Review: Eberron – Rising From the Last War

Way back in ye old days of 2002, publisher Wizards of the Coast launched the “Fantasy Setting Search”, a competition to create a new world for Dungeons & Dragons. The winner was Keith Baker’s Eberron: chosen out of the 11,000 entries. Eberron is pitched as “D&D meets Indian Jones and The Maltese Falcon.” Eberron was mashed together with choice elements from the top 3 settings of the search and released in 2004. A minor revision of the setting was released in 2009 for 4th Edition D&D. And now there’s a 5th Edition update, Rising from the Last War

For the uninitiated, Eberron is a dungeon punk world. The dungeon punk world really. It’s often mistaken for steampunk, but clearly used magic rather than psuedo-science. It’s a world where magic dominates the world rather than technology, creating many modern conveniences. The setting takes many cues from the 1920s, with a gritty noir aesthetic and a world recovering after a brutal and lengthy war that left no one happy so another war is looming. It’s a nice, big setting where you can have a campaign as urban detectives working to solve crimes in the big city, relic hunters exploring trap-filled ruins for treasure, plucky reporters travelling the continent for the next big scoop, former soldiers trying to find a new life during peacetime, and so much more.

What It Is Rising From the Last War?

This book is effectively an update of the Eberron Campaign Setting, which was originally published for 3rd Edition. Rising From the Last War is your standard full-colour Wizards of the Coast product. It uses a mix of modern and recycled art, pulling a few pieces from the vast catalogue of Eberron art done for 3rd and 4th Edition. These are modern enough it doesn’t stand out as recycled. 

In its 320-pages, Rising From the Last War contains four new races—the changeling, warforged, kalashtar, and shifter—along with reprinting the goblinoid and orc racial entries. There are also twelve “subraces”, which are the various Dragonmark Houses. These let you take the house as your race/subrace, swapping out racial features for the powers of a dragonmark. 

Included is the artificer, a full level 1-20 class with three subclasses: the battlesmith, the alchemist, and the artillerist. This is the first new official class for 5th Edition in a physical book. Following this in the character creation section is Group Patrons, which details allied organizations that could sponsor adventurers. This is a surprisingly hefty 38-pages.

A decent chunk of the book is a description of the setting, which occupies 48-pages. Each nation roughly gets a page of text, with some description of the other continents. There’s a description of the city of Sharn here filling 32-pages. Also in this section is a section on faiths, including different pantheons and philosophies, filling 10-pages. Advice on building adventures that fit the setting fills another 76-pages; this section details the themes of the setting, along with various factions and a few key events and regions. A short introductory adventure for a party of 1st level adventurers takes up 17 pages at the end of this chapter.

There’s also a small 7-page chapter on treasure, with descriptions of Dragonshards, some of the common magic items that make everyday life in Eberron so different, and some magic items for daring adventurers. The book ends with a Bestiatry that contains 30-odd new monster stat blocks, plus 7 new generic NPCs.

And at the end of the book is a poster map, which is bound into the spine and needs to be torn out along the perforated edge. One side has a map of the default setting of Khorvaire, the main continent. The flip side has the rest of the (tiny) globe. 

Wayfarer’s Disclaimer/ Rant

Content Warning: Negativity. If you just want to read a review of the book, skip this section.

In July of 2018, Wizards of the Coast released the Wayfinder’s Guide to Eberron on the Dungeon Master’s Guild. This 175-page e-book was designed to serve as an introduction to Eberron with a price of $19.99 on the Guild and $20 on DnDBeyond.com. WotC hyped it significantly, with WotC staff saying they would update it to include the artificer when that was released and update the races and dragonmark houses in that book to reflect the results of the playtests, before releasing the book as Print on Demand. Staff said that IF they did a hardcover Eberron book, the two products would be complementary, and have a different focus. That while the Wayfinder’s Guide focused on Sharn a theoretical Eberron book would focus on another part of the world or the Five Kingdoms as a whole. 

I snatched up the WGtE immediately. As relatively cheap PDFs seemed like an excellent way of offering support to the many, many past settings TSR released, and enabling those fans to set new campaigns in old settings without having to release numerous hardcovers into stores. (And because I had loose plans to run an Eberron campaign for 5e “eventually”; at the rate I get to play, this will be 2021 or ’22. Likely later.)

