December 6, 2010

Dark Sun: Merchant House of Amketch

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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This is the second of this series of adventure modules. It is a sequel in only the loosest of terms as there is absolutely no connection with the previous module. The only connection is that its level suggestion is the next level beyond Black Flames.

It consists of the “standard” 2 spiral set-up; Dungeon Master Book and Player’s Book. Again some of the artwork in the Player’s Book is in color. Also, this time, there is a lot more exposition in the Player’s Book that is meant to be read by the players when they get to certain sections; this allows for more detail to be added to some of the encounters. The DM Book focuses more on information the DM needs and less on what is presented to the players; there is more of that in the Player’s Book than the previous adventure.

Summation
The players are tasked with uncovering the breeding ground of a dangerous beetle that inhibits the use of psionics in individuals and destroying it.

Part One
The adventure starts in Balic with the Veiled Alliance asking them to uncover who is doing trade in a beetle that causes psionic ability to be inhibited and then put an end to the source of the beetles. I’m not sure why it’s the Veiled Alliance doing the hiring, but the adventure does allow for a couple of other options for who might be the contact person. The adventure points to a caravan belonging to House Amketch as having a load of beetles aboard. The players are to sign on, most likely as guards, and see if they can track down the source of the beetles.

Part Two
This is where the adventure starts to shine. It does an excellent job of detailing the caravan, its personnel and the duties involved. Slow moving caravans moving through the Athasan desert is iconic for the Dark Sun setting and this adventure highlights this facet of the setting.

Part Two focuses on the caravan and includes many things for the party to interact with, including an attack on the caravan. The Part ends with the players being betrayed by the caravan master and the PCs either captured as slaves (the more likely option) or on the run in the wilderness. They, however, do have some more information about the beetle trade.

Part Three
Following closely on the heels of Part Two, this section attempts to cover all the bases for the possible player actions from the previous Part. It details what happens to the players who may have been captured. It details how the non-captured characters can either help their captured counterparts or gain more information about the beetle trade. In the end the adventure does an excellent job of tying together all the possible tangents and gets the players back on track, no matter which course they chose to take. The Part ends with the players heading back to Balic to with information on how to gather more information.

Part Four
This part covers a wide range of territory and concludes the adventure, but not after sending the characters all over the place. Following any number of leads the players infiltrate the beetle trade headquarters in Balic and learn that the next step is a clearing house at a merchant House Fort in the wilderness. After some travails in Balic and on the way, the players reach the House Fort, whereupon they learn the secret to the beetle trade lies within the ruins of Kalidnay. It is there that the party finishes out the adventure by destroying the source of the beetle’s powers.

Analysis
This adventure does an excellent job with some of the Dark Sun tropes, specifically the merchant house and merchant caravan as it slowly makes its way across the blazing desert. As a whole the adventure is a very good one as it includes intrigue, combat, and an epic crisis. The adventure also allows for a lot of leeway as to player actions; there is very little railroading and the adventure does an excellent job of preparing a GM for the variable choices players may make.

Overall the adventure fits very nicely into a 4E setting campaign; nothing that is mentioned contradicts the 4E setting material. It serves to highlight a lot of the setting flavor of Dark Sun without messing with the setting. As already mentioned in the Black Flames article, encounter stats will have to be included by the GM converting the adventure…a lot of them. The adventure presents a lot of encounter information. There are rooms with nothing but a monster or NPC in it. There is also plenty of room for skill challenges to be added into the adventure.
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