Like just about every other single Eberron supplement, Secrets of Sarlona has an excellent cover and interior design. The front and back illustrations immediately set the tone of the book, with a soulknife leaping right out of the cover at you. The first piece of interior artwork is excellent, with four figures battling the inspired on the cover and a Quori spirit. It immediately sets the tone for the entire book in an effective and evocative manner, priming your brain for the excellent writing to follow.
Art and Style
Once again Wizards of the Coast continues their tradition of excellent quality artwork and high quality design. The book is lushly illustrated with appropriate artwork, and the text is clear and easy on the eyes. The book continues the Eberron theme, with minimal page decoration in a subdued but stylish style. Nothing completely new or exciting in terms of style, but the high quality adds to the overall aesthetic quality of this supplement.
Of particular interest in this book are the excellent maps by Lee Moyer. All of the maps are beautiful, easy to read, and appropriate to the setting. All of the maps are in full color with clearly legible type, nicely subdued but vibrant colors, and clearly useable scales. Now we finally have all-encompassing maps of Sarlona, along with several smaller scale maps that are suitable to an encounter or two. Nothing visual in this book disappoints, including the maps.
The two page introduction includes a wonderful full page art spread in the ďcomic bookĒ style of the other Eberron books, depicting a Kalashtar sailing into a huge Reidran city. It immediately sets the tone of oppressive Quori vigilance that is present throughout the book in a visual style. The second page gives a short intro to Sarlona, followed by the standard sections on using a supplement and the other things you need to play the game.
Of interest to psionics lovers are the many, many references to the Expanded Psionics Handbook. This continent is heavily steeped in psionics, and the book makes sure you know this from page one. While you donít absolutely need the book to enjoy Secrets of Sarlona, itís safe to say that the Expanded Psionics Handbook adds a great deal more to this supplement.
While the introduction is standard for most Eberron books these days, itís well written and generally useful. Youíre not going to be wowed into amazement or anything, but itís useful information to new players.
Style 4/Substance 3
Chapter One: Welcome to Sarlona
The first chapter is also by far the longest of the entire supplement. Spanning almost 100 pages of material, it makes up the bulk of the book. This is good news for players who enjoy a high amount of fluff and background material, as this chapter provides it in almost excessive detail.
The chapter opens with another full page comic, this one a nice illustration of a few adventurers taking on a changeling. The subdued color doesnít diminish the feeling of the piece, and anyone whoís a fan of Mike Mignolaís work will love it.
The first section of this chapter is devoted to the various reasons you might visit Sarlona, the various ways you can reach it, how it differs from Khorvaire, and a nice but brief overview of the history of the continent. I found the section that details the various reasons to visit Sarlona to be extremely valuable as a DM, as it immediately gives you solid reasons for your characters to visit the continent (along with more than a few ideas for plot hooks).
The section detailing the various differences between Sarlona and Khorvaire was incredibly helpful for me, even as a veteran DM steeped in Eberron. It immediately sets the continent apart in a way that most other books donít, providing you with excellent tools to accentuate the difference between Khorvaire and Sarlona. This section dovetails nicely with the history of the place, which is interesting and should be required reading for anyone planning on running a game in Sarlona. Iíve always found inspiration in history, so it was nice to see a continent that really had a deep and rich history.
This section also begins to showcase what could have been a disaster, but ended up being a highly valuable asset Ė the use of multiple sidebars. Nearly an entire page is giving over to explaining the struggle between the follows of the Path of the Light and the Dreaming Dark. Itís very helpful to anyone playing a Kalashtar or running a game with Kalashtar in it. It also does an excellent job of explaining the Quori mindset, helpful or nearly anyone who has trouble running this excellent faction.
From here, the chapter is divided into subsections dealing with the various nations of Sarlona. It starts off with one of the most interesting nations, Adar. This is the stronghold of Kalashtar power, such as it is, and would be an excellent place for adventurers in Sarlona to hail from. This section, like the others that follow, is filled with many informative sidebars. They provide a nice bit detailing vital statistics, what you know about the place with various knowledge checks, and other such things.
