Eberron is without a doubt my favourite campaign setting for Dungeons & Dragons. I enjoy its intrigue, moral ambiguity, post war/cold war setting and violence. Since I first read the 3.5 Eberron Campaign Guide I felt it was a setting designed for a more mature player. Not necessarily Wizard of the Coasts core audience, but rather the players who grew up with earlier editions of the game and who now wanted more than just a dungeon crawl. Eberron is a setting that encourages players and DMs to challenge certain assumptions and to role play moral and ethical issues.
Which is why I was disappointed to see that any race can now select any dragonmark. No longer are dragonmarks separated by race. It is now possible for Half-Orcs to muscle up to the table with Gnomes from House Sivis and provide the services that the Mark of Scribing allows.
Now, I should be clear. From the perspective of WotC I suppose I can understand why they expanded the role of dragonmarks. For starters it makes the campaign setting feel more inclusive. Also, by allowing all races to freely select a dragonmark they encourage more players to select the mark for their PCs. As the dragonmarked houses are central to the world of Eberron this makes sense. It can also be easily explained through the Draconic Prophecy. So with these points in mind I don’t feel that the expansion of dragonmarks in 4e Eberron is game-breaking.
However, I still don’t like it. Eberron is a setting of class and racial distinctions. It might not be pretty, but it is the reality of the world that was created. A world where one race for various reasons sneered or were openly hostile to other races. The emergence of the monstrous races of Droaam and the inherent distrust and racism that was present provided for interesting role playing opportunities. The Elves of Valenar border on xenophobic in their treatment of other races. Dragonmarks added a new level to this racial hatred and mistrust. By blurring the lines and allowing any race to select any dragonmark the setting feels a little watered down to me.
Now to their credit, WotC addresses this in the Eberron Player’s Guide. In discussing the option of taking a dragonmark outside of its normal racial lines the following is found, “You could choose to be a member of some other race, even a race that has no dragonmarked house of its own … You’ll probably never meet an NPC in the world like you and no Dragonmarked House would claim you.” So you can have the dragonmark, but you’d exist outside of the House. Not good enough in my opinion.
I mean this is a campaign setting that in its history had the War of the Mark. During this time the twelve dragonmarks that are present in the campaign setting aligned into their respective houses and the houses worked together to eliminate all other aberrant dragonmarks. In other words the Dragonmarked Houses killed anyone who manifested a mark outside of the respected bloodline.
Of course the history of Eberron as explained in previous editions would therefore allow for dragonmarks outside of the stated bloodlines, even if the previous editions rules didn’t allow it. One could certainly argue the point and I think the argument would have merit. However, the 4e treatment of dragonmarks and the allowance of the mark to manifest outside of respected bloodlines is too tame.
My thought is that a dragonmark that manifests outside of the normal bloodlines would be considered aberrant. Why would House Kundarak, charged with protecting the realms treasures through the Mark of Warding allow a Halfling who manifested its mark to roam free? If they would never claim the individual why would they allow that PC to live? The individual would represent a direct challenge and a very real security threat. Dragonmarks in Eberron are rare and manifesting one outside of the traditional houses bloodlines is rarer still. People would eventually take notice and people talk.
In the next Eberron campaign setting that I run, I think I’ll allow the PCs to select any dragonmark they’d like. However, I think I’ll rule that if they select a dragonmark that isn’t normally associated with their race that it is viewed as an aberrant mark and will carry all the stigma that an aberrant mark normally does.
What are your thoughts on the 4e treatment of dragonmarks? Do you think I’m coming off a little harsh or was the racial divide that dragonmarks represented an interesting mechanic that should have been preserved?