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.

Gamma World, GSL, Cease & Desist Letters, oh my!

Not that kind of atomic.

Fire From the Sky & Gamma World GSL Issues

Many of us were overjoyed to discover that Gamma World was covered by the GSL but there’s been some confusion since then, especially since the withdrawl of the Fire From the Sky adventure for the game, produced under the GSL by DarkLight Interactive.

Getting straight answers out of Wizards of the Coast customer service is like finding hen’s teeth, then forcibly removing those teeth from the hen, which turns out to be a giant, killer chicken with lots of friends, while from the sidelines someone shouts at you that you shouldn’t be attacking the hen at all, but rather contacting the legal departent. So, having slain the hen you quest forth seeking The Legal Department only to discover that they live in a cave up an unclimbable mountain, only speak an ancient dialect (Haad’Copi) and even then don’t deign to speak to most people anyway.

In short, getting any contact or clarity from these people OTHER than a C&D order from Hasbro’s attack lawyers is an exercise in excrutiating masochism and, personally, as a regular GM I’m much more of a sadist.

Still, I’m passing familiar with these legalese nonsense and I managed to get a hold of a copy of FFtS, I also have my handy copies of all the Gamma World books and the GSL to hand and so, I think, I can discern what went wrong and how people might go about producing saleable Gamma World material in the future.

Where God Went Wrong

The first thing that leaps out and nobbles you the moment you look at FFtS is that it openly advertises itself as a Gamma World product and announces its compatibility, complete with a self-designed compatibility logo. You can’t do this, yet. The GSL has no references to Gamma World and only references D&D. While it talks about ‘forthcoming’ GSL information for SF/Modern materials I think we can probably all safely bet since the layoffs and the reluctance to have the GSL and modify it beforehand that we ain’t going to see this in a while, if at all.

Without explicit permission you cannot and should not advertise your product as compatible with Gamma World in much the same way as you cannot advertise your product as being compatible with Dark Sun, Eberron or Forgotten Realms. You can only advertise your product as being compatible with D&D. Even though Gamma World is more of a separate game than a setting per se this makes no odds as far as this problem is concerned.

Some More of God’s Greatest Mistakes

Trade Dress: A clear attempt has been made to make FFtS look like the official GW material. This is laudable n’all but companies tend to be pretty protective about this. While it’s (probably) fine for the powers, attacks and monster stat blocks, not so much for the main body text. Best to play it safe.

Monsters/Powers Etc: Not a mistake here, but something to be wary of. You can’t reproduce the monsters in the Gamma World books AT ALL. You can’t use the base stats and fiddle them a bit to create a ‘deadly nightshade vegepygmy’ though you could create a ‘deadly nightshade plant-midget’. Equally you can’t reproduce power/attack text or damage or anything else direct from the book, like hazards.

Omega Tech/Alpha Mutations: Nope, can’t mention these or make up your own. You can of course create your own NAMED loot and maybe ‘evolutions’ but you can’t redefine or work it into the existing system. You’ll have to leave people to do that themselves maybe with vague suggestions like ‘There might be a couple of high tech devices in this bunker for the characters to loot’ or ‘the reality flux in this area may cause random genetic and other changes in a character from turn to turn’.

Healing Rules: Specific mention/reference to Gamma World healing rules. Can’t do that. You could refer to D&D healing rules, but not to the GW healing rules. You can only refer to the books covered in the GSL.

Who is this God Person Anyway?

OK, so, what CAN and CAN’T you do for Gamma World under the GSL?

Adventures: Monsters and encounters appear to be no problem, just watch your terminology. There’s nothing that says you have to use a standard monster template in your material, so as far as baddies go you should be golden.

Rules: You can only mention rules that are in the main 4e D&D books and covered by the existing GSL. You can’t refer to the GW peculiarities, you can’t redefine terms but you CAN expand them or add new ones.

Mutations: So you can’t create new Alpha Mutations, but you could produce ‘Evolutions’ as a mutation mechanic to bolt onto 4e D&D that works in somewhat the same way, maybe a table instead of cards, maybe permanent instead of temporary mutations.

