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Archive for August, 2010

The Sabratha, arena of Nazerak

A narrow brick lined passage wound beneath the sands covering Nazerak. A stream of sewage ran down its center which transformed at night into a stream of clear fresh water. Into this tunnel through the city center crept reptilians, known as sleestaks or suss-suss-surrans in their hissing tongue. They were slain and having cleared the tunnels, the champions of the White Rose made their way towards the arena for their gladiatorial debut. It was their honor, their burden to be chosen as the champions of the White Rose, who called upon the ancient right of challenge by combat to decide ownership of the arena. The characters had learned that morning that they would be up against the jackal men, who call themselves the tribe of Flind, worshipers of the wind. The flind were a mercenary tribe in the pay of the Half Elf Consortium and they would be their opponents.

A great combat was thus decided upon. The victors of the match would claim the arena as their own, and the defeated claimant would relinquish all claims to the property. The White Rose had only recently risen to leadership of the divided peoples of Nazerak, and this was her first step towards reclaiming the ruler-ship of the city and beginning the reconstruction. Meanwhile the Half Elf Trade Consortium of House Sylvanus, out of the fortified town of Altaruk , many long leagues to the south, wanted to establish a colony or suburb in hopes of pillaging ruined Nazerak of her wealth,

An ancient stooped elf stood in the center of the arena acting as master of ceremonies as the crowds gathered to either side. He was an elf peddler in th epay of the consortium and 10 elven arrows were always strung and aimed his directyion. In the meantime he anounced the nights events and took wagers, and hosted minor contests. One flind offered a single duel to first blood for the honor of setting up first. Thokk strode out to fight him, but after a furious assualt, he had only worn down the flind war fang, who finally with a slash of his sword, drew the blood of Thokk. The half orc was furious. Poppy and Tara both put up items of wealth, which the old peddler bargained for, offering 15% for the potion of stone to skin, and 65 gold for Poppys item. Each of them later collected twice that sum in ceramic golds and collected after the fight.

Flind of the Wind Tribe

The flind were a race of jackal men, who banded together into tribes to raid the settled lands of the dunes. They were militaristic and took great delight in their arms and armor, be it double edged trikal or simple bone club. They are similar to the race of gnolls, only craftier, with a savage mentality. They brought a surprise with them. Ancient pacts with the lords of necromancy gave the flind witch doctors terrible powers.The flind for millenia had perfected certain necromantic arts, and one of them was to create undead ogres. Long after the race of ogres vanished from the land of Athas the flind maintained their army of undead ogres, pieced back together after every battle. Over time iron, then ceramic or stone plates were set into place to cover missing or damaged parts, and now they are known as ogre stoneskins. Stitched and scarred with necromantic magic the undead ogre lumbered into the arena with the long trunk of a petrified tree in its grip.

The undead ogre stood in the middle of the field, and in a line in front of it front were the three soldiers, the flind war fangs who wore armor of hardened black ceramic and fought with wooden long swords edged in obsidian shards. Behind the ogre was another flind who wore robes made entirely of tiny rattling bones. He controlled the undead ogre, and more His first act of the night was to cast a necromantic spell. As he danced and howled, bones boiled up out of the sand of the arena floor to form into hyena skeletons, and a skin of cold slowing mist surrounded them. Four of these appeared and every few seconds he would call another. These undead hyena gave the flind a numerical advantage and contributed to keeping the party from grouping up and focusing their fire.

The soldiers Gravitated to the toughest of their enemies. THokk had 2 on him, and he was the first to draw blood in the battle, slashing open the chest of the flind who had bested him earlier. As his axe shaved the hide off one of the jackals he fought, the crimson blood splashed into the sand and seconds later a rumbling became a sudden shifting, quaking in the sand. Thorny shrubs with blade sharp leaves sprang up all over the sandy floort of the srena. Stranger things have been known to happen in Sabratha, arena of Nazerak. Its ties to the elements were strong,

Meanwhile Sharia Princess of Flame fought toe to toe with another. The princess was a haughty lass, but she brought enthusiasm to the battle and delighted whenever one of her blows struck – oftentimes calling out to her team-mates or the crowd. She soon had the crowd on its feet cheering as she made a graceful yet killing blow against her opponent.

The druid launched a full on assault against the Flind Chosen and the spectral hyenas. They were well matched as the Shadow Panther Lady used her primal energies agasint the Wind Shaman and his elemental, necromantic forces. They fought one against the other for the entire battle and the druid brought out her shadow panther spirit to contend with the ever increasing hyena spirits. Into this mess Tara and her lions sprung, but the ogre would disrupt the elf rangers plans. Its long club swung out and knocked Tara into the shard briars and the clinging, tearing branches injured the elf. The lions were no match for the ogre and with two swings of its club, they were both done in.

Poppy was first to strike the beast and she dodged hyena spirit and flind war fang to get to the ogre, and finally with a mighty hewing of her great sword, she struck the undead horror in twain. This led to another round of wild cheering of applause from the crowds, and Poppy gave a slight bow and wink to the crowd. The adulation was short lived however as the undead ogre rose behind her, its two halves each tottering up to slap together and fuse with the black magic of necromancy. The great club was still in its hand and it swung and knocked everybody near him.

It was here Sharia leapt forward and with her own mighty cleaving, split the undead ogre in two. First Poppy had drawn a line down it , and now Sharia quartered it horizontally with a sweep of her mighty scimitar. Her mad dash across the field and slaying of the ogre was only incidental to her rush to the aid of Thokk, however, who was slowly sinking to his knees under the onslaught that surrounded him. Sharia slew the ogre, leapt over its corpse and threw her arm around Thokk as he fell. Her touch aided him with the healing powers of the spirit of the flame.

