14 November 2018
A new world to explore
This snappy little guidebook lays out the groundwork for running a Dungeons & Dragons: Fifth Edition game in Eberron’s weird and wonderful world of lightning-powered trains and raptor-riding halflings and, though it falls well short of a complete setting book, there’s plenty to here to work with.
Released with very little warning through the official D&D Dungeon Masters’ Guild webstore, Wayfinder’s Guide to Eberron is a slim PDF-only volume that offers a crash course in the history and rules needed to run a campaign or two. This covers a trio of new race options that include the fan-favourite warforged, a species of artificially-created robots, as well as a vast array of ways to create characters that use ‘dragonmarks’ – mystical brands that allow the bearer to channel powerful abilities.
All this comes with a promise of more updates to come as the contents of the book are playtested and refined over the coming months and possible years. However, this promise – and the unexpected nature of the release – does leave all the rules and character options hovering in a strange, quasi-official limbo state. For example, while it has been confirmed by the D&D design team that the book itself is considered official, the races and other options within it are still ‘playtest material’ and therefore subject to change and banned in organised play events.
Still, if you don’t particularly mind potentially having to update a character sheet to match new decisions down the line, Wayfinder’s Guide to Eberron is an incredible gateway into one of the most fascinating worlds in the D&D line-up.
Originally created by Gloom designer Keith Baker for a competition some 16 years ago, Eberron is a wonderful example of how to take the standard fantasy setting and twist it into something fresh. While many of the standard fantasy tropes are still accounted for – there are still dragons to battle and dungeons to delve – there is a deliberate effort to shift away from Tolkien rip-offs and instead start ripping off everything from Jurassic Park to Casablanca.
If that sounds like a criticism, it really isn’t. RPGs are all about creating shared worlds and stories, and one of the best ways to draw out those ideas is by working in threads that people can instantly jump onto. By picking, choosing and spinning out a mishmash of concepts from pop culture, Baker has created something undeniably fun.
These ideas include fleets of elementally-fuelled airships plying the skyways, magical laundries servicing noble houses, lycanthropic adventurers and – of course – wild halfling tribes that hunt from the backs of their raptors.
The entire setting is packed with magical gadgets and gizmos, but at the same time it manages to feel a little more down-to-earth and dirtier than the Forgotten Realms, which has hosted virtually all of the D&D: Fifth Edition products published before this book. Where more traditional worlds have played host to battles between good and evil on a vast scale, Eberron is gripped in a cold war where there is very little black-and-white morality to spare, which may appeal to groups that keep their eye on profits while saving villagers from this week’s threat.
While it does a great job of setting up this huge world, DMs planning to launch a campaign deeply rooted in a particular area or culture may be a little frustrated at the overall lack of detail in Wayfinder’s Guide to Eberron. The section of faiths and religions – fairly important in a game where clerics and paladins play major roles – stretches to maybe four pages, and entire regions of the continent where most of the main events are set are lucky to get a few paragraphs dedicated to them, creating the feeling that you’re reading an introduction to something larger that’s still waiting in the wings.
In some ways that’s not a problem, because it’s made abundantly clear that this isn’t intended as a complete, standalone world guide, and if you’re really dedicated to uncovering the lore then the background information in books for the earlier editions is still relevant if you can track down a copy. However, the whistle-stop tour of the world and changeable nature of some of the rules does sometimes leave you feeling like you shelled out £15 for playtest material.
Still, if you’re in any way curious about Eberron and feel like messing about in its magical playgrounds, it’s easy to see that expense as an investment in something fascinating. Even if you’re determined to stick with the Forgotten Realms or your own homebrewed world the sheer range of stuff going on within Wayfarer’s Guide to Eberron can be an incredible way to fire up the imagination.
A nifty introduction to a very different kind of D&D setting.
Designer: Keith Baker, Wizards of the Coast team
This review originally appeared in the September 2018 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here – or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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