December 7, 2010

Dark Sun: Marauders of Nibenay

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 one of the DSM series of adventures. These consisted of 4 adventure book sets including Black Flames (DSM1, 1993), Merchant House of Amketch (DSM2, 1993), Marauders of Nibenay (DSM3, 1993) and Black Spine (1994). They came in a variety of formats. As I will comment more on later, while the adventures are billed as being part of a series, there is little to nothing to tie them together.

I’ll mention here at the beginning that these adventures were written for the 2E system. Therefore the stats included in the modules are of no value beyond the level of an NPC for comparison’s sake. This article is more about how difficult it would be to adapt the module to the 4E rules and if there is anything radically divergent from the 4E setting.

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Again this adventure module follows the precedent seen in the previous two adventures, with a folder holding 2 spiral books and a small booklet consisting of a short story and major NPC stats. A map of the Crescent Forest region lies on the inside of the folder, as well as NPC stats (though these are in 2E so are of little use in a 4E setting). As with the last adventure, there is no connection to the previous two adventures other than the level curve and numbering system.

This time the adventure focuses on the city-state of Nibenay. As with the last adventure, in this one there is more exposition in the player’s book (though it is still primarily an art book). In fact, the player’s book starts off with a page of general information on the city-state and then goes into viewpoints about the city based on the “profession” of a character. Included is one each for Fighters, Wizards, Clerics, Rogues and Psionicists. Though 4E has these classes, 4E actually isn’t as pigeonholed as the 2E classes and the various information pages can easily be spread out to the other classes 4E has. Either way, the information is very useful and helps players understand what to expect. Also included in these opening pages is a player’s map of the city. All this information helps to feel comfortable with the setting.

Summation
The players must stop a powerful magical entity from destroying Nibenay and its peoples after the sorcerer king tries to kill it.

Part One
The adventure starts with the party participating in a city-wide festival. During the festival the players are approached by either the Templars or the Veiled Alliance, depending on which faction the players are most likely to be willing to aid. Both factions are working to ambush each other and the players can become caught up in these actions. First they must trade with some elves for a device that will aid the Veiled Alliance (or stop the trade if they are helping the Templars). Then they must help the Alliance reverse ambush the Templars who are on their way to ambush the Alliance. All this actions is actually secondary to what is about the happen off screen.

The sorcerer king Nibenay is about to try and kill the magical entity known as the Zwuun. This Part ends with this attack taking place in the middle of the preceding set of ambushes.

Part Two
Part Two opens with a city-wide holocaust in the form of an earthquake that topples much of the city. This is quickly followed by acidic rain. There is also the chance of the dead rising and making random attacks. The rest of the Part is filled with negotiations between the Templars and Alliance factions as they steer a course of action amidst the damage. There is quite a bit of potential intrigue and background information to be gathered. There is a fair amount going on and could potentially take multiple concurrent skill challenges to make it all work.

In the end the players are tasked with entering the Naggaramakam, the inner walled area of sorcerer king. Of note is that the child templar, Siemhouk, is the key piece to solving the cities problems and she is already mentioned in the 4E setting book.

Part Three
This section covers the party’s exploration of the Naggaramakam up to the Citadel. There are 20 different locations for the players to investigate. Each has a brief description and some have their own encounter, though some only consist of a description. This section is wide open and the players can explore the region in any way they choose.

This section can be difficult to run; even though the locations are numbered in the DM’s book the map is missing the numbers; it appears that this is an omission or printing error, but if there was ever any errata released for this I can not find it anywhere. While it would take some work it shouldn’t be too difficult for a DM to just add the locations to his map.

Another problem with this part is that the real goal of this section is to enter the sorcerer-king’s citadel, which the players can do easily enough. It is possible for the party to head straight to the citadel and move onto Part Four and bypass the entirety of Part Three. A DM shouldn’t prevent this, but it still means a lot of the module’s content can easily be skipped.

Part Four
Herein the players enter and explore Nibenay’s inner citadel. This is again a non-linear set. There are 10 rooms to potentially explore. Unlike the previous part, several other rooms need to be explored before the players can proceed to the throne room and the end encounter. The players need to find Siemhouk and the key that allows them into the throne room. Similar to the earlier problem of the provided map not having locations marked, the map for this section suffers from the same omission. It should be easy to put the locations on the map after some logical thinking.

This section presents two problems. One is that some portions are completely closed off from the players (such as the sorcerer-king’s private bedchamber). This can be frustrating for the players. Second, as written, certain portions require specific spells to be cast in order for the players to proceed. However, these spells do not exist in the 4E rules or there is no guarantee the players will have these spells/rituals with them. A GM will have to do a work-around of the written methods of moving on. This would likely be a place for an appropriate skill challenge.

This part ends with a final battle in the throne room of Nibenay. Nibenay and Zwuun are locked in a fierce (and silent) psionic battle. The child Siemhouk can calm the enraged Zwuun, but the room has summoned an air elemental (solo) to defend the room from intruders. The final task involves the players defending Siemhouk while she does her psionic calming bit. As written the final fight can be anti-climatic. I would liven it up by exploiting the players need to protect Siemhouk and make this a non-solo fight by adding minions and other things that would focus the player’s attention on protecting the girl.

Assuming the players succeed, Nibenay is released from his struggle and he has a change of heart regarding his city. As written, he is now willing to work with the city and its various factions, essentially changing from an evil despot to an enlightened dictator. The adventure ends with some suggestions on how to proceed after the module ends.

Analysis
The adventure does a nice job of not assuming player’s actions as far as the initial faction choices (Templar vs. Veiled Alliance). In fact, the beginning part assumes no actions at all on the part of the players.

One problem the module would run into in a 4E campaign is its reliance on specific spells being cast to overcome certain obstacles. There are parts where a Disrupt Magic, or similar spell, is needed to progress in the plot. This is problematic for two reasons. First because there is not always a direct correlation between the 2E spell and a 4E power. In fact, most of these specific spells would often be considered rituals in 4E. Second is that even if 4E had the corresponding ritual there is no guarantee a player will have the required spell. A GM wanting to run these encounters in the 4E setting will have to figure out alternate means of bypassing theses impasses.

The adventure is epic in scope, but its foundations do not disrupt a 4E setting. It should be noted however, that the entity of Zwuun is not mentioned within the 4E sourcebook, but this shouldn’t be a major problem. The existence of the entity is described as a secret held by the Veiled Alliance, so the fact the players are unaware of Zwuun should not be surprising. The outcome has the potential to alter the political landscape of Athas, but any good campaign is about change as a campaign progresses.

Pet Peeve: The cover of the adventure features a rider on a mount near some ruins. With the name of the module (Marauders), a person would make the assumption this adventure is all about bandits in the wilderness, but that concept is far removed from what a person actually gets with the adventure.
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