|Cosmology / Powers and Deities / Dramatis Personae /
Rules and Mechanics / Character Creation / Equipment
Far off the beaten track is the Crimson Sphere, home of Athas, the world of the Dark Sun. Although there are well-explored and documented rivers through the flow to this sphere, they remain unused. Traders and travelers alike have chosen to forget the route, for the sphere is said to be cursed. In over two thousand years, few have journeyed to the Crimson Sphere, and fewer still have returned.
Overview of the Crimson Sphere
The sphere of the Dark Sun is massive, or perhaps it seems massive. Between the outermost world and the spherewall is the Black Gulf, a cold, dark region that takes no less than two months to cross. The Black Gulf is haunted by unimaginable horrors; most ships that attempt to cross it are never heard from again. Those that survive speak of almost constant attacks, their ships torn and near ruin.
The spelljamming cultures of the Crimson Sphere are quite primitive. If anything, resources are scarcer than on Athas itself. The largest cities are ruled over by terrible sorcerer kings who construct armadas from the husks of gigantic insects. They battle over rare verdant asteroids and tiny caches of ever precious iron. Always in the shadows are the illithids, awaiting the time when the might of the sorcerer kings fail and they can sweep over the cities, expanding their rule.
The ships of the Crimson Sphere are small asteroid-hoppers powered by psionic helms or terrible lifejammers; true spelljammer helms are unheard of. Catapults and ballistae are rare devices, highly coveted but impossible to repair. Ships from other spheres, such as hammerships, are unknown. If one were found, it would be a one-of-a-kind, a relic to be fought over until it falls apart from lack of repairs, for none would know how to or have the materials to properly repair such a craft. Most ships cannot survive a landing on a large world, as their hulls are too fragile for such things and their helms too weak to escape the pull of large planets.
Worlds of the Crimson Sphere
Size I Spherical fire body
The sun of the Crimson Sphere is a large, hot red fiery orb at the heart of the sphere. Ancient texts once described it as either a hot blue or a hot yellow sun, long ago. What manner of magic that darken the sun is unknown, but the illithids are extremely interested in it. If they can darken the sun more, they will no long be adversely affected by its light, and their power will increase.
Size C Spherical earth body
Cinder is all that is left of an unnamed inner world that was consumed by the sun. It orbits barely an hour’s journey outside the sun’s corona. So close is it that Cinder is occasionally charred by solar flares.
The planet is tidally locked. On the far side of Cinder, facing away from the sun, is a patch of habitable land maybe 90 miles in diameter. This grassland gives way to thin mountain forests at the center. This is the domain of the city-state of Mahda. The ruler of this city-state is said to be an undead creature, his body charred and burned beyond recognition. He uses his subjects as cattle for his experiments.
Size E Spherical earth body, 2 moons
The world of the Dark Sun, Athas is a desert world. It is the primary world of the sphere, and is detailed extensively in the Dark Sun line of products from TSR.
Few ships visit Athas these days. Even ships from the Crimson Sphere rarely visit Athas, for the dangers of such a trip almost always outweigh any benefit. The moons of Guthay and Ral are slightly more inviting, but have thin atmospheres. A few slave villages can be found on Guthay, well-hidden in deep caves. The illithids are interested in establishing bases on the moons, but their efforts are always foiled by the sorcerer-kings.
Behind Guthay is the city-state of Sentinel. It orbits Guthay in a stable fashion that always keeps the city hidden from Athas. Sentinel is a disc-shaped city with strong walls and shelters to last a year-long siege. Rajaat built it as a last line of defense against any invasion of Athas from other worlds. The Warden-King of Sentinel is Dabi, the Shield of Rajaat. He was the most trusted of Rajaat’s Wardens, but was quickest to betray his master. Dabi attempted many short-cuts to become a full dragon, and was horribly deformed by the process.
Size A to B Asteroid belt
In the ancient texts, this thin asteroid belt was a whole world. It shattered long ago in some unrecorded disaster. Today the asteroids are found in six clusters that share roughly the same orbit. Most of the asteroids are barren rocks with thin atmospheres, unsuitable for habitation. A few, maybe one in every twenty, has enough air and water to support plant life. The rare verdant asteroids amount to the bread-basket of spelljamming cultures in the Crimson Sphere. These prizes are fiercely fought over by the city-states and raided for slaves by the illithids.
Shard Islands – The largest cluster is the Shard Islands. The asteroids are the domain of the city-state of Hopa. Nearby asteroids are farmed and fiercely protected by the Hopa navy.
