Eberron: from Maltese Falcon to The Newsroom

Windjammer

Adventurer


So, the new book is here. Some questions early impressions and reviews haven't quite touched on yet include: Just what is this? Who is it for? And... why? But let's start from the beginning.

At its inception, Eberron was grandiose in vision and vast in expense. Enworld would discuss how heroes could conceivably traverse the miles upon miles of so vast a continent, how PCs could reach Khorvaire’s icy and forbidding frontiers. Back in 2003, Eberron characters were up against foes with outsized ambitions, flaws, and machinations. PCs were caught in political turmoil, espionage, and intrigue all at once.

In 2019, Eberron doesn’t read so much like The Maltese Falcon—it reads like a particularly drab season of The Newsroom. That show's decidedly middle-class characters are more at home in this new Eberron than an Indiana Jones or Jack T. Colton.


Can you handle the excitement? Can you handle....the truth???

In its defense, the book doesn’t deny this, suggesting at one point—without a whiff of irony—that PCs be journalists with “an unflinching commitment to the truth” who “might be in conflict with the chronicle's management over priorities.”

Can you imagine the tales? How I stood up to my editor who wouldn’t run my headline, or, How I tweeted about the boss’s industry donors, or, How I met YOUR mother!—and more, by Level 5 Halfling Fighter.

It’s all pretty hilarious, if didn’t come at the expense of the setting itself.

Take the Talenta Plains. Once they were a forbidding land, far, far away, sealed in part behind perilous mountain ranges, with the tribes killing off soldiers of Empire. In short, that 19th century, Imperialist setting immortalized in Kipling’s “When you’re wounded and left on Afghanistan’s plains,” with "The Great Game” the blueprint of any Eberron campaign featuring agents sneaking in, spies sneaking out, of the mountain range, with undercover warfare of tribes against Empire. Peter Hopkirk couldn’t have imagined it better, and it was pretty big news when stories of that scope hit D&D tables in 2003.


When you’re wounded and left on Afghanistan’s The Talenta plains...

Whatever that land once was has, in 2019, become a tourist destination, with visitors of all stripe passing through for a scenic view. "More foreigners visit the Plains than at any time in the past. Settlers and merchants cross the Plains as they make their way to Q'barra, and they clash with Q'barran bandits. The Valenar elves ride through the Plains in search of adventure." Coming next: guided tour buses for Sharn's retirees!

The crowning of kings, once a topic of (again) grand espionage and even greater betrayal, has devolved into the opportunity for an op-ed. The accompanying in-game fiction celebrates this fact in miserably pedestrian newspaper articles for the PCs to emulate. “Growing up on the streets of the Callestan district in Sharn, I learned not to put my faith in anything I couldn't see or hold. I think that's why my editor sent me to Flamekeep to cover” blah blah.

Nothing drives home the shallow, unambitious, pedestrian and downright contemporary nature of characters in this new setting than journalists whose sole accomplishment and merit for consideration is to have been born in a district. Impressive!

None of this is helped by font choices less at home in D&D than 1920s Call of Cthulthu—again, a setting which deliberately pits unremarkable, pedestrian characters of slim abilities against a world they do not comprehend and are not meant to master. All of that works in Cthulhu, but is jarringly out of place for Level 5+ Fighters and Mages.

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When a traveller in north central Massachusetts takes the wrong fork, he ends up... with odd font choices.

It’s not just the writer characters (depicted and suggested for PC play) that are so mundane, it’s the stories of this new setting too.

In the below, I only changed proper names of persons and places, and left the rest of the story intact.

“Zsa Zsa Gabor is the queen of high society in New York. Her activities and those of the Hilton children account for just as much newsprint as their father, Conrad Hilton, used to. Her eldest daughter, Constance, shocked society last week when she publicly denounced the current administration. The dalliances of younger siblings Paris and Nicole sell more issues of the New York tabloids whenever such are reported, and the wedding of middle
sister Paris and Trisha will surely be the biggest social event of 2006.
The Hilton fortune is tied to the City of Towers. Hilton gold funded the construction of many of the towers of New York, and the family owns vast sections of the city. You've likely heard of the Sixty Families of New York, considered the guiding lights of the city. Most assume
that these luminaries are ancient and established, their status tied to a government decree. In fact, when the
Hiltons built their mansion on Fifth Avenue, they ordered the architects to design a banquet hall that would seat sixty families and their servants. The original Sixty Families were those that received standing invitations to the first Hilton Gala. Though the list has remained generally stable through the years, just last year Paris Hilton expelled the Hyatt family and gave their place to Marriott line—a surprising advancement for a family that began as East Coast hooligans. Anyone who strives to rise in New York society must earn the favor of the Sixty. Similarly, those who seek to explore and adventure in the wake of recent foreign wars can surely find patrons among these elite. And from our desks, we will be watching to see which families will be next to rise and fall.”
As you read that story, ask yourself these questions:
1. Is this a tall tale of mighty adventure in a pulp noir world, or is it this some mediocre writing about gentrification and real estate?
2. If given the choice to adventure in, which world would you pick?
3. If given the choice, which book would you rather buy to inspire you as a GM to come up with great adventures? This one:

