Review: Eberron

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Here's my chapter-by-chapter review of Eberron, WotC's new campaign setting book. While I was annoyed that one branch of WotC decided to have an open call for submissions to create the next campaign setting while there was a whole passel of creative people sitting in RPG R&D, and equally annoyed that this contest was offering a $100,000 prize while R&D (and the rest of the company) was doing layoffs. But I was able to put that aside and look at the book objectively ... after all, the material isn't what I was miffed about, it was the origin of the material.
    With the exception of some parts of the geographical chapter I've read the whole book (more on the geography bit later), and used that (rather than a skimming or even just a flip-through) to fuel this review. Reading 320 pages takes a while and that's why it took me so long to put this review together.
    This is partly an overview and partly a review. I'm going to call out things that I think are particularly interesting from a design or story point of view, and I may give opinions on some of those things, but not necessarily all. Hopefully these points and opinions will inform you enough to help you make a decision about the book.
    Edit: There's one comment I make here that is explained in online articles or interviews with the designers of the setting (specifically, I'm talking about my curiosity why the warforged were built at LA+0 ... see the Classes section of the review for the full comment). When I wrote this review of the book, I'm reviewing what's in the book. While I think it's great that there's all this supplemental information out there, I'm reviewing the book on its own merits and if my question isn't answered in the book then my concern about that element is completely valid (after all, someone who buys the book doesn't know to go to site X or message board thread Y for an explanation, they expect the book to explain it).

Summary For Those Who Are Too Impatient to Read the Whole Review
I like it. Overall, the mechanics are sound, and while there are a few things that I would have done differently (and I'm sure every game designer feels the same way when doing a review), the material is put together very well, the various campaign elements are well-integrated throughout the entire setting, and there's a lot going on in terms of factions, organizations, regions, and plots to give adventurers plenty to do. Even if you don't want to run an Eberron campaign, there's plenty of lootable stuff that you can use in another setting. I may not run an Eberron campaign (I have at least three short campaigns in the hopper right now and I'm not ready to add a fourth at this time), but I'm certainly going to use parts of it in my other games and keep an eye on what WotC does with the new setting.

Introduction
The most important part of the introduction is the "Ten Things You Need to Know" section, where it explains things like "Everything in D&D has a place in Eberron" and summarizes/reinforces key elements of the setting. Just a few pages, but lets you get a general idea of the setting without having to read a huge number of pages. :P One bit I'd like to call out is that in Eberron, monsters don't always hold to the alignments given to them in the MM, so you might have an evil silver dragon ... something I like very much because it means the players can't metagame and gives the DM a bunch of "new" monsters to use as opponents (otherwise to have your good party fight a silver dragon there has to be something like mind-control involved, which means you can't use a bunch of the MM monsters in combat).

