Help with "episode" ideas?

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Hello all,

I've got a game I'm running where everything is being broken up into "episodes" and "seasons" (aka games and campaigns, with the overall going into a meta-campaign arc).  Each episode will have it's own sub-plot, its own challenges and resolution, and each episode will advance the story along up to the season finale.  Along the way questions get answered, and more questions get asked for the next season to address.  Its just a convenient way of breaking things down into bite sized chunks, really. 

Anyway, the overall plot for this season is that the crew will be going into the Mournlands to recover some artifacts from Metrol that may or may not be connected with the cause of the Mourning.  Episode 1 starts with a prologue of everybody being summoned to Sharn by House Cannith due to them being the best at what they do (started at lvl 5 to jump straight into the main story), hearing about what they are being comissioned to do, and put on a lightning rail to Varithon (the large town on the edge of the Mourning).   Actual gameplay starts with them on the train basically introducing themselves and chatting it up a bit before... something happens.

I would like to have several "episodes" occur before they actually enter the Mournlands (call it the mid-season point), so I could use some help on coming up with a few broad stroke episode ideas.

 Idea 1:
Something happens on the train.  Ancient forces don't want these secrets revieled, and are used to working from the shadows to "gentle dissuade" people from poking their noses in where they don't belong.  Question is, what happens?  Do we open up with murder on the train, have a fight on top of the speeding cars, make it clear right from the start that its not going to be easy?  Or does someone pull up a few lightning stones and force the train to stop and make the party hoof it the rest of the way to town?  What could be the main threat for them to fight in this scenario? (game is going to be roughly 60/40 roleplaying/combat, but I figure it would be best to open with a bang to make sure everyone stays interested).

Idea 2:
After they get to town to meet up with their contact (could be after idea 1, or could just be an uneventful trip that gets closed over and the adventure really starts when they take that first step off the train), they can't find him.  Some digging around reveals that their contact went off to check something near the mists and never came back.  Spend an episode tracking him down/rescuing him from whatever horrors walked out of the Mournlands to get him.

Idea 3:
Whatever came out of the mists in Idea 2 isn't done yet, the PCs have to defend the town from an incursion, giving them an idea of what kind of things they can expect inside the Mournlands, but in a "safe" location outside the mists where they can still heal up normally.  Twisted undead maybe, or perhaps a living spell?  Some mook waves  that force them into thinking/fighting strategically followed by a single big "boss" monster would be ideal.  A good tense episode where they don't have time to rest after every fight.

Idea 4:
Relaxation episode after the invasion was thwarted.  Social interactions to gather supplies they'll need to take with them into the Mournlands, time to strategize on how they're going to go about not only entering the Mournlands but finding Metrol.  Have a bit of conflict come into it by having someone that just happens to buy up everything they want just before they get to the merchant, laying more of the groundwork for the idea that they are being watched and manipulated into turning back. 

Any ideas/suggestions/etc appreciated. 
I'm running a campaign that's been set in Vathirond and the Mournland (so far) myself.

I don't have anything that fits perfectly with your ideas but some ideas might adapt well to what you're working on:

1. Vathirond sees enough lightning rail activity, these days it's mostly people using it to high tail it out of Vathirond with a small smattering of adventurers and opportunists using it to approach the Mournland. Tracks still go into the Mournland from before the day of Mourning when Cyre wasn't a wasteland but a train hasn't come out of the Mournland in two years - until now.

In my campaign a campaign came out of the mournland and dragged a big chunk of the Mournlands mist with it. The train caused all kinds of trouble in Vathirond when it arrived, standard spooky Mournland stuff. The heart of the problem was a small magical box that seemed to bring some of the haunted magic of the Mournland with it.

This was basically a one shot adventure I ran - Completely disconnected from the plotline their following, but I used it to introduce a couple of plot hooks for later. A thief character (mentioned here: community.wizards.com/go/thread/view/758... ) and obviously plot hooks involving the box (which was stolen by the changeling thief I mentioned).

2. Not my idea but I like it enough to share it:


The Mournland Express


It’s well known that House Tharashk made a name for itself by locating Khyber Dragonshard deposits buried deep underground. What is not as well known is that during a routine expedition to locate Dragonshards shortly after the Day of Mourning, members of the Finders Guild discovered something much more valuable.


