Today’s article is a behind-the-scenes look at Exploring Eberron from its editor, Laura Hirsbrunner, platinum-bestselling Dungeon Masters Guild designer and editor.
In the spring of last year, Wayne Chang asked me if I was available to edit “a book.” He estimated it would be “approximately 120,000 words.”
Come to find out, this humble book was actually Exploring Eberron, a Dungeon Masters Guild hardcover written by Keith Baker. Its original working title was “Eberron Expanded,” soon affectionately dubbed “Project Raptor” (because what book is complete without a codename?). The name was born from a joke Keith made during the development of Eberron: Rising from the Last War, in which he reported the entire book would be “300 pages of different types of dinosaurs, a deep dive into Talenta.” When Wizards of the Coast failed to actually publish a book about dinosaurs, we knew we needed to pick up the torch…and so Project Raptor found its name.
445 days or so later, I regret to inform you that Project Raptor does not contain 300 pages of dinosaurs, and neither is it 120,000 words. Rather, Exploring Eberron blossomed to an enormous 247 pages and 230,000 words, its contents exceeding my wildest (dinosaur-free) expectations. I can confirm that Keith is a brilliant world-builder, a joy to collaborate with and edit for…and a very very very prolific writer.
It quickly became a running joke that when Keith says “hmm,” it means we’ll need to add another couple pages—or an entire chapter—to the book. Now, if anyone tells you I was responsible for a few of the expansions, don’t believe them… it’s only halfway true. Yes, on multiple occasions, I asked Keith things such as, “Can you write a couple more sentences to help connect the dots between these two topics?” But he’d inevitably send me at least twice as many sentences as I asked for…and so the book grew. Over the last decade, I’ve edited many hundreds of thousands of words, but working on a single project of this magnitude was an experience like no other. It turns out that editing takes immensely more work the longer the book gets! The good news is that Keith quickly earned a place as one of my very favorite editing clients of all time. Despite the fact that he’s won multiple awards for his game design and is a celebrity in the D&D world, he’s one of the most humble and kind folks I’ve had the privilege to work with, and if I had to be “stuck” with a writer on a project for a solid year, I’m quite happy it was him!
In addition to my primary role as editor, I had the unexpected opportunity to contribute to the writing and design of a few sections, alongside our producer Wayne Chang (co-host of the Manifest Zone podcast) and mechanics designer Will Brolley (my friend and co-designer of several bestselling Dungeon Masters Guild supplements). I can’t imagine a better team to have partnered with on this book, and my work was equally enjoyable, frantic, fun, overwhelming, and a tremendous learning opportunity.
Shortly before I finished editing, we discovered we would need to hire a new layout designer—and, suddenly I found myself stepping into that role as well. Not what I originally signed up for, but it was immensely satisfying to be able to take the book from raw, unedited text, all the way to its final print-ready form.
Once Exploring Eberron was completed, my jaw dropped at the final word count. I was dying to know how this compared to the recent Wizards of the Coast hardcover, Eberron: Rising from the Last War (which had not one editor, but five!). So I spent longer than I’m willing to admit copying and pasting every single section from D&D Beyond to Word so I could run a count… Though Exploring Eberron’s page count is lower, it’s over 10,000 words longer!
I am grateful beyond belief to the amazing team of playtesters and beta readers that joined us on this journey, and I can’t imagine having done this work without them. They carefully evaluated (…and reevaluated, and reevaluated again…) the character options and other mechanics presented in the book, giving us amazing feedback and helping us polish the balance and playability of each section. In addition, and perhaps even more valuable to me personally, their eagle eyes and encyclopedic memories spotted errors ranging from lore contradictions from obscure 10-year-old Dragon Magazine articles to the inevitable typos that slipped past my one-person editing team. TTRPG designers, be good to your playtesters—they represent your audience in the best of ways, and will be both your harshest critics and biggest fans. My sincerest thanks to every single one of them for their investment in this book (and their unflagging encouragement and support).
If you’d told me two years ago that I’d be Keith Baker’s editor for anything, let alone a book of this magnitude, I would’ve laughed in complete disbelief. Eberron has been such a special setting to me from the moment I discovered it, and the Eberron community is one of the most welcoming, generous, and encouraging ones I’ve ever known. I’m overwhelmed in the best of ways at having played a part in bringing more of Keith’s amazing world into your hands, and I’m looking forward to the stories of how you use it in your Eberron.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is this book “canon”?
One thing I love about Keith’s philosophy is that from the very beginning, he’s emphasized that Eberron is something you can make your own. There is an official “canon” of work in the officially published Wizards of the Coast hardcovers, the Dungeon and Dragon magazine articles, and the web articles from the old Wizards website. In addition to that, there’s a wealth of information that Keith’s written over the years on his blog in an unofficial capacity, commonly referred to as “kanon” among fans.
