Dark Sun-The PC Grinder?



Feb 28, 2007 19:38:21
Many people I've spoken too are of the opinion that Athas is a PC grinder, a place for DM's to mercilessly stomp out foolish ideas players have of changing things for the better or being heros.

One called it the "DM power trip and player abuse campaign".

Is this what everyone thinks? I know Athas is supposed to be tough, but do you consider it a PC grinder?


Mar 01, 2007 1:04:43
Life on Athas is tough. If the DM is knowledgable about the setting, it can kill the hapless halfwit of a player quickly.

I run my regular D&D campaigns like my Dark Sun campaigns. If you have a slightly better chance of not dying in regular D&D, however, you can just as easily be robbed of your treasure by the local town magistrate as you can be robbed of it by bandits in the woods.

The ancient world was tough. I make my player's thankful for everything they get, including still being alive.


Mar 01, 2007 9:00:38
You can indeed stomp out foolish ideas. Furthermore powergaming is not really an option for players, as there are hardly any magical items.
Play it though but not too merciless. As a player I lost once a character while sleeping by a coup de grace of an invisible tembo, although we had 2 other characters guarding the sleeping place. Unpreventable deaths of characters, while they cannot do anything about it are not funny. (Btw, since the death of that character it is less merciless)


Mar 01, 2007 13:16:22
It's up to the GM. The essence of Dark Sun isn't brutal gaming, it's brutality. Dark Sun is a post-apocalyptic D&D world. Apply all your questions to that template.
Really, players shouldn't be any more likely to die than in any other game. They'll just have a harder time making the world a better place.


Mar 01, 2007 14:27:56
The trick is to make your players afraid that they will always die. then they play smarter. And in order for them to be afraid, they have experience at least one player dying. well, I guess character would be a better term. Works in my campaigns.


Mar 01, 2007 15:19:56
The trick is to make your players afraid that they will always die. then they play smarter. And in order for them to be afraid, they have experience at least one player dying. well, I guess character would be a better term. Works in my campaigns.

I agree with cnahumck on this. The important thing is to make them afraid that they will always die. Not necessarily kill them on a whim. For that, I use Paranoia RPG.


Mar 01, 2007 16:06:54
Until recently - I had only ever killed on PC in my DS game...but that has since changed.

We have started Dregoth Ascending I and I have been running them into several of the patrols that are roving the city. Now they are all like 11th and 12th level characters with some realitively powerful equipment. But, when you are a group of 4 or 5 PCs and NPCs who run into a group of 6 10th level dray fighters and a 12th level fighter/templar, well you get the hurt put on you.

I have ran the whole group down to around 25% or less in hp, had 2 PCs hovering on deaths door before they stabilized, and killed one character. Now I am a nice guy, so when one of my players wanted to use his heartpick called Twin Edge, which is a type of legacy item he has, and use its abilities to attempt to heal the dead character (who btw was at like -32 hp), I actually allowed him to save the dead character - but doing so rendered his items non-magical and I have told him that there is a possibility it will never recover. He wanted to attempt it any way - because the incription on the weapon reads "Giver of Life, Taker of Life" hence the name Twin Edge.

I have been pretty sparing in the treasure while they have been in the city, but I know I will balance it out sometime soon with some great mods to their individual unique items and such.

Now to address the question - I think that if your players are looking for a game with a low mortality rate - they are in the wrong setting. If they like having difficult battles with little reward sometimes, and the chance of death or slavery hovering about them - them I say welcome to Dark Sun!


Mar 01, 2007 22:58:23
Sorry, I should have been more specific. My players don't call it a grinder, other people I've talked to have.

I just don't think the "DM snickering over his pile of dead character sheets, congradulating himself over how much smarter he is then the players" image dark sun seems to have among those I've spoken too is accurate.


Mar 02, 2007 6:05:27
During my original 4-year DS campaign, I kept a roster of character (and major NPC) deaths called the "Scroll of Cheap Deaths". It wasn't a tool to mock my players or show I was smarter than them... but it highlighted the brutal nature of the campaign, especially to new players later on!

The way I work my DS campaign - "life is cheap", and where I would (in a normal campaign) potentially hold back or perhaps fudge a mortal blow against a character, in DS I will give out the full hit, and spend the round on the Coup de Gras.

Its understood. The players love it. They're just as likely to loot a fallen comrade's body as the locals are! :D

Its certainly not a grinder, though... there's no point to having 3rd level characters encounter a Nightmare Beast, just because! Thats not fun, just poor DMing. However, if the group of 3rd level characters decide to go hunt a Nightmare Beast, well...


Mar 02, 2007 8:21:42
During my original 4-year DS campaign, I kept a roster of character (and major NPC) deaths called the "Scroll of Cheap Deaths".

lol I like this idea, I'm going to have to use that one. I also agree that players should be in fear of dying, but not actually dying so much the bodies stack up.

Every encounter I run my players through has a good chance of at least one of them dying, but if they play smart there's no reason they shouldn't come out smelling like roses.


