Saturday, December 18, 2021

Dark Sun: Emancipation Day

The party finally finds an ally.
This session begins with a return to the wyrm caves so that we can report our success in destroying Balkazar to the spirit Tanelyv. He rewards us with his paladin armor, which I equip on Violencia the gladiator. It's a good set, lowering her armor class from 2 to -6. 
We continue counter-clockwise around the borders of the game world. There's no way to move east or north from the wyrm area, so we backtrack to the area labeled "Red Mesa" and take the canyon north. We arrive in a map area with a swamp. There are critters jumping about, but I can't figure out anything to do with them. Literally the only thing that happens in the entire map area is that we meet the announcer from the arena (at the beginning of the game) surrounded by a bunch of guards. In exchange for his life, he tells us of a chest buried in the "salt flats" near the "dragon's eye."
An interesting area in which I could get nothing to happen.
North of this area is another desert map with some fences in the northwest corner. We have to stop for a quick battle against some blue slaads and bulettes on the way there. Guards stop us as we approach and we demand to see their leader. An escort marches us into the inner area, but then demands that we surrender our weapons and get into a pen. We refuse, and he yells for guards. A long but easy battle ensues. There are about a dozen guards, some with bows, but my party is well above the level that any non-magic human enemy has much of a chance against us. Yester finds a couple of good opportunities for mass damage spells, and in general we mop the floor with them.
Afterwards, some captured slaves from various nearby villages thank us and flee the area. I gather that we've interrupted an expedition from Draj collecting slaves for the arena.
In the midst of combat with a bunch of slavers.
North of this area is a dead-end canyon with a parked wagon caravan. A guard challenges us as we enter their pickets. He warns us against violence but says we're otherwise welcome to visit the wagons and rest. Some fire eels attack as we explore the area, but otherwise the little settlement is violence-free. Drisana, the caravan master, occupies a huge wagon in the middle of the area. (There is no indication whatsoever as to what pulls these wagons.) She tells us that the caravan has been attacked repeatedly by bandits riding wyverns and asks us to try to stop them. They're coming from somewhere in the southwest.
This wagon is pretty cool, but what in the world pulls it?
At the campfire, we meet Katura, Chahl's daughter from Teaquetzl, and I'm a bit disappointed that the dialogue only allows us to ask things like "Teaquetzl?" and not to tell her that we've already met her father and know who she is. She recommends that we visit the wagon of Kel, a magician-in-hiding who has "amazing" stuff.
The dialogue options are disappointing here.
I don't know about Kel. He claims to be a mage hiding under a false name because he's made so many powerful enemies, including sorcerer-kings. That doesn't seem like something you volunteer. He's traveled far and wide, he says, looting ancient magic items from ruins in places we've never heard of. We look at his stuff and ask him about it, but most of it doesn't seem to be even magical (at least, according to the statistics), and it's all suspiciously cheap. We buy some anyway, because if you don't otherwise have a helmet or cloak, you might as well buy something called "Departea's Helm" for ¤20 and something called "Koeatl's Cloak" for ¤40. He does have a couple of (expensive) spell scrolls that Yester buys and learns. I forget what one is, but the other is "Web." He also has the gem for this area's monolith.
One of the few places in the game to spend money, and I can't tell what this does.
A weird thing happens in the wagon of Tobrian, the wine-maker. She gives us a free sample of wine, and the game alerts us that it has a particularly bitter aftertaste. The dialogue options include one in which we can accuse her of poisoning us. That seems like a heck of a leap of logic, but I go with it because I've just saved. She expresses shock at the accusation and demands that we go see Drisana, the wagon master. Drisana hears both our sides of the story; Tobrian claims that we barged into her wagon and demanded wine while we tell the truth (though there is an option to lie). Drisana decides the matter in our favor, fines Tobrian ¤5,000, exiles her, and gives us ¤500. So I guess it all worked out except that I'm not convinced that Tobrian did try to poison us. I've tried lots of wines with bitter aftertastes.
We wrap up the area with a visit to the wagon of Larissa, a self-proclaimed seer. Like everything else in this caravan, she seems to be a sham. For ¤35, she gives a generic prophecy: "A rising storm troubles your heart. I see your pain. You seek trust in those you befriend. Fear not! Place your trust where faith demands. In turn, truth shall provide friends to earn that trust." Meanwhile, she disparages the abilities of the seer in Teaquetzl.
The caravan area is a dead-end, so we backtrack to the "slave pens" area. There, another group of guards tries to capture us, saying, "See? We didn't need to pay Tobrian. They come to us like a dog to its master." So I guess Tobrian was bad after all. They mention capturing us for a "Commander Obour," sent by the Templars of Draj. Combat is inevitable. The six human guards would be easy, but for some reason four daggoran (froglike beasts) get involved. One thing I forgot to mention is that Yester is fighting with Balkazar's staff, which automatically casts "Slow" on the surrounding area every time it hits something. I wonder if it will run out of charges.
Balkazar's Staff casts some area-effect spell every time it hits something.
When the battle is over, we leave the area to the west and onto a new map, which seems to be just more generic desert. There are exits to the north and west (Teaquetzl is to the south). At first, it looks like we're not going to find anything in the area, but eventually we run into "a man wearing the livery of a Draja messenger." He announces that he "will not be stopped!" and summons a blue slaad. In the second round of combat, he summons three more. We kill both them and him in short order. On his body, he has a message from a Templar Pentuci to a Count Kalkin. It is coincidentally about us, warning Kalkin about our escape and asking that he watch for us. He also has a "Fire Shield" scroll.
