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Archive for July, 2010

Tonight we took a break from our regular campaign game to playtest a dark sun dungeon delve Dusk Bloody Dust. It was an exciting night, and I think we all learned some stuff, me especially. The first encounter proved to be rather ill conceived and homicidally brutal, as we shall see. The characters were all taken from Encounters Season 2 and Free RPG Day Dark Sun laminated copies.

We had the twin thri kreen Pak Cha and Shikirr. We had the fighters, Yuka and Kindrock, and we had the sorcerer Barcan. A great group all in all. However, it is tough to get used to a new character, and I could tell that it was a mistake to make my group, who has become comfortable with their 6th level PCs, suddenly have to shift gears with a first level party, and with the oddness of Dark Sun, it was a difficult transition. The strange format of the character sheets was another obstacle, and this led to a lot of frustration I wish I had foreseen. But, one way or another, thats how it worked out. A Dnd character is hard to just sit down and digest, even if it is printed on an attractive, well laid out card.

The night began with the group, an elite squad of slave warriors, tasked with clearing and recovering an ancient ruined amphitheatre from a recently discovered lost city. The slave PCs were owned by a half elven mercantile consortium under the family name of Silvanus. This merchant wanted to set up a fortified camp on the edge of this city and plumb it for its forgotten wealth. He chose the gladiatorial arena, which was on the edge of town. The PCs job was to clear out any monsters or other hazards in the arena. Unfortunately, the characters were dropped off hours from the arena and didnt arrive until dusk, just as a freak dust storm, known as a haboob, enveloped them.

The storm was described as roiling clouds that quickly formed low to the ground, and as the clouds of sand, dust, and debris rolled forward, they pounded the area in the storms reach. The first round, each character had to make a skill check against the weather. For example, one character was able to use perception to find a safe area, which was the square he was in, while another character made a history check to rmember to cover his face and extremeties and seek shelter. A history failure by another PC led to them incorrectly wrapping their heads, thus being unable to see clearly as sand got in their eyes.

Then the next round the sand blew in, and any attack over 5 squares away was at -2 to hit. Lighting began to flash and dance across the arena floor. The first bolt struck a pair of posts that were driven into the sandt floor on the west side. Manacles holding the wrists of old skeletons hung from the posts and as the lighting struck them, the skeletons each seemed to catch fire and step forward, a flaming skeleton stepping out of the still hanging skeleton on the post. In the center of the arena was a sunken depression of silt, I described it as very quick sand looking in appearance and at its edge grew to dead looking straggly thorn covered briar plants. Air started swirling about them and the thorny vines formed into a dust devil and broke free of the plants. And finally, across the arena floor at the south end, were stairs leading down into the slave pits below, and flanking it were two beat up stone statues of warriors. They seemed to break apart and reform as a pair of lesser earth elementals, though the statues still remained, only more cracked than before.

Aside: The party had to take on 6 enemies of extremely high power. This was a mistake on my part, as I miscalculated the experience level for the encounter. I got carried away when setting up the map and added an extra flame skeleton and earth elemental. It was a 950 xp or level +4 encounter – completely out of the league of even the toughest group of 1st level PCs, much less this party. What was I thinking? Well, to be fair, there were multiple paths to victory, including escaping down the stairs, but the main reason why I thought it would be okay was that each of the monsters had a weakness by destroying the object from whence it launched. This was a good theory, but with the locations of them, far to the south, and with the quicksand in the middle, it was hard to get to these items, and maybe it wasnt spelled out exactly that these were keys to victory.

Anyway, the monsters rolled high on the initiative and the dust devils moved out, one blasting into Shikirr and Yuka, who had rushed into the middle of the room, and the other slamming into Kindrock and Barcan, still at the doors. It was a crazy battle, as the flame skeletons launched their fireballs, and the dust devils slid Pak Cha, then Barcan into the quicksand. Shikirr was unconscious 2 squares from the stairs, and Kindrock was still standing, surrounded by both earth elementals and dust devils. Yuka made it down the stairs with Pak Cha, before we ended the encounter and decided to move on to the next one, with completely refreshed characters. The second encounter wnet much better.

After catching their breath on the landing, the listened at the door and heard the sounds like a jackal language. They kicked open the door, granting them a free surprise round. I love the idea that kicking open the door grants a free surprise action. That just gives the perfect incentive to go in guns blazing, rather than to slink and scurry about the edges, as is often the players natural tendency. Bam, door smashes open, revealing the old gladiator pens beneath the arena. The chamber is full of burly jackal men, who seem to have set up camp. They wear leather scraps and carry short naked blades in their hand. These jackal warriors laugh wildly at the thought of battle. The large chamber has slave pens in them and next to the doorway is a pen containing an ankheg whose leg was bolted to the floor by a length of chain. recognized that this insect could be controlled with the successful usage of his nature skill. Therefore in hive mind fashion Shikkir rushed forward as his speed of thought into the adjacent square to the ankheg and struck his chain, where upon Pak Cha exerted his nature power to control the beast. he would go on Pak Chas turn.

