Review: Marauders of the Dune Sea

This is a truly terrible adventure. Just when I thought WotC had turned a corner with their scenario offerings, along comes this: shallow, two dimensional, railroaded, flat and occasionally just plain wrong foray into their rebooted Dark Sun setting.

Let’s begin at the beginning. The cover art is a nice action piece by Ralph Horsley, one of my favourite artists. It depicts an iconic Dark Sun battle, which you simply will not encounter during the events of this adventure. Interior illustrations are by Ben Wootten, who was hardly overworked as there’s a grand total of one internal piece, and two images designed to be shown to the players. One of those depicts a pit. With purple light coming out of it. It’s not that the art is badly done, far from it, it’s just that the art direction is so banal. As I’ll show, there are some images that were begging to be done, and they were ignored in favour of these pedestrian ones. Shame.

Speaking of things that don’t appear, there’s the adventure title itself. I don’t really know why it was chosen. I’d say it was a placeholder that everyone forgot to replace as printing deadlines loomed.

The adventure proper is for 2nd level adventurers, and they will hop aboard a metaphorical train that will inexorably roll through 15 encounters, some of which are notable only out of morbid curiosity. I had the same thought come to me while I was reading this, over and again. I think this is 5 delves spot-welded together. I also think this was written prior to the work on the setting, or so close to that development work that this is essentially a cobbled together playtest set of encounters. I think WotC took the easy, lazy option and quickly edited Bruce Cordell’s notes into something functional and stuck it on the schedule.

Every encounter is like something from the earliest days of 4e. A batch of monsters, on some random dungeon tiles, just waiting to be hit, in total and utter silence. There’s barely an NPC in the whole thing. There are skill challenges, and that’s about as sophisticated as it gets. They show no creativity or flair in the slightest. Failure in these usually results in loss of surges (yawn) or in one case, you have to do it again until you pass it. Yep, that railroad is pretty tough to get off. Oh, just in case I forgot to say, the idea is you’ve got to find a dungeon that will have a piece of an artifact in it.

I mentioned being plain wrong. Well, I’m no Dark Sun expert but I thought one of the conceits of the setting was illiteracy? Well, this adventure relies for hooks on written journals and scrolls. Then there’s the scarcity of water. Later on you’ll be making athletic checks to jump across a 15 foot deep stream. Finally there’s the classic/hackneyed enemy party challenge to overcome. Except the text refers to a Thri-kreen hunter that has been so stealthy that he’s managed to avoid actually having a stat block. Maybe he had to be cut at the last moment to accommodate the level 8 half-giant (remember this is for level 2 parties ok?) The whole product is littered with these face palm moments. Still, slap yourself hard enough and it will keep you awake.

The final encounter is awful, because it never actually happens. Instead, a big bad rolls up and you have to run away from it. If you don’t you have a succession of escalating fights until you get the message. This would have merited some art at least. But no.

The thing that really goads me about this adventure is, it’s supposed to be the springboard for entire Dark Sun campaigns. It WotC get their wish there will be legions of new and old fans of this classic setting, all frantically reading the guide, devouring the creature catalog, and looking to this adventure as a template for how to get their campaigns underway. This is likelt the only official adventure you’ll ver see for 4e DS. That’s like snatching candy from babies, utterly intolerable. With Eberron, you got a 3 level adventure to kick you off, and it took care to hit some Eberron specific tropes early on. This adventure is desert themed, and as dry as that implies.

I want my money back.

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “Review: Marauders of the Dune Sea

  1. banu

    Wow, that bad eh? I got burnt out on Dark Sun even before the books came out. The Free RPG day adventure, the Encounters and the upcoming game day for it, is enough to make me suffocate with desert and sand.

    Does the adventure at least showcase Dark Sun tropes besides “harsh environmental sands” which can be placed in any generic setting with a desert?

  2. Bobby Jennings

    Wow… that surprises me. Disappoints me a whole lot.
    Got the book yesterday, and held off getting the adventure and the Creature Catalog. Regret not getting the CC, but now I’m glad I didn’t get the adventure.
    Thanks, Baz.

  3. Vortimax

    I totally agree with your review. This “adventure” is disappointing in every sense. To be honest it’s most likely the worst 4e adventure by wotc I have got my hands on so far. On a side note: at least the printing quality is not as bad as the campaign book’s.

  4. Why do you mention “Bruce Cordell’s notes”?

    Isn’t the adventure by Sims and Tulach? Or where they just the editors?

    • The module has Bruce Cordell on the cover, and he is listed as designer in the credits. There were no ‘developers’ listed at all. Which might explain the quality!

      Sims and Tulach? Nowhere to be seen.

      • Except at the bottom of the image you attached to your post. It hurts my eyes a little, but I can clearly make out Sims’ and Tulach’s names there. Weird…

      • Really? Wow. I pulled that image from WotC’s site. Not the first time I’ve heard that sort of thing happening. Looks like the whole cover was just a placeholder.

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