Guest Post: DDO Masterminds of Sharn review (part 2)

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 second in a series of three articles on the Masterminds of Sharn expansion. The article will review the nine story quests that are divided in two parts, as well as the Favor and Saga achievement systems for the entire Sharn story-arc and its related explorer area in The Cogs. Eberron creator Keith Baker, and Ruty Rutenberg and Satine Phoenix of Maze Arcana, provide most of the Dungeon Master narration for the story quests. The third and final article will conclude the series with a review of Masterminds of Sharn’s two Legendary-level raids, both of which are accessed in The Cogs’ Alcorin’s Forge Staging Area.

Welcome to Sharn, Outlander

The story picks up again from the intro ‘Lost at Sea’ quest after the party journeys across The Thunder Sea from Stormreach on Captain Alban Dranmore’s steady vessel. The party is now in the breathtaking city of Sharn, beginning either in lower Cliffside Docks District or in the upper Clifftop Tower District. The search for the missing Stormreach Beacon first leads the party to the dwarf NPC Summer Korranor, head of the Clifftop Adventurers’ Guild. Summer informs the party that she has been waiting for them and has work available immediately.

Issabet Tremont, the quest-giver from ‘Lost at Sea,’ hired the Clifftop Adventurers’ Guild to contact the party once they had reached Sharn to help steer them in the possible direction of the Beacon. Summer asks the party to speak to Anton Westmore, also an employee of Vaunt Arcanotechnic Limited, concerning the next steps to take in their mission. Anton Westmore tells the party that Issabet Tremont is expecting them at the Grandview Arms boarding house, the new headquarters of inventor Lucian Vaunt and his operation. Issabet has arranged a meeting between the party and Vaunt – a skycoach is waiting for them nearby.

A Sharn Welcome’ starts out Part I of the story-arc with a bang! Issabet greets the party at the entrance to the Grandview Arms and discusses Lucian Vaunt’s interest in magic relics such as the Stormreach Beacon with them. She says that this knowledge of mystical artifacts was cultivated while developing Vaunt Arcanotechnic Limited’s flagship product, the Vaunt Arcane Assistant. Issabet believes that Vaunt knows something that will help the party find the Beacon; he waits for them on the top level of the boarding house.

The party moves to access the terrace-level when a violent explosion reduces the building elevator to a smoking ruin. Boromar marauders flood into the boarding house through shattered windows – now the party must battle its way through the halls of the boarding house to reach Vaunt. Along the way, the party finds an object very similar in appearance to the “Mysterious Device” acquired at the end of ‘Lost at Sea.’ Is this the Vaunt Arcane Assistant?

When nearing the terrace the party finds a note from Vaunt to Lord Saidan Boromar, arch-criminal mastermind of the Boromar syndicate. The note implicates Clan Boromar as responsible for the theft of the Beacon from Stormreach Harbor and then requests that Boromar thugs destroy certain documents embarrassing to Vaunt while ransacking the Grandview Arms.

The party gathers on the terrace, where Lucian Vaunt awaits on a docked skycoach with an imposing tiefling henchman at his side. Vaunt reveals his role in the Beacon heist as well as the attack on his own headquarters. Vaunt exclaims, “The Beacon belongs to me now. I paid the Boromar Clan good money to get it, after all.” With that, the floor beneath the party collapses and Vaunt makes his escape in the skycoach.

In ‘Red Rain,’ Summer Korranor sends the party to a tiefling Inquisitive called Zeleth Crowspire who is investigating a series of unsolved murders in the rundown Cogsgate warehouse district. Zeleth is overwhelmed by the carnage and needs assistance with her investigation. Summer tells the party that there could be a connection between these murders and Vaunt’s activities.

At Zeleth’s request, the party visits crime scenes spread throughout Cogsgate while fighting a motley collection of Daask goons and Boromar heavies at various points. At each murder scene, the party finds that the victims each have odd gashes carved into the palms of their hands. After reporting back to Zeleth and letting her know that a Vaunt Arcanotechnic pin was found by them at the last crime scene, Zeleth reveals to the party that her brother, Zulkis Crowspire who works for Vaunt, is likely involved in the killings and needs to be sought out.

The party confronts Zulkis and immediately recognizes him as the tiefling with Lucian Vaunt from ‘A Sharn Welcome.’ After an evasive exchange with the party, Zulkis casts a dimension door spell to exit right after commanding his troll bodyguard to attack. After defeating the troll, the party reports back to Zeleth who urges them to continue with the investigation, consequences be damned. Zeleth then sends the party to one final crime scene.

