We’re finally getting to session two of my new Eberron game this weekend; I’ve been champing at the bit for the past two weeks to get back to it. It’s also probably the last session before one of the players moves out to California, which fills the rest of us with terror and dismay. Regardless of whether we set up an iPad in his chair and have him here remotely, or he moves on to something more local to himself on Saturday nights, our group is about to go through another one of its periodic sea-changes, and as the current configuration has probably been the best our group has had in years, we’re anxious as to what will come. But that’s another topic! I want to talk about this Eberron game and what’s got me so eager for it.
Normally when I come up with a campaign idea, I start with a general vision of what kind of experience the campaign should be, try to figure out potential ways my players might engage with and enjoy it, and present it to them, knowing that they’ll probably come up with something at complete right angles to it and we’ll have to work as a group to synthesize it all. I often try to emulate a particular feel for a campaign, whether it’s Howardian sword-and-sorcery, loopy CRPG/cartoon silliness, or “old-school dungeon crawling.” Sometimes it works beautifully, sometimes it crashes, and sometimes it just sorta sits there.
This time, I came to it from the other direction: specifically, certain players had characters I knew they wanted to play, and there were certain fantasy elements I knew I wanted to play with but hadn’t yet, and so I came up with a campaign framework that had room for those things, handed it to the players, and said, “Here you go– as long as you can think of a reason your character would be in situation X, you can play whatever you want.” The players responded with enthusiasm, which is always gratifying.
Note that I’m not advocating one of these approaches over the other: they can both serve a campaign and a group well, but they can also both go pffft. The structure of my usual approach can be very useful for players who don’t know what they want to do and can simply take their cues from the background, but of course it can also be quite shackling to somebody who wants to play a bomb-throwing alchemist in a Tolkien-style fantasy where such things would be the craft of The Enemy and not suitable for heroes (to use a real-life example). The approach I took for this game is great for someone who has a character near and dear to their heart that they want to get some action, but it puts a lot of the burden of “making your character work” on the player and might not provide as in-depth an immersive experience.
In any case, for this particular campaign, and in the context of “play what you want, we’ll make it work,” Eberron is in some ways the perfect setting. Heck, Rule #1 of the Ten Important Facts About Eberron is “If it exists in the D&D world, then it has a place in Eberron.” Human fighter? Come on down. Gnome half-dragon with a crazy quilt of prestige classes? We’ll find a spot for you. That’s what Eberron is for.
In spite of all this wiggle room (or possibly rope with which to hang yourself), Eberron never feels like a giant “just toss it all in” mess. In fact, it’s one of the few RPG worlds I’ve seen where the system artifacts and the game setting actually seem to work together as a cohesive whole instead of actually fighting with one another.
The quasi-medieval default of most fantasy settings really starts to break down when you add magical healing as common, monsters in vast complexes just outside of town, and groups of mercenary adventurers sporting items of power that are worth more gold than the entire kingdom will ever see. Eberron starts from the premise that these things exist and then says “What would a world be like where this happened?” Magic shops? Heck, Eberron has an entire magic economy. The fortunes of House Cannith, House Lyrandar, and House Sivis were built on the manufacture of magic items. That kingdom across the border with an army of the dead? We can’t just go to war with them, we’ve got trade agreements to think of!
There are lots of other cool little touches, too, from “manifest zones” (places where the borders between dimensions get a bit wibbly-wobbly, giving you an in-world reason to have a random sea of lava in a dungeon room if you want one) to “flying carpet races” in Sharn. In short, while having all the underpinnings of Dungeons and Dragons (or Pathfinder, in my particular case), Eberron is a setting that smiles and says, “Go on, have fun with it. I can take it.”
I intend to do just that. And with the players eager to go as well, I expect many good times to be had with this game. Although I originally intended for it to be a self-contained 4-6 level story arc, it may just end up being something that goes on indefinitely. And even if it doesn’t, I’ve now got some cool ideas for future campaigns that could also work in Eberron down the road.