A setting for Dungeons and Dragons.
Since Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition was supposed to be a fresh new game, Wizards of the Coast set up a contest to allow a bunch of freelancers to submit ideas for a fresh new campaign setting. A dude called Keith Baker sent them Eberron and won. Unlike the Forgotten Realms, which is known for its distorted canon, Eberron's timeline will never progress and none of the novels are considered setting canon. This is a welcome change due to the ridiculousness that ensued due to the Drizzt novels among others, and allows the PCs to influence things without mucking up canon.
The setting tries to steer away or at least subvert many of the D&D (and fantasy in general) stereotypes. It features dinosaur-riding halflings, jungle dwelling Drow who look like saints compared to their other counterparts, non-evil monster races, a fantasy equivalent of World War I, magic-powered trains and a more pulp, Indiana-Jones-esque approach to high fantasy adventuring. It also focuses heavily on intrigue, which is usually based around either the nations that survived the Last War or the Dragonmarked houses. The Last War was initially caused by a succession dispute that eventually erupted into a century long conflict which devastated the continent, broke up the Kingdom of Galifar, and obliterated the Kingdom of Cyre. The Dragonmarked houses are organizations that control various aspects of life in Eberron due to the magical nature of the specific dragonmark that manifests on an individual.
The most advanced tech is powered by enslaved elementals, like that airship. Eberron is a generally very "human" setting, where low level magic is ubiquitous, cheap, and readily-used by the world's inhabitants to make their lives better ("wide magic").
One popular change instituted by Eberron is a relaxed approach to alignment. Clerics of good gods can be Evil, and vice versa, opening up tons of fresh storytelling opportunities that would normally be restricted by the nature of the system, like corrupt or misguided clerics of turning benevolent faiths to evil ends, or deluded followers of evil scam-cults being all bright-eyed and idealistic about the religion they were born into. Racial alignments by-and-large do not exist. From orcs to goblins to gnolls, all the "monster" races have actual cultures and shit rather than just being blood-bags full of XP for PCs to murder, and while lots of them are evil, many of them are not, just like humans.
In Eberron, gods and religion function much differently than the typical D&D take. While settings like Greyhawk and the Forgotten Realms have gods that objectively exist and the only question is if you worship them or not, Eberron has no traditional gods that are proven to exist. People's religion is a matter of faith. Divine magic doesn't work because gods grant spells - it comes from the casters faith or some other mechanism. While there are religions that worship entities or concepts that objectively exist, they aren't "gods" in the d&d sense - they could be demons, or a force used to combat said demons(like the Silver flame/Kalok Shash). Some religions even deny that gods exist, or if they did they wouldn't be worth worshipping because of how shitty the world is like the Seekers of the Divinity Within (aka The Blood of Vol). Others don't even concern themselves with that stuff, most elves worship their ancestors and try to make their greatest heroes immortal - Whether by making them positive undead powered by devotion like the undying court, traditional negative undead (vampires, liches, death knights, etc) like the now extinct line of Vol (separate from the blood of vol), or just honoring their memory like the Valenar. The religions that do believe in more traditional gods have no proof they exist, it's just a matter of faith just like the real world. Even those duped by religions the setting books explicitly confirm are scams can produce divine casters. This take on religion was a big selling point when the setting came out and is still a well liked aspect.
Unlike most settings, Eberron has no east-Asia analog. One may have existed on Sarlona, it was large enough to have spawned a variety of human races, but it'd have long since fallen to the Quori and been absorbed into Riedra. Instead "Asian" mechanics come from a variety of sources: Dwarfs invented the concept of Samurai and Katana, while elves created Ninja, and Shugenja are dragon worshipers while nobody knows where the tradition of Wu Jen began.
A character's nationality is far more important in Eberron than in other settings. In Toril someone from Amn will not have significantly different reactions or experiences than someone from the city states that make up the Lord's Alliance. In Eberron however, a human from Breland will have substantially differing views than one from Aundair, Thrane, Karrnath or the ruins of Cyre, let alone Stormreach or Sarlona. This is more important than race to most people, so in Eberron a Dwarf from Thrane doesn't hate a Karrnath Elf because he's an elf, he hates him because the elf is from a land where the dead walk, that's ruled by absolute monarchy who's been fighting with his homeland for the better part of a century with a state religion based on a blasphemous claim that men can become gods instead of the only religion that's provably true.
TL;DR: Halflings on dinosaurs. Pulpy Action. Fantasy Indiana Jones. Politics. Lots of awesome.
- 1 History
- 2 Dragonmarked
- 3 Moral Flexibility
- 4 Unique Cosmology
- 5 It’s Up the PCs
- 6 Mysteries Without Answers
- 7 New Races
- 8 New Classes
- 9 Thirteen Minus One
- 10 Manifest Zones
- 11 5th Edition
- 12 Gallery
Age of Dragons
Basically, in the dawn of time, there were three great progenitor dragons: Siberys (good and/or celestial), Eberron (neutral and/or natural), and Khyber (evil and/or fiendish). They either created or discovered the Prophecy, which is a cosmic force that seems to equate to destiny and fate. The dragons fought over the Prophecy, which shattered both it and the world. Siberys was broken into a thousand pieces in orbit around the world, Khyber was bound into the depths of the Underdark, and Eberron merged with the physical world to heal it. In the process of this, each of the dragons basically materialized as crystalline fragments that are harvested and used to empower certain magic items and effects.
