I’ve been dragging my feet over reviewing this book, because it’s really only half the setting, and therefor somewhat incomplete. The setting won’t be complete until the Campaign Guide comes out next month.
But I’ve always had a soft spot for Eberron. It is, hands down, my favourite official D&D setting, from any edition or version of the game. The mix of noire and pulp sensibility with the high fantasy of D&D, the predisposition to cinematic scenes in play, and the rich (and largely unexplored) backstory of the game world just really appeal to me.
The Player’s Guide is, overall, a good book. It’s certainly got me wanting more. There are some things in it that I’m not so sure about, and some things that I think are missing, but that’s going to be the case with any book. This book delivers more than enough to fulfill its purpose: giving players what they need to play in an Eberron game.
Let’s go through the book chapter by chapter.
The introduction features Ten Important Facts, which are very similar to the original ones that were printed with the initial relase of Eberron for 3E. They’ve dropped the point about new races in favour of one on the Draconic Prophesy, and the order has been slightly rearranged. It winds up highlighting the interplay between the Draconic Prophesy, the Dragonmarked Houses, and Dragonshards, which is not a bad thing.
Chapter 1: Life in Eberron
This chapter covers the basics of geography, history, religion, power groups, and day-to-day life. It introduces some of the main themes and conflicts inherent in the setting, and just generally gives a player a nice overview of what the world is like from the ground level.
There are two pages of maps here, miniatures of the poster map that comes with the Campaign Guide. And I have to say that, if the full size version lives up to the promise of the miniature versions, they will be some of the nicest world maps ever done in a D&D product. The maps in the main campaign book were always one of my pet peeves about 3E Eberron – the large scale map didn’t show the political borders, roads, rails, or cities, and the small-scale maps didn’t show those things outside the border of the nation they depicted. It made the maps somewhat less than useful. The 4E version doesn’t seem to have that problem.
Chapter 2: Races
Changelings and Kalashtar are back, and Warforged get a full write-up. The other common races each get about a half-page to show how they fit into Eberron. The backstories for the Devas and the Eladrin in particular struck me as very nicely done.
The 4E implementation of the Changeling is very close to just being a straight lift from the 4E Doppleganger, which is fine. The mechanics seem solid, and the two powers nicely reinforce the sly, deceptive possibilities of the race.
The Kalashtar are… interesting. Without the Psionic power source (coming in Player’s Handbook 3), they don’t have that synergy working for them yet. However, they do get a nice psychic defense power and telepathic communication, so the groundwork is laid. A lot of the rich Kalashtar backstory from 3E is not in this book – understandably, from the point of view of space in the book and concerns about overwhelming the reader with information. They have been given more of a “flirting with madness” vibe in this edition that I think works*.
The Warforged write-up seems pretty much a rehash of the Dragon article on playing them. Nothing really new, but nice to have it in one book.
Overall, the races section delivers the goods. I’m very satisfied with it, and delighted by one or two bits.
Chapter 3: Classes
One new class – the Artificer, of course. A pile of new paragon paths, and a smattering of epic destinies.
The Artificer was previewed as a playtest feature in Dragon some time ago. Since then, it’s undergone some substantial work, and the result is pretty good, in my opinion. As an arcane leader, it shares some design space with the Bard, but (as is common in 4E) fills the role in a way that is qualitatively different and fresh. Artificers still get to power up weapons and items with funky temporary boosts and enchantments, but now also get to build little constructs to help you with various things – including combat. This is handled using the summoning rules, and just thrills me. The idea of an Artificer tossing down a pile of sticks, metal, and crystal and then conjuring an elemental spirit into it to animate it and send it in to battle just tickles me to no end. They also get to produce a number of different conjurations and zones, making them good secondary controllers.
I’m getting happier and happier with paragon paths. At first, I didn’t like the idea that a character who hadn’t multi-classed all through heroic tier would be forced to take one, but the increasing number of choices provided in the supplements, and the broader and more interesting requirements for them, are changing my mind. For example, the Alchemist Savant paragon path has as its only requirement the ability to make alchemical items. There are also paragon paths for each of the Dragonmarks. Nice and juicy, all of them.
The epic destinies tie strongly into the ideas of the Draconic Prophesy, the Last War, the Mournland, and the Silver Flame. As such, they are very flavourful, and linked directly to some of the primary themes of the Eberron campaign world.
So, the classes chapter also gets a big thumbs-up.
Chapter 4: Character Options
Feats, equipment, and rituals here, including the extra alchemy rules and items that are so important to the feel of Eberron.
The feats are the usual mix you might expect, mainly tied to world-specific things like the new races, the nationalities, the new deities, and Dragonmarks. I was again disappointed with the Shifter** – no real love there, when I thought the Shifters and their feats were one of the most interesting things in the 3E Eberron.
Dragonmark feats deserve some special mention. They have been redesigned to grant bonuses and boosts to certain character capabilities, and to allow the marked character to master certain rituals tied to the mark. No more spell-like abilities (or powers, as they would have been in 4E), and each of the marks now has something to offer to an adventuring character. I like it.
The equipment section has a smattering of Eberron weapons, some specific pieces of gear (ID papers, inquisitive’s kit, spellshards) and Dragonmarked House services, and those alchemical rules I mentioned. These latter are a very nice supplement to the Adventurer’s Vault alchemy rules, including fun things like clockwork bombs and woundpatch. The magic items are primarily devoted to implements for the new deities, artificers, and some Dragonshard items and Warforged components.
There are 20 new rituals, as well, and while they all tie in very nicely to the themes and feel of Eberron, they are also all very applicable in other campaign worlds. This brings the official published rituals up around the 200 mark, and that makes me happy, though I still hope to see them expand into the Martial power source.
Character options gets a grudging nod, despite the fact that Shifters have once again been shafted.
Chapter 5: The World of Eberron
This section walks through the world, using it as a source of character backgrounds. It starts with the Five Nations, moves on to the rest of Khorvaire, and then expands to take in the rest of the world and other background elements such as Dragonmarked Houses and professions. It does a good job of giving a decent overview without going too much in depth on any single topic.
I would have liked to have seen them revisit the trick they used the 3E Five Nations supplement, where each nation had a sidebar with five things everyone in that nation knows. I found that a brilliant way to encapsulate the mindset of the average person of that nation, showing what they find important, and what they think about many things. The section on backgrounds in this book would have been a perfect place to do that again.
This section holds the single piece of art in the book that I think fails. The picture of Sharn on p 127 just doesn’t do it for me. Sure, we get a nice view of the towers, but the whole thing looks like a piece of wargame terrain set on a flat table. The art from the Sharn: City of Towers 3E sourcebook did a significantly better job of showing the way Sharn is really built on more Sharn, reaching down into the depths of the headland. And the floating neighbourhoods would have been nice to see.
And that’s the book. On the whole, I like it, though I think there were a couple of missed opportunities, and some things (like the Psionic nature of the Kalashtar) that are going to take future supplements to bring to fruition. But, as a start, it certainly does its job. It’s got me thinking about running a new Eberron campaign***.
*Can you tell I like Kalashtars?
**I mentioned this back here.
***No, I’m not going to do it right now. I’d have to drop something else, or convert one of the current games over to Eberron, and I don’t think the players would be happy about those options.