There was a type of “magic” that was introduced in the 2E Dark Sun world which hasn’t made a return in 4E, that being “life-shaping”. In its simplest form, life-shaping was a sort of biotechnology, neither magic nor psionics, but something wholly from the Blue Age of the world. It always seemed to me reminiscent of G.I. Joe’s Cobra-La.
There are seven resources that cover the rules or concepts for life-shaping in Dark Sun:
- The first is where it all started, the Prism Pentad. It introduced the history of the Blue Age and something of the halfling technology during that period.
- The revised and expanded Dark Sun Campaign Setting for D&D 2E made those concepts from the Prism Pentad codified in a rules set.
- The 2E “Windriders of the Jagged Cliffs” supplement that covered the idea in more detailed and built rules for it.
- The 2E “Psionic Artifacts of Athas” supplement which included life shaped items.
- The life shaped creations in the Monstrous Compendium Annual volume 3.
- A 2E article in Dragon Magazine 255 entitled “Life-Shapes of Athas” (wonderfully illustrated by Tom Baxa) which really was just a list of new life-shaped items.
- An extensive rule set for 3E from Athas.org called the “Life Shaping Handbook“.
The idea was a unique and welcome breath of fresh air since Dark Sun was then at the forefront of new ideas, though it never seemed to find a place in the Dark Sun conscience. I attribute this to life-shaping being added too late to the world’s 2E run, first appearing in the revised Dark Sun setting (which I have mentioned before effectively doomed it in 2E).
So where can we find life-shaping now? The 4E Dark Sun Campaign Setting the section on the jagged cliffs didn’t seem to hint at life-shaping, which is odd for this book since there is much hinting at the old 2E content. So it’s really not around in the sense that there are to rules describe it, but it still has a place in 4E. Life-shaping will always give those encountering life-shaping for the first time a touch of the exotic, which is always fun for seasoned players who have seen it all. It also ties the players into to the world Athas was during the Blue Age, showing them what was before magic and psionics.