Archive for the ‘Other Worlds’ Category

The outer bastions of the Free Port City of the Marquoil

Said to be impregnable, the free port city of the Marquoil juts out into the sea at the southernmost tip of the lands of D Erte. Protected from land by a an extinct volcano, and from the sea by a ship-navigable tunnel, the deep water harbor is surrounded by a natural defensive bulwark. Over the centuries, the city grew from a safe haven for pirates as do most of the cities in the Three Seas region, to become a powerful city, both in trade and in strength of its free booter navy. The port became the lock through which all traffic between the Three Seas the mysterious and wild far east must pass.

Besides the natural defenses, the city has been improved by the construction of a mighty fortress overlooking the harbor from its volcanic precipice. Known as the First Lords Bastion, it is home to the most dreaded weapon in the Three Seas – the Fire Bolter, which is an arcane contraption able to hurl fireballs over half a league. The Free Marines man traditional ballistae and catapults on the rocky clifftops overlooking the cove.

A lighthouse guides ships through the treacherous waters and towards the outer docks, where they may seek entrance into the city. The Free Navy billets its many ships along the same wharf, and ships may dock here, or for a greater fee and inspection, they may pass into the inner sanctum. On foot, travellers may pass through the Free Marine Training Grounds to gain entry into the city, but all cargo has to be floated through the tunnel.

Inside the bulwarks, the great safe harbor is a riot of activity. Three long docks extend toward the center of the bay, with all manner of boats and ships docked alongside them, while teetering buidings form a line down the center of the docks. The Larboard, the Leeward, and the Main, these massive constructions are the life blood of the city, and much of the populace of the free city spend their days and nights on these floating docks.

North of the docks is a narrow strip of built up shore where many of the largest market houses were built of the same local sand colored stone. Above them are two plateaus, on the lowest are the estates of many of the wealthiest of the populace while the highest holds the massive First Lords Bastion.

To the left and right of the harbor two long arms stretch out in an embrace that meets at the tunnel. On the Leeward side (the east) rose three stone castles of the Merchant lords. The first was Castle Tallyman, and it guards the eastern approaches to the city. In the center, built upon piles of sea walls was the hulking structure of Castle Crabstone, and the third was Castle Grey. These massive walled keeps were designed to withstand a seige by enemy or by storm, but the many hundreds of hovels, tents, and shacks that spring up around them are periodically swept away by the huricanes that sweep in from the deep oceans.

On the larboard side the wealthiest house of all, House Samarquoil, had its sprawling palace. The merchant lords of House Samarquoil held the rights to all the wealth of the nearby river delta, and surrounding lands. The soft and hardwoods of the forests to the north, as well as the rare and exotic herbs and spices of the river delta were much prized throughout all known realms. House Samarquoil had wealth enough to construct their own floating colonial outpost near the mouth of the delta, which has become an offshoot suburb of Freepot.

Four great merchant houses rose to power in the city, and they formed an alliance which they named the Marquoil Treaty. Since its signing, centuries ago, the four houses have continued to rise in power and prestige to control nearly all shipping in the region. According to the treaty, one lord is voted by the free populace of the city to become the First Lord. The merchant rules for life, and resides in the fortress. He controls the Free Navy, made up of an equal number of ships from each of the four houses, and the Free Marines.

The current first lord is Arnace Tallyman, who has lived in the fortress for many long years. Some say he will never die, but only become richer and richer until the weight of the gold sinks the fortress into the sea.

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Example of Play: I would like to suggest some sort of adversarial shift in the fabric of the universe to allow for a temporal flux. Perhaps these … are actually solid chunks of compressed residuum, and indeed, they form the crust of the bubble that begat all creation? it could be a world-destruction event, like those outlined in a supplement I cannot remember which. Ah, the hilarity will ensue when they crack (the pc’s of course) thru the last layer of protective residuum and unleash the big-bang!

Player1: I deflect the emerging blast of the big bang with my silvered mirror.

DM: You dont have it equipped.

Player1: I drop the pick-axe as a free action, and my mirror is always swinging on a leathern thong about me wrist.

DM: For what purpose?

Player1: Such as this.

DM: Roll acrobatics check

Player1: I am untrained in acrobatics, but I do know dance!

Player2: Why would you need to dance?

Player1: Out of the way of the emerging big bang.

Player2: You could just hold the mirror in front of you.

Player1: OK I do that.

DM: Roll.

Player1: What?

DM: Acrobatics!

Player1: I thought I was dancing!

DM: Whatever. Where do you deflect the blast?

Player2: Back into the cauldron’s inferno.

DM: It isnt a cauldron, it is a globe, now cracked open, a geode of all existence.

Player1: I deflect the blast back into it and then plug or seal, as needed.

DM: Excuse me?

Player1: Ya, the glue stuff.


All: What happens?

DM: The universe ends.

All: !

On a late spring Friday Night in 2008…

Once upon a time in a tavern in a village...

Game Night No. 1

So, King’s gate is a tiny town, probably too tiny considering all the trade that would pass thru this bottleneck. It could actually be an enormous tax revenue bringing colony… but its not. It is little more than a village. The tavern Frank’s Place (joke) was a sturdy tower, to which the old wooden gates from the Ancient Barricade, were made to add the two-story inn. It is across the doorway, to the other side is attached the guardhouse, attached to the Tower-wall. and next to it the mayor’s home.

To the north is a bazaar square, and north of that is a fair-ground, to which gypsie travellers and merchants come once per year for a great festival. They call it Night of the March Hare, in mid-spring, just before planting. East and west the town dwindles to farmhouses. A strict martial presence is kept about the town, and in times of danger, the town can evacuate into Inner Shalazar, and bar the gate. Not this time around, though…

The campaign begins on a dark and stormy night (of course lol) where the group all gathers at the tavern (of course again)

Generally it is caravans who travel the King’s Road as it is moderately dangerous, especially to small groups or slow individuals. Orcs send a constant stream of tribal warriors in from the east, and they often raid, as well as some others. A few of the characters met on the caravan. Another came from a distant land, and two elves had grouped up together.

