The Burnt World of Athas

The official Dark Sun website

Greetings friends: From my travels across Athas, I am sending you now another clairvoyant missive in the name of the Athasian Survey Project.

Good to their word, the directions to the Sombre Woods provided by the leader of Pillage proved to be accurate. They had warned me of the dangers held within the ruins of Godshold nearby, and so I circled around them. My interest lay in the little-visited verdant belt of the Somber Woods anyway.

When the Warbringer and his Champions desiccated the world with their destructive sorcery, they didn’t quite destroy every body of water. A few stray lakes still cling to the landscape, each surrounded by natural wonders we call “verdant belts”. Naturally, sages have long asserted that any surviving lakes and their verdant belts must be unnaturally blessed or protected by some unseen but intractable force. When I learned of the lake inside the Sombre Woods, located just north of the Scorpion Plains, it became one of the priorities for my northern journey.

Thanks to the oppressive heat of the colossal Lava Gorge nearby, everything about this northern land is brutal and unwelcoming to visitors, even by Athasian standards. The scalding hot winds explain why half of the Sombre Woods is dead and dried… and yet not only does potable water still remain here, but life continues to thrive!

If one were to close their eyes in the forest and listen, they could be forgiven for mistakenly thinking they were in the Crescent Forest. The hills and the trees stop the worst of the scorching winds, making the entire forest around this cratered lake surprisingly cool and in some places almost damp. For those unafraid of the legends, this can seem like a wonderful welcome respite from the harsh and unforgiving lava lands of the Scorched Plateau and Scorpion Plains. Well…this was what I thought, until I saw the ghosts.

During the day, the forest was eerily silent, but at night, the forest buzzed with activity. Pale man-like forms conducted wild hunts all through the night. Since the forest surrounding the lake wasn’t that large, it was rather hard to escape their sounds completely. In spite of my precautions, it was only a matter of time before my own camp was discovered by these pale elfin beings. It was hard to fully identify their race– they were not quite elves, not quite halfling, but so pale as to make me question if they were living.

I was brought to their village. While understandably wary of strangers, after some negotiation I was able to earn their trust, and they eventually became willing to exchange information with me. Even then, they remained quite unforthcoming with regards to details about themselves, but I was able to learn a little about them and the area through their belongings and other stories.

They claimed the area had been inhabited by their ancestors since a time when giant bodies of water covered the world. If true, and there had been an unbroken lineage between these individuals and their Green Age ancestors, this would be an astonishing thing indeed. It was clear judging from their equipment and customs they still practised very ancient rituals centred around the forest and the hunt, clearly relics of an old Green Age religion I did not recognise. Their entire culture was built around this cycle, which they had evidently preserved all this time, in spite of the occasional visit from halfling traders to the west.

Perhaps it was the unique slopes which protected this ancient valley, or perhaps it was the timeless devotion of the Somber Ghosts. I cannot say. But it truly did feel like I had stepped several millennia back into the past during my visit.

Until our next correspondence, may the moons guide you.

An image of the Somber Woods
Somber Woods by Artist Unknown
(To whomever can guess the matching location of this image from Earth, I offer this white wooden skinning knife I acquired from the Somber Ghosts.)


Been playing Dungeons & Dragons and other RPGs since 1987. Been playing Dark Sun since it was released. Returned to Athas in 2020 for its expanded timeline and geography.