Six Questions: Jonathan Tweet

It’s been a little while since I’ve posted Six Questions. But recently I had an opportunity to talk with Jonathan Tweet, and I couldn’t pass up the chance. Jonathan’s work has always been an inspiration to me as a designer, and I briefly had an opportunity to work with him during the early stages of 13th Age. Now he’s working on something entirely new and different.

jonathanHeadShotIf you’re not familiar with Jonathan Tweet, you may just not have been paying attention. Jonathan’s early design work includes Ars Magica and Over The Edge; OTE is a personal favorite of mine, and influenced Eberron in a number of ways. He revised Talislanta for Wizards of the Coast, and published the card-driven RPG EverwayAnd he was lead designer on a n obscure little game you’ve probably never heard of… the third edition of Dungeons & Dragons. After leaving Wizards of the Coast, Jonathan teamed up with Rob Heinsoo to create 13th Age (with a little bit of help from yours truly!). And now he’s working on something entirely new, a children’s book called Grandmother Fish.

The biggest problem in asking Jonathan six questions is that there’s more than six things I’d like to know. For example, how does he feel about D&D Next and Pathfinder? Fortunately for me, David Gross already asked that question, which freed me to focus on some of his older work.

You’ve created an amazing range of games over the course of your career. What’s your greatest strength as a designer and writer, and how is this reflected across your body of work?

I see how things can be different. While I’m good at math, and I have a clear focus on the player experience, that’s not what sets my work apart. My goal hasn’t just been to create new RPGs but to change the way people play RPGs. Fortunately, I’ve been able to do just that a couple of times. Starting in 1987, Ars Magica set a precedent for bringing more story content to characters and to game mechanics. My creative partner on Ars Magica ported the structure to the modern world with Vampire: the Masquerade, which in turn had a big influence on gaming in the 90s. In 1992, Over the Edge showed how simple, free-form rules could allow greater player creativity. That game had a big influence on the indie game movement, and I’m proud of that. In 1995, Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Ed rationalized the structure of the rules. That had a huge impact on how people play D&D, and it influenced countless d20 games. People are still playing that system, albeit as Pathfinder under the Open Gaming License. The new RPG from Rob Heinsoo and me, 13th Age, combines my old love of simpler systems and free-form creativity with my renewed love of the D&D experience. Time will tell how influential it proves to be, but I have high hopes. Plenty of its concepts are directly portable to other versions of the D&D game.

I also have a knack for explaining things, and I spent years innovating new ways for people to learn games. I created original-format starter sets for Ars Magica, Magic: the Gathering, Dungeons & Dragons, and other games. That “beginner friendly” approach even informs the children’s book I’m doing now, the first book to teach evolution to preschoolers.

In 1992 you introduced the world to the island of Al Amarja with the RPG Over The Edge. The system is flexible and embraces player creativity, and the setting is a great source of inspiration while encouraging each GM to make the world their own. What led you to develop Over The Edge… Both setting and mechanics?

In 1990, I had left my game design career in Minnesota and a failed love affair in Barcelona, and I was back in my home town with a job selling mutual funds on commission. For my friends, I invented an accessible, creative roleplaying game, something much simpler and stranger than anything I would have designed for publication. In terms of mechanics, it was inspired by Chaosium’s Ghostbusters game, which debuted the dice pool mechanic, was super simple, and gave players a little bit of free-form creative license. The setting was inspired primarily by the writing of William S. Burroughs, especially Naked Lunch. My old friend Robin D. Laws speculated about the nature of a hypothetical RPG based on Burroughs, but he wasn’t serious about doing such a game. He inspired me to look into Burroughs, and I ended up doing a modern-day setting filled with reality-warping dangers and unseemly conspiracies.

The mechanics and setting go together. Around 1990, it was considered the height of artistic RPG design to have a fully-realized, original game world, such as you see for example in Skyrealms of Jorune or in Ars Magica. The problem I had with Ars Magica is that new players could not freely use their imaginations when creating characters because the characters had to fit into a particular setting, one that they were not familiar with. The point of Over the Edge was that a player could create a character without really looking at the rulebook. The setting was familiar: the modern day, only as weird as you can envision it. That meant that players could draw on their whole knowledge of the world to invent their characters. And the system has no skill lists, abilities scores, or other crunchy bits that constrain your character concept. The system and setting were both devoted to this core concept: that the new player could make up the character they wanted, and it would be excellent.

In 1995 you created Everway, an innovative RPG that used cards and storytelling in place of dice. What inspired you to create the Fortune Deck, and what do you feel it brings to the roleplaying experience?

Tarot cards appeal to fantasy gamers but also attract people who aren’t sword-and-sorcery fans but who like magical imagery. That was 20 years ago, before fantasy had spread as far into the mainstream as it has today. Our goal was to reach beyond the core RPG market to an untapped audience of potential new players. Honestly, it didn’t really work.

Tarot cards were my answer to the problem of what to replace dice with. Dice are cold, abstract, and numerical. If you think about it, it’s an odd component for a roleplaying game, which is creative and open-ended. In fact, one beginner role-player in my Over the Edge campaign found rolling four dice and adding the results to be too much arithmetic, especially when everyone at the table was watching and waiting for her to name her total quickly. I wanted a resolution system that wouldn’t fluster players like her. Everway’s Fortune Deck plays on the imagery of the tarot to give the player a “randomizer” that inspires the imagination, without arithmetic.

It’s fun to have a randomizer that plays on concepts instead of with numbers. The results can send play into surprising directions that wouldn’t result from a numeric input. There have been many times in play that someone drew the “exact right” Fortune Card, almost as if Fate were stacking the deck. Sometimes the card is so apt that it sends a chill down the spine. It’s fun to plug into that sort possibility with an evocative randomizer.

When your plane goes down on the way back from Australia, you find yourself stranded on an island with four strangers and four games. What games do you take?

Backgammon, Sequence, soccer, and Hillfolk. Backgammon has more randomness than chess, which allows one to play more casually. It also comes with a pair of dice that you can use for all sorts of other games. Sequence is a straightforward, team-friendly game that comes with a double-size deck of regular cards. We can turn that into two regular decks for poker, solitaire, hearts or anything. By “soccer” I guess I mean a soccer ball. Balls offer endless amusement. And finally Hillfolk, Robin D. Laws’ new RPG. It focuses on dramatic interactions between PCs, and it’s setting-neutral. We could play one setting after another, and the game is built for campaign-length play, which would come in handy on a desert island.

Your current project is something entirely new: Grandmother Fish, a child’s first book of evolution. Tell me what drove you to write a children’s book, what makes Grandmother Fish unique, and how your past experience has shaped your approach to writing it.

Fifteen years ago when my daughter was little, I started working on Grandmother Fish, trying to figure out how to make evolution accessible and appealing to a little child. I’ve always been a big fan of evolution, and I’ve got a talent for explaining things, so I started working on a manuscript. They say if you can’t explain something to a child, you don’t understand it yourself, so I took that as my challenge. The book would show a child how our ancestors evolved anatomy that we still have today, such as bones, or don’t have any more, such as tails. A children’s book author, however, let me know that my manuscript was not ready for publication. It was promising but not amazing.

Last September, after leaving Amazon Game Studios, I hit on a way to make the book amazing.  Instead of talking about body parts, like jaws and bones, the book gets the kid to mimic actions, like chomping and wiggling. Kids, parents, and teachers really love the interactive, mimicry aspect of the book. This interactive element makes the book accessible to even younger children than before. Instead of being one of several published evolution books for grade schoolers, it’s going to be the only evolution book for preschoolers.

Evolution means a lot to me personally because it’s not just an abstract scientific fact. It’s the story of how we fit into the epic tale of life on earth. Like Neil deGrasse Tyson says, affirming our connection to all living things is a soaring spiritual experience.

There’s a week left in Grandmother Fish’s fundraising campaign on Kickstarter. What are you aspirations for the campaign, and what’s your next step after Kickstarter? Are there other fields of science you’d like to explore in this way? 

Evolution is by far the science that’s most in need of a book for preschoolers. The rest of science is wonderful, too, but evolution is personal. It’s about who we are, how we got here, and our connection to the rest of the living world.

My original thought with the Kickstarter campaign was to self-publish Grandmother Fish before I got another corporate job in gaming. I didn’t want to go to my grave regretting that I’d never made the book happen because I was too busy pursuing a paycheck. But now that I’ve gotten into Grandmother Fish, I’ve made a couple important contacts in the science fields. Maybe I’ll keep mixing science into my game design career. For now I’m just focused on the Grandmother Fish Kickstarter campaign. That gives me plenty to think about each day.

Our Kickstarter funded on the third day, so at this point my aspirations are simply to reach more people. The more people we reach, the bigger a splash we make with evolution. I would like the success of the campaign to demonstrate that, yes, the country is more than ready for a preschoolers’ book of evolution. If someone merely hears about my book and thinks for the first time about teaching evolution to preschoolers, I can go to my grave happy.

That’s all for now. As of this moment there are six days left in the Grandmother Fish Kickstarter, so check it out now!

Dragonmarks 7/2/14: Subraces, Sarlona, and More!

So I’ve got over 50 questions on my slush pile, and I don’t have time to answer them all. As a result, the next few Q&As will be tied around particular themes, such as The Five Nations and Magic. This helps me narrow down the pile and will hopefully make it easier for people to find answers in the future. I’m sorting the existing questions into these categories, so if I don’t answer your question about Boranel’s children here, it’s because it’s a Five Nations topic. The next post will be on Aundair and The Eldeen Reaches, including the druids. If you have new questions on those topics, post them below!

As always, these are my personal opinions and nothing more. They may contradict previous or past canon sources.

What’s going on with D&D Next? Is the setting going to see major changes like the Forgotten Realms or is it just going to be a rules set change? Will there be new Eberron novels?

It’s too early in the process to answer these questions, I’m afraid; things are still being worked out. There will BE Eberron support for D&D Next, but exactly how extensive it is or what form it will take remains to be seen.

There’s also been a number of questions about how I’d handle specific mechanics in D&D Next, such as an artificer or dragonmarks. While I’d like to answer these questions, these are things that take a significant amount of time and testing; I don’t have answers I’m 100% satisfied with yet. All I can say is that one way or another, these answers will be coming in the future.

Are there any plans to make Eberron compatible with Pathfinder or any rules already out?

The vast majority of Eberron material that’s out there is 3.5 material, which is considerably easier to convert to Pathfinder than, say, to D&D Next. If you haven’t read this material, it’s available in PDF form at D&D Classics.  As Eberron belongs to WotC, it’s not currently possible for Paizo (or anyone else) to produce new Eberron material for Pathfinder.

What do you mean when you said you don’t use subraces? You use the drow don’t you and they are a subrace of elf!

This is mainly a 3.5 issue. I use drow, and in 4E I use eladrin, which some could see as “high elves.” But I don’t use Sun Elves, Chaos Gnomes, Snow Orcs, Star-Bellied Halflings, and so on. There are literally dozens of subraces in 3.5 D&D, and the vast majority of them exist for one of two reasons…

  • “I want to play class Y and I want to be race X but race X is terrible at class Y… so I’ll play a subrace of race X, which is exactly the same but has the perfect stats and favored class for class Y.”
  • “I think that if race X lived in environment Y, they would need to be stronger, so they should have a strength bonus.”

