Eberron is my new favorite game world.
Okay, let me back up a bit. I recently checked out WotC’s Eberron Campaign Guide, the definitive manual for running a 4th Edition D&D campaign in that setting. I was expecting it to be a lot like the Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide, which focused more on the radical changes the world underwent between editions. To a degree it was a necessary explanation: Why did wizards change so much? Because magic changed. So what else is different?
However, I personally find it rather exhausting reading up on all the ways a world changed vs. the previous edition, particularly if I hadn’t read the earlier book. Sometimes these changes seem artificial and forced. For example, with the Forgotten Realms, now there are floating islands of rock called earth motes. Oh yes, we’ve also lost a couple of continents and gained new ones. Whoops! What a radical thing to spring on a setting all of a sudden. The bottom line was that the new FR never struck me as being a consistent, logical, complete setting the way Eberron does.
History & Geography
The world feels like it was designed from the ground up to be original and different, and still feels consistent and logical. The world’s continents have an interlocking and compelling history that starts with a bleak primeval period hundreds of thousands of years before.
Each era has its own conquering race. In the Age of Dragons, the three mighty dragons who created the world held sway. (By the way, dragons are extraordinarily important in Eberron, on par with Krynn, but in a very fresh and non-stereotyped way.) The Age of Demons followed — the less said of that dark time the better! Then came the Age of Giants and the Age of Monsters. I found the latter the most compelling. Basically it was a multi-millennial goblin and orc civilization, with humans and demi-humans as conquered subjects. What a great idea!
One of the things I dug about The Kobold Guide to Game Design was how it decried efforts to shoehorn in Earth cultures into the game world. Think Maztica or Al-Qadim. Eberron doesn’t have anything like that. The continents are all new, the cultures are innovative, and the history surprising and fascinating.
One of the ways the world sets itself apart is by posing the question: how would a magic-imbued society be different than a mundane one? All too often, game worlds take the easy way out and assume magic is so rare that it doesn’t impact society at all. How much does it cost to get a griffin ride to the next town? There is no price because you can’t do it.
In Eberon, however, magic is treated as an integral part of society. You can take a magical train (the “lightning rail”) or fly elemental-powered airships. There’s even a magical mechanical PC race called warforged. I love the section on “everyday magic” which describes how magic affects the daily lives of the ordinary citizens, covering agriculture, communications, crafts, law enforcement and so on.
Most worlds have politics but I can’t think of any whose residents foment such complex, yet totally logical machinations.
The most important aspect of the Eberron political scene is probably the Draconic Prophecy, a mysterious rede that the world’s dragons are trying to manipulate. The main playing pieces of the prophecy seem to be the Dragonmarked houses, clans of humans and demihumans who are some of the most powerful groups in the world. If that weren’t enough, secretive organizations like the Aurum, the Chamber, and the Lords of Dust keep it hoppin’. That only begins to cover it. The dragons’ demonic arch-rivals plot to return to Eberron, while a war between human nations has just concluded. The aftermath of this war is the main storyline you’ll encounter.
The Eberron Campaign Guide is a fun book to read by itself. It’s not bogged down by trying to explain why and how things changed between editions — the book just lays it out. If you’re going to play in Eberron, this book and the Eberron Player’s Guide are what you need.
The best thing bout the setting, however, may be that it simply takes the classic D&D tropes like dragons and elves and mixes them up in a new and interesting way. As a result, even if you run your own world the book is a great resource for pilfering ideas.