Sunday, March 22, 2015

Under Strange Suns - Session 2 - a Sherlock Holmes/Dark Sun/Star Wars Campaign



Exploring Athas


It's been a long time since I've had the opportunity to explore the sandy wastes of Dark Sun.  Whenever I open that worn boxed set, and flip through the paperback sourcebooks, spiral bound adventure books, and incredibly detailed maps, I feel nostalgic.  I ran long-term Dark Sun campaigns from 1994 to 1995 (AD&D 2nd Ed.), and then again from 2003 to 2007 (D&D 3.0/3.5).  During the D&D 4th Edition I ran a short-lived, online campaign that only lasted three sessions, but the feeling of the new and revised races, classes, and monsters didn't feel right.  Thri-kreen were no longer large, eleven foot tall half-giants were now wimpy eight foot tall goliaths, and elemental clerics were completely gutted.  So I resigned myself to a long separation from the world of Athas.

Leave it to Monte Cook Games' The Strange to bring me home!

In the last session of Under Strange Suns our party followed the trail of Sherlock Holmes from 221B Baker Street to Troy Denning's home to the broken world of Athas.  But after completing the translation to this shattered, arcane-apocalyptic recursion, the Estate agent found themselves in the bonds of slavery.  Could this be right?  Did Sherlock Holmes suffer the same fate?  

Agents of the Estate


  • Barbara "Babs" Goldstein, a Strange Paradox who … 
    • Works the System on Earth
    • Shepherds the Dead on Ardeyn
    • Casts Spells on Athas (Elven Preserver)
    • and is played by Emily
  • Jacqueline Dingo, a Skeptical Spinner who … 
    • Solves Mysteries on Earth
    • Embraces Qephilim Ancestry on Ardeyn
    • Focuses Mind over Matter on Athas (Human Psionicist)
    • and is played by Jen
  • Arlo Coulton, a Graceful Vector who … 
    • Is Licensed to Carry on Earth
    • Carries a Quiver on Ardeyn
    • Fights Dirty on Athas (Mul Gladiator)
    • and is played by Jeremy
  • Chuck Lannigan, a Stealthy Spinner who … 
    • Operates Undercover on Earth
    • Channels Sinfire on Ardeyn, 
    • Crafts Powerful Poisons* on Athas (Half-Elf Bard)
    • and is played by Andy
  • Agent 97 aka "Carol", a Clever Vector who… 
    • Leads on Earth
    • Leads on Ardeyn
    • Bears a Halo of Fire  on Athas (Dwarf Cleric of Fire)
    • and is played by Bobbie
  • Dr. Sybil Holloway/Ka'cha Kano'kek, a Lucky Paradox who …
    • Conducts Weird Science on Earth
    • Embraces Qephilim Ancestry on Ardeyn
    • Hunts with Great Skill on Athas (Thri-Kreen Ranger)
    • and is played by Ethan 

* Crafts Powerful Poisons is out of Ninth World Assassins by Metal Weave Games




Adventure Summary


The slave hold of House Vordon's slow moving mekillot wagon was hot and sweltering and nearly devoid of light save for the precious few holes cut into the ceiling to provide the prisoners fresh air.  There were eight captives in the hold.  Three were natives to the recursion: two humans, brother and sister, and a half-elf man.  The other five were the recently translated agents of the Estate.  The agents were still trying to come to terms with their new bodies and abilities, save for Dr. Sybil, a native of Athas who was finally "home."  

Since Chuck Lannigan was an avid fan of Dungeons & Dragons, he helped the rest of the party understand the "races" and "classes" that the team gained by coming to this fictional recursion.  Chuck explained that he was a Half-Elf Bard, a master of song and poison.  On her home recursion of Athas Dr. Sybil was Ka'cha Kano'kek, a fierce, mantis-like Thri-Kreen Ranger.  Arlo Coulton was a massive and muscular, hairless bronze Mul Gladiator.  Babs Goldstein gave up her pocket constitution for a cloth spellbook as an Elven Preserver.  Jackie Dingo, comfortable in fantasy settings since she was a qephilim native of Ardeyn, was still somewhat dismayed that she remained in human form as a telekinetic Psionicist.

The agents were bound with leather collars and bone and rope chains.  Arlo scoffed at the binding implements, as he had a hidden steel knife in one of his sandals… a benefit from his new ability to fight dirty in the arena.  The graceful vector was quite certain that he could cut everyone free, but needed to make sure that the other three slaves weren't going to squeal.  Chuck got the attention of the other slaves, and tried to talk with them.  He spun a story that he was confused in his capture, and couldn't remember how he got on the mekillot wagon.  The two siblings, Avrana and Theeg were young, barely fifteen, and didn't seem interested in talking to Chuck, but the half-elf was quite talkative.  