This gave the elven ranger the opportunity to quiickly pull her bow and fire. Arrows rained down on the field striking all of the remaining desert jackals. Then Tara launched one special arrow that struck the shaman right between the eyes, felling him. The crowd went wild.

High Templar Insadorus

For long moments the cheering lasted until it was interrupted by the gates at the far end being thrown wide. Into the arena rode 4 men on crodlu, which are bird-like creatures like giant ostriches. These wore battle armor of hardened leather, and the men wore armored harness with all manner of tassel and feather. Under this ornamentation however were sharp obsidian razors and heavy horn spikes. These were a war-like men and the one in front stood in his stirrups and addressed the crowd, but all the while his stony stare never left the gladiators who stood exulting in their victory.

As governor of this region and High Templar to the Sorcerer King of Tyr, I demand an accounting of what transpires here this night! The man looked furious and he shook his fist as he shouted. Meanwhile the three companions with him pulled out their weapons and fanned out around him.

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Special Note to my Encounters Players: As I mentioned after the game, If you want to continue playing DnD with me after this season of encounters ends, email or let me know. I have seats available in my house game on Friday nights. I would make room for all of you! teambarnes yada yada@ gmail yada yada.com

We are 3 weeks away from the end of our journey through Dark Sun. Week 12 was also the final week of Encounters Season 1, so after tonights encounter we are in virgin territory. It is amazing to think how far weve come. From the sole survivors of a ruined caravan, chased across the desert by a malevolent storm, into the jaws of a mountain tomb. and crawling through muddy tunnels, the party finds themselves on the wrong side of the mountains captured by Halfling cannibals of all things. Their escape from these tribal head hunters is where we begin tonights encounter.

For some reason I was very leery of how tonights battle would play out, to the extent that I seriously considered dumping the encounter for something more appropriate. In the end, I trusted to the adventure as written (with one minor change) and I am glad I did. The encounter was balanced and fun. In a later article I may discuss my reservations, and the changes I ended up making, but for now, let us get on with the continuing story of our band of heroes surprising successes.

The characters had escaped the cooking pot last week, and after retrieving their gear, they were on the run from the organizing posse of jungle hobbits. The evenings encounter began with the party hunkered down and taking a five minute rest. It was during this rest that they realized all their survival rations and healing fruits had been separated out and were no longer with the rest of their gear. (It was in fact, set up on the Halflings dining table as a pot luck salad of fruit, kank honey, and even some hejkin jerkey.)

During this rest the minotaur was able to repair the weapon he recklessly broke last battle. With the aid of the sorceress Midget, a non cannibalistic Halfling (or so weve been told) Moo Pie repaired his weapon to functionality, though the spear head was a little loose and jiggedy, making the weapon -1 to hit and damage. The minotaur also noticed that the beautiful bronze bell he risked his life over last week had magical properties. It was hard for the minotaur to resist listening to the dulcimer tones of the bell, and even went so far as to deafen his fellow party members with the incessant gonging.

At some point in the future, Moo Pie the percussionist and Deathmetal Kissinger the rockin bard will have to jam together. This would, in fact have been the secret trick to defeating the Halfling village. By combining their talent, the party could form a Dark Sun Rock Band and playing such memorable tunes as When the Levee Breaks, Smoke on the Water, and finally a little bit of Stairway to Heavan, the Halflings who were not instantly slain by the discordance would become mindless slaves to the band. Such are the paths not taken by our adventurers, who instead chose the traditional route of chopping them into bits. Besides, Deathmetal is a soloist. His guitar (or Cittern or something) gets a lot of use, and In the coming battle he used a magical chord, an inspiring solo, and other musical tricks to bolster his companions and bring his foes low, or to at least make them cover their ears and run away.

The party realized after a few minutes of catching their breaths, that the Halflings would not give up the chase so easily. The heroes are not accustomed to the jungle – the air is thick and humid making it hard to breathe. Unusual sounds, sights, and smells accost their senses and make it difficult to maintain their equilibrium. Finally the land itself, with the soft soil, clumps of vegetation and stinging slapping branches all work together to cause them to lose ground over the furry footed forest dwellers.

The run from the Halflings was a skill challenge, where each person went around the table and chose a skill, and then described how that skill was used. We started with Phye (do) who used Intuition to try to determine what the Halfling would do and counter it. Phyes success led to the discovery that the Halflings were attempting to encircle them. Yuka was successful in his skill attempt, then Deathmetals attempt to bluff went south. Midget however, also used bluff to create a false trail and this led to a success. Navarra used her ghost sounds to steer the Halflings off course, and the panther growls seemed to work – until they were joined by large roars not from the wizard! Kindrock used his athletics to climb a tree and look around. His great athletics roll allowed him to climb to the very top branches of a tree, and granted him a +2 to his perception skill challenge check. The 2 he rolled on that check was described as the tree he chose to climb was only a few feet tall.

The minotaur used his athletics to plow ahead, breaking branches and forging a path for the rest to follow. Finally, we came back around to Phye. The challenge hinges on one more success and failure, and the ardent had the idea to carve intimidating signs on the trees to frighten their pursuers away. Sadly, his failing roll was described as how Phye got caught up in carving such a frightening skull on a tree trunk, that everyone gathered around to watch, offering tips like make the fangs dripping blood etc. Time passed and the Halflings were able to sneak up on them and loose a barrage of arrows and darts. This led to a loss of a healing surge for each of them and they were on the run again, this time with the cannibals hot on their heels.