In the deserted alleyway, the party finds a Vaunt security ledger cast aside, listing the names of all the murder victims who are also former employees of Vaunt. A note reads, “Too many loose ends know what caused the explosion. Clean them up.” The party examines a dead elf victim, a foreman from the Vaunt Factory down in the Cogs, and finally realizes that the palm slashes aren’t haphazard cuts at all – instead they form a name in Goblin characters, “Irk,” the killer’s signature.

Zeleth confirms that the goblin assassin works for her brother and can be found at the goblin’s mercenary company safehouse close by. The party pinpoint the goblin’s hideout and then burst in on a surprised Zulkis and Irk. As the party strikes down Irk, he suddenly rises again, shrouded in necromantic energy. A Cursed Blade of Jack Jibbers, from Three-Barrel Cove, pierces the goblin’s chest, reviving him in an undead state. Zulkis casts another dimension door spell, and the tiefling and goblin disappear through it.

Summer next directs the party to Vyn Erathal in ‘Best Laid Plans’, a member of The Twelve collective of wizards from Stormreach. The Twelve wishes to know more about the Vaunt Arcane Assistant – how the device is made and how it works – as the contraption potentially threatens the mages’ monopoly on commercial magic services. Vaunt stores the blueprints and prototypes from the Arcane Assistant in a warehouse located in the crime-ridden Lower Dura district. Vyn asks the party to meet a rogue Vaunt employee, the local warehouse shift manager, at a nearby tavern in Lower Dura on his behalf who will then help the party break into the warehouse and steal the Arcane Assistant’s blueprints for The Twelve.

The party greets a conspicuous figure at the tavern who introduces himself as Victor Dabonaire, Vaunt dayshift warehouse manager. Victor leads the party to a backdoor entrance into the warehouse through the ducts and then hurries away into the night. While attempting to uncover the Vaunt prototype blueprints in the warehouse offices, the party stumbles upon a group of mercenaries burning what appear to be documents related to the Arcane Assistant. The party suddenly hears the familiar voice of Victor Dabonaire nearby, exclaiming, “What’s all this? Dear Aureon, we have a security breach. Quickly, find them!” Victor has betrayed the party!

The party fights its way through Vaunt Security and then discovers Victor shielded by a shimmering sphere of force among the warehouse’s many crates and barrels. However, as the party defeats the last of the Vaunt Security drones, forgewraiths begin to swarm around Victor outside of his enchanted cocoon. Victor shouts, “All right, don’t do anything rash. I’m coming out. Perhaps we can make a deal.” Victor presses the button on his Vaunt prototype and the magical barrier around him fades away. The party has the option to make a deal with Victor and let him go in exchange for the Vaunt prototype or just kill him and take the prototype. Killing Victor will then turn him into a forgewraith that will attack the party.

A member of the Sharn City Council itself has contacted Summer for a “diplomatic mission” involving the party in ‘The Same Old Song’. Councilor Savia Potellas requests that the party visit Club Clawfoot, a nightclub operated by the Boromar Clan, in the Firelight entertainment district. Councilor Potellas wants the party to drive a wedge between the Boromar Clan and Lucian Vaunt. The party must convince the Boromar-connected manager of the club to destroy the gang’s alliance with Vaunt once and for all. Councilor Potellas views Vaunt as a danger to the city of Sharn and must be stopped for this reason.

The party has a brief meeting with Regina Boromar, the Club Clawfoot manager, as she watches the tiefling singer, Encore, warm up on stage. The club guards have been sent home for the evening due to a private show for which Encore is preparing. As the party attempts to convince Regina that Lucian Vaunt is no good and not to be trusted, a piercing alarm reverberates through the nightclub. Regina turns to the party and cries, “The alarm! Someone’s breached our magic wards. It must be an attack!” Hordes of Daask foot soldiers flood into the club through dimension door portals cast from outside the walls of the structure and begin combat with the party while also menacing Regina and Encore.

After the invaders are repelled, Regina thanks the party for saving her and protecting Encore during the heated skirmish. She then promises that she will work within Boromar Clan to cut ties with Vaunt Arcanotechnic as a gesture of gratitude for saving their lives from the Daask enforcers.

The final quest in Part I of the story-arc is ‘Just Business’. Summer tells the party that a relative of Issabet Tremont, Edwin Tremont, has news concerning Issabet and requests the party’s assistance. Edwin then explains to the party that his uncle Caspar sent him to find them. Uncle Caspar thinks that Issabet is in trouble and wants the party’s help in possibly saving her life.