Finding nothing else to do in the area, we leave to the north. The landscape finally changes from featureless desert to one of grass and trees, so you can imagine our reluctance to pay heed to the face-painted lunatic who runs up and yells, "No! Leave this area while you can!" He says that the area is teeming with monsters, which killed his companions. Sure enough, two mastyrials attack us immediately after he leaves, followed by three mountain stalkers.
The party assesses two mastyrials as combat begins.
My party is killing it in melee combat lately, particularly with three characters' strength above 20 thanks to various magic items. My overconfidence proves to be my downfall in this area, as shortly after the mountain stalker battle, we're attacked by six air elementals, who absolutely take us apart. We win the battle, but with virtually no hit points and healing spells--and then we get attacked by three more mountain stalkers. They knock out Yester and Featherweight in the first round and Violencia in the third. Sunstroke wins the battle with 7 hit points to spare. As we see yet another group of air elementals floating towards us, Sunstroke grabs Llod's Rod and warps us back to the monolith in the caravan village. 
The gate guard greets us as we arrive. He tells us some rumors from Draj. Earlier in the game, we heard that the sorcerer-king was "missing." The guard tells us that "the templars in Draj are desperate, fearing the sorcerer-king will withdraw his power." This time as we arrive at the campfire, we meet not Katura, but a woman named Tidzio and a man named Metikit. Tidzio is an adventuress, and she shares intelligence about some of the surrounding areas. Metikit is a con man who is happy having recently fleeced a templar. 
We warp back to the safety of the caravan camp.
After resting, we make our way back to the grasslands, this time hustling through as fast as possible. We run into a party of lizardmen who are waiting to purchase gladiators from someone named Arant. I guess everyone is involved in the slave trade in this setting. Upon questioning, they say they were hired by some mage named Wyrmias to buy gladiators from Arant and resell them to the mage. There doesn't seem to be anything else to do in the area, so we continue out of the region to the north, fighting a few air elementals and mountain stalkers on the way.
Like the previous area, this new area is set on grassy mesas surrounded by ocean. I suddenly realize how unexpected it is to see an ocean in this setting. But it almost completely surrounds the elevated peninsula on three sides, so it's reasonably sizable. ("Almost" because there's a thin strip of land heading west.) As we move forward, a magera challenges us and says that "our kind" isn't welcome here. We ask why not, and he relates that the drumming we hear in the distance is to summon their master, Dakaren, a great beast who can consume all of us. They have a sacrifice chained up to the northeast to offer to him. When we refuse to leave, he attacks with three compatriots. We have to kill a few more as we head north.
We reach the mageras' little drum circle, and when we're unable to convince them to stop drumming, we let "Fireball" do the convincing for us. 
It's like they set this up with "Fireball" in mind.
A colossal statue blocks our way across the bridge where the sacrifice must be (we don't find him or her on our peninsula). We don't find a way past it, but we do find a grappling hook near a tent to the northwest. This lets us snag the fallen end of a collapsed bridge and pull it up so we can reach the east side of the area. At the north end of a promontory, on a small island accessible only by walking down the skeletal spine of a dead sea monster, we find a woman chained to a rock. As an aside, when we get to the bottom of the mesa, it turns out we can just walk across the water. I guess it isn't an ocean after all. Either it's very shallow or what I interpreted as water is something else.
Some more excellent artwork.
As we free the woman, who gives her name as Jasmine, tentacles erupt around us. I don't know how tentacles are coming out of water so shallow we can walk across it. I pause the game to consult the manual for help, and I see numerous references to the "silt sea." I guess maybe what I perceived as water is in fact salt blowing over dry land. The monster must be under the salt.
Tentacles erupt beneath us as we free the chained woman from the rock.
There are about 10 tentacles, but they each only have about 10 hit points, so we deal with them in two rounds. When the tentacles disappear, a druid appears. "I am betrayed," he shouts. "How dare Wyrmias send people to kill me! I promised him my piece of statue in return for sacrifices! I kept my part of the bargain--how dare he betray me!" Before we can explain we have nothing to do with "Wyrmias," he attacks and we're forced to kill him. His body has a piece of a statue and some magical +3 leather armor that bestows the "Free Action" spell. I give it to Featherweight.
Jasmine explains that Wyrmias has taken over her town, Gedron, and is controlling all of the villagers. He's apparently obsessed with a statue he's building; Jasmine suggests we use the piece to complete it and then kill Wyrmias while he's distracted by it. She gives us her spellbook to prove to her sister, Linara, that she's alive, plus a couple of spell scrolls. 
We take the thin strip of land going west, hoping it will lead to the town of Gedron. Alas, we find ourselves on yet another mesa sticking out into the Silt Sea. Before we've walked more than a few steps, a human guard orders us to halt and state our business. He's not very good at his job, admitting that he's "just too tired" to yell and threaten to kill us the way he's supposed to. He freely admits that his company is rounding up villagers to serve as gladiators. The detainees are all surprisingly docile, worried that someone back in their village will kill their families if they resist. That must be this Wyrmias.