They were running for their lives along the forested ridge when they noticed that the Halflings had stopped following. They also noticed that the forest, already weird to a group of desert dwellers, was taking on an even stranger aspect. Fingers of mist flowed through the foliage, and the strange calls of the forest creatures became echoing and distant. It felt as though they were treading over two grounds. They had stepped into the twilight zone.

charming mama, chomping papa, and gnashing babies

They had also stumbled into a clearing full of dozens of tiny sharp toothed lizards. There was a big papa lizard at one end of the clearing, a mama lizard with a mesmerizing gaze at the other end. In the center of the clearing were hundreds of their offspring. The mama lizard kicked off the encounter with her gaze, and most of the party was dazed by those luminescent emerald eyes.

Kindrock especially spent the vast amount of time dazed. These are the results of choosing a character with an 8 intelligence. Even glowing lizard eyes are distracting. (ooh shiny) Well that and climbing short trees I guess. Kindrock was next to go after the mama, and dazing has little impact on a character with one exploit for any occasion: charge! And so he did. This did not sit well for 80 of the 120 lizard babies scampering about the clearing. They were grouped into 3 litters or clutches, and 2 of the 3 surrounded Kindrock, eager to tear the flesh from his bones in payment for charging their mum. But Kindrock is mighty, and though he was a tower of reptilian teeth and claws, he remained a standing tower throughout. A dazed, befuddled giant, sheathed in ferocious baby lizards who could whack his enemies for well over 20 points of damage with each attack. It was frightening to behold.

The third clutch of baby lizards moved into the midst of the party, and their gnashing fangs were able to hit just about everyone. These lizards even managed to get through the main lines to slash away at the soft underbelly of the party, the ladies of course. These wizardly women were sorely hurt by the lizards this battle, and had to sling their spells carefully without provoking attacks by the lizards. Eventually, Navarra was able to silence that litter with her magic missile, but not before they had caused major damage to the heroes, and especially to Yukas feet, where they were based.

Meanwhile, at the front of the pack, Yuka and the Minotaur were contending with the papa lizard, who had little strategy but charging and raking his foes with his massive claws. He bit and tore at Yuka, who pushed him back to the tree line with his furious assault. The fighter continued his string of victory this battle as he dealt with the papa lizard. The minotaur stayed back helping the wizard women with their lizard hazard. Phye decided she would help Yuka with the papa. In a fantastic bit of strategy, he boldly charged right past the lizard hatchlings and the papa lizard to end his mad dash flanking the papa. Now, as any reasonable person knows, these lizards would get an opportunity attack on him as he went past. However, this also let Yuka make an attack against each of them as a free action, so that one run caused a cascading of back and forth attacks. Yuka was swinging his mordenkrad (or whatever it is) many times per second this battle to keep up with all the attacks he got due to his fighteriness.

Both Yuka and kindrock are great examples of how effective fighters can be. I am not sure how different the builds are, but I can see a difference in the the way they play out. Yuka is about positioning, while Kindrock can bring major hurt. I often confuse Kindrock with a barbarian which I think comes from the damage rolls I am constantly hearing from him. Below 20 points is a rarity for Kindrock, while Yuka will may do in the teens or even single digits, over and over and over.

The whole battle was punctuated by the chords, riffs, and long drawn out wailing of the bards electric guitar (it really needs to do lightning damage) as he bolstered his allies by playing their favorite tunes, or staggered his enemies with insightful melodies into their very souls.

The last surprise of the encounter caught Phye after her crazy battle march. With her back to the forest, she was ripe for the fey panther (remember that roar?) lurking around the clearing, waiting for a chance to pick off a weakened or cut off party member. The panther got Phye in its jaws but before it could drag Phye into the woods, Phye was able to switch places with Yuka, Suddenly Yuka was in the things jaws, and when the panther tried to drag him away, it was like unstoppable force meeting an immovable object. Only the ringing clanging gonging of the Minotaurs prized shiny bell was able to shake that mess loose (deafening everyone) and so the battle ended, not with a whimper, but with a clang.

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This is not a play-test review. I think any good adventure should be played before it is given a final review, and so I consider this review incomplete. Many times I have found that encounters, challenges, and other facets of an adventure can play wildly different from how they read. This seems even more true with 4th edition, where many of the combat encounters can hinge on subtle powers of the enemies. In that regard, I consider this review to be more of an overview of the adventure with my first impressions. If I ever get a chance to play this adventure, and I hope to find time in the coming weeks, I will add an after-action update to the article. Until then, we will just have to muddle through as best we can.

The adventure is full color, 32 pages long, and includes a double sided poster map. While detachable, the inside of the cover is sadly left blank. One must turn to the middle of the booklet to find the main encounter map. This is not bad in itself, but I am always hoping for more old school flair. Also, from a purely mechanical standpoint, it is handy to have the map open while flipping through the pages of the adventure, which is not possible if the map is included in the body of the adventure.

The cover is a matte finish, rather than the glossy covers of everything else Dark Sun related, and likely depicts a new direction in providing lower cost adventures. It follows the trend of recent releases in this regards as well as in price point. The days of the large, expensive modules appears to be over in favor of these humbler affairs. I for one applaud this move, as I like store bought adventures. I rarely use them in their entirety, but I often mine them for ideas, and I really like the poster maps. I bought Keep on the Shadowfell for full price, even though it had already been released (and errated) as a free download, solely for the three double sided poster maps included. This method seems to offer the most for the least.

Marauders of the Dune Sea

The cover art is a stunning, vibrant affair showing a thri kreen riding a kank. In the background lumbers what can only be Slither, the movable camp of the marauders. While the artwork lacks the style of Wayne Reynolds, who adorns the covers of the Dark Sun hardbacks, this work has a style all its own, and it looks good. The inner artwork is almost non-existent, featuring one small shot of the cave mouth (which is a pretty cool little pic) and a pair of player handout art pieces on the last page. Honestly, it looks like art is one area where the publishers cut some corners since the entire product features a grand total of 4 pieces. This does not include the section of faux poster map art on the back cover. The Tyr market featured on the back cover is inexplicably not the Tyr market on the poster map included. The publication values of the module are very high, and the interior is well laid out in a colorful, eye-catching way. Every encounter area has a full color accompanying map, and there are plentiful colorful touches, including read aloud text, headings, and page adornments.

