Sunday, 14 April 2019

Dark Sun, part two: The Bad Different

Continuing where we left off here...

What’s not quite as good is traditional fantasy game races, given the “our elves are different” treatment. Yes, you get the half giant with it’s bizarre alignment rules (although surely everyone just chucked those out,) and everyone seems to like idea of cannibal halflings but seriously this does my head in. If you’re changing the nature of elves so much that they’re now ultramarathoning, desert tribes who are renowned for stealing shit, why bother calling them elves? It’s retarded. I have heard that the original plan was to get rid of the traditional D&D races but pressure from above forced their inclusion and quite frankly it does feel a bit forced.

Bow down before the awesome power of my novel infused railroad

Then after the first boxed set you get the immediate release of not one but a five novel set, The Prism Pentad, which are immediately deemed canon for the game products. So instead of the great set up we had, now every scenario, setting book and supplement is affected by the events depicted in unrelated game based fiction. This is now the reverse of cool. Pray to your non existent gods, denizens of Athas, for you are now beholden to the greatest evil in RPGs: The Meta Plot. Insidiously they were setting you up for this right out of the box, that ziggurat that one dude was building? Buy five novels to find out what happens next. Spoilers: It spoils everything.

We start to get 2e splat book bloat. Hugely verbose over written treatises with an emphasis on development of the canon of the setting. We know now that paying your writer by the word is not going to produce useful at the table content for your RPG supplements. Drown in useless fluff, oh dear reader, the cool random tables you wanted are either stuffed in an appendix at the back or conspicuously absent. They even mention in the foreword to the Dragon Kings supplement that one of the reasons the material contained within was not included in the original boxed set was because they didn’t want to include spoilers for the novels!
Our Fellowship is Different
The adventures are bad. Instead of an awesome sword & sorcery sandbox (a literal one) we are given a series of railroads tied to the published fiction of the setting. Now I realise that this was the nineties and that was the fashion at the time but also the fashion seemed to be for TSR to go out of business too so I’m not placing too much store in that.

We still have clerics, yes even of Athas we can’t escape them, but instead of gods they worship elemental beings of great power. So, gods then. Just elemental ones. They still grant spells and the power to turn undead like gods in other settings. It’s like with this setting every time they make something cool they snatch it away from you in spite and make you have your same-D&D-setting-but-slightly-different-regardless.

Crossing the magic blasted desert in search of agency

Did I mention that writing is outlawed in most city states? This is good because then the PCs never have to find out about the the god awful back story they shoe horned into this at a later date. You see, you can’t just have ancient history that has been forgotten about or is unexplained. No way, are you crazy?  Every fully realised game setting must have a Silmarilion like prehistory dating all the way back to its very creation. So for Dark Sun we get all this bollocks about the Green Age and the Blue Age, and ancient wizards, and so and so the hobgoblin slayer. Because you can’t just not have hobgoblins. That would be stupid. You have to come up with some ridiculous, contrived scenario about how they were all slain by this super powerful wizard guy. Same for the orcs, and probably the bugbears. It’s insane. If you don’t want bugbears in your setting, you don’t have to have them. It’s ok. The ghost of Gygax will not strike you down. What’s even more certain is you don’t fucking need a half baked mythological construct to explain why they’re not present. They’re just not. Fucking deal with it. There’s loads of cool stuff included in Dark Sun; you really should be emphasising this, rather than the lame stuff you didn’t include. Much less coming up with progressively lamer reasons for why that is the case.

This is all getting a bit negative. And really, Dominic doesn’t like something is not news for anyone. This is a game setting that was railroading you even when you weren’t playing and if there’s one thing we know about RPGs, it’s railroads are bad. Such a shame really because all this annoying stuff about the setting? You can just ignore it. Well, perhaps you can, it’s still driving me mental now.

1 comment:

  1. Oh, now I see your problem.

    The original Box Set is a masterwork of a setting.
    The revised Box Set is a piece of trash. So bad, that it apparently was considered non-canon when they did the setting for 4th Edition. I always keep forgetting it existed.

    Given the way 5th Edition has been handled so far, I am assuming and hoping that they keep it that way with the unannounced (but assumed by anyone to be in production) 5th Edition book.