D&D Encounters Dark Sun (Week 3)

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on June 24, 2010

What do you get when four PCs are attacked by goblins from high atop a rocky outcropping? One hell of a tough encounter. Week 3 was another grueling session for the players at my table. They eventually defeated all of the monsters, but the toll on their personal resources was costly. If they thought encounter 3 was tough, encounters 4 and 5 will be nearly impossible without a significant turn of events.

There they were getting pelted from above when we took stock of party’s ranged attack options. Yuka, no ranged attacks. Phye, no ranged attacks. Shikirr, no ranged attacks. That left Barcan. The same Barcan with only 2 healing surges remaining. Barcan with the poorest defenses of all the pre-generated characters. After only 5 minutes we knew this was going to ugly.

The first attacks came from a goblin cursespewer. They hit Yuka right off the bat. This granted the other goblins combat advantage so the goblin cutters quickly jumped down from the rocks to engage in melee. Unfortunately a run of cold dice from Yuka meant that those pesky minions inflicted damage for three rounds before they were killed. Meanwhile the goblin archer and the other cursespewer concentrated fire on Yuka to help the minions on the ground. Yuka took a lot of damage.

After the minions were finally killed, the rest of the party, with the exception of Barcan had nothing to fight. The drake kept swooping down and stealing supplies. The party spent a lot of effort trying to hit the drake mid-dive. But since the drake wasn’t inflicting damage, just snatching supplies, this was not the best use of their attacks (easy to say in retrospect). They killed the drake, but they kept taking fire from the other ranged attackers in the process. Barcan was the only PC with a ranged attack so he tried to keep one of the cursespewers busy. The rest of the goblins stayed safely at the top of the rocks.

Finally Shikirr climbed up to engage the archer. Upon reaching the top of the rocks and learning that the brambles would inflict 5 damage at the beginning of every turn he knew he needed to handle things quickly. He used his action point to bull rush the archer off the ledge. The fall did more damage than any of the PCs. Phye was nearby on the ground and quickly attacked and bloodied the archer. Shikirr jumped off the rocks and landed on the archer. But that little goblin was tough and wouldn’t die. The cursespewers split their attacks between Phye and Yuka. Now Phye was taking as much damage as Yuka.

After finally killing the grounded archer, Shikirr decided to use the archers bow and return fire. But his attack scores were terrible. He let Yuka use the bow and moved closer to the rocks where the cursespewers were positioned. The PCs finally took cover behind the rocks and away from the cursespewers. One of the cursespewers climbed down and tried to take up a better position. Shikirr was fortunate enough to see the cursespewer running across the desert and made short work of him.

With everyone focusing on the remaining cursespewer things finally started going the party’s way. Barkan used Excise from Sight and tried to slide the cursespewer off the ledge. Unfortunately he made his save and grabbed the ledge. Phye decided that enough was enough and climbed up to handle things. It took her a double move to get up the rocks (thanks to a very fortunate Athletics check). On her next turn she bull rushed the cursespewers, knocking him off the ledge. One round later the goblins were all dead.

Here’s what the party looks like after being totally decimated for three straight encounters.


  • 12 (of 29) hit points. 0 healing surges. 0 action points.
    1 daily power remaining.
  • Shikirr

  • 29 (of 33) hit points. 7 healing surges. 0 action points.
    0 daily powers remaining.
  • Yuka

  • 26 (of 29) hit points. 3 healing surges. 0 action points.
    1 daily power remaining.
  • Barcan

  • 9 (of 22) hit points. 1 healing surge. 0 action points.
    1 daily power remaining.
  • Jarvix

  • 6 (of 22) hit points. 0 healing surges. 1 action point.
    1 daily power remaining. (did not play encounter 3)
  • Castri

  • 23 (of 23) hit points. 6 healing surges. 1 action point.
    1 daily power remaining. (did not play encounter 1, 2, 3)

I’m going to strongly recommend that they bring in Castri from the bench and let Jarvix or Barcan sit out the next encounter.

There’s been a lot of criticism about these characters and I’m going to add my two cents. How is it fair to create six character and not give three of them ranged attacks? At one point near the end of combat the PCs started looking for rocks to throw at the monsters. If not or some creative thinking by Shikirr to use the goblin archers bow the battle would have taken a lot longer and one or more of the PCs might have died.

My other criticism is about Yuka’s defenses. He’s got a Will of 10. The cursespewers used an attack that was +7 vs Will. If they hit the round before then the target grants combat advantage. So with two of them teaming up on Yuka they had combat advantage against him for almost the entire encounter. That meant he was getting hit on anything but a 1 and taking 1d6+3 damage every time. I was shocked when Yuka survived this encounter.

At the FLGS where we played there were two other tables and they both finished in about an hour. Our table took over two hours to finish. I’ll admit that fortunate (unfortunate) dice rolling had some impact on the outcome, but these characters and their questionable builds certainly factor into thing. I think one of the other reason my table is having such a tough time is that the players are all relatively new to 4e D&D. I forget that as the DM I need to provide some coaching regarding options. I’ve been trying to do this in such a way as to not play their characters for them. However, I’m not that familiar with the psionic classes so even my ability to suggest a course of action is limited. The players all say they’re having fun, even though they keep getting beat up so badly. So I guess at the end of the day that’s what matter most.