Issabet told Caspar earlier that she has been summoned for a meeting with Vaunt this evening and sounded genuinely afraid when discussing Vaunt. Caspar wants the party to clandestinely observe this meeting and listen in on the conversation, so that they may act if Issabet is authentically in danger. Casper is the owner of Tremont Transport, a skycoach rental business, and is also the father of Issabet Tremont. The party should seek out Casper in the Dava Gate professional district and then give him a password provided by Edwin to identify themselves.

Casper gathers the party on his skybarge and ferries them to an upper level of Vaunt’s domicile, letting the party know that the meeting between Issabet and Vaunt has already started. The party observes Vaunt and several other figures in silhouette as Issabet enters the columnated room in which the meeting is being conducted. Vaunt tells Issabet, “Now, Issabet, I know you invited our mutual friends from Stormreach. No. No. Don’t cry.” Vaunt then assures her this is “just business” as he uses the Arcane Assistant’s soul stealing function on her – Issabet falls to the floor, still alive but just barely. Vaunt directs his underlings to take Issabet outside, telling them that they will adjourn to his yacht afterward.

Vaunt’s gnoll henchman, Gish Helion, then releases a strange whooping bark and, in the nighttime darkness surrounding the party, a chorus of menacing responses answer him. Casper shouts, “An ambush! Damn us for fools!” Rabid gnoll mercenaries descend on the party from above, riding jade-colored stone sky sleds as they attack. The party may also engage the gnolls using sky sleds placed close by which introduces a new type of combat to the game, aerial combat.

The party must defeat waves of gnolls, goblins, and other monsters including bomb bats to progress through Dava Gates’ empty streets and storefronts, making their way toward Issabet. Casper hopes that his daughter yet lives and can be rescued by the party. The party defeats Gish, who then escapes with Zulkis Crowspire’s assistance, and confronts the goblin Irk who has now returned after his resurrection in Cogsgate. Issabet’s immobile form is close by Irk, lying on a soarsled.

The party defeats Irk again and gathers around Issabet’s limp form. With her last breath, Issabet pleads with the party to stop Vaunt. A wraith-like Irk appears with the Cursed Blade of Jack Jibbers protruding from this chest and taunts the party that he can’t be slain. Once again, Irk disappears through a dimension door portal, evading a final death. Casper mourns his daughter and tells the party that the Vaunt Arcane Assistant has the power to drain the life out of a person when used as a weapon.

On the Trail of Lucian Vaunt

Part II of the Masterminds of Sharn story-arc begins with ‘No Refunds’ at the sprawling department store, Belgrave’s Emporium. The party speaks with another dwarf NPC, Borian Haldorak, a member of the City Council and also an initiate of the secretive social club known as The Aurum. Borian expresses his concerns about Lucian Vaunt and asks that the party keep investigating Vaunt and his activities.

Borian informs the party that a wizard from The Twelve is scheduled to make a major announcement on the Vaunt Arcane Assistant device at a public place in Sharn. The party should speak with Celwyn Ulth of The Twelve for more information about this announcement.

The party talks to Celwyn who lets them know that The Twelve has attempted to reverse-engineer the Vaunt Arcane Assistant from the prototype supplied by the party in Part I and has discovered “some very disturbing things.” Her colleague, Glastig Bonwitt, plans to discuss these findings with the Sharn press at Belgrave’s Emporium later today. Celwyn requests that the party attend this public announcement implicating Vaunt to help put the gnome wizard’s mind at ease.

The party enters Belgrave’s Emporium and faces the Radiant Idol Qaspiel Mistwalker, one of Vaunt’s lieutenants, as well as – yet again – the tiefling Zulkis Crowspire. The Radiant Idol tells the party to turn back as Vaunt Arcanotechnic is dealing with a security problem in the store. Qaspiel turns to Zulkis and says, “Open a door to the skycoach dock, Zulkis. They’ll capture that fractious Wizard any moment now. We’ll be departing shortly.” The two abscond through a dimension door portal opened by Zulkis, leaving the party at the entrance to the ground-level floor of the store.

The store manager tells the party that Vaunt’s forces burst into the store looking for “that Wizard.” The manager says that the commotion has frightened away the Emporium’s customers and he wants only for Vaunt’s people to leave now as they have been bad for business. Glastig had arrived first with a notebook full of evidence the gnome claims will prove that Vaunt plans on killing thousands of people with his new gadget.

The party must clear the store of Vaunt’s security detail and find the missing pages of the notebook that Glastig has torn out of their binding and spread around the store to keep Vaunt from stealing all the damning evidence. Vaunt’s interlopers have kidnapped Glastig and are probably holding him somewhere inside the store.

