You can now investigate train murder most foul in Agatha Christie style with new unofficial Dungeons & Dragons 5E one-shot adventure, Murder on the Eberron Express.
The short campaign for level six characters is set in Dungeons & Dragons setting Eberron, a dark pulp noir world that features lightning rails, airships and sometimes murderous robots. Also, dinosaurs.
Initially created back in the early noughties by writer Keith Baker, the latest official D&D fifth edition campaign book Eberron: Rising From the Last War explores the world in detail.
“Eberron is such a great unusual setting, so it really inspires people to write less traditional work,” Murder on the Eberron Express writer and designer Orla ní Dhúill told Dicebreaker. She was raised on Agatha Christie, Sherlock Holmes and Georgette Heyer, who all served as inspiration for the adventure.
Story-wise, you’re travelling from Sharn to Fairhaven on the lightning rail: a train literally powered by lightning magic. On the way, prominent artificer - a new class that is effectively the tinkerer of the D&D world - and inventor of the pistol Egan Bakker is murdered.
Using a mix of social deduction and investigation, you must catch the murderer before the train arrives at Fairhaven in five hours.
The murderer is determined via an eight-sided die roll, and can be either a player character, or a non-player character. As such, this is one of those rare one-shots that can be played repeatedly.
Although there is plentiful inspiration for why they might have commited the murder, you can also roll on a d6 table to determine your motivation. This can range from personal revenge to a desire to prevent pistols spreading - the ravages of Eberron’s Last War still abound, after all.
There are eight character archetypes to play, which fit murder mystery staples like ‘the Ice Queen’ or ‘the Loyal Retainer’. Players can still determine their own race, gender and class within the archetypes.
Ní Dhúill advises that dungeon masters offer up the archetype stats listed out in the Murder on Eberron Express appendix to use as character sheets - as they are simpler to read and have been built with the game in mind.
In the vein of murder mystery, Murder on the Eberron Express also features that not-so-fantasy staple: the pistol, which in this case even comes with its own sound-reduction thanks to a handy Silence spell enchantment. That said, true to the retro murder-mystery style, it’s pretty hard to actually shoot the pistol - as it requires a high intelligence check, or else you fire at disadvantage.
It’s no surprise that the post-war murders of Agatha Christie fit as well as they do within the dark world of Eberron. For one thing, plenty of Christie’s novels were written at the same time as the pulp novels that inspired Eberron.
And, just like in the Dungeons & Dragons setting, Christie’s characters too are often adjusting to life without war. Not unlike our own world post World War I, Eberron lives in the ravages of its own Last War. There are even characters in Murder on the Eberron Express that have been shaped by the action.
When it comes to writing up your own murder-mystery adventure, ní Dhúill advises plentiful planning.
“Not (pardon the pun) rail-roading your players is pretty important,” she said. “Let them wander around. Let them stand in the dining room arguing about who had the candlestick last for a while. I reduced the size of a canonical lightning rail train so that I could give details for nearly all of it, and let the players approach the environment they were in however they saw fit.
“Getting the balance between roleplay and mechanics is important in every Dungeons & Dragons campaign, but I think doubly so for this kind of game. Don't worry too much about if they figure it out, build in what happens next. Does the murderer surrender? Do they fight or flee? Do you have chase mechanics worked out? Do you have to escort them to the local guard?”
Ní Dhúill has another murder mystery, the Valley, in the pipeline, and is also starting a Kickstarter next year for a Dungeons & Dragons web series called Dublin & Dragons - which is based in a homebrew setting she helped create.
Murder on the Eberron Express is available on community marketplace Dungeon Masters Guild for $6.95 (£5.35).