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Courtesy of Capont…

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Found a playtester who was willing to blab a little bit about the new Dark Sun setting. I’ll post a bit of it below, but you can read the entire bit here, if you like.

Here’s his post in full:

When the news broke last year that the Dark Sun Campaign Setting would be finally brought back to life in 4th Edition, I thought it was a brilliant move. I remember many years ago cracking open the Dark Sun box set for the first time and flipping through the accompanying sample adventure — it literally flipped open from the top and was free standing so that on one side the players would see the accompanying art and on the other, the DM had the adventure notes. I was so enthralled with the new setting, I even skipped a few classes the next day to run some of my high school buddies through the starter adventure. (Shhh, don’t tell!) I loved the world of Athas, and so did my players, even if all of their characters died in the first few encounters.

Not surprisingly, when the opportunity came around to play in an ongoing Dark Sun campaign with one of the designers, Chris Sims, at the helm, I eagerly joined up. A few months later, I was offered a chance to be one of a small group of readers to review the initial draft of the new Dark Sun setting and provide feedback. Needless to say, I jumped at the opportunity.

So … My thoughts?

It’s every bit the gritty, downtrodden and dangerous world that I remember.
The harsh desert environs of Athas are dotted by city-states ruled by tyrannical sorcerer-kings. Slavery of entire populations is a reality of life. Freedom is a privilege enjoyed by very few, except in the single “shining” city of Tyr which was recently freed by an unlikely uprising of slaves and gladiators. Even in Tyr, life is hard and the ambitions of unscrupulous men keep Tyr’s freedom in constant peril.

As bad as things might be under the dictatorships of the sorcerer-kings, however, the badlands between the cities of Athas are even more dangerous. Deadly predators lurk in the sands, ready to waylay travelers at every turn. Above, the sun, perhaps the greatest enemy of them all, scorches the land relentlessly and rockets temperatures upwards of 150 degrees at its highest point.

This isn’t the land of shining castles and high fantasy all too common in just about every other D&D setting I have ever played.

It feels different.
Dark Sun has a very different feel than other Dungeons & Dragons settings. In Athas it is about survival against all odds and working against, or at least thriving under, the constant oppression of a world that would just as soon see you left a dry and lifeless husk — one less competitor vying for all too limited resources. Warriors adorn themselves in armor made of chitin and wield weapons carved from bone and stone. Even if it were practical to wear metal armor in the extreme heat of Athas, metal is scarce and highly coveted.

The one commodity that you’ll find here in abundance unlike other worlds is psionics. Almost every sentient inhabitant who lives beneath the crimson sun is gifted with psionic potential to varying degrees. For many, this maybe simply a “wild talent,” while others have far more extreme abilities. The coming Dark Sun Creature Catalogue has a slew of new creatures with psionic powers that will give encounters in Athas a distinct and exciting feel.

The world is rich with detail and story opportunities.
Prior to being selected as a reviewer for the Dark Sun Campaign Setting, I had never had the opportunity to see one of Wizards’ supplements while it was still in draft. Much of the layout of the book I received was already close to production quality actually, except that there were empty sections where the art would eventually be placed, and it hadn’t been through the editing process yet. Interestingly, I noticed that at the top of each of the background sections on Athas, there were notations from the editor that quickly summarized the target word count, pages, and anticipated art. Just looking at the numbers, it was immediately obvious to me that the authors were very excited about the Dark Sun material, as in almost every case they exceeded their target word count — sometimes by quite a bit.

Before I read through the draft copy, I was a bit concerned that the setting and background “fluff” would be abbreviated in favor of providing more player material. Instead, I found every page of the Atlas section loaded with detail and story hooks galore that spurred ideas for adventures, scenarios and entire campaigns that I could run for my players. My only lament was that I would have to wait the better part of a year before I could bring this setting to the table for my own players.

Dark Sun fits the “points of light” model better than any other setting I have ever played.
Where Forgotten Realms required drastic changes to even begin to fit the new experience the designers of 4th Edition were trying to capture, Dark Sun fit the mold basically right out of the box. Roads plagued by marauders, bandits and hungry monsters? Check. Towns and villages that don’t stay in close contact? Check. A wilderness filled with forgotten towers, abandoned towns, and haunted locations where even people living only a few miles away from such places might know of them only by rumor and legend? Yep, it’s got that all of these things in spades. Athas is a dangerous place, sparsely dotted with few safe-havens, and even those rare havens aren’t necessarily all that safe. No setting before this one has showcased the precepts of 4th Edition so exceptionally.