Omega Tech: You can’t produce Omega Tech cards or a field guide, but you could produce books or tables of ‘high tech weapons’ that work much the same way, though, again, you can’t use specific GW terminology that doesn’t appear in the GSL.

Cards: So you can’t have items with ‘expended’ and ‘salvaged’ rules specifically. With mutations you can’t have ‘overcharged’ and you can’t talk about tap, refresh and other card handling.

Character Origins: Nope. Can’t do these. Too many non GSL terms and references. It’s just not going to work. Nothing to stop you putting them out as fan material, but that’s a different samovar of piscines altogether.

PreGens: Nope. If you want to include pregenerated characters with your adventures you’re shit out of luck. You could always put them out for free as ‘fan material’ as with origins, but that’s inconvenient really.

Weapons & Equipment: Gamma World is pretty vague, so long as you don’t use the same names you should have no problem here coming up with your own stuff.

Cryptic Alliances: You can’t call them that or make cards, but you can come up with secretive groups all you like.

Vocations: Nope, these aren’t allowed. They’re not covered in the GSL. You could create some things that are analagous to them in some way, but again you’d have to be careful.

Feats: You could make up Feats all you wanted, but since they can only – normally – be gained via vocations in Gamma World you’d need to work out some other rationale and why someone might want to take them in place of their vocational one, while still not mentioning vocations.

Don’t Panic

None of this constitutes legal advice, it just represents what I’ve been able to discern are the probable issues with FFtS and the likely reasoning behind the C&D order. I have taken a rather conservative and paranoid outlook on what may and may not be allowed for material produced for Gamma World and your mileage may vary, as may your tolerance for risk. If you’ve NOT signed up to the GSL and want to produce Gamma World material you’re probably better off confirming to normal copyright and compatibility legalities, but I’m not going to get into those here. Look it up for D&D on Google and you should find some articles explaining it nicely.

Ultimately the only way we’re going to know exactly what’s going on is as and when Wizards legal offer some sort of explanation or cure opportunity to DarkLight Interactive.

I do not consider Brainclouds to be a ‘n00b’ or to have done much wrong in this instance. It’s a messy area and Wizards are providing conflicting messages on the issues that have been raised. If anything we’ve been done a favour by having this pushed out into the open. Since the dropping of the OGL and the confusion around the GSL the whole issue has been a mess for 3PP which is a large part of the reason you haven’t seen a great deal of 4e support and why so many more 3PP have embraced Pathfinder (feeding its success).

Hell, just the sheer amount of acronyms used above should be a warning to anyone.

Hopefully this helps some people get their head around the issues and, if in doubt, crosscheck with the existing GSL.

6-Pack Adventures: Black Rock Bandits (4e) RELEASED!

One of our 6-Pack Adventures, pick-up-and-play adventures designed to fill 2-4 hours of play and containing everything you need.

  • Battle Map
  • Tokens
  • Pre-generated characters
  • For longevity you can use the tokens and the map for anything else you care to do and the adventures should be fairly easily adaptable to fit into your existing campaign if you want.

In Black Rock Bandits ties of family and friendship lead a party of concerned villages to the malign Black Rock in hopes of ending a scourge of banditry and getting to the bottom of what has happened to someone they care about.

Buy it HERE
Or in HARDCOPY here.

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.

4th Edition Surprise

I have been massively surprised by the success of our 4th Edition product Sickness in Springdale by the incomparable Tracy Hurley. My earlier 4e product Living Constructs didn’t do remotely as well and the comparison between the two and what I’ve seen elsewhere in the, frankly small and unsuccessful third party 4e market suggests to me that it’s a very different market and target audience to 3.5/Pathfinder. This is surprising, because you would think it would be the same people, the same audience essentially and that they would want the same thing.

The GSL is, clearly, bollocks. It’s far too restrictive and guts the capability of third party publishers to produce broader product or riff off the 4e system. On the other hand it apparently applies to all D&D4e derived games, so we’re free to do stuff for Gamma World as well, something I fully intend to do. DDI, along with the relative tightness of control over 4e means that creating things like new character classes, feats, powers etc is pretty much a lost cause, something that was the meat and potatoes of 3.x 3PP.

