Guest Post: DDO Masterminds of Sharn review (part 1)

Today’s guest post is from DDOCentral’s Matt, who wanted to give Bio Break’s readership a deeper look into Dungeons and Dragons Online’s Masterminds of Sharn expansion. Thanks Matt!

Dungeons and Dragons Online (DDO) released its fourth paid expansion on May 14th, 2019 titled Masterminds of Sharn. The three previous paid expansions for DDO are Menace of the Underdark, released on June 25th, 2012, Shadowfell Conspiracy, released on August 19th, 2013, and Mists of Ravenloft, released on December 6th, 2017.

Masterminds of Sharn is the first paid expansion for DDO set in the Eberron universe, which was the original DDO campaign setting when the MMORPG launched in early 2006. After thirteen years, DDO finally leaves the small frontier settlement of Stormreach on the southern jungle continent of Xen’drik where the adventure began for the great metropolis of Sharn, the City of Towers, located on the central continent of Khorvaire. Sharn is not only the most populous city in Khorvaire, but is also notable as the seat of power for the racially-affiliated Dragonmarked Houses. The Dragonmarked Houses enjoy a near-monopoly on many crucial business activities, both magical and mundane as well as legal and illegal.

This article is the first in a series of three articles on the Masterminds of Sharn expansion. The article will provide an overview of the Eberron campaign setting in the Dungeons and Dragons role-playing game, the history and scheming forces behind the city of Sharn, the new explorer area included with the Sharn expansion and the related walk-up quests found therein, the two new Tiefling player races, and the new Minor Artifacts system which expands on the Sentient Weapons system. The second article in the series will look at the Masterminds of Sharn’s nine story dungeons divided in two parts, and the third and final article will conclude the series with a review of Masterminds of Sharn’s two raids.

Pulp D&D: Steampunk Meets Film Noir

Eberron was created by fantasy author and game designer Keith Baker as the winning entry for Wizards of the Coast’s Fantasy Setting Search, an open competition conducted in 2002 to establish a new campaign setting for the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game. Eberron was selected from more than 11,000 entries and was officially released with the publication of the Eberron Campaign Setting hardback book in June 2004 as an accessory for the 3.5 edition of D&D. The D&D supplement upon which the Masterminds of Sharn expansion is based, Sharn: City of Towers, was published soon after in November 2004.

More than a dozen additional Eberron campaign supplements were released over the next several years for the 3.5 edition, including Secrets of Xen’drik in July 2006 and City of Stormreach in February 2008, as well as five adventure modules such as Eyes of the Lich Queen in April 2007. The Eberron Campaign Guide was revised for 4th edition D&D along with a new Eberron Player’s Guide in summer 2009 which delineated rules for three player races (Changelings, Kalashtar, and Warforged) and also a new character class, the Artificer, for the campaign setting. The world of Eberron was updated for a second time most recently with the release of Wayfinder’s Guide to Eberron in July 2018, a resource for 5th edition D&D; a pending hardback book version of the supplement was announced on May 19, 2019.

Set in a period following a vast, destructive conflict known as “The Last War” on the continent of Khorvaire, Eberron combines a science-fantasy setting with pulp adventure and noir themes, steampunk tropes, and non-traditional fantasy technologies. Lightning rails, elemental-powered airships, and sentient living constructs as player characters (the Warforged) can be found in the Eberron campaign world — all of which are powered by magic as well as scientific know-how. The familiar D&D races such as gnomes, elves, and drow have been re-imaged to varying degrees in Eberron, with many halflings even portrayed as nomadic barbarians riding dinosaur mounts on The Talenta Plains of Khorvaire!

The Emperor of Stormreach Harbor

On the rocky cliffs above Stormreach Harbor stands a great statue known as The Emperor. The statue’s massive palms are placed together, and a brilliant beam of light rises from the figure’s outstretched hands. This guiding light is also known to the ship port’s denizens as the Stormreach Beacon. Eberron’s scholars have posited that The Emperor is a monument to the Titan King Cul’sir from the long-past Age of Giants and was constructed to safeguard the city, but no one has yet been able to prove or disprove this theory. The Emperor radiates an overwhelming magical aura, steadfastly resisting any attempt to divine the purported memorial’s true purpose.

Stormreach is a thriving commercial port nestled in the ruins of an ancient Giant city, where the original Giant civilizations of Xen’drik were long ago devastated by the dragons of Argonnessen. However, some believe that the land around Stormreach was cursed after this destruction using a powerful spell cast by the dragons to prevent the Giant races from ever threatening them again. Before humans settled Stormreach during modern times, legend has it that a number of previous non-human societies built up around what is now Stormreach were destroyed by a mysterious plague called the Du’rashka Tul in the ancient Giantish tongue or “The Madness of Crowds.” Victims of the Du’rashka Tul are said to be struck with a severe paranoia and aggressive tendencies, and before a month has passed, those gripped by this curse will have ripped themselves (and others) apart. The curse is said to lie dormant until large numbers of intelligent beings gather in one place – for example, a populated city port.

The mythology surrounding the Du’rashka Tul is the backdrop for the Masterminds of Sharn’s prelude adventures. A faction of the Cult of the Dragon Below, the Disciples of Rage, has employed an unknown group of thieves to steal The Emperor Beacon from Stormreach Harbor. With the theft of the Beacon, the magic that protected Stormreach for centuries fails, and the curse that vanquished the Giants returns. The party joins forces with the healers of House Jorasco to find a cure for the plague and save Stormreach, while attempting to discover who is responsible for The Emperor’s disappearance from its stone perch in the Harbor. The Beacon was spirited off across the Thunder Sea to Sharn and now must be recovered by the party.

