We started seeing WotC tinker with Eberron mechanics quite early in 5e, in Unearthed Arcana releases – so long ago that I wasn’t yet writing breakdowns for each one. Then we had Wayfinder’s Guide to Eberron and Morgrave Miscellany, both of which I’ve covered here in Tribality in multi-part articles. WGTE was the trial balloon for fan interest in a physical 5e Eberron setting book. “Adamantine Best Seller” is, um, real good news, vis-à-vis trial balloons.
Welcome to Eberron
The book opens with a description of the norms of life in most parts of Khorvaire, or at least in the four kingdoms of Breland, Aundair, Thrane, and Karrnath. If you already know Eberron at all, there aren’t any surprises here on that front – just a lot of guidance as to expenses that PCs are likely to incur – communication, healing, and travel.
One of the through-line concepts of the book, teaching people how to play into the noir/pulp genre mashup of the setting, also shows up here. The Noir Intrigue section offers a d10 table of Regrets and a d10 table of Debts that your character brings with you. I’m pretty sure we saw these in WGTE.
There are substantial portions of this book that are re-releases or updates of WGTE. For some users, that’s a cause for distress – they feel like they’re paying for the same content twice. Personally, I see how much isn’t repeated, or got a massive facelift (Chapter 1). I’ve seen the argument enough times that I wanted to state my position on it up-front.
Chapter 1: Character Creation
This section starts with races, which is just how you organize D&D books at this point. It covers both Eberron’s unique races and the role of standard D&D races in the setting. I’m really only touching mechanics here – let’s go ahead and take it as read that the prose and ideas are good, but already firmly established 3.5 and 4e.
Changelings work almost exactly as you’d expect if you have any background in Eberron.
- +2 to Cha, +1 to any other stat. Okay, good – socially adept + be anything.
- Shapechanger has been the defining feature of the race since 3.5, and has remained essentially unchanged. (Any change to its very wide bounds would be a huge world shift.)
- Changeling Instincts grants proficiency in two skills, chosen from the four social skills.
Tairnadal (Wood) Elves can wield a double-bladed scimitar, and have Revenant Blade as a feat option. The double-bladed scimitar operates about like the haft-strike portion of a polearm wielded with the Polearm Master feat – bonus action to strike for d4 + Str. Its “main hand” damage is 2d4 + Str. With Revenant Blade, you gain +1 Dex or +1 Str, +1 AC while wielding it, and it is a finesse weapon for you.
I don’t want to dig into flavor text too much, but I think Eberron is taking a welcome step forward with drow stories. Drow are separate from the Aereni and Tairnadal elves, and there’s some prejudice there based on unfamiliarity, but no one anywhere is presented as Evil. It’s not my place to say whether it’s enough or not, and there is an air of exoticism here, but I find it a compelling read.
Bugbears, Goblins, and Hobgoblins show up as player races that the book isn’t trying to steer you away from, which supports what the flavor text of Eberron has always said. If you’ve read Volo’s Guide to Monsters, the stats are the same. Of course, it’s Eberron, so the flavor text for all goblinoids is super different – the Dhakaani Empire is a great element in the setting and really makes me want to play a goblin revolutionary.
Many of the races – dwarves, gnomes, Khoravar (half-elves), halflings, humans, and orcs and half-orcs – have additional tables to prompt some detail of backstory or behavior. I’m… not wild about the human table, because it’s trying to be a whole character concept rather than a single element, but on the whole I like what the book’s doing here.
Kalashtar operate within a fairly narrow band of possible mechanics, much like changelings. In case you don’t already know their deal, they’re a magically-altered human, that can still pass perfectly as human. They have a second, virtuous spirit attached to their souls that is the source of their abilities. They gain:
- +2 Wis, +1 Cha. Wisdom represents the virtue and understanding they gain from their quori spirit, while +1 Cha represents the magnetism and presence they gain from the same.
- Dual Mind grants advantage on all Wisdom saves. On-message.
- Mental Discipline grants resistance to psychic damage. Also on-message – it’s all about making them good at resisting the Dreaming Dark. (One of the Eberron games I really want to play, but at the moment don’t know that I could run with confidence, is all about unraveling the plots of the Dreaming Dark on the streets of Sharn.)
- Mind Link grants short-to-medium range telepathy (it increases with level), and gives you the ability to let the target respond. You can sort of be a team’s telepathic switchboard operator, though you can only have one open incoming line at a time. You’re probably better off using it as your team’s QB.
