Ideas on 3-1 and 3-2 (DMs only)

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I sent the following out to our DMs group. I figured I would post here as well for comments and idea sharing.

==== Contains Spoilers! =====

Chapter 3 is the end of the 15-week campaign. The last five weeks start in the Forest Ridge, a crescent-shaped forest (that few Athasian believe exists) located behind and above the Ringing Mountains.

As you may recall, the adventure began with the PCs traveling from Altaruk to Tyr. Rumors said Tyr had recently seen the murder of its Sorcerer-King, Kalak. With Kalak dead, this would be the first free city-state - and thus ripe for opportunity and adventure.

But, Chapter 3 begins with the PCs captured by halflings. And, somewhere out there is the Wastewalker looking for them. The PCs will have to escape the halflings, escape the strange forest, and then survive the harrowing climb down to the Tablelands and get to Tyr.

* Please note that throughout the chapter you will want to check out the intro for the encounter (found on page 7) and then flip to the actual encounter combat section.

In 3-1, the PCs are led to a halfling village. They can choose between escape or negotiation in a skill challenge and then a fight to get their stuff. There is opportunity for players to try different approaches, so thinking through options may help prevent surprises.

You may want to first describe the forest. The feeling should be very alien to the PCs - the moisture in the air will be an incredible phenomenon, comparable to suddenly appearing in humid Florida or going into an air-conditioned zoo where they have elevated moisture levels. Their noses will feel strange, their hair and skin will feel different, the sound of walking on the ground will be different and feel different, etc. The place will be covered in green with vines, strange plants, etc. It should really be very threatening.

You may then want to add a front layer of RP. Portray some of the halflings. Halflings on Athas tend to have childlike faces that seem at odds with their rugged and strong tiny bodies. The wild Forest Ridge halflings are likely festooned in tribal garb with wild feathers, face paint, ritual markings, bone nose rings, etc. This can be a Dark Sun version of Empire Strikes back, complete with rope net, if you would like. Instead of cuddly Ewoks, you have tons of armed-to-the-teeth canibalistic halflings. They can communicate in a tribal language, then maybe one of them could use an archaic form of common to direct them. Giving them one halfling that can speak to them could help suggest the skill challenge - the halfling could be ordered to watch over them and ensure the "meat" survives until cooking time.

The camp could be amongst strange pyramidal ruins. The ruins might seem built through strange means, as if they were grown. There could be a huge stew pot or a long bed of coals and a series of spits for cooking the PCs.

Allow for RP and interaction with the halflings. The Elder can be called, and might have strange tales of the world belonging to the halflings, of their life-shaping the world to do their bidding, of the humans and other creatures destroying the balance... now only fit to be eaten. But, with some work they can use the indicated skills and perhaps gain their respect. One option is to have this path lead to the elder asking them to prove themselves and hunt the creatures in 3-2. They are not given their equipment, instead given just their weapons. After 3-2 they can come back and gather the rest of their equipment (or steal it). The halflings could decide to keep their stuff, and then they have to steal their equipment back (and thus don't skip any encounters).

If they try to escape, the Gathering Gear works well. They can break out but then must come back and face the combat. If you want to keep things simple, encourage this path.

If for some reason they don't go back for gear, you can have the halflings send a force after them, catching up to them in ruins. Depending on the skill challenge, it could be an ambush or more neutral situation. The halflings can be using their gear so the PCs get it back.

The encounter has survival days. Here you will want to look at your sheet to see how many the table has. If they have lots, then consider the halflings having eaten them - the PCs lose survival days! If the PCs are very low, then the halflings may have left some. Either way, you can with this encounter make it likely you will have a good level of SDs. Personally, I think it would be great for the party to have between 4 and 6 total SDs, which means in 3-2 they will get to see the Sun Sickness play a role as 1-2 PCs is attacked.

Combat-wise, the Wilders have a strong ranged attack. They hit for 2d8 and then their friends get CA vs the target. The Wilder gets more damage when they have CA, so if you have two of them they should target the same PC. The Forest Runners should be played as moving skirmishers. The fight should not be too hard given the damage levels and low defenses, but keep in mind that the alarm will bring more reinforcements on round 3 and every round after that. You can play with that number based on how easy/hard the encounter is proving to be. You can even do a bit of a running fight if desired based on time. I don't suggest making it too hard a fight. It is probably best as a fight were a few PCs are bloodied but none go down.