The battle opened against four weak jackal warrior minions who fell quickly, leaving the Jackal man Bravo and Deceiver left to contend with. The deceiver tried also to gain control of the ankheg, but was unsuccessful. The thri kreen used this ankheg for 3 rounds of combat, each time successfully making a nature check to control the creature, which became progressively more difficult to control. On the 4th round, pak Cha commanded the ankheg to flee, fearing the repercussions of it turning on him.

Meanwhile the fighters Kindrock and Yuka made it across the room to engage the deceiver, while the bravo found an opening and charged Barcan. The following melle between the bravovs Barcan, Shikkir and the ankheg was brutal, but eventually he was bested. Kindrock fwell to the mesmerizing sleep cast by the deceiver, who commenced to engage with Yuka in melee combat, until he was wounded and had to back off. Kindrock shook off the magical sleep and stepped up to finish off the jackal man.

There was an unexplored door in one far wall of the room, but the night ended after these two encounters, leaving the climactic battle a mystery. It was a fun night, even if it started out badly.

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With week 8 we surpass the half-way mark of our journey through Dark Sun. The players began the adventure this week having discovered a shaft of worked stone leading down into darkness. There were handy rings set around its rim for the attachment of ropes or other climbing devices. The torch they tossed down landed 25 ft below in a dusty shallow pool. The room seemed very old and undisturbed.

Soon the party descended. I quickly described how after the first to go down reached the bottom, he was afraid to move much or disturb anything until the rest were down. The room was made out of yellow stone blocks, 5 feet square. The floor was made out of the same size paving blocks, but each of the stones was at a slightly different level, making the footing not quite difficult terrain, but still worrisome. Pak Cha, with his supernatural insectoid perception, was able to spot with his 100 eyes, a tile adjacent to him that was elevated slightly higher than the rest. None of the rest of the party had high enough passive perception to automatically spot any other squares.

I described the rest of the room, starting with the broken fountain – a monstrous head whose mouth was caked with dust, and likewise filled the shallow pool with its 2 ft high walls. Then there were the huge stone braziers, that looked like unburnt coals were piled in each, but remained unburned. Against one wall was a fallen over rack of relics and runes of various nature, many of them trimmed with glittering amethyst. Finally, there were two stone tables at each end of the chamber, and upon each of the four tables lay an incredibly ancient cloth-wrapped mummy. Phye immediately moved to investigate. In doing so, he stepped on a tile that shifted under his weight. He heard a rumbling against the back wall, and suddenly an obsidian spear shot out at him, narrowly missing. As he stepped up to the stone table the mummy sat up, the cloths falling away to dust, to reveal a strange being crafted of sand and shards of obsidian. It opened its mouth to say “You have dared to desecrate our tomb – for that you must die!” or something of the like.

The spear trap reset and fired a second time at Phye. Then it was Pak Chas turn, who was about to find out that the trap may have been sprung, but was still functioning. Stepping upon the previously discovered pressure plate, he was dismayed to hear a grinding of gears and a spear to shoot out at him. It struck him, and its blade was poisoned to cause additional pain and agony.

How does it know?

Aside: This led to a lengthy discussion to the nature of the trap. I will hereby, for the edification of all, note the specific mechanics of the trap as I interpret it, and as described by the adventure, and with additional author clarification on the publishers forums. The trap has certain pressure plates (DC 17 to locate, or 14 if adjacent) If the plate is stepped on, the trap activates, firing as an immediate interrupt at whoever stepped on the plate. It then begins on the initiative count directly after the player who activated it. On its turn, it will fire at everyone who is standing on a pressure plate, and it will also track and fire upon the last person it targeted. In addition to this it STILL will fire, as an immediate interrupt, anyone who is unfortunate enough to uncover a new plate by stepping on it, though its placement in initiative order will remain static. Simple, right? Flavorfully, it was described as there being three slots in the far wall. Trundling between them was a magical spear chucker, like an arcane ballista maybe, able to target any square in the room.

The trap could be disabled, and Jarvis made it his goal to do just that. on his first move, he purposefully stepped on a square to provoke the spear chucker, then used his special retaliation power to ignite it in flames. This reduced the traps effectiveness (-2 to hit) and counted as 1 of 3 successes to disable it. By this time, the trap had fired 5 spears and only made a clunking sound when it should have fired. There were four crystal golems in the room. The first was made of sand and obsidian shards. He pummeled at Yuka wgho rushed forward and used his Athasian wrestling skills to grapple with it and hold it in place. The crystal golem became agitated when the obsidain spear trap ran ot of ammo. Standing against the wall next to each trap opening was a bundle of 5 more spears. The obsidian golem seemed to want to get to those bundles, though Yuka held him in place.

The trap was never to fire again, thanks to Yuka keeping the golem from reloading, until Jarvix had the chance to reach in and using his arcane skills he disrupted it some more. A thrust of a spear deep into its inner workings stopped the trap once and for all.

