AD&D Dark Sun Online: Crimson Sands
Windows - 1996
Description of AD&D Dark Sun Online: Crimson Sands
Homage to the past
The world of Dark Sun began at TSR, Inc. as an Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Second Edition pen and paper game series, taking the races of Forgotten Realms and placing them on the scorched and ruined world of Athas. Although the paper games had a cult following, after a couple of issues, for whatever reason, TSR discontinued the series, leaving fans to continue its development and growth via work consortiums online. While the Dark Sun series was still in production, computer games were conceived and worked on by SSI Inc.., who also developed the Forgotten Realms series such as Pool of Radiance and Menzoberranzan with TSR. The fruits of this development were AD&D; Dark Sun 1: Shattered Lands and Dark Sun 2: Wake of the Ravager, both DOS 6.2 games.
Taking the Dark Sun concept a step further, Junglevision for the Total Entertainment Network (TEN), have added to the SSI, Inc. code, creating, in the title Crimson Sands, an online world where hundreds of players can connect, interact and role-play within the realm of Athas. The game, now several versions into development, superbly incorporates the complicated world of Athas with fairly simple, easy to use interfaces and top down graphics for Win95 allowing almost any player on any machine (with a TEN premium account that is) to connect and participate in online quests, turn-based combat parties, player versus player ladders and daily events which evolve on-going stories. The only thing is, the game really is very old-looking. Copyrighted in 1996, it has graphics that look very dated by today's standards. They are highly pixilated and of a low resolution. So, what it boils down to is whether or not you can rest such simplistic graphics aside to decide if AD&D; Dark Sun Online: Crimson Sands is for you.
Surviving the wastes
Athas is the world of the Dark Sun, a world which the free use of magic has burned and scorched after passing through many ages. It began with the Sapphire Sun, when halflings ruled a highly advanced civilization, called the Blue age, passing finally to the present Decade of Heroism. During these times religions began, although no true gods exist, and psionists developed into a powerful ruling class. In the later ages, the sun went through several transitions, first being altered by the nature-masters of the Pristine Tower and finally by Rajaat, discoverer of the principles of magic. The sun turned dark crimson and the defiling magic, using up the resources of the world when performed, destroyed the once fertile land leaving behind sands and waste. A complicated and long history of the races ensures that several groups vie for power in a struggle which affects the daily life of Athas.
As a new comer to Athas, you must survive in the cities, where water exists. Travel is dangerous through the wastes. Caravans can be joined for a price, and no guarantees. Thieves, Cyclops patrols, and a variety of strange desert monsters eagerly await your first mistake as you gain entry into the wastelands. To make your journey, 8 races are available: dwarves, elves, half-elves, half-giants, halflings, humans, Muls, and Thri-Kreens. These are no ordinary races however. I will give one example. Elves for instance, normally found in places like Lorien in other worlds, are in Dark Sun more sinister. Here are excerpts from the Elf description:
"Elves. While the last remnants of civilization huddle around pools of brackish water and clumps of withered vegetation, the elves of Athas run free. Elf villages are even less likely to be found than a pool of clear water in the desert, for elves only stop running when they fall down and die. Silver Spring, of course, is a notable exception. Otherwise, elves gather in nomadic tribes that revel in theft, raiding, and warfare. Elves are excellent merchants.
Elves are generally lazy and deceitful. They strive to lead short, happy lives as opposed to long, sad ones. For an elf, the future is a dark, deadly place, so he struggles to make every moment (every now, as the elves speak of it) as enjoyable and full as possible. When the work is done, and not a moment later, the fun begins. They engage in long periods of frenzied feasting and raucous revelry."
Something all together different from Forgotten Realms. The halflings have a sad existence too. The once happy, joyful, ever ready for a party little fellows have become almost unrecognizable. "Where once they were civilized masters of an advanced society, today they are feral, savage creatures as wild as the arid winds. They are more willing to eat a stranger in their lands than to welcome him." The remaining races are also severely affected by the environment and history of Athas. If you are looking for something completely different to role-play, I have to say that this is where Dark Sun shines. Wait until I tell you about the magic.
