My last post raised a question: what cities or locations in Eberron can support an entire campaign? Sharn and Stormreach can fill this role, if you want them to. But what about other locations? Someone raised the idea of the city of Newthrone in Q’barra, and that got me thinking. Because I think you could easily run an entire campaign in Q’barra, but I wouldn’t start it in Newthrone.
In my mind, a Q’barra campaign would be a fantasy twist on the classic Western. The adventurers are people who’ve chosen to live on the frontier, searching for fortune, redemption, or simply an escape from something. Rather than starting them in the largest city in the region, I’d do the reverse and start them in an entirely new community. Q’barra is a frontier nation largely untouched by humans, but in the past decades prospectors and settlers have discovered rich deposits of dragonshards in Q’barra. Much like the classic gold rush, this has drawn a host of opportunists and fortune seekers – and all the sorts of people who hope to profit or prey upon them.
So: I’d sit down with the players and establish that there’s a new town in the Hope region of Q’barra. Tharashk prospectors have identified the region as rich in shards, and it’s on the precipice of a boom. With that in mind, I’d ask the players if any of them want to be founders of this community. There’s a couple of roles a player could choose to fill:
- The Law. Someone needs to keep order in this small town… do you have what it takes to pin that star to your chest? This is an easy go-to for a paladin, but there’s no reason a fighter or even a rogue can’t design to be the lawkeeper. It’s also a role that could be shared among multiple characters, either equally or as a warden with deputies.
- The Faith. As a divine character — or a druid, for that matter — could be the spiritual guide for this small town. Their choice of faith will say a great deal about the flavor of the town; is the local church dedicated to the Silver Flame or to the Blood of Vol? And does the character have the respect of a significant portion of the community, or are they an evangelist trying to convert the faithless townsfolk? This is an opportunity to play up the idea of a divine caster filling the actual duties of a priest – guiding and counseling a community – as well as smiting undead.
- The Money. It’s a small town, but someone’s got to buy and sell. Personally, I’d be inclined to have the primary merchant prince be an NPC so you have a little flexibility in tracking the local economy and you don’t get into the weird space of “Why don’t I give all my goods away to the party?” But you could certainly have a bard or rogue running the local saloon — having a stake in the local economy, and having a little bit of a minigame involving managing goods and employees.
If one or more players is up for taking one of these central roles, I’d ask them to name the town. They may not be the mayor, but they’re one of the founders… so what did they call it? For the rest of the article, I’m going to call my town Felhaven. But having the players name the town is a way to give them a concrete connection to it and establish that it is new. It’s not on the existing maps of Q’barra because it wasn’t there when those maps were made.
So, what about the rest of the players? Everyone needs a reason to be in Felhaven: What is it? Here’s a few ideas, just off the top of my head…
- A rogue or bard could be any combination of grifter, gambler, entertainer or professional “companion” (an especially strong role for a changeling).
- A ranger would make an excellent Tharashk bounty hunter — someone who’d have ties to the Tharashk prospectors in the area, and who could be offered work tracking down troublemakers. You could take the same path with another class, but ranger’s a great match.
- I love the idea of a warlock or sorcerer as a professional wandslinger – gambler, duelist, and general scoundrel. Either one could also have ties to the dark powers in the region, either by choice or unwillingly.
- A fighter could be an ex-soldier fleeing the war. They could be a deserter who fled during the war, a Cyran soldier without a home, someone who served with distinction but now feels they have no place in the Five Nations. But they could just as easily be a mercenary looking for opportunities — Firefly terms, Mal or Jayne. A deserter
- An artificer or wizard could be interested in rare dragonshards in the region — believing that if they can locate a supply of these shards, they could make some sort of arcane breakthrough. Or they could be a sage interested in the history of the Age of Demons, eager to explore the local ruins.
- A halfling druid, barbarian or ranger could have come from the Talenta Plains. They could have formed a bond to one of the other PCs and this is what drew them from their homeland… or they could have been exiled from their tribe, for reasons that will be explored as the campaign continues.
Given that Q’barra is off the beaten path, it’s also an easy place for any sort of unusual character who doesn’t feel comfortable in the Five Nations. Tiefling, warforged, magebred exotic race – Felhaven’s a perfect place for a person who doesn’t fit in elsewhere.
