I’m back today with more Eberron action, this time from the brand new Exploring Eberron book produced by setting creator Keith Baker and a host of very talented writers. While Rising From the Last War (the subject of three previous posts) updated the setting to 5e, this book includes many of Baker’s intense and amazing thoughts on the world of Eberron. There’s plenty here for fans new and old so let’s dive in!
It’s impossible to cover everything in a single book but two areas that don’t get a lot of attention are the Age of Demons and the Age of Giants. Both of these time periods, and the mythical Dawn of Creation with the three Progenitor dragons, get some excellent details but the three time periods are covered in two pages total. In those pages are some great hooks, though, including specific prompts for players in Character Ideas sections. For instance, have you ever thought about a barbarian whose rage is powered by a shard of an overlord’s crystal prison embedded in their skin? What about an adventurer who inherited a deed to a plot of jungle just outside of Stormreach? Good luck thinking about other Eberron characters in the near-future.
The Age of Monsters, the time of the Dhakaani Empire and the birth of the Undying Court, is covered in its own section of less than a page. There are Character Ideas and intriguing new details like the other eras but, this age also shows up throughout the book in new and exciting ways. The ominous land of Droaam is covered in a fourteen page section of Chapter 4: Uncharted Domains. This was an important territory of the Dhakaani, we’re told, but it was devastated in the war with the daelkyr. Instead, Droaam (or “the Barrens” as it was known under Brelish rule) is controlled by local chibs (a goblin word meaning “boss”) held power over a small area but nothing lasted until after the Last War when the Daughters of Sora Kell arrived.
This is a dramatic simplification of the history, of course, but it greatly expands the image of Droaam even in the awesome Greywall article in Dragon a few years ago. For instance, I’ve often wondered just how much power the Daughters are supposed to have throughout Droaam and this book details an organization that each oversees: Katra’s Voice of emissaries, Maenya’s Fist of enforcers, and Teraza’s Eye of sages and scholars. This is exactly the sort of framework you could use to integrate a Droaamish adventurer into a campaign party, or even to make a campaign of the Daughters’ agents as the entire party. There is a long discussion of the different creatures who call Droaam home from tieflings and oni to shfiters and gnolls (including many different subtypes. Mostly this is about NPC stats but later in the book we get a full write-up for Znir gnolls (the good sort) as a PC option. There’s plenty here to involve your campaign in Droaam, including ideas you might never have thought of.
The Heirs of Dhakaan
My favorite part of Eberron is the version of goblinoids presented by Keith Baker, the amazing heritage of the Dhakaani Empire and the lost lands and power of the goblin peoples. The fifteen pages of deep-dive into the Dhakaani goes even further than previous Eberron products to changing goblinoids from soulless meat bags that you cleave through without remorse and into a culture and narrative force with motivations, importance, and pathos. There’s so much in here and it’s hard to summarize but here are the truly salient points of new lore detailed in Exploring Eberron.
Long ago, the greatest dirge singer of her age or any other was Jhazaal Dhakaan. She crafted a piece of epic magic called the Uul Dhakaan which was a shared dreamspace where sleeping goblinoids were guided to dream of a great and shared destiny. Through this she shaped a unifying sense of duty and purpose among the dar (the different goblinoid types) and the Empire of Dhakaan lasted for five millennia. Then the daelkyr came and severed the Uul Dhakaan so the dar went underground (literally) to get away from the invaders and regroup. The stayed there for a long time in hidden enclaves (some losing contact through the ages) until scouts in the world above brought back tales of a new goblin kingdom that had been founded. The danger was over, they concluded, and the dar of the Dhakaani came up again to reclaim their legacy.
Hoo boy, that’s a lot, right? And believe me that this is the barest surface of the story in this book. It’s already brimming with possibility and it gets better from there. Not only are the Darguuls (those goblinoids who stayed on the surface and now run Darguun) different culturally from the Dhakaani clans but they are fundamentally different since they no nothing of the dream of empire created millennia ago by Jhazaal Dhakaan. They are not unified, they feel not mystical sense of purpose, and they squabble and fight among themselves. By contrast, the Dhakaani have traditions preserved from the golden age of the Dhakaani Empire including all the different keches maintaining all the different cultural practices.
