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Exploring Eberron (D&D 5E) Supplement Review

August 10, 2020 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas
Exploring Eberron
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Exploring Eberron (D&D 5E) Supplement Review  


Supplement Type: Campaign Setting
Setting: Eberron
Lead Designer: Keith Baker
Available at DMs Guild.

When it comes to Dungeons & Dragons campaign settings, it’s hard to deny that Eberron ranks among the most beloved by fans. Keith Baker’s creation has captured players’ imaginations with its unique takes on most of D&D’s iconic tropes since it was first published in 2004. With a setting focused on magic as an industry, pulp adventure, and noir themes, it has remained popular throughout the years and when Fifth Edition arrived, fan demand was high enough that Wizards of the Coast made it one of the first settings (behind only Forgotten Realms and Ravenloft) to make the leap.

But as popular as Eberron is, and with as many sourcebooks that have been published over the years as there have been, there’s still a lot of the world that hasn’t been explored as much as fans have wanted. With as richly detailed of a world as Baker and his compatriots created, there is a lot of real estate that hasn’t been fleshed out yet — to say nothing of aspects like the setting’s planes of existence. And much that has been published hasn’t yet made the update to Fifth Edition. That left a door open for Baker to walk through, and he has set out to provide a new sourcebook in Exploring Eberron. The 247-page book, now available via DM’s Guild, expands on a lot of areas that have been only lightly touched on in the past and gives updates for previously published material. But can a book that is not officially canon by Wizards of the Coast standards properly fill the gap and stand as a worthy entry on players’ and DM’s bookshelves? The answer, I’m pleased to say, is a vehement yes.

Flavor

Eberron has been explored fairly extensively in Dungeons & Dragons, and specifically in Fifth Edition. Eberron: Rising From the Last War and The Wayfinder’s Guide to Eberron both present plenty of material that DMs can use to run their games. But even in Third and Fourth Editions there is a lot of unexplored ground that fans have wanted to know more about.

That’s where Exploring Eberron steps in. Baker’s hefty sourcebook largely leaves the content from Rising From the Last War be. There’s only so much that can be said about Sharn, for example. Instead, Baker jumps into those areas less explored by established sourcebooks, particularly the 5E ones. The first chapter takes a look at a high-level overview of those thinner areas of Eberron, broken down into sections. We learn more fleshed-out details about the world’s history throughout the ancient eras and into recent history, before jumping into a deep dive of what it means to be someone from the nation of Cyre. Until recently, Cyre was one of the most civilized nations of Khorvaire but is now literally torn asunder by the act that ended the setting’s Last War and created the dangerous Mournland. Baker explores what Cyre was like before it became a ruin, from its magic style and religious views to fashion and cuisine.

Speaking of the Last War, that also gets its own section of the book, which explores the way in which Khorvaire conducted itself during the war and the unique magical tactics that took (and still do take) place. The nature of magic in Eberron – a core component of what’s unique about the world – gets some attention with expanded insight on the setting’s “wide magic, not high magic” status and how magic fits into the economy and everyday life. And the Artificer, which became an official 5E class with Rising From the Last War, gets a section that goes deep into how Artificer magic works. They of course spells and make cool magical things, but what does it mean to your character if you use Calligrapher’s Supplies or Tinker’s Tools instead of traditional magic methods? That’s the kind of content that this book excels at.

One of the keys here is that Baker and his team don’t just throw the information at us without context. Instead, there’s always an explanation of how you can use the material in a game. As cool as the Age of Demons is in the history, it’s just a ton of detail and exposition unless you can work it into a campaign. Exploring Eberron is effective at giving DMs and players ways to use all of this information.

That approach combines with the book’s aim of fleshing out the less defined areas of Eberron for the next four chapters as well. Chapter two takes a look at the races of the world, giving more information on the societies of the shapeshifting Changeling, the psionically-gifted Kalashtar, the primal Shifters, and the created Warforged, as well as the unique nature of elves in the world. Chapter Three gives Eberron’s pantheons of deities and the churches that have grown around them their due, and Chapter Four explores the nations on the fringes of Khorvaire – the “monstrous” nation of Droaam, the goblinoids of Dhakaan, the dwarves of the Mror Holds, and the nations that exist below the waters of the ocean.

