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.