December 21, 2010

Dark Sun: City by the Silt Sea

Recently WotC rereleased the Dark Sun setting for 4E. This article is part of a series that examines a release from 2E Dark Sun and sees how and if it can be integrated with the new 4E version of the world setting.

The sourcebook we’re looking at today is City by the Silt Sea published in 1994. It is a boxed set consisting of a 96 page Campaign Book, a 64 page Adventure Book, a 32 page Monster Supplement book, 6 reference sheets and a large fold-out map.
The set covers the ruined city of Giustenal, its surrounding locations, as well as the undead sorcerer-king Dregoth and his plans.

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Campaign Book
Chapter One: Giustenal’s History
This brief chapter goes over the history of the city that would one day become the ruins it is today. Mention is made of Kataal the Mover, a being trapped in a psionic item from millennia ago that can provide the characters with information on Guistenal’s past (assuming they don’t go insane with the knowledge). The history covers the time period from the Blue Age until Dregoth was killed by the other sorcerer-kings and arose as an undead hereafter.

The history herein covered is not mentioned at all in the 4E campaign setting book. The time of the Blue and Green Ages is not part of the canon 4E time line; though to be honest they do not disagree with any 4E timeline as 4E didn’t really bother explaining the deep past. As such, it is possible to accept this version of Athas’ past if the GM wants to without it disrupting a 4E campaign.

Chapter Two: Giustenal Environs
Here we take a look at the some of the groups and locations nearby the ruins of Giustenal. Tenpug’s Band (a slave tribe), the Sky Singers (an elven trading tribe), the Silt Stalkers (an evil elven raiding tribe), Cromlin (a trading village), Silt Pirates, and the Tar Mine are all given descriptions. General information is given and what their connections to Giustenal is mentioned. Particular detail is given to Cromlin and a map with numbered locations is given for the trading village. Of note, the 4E sourcebook also mentions Cromlin (but not in as much detail) even down to the Dirty Lizard tavern and its owner, Jaksot Han.

Next we get a look at The Land and terrain to be found near the ruins. A random terrain table is included if a GM wants a bit more detail as to the exact specifics of type of terrain nearby. Terrain includes Blackwash (silt storms), Grotto, Jagged Plains, Magma Forests, Flake Drifts, and Tar Pits. These are all unique forms of terrain and a GM could write up terrain features for each of these if he wanted to. Obviously the book does not provide 4E versions of these terrain types.

The chapter ends with a table of Terrors of the Region. This lists the types of monsters to be found in the region, but as some of these monsters are not in the Dark Sun Creature Catalog it is of limited use.

Chapter Three: Outside Giustenal
We start with Approaching the Ruins which discusses what the ruins look like from the various land based directions of approach as well as the difficulties inherent in each. Next is the Silt Road, which talks about approaching the ruins from the direction of the Silt Sea. There are ancient walls beneath the surface of the Silt Sea that allow a person to want through the Silt Sea along the top of the walls if so desired.

Special mention is made of the Caller in Darkness an undead semi sentient being that dominates the ruins. Basically it can find anyone using psionics and can control them into killing their friends and then themselves. It is an all-pervasive force of nature that makes the ruins truly dangerous, almost too dangerous. In fact, in the Adventure Book, it is expected that a number of characters will die due to the Caller. This is a marked reflection of the differences between 2E and 4E, where missing a saving throw can lead to instant character death. How a GM wants to deal with this discrepancy will affect the tone of any adventures set here; a GM can maintain the lethality of the Caller or can downplay it.

The Blasted Spire is technically part of the ruined city but lies within the Silt Sea so is separated from the city that can be reached from land. It was once a watchtower and is now the hone of an undead beast. It also has an access point to the regions under the ruins. A map with numbered locations is provided.

The last interesting feature outside the ruins is Abdaleem a Silt Priest who makes his home on one of the rocky outcroppings within the Silt Sea. He could be considered to have the Elemental Priest theme from the 4E setting book.

Chapter Four: The Ruins Above
We start with a discussion on the difficulties in trying to actually get into the city itself. Such things as navigating the Tar Pits, Climbing the Walls and Flying and Teleportation are all talked about as well as the dangers therein.

Once inside the ruins players get the face Gray Death conditions (dangerous silt), the Caller. One nice thing about the Caller section is that the Caller uses hallucinations to affect and direct a character and there is a series of hallucinations provided to enhance the effects. This takes a lot of work away from a DM.

Next the chapter discusses the various fixed locations within the ruins. It starts off with generic Perils such as collapsing floors, deadfalls, silt pits, and silt serpents. On the large fold-out map there is a map of the ruins with numbered locations. The next portion discusses each location from the map. Altogether there are 15 locations, including Dregoth’s Palace. Particular interest is shown in the Palace and a detailed map is provided with even more numbered locations given. In addition, Dregoth’s Tower is given a map and detailed.