The free-to-play quest, Lost at Sea, bridges the city of Stormreach and the new Sharn setting. A commercial sailing vessel with important cargo has just sank off the coast of Stormreach Harbor. The party are hired by Vaunt Arcanotechnic to explore the ocean floor under the Thunder Sea for the Sharn-based company’s sunken shipment. Elements of the Sharn story line are introduced here, including the Daask criminal enterprise which has its origins in the monster kingdom of Droaam. The party recovers the missing cargo, and then find a Mysterious Device among the Vaunt company crates which may later play into the goings on in Sharn.

Sharn: City of Towers

Sharn is the largest city in the kingdom of Breland and also on the continent of Khorvaire. A melting pot of many sapient races, the human population predominates but still constitutes only one-third of Sharn’s approximately 212,000 residents.

A vertical city, Sharn was constructed in a manifest zone closely connected to the aerial plane of Syrania (“The Azure Sky”). This extraplanar phenomenon allowed Sharn’s architects enhanced power concerning levitation magic, a feature that the city’s inhabitants have used to build gleaming towers that often rise high into the clouds — higher than any other place on Khorvaire or even the entire expanse of Eberron. The wealthy and the influential reside in the upper regions of the city, indulging in the freshest air and least claustrophobic views.

The city of Sharn can be accessed through the Harbor in Stormreach where Captain Alban Dranmore boards passengers on his fast-moving airship traveling over the Thunder Sea. Another option available is to use a special Boarding Pass to teleport to the expansion’s public areas: Cliffside Docks District, Clifftop Tower District, the Drunken Dragon Tavern (located within Clifftop), and the subterranean Alcorin’s Forge. There are entrances to the expansion’s explorer area, The Cogs, in both the Tower District and Alcorin’s Forge.

Far below the bustling city, the great furnaces and foundries of The Cogs form the industrial base of Sharn. The Cogs is a Heroic Level 15/Legendary Level 32 wilderness adventure area, with eight stand-alone walk-up quests not related to main Sharn story line dotting its immense underground landscape. The walk-up quests are Smash and Burn, Ruinous Schemes, The Wraithcallers, Thralls of the Fungus Lord, The Magma Must Flow, Scavenger Hunt, Security Detail, and Roll Call.

The eight quests run a wide gamut of Sharn-inspired situations, with Boromar crime syndicate smugglers, a goblin fortress, despicable cults, zombie infestations, enraged fire elementals, and gnome scavengers all making appearances. Guest Dungeon Master narration for several of these quests is provided by the hosts at Maze Arcana, a D&D livestream with a focus on Eberron. Twelve ‘Rare Encounters’ (mini-bosses) are spread throughout The Cogs, as well as two sets of fully voiced Journal entries (the Factory Worker’s Journal and Vaunt’s Journal) that, when discovered, support the expansion’s lore narrative.

As with past expansions, new monsters have been added to the DDO bestiary: the construct Shield Guardian which is also the new permanent hireling associated with the Sharn expansion; giant Fire Beetles; the monstrous, telepathic Otyugh; the undead Forgewraith; the long-awaited Goblin; and – best of all – Dinosaurs! With the addition of Goblins, all core D&D humanoid enemies now appear in DDO. Goblins will again be featured with the ‘Keep on the Borderlands’  classic adventure pack planned for later in 2019.

Tiefling Player Races

As a kind of bookend to the angelic Aasimar character races included with the Ravenloft expansion, the Sharn expansion includes a Premium Tiefling race and an Iconic Tiefling race. Like the Aasimar, Tieflings are plane-touched humans but with infernal instead of celestial ancestry. This diabolical lineage manifests itself in the Tiefling’s horns, movable tail, and unearthly skin tones.

The standard Tiefling race excels in a variety of roles, including Warlocks, Favored Souls, and Sorcerers as Tiefling characters receive an automatic bonus to Charisma as a racial trait. The Iconic Tiefling Scoundrel’s chosen class is a melee-focused Bard with an emphasis on Sonic and Fire damage. The Tiefling Scoundrel Iconic also features their own unique animations for Bardic Music that revolve around their Fiddle instrument and is the only character class to start their lives at the City Watch Station in Sharn.

Minor Artifact System

Minor Artifacts are a special category of named items with particularly powerful enchantments. Minor Artifacts go into a character’s normal equipment slots and can have filigrees slotted into them. The first Minor Artifacts were introduced with the Masterminds of Sharn expansion, and are an extension of the Sentient Weapon system introduced with the Ravenloft expansion.

Minor Artifacts can be placed into the Sentient Weapon User Interface and can consume named items just like a Sentient Weapon to gain XP. Each Minor Artifact has a different number of maximum Filigree Slots, and the number of total slots cannot be adjusted by consuming a Sentient Spark. The Sharn Minor Artifacts are unique items flavored as having roots in different parts of Khorvaire (museum artifacts).

Expansion Momentum

The Masterminds of Sharn expansion was released only eighteen months after the launch of the Mists of Ravenloft expansion. The response to Ravenloft was the impetus behind the quick completion of yet another paid expansion for DDO; Masterminds of Sharn has also been well-received by the community. Where Dungeons and Dragons Online goes next is anyone’s guess, but there is an abundance of material from pencil and paper D&D that has yet to be explored.

Masterminds of Sharn breaks new ground in the MMORPG, bringing the game to a large urban setting for the first time. There are so many stories to tell in the city of Sharn and in Khorvaire, and DDO can build greatly from this new starting point. The next article in this series will look at the pivotal content of the expansion which is nine story dungeons in two separate parts.

2 thoughts on “Guest Post: DDO Masterminds of Sharn review (part 1)

  1. DonV July 1, 2019 / 9:08 pm

    I would like to play the new iconic scoundrel when I get some time. Not all that happy with the horns on the tiefling they are Hellboy sized. Would like a smaller spike kind of option.

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