Humans don’t change. Inuit don’t get a bonus to Constitution because they live in the arctic. Thus, I dislike this idea that every other race should alter their stats because of the environment the live in. And if Race X isn’t the ideal match for a Class Y, I’d prefer to challenge you to think of how that race would adapt to compensate for that handicap rather than making a new version of the race that lacks it.

Let’s look at the Valenar. Many people have asked me: “Valenar like being rangers. Why not give them ranger as a favored class?” My response is that as Elves have an innate racial talent for wizardry, what you’ll see among the Valenar is a lot of rangers with a few levels of wizard—something that makes them distinctly different from other races and reflects their elven nature. In my opinion, that favored class isn’t cultural; if it was, a member of any race that grows up in another culture should have that favored class. Instead, it is fundamental to the race. Whether it’s a difference in brain structure, innate fey blood, or what have you, Elves have a natural talent for wizardry. I’d rather explore how that affects the martial culture of the Valenar than simply ignore it and make them a different sort of elf entirely.

Now, let’s look to drow and eladrin. Both have deep cultures and history within the setting. While both are racially tied to elves, they are also physically distinct on a very fundamental level—differences that occurred not just because “They lived somewhere cold” but because their ancestors were genetically altered by the magic of the giants. The only difference between a Tairnadal and an Aereni is cultural; an Aereni can choose to BECOME a Tairnadal elf. But he can’t decide to become drow or eladrin. It’s not just a cultural difference; it’s a fundamental physiological difference with a logical origin, along with an interesting role in history.

I’m not innately adverse to subraces. I’m adverse to subraces that in my mind have no logical reason to exist and that add nothing substantial to the history or story of the world. This isn’t just limited to subraces; it extends to full-on RACES. Personally, I don’t use Illumians or Goliaths or Genasi. I don’t want my world to feel like a Mos Eisley cantina, with a different species at every table. I’d rather use fewer races but really focus on their cultures, histories, and role in the world. Which leads us to…

How do the lords of dust view Tieflings and how are tiefling viewed by different nations or religions? What of very obvious tieflings?

I never used tieflings in 3.5 Eberron. However, as they are a core race in 4E D&D, I developed a place for them. In canon Eberron, tieflings can trace their roots back to Ohr Kaluun, a Sarlonan nation that made pacts with fiends; Ohr Kaluun is also the source of the skulks. During the Sundering, Ohr Kaluun was vilified and destroyed. Those tieflings that survived escaped to Droaam and the Demon Wastes, and this is where their descendants live today. The tieflings of the Demon Wastes are scattered among the Carrion Tribes and have no distinct culture of their own. The tieflings of Droaam have their own kingdom, the Venomous Demesne; this is where to go if you want tiefling pride and intrigue. However, neither the Demon Wastes or the western edge of Droaam have any real traffic with the Five Nations. In Sharn, there are in all likelihood more medusas than tieflings. And there are certainly more harpies and ogres. Tieflings simply aren’t prevalent enough for people to be aware of their origins or to have a strong opinion. When someone sees a tiefling in Sharn, their first response won’t be “Flame preserve us! Her ancestors made pacts with fiends!” Instead, it’s more likely to be “Whoa! That’s the sexiest minotaur I’ve ever seen!

With that said, if I decided I wanted to do something with tieflings, I think that the Venomous Demesne could be a fascinating place to explore. Here’s a place where the warlock tradition is the foundation of their culture, a place where fiendish bargains are a fundamental part of life. I see a lot of room for interesting intrigue. And if I was to play a tiefling from the Demesne (warlock or no), I would certainly establish what pacts the character or their family had made, what intrigues they are tied to, and what has driven them out into the wider world. While by contrast the Demon Wastes are the source for the isolated tiefling with no cultural or family connections.

How do the Lords of Dust feel about tieflings? “Whoa! That’s the sexiest minotaur I’ve ever seen!” The ancestors of the tieflings didn’t make pacts with the Overlords. There’s no innate connection that makes the Lords of Dust treat tieflings any differently than orcs, hobgoblins, humans, or what have you.

Now: that’s how I use tieflings, and it’s the canon position in 4E. But you could go a different way. You could say that tieflings are bound to the Overlords (though why do they have horns instead of stripes?). You could have them be persecuted by the Silver Flame. It’s just not what I do.

What subraces do you use in D&D Next?

Given my big diatribe there, this may come as a surprise… but at the moment I use all of them. I just don’t consider most of them to be subraces (with Drow as the sole exception); I think of them as different manifestations of the races’ natural talents. If you look to D&D Essentials, most races took the form “ELF: +2 Dexterity, +2 Intelligence or Wisdom.” I liked this as a way of providing flexibility, and that’s how I look at the subraces in 4E. Rather than saying “City Halflings are Lightfoot and Talenta Halflings are Stout”, I prefer to say “ANY Halfling can be Lightfoot or Stout.” These are simply different paths any member of the race can follow. So a Valenar warband would include both “wood elves” and “high elves”… just like I’ve got an ectomorphic body type, while my best friend from high school is a mesomorph.

You COULD say “All Aereni are High Elves and all Tairnadal are Wood Elves”, but again, this raises all those issues like “But an Aereni can become a Tairnadal” and “What about a elf who was raised by humans?” For me, it’s just simpler to say that they aren’t “subraces”, they are simply different manifestations of elf found in all elven communities. The drow are a clear exception, because again, you can’t just “decide to be a drow when you grow up”; they have a significantly distinct physiology and a clear role in the world.

If you were to run a campaign aimed at ridding Sarlona of the Inspired, what would it take for the Inspired to lose hold of Sarlona?

The simplest answer is the one the Kalashtar are pursuing: get the cycle of Dal Quor to shift, bringing an end to the Age of il-Lashtavar. If this is done, all the quori will be drawn back to Dal Quor and transformed. Do that, and you end the occupation in a moment. So the question is what you can do to accelerate that.

First of all: if you haven’t done it yet, read Secrets of Sarlona. Otherwise, much of what I say here won’t make sense.

My first question: Why do you want to rid Sarlona of the Inspired? Do you have a system in mind to take its place? At the moment, the people of Riedra love the Inspired, and the Inspired provide for their basic needs. They are denied many freedoms people of Khorvaire take from granted, but they largely don’t have to worry about crime, starvation, shelter, etc. As you can see in regime changes across the world, when you kick out a dictator you create a vacuum… and what’s going to fill it? In ridding Sarlona of the Inspired, will you collapse Riedra into civil war, famine, and plague?

Assuming you’ve got an answer to that, there’s a few lynchpins to the Inspired system. The major key is the hanbalani monoliths. These control the dreams of the people, serve as planar anchors and power generators, and are the backbone of continental communication. Whether you’re acting on a regional level or continental, the hanbalani are vital targets. The second critical target is the psionic teleportation circles that allow swift transportation of troops and supplies. Of course, these draw on the local hanbalani for power, so if you eliminate one you eliminate the other.

You’d also likely want to work with existing dissident groups: The Broken Throne, the Dream Merchants, the Horned Shadow, the Unchained, and the Heirs of Ohr Kaluun. Of course, some of these groups – notably, the Heirs of Ohr Kaluun – are worse than the Inspired, so it’s again a question of who you really WANT to help.

But the most important ally and the true key to success would likely be the Edgewalkers—the Riedran military arm tasked with defending the nation from extraplanar threats. It would be incredibly difficult, but if you could convince the Edgewalkers that the Inspired themselves are an extraplanar threat, you’d gain access both to a disciplined corps of people trained in dealing with hostile spirits and a force recognized as heroes by the common people.  However, it’s all how you prove this. Just saying “They’re possessed by spirits” won’t do the trick, because EVERYONE KNOWS THAT; you’d need to prove that those spirits aren’t what they say that they are, and that despite the fact that they’ve kept the nation prosperous and cecure for a thousand years – and despite the fact that they themselves created the Edgewalkers – that the Inspired are somehow an evil threat that must be removed.

Could you go into more detail about what you think would happen if all the Quori disappeared, leaving their Inspired vessels empty? Are Chaos and civil war inevitable?

It’s a valid question. If the only thing that happened is that the quori themselves vanished – say the Age turned without a visible terrestrial struggle – it wouldn’t actually be immediately obvious to anyone except the Chosen (the mortal hosts of the Inspired) themselves. And the Chosen aren’t simply puppets who would suddenly be useless if the Inspired vanished. A few things to bear in mind:

  • Most quori have multiple Chosen vessels and move between them. Thus, the Chosen are used to operating and ruling even without quori guidance. It’s been noted that over the course of years, the presence of a quori has an effect similar to mind seed; the Chosen essentially thinks like the quori even when the quori isn’t present.
  • Tied to this is the fact that there are also a significant number of actual mind seeds around Sarlona. For those who aren’t familiar with the discipline, mind seed essentially reformats a creature’s brain to be a duplicate of the manifester, minus a few levels of experience. So mind seeds are humans, ogres, whatever – but with the personality, memories, and some of the class levels of a quori. They’ll all still be around even if the quori are transformed.

So eliminating the QUORI wouldn’t immediately throw every community into chaos. The Chosen are capable of leading and the people are used to obeying the Chosen. However, there are three other things that would cause more trouble.

  • The hanbalani monoliths are used for communication and more significantly, to control the dreams of the populace. The people of Riedra don’t think of dreams as a source of inspiration or creativity; they think of them like a news channel, where they get the latest information. This is part of what gives them such a sense of unity: they literally share the same dream. Once you eliminate that, first you have wiped out the government’s ability to provide news; second, there is an excellent chance that people will panic when they start having everyday normal nightmares, because they’ve never had them before. They may think that evil spirits are attacking them, or just generally freak out because they don’t know what’s going on. You could mitigate this with help from the Unchained, who are Riedrans who have experiemented with dreams, but it’s going to be the main immediate source of panic.
  • The hanbalani also power the system of psionic teleportation circles. If the hanbalani are left intact, there would be Chosen or mind seeds who could maintain them, even if they couldn’t create new ones. But if you eliminate the hanbalani and thus this network, you’re going to have communities that no longer have access to supplies they are accustomed to, which could thus lead to shortages, famine, etc.
  • Most of all: the Chosen may be capable leaders on their own, but they lack the pure unity of purpose shared by the quori. What I’ve said before about immortal outsiders is that to a large degree they lack free will. Kalashtar aside, the quori have a truly inhuman dedication to their common goal. This is enhanced by the fact that they are planning their actions from Dal Quor (where time moves at a different rate than on Eberron). The Inspired Lords of the major cities may never meet in person, because they don’t have to; their quori meet and make plans in Dal Quor and then return to the Chosen. Left on their own, the Chosen may be good leaders, but they are human. They will come up with their own goals and agendas. They will have doubts about one another. The leaders of the Thousand Eyes may decide that they are best suited to maintain order… and be opposed by the military leaders or the Edgewalkers.

So a certain amount of chaos and panic are inevitable once people start dreaming. The Chosen may maintain order, but without the unifying, inhuman influence of the quori I think that you will get factionalizing and civil war fairly quickly. With that said, I don’t see things dissolving into UTTER chaos; I think you’d see a breakdown into three or four major factions/nations, with a handful of isolated independent communities scattered around them. The largest of these would likely be a faction maintaining that the quori will return – that people need to maintain tradition and calm and just wait it out. But I think you’d get SOME significant factions moving in different directions.

Will common people revolt against their masters without pacifying influence of the hanbalani?

