Monday, September 24, 2012

Character Profile: The Herald

The Herald is a character I wrote for a Dark Sun campaign I used to run. He was an essential component of my rather peculiar Dark Sun campaign arc and I thought I would present him as a potential addition to a Dark Sun campaign that wants to go a little off the rails.

In the Fourth Edition of Dungeons & Dragons, the world of Dark Sun exists as it does in part due to a great battle between the Primordials and the Gods. In that battle, the Gods were destroyed. The Primordials were either destroyed as well or left to do business elsewhere, leaving the world to slowly die on its own. By the time of the city-states and sorcerer-kings, the idea of gods and primordials is long since forgotten.

Things forgotten often have a way of coming back to relevance. The Herald is a peculiar link to that past, a servant of the Gods left behind for some reason unknown to the world of Athas. The Herald's peculiarity, the fact that he is a creature of another world and his motives are unclear, is what makes him both a potential ally for or against the Sorcerer-Kings and a potential threat to the world that is Dark Sun.

Appearance of the Herald

Don't mess with
this guy's orb.
Physically, the Herald is a Deva, a servant of divine powers and a creature unheard of on the desert world of Athas. When found, be it by the player characters or some other party, his appearance is both astounding and alien. Although Athasians may have seen creatures with blue to gray skin covered in strange markings or tattoos, the Herald has a certain aura about him that feels completely foreign and out of place within the harsh, desert world of Athas.

His presence tends to make most Athasians uncomfortable in part because he is a creature unknown to the world but in part because he is imbued with power, divine power, that is completely foreign to Athas. Despite being far out of time and far from his source of power, the Herald can still utilize and manipulate the divine forces imbued into him by the Gods. His utilization of this power is enough to make even the Sorcerer-Kings take notice. He is an anomaly in Athas and the players should be reminded of that.

When found, he would be wearing clothing normally associated with Deva in Dungeons & Dragons: gossamer blends of silk that support the majestic, divine appearance of Deva. Of course, how he changes his appearance as he adapts to the environment of Athas can be an important element of his character. Does he continue to clothe himself in a manner consistent with the old world he came from, or does he take on the appearance of the new world in which he awoke?

Adding the Herald to your Dark Sun Campaign

Having the Herald appear in a Dark Sun campaign is relatively easy to do. The PCs (or some other power) could find a strange cave in the desert that has within it a mysterious sarcophagus containing him. Maybe he appears after the activation of some ancient ritual from the old time, a powerful exhibition of old, divine power. It could be as simple as he simply appears, teleported through time to a specific day and place to carry out his divine mission.  Depending on the story of the campaign, it may be more appropriate to make his appearance a sort of startling twist at the end of a previous story arc, giving the players something to think about between play sessions.

How the Herald appears in Athas is much less important than why he is there. When introducing the Herald to a campaign, it is important to know what his motivations are. Here are a few possibilities as to why the Herald was left behind and what his goals for Athas may be:

Who knows what he could
be doing here...
1) The Herald was left by the Gods as a last ditch effort to prevent their demise. Perhaps he knows a way to tear the fabric of space and time and allow the Gods to escape their inevitable destruction at the hands of the Primordials. Maybe he holds the secrets to creating a new age of Gods. Whatever his purpose, the eventual conclusion of his plan could be exactly what Athas needs. Or, more sinisterly, the worst thing that could possibly happen to Athas. No matter the exact details of the plan, the Sorcerer-Kings would likely be interested in stopping the Herald's efforts as the return of the Gods would likely lead to their demise. Or, maybe they try to use the Herald to advance their own plans for divinity. How the party chooses to side in this conflict may depend on the nature of the divine plan.

2) The Herald could be a deserter from the God-War. Although a dutiful servant of the Gods, Deva still retain a modicum of independent will and sense of self-preservation. The Herald may simply be somebody who could not handle the horrors of the war and fled, adopting the moniker of "The Herald" in order to establish himself as relevant in this new world. Of course, without the power of the Gods, the Herald may no longer have the ability to be reborn anew. After countless lives serving the Gods, the Herald may know that he is on his last life. Maybe he sees the efforts of the Sorcerer-Kings as method he could use to preserve his existence. How the Herald deals with his newfound mortality could become an extended story arc, with the player characters trying to aid him (or stop him) from carrying out some sort of plan to save himself.

3) In contrast to above, the Herald may be an effort by the Gods to repair the eventual damage caused by the God-War. Maybe they knew the resulting arcane power that would appear and sent the Herald forward to rebuild the world. The Herald could be an important tool in restoring Athas to its pre-devastation status. The Preservers would be quite interested in him. Of course, it is quite possible that the Herald was meant to be brought back shortly after the God-War. How will he respond to the fact that his restoration was too late to save Athas? Is his purpose irrelevant now, or is there still a way for him to rebuild the world?

Whatever his goal, it is likely that he would not share them readily as the world he awoke to was not necessarily what he expected. The Herald would try to execute his plans while letting those he works with no the least about the eventual outcome. Building a measure of distrust in the Herald could be an important part of his involvement in the campaign. Take him at his word? Or assuming he has no good intentions for Athas? Only time will tell.


  1. I will admit that I took inspiration from some of the "sandbox" style sets from the last year of Fourth Edition (Shadowfell boxed set, Neverwinter Campaign Setting). Keith Baker's discussion of the Mourning in Eberron was also quite influential.