Marauders of the Dune Sea





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    Marauders of the Dune Sea

    REVIEW OF “MARAUDERS OF THE DUNE SEA”

    *** THIS REVIEW CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED. ***

    Product: “Marauders of the Dune Sea” is a Dark Sun adventure for Dungeons & Dragons, 4th edition. It is intended for 2nd level characters and reports to take characters to 4th level. The adventure was written by Bruce R. Cordell.

    Overview: This is from the outside back cover: “Marauders of the Dune Sea is a stand-alone Dungeons & Dragons adventure for 2nd-level characters. It is designed for the Dark Sun campaign setting, but the adventure also fits easily into any campaign that includes a desert. It features an easy-to-run encounter format and a full-color, double-sided battle map.”

    Contents: The adventure includes the heavy cardstock outside cover typical to many current D&D 4th edition adventures. Inside the cover are found a 32-page adventure booklet and a double-sided poster map (desert on one side and a city/town scene on the other).

    The Basics: “Marauders of the Dune Sea” begins by offering the DM three different plot hooks. The idea is that most or all of the player characters will fit into one of these three and allow easy entry into the adventure plot. The adventure features 14 encounters and 3 optional encounters (these are not written as standard encounters, but are offered as ideas for extra encounters if you want them). The adventure booklet concludes with development ideas for future adventures based on the events of this adventure.

    Design: The covert art by Ralph Horsley features a foreground image of a Thri-Kreen mounted on a Kank. In the background is a citadel or ruins of some kind. The back cover is a reprint of a portion of the “city/town” side of the poster map. The interior art is by Ben Wootten and features one scene tied to an encounter within which it appears and, at the end of the booklet, two larger images, which appear intended to be shown to the players (this is somewhat reminiscent of the old Tomb of Horrors adventure, though with less illustrations).
    Most of the 14 standard encounters feature a map depicting the terrain and where enemies should be placed. This is true for the combat encounters; the two that do not feature maps are skill challenge encounters. Of the 14 encounters, then, 12 are combat encounters and 2 are skill challenges. Of the 12 combat encounters, 3 are outdoors (1 city/town, 2 desert) and the remaining 9 occur in a subterranean area. Both of the skill challenge encounters occur outdoors (in the desert preceding and after the subterranean area).
    The encounters total 11,880xp as a baseline (there are options to increase this). For a party of 5 adventurers, this rewards 2,376xp each. Assuming the PCs start at 1,000xp (minimum for 2nd level), they would be at a minimum of 3,376xp at the end of the adventure. This is not enough to get a PC to 4th level (3,750xp), but it’s close enough that one or two optional encounters should do it. A party of 4 PCs would gain 2,970xp, which would be enough to vault a 2nd level character to 4th level.

    What Works: From an overall perspective, Marauders of the Dune Sea does a fairly good job of introducing players to the world of Athas. Its outdoor encounters are set in the blistering desert and the combat encounters feature many enemies specific to the Dark Sun setting (such as thri-kreen, tarek, hejkin, muls, and gith). The adventure does a good job presenting Dark Sun’s social structure through the appearance of a templar and one noble house. Given the three options to add player characters to the plot, it seems that a DM would have little difficulty working this into his Dark Sun campaign.
    The combat encounters provide a good range of challenges. They feature a number of different creatures and creature types, as well as mixing melee and ranged enemies. Half of the combat encounters feature a hazard or a trap of some kind. The combat encounters feature dynamic terrain with many options for various kinds of player characters and play styles.
    There are additional optional encounters which, while not given stats or a map, are great for DMs who want to expand the adventure in one way or another. Part of the subterranean map has been intentionally left undeveloped for the same basic reason.
    In addition, the adventure does a good job of “self-awareness”: one of the encounters features a rival adventuring party seeking the same object the player characters seek. This makes sense because the patron who sends the player characters on this adventure sent the same notice to others in Tyr.
    There are definitely elements present in this adventure that give the DM ideas on expanding adventure elements into future adventures. “Marauders of the Dune Sea” does a very good job of dropping hints as to what you might do next with your Dark Sun campaign.

    What Doesn’t: There is a minor typo in the “plot hooks” section. 2 of the 3 plot hooks offer quests for 150xp, while the 3rd offers a quest for 750xp. I believe all 3 are supposed to reward 150xp.
    The adventure starts off with an ambush in the middle of Tyr. I find this a little jarring and while perhaps in line with the savage nature of Dark Sun, I wonder if players not used to this harshness won’t be put off by this sort of surprise. This encounter is predicated on only 2 of the 3 lead-ins presented at the beginning of the adventure. Thus, players who were led into the adventure using the 3rd option won’t have a necessary tie-in to this ambush. The encounter also doesn’t add anything to the plot; you could easily skip this encounter and the adventure doesn’t lose anything story-wise. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I’d prefer that the encounter kick off the plot with a bang.
    In fact, going back to the lead-ins for a moment, I find the 3rd option, “Nightmares in the Waste”, to be rather bland and cliché. Essentially, one of the PCs’ relatives is haunted in their sleep by images of a devouring sandstorm and a face in stone. I don’t really find a compelling reason to use this instead of the other two lead-ins (which have their own legitimate merits). I suppose if you didn’t give any of the PCs this lead-in, you don’t need to worry about the extraneous nature of the first encounter.
    There are quite a few tareks and hejkins in this adventure, which is not a problem in and of itself. Unfortunately, unless you own the Dark Sun Creature Catalog or have access to the original Dark Sun materials, since there is no art in this adventure depicting the tareks or hejkins, the DM has no idea what these creatures look like. All we are really told, in the “read to the players” sections, is that these are “humanoids”.
    I’m also a little unsure about the inclusion of an artifact this early in a campaign. I realize that 4th edition artifacts are not the game-breakers of preceding editions, but it’s still got some baggage and paperwork associated with it. The artifact in question is fairly innocuous, but it’s still something else for a DM to deal with.
    The tattoo idea presented in the first encounter (the enemy templar tattoos the characters if defeated in the encounter) doesn’t come up for the rest of the adventure, which may lead players astray. I can well imagine players going off on a tangent, trying to figure out the significance of the tattoos and derailing the adventure. Tips for making the tattoos part of future adventures is given at the end of the adventure, so all is not lost.

    Rating (out of 5):
    - Art/Design: 4.5. Very clean and neat. I would like to have seen more illustrations of the new Dark Sun creatures, weapons, and terrain.
    - Plot: 4.0. It’s pretty straightforward and doesn’t require the DM to improv much. Allows for some additional development.
    - Thumbs…: UP!
    Last edited by Insight; Tuesday, 10th August, 2010 at 05:35 PM. Reason: added xp totals
    Leaving EN World for the land of novel writing. I'll be back someday.

 

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