Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Dark Sun: The Lady or the Tiger?

Or Both...

"No! Let me go!" The shrieking sobs of a woman being dragged past the barracks had the slaves on edge. Garthak trundled in. "So, worms, how many of you ever heard the story of the Lady or the Tiger? Well today you don't have to choose! You get both! The crowds like heroes so that's what you are today. Just save the lady and the crowds will love ya!" Today's lineup included Sarunin Tay, Dar'ag Tan, Zylyss, Fillin, and Vishrakth.

After the heroes had been equipped  with short swords, bows and arrows, they were led into the arena. Up against the chasm was a large cage inside of which was a smaller cage, tightly woven bones of some sort. In the small cage was the sobbing common woman who had been nabbed by slavers in the city. In the larger cage, terrifying her, was a large tiger, prowling and growling and rattling the bars which were secured with a sliding door and large lock. Toward the other end of the area were two large cages, each holding a tiger. A couple of slavers manned the latches, ready to set them free. "No fair attacking the tigers til they come out to play, boys!" they taunted the slaves.

The cages were opened and the tigers dashed out, half-starved and ravenous they dashed straight for the heroes and struck with vicious bites, their brutal teeth quickly drawing blood. Fillin was bloodied instantly and began shifting to get some distance and begin bringing his wild spirit powers to bear with a volley of arrows. Visrakth traded blows and immediately went into his macetail's rage with a howl. The crowd roared with delight as the big beasts hit the slaves hard.

It was clear this was going to be a tough fight. Zylyss, Dar'ag Tan and Sarunin Tay sent blows at the beasts, doing a little bit of damage here and there. After a bit, one of the tigers was bloodied. Sniffing the blood, the other loose tiger launched itself at it and began trying to finish it off. As the fighters got close, that tiger also snapped his jaws at them, drawing more blood. The heaving chests of the slaves fought to draw in air as they took their second winds.

Dar'ag Tan took a swing at the lock on the cage but to no avail. Zylyss appeard and began picking the lock with a piece of bone that he found on the ground. When the lock gave way, they tried to hold the door as the tiger inside raged against it. At the right moment, they slid it open and the tiger shoved forward to attack. The fighters began hacking at the beast when Fillin, who was a ways away, threw a force push at the tiger and shoved it aside, giving Zylyss, Sarunin Tay and Dar'ag Tan access to the cage. From inside, Zylyss eventually managed to get the small cage open to let the woman out. The crowd was on its feet as the tiger shoved its way halfway into the cage again. Then Zylyss unloaded his sling on the tiger and Dar'ag Tan began slashing it heavily. It was soon bloodied.

The bloodied tiger had gotten up and limped away, watching the battle but losing its will to fight, even in its starved condition. The other tiger suddenly dashed toward Fillin who unloaded his shard spirits upon it, shredding it and sending it howling in a spray of blood and fur (crit!). It limped away, not interested in taking more pain from the seeker. The crowd booed its disapproval.

Inside the other cage, Zylyss flung a stone hard and close from his sling, driving it straight into the tiger's eye and sending it rolling in a shuddering heap of blood matted fur that lay still. Suddenly, the slavers were there, hoop poles around the two bloodied tigers and began tugging them off the battle field. The crowd booed as the slavers dragged the tigers out of the arena but cheered the slaves as they walked the woman from her cages. Yet again, they survived another day of brutality in their captivity and gave some measure of satisfaction to a crowd of Raam's restless citizens.

Game Notes

I'll admit I'm still getting the hang of balancing encounters. Three tigers might have been a little more balanced for a full six fighters but there were only five today. The players continued to learn their powers although they miss some added damage which is certainly to their detriment when they don't remember to deal it out! The fact is that the tigers would have been too tough if they had gone full bore, so I toned them down a bit and had them go after each other too. That's part of the fun of being a DM is knowing when to gently keep the characters alive without making it easy.

