Review: Wayfinder’s Guide to Eberron

In a somewhat surprising move, Wizards of the Coast has released a 5th Edition update of the Eberron campaign world, written by the setting creator, Keith Baker.

The Wayfinder’s Guide to Eberron is a $20 PDF released in the Dungeon Master’s Guild website. Currently, only a digital copy is available and the mechanics are considered “playtest” quality. It has been confirmed that the artificer will be added to the document in a month or two, and following the playtests results a Print-on-Demand option will be added.

Effectively, WotC is offering an early access Eberron book.

What It Is

The Wayfinder’s Guide to Eberron is a 175-page PDF. The last four pages are House Crests and maps.

The book starts with a twenty page introduction to the setting followed by thirty-eight pages describing the various nations and the world. Each of the sixteen regions gets a one-page write-up. The book continues with rules and lore for the four Eberron races (changelings, kalashtar, shifters, and warforged) along with lore on most of the Player’s Handbook races. The next twenty-four pages focus on the twelve dragonmarks and various dragonmarks Houses. There’s ten pages on magic items and finally fourthy-odd pages on Sharn, city of towers.

New Races

Four new player races are added in the PDF. Since these are playtest material, I thought I’d give these a tiny extra bit of attention

Changelings. I like how this implementation avoids having Change Appearance be the sole power. While the signature power of changelings, it’s almost a ribbon/ flavour ability. The combat variant, Unsettling Visage, needs flavour: how is it working? Conversely, I love the flavour Divergent Persona. It’s just fun.

Kalashtar. The implementation of this race feels nicely psychic without overly tying it to the psion. I like Dual Mind, but this could probably also apply to Charisma saving throws instead of just Wisdom. Mind Link being limited by sight is awkward: you can speak telepathically with people you are also able to gesture or signal. This means you can’t use it with the party’s rogue or when trying to signal an ambush. I wonder if it could be a creature you saw at the start of your last turn, or if you could instead link people as a ritual.

Shifters. With its 1 Minute duration, shifting feels short. You almost need to track the duration, and is only an in-combat thing only. I wonder if it might work better as 10 minutes. Also, perhaps instead of temp hit points, shifting could increase your current and maximum hp, allowing you to be healed. It’d be nice if the longtooth could be rephrased to encompass razorclaw shifter: giving people the ability to choose slashing instead of piercing. Wildhunt’s Mark the Scent is written too mechanically for my tastes, with “marking” rather than and actual description, like “identify the unique odour”.

Warforged. I’m quite happy subraces are included with this design, and things like immunity to disease and not needing to sleep. Their AC is a bit much, especially at high levels. It keeps pace with magic armour, but magical pluses are not assumed, even in Eberron. Having it be ½ proficiency would be better, perhaps with the option for integrated magical armour plates in the warforged components section.

The Good

As a product idea, this is gold. Since the launch of 5e, I’ve been saying PDFs with recycled art would be a simple and cheap yet effective way of updating classing settings. Because it doesn’t actually take much to update content for play.

At over 150-pages, this is much larger than I expected. Because it not only updates the PC options but gives an overview of the seizing in a low secret manner, it also doubles as good player’s guide. (Albeit a slightly too large one.) It could even work as an introduction to Eberron for players using a different system.

A big plus is that the book is written by the creator of the setting: Keith Baker. While I’m sure not everyone likes Baker’s take on Eberron, he is the authoritative voice. He knows the setting’s background and the intended tone of the world. He also knows where the setting failed and could be improved.

That the book is a living document is also nice. It can be tweaked to respond to the feedback of players, while adding elements like the artificer.

I like a lot of the small details in the book. Such as the magic item crafting, tweaking the rules originally presented in Guide to Everything. The various nation summaries also give suggested character traits and personalities. That’s nice. And there’s additional details for the PHB Backgrounds presented in the Sharn section, giving an idea how one can make a character that fits that city.

The Bad

That WotC is releasing a digital book that will maybe go Print-on-Demand does mean they’re unlikely to do an Eberron book in stores now. That’s going to make a lot of people sad, and does mean Eberron is unlikely to get noticed by people who only look in stores and don’t shop on the Dungeon Master’s Guild.

