IFAQ: The Emerald Claw

My new book Exploring Eberron is available now on the DM’s Guild. You can find a FAQ about it here. Today I want to look at a few questions about the Order of the Emerald Claw.

The Order of the Emerald Claw seem like terrible villains. While they’re sometimes compared to “The Nazis in Indiana Jones movies,” they don’t have the power base or support that made the Nazis a credible threat. If everyone hates them, how is it that they get away with anything? And what have they actually DONE that’s worse than the Swords of Liberty, anyway? The Kanon take on the Blood of Vol just makes this worse, because by the original 3.5 interpretation they at least had the support of the Blood of Vol religion, while Keith’s take on the Blood of Vol emphasizes that they don’t approve of the extreme actions of the Emerald Claw.

So, there’s a lot to unpack here. First of all, I want to drill down on the narrative purpose of the Order of the Emerald Claw. There are MANY villains to choose from in Eberron. On one side of the spectrum we have the Lords of Dust and the Dreaming Dark. Both of these organizations are extremely powerful. Both have fiendish agents that can pose a challenge even to epic-level characters. Both have vast resources and far-reaching plans, but both are masters of subterfuge. Quori mind seeds and overlord cultists can be found in any organization, often with no obvious indication of their true allegiance. Given this, they are intended to be long-term villains. At low levels, adventurers who clash with them won’t even know what organization they are dealing with; it’s only at higher levels that they will start to realize just how widespread these powers are. Both organizations have plans that could transform Khorvaire itself. And in both cases, even once adventurers know that they are dealing with, they are SO vast that you can’t expect to bring them down in a single fight. On a fundamental level, players can’t hope to DESTROY the Lords of Dust; they can only hope to kick the can down the road, stopping their current plans and forcing them to return to their schemes for another century.

For a second tier of villain, you can bring in Dragonmarked Houses or nations themselves. These forces aren’t otherworldly, and their motives often aren’t mysterious; but because of their vast support it can be difficult for adventurers to oppose them. And in the case of nations, their motives may not be evil. If the Royal Eyes of Aundair are trying to obtain a magical weapon to help Aundair win the Next War, it’s entirely conceivable that there might be a wizard among the adventurers who studied at Arcanix and who actually thinks Aundair SHOULD win the Next War. These forces DO have vast support and thousands of people who believe that their actions are justified, and adventurers may need to think about the consequences of choosing a side. And likewise, adventurers likely can’t expect that through their actions they will destroy House Deneith or the nation of Aundair.

But perhaps you’re just starting a new campaign. The low level characters aren’t capable of fighting rakshasa. They don’t yet know enough about the world to appreciate the deep schemes of the Dreaming Dark, or the impact of making an enemy of House Deneith. You need a villain that’s easy to understand and who operates on a scale small enough for people to understand. Lucky for you, there are three groups specifically designed for this purpose.

THE AURUM are classic Bond villains. They’re rich and powerful enough to hire thugs or adventurers, but they don’t have the vast resources and international influence of the Dragonmarked Houses. Their goals are PERSONAL and SELFISH. The average Aurum Concordian isn’t trying to RULE THE WORLD; they’re trying to get a particular artifact for their collection, or to crush a business rival, or to simply increase their own wealth. Their motives are easy to understand. They have enough power to make life difficult for adventurers, but they aren’t ancient immortals or as well connected as Dragonmarked barons; if the players make an implacable enemy of a Concordian, they can simple go to a new city for a while. In short, the Aurum are EASY and OBVIOUS villains: people with enough power to either threaten low level adventurers or to hire them, but intentionally NOT as powerful as Dragonmarked Houses, let alone the Lords of Dust. WITH THAT BEING SAID… If the adventurers love the Aurum and you WANT to have that low-level villain evolve into a greater threat over time, you can choose to engage the Cabinet of Shadows, revealing that the Aurum ISN’T just a collection of wealthy narcissists and DOES have a greater agenda. But that’s simply an option; MOST concordians aren’t part of the Cabinet, and their actions and motives can be as shallow as you want.

THE CULTS OF THE DRAGON BELOW are irrational and can appear ANYWHERE. They aren’t a vast, monolithic force; they are a myriad of small cells, and each one is driven by its own unique visions. Even two cults tied to the same daelkyr may have no awareness of or connection to one another. Their goals can be as grand or as focused as the story requires, and could be as simple as a handful of murder-sacrifices or as grand as a ritual that could destroy a city. But as every cell IS unique, they are a force whose goals are typically easily understood and that can be completely defeated. Defeating the Transcendent Flesh sect in Wroat doesn’t defeat DYRRN, but that particular cult can be conclusively eliminated. Again, in comparison to the Dreaming Dark or the Lords of Dust, you can think of them as “Monster of the Week” villains; their schemes AREN’T necessarily part of some vast grand scheme, they HAVEN’T anticipated your interference; and if you defeat them today, this particular cult WON’T be back to cause trouble. On the other hand, if you WANT that long term threat to evolve over the campaign, the daelkyr play the same role here that the Shadow Cabinet does for the Aurum. In fighting the cults, low-level adventurers will come to learn about the daelkyr, who are a greater threat that may challenge them at higher levels—but that doesn’t change the fact that they have conclusively triumphed over THIS ONE CULT.

THE ORDER OF THE EMERALD CLAW are classic pulp villains. When they are described as “Nazis in Indiana Jones Movies” the emphasis is on IN MOVIES, not “historical Nazis.” I think a better comparison is Cobra Command from the GI Joe franchise. The Emerald Claw doesn’t have the support of any nation. There is nothing sympathetic about its agenda. The Emerald Claw serves a narcissistic lich who is willing to drown innocents in blood if it helps her get the power she seeks. And like the Cults, the Emerald Claw is a “Monster of the Week” villain. Its schemes are focussed and often exactly what they appear. Its minions can come in all levels of power; a group of 1st level adventurers can face a changeling necromancer who’s just PRETENDING to be a vampire and his squad of goons, while a group of 10th level adventurers can face a squad of ACTUAL vampires. You could use the Emerald Claw as villains in a single adventure and then never use them again, or you can use them as recurring villains, until the adventurers ultimately find a way to destroy Lady Illmarrow herself… because unlike The Dreaming Dark, the Lords of Dust, or even a dragonmarked house, it’s plausible that a group of adventurers COULD defeat Lady Illmarrow and truly destroy the Order of the Emerald Claw. The Emerald Claw is a FINITE villain, whose goals are petty and focused. And in specifically comparing it to the Swords of Liberty, the point is that the Swords of Liberty may use violent methods, but they have a rational goal; they want to affect political change. We never expect players to have any question that opposing the Emerald Claw is the right thing to do, any more than GI Joe will ever say “Huh, Cobra might actually have a good point” or than Indiana Jones will say “Maybe we SHOULD give the Nazis the Ark of the Covenant this time.”

So focusing specifically on the Emerald Claw, it’s INTENTIONAL that everyone hates them, that they don’t have the support of nations, that they can’t field an army. They are a terrorist force that can appear anywhere to cause chaos, but they DON’T have the power to, for example, conquer a nation (or even a large city). If you oppose them, YOU aren’t making an enemy of a nation or choosing a side in the Next War.

As for “What have they done that’s so evil,” what do you WANT them to have done? The point is that they are a terrorist organization that uses necromancy as a weapon. Using my OWN campaign as an example, I recently ran a campaign set in Callestan that involved the Emerald Claw…

  • In the first session, an agent of the Emerald Claw paid a PC courier to carry a time-locked bag bag of holding to a crowded tavern, thinking they were going to meet a client. Instead, the bag opened and turned out to be full of hostile skeletons, and the PCs had to protect the patrons from these undead.
  • Next, a friend of the adventurers was infected with a zombie virus set to trigger when the victim entered a micro-manifest zone tied to Mabar, which turned out to be in a local dreamlily den. The adventurers were able to contain the outbreak, but they couldn’t save everyone—and there was no saving their friend.
  • Next, the Emerald Claw used the micro-Mabar zone to throw a few blocks of Callestan into the Hinterlands of the Endless Night; the players had to find a way to escape, also openly clashing with agents of the Claw for the first time.

The point is that these acts were all SMALL SCALE. The Emerald Claw was testing necromantic weapons on a captive populace that no one (aside from the PCs) cared about. The EC could well be planning to unleash these techniques on a larger target—spreading a contagious zombie virus across Sharn itself—but the adventurers were dealing with a small, localized problem. And ultimately, they could locate and defeat the necromancer responsible for these tragedies. It could be that that necromancer WOULD return in a future adventure in a new undead form—with greater powers to challenge the more powerful player characters—but the adventurers could absolutely wipe out that CELL and feel a legitimate sense of triumph, which can be more difficult when dealing with the Lords of Dust and their far-reaching schemes.

But patriotism… OK, but haven’t we said that many of the soldiers of the Emerald Claw are Karrnathi patriots? Indeed… Karrnathi patriots who want the Queen of the Dead to take over Karrnath and then lead it to conquer Khorvaire. These “patriots” are extremists whose goals aren’t supposed to be sympathetic. This isn’t like the Swords of Liberty, where you might introduce a cell leader whose actions are driven by the cruel actions of a local noble who tormented their vassals. Likewise, if you WANT some shades of gray with your necromancy, you can use a Blood of Vol sect who AREN’T tied to the Emerald Claw, and who may have legitimate grievances. Whether or not they are driven by patriotism, Emerald Claw agents ultimately want the living people of Khorvaire to be ground under the skeletal bootheel of the Queen of the Dead; this isn’t supposed to be some kind of rational “OK, maybe they’re got a point here” situation. THIS is why kanon divorces them from the Blood of Vol; because as a faith, the Blood of Vol has many shades of gray and sympathetic aspects, while the Emerald Claw is supposed to be an absolute evil.

But Erandis is a tragic figure… Certainly! I’ve explored this in a number of other articles. But her personal tragedy isn’t supposed to justify the horrors she inflicts in pursuit of her goals. Again, from a design perspective, the Emerald Claw are supposed to be absolute villains; the players are never expect to say “Wait, we shouldn’t fight them until we know more.” While the personal tragedy of Erandis helps to explain how she went down this dark path, she still went down that path. What suggested with the saga of the Queen of the Dead is the possibility that if she achieves her goal and truly ascends, that she could BECOME a benevolent entity and perhaps even feel remorse for her actions, but that’s supposed to be a wacky twist, not a justification for the terrors she inflicted on innocents in her quest.

So the Emerald Claw aren’t SUPPOSED to be the most powerful or nefarious villains of the setting; on the contrary, they are specifically useful BECAUSE they operate on a small scale, with actions that are typically both clearly reprehensible (starting a zombie outbreak in an innocent neighborhood) and small enough that they can be dealt with by a party of adventurers. They’re an opening act who can appear any time you need a quick and easy villain and who help prepare the players to take on the REAL villains of the campaign, whose schemes are more subtle and far-reaching. Likewise, all of these three groups—the Aurum, the Cults of the Dragon Below, the Emerald Claw—could themselves turn out to be unwitting tools of the Lords of Dust!

Were all of the original members Karrnathi knights or have there been supporters and laymen members from its creation?

The organization takes its name from the Seeker chivalric order that served in the war, and uses the reputation of that original order to present its members as Karrnathi patriots opposing the weak leadership of Kaius III. But from the very beginning, the actual members of that order were only a fraction (albeit an elite core) of the new Order of the Emerald Claw. Lady Illmarrow had been building her power for centuries, and the Emerald Claw is just a convenient rallying point for her forces… and remember that Illmarrow herself isn’t a Seeker of the Divinity Within! So from the very begining, Illmarrow’s operatives included undead lieutenants and retainers from her domain in Farlnen, along with thugs recruited From Lhazaar Seeker offshoots… reinforced with Karrns angry about Kaius’s peace initiative and lured by dreams of power in the new Empire of the Queen of the Dead. Essentially, there ARE misguided Karrnathi patriots and Seekers in the Order, including original members of the Chivalric Order. But many of its members—especially in its inner circle—seek only personal power in the service of Lady Illmarrow and have no interest in Karrnath or the Divinity Within. The cause of Karrnathi patriotism is a convenient figurehead that lets the order APPEAR to have a legitimate political motive, but they ultimately serve only the Queen of the Dead.

Would you run a campaign of emerald claw player characters fighting Kaius since he is not a real patriot nor a real bov believer?

Now, I wouldn’t. When I want to run a story that’s about patriotic Seekers whofeel betrayed by Kaius, I use the Order of the Ebon Skull—another Seeker chivalric order that was disbanded. These are my go-to group to explore anyone with legitimate grievances who are actually trying to make Karrnath a better place and to help Seekers. From a design perspective, the Emerald Claw isn’t SUPPOSED to have this sort of depth. It’s a front that has been entirely corrupted to serve the purposes of Lady Illmarrow, who is neither a Karrnathi patriot nor a believer in the Divinity Within, and anyone who serves her is either a willing tool or a dupe.

With that said, I ran a campaign in which one of the PCs WAS a paladin of the Blood of Vol who had been trained by Lady Illmarrow and who specifically wanted to bring down Kaius because he’s not a real patriot or a real BoV believer. But from the very beginning the PLAYER knew that his character was a dupe being used as a tool by Illmarrow. His whole idea for his story arc was that if he succeeded in bringing down Kaius he’d REALIZE he’d made a terrible mistake and would ultimately have to battle Illmarrow and the Emerald Claw. So the character wasn’t somehow proving that the Emerald Claw wasn’t so bad; the player KNEW the character was a fool and a tool, but wanted that revelation and redemption to be part of his story arc.

For Emerald Claw members who know that the order is loaded by Vol, what are their motivations?

Forget the name “Vol” for a moment. Most members of the Order of the Emerald Claw know that their order is led by Lady Illmarrow, the infamous lich also known as the Queen of the Dead. Some believe that Illmarrow will take over Karrnath and then lead Karrnath to conquer Khorvaire. They want this because they believe their leaders are weak and because they believe that they will hold positions of power in this future empire of the undead. Many others don’t care about Karrnath or the Blood of Vol, and are interested PURELY in the personal power they can gain. Some are necromancers who yearn for the arcane secrets Illmarrow can teach them. Others simply hunger for the power and immortality of the vampire or the death knight. Their motivations aren’t supposed to be sympathetic; again, if I want a complex story, I’ll use the Ebon Skull. So if your brother has joined the Emerald Claw, it means your brother dreams of living in a world ruled by a ruthless lich-queen and is willing to kill innocents to make it come to pass. Maybe he hates life. Maybe he thinks mortal rulers are weak and misguided. Maybe he wants revenge on someone. But again, if he’s joined the Emerald Claw, it’s because he is willing to kill innocents so a ruthless lich-queen might someday rule the world.

Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters, who keep this blog going!

IFAQ: The Elvish Language

My new book Exploring Eberron is available now on the DM’s Guild. You can find a FAQ about it here. Yesterday I posted an IFAQ about developing languages. In the comments, a question came up about the role of the Elvish language in the world. Since the answers have broader implications on a general philosophy of worldbuilding, I wanted to make it a standalone IFAQ. So…

Elvish is the language of Thelanis. Is that primordially true, i.e. did Elves speak that language prior to their enslavement by the Giants? Also, if Elvish is the language of Thelanis, are Elves born knowing it, or must it be taught to children like any other language?

There are no canon answers to these questions. By the rules of D&D, elves speak Elvish. It’s part of their racial features. There’s no explanation of where the language came from or how they come to learn it. So first, to be clear, everything I’m about to say is what I do IN MY CAMPAIGN. It has no foundation in any canon source, though as far as I know it doesn’t contradict any canon source either; the topic has simply never come up. But if you don’t like it, don’t use it. To me, this is a perfect example of a choice where you need to think about the broader implications—you need to be sure you WANT your story to go down a particular path. So I’ll tell you my answer, but then I want to talk about WHY I’d answer that way.

First: Elvish is the language of Thelanis. That is primordially true. The planes are universal concepts, and their fundamental principles don’t change (setting aside the complications of Dal Quor!). With that said, one of the minor effects of Thelanis is that while you are in Thelanis, you understand Elvish. When you’re wandering through the Endless Weald, you can understand the songs of the dryads singing in the trees; you are part of the story and that means you understand its words. It is only when you and a dryad LEAVE Thelanis that you realize that you can’t understand her any more, and start hearing her words as Elvish instead simply understanding their meaning.

Second: In my Eberron, every elf is born with an innate understanding of the Elvish language. It doesn’t matter if you’re an orphan born in a Sharn gutter or a proud Aereni. You don’t have to be taught; the language a part of you, tied innately to the Fey Ancestry feature. It is impossible to be an elf and NOT understand Elvish.

WHY DO THIS? What appeals to me about this is that in concretely establishes that elves are not human. They aren’t just humans who have pointed ears and live for centuries. They are fundamentally alien beings whose minds do not work the same way as human minds. It further reinforces other things we’ve established about the elf cultures, namely that they are extremely tied to tradition and that they aren’t as innovative as humans. This makes sense if elves have a greater degree of engrained knowledge and instinct than humans. As an elf, you never have to develop a new language. You are born knowing THE LANGUAGE, the language that will allow you to speak to any elf anywhere.

This comes back to one of my basic principles of world building. I like exploring worlds that are unlike our own. To me, it’s fascinating to consider the impact of having a language seared into your brain from the moment of birth. How would that affect the development of culture? It is fundamentally the antithesis of the Babel story—the people of the world are divided by their many languages, but all elves are united by their common tongue.

The original question included this: was Giant the language that the oppressed elves were supposed to use with their overlords, while Elvish was preserved as the language they used among themselves? Absolutely. The giants weren’t going to learn Elvish, so elf servants had to learn at least basic Giant. It’s not that Elvish was preserved, because the elves couldn’t forget it even if they wanted to. But it was unquestionably SUPPRESSED, and elves would be punished for speaking it. But this is also a crucial factor in the eventual uprising. Captives of the giants, descendants of Qabalrin refugees, the unconquered ancestors of the Tairnadal—despite their different cultures and histories, they were united by the Elvish tongue and could always understand one another. Given this, one might well ask what about the Drow? First of all, by the RULES drow speak Elvish. Second, they possess the Fey Ancestry trait. To me, those two facts hold the answer. While altered by the giants, the drow still have their Fey Ancestry, and it is through that ancestry that they know the Elvish language.