The main thing is that the kids have fun. They like to get psyched up wondering what they're going to face each week and so far they've walked away from the table each week with smiles on their faces. Time constraints still limit us a little bit and I have to make sure the encounters fit within about an hour and forty-five minutes or so. The arena nature of the encounters coupled with the fickle nature of Abalach-Re are simple tools to be able to draw an encounter to a close if need be. So far it's been a lot of fun running this campaign and I'm looking forward to broadening the story eventually when the time comes.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Dark Sun: Gladiators Galore

Two New Heros

BARLOS THE BATTLEMIND: Human Battlemind (Ben)
Barlos was born in the arena and bred to be a Battlemind. His psionic powers were trained in Raam's arena by the psionic slave tutors whose job is to make entertaining fighters for the arena. Cocky and brash, Barlos lives for the thrill of the crowd cheering to his clever use of his powers to gain the upper hand on his opponents. Barlos is not easily riled but fights carefully, trying to provide a show for the teeming masses who cheer him on. Off the battlefield, he is also relatively unflustered, having nothing to prove but letting his accomplishments speak for themselves. While he loves to bask in the attention of adoring fans, Barlos nevertheless wistfully thinks of the day when he might gain his freedom and go his own way.

VISHRAKTH: Half-Orc Barbarian (Riley)
What better occupation for a half-orc barbarian than to be a thug in a gang on the streets of Raam, bringing some semblance of belonging and order to the murderous streets of this caste-separated cauldron of violence. Vishrakth has no fear of losing his life and would easily fight to the death. But in an attack by some of Raam's Mansabdars, Vishrakth's faithless fellow gang members ran and abandoned him to his fate. He was overwhelmed by these agents of some corrupt noble house and his vicious nature suggested he'd make them some money by being sold into the arena's slave barracks. Only a fool would provoke Vishrakth's temper and his eyes smoulder with the burning hatred of his slave captors, waiting for his moment to bring them down in the roar of his barbarian rage.

Facing the Gladiators and a Surprise

"All right you worm spawn, "roared Garthak the ogre, "off to the arena with you today. Time to fight some real gladiators. With a surprise twist! Hahaha! We'll arm ya with short swords cuz that's what gladiators fight with!" Out they were thrust into the arena: Barlos, Sarunin Tay, Zylyss, Dar'ag Tan, Fillin and Vishrakth. The slaves stood there, the heat from the shimmering ground washing in waves over them, the baking blood red sun in the sky. In the middle of the arena was a thirty foot pillar with a lumpy bundle on top. At that moment, out marched five gladiators, twirling short swords in each hand.

"Fighters fight!" came the serpentine voice of Abalach-Re from her gilded private box. With that, the heroes rushed forward and the battle was begun. Blasts of psionic power and the clash of swords slowly raised the volume of the murmuring crowds. On one end of the line, Barlos was battling one gladiator, another backed up to assess the heroes and another two were fighting with Fillin and Dar'ag Tan. On the far end of the line, Vishrakth was trading blows with another of the fierce fighters.

After a few seconds of battle, with the heroes quipping about who would be able to climb the pillar and get the "presents," the lumpy bundle suddenly jumped up, the covering thrown off. There was a vicious female elf, her longbow knocked, who began firing on the heroes as they fought! Zylyss unwound the sling from his wrist, picked up a stone and sent it flying to the top of the pillar.

Sarunin Tay sent waves of energy at the gladiator in his line of sight when suddenly the fighter charged him, slashing him with both his blades, bloodying him in an instant. Barlos then focused his mind, marking that same fighter to draw him over to him, taking on two at once. Zylyss teleported his short sword to Sarunin who then moved it telekinetically over one of the gladiator's heads, dropping it close by into the ground but missing the fighter.

"Hey," one of the slavers standing in the wings nudged Garthak, "don't that Seeker need a bow?" "Right you are lad," the ogre agreed and chucked a bow and quiver out to Fillin. He grabbed the short bow and began firing arrows, unleashing his ranged primal spirits to harass the gladiator that he was flanking with Dar'ag Tan.

"Bloody fool! You deserve death!" shouted the elf from the pillar and then sent an arrow into one of the bloodied gladiators. The heroes weren't sure whether she had suddenly turned friendly or not. Zylyss knew better. With a trick shot, he sent a stone smashing into her forehead, knocking her back a step where she teetered and dropped from the pillar in a crunching heap. Zylyss dashed forward to grab the elf's bow but the end of the fight was at hand.

