Content of the article: "Help me design an Eberron campaign based off of the novel Dune"
tl;dr What are some good scenarios for a D&D campaign based off of Dune?
Hello, this is the beginning of a D&D guide for an Eberron campaign that I am running with my friends starting this October (2020). Eberron is the name of the world where the game takes place and there is an entire sourcebook filled with the details of the world. I didn’t create the setting but I want to tell a story in it. I also want your help in telling the story.
The story is largely inspired by Dune which is filled with political intrigue, heroic fantasy and epic destiny. I want these themes to be interwoven throughout the entire story. In fact, the campaign can largely be broken into these three themes. Part one introduces political intrigue as the players unfold sinister plots of noble houses. Part two involves heroic fantasy as the players overcome perilous threats in dangerous territories. Part three highlights epic destiny as the players become a power that can save the world.
The number one rule in designing a good D&D game is that the players have fun. The players should never feel forced to do something that they don’t want to do. They should also never do something because they feel like they have to do it in order to move the story along. As amateur game designers, this is where we come in. It’s our job to provide the framework for the story but it’s the players’ job to determine how it unfolds. Think of it like writing a book where you don’t ever know for certain what the main characters are going to do. A bit of a tricky task. But a very rewarding one.
A full-tiered D&D campaign takes at least a year to play and is broken into smaller parts called adventures. Adventures can last for as little as a few hours or as long as a few months. Adventures have clearly defined goals and outcomes that connect the overall story together. Good adventures always include the following three elements: exploration, interaction and combat. At least one of these elements will appeal to a particular player’s style, if not all of them. Remember the number one rule: the players have fun.
Exploration involves anything that allows the players to discover uncharted territory. Maybe they need to clear out a haunted tomb, or find a portal in an ancient forest, or navigate the islands of a perilous sea. Interaction involves conversing with a wide range of non-player characters (npcs). Maybe the players need to convince a demon to leave a haunted tomb, or trick an elven king into allowing them to enter an ancient forest, or bully a pirate into steering a ship through a perilous sea. Combat occurs whenever anyone makes a violent action. The demon raises his sword and the players raise their shields to defend themselves. The elven king casts a spell and the players brace themselves for the effects. A player attempts to throw the pirate overboard but is stabbed by the pirate instead. A good adventure will have all three of these elements.
Adventures are further divided into scenes. Scenes never take longer than a few hours to play. Scenes are the actions that fill out adventures. In an adventure that involves clearing out a haunted tomb, a scene might be when the players unlock a puzzle box that releases a demon from hell. Or for an adventure on the high seas a scene might be what happens after the pirate has been thrown overboard and the players now have to steer the ship themselves.
For the purposes of this guide, I’ve been focusing on developing scenarios. Scenarios are larger than scenes, but smaller than adventures. Scenarios are events or situations that the players find themselves in based on their choices. If we develop multiple good scenarios then the players have more options to have fun based on their own decisions. Scenarios may or may not be integral to the overall adventure, but should always contain at least one of the following types of information or rewards: necessary, useful and interesting. In the scenarios below I’ve outlined the types of information and rewards contained in each scenario.
I’ve done a lot of the work in structuring the campaign into adventures so the bulk of this guide should be in creating interesting, challenging and fun scenarios to fill out the adventures. As we read through it we should be asking ourselves things like, “Well, what if they don’t decide to go down the hallway beyond the locked gate?” or “How do we get them to discover this necessary piece of information if they failed at their first two attempts?”
What follows is the relevant background about Eberron as it pertains to the story, a brief introduction of how the players are hooked into the story and then numbered scenarios. The numbers are for labeling purposes and don't denote any particular order. Scenarios can happen anywhere, anytime and in any order. A scenario can be as elaborate as the ones below (I've already planned these) or as simple as "The players read in the local paper that an object has gone missing from a local art gallery." We can then include the details that flesh out this scenario.
I hope that you enjoy the collaborative creative process involved in helping me develop this campaign. Myself and my players will greatly appreciate it. Adventure awaits!
Part One: True Crime: Sharn Syndicate
True Crime: Sharn Syndicate is a D&D adventure that takes characters from levels 1 to 5 as they unravel the mystery behind a newly formed criminal enterprise based in the city of Sharn. Members of an outcast labor force are mysteriously disappearing. Powerful noble houses are producing illegal goods and using criminal gangs to smuggle them out of the city. Behind it are an evil inventor bent on creating the next doomsday device and an evil warrior amassing the largest treasure ever known. Will the players be able to foil the villains' plots and bring them to justice?
