IFAQ: Thrane Fashion

Art by Bad Moon for Frontiers of Eberron: Threshold

As time permits, I answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. Here’s another:

The Thrane fashion section is missing from Five Nations—any general ideas on how citizens of Thrane might dress distinctly differently from the other Five Nations?

In thinking of Thrane, it’s useful to contrast the forces shaping it to those that shaped its neighbors. Aundair has the widest penetration of everyday arcane magic and is also shaped by long-term interaction with the Fey. This leads to fashions that are wild and whimsical, to widespread glamerweave, cosmetic prestidigitation, and a general love of flamboyance and flair. On the other side, Karrnath has the harshest climate and the most martial culture. When it embraces fashion, it tends toward a gothic approach that is both grim and intentionally intimidating; the strong seek to SHOW their strength, and you see a definite martial element across general fashion. So with that said…

Faith is the cornerstone of Thrane. This predates both the Church of the Silver Flame and Thrane itself; before Galifar, the people of Daskara were devoted to the Sovereign Host. Divine magic is as important to Thrane as arcane magic is to Aundair, but that power comes from deep faith. I have always seen the typical Thrane as more humble and stoic than their counterparts in the other nations. A key element of the faith of the Silver Flame is the idea that we face a constant, shared threat—that people should be prepared to face supernatural evil and to protect themselves and their neighbors. We’ve called out that shared devotion—and practices like group archery—are key elements of daily life for the common Thrane. I see Thrane fashion as reflecting all of these things. They don’t seek to intimidate their rivals or to celebrate their martial prowess, as you see in Karrnath; and they don’t seek to shine the brightest or to dazzle their peers, as happens in Aundair. More than anything, Thrane fashion is SIMPLE and FUNCTIONAL.

Blue and silver are colors associated with the faith, and both of these colors are thus commonly seen throughout the populace. Now, it’s not that people don’t take pride in their appearance—but they aren’t especially driven by a desire to shine brighter than their neighbors; what is vital is to wear clothing that is PRACTICAL. More than any other nation, the people of Thrane know that dolgrims could burst out of the ground or ghouls could swarm out of the graveyard at any moment; so as a Thrane, you’re always thinking “Am I wearing something that would be practical in a zombie apocalypse?”

On a more specific level, I think that long coats and dusters are common in Thrane: simple, durable, versatile when it comes to weather. The same concept goes to boots and hats; in Thrane, a hat is designed to protect you from the sun and rain; in Aundair, a hat exists to make a STATEMENT, and its functionality is a secondary bonus.

This means that at a glance, Thranes have significant uniformity—similar colors, similar overall design of clothing. But it’s not a UNIFORM. And likewise, where an Aundairian will use Mending to repair damage and likely throw out (or recycle) clothing that is out of style, Thranes will wear their clothes to the bitter end and repair them by hand. They aren’t embarrassed to have clothing with patches or a cloak that’s clearly using a piece of another cloak. So while there’s a common overall style, there’s also a significant degree of tiny, unique details, as clothes evolve over time. I could also definitely imagine a patchwork aspect to clothing, almost like a quilt—where people specifically patch their clothes with pieces of cloth that have particular significance to them—heirlooms from family members, a strip from of the cloak of a heroic templar.

We can see some aspects of this reflected in Epitaph, the Thrane missionary pictured above. Epitaph is a priest, so there is a little flair to her outfit; I’d argue that her flowing sleeves are tied to a tendency to make sweeping gestures while preaching. But compared to Aundairian fashion, it’s a fairly SIMPLE outfit. There’s no glamerweave, no decorative embroidery, no jewelry, She’s wearing practical footwear. Her most prominent accessory is the symbol of her faith, as befits a missionary. Her clothing serves its purpose. Now, she doesn’t have the “patchwork” aspect I suggested above, but that’s not surprising for a missionary, who represents the Church; but the common templar isn’t embarrassed to wear a patched cloak, or their father’s long coat modified to fit their frame.

Is there a specific style of glamerweave that does incorporate silver, similar to how silverburn alters the colors of mundane fires?

The fashion potential of glamerweave is effectively limitless; it’s illusion imbued into cloth. The Church of the Silver Flame has a small but significant following in Aundair, and yes, I believe that Aundairian priests will often have burning lines of Sliver Flame traced on their robes. In my mind, Archbishoip Dariznu of Thaliost may take things even farther; I could imagine him in a silver cloak that appears to be trimmed in actual silver flames.

Does the sentiment of reducing waste and reusing things extend to food too, does Thrane have dishes equivalent to jok/congee, horchata or cod cakes, where the food can be prepared from leftover prepared food (examples far from exhaustive)?

Yes. Again, a good way to think of Thrane is We’re always prepared for a zombie apocalypse. So you’re definitely looking for ways to recycle waste and to get the most out of the supplies you have. In some ways, this is an interesting contrast to Karrnath, which we’ve always called out as the most martial by culture. Karrnath is proud of its martial heritage and has mandatory military service. But the people of Thrane are essentially SURVIVALISTS, always training to be prepared for the threats they know are out there. This ties to the point that local militias are a major part of Thrane’s military; it’s not as FORMAL as the armies of Karrnath, but again, most Thranes have drilled with the bow since childhood. And, of course, prior to the Last War the templars of Thrane often saw more active combat than many of the soldiers of Galifar; the Silver Crusade was certainly the most dramatic conflict in the century leading up to the Last War.

That’s all for now! Thanks to my Patreon supporters for making these articles possible.

IFAQ: Education, Overlords, and More!

Art by Bad Moon for Frontiers of Eberron

The latest episode of Threshold has been posted on my Patreon for Threshold patrons! In this episode, the crew spends the day at the feast of Bounty’s Blessing. In addition, young Tari meets the Silver Flame missionary Epitaph, pictured above; Epitaph and this art will be seen in the upcoming Frontiers of Eberron!

In the meantime: Each month, I ask my Patreon patrons to submit questions. Sometimes these form the basis of articles, but there’s often questions that are interesting but have short answers. As I’m getting read to do a new call for questions, I wanted to post a lightning round with some of the questions patrons asked in May.

Do the Overlords, and their envoys in the Lords of Dust, have any form of a non-aggression pact towards one another, or is it just a free-for-all should the machinations of one come into conflict with another?

This is addressed in this article. A critical line: “The Overlords weren’t allies and had no interest in cooperation. When the domains of two overlords overlapped they would clash, and many took great joy in these conflicts.”

To begin with, don’t just think of the overlords as powerful rakshasa. They engage with reality on a fundamentally different level than their lesser minions. Overlords are primordial forces that shape reality around them sheerly by existing. In a real way, you can think of overlords as kaiju, like Kong or Godzilla. Mortal lives and cities are utterly insignificant to them and they will sweep them aside without even noticing. Rak Tulkhesh spreads rage and war. He doesn’t meticulously plan out the details of these actions because he doesn’t have to; if he is unleashed in his full power, everyone within his sphere of influence will be consumed by bloodlust and a hunger for conflict. Now, with this in mind, one can ask: could Kong and Godzilla have a non-aggression pact? Well, they certainly might team up in a particular encounter in order to defeat Monster Zero. But it’s not like they’re WRITING SOMETHING DOWN. and the next time they meet, Kong might decide to kick Godzilla’s @$$.

However, THE LORDS OF DUST are a completely different story. They are servants of the overlords and seek to return reality to a state of primordial chaos, but THEY engage with the world on a far smaller scale. Rak Tulkhesh will just sweep over a nation and cause it to collapse into savage warfare, because that’s the power he wields. But MORDAKHESH doesn’t have that power, and HE has to manipulate newspapers and subvert generals and make long term plans. And with that in mind, the PURPOSE of the Lords of Dust and the Bleak Council of Ashtakala IS to facilitate cooperation and communication between the servants of the different overlords in order to prevent unnecessary conflicts. So if Mordakhesh and Hektula find that they both have plans for a particular group of adventurers, they will meet in Ashtakala and try to work something out. And in general, they do manage to avoid unnecessary conflict with one another. But the key word there is “unnecessary”; they will almost always put the interests of their overlord ahead of the interests of the Lords of Dust as a whole… which is a weakness that can potentially be exploited.

How does public education actually work in Khorvaire? Who receives free education? Is it any different in, say, Sharn, particularly the lower wards?

The educational system of the Five Nations is described on page 132 of the Eberron Campaign Setting: “Throughout the Five Nations (or at least what’s left of them), formal schooling is considered a right and a necessary part of every child’s training. Rural manors maintain schools for the sons and daughters of the peasants and laborers. Private tutors provide an education for the children of royal and economic nobility. In towns and cities, schools cater to all who wish to attend. In no case is education mandatory; however, most people understand the advantages offered to them by the remnants of the Galifar education system. Higher education and study is available at a number of colleges and universities, as well as among the religious institutions.” So while they’ve never been specifically mentioned, we can assume that there are public schools in Sharn. With that said, I think it’s reasonable to assume that this system faces the challenges of any public schooling system, and that there are regions — such as the lower wards of Sharn — where schools will be understaffed and underfunded. It’s also important to note that the ECS specifies that education is offered but never mandatory. Nonetheless, the Five Nations do have a reasonably effective public education system… which is why it’s taken for granted that the average person in the Five Nations speaks Common and is literate.

How does Morgrave university works in terms of recruiting new students? How much it can cost per year? Or is it the talent that forms entry barrier, not the money – can they have some sort of research for especially talented young people and offer them free tuition? For example, is it possible that some people from Morgrave notice poor urchin kid on the street and take him in because he is a talented sorcerer and seems like promising/useful student and/or magic user?

Here’s a relevant comment from Wayfinder’s Guide to Eberron:

As a Morgrave student, you’re not an adventurer yet. You’ve got talent, but you’re learning. Consider how your background ties into this. As a noble, are you an entitled rich kid who thinks you’re better than everyone else? As an urchin, did you somehow earn a scholarship, or are you literally sneaking into your classes? As a criminal, you could be the daughter of a Boromar crime boss, or you might be an entrepreneur selling dreamlily to the nobles. A charlatan could be a brilliant drama student or an undercover spy trying to root out enemy agents in the faculty. If you’re an entertainer you might be a prodigy whose talent is only just emerging. A Morgrave story is about coming of age and unlocking your potential. So think about your background as a way to set up the person you’re becoming, as opposed to representing adventures that you’ve already had.

The point here is that I would make the price the price of plot. D&D economics are extremely nebulous, in order to calculate a REALISTIC tuition I’d have to sit down and concretely establish the actual incomes of the different social classes of Khorvaire, which frankly I don’t have the time to do. Hence the suggestion to use backgrounds above. If you want the characters to be students at Morgrave, then they ARE students at Morgrave. If a character’s a noble, then their family is paying their tuition. If they’re an urchin, either they have a scholarship or they are sneaking into classes. The point is, the character is going to Morgrave; I’ll use their story to decide exactly how.

The only time I would want to set a concrete tuition was if it was an important plot point that the character has to RAISE that tuition over the course of their adventures, following the model of The Name of the Wind — but note that in the Kingkiller Chronicles, THE TUITION IS DIFFERENT FOR EVERYONE, which again allows the author to set the tuition at the rate that makes it most interesting for the story. 10 gp could be an insurmountable obstacle to a 1st level character and completely trivial for a 4th level character; so a system that bases the tuition off of what you want it to be for THIS story is going to be more useful than me arbitrarily setting a cost that could be too high or too low for the story you want to tell.

What are the towns inside the Towering Wood like? We know about Greenheart and the feyspire Shae Loralyndar, but are there others? Who lives there, and how are they different than the ones in the western Reaches?

There are very few traditional “towns” in the Towering Wood; the 3.5 ECS notes that “In the great wood, the druid sects and shifters typically live in small communities that are roughly equivalent to thorps and hamlets.” Essentially, these are communities that will be tied around an extended family and live off the land; whenever population grows to a level that strains local resources, a group will split off and start a new home in unclaimed territory. The Towering Woods are vast and population density is extremely low, so there’s no shortage of space. Towering communities employ primal techniques instead of arcane or mundane industry, so you will often find homes that are embedded into living trees or that are made of stone that has been shaped by hand. Envoys—often druidic initiates—travel between family estates, sharing news and needed supplies. Shae Loralyndar is an unusual exception, and there are a handful of satellite elven/Greensinger villages around it, but those represent a distinct culture that’s different from the mainstream—just as there are nomadic shifter tribes that have traditions that are entirely different from the settled folk.

What does prophetic significance look like? Is dragonmark graffiti’d on the wall of a ruined building prophetically significant? How do the Chamber and Lords of Dust recognize this significance?

This could definitely be the subject of a longer article, but in brief: what’s been said about the Prophecy is that it takes many forms and involves more than one element at a time. IE it can be crop circles; fissures formed by an earthquake; graffiti on a wall; an unusual pattern of bloodstains. But this is COMBINED with a particular planar or lunar conjunction, a spike in magical energies, the presence of three dragonmarked people, etc. This is part of why it’s generally only creatures with vast lifespans and enormous resources that are able to interpret it. That graffiti on the wall MIGHT be significant, but unless you’ve been studying the Prophecy for a thousand years (or you’re, say, a cleric of the Prophecy with divine insight) you don’t have the context to fully interpret it.

Can Aberrant Dragonmarks appear on Warforged?

Yes. It’s an extremely bizarre thing that will be seen as a curiosity and draw interest from certain scholars, but it is possible.

That’s all for now! Thanks again for my Patreon supporters for asking interesting questions and for making these articles possible.

IFAQ: Dreams and Quori

As time permits, I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. Here’s a few about Dal Quor and its denizens.

Do prophetic dreams occur in Dal Quor and if so do the Dreaming dark collect or research them?

Exploring Eberron has this to say about dreams in Dal Quor:

Dal Quor doesn’t have layers like other planes. Instead, it can be seen as a vast ocean. When a mortal dreams, they fall into that ocean and create an “island”: a dream pocket, shaped by their memories and desires. When they wake, this island disappears. So at any given moment, Dal Quor contains millions of islands, but none last for long. 

