D&D Encounters Dark Sun (Week 7)

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on July 22, 2010

What makes Dark Sun different from any other campaign setting? This question more than any other has motivated people to come out and try D&D Encounters over the past seven weeks. At first there was a lot of interest. People who used to play in Dark Sun came out to see the 4e version of their beloved campaign setting. Others were just curious to see what all the fuss was about. And for five weeks D&D Encounters did not disappoint.

Fury of the Wastewalker chapter 1 exposed the players and their characters to the harsh desert environment of Athas that makes Dark Sun so unique. The PCs struggled to survive in the blistering sun while trying to outrun a strange and vicious obsidian sand storm. Add to that the ever-present threats of the desert creatures determined to kill the PCs and take their food and water. Dark Sun quickly earned a reputation for its brutality and grit – and rightly so. This isn’t the light and fluffy D&D of the Forgotten Realms.

And then we moved on to Fury of the Wastewalker chapter 2. It began with the PCs entering the catacombs. It’s a very traditional-style dungeon delve. Suddenly there was very little Dark Sun and more of the D&D you find in every setting. What happened to all the Dark Sun flavour?

This season of D&D Encounters is, in part, supposed to be a showcase of the upcoming Dark Sun setting. Yet for the past two encounters it hasn’t done a very good job of showcasing Dark Sun. These past two encounters could easily have taken place in any D&D setting. Nothing about it seemed unique to Dark Sun.

None of the PCs have rolled a 1 since we began chapter two, so we haven’t had any opportunities to use the reckless breakage rules since going underground. This was one of the most significant and noticeable Dark Sun elements that came into play during chapter one. As long as the PCs keep rolling more than a 1 this chapter does not feel Dark Sun at all.

The encounters were still fun to run and fun to play, but the excitement for Dark Sun has certainly drifted. The evidence is in the numbers. We’ve gone from over 20 players in the first couple of weeks to just eight in last night’s game. And two of the players who showed up last night were experiencing D&D Encounters for the first time.

D&D Encounters has run for 19 straight weeks now. For experienced players, the excitement factor has worn off. Even I find that getting out every week is becoming somewhat of a chore. Looking ahead I don’t see a lot of Dark Sun elements in the next three encounters either. I hope that Fury of the Wastewalker chapter 3 puts more of the Dark Sun elements back into the forefront of the adventure, because it sure doesn’t for chapter 2.

This week’s encounter had the PCs venturing further into the catacombs. They could feel a fait breeze moving through the tunnels indicating that there was a way out further ahead. As they reached a larger room they noticed more undead. Being adventurers they naturally charged in and started hacking away. The undead posed minimal threat to the PCs, especially since the monsters rolled so poorly on initiative. Within two rounds all of the skeletons and the crawling gauntlets were destroyed – except for one particularly slippery crawling gauntlet that continued taunting the PCs with rude hand gestures.

At the top of the second round, after all of the PCs had moved into the room, a large spider moved into the fray and began attacking. It managed to blind half the party, but the half that could still see went to work to kill it. A second spider emerged from a pit in the floor and tried to help its companion, but this party of heroes was just too strong and in no time at all both spiders were hacked to bits.

This is the fist time as a DM I’d run an encounter with more than six PCs. The party ended up with eight PCs, including two Phyes to heal the two Castris. I doubled the number of monsters and they still had no problems. The fact that the crawling gauntlets and the skeletons were all minions certainly didn’t make the encounter any more difficult. At first I was hesitant to add the second spider, but seeing how quickly and easily they were destroying all the monsters I had to challenge them somehow. In retrospect I should have made the skeletons regular level 1 monsters and not just your standard 1 hit point minions. The entire encounter only took three rounds of combat, but with eight players that still took us about an hour and a half to play out.

I think the players were happy to get through the encounter with so few bumps and bruises. After two encounters most of the PCs have only used one or two healing surges – a far cry from chapter 1 where by this point some PCs were all out of healing surges. By moving the adventure out of the desert and into the more familiar underground, the PCs are not had anywhere near the difficulties they’d had in chapter one.

D&D World Wide Game Day

On Saturday, August 21, the week the Dark Sun Campaign Guide is released, Wizards of the Coast is running another D&D World Wide Game Day. Here’s what Wizards has to say about it.

The Lost Cistern of Aravek

A remarkable device has been discovered in the wastes near the city-state of Tyr – a magical cistern created by a long-dead preserver named Aravek. You are charged to journey through the harsh desert lands, brave fierce monsters, and retrieve the cistern before your enemies can claim it for their own cruel master. Can you bring a font of live-giving water to a parched populace? Or will you succumb to dangers beyond the gates of Tyr? A Dark Sun adventure for 4-6 pre-generated 4th-level characters.

