I have nothing better to do at the moment so I will spend a bit of time giving my first impressions of recently released Dark Sun art, I will review the 8 new preview screenshots that Wizards released for their upcoming Dark Sun Campaign Setting.
The artist has one of my favorite modern styles in fantasy art. I love the gritty poses and the over-sized weapons. There is a surreal quality to the artwork where certain martial aspects are exaggerated. The feeling is evocative of a struggle for survival where the scant rewards are relished for their cost. In no other campaign world as much as Dark Sun is the fight for survival as keenly felt as Athas, where the dying red rays cause sun-warped madness. In the world of Dark Sun every breath is a fight against burning lungs, every sip a struggle against drowning. To survive youth into adulthood is to reach mastery in the art of death and killing. To live is to fight. Yes I would say this is some iconic art right here. The particulars of the scene are also iconic, symbolic and all around great depictions of Dark Sun details. From the obsidian sword, to the blazing ball in the sky, this picture is full of Dark Sun. My favorite part of this piece is that it is made up of that leathers and feathers look of post apocalyptic attire.
This piece of art has one awesome component, and that is the elf. This is how I want my elves in Dark Sun - insane scantily clad thief acrobats. They are amoral fey thieves and robbers who delight in taking what they want through deception and their own physical prowess. The rest of the combatants are less striking visually, though there is a good depiction of bone armor. The background shows a pretty typical urban alleyway or bazaar in a desert region. Lots of sand and fabric. I am not such a fan of the cowering and weak populace, as I tend to like the idea that in Dark Sun even the peasants are warriors first. These people all look like Annakins mother in Phantom Menace. And while I draw a lot of Dark Sun inspiration from Tatooine, the peasantry is not really one of them. It must however be admitted that she was a slave, and that slavery is one of the themes of Dark Sun, so perhaps the image of the cowering slave-peasantry is apt after all.
I have never before wanted to play a thri kreen before this moment, but that dude is one bad ass, I dont care what animal kingdom you come from. I mean he has a leopard skin kilt for crying out loud. And just when you thought his bow-wielding could not get more epic, you realize that his great axe is not slung over his chest, oh no, he is wielding it in his second set of arms! The rest of the scene serves only to do him justice, as it took all the artists skill and imagination to throw a force at this master ranger equal to his abilities. I also approve of his twin bald bodyguards. This thri kreen knows how to roll.
There is no better place to fight the mighty behemoth than on the wind-swept planes of Dark Sun. In my campaign the party came into Dark Sun like we all come into the world – naked and hopeless. Nevertheless they threw themselves at a wild stampede of post-prehistoric monstrosities for no other reason than to slake their thirst on blood. Dinosaurs are fun to fight. In Dark Sun they do it for sport. Of particular note in this piece is the weird architecture in the back ground. I prefer my cities to be more bubbly and spire-y, like a Martian city ought, but Spikes and bones are cool too. Wait a minute, thats no building, why its on wheels! Ok this picture gets better and better. I havent even mentioned the incredible characters here, with that awesome turtle-shell shield, the flying barbarian attack, and hot sand-caster in the background.
This piece is unusual because it is generic enough that it could appear in almost any setting. There is nothing that stands out as belonging to Dark Sun. The characters seem over-dressed and well equipped. Another hairless purple giant, what is it, a Mul, goliath. half-giant? Im not sure why, but in each picture they look equally out of place and un-fun in my opinion, and this goes back to all large and giant type races from every edition of the game. The only large species I have been fond of as a PC race in my many years of gaming was the half-ogre (+6 str max 18/00 , -8 int min 3) and mostly because his size was made up for by the fact that he was usually a slobbering idiot. In one campaign, the player actually wrote out the 30 or so words his half-ogre knew with his 3 intelligence. Even with 30 words, the only one he ever seemed to use was tasty. Back to the artwork, even the castle looks distinctly medieval fantasy, although it scores a point for being ruined. As for the middle character, what puny weapon is he holding? If that is a mace, ahem, please compare it to the morning star twice as big as your head, nod to mention the dainty bumper on the end of that slender stick in his hand. Must be a bard.
We seem to have reached a nadir in the art department with this piece. I am not one to complain, but this art is one of my least favorites. It has some Dark Sun flair, as in it appears to be posed in an arena, with what looks like a gladiator slaying some kind of petty ruler. There is very little movement, bleached out colors, and no hair, everyone is either bald, a common affliction in a world where the average noon temperature can set your head on fire, or they are wearing a turban, a common solution to the head burning issue. Remember kids, it only takes once going outside without the turban, then WHOOSH no more hair. And that king deserved to die. What a pathetic lose rof a ruler, give the crown to the gladiator, maybe he can finally bring the kingdom out of this economic slump. Incidentally, this picture cant be wholly slammed, because it did give me the kernel of the idea for my whole campaign in Dark Sun, so there is that. Possibly its psychic qualities outweigh its physical attributes, which would go a long way towards helping it fit in better with the Dark Sun theme. Perhaps.
My least favorite piece is followed by my most. The grand scale of this artwork is as awesome as the scene it depicts. An endless sea of dunes, planets hanging gibbous in the dark sky, and relics of ages past half sunk in the world-spanning desert, while a lone wanderer braves the journey towards emptiness. This is Dark Sun. This piece speaks for itself.
This is one of the earliest Dark Sun images released, and I have had it as my back drop for a number of weeks. First the good. I have always loved the idea of buried cities in the sand, and this piece shows off exactly that – the ruins of an ancient city state of vast power uncovered in the ever shifting sands of the deep desert. A brave group of adventurers seek glory and wealth in the hidden dangers of that post-apocalyptic landscape. It also has a powerfully baleful red eye glaring down.
The picture loses some of its hold on me with the depiction of its heroes. First there is a blue giant, which I have already lamented in a previous work, so I will not go into it, but there he is again in all his bald-headed glory, and he even manages to get himself in a more ridiculous position than the other as well. I will crush your skull until it is small enough to fit between my buttocks, when I will crush it even more. The middle character is my favorite, bone swords are cool. She is attractive in her spiky armor, but as our eyes move over to another shirtless hairless stocky fellow. Dark Sun is full of them – short ones tall ones, big ones, round ones, we have all the purple hairless strongmen one can imagine. Entire races were tampered with to produce the most garishly pigmented entirely hairless stocky species possibly. They have accomplished this with the Mul, a word no one seems be able to pronounce, cause it cant be MULE can it, another stocky half-breed? I refuse to even discuss the halo of psionic power that rings this mules forehead like an asteroid belt of miniaturized ioun stones. My how far the game has gone these few short years…