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Dark Sun Boxed Set (2e)
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Dark Sun Boxed Set (2e)

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Amid the barren wastelands of Athas lie the scattered city-states, each in the grip of its own, tyrannical sorcerer-king. Protecting their own positions with dark magic, they demand absolute obedience. The restless mobs are placated with bread and circuses --the arenas overflow with spectators seeking release from their harsh lives.

The land outside the cities belong to no one. Savage elves race across the deserts while insectoid Thri-Kreen satisfy their taste for blood. Dwarves labor at projects beyond the scope of men, and feral halflings lie in ambush.

Athas is a land of deadly magic and powerful psionics that offers promise of glory or even of survival. Those who do not have the cunning to face life on Athas will surely perish - leaving nothing but bones bleached white under the blistering rays of the DARK SUN

  • On the sands of Athas you'll face
  • Three new PC races!
  • Muls - half-dwarf, half-human; specially bred for combat!
  • Thri-Kreen - the savage mantis-warriors of the Barrens!
  • Half-giants - bred for tremendous size and strength
  • Three new PC classes!
  • Gladiators - heroes of the arenas, the ultimate warriors!
  • Templars - Wicked priests who serve the sorcerer-kings!
  • Defilers - wizards whose powers drain the life around them!
  • More powerful PC's
  • All Dark Sun game characters begin at 3rd level!
  • Ability scores that can go as high as 24!
  • All PC's have one or more psionic powers!
  • The new character tree allows players to advance many characters at once!

Product History

The Dark Sun Boxed Set (1991), by Timothy B. Brown and Troy Denning, is the supplement that kicked off the popular Dark Sun product line for AD&D 2e.

Origins. In 1990, the TSR higher-ups, worried about decreasing interest in Dragonlance, decided they needed a major new campaign world. They also decided that Battlesystem Second Edition (1989) needed a tie to a campaign world in order to be successful. Somewhere along the way, it was determined that the new setting would also support PHBR5: The Complete Psionics Handbook (1991), which introduced psionics to AD&D 2e play. The result of these varying directives was a design overseen by Steve Winter and created by Timothy B. Brown and Troy Denning that was initially called "War World".

Battlesystem would be integrated into the first few Dark Sun supplements, but this tie would soon be dropped. This Psionics connection was more long-lasting; psionics are ubiquitous in the Dark Sun world of Athas, something that was quite unique in D&D gameplay.

However, the demand for a new campaign world and the tie-in to certain supplements didn't tell Brown and Denning what the world was going to be like. They decided that Dark Sun would satisfy the "Conan or John Carter vibe", something that they thought was missing from existing settings. They began work on a savage, post-apocalyptic world that would be entirely unique in D&D.

By the time Dark Sun was released, some of this uniqueness had been reduced a little. At first the setting wasn't going to have any standard D&D races or monsters, but TSR's marketing department was uncomfortable with this idea. As a result, the Dark Sun designers added back standard races with wicked twists (like cannibalistic halflings!); they complained a bit at the time, but later said that the result was stronger than their original plans.

About the Artist. Dark Sun also had some of its origins in the works of Gerald Brom. His picture of Tyrian gladiator Neeva was completed before he knew anything about the setting and was what made Brown and Denning choose Brom to become the setting's main illustrator.

Because of Brom's strong aesthetic, Dark Sun became TSR's first "artistic" setting, with a firm artistic vision created by a single illustrator. Similar models would be used for some later settings, most notably Planescape (1994), which is well known for the art of Tony DiTerlizzi

Continuing the AD&D 2e Worlds. By 1991, TSR was publishing a new campaign setting every year, and so Dark Sun joined its two 2e predecessors: Spelljammer (1989) and Ravenloft: Realm of Terror (1990).

Beginning the Dark Sun Series. Following in the footsteps of the previous 2e setting lines, Dark Sun was supported by both adventures and sourcebooks, though the module coding for those lines was very erratic. Adventures appeared in the "DS", "DSQ", "DSE", and "DSM" lines, while sourcebooks appeared as "DSR" and "DSS" — with no apparent rhyme or reason behind the changes.

