Review: Eberron Player’s Guide

June 16th, 2009 by Ed Grabianowski
No, it's ok, really. I'll just walk.

No, it's ok, really. I'll just walk.

Eberron is the newest full-scale D&D campaign setting, created by Keith Baker as winner of Wizards of the Coast’s huge 2002 campaign setting creation contest. This week, Eberron gets the 4th Edition treatment, with new races, a new class and much more for adventurers calling Khorvaire home.

I’ll admit right away that I never played an Eberron campaign when the setting first came out, nor have I read any of the original Eberron sourcebooks, so I can’t tell you if the setting has changed signficantly from then to now. I did read a few of the novels, and based on that, it appears that the timeline of Eberron has not progressed forward - it’s still the immediate aftermath of the huge civil war that tore up Khorvaire.

If you’re new to Eberron, the Player’s Guide gives a good general overview of the setting. It is a world of high magic, where magical constructs and elemental-powered cities are as common as technology is in the real world. Eberron is said to strive for “cinematic” action (although, shouldn’t all campaign settings have similar aspirations?). There’s a lot of political intrigue, an ominous magical prophecy, tons of ancient ruins to explore and all the other fun stuff that makes a campaign setting so appealing to adventure in. Plus, long distance travel in Eberron is much easier than it is on other worlds. You can traverse entire continents with relative ease, which should keep the action moving along at a ripping pace.

My one serious complaint about the Eberron Player’s Guide is that it sticks with the 4E campaign setting format established with the Forgotten Realms. You get a Player’s Guide, with a bunch of tools and options for PCs and a somewhat brief overview of the setting itself. The Campaign Guide, intended for DMs, is sold separately. It makes me desperately miss the campaign setting boxed sets of old. With those, you could still have separate player’s and DM’s books, but all in one box. Most importantly, you could have poster maps. The Eberron Player’s Guide has a gorgeous full-page map of Khorvaire (the continent where the bulk of the action occurs), but it would be ten times better if it folded out and I could hang it on my game room wall.

Poster map nostalgia aside, this is a solid book with enough material to satisfy you even if you don’t plan on running an Eberron campaign. And if you’re looking for an official campaign setting for 4E, Eberron is probably the one to go with (speaking as a Forgotten Realms fanboy, don’t use 4E Forgotten Realms, which is pretty much your only other choice at the moment). Eberron is a rich, complex world that offers many opportunities for adventure, and its relative newness makes it that much more intriguing to explore each demon-haunted forest and gleaming magical metropolis. If you’re participating in an Eberron campaign, this is a no-brainer.

There’s a lot of cool stuff that could easily find its way into non-Eberron campaigns, however. There are three new races, bringing the total number of officially supported 4th edition races to 28,462. The Kalashtar are cool and conceptually somewhat likes Devas, but not quite as weird. Changelings are an interesting choice, though I worry that their at-will polymorph self power could be too powerful in certain campaigns (I know I would have abused the hell out of that in 3rd edition). Warforged are…well, warforged. If you ever wanted to play Iron Man in D&D, here you go. I could never really get my head around the concept of these guys as player characters, although the ability to modify your own body with arm-blades and mithril plating is pretty cool.

The new artificer class is a real Swiss army knife. They can summon constructs powered by elementals, but beyond that they feel somewhat unfocused. That is in keeping with the concept, perhaps – they are capable of creating a wide range of effects (but generally unimpressive damage), and seem to have a greater variety of damage types than any other class. I think pretty much every type is represented in some way. It seems like effective use of an artificer will require a lot of forethought and planning on the player’s part. This is probably a class for advanced players looking for a challenge.

The bulk of the rest of the book is grab bag of new toys for PCs. Paragon paths and epic destinies for the new class, plus Dragonmarked characters are here, and there’s a ton of new feats, including the aforementioned Dragonmarks, which are sort of like mystical tattoos defined by some connection to Eberron’s prevailing prophecy. There are a couple of new weapons and armors native to Khorvaire, and some mundane adventuring items. The magic items section is brief, with no weapons, mostly holy symbols, magic implements, and body modifications for warforged. Don’t forget about the dragonshards, though – these crystals can be infused into weapons to give them added magical abilities. Arcane characters will enjoy several pages of new rituals, all thematically linked to Eberron but useful in other contexts as well. Alchemists will be particularly happy, since they get quite a few new formulas (alchemy needs some serious attention).

Bottom line: if you like Eberron, this book is solid gold. If you don’t, you can easily cherry-pick what you like for your own campaign.

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17 Responses to “Review: Eberron Player’s Guide

  1. Comment by Gavin

    Want.

    Also… they never did poster-sized maps for Eberron, even in 3e. Too bad. Pouring over a giant map is almost as fun as playing the game itself!

    Ok, not quite as much fun, but it is a good way to fill time anticipating the next session.

  2. Comment by Ed Grabianowski

    Yeah, when I mention “campaign setting boxed sets of old,” I’m talking about the 2nd edition stuff from the 90s. I bought settings I had no intention of ever playing just for the maps.

  3. Comment by attackofthe

    @Ed So that’s why that Dark Sun book was always getting moved from bookshelf…to box…to book shelve….etc….haha!