I’ve bolded the important piece. The key point here is that the quori don’t create or even monitor all mortal dreams. There are far more mortals then there are quori, and at any given time there a hundreds of thousands of dreams that the quori know nothing about. Most dreams are just dreams, shaped by the dreamer’s own memories and mind. Quori CAN interfere with mortal dreams, but so can other creatures—night hags, any creature using the dream spell. Mortal creatures can even create permanent islands, such as the Draconic Eidolon or the Uul Dhakaan.

The point here is that the quori aren’t omniscient or omnipresent within Dal Quor. Other forces can shape dreams, and it’s entirely possible for this to occur without the quori being aware of it. So YES, there can be prophetic dreams in Dal Quor. Such dreams could be actively shaped by powerful beings (again, all it takes is the dream spell). Looking to divine visions, the existence of prophetic dreams doesn’t necessarily prove the existence of the Sovereigns. We know that there is a divine power source that channels power to worshippers of Boldrei. It could be she’s an actual goddess who actively sends a message to her priest; or it could be that “Boldrei” is a spiritual construct that lies within the collective unconscious, and the priest’s dream is drawn from those subconscious depths. Either way, it’s possible to have a vision from Boldrei; but just because you can meet her in your dreams doesn’t mean that she exists in a form you could meet in the flesh.

Does the Dreaming Dark collect or research these dreams? I’m sure it does, IF IT OBSERVES THEM. Again, there are more mortals than quori, and at any given moment a third of the world is asleep; there’s no way for the quori to monitor them all. And personally, I don’t WANT the quori to monitor them all. I like the fact that I can say that the group’s cleric has a divine vision and that the quori don’t know about it. With that said, part of the role of the hashalaq quori is to monitor mortal dreams and dreams and to keep notes. The hashalaq are the loremasters of Dal Quor, and when the Dreaming Dark wants to perform an act of manipulation, it turns to the hashalaq to identify the most effective targets to carry out those goals. So the hashalaq do monitor the dreams fo people the quori have identified as significant, and they maintain a broad “map” of the Ocean of Dreams. Thus, they COULD have observed and recorded any prophetic dream and could well have a vault filled with accounts of thousands of “Dreams of Interest” they’re studying. But it’s ultimately up to the DM to decide if any given dream has been noted and recorded, or if it escaped the many eyes of the Dreaming Dark.

Are there any limits to the Quori ability to shape dreams?

Yes and no. If you’re familiar with Star Trek, think of Dal Quor as a holodeck. Normally, the dreamer shows up and runs their own program. When a creature uses dream, they are overriding that and placing the dreamer in a program of their own design. And that can be ANYTHING. A quori has an even greater degree of control than a wizard using dream. They can control every detail and they’ve had tens of thousands of years to hone their talents at creating dreams.

WITH THAT SAID… This is a game. It’s fun to have adventures in dreams where adventurers can potentially overcome challenges, and with that in mind I wouldn’t want to make quori omnipotent when shaping a dream. So personally, I’d go back to the holodeck analogy. The quori can PROGRAM the dream. They can personally take the place of any creature in the dream, intervening directly. But adventurers can defeat the challenges a quori places in their path. The quori can make you dream about a terrifying dragon, but you and your fellow adventurers could DEFEAT THAT DRAGON; this reflects your will and heroic drive overcoming the quori manipulation.

WITH THAT SAID… That primarily only applies to LUCID dreams. Most dreams don’t get played out as adventures. And with that in mind, that’s why the dream spell has a saving throw! You could look at a successful saving throw as meaning that the caster can’t shape the dream at all; or you could look at it as the caster creating a nightmare but the dreamer defeats the nightmare. So if the quori gives you a dream of a dragon ravaging your village, if you fail your saving throw the dragon destroys your village, kills everyone you love, and then kills you, and you wake up horrified (taking psychic damage and failing the long rest)—while if you MAKE the saving throw, you still dream about a dragon, but in the dream you DEFEAT the dragon. Your subconscious overrides the quori manipulation, and your self-image is so strong that you reject the vision the quori tries to impose.

Do Quori create figments or enlist drifters for the Dreaming Dark?

Let’s look back at Exploring Eberron.

A figment can be anything—a friend of yours, a zombie version of that friend, a demon, a dragon—but the catch is that it’s drawn from the mind of the local dreamer. When you dream about your old drill sergeant, they can’t tell you a secret you don’t already know, because they’re part of you. On the other hand, if you’re in someone else’s dream—or if a quori has taken control of your dream—then the figments can surprise you, because their capabilities and knowledge are drawn from someone else’s mind.

Figments are just part of the basic mechanics of Dal Quor. Any time a dream is created, it’s populated with figments. Look back to the holodeck example: figments are all the NPCs in a holodeck scenario. So yes, the quori create figments that last for the duration of the dream and then dissipate.

DRIFTERS are a different story. Per ExE, “Occasionally, a remarkable figment develops the ability to persist beyond the dream that created it—becoming a truly sentient spirit instead of a simple manifestation… Such free-willed figments are called drifters.” Generally speaking, the Dreaming Dark doesn’t employ drifters and most drifters will do their best to avoid the quori, because DRIFTERS ARE A FLAW IN THE SYSTEM. Why SHOULD a quori deal with a free-willed, unpredictable drifter when it could just use a figment that will do exactly what it’s supposed to do? This is one reason drifters may help adventurers; they themselves aren’t part of the system and have no loyalty to the quori; quori will typically destroy drifters as they ARE flaws in the system. Having said that, it’s possible an unusual drifter could make a deal with the Dreaming Dark and gain greater power through such service. But most drifters won’t take that risk.

The dominator Tirashana is a powerful Inspired mentioned in multiple sources. What kind of quori is she? Sharn: City of Towers doesn’t say, Secrets of Sarlona says she’s usvapna, and the ECG says she’s a kalaraq.

This is what happens when you are dealing with an evolving setting and multiple editions. When Sharn: City of Towers was written, the tsucora quori were the only quori that had been defined. We knew that there WERE others, but we hadn’t solidified any of the details. SECOND: When Tirashana was created, mind seed was a high-level power any psion telepath could potentially manifest. As such, we established Tirashana as a 17th level psion—she had the power to mind seed, but she did it in the same way any other creature could do it, if they happened to be a 17th level telepath.

By the time Secrets of Sarlona came around, we’d introduced more types of quori. The kalaraq quori, in particular, had the innate ability to perform mind seed by binding the essence of a victim. But we’d already defined Tirashana as a 17th-level telepath, so we chose to make her an usvapna—a powerful and respected quori caste, but not kalaraq.

Then fourth edition came around. Fourth edition had no player-facing form of mind seed. We had a version of it associated with the kalaraq, but it was a unique thing. So: the usvapna didn’t exist in fourth edition, and even if they had, we could say Tirashana was an usvapna with enough telepath levels to manifest mind seed, because it didn’t exist in fourth edition. So, in fourth edition we made Tirashana a kalaraq because it meant that DMs would ahve a stat block they could use for her and because it was the only way she could do what she was supposed to do — create mind seeds.

The key point here is that the lore isn’t consistent because the RULES weren’t consistent. We changed the lore to meet the needs of the story. Ultimately, the most important thing was that Tirashana is a quori who can mind seed people. Given that she’s unlikely to ever appear in the flesh, it doesn’t really MATTER is she’s usvapna or kalaraq; what matters most is that she can mind seed people and the DM knows how mind seed works.

So: in fifth edition, I’d personally make Tirashana a kalaraq quori for the same reasons we did it in fourth edition: we have a stat block for kalaraq quori and we don’t have an usvapna block, and a kalaraq quori has a way to plant mind seeds.

In general, however, this ties to the general point that canon isn’t ironclad or infallible, because it wasn’t created in a vacuum. Tirashana couldn’t be an usvapna in the Sharn sourcebook, because usvapna didn’t exist when we wrote it. Canon is a place to start, but it does have contradictions and errors, and it’s up to each DM to decide how to reconcile those in their campaigns.

What are some other types of quori?

I don’t have time to stat out additional quori in this space, but what I will say is that the general idea of quori is that they generally manipulate and feed on certain types of emotion or aspects of the mortal psyche. Tsucora specialize in fear. Du’ulora manipulate rage and hatred. Hashalaq understand pleasure. Kalaraq twist pride and ambition. I didn’t create the tsoreva or usvapna, so they aren’t designed with that in mind; I’d personally probably make the weak tsoreva tied to spite, and the usvapna—described as the judges and inquisitors of Dal Quor—as manipulating concepts of duty and tradition, albeit in the focused path of tyranny and persecution.

With that in mind, what are some other types of quori? I could imagine quori that inspire greed and avarice; quori that sap motivation and thrive on sloth and indolence; quori that thrive on misery; quori that inspire envy. Quori are children of the Dreaming Dark, so they are generally tied to NEGATIVE aspects of the psyche. Kalashtar quori still have this heritage, but turn it around; a tsucora kalashtar understands fear, but can use that knowledge to help people overcome their fears and find their courage.

I don’t understand quori possession. Rising From The Last War says the Quori must be within five feet of the creature it wants to possess, and if it is expelled it appears next to them? I thought quori couldn’t manifest physically?

That’s because quori have access to TWO ENTIRELY DIFFERENT FORMS OF POSSESSION. The form of possession that is presented in the stat block is something the quori can do IF it is physically present. An important detail is that it can use this form of possession on an unwilling target! It would be extremely difficult for a quori TO physically manifest on Eberron—it would involve some sort of unprecedented story hook—but IF IT DID it would be capable of forcibly possessing any humanoid using this technique.

But the catch is that this isn’t the form of possession the Dreaming Dark generally employs, because the quori CAN’T physically manifest in Eberron. So instead, the quori normally possess humanoids through their dreams. The quori crafts a dream (essentially, casting dream) and within that dream, has to convince the target to voluntarily allow the quori to possess them. The victim may not understand exactly what they are agreeing to—the quori could present itself as an angel, as the ghost of an ancestor, etc—but they know that they are agreeing to let an outside spirit temporarily assume control of their body. If they agree, the quori takes possession and maintains control until either it chooses to depart or until it is driven out by magical means; in either case, it returns to Dal Quor. Once the quori leaves, it can’t possess the victim again unless the victim AGREES to the possession again. In some cases, the quori may manage to cultivate its relationship with the victim such that the victim will allow this; again, they may believe the quori to be a guardian angel or an ancestor, as long as the actions the quori takes don’t disprove this. On the other hand, if the quori isn’t trying to maintain a relationship with the host, it may not bother to maintain such a masquerade.

The Inspired are possessed using this second form of possession, but the catch is that each Inspired is bound to a particular quori spirit and they have no choice when that spirit chooses to possess them. However, an Inspired could also voluntarily allow a different quori to possess it, if it served a useful purpose.

This raises a key point, which is that per Rising, forcible possession doesn’t allow the quori to use the proficiencies or class features of the target. The idea of the cooperative possession (or the Inspired) is that the possessed individual DOES have the proficiencies and abilities of both quori and host. This is how the quori can maintain a disguise and why it’s useful to the Inspired quori to have vessels with different skill sets; a particular quori could have one vessel that’s a tough fighter and another that’s a sly assassin, and choose the host that serves its current needs. Likewise, the reason an Inspired might allow a different quori to possess it would be because it needs the particular skills of THAT quori to accomplish its mission. So part of the idea has always been that when dealing with Inspired or with voluntary hosts you’re dealing with a gestalt entity. The quori is in CONTROL, but it gets to draw on the skills and knowledge of its host.

As this second form of possession is different from what’s described in the book, it raises a number of questions. Can a quori possess one of their specially-bred Chosen/Inspired link at any moment, even while that Chosen/Inspired is awake?

Yes, a quori can possess a Chosen vessel at any time. The quori has a direct spiritual connection to its Chosen and this doesn’t require the victim to be asleep.

Does the Protection from Evil and Good spell stop a Chosen/Inspired from being possessed by their linked quori?

An empty vessel who is protected by protection from evil and good can’t be possessed by their quori, and this is something we’ve previously called out as a way that fugitive Chosen could remain free. However, the spell specifies that the target has to be a willing creature, so you couldn’t cast it on an unwilling Inspired to break their connection to their spirit.

Does the Magic Circle spell stop a Chosen/Inspired from being possessed by their linked quori?

If the unpossessed empty vessel is protected by the circle, they can’t be possessed. However, I would again say that this wouldn’t BREAK an existing case of possession; you can’t create a magic circle and then push someone into it to exorcise them. It prevents a possessing spirit from attaching itself to a mortal host, but it doesn’t drive out the spirit once it’s present. At least, that’s the ruling I’d make at MY table (and if your DM disagrees, that’s fine—but this is MY ruling).

Can the Dispel Evil and Good spell drive out a quori from their linked Chosen/Inspired? If so, what stops the quori from immediately repossessing the Chosen/Inspired?

This is addressed in the 3.5 Eberron Campaign Setting entry on Inspired, and the rule seems sound here.

Resist Exorcism: The quori spirit inhabiting an Inspired is subject to a dismissal spell, an exorcism, or a similar effect. Use the total of the human vessel’s character level and the quori’s Hit Dice for the purpose of determining whether the spirit resists dismissal or exorcism. If the effect is successful, the quori spirit is temporarily driven back to Dal Quor. This effect lasts for 10 minutes per caster level of the character who cast the spell or performed the exorcism, after which point the quori spirit can return and possess the human vessel again.

Combining hit dice doesn’t quite work in Fifth Edition, but the point is you can do it but it’s supposed to be hard—I’d probably give the Inspired advantage on their saving throw.

If an Inspired currently possessed by their linked quori is reduced to 0 hit points and knocked unconscious, but not killed, is the quori driven out? Or does the quori stay?

No. The “Brute Force” possession in the quori stat block can be broken by dropping a creature to zero hit points, but rendering a creature unconscious has no effect on either an Inspired or on a creature that has voluntarily allowed a quori to possess it.

Can a possessing quori allow the victim to retain control of their actions—to play the role of an “advising spirit”? Or is it always in full control while possessing a victim?

A possessing quori can always choose not to exercise the full power it has over its victim, but it CAN exercise that full control at any time. So the victim may not REALIZE that they are fully possessed; they may believe it’s some sort of symbiosis or partnership. Which is great, until the quori has a reason to take full control, and which point it will take full control. With that said, the person agreeing to possession is aware that they are allowing possession—that they are allowing the spirit to reside within them. In a situation where the quori doesn’t plan to assume control it may present this as guidance, partnership, etc — but the victim still knows I am allowing a spirit to reside in my body.