From their godlike positions in the cosmos, they also create living beings. Siberys creates the dragon races, which includes the couatls. Eberron creates most of the bulk of the other beings - beasts, humanoids, etc. Khyber creates fiends, most notably the rakshasas.
Age of Demons
The fiends basically overrun the world about 10 million years back and create a "Hell on Earth" where they keep dragons and other beings subjugated. After about 8 million years, the dragons finally rediscover the Prophecy, which gives them the drive to resist the fiends. The other common races basically cower at the magical armageddon happening. In a truly legendary effort, the couatls use powerful magic to permanently bind the most powerful demond lords and other fiends down to Khyber, trapped by the crystalline fragments of that ancient dragon. The dragons mourn the loss of their allies, and withdraw to Argonnessen to contemplate the mysteries of the Prophecy, leaving the world open to everyone else.
Age of Giants
With the dragons and fiends both gone, the giant races of the continent called Xen'drik rise up and start establishing their own civilization. This is a pretty crazy time of the world, lasting for 40,000 years or so, with the giants creating this vast empire where they enslave elves (and created the drow to hunt down escaped slaves - technically they created all elves from eladrin according to 4th edition but nobody liked that feywild bullshit so it's back to just them creating the drow). The giants previously learned magic at the feet (claws?) of the dragons, and pass some of that knowledge down to the elves/drow so they can do the busy-work of spellcasting, but they hold back some of the big magic so the elves can't get strong enough to free themselves.
Things are great for a while, and the giants create some amazing shit, including new types of magic items (schema) and even new kinds of magic (artifact spells, plus it is heavily implied that it was giants who discovered and/or perfected Artificer magic on their own). In comparison, the ancient giants of Eberron were basically like the Netherese of Forgotten Realms, building floating structures, flying ships, and other vast artifact-level shit using techniques unknown to "modern" spellcasters.
And then they started exploring other planes and it all went to fuck when they breached into Dal Quor, the Plane of Dreams. That plane, you see, has thousands-year cycles where it switches between light and dark phases where the inhabitants are either good or evil, respectively, and when the cycle turns, every inhabitant basically dies and is reborn without any knowledge of the past cycle. It was, at the time the giants invaded, about to change phase, and the inhabitants, the precursors to today's quori, had no intention whatsoever of fucking dying. They attempted to flee to Eberron as peaceful refugees, but the aggressive natives botched first contact, so the giants had a war on their hands.
By all evidence in the game, the Giant-Quori War was the first use of magic as a form of mass destruction by the lesser (aka non dragon) races. The quori actually created the first warforged in this era, as mass-produced mindless constructs used to act as foot soldiers. Based on the existence of the psionic warforged (aka psiforged), it is also very possible that the quori were attempting to create something that their spirits could possess, in order to anchor to Eberron and ride out the destruction cycle of Dal Quor.
The giants, whose magic was not quite powerful enough to completely and totally guard their minds and spirits as they slept, saw themselves fighting a losing battle against the equivalent of a kind of eldritch horror from an alien plane of existence. In desperation to close the bridge between Eberron and Dal Quor, the giants decided to do something... creative. Using (literally) earth-shattering powers, they actually kicked Dal Quor out of its planar orbit, causing it to float off into the Astral Plane and be more or less "lost". Unfortunately, if you're thinking "but wouldn't destabilizing the multiverse have cataclysmic results?", you'd be correct. The power the giants unleashed shattered their continent: huge sections slid off into the sea, manifest zones (areas where other random planes seep into the Material Plane) sprung up spreading chaos in their wake, and basically they unleashed an arcane armageddon upon their empire. Hell, one of their cities became well, HELL without demons.
Remember all those enslaved elves who also knew some magic? They decided this was their best chance to rebel against the giants. The giants, naturally, decided "fuck it" and started up more magic to basically do total genocide upon the elven race. The dragons, already pissed as hell about the giants' actually tearing the planescape apart and having no regard for either their own, the dragons', or Eberron's safety, decided enough was enough. Essentially, every dragon in Argonnessen took to the skies and as a race, dragonkind rained all their destructive power down on Xen'drik.
Let's stop a second and think about that. This includes all the ancient-ass dragons with access to epic spells. As in, the kind you make from the 3.0 Epic Level Handbook. The ones that can do impossible shit like the Netherese in Forgotten Realms used to do, such as sheering off mountain tops to make them into flying cities. The dragons basically added to the already-terrible cataclysm the giants did to themselves by throwing down a lot more destruction and stuff. The shattered planescape, the elven rebellion, and the dragons' wrath basically spent 1,000 years turning the world's greatest magical empire into a bunch of broken, forgotten ruins.