Visit the Dungeon’s Master D&D Encounters Archive for all of our ongoing weekly coverage as well as other great D&D Encounters articles and resources.

How did encounter 3 go for you? Did your group have anywhere near the difficulties that my group did? What do you character’s resources look like compared to my groups? Are we beat up more, less or about the same amount as everyone else?

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

1 The Last Rogue June 24, 2010 at 12:10 pm

I appreciate the updates, keep ‘em coming.

However, as a Dark Sun grognard, this tale raises the first red flag for me . . . there are no goblins on Athas.

Were they reskinned goblins?

2 Shakirr June 24, 2010 at 12:38 pm

To Last Rogue: Nope… Just Goblins. As a fellow DS grognard, so far I feel that 4E DS hasn’t been true to the spirit of the setting and is more of a generic desert setting. I don’t see any of the hints of sci-fantasy that once defined Dark Sun. I’m not sure people are aware that DS owes its inspiration to stuff like Tekumel, Dune, the Den comics, Thundarr the Barbarian and pulp like John Carter on Mars. I think all of that will be lost on the new generation.

Re: the session- I think we took a beating in this session because Barcan and Yuka didn’t take appropriate cover. They were standing there like sitting ducks. You basically had two guys on top of a building firing bazookas at us, and Yuka and Barcan were hiding behind a palm tree. I didn’t take any damage the whole session because I kept out of range.

3 Numenetics June 24, 2010 at 12:44 pm

We’ve been having an even rougher time than you’ve described. Our DM retconned in a bow for Castri, but even with that we were not doing well. The Goblin Doom power near decimated us, and the flying goblins pelted us from out of range of anything except that bow. Not sure if it’s the way the DM is running it, or the way its written, or both, but it’s been bordering on not fun for us.

4 banu June 24, 2010 at 2:18 pm

Whats the difference of 4e Dark Sun compared to any 4e world with desert trappings?

5 Brian Engard June 24, 2010 at 2:46 pm

Our group had quite a different experience: it was pure awesome, all around. I played Yuka, and not only did I not even get bloodied, I also was instrumental in taking down the drake and two of the non-minions goblins. Nobody went down (though a few came close). To be fair, we had seven players (two Yukas), but it was a very fun, quick, and high-energy session. Check out my most recent blog post (It’s Raining Muls) for more detail.
Brian Engard´s last blog post ..It’s Raining Muls: More on Alternate Actions

6 lev June 24, 2010 at 3:21 pm

Our group was down a player for this encounter (the guy who played Castri was out sick), but the DM recommended that we bump up the difficulty of this session by introducing a third Cursespewer. All of us agreed, and while this was a very challenging fight that took us almost an extra hour to complete we were able to deal with the situation.

I like your updates, but they always raise a lot of questions for me. Where was Jarvix and what was he doing during this encounter? You complete omit making any mention of him.

Why was the Drake continuing to steal supplies? My understanding is that after helping the goblins with the rope he would just sit there until attacks (at which point he would fly off).

Why was only one of the archers flying? They are supposed to “pepper the party with arrows from the sky”. In fact, they have a move+attack ability designed specifically for this purpose!

Did you remember to use the Goblin Doom ability?

Does your party remember that they have the “Comrade’s Succor” ritual that will allow them to split up healing surges amongst the entire party at the cost of 1 surge? If Castri steps in next game then you will have 16 surges to split up between 5 people. If the PCs play it smart and win the Skill Challenge then they should be fine!

7 Corbijan June 24, 2010 at 3:36 pm

Banu wrote:
“Whats the difference of 4e Dark Sun compared to any 4e world with desert trappings?”

Hard to say at this point. 4E tends to gravitate away from role-play and toward combat strategy, so it depends on how they’ve incorporated the setting into the mechanics.

Thematically, there are many differences. Athas is much more primitive and desperate than, say, an Arabian fantasy. There is no (or very limited) steel. There’s psionic powers. Its not clear how divine and arcane powers are going to be changed. Slavery still appears to be a central theme. Environmentalism might still play a role. But again, in 4E, settings tend to take a back seat to mechanics.

8 Numenetics June 24, 2010 at 4:54 pm

@Corbijan: As far as I know, there are no divine powers in 4e Dark Sun. Arcane users can defile or preserve, and that has mechanical implications (not sure what they are).

9 Corbijan June 24, 2010 at 10:16 pm

@numenetics: Yeah, I also heard something about divine magic being removed. Bad idea if you ask me. Of all the character classes to remove, why the priests? The elemental priests were actually really interesting. I could see dropping the druids and then merging together the concepts of the Athasian druids and priests.

Well, I don’t really understand all the subcategories of powers and classes in 4E… like primal… enlightened ardent… quick battlemind… I couldn’t be bothered to keep up with all the jargon. It all seems a bit ‘GI Joe’ to me.

