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Posts Tagged ‘Dark Sun’

A Dog’s Breakfast

Do you remember that little experiment I was planning? You know the one where I was going to thrust the socially reticent player into the collaborative story-telling spotlight. How did it turn out your wondering? Hmm I guess about as well as having some kind of rectal exam. Overall, it was one of the more garbled, incoherent, garbage sessions I have ever run.

As I dissect the session in my head several factors come into play that contributed to this massive steaming pile of a session. The scene began with the players climbing out of the Tarek pit of pleasure after killing the pack of rabid –insert name for a Dark Sun lizard type creature- and earning the right to walk amongst the Tareks without being killed on sight. I gave a brief history of the Tareks transmitted through song by the head shaman during a campfire on the eve of the “Great Hunt”, a kind of Tarek bar mitzvah where they send the young out into the desert to slay a great beast and claim their place as an adult in the society. The song told of the great Tarekian empire during the green times and how society was split into three castes (warrior, shaman, and tinkerer/engineer). Much knowledge was lost as the empire was shattered during the brown times and Ranjaat’s racial cleansing war.

The newly reformed “empire” consists of several of the elder houses and the conclave of shamans. The major player’s involved were the Emperor, head Shaman, Tar Ugu (a former pc), and the Tarek player’s hidden brother. Each major npc had some motivations and possible moves. In terms of the emperor I went with the Son of Mogh story line from STNG where he had falsely accused the Tarek player’s father of selling the newly reborn empire out to the sorcerer king Kalak, thereby seizing control of the empire and having the player’s father executed and house stricken from the stories.

So what went wrong? Well overall my mood was a little off as I had just gotten word that I would not be accepted into medical school for the fall. I was a little bummed and it kind of took some wind out of my sails. Now in the grand scheme of life this is not a major disappointment. I already have a doctorate in clinical psychology and a full time job plus a part-time private practice, so it’s not like I am in my mid-twenties and trying to figure out what to do with my life or stuck in some dead end job that I loathe. I also only applied to one school so I new the odds were slim. None the less I was a little bummed with a sense of loss at missing out on a new challenge. So blabity blah blah basically I was a little flat.

I also think I didn’t frame the scene as well as I could have in terms of layout and positioning of the NPC’s and Tarek faithful. This made the exploration at the beginning of the night a little awkward as things became jumbled with people going off and talking to different factions. It also made coming up with a plan or strategy on how to deal with any potential threats or desired shenanigans more difficult and less clear. Sometimes I forget how dependent we have become on maps and tokens in 4th edition, particularly when playing online, to set the scene adequately compared to the olden days. I can get a little lazy and forget to put tokens out to help frame the scene. Often this is because I haven’t planned anything out, partly due to said laziness and partly due to a desire to be reactive to player choice.

Now in terms of the socially reticent player who I thrust into the narrative limelight, he reads this blog and was game for it but….perhaps it was a bridge to far and we need more baby steps and supportive coaching. In improv terms he kept blocking himself at every turn, it was literally like he was pulling a gun on himself while shouting no. In one instance he stated that he was going to intimidate the emperor and before I could say anything he stated that wouldn’t work because the emperor was un-inimitable. He also had some good ideas but they mostly came off as incoherent and not fully formed. He had established that he was going to use the inherent psionic link that Tareks have to do something but then abandoned what he had started (later I would learn that he wanted to see if a member of the tribe had any memories of the betrayal that would be helpful). He eventual just rushed up and slapped the emperor which then prompted a battle royal in the middle of the camp that essentially ended with him being dead..again (unconscious and the emperor threatening to coup de grace him if the others didn’t stand down). In talking with him after the game he explained his intent wasn’t to fight the emperor but it was more of a klingon challenge type thing. Which my response was “awesome but how would I know that unless you tell me”. I think I really needed to ask more questions to try and draw his ideas out, but like I said I was a little flat. I think this is important to remember when trying to impose collaborative story telling on less experienced players or those that it doesn’t come as naturally to.   

Overall, I also think I need to be more prepared in terms of potential skill challenges, even though I loathe them. At a minimum I need to think/be prepared for the use of skills to overcome challenges or adjudicate player driven hi-jinks on the fly. I feel like I have sort of hit the proverbial wall in terms of running the campaign and need to bear down and push through it. I figure I have 6 to 8 session left to wrap everything up for the end of the heroic tier and I need to end strong…or at least crawl through the finish line like one of those depleted nut jobs at the end of an Iron Man Triathlon.