- Severed from Dreams makes you immune to dream-based effects, like dream. This is narrow enough that I’m not even upset about an immunity.
With a small variation around Dual Mind and Mental Discipline, these just… are the mechanics of kalashtar. Anything else would require a major story rewrite, and (here thinking just as a fan) be quite unwelcome.
Shifters are quasi-werecreatures, but in a way that blends together several forms of therianthropy, but the shifted form is only somewhat more bestial. The full span of possible beasts are collapsed down to a few subraces – this book has Beasthide, Longtooth, Swiftstride, and Wildhunt. Morgrave Miscellany has more.
The “core” of the race has very limited features – 60-ft darkvision and the ability to shift once per short rest. The effect of the shift is a tidy little pool of temporary hit points, generally enough to take the edge off of one hit; the rest of the effect comes from your subrace. The subraces work roughly like they have always worked.
Honestly, shifters have just never spoken to me. I’d like to get past that and see the fun that makes them as appealing as other options, but for three editions now, their mechanics have felt like “sometimes I’m on par with other races, but the rest of the time, no.”
Warforged are quite significantly revised from their original WGTE appearance, and I admit that I’m a bit sad about that. They also don’t have subraces anymore.
- +2 Con, +1 to any other score. Sure, you’re tough and also customized.
- Constructed Resilience lets you be a little bit of a construct, without also being immune to most magical healing. Advantage on saving throws against the poisoned condition, resistance to poison damage – well, sure, that makes sense. You don’t eat, drink, or breathe – that last one holds quite a few more immunities than we necessarily acknowledge, but it’s basically expected. Immune to disease… fiiiiine. I don’t like it, but I knew it was coming. You don’t sleep, and magic can’t put you to sleep. Basically fine.
- Sentry’s Rest lets you keep watch, unmoving, while you take a long rest.
- Integrated Protection lets you attach a suit of armor to yourself, instead of your armor being intrinsic. You’re 1 AC better off than whatever suit of armor you use, and integrating or removing armor takes an hour.
- Specialized Design gives you one skill proficiency and one tool proficiency. I like this nod to the removed Envoy subrace.
These mechanics do what the race promises in the most straightforward way possible, so I have no real complaint.
Dragonmarks are stored in your subrace or variant race. I’m not going through the changes to each one here in detail, but each Mark has a Spells of the Mark feature that only kicks in if you have the Spellcasting or Pact Magic feature from your class. It adds nine spells – 2 each of 1st-4th level, 1 of 5th – to your spell list for all of your spellcasting classes. It’s an interesting move and a way to communicate a lot of the Mark’s theme without leaning entirely on Greater Dragonmark feats for their bigger effects, but it means that non-spellcasting characters are going to feel kind of pointless with dragonmarks. That seems… not great to me. Also, because the game goes out of its way to stop some classes from getting healing spells, the Mark of Healing covers most of what people want from the Divine Soul sorcerer and Celestial patron warlock.
I’ll be curious to see if WGTE is adjusted to duplicate this text or expand on it. Overall, I actually think this version is a bit less compelling than the WGTE original.
Aberrant Dragonmarks are completely feat-gated in this book, unlike in Morgrave Miscellany. The feat gets you a point of Constitution, a sorcerer cantrip, and 1st-level ‘spell that you cast with Constitution. Further, when you cast that spell, you can expend a Hit Die to gain temporary hit points, and that might also randomly deal force damage to a nearby creature (or you, if you’re alone). That’s the uncontrolled, aberrant nature of the mark for you. There’s also a roleplaying-effect flaw attached.
There’s a further optional rule for manifesting greater aberrant mark powers at 10th level or higher, and if this happens (a random chance each level), you also permanently sacrifice a Hit Die and the hit points associated with it, gaining an epic boon from the DMG in exchange. That’s an interesting tack to take, though I can’t guess how many players would seek that out (of the subset who go for aberrant marks in the first place).
The House Agent background that we saw in WGTE is here. I don’t think each House gave two different tool proficiencies before, but I’m not looking it up.
My whole take on the artificer class is in another article! Sorry, Mario Mario.
As I say at the end of that article: The artificer looks like it would be fun at the table. Just understand going in that you don’t have the incredible, game-changing effects of high-level spells at your disposal, so you’ll need to go wide with your solutions to problems. (Well, probably not the Artillerist.) I like the variety of playstyles that the subclasses offer.
