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The Guns of Karrnath?

My Eberron project, The Forge of War, has been officially announced, so I guess I can discuss it here, insofar as my NDA allows.
  • Yes, it's an Eberron book about the Last War.

  • Yes, I wrote it with mouseferatu and James Wyatt.

  • Yes, I wrote a lot of history and battle descriptions, as well as a little crunch.

  • James and I politely disagreed about some questions of historical motives (and as the in-house guy, I'm sure he gets the last word).

  • I patched up the gaps of Eberron's timeline, and I think people are in for a few surprises.

That about covers it; beyond that, I'm off the NDA, I think.

It's a project I enjoyed, but despite spending a fair amount of time sorting through the fine points and contradictions of the setting, Eberron hasn't quite won me over. Maybe it's just because I've been reading so much darker stuff lately (Poe, Stross, and Mieville), but Eberron's pretensions to noir aren't cutting it for me. Halflings on dinosaurs, magic trains, and the evil cardinals of the Silver Flame all add up to "slightly campy pulp" to me, not noir. That said, The Forge of War plays it straight: no jokes, no humor, downplay the goofy elements as much as possible. It's a military-focussed book, written to detail and incorporate the defining events of the setting. I'll be very curious to hear what people say about it.

Part of me wants to write an all-warforged Eberron one-shot done up in a Sgt. Rock or Nick Fury style, maybe for Open Design, maybe just to run for a local group. Everyone goes out in a blaze of glory!


Jul. 3rd, 2007 02:39 am (UTC)
Re: So The 90% don't matter once again?
Well, the contradictions are largely a matter of having a semi-industrial culture built on a feudal foundation (which I don't find credible), and the size of the continent, which doesn't seem to match the cultures described for it.

The goofy elements I described in my original post; halflings and dinosaurs are one example, the lightning rail is another. It's no better or worse than Spelljammer; I like those elements, but I would not call them noir.

I'm not interested in the WotC forums; don't have the time. If there's a particular post you thought was insightful, I'd love to hear it.

I'm not sure what you mean by a "slap in the face". Eberron, like all settings, has its plusses and minuses. This post was praise and commentary on process. I'd still like to run the Blaze of Glory one-shot sometime.

As for "pushing my personal wants on the rest of us."... Uh, where to begin...? I wrote to WotC's outline and request. As I said in my original post, James Wyatt has the ultimate say in what went into Forge of War. If you don't care for it, you seem to be saying that WotC isn't doing right by the setting. Which seems silly, since it's their setting.
Jul. 8th, 2007 03:20 am (UTC)
Re: So The 90% don't matter once again?
Hi Wolfgang!

Keith Baker here. First off, congratulations on The Forge of War. I have some differences over the depiction of Thrane, but that aside it seems like a truly excellent book.

With that said, I just wanted to touch on a few of the earlier comments. The message is too long for one post, so I'll have to split it up.

**the size of the continent, which doesn't seem to match the cultures described for it.**

That's because it doesn't. In my opinion, the scale on the maps of Eberron is off by a factor of ten. In my mind, the Five Nations should be along the size of nations like France and England, not Russia and China. It throws off travel time for adventures, skews population, and makes it hard to imagine events in the Last War pushing deep beyond the borders. This wasn't somehow inherent in the design of the setting (in fact, quite the opposite); in my opinion it was just a miscommunication with the art department that is sadly now part of the core book. But personally, MY Khorvaire is a much smaller place.

**Eberron's pretensions to noir aren't cutting it for me. Halflings on dinosaurs, magic trains, and the evil cardinals of the Silver Flame all add up to "slightly campy pulp" to me, not noir.**

That's because they ARE slightly campy pulp, not noir. The thing to understand is that when I describe Eberron as "pulp-noir", that's not a single thing - it's a spectrum. Eberron is "Lord of the Rings meets Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Maltese Falcon"... but not necessarily AT THE SAME TIME. I wanted a setting that could play in both directions and which COULD bring them together - but which could also allow DMs to play to the extremes.

So lost cities of Xen'drik, battles atop a moving lightning rail, tribes of raptor-riding Talenta barbarians, undead soldiers of the Emerald Claw seeking to activate the Necrotic Resonator - these things are pure pulp. There's no pretension that they are noir in any way; this is Raiders of the Lost Ark with swords and sorcery, with no trace of Sam Spade or Gutman.

