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Dark Sun: Sands of Blood, Part 1

July 10, 2017

When 3rd edition D&D was published, I had been out of RPGs for a few years and out of playing D&D for even longer. The changes sounded great and I was excited to play, but I was on the other side of the country from my old gaming buddies. So I posted some online ads and found my way into a new group that was looking for players.

I’ve almost always wanted to DM, even when I was a little kid playing with my older brother and his friends. I just had no idea how to do it! Through grade school, middle school, high school, and college, I tried and failed again and again, aside from one campaign in high school. That one successful game (in that it lasted more than a session or two) happened to be set on Athas, the world of Dark Sun.

With the advent 3rd edition D&D and the publishing of the (first and not so great) 3e psionics book, I thought Dark Sun could be much better realized than it had been in AD&D, and whipped up my own “keep it simple” conversion. When the new group’s first campaign ended, I offered to run a Dark Sun game using my rules. It was not a success – we started at 3rd level and didn’t make it past 5th – but it did spawn my first attempt at a “story hour” of our sessions, which I posted over at EN World. That wasn’t a success, either! It took me 6 weeks to transcribe the events of just the first session, and that level of effort was simply not sustainable. As such, there is no end to this story, but having re-read it, I think it’s pretty good regardless.

So read on, if you dare, for an incomplete tale from the world of Athas (circa 3rd edition D&D):


Sands of Blood

In the 190th King’s Age, in the year of Mountain’s Slumber, the grand city-states of Nibenay and Gulg prepared for war. For centuries, these rivals had vied for dominance of the forest that lies between them, one of the few remaining forests in the Tablelands. In that time, there have been battles, there have been wars, and there have been uneasy truces – such as the one that has lasted for the past 35 years.

But several weeks ago, entire logging expeditions from Nibenay began to mysteriously disappear from inside the forest’s borders. Suspicions naturally fell on rival Gulg and its bands of elite headhunters, or its Queen’s dark and powerful nature magic. The people of Nibenay called for revenge.

And so, sabers have been rattled. Denials have been issued, and ignored. Blood has been spilt in retalitory strikes, and in skirmishes along the border regions. Opportunists have flocked to both cities like vultures, hoping to profit from the imminent bloodshed. The fragile peace that has held for decades will not hold for much longer.

This is not the story of that war. Not yet.

Our heroes (?):

  • Krik, a thri-kreen fighter-in-training, alone and hunting for a new clutch
  • Basal, a female half-elven earth priestess, wastelander healer
  • Karick Reshaw, a male human psion (kineticist), wanderer and guide
  • Aral Karef, a male human psion (kineticist), scion of the merchant houses
  • Kanyth, a male human bard, free-spirited story teller

Prologue: Escape

Kanyth was nervous, and perhaps a little frightened. Why is this taking so long? He felt the situation closing in around him, and it made his skin itch. Suppressing the urge to touch his false mustache and reassure himself that it was still in place, he attempted to affect the appearance of a supremely bored caravan guard as Nibenay’s priestesses searched the wagons. After all, that’s what I am, am I not? Kanyth the bored guard, annoyed by the delay but well aware that it can’t be helped.

It’s this damn business with Gulg; the entire bureaucracy has gone crazy. The influx of humanity was beyond the government’s ability to effectively monitor, but the outgoing traffic was still fairly normal, and the templars seemed determined to search every last cart and wagon leaving the city. They’re certainly looking for something… hopefully it’s not me.

A group of drunken sell-swords stumbled across the crowded roadway, singing a drinking song in several different keys, none of them the correct one. Even a tune as poor as that deserves better. Kanyth sighed. A musician as talented as I am could be making a small fortune off of the crowds of bored drunkards streaming into the city, and yet here I am, heading into the wastelands on a caravan bound for Raam. Dragon’s breath, how did it come to this? Why did I agree to that job? How was I to know who that poor fool was?

Finally the templars were satisfied that whatever they were looking for was not present. A signal was given and the soldiers at the gate moved to the side. With cracks of the teamsters’ whips, the kanks began to gradually haul the wagons forward, the caravan guards marching alongside. As he passed in front of the templars, Kanyth caught his hand moving up to touch the hairs fixed onto his upper lip. Rather than suddenly reverse its motion and appear nervous, he took its movement and smoothly continued it past his mustache, to the top of his head, whereupon he ran his fingers through his long blonde hair. The nearest priestess turned her eye towards him, and he looked directly back at her, giving her his most charming grin. With a snort of derision, she focused her attention elsewhere. That’s right, the handsome lout is beneath your notice. Go right ahead and ignore me. The grin had been a gamble, but it was one that paid off. My favorite kind!

The last wagon pulled free of the city-state’s eastern gate and moved past the lines of farmers, merchants, mercenaries, adventure-seekers, scam artists, and assorted others looking to gain entry. There were no shouted commands to stop, no soldiers running to catch up with the caravan, no magical hammer of the Shadow King’s justice coming down to smite Kanyth. After a time he began to relax and started telling jokes with his fellow guards, their laughter turning his former anxiety into a faint memory. The city behind him was yet another potential prison that he had escaped; the open road before him was another day of freedom, to be lived on his own terms. What other way to live is there? None other. None at all.