However, less than a year later, WotC announced Eberron: Rising From the Last War. A product which also does the deep dive into Sharn. A book which is NOT complementary and does NOT have a different focus. Instead, it largely reprints the material from the PDF, copying large sections of text word-for-word. I effectively paid $20 for playtest material—which was released free on the website. This was effectively early access to the Rising From the Last War, with no reduction on the final price for my $20 investment. Even on DnDBeyond https://www.dndbeyond.com/marketplace/source/eberron-rising-from-the-last-war , which has a system for reducing prices based on past investment & purchases, they’re treated like separate products. (I’ve heard from one person that owning Wayfinder’s Guide gave the buyer a $5 discount on Rising From the Last War, but I’ve seen no official statement from, DnDBeyond on this. But even then, just getting the races and subraces—which are provided by both—would be a $14 purchase.)

This upsets me greatly. First, because there’s so many classic D&D settings that haven’t been updated or received books—some for two or more editions—and we’re getting the same setting twice. Secondly, it makes me feel lied to and deceived by Wizards of the Coast and its staff. It makes me feel like I wasted $20 on a redundant PDF. This also negatively impacts my interest in future setting PDF products, which I almost certainly will not buy. 

BUT, all this drama is unrelated to the actual book, Eberron: Rising From the Last War, and thus is not relevant to a review of that product, and so will go unmentioned. While feeling exploited does impact my opinion of this book, I’m striving to keep my review seperate and focus on evaluating the product itself. 

I’m including this disclaimer in case any extra negativity slips through. If a passage seems extra snarky, this is probably why. 

The Good

I quite like Eberron, and this book is some good Eberron. While not my favourite setting (or even in the top 3), it’s a wonderful setting I’d recommend players old and new. It’s not Dark Sun, which is “D&D for people who hate everything about D&D but the rules”, instead twisting things just a little bit in unexpected ways that still make perfect sense. The setting is a fun mash-up of  Indian Jones and film noir, with a dash of Cthulhu Mythos slipped in for good measure.

In many ways, it’s D&D where it doubled down on a lot of the tropes while pushing others to the side. Alignment is sidelined, while magic and adventuring are turned to 11. And by design there are no established big heroes or high level noble NPCs running around. The PCs are the only heroes one needs to concern themselves with.

It’s also a big world with lots of different stories and adventures. It’s not Dragonlance where the world was designed with one story and one threat in mind, and every other story is added on later. There’s so many different areas and places, each with their own drama and adventures. You could run a half-dozen different Eberron campaigns that are all deeply enmeshed in the world and never touch on the same aspects. 

Most of the races seem more balanced than their playtest iteration. The warforged in general has been brought closer in line with other races (much to the chagrin of anyone currently playing one). The kalashtar retains its psionic flavour despite there being no psion/mystic class available at the moment, which probably helps the race as it works for other classes and archetypes. I’ve always been a fan of the shifter, viewing them as a decent take on the “weretouched” trope, the half-lychan, and these are decent, with some nice diversity among the different types of shifter.

I was initially unimpressed with this iteration of the artificer, but it has grown on me. I think it balances the desire to have the class function as a crafter, without having it churn out magic items effortlessly, or require the Dungeon Master to provide constant supplies of gold so the class can use its key abilities. The ability to just make a free magic item from a limited list works. And while I’m sad the alchemist loses the ability to make flasks of acid or fire,  it’s pretty easy to reflavour the acid splash or fire bolt cantrips. The designers even stepped back from having every build include a pet, which greatly improves the class, and it should appeal to more players.

This implementation of dragonmarks is also workable and balanced. A player won’t be broken or overpowered compared to the rest of the party because they have a dragonmark, nor are they required to sacrifice a rare feat/ ability score boost and they can be acquired at 1st level. By making them subraces, the rules also tie the dragonmarks to the appropriate races who make up that house, which is nice. Prior versions used the feat system, with races potentially being a prerequisite, but there was always this pressure to make the rules more open—as that’s how feats worked in 3e and 4—and there were often ways to qualify as other races. 

