Realm Guide: D&D’s Eberron

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Magic robots, robot magic, and a whole lot of swashbuckling, spying, and scheming abound in the world of Eberron.

That’s right. It’s time to hop on board the lightning rail to Awesometown, because this week we are visiting the magitek world of Eberron, where the Warforged roam, mingling with Dragonmarked houses, Ashbound druids, and nomadic halflings that ride dinosaurs.

halfling riders eberron

They do move in herds!

Published in 2004, Eberron was originally developed as an entry for Wizard of the Coast’s Fantasy Setting Search back in the halcyon days of 2002, a full decade before “Call Me Maybe” cast its long shadow across the cultural landscape.* Designed by Keith Baker and written by Baker, Bill Slavicsek and James Wyatt, Eberron is a melting pot of high-fantasy, steam/magic punk, and pulp noir fiction that creates a whole greater than the sum of its constituent parts.

It stands out among campaign worlds, with its high-magic ideals, and its pulp origins–from these we get things like the mysterious, dinosaur haunted jungles of Xen’Drick, or the constant interplay of shadowy organizations like the Order of the Emerald Claw or the Church of the Silver Flame. There are a lot of moving parts in this campaign–but the trick is that they don’t often depend on each other to function. Eberron is a fantastic sandbox. It does a brilliant job of setting up everything so that you can use any part of it in your game, without relying on the rest of the world to support it.

But, if you do incorporate the various moving parts of the world, you get a dynamic fantasy world that has won over hearts and minds for the better part of a decade. It was the first “modern” (well, post 3rd edition) setting to be published from Wizards, and it shows. Eberron is a world that’s built on the back of 3.5. It’s a world that takes the conceits of the edition and not just runs with them, but incorporates them into the very design of the setting.

Don’t believe me? Consider the following. Eberron takes the idea of “this is a world where magic is real” and plays it out. Unlike other worlds, where you might get a few wizard academies, or maybe a distant nation ruled by those with arcane power (almost always a tyrannical government too, which is weird, you’d think there might be one nation of wizards who just hang around bein’ awesome), but in Eberron, magic is baked into the very fabric of the world. And its rules. There are tons of minor magical effects in the various D&D books up to this point, and Eberron does its best to simulate a world where these things are as common as they appear.

EBERRON

More like where everything is as AWESOME as it seems.

If every party of adventurers has at least one arcanist, it stands to reason there’d be just as many who never take up the adventuring life–enter the Magewright. An NPC class that is designed to acknowledge that, yeah, there are mages all over the freaking place here. They go to work using their talents like any other artisan–and as a result, life in Eberron is fairly unique. You get something that resembles the modern world–where there are a number of conveniences that we take, basically for granted, but they’re all viewed through the lens of magic.

And that presence is accounted for both in terms of the rules of the setting and its fluff. From the ground up, Eberron was built like this. Even the most dire threat in the campaign–the Lord of Blades is only 12th level. And he represents the scariest named NPC in the book. Sure, there are Dragons and such, but aside from them, he’s the highest level threat. The highest level character is a 20th level tree. I’m not kidding. But flip through the setting book and you’ll find all manner of schemers and spies and the like, many of whom have NPC classes, or who aren’t that high level. I think Eberron encapsulates the idea that D&D is calibrated for exceptional humans to max out at around 5th-level. It understands the system, and it builds on it.

lord of blades

He’ll injure you. Grievously.

High-level magic effects are simulated via Dragonmarks–special feats that you can take that “mark you” (heh) as members of one of the great houses, and who have some role to play in the unfolding prophecy of the world. You’re getting marked by destiny, in a way, but–this is a world where many people are marked by destiny. It’s a world where everyone is a character in D&D–and I mean that in the best way. Everything about the world is built to interlock if you want–you’ve got new races, new technologies, even a new ordering of the cosmos (the world, the sky, and the underworld are all dragons?!?).

It’s why, I think the world feels so dynamic. A lot of imagination was poured into this setting. The pulp, noir, and steampunk-esque (though again, I say it’s more like the magitek you see in games like Final Fantasy 3/6) influences really help shape the setting. It’s why you can have places like the City of Sharn, which has this big “please blow me up” sign hanging around it. And why you can get caught up in struggles like the Warforged uprising/self-determination conflict, or trying to untangle a number of other interwoven plots.

Not to mention halfling dinosaur riders.

eberron glidewing rider

That glidewing understands how cool this is.

With all that in mind, let’s dive in to the world of Eberron.