South of Vathiron, near the border between Breland and the Mournland, Tharashk prospectors discovered a series of natural underground caverns. What made this find so remarkable is that the passages go directly beneath the Mournland. None of the unusual activities that are present on the surface of the Mournland seem to occur so far beneath the surface. House Tharashk immediacy set to work mapping the cavernous expanse. It didn’t take long to discover that they went all the way from Breland to the Talenta Plains.


House Tharashk quietly struck a deal with House Orien and the two houses worked together to create a safe travel route beneath the Mournland. Confident that the route was secure, they contacted Artificers from House Cannith and have created a subterranean lightning rail that rockets beneath the Mournland. They are still performing test runs, but are almost ready to go public.


If the new lightning rail becomes fully operational and is proven safe and reliable many fortunes stand to be made and lost over night.


In my campaign there's a strong Warforged plot arc running so the Lord of Blades is going to have been taking the trams by force - at the same time an ancient force will have been stirring beneath the Mournland and causing additional trouble (I'm thinking a Daelkyr overlord sleeps nearby and his agents are going to interfere, not 100% sold on that idea yet).
Just want to throw in some cents to help out but your idea sounds amazing so far.

1. I like to go with good-old bandit attacks. Similar to forcing the train to stop but it creates some early combat so that characters can start working together. They don't have to be the most difficult of thieves to fight but you can lay hints that they may have been pointed at THIS train to hit. 

2. This episode works great as is. A little detective work and testing the "waters" at the edge of the mist.

3. Also great. Living spells always exemplified the Mournland for me, when not using warforged. A living spell of animate dead creates a monster HUNTING people/towns to turn into skeletons. And mooks for overrunning pockets of resistance.

4. Maybe a local big shot takes issue with them and they have to pull some social skills out to convince him to open the general store? Think the tavern owner with his fingers in every pie (Deadwood, Al Swearengen)

So episode 5 would be finally entering the Mists? Are you thinking of an HBO style "season," ten episodes?

Since your characters are already at level 5, one episode could have the Mists cause "flashbacks" for each character, where they have mini-adventures at level 1 and the other players are major NPCs for you.

Hope this was helpful, you already seem to be on a great path. 
General plot overview (and if you happen to be one of my players, stop reading now unless you want things spoiled horribly) is one I put on the boards here years and years ago that I'm finally getting around to running.

Namely that what caused the Mourning was
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Truenaming.

Truenaming was the language spoken by the dragon Eberron, and is quite literally the language of creation. Modern draconic is actually descended from it, and the Dragons are the keepers of of that knowledge.


Season 1 will be about going into the Mournlands, and having a few adventures pulled from Heroes of Horror just to keep the trip appropriately terrorfying, in order to find a shipment of artifacts that House Cannith was working on a few months before the Mourning occurred.  
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What they will find will be a warehouse full of tablets covered in insanely complicated runes.  Far more tablets than they could ever carry back.  These tablets will contain Truenaming words and phrases.


They won't know what those artifacts actually are, and I'll be making sure they can't take enough back with them for anyone else to figure it out, but someone back in Sharn will recognize the style of markings as something that they saw in Xen'Drik.  End season 1 with the cliffhanger of going to Xen'Drik.

Season 2 starts out with them going to Xen'Drik, have a few adventures there, and finally chartering a boat to sail them around the edge of the continent until they find a way into the very heart of the continent.  Once they get there, they will find
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a wall of dead gray mist.
 End Season 2.

The reasoning behind the entire campaign is that
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the Dragons were allies of the Giants in the ancient past, and taught them Truenaming to help repell the Quori invasion.  The giants then abused that power after they pushed the quori back, and the Dragons basically Unnamed the entire Giant empire.  When something is unnamed, it is removed from the universe entirely, leaving behind a void that is no longer under the sway of reality.  Aka, a mournland.


Fast forward a few thousand years, Cyre is about to lose the war, when they get a shipment of artifacts from Xen'Drik
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containing enough Truenaming material for them to piece together a Truenaming phrase to shield the nation of Cyre.  However the Dragons are having none of that and infiltrate the work just enough to basically change the word "shield" to "unname".  Cyre secretly reads the phrase out, and unnames their entire country by mistake.


The secret is once again safe, until the PCs get sent in to muck around and start piecing it all back together.

