The session began with the PCs sleeping through their first night in the desert. They had only the supplies they had stolen from the slave caravan and not much else. The PCs slept through the night with only a meager fire to keep them warm, (Arak was using the patchwork quilt that doubled as the defiler/concubine’s spellbook to help keep him warm). All but Arak, the goliath barbarian and Kirith Blackhand, the human warrior, failed their endurance check to withstand the cold temperatures of the night. As such, those that failed began play with one less healing surge.
They took turns watching the dark desert around them. Their unlikely companion, Polinius, captain of the guard, was not trusting of the PCs and refused to sleep the night. The moons, Ral and Guthay, cast a silvery light upon the desert giving the rolling sand dunes a soft incandescent glow. With the crackling of the fire (and the snoring of the goliath) as the only sounds the PCs heard that night, their first night of freedom went without incident.
The next morning the PCs (at the equivalent of 6am when the sun was already baking the land at a cool 78 degrees) had to figure out where they were located on the map they had found in the slaver’s quarters before they had escaped. I provided the players with a cloth map that came with the Dark Sun 2ed. box set volume 2 (a wonderful role-playing aid). The skill challenge required them to use whatever skills they felt would help them locate where they were. Polinius, believing he was a prisoner of the ex-slaves refused to help them. The PCs discovered they were just west of the northern road leading out of Nibenay. To the east was the Black Sands region and the Silver Spring Oasis. They surmised (correctly) that the half-elf woman from the day before was showing the caravan a short cut to the Silver Spring Oasis when she led the caravan into a trap.
The PCs, with the urging of Arcott, decided to head to Nibenay in order to get to civilization as soon as possible. Arcott revealed that he is the son of a Nibanese noble, a wealthy merchant. He said that his father would reward the PCs for helping him escape captivity. When pressed as to why he was placed into captivity, Arcott couldn’t remember.
Polinius tried to convince the players to take the main road to Nibenay in hopes that the party would come upon another slave caravan or a Nibanese patrol. Kirith and Akais quickly saw through Polinius’ ruse and challenged him on it. Polinius again refused to help the party as they were nothing more than slaves. At this point, Kurrix and Arak decided they had enough. Before anyone else in the party could react, Arak delivered a critical blow to Polinius, cutting open his abdomen and knocking him to the ground. As Polinius attempted to keep his guts from spilling on the warming sands at his feet, he was quickly finished off by the rest of the party. Akais, the psion/wizard, cynically noted that meant there was more water for the party. Arak joyously noted that he now owns two axes, one an executioner’s axe, the other a battle-axe.
The PCs decided to head south to the mountain range that bordered the Crescent Forest and then turn east toward Nibenay. Because they no longer had Polinius to drive the wagon, they had to do the “Learning to Drive” skill challenge. For each failure the jostling of the wagon would spill approximately 10 gallons of water over the course of an hour. They failed three times before rolling the four successes they needed. By the end of the day, they had gone from 47 gallons of water to 17.
The second day of travel toward the mountains brought a fierce Tyr Storm upon the PCs. The party found a rock outcropping to help shield them from the stinging sands that were blowing around them. They also decided to flip the cart on its side to help shield them from the weather. The storm was fierce and the excited kank nearly broke loose from its bonds as both Arak and Kirith tried to hold on. The rest of the party struggled to breathe as sand swirled around the party, thunder crashed deafening the party members. Arcott and Kurrix were targeted by a lightning strikes as well.
As the PCs skirted the foothills, Kurrix decided to scout ahead. Kurrix discovered an old man with a herd of goats pleading with a hill giant. The hill giant was sun-baked and was wearing dirty and smelly rags, in both hands it had two goats. The old man pleaded with the hill giant not to take more than two. “Please mighty G’Gax! No more than two!” Kurrix, the shadowy thief, shot the hill giant in the shoulder with an arrow. Leaping from his hiding place Kurrix got the attention of the hill giant. Kurrix ran back to where the party was located, hill giant in tow.
The battle between the party and the hill giant (lvl 8), took place on the slopes of the mountain side. It was very steep and required the PCs to make athletics checks vs. DC 20 in order to make a full move, otherwise they could only move at half speed. As they approached, the hill giant threw rocks at them. The combat included two rock slide traps and a cave system that allowed the PCs to “teleport” to the other side of the battlefield. The PCs, especially Arak and Kirith, rolled well with regard to the Athletics checks and closed the gap quickly to engage the hill giant. The hill giant was soon dispatched.
