What I Like about Eberron
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If you’ve been following this blog for any amount of time, you know I love Eberron. It is far and away my favorite Dungeons & Dragons setting. Keith Baker is one of my favorite designers. In addition to being the brain behind Eberron, you should check out his original RPG Phoenix: Dawn Command. (Your character dies to advance. It’s amazing.)
This year a dream came true for me when I got to contribute to the recently released Eberron: Rising from the Last War. I got to write a lot about Sharn’s criminal organizations, the Sharn Watch, and a few other elements of the City of Towers. Plus I got to work on “Forgotten Relics,” which is the introduction to Eberron adventure included in the product.
So in honor of the release, I want to share some of the reasons I love this world.
A lot of RPG campaign settings explore worlds that are going through wars or that have been completely annihilated by war. In Eberron, a conflict citizens call the Last War ended just a few years ago. This conflict is similar to World War I in that it involved pretty much an entire continent of people, created a lot of technological advancements, reorganized the major power structures in the world, left some places devastated, and there’s almost certainly going to be a follow-up war. The world still exists and has to deal with the aftermath of a super brutal, decades-long conflict. Many people in the world don’t know life without the Last War. Peacetime is weird for them.
The defining event at the end of the Last War is the Day of Mourning. A terrible tragedy that basically wiped a country off the map, creating a magic wasteland. Not only is this mist shrouded adventure location unique, bizarre, and terrifying, everyone remembers and was affected by the Day of Mourning. Worse yet, no one knows what caused the tragedy so it could easily happen again. This harrowing tragedy and the scars of the Last War motivate many characters in the setting.
The post war aspects of Eberron challenge players and DMs to think differently than other campaign worlds. The war is done. You’re not trying to win it. But you were affected. How has that shaped your life and motivations?
For a DMs perspective my favorite thing about Eberron is that it’s got more delicious hooks than a charter fishing boat. Remember how I said no one knows what caused the Day of Mourning? Yeah! I mean NO ONE including the people who wrote the book. They created big mysteries and plot hooks, but then leave the answers and specifics up to the DM. You’ve got a safety net. There are plenty of different suggestions for what MAY have caused the Day of Mourning, but the real choice is up to you.
The Mournland isn’t Eberron’s only mystery by a long shot. There are so many questions that you can answer however you like. Eberron is a campaign setting that you can easily make your own.
Arcane Punk… with Heart!
You probably already know about the magical technology that partly defines Eberron. Airships, lightning rails, giant machines of war, elevators, and other fantastical inventions are everywhere. They’re part of everyday life in the setting. There’s even a new class, the artificer, all about making awesome items and a race of magic-powered metal folk called warforged.
All of that is awesome, but for some it can be a little over the top. (Admittedly not me. My first Eberron character was a silver warforged cleric named Argent.) But all of this stuff isn’t just in the setting because it’s cool. It’s there because it’s part of the core of what Eberron is. The warforged were built to fight the Last War. Their sapience is a side effect of their inventors wanting to make soldiers able to follow complex orders. These aren’t robots. They’re people with emotions, struggling to find their place in the world after being set free. All they knew before was war. It was what they were built to do. How would your warforged experience the world given those circumstances? Every warforged has heart and spirit.
The same is true of the magic technology. It’s not just cool, it’s a living part of the world. Like Luke Skywalker’s battered X-wing, technology is used. It’s lived in. One car in a lightning rail might smell of vomit because a drunkard is passed out in one seat and another might have a laughing noblewoman flirting with another. The technology enhances and creates amazing stories that aren’t possible in other D&D worlds.
Tensions are still high among the countries and factions who fought the Last War. Government spies are everywhere, trying to make sure their enemies respect the Treaty of Thronehold. Plus there are MANY criminal organizations, evil cabals, and secret societies in Eberron (some of which profited from or were created in response to the Last War). If you want an amazing noir adventure, a spy vs spy game of cat and mouse, or a place where it can be difficult to tell friends from foes, Eberron is it!
Want some awesome, Indiana Jones style action sequences in your game with characters barely outrunning crumbling bridges, battling dinosaur-riding halflings atop exploding volcanos, and jump aboard a lightning rail to catch evil cultists as it leaves an exploding station? OF COURSE YOU DO. Eberron is made for this type of sequence. Many of its published adventures include awesome set piece scenes and the book is chock full of stories that will inspire you to create your own. Your players and you will remember the awesome forever.
Shades of Gray
Eberron is a world of real people. In most cases no one is totally good or evil.All kinds of creatures traditionally labeled as pure evil monsters are not at all what you would find in another D&D setting. I’m talking a circle of orc druids that saved the world from unrelenting extraplanar evil, red dragons doing good deeds, and minotaurs walking down the streets of cities greeting gnome friends with smiling nods. In Eberron most creatures are not born evil or good. They learn to become those things. Many villains are misguided people who believe they are trying to do the right thing. Many adventures do not have a clear villain and ask characters to pick a side in a conflict with no distinct lines of good and evil.
Unlike many settings, Eberron’s timeline has not had major update or change since it was released during the D&D 3.5 days. If you know the lore from older editions, almost all of it still holds up. There are some small changes you can read about on Keith Baker’s blog (plus a lot of other awesome information). If you’re a fan of Eberron, you still will be.
So Much More!
There are so many little pieces of Eberron I love. Sharn, a City of Towers that grew up (and down) instead of out! Magic birthmarks called dragonmarks that turn noble families into giant corporations that control industry. The Draconic Prophecy! So are you ready to play in Eberron with me yet?
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November 21, 2019 @ 11:26 am
Congratulations James! It’s so cool that you got to work on Rising, and it’s nice to find out which aspects you were responsible for. Eberron is my favorite setting as well, and your thoughts echoed my feelings about many of its stand-out qualities.
Here’s a (hopefully) thought provoking question for you: How do you feel about the inherent inclusion of tense and/or negative race relations in the setting when that is an element of D&D that many are trying to move beyond?
November 21, 2019 @ 7:33 pm
Good question, Pete! I understand the desire to include such things and even did that in my early work on this blog. It certainly helps ground a world in reality and can add layers of complexity to a story.
However as I’ve matured as a designer and person, and as others have shared their opinions on negative racial tension, I have to say I am no longer a fan of such tension. Is it real? Yeah. So are a lot of terrible things. We play games to escape such things and if large groups of people are saying, “This makes me uncomfortable,” then I say, let’s leave it behind. I am fine with tieflings, changelings, half-orcs, and anyone from any setting having to overcome the breath of a dragon without needing to overcome racial animosity.
November 21, 2019 @ 12:42 pm
I never knew much about Eberron, the very basics of it but this post really sold me. Perhaps my next campaign will be an Eberron one!
November 21, 2019 @ 12:58 pm
Eberron is also my favorite setting! Congratulations on being on board this amazing book!