Aside from the strange, twisted landscape of Xen'drik itself (which makes the Amazon, the Sahara, and Siberia all look like a bunch of national parks by comparison), there are two main after-effects of the cataclysm. The first is the Traveler's Curse, which causes a slight warping of space and/or time when traveling the continent. It gets less bad if you know where you're going, or have someone who knows where they are going lead you there, but otherwise it's a real crap-shoot whether or not you get somewhere quickly and accurately, or stumble into the hands of a drow tribe who enjoys having you for dinner (get it?). The second effect is Du'rashka Tul, or "the madness of crowds", which says that if any settlement reaches a certain size or sophistication, the entire population is gripped with homicidal rage and starts killing until they die; there's evidence this is true, but there's also questions about how Stormreach has resisted this effect despite growing in size.
The Age of Monsters
After the giants get their collective dicks kicked, the goblinoid kingdoms on Khorvaire start rising up. They build up the Dhakaani Empire (named for the goblinoid that united the six kingdoms), and while the orcs do rise up in the western areas of the Shadow Marches, they never really threaten the united goblins. (Keep in mind, alignment is slippery in this setting: goblins and bugbears aren't automatically evil or even frequently Chaotic here.) Things are okay with them until they deal with another type of eldritch horror monster, the daelkyr, who created pretty most of the aberrations in the setting. And if their herald brought fear, imagine if you can the terror, the blind, unreasoning panic that now rips through Eberron. A million and more eyes look upon they who are Daelkyr, and for each race the vision differs, and each mind that views them struggles as best it can to perceive that unguessable species in a form it can comprehend.
The goblins try hard, but lack the knowledge of how to actually fight these things, so after the Daelkyr War cripples their empire, it falls apart as various tribes squabble over controlling the remains. So why wasn't the world overrun with horrific aberrations and madness? Well, those orcs off to the west, they had some druids called Gatekeepers who knew this shit was about to happen, so they prepared accordingly and marched off in small bands (not unlike some Warhammer witch hunters) to attack, defeat, and seal up the aberrations behind a bunch of mystical seals and stuff. That's right, boys and girls, the orcs fucking saved Eberron from the evil horrors. Nothing like lampshading tropes, huh? They didn't even try to make much of it; they just fucked off back to the Shadow Marches, where they live quietly waiting for signs of daelkyr shit getting free again. Eberron orcs are good folks.
While all this was happening, the dragons got a burr up their ass and started attacking the elves of Aerenal. But here's the weird part: they didn't actually "try" to destroy them, not totally like they did the giants. This has been happening for, more or less, about 26,000 years. The elves know the dragons could rightly snuff them out of existence, but why the dragons don't do it is one of the many mysteries of the setting. In the meantime, the elves built up a fucking strange culture that looks like a mixture of traditional D&D elven and no-shit Aztec-Incan level stuff. The elves don't use necromancy, but instead create beings called the Undying. Instead of negative energy that sustains undead, they use positive energy to force life into their withered bodies, creating a type of creature called the Deathless (first seen in the Book of Exalted Deeds). It's a bit of a strange thing for both DMs and players to wrap their heads around, but it certainly adds a truly unique cultural touch to the game setting. Oh, also, Aerenal grows all kinds of weird-ass plants, including this unique type of tree called soarwood that is actually buoyant in air... something that will become vitally important a few millennia later.
Oh, and the dwarves migrate from the Frostfell up north down to the Ironroot Mountains, exile some barbarian dwarves to the surface, setting up their little shop while the "civilized" dwarves promptly get eaten by the daelkyr. But they don't become important for a while; at this point, they're kind of like Conan the Barbarian types, only shorter and beardy.
The Kingdom of Galifar
Just over 3,000 years before the official start of the Eberron campaign, various races starting being born with mystical tattoos on their bodies, giving them access to strange powers depending on the complexity of the tattoo. These dragonmarks were called that because the dragons who actually spoke to lesser beings about them said they were a manifestation of the Prophecy that they obsess about. However, one of the dragonmarks, the Mark of Death, is wiped out because an elf and a dragon made sweet, sweet love and produce a half-dragon with the mark, which was considered a total abomination.
That's right, kids, all you dragon-kin types who think it would be so cool to be a half-dragon in D&D? Best keep that shit to yourself in Eberron: you are a living insult to the purity of dragons and the Prophecy (and, apparently, elves if that's your other parent), and you will be ethnically cleansed from the world. This isn't a joke, it's part of the setting. Certain other draconic races may or may not be treated similarly. Kobolds are basically the same (though they come in three breeds based on Siberys, Eberron, and Khyber that only other kobolds can tell the difference of), and spellscales are seen with confusion and annoyance (they are basically a kind of mutation found mostly among arcane practitioners who have kids), but half-dragons are basically a big no-no. Dragonborn of Bahamut are okay, though the dragons do grumble that Bahamut doesn't really need their kind running around. The template is still used, but it's for things like the fiendish "blessing" of Tiamat than literal half-breeds.
Anyway, while this dragonmark shit is happening, this chick named Lhazaar leads a shitload of refugees and/or colonists from Sarlona to Khorvaire. Lhazaar first lands in a bunch of eastern islands (which will collectively be named after her one day), and humans start spreading out. Fast forward a thousand years, and this human named
Kharn Karrn the Conqueror goes out, kicks nine kinds of goblin ass, and created the nation of Karrnath. (Making him a much more ambitious sort than Conan. I mean, I love that goofy Cimmerian, but he did dawdle a bit on becoming king. Karrn went out and got shit done.) Karrn tries to conquer everyone else, but they aren't having his shit, so he fucks off back to Karrnath. But his efforts do basically establish dozens of human city-states and nations around the continent, so there's that.