Patrons are a nice addition to the campaign setting. These feel like the book’s “new thing”, the addition to the game offered by this product (like the focus on Ravnica’s Guilds).  I like the idea of organizations, which can give players a goal for membership and advancement, while also providing adventuring hooks and easy antagonists. Each listed patron provides their allies & enemies as well as benefits of working with that patron, advice on building appropriate PCs as well as any related information like headquarters or even mission types.

The Bad

I’m less impressed with how the dragonmarked rules intersect with half-orcs and humans, where it feels like an entirely separate race and not  a subrace. Dragonmarked humans have little in common with other humans. You could reflavour the racial traits of someone with the Mark of the Sentinel and turn them into a brand new race (say, wardlings or guardiners) and no one would know. Which sounds silly until you remember the kalashtar, who are an independent race from humans, but are human in every way except mechanically. There’s not much separating how the book handles the kalashtar from how they handle a member of House Deneith (a Deneithian I guess).

(Flagrant Self-Promotion: I have my preferred way of handling dragonmarks. See the Shameless Plugs section at the end for a link.) 

There are no gnolls in the book. While orcs and goblinoids have a big place in the lore, mechanics for these have been released before (twice in the case of goblins). Eberron gnolls can be less evil than in other worlds as they lack the normal demonic ties, which was the reason they were previously excluded from books like Volo’s Guide to Monsters, and they’re a favourite race for many players. This would have been a nice place to slip in some gnoll love. 

The races are generally fine, but the changelings are a little anemic. Their primary power is still their shapechanging, which is almost a flavourful ability. It’s great in game, but doesn’t really affect the character’s balance. And while shifters are probably balanced, their signature shifting ability feels too short and overly focused on combat. I would have liked it to be 10 minutes and include some exploration features, like tracking. 

I’m disappointed by the lack of feats in general and racial feats in specific. Xanathar’s Guide to Everything added these for the races from the Player’s Handbook, but it seems unlikely a later expansion will offer a warforged feat and assume purchasers own this book. With options like the warforged juggernaut removed for players, this could have been a feat. 

(DMs Guild Adepts: Get on this!)

Evaluating the artificer, the base class is fine but I’m not wowed by all the subclasses. The alchemist is so-so: it’s low level feature is awkwardly random, and doesn’t scale well at higher levels. It’s presented as the “healer” subclass, but the amount of hit points it can restore just doesn’t keep up. The artillerist is also weird, being shown as the “wandslinger” in art, but is all about creating magical turrets.

Several of the trap magic items haven’t been changed since playtesting, and new ones added. For example, newly added is the prosthetic limb, which is basically flavour and lets you be an adventurer despite being down a limb. But using the limb costs an attunement slot, so you can use fewer magic items. You’d almost be better off with a mundane non-magical prosthetic. Likewise, the wand sheath is useless. Yes, it prevents the wand from being forcibly removed, but that’s a super niche situation. However, producing a wand from your belt or bandolier is an object interaction, while with the sheath it’s a bonus action. It’s a magic item that requires an attunement slot to make drawing a wand slower with the “benefit” that you can’t be disarmed of your wand. 

The Ugly

The biggest complaint is that there is no index! This is a game reference book. It’s something meant to be used at the table to hastily look up names of famous NPCs or cities. A lack of index makes it harder for DMs to use this book at the table and look up setting details. If using this book is significantly harder than using the Eberron Wiki then this book is problematic. 

Rising From the Last War greatly favours allies and antagonists over world lore and setting details. This is a feature/bug, as more knowledge of opposing forces and the bad guy’s motivations is undoubtedly better for making adventures. But setting details are what distinguishes Eberron from other worlds. You can transplant organizations to other settings (as 5e has demonstrated with elemental cults moving from Greyhawk to the Forgotten Realms) but moving locations and cultures is harder. 

A good DM can invent world details if they desire, but the principal reason you buy settings to avoid having to create the whole setting and locations. Plus, sometimes you’re just not inspired as a DM, and need to look-up details for a location. While you can always choose to ignore the book and invent places, this product doesn’t provide many details for the alternative. This book has significantly less lore and details on each of the Five Nation than either of the 4e and 3e campaign settings. Sometimes less than half as many words. 

