"Black Dougal gasps 'Poison!' and falls to the floor. He looks dead."

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

C&C / Dark Sun One Shot Report

I ran the Dark Sun one shot last night. It was great fun! First some pictures and then a look at whether the game met my goals.

The opening scene was in the arena of course...

Later a fight in the desert...

The final battle...

My goals for this game were:
1. To use C&C to run a Dark Sun game that is not a 100% conversion of Dark Sun but instead a "thematic" conversion.
How did C&C do? Really well. I find C&C plays a lot like 2nd edition but faster and easier.

Some of the conversion mechanics included;
A. No psionics - this did not appear to be missed and it still felt like dark sun to everyone.
B. Using a variant of the Microlite20 magic system for wizards - this worked extremely well.
C. Custom Gladiator class based of C&C's Knight class worked well. The player really took to it during the arena combat. Also, the Fighter, Ranger and Gladiator all felt very different from each other.

The use of lots of props, art work and music really helped with the Dark Sun feel.

2. Run a high action, heroic game that still feels like Dark Sun
I am pretty lenient with the use of C&C's siege mechanic to do all sorts of crazy maneuvers and stunts so this lends itself to the characters feeling heroic. The grittiness of Dark Sun was communicated by stressing slavery, the tyrannical power of the sorcerer-kings and the harshness of the natural environment. Only one PC death as the wizard was blasted with a lightening bolt in the final encounter.

3. Develop a fast and furious non-railroaded one-shot
I had 5 encounters roughly sketched out. A lot of pre-planning went into making sure there would be at least one opportunity for each character to come to the forefront but, as they typically do, the players surprised me at every turn. The only encounter that went as I expected it to was the initial battle in the arena - tough for that one to get off the rails. From the second encounter on the players tried things that I did not expect.

What worked really well?
A. All the time and effort I put into making props, visuals and the soundtrack really enhanced the game.

B. The encounter design. Each of the 5 encounters was designed with a specific goal, a list of obstacles that needed to be overcome to reach the goal, and the "push" - the element that kept the players moving. Each of the 5 goals formed the backbone of the "story". However, the method to accomplish the goal was left entirely up the the players and there was enough wiggle room for how players accomplished prior goals to affect how later goals may be reached. The push for the overall story was a time limit on finding Mr. McGuffin. Each encounter also had a specific push. For example, an encounter in the desert was pushed by the need to find water.

What's next?
Maybe a Thundarr-type one shot using Mutant Future, one of the scenarios out of Barbarians of Lemuria, the Burning Wheel scenario "The Gift" using Risus, or maybe a sequel Dark Sun game.

What didn't work?
- Mainly that in a format such as a one-shot, I need to do a better job moving the action along and framing the next scene. In my Northern Marches game this isn't a requirement as it is an exploration based sandbox game. the methodical exploration of every hex, passageway, nook and cranny is part of that game but in a more "story"-based one-shot it is more important to cut to the next scene to keep the tension and action ramped up. There was a brief part in the middle of the game where I started so see things flag a bit and had to really make a conscious effort to bring the intensity back up.


  1. Sounds awesome. My current C&C game is set (for now) in an "Evil" campaign setting that doesn't look like Dark Sun, but has a similar vibe. I can see how doing Athas C&C style would work very well.

    Can you elaborate a little more on your soundtrack, your props, the "inspirational art", and your custom Gladiator class?

  2. I'm glad you guys had a good time. :)

  3. Badelaire,
    The music was just the soundtracks for Gladiator and 300. They both had the vibe I was going for. The gladiator soundtrack (with a very slight reordering of songs) was used first for the scenes in the arena, while the characters were being sold and for their escape. The 300 soundtrack was used for the scenes where they travelled through the desert and the final battle vs. Mr. McGuffin.