Once players have basic concepts, I’d also suggest that they come up with exactly what has brought their character to Felhaven… a hook that could be explored in future adventures. Here’s a few ideas:
- Family. This is a good match for someone who has an important role in the town. Family could mean parents and siblings, but if could just as easily mean a spouse and children. Often adventurers are rootless, but in this scenario, Felhaven is the character’s home. Personally, if a player picked this path, I’d have each of the other players also take on the roles of a member of the PC’s family – rather than me playing them all as NPCs, if there’s a scene with the PC’s spouse, one of the players always takes on that role. In doing this, it gives the other players both a stronger connection to the fate of the family and to the town overall.
- Profit. The character is a mercenary who’s in this for quick gold. They’re here for tomb raiding, bounty hunting, and anything else that could get a few galifars in their purse. Will they discover there’s something more important than gold as time goes on? Alternately, the character could be a dragonmarked heir, either sent to oversee a specific house operation or hoping to make a name for themselves within the house through their own action.
- Redemption. The character did something terrible in the Last War… something they deeply regret. It’s possible that they are a wanted criminal in the Five Nations… and if so, it’s possible bounty hunters could show up in pursuit of them. Was the terrible action justified? Is it that they once were a truly terrible person and remorse has changed them? What will redemption involve?
- Revenge. Someone wronged the PC in a terrible way – murdered their family, stole their future, what have you – and that person is somewhere in Q’barra. Felhaven is just the first step in tracking them down.
- Knowledge. Q’barra has well-preserved ruins from the Age of Demons. The people of the Five Nations also know little about the lizardfolk and the Dragonborn. Any of these could be an interesting thing to pursue, and the PC could have a specific lead or contact they’re following up on.
- Vision. This is an easy option for a divine character, but anyone can have a vision. The character has had a vision of a terrible darkness that could sweep out to destroy Khorvaire – and knows that the path to stopping it begins in Felhaven. Is this a true divine vision? Or could they be being manipulated by the Dreaming Dark?
- Spy. The character is working for an organization that wants to keep an eye on this developing community. Easy options include the Aurum or a local crime boss in Newthrone… but you could have a secret agent of a Dragonmarked House or even the Lords of Dust. A changeling companion could have ties to the Cabinet of Faces. This most likely is something that gets the PC a little extra gold on a regular basis, but they could start getting orders that put them at odds with the needs of the community. Turning on their boss is a great arc for a midlevel story!
- Mystery. The PC has a map to a fortune. It could be treasures stashed during the Last War, an ancient fiendish vault, or a rich shard field. Whatever it is, they have a lead on a fantastic opportunity – but it’s not something they can pull off alone.
Building The Town
So: now we have some well rounded player characters and some hooks to explore in upcoming episodes. Next I want to develop the town itself. Who are the major NPCs? Who are the power brokers? If the players didn’t take on these parts, someone has to be the law and there will certainly be some sort of temple or church. There will surely be a saloon, inn or brothel (or some combination of all of these) and a general store. There’s a local leader: is this a mayor, or is this town a Tharashk outpost governed by a Tharashk baron (in which case Tharashk would also provide the “law”)? What other groups are here? Who’s the richest person in town, and how desperate is the poorest person? I’d certainly want to develop these characters myself so they have secrets for the PCs to uncover, but I’d also engage the players to help me fill out details. “Bob, the innkeeper at the Rusty Nail is a beloved pillar of the community. What gender is the innkeeper? Sarah, what race are they? Galen, any distinctive physical details?” Again, I’m establishing the critical story detail – the innkeeper is a beloved figure, as opposed to a hated pennypincher – but I’m letting the players add details that give them a connection.
In creating the town, there’s a few critical questions. What services are available here? Is there a Sivis message station? Is there a Jorasco healer? What can be bought, and what’s the limit on what the merchants can afford to buy? Who are the potential troublemakers, and who could be patrons or long-term enemies of the PCs? In particular…
- Is someone in town a disguised agent of the Chamber or the Lords of Dust?