Mar 02, 2007 10:07:55
Almost half of the PC deaths in my Dark Sun game, which I've been running off and on for a decade now, have been due to "stupid player moves", while almost all of the other deaths were totally expected by both the PCs as well as myself and so they had plans in place to get around them (for instance, I sent a bunch of low-Epic PCs up against the Dragon...they knew they'd die, as did I, so they planned for it). About the only "accidental" death I can think of was back in 2e with the Random Casualty spell - the half-giant with a two-handed warhammer ended up doing some god-awful amount of damage to the group's thri-kreen, smushing him pretty good.

Overall, as others have mentioned, Dark Sun is a "deadly game setting" but that doesn't automatically have to translate to a deadly *game*. A good DM can keep the PCs on edge, constantly in fear of dying or otherwise "losing" without actually doing so. The biggest tools I use to accomplish this are varied settings, including "dangerous environment"-style rules that players don't normally encounter in DnD games (for instance, I had mine gas build-up in a cavern system one time, causing potential unconsciousness, death, or a big explosion), and otherwise tend to make fights either unbalanced in the PCs favor (so they can get the feeling of how much better they are than "normal people") or else have them be epic, really tough fights where the PCs feel like they barely made it through the fight at the end. Throw in some encounters where it's obvious that the PCs need to escape rather than fight, and they soon get the idea that just because they're "heroes" doesn't mean they can assume that every encounter is one they can win.


Mar 03, 2007 15:38:36
In a two year campaign, I'm proud 10 characters were slain.

In no particular order
1- One was crushed by a ambushed Braxat club during a sand waste encounter. (later raised from the dead).
2- One was killed by Wyvern poison while climbing the Mountain ridge (later raised from the dead)
3- Another one was executed in public by Kalak templar (he had the chance to escape, but he failed).
4- Another was digested alive by a So'ut that rampaged Leopoldus South bridge.
5- Another one was mauled by a Water Elemental in a Water temple in the Dragon bowl.
6- Another one took a lightning bolt at point blank range in Balic against her archnemesis defiler and fell after that in the silt (She was fighting on the ledge of a bridge).
7- Another one was petrify by a Greater Basilik north of Raam while exploring an old crypt. He tought it was a Giant Lizard and tried to tame the thing with Mind control. He could be saved by a Turn stone to flesh spell, but the Neutral evil psionist of the party used the petrify body against the Basilisk, using Detonate.)
8- One lost a gladiator match in Tyr against a Yuan-Ti. Later raised from the dead. Retreving his body from the Stadium corpse pit was an epic quest in its own.
9- They took on Kalak in the ziggourat and half the party was wiped by Kalak spell, specially the Lightning bolt casted in the ziggourat main chamber. Thank god they had enough Raise dead magic after that.
10- During a chariot race in the Alluvial sand waste, another one was cut in half by an Ant-Lion after falling with his chariot in the Ant Lion trap.

Novelty 11- Not dead, but one of my player abandonned her character after she was captured by an elfe tribe, and used as a sex pet by the tribe leader.

The surviving character are badly maimed too. In the course of five year (Athas time), they lost stats from Tembo, Gaj,Raise dead, Kalak draining spell and a couple of limb too. One character lost his right leg during a war against Urik and his right hand was crushed while traveling in the Earth elemental plane. Another one, who later died (5), had her nose, the right eye and 10 finger cut-off one by one, by her archnemesis defiler vilain who tortured her to get some information about a magical device. Another one was badly burned by the sun and lost an eye from an hungry Kestrekel, after the same defiler vilain abandonned him in the desert, tied naked on a rock for 5 day straight. I could have killed him cheaply by thurst, but he was "lucky" to have a merchant caravane pass trough this place (Of course, he had to deal his life to them, you dont give expensive water to stranger tied on a rock).

So yes, Athas is pretty deadly.


Mar 03, 2007 23:54:50
I heard that once a PC, seeking cover from a volley of arrows, crawled under a Meklot(Sp?). The PC asked the DM how much cover that provided, his response was, "Total".

Rarely, do I allow my PCs to be killed by monsters. Most die at the hands of another or from an accient.

One fell off a mountain.
Killed in battle against giants.
Died in an ambush by bandits. (The bandits let him live the first time they robbed the dune trader of his goods)
Death in Arena combat.
Outmaneuvered politically (just because one's a noble, doesn't make his life any easier) and faced death by templar's.
Several died from exposure and thurst. Oh, those were long deaths...
One even died from disease in the Forest Ridge.


Mar 05, 2007 9:09:32
There have been many character deaths since I started my DS campaign in 1992-3. Most of them we due to character stupidity. Some of them died b/c they were killed by other PCs. The rest well, I have to take the credit :evillaugh . My records show 22 character deaths since the beginning. I don't think that qualifies as a "PC grinder."

This is how it breaks down:
19% I killed them through no fault of their own. These PCs just died in battle or in the wrong place/time, such as a trap. They didn't do anything wrong.

63% killed by doing something stupid, like charging a megalipede(sp?) by himself or talking back to a Dragonking!

18% killed by another PC. They just can't stop themselves.

Dark Sun was/is designed for experienced players and DMs. I would not recommend it for beginners. I would suggest at least 2 years of experience before delving into this world.


Mar 05, 2007 9:25:43
Simply put, Athas is more harsh and unforgiving than it is deadly.