Archives of Candlekeep: Eberron: Origin and Lore
This article was first broadcast in Episode Eighty Nine on 18th September 2019.
Ostron: Oh bright Pelor what are all those colors?
*sound of knife throwing*
Lennon: Aww Ryu! You cut the fuse! Though that was a good shot with the knife!
Ryu: Thanks. And you’re not setting off fireworks in here. We said you could do a couple of short rests focused on Eberron, not throw a party!
Lennon: You guys always ruin my fun!
Ryu: Really? You want me to get the hat?
Lennon: Even that couldn’t bring me down, I’m having a great time, this is wonderful! Let me just go get the notes.
Ostron: Keep in mind, if those notes required an actual book binding, I’m setting them on fire before we even look at them.
Lennon: Um…give me a minute…*sound of shuffling papers*…all right, these are my notes on the summary of the primer to the Eberron information.
Ryu: This is…still a lot
Ostron: To be fair, we did say he could have a few short rests.
Ryu: Fine, let’s do this.
Much attention, discussion, and now printed material has been given over to the Eberron Campaign setting for D&D. However, because it’s a separate setting, a lot of people aren’t aware of what exactly makes Eberron different from regular D&D and why people get so excited. Some people think it’s simply another setting like the Sword Coast or the Dungeon of the Mad Mage, while others believe that it changes the game and the rules so drastically it’s not really D&D anymore.
The reality is that’s only partially correct. Eberron is a drastically different setting than what most people are used to in D&D, and there are a few rule changes that existed in the original releases, but those have largely been damped down for the 5e incarnation. First we’re going to cover the setting and the changes there, then we’ll discuss the differing rules and mechanics later.
First, where did Eberron start? Well Eberron is almost invariably linked with Keith Baker, and his story is one that most people publishing on the DM’s Guild dream of. See, for most of D&D’s history Wizards allowed 3rd party groups or people to work on extra material for D&D and the actual D&D staff only approved and edited it. That actually happened in 5th edition with the Tyranny of Dragons module with…mixed results. Keith entered a contest in 2002 to create the next D&D setting for edition 3.5. His entry was chosen and eventually became the Eberron, the one true setting that all shall bow to and worship as–
Lennon: Sorry. Got carried away.
Baker has stated his ultimate goal with Eberron was to merge four storytelling environments: traditional fantasy, pulp adventure, film noir, and steampunk. To give more concrete examples, he cites the movies Casablanca, From Hell, The Maltese Falcon, The Mummy, The Name of the Rose, Pirates of the Caribbean, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Sleepy Hollow as references. So blend all of those together with D&D and you get Eberron.
The world and it’s mythology are wholly different from the Forgotten Realms. The overall story is that the world was created due to a fight between three original aka “progenitor” dragons: Eberron, Syberis, and Khyber. Khyber broke Syberis’s body and Eberron basically put Khyber in a permanent full-body choke hold. Syberis’s body became the planetary ring system, Eberron formed the surface of the world, and Khyber is the dark and corrupted core of the world. The second generation of dragons (aka, the chromatic and metallic ones) were born from Syberis’s remains; Khyber’s anger and malice gave birth to demons and devils; and Eberron birthed most of the humanoid races.
Two major incursions into the Eberron world shape many of the current in-game realities. The first is when the Quori left the realm of dreams. The quori are literally nightmarish creatures whose ultimate goal was, and is, to stop anything significant from changing in the world, as that ultimately affects their existence. They were defeated and several got stranded on Eberron and began possessing some of the natives, creating the creatures known as the Inspired. Some were less malevolent and tried to help the humanoids, leading to the creation of the psionic Kalashtar race.
The second incursion was from the Daelkyr; very powerful beings from another plane that created most of the monsters and creatures labeled as aberrations. Their invasion decimated the goblin Dahkaan empire but they were ultimately defeated and trapped in the Khyber realm of the planet.
Most Eberron adventures take place a few years after what’s known in the setting as the Last War; it was so devastating that the population believes everyone will hesitate to start another war (an intentional parallel to the feelings of some people after World War I). The conflict essentially came to an end on what’s since become known as the “Day of Mourning”. What exactly happened on that day is the subject of many theories, but no actual answers. What we do know is that the nation of Cyre was utterly destroyed in a cataclysm of fire and magic, leaving none alive. Where Cyre once stood is now known as the Mournland, a place where a dead-grey mist hugs the borders, and the realm beyond is a battle-scarred graveyard, cloaked in perpetual twilight.
