A new month started, and that means a new chance to blog along many other talented and creative people around a particular theme. RPG Blog Carnival’s theme for April is Megadungeons, as introduced to us by Creighton Broadhurst in his website. He asks us to get involved by posting up encounters, level themes, thoughts on design or even session summaries. I’ll try to do it all, except the summaries, as I’ll use this megadungeon as a climax for my current campaign, “A Three-Headed Gorgon”.
So first let’s decide what a megadungeon is. Peter Dell’Orto offers us three characteristics a dungeon must abide to in order to be considered as “mega”, and I must say he did a great job at establishing them. He also mentions independence and exclusivity, but I’d put those on a “things to be desired” category:
- It must have a Discrete Area (to keep it from being just a “series of dungeons”)
- Size matters: It should be big enough to support repeated cumulative play, and for that it needs to accomodate diverse challenge levels.
- It offers end points, but no End.
Of course, I decided to do my megadungeon something very Eberronian, and after asking around in the Eberron Enthusiasts Facebook group, there was one name that came to mind to most member who voted: Whitehearth. I’ll write some lines about Argonth, the runner-up in a not so distant future.
Eberronian History 101
Whitehearth was a secret facility in Cyre belonging to House Cannith, a dragonmarked house whose members are well known for their innovation and advancements in technology, responsible for such wonders as the Warforged and the Lightning Rail. It was destroyed on the Day of Mourning, now believed to rest somewhere in the southwestern region of the Mournland, near the ruins of Rose Quarry in Darguun.
House Cannith was probably the most powerful Dragonmarked House during the Last War, mainly because they didn’t limit themlselves to simply selling weapons and armour but to innovate with the creation of sentient constructs. Nonetheless, everything changed on the Day of Mourning, when the mysterious devastation made them lose not only their precious forgehold along with its wealth, knowledge, resources and inhabitants but also their leader, Baron Starrin d’Cannith, and many of the House’s heirs.
- Discrete Area: even if some of its locations are quite apart from each other, Whitehearth is at its core one single facility.
- Large enough: PCs will most likely have to re-enter the facility many times in order to discover all its secrets, and the close-by Rose Quarry serves a special purpose as downtime location. Diverse challenge levels can be accomodated behind harder and harder levels to get into, which is also a tool to keep deadly dangers away from low-level characters.
- It offers end points, but no End: Looting Whitehearth can be extremely profitable, since experimental magic items lie all around, abandoned and locked away. Goals can be set in recovering a particular one, some blueprints or just trying to discover a clue about what the Mourning was.
It seems we have our choice.
Home is where your Hearth is
The location and first levels of Whitehearth are included and described in the fifth part of the adventure “Shadows of the Last War” (2004) , by Eberron creator himself, Keith Baker. Regular features include:
- Walls are smooth gray stone, ceilings are 8 feet high.
- Everbright lanterns work erratically, providing shadowy illumination at best.
- Standard doors are 3-inch steel and seales with arcane locks, tied to color-coded keycharms.
- A customized and very powerful Private Sanctum effect makes the whole facility hard to locate and enter by magical means.
- Spherical rotating rooms are the main entrance and defense to the facility. One must adjust a color-coded panel in order to open a corridor to the desired destination. Showing no labels at all, it means that without a map indicating what color represents what zone, it’s impossible to know where you’re going.
As the most important research facility for House Cannith, give these first levels the most detailed personality you can: tapestries with the House crest or even the crest itself carved on the iron doors make a memorable and impressive detail. Rooms as the barracks can include some grafittis made by the artificers themselves (“how many wizards do you need to light up an everbright lantern?”) and laboratories should include all kinds of tools left behind by its owners.
The ecology of Whitehearth is also up to you to decide and build. Take advantage of the “innovation” theme and include experiments gone wrong: from living spells to enhanced beasts, passing all the way along your very own creations or exotic adaptations (hey, give it a try and put in there some aetherborn from the Plane Shift: Kaladesh free supplement).
Behind arcane traps and smart protections, the loot appears. What can we find in the top-level research facility from the most-talented community of artificers in the world? Anything! Is your wizard looking for some spells to add to his spellbook? Put them in the library. Does the fighter want a light saber? Put it into a closed box inside a lab. Maybe the rogue can find useful those very small tools when trying to bypass some of these pesky traps. Feel free to give your party an effect they can’t take with them. An eldritch machine of gigantic proportions with a map attached to it can help them find a kidnapped heir if they have an object related to him. Everytime they want to use it though, they will probably have to face some reappearing dangers around it.
Was it House Cannith with the Mark of Making in the Laboratory?
As we said above, a megadungeon provides end points but no end. Whenever you need something the characters don’t know where to get or how to start investigating, an answer can be waiting for them at Whitehearth. Nonetheless, I’m against not having closure at any point and that’s why I recommend for you to think in advance what can give your players the feeling they actually “solved” Whitehearth’s mystery. In this case, the Eberron setting gives you a tool: the Mourning. It’s up to you if the cause for such a ctastrophic event lies hidden in the lowest levels; but if it’s not, give the chance to your players to find evidence House Cannith was not involved. That can even give them a boon of inflluence with its leaders and start a new chapter in your campaign.
A White hearth by any other name
And of course, no article would be complete without an advice on how to add this fantastic Eberronian details to a non-Eberron campaign. If you don’t want to play in Eberron, but you found all this intriguing, all you need is a remote location in your own setting where lonely wizards and artificers gathered together to experiment on magic as a pure academic endeavour. The farthest from a civilized area, the more consistent will it be: remember these arcanists were testing powerful spells and devices, and unless they were careless and/or evil, they wouldn’t want to get any attention from accidents near a populated area.
I hope you find a place for Whitehearth in your very own Campaign’s Heart.