Updated: Nov 15, 2021
The blazing sun. The parched wastes. The heat of the desert. In Dark Sun, the environment can play a large part in gameplay. It doesn’t have to – you can run a great Dark Sun game without ever setting foot outside one of the city-states – but if you plan to head out into the dunes, it’s handy to have a set of rules to call on when needed.
Dark Sun 2e features several systems that can be used to deal with environmental hazards. In this blog, I’m sharing a few of those that see use the most often in the games I’m streaming at Lawful Stupid RPG. These are in three general categories: exposure, dehydration, and the Gray Death. Most of these rules have appeared in various 2e products, spread over several supplements. This blog pulls them together, tweaks them a little, and polishes them off for use in your games. A pdf summarising the rules is, as always, attached at the end of the blog.
The brutal Athasian sun is a major hazard. Merely being out in the heat of the day risks damage from heat stroke – and the freezing temperatures of the desert night can be similarly dangerous. In game terms, this is expressed in Constitution damage. The two tables below give you a way to generate random temperatures in the Tablelands and the less-hospitable Valley of Dust and Fire (or simply choose a result you like from the table), and then summarise how much Constitution damage a character would suffer under that temperature.
An unprotected character takes Constitution damage from heat stroke/cold at the level and frequency for the day’s temperature. A successful heat protection non-weapon proficiency check negates all damage from heat stroke/cold for that day. An argosy, building, or cave provide varying degrees of shelter from heat stroke (see below). Elves never take Constitution damage from heat stroke or cold – as creatures of the deep desert, they are accustomed to extremes of temperature.
Shade and Shelter
Characters can, of course, shield themselves from the rays of the dark sun. In addition to the heat protection non-weapon proficiency, other methods of acquiring shelter exist.
A parasol, lean-to, overhang, cave, tent, building or argosy provides shade. While this does not reduce damage from heat stroke, it does allow a character to rest properly. Characters who cannot find shade when resting during the day must save vs. poison or fail to be fully rested (unable to recover spells or hit points). Shade also reduces the hazard of dehydration – see below.
An argosy provides partial shelter, reducing the temperature by one category for the purposes of heat stroke.
A building provides improved shelter, reducing the temperature by two categories for the purpose of heat stroke.
A cave provides total shelter, negating heat stroke for that day.
Lack of water can kill. Characters need differing amounts of water, depending on their size, race, armour worn, and level of activity.
An active Medium character (one undertaking hard exertion, walking, riding, etc.) needs 1 gallon of water per day.
An active Small character (such as a halfling) needs 1/2 gallon of water per day.
An active Large character (such as a half-giant) needs four gallons of water per day.
Thri-kreen need 1 gallon of water per week.
An inactive character (sitting, resting, sleeping, etc.), needs 1/2 their normal water rations.
A character in the shade (such as a parasol, lean-to, overhang, cave, tent, building or argosy) during the entire day needs 1/2 their normal water rations.
A character travelling at night needs 1/2 their normal water rations.
A character wearing a full suit of metal armour requires twice their normal water rations.
A character who receives their full requirement of water suffers no Constitution damage from dehydration.
A character who receives half or more of their full requirement of water suffers 1d4 points of Constitution damage.
A character who receives less than half of their full requirement of water suffers 1d6 points of Constitution damage.
Constitution loss occurs at midnight on the day the character did not receive full water rations. A character drinking full water rations regains 1d8 Con at the end of that day. Lost hit points return at the normal rate.
The Gray Death
The Gray Death is suffocation from windborne dust while wading or flying above the Sea of Silt or its basins and estuaries (or even travelling near their borders) on windy days. The lungs and throat slowly clog with dust, and unprotected characters travelling in these conditions suffer as if they were drowning, except all times are computed in turns, not melee rounds. The Gray Death also imposes a +4 initiative penalty and –4 to hit and damage on all creatures enveloped by it.
Breathing through a thin, fine cloth (such as a filter mask) halves the initiative and attack roll penalties and avoids suffocation. The cloth must be kept damp and clean, which consumes 1/2 gallon of water per day (2 gallons for Large creatures).
Dust goggles will further reduce initiative and attack roll penalties by one point.
Taking refuge in a building or other protected area will also negate any penalties caused by the Gray Death.
The tables below provide a method for randomly generating wind conditions – roll on the table or choose a result. The tables list wind strength and the effects this has on the Gray Death. The tables also list the effect the wind has on silt-borne vehicles, if you use them in your game.
Moderate winds cause Gray Death conditions for silt waders or silt walkers only.
Strong winds cause Gray Death conditions for anyone within one mile of the dust basin and flyers at less than 500’ altitude. Aerial movement costs double.
Storm winds cause Gray Death conditions for anyone within five miles of the dust basin and all flyers, regardless of altitude. Terrain costs triple; aerial movement costs quadruple.
Sirocco winds cause Gray Death conditions for anyone within 20 miles of the dust basin. No flight or surface movement is possible. Siroccos lasts 1d4 days and nights (1 day in the Valley of Dust and Fire). Do not reroll weather until the storm blows itself out.
Ash Storm conditions prevent all movement, and scouring, lightning, and Gray Death conditions exist for all exposed characters.
Download the pdf below for a summary of these rules. What other rules do you use in your games? Drop us a comment below and let us know!