With one gladiator and the elf dead, and most of the heroes also bloodied, a mighty gong rang again. The gladiators, followed shortly by the slaves, dropped to their knees to look with meekness at their sorceress-queen. "Brave fighters" echoed the voice of Abalach-Re, "you have fought well. But I grow weary of this combat. Let us see something other entertainments." With that, the slave masters appeared, urging their charges back out of the spotlight. The battle, inconclusive, was done.

Game Notes

Unfortunately, I was late to the session and we lost about a half hour. That's why I had to wrap up the session abruptly. The kids still had fun. Ben and Riley were new players and Risdon was absent. The purpose of these various arena fights are twofold: (1) To offer encounters which can easily be played with whoever is present and (2) relatively simple fights in which the players can learn their characters' powers and how to use them.

One thing I noticed is that our slave heroes tend to work more individually. As they learn their powers, I suspect they'll learn to use them together effectively. When they don't fight together, they get hurt pretty quickly. I figured that level-wise this was a tough encounter and it turned out to be a bit overwhelming for them. I suspect they would have pulled it off but it would have been really tough. They are hampered by the lack of a healer as Nick has been (and will be) unable to play. We may have to get Yvaak in there some other way.

The kids enjoyed the encounter though their rolls were all over. More bad than good but Jacob had a couple of crits of which he was proud. They really did get a lot of bad rolls and I suppose the combat would have gone quicker had they rolled better. I think if we had had that extra half hour that I lost, we would have been able to carry the encounter to its conclusion. As always, the game was a lot of fun. I am enjoying getting into the role of Garthak the ogre and walking around the table at the beginning of the session, growling and lecturing them on the way they get to entertain the crowds that day.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Dark Sun: Another Day in the Rat Race

"All right you slugs!" shouted Garthak the ogre slavemaster as he and the slave guards with him kicked our heroes in the ribs, shoving them from their straw pallets onto the hard-packed floor of the barracks. "Up! Up! Today you slugs are going to be the pre-show entertainment! You can entertain the fine citizens of our great city while they fill their seats for the other events in the arena today! Here's the deal: You find the teleportal in the maze and teleport to the top of the hill outside the maze. First one who makes it gets the day off from arena duty. Get it? Now get going and see weapons masters just in case there's anything in there. Hahaha!" The heroes grabbed a few weapons, a tortoise shell blade for Zylyss, a chatchka (three-bladed boomerang) for the seeker and a nice carrikal (double-blade axe) for the goliath who, being an arena slave brat, was given some scale armor.

The slaves were marched to the entry points of the maze. Above them in the hills ringing the arena, the crowds were beginning to arrive, the buzz of chattering citizens rising as they were led out to the maze. The maze was constructed by other slaves, with 20 foot high walls, perfect for blocking the view of those inside but visible to the crowds on the hillsides. "Today," boomed the ogre, "the rats get the cheese! And one more thing: You're the cheese! Hahahaha!" And in he shoved them with a kick.

In they went, Dar'ag Tan leading the way. "So," said Keergnok, the dwarf, "are we allies? Working together?" The slaves agreed that it was probably a good idea to stick together. Zylyss zipped through the passageways and the rest of the party headed in, weapons ready. After some twists and turns, Zylyss heard something above the buzz of the crowds: a skittering and scratching noise. Suddenly, giant rats burst from parts of the maze. Fangs snapping and claws digging, they leapt at the heroes, drawing blood quickly. Sarunin Tay turned to see an even larger rat, fangs and fur covered in putrid filth bounding toward him and sinking it's vile fangs into his flesh. One rat, snapping and biting with a fierce almost intelligent fervor, managed to find the breaks even in the scale armor that Dar'ag Tan was wearing. The rats weren't too hard to dispatch, but the slaves took their licks in doing so.

There was a pause for a bit where things were quiet, the crowd noise growing louder as the stands were filling.  As they proceeded through the twists and turns of the maze, the heroes saw some exits. Except they were blocked by their slave-master guards standing with arms folded, whips and clubs dangling at the ready. The party kept moving. Keergnok, ahead of a couple of the others turned a corner only to come face to face with another really large, filthy and stinking rat! He dashed off, taking some nips at his heels. The party had come to the far end of the maze, and through the blocked exits could see portions of the mound they were supposed to head to. They thought for a brief moment that they could simply move past the guards and get to it but thought better of it.

