Dragonmarks: Magewrights and Wand Adepts

One of the underlying principles of Eberron is that magic is a part of civilization. It’s not limited to a handful of mighty wizards in ivory towers; there’s an arcane locksmith down on Third Street, next door to the medium and the guy who makes everbright lanterns. With that said, this magic is widespread and useful, but not powerful. The streets may be lit with continual flame, but teleportation and resurrection are rare… and a wish is unheard of. It’s wide magic, not high magic.

The previous article looked at common magic items and magic item creation, and considered how to make that work in 5E D&D. But magic items are only part of the wide magic of Eberron. It also embraces the idea that spellcasting can be a job – not limited to full wizards or sorcerers, but also people who do nothing but make magic lanterns or speak to the dead. Now, you may look at this article and say “In 5E, anyone can get the Magic Initiate feat – doesn’t that mean magic is just scattered throughout the world without any of this?” It only means that if YOU decide it means that, because there are no rules about NPCs acquiring feats. A player character can be a Magic Initiate, but as a DM and world designer it’s up to you to decide how that’s reflected in the wider world. In Eberron, magic is a science. People don’t just wake up one day with a new feat and know how to cast light. These things take time and training – and that produces magewrights and wand adepts.

Magewrights

A wizard is extremely versatile. Your wizard can grab a spellbook, spend a few hours studying it, and cast a spell they’ve never seen before. That’s great, because wizards are exceptional people. But in Eberron, you can cast magic without having that degree of versatility. This is the magewright, someone who spends years learning how to perform the skills and spells associated with a particular trade. In 3.5 D&D this was an NPC class, but that’s not required in 5E; instead, you can simple state that an NPC magewright has the ability to cast the spells you want them to cast. Beyond this, we can also say that the spells the magewrights can perform are different from those used by PCs – typically, because they are more limited. For example, Prestidigitation allows the caster to heat, chill, clean, soil, and more. Mending allows the caster to mend anything. But you can say that a magewright chef knows a limited version of Prestidigitation that only affects food – and that a launderer knows Prestidigitation and Mending, but can only work with cloth. The fact that the player character can mend anything is again a sign of their versatility and exceptional talent.

My idea of a magewright is that they can cast one to three cantrips or spells. They don’t require spellbooks or memorization; they have perfected these spells over the course of years. However, their cantrips may be limited (as noted above) and their spells can only be cast as rituals. So the arcane locksmith can cast Arcane Lock all day, but it takes time. I’ll talk more about ways in which these rituals differ from PC spells further below, but first, let’s take a look at a few Magewrights you could find in the world…

  • Chef: Prestidigitation, only affecting food; perhaps a form of Gentle Repose for preserving meals, or Purify Food and Drink. Proficient with cook’s utensils.
  • Healer: Detect Poison & DiseaseLesser Restoration, Spare the Dying. Proficient with Medicine and herbalism kits.
  • Launderer: Prestidigitation and Mending, both only affecting cloth.
  • Lamplighter: Light, Continual Flame. Uses tinkers’ tools to construct lanterns.
  • Locksmith: Arcane Lock, Knock. Proficient with thieves’ tools and tinkers’ tools.
  • Medium: Speak with Dead. Perhaps a form of Minor Illusion that produces an image of a dead person as they were in life. Possibly proficient in Insight and Persuasion, if they help bereaved make sense of a loss… or Insight and Deception, if they use grief to take advantage of mourners.
  • Oracle: Augury, Divination. Proficient in Insight and Investigation. This is definitely a case where I would adjust the magewright versions of these spells. In the hands of a magewright, Augury – which should be the bread and butter of a common oracle – should be able to predict outcomes farther in the future, though still only with the binary answer of woe or weal. An oracle who can perform full Divination should be rarer (it is a fourth level spell) and the ritual could take longer than usual and be more expensive.

These are just a handful of ideas; there are many possibilities. A suspicious noble could have a food taster who knows Detect Poison and Purify Food and Drink. The city watch in a major city could have a verifier who can cast Detect Thoughts and Zone of Truth. There’s also a critical spell from Eberron that’s missing in 5E, and that’s Magecraft – a spell that provides a bonus to a skill check related to crafting. So you begin to get a sense of the possibilities. But also consider the limitations.

  • What does it cost? Eberron treats magic as a science and magewrights as part of the economy. The lesser restoration spell has no cost, which is fine, because it’s NOT a ritual and player characters can’t use it that often; the “cost” is that it uses a limited spell slot. But if you’re going to introduce it as a service that can be performed by a magewright, you either need to ADD a cost or come up with an explanation for why disease still exists in the world. While every spell has unique components, it’s always been the idea that Eberron dragonshards are the basic fuel of the magical economy, and that applies here. House Tharashk refines raw shards to produce residuum, glowing powder that serves as a fuel for most rituals – so a locksmith can use residuum instead of powdered gold dust when casting arcane lock. You can add whatever cost you want to set the price of a service. Does curing a disease cost ten gold pieces or a hundred? Even the launderer might have to sprinkle a copper’s worth of residuum over the cloth they wish to cleanse.
  • What does it look like? These are jobs people do. Mechanically they involve performing a ritual. But it’s up to you to add the color to that. An oracle can cast augury as a ritual. But what are they doing in that ritual? Are they reading cards? Palms? Auras? Are they studying star charts or patterns of the planes? A locksmith can cast arcane lock. Are they tracing elaborate patterns in the air with an iron wand? Just because these things are mechanically all “spells” doesn’t mean that the magewright just chews their lip and concentrates for a few minutes, regardless of what they are doing. Add flavor!
  • Who can do this? In Eberron in particular, it’s established that the Dragonmarked Houses dominate certain fields of magical industry. One possibility is that the Houses are where you go to learn the skills of the magewright – that most locksmiths are trained and licensed by House Kundarak. On the other hand, if you want to give the houses a tighter hold you can say that many magewright rituals are restricted to someone with a particular dragonmark… that only Kundarak dwarves can master the rituals of the arcane locksmith, that only Jorasco halflings can be magewright healers. The reason you don’t see a verifier at every watch station is because it requires the Mark of Detection. This is a way to truly emphasize the power and influence of a house; if you want a magic lock, Kundarak is your only option. Of course this is specifically about magewrights; your PC wizard can cast Arcane Lock, but do you really want to make a living doing it?

So that’s the idea of the magewright: that beyond magical items, there are people in the world who can perform magical services. It’s up to you how prevalent they are in your campaign. In a major city like Sharn, you’d see many magewrights performing all sorts of services. But in a small village, they probably do their laundry the old fashioned way. Their might be a single magewright in town; what service do they provide?

Divine Magewrights? 

Under 3.5, “magewright” was an NPC class that specifically dealt with arcane magic, counterbalanced against the adept NPC class which was a limited divine caster. Using the approach I suggest above, I don’t think it’s necessary to draw that line so sharply. Certainly any single individual is either practicing divine or arcane magic, but I think that you can use this same approach either way; you as DM simply need to be clear in your mind which is which. Specifically taking the Healer and the Oracle suggested above: either one of these could be presented as either arcane or divine. An arcane healer might be a Jorasco halfling who makes no prayers, but simply weaves rituals to cleanse the sick… while a divine healer might be a Silver Flame friar whose faith allows them to heal the sick. The oracle could be studying arcane patterns or asking the divine for guidance. Someone versed in Arcana or Religion should easily be able to tell which is which, but MECHANICALLY they are the same: an individual who can perform a few magical effects but who lacks the abilities or versatility of a spellcasting class.

Notably, Xanathar’s Guide to Everything adds a spell called Ceremony that allows a priest to imbue a religious ritual with divine power, adding a magical effect to a wedding or a coming of age ceremony. Following this magewright approach, you could easily have Ceremony, Thaumaturgy, and maybe Spare The Dying as a common set of spells known by a typical lead priest in a community – a halfway between an entirely mundane priest and a full spellcasting cleric.

Wand Adepts

When we initially developed Eberron wands were powerful and disposable magic items, and we made a conscious decision not to make them everyday tools; a fighter who wanted to kill someone across a room would still rely on a bow or a crossbow. We invented the eternal wand – a wand with only two charges, but that recharged over time and could be used with less restrictions. But even there, the cost of such a wand was too great to make it feasible as something every soldier would carry… and it still required some magical training.

However, I certainly like the IDEA of the Aundairian “musketeer” with a bandolier of wands. And with the various changes to magic over the last two editions – notably, the introduction of cantrips, the idea of wands as nonmagical arcane focus items, and the Magic Initiate feat – I think there’s a lot of room to introduce the casual wand.

A wand adept learns to perform a few offensive spells, but they require an arcane focus to channel those effects. A typical wand adept knows two offensive cantrips and a single first level spell they can perform once per long rest. But all of these require the arcane focus of a wand. So one wand adept might know acid splash, poison spray, and color spray; another might have ray of frost, fire bolt and burning hands. The critical point here is that the adept requires a wand to perform these spells, but the wand isn’t magical. It’s not a magic item worth hundreds of gold pieces; it’s an arcane focus costing ten galifars. While you COULD say that any wand will do, I would further say that adept wands are specialized by effect. Looking above, I might say that an adept uses the same wand for fire bolt and burning hands… but that ray of frost requires a different wand, one attuned to cold. So you can have the Aundairian duelist flinging fire from one wand and ice from the other, and if you disarm them of one wand they’re limited until they recover it.

