Lightning on the roof!

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The featured art, by Vincentius Matthew, is part of “Exploring Eberron”, an upcoming sourcebook by Keith Baker.

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If you are going to travel, do it in style! The masterminds behind Moebius Adventures have challenged us all to make travel more interesting and fun selecting it as the topic for May’s RPG Blog Carnival. My first article was about finding the right motivation for traveling. Once you know the where and why, you still need to find out the how.

“Eberron: Rising from the Last War” includes a few pages about travel, emphasizing the innovative means of transportation this setting has to offer: elemental vessels, Lyrandar airships and galleons and of course the Orien lightning rail. All of these have something in common we can exploit to have a memorable encounter: their malfunction might involve a hazardous scenario and even a very angry elemental. So, without further ado, let me introduce the Lightning Rail.

For the non-initiated, the Lightning Rail was commisioned by the Crown and created by House Cannith and Orien as a means of rapid transportation across the kingdom (yes, ok. It works as a train). During the Last War, though, some routes were used by spies to pass crucial information to each other, and counterspies tried to stop them from doing so. Too many movies show fight scenes on top of a train, so I decided I should feature one in one of my campaigns. I created some stats for the lightning the conductor stones produced on top of the carts, established some few bonuses and penalties when moving with or against the wind, and I had an encounter that still lives in the memory of the players who played it. Now, I’ll revamp everything I did back then to give what you need to run the same scenario.

orien rail

The Orien Lighting Rail

Currently, the coach moves at 25 miles per hour, affecting all characters on the roof as if in a strong wind. Ranged attacks are made with disadvantage, and tiny or smaller creatures must make an Athletics check (DC 10) or be knocked prone by the force. Climbing on the side of any cart requires also an Athletics check (DC 15). Failing by 10 or more entitles the character to a Dexterity saving throw (DC 14) to avoid falling down to the road and watch the rail go away.

Falling from the coach’s roof is treated as a normal 10-foot fall, except that it deals 2d6 points of damage due to the coach’s horizontal velocity. As with any other fall, a succesful Athletics or Acrobatics check reduces the damage by 1d6 points. A person who jumps intentionally from a lightning rail cart and succeeds on both of these check, take no damage.

As long as the coach is of sufficient length, it’s possible for a character to fall off of a front cart, regain his feet and then grab onto a rear cart. Characters wishing to do so must take a move action to travel at least 20 feet in the same direction as the lightning rail and then succeed on an Athletics check (DC 15) in order to climb and use 25 feet of movement to get back on one of the cart’s outer walkways. A low platform at the back of the caboose reduces the check to DC 10. Creative heroes may find another ways to re-aboard, using grappling hooks, summoned mounts and other magic: use your discretion to allow it with some logic and an appropriate check.

Do you need an extra layer of danger? Well, I always pictured the Lightning Rail as having actual lightning pushing it forward… but these arcs of lightning aren’t static nor dynamic… they are something in between: you see, usually it’s the engine cart, the first one, holding the lightning, but sometimes it stays between the conductor stones as the train passes below, just like a tunnel. This means that if someone is standing on the top of any cart, they might get a little shock of a surprise. I treat this powerful current as a lightning bolt with a DC of 15. Feel free to adjust the 8d6 dice of lightning damage up or down, but if you want to keep the logic on, keep in mind the line must originate from one side of the cart to the opposite, and not along the whole cart length.

And some extra!

If you decide to run this in your scenario, I’ll suggest to use these valuable maps:

  • Lightning Rail & Train Assets from 2-Minute Tabletop contains a PDF, which prints on three US Letter or A4 sheets with color, black & white, and line art layer options, with several square and hexagonal grid layer options. It also includes PNG files, configured for Roll20 (at 72 DPI) and Fantasy Grounds (at 60 DPI).
  • Eberron Battlemaps – Lightning Rail (version 2), from Thomas Pedersen, available in the DM’s Guild, is an 8-page collection of Lightning Rail battlemaps including a 1″ grid ready for print and use with miniatures or tokens or with no grid, as a separate pdf file. The maps include: Engine, caboose, economy and high-class booth, dining, first-class, cargo, secure cargo, standard passenger and budget passenger cart, and also Engine, Cargo cart and Passenger cart roofs.

Don’t forget to come back and tell us how it went!

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