Races
In addition to the standard PH fare, this chapter introduces the new PC races of the setting: changelings, kalashtar, shifters, and warforged.
    Changelings: Descended from doppelgangers and humans, they're naturally roguish and make good spies. I can see a lot of roleplaying potential in this race, as well as neat feat-based enhancements and modifications of their powers.
    Kalashtar: Human bodies fused with the minds of psionic outsiders, the kalashtar are a weird and rare race that lives as exiles from their home plane (ruled by evil psionic creatures who have custom-bred another human subrace). Naturally psionic, they're the strongest native tie to psionics in the setting.
    Shifters: Descended from humans and natural lycanthropes, they have a limited ability to assume one animalish form and associated animal traits. This I really like, and it's actually the way I was planning on redoing lycanthropes yet again. As with the changelings, a lot of roleplaying and mechanical opportunities.
    Warforged: Living constructs built to aid one country's war effort, they're an interesting twist on the rules: creatures with some -- but not all -- of the advantages and disadvantages of being a construct. The first thing I thought of after reading the warforged section was, "You could totally do modrons this way." Construct and yet living ... it fits perfectly. And as with the changelings and shifters, there's a lot of roleplaying ("Because I was built rather than born, is my soul different?") and mechanical opportunity (and they present mechanical enhancements of various kinds elsewhere in the book). The only real problem I have with the warforged is their relative power level: they're LA +0, just like a human ... yet someone (in-campaign) decided "let's spend thousands of gold to create a race of warrior-servants that aren't any more powerful than you're typical made-the-old-fashioned-way human soldier." Strange ... I would have presented them as a LA +1 race just to justify the investment of creating creatures that are destined for the front lines of combat, giving them some kind of boost to account for the LA, such as a single construct d10 HD they retain instead of swapping it for a class d10, and/or the construct bonus hit points for a creature of their size, etc.
    One grump: The warforged writeup mentions "Warforged can be enchanted just as armor can be. The character must be present for the entire time it takes to enchant him." Yeaaaargh!! C'mon, I learned not to use the word "enchant" in terms of "enchanting objects" from my WotC editors, so someone over there in Renton needs a talking-to.... :) (Edit: For those complaining that I brought this up, understand that I used to use "enchant" in the context of "enchant an item" all the time, and then when 3E came out I was told by a senior editor at WotC, "don't use 'enchant' in that context any more because blah blah blah," so I stopped ... WotC may have reversed their stance on that since then, lacking a really good replacement term, but I still feel compell--er, obligated-- to point it out ... and I did in a smiley to show I'm just teasing my friends back in Washington).

Classes
The chapter presents one new class (the artificer) and (like we did in the FRCS) goes over each PH class explaining its role in the setting. It also includes a short anecdote of a sample member of that class, and a small story evolves over the course of this chapter. Some of the "iconic Eberron PCs" (whether or not that's what WotC calls them, I suspect many people will think of them that way) are mentioned as traveling or adventuring together, which is a nice touch.
    Artificer: This is a nice idea for a support-member base class and I'm sure people will want to try it out to be the "item guy" character. My real problem with this class is that it's really frontloaded: at 1st-level you get five class abilities. Four of the five (Artisan Bonus, Disable Trap, Scribe Scroll, and Item Creation) don't need you to advance your artificer class level to improve them (they are either flat bonuses or they depend on ranks in a skill). I think you'll see a lot of people interested in artificing who'll cherry-pick this class (taking only one level in it, then returning to their main class) and use its many nice 1st-level abilities to augment their main class' abilities (such as a martial character using the lesser armor enhancement, magic weapon, magic vestment, or shield of faith infusion to buff their AC or attacks, a rogue using skill enhancement to increase a roll vs. a tough DC, etc.). When they rearranged so much in the 3.5 PH classes so you couldn't cherry-pick the monk, paladin, or ranger classes, I'm surprised they put so much stuff in the first level of the artificer class.
    Cleric: Five significant points for the cleric class in Eberron. One, faith in Eberron is the pantheonic approach ... most people (including clerics) consider themselves to worship a particular pantheon rather than a single deity. Two, clerics are the fighting arm of the church, regular "priests" of a church are either adepts (Edit: I originally--and incorrectly--said "acolytes" for some reason) (slightly tweaked from the DMG version) or experts, usually handling bureaucracy and healing with skills rather than magic, which explains why your average church isn't a powerhouse of low-level clerics (it also shifts the focus for people seeking magical healing to the dragonmarked House with the mark of Healing). Three, the gods are more remote in this setting, and clerics aren't restricted to one step from their deity's alignment. Four, this means they aren't restricted from casting spells with opposite alignment descriptors. Five, this also means that a cleric who violates his church's tenets might be punished by his church, but still get spells and cleric class features from his deity. This means you can have corrupt evil clerics secretly working in the middle of a good church, and they don't stand out like a sore thumb for lack of turning and spellcasting. All five are neat options that enhance the flavor (and mystery and intrigue) and help fight metagaming.
    Monks: Like in FR, most of the monks in Eberron are tied to a particular pantheon, and this has a slight effect what feats they can choose. Unlike in FR, their choice doesn't let them multiclass without penalty (you have to take a feat to do that, which is kinda poopy, as the multiclassing limitation is only there for roleplaying purposes at the insistence of some of the 3.0 playtesters anyway).

