December 28, 2010

Dark Sun: Mind Lords of the Last 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 Mind Lords of the Last Sea (DSS3) published in 1996. It is a boxed set consisting of a 96 page Book (detailing a new region), a 32 page adventure (called Into the Lands of the Last Sea) and a large fold-out map.

Mind Lords of the Last Sea
This book outlines a new area of Athas to the north of the present area covered in the original campaign sourcebook for both 2E and 4E. As such it lies outside the established area of the campaign. It has 7 chapters.

Chapter One: The Lay of the Land
This chapter is a general overview of the area and its people. It starts by mentioning what people from the Tyr region of Athas (the original area of the setting) have heard of and think of this area to the north. In a divergence from the 4E setting it is a land of legend which some believe exists and some do not.

The chapter provides a map showing the lands between the Tyr region and the Last Sea, though it does not show a definite connection between the two. Unless glossed over this would make connecting the two difficult but not impossible.

The chapter goes into some small detail on the region, such as the Burning Plains and Thunder Mountains that surround the Last Sea. Also mentioned is the city of Saragar and its rulers, the Mind lords. Most of this information is probably meant to be provided to the players, either as rumors or as basic information if a character is from this new region.

One of my first problems with the book is a non-material one, but rather is the author’s writing style. He seems incapable of using less than three words when one word would do just as well. Here is a section of text from the book describing an area on the way to the Last Sea.

The Lava Gorge is a tremendous canyon filled with molten rock which churns within it like water churning in a vast sea. Standing out like a gouge in the Athasian crust, this incredible canyon lays open the planet’s seething mantle to the brittle sky. The molten rock at its bottom roils like a boiling ocean, caught between the twin pulls of the planet’s two moons and the gravity of the world itself, which jealously struggles to hold its lifeblood.”

The author (who I generally like in some of his other work) feels the need to provide descriptions of the descriptions themselves. It seems like he is trying real hard to pad up a word count. The book is full of this type of writing.

Chapter Two: Getting There
This is not about getting to the Last Sea from the Tyr region, but rather about how to reach the Last Sea itself. The Sea is surrounded by some perilous terrain, such as the Thunder Mountains and the Burning Plains.

The Thunder Mountains are high and dangerous. They have 3 passes through them, but these are guarded by Guardians, which are also detailed in this chapter. Since the Guardians are in breaking down, a chart is provided for how they will randomly act toward intruders.

Also presented are the dangers of the Burning Plains, a place of quickly growing grasses that are highly susceptible to flash fires. Some mechanics are presented for the flash fires. A skill challenge could easily be created for navigating this area.

Chapter Three: Last Sea History
Here we have the history of the region and it explains how the Last Sea can still exist on Athas. During the Green Age a group of three psionicists (the future Mind Lords) peered into the future and learned what was going to befall the world. Determining they could not stop the devastation of Athas, they decided the best course of action lie in protecting their city, Saragar, and the surrounding area. Placing themselves in power they did just that.

I would say the history is divergent from the 4E setting, but since the entire region is divergent the point would be moot. If a DM has decided to include this new region in his Dark Sun campaign then the history will fit in just fine.

Chapter Four: The Mind Lords
This chapter goes into the backgrounds of the three Mind Lords. It also describes the shucking of their bodies and placing their consciousness into large obsidian orbs so they could live forever, or at least be able to continue to look over the region. There is a brief look at the current situation of the region. Simply put, everything is provided for everyone and the only requirement is that everyone be happy, even if they have to be Mindwiped to accomplish that.

Chapter Five: The Last Sea
Here we get a description of the area around the Last Sea. The primary settlement is the city of Saragar, but there are a number of other villages around the Sea, all under the nominal rulership of Saragar. In total, there are 10 settlements detailed. Each has something unique to offer the region and a campaign. One is an elven settlement, one is of dwarves, one of lizardmen, one is full of healers, one is a fishing village, etc. Also included are the Seaways, secret underground passageways that pass below the Sea and link certain settlements with Saragar.

Chapter Six: Saragar: City by the Sea
A map is provided for the city, though it is not numbered or really detailed. Saragar is a central and key location within the region and as such will be the focus point of any adventures set in the region. This chapter provides greater details into the city. It covers the Government (Lawkeepers enforce the laws of happiness and the Lawtenders are the bureaucracy), Distillery and the Water Tower (which turns the salt water of the Sea into drinkable water), Palace, Port, Beach and the Underground (rebels who prefer free will over an easy life).

