Sixteen years ago, on June 10th 2002, Keith Baker wrote the original 1-page proposal that would became Eberron two years later. Almost fourteen years ago, I put my hands for the first time on the just published Eberron Campaign Setting. Obviously by then, I had been reading every single preview in Dragon Magazine, and I was already in love of this new world, its new races, its new full-class and all the magic it was imbued with. In honor of the 14th Anniversary of its publication, I decided to run a list of my thirteen favorite things about Eberron. Why thirteen? If you know Eberron, you know the answer; if you don’t, you’ll understand by the end of the list.
Bred to kill: New races
The campaign setting offers four new races: from the shapechangers changelings to the feral shifters, including the psionic-enhanced kalashtar. But for me, it’s the warforged who steal the spotlight. Built during the Last War as soldiers, now that the conflict is over they are left without an identity or purpose in a world that sees them as a reminder of violent times and questions if they have a soul or not.
Ready, DM, one: Alternate mini-settings
Eberron’s main continet, Khorvaire, is where the civilized nations have settled, but there are far away locations where different societies have thrived: the fallen Giant empire in Xen’drik has turned into a wild and dangerous land of treasure hunting, while the autocrat psychic empire of the Inspired rule Sarlona and the dragons do the same in Argonessen. Ruins, dungeons, toms and mausoleums are easily located all around the world and it¿s very easy to nurture them with a full cultural background.
The Silver Compass: Religious organizations
Most fantasy settings have complex pantheons with myriad of greater and lesser deities, but in Eberron most inhabitants follow the Sovereign Host, a group of deities related to each other who never interfere directly in the world. Beyond this, a relatively new faith has been growing in the hearts of one of the nations, one with many similitudes to Christianism, considering its hierarchy and organization. The first important theocracy in a fantasy setting comes in Eberron in the form of Thrane. Zealous followers and a powerful artifact (the sword Kloinjer) binding a dangerous demon (the overlord Bel Shalor) provide us enough elements to direct adventures along theological discussions and the corruption running rampant among the Council of Cardinals.
Now you see me: Alignment
One of the principles behind Eberron’s tone and attitude is that alignments are no longer set in stone. Monsters may not necessarily be evil, and priests may not be good. DMs can introduce villains with secret agendas or corrupted to the core, and even if they serve good deities, they still keep their powers. The Sovereign Host and the Silver Flame, two of the most important religions, are full of enigmas and secret plots, and clever DMs can use them so the heroes’ patrons aren’t what they seem.
Pirates of the Lhazaar Sea: Skyships and buccaneers
Many thousands of years ago, the explorer Lhazaar reached the northwest shores of Khorvaire, and from that moment, humans expanded through the whole continent. Nonetheless, the sailing tradition stayed constant in the region: entire fleets with very different leaders roam the sea, and House Lyrandar itself has some presence in there, so a flying airship is not a rare sight.
Crime and the City: Sharn
Home to more than 200,000 people, Sharn is a vertical city. Myriad of cultures have made it their home, so architecture and traditions from all over Khorvaire can be found. Most of Sharn’s wealthiest inhabitants live in the upper regions of the city, enjoying the freshest air and least claustrophobic views. If you want a cosmopolitan base of operations with a fresh personality and a whole sourcebook with details about the districts within, NPCs, holidays and a lot more, Sharn is the city for you.
100 years of conflict: The Last War
Nowadays, the main continent and the nations in it have just finished a civil war that lasted a hundred years. Starting as a succession issue, enmities escalated in its first years and soon the coming generation just wanted to survive to their enemies. The Kingdom o Galifar wouldn’t be the same ever again,no matter how many war veterans were able to go back home. Entire cities changed their allegiance by force or convenience, and the ones who were but provinces of the kingdom are now fully independent nations on their own might, engulfed in a cold war where espionage and diplomacy have replaces swords and battle magic as weapons.
One mystery to rule them all: the Mourning
War was probably at its fiercest when, out of nowhere, an enigmatic dim light surrounded Cyre, one of the fighting nations. A few moments later, a thick fog risen from all horizons and everything inside vanished. The very few who were able to run and escape in fear tell stories of wails and screams from within the smoky curtain that surrounded everything. No one ever found out if this was caused by the gods as a punishment for the war, or a secret weapon test gone terribly wrong. What everyone knew at the monent is that they could not risk anything for it to happen again, so every governor involved in the war rushed into peace negotiations.
Dinasties: the Dragonmarked Houses
Thirteen families, distributed among the civilized races in Eberron developed long ago magical powers granted by strange arcane marks on their skin. Similar to tattoos, but in vibrant and living colors and intrincate silhouettes, these dragonmarks allowed them to perfect their particular trade with a touch of magic. Soon, family leaders started turning their progenies as business dynasties. Centuries later, these families have become in true economic empires overseeing transportation, communications, healing, banking, entertainment and even animal training.
The world in the high cosmology: the Planes
The Great Wheel and Faerun’s World Tree are very similar models based in an otherworldly balance and symmetry. Eberron has its own cosmology that throws those concepts out of the window, keeping the material plane at the center of everything, but introducing new ideas such as waning and waxing phases, plane influence among each ther and even manifest zones, all of them sources of mystical effects when the DM needs them.
Dangerous Liaisons: Political intrigue and Evil Masterminds
Eberron’s swashbuckling tradition makes villains to play a more special role than in anotehr settings. Evil masterminds have always good plans, and those usualy include an emergency way out. Heroes will meettheir nemesis many ways until they are ableto defeat them for good, but until them, these villains are also improving their skills and abilities, becoming more dangerous and nefarious,even more when working from the darkness provided by royal courts and political bodies.
The Artificer’s Apprentice: Widely-used magic
In the words of Keith Baker, “Eberron is not a high magic setting – it’s a wide magic setting. Eberron is built upon the premise that arcane magic behaves as a science and would thus become integrated into the world in a scientific manner”. We need to keep in consideration that this means that high-level magic is still very rare. There are equivalents to the railroad (the Orien lightning rail), planes (Lyrandar skyships) and even the telegraph (Sivis message stations), but there are no cars or telephones, and artifice has been key to these wonders. Artifice, as the practice of imbuing mundane items with magical infusions is neither divine nor arcane, and it is so prevalent in the world that a new classes were introduced in the setting when it was published: the magewright, for NPCs, and the Artificer, for PCs who can create magic items for the adventuring life.
Baker’s Dozen: Thirteen
Many of Eberron’s elements are related to the number thirteen (just as the title of this article), but usually in the formula of “there are 12 + 1 missing”. For example, there are 13 dragonmarks,but one is extinct; there are 13 planes of existence, but one is out of its orbit; there are 13 dwarven clans, but one disappeared mysterously. This concept was introduced in the setting as a gimmick on its creator’s last name: Keith Baker – “baker’s dozen”.
And those are my favorite Eberron’s features. Some of them have changed as the game editions do, and we are still waiting for official content for 5e, but the campaign keeps its tone and attitude beyond frontiers.
Happy 14th Anniversary, Eberron.