Some of the monsters to be found in these locations are not found in the Dark Sun Creature Catalog so a GM will have to either create his own stats for these monsters or find a level appropriate monster from the Creature Catalog himself.

Chapter Five: The Ruins Below
The main focus of the set is in this chapter. It details the various locations to be found under the ruins and it is here where the characters can interact with various factions and learn what is really going on. Everything up to now was all about getting the characters to this point.

There are four main areas to be discovered below ground. The chapter starts by discussing the Pathways Down and The Tunnels. There is a network of tunnels that lead to all the various locations to be found underground. Part of the fold-map provides a map of these connections and this section of this chapter discusses the tunnels so connected.

Usually the first area to be discovered is the Sunken City. This lies beneath the Silt Sea and was once enclosed off by Abalach-Re so she could explore it later (after they killed Dregoth). The place was eventually looted by Abalach-Re, but there are still some things the characters can explore and find. 9 of the more interesting locations are described and one of them, the Citadel is given a map and greater detail.

The Groaning City was once a refuge for demi-humans fleeing the Cleansing war. Eventually Dregoth found it and killed them all and it now lies dormant and place of evil. 13 locations are described, but no maps are provided.

Kragmorta is a vast cavernous area, now the home of the 1st generation of Dray (Dragonborn) after they were kicked out of New Giustenal. It is the first place the characters can interact with a faction. There are 9 locations mentioned, but again no extra maps provided. Of note is the Spirit of Kragmorta, an entity that the characters can interact with along with the 1st generation Dray.

New Giustenal is the new home of Dregoth and his 2nd generation of Dray. 14 locations are mentioned as well Dregoth’s Templars. Again a lot of these descriptions include lairs and locations for various monsters that are not to be found in the Creature Catalog and thus will require more work from the DM.

Chapter Six: Dregoth and the Dray
We start with the history of Dregoth and this is followed by his plans for godhood and revenge. Some of this history and plans for revenge fall outside the written works of the 4E book, but its inclusion does not harm anything.

The chapter and book ends with a lengthy discussion on the Dray. The Dray have been re-imagined as the Dragonborn in 4E. There is some discrepancy as to the timing of the Dragonborn. According to this supplement the Dray were created after the fall of Giustenal, whereas the 4E book notes that the Dragonborn were kicked out of Giustenal before the fall of Giustenal. According to this book the Dray also never left the below ground area and thus this will cause some problems in a 4E game. If we assume the Dragonborn were kicked out of New Giustenal then we should assume the Dragonborn know of its existence, even if it’s just as ancient legends.

There are a few ways to handle these contradictions. One is to assume Dregoth did in fact create his 1st generation of Dragonborn before the fall of Giustenal and they fled before he came back as an undead. Some of the 1st generation of Dray could have been called to him in New Giustenal and then were subsequently kicked out to Kragmorta when the 2nd generation of Dray were created. Another option is to have the Dragonborn created in New Giustenal as per this supplement as the 1st generation, some of which now live in Kragmorta and some that left the area completely. You can allow the Dragonborn to know of the legends of New Giustenal, but one that is a racial secret that they all bear and never reveal. This option could lead to some interesting role-playing if the PCs ever explore these ruins.

Adventure Book
This adventure is basically a loose plot tied together to allow the player characters to visit all the locations in the Campaign Book. It is written in 7 Parts. An overview is at the beginning and this describes in brief the various parts and mentions an overall plot; basically Dregoth is gathering an army of Dray, demons and undead to invade the surface world in his quest to become a god. The plot is actually rather weak as the players never know what they are trying to accomplish until they have finished it. Thus there is no overall goal for the players to pursue and they are simply out exploring and pursuing other agendas, which can lead to some problems down the line.

Part One: Tales of the Ruins
This is a series of encounters that have the potential to lead the PCs to the ruins of Giustenal. They also interact with the groups/locations to be found in Chapter Two: Giustenal Environs from the Campaign Book. Basically such people as Tenpug’s Band, the Sky Singers, Jessix and the Loyal, the Silk Stalkers, and Cromlin all have adventure leads in them for the PCs to grab a hold of and give them a reason to head to the ruins. This is really nothing but utilizing the information and backgrounds given in the Campaign Book.

Part Two: In the Silt Sea
This part assumes the party has taken up one of the leads that causes them to approach the ruins from the direction of the Silt Sea. There is an overview of how the travel takes place and the possible random encounters that can take place during the journey. Some of these are nothing but combat encounters with a list of the monsters involved (for which a DM will have to provide monsters stats), but some are encounters that are fleshed out in more detail. These include the Silt Pirate Menace (for which a map of the pirate encampment is provided) and Giants in the Sea (which can turn into a role-playing opportunity).