Heroic Characters
This is the PC-oriented rules stuff, covering action points, feats, and gods.
    Action Points: I haven't read Star Wars d20 in a while, but this feels a lot like the Force Points mechanic from that game (and I'm guessing they used the Revised Star Wars d20 rules for Force Points, which IIRC got some tweaking from the original version) (Edit: yes, Unearthed Arcana uses Action Points, too, derived from the original d20SW Force Point mechanic). Not a bad mechanic, and it certainly lets characters get a little heroic boost now and then. I especially like the short section explaining additional uses for action points (beyond just adding to die rolls, such as gaining another use of a number-of-uses-per-day class ability, stabilizing at negative hit points, etc.). Some feats cost action points to use, which is another neat implementation of the mechanic.
    Feats: Your usual assortment of smart feats to enhance class or race abilities. Nice work.
    Dragonmarks: These are feats that give minor magical abilities and a visible mark to go with it (which also ties you to a particular guild-like dragonmarked House, a nice way of tying your game choices into the setting), with feats in a chain giving better abilities. This section also gives a short overview of the House for each mark so you can think up the way your character fits in. I might even steal the dragonmarks and some of the houses for my home campaign.

Prestige Classes
Of course the book has prestige classes, but as a core campaign setting book it should have them, and they should be specifically tied to the setting, rather than generic prestige classes with little world flavor. Fortunately, all is well in this chapter, as every prestige class is tied to the setting, whether as a representative of a House, a ranger of a particular pristine forest, champion of one of the pantheons, the representative daredevil pulp hero, mysterious dragonmarked hero (it sounds generic but it's not), the representative pulp investigator, the ultimate warforged, and the ultimate feral shifter. One of them has a significant power issues (the Weretouched Master class eventually gives you ability score modifiers based on what kind of lycanthrope you're descended from, and the werebear gets more than the wererat because of this) but that's more a problem with the original lycanthropes than the class (the lycanthropes need to be made equal so the prestige class and feats relating to them can be equal for all types).

