The Deathless Skies of Cyre
by Amber Litke and Sadie Lowry
This was a really fun adventure to read. I've gotten into Eberron pretty heavily lately since I've incorporated some elements of it into my homebrew world and it's just great to be reading more content. I really loved the organic shift in tone at various parts of the adventure
Design and Layout
Everything is pretty straight forward. There is minimal artwork but what is there is good and a product doesn't need artwork to be great in my opinion. I do like the decision to have the briefing and persons of interest just to be two short pages and the fact that there is a person of interest section to begin with. I am disappointed with a lack of Table of Contents that allows me to just click and appear on that section.
Pre - Adventure
It is a nice little one pager that gives a bunch of information in a condensed and digestible way.
Five bullet points goes over the synopsis of the story from beginning to end. The Running the Adventure section explains what basic knowledge it expects the DM to have. It gives the timeline for when this adventure is set, how that can be changed for your own Eberron timeline and the necessary books to run the adventure successfully.
For the DM gives four quick bullet points on essentially the extra bits of this adventure. New stat blocks, additional side quests, more Mournland effect tables and using it to introduce the Mournland and Last War into your campaign. Background and History briefly covers the lead up and creation of the Mournland and then talks more in depth about Naeberos Sarris' background and tie in to the Mournland. Finally there are your standard but good adventure hooks to get the players started: an invitation, a notice board, or a contact.
Persons of Interest
So this section is broken up into three parts: The Benefactor, The Dauntless and The Black Revenant. The Benefactor section tells us more about Sarris and about the creation and loss of the item he wants retrieved. The Dauntless and crew are who will be transporting the character into the Mournland and The Black Revenant is an undead airship captained by fearsome formal Admiral of Thrane.
I really liked this section for two reasons. One, while we are only given brief descriptions of each NPC they got to the heart of who the NPCs are and gives an excellent framework to expand upon that if one so chooses. Two I personally like when the adventure roster is front and center so I can get acquainted with the names I am going to see later on.
A Deal Most Intriguing
Right off the bat the hooks suggested to get the player involved are expanded on to include where the players might meet Sarris based on which hook you used. I didn't actually expect the hooks to have an impact on the story and more thought it was a suggestion for the DM.
This is a pretty good start to the adventure nothing to wild. The players are introduced to their benefactor and are able to gather additional information about the mission - and potentially Sarris himself - before the deal is struck. They have the opportunity to tie up any loose ends and or grab some supplies. During that time they are approached by two other individuals about potential side quests while in the Mournland. Both side quests - one purely about profit and one about family - open up the potential for further adventures after this one is completed and potentially give the DM room to show off more of Metrol.
This part is heavily focused on social and exploration encounters which I really love since they aren't always focused on in adventures and there's a purpose to doing both things later on in the adventure. The Dauntless and six additional crew members are introduced, for the most part I like the variety between them all. Much like the PoI section previously while the descriptions are brief they get to the heart of the character. There is some fun times to be had gossiping with the crew and bonding with them via games of chance.
So while I know this follows the style guide one thing I will note about the expanded NPC list is while I was reading the descriptions of some of the crew members the jump between the use of male, female, and man drew my attention away from reading through the adventure - which I can get easily distracted. I think it would benefit from picking between the two: man/woman or male/female - which is on WotC.
Once the ship crosses the border into the Mournland the tone shifts dramatically much more somber and tense and immediately a combat encounter occurs. Not only did it solidify the shift but it also played into the tragedy of the people in Cyre when the Mournland was birthed.
The new Mournland effects and Phenomena are pretty cool and are different from anything you will find in Eberron: Rising from the Last War. One phenomena I like in particular is the Cloud of Mirrors: The Dauntless approaches a large, seemingly normal cloud, only to find as they draw near that it's made of tiny floating mirrors. The Dauntless can fly through it without danger. Whether they choose to fly through it or around it, as they do, a mirror image of the Dauntless flies alongside them through the mirrors—but not quite the same. Something about it is off, a bit wrong, and so are their reflections.
The Grave of Steel
As the Dauntless makes its way to the city you get a list of potential landmarks the characters can see in varying states of being intact - up to the DM.
If the players took one or all of the side quest this is the time to subtly encourage them to go complete those quests because otherwise they won't be able to. The business side quest - A Request of Some Import - has the players going against a bone knight and some ghouls. Now this could just be an encounter that doesn't have any impact on an existing Eberron campaign - or it could be foreshadowing for the rise of Lady Illmarrow. I like that this adventure isn't self-contained and has built in ways to set up future adventures.
The Shieldspire has five floors. Scaling it is pretty straight forward. There are a number of skill checks but none of them are necessarily needed to progress further up the tower. For the most part they reveal additional objects and information in various rooms and potentially help avoid combat.
The second floor of the tower is the dormitories. If the players search this room they'll find some gold pieces plus a number of personal items. For every personal item they find Sarris will award the party more money. If players managed to persuade Sarris to open up about his feelings of guilt it makes sense for the players to grab some of those things otherwise I don't really see a good reason for players to take the items and return them to him.
