Review – Eberron: Rising From the Last War

Maybe one a year isn’t really fast and furious, but with Eberron: Rising from the Last War (releasing November 19, 2019) following Guildmasters’ Guide to Ravnica we’ve now received new Dungeons & Dragons campaign setting books two years in a row, and that certainly feels fast and furious to someone like me who has a whole back catalog of D&D worlds they would love to see updated into Fifth Edition.

Eberron is, relatively speaking, one of the newer D&D campaign settings, inasmuch as it came out during the Third Edition era, in this millenium instead of in the 1980s. Writer/Designer Keith Baker won a fantasy setting search held by Wizards of the Coast in 2002, beating out the other 10,000+ of us to see his creation become part of D&D history.

Although it bears a more distinctive title, Eberron: Rising from the Last War would, in a different time, simply have been entitled Eberron Campaign Setting. It does contain a single first-level adventure to help introduce the world and, more specifically, the city of Sharn, to the players, but beyond that it’s purely a setting back, not an adventure book. It’s a 320-page, full-color hardcover (with a pull-out map of the continent of Khorvaire), and is available in the ‘normal’ cover (featuring a warforged and a halfling + dinosaur) or a limited edition cover that is possibly the most gorgeous thing they’ve put on the front of a 5E book.

Eberron, as a setting, differs from the ‘traditional’ high fantasy of Faerun (the default D&D5E world) in a number of ways. The world features a lot of pervasive, low-level magic that functions mostly like a late Victorian era level of technology (part of me wants to draw a comparison to steampunk, but there’s no actual steam, no punk, and almost none of the aesthetic that goes along with that term, so I think the real-world technology comparison will be more helpful). Bound elementals power the lightning rail, seagoing vessels, and a rare few airships – taking the place of trains, steamships, and zeppelins. Sending stones provide instant, telegraph-like communication. Banks can use extradimensional spaces to allow customers to deposit in one city and withdraw in another. Magical lanterns keep the streets illuminated. If you like somewhere nice enough, the streets are cleaned with magic. Low-level magical talent takes the place of things like improved medical or manufacturing techniques.

To go with that vibe is an emphasis on pulp adventure and noir intrigue – Eberron lends itself to games that are much more urban and/or much more factional than the traditional D&D. There absolutely are monsters and dungeons lurking out there – but there are also criminal clans, nationalist rivalries, and newspapers to report on the actions of well-known adventurers.

Rising from the Last War draws its title from the in-setting Last War, a century long conflict that ended with the total magical destruction of one of the combatants by forces unknown. It began as a conflict of succession in the continent-spanning human kingdom of Galifar, with the five nations that made up that kingdom contesting for the throne. It ended with one of them (Cyre) obliterated, and the remainder much reduced, as areas of the continent of Khorvaire that had one been under Galifar’s control declaring independence. Today, the remaining four nations are joined by a warlike elven kingdom, dinosaur-riding halfling steppe nomads, a dwarven steadfast, a goblinoid nation, pirate principalities, a druidic realm, and others. Much like the War to End All Wars, it has left physical and mental scars on the land and the people, and many hope it means there will never be a war like it again – although most think the next one will come, soon enough.

Of course, the material in Rising from the Last War is not only for use in Eberron, and the book sports a new base class and four new races and PC versions of several existing adversary species. The most prominent new race (well, new to this era, anyway) are the warforged, sentient constructs created near the end of the Last War. The changelings are shapeshifters, whose racial characteristics are all about supporting their ability to hide in plain sight and adopt new identifies. Kalashtar are combination of humans supported by benevolent spirits from the plane of dreams (alas, the dream war that they are tied into, while covered in Rising from the Last War, does not get a thorough treatment). They are inherently psychic, able to resist such powers and having innate telepathy. Shifters (sometimes known as weretouched), probably the most popular option after the warforged, have bestial characteristics and the ability to emphasize those for enhanced abilities. Beyond those new races, but there are rules for playing several types of ‘monstrous humanoid’ – Eberron, unlike the more standard D&D, features much less race/alignment matching (even for dragons, type does not dictate alignment). So featured here are playable orcs, bugbears, hobgoblins, and goblins (the latter a repeat of the race as presented for Ravnica).

