December 15, 2010

Dark Sun: Valley of Dust and Fire

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 Valley of Dust and Fire published in 1992. It is softcover and runs 96 pages. The book is divided into 5 chapters, with some new monsters and an appendix. Also included is a large fold-out map. The sourcebook provided some new areas to the 2E Dark Sun setting and detailed the domain of the Dragon.

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Chapter One: The Sea of Silt
The book begins by describing the Sea of Silt and starts with the silt itself, detailing the nature of the silt and the Gray Death. Both of these descriptions match those found in the 4E setting book. This book continues with wind and weather, providing charts for determining these.

The chapter next goes into the Denizens of the area, giving a list of what types of creatures can be found in the Silt. Some of these monsters can not be found in the Dark Sun Creature Catalog, so some of this information will be of limited use.

The chapter next goes into specific types of terrain such as Rocky Islands, Bare Stone, Stark Crags, and Mud Flats. Of interest is that the Dark Sun Creature Catalog provides stats for Mudflats and Silt Pool fantastic terrain and also for a Chokedust Cloud (Gray Death) and Silt Sink hazards.

A large section is provided for moving through the Silt. It covers Wading, Flying, Magical/Psionic Movement and Silk Skimmer. Each subsection details possible means of using that form of movement along with its benefits and downsides. This can help a Gm prepare for possible means of getting players across the Silt if that is his intended direction in his campaign.

Next is a small section on how to set encounters within the Sea of Silt and how the conditions therein will affect combat.

The rest of the chapter has a lot of good information as it provides a list of Places of Interest. It covers such locations as Ket, the Road of Fire, Shault, Isle of Ash, Isle of Bones, Mountains of the Sun, Black Isle, Silt Archipelago, Vanishing Lake, and Tarelon. Each of these locations has more than enough information to run an adventure or three. The 4E setting book includes the Mountains of the Sun, Road of Fire, Roqom, Shault, Silt Archipelago, Vanishing Lake, Verdant Isle (Valley of Dust and Fire). As you can see a lot of the places are in both sourcebooks making the use of this book very compatible with the 4E setting. In fact, while the 4E book makes mention of these locations, the 2E book spends a lot more time on each site providing much more usable information for each place. As an example, Shault and the Silt Archipelago both get a map in this book.

Chapter Two: The Valley of Dust and Fire
Here we start to break away from the 4E setting material. This book expanded the area of the Dark Sun setting beyond the initial mapped area (which was about the same as that found in the 4E setting book). All the information to be found hereafter is not part of the 4E setting and thus should be used at the GMs discretion. However, it does not contradict any 4E material; in fact it provides information detailing the area the Dragon calls its home and thus is of use in a 4E setting.

This chapter focuses on the area surrounding the inner section of this region. Basically there is the Sea of Silt, then at its center is the Valley, inside the Valley lies the Ring of Fire and within that lies the Dragon’s city. Technically the entire inner region is the Valley, but for the purposes of this chapter the Valley is the area around the Ring of Fire.

The first a person encounters when he reaches the valley is the unnatural Great Ash Storm, a dangerous storm of dust and ash that acts a dome around the entire inner region. A short description of the valley floor is given as well as weather charts. Information is provided for the denizens of the valley as well as possible encounters to be had here. Some interesting terrain is mentioned here such as the Dead Forest, Smoking Land, and Lava Plains. Again information is given for the possible modes of movement characters may decide to use in this region as well as any possible consequences of doing so.

Several Places of interest are given descriptions; the Tortured hills, Shard Flats, the Gate of Doom, the basalt Plain, and the Dead Plain. In addition mention is made of the Outlanders, the descendants of those exiled from the inner city. A sample Outlander Village is provided, the Clan of the Roc. A map is provided for the village as well as stats and background for its leader. While the stats are of no use in a 4E game, the village is a good setting for an encounter.

Chapter Three: The Ring of Fire
We are now getting closer to the City of Doom (Ur Draxa), but first we get to the Ring of Fire, a prodigious lake of lava. Details are given for the lava (you fall in, you die) and a chart for the weather is given for the area. The Denizens of the Ring section is fairly short as well as the Terrain section. Movement within the region is again made mention of, with special note made of what types of powers will not work here (mostly teleportation and similar effects).

Locations in the Ring covers the interesting spots in this area. There is the Dragon’s Causeway (a line of stepping-stone islands that acts as a teleport channel), the Maelstrom (a lava whirlpool into the elemental chaos plane), Sith (the secret location of some Outlanders), and the Iron Citadel (the base of some of the Dragon’s elite forces). The Iron Citadel is also provided with a map and a description of its leader.