Siberys and Khyber

eberron cosmology

So to begin with, you have to understand how the world is set up. As mentioned above, the world is Dragons. Sort of. According to legend, in the mythic past, the world was ruled by dragons, and three of the most powerful (guess which ones) discovered what’s called the Draconic Prophecy. This is a record of events that will unfold in the world–it’s the weave of fate, the loom of destiny, the tapestry of tomorrow (orrow) (orrow)…! Naturally the dragons fight over it (well, Siberys and Khyber do). Khyber slays Siberys–whose coils become the sky and a planetary ring (made up entirely of magical materials called dragonshards). And in response, Eberron ensnares Khyber, turning Khyber into the depths of the underworld, while Eberron becomes the world itself.

And since then, the Draconic Prophecy has played out, and those loyal to the dragons (whether they know it or not) have been carrying out vestiges of this war ever since.

The planar stuff is fascinating–the planes all correspond to moons (there are definitely 12, and probably an undiscovered 13th) and they wax and wane both in terms of their influence on Eberron, and in terms of their proximity. There are times when the various planes are concurrent with Eberron–not necessarily the worst when it’s something like Thelanis, the Feywild–but if it’s say, Xoriat, the far realm of madness, well. That’s another story.

But as you might imagine, most of the setting takes place in Eberron.

Eberron

There are seven continents on Eberron. You have Aerenal the elven home. There’s the mysterious jungle of Xen’Drick, where ancient secrets and tyrant lizards lie waiting to be discovered. The Frostfell–a trackless region of ice and snow to the north. Everice–the southern version of the Frostfell, possibly containing ancient civilizations frozen under its ice. Dreamlike Sarlonia, which is ruled by the Quori, creatures native to Dal Quor, the realm of dreams. Argonessen, the land of Dragons, where most of the plot involving the Draconic Prophecy leads.

And finally you have the main continent, where the bulk of the setting detail lies: Khorvaire.

Corvair

Khorvaire

khorvaire

Khorvaire is home to adventure. As I mentioned earlier, one of Eberron’s strengths is that you can pick up pretty much any part of the world and make it work without needing to delve into the rest of the setting. Nowhere is that more prevalent than with Khorvaire. Pick a region/kingdom and you’ll find a place ready to be adventured in.

Demon Wastes

In the northwest, are the Demon Wastes–a barren, volcanic region from which the demons of Khyber have the easiest access to the surface world. Ruled by the Lords of Dust–malevolent Rakshasa who control all manner of fiends and demons, who scheme to one day return the world to the dark time when they lorded over it. Besides them (and they’re friendly), there are also tribes of demon-worshipping barbarians, called the Carrion Tribes, and a tribe of Orc(ish) barbarians called the Ghaash’kala, who believe their duty is to keep the demons of the wastes corralled.

Shadow Marches

Further west are the Shadow Marches, where half-orcs and their human and orc counterparts live. Here operates House Tharashk, which controls most of the trade of dragonshards–in particular, you can find lots of Eberron shards here.

Droaam

A region that was once “civilized” now overrun by goblins, hags, gnolls, and other assorted monsters. Ripe for re-exploring.

The Eldeen Reaches

As we move further inland, we come to the Eldeen Reaches, a massive forest region where you’ll find most of the druids of Eberron. Here you’ll find Oalian, the Archdruid who has been keeping an eye on things for the last 4,500 years, give or take. Though the woods are protected by druids, they are by no means safe. For one, there’s all manner of druidic orders, some, like the Ashbound, take a dim view of magic. Others, like the Gatekeepers, stand fast against beings from the outer realms.

daelkyr

Hey guys, my armor is alive and is probably gonna start taking class levels soon. Just sayin.’

Aundair

Next up is Aundair, with its flatlands and vineyards. Aundair is one of the more powerful kingdoms, full of magic and wonder and artisans. Khorvaire’s best magical academy is here, housed in a floating tower (which is honestly what I’d do if my mage academy ever won any awards. It hasn’t, so.), as well as two of the Dragonmarked houses, who never ever fight. Ever. Definitely not secretly. Aundair is never a place where you’ll find intrigue. Definitely not home to a secret organization called the Eyes of the Queen, nor is it in a cold war with Thrane, one of its enemies.

Actually, I want to take a minute to cut in here and talk briefly about the stage as she is set in the campaign book. The setting picks up after the events of The Last War, which gives Eberron this between WWI and WWII kind of feeling–where there’s recovery, but lots of old tensions still at play. It’s one of the things that plays up the pulp-adventure feel of the campaign world, and it’s utterly delightful to have so many nations ready to bubble over into conflict, even if they never will. It means you can always find an adventure.

Back to it!

Thrane

A theocratic nation ruled by a noble house, ostensibly, but the Church of the Silver Flame in actuality. Thrane was once invaded by a demon lord, who was stopped by the Silver Flame in the past, when a noble hero sacrificed her life to bind the demon to the Silver Flame–and now the members of the Church of the Flame seek to purify the world.