It was at that point, from two passages, that Sarunin and Keergnok saw doors at the end of the passageway. The center? The teleportal? Zylyss looked as if he could dash to the door and get in the room. In a sudden flurry of viciousness, Keergnok, seeing he could have a chance to get there first, called up his arcane powers and sent a flashing orb of energy down the passageway to hit Zylyss! The energy crackled with light and slammed into the elf, tossing him down like a rag doll and leaving him dying in a heap! A roar of mixed cheering and booing erupted from the crowd gathering in the arena. But it was Sarunin Tay that got there first, to one of the other doors. Dar'ag Tan ran up behind him just as two giant rats came snapping at their heels. Fillin, bleeding from his share of bites, was able to get to Zylyss quickly and apply some skill to heal him a bit and bring him back to consciousness. Zylyss stumbled to his feet and went with the seeker toward the central chamber.

Meanwhile Sarunin came into the room and there stood a hissing kobold with a staff and a necklace of rat skulls around his neck. With a crack of his whip, he lashed the psion and dragged him further into the room. Keergnok was closing on the room too, the dire rat nipping at his heels. It was then that a thunderous gong began to sound. "Wrap it up, boys!" shouted the guards at the maze exits. With a flash, the kobold vanished, appearing on the top of the mound. With a couple more rats chasing them into the teleportal chamber, the slaves jumped onto the teleportal and appeared on the mound, the crowd alternately cheering and booing. Just as the last of the slaves appeared on the mound, a voice boomed around the arena: "All hail our Grand Vizier, Abalach-Re!" With a slam of his staff on the ground, the kobold suddenly vanished in a flash of light with a serpentine cackle drifting on the wind. The slave guards quickly surrounded the mound and then led the slaves back to the barracks where they turned in their weapons and rested before being sent off to other duties during the main events of the arena. The party had survived, but no one noticed the burning hatred in Zylyss' eyes as he pondered the dwarf walking ahead of him...

Game Notes
The arena is large enough to accommodate various events during the day. The slaves worked hard to construct the maze (and it took the DM awhile to draw it). I wasn't sure best how to approach the characters' progress through the maze. I ended up covering the entire maze with paper so that they couldn't see it all at once. As they moved through, we pulled back the papers bit by bit. Since it was clear the players could obviously see more than the characters, I settled on simple Dungeoneering checks (DC 10) in order for the characters to move as they wished upon reaching an intersection. If they failed, they stopped moving. If it didn't completely give the feeling of moving through a maze, it slowed them down a bit to somewhat simulate their wandering and trying to figure out which direction to go. It worked pretty well with the provision that they could follow the character ahead of them without rolling.

Risdon sending an energy orb against Baxter's thief was not something I anticipated, especially since he was the one who initially suggested working together. I thought it was a low blow and out of character. So I sent the dire rat after him. When he objected, based on the rat being against a wall, the fact that there was suddenly a hole there that the rat came through really annoyed him! Turn about is fair play, I guess! The truth is, since they're all slaves, they don't really have a stake in helping each other past just surviving the fight they're in. Since the campaign is not set in stone, it will be interesting to see which direction it takes. I won't say I wasn't surprised or even slightly annoyed. However, Jacob's seeker took the position that life is worth saving (while Jacob took the position that nobody should die on their first adventure!) But it means there's something between the dwarf and the elf now and that's going to be interesting.

I recently broke down and subscribed to the D&D Insider. It's just easier to make the characters that way and keep track of them. (I run the Character Builder and Adventure Tools on Win XP running on Virtualbox on Ubuntu Linux. I mean, if you're going to geek out, do it properly!) Rather than fiddle with notecards and having to keep track of everyone's initiative and AC, etc. I found an absolutely GREAT program that does it. It's called DnD4e Combat Manager and it's a great tool. It imports both DDI CB character sheets and you can paste in monster stats from the Adventure Tools program. The program keeps track of all the order of combat as well as effects and marks, damage, power use and all kinds of other things. It's the first time I've used my laptop at the D&D table and it worked very well. It wasn't any slower than using pencil and cards and it may have been a bit faster even. I'll definitely be using it again.