Encounter 3-2:
I'll go ahead and write up some notes for this as well. This is a harder fight because the swarms get extra attacks - place them so their aura will get more PCs. The auras stack, so a PC in two auras is attacked twice at the beginning of their turn. Because the Gazer's attack is enemies only, you can hit PCs in the swarms and keep them pinned there. The move can be worth doing to move around or to give PCs a break from being dazed.

Now, one thing is the concept of the panther. The idea is for the DM to look at the map and see if one PC is separated a bit from the others, then have the Fey Panther go after them. However, the only thing the panther really does is charge and shift back... that isn't such a threat to the lone PC. But, the Zairtail Bonebreaker is a thing for the lone rear-rank PC to worry about - he has a tenacious grab and can attack and move the grabbed PC. So, what I would do is resking each monster. Make the Bonebreaker into a tough Athasian Panther that growls and captures a lone PC, then tries to drag it away to feed on it. The Fey Panther becomes a Zairtail of some sort that just charges in and then leaps away, keeping itself away. This works very well if you have the panther attack the dazed swarm-bound melee types or if you want to go after other ranged PCs.

You can give the PCs free-action Nature checks to figure out what the panther is trying to do and that these are separate creatures that happened to be in the same area. If they make monster knowledge checks, just make up names such as "Zairtail Charger" and "Panther Bonebreaker" if you do the switch.

This should probably be a fairly tough encounter to show how difficult it is to survive in the Forest Ridge. It is no paradise!

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Hi Alphastream, would it be possible for you to contact me via PM about this encounter please? I'm meant to be in charge of the session at my FLGS on Wednesday, but as of close of business Tuesday they still hadn't received the session 3 package...

I've tried speaking to Wizards UK, but there is nobody due to be in the office that has their spare copies for the rest of this week. Cry

Ta.
Thank you for sharing this with us, AS.  I very much appreciate your thoughts on the encounters, and they always stimulate me to think about the sessions on a deeper level.  

Spoilers

I like the idea that the PCs would never have felt humidity before; I'll definitely play that up.  I plan to have the PCs led blindfolded to the outskirts of the ruins, then blindfolds removed and PCs stripped of equipment.  The equipment will be carried to the ruins in the PCs' sight, so they then know where to go to recover it.  Then they'll be put in individual bamboo cages along with several other victims.  This will present an opportunity to introduce any new, player-created PCs as previous captives.  The players can then take whatever approach to the skill challenge they like, followed by a raid on the ruins to recover their equipment.

I also like your idea of switching the creature stats in encounter 12.  The grab and drag mechanic is more appropriate to a scary fey panther.  Thanks again!
I have some questions about some of the details of this encounter.  I appreciate any input.

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The description says the halflings take the characters gear; does this also include weapons and armor?  If so, I read it takes a minor action to pick up gear, but what is used to put on armor?  Are the PC's expected to rush in against the NPC's unarmed and quickly grab their stuff before getting the beat down?  It doesn't make sense for the halflings to go to all the trouble of capturing these PC and not take away their weapons.  I could see leaving them their armor.  So when they start picking up gear, how do you determine whose weapons get retrieved?  Does each character have to get their own weapons?

There is also the statement saying that if the halflings raise the alarm, more NPC's show up 2 rounds later, with more NPC's arriving every round thereafter.  It doesn't say for how many rounds.  How would the encounter end?  Are we expecting the PC's to just run away at some point?  How would the PC's find the Silt Runners if there is no end to the combat and they just run away?

I'm struggling to come up with a way to describe how the PC transition from the skill challenge to the combat if they fail the skill challenge.  Do they just run for it?  Why would the halflings still need to raise the alarm? 

Here's the best I could come up with.  If the PC's fail the skill challenge they make a break for the jungle.  The halflings spend some time getting themselves organized into hunting parties.  This allows the PC's to circle back around the halfling village to the building holding their gear.  The halflings think they are out in the jungle and don't know their exact location.  This is why 3 halflings show up if the alarm is raised because these are the searching parties coming back to the village after the alarm goes off.

I will post an update in the session 11 thread. I strayed a bit from my initial post, though I did find the thought exercise to be a good one.

To answer the questions:
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Yes, I think it includes weapons (for sure) and armor.

What we did at our store (which also runs a Tuesday session) was to assume the minor action grabs your weapon in one hand and then you grab a woven net containing your other stuff with your other hand. Basically, they are displaying the weapons and the other stuff is all bagged up.