The second golem was made up of sand and chunks of uncut emerald, and he charged forward to the area of the dusty pool to pummel about him with his great crystalline fists. He opened his emerald lined maw to utter a silent scream – waves of psychic energy knocked back Kindrock and Morg, dazing them. They retaliated with the brute force they are known for, and these two power houses tore down the crystal golems one by one. Devastating strikes shook the chambers, and Kindrock was able to make plenty of melee basic attacks against those he had marked. Soon the third golem, this one was composed of uncut amethysts and agates, joined the fight with the two blood-bathed warriors while trying to cross the room.

Crystal fists flew, great axes chopped, then suddenly time seemed to stop as a thrust by Phye against the fourth golem, this one composed of ruby fragments, went awry with a natural one. This was the magic spear discovered earlier, but that didnt stop Steve from deciding to use reckless breakage and re-roll the attack. The missed attack twisted and struck true, hitting the golem, but snapping the blade from the haft. That was a moment of greatness.

Incidentally I play with the rule that a magic weapon can be mended during a five minute rest, so he only lost the weapon for the duration of the battle, however, I want to say that he had already decided to sacrifice the spear before I explained the house rule, moment of greatness indeed. My rule was originally going to be that you had to use the mend ritual, but since no one had it, that was pointless. It is the rule in my home campaign, however. I am assuing the campaign guide will elucidate us on the affect of reckless breakage against magic items, which Im sure must have some way to survive.

Meanwhile the Mantis Shaman faced down the ruby golem, as it made straight for him. The fought toe to toe as the thri kreen managed to light first one brazier (dimming the fire in the ruby golems eyes) then finally he managed to light the second fire. When this happened, half the sand supporting the Ruby Crystal Golem drained away, leaving a bloodied foe. At almost the same time, the obsidian golem suffered the same fate. However, both the emerald golem and the amethyst golem were both dealt with the old fashioned way, in bloody combat.

It leads one to ponder how the emerald and agate crystal golems might have become weakened through subterfuge rather than

The party was victorious and scooped up 175 gp value worth of uncut gems afterwards, as well as some ancient ceramic coins painted with dull gold lacquer. It was a challenging battle, made tougher bay doubling the number of golems, and by wild usage of the spear trap. Some of the players may have skeptical of the trap, and I can see that point, but I stand by it as suitably awesome. Its magic after all.

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Back in the saddle again. With great thanks to Rich who agreed to dm for me while was away for week 6, I returned to the DM throne. In fact, I even offered Rich the insight that he had earned the right to challenge me as DM for the Encounters program, but he thankfully demurred. Thus, here I am, back in the saddle for another week of sun-baked slaughter in the wind-blown deserts of Athas. Actually, this week finds our band of doughty survivors stumbling through a dark cavern in the mountains.

Last week, to briefly recap, the party had entered the cavern and found an ancient wooden bridge that crossed a ravine in the natural cavern floor. Needless to say, they were attacked by undead. Isnt this always the case when crossing a cavernous ravine, or maybe a ravenous cavern. The party was able to dispatch the undead and continue through the dark tunnels. But that was then, this is now. Our party of hard core death dealers made it past the corruption corpses, crossed the ravine, descended the natural staircase leading deeper into a room that was filled with crystals. Many of the patches of softly purple glowing crystals resonated psychic energy, but one area of crystal turned out to be a large web spun of crystalline fibers. It covered a section of room from floor to ceiling.

The battlemind Shikirr wasted no time before moving into the midst of the chamber, after spying a half dozen skeletons standing against the far wall. They held longbows in their skeletal claws, there eyes were glowing in a fierce red glare, and they were standing perfectly still. The lighting conditions were a concern, and each thri kreen held a torch in one of its multitude of claws.

Not only skeletons, but creepy animated gauntlets scuttled about the cavern floor. Dozens of them, well nine at least. The party waded into this crowd of pathetic minions with wild gusto and abandon. Skeletons crumbled to dust, gauntlets smashed like bugs. The two thri kreen each used their flurry of claws attacks, then Jarvix sent a blast that eliminated even more. Surprise came when two slashing long legs whipped out from above, where a pair of crystal spiders stood on the ceiling in ambush. Phy and Jarvix was hit. The sorceress twin (the sorceress was absent this week, but her twin was here to take up the blasting) sent out a beautiful burst of Flaming Hands, which damaged no enemies, but did hit the tiefling (Im not afraid of fire!) for maximum damage. They both got a moment of awesome for the attack, and she additionally got a renown point for doing over 15 points.

That crazy fighter Yuka was at it again, he climbed a wall and launched himself at the spider, and wound up hanging from it and trying to knock it down. Great rolling got him up there, but he was unable to pull the spider free until it was hit again later in the turn, knocking it to the ground and damaging both it and Yuka in the process.

The other spider achieved a similar fate. The half orc Kindrock leapt up and struck the spider a mighty blow which tore it from the ceiling to land at his feet. It was summarily executed before being able to act again. When the second round of battle came around there were 3 minions left. They managed to last approximately 6 seconds. The battle was short and the only person who took any substantial amount of damage was Jarvix, whose fire resistance reduced his damage to 10 points. It was still more than anyone else took in the battle.