Now that we have looked it over, lets dive into this adventure. It is written by one of the big names in the industry, Bruce R. Cordell, who also wrote the seminal adventures for BOTH 3rd and 4th editions: The Sunless Citadel and the Keep on the Shadowfell. Cordell knows his business, and this adventure shows throughout its pages the professional quality of the craftsmanship. To summarize the plot, there are rumors of an unexplored ruin that hold fragments of an ancient artifact. The characters hear about this, it being all the buzz about Tyr, and the DM is given a few options to entice the players into accepting the mission. A dozen or more encounters later, if they survive, they could have an artifact and be fast approaching 4th level.

At its heart, this adventure is a simple tomb raid. Some might complain that the adventure is too linear, but I see the tomb raiding type of adventure to be suited to a linear style. After all, if you are making a series of traps to slay potential robbers, you don’t want to provide routes to bypass said traps. In the end, there are a few choices the characters make along the way, but most are minor diversions rather than plot-changing, and in this way, it is a linear adventure. I would call it linear with optional side branching. I have no complaints about this type of adventure, although like most, I prefer when the characters have meaningful choices to make, and the work to provide more meaningful choice will have to weigh on the DM who runs Marauders.

The DM who has time to prepare, or likes to improvise, has ample opportunity to do so in this adventure, so one of the adventures best qualities in my opinion, is that it can meet the needs of multiple styles of DMing. If I needed an adventure to run right now, I could pick this up and be rolling 20 sided dice in an hour. Or, I could weave complex political turmoil in the form of spying templars from other city states, and the mad treasure hunt going on in the wastes as numerous parties hunt for the newly discovered Face in the Stone.

One last commentary on this linear approach is that the book reads the same way. Unlike some recent adventures, we dont have to keep flipping between sections for different aspects of the same encounters. The module reads through from beginning to end in the assumed order that the adventure will play out. One encounter blends into the next by flipping the page. It is very natural. This is much improved over some other recent modules. One in particular that shall remain un-named for the time being has each encounter broken into three different places. Utterly ridiculous, two was bad enough. Let us hope this system catches on, one based on logic and reason.

One of my favorites parts of this adventure for me is the beginning. Cordell seems to be thinking of the DM, and he knows that after the opening challenges of role playing and handing out quests, the characters will want to cleanse their palates with some combat, and he does not hesitate to throw down a pretty exciting introductory battle in the streets of Tyr, using the first side of the poster map. I really like this encounter. Urban battles can be fun, and the author even gives thought to some dialogue during the fight. If I wanted to improve the encounter, I would try to add more urban themes. Crowds of innocents, knocked over carts of figs and dates, that sort of thing. Needs more camels and cacti.

No Dark Sun adventure begins without a hopeless trek into the wastelands, and here Marauders does not disappoint. The initial encounter was just to get them moving, now it is time to head out into the blazing heat of the desert and do those survival skill challenges everyone seems to love so much. If Dark Sun hasn’t caused an increase in the numbers of PCs with the Endurance skill, then nothing ever can. Remember kids, pack your survival days, or you might get a bad case of Sun Sickness. It is a common complaint, but I do wish that success or failure in such a large thing as a skill challenge would have more of an impact than whether one loses a healing surge, but thankfully there are some better skill challenges along the way. Personally, the “trekking across the desert” skill challenge has been done so many times, and so many different ways, I can usually just improvise them. Sun sickness, or the risk of it, should be a side effect of many of these type of skill challenge failures in my opinion. That, and using up excessive amounts of survival days.

Once the characters have gotten into the tomb (through another, much better skill challenge) the tomb raiding begins in earnest. Here we start out with some standard Dark Sun dungeon dwellers to defeat, and as the party works their way through the tomb, the encounters get more and more interesting. Almost every chamber has a unique trap or hazard of some sort, which plays up the tomb raiding theme.

One thing I love about this adventure is that throughout, there are side bars with bonus encounter information that can lead to all sorts of unexpected places, depending on how the dm chooses to prepare or improvise. These hooks and hints sometimes describe social situations, politics, or intrigue, while other times they lead to cool or unusual minor side treks and small encounters, like magical pools. There must be almost as many bonus encounters as there are keyed encounters. These are exceptionally well thought out and original. There is even one door which Cordell tells us is for the DM to decide whats behind it. So if you have that one encounter planned out, here is where you can plop it in. Thanks Bruce.

The artifact, the Crown of Dust, actually seems a little weak for an artifact. However, I am no expert, and I think any character would be happy to own it, especially those who love to go out on skill challenging treks across the desert. There is also plenty of other treasure strewn throughout the tomb. I am ambivalent on this subject, as my preferred way to hand out magic is to pry it from the dead fingers of the enemy they slew who actually USED the item, rather than dying to keep it protected in a nearby chest. PCs use their magic, why shouldn’t the monsters? On the other hand, I have been known to hold up a hand of magic item cards and ask a player who is looting some corpse or what-not to just pick one, so my tastes vary. The adventure keeps it vague enough that the dm can tailor the treasure to suit his needs.

Finally, the adventure ends with another skill challenge. This challenge is brutal, difficult, and failure is not an option. I mean it is an option, but it means a fate worse than death. I love it. Many times in the adventure the author gives advice on what to do if the PCs fail a challenge or lose an encounter. Here is no different, and the final encounter could turn into a blood bath if the PCs do not succeed.