Finally, the kids had a lot of fun. They're learning their powers and that slows things down initially but nobody minded. We play in a library teen room setting so there are the natural distractions of friends and phones, etc. However, the group was pretty focused and the encounter moved along at a good pace. We're all looking forward to next week's adventure!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Dark Sun: Cast of Heroes, Part 2

Here follows more stories of our core cast of Dark Sun Campaign characters.

FILLIN DUSTEATER: Human Seeker, Wasteland Nomad (Jacob)

There are tribes that, if they are not truly peaceful, at least keep mostly to themselves. The wandering clan from which Fillin comes was such a tribe. Its camp was once attacked by a swarming pack of Nightmare Beast Spawn. The echoes of the shrieks and cries of Fillin's people still echo in his ears. He was one of the only survivors, somehow spared from the ferocity of the evil creatures. The attack upon and destruction of his people has left Fillin with a bitter hatred toward all that is foul and defiled in Athas. He has vowed to one day find the lair of the beasts that killed his family and tribe and his rage against all things vicious and evil seethes quietly under the surface of a man who has otherwise dedicated his life to preserving what is natural and good.

Alas, Fillin has not had time or opportunity to make his quest. Wandering bloody and near death from thirst and starvation, Fillin was brought in to Raam by a sweep of slave traders combing the nearby areas for fresh meat for the arena. Such bondage weighs heavily upon Fillin, expecially when confronted with his label of "Dusteater," a name given to him by the slavers who captured him and one which stuck with him. His hatred of all things evil has grown to include not just the mindless beasts of a defiled world but the intelligent creatures which seek to rule over others by bloodshed and oppression. Fillin knows that his opportunity will come to leave the arena. There are nightmare beasts to which he still owes a debt of blood.

DAR'AG TAN: Goliath Fighter, Arena Fighter (Jake)

Dar'Ag Tan never knew his parents. He was born and bred in the slave barracks of Raam's arena, his purpose in life to entertain the masses and probably die doing so. It is possible that one day he could win his freedom. But the odds are that he will perish violently in the spectacle of combat. Dar'Ag Tan early became a servant to weapons and slave masters of the Arena. He was trained by the gladiators that went before him until he could take his place in the arena on his own, to fight and entertain the crowds. He has known no other life but that of slavery and violence and yet a longing for something more--perhaps freedom--sometimes haunts his thoughts.

Dar'Ag Tan is not an evil individual. His natural-born Goliath traits of fierceness and competitiveness have merely been enhanced and sharpened by his life as an arena fighter. Fiercely competitive, he is a raging inferno of rage when provoked in battle. Even outside of the arena, in the dark world of the slave barracks, Dar'Ag Tan never turns down a challenge or lets an insult pass. The slaves who have grown along side him respect his fighting prowess and the slaves newly brought to the arena soon learn to do so. Dar'Ag Tan's olive skin and the whorls and lines of his flesh-markings identify him as a force to be reckoned with both on the battlefield and off.

ZYLYSS: Elven Rogue (Baxter)

Zylyss, like most elves on Athas, is sneaky. A liar and cheat, he looks out for just one person: himself. Zylyss was born into the filthy urban life of Raam and from his earliest days was a pickpocket and thief. One day, Zylyss set himself to slitting the purse strings of a prominent noble's son (who was in the Elven district for no good reason to begin with) and was seen by one of the Mansabdars in the pay of this noblemen's father. He was grabbed too quickly and fiercely to escape. He was sentenced swiftly to see how long his skills could keep him alive in the arena.

Zylyss keeps to himself. He is known for his deadly aim with a sling, able to land a killing shot from the shadows before he is even seen. The other slaves no not to provoke him lest they face their revenge when they least expect it. Otherwise, Zylyss keeps to himself and looks out for himself, not seeking trouble but not shrinking from it when it finds him. He has no particular desire to help others but he does so if it will help him. When he fights in the arena, his interest in the survival of those who fight with him is so that they will help him survive. Zylyss affects disinterest but he is actually quietly alert for he knows the chance will come when he can use his slippery and shady talents to extricate himself from his slavery under the bitter hand of his captors.

