This week I got a double dose of Dark Sun. I was on vacation last week, but before I left I made arrangements with 6 players to skip the first week and run encounters one and two back-to-back this week. After just two sessions of Fury of the Wastewalker I have to admit that I like this adventure a whole lot more than Halaster’s Lost Apprentice.
D&D Encounters is a 15-part adventure from Wizards of the Coast and it’s played out one encounter each week over 15 weeks.
Week 1 Surviving the Storm / Salvage in the Storm
The party got slaughtered. By the end of the first round two PCs were making death saves. The monsters hit with uncanny accuracy (sometimes the DMs dice get hot). When two monsters can deliver 4d6+4 twice during the encounter and two more can do 2d10+3 (recharging on 5 and 6) the PCs didn’t stand a chance. If not for a miraculous 20 on a death save, the party would have been killed along with the rest of their caravan during the first encounter. Fortunately they recovered enough food and supplies that when they fled the combat at the beginning of round six (when five new, fresh monsters arrived to reinforce the last monster standing) they were well stocked for their impending journey through the desert.
Week 2 Elemental Assistance / Banishing the Hive
The encounter with the flame elemental was a good opportunity to do a little bit of role-playing, but it really didn’t seem to add anything to the encounter. In retrospect I should have used the role-playing to determine how the elemental reacted during combat. If the PCs were kind and diplomatic to it, making a real effort to learn from it, then the elemental could have helped them during the combat. Give it a power to explode like alchemical fire and have it recharge on a 5 or 6. It wouldn’t target PCs, just monsters. Conversely, if the PCs bungled the role-playing then the elemental would be less discriminate during the combat. But I didn’t have this particular brain storm until afterward. So we played it as written and as such the interaction with the elemental served no practical purpose.
The combat seemed a lot easier and much more balanced during encounter 2 then encounter 1. The PCs worked much better together. The real setback was the map. During week 1 the map was about 20 squares long by 10 squares wide. This gave the PCs room to maneuver (and split up). In week 2 the map was a measly 10 squares long by 8 squares wide. With the PCs surrounded right from the outset, the combat was very static and confined. Most of the PCs stayed in one square the entire encounter. Those that did move probably moved only one or two squares all combat. It wasn’t until three of the five creatures were down before the party started moving around.
Being grouped together and confined to just a few spaces probably helped a couple of the PCs. The monsters generally attacked the closest enemy without cover. Because the group was bunched up, this was often Yuke and Shikirr (the PCs with the best defenses). The rocky terrain at the top of the map was nice to look at but inconsequential to the outcome of the battle since none of the PC could get close enough to put it to good use.
There are six pre-generated characters. Our first obstacle was deciding who played which character. Some of the players had reviewed the characters before arriving, some had not. So in order to make the selection process fair, I let the players choose randomly. Everyone rolled a d20, the player with the highest roll choose first, the player with the second highest roll choose second, and so on. I was very surprised to see that Barcan was chosen fourth and not last. After reading various reports on his ineptitude and lack of defense, I figured he’d be dodged like incoming arrows.
Once everyone had a character we talked about long-term ramifications. I suggested that the players could keep playing the same character through the first chapter (encounters 1-5) or we could choose randomly every week. By changing up the characters every week no one person would get stuck with a character they didn’t like for more than one encounter. Everyone agreed that this was probably the most fair way to handle things.
After we completed the first encounter I asked the players if they wanted to keep playing the same character for a second encounter of choose someone else. Everyone felt comfortable keeping their same character, even though some characters were clearly superior to others. So through two complete encounters everyone just played the same character.
There is something to be said for consistency. The first encounter was really slow, partly because of the new setting, new rules, new players and unfamiliarity with these characters. But the second encounter ran a lot more quickly and a lot more smoothly. Now that the players knew who these character were and what they were capable of (or more importantly not capable of) they put their own powers to better use and were better able to anticipate the needs and actions of the rest of their party.
At the end of the second encounter we took quick stock of the characters. Shikirr was the only one to use his daily power. Jarvix is completely out of healing surges, and Barcan and Phye are both down to three a piece. This will create some interesting challenges. Assuming that the players at my table next week don’t use the same character they used this week, the next guy gets a character that has already expended some (or all) of his resources. It was just bad luck that Jarvix took concentrated fire during the first encounter and needed to burn through all but one surge after week 1, but that’s just the way it goes.
One solution we discussed was that the player and not the character track expendable resources. So next week if the player who used Shikirr this week chooses a new character, the new character won’t have his daily power. And the player who used Jarvix this week will be down six healing surges next week regardless of which character he plays. I’m not sure if this is the best solution, but it seems like the fairest decision. The alternative is just to say that each player has to keep playing his version of that pre-generated character until the end of week 5.
It wasn’t until encounter 2 that we got a chance to try out the new weapon breakage rules. Shikirr rolled a 1 with his spear and opted to reroll. Unfortunately he missed. However, he had plenty of other weapons so the loss wasn’t that big a deal. As it turned out he hit more often and delivered better damage with his wrist razors anyway. Near the end of the combat Yuka rolled a natural 1 and on his reroll hit for enough damage to drop his opponent.
The breakage rule added a new level of excitement to the adventure. There were a couple of things that created confusion for the group. Do the weapon breakage rules apply to the monsters as well as the PCs? I’d assume they do, but it really seems like a cheat if the DM can reroll a 1. I opted not to reroll 1s for the monsters. Can broken weapons be repaired after the combat? The setting of the second encounter described skeletal remains of large creatures. There were also the remains of the beasts the party just killed. Surely this is sufficient raw materials to repair damage weapons or craft something new.
How are you handling character assignment and expendable resources at your table? Are players using the weapon breakage rules? If so how are weapons being repaired or replaced? What are your impressions of Dark Sun after just two weeks?
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