It was awkward that first night playing, and there was a lot of taking of deep breaths, but we all got thru it. Half the party was in the tavern (elf rogue, gnome bard, elf wizard) one was across the street at the temple (human cleric) and on the portico of the temple human druid with riding dog companion. The sixth player – my wife(!) couldnt make it opening night.

The only NPCs were a priest in the temple and a bartender. Oh and also there was a hooded bard plucking at his lute idly. I should have added more for flavor, but my plan had so many variations, and I only settled on a final plan as I was setting up the board (battlemap of town pre-drawn. I used a piece of un-laminated architectural paper, and used all sorts of colors of pens. There was a fountain, a couple other building, it looked pretty good!

Well, thats where the characters were. When I had to descirbe the opening scene. It gets a little muddled but basically lightning cracks three times, the temple bell starts ringing, the bard NPC leaps up and runs into the street, and black clouds start brewing and swirling. The bell was pulled by the priest who comes careening out of the back room pursued by 3 ghouls. He pulls on the bell cord and dies. The human cleric witnesses this.

The druid witnesses clattering of bones and ranks of skeleton warriors come marching north out of the great barricade. 8 step forward, but ranks upon ranks line up just inside the wall. (Shalazar is captured by the undead. Orcus is attempting to take over the lands of Shalazar as his dominion on the prime material.) The armies of the undead are led by these Mummy Princes whose uneasy corpses rested in the many catacombs beneath shalazar.

A Mummy Lord commands the undead attacking Kings Gate (who are in actuality merely sealing off the wall in prder to prepare for an assault that must come.) He makes an appearance on top of the wall to prove a point but the elf mage shot her magic missile at him, so he retreated and cast a 30′ globe of permanent darkness on the gate.

So the bard npc dashes across the street, thru the temple and grabs this bronze ‘crucible,’ to St Cuthbert the temple deity, and exits thru the back. The ghouls attack him as he passes, but he evades. The cleric tries to turn but fails miserably twice in a row. The druid and dog rush in to fight with the ghouls and they slug it out, he goes down paralyzed for 2 turns, gets up and ends the battle at 1 hp I think. The cleric chases one into the back room, and finally downstairs into a crypt, where one of them lies open with a large 5′ wide hole in the bottom. the bard npc must have gon thru it.

In the street, the elf rogue and the gnome bard, both new players, spend the next 2 or 3 turns going to upstairs windows. The mage shoots an arrow thru the window. Then breaks out the window, casts mage hand on his staff, and wacks a skeleton (I gave him -4 but he rolled really well) doing 1 point of damage and killing it. The tavern-keep, actually a level 0 commoner holds off 4 skeletons until the mage kills one and the rogue shoots down on one and kills it with her heavy crossbow (I know -elf with crossbow lol) the tavern-keep takes down one with his club and I cant remember how the other one goes down. Anyhow, that is how the night ends, at the tail end of the battle, only 1 skeleton is left alive of the 4 that veered into the temple. Everyone lived.

In search of the unknown

Game Night No.2

Reconstructing the evenining… I believe everyone may have been in attendance. I started the game post-battle, joking that the barkeep took the last skeleton down and it was enough XP to take him to 2nd lvl Bartender. It was needless to set everything up and get the initiative order just to off one last foolish skeleton. No one seemed to mind.

So the first decision was, to follow the bard thru the hole in the ground immediately or wait till morning. They chose morning which I thought was a little timid considering only a few spells were cast, but on the other hand at 1st level, one doesnt get much more. So, they pile into the tavern and spend a tense night. There are a few roving bands of skeletons and much of the village is burned or destroyed. Those few survivors are either gathered in the fortress like tavern or cower in their darkened homes.

Next morning is grey. Roiling clouds spiral above the city of Shalazar, far to the south. The globe of darkness remains in place and at dawn the Mummy Prince stands on the towqer and proclaims the news about Orcus taking over. The characters rush across the street, meet a young priest cleaning up the gore, and go down into the hole.

While in the narrow tunnel they are attacked by 3 dire rats which ends up being a pretty funny encounter since they are in confined quarters and have no room to swing the larger weapons. The main fighter has to drop her bastard sword and fight with a dagger, but quickly dispatches 2 of the rats. The mage who only has a staff is out of luck. Wants to break her staff in half and use it as a club, but lacks the strength (lol I used that trick last night.

So they make it thru the tunnel which opens in the bole of a tree in a graveyard on the edge of town. They don’t know where to go, or what to do, but someone thinks of using the riding dog track skills to follow the NPC bard. Good thinking! Sadly, I forgot to note who made the suggestion, probably the druid.

They enter the woods I had intended them to enter hot on the bards tail the previous night, but the trail is cold now, so begins a random trekking about first to a druid enclave where the speak with an oracle who gives them some pertinent riddles. Then to a monestery where they learn the crucible is one of 4 magic items used to bring back the Forgotten King. And so the goal of the adventure materializes at last: to retrieve the 4 magic items and bring back the Forgotten King who will battle Orcus and free the land. (Heh heh, so they think. Its a lo-o-ong way to level 20.

The monestery points them to the Tomb of the Dwarf Lord, where one of the items, the Sword of Konnag, rests in the Dwarf Lord Konnag’s vault. Sadly, the tomb has been sundered and a tribe of orcs uses it aws their base of operations.

The group makes their way towards the monestery, and on the way met with a wandering party of 4 orcs just coming from there. They dispatch them with ease. Soon they come to a clearing in which is a rocky hill 30′ high maybe 100′ around. There are two partially worked cave openings, one at ground level one 20′ up the side of the hill. 2 orcs stand inside each opeing. Oh, and it is morning, they spent the night at the monestery.

Now it is important to remember that everyone is either new or rusty at this, I know I have made many errors since we started, and some make me cringe to think of them, I’m sure I’v emade just as many that I havent caught. But the players have made their share, and coming cockily off the qick 4 orc encounter, they rush willy-nilly into this one and it is almost their undoing. The orcs weild short bows and looted masterwork dwarven short swords. 2 more orcs and the orc lieutenant rush out of the lower cave on the 3rd turn. The druid and his dog charge up the hill, while the fighter charges up to the lower and is quickly surrounded by 4 orcs.

