A Spreading Fire - Experimental Eberron Campaign

Character Creation

  • System: D&D Fourth Edition
  • Campaign Theme: Political Intrigue and the Shadow War.
  • Level: 15
  • Stats: 22 point-buy.
  • Books Allowed: Any officially-published material, including Dragon and Dungeon articles, though I might change my mind about something game-breaking. While WotC materials can be assumed to be pre-approved, I will want to approve any third-party materials before you go too far with them, including home- or forum-brewed stuff.
  • Races Allowed: Any from approved sources, though I'd prefer the "classic" Eberron races: human, elf, half-elf, dwarf, gnome, halfling, shifter, changeling, kalashtar, warforged. Other races are certainly acceptable, just know that exotic races which clash with a political intrigue campaign will hurt your chances.
  • Classes Allowed: Any from approved sources. This goes for paragon paths as well, though paths from other campaign worlds may be retro-vetoed if they clash.
  • Themes Allowed: Any from approved sources. You are highly encouraged to pick a theme, since others in the party will have them.
  • Equipment: Standard 12th level gear. You may want to invest in non-weapon gear, including a place to live (see table below). Having disposable cash on hand will also help: you won't be raiding many dungeons so coins won't be exactly flooding in.
Type of Residence Cost of Living per Month
Upscale residence (rent) 2d8 x 10 gp/month
Average residence (rent) 1d4 x 10 gp/month
Poor residence (rent) 1d4 gp/month
Upscale residence (buy) 2d8 x 2,500 gp
Average residence (buy) 1d4 x 1,300 gp
Poor residence (buy) 1d4 x 100 gp
From Sharn: City of Towers sourcebook, page 23.

You will be protraying one of the movers and shakers of Sharn, the largest city in all of Khorvaire and the crown-jewel of the nation of Breland. After a century of war the land finally knows peace, but the maneuvering has only just begun. Who will come out on top when the dust settles? Is the war really over or has it just become quieter for a time? Will some plan inadvertantly spark open hostilities again? What can you do to prevent it? Do you even want to?

To accomplish this sort of political campaign, I want to use two mechanics from other games, lifted and brought over to D&D 4e as modular add-ons. The first is the Icons system from 13th Age, a relationships system which ties PCs to the important figures of the game world, and the other is Companies from the One-Roll Engine game Reign. These mechanics are explained below and hopefully be both central to the game and invisible so they aren't distracting.

Just Who Are We Playing Exactly?

The upper echelons of Sharn society, and I mean upper. I'm going to be following the setting canon, which means that the highest officials of most factions are already established (such as the City Council and House Cannith) but that doesn't say anything for the seconds-in-command. If you want to play a dean of Morgrave University, a captain-commander of House Deneith, an heir to one of the Sixty Families, or some other prominent position then I'd say you're right on track for the campaign. Basically, you'll be part of a group of public figures unexpectedly thrust into a conspiracy with far-reaching implications.

Will This Be a Non-Combat Campaign?

Not really, but the focus will be on skill challenges and puzzles. I'm looking at books by Dan Brown (they have their uses), Daniel Abraham, and George R. R. Martin for inspiration here. You might spend time asking questions about a possibly corrupt official, discover some evidence that she is trading state secrets to Aundair, return to your apartment to mull things over, find an assassin waiting in your bedroom, struggle for your life, then down healing potions so you can go to a gala in the evening and cover up suspicions of your witch-hunt. Intrigue punctuated by violence.

Where Is This Going to be Set?

Well, obviously Sharn is going to be where the majority of the game takes place. If you don't have access to the Sharn: City of Towers sourcebook (one of the best Eberron books to date), you can see my very abbreviated version and the slightly longer summary at the Eberron wiki. As I mentioned above, though, I'm not planning on being a slave to canon so if you read something in that book or on those pages it might turn out to be just a rumor.