Ultimately, the change of pace makes Dark Sun a winner in my book.
I’ll admit that the dark and gritty nature of the setting was an instant appeal to me. It’s also different enough from all the other settings out there to really catch my attention. I’ve been playing Dungeons and Dragons for over two decades now, and to be perfectly honest, the usual trappings of fantasy no longer really excite me. I need something new … something different. Dark Sun is the setting that I’ve been waiting to reemerge for a very long time, and I can hardly wait to see it finally released in August. I don’t want to sound too much like an advocate, but truthfully, I think this is going to be the best campaign setting published for 4th Edition yet.

Just a couple more months …

Trey asked me recently what I thought of the Penny Arcade D&D podcasts. I thought it would be worth sharing those thoughts, and some other recorded D&D sessions.

D&D on its face doesn’t seem to make for good spectating. But why not? A D&D game done well is a story well told. In many ways you can listen to or a see a story played out in front of you. And if the participants are funny, well, that’s just a bonus.

With this premise as a foundation, I would recommend checking out the various D&D podcasts and vidcasts out there. Not only can they provide insight on how 4th Edition is structured and played, but they can be entertaining, too. There are several options out there. I will recommend three: The Penny Arcade Series, the Robot Chicken one-off, and a continuous video campaign called the Thursday Knights.

The Penny Arcade series is perhaps the best known. Penny Arcade, for those of you who might not know, is a popular webcomic run by Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik. For each series they have been joined by Scott Kurtz, the author of PvP, and in the second series they were joined by Wil Wheaton of Stand By Me and Star Trek: TNG fame. The first series was conceived as a marketing tool for 4th Edition in general, and is hosted by Wizard’s employee and author Chris Perkins. The concept and the sessions have become very popular, and the third series is just beginning. The first and second series are in the stock 4e setting, whereas the 3rd series is set in the world of Dark Sun. You can find the first episode of the first series here. I highly recommend it!

And now, a video interlude:

This is probably the best way to deliver a D&D session. Now that tactics have become paramount, a visual presentation is perfect. And while I don’t like the RC casts as much as the PA casts, I think they’re a better introduction to 4e on the whole. Many of the players in this video series have never played D&D before in their life. So the viewer can learn right along with them as they go!

This leads me, finally, to the Thursday Knights. I found this group on my own at the Something Awful forums. They’re not famous and they’re not new to the game. Perhaps most importantly, they’re not sponsored by Wizards of the Coast! This is basically just a group of friends getting together once a week to play some D&D. You can watch their play sessions live on Thursady nights starting at 7pm PST. Or, if that time is too wonky (and let’s be honest – it is) then you can always download an audio version when they’re done. Make for some light, fun listening to kill the time while you’re doing more important things!

That’s my brief list of D&D podcasts. There are plenty more out there that I’ve found, if you’re interested. Or maybe you have some you listen to or are interested in that you’d like to recommend? Just let me know!

Happy casting!

Meet the Hand

Adventurers wanted to bring a heinous criminal to justice!  A strong and just Noble with ties to the King himself has been accosted by a common thug.  The man, now known only as “The Hand” due to his grievous injury, was robbed of both his powerful magic sword and the hand he used to wield it!  The victorious party will be handsomely rewarded with gold and the sword itself, which is no longer of any use to its former owner.  If the criminal is brought in alive to face his victim, the bounty shall be 800 gold pieces.  If the thug is killed in the course of apprehension the reward shall be 400.  Any interested parties should send their  resumes to aspiring Dungeon Master Trey Hollen for consideration.

Welcome to Cormyr!

The Seal of Cormyr

Kingdom of the Purple Dragon

Welcome to the Kingdom of Cormyr! As nations fall and the Realms sink into darkness Cormyr remains firm. It serves a beacon of light and is a source of hope for those who hate evil. Good King Foril, at seventy years of age, rules with an ever lighter hand. He has been on the throne for just over 30 years and his son, the dashing Prince Azoun, looks to be a better ruler in his day. At King Foril’s disposal is a large cadre of knights called the Purple Dragons. In addition to these stalwarts are the famous War Wizards of Cormyr. Adventurers provide aid to the overstretched Cormyrian military, though they must be sponsored by a noble house or provided an official license by the government. It is a land where fame and fortune can be made in the name of good and civilization.

