The Art of Eberron

Sometime in the early part of last summer, we created a promotional brochure-type thing to give away at Gen Con after the seminar about the Eberron Campaign Setting. The piece needed to be exciting and evocative, but couldn't include much specific detail about the new setting (partly because many, many things were being worked out and partly because everything was very secret). What we did have was a binder full of really intriguing concept art. So we decided to turn the brochure into a travelogue -- a journal-type diary of a fast-paced trek across Eberron that was filled with sketches and observations made by a half-orc bard named Thunvarch. The travelogue not only allowed us to demonstrate how Eberron was, at its heart, a Dungeons & Dragons world for Dungeons & Dragons characters, but it also illustrated how different Eberron was from any other place we've ever adventured.

When you get the chance to flip through a copy of the Eberron Campaign Setting this June, you'll see what I mean -- the artwork in the Eberron Campaign Setting makes a huge impact on how you perceive the world.

Interview with Robert Raper, Art Director for Eberron

Darguun Warlord

Considering how important the artwork in theEberron Campaign Setting is for establishing so much of the tone and attitude of the world, I thought it would be interesting to check in with the guy who's responsible for getting the art to do all that heavy lifting -- the art director for Eberron, Robert Raper. I caught up with Robert while he was busy at work at his computer, making a few tweaks to the cover art for the Eberron Campaign Setting. He tweaked, I looked through some concept art, and we chatted a bit about what he'd been up to.

How did you get started?

Because of the scope of the Eberron Campaign Setting (and the fact that it will be reincarnated in novels, electronics games, and miniatures, as well as roleplaying games), it was first necessary collaborate with several people. We set up a meeting with myself, Bill Slavicsek (who channeled Keith Baker), Peter Archer, and our three concept artists: Steve Prescott, Dana Knutson, and Mark Tedine.

I didn't want to be heavy-handed with art direction, so we provided them (the artists) with a short synopsis of the world, gave them an idea of the kind of look and feel we were shooting for, and set them loose. Each one of the artists was charged with creating artwork that really played to their strengths. Steve worked on character designs and creatures. (Wait until you see his Mournland Crab!) Dana focused on creatures and environments, such as the awesome monoliths of the Inspired. Mark worked on all three (characters, creatures, and environments) and came up with some really striking new looks -- the dwarves of the Mror Holds are a great example.

What kind of direction did you give the concept artists?

I used a lot of analogies when I was trying to describe the setting. It's not steampunk, nor is it the Middle Ages or dark ages -- it's not traditional fantasy. Eberron is a world formed by a combination of cottage industry and a renaissance that came about as the result of a devastating magical war (nearly on the scale of a nuclear war).


I told the artists to think of how things would evolve and be refined in their design in a world filled with magic. (It's kinda like how the Flintstones had an elephant for a dishwasher. In the D&D world of Eberron, you would create the same convenience with magic. Instead of an elephant, you'd have an elemental.) To use a Spinal Tap reference, D&D goes to ten. The Eberron Campaign Setting, goes to eleven. And Emiril Lagasse would tell the artists to "turn it up a notch."

What did you work on after starting the concept art?

Once we had the concept art started, I pitched the cover and overall visual look for the book itself. I wanted the Eberron line to really stand out on the shelves while tying in to the existing D&D products they'd be up there with. I also wanted all of the books to have the same cover treatment across the line (like I did with the Forgotten Realms books). I chose a rich, saturated red from the D&D palette to use as the principal color and had Daniel Hawkins sculpt the cover, leaving a prominent place on the front for artwork created by the cover artist I chose for the Eberron line: Wayne Reynolds.

What was it about Wayne Reynolds' work that made you settle on him for the cover?

Wayne is one of the best interior illustrators in the Dungeons & Dragons rulebooks -- everything he does is gold. And people recognize his work as being very D&D. (I recommended him for the job of creating the artwork for the D&D 3.5 marketing campaign.) Between the Dungeons & Dragons logo and Wayne's art on the cover, there's no doubt that this is a D&D book, only different (only better). Wayne's style is a blend of fine art with a hint of comic book, which makes it ideal for Eberron. The cover art he's done for the Eberron Campaign Setting is really dynamic, using forced perspective, cocked "camera angles," and an almost over-the-top sense of action -- it's exactly what I was looking for.

Many of the interior artists you're using in Eberron, however, are new. Why not use other popular D&D artists?

That's true: Almost all of the illustrators I have working on Eberron have never been used before for any D&D product. There are a couple reasons for doing that. The simplest reason is logistics. Dawn Murin and I share a lot of really talented artists, and it made sense to broaden the talent pool we're drawing from (though she already wants to use Steve Prescott). The other reason is more compelling: I wanted to make sure that Eberron was visually different from Dungeons & Dragons and the Forgotten Realms. Eberron has all the stuff you'd expect in D&D. It's got all the depth you'd find in the Realms. But in Eberron, everything is amplified. The action is more intense. Everything is more interesting -- and it's up to the PCs to discover it all.