At the center of the camp, I meet Arant, their leader. I don't know what race he's supposed to be. He has pointy ears and what looks to me like reddish skin. He curses his lazy guards and says he's waiting for some ssurrans (I guess that's what I've been calling "lizardmen") to show up with payment. We ask if he'll sell them to us instead, and he quotes a price of ¤10,000 or a magic sword. We could just kill him instead, but we like the role-playing element of it, plus it gives us something to do with our money (we have just over ¤12,000). We pay him and he takes his guards and leaves, giving us the camp, which although it has a fire, lacks the official fire circle that we need to rest and heal.
Perhaps enriching a slave-trader is a bad use of "role-playing" options.
We find the slaves, about eight of them, in a pen to the north. They thank us but refuse to return to Gedron for fear that Wyrmias will kill their friends and family. We tell them to wait there. We find nothing else in the area; the only exit is to the south.
South at last brings us to the village of Gedron, which consists of seven buildings. All the people we speak to are in some kind of trance, talking lunacy and praising Wyrmias. The one merchant in town, Melkor, is convinced there's a carnival going on around him. He has nothing but junk for sale.
Gedron. Note that the northern "exit" is barely there, but as long as even the smallest piece of land touches the border, you can usually transition to a new map.
The mayor greets us with senseless babbling until Wyrmias takes control of his body from somewhere else and demands to know what we want. When we insult him for taking control of the village ("only children play with puppets"), he says he'll kill everyone if we mock him again. He offers to release the village if we bring him two statue pieces. Sensing that we already have one, he asks us to meet him at the well in the center of town.
The dialogue options suggest the party is fond of the "direct confrontation" method of addressing mental illness.
Before we meet Wyrmias, we finish exploring the town and meet Linara, a mage who is unaffected by the spell. She is Jasmine's sister from a couple of maps ago and is also the one to whom we are supposed to bring the pith extract. In exchange for the news of her sister, she tells us that Wyrmias hangs out in a room behind a tapestry in the mayor's house and has a safe hidden under a rug.
We find Wyrmias hanging out near the statue. He demands the piece that we carry. Since I've recently taken a save, I refuse. In the ensuing combat, we kill him in about two hits, but true to his word, he manages to kill literally everyone in the village. This seems antithetical to the alliance that we hope to form, so I reload and we give him the statue piece. He demands that we get the second one from the ssurrans to the east.
We visit, and they demand either the gladiators or ¤25,000 for the statue piece. None of the dialogue options will prompt combat. I don't like killing people if they don't attack first, but we don't have anywhere near ¤25,000, so I reluctantly order the party to attack. The battle is simple, and soon we have the second piece.
The ssurans price themselves out of continued existence.
We bring it back to Wyrmias. After he installs it in the statue, he keeps his word and frees the town from his control. Then he challenges us to combat. "I will even give you the first hit," he offers. We've seen The Green Knight, but we take the challenge anyway and kill him in a single blow. 
Moments later, the stone statue comes to life and slithers from the platform. We feel "waves of evil magic radiating from this thing." It speaks in Wyrmias's voice: "I have achieved my destiny! My death has propelled me to greater power than you can imagine . . . you have no idea what you have set in motion--a new age for Athas!--under my command!" He says he'll spare us for now, but the next time we see him, we will die. "I must be off to begin my conquest of Athas!" he proclaims, and starts to slither away. Figuring we'd better solve the problem we just created, we attack.
The leader of a town sheds his mortal body and turns into a giant serpent. Wasn't this a Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode?
The statue hits hard--up to four times per round, up to 20 or so damage per hit. After he kills Featherweight the first time, I reload and have Sunstroke cast a series of buffing spells before combat begins. We also summon a fire elemental to distract him. I have Sunstroke attack him in the first round but hold back the other characters until Wyrmias exhausts his first-round attacks on Sunstroke, who has over 100 hit points. Then everyone else closes in, swinging away. Wyrmias dies early in round two.
I have to run back north to convince the gladiators to return home. I loot Wyrmias's chambers (my thief is able to pick and disarm the safe) for a +2 sword called "El's Drinker" and the gem to the area's monolith. Finally, I speak to the mayor, and although reluctant to imperil his city for a second time in a week, he agrees to ally with Teaquetzl against Draj. Finally, an accomplishment on the main quest!
I think that the "psi-bracelet" can only be used by psionics.
As I played through this session, it struck me how perfectly it anticipates Baldur's Gate. Although there's a main quest, the party is largely free to just explore, and that exploration is rewarded with at least a couple of fixed encounters per map, usually with more than one way to approach them. If Dark Sun had featured a fogged-in map that slowly clears as you explore, it would be almost indistinguishable except for combat. Again, I wonder why Dark Sun isn't remembered as more of a landmark.
The portion of the world map that I've explored so far.
I only have three significant complaints about the game. First, the level cap, which I've already ranted about. Second, any game set in this kind of setting really needs a survival element. It makes no sense to tell us that "water is more valuable than gold" and then have such a statement play no role in the subsequent gameplay. Third, the control system is a bit clunky. I really want to like it because it offers dual mouse/keyboard controls, but there are small things that don't work well. The mouse often gets stuck, the inventory and character screens take just a little too long to open, and having to right-click all the time to change the mouse cursor all add up over time. Beyond those things, I can't see why we're not looking at a very high rating for Dark Sun and a place on the "must play" list.
Time so far: 23 hours



