Playing Dark Sun

So we finally started our Dark Sun game this last weekend and the first half went really well. I started us out with the characters being gladiators, slaves sold to fight in the arena in Draj before the Sorcerer King. Between the set-piece dramatic fights there was some good RP and in-house intrigue an in the end they managed to both embarrass the Jasuan Knights in the arena and to escape the city to a life of freedom in the wilderness.

This part of the adventure worked really well but the second half, derived from Marauders of the Dune Sea didn’t work at all. The adventure as written fell flat and while I did a lot of work to make it fit into my overall plan it just didn’t work. Dungeons as a string of fights just don’t see to go well in 4e for some reason, even though they worked fine in previous editions and even though that seems to be how many of the adventures are set up.

So that’s something to avoid in future adventures and something I’m doubly, triply, happy we’ve avoided in many of the adventures that Postmortem has produced. Less big fights – and boss fights – interspersed with intrigue, puzzle-solving etc. Less is most definitely more.
I haven’t gotten to try all my modifications to the rules  yet but of those mentioned in previous articles:
Off the Grid: is a massive success and works far better than anticipated. It makes manoeuvre characters and leader  characters much more useful in combat and allows for dramatic and effective teamwork. I can see some problems coming up on a team basis due to the size of the group and the size of enemy groups but I’ll deal with that when I come to it. The potential problem being powers that give whole teams shifts/slides etc.
Karma: hasn’t come up yet and while it’s a good way to formalise RP rewards it may not be necessary, at least for our group.
Crafting: rules are only just coming up and seem to work OK. I definitely prefer the idea and the depth to the existing rules.

4e/Dark Sun – Karma

Experience points, encounters, levels, there’s a lot of ‘lego mathematics’ in 4e. You plug in such and such encounter and that entails such and such reward and such and such experience points. If you stick to that in planning the long-game then you’re either limited in how far ahead you can plan or how much latitude you can give your players. Given that it’s also a game of heavy prep (though less than previous incarnations of D&D perhaps) this has knock on problems that can encourage railroading.

There’s various routes you can take to be more fast and loose with the XP/Level/Reward system, you can wing it, award XP per session, level at intervals, but – frankly – bean counting is, I think, a massive part of the reward cycle in D&D type games. Gaining a level should be earned and should be felt to be earned. That said, some of the things I want to emulate are CRPGs which means I want to include ‘side quests’ and ‘character quests’. Things that are beyond and outside the main plotline. I also want the players to be able to wander off the beaten track in a semi-sandbox fashion.

My solution?

The main plotline will be what earns the guys their experience points but for things that go ‘off the rails’ they’ll earn ‘Karma points’, these will be earned as if they were XP but will be tradable – at a rate I haven’t yet decided – for access to benefits, contacts, making items that aren’t normally available, available, personal plot stuff and so forth.

That’ll also allow us to extend sessions at a particular level of play without me having to do a ton of extra prep work. I can re-use beasties and bandits more often and get more use out of the same work while still allowing the players to get their reward kicks.


4e/Dark Sun/Skills and Forging

Crafting & Skills in 4e
You may or may not think there’s a problem with these aspects of 4e but my player group for my forthcoming Dark Sun game think that there is a problem with it. They like greater character customisation and they like to be able to ‘make things’ so I’ve decided that, at least for my game, we’re going to have a little tinker around.

We’ve got a lot less skills in 4e and they’re much broader. They also only give a flat 5 bonus (though level comes into it now). This doesn’t allow for a lot of expression of degree of skill or for much investment in the background of your character, representing it through the odd point here and there.

I think we’re going to go for:

Each skill pick (4e) is equal to 5 skill points (Grim’s Game) and you can spend these amongst your class skills or on non class skills at 2/1. The maximum level you can take any skill at is +10.

EG: Ross is playing a Thri-Keen Ranger. Rangers get 5 trained skills at 1st level (4e) so get 25 points now (GG).
Ross spends his points on: Nature +7, Acrobatics +6, Athletics +5, Endurance +2, Perception +2, Stealth +3

Taking Skill Training Feats etc, gives you another 5 points.

Normal items can be made using the normal skills. These would typically be Knowledge skills, Arcana, Nature. Introducing Crafting skills proper would spread the skill points a bit thin but there’s a model from Adventurer’s Vault that serves. Alchemy.

Alchemy uses up a Feat slot but allows non-magical characters to create items that are essentially magical by incorporating arcane ingredients. Alchemical formulae aren’t really any particular match for enchanted items but they can be powerful.

Essentially the difference is that the ‘rituals’ are more expensive and the recipes are limited in a way that the Enchant Item ritual is not.