His name was Nalno, and he stated that the "slaves" had been captured from a Slave-Tribe village called Yazig, located near the city of Altaruk to the east.  Nalno stated that everyone was rounded up by House Vordon, and thrown into caravans to be sold to various cities.  This particular wagon was being taken to Tyr.  During the conversation one of the guards opened the door to the slave hold and started shouting.  He heard voices, and insisted that it had to be the "dirty bug", so the guard pulled a club and began to beat Dr. Sybil/Ka'cha relentlessly.  The guard then left and ordered the slaves to be quiet.  

Although the mekillot wagon was headed to Tyr, the Estate agents believed that it would be more advantageous to perform their mission on their own, rather than as owned property.  They wanted to escape, but needed the other three slaves to be "on board" with the plan.  Chuck asked each slave if they would cooperate.  The brother and sister nervously shook their head, but Chuck believed that Nalno had something else up his sleeve.  The half-elf was very interested in the plan, and was listening in on the agents' conversations with a deceiving twinkle in his crooked eyes.  

So Arlo cut his throat.  

As the half-elf bled out on the floor of the slave hold, Arlo cut the bonds of the rest of the party, and everyone started acting quickly.  Now that blood had been shed, the escape plan was set in motion.  On Athas, Jackie Dingo gained a psionic wild talent that allowed her to pass through solid objects.  The Skeptical Spinner stuck her head through one of the doors to the slave hold and took stock of the situation.  Each side of the hold was connected to a long hallway that traveled the length of the massive wagon.  Along each hallway was a stairwell to a tower, a stairwell to a cross-bow turret, and an exit door.  But the doors to the slave-hold were locked from the outside by a sturdy steel padlock, as were the doors to the wagon's exterior.

Dr. Sybil/Ka'cha and Arlo knew just how to get a hold of a few keys.  

The thri-kreen spent enough time on Earth to become a fan of heavy-metal, especially Metallica.  The rest of the party backed away from the door as Dr. Sybil/Ka'cha started screaming "Master of Puppets" while playing air guitar with all four of her arms.  She was wailing away, stomping her chitinous feet and growling lyrics from behind her mandibles.  The guard of course heard this, and opened the door.  But before he could shout an order, the guard winced in pain and grabbed his chest.  There was a steel knife sticking out of his ribs, held by Arlo.  The mul used his chameleon skin psionic wild talent to bend in to the wall, so the guard wouldn't see the attack coming.

Arlo described his stealthy attack technique as "Invis-i-stabbing!"  

The time had come to escape!  The agents grabbed the two remaining slaves and all fled into the hallway, save for Babs.  To divert the attention of the entire caravan, the elven magic-user planned on setting the wagon on fire.  This was Babs' first time using magic on Athas, however, and in this recursion all arcane energies were drawn from life itself.  Careful wizards, who called themselves preservers, focused on borrowing energy from life.  Ruthless and careless magic-users often drew too much energy, defiling the land around them.  Babs made the mistake of drawing far too much energy, creating a circle of ash below the wagon as all plant life, even bacteria, was sucked out of the ground.  This also had the effect of exponentially boosting her arcane fire spell.  By the time Babs left the slave hold, the wagon was certainly going up in flames.  

"It's a miracle!" Babs screamed, mimicking the opening song from the attorney's favorite new show, the "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt."

While most of the wagon's crew were desperately trying to put out the flames, two guards noticed the escape attempt, one armed with a crossbow and the other with a bone cudgel.  Arlo chose to stay back and keep the guards occupied while the rest of the team escaped.  In an instant Chuck unlocked the door, and everyone began jumping from the wagon.  Chuck and Dr. Sybil/Ka'cha ran across the road towards a long ditch, scrambling for cover.  Since she had spent so much time with the Jr. Estate Agents, Jackie Dingo took responsibility for the two teenaged slaves, and helped them out of the wagon.  

The party would've been free and clear, if Babs hadn't gotten greedy.  She was the second-to-last to leap from the wagon, as Arlo was still engaging the guards, and on her run to the ditch she saw the pair of crodlu-riders flanking the wagon.  Crodlus were bipedal bird-like mounts, and Babs thought they were adorable.  Rather than hide like the rest of her partners, she rained fiery death down on the crodlu-rider, but gained the attention of the remaining archers on the wagon.  

