Meta Description: November 2019 finally brought Eberron to D&D 5e, transporting adventurers to Khorvaire as Warforged, Artificers, and Shifters. However, just what is Eberron?
Imagine exploring a world after a destructive war where magic is just as prevalent as skyships, trains, and other mechanized beings. Players interested in a Dungeons & Dragons campaign with a darker approach to fantasy steampunk might want to consider using Eberron as a setting.
For the uninitiated, Eberron is one of the many campaign settings for D&D. Courtesy of Keith Baker, Eberron officially entered the D&D scene in 2004 as a playable setting for D&D v3.5. Wizards of the Coast eventually made Eberron a playable setting for D&D 4e, and now D&D 5e thanks to the Eberron: Rising from the Last War campaign guide.
However, just what is Eberron? What exactly makes it an intriguing setting? What exactly sets it apart from other popular campaign settings such as Forgotten Realms and Dragonlance?
Baker describes Eberron in its initial conception as a setting inspired by pulp adventure with a dash of neo noir and dark fantasy, with inspirations ranging from The Lord of the Rings, The Maltese Falcon, and Indiana Jones.
From an explorer’s point of view, Eberron is a world filled with untouched regions and realms, political intrigue, nations scarred by a tragic war, and where magic has been worked into science. Unlike other campaign settings, players can encounter fast-travelling lightning rails, wands in duels, and arcane magic so reliable that it’s been embedded into society. Usual Eberron imagery comprises adventurers on skyships, Warforged and ancient machines, as well as magic modernized by the Renaissance.
Here are some of the most important elements that shape the world of Eberron:
The Last War
The Last War remains an ever-present element of daily life in Eberron, as events that had happened in that century-long conflict will forever leave a mark in Khorvaire.
To summarize, the Last War was a cataclysmic conflict between the countries of Karrnath, Thrane, Breland, Aundair, and Cyre that ended with the Day of the Mourning. In this event, a magical holocaust had destroyed the entire nation of Cyre, leaving only the Mournland - a barren husk of what the mighty nation had been.
What caused the Day of the Mourning was unknown, and despite the Treaty of Thronehold ending the Last War, nations in Khorvaire know something is still amiss.
Magic and the Arcane
Players often describe the arcane in Eberron as “high magic,” but Baker wants to call it “wide magic.” In Eberron, Baker explains that: if magic can work in a reliable and predictable manner, then it only makes sense for magic to be a tool much like scientific discoveries.
As such, Eberron is home to various technological and arcane developments that most citizens of Khorvaire use on a daily basis. These include skyships, tech-based galleons, the lightning rail, and even the Warforged in the Last War.
Religion and Spirituality
Unlike conventional divinity in most 5e settings, divinity in Eberron tends to be more complex as they have a wide variety of beliefs. As such, characters can worship all manner of deities and spiritual forces depending on their background. For instance:
The Sovereign Host is perhaps the closest Eberron has to a popular pantheon. While most people tend to show reverence to the Host as a whole, certain classes and backgrounds hold reverence to one of the nine deities.
The Silver Flame is a force of good that protects people against evil.
The Undying Court is another pantheon not of gods but of ancient elves that elven society managed to preserve with positive energy.
The Dragonmarked Houses
Dragonmarked Houses have emerged hundreds of years ago and have been considered as physical manifestations of the Draconic Prophecy. It's said that the Draconic Prophecy serves as a "record" of everything that's been happening in Eberron, recorded by the dragons in the unexplored continent of Argonnessen. Unfortunately, Dragonmarked Houses and the Dragonmarks they bear are still being studied by these dragons, and not much is known about their origins and their purpose.
However, what's known is that these Houses, all of which are families of Khorvaire's seven most-common races, grant certain magical abilities to their users. As such, the Dragonmarked Houses eventually made a foothold of themselves in the continent, with each House usually having a near-monopoly on certain industries in Khorvaire. And whether they bear ill omen or mark the beginning of a new age, no one knows.
What Does Eberron Bring to The Table?
Players and DMs interested in playing an Eberron campaign can encounter a wide range of new concepts that can give their adventures a new spin completely different from conventional settings. These concepts, most of which relate to the setting, have been translated into their corresponding mechanics.
As such, Eberron offers tables not just new monsters and adventures, but new races, classes and class options, as well as unique story hooks they can use to fuel their adventures.
Eberron introduces new races that populate the world, each of which offering new twists and perspectives to adventuring parties and to the universe at large. These races range from psionic humanoids, shapeshifters, weretouched, and even sentient machines.
Warforged, Remnants of the Last War: The Warforged previously served as arcane soldiers forged to take part in the Last War. As arcane machines whose main purpose is to fight, how will they live life in an era without war?
Changelings, Beings of Different Identities: People commonly look at Changelings simply as beings who can change their appearance. However, Changeling society is far more complex than what other creatures assume. As beings capable of “adapting” into whatever environment and whatever situation by changing their personalities and appearances, Changelings have a different perception of identity.
Shifters, the Weretouched: Shifters find themselves between man and beast, with the innate ability of “shifting” into more animalistic forms. As humanoids of tribes and communities more connected to lycanthropes, how will they fit with the more technologically inclined civilizations of Khorvaire?
Kalashtars, the Dreamers: Kalashtars are born out of the merger of humans and quori, psionic beings from the Region of Dreams. As beings of compound identities, the Kalashtar live a life completely devoted to monasticism - focusing more on developing their minds and bodies, completely devoid of emotion. Just what will the quori get out of their Kalashtar descendants?