I don’t think that’s a given, but it’s a possibility. Again, the majority of people in Riedra BELIEVE in the Chosen and Inspired. They will be looking to the Chosen to fix things, not instantly turning on them. On the other hand, SOME might instantly turn on their lords.

Or will any external power take a chance to prey on weakened Riedra?

I don’t think there’s any mundane force powerful enough to try to INVADE Riedra. They’d still have their military infrastructure, even if leadership is fragmented. I think it’s far more likely that Riedra’s greatest enemy would be other Riedrans, as different Chosen lords pursue different agendas to fix things. But setting aside the concept of invasion, there’s lots of forces that would take advantage. The Akiak dwarves. The Heirs of Ohr Kaluun, who I think would immediately seize at least one small province. The Horned Shadow. For that matter, I could easily see a Lord of Dust deciding that this is a perfect opportunity to gain followers… or failing that a group of dragons. The main question on those last two is if they were certain the quori were GONE; otherwise they might not want to poach so quickly. But that leaves another possibility…

WHAT WOULD THE NEW QUORI DO? The easiest way to get rid of the quori is for the age of Dal Quor to turn. This effectively eliminates ALL kalashtar and Inspired; their quori spirits will be sucked back into Dal Quor and released in a new form that fits the flavor of the new age. In all likelihood they wouldn’t immediately return to Eberron, because we’ve established that the quori of a new age know nothing about the quori of the previous age; they wouldn’t know anything about Riedra, the Inspired, or any of that. However, if you WANTED to, you could decide that these new quori are quick learners… and that they actually do return to the Chosen in a new, more benevolent form, and work with them to create an entirely new Riedra.

OF COURSE… if something like this happens, are you entirely sure you believe them? Or could it be the old quori just trying to get your PCs to leave them alone?

I’ve been trying to understand a few things about the shifter nations of the Tashana Tundra. So I said to myself, where there are shifters, there must be lycanthropes… but what happened to lycanthropes beyond western Khorvaire during the 9th century? Were they not affected by the new strain of lycanthropy that led to the Purge?

You’re working from a flawed premise: “Where there are shifters, there must be lycanthropes.”  While many people assume that shifters are thin-blooded lycanthropes, there’s a shifter tradition that maintains that the reverse is true – that the shifters came first, and that the first lycanthropes were created from shifters. The existence of a shifter nation elsewhere in the world—in a place where lycanthropy may not even exist—certainly supports this idea.

That same article calls out the fact that the shifters and the lycanthropes weren’t allies. The only way the Shifters were affected by the strain of lycanthropy that led to the Purge was that the lycanthropes sought to use them as scapegoats and living shields. Even before the Purge occurred, there was a sect among the Eldeen shifters dedicated to hunting down evil lycanthropes, because those guys are bad news for everyone.

So, the short form is that the Purge had no particular impact on the shifters of Sarlona.

A second question is how shifters migrated from one continent to the other. Setting aside the plausible possibility of parallel evolution, the most likely possibility is that a tribe of shifters passed through Thelanis via manifest zones… the same way Daine & co get from Xen’drik to Sarlona in The Gates of Night. The Eldeen certainly has its fair share of Thelanian manifest zones.

You’ve mentioned before that a LE cleric of the Silver Flame would detect as LG, as the clerical aura is stronger than that of his personality. What would happen, if by some twist of fate, someone became a CG paladin (of freedom) of the Silver Flame (3.5, Unearthed Arcana)? Would others be able to detect that she is chaotic?

This is a house rule that I discuss in detail here. Under 3.5 rules, a divine power has an alignment. The Silver Flame is Lawful Good. A cleric has a powerful divine aura tied to his divine power source that is actually stronger than his personal aura. So a chaotic cleric of the Silver Flame will radiate an aura of law.

All this is based on the 3.5 SRD description of detect (alignment). This spell specifically calls out CLERICS as having that powerful aura. As a DM, I would be willing to extend this effect to “divine spellcaster,” thus including paladins, favored souls, and so on. However, by the rules as written, a paladin wouldn’t have this aura.

A key point, however: this isn’t some sort of trick or loophole you can take advantage of. If you have a divine aura, it is because you have deep faith and a mystical connection to that source. To be cloaked by the aura of the Flame, that LE Cleric must be truly devoted to the Flame; it’s simply that he may take evil actions in pursuing that faith and philosophy. So assuming that you or your DM allow paladins to have that aura, your paladin must be called by the Flame to have its aura. If you see a way to reconcile a Paladin of Freedom with faith and devotion to the Flame, this could work, and it would conceal a chaotic alignment. But again, it’s not a trick or a cheat; it’s because the character literally is bound to something bigger than himself, and that bond overshadows his personal alignment.

Did the Thranes of the Church of the Silver Flame, at least some of its priests, care for the wounded of rival nations during the Last War?

The faith of the Silver Flame maintains that the best way to combat human evil is by showing an example of virtuous behavior, through acts of compassion and charity. Given that, anyone who follows the Silver Flame would be encouraged to show kindness to prisoners. We’ve established that the Puritan faith of Aundair tends to stray from this and lose sight of the value of compassion, and Breland has the highest percentage of corrupt priests (of all faiths, not just the Flame). Still, you could expect to see such acts of kindness from any truly devoted follower of the Flame. And overall, I would certainly expect Thrane to have the best record for taking care of prisoners of war.

Since Jorasco works for profit, and the CotSF is understood as being more altruistic, were there voices that opposed more aggressive factions and took care of and even healed rival soldiers and civilians from other nations?

Throughout all Five Nations you surely found conscientious objectors who refused to fight. Some simply left; this is how the current human civilization of Q’barra was founded. Others might have done their best to care for the injured, especially innocent civilians; I’d expect such behavior from adepts of Boldrei just as much as from priests of the Silver Flame. But a key point here: You suggest that this might present an alternative to Jorasco, because Jorasco works for profit. The key is that the church simply don’t have the resources to offer some sort of free alternative to Jorasco that could provide all the services Jorasco is capable of providing. In the present day, you do have charitable clinics maintained by both the Flame and the Host (again, Boldrei is all about caring for the community). Go to such a place and you’ll find an acolyte trained in the Heal skill that will do their best to assist you. But they can’t provide magical healing. One of the central pillars of Eberron is that people with player character classes are rare, and that even at first level PCs are remarkable people. The typical priest of any faith isn’t a cleric; he is an expert trained in skills like Diplomacy, Religion, Sense Motive, History, Heal, etc. The role of the priest is to provide moral and spiritual guidance to his community, not to cast spells for them. Divine casters are rare and remarkable people who are likely to be pursuing vital missions for their faith. There simply aren’t enough spellcasting clerics in the world to replicate the services that Jorasco provides, and even Jorasco couldn’t provide those services based on spellcasters; it relies on Dragonmark focus items that can be used more frequently than Vancian magic allows. The reason Jorasco can charge what it does is because it’s the only place you can get magic healing RIGHT NOW when you want it.

Having said that: Thrane has more divine spellcasters than any other nation. This was a key military asset for the nation during the Last War. But even there, it doesn’t have so many of them that it could simply treat them as a replacement for combat medics. There are many things a divine spellcaster can do that can have a more dramatic impact on the outcome of a battle than healing an individual soldier, especially when you can buy that service from Jorasco.

So might there have been priests in Thrane who healed enemy combatants and civilians? I’m sure there were. Just bear in mind that this didn’t somehow make Jorasco obsolete or redundant, because these charitable healers couldn’t offer all the services Jorasco can.

What would happen if the Dragons launched their next attack on the elves and the elves wiped them out without effort? Full scale war?

Just like the true cause of the Mourning, the motivation for the Elf-Dragon conflict is left to the individual DM. Consider this quote from Dragons of Eberron:

Those who study this puzzling behavior ask… What motivates this seemingly endless struggle? If the dragons truly wish to eliminate the elves, why don’t they commit their full forces to the task? If they don’t care enough to do so, why do they continue to fight in such piecemeal fashion?

One theory is that the dragons despise the exten­sive practice of necromancy, even when it draws on the positive energy of Irian, but do not view it with the same abhorrence as the giants’ planar studies. Thus, they cannot agree en masse that Aerenal should be laid low.

Another possibility is that the struggle is a form of exercise for the dragons, a proving ground for the younger warriors of the Light of Siberys. Conversely, it might be that the wars are fought to test the elves and harden them for some future conflict, just as a soldier will sharpen his blade in preparation for battles to come. The dragons might be unwilling to share the secrets of their power with lesser races, but they can still push the lower creatures to reach their full potential. The long struggle with the dragons has certainly forced the Aereni wizards and Tairnadal warriors to master the arts of war and magic.

The response to an overwhelming defeat would depend on the reason for the attacks. If the purpose of the conflict is in fact to hone the skills of the elves, it could be that the dragons would be pleased by this outcome. It could be that, thanks to the Prophecy, the dragons know that an Overlord will be released in Aerenal… and that if the elves couldn’t defeat a dragon attack, they’d never be ready to face the Overlord. If the dragons were using the elves as a training ground for their young warriors, I don’t think they’d seek vengeance on the elves for defeating them; the dragons chose the battle, not the elves. Instead, I think it would mean that they’d chose a NEW target for future training exercises—something more evenly balanced. Perhaps Sharn?

Divine Ranks and Eberron, where do the progenitors stand, for example?

Frankly, they don’t. Divine Ranks are part of a god’s statistics, suggesting the power it wields when it manifests… and the deities of Eberron don’t manifest. The only beings we’ve assigned Divine Rank to in Eberron are the Overlords of the First Age, precisely because they DO manifest in this world; IIRC, we’ve set their divine ranks at 7.

Now, looking to the Progenitors, consider a few things. IF you take the myths at face value and believe that they are literally true, the Progenitors created reality as we know it. They didn’t just create planets and creatures; they created all of the planes that we know. At the end of all of this, Eberron became the world. Eberron can’t physically manifest because doing so would be the equivalent of the world stretching out and standing up. The Progenitors exist on a scale beyond everything else. And no one believes that they directly grant spells. Many druids revere Eberron, but they don’t think that Eberron listens to them or personally answers their prayers; Eberron sleeps, holding Khyber in her coils, and what they respect is the system she created. So, if I had to give Eberron a divine rank, I’d make it a minimum of 30. They are the over-est of overdeities.

I’m running a 3.5 Eberron game and the bottom line is this: Vol is seeking to attain godhood by sacrificing hundreds of thousands of lives in a mater of days. To do this, she has discovered a set of powerful artifacts that would awaken the greatest and most powerful evil of all and bind it to her will. The entity? Not an Overlord, but KHYBER himself, restored, not in full cataclysmic power, but close. She then intends to send him again the Five Nations and harvest the souls through several Eldritch Engines. I would appreciate your input on this plot and to suggest any substitutions or monsters that might represent Khyber.

This question runs into the same problem I mentioned above. Khyber is literally the underworld. Khyber is the demiplanes that exist in the world. If Khyber was truly somehow physically restored to its primal form, a) you’d be ripping out the heart of the world, which would have cataclysmic effects; and b) the scale is simply too grand for PCs to face it. Consider Siberys. If you believe the myth, the Ring of Siberys is literally the remains of Siberys’ body… and it wraps around the entire world. The Progenitors are simply TOO BIG to be brought into a normal combat.