At the moment, I'm not planning on the characters leaving Sharn, but I do like to have sandbox-style games so it's not totally out of the question for one small jaunt. That said, I do intend on lots happening outside of Sharn that the PCs will be indirectly involved with, pressed to deal with, and (sometimse) directly responsible for. As the movers and shakers of Sharn, you might push a group to act and that will have ripple effects that will impact global politics. That's where the Company system comes into play (below) and I want it to feedback into the main plot.

For example, let's say the party suspects that a spy is lying low in the Thranish embassy, and they want some support to break in and nab him. They don't want this to ignite war so they enlist the help of friends among the Thuranni representatives in Sharn. Some Company rolling goes on to see how the Thuranni fare against the Thranes and the spy is nabbed. The party moves on to their next lead but hears the next morning that Thrane is up in arms about "offenses" commited by House Thuranni and is expelling them from House enclaves country. The party grimaces and moves on, then hears a few days later that a prominent Thranish ambassador has been killed in Thaliost and House Thuranni is blamed for reprisals. This can keep going on in the background while the PCs take care of business in Sharn, connecting them to the broader world without having to leave their homes.

Sharn Icons

Following the advice of Eberron creator Keith Baker, the following thirteen forces will be the icons featured in a Sharn-based campaign.

  • The City Council: The governing of Sharn is done by this council of seventeen, one representative from each ward of the City of Towers. These councilors are the ultimate law-makers of the city, though they work closely with the Lord Mayor who represents Sharn in any dealings with the Brelish Crown. While they might frequently disagree, the councilors know that it is up to them to keep the city running and they band together when truly needed.
  • The City Watch: When laws are made, it is up to the City Watch to enforce them. Sometimes corrupt, not always attentive, and often closed to discussing their tactics, the Sharn City Watch is still the best watch in the Five Nations, especially considering the size of the city. Watch members range from the common patrolmen to specialized inquisitives to the arcane investigators of the Blackened Book. Those who underestimate the Watch's abilities do so at their own peril.
  • The King’s Citadel: Sharn may be a fiercely independent city, but it is still part of Breland and King Boranel has a vested interest in knowing what goes on in the City of Towers. The King's Citadel is the crown's eyes and ears throughout Breland and in Sharn that means keeping its distance from the city council and the City Watch. Agents of the Citadel tell the government what they need to know, but they must also investigate the forces of law and order themselves.
  • Morgrave University: Some say that Morgrave is the premier house of learning in all of Khorvaire, others that it is a crass hoarder of priceless relics paid for by eccentric lords. Whatever one might think of the university, it is a powerful force in academia throughout the continent and the biggest supporter of expeditions to Xen'drik anywhere in the world. Not everyone who works for Morgrave is a dusty bookworm; in fact some of the most daring adventurers work here.
  • The Boromar Clan: There are many criminal organizations in the City of Towers, but the Boromar halflings have been here the longest and have concentrated their attention on Sharn exclusively. The crime families that make up its core have infiltrated the highest and lowest levels of the city's infrastructure, possessing a network of eyes that rivals that of the King's Citadel.
  • House Cannith: The House of Making in Sharn is dominated by Merrix d'Cannith, the leader of "Cannith South." Though it is still a major industrial force, the house has undeniably lost some of its influence with the cessation of hostilities after the Treaty of Thronehold. Nations no longer come to buy large supplies of arcane weapons to field against their enemies… Of course, that doesn't mean that Cannith forges aren't still making them somewhere in the city.
  • House Deneith: The House of Shielding deals in protection and soldiers, though that means something different in Sharn than it does on the battlefield. Especially with the Last War over, or at least halted, Deneith has found itself searching for a position in this new world. Thanks to the charismatic Sadran d'Deneith they may have found it, though exactly what lies behind the zealotry sweeping through the Deneith ranks is anybody's guess.
  • House Tharashk: For generations, the House of Finding has been dealing in mining and raw materials trades, which requires it to go into the wilder regions of the continent. During the Last War, this put them in a unique position to gather monstrous mercenaries for those nations willing to field them, inadvertantly encouraging the rebellions that led to the creation of savage Droaam to the west. Its reputation tarnished and its position unclear, many things are changing for the heirs of Tharashk.
  • The Church of the Silver Flame: What it lacks in numbers, the Silver Flame more than makes up with passion. Its doctrine is one of good championed against evil, of righteousness and charity as well as swift justice. At the same time, everyone in Khorvaire is keenly aware of what this passion led to in the nation of Thrane to the north: a coup by the Church and the virtual imprisonment of the Thranish royal court. What ambitious plans does the Silver Flame have in Sharn?
  • The Sovereign Host: The widespread, traditional faith of the Five Nations is still very strong in Sharn. So what if its temples are richly adorned and its clerics dressed in silks? Who cares if most people are more likely to turn to the merchants of the dragonmarked houses for help than the clerics. The truth is that in the poorer parts of the city the Host is often the only recourse that people have, and its richly-dressed priests are still faithful and true as well as politically savvy.
  • The Blood of Vol/Order of the Emerald Claw: Officially, the temples of the Blood of Vol have dennounced the terrorists of the Order. Behind closed doors, however, both groups still work together towards a new world order when the undead echelons of the Blood of Vol are able to take the positions of power that their inner divinity demands. All who worship the Blood can be rewarded with great power as well, though the dark prices are usually not discussed until it's too late.
  • The Aurum: This secret club portrays itself as scholars of history and students of politics. This is true, but what is not widely known is that the members of the Aurum constantly use this knowledge to influence the current politics, pulling strings and moving gold to shape the world according to their vision. Just what this vision is and how far the Aurum's influence reaches is unknown, even to its members.
  • Zilargo: The gnomes of Zilargo have been long-time allies of Breland, ironically ever since they broke away from that nation during the Last War. Zil engineers are skilled and resourceful and Zil spies are crafty and effective. The Brelish may wish they could welcome the one without the other but this is not to be and if they gnomes of Zilargo know more than they should they at least have not used it for nefarious purposes. At least, as far as anyone knows…