A thousand years after, a guy named Galifar is born, and at the ripe age of 45 has taken control of the Five Nations and established a kingdom in his name. His kids each get control of a single nation. This is basically the "golden age" for humanity, because under Galifar, magic is used not just as a weapon but a kind of utility. The dragonmarked Houses start to realize they can create magic items that really "do" stuff, like empower vehicles to travel faster, or send messages instantly, or whatever. Keith Baker keeps saying this isn't a magi-tek society - what he means by that is it isn't the Final Fantasy style of things. They're using magic to do things in the real world we did with mechanical/chemical technology, instead of mashing magic and technology together haphazardly. Stuff like a stone that casts prestidigitation to clean shit - functions like a laundromat would in the real world, but it's a magical solution to the issue. Or using weather control spells to make boats go real fast.
The Last War
The sad part is, the Last War only started 900 years - probably only about 5-6 generations - after the Kingdom of Galifar was created. It started when King Jarot dies and three of his kids rejects the ascension of Mishann, the ruler of Cyre (which was basically the most magi-tek nation of that time). They all fuck off back to their nations and start agitating for war, which lasts 100 years. No, not constant actual battles that would have rightly ruined the landscape; it's more like they fought a major battle or two each year with different peoples, spend a couple of years recouping their losses, and do lots of espionage and diplomacy, but all while in a declared state of war against one another.
This is where things start getting really dicey with using magic as technology. Karrnath suffers famine and starts using undead troops as a "temporary" measure that becomes permanent. This triggers a religious uprising in one of their enemy nations that causes a theocratic nation to splinter off from one of the original Five Nations, while later on back home the halflings of the Talenta say fuck it and secede from Karrnath. Cyre gets it in the worst way. Big on magic but low on actual troops, starts hiring mercenaries from the elves and goblinoids. The elves end up turning stag and fucking over Cyre by creating a new elven nation and they get fucked over in the southwest by a resurging goblinoid nation trying to reclaim the glories of their ancestral empire. The druids of the western Eldeen Reaches get pissed about Audair not giving a fuck about them getting raped and murder by roving armies of bandits, and splinter off as well into a new nation. Breland gets it shitty too: A whole bunch of monsters led by three hags claim everything west of the greywall mountains (but thankfully barely anyone lived there), the aforementioned goblin country stole a chunk of their land for their border, and the gnomes decide to secede from Breland and form their own little country. (The gnomish bit wasn't too bad though, it was more of an official acknowledgement of the fact that the gnomes had been running their own affairs for centuries. The country is pretty much a vassal to Breland with very good relations in both directions.) Breland was so fuckhueg before the war though that it's still the biggest and well off country afterwards. Refugees sick of war from all five nations flee east to a colony. And the original Lhazaar pirates and smugglers basically play everyone and everything off against each other.
During all of this, magic technology continues development. The gnomes (who also splintered off from Breland, but under much more favorable conditions and terms to both sides) steal the secrets of elemental binding from the Sulatar drow in Xen'drik (and we're all sure that's never going to come back and bite them in the ass, no sir) and begin using those secrets to bind elementals to all kinds of shit. Then some crafty nutjobs realize if they use soarwood from Aerenal and big fucking elementals, they can "push" a ship faster over water. Then they realize they can do it right through the air as well, creating the Eberron airships which we all know and love for their fairly unique approach (in both design and concept; Forgotten Realms sort of copied the idea in the game Neverwinter during the Elemental Evil module when the air-elemental forces used dirigibles empowered by air elementals). There's also levitating trains, self-powered sleds and wagons, etc.
But then, House Cannith, who are the artificers and craftsmen of the setting, did something even more interesting. In Xen'drik, they find these huge creation forges used to make the ancient quori-made warforged. They bring them back, tinker with them, and create the modern warforged as sentient living constructs (aka magi-tek droids). They produce thousands for the war effort, and since they also already were making most of the weapons, armor, and other materials, they become war profiteers on a rather interesting scale.
Who was at war with who shifted repeatedly throughout the conflict. At the time it ended, the following were at war.
Aundair: Karrnath (Unfriendly, but non-hostile to Cyre)
Cyre: Thrane, Breland, Karrnath
Karrnath: Aundair, Thrane, Cyre
Thrane: Cyre, Karrnath
The Day of Mourning
One afternoon in mid-994, Cyre just... went up in a giant ball of mist.
Cyre was fighting a Breland-Thrane combined force for the past few days, near the town of Making (where there may have been some unusual research going on by House Cannith, Cyre, or both). The Cyrans were actually doing pretty good: they fought well against superior numbers and held ground to bring up reinforcements.