With that said, I’m not one to stomp on a story. So if you want to keep Khyber as your threat, you could say that it isn’t Khyber’s true body, but rather a physical manifestation of Khyber’s spirit… in which case, it can be the biggest, baddest dragon you care to put together.

However, if I may suggest an alternative: I wouldn’t use Khyber for this plot. Among other things, Khyber isn’t a force of death (I realize Siberys might argue this point). ALL the Progenitors are forces of creation; Khyber may create fiends, aberrations, and monsters, but that’s still creation. If Khyber were to manifest, I wouldn’t expect the occasion to be marked by a big dragon smashing things; I’d expect to see hordes of new monsters and fiends being created by this event. None of which really fits the idea of Vol becoming a Goddess of Death.

 

So my suggestion is that she summon one of Khyber’s children… specifically, Katashka the Gatekeeper. Katashka is the Overlord that embodies death and undeath. If Vol wants to become a goddess, what she basically wants to do is to take Katashka’s place. So my plot would be that Vol finds a way to release Katashka and bind him to her will, harnessing the deaths that he causes and ultimately using that power to usurp his place and become him.

The Overlords are entities with an approximate divine rank of 7. You can see find more details about creating an Overlord in 3.5 rules in Dragon 337; you can get a PDF of this issue here.

OK, there’s still a lot of questions on my pile – let’s do a quick lightning round of ones with short answers.

What happened to Eberron’s thirteenth moon?

It was destroyed by the giants of the Sul’at League during the conflict between the giants and the Quori of the previous age. This action had horrific physical and mystical consequences for Eberron, and this is why the dragons intervened the next time the giants considered using such a weapon. It’s discussed in more detail in the novel The Gates Of Night.

Does the force known as the Silver Flame have adherents beneath the waves? A different take on it like the Gash’kala?

Not in any canon source. It certainly doesn’t fit sahuagin culture as it’s been presented. However, if you play with the idea that the aboleths are agents of an aquatic overlord, one could assume that the aquatic races fought them during the Age of Demons; given that, I could see having a merfolk interpretation of the Silver Flame that traces back to that conflict. But it’s not something that’s ever been concretely defined.

Would there be werewolf war if a werewolf lord were to appear?

I’m not sure what you mean by “werewolf war” – a war between werewolves, or a new attack on the scale of the one that triggered the Purge. There IS someone I’d consider a “werewolf lord” in Eberron: Zaeurl, the leader of the Dark Pack. She’s been keeping the Pack on track and alive for the last two centuries. On the other hand, if you mean something more like an Overlord, I suggest you check out The Queen of Stone for my take on that idea…

 Would anyone on Khorvaire care if Stormreach was destroyed?

Absolutely! Stormreach is the gateway to Xen’drik, which is a source of many imported goods—dragonshards, kuryeva, eternal rations, and more. Dragonshards are the key, as they are a vital part of the magical economy. Plus, something that could destroy Stormreach could presumably threaten any coastal town in the Five Nations. I’d expect it to be a serious concern.

Besides the Lord of Blades and his whole warforged supremacy thing, what other cults, societies or groups have emerged in and around the Mournland?

I’ll revisit this in the future in more detail, but the short form is that it’s very difficult for any human to live IN the Mournland, both because of the hostile environment and simple lack of natural resources. But you’re going to see scavengers and salvagers; refugees who have established communities on the edge; cults of the Dragon Below that believe the Mournland is the promised land; bandits willing to take the risks to shelter from the law; and creatures that have evolved to live in the Mournland (want a city of Abeil? It just popped up in the Mournland!). Per canon, you have a wider range of warforged factions than just the followers of the Lord of Blades. And don’t forget the magebred empress and her followers (from the 4E ECG).

Beyond the world, sun, and the thirteen moons, are any other celestial bodies in the galaxy described anywhere?

Not in any canon source that I’m aware of. Though the 3.5 ECS includes constellations.

OK, that’s all I have time for now. If you have questions about Aundair or the Eldeen Reaches, post them below!

Dragonmarks 6/25/14: House Heraldry

I’ve been traveling for the last few weeks and haven’t had a lot of time. There’s a lot of good questions in the Q&A slush pile, and I still have other features I want to work on. But last time I said I’d finally address the question of Dragonmarked Heraldry, so that’s what I’m doing today. As always, this is just my personal opinion, and it may contradict existing or future canon material.

A question regarding the emblems of each Dragonmarked House…. why did each house choose each particular magical beast?

Flip open the ECS or ECG and turn to the section on Dragonmarked Houses, and you will see the seals of the houses. Each house has a particular beast, such as House Orien and its Unicorn. But why exactly does Kundarak use a manticore? What’s the basis behind these?

The current structure of the Dragonmarked Houses is an artificial construct established at the founding of the Twelve. Some of the houses were already operating as monolithic guilds, but others were more scattered; there were tinker families with the Mark of Making that weren’t tied to the influential Vown artificers. While every house has unique traditions, the Twelve worked to establish a unifying foundation, codifying the system of licenses and bound businesses; adoption of foundlings and excoriation; patriarchs and seneschals; and so on. Part of the purpose of this was to establish the houses as a united front in the face of kings and lesser guilds. The Guild seals were thus established in deliberate emulation of noble heraldry, with a unifying theme: the use of magical beasts, creatures who—like the Dragonmarked themselves—possessed innate mystical powers that set them apart from mundane wolves and bears.

The upshot of all this is that some of the houses had a preexisting attachment to their chosen symbol… while others literally chose a beast on the spot because it was the structure that had been agreed upon. So Kundarak actually does have a strong ongoing relationship with manticores, while Thuranni has no attachment to real displacer beasts. Needless to say, in the centuries that followed the selection of these symbols some houses have developed an attachment to their patron creature or superstitions connected to it, like the claim that Orien heirs need to remain virgins until the Test of Siberys to “attract the Unicorn.” But many of the houses had no pre-existing connection to the beast they chose. Anyhow, here’s my thoughts on the origins of these symbols…

CANNITH: THE GORGON

Cannith are artificers, who weave magic into steel. The bull has long been a symbol of power and triumph. What better symbol for this industrial house than a steel bull? The core Cannith guild was already using this symbol, and it was Cannith that proposed the magical-beast tradition; Sivis latched onto the idea and helped them push it through.

DENEITH: THE CHIMERA

The families that founded House Deneith had each prospered as independent mercenary companies. Each company had its own heraldic beast. While they couldn’t preserve each of these traditional symbols, they embraced the idea that like the chimera, their new house bound multiple beasts together into an even more fierce form.

GHALLANDA: THE BLINK DOG

As described in Dragonmarked, “Ghallanda” is the Talenta name for the blink dog. Talenta tales identify the blink dog as a helpful creature who appears to help stranded travelers: “The helpful hound who appears where needed the most.” It’s Eberron’s answer to the Saint Bernard with the barrel of booze on its neck.

JORASCO: THE GRIFFON

The Jorasco leaders wanted to use the Glidewing as their symbol, but the majority insisted on a unified theme of magical beasts. The Jorasco matriarch had seen a painting of griffons descending on a battlefield to help the wounded, and it stuck with her; this was accepted by her kin and the Twelve. As it turns out, the image was actually of griffons descending on a battlefield to feed on carrion, so it’s often been seen as an odd choice, but the house has stuck by it.

KUNDARAK: THE MANTICORE

As noted in Dragonmarked, this is tied to a legend of an early alliance between the clan and the manticores of the Ironroot Mountains. The house maintains this alliance to this day, and employs manticore cavalry in the mountains.

LYRANDAR: THE KRAKEN

Also called out in Dragonmarked; a common legend of the house founder holds that a kraken emerged from the depths to save him when he was attacked by pirates. Beyond this, a hidden sect within the house maintains that the founders of the house continue to exist as immortal krakens, though this tale is largely unknown outside the house.

MEDANI: THE BASILISK

Medani’s power is observation. They will see your enemies before they can harm you. They will spot threats… and eliminate them. Thus, a creature with a deadly gaze was a logical choice.

ORIEN: THE UNICORN

Pretty straightforward: the Unicorn is a swift land creature, a strong image, and it has the ability to teleport (check the SRD!). ‘Nuff said.

PHIARLAN: THE HYDRA

Also covered in Dragonmarked. The five heads of the Hydra represent the five artistic demesnes of the house, and they also appreciate its general reputation for resilience.

SIVIS: THE COCKATRICE

The power of Sivis lies in words; thus, the a creature with a “deadly quill” seemed to be an appropriate choice.

THARASHK: THE DRAGONNE

Again, from Dragonmarked: The Dragonne is a deadly hunter touched by dragons, long respected by Marcher hunters.

THURANNI: THE DISPLACER BEAST

Like Orien, it’s pretty straightforward; a feared predator who’s never where you think it is. What better symbol for a house of shadowy assassins?

VADALIS: THE HIPPOGRIFF

House Vadalis claims to have bred the first hippogriff. Whether or not this is true, they were certainly the first to domesticate the creatures and sell them as mounts; this was a strong part of their early success and an obvious choice for house symbol. However, as the house breeds many flying mounts, it’s not considered gauche for a Vadalis to back a different creature in the Race of Eight Winds.

TARKANAN: THE BEHOLDER

When Thora Tavin and her allies established House Tarkanan, they deliberately adopted some of the trappings of the Dragonmarked Houses. However, rather than choosing a magical beast, they chose one of the mightiest aberrations. This works on multiple levels. Obviously it’s a powerful creature feared by others; it also ties to the fact that aberrants are often treated as monsters or abominations by the “pure” dragonmarked.

I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind recapping some of your ideas for the beast that the Mark of Death would use if it hadn’t been scrubbed away into obscurity and (nigh) extinction.

As noted before, the Line of Vol was never a “Dragonmarked House”; it was erradicated centuries before the Twelve came into existence. As such, it never had any reason to follow the magical beast tradition, and would have been more likely to use the traditional elven seal of the line, or a creature more traditionally associated with psychopomps or the dead (such as a raven). If for some reason it had to follow suit, one possibility would be the Catoblepas, which is a “magical beast” and death-themed. However, the Catoblepas is deadly as opposed to being associated with death, and the Mark of Death is more about understanding and interacting with the dead than killing things, so it’s not a very good match. If I had to pick a magical beast for them, I’d personally choose the Sphinx; hidden knowledge is more appropriate for line than a deadly gaze.

You mention how some of the Houses have adopted their beast, but as many of the beasts are intelligent as well, how do they feel about representing a humanoid structure of power? Do Displacer Beast Packlords revel in their feline authority to see themselves plastered on flags, if they know how to interpret such things? Do unicorns accept their majesty being condensed into a symbol of travel and transport?

I don’t see it as a serious concern. Despite their varying intellects, none of these creatures have been presented as having anything on par with a nation. The Kundarak dwarves made a pact with a particular manticore tribe, but we’ve never presented manticores as having any remote political or cultural impact; it’s sort of like saying “Does Karrnath worry that wolves don’t like their being used on the flag?” Taking unicorns, I think it’s going to vary by unicorn; some may be amused, some may be insulted, most probably won’t care in the slightest. But there’s no unicorn nation that is going to band together and raise some sort of concerted outcry about it. And at the end of the day, the images being used aren’t especially offensive or specific to any particular cultural group among those species; it’s essentially the equivalent of having a sports team called “The Human Beings.”