Magic
    Overview: A nice overview of magical elements in the campaign and how they affect daily life (healing, hospitality, transportation, etc. ... mainly as an avenue of the powers of the Houses), and how the non-adventuring spellcasters ply their trade in the world.
    Variant spell components: Nice idea, though the costs make me a little wary. For example, as a component you can include a dragonseye acorn (60gp) as a component for a 10% chance to empower the spell, so for 600gp you're sort of guaranteed the spell will be empowered. I don't feel like running all the numbers to check everything out, but I'm going to trust that WotC actually ran the numbers on this for low-, medium-, and high-level spells to make sure this isn't too good to be true. I like variant components and I think they add neat features to the game, so I'm glad they introduced them here. Another nice thing is that each of the components is tied to a geographic area in the world, so the DM can make quests for it in those areas or include the components in treasure lists.
    Planes: The planes pay a big part in Eberron's history, with at least two planar invasions or overlaps responsible for the near-destruction or enslavement of once-great races and civilizations. The campaign uses its own planar arrangement, and each plane is in a kind of orbit (except for the planar source of chaos, which bounces randomly), bringing it closer or farther to Eberron, and the proximity affecting traits on Eberron. Nice! Plenty of way to introduce weird localized effects and keep spellcasters on their toes. One really nice thing they did for this is point out that the DM doesn't have to keep careful track of thirteen different planar calendars, you can fudge it to make a good story or adventure (of course, you can't fudge it too much ... if a plane on a 100-year cycle is conjoined Eberron one week, far the next, and conjoined again the next after that, that is sloppy DMing with little consideration to setting consistency). It gives each plane's traits plus what MM creatures are common there (since Eberron doesn't use the Great Wheel, the planar homes presented in the MM aren't accurate).
    Possession: Many outsiders in Eberron have the ability to enter a spiritual state and possess mortals. Cool! The possession rules are very similar to that in Ghostwalk, and I wouldn't be surprised if they used the Ghostwalk possession rules as a basis for this (it covers a few more topics than Ghostwalk's rules). Good outsiders have a similar ability called channeling, which basically is the same thing except it requires a willing host.
    Domains: Eberron has the Artifice domain, which is very similar to the Craft domain from the FRCS (almost the same granted power, very similar spell list except Eberron doesn't have some of the unique FRCS spells ... turns out this domain first appeared in Deities & Demigods). Ditto for the Craft domain, Community domain. New domains (to me, at least ... many of them appear in other WotC books, most of which I don't have): Commerce, Deathless (Book of Exalted Deeds), Decay, Dragon Below (a faith-related domain, somewhat like the racial domains in FRCS), Exorcism (Defenders of the Faith), Feast, Life, Meditation (Dragonlance Campaign Setting), Necromancer, Passion (Dragonlance Campaign Setting), Shadow (note that this is not a renamed version of the Darkness domain from the FRCS ... they have only their domain power and 1st-level spell in common). Not a bad selection of "new" domains for the cleric fans out there. :)
    Spells/Infusions: Quite a few spells, many of which are artificer infusions and not conventional spells (though many of these are just artificer adaptations of spells). Many of the infusions could be spells (such as Artificer 1, Sor/Wiz1) and it's a little sad that they limited so many of them to artificer-only; I understand the desire to make the artificer special by giving it some unique magical things, but I don't see the reason why a sorcerer couldn't learn inflict light damage (an inflict light wounds against constructs), metamagic item (applies a metamagic feat you know to a spell trigger item), or skill enhancement (gives a circumstance bonus to one skill), even if they're at a higher level than the artificer. Speaking of skill enhancement, the wieldskill spell from Magic of Faerûn (which also gives a bonus to a skill) was cut from the list of general spells in Player's Guide to Faerûn (now it's a Gond-only spell), and rumor has it that wieldskill was restricted this way because it stole the rogue's thunder. If that is the case it makes sense that skill enhancement was allowed in Eberron as an artificer-only spell, though personally I feel that skill-enhancing spells are perfectly reasonable if done right. Other than that, a nice selection of spells, many of which directly relate to the setting (such as detect aberration, handy in the Mournlands where mutated creatures abound). While I'm discussing spells, let's give a thank-you to Duane Maxwell, one of my Magic of Faerûn co-authors, who designed the hardening spell that appears in this book (and originally in Magic of Faerûn); Duane realized there was a need for a spell in D&D that made castle walls and other objects harder to destroy, and in a setting where constructs and items play an even more significant part, that spell is even more important.

Equipment
Some new exotic weapons keyed to the various cultures and regions in the setting. Only one kooky thing: the Xen'drik boomerang (a three-bladed thing rather than the Australian type) returns to its thrower if it misses its target, which means if I stand at one end of a 150 ft. long, 10 ft. wide hallway and my opponent is on the other end, I can throw the boomerang at him, and if I miss, it travels straight at him and straight back to me, at which point I can catch it. :/
    Two new armor types, one a specific type of darkwood armor and the other made from hardened leaves.
    Several new special/alchemical substances, such as acidic fire (alchemist's fire that's part acid), alchemist's frost (cold), and alchemist's spark (electricity). There's the noxious smokestick (which can nauseate a creature that breathes it, but I wonder if the user has a half-second delay to give them time to throw it or if it smokes up right away in the user's square).
    Some new skill toolkits, sets of clothing, documentation (important in a setting where having no papers can get you thrown in jail), dinosaur mounts for purchase (the halfling lands export them), buying spellcasting and magical effects from dragonmarked Houses (including transport on the flying airships and superfast lightwood waterships, which are so expensive only the guild can afford them, and so rare that it's pretty obvious when you steal one), and new special materials for armor and weapons. All stuff that's well-tied to the setting and shows they put a lot of work into making sure nothing looked like an add-on.