On the afternoon of the second day, after they had fought to a standstill, that's when everything when to shit. A grey mist started emerging from the royal palace of Cyre, moving to cover the capital city and, within the day the entirety of Cyre. Those caught in the mist the first day died instantly, but those who entered the second day onward merely have difficulty healing within the mists in some places. Most buildings remain intact, but some have been turned 90 degrees or found miles away. Making has become a giant, eternal, lava sprout which cools into an obsidian mountain that keeps growing bigger. The mist stands to this day, cleanly marking the former borders of Cyre. Indeed, the mists end so cleanly at the end of Cyre's land that a port city's docks are outside of the mists which led to several of the survivors. Inside the mists, the dead don't decay and in some places healing spells nor natural healing works on those not born within the Mournlands. Spells also came alive, literally, turning into a new type of creature called a Living Spell. Think about all these shitty spell combos you ever came up with on an optimization forum somewhere. Now take that awful combo and make it a creature that doesn't age, eat, or sleep, and just continually attacks things on repeat until destroyed or otherwise subdued. But it wasn't just the living spells that were created that fucked things up. A massive number of its citizens just died, crops withered to nothing, and all sorts of terrible mutations came about as a result of whatever rampant madness claimed the nation. Even years after that event, the land refuses to grow and any life that inhabits it suffers from the land sucking away any life. Corpses that died on the Day of Mourning still lie there, preserved by whatever awful power was unleashed. Life practically became uninhabitable, thus any survivors of that terrible event fled and the Mournland is all that is left of that proud nation.
There is no explanation for the Day of Mourning, not even an internal one, and with current policy never will be. The borders of the Mournland matching the borders of Cyre suggests it was no random event. Popular in-universe theories are someone's weapon going wrong (or right), overuse of magic, one of the planes deciding to turn Cyre into a big ol manifest zone, and an Overlord being unsealed.
After The War
The aftermath of the Day of Mourning proved just as horrific from another perspective: all of the Cyran refugees were refused to settle in almost any of the surrounding nations. The Valenar elves - the mercenaries Cyre brought in to help them - actually murdered the shit out of the few refugees who showed up. The other Five Nations mostly all felt that the Mourning was Cyre's own fault. Only Breland eventually allowed them to form their own little refugee colony known as New Cyre. Predictably, the Cyrans have become a little grimdark about this, and basically low-key hate everyone else for their treatement. (Before anyone starts to chide them as emo, remember that the whole war started because three other nations refused to acknowledge Cyre's leader's legitimate claim to the throne. They already hated the other nations pretty good; being treated like trash for the Day of Mourning has basically make Cyrans bitter and angry about everyone and everything.)
The terrible and unexplained event was enough to scare all the other nations into settling down for a diplomatic talk. These talks culminated in the drafting of the Treaty of Thronehold, a truce that effectively ended all the hostilities within Khorvaire. There are a few very interesting points of the treaty that bear looking at.
- Nation Status: The treaty ended up recognizing all but a few of the existing nations as they are in the main Eberron book(s). The very notable exceptions were Droaam (whom everyone saw as a pack of fucking monsters anyway; even the goblins of Darguun were better organized and in control of themselves), the Shadow Marches (but they weren't really an organized nation anyhow, which suited them just fine), and Cyre (which was simply declared non-existent as of the Day of Mourning). Aundair squabbled about Eldeen being recognized, until Breland asked them about Old Breland (territory Aundair had seized from them first), and told Aundair to STFU or loose even more territory.
- The Dragonmarked Houses: While the various Houses already operated with some sanction in various capacities, the treaty certified some of it, specifically House Deneith being officially responsible for enforcing the terms of the treaty among various nations. Cannith got split in three factions when their leader went poof in the Day of Mourning, but aside from the internal politics, they're still the go-to guys for making shit. The other Houses made out more or less like bandits: their services were needed by everyone, and they suffered no real downside to being involved. Shit, they still had their unofficial headquarters down in Stormreach in Xen'drik. The war did little or nothing harmful to them as individual houses or a unified whole.
- Warforged: King Boranel's charisma at the negotiating table got emancipation for the warforged, something that stuck in the craw of Thrane and a few others who felt that they owned those guys (they did, after all, pay for them).
After the end of The Last War most of the remaining nations are in an uneasy peace. Adventures in modern Eberron deal with cultists whose schemes threaten to send the nations back into war (if not nuked by the dragons again), behind the scenes battles between factions vying for power (which could also threaten to start another war), or play detective/thug in the massive cityscapes.
Others raid the Mournlands to recover lost magic and contend with the growing cult of the Lord of Blades, who some Warforged worship as their god who will eventually kill all meatbags. Some such adventurers are Warforged, but others have found ways around the restrictions on healing: Potions made inside function only inside the Mournlands, Goodberry works, psionic powers and other methods of healing the don't reference healing spells work implicitly, while quick trips to alternate dimensions also allow for healing. Others sidestep the problems with healing entirely and just don't adventure in the places in the Mournlands where healing is an issue, and have to contend with whatever environmental weirdness those areas of the Mournlands have.
Others still raid the ruins of Xen'drik, either for archeology or profit.
The one thing that stands out above all other things in Eberron are the Dragonmarked, a dozen of the most powerful magically-gifted houses that effectively act as the aristocracy for all Khorvaire. Each of the houses are identified by their particular magical tattoo like marks on their skin and are the undisputed rulers of a particular trade. These marks also hold magical powers that permit their bearers to cast limited magic.