We had PCs use improvised weapons. They don't get a proficiency bonus (that can hurt, yes) and they do 1d4 damage plus their ability modifier and they of course add inherent bonuses (+1) to attack and damage.

The expectation is for the PCs to run. This all worked surprisingly well at our time. PCs went in, noticed that someone raised the alarm, and they started getting their stuff. Generally, the weapon users felt a strong incentive to get their weapons while implement users (who get to do their stated damage) felt ok being on top of walls or further back. The tables either defeated all foes at some point or defeated enough to be able to get the last ranged PCs into the place to get gear and then the battle could be called.

With regards to failing the skill challenge, I would continue to play it out even after the failure, but the camp is on high alert - the PCs look like they want to escape. Then they escape, but they now have to get their stuff from an alerted camp.

More in the thread for this weeks session...

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Question re: 3-2

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Has anyone figured out where the "fey ripple" is supposed to be?  The only outlined area I can find is the PC Start area.

Also, I'm planning on making the forested areas grant concealment and a few squares grant total concealment.  I don't want to make the forest difficult terrain, but I figure it should have some effect.
3-2 thoughts:

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Nick has not responded. A cool idea could be a 3x3 area that randomly moves around. Roll d8 for direction, roll d6 for distance, but it bounces back at the edge of the map.

My default forest interpretation is that the first square is not as dense as the rest. So, perhaps concealment and not difficult for the first square, then any deeper is difficult and can grant total concealment and allow hiding.

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After the outcome of session 11, I think I'm going to alter encounter 12 a little.

Spoilers

My players failed the skill challenge and so had a tough fight to get their equipment back.  Further, one of the halflings rang the bell in the second round of the combat, so more of the little buggers kept showing up when the PCs thought it was over.  There was one death (Yuka), and the other three characters are pretty badly beaten up and are fleeing from the camp for their lives.

My plan is to start session 12 with the PCs on the run, pursued by the entire halfling tribe.  Other escaped prisoners may join them (depending upon what players and characters come to the table this time) on the run.  Just as the halflings are closing in...they suddenly stop with a high, keening wail.  They spread out across a seemingly invisible barrier, throwing spears and darts at the PCs to keep them moving on. 

What has happened?  The PCs have unwittingly entered an area of "fey flux," a place where the boundary between the Feywild and Athas is thin.  The halflings recognize the tell-tale signs of this flux (strange foliage, unusual smells, sharper light and shadows, etc.) and know better than to go further and get eaten by the nasty fey creatures.  The PCs might pick up on the signs eventually, but it will be much too late.

I'll start the encounter with a badly-wounded eladrin running into the clearing pursued by the bonebreaker, who will kill him with its first bite (and thus providing a better provenance for the fey strike weapon).  The main critters will then turn on the PCs, with the panther lurking in the trees to pounce on a stray (likely Jarvix).  I'll probably keep the creatures with their stats as is but may add some feyness to them.  A moderate Arcana check will reveal the ripple and teleportation effect, and I might require an easy DC Arcana check to use it (failure means nothing happens, critical failure may teleport him or her in a random direction).

I liked the thoughts on swapping the fey panther and the bonebreaker around.

[sblock Fey Panther]






















Fey Panther
Medium fey beast
Level 4 Skirmisher
175 XP
Initiative +8 Senses Perception +8; Low light vision
HP 54; Bloodied 27
AC 18; Fort 16; Ref 18; Will 15
Speed 8, climb 6
Traits
Vise Jaws
A fey panther does not need to sustain a grab. Its grab lasts until the victim escapes or the fey panther lets go; the fey panther has a +5 bonus to Fortitude defense against escape attempts. Being affected by a condition that prevents the fey panther from taking opportunity actions does not end its grab. If the fey panther is subjected to forced movement, it pulls the grabbed creature with it.
Charging Pounce
When the fey panther charges, it deals an additional 1d6 and knocks the target prone.
Standard Actions
Bite ♦ At-Will (basic attack): The fey panther must not have a creature grabbed.
Attack: Melee 1 (one creature); +9 vs AC
1d6 + 4 damage, and the target is grabbed.
Drag ♦ At-Will
Attack: Melee 1 (one creature grabbed by the fey panther); +8 vs Fortitude
1d6 + 4 damage. The fey panther then moves half its speed and pulls the target to a space adjacent to its new location.
Move Actions
Fey Step ♦ Encounter
Effect: The panther teleports 5 squares.
Str: 14 (+4)
Con: 14 (+4)
Dex: 18 (+6)
Int: 2 (-2)
Wis: 13 (+3)
Cha: 11 (+2)