How much awareness does a quori have over the status, thoughts, emotions, location, current activities, etc. of its linked Chosen/Inspired, while those Chosen/Inspired are awake and uninhabited?

Very little. For example, we’ve never suggested that if you get into a fight with an empty vessel that its connected quori would somehow be instantly aware of the threat and pop in. Keep in mind that a quori could have HUNDREDS of empty vessels. I’d be inclined to say that the quori would notice the death of a vessel—because it would feel the sudden severing of their link—but even then, if the quori has a lot of vessels I might have them make a Perception check to see if they notice it right away.

When a quori possesses someone, how much access to the host’s memories does the quori have? Does this change based on the possession method: brute force, voluntary possession, linked Chosen/Inspired possession, etc.?

It depends entirely on the form of possession. The brute force possession provides no access to memories whatsoever, which is why the quori “doesn’t gain access to the victim’s knowledge, class features, or proficiencies.” Voluntary possession does grant access to the host’s memories and skills, as specifically called out in the 3.5 ECS: “A possessing quori has immediate access to all of the vessel’s thoughts and memories… The quori spirit combines its skill ranks with those of its vessel.” With that said, while voluntary possession grants full ACCESS to the host’s memories, I’d see this as a human gaining access to a library. You can read any book you want, and when you NEED a specific piece of information you can immediately acquire it, but you most likely don’t have time to read every book in the library. So it’s not like a quori knows every one of your secrets the instant it possesses you; it has to have a reason to dig for a specific piece of information, and it’s quite possible it never bothers to look back to your childhood and find that moment you made a deal with a dragon.

What’s your opinion of the tsoreva and dream master quori from Magic of Eberron? Would you redesign them if you converted them to fifth edition?

I didn’t work on Magic of Eberron. The tsoreva is fine; it’s useful to have a low-CR quori and I can see them as spirits that feed on spite—essentially, lesser tsucora. But I don’t like the dream master. First, it doesn’t follow the naming pattern. We retconned this for Secrets of Sarlona, naming it the usvapna. But beyond that, its basic design doesn’t follow the model used by other quori. The original idea of the quori is that they manipulate and feed upon a particular emotion. This is concretely reflected by their abilities. At a quick glance…

  • A tsucora (fear) has Terrifying Sting, which mimics the effects of phantasmal killer, and it regains hit points when it kills someone with this power. When it stings you, it afflicts you with a nightmare so intense it can kill you, and if it does, it feeds on that fear.
  • A du’ulora (rage) has Fury Aura—which induces rage in creatures around it—and Burning Rage, which kills a creature with its own anger… and which heals the quori when it kills a creature in this way.
  • Hashalaq (pleasure and pain) has Intimate Knowledge (it knows your desires), Empathic Feedback (the attack shares its pain), and Idyllic Touch (which overwhelms with pleasure)… and when it kills a creature with Idyllic Touch, it regains hit points.

The tsoreva is such a minor spirit that it doesn’t have space to follow this pattern. But the dream master is a POWERFUL quori, but it doesn’t have a clear associated emotion or unique powers; it’s a powerful psion, but there’s nothing that reflects a theme. So yes, I might keep the broad concept and form of the usvapna, but if i converted it to 5E I’d want to give it a more defined theme.

That’s all for now! Thanks again to my Patreon supporters for making these articles possible.

What’s going on in Threshold?

Art by Carolina Cesario

It’s the 14th of Lharvion, and it’s too damn hot. Today is Bounty’s Blessing, the feast of Arawai; there’s a farmer’s market in the square, and a baking competition to see if anyone can make something palatable using “sand fruit”, a local succulent that is anything but succulent. In the cliffs above town, a group of adventurers have found ruins filled with petrified goblins, a dead but perfectly preserved Gatekeeper, and an altar dedicated to the mysterious Still Lord. Who is the Still Lord? Are their cultists hidden in Threshold? And can anyone actually make a satisfying sand fruit fritter?

I’m currently working on Frontiers of Eberron: Threshold, a sourcebook that explores the region between Breland and Droaam; I discuss it further in this interview. In Threshold, there’s a party of gnolls loitering at the Gold Dragon Inn while they wait for the lightning rail. Three-Widow Jane’s facing Rusty in a showdown at high noon. But there’s powers at work that overshadow such mundane concerns. Who is the Still Lord? What is the secret history of the region, and how does it threaten the future?

Frontiers of Eberron: Threshold is going to be a large book—comparable to Exploring Eberron—and won’t be out until later this year. I’m enjoying the chance to take a deeper dive into a piece of the setting, a region that’s not as well known as Sharn or Stormreach; I also love any chance to work with Droaam, as the nation of monsters is one of my favorite pieces of Eberron. While the book itself won’t be out for months to come, I’m currently running a campaign set in Threshold online—and my Patreon supporters have an opportunity to watch the campaign and potentially, to play in it. My Patreon has a Threshold tier. In addition to the Inner Circle benefits, this grants the following things.

  • Threshold patrons have access to all previous sessions of the campaign.
  • I run one session each month. The characters and the stories are persistent, but the players change each month and are drawn from the patrons. Patreon doesn’t allow me to select players randomly, but each session I post a creative challenge—challenging would-be players to add a detail to a character or to the town—and the winners play in the upcoming session. i change the recording time with each session so that sooner or later people will have a chance to play regardless of their time zone.
  • Patrons can participate in polls that help establish details about the characters, the story, and the town—so even if you don’t get a chance to play, you have an opportunity to shape the story. The ten player characters used in the campaign were developed through a series of these polls.
  • Patrons have access to the Threshold channels on the Eberron Discord server, and I drop by when I can to talk about the campaign and all things Eberron. Currently I’m trying an experiment: an ongoing story running in a Threshold channel, where Patrons can choose the path that events take.

Collaborative storytelling is my favorite aspect of TTRPGs. While I there’s only a few seats at the table in each session, this experiment allows me to collaborate with patrons even if they don’t get to roll dice in the session. I enjoy the characters we’ve created and it’s fun to see how different players interpret those characters—and it’s always fun for me to meet new people. So I can’t promise that you’ll get to play at the table if you become a Threshold patron, but you will have an opportunity to affect the story and to see the sessions (which currently aren’t available to the public), and you just might end up at the table! The next episode will be recorded on Friday, May 28th and the casting challenge is open until noon Pacific time on Tuesday the 25th.

Post any questions about Frontiers of Eberron or Threshold below! Otherwise, you can find more information at my Patreon. And the

Dragonmarks: Familiars, Homunculi, and Animal Companions

A wizard walks into a tavern with a raven on his wrist. A Cannith heir is close behind, followed by her gleaming steel defender. The Eldeen ranger is waiting for them, with his wolf curled up under the table.

All three of these are plausible player characters in an Eberron campaign. But how do these things—familiars, animal companions, homunculi—fit into the world? How do people react to them, and what do people know about them? Would any of them actually be allowed in a tavern, and would a typical person actually be able to tell the difference between a familiar and an animal companion?

Familiars, homunculi, and animal companions play different roles in the game and in the world, and I want to explore each one of them. But to begin with, let’s answer the quick questions. In the Five Nations…

  • Familiars are most common in Aundair and (previously) Cyre, but they have been employed throughout the Five Nations for centuries. They are also found in Zilargo and the Eldeen Reaches.
  • Even beyond these four areas, people are familiar with the basic idea of familiars and most people know at least some of the following facts: Familiars can communicate with their companion; their companion can see through their eyes; familiars can potentially channel touch spells; they can be easily dismissed and resummoned; they can be resummoned if killed.
  • People generally assume that familiars are extensions of a spellcaster (discussed in more detail later in this article) and don’t consider them fully independent beings. Along with homunculi, they are seen as tools. In the eyes of the law, a character is responsible for the actions of their familiar/companion/homunculus, and you can’t get away with murder by casting the killing spell through your familiar.
  • While most people can’t tell the difference between a familiar and an animal companion, most know that familiars are usually limited to tiny forms. The common assumption is that a tiny animal companion is a familiar, and a small or larger animal companion is a beast.
  • If an establishment allows patrons to carry weapons, it will generally allow well-behaved familiars, homunculi, or animal companions, unless the creature seems especially unsanitary or aggressive. In part, this is a metagame conceit: we are still playing a game, and the Beast Master ranger or Battlesmith artificer shouldn’t be crippled every time the adventurers go indoors. But it also ties to the idea that people recognize these things as tools. So in my opinion, any place that will allow the barbarian to carry his greataxe will allow the battlesmith to bring her steel defender… And conversely, a fine restaurant like the Oaks in Sharn isn’t going to let you bring your axe or your steel defender to your table.
  • Most people know that a spellcaster can spy through the eyes of a familiar, just as they know that someone with the spell beast sense (druid, ranger, Vadalis heir) can see through the eyes of a mundane animal. People don’t assume that every rat is a spy, but they know it’s a POSSIBILITY… so tiny animals showing up in highly secured areas or behaving in a clearly unnatural manner may be dealt with as if they’re spies.
  • In major cities with a significant population of magewrights or arcane universities, you may find businesses that cater to characters with familiars—the bring-your-own-sassy-magical-cat cafe.
  • While most people assume familiars are extensions, they also recognize traditional imps and quasits as fiends. Having a quasit as a familiar isn’t ILLEGAL, but it definitely makes a statement; even if you’re not actively associating with fiends, you’re choosing one to represent you. Some people will see that as cool and edgy, some people will see it as a sign that you’re a scumbag, and some people will see it as pretentious— “LOOK AT ME! I CONSORT WITH DEEEEEMONS!” It will definitely be noticed, and it’s up to the DM to decide how people will react. But again, people see familiars as tools, so they aren’t going to burn you just for having an imp; but it’s similar to whether your fighter has a greatsword of plain steel or whether he’s carrying a rune-carved sword that moans softly. You can’t get arrested for it, but people will make judgements because of it.

So key takeaways: People are familiar with the idea of familiars and homunculi. They largely see them as tools and will treat them accordingly. If a tiny animal behaves in an unusual manner, people may assume that it’s a familiar or otherwise being manipulated by magic. With those general things settled, let’s take a quick look at the differences between these three categories of companion…

FAMILIARS

Mechanically, familiars have a common foundation—the find familiar spell. Warlocks, wizards, and druids all acquire their familiars by using this spell, and this establishes the core rules that all familiars follow—shared senses, telepathic communication, can be dismissed and resummoned, and so on. But while this provides a concrete baseline for the mechanics of a familiar, from a story perspective the familiars of a wizard, a warlock, and a druid may be very different. While this isn’t an exhaustive list, here’s three important categories of familiar.

Extensions

The most common form of familiar—the form used by most wizards and magewrights in the Five Nations—is an externally manifested aspect of the spellcaster’s personality. A few aspects of this…

  • As an extension of you, your familiar doesn’t know anything that you don’t know—but it’s drawn from your subconscious, and may know things you’ve forgotten or draw conclusions you haven’t consciously made.
  • All familiars must obey the spellcaster’s commands. An extension doesn’t resent this; they’re part of you. If they do have any personal goals, they’re likely things you actually want, even if you haven’t consciously realized it.
  • When an extension is dismissed or slain, it returns to your subconscious. This isn’t unpleasant for the familiar, and most extensions don’t resent being dismissed.
  • An extension is drawn from you. Most extensions have the fey creature type; in many ways, they are manifested stories. Extensions would only manifest as celestials or fiends if they are tied to remarkably virtuous or deeply vile people.
  • If you wish, you and your DM could decide that the familiar represents a specific aspect of your personality, which could in turn flavor its personality and demeanor. This could also be reflected by its shape, which you can change by casting the spell. It could be that as a cat it reflects your curiosity, while as a hawk it’s your courage and as a weasel it’s your cunning. A secondary question is whether each of these three would present themselves as having different names—if they essentially identify as three familiars—or whether they maintain a single identity even though their shape and personality changes.

In many ways, an extension is like a character in your dreams. They have distinct personalities, you can have interesting conversations with them, they FEEL real—but ultimately they’re a manifestation of your own mind. This doesn’t stop them from being fun and interesting individuals; it could be that your rat familiar embodies your sense of humor! But they can’t be killed because they’re a part of you; and conversely, if you die, they will die with you.

Extensions are the most common form of familiar in the Five Nations. They are a product of arcane science. On some levels (especially in Aundair), a familiar is both a tool and a status symbol for an accomplished spellcaster; wizards are rare, but some magewrights and demi-wizards manifest familiars for this reason. However, the most common users of familiars in the Five Nations are falconers. This is a magewright specialty that masters a narrow form of find familiar. A falconer can only summon a single shape of familiar—so if they can summon a hawk, they can’t turn it into a cat—but they can maintain telepathic communication and a sensory link with their familiar over a far greater distance than usual. The typical range of a falconer is one mile, but an exceptional falconer can go even farther. Falconers typically served as scouts and skirmishers in the Last War, and as the name suggests, most summon birds (typically hawks or falcons, though owls and ravens are also used). There are other magewrights who use this specialized form of find familiar in different ways—ratcatchers who conjure cats, even assassins who can conjure poisonous snakes. All of this ties to the basic point that people see extensions as tools—you learn to manifest an extension because you have a use for it.

