December 23, 2010

Dark Sun: Forest Maker

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 the adventure Forest Maker, published in 1994. While it came in the folder it was not in the spiral book format. Instead, it is made up of three books, the Dungeon Master Book (with 48 pages), the Player’s Book (with 16 pages) and a Story Booklet (with 16 pages). The folder itself provides a map of the wilderness with encounter locations marked as well as some 2E stats for various NPCs.


Dungeon Master Book
This is made up of 3 Parts. It contains no artwork as that is all to be found in the Players Book. There are specific pictures in the Players Book that certain parts of the adventure call for the DM to show to the players. The first two Parts are all set-up pieces for the adventure where the players can find out some more information. The third part is where the players actually confront the villain of the adventure and try to stop her evil plan.

The player characters attempt to stop Abalach-Re, who is disguised as a good aligned Avangion, from draining the life form of pilgrims and gaining levels in her Dragon form.

Part One: Tall Tales of Tall Trees
This part gets the players from wherever they are to the city of Tyr and then gets them out of Tyr toward where the end of the adventure lies. Three options are given for why the PCs would be heading to Tyr, one as generic hired guards, one for Alliance members and one for Order members. Ultimately the reasons given are irrelevant. The only important part is that the players are moving along with a caravan on their way to Tyr. During the journey to Tyr the caravan is attacked by a half-elven raiding tribe. After defeating the attackers the caravan masters become friendly with the PCs and can divulge some information that may of use later.

Once in Tyr the PCs find themselves in a small neighborhood within the city. This neighborhood is nicely laid out with detail given to the buildings and people in the immediate area. Also given are various rumors that the PCs may find helpful. These rumors deal with a being that has regrown a lush forest in the desert and the pilgrims that are heading there.

Here is where the adventure breaks down for me. A preserver is being attacked in a nearby alley and it is assumed the PCs will come to his aid. If they do so, they can save the preserver and gain a map that may help them later. They also gain a jagged shard of obsidian that will prove extremely helpful in the final fight of the entire adventure, if the PCs pry it out of the preserver’s hand and then keep it. So, the adventure assumes the PCs are of good enough alignment to save a complete stranger from being accosted and then of enough non-good alignment to rob and keep one of his items for themselves. It all makes no sense to me and makes a lot of assumptions. A DM would have to put in some work to make this all work. It’s possible to do this, but this is work that a GM shouldn’t have to do.

Part Two: Pilgrimage
It is assumed (again we have a set of assumptions moving the adventure along) that the PCs will pursue the map and the spotty rumors thus far given out. If they do so, the PCs will head toward Altaruk. There are a set of encounters for the players to face on the way there. Most of these encounters provide a chance for the PCs to gather more information about what they are heading into in the form of more rumors. The encounters consist of a bard under attack, some elven traders, a broken prophet of the false Avangion, and a fire drake killing mesmerized pilgrims.

Upon reaching Altaruk, we are given a map and numbered details of the trading post. More rumors can be learned at the local tavern, in the merchant shops and during dinner with the head of the trading village. Herein lies one of the first inconsistencies of the adventure in this Part. The head of the trading village is a preserver with Lawful Good alignment. The adventure has already established that those of Lawful or Neutral Good alignments receive a calling to travel to the new lush land of the Avangion. Those so affected must make saving throws or be compelled to move on; even if they make the saving throws they are still aware of the calling. The head of the village mentions none of this in his discussions with the PCs, even when he is talking to them about the rumor involved with the Avangion. This is simply sloppy writing.

The second problems stems from the encounter with the preserver in Tyr that gave the PCs a direction to go. Seems the preserver was being accosted in that alley by the henchmen of a defiler who hates the preserver. After the preserver is saved by the PCs the defiler decides to completely ignore the preserver (who is still not well and is resting in Tyr) and pursue the PCs instead. Again this makes no sense to me. It seems like a weak excuse to throw an extra combat or two into the mix.

Part Three: Rafernard
We have more traveling to do before we can get to the lush paradise the Avangion has set up. There are a couple of encounters on the way, one of which is integral to completing the module. The first is a group of giants having fun killing mesmerized pilgrims that the layers can try and stop. The second is a crazed ranger who attacks the pilgrims, and by extension the PCs, as his insane way of trying to hurt the false Avangion. If the players defeat him they will be able to get his flaming sword that is particularly effective against sorcerer-kings, something they will want for the final fight of the adventure.

It has now taken us 34 out of the adventure’s 48 pages to get to the Forest. Once here the players meet the Avangion and then are left to their own devices to explore as they wish. A map is provided of the forest and has several possible encounters but the most important one is the hidden lair underground beneath the central plaza of the forest. This mapped out location is where the PCs can finally gain the last bit of information of what Abalach-Re’s plan is.

However, all of this is irrelevant. So is all the information that the players gathered through the first 3/4ths of the adventure. Abalach-Re remains hidden until the next day where she reveals her true form as she begins sucking the life out of everyone. Nothing the players have done so far can stop the beginning of the process. This is ok since that is the nature of a climatic scene, but except for grabbing the flaming sword from the crazed ranger and stealing the preservers jagged shard, nothing else the PCs did to this point has any relevance on getting the players to this final fight or its outcome.

The final fight could actually be a good encounter. As written for the 2E system, Abalach-Re is protected behind a series of protection spells and a wall of pilgrims. If written well, this encounter in a 4E format could consist of a skill/combat challenge wherein the players attempt to systematically break down her spell protections while fighting of the pilgrims. It could make for a fun and exciting final encounter.

Player’s Book
As I already mentioned, the Dungeon Master Book directs the DM to specific pictures at specific times to highlight what the players are seeing. While I generally dislike Baxa, I actually like most of the pictures here. The Player’s Book also provides 7 pre-made player characters if desired.

Story Booklet
Along with a short story, stats are provided for some of the key NPCs to be found within the adventure, as well as two new psionic powers and a new artifact. Obviously these would need to be upgraded to 4E stats.

Obvious issues with the adventure come in the form of 2E stats being incompatible with the 4E rule set. A GM will have to convert the monsters and rewrite some of the encounters. This will not actually be too hard as a lot of the encounters are with humanoids which do already have stats in 4E and most of the monsters can be found in the 4E Dark Sun Creature Catalog.

Some of the most troublesome parts of the adventure have less to do with the mechanics or setting and more to do with sloppy and inconsistent writing. As I noted there are numerous points in the adventure where things simply do not make sense. A DM wanting to use this module will have to work out these kinks in the writing.

However, the adventure is grand in scale and allows the PCs to fight a sorcerer-king. The basic premises are sound and could make for an interesting and exciting adventure.
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