The current year is 1479. Cormyr was founded nearly 1500 years ago, in 26 DR. Its first king was Faerlthann Obarskyr, son of Ondeth Obarskyr and Suzara Obarskyr. The kingdom was initially formed because the elves and humans in the region needed to get along with each other. Since that time, Cormyr has grown by absorbing the realms of Esparin and Orva and claiming the Stonelands as its own.

Some time between 376 DR and 432 DR, Cormyr was invaded by many dragons, including Thauglor, the purple Dragon , so salled because his scales went purple with rage, who laid waste to virtually all of the settlements in the country. It was then raided by orcs from the Stonelands, who occupied the King’s Forest until they were finally driven out in 429 DR by King Duar Obarskyr. By 432 DR, many noble families had left Cormyr for either the Dalelands or Waterdeep, or split into small factional bands. The city of Suzail was sold to Magrath the Minotaur and his pirates by a traitor to the crown around this time, and it was after Magrath’s death that the Purple Dragon was adopted as the nation’s official symbol.

In 1352 DR (the Year of the Dragon) Gondegal, also known as “The Usurper King” and “The Lost King”, attempted to establish a separate kingdom centered on the city of Arabel. He was overthrown, after only eight days in power, by an allied army composed of forces from Tilverton, Sembia and Daggerdale, along with the Purple Dragons, led by king Azoun IV.

Shortly before the Spellplague, the Goblin Wars (1370 DR-1371 DR) did significant damage to the kingdom, and internal and external struggles threatened to tear the kingdom apart.

In post-Spellplague times, the influence and reach of Cormyr has changed somewhat. Cormyr now controls the part of the Dragon Coast between Easting and Westgate, including the cities of Proskur, Priapurl, Elversult, and Teziir. Cormyr has also gained a stronger presence in the west. Maloren’s Rest is Cormyr’s foothold in the Tunlands. Troops in Castle Aris help goods pass safely through the Farsea Swamp on their way west. In the East, Highdale is now a protectorate under crown rule. Daerlun once welcomed the protection of Purple Dragon troops, but gained its independence from both Cormyr and Sembia about forty years past. Recently, the prosperous river port of Wheloon was declared forfeit by King Foril. Its entire population suspected of demon-worship, Wheloon has been declared a prison city. It has been left under the control of the King’s nephew, Prince Ezouard.

Laws of the Kingdom

Cormyr has been ruled by a monarchy ever since it was founded. There are some in recent times who would like to see the nation run by council. The ruling monarch has an advisor, who has the title (amongst others) of High Wizard, and who is in charge of the War Wizards.

By 1368 DR, the following laws have been posted at all major entry points to Cormyr:

  1. All persons entering Cormyr must register with the officials of a border garrison.
  2. Foreign currency can only be used in certain locations. Please exchange your coins for Cormyrean Lions at your first opportunity.
  3. Adventurers must acquire a charter before undertaking any operation as a group.
  4. All weapons must be peace-bonded. The only persons exempt from this law are members of chartered adventuring groups and members of mercenary groups that can offer proof of employment.
  5. Harming cats is forbidden.
  6. Bow your head to royalty and the local nobility.
  7. Purple Dragons have the right to search you upon request.
  8. Hunting on private land is forbidden.

Geography

Often referred to as the “Forest Kingdom”, Cormyr was once covered in thick forests. Due to commercial logging and clearing for farming, however, the once great forests are now restricted to the King’s Forest in the west, the Hullack Forest in the east and the relatively small Hermit’s Wood to the south between Wheloon and the Dragonmere. The Dragonmere, an expanse of water connected to the Sea of Fallen Stars, borders Cormyr to the south. The Storm Horns mountains form a boundary to the north and west of Cormyr, with the Thunder Peaks to the east. The Vast Swamp separates Cormyr from Sembia in the southeast. The Wyvernwater is a large lake in the middle of Cormyr. Cormyr itself is dotted with beacon towers, used to quickly relay messages across the land.

