Review: Wayfinder’s Guide to Eberron (5E)

Yes, this is a hot take, but what else is the Internet for?

I am currently 21 sessions into a 5E Eberron campaign that I have been running, using the 3.5 materials (which I already own) and what’s been released as Unearthed Arcana for Eberron from Wizards. Today I saw in my Twitter feed that the promised setting announcement from WotC was not just one setting but two – one for adapting Magic the Gathering’s setting to 5E, and the other being the Wayfinder’s Guide to Eberron for 5E. I know next to nothing about Magic the Gathering’s setting, so I have nothing to say about that one, but Eberron has been my favorite D&D setting since it was released 16 years ago, and I have things to say about the Wayfinder’s Guide. Here we go.

The New

Partly, it just feels good to see something new come out for Eberron. I got excited, and bought the PDF without really thinking about it because I knew it would bother me until I got it and saw what was in there.

The rules for the four unique Eberron races have been updated and, in my opinion, improved. The warforged are expanded and clarified, and they have made them more flexible as well, with subtypes (one that was a Prestige Class in 3.5E) and the ability to reconfigure your defenses as well. Lots of cool fiddly bits for warforged. The shifters have also been expanded and improved, more similar to how they were in 3.5E, with each kind of shifter functioning as a subrace that is activated during shifting. Changelings and Kalashtar similar gain some new abilities that make sense, all compared to their Unearthed Arcana examples.

Dragonmarks are significantly different form what appeared in Unearthed Arcana, brought much more in line with other Feats in 5E, rather than looking like the innate casting that creatures like drow get which improves as you level. They add some bonus dice to proficiency rolls, and in some cases are much simplified but a little head-scratchy (I’m looking at you, new House Jorasco). Right now we are using the old UA version of dragonmarks, and I think it is working well for the most part. I would say that the rules they have for Aberrant Dragonmarks need a lot of work, but are clearly being left as a blank spot for other designers.

The Old

The setting material remains the same – there is no jump in time as there might have been, and no changes in the setting that I could see (from the snippets that are in this PDF). The themes and ideas of Eberron, the advice for applying them, etc. are all there as they have been since 2002. Contrary to what Keith Baker said, there is plenty of information that is rehashed in this Guide, but that’s to be expected.

I also recognized almost all of the art in the PDF, and I imagine the art I didn’t recognize was just from supplements I don’t have, or art that I’ve seen and forgotten. Again, this is only to be expected from a PDF release on the DM’s Guild. At least we got a new-looking piece of art for the cover, and it’s pretty cool.

The Good

I like the new versions of the four Eberron races – all four of them feel flexible, powerful, and cool. I could see some DMs and players thinking they might not be precisely balanced with the core rulebook races, and that’s probably a fair criticism in some cases.

I also like the new tables that have been sprinkled throughout the Guide, ranging from random street-level events for different layers of Sharn to a table with ideas of why your dwarf left the Mror Holds in the first place, or a table of different debts that drive you to adventure in the first place, plus many more. Even if you hate random tables (weirdo) they still function as lists of cool ideas to pick from and add to your Eberron campaign.

The Meh

The setting material doesn’t provide that much beyond a reminder for folks who already know about Eberron. You’ll still need to do a lot of improvising, or go buy other resources for the setting, which was the case before this Guide was released.

I’m fine with the new version of the Dragonmarks, but I also liked the previous Unearthed Arcana versions of them as well. I like how the UA versions mirrored innate spellcasting when we see it in a given race, like the drow. I like how the new versions tie the Dragonmarks into particular proficiencies that make sense, and also how they fit in comparison to the other Feats in the PHB. If anything, most of them are significantly better – and I know a design challenge for Eberron has always been making the Dragonmarks exciting enough that players will want to choose them for their characters (Keith Baker said as much on his podcast).

So the Dragonmarks aren’t meh because they are lacking – they’re fine, I think, as written. The problem is, they were also cool before as innate spellcasting. The Aberrant marks, on the other hand, are just straight meh. Someone has to come along and fix those – which I bet is WotC’s intent.

The Not-So-Good

For the PDF at release, the table of contents is incomplete. It doesn’t mention Kalashtar between Changelings and Shifters, and is missing a few other major headings. I imagine they will fix this after it’s release and perhaps put out an updated PDF, but these are bigger mistakes than just spelling errors, you know? And whether your major headings are reflected in the PDF bookmarks is pretty straightforward to check.

In his blog post, Keith Baker mentioned that the intent with this release was not to rehash material from 3E or 4E Eberron, as those books are still available through the DMs Guild as PDFs, but of course there is plenty of rehashing. The text ends up kind of failing on two fronts – it isn’t all new material for 5E, not by a long shot honestly. On the other hand, it hints at a lot of things that it doesn’t spell out, which kind of highlights the need for the other setting materials to make sense of it.

