If you’ve been reading, then you probably know that my main Saturday group will be ending their current campaign probably by the end of the summer. This gives me the opportunity to run a whole new campaign. And while I’m not 100% set on anything yet, one of my players suggested we do a Dark Sun campaign.
If you aren’t familiar with Dark Sun, it’s a hardcore advanced setting set in a dying world named Athas that’s mostly desert. Magic destroys the environment, metal is rare, and water is more valuable than gold.
Many of the races that exist in traditional Fifth Edition settings are found in Athas. However, they have a few differences. This article goes over the major playable races of Athas and their characteristics and traits. Feel free to use them in your own Dark Sun campaign or a world of your own design.
Some of the races below are unusual in that they have a reduction to an ability score, and some are more or less powerful than the typical D&D races–additional reasons for these races to be used in a campaign with care.
Also, due to the rugged, harsh environment that is Dark Sun, you may notice that there is a distinct lack of races that favor Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma scores. This is intentional. Athas is a brutal world. And while highly-intelligent beings exist, most of the survivors in this grim world are tough by necessity.
Finally, I’ve cribbed a lot of the text from the original 2nd edition Dark Sun boxed set. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Plus, I can’t sell this stuff anyways (not even on DMsguild… lame!), so might as well just quote the masters.
A dwarf’s chief love is toil. A dwarf is never happier than when there is a cause to work or fight for, something he can approach with stoic singlemindedness for weeks, months, years, or even decades at a time. Once a dwarf’s mind is committed to a certain task, he’ll only set it aside after a great deal of grumbling and coercion. The fulfillment he achieves upon completion of a lengthy, difficult task is what he strives for. Lives of hard work in the hot sun leave them with a rich tan and rugged, calloused hands and feet.
The task to which a dwarf is presently committed is referred to as his focus. A dwarf’s focus must be a feat requiring at least one week to complete. Shorter term goals cannot be considered a focus.
Actually, a dwarf’s commitment to his focus is based in his physiology—those who complete their lives before they complete their foci live out their afterlives as banshees in the wastes, haunting their unfinished works!
By nature, dwarves are nonmagical and never use arcane magic or spells. This restriction does not apply to cleric or paladin spells. An Athasian dwarf takes notice of other beings based upon his focus. If the other being is also actively committed to the dwarf’s focus, the dwarf will consider him a sensible and dependable companion. If, however, the other being is vehemently opposed to the dwarf’s focus, the two will be irrevocably at odds until one or the other is dead. There is very little room for compromise in the mind of a dwarf.
Athasian Dwarf Traits
Your dwarf character has an assortment of inborn abilities, part and parcel of Athasian dwarven nature.
Ability Score Increase. Your Constitution score increases by 2, and your Strength score increases by 2.
Age. Dwarves mature at the same rate as humans, but they’re considered young until the reach of age of 50. On average, they live about 250 years.
Alignment. Most dwarves are lawful, believing firmly in the benefits of a well-ordered society. They tend toward good as well, with a strong sense of fair play and a belief that everyone deserves to share in the benefits of a just order.
Size. Dwarves are short but extremely powerful. Athasian dwarves average 4 1/2 to 5 feet in height and tend to have a very large muscle mass—a full-grown dwarf weighs in the neighborhood of 200 pounds. Your size is Medium.
Speed. Your base walking speed is 25 feet. Your speed is not reduced by wearing heavy armor.
Nonmagical. You cannot cast spells from the sorcerer, warlock, or wizard spell lists.
Dwarven Resilience. You have advantage on saving throws against poison, and you have resistance against poison damage.
Tool Expertise. You gain proficiency with the artisan’s tools of your choice. You add double your proficiency bonus when you make checks using this proficiency.
Languages. You can speak Common and Dwarvish. Dwarvish is full of hard consonants and guttural sounds, and those characteristics spill over into whatever other languages a dwarf might speak.
The dunes and steppes of Athas are home to thousands of tribes of nomadic elves. While each tribe is very different culturally, the elves within them remain a race of long-limbed sprinters given to theft, raiding, and warfare.