On the other end of the spectrum, we have the slums of Sharn. The Machiavellian intrigues of Zilargo. The lingering resentments between the Five Nations, overshadowed by the lurking fear that the Mourning will happen again - the quiet belief that this may be the last generation, that the world could end at any moment, coupled with the assurance that if it doesn't, the war WILL begin anew. The schemes of the Dragonmarked Houses, both the short-term quest for wealth and the long, slow unraveling of the monarchies. THIS is where the noir comes into Eberron. The old soldier who hunts warforged in the sewers of Sharn, seeking vengeance for his own slaughtered family and taking out his sorrows on these creatures who themselves have been abandoned by society. The cold war between the Five Nations balanced against the ancient hidden conflict between dragon and demon, a war that has continued while lesser civilizations have risen and fallen.

Then there are subjects that walk the line in between. The Dreaming Dark are a force most suited to subtle intrigues and the corruption of allies, but you can certainly work in a seen of over-the-top psi-fu action with an quori nightmare if that's what you want. The Lord of Blades can play the role of pulp villain, but he can also serve as a symbol of these discarded soldiers - weapons made for war and now lost and unwanted in a world that wishes to forget the conflict.

It's a mistake to look for noir in every atom of Eberron. It's not SUPPOSED to be there. The DM who loves pulp action and hates the darkness of noir can find exactly what he wants in Eberron - provided he picks the right locations and villains to use in his game. The same is true of the DM who likes noir and hates the over-the-top pulp. It's a spectrum - not a single flavor. There may be halflings riding dinosaurs... in the Talenta Plains. But if you hate them, there's no reason your players ever need to see a clawfoot.
Jul. 8th, 2007 03:21 am (UTC)
Part Two
You speak to the innate clash between a semi-industrial culture and a feudal society, and I agree. In my opinion, this IS a central theme of Eberron; essentially, the feudal system IS collapsing as the power of the dragonmarked houses grows. If I could change two things, one would be the scale of the maps; the other would be the scale of time. One of the goals behind Eberron is "If a culture had arcane science in the middle ages instead of the sciences we're used to - what sort of civilizations would arise?" Thus, I want to see the sort of advancement we see in OUR history - a snowballing effect where once things hit their stride, it can move with alarming speed. One of the things that could play to this is the question of when spells we take for granted were developed. When WAS continual flame developed? What about lightning bolt? Did any wizard of Galifar know the fly spell before the Last War? These are certainly questions I'd like to see addressed. The problem with this, frankly, is the lifespan of some of the humanoid races. When an elf can LIVE a thousand years, it's difficult to deal with what a thousand years realistically means for human civilization... because in two or three generations of elves, you should see vast cultural transformation among humanity.

So it's not perfect, no question about it. But it's still something I want to continue to explore. Essentially, looking to magic as industry, what ARE the milestones? It's possible that the major ones are more recent than we think - and that these are undermining of the traditional monarchies.
Jul. 8th, 2007 03:22 am (UTC)
Re: So The 90% don't matter once again?
As a final point - the "evil cardinals of the Silver Flame". I could go on for pages about this, but I'm sure neither of us have the time, so I'll keep it brief. This, actually, WASN'T something I intended to be campy, and I'm very disappointed with the direction it's taken in many sourcebooks and novels. In my opinion, the Church of the Silver Flame is often depicted in a very two-dimensional manner, with fanatic, intolerant followers being misled by vile, evil priests. When the Church of the Silver Flame was first established, the goal was simply to highlight one of the central themes of Eberron: Good people can do bad things. Intention and alignment aren't always in line. When I think of an evil cardinal, I think of Richelieu - a man who, regardless of his methods, believes that his actions are for the good of France... and who might in fact BE a better leader than the actual king. The Lycanthropic Purge wasn't supposed to be a mad witchhunt; it was supposed to be a tragic conflict resulting in the loss of innocent life on both sides - something that could have been handled better, but that had to be done. It was "28 Days Later" with werewolves instead of zombies, not the McCarthy trials... though it went that way in the final days, when the tide of battle finally turned and the Aundairian converts, maddened by their thirst for vengeance, took over from the templars of the eastern nations. The church has its zealots and its intolerant priests, but they are supposed to be a minority; the majority, under Jaela, hold closer to the core values of the church, which do focus on compassion and charity. Essentially, the templars of the church is more the Men in Black or Jedi Knights than crusaders fighting infidels... because the mission of the church only advocates the use of sword or spell when defending the innocent from *supernatural* evil, and the thing is that this is a world in which supernatural evil exists. I don't think the Church of the Flame could ever exist in our world, because we don't HAVE demons, werewolves, undead, and aberrations in the shadows. In our world, these impulses would end up turned against the heathens. But in Eberron, there's never been a shortage of terrors for the Flame to fight. The church isn't about turning everyone ot our beliefs - it's about protecting everyone from the monsters in the shadows, and only then trying to guide them to the light.

