Keith Baker is best known for having created Eberron, the winning campaign setting for the Wizards of the Coast competition started in 2002. In addition to having created countless material for 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 as part of the team for Best Role Play Supplement for the Eberron campaign environment, and the second in 2005 for Gloom, Card Game of the Year. Rumor has it that he has tattooed the Greater Mark of Making (the one from House Cannith) on his right arm, although few people have seen it and lived to tell. He has also made a cameo in the comic book «The Order of the Stick: Start of Darkness», by Rich Burlew (who also participated in the Wizards of the Coast contest). Keith confesses that he wrote the proposal that became Eberron on June 10. 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, and Maze Arcana, a livestream campaign you can follow via Twitch or YouTube. In honor of the 13th publication Anniversary of Eberron, I decided to re-post an interview I was able to conduct on 2012. Let us begin!
Hi, Keith. thanks for agreeing to this interview. Eberron’s Campaign Setting mentions several movies. most of them based on novels which can be of inspiration for DMs setting their campaigns in this world. Are those the ones that inspired you to create it? What others helped you define Eberron?
They’re all movies that helped, but as the book says, it’s just a start… and there were many books that helped as well. It’s hard to pick out any one thing, because it’s not like I actually drew a specific element for a specific book or movie; rather it’s about tone and general flavor. So looking to some authors whose work helped (many of whose works have been translated into movies)…
- Edgar Rice Burroughs (Tarzan, John Carter)
- Raymond Chandler (The Big Sleep)
- Dashiell Hammett (The Maltese Falcon)
- Alexandre Dumas (The Three Musketeers)
- Philip K. Dick (Blade Runner)
- Tanith Lee (Tales from the Flat Earth)
- H.P. Lovecraft (The Call of Cthulhu)
- Stephen Brust (The Phoenix Guards)
… I could keep going for quite a while. Some may seem like strange choices; Dick is after all a science fiction author. However, I love the ways he looks at identity and reality, and things from the warforged to my heroines Thorn and Lei are certainly influenced by Dick’s work. Stephen Brust also explores the way magic could transform a society. The Lords of Dust, Quori, and Xoriat all draw some inspiration from Tanith Lee and Lovecraft.
Now, I would like to point out that there are other authors who have had a significant impact on Eberron. I created the original setting bible, but from that point on I worked with Bill Slaviscek, James Wyatt, and Christopher Perkins to build it out into the world you know today. There’s a lot of good ideas that came from that collaboration. The Talenta halflings were always nomads – but it was in that group brainstorming session that the idea of them riding dinosaurs came up. And then you have everything that the novelists have brought to the setting – people like Matt Forbeck, Don Basingthwaite, Marcy Rockwell, and all the rest. I may have put together the original idea, but a lot of people have expanded it.
Have you played D&D Online?
Yes, though not extensively; I just don’t have time to fully invest in any MMORPG.
What character did you play?
Any time I play any sort of computer roleplaying game, I end up trying out pretty much everything, just to see how it works. However, I think the character I played the furthest was a warforged fighter.
DDO is based on Stormreach, an off-shore location in Eberron. If able, where would you set an expansion to this game? What kind of quests would you create for it?
It’s a difficult decision, because if you put the action in Khorvaire it’s hard to explain why you can’t go to all of your group’s favorite places… and some of the more intrigue-based plotlines don’t translate that well to the format. So I’d be more inclined to do something like Thelanis, Khyber, or Argonnessen – something that is all about wild adventure. Though a haunted island off the coast of Aerenal could also be interesting…
What changes in 4E would you have left out if able to do so?
The whole «anybody can have any dragonmark» thing confuses people. I don’t mind it being there as an option on the principle of «It’s your Eberron, you can do anything you want» – but it was always the intention that such a character would be an unprecedented thing, and that the world doesn’t work that way. And personally, I was bothered by Baator creeping in, and I left it out of my campaign… until I decided to come up with a version of it that I liked for Eberron, which you see in the Eye on Eberron article.
How do you decide what will be featured in «Eye of Eberron»?
I posted on the WotC forums asking people what they were interested in. Then I distilled that down to topics I thought were interesting and could fit in the limited word count, and presented a list to WotC. The editors there decided which they wanted to see, and that set the schedule for the year.