Running Barbarian

What's your favorite stuff in the book? What's new or different?

We haven't gotten all the art in yet, so it's hard to say. But it's all good. There will be a lot of really interesting things to check out when the book's finished. There are a lot of cool mutated creatures (monsters from your typical D&D game) that you'll find in the Mournlands -- like the mutant centaur, which I'd describe as being the kind of centaur you'd run into on Mars in the movie Total Recall. The barbarians in Eberron aren't necessarily bulky, musclebound, Conan types; they're more like Manny from Brotherhood of the Wolf -- thin and wiry, but you still wouldn't want to mess with them. The living spells are really cool -- some of the magic used in the Last War was so powerful that some of the spells linger on, with a life of their own. Also, you won't find any Celtic knots in there.

Anything else to add?

I always hated DMs who wouldn't let you have magic. Campaigns like that are just too mundane. I'm all about the fantasy. And that's what you're going to get. The Eberron Campaign Setting is new -- it's D&D, but better.

Robert Raper is also the art director for the Forgotten Realms, d20 Modern, the Star Wars Roleplaying Game, and the Wheel of TimeRoleplaying Game.

Q&A with Eberron Concept Artist Steve Prescott

What did you do for the Eberron Campaign Setting?

This was one of those rare times when my timing was perfect and the planets aligned in my favor. I was looking for work and contacted Robert Raper having only worked with him briefly one time before. It just so happened that the Eberron pre-production was coming up and (lucky for me) Robert saw some creative aspect that he liked in my artwork. So I was hired on to be one-third of the concept artist crew (along with Dana Knutson and Mark Tedin).

Robert contracted me to do 60 fully visualized conceptual drawings of anything mentioned in the Eberron notes or beyond. He specifically wanted me to work on the different cultures and races of Eberron -- character/costume design, etc., which was right up my alley (but I still dabbled a little with other things such as environments and monsters).

So, Wizards of the Coast flew me out to Seattle for a week to work hands-on with the creative team -- having meetings in the morning and then working with Dana and Mark for the rest of the day pounding out concepts and ideas. We didn't get 60 drawings apiece done in the week that I was out there, so much of the project was done through the magic of group emails. But that initial week of working with a team was absolutely invaluable. There's no way I could have done the work I did if I had done the whole project at home here in Columbus -- without directly being there and without the much more efficient communication (and enthusiasm) that comes from seeing the team's reaction to sketches and ideas. Imagine showing a drawing and your response is either an e-mail that says "Great job!" or a bunch of guys leaning over a big table to get a better view and seeing their faces light up as they place your drawing into action in their heads -- then the quick exchanges of ideas, the thinking out loud that floods out in the next ten minutes. E-mail doesn't offer that kind of forum. Many concepts were formed in just a few quick, fun responses during a meeting. It was very cool. Dana and Mark live in Seattle so I was essentially the wild card -- the relatively unknown artist that was being flown in from the other side of the country -- I'm still flattered when I think about it! But what a great and successful idea that was -- it put me on a creative high, basically. I had so much fun that I actually ended up doing about five drawings more than I needed to and could have done many more!

Half-orcs in Shadow Marshes

What is it about the art that makes it "Eberron" rather than just "D&D"? (What did you do to give your work an "Eberron" look and feel?)

That's hard to say. The Eberron project was really my first foray into Wizards' fantasy games so I personally didn't have an established "look" for D&D to try and build on or avoid (which was probably why I they hired me!). Basically, I approached the work as if I was redesigning D&D to my own flavor to fit the Eberron template.

I've always been influenced by motifs and designs from different cultures (African, Turkish, Native American, Arabian, etc) so I naturally infused a lot of that to help define each Eberron culture. Of course, it was key to have such provocative ideas for me to run with and the Eberron world definitely provided that. Overall, the look has a slightly more modernized feel than D&D. There are fantastic modes of transportation and bigger cities -- and a lot more political intrigue. I think there is more of a focus on being "worldly" than in D&D.

Designing cultures and classes, I worked a lot of layers into the costumes. Some fighters have thick overcoats over different layers of armor instead of just half-plate or just chainmail -- things like that. I also tried to establish at least one very basic element for each race's apparel. The Talenta Halflings use bold geometric shapes on their clothes like thick colorful stripes or patterns made of triangles and squares. Lhazaar folk use a lot of insulative animal hides and furs layered in creative ways. The barbarians who live on the continent of Argonnessen wear a lot a lot of shells, beads, scales from huge sea creatures, and shark teeth, etc.

What excites you the most about the look and feel of Eberron?