Emissaries

When a warlock acquires a familiar, it’s generally not an extension of the warlock—it’s an emissary of the warlock’s patron, an independent entity whose services are granted to the warlock as a gift. However, this can also be an appropriate choice for a conjurer wizard or any other character who has made bargains with a powerful supernatural being. Important details about emissary familiars…

  • An emissary is an independent spirit with its own history and agenda. It’s up to the DM to decide exactly what that agenda is. It may be that the emissary is entirely benevolent and has been sent solely to assist you and protect you. But it could be that the emissary is sent to watch you—to see if you’re living up to expectations, to remind you of agreements you’ve made with your patron, or to serve as an intermediary for communication; the patron might temporarily possess the familiar when they want to communicate with you.
  • Tied to this: an emissary familiar has to follow your orders when it comes to taking physical actions, but it doesn’t have to share all of its information with you. Unlike an extension, an emissary may have knowledge you don’t have—but it’s only going to share that information with you if it serves the interests of the patron.
  • The creature type of the emissary will generally reflect the creature type of the patron. If you’re working for Sul Khatesh she’ll give you a fiend, while a celestial warlock channeling the power of the Silver Flame will have a celestial familiar. A DM may choose to tweak type and details to fit a particular patron. For example, an efreeti patron could give a warlock a familiar that’s mechanically an imp, but with the elemental type and knowledge of Primordial instead of Infernal; they might even say that its sting inflicts fire damage instead of poison damage, causing the victim to burn from within. An undead patron could likewise give an “imp” that’s got the undead type and inflicts necrotic damage with its sting.
  • Emissary familiars CAN assume a mundane animal form, but even those that take the form of animals may have a “natural” form that reflects their origins. A raven gifted by an efreeti could choose to appear as a tiny phoenix wreathed in cold flames, or just as a mundane bird.
  • It’s up to the DM to decide what happens to the emissary when it is dismissed/killed. It may be that it returns to the domain of its patron; if this is the case, it may actually WANT to be dismissed occasionally to go and take care of its own business. Or it may be that as long as it’s bound to you, it is bound to your spirit and retreats into you when dismissed. If this is the case, it may still be aware of what is going on around you, even if it can’t take any actions.

The basic question between having an extension or an emissary is whether you want your familiar to be entirely loyal and reliable, or if you LIKE the idea that your familiar may have secrets and agendas you don’t know about. An extension may have a semblance of personality, but at the end of the day it really is a puppet; an emissary is a truly independent entity who is only working with you for now, and who could have their own significant role to play at some point in the campaign.

Emissary familiars are rare. You can go to school to become a falconer, but there’s no common magewright paths that teach people to make bargains with overlords. As noted above, people generally assume that familiars are extensions, so having an imp as a familiar doesn’t automatically mean you’re making deals with demons, but to a common person what it means is that THE PROJECTION OF YOUR PERSONALITY IS A FIEND and people will judge you accordingly. And if people DO realize that no, this is an actual emissary of Sul Khatesh and you are getting advice from it, that’s not going to be great; so usually, you’re going to want your imp to be in an animal form.

Primal Spirits

Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything introduces the Wild Companion feature, allowing a druid to cast find familiar by using a charge of wild shape. Such a familiar has the fey creature type. It’s worth noting that beasts summoned with the conjure animals spell also have the fey creature type. This doesn’t mean that they are from Thelanis. If you’re a Greensinger, they might be; but typically, these are primal spirits. These can be seen as native fey, in the same way the Lords of Dust are native fiends. They are essentially stories made real—the idea of a beast given temporary form. A few details…

  • Primal spirits don’t have individual identities in the same way as emissaries or extensions. They are more iconic beings. Your raven embodies the idea of “raven” and will behave as you expect a raven to act in a fable or folktale. A cat may be curious, a raven may be wise. But the cat embodies the idea of CAT, not of your personal curious Graymalkin.
  • Primal spirits generally only remain for as long as they are needed; when they die or are dismissed they simply return to the transcendent essence of Eberron.
  • Primal spirits generally have no desires other than to help the summoner. They don’t NEED anything and generally look forward to returning to the heart of Eberron.
  • Druids and rangers typically employ primal spirits to avoid placing living animals in danger. They don’t feel any compunctions about sending summoned animals or familiars to their deaths because they aren’t really alive; you can’t kill an idea, and ultimately that’s what they are.

Primal spirits are typically only found in communities with strong primal roots—the Eldeen Reaches, the Qaltiar drow, the Lorghalen gnomes. In such places, you may find the equivalent of Falconer magewrights—gleaners who can conjure a specific familiar spirit, and who can maintain their bond with it over an unusually long distance. Primal communities often also involve animal companions, but people working with living beasts will generally be much more conscientious about placing their companions in dangerous situations—whereas primal spirits suffer no lasting harm from death.

In Conclusion…

Familiars are the most common class of companion, and extensions are the most common class of familiar. Falconers and similar magewrights use familiars as practical tools, while arcanists use often familiars as companions and assistants. Emissaries are rare and thus rarely recognized for what they are, but most people won’t be thrilled if you reveal that your companion is an actual fiend given to you because you made a bargain with a malefic power.

HOMUNCULI AND CONSTRUCT BEASTS

A homunculus is a construct, typically created by an artificer or wizard. They notably don’t follow the rules of find familiar; a homunculus can’t be simply dismissed and recalled at will. The most common form of homunculus player characters deal with is the homunculus servant, which is created using an artificer infusion. The servant is a tiny construct, and notably the shape of the homunculus is up to the artificer. The intention of this is that the appearance of the homunculus should reflect the techniques of the artificer. A Cannith Traditionalist may create a steel dragonfly with crystal wings—a creature similar to a warforged, perhaps with metal threads or gears instead of root-like tendrils. An artificer from Pylas Pyrial may use Thelanian logic to create a flying teapot. And an alchemist who’s experimenting with daelkyr fleshcrafting techniques could create a tiny platypus with one eye and three wings. A Battle Smith artificer gets to create a more powerful homunculus, a steel defender. Again, what’s specifically noted is that the shape and design of the defender is up to the artificer, including the choice as to whether it has two legs or four. This reflects the idea that all of these homunculi are extremely unique. The fact that the artificer can only have one of each type of homunculus at a time reflects the idea these creatures aren’t entirely stable—that the artificer has to continue to maintain their companion and to maintain the reserve of arcane energy that sustains it. As noted, homunculi can’t be dismissed and resummoned with the ease of a familiar, but if one is destroyed it can be rebuilt.

So a key point is that the homunculi of player characters aren’t supposed to be as familiar as a raven or even an imp. They’re supposed to stand out; they’re reflections of the unique genius of the artificer character. Unlike familiars and falconers, there isn’t a class of magewrights that creates homunculi; again, familiars ultimately come from a 1st level spell, while homunculi are derived from an artificer class feature. They’re more exotic than familiars. At the same time, people understand the CONCEPT of homunculi. Sentient magic items exist. Constructs exist. The Clockwork Menagerie of Eston was one of the wonders of Cyre centuries before House Cannith perfected the warforged. And with that said, the Last War involved a constant escalation in the development of constructs leading up to the Last War. Animated weapons have been developed, ranging from the tiny arbalester to the arcane ballista. Warforged titans stormed across the battlefield decades before their smaller cousins. And House Cannith does create construct beasts; the iron defenders of House Cannith can be produced as autonomous constructs (though they are typically considerably weaker than the steel defender of an accomplished Battle Smith). These creatures are still EXOTIC, but they aren’t unheard of and people generally won’t be frightened by them. They’ll draw attention, certainly, but attention isn’t always bad. With that said, the daelkyr-inspired fleshcrafted homunculus will generate the same sort of reaction as the imp familiar; people may not run you instantly out of town for having a creepy homunculus, but they will judge you by the company you keep.

I’ll be posting a table of random ideas for homunculus servants on my Patreon as an exclusive bonus for Inner Circle and Threshold patrons later in this week, so if you’re a supporter, keep an eye out for that!

ANIMAL COMPANIONS

What about the ranger and his wolf? Well, beasts are a part of everyday life in Eberron. From horses and tribex to the giant owls of Sharn or the Valenar hounds, there’s nothing strange about seeing someone with an animal companion. Magewright falconers conjure their companions, but Vadalis farriers can cast animal friendship, speak with animals, and beast sense, and gleaners (primal magewrights) in the Eldeen Reaches also develop these talents. Many gnomes cultivate the gift of speaking with small beasts. Exotic beasts are often rarer in major cities simply because of the difficulty of maintaining them, but people aren’t especially SURPRISED to see a ranger with a wolf companion; the fact that there are people who can befriend and speak with animals is a simple fact of life, and has been for centuries.

Animal companions aren’t exactly tools in the same way as familiars, because they’re independent living creatures. A Beast Master can replace an companion that dies, but an animal still died… while familiars and conjured beasts can be put in harm’s way with no lasting risk. Nonetheless, to the world at large they are still largely seen as tools and treated accordingly, so the same rule applies. If the ranger is allowed to bring his sword and his bow into a place of business, he’s probably allowed to bring his wolf; and if the wolf bites someone, the ranger will be held responsible, just as if he’d stabbed the victim with a sword.

Some might wonder if the existence of speak with animals would drive an overall greater wave of ethical behavior regarding the treatment of animals. Sadly, this is not the case in the Five Nations. Speak with animals exists, but MOST people can’t cast it. People will still take a tribex-drawn carriage down to a restaurant where they’ll eat a steak, without stopping to think “Was that tribex happy? Did the cow I’m eating live a good life?” The general attitude of House Vadalis is that they’ve been granted dominion over beasts, and it is their right to exploit that power. This is quite different in wide primal societies—such as the Eldeen Reaches and Lorghalen—but in the Five Nations beasts are still primarily treated as property and tools.

That’s all for now! Thanks to my Patreon supporters for helping to choose this topic and for making these articles possible.

Dragonmarks: Common Knowledge

As time permits, I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. One question that often comes up is “What do people in the world actually know about (subject)?” As players and DMs, we have access to a tome of absolute knowledge that tells us all about the Lords of Dust, the Dreaming Dark, the Empire of Dhakaan, and so on. We know that characters may know about these things if they have appropriate proficiencies and make successful skill checks. But what do people know WITHOUT making any skill checks? What things are just common knowledge?

This article reflects the common knowledge of a citizen of the Five Nations. Common knowledge will vary by culture, and I can’t account for every possible variation. People in Stormreach are more familiar with drow than people in Fairhaven. Shadow Marchers will have heard of the Gatekeepers, while Karrns won’t have. In general, you can assume that things that have a direct impact on the lives of people living in a region will be part of common knowledge. For example, the people of the Mror Holds don’t know a lot about the daelkyr in general, but they DO know about Dyrrn the Corruptor, because they’ve been fighting him for decades and he signed his name with Dyrrn’s Promise in 943 YK. So determining what things are common knowledge will often require the use of common sense.

With that said, the people of the Five Nations can be assumed to know the following things.

Planes, Moons, and Manifest Zones. Everyone knows the names of the planes and the moons, and the basic attributes of the planes (IE, Shavarath is the Eternal Battleground and is filled with celestials and fiends fighting). Think of this a little like knowledge of the planets of the solar system in our world; most people can name the planets and know that Mars is the Red Planet, but only someone who’s studied them can tell you the names of all of the moons of Jupiter. The main point is that the planes have real, concrete effects on the world through their manifest zones and coterminous/remote phases, and people understand these things. A common person may not be able to tell you the precise effects of a Shavarath manifest zone unless they actually live by one, but they know Shavarath is the Eternal Battleground and could GUESS what such a manifest zone might do.

The Creation Myth. Everyone knows the basic story: Khyber, Eberron, and Siberys created the planes. Khyber killed Siberys and scattered his pieces in the sky, creating the Ring of Siberys. Eberron enfolded Khyber and became the world. Whether people believe this is literally true or a metaphor, everyone knows the myth and everyone understands that magic comes from Siberys, natural creatures come from Eberron, and fiends and other evil things come from Khyber.

The Sovereign Myth. The Sovereign Host is deeply ingrained into daily life in the Five Nations. Even if you don’t BELIEVE in the Sovereigns, you know the names and basic attributes of the Nine and Six. Likewise, everyone knows the basic story that in the dawn of time the world was ruled by demons; that the Sovereigns fought them; and that the demons were bound. The Dark Six are largely only known by their titles—The Mockery, the Keeper—and their original names are something that would only be known by someone with a tie to a relevant cult or with proficiency in History.

The Silver Flame. Tied to this, everyone knows the idea that the Silver Flame is the force that binds demons. People do NOT know where it came from. Many vassals assume the Sovereigns created the Silver Flame. Those who follow the faith assert it is a celestial force that is strengthened by noble souls.

Dragons. Everyone knows that dragons exist and that they are terrifying and powerful creatures. People know stories of dragons guarding hoards of treasure, and if you’re from Thrane you know of the Bane of Thrane, the dragon who slew Prince Thrane. There are also a few stories about heroes making bargains with dragons, or dragons possessing secret knowledge. People know that Argonnessen is a land of dragons, but they know almost nothing about it beyond “Here there be dragons” and the fact that people who go there don’t come back. Some people know that dragons occasionally attack Aerenal, and know that the giants of Xen’drik were destroyed in some sort of war with dragons. So everyone knows that dragons exist; that they are extremely powerful; and that they can be deadly threats or enigmatic advisors. Most people don’t ever expect to see a dragon. The idea that there are dragons secretly manipulating humanity is a conspiracy theory on par with the idea that many world leaders in our world are secretly reptilian aliens; there are certainly people who believe it, but sensible people don’t take it seriously.

Evil Exists. Everyone knows that there are fiends, undead, aberrations, and lycanthropes in the world. They know that ghouls may haunt graveyards, that the creepy stranger in town could be a vampire or a werewolf, and that dangerous things could crawl out of Khyber at any time. This is why the Silver Flame exists and why templars are generally treated with respect even by people who don’t follow the Silver Flame; people understand that evil exists and that the templars are a volunteer militia who are ready to fight it.

The Overlords and the Lords of Dust. Everyone knows that the overlords were archfiends who dominated the world at the beginning of time. Regardless of whether you believe in the Sovereigns or respect the Flame, you know that the overlords are real because one broke out and ravaged Thrane a few centuries ago. Most people have heard stories of a few of the overlords and may know their titles—the Shadow in the Flame is the one most people have heard of—but would need to make checks to know more. But critically, everyone knows that there are bound archfiends that would like to get out and wreck things.

Most people have never heard of “The Lords of Dust.” People have certainly heard stories of shapeshifting demons causing trouble and know that this is a real potential threat, but the idea that there is a massive conspiracy that has been manipulating human civilization for thousands of years is up there with the idea that dragons have been doing the same thing. If you have credible proof that someone in town is actually a fiend or is possessed by a fiend, people will take the threat seriously; people know that such threats can be real. But few people actually believe that there’s a massive conspiracy that secretly controls the course of history, because if so, why haven’t they done anything more dramatic with it?