This gets to a much deeper and more complicated question: Do the Khoravar (half-elves) innately understand Elvish, or do THEY have to learn it? The reason this is complicated is because it has vast ramifications on the relationship between Khoravar and Elves. We’ve often raised the question can a half-elf become a Tairnadal? Could they join the Undying Court? If all elves innately understand Elvish and Khorvar do NOT understand Elvish, that’s a deep point in favor of the idea that Khorvar are fundamentally not elves… while if they are born with the knowledge of Elvish, that’s a strong argument that they ARE spiritually part of the elf species and COULD connect with Patron Ancestors. PERSONALLY, I would say that Khoravar DO innately know Elvish, for the same reason as drow. Under the rules of 5E, half-elves possess the Fey Ancestry feat and have Elvish as an ingrained language. For me, it’s all about that Fey Ancestry; part of what it means to have Fey Ancestry is to KNOW ELVISH, in the same way that I’ve said that part of being a druid is that you KNOW DRUIDIC. This also explains why the Valenar were so quick to bring in Khoravar administrators; they may not consider them equals, but it’s good to have an administrator who KNOWS THE LANGUAGE. But this is definitely a case where I could see a DM ruling the other way specifically because of how they want to play out that story of the Khoravar who wants to be Tairnadal. We’ve also made a point of saying that many Khoravar communities develop a Khoravar Cant that is a unique blend of Elvish and Common; part of the point of this is that they KNOW Elvish, but they are choosing to speak in a manner that is unique to THEIR people, not simply relying on the language of either parent. Likewise, it adds color to the relationship between Aereni and drow; even though the drow were created to kill elves, they still know the Language.

So this raises another interesting question… what happens when you need a new word? A situation arises where there’s a concept that’s never been expressed in Elvish, or a poet is expressing an entirely new concept. Do they create a new word? If so, wouldn’t they have to teach it to others? Isn’t this exactly how we end up developing unique dialects and new languages? Certainly. But this is where we get back to the point that they’re not human, that they are touched by the Fey, that this is something that fundamentally doesn’t make sense. The poet doesn’t create a new word the way a human poet would. They realize they already know the word, even though it’s never been spoken in Elvish before. And once spoken, every other fey creature also knows that word. Because Elvish isn’t just a mundane, mortal language; it is an immortal, magical language. An elf knows Elvish because fundamentally, they are fey, and being fey means knowing Elvish. The language evolves as it is needed, and all fey creatures know the language. What this DOES mean is that any creature without Fey ancestry who learns Elvish WILL find that new words occasionally appear and they’ll have to learn their meaning, because without Fey Ancestry, they don’t get those automatic dictionary updates.

This is a long discussion of a point that, mechanically, makes no difference. Because by the rules, elves just know Elvish. It’s a racial feature with no inherent story. But the point is that once you add a story you GIVE it meaning. The reason I’d say that they DO all know it, that it is fundamentally tied to Fey Ancestry is because I WANT to explore the impact of that decision—on the Xen’drik Uprising, on the relationship between Khoravar and Aereni, on the idea of elves being bound to tradition. I think it’s interesting to explore ways in which elves AREN’T like humans, and to imagine what it would be like to be born with immediate, perfect knowledge of a language.

So, in conclusion, when there is no canon answer to questions like this—or even if there is!—the question to me is always how will it affect the story, and what story do I want to tell? *I* find the story of innate-knowledge-of-Elvish more INTERESTING that Elvish-is-just-a-mundane-language-like-any-other. But you certainly don’t have to agree with me!

Are there other languages that would work the same way?

Certainly. I’d say that an aasimar understands Celestial the same way that an elf understands Elvish; they don’t have to learn it, and you can’t be an aasimar and NOT understand Celestial (unless you’re an aasimar tied to a power that speaks another immortal language; note that the Court aasimar in Exploring Eberron speaks both Elvish and Celestial, and of course has Fey Ancestry!). All true immortals are born innately possessing all of their basic knowledge, including languages, and I would say that just like I’ve suggested with Elvish, if Celestial needs a new word, all creatures with an innate knowledge of Celestial automatically know that word. Again, MORTALS who have LEARNED the language wouldn’t get that automatic update. This could be an interesting element for archaeologists, being able to date inscriptions in Abyssal or Celestial based on “Note the use of ‘Alael’, which didn’t become part of the language until the Age of Giants.” But in general this would be an aspect of immortal languages. Humans can make new languages; immortals are born knowing their language, and again, can usually make themselves understood when they wish to.

In this article I suggested that Undercommon might be constantly evolving, but that anyone who could speak Undercommon automatically knows the current form of it—essentially the same principle as the Elvish dictionary updates, but that rather than just ADDING to the existing language, the pre-existing words are always changing… and that when you find inscriptions in Undercommon, they may make no sense under the current form of the language or they might have taken on a new meaning. However, this is a pretty difficult concept for us poor mortals to wrap our brains around, and I didn’t actually push it in either the Wayfinder’s Guide or Rising From The Last War.

Before the fall of Xen’drik were there multiple Giant languages for each realm?

This comes back to the whole question of language-in-games in general. Xen’drik is a massive continent and there were multiple, very distinct giant civilizations. Barring some exterior factor—IE Fey-Ancestry-means-you-speak-Elvish—it’s reasonable to assume that these different giant cultures would all have developed unique languages. However, it’s also the case that we haven’t defined those languages; we’ve never mentioned Sulatan or Elevenese. What we’ve said is that the language we know as Giant was the COMMON TONGUE of Xen’drik, widespread enough that it is what you find spoken by the vast diverse range of creatures across the continent. I might very well introduce the idea of Elevenese as a PLOT DEVICE—the adventurers have found an ancient scroll in Risia that’s written in old Elevenese, the pre-Giant language of the Group of Eleven! It’s completely unknown in the modern age, and you’ll need to use Comprehend Language!—but I’m not going to expect a player character to waste a language slot learning Elevenese; Giant is the language you NEED to know to get by in Xen’drik. Again, at the end of the day, it’s the question of how will this decision affect the story you and your friends tell at your table?

What is the difference/relationship between Celestial and Draconic?

In the article that’s been linked a few times I suggested that they might be the same, but I’ve actually backed off from that (and we didn’t include it in Rising From The Last War). I think that there are SIMILARITIES between the two, just as I’ve suggested that Goblin and Orc may have their roots in Abyssal (noting the similarity between Goblin and the names of the Overlords). But essentially, I think Draconic is the oldest MORTAL language, but it’s not an IMMORTAL language.

What about gnomes? Aren’t they fey? Do they know Elvish?

The idea that gnomes are from Thelanis was added into the fourth edition books specifically to address the fact that in fourth edition Dungeons & Dragons, gnomes were fey creatures. This is no longer true in fifth edition, and it’s not something we mention in Rising From The Last War. To my mind, this is in the same category as BAATOR, which was added into the planar cosmology in fourth edition, and REMOVED AGAIN in Rising From The Last War. Canon can evolve, and the latest canon does NOT have gnomes as Thelanian immigrants. What I have suggested is that there are gnomes who have immigrated FROM EBERRON TO THELANIS through the Feyspires, but they are natives of Eberron. They do not have Fey Ancestry and as such don’t have an innate understanding of Elvish. If a gnome knows Elvish, it’s because they learned it like anyone else.

Setting aside the fact that the idea of gnomes being from Thelanis was always a 4E artifact, the gnomes and elves of Eberron have a few very fundamental differences that reflect this. The elves are deeply bound to tradition and not driven toward innovation. They are happy to exist in isolation. By contrast, gnomes are typically extremely inquisitive. They are called out as being explorers, seeking out new lands and discovering new cultures. The Zil try different religions. House Sivis is specifically called out as having created multiple languages. They’ve reverse-engineered elemental binding techniques recovered from Xen’drik. The fact that there’s some gnomes in Thelanis is a reflection of that deeply inquisitive nature—not of Thelanian origins. With that said, as I describe in the Exploring Eberron FAQ, I’m playing a gnome artificer from Pylas Pyrial in my current campaign. But he’s NOT a fey creature; he’s just using the “Magical Thinking” style of artifice tied to his Pyrial upbringing.

Thanks for taking this deep dive into the Elvish rabbit hole. And thanks to my Patrons for making it possible!

IFAQ: Creating Languages

My new book Exploring Eberron is available now on the DM’s Guild. You can find a FAQ about it here. I am currently working on a longer article about the Nobility of Khorvaire, but as time permits I like to answer interesting short questions from my Patreon supporters, so here’s one from Samantha:

How do you pick the names for the Overlords? They seem to all have a common thread or convention, and I’m dying to know what it is.

The answer is tied to a broader question of worldbuilding, which is how deep do you go in creating languages for a world? Exploring Eberron includes a Goblin glossary, compiled with help from Don Bassingthwaite and Jarrod Taylor. The bulk of that glossary was developed by Don when he was working on his Legacy of Dhakaan novels, but he built it on the foundation I’d established in previous sourcebooks. The answer is that I almost never go deep into creating a language; but my goal is to be distinctive and consistent. I don’t usually bother to create a full dictionary of hundreds of words. But I establish a simple set of rules and keep track of existing words, and use the existing words as a foundation going forward.

So for example, here’s a few we came up with developing the 3.5 Eberron Campaign Setting.

Elvish. The elves use a lot of diphthongs, especially ae and ai. Words often have a soft flow, and V and L are common letters: Vadallia, Valaestas, Valenar, Vol. We quickly established Shae as “City”, Taer as “Fortress”, and “Pylas” as “Port.” This is important for worldbuilding, because you want consistent naming conventions for places when you are creating maps—even if you don’t yet no the culture. Elvish words are usually multisyllabic, and L, S, and R are common end letters… Tairnadal, Aerenal, Valenar. However, you have a few short names, usually formed on -ol—Vol, Shol.

Goblin. An immediate goal was for Goblin to feel harsher than Elvish. Goblin also uses a lot of diphthongs, but generally with repeated vowels—duur, ghaal, guul. It blends sibilance with harsh k and kh sounds—Shaarat’khesh, Taarka’khesh, Kech Shaarat. As seen in two of those three examples, glottal stops are common. As with Elvish, we immediately settled on place names, so draal was “city”; Rhukaan Draal, Cazhaak Draal, again with the harsher sound, dipthongs, and hard k’s. We started with those few basic words: duur is “dirge“, shaarat is “sword”, taarka is “wolf”, volaar is “word”, ghaal is “mighty” and could be attached to a people (ghaal’dar) or thing (ghaal’duur). We had Shaarat’khesh, the “silent blades” and Kech Shaarat, the “Keepers of the Blade.” But the point is that at the time, we didn’t have too much more than that. Until Don came along, we DIDN’T create a extensive Goblin dictionary; it was simply the case that when you needed to make a new Goblin word, you wanted to look back over the words that already existed and to make a word that feels like it fits the same pattern. So again, for me, the vital element is consistency.

So with that in mind, how did we pick the names of the overlords? Well, even before picking their names, we established the idea that every overlord would have a common title. The overlord’s actually names would be ancient and people might be superstitious about using them. Beyond that, part of the issue of using alien languages is that players can have trouble remembering them. “Rak Tulkhesh” is a jumble of sounds; “The Rage of War” immediately says this is an angry warmonger. So for most of them, the TITLE came first: The Rage of War, the Voice in the Darkness, the Keeper of Secrets, the Shadow in the Flame. In then developing their actual names, it’s the same process as for Goblin or Elvish: establish basic principles and make sure you stick with them. So…

  • Most overlords have a monosyllabic first article and a multisyllabic second article: Rak Tulkhesh, Sul Khatesh.
  • Like Goblin, overlord names often combine harsh consonants with sibilants—Tulkhesh, Oreshka. However, overlords generally DON’T use diphthongs or glottal stops.
  • Ul, kh, and sh are common; Sul Khatesh, Tul Oreshka, Rak Tulkhesh. Part of the concept is that while they’re usually broken into short-name long-name, to some degree each syllable has power… it’s actually Rak-Tul-Khesh and Tul-Or-Esh-Ka. This plays to the idea that on some level the name of an overlord is an incantation… which explains why you DON’T want to say their names!

There are exceptions to all things. Eldrantulku the Oathbreaker uses a single word in both name and title, but you can still imagine his name as El-Dran-Tul-Ku. Dral Khatuur has a diphthong in her name. She probably should have been Dral Khatur; I admit that this was just a case where *I* liked the look and feel of Khatuur… Dral-Kha-Tuuuuur.

Some older versions of D&D had Lawful, Neutral, and Chaotic as languages, but didn’t fully expand on their role. How would you make them distinct from Infernal, Abysmal, and/or Celestial for Eberron?

PERSONALLY, how I’d make them distinct is by making them nonexistent. There’s a number of reasons why I wouldn’t use these in my campaigns.

First, I usually find that having too many languages tends to get in the way of a story instead of making it more fun. The last thing I want is for the adventurers to meet a crucial NPC but then find no one can speak to him. This CAN be fun if it’s a specific part of the story — they need to play charades to figure out the directions to the dragon’s lair, or they need to find the one sage in the region that can read ancient Orc. But I don’t want that to be a part of EVERY ADVENTURE. As a result, I tend to REDUCE the number of languages in the game, focusing on the idea of “common tongues” — Common as the common language of Galifar, Goblin as the common language of Galifar, Giant as the common language of Xen’drik, Riedran as the common language of Sarlona. Exotic languages are EXOTIC and may play an interesting story role — the gnolls will be impressed if you actually speak gnoll — but any Znir gnoll will understand Goblin.

But beyond that, ALIGNMENT languages are especially weird for Eberron, where we try to downplay the role of alignment and play up personal choice. It’s not like you are born lawful and go to lawful school where they teach you to speak Lawful. You could make it the language of Daanvi, and in the 3.5 ECS many planes have languages. But in my Eberron, any immortal that WANTS to be understood WILL be understood. When the couatl appeared to Tira Miron, it didn’t speak Common; it just SPOKE, and she UNDERSTOOD. When you finally make it to the Amaranthine City of Irian, I don’t WANT you to find that you don’t understand anything the crowds are saying. The planes aren’t just mundane alien worlds, they are UNIVERSAL SYMBOLS — and as such, I say that if an immortal wants to be understood, it WILL be understood. I don’t mind having planar languages as the MOST esoteric of the esoteric languages; if you find a SCROLL from Mabar, maybe it’s written in Mabaran. And to be clear, an immortal CAN speak a mundane language if that serves its purpose. But that’s a conscious choice.

So having said all that, it’s not what I would do, but on that principle of EVERYTHING HAS A PLACE, if I HAD to put alignment languages in Eberron, I would say that they are fundamentally magical languages; they are universal languages — the speech of immortals — but are only understood by people who share the outlook of the speaker. So perhaps a Shavaran angel of the Legion of Freedom DOES speak Chaotic, which means that any creature with a chaotic alignment understands it perfectly and no one else understands it at all. It is the language of FREEDOM, understood by any free spirit. But it’s not a language you can LEARN; it’s part of the I’m-an-embodiment-of-chaos aspect of the immortal. If a player character could speak it, it would be through some kind of magic item or supernatural gift.

As a fun side note: sometimes soldiers or emergency service personnel use a “pointy-talky” card to facilitate communication with people when they have no common language. When we were developing the RPG Phoenix: Dawn Command we created a pointy-talky for Phoenixes to use on their missions; I’m going to share that now on my Patreon!

IFAQ: Treaties and Laws

My new book Exploring Eberron is available now on the DM’s Guild. You can find a FAQ about it here. I am currently working on a longer article about the Nobility of Khorvaire, but as time permits I like to answer interesting short questions from my Patreon supporters, so here’s one from Asmuz:

What’s the relationship between the Treaty of Thronehold and the laws of the Thronehold nations? Why is it called out that Darguun’s practices are against the Treaty of Thronehold, while Karrnath having the brutal Code of Kaius isn’t an issue?

The Treaty of Thronehold serves the following major purposes.

  • It ensures a state of peace between all signatories, and that no Thronehold nation will initiate an attack against any other signatory nation.
  • It includes the provision that while traveling within a Thronehold nation, any citizen of a Thronehold nation will have the same rights and protection under the law as a citizen of that nation.
  • It includes a number of lesser provisions banning the production or use of certain types of magical weapons and war rituals. It’s this section that bans the production of warforged and grants freedom to all warforged, who are to be considered citizens of the Thronehold nations whose citizens originally purchased them.
  • It defines the recognized borders and dealt with variations reparations and concessions, which, for example, confirmed Thaliost as a territory of Thrane.
  • It recognizes the rights of the Dragonmarked Houses to operate within all Thronehold nations, maintaining the established principles of the Korth Edicts. This also establishes that members of Dragonmarked Houses receive the same legal protections as Thronehold citizens. (This is why, notably, the Treaty can dictate things like “No building warforged.“)

This was a TREATY, not a CONSTITUTION. The Thronehold nations aren’t united kingdoms. They are NOT bound by the same laws—they are simply bound to treat all citizens of Thronehold nations with the same rights as their own people, and to obey the bans specifically laid out in the Treaty. A nation couldn’t, for example, make a law saying “We can sell warforged” without violating the Treaty.

Now, there’s a second thing that enters play, and that’s the Galifar Code of Justice. The Five Nations were all once united as Galifar, and remember, the Last War was fought because each wanted to reunite Galifar under their rule. Thus, it’s not surprising that they maintained the common laws, because maintaining those laws was evidence of their preservation of the ideals of Galifar. However, some of the Five Nations MODIFIED those laws. The original 3.5 ECS makes these observations…

  • Aundair. “Aundair adheres to the Galifar Code of Justice, an intricate system of laws and regulations that once helped maintain order throughout the united kingdom.”
  • Breland. “Breland makes use of the Galifar Code of Justice, and law enforcers can be found in every thorp, village, and city.”
  • Karrnath. “While the Galifar Code of Justice provides the basis for civil rights in Karrnath, the Code of Kaius that developed from it is more rigid and less forgiving. Indeed, the nation has labored under martial law since the earliest days of the Last War.”
  • Thrane. “As long as you do no obvious evil, you won’t find trouble in Thrane. However, Thrane’s laws tend to be more stringent than the Code of Galifar, and punishments more brutal.”