Next: Another Day in the Rat Race

Game Notes

These are the main players and their characters who will be our consistent core group on our Tuesday game day. It is likely that I will generate a few more characters, a selection of fighters and other arena types so that other kids can play as they are available and able. Again, by starting in the Arena of Raam, we're able to utilize the characters of players who are present, even if that is not exactly the same each week. We start in just a couple of days and the kids (and the DM!) are getting excited for the adventure to begin!

Dark Sun: Cast of Heroes, Part 1

Here follows the stories of the heroes of our Dark Sun Campaign

SARUNIN TAY: Human Psion, Noble Adept (Josh)

Sarunin is the sterotypical proud, arrogant and selfish child of privilege. Born into the noble House Tay, a trading family of the (now) free city of Tyr, his psionic abilities were early identified. At an early age he was enrolled in one of Tyr's schools of the Way, to hone, shape and train his psionic abilities. While his petulant disdain of commoners and his spoiled attitude of privilege were never wholly subdued, his study of the Way gave Sarunin discipline and focus. He excelled in his studies of the Way and by the time he was a young man, was accompanying the caravans of his father's trading house on short journeys in the vicinity of Tyr. He was thrilled at first to be able to repel small threats to the trading caravans using his psionic abilities. This gave him a thirst for fighting with these abilities and he suitably altered his course of study of the Way in order to train for attack and defense.

While still acting the part of a child of privilege and lording it over the caravan masters and merchants, Sarunin was suddenly pulled from his world of class and comfort. On one of the longer caravan routes along the Great Road, the train was ambushed by fierce desert nomads. There were simply too many. Many of the merchants and guards were killed and the goods plundered. Sarunin fought hard but in the end the numbers overwhelmed him and he was taken. His psionic powers were clearly evident and so he was sold for a good price far away to the arena slavers of the city of Raam. Now, sullen and bitter, Sarunin nevertheless seeks a return to his life of privilege. He fights in the arena now, focusing his powers not simply on survival but on the hope of escape and return to his family and life of privilege and ease.

YVAAK: Half-elf Warden (Nick)

It is well-known on Athas that a half-elves are looked down upon as the half-breeds that they are. Yvaak was born to a human mother who quickly rid herself of him. Such a rejection both by the human and elven populations around him caused him to seek his solace in the natural world. As Yvaak grew and learned of the primal powers of Athas' harsh world, he became ever more hateful of those who would oppress others and anyone who would defile the natural world. Made gentle toward those who are oppressed, in part because of his own circumstances, Yvaak considers himself a defender of a simple and free life. He sought the disciplines of the Warden to enhance his knowledge and use of the primal forces of Athas for his own defense and the defense of others.

While in the city of Raam, trying desperately to find some gainful employment, Yvaak was arrested as part of a city watch assault on an Elven thievery ring. Although he played no part, Yvaak was in the wrong place at the wrong time. The result was his being quickly tried and condemned to whatever fate being a slave in the arena would bring him. Now, Yvaak, confined by the brutal slavemasters and forced to fight in the arena, longs to once again be free and roam the sands of Athas. He fights for survival but not with malice; he seeks to  preserve his own life while making some attempt to preserve the lives of his fellows slaves so that perhaps they too may one day be free.

KEERGNOK: Dwarf Sorcerer (Risdon) 

Dwarves are common on Athas. Dwarves born with the ability to draw on the defiling power of arcana are not. When his clan saw that Keergnok had arcane abilities, they wanted nothing to do with him. Cast out from his clan, Keergnok became withdrawn and gloomy. Nevertheless, he has learned from being ostracized not to do so to others, especially those weak and defenseless. While contemplating his arcane powers may bring moodiness to the dwarf, he has still sought mastery of these forces, wielding them carefully, both in preserving and not defiling as well as in ways that cannot be easily discerned by the magic-fearing masses.

Yet it was the combination of his empathy and magic that brought the attention of the Mansabdars (city watch) of Raam. One day, a gaggle of urchins was being assaulted by a bigger gang of thugs and miscreants. Keergnok saw it and lost his temper, loosing his chaotic power upon the bullies. While there was little love lost for such street punks getting their comeuppance, the episode was witnessed by cheering crowd turned suddenly angry and fearful at the magic use. The scene was also happened in front of some Mansabdars who figured they could profit by it. The magistrate, friendly with one of the arena secretaries, sold Keergnok for a good price (part of which was passed on to the Mansabdars) and he became one more of the slaves destined to fight in the arena. Keergnok walks with a feigned limp but in reality his staff is his sorcerer's staff. The crowds, at once thrilled and frightened of his magic, long to see his powers exhibited for their entertainment. Keergnok, on the other hand, simply uses them to survive and perhaps, when the time is right, to make his move to escape.