The principle of this is drawn from the Magic Initiate feat; it’s simply adding an additional restriction that a player character isn’t bound by, because PCs are remarkable. It’s adding the idea that offensive magic is evolving… but that most of the time a wand is a focus, and that the fully magic wands are more significant and expensive.

Now with this said: the idea of a wand adept IS that learning to use a wand requires training and effort. This is common in a place like Aundair, which places a high value on magical talent. But just as a player character who wanted to use a wand like this would need to get the Magic Initiate feat (with the wand being there for color), the wand adept has invested resources learning to use the wand that could have been spent elsewhere. If I have an Aundairian soldier blasting her foes with wands, I might give the Karrnathi knight the benefit of Heavy Armor Master or make the expert Thrane archer a Sharpshooter. The skill isn’t in the wand, it’s in the person using it… and if I introduce wand adepts, I’d want to make clear that they could have invested that skill in other ways.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR PLAYER CHARACTERS? Well, if you have the ability to cast an offensive cantrip, congratulations! You’re a wand adept. You’re so talented that you can cast your spell even without a wand, but nothing’s stopping you from using the wand for flavor. If you’re not a spellcaster, that’s what the Magic Initiate feat is for. Essentially, with the integration of cantrips as a reliable form of magical weapon, it’s more plausible to have people using magical attacks instead of mundane weapons – but at this point in time, the amount of training required to use a wand has prevented wands from replacing mundane weapons. And in that small Brelish village nobody knows how to use a wand, and they’ll consider your wand-wielding duelist to be an Aundairian hipster. If you and your DM want to embrace the idea of the wand adept, I could see a variation of the Magic Initiate feat that requires the use of a wand… perhaps in exchange for a +1 bonus to attack rolls or spell DC with these cantrips as a balance for requiring the focus.

Like magewrights, you COULD push beyond the limitations of the Magic Initiate feat. For example, putting the two concepts together, you could have a staff adept who can cast fireball as a ritual, but requires both a specialized staff and burns dragonshards with every casting. This is a way to compromise with the question of “How could the Five Nations afford to deploy magic items on the field?” It could be that the mystical artillery relied on the skills of the artillerists as much as on the power of the item… that a siege staff is just a big piece of carved wood if you don’t have someone who can use it. This of course gets into the question of war magic, as a fireball isn’t actually that useful in a truly large-scale military engagement… but THAT is a topic for another article.

Let’s Talk About Wands

Wands themselves serve a different role in 5E. When we created Eberron in 3.5, we introduced the idea of eternal wands as an evolution of “wand science” – a wand that wasn’t entirely disposable, and that could be used by a wider range of people. In 5E, that’s standard for a wand; the average wand has 7 charges and regains 1d6+1 charges every day. In addition, many wands don’t require the user to be a spellcaster; anyone can use a wand of magic missiles. This ties also to the introduction of at-will offensive magic over the last two editions… allowing for a character who prefers to rely on cantrips instead of ranged weapons. This idea of wand adepts is about incorporating the evolution of these mechanics into the setting in a logical way. If this is how magic works, this is how we would see it in the world.

With that said, this can cause some confusion about what exactly a wand IS. As I see it, there are three types of wands in the world.

  • Unaligned Focus Item. As described on pages 151 and 203 of the PHB. This is a wand that is generally designed for channeling arcane energy, but not for any particular purpose; a wizard can use that one wand for all of their spells. This has a base cost of 10 GP… but I’ll talk more about this later.
  • Aligned Focus Item. This is what a wand adept uses. The idea is that the design or components of the wand predispose it to channeling a particular type of energy; a “fire wand” might be made from charred wood harvested from a Fernian manifest zone. The wand has no innate power, but it’s easier to channel a particular type of energy through it, and a wand adept needs that boost. So the wand doesn’t grant you the ability to cast Burning Hands; it’s simply that if you’re a wand adept who knows how to cast Burning Hands, you still need a fire-aligned wand to cast the spell. This still has a base cost of 10 GP.
  • Actual Magic Item. This is a Wand of Fireballs or Wand of Magic Missiles. The magic is IN THE WAND… in the case of a Wand of Magic Missiles, ANYONE can use it. Many wands require “Attunement by a spellcaster” and I would allow the talents of a wand adept to count for this purpose – so if you’re a wand adept, you can attune a Wand of Lightning Bolts, even if it’s not a spell you can cast alone. You are trained in the science of wandcraft, and the power is in the wand. In 5E, a Wand of Fireballs is rare. So they definitely EXIST, but they are expensive and NOT things you’d see a common soldier carrying; We’re talking thousands of galifars, as opposed to the 10 gp aligned wand. Someone pulling out a Wand of Fireballs is like someone producing a bazooka.

Now, there’s definitely room for middle ground here… and that’s the enhanced focus item. As it stands, a fire-aligned focus item is simply restrictive – saying that the wand adept MUST have a fire-aligned wand to cast fire spells. But you could also have fancy aligned wands that provide BENEFITS when you channel certain types of spells. For example, a darkwood wand studded with Mabar crystals that adds +1 DC to any necromancy spells you cast using the wand. That should cost more than 10 GP, but certainly less that 4,000 GP. A wand adept could use it as a focus for necromancy spells, but I’d generally allow a wizard to use it with ANY spells – it’s just that necromancy spells get a bonus.

Post your thoughts and questions below. In my next article I’ll be getting back to Xanathar’s Guide to Everything and how I’d incorporate it into my Eberron campaign. Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters, who make it possible for me to spend time on this site.As always, bear in mind that nothing I say on this site is canon; these are simply ideas that I’m exploring.

Dragonmarks: Common Magic, Part One

Xanathar’s Guide to Everything was released recently, and it includes a host of options for players and gamemasters. Over the next month I’ll explore how I’d incorporate some of these ideas and options into Eberron. Right now I want to tackle a subject that intersects only partially with XGtE: the question of how Eberron can coexist with the limited magic of default 5E D&D.

The first thing to bear in mind is that Eberron is not a high magic setting – it’s a wide magic setting. Eberron is built upon the premise that arcane magic behaves as a science and would thus become integrated into the world in a scientific manner. But one of the other basic principles of Eberron is that high-level characters are rare… and this ties to the magic that’s available. Here’s a few basic principles to consider.

  • In comparing Eberron to our world, we’ve always said that it’s closer to the late 19th century than to the present day. We have magical equivalents to the telegraph and the railroad and we’re just getting started with air travel. But we don’t have widespread equivalents to automobiles, telephones, or the like.
  • Wide magic generally includes effects that mimic spells of up to third level. Spell effects of up to fifth level – teleportation, raise dead, cloudkill – are known, but rare. Higher level effects are still “magical.”
  • Making a breakthrough in magic is exactly as difficult as making a breakthrough in science. Why hasn’t someone invented an airship anyone can fly? Because they haven’t figured out how to do it, just like WE haven’t figured out cold fusion or time travel.

Which brings us to two issues: magic items in the world and magic item creation. Under third and fourth edition, magic item creation and costs are very concrete and mechanical, and this lent itself to a vision of a world where you could go to a store and buy a +2 flametongue (and maybe ask the smith to customize the flames for you). Fifth edition initially didn’t have rules for creating magic items and ran with the idea that even a +1 weapon was a remarkable treasure. For some, this meant it was impossible to reconcile Eberron with the system. For me, it’s all about setting expectations: what is common magic? 

I mentioned earlier that “wide magic” involves spell effects between 0-3rd level. Just start at the bottom and look at what you can do with those effects. My favorite spell for this is prestidigitation. Using this cantrip, you can…

  • Light a mundane fire.
  • Instantly clean an object of limited size.
  • Instantly chill, warm, or flavor food.

If we accept that these are basic principles of magic – that we’ve figured out how to use magic to produce these effects using trivial (cantrip) amounts of magic – and you have the principles you need to create magical counterparts to the refrigerator (chill food), microwave (warm food), vacuum cleaner (clean room), lighter (firestarter) and washing machine (clean clothes). These things won’t look like our tools, and they won’t act like them. Instead of a vacuum cleaner, you might have a Sorcerer’s Apprentice broom that sweeps itself, of a fancier whisk broom that simply vaporizes dirt when you wave it over a floor. Such items won’t be cheap, but they also needn’t be ridiculously expensive; what you’re talking about is an object that only does a sliver of an effect of a cantrip.