The battle was a literal cake-walk. Granted, my table had 7 players, one more than the encounter was designed for, but to make up for it, I added a second spider, 3 more skeletons, and 3 more crawling gauntlets. Very underwhelming, and later I may share my thoughts on the adventure as a whole, but for now let me say that these encounters have been wildly varying in difficulty level. The first 5 encounters had a brutality level that was breath-taking in places, while the first two encounters in chapter 2 are basically laughably easy. I will be spending more time from here on out to adjust the individual encounters to a proper challenge level in order to maximize fun. I do not know if this is a weakness in the encounters program – that the individual groups that play have such wildly disparate skill levels. For instance, the players as a group have expanded their cooperative tactics with every encounter we play together, and even survived season 1 Undermountain together. Other groups around the country may have new players every week, or other factors that limit the team building.

One thing that came up was that the slashing claws of the thri kreen. The players believe that it should be a minor action attack, and I tend to agree, since it is similar to other racial powers, i.e. the dragonborn, who also have a multi-target minor encounter power. I made them use it as a standard action this encounter (Im surprised it hasn’t come up before now) but I will research this for next session. As a minor, it is extremely useful, while as a standard it is less so.

The battle ended with the party barely winded, ready to climb down a hole. Find out next week what is at the bottom of that hole, same time same place.

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One of the things I regret most about missing out on practically the entirety of the 2nd edition run of ADnD were the release of such fantastic campaign settings, Dark Sun in particular. (Other great campaign settings of the 2e era included Spelljammer, Birthright, an expanded Ravenloft, and Planescape for example.) Dark Sun brought together many of my favorite themes, from survival in harsh environments to the visuals of a post-apocalyptic world. Of lost, dying civilizations and a land corrupted and ruined by power-mad mortals. Of gritty fights for the meager scraps of wealth and beauty left in the world. Advanced magic and machines no longer understood and often running amok, and lands entirely forsaken to the living dead. Of a sun, blazing hot and glaring down. This was Dark Sun, the setting I always wanted to explore but never had the chance, until with surprise and cries of adulation, Wizards announced it would be the campaign setting next released.

With this knowledge, I began planning for the release. I always use settings of my own creation, and recently began a new campaign using 4th Edition DnD. This game took place in my own game world, known as D Erte, and was the second campaign to take place in D Erte. (Our 3rd edition game was in D Erte, and I moved the time-line ahead 100 years.) I wanted to begin this campaign in classic style, and so was running us through Keep on the Shadowfell but was setting the stage in small ways for the future. This included some subtle clues, such as a book titled Rise of the Dark Sun and the elf Ninaren had a mysterious past that went deeper than the module outlined. There were other clues and ideas which never made it into the game. at one point, Kalarel was goiunmg to unwittingly call the Dark Sun into this dimension or plane or something.

I am not too worried about going my own way, or breaking established lore. After all, this is my own game, played among friends, and I steal movie plots, character names, etc. all the time. Now I planned my biggest heist of all – I was going to steal the whole world of Athas.

My initial idea was very convoluted and strange, but one I am still very fond of. It involved a magical disruption in the flow of space whereby the world of Athas, more like our Mars, comes extremely close to the world of D Erte every 500 years or so. Close enough that the atmospheres of each world intermingle for the one year when the two planets are conjoined at the poles, before being torn asunder for the next half-milleneum. There was also a floating landmass upon which was a city at the point where the two worlds met. The landmass was divided in two, and each world kept its half until the planets came together. it was here that invasions would launch. Each city in the clouds took pains to prepare for the inevitable meeting. First there would be a speck in the sky, moving closer. Within hours the grinding of stone would rattle the city until the twin cities were reunited at last for one short year.

The gravitational disruption caused by this are what created the floating islands, and a whole string of earth-motes led to this city in the clouds above the North Pole of D Erte. This wild idea is definitely not in accordance with official lore of Dark Sun, but that doesnt matter. What matters is the story created around the table, and how that helps add to the fun of playing the game. My early campaign ideas revolved around Ninaren being from the far north, and she knew the concordance of planets was about to happen, and so she hatched a wild plan to invade Dark Sun by enslaving the elves of D Erte to be her invasion army. The party of Heroes was going to chase her to the North Pole, and then to the city between worlds, and finally, from there they would venture into Dark Sun, either to kill and capture Ninaren, prevent an invasion, or for whatever reason.