Verdant Stones – The city-state of Nijhal is found at the heart of this, the most prosperous cluster. There are dozens of farmable asteroids, worked by slaves of Nijhal. The cluster is well-patrolled by Nijhal’s navy.
Cursed Cluster – This cluster is dotted with hundreds of abandoned villages. Ravishes by battles between the invaders and the Wardens, the Cursed Cluster has been stripped of all life.
Far Clutch – Most distant of the clusters from the major cities, the Far Clutch sees little trade. As such, it is a popular hiding place for escaped slaves. The illithids have begun to prowl the Far Clutch for new sources of slaves.
Salt Shoals – The ruins of an unnamed city-state are buried somewhere in this cluster. The Warden-King of the city defied Borys, who ordered the city destroyed and the land salted as a lesson to those that would defy his power.
Gray Reef – Found between the Shoal Islands and the Verdant Stones, the Gray Reef is a warzone. Ships from both city-states stalk each other. Free villages are becoming few and scattered as they fall one-by-one to one power or another.
Size C Spherical earth body
A dwarf of a world far beyond the Sextant, K’ydon has much in common with Athas. Both are dry, desert worlds with little life and scarce resources. K’ydon is a cold desert with long winters and short summers. Water can be found trapped in the permafrost tundra, but is difficult to tap.
K’ydon’s most remarkable feature is the city-state that shares the same name. It is ruled by the ruthless Warden-Queen Hu. The city is marked by a five-sided ziggurat, a solid stone fortress, and a market square. It is found on the equator in the shadow of four great hills.
Size F Spherical air body, 3 moons
The largest planet in the Crimson Sphere was named by the Wardens for their master. It is a dark, cold, ash-choked air world devoid of life. The interior is unexplored but probably hides ships lost during the Cleansing War as several battles were fought above Rajaat’s clouds.
The moons have been conquered by invaders from other spheres. Prime of these are the illithids, who rule from their throne-world of Th-ki-chu. Slaves toil away in mindless bliss in caverns under the illithid fortresses. The ruins of dozens of these fortresses dot the surface of Th-ki-chu, casualties of the Cleansing War. Such was the destruction that even after two millennia, the illithids are but a fraction of their numbers when they first invaded the sphere. Other moons include the remains of Hejin, a broken moon haunted by undead beholders, and At-ur, the obsidian moon.
Just beyond Rajaat is the dreaded Black Gulf, the region that divides the worlds of the Crimson Sphere from the spherewall. The Black Gulf has swallowed many ships that have dared to venture into its inky depths. From the accounts of those that survived trips into this forsaken region give a terrifying account.
At first, light begins to dim all around the ship. After two days, the stars twinkle out. After the fifth, the sun is no longer visible. Light from candles and lanterns dim, as if oppressed by some unseen shadow. Always one feels as if he is being watched. That is when the attacks begin. At first, lone watchmen at attacked by unseen creatures. Then the attacks intensify. After the tenth day, the attacks come hourly. While light can drive the strange creatures away, they can summon darkness at will, snuffing out any light source. Some creatures are so strong they can rend metal and rip off and carry away whole sections of ships. After many days, if the ship and crew have survived to this point, they escape the Black Gulf.
History of the Crimson Sphere
It is not known what the Crimson Sphere was like prior to the Cleansing War. Fragments of ancient star charts hint at a prosperous family of planets, perhaps even ports and civilization beyond Athas. Much like on Athas, the Cleansing War swept over the rest of the sphere like an encroaching plague. Rajaat knew well that the Cleaning War would attract those seeking to take advantage of the warfare to their own ends, not his own. To counter the threat from other worlds, Rajaat anointed twelve Wardens. One by one, each Warden constructed a great ziggurat. In each of these ziggurats was placed one of the twelve Shards of the Zodiac. At the zenith of each zodiac, a ziggurat lifted into the sky and disappeared into the night. Each bore a great army within their stone halls, led by their Warden captains.
As Rajaat foresaw, the start of the Cleansing War caught the attention of beings from other worlds. Alien creatures, known elsewhere as illithids and beholders, sent their agents and fleets. Others came as well, such as the elves of the Imperial Fleet, pirates from a hundred spheres, and countless petty warlords. The Wardens battled them all, leaving much destruction in their wake.
Sometime during the 162nd King’s Age, the Wardens’ defense of Athas was on the brink of collapse. Fearful of being overrun, they brought about the Black Gulf to cut off the reinforcements of their many enemies. The tactic worked all too well; the invaders’ supply lines were severed, but no one, not even the Wardens themselves, could escape the Crimson Sphere.
