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.