Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Dark Sun Reviews: Slave Tribes

Slave Tribes is a fluff / background extension of the base Dark Sun campaign setting. The name of the publication gives away its purpose: a treatment of the slave tribes of Athas. As such, it can be used to give more variation and background to cross-desert adventures such as Arcane Shadows and Road to Urik. But it only concentrates on one type of slave tribe: those that have escaped the city states and fled in to the deserts (rather than some kind of city based tribe - which might be a neat idea). As such, the title of the publication might be better as "Tribes of ex-slaves" to be fair.

The subject of slavery is in our own world one that still needs discussion. The prose of the expansion here though deals with it in a relatively mature manner, both through the eyes of a former slave and by painting a picture of the roleplaying nature of Athas as an economy that is wholly dependent upon it for its advancement. But it does this by not glamorising it: more by painting it as an undesirable but everyday (and accepted) fact of life of Athas.

The book then proceeds to delve in to the background of some of the more "famous" slave tribes such as The Free (see Arcane Shadows), and Salt View: a tribe that both raids passing caravans for survival and puts on theatre productions to earn some coin. An exposition on the life inside such tribes is presented which is useful for pulling a "you are all escaped slaves who have met in the desert" routine.

Included toward the end is a nice chart to randomly create slave tribes that may be met by the PCs during their adventures in the Athasian wastes. This includes such pieces as how they might react when they see a PC drain plant life energy to fuel their spells (preserver or defiler magic), what kinds of slaves they used to be, and how they manage to keep themselves alive through a plethora of means - which makes the level of detail here rather nice to behold.

Letting it down is the interior artwork which is no where near as good as Brom's cover pieces in my opinion, as well as some of the more strange tribes that don't gel well with my own thoughts about how desperate former slaves in the desert might eke out a sorcerer-king free existence.

I want to finish with a good point though. Most of this book is background material and is largely (majority!) free of statistics from 2nd edition Dungeons and Dragons. Hence transporting it to modern editions of any roleplaying game is not a biggie, and using the information contained within it to other realms is suggested (modulo you may have to think about some Dark Sun specific issues like defilers and their history vs. the ecology of the planet). Overall, 4 out of 5 stars from me. Certainly one to pick up if you're a Dark Sun fan or just wanting to introduce a concept of a group of former slaves gathering together in the wilderness for their own mutual survival in other settings.

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