Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Creating a Dark Sun(esque) Campaign for Dungeon World

My regular group and I had decided some time ago that we wanted to do some D&D style fantasy but not set in the usual pseudo-medieval environment common in so many RPGs, a number of ideas were bandied about before we eventually agreed on running something set in the Dark Sun world; after that we talked about what rules system to use and chose Dungeon World since we had really enjoyed the previous test game that we had run using the system and the players seemed to quite enjoy the fact that Dungeon World positively encourages player evolvement with the creation of the setting. Having asked on the Dungeon World Google+ community for some advice regarding running a Dark Sun game, the response overwhelming seemed to be not to let our game be limited by the published material; I thought this was good advice and so made it clear to the players from the start that, although we were using the overarching themes of the Dark Sun setting (a savage desert world ravaged by defiling magic), if there were a conflict between our ideas and the published setting, we would be using our ideas.

We had a general chat about the idea of a desert world and of course the Dune Saga was mentioned, rather than try and fight against this, since the players have mentioned it then it must interest them to some degree so I chose Arrakis for the name of our city-state, plonked unceremoniously in the middle of our (then) blank map. I labelled the rest of the blank area desert and, as another nod to the Dune Saga, I draw a rough worm-like creature in the middle of the desert area and labelled it 'Wyrm-sign', I haven't decided what (if anything) it means yet but we can fill that in later.

For the game we are using the Dark Sun Dungeon World playbooks from here: http://www.geneome.com/2013/06/05/dark-sun-canon-and-dungeon-world-characters/

Unfortunately one of our players couldn't make this session but I gave the players the choice of whatever character playbook they fancied, after some debate we ended up with a human Gladiator (Korvin, an escaped slave known in the arena as 'the Bloodtide'), Hurgen a half giant fighter who had escaped enslavement in the irrigation/waterworks beneath the city-state of Arrakis and Athrialix a human wizard who was studying philosophy at a large academy in the Arrakis. After the players had created their characters and made their choice of initial moves (character powers) we moved onto them filling in their bonds; essentially in Dungeon World each playbook has a paragraph on it containing blank spaces where you fill in the names of other characters to detail your connection to them.

For example, the bonds paragraph for the wizard (on the Dark Sun playbook) says:

______________will play an important role in the events 
to come. I have foreseen it! 
______________is keeping an important secret from me. 
______________is woefully misinformed about the 
world; I will teach them all that I can. 
______________has seen me use defiling magic. 

Following the character/world/first session generation guidelines detailed in the Dungeon World corebook, after the players had created their characters and we'd talked through them a bit I had them introduce their characters to the other players and we did a brief Q&A with myself and the players taking turn to ask each other questions related to the characters; this lead to some very interesting facets of the characters and the gameworld being discussed and defined (although, following advice from the DW book and the other people on the DW G+ community I was careful to leave plenty of blank space for later expansion).

Some of the interesting things we discovered were:

* Giants, although once common, are now widely believed to be extinct, having been hunted as part of the sorcer kings pogrom against non-human races; however, recognising that the giant's stength, if harness properly, could be useful, a female giant was captured and from her the race of half-giants were created. Half-giants now breed true, with the occasional throwback being possessed of size more similar to their forebears; most half-giants are used as slave labour and work in the ancient pipe and waterworks below the city of Arrakis.
(I put a skull on the map, possibly to represent the site of a giant graveyard or their last stand)

* There is a threat of war between the City States of Arrakis and their neighbour Pharn; Arrakis' sorceror king is largely scholarly and spends his time researching arcane and esoteric lore, content to let his Templars rule the city, whereas Pharn has a much more oppressive and military feel to it.

* Arrakis has a high proportion of scholars, learned individuals travel to the city in order to benefit from education at the Academy, a school of philosophy and learning within the city; following further discussion of this it was decided that Arrakis had a distinctly classical look to it's architecture (columns, etc).
(This came about from discussion with the player of Athrialix the wizard, whose Uncle, a reknowned merchant is financing his education at the academy - mainly as a way of showing how cultured he is, rather than for Athrialix' benefit)

* An area of wild magic known as the Spellscar seperates the city and is perhaps a remnant of an ancient battle, forked lighting crackles over the landscape of the Spellscar, randomly striking the sand and turning it into strange crystalline glass structures that dot the landscape in this area.

* Much of our map is occupied by a petrified forest, we have not defined any further details about this yet.

Following the first session I have started to nail down a few more details about the steadings in the setting, Arrakis is a large cosmopolitan city but the number of people in it has started to outstrip their resources, this could cause problems in the future; nearby is the fortress of Blackrock where the Order of the Kings Templar are trained and where a large amount of the martial resources that police Arrakis originate and to the east is the Town of Shades, a sprawling outlaw settlement on the outskirts of the petrified forest reknowned for being the home of an infamous slaver (to be detailed later) whose men raid desert tribes and provide slaves to the larger city states.

I've also (loosely) defined a campaign front and an adventure front as defined in the book; the first session involved Athrialix being obliged to accompany his Uncle Alexandros to the gladiatorial games (despite his lack of interest in them) in order to stay on the old man's good side, meanwhile Korvin and Hurgen were travelling there to meet with Alexandros since Hurgen wished to acquire some more healing fruits and Bloodtide had said that he knew a trader who could get them what she needed. Their meeting and negotiations were interrupted by an alarm horn being blown from the city walls, and a number of arachnid style creatures known as Rampagers swarmed the city walls, six of them making it inside and attacking people with their razor sharp claws; our heroes were able to fight off a couple of these creatures despite the panicked crowds, Bloodtide even saving a young mother and her child, Hurgen was badly injured during the fight and Athrialix was forced to reveal his magics (although only to those present). As the chaos started to clear, Alexandros invited them all to his supply house to recover.

Please note: The rampagers occurred entirely as a suggestion from a player and we couldn't really remember what they were like in the official Dark Sun campaign so we re-skinned them (to something more akin to the Acklay from Star Wars), something which was very easy given DW's great monster creation guidelines.


I very much enjoyed the first session and it seemed to go well for the players, as a taster of what is to come I think it worked very well and, having drawn up the Rampager attack into an adventure front, I am confident in running the next session.