From there we get into some of the encounters lifted from the Campaign Book. The Caller in the Darkness makes its presence known. Abdaleem and the Blasted Spire are also listed as potential adventure locations, but again are nothing but lifted locations from the Campaign Book.

Part Three: The Ruins of Giustenal
This “details” the ruins of the city but again there is virtually nothing new here outside of what was already discussed in the Campaign Book. The only new thing is a set of Dray Templars that were looking for something here. The Dray Templars then leave the ruins and head underground with, in theory, the characters following them. The Dray are the plot bait that lures the characters further into the areas below the ruins.

Part Four: The Sunken City
Part Five: The Groaning City
Part Six: Kragmorta
These portions of the adventure continue to lift information and encounters from the Campaign Book. This is fine, as the Campaign Book did a good job detailing the areas, but there is little that is new here. The Sunken City has one new encounter detailing a ghost that can lead the PCs further into the adventure. The Kragmorta gives a bit more detail on interacting with the 1st generation Dray and provides an encounter with some demons Dregoth has made a deal with.

Part Seven: New Giustenal
This is the final part of the adventure. Dregoth’s Dread Palace is detailed and given a map. It is this part of the adventure where the PCs destroy the undead army and its creation artifact (by randomly following some nearby Templars to their hiding spot) and destroy the planar gate Dregoth is using to summon a demon army (by following the advice of a dwarf that may or may not be with the PCs).

Overall the connections at this point are vague and loose and the players really have no idea what or how they should be doing anything. I get the feeling the PCs are meant to stumble along bashing their heads against anything they meet until they finally end up doing the right thing. A DM will have to set up the connections and be a bit more forthcoming with what the players are trying to accomplish or the players will begin to flounder quickly.

Monstrous Supplement
15 new monsters are given 2E stats here. Three, Absalom, Dregoth and Caller in Darkness, are unique creatures, and the Caller can’t even be killed. The rest are fairly straightforward monsters descriptions. Of the monsters listed here only three, Dregoth, Absalom and the Dragonborn (Dray), are in the Dark Sun Creature Catalog and thus will not need to be converted to 4E stats. The rest will need to be converted but should still make for some interesting monsters once that is done.

Reference Sheets
There are 6 of these sheets. One details Dregoth’s planar gate and includes mechanics for its use, mechanics that are useless using the 4E rule set. Two of the sheets give information on playing Dray characters, but since this is already covered with the Dragonborn race, the information is useless. Two of the sheets deal with Dregoth’s Templars, one giving the templar’s 2E stats and another detailing the High Templar Mon Adderath. Again the information is useless, though there is some detail on the Dragon’s amulets (tokens that can allow the players to bypass some encounters) and Mon is given some background information which will come in handy when trying to role-play him. The last sheet is on the ruins of Giustenal and the generic things the PCs can face their as far as environment is concerned. It’s a rehashing of information already to be found in the books, but it’s nice to have it all in one place. The only problem is the mechanics involved are all in 2E. In fact, all the sheets are meant to provide easy to see mechanical information for a GM or player to use, but as such they are useless in a 4E game.

Fold-Out Map
This large fold-out map is double sided. One side has the ruins of Giustenal on it, as well as a side view of the tunnel system linking all the various areas together. Also on this side is a picture of the Palace ruins and the planar gate. On the other side is map for each of the underground areas, the Sunken City, Groaning City, Kragmorta and New Giustenal.

Artwork
There are 42 unique pictures, with the two books sharing some pictures. There are a fair number of pictures that can be used to show to the players to highlight certain areas. Each of the prime locations, Giustenal Ruins, Sunken City, Groaning City, Kragmorta, New Giustenal each has at least one picture showing the uniqueness of the area.

Overall: Using this set will require a lot of extra work from a DM. The biggest amount of work will come in redesigning the relevant monsters and encounters for the 4E rule set.
Mention of the death of the sorcerer-king Abalach-Re is made within the set. Abalach-Re died in the fourth of the book series and this boxed set is set after the fourth book. This puts this material further along in the Athas timeline than where a 4E campaign begins. However, having Abalach-Re still be alive will in no way alter the usefulness of this boxed set; her death or non-death is irrelevant.

Side note: There is another adventure to be found dealing with Dregoth. It is actually a nice follow-up to the adventure included in this boxed set. It is written for 3E, but with some work can be made to work for a 4E campaign. It can be found at http://www.athas.org/products/DA.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the review! I guess this book will be most useful for background on the Dray.