Another legacy of the war is the warforged. Designed and created by House Cannith, the original Warforged were Titans in every sense of the word, standing nearly as tall as the Living Statues of Waterdeep. These were eventually shrunk down so that they could be mass-produced. Each one is sentient, created as living weapons specifically for the Last War, which is now over… the ones that still exist in the world were either forced to fight in the war as disposable soldiers or were created for that purpose. They’ve since been granted their personhood, and share equal status and rights as the more traditional races. At least in the eyes of the law.
Current Eberron also differs from Forgotten realms D&D in the way it handles magic. In Eberron, low level magic is as common as real-world electricity and is used for many of the same purposes. For that reason, most houses and cities have lamps powered by magic, there are high-speed ground vehicles, such as the Lightning Rail, and elemental airships, all powered by magic. Appliances and other conveniences running on magic are also commonplace. However, the curve is greatly skewed toward the bottom: excluding the player characters, most low-level wizards would hire themselves out as magewrights, and their skills are highly saught-after. Though even in a world where magic is this ubundant, the magewrights, some of the highest skilled in their crafts, are level 3 at best. Higher level magics like resurrection, and domination spells, are almost unheard of.
The other noticeable changes in Eberron lore are with the races. While humans, dwarves, and gnomes are more or less in the same sociopolitical position as regular D&D, most other races have very different profiles. Goblins and goblinoids are still mostly the same, but they previously controlled a vast empire and are focused on getting that back, so they have some more organization and civility than many D&D players are used to.
Elves have their own nation but are shaking off a relatively recent stint of being enslaved to a race of giants, and they practice a form of ancestor worship that includes reanimating significant figures after they die to act as advisors (they’re not liches, they swear). Drow are still on the continent where the giants enslaved the elves, but they are not an elven subrace. They venerate scorpions rather than spiders, though they don’t get into it the way the Forgotten Realms Drow do. The Drow also believe themselves to be the purest of Elvenkind, so there’s a whole heap of baggage that comes along with that.
On to the full departures from the norm: dragonborn mostly live in service to full dragons, who have complete and exclusive control of a separate continent on Eberron. Very little migration to or from that continent occurs. Halflings are nomadic tribespeople who train and ride on dinosaurs.
Ryu: Say what now?
Lennon: I told you Eberron was cool!
Ostrong: Focus please!
Fine but we’re coming back to that dinosaur thing. Orcs are probably one of the biggest departures from regular D&D; rather than aggressive warmongers with a deep seeded hatred of elves and dwarves, Eberron Orcs are a very spiritual community focused on maintaining and being in harmony with nature.
Most other races are either mostly as-is or don’t exist in Eberron. Shifters were original Eberron creations, so they came over to D&D as-is. Goliaths technically weren’t listed originally, but Eberron has Eneko, which are very similar. However, Keith Baker has said on multiple occasions that any race can fit in Eberron somehow.
We briefly mentioned House Cannith earlier, so we should also mention the dragonmarked houses. In Eberron, these houses are the big movers and shakers in modern civilization, with each one having a specialty and focus that relates to their dragonmark. The marks themselves are ancient magical markers passed down through bloodlines (usually) and enhance the marked individual’s abilities in certain areas. For example, members of House Cannith are blessed with the mark of making and because of that they basically turned into the General Electric of Eberron, making trains, lights, and the Warforged as previously mentioned, among numerous other things.
Because of the houses, the Dragonmarks are a big deal; if you’ve got one you’re a person of import, and you are likely a member of the associated house, even if you didn’t know it at first. The exception is Syberis marks, which are ultra-rare and appear apparently at random, granting special abilities to a random person who might have no connection to the houses at all. There are also aberrant dragonmarks, but those are seen as a sign of consorting with demons so they don’t get the same love as the others.
Ostron: Okay, we’ve got to stop it there
Lennon: But… we didn’t even get to the dinosaur-riding-halfings, and I’ve not even begun touching on Dragonmarks, let alone House Vol and the half-dragon elf-pregnancy…
Ryu: I am kind of interested in the dinosaur halflings…
Ostron: We’ll come back to it later, I promise, but right now there’s a scrying pool and listeners we have to address. Come on.