The party locates Glastig hidden in the backrooms of the department store, guarded by a Vaunt security patrol. Glastig tells them that the Arcane Assistant is powered by the life energy of the people who wield it and that prolonged operation of the device will send the user to an early grave. Vaunt’s people now have Glastig’s notebook demonstrating how the Arcane Assistant depletes the souls of its unsuspecting users, so it is imperative that the party retrieve the notebook to expose Vaunt for the charlatan that he is. Glastig believes that the notebook was taken to the skycoach dock where Vaunt’s forces first landed before they crashed his press conference.

As the party reaches the docking station, Qaspiel Mistwalker taunts them from the waiting skycoach. He and Zulkis Crowspire fly off, leaving the remaining Vaunt security officer and a lone manticore to deal with the party. With the defeat of the last of Vaunt’s forces, the party finds Glastig’s notebook with evidence that will incriminate Vaunt.

House of Pain’ takes place in Callestan, one of Sharn’s older and poorer lodging districts. Borian urges the party to speak to Muldan Heartsun, who knows of a former employee of Mister Vaunt who is willing to further discredit his erstwhile benefactor.

Muldan Heartsun tells the party of a disgruntled Vaunt Arcanotechnic ex-employee who was just let go from the company named Evan Greybeard. Evan is interested in speaking with the party about Vaunt and the “dirt” he has on his former employer. Mister Greybeard was one of the arcane researchers behind many of Vaunt Arcanotechnic’s key innovations. Evan can be found in his top floor Callestan tenement apartment, a slum dwelling in the Lower City.

The party finds the door to Evan’s apartment wide open and Captain Talleon Haliar Tonan, an inquisitive member of The King’s Citadel Dark Lanterns division, examining a crime scene inside. After a quick discussion about Evan Greybeard, the inquisitive deputizes the party and tasks them with tracking down the errant fugitive. Evan’s (nosy) neighbors tell the party that Evan stepped out for a drink at the local tavern across the square but didn’t look well and was wearing a backpack when he left.

On the way out of Evan’s tenement building and while traversing the upper city environs, several packs of forgewraiths ambush the party in succession. The party is also ambushed by “mysterious assassins” while walking to the tavern at which Evan Greybeard was last seen, and then later by another cadre of these same assassins in the lower slums of Callestan. At the tavern, patrons and staff tell the party that Evan left with a tall woman dressed entirely in black only several minutes before their arrival. As they leave, a man stops the party and says, “You’re following feet you don’t want to step on. Tread lightly, or not at all. Better yet, run while you still can.” With that, the man vanishes in a shroud of luminescent mist.

Descending into the Lower City, the party encounters the Lady in Black – a solitary figure among the ruined buildings and abandoned structures of the Callestan ghetto. The party tells the Lady in Black that they need to speak with Evan Greybeard concerning an important matter, with which the Lady then asks to the party to follow her. The party enters a secret passage in a nearby wall, entering an enclosed chamber, and the Lady says, “I am Lady Thora Tarkanan. Evan asked for our protection, and House Tarkanan obliged him. I’m sorry, I can’t let you live. You know too much.”

The Lady disappears, and the party must escape the flame-trapped room by smashing a series of heated sewer pipes lining the chamber’s walls. A trapdoor opens in the chamber floor and the party falls into the rushing sewer waterways beneath Callestan. After exploring the dank tunnels, the party finds Thora Tarkanan and Evan Greybeard in a secluded alcove of the sewers. Before the party can question Evan, House Tharashk bounty hunters spring from the shadows and attack!

Fighting back the goblin, bugbear, and hobgoblin mercenaries, the party hears a voice snarl, “Nobody quits the Dark Lanterns, Thora. You’re a loose end.” Captain Tonan from the tenement crime scene surges forward from his hiding place and lunges at Thora Tavin. Captain Tonan falls to the ground vanquished and Evan divulges what he knows about Vaunt. Evan tells the party that not only does the Arcane Assistant drain the user’s soul bit by bit, but anyone who dies from such sorcery returns in undeath as a forgewraith. The forgewraiths are angry and seem to be hunting Vaunt. However, Vaunt has been able to shield himself from the wraiths with an ancient artifact he had stolen from somewhere in the wilds of Xen’Drik. If a forgewraith approaches Vaunt, the spirit is suddenly frozen in place and can do him no harm.

Upon their return, Borian sends the party to Dunwich Mornathan, the quest-giver for ‘Blown Deadline,’ about an invitation from the Temple of Kol Korran in in the affluent Korranath financial district. Dunwich conveys the invitation to the party from one Kalphan Riak, the high priest of the Sovereign of World and Wealth, Kol Korran, for a private meeting at the temple after hours.