An Athasian elf stands between 6 1/2 and 7 1/2 feet tall. They are slender, lean, and generally in terrific physical condition. Their features are deeply etched into their weather-toughened faces, and their skin made rugged by the windblown sands and baking sun of the wilderness. Elves typically dress to survive in the desert environment. Even when at an oasis or in the cities, elves tend to prefer their native garb, designed to wrap the wearer against the brutality of the elements.
Elves are all brethren within their own tribe, but regard all outsiders as potential enemies. There is no racial unity among the elves—an elf from outside the tribe is just as much a foe as a human, halfling, or thri-kreen. Acceptance of an outsider by an individual elf can be achieved, but trust will only develop over time. Acceptance of an outsider by an entire tribe is also possible, but rare. It is usually only awarded after
some great sacrifice has been made on behalf of the tribe—many outsiders have been accepted posthumously into elven desert tribes.
Individually, tribal elves are swift, sure, and self-reliant in the extreme. An elf is conditioned to run quickly over sandy and rocky terrain, sometimes for days at a time—an elf warrior can cross better than 50 miles per day. An elven war party on the move is
a deadly force of endurance and maneuverability.
Elves use no beasts of burden for personal transportation, though they do sometimes engage kanks and similar creatures for baggage or raw materials transport. It is dishonorable among elves to ride on an animal unless wounded and near death—even pregnant women and old elves are expected to keep up with the tribe or be left behind. While most elven tribes make their living through herding, some have turned to commerce and others to raiding. Elven traders are rightly considered the most capable of Athas. Not only can they barter and deal with a variety of races, but they can also move and protect their goods across the vast wilderness.
Elven culture, while savage, is also very rich and diverse. Elves have no class restrictions. An elf can be from a wild, tribal background or from a city-state upbringing—there are many elves that have settled in the cities as bazaar vendors, and still, many more that have been dragged there in chains.
Athasian Elf Traits
Your elf character has a variety of natural abilities, the result of thousands of years of elven refinement.
Ability Score Increase. Your Dexterity score increases by 2, and your Intelligence score increases by 1.
Age. Although elves reach physical maturity at about the same age as humans, the elven understanding of adulthood goes beyond physical growth to encompass worldly experience. An elf typically claims adulthood and an adult name around the age of 100 and can live to be 750 years old.
Alignment. Elves are often cruel, devious, and mischievous. They tend towards both chaos and evil, however, there are exceptions.
Size. An Athasian elf stands between 6 1/2 and 7 1/2 feet tall. They are slender, lean, and generally in terrific physical condition. Your size is Medium.
Speed. Your base walking speed is 35 feet.
Darkvision. Accustomed to traveling during the cool, night hours, you have superior vision in dark and dim conditions. You can see in dim light within 60 feet of you as if it were bright light, and in darkness as if it were dim light. You can’t discern color in darkness, only shades of gray.
Keen Senses. You have proficiency in the Perception skill.
Elven Weapon Training. You have proficiency with the longsword, shortsword, shortbow, and longbow.
Desert Ambusher. When you are in the desert or steppes of Athas, you gain a +2 bonus to your initiative checks and you can’t be surprised while you are conscious.
Fey Ancestry. You have advantage on saving throws against being charmed, and magic can’t put you to sleep.
Trance. Elves don’t need to sleep. Instead, they meditate deeply remaining semiconscious for 4 hours a day. (The Common word for such meditation is “trance.”) While meditating, you can dream after a fashion; such dreams are actually mental exercises that have become reflexive through years of practice. After resting in this way, you gain the same benefit that a human does from 8 hours of sleep.
Languages. You can speak Common and Elvish.
Elves and humans travel many of the same roads on Athas—elven tribes have at times encountered human mercenaries, just as elven warriors have found gainful employment in the armies of the city-states. The merchant class, too, is overrun with traders of both races, so it is not at all unusual for children of mixed parentage to be born into the
A half-elf is generally tall, between 6 and 6 1/2 feet tall, but meatier than his elven counterparts. His facial features are clearly more deeply defined than those of a human, but based solely on his countenance a half-elf can usually pass for either an elf or a human.