History of Magic
Everything is familiar and unfamiliar. The way in which magic is handled is the same as most SSI's AD&D; games, maybe even easier. Casting and learning magic is not difficult. Simply click on the cast spell icon and select the spell to cast. As a matter of fact, it's not much different because the game is really the old Dark Sun game from SSI, slightly modified. Music and sounds are supplied from the CD of the single-player game if you wish, just pop in the old CD and off you go.
What is different from Forgotten Realms series is the magic structure. It is intricate and fascinating. I have never played Dark Sun titles before, and I really enjoyed something other than magic missile and cure light spells. This game, except for its age, is extremely pleasing. It may be even BECAUSE of its age that it has special magic which made me stay up late at night and for hours online grouped with other players learning and leveling. It incorporates all those things that successful MUDs do, which is why at peak hours you may see up to 100 or more players in a game.
Wait a minute, what about the magic? Oh yes. There are four different supernatural forces at work in DSO. The first is Priestly Magic. There are no gods in Athas, so divine power is not available to be called upon, thus power comes from the elemental planes and the sorcerer-kings (see below). These forces are tapped by elemental clerics who rely on the worship of their chosen elemental plane, druids which work to save the dying world, and templars, the servants of the sorcerer-kings from which their power comes.
Wizardly magic, on the other hand, coverts the energy of the living into magical power. Two forms are available: preservers who respect nature and take care to balance life energies with the power required to produce a spell affect; and Defilers, you guessed it, who don't care one iota about nature and prefer to revel in their own power. As a matter of fact the uncontrolled use of magic by Defilers is blamed for the deterioration of Athas.
The third class of supernatural beings are the Psionics or Psionicists. These are a strange class and according to the tales of the "Wanderer" (a chronicler), they are the major class of the society. Their magic is not really magic but rather "the Will" learning to conserve body energies and master the powers of thought such as clairvoyance and telepathy.
The fourth and final class are the Sorcerer Kings. A rare class. Each city, except Tyr, is lead by a Sorcerer King which is a powerful Defiler. These Kings rule through magic and psionics (generally played by a Game Master or a long term volunteer).
The psionic spells alone are something like 25-30 or more in number. I played a gladiator/psionic human, working gladiator for a while to build up hitpoints, then switched (human can only be one class at a time) to psionic, learning so many strange spells at once. I am still sorting out how they work and it will take me a long time before I am proficient at it. Some folks I ran into had been playing for over a year (through the other versions) and consoled me on just how much there is to learn and do. This aspect of DSO is very fun if you are tired of same old, same old.
Atmosphere and action
Starting a new character in DSO is easy and enjoyable. The interface is similar to other SSI games, in which you roll for stats, add modifiers and choose your race, image, icon and class. Stats depend on race, and some races have certain class restrictions. Dual class characters are allowed as is class switching, which means you work on one class until attaining the level you wish and then switch to the second class. Classes are: Fighters, Gladiators, Rangers, Preservers, Clerics, Druids, Thieves, and Psionicists. Several of the classes are restricted to particular alignments.
At start up there are some options available with respect to sound which can be toggled between Microsoft wavemix and Miles multichannel .dlls. Also, the graphics can be toggled between high and quality modes (I didn't notice a difference). In game there are options to turn off or on sounds (people can make noises such as saying, " Hey, come back here!" with some macros) and also character animations which just slow the pace of moving from one location to another.
Although you have up to four characters to run in the game, only one at a time is allowed. A newbie school is available when starting a new character. Passing through the school teaches basic mouse driven commands, some of which can also be accessed via keys. Help online is available from both TEN and the game itself. A short list of commands which cover everything from communication to writing macros can be viewed by just pressing F1 within the game. TEN offers extensive web pages dedicated to in-game variables such as history, classes, races and magics, stats, weapons and combat. Completing the school, and a trivia quiz at the end, gives you some nice experience points to begin with.
