by Mike Shea on 14 September 2020
I love Eberron. D&D's fantasy world of high magic, noir intrigue, and swashbuckling adventure manages to be fresh and new and still hold true to the core of D&D. Everything in D&D is in Eberron but not in the way you would expect.
Late 2019 Wizards of the Coast released Eberron: Rising From the Last War, the Eberron sourcebook for the 5th edition of Dungeons & Dragons. It's a fantastic book that gives us a ton of source material for this fantastic world. Though the original release of Eberron is nearly 20 years old, Eberron: Rising From the Last War gives us a clean and fresh look at Eberron. It's all we need to dig in and run some great D&D games with a fresh coat of paint.
Today we're going to look at a few tips for making the most from a D&D Eberron campaign, some inspired by a Twitter conversation on the topic. Let's dig in.
Eberron: Rising From the Last War is an awesome book and we can use every part of it if we allow ourselves to. The book's introduction is a wonderful way to dive into the setting quickly as it brings home the most important aspects of the world and narrows in further and further the more you read. Every chapter offers looks at the world, the locations, the factions, the villains, and the details of the city of Sharn.
As you plan out your campaign, embrace the focus of this book. Sure, you can set your campaign in the outskirts of the Lhazaar Principalities but why not set it right in the middle of Sharn? A huge part of the book covers Sharn and many of those factions and Dragonmarked houses have a place in the city. The city itself is a huge melting pot of powerful organizations, super-rich patrons, criminal syndicates, and shady explorers all sitting on top of the ruins of the Dhakaani goblin empire dating back thousands of years. Sharn itself is the perfect place to set a campaign and a great hub for the characters to explore further out into the world.
The patrons and adventure options in Rising From the Last War offer interesting hooks for the characters. Introduce them as you go, with a clear group patron to begin with and some intriguing plots between the other patrons. If your group is up for it, have a high-ranking member of the Aurum invite the characters to a dinner party and introduce them to other faction members and Dragonmarked representatives. If such a dinner party gets boring, time for some Daask gnolls to burst through the windows!
Eberron: Rising From the Last War is a great big book covering this whole campaign setting. Absorb it and use every part of it to build the world for you and your players.
Speaking of your players, we should, of course, include a solid session zero for our game. You can learn more about session zeros in chapter 17 of Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master. In short, before your campaign begins, sit down with your players, discuss the themes of the game, have the players build their characters together, and tie them to a group faction to get them started. Here's a sample Eberron session-zero handout I used for my own games.
Because it's rich with character options, your players likely want to buy their own copies of Rising From the Last War. When they do, recommend to them that they read the introduction to the book and as much as they can of chapters 1, 2, and 3. Chapters 1, 2, and 3 are player-facing chapters. It's safe for them to read and will give them a much richer understanding of the world in which they will be playing. Few players will likely read three whole chapters of the book but if they get through the introduction and skim-read the interesting parts of the rest, they'll get a lot out of it. The more you and your players read the book, the more they'll get out of the campaign.
Keith Baker, the lead creator for Eberron, wrote an Eberron director's cut called Exploring Eberron available in print and PDF from the DM's Guild. Keith built this book around the material not covered in Rising from the Last War and it's an awesome companion. Exploring Eberron covers a range of material not given much attention previously with details you can bring right into your game. As a companion to Rising, it's a fantastic book and worth the money.
The DM's Guild also has a new series of Eberron adventures called the Oracle of War series. It begins with The Night Land and continues onward. It also includes Salvage Bases and Missions, an excellent adventure generator you can use for your own adventures in the Mounrland.
Unlike most European fantasy worlds, Eberron isn't based on rewrites of ancient mythology. It's heart is clearly in popular culture. Eberron has themes drawn from from the Cold War, the rise of World War 2, 1920s pulp fiction, and pop fiction from our own time. The original Eberron sourcebook included a list of inspirational movies. These included:
I'd also recommend a few other movies:
The movies above give us a good feel for the themes of Eberron and we should embrace these themes in our campaign. A healthy mix of spies and the hunt for ancient artifacts works well in our Eberron stories. Make sure you bake these themes into your world. My own campaign is built around the themes from Raiders of the Lost Ark, my favorite movie of all time.
The whole high-fantasay nature of Eberron is one to highlight. We can build a checklist of events that support the themes we want to have in our Eberron adventures. These might include:
There are lots of such events that make an Eberron campaign unique; make your own list and run through them during your campaign.
The history in Eberron is rich and deep. Between Rising From the Last War and Exploring Eberron we have a tremendous wealth of lore we can drape over our own campaigns. Everyone and everything the characters come across can be part of this lore. It's never just goblins, its members of the New Dhakaan or spies of the Daask. It's never just a couple of thugs in an alley, it's dwarven members of the Boromer clan. It isn't just a rich patron, it's a gold-ringed member of the Aurum who needs things done quietly.
You can use this list of 1d100 Factions of Eberron as a tool to help you drape the world in lore. This lore is what makes Eberron unique among fantasy worlds. While we DMs can hang onto our traditional D&D understanding, we can wrap this understanding in the color of Eberron and make it unique.
There's been a lot of attention towards D&D's troubled history dealing with races. A quick glance through the [Monster Manual] shows a narrative that paints all orcs as "savage raiders and pillagers" and all goblins as "small, black-hearted, selfish humanoids that lair in caves". Eberron drops such stereotypes. Goblins once ruled Khorvaire in an empire greater than any ever since. Orc druids followed the dragon Vvaraak and became the Gatekeepers who pushed the aberrents of Xoriat into the depths of Khyber. Now goblins and orcs can be found alongside other humanoid races in Eberron. Any sentient species can be as good or bad as the acts they commit or the principles they follow. This isn't only a good concept to use in Eberron but in any of our D&D games. Not only does it avoid racist stereotypes but it leads to much more interesting stories as well.
Eberron is a fresh world that fully embraces what we love about D&D and expands it in wonderful new directions. Use Rising From the Last War to its fullest. Bathe your adventures in lore. Fill your mind with the right inspiration. Share tales of high adventure with your friends and family.