Dark Sun: A Dungeons and Dragons Game Day

Dice for various games, especially for rolepla...

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On Saturday the 22nd of August, Cape Town hosted a Dungeons and Dragons Game Day for the release of the new Dark Sun 4th Edition campaign setting. The day was hosted by the University of Cape Town, in classroom 4H and was scheduled to get underway starting at 13h00. It was my first games day, and my first release of a new campaign setting. It also had my first stint at DM‘ing at a games day. As with most things, there were some good moments and some bad. Let’s start with the bad, shall we?

There are only three issues that I had with the game day: location, attendance and material.

Location was perhaps our largest challenge. While we’re grateful to have been given a location by CLAWS (the gaming society of UCT), we were placed in classroom 4H which is about as out of the way as one can possibly get. From the recreation room, one would need to go past the radio station, up a flight stairs (well, a stairwell actually), down a couple of corridors and finally find themselves in the location, which looked a touch dodgy. Thankfully Magependragon had the foresight to print out some flyers and stuck them up everywhere she could in order to give directions to those looking for us. Still, there were some phone calls to explain exactly where we were. Less than ideal.

Attendance was low; far more people than we would get in East London, where I am from, but barely enough to run two tables. The worst part of this was that we had gotten several responses on the Facebook group saying that they would be there from people who simply didn’t arrive. This, it turns out, may have to do with the politics of the gaming individuals in Cape Town. I’ll be blunt, I don’t get the politics in Cape Town in the gaming groups. I just do not understand it. Coming from East London where one grabs the opportunity to game, because there appear to be so few gamers around, I couldn’t believe that there was such a poor turn out for an actual sanctioned Wizards of the Coast event. More on this later.

Material was a bit of an issue. We were issued an actual game pack from Blowfish, the company that distributed Wizards of the Coast products in South Africa. The issues? We were issued 1 game pack. Just the one. Further, the material was for the new campaign setting, which introduced several new rules as well. However, the rules were never explained. We had to rely on Phaezen (a complete and utter Dark Sun fanboi) to get clarification on some of the new rules. Some he was able to explain, others, he said that he would have to get back to us on for clarification.

Considering that Dungeons and Dragons is the largest roleplaying game in the world, it annoyed me no end that when given an opportunity to celebrate the game and show interest, the politics of the gaming community almost scuttled the whole thing. How can we expect Wizards of the Coast and Blowfish to support these events if the people who play the games do not? From my understanding, the attitude of the gamers in Cape Town is such that they consider Dungeons and Dragons to not be a “real” roleplaying game, and more of a strategic board game. I weep for them, for apparently they lack Dungeon Masters with creativity.

Now, that may come as a surprise to some of the readers of this blog, as they are well aware that I originally harboured no love for the 4th Edition of Dungeons and Dragons. Alas, for I am slowly and surely falling in deep fanboi love with the game, and I hang my head in shame for that statement. I have berated the system, often, and it still does rub me up the wrong way from time to time, but it is exciting, and it is evocative and it is amazingly quick to play. It has many merits.

Wizards of the Coast

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The Good: Shiny material, good people, awesome game, and an epic final encounter!

For the first time, Magependragon actually got gaming material from Blowfish. This included the actual adventure, several sheets of tokens, and large poster maps for the encounters. Further, there were a couple of postcard sized flyers which were also handed out. It was great to see actual product instead of just photostats for a change. Further, Phaezen, one of the other people heavily involved in the game days, brought his second edition Dark Sun products, which he displayed on a table for an awesome showcase of what the world had been. Brom is still by far the best artist that Wizards of the Coast ever got, and his epic art style personified Dark Sun in the second edition.

The people who did come to the game day were great. Friendly (if a little grotty and, in one case, addle-brained), approachable and enthusiastic about the game. We had sufficient players to seat one full table, and then I ran the second table for the DM’s and the organizers. It was my first bash at running a 4th edition table and my first time running for Cape Town players. The table had both Magependragon and Phaezen in it, as well as Davor, who played two characters.

First, let us talk about the actual module.

Dungeons & Dragons Logo

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The module is entitled The Lost Cisterns of Aravek and is designed as a heroic tier adventure for characters of 4th level. The presentation of the adventure is like most 4th Edition products; large branding on the top, cool artwork for the cover, and an explanatory band on the bottom. The artwork for the cover is by Wayne Renolds, who has also done a fair bit of work for Paizo and their Pathfinder game (3.5 thrives!). As is usual with WotC adventures, a fair bit of background and story hooks are presented, allowing the Dungeon Master to drop this adventure into an existing campaign without too much alteration.

The basis of the adventure is a true reflection of the world of Dark Sun. An ancient preserver had created a magical location that drew water from the very air. As one can imagine, water, on a world like Athas, where the majority of the land is desert, is a very precious commodity. As such everyone wants it. The hooks for the players reflect this and fully five different hooks are presented, ranging from greed to political power and even an appeal to the players’ good side.

Because this was a games day, and the entire adventure needed to be presented and played through in three to four hours, the DM’s were recommended to pick one and present that. I chose the liberated slave hook, and after a bit of a sob story to the players sent them on their merry way to the Ringing Mountains, where the cistern was rumoured to be located. This leads directly into a skill challenge, which I have virtually no experience with. As such the running of the challenge wasn’t great, too much dice rolling and insufficient knowledge on my part on how to describe and tell the story of the effects of their dice rolling.

Some poor rolling on the party’s part led to the first encounter, in an oasis, and here was my chance to find out how lethal these adventures could be, and in return, how lethal the players were. Turns out that they were pretty damned lethal all round. Some interesting mechanics were also played. Being Dark Sun, there is a psion in the party. This led to a brief discussion on how the psionics aspects work in 4th Edition, further, the weapon breakage rules were also brought to the fore, ultimately, however, we decided not to use them to dearly.

Having passed the encounter, the players headed on to the cistern proper itself. Arriving there they had an encounter with some githyanki, which in all honesty, they beat the snot out of. A bit more meandering around then led them into the cistern lower portions where they had their final encounter with a truly devious monster called a Tembo. This combat was the epic one, with players falling down, being healed up only to fall down again. When they finally slew the terrible beat, the party cheered and high fived each other. It was great, and as I had expected that I was not doing a very good job of DM’ing, I was surprised, and then elated.

Ultimately the players enjoyed the game, even though I made many, many mistakes (such as dealing damage from the Tembo’s aura on each of its turns instead of dealing the damage on each players turn). The game day was a success as far as I was concerned, and I managed to get some swag out of it as those that DM’ed got to take the poster maps and tokens with them. I left with the same level of positivity and drive to write my own adventures for the conventions here in South Africa as I did when I finished up at ICON 2010. I also now have a desire to run a Dungeons and Dragons Game Day here in East London during the month of September.

A D&D game session in progress

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But we’ll see how that goes.

Jebb X Out.



  1. Marius · August 27, 2010

    Sounds like you had fun.
    The Game day in East London sounds reeeeaaaaaallllllly appealing. DO IT!! There is a long weekend around the 24th of Sept wink wink.

    • Pen · August 27, 2010

      Could be organised! *wink wink*

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