Steam Powered Adventuring: Playing in Eberron and Steampunk Campaigns
The time has finally arrived. Your DM proudly announces that your next campaign will be taking place in a steampunk setting! So what does that actually mean? It means you’ve got a bunch of new options for a start, and a whole range of new threats to deal with. 5e blends pretty easily into steampunk and Eberron adventures, so there’s only a couple extras to keep in mind as you get your clockwork whirring.
We're excited that full blown 5e Eberron is coming, so we've made these handy guides to help you in your adventures.
What Tech and How Common?
Steampunk campaigns can mean a lot of different things. You don’t want to design a gunslinging airship pilot only to discover that the setting’s guns and airships are impossibly rare and expensive. Showing up with a robot character seems pretty silly if they don’t exist in the world.
Figure out with your DM what exactly is available, what’s reasonable to include in your backstory and generally what the DM wants to do with the setting. This is good advice in any campaign setting, but it’s especially true here. You and your DM may have different assumptions about what a steampunk setting entails, and it’s good to get that all ironed out well before you start rolling up a character.
Guns, alchemy, item-crafting, and other technological character options are particularly important to establish sooner rather than later. Always abide by your DM’s decisions, but maybe passing along your favorite homebrew gunslinger and tinkerer classes wouldn’t go amiss...
Once you do establish just how much tech your character will have access to and in their background, consider how it will shape your character’s life. Are these technological marvels just mundanities in your life or are they mysterious miracles of the civilized world?
The Sky’s the Limit!
Opening up technology really does open up a world. If quick transport across vast distances is possible or even commonplace then small isolated adventures can seem out of place. It’s also important to keep in mind your capacity to operate these transports. Odds are, your DM is going to have you drive something at some point. Figure out what tool proficiency or skill (such as air vehicles or a new piloting skill) your DM plans on using for piloting the vehicles and make sure somebody is good at it. It’s just a good thing to keep in mind as the party comes together, somebody should be the designated getaway driver.
Eberron and other steampunk settings are great opportunities for going over the top. Go big, go extra, make your character bigger than life and bold as brass. Eberron especially is a setting of fistfights atop burning airships and sultry backstabs among dramatic smoky cities. Make a character that could step right into a pulp fiction novel or a classic film noir.
Take advantage of the exaggerated source materials for the setting, don’t settle for ordinary.
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.
Beyond the amazingly cool world at large, there’s a ton of unique character options for you to consider.
Four new races are included within the 5e version of Eberron, along with the incredibly versatile dragonmarks, which are almost like a new set of races in and of themselves.
- Changelings are masters of disguise and an excellent opportunity to really stretch your roleplaying muscles, why settle for one character when you can play infinite characters in one?
- Kalashtar are humans bound to spirits from the plane of dreams, it’s a bit like being a spooky stand user. I’d recommend them for anybody wanting to play a cerebral or arcane character in Eberron.
- Shifters are essentially humans + a touch of whatever animal you think is cool. Not quite an anthropomorphic animal, just a touch. If having a little werewolf in your blood peaks your interest, consider the shifter.
- Warforged are fondly beloved by many D&D veterans, who wouldn’t love the opportunity to play a robot? These metal mavericks are oddly versatile and perfectly suited for Eberron or any steampunk setting really.
- Dragonmarks are unique magical remnants of the divine dragons that created the world of Eberron. Think of them as extremely magical tattoos that the noble families are born with. There are 12 dragonmarks, and each one functions as a special set of race features or subrace features available to half-orcs, humans, half-elves, dwarves, elves, gnomes, and halflings. These core races gain a whole new interesting dimension with the dragonmark options. Play a devious elf rogue with the mark of shadow, or play a half-orc bounty hunter with the mark of finding.
Beyond your mechanical options, Eberron is a rich setting drenched in volumes worth of lore. It’s a ton to dig into, but if you’re working up something quick, there’s one bit of lore you’ll need to be familiar with for any Eberron character, “The Mourning”.
The mourning happened about 4 years before the events of most Eberron campaigns (depending on what your DM wants to do). Boiled down as simply as possible, the mourning was a great mysterious magic cataclysm that wiped out an entire nation. The whole continent was embroiled in war before the mourning and the current tenuous “peace” exists only because nobody is sure who did it, how it happened, and if it could happen again.
Every person in Eberron was affected by the mourning, either directly or through the socio-political shockwaves it left behind. Warforged were created for the sole purpose of winning this war, now this “peace” leaves them purposeless and unsure of their place in the world. A massive war was “ended” but nobody really won, all the major powers are agitated and new conflicts could spark up at any moment.
Take all this into account with any character you make for an Eberron campaign. The situation is tense and the stakes are high. The future is uncertain and citizen and nation alike are on-edge. Anticipate over-the-top adventures, so make larger-than-life characters.Wizards of the Coast is scheduled to release the Eberron Campaign Setting later this year, or you can folow that link to see the 3.5 version campaign guide.
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Last updated: January 27, 2019
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