There's no way for this to NOT sound ego-driven but I'm most excited that I got to be part of creating this whole new realm -- that people are going to (I hope!) get excited about the different aspects of the game, namely the parts that I had a hand in creating. Not so I can boast about it, but because it'll feel really good to know it is successful -- that I helped make something that people are inspired by, that they have fun with, something evocative -- mainly that, "Hey, I'm doing something right!"

But I'm also excited to keep working on Eberron and keep expanding on this world. It was defined and detailed enough to give us artists plenty to work with, yet has so much room for expansion -- there's still a lot of Eberron to be discovered. I really hope the game is popular enough that it'll keep me having fun with it for a long time!

Warforged Wizard

What did you have fun working on?

I had fun working on everything! I seriously could have continued doing conceptual design work on Eberron for another year at least. I wanted to get in and design every aspect in detail -- what kinds of foods the Valenar Elves eat, the ships the Lhazaar people run around in, the different military outfits of the Emerald Claw -- everything! It's hard to pick out one or even a couple of my favorites things but I had a lot of fun with the Talenta Halflings, Valenar and Aerenal Elves, and the warforged, of course. I also had fun dabbling in creating new creatures like the Mournland Crab, the Sea Tiger, the Tribex, and the Dragonhawk -- those were all fun to do. I guess my favorite pieces were some of the class/culture designs - the warforged wizard, Talenta Halfling bard, Lhazaar warrior, the Hobgoblin Darguun Warlord, and I loved drawing the Argonnessen barbarians.

But that's just within the project -- the best part was the whole experience. This was undoubtedly a major highlight in my career: to be picked up so quickly and flown out to Seattle -- plane tickets, hotel, and rental car paid for -- and work on a huge project for the biggest RPG company in the world with such an enthusiastic and skilled group of directors and artists. I still have trouble processing it. What a change from being cooped up by myself in my studio! It all seemed to just click, and the result was probably the most creative work I have done so far. On top of all that, I got to meet and make friends with some great people: Robert Raper, Mark Tedin, and namely Dana Knutson and Dawn Murin. I was sad to fly back home even though I missed my wife and dog!

Quick Q&A with Wayne Reynolds

What did you do for the Eberron Campaign Setting?

So far I've worked on the wrap-around covers for the Eberron Campaign Setting, as well as the covers for the first four supplements/adventures, including Sharn:City of Towers.

What is it about the art that makes it "Eberron" rather than just "D&D"?

Where the D&DGreyhawk and Forgotten Realms settings are loosely based upon Western ancient/medieval concepts and cultures (with obvious exceptions), Eberron takes additional visual references from the more tribal cultures of Africa, Ancient South America and the Ancient Middle East. Added to that is a bit of herme-technology (magically enhanced machinery).

What excites you the most about the look and feel of Eberron?

It's the diversity of images. When I was presented with the original Eberron concept art I was completely blown away with the imagery that was in there. There are so many concepts to excite the imagination. I was especially taken with the Warforged. When I'm painting a picture with one of those metal guys in it, I start to imagine what sort of culture they have. Even though they're constructed from metal, they still wear clothes. So there has to be an element of vanity in their society. These are the sorts of things I think about while I'm working.

What did you have fun working on? What's your favorite piece?

I've enjoyed working on all the Eberron art. It's enough for me to depict something that really inspires the imagination. If I can convey something that excites the imagination of the viewer, then my job is done. As to my favorite piece . . . that's a tricky one. I'm so self-critical that I'm generally dissatisfied with my own work. I'd probably go for the Sharn:City of Towers cover. There's a lot going on in the picture. I was surprised I managed to fit it all in.

This June, you'll be able to pick up and start exploring the EberronCampaign Setting. Every month until then, we'll offer up more material to help you get an even better idea of what you'll encounter when you do. Next month, you'll get a quick history lesson on what's been taking place in Eberron, along with a look at the unique cosmology of the EberronCampaign Setting.

Dragon Magazine #317

For more insight into the world of Eberron, check out Dragon magazine for the next installation of a six-part monthly series: "Countdown to the EberronCampaign Setting." Issue #317 (that's the March issue, which goes on sale this month) introduces you to three of the unique character races created especially for the EberronCampaign Setting: changelings, the kalashtar, and shifters (with a close look at shifters), along with a glimpse at how all the standard character races fit into the new world.

Issue #316 (that's the February issue) gives you an idea of how all of the standard character classes fit in the setting, introduces you to an all-new character class -- the artificer -- and introduces you to another of the setting's prestige classes: the master inquisitive. Issue #315 (the January issue), introduces you to the Eberron Campaign Setting and offers more insight into the tone and attitude of the new D&D world, along with a little of Eberron's most recent history.

About the Author

Mat Smith is a copywriter who's been playing roleplaying games for a disturbing number of years, and now gets to spend an astonishing amount of time thinking about clever ways to get more people to do the same.

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