Eberron is busting out all over on the D&D landscape. Back when the setting first came out, I loved the look of it, but couldn’t keep up with the releases, as I was trying to support both my Forgotten Realms habit and my Star Wars d20 habit at the same time. I was always interested, but never quite started to explore.
I watched a few sessions of my friend running a 4th
edition Eberron campaign, but at the time I couldn’t commit to playing. Watching that game did help me to reevaluate that my initial impression that Eberron was “Steampunk D&D” may have been off.
Eberron is more complicated than that. It’s got layers. Like an onion. Made from mechanical bits, with some elemental shards and runes on them. In the rain. On dark city streets. While that onion is being stolen by a rival archaeologist that may be attempting to use it to open an ancient tomb on a lost continent.
Today on the blog, we’re going to look at a Dungeon Masters Guild offering from Elven Tower. Full disclosure, I was sent a review copy of this adventure. With that disclaimer in place, let’s look at Sharn, The Missing Schema.
What’s In the Package?
The purchase consists of a black and white printer friendly version of the adventure, a full color version of the PDF, and a separate file of maps and props. The maps and props consist of DM and player versions of some maps, a few encounter locations set up for online play, and various written handouts that can be used in play.
In the standard version of the adventure, the Eberron art assets are used throughout, and they look nice. There is very clear and attractive formatting in the adventure, and the pages have the same style of faded background images that appeared in the original Eberron books. In addition to the art assets and the formatting, there are various original maps of various encounter locations.
If you haven’t seen the Elven Tower
website, you can see examples of the style of cartography used in the book. It is colorful, clear, and on par with any offerings you might see from larger RPG companies.
This section explains what kind of party is expected for this adventure, gives some suggestions about adjusting the adventure for groups that deviate from this expectation, and talks about how to build a new party with connections to one another and the adventure from the start. It also mentions optional rules from the DMG that might be appropriate and presents the adventure format.
I am happy to see a discussion of building a party that fits the opening adventure of the campaign. At the beginning of the campaign, you have the best opportunity to make sure everyone has the same expectations, and I really like that there is some discussion, up front, about what kind of connections and backgrounds will make this adventure a more natural fit for the players.
The discussion of warforged and gender feels a little awkward. Specifically pointing out that the pronoun “they” is something specific to warforged, and that “they” is often used in a derogatory manner feels a little off in modern parlance.
The next section of the adventure presents the overview of the adventure, some hooks for the PCs to engage with to start the adventure, and a list of important NPCs. I’m always a fan of summaries like this, because it can help a DM to go back and make sure they understand the reasons for why an adventure is progressing in a certain way, and to summarize what NPCs are going to be important touchstones. I also like that, in addition to coming up with party backgrounds in the previous section, that will fit this adventure’s assumptions, the hooks further develop these connections to the overall plot.
Part 1. The Bounty
The opening of this adventure is all about getting the PCs hired by a professor to do some digging in Sharn’s Cogs districts for a lost laboratory. Depending on the hook utilized from the previous section, the PCs will be starting in different parts of the city.
There are different example knowledge checks to hand out information on Sharn’s history and their employer’s reputation. These are divided up between things that everyone should know, and then additional bits of information depending on the actual score of the knowledge check.
I like how these are laid out. I also like that the information between tiers and distinct. I’ve seen some adventures that feel like they are saying almost the same thing in some of the intermediate levels, as if they want there to be more granularity on checks but are still being evasive on what information to give away. The information presented here is very clear and distinct between the DCs and what information they provide.
The boxed text is good for an introductory adventure. It doesn’t get too flowery, but it does establish a lot of setting information and background information for this adventure. That said, it does run a bit long in a few places, and it’s a prime example of why I wish that any kind of boxed text like this also had a summary set of bullet points of what needs to be communicated to the PCs. This allows the DM to paraphrase what they want, and makes it a little easier for the PCs to interject between bullet points.
There are also some sidebars about Sharn in general and roleplaying the NPC employer and his associate. The information on playing the NPCs is broad enough to be quickly summarized but gives some useful information on portraying them by revealing some motivations and drives that may not come up in casual conversation but might color some interactions.
Part 2. Sharn’s Foundations
Once the adventurers take the job, the story cuts quickly to the actual adventure location, and does so deliberately, as an example of how pulp adventures are paced. In the undercity, the PCs run into a duplicitous guide luring them into a trap, find another adventurer sent to do the same they that they, themselves were hired to do, and they get to fight some constructs of various types left in the lost lab containing the schema they have been sent to retrieve.
There are some interesting roleplaying bits in here as well, dealing with the duplicitous guide and the other adventurer. I also like that the schema’s potential importance, both practically and for what it means to the setting, is obvious even to someone new to the setting.
There are several sidebars on history and adjusting the encounter for more powerful adventurers that might be playing through the adventure.
Part 3. Flying Chase
The party delivers their package to their employer, villains show up and steal it, and if they want to keep the package out of the hands of the bad guys, they end up chasing them through the Sharn skyscape, until they catch up with them at a warehouse to start the next section of the adventure.
