Welcome to "Eberron Under the Glass," a column that takes a look at how to handle staple themes of D&D adventure in an Eberron campaign. Whether the characters must search for a lost artifact, unearth lore in an old tome, or deal with a goblin uprising, Eberron campaigns do things a little differently. This series helps Eberron players and DMs get the right feel in the setting.
Take a look at prejudice and other race-related issues in Eberron.
Not So Cut-And-Dry
In a standard campaign, racial interaction among the Player's Handbook races is pretty simple. Humans get along with everyone, dwarves think elves are flighty, nobody trusts half-orcs, and so on. Despite these feelings, the typical D&D campaign has a fairly cosmopolitan feel, with all races living in peace in larger cities with no serious racial conflicts. In the Eberron setting, things are much more complicated, mainly in that there are different groups of each race, and people may have bad feelings toward one and not the other; racism's roots in Eberron, as in the real world, tend to be based on culture rather than actual race. (As the Eberron Campaign Setting says on page 24, "A character from an Eberron campaign is never just a human or a dwarf: He is a human from Thrane or a dwarf from the Mror Holds.")
For example, the elves of House Phiarlan are an old dragonmarked house with a centuries-long history of entertainment and artistry; most common folk praise them and their work. In contrast to that house, the elves of the new nation of Valenar are seen as land thieves and a threat to the peace established by the Treaty of Thronehold. Will the acts of the Valenar elves paint those of House Phiarlan with the same stigma? Will the people of Khorvaire grow to dislike elves as a whole but tolerate House Phiarlan because "they're the good ones"?
Humans, as rulers of much of Khorvaire for nearly a thousand years, have a reputation for nation building. Sharn is arguably the greatest city on the continent, and its residents see themselves as the most civilized people on the continent. By contrast, the humans of the Shadow Marches are illiterate unwashed swamp-dwellers who consort with orcs. Even though a human from Sharn may look exactly like a human from the Shadow Marches, the Brelander is comfortable looking down on the Marcher as something less human. Likewise, the refugees from Cyre, regardless of race, are looked down upon as the biggest losers in the war that hurt everyone, and some folk think disaster struck the Cyrans because they somehow deserved it, and so they heap additional abuse on them for their assumed crimes. Culture, not physical race, is seen as justifiable cause for prejudice.
Half-orcs, often the scapegoat for anything unpleasant, most commonly hail from Droaam, the Eldeen Reaches, or the Shadow Marches, and some form part of House Tharashk. People see Droaam half-orcs as dangerous monsters and Shadow Marches half-orcs as primitives; citizens of Aundair see Reaches half-orcs (and anyone else from there) as separatists and nation-betrayers while those outside Aundair don't think about them at all. In contrast to all of this, most consider House Thrarashk's half-orcs and humans to be very talented scouts with a critical skill for finding valuable resources. Again, culture and nationality is more important than actual race.
Old Races and New Races
Many typical D&D campaigns use the standard races and may include one unusual race, such as lizard-folk, aasimar, and so on. By contrast, the Eberron campaign has four new races in common play (changeling, kalashtar, shifter, and warforged). Each of these "new" races is something unusual and their role in the campaign can make many "normal" people nervous, and that can lead to racism in the strictest sense. Any member of these races is likely to run into intolerance on a regular basis, whether in urban or rural environments, from any of the older races.
Changelings are descended from humans and doppelgangers, and their natural ability to hide their true appearance means that few people ever fully trust them -- how can you confide in someone who might take on your face and use your secrets against you? Anyone who sees one in its natural form understands that it isn't really human and therefore its motives are suspect. The changeling tendency to consort with criminals only reinforces this prejudice, and in turn it means that the only place a changeling can find some acceptance is in the very criminal organizations that turn law-abiding people against them.
Kalashtar may appear physically attractive in a human sense, but their alien mind sets them apart, and while your typical adventurer is more accepting of strangeness, an average farmer or city-dweller doesn't take well to a "pretty-looking, funny-talking" kalashtar any more than someone in the modern world takes to a slick politician or book-minded ecologist telling them what's right and wrong. The kalashtar's tendency toward sincere goodness ameliorates some of their suspicion, but many people are always reminded of their ties to the Region of Dreams and the horrible quori that rule that place -- a fact that makes ignorant people fear them.
In some ways, shifters have the worst situation of all the new races. They can't pass as fully human like the changelings, they aren't beautiful and inherently good like the kalashtar, and they weren't built to be loyal soldiers like the warforged. Shifters are descended from lycanthropes, which many people consider to be monsters (and the shifters only a step above that). Crude, feral, and obviously not human, the shifters are feared by many common folk, and most shifters find themselves shunned for their appearance and mannerisms, particularly in places where the Church of the Silver Flame's crusade against lycanthropes was taken to heart.
To most people, warforged are an unfortunate reminder of the Last War. Built for combat and not for peace, the warforged race's clumsy attempts to blend in with normal society do not endear anyone to them. It doesn't help that the most famous member of their race, the Lord of Blades, has declared that the warforged shall rule Eberron, which renders all warforged as possible collaborators in this construct plot. Unlike veterans of other races, warforged can't blend in; the Last War resides in every fiber of their being. In some lands people treat them as property, and in most other places many still see them more as living weapons than as true people. Your average person is glad that no more warforged are being built (since the secret forging isn't publicly known) so that eventually this "race" will die out.
One thing to remember, though, is that the people of Eberron have a strong national identity because of decades of war, and that colors their racial perceptions; a Brelander may think that shifters are savage and changelings are untrustworthy, but a shifter or changeling from Breland is still better than anyone from Valenar or old Cyre. In many cases, nationalist bigotry is more common and accepted than racial bigotry.
About the Author
Sean K Reynolds lives in Encinitas, California, and recently left his job at a video game company. His D&D credits include the Monster Manual, the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting, and Savage Species. He'd like to thank Keith Baker for his advice on this article. You can find more game material at Sean's website.