Keith Baker is not only the creator of Eberron: he has also contributed to companies such as Atlas Games, Goodman Games, Paizo Publishing and Green Ronin. He has twice won the Origins (the equivalent of the Oscar in the role-playing industry), the first time in 2004 for the Eberron campaign setting, and the second in 2005 for Gloom, Card Game of the Year. Most recently he’s engaged into his new creation, “Phoenix: Dawn Command”, but he finds the time to participate in Manifest Zone, a podcast dedicated to Eberron, while keep working on new projects for his company, Twogether Studios.
Welcome, Keith, and thank you for doing the interview (again!). Let’s start with an ice-breaker: If you were a D&D character, what would your build be?
I’m a dragonmarked human with the Mark of Making — which I have on my left shoulder. I think there’s a good case that I should be a Bard from the College of Lore, since I am a deep source on the lore of the world. On the other hand, having the Mark of Making I also like to think of myself as an artificer… though as to subclass, I might use the one I created for my upcoming book Exploring Eberron!
Foreshadowing! Awesome! Do you have a favorite fantasy genre/author?
Not really! One of the things I love about Eberron is the range of stories you can tell in the setting, and that reflects the range of stories and authors whose work I enjoy. I grew up with Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, HP Lovecraft, and Lloyd Alexander. From there I discovered Michael Moorcock, Jack Vance, Fritz Leiber, Robert E. Howard, Sheri S. Tepper, and Tanith Lee… All the way up to today with George R. R. Martin, Patrick Rothfuss, Stephen Brust, and others. Beyond that, I really enjoy all manner of folklore and mythology; the Daughters of Sora Kell are inspired as much by tales of Baba Yaga as by any purely fictional source. And Eberron isn’t purely driven by fantasy; there are certainly aspects of the Dragonmarked Houses that reflect my love of Neuromancer and other Cyberpunk fiction.
What are your favorite fantasy books/comics?
It depends how you define “Fantasy,” and it’s also a big and constantly changing list. In terms of comics, I adore the Locke & Key series by Joe Hill, and I’m a long time fan of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series. Hellboy is another longtime favorite; again, I love interesting takes on folklore. Looking to books, I love Tanith Lee’s Flat Earth series (beginning with Night’s Master) for the way that it blends fantasy and folklore; more recently I really enjoyed Kat Valente’s Deathless for exploring how folklore could evolve in tandem with a civilization. But again, that’s just the tip of the iceberg; I could name a favorite book associated with each of the authors mentioned above, and a dozen more besides.
Tell us how you learned about D&D.
I acquired the original white box D&D set when I was around 8 years old. As I said above, I read a wide range of fantasy fiction, and I loved the opportunity to create my own stories with my friends. I probably started running games when I was 11… and the rest is history.
Who in the history of roleplaying games would you like to play with, DM for, and to be DMed by?
I’ve had the opportunity to work with or play many of the people I most admire over the course of my career. I was in a campaign with James Wyatt years before either of us were professional game designers, so it was a funny reunion when we worked together on Eberron a decade later! Likewise, I’ve been doing charity events with Satine Phoenix for almost a decade, and had a chance to play with Matt Mercer long before Critical Role became a thing.
As a game designer how important D&D can become? What has it taught you?
D&D is what inspired my entire career; I don’t know what I’d be doing today if I’d never seen that white box. Setting aside the specific mechanics of any particular edition, the key thing it’s taught me is the joy of building stories collaboratively—rather than just watching a movie or reading a book, the chance to sit down with friends and create a story that’s unique to that group. A decade ago I traveled the world and ran a single adventure for 56 different groups. Every time was a new experience, and every group came up with something unique. I always try to make sure there’s room for that in my adventurers and sourcebooks; the Mourning is a good example of an element that provides inspiration, but encourages each DM to find their own unqiue answers.
Do you remember when and how you got the first glimpse of Eberron in your mind?
