Dark Sun Preview from Free RPG Day – Material and Play Session Overview

I picked up the Dark Sun Bloodsand Arena adventure Wizard’s of the Coast put out for Free RPG Day this year. There are spoilers, so if you plan to be a player in these adventures, read with caution. Setting and Materials It’s for 1st level and comes with six characters ready made. The sheets are on nice coated paper, but are hard to write on without a dry erase marker. Also, one had a typo saying a power did 2d17 + 7 damage. Even if your players really like to make their own characters, the fact that at this time there is nothing about Dark Sun in the character builder required they use these characters unless they want to miss out on the new Dark Sun powers. Plus magic works entirely differently in Dark Sun, so a traditional magic user wont work in Dark Sun. The setting of Dark Sun is a post-apocalyptic setting in a fantasy world. In Dark Sun, the easy magic takes energy from everything around it. For example if a wizard cast a big spell, the plants around might wilt. One power the character has will actually damage team mates if you make it stronger. Despite there being ways to use magic without causing harm (but it’s harder to do), everyone just kept casting spells until the world came to ruin. Now all magic and those who use it are shunned. The world is a wasteland. Metal is scarce in the desolate world, so most weapons are ceramic. On a roll of a 1, you can reroll but risk breaking your weapons, or take the automatic miss. The maps provided are large and very nicely drawn. You can use them for any kind if arena combat in any setting. Gameplay I ran with 4 players, so I just picked one of the two provided back stories for all the characters. The characters are divided into two groups of three, so I picked the story that matched the majority of the characters. After convincing the players that they should escort the caravan instead of trying to rob it (Players are a necessary evil), we got underway for the first section of adventures. There are two groups included, we only played the first. I game them five days worth of food each. I did this because failing some skill challenges had penalties for running out of food. I figured 5 would be enough if they did well, but not too many to avoid trouble if it camie. The first part is a set of skill challenges. They are of an easy difficulty. If the players pass, they get a bonus to the next challenge or avoid misfortune. I didn’t tell the players they were running skill challenges. I just asked for some skill rolls to start, then presented situations based on what the skill challenges provided. This worked really well. They even got more food for hunting and catching some animals. I did make a ‘mistake’ on one. They should have avoided the first combat, but instead I didn’t read the whole thing and gave them a surprise round against the attackers. I think this worked out better, as the combat was fun. Due to having two less players, I removed two minions and one of the three bigger baddies. This worked out perfectly. One of the characters almost died, but not quite. That’s about right if you ask me. One of the bad guys had a poorly worded power:
Barbed Spear Requirement: The raider must not have a creature grabbed Attack: Melee 1 (One creature); +7 vs AC. While the raider has a creature grabbed, it can use Barbed Spear against the grabbed creature only.
This seemed to contradict itself, so I just didn’t use it. Once they were done with the skill challenges I revealed that they had passed all the skill challenges. Everyone agreed that in this case not telling them they were participating in a skill challenge was a good choice. The next section is where the PCs discover the caravan intends to capture them and sell them as slaves. I set up the map with all 7 bag guys (reduced from 10 due to having less players) and put the PCs on the board. This took a few minutes. Two of the snipers had shots, then the first PC went and in one attack bloodied the main traitor which triggered the city guards to show up and end the combat. All that setup time essentially wasted. Perhaps part of this was my fault, I think the enemy was supposed to be in the tent, not in the doorway, but on the other hand, the character could have made it there anyways, so maybe not. Next was a skill challenge to see who the city guard believes. The result was the guards believed that the PCs were in the right, but wanted to put them all into the arena to give the caravan slavers some comeuppance. This is where things started to go terribly wrong. A rule of the arena was no direct attacking of the opponents. Instead the goal was to have the most coins (large ceramic ones) in your teams coffer at the end of five rounds. The first mistake was I rolled initiative normally, where each player has their own, and each group of enemies has a single initiative. (two groups in this case.) What happened was the PCs got higher than all baddies, rushed for the coins and to block the enemy coffer … and aside from a couple good moments, the rest of the ‘battle’ was essentially boring. Had I given each PC and enemy their own initiative (which I recommend you do,) things might have been better, but I am not sure. It lasted way to long. Also, had the players just focused on the five rounds, it would have gone faster. It’s hard to focus on something boring though. Even adding the trapjaw monsters didn’t make it more interesting. Overall, the skill challenge and first combat were great, the second combat took longer to set up than complete, and the final fight didn’t work at all for the group. I thought it would spark lots of roleplaying, but aside from the thri-kreen having four arms and taking two coins, nothing special happened. I haven’t looked at the next adventure in the pack, so it might be better. Still, if you get a chance to get a copy of this, the maps are super nice, and the skill challenge section is a fine example of how I think they should work in game.

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    Beeb Ashcroft


    Nice critique – I’m not familiar with this game, but it sounds like it would be interesting to try; I’ve never played a pen-and-paper style RPG before.

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