Icon Relationships

During character creation, you have three points to divide among one to three relationships with the icons above. These relationships should be story elements ("When I was a young mage, I met Professor Gunthrage, now Dean Gunthrage of Morgrave, at a party…") and they can be positive, conflicted, or negative. Positive and negative relationships are fairly self-explanatory (beneficial or antagonistic connections, respectively) and contested relationships are a mixed bag. Specifically, there are Heroic, Ambiguous, and Villainous icons in 13th Age which in this game will be adjusted to Law-Abiding, Sinister, and Grey Area icons.

Law-Abiding Icons

Icons: City Council, City Watch, Morgrave, Sovereign Host

Law-abiding icons follow the rules all the time, often because they have made those laws. They are the pillars of the community and it would take a lot to push these organizations to do something blatantly illegal. Likewise, they expect those associated with them to follow the law as well.

Characters can have up to 3 points in a positive relationship with a law-abiding icon which means the icon group is favorably inclined towards the character. This could be due to family history, personal accomplishments, omens in the stars, etc, and can be parleyed into personal advantage.

Having a conflicted relationship, up to 3 points as well, with a law-abiding icon group where its agents feel both favorably and unfavorably towards the character. Often this is due to social divides: the character might be from a prominent but out-of-favor family, they might have proven themselves in the past but recently been called into question, or the character might have been framed for something they've been acquitted of but the stain follows them. Usually, this can still work favorably for the character but if they want to use their connection against the icon group the opportunity is still there.

While the characters are going to be important figures in Sharn, its possible for them to have up to 1 point of negative relationship with a law-abiding icon. One way or another, they have a standing conflict with the group and can't count in its support. Still, they have insider knowledge or acquaitances with rivals that they can use to harm the group for the greater good.