Background for Part One:
Sharn, also known as the City of Towers, is the largest city on the continent of Khorvaire. Like most of the continent it thrives off of a magical economy fueled by dragonshards. Dragonshards are magical gems scattered throughout the world that when combined with certain medieval technologies create things like light bulbs, trains, hot air balloons and telegraphs. (Think of it as a steampunk setting except dragonshards fuel the technology instead of steam.)
Twelve different houses control this magical economy due to their innate abilities to offer necessary goods and services (much like corporations today). These abilities derive from magical markings on the skin, similar to tattoos, that are called dragonmarks. There are twelve known dragonmarks throughout the world and each one corresponds to a particular house. For example, members of House Lyrander bear the Mark of the Storm, which grants them the ability to control winds. When they combine this ability with vessels containing dragonshards they are able to pilot flying "airships". Members of House Orien bear the Mark of Passage which allows them to control travel. When they combine this ability with containers carrying dragonshards they are able to drive trains called "lightning rail".
One of the houses, House Cannith bears the Mark of Making. During the Last War they used their creation forges to make large sentient humanoids called “warforged”. Warforged were made out of metal, trained for battle and sold exclusively as weapons of war. When the Last War ended the creation of warforged was banned and House Cannith was ordered to destroy all of their creation forges. House Cannith destroyed all of their creation forges except for one, and it remains deep in the bowels of Sharn. It is illegally operated by one of the three barons of House Cannith, a powerful dragonmarked human artificer named Merrix d’Cannith.
House Tharashk bears the Mark of Finding and this gives them the ability to locate people and objects. They have the ability to locate and unearth dragonshards better than any other house. House Tharashk has established multiple mining operations across the continent, and many fear that they will gain a monopoly on the dragonshard trade.
The post-war economic boom has increased the demand for dragonshards, and House Tharashk’s mining services are more crucial than ever. House Tharashk has recently discovered large deposits of dragonshards in the swamps of the Shadow Marches and are storing them in sealed vaults below their base of operations. They intend to deplete most of the dragonshard mines across the continent and use their massive hoard as a means of controlling the dragonshard trade. Whoever controls the dragonshard trade has more influence and power over the nations than any of the dragonmarked houses, and perhaps more than kings and queens.
Harvesting dragonshards from the swamps has become House Tharashk’s deadliest mining operation to date. The harsh conditions of the swamps and the deadly monsters that lurk there have taken their toll. Most notably are the giant worms that live underground in areas surrounding dragonshard deposits. Some of these worms are over three hundred feet long and are large enough to devour entire harvesting operations in a matter of moments. These giant worms are drawn by surface vibrations made during harvesting, and despite House Tharashk’s efforts to remain stealthy while harvesting, dozens of Tharashk and their equipment are regularly lost to the giant worms. As a result, House Tharashk has turned to other means for harvesting dragonshards in the deadly swamps.
Six months ago they began recruiting out-of-work warforged from Sharn. Like most warforged who survived the Last War, these recruits were desperate for pay and willing to take on dangerous work. House Tharashk hired a powerful criminal organization called Daask to handle the recruitment and training of these warforged. For the past six months Daask gang members have used illegal means to recruit and train warforged in Sharn.
House Tharashk left the smuggling business to the Boromar Clan, the most powerful criminal organization in Sharn and a rival to Daask. A House Tharashk intermediary handles the transfer of the well-trained warforged from Daask to Boromar, and Boromar smuggles them out of Sharn and into the Shadow Marches. Daask are good smugglers, but Boromar are better.
These warforged dragonshard harvesters have mitigated House Tharashk’s cost of mining in the swamps, but only by a little. Warforged are tough and don’t require oxygen or sleep which enables them to work underwater for long periods of time while handling most threats of the swamp. But they are also clunky and their movements attract the attention of the giant worms. Warforged harvesting operations have been about as successful as the operations before them. The main difference is that most people don’t notice, or don’t care, when a warforged goes missing.
With the initial plan not being as successful as anticipated, House Tharashk has turned to yet another alternative — the creation of new warforged. Warforged who are light and stealthy do not attract nearly as much attention when harvesting as their older counterparts. This of course requires an illegal creation forge and someone powerful enough to operate it. Luckily Merrix d’Cannith is all too willing to create these new warforged as long as he gets a cut in dragonshard profits. Where else will he acquire enough dragonshards to create the massive war machines that he plans to sell during the next war? Where else will he acquire enough dragonshards to create the device that he plans on using to start that war? As long as House Medani doesn’t find out about it first.