The elf mage wildly runs up to save the fighter (the mage feels guilty for not pre-casting mage armor, this is a trend so far) and miraculously rolls 18 to hit, and does 7 damage, killing an orc! And that is where we end the night (it had already run late) with the fighter surrounded and down to very few hitpoints and 5 or 6 strong orcs still alive. Ended up being a very cliff-hanger ending, unintentially, but it created some good buzz for next week…

Wondering whats around the corner

Game Night No. 3

Ok, it was a long week of strategic planning and worry for the players but Friday finally arrived and with it the weekly D&D game. One player was absent (the druid and his super-dog) so Jackson my 11 yr old son got to play the character. He did all the dice rolling and moving the miniature around, but decisions were made by committee. It worked out well and the boy enjoyed the game and came one step closer to being a ‘regular’. The fact that we have a full party of 6 players is the main reason he isn’t already a full player. In time.

So, the scene opens with the main fighter surrounded by 3 orcs. The wizard standing to her flank. The druid and dog was at the higher cave entrance holding off 2 orcs. We re-rolled initiative to get a fresh start. The elf rogue, who was absent the week before rushed towards the sound of battle and made her appearance and the tide of battle turned with the party victorious without anyone falling. The elf rogue and gnome bard then proceeded into the cave mouths to inspect the area before the party left to return on the morrow.

(I am glad I planned for this eventuality. With half the orc footmen down, the remaining orcs rig the barrow with traps throughout the day. I would have had to improvise rigged traps if I didn’t prepare for the possibility of them leaving without going on. It always pays to prepare!)

So the rogue and bard, two girls with the least experience, proceed into the cave mouth and into the now-deserted barracks room. There is a chest in one corner (trapped) and a door in the far wall. The girls make every mistake in the book, and try to open the chest without looking for traps, and then the thief has no thieves tools! Strangely enough the bard does have a set, so they manage to get it open and out leaps a poisonous spider (lol!) but they get some loot.

They listen at the door but hear nothing (it is just a hall) Then they go to the upper cave mouth and peer in. It is filled with bones and corpses,the floor is invisible from the gore. (that was a clue) Across the hall is a big dwarf-carved door. The bard, riding the druids riding dog, enters the hall and falls in a concealed 10’ pit, oh that was funny! She took 7 points damage from spikes at the bottom and was covered in gore. The riding dog, who made his save stopped and she flew over his head! It was rich.

So they decide that is enough for the day, though it was only 9 am, and retire back to the monastery to heal and memorize for another assault the next day. To wrap up, they come back, there is mo hijinx with even more traps. The funniest part was the same chest, the one they already looted, was re-trapped, and they went thru the whole rigamarole again, luckily disabling all the traps this time! They open the door, proceed down a hallway where 3 spiders are waiting to drop from the ceiling, 2 ppl get bit and lose Con. Then they barge thru a door and have the penultimate fight – an Orc Shaman and his two bodyguards. This was a weird battle where the elf rogue and elf wizard moved first so they ran into the room and each targeted the shaman. The shaman went down before he ever had a chance to make a move (argh!) but on the orcs turn, the two orcs each take down an elf before themselves dying. So the evening ends right at the end of this battle. Each elf had a Cure Light Wounds cast on him (from the absent Druid lol – make the guy who’s not there memorize all the cure spells) and so it ends.

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Player Handout B - The Wild Isle of Wide Eyed Dread

An Expert level 4e Adventure site for characters entering the Paragon Tier.

An homage an old adventure from the Golden Era of Dungeons and Dragons. With pirates. And dinosaurs. And other furry, fuzzy, flying, fanged things. The entire island can be viewed from the top of the active volcano in the central north, and from there the furthest south-easternmost tip of the island just brushes against the horizon, while it spreads its craggy wings to the east and west. It could take many days to cross the island from one side to the next. Three major mountain range divide the island into regions, an any single region looks like a day or more walking to cross.

One of the rivers has carved a path through the mountain range that attempted to hem it in, and the gap over the river is crossed by a long swinging bridge of rope and wood. The other river begins in a deep lake and cascades into a waterfall before reaching the sea. A high-arching natural bridge is the only connection between the main landmass and the southern landmass.

Land formations of the island
Rocky Mountainous coast
Immense active volcano
Steep-sided mountain chains
Misty Bog
Raised Plateau with cliff edges
Rolling Hills
Temperate rain forest (Jungle)
Huge lake with central island
Serpentine rivers
rolling grassland

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Season 2 of the Dungeons and Dragons Encounters program featured the newly released world of Dark Sun campaign setting. In a gritty dying world of defilement and deprivation a tough band of survivors struggles to reach the safety of their homes whilst being chased halfway across Athas by a sun crazed susussuran who wields the power of the Obsidian Storm and calls himself the Wastewalker. 15 weeks long, played at the great Game Cafe in Independence, MO. from June 9th – September 15th, 2010 between the hours of 6 – 8 pm every Wednesday.

Week 1
Week 2
Week 3
Week 4
Week 5
Week 6
Week 7
Week 8
Week 9
Week 10
Week 11
Week 12
Week 13
Week 14
Week 15, the Grand Finale

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A Gamma World home town adventure site

This article is designed to help the new gamma masters out there (and arent we all?) create a bare bones campaign setting and adventure to help kick off a game of Gamma World in your very own home town. The idea of adventuring in your own backyard can be appealing, and it is a great chance to stretch the “improvisational skills” for GM and players alike. Since there are an extra couple layers of knowledge – that of local setting in a post-modern landscape, it should help the improv flow that much smoother. The goal, then is to create a sandbox for a small to medium length campaign with little to no prep required.

