The Analog Gamer: Robots & Airships
What if you could play as a walking war-machine construct? A golem of destruction with a pure heart and good soul? This concept might fit naturally into a modern sci-fi setting or even some good old space opera, but a number of years ago – in an attempt to spice things up and introduce some new ideas – Wizards of the Coast sponsored a contest to find its next D&D campaign setting.
Greyhawk, The Forgotten Realms, Planescape, Ravenloft and the various other settings apparently just weren’t as marketable. The company wanted some fresh, new ideas. This opportunity became a chance to let the amateur and professional developers compete to see whose concept would become the next official D&D setting.
The result of that contest was Eberron – a fantasy world in keeping with the core of Dungeons & Dragons, but one that turned things on its ear just a bit with concepts like – Halfling plainsmen riding dinosaurs, living constructs, shapeshifters as player races and adding a very Indiana Jones/Tomb Raider pulp feel to its core adventures placing players in a world that operates on magic, outside the fantasy constraints of pseudo-medieval Europe or even an Asian fantasy amalgam.
Eberron was built around a different mythology and cosmic organization. There exists magic powered public transportation, airships and great dungeons of fallen civilizations alongside an invading alien force and mysterious magical elf ancestors who refuse to go off into antiquities and instead guide the path of the entire elvish race.
The new setting was a hit for Wizards, and spawned years of supplements and adventure and this year it is the setting of choice for the 4th edition upgrade cycle. Unlike last year however, Wizards seems to have learned that player options are more interesting to consumers than campaign background. When the Forgotten Realms received their update, players had to wait longer because the company released the setting information and not the character information book first.
Eberron is just the opposite – using the Eberron Player’s Guide and any old 3.5 edition book, players can quickly jump into a 4E Eberron based game. The book also shows some other evolutions from its Forgotten Realms predecessor in that it covers far more of the “how to play in Eberron” information before tackling the mechanics of new races, classes, feats, etc.
The Eberron centric setting info does a good job of introducing the world, establishing the role of a player in that world and gives some interesting hints about how adventures in the setting should work, guiding players in making dynamic persona. The three races are really not completely new. The Warforged saw print earlier online and while the new entry in the official setting book has some updates, D&DI subscribers might be a bit disappointed by the repetition. Changelings and Kalashtar however have not been replicated elsewhere and are excellent racial additions to the D&D core as well as necessary parts of the flavor of Eberron. Warforged and Changelings work well in just about any setting while the Kalashtar are Eberron specific but can be adapted easily enough.
The only new core class included in the book is the Artificer. This is basically an update of the class that was introduced in the 3.5 version of the Eberron Campaign Guide. Magic smiths who concentrate on forging new magical items, supercharging existing items and enhancing even non-magical implements, these characters also rely pretty heavily on alchemy as a tool of their trade and the book contains lots of additional alchemical objects. The new prestige paths and epic destiny options are interesting and could be used outside the setting as well but only if DMs are willing to export some of the settings concepts.
Unfortunately, playing in Eberron with all the setting’s unique races requires ownership of Player’s Handbook 2 as well. Why couldn’t Wizards also include the Shifter race, originally native to the Eberron setting? Images of the race liter the book and anyone unfamiliar with the second core book will likely be frustrated by the omission. While they are mentioned in the “Other Races” information, their absence is discouraging.
One interesting part of the Eberron setting that I know I’ll be integrating into my 4E campaigns (much as I did with my 3.x games) are the Dragonmarks. These mystical marks enable characters to do unique magic things, granting some element of power – however this is not to be confused with a magic brand that grants superpowers – Dragonmarks more often impact characters in more role-playing centric ways, granting bonuses to skills and can easily be worked into another setting and offer some interesting storytelling potential in Eberron as well.
Fans of Eberron and 4th Edition D&D will want this book. For non-Eberron players looking to add new items, races and a new class to their game it’s also not a bad investment. The world setting forcused books may not be considered core, but they have far more utility than the Campaign Guides that support gaming in these worlds. New items, weapons and equipment really enhance pulp-like feel of the setting. The book will not likely become one of the most used resources outside the Eberron setting but if you have the spare cash you could buy worse.