Eberron 5E - DM's Campaign Guide
Down to Brass Tacks: Running Eberron and Steampunk Campaigns
It’s time to get those gears turning, you’ve got a brand-new steampunk or Eberron game to run. Steampunk is just an aesthetic and Eberron is just a setting, there’s nothing THAT different from a more traditional fantasy game, but there are a few issues you’ll need to address to get your airships off the ground in a 5e campaign.
Firearms need to be addressed, first and foremost. Your players will start asking about them sooner or later so make sure you know what you want to do with firearms, explosives and all things that go bang. Do you want to exist in a pre-firearm world? Or do you want them everywhere? There’s no wrong answer, but make sure your players are aware of how common/rare they are before the character creation process starts. If you do plan on including firearms, the Dungeon Master’s Guide has a very well balanced firearms section buried deep towards the back of the book that is often overlooked. Or, go take a look at a multitude of homebrew options for firearms. Whatever you choose, just make sure whatever firearm tech you’re using is presented clearly before session 1.
Admittedly there’s no official gunslinger class/archetype in 5e at the time of writing, but you better believe your players will be asking about it. The gunslinger archetype for fighter written by Matt Mercer is currently wide-spread and well accepted, but I will warn you it’s on the strong side. Not game breaking, but strong. Again, the best advice is to select the option (or lack thereof) that you feel best suits your campaign, just make your decisions clearly and before players make characters.
Oddly enough, you don’t actually need to worry about any of this gun nonsense if you’re running an Eberron campaign. None of the editions of Eberron have firearms, not a single one. Eberron is a place fueled by magic and you’ll get wandslingers, not gunslingers. A lot of DMs elect to add their own firearms (Eberron is extremely flexible by design) but you don’t have to if you’re not comfortable adding that much to the base rules.
Planes, Trains, and Automobiles!
It’s just not a steampunk setting until you see an airship fly by or somebody hitches a ride on some steam-powered whirligig. As the DM of this clockwork world, you’re going to need to establish what modes of transport exist and what’s available. If you do plan on allowing your players access to steam powered mechs or magic airships, there’s a couple bits of groundwork you’ll want to set first.
5e already has a few mechanical nods to vehicles built right in. Characters can gain a “tool proficiency” in land or sea vehicles from backgrounds or training. I highly recommend adding a 3rd proficiency for air vehicles. Inform your players that if they would ever gain a tool proficiency, they can choose air, land, or sea vehicle proficiency instead. This will save them a ton of headaches if they’re trying to play that ace pilot they’ve had their heart set on.
Another issue that commonly gets raised about vehicles is what skill check do you make to pilot the darn things? There’s certainly no piloting skill, so what gives? The developers of 5e left this open intentionally because of the wide variety of skills that can go into flying, repairing, or generally knowing what the heck to do with a vehicle. So instead of one unified skill, it’s up to you as the DM to have your players check using the ability that makes sense at the time. Using quick reflexes to drive your ship through turbulence? Sounds like a Dexterity check. Trying to reroute all power to the engines? Sounds like an Intelligence check. Pick whatever seems the most appropriate to the situation, and remind them that they get their vehicle proficiency bonus regardless of which ability it’s using.
Just How Steampunk Are We Talking?
There’s a big difference between having some steam powered relics somewhere within your world, and a full-blown industrial revolution. The relative rarity of technology has a big impact on your players. Can your players go buy a steam-powered mech suit? How much does it cost? Are these airships weird and eldritch creations or is the big airship factory just down the road? And, when it comes right down to it, can I be a robot? Figure out ahead of time just how common you want all of these marvels to be, It’ll save you untold headaches later on.
It’s not fair to dismiss Eberron as just a steampunk setting, because it is so much more, for one thing it’s all magic, no steam, magepunk? It still ranks as many long time D&D players as their all-time favorite settings for a reason.
The place most people think of and played in within the world of Eberron is the continent of Khorvaire. Khorvaire just had an event happen about 4 years ago called “The Mourning”, which is a mysterious cataclysm that wiped out an entire nation and nobody is sure what caused it. Imagine everybody is having a jolly good war filled with magic and robots, then somehow a magical nuke turns a whole nation into magical chaos land. Everybody’s still mad, nobody really won the war and there’s a lot of tension about whatever happened happening again. This is the atmosphere of an Eberron campaign, a sort of post-war unease filled with a lot of former enemies and twisted motives.
Eberron is meant to evoke a sort of pulpy noir filled with high-flying insanity, muddled morality, and anti-heroes. I wouldn’t recommend Eberron as a setting for standard adventures + robots. Instead I recommend Eberron for crazy over-the-top scandalous excitement. Go rob a casino by actually lifting off with the casino using a fleet of airships! Go fight a mechanical dragon! Go for adventures where the world’s at stake and you’ve got nothing left to lose!
Looking for more? You might check out the Wayfinder's Guide to Eberron over on the DM's Guild. Ready to start playing? Set the tone of your campaign with our selection of dice and accessories like this steampunk skull dice container.
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Last updated: January 27, 2019
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