Xanathar’s Guide to Everything presents a host of items with this level of power, which it calls common magic itemsClothes of Mending automatically mend themselves at the end of each day. The Ear Horn of Hearing negates the deafened condition while it’s in use. Some of these common items already exist in Eberron. The Instrument of Illusions is essentially the Thurimbar Rod, an illusion-based instrument developed in Zilargo; and the shapeshifting Cloak of Many Fashions is similar to Eberron’s shiftweave, if somewhat more versatile. As I mentioned in a previous article, something that’s often overlooked in Eberron is the idea of glamerweave – fabric infused with illusion. You could have a cloak with a lining of stars, or a blazer emblazoned with what appear to be actual flames.

The short form is that the common magic items of XGtE are a good model for things that could be common in Eberron – and something you can use as inspiration in creating other items or setting a scene. For me, the key is to look for principles demonstrated by a low level spell and consider how that could be harnessed as a tool. For example, the Sivis sending stone is based on the principle of the spell whispering wind, which delivers a short message to a specific distant location – more limited than sending, but lower level. When you do create a new item or effect, one thing to consider is that if it’s TOO useful, it might be something that’s only found as a dragonmark focus item, especially if the effect is clearly related to a dragonmark’s sphere. Whispering wind is a simple effect – but I still decided to limit it to Sivis, because from a story perspective it’s interesting to have the house have a near-monopoly on swift communication.

So common magic items could indeed be common. With that said, I think it’s reasonable for uncommon items to be uncommon — not something you see in every household, but things that CAN be manufactured and purchased. When you go to rare and legendary items, you can keep them rare and legendary. Perhaps they’re relics of fallen civilizations, or creations of advanced ones (such as the Chamber or the Lords of Dust). Perhaps they are one of a kind things created under special circumstances — during particular planar conjunctions, using unique Siberys shards, or even fashioned in other planes. Perhaps that Elven blade was forged by a member of the Undying Court and imbued with a fraction of her spirit. In short, there’s room for magic to be both commonplace and truly magical. That everburning torch is just a tool you can buy at any Cannith forgehold… but that Vorpal Sword is a legendary weapon spoken of in song and story. Meanwhile, magical weapons can have lesser magical effects – a self-sharpening sword, an axe that glows on command – things that are useful and magical, but don’t have to have the same impact as a bonus to attack and damage. I have many thoughts about wands, but I’ll delve into that in my next article.

In considering these things, XGtE also helps with its classification of magic items as major or minor in addition to the rarities. Minor uncommon items should be easier to acquire than major uncommon items. The short form is to think about what it means for a magic item to be something that can simply be purchased. If that thing is a reliable tool that exists in the world for anyone who has enough money to acquire it, how should it impact your story?

MAGIC ITEM CREATION

So we’ve established a general yardstick for what exists in the world. The next question is what can player characters create, and how can they create it? The first thing to point out here is that whatever system House Cannith uses to make wands isn’t going to be the same system a player character uses. While Eberron doesn’t have full-on manufacturing plants, the creation of magic items is an industry. Creation Forges are the most dramatic tools available to House Cannith, but they have a host of lesser ways to improve the process of production. They may literally have enchanted assembly lines — not automated, but still, facilities designed to efficiently produce a particular type of item and enhanced with various magical effects. They acquire rare components in mass quantities – which ties to another largely unrealized idea in Eberron, that dragonshards are a critical part of creating magic items and serve as the fuel of the magical economy. Cannith may have lesser focus items that channel the Mark of Making. And they certainly have secret techniques or patterns for making specific items as efficiently as possible (which is to say, schema).

Meanwhile, your wizard or artificer is literally a guy making a thing in a garage. Cannith can make a wand of fireballs faster and cheaper than you can. But the one you make is going to be entirely unique. And perhaps you can make something they’ve never figured out how to make – because you’re an innovator, not just working on the assembly line.

All of which is to say that this actually works well with the model of magic item creation presented in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything… making the creation of a magic item part of an adventure as opposed to simply a formula you fill out with gold and XP. You can’t replicate the process Cannith uses to make a wand of fireballs, because you don’t have their facilities, resources or specialized expertise. BUT, if you could get ahold of an elemental heart from Fernia, you could use that to create your wand! And what do you know, you’ve heard that you can acquire such a thing by hunting drakes in a Fernian manifest zone in the Blade Desert. If you can get that heart, a thousand GP worth of refined Eberron shards, and a good piece of darkwood you can carve into a wand – give it a few weeks and you can make it happen.

So I like the XGtE model; just bear in mind that what you are doing ISN’T the same thing House Cannith does when they are producing something. What you are creating will be unique – and again, for that reason and because PCs are remarkable, it may be that you can create something that Cannith cannot create.

In my next article I’ll write about magewrights and wand adepts. Until then, post your questions and thoughts below. Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters, who make these articles possible.

Illimat is in the Wild!

In 2015 Colin Meloy and Chris Funk presented me with a mysterious board with a small box in the center. Could you make this into a game? Something that feels like it could be a hundred years old and just forgotten — something you might find in the back of your grandfather’s attic? It was a crazy challenge, and the board sat in my basement for a few months while I thought about what sort of game it wanted to be. I playtested my first prototype with my father almost exactly two years ago today. And now that game is a reality. You can get Illimat at Illimat.com or at The Decemberists website, and you can check to see if it’s available at your FLGS; if you’re in the Pacific Northwest, I know it’s currently available at Mox Boarding House and Guardian Games. 

Illimat is built on the foundation of classic card games, such as Gin, Cassino, and Scopa. It’s about creating and collecting sets of cards, and if you’ve played any traditional card game you’ll pick up the basics quickly. But there’s a twist! The box is placed in the center of the board, and it sets the season for each of the four fields… and that in turn limits the actions you can take in a field. So you can do anything in summer, but you cannot harvest (collect) cards in Winter; you cannot stockpile (combine) cards in Spring; and you can’t sow (discard) in Autumn. When you play a face card you change the season to match that card, so when I harvest with the King of Summer, it becomes Summer in that field. This adds a dynamic element, as every turn of the Illimat changes what’s possible… and it’s extremely satisfying when you can block an opponent’s play by turning the Illimat to Winter. 

A second twist comes in the form of the Luminaries, Tarot-sized cards that are dealt into the corners of the board. When a field is cleared, the Luminary in that corner is revealed… and every Luminary has a unique ability that affects the rules of the game. Like the Illimat, this is a dynamic element that keeps each game fresh.

I’m proud of Illimat, and I hope you’ll check it out! A special thanks to all the Kickstarter backers who made it possible for us to create it. If you have any questions or comments, share them below.

The Luminaries are cards in Illimat that depict iconic characters and things — The Changeling, The Forest Queen, The River — and generally have the flavor of tarot cards. Are the tales of the Luminaries contained in the Decemberists’ songs? Or will they be? 

Yes. The Luminaries included in the core Illimat set represent characters and themes from the Decemberists album The Hazards of Love. The expansion includes Luminaries inspired by The Crane Wife.

If you were to bring Illimat into Eberron, as a game played like Conqueror or Three Dragon Ante, what would you alter? Would Luminaries be kept as they are as tales passed from Thelanis, or would you change them to signifiers like Galifar monarchs or legendary figures from the past?

For anyone who doesn’t understand the question, Eberron is a fantasy world I created for Dungeons & Dragons. 

Personally, I think it’s easy to ground the existing Luminaries in the setting. I’d establish the basic story of The Hazards of Love as a tale tied to Thelanis, and as such, something that could play into a campaign. The Forest Queen is an archfey who rules an endless taiga in Thelanis. She took The Changeling as a child, but The Maiden wandered through a manifest zone into Thelanis and she and the Changeling fell in love. The Forest Queen called on The Rake to deal with the Maiden, but with a little help from The River and the Rake’s murdered Children the Changeling manages to rescue the Maiden, and they all drown happily leaving only The Newborn behind.

Once I’ve established the tale in the campaign and people have played some Illimat, I’d introduce the Forest Queen as an archfey who could be a patron, enemy or both… and the Rake as a potential foe. Depending on the power level of the players and the role I want him to play, the Rake could be a powerful fey; a full archfey in his own right; or perhaps a human warlock/rogue who’s made bargains with a range of dark powers in order to satiate his desires. Given the whole idea of the powers of Thelanis as figures known from story, it would be a fun way to have players learn the story and then encounter these spirits in the world.

 Any more questions about Illimat? Ask below!

Dragonmarks: People of the Five Nations

It’s another busy week. I’m working on new material for Phoenix: Dawn Command and doing events for the launch of Illimat. Now I’m at PAX Unplugged doing Illimat demos – if you’re at PAXU, stop by the Twogether Studios booth (449)! But I have time for a quick question from Patreon

Could we get a quick rundown on what the humans of each of the Five Nations commonly look like, physically? Or are they a grab bag of all possible looks we have in reality?

The humans of the Five Nations are ethnically diverse. Humanity didn’t evolve on Khorvaire. It began on Sarlona, where environments range from desert to arctic tundra and everything in between. Humanity came to Khorvaire in multiple waves of explorers, settlers and refugees and the Five Nations were built from this stew. On the coasts of Khorvaire you can find communities that can trace their roots back to particular nations, such as the Khunan humans of Valenar. But few of the people of the Five Nations have any concept of their Sarlonan roots; over the course of generations they’ve blended and merged. So yes, they are a grab bag of all possible looks you can imagine. Rather than being judged by the color of your skin, you’ll be evaluated by your accent, attitude and fashion. Karrns are stoic and stolid, while Aundairians tend to be dramatic and expressive.