If you live in the Greater Toronto Area, come on down to Dueling Grounds and join in the fun. If you’re interested in being a DM for D&D World Wide Game Day, please contact Wayne at Dueling Grounds and let him know. So far there’s lots of interest in playing but we need more DMs.

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.

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Lahrs July 22, 2010 at 12:11 pm

As I mentioned earlier, not a single person showed up last week (started Dark Sun with 17, and even added four more). After much prodding, I was able to get three people to show up, one being my wife so really it was only two others. Biggest complaint was the campaign and the second was simply burnout, which I also understand.

We are a week behind, and finished up encounter 6 last night. Each player played two characters, and I allowed them to use either two Dark Sun characters or one DS and one of their own make. We ended up with 4 DS and two custom. This setup worked out well, and despite some general inexperience, each person handled two characters very well. The biggest obstacle with only having three players, is there were fewer people to discuss strategy, and the three were not the best strategist so the battle was longer and more difficult than necessary.

I agree with Ameron in this no longer feels like Dark Sun, and whether that had anything to do with it or not, I don’t know, but we had a lot of fun yesterday with the dungeon crawl. We are going to try to push through two encounters next week to catch up, how long did this weeks encounter take everyone?

Also, has anyone looked at the Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Strategy Guide (not Players Handbook)? It appears it may be beneficial in teaching people group mechanics and battle tactics, and I was wondering if it was worth the money to buy.

2 Niko July 22, 2010 at 12:33 pm

We have also experienced a big drop in the number of players. I am lucky to have a steady group at my table every week, but we were running 4 tables at the start of the season, and now we are down to 1-2 tables.

Week 7 was a very big disappointment, we were finished within 30 minutes. I thought about adding HP’s or another spider, but honestly I dont think it would have been any more enjoyable for my players. The room was small and didnt allow for much movement, so the PC’s wiped the minions quickly, and then went to work on the spider. It was all over in a couple rounds. I hope next week goes better, I agree this chapter is just like any other D&D session, nothing Darksun about it…

3 Andy July 22, 2010 at 3:41 pm

Week 7 was over in two rounds. Couple of area attacks took out the minions, the spider missed on its blindness attack, and the PCs all hit the spider hard.

Attendance is way down at our store. One table had four players and my table had three. The three of us doubled up on characters.

There is a lot of fatigue in playing every Wednesday and specifically these adventures.

4 Sunyaku July 22, 2010 at 7:50 pm

This was my FIRST Dark Sun encounter, and after faithfully following this blog for a month or so now, I was expecting murder and mayhem. But man was that an easy encounter. Which I suppose was nice, seeing as how I don’t have much “play” experience (been doing a lot of studying and blog diving to be a completely new group’s DM) and I just had a character thrown at me. That said, the encounter itself isn’t worth talking about.

What I do find highly disheartening is how confused everyone STILL is by the level up. Castri didn’t show up this week, so that’s the character I’ve taken on. I did a fair amount of research on Errata discussions and blatant mathematical errors made in the Dark Sun pregen characters, and I have to wonder, Wizards wouldn’t INTENTIONALLY fudge character data would they? Or was it just carelessness? I realize they’re pregens, but that just confuses new players when they learn how character creation actually works. I was at a table with several new-ish DnD players who clearly didn’t know the rules as well as I already do, and the leveling business with the tiny sheets seems to be very difficult for people to manage.

So for my new friend Castri, I found a very neat Errata’d, level 2 version of Castri, per the Wizards changes here (http://community.wizards.com/dungeonsanddragons/go/thread/view/91301/25199049/Pregen_Character_Sheets_for_Level_2). Then I painstakingly created the character from scratch manually to verify the accuracy of the Errata I’d found (the document is from a non-Wizards source). I identified several error/nerf points in the character math, and I think I’ll be able to clear up a little bit of confusion at my FLGS. The biggest point of confusion is that Castri is a Marauding fighting style, NOT a Two-Weapon Fighting Style, so he SHOULD NOT receive the Toughness feet, as someone had manually written in on my level 2 scrap. Marauding gets him Two-Weapon Defense and the bump up to 8 speed (http://www.wizards.com/dndinsider/compendium/class.aspx?id=5). He does, however, have the Two-Weapon Fighting FEAT after reaching level 2.

Next week I’ll talk to my DM about using the Errata’d version of Castri in the game. I think I’ll just print out the set of Errata’d characters in case he wants to use them for the table. They’re ssssoooo much cleaner, clearer, and will decrease everyone’s pain. People seem to think Castri is gimped, but I’m up for the challenge. And really, Castri’s errata wasn’t as bad as some of the others. It just gives him the training in athletics and the 6th healing surge that he was already supposed to have. I mean c’mon, a seasoned marauding ranger gladiator with +4 STR who’s NOT trained in athletics? Now THAT’D be ridiculous.