Back on the previous point, some of the houses actually do interact with their heraldic beasts. Vadalis breeds manticores. Some Talenta-based Ghallanda have friendships with local blink dog packs. Kundarak still deals with Ironroot manticores. But even there, MOST Ghallanda have never seen a blink dog, and a Kundarak dwarf doesn’t have some sort of special in with a manticore from Droaam, any more than having human friends from Karrnath will help you when some thugs from Thrane want to beat you up.

Dragonmarks 5/30/14: Vol, the Dark Six, and the Trouble With Aundair

Spring has been a busy time, and I haven’t had much time for the site. I’m working on a lot of exciting things, and I look forward to being able to discuss them in more detail in the future. I also have a backlog of Stories & Dice to get to. But for now, here’s a few Eberron questions. As always, bear in mind that these are only my personal opinions and that my answers may contradict canon material.

Chris Perkins said that Eberron will have 5e/DNDnext support and your input. Is this true?

Yes. It’s far too early to talk about details as to what form support will take, how extensive it will be, or anything like that, but I have been talking with Mike Mearls and Chris Perkins about Eberron in D&D Next, and I will be working with WotC on future Eberron support. More details to follow in days to come.

What makes Aundair interesting? It seems like idyllic farm land except for Aurala’s ambitions.

This question came in at the last minute, and it can easily be the subject of an entire post. So I’m just going to give you a very high level overview, and explore all these points in more detail in the future.

What makes Aundair interesting?

  • A land divided. Aundair USED to be idyllic farm land… until a big chunk of its idyllic farmers seceded to form the Eldeen Reaches. That’s huge ongoing rift with serious impact on daily life in both Eldeen and Aundair. Then to the west, you have Thaliost – a major Aundairian city now in the hands of Thrane. Of all the surviving Five Nations (we’ll leave Cyre out of this) Aundair carries the worst wounds from the war… which is one of the reasons Aundair HAS ambitions.
  • Mystical sophistication. Aundair is the seat of the Arcane Congress. It’s the smallest of the Five Nations, and during the war, Aundair relied on its arcane superiority to survive. Out of all the Five Nations, Aundair is the one where arcane magic is the most integrated into daily life. If you want to explore that aspect of Eberron, Aundair is the place to do it.
  • Ambition. Aundair dares! The bitter wounds of the war give Aundair a motive to fight – the belief (perhaps foolish) that only renewed war could settle these injustices and turn the fortunes of the nation. Combine this with the belief that Aundair’s mystical edge could let it win that war – that it’s just one super-weapon away from ultimate power. The King’s Citadel is basically working to preserve the status quo… while the Royal Eyes want to destroy it. If you want to be a spy who’s out to CAUSE trouble instead of stopping trouble, it’s the place for you.
  • A nation of dreamers. Karrnath is stoic and grim. Thrane is tied to the church. Breland is industrial and grimy. Aundair is all about magical thinking, figuratively and literally. Its people have the most romantic – and unrealistic – outlook on things, in part because as the nation of magic, they know life can BE unrealistic. Aundairians love duels. They love grand gestures. Life in Aundair is full of flair and color. This ties to the fact that most of the zealots of the Silver Flame are actually from Aundair – because they are more passionate and, if you will, magical in their beliefs, while Thranes tend to be moderate and compassionate.

I’d love to go into more detail on all of these points, but I don’t have time. But to me, the high degree of magical integration combined with the tensions of Thaliost and Eldeen can give birth to a host of interesting stories.

I notice that, in relation to Aundair, you did not mention that, according to the maps published in Forge of War, the entire of southern Aundair (including Arcanix) was actually part of Thrane before the Last War, and a good chunk of northern Thrane (not just Thaliost) used to be part of Aundair. Do you use those border changes in your home game? If so, how does that impact the nation?

This is why I always say “My answers may contradict canon material.” I have no problem with borders having shifter, but I don’t accept the idea that Arcanix was originally part of Thrane. As I said above, the whole idea of Aundair is that it’s the nation most driven by arcane magic… that Aundair herself was one of the earliest wizards and made her nation the seat of the Arcane Congress, and that this is an integral part of Aundair’s character and culture. Conversely, Thrane has nothing arcane in its culture at all (yes, Silver Pyromancers, but that’s the key – even wizardry is tied to the church). Having Thaliost or other significant cities have changed hands is interesting, but having Arcanix have been part of Thrane weakens both nations, because it doesn’t play into the character of either.

Why the Dark Six? By this I mean: What is the function of the Dark Six and their worshippers from a plot perspective? If I’m looking to run an evil cult, why the Dark Six? Or is there some completely different function that they’re serving that I am missing?

First off, it’s a mistake to separate the Dark Six from the Sovereign Host. The Shadow is cast by Aureon. The Mockery puts Dol Dorn and Dol Arrah in perspective… as shown by the Three Faces of War, which is devoted to all three of them. We’ve mentioned a number of cults that blend the worship of Host and Six – for example, the Restful Watch, who revere both Aureon and the Keeper. The Host and the Six are all part of the same big picture, and you should always consider how your cult walks the line between the two.

Looking to one simple example: Onatar is the divine patron of House Cannith. However, the house has always been a haven for Traveler Cults. Canniths who follow the Traveler typically do so because the Traveler drives innovation. Onatar guides the hands of the smith when he makes a sword, but is the Traveler who gives him the idea for a gun or a bomb – something that could utterly change the face of warfare (for better or for worse). The Traveler encourages dangerous risks and paradigm shifts. These things are dangerous, and that’s what puts the Traveler in the Dark Six. But Cannith Traveler cultists have made some of the largest breakthroughs in the history of the house. Sometimes dangerous risks pay off.

The Three Faces of War maintain that all the Dols have a place on the battlefield. Dol Arrah is the patron of honor and strategy, and there’s a time for that. Dol Dorn is the rough-and-tumble patron of the career soldier. But war can get ugly… and that’s where Dol Azur comes in. The Mockery pursues victory at any cost. He shows you the path to defeat the undefeatable foe. He’s not honorable. He’s not strong. But he will win, and so will you… if you’re willing to follow his path.

In Droaam, the Six are revered as positive forces. Humans see the Shadow as the corrupting force that creates monsters. Well, monsters see the Shadow as the Prometheus who gave them their gifts, powers Aureon won’t share with humanity. For wizards, the Shadow/Aureon divide is much like Traveler/Onatar or Mockery/Dol Arrah. Do you follow the rules, or do you follow the path others are afraid of?

In short, don’t just think about one of the Six in isolation. Think of them alongside their counterparts in the Host, and think about what it says about a person that they embrace the aspect represented by the Six.

Could some way the cultists of the Dark Six and the Lord of Dust cooperate? Maybe could a rakshasa impersonate a god?

Certainly! In my opinion, both the Lords of Dust and the Chamber have posed as deities to manipulate mortal cults. Of course, I wouldn’t really call this “cooperation”; the cultists don’t realize they’re working with a fake god, after all. But yes, the Lords of Dust may manipulate cults of the Dragon Below, the Dark Six, or for that matter the Sovereign Host (though that’s usually the dragons’ department).

Why is the Order of the Emerald Claw not shown to have grey morality too? It can have tragic figures.

I have a different answer to each of these sentences. Taking the last one first: It’s very easy for the Emerald Claw to have tragic figures associated with it. Its members can be driven by tragic past, misguided patriotism or religious zeal, or an understandable desire for vengeance for crimes inflicted during the war. Erandis Vol herself is a very tragic figure, with many valid reasons for doing what she is trying to do.

But that’s where we come to grey morality. Erandis is a tragic figure with understandable motives for doing what she is trying to do. But when what she is trying to do is suck out the life force of everyone in Sharn so she can power her necrotic resonator and become Queen of the Dead, there’s no question that your PCs are doing the right thing when they try to stop her. And that’s the purpose of the Emerald Claw. It’s like Cobra in GI Joe or the bad guys in Raiders of the Lost Ark; these are PULP villains, enemies that the PCs KNOW they should oppose whenever they are encountered.

If you want more shades of grey, just pick a different order. Personally, I use the Order of the Ebon Skull as my go-to Blood of Vol chivalric order with a complex moral agenda. But from a storytelling perspective, there is a value to having a particular force that the players KNOW they don’t need to think about; if the Emerald Claw is up to something, stopping it is the right thing to do.

So the key point: You can do anything you want with the Emerald Claw. YOU can make them more complex. But their role within the setting as designed is specifically to BE a black-and-white pulp enemy as opposed to a shades of gray noir faction.

How are Outsiders, native and otherwise, seen in Blood of Vol theology?  They have blood, and they have immortality. Do Outsiders have the divine spark?  If so, why aren’t they getting divinity and deific status with the massive amounts of time at *their* disposal?

First: The Blood of Vol maintains that Eberron and its inhabitants are special, a belief shared by others. The planes are isolated aspects of reality: War, peace, light, darkness, order, chaos. Eberron (well, the material plane in general) is where all these things come together. Mortals know war AND peace, order AND chaos. They dream, they have inspiration, and at times this can drive them to madness. The pit fiend of Fernia and the angel of Syrnia each possess tremendous power, but both are limited by their fundamental nature. An embodiment of war can’t become a force for peace. In a sense, it’s about free will. Ultimately, very few immortal outsiders actually have it. They are incarnate ideas, but that means that they are bound by their nature. Changing their fundamental nature literally means a physical transformation; a fallen angel becomes a devil or a radiant idol or what have you. And it’s very rare that this can happen in the first place.

So: an angel has vast power to begin with, but it’s limited by its nature. You don’t get to be a hashalaq quori by starting out as a tsucora and working your way up; you either are a hashalaq or you’re not.

The mortals of Eberron have nothing BUT potential. A baby has no power at all, but he can grow up and become an amazing sorcerer or a mighty cleric. If he can do all that in a single century while also suffering the daily trials of mortal life, what could he achieve with eternity at his disposal?

Looking at it another way: the basic premise of the BoV is that mortals have a divine spark and the potential to achieve divinity… and that because of this the gods afflicted them with mortality. The fact that outsiders are immortal is, essentially, a sign that they have no spark… because the gods don’t see them as threats or rivals. Which makes them tools, weapons, slaves, servants… call it what you will. The key point is that for all its power, a pit fiend (or a lich, for that matter) lacks the raw potential of a mortal human.

As a side note, I personally don’t think that immortals DO have blood in the same sense as mortals. If you want to get purely mechanically, if a creature doesn’t specifically say it can’t be killed by stirges then it theoretically has some form of circulatory fluid that can be drained with a negative effect. But even if that’s true, I don’t think that an angel’s blood or demon ichor is going to resemble the blood of a human or an elf. I might say that an angel’s blood is light, while the blood of a demon might be a foul black substance that slowly eats away at mortal matter… and I’d probably change this based on the nature of the angel or demon. Really, that’s a DM’s call – but I don’t think immortal blood resembles mortal blood, and that’s enough for a BoV priest to call it a mockery or imitation.

Are there any particularly handy resources already floating around where you’ve commented on the Blood of Vol history or philosophy, particularly the role of its undead champions (when they’re not just being used as a corny “eeevil” death cult), the nature of House Vol before its fall, or the history of the Blood of Vol dating back to before Galifar such as Aerenal or the Qabalrin?

I don’t know about “handy.” One of these days I’ll have to consolidate some of these into a single coherent entry. But here’s a few scattered pieces and discussions across the web. The RPG.Net links are discussion threads, but ones where I’ve posted at some length.