Sharn: City of Towers has an section that deals with law in Sharn—which, as noted above, is the Galifar Code of Justice. Here’s an important detail, with highlighting…

The mark of the outlaw is recognized in all of the Five Nations, and any nation that respects the Galifar Code of Justice looks suspiciously on exiled outlaws. As a result, outlaws usually congregate in Darguun, Droaam, the Shadow Marches, Xen’drik, the Lhazaar Principalities, and Q’barra—nations that either ignore the Galifar Code or that believe a convict can overcome a criminal past.

Sharn: City of towers, page 134

So: The Treaty of Thronehold does not require its signatory nations to make use of the Galifar Code of Justice. What I suggest here is that what it DOES require is for all citizens of Thronehold nations to be protected by local law. So as a Thrane in Darguun you are entitled to the same protection as one of the Ghaal’dar—even if that may not include all the protections you’re used to. The only nations that use the Galifar Code are the Five Nations and New Galifar in Q’barra (the mention of Q’barra in the quote above is referring to Hope). The other nations have their own systems of justice: Zilargo is far more restrictive than any of the Five Nations, while the Shadow Marches and Darguun are less structured. In the Lhazaar Principalities, princes have the right to set the laws of their domains. GENERALLY these agree on common, basic principles, but they are all unique.

So to get back to the basic question… Why are Darguun’s practices an issue when the Code of Kaius isn’t an issue? They aren’t an issue under the Treaty. Darguun isn’t REQUIRED to abide by the Galifar Code of Justice, and the proof of this is that it doesn’t. The issue is that Darguun was accepted as a Thronehold nation because of the desire for peace. Prince Oargev is very eager to have its status revoked, to have the region recognized as Cyre, and to get support to drive the Ghaal’dar from the region. Haruuc KNOWS that other nations consider their laws to be barbaric, and specifically, the practice of slavery to be an atrocity. It’s not that he HAS to change these traditions, it’s that he WANTS to change these traditions because he wants to maintain the support of the other Thronehold nations. But it’s an important point that there’s no “Army of Thronehold” that enforces these terms; the consequence of violating the Treaty is that the other nations may choose to expel you and then you’d lose the rights described above, IE, any nation could attack you and your citizens wouldn’t be protected by local laws.

Since I haven’t said this for a while, keep in mind that everything in this blog reflects how *I* do things in my campaign. I’ve quoted books that I’ve worked on, but it’s entirely possible I’ve contradicted something in Forge of War. This is how I see the Treaty, but as always, it’s up to you to decide how you use it in your game.

In Sharn: City of Towers the law seems to favour execution or monetary fines as punishment for crimes. Is this a quirk of Sharn (not a lot of prison space) or representative of the general pattern of the Galifar Code of Justice?
It’s a reflection of the Galifar Code, but it’s not quite as simple as “Fines or execution.” Pages 132-134 of Sharn: City of Towers also mentions hard labor, branding, mystical punishment, and exile. The main point is that EXTENDED INCARCERATION is very rare under the Galifar Code. You are expected to pay for your crime, with either money or labor. If you are deemed a threat you are forced to LEAVE the community (through exile) and may be forced to bear the ongoing burden of your crime through a brand. But Galifar doesn’t rely on lengthy incarceration, whether as a tool for punishment or redemption. Page 134 of S:CoT specifically states that “executions are rare.” But this is what makes Dreadhold so significant; there AREN’T a lot of major prisons designed for indefinite stays.

Was there an established system of international law/treaty making or was Thronehold something of a Peace of Westphalia sort of affair? Have nations made separate treaties with each other in addition to Thronehold or is everyone sort of waiting to see if it works?

Good questions. Consider the following points. Up until around a century ago, there was basically ONE NATION in Khorvaire (with a few minor side territories like Lhazaar). The war was being fought to restore that nation; the question was who would rule it. The Treaty of Thronehold is not a perfect solution and no one is happy with it. It’s not a carefully planned out utopian foundation for international law and relations; it’s a desperate tourniquet applied because people are terrified of the Mourning. It doesn’t settle the grievances that set the Last War in motion. It leaves in place nations like the Eldeen Reaches, Darguun, and Valenar that are STRONGLY contested by chunks of the population. The point is that people are terrified that if the war continued there could be a second Mourning. People believed that they HAD to stop the war at any cost, and the Treaty of Thronehold was the fastest solution they could find. But it’s not supposed to be perfect. There ARE elements of it that don’t make sense or that don’t go far enough. There is no body like the United Nations, no global peacekeeping force, and while they’ve established an international tribunal at Thronehold that’s very much an experiment that they are still figuring out. Looking to the signatory nations, the Eldeen Reaches and Talenta Plains are barely nations; Darguun and Valenar are contested by Cyre, though they were accepted because there is no more Cyre. But again, this isn’t a perfect system and there are many ways in which it has yet to be tested, because it’s only been in place for two years. So to me, some of these questions are questions that should come up IN A CAMPAIGN — as leaders TRY to strengthen the international community, as cases come up that test the concept of international law, and so on. This isn’t an ancient system that’s been perfected; it is very much a living thing that is still being put to the test.

An interesting aspect to consider is that when the Last War began, it was being fought by five nations that shared a common foundation of laws and that were ultimately seeking to renunite their nations, merely arguing over who would be in charge. The Treaty of Thronehold represents the death of that dream, not only accepting that Galifar will not be restored, but acknowledging nations that do NOT share the common laws or traditions of Galifar. The Five Nations were at least cousins; Valenar, Darguun, and the Eldeen Reaches all come from entirely different families with little in common. People believed they HAD to make a solution as quickly as possible, because in light of the Mourning, it was literally about preventing an apocalypse. But no one is entirely HAPPY with the Treaty of Thronehold.

Thanks to my Patreon supporters for keeping this site going, and to all of you who’ve been reading Exploring Eberron, I hope you’re enjoying it!

FAQ: Exploring Eberron

Exploring Eberron is now available on the DM’s Guild. I wanted to take a moment to answer questions about the book, both general questions and some very specific ones…

GENERAL
What’s “Exploring Eberron?”

Exploring Eberron (ExE) is a 248 page sourcebook for the Eberron Campaign Setting, using the fifth edition rules of Dungeons & Dragons. It’s written by setting creator Keith Baker (hi!) along with Will Brolley, Wayne Chang, and Laura Hirsbrunner.

No, I mean what’s IN the book?

ExE is a deep dive into elements of Eberron that haven’t been explored in past sourcebooks, including the planes of Eberron, the aquatic civilizations of the Thunder Sea, Droaam, the Dhakaani goblinoids, the Mror Holds, and the Last War, along with Keith’s personal thoughts on the religions and races of Eberron. All in all, about 200 pages of the book are lore, with a heavy focus on how you can use this information to generate interesting stories or characters. The remaining 48 pages include new races, subraces, feats, backgrounds, archetypes. magic items, and monsters. You can check out the table of contents here.

Is it official content?

No. This is not produced by WotC and it does not match all previous canon sources. This is Keith’s personal view of Eberron and what he does in his Eberron campaigns.

Where can I get it? What formats?

Currently, Exploring Eberron is exclusively available on the DM’s Guild. It’s available as a PDF or as a print-on-demand hardcover. A bundle allows you to get the PDF for $5 when you buy the hardcover.

If I buy the PDF now and then want to buy the hardcover later, can I retroactively get the bundle?

No, the DM’s Guild doesn’t have a system in place that makes this possible.

Is it going to be available on D&D Beyond? Roll20? Fantasy Grounds?

It’s not official content and will not be on D&D Beyond, for a host of different reasons. We are exploring the possibility of conversions on other online platforms. At the moment it is only available on the DM’s Guild.

THE PROCESS

What parts of Exploring Eberron were ideas you’d had for years as opposed to ideas you developed while writing the book?

It’s not quite so clear cut. Almost all of the topics in Exploring Eberron are subjects I’ve wanted to write about for a decade. I sketched out the Thunder Sea—with the balance of power between the powerful Sahuagin nation and the sea elf colony, with the neutral, nomadic merfolk—as part of the setting bible in 2003; that setting bible likewise included the idea of the nation of monsters that eventually became Droaam, and the idea of the goblins having lost a great empire. I developed the planes with Bill Slavicsek, James Wyatt, and Chris Perkins as we developed the ECS in 2004. But all I had were the basic IDEAS. I didn’t work out the SPECIFICS of the Sahuagin nation or name the noble line of sea elves. We knew Fernia was the Sea of Fire, but back in 2004 we DIDN’T know exactly how it differed from the elemental planes.

Over the course of the next decade, all of these things evolved in their own way. Writing The Queen of Stone and “Backdrop Graywall” gave me an opportunity to explore Droaam in more depth. I established the basic framework of Mabar in the article I wrote on this blog a few years ago. But that was essentially a first draft. Notably, I said that one of the powers of Mabar was the Queen of All Tears. But at the time, I didn’t know who she was. I had a general vision of a tragic undead figure. But it wasn’t until I was writing the Mabar section of Exploring Eberron that I decided she was once mortal, and thought about what tragic figure from established canon could fit that part. I always knew that the slaadi were residents of Kythri, but it wasn’t until working on ExE that I thought about what made them different from the slaadi of other settings.

So most of the BROAD concepts had been in place for decades; the primary exception would the the Mror Dwarves (with the Realm Below and Ruinbound dwarves), as that’s new angle we specifically developed in Rising From The Last War. But many of the specifics were developed over the last year, because I finally had an opportunity to spend sufficient time to really think them through.

Is there some chapter or meaningful content that didn’t make the final cut of ExE?

There’s not a lot of material that I WROTE that we didn’t use. There’s a few things, like the Shavarath denizens table I’ve posted as a Patreon exclusive. But keep in mind that the book is 80 pages longer than we originally planned, precisely because I DIDN’T want to cut a lot of ideas that I loved. However, it is the case that I had to limit the scope of some of my original ideas. For example, originally I planned to do a write up on each of the major warlords of Droaam, similar in scope and style to the write-up for the Cults of the Dragon Below: describing the warlord, their personality, their history, their minions, their story hooks. We actually commissioned a fantastic image of Sheshka, the Queen of Stone. But as things went on, I realized both that we didn’t have room and that it didn’t actually feel like the right content for what is largely a player-focused book… that it was more appropriate for a book that mainly focused on organizations, threats, monsters, etc. Honestly, that’s the biggest piece of restricted scope that comes to mind, and it’s something I definitely WILL write at some point; it just didn’t fit here. But again, it’s not that I WROTE it and then we cut it; it’s that I realized it didn’t fit, so I DIDN’T write it.

What is your favorite new thing in “kanon” that appears for the first time in this book?

It’s a difficult choice. I love all my children. I’m particularly happy with the Queen of All Tears; I always liked the concept of her, but when the final piece of her story fell into place, it was just such a perfect fit. In general, I’m thrilled with all of the planes; there were a number (Kythri, Risia, Fernia) where initially I wasn’t actually sure they would be especially compelling… but whn I sat down and actually explored the idea, something wonderful came together.

Insofar as you’re thinking ahead right now, are you planning on focusing on your non-Eberron, non-D&D work for a while? When you do your next project for DMG, do you anticipate an adventure pack, or a more focused book of lore? Do you envision ever doing another book on the scale of ExE, or is the prospect too horrifying to contemplate at the moment?

I’m still determining the answer to that question. Wayne and I started working on Exploring Eberron over a year ago, and until last week we didn’t actually know how well it would do. This is what I do for a living, so that matters; if it doesn’t make enough money, I HAVE to pursue work that will keep a roof over my head. So I didn’t make plans for another major book because I didn’t know if I could afford to. But I love writing about Eberron and there are many more elements of the world I WANT to explore; it’s always just been a question of what’s feasible.

I do have non-D&D projects I’m working on, including The Adventure Zone: Bureau of Balance and a new Gloom project I’m working on. And I do want to do SOMETHING with my roleplaying game Phoenix: Dawn Command; I love the system and I’ve wanted to revisit it for some time. However, I still love Eberron and don’t want to lose momentum. I will be continuing to work on this website and working to increase the value of being a Patreon supporter; the more supporters I have, the more I can do with the site.

So having said all of that: Wayne and I have already talked about a number of possible projects for KB Presents. I will say that I’m not going to jump right into another 240 page book; I want to work on a few smaller projects before diving into that again. But I think you’ll be happy with all of the things we’re considering, and I’ll share more once there’s something concrete to share.

I understand you’ve played characters in Eberron games using some of the subclasses in this book. Can you tell us about them?

The preface of Exploring Eberron has an image of a warforged druid. This was a gift commissioned by Wayne; it’s Rose, a warforged druid I played in a campaign run by my friend Dan Garrison, the co-designer of Phoenix: Dawn Command. The campaign began at a party in Metrol on the night of the Mourning, and Dan provided the players with a list of basic character concepts to choose from and expand upon. I chose the warforged companion of the Princess of Cyre, a special commission for the royal family; classes weren’t setting, and I decided the companion would be named Rose, and would have the capabilities of a druid. As I have long loved the idea of warforged druids turning into living construct animals, I did the first pass on what became the Circle of the Forged druid. Long story short: the party was epic; we danced the Tago with knives; Metrol was sucked into Mabar when the Mourning occurred; hijinks ensued.

So Rose actually predated Exploring Eberron by about a year, and the Circle of the Forged druid was the first subclass developed for it. The Maverick artificer was developed before I played one, driven by my love of the flexibility of the 3.5 artificer—specifically, of the 3.5 infusion spell storing item. I love the concept of the artificer as someone who can tinker what you need on the spot. So, when Dan started another campaign—this time set in Callestan, with the players assuming the roles of professional rat-catchers—I decided to play a Maverick. My character is a forest gnome urchin, born in the feyspire of Shae Joridal but orphaned and separated from his home in Ghaal’dar attack; he grew up on the streets of Lower Dura and doesn’t really understand the fey potential in his blood. With this in mind, he uses the Magical Thinking approach to artifice that I describe in ExE. One of my favorite elements is using the guidance cantrip, because every time I cast it I come up with a different explanation for what I’m creating based on the effect I’m assisting with. Someone’s about to make an Investigation check? Try these special spectacles I’ve put together. About to use Athletics to make a dangerous jump? Let me add my pep paste to the bottom of your boots!

(VERY) SPECIFIC QUESTIONS

Does House Ghallanda have any interest in recreating or importing the odder cuisines presented in the book to the Five Nations (perhaps homogenizing it in the process, see American “Chinese food”)?

I don’t think it’s been suggested, but I think it’s a fantastic idea. Of course, in order to introduce grist to Five Nations they’d have to figure out the secret of how it’s made, and bear in mind that while we’ve told YOU how grist is made, the people of DROAAM don’t even know what it is, and once that secret is uncovered, they have to figure out how the Daughters are making grist actually edible. But I could see a great Ghallanda heist one-shot based on stealing the secret formula for grist…

In Exploring Eberron, it talks about the daelkyr being trapped in specific demiplanes and unable to leave, but I was always under the impression that they were described as “trapped in Khyber” being free to move about in Khyber unlike the Overlords. Is this a shift from canon or did I miss or misunderstand something regarding to this?

It’s not a shift from previous ideas, it’s a clarification. The idea all along was that you can’t FIGHT a bound overlord; they are a spirit in a shard and do not physically manifest. They don’t have kingdoms in Khyber. By contrast, it was always the idea that the daelkyr ARE physically present in Khyber, that they DO have lairs and minions, and that you can go meet one. But it was never clearly explained how they were trapped or what limitations were on their movement. Likewise, the earlier sources suggested that Khyber was strange and wondrous, but never clear how its geography worked. Over the next decade, I presented the idea that Khyber contains many demiplanes—and that entrances to demiplanes can transcend normal space, which explains how Belashyrra could be fighting the Umbragen in Xen’drik and troubling people in the Shadow Marches. It’s not that the domain of the Lord of Eyes spans the Thunder Sea, it’s that the domain is a DEMIPLANE with entrances in both places.

So in ExE I just clearly state this idea. The daelkyr aren’t bound in the physical tunnels of Khyber. They are each bound in a unique DEMIPLANE in Khyber. Within that demiplane they have absolute freedom of movement, so each one rules their own bizarre kingdom. Their minions can leave the demiplane, and again, demiplanes have exits across the world. But the daelkyr can’t leave the demiplane, which finally gives a clear explanation of how they have SOME freedom of movement but can’t “leave Khyber.”

So the IDEA remains: the daelkyr aren’t stuck in shards like overlords. They have realms they rule and you can go meet one and fight one. But those realms are little pockets of reality, and the daelkyr can’t LEAVE them.

There are Krakens and Aboleths underwater, are there equivalents of the Gatekeepers or the Church of the Silver Flame? What about of the couatls themselves?

Underwater? Surely. In the Thunder Sea? No. I’m sure there was an aquatic counterpart to the couatl, and I’m just as sure that they were involved in the same celestial sacrifice that bound the overlords and created the Silver Flame. It’s likewise logical to think that there were serpent cults among the locathah of the Thunder Sea, but they were crushed by the Eternal Dominion and the Valraean Protectorate, both of which do not allow freedom of religion in their realms. You could certainly have a secret Silver Flame tradition lingering among locathah dissidents, but the basic philosophy of the sahuagin is fundamentally opposed to its principles; “the strong should make sacrifices to protect the weak” is NOT a theory that fits in the Eternal Dominion. This doesn’t mean that the sahuagin are unaware of or helpless against supernatural threats; but they are handled by the martial might of the Dominion, not by some religious cult.

