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.