Because of their power, each House takes incredibly meticulous care to list out every single member of their bloodline, identifying their allegiances to the house, and how to best use them. In particular interest for these houses are the Siberys Dragonmarks: Those individuals who have massive dragonmarks possessing remarkable powers. Each house usually scrambles to ensure that they can count on these individuals. Occasionally house blood filters into the general popular through trysts, affairs, disowned members and other such occurrences. Those descended from these encounters can sometimes manifest the dragonmark and those that do are known as foundlings. Most Siberys marked individuals are foundlings, as the mark only appears on those without prior dragonmarks.
Not all members of a house are dragonmarked. For most houses, non-dragonmarked members are primarily for or by marriage. Deneith allows any into its house, though only humans married into the bloodline can have hereditary membership. Medani (Humans and elves) and Orien (half-elfs, half-orcs, elves and orcs) have significant membership outside of their primary species, though Medani prefers to keep the human/elf ratio roughly even.
Keeping the Dragonmarked houses in check is the Korth Edicts, agreements made with Galifar a thousand years ago. These edicts prohibit members from owning land (they must rent), intermarrying with noble families, and (with the exception of Deneith) maintaining significant military forces beyond guards. Today the edicts are threatened by the fact that the nation these agreements were made with no longer exists and many likely violations were never addressed because of the war.
In addition to the true marks, there are also aberrant marks said to be affiliated with Kyber, the Dragon Below. While true marks are linked to bloodline and can be reliably bred true, most aberrant marks occur seemingly at random outside of the mixed marks (identical to “normal” aberrant marks except they always have the color of true marks) spawned by mixing dragonmarked bloodlines. In 5e, this unpredictably is such that while 3E aberrant markes were limited to the races that could have true marks, 5E allows any humanoid to have them (Note: Warforged are humanoids in 5E). Aberrant Marks hold unique powers (3E picked from a varied list, while 5E allows any 1st level sorcerer spell), but they are often unreliable while being dangerous to the user and those around them. This unsafe nature was especially true during the distant past when aberrants were also far more powerful than today, with powers that included creating plagues they had no way to control or stop. This gave rise to the early Twelve attempting to (and largely succeeding) exterminate aberrants, but the long disappearance of such marks and the weaker, less uncontrollable, nature of modern aberrants means the modern Twelve don’t really care about them. The Twelve still continue their agreement, separate from the Korth Edicits, to prohibit mixing of blood between the houses, so as to prevent the rise of mixed marks.
The Houses are the following:
- House Cannith (Mark of Making): Originating in Cyre, this house was the chief authority in all things artifice and manufacture. They made armor, wands, swords, and even Warforged, and everyone wanted it. After the Mourning eradicated all house leadership, the remaining members have been attempting to group together and find a way to re-establish themselves.
- House Deneith (Mark of Sentinel): Your militant house, Deneith focuses its business in the acquisition and contracting of various soldiers and is the only house allowed to maintain significant military forces. Since the Korth Edicts forbids them from owning land, they are more like a giant house of knights-errant.
- House Ghallanda (Mark of Hospitality): One of the two halfling-centric houses. These guys run all the inns and hotels as well as the variety of minor trades. This leads to them having plenty of friends.
- House Jorasco (Mark of Healing): The other halfling-centric house, made to be dedicated healers. They're renowned for their effectiveness to the point that they've sold their services to the highest bidder during the Last War. Since even if high level clerics weren't rare neither the The Sovereign Host or the Church of the Silver Flame is big on resurrection and going to The Dark Six to get raised is a bad idea, they are best route for returning the dead to life. Unfortunately the magic altars that let them do that only do the 10,000 GP Resurrection, so anyone looking for the half cost Raise Dead is out of luck.
- House Kundarak (Mark of Warding): The dwarf-owned house focuses on security. Their main trade is banking where they can use their special magical locks and wards to ensure the utmost safety of their clients' possessions. Their reliability has given them a friendship with Sivis.
- House Lyrandar (Mark of Storm): This half-elf run house once made a living ruling the seas, but with the introduction of manned flight, they began scouring the skies for opportunities. They've also been assisting the country of Valenar in the hopes of making it a home for the half-blooded.
- House Medani (Mark of Detection): Mainly run by Brelish half-elves, this house has the finest Inquisitives around by using their powers to detect things that usually go past others. They usually stay out of all the noble issues by working pro-bono.
- House Orien (Mark of Passage): This house's main gig is the Courier Guilds by mean of their incredible mobility. Before Lyrandar decided to shove elementals into ships, the Orien Courier's Guilds and Lightning Rails were the only way to transport goods, while teleportation remained a luxury reserved to the super-elite. Now they have contracts with Cannith in order to make more affordable teleportation.
- House Phiarlan (Mark of Shadow): The original elf-centric shady-house with a specialty in espionage with a front in entertainment. At some point near the end of the Last War, a chunk of this house seceded and decided to become their own House.
- House Sivis (Mark of Scribing): The only gnome-centric house, and they focus entirely on the spoken and written word. Their claim to fame is the speaking stone (magical telegraph), but their expertise stretches as far as guaranteeing the security of any messages they carry. They carry a particular alliance with Kundarak. Unlike the other houses, they rarely marry outside of the family and the only new blood is through introduction of foundlings.