As a side point to this, most COMMON PEOPLE don’t differentiate between devil, demon, and fiend and treat these as synonyms. People know of rakshasas as “shapeshifting demons,” even though an arcane scholar might say “Well, ACTUALLY ‘demon’ refers specifically to an incarnate entity of chaos and evil, and the rakshasa is a unique class of fiend most commonly found on the material plane.” But the Demon Wastes could be called “The Fiend Wastes;” in this context, “Demon” is a general term.

Khyber and the Daelkyr. Tied to the creation myth and to the idea that evil exists, people know that BAD THINGS COME FROM KHYBER. They don’t know about demiplanes, but they know that if you find a deep hole there might be something bad at the bottom of it. Critically, most people just know that THE DRAGON BELOW IS THE SOURCE OF BAD THINGS and don’t actually differentiate between aberrations, fiends, and monstrosities. This is why the Cults of the Dragon Below are called “The Cults of the Dragon Below” even though a cult of Dyrrn the Corruptor really has nothing in common with a cult of Sul Khatesh; as far as the common people are concerned, they are cults that worship big evil things, and big evil things come from Khyber, hence, cult of the Dragon Below.

With this in mind, most common people don’t have a clear understanding of what a “daelkyr” is. Anyone who’s proficient with Arcana or History has a general understanding of the difference between the daelkyr and the overlords without needing to make a skill check. But for the common person, they are both powerful evil things that are bound in Khyber.

Fey and Archfey. Everyone knows that the fey exist. Everyone knows about dryads and sprites, and everyone knows that they’re especially common near manifest zones to Thelanis. Beyond this, everyone know FAIRY TALES about fey and archfey, and knows that there’s some basis to these stories. So people know STORIES about the Lady in Shadow and the Forest Queen, and they know that somewhere in the planes, you might actually be able to meet the Forest Queen. But they don’t actually EXPECT to every meet one. Most people have no way to easily differentiate between an archfey and some other type of powerful immortal. Notably, you could easily have a cult of the Dragon Below that’s bargaining with Sul Khatesh but BELIEVES it is bargaining with an archfey, or a cult of Avassh that thinks it’s blessed by the Forest Queen. If a cult worships “The Still Lord” or “The Queen of Shadows”, they don’t have some kind of special key that tells them whether that power is a fiend, a fey, or a celestial; that distinction is ACADEMIC, and would require a skill check.

Specific knowledge of the fey is more prevalent in regions that are close to Thelanis manifest zones or where people have a tradition of bargaining with the fey; notably, Aundairians know more about fey than most people of the Five Nations.

The Dreaming Dark and the Kalashtar. Everyone knows that when you dream you go to Dal Quor. Everyone accepts the idea that “There are demons that give you bad dreams!” Very few people believe that those fiends are manipulating the world. People have had bad dreams FOREVER. If bad-dream-demons were going to take over the world, why haven’t they already done it? As with the Lords of Dust, people will listen to credible threats that a specific person could be possessed, but few will believe stories of a massive dream conspiracy bent on world domination.

Looking to Sarlona and the Inspired, everyone knows that the Riedrans have a strict culture and they’re ruled by beings who they say are channeling celestial powers. Few people have ever met a Riedran, let alone one of the Inspired. Those who have met kalashtar (which for the most part only happens in major cities) know that the kalashtar have been oppressed and driven from Sarlona, but largely assume this is about political and religious differences, not a war between dream-spirits. It’s relatively common knowledge that people from Sarlona study some form of mind-magic, but most people don’t know the precise details of how psionics are different from arcane or divine magic.

The Aurum. While it’s a stretch to say that everyone’s heard of the Aurum, it’s about as well known as, say, Mensa in our world. It’s generally seen as an exclusive fraternal order of extremely wealthy people. Because it IS exclusive and because many of its members are minor local celebrities, there are certainly lots of conspiracies theories about what it’s REALLY up to… but even if there’s people who SAY that the Aurum wants to overthrow the Twelve or that it engineered the Last War, at the end of the day people know it’s that fancy members-only club on Main Street that always donates generously to the Race of Eight Winds celebrations.

Secondary Religions. Aside from the Silver Flame and the Sovereign Host, most of the other religious are relatively regional. The Blood of Vol is the best known of the secondary religions because of the role it played in Karrnath during the Last War, but outside of Karrnath most people think it’s some sort of Karrnathi death cult. Everyone knows druids exist, and the Wardens of the Wood are relatively well known because of their central role in the Eldeen Reaches, but the other sects are largely unknown outside of the areas where they operate; the Ashbound are likely the second best known sect because of sensationalized reports of their violent actions. The Path of Light is largely unknown aside from people who have direct interaction with kalashtar.

Goblins and the Empire of Dhakaan. Everyone in the Five Nations knows that goblins were on Khorvaire before humanity, and that they had an empire that fell long ago. Most people don’t know the name of this empire or exactly how it fell. People generally recognize Dhakaani ruins as being goblin creations, and know that many of the largest cities of Khorvaire are built on goblin foundations, but there’s certainly a lunatic fringe that asserts that those structures are clearly too sophisticated to be goblin work and must have been built by some forgotten human civilization. However, most people understand that these “forgotten human” stories are ridiculous conspiracy theories, on par with the idea that shapeshifted dragons are secretly manipulating the world.

The History of Xen’drik. People know that Xen’drik was home to a civilization of giants. Most people believe that the giants were destroyed in a war with the dragons. Many people know that the elves were originally from Xen’drik and fled this destruction. Without History proficiency, most people do NOT know the name of any of the giant cultures or that there were more than one, and they definitely don’t know anything about giants fighting quori. The idea that arrogant giants destroyed the thirteenth moon is a common folk tale, but it has many forms and it’s something most people know as a serious fact.

Spies. When people in the Five Nations talk about spies, they’re usually thinking of The Dark Lanterns or the Royal Eyes of Aundair. Both are well known spy agencies known to operate covertly in other nations, similar to the CIA and KGB during the height of our cold war. Most people in the Five Nations have heard of the Trust and understand that it’s some sort of secret police force that maintains order in Zilargo, but don’t know much more than that and they aren’t concerned about Zil spies. House Phiarlan and House Thuranni are known as providers of ENTERTAINMENT and aren’t generally seen as spies. The assertion that Phiarlan runs a ring of spies is like the idea that Elvis worked for the CIA; not IMPOSSIBLE, but not something people see as a particularly credible threat.

Exotic Player Species. Most people know that drow come from Xen’drik. People know that lizardfolk and dragonborn come from Q’barra, but most people in Khorvaire don’t know that these are two different species. Tieflings are generally understood to be planetouched; as discussed in Exploring Eberron, aasimar are generally so rare that they won’t be recognized by the general populace. With that said, overall people are fairly accepting of species they’ve never encountered. In a world where people DO deal with humans, orcs, shifters, goblins, warforged, elves, kalashtar, ogres, medusas, and more every day, people who’ve never seen a goliath before are more likely to say “Huh, never seen that before” than to panic because it’s some sort of alien giant-man; exotic characters will generally be targets of curiosity rather than fear.

Dragonmarks and Aberrant Dragonmarks. The dragonmarks have been part of civilization for over a thousand years. The houses provide the major services that are part of everyday life. Everyone in the Five Nations knows the names of the houses and the common twelve marks. Without proficiency in History, people won’t have heard of the Mark of Death. Common knowledge is that aberrant dragonmarks are dangerous to both the bearer and the people around them, and are often seen as the “touch of Khyber.” Without proficiency in History, they won’t know much about the War of the Mark, aside from the fact that the aberrants were dangerous and destroyed the original city of Sharn.

The Draconic Prophecy. Most people have heard of “The Draconic Prophecy” but know almost nothing about it aside from the fact that it’s, y’know, a prophecy. When such people talk about the Prophecy, what they’re usually talking about is the Caldyn Fragments, a collection of pieces of the Prophecy assembled by Korranberg scholar Ohnal Caldyn (described in City of Stormreach). Most people definitely don’t understand that it’s an evolving matrix of conditional elements or that it’s the key to releasing the overlords.

Aerenal, the Undying Court, and the Tairnadal. Aerenal is an isolationist culture that has little interest in sharing its traditions with others. However, the elves do trade with the Five Nations and there’s been enough immigration over the course of history to provide a general knowledge of their culture. Most people know that Aerenal is ruled by the Undying Court, and that the Undying Court is made up of ancient undead elves. Most people don’t have a clear understanding of the difference between deathless and other undead. In Five Nations, most people have never heard of “Tairnadal” and assume any Tairnadal elf is from Valenar. They know that Valenar elves are deadly warriors who are always looking for fights and who worship their ancestors, but they don’t know any specifics about patron ancestors or the Keepers of the Past.

Q&A

What do most people believe about the connection between shifters and lycanthropes?

Most people believe that there is some sort of distant connection between shifters and lycanthropes. Shifters are often called “weretouched,” and some people mistakenly believe that they get wild when many moons are full. However, few people few people believe that shifters are capable of spreading lycanthropy or are sympathetic to lycanthropes. Those negative stereotypes exist, especially in rural Aundair or places where people have never actually SEEN shifters, but they’re not common.

What do followers of the Silver Flame believe about the Sovereigns? What does the Church teach about them? Is it normal to venerate both, at least among the laity? Do they even believe the Sovereigns exist?

Nothing in the doctrine of the Church of the Silver Flame denies the existence of the Sovereigns. It’s entirely possible to follow both religions simultaneously, and templars are happy to work with paladins of the Host. However, the point is that the Church of the Silver Flame doesn’t CARE if the Sovereigns exist. Their general attitude is that if the Sovereigns exist, they are vast powers that are maintaining the world overall. Arawai makes sure there’s rain for the crops. Onatar watches over foundries. That’s all great, but SOMEONE HAS TO DEAL WITH THE GHOULS IN THE GRAVEYARD. It’s notable that the Church of the Silver Flame, for example, doesn’t have a unique creation myth because at the end of the day it doesn’t MATTER where the world came from, what matters is that the people who live in it are threatened by supernatural evil and we need to work together to protect them.

I’ve said before that the Church of the the Silver Flame is more like the Jedi or the Men in Black than any religion in our world. It is EXTREMELY PRACTICAL. Evil exists, and good people should fight it. The Silver Flame is a real, concrete source of celestial energy that can empower champions to fight evil. Noble souls strengthen the Flame after death, so be virtuous. If you want to believe in some sort of higher beings beyond that, feel free. What’s important is to protect the innocent from supernatural evil, and faith in the Flame will help you to do that. So the Church doesn’t teach anything about the Sovereigns and it doesn’t encourage its followers to believe in them or incorporate them into its services in any way, but it doesn’t specifically deny that they exist or forbid followers from holding both beliefs.

That’s all for now! Feel free to ask about other general information topics in the comments, but I won’t have time to address every topic. Thanks again to my Patreon supporters who make these articles possible!

IFAQ: Rakshasas and Native Fiends

As time permits, I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. Today, I want to look at native fiends, with a particular focus on rakshasa.

What’s a “Native Fiend”?

A native fiend is a fiend that was spawned in a demiplane of Khyber. If it’s physically destroyed, its energy will return to its place of origin and it will reform. Powerful fiends retain their identity and memories from incarnation to incarnation, while weak fiends may not. So if you kill Hektula the Scribe, she will reform in the Tower of Shadows—the heart demiplane of Sul Khatesh—and she will remain Hektula and remember how you defeated her. On the other hand, if you kill Bob the Imp, a new imp will eventually appear to take his place, but it may be Bill the Imp, and he won’t remember you.

The key point is that native fiends are from the material plane. Hektula isn’t from Shavarath or Daanvi; she’s part of the spiritual architecture of the material plane. She belongs here.

How does this affect spells like Banishing Smite or Banishment?

While native fiends belong in the material plane, they are spawned in demiplanes. I’d say that banishing effects banish them to their demiplane of origin. The main question is whether they return at the end of the spell effect (which is normal for native creatures) or remain banished to the demiplane (following the rules for extraplanar creatures). There’s a case to be made either way—on the one hand, they are native to this plane; on the other, the balancing effects of the 5E rules don’t consider the possibility of a native fiend. Personally, I’d be inclined to base it on the power of the fiend in question: a lesser fiend would be banished to their demiplane, while a major villain would return when the spell expires; you can’t banish an overlord with a 4th level spell. And of course, rakshasas are immune to spells of 6th level or below, so you can’t banish Hektula with these spells.

Fiends from the planes reflect central ideas. Fiends from Shavarath are tied to war, while fiends from Daanvi are about tyranny and the abuse of law. What do native fiends represent?

At the most basic level, native fiends represent evil. They are all that is wrong with the world, all the things we hate and fear made manifest. Fiends from other planes generally don’t care about Eberron because they have business on other planes; the devil from Shavarath has a war to fight. The devil of Khyber is part of Eberron; their purpose is to represent evil in our world.

Beyond that, there are two basic classes of native fiend, based on their demiplanes of origin. As described in Exploring Eberron, heart demiplanes are essentially the true manifestation of an overlord. Fiends from heart demiplanes are, fundamentally, extensions of the overlord and they should be projected through the lens of that overlord. This is why Hektula is a scribe and Mordakhesh is a warrior; Hektula is an element of the Keeper of Secrets, while Mordakhesh is an element of the Rage of War. Fiends from heart demiplanes can freely leave those demiplanes, and while their personalities reflect their overlords, they have independent consciousness and personalities. It’s even possible—though quite rare, except with Eldrantulku—for fiends to scheme against the overlord they are tied to. S

The second common class of native fiend are those tied to shadow demiplanes. These demiplanes are essentially alien worlds within the world; each reflects a concept—the Ironlands, the Abyssal Forest of Khaar—but they have no overlord and no obvious purpose; they simply are. Compared to heart fiends, shadow fiends have limited self-awareness and independence; they may appear to be intelligent, but they don’t actually have long-term goals or aspirations. They’re essentially set dressing, part of the story of the demiplane; most can’t voluntarily leave their demiplanes. However, there are places in the world where these demiplanes can bleed into Eberron… most notably, the Demon Wastes. As a result, there are fiends roaming the Demon Wastes that aren’t aligned with the Lords of Dust and who have no long-term agenda; they leave other fiends alone, but anything else is fair game. So when you fight a vrock in the Demon Wastes and think “Doesn’t it have something better to do”—no, it really doesn’t.