In conclusion, this is an adventure of highest quality and craftsmanship. Its production values are excellent. It is written with enough detail to be easily run by a busy dm, but with enough hooks, seeds, and ideas that a dm could expand on to fill out the adventure. It ties in well with the lore of the land, and offers plenty of opportunity to battle, to role play, or to explore off the map. From the capital city Tyr, to the deep lost deserts, to forgotten tombs of an ancient age, this adventure takes you on a walking tour of Athas that can be used to bring the dark world to life. Marauders of the Dune Sea is accessible, beautiful, well written, and filled with exciting encounters.

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Here it is in all its glory, my entire collection of Dark Sun material for 4e DnD. It is so beautifully crafted, and the covers themselves are so incredibly beautiful. The artist has created great covers for this set, and the rich adn dark orange just make me want to pick up the books themselves.

My collection in all its completeness and glory

It is a fact thet due to mis-communication between the publisher and printer, the Creature Catalog was supposed to be soft cover. It is instead a hard cover and yet its price remained at the lower 20 dollar price. Way to go Wizards, and I feel bad for that printing company, I bet they lost out on that one. Hopefully they make it up in volume!

Besides the store bought items in the picture, are all three segments of Encounters Season 2: Dark Sun Fury of the Wastewalker. whicch I am DMing every Wednesday night at Game Cafe in Independence. The other two special items are Bloodsand Arena which I DMed at Game Cafe earlier this year for Free RPG Day 2010, and Lost Cistern from Game Day Dark Sun. I made a deal with a new player and rising star dm that I would happily set aside DMing for the chance to play a character – if he would be willing to let me have the adventure afterward. After all, otherwise I couldnt take the above picture. woot

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Tonights game was highlighted by the big pot of curry Shannon made, so it was a little more laid back and distracted than most. Usually it seems like I am always trying to keep things on track and moving forward at a respectable pace, but sometimes I like to sit back and just enjoy the evening and let things happen without constant prompting. This was one of those nights, and while we may not have accomplished as much, it was still a relaxing and enjoyable evening of gaming with friends.

We started with a meeting between the Jackal men and the party. Tasked by the White Rose to help bring order and safety to the city of Nazerak, she sent them on a mission to do what they could about the jackal man menace. The pack had taken over one of the less dilapidated of the estates in the northern sector of the ruined city, and they were a disciplined violent bunch. The party was able to speak with the chief, and throughout a morning of negotiation, came to understand that the jackal men were already in the pay of the Half Elf consortium, and that they were scheduled to fight them this night.

The negotiations lasted all morning. The Jackal men were in no hurry and seemed open to the talks, though they were a violent and restless bunch. Thokk fought their most barbaric member in a duel to first blood, which Thokk easily won. The vanquished jackal man was speared in the back by his own chieftain as he tried to rise from the dust. Later on, Tara the ranger got in an archery duel with a Spear chucker, and the beast men were in awe of how much damage the arrows did. nonetheless, the best deal they could work out with the head Jackal chieftain was that they would be willing to fight here and now. Otherwise they would see them again this dusk in the arena.

So having finished with them, the party still had most of the day, so they went down the list White Rose had given them and decided to tackle the underground passage that led from the center of the city to the arena itself. This passage had become infested with reptilians, and they would need it when the arena became functional.

Suss-suss-suss Surans or Sleestaks

The tunnels under the city were a dangerous place, being haunted both by the shadowfell denizens that remained ,as well as the shadow eladrin, and any other subterranean creatures that might forge and defend a sheltered haven. One such group of creatures were the Ssuransm also known as Lizardmenm, or in the Eladrin tongue of Nazerak, as Sleestaks. They were an ever present threat from the mnountains, and groups of the sleestaks were always making ther way across the wastes to infiltrate Nazeraks water rich underworld.

This scouting party was composed of a pair of sneaks, 4 blackscale bruisers and a shaman leader. They ambushed the party in the narrow sewers and came at them from both ends. The sneaks attacked the rear while the rest charged from hiding in front. The party was trapped in a narrow passage and had to fight on two fronts. Additionally, between the water and the spells of the poisonscale, the entire area became difficult terrain and it was a close fought battle.

The sleestaks however, were no match for this battle-hardened party of heroes and they tore through the reptilians in little time. With few resources wasted on the attack, the party was ready to get through the afternoon and prepare for the nights special attraction – Nazeraks first Gladiatorial Arena Spectacle in centuries.

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Special players perspective edition

or the Short Happy Life of Bennybe the Rogue

Before today, my last character was a human druid named Shmuckly. He was known for having invented a backpack for transporting potted plants. He would hurl a plant as his opening salvo in an engagement and in this way he was able to cast his main spell, entangle, in almost any environment. It was Shmucklys way of spreading nature, like Jhohnny Appleseed. This character only rose to 5th (or was it 7th… hmmm…) level, and I last played Shmuckly in 1985. I then became the dm for my group of friends and never played a PC again with little regrets. That all changed today, when I took up the reins of the PC once again, and rolled up Bennybe the Eladrin Rogue 4. Bennybe was a wastewalker though I forgot to use his encounter power the entire time we played, much to my chagrin. I did use most of my powers though, and while I am mixed as to my final verdict on Bennybe as an effective character, I had a lotta fun. Read on to find out how Bennybe and his friends, the tiefling warlock, the goliath barbarian, the thri kreen seeker, and the half elf bard went in search of the lost cistern of Aravek. I cant remember any of the characters names, so from here on out, they will be known as Ron the warlock, Midget the half giant, Dr Flamulus the Mad Guitarist Bard and my son the seeker who well just call Pakcha why not. I might be called Bennybe, Barnaby, Bugz Bunny or a few others.