A half-elf’s life is typically hardened by the intolerance of others. Neither fully human nor fully elven, half-elves rarely find acceptance with either race. Elves are especially intolerant, at times driving mothers of half-elven infants from their camps into the desert. Humans are more apt to accept half-elves as allies or partners, but seldom accept them into their homes, clans, or families. Rarely do half-elves congregate in great enough numbers to form communities of their own, so they remain, outsiders, forever wandering from situation to situation without a people, land, or village to call home.
Intolerance, however, has given the half-elf his greatest attribute—self-reliance. As a loner, usually without a permanent residence, a half-elf survives the rigors of life in the wilderness completely on his own.
The skills involved in survival, such as locating food, water, and shelter, are only half of the challenge they face—half-elves must also learn to deal with the absence of companionship, the complete lack of conversation and basic friends kip.
Coincidentally, faced with intolerance from the races of their parentage, many turn to completely alien races for acceptance. Dwarves, halflings, and even thri-kreen have no basic dislike of half-elves—nor do they grant them any favor. At the very least a kalf-elf dealing with these races can expect no automatic prejudices. Also, some half-elves turn for companionship to the animal world, training beasts of the air and sands as servants and friends.
Athasian Half-Elf Traits
Your half-elf character has some qualities in common with elves and some that are unique to half-elves.
Ability Score Increase. Your Dexterity score increases by 1, and two other ability scores of your choice increase by 1.
Age. Half-elves mature at the same rates humans do and reach adulthood around the age of 20. They live much longer than humans, however, often exceeding 180 years.
Alignment. A half-elf provides itself on its self-reliance, giving them a bent towards chaos. They chafe at rules, resent others’ demands, and sometimes prove unreliable, or at least unpredictable.
Size. Half-elves are about the same size as Athasian humans, ranging from 6 to 6 1/2 feet tall. Your size is Medium.
Speed. Your base walking speed is 35 feet.
Darkvision. Thanks to your elf blood, you have superior vision in dark and dim conditions. You see in dim light within 60 feet of you as if it were bright light, and in darkness as if it were dim light. You can’t discern color in darkness, only shades of gray.
One with the Wild. You have proficiency in the Animal Handling and Survival skills.
Languages. You can speak Common, Elvish, and one other language of your choice.
Giants dominate many of the islands and coastal areas of the Silt Sea, wading across it to plunder the communities of smaller races where they find them. In some lost millennium, as a bizarre experiment or perhaps as some sort of curse, giants were magically crossbred with humans. Half-giants are now fairly common, especially to human controlled lands at the edge of the sea of dust.
Though no one knows for certain, half-giants seem to be a fairly young race, perhaps only a few tens of centuries old. There is no half-giant culture common to all of their kind. On the contrary, having insufficient history and overall intelligence to have their own culture, half-giants tend to readily adopt the cultures of other creatures they admire or associate with. Half-giants are very imitative creatures, eager to fit into new situations as they present themselves.
Half-giants sometimes collect into communities of their own, though they most often adopt the culture and customs of those creatures that are nearby. When near an elven nation, for instance, half-giants will form their own hunting and raiding parties, adopting the ways of the elven marauders. They won’t mix with the elves, neither will they fight with them. In most instances, imitative half-giant communities will compete directly with the race whom they are likening themselves to. It is their great size and combat prowess that keeps their competitors at a safe distance. Half-giants can switch their attitudes very quickly, taking on new values to fit new situations. A half-giant whose peaceful farming life is disrupted by marauders may soon adopt the morals of the very renegades who sacked his village.
Athasian Half-Giant Traits
Half-giant share a number of traits in common with giants, as well as having unique characteristics only they possess.
Ability Score Increase. Your Strength score increases by 4, your Constitution score increases by 2, and your Charisma score increases by 1.
Age. Half-giants have lifespans comparable to humans. They enter adulthood in their late teens and usually live a little more than a century.
Alignment. Half-giants are imitable but flexible. Typically, one aspect of their alignment remains fixed while the other stays neutral. For example, a “lawful” half-giant could be good one day or evil the next. While a “good” half-giant may conform to laws on one day, or break towards chaos on another.