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Cannon Fodder

I’ve had Tareks on my mind of late. No, it’s not what your thinking, nothing sexual or erotic I can assure you. I just happen to have one in my Dark Sun game and, well, I think it is time for him to sort of step into the spot light a bit. I wouldn’t necessarily say he has been a bump on the log but if you just happened to be sitting on a log and felt something uncomfortable it’s probably not your hemorrhoids. When we did a bit of Q&A as he introduced his latest character (his 2 previous ones have been KIA) he stated that he was an orphan who had been picked up by the Muto Tieflings as a child and had lived outside their cave for most of his life, never traveling outside the area and having no ties to anything.  I kind of chuckled at this and then ribbed him mercilessly at work about the non-background he created. Even when one of the other players tried to collaboratively build him into the fiction and emergent story of the game he steadfastly clung to his history.

This player tends to stick to the rear in social interactions and collaborative story telling scenes (in fairness he does have a bit of social anxiety and often worries he will make a mistake or do/say something foolish) but that is all about to change because I am going to drop him squarely into the centre of a shit storm. In the “business” we call that exposure with response prevention (although in fairness it is going to be and feel more like flooding).  I am going to start the next session with the party in a large pit surrounded by the Dark Sun equivalent of wolves and a mob of Tareks looking down, cheering, hurling feces, cursing, and betting. Then with some Q&A we’ll try and sort out how this all came to be.

*Warning* if you are some kind of Dark Sun cannon purist then this next part might make you feel like I dropped trou and bricked in your mouth. I am going to model the Tareks on Klingons from Star Trek The Next Generation. They are going to be a nomadic collection of clan/houses lead by an overall war leader. Perhaps in the green time they had a larger nation/empire but where almost extinguished during the racial cleansing of the brown times. One of their motivations might be to create another great Tarek empire. I have been researching some Klignon terminology so I can mix that into conversations.

With regards to my player (and the group) it should be interesting to see what they create. In my mind I have a couple of possible elements of fiction I can add such as the Warf story line from STNG where he is considered an outcast because his family was falsely branded traitors or if they survive the pit they might prove themselves worthy to be hunted ala  “The Most Dangerous Game”. Well whatever it turns out to be it should be interesting; I just hope it is not too traumatic for the Tarek PC 😉

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When it comes to genre blending in film, books, and rpg’s I tend to become very OCPD’sh in my need to have everything organized and separated out into their proper places; firm boundaries all around. It’s kind of the like the guy who can’t tolerate the different food groups touching or co-mingling on his plate, although in real life, I would bludgeon you to a bloody pulp Thunderdome styles for some chocolate smeared with peanut butter. I don’t know what to say, I just dislike guns in my fantasy worlds and vise versa swords in my sci-fi worlds (lightsabres being the obvious exception of course as I could accept and rationalize their presence in any and all genres. Hell I am playing a born again Jedi in my next D&D adventure). All of which makes it a little surprising that I have mixed in some superhero/comic book content into my Dark Sun game.

How this all took shape is actually an interesting example of collaborative story telling. The groups Thri-Kreen Warlord decided to sacrifice himself at the end of the last LIM. He hurled himself into a portal to the elemental chaos after defeating the BBEG (who was using it to summon his master from the 9 hells) before it closed. His reasoning being that he was taking the seed of life (recently acquired Thri-Kreen artifact and what he had established was the treasure hidden in an ancient vault) into the abyss where it would ignite and become the catalyst for a new Green Age on Athas. He then established that the area around the “muto” oasis began to grow lush with vegetation.

With Clikk Sandflea’s heroic sacrifice the player needed to create a new character for the game.  This is when he told me that he was going to make Green Lantern. I was like “..oh…okayyy, sounds interesting? (voice rising a few octaves at the end). He then described how the spark from the beginning of the new green age had awakened his character’s green wood ring (a family heirloom) and unlocked new and amazing powers along with a vision for the future. It sounded cool so I was interested in seeing where it would head. At the same time the player of “Nori”, the party’s female Mul Warden, established that his character had a connection to the next city the group was heading to. The player stated that Nori was a famous gladiator who ran afoul of a crooked templar for failing to throw a fight in the arena.