  1. “I don't know what race he's supposed to be. He has pointy ears and what looks to me like reddish skin.“

    That’s almost certainly a mul, who are ruddy-skinned and have slightly pointed ears (you may ask, why do half-dwarves, half-humans have pointy ears when neither parent has them - which is a good question I’m not sure the setting ever really addressed!)

    1. Oh, and the wagons are probably meant to be pulled by giant lizards called mekillots - mekillot caravans feature in many of the early PnP adventures for the setting.

    2. Wow. Those must have been just over the horizon somewhere.

    3. Huh, I remember thinking the big wagons had sails.

    4. Maybe you’re thinking of silt skimmers, the psionic-powered ships that sail the Sea of Silt? There are images of those in the PnP game, but all the caravan art I remember seeing had the lizards.

  2. I wonder if the designers removed water from gameplay because they played too many other games where attending to food and water is pointless busywork.

    1. I agree that survival mechanics are hard to do right, and it's better to have one that's too lenient than one that's too strict... but leaving it out entirely is worse than being too lenient, in my opinion.

    2. I agree with Anon, the exposition warrants water be more central. Even quests that revolve around it would b fitting, or having some trade value for the economy. There's the village built around the well, and the sea of salt, but they're just lore in the background.

    3. Personally, I feel like trying to add survival elements would just make the game worse. It'd be more realistic and add to role playing sure, but as is I feel like it'd either just be pointless busywork that doesn't really add much, or be too punishing and end up making the game unfun.

    4. Yeah, I tend to agree. In theory it'd be a nice way to play up the themes of the setting, but realistically, it'd probably wind up being an unintuitive and non-transparent set of penalties on particular kinds of characters -- those who rely on heavier armor, or who require lots of rest -- and given that there's no ability to respec characters in AD&D 2nd Edition, that doesn't seem like much fun.

      On the flip side, as you can see from the map Chet posted the game world is pretty compact and you're rarely more than five minutes' worth of backtracking away from the main village which has to have a functionally-inexhaustible supply of water for the story to function, meaning that most survival mechanics hinging on food and water would be trivialized by players willing to put in 10-15 minutes of boredom. That doesn't sound like much fun either. and implementing penalties that pretty much would only have bite in the early game, before the player knows what they're doing, seems like it would have lead to more folks bouncing off the game.

    5. I don't agree. In 2E D&D, there ARE no classes that "rely on heavier armor", and the Dark Sun rulebooks explicitly have bone and chitin armor, for exactly this reason. It would have been easy to have, say, chainmail that gives heat penalties, and carapace armor that does not (and gives the same armor class).

      It would also have been easy to have more NPC quests focused on food and water instead of on McGuffin delivery; or to require that all PCs at least carry a waterskin, and have one of the first quest revolve around getting four of those.

      I mean, I get that the Dark Sun setting is not really about the difficulty of surviving in the desert, but it would have added to the game's atmosphere if they'd given it more lip service.

    6. I definitely agree that using the fiction to better establish the vibe of the setting would have made for a more fun and engaging game, and some cosmetic stuff around waterskins etc. would have been fun too. But I think armor penalties would have been a bridge too far.

      There are certainly classes that have access to heavier armor as a perk in AD&D 2nd Ed., and figuring out who can wear what armor is part of determining effective multiclass combinations, for example. As you say, the Dark Sun rulebooks do have rules for alternate materials for some armor, but the RAW are that chain mail and everything heavier must be made at least partially out of metal -- which means they're super expensive and impose significant combat penalties (+1 to THAC0 per round, cumulative -- you also pass out once you've been fighting for a number of rounds equal to your CON, which won't matter in 95% of combats but is a death sentence in the other, hardest 5%).

