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Opportunity Actions: Races of Athas – Gnomes and Shardminds

This post is purely about the challenge. My previous posts have had their own individual challenges, and in fact it’s easy to say this entire exercise has its foundation in overcoming obstacles. The fact here is that most of those other races were easier to justify. That being said, I’m excited to look the impossible in the eye and smirk.

The challenges here have forced me to really turn my gears to make them make sense. Shardminds are a relatively new race to D&D, making it a double edged sword. Their background still has a wet coat of paint on it, meaning that I can say just about anything and not be wrong. I also run the risk of saying something that, as new information becomes available, proves to be ever decreasing in relevance.

Some have included Shardminds in their games, and there is a mention in the Campaign Guide that points almost directly to them, and this works for more than a few. Since it’s Dark Sun, though, I thought this could do with just the right turning of the screws.

Gnomes are an entirely different matter. This is the only race I’ve attempted to explain that is explicitly written as being totally eradicated, and therefore absent from, Dark Sun. I think I may still have found a way to fit them in.

I hope you agree.

Shardmind (The Obsidianfolk)

Deep in the Forest Ridge, beyond the Ringing Mountains, lies the Crystal Forest. Creatures that spend too much time here begin to slowly transmute into solid crystal, a process that invariably kills the creature in question. The landscape is littered with crystalline shapes of the hapless victims of this place. How, then, have creatures made of black geodescent stones emerged, very much alive? They are the Obsidianfolk, the Shardminds.

Long ago, an Elven settlement stood on the plateau that would become the center of the Crystal Forest. A battle between a defiler mage and an Elf druid led to the current condition of the land. The defiler summoned a large mass from the sky, smashing it into this settlement, killing both the defiler and the druid, and turning the surrounding area for miles around into the Crystal Forest. In the center of this expanse is the Elven settlement, or at least the settlement as it exists now. Spires of black crystal stretch high above. Every inch that was once the vivid colors of an Elven haven are now solid black obsidian. Even the people, once wise and thriving Elves, are now cold, hard creatures made of the blackest crystal.

There is another issue with these ‘people’. The object that struck their home carried with it a previously unknown intelligence. Upon impact, that mind shattered, fracturing into innumerable splinters. Each piece gained its own sentience, and fused with the crystalline Elves, leaving two minds in one body. Sometimes there is synergy, but usually, the two minds try their best to make arrangements over how to manage their shelled existence. They can come off as aloof, wise, distracted, or confused, depending on the interaction between the consciousnesses contained within.

There is one that is purely of this otherworldly mind. Known only as ‘The Obsidian Man’, he is sought after as the only one who truly knows the origin of what struck the Crystal Forest so long ago. Unfortunately, with only a fractional piece of the true mind, he is barely more than an automaton, easily controlled by a golden circlet of unknown origin.



You are of two minds, but your Elvish side is stronger than the other. You enjoy the feeling of the wind on your face, and knowing the world around you doesn’t need to suffer your people’s fate. You have a fondness for running, and, even though your body cannot carry you with the same speed it once might have. Your other mind is still with you, but it’s more of a voice in the back of your head than an entire other personality.

Associated Skills: Acrobatics, Nature


Not only do your two halves have difficulty interacting, the outright despise each other. Maybe your Elf half hates the other for ruining your people. Maybe the other hates the Elf for not being a more enlightened creature. Whatever the case, you’re frequently bickering with yourself, much to the confusion of others. Since your minds tend to go in opposite directions, you are aware of your surroundings. Also, you tend to offset people, who see you as a loose cannon, ready to go off.

Associated Skills: Intimidate, Perception


Gnomes (The Derro)


The Gnomes are extinct. None will deny that, especially the Gnomes themselves.

Millennia ago, The Cleansing Wars erased unknowable numbers of intelligent species from the fair face of Athas. Among the most notable were the Gnomes. The last remaining group of Gnomes, fewer than a thousand, tried to escape to The Land Within the Wind. What none of these Gnomes realized was that the place they thought they were transporting to was no longer there. The war had sundered that fae realm into scattered scraps, like sand in a strong wind. With no end point, they were adrift between realities. Century after century in that nothingness can have a harrowing effect on a fragile mind.