This idea evolved a long way to get to where we are today. Ninaren was killed during the climactic encounter of the Keep on the Shadowfell, and now the players are level 6 and have just crossed over through some sort of inter-dimensional rift. My goal was for the party to be sent, or trapped in Dark Sun with no known way to escape, and to arrive with a minimum of supplies. The method I used relied heavily on narrating the event, though the battle itself was real enough, the final result was that each character awoke from unconsciousness under a scorching but dark sun, in the middle of a high duned shifting desert, as far as the eye could see. They had each retained 2-4 prized possessions, depending on how well their skill challenge went the week before. (Preparing for the Doom that Awaits Ye)

From a dungeon mastering point of view, this allows me to wipe the slate nearly clean, so to speak, with items both mundane and magic in nature. The benefits of this are numerous, the main ones being that survival in the desert will be perilous without iron rations and canteens of water, the dozens of healing potions, etc. But more importantly, was that many weapons were given up in favor of magic items, thus they will be re-equipped with the non metal Dark Sun variety of arms and armor. The opportunity for the PCs to retain a few favored items is the true key to success without mutinous glares. They were disappointed in the loss, but it was made bearable and thus, more understood and accepted.

The few exotic and metal items that the party does have, the Greatsword of the White Rose for example, and the +4 dagger of sacrifice, will show signs of tarnish and rust if not constantly cared for, as Dark Sun is hard on metal. Already the PCs have found chunks of obsidian in the desert sands and have chipped and forged them into crude daggers. I will introduce the weapon breakage rules as soon as a melee natural 1 is rolled. This rule will apply to normal as well as magic weapons, and the magic weapons can be fixed with the mend ritual. This is more extreme than the official rules. As far as I know the official campaign world is not especially corrosive to metal, but I thought it added a neat twist, that the PCs have to constantly care for their beloved steel blades.

As far as magic items from D Erte, such as the magicians gloves of Poppy, they do not cause a defiling of the world, because the magic is contained within the item, and thus sealed from causing harm. It is only through the casting of arcane spells that the defiling takes place. This is an issue that will arise because of any arcane casters in the party. Mad Molly for example. Since I do not know the 4e rules for defiling vs preserving until tje official rules come out, I am improvising them. The first time our wizard cast a spell, she inured those around her and the sand granules under her feet literally exploded into silt. The plan I developed was for Molly to slowly learn how to control her magic so that it is no longer defiling the environment. In he end, I simplified by having her find a scroll which taught her the secret of preservation arcane magic.

Now that I had my characters torn from their world and thrown into Dark Sun, it was time to get planning. But before I plan out the epic campaign that awaits the band of intrepid adventurers I will go through a personal list of inspiration I draw for Dark Sun. For me, Dark Sun represents a trio of powerful themes: Post-apocalypse/sci-fi/fantasy.

For Post apocalyptic inspiration, my first real movie experience was Road Warrior. Recently Book of Eli and The Road offer compelling examples of the theme in film. The world of Dark Sun is also post-apocalyptic, as the wars that waged between the gods and the primordials, in which the latter won, also caused the wide-spread desolation of Athas. The species struggling to exist are survivors of that apocalypse. The novel (and movies) of Dune by Frank Herbert is a great desert-themed novel. One of my favorite desert-world sci-fi novels is the Faded Sun Trilogy by CJ Cherryh.

Early Mars and other planet spanning Science fiction captured the spirit of Dark Suns post-futuristic flair, where the adventurers rode air-boats and fought with swords. This is a world in which high or lost technology is indistinguishable from magic, and similar to Steampunk, often reside alongside one another. Ray guns and Magic Missiles away. Burroughs Carter of Mars books represent the pinnacle of this type of planetary romance, and I will have to admit that I focus on the futuristic elements perhaps more than the official party line. There are no ray guns or air ships in Official Dark Sun lore (that is reserved for Eberron) but here is an area where I bend the campaign closer to my idea of epic awesomeness. Another example that is more inspiration rather than whole-sale idea-theft is Flash Gordon. I recently re-watched the movie from 1980, and was shocked by it, but I have to admit that stylistically, it really captured my Dark Sun imagination.

There is definitely a retro-sci-fi theme happening in Dark Sun. And the fantasy is self-evident. Replace the ray guns with wands and the airships with flying carpets. Sorceror kings rule rather than immortal thought-emperors.

The desert starts here.

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As the night began, we found the Heroes of Winterhaven in the depths of the tomb of Gagnasdiak. They had just defeated the evil undead who guarded the tyrants tomb, rescued the strange child known as the White Rose, and retrieved the scepter of kings from the sarcophagus. Thus fulfilling the requirements of their agreement with the Eladrin clan of Eshau, they made their way back up through the halls of madness. Each of them began a private journey through the halls of their own mind as they sought escape from Gagnasdiaks tomb.

Before continuing, they gave the girl a quick check up. She was 4-6 years old, apparently human, and bore a striking resemblance to the recently defeated daughter of Gagnasdiak known as the White Rose. She appeared to understand the words spoken to her, but she did not speak.

Tara the elf began the journey down a hallway filled with voices, each of them arguing a different course of action. She stilled their voices and continued to forge ahead. Poppy crossed a room where the far realm penetrated reality, and she had to dodge spikes of madness and swirling eddies of infinite doom. Thokk felt the weight of the world on his shoulders, literally crushing him down. He persevered. Each of the adventurers had to use their skills and knowledge to discover the means of escape, or be forever trapped. As they crossed through the hallways, they followed painted frescoes on the wall that told the story of the rise and fall of the Tyrant Gagnasdiak. They learned that Gagnasdiak made a deal with the un-knowable powers of the far realm, and was granted the ability to manipulate time and space. This power is what led to his downfall by a future version of himself – wiser, stronger, and with definite ideas of how we would do it all over. The defeat caused madness in Gagnasdiak as he was consumed by the far realm as he used its power.