...or this one:
 
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Cap'n Kobold

Adventurer
In its defense, the book doesn’t deny this, suggesting at one point—without a whiff of irony—that PCs be journalists with “an unflinching commitment to the truth” who “might be in conflict with the chronicle's management over priorities.”
Sounds like a pretty good reason why the PCs might start investigating mysterious disappearances in the slums, the truth about the Lost City of the Dwarves, or why the management might send them far away to a savage and dangerous continent to cover an expedition delving deep into the jungle.
And forget their return tickets.


Take the Talenta Plains. Once they were a forbidding land, far, far away, sealed in part behind perilous mountain ranges, with the tribes killing off soldiers of Empire. In short, that 19th century, Imperialist setting immortalized in Kipling’s “When you’re wounded and left on Afghanistan’s plains,” with "The Great Game” the blueprint of any Eberron campaign featuring agents sneaking in, spies sneaking out, of the mountain range, with undercover warfare of tribes against Empire. Peter Hopkirk couldn’t have imagined it better, and it was pretty big news when stories of that scope hit D&D tables in 2003.

When you’re wounded and left on Afghanistan’s The Talenta plains...

Whatever that land once was has, in 2019, become a tourist destination, with visitors of all stripe passing through for a scenic view. "More foreigners visit the Plains than at any time in the past. Settlers and merchants cross the Plains as they make their way to Q'barra, and they clash with Q'barran bandits. The Valenar elves ride through the Plains in search of adventure." Coming next: guided tour buses for Sharn's retirees!
I'm seeing a bit of a difference between "Invaders no longer get eaten then murdered, so adventurous and driven people are now starting to visit." and "Regular Saga tours destination."

The crowning of kings, once a topic of (again) grand espionage and even greater betrayal, has devolved into the opportunity for an op-ed. The accompanying in-game fiction celebrates this fact in miserably pedestrian newspaper articles for the PCs to emulate. “Growing up on the streets of the Callestan district in Sharn, I learned not to put my faith in anything I couldn't see or hold. I think that's why my editor sent me to Flamekeep to cover” blah blah.

Nothing drives home the shallow, unambitious, pedestrian and downright contemporary nature of characters in this new setting than journalists whose sole accomplishment and merit for consideration is to have been born in a district. Impressive!
I believe the intention was to mimic the newspaper articles of the time that that part of Eberron is reflecting. Journalists would sometimes talk about their ordinary origins in order to establish their "everyman" credentials for the rest of the series. I'm pretty sure it was a deliberate choice to evoke a specific time and genre.

None of this is helped by font choices less at home in D&D than 1920s Call of Cthulthu
1920s Call of Cthulu uses 1920s-esque fonts to help conjure up the feel of the 1920s. That is the same reason that Eberron uses them.

In the below, I only changed proper names of persons and places, and left the rest of the story intact.
“Zsa Zsa Gabor is the queen of high society in New York. Her activities and those of the Hilton children account for just as much newsprint as their father, Conrad Hilton, used to. Her eldest daughter, Constance, shocked society last week when she publicly denounced the current administration. The dalliances of younger siblings Paris and Nicole sell more issues of the New York tabloids whenever such are reported, and the wedding of middle
sister Paris and Trisha will surely be the biggest social event of 2006.
The Hilton fortune is tied to the City of Towers. Hilton gold funded the construction of many of the towers of New York, and the family owns vast sections of the city. You've likely heard of the Sixty Families of New York, considered the guiding lights of the city. Most assume
that these luminaries are ancient and established, their status tied to a government decree. In fact, when the
Hiltons built their mansion on Fifth Avenue, they ordered the architects to design a banquet hall that would seat sixty families and their servants. The original Sixty Families were those that received standing invitations to the first Hilton Gala. Though the list has remained generally stable through the years, just last year Paris Hilton expelled the Hyatt family and gave their place to Marriott line—a surprising advancement for a family that began as East Coast hooligans. Anyone who strives to rise in New York society must earn the favor of the Sixty. Similarly, those who seek to explore and adventure in the wake of recent foreign wars can surely find patrons among these elite. And from our desks, we will be watching to see which families will be next to rise and fall.”
As you read that story, ask yourself these questions:
1. Is this a tall tale of mighty adventure in a pulp noir world, or is it this some mediocre writing about gentrification and real estate?
Why not both?
There are 5-10 plot hooks for games covering everything between high-society crime and gritty street investigation to an action-filled romp through dark jungles and trap-filled hidden ruins in that article alone. More experienced DMs could no-doubt spin off even more, depending on their group's preference.