The first step is to come up with a list of areas or locales in the chosen region. These should number about half a dozen and can be vague, specific, or a mix. It is a great idea to choose a few places that are popular or well known. One thing to keep in mind when generating this list is that your hometown campaign will be SIMILAR but not IDENTICAL to your actual hometown. Two things are in play that will give you great amounts of leeway in mixing up your hometown campaign to be more suitable for post apocalyptic adventuring. The first thing to remember is that our actual world is only one of an infinitude of multiverses collapsing into the Big Mistake. So for example, in reality the airport 15 miles from the mall in your town might in Gamma World be a starport and only 3 miles from the mall in your campaign. Get it? The other thing to remember is that a long crazy time has passed since your neighborhood was a bustling 21sts century town. Since then wars have devastated the land and all sorts of crazy mutoid madness has come, gone, and come again, leaving its mark on the land. Lets start by jotting down a few landmarks or locations.

The Gamma World Commute

Suburban Neighborhood – this can be the starting location and it could even include the ruins of the house you sit comfortably in right now while reading this! In my “Points of Homeliness” Gamma World campaign, the players, my kids, are starting in our house as their home base. This can lead to whole new definitions of the term “walled community.” One thing to keep in mind is to imagine the “home of the future” and then to jazz up the ruins with some hilarious future tech, like a garbage disposal that has turned into a mutated monster like the sarlacc pit, for example. Or a refrigerator that has spawned its own sub-arctic mini-ecology. A radioactive dressing machine that strips you of clothes and alpha mutations and gives you new ones each time. Maybe left out on the table a half played game of “Grammar World.”

Indoor or strip mall – Every square mile of urban or suburban landscape has at least one shopping center. Malls at one time were the ultimate expression of commercialism, but since the 80s they have diminished in importance to the strip malls, the mega shopping center, and “downtown” districts. Zona Rosa in my town is a downtown style commercial district transported to the suburbs, and it is full of shops, restaurants, theatres, and clubs. It is also the perfect place to base a new age barter town. I will rename it the “Ozone Row.”

Hospital – A hospital is a great place for all sorts of weird research center type mutations, plagues, and other atrocities. This can be a great place for site-based exploration, for a villains lair, or a new breed of genetically mutated gauze bandages, for example.

Major Interstate – A cement river or two is practically a must. These can be the links between your major sites, and it is ok to deviate from reality. It is the radioactive future remember! I like to think of the highways as “free zones” where you never know what you are going to run into, but they offer the fastest travel-time between points, and also vehicular combat a la Road Warrior or Car Wars. So not so different from today, really. Placing your main sites along a great looping highway that rings the city is one good idea. Barry Road in my area will turn into “the Buried Road.” I guess I will have to come up with a reason its buried…

Local high school – Heck yes, in my game the Oak Park Northmen are long gone, but a tribe of porkers known as the “Ork Pork Snortmen” have moved in, and they wield the arms and armor from those latter day ultra-violent high school sports.

Factory – Any place that requires large machinery is a good thing to add, especially if there is a chance that machinery has become sentient, gone haywire, and threatens the surrounding countryside. It might be wise to change the rubber band factory down the block to a robotic missile launcher factory to get the best use out of it. Or better yet, a rubber band powered ballistic delivery systems factory. “Give me a rubber band big enough and I will launch this ICBM across the world.”

Business Park – There is something deeply satisfying about exploring the old burned out shells of office buildings. Perhaps it comes from the hundreds of hours spent in one of these buildings, fantasizing about its fiery destruction, but everyone loves looting the CEOs desk, kicking over the receptionist area and running from over-zealous sentry bots. Elevators, cubicles, stairwells and parking garages, oh my.

Airport – Airport, starport or military airfield, this is where the big heavy flying things go: jets, planes, saucers, rockets. Well, unless you put them other places, which is also fine, in which case they possibly came from here instead. But either way, plop one of these babies in front of your adventurers and watch things “take off!”

Bridge over river – How else to get to grandmothers? I would love to have a big poster map of a twisted old steel girder bridge over a radioactive river. The Big Mutey is a river that will feature in my campaign. Another option is a tunnel under the river, as many communities have.

So, the above example is a quick list of local features, some of which fit easily into the Gamma world theme, others will need to have some work done to them. Once a workable list of sites is prepared, it is time to Gamma them up by adding future, radioactive, post apocalyptic, robotic, alien, and alternate time-line elements to the mix. Everything should be gone over and twisted into varying levels of strangeness. Nothing should be left untouched, except for one strange diner that is exactly the same as it has been since 1958, only the fry cook and waitress are both encased in stainless steel bodies. Hope you have change for a five!

Did that flying saucer just move?

Maximize the Gamma

From this point forward, armed with nothing but the rules, your notes, and maybe whatever is playing on the TV across the room, it is possible to run a completely improvised game. When it is time for a fight, flip through the monsters until something catches your eye. Otherwise, let the players drive the story forward. It is a good idea to have a few villains, a gang or two, and maybe some friendly and neutral groups, and a village or two to protect, and these are some things that you can prepare ahead of time, or just let them pop up as the story progresses.

One hilarious idea that I am using for my gamma game is that the characters have come to this land to civilize it. I call it the Points of Homeliness campaign, where the goal is to carve out a community lifestyle of wealth, ease, and leisure in a world gone mad. And what better place to start that the ruins of your home on the 50,000th day after? There are oluminous writings on the subject of running campaigns, that can describe in far more detail and quality than here, but Gamma Worl follows the same basic princioples as kost role p-laying games, DnD 4E especially. Creating tension caused by potential threats is the key to having a good fast-paced improvisational game. In Gamma World it is easier than ever to come up with some crazy ideas. While all of them may not stick, the paths the players choose should always be crossing the paths of

I mentioned the Ork Pork Snortmen earlier, and this is the type of inspiration that should help to fill out the world. Think of some of the people who are around now, and then twist them into the mutated future versions of themselves, or wipe them out and bring in something completely different. The idea of turning a strip mall into a dangerous and lawless barter town is a way to twist the normal into the gamma extreme. Turning a walled community into a stronghold full of paranoid pure humans might work, or perhaps the humans are all dead and the various small appliances have formed themselves into a highly protective swarm of androids hive mind.

