Your mother, as neglected by your father as you were, had indulged herself with a gladiator named Graxus. She and he shared numerous secrets, but Graxus kept one.
That secret revealed itself as you approached young adulthood. First, your skin and eyes went pale. Then your hair turned white. Finally, your features became plainer, less distinct. Most thought you afflicted with some disease.
Klellen learned the truth from an old sage. The old man told Klellen to watch you sleep. He did. Before his eyes, you took your old form and others besides. You were a changeling, one of the strange mutants the weird magic of the world causes, or so the tales went.
What plans your father then hatched for you. Would you be a spy for the house? An assassin? Whatever the case, you had to be trained and kept out of the public eye.
Your mother wanted none of that for you. She took you from House Kliethra, and through Graxus’s contacts, got you out of Tyr. It was then that you learned who your true father was.
Klellen’s wrath knew no bounds. You heard that he killed your mother and Graxus, or had them killed. You remained beyond his reach.
You spent your teenage years with a nomadic tribe that wandered the outskirts of Tyr’s territory. Chandra, one of the nomads, became like a sister to you. Olbast, an old mul, became a surrogate father. He and a man named Iaran taught you how to fight and fight dirty.
Slavers bearing the Kliethra banner came out of the dark one night as your tribe camped. They killed many and took several prisoners. You, in Iaran’s form, were among these.
The next months were filled with spurts of blood and the roar of the crowd. You did the best you could, but you would have died had Malamac’s power not come to the fore. Another gladiator slave, Tcha-ti, became part of your fighting group. Durroth later joined the circle as a trainer and combat leader.
When Tyr’s slaves were freed, you followed Malamac’s lead in joining the Crimson Legion. But what happened to your tribe? Might living in the city anew attract the attention of Klellen Kliethra? Would you or your blades mind if he did?
Given your changeable physical nature and past losses, is anyone among your trusted allies someone you see as more than friend? Or do you fear future pain too much to make any such strong connections?
Bred for battle they say. Halfbreed they call you. You knew no parents except the gladiator masters and their whips. No siblings had you besides those who shed blood and sweat with you on the merciless training grounds. Unlike many of those brothers and sisters, you survived.
Your owner and master, Lutus, was cruel. He wanted only ruthlessness and strength, and your flesh to rent to admirers for a time. You learned to show no affection for anyone you didn’t want to have to face in the arena and slay. Intuition and fierceness won you countless bouts in which skill did not, could not, save your foes. Brutality became your reputation. “Devastator” they named you.
Devastated might be more true. Grief broke a part of you. Hopelessness threatened your soul. That’s when you began to see and hear them.
You endured because, as you now know, they had always guided you from within the wind. Spirits angry, fierce, and eternal. Before they revealed themselves in full, you supposed your mind had broken with your heart, all the juices of your brain having leaked out your eyes when you were alone in your night-shrouded cell.
Now you have no more tears. Like the beast spirits that swarm about you, you have no desire but to protect you and yours. They lend you their aspect, and you willingly give them expression through your body.
You were brought into Tyr’s grand stadium to train and oversee a few slaves who had shown themselves to be able fighters. The teacher became the student, however. Malamac, awakened to a family legacy of spirit talking, gave a name to your fearsome companions. You helped Malamac live through the arena. Perhaps Malamac gave you back your life in silent thanks. He has said that the spirits work in such mysterious ways.
When Kalak died, you paid little heed. But when the new king’s edict freed the slaves, you followed Malamac. Freedom is strange to you. You have never made your own way, your own decisions. On the face of it, a focus on ending slavery seems to drive you.
The truth is you need a distraction. Malamac stirs feelings within you that you thought were dead, and with them arise old fears. What now?
Months ago, you wandered the deserts near Tyr alongside your clutch mates. Your pack revered the primal majesty and severe judgment of the wastes, as well as the simple creatures that endure there. Among your clutch mates, and under the pack’s influence, you meditated the Scorpion Way. You honed your mind to be as focused and quick as the scorpion’s, your body to be resilient and fast. You strike quickly, and then move out of harm’s way.
When dra slavers ambushed you three months ago, you were not fast enough. Your attackers dragged those who survived the battle away in nets. All of you were forced to fight in the arena of Tyr for the amusement of the dra crowds. You were the last among your clutch mates to survive this brutality. So it is, the will of the desert, the Scorpion Way.