Size. A half-giant is an enormous individual, standing between 10 and 12 feet tall, and weighing in the neighborhood of 1,600 pounds. Your size is Large.
As a Large creature, you gain the following benefits:
- You can use Large weapons. A Large weapon deals double the listed damage dice on a hit and costs 4 times the normal price. You can wield Medium two-handed and versatile weapons in one hand. You have disadvantage wielding a Medium or smaller weapon that does not have the two-handed or versatile weapon property. Medium weapons with the versatile property always deal the two-handed damage when wielded by you.
- All clothing, armor, and other items that must be fitted to your build cost you 4 times as much as normal.
- When you make an attack with a thrown or ranged weapon, your normal range is doubled and your long range is tripled.
- When you make a melee attack on your turn, your reach for it is 5 feet greater than normal.
Speed. Your base walking speed is 30 feet.
Athletic. You have proficiency in the Athletics skill.
Languages. You can speak Common, Giant, and one other language of your choice.
Level Adjustment. Because of the benefits of being a large creature, half-giants count as two character levels higher when calculating class levels and experience.
Beyond the Ringing Mountains are jungles that flourish in rains that never reach the Tablelands or the Sea of Silt. There, life is abundant, the foliage thick and untamed. The undisputed rulers of these jungles are the halflings.
A halfling is a very short humanoid, standing no more than 3 1/2 feet in height. They are muscled and proportioned like humans, but they have the faces of wise and beautiful children. Halflings live to be as much as 120 years old, but once they reach adulthood, their features never succumb to their years—it’s very difficult for an outsider to determine a given halfling’s age. A halfling weighs 50 to 60 pounds and is virtually always in peak physical condition.
Halflings possess a great deal of racial unity. Though divided politically into separate villages and communities, halflings have great respect for their race as a whole. Political differences between them are settled wherever possible peaceably, through ritual and custom, most often under the direction of their clerical leaders, the shaman witch doctors.
On a personal level, halflings relate very well to one another, well enough to have built a considerable culture rich in art, song, and other expressive communication. However, they tend to rely heavily on their culture for communication, a culture that both parties in a conversation are assumed to understand. It is difficult for a halfling to compensate in conversation for a listener who isn’t intimately familiar with halfling culture, and as such, they easily become frustrated with outsiders. Depending upon how “official” a meeting is, outsiders often have to take great pains to learn local customs merely to
communicate with the halflings in question. Of course, halflings who have traveled widely outside their traditional jungle home have a much greater tolerance of those with a “lack” of halfling culture; so much so that they can communicate easily and without frustration. Halfling culture is fabulously diverse, but difficult for other races to comprehend. A complete history of their culture, if such a thing existed, would speak
volume upon volume of complex social change, inspirational clerical leaders, and in-depth personal studies of the halfling and his duty to his jungle home. Conspicuous in their absence would be references to great wars of conquest or tremendous monetary wealth—the yardsticks by which other races measure cultural success. Halfling culture cares for the individual’s inward being, his identity and spiritual unity with his race and environment. Their culture does not provide for more traditional values, and vices such as greed and avarice are particularly discouraged.
Oddly, the richness of the land may be disturbed and examined, even used for a halfling’s own gain. However, those riches belong to the land and, in the mind of the halfling, should never be moved away. For instance, nature intended a spring to bring water only to a certain area. To move the water through irrigation to some other area is not what nature had in mind. Similarly, an archaeological find in the jungle that yields a great pile of gold and metals is an event that shouldn’t be tampered with—the gold
might be used to raise a spectacular series of clerical buildings on the spot, but it should not be carted off to some other location.
Athasian Halfling Traits
Your halfling character has a number of traits in common with all other halflings.
Ability Score Increase. Your Dexterity score increases by 2, your Wisdom score increases by 1, and your Strength score is reduced by 2.
Age. A halfling reaches adulthood at the end of 20 and generally lives in the middle of his or her second century.
Alignment. While halflings may be seen to outsiders as feral and chaotic, their villages are unified and structured; they tend towards lawful. They are also very orderly and traditional, leaning heavily on the support of their community and the comfort of their old ways.
