Saturday, June 12, 2021

The Mutants of Dark Sun


Under the description of humans in the original Dark Sun campaign setting it's noted that:

On Athas, centuries of abusive magic have not only scarred the landscape—they've twisted the essence of human appearance, as well. Many humans in Dark Sun look normal... Others, however, have marked alterations to their appearance. Their facial features might be slightly bizarre; a large chin or nose, pointed ears, no facial hair, etc. Their coloration might be subtly different, such as coppery, golden brown, hues of grey, or patchy. The differences may be more physical, such as webbed toes or fingers, longer or snorter limbs, etc. 

This interesting tidbit doesn't really get much play in the rest of the 2nd edition version of Dark Sun. The revised campaign setting doesn't mention it at all. The 4e campaign setting does not that Athasian humans have unusual traits and exaggerated features, but it only hazards that it might be the effects of the magic that brought ruin to the land.

This might not count as minor

I think this is a feature that enhances the post-apocalyptic element of Dark Sun and further plays into the theme of magic as ecologically ruinous. It would be particularly good way to set apart the tribes of the wastes or hinterlands from the people of the cities. Perhaps some prejudice exists against those too tainted in some city-states? (It would fit with their generally oppressive, slaveholding, heavy-stratified nature.)

In any case, it gives us an excuse for an array of Masters of the Universe or Carcosa style people with unnatural skin tones, a variety of Star Trek alien foreheards/ear shapes and the like.


Erik Jensen said...

I feel like you could mash up Dark Sun and Gamma World pretty easily.

Dick McGee said...

You might draw on the One Piece manga/anime for further ideas of what a "funky human" might look like.

I can still remember getting yelled at for the art of the Lankhmar ghoul you used. It wasn't by any means the only things my parental prude objected to in Deities & Demigods, but even as a kid I remember thinking that getting bent about an invisible nipple was pretty messed up.

JB said...

In my home campaign, magic-tainted mutants of this sort are orcs; i.e. that’s what orcs are in my game. “Half-orcs” are first generation mutants (their parents are human). “Orc,” as a word, is entirely synonymous with “mutant.”

I think it’s strange that later versions of DS have shied away from this idea of taint and mutation…perhaps it was deemed not “heroic” enough to have malformed PC humans? Definitely like the concept in post-apoc gaming/ fiction and also like the idea of their being prejudice against individuals not of “pure” (non-mutant) stock.

“Drive the mutants into the wilderness! They are an abomination!”

(a lot of this kind of thing can be found in PA literature)

Trey said...

No doubt!

Simon J. Hogwood said...

What if we flip the script, and make the city-dwellers the ones more susceptible to taints and mutations? City-states in Dark Sun are ruled by quasi-immortal sorcerer-kings, right? Who knows what kind of magical mutagens are polluting the environment in those places.

Trey said...

I like it!

Dick McGee said...

@Simon J I like that idea. Maybe the "pure strain humans" out in the wilderness and smaller settlements are hostile to city-bred muties and try to keep them corralled in the metropoli as best they can? Be a nice inversion of the usual "mutant barbarian horde" trope. Of course, the sorcerer kings and their armies can probably go where they want regardless, but it would make life tough on traders and everyday citizens.

JB said...

@ Dick & Simon:

This idea sounds very Middle Earth to me (though, perhaps, with traces of WH40K).

Not a bad thing!
; )

Muga said...

Ooh, I really like that.

More realistic, too, with more historical precedent to draw on. Perhaps, like the Victorians, there are all sorts of career-specific mutations with names like Miner's Eye and Chimney-Sweep's Jaw.

JB said...

How about minor psychic powers and hideous deformity (a la the original Total Recall film) from eating terrible, chemically processed food and exposure to ambient radiation of infernal machinery?