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Archive for June, 2010

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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 …

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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!

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