Breland

The cosmopolitan, freedom-loving nation that emerged strongest after the Last War. They are dedicated to keeping the uneasy peace that’s been left in the wake of the Last War, and are home to a thriving population. In Breland, you’ll find Sharn, the largest city in all of Khorvaire. Sometimes called the city of towers, Sharn is a disaster waiting to happen–and the perfect setting for many an urban adventure.

Which is another thing that Eberron handles really well. The campaign setting is worth picking up even just to look at how they handle investigations and mysteries. This is one of the better sets of rules/ideas for how to deal with that I’ve ever found.

Zilargo

A nation of gnomes, inventors, and intrigue. The gnomes definitely do not operate a secret service from here. Nor do they interfere with anyone else’s business.

Darguun

A nation of warring tribes of goblins, bugbears, and hobgoblins. Amidst all the fighting, some of the tribes have united to try and recover artifacts of their glorious past–a past they hope will return some day.

The Mournland

And right in the middle of everything, a massive, magical wasteland. Destroyed at the end of the Last War (some say by a weapon of unimaginable power) it is now home to a thick grey fog–and weird, mutated creatures that lurk within it.

Karrnath

Definitely not ruled by the undead. Though they sure do use an awful lot of them…

Valenar

Originally a colony from the elven nations of Aerenal, it is now home to militaristic elves who love to go a-viking on neighboring Q’barra, and a number of human and halfling farmers who just want to get on with their lives.

Q’barra

See Valenar (raids).

M’ror Holds

M’ror money, M’ror problems. This is where the world’s economy comes to roost. Ruled by dwarves, of course.

The Lhazaar Principalities

Best known as the country where you almost caught, Captain Jack Sparrow. These are where you’ll find all your pirate kingdoms, king piratedoms, and all manner of other unsavory types. A wretched hive of scum, villainy, and also sky-piracy.

Which leaves us with just one more region.

The Talenta Plains

dinorider

Unfortunately, I don’t know much about what’s here. At all.


As you can see, the world of Eberron is big. I barely scratched the surface, and there’s already enough here to build a campaign (maybe just a short one) off of. It’s what Eberron does best. Where other campaign settings present a world, Eberron invites you in. It shows you what to get excited about–whether it’s pirates, treasures, secrets, magic–there’s something for everyone in Eberron. And it wants you to know it.

I can’t say enough good stuff about this world, it’s one of my favorite settings and it captures my imagination like nothing else. So, check it out–there’s a number of books out there that go into greater detail. I hope they release more for 5th edition–especially given that it was built for 3.5–I’d love to see if they do a redesign(ish) for 5th. I think it’d be great–Eberron is well suited to the streamlined, narrative-driven action that 5th edition specializes in.

Got a favorite piece of Eberron lore? What do you think of all the magic and technology working together? Let us know in the comments!

 

  • Aaditya Rangan

    Awesome article! I stopped playing D&D around 2000, so I never knew about this awesome source material!
    – Adi.

    • One of the best things about Eberron is how it twists standard, tired fantasy tropes around then stands them on end in ways you don’t anticipate. The tropes are all still THERE… but none of them are quite what (or who) you expect.

      The reclusive, tree-hugging druidic protectors of nature? Orcs.

      The violent, warmongering raiders? Elves.

      The nomadic tribal barbarians? Halflings.

      Half-elves (called Khoravar in-world) are, rather than between-two-worlds outcasts, a true-breeding race who comprise TWO of the enormously powerful Dragonmark Houses, which are basically Shadowrun-style megacorps.

      The Evil Undead Nation(tm), Karrnath, is the country working the hardest to keep the peace. The sunshine-and-vineyards Designated Good Guy Nation(tm), Aundair, are the ones trying the hardest to START another war.

      The two highest level good guys in the setting are a pine tree and a 12 year-old girl, respectively, and the latter is only actually high level in her home. This effectively solves The Elminster Problem.

      The Gnomes of Zilargo are peaceful and eccentric artists and scholars… whose cultural web of Machiavellian social intrigue has produced the most terrifyingly effective intelligence and espionage agency on the continent and really, REALLY good lawyers.

      And what in other settings is a “monster”, is instead in Eberron a “tax payer”. Harpies, Minotaurs and goblinoids make up small but notable populations in Sharn, Displacer Beasts hire out from the city of Stormreach to act as guides into the jungles of Xen’drik, and one particularly well-respected professor of history and archaeology at Morgrave University is a sphinx.

      • Jay Arr

        I love that analogy. Tax payer indeed–that’s perfect.

        • I wish I could claim credit for that one. It was someone on the old WotC forums that I first heard it from. I want to say it was Edymnion, but I’m not sure.

  • euansmith

    That’s a great overview. At first it sounded a bit like Warmachine; but looks like it has a flavour all of its own.