Consider this picture, which comes from the “Humans” entry in the original 3.5 Eberron Campaign Setting.

There’s five humans and five nations… but nothing in the entry indicates who these people are or where they’re from. From left to right, here’s where I’d place them.

  • Vyenne is a duelist from Aundair. Her ruffles and hairstyle reflect the latest trends in Fairhaven fashion; while her dress appears constricting, the fabric is surprisingly flexible. She doesn’t wear armor because it’s so plebian; she’ll conjure mage armor when trouble strikes. She uses a flail in a style known as chain dancing, a technique full of dramatic flourishes, trips and disarms; it’s perfect both for showing off and embarassing an opponent. She’s also a wand adept; the three short rods in her belt are arcane foci used for channeling her talents. Unlike her neighbor, who still insists on launching sticks at his enemies. Does he know it’s almost 1000 YK?
  • Castor is a retired templar from Thrane. Compared to Vyenne, his clothing is simple and practical. He’s comfortable in his breastplate and he carries his weapons as a matter of course. He’s not looking for a fight, but he knows that danger can come at any time and he’s always ready to defend the people of his community from unexpected threats. He’s reasonably friendly – he genuinely likes people – but he is always serious and watchful, with no time for frivolity and no need for luxury. When he spoke with Vyenne, he didn’t realize she was mocking him.
  • Meris is from Cyre. She’s the last survivor of a prominent wizard’s circle in Metrol, and while she’s lost her homeland and her friends, she still ahs her pride. If you look closely you’ll see that her fine clothing is a little worn; she’s done her best to keep it fresh with mending and prestidigitation, but there’s only so much magic can do. Her ornate staff is merely a fancy arcane focus, but it belonged to her mentor in the circle and it’s her most treasured possession.
  • Harkan is a mercenary from Karrnath. Like Vyenne, he balances his martial skills with a touch of magic; this is less common in Karrnath than it is in Aundair, but it’s catching on. Where Vyenne likes her wands and her elegant chain dancing, Harkan carries a staff and is quite straightforward about crushing you with his mace. He is almost always found in armor. He’s generally curt, direct, and he doesn’t like you.
  • Baris is an entertainer from Breland; he’s generally found playing at one of the taverns in Lower Dura. He’s not part of any of the gangs, but he’s got friends in the Boromar Clan, House Tarkanan and even Daask; as such, he’s sometimes called upon to act as a go-between or mediator. While he generally keeps his hands clean, he’s not above picking the pocket of foolish tourist who has a little too much to drink.

Reflecting a little on how their cultures have shaped them… Vyenne is very gifted and wants the world to know it. She uses magic in her everyday life and considers those who don’t to be backwards. Appearance and opinions matter to her. By contrast, Castor reflects the values of the Silver Flame. He’s got an ascetic streak, and has no interest in luxuries or fancy talk. He genuinely cares about others and is prepared to put his life on the line to protect the innocent should supernatural threats arise… and he is always prepared for a threat to arise, which means he rarely drinks or engages in frivolous activities. Meris was once a wealthy socialite but has lost almost everything; she knows her courtly graces and keeps up up her mask when among strangers, but sometimes she prefers the company of her ghosts and memories to the salons she used to love. Harkan is grim, direct and focused on his work. He’s reliable, deadly, and not a lot of fun. Finally, Baris is a liar and a thief… but he also prefers diplomacy to war. He’s willing to take a lot of risks to help his friends, and he has a lot of friends.

What historical equivalent should I look to for fashion in Eberron? I’ve heard everything from late medieval/early Renaissance to 1920s and would you to hear at least /your/ take.

It’s hard to map Eberron’s fashions to Earth’s history because it’s not Earth. It’s a world where glamorweave and shiftweave exist, where arcane focuses are common fashion accessories. In our history armor was rendered obsolete by the prevalence of the musket. In Eberron, armor is often worn either as a practical tool or as a fashion statement, and I think that armor is more comfortable and flexible than equivalents we know from our history. It’s hard to imagine a medieval knight comfortably wearing jousting armor to a tavern, but that’s a perfectly valid choice for a fighter… which leads me to think that the plate itself is simply better made than we know. Essentially, I feel that there is a concept of practical armor. Light armor in particular often won’t read as armor: you might be wearing a heavy leather trenchcoat with long gauntlets and high boots. It’s protective, but you don’t necessarily look like a soldier. Moving up from there armor will clearly be armor, but there will still be designs that are intended for everyday use or social occasions as opposed to being made strictly for the battlefield. Even looking to heavier armors, it’s worth noting whether your character is wearing the uniform of a soldier, or if you’re wearing more personal and social armor (like Harkan in the illustration above).

I think this concept generally extends. If people are wearing what we generally consider as “fantasy” clothing, keep in mind that it’s evolved beyond that of the middle ages, and may be more practical, better made, more colorful, and so on. Beyond this, it’s good to fully understand glamerweave. This is clothing with fabric imbued with illusion. The possibilities of this are nearly endless, and to my mind the +100 gp price tag is simply a general overview. At the low end (likely less than 100 gp) you could simply have colors or textures that cannot be found in nature. At the high end you can have truly fantastic designs: a cloak that has a rippling starfield for its lining, leather armor that appears to be made from dragonscales, a Lyrandar noble dressed in a shirt that has the pattern of a storm – an if it’s truly fancy, perhaps it shifts and grows more thunderous based on the wearer’s mood. Essentially, this is a world where illusion exists and is used as part of fashion – so use your imagination and think about what’s possible.

Beyond that, I’m not a fashion expert. I look to the illustrations in the books for inspiration, and I think of the general tone of the nation. In Aundair you have more glamorweave and shiftweave, along with a general love of complexity and ostentatious display. Thranes are more practical and austere, always ready for trouble (so more casual armor), with some ornate displays of faith. Karrns are likewise practical, martial, and dressed to deal with a harsher climate. The Brelish are in a more tropical climate and fall in the middle – not as in love with fashion as the Aundairians, but neither as spartan as the Thranes or Karrns. And in Cyre you had both more widespread wealth and a love of art and artistry… but now carrying the scars of loss.

What are YOUR thoughts on fashion in the Five Nations? Share your thoughts below!

Phoenix: Dhakaani Command

The Empire faces the greatest challenge in its history. Alien horrors have torn through the walls of reality and even the legions of Dhakaan can’t stop these terrors. Madness is sweeping over cities and your kin are being transformed into monsters. No mortal can face the Lords of Xoriat in battle. But you’re no longer mortal. You’ve fought your way back from Dolurrh to protect Dhakaan. You’re a Phoenix, and you have seven lives to save the world.  

In the past people have asked me how I’d adapt Phoenix: Dawn Command to the Eberron setting. The trick is that PDC is designed to tell a specific sort of story: a tale of champions who may have to lay down their lives to defend the world they care about. The default Eberron setting of 998 YK is intentionally open-ended… there’s a lot of problems brewing in the world, but you don’t have the sort of existential threat that drives the action of Phoenix. But there’s a period in Eberron’s history that fits the bill nicely, and it’s a period I’ve always wanted to explore in more depth: the conflict between the Empire of Dhakaan and the forces of Xoriat, the Realm of Madness.

So look back through the ages, to a time before humanity set foot on Khorvaire. It is a golden age. The elves have been driven back to their foul island. The aggressive lizardfolk and savage orcs are confined to the barren wilds, lands with no value to the Empire. It’s an age of order and reason… and perhaps this is what drew the many eyes of the Daelkyr. Now Xoriat is unleashing its power against Dhakaan. The war takes many forms, each one more terrible than anything that’s come before. Armies of aberrations surge through gates and manifest zones. Soldiers fall beneath the gaze of the eye tyrants. Flayers feast on the brains of living prisoners, and their bodies are used to create new monsters. Dhakaan has the finest armies in the known world, but many of these threats cannot be fought with steel or adamantine alone. What army can triumph when madness turns allies into enemies? Defeating the Daelkyr will require champions who can venture into the deepest darkness and wrest the secrets from this foe. You may not survive the battles that lie ahead, but it won’t be the first time you’ve died and it won’t be the last.

SEVEN LIVES TO SAVE THE EMPIRE

The principle of Phoenix is simple. You lived a normal life and you died. You could have been a hero in your first life — a deadly assassin from the Silent Knives, a dirge singer, a chainmaster — or you might have been a simple farmer or bootmaker. But regardless of your achievements in your first life, you possessed courage and strength of will… and these things didn’t go unnoticed or unrewarded. Your spirit was pulled from Dolurrh and into a demiplane of Irian known as the Crucible. There, you went through trials to prove your courage and to hone your skills. You overcame every challenge you faced, and now you have been reborn. You’re infused with the power of the Eternal Dawn. You’re not immune to the corruption of Xoriat, but you can resist it and take on enemies that no mortal could face. If you die, you’ll return to the Crucible once more, and if you can overcome the trials again you will return even stronger. But there’s a limit to the power you can contain. You have seven lives to save the Empire; after that, you can finally rest.

