Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Little Knowledge

Continuing the adventures of my Dark Sun campaign, our group has successfully concluded what I refer to as "Chapter One", a conversion of the original flipbook adventure "A Little Knowledge". As an introduction to Athas, I think it went very well. As the basis of a campaign length story, it fell flat. But that later part is entirely my fault as the adventures was meant to stand alone, and I had not yet decided where I wanted to go next with the story.

First an overview of how the game went. For this second session, we added a player in who couldn't make the first session. I'm blessed with players who have far greater imaginations then my own, and they did not disappoint in coming up with a great story for how to add the character into the group. It was decided that this character had escaped from the same slave caravan as the party, had wandered for days before picking up their trail, and had been following them for some time. The character then snuck into camp to steal supplies, found out there weren't any supplies to steal, and decided to try joining the group instead. This all came together in a very Athasian manner, with plenty of distrust amongst the characters (but not the players, this is an important point).

The first comabt of the session was very interesting, as it saw not one, not two, but three uses of the brutal weapon breakage rules in the first round of combat. A total of five weapons were broken due to natural 1's being rolled, two by the same character. We also were presented with the question: when one is reduced to bare hands and rolls a 1, do their hands break? Half the table wanted to go with 'yes', the other half looked like they'd get up and walk away if we went that extreme. My feelings on the matter are that there comes a pont when too dark becomes too little fun, even in Dark Sun. After all, these are first level characters in a fourth level encounter with no armor, things are already looking bad.

We only had two combat encounters for the session, though I had prepared a few more. The rest was role-play and skill encounters. I had two goals for the night: to wrap up the chapter, and to determine how they would start the next one. Would they start it free, or enslaved once again? Thus it was not very important to me that they follow the hooks which were presented, nor (with the benefit of hindsight) was it much of a suprise when they didn't. This I will have to note for the future. But it turned out for the best as I was able to wrap up the chapter right on time without things feeling too rushed (or so I think). For those keeping score, the crafty PC's managed to evade the shakles.

So how did I pull this off? The flipbook adventures break things down to one or two page encounters. A Little Knowledge has 24 such encounters. I went through each one and did my best to convert them from 2E to 4E. As I do not have DDI, I relied heavily on Sly Flourish's DM Cheat Sheet, as well as reskining. The Wezer (a wasp-like five foot tall insect) and the Kluzd (a Meso-American looking snake) were the two creatures I stated up on my own using these tools, while the Silk Wyrm is one that I toned down from the Dark Sun Creature Catalog.

Being that Dark Sun is a challenging world, I purposefully aimed towards making most the encounters 3rd or 4th level. But once I got to the table I second guessed myself and softend some of the encounters up a little (though not much--I blame the total lack of PC deaths on this). I also kept a copy of Marauders of the Dune Sea and Bloodsand Arena handy to pull out filler encounters, which I ended up using two or three times.

Next up is "Chapter Two: Freedom?" I've advanced the story to about a year later and bumped the PC's up to level 5, which was met with great enthusiasm. I believe I know what story I want to tell for this chapter, I just need to figure out how I'm going to chop it into two 6- or 7-hour blocks. I want to put together a dozen or so encounters which support the story, yet are not necessarily A to B to C, creating a sort of Choose Your Own Adventure style. That being said, there are certain encounters which need to be had in order to actually tell the story.

A combination of limited time to prepare, and just my natural inclination, shows me that I lean towards the "winging it" style of DMing; but two sessions at the table make it clear to me that I have a lot to learn before I can successfully pull such a thing off. Currently my biggest challenge is characterization, which will be really important in the next chapter of this campaign. I find I'm really liking this chapter-based approach, and hope to further fine-tune it so when I start my homebrew it flows more naturally.


  1. I'f found that 2-3 levels above the party is the max encounter I'll throw at them, since they don't have too many magical items.

    What story element did you use to jump them levels? Did you just say,a year passes gain X levels?

    Which version of Weapon Breakage did you use? I tried using the Reckless Breakage, where the player has the choice, but no one at my table took that option. ALways choosing to miss instead. I think I'm going to switch to Fumbling Breakage when I restart my campaign in a couple of weeks.

    Thanks for posting this...between this and Jeff's posts about your game it's giving me some good material to think about for my game!

  2. I declared at the end of the session that one year will have passed and they'll be level 5 at next session. We're taking the time between sessions to come up w/stories for each the PC's for that time.

    For weapon breakage, we're using Fumbling Breakage as the norm, with Reckless Breakage as a feat which any class can take (but thus far none of the players has taken it).