Psionic seers in the Gray felt the presence of many minds. They appeared as only shadows, a sort of interference in the psychic ether for as long as most of them could remember. It was not until certain psions realized these were living minds passing through that they tried to bring them out. They set up a teleportation circle in the location that corresponded to where the Gnomes wanted to appear in The Land Within the Wind. Setting a psychic anchor point, they focused on the circle. What began to spill out was shocking, and immediately killed the summoners.

These were no longer the Gnomes everyone had grown used to. Their skin had turned a bluish white, and their eyes became pure white. They were now wholly insane, murderous, and, at times, single minded to the point of obsession. They called themselves Derro, a name that now inspires as much fear as it does curiosity.

They are slavers and sadists, not the prankish tricksters of old. They do, however, still posess the old Gnomish fascination with objects, especially those that inflict pain. Occasionally, a Derro will be able to pull him or herself together long enough to join an adventuring party, but it’s only a matter of time before the frayed edges of their grip on reality give way to demented impulses.



Your people’s reputation has followed you, and you don’t hide it. While you may or may not torture people or traffic slaves, you know how to use that reputation to influence people. Sometimes just the threat of torture, or of abuse by one that will sell another into slavery is enough to get most intelligent creatures to talk. Of course, you’re not always in the mood to just leave it at a threat.

Associated Skills: Bluff, Intimidate


One of your people’s renowned skills is the ability to set traps and use terrain to their advantage. Either in the world above the sands or below, Derro can manipulate the environment to catch food, set encampments, or capture slaves. Devices of all make are seen in a Derro lair, and woe betide the unwary wanderer into Derro lands.

Associated Skills: Dungeoneering, Nature


This was a lot of fun to write. I have a few more races in mind to play with, but these were my favorite two challenges to play with. I hope you enjoyed these, and watch your threatened squares. Please comment.

IMAGE NOTES: The Shardmind is property of Wizards of the Coast, and the Derro was found here, posted by nJoo.

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UPDATE 12/12: Chris Sims, over at Critical-Hits, has written an advice post on how to improve your writing. See it here: On Writing


The Opportunist (a.k.a Seamus) has been playing D&D and/or some other form of RPG for the last 24 years. For the past two years he has been at the head of the table, behind a screen, in the role of the DM. He began at Cub Scout Camp, played through high school, and still enjoys gaming today. Seamus is a graphic designer by day, a devoted husband and father of two all the time, and an all around good guy. That is, until you get him behind the DMing screen, then he can be a nightmare (in a good way, no, really!).

5 Responses to “Opportunity Actions: Races of Athas – Gnomes and Shardminds”

  • […] be dean in Dark Sun lessens the tragedy.  If you are going to bring them back you have to do it in a way so twisted that we mourn the loss even more to do the setting justice.  So keep the Gods of Athas dead.  […]

  • Beautiful!

    Gnomes as Derro, and your new take on the concept of Derro is intriguing…

    The shardmind writeup is… perfect. I’ve had a hard time selling myself on the concept of the race since its release, and I like what you’ve done with them so much I’ll probably be stealing it for my regular game since I’m not running Dark Sun at the moment.

    Actually, I think I’ll steal them both. ;)

  • This is wonderful. Excellent Dark Sun re-imagining of these races. Well done.

  • […] (icu_seamus from Twitter) for allowing me to use a passage from his post (as the Opportunist) “Races of Athas – Gnomes and Shardminds” on RPG Musings. Seamus asked me about writing, and our correspondence inspired this blog post. […]

  • […] (icu_seamus from Twitter) for allowing me to use a passage from his post (as the Opportunist) “Races of Athas – Gnomes and Shardminds” on RPG Musings. Seamus asked me about writing, and our correspondence inspired this blog post. […]