The kalamer merfolk are druids who maintain the balance of manifest zones, so they are something of a parallel to the Gatekeepers, but they don’t share any specific traditions with them and have no history with the daelkyr.

Does the Undying Court know about the Queen of All Tears and does it care?

With any question like this, my answer is always what makes the story more interesting? In my opinion, it’s more interesting for this to be a secret the player characters can discover, leaving them to decide what to do with the knowledge, rather than saying “Oh, the Undying Court has known about that for centuries.” Among other things, if the Undying Court already knows about it, then either they don’t care or can’t do anything about it, because they HAVEN’T. If they don’t KNOW, then it leaves open the possibility that they will panic when they find out about it. But in general, I will always lean toward adventurers making a dramatic discovery NOW over NPCs making a dramatic discovery a thousand years ago.

Kind of as a broader version of this question, what level of knowledge do the Material Plane experts possess and to what degree is it relevant to daily living?

The book gives examples of what experts know when it quotes the Planar Codex and other scholars. The limits of what can be known through Arcana depend on where you are and on what the DM WANTS players to know. The Undying Court has spent thousands of years astrally traveling and gathering information, and they likely have the best knowledge of the planes; other scholars may have their information through Aereni accounts.

But in terms of what does EVERYONE know? Pretty much the names of the planes and their basic concepts, and they don’t always get those right. We’ve called out that the typical person thinks of Risia as the “Plain of Ice” and Irian as the “Plane of Light” and don’t understand the deeper symbolic roles of these places. People know about them because of manifest zones, but without an Arcana check they don’t know much.

Fernia and Risia seem to have moved away from the mildly evil aligned, while Syrania moved away from mildly good aligned. What led to those decisions?

I’d argue that Risia IS still mildly evil-aligned. Here’s a quote:

At first glance, Risia appears to be barren and empty. But some travelers have described a presence, a sense of being watched, and most feel this presence is malign. On the surface, the concept of Risia seems entirely neutral; there’s nothing inherently evil about ice. But there’s a hunger to Risia—an innate desire to consume warmth and to bury living things in ice. In the Planar Codex, Dorius Alyre ir’Korran calls this force the Killing Cold. 

Exploring Eberron, page 182

By contrast, my view of Fernia is that it explores all symbolic associations of fire, both benevolent and destructive, and shouldn’t be inherently evil. Syrania is primarily about commerce and knowledge and didn’t need to be inherently good; this also helps to clearly differentiate it from Irian. Beyond that, I didn’t assign those specific traits in the original ECS, and Exploring Eberron is about how I see things, not canon.

I’m a big fan of Sarlona, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen HOW the kalashtar are slipping Riedra’s net and getting to Khorvaire. Is this ever spelled out?

There’s no steady stream of kalashtar into Khorvaire. As for how immigrants have managed it, they’ve done it in small numbers and disguised as humans. They’ve made their way to Arhdman in the Syrkarn, or worked with smugglers using the secret port of Dvaarnava. Some have made a dangerous pilgrimage through Khyber. And there have been one or two bold strokes that have involved major operations to disrupt or draw away the Riedran blockades. But it’s NOT a trivial thing, and they never travel openly under a flag of Adar.

There’s a bit about magic making permanent changes to the body being a relatively common thing. How does this work with the description on identification papers?

Actually, permanent changes are NOT common. Here’s the text from the book, with a few highlights.

Minor cosmetic transmutation is quite common; most professional beauticians can change your hair or eye color. Unnatural effects are rarer, seen mainly in Aundair and Zilargo… The effects of cosmetic transmutation typically last a week, but if you’re dealing with a magewright of sufficient skill, you can extend the effect to one month. In some cities, you might even find an expert who can make the change permanent. The more complicated the transmutation, the more costly—and hard to find—the service becomes.

Exploring Eberron, Page 28

So first of all, permanent transmutation is not common. What’s common is turning your brown hair red for a month, or getting permanent eyeshadow for a week — the sort of cosmetic changes people get in OUR world, and I don’t have to update my driver’s license when I change my hair color. Exotic changes — like having, say, silver hair or cat’s eyes — are NOT common and are generally only seen in the cities of Aundair or Zilargo, where people are used to a higher degree of arcane experimentation. Permanent transformation is not only out of the price range of most people, but it’s also not something that’s available most places — again, in a major city, you might find someone who can do it. And as noted later in the section, “as with any magewright, beauticians are often specialized; a hairdresser might be able to give you permanent exotic hair but be unable to change any other feature.”

A second point is that identification papers aren’t something you need in everyday life. The ECS calls out that they’re typically carried by members of the middle and upper classes; so common laborers don’t even have identification papers. They’re primarily going to be used when crossing borders, using letters of credit, or similar situations; but you don’t need to show identification papers to buy a beer at the Gold Dragon Inn. If your papers are accurate except for your silver hair, no one’s going to question that you had your hair done. If you ARE going to engage in permanent, dramatic physical transformation—changing your apparent species, gender, height, or the like—you will want to get your papers updated. .

I had a question about the Dol Udar. Are the Gatekeepers at all aware of it?

Keep in mind that the Gatekeepers aren’t a powerful, modern faction with widespread resources. They’re the last remnants of an order that has been in decline for thousands of years, dwelling in a backwater with almost no contact with the modern nations, doing their best to maintain the ancient seals that keep forgotten evils at bay. With that in mind, consider that the Gatekeepers don’t NEED to know what the daelkyr are doing elsewhere in the world; they know that as long as they preserve the seals, the daelkyr cannot escape their prisons—and again, the seals are NOT geographically linked. There’s no Gatekeeper seals in the Mror Holds; the seals that exist prevent Dyrrn from leaving his demiplane, no matter where it touches the world.

With all that in mind, the whole point is that THIS IS WHY THEY NEED PLAYER CHARACTERS. What’s a more compelling story—the Gatekeepers having vast resources and knowing exactly what’s going on? Or the Gatekeepers knowing that they DON’T know exactly what’s going on in the wider world and needing to send a young, promising champion—a player character—to investigate the disturbances they’ve felt in the distant east? With that said, if you DON’T have a PC in this role and your player characters are active in Dol Udar, you could introduce an NPC in that role—a Gatekeeper agent who’s been sent to investigate the situation and provide assistance. But I’d still play that as they don’t KNOW what’s going on, so they’ve sent an agent to find out as opposed to they’re entirely aware of the situation and have already made plans to deal with it.

If you have questions about Exploring Eberron, post them below and I’ll answer when I can!

Exploring Eberron Unleashed!

Art by Katerina Poliakova

Exploring Eberron is finally available, and you can find it here

Wayne, Laura, Will and I have spent over a year developing this book, and I am thrilled to finally unleash it on the world. The excerpt above is one of our favorite pieces of art—Tira Miron, whose sacrifice inspired the modern-day Church of the Silver Flame. I would walk through all the content that’s contained in the book, but why type all of those words when I can just share the Table of Contents, along with my absolute favorite piece of art: Marco Bernardini’s map of the planes.

Art by Marco “MA4PS” Bernardini 

While there are still many pieces of Eberron I look forward to exploring in future Eberron, this has been a fantastic opportunity to deal with topics I’ve always wanted to explore in more depth but never been able to explore in the official books: the planes of Eberron, aquatic civilizations, the Dhakaani goblinoids. the monstrous nation of Droaam. It investigates familiar ideas—presenting my personal vision of the faiths of Eberron, and expanding on the changlings, shifters, warforged, and kalashtar—while also building on concepts we developed for Rising From The Last War but couldn’t develop in depth. like the dwarves of the Mror Holds and their ongoing war against the daelkyr.

Exploring Eberron has 247 pages of content, including new subclasses, races and subraces, magic items, backgrounds, and monsters. It is currently only available on the DM’s Guild. It is available both as a PDF, print (print on demand, so it’s not a limited edition), or as a bundle. This is NOT official content and will not be available on D&D Beyond; this is my vision of Eberron and what I do at my table.

If you have any questions, post them below—I’ll start a FAQ tomorrow! In the meantime, I’ll be DMing an Eberron adventure for the band Magic Sword at 7 PM Eastern Time as part of GenConTV’s Twitch stream. And if you’re one of my Patreon backers, thanks for your support—I’ll be posting a tiny exclusive later today, a “deleted scene” that was cut from Exploring Eberron during editing.

Thanks to all of you who have made Eberron your own over the years, and to those who are just exploring it now, enjoy the journey!

IFAQ: Immortal Alliances

When time permits, I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. Today I want to answer a few questions about immortals in Eberron.

In the past I’ve said that one of the most important differences between mortals and immortals in Eberron is that immortals lack free will. With a few notable exceptions, immortals can’t change. They may LOOK like humans (or humanoids), but they are essentially cogs in a metaphysical machine: created to serve a specific purpose. The gear in a watch didn’t DECIDE to be a gear, and it can’t suddenly quit being a gear; in the same way, the typical angel of Shavarath didn’t DECIDE to fight in the war, nor could it choose to stop.

So: immortals come into existence with an established purpose and with the knowledge and tools needed to play that role. The deva in Shavarath didn’t have to learn how to use a sword, and more important, over the course of hundreds of thousands of years of war, it’s never gotten any better at it. Again, one of the strengths of mortals is that they can change. They begin with no skills whatsoever, but they can follow any path they choose. This isn’t to say that immortals can’t learn new facts. And this does vary by immortal. Hektula, the rakshasa Librarian of Ashtakala, has surely learned new spells over the last hundred thousand years. However, she may not have gained any new class levels in that time. She’s broadened her knowledge, but she is at the peak of her potential and can’t push beyond it.

Or course, there are exceptions! The radiant idols are fallen angels of Syrania. The kalashtar are bound to quori who rebelled against il-Lashtavar. It’s possible that you could find an angel of Shavarath who has abandoned the eternal war. But these are exceptionally rare. We’ve never said how many quori exist, but for sake of argument, let’s say there’s a hundred thousand… mostly lesser spirits like the tsoreva, and mostly devoted to duties in Dal Quor. From the perspective of the quori, the current era of Dal Quor has lasted for 400,000 years. In all that time, we’ve called out 67 quori who rebelled to become kalashtar. Let’s imagine there’s another 33 who were either caught and destroyed or who have managed to remain undetected. That’s still around a .1% rebellion rate over the course of 400,000 years… not too bad. Essentially, these are malfunctions. They’re gears that came into existence with the wrong number of teeth. Which is why the Dreaming Dark seeks to destroy rebel quori — to that energy can be drawn back into Dal Quor and reforged into a proper, compliant spirit.

So, keep these basic principles in mind. Most immortals come into existence with a clear purpose and with the skills they need to accomplish that function. They choose how they pursue that purpose, but they cannot change it. They are powerful, but they cannot learn new things as mortals can. Some of them have existed for a million years of subjective time. They don’t grow bored; they don’t desire change. They are what they are.

With that in mind, let’s look at a few questions.

How common is it for a fiend or cult to serve multiple overlords?

This depends on your definition of “Serve.” Most lesser fiends are bound to their overlord in the same way that the quori are bound to il-Lashtavar. Mordakhesh didn’t DECIDE to work for Rak Tulkhesh; the Shadowsword is essentially an extension of Rak Tulkhesh, the embodiment of one of the many ideas that falls under the Rage of War. Serving Rak Tulkhesh is part of his spiritual DNA; it’s not a choice, it’s what he IS. Thus, he will never feel that same loyalty to another overlord; it’s not in his nature.

HOWEVER: It’s possible that Rak Tulkhesh and Sul Khatesh could have a common goal, and that they might work together to create a cult that serves both of them. The mortals in that cult might feel equal loyalty to both overlords, just as devotees of the Restful Watch revere both Aureon and the Keeper. The fiends associated with the cult might work toward its common goals, but it doesn’t change the fact that every one of those fiends is devoted to EITHER the Rage of War or Keeper of Secrets, not both. They pursue the alliance because it serves the purposes of their overlord, but there is never any question that THEY serve their overlord and only their overlord.

Ultimately, this sort of alliance is why the Lords of Dust came into existence—to facilitate cooperation between the servants of different overlords. With that said, it’s more common that this simply extends to preventing fiends from fighting one another as opposed to actual alliances like I’ve described above. In fact, I’m not sure there IS an example in canon of two overlords working together in that way. Part of it is because their natures are SO different that it is hard for them to forge a lasting alliance; a second aspect is that the things the overlords require for their freedom—the Prophetic “combinations” to their chains—typically have nothing in common. Keep in mind that the reason the overlords were defeated was because they wouldn’t cooperate… and that while we mortals would learn from that mistake, immortals can’t change. So it’s not IMPOSSIBLE to have a fiendish cult that serves two overlords, but it’s not common and not likely to be long-lived.

In theory, it’s MORE plausible with the daelkyr, because the daelkyr were all originally on the same side. They have shared resources; Dyrrn created the dolgrims and Belashyrra created beholders, but both can be found serving any daelkyr. However, it’s also the case that most daelkyr cults are shaped by the mental influence of their daelkyr patron, and this is a powerful and unique force; a mortal bound to both Dyrrn and Belashyrra would be mentally torn in two very different directions. So again, it’s more likely than an alliance between overlords, but still not likely to be a long-term alliance.

There’s one wild card here: non-native fiends. NATIVE fiends have a bond to a particular overlord. But we’ve called out the fact that there are immortals from the planes who have broken from their planes and joined with the Lords of Dust… essentially, rather than a fiend rebelling to become an angel, it’s a fiend rebelling to be a fiend somewhere else. Two canon examples of this are Thelestes, a succubi who serves the overlord Eldrantulku; and Korliac of the Gray Flame, a Fernian pit fiend allied with Tul Oreshka. Such fiends are already outliers, because they have broken their original path, which again most immortals can’t do. As such, there’s nothing that prevents them from choosing yet ANOTHER path. CURRENTLY Thelestes serves Eldrantulku… but she could decide to serve Bel Shalor and the Wyrmbreaker as well, or to simply break her ties to the Oathbreaker. Ultimately, as with all things, the end answer is do what’s best for your story. Most quori can’t rebel against il-Lashtavar, but SOME CAN; if you want a new rebel quori in your story, then there’s a new rebel quori! If you decide that the Wyrmbreaker is betraying Bel Shalor and working with Eldrantulku, so be it (though like the Devourer of Dreams, it’s not entirely odd to think that the chief servants of spirits of betrayal and corruption might themselves betray their masters!).

Can immortals be promoted or demoted? Can an immortal gain power?

Yes, just not in the same way that mortals can. Time and experience aren’t how immortals improve. Essentially, the way to think of any particular group of immortals—the quori, the angels of the Legion of Justice, the fiends of Rak Tulkhesh—is as a pool of energy. The amount of energy in that pool is static and cannot change. If there are a hundred thousand quori, there will always be a hundred thousand quori. Kill one—or a hundred—and their energy flows back to il-Lashtavr, which eventually reconstitutes that energy and spits out replacements. This is why people bind immortals instead of killing them; you can’t destroy that energy, but if you can take it out of circulation, that’s a win.

So: this pool of energy is static. But it’s not distributed equally. A powerful immortal like Mordakhesh holds more of that energy than a typical Zakya rakshasa. A powerful immortal can redistribute that energy. So it is POSSIBLE for a deva in Shavarath to be elevated to the position of planetar… but only if a planetar is demoted to deva, or if the deva is taking the place of a planetar that was destroyed rather than it being reconstituted. Likewise, Rak Tulkhesh could STRIP Mordakhesh of some of his power, and then invest that power into another fiend. So yes, the higher powers CAN elevate or promote the immortals below them; but only by redistributing that energy from somewhere else. There will always be devas in Shavarath; Justice Command can’t just promote them all to the rank of solar.

However, there’s one other possible twist. The energy within a pool is static. But the other way for an immortal to gain power is to TAKE energy from somewhere else. This is the idea of the Devourer replacing il-Lashtavar: that an immortal could USURP another immortal’s power. Another possibility is that an immortal could somehow draw power from an artifact or some other outside source. So Mordakhesh doesn’t gain levels just by killing things. But if he found some way to literally absorb the essence of a coautl, maybe he COULD gain strength. The main thing is that this would be a momentous event that is shaking the metaphysical balance of the multiverse. It’s quite possible that it would be dangerous and potentially unstable… that there would be some way to restore the couatl, pulling the power back out of the fiend.

What are the attitudes of the Daelkyr and the Dreaming Dark towards one another? What about the Lords of Dust?

The Lords of Dust, the Dreaming Dark, and the daelkyr are the three most powerful malevolent forces in the setting. Their ultimate goals are mutually exclusive. The Dreaming Dark seek a stable world dreaming their dream. The overlords seek a return to primordial chaos. The daelkyr seek to transform reality into something unrecognizable. There’s no vision of victory that will allow two of these groups to both be satisfied. It is also the case that they are DANGEROUS. A rakshasa doesn’t fear death; it knows it will return. But can a daelkyr change the ESSENCE of a rakshasa—driving it mad or turning it into something new and horrifying? If you’re a rakshasa, you don’t want to find out. Essentially, NO ONE in their right mind, immortal or otherwise, wants to fight the daelkyr if they can avoid it.

These groups don’t actually know much about one another. The daelkyr and fiends don’t dream, so the quori can’t spy on them that way. The Dreaming Dark holds its councils in Dal Quor where none can spy of them. Riedra is hidden from the Draconic Prophecy. The daelkyr don’t care what the other two are up to, and their actions are inscrutable. Dreaming Dark mind seeds and daelkyr cults can appear anywhere, subverting long-established Lords of Dust agents without even realizing it. So more often than not these groups will stumble onto one another accidentally—and when they do, the first one to realize it will usually act to eliminate the threat. Consider that the Edgewalkers of Riedra are specifically trained to fight fiends and aberrations!

On the other hand, if you WANT these groups to work together in your campaign, go for it. The main question is why. The easiest ally is the Lords of Dust, because their goal of manipulating the Prophecy could require one of the other factions’ schemes to succeed. The main thing is that in any sort of alliance, each faction likely thinks it’s coming out ahead in the exchange… because in the end, they can’t both get what they want.