Just one example, as my PCs are headed to the Lhazaar Principaliesin the near future: the page on the Principalities mentions a half-dozen NPC groups in passing, but gives almost no information on them. This means that I also have to go back and read the pages on the Principalities in my Eberron Campaign Guide, and also have in mind that some of these might be from one of the many other sourcebooks that were released, some of which I have and some not. This comes off as just…unsatisfactory. What’s here would make a good handout for the players on the Principalities, but that wouldn’t have been hard to do on my own with a few minutes of cutting and pasting from a previously published PDF.

Overall

I love Eberron and still think it is the best setting D&D has ever produced. It beat out 11 thousand other submitted settings for a reason. I bought the PDF and don’t necessarily regret it, but on the other hand, if you are like me and running Eberron using the previous materials and Unearthed Arcana materials and a little bit of adaptation, you can continue to do that without buying this Guide to Eberron. If you would like another version of all of the Dragonmark Feats, as well as updated rules for the four unique Eberron races, and some advice on the magical economy as well as a few examples of magic items to add into your game, then this Guide is probably worthwhile.

If you don’t already have other 3E and/or 4E Eberron material, this Guide won’t be enough, especially in the category of the setting. Each section on a part of the setting is a glance at most, with the exception fo Sharn, which is fleshed out a bit more. Again, this Guide is a starting point, especially if you are setting your campaign in Sharn to start, but you will still have to do a lot of work on your own, or shell out the money for the previously released setting materials.

Ultimately, it’s $20 for Unearthed Arcana materials – that will be worth it to some of us, and not worth it to others. You can definitely run Eberron in 5E without this Guide if you already have plenty of Eberron materials and a little time to adapt them to 5E – that’s as true now as it was before this Guide came out.

Want more posts like this, more often? Want early access, and Patreon-only posts? Plus a Discord community? Then support my Patreon!

Eberron: Random Tables for Shargon’s Teeth

I’m currently running a 5th Edition game in Eberron. The PCs are sailing across the Thunder Sea, past Shargon’s Teeth, to Stormreach and Xen’Drik. Of course, bad things are happening, and it looks like they’ll end up stranded on one of the islands of Shargon’s Teeth, possibly island-hopping their way to Stormreach.

Or they’re going to defeat a Marid as a 4th level group – 5th Ed is crazy.

I like having random tables – they actually help me with creativity when I need to do something like come up with a bunch of interesting but variable islands. If all of the options on the tables are interesting to me, then what becomes interesting are the surprise interactions. I didn’t always like them, but I’ve changed in the last few years.

I’ve come up with some random tables  to use in creating islands in Shargon’s Teeth. Part of my thinking here is to treat Shargon’s Teeth kind of like different versions of Galapagos islands. At least, I’m using the Galapagos as inspiration for the Teeth (as I’m using Madagascar and New Guinea as inspiration for Xen’Drik).

First is a random table of unique elements for each island. These are the first thing you’d notice about the island, and form the core of how I describe it:

Random Island Features: Shargon’s Teeth

Roll d10

  1. Easily accessible fresh water
  2. Barren and dry; water from fruit and coconuts and rain
  3. Plenty of coastal food, shellfish, shoals
  4. Brutal sharp coral surrounding the island
  5. A high peak at the center for long visibility (if climbed)
  6. Crumbling ruins of a lost civilization
  7. Island formed around the ruins of a massive, ancient ship
  8. Coral atoll surrounding a deep blue hole
  9. Groves of dragonsblood trees (Socotra Island)
  10. Sharp, steaming volcanic activity (steam and magma mephits)

Next, I have a random table for the dominant living thing on a given island. I’m thinking of the islands having some basic island plants and animals, but there’s one dominant living thing, taken from this list:

Random Island Megafauna (and Megaflora): Shargon’s Teeth

Roll d10

  1. Giant marine iguanas
  2. Giant tortoises
  3. Carnivorous pisonia trees
  4. Giant racer snakes
  5. Giant ironweb spiders
  6. Basilisks
  7. A water weird
  8. Swarms of stirges
  9. Giant crabs
  10. A Pseudodragon

Last, I have whether there are intelligent inhabitants on the island. There’s a one third chance of each island being uninhabited by any intelligent creature, and then some interesting options:

Random Island Inhabitants: Shargon’s Teeth

Roll d12

  1. No one
  2. No one
  3. No one
  4. No one
  5. Sahuagin outpost
  6. Sahuagin outpost
  7. Locathah living in a blue hole, self-sustaining and hidden
  8. A subterranean, underwater cult of kuo-toa
  9. Feral victims of a previous shipwreck
  10. Escaped sea spawn
  11. Lizardfolk
  12. Sea hag

Obviously, these are specific to Shargon’s Teeth, and may not translate to any other particular setting. But I really like these as a starting-point for these particular islands, and I hope the PCs end up island-hopping for a while.

