If you’re not a fan of the Dark Sun D&D setting, this won’t mean much to you.
I’ve seen several people on various forums complaining about the removal of the in-depth backstory from the 4E incarnation of Dark Sun. These people felt that the complex and funky history is what made the setting work for them.
Well, okay. They’re welcome to feel that way, but me? I feel that ditching every last iota of that history was the best decision WotC could have made.
But not because I didn’t like it. I did like it. I just didn’t like it here.
Dark Sun, as created, was a setting for good, old-fashioned, harsh-and-violent sword-and-sandal fantasy roleplaying. Barsoom meets Dune meets D&D for a hot and sweaty three-way. And that was, and is, a great setting to have.
You know what ruins a setting like that?
1) Answers that remove all the mystery.
2) The sudden introduction of details that change the entire tenor of the world.
I don’t want to be reading a Conan story and suddenly have Robert Howard tell me that the world used to be a high-tech, cyberpunk-like society. I don’t want to be reading Lovecraft and suddenly have him explain that Cthulhu is actually a human being in a giant suit, who only wants to rule the world so that he can find love.
And damn it, I didn’t want to find out that Athas was a lush, green world which the halflings ruled via sci-fi level organic technology until a very specific and very detailed set of circumstances led to it becoming what it is.
A setting like Dark Sun should–no, must–leave its past mysterious. It needs to never give concrete answers about what happened, or the way things used to be. And it certainly never needs to suddenly become science-fiction. There are perfectly good places to mix sci-fi and fantasy, but an already established world–that people like for what it is–isn’t the place. It transforms a property that is X into one that is Y.
There’s nothing wrong with Y. Heck, I’d love to see a brand new setting predicated on all the specifics of old 2E Athas history. But it’s not what Athas was created to be, and it’s not conducive to the mood, the feel, and the stories that can best be told with Athas as X.