Personally, I rarely use all three of these as equal threats groups in the same campaign. All of these factions have been scheming for centuries or even thousands of years. There’s no reason that all of their schemes have to come to a tipping point in 998 YK. It’s entirely reasonable to say that the stars won’t align for the Lords of Dust for another decade, or that the daelkyr are currently dormant. So you can have alliances or conflicts between them, but you also can choose to ignore one or more completely.

You could also have the groups work against one another, using PCs as pawns.

Certainly. As noted above, in my opinion if their plans conflict, they will oppose one another, and the player characters could be caught in the middle of that. The main thing in MY Eberron is that the Chamber and the Lords of Dust are actively at war (though a very cold war). They are playing a game on the same board—manipulating the Prophecy—and they understand one another. By contrast, neither the Chamber nor the Lords of Dust really have a clear picture of the daelkyr or the Dreaming Dark. So they eliminate these threats when they interfere with their plans, but they don’t see the big picture of what they are trying to accomplish — while the dragons and fiends DO have that picture with one another.

What’s a “native outsider?” Are they basically the same as immortals that live on other planes, only native to Eberron, or is there more to them than that?

“Native outsider” is a holdover term from 3.5 and can be thought of as “native immortal.” It means that the immortal is a product of the material plane. Native fiends are apocryphally said to be children of Khyber, while native celestials are children of Siberys. First of all, this means that when the immortal dies, it will be reborn on Eberron——while if you destroy a Shavaran devil on Eberron, it will be reborn on Shavarath. It’s also the case that immortals in some way embody the concept of their planes of origins. So take a pit fiend. If it’s from Shavarath it is ultimately a spirit of WAR and tyranny. If it’s from Fernia it is first and foremost a fiend of FIRE. If you just want a generic “I’m eeeeevil” pit fiend, than it should be a native immortal tied to one of the overlords, such as Bel Shalor. As a side note, the night hags of Eberron are native immortals, but aren’t tied to the overlords; they are their own faction.

Regarding stuff like efreet, salamanders, or similar entities, would you have them all follow the same template as fiends and celestials in that they generally maintain a particular alignment or distribution of alignments, or is this not a fundamental aspect of some groups of immortals and the alignment of a group is more dynamic in some cases?

My definition of “Immortal” means the following: the creature is tied to a specific plane; it came into existence with its skills and knowledge in place, and did not need to learn; it does not reproduce naturally; it has a static population, and when it is destroyed, either it will be reborn or a new creature of its type will appear to take its place. As long as it meets these criteria it doesn’t matter if a creature is a celestial, elemental, fiend, or aberration. If it does NOT meet these criteria, it is not immortal under these terms. Thus, for example, a vampire is immune to aging, but it won’t be replaced if it is destroyed and it has a method of reproduction. It’s not an immortal; it’s a mortal that is channeling the power of Mabar, which sustains its life.

Immortals are SYMBOLS more than they are living creatures. They have purpose, even if often that purpose is simply to represent an idea. The basic definition of “fiend” is that it embodies an EVIL aspect of an idea, while a “celestial” embodies a GOOD aspect of an idea. Shavarath is the plane of WAR. Devils represent war fought in pursuit of tyranny; angels, war fought in pursuit of justice. So for these spirits, alignment is part of their core concept. Elementals aren’t as clear cut and don’t have an automatic alignment bias. But as they are immortals, they represent IDEAS. So the key question is “What is their idea?”

In MY Eberron, what the efreeti represent is the beauty and glory of fire… but also its capricious and deadly nature. The raging bonfire is beautiful and awe-inspiring, but if you are careless it can burn all you hold dear. So too with the efreeti. They are glorious and powerful. But anger them and they will burn you in the blink of an eye. What we’ve said in Eberron is that alignment doesn’t tell us WHAT you’ll do, it tells us HOW you’ll do it. You can have an evil king who wants peace or a good queen who pursues war; it’s just that the evil king will be ruthless in his pursuit of peace while the queen will be kind as she pursues war. Efreeti don’t necessarily want to DO things we would consider evil. They want to celebrate their wealth and power. They want to outshine their rivals. An efreet might invite you to a grand gala in its brass citadel, with no hostile intent. But if you insult it, or embarass it by using the wrong fork, it will burn you with no remorse. THAT is what makes efreeti evil. It’s not that they are all conquerors or torturers; it’s that like fire, they have no mercy and no empathy. They BURN, bright and beautiful, and if you aren’t careful they will burn you.

So efreeti are not universally pursuing an evil CAUSE in the same way that the devils of Shavarath are. But they still have evil ALIGNMENTS because it’s in their nature to be merciless and unrelenting… even if a particular efreeti has no grand designs we would see as evil. Meanwhile, the beings who embody the purely benevolent aspects of fire are celestials, and those who embody SOLELY its destructive aspects are fiends. The Azer are spirits of industry and are neutral. Efreeti are both the beauty of fire but also its danger; they won’t necessarily pursue evil goals, but they have no remorse when their actions cause suffering.

That’s all for now! Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters for keeping this site going!

Dragonmarks: Cities of Riedra

The last few articles have dealt with Riedra in 5E, the provinces of Riedra, and the Inspired. Before we leave the region, I want to address a few questions about the cities of Riedra. In describing the city of Dar Jin, Secrets of Sarlona says that “the people… go about their business silently, speaking only when it is absolutely necessary.”

In light of this, people have asked: What is life like in the cities of Riedra? Is it like being in a city of zombies? Why does Riedra even HAVE cities?

Cities and Villages

Riedra is largely split into two types of communities: small villages that serve a specific function (typically agriculture or mining), which are spread out around a central massive city, known as a bastion. The bastion serves as a military garrison and houses the Inspired who govern the region. Crucially, every bastion has a teleportation circle, typically connected to Durat Tal. So if you’re on official business for the Inspired and need to travel quickly, you’ll travel to the nearest bastion, use the circles to reach the bastion closest to your destination, and then go from there.

What’s the purpose of Riedran cities?

Bastions serve as military strongholds and transportation hubs. They are also the centers of industry. Most villages gather raw materials, while the bastions contain the factories that produce goods. Wait, factories? Riedra has factories? Yes. Reidra doesn’t have the wide magic of Khorvaire, and its factories are more primitive than their Cannith counterparts in Khorvaire; work is done by hand, without the aid of constructs or arcane tools. But you don’t have a lot of individual blacksmiths; instead, the bastion has a massive foundry, with a hundred smiths all working together. Assembly lines are common, with each individual focused on a single task. And while you don’t see the magecraft or arcane tools of Cannith, there are psionic tools at play. Riedran factories employ background telepathic projection. In some cases, this is simply a tool that helps the workers clear their minds and focus on a task. In others, the projection actually guides the hands of the worker, operating as a constant form of magecraft.

The most unusual form of factory are the sentira production facilities. Sentira is a form of solidified ectoplasm formed from intense emotion. Where tools of crysteel and steel can be created by mundane workers, sentira can only be worked by shaper psions, using a powerful psionic form of fabricate. The role of the common worker in a sentira factory isn’t to produce the finished goods, but rather to feel; the Inspired need concentrated emotion to create raw sentira. Different emotions create different forms of sentira, and factories that focus on hatred or sorrow are usually also prisons; the Inspired have no desire to force loyal citizens to feel miserable, but this is a perfect use for dissidents. So if a group of adventurers is looking for a force of possible allies, they should find a sentira factory with an unpleasant aura…

In addition to being centers of industry, military fortresses, and transport hubs, the bastion cities are administrative centers. Chosen and Inspired monitor events in the Bastion sphere, tracking production, transport of supplies, dissident activities, and other critical information. While paper is used to some degree, information is primarily stored in crystal form, a system similar to spellshards. Administrative centers have large crystal repositories that are managed by psychic figments created by the Inspired—simple personalities (not unlike the 3.5 psicrystals or the spirits associated with the UA archivist artificer) that assist and manage data access, as well as performing other minor administrative functions. Each center has a figment capable of moving between Dal Quor and Riedra, and all records are also stored in a central repository in Dal Quor; if an Inspired in Dar Jin needs to know about troop requisitions in Dar Ulatesh, the figment clerk can quickly retrieve that information from Dal Quor.

Life in a Riedran City

Dar Jin is larger than any city in Khorvaire. It is composed of five spherical wards, each a metropolis in its own right. Four of the wards are almost identical. The streets are paved with smooth black cobblestones, interspersed with squares of clear crysteel. When darkness falls, the crysteel blocks glow with a soft light. Workhouses, dormitories, and storehouses are made of blocks of black and white stone; crysteel panels serve as skylights during the day and glowing lanterns at night. Most buildings are curved or whorled; hard angles are few and far between. The city is beautiful in its way, but is extremely repetitive; every dormitory looks exactly the same. 

Secrets of Sarlona, Page 72

As mentioned in the previous article, casual psionic projection is used to identify streets and buildings. At a glance, it seems like it could be impossible to find your way. But if you stop to think about it, you’ll realize that you know where you are. It’s an alien memory nestled in your subconscious, but one you’re aware of it this casual projection makes it easy to find your way around. Likewise, the dormitories look exactly the same, but you know which one is Jhora Hall and which is Ula Hall.

Secrets of Sarlona calls out the fact that Riedrans go about their business silently, speaking only when necessary. This doesn’t mean they act like zombies! Riedrans are focused on their tasks. They know exactly what they need to do, and they are determined to do the best job they can; they don’t have time for small talk. But this doesn’t mean that they’re emotionless robots. Riedrans may smile or nod to each other in passing. If someone drops what they are carrying, the people around them will likely stop to help pick it up. They may not SAY anything, because nothing needs to be said; it is understood that we are all working together, we are here to help you. The key point is that the silence of Riedra isn’t OPPRESSIVE; it occurs because most of the time, nothing needs to be said. Most Riedrans are comfortable with their lives. They feel that they share a common cause with the people around them. So they aren’t shuffling, emotionless zombies; most are content, determined to work as hard as they can and to earn their advancement on the Path of Inspiration.

A key part of this is that for a Riedran citizen, daily life is very predictable. You work with the same people in the same building following the same general schedule. You all dream the same dreams; you all receive the same messages from the Voice. Again, this doesn’t make Riedrans zombies, it just means that they have safe, reliable patterns. This is a critical reason that adventurers make most Riedrans uncomfortable: they are disrupting that pattern. Riedrans know what to expect from one another. They have no idea what to expect from a warforged, an elf, and a dragonmarked human—all the worse if these three appear to be armed and prepared for violence!

So what is life like in a Bastion city? As called out in Secrets of Sarlona, there are many people but little conversation. People aren’t standing around, they aren’t shopping or killing time. They act with a sense of purpose. They know where they are going, they know what they have to do, and they are always moving toward that goal. They rarely speak, but that doesn’t mean they won’t acknowledge one another; and again, if someone stumbles or if there’s an accident, the closest people will provide assistance. When adventurers enter the picture, they will find that people keep their distance. Civilians will typically avoid eye contact; soldiers will watch adventurers closely, clearly concerned that these outsders may be up to something dangerous. If forced to interact, most Riedrans will be polite to adventurers but seek to end the conversation as quickly as possible; they have somewhere they need to be.

A secondary point is that Riedran cities aren’t designed for tourists or consumers. There are no shops or restaurants; Riedrans eat in their dormitories or garrisons. There are no theatres, no gambling. There are gardens of reflection and memorials that share memories of tragic events or grand triumphs. There are statues of the Inspired that radiate awe, plazas where priests of the Path of Inspiration inspire the crowds, spaces where soldiers drill or people engage in group exercise. But there’s no luxuries, nothing that’s designed for pure leisure; everything serves a purpose.

But what about the Jhodra?

So, life in a Riedran city is stable and predictable. The people are quietly devoted to their work. They largely ignore outsiders, and adventurers are seen as a curiosity at best and as threats at worst. Which is why Dar Jin and Dar Ulatesh—the two major ports where foreigners are welcome—have foreign quarters that cater to the needs of outsiders. The Jhodra is the foreign quarter of Dar Jin. It has dragonmarked enclaves and embassies of a number of nations of Khorvaire. There are theatres, shops, and taverns; however, most of these are actually run by the dragonmarked houses. So the good news is that after your long journey across the sea to the mysterious empire of the Inspired, you can still get a bowl of tribex stew at the Gold Dragon Inn (Disclaimer: The tribex stew served at the Jhodra Gold Dragon Inn is not actual tribex, but rather a pomow-based meat substitute being tested by House Ghallanda).

Most Riedrans are forbidden from entering the Jhodra. Those who work in the foreign quarter are trained and prepared to deal with foreigners, and thus don’t display the discomfort seen elsewhere. There are many guides, always watching for travelers who seem lost or confused, always ready to provide assistance; there are even some who are only guides, as opposed to agents of the Thousand Eyes!

So in imagining a scene in the Jhodra, keep that cosmopolitan population in mind. Walking through the Jhodra, you’ll have that odd sensation of knowing where you are—of remembering the name of the street even though you’ve never read it. Most Riedrans are going about their business: sailors headed for the docks, envoys headed to an embassy, all moving quietly and with purpose. Dragonmarked heirs share jokes with embassy staffers. An expat grabs you—Did you just get off the Sharn boat? You don’t have any of Mazo’s shaat’aar, do you?—and perhaps they have a story to share, or a risky opportunity for a few capable people. You see a statue of the Inspired, and you can’t help but be impressed… but is that your actual feeling, or just a projection of the statue? And perhaps… though it’s unlikely… one of those silent, hardworking Riedran gives you a look or makes an odd gesture. What are they trying to convey? Do they want to find a way to speak to you alone? Is there something going on? Or is it an agent of the Thousand Eyes, testing you to see if you are searching for dissidents?

Crime is almost unheard of in Riedran communities—in part because most people have little to steal. There are criminals in the Jhodra, but they’re mostly from Khorvaire and focus their attentions on fellow travelers. However, the Jhodra is well defended, both by soldiers of the Harmonious Shield and the imposing oni of the Horned Guard. The Jhodra also has an unusual number of Inspired, who help monitor the area and support the soldiers if needed. In most places, the priest in a garden of reflection will be an unoccupied Chosen or even a mundane human. In the Jhodra, it will be a hashalaq Inspired with significant powers of coercion and empathy.

Secrets of Sarlona discusses Dar Jin and the Jhodra in more detail, including the mercantile center, the tower of the Thousand Eyes, and the exotic Song of Skin—a talhouse catering to changelings.

How do you LEAVE the Jhodra?

Previous articles have discussed secret ways to enter Riedra: traveling through Khyber, passing through another plane, working with the Dream Merchants or other smugglers. But if you truly have a good reason to explore another part of Dar Jin or to travel across Riedra, all you have to do is ask. Secrets of Sarlona says the following…

In order to explore Riedra, a traveler must acquire a transit visa from the Iron Gate, the foreign relations office, in Dar Jin or Dar Ulatesh. This scroll provides a description of the travelers, states the nature of their business, and delineates any restrictions on travel. A bearer might be limited to traveling in specific provinces or spheres, and the visa usually has a set expiration date…
The Iron Gate does not charge for transit visas, but it rarely grants them. Riedra isn’t for tourists. Travelers must provide a valid reason for entry and show that they have no criminal tendencies or intent, as well as enough knowledge to avoid accidentally breaking Riedran laws. A successful DC 30 Diplomacy check is sufficient to get an entry request considered, but even then the reason must stand on its own. Finally, mind probe (EPH 119) is often brought into play to ensure that the travelers have no hidden motives. If the request is especially intriguing or risky, the Iron Gate might allow travel but send a member of the Thousand Eyes along as a chaperone and observer. Unless the party is deemed a serious risk, this observer is a Chosen; the controlling spirit only takes possession of the vessel every few hours to check on the situation. 

Secrets of Sarlona, pages 45-46

General Q&A

Do the planes play into the sentira factories? I imagine it’s hard to have a prison-factory of despair in Khalesh.

Absolutely! Most sentira factories only focus on a single emotion. Part of the point of having a mass teleportation network is that factories can specialize like this, because it’s easy enough to transport such specialized goods across the Unity. So certainly, you don’t put your despair factory near a wild zone to Irian.

Sentira is a MASSIVELY cool material. Would you see it made and used in Adar, too? Or is it something that you need psions on the level of the Inspired to create, and thus it’s harder to make useful quantities in Adar?

Secrets of Sarlona calls out that Adaran kalashtar also work with sentira, but they don’t have the facilities or resources to produce it in the same quantities as the Inspired. So you can fine sentira items in Adar — notably, the horned headdresses kalashtar are often shown wearing are supposed to be sculpted from sentira — but you don’t see buildings made of it.

Is loving/adoration sentira a genuine reflection of emotion or artificially sustained?

That’s a good question. With any sort of sentira factory, can the emotion be artificially induced? Can you create love with a charm effect, or generate fear with psychic power? The simple answer is yes, but I think it’s more INTERESTING if the answer is NO: if the emotion has to be sustained and natural. This makes a factory that deals in fear more horrifying, because they can’t simply cast fear; they have to truly make you terrified for an extended period of time. And this would also lean toward certain emotions being much harder to produce. It could be that Love sentira is quite rare in Riedra—but that it can be found in Adar, whereas Adarans are almost never found using fear or hate sentira.

Could you elaborate on Riedran families? Riedrans seem to live in various communal housings by what you say. If people are silent much of the time, when do they converse and get to know each other?

This is covered in Secrets of Sarlona. Here’s two relevant passages; SoS elaborates on both of these topics, as well as describing a day in the life of a Riedran villager.