Well, the plan was to play from noon to 4 pm, and I was late by almost half an hour. Not being the dm had instantly converted me back into my slothful, chronically late and unprepared usual self. Once we got started, we still managed to get through two encounters in our time, so it wasnt too shabby. The adventure began in the usual Dark Sun tradition, a doomed expedition into the Wastelands on a hopeless mission. This on involved water, magic wter perhaps, so we knew it was serious busiiness. I reminded everyone to buy survival rations and sunrods. And healing fruit. I wanted a bunch of healing banana fruits. So my first roll of the day was part of a group endurance check, and I rolled a 20! Auspicious beginnings indeed.

Some more skill checks happened and might have included zombie cactus, butin the end a few of us lost healing surges and we were attacked by a herd of elves. To me, it was worth failing a skill challenge if it meant we could rid the world of another herd of elves. And so we commenced to do just that.

They must be destroyed

We were surrounded on all sides and attacked by 8 or so of these elves. There was a leader who stayed well back, a group of slinging minions, then 4 or so regular old elf dune striders. The battle went ok, and it took a while for us to whittle them down, but in the end we were victorious and no one dropped. Most of us however, were bloodied, especially Bennybe and Midget. It was during this battle that I noticed my rogue was not quite meeting the min-maxed damage output I was expecting.

Bennybe was an eladrin, a dagger wielding cunning sneak rogue, multiclassed into assassin for the shrouds. He was +12 to hit with his basic at wills, and with combat advantage (+4) he could put out 1d4 + 2d8 + 1d6 +6, for a minimum of 10 points damage and a max of 32. In addition, I had a minor encounter attack (low cut) which gave me a great opening salvo. My fey strike dagger was my other secret weapon, a dagger that once per encounter would allow me to make a melee basic from 20 squares away and once daily would allow me to teleport the target to any square adjacent. Oh yes. bennybe was hitting on all cylinders. His dex was 20, and everything else was 14 or 10. In his other hand he wielded a long sword, and I often switched between longsword attacks (1d8 but only +10 to hit)) versus the puny dagger d4s. It didnt seem to make a difference, I rolled a 1 for damage either way 😦 Over all, he was a great character to play. I used my ninja mini for him, which might be the first time that mini was ever used as a pc. Ninjas are very out of style now. it is all about pirates, or it looks like actually pirates are on their way out the door, what is next, maybe mental mutant psychic purple giants?

One big difference between playing and dming is the delay between my turn, and well, my turn again. This is obvious to all players in DnD, but a dm sometimes forgets the importance of moving the turns along, since in some ways it is always the dms turns. In fact, as a dm I sometimes get annoyed when a monsters initiative comes around, since it takes me away from keeping track of whats going on to actually DO something. Thats not entirely true, as I am i on the edge of my seat, hoping against hope that the monster survives the tide of players turns to even get an attack. So the half hour spans between turns can really add up. Our dm did a good job of keeping the game rolling, so I never felt too distracted, it was fun just to hang out and try to be funny and play the game, regardless of whose turn it is. That pretty much sums up my gaming philosophy right there, though.

After the elf battle we moved directly into the battle with the solo, a Tembo, a frightening creature of Dark Sun who uses its hideous strength and deadly prowess in combat in combination with its ability to drain the life out of its enemies. This level 6 solo proved to be one tough cookie and it killed us all, but it was a quite close battle and the outcome was never fore-ordained.

I rolled my second natural 20 of the night for initiative, and it meant I would go first. I knew this would be my last battle of the day, as 4 oclock was fast approaching, so I decided to use my three secret weapons: my action point, my daily power, and my daggers daily power. The layout of the battle pitted us on one side of a flowing underground stream of unknown depth and the tembo on the other. I cast my dagger at him, struck, but when I attempted to use the daily teleport power, the tembo stopped it. Arggh! This did not bode well. In the end he came over of his own accord, and that proved to be worse than him staying far away, and besides the water wasnt that deep. I didnt want t waste my minor action to examine the stream at the moment.

The battle continued on for many rounds. As we fought over the course of the next few rounds I used my second wind, activated my daily which was a stance that gave me a free attack against anyone who attacked me, and I administered a healing potion to the fallen barbarian. This proved to be a mistake, since the tembo had an aura that reduced all healing by half, as well as doing 5 damage at the start of the barbarians turn. So she was not saved. Oops!

Our options looked better when later that round the thri kreen rolled a natural 20 on his death save and made a surprise recovery. It too would prove worthless, as the tembos damage aura had gone from 5 to 10, and no amount of healing could save us by this point. Pakcha fell the instant he rose just like Midget before him.

The bard had the greatest daily power ever, which gave us 5 healing hit points back whenever we struck the fell beast, and in the early part of the battle this seemed like it would be the defining cause of our victory, but after the tembo reduced it to 2 hp healing, it was less effective, though still important!

FInally it was Ron the warlock and Benneby left standing. The warlock got off one last curse that did massive damage. Impossibly the beast still lived! The dm informed us that it had been minionized (a term I define to mean it was knocked down to 1 hp.) The warlock fell and it was the monsters turn, then mine.

I had 1 hp left, it had 1 hp left. Either way, if it attacked or delayed, I would get the first blow, since I had my daily power stance activated. I was sure that victory was mine. The minor inconvenience was that all my allies lay dying about me, thus I had no combat advantage. No matter, he attacked, I retaliated with my immediate interrupt. I rolled a 5. I missed. he didnt. I died, and with me the hope of our entire party, and possibly that village or whoever it was that needed the water. WHo cares, though right, cause I know Bennybe dont.