Giving your party a patron NPC that brings them together and provides them with a lot of goals (and steady source of pay) is by no means a new idea in gaming, but it’s shockingly rare to see a setting book push that idea. Also, 5e’s initial-release variation on that, the five factions of Tyranny of Dragons (and general faction guidance), inverted the idea in a way that rendered it useless. Instead of uniting the party and providing a hook to the next adventure, factions divided the party (because different classes are expected to join different factions) and gave them unrelated goals. (Waterdeep: Dragon Heist gets a pass here, for putting enough work into that structure to make it interesting.)
Anyway, this is a 38-page section (almost as much as the whole rest of the chapter combined) on how to build a PC team around a core concept, including planning party roles for non-combat situations. That might or might not involve a patron NPC, no matter what the section is named! When it comes to inspiring PCs with character concepts and cool things to hope for in a campaign, this section is just unbelievably good. Each patron or group type includes multiple tables of story seeds, mission types, enemies, or the like.
The section is phrased with players as its audience, but since each type of organization has one detailed canonical example and several shorter examples, it’s also doing a fantastic amount of heavy lifting for delivering setting detail and suggesting types of NPCs that might show up.
Even for the military outfits, this is also an incredibly determined hard march against “murderhobo” play in Eberron. This is a settled world where people have jobs and societal connections. There are wanderers and there are killers, but this is the kind of world that should isolate and arrest or destroy a party of rootless marauders.
In this section, we start seeing newspaper-clipping sidebars from the Sharn Inquisitive, Voice of Breland, and other papers. I’m always going to be a fan of in-world documents with adventure hooks built in. These really sell the Magical 1920s-40s vibe of Eberron.
In case I haven’t gotten this point across: the Group Patrons subchapter is a triumph.
Chapter 2: Khorvaire Gazetteer
(Don’t worry, this chapter also covers “Distant Lands.”)
It fascinates me that a setting book includes only 47 pages of gazetteer. This is a huge shift in what a 320-page setting book is or can be. I don’t think a deep dive into any of this chapter would be a good read in this review. I love how each region’s entry is structured, though – they’re short (usually less than 2 pages) and get straight to the most interesting stuff. The “Interesting Things About” bullet list is especially great, as is “[Region] Characters” for suggesting things you need to think about as a native PC.
The text assumes your PC doesn’t come from these lands, instead framing them as places that influence Khorvaire or that PCs visit in their adventures. I find that assumption vaguely regrettable – seeing every place from the perspective of its own people is the best way I know of to avoid a colonizing perspective. (Not that you’re going to live real long if you’re trying to colonize Argonnessen… or Khyber.)
The material, of course, is all great. If you’ve read anything I’ve had to say about the quality of writing for XGTE or Morgrave Miscellany when it comes to describing the setting in evocative, compelling ways, you’re used to hearing me say how strong it is.
Faiths of Khorvaire
It would be easy for this section to be boilerplate by now, since it hasn’t changed since the 3.5 ECS. Eberron has always emphasized the question of faith, unlike a lot of settings, because there isn’t any way to encounter a god and prove them to be such. Here, that’s made concrete and accessible in the form of two d6 tables, one for why you do believe (if that’s your choice) and one for why you don’t. Including a high-level view of the rites of each faith is also a great touch.
Also, I may be misremembering, but I think this is more detail than we’ve gotten on Cults of the Dragon Below than we’ve seen before in an initial Eberron setting book. It sets up the later chapters and their much deeper dive on the malign Overlords than we’ve seen before, outside of Keith Baker’s Dragonshards blog.
Chapter 3: Sharn, City of Towers
As it happens, I have the 3.5e hardback book by the same name, so while I don’t remember it in excruciating detail, it’s interesting to see it condensed down to a single (if sizable) chapter. That said, it’s their fourth big chance to refine the information presentation on Sharn, and I think some of the tables discussing the important districts is one of the better approaches for making it navigable during use at the table. Then there are tables of noteworthy locations in each plateau and so on. I haven’t tried to use this during the course of play to support low-prep DMing, but it looks promising.
There’s a section on the Dungeons of Sharn – where to go to do some exploring in the city. I’m here for this content.
One of my big takeaways from this chapter is that I would love to lightly hack Blades in the Dark to be Blades in the Sky, set in Sharn. There are more than enough factions, claims, and tiers of power laid out here to do just that – tinker with the mechanics around magic and ghosts, and I think you’re there.
Chapter 4: Building Eberron Adventures
I’ve been interested in Eberron since it launched, and I own the majority of the whole product line. Even so, I’ve never felt like I got my head around the setting, the tone, and what kinds of stories I’d want to tell enough to run it myself. I’m going into this chapter hoping that it’ll change that feeling.
