Wednesday, September 6, 2017


Paul V. recently started a thread on Google+ that got me thinking about Dark Sun again. That thread, combined with Aos's usual enthusiasm for the setting, put me on the path to write my own Dark Sun-inspired mini-setting for Scarabae. I had been meaning to flesh-out the "western frontier" mentioned in the main Scarabae setting document for a while, and this turned out to be the right confluence of influences, even if I went more in the direction of a volcanic desert plus wild west plus colonial adventure than what you typically find on Athas. I had help with the volcanic bits: shout outs to Jeremy Murphy, Jez Gordon, Clint Egger, and Wayne Snyder for their conceptual assistance. A nicely formatted pdf of the information that follows is available here.

The majority of Mord-Stavian's land is devoid of vegetation due the the activity of its volcanic mountains. Although Mord-Stavian receives regular and plentiful rainfall, very little grows there due to the acidic tephra that covers the land, resulting in deserts of ash and jagged rock. A relatively thin band of lush jungle at the outer rim of Mord-Stavian is the exception to the rule; this verdant zone is at least partially the result of powerful shamanic magic.

Scarabae has begun to colonize Mord-Stavian and establish mining and prospecting operations to extract valuable quartz, gold, and silver from its mountains and riverbeds. The three largest colonial outposts on Mord-Stavian are Fort Madyan, Halak, and Gulgata—fortified enclaves protecting newly arrived colonists and the much-needed supplies brought by ship from Scarabae. Lawlessness is common in these towns, as are rampant vice, gambling, and gladiatorial contests.

Scarabae's efforts to colonize Mord-Stavian are troubled by tribes native to the land. Since hunting grounds are scarce, they see efforts to settle on the lands of their circuitous nomadic routes as a threat to their way of life. The most warlike band are the obsidian blade-wielding elves of the Broken Vows tribe, who are led by the goliath Obela Nineswords—a Scarabaen expatriate wise in the ways of guerrilla warfare.

The domesticated animals found on Mord-Stavian are giant insects and lizards resistant to the land's heat. Since Mord-Stavian is an iron- and bronze-poor land, the aboriginal natives fashion weapons, armor, and mundane items from the chitin, bones, and leather of these creatures. Because the unrelenting sun takes a heavy toll on those who wear metal armor, Scarabaen adventurers typically adopt the carapace armor of the natives when they arrive.

The natural treasures hidden within the mountains of Mord-Stavian are guarded by Kaladrei, a sphinx served by a small army of desiccated undead and devious naga. The eternally hungry scorpionfolk who worship mad efreeti attack caravans to capture sacrificial victims. The sun itself is an enemy; a lack of shelter or potable water is a death sentence, as are the abrasive sand storms, magmatic eruptions, and flash floods that imperil explorers.

Ruins comprised of vast necropolises exist within the deserts of Mord-Stavian. These ancient burial structures house the remains of the pharaohs who ruled when Mord-Stavian was a thriving civilization. The tombs of Mord-Stavian's kings and queens are said to contain untold riches from a past age and strange magical items that take the form of black, symbiotic organisms called cyphrionts that bond with their bearers.

The Scavenger Lands are unnatural deserts at the northwest tip of Mord-Stavian. There are signs that this area is the result of a magical catastrophe; fallout from a cataclysmic event still permeates the Scavenger Lands, causing horrific mutations to occur in the creatures who wander its dunes of dust and grit. Scarabaen scholars believe that unraveling the cause of the Scavenger Lands' tainted nature could uncover means to transform Mord-Stavian back into an arable land.

Mord-Stavian is a land that awakens psychic powers. Those who possess psionic abilities sometimes receive telepathic transmissions from beings who identify themselves as the Primal Voices. These beings cajole, entreat, and demand that the psychically-gifted unlock their full mental potential by undertaking perilous pilgrimages into the land's deserts in search of lost temples, buried truths, and sleeping mentors known as the Redemptive Sisters.

Some native tribes of Mord-Stavian travel into the desert wastelands on their wanderings, which has given rise to the suspicion that they know of enchanted oases within the bleak landscape. However, no amount of coercion has been able to convince native captives to divulge the whereabouts of these respites from the harsh, ashen deserts. Some arcanists theorize that the oases are disguised by powerful illusory magic that hides them from the eyes of outsiders.

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House Rules for Mord-Stavian:
  • Weapons of chitin, bone, and obsidian break more easily than weapons of wood, iron, and steel. When you roll a natural 1 on an attack roll with a weapon made of one of the former materials, your weapon has a chance to break. You can accept the result, automatically missing the attack as usual, but keeping your weapon intact. Alternatively, you can reroll. Regardless of the reroll result, a nonmetal weapon breaks once the attack is complete. (Adapted from 4e's Dark Sun book.)
  • We're using these rules for XP and level advancement.
  • Roll once on the following table to determine what psionic talent your character has gained from their stay in Mord-Stavian:
Psychic Talent
Blade Meld
Blind Spot
Energy Beam
Light Step
Mind Meld
Mind Slam
Mind Thrust
Mystic Charm
Mystic Hand
Psychic Hammer

Descriptions of Psychic Talents can be found at the end of this pdf.

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TSR's Dark Sun campaign setting (especially Brom's art)
WotC's Eberron campaign setting (especially the bits about the Mournlands)

K. J. Bishop, The Etched City
Ray Bradbury, The Martian Chronicles
Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness
H. Rider Haggard, She
Frank Herbert, Dune
Clark Ashton Smith, "The Vaults of Yoh-Vombis"

Orc Stain
Pretty Deadly
The Sixth Gun

Sleep, Dopesmoker
High on Fire, Death is This Communion
Neurosis, A Sun That Never Sets and Fires Within Fires