I also created a big random event and encounter table to keep the journey interesting. The results weren’t quite what I’d hoped, but I think I tried to cram too much into the voyage, including testing out Xanathar’s Guide’s downtime rules during the voyage and having some intrigue as well.

As often as you’d like, have a player roll a d100 and consult this table. Not all of these are supposed to be combat encounters – none of them were for our game. Rather, they were glimpses of a larger and sometimes scarier world:

 

1-4 Huge marine iguanas

5-6 Water elemental

7-8 Air elemental

9-10 Kraken

11-20 Sahuagin patrol

21-22 Dragon eel

23-24 Dragon turtle

25-26 Giant octopus

27-30 School of giant squid

31-35 Soarwood ship

36-46 Ship – roll to determine if it is a pirate

47-48 Wind galleon

49-50 Lyrandar airship

51-55 Pod of whales

56-60 Dolphins at the prow

61-64 Merfolk at the prow

65-67 Dragon (black, green, bronze or gold)

68-69 Stirges

70-80 Becalmed

81-91 Thunderstorm

92-93 Roc

94-95 Steam or ice mephits

96-97 Plesiosaurus

98-99 Coelacanth or other huge archaic fish

100 Roll twice

5E Eberron Campaign

Setting Sights Additional Eberron Dungeons Dragons | Apps ...

I’m currently starting up a 5th Edition Eberron campaign. I have a lot of the books from the original version of Eberron in 3.5, and therefore more fluff than I could ever use, but it will take some adaptation to run this game. Unearthed Arcana has released some updates for basic Eberron material, which I am taking as my starting-point.

House Rules

First, some house rules. I can’t seem to run any RPG without at least a few house rules, and D&D is no exception.

Players roll all the dice. I just like this way of running a game, especially a game like D&D. I feel like the game slows to a crawl whenever the DM needs to roll dice for all the monsters and NPCs. Basically, where NPCs have bonuses I make those DCs, and where PCs have DCs (like Armor Class) I make those bonuses. I also use set damage, as in the MM. (Bonus: based on our first session, this rule works amazingly well, and is now how I DM)

Let it ride. I use this rule in all of my games. I get it from Burning Wheel. Basically, once you roll for something, the stakes remain. One stealth roll to sneak all the way in the castle. One roll to pick the lock. You can’t make another attempt until the conditions change.

Action points. One element of Eberron is Action Points. To emulate those in 5E, I just made the simple change that players can store, and swap, points of inspiration. Over time they can build up, and have a similar function to Action Points.

I’m also going to be working on house rules for House Tarkanan aberrant dragonmarks and the effects of the Mark of Vol, which I will share when I have them.

Principles

Everyone’s hack of D&D 5E to run Eberron will be a bit different. Here is what I have in mind for my own: in the Eberron setting material as written, as usual for 3.X D&D, the NPCs often have PC character classes, sometimes mixed with NPC classes. 5E’s approach from the Monster Manual and onward seems to be much more about exception-based design, including for humanoids who have abilities very similar to player-character classes.

One thing from Eberron that I’ll retain is that there are not many high-level NPCs in the world. So you get a setting where tons of characters have first-level spells of various kinds, and spells are relatively common up to maybe 3rd level, but if you need someone resurrected you’ll have to go on a question to find some sort of religious figure who can help you out. There also end up being plenty of threats that only the PCs can really deal with in the world, as CR 20 monsters abound.

Obsidian Portal

I love using Obsidian Portal for campaign management. It’s a good way to have a lot of my worldbuilding notes right in front of me, to track player-characters and NPCs, and to have something cool for players to dig through looking for Easter eggs that will help them in-game. This is my Obsidian portal page for Shadows of the Last War.

They Didn’t Meet In A Bar

To introduce the characters to one another, I threw them into a pretty contrived fight scene where some of their backgrounds came out all at once. After that, though, I had to have a reason for them to be working together. I hate the stage in a game where the PCs are pretending not to want to work together, so I decided to just force them together early on, and the players were OK with that. Sharn gave me an option I hadn’t used before – because of the high rent in Deathsgate where they all wanted to live, they are roommates. So now it’s a sort of dysfunctional episode of Friends, and the players all introduced their characters to each other by answering the question, “What kind of roommate are you?” It went great, and I recommend it as something to have in the goodie-bag for ways to get the party together early in a game, especially an urban one.