Late last year during a fun extended Thanksgiving weekend, my kids and I picked up another D&D sourcebook: Eberron: Rising from the Last War. The setting of Eberron came out during Dungeons and Dragons 3.5, so I missed it completely until now,1 and wanted to try it out with the kids. Taking advantage of lockdown, I finally had some time to look into this book and start planning out a campaign for my kids.
Eberron, as a setting, seems to attract a pretty devoted audience due to its unusual magic-steampunk atmosphere which differs from the more typical high-fantasy of the Forgotten Realms or Greyhawk settings. If you like trains powered by lightning, flying ships powered by fire elementals, and plenty of noir atmosphere, there’s a lot to work with.
The sourcebook is dense even by the standards of D&D sourcebooks, and if you have never played Eberron before, the amount Eberron-specific lore in the book is pretty daunting. I feel pretty familiar with the Forgotten Realms setting, its lore and such, and almost none of it translates into Eberron. It is its own world, its own history, people and even terminology. I still have only a vague idea what Quori are, and who the Daelkyr were, but they feature prominently. Then there is a whole new pantheon of gods (which for some reason have no alignment defined in the sourcebook), new religions, etc.
The history of Eberron alone is amazingly detailed, as it covers various empires that have risen and fallen. Demonic kingdoms existed in antiquity, as did dragons, and later goblinoid empires. Then there’s the Last War which is what the current setting is pinned on: a great continental war that resulted in the total destruction of one of its kingdoms (Cyre) leaving behind a kind of magic post-apocalyptic nightmare. All of this makes for pretty fascinating backstory, and the richness of Eberron probably helps explain its enduring popularity.
However, for all this impressive backstory, culture and extra features (for example “dragonmarks”) a couple problems confront a new DM totally unfamiliar with Eberron:
- The learning curve for such material is kind of steep, and unless you’ve played in a campaign before, it might be hard to retain it all.
- Due to density, it’s hard to know what’s essential information, and what’s not. How much can you afford to cut out for a smaller campaign taking play in, say, Sharn, vs. the Shadow Reaches?
Another challenge presenting DMs who are making campaigns for kids is adapting the grim noir setting into something more lightweight and fun. My youngest is much too young to appreciate dark backstories, or the horrors of war, he just likes to fight cool monster battles. When I started out making a campaign for my kids, I sat there with an open notebook, read through a few chapters and hours later still had a blank notebook. I had no idea how to come up with quick intro-level adventure.2
Thankfully, Keith Baker, the genius behind Eberron wrote an article recently for D&D Beyond that helped address this very question. He suggested 4 possible types of adventures to start with, among others:
- An urban adventure in Sharn, particular in the “underbelly” (literally and figuratively) of the city.
- A wilderness adventure on assignment with the Clifftop Adventurer’s Guild.
- A gritty, frontier adventure at the mining colony of Hope.
- Go back a bit in time to the last days of the War and various adventure opportunities that presents.
The article helped me finally come up with a good starting adventure hook, and some much-needed context around the vast lore of Eberron: Rising from the Last War. My kids and I played a small two-episode campaign in the Shadow Reaches as a “contract” with Clifftop Adventurer’s Guild to clear some monsters, plus I added some sidekicks: a Warforged fighter (who, little do they know, has some Manchurian Candidate-style programming in his mind), and a Hobgoblin cleric of Aureon who longs to fit into high-society. Once things settled in, the campaign felt like any old fun adventure around the dinner table. It was D&D through and through, just with a different campaign. We’ve since started to branch off into a second adventure taking place in Sharn doing some relic scavenging.
As my family’s first experience with Eberron, once we got over the hurdle of absorbing a whole new world’s worth of lore, the rules and gameplay are just as fun as any other D&D game.
In closing, I think one of the biggest challenges of Eberron: Rising from the Last War is its format: dense, and not organized around getting started. My impression was that the target audience is the existing Eberron fanbase, and the interest in adapting Eberron in a more official 5th-edition capacity than before. Thus, as an official sourcebook for all things Eberron, this book passes with flying colors. As an onboarding guide for new players this book is a bit intimidating, but if you can work your way through it, it’s quite fun.
Good luck and happy adventuring!
P.S. I realize most D&D players are probably focused on the latest adventure book, Rime of the Frostmaiden, but I as a busy nerd dad, I move kind of slow. 😉
1 For those keeping score, my first experience with D&D was 2nd edition AD&D, which I played a bunch in high-school with friends. None of us knew what we were doing, but we had a lot of fun, I devoured books about Drizzt Do’Urden, and played some Dark Sun as well. By the time 3rd edition came out, though, I was in college and had forgotten all about D&D for a long time until _4th edition_ came out. I played one game of that and said no thanks. It wasn’t until 5th edition that I seriously played again. So, I missed everything related to D&D 3rd and 3.5 edition. I played Pathfinder for a bit as well, and I would be up for playing it again (especially Pathfinder 2), but I have just barely enough time for 5e as it is.
2 As other reviews have pointed out, there is an introduction adventure included in the book, but due to its density, I wasn’t able to find it. Descriptions of Sharn the City of Tower were nice and detailed, but how to turn this into a fun intro story weren’t readily apparent.