- House Tarkanan: While not an official Dragonmarked House, this house does represent the Aberrant Dragonmarks (Strange and possibly defective marks that have been known to cause madness and even death) and thus outcasts flock towards it. They have named themselves after Halas Tarkanan of the ancient War of the Mark who was a crazed warlord but organized resistance to the early Twelve's attempt to genocide Aberrants. Despite its namesake and styling, House Tarkanan is essentially a glorified crime family, though they would take the opportunity to challenge and disassemble the paradigms established by the main houses.
- House Tharashk (Mark of Finding): Humans and half-orcs make the majority of this house, and with their dragonmarks their senses sharpen to incredible levels to help identify whatever they hunt. This house is actually the youngest of the Dragonmarked Nobility, so they act the least snooty.
- House Thuranni (Mark of Shadow): The other elf-centered stealthy house, though these guys specialize in being assassins. These guys aren't exactly bitter at Phiarlan and the two houses aren't hostile to each other, but they will get very competitive.
- House Vadalis (Mark of Handling): This human-led house specializes in the taming of animals of all sort, most notably their griffons (Examplified in a 4E Paragon Path that let you ride a damn Griffon around). That said, they are also in the business of breeding animals too, and some members even go so far as using magic to modify the brood in the pursuit of a better life form. Its members typically have arranged marriages and otherwise controlled lives, with the leaders breeding their human membership like they would animals.
There was originally 13 Dragonmarks, but the house resposible for it did some terrible things worth getting killed over and it eventually caused a terrible chain of events that led to it's destruction and it's only survivor becoming a Lich. More on that later
As mentioned before, Eberron's a setting where morality is a lot more subjective when compared to a typical fantasy setting, where certain species or religions are inevitably pigeonholed into certain stereotypes or absolute alignments. Monstrous races can find themselves as heroes, humanoid races continue to sometimes be the real monsters, supposedly-benevolent religions can become oppressive and intolerant in the hands of men who believe they are serving the greater good, and apparently-wicked faiths can be capable of valid points, have reasonably amicable goals, or have duped followers blind to the worse aspects of their religion. This led to a lot of diversity in interpreting the many facets of the setting.
This meant that clerics didn't have to be stuck to the alignments of their faith, especially in regards to the Sovereign Host and Dark Six, whose members spread all across the alignment spectrum. The nation of Droaam is also a popular talking point, revolving around trying to imagine all the "monster" races living together in a relatively-functional, if often somewhat evil, society capable of diplomacy. (considering their bosses are witches, probably the same way with Chaos during a BLAM you never learn, DO YOU!!!
It also extends to NPCs in other ways. The benevolent, Neutral Good queen of one of the nations after the war is plotting world domination, under the reasonable grounds that she'd do a better job and stamp out all kinds of abuse from the worse-run places on the continent, while the vampire king of another is a champion of peace, if only so his larder can remain undisturbed.
Eberron formally struck itself away from the Great Wheel model, and whilst Keith Baker acknowledged players could set it within that multiverse if they really wanted to, the setting was built around a completely new set of planes and different ways of interacting between those planes. Whilst he never formally named his new cosmology, it picked up the nickname "The Orrery", for obvious reasons. 5th edition decided to haul it back as part of its own Great Wheel, but never elaborated on how this works.
Unlike older settings, reaching Eberron from another campaign setting (or vice-versa) is more limited than just casting plane shift a few times. The one method that has been presented explicitly in canonical material is the World Serpent Inn, which connects even to the explicitly sealed off Athas. A portal in Sigil might allow accessing the setting, but the only Planescape support after Eberron’s introduction is Expedition to the Demonweb Pits, which is mum on Eberron outside of the monster section having an "In Eberron" section for each monster. Dungeons & Dragons Online (set in Eberron but with several blatant canon breaks like Stormreach having a substantial presence of non-heretical Sliver Flame) uses a foreign deity and an overlord cooperating to open a rift between their two worlds. Later DDO content has the Gatekeepers able to casually open portals to Greyhawk (never explicitly identified as such, but the content is based on classic modules from the setting and you outright meet Quaal in one of them), which they say is on the same material plane, but very far away. A licensed Forgotten Realms based idle game (of all things) features a Warforged allied with the Elder Evil Hadar that has somehow bridged the gap, implicitly by space travel (Toril still works Spelljammer's principles since even if this hasn't been mentioned for three editions nothing had refuted it either), and Eberron’s author has said Spelljammers could traverse to Eberron if someone wanted to.
It’s Up the PCs
Other settings are home to OP as fuck NPCs that could solve all problems instantly if they weren’t handwaved away by being “busy” or needing to maintain some kind of "balance" to avoid letting Good win too much. In Eberron, friendly high level NPCs are rare and have low mobility. The Lolipope loses most of her power if she leaves Flamekeep, the max level Druid is an Awakened-but-mostly-stationary tree, and the The Undying Court can’t leave their manifest zone. The Five Nations have plenty of soldiers and champions who could help (if they aren’t against you) but would provoke another war if they moved in earnest. In the end, you are the setting’s champion, and you can become more powerful than any of the above.
Mysteries Without Answers
To give the Dungeon Master room to work with, Eberron is home to several mysteries that have no canonical answer. The most prominent among these are what the cause of The Mourning was, the true identity of the Lord of Blades, what the Mark of Death actually did or does, the nature of the divine, and what (if anything) comes after Dolurrh.
