Eberron is huge, sprawling campaign setting with a little bit of everything. Scratch that — it has a lot of everything, with some extra everything thrown in for good measure. Does it make for a usable, cohesive setting? Maybe. Is the Eberron Campaign Guide an awesome book regardless? Certainly.
I was pretty skeptical when this book arrived. For one thing, I’m just not a huge fan of Eberron in general, but that’s just a matter of taste. I was pretty underwhelmed by the Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide, though, so my expectations for this one were a little low. After spending a week reading it, my mind has been completely changed. The Eberron Campaign Guide totally blew me away.
If you want to run an Eberron campaign, you’ll obviously need this book, but you might have a tough time figuring out where to begin. There’s just so much material here that it can be difficult to find a single strong theme or story to link a campaign to. Compare this to the Rebellion Era Campaign Guide that Wizards of the Coast just put out for the Star Wars RPG: it has tightly focused theme in which all the characters join the Rebel Alliance and work toward a common goal, the destruction of the Empire. I think D&D could benefit from this approach. Instead of these massive world books, DMs and players alike would be better served by focused settings based on a more specific theme or goal.
Obviously, a DM can easily carve out her own campaign from the raw material provided by this book with enough effort. There are probably a dozen sinister cults, a bunch of dark gods, ten or so ancient evils, and a legion of villains, not to mention all the political and economic intrigue. Every possible kind of terrain, society, dungeon or kingdom is represented somewhere. Elvish clans that attack on horseback like Tatars? Got that. Exiled dragon-worshipping lizard men? Got that. Scheming dwarven families searching for a lost dwarven civilization? Got some of those. Extra-planar alien minds trying to control the dreams of mortals? Got a few of those. There are probably five story hooks on every page.
What this mean is that, even if you won’t be using the Eberron Campaign Guide for an actual Eberron campaign, it’s an amazing toolbox of fantastical ideas and seriously cool stuff that can be dropped right into your own existing campaign. The book even acknowledges this with a sidebar called, “Loot This Book.” That’s a great idea. You can open to any page and find something that will spark your interest and get the wheels of imagination turning. Just looking at the art in the book will generate ideas — the pictures are excellent and usually presented in large formats (I always think it’s a shame when a book has a great image, but they tuck it into one small corner of a page).
A lot of the lack of focus I was complaining about earlier is mitigated by the excellent organization of this book. The bulk of the book is arranged geographically. It moves across the far-flung expanses of the world, detailing the cultures, political entities, cities, primary villains and allies, and a bunch of adventure hooks for each region in turn. The geographic organization works really well. Instead of a separate section for creatures, a section for NPCs, one for spells, etc., you get everything you need about a particular region all in one place. Major thumbs up for that.
I love how much information is presented in lore check tables. If your players visit a place, they’ll be able to learn a lot about it with a variety of skill checks, and each one gets a bunch of different results. For example, if you travel to the Eldeen Reaches, an arcana check will clue you in about the other planes that sometimes overlap the region. A good nature check will tell you a lot about the magical beasts that inhabit the forests. The historian in the group will have much to report on the ancient conflict that has shaped the politics of the reaches. It will take some DM skill to convey this info in an interesting way — if you manage a 25 on that history check, there’s a half page of text to be imparted.
The last few chapters detail the major houses that hold sway in the more civilized parts of Eberron, plus an overview of religion and cosmology. There’s a sample adventure for level 1 characters that could get you started as well.
Bottom line — I love this book. I just pick it up and turn to a random page, and there’s some psionic powered vixen to plague the PCs, or a guild of magic-item crafters to join, or an ancient dragon guarding the tomb of an even more ancient demon. It’s a perfect way to inject some awesome into your campaign.