Welcome to The Campaign, where I take the adventures of one of my D&D groups and turn them into a story that everyone can share. The story takes place in an adapted Dark Sun setting; a dark fantasy world shattered by a magical apocalypse, where the only thing more rare than law and order is water, and even daily survival is a struggle.
It’s been days since any of them have seen sunlight, though they can feel it burning them, sapping them of what little energy they have left. Their feet are bound together by course rope, just barely long enough to allow them to walk, which is fortunate, because walking is all they can do. Their hands are bound more tightly, completely useless. Their heads are covered in thick sacks, blocking out the sun; they can’t see a thing, and they can barely hear. All they can do is keep walking, and hope they have the endurance not to collapse, because if they collapse, that’s when they get hurt.
Every one of them is exhausted, starving and dehydrated. They’re covered in bruises, burns and lacerations, evidence of the cruel treatment they’ve suffered.
Our story begins as they’re stopped in their tracks, the sacks ripped from their heads. Even though the sun has already begun to set, they’re forced to squeeze their eyes shut as the unexpected brightness burns itself into their retinas. The air, no longer filtered by the bags, is hot and full of sand, drying out their already parched mouths.
As their vision begins to return slowly, they can see that they’re standing in front of what’s left of an isolated settlement, crumbling stone buildings and no landmarks anywhere you can see. The settlement, clearly abandoned long ago, has been taken over, surrounded by a fence of lashed together bone and scrap. A crudely painted sign over the heavily-guarded gate reads “The Oasis”, which they can only assume is some kind of morbid joke.
Looking around, they can see that they’ve been travelling in a fairly large group, maybe fifteen others similarly bound. Five more people, wearing crude, salvaged armour and improvised weaponry, divide the eighteen into two groups, and march them through the gates, and into the settlement.
As they’re pushed through, it’s obvious that The Oasis is little more than rubble, repurposed by slavers into a defensible outpost. There seem to be dozens more slavers living here, every one of them a jailor. Once you’re inside, there’s no way of getting out.
As the larger percentage of the group are taken somewhere else, our party are led to a small pen, half stone walls and half bone cage, and unceremoniously shoved in, one by one. The gate is slammed shut, leaving them trapped with the two previous occupants.
Slumped in one corner is a male Mul, somewhat advanced in years, who appraises them wearily. His head is shaved, his rough skin is an artwork of scars, and a large brand covers half his face.
Leaning against the stone wall is a younger elven woman, with dark skin and copper hair. She looks thin, almost emaciated, but her eyes are sharp and intelligent.
With nothing better to do, the party begin to introduce themselves. Aravyre, a tiefling rogue, and a travelling minstrel, taken from the house that employed her in the night. Astra, an eladrin who refuses to say more of herself. Orianna, another tiefling, with all the bearing of a warrior. The Mul introduces himself as Kob, a professional slave bounced from one owner to another, so broken by the system that, when a mine collapsed and he had the opportunity to run free, he instead walked himself right back to his owner. The elf gives her name, Syrana, but offers nothing more than that.
“We’re the outcasts,” Kob explains. “The ones that aren’t worth what little they’d get for selling us. They don’t need us for their own labour, not in a place like this. So they make us fight. At the very least we can entertain them, until we die.”
As he finishes his explanation, the cage door rattles. Two guards stand there, leering at the lot of them. Without saying a word, they gesture towards Kob, and towards Syrana. The two of them exchange glances, sharing a grim sort of resignation, and approach the door, unwilling to break the silence. The cage door opens, and they’re escorted out, and led deeper into the camp. In the distance, those left behind can hear cheering, the raucous shouting of somewhat inebriated slavers. It’s not hard to work out what’s going on.
Some time later, the rattling of the cage door alerts them to the return of the guards, not much more than a silhouette in the failing dusk light. As they step aside to open the cage door again, a third silhouette is revealed. Eyes fixed on the floor, covered in blood, Syrana is pushed back into the cell. The guards mutter to one another as they appraise the rest of them before locking the cage once again, and leaving them to their own devices.
This time, the party manage to convince Syrana to share her history. With a dark expression, she tells them about her partner, and her child. With a crippling addiction and a massive accumulated debt, her partner sold her, and their child, to slavers. She hasn’t seen her daughter since.
The slavers return, standing outside the cage. They shout abruptly at the party, demanding that two of them approach the door, volunteering themselves for the last fight of the night. With heavy hearts, and little discussion, Orianna and Astra agree to fight, knowing one of them may not return.
As the two of them are marched out of the cage, they try to resist, struggling against their captors. Though quickly beaten back into submission, Aravyre manages to take advantage of the confusion, pickpocketing the key from one of the guards. She’s locked back in the cell with Syrana, but not without a plan.
Orianna and Astra are marched to the arena, a crudely constructed bone cage surrounded by jeering, drunk slavers, demanding to be entertained. Unarmed, they are left with no choice but to brawl, and as threats of death and worse are thrown down at them, they begin to fight.
For several minutes, they exchange blows, standing their ground, much to the crowd’s mounting disappointment. As the threats begin to intensify, they realise their job is not just to fight, it’s to entertain, and their survival depends on it. Recklessly, they throw themselves at one another with renewed vigour, tackling and throwing and rolling around, and the crowd seem at least somewhat satisfied.
Neither Orianna nor Astra are faring particularly well, though, and they both know better than to expect medical attention once the fight is over. Astra, desperate, suggests a new plan: the guards want entertainment, why not entertain them the old-fashioned way? Orianna, offended by the very suggestion, ends the fight, quickly and brutally putting Astra down, knocking her out but refusing to kill her.
Sufficiently entertained, the slavers allow Orianna to return to her cage. As they escort her out, more approach Astra, and before can Orianna so much as object, drive a sword straight through her heart, killing her instantly.
TO BE CONTINUED
That was the first session! For those unfamiliar with D&D dynamics, it’s not usually common for the Dungeon Master (me, though I prefer Mistress) to kill players in the first session. You’ll have to wait until next time to find out what happened, but between now and then, I’m curious. How do you feel about this as an ongoing feature? Is there anything you’d like to see me do differently? Anything you’d want more of?
Oh, and if you’re running your own session, you are more than welcome to adapt any of my material for yourself, and if you want more information on how I constructed it all, just ask!