Time away from work is usually spent with other members of the community. Riedrans dine together in central halls, participate in group athletic exercises, and gather in the evenings for storytelling and religious instruction. They are allowed a brief amount of unstructured time each day, ostensibly for meditation on the day’s events; however, many prefer to remain among friends even during this private time. Privacy is not something the Riedrans treasure—solitude can be a painful and disturbing experience for a Riedran.
Young Riedrans are raised communally. They are often transported to new villages as soon as they are old enough to travel, to prevent birth parents from forming an unhealthy bond with the child. Youths live in segregated dormitories, tended by dedicated caregivers (part of the Guiding Path). As they grow, children serve as apprentices to other members of the community, allowing the caregivers and priest to determine their aptitudes. A youth is usually set on his path in his thirteenth year and moves into an adult dormitory at this time. 

Riedrans are largely silent while they are focused on their work, unless that work requires conversation. But they talk with one another when they don’t have other tasks that demand their attention. As noted above, they enjoy the company of others; but often being around friends is sufficient, even if there’s nothing you need to talk about.

Can you talk about subversive activities in a city of Riedra? I am not asking about big things like spies or revolutionaries, but small things as places to do things not encouraged by Inspired (maybe play a game, buy a book, etc…). On what level do you think that this happens, is there is races with more probability of do this kind of thing, graduation of the punishment, etc…

First of all, consider that most Riedrans don’t have any frame of reference to understand these concepts. The majority of Riedrans are illiterate and most villagers have never seen a book. They have assigned activities; why would they “play a game?” Part of the challenge of driving revolution in Riedra is that the people don’t see why they’d WANT all the freedoms the people of Khorvaire take for granted.

Hard as these things are in general, they are exceptionally difficult to perform in a Riedran city. There ARE no private spaces. Almost all activities are group activities. There are people everywhere, and it’s generally believed that the Thousand Eyes are always watching.

Does this mean these things are impossible or never occur? Of course not. Secrets of Sarlona presents many groups that tie into these things. The Broken Throne is a faction that seeks to recover the knowledge of pre-Sundering Sarlona; they specifically teach members to read, and might treasure ancient games. The Dream Merchants are a network of smugglers, and they will happily sell books to members of the Broken Throne… though, of course, Riedrans have no money, so they’ll have to find something of value they can trade. But it’s still exceptionally difficult to find a safe space in a Riedran city. Perhaps, if the city is built on an old foundation, there’s an ancient chamber hidden below (… but can you be sure the Thousand Eyes don’t know about it? That they haven’t left it intact specifically to lure such dissidents?). Perhaps there’s a part of a factory that was abandoned after an accident. There’s nothing RELIABLE or safe; every cell has to find its own sanctuaries. A more unusual resistance movement is that of the Unchained, a group that practices free dreaming and communicates using the dreamspace. But again, if you want more information about any of these organizations or Sarlona in general, refer to Secrets of Sarlona.

Now it’s time to leave Riedra! My Patreon supporters have chosen the Nobility of Khorvaire as my next major topic; as with Riedra, I will likely post some Patreon-exclusive content as part of this. Thanks to those supporters for keeping this site going!

Dragonmark: Provinces of Riedra

In June, my Patreon supporters called for an article about Sarlona. The first part dealt with the role of Riedra and how to bring it into fifth edition. To conclude, I’m delving deeper in a subject that is only touched on in Secrets of Sarlona: the history and unique elements of the eight provinces of Riedra. I am posting the full article for inner circle patrons on my Patreon, but here’s the introduction and the first two provinces: Borunan and Corvagura.

The Unity of Riedra is a single political entity. It’s one nation. But it’s made up of eight provinces, and each of these provinces were once unique nations. Those nations were shaped by environmental factors, by religions, arcane discoveries, and most of all, by planar influences. While they are now unified—and while the Inspired work to discourage any strong sense of provincial nationalism in modern Riedra—understanding these fallen nations is crucial both to understanding the landscape of Riedra, the history of the Five Nations, and the secrets or wonders that adventurers might travel to Riedra to uncover. RIEDRA may be one nation, but you’ll have very different adventures in Borunan and Ohr Kaluun.

Secrets of Sarlona implies that the old kingdoms were fairly advanced—that they had wizards, sorcerers, divine champions. If so, why did these techniques not travel to Khorvaire? And in general, why don’t the Five Nations show their Sarlonan roots more strongly? We’ve said that while most followers of the Sovereign Host in the Five Nations know that their faith is “the Pyrinean Creed,” very few actually know that this means it originated in the Sarlonan nation of Pyrine. Why have these nations been forgotten?

There’s two important factors. The first is that the Sarlonan “settlers” of Khorvaire weren’t the paragons and pride of their nations. We’ve called out that Lhazaar was a pirate, and it’s no accident that her lieutenant Malleon was known as “The Reaver.” Many of those who followed Lhazaar were outlaws, renegades, or rebels of one brand or another. Later waves of colonization were largely driven by refugees. These weren’t organized efforts to preserve the culture and achievements of the old kingdoms. Equally important is the fact that they couldn’t transport many of their greatest achievements, which is another reason why there weren’t more active programs driving colonization. Because one thing Sarlona has in greater amounts than any other continent is planar influence. Manifest zones, wild zones, reality storms, and more—Sarlona is closer to the planes than Khorvaire. This creates both threats and opportunities. Depending on their traits, manifest zones and wild zones can be extremely dangerous—but as seen in Sharn, Shae Mordai, and Dreadhold, they can also enable wonders that can’t be replicated in the mundane world. Manifest zones can be a source of unusual flora, fauna, or other resources. The drug known as absentia is created using a root that grows in certain Xoriat manifest zones, while the pomow plant—the mainstay of the Riedran diet—was developed in Lamannian zones. Beyond this, the more powerful zones leak planar energies into the surrounding region. This can be tapped to produce magical effects, and can also subtly shape the personality of mortals. Creatures that live in the vicinity of a Shavarath wild zone are more likely to be aggressive—and to have an instinctive knack for developing martial skills. So the wizards of Khunan and the sorcerers of Corvagura were channeling planar magic… and when Khunan wizards fled to what’s now Valenar, they found that their magic didn’t work there. So the reason the Five Nations don’t seem to be that much more advanced than the fallen kingdoms of Sarlona is because they had to rebuild their arcane science… in the process, creating forms of magic that are more reliable and versatile. Nonetheless, it is possible that adventurers sifting through the ruins of the old kingdoms may find rituals, relics, or spells that are a match or even superior to modern techniques… though it might take the skill of an exceptional arcanist—or a player character—to adapt these techniques to the modern style! (Side note for the Arcana-proficient: the old Sarlonan style of magic—drawing on planar energies—is referred to as “Externalist” or “wielding external forces.” The most common form of arcane science employed by the Five Nations is “Siberyan,” and manipulates energies exuded by the Ring of Siberys.)

So what follows focuses on aspects not covered in Secrets of Sarlona: the impact of the planes and interesting aspects of the old cultures. But always remember that the Inspired have worked to suppress the old traditions. In particular, the Edgewalkers are an elite order tasked to protect innocents from extraplanar threats, and one of their major duties is patrolling the borders of wild zones. Many zones do contain deadly threats; but in other cases the Inspired don’t want the locals to find ways to use the zones as their ancestors did, or to be influenced by the zone.

Note that manifest zones to all planes (save Dal Quor) can be found anywhere in Riedra. What are called out in these sections are the most common and powerful planar influences in a region, and the common wild zones. But manifest zones to Thelanis can be found in any province, for example; in the novel The Gates of Night, the protagonists travel between Xen’drik and Sarlona using manifest zones tied to Thelanis.

BORUNAN

In Borunan, you might…

  • Be drawn into the schemes of oni and ogres plotting rebellion.
  • Find an ancient forge where oni crafted weapons for ogre champions.
  • Be forced into an extension of Shavarath, where celestials and fiends fight an endless war.
  • Use a passage from Khyber to enter Riedra.

In the days of the old kingdoms, the ogres of Borunan were peerless warriors. The champions of Borunan possessed inhuman strength, martial discipline, unshakeable courage, and weapons forged in Fernian flame. Time and again, they repelled the legions of Nulakesh and the crusaders of Khalesh, and yet Borunan never sought to conquer any of its neighbors. Some might wonder why this was. Borunan is a harsh land; did the ogres never consider claiming the more fertile fields of Nulakesh? What kept their population so low that they never needed to expand?

It’s commonly known that the people of Borunan considered their neighbors to be “unworthy foes” and the common assumption was that the ogres were cruel brutes who constantly fought one another. In fact, the ogres were waging a truly divine war—fighting alongside angels in an endless struggle against devils. The center of Borunan contains a wild zone to Shavarath where a fragment of the Eternal Battleground extends directly into the material plane, and the ancient ogres devoted their might not to conquest, but to defending this keep against the forces of tyranny.

Borunan contains multiple wild zones tied to Fernia and Shavarath, along with multiple passages into Khyber. The forerunners of the ogres emerged from a demiplane within Khyber; tectonic activity destroyed this passage, leaving them stranded in this barren region of rocky desert and hills. Of the Shavaran wild zones, only the one—known to the ogres as Gul Dol, the Gate of War—is a direct passage to the Eternal Battleground. But the ogres built their fortresses in the other Shavaran zones, and over generations the influence of Shavarath helped shape them into fierce warriors. The origin of the oni is a secret long forgotten, but one possibility is this: just like the rakshasa and the overlords, the immortals of Shavarath cannot be permanently bound. But during their service in Gul Dol, the champions of Borunan found a way to bind defeated fiends to their own bodies—sort of an involuntary version of the process that created the kalashtar, trapping a fiend within a bloodline of ogres. Thus the supernatural powers of the oni may be tied to the essence of devils bound to the bloodlines. This could be why many oni are drawn toward evil; but the oni of Borunan resisted those sinister instincts, using the power of their defeated foes to fight alongside celestials.

In addition to being fierce warriors, the oni of Borunan forged their weapons in the Cauldron, a wild zone tied to Fernia. Their weapons weren’t as well-crafted as the arms and armor of the Dhakaani, but the oni spell-smiths were able to channel the energies of Shavarath and Fernia to imbue their creations with powerful magic. While most of these weapons were destroyed long ago—not to mention being designed to be wielded by ogres and oni—legendary items or even artifacts could remain in Gul Dol, the Cauldron, or other ancient ruins.

The ogres of ancient Borunan cared nothing for the Sovereigns or the Silver Flame. They were entirely devoted to the battle for Gul Dol. The angels of the Legion of Freedom battle the devils of the Legion of Tyranny for control of this massive fortress, which is broken into multiple rings and wings. The angels believe that the balance of this war reflects the balance between tyranny and freedom across the multiverse. Of course, this is only one of countless fronts in the eternal war between these forces, but the ogres embraced this idea and believed that in fighting alongside the angels they were fighting for freedom for all people.

The Fall of Borunan. Despite the might of its champions, Borunan was easily laid low by the Dreaming Dark. The humans of the surrounding regions had long feared the ogres, and it was easy for the quori to fan these flames. Within Borunan itself, the quori sowed doubts and created feuds, shattering centuries of unity. Were the oni secretly in league with devils? Was the battle for Gul Dol a pointless sacrifice? Civil strife decimated Borunan and left it vulnerable to outside attack.

Borunan Today. In the present day, the ogres of Borunan are kept from the wild zones that served as the strongholds of their ancestors, and largely kept from any form of war; they use their strength for manual labor as opposed to battle. The oni are raised to believe in a twisted form of their actual history. Riedran oni are taught that their gifts are the result of being living prisons for fiends; it is the duty of the oni to redeem the fiend within them through their own devoted service to the Inspired. Largely, this has proven successful, and the Horned Guard—an elite corps of oni soldiers—is one of the most powerful weapons in the Riedran arsenal. However, over the course of the last two decades a group of Borunan rebels has been forming a resistance movement, the Horned Shadow, that seeks to protect the ogre-kin (ogres, oni, eneko). This is still a young movement, struggling to build power while avoiding the gaze of the Thousand Eyes. It’s up to the DM to decide if the Horned Shadow is entirely heroic—a throwback to the champions of ancient Borunan, who devoted their lives to defending freedom from tyranny—or if the oni leaders are driven by fiendish impulses and have malevolent goals.

Keep in Mind. Borunan has many passages to Khyber. These could provide ways for adventurers to cross from Khorvaire into Riedra, intentionally or by accident. This could also be a vector that could bring the minions of a daelkyr into Riedra. The Edgewalkers monitor these passages, and have sealed those that can be sealed. The public is kept away from the wild zones that hold the ancient ruins of Borunan, and believe them to be the domain of foul altavars (the Riedran term for fiends). The two most powerful zones are the Cauldron (a Fernian zone in the Broken Blade Mountains and the seat of old Borunan’s oni spell-smiths) and Gul Dol. Today, the majority of the Gate of War is in the hands of the Legion of Tyranny, but the angels still hold an isolated keep. Their forces include a number of Borunan sword wraiths—the spectral vestiges of the ogrekin champions that fought and died alongside them.

The ogres of Borunan are generally more intelligent than their cousins in Droaam, with an average Intelligence of 9. It’s likely that the ancestors of the ogres and oni of Khorvaire were transported by a planar anomaly; this might explain their reduced Intelligence and the lack of any Borunan traditions. Another possibility is that the ogres of Khorvaire are a separate branch of the species—that they came from the same demiplane but emerged in Khorvaire instead of Sarlona, and were untouched by the influence of Shavarath.

CORVAGURA

In Corvagura, you might…

  • Seek to sabotage the teleportation network of Durat Tal.
  • Explore a mysterious magebreeding facility in a Lamannian wild zone.
  • Try to save a youth who’s manifested sorcerous powers.
  • Explore the tomb of a forgotten sorcerer-king.

Corvagura is a tropical region marked by deep jungles and lush fields. It has long been the most densely populated region of Sarlona, and it was one of the most powerful and influential of the old kingdoms. Corvagura includes manifest zones and wild zones tied to Lamannia, Mabar, and Thelanis. It’s the influence of Lamannia that lends unnatural fertility to the region and its inhabitants. The influences of the other planes were made manifest in two powerful lines of sorcerers. Anyone born within the sphere of influence could potentially develop sorcerous powers; Corvagura was born when leaders rallied these sorcerers into two noble houses, and used their powers to conquer the city-states in the region.

  • The House of the Sun drew its power from Thelanis. Its members had the Wild Magic origin. Their magic tended towards glamour and glory, twisting the thoughts and emotions of others or striking down foes with bolts of flame. Though biologically human, members of the House of the Sun often had fey features and could be mistaken for Khoravar. The sorcerers of the House of the Sun were taught to be proud and glorious, demanding adoration from their subjects.
  • The House of the Moon drew its power from Mabar. Its members had the Shadow origin, and their magic drew on darkness and inspired fear. They never animated the dead, but they could command shadows and summon specters. The sorcerers of the House of the Moon were taught to be calm and cruel, instilling terror in any who might challenge them.

While these houses were presented as families, position was based entirely on sorcerous power. Anyone who manifested such powers would be adopted into the appropriate house, while any heir who failed to show sorcerous talent by their 18th birthday was cast out. The majority of the sorcerers of Corvagura were convinced that their powers elevated them above the common people, and were infamous for their casual cruelty and tyrannical rule. But they did protect the common people from a number of deadly threats, from the colossal beasts that emerged from Lamannian wild zones to the restless dead and capricious fey unleashed by the other wild zones.

The Fall of Corvagura. The quori attacked Corvagura on three fronts. They encouraged the cruelty and narcissism of the worst of the sorcerers, pushing their subjects past the limit of what they would endure. They created a deep, paranoid rift between the houses, leading to destructive vendettas. And they encouraged the spirit of revolution among the people—culminating in the appearance of early Inspired, commoners wielding supernatural powers capable of defeating the sorcerers.

Corvagura Today. Today Corvagura is the heart of Riedra, both in terms of population and administration. It’s home to both the capital city of Durat Tal and the primary eastern port, Dar Jin, along with a number of other important bastion cities. The influence of wild zones tied to Mabar and Thelanis are largely contained by the Edgewalkers; the Shanjueed Jungle has been called out as the largest Mabaran manifest zone in Eberron, dwarfing even the Gloaming of the Eldeen Reaches. Lamannian wild zones and manifest zones have been tapped to contribute to the agricultural programs of Riedra; this includes the creation of unusual hybrids, such as the pomow plant. As the Inspired keep people out of the wild zones and work to contain their influence, plane-touched sorcerers are rarely born in Corvagura. People know what to watch for and know that such sorcerers are vessels for Altavars, responsible for chaos and bloodshed in the days before the Unity, and sorcerers identified by the Thousand Eyes will either be killed or forced into service with the Edgewalkers. However, as with other provinces, there may well be a few who have managed to conceal their powers or who managed to flee into wild zones and survive there—rebels who could assist player characters. On the other hand, some such sorcerers have internalized the teachings that these powers are the gifts of fiends, and believe that the path to greater power lies in performing vile acts; such criminals are exceedingly dangerous. It’s worth noting that while the sorcerer-princes of ancient Corvagura were human, there’s nothing stopping a Corvaguran changeling, shifter, or member of another species from developing such powers.

Keep in Mind. Corvagura is the heart of Riedra. Dar Jin is a center for trade and diplomacy. Durat Tal is the administrative center of the Unity, and it is also the hub for the network of teleportation circles that allow the Inspired to swiftly move troops and supplies across the length of their realm. Because of this, Corvagura has the largest number of hanbalani monoliths and the greatest effort made to ensure the loyalty of its people; while there could be a few rogue sorcerers, Corvagura is a difficult place to find support for any sort of rebellion.

The manifest and wild zones tied to Mabar and Thelanis provide all sorts of potential for adventures. These zones may contain ruins associated with the Houses of the Sun and Moon, along with the forgotten treasures of the sorcerer-kings. Mabar zones may yet be haunted by the specters of ancient tyrants or by newly animated undead. The Edgewalkers are dedicated to keeping fey and undead contained, and the Thousand Eyes ensure that no one tells the stories of the fey. But this can still be another way to enter Riedra; Thelanian zones often allow passage to the Faerie Court under the right circumstances, and adventurers exploring the Twilight Demesne in Khorvaire could accidentally end up facing Edgewalkers on the edge of a forest in Corvagura.