When it comes to 4e product is seems cheap and simple is the way to go if you want to produce anything with any crunch. That pretty much limits you to monsters and adventures. If you’re after fluff you could create game worlds but there’s little point producing a lot of crunch to go with it. However, if you do something cheap, accessible and useful, it seems that you’re OK, even do pretty well.

Certainly it’s changed my mind about doing a little more with 4e, more 6-Pack adventures, some monster guides and some shiny things for Gamma World – though possibly not face-raping mecha gibbons due to the rules about adult content…

Gamma World: Face-Raping Mecha Gibbons

From a flippant comment by Ian Belcher
Doctor Kama’Lu’s island exists across multiple dimensions and, wherever he finds himself, he unleashes his ape-based creations from Ro-Daddio to, unfortunately, the Face-Raping Mecha Gibbons or FRMG’s. Cobbled together from decommissioned sex-bots these tree-swinging sentinels were originally designed for rapid movement and patrol of the jungles of Doctor Kama’Lu’s jungle home but, unfortunately, their old instincts still hold true, humiliatingly enough for their victims.

Face-Raping Mecha Gibbon Level 5 Skirmisher
Small Arborial Animate (robot) XP 200
HP 64, Bloodied 32
Initiative +7
Perception +8 (Darkvision)
AC 21, Fortitude 17, Reflex 18, Will 16
Speed 3, Swing 12 (Trees, skeletal buildings or other frameworks allow the mecha gibbon to move at speed)
Immune: Poison; Resist: 10 electricity, Radiation
Standard Actions
Swing-By Smack (Physical) – At Will
Hurtling past on one arm the mechanical ape extends one massive metallic fist and smashes into you on its way past.
Attack: Melee 1 (one creature) +8 vs. AC.
Hit: 2d6+7 physical damage during a swinging move, using both move and standard actions, the attack may not take place on the first or last square of movement. AC is reduced by -2 until the mecha gibbon’s next turn.
Ape-Arm Beatdown (Physical) – At Will
With a hooting cry the mecha gibbon descends at speed, smashing down with both of its big metal fists.
Attack Melee 1 (one creature) +8 vs AC
Hit: 1d8+7 physical damage.
Triggered Actions
Face-Rape – At Will
The damage it has taken has booted up some of its… old programming. A vibrating proboscis appears from the mecha-gibbon’s crotch plate and looms large in your view as it swings towards you with a lustful gleam in its glowing red eyes.
Trigger: When bloodied the mecha gibbon gains access to this attack.
Attack: Melee 1 (one creature) +6 vs Fortitude, +2 bonus to further attacks of the same kind following the first successful attack.
Hit: 1d6+6 damage and target is Restrained.
STR 20 +7 Dex 16+5 Wis 12 (+3)
Con 16 (+5) Int 6 (+0) Cha 7 (+0)

Horrifyingly, there are robot gibbons.

6-Pack Adventures: Sickness in Springdale[4e] RELEASED!

The third in a series of 6-Pack Adventures, pick-up-and-play adventures designed to fill 2-4 hours of play and containing everything you need.

  • Battle Map
  • Tokens
  • Pre-generated characters

For longevity you can use the tokens and the map for anything else you care to do and the adventures should be fairly easily adaptable to fit into your existing campaign if you want.

In Sickness in Springdale, the characters attempt to save their town from a deadly illness by finding a cure. To do so, they need to travel through the Lady’s Woods where they will meet a series of challenges to gain her favor.

During the course of their travels, they find that their town is not the only one with the disease and there’s competition for the cure…

For use with 4e.

You can buy it HERE and at all the other regular PDF outlets soon.
You can buy it in hardcopy – which I recommend – and many of our other books HERE

Please also check the following post as we’re trying to put together a bundle to help Japan.

Lupus Phallus – The Misunderstood Canid

Not safe for human consumption