Now that I’m spending more time on my own website (www.Bossythecow.com/hdwt) I’ll probably ask for Eye on Eberron suggestions there.
Some of our Eberron fans have noticed that, being a world with so much magic in it, it doesn’t feature an omnipotent figure as Elminster is to Faerun or Raistlin to Krynn. Why is that?
One of the key points of Eberron is that there are relatively few people with the abilities of player characters – that even at low levels, a player character is special, because a 3rd level wizard is far more powerful than a magewright. Beyond this, high level characters are quite rare. So magic is widespread in Eberron, but mostly low-level. The spells that have the largest impact on everyday life are simple things: continual flame, arcane lock, prestidigitation, etc. If you’re in a big city, you can potentially purchase use of sending from House Sivis or teleport from House Orien, but most people take the lightning rail or use a message stone. So first, I prefer to call Eberron «wide magic» rather than «high magic.» Spells above 3rd level are still remarkable, and spells above 5th level are VERY remarkable. These are the magics developed by dragons, giants, the Undying Court and the like – spells that the mages of the Five Nations haven’t mastered yet.
With that said, there are a few high level magic users: Jaela Daran, Mordain the Fleshweaver, Erandis Vol, Oalian, many dragons or Lords of Dust. However, the only ones to those who are inclined to help people are limited. Oalian is a tree, and Jaela loses her power if she leaves Flamekeep. If the Tarrasque attacks Sharn, they can’t go stop it.
In your opinion, who does Eberron have to fight on its behalf and balance?
That’s easy: the Player Characters. From the very beginning, one of the core principles of Eberron has been «If this is a novel, your PCs should be the main characters.» Someone like Merrix d’Cannith has access to more resources than you do. He has tremendous influence because of his place in his house. And I may allow him to create things above his level following the same principle as the Eldritch Machine – his developing a new kind of warforged isn’t level based, it’s a special talent he possesses. But in terms of level-based artificer abilities, your PC artificer will eventually be higher level than him. Merrix may still be able to invent things you don’t, but if it’s a matter of fighting the Lords of Dust, he needs you.
With that said, there are other forces around. One clear example of this is the dragons of Argonnessen. When the giants were about to do something that threatened all of Eberron, the dragons acted to stop them. The thing is that the dragons only care about things that threaten Argonnessen, so it needs to be a massive threat – and when they act, they don’t care about the collateral damage. They didn’t act to help the elves; they devastated giant and elf alike in their strike on Xen’drik. So if the dragons are forced to act to prevent some sort of trouble brewing in Khorvaire, their solution may be as bad for humanity as the original problem.
How would you rank the other Dungeons & Dragons Campaigns/Worlds in order of preference and why?
My favorite D&D campaign world is Planescape. I loved the computer game Torment, and I love the diverse range of stories you can tell there. Otherwise, the fact of the matter is that I haven’t run games in any of the other published settings and don’t know them very well. I’ve written material for Paizo’s Golarion, which to my mind is really a vast collection of mini-settings; there’s a particular nation for more or less any theme you can think of. I like the ideas of Ravenloft and Birthright, and I had a fun time playing in a brief Dark Sun game, but I’ve generally been the DM and generally run my own worlds.
There’s a common syllable in the primordial three dragons: «ber». Does it have a special meaning, or is it just a coincidence?
It’s never something established in canon, but in my opinion it’s the word for Progenitor, or «Greatest Dragon». So in Siberys, Eberron, Khyber you have «Greatest dragon above and around», «Greatest Dragon of earth and life», and «Greatest Dragon Below.»
Tell us why you introduced the «baker’s dozen» concept in so many elements in Eberron. Is just a pun on your last name, or do you have some fixation on the number thirteen?
I’ve always liked the idea that there are numbers with mystical significance. It’s intentional that you have the same number of planes and moons. However, it was actually something of a coincidence that the number was thirteen – just based on the list of ideas for planes – and that thirteen is a Baker’s Dozen. After that we started having fun with it, and playing with the idea that it’s just something that resonates throughout the world. But we didn’t notice the Baker’s Dozen aspect until later.
Do you have a favorite fantasy genre/author?