Upon entering the game, I found the atmosphere quite excellent. There were numerous people who were willing to help (if you are discretionary and don't join someone who is a bit of a "cowboy"). I was never alone for long, and received helpful hints from players at every step of the way. TEN have professional Game Masters that help new players and also run daily events. I must say I never had a problem joining up with someone more experienced in order to go on an experience run into the dungeons below the city, "under Tyr," to fight spiders or Zombies or out into the fields. (Although I did wonder at times if they knew from my login name which was given to me that it actually was the GDR reviewer who was connected and I got the special treatment. But even so, there were times when I hooked up with guild members who really had no idea who I was, and it was great fun)
Gaining experience is not limited to only winning in battles, but can also be accomplished by running quests for NPCs in town. Some quests are the typical deliver this letter or potion type, but over time the NPCs "get to know you" and begin giving you information which will lead you to finding new entries into the ruins beneath the city and more treasures. Some of these quests are much more convoluted and enjoyable when you figure them out.
In addition, intrigues involve the NPCs on a regular basis. How's that you ask? For instance, in the human city of Tyr Templars control the power, however an alliance of rebels (the Veiled Alliance) are always fighting back. The NPCs of either side are continually working against each other or at least speak about transpired events (such as gossiping about a Templar house attacked and burned). They will even offer that you join one or the other faction (depending on your alignment). However, if you are discovered by the other faction...well.
It's not just the NPCs who are responsible for all the fun. One of the most important and immersive aspects of running an online site is the extra events which keep people interested and coming back for more. TEN have been very good about supporting such events on a daily schedule. On-going events and stories are played out with the help of players. Game Masters take control of special NPCs and the intrigue begins. With casts of 10 or more NPCs and 15 to 20 Players, these stories unfold like Shakespearean tales with death for some and life for others. Desert Dawning is run at 4pm on Sunday's and 6pm on Wednesdays (Pacific Time). While Athasian Underground is a way to participate in the darker side of Athas and involves player killing. Tales of Tyrian Intrigue seems the most intriguing to me, as the ruling Templar Council battles it out politically and physically against the underground order of the Veiled Alliance, a group of perservers out to do the defilers in and restore the Green Age. Tales of Tyrian Intrigue runs on Tuesdays and Fridays at 6 and 6:30pm Pacific Time.
Finally for the more crude players there are Blood Sports held every Thursday at 7pm, in which player combatants can enter the arena and see who is standing afterwards for fame and fortune. Blood Sports actually play a central role in DSO . Player versus player ladders are maintained and published, as are images from battles. Awards are given for the best in character role-playing during the player battles which may mean that even if you loose the fight, you could win a prize. To top it all off, there are also unplanned events in which Game Masters control special NPCs that are recognizable by symbols next to their name and mean that role-playing fun is brewing.
If this isn't enough, player competitions are encouraged by various lists. There is the highest experience points player lists for each class, the players with the most quests accomplished and the most monsters killed, or even the most times a player has been killed! Combined, these features add to a pleasant community spirit which it seems has addicted several players. An extensive system of player-run Guilds just augments the competition and interaction.
Sadly, although the world is quite large, it is not used to its full potential. Players (as is always a problem in all MUDS) congregate in Tyr rather than living in the other regions, such as the forests where the Halflings come from. This breaks up the role-playing a bit, since Halflings, Thri-Keens and Half-Giants all group together in the same square. It would be much better if TEN supported more development (i.e. add more NPCs and things to do) in the outer regions. There is an NPC elven caravan, and other dangers out in the wastes. So, there is a lot to see and do or get killed from out there, but the players always return to Tyr. I'm not quite sure how far TEN intend to develop DSO, but updates and new versions seem to be released regularly.
You feel a hand reach inside your pocket, what do you do?
Ignore it, grab the hand or attack? Actually, my experience with TEN has been a good one. Much improved over what I experienced with MPlayer, which I detested. TEN didn't have advertisements slowing down my connection time by uploading page after page of flashing ads I don't want to see. TEN also doesn't have employees announcing annoying prizes and interrupting my chats with other players. In addition, TEN's interface is nice and trim, good looking with somewhat of Fallout style to it.