Eventually they made it out of the temple just as dusk was settling over the city. Their eladrin guide lay at the foot of the temple with an arrow through each eye socket, while the war camel looked on without interest, its reins still entwined in the dead mans hand. Far off down the street they saw a figure wrapped in robes dash off, but not before cackling in high pitched glee. The party immediately took chase, and after one hour of running through the city streets coming ever closer to what turned out to be four figures, they finally caught up with them at the end of a sand-blown avenue. The last rays of Dark Sun sank beyond the horizon, and just then was heard a rising moaning, sighing sound as the spirits of the slain eladrin began to drift into the streets, to carry on the savage street battles that their living selves were slain fighting. It was a vicious circle unbroken even in death.

The four eladrin turned and prepared to do battle, crying out in an unknown language fierce threats and war cries. There were two scimnitar wielding Jalabar soldiers in front, one each for the Prince Elrand, fey knight, and the Flame Princess Sharia, eladrin from a rival clan, known as the village of Mithrendain. The battle was fast and furious, with the Jalabar warriors charging forward to harass the party, one of them stepping toe to toe with Poppy, and Scimitar clanged against great sword. With a promise of vengeance and a mighty slash, Poppy opend up his stomach. The Jalabar warrior clasped his fingers over the wound, and as Poppy watched, the blood poured through, but it slowly changed into sand between his fingers. She looked into his face and he grinned, and as the blood pooled at his feet, he exploded int a giant twice his previous size, half man, half sand. The great sword had finished its arc by this time, and instead of taking off the jalabars head, as she planned, she instead struck him in twain, and his sand bulk did not save him.

The other jalabar broke through to hack away with wild abandon against the vulnerable wizard and the flame-haired Vulpix familiar. They were undaunted however, and the Vulpix bit with his fangs of flame, while the wizard swung with her staff, knocking him soundly on the side of the head. Blood poured from his ear, but it quickly changed to sand, then he too exploded up into a giant sand warrior.

Meanwhile Sir Elrand fought Thokk with a longsword that sent out restraining tendrils. At one point, he punched Thokk in the nose, breaking it, while Thokk hacked away maniacally against the fey knight. his axe finding it difficult to penetrate the knights defense, either by his turtle-shell shield, or by his tight-fitting plate armor composed of glossy insect shells.

As her consort fought the barbarian, Sharia the Flame Princess sent her scimitar flashing across the battlefield. At one point, wings of fire sprouted from her blade and it launched itself out of her hand to fall like a comet amidst the party, before re-frming seconds later in her hand. Her antics with the spinning blade was not enough to turn the tide of battle, and as Tara aided the barbarian by slaying the fey knight, Poppy slew one of the jalabar warriors, before being knocked in the dust by the other one. Sharia the Flame Princess surrendered, While her consort Elrand relished the though of joining his comrades in the spirit world, the princes knew that she would no longer be the princess in the benighted city, and she relished the luxury it afforded her a little bit longer.

With the aid of the Psychic Ring, the were able to question Sharia and thus learned more of the fall of Nazerak. When Gagnasdiak was overthrown, the city was cursed as the Far Realm began to break into the bond between the city and its shredding ties to the feywild. Only by existing in the feywild as well as the word was the city of Nazerak able to maintain its survival, but the far realm encroachment wreaked havoc, changing the lives of the city dwellers under its curse. They were doomed to remain trapped in the city as spirits when slain, and the feywild version of Nazerak only existed when the sun-warped rays of Dark Sun sank below the horizon.

This caused madness among the eladrin, who began warring interminably against one another in order to die for the city. They would return as spirits to the night time version of the city where the same civil war would take place, and each time they were slain in spirt form, they would reincarnate as a baby eladrin, though a portion of their spirit would be taken be the feywild to maintain its strength.

This caused a number of changes among the eladrin – the madness induced a war lust, and the reproductive rate sky-rocketed. It was a circle of never ending struggle, with the only losers the poor eladrin who each time they were slain had a sliver of their spirit stolen from them, thus increasing their madness by some small degree. This also led to a city of very young eladrin. Few lived to reach full adulthood, especially in the village of Mithrendain, where the rate of birth and death was incredibly high to the point where some young warriors saw only a few seasons of sunlight before they were banished to the war after dark in the haunted streets of Nazerak.

As they realized this, Tara understood that she had solved one of the riddles of Dark Sun, as posed by the shattered ruby she carried. The world of Dark Sun was a savage place, and that honor and morality had warped to meet the challenges of such a brutal existence.