With that said, again, a point of Eberron was to say that even those with the best of intentions could do evil. The Church of the Silver Flame is actually a prime target FOR a witch hunt, precisely because this is a world where *demonic possession is a real danger*. You really could have demon-possessed people preying on other members of their community; the Silver Flame is supposed to fight this; and you can see how this can spin out of hand.

So my goal was always to keep the Church of the Silver Flame from being a caricature. I didn't want it to be the perfect-do-no-wrong-church-of-light, because that's not realistic; people simply aren't perfect. But I never wanted it to be the intolerant-can't-do-anything-good force that it's often depicted as. It's not perfect. It falls into that spectrum of gray, as opposed to being pure black or white. But on the whole, it's supposed to lean towards the white - to follow the example of Jaela, not the puritans of Aundair.

Anyhow, this isn't referring to anything in particular. I just think that it's easy for people to see dinosaurs and trains and jump to the conclusion that it's all Eberron is, and obviously that's not noir. But the noir is there in the shadows, in the fear of the Mourning, the grimy streets of Lower Dura, the despair of the warforged soldier who has lost his purpose in life and who is unwanted by the world that made him. It's not pure pulp, it's not pure noir - it's the spectrum that lies in between.
Jul. 8th, 2007 05:32 am (UTC)
Re: So The 90% don't matter once again?
Thanks for all your comments! Made my day, especially your take on the noir aspects as one end of a spectrum. I've read most of the Eberron game materials, but not as much of the fiction as I'd like. I have a suspicion I'd see more noir elements in the fiction.

I'm very glad to hear that the maps were originally smaller; the setting makes so much more sense with European-size powers rather than continental ones. It was a major weirdness to write Last War military events that covered such vast distances; the rail campaigns helped, but... even so, I tried to avoid talking about transit times, because moving troops that far takes too long.

I'm with you on the Church in the modern age: a mix of good, brave and generous with its share of zealots and (largely justified) witchburners.

The history as I saw it is a story of redemption for Thrane: dark deeds in the revolutionary era (think Iran's religious tumult, or the 30 Years War) followed by a reign of terror. Over time, the Cardinals were wise enough to moderate those impulses, but the theocracy was born in the full passion and fire that young religions are prone to. My impression is that some readers wanted a different theocratic revolution, though I'm not sure semi-feudal revolutions are ever that orderly.

In any case, I agree that Cardinal Richlieu and his fictional offspring are a bit of a cliche; I'm not sure whether adding a puritan era to Thrane enriches that backstory. Certainly in the army titles and the Righteous Kingdom I was aiming for a more complex view of what Thrane is about. I suspect that the word "cardinal" itself leads to a certain amount of stereotyping. For that, I blame Dumas entirely, much though I love his novels.

Magic as industry: well, it's a tough nut to crack. I've seen Modesitt, Meiville, Butcher, Stross and many others do their fictional takes on magic-meets-tech, and it's fascinating to watch, but always a little unsatisfying to me. I'm not sure that the industrial base matters to the play experience; I suspect it's something that DMs (and maybe artificer players) care about. Everyone else politely ignores it to get on with the action. :)

FWIW, I really *like* the setting's pulp elements (hell, I wrote a goodly chunk of the Pulp Cthulhu book). Two-fisted action seems like a natural match for sword & sorcery to me. Bring on the Blood of Vol and the Necrotic Resonator!
Jul. 8th, 2007 05:54 am (UTC)
**I suspect that the word "cardinal" itself leads to a certain amount of stereotyping.**

No question there. In retrospect, it was probably a mistake to use terms tied to our religions (cardinal, templar, puritan, etc) with the CotSF, because they come with so much baggage. It's that tightrope between creating a touchstone that helps people get a starting point, and one that drives them down a specific path.

**The setting makes so much more sense with European-size powers rather than continental ones.**

Yup. Like I said, I don't really see an easy solution here as far as official material's concerned; it's set in stone in the ECS and Five Nations, and I don't see that being changed. So I play it smaller in my campaign. I can certainly see the difficulty of describing a war largely fought on foot over such a vast area!