Night hags are a notable exception to these classifications. While they’re native fiends, they are independent beings with no known ties to the overlords. They not only move freely across Eberron, but are able to move throughout the planes; the night hag Jabra can often be found at the Immeasurable Market of Syrania, and Sora Kell is well established as a planar traveler. The Aereni sage Tyraela Mendyrian claimed to have visited a demiplane called the Covenant, which she believed to be the point of origin of the night hags; she theorized that the night hags were created by Khyber for a specific purpose, and were intentionally independent of the overlords.

Why are most native fiends rakshasas?

Surprise twist: Most native fiends AREN’T rakshasa. During the Age of Demons, all manner of fiends roamed Eberron. There were goristros and mariliths in the armies of Rak Tulkhesh, and scheming ultroloths in the city of Eldrantulku. It’s not that most native fiends are rakshasas, it’s that most UNBOUND native fiends are rakshasas, and that’s because rakshasas are hard to bind.

The Age of Demons came to an end when the native celestials of Eberron fused their essence together to create the Silver Flame, which was then used to bind the fiends. This not only bound the overlords, it bound the vast majority of their fiendish minions—who, again, are in many ways extensions of the overlord. But some fiends were able to escape the binding. Some were just lucky. Others were so weak that they escaped notice; think of the tiny fish that slips through the gaps in the net made to catch larger creatures. And then you have the rakshasas. One of the defining features of the rakshasa is its complete immunity to spells of 6th level or below. Rakshasas can’t be spotted with detect good and evil. They can pass through magic circles. Forbiddance? Not a problem. Now, this effect isn’t absolute; you CAN trap a rakshasa with, say, imprisonment. But the grand binding wasn’t targeting the rakshasas, it was targeting the overlords, and catching their lesser minions in the same net. And it turns out that rakshasas are especially slippery fish, and were able to slip through in far greater numbers than other lesser fiends.

As it turns out, rakshasas are also exceptionally well suited to the long, subtle work required to free the overlords. They’re immune to the divination and abjuration magics common in the Five Nations. They can read thoughts. They can either shapeshift or disguise themselves with illusions (depending what edition you’re using). Which comes to the second point. There ARE a handful of other free fiends loose in the world. There is at least one goristro tied to Rak Tulkhesh roaming in the Demon Wastes, revered by his Carrion Tribes. But as a general rule, the Lords of Dust don’t have a need for a twenty-foot engine of destruction stomping around; Mordakhesh can actually get a lot more mileage by controlling, say, a newspaper editor.

So the short form is that rakshasas are the most common native fiends that are loose in the world, because they are difficult to detect and bind and because they are the fiends most capable of accomplishing the things that need to be done. However, there ARE other fiends in the world, and if you want to use one in a story, go ahead. The main things to consider are which overlord it’s tied to (if any) and if it’s working with the Lords of Dust.

Why do rakshasas look like tigers? Are people superstitious about tigers because of them?

What we’ve long said is that the appearance of immortals is something that can vary based on their origin. You can find a pit fiend in Shavarath, a pit fiend in Fernia, and a pit fiend in Khyber, but they don’t look the same. The pit fiend of Shavarath is a spirit of war and will wear heavy armor engraved with burning runes. The pit fiend of Fernia is a spirit of fire, a figure of shadow wreathed in flame. The form of the pit fiend of Khyber will vary based on the overlord it’s associated with. The general idea remains the same — a terrifying winged humanoid — but the cosmetic details should be adjusted to fit the defining concept of the fiend.

Take this basic idea and add to it the idea that rakshasa are innately shapeshifters. In 5E they don’t actually shift shape, but rather use disguise self. Nonetheless, the key point is that rakshasa look like what they want to look like. With this in mind, in my opinion, THE TIGER FORM ISN’T THE TRUE FACE OF A RAKSHASA. I feel that in their natural, purest form, the appearance of a rakshasa will reflect the nature of its overlord. Rakshasa servants of the Lurker in Shadow might have a sharklike appearance. Rakshasa tied to the Cold Sun could be serpentine. Hektula the Scribe may be a cloaked figure whose actual appearance can’t be seen within the shadows of her cowl, because mystery is part of her defining concept. So they’re all humanoid, but their appearance varies. Having said that, I feel that for the rakshasa shape is like clothes are for a human. Most of us don’t walk around naked; we wear clothes, and we generally take into account the common styles of our culture. Currently, the fashion in favor with the Lords of Dust is “tigers” and as we’ve described, the Lords of Dust add their personal touches to this; Mordakhesh has stripes of flame, while Hektula is a jaguar with arcane sigils in place of spots. But this is the fashion they choose to wear, and specifically you can think of it as the working uniform of the Lords of Dust. Hektula wears her jaguar-shape while she’s tending the library of Ashtakala, but when she returns to Tower of Shadows she may wear a shape closer to her true form.

So this has two aspects. First, not all rakshasa appear as tigers. I think animal-human hybrids are common, but as I suggested with Hektula I don’t think it’s absolutely required. Second, however, tigers have been in fashion with the Lords of Dust for at least the last few thousand years. So I think it is likely that there are superstitions associated with tigers, but I think that this is much like we have stories about the Big Bad Wolf. It’s not like any reasonable person thinks all tigers are inherently evil or that this stops Boranel from loving his ghost tigers; it’s just that there are surely folk tales about fiendish tigers.

What use do you see the Lords of Dust having for Shadow Demiplanes?

Part of the idea of the demiplanes is that each is an idea in the mind of Khyber. Because of this, fiends aren’t especially COMFORTABLE entering other demiplanes. This is why the Lords of Dust meet in Ashtakala rather than in the Tower of Shadows—because Mordakhesh doesn’t BELONG in the Tower of Shadows. Most likely he could enter it, but it would be uncomfortable and potentially impose exhaustion or have other negative effects. Essentially, each demiplane is a particular pure idea—the material plane is where all those ideas can come together.

From a practical, design standpoint this ties to the fact that as a DM, I don’t particularly want the Lords of Dust to make extensive use of demiplanes. I like the idea that demiplanes can fill the role of undiscovered country—rather than saying that the Lords of Dust have been harvesting the Abyssal Forest for tens of thousands of years. It also leaves room for lesser domain lords, which could include any of the existing archdevils or demon princes; it’s been a while, but IIRC in my conversion of the Savage Tide adventure path I suggested that Demogorgon was just such a lesser archfiend, below the status of an overlord but ruling over an aquatic demiplane. With that said, I’m fine with the idea that MORTALS have been messing with demiplanes—the Kech Shaarat have an outpost in the Ironlands, the Ghaash’kala gather supplies in the Abyssal Forest, Marcher cultists strive to find the Vale of the Inner Sun. But all of those things have a small impact on the region because they ARE mortal, and because they don’t truly understand what they’re dealing with.

So the funny thing is that in some ways, if you’re in the Demon Wastes and being pursued by fiendish forces, it may be that the safest haven you can find IS a shadow demiplane — because if your pursuers aren’t from that demiplane, they won’t follow you into it.

Wouldn’t adventurers face instant death if they walked into a heart demiplane? Is there an avatar of the overlord in its heart demiplane?

Exploring Eberron says this about heart demiplanes:

To defeat the overlords, the champions of the Age of Demons used the Silver Flame to bind their immortal essence, preventing them from returning to their heart demiplane to reform. This essentially severed the brain from the heart—but the heart demiplanes still exist.

Think of a heart demiplane like the body of a human in a coma. It is a reflection of the overlord, but their consciousness isn’t there; everything is running on autopilot. Think of it as Barad-Dûr (the Tower of Sauron) in The Lord of the Rings; it was still a very dangerous place when Sauron was regenerating, but Sauron wasn’t there. So if you go to the Tower of Shadows you will have to deal with the lesser fiends that you find there, and you might have to deal with Hektula if she’s taking a break from the Library of Ashtakala, but you won’t find an avatar of the overlord and there’s no omnipotent, omniscient presence that will instantly find you and destroy you. A heart demiplane is still, by definition, one of the most dangerous places you could possibly go, but it’s not instant death.

Now, if an overlord is partially released, things would be different. In my opinion, the most common form of “partial release” would be that the overlord’s spirit has returned to its heart demiplane but that it is unable to fully emerge from the demiplane. So to look back to Lord of the Rings, Sauron is now back in Barad-Dûr, but he can’t leave it. At that point, yes, if your paladin of the Silver Flame enters the Tower of Shadows, Sul Khatesh would likely feel it and you definitely could encounter her avatar there. However, that’s the point. Again, this is literally THE MOST DANGEROUS THING YOU COULD EVER DO. The only way it would be feasible would be if you have some form of preparation that makes the impossible possible—“Sul Khatesh would normally detect us the instant we entered her domain, but the Cloak of the Traveler will shield us from her gaze… Just make sure it doesn’t get damaged!” This also specifically gives epic adventurers an opportunity to face an overlord in battle without having the overlord unleashed into the material world.

Since there’s native fiends, are there native celestials?

Certainly. However, you rarely see them in the present day. First of all, from a mythological standpoint celestials are children of Siberys while fiends are children of Khyber… and Khyber killed Siberys. So if you accept the creation myth as literal truth, there’s a concrete reason why the material plane has more fiends than celestials; this is also an intentional part of the design of the world, because it’s why Eberron needs heroes. Second, the vast majority of the native celestials of Eberron fused their essence together to create the Silver Flame, becoming the force that now binds the overlords. But native celestials can be encountered—either temporarily drawn out of the Silver Flame, or spirits that were never part of the binding. The couatl are the most common and preferred form of native celestial, but you could definitely have an angel of the Silver Flame. As with fiends, the point is to adjust its appearance to reflect its source. So if I had a deva of the Flame, I’d give it rainbow-feathered wings, a nimbus of silver flame, and slightly serpentine features. So native celestials are extremely rare and typically couatl (or at least couatl-ish) but Siberys could produce any sort of celestial.

That’s all for now! Thanks to my Patreon supporters for making these articles possible.

Dragonmark: The Tricks of the Lords of Dust

Art by Rich Ellis and Grace Allison from Phoenix Dawn Command

Looking at the power of the Council of Ashtakala, people might wonder why the Lords of Dust haven’t conquered the world. A rakshasa’s first answer to this would be, “Haven’t we?”

“Eternal Evil,” Dragon 337

This month is challenging for many reasons, so rather than writing a long article I planned to write a number of smaller articles addressing questions posed by my Patreon supporters—questions like…

How do the Lords of Dust actually manipulate the people of Khorvaire, considering that their mental manipulation magics are not quite on par with, say, the Dreaming Dark? What’s the edge that allows them to compete with even mundane intelligence agencies such as the Dark Lanterns or House Phiarlan?

The problem is that sometimes questions that SEEM like simple topics turn out to have a lot of layers, and this turned out longer than planned. But let’s start with the shortest summary. How do the Lord of Dust manipulate the people of Khorvaire?

  • The Lords of Dust have been manipulating the people of Khorvaire since before there were people on Khorvaire. They don’t need to subvert people as the Dreaming Dark does, because they have a vast network of pawns that have been serving them for many generations.
  • Because of this, they already have people in influential positions in most major institutions and organizations in Khorvaire. They generally don’t directly control any of those organizations, but they are able to control the flow of information, burying reports, guiding the leaders in particular directions, and so on. And they do have Thuranni assassins, Dark Lanterns, and Trust agents (among others) who are directly loyal to them if they need them.
  • They have amassed vast wealth over the course of a hundred thousand years. Their top agents are mind-reading fiends. When they do need to put pressure on someone new, they can use both gold and secrets to do so.
  • They know possible paths of the future. They can start political movements that they don’t directly control because they know that in a century that movement will accomplish the thing they want it to. They have the Butterfly Effect on their side; they DO know that this one butterfly flapping its wings will cause a hurricane across the world in a decade. Now, that knowledge isn’t ABSOLUTE. They don’t know the impact of EVERY butterfly. But they know a few of them, and use those to their benefit.
  • A fun way for the Lords of Dust to manipulate people in the present is Faustian bargains: Give me your soul and I will grant you great wealth! Beat me at fiddling and I’ll give you this golden fiddle, but if you fail I take your life! The point is that FIENDS CAN LIE. Sul Khatesh can actually form warlock pacts, but a normal rakshasa CAN’T actually claim your soul. The point of this is the butterfly effect. What the fiend WANTS is for you to have this golden fiddle or to have wealth (which the Lords of Dust can easily grant through their connections and amassed resources) because somehow those things advance the prophetic path they are trying to lock in. But they want you to think that you WON the fiddle, or that they have claim to your soul… when both of these were just set dressing so people wouldn’t try to understand their REAL motives.

That’s the short answer. But as I said, there’s a lot more to this. So if you’d like to know more, read on.

An important step in planning an Eberron campaign is to decide which major villains you want to use, because you don’t have to use them all (and I personally wouldn’t). There’s nothing wrong with saying that it’s going to be a century before the Lords of Dust have an opportunity to release an overlord, that the stars aren’t right for any of the daelkyr, or that the Dreaming Dark is content in Riedra for the moment. So first of all, keep in mind that there’s no rule stating that the Lords of Dust HAVE to be actively competing with the Dreaming Dark, because it could be that the Lords of Dust aren’t trying to accomplish anything significant at the moment.

In choosing which villains you want to use, you want to consider the difference in their goals and methods, something I briefly discuss in this article. The Dreaming Dark is an alien force that seeks to conquer through subversion and infiltration, and this is why its tools are mind seed and possession. The story of the Dreaming Dark is a story of people you trust being turned against you, a story of secret invasion. The Lords of Dust tell a very different story. They have immense power in the present day. They have resources they’ve been amassing for a hundred thousand years. They have access to artifacts and eldritch machines. They have agents in place in every major house and organization. But they don’t care about the present day. Look back to the quote that opened the article. The Lords of Dust aren’t trying to conquer the world, because from their perspective they already have. They don’t want the trouble of openly ruling pathetic mortals, but through their vast network of pawns, they already have all the power they need in the present. Their goal isn’t to infiltrate existing organizations, because if they need to infiltrate an organization, they’ve already done it. Their goal is to shape events that will in turn shape the path of the future. Let’s take a quick look at the resources they have available.