The Wardens played little part in Borys’ rebellion against Rajaat. Indeed, so focused were they on destroying the last of the invaders that the event passed them by without them even knowing it. Not until the 170th King’s Age did they learn of Rajaat’s imprisonment, when they were approached by Borys. The Wardens were given a choice: side with Borys, or be destroyed. Those that sided with Borys gained great power that in time became not unlike that of the sorcerer-kings. Those that did not perished. Borys instructed the Wardens to continue their vigilance against the surviving invaders. The Wardens each claimed a city-state and began two millennium of petty warfare against one another.
Ships of the Crimson Sphere
There are few variations of ships in the Crimson Sphere. Shortages of wood and tools have forced most travelers to use the carcasses of giant insects and other creatures. Ships from other spheres might be encountered, but they will be unique in the sphere. The ships presented below represent the most common craft flown in the sphere.
Dragonfly – Tonnage 5 tons, Hull Points 5, Crew 1/5, Maneuvering Class C, Landing – Ground only, Armor Rating 9, Saves As thin wood, Power Type Psijammer, Cargo 2 tons, Keel 30’, Beam 15’.
The thri-kreen make use of this small, unusual ship. The hull is the carcass of a giant insect while the wings are an unusual, paper-like material that the thri-kreen can make. Dragonflies travel in packs, as they are easy prey otherwise. Use the standard deckplan of a dragonfly, with the following modifications: remove the ship weapon and cargo hold, reduce the dimensions of the forward half of the ship to 30’ by 15’, and remove the stairs to the upper deck. Thri-kreen simply jump to get to the top deck.
Eel – Tonnage 15 tons, Hull Points 15, Crew 4/15, Maneuvering Class C, Landing – Water only, Armor Rating 8, Saves As thin wood, Power Type Psijammer, Cargo 8 tons, Keel 110’, Beam 15’.
The eel is a fairly common tradesman in the Crimson Sphere. It is the one ship that can still be built, even if pieces of chitin are used instead of wood. All eels are unarmed, by order of the Warden-Kings. Use the standard deckplans of an eelship, except removing the weapons.
Lamprey – Tonnage 15 tons, Hull Points 15, Crew 6/15, Maneuvering Class D, Landing – Water only, Armor Rating 7, Saves As thin wood, Power Type Psijammer, Cargo 8 tons, Keel 100’, Beam 20’.
Primary vessel of the illithid nations, the lamprey is a ship made from bones and chitin. It is indeed a terrible vessel to behold, decorated with human skulls and human-skin sails. A medium weapon is carried, firing forward. Other weapons are removed from the standard lamprey deckplan, as the illithids do not have the resources to properly outfit such craft. The grappling ram is likewise removed, making room for slave quarters at the bow of the ship.
Lesser Ziggurat – Tonnage 90 tons, Hull Points 90, Crew 6/90, Maneuvering Class F, Landing – Ground only, Armor Rating 1, Saves As stone, Power Type Lifejammer, Cargo 25 tons, Keel 80’, Beam 80’.
The lesser Ziggurat is pyramid-shaped and serves as the battleship of the Crimson Sphere. The interior is largely hollow with a much smaller pyramid at the center, from which the Templar commands his minions. A small army is carried aboard a lesser Ziggurat, up to six hundred men. Use the standard deckplans for the Flying Pyramid, removing all by four heavy ballistae and sealing most of the gun ports.
Scarabship – Tonnage 15 tons, Hull Points 15, Crew 6/15, Maneuvering Class C, Landing – Ground only, Armor Rating 8, Saves As bone, Power Type Lifejammer, Cargo 12 tons, Keel 75’, Beam 20’.
The Scarabship is another ship made from the chitin hide of a colossal insect, except made from a beetle. It has a pair of wings to improve maneuvering, but rarely armed. It is commonly used to carry important cargo or as a transport for troops. Use the standard deckplans for the scorpionship with the following modifications: remove all ship weapons including the claw rams, remove the tail, and shorten the legs to one-quarter the original length.
Scorpionship – Tonnage 15 tons, Hull Points 15, Crew 6/15, Maneuvering Class D, Landing – Ground only, Armor Rating 7, Saves As bone, Power Type Lifejammer, Cargo 12 tons, Keel 75’, Beam 20’.
The Scorpionship is made from the chitin hide of a colossal scorpion. Wooden decks have been installed, but conditions can be cramped. The only armament of these ships is their claws, which are kept operable by wooden gears. A pair of half-giants operates the claws. The lifejammer is kept in the head of the scorpion and watched over by a third half-giant or other strong guard. Use the standard scorpion deckplans for this ship, modifying by removing the ballista and catapults.