5 Dan July 22, 2010 at 11:42 pm

I also agree that the last two encounters lacked qualities that would make them stand out as encounters in a unique setting, but I think the delve could have been given a Dark Sun-ish makeover if some more colorful discriptive could have been incorporated… Sand/slit sprinkling from cracks in the walls and ceiling, the echoing howl of the sandstorm outside, or maybe some other simple reminders that when the party finds their way out of the caverns, they will again be greeted by Athas’ oppressive and deadly sun and environment. Or maybe the module designers could have given more thought into “fleshing out” the creatures in the caves: the undead, while still typical undead monsters, could be described in terms of physical descriptives (i.e. leathery, sun-tanned skin the color of saddlebags draped over the bodies). Or, spiders that made an audible sound like the “hiss” of sand falling when they moved (I know I’m using alot of sand descriptives, but you get the idea). Also, did anyone notice that the addition of the “gauntlet” minions were a little out of place? I mean, when I think of gauntlets, I think of METAL ones… and I didn’t realize until after the encounter that my imagination was foolishly misguided. What were those gauntlets actually made of anyway? Bone… wood…stone??? Ugh! Bear in mind that I’m not blaming the DM for the lack of descriptive – to me it seems more like an accidental design flaw in the encounters. If the designers really wanted to make the encounters feel more alien and unique, they might want to try throwing in some “preview” monsters from the upcoming Dark Sun monster manual… but whatever, I still have fun gaming with the group so no biggie…

6 panzerleader July 24, 2010 at 12:21 am

Incidentally and to be fair, the crystal spiders appear in the 2e Dark Sun Monstrous Appendix or whatever they call them. Otherwise I completely agree to the lameness of this encounter, and I am going to endeavor to add my own Dark Sun flair to the continuing adventure, and to really gauge the balance and adjust to what I think it should be, rather than trusting to the now suspect module as written. Too many inconsistencies.

7 shikirr July 24, 2010 at 10:28 pm

I was at the first few sessions (Shakirr) but my attendance has trailed off since. Its not that I don’t enjoy Encounters (I do!), its just that I’ve had a lot of scheduling conflicts over the past few weeks.

From the sounds of it, I might wait until chapter 3 to return to the table. I’m guessing that chapter 3 takes place in or near the city-state of Tyr. The vast majority of the Dark Sun setting revolves around the city-states, so logic would dictate that the introductory adventure would spend at least some time exploring the urban settings.

I might be interested in dming that World Game Day game, but how well does a DM need to know 4th edition to run one of these? Are there shortcuts and advice for DMs who are 4E newbies? Heck, I’d be tempted to convert it to 2nd edition!

8 Lahrs July 25, 2010 at 7:19 am

I believe you should know 4th Edition fairly well before you attempt to DM Game Day. I would recommend attending every session (if possible) of Season 2. Each session will help you understand the game better, and ask if you can DM one or two of them.

You mentioned converting to 2nd, so I am going to assume you have played and DMed D&D at some point. So if you have DM experience, and just need to be brought up to speed on 4.0, it is time to hit the books and maybe run a few sessions from home as well. Having a cheat sheet in the form of the DM screen will help a lot, and I recommend picking up a 4th Edition module to run.

On the other hand, if you have never DMed and are new to 4th as well, again, hit the books hard, but see if you can shadow a DM during the DS campaign, anything for experience.

If you have registered your DCI card, I believe you can go here https://membership.wizards.com/ and sign up to be a judge. You can take exams over the 4th edition rules which will also help get you up to speed.

9 Lahrs August 2, 2010 at 9:34 am

I have noticed there has been no week 8 update, did you guys skip a week of play? I am down to so few people, I can’t even count it as an official sanctioned game.

10 Dragonbreath August 2, 2010 at 4:13 pm

Hi guys, sorry to bother with this question: I can’t find a store in my country which sponsors D&D Encounters. Is there any way to get the DM materials? I’m a big DS fan and would like to DM these encounters for my group. But I’m not very clear how this encounter sessions work. Or if the DM materials are available for download. Thanks to anyone that can point me in the right direction….

11 Ameron August 2, 2010 at 4:14 pm

@Lahrs
Unfortunately I was ill this week and could not play in week 8 of D&D Encounters Dark Sun. This upcoming week I’ll be at GenCon so there won’t be a week 9 write-up either. When I return form GenCon there is a very strong likelihood that I’ll run the encounters I missed in a marathon session. If I do, I’ll be sure to share my experiences.

12 Lahrs August 2, 2010 at 5:08 pm

Sorry to hear you were ill. Have a great time at GenCon; one of these days I hope to go myself.

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