Life In The World
This chapter is what lets you get into Eberron as if it were a real place: its calendar, daily life, views on government, the role of the Houses, economics, level of education (fairly high, schooling is considered a right for all citizens in most countries, but I don't think it specifically mentions whether or not your typical NPC is literate or not though I suspect they are because of newspaper-type sources of information are common), views on adventurers, and languages.
    Then it tackles each country (or geographical region in the case of sparsely-settled wildlands without a true common government). Countries list a capital, population, exports, and commonly-used languages; note that with the exception of alignment, this format was pioneered by the FRCS, so it's nice to see it retained, especially in regard to the exports (which make it a lot easier for a DM to figure out trade routes and thus adventures around them). Each country is given a history, an overview of what industries/economics, specific notes on life in that area, its government, power groups, religion, major settlements, important sites, adventuring notes (what adventurers can expect in terms of travel, housing, treatment by the locals, etc.), and adventure ideas (four or more for each area, which is more than what we could do in the FRCS because we over-wrote). You have a good mix of countries that have remained stable for quite some times, some teetering-on-the-edge countries, a theocracy led by a prophet-priest, a "monster country," a "war-torn badlands" region, and so on, so you can pick just about any sort of campaign theme and find a place for it somewhere in the world.
    One thing I think it's important to point out is that most of the country leaders are mid-level (10th-level or so) and often have many NPC classes (mainly aristocrat and expert, of course) which means that once the PCs get to the mid-levels they're basically peers of the leaders of the world, which is an interesting dynamic (in pulp terms, it means even the Queen of England looks highly on Allan Quatermain) and is different from FR where the leaders are often really high-level. One side effect of this is that in some of the tribal-monster or low-population countries, PCs have a chance of taking out an evil leader without having to be high-level characters to do it.
    There is a lot of opportunity for political intrigue in the setting. Since the current countries are mostly spin-offs or survivors from five daughter nations of a unified empire, there's a lot of scheming going on in the ranks of the nobles and royals who want to claim the empire's crown, and that means that you could pick any one country as the focal point for your game and make the adjacent countries into allies or enemies depending on how you want to push those relationships. In many ways this reminds me of the Birthright setting from TSR (that's a positive comparison in my book ... I liked Birthright very much and it has a strong element of political intrigue and adventurers working for various heads of state to accomplish things the crown can't do with common soldiers).
    I mentioned at the top of this review that I didn't read all of the geographical section; I wanted to capture the feel of the world without having to learn all of the tiniest details, so I read the history, life, and government sections of each country and skimmed the rest. I don't feel that this affects my review or my opinion of the book, as I can understand the setting without having specific information on the major settlements and adventure hooks for each country, but I wanted to be up front about skimming this part.
    Following the country writeups are similar writeups for the other continents of the world. Most of these are "mysterious foreign places that nobody goes to" to the common folk, but can be visited by adventurers (often a very dangerous thing to do, since one is ruled by dragons and another by evil counterparts of the psionic kalashtar race).
    Next is a history section which goes back to the creation of the world, but wisely spends a majority of its space covering the past 5,000 years and the rise of the PC races in the world. It's a nice summary, if a bit short (two pages, but each country's writeup covers local history in more detail so that's OK) and is a handy place to cross-link the names of the kings and queens of the modern world, as they all have their place on the timeline.

Organizations
In any setting where guild-like power groups such as the dragonmarked Houses play a significant part, you need to devote an entire chapter to power groups, and this is it. Because "pulp adventure" is one of the themes of Eberron, you'd expect mysterious financial cartels, ancient religious sects, worshippers of evil from the dawn of time, and dusty scholars obsessed with old lore. It's all here. You want to play something like the recent movie The Mummy with archeologists, awakened evil, secret crusaders dedicated to containing that evil, and foreigners with commercial interests in your adventures, you can. Want to play Raiders of a Lost Ark with exploration, scholars backing you, an ancient artifact, and rival adventurers funded by an evil foreign government, you can.
    This chapter is twenty pages long. Even with eight pages allocated to the dragonmarked Houses, you still get 14 organizations (some of which are metacategories, like "the royal families") to push and pull on things in the campaign. It would be easy to pick three of these groups and build a campaign about the PCs investigating the involvement of those three groups, trying to find out which group is really on their side and which wants to end the world.
    Plus, and a sample member of each group is statted up for the DM's convenience.