    • Shawn

      It does Euan and can be a lot of fun. Despite my vitriol at WotC picking an established game designer’s submission, it turned out to be a great world with some very cool ideas.

    • Grasshopper

      Yes, there are some similiarities between both settings. The whole victorian era / WWI-vibe is there. But Eberron is more about swashbuckling through the skies of a skyscraper filled city, roaming through tombs of Maya-inspired Drow in the name of “archaeologic progress”, undertaking in diplomatic espionage, and solving the maddening mysteries of dark cults in the outskirts of a hillbilly swamp town (involving one or more lovecraftian tentacle-beasties). Boy, do I like this setting.

    • The two settings released around the same time (Eberron in June 2004, IK a month later) and both play with many of the same themes, but I think they’re an example of convergent evolution: two different groups of people reacting to and deconstructing the same set of tired fantasy tropes. The difference is that IK was ultimately a means to an end: it was done to get Privateer Press the money it needed to launch Warmachine, after which it languished in mothballs for nearly a decade.

      Sadly, Eberron seems to have been swept under the rug by WotC. After its initial surge of 3.5 support, it got a small handful of material mid-way through 4e, then nothing since.

      A handful of the crunch from Eberron (the Warforged and Shifter races, and the Artificer class) seem to have been adopted into the D&D canon, but even those have lost a lot of their flavor and focus, stripped as they are of their original setting and re-purposed to not stick out in WotC’s aggressively bland vision for the franchise.

      Despite that steady watering-down, Eberron is still the best setting WotC has ever published and I unreservedly recommend hunting down the 3.5 and 4e books if you’re interested in a fantastically well-written and adventure-friendly world for an RPG.

      • euansmith

        Cool!

  • Shawn

    It should be noted also that Keith Baker was already an established Freelance game designer when WotC held that challenge, which to me at time seemed a bit unfair. Oh sure, no wonder he got picked. He has experience at this sort of thing. Why bother with the contest, why not just have a job interview instead?

    • Red_Five_Standing_By

      They picked the best world. His proposal was likely the best.

      • Shawn

        I agreed, it probably was the best, but at that time, i was a bit miffed. It was a lost opportunity for an amateur to make a name for himself.

    • The contest was open to anyone. Why should freelancers have been disqualified just because they had published work?

      • Shawn

        You got to understand Straylight, that at that time I was being a bit selfish. It was an open call for a new D&D world, so I saw it as an opportunity for an amateur to get a shot at being a game designer. When I found out that the Keith Baker was already working in the field, even as a freelance, well it was no wonder he won. He was already a professional in the field and already new the ins-and-outs of game design and world building. Seemed like it was a slap in the face at the time to aspiring game designers and writers

        • I’m actually glad it WAS someone with some industry experience that won. Keith knew what he was getting into with WotC, and his cred allowed him to continue contributing to the setting after the CS was published. If it had been some unknown first-timer, chances are good Wizards would have smashed them over the head with the contract, taken the setting, and run off laughing with nary a dollar in sight for the poor newbie AND no further recognition.

          If you want to break into that field, there are far, FAR better ways than beating your head against Hasbro’s lawyers.

          • Shawn

            Those are all possibilities, yeah. However, a contest such as that is still, I feel, one of the best ways to get recognized for your work.
            It would have been just easier for Wotc just to hire a freelance to come up with a new world, instead of having the contest.

          • It’s more than a possibility. Have you read their Dragon submission guidelines? Not only do they barely pay professional rates, they take ownership of the content. If ALL you want is your byline in a D&D pub, that’s fine, but if you actually want to make money as a freelancer it’s the worst deal in the industry… the *publishing* industry, by the way, not the RPG industry.

            The contest was a publicity stunt (that worked). That they got a fantastic and well-supported setting out of it was, I think, ultimately a bonus.

  • Red_Five_Standing_By

    Love, love, love Eberron. One of my favorite settings.

    What I love most about it is that it feels like a “real” setting with magic and craziness in it, rather than a fantastical setting for murder hobos to ply their trade within.

  • Aurion Shidhe

    Eberron is a great setting and has pulled my wife into D&D. We play a druid-centric Gatekeeper campaign just for her (and her trusty NPC ranger sidekick) in the Eldeen Reaches AND we play a city-based intrigue campaign in Sharn.

    There are some FREE Unearthed Arcana articles on the WotC website that update some of the core setting ideas (dragonmarks, artificers, warforged, and so on) to 5th edition. I’m really hoping that this is all playtest material for a 5th ed release of the setting. If not, I have the PDFs and own physical copies of every book ever written for Eberron.

  • Aaron_The_Ys

    Eberron is what got me into D&D. I love the setting and am hoping we get a 5e update soon. I know there’s an UA article for the setting and judging from what has been seen in all the other UA class archetype updates we might see something like the Swordcoast book.