HEROES OF DHAKAAN

One of the nice things about Phoenix is that the powers of a Phoenix overshadow racial differences. So as a Phoenix, the differences between a goblin and a bugbear are largely cosmetic… though easily represented by traits. As a goblin you might take Small & Quick; as a bugbear you could take Too Big To Fail. So let’s consider a wing of Phoenixes you could find in Dhakaan…

  • Maul is a Bitter bugbear. He was raised to be the fist of Dhakaan, and dreamt of dying in battle. Instead, he was caught in an outbreak of madness and torn apart by his own family. He’s filled with fury and yearns to unleash it against the Daelkyr. His talon is his spiked chain, and he is Reckless, Too Big To Fail, Crude But Effective, and Vengeful. However, his Death Wish may get him into trouble…
  • Dirge is a Devoted hobgoblin. In her time in the Crucible she studied with one of the first dirge singers, and she will use the knowledge she’s gained to guide her allies and the Empire. She’s The Smartest Person In The Room, The Heart Of The Wing, Inspiring and Noble… and she’s Seen This Before.
  • Grim is a Durant hobgoblin. He’s a Seasoned Veteran whose Absolute Conviction will help him resist madness, and a skilled Commander and Paragon whose martial skills make him all but Untouchable in battle..
  • Shiv is a Shrouded goblin. She won’t speak about her past, and no one knows if she was one of the Khesh’dar in her first life. But she’s Small & Quick and remarkably Sneaky… and when it comes to uncovering secrets, her Supernatural Senses and Psychometry can help her make Brilliant Deductions
  • Worg is a Forceful goblin. He always wanted to be one of the Tarka’khesh, but he was killed as a child; in the Crucible he ran with actual wolves and learned the ways of the wild. He’s a Feral Hunter with Killer Instincts, and when he strikes he’s a Blur of Motion that’s Terrifying to his foes. 
  • The final member of the wing is Ash, an Elemental goblin. In life he was a sapper and siege engineer; as a Phoenix he is a Pyromancer with the power to unleash pure elemental force on his foes. More often than not, his Astonishing Luck and Extensive Training are the only things keeping him alive. But trust him: he’s got a Master Plan and he Makes It Look Easy

This small unit can go places no legion could reach and face enemies that would scatter armies. The fight against Xoriat will take them into Kyrzin’s liquid labyrinths and toe to toe with the colossus of Orlassk. If you’ve ever wanted to grab a beholder by the eyestalks and hurl it into an army of dolgrims, this may be the story for you.

HOW DOES THIS WORK?

This is a high-level idea for a Phoenix campaign. If you have the Phoenix: Dawn Command core set, you could choose to set your story in the last days of Dhakaan instead of Dalea. Many of the existing Challenges can be reflavored to fit the storyline; the Chant is a contagious madness created by the Daelkyr, the Fallen lesser spirits of Xoriat or opportunistic spirits from other planes. The core story remains intact: you are the champions of the Empire, seeking to defend its people against supernatural terrors. Because of the nature of Phoenix you don’t need special rules for different goblin subspecies; the characters described above are all made using the standard PDC creation tools.

What I love about this is that it’s an opportunity to delve into an interesting period in Eberron’s past and to be on the front lines of an epic struggle. It could be an interesting parallel to a modern D&D campaign that’s also dealing with the Daelkyr; perhaps the Phoenixes in the past will manage to stall a threat that will finally become active again in 998 YK. But it’s well-suited to the things Phoenix does best: high-stakes action, suspense and mystery.

As Eberron remains under lock and key I’m limited in what I could do to support this… but there’s a lot that could be done without treading on Eberron’s unique IP. I couldn’t specifically incorporate the Shaarat’khesh or the Duur’kala, but I could write up some ideas about an empire of goblin assassins and hobgoblin bards facing an invasion of horrors from beyond time and space. If you’d be interested in seeing a PDF of PHOENIX: GOBLIN WARS, let me know below!

Phoenix: Dawn Command is currently available at the Twogether Studios website. The core set is currently $59.95 with free shipping in the US; this gives you everything you need for a gamemaster and up to four players, including a seven-mission adventure path (not set in Dhakaan, but it could be adapted…). If you have questions or thoughts, post them below!

I have a somewhat opposite question, a thought experiment if you will. Is it possible to run a game of Phoenix with the D&D system? What would be the main challenges?

It’s not as simple as it seems. PDC is designed around the idea of heroic sacrifice; D&D is a game where death generally means failure. Here’s a few critical design differences.

  • The reason PDC uses cards instead of dice is because it provides a player with more narrative control. There’s rarely any wasted action. From round to round there’s a random aspect – what cards do you have in your hand – but you know what you have to work with BEFORE you take your action. Essentially, you already know your die rolls – it’s a matter of what you’ll do with them.
  • Beyond this, you have a pool of magical energy – Sparks – that you can use to push your results beyond what you’re currently capable of – essentially, adding them to your die roll. So you can buy success… but when you run out of Sparks, you die. Again, this means that results often are about player choice as opposed to a random roll.
  • In D&D, the success of an attack is determined by my attack and damage rolls as DM and your potential saving throw as a player. In Phoenix, it’s a question of whether you want to use your cards for defense or save them — potentially suffering damage you could avoid because you want to conserve your resources to do something awesome on your next action. Sometimes you may not have the cards you’d need to avoid an attack, in which case there’s no choice – but even there, you know that you can’t dodge your enemy, it’s not a random thing.
  • Tying all these points together: In D&D you may die because the monster rolled a critical hit or because you failed a saving throw – all random things. You’re at the mercy of the dice. In Phoenixes, most of the time a PC dies by choice – because they’re burning all their sparks to do something amazing, or because they’re throwing themselves in front of an ally, jumping on the grenade, holding the bridge against the balrog.
  • Tied to all that: because of sparks and because death isn’t the end, it’s possible for characters of different power levels to work together far more effectively than characters of different level in D&D. The more times you die, the more power you have… but the more wisely you have to use it, lest you run out of lives and die your final death. The low-level character can be more reckless. They can hold the bridge against the balrog – an act that doesn’t take raw power, but rather just the courage to smash the bridge while you’re standing on it. And because of Sparks they can perform acts that are beyond their normal capabilities… it’s just that they may kill themselves doing it. But if they’re on their early lives, that’s OK. Essentially, a 2nd level D&D character may not have anything useful to contribute in a party of 12th level characters, while a Rank One Phoenix can still do something just as impressive as a Rank Five Phoenix – they just can’t sustain that level of performance without dying.
  • Beyond that, you have a lot of other little differences. Since D&D is built around the idea of not dying you have lots of forms of healing that simply eliminate wounds. In Phoenix, the primary method of healing is the Devoted, who can take on the wounds of others… but that means SOMEONE is still wounded. The Devoted can heal themself by inflicting their wounds on enemies – but it’s a weightier thing than just slugging a potion of healing.

Basically, Phoenix isn’t just like D&D but you level up when you die. D&D is built around the d20, a random factor with a wide variance. It has a lot of uncertainty. PDC is built around emphasizing player choice. You have your resources in hand and you need to decide how to spend them. You don’t die because you made a bad roll; you die because the thing you’re trying to accomplish is so important that it’s worth it to die if that’s what it takes.