Dark Sun was also supported by novels from the beginning. The first five-book series was written by setting co-author Troy Denning, starting with The Verdant Passage (1991) and continuing through the entire "Prism Pentad" series. These novels quickly advanced the metaplot of Dark Sun and were also closely tied to the first few adventures, DS1: "Freedom" (1991) and DSQ1: "Road to Urik" (1992).

At the time TSR had already started playing with metaplot through Forgotten Realms events like Avatar (1989) and Empires (1990). However, Dark Sun was the first setting that had metaplot built in from the start, and it was TSR's only setting to ever lay out such a rapid and dramatic plot advancement.

Laying Out the Boxed Set. In the early '90s, TSR had a standard format for their boxed sets: two 96-page books, three or four big maps, and a pile of cardboard sheets. You can see this formula in Dark Sun, which includes a 96-page "Rules Book", a 96-page "Wanderer's Journal", two major maps, and a poster. However, Dark Sun also got to expand beyond those standards, probably as a result of the extra support that management was throwing its way. As a result, Dark Sun also included two unique spiral-bound "flip books" and a short booklet.

Beginning the Flip Book Adventures. Dark Sun was a box full of innovation, and the spiral-bound flip books were a large part of that.

The first spiral-bound book was the "Player Aid Cards". This was artwork to be shown to the players, an idea that TSR had originated way back in S1: "Tomb of Horrors" (1978), but which was pretty uncommon by the 2e era.

The second spiral-bound book was the "Dungeon Master's Book", which included the actual adventure. However, it was a non-traditional adventure for the time period: it was split into individual encounters that included specific sections for "Setup", "Roleplaying", "Statistics", and other important elements. Each encounter also ended with a list of which encounters the GM should "flip" to next, based on what the players did. The result was the sort of event-driven adventure that was common in 2e days, but with very different, easy-to-use formatting and with more room for player choice.

The flip-books were complemented by a "Story Book" that contained a short story, "A Little Knowledge", which introduced the adventure.

This innovative format would be used throughout the Dark Sun adventures, beginning with DS1: "Freedom".

Expanding AD&D. Dark Sun also dramatically innovated the AD&D game, taking it in new directions that had been unseen in the decades before.

  • Characters were more powerful, with stats rolled on 5d4, beginning with more funds, and starting at third level.
  • The classic but "twisted" races were complemented by totally new races: the half-giants, the muls, and the insectoid thri-kreen.
  • Many traditional classes were also transformed. Because there were no gods, clerics were powered by the elements. Wizards could be preservers who protected Athas' ruined environment or defilers who made it worse. Psionicists were also used as a standard class for the first time in any setting.
  • Even more varied classes such as the gladiators and templars also appeared.
  • Experience points were expanded with new rules for individual class awards that gave out points for acting in-character for a class.

Gaming Tropes. One rules change deserves an additional comment: the "character tree". Over the years, D&D had become focused on the idea of each player playing just one character, but by the '90s other games such as Ars Magica (1987, 1989) were challenging that idea. Dark Sun was the only latter-day D&D game to ever embrace this change; it did so through "character trees" where each player had four different characters and could decide who to play in each individual game.

Writing Tropes. Finally, Dark Sun also innovated the role of fiction in a game world. Not only did it include fiction for players to read, but it also included first-person narratives in the rule books themselves.

Expanding Athas. Dark Sun was of course the introduction to the world of Athas. Unlike the traditional settings of the Forgotten Realms, Greyhawk, and Mystara, Dark Sun detailed just a small part of the world of Athas called the Tyr Region. Future books would continue to extensively detail this relatively small area of Athas over the course of the original Dark Sun run (1991-1995).

In order to introduce Athas, Dark Sun offered a big overview of the society of the Tyr Region, as well as short notes on many of the major cities and other areas in the region.

Future History. Dark Sun was one of TSR's more successful product lines in the '90s. It ran from 1991-1995 and was then released in a Revised & Expanded edition that lasted through 1996. Afterward it faded out, as D&D moved from TSR to Wizards of the Coast.

During the 3e era, Athas was kept alive with Wizards of the Coast's blessing by the fans at athas.org, then it reappeared for 4e as the Dark Sun Campaign Setting (2010). Most recently, in 2013, co-designer Timothy Brown kickstarted his own setting, "Dragon Kings", which he called his "spiritual successor to Dark Sun".