  4. Comment by Gavin

    Oh, and on abusing the Changeling racial power…

    In 3e, I played a Changling Favored Soul. Whenever we came across a humanoid I liked, I grabbed its miniature when we killed it. By 6th level or whenever we ended, I had quite the repertoire of faces to put on. Which I did. Often.

    I only rarely used it for evil… Though I do think I got a waitress fired… As I remember, her boss was treating her badly. At the end of her shift, we left the inn together. After I dropped her off at home, I went back to the inn, in her guise, and punched the barkeep in the nose.

  5. Comment by Whoops

    Ahh. Eberron. We made it to 20th level. I had a cleric of the Silver Flame with the Vow of Poverty. For the backstory, I made it far fetched that he was the brother to the Keeper of the Flame. The DM went for it. She came in handy – I was killed twice and resurrected by her.

    I’m looking forward to the 4E incarnation of this. Still on the fence about playing it, though.

  6. Comment by randy.lander

    There was a poster-sized map for Eberron 3.5… I think it might have come in an issue of Dragon Magazine? I had it hung on my wall during my Eberron 3.5 game, and it was a handy visual aid to show where the players were going.

    In the recent D&D podcast, they said that the map from the Player’s Guide will be a poster map in the Campaign Guide, which is great news. They also said that it was done by someone from comics, although I’ve blanked on the name. It’s a gorgeous map, to be sure.

  7. Comment by Gavin

    @Randy,

    You inspired me to look into it and I found the DM screen for Eberron came with a poster sized map of Khorvaire. I’m glad to have been proved misinformed.

    Now I just need to find an excuse to buy the Campaign Guide when it comes out.

  8. Comment by Whoops

    Ohh. Our group had a huge map also. I think someone put all the sections of map from the campaign guide together for one HUGE map. It showed all the boundaries and roads on it. It did come in very handy.
    Unless I’m thinking of someone from our group downloaded it and had access to a plotter to print it out.

  9. Comment by BlackTiger

    I ordered my copy, but haven’t gotten to see it yet… Hopefully by Friday.

    I’m a huge Eberron nerd (And, have the afforementioned GM’s screen, and poster map… and every Eberron book save the Explorer’s Guide and Dragonmarked.

    I’m a little wary, having seen the FR’s treatment… But, I’m very much hoping that this will renew my interest in running 4th and be a decent treatment of the setting.

  10. Comment by doomdreamer

    I remember going to the Gen-Con right after Eberron was released and asking Baker if you could Turn or Rebuke the Trains since they had elementals in them. He laughed, said he never thought of it, then gave me a piece a signed paper saying I had a free action point when fighting giant robots. I still claim it.

  11. Comment by mordicai

    I’m going to parse this piece by piece:

    I never played Eberron– again, I run my own setting. Still– I like that it takes the extremes of DnD to their logical conclusion. If wizards CAN reliably summon lightning, why adventure! Get a job zapping lightning bolts into a magic sphere for ConEd. If clerics can heal wounds, why adventure? Stay at your church & heal the needy– that is really your faith, manifest! If you’ve got all these things going on…have WWI!

    Also, we like to call it “Dungeon Punk.” Also, “DnD Shadowrun.”

    Re: “cinematic”– no, I don’t think all games ought to be. My game runs more like a novel, I think; exploring the side-plots & character motives in way that cinema doesn’t always allow.

    Anyhow– “cherry-pickable” is the way I like my books– if I was buying DnD products. I have the core books, & I might pick up a source book eventually, but I’m at the “player” level, still– most of my investing in cherry-books is WoD.

  12. Comment by mordicai

    PS I really hope the rumor of a Dark Sun 4e setting come true.

    & Planescape.

    & Spelljammer.

    (I’ve always said Spelljammer could become an easy Ebberon-in-the-future idea)

  13. Comment by Gavin

    I don’t have the book yet, but I’m really enjoying what I’m reading about the artificer in reviews and on the Wizards boards. They definitely seem to have a unique flavor.

  14. Comment by CinnamonPixie

    Gavin, they DID make a poster-sized Eberron map in 3e. My group has NOT moved to 4e (we don’t care for the board & video game feel to it) and we’ve got two of those maps, one we laminated. It hangs on the wall near our gaming table every week while we play, in case we need it.

    The other I have hanging in my bedroom, with sketches of the characters in the party stuck up all around it. It looks cool.

  15. Comment by OStephens

    A poster map is good – but it can get better.

    Some of you may remember the sectioned, HUGE map of FR that came out in pieces in Dragon back in early 3e days.

    Well, that was the cut-up version of a massive 4-foot x 4-foot map Wizards had found a way to print. I still have one of the prototypes in all it’s glory.

    Sadly, several major bookchains and distributors refused to carry it. It was too big and would never sell, they claimed. My memory is the whole thing would have run about $30, for a massive Forgotten Realms map you can cover a wall with.

    Unable to get enough orders to justify printing them together, they were instead sectioned out for free in Dragon. But man, the prototype mega-maps are something to behold.

  16. Comment by Ed Grabianowski

    Oh, I remember the FR map alright. I somehow missed a few of the issues, so now I have a huge map of the Sword Coast on my game room wall, but not the rest. I would sacrifice a limb for a full version (wait, my little toe counts as a limb, right?).

  17. Comment by mordicai

    I have a friend with the old Dragon mag Greyhawk map framed on his apartment wall; very nice.