An Eberron Campaign
Advice on creating a party, styles of play, story and pacing, recurring villains (including two sample NPCs and low- and mid-level), plot themes, and a look at NPC classes in the setting (with a new class, the magewright). All stuff you need to help get the feel of the campaign right. Some people think this is too little (nine pages of text), but if you're interested in a pulp campaign you're already familiar with its components and this serves as a refresher and a focus for your ideas.
    Magewright: This NPC class is largely responsible for the advance in crafting and high productivity levels of skilled workers in the setting. It's basically a weak spellcaster with a very specialized spell list that uses those spells to enhance its ability to craft mundane items and/or provide magical services to normal people (alarm, unseen servant, etc.). I'm not sure you couldn't accomplish the same thing with a selection of feats (like they did with the dragonmarked Houses), which would also make it an appealing choice for PCs (right now I don't think any PC would multiclass as a magewright, it's far more efficient to just multiclass as wizard or sorcerer which gets you a lot more stuff, too). It works as presented, but the designer in me thinks there's a better way than creating a new NPC class.

Magic Items
Here's some cool stuff.
    Dragonshard items: Eberron is a world created by a battle between three celestial dragons -- Siberys, Eberron, and Khyber (notice how all three have the syllable "ber" in common ... I wonder what the intended etymology of that syllable is). Siberys had his form shattered and exists as a ring of asteroids high above the equator, Khyber was bound deep underground, and Eberron became the physical barrier -- the world -- that separates the two. Now mortals seek Siberys shards (which fall from the sky and land in equatorial areas), Eberron shards (which are found in soil in geode form), and Khyber shards (which are found on the walls of underground volcanic caverns). Each type of shard contains magical power and can enhance different things (including different dragonmarks), and because they're found in different parts of the world already they're a reason they're adventure. Most of the magic items of this section derive from crafting items with dragonshards attached.
    Another new magic thing involves binding an elemental into an item to give the item elemental properties (like binding a fire elemental into a weapon to make it act like a flaming weapon, or binding an air elemental into armor to give it the power of flight). An interesting point they don't cover in the book is the issue of slavery; can a good creature be morally comfortable using a weapon containing an imprisoned intelligent being? Sure, it's "just an elemental," but elementals are living creatures that can think and speak....
    Other new stuff is warforged components (magic items you can build into a warforged's body to give permanent effects), some new general items, a handful of artifacts, and some "wondrous locations" (magical effects tied to a specific location rather than an object).

Monsters
Every setting it going to have new monsters unique to the setting. Eberron has the deathless type (introduced first in the Book of Exalted Deeds, in this setting they're the ancestors that rule the ancient elven nation on a nearby continent), carcass crab (previewed on the WotC site, a giant monster that glues armored corpses to itself for armor and disguise), daelkyr (supertough chaotic outsiders from the plane of chaos, using living "items" grafted to their flesh instead of magic items), dinosaurs (one nice touch is that it gives Eberron names for these dinosaurs so you don't have to use the latinized Earth-names), dolgaunts and dolgrim (freaky mutated monsters created by the daelkyr during their last planar invasion), dusk hags (weird prophetic hags, usually neutral), new homunculi (craft-helpers, messengers, spies, and defenders), horrid animals (druid-mutated creatures made to help defend pristine natural areas), valenar horse (a new special elf-bred horse), inspired (the evil counterparts of the kalashtar, but BOO on using a generic single word as a new monster's name!), Karrnathi skeleton & Karrnathi zombie (new intelligent undead soldiers), living spells (spells gone awry and living as oozelike creatures, a very neat idea), magebred animals (template for creatures bred with the help of magical selection and augmentation), quori (the psionic dream-monsters that possess the inspired, generally unable to reach Eberron directly so they have to use possession, many types a la demons and devils but only one type presented here), zakya (a weaker warrior-type rakshasa), symbiont (the living equipment the daelkyr use, useable by PCs but at some risk), and warforged titan (an early type of warforged, fully construct and not living, big, previewed on the WotC site). Not a bad mix, well-tied to the setting, some of them on the high end of things (and I'm not sure we need monster stats on the 25 HD undying leaders of the elves of another continent ... how often are you going to fight that?).
    Following the new monsters are a review of MM monsters that play a particular role in the setting or how they're changed in some way. A nice touch, educating the DM in how to best serve the campaign with the core monsters.