Eberron Expanded: Libris Mortis

Dragonmark: The Mark of Death

Dragonmark: Erandis Vol – Hot or Not?

RPG.Net: What’s Erandis Been Doing For 3,000 Years?

RPG.Net: The Blood of Vol

On this one, I particularly recommend pages 2 and 3, which discuss what makes it an attractive religion to followers and what a paladin of the BoV can do to “fight death”.

Is there a dark side of house Ghallanda? Hosting illegal parties with dangerous substances and activities I would guess…

Anything can have a dark side, if you want it to.  House Ghallanda doesn’t just run inns and restaurants; they are the masters of the urban social arena. They know what to do to make their clients comfortable. A Ghallanda fixer is the person who can get you anything. He may employ members of other houses to accomplish that – turning to Sivis, Medani, or Tharashk, among others – but the point is, the concierge at the Gold Dragon Inn can get you anything. You can just as easily have crisis managers and cleaners – the branch of Ghallanda who takes care of things when there’s a dead body in the prince’s room or when the Countess overdoses on the dreamlily the concierge obtained for her. Ghallanda also has its promoters who build up celebrities to help as draw to Ghallanda events and locations.

Beyond that… are you familiar with the Black Dogs, from Eberron? These are Ghallanda assassins, who among other things are experts at mystically poisoning food and drink.

Do you have any thoughts on what place Vestiges and Pact Magic might have in Eberron? 

Personally, I say that Vestiges are immortal entities that linger in Dal Quor. Not exactly gods, they are beings who have become legends, and their spirits draw power and sustenance from that. I’ve called out titans of Xen’drik and ancient dragons as possible Vestiges. It’s entirely possible the Daughters of Sora Kell are trying to become Vestiges, or that Sora Kell is one.

If you could add a new continent to Eberron, what would you put on it?

Drawing on past answers, the simplest is that I wouldn’t add a new continent; I’d add more depth (get it?) to the undersea civilizations. At the moment, I don’t feel a need to add something completely new to the surface world, in part because it’s so easy to add an entirely new race/civilization/whatever to Xen’drik.

You once mentioned how the future of Eberron may be (warriors with many magical weapons, etc) Have you played in a future era?

I’ve played in some very near-future scenarios, but not in a future where the level of magic has changed significantly.

If warforged have no souls, which is an option, could Canniths somehow force/program them to do something against their will?

People in the world argue about whether or not warforged have souls. Speaking personally, the question to me isn’t whether warforged have souls; the fact that they can be raised from the dead is basically proof of that. Instead the question is how can they have souls, and where those souls come from. Whatever your stance on this, whether or not warforged have souls doesn’t affect Cannith’s ability to manipulate them. You can’t “program” a warforged; if you could, Cannith would have done it to all of them. There are quite a few aspects of sentience Cannith would love to have selectively removed from the warforged, but sentience came fully formed. Cannith can provide basic direction to the warforged – producing a model with an inherent aptitude for combat or recon, for example – and it is this that suggests that they might actually be using recycled souls. The reason Warforged X pops out with an innate aptitude for combat is because he has the soul of a soldier.

In any case, the key point is that by canon there is no way for an artificer to “program” a warforged. You could always introduce something – say that Merrix has a secret network of Warforged Manchurian candidates – but it’s not the default.

I must admit, though, that I prefer the possession of souls by warforged to not be settled under canon but to be left to each DM…

Even if it is established under canon, it’s ALWAYS up to each DM to change canon as they see fit. The main issue is that warforged BEHAVE as if they have souls for purposes of magic that directly affects a soul – resurrection, trap the soul, magic jar, etc. The DM could certainly come up with an explanation for why this is possible when they don’t actually have souls – but MECHANICALLY they are treated like creatures that do have souls.

I wonder if perhaps Cannith artificers do not at the very least have the capacity to “charm” warforged in a very powerful way, being their creators, or of removing their souls from their bodies -temporarily or not- if they do have souls.

Again, it’s always up to you as a DM. But from a world design standpoint, the concept has always been that Cannith itself doesn’t fully understand or control the warforged. If every aspect of the warforged was under their control, there are many aspects of humanity they would probably eliminate. The idea is that they didn’t CHOOSE to give the warforged the capability to feel love, or sorrow, or fear; these things simply came with the package when they found a way to imbue them with sentience. Again, the key is that warforged aren’t robots; they are living beings who were created through artificial means.

Thus, a typical Cannith has no means to control the thoughts of a warforged, even one he created. However, what he does have are many, many ways to DESTROY a warforged… disable construct, inflict damage, etc. We see this in the Dreaming Dark novels with Lei; she can’t take control of a warforged, but she can certainly shut one down.They can’t manipulate their thoughts any more than they can manipulate the thoughts of any other living being. But they can take apart their bodies, because that’s the part of the warforged the Cannith understand perfectly.

With that said, you can do anything with the right Eldritch Machine; this is presumably the foundation of the soul-stripping plotline in DDO.

I’m sure it’s been asked before, but… name one new technology you’d like to see replicated Eberron-style. Smartphones?

In the original proposal I had “crystal theaters.” Essentially, the theater has a GIANT CRYSTAL BALL, with a number of preset “channels” – Phiarlan and Thuranni stages where major events are performed. At showtime, the screen is tuned to the proper location. It’s an example of magic accomplishing the same function as technology, but using the existing mechanics of magic. Rather that the event being broadcast to the screen, the screen is scrying on the stage. I use these in my campaign, but I don’t think they made it into any official source.

Bear in mind that Eberron’s key principle is finding ways to use D&D magic to accomplish the things we do with technology. So in thinking about something like a smartphone, the question is how you create a smartphone using existing D&D principles. Is it a sentient magic item with decent knowledge skills combined with a form of sending that can only connect with someone carrying another smartphone? That sort of thing would work, but of course, a sentient magic item is SENTIENT… so you might have to worry about whether your smartphone is smarter than you.

That’s all for today. A late question is “Why do the Dragonmarked Houses use the animal symbols they do” and I’ll see about addressing that as a bonus tomorrow.

Dragonmark 3/19/14: Orcs, Mean Streets and More

The last few months have been very busy. I’ve got many things I’d love to write about, including a bag full of Stories & Dice entries; however, I’m working on multiple deadlines and it’s going to be another week or two before I can get to them.

In other news, I will be attending T.A.B.L.E. in Coppell, Texas on March 28-30th. It’s a gaming expo that’s working to reach out to people who don’t normally play games, and it’s got a few small-time guests like me and Steve Jackson. If you’re in the area, I hope you will come and play a game with me!

And now, the latest round of Eberron questions. As always, my answers are not official in any way and may contradict canon sources; this is how I do things in my personal Eberron.

What’s next for you and Eberron? Anything?

The main news I do have is that the PDF of the 3.5 Eberron Campaign Setting is available online here. As for new Eberron material, no news to report yet, but I’ll let you know as soon as there is anything to know.

 

Could you tell us about your dndnext Eberron experience?

I don’t have time to go into a lot of detail, I’m afraid. I’m playing a changeling inquisitive (rogue), which means I’m really playing three or four different characters. I’m having fun with my personal vision of changeling culture, in which personas are tangible things that are shared within families and passed down to descendents; so my character has a few identities that are older than he is, and he’s got obligations and expectations to fulfill whenever he uses one of them. After an adventure involving werewolves, the DM and I have actually spun off a whole new take on the history of lycanthropy in Eberron – where the curse originally came from—and this will hopefully play a larger long-term arc in the story of the character. The game itself is sent a few decades in the future of the default setting, which means I don’t know everything; one of the other players is playing Jaela, who mysteriously vanished and has now returned with only a fraction of her former abilities. So far it’s been a lot of fun. The system is very different from both 3.5 and 4E, but there’s a number of things I like about it, and we haven’t had any trouble adapting changelings, shifters, inquisitives, and other elements to the system.

 

I am trying to make the Orcs more than just Green, Strong Humans and could use some advice.

To me, a key thing is that the orcs are a very primal race. Their emotions and instincts run deep, and they are very passionate. While they are often known for their fierce rages, this passion is just as powerful when in manifests as love or grief. They engage with the world around them more fully than many humans do. It’s easy to look back at their shared history with the Dhakaani and portray the orcs as savages who lived in the woods while the goblins built empires, but the key to me is that the orcs never wanted the civilization the goblins adored. It’s not that orcs are stupid or brutish; it’s that they don’t feel the same need to impose their will on the world that many other races do. They embrace their lives as part of nature instead of holding themselves above it. This is why they have a natural inclination for the primal classes, and why they took so quickly to Vvaraak’s teaching.

As a minor aside, this quote from The Player’s Guide To Eberron might be useful.

Many of the people of the Five Nations are uncomfortable around half-orcs and find the idea of humans and orcs crossbreeding to be vile and distasteful. Such beliefs have never found root in the Shadow Marches, though, and those orcs who chose to welcome humanity to their land were quick to mate with the newcomers. Those who followed the druidic paths knew that hybrids are often the strongest plants, while the Khyber cultists have always seen change as a path to power. In the Marches, half-orcs are celebrated; they are called jhorgun’taal, “children of two bloods.” Blood is everything to the clans, and the jhorgun’taal are the proof that orc and human are kin. They have the strong spirituality of their orc forebears and the wisdom of humanity, and as such many of the greatest druids and priests are half-orcs.
The jhorgun’taal perform important tasks in the Marches, for while they are not as clever or charming as their human kin, they have the trust of both races. As a result, the sheriff of a muck-mining town is more likely to be a half-orc than a member of either of the pure races. Likewise, when the clans send ambassadors to negotiate feuds or trading rights, they often send a jhorgun’taal, even if a more charismatic human comes along as an advisor.
While half-orcs are a true-breeding race in their own right, the jhorgun’taal are just as likely to mate with humans or orcs as with their own kind. The half-orcs of the Shadow Marches don’t see themselves as a separate race; rather, they consider themselves to be the bridge that makes humans and orcs one race.

Looking to the race as a whole, I see orcs as a fundamentally chaotic race where goblins are fundamentally lawful. Goblins thrive on structure and hierarchy; orcs are more driven by instinct and impulse. Where the goblins established a vast empire, the orcs remained bound to family and clan; we’ve never mentioned a “King of the Orcs”. They are passionate and creative, but more driven by what an individual can accomplish than a nation. This doesn’t prevent them from placing value on tradition, as shown by both the Gatekeepers and Cults of the Dragons Below… but even there, both of these faiths are far less structured than the Church of the Silver Flame. Humanity has a greater impulse towards order, and House Tharashk reflects the marriage of human and orc; it benefits from orcish passion and strength, but also from the human desire to build and expand.

This is a simplistic look at a complex race. The Ghaash’kala orcs of the Demon Wastes are highly disciplined… but even there, their structure is less hierarchical and complex than that of the Church of the Silver Flame. Again, my feeling is that on a very primal level they value personal instinct and emotion more highly than the rule of law. An orc lives in the moment and follows his feelings.

While House Tharashk strongly reflects the influence of humanity and the half-orcs, it is worth noting that Tharashk is a house that has already been pushing rules and stepping on toes. Through its dealings with Droaam it is overlapping with the existing business of Orien and Deneith, while its inquisitive business fills a role long monopolized by Medani. This ties to that early point. They are more chaotic and more inclined to pursue their own desires than to accept the established order and be content with one niche.