That’s all for now! The full article—covering Dor Maleer, Khalesh, Nulakesh, Ohr Kaluun, Pyrine, and Rhiavhaar—is available to inner circle Patreon supporters. I’ve spent far more time on the last two articles than on anything I’ve ever written for the site, and it’s only the support of my patrons that makes that possible. Thanks to all of you who have shown your support!

Dragonmarks: Riedra in 5E

Rising From The Last War focuses on the continent of Khorvaire. Humanity thrives on Khorvaire, but it didn’t begin there; humanity came from the continent of Sarlona. Today, Sarlona is largely a mystery to the people of the Five Nations. It is dominated by the Unity of Riedra, and while this nation isn’t hostile to the Five Nations—indeed, it provided humanitarian aid and assistance to many nations during the Last War—its borders are largely closed, with outsiders only welcome in the port cities of Dar Jin on the east coast and Dar Ulatesh to the west. Most people know that Riedra is ruled by the Inspired, nobles said to be be bound to celestial spirits; and many have heard stories of the strange forms of magic used in Riedra. But most commoners know nothing more about the realm of the Inspired.

Sarlona is described in detail in the 3.5 sourcebook Secrets of Sarlona. I personally wrote the Riedra section of that sourcebook, and my vision of the rest of Sarlona doesn’t perfectly match the canon depiction. My current goal is to expand on Secrets of Sarlona rather than to rewrite it. I may present my approach to Adar, Syrkarn, and Tashana in future articles, but these articles focus on Riedra. This article explores the narrative role of Riedra and the Inspired, and how to approach both of these in fifth edition given the limitations of the current mechanics.

THE PURPOSE OF RIEDRA

What does Riedra add to the world of Eberron? Why did we create it in the first place, and what does it offer to a campaign? Before we consider what it is, let’s take a moment call out what it isn’t. Riedra is not intended to reflect any nation or culture on Earth. It’s home to psychic warriors and soulknives, not to samurai and ninja. It’s not supposed to be some sort of version of the Soviet Union—in Eberron, the cold war is being fought between the Five Nations, not between Khorvaire and Riedra. From the beginning Riedra was always supposed to be unique and alien. It’s a culture shaped by overlords from the Realm of Dreams. It’s a realm where people craft tools and towers out of solidified emotions and where the rulers weave dreams for their subjects. It fills the pulp trope of “mysterious, isolated nation with exotic traditions.” But in looking for inspiration, don’t look to our world or our history. Look to your imagination; this is a realm that should feel as if it’s shaped from dreams and nightmares.

The core idea of Khorvaire and the Five Nations was civilizations where arcane magic has been incorporated as part of society. The most basic, core idea of Riedra was a civilization where psionics are the foundation of society. With Eberron we wanted to look at the logical consequences of magic existing; with Riedra, we wanted to do the same for psionics. At the same time, knowing that many DMs don’t LIKE psionics and feel that they clash with classical fantasy, it felt appropriate to make Riedra isolated and mysterious. DMs who WANTED to delve into psionics could either take adventures to Sarlona or simply have more contact with Riedran and Adaran characters. But that core idea was simple. Psionics are a well-established part of D&D that feel out of place directly alongside arcane magic. Let’s create a place where psionics BELONG—where they are a key tool of civilization.

The second purpose of Sarlona and Riedra is as the birthplace of humanity. We decided from the start that humans weren’t native to Khorvaire; that while they are the dominant species on Khorvaire, they are colonizers and on a fundamental level they are on the wrong side of history. But while humanity came from Sarlona, it’s no longer the land they left behind. In Riedra we have a new nation built upon the bones of those ancient realms, with many forgotten secrets waiting to be found.

Riedra is a dystopia where tyrants even control the dreams of their subjects. Or is it a utopia without crime, hunger, or doubt? We as players and DMs know that it’s an oppressive dictatorship, and yet it’s not the enemy of Khorvaire and many nations want its aid, which is again part of its story role: what do you do when your country allies with an oppressive nation? One of the fundamental principles of Eberron is that things aren’t supposed to be simple. WE know that the quori have stolen the freedom of the people of Riedra, but the greatest trick of the Dreaming Dark was convincing the people to build their own chains; the Riedrans don’t WANT your freedom. So we look at Riedra and feel that they SHOULD be the enemy; they are an oppressive dystopia, a vast and alien empire. But by default, they aren’t the enemy. So how do you deal with them? It’s the base of the Dreaming Dark, but the common people of Riedra don’t even know the Dreaming Dark exists.

So from a design perspective, here are the things Riedra brings to the world and to a campaign.

  • It’s a source for psionic content. Characters with psionic classes or abilities can be from Sarlona or have learned from a Sarlonan teacher. It provides an opportunity to introduce psionic villains and it’s a source for psionic artifacts. If you want a deep psionic campaign, it’s a place to run it. While that’s currently complicated by the lack of deep psionic rules, those rules are under development. I suggest alternatives later in this article, but if you do want to use the psi knight fighter or the soulknife rogue, this is where they belong.
  • It’s a dystopian tyranny, more inspired by 1984 or The Giver than any nation in our history. If you want to play out an underdogs-against-the-empire campaign, it’s better suited to that than any nation in Khorvaire… whether on the Adaran front, as a band of Akiak commandos, or a group of unchained dreamers hiding in the heart of the empire. Yet Riedra is also a place to explore what would we give up for security? Riedra has no crime, no hunger, no doubt. Are we so sure Khorvaire is better, with its greedy Houses, warring Wynarns, and Boromar Clan?
  • It holds the hidden bones of the nations that gave birth to humanity. Which means that it may hold many secrets lost in the Sundering. What did Khalesh know about the Silver Flame that the people of Thrane have yet to discover? Did the Pyrineans have ways to invoke the Sovereigns—new divine spells—that never made it to Khorvaire? What wonders and terrors are hidden in the war-mazes of Ohr Kaluun?
  • It’s closer to the planes than any other continent. In addition to massive manifest zones, it has wild zones—regions where a plane essentially projects into the material—and reality storms. This is a point that will be explored in greater detail in the upcoming article on the provinces.
  • Tied to a number of these points, Riedra is alien. It is shaped by spirits from another plane. It uses a supernatural science that’s all but unknown in Khorvaire, and it’s built on a foundation of nations that tapped the planes in strange ways. After a thousand years of Galifar, Khorvaire is known; Riedra is home to thriving civilizations, yet still unknown.

So in bringing Riedra into a campaign, you have a number of choices. If you have no interest in psionics you can ignore it completely. You can use it in the background, as a source for psychic characters and tools—the home of a single recurring villain or PC. You can highlight its role as an enigmatic ally—highlighting its presence in Q’barra, dealing with the Inspired ambassador at the Tain Gala—noting that it is a force that is technically helping and that the Five Nations want good relationships within, while also invoking its alien nature and dystopian aspects; if the Inspired ambassador offers aid, do the adventurers take it? If you choose to make the Dreaming Dark a major foe in the campaign, Riedra can become far more important, as diplomatic immunity and embassies serve as shields for Riedran villains. You could take the campaign to Riedra; perhaps the adventurers are fighting the Dreaming Dark or working with the Adarans, or perhaps they need to find a relic lost in a ruined temple in Khalesh or hidden in a war-maze in Ohr Kaluun. Or you could set your entire campaign in Riedra, focusing on the struggle against an all-powerful alien dictatorship that holds the common people in its thrall.

A RIEDRAN INVASION?

Riedra is a massive, tyrannical empire. The Dreaming Dark yearns to control all mortal lives. On the surface, this seems like it’s a set-up for a vast invasion. And if that’s a story you really want to tell in your campaign, your ally is Lord Zoratesh, the kalaraq quori who commands Riedra’s armies. However, in canon Eberron, it’s not a scenario that’s likely to occur. Secrets of Sarlona says…

Both the Devourer of Dreams (leader of the Dreaming Dark) and Lady Sharadhuna (leader of the Thousand Eyes) believe that (open war with Khorvaire) would be disastrous, providing a common enemy to unite the people of Khorvaire, destabilizing Riedra, and risking the ire of the dragons, the Lords of Dust, and other conspiracies currently watching from the shadows. 

Lady Sharadhuna believes that the quori don’t need Khorvaire—that dominating Sarlona is sufficient for their needs. The Devourer of Dreams does plan to conquer Khorvaire, but not through brute force. Secrets of Sarlona notes that “The unity of Riedra succeeds because the people believe that the Inspired are saviors, not conquerors.” The quori created Riedra through manipulation. They tricked the old kingdoms of Sarlona into fighting each other, eroded faith in the old religions, played on prejudices and fears. And then they created the Inspired as champions who rose up from among the common people, uniting the people to fix the disasters the quori had carefully engineered. So the PEOPLE believe that the Inspired are heroes—legends who guided them through a terrible age of darkness and into a golden age.

The Devourer of Dreams plans to use the same script in Khorvaire… and most likely is already doing it. Over the last century, a stable kingdom collapsed into chaos and civil war. This war was driven by the paranoia of the last king and by the ambitions of the heirs—exactly the sorts of emotional states that could be engineered or enhanced by quori manipulation. We’ve never said conclusively that the Dreaming Dark DID cause the Last War, because ultimately we want each DM to make that decision themselves. But it certainly fits their style. They don’t conquer with invading armies; they conquer by tricking people into tearing their own nations apart. The trick here is that if the quori DID ignite the Last War, they surely DIDN’T cause the Mourning. It’s the Mourning that has brought a sudden and immutable end to the war, as the nations are afraid to continue their battles until the mystery is solved. So if the Dreaming Dark caused the war, the Mourning is surely a deep source of frustration for them… and they are likely trying to solve this mystery themselves!

But if you want to explore the quori conquest, there’s a crucial second piece of the puzzle. The quori don’t need the people of Khorvaire to adopt Riedran customs. The Dreaming Dark wants to create a stable civilization where it controls the dreams of the public, using a system similar to the hanbalani monoliths in Riedra. But they don’t NEED people to worship the Inspired or to follow the Path of Inspiration. They created the Inspired because it fit the situation they’d created—because they were saviors who rose from within to solve the problem. If they’re using the same script in Khorvaire, they will create something local and new—a force that the people of Khorvaire will accept as their saviors. Consider a few possibilities…

  • The Sovereign Swords. Presented in Dragon 412, the Sovereign Swords are an order of selfless heroes guided by the Sovereigns and strengthened by their angels. Or are they? The Swords truly are devout champions who seek to aid those in need. But are their powers and visions coming from the Sovereigns? Or are their “angels” actually quori, and their visions carefully scripted by the Dreaming Dark? The original Inspired were heroes who rose up within the common people, guided and strengthened by celestial powers. The Sovereign Swords could be unwitting tools of the quori, following the same script… but how can adventurers be sure?
  • The Dragonmarked Houses. Again, the Dreaming Dark doesn’t need Khorvaire to resemble Riedra; it just needs the situation to be stable and it needs people to accept their quori-designed monolithic dreams. One of the basic themes of Eberron is the balance of power between the old monarchies and the dragonmarked houses. Perhaps the quori are working within one or more houses to drive this—pushing for a future in which the common people accept that the old nations are irrelevant and that the houses are the future—creating a functional dictatorship run not by godlike Inspired, but simply by gold. In such a future, the monolithic dreams could be presented as a SERVICE: House Cannith and House House Sivis working together to provide you with OneDream™, the latest in somnambulant entertainment! Tasker’s Dream is a House Sivis think tank working on the potential of telepathy; could it be a quori front?
  • The Once and Future King. Alternately, the Dreaming Dark could have helped to tear down Galifar in order to rebuild it… to its own design. The Dreaming Dark could choose one of the existing candidates and work to present them as the true, destined savior who will restore Galifar. Queen Aurala is a possibility since she is known to want to restore Galifar, but an exotic option would be Prince Oargev of Cyre—if the Dreaming Dark helps to create a narrative of how the prince who lost everything is the one destined to save us all. This option is a way to have a LITTLE bit of a Riedran invasion, since Riedra could lend troops to support Oargev’s claim—but again, the goal of the Dreaming Dark would be to convince the common people to support Oargev; they don’t want to CONQUER, they want the people to build their own cage. So using dreams and agents, they’d work to convince people that Oargev IS blessed, that the Sovereigns are behind him, that he’s the one who can sweep away the corruption and terrors of the war and restore a golden age, where even dreams are always happy.

The net point is that Riedra is a looming and powerful force, but it doesn’t want outright war with Khorvaire; instead, the Dreaming Dark seeks to rebuild from within. But who will be their figureheads and catspaws?

RIEDRA AND THE INSPIRED IN FIFTH EDITION

The basic concept of Riedra is that it’s a society built on a foundation of everyday psionics… and there’s no system for psionics in fifth edition. What’s the answer? How can you make a Dreaming Dark assassin feel suitably different from a mundane rogue? How do you make Riedra feel truly alien?

Psionic Characters and NPCs

While the fifth edition of Dungeons & Dragons doesn’t have finalized rules for D&D, Unearthed Arcana has explored a number of different approaches to psionics. Here’s the latest version, which includes a Soulknife archetype for rogues, a Psi-knight fighter, and a Psionic Soul archetype for sorcerers. The article also calls out that the Great Old One warlock has always had “psi-themed powers”—its class features grant telepathy, a thought shield, and the ability to mentally dominate a thrall.

So you can work with the options in Unearthed Arcana. If you want a psionics system that’s as entirely unique as the third edition system, there are third party options available on the DM’s Guild. But my personal approach is simpler. If you separate class mechanics from the default flavor associated with them, you have the tools to create a wide assortment of characters. A barbarian doesn’t have to be angry. A bard doesn’t have to be an entertainer. Consider the following ideas, which could be agents of the Dreaming Dark or heroic PCs.

  • Tactile Telekinetic. This is a human child—an urchin living in a bad part of Sharn, ignored by the world. Despite their childlike appearance, they display surprising strength—because they are channeling telekinetic ability through their body. When they are forced into battle, they’re surrounded by a translucent field of energy—a force field that reduces damage from physical attack and increases the damage of their melee attacks. As long as they are aware of threats, they can try to use their gift to shield them from threats that require a Dexterity save. That’s the STORY. Mechanically, this character is a halfling urchin barbarian. The halfling race is used to represent “young human”—small and quick. Mechanically, the character has a high strength, but they don’t LOOK like it; nothing says that a strong character has to have big muscles! The telekinetic shield is reflected by Unarmored Defense, temporarily supercharged when the character activates “Rage.” They describe “Danger Sense” as being able to deflect threats with their shield. Fast Movement? Kinetic enhancement. The point is that what Rage DOES is provide you with a temporary boost to melee damage, resistance to physical attacks, and advantage on Strength checks. It’s up to you what that looks like—whether it’s primal fury that allows you to only take half damage from physical attacks, or if you’re generating a telekinetic shield.
  • Thoughtstealer. This clever agent blends exceptional training with coercive telepathic power. They carry no weapons, preferring to strike their enemies with disorienting psychic blasts. They can use their telepathic gifts to guide the actions of their allies or to disable their enemies. And above all, they excel at beguiling their foes. This is a bard of the College of Lore, who fights with vicious mockery and describes Bardic Inspiration and Cutting Words as telepathic guidance or interference. Friends, charm person, and suggestion round out their powers of mental coercion; they could add sleep as the power to shut down enemy minds, and detect thoughts is an obvious choice. Bardic Inspiration and vicious mockery are limited by the fact that the victim has to be able to hear the target, but in MY campaign, if the bard is a kalashtar, I’d allow this to combine with their racial Mind Link power; the caster doesn’t have to speak aloud if the target is within range of their Mind Link.
  • Mindbreaker. Perhaps I want a more aggressive psion. Though they carry no weapons and wear no armor, this Inspired commando can shield themself with a kinetic shield, blast enemies with telekinetic force, and unleash devastating blasts of psychic power. When an enemy strikes them, empathic feedback causes the attacker to share their pain. This is a warlock, flavoring eldritch blast as telekinetic force bolts and mage armor as a kinetic shield. To add some flavor I’ve changed some damage types; the “empathic feedback” is armor of Agathys but dealing psychic damage instead of frost damage. The character is a Fiend pact warlock, but I’m changing the damage type on all their fire spells—burning hands, scorching ray, fireball—to psychic damage and saying that they don’t cause any damage to nonliving creatures… so the Mindbreaker can unleash a psychic blast that devastates a crowd (psychic fireball) but doesn’t burn down the building.

You can apply this principle to any character, PC or NPC. Mage armor or stoneskin? Wall of force or Bigby’s hand? Telekinesis. Detect thoughts or enthrall? Telepathy. Even disguise self could be described as planting a telepathic image in the minds of viewers; to add flavor, a DM could say that this spell won’t affect someone protected by a ring of mind shielding or creatures immune to being charmed. A fighter could describe Second Wind as psychometabolic healing, and Action Surge as momentarily altering their perception of time. A monk can easily present their qi-related abilities as being psionic disciplines, and for this reason we’ve always presented monks as being more common in Sarlona. Sometimes it makes sense to change a damage type or a detail of an effect; perhaps a Kalashtar quori-hunting paladin deals psionic damage instead of radiant damage with their smite, and Divine Sense and Divine Smite are effective against aberrations instead of undead. On some levels, this is a question of balance; radiant damage is a powerful tool against undead, and if my campaign was going to be all about fighting the Emerald Claw, I wouldn’t make that change to a PC. But if DM and player approve, there’s nothing wrong with having a “paladin” who smites with the power of their mind and lays on hands using a psychometabolic discipline. The EFFECT is extra-damage-on-melee-attack and heal-on-touch; nothing says it HAS to come from a divine power.

The default with this approach is that “psionic spells” are still treated as magic for purposes of detect magic, antimagic field, etc. The essential principle is that all forms of supernatural power—divine, arcane, primal, psionic—are different ways of manipulating energy, but that the results are similar enough to overlap. On the other hand, if a DM chooses, they could change the rules. Perhaps psionic spells can’t be countered with counterspell or negated with an antimagic field—in which case I’d likewise say that a psionic version of counterspell would only work on other psionic spells. This is a way to emphasize the alien nature of psionics—the diviner can’t even sense them!—but can raise balance issues.

