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Dark Sun: James Wyatt
Spotlight Interview

This year’s 4th Edition Extravaganza seminar at Gencon, led by Bill Slavicsek, R&D Director for D&D, pulled the cover away to reveal the next big campaign setting that will be released for D&D 4th Edition. If you don't already know what it is by now -- is that cave on Mars comfortable?

Created by popular demand, this requested setting was saved specifically for now in 4th Edition, and will also feature new novels set in the world of Athas. As a follow-up to the initial announcement, we spoke with R&D's James Wyatt regarding the release of Dark Sun.

Wizards of the Coast: Let's start with the basics. Can you tell us about the process for determining this next campaign setting? What niche were you looking to fill, how were various settings nominated and critiqued, and what ultimately led you to Dark Sun?

James Wyatt: With Bill Slavicsek as the head of the department and Rich Baker as one of our senior designers, there was really not a lot of question about whether we’d do Dark Sun, just a question of when. Both Bill and Rich worked on Dark Sun among their very first projects at TSR back in the days of 2nd Edition A D&D, and both of them have been eager to revive the setting for years.

I think what made 2010 the right time for Dark Sun was a combination of factors. First, it’s going to utterly rock under the 4th Edition rules. Under 2nd Edition, Dark Sun was all about a grittier, action-packed feeling in a dark and dangerous world, and that’s going to map really well to the new edition and the baseline assumptions about the world. Second, one of the factors we've looked at in planning our settings is the degree to which a setting strays from the standard D&D medieval fantasy feel. Forgotten Realms, Greyhawk, Dragonlance, Mystara -- those are all pretty close to baseline fantasy. Eberron strays only a little farther afield, with its pseudo-technological elements (airships, warforged, lightning rail). Dark Sun is something very different, and we felt it was time to show the breadth of what’s possible in the game, just what a broad swathe D&D’s kind of fantasy can cover.

Wizards of the Coast: For those players who may never have played Dark Sun in its earlier inception, can you give us a rundown of this world? How would you describe Dark Sun encapsulated, and what sets it uniquely apart from other settings?

James Wyatt: Dark Sun is a sort of post-apocalyptic fantasy, a world that’s been blasted and ravaged by out-of-control magic. The arcane magic of the world draws its power from the life force of things around it, and if it’s not wielded carefully, it can transform nearby plant life into ash and drain other living creatures of their vitality. That’s why the world is a desert, its civilizations concentrated in a handful of city-states ruled by evil sorcerer-kings and its wilderness haunted by marauding nomadic bands.

The gods of the setting are absent or dead, replaced by elemental spirits tied to the ancient primordials. Shamans and other primal characters draw on the forces of sun, sand, wind, and precious rain. Wizards practice their magic in secret or openly serve the sorcerer-kings. And psionic power is more common than on other worlds -- which is handy, since this setting will come out a few months after Player’s Handbook 3, which introduces the psionic power source.

Wizards of the Coast: How is Dark Sun being conceptualized for 4th Edition? What is being retained about the setting, and what might be added, altered, or deleted? Are there significant events in store, such as with Forgotten Realms and the Spellplague, or a broader retcon of the entire setting?

James Wyatt: Our goal with the setting was to cleave as close to the original boxed set as possible while still allowing as many D&D options as we could and making the setting ideal for 4th Edition play. We’re in the process of re-releasing Troy Denning’s excellent Prism Pentad series of novels, and we didn’t want readers to come away from those books and look at the campaign setting and not recognize it as the same world. So we tried to capture the essence of the original Dark Sun boxed set while ensuring that the Prism Pentad novels could be one possible way things turn out.

Wizards of the Coast: Are there elements of Dark Sun that you determined would be especially suited for the 4th Edition rule set? Conversely, are there elements of the setting that you understand will be a challenge to incorporate into 4E?

James Wyatt: As I mentioned before, I think the overall tone of Dark Sun makes it fit really well in the 4th Edition environment. In many ways, it’s really a perfect fit. Even the idea that characters might wear less armor or rely less on gear in general is easy to implement in the current rules set.

Wizards of the Coast: Can you give us a hint of what kinds of challenges and monsters unique to this setting will be in store for adventuring parties?

James Wyatt: Well, I can tell you for one thing that Rich and his team worked hard to make sure Dark Sun continued to feel like a place where the most dangerous enemy you face might be the world itself. It’s a brutal, harsh environment, and if that’s the kind of game you want to play, you’ll have ways to make survival beyond the walls of the city-states an adventure in itself. Beyond that -- nomadic elf raiders, cannibal halflings, hunting packs of thri-kreen, the deadly sorcerer-kings and their templars, braxats, silt wyrms, The Dragon …. Oh, and I’m told that Rich managed to make the belgoi’s game mechanics actually work well in the game.

Wizards of the Coast: And for the parties themselves, can you tell us what we might look forward to with Dark Sun character concepts and designs? How will, say, a Dark Sun fighter stand apart from a Forgotten Realms or Eberron fighter?

James Wyatt: One of the things I’m most excited about with the new setting addresses this question, but I don’t want to talk too much about it. Suffice it to say, at this point, that a Dark Sun fighter has a whole set of options available to him that aren’t (yet) available to other D&D characters. These options will add a whole new dimension to Dark Sun player characters, both in terms of what they can do within the rules of the game and in terms of fleshing them out as people in the world.

Thanks to Bill and James! Be sure to check our Gen Con page for ongoing coverage of the convention, and find out what’s happening with Dungeons & Dragons!