Exploring (the rest of) Eberron

Justin Olivetti
J. Olivetti|08.06.10

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Exploring (the rest of) Eberron
By the time you read this, I'll be scampering about GenCon in Indianapolis, thick in the middle of four days of gaming and geekery. Don't weep for me, for I am already gone! One of my hopes for this weekend is to reconnect with pen-and-paper RPGs, a part of my gaming life that has almost withered into nothingness.

That got me thinking about Eberron -- the D&D campaign in which DDO is set. You don't hear DDO players fussing about it so much any more (people either made their peace with it or moved on), but way back when, the Eberron setting was a fairly controversial choice for Turbine to make. After all, there are dozens upon dozens of campaign settings, including some (like Forgotten Realms or Dragonlance) that most people associate with the franchise.

Eberron, on the other hand, was a relatively wet-behind-the-ears upstart with a quirky setting that can best be described as "Indiana Jones meets steampunk meets flashy, practical magic." Personally, I've grown to like the campaign, and I want to take a look at how the pen-and-paper version was constructed, how the Eberron setting shines in DDO, and how Turbine could be using it more.
Win a contest, make a campaign

Eberron's beginning is a Cinderella story of sorts. In 2002, Wizards of the Coast decided to open up a new Dungeons & Dragons campaign, but instead of creating it in-house, Wizards decided to outsource it by launching a public contest to design the new setting. Out of 11,000 entries, Keith Baker's magic-slash-pulp-fiction universe popped out at Wizards, and the company authorized Baker and others to flesh it out for a 2004 release.

Cue awards, fame, fortune, glory and the interest of Turbine. The idea of a new(ish) D&D campaign setting appealed to the company, which was looking to avoid the baggage of placing the game in a D&D campaign like Forgotten Realms where players would automatically be comparing it to Baldur's Gate or Neverwinter Nights. Eberron represented a fresh start couple with the familiarity of D&D classes, mechanics and races. Turbine then hired Baker in 2006 to write additional backstory and quests for its upcoming D&D MMO, and Baker was happy to oblige.

A whole new world, a new fantastic point of view

You may not know this from the game itself, but DDO's slice of the world of Eberron is actually quite small, even if you include outlying areas of Stormreach. To wit:

You see those other blobs? Those are continents spread out over the entire world. The green circle is more or less what we're currently limited to in our adventures. It's not just that there's a huge world out beyond the scope of our horizons, but that this world is more developed, more civilized and steeped in greater amounts of history. Essentially, Xen'Drik is a jungle frontier where its greatest source of civilization -- Stormreach city -- is a podunk village compared to the metropolises found elsewhere on the planet.

So why Xen'drik over anywhere else in the world -- especially over the continent of Khorvaire, which got the lion share of campaign development? Keith Baker explained one of the reasons a few years ago: "Xen'drik has always INTENTIONALLY been left undeveloped, so each DM can put what he wants there... The reason the MMO was placed in Xen'drik was so they would have room to create their own material."

Gadgets, magic and giants

If you've played DDO for any length of time, you'll be able to back me up on this: Eberron is both familiar to the generic fantasy tropes and alien ones at the same time. While you have D&D staples such as magic missiles, elves, paladins, rangers, creature summons and the like, Eberron twists it into a different feel and flavor. You can see this in the unique designs of the armor, the hydraulic traps and doors that litter dungeons, mechanical dogs, bright magic that helps to hold up houses and power cranes, and the sentient robot/golems known as the warforged. Because low magic is almost everywhere in this world, Eberron treats it as you or I would treat normal plumbing and technology: as something to rely on but not be awed by.

This is why we get some pretty funky instances where technology or working magic are almost everywhere. I've always felt that the Eberron setting gives dungeon creators a longer leash than other, more generic fantasy backdrops, because it's OK to be a bit fantastic, a bit wild and a bit insane. The mix of pulp adventure, film noir, fantasy and steampunk make for interesting bedfellows, no doubt.

However, it's always disappointed me that Turbine held back from embracing Eberron's full potential in terms of unique classes, places and races. Don't get me wrong, the warforged are all well and good, but that's the beginning and the end of how daring the team got with the character creator. The rest of the options fall safely within the lines of standard D&D, and even the upcoming half-orc race and the druid class don't stray from something you might see in any other campaign.

Thinking outside the campaign box

However, I'm not really down on Turbine for its decisions, because I can see how they make sense. DDO was already a very niche game within a niche genre, and by embracing as much familiarity with D&D and standard fantasy classes as possible, the team created a bridge to as many players as possible.

Yet seeing as how DDO's had some time to establish itself and has grown considerably over the past year, I would love to see Turbine let down its hair and get a bit more funky with Eberron. I'd love to see the team add races you don't see every day in D&D video games, such as the kalashtar (psionic humans who play host to a powerful alien race), shifters (animal-human crossbreeds who can unleash their animalistic abilities), psiforged (psychic warforged), changelings (who can shapeshift somewhat) or even Daelkyr half-bloods (mutations caused by evil seeping into the world). Heck, I'd even settle for gnomes. Who's with me? GNOME POWER!

... Every game is better with gnomes.

It would also be neat to see Turbine embrace psionic classes, such as the psychic warrior or the soulknife. But if I had to pick one class whose inclusion is almost imperative for Turbine, it would be the artificer.

Artificers were created for Eberron and are pretty unique in their setup. Characters get a pool of points that power their ability to infuse items and objects. Through this infusion, temporary buffs can be handed out, warforged can be repaired, locks can be opened, and items created for various purposes. For all intents and purposes, artificers work as hybrid clerics (buffs and some heals) and rogues (since they are pretty talented working with traps and locks), but their abilities give them special options not typically encountered elsewhere. Seeing as how Eberron uses infused magic in most everything and embraces the steampunk lifestyle, artificers simply make sense.

Of course, I'm far from an expert on Eberron, and I'll wager that some of our readers not only have more familiarity with the campaign, but pretty strong opinions as to what should be added to DDO. What say ye?

Next week: Why feather fall is always a good excuse to ditch your party so that you can jump off that cliff and shout "Wheeee!"
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