We don’t need to balance with the Enchant Item ritual but we do need to fall between that and Alchemy in terms of cost and inconvenience.

Crafting Feats:
Craft Light Armour
Craft Heavy Armour
Craft Weapons
Craft Bows
Craft Arcane (Symbols, Orbs, Rods, Staffs, Wands, wondrous items, Potions)
Craft Jeweller (Bracers, bands, necklaces, rings)

Crafting Rituals:
Master Craft: 1 – 100 GP – Can create Masterwork – but nonmagical – items such as feyleather armour.

Scavenge: 2 – 200 GP – Can scavenge arcane ingredients from dead magical enemies by making an appropriate roll. Value of arcane ingredients collected is expressed as residuum, the roll total multiplied by the creature’s level providing the total.
EG: Tlaloc has killed a young copper dragon and cuts out its jewelled eyes for use in his creations. He rolls his nature + half level + Wisdom bonus and gets 16 total. The level of the dragon is 6 making for a grand total of 96 GP of residuum.

Disenchant: 3 – 300 GP – Can destroy an existing magical item for its residuum at 1/5th of the item’s value.

Reforge: 4 – 400 GP – Can reforge an existing magical item adding to its abilities – up to your level – or replacing its abilities from those that you have. This costs 75% of the cost if you were crafting the item from scratch.

Learn 5 – 500 GP – By destroying a magical item the character can learn the recipe for ONE of its enhancements.

Characters start with 1 level 1 crafting ritual and gain one of their level (or several of lower level) each time that they advance. They may only buy rituals within their level – provided that they’re available.

Crafting rituals relate to level and cost level x100. The actual enchantments cost half as much but MUST be paid in residuum. Some items will have other material requirements, obvious in their description.

Level 1 Craft Armour rituals
Magic +1 – Confers a +1 magical bonus upon the weapon – 100 GP
Dwarven – Confers a bonus equal to the magical enhancement of the armour to Endurance checks and Daily +1 Healing surge. – 100 GP.
Razor – 1d10+Dex modifier damage when an enemy scores a melee critical on you – 100 GP.

(NB – Dwarven armour is normally a level 2 magical item, but once you remove the +1 bonus, it’s left at level 1. Without a magical bonus there’s no bonus to Endurance checks, JUST the healing surge. You’ll have to play it by ear otherwise. Similarly Razor Armour is normally level 2 but without the +1 bonus…_)

This means that Crafted items are more limited, but cheaper, though their ingredients – Residuum – can be harder to find. It also means that normal, non-magical crafters, have more to put in and especially on Athas this is going to be useful.

4E: Off the Grid

This is a problem I’ve poked at before, how to play 4E ‘off’ the battle map. I’ve sort of given in on our 6-Pack release – and upcoming releases – for 4E adventures but when it comes to my own games there’s simply not going to be any way I can use a board.

Where I play we don’t have a table and with six or so players getting up and down, ordering takeout etc, any map would get stopped, spilled, burned or mangled in some way in short order. Even if not that, it’d get knocked and you’d lose track.

We’ve never really used a board in our gaming. I think I used a board when I first started playing MERP (the hex maps from the box were pretty useful in all sorts of different circumstances). We’ve always tended to rely on our imaginations. I’ve done some bodge-job fixes in the past but with a Dark Sun game coming up in the near to mid future it’s necessary to re-address the problem. Maps and position being so bloody, annoyingly, important in 4E.

This is basically the same solution that I have come up with before, but a little extended and formalised.

Multiply by 5ft and use that as a vague gauge and you’re golden.

Short of outright running away, movement doesn’t make that much of a huge difference in boardless combat. In the tactical game it provides significant advantage by opening enemies up to flanking attacks or moving them into danger. In place of this slide/push points will go into a tactical ‘pool’ that can be tapped into by anyone on your side, allowing you to set things up for others in your team.

Each space of Push/Pull/Slide is translated into a +1 bonus that can be applied to combat skill checks, to hit rolls, armour class/saves during combat and to damage, all representing the combat advantages to be gained from controlling the field of battle. What you earn is taken away from the enemy pool until it’s gone and then added to your own pool. This also allows groups of characters some compensation against singular big-bad enemies who will be more powerful, but less manoeuverable, allowing the characters to build up tactical advantage and then press home for the killing blow. This is similar to a system I am working on for a couple of my upcoming games that are based around group tactics.

EG: The group is engaged with a dragon, unable to take it on directly they spend several turns working on manoeuvring it into position and getting their fighter into position to attack. When he does so he can spend their accumulated bonuses in a devastating blow, representing the accumulation of their tactical advantage.