The book is pricey for a PDF. At $20, a book of comparable size would run $10 to Print on Demand. So, if you wait, you might be able to get both for just $20. Unless they jack up the PoD copy. Getting it now is asking to pay more over the long run as you can’t get a bundle and WotC/ DriveThru is unlikely to give a bundle discount if you already purchased the PDF.

There’s only a couple maps, and these are low detail. There’s no separate poster map, even as a different file.

I’m not a fan over how dragonmarks are handled. (In fairness, this is likely because I did my own take on dragonmarks—and spellscars—and people do tend to favour their own ideas. So bias alert.) In this product, dragonmarks are alternate racial traits, effectively being sub races. An elf with a dragonmark is not a high elf or a wood elf and instead a dragonmarked elf. I don’t like how it reduces the impact of races, which are already often have an overlooked effect on gameplay. But, it works and it’s both balanced and something you can take at first level.

The warforged armblade is always cool. But having it require attunement for what is basically a favourful item is a bit much. It’s penalizing players with one fewer magical items to use an iconic warforged element. Not being disarmed is nice, but almost no monsters actually do so, and picking up a dropped item is inconsequential to the game. Ditto wand sheaths, which are also so-so for similar reasons. They’re actually objectively worse, as they give you the ability to draw a wand as a bonus action when drawing one from wand from a belt is just an object interaction.

The Ugly

The book isn’t entirely finished. There’s a few errors in the formatting, such as the table of contents missing the kalashtar and several pages being misnumbered. I don’t mind getting a rougher early access product from a small 3rd party company, but WotC has the resources to give this a professional pass. Asking people to play for an unfinished product is rough, especially one that won’t be finished for several more months: until the artificer is written, tested, and revised.

$20 is also a high price point for a PDF, especially one where they’re not paying off an art budget. They know this product would be a high seller on the Guild, and could make up for a low price in volume.

Because the book is digital only and makes a good player book, it’s tempting to share it with the table (such as via Dropbox). Especially with the high price point as a deterrent for players. But the watermarking makes this problematic: you don’t want to share such books as that’s how they go public and your account gets locked.

The pantheons are listed but the gods are not detailed, and it refers to the PHB for domains and deity detail. A paragraph on each god and their beliefs would have been nice for players. This is the big absence from the book.

Most of the dragonmarks seem fine. But the bonuses from the mark of making are a little too strong. Just being able to make items magical might be good enough without the numerical plus.

The Awesome

The table of contents is hyperlinked. While this is pretty bog standard from a lot of other RPG companies (i.e. almost all of them), this is almost revolutionary from WotC.

I love the two-bladed scimitar, with associated feat. Double weapons have been absent from 5e so far, and this is a fairly simple yet workable implementation. It’s not only going straight into my game, but I kinda want to use it as the basis of my next character.

The book ends with a glossary. These are always appreciated. Glossaries are underrated, and especially useful with campaign settings that might be 90% unfamiliar nouns.

The regrets and debts table are awesome. (Sadly, there’s only 10. This is material ripe for expansion.) I want to make regrets standard, as they’d be a lovely addition to Flaws in each Background. While I’ve already seen more warforged and shifter accessories on the Guild, more of these are what I want (and might have to make).

Final Thoughts

An imperfect and unfinished product, the Wayfinder’s Guide to Eberron is a lovely start. There’s a lot of potential and it might mean more similar guides for other settings.

The big deciding factor will be if Wizards or the Coast can actually manage to follow through with their plans and add the artificer then revise this product. The company has a long history of starting things like this and then not finishing; editing a “released” book and getting it ready for Print on Demand will always be at the bottom of to-do lists. After all, it’s been eighteen months since we last saw an update for the artificer.

The book isn’t finished and the content could use a polish in a couple places, but the balance is “close enough”. The few places things are funky are easily tweaked, but even if left alone they’re unlikely to break the game.

If you like Eberron and are running a game in that world (or plan to in the immediate future) then this product is a must-buy. If you’re not, or don’t plan on heading to Eberron in the next year or so, it might be better to wait and see if this book is actually revised or if it’s available in print.

 

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