House Medani finds out about a lot of things. With the Mark of Detection, dragonmarked members of House Medani specialize in counter-intelligence and investigation. As the youngest and smallest of the dragonmarked houses, many of the other dragonmarked houses consider them nothing more than an upstart investigative agency best left out of house affairs. When Medani agents in Sharn began looking into the recruitment of warforged by Daask gang members, as well as the whereabouts of a hidden creation forge, House Tharashk and House Cannith used their combined influence among the dragonmarked houses to shut down House Medani operations in Sharn.
House Medani rightfully suspects that at least one dragonmarked house is using its power to engage in illegal activities in Sharn. They also rightfully suspect that these activities might be a precursor to an international conspiracy to start a war. No longer able to openly operate in Sharn, they have turned to the player characters (PCs) for help.
The PCs have been hired by House Medani to establish a small private investigation agency in a lower middle class neighborhood of Sharn. House Medani has provided them with a small office and living quarters as a base of operations. In addition they are providing them with a monthly stipend through a local bank that is enough to support a comfortable lifestyle and cover necessary expenses. The PCs have been instructed to report back any illegal activities that implicate a dragonmarked house and/or are sanctioned by one of the nations. Other crimes can be reported to the Sharn Watch.
In this part we come up with possible scenarios by which the players can unravel the villains' plots and help bring the villains to justice. A good adventure should including the following:
A credible threat Familiar tropes with clever twists A clear focus on the present Heroes who matter Something for all players Surprises Useful maps
Keep these in mind when developing scenarios. Each scenario should give the players access to at least one of three types of information: necessary, useful and interesting. Necessary information is required to clearly define the players' goals and move the story forward. Useful information may or may not be required to move the story forward as it can help the players achieve their goals. Interesting information isn't required to move the story forward but helps develop a backstory and context that helps enrich the players' involvement in the story. As such, good scenarios that contain necessary information should become necessary scenarios. Other scenarios may or may not become a part of the story based on the players actions. Any scenario can have any combination of information.
This first scenario is necessary in order to start the adventure and set the story in motion. It's based off of the published adventure Forgotten Relics from the Eberron Campaign Guide.
On the first evening that the PCs are open for business Sargeant Germain Vilroy hires them to go talk to a warforged named Coal and report back to her. Coal is nervous when the PCs approach her, thinking them for assassins, and when an assassin’s strike nearly misses her during their conversation, Coal flees thinking that they set her up. When the PCs catch up to her in the streets she is surrounded by 4 Daask assassins. The PCs have to fight to defend her.
After the fight Coal apologizes and tells them that her warforged lover Razor has been missing for two weeks and was last seen leaving for “a dangerous job” that Razor couldn’t talk about. When Coal asked her how she got the job, Razor told her that she was hired by Alden d’Orien, a scion of a dragonmarked house. Coal encourages the PCs to question him.
Alden is distraught at any line of questioning that mentions Daask, the Sharn Watch (police) or Coal. Alden’s son Caden was kidnapped a month ago by a half-ogre named Garra who explained that she needed expendable warforged laborers or she would "bring horrors upon Caden." The PCs discover that the warforged laborers are “training to mine something underwater in Old Sharn” and if they rescue the boy, Alden will help them track down the kidnapper. They are given the location to the training facility.
As they enter the facility they’re attacked by goblins who stand guard. The facility is an underground cavern with a large deep pool of black murky water in the middle of it and a passageway that is blocked by a locked iron gate. Caden is tied up in one corner and a few badly injured warforged are tied up in another corner.
If the PCs rescue Caden and the warforged they explain to the PCs that the facility is being used to train warforged to “pick up shiny things at the bottom of the pool of water without making a noise." Every time that a warforged makes too much noise or doesn’t tread lightly enough, they are whipped by the goblins and their half-ogre leader. To make things worse, the goblins often sneak dangerous creatures into the pool during training, things like giant snakes and alligators. The warforged who are best at quietly collecting the shiny things (fake dragonshards) while taking care of any threats were taken down the hallway beyond the iron gate and were never seen again. Garra the half-ogre has the key to the iron gate.
About a week ago, an orc arrived from the hallway with half a dozen new and lightweight warforged. These warforged were able to perform far better than any of the older, larger ones. The orc seemed very pleased and returned with the warforged down the hall.
If the PCs return Caden to his father, Alden thanks them and tells them everything he knows. He knows that the half-ogre Garra is a Daask lieutenant who was ordered by a Daask sub-boss named Niho Koi to set up the facility and train warforged to “stealthily harvest dragonshards in dangerous waters” and “bring only the best to the safehouse” through a tunnel connected to the facility. Caden gives the PCs an address that leads to another safehouse where Garra lives.