      This means that some classes are systematically weaker when it comes to defense in Dark Sun than their equivalents in other settings -- notably, fighters and clerics. Fighters in particular are already strictly worse than gladiators, who get a level-scaling armor bonus I think specifically to counteract the issues with Athasian armor.

      It's all well and good to say "well that's how the cookie crumbles", but of course to the extent Dark Sun was balanced, it was around the core AD&D 2nd Ed. rules, including a lot of the monsters, and while in PnP a kindly DM could steer a player the right way, that's harder to do in a CRPG. And yeah, SSI theoretically could have implemented an alternate and largely cosmetic set of penalties, but 1) Shattered Lands isn't great at communicating bonuses and penalties at the best of times so that'd still be risky, and 2) SSI had pretty limited power to depart from the RAW per the terms of their license with TSR, so if they'd proposed a more forgiving approach they could well have been required to implement the more extreme ones.

      Long story short, I think ignoring the armor penalties was a good decision here and reduced pointless player irritation.

    7. Ye, armor penalties sounds too hardcore for this game. Even managing water as a resource could easily be tiresome and counterproductive to free exploration. Anyways,NPCs carrying waterskins sounds like a good example of incorporating water into the world without throwing off the gameplay. They could play out like gems are commonly a rarer, more valueble form of gold. Maybe used to bride guards, revive thirsty NPCs or even enlist a whole village. There could be bands of water bandits that need to be cleared or oases liberated from theit control.

    8. Dark Sun is probably the most UNbalanced setting for 2E D&D ever, so "game balance" is a pretty poor excuse for excluding armor penalties.

      It's not that hard to think of penalties that are meaningful without being crippling. Clearly a cumulative penalty per round plus passing out is too much of a penalty, but that doesn't mean the only possible alternative is zero penalties.

    9. Considering it's a licensed game, zero penalties or crippling penalties may very well have been the only options. Depending on the exact terms of the licensing agreement, SSI might not have had much leeway to outright change mechanics like that, and may have just had the option to include it or not.

  3. "Tentacles erupt beneath us as we free the chained woman from the rock."

    This particular trope of a woman chained to a rock seems like hard-coded into fantasy imagery and I wonder whether there's a historical or mythological precedent. I'm pretty well versed in ancient Roman, Greek, and Egyptian culture and couldn't think of any, but things might look different in Scandinavian, Slavic or Far Eastern lore. I'm also a bit concerned about the psychological implications because, especially as a real-world punishment, leaving a women to the mercy of passersby seems needlessly cruel. But it does invoke the sentiment of women in peril needing rescue, naturally...

    Care to discuss?

    1. Greek mythology has Perseus rescuing the chained-up Andromeda.

    2. I've had to look this up, and you're right, Andromeda was chained to a rock on the Phoenician coast to be devoured by a sea monster on Zeus Mammon's behest (because she spoke up to her mother Cassiopeia, to be precise).

      Thanks for the heads-up, but do you think that's the true origin for so many barely-clad women chained to rocks?

    3. (different anonymous) sure, fantasy draws on themes, images, roles, and plenty more from Greek myths, and the adventures of Perseus are direct influences in more ways than that (Medusa! getting cheated by royals! winged sandals!). The image of Andromeda in particular has been reliably popular in western art all along -- so even if it calls back to an earlier story itself, Andromeda is the archetype as far as the genre is concerned.

    4. Regarding mythology and religion - a lot of religious stories we know are concerned with abolition of HUMAN SACRIFICES and replacement them with animal ones. Greek mythology has some stories of gods horribly punishing people for trying to secretly feed gods human flesh. There is a point of view that "damsel to be devoured by monster" is symbolic of cults that sacrificed young girls to the gods craving human sacrifices, while male hero saving her is the bringer of more "vegetarian" cult that only sacrifices animals!

  4. From memory, the game was very buggy on release, so this could well have tainted the games broader appeal.

    That ocean of yours, would definitely have been silt, not salt (the setting even had lightweight skiffs that could sail across it)

    1. That is true for the second game. The first Dark Sun is fully playable and winnable even without patches. The bug with the final battle not starting actually remains even in the patched version.

    2. "That ocean of yours, would definitely have been silt." That still doesn't clear up the mystery for me. Silt can exist independently of water (i.e., after the water is dried up) or under the surface of water. Is what I'm looking at water or not?

    3. IIRC: It used to be oceans, now it seems to be filled with very fine powder that's actually lighter than water and called slit as a close approximation.

      It's so fine that you may suffocate by travelling in vincity of the sea, where it could be carried by strong storms, and at the same time boats sink in it unless supported by psionic levitation.

