“Everything has a place in Eberron.” Despite the many unique features of Keith Baker’s D&D setting, this has actually been one of its most common taglines. There are enough mysterious corners of the world, enough factions and forces and peoples, that pretty much anything can find its way into the setting. I’ve embraced that idea myself, to a point: standard evil deities instead become demonic Overlords, strange species pop up in the Eldeen Reaches and Xen’drik and Argonnessen. that sort of thing. But how do you go about literally giving everything a place in Eberron? Well, you might start by reading the Naturalist’s Guide to Eberron: Volume 1: Aarakocra to Azer by Matthew Booth on the DM’s Guild.
The conceit of the supplement is that it is the work of a Changeling by the name of Rhen Ames Sance, Research Professor at the Library of Korranberg, and his adventuring and Wayfinder’s Guild companions. In-universe it’s not unlike Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes or Volo’s Guide to Monsters, although Rhen thumbs his nose at those who put their own names in the title. The real-world Guide actually begins with some fiction detailing how Rhen became, ahem, acquainted with a member of the Wayfinder’s Guild before beginning his work.
Honestly, that’s half the appeal of the Guide. Every monster’s entry comes with an additional piece of fiction featuring Rhen and his band. They’re a colorful bunch. Rhen is described as being likely to walk into a monster’s mouth to count its teeth, and apparently got kicked out of the Library at one point or another, but he’s a charmer through and through. Ardiane, half-elf former wartime mercenary and current expert Wayfinder, is his partner, escort, ‘babysitter’, and slow-burn love interest. Fortunine, a warforged formerly owned by the Church of the Silver Flame, came along with the pair after helping them steal Church secrets, practicing her trade as a toymaker of all things. Immok, a gnoll mercenary of the Znir Pact, signed on in Greywall and has since come to relish the new hunts his contract offers him.
In addition to the pieces of fiction, which detail the explorers’ travels to attain the lore featured in the Guide while also telling the story of how they came together as a group, there are little notes sprinkled throughout that remind me strongly of the Dresden Files roleplaying games from Evil Hat. Rhen, Ardiane, Fortunine, and Immok trade observations about the entry’s subject, barbs with one another, tidbits of their personal stories, and some advice for fellow travelers to heed.
As to the actual entries on the creatures Rhen and co. are researching, they’re primarily narrative in function, ‘fluff’ as opposed to mechanical ‘crunch’ if you will, focusing on giving each their place in the wider world (and sometimes universe) of Eberron. For example, the entry on the aarackocra details their habitation of Daanvi the Perfect Order, their worship of the philosopher-angels of Syrania, their single-minded pursuits, and the fate of their renegades and criminals (including a rumored link to the kenku of Fallen). Going all the way to the other end of Volume 1 for another example, the entry for the azer addresses their fabled connection to metals like adamantine and byeshk, their dealings with Cannith East, their primary settlement in Onatar’s Fist, and their shrouded past in Fernia (including whispers of a great enemy they had to flee).
The Guide is not completely bereft of mechanical content, however. The entries for the Allip and the Ankheg both include some potential changes to their subject’s statblock to account for regional breeds of the creatures, such as the improved burrowing of the Nightstalker Ankheg of Xen’drik. The entry for Air Elementals has a sidebar about keeping bound elementals under control, like for piloting elemental airships, and includes mechanics for doing so. Each entry also lists the title and page number of the book that contains the monster’s original entry. Those listings and the mechanics I just mentioned are all for 5th Edition. In reality, though, the Guide’s main drive – providing creatures a place in the setting – is edition agnostic. Appropriate enough, considering much of the 3.5 era lore is still perfectly viable.
In terms of product quality Volume 1 is a solid entry. The table of contents makes it easy to find every creature. The individual entries are mostly easy to read, including the notes, although Ardiane’s handwriting had me squinting now and then. The Guide also has a fair bit of art within, 14 pieces across 35 pages, a mix from the DM’s Guild stock collection and a few original pieces by Imogen Gingell and Orline Bowers. Overall Volume 1 won’t blow the competition out of the water, visually speaking or format-wise, but it’s well organized and pleasant to look at.
The Naturalist’s Guide to Eberron: Volume 1: Aarakocra to Azer isn’t going to be a universally useful supplement, and Booth makes the very good point in the introduction that these are his ideas about how these creatures can fit into the Eberron setting, going on to encourage the reader to come up with their own if they want to. That just predisposes me towards my conclusion, though: the Guide can be a very useful bit of inspiration, for Eberron veterans or neophytes, whether you’re dropping its ideas right into the setting or simply using them to kickstart your own brainstorm. It’s also a genuinely fun little read, and it has to be said that you’re also provided with some diverse and fleshed-out NPCs to use in the form of Rhen, Ardiane, Fortunine, and Immok.
For $2.99 you’re getting your money’s worth, and I hope we’ll see more Volumes of the Naturalist’s Guide soon.
Thanks to Booth for sending us a copy to review, and to the Eberron Discord Server for facilitating the exchange. Got a game or other product of your own that you want checked out? Drop us a line @HungryHalfling on Twitter or firstname.lastname@example.org!
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