It is always a good idea to have something prepared in advance in case the improvisation is not flowing, or if you have a great idea you want to see come to fruition. I like to prepare a handful of complete encounters, some notes on various NPCs in the area, including a few groups. One area where Gamma World shines is in its fast and furious combat. It uses the same style of epic battle scenes that its parent DnD4 uses. This means that an encounter plays out better if it has all the trappings of a set piece encounter, including unusual terrain features, traps and hazards. It is notoriously difficult to come up with an entire unscripted encounter of this magnitude, so it is a good idea to do some prep work for the key encounters. The maps that come with the game are a great resource and can be used for multiple purposes.

Welcome to the neighborhood

Filling in the details

One of my favorite parts of the game is coming up with the crazy little details. For example, during character creation, everyone so far has spent a lot of time describing just exactly what is their “heavy two handed melee” weapon. A parking meter, fire extinguisher, and tire full of rocks are a few so far. The little details along the way do most of the heavy lifting of creating the ambience of the game. The armor made of road signs, the old truck pulled by a team of pack animals, these little details are very important, and should be the highlights of every description during the game. The game works best as a surreal blend of past, present, and future, and the idea of storming a castle that once once a sports arena with plasma rifles and vibro swords is where the game shines. Visualize a land where nuclear bombs dropped, where aliens invaded, where utopia was achieved, where the zombies invaded, where the robot uprising happened. As the player mutants explore this world, the little details will flavor the most memorable moments of the campaign.

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Welcome to the new mutant future

Played at the Basement Games in Zona Rosa, Kansas City MO on Oct 23rd, 2010, I gamma mastered a group of four mutants as they adventured into Trouble in Freesboro. We started by creating characters and that took the first hour of play since I was the only one with even a passing familiarity with the rules as we all tried to understand the sometimes vague or over-brief explanations. The four players were my 11 year old daughter who played in empath felinoid named Gale (then Gail.) My 13 yr old son played the electrified doppelganger Vivaldi. The other two players, one from the area and another from the nearby college town Topeka played an empath plant named Aloe (who spent much of his time in giant form) and a radioactive mind breaker named Cornibulus.

Character creation is one of the most fun parts, as it is fast and full of rolling. Starting of with a couple d20 rolls we quickly established the character origins, then moved on to the powers and traits, which I had printed out on a cheat sheet and stapled to the character sheets. I think it helped and allowed people to flip to their origin descriptions and abilities without consulting the manual. With only one manual (to start with) I think it proved helpful.

One of the players ended up buying a box set about midway through the 4 hour session, so I feel like I did my job. They also each bought two decks of cards, and I bought four decks – a pair for each of my kids. I am not sure how I feel about the tacked on collectibility and/or buy-in required to play the game, but I planned on hand waving the whole requirement and have everyone draw from my deck throughout the game. As it turned out, it wasnt an issue, and my decks never even got used the whole day! I was bummed,i especially since I fancied them up wth card protectors in my favorite aftermath colors: black and yellow of fallout signs.

The other problems with the cards is that the way the rules read, it could be that a character starts with two alpha cards and an omega, or one of each. It is difficult to figure out which one is right. During character creation it sounds like you draw one of each. But then jit says before a session draw one of each later on in the book. Is this the same set or a second set up alpha mutations? It ended up that I allowed them to start with two of each, but I have a feeling that a first level starting character should start with one of each, or possibly two alpha and one omega. More research needed.

Rolling for ability scores was fun and ended with LOTS of low abilities, but the ones that mattered were high so it had little impact other than flavor and skills. The skill list was small but I wish the character sheet listed all of them, rather than 4 blank lines, and totaling up skill modifiers was the most difficult aspect of the character creation process. The best part came next: gear.

I absolutely love the way they do weapons in Gamma World: broad categories that share stats. Everything is light or heavy, one handed or two handed, melee or ranged, or gun. At some point I would like to see a heavy 2 handed melee gun. Maybe a rifle that shoots out a giant clown fist? Each weapon type keys off STR/CON or DEX/INT which was cool, and even used the same damage dice, so a guy could pick a heavy two handed melee weapon, and call it a dumbbell for instance, and it could just as easily be a ranged heavy two handed weapon with all the same stats. Simple, elegant, awesome. It is great and each character got tl describe their weapon. longbow, electrified mono-filament, tire filled with rocks, land robot arm were the weapons of choice. The armor was a little more simplified, consisting of light, heavy, and shield, and we didnt spend much time on it. Next it was time to roll up the random junk and other gear, and much canoes, riding horses, cell phones and cans of fuel were had. Interestingly no one chose a gun, perhaps scared off by the ammo rules, which are another favorite aspect of the game. A character either has ammo or doesnt. if they use ammo once per encounter they still have ammo at the end, but more than once and might as well let loose, because at the end of the encounter they are out. Also, all ammo is universal.

So we started out with the most minimum of back ground role playing. I described them meeting up on the road while traveling near the atomic ruins of Ashville Innasea. They came to the small quaint village of Freesboro, a point of homeliness in a world of post apocalyptic mayhem. There were apple pies cooling in a window as they passed a town house and came to the town square which was bustling with townsfolk. Mayor Thompsoon greeted them in the town square. he was a happy fat man who seemed to hover and bounce a few inches off the ground as he explained the trouble in nearby MedCen park. He mentioned an antique mall the town owned, and offered them a free shopping trip should they succeed in rooting out whatever was stirring up trouble out there. The mutant allies then each got to question a town villager for more information before setting out.

I am constantly battling time while game mastering, and I am beginning to accept the fact that I am the main reason for my games never progressing quickly enough, and today was no different. Practically half the play session was spent before we even rolled for initiative, and from this point forward, other than some colorful description I kept the role playing to a minimum in order to get through as much of the “adventure pack” as possible. As it went, we made it through about 2 1/2 out of 5 possible encounters, which broke down into the first, final, and in between a shortened skill challenge type encounter in between.

The first encounter was brutal, and part of the reason may have been because it was intended for 5 allies instead of the 4 we had. The party was heading out to MedCen park to find out what was happening, when they came to a group of porkers burrowing into the side of a hill looking for food and treasure. A flock of radioactive red ravens hovered about picking from the remains the pig men scattered. With a grunting challenge, the porkers attack.