One of the biggest treasure troves of setting information comes in Chapter Five, which takes an extensive look at the Planes of Eberron. The setting has its own cosmology outside of the D&D multiverse’s Great Wheel, but the planes have never been given much more than a few paragraphs each in any campaign sourcebook to explain them. Baker has long talked about wanting to write more about the planes and he takes that opportunity here. In addition to detailing what the Astral and Ethereal Planes mean and how Khyber – the “Underdark” of Eberron — works, the book devotes pages each to all of the planes. Each one gets their unique properties detailed, a look at their denizens, what it means when they are close to or remote from the Material plane, and example story hooks to use in campaigns.

The setting material is undoubtedly the primary appeal of this book. Eberron fans and newcomers alike can find plenty here that can make their campaigns and characters unique, all of which facilitates memorable stories that go beyond the (admittedly-fun) standard dungeon crawls and artifact hunts. Baker and his fellow designers have put a lion’s share of work in to make this book worth getting, and this is what carries the bulk of the heavy lifting.

Mechanics

While the setting material is the biggest appeal of Exploring Eberron for many, those who like new character options, monsters, and treasure will find a fair amount here as well. That’s where Chapter Six, Seven, and Eight come into play. Chapter Six provides a wealth of character options: Backgrounds unique to Eberron like the Changeling Traveler; new Race options (and Racial Feats) like Court Aasimar, Ruinbound Dwarves and a PC option for Gnolls; and Class Archetypes for Artificers, Bards, Clerics, and Monks. Each of these are tailored to the flavor of Eberron but are easily adaptable into other settings whether homebrewed or established.

Chapter Seven is where the magic items come out to play. The book contains several new common magic items, which is appropriate considering how perfect the concept is for Eberron’s wide magic setting, as well as magic items from the Dhakaani culture and, of course, items tailored for use by Dragonmarked individuals. The mighty Siberys Dragonmarks make their appearance here, along with several miscellaneous magical items with Eberronian flair like the Aereni mask, Symbionts, and the like.

Chapter Eight is where the DM gets to play, consisting of some new creatures of Eberron. These are complete with stat blocks and are largely focused on higher-level foes like the Quori from the realm of dreams, Fey rulers, and the horrifying Daelkyr. There’s also plenty more mechanics-leaning content in the earlier chapters, like magical war machines (including artillery), some new spells, and the like.

With any third-party book, there’s an immediate concern before opening it about balance. Without knowing how much playtesting was done, it’s often a bit of a crap shoot to buy homebrew content. Fortunately, everything is remarkably well-balanced here. The Class Archetypes and Racial options are unique with cool abilities, but not overwhelming or underwhelming in power. A Mind Doman cleric can exist in a party just as easily as a Life Doman one does, without one being an obvious overpowering choice. Similarly, gnolls and ruinbound dwarves are cool and will fit well into parties, but they don’t stand head and shoulders over the more “traditional” options. Balancing a book that leans this hard into setting material is no easy trick; it can be tempting to let the new options overshadow the old. That’s not the case here and DMs won’t have to worry about letting any of this stuff into their games.

Layout

While the content is obviously the meat and potatoes of this book, it could easily haven fall apart of the layout was a mess. It doesn’t thanks to some fantastic work by editor Laura Hirsbrunner and art director Wayne Chang. Hirsbrunner puts a lot of work into making this feel like a book that, if you purchase the Print on Demand version, would not look at all out of place next to your Wizards of the Coast D&D books. The art is almost uniformly exceptional, depicting different significant elements or themes from Eberron from the cover piece of a group of adventurers fighting Quori to art depicting warforged, the various planes, and more.

The book’s content layout is all very easy to follow and information is easy to locate throughout, and there are no production errors in the margins, typos or the like that stand out even in a thorough read. Every effort has been made to make this seem like the high-quality book that it is, putting the cherry on what is already a very satisfying sundae of wizards, airships, noir, and pulp adventure.

10.0
The final score: review Virtually Perfect
The 411
I'm not normally one to give out perfect ratings, but in this case it's deserved. Exploring Eberron is very much the book that Eberron fans have been waiting for. While it's not official by Wizards of the Coast standards, Keith Baker and his team of designers have created an astounding book that perhaps does more to make the campaign setting unique since any book since the publishing of the Third Edition campaign setting back in 2004. This is an absolute must-get for anyone who enjoys playing in Eberron and yet will still have a wealth of material for non-Eberron players to enjoy as well. It represents the absolute pinnacle of what the DMs Guild system can accomplish and is as good or better as anything Wizards of the Coast has published for Fifth Edition.
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Jeremy Thomas