Grey Area Icons

Icons: King's Citadel, House Cannith, House Deneith, House Tharashk, Zilargo

Having a positive relationship with a grey area group can work like a positive law-abiding relationship, and can also be up to 3 points, except that they are more likely to agree to underhanded tactics and less likely to do something for purely altruistic reasons if it will weaken them.

A conflicted relationship with a grey area icon, also up to 3 points, is similar to one with a law-abiding group as well. However, its more likely that you'll find good people willing to take you up on an offer to hurt the icon. This level of relationship also looks better if someone was to find out: one would rather the City Council learn that they "sometimes work" with the Zil embassy rather than that they meet with them once a week for tea.

Likewise, it's much better for a prominent political figure to have a negative relationship with a grey area icon than with a law-abiding one, and characters can have up to 2 points assigned this way. While one still can't move too openly, it is also easier to find allies willing to help betray a grey area icon and to find friends willing to forgive such an action.

Sinister Icons

Icons: Boromar Clan, Blood of Vol, Aurum

Any character with a positive relationship with a sinister icon has some explaining to do, and 1 point is the maximum a character can put to this relationship. Even if a character is a member of the group in question, they can't associate with them too freely without risking their important position.

Having a conflicted relationship is a little easier and characters can have up to 2 points assigned to this. The icon group has reasons both to destroy the character and to support them, a relationship rich in drama and opportunity. The character may be a former participant in the group trying to break free, a reluctant ally who would rather not have to work with the group, or a well-intentioned person with a personal debt they can't get free from.

Most likely, the character will have up to 2 points of negative relationship with a sinister icon group. This means that the group is out to get the character, at least in an abstract and general way. The character might not be on blacklists or have assassins following them, but the group has reason and means to hurt them. This might be the threat of blackmail which so far hasn't been used, a current detente which is fraying at the edges, or a threat to "stay out of Dura!"

How to Use Icon Relationships

When you wish to use a relationship in the game, explain how it might come into play and how you intend to use it. Alternatively, the DM (me) might decide that the current situation will be affected by a character's relationship and let them know. However the relationship enters the picture, the character will roll 1d6 for each point they have in the relationship.

The results of these d6s will tell what sort of results the character gets from their relationship:

  • Results of 1, 2, 3, or 4 on any of the dice means the relationship doesn't help or doesn't have anything of substance to offer.
  • Results of 5 on any of the dice means that the relationship provides something of substance but with unexpected complications.
  • Results of 6 on any of the dice means that the relationship works very well and the character gets some edge.
  • Rolling both 5s and 6s in a roll means that the result is a mixed bag, both interesting and //profitable.

Once the d6s have been rolled, regular skill checks continue as normal with the relationship results taken into account. In a single-check situation this might mean the DC of the check changes or the check is waived altogether. In a skill challenge, new skill options might open up or an automatic success is added to the tally. If the DM called on the relationship, it might mean that an otherwise straight-forward situation just got complicated. The actual occurence really depends on the specifics.

Example of Icons in Action

Marcus is a guard-captain with the City Watch and has a solid 2-point positive relationship with that group, as well as a 1-point conflicted relationship with the Sovereign Host because of a brother who was thrown out of the church for embezzling. When the party wants access to a crime scene, Marcus tries out his positive relationship. He rolls 2d6 and gets a 2 and a 6. Since he got a favorable result, he knows the chief investigator on the case and can try to talk the man into allowing non-Watch members access to the crime scene. Normally this would be a very difficult prospect and the party would have to sneak in.
Later, the party wants to impersonate some clerics of the Host and Marcus thinks he can use his brother's experience to give them insider information, maybe a bonus on their Bluff checks. He rolls just 1d6 and gets a 3. No help. Instead the party goes to see someone on the City Council to give them some credentials. The DM knows that this councilor has a lukewarm opinion about the Watch and informs Marcus's player that his City Watch connection will come into play. He rolls a 5 and a 6, mixed bag! The councilor is willing to help the party out and overlook the City Watch connection, but he can't resist making Marcus squirm so the help will involve working with the Boromar Clan…
A little after that, the party is headed into the temple, trying to keep a low profile, and they run into a suspicious cleric after botching some Bluff rolls. The DM says that Marcus's conflicted Sovereign Host relationship will come into play and Marcus worriedly rolls 1d6. The die comes up a 6, though! This cleric does in fact recognize the family resemblance to Marcus's brother, but rather than being angry he says that he feels Marcus's brother was wronged by the church and framed. He's willing to help them on their mission if it means rooting out further corruption.