- Is someone being manipulated by the Dreaming Dark?
- Is someone a spy for one of those groups I mentioned before?
Personally, I WOULDN’T provide a lot of dragonmarked services to begin with, because it’s a great way to establish the growth of the community; I’ll talk more about this below.
What last thing to consider: Manifest zones. Is the town built by or in a manifest zone, and if so, what are its effects? Manifest zones can have very useful effects; a zone tied to Lamannia might naturally purify all water in the region, while a zone tied to Fernia might cause fires to burn longer and brighter than normal. Logically, if people were going to build in a manifest zone it should have some sort of useful effect. But it’s also possible that the founders didn’t know the zone was there – or that there’s a zone adjacent to the town that has dangerous effects.
So we’ve got a fun location. We have interesting characters. What do we do for story? Here’s a few easy starting adventures….
- There are ruins near the town. These could date back to the Age of Demons, or they could be tied to the fallen dragonborn nation. At low levels, you don’t necessarily want people stumbling into Haka’Torvhak, but these could be tiny outposts or tombs with simple traps and minor undead or local wildlife. This is a great opportunity for the PCs to do something that sends a longer term plot in motion: they take the magic orb from the tomb, little realizing that it was a warding stone holding an evil spirit in check… and in future adventures, they’ll have to deal with the unleashed spirit and its corrupted minions.
- Bandits or criminals can threaten the town, preying on the honest prospectors. Can the PCs act as mediators, or violence the only solution?
- Likewise, you could have any number of mysterious strangers showing up for an adventure of the week. A wealthy explorer shows up with a map but needs bold adventurers to help her find the prize. A large group of Cyran refugees shows up and wants to settle, but are they as innocent as they seem? A crusading priest shows up and tries to rally the townsfolk to his cause. A traveling tinker has a host of mystical treasures for sale… but we’ve long been warned to beware the gifts of the Traveler!
- The PCs can run into trouble with the local scales – hostile lizardfolk and dragonborn. The Poison Dusk are aggressive servants of the local demon Overlord; the Cold Sun lizardfolk fight the Poison Dusk, but could end up fighting the PCs or Felhaven because the PCs have unknowingly violated a taboo or threatened the local balance. Can the PCs establish communication and work out an alliance with the Cold Sun? Logically, this is something that starts small – clashes with a few bands of warriors – but that over time draws PCs into the ancient conflict in the region and reveals the history of the dragonborn and the Cold Sun.
- Within the town itself, you could have a Cult of the Dragon Below or a Dreaming Dark cell spread like a cancer until it’s uncovered. You could also simply have mundane troubles – organized crime or a Dragonmarked House seeking to claim the town as their own.
Beyond this, you’ve got a lot of hooks in the choices made by the players. If a PC is the law in these parts, you can always drop in quarrels or crimes they need to deal with… while the preacher may have to deal with morale and the saloon owner with economic challenges. If someone came to town seeking revenge, well, where’s that trail lead?
Now: In this scenario, I’d make the town essentially a character in the game as well… as the PCs grow in power, the town can gain levels as well. While the PCs are going on adventures, prospectors are hunting for shard deposits and farmers are settling in. if the PCs can hold off bandits and scales, the town prospers and should gain services. Each time the players gain a level, consider adding something new: a Sivis message station (perhaps initially only connected to Newthrone), a Jorasco healer, a magecrafting blacksmith, a Cannith tinker who produces a few minor magic items, a larger Tharashk refinery that raises the cap on what merchants can afford to play. If the players screw up, things could be lost; the message stone operator could be killed, or simply decide it’s too dangerous for him to stay. The players should feel a meaningful impact both for their triumphs and failures.
Longer term, you can start bringing in more powerful organizations and greater challenges.
- An elite Emerald Claw squad comes through – what are they looking for in the jungle, and should the PCs stop them? Do they want to outright fight the Emerald Claw on the streets of Felhaven – which could result in a lot of innocent deaths – or find another answer? It could be that the secret to Erandis Vol’s ascension lies in the region – which is a reason to have a long term and evolving Emerald Claw presence. This is a good basic for a recurring villain, such as the necromancer Demise.
