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.
This article looks at the concept of planes and adventuring in Eberron.
Planar Awareness Is High
In most D&D campaigns, the planes are very mysterious and legendary. The common folk know little about other planes, except perhaps "demons are from the Abyss" or "devils are from Hell" (though they may confuse the two). If asked which is the plane of chaos or the home plane of ghosts, most common folk won't care because they're both horrible places no person in his right mind would want to go and aren't relevant to getting this year's crops in.
By contrast, Eberron's cosmology has a direct effect on the world through their metaphysical distances and manifest zones, and the common people are aware of this connectivity. For example, the residents of Sharn know their city's towers remain aloft only because of the Syranian manifest zone, ghost appearances are more common when Dolurrh is coterminous, and animals have smaller litters when Lamannia is remote.
Even in Eberron, this planar awareness doesn't mean regular people know what those planes are like or what sort of creatures live there. Ask a magewright from Breland what creatures call Fernia home and he's not going to rattle off the monster types listed in the Eberron Campaign Setting; "fire monsters" is about all he can tell you. Even a talented general from Karrnath probably can't name any of the fortresses or leaders of Shavarath. The names and natures of the planes are known, but only scholars tend to have information worthwhile to an adventurer.
Planar Travel Is Rare
The Dungeon Master's Guide suggests that planewalking is a fairly common practice for high-level characters. In the Eberron setting, characters with PC classes are uncommon (adepts and magewrights don't have any planar-travel spells), and high-level characters rare, so few have access to spells such as plane shift, and planar travel is very rare.
While it is rare, it does happen, and planar adventurers are wise to study where they're going before they make such a journey. For example, Daanvi is the plane of law, but who -- and what -- is in charge? How do they treat neutral or chaotic visitors? Thelanis is the Faerie Court, but what's the political and geographic setup? Are there any heroes of a past age sleeping there, waiting to be retrieved in a time of need?
Because Eberron's planes are associated only with Eberron (rather than a common set of Outer Planes with multiple Material Planes), the planes should tie in to events in Eberron, whether current or historical. The D&D cosmology has Ysgard, the home of the Norse pantheon, whether or not the campaign's Material Plane has a Norse-worshiping culture. By comparison, the Eberron cosmology doesn't have any planes representing concepts not on Eberron, and the creatures on those planes. If adventurers from Eberron have to go to one of the planes, it should be for some reason important to Eberron or even epic in proportion. It should not be on a whim. Eberron heroes don't go to Irian for a friendly chat with light archons -- they go to negotiate for a legion to help drive back a force of wraiths advancing on Sharn. They don't go to Shavarath for the fun of beating up fiends. Instead they go to unearth a lost artifact buried under a devil-controlled tower built by angels long ago. Plane-hopping isn't a lark in Eberron -- it is serious business.
Planar Threats Are Familiar
While travel from Eberron to another plane is rare, travel in the other direction is unfortunately much more frequent. Evil creatures find ways to cross when their planes are coterminous, good creatures do the same for theirs, and rogue creatures from all the other planes do so for their own purposes. Ghosts creep into Eberron when Dolurrh approaches. Though the quori and daelkyr invasions happened thousands of years ago, everyone has heard about them. Mortal organizations in Eberron endure through generations both to protect the world against these incursions and to shatter the wards that keep the outsiders away. In a standard campaign, a sudden influx of extraplanar creatures is a surprising and horrendous thing, resulting in chaos and panic. In Eberron, all of those things occur . . . but people are waiting for them with their swords and spells ready.
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.