01 April 2020
Weird, Wonderful New Worlds
It’s been said that the art of originality lies in taking something that everybody already knows and putting a twist on it. By this definition, Dungeons & Dragons’ Eberron must be one of the most original game settings out there – one that’s perfect for spicing up a table growing tired of classic fantasy tropes.
Rising from the Last War is easily the most substantial and robust setting guide to be added to D&D since its latest edition launched five years ago, and aims to give players and GMs alike a whole new world to play about in. This means a heap of new rules, including races and class options, as well as a pile of magic items and monsters to pick from, but the meat of the book is a big pile of worldbuilding.
And what a world it is.
The simple elevator pitch for Eberron paints it as a world still recovering from the horrors of the titular ‘Last War’, both enjoying the arcane technology it spawned and reeling from the industrial-scale violence their creations wrought. However, this only covers the slightest sliver of what makes the setting great – its commitment to creatively ripping off pop culture.
If that sounds like an insult, it really isn’t. As you read Rising from the Last War, you get the impression that writers asked a hundred different people to think up something cool, and then tossed the results into the game world regardless of how well it seemed to mesh with the game’s sword and sorcery aesthetic.
Magical trains? Done. Shapeshifting assassins? You bet. Halfling dinosaur-pirates? Here are some ideas for playing one.
The result is a mash-up of steampunk, noir, pulp adventure and high fantasy that is – in all honesty – a bit of a mess. However, you’d be hard pressed to deny that it’s a gloriously enjoyable mess, and one that somehow seems to work. Every nook and cranny of the game world is stuffed with ideas all-but guaranteed to get someone at your table excited about the upcoming campaign.
For some people this will come in the form of the setting itself, while other will be drawn in by the new characters options, which include a handful of races and the first full class to hit this edition of D&D. Of these the robotic warforged are perhaps the most instantly fascinating – who doesn’t want to play a kick-arse steampunk adventurer? – but the shapeshifting changelings also instantly inspire countless takes on old stories.
The magical tricks and tools of the new artificer class also allow players to play out a grab-bag of steampunk tropes, which can range from mad scientist to gunsmith depending on what choices you make. It’s possibly the most flexible class available to adventurers at the moment, and while this comes at the cost of some complexity it makes up for it by feeling incredibly fun and thoroughly embedded in the high-magic world of Eberron.
Indeed, the section immediately following the rules for the artificer are all about a new way to get your entire campaign tied neatly into the game world, with a dozen or so ideas for patrons that could lead – or force – the party into adventure. This is a wonderful set of concepts, many of which turn the old “you meet in a tavern” idea firmly on its head.
While there’s plenty of room for traditional adventuring parties, Rising from the Last War also set out plans for playing as a band of roving tabloid reporters, a squad of crime-busting investigators or a team of spies. It’s hard to guess how many of the ideas would play out in a long-term campaign, but every single one of them provides a jolt of inspiration squarely to the part of the brain that plans adventures.
The weakest part of the entire book might actually be the parts that look to explain and explore the nitty-gritty details of Eberron itself. Part of this is the inevitable dry tone, and part of it is a rather boring layout. If you want to bone up on the politics of the world you need to plough through 50 pages of mostly plain text that feels like more of a primer for returning players than something made for newcomers.
Behind this, however, you’ll find a truly exciting world that can bring incredible flavour to your D&D table. It’s not quite the classic dungeon-crawling heroism that most newcomers expect from the game, but if you’re after something new it’s hard to beat.
PLAY IT? Yes
An absolute delight of a setting that comes with a slice of new rules that you can drop into any world you feel like. Just be prepared for a lot of reading.