The battle lasted five rounds, and in the battle Gale failed three death saves, after falling unconscious from a porkers fetid sneeze. The doppelganger faced off single handedly against the radioactive bloodflock and as their glowing beaks pierced his flesh they stuck in him, following him wherever he moved. He was knocked unconscious by the birds but lived. The radioactive mindbreaker was practically immune to the flock and once he scared off the porkers who dared to attack him, he quickly drove off the radioactive ravens.

Omega Tech Deck Check

After the fight, each mutant ally was able to make an omega tech deck check, or I should say they each drew a card. They also had to turn one of their alpha cards in and pick a new one. This also happened whenever a one was rolled, for any reason, even when a monster rolled one. By the 3rd battle most of the characters had three of each type to choose from and whenever a 1 was rolled, I had them roll a six sided die to randomly choose which mutation the alpha flux changed. Also, I misread the section on taking from the gamma masters deck on a roll of 1-9, so I can see one instance where my deck would come in handy. It would have meant my yellow and black cards would not get lost in the players hands, had the rule been used, so I am doubly glad for the awesome protectors. Also, and I promise this will be my last complaint about the cards, they should had had different backs. They are never used together, there is no earthly reason why they should have identical backs regardless of whether it is alpha or omega. It simply makes them more difficult to sort without adding any benefit.

About this time it was 4 pm. We had started playing around 1 pm, so 3 hours had passed and only had an hour left, so I skipped ahead some – I wanted to have the boss fight with Genghis Tang, so I gave a quick summery of their working the way through the MedCen research building. I skipped the handouts, which seemed pretty useless, although it would have been fun to use the floor plan for some exploration if we had time. It was a lot of fun to improvise the types of things the party came across as they explored, being similar to our world just before the big mistake. I ran a short version of the computer terminal skill challenge type encounter, where everyone had a chance to work on the computer of glean some info from it. They got to see the video feed of giant cockroaches in the basement. Luckily, they were going up.

I also described how they found the alpha and omega cards on their way to the final encounter – I wanted the players to have the full arsenal for the final encounter, including the two bonus cards given away to participants. As it happened, no powdered scientists were used, however everyone loved the power mimic, especially for one of the doppelgangers mutations that allowed him to create a whole pack of himself. As far as omega tech goes, it might have been bad luck, but few omega cards were used during the game, and although overcharging was attempted, it usually resulted in a failure.

So I flipped the poster map to the excellent research center map, placed the enemies, and we went to town with a crazy final encounter. Genghis was a great villain, and the fact that he wore a NASA space suit (complete with a jet pack) and carried a firemans axe made him unforgettably awesome. Another awesome villain was the dabber who did nothing but sit on the elevated cat walk and shoot his ancient WW2 era carbine the entire fight. I pictured him as some weasel faced sniper. The porkers all charged, the bunny bounded, and it was a big melee on one side of the room. The midbreaker had an omega tech that allowed him to take control of one of the laser batteries. And Gail the felinoid was knocked unconscious, but was thankfully soon healed.

We were out of time, so I let each character have one last turn to try and clear the room. Genghis went down, as did the hoop and all the porkers, and when we finished the game, only the dabber and his M1 Garand were left on the board. Over-all it was a great time, and I am in love with the simplicity of design. It was easy to jump into the game, and the combat was quick, over the top, and nail-bitingly exciting. Killing the character of my youngest daughter in the first encounter was not how I hoped to start the game, and for a moment I could see her eyes start to tear up. But just then some one mentioned cats 9 lives, and I rolled with it, and let her to bring in the twin sister of Gale, Gail, and a crisis was diverted.

Incidentally, my 11 year old daughter has gone on to proclaim Gamma World her favorite RPG ever, better than DnD and the recently acquired Ravenloft which we also played the first time this weekend. She went on to roll up another character later that night which was a swarm-of-rats/felinoid, which she describes as a litter of kittens who work together and wear a trenchcoat, hat and sunglasses disguise to appear as a single person. This litter is the children of her gameday character Gale (or was it Gail?)

All 4 players, my kids, and the tguys I met and GMed for pronounced the game a blast, and even though we were slowed by my unfamiliarity with the rules and the adventure, it was wildly fun. As I mentioned earlier, one guy bought the set on the spot, and I have a sneaking suspicion the other fellow will be buying a copy, too. The store was very accommodating. I have never seen it so busy in there, but there was a Warhammer tournament going on. They gave me a 10 per cent discount on the gamma cards, card sleeves, and Ravenloft, which I will describe in another post.

In summary, the gameday was a success, and the Gamma World game is off to success. The adventure Trouble in Freesboro was pretty good, and the poster map included is the best. It will see lots of use in future Gamma World games. One map is a stretch of highway, another is a garage, and both feature plenty of old burned out vehicles. The flip side is a huge research facility complete with strange machinery, laser batteries, an armory and even a restroom (where hilariously one of the porkers began the final encounter, heh.) The second best part are the monsters, new builds of ones featured in the rule book. The two cards, power mimic and powdered scientists seem pretty cool, but there are so many wonky power cards, I am still being surprised by some of them.

This game is a lot of fun, and some people say Gamma World is perfect for beer-n-pretzel style “one off” games, but I can see potential for longer term campaign play and look forward to the chance. Another way I plan on squeezing more Gamma World into my life is by including some “transitional” adventures where I cross-pollinate in and out of my regular DnD games. Oh yes, the mutants are out of the box, and they cant be stuffed back in.

The cat is outta the box

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so beautiful

This review is my second in the Dark Sun Review Series I am writing to honor the new campaign setting being released. I wrote my first review of the set, of Marauders of the Dune Sea, last week, and my review of the Campaign Guide itself should finally be published next week. I have also posted game-play recaps of the non-public material Wizards has released for the Dark Sun setting. These include Bloodsand Arena, a Free RPG Day 2010 offering; The Lost Cistern of Aravek, a Dark Sun Game Day 2010 release; as well as the weekly retelling of Dark Sun Encounters: Fury of the Wastewalker. And if you still cant get enough Dark Sun, my own campaign has dipped its toes into the hot sands of Dark Sun, and the characters have been rolling endurance checks ever since.