Yeah, so my first character played in 25 years or so bites the dust in his second encounter, taking the whole party down with him. Not quite the ending I had hoped for for the session, but it was still loads of fun. As I said, after many years of watching my minions die at the hands of blood thirsty player characters, to have a single little guy like Bennybe last for as long as hed did was amazing to me. And besides its all about the hanging out, the joking around, the fun and camaraderie. The killing things and taking their stuff is just like a bonus on top of everything else. And sometimes, you get slaughtered mercilessly instead of that sweet desert, thems the ropes, and they make the victories we do see all the sweeter.

Special thanks go to Jake, who ran the session that killed me (us.) The battle with the solo was a really complicated battle, but he did it by the book and with skill and tactical awareness. Thinking back over the encounter, I am not sure we could have done much else to win. There were plenty of little things, like the healing fruit mistake, or possibly not activating my stance soon enough – I should have done it in the first round, but waited till round 3. But most of my mistakes came down to being unfamiliar with the character. I think the biggest cause of this, and many TPKs like it, come down to the player not being entirely familiar with their characters. By the time we were 4th level, we all had 2 pages worth of powers to choose between, and many of them have subtle differences that if applied at the right time and place can make game changing differences.

all dead here

And a level 6 solo, 2 levels above the party, was a challenge to begin with. Dark Sun is known for its tough foes, and the game itself has become noticeably tougher with the new Monster Manual 3 design philosophy of monster creation. This involves giving the monster much higher damage output, without increasing the slog by raising its defenses and hit points in the same amounts. This monster was particularly designed to wreak mayhem with healing while fighting it, and its combination of high hit points and low defenses were mitigated by other actions of the thing. Becoming insubstantial was a very frustrating thing to happen, and when you add it all up, it ends up that we players were doing tiny thing for minuscule amounts – our healing nullified, our damage cut in half, if we could even see him to attack, while the tembo tore us up repeatedly, multiple times per turn and multiple turns per round. We became muppet babies fighting godzilla.

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Chibi - chibi!

Did I mention everyone was captured by Halflings?

Week 11 began with a simple question that blew everyones mind. No, I did not mention it last week. In fact the session ended with the mysterious granting of a boon by who knows who. Turns out there is a page 8 to the adventure that I had never seen before. This mystery page explains all about boons and Halflings. Ah well, we usually run late by a few minutes, so my wrap ups end up next weeks warm ups. It works out.

This week however, having finally discovered page 8 (I swear it wasn’t there before) I found out exactly how the capture by Halflings happened. On the other hand, for the boon I decided to go with something with a little more Dark Sun flair than the adventure calls for. The spirits who came down to congratulate the party on defeating last weeks undead bunny herder were suitably impressed with the characters, that they proceeded to go into a great babbling speech about arcane magic, defiling, and preserving. None of it made much sense to a group of hardened desert marauders who want nothing more than to kill things and take their stuff, but hey, no one turns down praise, even if it is ill conceived and non-sequitur. Let the facts speak for themselves: the room was littered with the corpses of hejkins, dust bunnies, wraiths (do they leave a corpse?) and the spirit of the air, or whoever that guy was. These spirits were shrewd to look around and go with the groveling boon-granting tactic.

And so each character was tasked with looking into their minds eye, and with the spirits aid, they were able to open their mind to the wild talents that lie dormant in each one of them. So doing, they each got to pick a wild talent (from p. 81 of the Dark Sun Campaign Guide.) These talents are excellent little at-will powers with various affects from sparking a small fire, telepathy, telekinesis of small objects and so on. They are pretty fun, and as we will discover, a few of the powers were used during this encounter, so I am happy with the choice of giving out these psionic talents as boons instead of the pathetic belt of electric boogy dancing or whatever was the item described on fabled page 8.

The party was made up of 7 adventurers. Unchanged from chapter 2, we have Phye Dos, or Fido for short, and the 2 fighters, Yuka and Kindrock. Jarvix, Barcan and Barcans Twin, and pakCha were each described as falling into a bottomless pit right before rounding a corner and coming upon a group of 2 wizards, and the triumphal return of Midget the sorceress from season 1. Each of the 3 pre-gens were actually re-created with different power choices and other changes. It seemed to make a big difference.

So, after the boons were handed out and the party rested, they knew they would have to go through the hejkin tunnels to escape. They could feel the fresh breeze. It was in these tunnels that we lost a few members and gained new ones, for those who look for story continuity. After that fell pit of character recycling, they came to the treasure trove that gave each of them their magic items. These hejkin left quite a stash behind! And finally they saw a sliver of light ahead ,and crawling through the muck, they pulled themselves out of the earth and into a muddy clearing. The air was moist, and they saw no sand, but verdant foliage covered the land and sky. It was amazing to them, and it was difficult to breathe, since their bodies were unused to such humidity.

They were also unused to the net of rope vines that dropped over them, or of the tribe of cute and cuddly savages that poked at them with spears while shouting Chibi chibi chibi! Captured by Halflings! And so the prophecy came to pass…

The Halflings wore crude leather armor and wielded wooden spear and clubs. They had sharpened bones through their noses, body piercings, tattoos, and were savages. They also spoke only their own dialect although the pointing and rubbing of bellies gave the characters some idea of what lay in store for them. The party was blindfolded and marched for many hours along a jungle path winding through the mountains. Eventually they arrived at the Halfling village and after being shoved into a wooden cage, they had a chance to remove the blindfolds and look around. The cage was littered with bones, some of which looked gnawed upon. The cage was in the center of the village, near a large cooking pot. There was a bonfire with spits large enough for even Kindrock to be toasted head to foot. They saw the Halfling who captured them carrying the combined wealth and equipment of the party into the ruins of an ancient building on the edge of the village. Most of the village was composed of thatch huts, and curious Halflings wandered round, one of whom wore a feathered head dress and looked like the chief.