At the meeting, high priest Riak is direct with the party – he wants them to ruin Lucian Vaunt as Mister Vaunt has become a liability to Sharn’s elite. Vaunt has resorted to a number of illegal measures in an attempt to save his failing Arcane Assistant business, one of which was to build a secret factory in the Dura district. The party should search Vaunt’s newly-constructed manufacturing facility in the Middle Menthis downtown area and sabotage the factory if they discover any “irregularities.”

Vaunt’s security forces and shield guardian automatons attempt to thwart the party as they penetrate the facility’s defenses and move deeper into the inner recesses of the industrial center. The party must also overcome an otyugh mini-boss, The Maw, who dwells in a concealed pit placed before the factory’s equipment rooms. Flipping a series of switches, turning a number of valves, and pushing several levers break the intricate machinery powering the manufactory, shaking its walls as gouts of fire bellow from its massive furnaces. The facility’s systems broken, the party must now escape before the meltdown reaches its critical point, fighting their way past the remaining constructs active in the facility.

Borian tells the party that after the destruction of his hidden manufactory, Vaunt is now teetering on the brink of oblivion. One small push could be all that is needed to end Mister Lucian Vaunt for good. Jix Boromar, whom Borian believes has the last bit of knowledge the party requires in their struggle with Vaunt, introduces the final quest of the story-arc, ‘Reach for the Sky.’ Jix informs the party that Vaunt is planning a gala fundraiser at the illustrious Skyway Odeum in a desperate attempt to keep his sagging venture afloat. The party could sneak into the theater to steal the Stormreach Beacon which has been safeguarding Vaunt from the vengeful forgewraiths while he’s on stage speaking to wealthy would-be investors.

Thora Tavin waits for the party on a floating platform outside of the Odeum. She tells the party to look for a man wearing a red cloak named Kaine who will assist them this evening. Thora lets the party know that House Tarkanan’s debt with them for saving Evan Greybeard is now settled, and that they should “enjoy the show.” The party gains entrance to the theater building’s backstage and begins to search for the missing Beacon.

Molin Kaine of The Citadel is backstage and asks the party how he can help them in their heist. Kaine offers a backstage pass if needed or to detain Vaunt’s remaining henchmen, including Zulkis Crowspire, while the party tries to steal back the Beacon from Vaunt. Throughout the backstage area chained forgewraiths are strewn about, held in place by the eldritch might of the Stormreach Beacon.

A legion of iron golems and iron defenders stand watch over the Beacon which is sheathed in a field of magical energy. Once retrieved from within the field, the multitude of forgewraiths in the theater are freed and swarm Vaunt onstage, devouring him. Lucian Vaunt died as he lived – spectacularly.

The party must now bring the Beacon to an airship decked nearby, behind the theater. The forgewraiths have other plans, however, and fill the halls and stairways of the theater building as the party attempts to leave for Xen’Drik. Two final bosses, the minotaur Rudus Caskrage and Gish Helion, block the party from flying off with the airship captain and her crew and must be defeated first. The Beacon is free and clear, now back to Stormreach!

Saga and Favor Systems

Once both Part I and Part II of the story-arc have been completed by the party, they may visit Cyrene Gorham at the Drunken Dragon Tavern in the Clifftop Tower District to receive the Legendary Saga bonuses for completion of the entire quest chain. The DDO Saga system rewards players above what is offered for individual quest or raid completions and is dependent on specific story-arcs being finished. There are separate Heroic and Legendary Sagas for the Masterminds of Sharn content, each with different reward options, both for the main storyline as well as The Cogs explorer area walkup quests. Players would speak to Alle Latham for the Legendary Cogs Saga rewards.

Each quest and raid in the Sharn expansion also grants Sharn City Council Favor to the players, the amount of which depends on the difficulty at which the content is completed. Lord Mayor Cathan ir’Demell at the Drunken Dragon offers several gifts for the players’ efforts, including unlocking the Universal Enhancement Tree: Inquisitive for dual crossbow wielders upon achieving a high-level Favor tier.

The Stuff that Dreams are Made of

Masterminds of Sharn is an old school detective story, with a number of similarities to the classic film, The Maltese Falcon. Steam punk and hard-boiled gumshoe themes come together in a way that has never been experienced before in an MMORPG. The player community can look forward to more Sharn content in the very near future as the next scheduled DDO adventure pack features the Lord of Blades, the militant warforged demigod who has declared war on all “fleshies” and is now worried that his fellow warforged are disappearing from the City of Towers.

More of the Sharn story is covered in the next article, a review of the two expansion raids. Too Hot to Handle and Project Nemesis both take place in the subterranean Cogs, cut off from the airy world of the cloud city many miles above them.

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