The new core class is the artificer, who come with a slew of options focused around making or building magic. All artificers get spells, with available options for healing and utility, but mostly not damage-dealing past the cantrip stage. All artificers get infusions, which imbue items with magic. Each artificer also gets to choose a specialty. The alchemist makes beneficial elixirs. The artillerist is a pet class, learning to make an eldritch cannon (or two), which can walk around and (as one would expect) blast at enemies. The battle smith (a more literal pet option) create a steel defender, a construct companion.

In addition to those mechanical options, Eberron features Dragonmarks, which theoretically could be ported anywhere, but have a strong tie-in to this world. The twelve Dragonmarks are inherited, and the Houses founded by the families controlling those Dragonmarks have built them into organizations that rival, or exceed, the nations of Khorvaire in power. From a flavor perspective, each Dragonmark gives the House a virtual monopoly in a certain type of commercial activity, which is enhanced by the development of magical technology that only works for those who bear the Dragonmark. So, for example, even if someone else wanted to build a lightning rail, simply copying the existing design wouldn’t work – it’s powered by magic items that only function for those with a Mark of Passage.

In mechanical terms, each dragonmark is associated with a particular race and functions as a subrace (for races that have subraces) or a variant race (for races who don’t have them). They define ability score increases, provide bonuses on a couple of pertinent skill checks, and include a spell or three that the character can cast in addition to whatever other magical talents they have (plus some spells of the mark that are automatically added to any class spell list). For example, the Mark of Hospitality (which, in the world of Eberron, has been used to create the finest inns) serves as a halfling subrace, providing a bonus to Charisma, bonuses to Persuasion checks, bonuses to checks using things like brewer’s supplies or cook’s utensils, and grants uses of pertinent spells (purify food and drink, unseen servant).

The final character option covered is the patron, which is recommended for Eberron parties and made available for those in other worlds. The patron is a person or organization that the party works for – possibly only loosely, possibly because the patron has almost total control over the PCs. However, unlike the system from the Acquisitions Incorporated supplement, there aren’t a lot of mechanical teeth to patrons. It feels like it more about helping brainstorm ideas than a mechanical system (it also serves to introduce some potential Eberron patrons; there aren’t just ideas for patrons of a certain kind, there’s a write-up of a particular patron of that kind).

Those character options take up about 100 pages, and then Rising from the Last War kicks into setting material, going through a gazetteer of the world (mostly Khorvaire, but there’s some material on other continents, including the Undying Court of positive-energy-infused elven undead) and then a full chapter on Sharn, the City of Towers. There’s a lot going on in Eberron, but Sharn is kind of the default place to start, a vertical urban melting pot of most of the different types of beings one might find in Khorvaire. My one complaint I have about the contents of the book is that, in reading the gazetteer, it wasn’t always easy (or possible) to tell where on the map some of the locations were – sometimes the descriptions seemed to mess up directions and sometimes I just couldn’t find a city. A third chapter covers building Eberron adventures, which runs through the different possible campaign elements that might be used by a DM, and what themes they bring in. A campaign that focuses on Cults of the Dragon Below trying to bring about the end of the world may feel quite different from a campaign that focuses on everyday corruption in the city watch and high society. Those three chapters take up around 175 pages, and are supplemented by a bestiary in the back that includes stat blocks for some of the big threats, as well as generic NPCs of some of the new races and enemy types (there’s also a typo-produced “sham bling mound,” which makes me want to create an amalgam of costume jewelry to attack a party).

There is a magic items section, and it is very focused on material specific to Eberron. Most of the magic items come in three categories (1) items that require dragonmarks to use; (2) items using the parasitic magic of the daelkyr to meld with the bearer); or (3) prosthetics.

I’m very excited to see the campaign setting options for D&D 5E further expand, and I’m excited to see the return of Eberron. Aside from some map/description mismatches, the main letdown of Rising from the Last War was that it had a reasonable number of pages, instead being some 480-page colossus that crammed in even more about Eberron. There’s a lot to explore in the world of Eberron, or a lot to use for inspiration in a campaign somewhere else.

 

Promotional consideration was provided in the form of a review copy.

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