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.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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