I took these bits of emergent fiction and decided to go balls deep into genre blending and embrace the comic book motif as I crafted the next location. I know it’s not as blatant as Gandalph shooting the Balrog in the face with a 12-gauge, but you know…baby steps. I decided to flesh out this crooked templar a bit. I modeled the city of Alturak on the series Deadwood and made the crooked templar the de facto ruler of the town. Then I was pondering about what to do with this new “Green Lantern” and I had an epiphany and thus “Sinestrago” and the Yellow Templar Corps was born, complete with yellow power rings.  I set to re-skinning and altering monsters to build the corps and narrated their powers as creating constructs. The guy playing Green Lantern upon hearing all of this decided to tie his background to Sinestrago by being a former student of his.

I think this highlights some of the benefits collaborative storytelling and how engaging it can be for the players to see the stuff they create come to life in the world. You can take a look at Sinestrago, he is essentially a re-skinned Beholder. I created a voice for him that is a cross between Foghorn Leghorn and Jesse Jackson; he is pretty amusing to play. I added a fear aura too him that will represent the Yellow Lantern Battery that is located somewhere in the town and drawing power from the populaces fear, even enhancing and creating it, and which the players might want to shut down before a final confrontation. Although that might be in a while as another player decided to have his character join the Yellow Templar Corps….did I mention he is the brother of the new Green Lantern 🙂

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This is a continuation of my previous post on LIM’s and will be outlining an example from my Dark Sun campaign utilizing that design. I apologize in advance for being “that guy” talking about his campaign, even though that is kind of what I do on this site, but this just seems way more out there on Front Street and with no dick jokes in sight. I also apologize for the roughness of the material as I mostly cut and pasted from my notes.

I centered the LIM on an oasis that backs into a natural outcropping of caves that is several days from civilization. One of the goals I had with this adventure was to give some spotlight time to the guys playing the Tiefling Psion and Thri-Kreen Warlord to allow for further character development; hence the title of the LIM “Muto Tiefling Beach Party” Quell is the psion that died a couple of sessions ago and who’s consciousness is currently subjugating an old, grizzled human gladiator. Clickk Sandflea is the party Warlord whose previous clutch was killed and has currently adopted the party as his new clutch mates.

Grimm Portents:

The party was traveling through the desert on the way to the city of Alturak. I had a trusted NPC that was traveling with them mysteriously fall ill followed by a not to distant conflict featuring powerful arcane magic. The opening scene was outside the oasis in the recent aftermath of a battle between the Mutated Tieflings and Thri-Kreen. There were scattered bodies of Thri-Kreen and mutated Tieflings riding Kanks (think Road Warrior). I started the action immediately with the players facing off against a pair of elementals summoned by one of the Thri-Kreen’s dying acts as they approached his body.

Factions:

Muto Tieflings

  • have been living in the caves for several generations, Dmongous arrived about 5 years ago and assumed leadership of the settlement.
  • within the last year or so members have started to become sick, or displaying mutations
  • group is tight lipped about worship, some are wary of Dmongous others are fanatically loyal
  • being hideously mutated by Dmongous through water and rituals (tainted by the abyss)

Dmongous, leader of Tieflings

  • well muscled wears a mask with horns protruding reddish hew to skin
  • arrogant, charming, charismatic
  • mutters to self at times like he is having a conversation with Someone
  • Worships Asmodeous

Tiefling Names: Sorrow, Abscess, Demonstrous, Muadeeb (abyssal for skin shifter aka Quell)

Motivations:

  • Release devil through ritual
  • Eliminate Thri-Kreen and gain entrance to Thri-Kreen tomb to get relic (could be used to open portal to abyss)
  • Expand cult
  • Sow destruction and anarchy

Moves:

  • attack party
  •  Try and get the pc’s to attack Thri-Kreen
  • Launch an attack at Thri-Kreen
  • Try and trick quell and others to attend sacrificial ceremony
  • Try and recruit Quell into cult
  • Try and kidnap/abduct Quell (could be used as sacrifice to open portal to abyss)

Thri-kreen:

The Torh-Kreen are a species of Thri-Kreen with bright red carapaces who tended to build and live in settlements. There are rumors of great civilizations north of the Tyr valley. The Torh-Kreen inhabited the caves at the oasis during the Green Time. These Kreen are descendants of the Torh-Kreen and have light reddish tinge to carapaces.
Pack leader has the key to tomb but unaware of its presence or function.