Aside from these four new races are societies and civilizations with races largely different from stereotypes we encounter in most fantasy stories. Eberron players can expect some changes in these D&D races:
Elves: Elves in Eberron live isolated (perhaps bordering xenophobic) live in separate communities, with cultures as different as the humanoid races in Khorvaire. Most Elves conduct ancestral worship, where their ancestors (the Deathless) have been kept alive by mysterious means and, thanks to their worship, serve as defenders and advisors to Elves. Most Elves dedicate their lives mastering their craft and skills and show particular disinterest to other races.
Dwarves: Dwarves in Eberron get stereotyped as money-grubbing alcoholics, but most Dwarves actually hold their families and communities as their first priority. Despite their short stature, Dwarves do make up a large population of minorities in various countries, and their penchant for mining and money-making have made some of their families as part of the richest in Khorvaire.
Tieflings: Tieflings in Eberron are very similar to their counterparts in various campaign settings. In Eberron, Tieflings descend from humans in Sarlona who made pacts with devils in order to further their pursuit of arcane knowledge. After the collapse of Ohr Kaluun, their home nation, Tieflings scattered across the lands. Tieflings are a minority in Khorvaire, and most races are wary of their presence.
Half-Elves: Half-Elves in Eberron call themselves Khoravar and are found all over Khorvaire. They tend to lead lives of adventure, as Elven society will most likely reject their presence, and they may live significantly longer than their human loved ones.
Half-Orcs: Unfortunately, while the Galifar Code of Justice recognizes Orcs as a “civilized race,” most races still look down upon their kind - and much is the same with Half-Orcs. While most Half-Orcs live in their own settlements, they struggle maintaining the balance between their primal savagery and their longing for comfort. They often become nomads and travelers.
Humans: Humans in Eberron are a relatively young race and have migrated 4,000 years ago from Sarlona to Khorvaire’s Lhazaar Principalities. Humans in Eberron live in the Five Nations, each of which experiencing tensions lingering in the nation after the Last War has ended.
Eberron’s complex society is filled with both conventional and unconventional concepts from most D&D 5e settings. Aside from the staple set of classes in 5e is a new class completely unique to Eberron, further differentiating this high-action and intriguing campaign setting from other popular locations.
Artificer (Class): The Artificer is a new class introduced in Eberron. Unlike other classes, Artificers are engineers that have made much of the arcane technology seen in the world. As the class responsible for wonders such as the Lightning Rail, the Elemental Galleon, and the Elemental Airship, Artificers are valuable assets to any adventuring party. As a class capable of applying their spellcasting to technology, Artificers can not only cast spells but also imbue items with magical abilities. Artificers also specialize into various archetypes:
Alchemists are Artificers who specialize in the combination of reagents that have arcane effects. They’re able to produce experimental elixirs that have various effects (beneficial or otherwise).
Artillerists love hurling energy to opponents, be it explosions, projectiles, or other forms of long-ranged weaponry. Armies in the Last War coveted the power and discoveries of the Artillerists, which in turn inspired the creation of deadly weapons.
Battle Smiths like getting close and personal, and they’re more focused on using their alchemical studies into fortifying the defenses of nations and their own party. They also work with a Steel Defender, a dedicated construct that assists them in their daily needs.
Aside from the Artificer, Eberron presents a wide range of options to make characters more unique than characters from other settings. For instance, players have the option to be a part of one of the Dragonmarked Houses, with their chosen Mark providing them with different abilities and character traits. There are a total of 14 Dragonmarked houses in Eberron, each attached to a particular race.
Parties also gain access to Group Patrons, which allow parties to have a shared background amongst each other. These backgrounds can help them flesh out their stories much easier, as they’re coming from common ground.
Thanks to Eberron’s wide range of inspirations, DMs and parties can find stories in almost any aspect of the universe they want to look into. Baker describes Eberron’s stories as falling into a “spectrum,” which can go from adventurous, to mysterious, to outright dangerous. Story hooks for adventures and campaigns can include:
Over-the-top pulp adventures. Players can stay away from the political intrigue of Eberron’s many nations by venturing into the unknown and discover things other adventurers have yet to see in the universe. Eberron has treasures, magical artifacts, and divine items explorers will love to explore… and other nefarious forces are willing to kill for. If your table loves Uncharted or Tomb Raider, this is the setting for you.
Untangle a web of intrigue. Players can also stay away from the usual high-octane adventures of usual campaigns and instead venture into Sharn, Khorvaire’s most popular city, or any of the continent’s countries to unravel the many mysteries and shades of grey that surround the politics of the region. Fans of The Godfather, Game of Thrones, and other faction-centric stories will enjoy Eberron’s political intrigue.
Live a new life after the Last War. With most Eberron stories happening just two years after the Last War, much of the conflict’s impact can still be seen throughout nations. Players can explore the continent and discover the many impacts of the Last War to the world at large. How they plan on helping these nations - be it for the good of Khorvaire or to push them to another war - will be up to them.
Uncover the mystery of the Last War. Players who want to make a mark in Eberron can venture into the Mourned Lands and uncover what really happened in the Last War. DMs and parties interested in more world-changing and universal events can go on a high-fantasy adventure with the world’s fate hanging in the balance.
Let’s Venture Into Khorvaire
Khorvaire and the rest of Eberron can be quite the exciting setting for D&D 5e campaigns hoping to tell more serious and compelling stories. DMs can transport their players to unveil the intrigue inside Dragonmarked Houses, uncover the mysteries of the Mournland, or unearth the many other secrets of Eberron.
This quick guide serves merely as a quick introduction to the darker fantasy steampunk vibe that D&D 5e fans love about Eberron. If you’re interested in starting your Eberron campaign, stay tuned for more tutorials and grab Eberron: Rising From The Last War. This sourcebook and our future articles will help you learn everything there is to know about transitioning your conventional campaign into the magic-fueled universe of Eberron.