      It may be magical, as "that's how defiling magic works out for you" is a setting's catch-all for it's quite novel ecological messages.

    4. CRPG Addict: There is, as far as I'm aware, one and exactly one major body of water on Athas, called the Last Sea. Assuming your characters are willing to risk their lives across miles of hellish terrain for the better part of a year, there is one last middle finger in store for any character who tries to drink from it:

      The Last Sea is a *sea.* Which means it's *salt* water instead of *fresh* water.

    5. I'm wondering if the confusion about this 'sea' in the game is partly color blindness related, because nothing in the screen shot particularly looks like there's a large body of water. Pretty much every ground texture in those pics looks like hues of brown, yellow, and at most mauve.

    6. I'm really surprised that none of the major cities are next to this Last Sea - because even if it's not drinking water, it's an excellent opportunity for trading ships. You know, just like actual seas anywhere in real life.

    7. IIRC there are some settlements, but the Last Sea is very far away from the Tyr Region, which is presented as the main population center for the Dark Sun setting, and the place is run by 10,000 year old psychic halflings who don't like too many outsiders, if I recall correctly.

      Why is the dry Tyr region the main population center, despite being harsher than the like literal rain forests and slightly more hospitable places closer to the Last Sea? Well, there are feral cannibal halflings and a thri-kreen empire, and the Sorcerer-Kings built their city-states in the area to be close to the Dragon for various spoilery ancient-defiling-magic reasons. But also many of these farther-flung place were described late in the setting's life, in the revised box set, and IMO at least they don't fit as easily with the first-detailed parts of the setting.

      (As an aside, I like how compact the Tyr Region is. You look at it and think "OK, so that's the world of Athas," but IIRC it's about the size of Colorado).

  5. I always found fighting bulettes a bit funny because in some areas of Germany, Bulette means meatball.

    You are attacked by a swarm of sentient meatballs!! Oh no!

    1. A close relative of the flying spaghetti monster, no doubt? (Or does it have to do with Swedish meatballs/breen?)

    2. Perhaps it comes from French, where meatball is boulette de viande (literally: a small ball of meat)?

    3. According to the Forgottem Realms are indeed bullet-shaped, which would explain their name. According to the designer of the monster, it's pronounced boo-LAY for no clear reason; IIRC the Addict has made fun of that faux-Frenchness in the past.

    4. The German Bulette does indeed come from the French word boulette. It's only common in northeastern Germany, which isn't anywhere near France, but Napoleonic soldiers brought it there.

      I'd never call a Frikadelle a Bulette, but fighting them is still a bit funny.

    5. It was inspired by an SNL skit so the designer's reason was probably "it's funnier that way".

    6. I'm just waiting to see what Germans made of Ravenloft's Mists.

    7. Null Null:

  6. El's Drinker is the best sword in the game. It casts Vampiric Touch on hit

    1. Best weapon in the game overall even. And best item to duplicate near the finish iirc

  7. "Third, the control system is a bit clunky. I really want to like it because it offers dual mouse/keyboard controls, but there are small things that don't work well. The mouse often gets stuck, the inventory and character screens take just a little too long to open"

    Are you playing this in DOSBox? I remember playing through this game on a 386 and the controls being crisp and responsive. I recall re-playing this game one bored summer during college on an old Windows 98 laptop and the controls being similarly swift. Every time I have tried to play this again through DOSBox or on a modern computer, the controls have been laggy and unreliable. I have tried so many different settings and cycle values in DOSBox. I have tried making a separate OpenDOS partition to boot into to try and that feeling back. It has never worked.

    I don't know enough about how it was written or how modern OSes or processors handle video control to speculate about it too much. But from experience, this might not not be the fault of the game itself. Maybe I'm misremembering, but there is a real pause (particularly in the inventory screens) between when you click on something and when it registers that just wasn't there on older computers.

    1. Yes, DOSBox. I've tried increasing the cycles up to the point it's obviously too fast. That's interesting that the clunkiness might be related to an emulation issue rather than the original programming.

    2. playing today in dos box the game is actually faster and more responsive than when i played in my pentium 100 im the 90s. it was really clunky.

  8. The game seems to handle doing things in a different order nicely, too. Finding the statue pieces before talking to Wyrmias does not feel like you've done something out of order.

  9. Swamp / Oasis is linked to another quest for Notaku. He asks for butterfly wings. After that the party can attack one of butterflies in the Oasis. This leads to an another encounter with several options.

    Katura offers more interesting dialogue if you talk to her with a male character in lead. It leads to a quasi-romance, again anticipating what Baldur's Gate 2 done with the NPC romances.

    The encounter with slavers just before the Caravan area can be resolved peacefully.