[/sblock]
[sblock Zairtail Bonebreaker] 

















Zairtail Bonebreaker
Medium natural beast (reptile)
Level 4 Brute
175 XP
Initiative +3 Senses Perception +1; low-light vision
HP 67; Bloodied 33
AC 16; Fort 18; Ref 15; Will 13
Speed 6
Standard Actions
Bite ♦ At-Will (basic attack)
Attack: Melee 1 (one creature); +7 vs AC
2d6 + 4 damage, and the zairtail shifts 1 square.
Tail Lash ♦ Recharges on 5-6
Attack: Melee 1 (one creature); +6 vs Reflex
2d6 + 4 damage, and the target takes a -2 penalty to attacks until the end of the zairtail's next turn.
Alignment unaligned
Str: 19 (+6)
Con: 17 (+5)
Dex: 12 (+3)
Int: 2 (-2)
Wis: 9 (+1)
Cha: 7 (+0)

I added a tail lash onto him, to give him something else to do, leaving him with just Bite made him seem pretty boring.  Also it fit the bonebreaker title.
[/sblock]


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I like the idea of completely swapping them for something out of the Creature Catalog.  Any suggestions?

Looking through the book the Id Fiend and Silk Wyrm both stand out, as does the idea of kestrekel.  I am not finding that magic combo though...
Wielding a Bohemian Ear Spoon can be fun and informative.
OK here is my alternate idea.  I know, Until this point, for 23 weeks now I have held to the encounter for the most part, but this time I am thinking of making a drastic change.  Is that so wrong?  The panther is lame, sorry but true.  The forgotten realms lizards are marginally less lame, but they have zero Dark Sun other than scales.  It could be because we have entered the feywild of Forgotten Past, but I want some Dark Sun in my Dark Sun, so here is my idea:

After a short rest, the PCs realize they are being hunted by the halflings. They must flee.  Skill checks, role play, etc.  Then the halflings suddenly stop chasing them, and the land becomes stranger, quieter.  Same tactics as before, only replace the Panther with an Id Fiend and replace the zairtails with 2 wild forest Jhakar Trapjaws and 1 Jhakar tracker.  They are the unwitting servants of the id fiend, who will attempt to stay hidden throughout the battle, but cannot resist taking part stealthily.  If the players defeat the id fiend first, the surviving jhakars will become docile. (trainable?)

This is a 900 xp encounter, target level 3 for 6 pcs. I am tempted to add 2 more trapjaws and up the level, especially since there is a way to end the battle early.  And really, I dont want the night to end so early, lets have some challenge.

This is just an idea, mind, I am not settled on it, but it sounds pretty neat right now.

Edit:  The encounter I really want to run, if I could only work it in, is the opening encounter of Marauders of the Dune Sea.  That looks fun.
Wielding a Bohemian Ear Spoon can be fun and informative.
I will post on the summary thread, but in brief, here was my experience with the swap:

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As I mentioned, I swapped the Bonebreaker and the Fey Panther. I reskinned the Fey Panther using the complete statblock and calling it a Zairtail Charger. I reskinned the Bonebreaker as a fey cat and called it an Athasian Panther.

The Zairtail Charger was effective (Fey Panthers usually are), because they could constantly harass the PCs that were stuck near swarms or dazed. I usually hit, and then could shift away to easily repeat the process. Move, charge, and if you hit you shift one. This worked really well.

The Athasian Panther was very frightening and did its job well. I just had it come in as soon as some PC was a bit off to one side. I gave it the ability to ignore difficult terrain. The PCs were able to counter it, but it was a credible threat. I did get to hit and grab, and then the battlemind used Bull's Strength to push it and break the grab... except the ability to drag the creature with it foiled it awesomely (moment of greatness for the panther :-). I had trouble hitting with the Drag and many smart things were done by the PCs to foil the panther getting its meal, but to be honest that is just fine and as it should be. Another DM at another table did the same swap and said he had the same result.

Overall, I recommend the swap. If you want, you could action point just for a move so as to make it more intense, but just be sure you won't create a situation were everyone has bigger issues and they leave the lone PC to die!

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