December 16, 2010

Dark Sun: Veiled Alliance

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 Veiled Alliance published in 1992. It is softcover and runs 96 pages. The book is divided into 4 chapters.

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Chapter 1: The Alliance-An Overview
This chapter covers some of the basics of the organization. It starts by mentioning that it is the loosest form of organization possible with no ties between different “branches”. This is discussed under Scope and Motive.

From there it goes into Goals and Doctrines. It outlines 5 Aims that all the incarnations of the Veiled Alliance share, though it is mentioned not all pursue the Aims as diligently as others. The 4E setting book only mentions 3 of the 5 Aims as being tenets. This is in effect the smushing together of the 5 Aims into 3.

Next up is a discourse on Structure and Communications as well as Organization. Organization goes into the layout of a group within a city. It offers a typical setup and notes how the cells (similar to WW2 resistance cells were set up) wok with each other. It also mentions the Cathexis, a psionic form of gestalt communication. Also mentioned is how the cell leaders keep an eye on their members.

The chapter ends with a few paragraphs on Subversion and Threat. This is about how the sorcerer kings have sent spies into the Alliance with the intent of destroying it.

Most of the chapter falls outside of he 4E setting book’s comments on the Alliance, but there is nothing here that contradicts the 4E setting. It is more of a detailed look at the same thing.

Chapter 2: Inside the Alliance
We start with how a character can find the Alliance. It mentions what likely contact sites the Alliance might use (places where spell components are sold is a popular one) as well as recognition signs that are shared among the various cells of the Alliance. It gives some specific signs which is nice to throw into an adventure to bring it more to life. We then see how a member of the Alliance will react when given the appropriate signs.

From there the chapter goes into how to join the Veiled Alliance of a city. It lists how the recruitment is run including the two-step initiation ceremonies conducted. It also mentions the 5 Duties a new member has to vow to fulfill.

Next we have a discussion on Meetings, when they are held, what happens at them, where they are held and how they can proceed.

Operations is next and it is all about the Missions that the Alliance might run. This is not really a set of adventures or adventure seeds, but rather an overview of what types of missions are offered depending on what class the player is. It discusses each class and what the typical mission is for them. For example, warriors work as muscle or protection, whereas priests bring aid. The way the book sets up the Veiled Alliance, a character does not have to be a spellcaster to be a member or be given adventures by them. This is carried over into the 4E setting. However, since the 4E rule set doesn’t pigeon hole characters into five classes (but rather into types) a GM will have to make some connections between the 4E character types and the 2E classes in order for this portion to be of use.

The chapter ends by covering Requital, or what happens when someone leaves the Veiled Alliance. Such ex-members are hunted down and killed and this part of the chapter covers how that is done.

Chapter 3: The Alliance in the Seven Cities
About 70% of the book (69 pages) is given over to this chapter and for good reason; this chapter covers how the Veiled Alliance functions in each city-state and herein is the most useful portion of the book from a GM’s point of view.

The chapter covers different aspects of each city-state.
Overview-This covers the style of a campaign to be run here. These styles is defined by how aggressive the Alliance is in following the Aims (aggressive or defensive) and how successful they currently are (successful, unknown or struggling).
The City-This provides a quick overview of the numbers of the city (population, emblems, economy, and noteworthy residents) and is followed by a long discourse on the city itself. This is more about the city and less about the Alliance.
History-This covers the history of the Alliance in the city and is more about how the Alliance and the city interact.
Contacting the Alliance-What places the Alliance keeps an eye out for and how they go about making contact.
Initiation-Every city’s Alliance has a unique form of initiation.
Leadership-Who leads the Alliance and who are a couple of the key people here. It provides stats (useless for 4E) and a decent background for each, certainly enough to aid in role-playing them.
Headquarters- Where they are headquartered with any defenses they may have. It also provides a detailed map of the area.
Adventure Hooks- Building on the previous information, here are some ideas for adventures and possible ramifications.

Altogether this chapter is full of some really good adventure seeds. It can really help if a DM ever wanted to include the Veiled Alliance in his game, even if it’s just as a catalyst for adventure. The 4E setting book does not cover even remotely this much information, but the information in this book does not contradict anything in the 4E setting book so can be freely used.
Of note is that each city-state has its own feel and there is something unique about each sect of Veiled Alliance, even down to who leads them. There is a lot of potential adventure to be found here.

The chapter also covers some locations found outside of the city-states, such as Altaruk, Salt View, Grak’s Pool and Lost Oasis. These are written up a bit more sparsely but there is more than enough information to run an adventure or two.

Chapter 4: The Veiled Alliance Campaign
The last chapter is fairly short and covers how a GM can use the Veiled Alliance in his own games. It offers suggestions on how to use them as a Story Device, Mission Source or Opponent. The chapter is rounded out with a discussion on Demographics (exactly how many preservers are there in each city), Tone (what type of tone the Alliance can play into) and Secrecy (the Veiled Alliance is one of secrets and those who like that type of adventure/campaign will find the Veiled Alliance suited for that).

Artwork
There are 13 pictures within the book. They are well done but are not all that good at showcasing something from the character’s view. However, there is a picture for each city listed which shows what the people of the city look like which can aid in setting a feel for that city.

Overall: With a wealth of information that can be used as a source of many adventures and with no compatibility issues with the 4E setting, this book can see a lot of use in a new Dark Sun campaign. The “fluff” in this book is outstanding.

Some issues will arise in a couple of spots. Spell components are frequently mentioned (primarily for spotting other spellcasters) which 4E has mostly done away with; even ritual components are vague abstractions. If a GM wanted to include them he would have to add details on his own as to the specifics of ritual components. Even then he would have to explain the situation to the players. For example, if the GM writes an adventure that requires the players to make note of the bat wings an NPC is carrying because it is used in a ritual, he has to make sure the players are aware that this is something they should be looking for; most players would not realize the significance of the items.

Also, some of the information given relies on spells and items that do not exist in 4E and do not have readily available analogies. This is in regard to such things as the defenses of a headquarters (spell defenses) or spells and items NPCs use to hide their abilities or agendas. In this regard the book will need some work on the part of the GM.
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