About the Creators. In 1991 Brown & Denning considered themselves the newcomers at TSR, and were willing to take on the Dark Sun line when no one else was. Of course by that time, Brown already had a decade of experience at GDW while Denning had been working with Mayfair Games since the mid '80s.

Neither author worked much on the Dark Sun roleplaying line after the release of this box. Brown only wrote the Dragon Kings (1992) hardcover, while Denning moved over to fiction with his work on the Prism Pentad series (1991-1993).

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. Thanks to Robert Adducci for Dark Sun advice. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to shannon.appelcline@gmail.com.

We (Wizards) recognize that some of the legacy content available on this website does not reflect the values of the Dungeons & Dragons franchise today. Some older content may reflect ethnic, racial, and gender prejudice that were commonplace in American society at that time. These depictions were wrong then and are wrong today. This content is presented as it was originally created, because to do otherwise would be the same as claiming these prejudices never existed. Dungeons & Dragons teaches that diversity is a strength, and we strive to make our D&D products as welcoming and inclusive as possible. This part of our work will never end.

 
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Reviews (8)
Discussions (29)
Customer avatar
Kamil B March 08, 2021 12:59 pm UTC
PURCHASER
"(...) the legacy content available on this website does not reflect the values of the Dungeons & Dragons franchise today (...)"

Thanks Goodness!
Customer avatar
Pieter-Jan D April 13, 2021 6:54 pm UTC
PURCHASER
Out or curiosity, in what aspect of Dark Sun do you find the old TSR values objectionable? I think it's more of a standard disclaimer
Customer avatar
Vincent M April 17, 2021 6:24 pm UTC
It's actually because a lot of adventures, like the "oriental" and "arabian" themed adventures, and as a campaign setting, especially compared to others, DS is very violent and offensible, its literally a blighted slave world. "normal" people tend to not handle a lot of these things with a cool head.
Customer avatar
Eric S April 24, 2021 10:32 pm UTC
PURCHASER
It's pretty evident they are being sarcastic.
Customer avatar
Kyle S May 18, 2021 7:12 pm UTC
You guys cry about these non-intrusive disclaimers 1,000% more than anyone who might have ever asked for the disclaimer to be there in the first place. I'm starting to think that it's you "anti-woke" people who are the true thin skinned babies.
Customer avatar
Jason D June 02, 2021 2:05 pm UTC
PURCHASER
Kyle, 100% right.
Customer avatar
Bruce R March 05, 2021 7:25 pm UTC
PURCHASER
I haven't played 2e in many years, but wondering if anyone has played this with Basic Fantasy?
Customer avatar
Kamil B March 09, 2021 1:22 pm UTC
PURCHASER
I'm planning to run Dark Sun with Old School Essentials. Basic Fantasy should be a tad easier as it separates race and class. There's a lot of content and musings on the subject online. Check out Ode to Black Dougal blog for adapting Dark Sun races/classes to B/X D&D (https://ode2bd.blogspot.com/2009/05/bx-dark-sun-more-thoughts-on-races.html), there's also an incomplete conversion to Lamentations of the Flame Princess circling around the web. For psionics, Old School Psionics looks decent (https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/78033/OldSchool-Psionics) except for the fact I don't buy splitting Empathy and Telepathy into separate disciplines.
Customer avatar
Bruce R March 09, 2021 8:08 pm UTC
PURCHASER
Brilliant! Thank you!
Customer avatar
Pieter-Jan D May 07, 2021 2:39 pm UTC
PURCHASER
I'm going to try this with OSRIC.
I never played it in AD&D.
Customer avatar
Antonio E May 19, 2021 8:12 am UTC
You would need psionics; porting the material to a non 2e psionics system is definitely non-trivial.
Customer avatar
Liam P January 29, 2021 5:31 pm UTC
What is the difference between this and the "Dark Sun Campaign Setting (Expanded and Revised Edition)"?
Customer avatar
Amanda R February 14, 2021 11:29 am UTC
PURCHASER
Just buy this version.
Customer avatar
Pieter-Jan D April 13, 2021 6:48 pm UTC
PURCHASER
A great deal, they added a major metaplot that explains how the world got this way and ... well, many people thinks it's not so great. This includes a blue and green age, and a whole supreme evil sorcerer named Rajaat, ethnic cleansing by his champions and a Dragon of Dragons named Boris, who comes and demands tribute from all the city states (to keep Rajaat's Prison intact)