As a final thought: When the Daelkyr invaded, they made things from the creatures they fought. They made dolgrims, dolgaunts, and dolgarrs from the goblin races. They made chokers out of Halflings. But we’ve never said what they made out of orcs. Perhaps this is because they COULDN’T physically corrupt the orcs, and that this is another reason that Vvaarak chose them; there is something fundamentally primal about the orcs that prevents the daelkyr fleshwarping. Thus instead they chose to mentally corrupt the orcs, preying on their passions and planting the seeds of madness and the Cults of the Dragon Below. If you like this idea, here’s a few other things you could play with…

  • We have half-orcs and we have half-elves. We’ve never mentioned, say, half-dwarves, half-halflings, half-gnomes, or half-goblins. This could be because orcs are an exceptionally fertile and versatile race due to their deep primal nature. Note that when we say “half-orc” we don’t say what the other half is… so perhaps you can have orc/goblins, orc/dwarves, etc and it’s just that the orcish half is dominant enough that most people can’t tell them apart. As for elves, the elves are themselves a genetically altered slave race; they too may have an unnatural ability to interbreed with other species (and if you read the Khoravar Dragonshard, the fact that they could produce offspring with humans was a surprise to the elves as well).
  • Perhaps the orcs are actually the root race that produced the shifters. The first shifters could easily have been primal champions created by Vvaarak and the first Gatekeepers… orcs blended with animalistic spirits.

 

Why don’t we see many Cults of the Dragon Above? Apart from draconic prophets, Siberys doesn’t seem to have worshipers.

Well, if you look to the Progenitor myth, Siberys is DEAD; those are the pieces of his body floating in the night sky. People may revere Eberron as the source of natural life and Khyber as the Mother of Monsters, but Siberys died before the world was even created. He gave us gifts; many say that the energy that is the foundation of all magic is the “blood of Siberys.” But Siberys is dead and not looking for your prayers.

Beyond that, very few people worship ANY of the Progenitors directly. The short form is that the Progenitors aren’t seen as active forces. People worship the Sovereigns instead of Eberron, because the Sovereigns are seen as active forces who may intervene in mortal affairs.  Khyber won’t and can’t personally do anything to you. But Khyber’s children – the Overlords – can and will. Thus, the “Cults of the Dragon Below” are typically tied to the Daelkyr, to a particular Overlord, or they are crazies who don’t actually think of themselves AS a cult; take a look at this Dragonmark for more details.

 

Where is your favorite location in Eberron to set a game, and why? Besides Sharn.

Personally? Graywall in Droaam. It’s like Casablanca, only with more trolls. It’s a frontier nation where the law is more or less whatever Xorchylic wants to be. It’s a haven for war criminals, dissidents, bounty hunters, and other interesting characters. There’s ancient ruins dating back to Dhakaan and the Daelkyr below it. And it’s a great opportunity to explore the intriguing possibilities of a nation of monsters. Check out The Queen of Stone for more of my vision of Droaam.

 

A player wants to play an incorruptible Sharn Watch Captain. How much could he clean up his district before Boromar kills him?

There’s many different layers to this question.

First of all: How is this going to impact your game? If it’s PURELY background… if he’s playing a paladin and wants to say “I started out cleaning up the mean streets of Sharn, and now I’m heading out into the wider world”… personally, I’d let him. If you’re not IN Sharn, what’s the harm in it? It means when he goes back to Sharn, he’ll have some allies and enemies, and he may be disappointed at how things have gone to crap in his absence. But if your adventures aren’t ABOUT cleaning up Sharn, then what’s the harm in him having done some impressive things in his time on the force and somehow kept ahead of the hit men?

On the other hand, perhaps your campaign is about Sharn, and what this player is saying is that he wants clean up the streets as part of the campaign. First of all, what district is he dealing with? Many parts of Sharn already are quite clean; Skyway is a very different place from Callestan. Second, there’s a limit to what one guard can do when the structure around him is corrupt; however gifted and virtuous he is, if his targets keep getting tipoffs, if his companions let them escape, if charges don’t stick, it doesn’t matter how many he brings in. So he may need to clean up the WATCH before he can really make a dent in the Boromar Clan; and once he’s cleaned up the Watch, he’s not a lone target any more. And remember, being in the Watch doesn’t make him judge, jury, and executioner; if he runs around slaughtering Boromar fences and smugglers, HE’S the criminal.

Next up: look at any good noir story. How often do the bad guys just shoot the good guy in the head? It shouldn’t be as simple as “He arrests some guys so they kill him.” Instead, you want to draw it out, and put him in a position where he has to think about his actions and the price of his principles. If this were MY game, I would sit down with the player and ask a number of questions. I’d ask him to tell me his three favorite places in the district he protects. What’s his favorite bar? Or shop? Then tell me his three favorite people. The barmaid? The orphan beggar boy? I’d like to know about his family; his vision of what he wants the district to be; and the worst mistake he ever made (because if this is a noir character, he’s made AT LEAST one). Once I know all these things, I have a wealth of tools to play with that are far more interesting that just killing him. After all, the Boromars aren’t an especially violent organization; they prefer blackmail and coercion to murder. What does he do if they threaten his family? If they take that beggar boy hostage? If they threaten reprisals, and when he ignores the threat, they burn down that bar? If the only tool you have to work with is the life or death of the player, it’s all or nothing. So you need the player to care about other things in the world, so you can threaten those… and follow through on some of those threats. A final challenge here is to come up with a reason the Boromars don’t WANT to kill him. Perhaps he’s so beloved that they don’t want the attention that would come from an assassination… in which case one thing they’ll do is to try and attack his reputation. Perhaps Saiden Boromar has a personal vendetta… the classic “I will take everything away from him before I give him the mercy of death.” Perhaps his family has a connection to the Boromars he doesn’t know about; his father was a corrupt cop who saved Saiden Boromar’s life three times, and Saiden is going to ignore three mortal insults before he takes action.

Side note: personally, I’d be inclined to have the PC be a relative newcomer in the district he wants to clean up. Either he’s just been transferred from a nicer district, or this is where he grew up but he’s been away. Rather than explain how he’s been a pain in Boromar’s rear for years and has never dealt with the consequences, start the clock NOW.

You could turn it around and say that it simply makes no sense that the PC has survived this long… but someone else is looking out for him. Someone shoves the assassin from his hiding place so the PC has a chance to defend himself. Someone pushes the poisoned drink from his hand. Someone gets the barmaid out of the bar before it’s destroyed. Is it the Chamber? A Lord of Dust who has plans for the PC? The Tyrants? House Thuranni? Someone could have long term plans for the PC… or they could want to see the PC clean up the district, but want him to be the figurehead.

The short form: There’s lots of ways to make this background work. It’s all a question of how far you want to go with it, and what impact it’s really going to have on your actual campaign. As a minor recommendation, I suggest Warren Ellis’ Fell (available in graphic novel form); here you have a story of a remarkable detective sent into a corrupt place, who does his best to clean it up but is limited by the overwhelming scope of the corruption and his own very limited resources. Find ways to make little things feel like big victories; he doesn’t have to bring down the entire Boromar Clan on day one, and they can overlook a lot of little losses.

 

How do you keep track of SO many factions?

Generally speaking, I don’t. In any particular campaign, I pick a certain number of factions I want to use, and I pick a few of the major villains. I don’t try to weave Vol, the Dreaming Dark, the Daelkyr, the Aurum, the Lord of Blades and half a dozen Overlords into a single coherent plot; instead I pick two or three that I will focus on, typically with one as the obvious initial threat, one as the hidden long-term threat, and one as the wild card, and focus on those. The others are around for me to sprinkle in for interesting one-shots, but I don’t try to make them all equal. Short form: Most of these forces are playing a waiting game. The Stars (or the Prophecy) need to be right for the Daelkyr to pose a threat. If I don’t want to use them, I simply assert that their stars won’t be right for another century; they simply aren’t going to be major players in this arc. This also addresses the question of why all these world-threatening forces aren’t stomping on each others’ toes; they simply don’t all have to be active right at this moment.

 

Are there many other large ‘franchises’ in Eberron, aside from the Houses?

Certainly. Most of the major members of the Aurum are people with their own franchises of one form or another; I suggest you check out this Eye on Eberron, if you can. Organized crime gives you another recognized brand, such as Daask and the Boromar Clan. Many of these sorts of franchises are limited to a particular nation, but are still everyday encounters in those nations. On a broader scale, you have the Church of the Silver Flame, which touches the world in many ways; a key example would be their free clinics. You generally can’t get the magical services you could get at a Jorasco house and it’s not as comfortable, but it’s a low-cost alternative for people who need help and something everyone is familiar with. Another would be the Korranberg Chronicle, which is known and respected across Khorvaire.

 

Drow – Why scorpions?

It’s a common misconception (one made by many of the inhabitants of Khorvaire and Stormreach) that the drow are especially hung up on scorpions. The Sulatar and Umbragen don’t care about scorpions at all. Among the jungle tribes, Vulkoor the Scorpion is simply one of a pantheon of primal spirits; if you read The Gates of Night or The Shattered Land, Xu’sasar calls on a number of other spirits. The Vulkoori tribes consider Vulkoor to be the greatest and most powerful of these spirits, but that’s a particular choice of a particular group of tribes.

 

WHY do souls go to Dolurrh? Did they originate there and are returning home? Is there some sort of magic pulling people there? Where did it originate? Why are souls made? (Are these “Big Unanswerables”?)

These are Big Unanswerables. A key point is that no one actually agrees on what Dolurrh IS or what happens to the souls that go there. It’s a provable fact that when someone dies a soul appears in Dolurrh that matches them, and that this soul then fades over time. The most common theory among the Sovereign Host is that the “fading” isn’t destruction at all; rather, Dolurrh is a GATEWAY to the realm of the Sovereigns, a place that is beyond all mortal experience and cannot be visited even with planar magic. The “fading” effect is the process of the soul transitioning to this higher realm; and what is left behind is just a husk, like a discarded snakeskin. Meanwhile, the Blood of Vol asserts that Dolurrh is the end; some believe that the Sovereigns created Dolurrh specifically to destroy mortal spirits, and that your spirit is drawn their after death because they designed it that way. Others say that the “fading” is the spirit being cleansed so it can be reused and reincarnated. But there’s no absolute “right” answer.

With that said… the general answer to big unanswerables such as “Why are souls made and what draws them to Dolurrh” is “The Progenitors did it.” The Progenitor myth includes the creation of the planes and the creation of mortal and immortal life. They set the system in place; they simply don’t interfere with it directly now it’s in motion. Meanwhile, the Sovereigns aren’t described as having CREATED the world; they simply govern particular aspects of it.

 

In your opinion, which nation is most likely to restart the Last War?

In MY Eberron, definitely Aundair. Of the current rulers of the Five Nations, Aurala is the only one who’s called out as really having a strong vision of reuniting Galifar. In my Eberron, Aundair is also aggressively pursuing research into new forms of war magic, as arcane magic is the only thing that offsets Aundair’s small size and population. This could be seen as a threat or provocation by the other nations… or alternately, if Aundair does develop superior rituals it could give them the confidence to act.

Another possibility is Cyre. Groups such as Dannel’s Wrath want vengeance for the fall of Cyre, and might engage in terrorist actions designed to provoke the other nations to war.