The old man, Olki’in, thanked the party and invited them to his mud hut. He led them through the mountains along a goat path to where he and his goats resided. Inside he fed them goat meat and fermented goat’s milk. He told them that G’Gax was plaguing the mountain side for some time and that A’exa Rae, Wife of Nibenay, couldn’t defeat the hill giant. Upon further inquiry, the PCs learned that A’exa Rae was a low ranking Nibanese Templar that managed a logging camp a half a day’s journey from Olki’in’s hut. Olki’in and the other goat herders provided food for the loggers and the guards. Olki’in also informed the PCs that, because they were ex-slaves, he would have to tell A’exa about them.
The group, using various methods of persuasion, convinced Olki’in not to reveal too much when they spoke with the templar. (Arak tried to scare the old man, Akais, Kurrix and Arcott tried to reason with him, and Kirrith used his Mark of the Free to show the old man that he was not a slave and would not submit to anyone.) The following day, the PCs went to the logging camp.
The camp was located at the base of the mountain range within the Crescent Forest, a vast and dense jungle. The camp itself was surrounded by a wooden palisade and constantly patrolled by guardsmen. Inside, the PCs saw wooden and mud structures that were used to house the guards, the slaves and the supplies. They noticed two clay structures. One was being used to store something covered by cloth that they couldn’t identify and the other was A’exa Rae’s palace.
A’exa Rae wore a white gown made of kestrekel feathers and sat on her throne, rather smugly and bored, while a small obsidian sphere floated over her open palm. She was surrounded by four goliath guards bearing shields with her mark. Within five feet of her was her thrall who carried a magical shield that the party identified (via history checks) as the Earth Shield. (They didn’t figure out its powers). A’exa spoke with them via telepathy. The PCs, given their brash natures, were extraordinarily polite and reverent. Arcott, spoke the truth to A’exa and she was not pleased to discover escaped slaves in her palace, but, upon mind probing Arcott, discovered he was telling the truth regarding his capture and station as nobility.
As a condition for sending a runner to Nibenay looking for Arcott’s father, (and for not being put to work as slaves), A’exa “requested” (read: ordered) that the PCs look into something that has been hunting some of her foresters deep within the jungle. The party agreed and headed out into the jungle, led by two guardsmen.
Within a few hours, the party was surprised by a group of halfling cannibals. The guardsmen were hit by poisoned darts and taken out quickly. The party was then quickly surrounded by the halflings. Akais and a halfling wilder engaged in a psychic duel as they blasted each other with their powers, while the rest of the party engaged the halflings. Within a few rounds, it was clear to the would-be halfling chefs were not going to get to eat humanoid for dinner and attempted to escape. Kurrix and Arak wouldn’t allow that to happen. Kurrix used his bow with deadly effect and Arak charged head first into the brush and cleaved one of the halflings in two with a mighty swing of his executioner’s axe. Through out this battle, Arcott issued orders and inspiring words to maximize the party’s effectiveness. At the end of the battle, one of the guardsmen was revived and informed the party that up until recently, halflings were not common in the jungle. He has no idea where they come from.
The next session will bring the party to the logging camp and the start of their first minor quest: “Hunting the Hunters.”
This past Sunday was the first session of my Dark Sun campaign (and the first time I’ve DMed in over three years) and I have to say, I think it was a success. It was a success in so far as everyone had fun and I the fear of surviving Dark Sun was sufficiently placed upon the players. The group consists of five players. They include: Akais, a human wizard/psion hybrid (a classic Dark Sun character!); Kurixx, a human shadowy rogue; Arcott Landier, a human Nibenese warlord; Arrak, a goliath barbarian and Kirith Blackhand, a human Urikite fighter (gladiator theme). I asked my buddies to make simple backgrounds that could be developed as the campaign progresses. I want to put as much “power” of campaign direction in their hands as possible because, for my gaming group, I’m the only one who has ever explored the Dark Sun setting. So, I want them to go and explore wherever they want. Their backgrounds will come into play as they push the campaign in those directions. I started the group out as slaves (no equipment) being transported across the sandy wastes. As background music for this opening scene I used a youtube.com video “an arabic prayer for divine mercy”. It was perfect to set the tone.
The PCs began their Dark Sun experience bound within the bowels of a great slave caravan wagon slowly making its way through the sandy wastes of Athas. The sun, at its zenith, beat down upon the caravan at temperatures reaching 140 degrees. As there was no breeze, the heat was particularly oppressive. Baking the PCs, they all failed an endurance check (DC 22) and began the adventure with one less healing surge. Adding to their misery was a refuse pile and their fellow slaves, hanging lifeless from their bonds, baking in the sun. As they looked through the cracks between the wooden planks of the caravan into the desert beyond they saw no signs of civilization. They were in the middle of nowhere with no hope of escape. When suddenly, the caravan came to a halt.