In terms of character options, the biggest item is three new goblinoid races (I’m trying to avoid that word but it’s still a game term for the moment). Not only are there different mechanics for ghaal’dar, golin’dar, and guul’dar (later called “hobgoblins,” “goblins,” and “bugbears” by human conquerors) but they are truly different option for characters. The ghaal’dar and golin’dar both have subraces for different types so the real total of different racial options for Dhakaani is five, which combines with the options in Volo’s Guide for eight different ancestral options for an all-goblinoid party in Eberron. You can have dar characters finding Dhakaani artifacts and Darguul characters hoping to earn their place among the traditional structures. This is the sort of Eberron campaign I’ve always craved but which felt a little out of reach until later.
For these Dhakaani characters there is the forge adept subclass for artificers (creating powerful weapons and tools of goblinoid heritage), the College of the Dirge Singer subclass for bards (a martial option for lorekeepers wanting to inspire warriors), a list of many different Dhakaani magic items and more. It’s a feast for Dhakaani fans and for those who weren’t ever Dhakaani fans then this should change your mind.
Daelkyr and Dwarves
Of course, the Age of Monsters was also the age of the Xoriat incursion that brought down the Dhakaani. A new daelkyr lord named Valaara is presented here with the same sort of lair actions, regional effects, and legendary actions as the daelkyr in Rising From the Last War. She is the Crawling Queen, an insectile manipulator who relies on chitinous, alien creations to corrupt and unhinge. Several new symbionts following her insect theme are presented (though not all of them are obviously Valaara’s work) and that brings us also to the dwarves.
It’s been hinted in previous editiosn that there are aberrant things under the Mror Holds but I think Rising From the Last War is the first time that we get explicitly told that a major clash among the dwarves of Khorvaire is whether to use the twisted daelkyr symbionts or whether they are corrupting and evil. I mean, I guess everyone thinks they are corrupting and evil but some think they can handle it? In Exploring Eberron we see this detailed even further with the Mror Holds as the last of the Uncharted Domains. The origins of the dwarves before Khorvaire is left a little uncertain still but a lot more detail is provided about what happened when they got there. They clashed with the Dhakaani and were pushed east until they carved a deep realm beneath the Ironroot Mountains. This Realm Below grew and prospered until a tumultuous succession (or punishment for crimes) led to thirteen clans being exiled to the surface.
Humans came and worked peacefully with the hill dwarves of the Lhazaar Principalities but clashed with the mountain dwarves of the exiled Ironroot clans. They were conquered and forced into Karrn’s kingdom, which also forced them to set aside old feuds to work together. With a version of peace over the holds, they started exploring again and realized that the subterranean Realm Below that had exiled them had been abandoned and infested. The modern Mror Holds, independent following the Last War, is trying hard to recover the Realm Below from whatever destroyed it and some are even willing to use the tools of the daelkyr enemy to do so.
What I love about this new take on the dwarves of Eberron, and why I’m going into such detail about it here, is that it gives the Mror Holds purpose. In the first edition of the setting I didn’t give this part of the world much thought. It was the dwarven homeland and the seat of power for House Kundarak but it was an isolated corner both geographically and politically. I’ve never taken a campaign there, though I admit I had slightly more reason to with the feuding clans in the Player’s Guide, but now I can see a whole campaign set there. The idea of a land filled with exiles squabbling for millennia only to realize they could have gone home at any time since their home has been devastated… the pathos is just delicious.
On top of that, this new version of the Holds brings its relevance out in the rest of the setting in a concrete and enticing way. First of all, the deep description of Mror culture and character will help any players of a Mror dwarf. Secondly, there are numerous connections across the continent from numerous Zil gnomes serving as clan archivists and development of battle artifice to the alliance of some clans with the Jhorash’tar orcs and hidden cults to the Dark Six and Blood of Vol. Lastly, this is the easiest place to get daelkyr stuff. Like the Shadow Marches are a cache of dragonshards, the tunnels beneath the Mror Holds are full of daelkyr symbionts without having to fight through a daelkyr lord’s stronghold… that you know of. It’s an enormous source of power and temptation that I think will be a common feature in all my future Eberron games. A tangible example of this is the ruinbound dwarf subrace which is a dwarf born with a personal symbiont. They started digging into the lost Realm Below and corruption has followed them to the surface and that is just *chef’s kiss.*
There’s so much in this book that I think we’ve got two more posts in this review at least. Next time I’ll be looking at more modern items like the Dragonmarked Houses, the Last War, and all the various character options for Eberron campaigns. See you then!