As the PCs leave Alden’s house, Sergeant Germaine arrives by skycoach and offers to give them a ride. She urges them to tell her what they know, and if they mention Garra and the safehouse she offers to double their pay if they will immediately help her arrest Garra before the half-ogre finds out that the facility has been discovered and flees. As the PCs head to the safehouse to arrest Garra they are accosted by a Daask strike team and it turns out that Sergeant Germaine is actually a changeling in disguise. “Sergeant Germaine” turns on the PCs the moment that the strike team arrives.
If the PCs continue to pursue Garra themselves then they must infiltrate the safehouse and confront Garra. Garra has already received word that the PCs are looking for her and attempts to flee by lightning rail for the nation of Drooam. If the PCs don’t act quickly enough then Garra gets away. If they do act quickly enough then they are able to confront Garra as the lightning rail pulls out of the station. Garra offers to bribe the group with gold to let her go. If they refuse, Garra attacks. Garra holds the key to the iron gate in the facility. She has also left behind a note in her safehouse that tells the location of the safehouse connected to the facility.
By the end of Scenario 1 the PCs may have acquired the following information:
Daask is training warforged to stealthily harvest dragonshards in dangerous water (necessary) High performing warforged are brought through a mysterious passageway, never to be seen again (useful) Newly created warforged who are far superior in the training facility are under the command of an orc (useful) The iron gate was crafted by House Kundarak (useful) The address of a Daask hideout in the docks. (useful) A key to the iron gate (useful) An encrypted letter with the location of another Daask safehouse (useful)
(Inspired by the torture scene from the film Reservoir Dogs)
The PCs now have a few options. They can enter the passageway with a key and/or they can search for Sergeant Germain and report to her and/or House Medani. If they report to Germain or Medani they are encouraged to explore the passageway leading out of the training facility. Germaine doesn't want to report it to the Sharn Watch because of corrupt Watch members who will report it to Daask. If they don’t have a key then they can attempt to pick the lock themselves (very difficult) or hire a House Kundarek locksmith.
The passageway leads directly to a secret door located in the floor of a room in a Daask warehouse near the docks. There are two hidden traps throughout the passageway. In the room is a halfling member of the Boromar Clan (a rival gang) named Korbin Boromar. Korbin is being interrogated by a few Daask thugs about how the Boromars knew about a Daask bank robbery that just occurred, and why they ambushed them during their getaway. The Daask thugs suspect that one of their own is an undercover Boromar agent and want Korbin to tell them who it is. Korbin knows who the agent is but refuses to tell them, and the interrogation is more of a torturing than an interrogation. Korbin also knows that the Boromars are smuggling warforged out of Sharn, and more recently, new and smaller warforged.
Also in the room is a dying changeling who was involved in the robbery and was injured during the Boromar ambush. The changeling is an undercover House Medani double agent named Cas. Cas infiltrated the Boromar Clan nearly a year ago under a human guise, and offered his ability to change his appearance to infiltrate Daask. Daask trusted him enough to give him a job in the bank robbery, and Cas tipped off Boromar to further earn their trust. Cas will not reveal his real identity unless his life depends on it (and after executing Korbin) or unless the party earns his trust.
Cas has learned a little about Daask and has been reporting back to Medani. Cas knows that these Daask thugs answer to an ogre sub-boss named Niho Koi, and that Niho orchestrated the bank robbery. He also knows that Niho has met with an outsider, an orc who is neither Daask or Boromar, about "some illegal business happening in the ruins of Old Sharn." He doesn't know about any connection between Niho, the orc and the missing warforged and has never heard of a training facility connected to Daask.
Cas knows a little more about Boromar and as a result he knows a little more about the orc. He knows that Boromar arranged with the orc to smuggle "illegal goods out of Sharn" and that the official contract between the orc and the Boromar Clan is kept in a Boromar estate. He's convinced that the contract reveals what the Boromar are smuggling, where they are smuggling it to, and who they are smuggling it for. He knows that the Boromar are having a masquerade party at the estate the following night, and plans to steal the contract during the party. He offers the PCs 250 gold if they help him steal the contract.
Scenario 2 might provide the PCs with the following types of information:
Daask robbed a bank but we're ambushed by Boromar during their getaway (interesting) Daask have a Boromar spy in their midst (interesting) Boromar have a Medani spy in their midst (interesting) Daask and Boromar are both dealing with a mysterious orc (useful) Boromar are smuggling warforged out of Sharn, never to be seen again (useful) Boromar have a letter implicating them in the racket and it’s located in a Boromar estate (useful) Boromar are having a party at the estate and this may be the best time to retrieve the letter (useful)
Part Two: The Mark of Prophecy
Part Three: Dreams of Destiny
- Brainstorming help, can I pick y’all’s brains?
- Premade vs homebrew
- Players expecting every risk to have proportional reward?
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