The Forgotten Forge
This is an included 1st-level adventure in the city. A good plan, showing what sort of adventures to expect and create in the setting, and gives everyone a common experience (like how everyone who played basic D&D played The Keep on the Borderlands, how most 1E AD&Ders played the Giants series or The Temple of Elemental Evil, etc., and how many 3E D&Ders player The Sunless Citadel and the other "adventure path" adventures). That strengthens the Eberron players' ties to each other ("Yeah, so when we fought the evil priest my rogue took out the bodyguard with a sneak attack...," "When we fought him, my wizard zapped him in the face with a magic missile...."). I actually haven't read the adventure (same reasons as for skimming the country writeups, plus I don't anticipate running the adventure in the near future) but including it is a good thing.

Index
It has an index. Yay!

General Comments
    Artwork: There's been a lot of talk about the artwork, how some of it is like a comic book. Well, pulp heroic adventure has a history associated with comic books, and using comic-style artwork reinforces that. My copy of the book is in black & white and I haven't gone over all the illos posted on the WotC web site, they look good in black & white. I like comic books and comic book art; we're not talking about some crappy indie comic illustrated by a talentless hack, we're talking about professional artists who make their living doing art in that style. It suits the book. You may not like that style of art, but if that's the case you're probably not a fan of pulp adventure.
    Technological Level: There has been a lot of talk about the tech level in the campaign, calling it "steampunk" and focusing on the lightning rail (a magically-powered transport vehicle). One, the tech level isn't that high ... the lightning rail and a handful of magically-powered ships of a different kind are the peak of the tech level. Most of the tech is just an enhancement of your standard fantasy tech, mainly an output increase in production (from the work of the magewrights). It's nice to see this ... so many fantasy worlds keep the same tech level (swords, armor) for a thousand years, which is just absurd because your tech is going to evolve ... just because a small fraction of people has access to magic doesn't mean the rest of the world isn't going to look for nonmagical ways to make their lives easier. So this tech advancement (as limited as it is) is entirely natural and appropriate.
    Psionics: Before reading he book, my impression was that Eberron was designed to use the Expanded Psionics Handbook, and that if you didn't use the EPH you'd be missing out on a significant aspect of the setting (compare to the FRCS, which says Faerûn is officially a nonpsionic campaign, though you can of course use psionics if you want to). Well, that impression I had was wrong. There is very little in the setting that requires psionics--just the kalashtar, inspired, and quori--and those elements are small enough that you could replace them with nonpsionic abilities or cut those creatures entirely and it wouldn't have a significant effect on the campaign (their historical significance of those creatures would remain, but whatever they're doing "at present" could remain hidden and mysterious). This is pleasing to me ... this setup doesn't require you to have the EPH, and not requiring you to buy another book to run the campaign is a customer-friendly choice. Personally I'm not much into psionics, but I know a lot of people are, and they can use psionics in the campaign from the start because the campaign is designed to incorporate psionics. So you win either way.

Final Comments
I'll restate: I like the book. I like the setting. I like the mechanics. I like how it's all tied together. If you're looking to start a new campaign, you should consider buying it. If you're looking to add some stuff to your ongoing campaign, you should consider buying it. It's a good book, even though I don't agree with how all of it was done (I'm on the outside looking in, so I'm not privy to why they chose to do some things they way they did, so I'm sure there's a reason for it. Congratulations to Keith Baker and WotC ... well done!