Sunday, July 6, 2014

Dark Sun Reviews: Elves of Athas

At just under 100 pages, this Dark Sun campaign expansion adds to the sand box world that is Athas. 

To the un-initiated, it is important to realise that Dark Sun "twists" the standard paradigm about much of dungeons and dragons classical notions. Metal is scarce, elements are worshipped as opposed to deities, the world has been ravaged by sorcery, and so forth. Elves are no exception to this. Unlike their fantasy cousins, this tome outlines how they live barely more then 140 years. They have no yearning to go to a far off land once they reach a certain age. And they're physically different: tall and lean. Although they get bonuses for using bows and longswords, they don't get some of the other advantages inherent in (e.g.) Forgotten Realms or Dragonlance. Instead, one of the key differences is the Elf Run. Elves of Athas are particularly known for undertaking long runs -- literally sprinting day after day as a tribe to move with celerity from one location to another. This might be for nomadic reasons, or trade. Either way, there's no other race on Athas that can match their endurance for undertaking such activities. But the drawback is that it is based on their constitution (which gets a negative modifier upon creation), so they do need to prepare and be inspired by their tribal leaders before undertaking multiple days of marathon running.

As well as these physical difference, the book details the significant psychological differences. Language, insults, trades and world views are all covered, along with stories of ancient elves (whom are not too dissimilar to classic fantasy elves). Stand outs for me are the concept of "the now" -- which the elves live for, their distrust of outsiders and most other people around them, their positive attitude (or general acceptance) of all things psionic and magical (albeit that they find the elemental clerics somewhat odd), and how they cope (or not!) with issues like enslavement. To be clear: this is a race that loves their freedom and will do anything to run away and escape from such confinement. And their loyalty to their tribe is all important and comes to define them in many ways.

Following the psychology, a number of tribes are detailed in the book, which are fairly interesting, but nothing fantastical. For example, the Wind Dancers are described as a former trading tribe with a special affinity for the element of Air, but have had to now turn to raiding to make ends meet. The book is rounded out by some kits for Athasian Elves (e.g. Brown Elves - whom are psionicists who have left their tribe in order to learn and sharped their talent). A fold out poster also comes with the book which shows the locations of some of the settled tribes in and around the Tablelands, plus some colour art of Athasian Elves and their tribal descriptions.

To be honest, this book is not required to play Dark Sun … as are some of the other expansions. But this one doesn't have anywhere near the sheer level of ideas and interest that Earth, Air, Fire, and Water does (which I regard as essential to a Dark Sun campaign). Hence this book is only one to get if one is running an Elf based campaign, or is highly orientated toward the Elves of Athas. Most of the material needed to run Elves is in the Dark Sun boxed set. And on that basis, I can only really award 2 out of 5 stars for this one. It doesn't mean its necessarily bad, but to me its just not required.

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