3. If given the choice, which book would you rather buy to inspire you as a GM to come up with great adventures? This one:

...or this one:
In one, we have people risking the anger of the spirits of those long dead to seek out forbidden knowledge. They wager their lives and souls for a chance of enrichment, material or spiritual. Where will such treasures and revelations guide them next, and how deep will they be willing to delve?
In the other, a warforged carries a box.
 
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tetrasodium

Explorer
Sounds like a pretty good reason why the PCs might start investigating mysterious disappearances in the slums, the truth about the Lost City of the Dwarves, or why the management might send them far away to a savage and dangerous continent to cover an expedition delving deep into the jungle.
And forget their return tickets.
Yellow journalism is pretty evident in many of the newspaper clippings scattered through Rising so might as well use lots of it when a patron like this comes up. It's too bad those disapperances are because a some house Vadalis maebreeder failed to secure the cages on the latest magebred predator he's trying to prepare & house Vadalis just purchased a full page color ad in the next six issues about two hours after they confronted the magebreeder so the boss has made it clear that the party needs to find a different culprit... Although on the up side, an Orien courrier just delivered the party a box containing a 3 charge wand of fireball, a +1 longsword, some gold, & more importantly a fully written tale of their harrowing encounter chasing after that insane Aberrant marked criminal causing the disappearances :D

Edit: Perhaps the box will become the start of a long & lucrative career framing unsympathetic individuals to cver up the crimes of rich & well connected individuals every so often too :D
 
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I know newspapers are of waning relevance in today's world, and even in the last decade or two of the 20th century, and I note the OP was born the same year I started playing D&D, and may have only childhood memories of watching a repeat of some old show or movie where a reporter was the hero.

Maybe it's just a tired old trope.

But Eberron was conceived as mixing film noir in with D&D fantasy, and as a device to bring that feel, newspaper bits seem spot-on.
 

Undrave

Adventurer
It's not quite the 1920s but this is a good inspiration I think...


Newspaper were always cheaply written and in a haste. What's important is reading between the lines.
 

tetrasodium

Explorer
It's not quite the 1920s but this is a good inspiration I think...


Newspaper were always cheaply written and in a haste. What's important is reading between the lines.
Indeed, hell on wheels has some of that & straight up opens s1:e1with it.
 

Undrave

Adventurer
I know newspapers are of waning relevance in today's world, and even in the last decade or two of the 20th century, and I note the OP was born the same year I started playing D&D, and may have only childhood memories of watching a repeat of some old show or movie where a reporter was the hero.

Maybe it's just a tired old trope.

But Eberron was conceived as mixing film noir in with D&D fantasy, and as a device to bring that feel, newspaper bits seem spot-on.
Let's not forget that newspaper were basically the first mass media.

They had more prestigious papers, but they also had rags filled with the equivalent of celebrity gossips. They called them "The Society Pages" and dealt with balls, galas and other high society events. Also, back then you had a morning edition and an evening edition. With extra editions for breaking news!

Newspapers had to offer better writing as a selling point when the radio, the news reel and the television began to compete for the sensationalism... Or they went super sleazy.

Basically, newspapers had trash writing with no such thing as journalistic integrity for a long time.
 

Windjammer

Adventurer
In an old post from 2005, Mike Mearls and Keith Baker debated which sort of stories they want players to find, experience, and tell, as they adventure in Eberron.* Concretely, they debated Eberron's core story--the kind of core experience they want players to experience in the setting.