Next: Cast of Heroes, Part 2

Friday, September 10, 2010

Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Sun Rising...

The blood-red sun climbs into the sky over the land of Athas, a bleak, harsh, and vicious world where sorcerer-kings rule godlike over cities teeming with slaves, corrupt nobles, dangerous city watches and throngs of commoners trying to eke out a living and add a few days to their short, brutish lives.
Like all of the cities on Athas, Raam is ruled by a narcissistic sorcerer-king whose goal is the oppression of those under them. In Raam it is Abalach-Re, a wicked and pleasure-seeking sorceress whose apparent disinterest in the masses beneath her make her city-state teem with corruption, bloodshed, brutality, thievery, competition, and all sorts of violence. Rumors on the wind that the city of Tyr has overthrown its sorcerer-king and is now a city of free peoples (for the most part) have troubled Abalach-Re and she closely watches her citizens so that none dare to seek freedom from her rule while all the while hiding from them, fearful of what they would do to her to end her rule.

Raam, like every city on Athas boasts an arena for the entertainment and pacification of its citizens. Raam's arena is where the Grand Vizier (for so Abalach-Re styles herself) can watch slaves fight for her pleasure and give the crowds some semblance of her power. The arena is a natural one, bounded on side by a hill dotted with viewing balconies. Most of Raam's rabble sits at the other end, adjacent to the Maw, a gaping chasm. They sit there, blocking the path of anyone who would try to interfere with the games...or try to flee them.

Those who fight in the arena are slaves, many born and bred in captivity for the sole purpose of living their lives and dying as the entertainment for Raam's people and the amusement of their queen. Many of the slaves are captured and bought by the arena to provide a variety of challenges, battles, and shows for the sated crowds. Outside the arena, in dilapidated permanently makeshift barracks, the Grand Vizier's faithful minions guard the array of lesser slaves destined to die fighting in the arena. On occasion, a slave might last a long time and perhaps even have a chance at freedom, bought with their fame and glory. Others have tried to escape the misery of these death games but the creatures that Abalach-Re has in her employ are quite effective at ending the attempts of such would-be runners, often to the sickening delight of the arena's crowds.

It is into this milieu of brutal servitutde that our heroes have been thrown. Of varying backgrounds and races, powers and professions, they have all, one way or another, been taken and enslaved, given over to make their life as arena fighters and to survive for as long as they can. This is the world of the Dark Sun, the world of Athas, the city of Raam. Though not chained physically, these poor souls have lost family and friends, have had their lives taken from them, and now live for nothing but surviving the next arena spectacle of which they are made a part. Slaves doomed to die as the entertainment of the restless masses, they are bound by the Manacles of Despair.

Next: Our Heroes Introduced.

Game Notes
Dark Sun is the new campaign setting for Dungeons & Dragons. It is set in the world described above, a harsh and brutal one in which the need for heroes and the opportunities to become such abound. This is a campaign that will take place at the Marion Library on Tuesday afternoons as part of our regular Tuesday Game Day. (Done in part because my daughters have band and dance in Marion but also this batch of kids is made up of their friends).

Not all of the regular players are able to make it each week. Sometimes, additional kids want to join in the gaming. The goal of the campaign initially is to start everyone as slaves fighting in the arena which enables me, as the Dungeon Master, to run stories and encounters with whomever happens to be available on a given day. Hopefully this will solve the problem of irregular attendees and give anyone a chance to be a part of the story when they are around.

To immerse the players in the story of their slavery, I myself have created their characters and background stories, not giving them a choice. Perhaps they will play a character they might have chosen to create themselves, maybe not. In forcing these characters upon the players, I hope, in some role-playing way, to give them a sense of their lack of control which will be evident in their characters' lives as slaves. Will they eventually find freedom and greater rewards and adventures? We'll find out!

Dungeons and Dragons(TM) image by Wizards of the Coast(TM).