Size. Halflings average about 3 feet tall and weigh about 50 pounds. Your size is Small.
Speed. Your base walking speed is 25 feet.
Magic Resistance. You have advantage on saving throws against spells and other magical effects.
Halfling Nimbleness. You can move through the space of any creature that is of a size larger than yours.
Halfling Resilience. You have advantage on saving throws against poison, and you have resistance against poison damage.
Languages. You can speak Common and Halfling.
Humans are the predominant race on Athas. Human characters are not restricted in either the classes they can choose or the levels they can attain. High-level humans can easily become the most powerful characters in the campaign.
An average human male stands between 6 and 6 1/2 feet tall and weighs 180 to 200 pounds. A human female is somewhat smaller, averaging between 5 1/2 and 6 feet in height and weighing between 100 and 140 pounds. The colors of skin, eyes, and hair
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 Athas 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 shorter limbs, etc.
Athasian Human Traits
Humans on Athas have the same diversity as humans anywhere else. Their traits are the same as the ones described in the PHB.
A mul (pronounced: mul) is an incredibly tough crossbreed of a human and dwarf. They retain the height and cunning of their human parent, plus the durability and raw strength of their dwarven heritage. Muls are usually the products of the slave pits—owners recognize the muls’ assets as gladiators and laborers, and so order the births of as many muls as can be managed within the ranks of their slaves. Muls are born sterile—they cannot perpetuate their kind.
A full-grown mul stands 6 to 6 1/2 feet tall and weighs 240-300 pounds. They are fair skinned, sometimes tending toward a copperish coloration. Their dwarven ancestry gives them a well-muscled frame and an incredible constitution—mul laborers can
perform heavy work for days at a time without stopping. Muls have stern facial features. They are unmistakably human in appearance, though their ears are swept back and slightly pointed. Most muls, whether male or female, have no hair or beard.
Born as they are to lives of slave labor, with the taskmaster’s whip taking the place of parents and family, muls are given to a gruff personality and violent reactions. Understandably, many never seek friends or companionship but live out their lives in
servitude, driven by Katred and spite. Most, however, learn who to trust in the slave pits and who not to, gaining favor and reputation among the other slaves.
Many slave muls Kave either escaped or otherwise won their freedom and now live independent lives all over Athas. Of these, a large percentage have bartered their combat prowess, making their way as soldiers or guards. A few others, given to more cerebral pursuits, have turned to priestly devotions or the mental disciplines of psionics.
Athasian Mul Traits
Your mul character has certain traits deriving from your dwarven ancestry.
Ability Score Increase. Your Strength score increases by 2, and your Constitution score increases by 1.
Age. Muls mature at the same rate humans do, reaching adulthood at 20. They live a little longer than humans, typically to 120 years of age.
Alignment. Muls are taught from a young age their place in the world; its rare that one seeks freedom from its lot in life. For this reason, muls tend towards lawful alignments.
Size. Muls stand 6 to 6 1/2 in height and weight between 200 to 240 pounds. Your size is Medium.
Speed. Your base walking speed is 30 feet.
Relentless Endurance. When you are reduced to 0 hit points but not killed outright, you can drop to 1 hit point instead. You can’t use this feature again until you finish a long rest.
Savage Attacks. When you score a critical hit with a melee weapon attack, you can roll one of the weapon’s damage dice one additional time and add it to the extra damage of the critical hit.
Efficient Rest. Muls require less sleep than most other races. After resting for 6 hours, you gain the same benefit that a human does from 8 hours of sleep.
Languages. You can speak Common and Dwarven.
Hulking insect-men standing as tall as 7 feet at the shoulder, the thri-kreen are the least “human” of the major Athasian races. Their survivability in the wilderness, combined with their cunning and intellect, have made the mantis warriors (as they are
known to some races) the undisputed masters across large tracts of the Athasian wastes.
The individual thri-kreen is a six-limbed creature with a tough, sandy-yellow exoskeleton. Its hind legs are the most powerful, used for walking, running, and leaping. The four forward limbs each have a hand with three fingers and an opposable thumb. A
thri-kreen’s exoskeleton is extremely hard.