When the players finally make it to the fifth floor there is a pretty flavorful yet doable puzzle involving crystal imbibed with energies from Risia, Syrania, Lamannia, and Fernia and a locking mechanism on the vault. The description of the Telluric Synapses is pretty cool and made me think of the spinal implant given to Khalil in the first season of Black Lightning.
So far things have been pretty easy going but what's an adventure without some complications? As soon as the Synapses is retrieved a hole is blown in the wall and in swoops the Admiral. his first mate and a number of crew members. The battle starts in earnest.
This section includes things to remember while running this encounter to make it more flavorful and strategic. Once Thunderspine has been dropped to half health he summons an undead leviathan to aid him.
So this thing being called an undead leviathan has been throwing me for a loop. I doubled checked ERLW, I checked Plane-Shift Kaladesh, I checked as many legitimate d&d sources and now of them made me less confused. D&D 5e has two types of Leviathans. The giant air elemental that looks like some type of water serpent. The Kaladesh Leviathan looks like a whale and this one is a skeletal dragon like thing with tendrils. I am just having a disconnect with the name and the monster. This probably won't be a problem for most tables but me knowing about the existence of the Leviathan in 5e is making it bothersome.
The Revenant Cometh
The next bit is a high speed escape and chase. I got really pumped up when this shift in tone happened and can only imagine what it will be like for players actually experiencing it.
They have to make their escape from the tower, get back to the airship and try to outrun the Black Revenant and the Undead Leviathan chasing them. A number of complications are introduced, like injury of the Captain and the lack of leadership that exists because of that. Players have to make some hard choices while fleeing their pursuers. One of them is whether or not the crew flies through the black grass fields which gives them the chance to damage the Leviathan but also damage themselves or through the deep crevice which gives them a bigger lead on the Leviathan but they can't make any attacks. Whatever choice they make the effects are felt later in the adventure.
Scourge of the Mourning Skies
So there are A LOT of moving parts in the final showdown. The Leviathan has a bunch of special actions that the players will have to react to. The Admiral and the remainder of his crew attack the Dauntless inhabitants directly.
Here is where the players decisions from the previous section comes into play in a solid mechanical way. The Dauntless or the Leviathan could be damaged. The players could have gotten advantage on initiative rolls. The Black Revenant crew and the Leviathan could have sustained more damage or the party and Dauntless crew could have temporary hit points. Having the actions of the players have clear mechanical effects really works for me since my brain can get a little muddled when it comes to abstractions like "there will be effects of their actions".
It could potentially get hectic for the players and the DM but it shouldn't be to bad especially if the players spread responsibilities among themselves and don't let it be a free for all when it comes to the NPC actions.
The epilogue is very straight forward. It ties up the adventure, leaves room for potential consequences depending on what the players decide to do. I have enjoyed previously enjoyed epilogues with twists and turns but this feels right for this adventure.
Statblocks and Maps
The NPC stat blocks are cobbled together with class features and looked to be fairly balanced and there's nothing to wild happening with them so they shouldn't be hard to run. The Leviathan stat block ooh that one is cool. It has a number of special abilities that are tied to specific body parts and that's an interesting mechanic that I haven't seen before. There are three nicely made, but simple maps.
This was a really good adventure that shifted tones, challenged the players with a different combat setup than usual and not only left room for DMs to interject some of their own lore into it but provided potential hooks as well. I don't currently have a use for this adventure in my own game but it kind of make me want to run an Eberron campaign just to use it.
There were two things I read that really stuck in my mind and I felt needed a lengthier examination/explanation than one I would have given in the sections they appeared in. Before I jump into them I want to make it perfectly clear that I don't think Amber Litke and Sadie Lowry had any ill intent when writing this stuff.
The first thing is I have weird feelings about Harok Ashfury: An ashen-skinned male half-orc with corded muscles and calloused hands missing several fingers. His hair, varying from silver to dark grey, is in short dreadlocks.
The thing that is making me feel weird is the use of dreadlocks on a nonhuman - specifically orcish character. In regards to fantasy and sci-fi for that matter as a whole has a habit of not having black people in the work but also giving dreadlocks to nonhuman creatures. I especially have feelings about orcs getting dreadlocks because of stereotypes around orcs - which I recognize that Eberron as a campaign setting doesn't have the same stereotypes that other settings have in regards to orcs. As a whole the genres have a problem with using dreadlocks on non-humans which isn't limited to the lack of Black people it's also about the way said characters act.
The second thing I have weird feelings about is the use of the Short Term Madness table:
The skies of Cyre are as corrupted as the ground below. For parties in need of a greater challenge, an arcane storm ravages the Dauntless before its descent toward Metrol.
Lightning flashes around the airship in ranges from sickly yellow to eerie purple. The party must make DC 14 Wisdom saving throws. On a success, the character holds stalwart against the darkness. Upon a failure, roll from the Short Term Madness Table
I've followed a number of people that belong to "ttrpg disability twitter" that have talked about ableist nature of the Madness tables and just the way mental health issues are handled in ttrpg. I think anyone running this would be better off just finding another way to punish the players. I personally would have them take psychic damage and lower their maximum hit points by that much for 1d10 minutes.
At the time of writing this (March 10th 2020) the two things I brought up having weird feelings about were in the adventure but that might not be the case if people are reading this in the future.