It’s hard to say, because Eberron marries multiple concepts that I thought about at different times. The idea of exploring arcane magic as a form of science is something I explored in an entirely different setting many years earlier, but not to the extent we take it in Eberron. The pulp aspect is drawn from my having spent three years working on a Pulp-themed MMORPG that ended up being canceled, while the noir themes are simply something I enjoyed. it all came together during the Fantasy Setting Search, when Wizards of the Coast was looking for ideas for new worlds; it was really only when I sat down to right the proposal that those different ideas came together in the idea that would ultimately become Eberron.
What recently read book or watched movie makes you think of Eberron?
I recently saw the TV series Carnival Row, and there’s certainly elements of that which would fit right in to Sharn or Fairhaven.
What is the thing you created for Eberron you feel most proud of?
It’s very difficult to choose any one element, because there’s so many things I love about the setting. I love the Dragonmarked Houses. I love the monstrous nation of Droaam, and the role of orcs and goblins in Eberron – in general, of exploring the idea that monsters aren’t always villains and that villains aren’t always monsters. I love the Zil gnomes; up until them gnomes had largely been comic relief in D&D, and I love that we have a nation of ruthless gnome assassins. But many of these things — like the Dragonmarked Houses — are really the result of that core brain trust of myself, James Wyatt, Christopher Perkins, and Bill Slavicsek. For example, I love the dinosaur-riding Talenta halflings. But that’s a case where as a group we took my original idea for the nomadic halflings and searched for ways to make it more compelling. Just like that, many of the most intriguing elements of Eberron weren’t the creation of any one person; they’re the product of a group of people working together. Which is, after all, what makes D&D itself compelling; we all build a story together rather than it just belonging to one person.
How was “Wayfinder’s Guide to Eberron” born? What was your reaction when the title reached Platinum Seller status in just a few days?
I began talking with Mike Mearls and Jeremy Crawford about Eberron while Fifth Edition was still being playtested. There was always the general idea that it would be released for Fifth Edition; the question was when and how. Part of the challenge was the degree to which Eberron was isolated from the Multiverse. The idea that this could be explained as it being intentionally walled off behind the Ring of Siberys, and making contact with the multiverse a point that DMs could choose to work into a campaign or ignore, was a key element of making it happen sooner rather than later. So after years of discussions, WotC approached me late in 2018 with the idea of doing an online book for the DM’s Guild, largely as a way to see if there was enough interest to justify a full book like Rising From The Last War. And luckily for all of us, there was.
You’re in the middle of an ambitious project, first codenamed “Project Raptor” and then uncovered as “Exploring Eberron”. How do you decide what to include in it?
Exploring Eberron is a blend of two things. First and foremost, it’s a chance to explore a number of topics I’ve wanted to write about but that have never been covered in any official sourcebook. It also delves deeper into a few subjects that are introduced in Rising From The Last War but only dealt with at a very high level.
Can you give us a preview on the contents? Anything, please!
One of chapters goes into more depth about the planes of Eberron. This is one of those topics I’ve always wanted to address. Eberron has its own unique cosmology, which has a lot of interesting potential for adventuring and campaigns. But the planes have never really been explored in enough detail for people to really use them and to understand their full potential. On the other end of the spectrum, Rising From The Last War adds a new twist to the culture of the Mror dwarves, but we didn’t have room to really dig into the concept; Exploring Eberron does more with it. But at the highest level I can say that Exploring Eberron looks at the role of magic in everyday life, including the artificer. It explores a number of the unique races and cultures of Eberron, explores overlooked aspects of the faiths of Eberron, and examines unexplored regions such as the planes and oceans.
That’s a wrap. Any final words?
From the beginning, Eberron has been an amazing journey for me. When the original Eberron Campaign Setting was released, when I had the opportunity to write novels set in my own world, having a shelf of Eberron miniatures; I feel lucky and blessed. And now with Rising From the Last War and Exploring Eberron, I’m thrilled to get to explore the world again with both old and new friends!
You can follow new updates on Keith’s projects (including of course “Exploring Eberron”) via his Twitter account, @HellcowKeith and get some exclusive previews also from KB Presents via @InMyEberron. Are you getting your own copy of “Rising from the Last War” tomorrow! Let us know in the comments to envy you!