So the heroes of D Erte began to put the pieces together but they still had to question the White Rose, and after the battle with the Flame Princess Sharia, The White Rose spoke up and asked to hold the scepter of the kings. She then asked for a ruby, somehow knowing Tara carried a broken jewel, and by putting a broken half on each end of the scepter, where the fit snugly, she opened a small portal into which they gazed upon their world.

Seen from afar, they looked down upon a town and as the scene focused, they realized it was Winterhaven. And marching towards the town was an army of giants. The scene soon faded, and the White Rose complained that she would need two whole rubies to make the scepter work. And that if she had the rubies, she could send the party back to their own time and space. Hopefully in time to defend Winterhaven against an army of giants. The questioning was cut short by the nearness of warlike eladrin spirits, who threatened to embroil them in the spreading melee. Explosions of arcane fire lit up the night sky as battles took place throughout Nazerak.

Before moving out, the party had to decide where to go, and they decided to bring the unconcious Prince Eldran and Princess Sharia to the clan of eladrin who tasked them with retrieving the scepter. This became a negotiation with Pricess Sharia, and the listened to the lamentations of the Flame princess, before grudgingly trusting to her honor that she would not try to escape. So they moved out through the city, and they used their specialized adventuring skills to circumnavigate the city by moving across roof-tops and along walls whenever possible. Thus they avoided the ghosts fighting in the streets and ruined buildings of Nazerak. It took hours and just as the first rays of the sun peeked over the horizon they came to the edge of the city where lie the Eshau clan.

Suddenly they heard a rumbling sound quickly grow louder until the whole ground shook with the fury of it, and an airship came blasting into view, 20 feet above the desert floor. From the strange ship crowded a score or more elves, stripped but for leather battle harness, and each of them held bone longbows, and two bone swords strapped to their waists. A large ballista bestrode the foredeck, and the airship was captained by a tall half elf with a cruel smile on his lips as spied his next cargo of slaves.

Just before the party sprang into action the Flame Princess begged to be set free. She said it were more a dishonor to be caught by elves (no insult intended) than it was to break ones word. Poppy then convinced the warlike princess and fellow big blade wielder to enter the battle as allies. They turned and prepared to face off against the dastardly elf slaver airship.

(All artwork courtesy of Nariko – Heavenly Sword, except one unknown piece labeled only as Sinbad.)

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I have nothing better to do at the moment so I will spend a bit of time giving my first impressions of recently released Dark Sun art, I will review the 8 new preview screenshots that Wizards released for their upcoming Dark Sun Campaign Setting.

Preview 1 - Iconic Dark Sun Imagery

The artist has one of my favorite modern styles in fantasy art.  I love the gritty poses and the over-sized weapons.  There is a surreal quality to the artwork where certain martial aspects are exaggerated.  The feeling is evocative of a struggle for survival where the scant rewards are relished for their cost.  In no other campaign world as much as Dark Sun is the fight for survival as keenly felt as Athas, where the dying red rays cause  sun-warped madness.  In the world of Dark Sun every breath is a fight against burning lungs, every sip a struggle against drowning.  To survive youth into adulthood is to reach mastery in the art of death and killing.  To live is to fight. Yes I would say this is some iconic art right here. The particulars of the scene are also iconic, symbolic and all around great depictions of Dark Sun details.  From the obsidian sword, to the blazing ball in the sky, this picture is full of Dark Sun.  My favorite part of this piece is that it is made up of that leathers and feathers look of post apocalyptic attire.

Preview 2 - Desert City Street Brawl

This piece of art has one awesome component, and that is the elf.  This is how I want my elves in Dark Sun –  insane scantily clad thief acrobats.  They are amoral fey thieves and robbers who delight in taking what they want through deception and their own physical prowess.  The rest of the combatants are less striking visually, though there is a good depiction of bone armor.  The background shows a pretty typical urban alleyway or bazaar in a desert region.  Lots of sand and fabric.  I am not such a fan of the cowering and weak populace, as I tend to like the idea that in Dark Sun even the peasants are warriors first.  These people all look like Annakins mother in Phantom Menace.  And while I draw a lot of Dark Sun inspiration from Tatooine, the peasantry is not really one of them. It must however be admitted that she was a slave, and that slavery is one of the themes of Dark Sun, so perhaps the image of the cowering slave-peasantry is apt after all.

Preview 3 - Thri Kreen Ranger is King

Preview 3 - Thri Kreen Ranger is King

I have never before wanted to play a thri kreen before this moment, but that dude is one bad ass, I dont care what animal kingdom you come from. I mean he has a leopard skin kilt for crying out loud. And just when you thought his bow-wielding could not get more epic, you realize that his great axe is not slung over his chest, oh no, he is wielding it in his second set of arms! The rest of the scene serves only to do him justice, as it took all the artists skill and imagination to throw a force at this master ranger equal to his abilities. I also approve of his twin bald bodyguards. This thri kreen knows how to roll.

