The Eberron Campaign Setting is Wizards of The Coast’s (WoTC) latest D&D Campaign Setting, following in the footsteps of Greyhawk, Dragonlance & The Forgotten Realms.
What makes this one different is how it was created: WoTC ran a $100,000 contest for the public to submit a campaign idea. The winner’s entry would become the new setting for WoTC. At the same time as they were offering Joe Blow all this money, WoTC was laying off their own development staff. Understandably, there was a lot of bad feelings by the ‘gaming community’ towards this whole process.
(BTW, I know posting this very review makes me the most nerdiest nerd that ever did nerd, but well, there we go. I’m a super-geek 🙂
WoTC claimed to be wanting something new and different, but still ‘felt’ like D&D. Instead, they got Eberron. Now, there’s nothing terribly wrong with the idea; indeed, I quite like it. However, it’s not terribly original. There’s nothing in here that hasn’t been seen before in some form in either a D&D accessory or another d20 product.
Having read the previews for Eberron, I was quite excited: it sounded like it was going to be steam-punk (think Victorian-era gothic-punk, a mixture of technology & magic. ‘Wild Wild West‘ or ‘The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen‘ would be a pair of fairly current examples), with trains, flying ships & terminator-esque sentient machines. I was further interested by the promise of a ‘pulp-noir’ atmosphere to the world. These are all genres I tend to enjoy when reading, or in films
Sadly, however, WoTC completely failed to deliver on these promises. In a rpg Campaign Setting book, the most important thing the book can accomplish to instill the sense of attitude and atmosphere for the setting. The themes must come across consistently in all aspects of the book. It’s what makes the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting book such a success: I know almost immediately the tone of the setting and it makes me want to experience more. This did not come through in Eberron. The writing throughout the book is dry, dull and technical. There’s no feeling of pulp-noir, no Indiana Jones-esque flair, nothing. Sure, I’ve been told that this in the setting, but to sell me, the book needs to read like it.
Setting the tone is not a terribly difficult thing to do. WoTC themselves have been doing it for years. They’d even created a device by which they could deliver on this promise in the form of a world-famous newspaper, and it’s most distinguished columnist. Instead of some external source describing the races available to players in Eberron, have excerpts from this writer’s columns about the same. Now, instead of a series of stats & descriptions, I’ve got a taste of what denizens of the country think about each race – and a taste of the atmosphere of the world.
I won’t go too much into the ‘meat’ of the book: the rules, equipment, etc. These are all well-presented and useful, though not remarkable. The art, as so much is these days, has a pseudo-manga style which is also slightly at odds with the themes: There’s nothing ‘noir’ about bright, colorful people with crazy, spiky hair. Despite this fact, I did like the art within the book.
The most important section is the History & Geography sections (telling what has happened in the past, and setting the stage for things to happen in the future). Ignoring the already-mentioned lack of atmospheric writing, this section is well-done, and as potential DM for a game in the world, gave me plenty of ideas. Sorely lacking, however, was a collection of interesting personalities with which to populate the world. I didn’t expect a Realms-like plethora of near god-like NPCs, as this world seems purposefully low-levelled, but a particularly bothersome tribal leader, or well-know troubadour, or a notoriously dogmatic investigator (or Inquisitive as Private Dicks are known in the world) would go a long way here (again, the lack of atmosphere conveyed).
So should you get it, if you’re a gamer? Well, overall, yes. The bits added are cool, and if you or your DM is good enough, they’ll overcome the poor writing to give you an awesome new world to explore. If not, you can easily appropriate virtually everything here to your own campaign. I’d say it’s nearly worth it for the common names for the dinosaurs (yes, there are dinosaurs), listed side by side with our Latin names for them (because, really, there’s no latin in this world). That was a nice touch.