Before I get into the Creature Catalog, I want to add a special message about the intent of these reviews. First of all, I am an unabashed fan of 4e Dark Sun as released by Wizards of the Coast. I never had the pleasure of playing the original 2nd edition set, though I have acquired a copy of it for posterity. I have however steeped myself in the lore of the land for this edition. This is a biased review by a fan, not an objective breakdown of its strengths and weaknesses. I will go into very specific details of what makes the campaign setting special, and hopefully give insight to those who read this with the hope of understanding what makes the setting, and the monsters, so unique.

One thing that this review will not do is to make comparisons between old Dark Sun and new Dark Sun. I have no working knowledge of Dark Sun of the 90s, and so I approach this iteration with no pre-conceived notions or prejudices. In the same sense, this review will not make comparisons to other campaign settings released for DnD 4e, which include the Eberron campaign setting and the Forgotten Realms setting. These releases have little bearing on the subject matter or publication methods of the Dark Sun Campaign.

One fine looking book

The cover of Creature Catalog features a striking example of the major Dark Sun art pieces, and it is one of my favorites. The cover is gorgeous, and the rich oranges and browns make this book really stand out. The entire book is very attractive, and just cries out to be held, fondled, and cracked open. The inside cover is classic black. According to 4e tradition, the featured monster on the cover is also the mightiest foe in the book – in this case the Dragon of Tyr. Ringing in as a scrappy level 33 solo controller, the Dragon (always capitalize that D) looks fierce indeed.

There is an interesting story concerning the cover of this book – it almost didn’t have one. According to Wizards, originally the book was slated to have a soft cover, but the printer made a mistake and printed them in hard cover (and apparently ate the cost.) This was fortuitous to customers, because not only because we get the book in all its hard cover glory, but we are only charged the surprisingly low soft cover price. This is a sign of destiny – one more reason that Dark Sun was fated to be the greatest campaign setting of all time. I can see why they originally called for soft cover. 144 pages makes for a slim tome, but it is well worth it, and even for full price, I would not hesitate to pick this up. Another interesting discovery I made while inspecting the cover has to do with the authors. Richard Baker is listed as the main author, but following him, are the names Ari Marmell and Chris Sims, which is different than the online sites, including the publisher Wizards of the Coast, who list the authors as Richard Baker and Bruce R Cordell.

I have been lucky enough to fight with or against many of the monsters in this catalog, at least up into the lower paragon tier. I was happy to find the majority of the Dark Sun creatures in the catalog are for the heroic tier. A quick rundown of the monster by level tables in the back shows that over half the beasties are level 10 or lower. While the upper tier of level 20+ probably accounts for 20 percent or less. This is a great ratio, and I hope it is one the publisher uses for all future monster books. I was surprised by the ratio at first, especially as Dark Sun is labelled as higher level and more dangerous than a typical setting. In the original edition, characters were assumed to start at 3rd level to account for the difficulty of the setting. Have no fears, though, as these monsters are truly fearsome, and they crank the damage up a level beyond the Monster Manual 3, which is known to have hit the turbo button for all its monsters. Until a character has been hit by a dart for over 20 points damage by the lowliest creature in here, it is hard to fully accept the difficulty. Imagine biie one-shotted by a kobold.

The first thing one notices when using the monsters in the Creature catalog is that they are Deadly with a capital D. Dungeons and Dragons IV has been out nearly 3 years, and as the game continues to mature, and players become comfortable with their characters and the rules, the designers felt that some of the challenges from the early years were not quite up to snuff with a thoroughly modern optimized party. Design changes took place last year with the Monster Manual 2, where the solos and higher level creatures were adjusted, and again in the MM3 where all monsters got a damage upgrade. Addtionally, with the MM3, the stat blocks themselves got an upgrade to assist playability. And now we have the Dark Sun Creature Catalog hot on the heels of the MM3. It looks like the same underlying philosophy was used to create the monsters, including the new stat block format, and then they were perfected with a heaping helping of extra Dark Sun Deadliness. This creates a group of monsters able to tear through lazy or strategically inept parties, and maintain a white-fisted challenge for even the most jaded group of power players. The monsters are tough, as the short happy life of Bennybe the rogue will attest.

Cracking those covers open, we are confronted with a slim 144 page volume chock full of around 200 monsters. Reading the small table of contents, we notice that unlike any previous monster manual, this book is split into 3 sections. The first section is called Creatures of Athas, followed by a section of Personages of Athas, and finally the book rounds out with a section called Encounter Options. This is a unique layout for a monster book. It is also a little confusing. For example, you might find a human templar of Tyr under Human in the Creature section, but you could find templars to other city states in the “Personages” section. I think once I am used to the book, it will become second nature to know which section to look under, but for now, it is unclear.

Turning past the table of contents, we see the next 4 pages are devoted to breaking down the monster stat blocks. This is fairly important, especially for those who don’t have the MM3, where the new stat block made its debut. On the other hand, not much has changed, and comparing this section to the Monster Manual, I see little difference. Still, this is an important section, and I could save time during play by remembering this section rather than searching through the PHB and DMG for answers that are right here.

Now we move on to the meat of the book. Coincidentally, the first monster in this book is the same as the original first edition Fiend Folio – the Aarakocra, a race of flying humanoids once associated with eagles, but now known as vulture folk. It is a long ignoble drop from their previous existence, but Dark Sun is known for forcing the familiar to fall from grace. Following the aarakocra entry comes page after page of meaty Athasian monstrosity. Most of the monsters are weird in some way, often having psionic powers, and many of the beasts are either reptile or insect. Or plant. My players will never forget the zombie cactus they recently faced. What an evil, evil cactus.

Aarokocra then and now

t looks like most of the classic Dark Sun monsters are here. As I said, I never played the prior edition, and I don’t want to compare the two, but I do know something of it, and I can see most of the legendary monsters represented here: belgoi, gaj, gith, and tembo, check; athasian giant, silk wyrm, and tembo, all present. Kanks and crodlu, elf dune runners, it is all here. I wonder how many of the creatures in this tome are totally new, as I don’t recognize all of the names, such as: Chathrang, Cilops, megapede. One thing that I find extremely useful is that there is a new racial entry for the main races of Dark Sun: dray (dragonborn), dwarf, eladrin, elf, Halfling, human, Half-giant (goliath), mul and thri kreen. This will go a long way to fleshing out a Dark Sun campaign world, and most of the entries have multiple monsters to span one or more tiers of play. The human, for example, has a total of 10 entries, ranging from a lowly level 1 minion, up to a level 17 creep.