The reason the new ECS falls flat is that investigative journalism hasn't ever been a core story of Eberron. Journalistic engagements on Khorvaire may make for the occasionally stimulating mission: they just don't afford a lense through which to view the entire setting.

Even in Paizo's Golarion, chroniclers don't relay back tabloid news for the non-adventuring folks back home - for the equivalent of gossip-hungry retirees in Sharn. Instead, chroniclers record maps and intense reports for fellow adventurers.

Now that is a fitting vehicle to help would-be players get a feel of what it's like to adventure in a world.

Remember that passage from Fellowship where one of the hobbits in Moria starts to read alout of the drums in the deep, and they are coming? The chroniclers' diaries and reports you see in Classic Monsters Revisited are of that kind. They're written so well that I remember them over ten years later. Though I have an awful feeling that some of the prose in the new ECS will be remembered too, ten years down the drain, if less fondly.

In-game prose of live-reports are an amazing vehicle to make the setting come alive. When, that is, it succeeds at the levels of angle, register, and writing quality.

The problem isn't just that the in-game writing in the new ECS connects readers with material that's not been connected to Eberron's core story.

The problem is that it's delivered in what others, on this very page, liken to "celebrity gossip" and "trash writing." If that was deliberate, I find it a spectactular mis-assessment of the setting's core strenghts.
 

PsyzhranV2

Adventurer
Again, in the name of the Sovereigns and Six, what the flying frick are you talking about? Why are you fixating on journalism when it's a minor upon minor thing in Rising???

Your group can have the Korranberg Chronicle as their group patron if you/they want. It's not a mandatory thing. You can still run noir intrigue outmaneuvering the Boromars and the Tyrants in Sharn, pulp scrambles racing the Emerald Claw to retrieve artifacts for Morgrave University, and heroic epics fighting the Cults of the Dragon Below and the Lords of Dust, all without ever having to deal with the press as anything more than an occasional nuisance. And the book provides resources for you to do so.

As for the newspaper sidebars scattered throughout the book, they're literally the pinnacle of flavour text/fluff. They're meant to get a look into how the people of Khorvaire think and what kind of propaganda they're being fed post Last War. It's not meant to force the entire setting into becoming the adventures of The Daily Bugle.

I have the book, I've read it, I love it, and I have absolutely no idea where you're getting any of this from.
 

Gradine

Archivist
The reason the new ECS falls flat is that investigative journalism hasn't ever been a core story of Eberron.
You could not be more wrong if you tried; investigative anything has always been a core hallmark of Eberron, and while the Bogie-esque private inquisitive tended to be the more referenced trope, the idea of PCs as investigative journalists did not go entirely unaddressed in early Eberron.
 

Undrave

Adventurer
Even in Paizo's Golarion, chroniclers don't relay back tabloid news for the non-adventuring folks back home - for the equivalent of gossip-hungry retirees in Sharn. Instead, chroniclers record maps and intense reports for fellow adventurers.
Why not do both? Gotta make ends meet. Those business expenses don't pay themselves.

As for the newspaper sidebars scattered throughout the book, they're literally the pinnacle of flavour text/fluff. They're meant to get a look into how the people of Khorvaire think and what kind of propaganda they're being fed post Last War. It's not meant to force the entire setting into becoming the adventures of The Daily Bugle.
They're basically the same thing as the notes from the titular Beholder scattered in Xanathar's Guide to Everything. They're fun glimpse into an aspect of the world.
 

tetrasodium

Explorer
This is just silly, I;m going to quote a couple examples of the newspaper clippings because there are people who don't know what you are talking about.
The Korranberg Chronicle
Kaius ir'Wynarn III emerged from the shadows like a villian in one of kessler's plays. His guardians kept him hidden during his youth while his aunt Moranna served as the regent of Karrnath. So it was a surprise to many when he burst forth to ckaim his crown & his power, all the moreso because of his uncanny resemblance to Kaius I. the rulr who plunged Karrnath into the Last War & instituted the brutal system of laws that bears his name.

Given the circumstances of Kaius III's Ascension, it's hardly surprising that the new king would face challengers from the proud warlords of Karrnath. Some questioned his lineage & ability to command. But the most unusual challenge came from the warord Drago Thul asserted that Kaius III was actually alive? Kaius I had elevated the blood of vol in Karrnath & instituted the use of undead as weapons of war. Drago Thul asserted that Kaius III was actually Kaius I, a vampyric monster "seeking to drain the lifeblood of Karrnath itself". This was a serious accusation; the undead have no rights under the code of Galifar & an not inherit titles or lands. Thuls challenge spread like wildfire, only to be crushed when Kaius III met the warlords under the midday sun & cut his palm to show his freely flowing blood.