  • The Lords of Dust are immortals who have been present since time began. They have been planning their schemes for a hundred thousand years. This has given then time to amass vast resources and to shape civilizations on both a large and small scale; the “Eternal Evil” article notes that when Lhazaar planned her expedition to Khorvaire, a rakshasa was advising her.
  • Through their studies of the Draconic Prophecy, they not only know the paths that will release their overlords, but they have a general roadmap of the paths the future can take. So that raksahsa guiding Lhazaar wasn’t acting blindly; they KNEW the consequences of pointing Lhazaar at Khorvaire and were intentionally shaping the future. The Lords of Dust are the organization who could build a vault in the wilderness because they know that THREE THOUSAND YEARS LATER it will be important. Again, think of them as time travelers; they just have to live their way forward to their desired future instead of jumping back and forth.
  • The central core of the Lords of Dust are rakshasa. Their leaders—Hektula, the Wyrmbreaker, etc—are exceptionally powerful rakshasa. But even the default rakshasa is a shapeshifting, mind-reading fiend with a range of enchantment and illusion abilities and potentially, the ability to return after death. But in many ways, the most powerful rakshasa ability is their spell immunity. A rakshasa cannot be “affected or detected” by spells of 6th level or below unless it allows it. That includes things like detect evil and good, see invisibility, and even true seeing. It allows them to walk through magic circles and forbiddance as if they weren’t there. They can ignore the vast majority of tools that would normally be used to detect the presence of fiends or to defend against them. It’s up to the DM to decide what it means that you “can’t be affected or detected” by, say, true seeing or zone of truth. In MY campaign I say that both spells appear to work normally even though they don’t; so a truthteller BELIEVES the rakshasa has been affected by zone of truth even though they haven’t, and true seeing shows the rakshasa’s disguise self as it it was its true appearance. So again, the point is that the rakshasa have a huge advantage because the magic we rely on for our highest security doesn’t work on them; the rakshasa CAN lie in a zone of truth and can look a top Medani agent in the eye without its true nature being exposed.
  • The majority of the agents of the Lords of Dust are mortal “pawns.” Some of these are what Exploring Eberron calls loyalist cultists, who know the power they serve and and proud of this allegiance. But just as many are devoted to SOMETHING or SOMEONE but don’t realize that this is a fiend or a creation of fiends. Again, the Lords of Dust have been working at this since before human civilization existed, and they are shapeshifting, mind-reading fiends with a map of the future. They have created political movements, art movements, devoted groups of friends, what have you — all to gain pawns who will do a favor at the precise moment it’s needed, likely never knowing the full significance of that favor. One of the most important functions of a pawn is to be in a useful position that allows a rakshasa to temporarily take their place at critical moments. It’s a waste to have a rakshasa working as a clerk in the royal archives of Breland for thirty years. But the Lords of Dust may have a PAWN working as a clerk, and on the three days where there’s something vitally important that the Lords of Dust need in the archives, a rakshasa can take the pawn’s place and accomplish those tasks. Again, it’s almost impossible to identify these pawns, because FOR THE REMAINING THIRTY YEARS that pawn is just a loyal clerk doing their job and they don’t even KNOW what the rakshasa did or why it did it when they let it take their place.

So the story of the Dreaming Dark is one of aliens infiltrating our world. The story of the Lords of Dust is one of discovering that aliens infiltrated our world thousands of years ago and have been secretly pulling the strings ever since. The goal in dealing with the Lords of Dust isn’t to UTTERLY DEFEAT THE LORDS OF DUST. They’re simply too deeply entrenched, not to mention immortal, and again, they are actually part of the status quo of society as we know it. You’ve lived alongside them all your life, and they NEED the world to generally be stable; if they need you assassinate Queen Aurala in order to free Sul Khatesh, they need there to be a Queen Aurala. So the goal is to disrupt their immediate plans so that they will go back to the drawing board and scheme for another two centuries while our lives go on as normal.

When dealing with the Lords of Dust, part of the question is what you’re actually dealing with. You can use them in small ways or as major villains. Here’s a quick overview.

  • Lone Wolves. The schemes of the Lords of Dust unfold over the course of centuries. What do they do to pass the time in the space in between? Adventurers could clash with a fiend who, while technically tied to the Lords of Dust, is pursuing an entirely personal agenda. A lone rakshasa could be playing a game with a mortal family—say, killing the second child of each family member when that child reaches their 22nd birthday—just for fun. They could start a cult of serial killers because it amuses them to do so. They could seek revenge on a dragon that annoyed them a thousand years ago. In creating lesser fiends, consider that they are likely to share some traits with the overlord they serve. Minions of Sul Khatesh may be interested in arcane experiments, minions of Rak Tulkhesh may enjoy murder and cruelty, and minions of Eldrantuklu love intrigues. So essentially, you can have a villainous fiend—even a member of the Lords of Dust—without the adventure being about THE LORDS OF DUST.
  • Doing What They Love. Mordakhesh and Rak Tulkhesh love to spread war and hatred. Hektula and Sul Khatesh love to have people using magic in ways that sow fear. These schemes don’t necessarily AMOUNT to anything; they are literally just a way to pass the time for a few centuries while they wait for their next release-the-overlord possibility to come around. In general, you can think of this as “feeding the overlord.” It’s not like Rak Tulkhesh can starve to death, but if Mordakhesh can feed him war he is HAPPY and that in turn pleases Mordakhesh. So he LIKES to sow hatred even when there’s no world-shattering threat involved, as long as he doesn’t cause so much chaos that it interferes with future plans. So you can fight an evil wizard who’s empowered by Sul Khatesh and do something good by defeating them, but the FATE OF THE WORLD was never at stake and Hektula herself doesn’t care too much. You did a good thing that protected the local community from that wizard, but it’s not like Hektula will vow vengeance because she has literally done THOUSANDS OF TIMES. Sometimes the seeds grow into beautiful bloody flowers, sometimes troublesome adventurers stop them. No big deal… she’ll plant more.
  • Butterfly Collectors. It’s possible that one or more of your characters has a critical role to play in events that will trigger the release of Sul Khatesh… two hundred years from now. The whole idea of manipulating the Prophecy is that it takes generations to play out. As such, it’s possible that a Lord of Dust needs the adventurers to do something that doesn’t threaten them or the world in the present day, and that could even be useful to them. Consider The Hobbit: Gandalf could be a disguised rakshasa, who brings the dwarves to the Shire, convinces Bilbo to join their company, and helps them defeat Smaug because he knows that if Bilbo joins them he WILL find the One Ring, and he’s just laying the groundwork for the events of The Lord of The Rings, which will occur a century later. But in the short term, Bilbo and his friends defeat a dragon, find a magic ring, have great adventures and become friends. This is exactly the sort of thing a Lord of Dust could set in motion; it not only SEEMS innocent, it IS innocent… until a century later, when the fate of the world is determined by these events. Remember that the Lords of Dust are limited by needing the correct mortals to fulfill the Prophecy, because they need things to happen in the proper way. In this example, Hektula might know EXACTLY where the Ring is the whole time, but she needs BILBO to defeat Golumn in the battle of riddles and to claim it himself.
  • Loyalist Cults. Many pawns work for the Lords of Dust without knowing it. But all of the overlords have cults that DO know who they work for and revel in it. The Carrion Tribes of the Demon Wastes are examples of this, but there can be fiend cults throughout Khorvaire. If you need a quick minor villain, great, use an overlord cult. This is in the middle of this list because it can go in either direction. The cultists could be engaged in a scheme that will lead to the release of an overlord, or they could just be in that “doing what they love” role. Rak Tulkhesh loves to have cults shedding blood, and it could be that’s all that’s going on—and you stopping that cult is just a good thing for everyone. Or it could be that the actions of that cult are part of an early stage of releasing an overlord. The question there is whether a) by the time the adventurers defeat the cult, they have already done the critical action they needed to perform to push the prophecy to the next level or b) whether the cult being defeated WAS PART OF THE PLAN ALL ALONG. Because that’s the way the Lords of Dust work; they may have pushed their cult into your path because they NEEDED you to defeat them. Exploring Eberron discusses the cults of five different overlords.
  • Releasing an Overlord. This is the main event: the idea that the Lords of Dust are working toward the release of an overlord, and that a release—or at least a partial release—could occur in the course of a campaign. This requires the Lords of Dust to get a particular path of the Draconic Prophecy to pass; this is discussed in this article. The critical point is that these are things that have MANY steps and you’re just coming in at the end; they have likely been working on this for centuries, and these are the last steps. So usually this is something that adventurers will discover at a critical point and then have to fight on multiple steps. The challenge is that the rakshasa have a map of the future and the adventurers don’t. As noted above, it could be that by the time the adventurers defeat a cult they’ve already accomplished what they needed to do, or it could be that defeating the cult was part of the plan.
  • Rebinding an Overlord. Here’s the thing: preventing the release of an overlord isn’t nearly as much fun as rebinding an overlord that has been partially released. If you successfully keep the plan from succeeding, you never actually get to see how bad things could be. History is full of moments when the plans of the Lords of Dust were blocked and NOBODY KNOWS ABOUT THEM. But everybody knows about Tira Miron’s sacrifice to rebind Bel Shalor, because the Shadow in the Flame WAS partially released and terrorized Thrane for months before Tira figured out how he could be defeated… which meant identifying a different path of the Prophecy (she needed to be channeling a couatl; to be wielding Kloijner; to fight him at a particular place and time; to be working with specific allies). A campaign involving the partial release of an overlord gives all sorts of opportunities to battle fiends and unravel mysteries, and to ultimately fight an aspect of the overlord (which is what the stat blocks in Rising represent, though they are MUCH weaker than the overlords presented in third edition)… While a campaign in which the adventurers just block the release can feel anticlimactic.

You might well say “If the Lords of Dust are so powerful, why don’t they just kill the player characters the moment they become a threat?” Because sure, from a mechanical standpoint they easily could. They have hundreds of rakshasas—possibly thousands—epic magic and countless pawns in positions of power. The reason they don’t turn all the power against the adventurers is because they need the player characters—or at least, believe that they MIGHT need the player characters. You know how we always say that player characters are remarkable and that they’re the heroes of the age? That’s because they are PROPHETICALLY SIGNIFICANT. It may be that the Lords of Dust have specific plans that they need to use the PCs for (Hektula needs you to kill Queen Aurala to release an overlord) or it could be that they are just the first dominos in a long line (Hektula needs your wizard’s GREAT-GRANDAUGHTER to kill Aurala’s great-grandsonand your wizard doesn’t even have any children yet). They may not even KNOW what role they need you for, but they know you’re significant and they’re figuring it out. This is why pawns of the Lords of Dust tend not to be the people IN power, but rather the advisors, the scribes, the people in the background. The Lords of Dust can’t force the actions of prophetic lynchpins without derailing the prophecy. They couldn’t just replace Lhazaar with a rakshasa or use dominate person (which any raksahsa can cast) on her; they needed her to CHOOSE to go to Khorvaire. It’s the same here. They can manipulate the adventurers by manipulating the events around them, but they can’t just mind control them or replace them.

One way to think about it is rats in a scientist’s maze. Your PC is a rat and the Wyrmbreaker wants you to go down a particular path. He can try to lure you to go the way he wants—drop a piece of cheese down the right path—but he can’t just PUSH you down the path or the experiment becomes invalid. Should you at the final moment FAIL to go down the proper path, he’s not going to kill the rat; what’s the point? Instead he’s going to put you back in the cage and start figuring out the next experiment. Because that’s the thing: there will ALWAYS be a way to release the overlords. The moment Tira rebound Bel Shalor, a new path for his release began to take shape. It could take centuries for the Lords of Dust to identify that new path, and a thousand years before they have a chance to make it happen, but they WILL figure it out. Dustoran has tried and failed HUNDREDS OF TIMES. When you foil his plot, he’s going to just move on to the next one. And let’s face it, even if he was certain he has no further use for you, he doesn’t NEED to kill you. You’re mortal. If you’re human, you’ll be dead in a few decades; he’ll still be here in ten thousand years.

That’s all for now! Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters for posing this question and for making these articles possible!

IFAQ: Elven Miscellany

My last article discussed the impact the long lifespan of elves has on the elves of the Five Nations. This brought up a few other points I’d like to discuss.

Elves are Old for a Long Time

The elves of Aerenal devote decades or centuries to intense, focused study. In the previous article I said that the elves of the Five Nations don’t do this because the infrastructure doesn’t support it; a Brelish elf is going to the same school or university as a Brelish human, and there’s no decades-long classes in the Brelish core curriculum. This raised the question of whether that means the elves of the Five Nations are more versatile than the Aereni… and if so, if combining greater versatility with longer life meant that they dominated the study of arcane sciences in Khorvaire. The answer to this is NO. It’s not just the culture of the Aereni that’s the issue; it’s the fact that elves mentally mature at the same pace as humans and then are OLD FOR A VERY LONG TIME. Here’s a quote from a previous article…

This ties to the idea that a seven-hundred year old lifespan is both a blessing and a curse. Our fluid intelligence – which fuels our ability to adapt to entirely new things – peaks in young adulthood. You grandfather may be a brilliant doctor, a skilled mathematician, and still have trouble learning to use an iPhone that a three-year-old masters in three days. The child is running on fluid intelligence, which allows them to quickly adapt to new things. You grandfather is working off crystallized intelligence, the concrete skills he has perfected over time. For me, this is the fundamental difference between elves and humans… because in my Eberron, both elf and human peak in fluid intelligence at the same time. An elf’s mental facilities don’t deteriorate due to age as a human’s will, so the 110-year-old elf is still sharp and alert… but they’re is also just as firmly set in their ways as a hundred-year-old human, and it’s difficult for them to adapt to entirely new things.

Eberron Flashback: Aereni and Tairnadal

This follows the principle that older people tend to be more conservative than younger people, and the point I made earlier that Brelish elves are more likely to support the monarchy because they don’t like change. Aereni society is built with this in mind, but the general idea is that elves are more likely to specialize than to be diverse in their skills because it’s harder for them to learn entirely new things—and, just as I don’t remember much of the Latin I learned in college, if an elf doesn’t USE a skill for 50 years, it will atrophy. Focusing on a few skills ensures that they MAINTAIN those skills. So if you go to Arcanix, the 500 year old elf professor is more likely to be the one who’s been teaching the same Siberyan Principles course for 300 years—and who is AMAZING at it—than the young hotshot teaching the course that challenges all established principles. There are always exceptions; Mordain the Fleshweaver is a remarkably innovative elf, though it’s questionable as to whether you can still call him an elf. And your player character elf can certainly defy this pattern. But generally, elves are old for a long time; a 200 year old elf has the same general outlook on life that a 200 year old human would if they could live that long, and they aren’t as flexible in their outlook as a 20 year old human.