Like Five Nations, this book also includes one of my favorite sidebars: Five Things Every Resident Knows. These sidebars may be small, but they can add in incredible amount of background to nearly any character while giving a DM a nice starting reference point. This book also includes a sidebar on names, which should almost be mandatory for most books of this nature. All in all, the sidebars in this chapter and beyond add a lot of flavor in a small amount of space.
Ever nation in this chapter is broken down into smaller sections, which help lend consistency and rhythm to the book. Each chapter starts with a basic overview, a ďday in the lifeĒ section, and then a section on the people of the nation. This section includes information on religion, style, art, architecture, and other such important but often overlooked features. From there you have a section that details the state of the nation, who rules the nation, and foreign relations. A section on notable citizens and various plots continues, finishing up with some encounters, notable locations, and places of interest.
Another nice little feature of each section is a write up on a single faction (like those presented in the Playerís Handbook II). While it is mostly fluff information, it has a just enough crunch to give you some nice mechanical benefits for joining the faction. Each one is appropriate to the area, though some of them are somewhat off the wall, not what youíd expect. All of them are high on flavor.
Adar is the stronghold of the Kalashtar, and is easily the most independent of the nations. It is a nation carved out of dangerous mountain summits and hostile territory, probably the best protection the Kalashtar have against the Dreaming Dark. The other defense they have is detailed in a sidebar, a sort of psionic and mystical shroud that provides a dimensional lock and nondetection effect on all the nations residents. This fact makes Adar an excellent starting point for a game focusing on infiltrating and fighting the Dreaming Dark.
The largest nation and section of this chapter is Riedra, and the book spends a great deal of time explaining the seat of the Dreaming Darks power. Riedra is an oppressed nation, though most of the citizens wouldnít think so. It is also a land of unity, as the Dreaming Dark work hard to keep everyone unified and complacent. Itís a scary place to visit if youíre not under the sway of the Dreaming Dark, and given their long ranging power, the likelihood of being discovered is more than fleeting.
One of the most impressive features of this chapter is a huge one page sidebar on everyday psionics. It explains in detail how psionics have been used to ease the daily lives of all the citizens, and it really just fits psionics into the game so easily that itís almost uncanny.
The section on Riedra has a great write up on Dar Jin, one of the largest cities in Riedra. As a port city, it actually allows non-Riedrans access to the continent, and it even has a few dragonmarked outposts. The city itself is very symmetrical, without a single hard angle. It looks distinctly foreign and I found the map to showcases just how different Riedra is from the rest of the world with ease. It is very much a dangerous place to reside, though it also has its rewards.
This chapter also holds sections on the tribal lands of Syrkarn and the Tashana Tundra. Both sections are smaller than the previous ones, though they still give you plenty of information about the area. The interesting thing about Syrkarn is the eneko Ė a breed of mongrel ogres that are suitable as PC characters. Surprisingly, the Tashana Tundra is home to a great nation of Shifters. Itís a harsh place, but for those characters who enjoy the shifter race, itís ideal as a starting place for a character.
Overall this chapter is incredibly dense but easy to read. The writing is snappy and to the point, but still has a nice flourish to the words that drag the reader along for the ride. The absence of mechanical information makes this chapter easy to read, and the artwork is very fitting. As the bulk of the book, this chapter does a lot to provide nearly all the information possible on Sarlona.
Style 5/Substance 5
Chapter Two: Sarlonan Characters
Now, this wouldnít be a Dungeons and Dragons supplement without at least a bit of crunch. Iím happy to report that his book delivers the crunch in spades. It has a nice write up of the various races, and happily support for the Expanded Psionics Handbook races are included. I have to say that Eberron is about the only campaign setting in recent memory that so fully integrates psionics.