So the primary question is what do you want from psionics in your game? If you WANT them to be entirely unique and to have nothing in common with other forms of magic, the best bet will be a third party approach. If what you are looking for is unique flavor, you can add that directly. So personally, I don’t have any problem using the Dreaming Dark in the current system; I just make a few changes to the creatures and characters I use as a base.

An Inspired as a PC? It’s possible someone could be set on playing an Inspired as a player character. While the obvious answer is to have them be a rogue Chosen who’s wearing a charm that protects them from being possessed by their quori spirit, perhaps they WANT to play an active Inspired. This isn’t as impossible as it sounds. There are factions within the Dreaming Dark; Lady Sharadhuna of the Thousand Eyes believes that the Inspired don’t NEED to conquer Khorvaire and that the Devourer of Dreams is chasing their own personal ambition, not working for the good of all quori. A PC could easily be a Chosen vessel of Sharadhuna or one of her top lieutenants, sent to Khorvaire to monitor and potentially interfere with the Devourer’s schemes. They’d be entirely loyal to Riedra and to their Quori spirit, but that doesn’t mean they are evil or intend any harm to the people of Khorvaire. Personally, I’d design this character as a kalashtar warlock—either using the Fiend patron and the Mindbreaker model I suggest above, or the Great Old One patron and more of a telepath/manipulation spell set. The point of the Inspired is that the powerful spirits have multiple Chosen hosts, intentionally spread around; so the character’s patron might BE Sharadhuna, but she very rarely actively possesses the character aside from to give them direction; she’s got far more important things to take care of in Riedra. As with any warlock patron, they teach the character to use their supernatural abiolities and give them direction; and the DM has the OPTION to have the character be fully possessed (temporarily gaining a boost in power) if it serves the needs of the story, but the character can’t trigger this.

Everyday Psionics

Here we run into a more basic problem. If we are using reflavored spell effects to represent psionics, than how is the psionic society of Riedra any different from the wide magic society of the Five Nations? And wasn’t that the whole point of Riedra?

The saving point here is that unlike Khorvaire, the economy and society of Riedra isn’t based on the widespread presence of low-level casters. Sarlona doesn’t rely on the psionic equivalent of magewrights. Psionic training and power is concentrated in the hands of a small group of extremely powerful people—the Inspired. Essentially, we always say that Khorvaire is “wide magic” instead of “high magic,” because it’s about a vast number of people employing low level magic, while high level spellcasters are very rare. Riedra is the opposite. It’s high psionic—a nation where a privileged corps of extremely powerful immortals have used their powers to create the infrastructure. Under 3.5 rules, there are 20th level psions among the Inspired; by comparison, Merrix d’Cannith is a 12th level character. Because of this, it’s less about what effects are used on a daily basis? What psionic powers might a local merchant use? and more what massive wondrous systems have been put in place by the metaconcert of the Inspired? This ties to the point that most dragonmarked tools require a dragonmarked heir to operate them. In Riedra, the infrastructure systems are powered by the psychic energy gathered by the monoliths; they don’t NEED the common people to do anything. Again, rather than widespread low-level casters, Riedra relies on the small corps of extremely powerful individuals creating self-sustaining systems.

The main point is that the infrastructure systems described in Secrets of Sarlona can be used as described even if we don’t have a perfect psionics system underlying them—because most of their effects are story effects as opposed to magewrights actively casting spells. Let’s take a quick look at the psionic infrastructure in place in Riedra.

  • The Hanbalani Altas. The most iconic element of Riedra is the massive ovoid monoliths spread across the landscape. These monoliths draw on the thoughts and emotions of the surrounding populace and convert this into psychic energy, which is used to power most of the effects described below. They are also planar anchors, slowly helping to bring Dal Quor back into alignment with the material plane. Where most of the services in Khorvaire are provided through individual dragonmarked enclaves and different focuses, the hanbalani represent a chokepoint for the Inspired; disabling a hanbalan is a way to essentially “cut power” to a region. This ties back to the basic point that the Inspired have great power in their SYSTEMS, but that power isn’t spread throughout the populace.
  • Nondetection. Each hanbalan is the center of a massive nondetection effect that prevents outsiders from scrying on Riedra. Once people are within the field, scrying and divination work normally, and people within the field can scry on those beyond it. But this field prevents diviners in Khorvaire from spying on the Inspired.
  • Dreamshaping. The quori believe that by stabilizing the dreams of mortals they can stabilize Dal Quor itself, preventing the prophesied turning of the edge that will end il-Lashtavar and reshape all quori. One of the most important functions of the monoliths is to broadcast the dream programming that is shared by all the people of Riedra. From Secrets of Sarlona: The typical Riedran dream is soothing and vague, blending images to project the wonder of Riedra, the joys of being part of a greater whole, and the celestial benevolence of the Inspired. Every so often, these soothing visions are interspersed with flashes of the dark horrors that lurk outside the borders of Riedra.” These dreams can be fine-tuned, targeting a region or village with a specific village, but the purpose is to have a single dream whenever possible.
  • The Voice of Riedra. Just as they broadcast dreams, the hanbalani allow the Inspired to broadcast telepathic messages over a wide area. Through the network, a message can be broadcast across the entire Unity. However, messages are usually tailored to a specific region or even a particular village. The Voice provides news, instructions, and encouragement throughout the day. It allows the Inspired to mobilize a region against a problem—for example, sharing a description of a dangerous group of rogue adventurers. It also provides the sense that the Inspired are always watching, even though the Voice is just an outward projection.
  • Teleportation. Swift transit is an important area in which Riedra has a significant advantage over Khorvaire. Riedra has a network of massive teleportation circles that connect points in space. There are two very important distinctions between the psionic circles of Riedra and the teleportation circle network House Orien is developing in Khorvaire. The Riedran circles connect two specific gates. The circle in the fortress of Kintam Lar connects to the city of Durat Tal and that’s all; it can’t be adjusted to teleport to Dar Jin. While that’s inherently more limited than the typical teleportation circle, where it has an enormous advantage is that it’s always on. As long as the portal can draw power from the hanbalani, it is always active. The Inspired can move entire armies across the continent, or transport vast quantities of food and supplies. Durat Tal is the central hub for this network—so in moving that army, it will march through the gate at Kintam Lar, arrive in Durat Tal, and then enter another gate to, say, reinforce Kintam Keera in Borunan. The kintam fortresses and bastion cities are thus connected by teleportation networks, and caravans deliver goods or troops from these hubs to surrounding villages. By contrast, House Orien is developing a system that works using the teleportation circle spell. This allows one Orien circle to connected to any other Orien circle, but an heir must have the ability to cast the spell to open the circle and it only remains open for one round. So currently the system is a novelty—a way for wealthy clients to move swiftly, but not a system that can be used to move armies or replace the lightning rail as a means of transporting goods. A key point of the Riedran system is that the gates are all heavily guarded and that this service isn’t available to the general public; Riedrans aren’t SUPPOSED to travel. But this ability to swiftly move forces across the length of Riedra is one of the most powerful tools of the Inspired.
  • Light and Heat. In Khorvaire, light is provided by individually enchanted everbright lanterns. In Riedra, the energy of the hanbalani flows into specially treated crysteel (a substance that has properties of both crystal and metal) and causes it to glow. In villages light comes from mounted crystal globes, while in larger communities the buildings themselves shed light; seen from afar, a bastion city is a stunning vision of glowing domes and spires. This same system can provide climate control, heating buildings in the chill north or cooling them in the tropical regions of the south. As such, fire is rarely seen in a Riedran community; light and heat are gifts of the Inspired.

These are systems that are immediately obvious, even to outsiders. Other systems are more subtle; the Thousand Eyes has a network of remote viewing (psionic scrying) that dwarfs the capabilities of even House Phiarlan or the Trust. The Inspired also have an interesting advantage in terms of communication, which is that any Inspired can leave its current vessel and return to Dal Quor at any time. There are Inspired whose sole role is to deliver messages; they have host Chosen in every major city and fortress, and can move between them to get news where it needs to go within seconds.

So in comparing Riedra to the Five Nations, the INSPIRED have capabilities that far outstrip the nobles of Khorvaire. They have a system of swift communication, a vast network of observation, the ability to transport forces across the continent in a brief time. But the common people don’t have access to any of these services, and daily life is more limited than life in the Five Nations. There’s no casual equivalent to the widespread magewrights and wandslingers of Khorvaire. While there are humans trained in psionics or magic, they are devoted to very specific roles—notably the Edgewalkers who protect the people from supernatural threats. The people benefit from crystal illumination, the guiding Voice, the unifying dreams. But they are dependent on the Inspired for these services… and if a hanbalani is deactivated, these services will be lost.

Casual Telepathy. One more point to consider when working to present the alien flavor of Riedra and the everyday role of psionics is the casual, institutional use of telepathy. Street signs don’t bother with names (and many Riedrans are illiterate); instead, a subtle telepathic signal means that you always know where you are in a Riedran city, if you stop to think about it. Riedran monuments project feelings or images; in studying a statue of a hero you may feel a swell of pride at their achievements, and when you visit a memorial you may find that you remember the tragedy that it commemorates, as if you were there. All of this is perfectly normal to a Riedran, but it can feel intrusive or unsettling to people from Khorvaire.

Riedran Tools

While Riedrans make use of wood, metal, leather, and other materials commonly found in Khorvaire. However, they use a few materials that are less common. Crystal is a useful medium for psionic energies; as noted, crystal spheres provide illumination in most Riedran villages. Crysteel is a substance that has the appearance of crystal, but the durability and flexibility of metal; it is an excellent channel for psionic power and is used both to make buildings, tools, and weapons. Sentira is a substance that has the appearance of polished shell; it is actually a form of ectoplasm, created from pure, solidified emotions. Sentira is a critical part of Reidran tools, as it is an excellent channel for psionic effects tied to its associated emotion.

Should you use a unique psionic system, Riedra is the logical source for psionic tools. But as with character abilities, you can create things that feel like psionic tools but that use the rules for traditional magic items… perhaps with a twist or two. Consider the following…

  • A flame tongue sword that inflicts psychic damage instead of fire damage; it channels the rage of the bearer and directs it at the target.
  • A crystal that serves as a wand of fireballs, but deals psychic damage instead of fire damage and causes no damage to nonliving targets.
  • A shard of crystal that serves as a psionic equivalent of a scroll, holding a single charge of a psionic spell effect.
  • A psionic tattoo. This can be transferred to a willing creature by touch, and triggered as a bonus action; it duplicates the effects of a potion, and vanishes when its power is used.
  • A crystal figurine of wondrous power. When activated, the statue doesn’t grow or animate; instead, it projects an ectoplasmic construct of the associated creature around the crystal core.

… And so on. Effects that can be easily identified as telepathy, telekinesis, or teleportation are logical. It makes sense for a Dreaming Dark spy to have a cape of the mountebank, a ring of mind shielding, and perhaps a sword of life stealing that deals psychic damage instead of necrotic damage. Riedran wings of flying might work through telekinetic force rather than by becoming actual wings. An important limitation is that many “psionic magic items” can only be attuned or activated by people with some degree of psionic talent. Depending on how the DM decides to implement psionics, this could be a negligible issue; on the other hand, it could be a way to provide agents of the Dreaming Dark with powerful tools that can’t be immediately used by the adventurers (even if they can surely find people in House Cannith or Sivis who will be happy to pay for them!).

Speaking to the overall alien aesthetic of Riedra, most structures are built from stone, sentira, and crysteel. Structures are often shaped through metacreative techniques; spheres are more common than sharp angles, and sentira tools have the look of horn or shell—more grown than built.

Loose Ends

This covers the most basic issues, but there’s certainly other questions one might ask regarding Riedra in fifth edition…

What about elans and dromites?

Elans and dromites are races that were added in the 3.5 Psionics Handbook and given a place in Sarlona. Immortal elans were described as being living prisons for exiled quori, while the insectoid dromites leave deep below Sarlona and fight an ongoing war with the Inspired. Elans play such a trivial role in the setting that it’s not something I’ve personally taken steps to correct. For dromites, the simplest answer at the moment is to use the psionic version of the thri-kreen to represent them. It’s not perfect (among other things, dromites are a small race) but if you don’t want to design a new version of the dromites or use a third party resource, thrikreen are an existing option. I’d love to write more about my vision of dromite culture in Sarlona, but that’s another topic.

Do you see a way for PCs of Khorvaire to enter Riedra without being sneaky? A more lawful or proper way?

Sure, this is discussed on page 46 of Secrets of Sarlona.

The Iron Gate does not charge for transit visas, but it rarely grants them. Riedra isn’t for tourists. Travelers must provide a valid reason for entry and show that they have no criminal tendencies or intent, as well as enough knowledge to avoid accidentally breaking Riedran laws. A successful DC 30 Diplomacy check is sufficient to get an entry request considered, but even then the reason must stand on its own. Finally, mind probe (EPH 119) is often brought into play to ensure that the travelers have no hidden motives. If the request is especially intriguing or risky, the Iron Gate might allow travel but send a member of the Thousand Eyes along as a chaperone and observer. Unless the party is deemed a serious risk, this observer is a Chosen; the controlling spirit only takes possession of the vessel every few hours to check on the situation.

I would also be interested in finding out more about means for PCs or other characters to being able to lay low in Riedra after becoming targets. It sounds like they can be scryed up pretty easily.

Remote viewing essentially functions like scrying. So using the 5E rules, first the viewer must know SOMETHING about the target; they can’t just say “There’s some foreigners somewhere.” If the scrying force is simply working off a description of the character, the target gets a +5 saving throw versus the attempt and if they succeed, it can’t be repeated for another day. So I’d start with that; they’d have to deal with a daily scrying attempt.

If they can find allies among the Unchained or the Dream Merchants, they could potentially either acquire the equivalent of a Ring of Mind Shielding or something else that could help them hide. Perhaps a sentira ring with a strong resonance can essentially mask the wearer’s personality signature—not making them IMMUNE to divination, but providing a large bonus to saving throws against scrying. I could also see manifest zones as interfering. Scrying can only target creatures on the same plane of existence, and wild zones are described as essentially a chunk of the plane intruding into Eberron; I think it’s reasonable to say that the Thousand Eyes cannot scry into wild zones, so those become sanctuaries for rogues and rebels alike.

The kalashtar believe that by doing good works and promoting peace through the Path of Light, they will bring about the turning of the Age and create Il-Yannah, the Great Light. By that logic, one would think that the way to preserve Il-Lashtavar would be to spread war and suffering.

That’s not actually how it works. If that’s what the kalashtar believed, they’d be wandering across the world trying to spread peace and goodwill, and they notably ARE NOT DOING THAT. The Adaran kalashtar have remained in isolation for centuries, and even the Kalashtar in Khorvaire are called out as largely remaining in their isolated communities, not actually traveling around spreading goodwill. Those few who DO take this sort of direct action are the shadow watchers, and are called out as being few in number.

Here’s the idea. All quori believe that the Quor Tarai — the spirit of the age — has a natural lifecycle. It WILL change, regardless of what mortals do. It gets thirty or forty thousand years (as Eberron measures time) and then it changes. That’s just a scientific fact of how Dal Quor works, just like how the planes orbiting. So there is a clock counting down to the turn of the age. The kalashtar want to keep that clock counting down or, if possible, to speed it up. The Inspired want to break the clock – to freeze it and stop the hands from moving.

Here’s a crucial piece from Races of Eberron: The majority of kalashtar devote themselves to spiritual warfare. These kalashtar, called lightbringers, believe that the only way to truly destroy the Dreaming Dark is through spiritual change, that through their religious rituals they are slowly turning the wheel of the age, banishing the dark and bringing in the light. Thus, most kalashtar appear to be peaceful mystics, but in their minds, they are soldiers in the midst of a war.

A second point: The kalashtar want to reshape Dal Quor, and they believe that with their continued devotions they are doing so.

The Path of Light embodies the values of il-Yannah, so those who follow it actively seek to embody those values. But they aren’t trying to impose them on others, because that’s not necessary. THROUGH THEIR MEDITATIONS they continue to turn the wheel; and when it finally changes, the world will BECOME a better place.

Likewise, the Dreaming Dark doesn’t believe that they NEED to spread darkness. This is an age of darkness. What they need to do is to stop the clock. The Inspired are trying to cheat and freeze time by essentially freezing mortal dreams—creating a shared, static dream and simply stopping change. But they are still AFRAID that the kalashtar, through their meditations, are moving it forward — and so, they seek to destroy the kalashtar.

The point being that to US it seems like the Adaran kalashtar are trapped in their mountains and accomplishing nothing. But THEY believe that they are winning their war, because every day they continue their devotions moves us closer to il-Yannah.

How does this affect the two sides in their ongoing war? Do either have some kind of proof or evidence that their way is working? What else could this mean?

No, they have no way to measure success. Like all the religions of Eberron, this is entirely a question of faith. This is the point of the disagreement between the quori leadership. Lady Sharadhuna doesn’t think the Inspired NEED to conquer Khorvaire; she thinks they’ve already won the war. Zulatar thinks they must conquer Khorvaire. And the Devourer of Dreams may be pursuing its own agenda.

It’s possible that the idea that the Kalashtar believe they need to promote peace comes from Faiths of Eberron. I didn’t work on that book and I don’t actually recall what it says about the Path of Light. But by other canon sources, the kalashtar who actively meddle in the world are the shadow watchers, and they are a minority; the majority of the kalashtar believe that they are fighting the war by meditating in their monasteries.

Obviously this only scratches the surface of Riedra, but that’s what I have time to address here. This isn’t intended to invalidate Secrets of Sarlona, so you can find more information there. My next article will dive into the provinces of Riedra. Because of the length of that article (which is considerably longer than this one), I’ll be posting an excerpt of it here on the site, and posting the full text to the Inner Circle of my Patreon. Thanks to the Patreon supporters who keep this site going and who chose this topic!