The approaching release of the new Dark Sun edition has my fingers twitching at the thought of holding the new books in my hands and actually turning pages. Of course, we've had final PDFs for a while, so we've been able to flip virtual pages to our heart's content and see exactly what will soon be available in print.
No one should be surprised to hear that I'm a big fan of the Dark Sun setting. I was involved in early concepting on the original world, before it even had a name. Beyond that, I've always been a sucker for a) deserts, b) crumbling civilizations, and c) fantasy settings that are entirely different from the norm (whatever you define that to be). So the Dark Sun PDFs have been getting a good going-over on my computer, and I must say that I love what I'm seeing.
One side effect of immersing myself in all things Athas is that I've also been led back to Empire of the Petal Throne. I'd love to know, out of all the people reading this, how many of you are familiar with EPT, how many have heard of it but don't know anything beyond the name, and how many have never even heard of this legendary game.
The original Empire of the Petal Throne was published by TSR in 1975, making it a true trailblazer in RPGs. It had its own game rules, although they were familiar to original D&D players. It was EPT's setting of Tékumel that made it legendary.
Tékumel was the fiercely unique creation of Professor M. A. R. Barker, who had been imagining and writing about it for decades before D&D was a glimmer in Dave's and Gary's eyes.
Very briefly, in the far future, mankind perfected the science of traveling between stars. We moved out into the galaxy, exploring and settling new worlds and meeting many other races of intelligent beings. The planet Tékumel was a crossroads between alien races, many of whom had cities there—including some of humanity's most implacable enemies.
Then came "the Time of Darkness." Inexplicably, Tékumel fell through the fabric of space and time into a pocket dimension where it was utterly isolated from the universe we know. Even the laws of nature were different in this new realm. As the shattered world clawed its way back toward civilization, failing technology was replaced by magic and science was replaced by powerful, inscrutable, and often cruel gods. Vicious beasts were twisted into cosmic horrors. After tens of thousands of years, Tékumel became a completely different place—except that the animosity of humanity's ancient enemies persisted, and the ruins of its star-spanning empire were entombed beneath crumbling, dead cities.
That's Tékumel. Interesting parallels can be drawn between it and Athas; most are no more than artifacts of a common heritage, I'm sure, although a few homages certainly crept into the younger setting. What really struck me on rereading EPT, however, was the cold-blooded deadliness of Tékumel.
In 1975, D&D in general had a fatality rate approaching that of Left 4 Dead, but Tékumel was especially lethal. It abounded with creatures such as Thúnru'u, the Eater of Eyes, and spells such as the Silver Halo of Soul-Stealing. Death came in many forms on Tékumel, and it came frequently.
Dark Sun has a well-earned reputation as a place that's hard on player characters. Still, we can all be grateful that game designers have learned that no matter how enjoyable you make the process of creating new characters, that's not why people play the game. Soon, we''ll once more stride the dusty streets of Tyr with trikals in our fists and adventure in our souls.
I'm ready. Are you? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org