Arrows began to strike all about the party.  Two struck Jackie's young slave wards, killing both, and another hit the party's thri-kreen.  As Arlo leapt out of the wagon for safety, he saw Babs sprinting towards the rider-less crodlu.  The Strange Paradox calmed the animal and ran off into the broken wastes, followed by the rest of her team.

From atop the crodlu, Babs surveyed the scene a half-mile away from the blazing wagon.  The spired palace of Tyr was only about eight-miles to the west, a half-days march in the blazing sun.  But before the party could leave, a huge sandstorm blew in from the east, quickly surrounding the party.  Out of the storm a massive spout of a tornado appeared in the distance, which cut straight through the burning wagon…

… thus creating a firenado that was bearing down on the team!

Dr. Sybil/Ka'cha used her insectoid antennae, and keen sense of smell to follow a strange crusty trail first noticed by Jackie Dingo.  The thri-kreen ranger followed the trail all the way to a Silk Wyrm's hole.  Silk Wyrms were fifty-foot long, flying, psychically enhanced snakes.  Chuck hoped that the owner of the hole wasn't home, quickly converted his hand-axe into a torch, and crawled down the hole with the rest of the party behind.  When the firenado approached, Babs was at the back of the tunnel and started to get sucked out.  Luckily, Jackie was able to turn and use her powers of telekinesis to help catch Babs before she flew away.  

Chuck continued down the tunnel and noticed that the Silk Wyrm was indeed gone, but that its lair was an ancient cistern, still full of water.  At the bottom of the twenty-foot deep pool were several incredible items, that the party retrieved.  Not only were there several cyphers, but also an enchanted sword: an artifact known as El's Drinker!  Arlo was thrilled to take the sword for future battles.  

After completing their investigation of the tunnel and cistern, Babs was the first out of the hole.  She figured that her new crodlu, which she happily named "Zoidberg," was probably dead… burned to a crisp or sucked high into the air only to fall to a brutal death.  

Guess how excited she was when Zoidberg was just standing there, waiting for his new rider.

"It's a miracle!" 


Quotes from the Table


"Given my knowledge of D&D, do I know what a 'Meka Dragon' is?" - Andy had a really hard time with the word "mekillot" during the game.

"I kind of see Andy's character as James Marsden from Anchorman." - Jen agrees with the GM, that Chuck Lannigan's name is perfect for the evening news.  


"The eyes are the best part…" - Dr. Sybil/Ka'cha was eyeing up some fresh vittles after Arlo sliced Nalno's throat.


"After we shank a guard that's… like… go time." - Chuck Lannigan plans for the next part of the mission.


"How dare you just eat me, and then play air guitar!" - Babs was pretty irate with Dr. Sybil/Ka'cha for attempting to nibble her elven arm.


"… I can invis-i-stab him again!" - Jeremy coins the attack description of the night!


"What do crodlu eat?  They could be… like… circus crodlu and be starved!" - Jen was hoping that the slavers' mounts would be hungering for human flesh.


"This is worst than the beginning of Beastmaster!" - Ethan shaking his head during the scene where the two slave youths were shot down by the guards.



"Is the 'dragonlance'… I mean 'chuck wagon'… I mean Mekillot wagon…" - Andy still struggling with "mekillot"  

Jim - "… so now there's a burning tornado coming your way."

Jeremy - "… are there any sharks in it?"
(In hindsight, I should've included land sharks…)




New Stuff



El's Drinker


If you ever played Dark Sun: Shattered Lands, SSI's classic PC game from the early 1990's, you may remember this cool, vampiric blade.  I never saw El's Drinker in any of the published Dark Sun modules or sourcebooks, but I introduced a version of the magic item in a 3rd Edition campaign I ran back in the mid-00's.  Since I didn't know when I'd be back to Athas, I just had to bring back this cool magic item, as an artifact for The Strange!


  • Level 6 Artifact 
  • Medium weapon with +1 damage due to enchantment (5 damage)
  • On a roll of 17-20, instead of doing extra damage or taking a major or minor effect, the player may choose to recover an equal amount of stat pool points.  
  • So long as El's Drinker has been "blooded" (struck an organic opponent in combat), any recovery rolls by the wielder in that given combat can be made with a +2 bonus.
  • Depletion: 1-2 on a d100.  

Athas Recursion Rules

If you are interested in how to use Wild Talents, Defiling Magic, and Inferior materials, check out our first play report for Under Strange Suns, where I detail these rules.