It was at this point that the player of Midget the sorceress was kind enough to remind me that Midget was a Halfling, and with a name like Midget, I don’t know how I forgot she was a Halfling, but it did raise a few questions. Would they actually eat her too? She tried to grab the chiefs attention, who ended up knowing the common tongue. She pulled out all the guns, bluffing, being diplomatic, I expected her to intimidate, but she held it in, instead choosing to use her new psionic wild talent to create a diversion! She had the spark power, and tried to light a hut on fire. However, she chose a gutter filled with wet leaves for her spark, so it had limited affect, though it did make for some smoke. (really bad dice roll boo)

One of the wizards took over the diversion, and he used his ghost sound and mage hand to create the illusion of a wild beast in the nearby jungle. This caused an uproar and the chief shouted the panther returns! then ran off to organize a defense. The party had their opening, and while the wizards tried to conceal their acts, Kindrock and Moostone the minotaur broke out a section of cage. Now the wizards used their combined talents of ghost sound and light to make it look like they were running off into the jungle, while the character secretly tore straight across the village towards that ruined building on the far side of the village. They made to the back wall of the building, but were unsure whether or not they were spotted. Dont worry, they were.

The ruins were described as a series of ten foot high walls, with one section covered by a roof. The cobbles were loose and the walls could be climbed with a fairly easy DC 10 athletics check. Yuka the athlete was first to the top, and he saw that their weapons and equipment must be in the room with the roof, so he dropped down and went in. The doorway was covered by rawhide flaps, and he stepped next to a sleeping Halfling just inside the opening. After hurling the non cannibal good Halfling to the top of the wall, the minotaur went over next, and he was able to make it over the wall and even gore the sleeping Halfling who was helplessly asleep. Blood was drawn.

vain, paranoid, inspiringThe wizard formerly known as Jarvix, whose name is too ridiculous to even set down in type, we will call him Dr Flamulus. Whether he be wizard, swordmage, swordlock, warlock, or psion, he is always Dr Flamulus. He had trouble getting over the wall. Two failed athletic attempts for the inflamed wizard later it was decreed he made it to the top as a full turn action. No matter, Dr Flamulus had all the time in the world before laying waste to all about him. Later when the second wave of halfling head hunters hit the hut, it was Dr Flamulus who bore the brunt of their mind hunting attacks. Inflamed, Dr Flamulus retaliated with a heated exchange.

The new wizard who isnt named nirvana, but Navarra (I hope) took one look at the laughing bumbling fools before her as they attempted to navigate this simple barrier, and with a snap of her fingers, she teleported into place directly two squares behind the nearest fighter, and with a perfect shot of New and Improved Magic Missile – now with more magic! she struck a halfling through its puny heart. She was followed by Kindrock, half gaint, half we dont know what, and probably best not to ask. He vaulted the wall like a olympic hurdler as part of his ripping charge wielding his huge new axe, the mighty greataxe, the one the original D12, ready to roll but alas, he missed. Then he missed! Oh my, was that just another miss? Fate was not on Kindrocks side that night but take heart, dear lad, for now it means the laws of random chance Owe You One. Like karma, fate works in mysterious ways, but in the end the all things are balanced, so those 2s, those horrible 2s (In the world of Dark sun, they have found a way to make a roll worse than a natural 1 – a natural 2) should be followed by a string of 19s any time now, or over the next twenty years at most.

digital simulation of yuka and player merged

I believe it was Phye (do) who decided the best course of action was to go AROUND the wall, rather than over, but I might be mistaken. Phye was soon into the thick of action. Then began Yukas climb to glory as he attacked the halflings unarmed, punch pow! Then the incredible happend, with a mighty punch he struck out, and rolled a natural 1. It was a desperate time, and so he pressed on, and the composite fracture bone shard piercing his wrist like a jagged bloody spike was nothing more than an added weapon to slash his captors with. He would be a slave to no one. He drove his enemy before him until his was close enough to reach out and, using his new psionic boon, Telekinetically grasp his weapon that shiny new obsidian sword, freshly chipped to a razors edge. He commenced to hew and sunder his foes over the course of the next few rounds, that the floor, walls, and ceiling were all plastered with dripping bits of halfling goo. He rolled criticals, he pushed, he shoved, he took opportunity attacks and he suffered with it in glorious battle sweat flew from his veins in thick sheets. Phye saved the berzerk warrior with her cool healing caress, like a refreshing gust of wind – mm, meaty.

There was a lot more battle, like for example when Moo Pie risked it all to go after that brass bell. Having never heard thrumming beauty of a brass bell rung before, the bovine brawler was entranced and would own it or die fighting for it. Though he was knocked unconscious by the furious spears and mind attacks of the halflings, he gathered that bell to his chest when he fell and still held it when Phyew stepped up to heal a second time this battle. This gave the minotaur the chance to streak into the jungle with great speed, bell clanging about his neck with every galloping hoof.

The wizards flung their spells, the sorceress cackled with glee as she incinerated these savage cannibal cousins of hers. How dare they contemplate her for supper, and the nerve of them taking her armor – luckily she always wore a simple under-frock. She slew. She contemplated her sister halflings who huddled by the fire pit in the villaage center, in similar frocks to her own. Theey would dine on their brothers, flesh slaughtered this night, Eww! And the wizards slew too, hitting wherever they pointed with their magic missiles. I do believe Dr Flamulus went so far as to ring the brass bell with a magic missile at one point.

Eventually they all ran off into the woods with all their stuff, even Moo Pies saddle bags full of healing potions (fruit!) The end.

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