    The props consisted of:
    - custom scenery for the battle grids - you can see some of them in the pictures above,
    - Custom minis for the NPCs and monsters. The scenery and minis are a big deal for me as I usually prefer to go without minis and grid,
    - I had printed Brom Dark Sun art and put it on my C&C GM's screen,
    - I had printed pictures of NPC's and monsters to also hang on the screen when the PC's were dealing with them,
    - I bought a small package of shredded cork that made for great rocky sand that I scattered around the battle map for the desert scenes (I promised my wife I would vacuum afterwards), it made the minis tougher to move around but that was part of the point - to show the difficult of moving around the rocky, sandy desert
    - customized character sheets.

  4. Gladiator:
    Prime Attribute: Charisma
    Alignment: Any
    Hit Dice: d10
    Weapons: Any Melee and Thrown
    Armour: Any but to use their arena abilities they must have a max AC bonus from armour of +4 (not including shield) and they can use any Shield
    Abilities: Martial Display, Gladiatorial Performance, Demoralize, Arena Dominance, Wrestling, Armour Optimization.

    11.......+4 HP....+10......725,001
    12.......+4 HP....+11......900,001

    Martial Display: A Gladiator can entertain the crowd and intimidate his opponents in an arena and gain an additional bonus equal to his CHA modifier to his attack role, damage role OR AC. This ability can be used once per day and lasts for a number of rounds equal to his level. This cannot be used in conjunction with Gladiator Performance or Demoralize.

    Gladiator Performance: At 3rd level, a gladiator can inspire the arena crowd and gain a +2 to all saving throws for himself and his team as they respond to the cheers. This ability can be used once per day and lasts for a number of rounds equal to his level. This cannot be used in conjunction with Martial Display or Demoralize.

    Demoralize: At 5th level, a gladiator can demoralize and cause fear and dread in arena opponents. Enemies of the gladiator suffer a -4 penalty the CHA checks. In addition, the affected foes must make a save vs fear (with the -4 penalty) or suffer a -1 penalty to hit.This cannot be used in conjunction with Gladiator Performance or Martial Display.

    Arena Dominance: At 8th level, the Gladiator can use Martial Display, Gladiator Performance and Demoralize all at once for one round. This is in addition to their regular use individually.

    Wrestling: A gladiator is a specialist at unarmed combat and gains a +2 bonus to all unarmed attacks (grappling, pummeling and overbearing).

    Armour Optimization: When he reaches 3th level a gladiator learns to optimize his armour. Provided he is wearing armour, the gladiator gains an additional +1 AC bonus for every 3 levels (+1 at 3rd-5th, +2 at 6th-8th, +3 at 9th-11th, etc.)

    Attract Followers: At 10th level, a gladiator attracts 2d8 followers who are 1st level gladiators that have come "to learn from the master".

  5. What a cool game. I ran a Dark Sun game for one of our "fests" (2 to 3 straight days of gaming) long ago, and I have to tell you, it was awesome. Not really the way I ran it per se, but the way the game ended.

    They were all pretty high level, and unfortunately I don't really remember much of the story itself, but during the final confrontation all but one PC ended up buying the farm. And the bad guy got away to boot.

    I thought that they'd hate that it ended that way. But they were all very enthusiastic that such a gritty setting produced such an ending. So, a win for everyone.

    Your game sounds like a hoot. Wish I lived closer... ;-)

  6. As one of the players I can definitely confirm that a good time was had by all.

    Non-combat and combat magic got equal time - actually making a difference. The threat level was just right, meaning that spells like Web and Hold Person had a decent chance of incapacitating foes - but not a perfect chance.

    The sheer amount of scenery props was awesome. The huge arena was probably the most effective, but I think the tarantula pulling a cart was probably the one that will stick in my memory.

    The music was selections from 300 and Gladiator and was at just the right volume to underlay everything but never loud enough that I was listening to it.

    In a couple of instances we were able to use non-linear problem solving to do the unexpected and make life easier for ourselves.

  7. Thanks for chiming in Apolloin. It is nice to get the players perspective on here.