Chapter Four: The City of Doom
Here we reach the center of the region and the center of the material this book was created to convey. This is the city of the Dragon and where he calls home. It is here some of the highest level encounters in a Dark Sun campaign can be found.

The chapter starts with what the city looks like from the outside and discusses the possible means of entering the city. It describes the layout of the city; a circular layout with nine pie shaped sections and a round center wherein the Dragon has his palace.

The next few sections go into the History of Ur Draxa, Draxan Society, and Draxan Culture. There is a lot of good information here for bringing the people of the city to life and to make it easier to understand them and role-play them.

The next couple of sections discuss Movement in the City, including the dangers involved with such tactics as trying to fly or pas through the series of gates found within the city. It also goes into the possible encounters adventurers may face as they move through the city.

Next up is the heart of the book, the Places of Interest. It starts with the Gates of Doom and the Boulevard Gates. It then goes into the nine sectors. These are spread around the city in a circular manner similar to slices of a pie. Each sector is ruled by a clan leader with the other clans within the sector acting as vassal clans. The description of each sector includes an overview and any special buildings in the area. It then lists some of the more powerful or interesting clans within the sector. Taken all together a wonderful tapestry is created of the city and its people. There is a smorgasbord of potential adventure to be found here.

In addition, some sample maps are provided. There is the Village of Jezelred, a slave community; Tsaidra Barracks, a fighting company; Numel Palace, a clan bastion. These maps act as templates for the other similar locations, giving a DM an idea of how each can be set up if the PCs should go astray.

The chapter ends with a description of the Dragon’s Sanctum. It gives some details of the what can be found within the Sanctum. There is also information on how various methods will work on avoiding the Dragon (not very well), what happens if they should meet the Dragon and how a fight with the Dragon can play out. Most of the listed tactics are of little to no use in a 4E setting campaign since a lot of his tactics rely on spells and items that have no clear counterparts in the 4E rule system. However, some of the core ideas can still be used, such as his caches of magic items he has spread throughout his domain. The chapter also asks the question of what happens if the players do kill the Dragon; basically it comes down to the preference of the GM. No stats are provided for the Dragon (since they were in other publications, though we do get his stats in the 4E Dark Sun Creature Catalog). Also, there is no map of the Sanctum.

Chapter Five: Campaigning in the Valley
This chapter covers how a campaign run within the Valley could be set up and run. It breaks the concepts down into three possibilities. Visit is where the characters are from outside the Valley and only come here for a short time. Entrapment is one wherein the PCs are from outside the Valley and end up being stuck here. Native is one where the PCs are from the Valley, either as Outlanders or members of the city. Ideas are given for each campaign style.
The chapter ends with 8 new monsters. The jhakar, kaisharga (Lord Vizier), and silt horror are given stats in the Dark Sun Creature Catalog; the rest are not.

Appendix
This consists of several charts of random encounters for the various locations. It is of limited use as some of the monsters have no 4E counterpart.

Foldout Map
This is a map divided in half. The top half is a map of the City of Doom, complete with numbers for the locations from Chapter Four. The bottom half is an overland map of the new region. If a person wanted to wall mount this map it is possible to fold the map in half and only show the wilderness part if you wanted to hide the city map for now.

Artwork
There are 19 pictures to be found in the book. They do a good job of showing off locations and what the characters can see.

Overall: Most of the descriptions of this region are divergent from the 4E setting. Within the Dark Sun Creature Catalog, Ur Draxa is mentioned as being a ruin and that the people who once inhabited it were all sacrificed long ago when the creature now known as the Dragon was created. His Lord Viziers still exist, but the vibrant clans and city full of people does not exist in the 4E setting. Also, such beings as the Outlanders would not exist.

How a GM wants to deal with this is up to her. She can keep the city a ruin and thus the majority of this book and its descriptions are of no use. She can also choose to use the material as found in this book, but this would be a radical change from the 4E setting. However, this change would not affect a regular 4E campaign much since the Valley and its inhabitants are insular and keep to the Valley. Also the 4E information given is listed as part of the background of the monster stat description in the Creature Catalog and is not likely to have been read by the players and thus they will know what the “official” version is. The depiction given in the Setting book only describes the area as mysterious and unknown leaving the way open for an alteration on the part of the DM.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for doing these comparisons!

Anonymous said...

I had been planning out how to handle the epic tier of my Dark Sun campaign (which is to involve slaying the Dragon), and your comparisons have convinced me that this module would be perfect to base the epic-level play on.