    The reason why Tobrian's poison didn't work is anti-venom amulet bought from Kel. Otherwise, many of his items are just phonies.
    If the poison works, the party falls into a deep sleep and awakens in the slaver camp, without any equipment, which remains in Tobrian's wagon. Again, the party can either defeat the slavers (if they not done it before) or talk themselves out of this situation.

    The slaver you paid is a dwarf. He also has a good armor set on him, second only to Tanelyv's armor.

    If you haven't killed Wyrmias as a statue, he would've appeared in the game's final battle, making things more difficult, obviously.

    1. Cool. It's really interesting to hear about alternate paths. Again, this game is way ahead of the curve in offering them.

  10. Perhaps this game isn't widely known because there is that 'Mad Max'-eighties feeling about it.
    In other words, it became embarrassing to soon :-)

    1. What's embarrassing about that? Some later post-apo games have a Mad Max 80s vibe, like Wasteland 2.

      It's certainly more interesting than generic fantasy world #13255!

  11. The original big box release of Dark Sun seemed to have been pretty uncommon, but I remember this game being included with lots of popular discount compilation CDs in the mid 90s. I think it was pretty well known at the time.

  12. > for a +2 sword called "El's Drinker"

    El's Drinker is one of those things anybody who has played this game remembers well.

    It's an amazing weapon.

  13. About the lack of a survival element, I seem to remember that in the pen-and-paper "Dark-Sun" RPG, wearing metal armor was a bad idea, because it increased your need of water and/or you get fatigued faster, so being rewarded with an ancient paladin armor, which I suppose would be of metal plates, would result in the armor being melt to forge weapons (assuming that you know some artisan who is learned about metalworking).

    1. That's a perfect example. I would expect a game in this kind of setting to have considerations of clothing and encumbrance, day and night, and water and food availability.

    2. It's mentioned in the Wanderer's Journal that he'd *heard* of metal full plate, but thought that would be a really bad idea because it'd become a race between heatstroke, Heat Metal, and the Athasian wildlife to see what kills its wearer first.

    3. That's a nice touch of realism... but then everyone in the setting runs around half-naked in the desert sun, which is an excellent way to get cooked to death. Probably just as bad as wearing metal armor.

    4. Is it certain that the Paladin armour here is made of metal?
      Lacking an exoskeleton (desert arthropods including thri-kreen) or fur and a really good ventilation system (desert mammals with giant ears) leaves you with the option of either having dark enough skin to be able to afford running around half-naked, or wearing a thin layer of white covering as much of your body as possible.

    5. The Clue Book says it’s chain +2, so per the PnP rules it’d be metal (the rules suggest alternate materials for many armors, but chain and anything heavier have to be metal so they’re super expensive and impose penalties).

  14. I think the reason this game didn't achieve the reputation it deserved was because one good game amongst SSI's massive level of output wasn't enough to salvage their reputation.

    Before this game came out SSI ran the Gold Box engine into the ground, and the games they put out after it (the Doom style pseudo 3D crawlers) were bad. Also the direct sequel to this game was a buggy, unplayable mess.

    I think the quality of this one specific game got lost in the overall narrative of the exhaustion of SSI and the mid 90s "death of the CRPG".

    1. And let's not forget the third Eye of the Beholder game, also from 1993 and widely considered a poor design. And according to Wikipedia, Dark Sun was released in a "somewhat unfinished state".

      Aside from that: TSR, the publisher of tabletop D&D, was starting to go downhill from 1993 until the company folded in 1997.

      It looks like by the time DS:SL was released, players of both tabletop and computer games didn't attach a lot of value to the D&D brand; at least until the wildly succesful Baldur's Gate (1998) and 3rd Edition tabletop D&D (2000).

    2. Not she’s if anyone’s linked to the relevant bit of Jimmy Maher’s history of SSI, but in case not:

      Short version is the Dark Sun was in development a long time and sold pretty poorly, heralding the end of the TSR license and SSI as an independent concern, so I suspect that might have something to do with its rep!

      Beyond the reasons listed for why it did poorly with the larger public, I have to say that even as someone who played and enjoyed it when it first came out, it has some significant flaws. While there are a lot of role playing options and the game is relatively responsive, the overall plot is pretty generic, and the various encounters and subplots are likewise pretty bland - there’s not a single memorable character.

      Gameplay-wise, it also doesn’t have the tactically interesting set piece encounters of many of the gold box games - with the possible exception of the difficulty-spike final fight - and it’s wedded to the psionic rules, which are hard to understand and largely underpowered.

      It’s fun for what it is, but I think it probably looks better in a historical survey like this - where its odd setting makes it stand out from the crowd, and its formal advances can be appreciated for what they bring to the genre - than it did to contemporary audiences.