10 Obryn June 25, 2010 at 10:46 am

The goblins made me, a long-time Dark Sun fan, go “Hrrrrm?” But, I’m frankly not too concerned about the setting integrity or what-have-you. Athas has so many bizarre humanoid races that adding one more is basically irrelevant.

I’m pretty sure that, much like with any game and any setting, making Athas come alive as a unique world will be in the hands of the DM, not the designers.

Also, I’d hesitate before basing any expectations off of Encounters. It’s intentionally a string of combats, concentrating on mechanical doodads, so Athas will probably look like just an average world, with more bugs and sand. It’s not expected to include heavy roleplay, avoidable fights, and so on.

11 Numenetics June 25, 2010 at 12:36 pm

@Obryn–Although I definitely agree with you that not having heavy roleplay, avoidable fights (or, I would add, true sandbox campaigns) are the base assumptions of 4e design, I think it’s very possible to do so. IMHO, the rules-light approach to non-combat play opens up the game for the DM to encourage whatever kind of play he/she wishes. I’d probably describe my home campaign as 4e combat mechanics with 1e/2e grafted on. I do a lot of random stocking using 1e tables, don’t scale encounters to the party, etc. The designers may not have intended it this way, but I take their silence on a lot of points as giving the gaming group free reign.

All that to say, less skills, less official rules governing out-of-combat play has ended up making my 4e experience include more “heavy” roleplay, avoidable fights, and general “swinginess.” Definitely acknowledge that you have to bring that in from outside 4e, but it does work pretty well once you do.

12 Monty Martin June 25, 2010 at 5:40 pm

I made a few mods to this encounter.

The spiretop drake was actually quite confusing: there was some text that indicated that it was to just “fly away” at the top of the fight, so I didn’t bother with it.

Knowing that Dark Sun doesn’t have goblins, and that my players were expecting cannibal halflings, the Goblins became Halflings for this encounter. I took out the Goblin Tactics and slotted in halfling Second Chance.

I also forgot about the brambles, which probably made the fight easier.

Don’t forget that Jarvix knows Comrade’s Succor, so the characters with zero surges can siphon a few from whoever still has some remaining.

13 Steve McQueen June 26, 2010 at 2:27 am

Our Barcan had the notion to light the brambles on fire almost immediately, which created safe zones for the battlemind and mul to climb up and start smashing face on the spewers. The rest of the fight was fairly straightforward, if time-consuming. Excise from Sight brought one of the spewers down to the ground for easy beatings, and the other one jumped when he found himself alone on a rock with an angry Mul. Castri and Phye wound up cornered by a spewer and a glider, and went full defense for the time it took Barcan to run over and finish the last two goblins off with his blast 3 attack. Our GM said it was a poorly written encounter, though, and after the first group he nerfed the power that went off when a goblin got hit.

14 Syrsuro June 27, 2010 at 7:22 pm

We had a TPK. But the reason for that was the changes the FLGS DM made to the adventure (a cautionary for DME proponenets everywhere).

First: A misreading of the power (as I understand it): The cursespewers have a power that lets them, at will, triggered by a goblin within 5 being hit by a melee attack, do a burst attack. The DM running our game believed that this was supposed to be triggered by attacks on the cursespewer itself, not just attacks on other goblins in range. This probably only led to a couple of extra bursts but it was a factor – especially as it allowed the burst that killed two of the last three standing party members.

Second: They felt that the power was too powerful as an at-will so they changed it to a recharge 456. This wouldn’t have been a problem as it was. But to compensate for this they also changed it from 1d10+3 plus 5 onging to 1d10+8. But this made it FAR more deadly for two reasons. First – it meant that characters who were hit by more than one in a turn (which of course happened at least twice) take significantly more damage (the extra five points being turned into base damage instead of og damage meant that being hit twice in a round was an average of 27 damage instead of an average of 17 with five more to come at the start of the next turn). And second – it meant that all the damage hit at once with no ability to heal. Deferring those 5 points till the start of the character’s next turn (as og damage) often means the difference between being able to be healed or not healed before taking that damage.

And finally, the last straw was when the healer went down (dying at 0) from one Doom and then died (not unconscious, dead, due to the DM rolling a 10 on the d10 for 18 points) before anyone could act to revive him (something that would not have been possible if they had not changed how the power worked). Without those changes, he would not have dropped from the first boom and the second boom would not have killed him.

Bottom line: Fun, but a good cautionary about modifying powers. I think that if the DMs had left the powers as written, we would have survived but that their intended ‘nerfing’ of the monsters powers actually led to a TPK.


15 CJ July 1, 2010 at 10:37 pm

I joined an open spot on the third encounter. They wiped on the first encounter, but the DM retconned that for the sake of the campaign.

Basically, it was everyone throwing what they had, and the melee characters watching in awe. Yuka managed to climb one of the walls and kill a minion, but that’s it. Shikirr climbed, t hen did a whole lotta jumping. I was the Ardent (useless in this encounter) and kinda walked around in circles. I was put down in the third turn, and had to do around 6 death saves because no one could heal me.

Somehow we won. But we got wiped on the 4th encounter, LOL! Can’t wait to hear about your 4th went.

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