- The Lords of Dust have plans involving Felhaven. Logically this would invovle the Overlord Masvirik, the demon bound in Haka’Torvhak… but you could also have agents of a different Overlord with plans that run counter to what Masvirik wants. The Lords of Dust seek to enact a particular branch of the Prophecy – and they’ll help the PCs, but only because they are trying to steer the PCs into unleashing Masvirik or another Overlord. Eventually the PCs might expose the rakshasa hiding in Felhaven – but is it too late to stop the demon’s plans?
- You could likewise have an agent of the Chamber, whose plans involve the Prophecy and the scales. This character could be a patron who wants to use the party against the servants of Masvirik… but dragons have little regard for individual human lives, and missions could put the PCs in grave danger.
- Initial casual bandit raids could escalate into a larger struggle. Does the powerful bandit leader have a goal beyond simply getting gold? Are they an agent of the Lords of Dust, the Dreaming Dark, a Dragonmarked House. or are they just a brilliant, charismatic leader? This could lead to a full-on attack on Felhaven.
- A dragonmarked house could have plans that threaten the entire community. This could be about acquiring resources – Cannith wants all the rare dragonshards- or it could just be about direct house conflict, like Deneith striking against Tharashk. Following the idea of the rare dragonshards, Felhaven could end up being at the center of a conflict between agents of the three Cannith houses… and meanwhile, the Cold Sun could be furious because removing these shards is empowering the local fiends.
- The Dreaming Dark could be attempting to create a new puppet figurehead — people who can take on the role of the Inspired in the event of a Quori takeover. Can the PCs uncover and expose this plot?
- A Dragonmarked baron could seek to expand the power of their house across the region – either with or without the support of the Twelve.
Beyond this: gateways to Khyber can be found anywhere… and where you have Khyber, you can have the Daelkyr. What begins as a simple (and easily defeated) Cult of the Dragon Below can ultimately be tied to the rising power of a Daelkyr, complete with aberrant dinosaurs or warped lizardfolk. Alternately, the same approach can be taken with the Overlord Masvirik. A cult to Masvirik could also end up producing yuan-ti – literally new yuan-ti reflecting the corrupting influence of Masvirik, so the local merchant prince becomes yuan-ti over the course of the campaign.
Long term, this can lead to epic developments in the region:
- Masvirik is unbound, and there is a bitter conflict as corrupted scales and possessed dinosaurs ravage the region.
- A Daelkyr rises, unleashing abberant terror (with the exact nature depending on the Daelkyr).
- Erandis Vol herself comes to Q’barra; once her mark is restored, she raises an army of undead dragonborn and lizardfolk.
- The Dreaming Dark unleashes a scheme to take over Q’barra, using their makeshift Inspired (local heroes they’ve created and raised) as the figureheads.
Ideally, this is something where things that have been around from the start end up being central to the epic finale. That greedy Cannith baron who’s been a throne in the PC’s side throughout the campaign ends up becoming the vessel for Masvirik due to his foolish experiments with corrupted Dragonshards! Perhaps there’s even an army of possessed warforged, as this evil artificer has found a way to use the shards to implant demons into warforged!
Now: Felhaven might be the heart of the campaign, but that doesn’t mean the players will never leave it. Events and adventures should take the PCs to ruins across the region, to the cities of the Dragonborn or warrens of the lizardfolk, to Haka’Torvak and to Newthrone. But Felhaven can always be at the heart of it.
That ended up being longer than I planned, but I hope it’s interesting both in terms of developing stories in Q’barra and as a look at how I think about campaigns. In the meantime, I’m working on a number of big articles you’ll see in future weeks. As always, the more support I get on my Patreon the more time I can justify spending on this site. If you’re already supporting me, thank you very much; if not, check it out here!
Also: the ideas I present here draw heavily on the expanded Q’barra articles I wrote for Dungeon 182 and Dungeon 185. D182 examines the Dragonshard trade and introduces the concept of dusk shards and dawn shards. D185 delves deeper into the Cold Sun, Poison Dusk, and dragonborn of the region, along with additional information about the role it played during the Age of Demons.
What have you done with Q’barra? What would you do in a Q’barra campaign? Post your answers below!