As Clickk approached the oasis I also had his character experience a psionic vision showing the Torh-Kreen living in the caves during the Green Time. I also gave another psionic vision when/if he entered the caves showing the Torh-Kreen placing some item in a tomb and sealing it followed by scenes of battle and use of defiling magic. I left it to the player to tell me what the vision meant and what the item could have been. Clickk felt that the item was probably something called a Seed of Life, an artifact from the distant past used for preserving and creating life.

Motivations:

  • Recover ancestral home
  • Cure leader who became sickened after meeting with Dmoungus
  • secure survival of the pack
  • struggle for dominance, hunter/prey mentaility

Moves

  • Attack players
  • Attack Tieflings in force
  •  Have land sharks attack players/trap
  • Change in leadership/coup, internal strife
  • Challenge players for clutch/pack membership

Thri-Kreen names: Krik Krik (pack leader), Chituk, Tic Tac

Thri-Kreen language:  Clutch of one, larva (insult meaning naïve), Send to the circle (kill someone)

I have been pleased with the LIMs results thus far. I have run 2 sessions and will probably eek out another 2 to 3 more from this location. I haven’t had to do much since the initial prep except to add some minor things based on emergent story elements. Next thing I have percolating, after chatting with one of my players, is making desert travel more of a lair assault type challenge, but will see.

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“Death is a natural part of life. Rejoice for those around you who transform into the Force. Mourn them do not. Miss them do not. Attachment leads to jealously. The shadow of greed, that is.” …Yoda

I wonder if my players would find any more comfort in this statement than Anakin did as three of their characters shed their “crude matter” in a recent session. I know what you’re thinking…awesome job right, teach those players whose boss. I am kidding…sort of as I do suffer from the occasional bout of bloodlust at times. The deaths came over two encounters, with 2 coming in the first major showdown of the campaign. The players decided to track down and exterminate with extreme prejudice Mr. Sultan Griss, their former slave master, who also happens to be a member of the Merchant House Shomm.

I tried something a little different with this encounter. It started off as a run of the mill bad guy encounter with various hurled insults and soliloquies, followed by bad guy’s underlings attacking. After about 2 rounds things got a little freaky as I had Sultan Griss use defiling magic, sucking the life force from his goons and killing them all, to summon a fire demon from the pits of the abyss and facilitating his escape. Now this was one tuff mofo. I again took a page from Frothsof 4E and his Savage (you can check it out below) concept and made the demon essentially a solo monster with elite defenses and hit points. I re-skinned a 3rd level white dragon from the monster vault and tweaked some of the powers to make them more fitting of a fire demon. I may have over-shot a bit as the demon tore into the party like a tsunami of whoop-ass leaving 3 players making death saves with 2 eventually succumbing to their wounds (well I did coupe de grace one character as the survivors dragged the others to safety).

There were a couple of things that I think led to this outcome. First, the demon was a brute and put out a lot of damage and did so quickly and when added to first 2 rounds of battle (my dice were smoking hot) with the henchman made for a bloodbath. In hindsight I should have had one round of combat, especially after the opening salvo by the henchmen did a ton of damage, and maybe toned down the damage of the Savage a bit. I also should have made it clearer earlier that the party could have used arcana/religion to damage the ritual that was binding the demon to this plane. Secondly, the main striker was absent from the game that night and the other spent multiple rounds unsuccessfully trying to revive the fallen characters with a non-existent heal skill (we actually envisoned him causing harm in his ineptness). This resulted in the fire demon taking no damage. The demon didn’t have a lot of hp to begin with and I think had things gone slightly different they could have pulled it out.

Death is not the end only the beginning….I think this is where the campaign really began to shine as I have adopted the attitude that if a character dies it is up to the player to decide if they are truly dead. It was pretty interesting to watch as the group engaged in some collaborative story telling to craft the next chapter of the characters lives (all decided to stick with the same pc’s). In true Dark Sun fashion the dwarf warden decided to comeback as an undead banshee for failing his life focus. Dead Kord, as we have begun calling him is now a revenant assassin who’s new focus is to kill Sultan Griss after which he will fade away into the ether (unless I manage to kill him again—edit-oops I did it again, he died again the next session–end edit). Next up was the Tiefling Psion Quell which we decided that the trauma of his dying awakened a hidden psionic potential that allows him to project his consciousness into other beings ala Wrath of Khan. He initially joined with Dead Kord but has recently subjugated Iman Fasile (human ex-gladiator).  These acts of collaborative story telling have really opened the campaign up to different pathways and possibilities allowing for an even greater investment in character development. I even stated up Iman Fasile with a monster stat block in case he is ever allowed to surface. I guess what was most pleasing is that death didn’t derail the game but enhanced it.