Companies in Sharn

In this context, "companies" doesn't mean a commercial enterprise, like the dragonmarked houses, and it doesn't mean military companies, like regiments in the Brelish Army or the Deneith Blademarks. Rather, "company" is just a catch-all for large groups of all sorts that can operate on a whole, cooperate with or fight against other companies, and otherwise affect the political landscape of Sharn and beyond. When the high-level PCs push a group to act against another or help them in their struggles, the ripple effects will be measured in the company mechanics from the Reign setting for Arc Dream's One-Roll Engine system.

How to Use Companies

Companies aren't just social clubs, they exist to do something, and often multiple somethings. This might be as vague as in "find out the political positions of the Five Nations courts" or as concrete as "assassinate the house commander of Deneith in Sharn." If the PCs are pushing for a specific goal they can establish it, along with any NPCs involved, otherwise it will be up to the DM to come up with a company's goals and enact them.

Companies act using their five qualities (like a character's skills) modified by assets (like a character's feats). The five qualities of companies are…

  • Might: A crude gauge of a company's martial prowess and the forces they can call upon immediately. It encompasses the number of active soldiers, their degree of training and equipment, their access to magical resources, and the brilliance (or foolishness) of their commanders. As the Last War proved, a vast and unruly mob of peasants inflamed by dodgy religious dogma can have the same Might score as a group of a dozen well-armed, veteran cavalry soldiers.
  • Treasure: This is an easy quality to understand. It measures how much money a group can access, be it in the form of promissory notes or big jingly bags of coin. More than that, however, Treasure represents a certain intangible fiscal infrastructure. At the higher reaches of power, money is as much about appearance as actuality. The lowliest Kundarak clerk can tell you that noble houses routinely borrow large sums and play creditors off for decades, particularly with all the military spending of the Last War.
  • Influence: Influence is less tangible than Treasure or Might, since it measures how much a company knows and how easily it can learn. More than that, it gauges how powerfully (and subtly) a group can sway the opinions of other groups. This is not the power to redraw national borders directly, but the power to learn what the King believes, and perhaps persuade him otherwise.
  • Territory: Another very abstract quality, Territory measures more than just property (though that's part of it). Territory means people, it means the strength of a power base, it means mills and workshops and laboratories. Good Territory indicates educated followers and efficient workers. It is the measure of your company's physical ability to grow and recover from setbacks.
  • Sovereignty: Perhaps the least-tangible quality, Sovereignty indicates the inner strength of your society. It measures the loyalty of the people to the company and its leaders, and more, their dedication to one another. It is, essentially, their identity as citizens of Sharn, heirs of Tharashk, or Morgrave academics. Companies with high Sovereignty can expect a great deal of voluntary aid from even its lowliest followers - acting not from hope of reward, but out of a sense of pride or civic duty. Companies with low Sovereignty may dissolve from within, even when there's no external threat.

Qualities are not static things, but change according to circumstances, assets, and actions from other companies. While it's a pretty terrible situation for a company to be in, a quality's score can be reduced down to zero and the company is totally tapped out in that area (all of its soldiers are killed or quit, its treasury is emptied, etc). The exception to this is Sovereignty: every company must have at least one point in it every month. It can be a temporary point caused by strenuous leadership, but it has to be there or the company will dissolve. You can survive hitting zero in anything else, but if your group identity dies then your group dies. You can also divide qualities to two different tasks, sending 2 out of 5 Might points to attack one target and 3 out of 5 to attack something else.