Some of my favorite monsters from this book include the hejkin, a race of grubby grouches who speak dwarfish, to the id fiend, a terrifying level 1 solo which I cant wait to drop on an unsuspecting 1st level party. The tembo is terrifying, and recently resulted in a total party kill while playing a character for the first time since the 1980s. There is a solo or elite monster for just about every level in the book. I counted about 20 solos and maybe twice that number of elites. There are plenty of minions, too, with all the major races getting at least one minion, and many of the monsters as well. There are some great new mechanics to help out these minions. For example, the human slave doesn’t drop until the round after it is reduced to zero.

There is a side bar discussing dragons, and how on Athas there is only one true Dragon, the undisputed master of the habitable lands. Even sorcerer kings pay tribute to the Dragon of Tyr. However, there is a set of epic level drakes, which can take the place of de-evolved dragons. It is suggested that any dragons be less intellectual and more bestial in Dark Sun. It would be nice if they had broken down the four elemental drakes into age categories for some multi-tier fun, but I expect that will happen in an upcoming article or supplement.

The creatures in the catalog go a long way to making the Dark Sun world so dangerous. The next section, Personages, gives the Dark Sun world much of its flavor. This section is full of locale specific personalities and should be perfect for urban adventuring and political intrigue. Each sorcerer king is statted out for the major cities left on Athas, and besides the ruler, a few other choice NPCs are given for each city, whether they be the temple guards, the sorcerer kings most devoted lieutenants, a prominent merchant or powerful gladiator. The sorcerer kings are all epic level, and each of them should provide quite a challenge, while NPCs associated with them run the gamut from upper heroic all the way to powerful enough levels to be a match for the sorcerer kings themselves. One sorcerer king, Kalak, is missing, because Tyr has thrown off the shackles of royal domination.

I like this section of the Creature Catalog – it helps make Dark Sun the unique setting that it is. Having single, named personages, who are tied into the campaign world in specific ways makes the world of Dark Sun that much more distinctive. Another way to look at it would be that you could take the Creature catalog and pull just about any monster out of it and throw it into an encounter that made sense, but the monsters listed in this chapter need to be handled carefully for maximum Dark Sun Flavor. For example, there are templars for all the cities, but each templar sect has its own strengths and weaknesses, and fighting a templar of Tyr (which are listed in the creature section, oddly – probably because there is no Sorcerer king to stick them with) and fighting a witch-doctor templar of Lalali-Puy is a very different experience. Finally, I get giddy imagining an Epic heavy metal campaign of assassination of the sorcerer kings, one by one as we go through this chapter – much like our group worked its way through Dieties and Demigods in our foolish youths.

This is what its all about, right here

The final section of the book is all about building Dark Sun encounters. The section begins with the idea of customizing monsters for Dark Sun out of the standard Dnd monsters. One example they give (complete with epic artwork) is the Silt Shark, based off the fleshtearer shark from Monster Manual 2. The customizing monsters introduction is short, and precedes the larger section on using monster themes. Themes have been with us since the Dungeon Master Guide 2, and the Creature Catalog devotes a few pages to expanding the list to include some popular Dark Sun themes, such as sun-warped, or arena-bred monsters for example. Because there have been so many monsters released, it is good that they have included this. I know that even with the great choices for monsters provided in this book, there is lots of room for more – and with this section, it becomes possible to take your favorite monsters and give them an injection of Dark Sun flavor to freshen them up, conceal their aging wrinkles, and make for more challenge.

We are coming to the last few pages of the Creature Catalog, and here we find another unusual addition. The world of Dark Sun is bizarre, and the ecology itself is one of the distinctive aspects of the world. It has been called post-apocalyptic, and this can be recognized in the fantastic terrains and hazards of the last section. Defiling is a mechanic in Dark Sun by which powerful spell-casters can hurt the world in order to channel more powerful magic. (In fact this is one of the basic tenets of the campaign – that careless usage of arcane magic irrevocably damaged the world.) Many types of defiled terrain are included, as well as other extraordinary landscapes, from salt flats to mirages, to Ztal hordes – massive colonies of tiny poisonous lizards.

Flowing seamlessly from fantastic terrain we move into the hazards section, and this too, while sparse, offers up some flavorful hazards to throw at adventurers. There are arena hazards, such as the worthy sacrifice, and wilderness hazards, such as the dust funnels and false oases. These are great, but I wish the section had been expanded to add even more unique traps and hazards. In fact, my only complaint about this book, really, is that I wish there was more of everything, and honestly that sounds more like a compliment.

I am not sure why this last chapter was included with the Creature Catalog rather than in the Campaign Setting. However, the section is entitled Encounter Options, and terrain is an important part of encounter design, so there is an argument for its inclusion here. Time will tell whether or not this method becomes the norm, but I have a sneaking suspicion it was done for space issues. The Creature Catalog is pretty slender, at least 14 pages less than any other hardback I own (the other thin books seem to be a minimum of 168 pages) but since this was never meant to be a hard cover, I really am stumped. The publishers must feel that rather than a monster book, so to speak, it is more an encounter book, but if that was the case, the last section could have really be expanded upon. I see this last chapter as one more aid to the Dm to give him the tools he needs to create his own challenging world of Dark Sun for his campaign.

Everything in this book drips of Dark Sun flavor, from the creatures to the major personalities of the world. From the monster themes to the fantastic terrains, this book is here to help you inject into your campaign a massive dose of Dark Sun. If I could only have one Dark Sun book, it would be this one. These monsters are the meat and potatoes (sometimes literally) of any adventure through the dangerous and difficult world of Dark Sun. Just flipping through it fills one with a sense of the strange dying world of Athas, where the struggle for survival is paramount. It would take very strong survival instincts indeed to survive all the nastiness contained in these pages.

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