This should have been the end of it, but the tale of the vampire king has proven surprisingly resilient. Some say that the king developed special enchantments to avoid the effects of sunlight; others say that he relies on changeling impersonators who take his place in the daylight. As for Drago Thul, he refused to stand down when Kaius III pushed for peace & the Treaty of Thronehold. He fled to the city of Stormreachin Xedri'ik with a small band of followers and continues to rally support against "the monster that sits o our throne"


The Voice of Karrnath

It's been seventy years since the Iron Council declared the Mror Holds' independance from Karrnath. King Kaius II was newly seated on the steel throne and lacked the resolve to bring the dwarf lords to heel. Now we see the harvest we have sown, and it is horrifying. Without the firm hand of Karrnath to keeo them on a righteous path, the Mror dwarves have embraced foul powers.

Witness Lord Malus Soldorak, seen in Korth this week for trade negotiations. His breastplate was forged from chitin & muscle, and it seemed to pulse with its own heartbeat. A guard present at the said that Soldorak's axe groaned when the blade came close to him as if the weapon hungered for human blood.

This is what springs from our mercy & forbearance. Who knows what horrors the dwarves are crafting - or breeding- in their mountain halls? We can notstand by & let this vileness continue. For the good of our nation, , We call on all true Karrns to demand that Regent Moranna unleash our full might on the Mror Hold & cleanse this horror


The article referenced in the OP is in Ch3: Sharn, city of towers. Other articles in that page 151-180 chapter are WATCH FOR FALLING DRUNKS (funny, moving about in sharn can be dangerous bro), THE RACE OF THE EIGHT WINDS BEGINS!(think superbowl/world series/stanley cup/etc type article), ENIGMA OF THE DIAMOND VOICE (interesting article about a playhouse/playwright & how their plays tie into the emotonal raw wounds we all have from the Last War), IS YOUR NEIGHBOR A CYRAN INVADER?(This pretty much goes after the cyran refugees pointing out that there could be elite Cyran warmages & assassins hiding among them. Imagine any number f stories about the muderers & rapists coming across the border as an analog), Dawn of Diseadse (an article about how Jorasco healers & others commemorate a plague that happened during the War of the Mark)

The news clippings convey interesting information about various things & manage to do it in a way that is often four dimensional showing borth sides of a controversial subject, how it was handled, and how any random person probably knows of it.
 

Kurotowa

Adventurer
As for the newspaper sidebars scattered throughout the book, they're literally the pinnacle of flavour text/fluff. They're meant to get a look into how the people of Khorvaire think and what kind of propaganda they're being fed post Last War. It's not meant to force the entire setting into becoming the adventures of The Daily Bugle.
It also helps to pay attention to which paper each fragment is from. The Korranberg Chronicle goes for sober reports about politics and international events. The Sharn Inquisitive is far more sensationalist and gossipy. The Voice of Breland offers strident opinion pieces and openly nationalist sentiment. Who's speaking is as important as what they're saying.
 

Bitbrain

Adventurer
It also helps to pay attention to which paper each fragment is from. The Korranberg Chronicle goes for sober reports about politics and international events. The Sharn Inquisitive is far more sensationalist and gossipy. The Voice of Breland offers strident opinion pieces and openly nationalist sentiment. Who's speaking is as important as what they're saying.
That’s amazing!

Again, I won’t be getting my copy until Christmas, so the idea that the dialogue boxes for Rising are newspaper headlines from different papers (each paper being of different journalistic quality) is fascinating.
 

ChaosOS

Explorer
You could not be more wrong if you tried; investigative anything has always been a core hallmark of Eberron, and while the Bogie-esque private inquisitive tended to be the more referenced trope, the idea of PCs as investigative journalists did not go entirely unaddressed in early Eberron.
The ECS literally had a prestige class named Master Inquisitive.

Eberron Campaign Setting 2004 said:
The master inquisitive takes the art of investigation and deduction to the ultimate level, rising to the top of the field. A master inquisitive could be an elite freelance investigator, or a master detective working for a recognized law enforcement organization somewhere in Khorvaire. He might be an investigative chronicler digging up details on corruption and conspiracies. Whatever his occupation, the master inquisitive specializes in solving mysteries and shedding light on the darkest secrets.
 

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