This book is officially licensed third-party content published by the Dungeon Masters Guild and is written by the creator of the Eberron setting – but no, it doesn’t have the same official “canon” status as Eberron: Rising from the Last War. However, this book is the culmination of nearly two decades of Keith’s dreams of what he’d write about Eberron if he had the space and time to do so—and I am entirely confident that the Eberron community, long-time fans and new players alike, will love this book (almost) as much as I do. It’s a perfect companion for Rising and books from previous editions; rather than rehashing material that’s been covered before, it complements it by diving deep on topics that have always been fascinating and yet woefully under-explored.
It’s hard for me to pick a favorite section, partially because I’ve read all the words so many times that it all blends together… but I’ll say that I especially enjoyed the sections on the Dhaakani dar, the Thunder Sea (the kar’lassa are extremely neat additions to the world), and of course, I love everything about the planes. Suffice it to say that this book contains something for everyone.
How much will I love the art in it?
You will love it a lot. A lot a lot a lot. Exploring Eberron contains 49 original artworks commissioned for this book (in addition to its 9 licensed images originally created for other purposes, 18 stock art images, and 11 images from previous Wizards of the Coast books).
Can I preorder?
Unfortunately, preorders are not available on the Dungeon Masters Guild. However, good news! The same day that the hardcover is released, you’ll immediately be able to download the PDF version. So while shipping delays might take a month or two, the content will be in your hands immediately upon release.
Will I be able to purchase it on D&D Beyond?
The licensing agreement with the Dungeon Masters Guild does not currently allow us to release the same content on D&D Beyond. However, if ever that changes, we’ll let you know. 🙂
Just tell us now, please, when will the book be released???
Exploring Eberron was originally planned for release in 2019. However, it became increasingly evident that for Keith to do justice to the many topics planned, and to write about them in the depth that he’s always dreamed of, the book would need to be much longer than originally planned. The chapter on the Planes of Eberron was the last one written, and by far the longest. It could very easily have been an entire book on its own, but we knew that section held some of the most anticipated content. So rather than cut the material on the planes for a later hardcover (which would delight absolutely nobody), we instead adjusted our timeline to plan on a Spring 2020 release.
In the midst of this process, each member of our 4-person production team was juggling various personal commitments, including two house moves, a baby’s birth, personal illness, family illness, obligations with our full-time jobs, and much more. And then…the pandemic hit. Needless to say, between life circumstances and the rapidly increasing book length, Exploring Eberron did not come out in Spring 2020. While disappointed by the delay, we were also confident that it was a book worth waiting for.
During the month of May, writing, editing, and layout were finally completed… though we all have several more gray hairs than when we began the process. Preparing the book for print-on-demand hardcover is an entirely different beast than doing layout for PDF-only publications, and by the end, I reached a level of intimacy with InDesign that perhaps made my husband a bit jealous (lucky for him, being married to him is far less stressful than creating hardcovers for print, so our marriage is saved).
Once the book was finished, we sent the PDF to our amazing team of playtesters, who eagerly devoured the new lore along with helping to spot remaining errors in the book. After a few last-minute tweaks, the book was ready for publishing, and sent off the final PDF to premedia review at the Dungeon Masters Guild! The book passed premedia checks with flying colors. However, before we can release it to the public, we have to review a final printed copy… and due to COVID-19, the printing and shipping process has been delayed, and can take well over a month.
So at this point, we are in the agonizing stage of waiting…and waiting…and waiting. As soon as I have the printed proof in my hands, I’ll review it to make sure the PDF file we submitted to the printer was processed correctly and printed according to our expectations (rarely, something goes wrong with the print process and images print incorrectly, or the margins are wrong, or a host of other potential issues). As soon as that happens and we confirm everything looks correct, we can give the Dungeon Masters Guild the green light to release the book for you!
We don’t anticipate any further delays or errors in the process of printing and shipping the proof copies of the book, but everything from this point on is out of our hands. Assuming all goes as expected, we’re delighted to announce that Exploring Eberron will officially be available for purchase in both hardcover and PDF next month, in July of 2020.
What formats is the book available in?
You can purchase Exploring Eberron as a hardcover or PDF. The former is 8.5″ x 11″ premium hardcover book (similar in size to Wizards of the Coast hardcovers); expect 1-2 months at minimum for shipping time due to the pandemic. The PDF version will be downloadable immediately upon purchase; this full-color PDF is identical to the hardcover book in layout, as well as being screen-reader friendly and providing optional print-friendly settings to toggle off the art & background. Due to the long shipping delays, for those that purchase both products at the same time, we’ll be offering a very steep discount on the bundle so you can enjoy the PDF right away while you wait for the hardcover to arrive.
Will Keith be writing more books?
Stay tuned… 😉
About the Editor
By day, Laura Hirsbrunner is a 3x platinum-bestselling TTRPG designer and editor, academic consultant, editor-in-chief of Across Eberron, play-by-post server moderator, wife to a paladin, and mother to two gibbering mouthlings. By night, she explores dungeons and slays daelkyr (because really, dragons aren’t the bad guys). Her DMsGuild work includes the Eberronicon, Archetypes of Eberron, Elminster’s Candlekeep Companion, and more. You can find her portfolio here, or follow her on Twitter.