I'm running the whole thing using Pathfinder with the fast track XP route, so they should level fairly quickly.  They're going to have to if they plan on living through all this. ;) 
The campaign and the reasoning behind the Mourning are great.

As regards the episodes before they enter the Mournland itself, I like Bobfred's idea of the train coming from old Cyre and dragging the mists with it.

All of your ideas in the OP are good. It depends on how many you want to put in - not every episode needs to be connected to the main plot and some may be red herrings.

1) Assault against a passenger. Someone, or some group, targets an NPC on board. Perhaps it is political. The Emerald Claw, Cyran Avengers, or the Swords of Liberty target a Karrnathi diplomat to cause a diplomatic incident, loss of confidence in King Boranel, and generally the resumption of hostilities. Perhaps it is personal. Someone wants revenge for a slight, a crime, a humiliation, etc. Either way, the PCs end up in the middle. Perhaps the target is one of the PCs, based on their background.

2) Assault against Orien. Someone might also be trying to sabotage House Orien. In MoE, I believe, there was a faction which campaigns for more respect for elementals, and takes issue with their binding. Alternatively, House Lyrandar might decide to take more offensive actions against their rivals in transportation. A disgruntled excoriate of Orien might also decide to strike against his former house, who exiled him (whether justly or not).  

3) Stop the Train! As opposed to force the train to stop because of missing conductor stones, perhaps something takes over control and the train goes to full speed past Vathirond Station. The PCs might want to go to the Mournland, but most of the other passengers probably won't and would rather like someone to stop the Rail. This might be a hostage situation, or a technical problem, or a loose elemental.

4) The Lightning Rail might also transport something dangerous. An alchemical or magical product leaks out (polymorphing, enchanting, enraging, etc. anyone in the area). If one of the Blades of Orien on board gets turned, things will get nasty. A monster transported in the hold breaks out of its cage; it's clichéd, but works. This might also be one of the passengers; perhaps someone identifies a wanted war-criminal on board, who has to take action if he does not want the Sentinel Marshals to be contacted in Vathirond.

5) Assault against the PCs. An attack could come from many quarters. Many factions do not want the reasons for the Mourning to be figured out. Some realise that if the Mourning is explained, war might erupt again as it may no longer be a deterrent. Cannith East or Cannith West might try to sabotage Cannith South without knowing anything beyond that they want to stop Merrix. The Citadel or one of the other secret agencies might fear that the mission risks exposing a dangerous secret. The Lord of Blades may also dislike the idea of a major expedition.

6) Someone is impersonating the contact and tries to send the PCs off in the wrong (and potentially lethal) direction. Compare James Bond: From Russia with Love for the train scene.

7) Instead of preventing them from acquiring equipments, the forces-that-be provide the PCs with damaged, even cursed items, hoping that they will not notice until it is too late.  

Just some brainstorming here. I'll tune in again if I can think of more.
Another great train combat film scene for inspiration is the second Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes film, Game of Shadows. The plot and much of the aesthetics of that film also strike me as easily transported to Eberron.
Fantastic campaign idea! I don't know if you have read any Warhammer 40K novels, but Dan Abnett's Ravenor has a plot uncovering Enuncia "The Language of Creation." It would be worth a read to possibly get some ideas from.

Season 1:

Invlovle the Lord of Blades. Not necessarily as a major villain, but as another group looking to cause trouble for the PC's in the Mournland. I figure that he would have "spies" in any of the staging areas for the Mournland, keeping tabs on who is coming into "their" land, and what they are after.

With the Lord of Blades harassing them and coping with the natural horrors of the Mournland, that should give you plenty of conflicts to keep them busy. (Maybe a Lord of Blades "Lieutenant" and his group are the main foils for them during this season?) 

 Other Ideas:

Maybe a powerful Lord of Dust sponsors the heroes in an attempt to gain access to Truenaming. It has witnessed the power during the ancient war. 
The Dragons start to realize what is going on and take steps to protect the secret. 

Both groups are used to using other entities to do their dirty work, and the PC's are stuck in the middle.

Oh I have plans for the LoBster.

My current train of thought (forgive the callback pun) is to use him as the driver behind the final push.  Once they find that warehouse full of tablets, I'm going to need a BBEG to try and take them in order to force the players into destroying the entire warehouse and most of the artifacts with it to keep them from falling into evil hands.  Can't think of a better BBEG in the Mournlands than the LoBster.