Peering through the cracks between the wooden planks of the caravan, the PCs saw the slaver, the captain of the guard and a half-elf woman (accompanied by a large lion) arguing. The half-elf woman was tall, tanned and stoic in the face of the tongue lashing she was receiving by both men. The PCs navigated their way through a skill challenge where they reasoned their way to what was going on: the half-elf woman was hired as a guide and she intentionally led the caravan into a potential trap. As a result the caravan guards were going to lighten their load by killing the slaves and escaping on smaller wagons with the water supply. Kurixx used his wild talent “mental tools” to create a small scalpel and began to cut his way out of his bonds. The goliath used his brute strength to break the bonds. When the PCs were freed, a warning shout was heard by guardsmen on top of the great covered wagon: “Raiders!”.
Cresting a great sand dune was a great horde of gith, their obsidian tipped spears gleaming in the sun. The half-elf woman knocked the captain of the guard to the ground and ran off with her lion pet into the desert. As arrows were shot at the oncoming horde, the PCs heard the captain of the guard bark the following orders: “Get the water! Kill the slaves!” As the guards from the upper floors of the great wagon made their way to the slave pens, Kirith pulled a plank of wood from the wall to use as a makeshift club. The Arak tore the leg from a dead slave to wield as a makeshift flail. Kurixx picked the lock on the wooden door and the three guards sent to slit the throats of the slaves were surprised to see a desperate group of slaves ready for a fight.
Their first fight included Akais using his psionic abilities to throw guardsmen across the lower deck of the wagon, an enraged barbarian beating opponents with a bluddy stump and Kirith losing his hand due to a critical hit from a bone-axe wielding guardsmen. (I, as the DM, rolled many critical hits this session and was terrified of inadvertently killing all of the PCs, but they had some good crits as well). While the group battled the guardsmen, Kurixx snuck past the melee in search of a weapon. What he found among the cargo were three vials of healing salve. After dispatching the guardsmen, Kirith used the salve to stop the bleeding from his severed hand.
The PCs searched the cargo room and found some gems, a handful of ceramic pieces, a vial of poison, a small shield and the equipment from the guardsmen which included 3 suits of leather armor, a short bow, a stone mace, a bone long sword and a bone axe. Now with some equipment, the PCs freed the other slaves and climbed the ladder to the caravan wagon’s mid-deck in search of water and a map of the Tyr region they had over heard the slaver talking about. Peeking their head up through the floor of the mid-deck, they saw three more guardsmen on the far end of the massive wagon doing some looting of their own. The group snuck past them to the top floor of the wagon to where the slaver resided. There the group saw an opulent two room floor lined with potted flowers and silk pillows. As they approached the door to the slaver’s room, they heard a shout and a loud thump. Opening the door they saw the slaver’s harem surrounding the body of the slaver, a knife in his back.
The harem consisted of twelve women of various races led by a dwarven woman named Brela. When the PCs barged in, Brela was rummaging through a bureau and she was not happy to see them. Brela and “her girls” were not interested in escaping with a bunch of men. Akais initially negotiated with Brela to allow him to take the slaver’s map, but, because he was concerned with sharing water with a potential enemy, he and Arak tried to bar the door and lock the harem in the wagon. This infuriated Brela and the PCs began to hear chanting coming through the door. Along with the chanting, the PCs noticed the potted plants begin to whither, blacken and turn to ash. With a thunderous explosion, the door burst open. The group was unharmed, but they now had to deal with an angry harem led by a defiler. In addition, the guardsmen below them decided to make their way to the top deck to investigate the explosion.
At this point, the group became divided between the defiler (level 5) and her twelve minions (level 1) and the three guardsmen (level 3). Arak and Kirith Blackhand cut a swath through the minions (with the help of Akais’ static charge) and engaged Brela. However, Brela zapped Arak with a critical hit to the chest knocking him to below 0 hit points and Kirith was soon bloodied by her magical onslaught. In the other room, Arcott, still unarmed but using his mastery of war history to aid the party with extra attacks and inspiring word, was being chased around the room by a guard wielding a stone mace. The guardsmen would break his mace upon Arcott’s shoulder, pull a plank from the wall and break that on Arcott as well before he was finally killed by Kurixx’ arrows. Akais was eventually overwhelmed (critical hit: stunned) and was almost instantly killed by a massive blow by another guard (another critical hit). Brela would eventually be killed by Kirith and Arak would be healed. (He had failed his death saving throw twice…he was very close to the edge). During this entire fight, Kurixx was hiding among the harem’s pillows and picking off opponents with the short bow he had previously lifted from a guard. When the PCs defeated this double encounter, they found what Brela was looking for: an ornate quilt that doubled as her spell book.