  • Suzail (Capital), Population: 55,000.
  • Arabel, Population: 30,606.
  • Dhedluk, Population: 936.
  • Eveningstar, Population: 954.
  • Immersea, Population: 1,170.
  • Marsember, Population: 38,000.
  • Thunderstone, Population: 1,800.
  • Tilverton, Population: 0 (Since the Spellplague this has been declared Plagueland and not fit for life.)
  • Waymoot, Population: 1,980.
  • Wheloon, Population: 6066. (Thought vastly reduced since its forfeiture.)

Maps

Cormyr writ small.

Cormyr writ large. Click to enlarge.

A Note on Coinage

Thumbs are copper pieces
Falcons are silver pieces
Lions are gold pieces
Tricrowns are platinum pieces

A long time ago, in a land far far away, two brothers from the race of Munchkins built the Arena.  Their names were Min and Max.  They had a vision of an epic battleground where the most powerful heroes would prove themselves in parties of four.  Both of them had very strong ideas on how best to achieve their goal.  In the end, they were able to compromise on almost every facet of the mystical locations construction.

Luck was determined to be the enemy of true competition.  So powerful enchantments were built in to the foundation that eliminated the effects of critical hits and misses.  Magical items were also accounted for in that they lose all of their powers when summoned to the Arena.  The contest is between the combatants and they must stand on their own!

Being summoned to the Arena is a great honor bestowed only upon those deemed worthy.  Nobody knows for sure how exactly one goes about drawing the attention of the Arena, or even whose attention it is.  Some whisper that the brothers are immortal and that their spirits govern the place.  Others believe that the ghosts of the champions haunt the hidden stands watching and silently cheering.  What is known is that participants never truly set foot in the arena.  If a hero chooses to answer the call, an avatar of their form is summoned at the entrance chosen for them.

There are two opposing pairs of entrances to the Arena, The Min Way and The Max Way.  Min felt that the battle was solely between the contestants. His way consists of a straight hallway leading to a shimmering curtain through which the Arena proper awaits.  The Max Way is the more difficult path.  Max felt that a single battle did little to demonstrate the overall tenacity of an adventuring party.  To travel The Max Way is to battle through three waves of Kobolds and even a Dragon before confronting your competitors in the Arena itself.

Will you answer the call?

The Max Way Entrance


In Max’s astral entrance to the Arena, shadow formed Kobolds strive to waylay contestants before they even get a chance to prove themselves.  The Slingers bomb away with their special pots while the minions attempt to swarm any intruders.  Anyone can retreat from this battle at any time if they are too faint of heart, but the brave must lower themselves into the hole by way of the rope ladder…

The Max Way Statue Hall

This battle is very straight forward as the Wyrmpriest sends forth his shifty servants to swarm and surround the party as he supports them from behind and fires orbs of shadowy energy.  He does have a chilly surprise for those that manage to close in on him!

Dragon Throne Room

The Dragon is the final barrier to competition in the Arena.  Those that prove themselves against the wyrm are worthy of Max’s championship.  Snowflake will send out her minions to trap the group and will not hesitate to sacrifice them and unleash her breath weapon if she believes it will do more harm to the invaders.

The Arena

Whether The Min Way or The Max Way was the road to The Arena, the fire lit stage is the stuff legends are made of in all the worlds.  Each party enters the contest from opposite sides.  Ranged attackers are well advised to stay back on the gently sloping steps while the melee brutes charge forth to mix it up in the center square.  All combatants would be wise to avoid the braziers, as their ethereal flames are the one danger in this place that can cause true and instant death to a contestant.

Let the games begin!!!!!!!!!!

I created The Right Wing to prove a point in a discussion about the role of Controllers and how little I valued them.  The exercise was quite fun and led me to discover a great deal about the Dragonborn and even a few class abilities.  I’ve become enamored with another concept and have built a new party around it.  I introduce the newest super rap group SWA, Shorties Wit Attitude.

The Arena will be a place to discuss these and any other submitted theme groups.  The only submission guidelines will be that they include four members and use WoTC hardcover bound source material rules.  The point of the exercise is to explore cool or goofy ideas and to learn more about the possibilities in the D&D game.  And if two people get attached to different groups then let the PvP games begin!

So now for the first poll!