Exploring Eberron with Keith Baker

 

In the latest episode of Help Action we were lucky enough to get some time to sit down with Keith Baker, the man behind one of Dungeons & Dragons most famed settings. Keith joins us on the show to chat about his new book Exploring Eberron. We ask about his favorite parts featured in the book and get him to answer some questions submitted by some of our listeners. We had an absolute blast getting to hang out and chat, and now you can read what we talked about! Here is a good portion of the interview we did with Keith. 

 

 

Max: “Our dear, dear friend Keith, if you had to describe yourself in one pizza topping, what would it be?”

Keith: “Oh, pepperoni.”

Max: “Yeah?”

Keith: “Mhmm.”

Max: “The classic!?”

Keith “Yeah just very straight forward.”

Max: “Alright, alright. Why pepperoni though?”

Keith: “Just because I’m spicy and delicious.”

Max: “I know you’ve been writing a lot of articles and perspectives on Eberron and shit like that, does it [Exploring Eberron] have a lot of those collected in it?”

Keith: “Not a lot. Actually, a lot of it really is sort of topics that I’ve wanted to write about, but wanted to essentially write about in a sort of meaningful way and to a certain degree with the web topics I can’t. You know up until recently, up until Eberron was unlocked on the DMsGuild you couldn’t really do anything for it and so there’s one or two pieces of Exploring Eberron that are close to articles I wrote, mainly about Mabar, Dolurrh, you know a couple of others I actually sort of released on the website almost as, sort of you know, a first draft preview, but I’d say that makes up about 5% of the book. It’s mostly sort of, you know, new things.”

Max: “So this new Eberron book is like 250 fucking pages long, it covers DM stuff, player stuff, just full on informational stuff, what is your absolute favorite part of it?”

Keith: “It is probably chapter 5 which is the planes, and that’s because when we first created Eberron in 2004 we said let’s make a unique planar cosmology that you know this is something entirely sort of built for Eberron that sort of makes it unique, and yet over 14 years we really didn’t actually go into it in enough detail for it to feel different. You know, for you to really understand what was cool about it, and finally getting to really dig into that was very exciting for me. Especially because even as I was writing it there were a number of planes that I didn’t even think were that cool, but as I was writing them I’m like oh wait, no this place is totally cool!”

Max: “And which one of those is your favorite?”

Keith: “The ones that I wasn’t expecting? I would probably say Kythri is the one that I was like oh Kythri, who cares? It’s just chaos. And now I love Kythri. But you know, Fernia is much more interesting than I expected because Fernia is traditionally always known as the Sea of Fire. It’s sort of, you know, on the surface you say its Eberron’s answer for the Elemental Plane of Fire, and it’s like yeah but that’s not very interesting and it doesn’t really have elemental planes the way the others do so why is that? So first of all, I took that in the direction that it’s more about what fire represents to us. So it is fire as the source driving industry, it is fire as a force of destruction, you know, fire as a source of light and heat. You know sort of all of these different aspects, but then also, in playing around with that we got to the Efreeti, and the Efreeti you know again to me they’re not just fire elementals, fire elementals are off Lamannia and they just burn. So Efreeti, I’m like well Efreeti are about like sort of the, the sort of beauty of fire it’s sort of the glory, the awe-inspiring, and yet the part that will burn you when you touch it, and sort of delved into this so they’re going to be very competitive, they want to draw the most attention, and essentially what it comes to is that Fernia is the hottest spot in Eberron! Because the Efreeti are all about throwing immense parties”

Max: I want to go to a big ass fire party! What the hell?!”

Keith: “Exactly! And one of the points we’ve called out is you can have a point at which you know maybe adventurers are like the hotness? And so you know, your adventurers are going to be taken to a party in Fernia because some Efreeti wants to sort of show them off, but of course if you do the wrong thing they’ll, like burn you, so you know….be careful.”

“And so that’s the thing is there’s a number of the planes where that’s what the point is I always knew Fernia wasn’t just the Plane of Fire, but I hadn’t actually sat down and basically written up six pages of, ok, but what is it? And so that’s where with a number of the planes some of them, Mabar as I said I already did think out in advance, but a number of them again, I was sort of excited to see where the idea led me when I dug deeper into it. So I’d say that overall is my favorite chapter, but again, I love the whole book you know? And some people have said how does this compare to Rising From the Last War, the 5th Edition sourcebook, and the point is it’s completely different. You know Rising From the Last War is what you need to play Eberron, it’s the basic stuff. And Exploring Eberron is me basically saying here’s all the stuff we have never in 16 years really dug into. Or in the case of things like the religions and races, here’s my personal take on these. Because taking chapter 3, the faiths chapter, it’s mainly that well there’s a lot of stuff out there in the canon sources that is contradictory and doesn’t really add up. So here’s me saying once and for all this is how I view the Blood of Vol, this is how I view the Silver Flame.”