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I don’t think I am the best DM. Don’t get me wrong I think I run an enjoyable game that people seem to like but there are some limitations or gaps in my toolkit if you will. I have never been that guy that can create an immersive homebrew setting filled with a rich tapestry of culture, people, and Machiavellian plots. Given my extensive nerd studies, consisting of pouring over tomes and tomes of fantasy literature, I am really better at world pilfering than world building. My games are also not super serious, although I try and get a mix of the serious and humor. I think this is, in part, a reflection of how I shuffle through this world with a sardonic glint in my eye and a fondness for dick and fart jokes.

What I have done since I got back into RPG’s and running games has been to exercise some of these weaker DM muscles, sort of like nerd pumping iron. In my 4th edition games I am trying to be more flexible and encouraging of the players to narrate actions and do interesting things irregardless of the rule system. Often I don’t’ even ask for a skill check or roll and just try and get them to describe what happens. This also expands into story aspects as well, with more sand boxy elements and brief forays into collaborative story telling. With the latter it’s kind of funny how jarring it can be to the players if they are not used to it and can make for some unpredictable and hilarious moments like what led to the title of this post.

It’s the second session of the Dark Sun game and I needed to introduce a character that was absent from the first session. He is playing a Tarek (aka a Half-Orc) hiring himself out for jobs that target the Sorcerer Kings infrastructure. We decided to have him apprehended and sold into slavery after torturing and gutting a Templar for secret information desired by his veiled alliance employers.  So the party was able to spring Targ-Ugu and squire him back to Iman Fasile (ex-gladiator, tapas joint operator, and veiled alliance contact) with only minor bumps and bruises  🙂 then the moment of truth came, Iman, in his gravelly voice asks “so what was the message?”. At which point there was dead silence, followed by some humming and hawing, and then a voice chirped up over skype “Pork Swords”. I was like Pork Swords, really like WTF, but good old Iman didn’t miss a beat, he was all “holy shit that sounds terrible…this is bad news bears….this sounds petty bad, what do you think it means?…It sounds terrible, that’s gotta be some kind of code right?

Did I mention my fondness for dick and fart jokes? Well I guess you do reap what you sow sometimes. So now I gotta figure out how to work “Pork Swords” into some kind of grand Templar scheme…any ideas?

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Well the summer of Dark Sun has begun. The players have managed to free themselves from the Gladiatorial pits after a failed assassination attempt on the sorcerer king Andropenis..er I mean Andropinis. They are currently skulking their way around the under-belly of Balic while being hunted by their former slave master and trying to decide how to get the fuck out of dodge.

I started the game with a battle in the arena where the players were fighting as a team against a Black Dragon posing as a Silt Wyrm. I just wanted to give some props to the Black Dragon from the Monster Vault. At level+1 it was supremely efficient at eviscerating my gang. I managed to drop 3 of the 5 characters without breaking a sweat and needed to take my foot of the accelerator a little to not TPK in the first combat of the first session of the campaign.

The group, through the vagaries of online play, has found themselves without a leader. The current roster is filled with a defender, 2 strikers, and 2 controllers. Is it me or with that make-up are they not just asking for me to pound on them? I mean 2 controllers come on man. This puts me in an interesting spot as no one seems interested in playing a leader and I am not interesting on insisting someone play a leader and the players (at least one) want the game to be brutal in that prototypical Dark Sunny way. I was thinking of adding a 6th person but there is no guarantee they would want to play a leader either. So what are you going to do? It sort of makes encounter planning a little challenging as the game is balanced around the assumption of a leader.  

So we are going to do some experimenting and see if we can make this work without compromising the feel of the setting too much. What I mean by feeling is that in my view things in Dark Sun need to be extremely nasty, scary, and hit like a sac of doorknobs to the junk.  In the next session one of the NPC’s will dole out some magical fruit (Dark Sun equivalent of a healing potion) which the players can use with a minor action to spend a surge.  So it’s a little better than a regular healing potion but a little worse than healing power. If this turns out to be a viable option then they will just have to use a lot of their resources acquiring the healing fruit. I am still setting the encounter difficulty at level +2 and above and have reminded them that fleeing is also an option in combat….what was Khalid’s catch phrase “better part of valor”

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