Dragonmarks: Locks and Wards

It’s a busy month. I’m working on a Phoenix article, and Illimat is being released next week! But in the meantime, I wanted to address a few more questions from my Patreon supporters.
I always tell my players that thieves’ tools in eberron look more like specialized artificer’s tools than lockpicks. What are some examples of locks of different qualities that might exist in a society where magic is a science & spells like knock exist to trivialize purely mechanical locks?
I’m going to start by addressing the general principle of locks in the setting, and then move on to specific examples of locks and tools. First of all: The existence of a tool — the knock spell — that can bypass any mundane lock doesn’t mean that people will suddenly give up on using mundane locks. There’s an increasing number of tools – both technological and mundane – that can unlock a lock on a car door, and failing that anyone can put a rock through a window; and yet we still lock our cars. We haven’t equipped every car with a new impregnable lock and we haven’t just given up on locks entirely. Instead, we accept that our lock isn’t perfect, but it will keep out any casual intruder — at least requiring some degree of effort or skill.
The same principle applies to Eberron. Go to a typical village and people will be using bars or mundane locks, because they don’t expect people to be running around with fancy knock spells, and if they do have them spells, well, there’s nothing you can do about it. My barn might get struck by lightning and burn down, but I can’t afford a lightning ward, so it goes.
But let’s assume that you’re serious about security. Your lock isn’t just a delaying tactic, it’s supposed to keep people out. Here’s some options.
  • Arcane Lock. The standard in security, available from any good Kundarak locksmith. This enhances the difficulty of forcing/picking a lock by mundane means. A knock spell suppresses an arcane lock, but if the arcane lock is combined with a mundane lock they’ll still have to bypass that, even if it’s at normal difficulty.
  • Multiple Mundane Locks. Each casting of a knock spell only opens one lock (according to the 5E SRD). Stick five locks on your door and you’ll at least make it costly for a caster.
  • Alarm. This doesn’t make a lock harder to open, but it warns you when it is opened. It’s not affected by knock. See notes below.
  • Glyph of Warding. Typically this is a one-shot spell, but Kundarak can certainly make reusable glyphs that recharge after a period of time. A GoW isn’t affected by Knock, so it’s your ultimate deterrent against the person who thinks their wand of knock is a key to all doors. Bear in mind that most people aren’t going to want to set off explosions in their homes, but a GoW can produce any spell effect of 3rd level or below. I’d make the price of a Kundarak recharging glyph vary based on the level of the associated effect, so more people would have a 1st level GoW than a 3rd. Any sort of targeted offensive spell is an option for an aggressive lock, but here’s a few other ideas…
    • Guilt Trap. Charm Person/Suggestion variant that makes the victim feel shame for their actions and causes them to dissuade other would-be thieves, or even to try to defend the house from them if necessary.
    • Unwelcome Mat. A simple Command effect that targets anyone that can hear it, ordering them to leave!
    • Sleeper. A Sleep spell, which would generally be combined with an Alarm to summon guards. Web or Hold Person are other options.
    • Guardians. While Conjure Animals is an option, Spirit Guardians are cleaner and harder to deal with – an excellent option to make life difficult if there are additional locks that need to be bypassed.
The magical options — alarm, GoW and arcane lock — all have a wide range of options for how they can be disarmed. A password is the simplest option, allowing anyone who knows the password to use the door. But they can also be keyed to virtually any sort of biometrics — to individuals, to particular races, to possessing a particular object. Kundarak certainly produces combination arcane/mundane locks where the trigger that deactivates the arcane lock simultaneously unlocks the mundane lock, so you can have a place where even these fancy locks can be opened with just a word or a touch of a hand, instead of requiring an additional key… though if the magic is deactivated by knock, this combo lock would be stuck in the locked position.
So looking back to the original question: what do locks look like?
  • Simple, mundane locks or bars. Common in any place that simply isn’t that concerned about serious security.
  • Multiple mundane locks or bars. We’re concerned about security, but not enough to pay for magic.
  • A simple combination arcane/mundane lock. We’ve got money and we take things seriously. The arcane lock could be keyed to a phrase or a keycharm.
  • Lockless doors sealed purely by arcane locks. Opened when someone who meets the right conditions (could be biometric, could be carrying a key charm) touches the door. Looks cool, but a knock spell will get you right inside… though the door could also have an alarm triggered if anyone opens the door without properly unlocking it.
  • A serious door could be more formal. Take a Kundarak Manticore lock. There’s a Manticore bust by the door. You need to place your hand on the bust and speak the keyword; it check both biometrics (say, Kundarak dwarf) and the phrase. If you fail to meet either condition it triggers the glyph of warding. Meanwhile, the door has four mundane locks and an arcane lock. Take that, knock spell. If I was having a rogue disarm it, I’d give them a chance at a high DC to disarm the entire system at once — or they could work on each system and lock separately, but it would take a lot of time and the risk of the alarm or glyph reactivating if they take too long.
The manticore is simply one example of a fancier system. A magic mouth could demand the password. An emplaced illusion could appear, threatening intruders with consequences. But critically, you’re looking at combinations of GoW, arcane lock, alarm, and mundane locks.
In a large city, you’re also going to have an option of a Kundarak alarm system. When the alarm on the door is triggered, you’re alerted but it also triggers an alert at a Kundarak enclave, who will dispatch a Deneith squad to respond to the intrusion.
Now given all this: I hold to the 3.5 approach under which a trained rogue has the ability to attempt to bypass magical wards and locks. Given that, I agree with the secondary aspect of the original post. In the Thorn of Breland books, Thorn’s lockpicking tools include lengths of mithral wire, vials of Mabar-infused water, divinatory powders, and other tools that are specifically tied to detecting and disarming mystical systems as well as tools for picking a mundane lock.

My players are on track to break into a lesser Kundarak vault in Korranberg, Sharn. Aside from your standard locks and wards and the Silver Guard, what are some quick hits of other challenges they could conceivably face? 
Well, as noted above there’s going to be various arcane systems that can be easily bypassed if they have the right things — passwords, keycharms, someone who meets the biometric restrictions (“Kundarak dwarf”, probably). There will certainly be alarm spells, and likely a nonlethal glyph of warding (Say, a 9d8 sleep spell tied to an alarm). What else?
  • An iron defender is a nice guardian who doesn’t require food or regular care, who will react aggressively if anyone enters without someone it recognizes.
  • Alternatively, you can have a living creature on guard; Kundarak likes their manticores.
  • Consider an illusion that conceals a critical part of the chamber… or the simpler, mundane secret door. Another option would be a particular object or safety deposit box tied to another glyph of warding effect; the staff know you never touch this thing.
  • When an inner alarm is triggered, it restores and reactivates the arcane lock on the outer door – potentially trapping troublemakers in the vault, if they’ve expended their resources.
  • Following principles of prestidigitation and arcane mark, I think it would be relatively simple for Cannith and Kundarak to come up with something similar to a paint bomb — something that would mystically mark people with an indelible marker. Can they find some way to dispel the marker before they’re caught? This presents a different challenge depending if the marker is visible to everyone and everyone knows the significant (you’re running around covered in purple) or if it’s invisible except to Kundarak trackers.

That’s all I’ve got for now, but hopefully it gives you some ideas. Post your own thoughts below!

Q&A: Player Races, Goblins and Overlords

I’ve collected a lot of questions from my Patreon supporters over the last few months — some related to Eberron, some to Phoenix: Dawn CommandIllimat, or other things. I’ll be working through the list as time permits. Here’s the first installment.

I’d love to see a master list of races you would include in a 5E Eberron campaign.

As a rule, limit the number of races in my campaign. I don’t want Sharn to look like Mos Eisley; I prefer to work with fewer races and to have more room to really delve into their roles in the world and their relationships than to cram as many races into the world as possible. As a result, in my Eberron the Five Nations tend to include the standard Humans, Elves, Halflings, Dwarves, and Gnomes; Shifters, Changelings, Warforged, Kalashtar, Orcs and Goblins; and the various hybrid races, such as Half-Orcs and the Khoravar. On top of this you have the monstrous races (not all of which are available as PCs) that have a place in the world depending where you are… Ogres, Trolls, Minotaurs, Gnolls, Harpies, MedusasLizardfolk, Kobolds, Troglodytes, Dragonborn, SahuaginEladrin are optional if I’m going to work in the Feyspiresand Drow are an option if we’re dealing with Xen’drik.

I’m sure I’ve forgotten a few. Now right there we’ve got 26 sentient races — 28 once you add in the different Goblin subspecies — and that’s not even touching the options for subcultures and subraces. For me, that’s enough; left entirely on my own I’m not going to add in Tieflings (for example), because I just don’t need more races. On the other hand, if a player comes to me and wants to play a Tiefling or an Aasimar or a Kenku and has an interesting story in mind, I’ll generally embrace that story — as I’ve discussed in this post. So I can’t give you a true master list, because I CAN include anything, and generally I WILL if there’s a compelling story to be told and not just “I want this particular special ability.” And in the case of wanting that racial ability, I’d look at whether it could be reskinned to an existing race — such as the time I played a character that was mechanically a Deva, but in the story was a human from Cyre possessed by spirits of people who died in the Mourning.

And to be clear: this is a list of what I will use, not what’s out there in canon. Canon sources add Tieflings, Skulks, Aasimar, Eneko, Xephs, Eladrin, Yuan-Ti, and goodness knows how many more… because again, Eberron is designed to have room for almost anything. But that list in the first paragraph is what *I* will generally use when I’m creating a cast of characters for an adventure.

I don’t remember Canon sources speaking of kobolds and troglodytes, may you help me?

Kobolds appear in a number of places. This Dragonshard article is the primary canon source, but they appear in asides in many sourcebooks. Kethelrax the Cunning is a kobold warlord in Darguun, while Hassalac Chaar is the most powerful spellcaster in Stormreach. Troglodytes are covered in far less detail, but are mentioned as being present in Q’barra in the 4E Eberron Campaign Guide, and I worked this into the articles I wrote about Q’barra for Dragon.

It appears that in Eberron, Goblin is the name for goblins, hobgoblins and bugbears? 

The Common tongue does have this semantic issue. When using it, I use Goblin to refer to the language or overall species, and goblin for the subsecies. This problem is solved if you use the Goblin language, in which the overall species are the Dar, and the subspecies are golin’dar (goblin), ghaal’dar (hobgoblin) and guul’dar (bugbear).