George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire… for the first three books. I absolutely love those first three books – the world, the way he brings depth to all of the characters so you can even understand the motivations of the people you don’t like, the plots you can see unfolding. But for me, it seems like every book covers less ground than the one before, and given the amount of time that passes between books it becomes harder and harder to remain interested in the storylines I absolutely loved originally. Personally, I wish he’d give us a few self-contained stories with a satisfying begining and end – more things like «The Hedge Knight» – as opposed to the seemingly endless ongoing series.
Nonetheless, I love those first three books. If I can ever write something that good, I’ll be a happy guy.
What are your favorite fantasy books/comics?
I’ve already mentioned many of my favorites above. As a teenager I really liked Sherri S. Tepper’s True Game books and Moorcock’s Eternal Champion series. And you can’t go wrong with Jack Vance, Robert Howard, or the like. But I also love classical literature. As a kid I devoured all the mythology I could find, and read The Illead and The Odyssey. I love the Irish epic The Tain. The Daughters of Sora Kell have some inspiration in Slavic folktales. So modern fantasy is good, but folktales and mythology are equally inspiring.
You recently said on your column that The Queen of Stone is your favorite of the novels you have written for Eberron. Why is that?
Because it’s more unique to Eberron. The Dreaming Dark trilogy follows a more classic fantasy model: a group of adventurers travels across the world in a quest to stop a great evil. The nature of the evil and locations that they visit are specific to Eberron, but the THEME could be set anywhere. By contrast, The Queen of Stone is a spy thriller that plays on the cold war themes of the world; explores the idea of how arcane magic could be incorporated into Eberron; and beyond that, it’s set in Droaam, which is one of my favorite places in Eberron. Droaam provides an opportunity to look at monsters as more than just brutes to be killed. What kind of cultures would emerge in a nation of medusas, werewolves, and doppelgangers? And, of course, it’s a self-contained story. There is a character arc that evolves across the trilogy, but each book is its own mission.
Most Eberron trilogies are stand-alone stories. Outside the one you wrote, which one is your favorite and why?
That’s a REALLY hard question. At the end of the day, I think I have to go with Don Basingthwaite’s books… among other things because we love the same things. Every time he proposed a series, I’d say «But *I* want to write that book!» I like the touches that he adds, expanding on language and customs. You’ll note that Muunta the Gray from The Legacy of Dhakaan actually appears in The Queen of Stone – Don and I coordinated to figure out who Darguun would send as an ambassador.
What would you like to introduce in Eberron through DnDNext?
Some people have suggested that with the modular approach of DnDNext, the best way to work Eberron in would be to include it with specific rules modules. So a module on monstrous PCs could bring in Droaam and Darguun. A module on dreams would involve Dal Quor and the Dreaming Dark. A Dragonmark module would obviously include the Dragonmarked houses. A war module could be set during the Last War. And so on.
If the Eberron timeline would jump into the future in DnDNext, how many years in the future would you like it to, and what changes would you introduce?
I’m not sure how I feel about advancing the timeline. 998 YK is a critical convergence of events, and as I said, the idea of Eberron is that YOU should play a role in how those play out. With that said, if the assumption of the question is that it IS going to advance forward – we’re not asking whether it’s a good idea, we’re simply saying that it is going to happen and what would I do – I see a few ideas.
- Push forward a decade into the middle of the Next War. Focus on wartime adventures. Perhaps Cannith has split apart and the different pieces are allied with different nations.
- Jump forward past the NEXT war. Change out all the human leaders. Consider whether all the current nations even survive. Valenar might now be a recognized nation of House Lyrandar, with a military fleet of airships. Advance magic considerably. remove a few of the existing cabals and threats and add a few entirely new ones.
The key with either of these is that I’d want DMs to feel that they could completely ignore these and keep playing in 998 YK. Each of these would have a very different flavor and add new options – but they shouldn’t destroy what can before.
That’s a wrap. Any final words?
Thanks for talking! I love to travel and run games for people, and I hope that I have the opportunity to get to your country in the future. I’ve got some big things in the works for later in the year, and to keep track of that and to discuss Eberron, please drop by my website (www.bossythecow.com/hdwt) or follow me on Twitter as @HellcowKeith!