A thri-kreen’s head has two large eyes, two antennae, and a small-but-powerful jaw. The jaws work from side to side and have several small extensions that grab and manipulate food while it is being eaten. The eyes are jet black and multi-faceted, separated to either side of the head. The antennae are all but vestigial, serving only to help maneuver
through brush and grasslands in the darkness.
Thri-kreen have no need for sleep. Thri-kreen characters can remain active through the day and night. Thri-kreen make and use a variety of weapons. Chief among them are the gythka, a polearm with wicked blades at either end and the chatkcha, a crystalline throwing wedge. They also fashion many forms of clothing but never wear armor.
The pack is the single unit of organization among the thri-kreen, generally having 2-24 individuals. The pack is always on the hunt, never idle—there are no permanent thri-kreen communities. The so-called thri-kreen nations are, in fact, not organized as such, nor are they thought of as nations by the mantis warriors. The nations are human conventions to delineate on maps where the thri-kreen thrive and dominate.
Thri-kreen are carnivores and the pack is constantly on the hunt for food. They consider the other Athasian races as potential food stock but only prey on other intelligent creatures in times of desperation. The mantis warriors have a well-known taste for elves, which keeps both races at an uneasy peace when they are forced to cooperate.
Athasian Thri-Kreen Traits
Your thri-kreen character has a variety of natural abilities.
Ability Score Increase. Your Dexterity score increases by 2, your Wisdom score increases by 1, and your Intelligence score is reduced by 1.
Age. Thri-kreen live short lives. They reach adulthood around the age of 10 years and typically live no longer than 30 years.
Size. Thri-kreen are much taller than humans, standing 7 to 7 1/2 feet tall. Your size is Medium.
Speed. Your base walking speed is 40 feet.
Darkvision. Your large eyes and antennae help you navigate the dark. You can see in dim light within 60 feet of you as if it were bright light, and in darkness as if it were dim light. You can’t discern color in darkness, only shades of gray.
Claws. Your claws are natural weapons, which you can use to make unarmed strikes. If you hit with them, you deal slashing damage equal to 1d4 + your Strength modifier, instead of the bludgeoning damage normal for an unarmed strike.
Four Arms. You have an extra pair of arms in the center of your chest. You can use these extra arms to lift items weighing no more than three times your Strength score. You can use your arms to do the following simple tasks: lift, drop, hold, push, or pull an object or a creature; open or close a door or a container; grapple someone or make an unarmed strike. your GM might allow other simple tasks to be added to that list of options.
Your extra arms can’t hold shields or do anything that requires manual precision such as using tools or magic items or performing the somatic components of a spell.
When you reach 5th level, you can use your bonus action to make an attack with your extra arms. This extra attack can only be made using your claw attack, a simple weapon that does not have the heavy or two-handed properties, or a chatkcha.
Standing Leap. Your long jump is up to 30 feet and your high jump is up to 15 feet, with or without a running start.
Natural Armor. You have a thick carapace. When you aren’t wearing armor, your AC is 13 + your Dexterity modifier. You can use your natural armor to determine your AC if the armor you wear would leave you with a lower AC. A shield’s benefits apply as normal while you use your natural armor.
Sleepless. Thri-kreen do not require sleep. While resting, you remain alert and can perform light tasks. After resting this way for 4 hours, you gain the same benefit that a human does from 8 hours of sleep.
Languages. You can speak Thri-kreen. Because of your physiology, you can’t learn other languages. However, you have telepathy out to 60 feet which you can use to communicate with other creatures with which you are familiar. The target of your telepathy must be able to speak a language in order for you to communicate with it.
Optional Rule: Innate Psionics
Nearly all demihumans living on Athas possess some form of innate psionics, some more developed than others. At the GM’s discretion, each character can start with one psionic talent as described in the Unearthed Arcana Mystics article.
Optional Rule: Literacy
Reading and writing are generally outlawed in the city-states. Those caught reading and writing are either forced into slavery or executed by the Templars. However, any time a character is allowed to learn a new language, they can choose literacy instead, granting them the ability to read and write all of the languages that they know.
Next: Classes of Athas
All art by Wizards of the Coast and TSR.