**Magic as industry: well, it's a tough nut to crack.**

Honestly, it's something Eberron sort of skirts around. We essentially assert it's there and suggest a few things (creation forges, continual flame, etc.) But I'd like to see it explored further. Essentially, with Eberron I wanted to say "If you actually had a science that works in the way arcane magic does in D&D, who would it evolve and be integrated into society." I think there's still a lot of room to explore this further.
Jul. 8th, 2007 11:44 am (UTC)
Re: Titles
Cardinal, Templar and Puritan also have specific origins and references unique to earth's history. I always hate to see those terms crop up in otherworldly fantasy - it's like having a group called "Americans" or "Muslims" without the same historical/cultural context and only a passing, superficial similarity to their cultural behaviors.

As for the McCarthy era, the Crusades, the Inquisition and other notorious acts of extremity: they all came out of legitimate fears and somewhat "good" intentions, then went insane from there. None of those movements began with a room full of feverish psychos chanting "Kill all unbelievers" - they began with scared people reacting to authentic crisis (KGB infiltration, Muslim military expansion, the unification of Spain under Catholic rulers) and then snowballed when fear and greed took over.

Cool discussion! :)
Jul. 8th, 2007 03:03 pm (UTC)
Re: Titles
Oh, certainly - no argument that people originally MEANT well in many of these situations. It's all back to the fact that very few people TRY to be evil or see themself in this light... which is, of course, another of Eberron's themes, hence the whole "An Eberron campaign should cause you to question preconceptions about alignment" bit in Chapter Nine of the ECS.

When I was speaking about the Lycanthropic Purge, my point is that it wasn't *one-sided*. People often assume the Purge was an instance of "helpless lycanthropes being hunted down one by one by ruthless soldiers of the Silver Flame." In fact, when the Purge BEGAN, it was quite the opposite. The church acted in response to a plague of infectious lycanthropy sweeping across the west, bringing an associated wave of death. While lycanthropic alignment isn't tied to FORM in Eberron, it is persistent - an evil werebear creates evil werebears when he transmits the curse, and evil lycanthropes aren't just "evil" (which covers a wide spectrum in Eberron) - they are vicious murderers who delight in killing other intelligent species, especially members of their own race (so even the shifters aren't keen to shelter an evil shifter lycanthrope, since he likes to kill shifters). In the begining, the balance of power was on the sides of the *lycanthropes* - the average soldier of the Silver Flame was a 1st or 2nd level warrior, while lycanthropes have all the power granted by lycanthropy, along with the ability to infect with a single bite. This is all covered in more detail in the Purge dragonshard, but the point is that in the beginning the soldiers of the Silver Flame were placing themselves at terrible risk to try to protect the people of Aundair - this wasn't waking up one morning and deciding "Oh, we feel like cruely exterminating innocent and helpless 'thropes." Towards the END the balance of power shifted - but by this point things were being driven by the madness of war, the paranoia of decades of conflict with a clever enemy who can shift shape and a desperate desire for vengeance for all those lost in the past... As you say, the legitimate fear transformed into madness. Not that you didn't see the loss of innocents (on both sides) earlier, but the "witch trial" vision didn't happen until the end.

As for titles, yes. Again, it's that balance of using words which have some meaning to people - because of our history, I immediately know that a cardinal is a higher rank than a bishop - without being trapped into carrying over all of the cultural baggage that comes with it.
Jul. 8th, 2007 09:39 pm (UTC)
Re: Titles
People often assume the Purge was an instance of "helpless lycanthropes being hunted down one by one by ruthless soldiers of the Silver Flame.

There's a good chance people assume this based on our own perceptions of religion and its ties to history. This is often reinforced by what we see today (far too frequently) on the news. A car bomb here, a matyr there ...and I think people tend to just assume that the targets are innocents. The very phrase "Witchhunt" in today's lexicon often conjures images of people being accused for crimes they didn't commit.

As for this element in the game, I've had a lot of fun with it. I had (before I moved to the Middle East) a group I was running with a shifter that just assumed that all other shifters were innocents and all members of the CotSF were racists bent on his very destruction. He didn't take into consideration that there *are" very evil werewolves out there who delight in killing the innocent. He had his opinion and he stuck to it. This made for fun role-playing, and only went on to emphasise a very real problem. Choosing a side and ignoring that there are shades of grey in every situation.

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