For example, say your party of adventures leave Sharn for the adjacent King’s Forest. I can find nothing on the wood. Is it an enchanted forest of fey, and a manifest zone of Lamannia? Is it literally the forest of the king and a nature preserve? Or is a sparse wood that has been heavily felled to build the city?

The patrons are nice, but each takes-up 3 to 4 pages (with art), which feels excessive. I imagine they could have pulled that back to a page apiece, like the dragonmark houses, reducing that section from 38-pages (larger than the section on the nations) to easily half that size. And the adversary entries are also fairly long: I don’t know if we need as many words on the Aurum as on Breland.  

It’s a retcon, but I also wish they would have corrected the scales of the world, added a bit more distance between Khorvaire and Xen’Drik. As presented, the world of Eberron has a circumference of 16,000 miles, opposed to the 24,000 miles of the Earth. It’s under half the size of Earth. It’d be as small as Mars! 

The Awesome

It’s a small detail, but the fonts in this book are different but fun. They have an art deco vibe, that gives this book a very different feel. Just by looking differently than you expect from a fantasy RPG product you know Eberron is something else. 

There are little newspaper sidebars throughout the book, providing the view of the common people on certain dramatic subjects. These also subtly emphasize the 1920s vibe of the setting, and the general tone of the world. They also often provide small like adventure hooks and gossip, that can be common knowledge but may not be entirely reliable. 

There are some amazing pieces of art. There’s a lot of recycled pieces (mostly from the 3rd Edition book), but lots of new works that really show the world and places. Art that provides a tone for the world. 

There’s not only rules and a monster stat block of a jaeger-sized warforged colossus… there’s also a map of the interiour. 

Final Thoughts

If you don’t own a prior edition’s version of the Eberron setting (or the Wayfinder’s Guide to Eberron) but the setting sounds interesting, then I heartily recommend that you buy this book. There’s multiple new mechanical options as well as a great campaign setting that can send you on endless adventures. It’s a great setting and this is a solid introduction. 

Even if you’re just curious or use a homebrew setting there’s a lot of stuff here to inspire you or to steal. Changelings and shifters effortlessly fit into virtually every campaign setting. Even warforged can be made to work with a little imagination, be they tinker gnome created constructs in Dragonlance or twisted hybrids of flesh and steel in Ravenloft. And the artificer is a decent class, and arguably the best official execution of the concept. This is without mentioning the many patrons or antagonists that could be pulled out of the setting and placed in a homebrew world. 

However, while it is an excellent Eberron book, I don’t think it’s the best, let alone the most comprehensive. If you have the 3e Eberron Campaign Setting and/or the Wayfinder’s Guide, then it probably depends on your financial situation. There’s a lot of original content in this book, including more on the various organizations (both good and bad) along with new monsters. But you can find equivalent amounts of world lore in Wayfinder’s Guide, and significantly more lore in books from previous editions. If you have a shelf of Eberron books  then this book is going to give you little that you don’t already know. Ironically, the cheaper PDF might be the better option for those with extensive Eberron libraries. That said, you’re still not going to regret the purchase: it’s an excellent book with a focus on different aspects of the setting. You’re bound to learn something new or rediscover some old fact that you missed the first time. After reading this book you might come away with a renewed appreciation for some faction or look at a patron with a different light or even consider presenting a group you’ve never used before as the adversary of a campaign.

Shameless Plugs

If you liked this review, you can support me and encourage future reviews.

I have a number of PDF products on the DMs Guild website, including Spellscars, which doubles as my subsystem of choice for using Ebberon’s dragonmarks. Others include a bundle of my Ravenloft books; my adventure, Smoke, Snow & Shadows; my first level 1 to 20 class, the Tactician; and a book of Variant Rules. I also have a book with new artificer subclasses, a revision of an older product. 

Additionally, the revision of my book, Jester David’s How-To Guide to Fantasy Worldbuilding is on DriveThruRPG, available for purchase as a PDF or Print on Demand! (Now in colour!) The book is a compilation of my worldbuilding blog series, but all the entries have been updated, edited, and expanded to almost two-hundred pages of advice on making your own fantasy world.

Plus, I have T-shirts available for sale over on TeePublic!