What Do I KNow About Reviews? Eberron Confidential (Dungeon Masters Guide Product)

Eberron COnfidential CoverI love how story hooks can flesh out the feel of a setting. You can state a ton of facts in a campaign setting book, but those facts don’t feel alive, they don’t feel real, until they have some inertial behind them. How those hooks are presented can vary.

In Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus and Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden, the concept of character secrets was introduced into narrative. Characters can choose or randomly be assigned a character secret that defines their past and adds context to how the characters are tied to the adventure story.

In a similar vein, Keith Baker, or progenitor dragon of the Eberron setting, has recently released Eberron Confidential on the Dungeon Masters Guild, a product introducing character secrets to the Eberron setting. Today on the blog, we’re going to take a look at this product. 

Secret Structure

The product is available in PDF from the Dungeon Masters Guild, and is 26 pages long. The formatting is similar to the WOTC standard, but with different fonts, and with gilded borders on the pages. 

There is one title page that incorporates the credits, legal text, and index of the product. There is a blank page for use as a template for creating your own secrets, as well as six pages with nine secrets each. Beyond the actual secrets, there are several pages between each list adding more context to these secrets, as well as two pages of advice on creating new secrets, with randomized charges for different elements of the secrets.

One very noteworthy aspect of the look of this product is that it continues to use the “iconic” adventuring party that first appeared in Exploring Eberron, which makes for a nice continuity of appearance, and nod towards the aesthetics of the setting.

Unveiling the Secrets

The secrets in the product are arranged by the following topics, with nine secrets per section:

  • Occupational Hazards
  • Secret Identities
  • Twists and Tragedies
  • Secrets of Sharn
  • Birthrights
  • Epic Secrets

Occupational hazards are secrets associated with the character’s career before becoming an adventurer. Secret identities often involve an association with a nation or organization, or a character that has been transformed from their true form. Twists and Tragedies involves some external development in the characters history. Birthrights also tie into a character’s connections to other organizations, or a unique aspect of their existence, but have more to do with circumstances which the character is actively engaged in maintaining.

Secrets of Sharn and Epic Secrets are special categories. Secrets of Sharn are geared towards characters that live specifically in the City of Towers. They tie to organizations and situations native to that part of the setting. Epic secrets are secrets that nod towards some major campaign event, rather than a subplot that might be playing in the background of a wider campaign. These involve connections to the Sovereign Host, the Mark of Death, the nature of the Mourning, or the seals of the Gatekeepers, for example.

Each secret bestows a character with a special bonus in addition to what is provided by their origin, class, and background. This might be new languages, bonuses to certain saves, or the partial benefits of a dragonmark.

Context

In addition to spending several pages explaining the nuances of how to use different secrets in an ongoing campaign, there is a section called “Lesser Secrets,” which provide some details either to add to the existing secrets, or to be used as building blocks for new, custom secrets created by the DM. These tables include the following topics:

  • Dragonmarked Barons
  • Ghostly Requests
  • Vendettas
  • Imposters

In addition to these tables, there is a two parts “secrets” table that is structured as “Subject” and “Connected to . . . “ which can provide a wide range of results.

Harnessing Secrets

In addition to the actual secrets, there are about three pages of advice on how to incorporate and use secrets in a campaign. This includes how to incorporate secrets after a campaign has started, methods of assigning or selecting secrets, and rumors associated with secrets.

One thing I liked in contrast to how secrets have been presented in the official WOTC adventures is the emphasis on how much fun it is to find that point in the campaign where the secret comes out. There is a bit of a feeling in the WOTC adventures that makes it feel like secrets are either for the DM to use to complicate the PCs lives, or for characters to forever hoard or “maybe” reveal, if they aren’t too bad, but a secret that never gets revealed is just a reason for one of the players to stifle play in various situations that never end up having context for the rest of the party.

Because the secrets in the WOTC products are generally tied to the adventures where they are presented, they feel like they are tying the characters more closely to that narrative. In this product, because the secrets are tied to the setting, and not a particular adventure, they provide a wide range of adventure hooks and depth to the broad setting.

Cathartic Release

I feel like this expression of character secrets is the best iteration of the concept we’ve seen, compared to both Baldur’s Gate and Icewind Dale. Not only do these serve as a means of fleshing out the history of the characters involved, and provide them with some momentum going into the campaign, they help to make the characters feel specifically like Eberron characters. Additionally, these almost all work as adventure hooks that provide the DM with more ideas about stories to tell and entanglements to include in a campaign.

Buried Guilt

While the discussion of using secrets was more robust than in the WOTC adventures, I still feel like there could be more emphasis put on actually revealing a secret, perhaps a specific mechanical benefit that could be triggered once the character finally reveals that secret. Additionally, I would love to see a more detailed discussion of safety and collaboration when selecting secrets, so that behind the scenes, no one ends up accidentally picking a secret that will cross anyone’s lines as the story evolves.

Recommended–If the product fits in your broad area of gaming interests, you are likely to be happy with this purchase.

If you like the concept of character secrets from the most recent WOTC adventures, this product is going to give you a lot to play with, and with wider implementation, at least for the Eberron setting. If you are an Eberron DM, even if you don’t want to use character secrets, this is a great product for adventure hooks for the setting.

If you don’t have any interest in Eberron, there is still a nice amount of material to help structure your own secrets that you can design for another campaign. Many of the secrets can still be applied to other settings, although this is going to be of most use for people really wanting to tie their characters to the Eberron Setting.

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