In 5E would those three be a subraces of goblin rather than listed separately?

If the question is whether I’d mechanically represent “Goblin” as a primary race and have bugbear, hobgoblin and goblin be subraces of that race, no I wouldn’t. There’s significant differences both physically and psychologically and I believe that each of these subspecies deserves it’s own race entry. In fact, since tend to use 5E’s subraces as a form of individual expression and optimization as opposed to true biological divisions (an approach I discuss here) I’d conceivably include subraces FOR each of the Dar.

Does the Church of the Silver Flame have any presence in Darguun?

I don’t believe it’s ever been mentioned in canon. In my Eberron, the Dar are inherently rational and have difficulty accepting things on faith — something I call out in this article. This is stronger with the Dhakaani, which is why Dhakaan is presented as an agnostic civilization that lacks divine magic. It’s something that was likely weakened along with the eusocial bond, and thus you do have goblins pursuing religions after Dhakaan, but I still maintain that it’s not something that has either the width or depth of faith in the Five Nations. So this is why you have the Ghaash’kala among the orcs and no equivalent among the Dar: the Goblin psyche just doesn’t lend itself towards it. And personally, I think you’d need something like the Ghaash’kala. The Church of the Silver Flame as it exists in the Five Nations is based around the sacrifice of a human to save a human nation; I don’t see the concept as being especially appealing to creatures still seen as monsters by many humans, and the CotSF is a militant enough force that I don’t think people looking to establish a local church would be welcomed with open arms in Rhukaan Draal.

Now, if you want to START something — to have a Dar PC (or NPC) who hears the Flame and seeks to start a movement, becoming a new Voice of the Flame — that seems like an excellent thing to drive a campaign. And you could certainly have a friar in Darguun trying to pave the way for something. The fact that it doesn’t exist in canon simply means that it’s a chance for it to be the unique story of one of your characters. But I do think it would be a challenging path to walk.

Worshipping the Silver Flame still requires faith, which the Dar find difficult, but would it be easier for them to have faith in something that can be shown to be real?

Not really, no. Channeling divine magic is about more than simply believing that the power source exists. Note that in Eberron, most priests aren’t divine spellcasters. Those priests believe in their faith, but even they can’t truly touch the divine itself. I talk about transcendental faith in this post and about the question of divine purpose in this one. The net is that it’s more than just believing in a thing. It’s not rational. It’s about having an absolute faith both in the force; in its divine purpose; and that you yourself are a part of that, that YOU have a higher purpose and role to play. The typical Dar can believe that the Silver Flame exists. As established in canon, some among the Ghaal’dar and the Marguul DO worship variants of the Sovereign Host or Dark Six. And yet when it comes down to the ultimate surrender of self — the belief that there is a purpose to the universe and that you and this force are part of it — something in the subconscious of the Dar freezes up. To me, the logical explanation would be that it’s tied to the eusocial bond, which essentially defined a Dar’s place in the universe. Biologically, they weren’t designed to question their place in the universe; they fundamentally knew it. As such, their brains simply aren’t wired for the sort of abstract and transcendental faith that produces divine magic. On the other hand, they have a natural bent towards organization and discipline. Orcs on the other hand are passionate and primal and have a far easier time embracing abstract ideas… in small groups. But this also leads to an independent nature that makes it difficult for them to form large rigid hierarchies. Which is why even though the Ghaash’kala have been around far longer than the Church of the Silver Flame, they are far fewer in number and don’t have anywhere near the degree of hierarchy or ritual that the CotSF has developed.

Of course, none of this should stop YOU from having a Dar character or NPC who has found that transcendental faith. It’s simply an explanation for why the Dar as a whole have few divine casters and few prominent religious institutions.

How much is known, in general, about the demonic overlords? Is it generally accepted fact that the world was once ruled by demons and they’re imprisoned underground or is that considered a fairytale to frighten children or is it something only the most learned of scholars would know?
The Overlords are part of the core creed of the Church of the Silver Flame. The modern Church was founded because of the partial escape of an Overlord, which wreaked havoc on Thrane; so the people of Thrane, at least, take the threat quite seriously and are certain it’s based in fact. Any follower of the Silver Flame will know of the Shadow in the Flame and be aware of the fact that there are many other Overlords bound by the Flame, even if they don’t know deep details about them.
Meanwhile, I’m sure the Sovereign Host has myths about how the Sovereigns fought and defeated demons in the dawn of time. Bear in mind that there were dragons who had names and attributes similar to the Sovereigns; some believe they were the Sovereigns, but it’s just as simple to say that they were avatars for the true Sovereigns. Either way, we’ve already established that their deeds are the basis for myths, and hence you’d definitely have myths of their battles with demons (likely omitting the important role of the Silver Flame). And those myths could certainly include variations of their names and attributes. In Dragons of Eberron we present a battle between Dularahnak and Katashka the Gatekeeper, and there could easily be a related myth about a battle between Dol Arrah and the Lord of Death (though most versions of this might identify Katashka as the Keeper of the Dark Six).
So I think that followers of the Silver Flame consider the Overlords to be fact, and followers of the Sovereigns know them from myth – and the question is whether they believe the myths or just think of them as stories. Either way: common knowledge may include vague and possibly inaccurate details as you’d get from myths, but only a scholar is going to reliably know names and attributes of specific Overlords.

Did the Dreambreaker intend to betray Halas Tarkanan during the War of the Mark?

That’s a pretty deep cut. The Dreambreaker is one of the aberrant commanders from the War of the Mark. He first appeared in the module The Delirium Stone, and was further described in places like this Dragonmark.

In my opinion, the Dreambreaker was a true champion and loyal to the cause. However, he was also insane. Along with the Lady of the Plague, the Dreambreaker represents the fact that aberrant marks often come with a terrible price. The Lady of the Plague destroyed her village before she mastered her mark, and had to exercise constant control to keep from harming the people around her. The Dreambreaker had the power to cause madness… but this also affected his mind. The Delirium Stone gives this advice to the DM playing the Dreambreaker: “He sees visions no one else can see, and he believes the true battle is with the gods, with time and space, and that the people around him are merely manifestations of patterns. When playing the Dreambreaker, always act as if you know terrible things others can’t imagine. Take care of the Aberrants in your charge – but treat them as children, because that’s what they are to you.”

So the Dreambreaker wouldn’t intentionally betray Halas… but he’s not entirely predictable.

Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters! Share your thoughts on these or other questions below!

New Phoenix Products

As of this morning, Twogether Studios has just released three products for Phoenix: Dawn Command on DriveThruRPG. I wanted to take a moment to discuss these so you know what they are.

THE MANUAL

First of all, we have released the Phoenix: Dawn Command Manual — AKA Guidelines For The Newly Inducted Marshal — as a PDF. After some consideration we decided not to break it up into a separate player and marshal book, so this is the entire core book, including the seven-mission Dark Omens adventure path.

To be clear: this is not a complete game. Phoenix uses a card based resolution system, and you need those cards to play the game. The core set — which is available at our website — includes all the cards you need for a gamemaster and up to four players. We’re releasing the book in PDF in case there are gamemasters or players who prefer to work with it in electronic form… but you do need the cards to play.

Of course, the core set includes cards for up to four players. But what if you have five or six players? That brings us to…

PLAYER EXPANSIONS

We’ve added two more products: the PDC Strength Player Expansion and PDC Intellect Player Expansion. Each of these provide you with the cards you need for the core Phoenix set to support an additional player. Each expansion includes twenty cards in total:

  • Eight Grace cards
  • Eight Strength or Intellect cards
  • Four new Traits to expand your Trait pool.

These expansions are print on demand through DriveThruRPG. They are tarot sized cards of similar quality to the cards included in the core set, but there are a few slight differences — notably the corners, which are slightly more rounded than the core cards. You can see a comparison of these cards in the image below. This doesn’t prevent you from mixing the cards together, but it can be a slight tip-off when you’re about to draw an Affliction.

The cards on the left are from the Strength player expansion; the cards on the right are from the core set.

If you have questions about these products, please post them below.

PDC: Bitter History

Was the symbol of the Devoted School different before Bitters were an acknowledged school? If so, when and how did it change? If not, what did the sixth point represent pre-Bitter School?

This came up on the Phoenix: Dawn Command Facebook group, and it’s a good question. The Bitter school is the darkest of the six Phoenix schools. A Bitter dies in failure, and is driven by anger and revenge. In the description of the Bitter school, it notes that “The origin of Bitter Phoenixes is a mystery. There’s no record of any Bitter Phoenixes in the Dawn Legion or the Phoenix Imperium; it seems the first Bitter Phoenix appeared after the Civil War. Some scholars fear that Bitter Phoenixes represent some sort of corruption of the Phoenix Flames; others believe the Phoenixes of the past were simply so arrogant they never saw themselves as failures.”

However, we also have the Devoted school, which has certainly been around throughout the history of the Imperium. It’s noted that The Devoted sigil shows six points around a circle. It represents the Phoenixes of a Wing and the greater whole of the Wing itself. As a Devoted, you know that unity is power—that a Wing working together can accomplish things no lone champion can achieve.