The rest of the adventure is set up to specifically introduce aspects of Eberron, Sharn, and neo-noir pulp fantasy genre tropes to a new group. A chase through Sharn is along these lines, but unlike most of the rest of the adventure, there isn’t as much guidance given on exactly how to run the chase.
It is stated that the PCs won’t catch the Emerald Claw agents. If they lose them, they have ways of finding out where they went. There are a few suggested occurrences, but statistically, you know how many bad guys there are and how much damage they can dish out, and that you can’t catch them before the warehouse.
I think this section might have been stronger with a round by round series of events happening, with at least one PC needed to address the consequences of various “busy” elements of Sharn’s skies, to avoid consequence. Doing that and having a set number of rounds to play out (perhaps 3 to 5) would have provided just a little more guidance on how to make this encounter pop a bit more, without the frustration of the PCs just not be allowed to catch the bad guys based on plot.
I am also a little surprised that there isn’t a similar set of knowledge checks about the Emerald Claw in this section. Given the pulp-noir sensibilities of the setting, “villain” can be a relative term, it can be really easy for the PCs to think, “well, they may not be any worse than our boss, and we got paid.”
That brings me to one more thing about this section of the adventure—I see a lot of adventures do this at some point, and it always perplexes me. The adventure specifically states that the professor won’t offer anything else to the PCs, so they must go after the villains because this is the moment where they decide they are heroes.
I completely understand that players should be looking to engage with the plot and they should also want to be action heroes in a setting like Eberron. That said, nothing about Eberron says they should be altruistic. There are a lot of players I have had at my tables in the past that want payment in a situation like this, not because they want X more to buy Y, but because even a token amount will let them satisfy their “mercenary but prone to make bad decisions” aspect of their character.
Part 4. The Warehouse
The PCs arrive at the warehouse to confront the agents that stole the schema. There are some guards, a few places filled with random treasures, and the leader of the Emerald Claw agents. The PCs can either let him go, join up with the Emerald Claw, or throw down to get the schema back for the professor.
I like that there isn’t a set amount of treasure in very specific places in the warehouse, but rather, the PCs can make a few checks, and after a certain number of checks, they just aren’t going to find anything else that is immediately valuable. I’ve handled treasure this way myself a few times, and I like the flexibility of the approach.
I also like that the Emerald Claw boss is a true pulp villain. He’s not going to attack the PCs based on ideology. He’s going to try and reason his way out, make them an offer, and only then resort to violence. I even like the “end game” that is detailed for him if he is defeated, which evokes a pulp crime vibe.
Like the other sections of the adventure, there are a few sidebars on how to scale the adventure for more powerful adventurers, as well as one on how to use the schema to get the PCs out of a jam if things go south for them.
This section details what happens if the assumed course of events from the adventure play out. I like the potential progression for the Emerald Claw villain. There is a little bit of a hint about what the next part of the adventure series will be, provided by the professor.
There is a resource that the PCs may pick up from the warehouse that marks them as enemies of the Emerald Claw, which could be a fun long-term development.
Appendix I NPC’s and Creatures
All the stat blocks for the various creatures and NPCs are provided in this section. Most of them are broad enough that they could be useful for future use and use outside of this adventure, since the stat blocks detail shifter gang members, Emerald Claw agents, ancient constructs, sewer beasts, and a warforged mercenary.
Appendix II Maps and Appendix III Props
This section summarizes the maps and handouts that also appear in a separate file when you purchase this adventure from the Dungeon Masters Guild. The maps are great, and even outside of this adventure, it may be nice to have the overhead and sideview maps of Sharn available for players who are adventuring in that location.
Appendix IV Magic Items
This is a collection of magic items introduced in this adventure. Two in particular strike me as conveying the tone of the setting, as they are magic items employed for mundane but useful effect, in the pervasive manner that is a hallmark of Eberron.
Raiders of the Lost Campaign Setting
This is a very solid introduction to Eberron. Sharn won’t be confused for any other fantasy city, and the process of getting the job and doing the thing might be familiar, but the trappings that are carefully added on to the adventure reinforce the special genre tropes that are native to Eberron. In addition to the introductory elements being strong, the maps clearly and attractively lay out what the city looks like to new players.
Adventures of the Crystal Skull
The details of the Emerald Claw could be better integrated, the chase sequence could have a little more structure, and bullet points make any long stretch of boxed text better. While I don’t think the intent was to be harmful, the discussion of the pronoun they and warforged might not come across well.
Qualified Recommendation–A product with lots of positive aspects, but buyers may want to understand the context of the product and what it contains before moving it ahead of other purchases.
This will be a solid adventure to pick up if you have a group of players new to Eberron. It does a great job introducing concepts from the setting and reinforcing genre tropes at play. You may want to spice up a few places and summarize your own bullet points from the text boxes, especially if you aren’t running this for newcomers, and it may be worth your time to do some homework on the Emerald Claw and determine how much information you want to feed your players about them.