Thoughts on Eberron

When Eberron, Dungeons & Dragons’ latest campaign setting, was announced, I was less than excited. Descriptions of it — with its “lightening road” trains, airships, and various “modern” convinces powered by magic, struck me as being too much like “magepunk”, and too little like fantasy D&D. And there was the spectre of the Forgotten Realms, Wizards of the Coasts’ last high-magic campaign setting, which I’ve always found to be a wonderful playground for uber-powerful NPCs, but not so much fun for players.

However, over the last few months I’ve been hearing good things about the campaign, and when one of the members of my gaming group announced his intention to run an Eberron PBEM campaign, I finally decided to get the book. I’m glad I did.

First off, while the campaign does incorporate some modern ideas — the aforementioned trains, magical messaging, airships, etc. — its all done with in the confines of the logical evolution of a medieval magical society. Eberron is, at its core, a fantasy game, and as a result you can play all of the core classes from the D&D Players’ Handbook with very little in the way of alterations (and what few alterations exist are mostly in the form of additional feats, skills, spells and clerical domains).

Moreover, magic permeates this realm, alleviating my concerns that this was just a science fiction setting with magic replacing tech. (not that I have a problem with sci-fi — I love it, but when it comes to D&D, I want a fantasy-driven campaign). Members of the various humanoid races (humans, dwarves, halflings, etc.) can manifest “dragonmarks” by taking particular feats. These dragonmarks allow them to improve a particular skill (designated by the mark) and grants them a spell-like ability. The marks can be improved by taking additional feats, which grant more abilities.

In an example of how this magic affects the world, the dragonmarks are all associated with commercial “houses”, which stand as an independent meritocracy in opposition to the traditional aristocracy. The dragonmarks — which are associated with tasks such as Healing, Protection and Messaging — fueled the Houses rise to power, and have allowed them to carve out commercial niches that have in turn fueled Eberron’s technological advancement.

Another aspect of this book I enjoy is its pulpy, big-fantasy-meets-noir feel. The book offers some great movies as sources of inspiration for DMs, including The Mummy, Raiders of the Lost Arc, Casablanca, The Name of the Rose, Pirates of the Caribbean and From Hell. The end result is a campaign setting in which you could easily see a band of roguish adventurers leaping between airships as they battled to prevent some horrific, ancient treasure from falling into the wrong hands, all the while never realizing that securing the treasure will plunge them into an even greater conspiracy. It gives me shivers just thinking about it.

I’m about half-way through the core Eberron book, and as you can tell, I’m really enjoying it. My gaming group is presently running two Greyhawk campaigns, but when those conclude in a year or two, I’m definitely interested in giving Eberron a world. In the meantime, I’ll be joining the aforementioned PBEM campaign, and will hopefully get to play in the setting via the RPGA’s upcoming Living Eberron campaign.