My connection from Europe was only "wacked" once, and I had several good 5-7 hour stretches online at different times. I was impressed with the connection, never feeling overly lagged or sluggish. The game is slow, but probably because I was playing it on a 486 and also because it is an old game. The reason for my choice of machine was two-fold, one to see if it would run as they claimed on an older machine and secondly, it won't run under WinNT (on my faster machine). Despite that, I spoke to someone who was running it on a P400 (PII), so machine speed should not be a problem.
To be fair, the price is pretty high. At $20 a month for the TEN premium account it seems a bit steep just to be able to play an online version of an old AD&D; computer game (a reminder that's $240/year). However, with that account you get access to all the other games available at TEN (umm...if you have the CD for them when it is required).
Also, the DSO code is available for free, so you need only the TEN account to play and no extra purchase is necessary. Given that so many events and stories are available online, and that the world of Dark Sun is unique and interesting and that there are peak periods (US time) during which many people are online, it's a close call for me and hard to say it wouldn't be worth the money.
I don't like paying for anything online, however AD&D; Dark Sun Online: Crimson Sands is the most tempting offer I have come across as far as content goes, even with the ancient graphics engine. I'm pretty close to addicted (if I had the time), but would I really cough up the cash long term (which is required to learn and build up a character)? Hmm...and for those who have to pay a phone and service provider rate? Well, I can answer with a qualified yes... only IF I was playing a lot of the other games available with a TEN account, the other rates weren't killing me and until something with better graphics and content comes along. But I'm a cheapskate.
Review By GamesDomain
Captures and Snapshots
Comments and reviews
Elminster 2021-06-29 0 point
WineDVM v1.7.0 will run Mdark.exe, but of course it can't find any servers to connect to, so there is no point unless a Server Emulator can be setup (like the one for Stargate Worlds)
lalabees 2021-05-14 -1 point
im trying to run it on DOSBOX but when i tried to run the game the program said "this is a window 16- bit executable" can some one help me with this or is it definitely unplayable???
Anonymous 2019-11-09 2 points
This game has a similar problem to the old Virtual World games:
Its server was built on a Unix Macintosh platform, whose code and binaries were both lost. There was a project to reproduce the server 20 years ago that ended up floundering with no progress made, in part due to the server producing binary chunks of client state that had to be loaded for the game to initiialize. Interestingly the game was actually peer to peer once running, only the initial client authentication and player state were stored on the server, and players were then notified of each other's addresses with the first player in a region becoming the host for that area. This resulted in all the expected rampant cheating and Denial of Service, and is part of what lead to the eventual shutdown of Dark Sun Online around the time Ultima Online was coming out.
Anon 2019-09-21 2 points
Glad to see interest in this here in the comments! I'll try to look for server files or something, the longer we wait the less chance we have of recovering *some* way to play this game again.
MEKBANDITR 2019-08-28 0 point
modifying ip connect in tenaddr to local machine ip 127.0.0.1 wont work either. need something or someone to have something else to actually host.
MEKBANDITR 2019-08-28 -1 point
tenaddr is file to modify to change how it connects. even still i get cannot connect. whats the likelyhood someone is hosting private server for this.
GS 2019-07-30 0 point
i can confirm what the others posted, cant even run it under Windows 95 compatibility.
rabdax 2018-11-25 4 points
Ten.net has been shut down since 1998. This game won't run without it.
Razor 2018-10-25 -1 point
The Mdark.exe file doesn't run under current version of Windows 7 and no previous version of windows compatibility program (all the way back to Windows 95) will run it either.
How are these files suppose to work? Under Dosbox, it simply states it's a 16-Bit Windows file, so no luck there either. Has anyone been able to run these files successfully?
cadiped 2018-08-31 0 point
I believe Ten.Net hosted the online version, I've played both. =)
now if I can only find A.R.C. (another game from ten.net)
Tsee Outlaw 2018-06-09 3 points
Ive played this back in the day, and I don't remember this being an Online game tho lol
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