 

 

Dix: “So I was with Max last year at Level Eater and we got to talk a little bit, and I know that you were saying that this was finally a chance for you to explore some things that you haven’t been able to do and actually get out to people and stuff like that, so what in this book is the oldest idea that you’ve had that has finally come to fruition?”

Keith: “So while one might think it was the planes, the planes actually didn’t come out, you know, sort of didn’t come together in their current form until I was working with Wizards [of the Coast] on the actual campaign setting book. So the idea here that definitely I think is the oldest is the Thunder Sea. The aquatic civilizations. Because when I was working on the original pitch for Eberron, part of the thing for me, you know, one of the basic things that had been a part of D&D forever yet to my mind haven’t really been engaged with. Like just that basic question of if trolls regenerate, why don’t we eat them? And so that was a basic point to me of always saying the sahaugin in particular, especially in 3rd edition, actually are smarter and wiser than humans. Why don’t they have a civilization that we’re aware of? Like, why if you’re sailing across the ocean are you not sailing across their country, and why is that not a deal? Like, why are there not clearer diplomatic relationships? You know between the nations of the ocean and the nations of the surface? And so in the original Eberron pitch, not only did this get spelled out a little more but we actually had a map. We had a map that showed like here is the surface with the seas broken down with borders, we had a map that was just the surface, and I had a map that was just the ocean dwellers’ map that just showed the aquatic nations and all the continents were just like marked in black cuz they don’t care what’s up there. You know? And so that was just a point to me of because D&D just has so many intelligent aquatic species it seemed like we ought to have some concept of what’s going on in the oceans, and yet it doesn’t usually happen in part because aquatic adventures are a pain, and so that was something that just never really got picked up. We sort of drop hints about them in City of Stormreach, Secrets of Xen’drik, and so here is where I finally, and originally my plan was to do all the oceans, but there’s ten of them and they’re basically like different continents.”

Dix: “Yeah, that’s a lot of work!”

Keith: “Yeah, and I was just like well we’ll do the Thunder Sea because that is the nexus between Khorvaire, Xen’drik, and Aerenal so it’s sort of like the most active of the options and I wanted to do something in at least some degree of depth rather than do ten seas in just a tiny, you know, a surface view if you will. So yeah. That would be the oldest piece.”

Max: “So when are we getting a Surfer’s Guide to Eberron?”

Keith: “You know that’s a good question. Someone was asking me if, I can’t remember what they were asking. It was something about kids activities in Sharn and I was suggesting that I could totally see like a sort of feather fall skateboard that you know just lets you glide from one bridge down to the next bridge sort of thing. So, like, air surfing man!”

Ethan: “Where do you draw inspiration from outside previous D&D works? Like is there any particular book series, shows, movies that inspire your writing?”

Keith: “To me it’s more of a sort of, what doesn’t inspire my writing? With Eberron in particular the core original inspiration is that I had been working on a MMORPG for three years. I used to work in the computer game industry that was a pulp-themed sort of, you know, Uncharted, Indiana Jones MMORPG, and so I’d spent a long time just watching sort of all the pulp movies both recent and old. So you know, from things like The Mummy, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, Indiana Jones, you know all the way back to like Republic Serials and such, and so all of that, that’s why Eberron has that pulp aspect. Because I was like well what if you took that, and that flavor, and adapted it into D&D? Again, just looking to the classics that Eberron sort of immediately calls out, then on the other hand you have noir, you know, The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, things like that. I will say to me Eberron also unquestionably has a certain cyberpunk undertone which is, if you play up the role of the Dragonmarked Houses, they do fill that sort of corporate rising power sort of role. And so I’m, you know, a huge fan of just classics like Neuromancer, Snow Crash, things like that and of course a lot of cyberpunk itself, early cyberpunk really sort of has a noir sensibility to it. So you know it’s no big surprise that there’s some overlap there. I’m a huge Philip K. Dick. That certainly plays a little bit into the narrative of the warforged.”

Max: “I can see that, I can absolutely see that!”

Keith: “But at the same time you also take things like 3 Musketeers and that, totally again is essentially, you can look to the pulp side, you know, that is pulp-fantasy essentially. I’m trying to think more recently because the point is, you know well when I was working on Eberron originally that was 16 years ago.and so thinking about things, like I’ll just say, quite recently Carnival Row.”

Max: “I haven’t watched that yet. I’ve heard it’s really good.”

 

Keith: “It’s good! You know, there are ways in which it is definitely not Eberron. It falls into one of the things that we very much intentionally decided not to do with Eberron which is not to have magic and technology, but to rather have magic as technology. And when I wrote the original thing I said, this isn’t Shadowrun. Usually what you’ll see is magic and technology essentially in opposition. You know, fundamentally opposed in some way.and here I wanted the idea to be if arcane magic behaves in a scientific way, which it does, why is it not turned into a tool? Why does it not advance like other sciences? And Carnival Row does have, people are using guns, they’re using sort of zeppelin style airships yet at the same time it still definitely has a sort of Eberron-y feel to it, and so you know worth checking out if you are into that.”