I personally really liked the Eneko, a half-giant/ogre hybrid race with a nice little psionic kick. They have a slight Ogre Mage flavor as well, which is nice for players who want to play a giant with only a +1 level adjustment. The abilities for the race are handled in a nice little sidebar.
This chapter also has a really nice alternative class feature for a psionic assassin, which is perfect for the Inspired. It works very well, and very few changes were actually made to convert the prestige class to full psionics.
There are quite a few nice feats in the book, including one new type of feat: dreamtouched feats. The dreamtouched feats allow a character to touch and draw power from the dreamspace. All of them require you to sleep, which I find a very interesting mechanic. There are also a few other host feats (which were introduced in Complete Psionic), most of them centered directly around the Inspired and Kalashtar. Of special interest are a few feats that manage to mesh psionics and monk abilities. These feats provide a very real option of stacking levels of monk and psionic classes into one harmonious whole.
As a nation of psionic rule, nearly all the feats are centered around psionics, so players who enjoy the system will found a lot of goodies in this chapter.
The book also includes two new prestige classes, the Fist of Dal Quor and the Haztaratain. Both are heavy on the psionic and Reidran flavor, and generally they are actually prestigious. More than just a collection of cool class abilities, both prestige classes offer a nice set of abilities clearly drawn from a central theme.
This chapter also has a great sidebar on common powers of Sarlona, including many which were originally spells. The sidebar does a great job of giving you some more mundane and practical powers, most of which just make life easier. The new powers an spells are also nice and interesting, but they donít offer an overwhelming number of new choices.
Style 5/Substance 5
Chapter Three: Treasures of Sarlona
This small chapter provides several new magic items, most of which have a lot of flavor is not a lot of use. The emotional armors are interesting and flavorful, but I didnít find them particularly appealing. This book does offer quite a few new weapons, most of which are special monk weapons. If you enjoy playing a monk, this chapter is worth raiding just for the increased weapon options. Some old school favorites appear here, including the monkís spade and hook sword. While nearly all the weapons are exotic, they are nicely balanced and more or less worth the expenditure of a feat.
This chapter also includes a few magical locations, most of which I found to be interesting, if not readily applicable to most games. Theyíre great if you like magical locations, but otherwise theyíre just some nice little tidbits to use for your game. However, the sidebar on Aukaraks (free floating planar breeches) are amazingly interesting, giving you various effects to add a nice planar touch to the game.
Style 4/Substance 4
Chapter Three: Treasures of Sarlona
The final chapter introduces a few new monsters, including two new templates and three more Quori. The templates are interesting (Quorbound and Quorbred creatures), but nothing to write home about. The Quori, however, are an excellent addition. I only wish that theyíre included more of them instead of the Essence Reaver. Two of the Quori are in that wonderful 9 to 11 CR range, but the final one weighs in at an astounding CR 20. The Kalarq Quori is one bad mother, capable of eating a lot of adventuring parties for breakfast. It was nice to see a high CR Quori, suitable as an endgame combatant.
I liked that this chapter was small, and didnít take up a lot of the book. It provides just enough new creatures to flesh out the continent, not another monster of the week collection. I do think that a few more Quori wouldnít have been out of place, though, as this is Sarlona.
Style 4/Substance 4
Once again, we have an Eberron book without a ruddy index! Is it too much to ask Wizards to put in an Index, so I can find things easily? While the new table of contents does give you a good idea of where to look, I hate the fact that they replace the indeed with more advertisements for Eberron books that most of us have already bought.
However, the lack of an index is my biggest gripe with this book, and thatís a good sign indeed. It is well worth the $30 you pay for it, and if you plan on running a game set entirely in Sarlona, itís probably worth twice that. It provides a heaping spoonful of Sarlonan goodness, more than enough to set an entire campaign on the continent. I believe that this book is in the top three Eberron supplements, and as such, deserves a space on your shelf!
Excellent For: Eberron fans, especially those who want to deal a lot with psionics or Sarlona. However, if you donít like Eberron or donít deal with psionics or Riedra, you can probably skip buying this book.