    3. Ugh, typos - “not she’s” is “not sure”, “the Dark Sun” is “that Dark Sun”.

      Re EoB3, it is a bit dull but when I went back and played it last year I was pleasantly surprised - there are some interesting less-linear bits of its design, and I remember there being more NPCs and story than in the first two. It was developed in-house by SSI, though, and I believe they had to create their own new engine to mimic the one Westwood used for the first two games. The new engine added some bells and whistles, like the welcome “all attack” button, but was more demanding - I remember the memory requirements being significantly higher than the first two and it being prone to crashes, which is why I never got very far with it back in the day.

    4. I remember that where I live, it received mostly "it's alright" kind of reviews (around 7/10 in general), and since CRPG fatigue was already setting in and the last Gold Box games fresh in everyone's memories, a score like that, while not bad, probably didn't encourage many sales. I also dimly remember that while most reviews didn't really point out many flaws in the game, almost all of them ended up criticizing the UI as unnecessarily cumbersome.

      I checked with one old magazine review in particular, and there was also at least one reviewer who was displeased with all these dialog options, disliking that "one false choice [could] lock you out of quest solutions". I believe he didn't understand the concept of alternate paths. That's what being ahead of your time gets you

    5. Oh, the same review seems to believe that the automap was spoiling the fun too much, revealing too much for the player to see all at once, and the game being somewhat too easy.

    6. This game still rocks. Much more interesting than the generic Baldur's Gate. Now there's a game that gets more contemporary praise than it deserves...

    7. Eh, having played both games when they first came out and replayed both within the last couple of years, I’m not sure I agree. I love Dark Sun as a PnP setting and have always found the Forgotten Realms boring, but BG has way more character and variety than Shattered Lands - there are tons of memorable NPCs (including the party members), lots of different adventure environments, piles of side quests that require combat and dialogue to solve... SL is actually pretty genetic at the level of characters you meet and situations you run into, and also pretty one-note in terms of the places you go - it doesn’t make as much use of the more exotic parts of setting as you might hope.

      (The variety of pc races and specialized classes in SL is way more fun, though).

    8. I also agree that DS was way ahead of its time, but i still think NG excells in non-linearity, side quests and NPC. But DS is an important step on the road. Concerning the setting: i like high fantasy settings, although they are (admittedly) quite generic... it's just a matter of taste. I like the DS setting quite a lot. But i am so grateful they omitted the survival mechanics...

  15. This comment has been removed by the author.

  16. The leader of a town sheds his mortal body and turns into a giant serpent.

    Evil Overlord List Rule #34: I will not turn into a snake. It never helps.

    Brought to you by the Evil Overlord List, Copyright 1996-1997 by Peter Anspach. More gems from this fountain of wisdom:

    Shooting is not too good for my enemies.

    One of my advisors will be an average five-year-old child. Any flaws in my plan that he is able to spot will be corrected before implementation.

    If the beautiful princess that I capture says "I'll never marry you! Never, do you hear me, NEVER!!!", I will say "Oh well" and kill her.

    Any data file of crucial importance will be padded to 1.45Mb in size.

  17. The Vintners Guild of America breathes a sigh of relief that the crpgaddict is still unaware of their attempts to assassinate him.

    1. That gave me a good laugh when I needed it. Thank you!


I welcome all comments about the material in this blog, and I generally do not censor them. However, please follow these rules:

1. Do not link to any commercial entities, including Kickstarter campaigns, unless they're directly relevant to the material in the associated blog posting. (For instance, that GOG is selling the particular game I'm playing is relevant; that Steam is having a sale this week on other games is not.) This also includes user names that link to advertising.

2. Please avoid profanity and vulgar language. I don't want my blog flagged by too many filters. I will delete comments containing profanity on a case-by-case basis.

3. NO ANONYMOUS COMMENTS. It makes it impossible to tell who's who in a thread. If you don't want to log in to Google to comment, either a) choose the "Name/URL" option, pick a name for yourself, and just leave the URL blank, or b) sign your anonymous comment with a preferred user name in the text of the comment itself.

4. I appreciate if you use ROT13 for explicit spoilers for the current game and upcoming games. Please at least mention "ROT13" in the comment so we don't get a lot of replies saying "what is that gibberish?"

5. Comments on my blog are not a place for slurs against any race, sex, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, or mental or physical disability. I will delete these on a case-by-case basis depending on my interpretation of what constitutes a "slur."

Blogger has a way of "eating" comments, so I highly recommend that you copy your words to the clipboard before submitting, just in case.

I read all comments, no matter how old the entry. So do many of my subscribers. Reader comments on "old" games continue to supplement our understanding of them. As such, all comment threads on this blog are live and active unless I specifically turn them off. There is no such thing as "necro-posting" on this blog, and thus no need to use that term.

I will delete any comments that simply point out typos. If you want to use the commenting system to alert me to them, great, I appreciate it, but there's no reason to leave such comments preserved for posterity.

I'm sorry for any difficulty commenting. I turn moderation on and off and "word verification" on and off frequently depending on the volume of spam I'm receiving. I only use either when spam gets out of control, so I appreciate your patience with both moderation tools.