Preview 4 - Dark Sun hobbies and pastimes

There is no better place to fight the mighty behemoth than on the wind-swept planes of Dark Sun. In my campaign the party came into Dark Sun like we all come into the world – naked and hopeless. Nevertheless they threw themselves at a wild stampede of post-prehistoric monstrosities for no other reason than to slake their thirst on blood. Dinosaurs are fun to fight. In Dark Sun they do it for sport. Of particular note in this piece is the weird architecture in the back ground. I prefer my cities to be more bubbly and spire-y, like a Martian city ought, but Spikes and bones are cool too. Wait a minute, thats no building, why its on wheels! Ok this picture gets better and better. I havent even mentioned the incredible characters here, with that awesome turtle-shell shield, the flying barbarian attack, and hot sand-caster in the background.

Preview 5 - Still as dungeons and dragons or is it a wyvern?

This piece is unusual because it is generic enough that it could appear in almost any setting. There is nothing that stands out as belonging to Dark Sun. The characters seem over-dressed and well equipped. Another hairless purple giant, what is it, a Mul, goliath. half-giant? Im not sure why, but in each picture they look equally out of place and un-fun in my opinion, and this goes back to all large and giant type races from every edition of the game. The only large species I have been fond of as a PC race in my many years of gaming was the half-ogre (+6 str max 18/00 , -8 int min 3) and mostly because his size was made up for by the fact that he was usually a slobbering idiot. In one campaign, the player actually wrote out the 30 or so words his half-ogre knew with his 3 intelligence. Even with 30 words, the only one he ever seemed to use was tasty. Back to the artwork, even the castle looks distinctly medieval fantasy, although it scores a point for being ruined. As for the middle character, what puny weapon is he holding? If that is a mace, ahem, please compare it to the morning star twice as big as your head, nod to mention the dainty bumper on the end of that slender stick in his hand. Must be a bard.

Preview 6 - More art

Preview 6 - More art

We seem to have reached a nadir in the art department with this piece. I am not one to complain, but this art is one of my least favorites. It has some Dark Sun flair, as in it appears to be posed in an arena, with what looks like a gladiator slaying some kind of petty ruler. There is very little movement, bleached out colors, and no hair, everyone is either bald, a common affliction in a world where the average noon temperature can set your head on fire, or they are wearing a turban, a common solution to the head burning issue. Remember kids, it only takes once going outside without the turban, then WHOOSH no more hair. And that king deserved to die. What a pathetic lose rof a ruler, give the crown to the gladiator, maybe he can finally bring the kingdom out of this economic slump. Incidentally, this picture cant be wholly slammed, because it did give me the kernel of the idea for my whole campaign in Dark Sun, so there is that. Possibly its psychic qualities outweigh its physical attributes, which would go a long way towards helping it fit in better with the Dark Sun theme. Perhaps.

Preview 7 - My new desktop image

My least favorite piece is followed by my most. The grand scale of this artwork is as awesome as the scene it depicts. An endless sea of dunes, planets hanging gibbous in the dark sky, and relics of ages past half sunk in the world-spanning desert, while a lone wanderer braves the journey towards emptiness. This is Dark Sun. This piece speaks for itself.

My old desktop

This is one of the earliest Dark Sun images released, and I have had it as my back drop for a number of weeks. First the good. I have always loved the idea of buried cities in the sand, and this piece shows off exactly that – the ruins of an ancient city state of vast power uncovered in the ever shifting sands of the deep desert. A brave group of adventurers seek glory and wealth in the hidden dangers of that post-apocalyptic landscape. It also has a powerfully baleful red eye glaring down.

The picture loses some of its hold on me with the depiction of its heroes. First there is a blue giant, which I have already lamented in a previous work, so I will not go into it, but there he is again in all his bald-headed glory, and he even manages to get himself in a more ridiculous position than the other as well. I will crush your skull until it is small enough to fit between my buttocks, when I will crush it even more. The middle character is my favorite, bone swords are cool. She is attractive in her spiky armor, but as our eyes move over to another shirtless hairless stocky fellow. Dark Sun is full of them – short ones tall ones, big ones, round ones, we have all the purple hairless strongmen one can imagine. Entire races were tampered with to produce the most garishly pigmented entirely hairless stocky species possibly. They have accomplished this with the Mul, a word no one seems be able to pronounce, cause it cant be MULE can it, another stocky half-breed? I refuse to even discuss the halo of psionic power that rings this mules forehead like an asteroid belt of miniaturized ioun stones. My how far the game has gone these few short years…

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In which I did not participate.

heavily medicated and lovin it

Such is the nature of humanity that we are defined as much or more by our failures than by our successes. For example I am the type of person to take responsibility to extremes, and thus it was inevitable that something should come up that would make it impossible for me to participate in week 6 of DnD Encounters. In this case it was surgery, the nature of which kept me from being able to sit in a car for any extended period. Ah such is life.

I pre-arranged with one of the players to run this weeks encounter, so I may update this article to give a re-cap of sorts when I found out exactly what happened this past Wednesday. I am confident the game will resume with a minimum of distraction for week 7 and onwards.

PS If you were there, tell me what happened! I want to know, and also for historical purposes and all.

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