- Changeling: Doppelganger ancestry means that these guys can change their appearance at will and have minor telepathy (that manifests as social skill bonuses). Balanced because they can't change their clothes when they shapeshift.
- Kalashtar: Human bodies, psionic outsider souls. Natural telepaths effectively indistinguishable from humans. Loves martial arts and fighting secret wars against evil dream spirits.
- Shifter: "Weretouched" humanoids that can temporarily "shift" to adopt animal characteristics. Not descended from specific were-creatures.
- Warforged: PC-appropriate robots/golems. Created to fight in the Last War, now (mostly) liberated to live their own lives. Can attach magical items to their bodies.
Furthermore, Eberron was built with the expectation that goblinoids and orcs are members of society, so they have been integrated well. Drow are organized into multiple tribes that can have vastly different relations to outsiders (and plenty of exiles besides). Eberron is urbanized and industrialized enough that even stranger species can be found in large cities without bloodshed or the populace freaking out. This is all aided by Eberron scraping typical alignment on pretty much every natural, non-outsider, intelligent creature in favor of creating conflict through nationalism and occasionally religion.
- Artificer: PC class better at making and utilizing magic items. Often accompanied by homunculi. Casts infusions instead of spells. Infusion list is mostly buff/debuff effects that are cast on equipment (or constructs) rather than creatures.
- Magewright: NPC class. Basically an Expert with very limited spellcasting ability. Fulfills the role of "wage-wizards" in the setting.
Thirteen Minus One
An unusually high percentage of Eberron revolves around having thirteen of something, with one of them lost or destroyed (Read: a Baker's dozen). There were thirteen moons/alternate planes, but one had its connection severed. There were thirteen marks, but one was wiped out. There are thirteen regions in the modern Khorvaire, but one is the Mournland. There's thirteen holidays, but people ignore one (work-a-holics the lot of them). 5E has 13 classes, but
one perpetually in revision and playtesting one is useless.
(for DDO players who did the Shroud, THIRTIETH ECLIPSE ANYONE!!!???? Duhh, thats exactly the reason for the imbalance that caused the invasion)
In unpredictable parts of the world, the other planes of Eberron bleed into the prime material and change fundamental laws of physics. Often these are temporary (though the duration is generally as unpredictable as always), but many are permanent. In most settings, this kind of thing is treated as a novelty, or a hazard. In Eberron, these are considered natural resources to be exploited. Sharn, the world's largest city and the only one built vertically, is built on a manifest zone to Syrania. If that zone were severed, the city would fall like Wile E. Coyote upon suddenly remembering gravity was a thing.
For the longest time, Eberron went untouched in Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, outside of an early-released Unearthed Arcana conversion document of dubious quality. That all changed on July 23rd 2018, when WoTC announced that they were allowing Keith Baker to produce his own translation of Eberron to 5e - a document called "The Wayfinder's Guide to Eberron" - on the DM's Guild. This was described as a "first step", with the Wayfinder's Guide being described as a singular point to "collect feedback on adjusted races, dragon marks, new backgrounds and more". The implication-by-hope here is that WotC will release their own fully official printed copy of a 5e Eberron based on the feedback given to Keith Baker's "test book".
The fanbase was... split... on this decision. On the one hand, the fact Eberron was finally returning was a source of celebration, especially among players who were sick of many of the prior material being focused on the Forgotten Realms. On the other hand, the fact that the first Eberron book was basically a glorified homebrew - and one that you were paying $20 US for to boot, and which will probably get obsoleted by a more expensive book later - was a source of outrage, especially given the simultaneous announcement that Ravnica was going to get its own campaign setting book.
Still, this decision meant it was finally legal for fans to put their own Eberron-based content on the DM's Guild, and the Unearthed Arcana for several months afterward presented the various aspects for anyone to use (races, Dragonmarked as subraces, and magic items).
In late August 2019, Eberron's official 5th Edition debut was announced with Eberron: Rising from the Last War, coming out on November 19th. Among the many inclusions of the book is the final, retweaked version of the Artificer for 5th Edition, as well as ways to run around in the Mournland, if you really want to do that sort of thing. They also tease a new feature called "Group Patrons" which acts as a background, but for your entire adventuring party. One oddity with the book is that the cover was swapped a mere week before starting printing on account of the original cover being completely and utterly horrible and getting backlash for it. The original cover consisted of nothing more than a twink looking elf/gnome hybrid on a blue background with a badly drawn Warforged in front of him. The new cover is clearly a rush job, yet miles better in that it's actually depicts something that about Eberron, showing a better drawn Warforged with a clearly tribal halfling (and his dinosaur companion but that is sadly cut off by the aspect ratio and only visible on the banner version, even though there's dead space this dinosaur could have easily been moved to if it wasn't a rush job). If you don't like either of them, you can get the alternate cover, which is amazing, featuring a stylized frame and title, encircling the spires of Sharn and a skyship against an Eberron night sky.
Keith Baker has also released his own homemade splatbook, Exploring Eberron, through Wizards' DMGuild service. It is technically not an official product, but, much like the theoretical case of George Lucas publishing Star Wars fanfiction after selling the franchise to Disney, it's close enough that most fans treat it as an official expansion, and Wizards isn't quite stupid enough to say anything one way or another about it.