Saturday, July 6, 2024

Under a Dark Sun - Eleven Foot Pole

Play-Cast Name:
Eleven Foot Pole:
Dark Sun Actual Play
System: 5e
Where I Watched: YouTube
Where I Listened: Spotify (Audio Only)
Bone-Mail Bondage Bikini

Thoughts and Review

Eleven Foot Pole is a (now defunct) tale of high adventure run by a Dungeon Master by the name of Glen. Alongside a catchy name, Eleven Foot Pole has two playlists: one, older, playing Dolmenwood; and the other, newer, playing a very unique approach to Dark Sun: specifically, adapting the content of the Wizards of the Coast module, Rime of the Frostmaiden from the frozen reaches of Icewind Dale to the burning sands of Athas. 

Having been partial, myself, to Athas - Dark Sun being the primary example within my own experience of the campaign I never got to play - this caught my attention. Having some idea of what lies within the Icewind Dale from watching Dungeon Musing's Legacy of the Crystal Shard actual play series, the ten towns could theoretically be mapped out and adapted to the city-states of the Sorcerer Kings or to the free places around their periphery.

So, out of curiosity, I gave this a try.

What I Liked

I am always partial to actual plays which utilize physical media. It's a beautiful mixture of the digital and the analog - bringing to life memories of how we use to play before online video streaming was feasible for the technology we had or the bandwidth of our connections at the time. Eleven Foot Pole - in this actual play - utilizes paper minis (a cost effective alternative to painted ones) alongside thematic terrain, set in a light box streamed to the players live as they adventure.

Episode 0 - Welcome to Athas

This reminds me of some of the heavyweights I've rated in this series - like Lord Gosumba or Matt Finch - and harkens to an experience I've never been able to pull off: if only for lack of time. It's refreshing to see miniatures on a table, dice in a tray, even if the players are remote and connected via video conferencing. The terrain, theme, and tone of the AP match well to how I imagine Athas - and while watching, I felt like I was almost there.

Further, while I claim at the top that I watched on YouTube, I found this originally as its playlist on Spotify: listening through three episodes in the car while traveling alone for work. Glen and his players kept me company on a long cruise through Georgia - and as someone who will spend a lot of time listening, either in the car or in the gym in the morning, I truly appreciate the extra effort to put up an audio-only edition of the AP: as many people with limited data plans or who don't have time to sit and watch video for hours on end are enabled to participate in the event by it.

Episode 8: The Sand People of Athas

Lastly, I appreciate the unapologetic representation of the setting. The different races and species of Dark Sun are present and serving the narrative purpose in the campaign that they were intended to convey in the print material; the relationships between the desert folk and the city folk influence the direction of play, and while the players do banter - that banter does not take away from the experience, the ambiance: the quintessential elements that make Athas, Athas.

Oh - and it's complete. The story, while not wrapped up (the DM had other things come up in life which were priority and has had to take his leave from streaming/recording) - when you get into this AP, you aren't in for endless continual play. If that's something that appeals to you - the bounded nature of the AP: you have about a dozen episodes for this one - which will be sufficient to sate your thirst or perhaps inspirational to dive into the channel's other content.

Aspects to Note

One element of the AP that I found a tad tiresome - it is obvious that the DM is aware of YouTube's algorithm preferences.  There are no soy-jack faces, no tonsil-shots, which I appreciate - but it feels in some places that the game is trying too hard to be a spectacle. It is a home game - and it runs like a home game - but its a home game that is being crafted and run in such a way as to seem entertaining. 

Is there anything wrong with trying to appeal to a mass demographic? No - but if over-reaction, if over-emoting, puts you off, there will be some episodes where you will skip ahead a tad. In particular, the DM will pretend to be adversarial - complaining that the players didn't take enough damage, expressing glee when they are making a bad decision: it's obviously show - it's obviously part of the banter and dynamic of the friends who are sitting around the Zoom/Discord/Skype call: but it is a bit over the top for my personal tastes.

Apart from that... one of the key elements of OSR play is resource management: where combat is an option and often inevitable, it is something to be approached with caution and planning. Don't pick a fight you can't win - and retreat from fights where the cost isn't worth the progress said cost purchases.
Technically unrelated to the AP...
but NGL: I really enjoyed these
comics
when they came out.
By contrast - in this AP, combat is essential - combat happens every episode, typically, and can take a bulk of said episode to resolve. It's not really the fault of the campaign - per se: but a feature of the system. Because they are playing WotC D&D compared to TSR D&D, the focus of the game is more on skirmishes and exposé of character powers: so as long as they are playing 5e, that's going to be a part of the experience. Which, truth be told - leads us into the main concern that readers of this article will likely have:

The elephant in the room - which I might should have been more conscious of up front - they are playing 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons

While there is nothing expressly wrong with 5e, the entire purpose of the OSR was to reject the changes made to the system, and more so to the changes made to the focus of the game that result from the changes to the system, that Wizards of the Coast brings. So in order to truly facilitate Dark Sun, a lot of changes would need to be made either to the system - making it less useful to learn from - or to the setting: making it less authentic to its 1990s roots. Further - recall, AD&D 2nd Edition came out in 1989: Dark Sun, published two years later expressly for the new system. Defining the OSR as being a movement harkening to the Gygaxian tradition - the first 10 years of the game, prior to his ouster from TSR - the system and setting don't really lend a nod to the OSR ethos. Nothing about this playlist is OSR - and although I did enjoy listening through it, to you - the readers of this article - I recognize that posting about it might have been somewhat of a betrayal in terms of the tone of everything else I tend to do.

Why then, if it's not OSR, did you watch it? Well - like I mentioned - the group did have an Old School Essentials playlist set in Dolmenwood: so I assume that the group and DM must have some old school chops - or at least old school tendencies - which might be of use or value when converting 5e players into the old school mindset or of use to add new elements to an OSR game: as Dark Sun, as a world, absolutely could be run with 1st edition.

If they have a Dolmenwood/OSE playlist, why didn't you write a post about that one? Good question, actually.

In Conclusion

Eleven Foot Pole is a home game using a setting I hold in regard, but doesn't necessarily present the old school feel or old school mechanics that would typically appeal to your workaday grognard. The setting and the feel is right - so if you were jonesin' for some edification of Dark Sun and how it would handle in the current edition? This is for you.

As such, I am rating this Bone-Bikini: it's not really an armor class ... because this AP isn't really OSR ... but it's tonally appropriate. And who knows - after an episode or two, maybe you'll let Eleven Foot Pole keep you company for a long drive across Georgia, too.

Delve on!

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