A decade has passed since the Age of Heroes began. The city of Tyr has broken free of tyranny, though turmoil still holds the world in its merciless grip. The Dragon King lies dead, earthquakes rock the land, and revolution spreads like wildfire across the Tyr Region. Giant rifts pierce this once impenetrable land: far to the north, the alien thri-kreen empire quickens, sensing its opportunity to invade. And to the south, in the obsidian wasteland, the ground stirs with the emergence of the undead?
Welcome to a world where metal is scarce, gods don't exist, and psionic powers abide in all living creatures! This significantly expanded and revised set contains everything you need to adventure across the burning lands of Athas.
Featured in this set:
- The Wanderer's Chronicle: 128 pages detailing the world of Athas, extending far beyond the known Tyr Region to encompass such new locations as the Jagged Cliffs, the Last Sea, the Kreen Empire, and the Dead Land.
- The Age of Heroes: 96 pages of updated rules and new mechanics designed to make combat more brutal land the adventure more savage. This book features new player character races such as the aarakocra and the pterran, expanded rules for wizards, and revised ability score tables.
- The Way of the Psionicist: 32 pages detailing a new streamlined, complete-in-this-set psionics system designed specifically for Dark Sun campaigns.
- Mystery of the Ancients: A 32-page adventure for characters of 3rd to 5th level that kicks off any new campaign in spectacular fashion.
- Three full-color maps: One is a close-up of the Tyr Region. The other high-quality maps detail the lands beyond the north, south, and west-expanding the area of the original campaign by eight times!
- Dungeon Master Screen: An eight-panel gatefold featuring all the tables needed to run a Dark Sun adventure, on one convenient stand-up screen.
Dark Sun Campaign Setting: Expanded & Revised (1995), by Bill Slavicsek with Dale Donovan, is the second edition of the Dark Sun Boxed Set. It was published in October 1995.
Origins (I): Rebooting Athas. Throughout 1995, it had been clear that change was on the horizon for the Dark Sun setting. Thri-Kreen of Athas (1995) felt like an innovative expansion beyond the topics covered in the setting's first few years of publications and even hinted at the next big metaplot. Then, "Beyond the Prism Pentad" (1995) finished pushing up setting's time line, to catch up with the novels.
With Dark Sun Campaign Set: Expanded & Revised (1995), the other shoe dropped. The new setting box provided in-depth information on what the world looked like after the Prism Pentad, but that was just the start …
And, it was just the start of the controversy too. At the time, the Revised Dark Sun marked one of the biggest reboots of a TSR setting to date … and it was the most controversial.
Origins (II): Syncing Time. The Revised Dark Sun had a number of goals, but one of the biggest was to update the setting box to reflect the changing metaplot. And, there was a lot of it. Though the Forgotten Realms had been having Realms-shaking events since the Avatar arc (1989), nothing compared to the scope of Dark Sun's changes. In the various Dark Sun novels, sorcerer-kings had been defeated, slaver nations had been overthrown, and The Dragon had even been slain! The result was a world that was much different from the one detailed in the Dark Sun Boxed Set (1991) just four years previous. As Slavicsek said, "A new boxed set was needed to bring the campaign back in line and give it a new core."
This update was also one of the least-liked aspects of the Revised setting. Metaplot has always been a controversial element in gaming, and the challenges were particularly large in the Dark Sun line; because of relatively limited integration between the novels and the RPG supplements, all of the major changes in Athas were due to the actions of … NPCs. Worse, those changes were big enough that the end result was a setting that wasn't necessarily what people had signed up for in the first place. In fact, some fans felt like the various metaplot events were specifically removing the elements that made Dark Sun unique and turning it into a more generic D&D world.
Mind you, much of this isn't the fault of the Revised Dark Sun, per se. In fact, most of the disliked changes can be traced back to the Prism Pentad novels (1991-1993), authored by Troy Denning, one of the creators of the original setting. Now, after four years of novels, there was simply a need to bring the RPG line back into sync with them.
Origins (III): Revealing Secrets. Slavicsek says that "Change wasn't the only motivation" for the new edition. TSR also felt like they'd adequately detailed the Tyr region through their various supplements and adventures, and so "few geographical areas remained to be explored from the original material". Now, Slavicsek wanted to reveal the answers to secrets like "What waited beyond the borders of the Tyr Region? What did the rest of the world look like beyond the realms of the seven city-states?"