There's an expansion or the world to the outside, which includes the trikreen empire (basically termite mounds in the Savannah) and the backstory of the halflings as creators of the world (through life shaping/ bionic technology)

It's... A lot. Personally I don't think it's bad, but it's a lot of background exposition for something which doesn't fit the tone of immediate survival. It doesn't appear relevant.
Customer avatar
Frank W January 11, 2021 4:37 pm UTC
PURCHASER
Pumped to get this PoD so I don't ruin the original books with my grubby hands.

Would love to see more of the Dark Sun stuff in PoD.
Customer avatar
Troy D December 31, 2020 12:35 am UTC
PURCHASER
Just got my hardcovers today. Absolutely lovely.
Customer avatar
Pieter-Jan D April 13, 2021 6:51 pm UTC
PURCHASER
Are you The Troy Denning? If so: massive fan of your work here on Dark Sun. I remember a whole school year (I was 15 I think) where I would draw Dark Sun logos and sketches.
Customer avatar
Troy D April 15, 2021 1:42 am UTC
PURCHASER
No, I'm not. LOL. Just a fellow Dark Sun fan. Wish they did a 5E version!
Customer avatar
Filippo Maria O December 13, 2020 9:09 pm UTC
PURCHASER
How is POD quality?
Customer avatar
Jacob W December 16, 2020 2:34 am UTC
PURCHASER
Well I bought mine on November 30th and they say it's still printing sooo...
Customer avatar
Phil M December 26, 2020 7:24 pm UTC
PURCHASER
Did you ever receive yours? I'm waiting on a copy as well. though I ordered mine 12/9.
Customer avatar
Anthony Jr P B December 28, 2020 9:11 pm UTC
PURCHASER
I ordered mine on 11/30. it was printed and shipped on 12/14. Received it about 3 days later. POD quality seems to be just as good as any other hardback AD&D boxset reprint i got. The one noticeable improvement on this print compared to other prints is that the black ink is nice and black. Other POD's i have purchased in the past have a very faded quality to the black ink. I dont know if this ink issue has been a problem for others as well.
Customer avatar
Jeff L December 09, 2020 11:43 pm UTC
PURCHASER
If I buy the physical boxed set, do I get a box and a flip book with a spiral binding and everything? Or is it a book-book?
Customer avatar
Patrick T December 10, 2020 10:27 am UTC
PURCHASER
They combine all the books and maps into one printed book. The flip books will be included in that book, as will individual pages of the poster maps. If you want to print the maps out separate from the book, you can take the pdf to a printer. The box set comes as six pdfs, the printed book comes as one volume.
Customer avatar
Jeff L December 12, 2020 1:49 am UTC
PURCHASER
Thank you for the answer, is there a way to know how the flipbook pictures and information will be displayed in the hardcover? Thank you!
Customer avatar
Daniel G December 01, 2020 2:52 am UTC
PURCHASER
Finally a POD version! Just in time for Christmas
Customer avatar
Adam J October 28, 2020 11:36 pm UTC
POD please
Customer avatar
Nathaniel H October 05, 2020 1:09 pm UTC
PURCHASER
I too would like to see a Print on Demand version of this product, especially hard cover.
Customer avatar
Amanda R September 20, 2020 5:00 am UTC
PURCHASER
La POD
Customer avatar
Adam J September 02, 2020 1:03 am UTC
POD please
Customer avatar
Jose B August 27, 2020 6:07 am UTC
PURCHASER
POD please!!!!
Customer avatar
Andrew K August 22, 2020 5:40 am UTC
PURCHASER
POD please!!
Customer avatar
Adam G August 06, 2020 7:03 am UTC
I'd purchase if it was POD.
Customer avatar
Rafael L July 13, 2020 12:37 am UTC
The art of the box is included in the PDF to print and assemble?
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Product Information
Mithral seller
Artist(s)
Pages
265
Edition
1.0
ISBN
1-56076-104-0
Publisher Stock #
TSR 2400
File Size:
97.1 MB
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This title was added to our catalog on May 06, 2014.