It starts off with adventure themes and recurring villains. Okay, this is in the realm of things I’ve been blogging about forever. It expands on the already-good chapter on villains in the DMG, with lots of tables to prompt a DM’s imagination. These are more of the kinds of tables and tools that 5e has tried to use more heavily, and that we’ve seen in indie/OSR games for quite awhile. They work, if you need the spark of an idea.
Then we get many, many pages with a mix of lore details and usage suggestions for Eberron’s major factional players: The Aurum, Cults of the Dragon Below, Dragonmarked Houses, Dragons, the Dreaming Dark, and so on. To be clear, there are as many good or ambiguous factions here as evil ones, and some of them are more facts of life than factions, like the Last War. (The subsections within the Last War condense another whole 3.5-era hardback down to four pages.)
These include adventure hooks for each group, so short-term stuff, as well as pointers for centering a whole campaign around that element. The warforged colossus gets a much deeper dive – like a whole page map – than you might expect, but who hasn’t wanted a dungeon crawl inside a 300-foot-tall mech? It worked for the Vox Machina finale and it works here too!
The rundown of the planes is a bit boilerplate-y for my tastes. Most of what’s here I’ve seen before, though some of the Manifest Zone Features for each plane may be new. That said, I’m sure they looked for new things to say, then decided that it wasn’t a good use of their already towering wordcount. I do like the party clarifying Eberron’s place in the D&D multiverse, rehashing what I’d heard around the time WGTE came out.
The section on Travel is great, considering how much of the advice on how to make it feel like Eberron is to put the PCs on a vehicle and make something bad happen. Maps, a table of 50 random passengers, and details on how airships and lightning trains work so that you can break them in a lore-consistent way.
Then there’s a section on adventures and crime in Sharn, and I feel sort of odd about this organizational choice. So much of what’s here is just rounding out the lore of Sharn, but tilted a little more toward advice. The crime section alone is several whole campaigns of adventure seeds, whether you want a police procedural, vigilante justice, or a mob drama.
Rounding out the chapter, there’s a 1st-level adventure set in Sharn. It does a good job of including a lot of different ways of moving around, combat during those movement modes, and planting seeds for all sorts of different future adventures. It looks good upon reading it, though I haven’t tried running it.
Chapter 5: Treasures
As usual, I’m not interested in going through each magic item. I like the various prosthetic items, including enhancements. There are also “cursed,” symbiotic items, which present a difficult tradeoff – that said, I think living armor’s cost in Hit Dice might be a little overboard.
It’s good to see Eldritch Machines, the large-scale magitech stuff that whole stories or boss fights can be structured around.
Chapter 6: Friends and Foes
This section is a bestiary, with stat blocks for monsters, standard NPCs, and top-end, world-shaking named NPCs. I am very sure the 3.5 Eberron Campaign Setting didn’t have stats or detailed character notes on two of the Overlords of the Lords of Dust. In fact, the 3.5 version was so aggressively pitched to low-level characters that I barely knew Eberron supported high-level play. That has changed.
And that’s the book. It’s not that the text is dense, in the way people usually mean that. It’s readable and moves along well. Instead, it feels dense with ideas, interesting enough to make choosing hard. As an Eberron fan, I find very little to quibble with here. My worst issues are in the character creation chapter, and those aren’t serious problems.
I hesitate to mention it, except that this is a review: this is the first time I’ve seen Wayne Reynolds’s artwork in 5e. Maybe I’ve just missed it before now. Anyway, he’s the only artist working for 5e or PF whose art I recognize well enough to name the artist. Unfortunately, that’s because I can’t stand his style. It contrasts sharply with the rest of the art found in this book. He’s a popular artist, though, and I don’t expect everyone to agree with me on this.
The Group Patron section sets a new standard of useful content for both player and DM use. The chapter on Building Eberron Adventures gets right to the point of feeding you a ton of ideas for a ton of different factions and campaign elements. If you find the gazetteer less detailed than your game needs, there’s sure to be a 3.5e product in PDF that you could track down.
Even if you own Wayfinder’s Guide to Eberron, Morgrave Miscellany, and the full 3.5e and 4e Eberron product lines, there’s still useful content here. Unlike when the Realms updates to a new edition, this book pointedly doesn’t upset the apple-cart or advance the timeline. Some points get hit harder than they have been in other books, or get explained just a little differently, but it’s still the same Eberron, and on that basis, I recommend this book highly: let’s call it 9.6/10.