Thursday, March 7, 2019

Review of Dark Sun Vignette: "Cold Tower"

Jesse Heinig wrote this short location reference for AD&D 2nd Edition Dark Sun. I am going to review it. Just to let readers know: I do not know Jesse Heinig and have no reason to have an opinion of this vignette before reading it. You can read it yourself: Download it here.
The first thing I did was look up what a vignette was, because I was educated in California and had no idea what that meant. Turns out, in this instance it meant: "a short descriptive literary sketch" or "
a brief incident or scene." Now, on to the review.
A yakhchāl in the early morning on Athas.
The vignette begins by explaining that Cold Tower can be dropped into an existing campaign in almost any location. While that is true, I believe it would be most suitable in the sandy wastes or stony barrens, which the author agrees with me about.
It also discusses that this could be made into a short, one shot adventure by making this location a current home of a magic or psionic item. This is true and would make an interesting one-shot for introducing new players to Dark Sun.
The introduction continues by explaining that the village was founded by free people and escaped slaves. The village was constructed, but then the people died of a plague not too far afterward. As a location in a long running campaign, I believe this history is fine. However, if you choose to use this location as a one shot adventure, I would suggest giving it a more interesting backstory with defilers or psionicists.
The rest of the introduction explains the science behind the cold tower, which is called a yakhchāl in the real world. The description is as accurate as I could find without getting too much into the exact science. Yakhchāls basically work as an evaporative cooler. I think Heinig's conclusion that these structures would exist on Athas is a good one.

Part one explains what the characters are going to encounter near the ruined village. It even includes boxed text that explains things pretty well, although I would leave out the encouraging statement, "Perhaps they could provide some shelter from the searing sun?" In my experience, players are pretty smart and will figure that out themselves. I do like how it encourages the DM to make the players think that something is going to happen. I love making players paranoid, so this fits wonderfully with my DM style.
Part two has more boxed text that discusses the brick ruins. Spoiler: Nothing is there. The boxed text is good though and paints a decent picture of the ruins. My one issue is the use of the word only in the boxed text. That tells the players that there is nothing to be found inside any of the ruined structures, which downplays the paranoia that was encouraged in part one.
Part three is where the first official encounter takes place. Deep in a muddy well is a psionic gray ooze. It's not a bad encounter and can be easily skipped if the player characters do not inspect the well. The encounter is good, but the rule book doesn't state that oozes exist on Athas. This can be easily swapped out with a psionic bog wader if the DM wishes.
Part four and five discuss interesting places in the ruins. A dome that messes with psionics, both good and bad, and a workshop with a bronze hammer head. I'm not sure how I feel about giving new players valuable metal right at the beginning of their adventuring career, but I'll leave that up to the DM. I personally would maybe give them a scrap, or two, of bronze, but far less than two pounds. There's also some coins that I would remove and replace with something non-metal of value. Yes, I know I'm a cheapskate DM.
Inside a yakhchāl.
Part six is all about the outside of the yakhchāl. There's some good boxed text explaining what the players would see when approaching the structure. The door is blocked, of course, but nothing your adventurers can't handle. There's also the top opening that the characters could enter, if desired.
Part seven is the climax of the vignette and where all the action is. The encounter inside is with two unique types of monsters that fit well into Dark Sun. This is a tough fight and might be too much for the characters. The fight is made especially difficult due to the icy floor. Again, I think the treasure is too much for a starting group, but that is easily adjusted to fit your campaign.
Inside a yakhchāl.
This part is followed up with a couple of variants that could make the location a bit more violent, or simply more interesting. Some NPCs are detailed, including names, and can make for some fun role-playing. Then, there are some ideas for expanding the vignette into an adventure involving merchant houses and raiders. I would use some of these in my game.
The vignette finishes up with maps, the new monster write-ups, and some pre-generated characters for a quick one-shot game session.
My conclusion is that this is a good vignette to use with Dark Sun. I love the science behind a real world structure that could easily be present on the Athasian surface. I don't plan on using it as is, but it is a great starting point I would not otherwise have.
I say good job to Jesse Heinig for working hard to provide all of us Dark Sun fans with something new and unique to use with our games. I encourage everyone who is a fan of Dark Sun to download and read this vignette.
May you always find water and shade.

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