Then you were placed among the dra—those creatures that look and act somewhat like people but have no carapace and little knowledge of true ways. Malamac, Durroth, Iaran, these arena warriors became your new clutch mates, protecting you upon the blood-soaked sands as you protected them. In the gladiator pits, you witnessed Malamac’s awakening to the whispers of the ancestors. You saw Durroth emerge from darkness. You watched Iaran come back from the path of death.
Then King Kalak was assassinated. You found freedom and another road to walk for a time. Your new clutch mates and you joined the Crimson Legion as auxiliary troopers. New people joined the clutch to hunt hidden slavers in Tyr’s slums.
You long to be back out in the wastes, but the dra are showing you a new aspect of the desert’s eternal voice. What does this maze of stone have to teach you of the Scorpion Way? Who among your clutch mates is strong and wise enough to lead you?
You were born in the Warrens, the slums of Tyr, to a clanless elf woman and human man you never knew. Among the free laborers and gangs of the city, you learned the ways of want and of taking. The streets took your birth mother before you had seen ten years. You were clever and sly, and tough for a small, underfed thing. Your imagination contained sounds that could hurt and influence when unleashed. What a criminal you might have made.
One day, running the Iron Square markets with your mates, you spotted a good mark. She was richly dressed and wouldn’t miss a few baubles. You went for her purse, and without looking she dodged you. You hummed that little tune you knew, the one that made people forget you for a moment. She simply said, “Stop.”
Freedom ended that day, as did privation. Your new mother, Gyd, took you into her house. She tutored you in the Way, the arts of the mind. The tones in your head became fine as blades. Gyd also showed you the weave of the arcane, a source of other fine sounds. You learned to weave this secret art—for it must be kept secret—carefully and slowly, so that it appeared to be another trick of the Way.
You never forgot the streets of the Warrens. Suffering, apparently, never forgot you. The templars raided Gyd’s estate just after you had come of age. They slew your mother and all who opposed them, and then they burned the house. You still don’t know why.
Kalak perished while you were still held in the slave pens, drugged and awaiting sale. All slaves were freed. During this process, your history and skills with the Way became known. The newly formed Crimson Legion recruited you as a liaison officer.
Your first task took you back to the Warrens, looking into underground slave trade. The mastery of sound places you in a unique position among the warriors you serve with. How does it feel to be back to your roots? Does compassion stir within for the lowly who still suffer in Tyr’s streets?
You were born to privilege in a second-class way. Your mother, Nans, was the mistress of Hurus Dericles, a Tyrian noble. You are, technically Hurus’s firstborn, but you have never lived within House Dericles.
Hurus looked after you and your mother well enough, though. You always had what you needed—food, shelter, entertainment, and education. Hurus kept no secret about his mistress. Nans hid behind Hurus’s reputation for protection.
You learned much Hurus did not know. Your mother was a wizard, an enchantress of some skill. She liked Hurus well enough, but she also used him. As his mistress she enjoyed much of the privilege of nobility, but little of the responsibility or scrutiny. With Hurus’s money, she could practice her art and teach you.
Hurus’s wealth also bought you tutors in the Way. Nans emphasized the importance of practicing magic carefully. Knowledge of psionics helped you learn to disguise your powers.
The cushy life ended when Kalak perished. Hurus died in the upheaval, supposedly the victim of vengeful slaves. You know that your half-brothers did your father in, because they also tried to have you and your mother killed. They succeeded at half that task.
Now you’re in hiding in Tyr’s Warrens. You crave the power to burn your brothers to cinders and claim your father’s estate. For the next little while, though, staying alive will do.
Might you be able to find some allies in the city? Your mother always promised to introduce you to her “alliance of peers.” Who might they be?
Well, there you have the rough story for the beginning of my Dark Sun campaign and its characters. If you see anything you think I need to fix, email me (link in my bio) or comment. We’ll see how my Gen Con players like the introduction to Athas. If you’re at Gen Con, I hope to see you, too.
I’d like to give special thanks to my Dark Sun players, Adam Wojtowecz (Iaran), Brandon Lee (Korrin, halfling storm sorcerer), Cal Moore (Tcha-Ti), Darrell Dunning (Durroth), Ed Robillard (Corvas, deva avenger), Jonathan Pumphrey (Thomm aka Taewyn), Robert Howard (Malamac), Spring Pumphrey (Voston, half-tarek rogue). I might have changed your characters to suit my evil purposes, but you were the inspiration. Also thanks to Tracy Hurley, Sarah Darkmagic, for the idea for Elyna, whose name belongs to a special NPC in my home game.
Logo from Art Crash 2010, by Jared von Hindman of Head Injury Theater.