Chapter 1: Like Father

The eastern road passed through Nibenay’s outlying farmlands, then turned slightly north and headed into the hills and canyons of the Blackspine Gap. As the burning sun reached its zenith, the wagons were pulled to the side of the road and canvas canopies were set up to shield the kanks from the worst of the day’s heat.

Aral Karef sat down in the shade next to one of the kanks and propped up his quarterstaff nearby. He considered pulling off his boots and massaging his sore feet, but reconsidered. I don’t want to appear weak in front of Laalresh. If word somehow got back to father…

That’s right! What would your father think, if he saw his only son crying because of some tired feet? You need to stand back up and ignore the pain. Keep marching. If your feet start to bleed, keep marching. If your feet fall off from your shins, keep marching. All this sitting down and resting is just a distraction. The voice was uncannily like Aral’s own, only much sterner, and seemed to come from just behind his left ear.

Aral sighed and glanced down at the pouch hanging from his belt that held his psicrystal, a small piece of rock that was empowered with a portion of his own mind. I was not crying.Nevertheless, he stood, retrieved his staff, and began to slowly walk around the temporary camp. That’s the spirit!

Attracted by the sounds of laughter, Aral made his way over to a large gathering of guards. A particularly handsome man with long blonde hair was telling a story of Thogo the Orphan Halfling, much to the delight of the group. In such stories, Thogo was a friendly but incredibly dim-witted member of his race, and there were many tales of his search for new friends as he wandered the Tablelands. In every tale, the halfling encountered vile monsters and evil men who tried to take advantage of Thogo’s cheerful naïveté for their own purposes. But in the end, they always wound up in Thogo’s stewpot, with the little halfling himself none the wiser. This particular tale concerned a Nibenese templar who attempted to use Thogo to kill and eat a rival, only to be killed and eaten herself in a humorous mix-up. I’ve heard this one before, only the templars involved were Tyrian, I thought. Still, Aral had to admit that the man was a good storyteller. What was his name… Kanyth? Father always said a caravan guard should know the names of the men and women that he could be dying next to.

To Aral’s right, two of the kank-handlers were looking at one of the insects’ legs with a wastelander woman. Tobias, Zaed, …and Basal, the earth priestess. Basal was wrapped in dirt-colored robes, and leaned on a stone club as she knelt down to inspect the kank’s leg. Her features had a touch of the exotic to them, and Aral noticed slightly tapered ears peeking out from under her head wrap. For a half-elf she seems surprisingly easy-going. The few I met at the academy were all moody and defensive.

Up on a nearby ridge, Aral spied the caravan’s lone thri-kreen impatiently jogging by. The young psion actually knew some of the mantis warrior’s language, and had spoken with it earlier on. Krik is its name. It said Laalresh has assigned it to roam ahead with the outriders, scouting for danger in the caravan’s path. The ‘kreen was a ball of energy, always moving, and seeming to have little use for the shade of the tents. Even now, at high sun. I do envy its ability to live out here in the heat and dust.

On the other side of the kanks from the handlers, two humans and a dwarf talked amongst themselves while looking over a map. On the left was Laalresh the caravan master. He was a tall man, with short dark hair and finely spun traveling clothes. At his hips he wore two iron short swords. Aral knew from his father that Laalresh often boasted of having trained under the Urikite blade master Belkali, but his father never actually saw Laalresh use the swords in a fight.

Next to Laalresh was a slightly shorter man who had the look of a rootless wanderer about him. Karick, I believe, the mysterious guide with red hair and green eyes. From what Aral knew, the man was hired at the last second before the caravan left Nibenay. Is Laalresh planning on taking us out into the wastes? He must have traveled this route dozens of times, so why would he need a guide? On the other side of Karick was Laalresh’s dwarven lieutenant, Gravik, stout and hairless and fearsome-looking.

Soon the three concluded their discussion, and Gravik rolled the map back up and cleared his voice. “All right, you worthless layabouts, listen up! Pack up your gear, tear down the tents, and let’s get a move on! Naptime is over! You, quit your grumbling, or I’ll come over there and knock your jaw off!”

The caravan was soon ready to move once again, and the wagons were gradually pulled back onto the road to Raam. Finally we’re moving! You know, I really like that dwarf; he’s got exactly the right attitude. Why can’t you be more like a dwarf, anyway? It would make my existence so much easier. Hey, don’t stop! What did I tell you? Keep marching! No time for idleness! Stay focused!

Aral had paused on the road and was shaking his head. The other guards gave him quizzical looks as they marched past him. I should have put more thought into my choice of psicrystals. With a sigh he readjusted his pack and resumed his march under the brutal sun, following the road that his father before him once walked.

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From → D&D, Dark Sun, Gaming

4 Comments
  1. dark Sun – I remember Athas. Nice place to visit but you wouldn’t want to live there!

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  1. Dark Sun: Sands of Blood, Part 5 | Daddy DM

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