 

 

Matt: “So a big thing about this Exploring Eberron book is this is sort of your chance to express all of the thoughts and ideas that went into Eberron. Everything that goes into the realm, the setting, that you haven’t yet had a chance to explore, you’re finally doing in this book. Which is fantastic and it makes it an excellent read, I’m reading it right now. Is there anything that you wanted to talk about, about Eberron, that didn’t get into this book?”

Keith: “Oh lots, and lots, and lots of things. This is definitely, if you will, Exploring Eberron Vol. 1.”

Matt: “I love to hear that!”

Keith: “Yeah! There’s no question that I got some of the biggest topics here in terms of oceans, planes, those are both very, you know, the planes in particular to me are one of the just biggest pieces of Eberron that was dangled out there and then never really built out. And so that was one to me that was very important to get done right away because it’s been such a missing piece, but there’s lots of other elements. One of the things I’ll say is one of the campaigns I’ve run most recently, and run a couple different iterations of at this point, is a campaign set in Q’barra, which is basically a fantasy western. You know, it’s people in a small mining town, dragonshard mining town on the edge of nowhere, and it’s very much Deadwood meets D&D and I love that piece of the setting and Q’barra in general. Definitely I want to write about both Q’barra and that style of campaign. But pretty much all of the lesser known nations of Eberron, the Eldeen Reaches, the Demon Wastes, I wrote a lot in this about Dhakaan, the ancient goblin empire, but I didn’t write a lot about Darguun, the sort of modern goblin civilization, and that is certainly something I could cover. The Lhazaar Principalities, which are of course your pirate action. So again, lots and lots of different things. And frankly, Rising From the Last War really focused on the continent of Khorvaire and hasn’t really dealt, at all in 5th edition, with Xen’drik, Sarlona, or Argonnessen and so all of those are open too. I just, on my website, which is keith-baker.com, I actually did a very big article on Riedra which is a nation of Sarlona because people were curious how do you do that without using psionics, because Sarlona was very psionics heavy in 3rd edition. And so that’s certainly something you could see in a future sourcebook.”

Max: “Speaking of Q’barra, I have a very specific question about Q’barra that came up when I was playing that Orcs! Orcs! Orcs! game. Somebody saw a name, our friend Angelo saw a name in the Q’barra region and was like there’s no way that isn’t intentional. The Basura Swamp, is it named like that on purpose?”

Keith: “No, actually, well see I’m sure it is. The main point is I can’t take credit for all the names in Eberron. So tell me the joke.”

Max: “Basura means trash in spanish.”

Keith: “Ah, see that wasn’t me, but I will say that a lot of the names in Eberron, again in creating the original 3.5 Eberron campaign setting, I worked with Bill Slavicsek, Chris Perkins, and James Wyatt among others and I will say a lot of the names are actually Bill Slavicsek’s work. And so like Khorvaire, and for example Eberron, are actually Bill’s naming, and Khorvaire I remember very specifically because a number of the rest of us were like, but it’s a car?! And it’s a bad car! But Bill was very set on the name. We believed that he owned a corvair as a youth, so there you go. And it’s funny because there’s lots of like little details that did get shifted around. So Sharn, for example, used to actually be the name of the country that is actually now Breland, and the city was like Shivairn, I think. Which is now a city in I want to say Valenar. So it’s sort of a bunch of names got sort of shifted around. So yeah, but unfortunately Basura wasn’t me so I can’t give you the answer to that. I would expect it was intentional by someone.”

Max: “Where can people get their hands on this awesome fucking book?”

Keith: “Well there’s only one way to do it and that is the Dungeon Master’s Guild, which is online, dmsguild.com, and you can get it either pdf only or it is available print on demand in an awesome hardcover. You can also find me at keith-baker.com where I answer way too many questions about Eberron at way too much length.” 

You can also follow him @hellcowkeith on Twitter.

You can listen to this interview, and hear much more from our chat with Keith, in our latest episode of Help Action by clicking RIGHT HERE!

Buy Exploring Eberron here!

Buy Keith’s other 5e book Eberron: Rising From The Last War here!

About The Author

Justin Dixon
Justin Dixonhttps://help-action.com/
Dix has been playing D&D for just about 5 years and has been a professional Dungeon master for the last six months. He is now a DM for the acclaimed pop up tavern Orcs! Orcs! Orcs! and plays Amelia Whiteheart on The Swordcast Adventures. He is also the producer of The Swordcast Adventures, Help Action, and the DM on The Swordcast Adventures plays Waterdeep Dragon Heist every other Wednesday evening on Twitch.tv/swordcastadventures.

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