Friday, September 10, 2010

The Road to Athas: A New GM's Journey

I have long been a fan of the Dark Sun campaign setting. From the first mention of it in Dragon Magazine way back in 1991 I was hooked. The desolate landscape, the harsh environments, the brutal combats, the rampant psionics, and the way all the races and creatures were twisted appealed to me. It was a new fantasy world, but not a typical one. Though I collected and read nearly everything released for it over the next five years or so, I got precious little time to play it. Then for various reasons I was away from the hobby for a long period of time, returning as a player about a year before 4E came out. Being a player is fun, but I'd like to GM as well. I tried a short stint as a GM for a 3.X game (and a Star Wars Saga Edition game), but realized that I couldn't sustain it while still in school on top of work and family.

Dark Sun Logo
Well, school's almost done, and Wizards of the Coast recently released Dark Sun as a full 4E campaign setting. I'm currently playing in a great Forgotten Realms 4E game, but sooner or later it'll end or we'll take a break from it. We're at 15th level and our GM plans to bring us all the way to 30th; we'll either take a break at 20, or play straight through depending on the GM's decision. It is at that time I'll step up and start my first real campaign, set on the harsh desert world of Athas.

I blogged about this once before, back in February, when I thought that my first full-blown campaign would be Star Wars Saga Edition. However, players in my current group were resistant to the idea, preferring to stay with 4E even though the SWSE rules are very similar. With Dark Sun 4E out, it didn't take much talk to convince me to go that route first. I've still got all the books, and I'm sure that someday down the road I'll run that as well.

Though it may be months away, I've already started preparing. Unlike last winter, when I thought I had found a balance that allowed me to start prepping for a SWSE game, I now actually do have a few minutes here and there to read and jot down thoughts.

No, I'm not going to meticulously plan out every single encounter from 1st to 30th level in high detail, that way only leads to madness when the party decides to run in a completely different direction after the first encounter. No, instead I'm starting with re-reading all the original source material (oh, and the GM's Handbooks 1 & 2, haven't read those yet) to get myself re-immersed in the setting, while thinking about how to bring that feel to the new 4E version of the setting. I'll be mining them for encounter and story ideas, NPC's and plot devices, as well as descriptions and themes.

Between now and whenever I start the campaign, I'll try to run some 1-offs and other short adventures to start building up my skills. I'll also try my hand at converting old encounters/adventures from 2E to 4E, and building my own. And I plan to chronicle my thoughts and insights right here, as part of my reviving of the Dragon's Musing. With school out of the way soon I'll have more time to focus on my hobbies and passions, which will include writing software to aid me in my GMing (more on that can be found at the Dragon's Cocoa blog).

Practically all of the ideas I had last winter I still have now, plus a whole lot more. I'll still need to balance with my programming, as I'm hoping that will bring in some (much needed) income, but the programs I'll be writing will need to be tested, and what better way to do initial testing then to use them myself?

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