However, Slavicsek wanted to do more than just reveal geographic secrets; he also wanted to explore "cerebral mysteries". As a result, Revised Dark Sun fully details the history of Athas, something that had previously been shrouded in mystery. Like so much else, in the Revised Dark Sun, this decision had its detractors.
Origins (IV): Updating Rules. There was one other major reason for updating Dark Sun: to bring together the most important rules from the various books that had been published to date (and to update other rules, most notable psionics).
Origins (V): Failing Forward. Sadly, the new Dark Sun would never really be given a chance to succeed. It would only receive four supplements, from December 1995 to September 1996, before it was suddenly cancelled.
About the Box. The Revised Dark Sun is a typical overstuffed TSR box from the '90s, including no less than three books, three maps, and even a GM's screen. The map of the Tablelands may have been TSR's most overproduced component ever: it was printed on cloth!
Genre Tropes. From the start, Dark Sun was influenced by Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom novels (1912-1943), which should have put the setting firmly into science fantasy's planetary romance genre. However, the developers mostly concentrated on the ruined world, resulting in what many players considered post-apocalyptic survivalism.
Revised Dark Sun returns to its science fantasy roots with a focus on the world's more technological past age that still influences the modern day. Many players felt like this was yet another big change in the new Dark Sun … but it had also been there all along.
What a Difference an Edition Makes. Besides the changes in the background, Revised Dark Sun also makes a number of changes to the rules for the Dark Sun setting.
That starts with character creation. There are now two new races: the aarakocra and the pterrans. There's also one new class: the trader. However, a classic class, the templar, has been consigned to NPC-hood.
The other big change came in the psionics system, which has been totally revamped, this time to match the new system found in Player's Option: Skills & Powers (1995).
Adventure Tropes. The adventure in the Revised Dark Sun box revealed another change for the Dark Sun line: TSR had done away with Dark Sun's innovative flip-book format for a "more traditional adventure presentation". Some attempts are still made to distinguish the adventures and make them more accessible through sidebars and colored boxes, but that's pretty minor.
"Mystery of the Ancients" has quite a number of encounters, but it maintains player agency. There are contests in the first section; wilderness travel in the second section that actually has some choices; and a ruins crawl in the third section. Overall, it's an impressive balance and a more mature sort of storytelling than found in many introductory adventures.
Metaplotting Along. The Great Earthquake of year 10 opened a Rift in the Jaggled Cliffs, providing access to a Thri-Kreen empire. This threat was already foreshadowed in "Thri-Kreen of Athas", but Revised Dark Sun continued to play it up as the next major metaplot event, saying, "Tohr-kreen loyal to the Kreen Empire are using the Rift as a means for reaching the highlands. So far, only exploratory teams have made it into the highlands, but the kreen are definitely investigating the possibility of launching a full-scale invasion in preparation for expanding their empire." Sadly, this story would never be told.
Exploring Athas. TSR liked to proclaim that the Revised Dark Sun was "eight times" the size of the original. Fans like to note that most of that was empty space.
With that said, the Jagged Cliffs is a large new area with new sorcerer-kings that would be further described in Windriders of the Jagged Cliffs (1995) and Mind Lords of the Last Sea (1995).
There's also considerable new history for the setting, much of which influences the modern day — particular in Thamasku, a "sophisticated halfling society" that features the life-shaped magic revealed in the past.
Blowing Up the Canon. The Revised Dark Sun is obviously canon, because it was an official publication from TSR and it's never been disavowed. With that said, it's one of those products that was so controversial that a lot of fans would prefer to ignore it as canon.
Much of that comes from the inevitable changes that were required to resync the RPG books and the novels. However, some of the new expansions were equally questionable. A lot of fans highlight the science fantasy halfling biotech as something that was a great idea, but not necessarily a great Dark Sun idea. The Last Sea was the other rather notable change that people resisted, because of its inclusion of lots of water on a water-less world.
This is probably why Dark Sun Campaign Setting (2010), an update of the setting for D&D 4e (2008), winds the clock back to year 0 and ignores the metaplot entirely.
About the Creators. Slavicsek wrote extensively for Dark Sun from 1992-1995, including "Beyond the Prism Pentad" (1995), the immediate lead-up to Dark Sun Campaign Setting: Expanded & Revised (1995). His next big project would be Alternity (1997).
About the Product Historian
The history of this product was researched and written by Shannon Appelcline, the editor-in-chief of RPGnet and the author of Designers & Dragons — a history of the roleplaying industry told one company at a time. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to email@example.com.