A wing contains one Phoenix from each school, and hence the question: If Bitter Phoenixes weren’t part of the Dawn Legion, did the Devoted symbol only have five points? Or if it had six, what did people think that meant?

First of all, this is a valid question for people to have in the world of Phoenix itself. There is some mystery around the Bitter school. Is it a manifestation of the Dread? Or is the Dread simply bringing it out in a way it didn’t come up in the Empire? Like the Mourning in Eberron, I don’t want to give you one single answer: I want each Marshal to be able to decide if the Bitter school is a corruption or functioning as intended.

With that said, in canon I will say that the Devoted symbol has not changed. The first Phoenixes didn’t design these symbols or create the schools; they inherited them from whatever power created the flames. I believe that scholars in the Imperium debated this question, likely arguing some of the following ideas…

  • The six points represent a group of people working together; it’s not specifically a wing of Phoenixes.
  • The sixth point represents the Empire, which is always with the Phoenixes.
  • The symbol could represent the Empire and its people: Ilona, Skavia, Grimwald, Wynderi, Pyre and the Shadovar.
  • There is a sixth school which for some reason we haven’t seen.

With that in mind, I also see a few ways a marshal could develop this.

  • The description says “There’s no record of any Bitter Phoenixes…” which isn’t the same thing as saying “There never were any Bitter Phoenixes.” The Dawn Codex used the Schools as a model for righteous paths citizens of the Empire should follow. It’s possible that one of the early Emperors – likely Aegis – decided that the Bitter school was a flawed school that cast the Phoenixes as a whole in a bad light and instituted a policy of obliteration to conceal this cancer from the Empire. Phoenixes are always reborn first in the Grand Aerie, and Bitter Phoenixes could have been immediately imprisoned or executed… though a few might have escaped, or somehow managed to be reborn elsewhere in the Empire. The Shrouded Empress Verity would certainly have ensured that there were no records of these renegade Phoenixes, but there could have been some out there; they might even have aided the Humanists during the Civil War.
  • Perhaps there was a different sixth school in the distant past, and the Bitter is a corruption of that previously unknown school. In which case, is it possible to find an ancient Phoenix of that school? Or could a Bitter find a way to cleanse their flame and be reborn as a member of this unknown school?

Mainly this comes to a question of how you want to handle the story of a Bitter player, and especially their mentor. One option is that a Bitter has no mentor; they are the first Phoenix of their flame to ever follow this path. They could seem to have no mentor, but discover a connection to a force seeking to corrupt the flames — a powerful Fallen, or perhaps the entity described on page 226 of the Marshal’s Guide. But a third option is that they have a mentor who lived during the Phoenix Imperium and opposed the Empire, a Bitter Phoenix whose actions were erased from history. Dawn Command isn’t the same as the Dawn Legion, but how will this affect the Phoenix’s decisions and relationship with the Empire moving forward?

If you have other questions about Phoenix: Dawn Command, ask below!

Phoenix: Dawn Command


“You shall not pass!” Gandalf facing the balrog is one of my favorite moments in a fantasy movie. A hero facing an overwhelming evil and ultimately laying down his life to save the rest of the party. But it’s not a situation I’d typically put into an RPG adventure. Usually, putting players in a scenario where the only way to prevent the death of the entire party is for one of the PCs to sacrifice themselves is a cruel move. And yet, that sacrifice — bringing down an impossible foe through an act of courage — is a compelling moment. How do you bring that to the table?

If you’re reading this, you’re probably familiar with the Eberron campaign setting I created for Dungeons & Dragons. What you may not know is that in the last year I’ve released an entirely new fantasy roleplaying game that I codesigned with my friend Dan Garrison. This is Phoenix: Dawn Commandand now that Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Card Game is out, Illimat is on a boat and Action Cats is at the printer I’m going to be putting more time into Phoenix. So I wanted to take a moment to tell you about Phoenix and why you should check it out. Before I get to deep in the details, I’ll note that you can get Phoenix from our website or from Amazon, with Prime shipping through Amazon and free shipping in the US from my site.

Phoenix is set in the fantasy world of Dalea. It’s a traditional RPG, in the sense that you have a gamemaster who guides the story and that it’s best in campaign play, where you have time to develop your characters and your stories. Beyond that, it’s what you might get if you stirred together Dungeons & DragonsCall of Cthulhu, and Exalted. Dalea is caught in the grip of the Dread. Across the known world all manner of supernatural terrors are crawling out of the woodwork. Mortals can’t fight these things… but you’re not mortal. You’re someone who died and managed to earn resurrection and the power of a Phoenix. You can face a mob of chanters or a Fallen prince. But Phoenix is about more than just taking on an undead army or dueling demons. You need to find out WHY the Dread is happening, to understand the nature of each of these threats and how they relate to one another. Can you find a way to lay the Bones to rest? Can you learn how the Chant begins or find a way to cure its victims? Phoenix is built on a foundation of over-the-top action, but to truly succeed you’ll have to channel your inner investigator and solve the mysteries of the Dread.

Mechanically, Phoenix has a number of distinct features. The first is the fact that death is how your character grows stronger. When you die, you are eventually reborn with greater power. This isn’t a trivial thing. Hearing about this, people often ask why their characters wouldn’t jump off a few bridges in order to level up. There’s a few things that play into this.

  • Lives are a limited resource. You return after death… but only up to seven times. Each rebirth brings you closer to the end of your story. In you first few lives you can afford to be reckless; but the more power you gain, the more careful you have to be with it.
  • The stakes are high. In Phoenix you’re not just dungeon-delving to get a new magic sword. You’re the last hope of a world that is losing a war against an unknown enemy. You can’t afford to waste even one life. Death isn’t the end, but you need to be sure you make every life – and death – count.
  • Time is of the essence. When you die you’ll be reborn… but not right away. At the earliest you’ll return with the following dawn. But rebirth is never predictable, and it could be far longer. Most missions in PDC are time-sensitive. If you’re in a city and there’s a Chant outbreak you might have two hours to contain it before it spreads too far to be contained. If you all die in those two hours, you will eventually return; the story isn’t over. But that city will have been lost, and you’ll have to deal with the consequences of that failure.

So death isn’t the end — at least initially — but neither is it trivial. Beyond this, the abilities you gain when you’re reborn are based on the nature of your death and the lessons you’ve learned from it. You don’t need to fear death, but you want to make sure that each moment counts.

Another unique aspect of Phoenix is that it uses cards instead of dice. In PDC each player has a unique deck of cards that reflects the abilities of their character and largely takes over the role of a character sheet. You have a hand of action cards; when you want to take an action you describe it to the gamemaster, and they tell you the suit and value you’ll need to play to succeed. Do you have the cards in your hand that you need to match or exceed that value? If not, you have a pool of mystical energy you can burn to push beyond your limits… but when you use it all, you die. So you can buy success in Phoenix, but the question is always if it’s worth it. This is one of the critical aspects of the game: presenting players with interesting and difficult decisions. There’s a bomb in a room full of innocent people. You might be able to disarm it, but you can’t be sure of the difficulty and if you try and failure it will detonate and kill everyone in the room. On the other hand, you could throw yourself on the bomb: you will certainly die, but everyone else will definitely survive. What do you do? Your fate isn’t determined by a random die roll; it’s a question of evaluating your resources and deciding which path you want to take. Beyond this, because you always know what you have in your hand, what you rarely have is wasted action. In a system based on dice, you’ll frequently attempt to do something and fail when the dice don’t go your way, and you accomplish nothing on your turn. In Phoenix, you essentially know your die roll ahead of time – you know what you have to work with in this turn. So if you have a bad hand, the question is can you find something useful to do with it, whether that’s taking on an easier task or burning sparks to push beyond your limits. But you don’t have that moment of trying to do something cool and rolling a two. Instead, you know you’ve got the two; what can you do with it?

If you’d like to know more about Phoenix, you can ask questions below. In addition, here’s a few things I’ve already written.

In the months ahead, I’ll be delving deeper into the world of Phoenix. Beyond this, we’re evaluating print-on-demand options for creating expansions, and we’re also looking into creating an OGL so people can post their own Phoenix missions. And for those who really want to cross wires, I’ll be looking at what it would mean to run Phoenix in Eberron.

PHOENIX Q&A

Could you explain the different types of Phoenixes briefly and why they have their unique abilities? Did certain types of death suggest certain abilities or Phoenix paths?

There are six Phoenix schools. Each one provides different abilities, and yes, each one is tied to the nature of your death and the lessons you take away from it. The Devoted Phoenix died for others, and their powers help them strengthen others and work as a group. The Shrouded Phoenix died because of a secret, and they excel at uncovering secrets and hiding from others. The Bitter Phoenix died as a failure, and their lessons are about anger and revenge. You can find deeper descriptions of the six schools here.

Thanks for reading. I hope you’ll take a look at Phoenix: Dawn Command. If you have questions — or if you’d like to share your own personal experience with Phoenix — post below!