Deserts of Athas
This is part of a series of reposted blog articles from designers of Dark Sun 4th edition. These articles have been scattered through various reorganizations on Wizards' site, and are now hard to find, or have vanished completely. We are collecting them here with permission from the authors.
Today's entry comes from Rich Baker, and was originally posted on a Wizards Community blog. It's since been swallowed by the dunes, but the web archive can be seen here.
I've spent most of my summer wandering in the deserts of Athas, and I have to say, it's a pretty cool thing to roll into work every day with the opportunity to work on a new version of Dark Sun. Here's one little example of something that I got to play with just the other day that I had a real blast with: types of desert.
You might remember from the original Wanderer's Journal that there was a great essay on different types of desert. As a somewhat younger gamer (and just-starting-out game designer) back in 1991, I really grooved on the notion that there were rocky badlands, and stony barrens, and sandy wastes, and so on. You see, I grew up on the Jersey shore, and I'd never really experienced any real life desert for myself. If I'd thought about it I would have drawn on Star Wars for "sandy waste" and Lawrence of Arabia for "stony barrens" but that would have been all the desert variety I could really come up with. I found that essay darned useful for making me realize that an all-desert world was very far from monotonous.
Well, fast-forward about 18 years, and now I've actually had a number of chances to experience honest-to-gosh desert. Eastern Washington, Eastern Oregon, a move across the country, a visit to Colorado, and a visit to Arizona (with a drive from Phoenix up to Sedona), and suddenly I can actually *picture* different kinds of desert with my own experience.
As I was doing some reorganizing in the manuscript, I hit the spot where Rob Schwalb briefly covered the desert terrain types–and I saw a chance to correct an old oversight that drove me nuts years and years ago. In the original Dark Sun set “boulder fields” were a terrain type indicated on that beautiful map by Diesel, but there was no discussion of boulder fields in the Wanderer’s Journal. It worked at me like a sore tooth. So I decided to add a hundred words in Rob’s terrain section to cover boulder fields. And, thanks to the fact that I live out in the West and I’ve driven all over the place out here, I now grok boulder fields – they’re old lava flows. If you go down by Mount Adams, or kick around by Bend, Oregon or Newberry Crater, you can actually walk out on these great big fields of black rock. Lava Butte is the best example I can think of; my wife and I described it to our daughters as “the little volcano that could.” Miles of black, jagged rock, completely waterless, completely bare of vegetation… a patch of absolute desolation in the middle of the mountains and forest. It’s something to see. So, when you run across the desert primer in the new Dark Sun and you see a bit about boulder fields, you’ll know that I was thinking back to an afternoon of exploring Lava Butte a couple of years back. Hopefully I got it right!