Chapter Seven: New Rules
Here we are given a set of new rules to be used in this new region so a character can deal with the new effects they will encounter. Such topics as Dehydration (characters need less water in this cooler climate), Humidity (all this new water hanging in the air is hard to deal with), Catching Cold (because it’s not hot all the time), Drinking Sea Water (in case people from Tyr are stupid enough to drink bitter water).

From there we get into New Proficiencies (2E skills). We get some new skills such as Sailing, Sailboarding, and Surfing. Really? Water sports is not what I envision in a Dark Sun campaign.

The chapter rounds out with rules for Wind, Swimming, Magic (a description of defiling magic and its effects within the region), and New Equipment (like that essential adventuring item, the surfboard).

From my snarky comments you may be able to sense I am not happy with this section. Almost every new rule is all about how different this region is from the typical Dark Sun campaign. These rules are the anti-thesis of a Dark Sun campaign. If you are looking to run a “pure” 4E Dark Sun campaign then these rules are not for you. If however, you are looking to throw something unexpected at your players then you can consider this section.

The appendix comes in two parts. The first part is a few random encounter tables. These can be used as a guideline for what the characters may encounter in certain areas of this region. The beings encountered do not have 4E stats but those can be created if desired.

The second part is 13 new monsters done up in 2E stats. None of the monsters are in the Dark Sun Creature Catalog, so conversion will be needed.

In the Lands of the Last Sea
This is an adventure book utilizing the information found in the setting book. It has an Introduction and 3 Parts.

Here we get an overview of the adventure. Basically, one of the Mind Lords has gone completely insane and is trying to go back in time to change history such that the Last Sea is no longer under the control of the Mind Lords.

Part 1: Welcome to the Last Sea
This extremely short Part is meant to get the players involved in the plot. It is assumed the characters are not from this region, but rather from the Tyr region. There are no guidelines for getting the characters here; the adventure picks up with them newly arrived.

The insane Mind Lord, Kosveret, kidnaps one of the characters, hides the character in his lair, assumes the identity of the stolen character, and then a day later takes the brain of one of the other party members for his scheme. In theory the characters have a chance to prevent this, but even the adventure admits this is not likely due to the power levels of Kosveret. So we start the adventure by the villain of the plot using a convoluted method to kill a character (I suppose we have to assume because Kosveret is insane he is allowed to use such contrived methods) with the players not being able to do anything about it. While the characters might have buy-in with the plot due to the death of a party member, the way it was done will probably drive the players away.

Part 2: Allies and Foes
Herein we follow a series of clues around the region until the players discover who the brain stealing murderer is and where his secret lair is. It starts with The Lawkeepers, where the players learn there is a serial killer going around taking people’s brains. From there the characters are contacted by the Underground and pointed in the direction of Blufftown where they converse with a dwarf who helped build Kosveret’s lair and he can give the characters directions to the lair, right before he is killed.

Encounters are given for the Storm Giants, the Lizard Men and the Halls of Kharzden. These are additional encounters in case the characters get stuck in the plot.

Part 3: Resolution
Armed with the knowledge of who is behind the killings and where his lair is, the party confronts Kosveret…to no effect. We get into some time shenanigans. If the party stops Kosveret from changing history then it is actually a good thing as Kosveret’s actions were the catalyst for the creation of the Mind Lords. If the players succeed in stopping Kosveret’s plan then the region turns into a version of the typical Athas, but wait, one of the other Mind Lords was watching everything else and fixes everything back to the way it used to be. Thus the adventure ends without anything changing.

Fold-Out Map
This map is large poster map is of the immediate region of the Last Sea. It includes all the locations mentioned in the campaign book.

Between the two books there are 23 pictures. About a third of them can be shown to the players and used to highlight certain locations. Overall, I liked the artwork.

Overall: If ever there was an example of “Jumping the Shark” this is it (they even provided shark stats in the Appendix). In an effort to provide something new and unique to the Dark Sun setting, the author and TSR gave us something that was not Dark Sun. Dark Sun is all about a harsh world ruled by oppressive masters who use the people for their own ends. The Last Sea is all about an easy world ruled by benevolent dictators who only want the people to be happy. Granted the masters of the Last Sea have taken some freedoms from the people, but they do it in a misguided form of munificence. The Last Sea is not what Dark Sun is about.

To be fair, the supplement is unique and interesting. It would make for an exciting setting, just not for a Dark Sun game.
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