When they want to act, companies use their qualities to make pools of d10 dice. A pool is rolled against another roll from an opposed company. In the One-Roll Engine, you look for matches of dice, so a result of 2, 4, 6, 7, 8, 6 has a match of two sixes, or 2x6. This is expressed as width x height and generally height is the measure of success, with ties broken by width. So a roll of 4x7 beats one of 3x7 since it has more sevens. However, width is a measure of speed which is more important in some cases. Two companies going after the same prize might roll 3x2 and 2x10: clearly the second does a much better job at racing for the prize but the first group gets there more quickly, if more messily.

The situation determines what happens, but the most common actions for companies includes…

  • Attack: Hit the other company hard, raiding to damage their Territory, embarrassing them to reduce morale and Sovereignty, or straight-up killing soldiers and ruining defenses to reduce Might. Might+Treasure vs. Might+Territory.
  • Being Informed: Getting a read on the happenings within your own company, possibly through a smoke-screen set up by your enemies. Influence+Sovereignty vs. Influence+Treasure or Specific height set by the DM.
  • Counter-Espionage: Guarding your company against spies by ferreting out moles in your own people. This is already part of the opposed rolls for the Espionage action. Influence+Territory vs. Influence+Treasure.
  • Defend: The opposite of Attack, this is when you are on the receiving end of military action. If you are opposing an Attack, you are already taking this action. Might+Territory vs. Might+Treasure.
  • Espionage: Sending in spies to find out your enemy's projects and resources. You can also use this action to send in propagandists to change minds in the other company to something more to your liking. Influence+Treasure vs. Influence+Territory.
  • Hire Mercenaries: Not every company needs or wants standing troops but occasionally they might need extra muscle for a while, in the form of temporary a Might boost. Sovereignty+Treasure vs. Nothing or Specific height set by DM.
  • Policing: Different from Attack, this is for clamping down on criminal companies within your own borders and companies: shutting down gangs, halting smuggling operations, or putting an end to rebellions. Might+Sovereignty vs. Influence+Might.
  • Rise in Stature: When times are good, you can use this action to have your company grow, gain more prestige, or make new friends. Sovereignty+Treasure vs. Nothing or Specific height equal to current Influence.
  • Train and Levy Troops: Building up your army is not a bad idea, especially with the wounds of the Last War barely scabbing over. Sovereignty+Territory vs. Specific height equal to current Might.
  • Unconventional Warfare: The Last War was a time of innovation as much as violence and many groups got very good at small strike forces, arcane bombardment, stealthy sabotage, and other new means of war. Influence+Might vs. Might+Sovereignty.

Sharn Companies

Company Might Influence Territory Treasure Sovereignth Assets
City Council cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content
Lord Mayor cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content
City Watch cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content
King's Citadel cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content
The Sixty Families cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content
Company Might Influence Territory Treasure Sovereignty Assets
House Cannith cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content
House Deneith cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content
House Kundarak cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content
House Sivis cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content
House Tharashk cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content
Company Might Influence Territory Treasure Sovereignty Assets
Aerenal cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content
Aundair cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content
Cyre cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content
Darguun cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content
Droaam cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content
Karrnath cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content
The Lazhaar Principalities cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content
The Mror Holds cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content
Riedra cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content
Q'barra cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content
The Talenta Plains cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content
Valenar cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content
Zilargo cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content
Company Might Influence Territory Treasure Sovereignty Assets
The Sovereign Host cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content
The Blood of Vol cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content
The Aurum cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content
Morgrave University cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content
Company Might Influence Territory Treasure Sovereignty Assets
The Boromar Clan cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content
Daask cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content
House Tarkanan cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content
The Tyrants cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content cell-content
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