The PCs exited the wagon to find the slave caravan overrun by gith raiders. One wagon was burning and another was swarming with gith. The PCs could hear the screams of the dying guards and the gurgling glee of the gith. The PCs, looking past the carnage filled melee, saw the desert beyond and their freedom. The goal of this encounter was to cross the battlefield before they are swarmed by gith savages. To make matters more interesting (or worse if you are a PC), a mekilott (level 10) was let loose and was crossing the battlefield (thanks to Kurixx). Akais used his static charge to slow the mikellot down enough to allow the PCs to skirt the battlefield and avoid any additional combat. As the PCs lamented their lack of water, they noticed a smaller wagon being surrounded by gith. It was defended by the captain of the guard and they noticed a lone barrel of water on the wagon. The PCs charged into the fray hoping for some water. The gith were accompanied by a small group of baazrags that had latched onto the captain of the guard. The PCs cut through the enemies rather swiftly and offered the captain a simple choice, let them ride on the wagon or be killed. The captain acquiesced without protest. The captain of the guard, named Polinius, took the reins and ordered the kank soldier to pull the wagon forward. The PCs then left the burning slave caravan behind.
Because the PCs didn’t kill Polinius, they avoided the skill challenge “learning to drive”. If they had to accomplish this skill challenge, they would’ve lost 10 gallons of water for every skill check failure due to the tumultuous journey through the desert. The session ended with the group making camp for the night. The PCs never had a chance to take a 5 minute rest and they didn’t even ask as the players were absorbed into the fast paced nature of the session. The next session will involve the PCs trying to figure out where they are on the map and surviving the desert trek to civilization.
I rewarded Kirith with the first legendary boon of the campaign, a battle scar titled “Mark of the Free”. (I felt bad for cutting off his hand…but then again, this is Dark Sun, its gonna be brutal.)
“Mark of the Free”
“Many freed slaves bear the marks of their former captivity, whether it is in the form of crisscrossing scars made from a slaver’s whip or the haunted look of a mind tortured by the cruelty of the noble class. You, however, bear the mark of a slave who has no master. One who is determined to survive, no matter the costs. Stories of how you won your freedom will vary widely, but all will know you by the scars you display and the fierceness of your demeanor.”
Power: (Utility, Daily) When interacting with slaves or ex-slaves, you may add a +5 to your diplomacy checks for the duration of the encounter as the members of these casts look upon you with awe. When interacting with nobles, templars, merchants, etc. you may add a +5 to intimidate checks for the duration of the encounter as the members of these casts know you are not one to take kindly to orders. This power will not work on creatures without a social hierarchy.
I haven’t posted in some time and that is because my fiance and I have moved from our run down apartment in Albany, New York to a very nice townhouse in East Rochester. It was a very hectic move as everything that could go wrong almost did. Our car’s master cylinder fried itself a week before the move. I got sick before and after the move. I had a job interview two days after our move. And, of course, because my fiance and I are from the Finger Lakes area, the past week has been one filled with “we need to get together and have lunch/dinner/beers with insert family/friend/acquaintence here>.” Not that I mind…it’s just hectic.
Our new home is nestled amidst a wooded area that is absolutely beautiful. Rivendell was the first thing that came to mind when I saw it. The only thing missing is a river and some elves…(and, of course, if I had the One Ring, the whole job situation would be the least of my worries!)
In a few hours my old gaming group is getting together to play Dark Sun with yours truly as the Dungeon Master. I am very excited to play, for it has been at least three years since I have played with these guys and five or so years since I have really DMed a session. I have spent a lot of time trying to find ways to get my buddies into the “feel” of Dark Sun. That has involved a series of House Rules that I will be experimenting with as well as background music to play.
To make Dark Sun more brutal, I am incorporating critical hit charts and critical fumble charts that are based on damage type. Included in these charts is the chance for an instant kill. Calculated it is approximately .017% chance that on any given attack roll, someone is going to be killed instantly. I like that. I have also included the 2nd Edition weapon materials rules that modify attack and damage based on the materials used to make the weapon. I suspect that after a few sessions we will stop using this rule as I am finding it to be a tedious addition to my own NPCs and monsters while writing adventures.
The background music I have selected include the Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures Soundtrack from the online video game. It is incredible and fits perfectly. I plan on adding the original Conan Soundtracks to the playlist. In addition, I am adding some pieces by Lisa Gerrard (of Dead Can Dance fame). Her particular and unique vocal style and language add a otherwordly quality that I think will enhance the gaming experience.
In any event, it is six in the morning and I have approximately ten hours before we begin playing…I can’t wait.
October 17, 2010 | Categories: Uncategorized | Comments Off on Moving to Rivendell and Playing in My Athasian Sandbox