Where Did You Get Your Training?

Throughout many editions of D&D, elves, dwarves, and other races have had features that feel more cultural than genetic. All elves have “Elf Weapon Training” with longswords and longbows. All dwarves know how to use axes and they’re either brewers and smiths; in third edition, all dwarves had a bonus to fight orcs. It doesn’t matter if they’d never SEEN an orc or ever picked up a hammer: ALL DWARVES HAVE THIS.

This stems from the same monocultural impulse that says “All orcs are evil,” and from the beginning we pushed against this in Eberron. In third edition we largely just ignored it. In fifth edition we’ve more actively challenged it. The Aereni elf subrace in Wayfinder’s Guide and Exploring Eberron removes the Elf Weapon Training trait, because elves in Eberron DON’T all know how to use swords and bows. In Wayfinder’s and Rising From The Last War we suggested that assigned racial languages could be changed, because dwarves aren’t born knowing Dwarvish; if you’re a dwarf born in the slums of Sharn, you might know Goblin instead of Dwarvish. Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything expanded on this with the optional Proficiency Swap system; they specifically call out the example of an elf who swaps longsword proficiency for an instrument proficiency. So Maza Thadian, the best cook in Sharn, doesn’t know how to use a longbow—because she traded that proficiency for Cook’s Utensils.

So the key point here is that Elf Weapon Training—or Dwarf Weapon Training, or similar features—don’t represent some sort of genetic talent. Which means that if you’re playing an elf and you choose to KEEP Elf Weapon Training, it’s up to you to decide how your character acquired that training. In Exploring Eberron I note that Mror dwarves can base their racial Weapon Training and Tool Proficiencies on their experiences in the War Below. This is an equally logical approach for dwarves and elves of the Five Nations. The Last War lasted for a century. Even if your background is entertainer, you can still say that you served in the last war for a decade back eighty years ago. It didn’t because the focus of your life, which is why you’re a bard instead of a fighter, but you still retain that basic training. On the other hand, if your background is ENTERTAINER, perhaps you worked archery into your act. Or, even if you don’t worship the Silver Flame NOW, perhaps you spent a decade as part of a devout Thrane militia fifty years ago and received your training then. Or you could say that your elf character never touched a bow until yesterday—but YOU have an ancestor who lives in your memories and who’s been training your while you trance. Essentially, the fact that you have skill with these weapons is part of your character’s story, and I want to know the STORY behind it. Three Brelish elves may all have Elf Weapon Training—but HOW they got those proficiencies may be completely different for each of them, and it’s certainly different from the training a Tairnadal ranger received.

Potential Lifespan is Just That

In the last article a question was raised as to whether elves would have a different outlook on the Blood of Vol, because the religion evolved as a reaction to the brutality of life and elves are less likely to see life as brutish and short. Well, the Blood of Vol evolved in the cold, harsh regions of Karrnath and the northern Lhazaar Principalities. It evolved among people who were fighting famine and plagues, and who were oppressed by tyrannical rulers. It is a reaction to the basic question what just gods would allow death and suffering… and SUFFERING is an important word to remember. Because just because an elf can POTENTIALLY live to be 700 years old doesn’t mean they WILL. Elves have no special resistance to cold or disease. They may not sleep, but they still need food and water. They can suffer from the cold, and they can suffer the agony of watching their starving children dying from diseases. The long lifespan can seem like a curse on two levels: first, when an elf child dies of a fever when they are ten years old, it seems more unjust because they COULD have had centuries of life. Second, the elf who does live for centuries while enduring starvation and disease and who has to watch their friends dying around them may well feel that another century of life is just more time to suffer.

Aerenal is in many ways a utopia. It is a peaceful, advanced nation where people DO expect to live out most of their natural life in comfort and health. And yes, the Blood of Vol won’t find much purchase there. But it won’t find much purchase ANYWHERE where people live long and comfortable lives. It takes root in those places where people are surrounded by suffering and loss, places where the cruelty of mortal life is made manifest. And just because elves can potentially live longer than humans doesn’t mean that they will—and it doesn’t protect them from starvation, poverty, plague, or any of the other tragedies that humanity endures.

My Patreon backers have posted a lot of good questions on other topics, so this is all for elves for the moment… I’ll try to get back to it in a century or so! Thanks to my Patreon supporters for making these articles possible.

IFAQ: Elves and Pugs

In the fifth edition of Dungeons & Dragons, elves can live to be up to 750 years old. In the past I’ve written many articles about the elves of Valenar and Aerenal and how their long lifespans have affected their culture. But what about the elves of the Five Nations, who are part of a culture driven by short-lived humans? This month, my Patreon supporters posed a number of interesting questions on this topic.

An adult elf of the Five Nations is not only older than the current monarch of their nation, they’re older than the NATION, given that Galifar only dissolved a century ago. How does their long lifespan affect their national loyalty?

First of all, we’ve always said that most demihumans of the Five Nations tend to put their national identity before their species. A third-generation Brelish halfling might support the Glidewing in the Race of Eight Winds as a nod to their Talentan heritage, but they consider themselves Brelish, not Talentan. So that’s the first point to consider: elves born in the Five Nations generally embrace that culture. Which comes to the second point: until the Last War, the Five Nations were united as Galifar. But there were still Five Nations, each of which was culturally distinct and maintained traditions that predated Galifar; Galifar united them under a single ruler and code of laws, but it didn’t erase that cultural identity. The point of this is that not only does your 300-year-old Brelish elf think of themselves as Brelish, they’ve thought of themselves as Brelish far longer than a 30-year-old human; they’ve had far longer to invest in the traditions of Breland and to have a very strong sense of what it means to be Brelish. Which ties to the second point. Because their long lifespan means they’ll outlive the humans around them—whether we’re talking about their monarch or their neighbor—the elves of the Five Nations tend to invest in institutions and customs more than in individual humans. An elf invests in the concept of Breland more deeply than in any one ruler. Likewise, they invest in families more than individuals, seeing the living members of the family as the latest incarnation of that beloved family. For an off the cuff example, consider the relationship between humans and dogs. My household is a pug household. We had a pug we loved, and when he passed away we got a new pug—who is very much his own person, but also very much a pug. And when he passes away, I expect we’ll get another pug. We love our pugs, and in the moment, we love our current pug most of all. But we also know that barring tragedy we will outlive him. So we love him in the moment, we give him the best life that we can, and when he passes we’ll honor him by bringing a new pug into our lives. What we’re NOT going to do is suddenly decide to get a St. Bernard; we’ve become pug people, and we don’t WANT a different dog.

This basic principle applies both to national identity and to an elf’s personal relationships with shorter lived races. Breland in this instances is “Pugs” while King Boranel is “The Current Pug.” The elf who has chosen to live in Breland for three centuries loves Breland more than any other nation. Most likely, they also love Boranel; they may fondly remember Wroaan or other rulers, but Boranel is alive and with them now; they will always honor Wroaan’s memory, but they support the current king. Unless, of course, they don’t like Boranel, in which case they may grumble and think “There’s always a bad one in the litter, but in another ten yeas we’ll get a new one that will be better.” That elf doesn’t want to go live in Thrane any more than I want to get a St. Bernard; they’ve become comfortable with Breland and it’s become part of their identity. With this in mind, I would also say that Brelish elves in particular likely strongly oppose the Swords of Liberty and the anti-monarchy movement, because the four hundred year old elf is far more invested in the institution of the Brelish monarchy than the human who’s only lived with it for twenty years. They’ve invested in the idea of Breland for centuries, and part of that idea of Breland is that it’s a monarchy.

As I said, I’d extend this to an elf’s personal relationships with humans. In playing an elf character, I’d consider whether I know the ancestors of one or more of the other player characters. I might ask one of the other players (it’s a collaborative story and I want to work with them, not impose my story on them ) if they’re OK with the idea that my character has had a long relationship with their family. Throughout the campaign, I might discuss my experiences and adventures with their ancestors. It might even be that the reason I’m part of the adventuring party is to look after that character—because their grandfather would never forgive me if anything happened to them. If you’re familiar with Deep Space Nine, there’s a touch of this in the way Dax refers to their previous hosts. As an elf, play up the fact that you may have known Queen Wroaan or met Kaius I. When you’re at a store in Sharn, mention how it use to be a restaurant a century ago and had the best fried spider legs in the city—they just don’t make them like that any more.

It’s suggested that some elf immigrants to Khorvaire came with a plan to marry into human families and essentially outlive their way to power, inheriting family fortunes from their short-lived spouses. Canon lore suggests that this was abandoned out of an initial revulsion for the Khoravar, but how has it played out in the present day?

The canon answer is clear: elves haven’t taken over all the noble families of Galifar, and in fact, very few elf nobles are mentioned. The question, then, is WHY. The answer is that people of Galifar are well aware of the disparate lifespans of their neighbors and that the laws of the land take it into account. Any position with a lifetime appointment will have clauses that allow for the holder to be removed, so you can’t just appoint a warforged to a lifetime position and then have no way to remove them ever. Meanwhile, nobles will always has pre-nuptial agreements to address this; I think the standard one is simply that a spouse doesn’t inherit the title. It passes to the eldest child or, failing that, to a sibling.

Looking at an example of this in play, Kaius III of Karrnath is married to Etrigani, an Aereni elf. As long as Kaius is alive, Etrigani carries the title of queen. When Kaius dies, however, the crown of Karrnath would pass to their eldest child, not to Etrigani. If they have no children (and currently they don’t), it would pass sideways along the line to Kaius’s sister Haydith. A spouse could likely serve as a regent while waiting for a child to come of age, but they can’t claim the title as their own… thus preventing an elf from marrying into a family of human nobles and holding the title for the next five centuries.

There are a few elf nobles in the Five Nations, and it’s certainly the case that if you’re an Aundairian elf with the noble background, you may be waiting a LONG TIME before the title falls to you.

This raises another question. If my elf character is two hundred years old and knew the wizard’s grandfather, how come I’m only a first level character?

The long-lived races are always a problem in this regard, and I’ve talked about this before in this article. First of all, I’ll call out the fact that in REAL LIFE, skill doesn’t progress in a continuously upward line as we grow older. I learned Latin in college, I haven’t used that skill in two decades, and at this point I can recognize some words but I couldn’t write a sentence in Latin. In another 20 years I may have forgotten it entirely, and that’s nothing like an elf living for centuries. Generally speaking, we reach plateaus with skills and have to work to maintain them. I also fenced in college. Guess what? I’m older now and while I still know some tricks, I’m not a better fencer than I was. Admittedly I multiclassed and took levels of writer instead of fighter, but the point remains: age alone doesn’t equate to skill. A second point is simple: How good is your grandfather at making TikTok videos? Now, replace “TikTok videos” with “Modern Techniques of Arcane Spellcasting.” You could absolutely say that your 1st level elf wizard was a cutting edge wizard 300 years ago, but he’s been out of the game for a while—writing novels, perhaps—and now his spellcasting techniques are incredibly out of date and he can’t figure out these fancy somatic components the kids are doing these days. “That thing! With the fingers!”

While that’s a FUNNY option, I would personally be more likely to use my elf character being 1st level to add a hook to their backstory: WHY are they 250 years old and only first level? My immediate inclination is just what I said above but without the comical agism. My elf character trained as a wizard 200 years ago, and then spent the last 200 years as a novelist or a poet—some career that essentially has no concrete bearing on the skills I use while adventuring—and I need to get back in practice. I remember the basics, and it’s all going to come back to me quickly once we get going, but come on people, I haven’t even cast a cantrip since before you were born.

A more dramatic option would be to justify my temporary low level as a form of injury. Perhaps I served in the Last War—possibly even serving with the parents or grandparents of one of the other characters—and suffered “spellshock” from an arcane attack. Or perhaps I was caught in the Mourning and was found in a coma—I’ve recovered, but my whole body feels numb and I haven’t fully recovered my spellcasting ability. OR, perhaps I was on an epic adventure (again, could be with an ancestor of one of the PCs) and was cursed by an archfey. Breaking that curse could be an ongoing story hook, or it could be something that is broken BECAUSE I’m adventuring with the descendant—allowing me to regain my skills. All three of these options would allow me to say that I WAS a fairly high level character a century ago but I’ve temporarily lost those skills. While other characters may feel like they’ve dramatically improved by the time they reach 9th level, I feel like I’ve only just gotten my sea legs back.

The main point here is that you shouldn’t look at the old dwarf or elf and say “It makes no sense that I’m 120 and still have the same skills as a 20 year old human.” First of all, remember that in Eberron ANY player character is remarkable. Second, don’t just say “it makes no sense”—figure out a way that it COULD make sense. An injury, a curse, a century away from adventuring. The fact that you’re only 1st level NOW doesn’t prevent you from having BEEN higher level at some point in the past.

Do the longer lived races like the elves and dwarves view the Blood of Vol differently (insofar as their lives are not as short, cruel and hopeless as the oppressed humans who latched onto it a couple millennia ago)?

This raises an important point: the fact that you CAN live to be seven hundred years old doesn’t mean that you WILL. Elves are just as susceptible to disease and to cold as humans are. They may not sleep, but they certainly need to eat. So if you’re an elf farmer in Karrnath surprised by a sudden frost, you can still be worried that you’re hungry, that your children are freezing and one has a fever, and that if the frost kills your crops there’s no knowing how you’ll get the money you need to survive. Even if you do somehow live through it, the fact that you get to look forward to hundreds of years of watching your friends die may not feel like a blessing. Those people who founded the Blood of Vol, who felt that life was short, cruel, and helpless, weren’t dying of old age. So no, I don’t think it has a notable effect. And also, the Blood of Vol has never been widespread in the Five Nations. The Brelish elf may not see the appeal to the Blood of Vol, but most Brelish HUMANS don’t see the appeal either.

That’s all for now! I am VERY busy with writing deadlines and family matters and I likely won’t have times to answer questions on this topic. Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters for asking interesting questions and for making this website possible!