None of the other rulers—Boranel, Jaela, or Kaius—are portrayed as having an interest in war. However, Boranel and Kaius are specifically called out as being in precarious positions. Boranel is old and there’s a movement that’s interested in unseating the monarchy in Breland; and Kaius has alienated many of the warlords. If a current ruler is displaced, a new ruler could emerge with a more aggressive agenda.

 

The comic introducing Chapter 1 of Magic of Eberron suggests that nobility can have Karrnathi undead minions. Is that common?

It depends how you define “minions.” You can’t buy Karrnathi undead, and you can’t key them to be specifically loyal to a particular person. For more information on the process used to create them and the nature of Karrnathi undead, check out the article on Fort Bones.

Karrnathi undead are soldiers by nature. It’s believed that they channel the martial spirit of Karrnath. As such, they typically abide by the military chain of command; in The Queen of Stone, there’s a Karrnathi skeleton with the Karrnathi delegation. You could also find them serving bone knights regardless of their current standing. So personally, when I look at the comic in Magic of Eberron, I assume that Lord ir’Krast is a bone knight or a high-ranking member of the Emerald Skull or a similar order. The skeleton is loyal to someone who happens to be a noble; that doesn’t mean any random noble could purchase a Karrnathi skeleton. It’s one of the economic advantages of the warforged; anyone could buy one of those.

 

How would one get to the Lair of the Keeper in the Demon Wastes?

The simplest way would be to take a boat to the ruins of Desolate and cut across on land from there. A more difficult path would be to go through the Labyrinth to Festering Holt and go north, which among other things takes you very close to Ashtakala. Bear in mind that there’s no perfect maps of the Demon Wastes, so it’s not as though anyone in the Five Nations knows EXACTLY where the Lair of the Keeper is (and SURPRISE – it’s shielded from divination!). It’s very much a “Here there be dragons” situation; its location is loosely derived from a handful of ancient accounts and Ghaash’kala myths. If you really want to find it, you’d be best off getting a local guide or dealing with a living person who’s been there… say, Sora Teraza.

 

What info have you been hiding about the dwarves that got sealed in Khyber by their now topside dwelling kin?

I feel like I’ve written about this in detail somewhere, but I don’t remember where. Short form: In MY Eberron, they were wiped out or corrupted beyond recognition during the Daelkyr Incursion. The ruins of the Old Kingdom are now filled with aberrations and other horrors, and there’s a Daelkyr somewhere beneath the Ironroot Mountains. Mror heroes sometimes go below in search of glory and treasure.

Oh, and bear in mind, the surface dwarves didn’t seal the other dwarves below… the surface dwarves got KICKED OUT of the awesome subterranean kingdom. Check out this Dragonshard on the subject.

 

Which factions or countries have the largest rivalries with each other?

There’s no shortage of rivalries…

Karrnath and Thrane

The Chamber and the Lords of Dust

The Royal Eyes of Aundair and the King’s Citadel of Breland

The Kalashtar and the Dreaming Dark

Adar and Riedra

The Blood of Vol and the Sovereign Host

Thuranni and Phiarlan

Cannith and Cannith (and Cannith)

The Aurum and the Twelve

House Tarkanan and the Twelve

Aundair and the Eldeen Reaches

The Ashbound and House Vadalis

The Gatekeepers and (some of) the Cults of the Dragon Below

The Boromar Clan and Daask

The Lhazaar Princes and the Lhazaar Princes

Erandis Vol and the Undying Court

The Swords of Liberty and the Brelish Monarchy

… And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Beyond that, if you pick one of the Five Nations, you can probably find a faction in any of the other Five Nations that hates them.

 

What is the royal symbol of the kingdom of Galifar?

I’m not sure it’s ever been defined in a canon source. In my Eberron, it’s a gold crown bearing five jewels, set against a green field; I believe a canon source somewhere speaks of Cyre as “the purple jewel in Galifar’s crown,” and this is where that expression comes from. Cyre kept the Crown of Galifar on its flag during the war, while adding other elements.

 

Are there equivalents to European monastic orders for the major faiths?

Sure. It’s touched on at the beginning of this Dragonshard, though it then turns to a description of more martial orders.

Many of the creatures can trace a path back to their origins, but what of shapechangers? We know changelings descend from dopplegangers, but where do beasties like dopplegangers, and by proxy things like tibbits, come from?

Depending on what edition you’re using, the distinction between changelings and doppelgangers can be blurred. In 3.5 they are concretely distinct species; in 4E “doppelganger” is an alternate word for changeling, implying that the changeling uses his abilities for larcenous purposes. As for origins, I’ve developed a particular changeling creation myth for my D&D Next character; perhaps I’ll include it in a dedicated Changeling post in the future. I’ll also point out that one of the first D20 products I had published was The Complete Guide to Doppelgangers, by Goodman Games; there I propose a lifecycle that links doppelgangers and mimics, though it’s not something I’d use for changelings as presented in canon Eberron.

Who judges those convicted to go to Dreadhold? Sivis judges, international judges, judges from the 5 nations?

The key thing to bear in mind is that Dreadhold isn’t directly tied to ANYONE’S legal system. Dreadhold is a for-profit operation run by a business, House Kundarak. Consider prisoner Deep Fourteen, who some believe to be the true Kaius III. He was never convicted of any crime. Almost no one in the world knows that he exists. He was sent to Dreadhold by the King of Karrnath, who is paying for his incarceration. With that said, does this mean ANYONE can send someone to Dreadhold? Probably not. I expect that Kundarak has a certain criteria they apply before they accept prisoners from you, likely defined by your legal status and your wealth. The short form is that they take prisoners sent to them by the courts of the Five Nations… but they probably also take prisoners sent to them by the Aurum or patriarchs of Dragonmarked Houses. It’s not Kundarak’s job to determine guilt or innocence; it’s their job to imprison the people they are paid to imprison, for as long as they are paid to do so. A potentially interesting point would be to have Dreadhold release a host of dangerous criminals or political dissidents (some who may have been preserved in the Stone Ward for centuries) that were imprisoned by United Galifar or Cyre, because none of the Thronehold nations want to keep paying for their imprisonment.

Being a private or for-profit endeavor, house Kundarak could get in trouble in my opinion if they accept to imprison someone in exchange for payment when that someone is innocent or not deserving such a harsh punishment and is sent to Dreadhold by a nation or anyone else who is its rival.

First off: We HAVE discussed the existence of international courts that judge war crimes, established under the terms of the Treaty of Thronehold. The key is that these courts have nothing in particular to do with Dreadhold. They can choose to send a person to Dreadhold, but if they do someone will have to be designated to pay for it, and be treated like any other client. Kundarak evaluates every prisoner submitted to Dreadhold. They consider all the risks associated with incarceration; these include the challenges posed by the prisoner and risks associated with the prisoner’s outside influence. If they decide to accept the prisoner, they set the cost of imprisonment. If the client agrees to those terms, they will maintain the incarceration until the client or their heirs cease payment or cancel the contract.

What DON’T they consider? If the prisoner is innocent or guilty. That’s not their problem. Dreadhold isn’t about justice. Every nation has its own prisons. Dreadhold isn’t part of any nations’ judicial system. You send someone to Dreadhold when no other prison can hold them; when you are concerned about an uprising or military action to free them; or when you can’t kill them but never want them to see the light of day again, like Melysse Miron. Dreadhold exists in international waters, and it’s not under the jurisdiction of any kingdom. If Aundair objects to the imprisonment of someone Breland has sent to Dreadhold, Kundarak’s answer is simple: take it up with Breland. If you want, you can lay siege to Dreadhold; however, it is one of the most impregnable fortresses in Eberron and on top of that, your nation would face immediate sanctions from the Twelve.

This touches on one of the key themes of Eberron: the balance of power between the houses and Eberron. When Galifar was united, Kundarak would be unlikely to refuse the King of Galifar if he demanded the release of a prisoner. But the Queen of Aundair is an entirely different matter… and it can be argued that Aundair needs the Twelve far more than they need her. Is she willing to risk losing the services of all the houses at a time when she’s contemplating war? Essentially, no single house HAS the leverage to place demands on Kundarak… and thus, Kundarak will simply say “Take it up with the people who sent the prisoner to us.”

Case in point: Prisoner Deep Fourteen. He’s being held incommunicado, masked, in a deep cell. His identity is hidden from the world. Is he guilty of something? Given that we don’t even know his identity, who knows? Kaius wanted this person to disappear forever, so he sent him to Dreadhold… there’s no one to challenge this, and Kundarak doesn’t care what his story is.

With that said: Kundarak can and will refuse submissions. Let’s say Erandis Vol kidnapped Jaela and sent her to Dreadhold. Kundarak would in all likelihood refuse to take her, not wanting to have the entire Church of the Silver Flame rise against them. On the other hand, if Cardinal Krozen sent her to Dreadhold with the full support of the church, they would take her. It’s not a question of innocence or guilt; it’s the fact that if she’s sent by the church, it’s safer for Kundarak to take her.

But the key thing to remember: Dreadhold isn’t about justice. It’s a business, plain and simple. Half the people in there may be innocent; if you want to get them out, take it up with the people who imprisoned them, or break them out yourself.

Is the Church of the Silver Flame still paying for Melysse Miron’s incarceration, or do they have an alternate deal worked out with Kundarak?

Yes, they are still paying for her. With that said, I doubt she’s the only one; I suspect they have a significant ongoing payment that covers a significant number of prisoners. It’s likely they are covering Saeria Lantol’s imprisonment as well. The mandate of the church is to protect the innocent from supernatural evil. If the best way to do that is to pay for its incarceration, they will.

How do the Sentinel Marshals view Dreadhold?  On the one hand, it houses legitimate prisoners, which they must support, but does the incarceration of others not in accordance with any law give them pause?  If a person was kidnapped according to the laws of the nation in which the crime occurred, and then sent to Dreadhold, would the Marshals feel a need to do anything about it?

A key point: The Sentinel Marshals aren’t some sort of Justice League, fighting crime for the good of all. Let’s take a look at the first source to describe the Sentinel Marshals, Sharn: City of Towers:

During the reign of King Galifar III, House Deneith was granted the right to enforce the laws of the kingdom, bringing fugitives to justice and enforcing punishments in exchange for gold.

Sentinel Marshals aren’t tied to the Watch. They aren’t casual law enforcers. If a Sentinel Marshal is walking down the street and sees a robbery, he’s not OBLIGATED to do anything about it. Many are honorable people who MIGHT… but that’s not their job. They are private contractors who are authorized to enforce the law across Khorvaire. Some Sentinel Marshals are deeply concerned with honor and justice; for others it’s just a job. It’s a job they have to take very seriously - Sentinel Marshals are held to very high standards of conduct – but you could easily have an evil Sentinel Marshal, who plays strictly by the rules but doesn’t give a damn what happens to the criminals he brings in. Meanwhile, looking back to Kundarak: THEY aren’t the kidnappers. As I said, Dreadhold is in international waters. If the person who brought the prisoner to Dreadhold kidnapped them, fine – FIND THE KIDNAPPER and get them to end the incarceration contract. So say Saiden Boromar kidnaps someone and sends them to Dreadhold. If there’s a Sentinel Marshal who’s so infuriated by this miscarriage of justice that he’s going to take independent action to do something about it, the best thing for him to do would be to expose Saiden and bring him to justice. SAIDEN has committed the crime of kidnapping in a nation bound by the Code of Galifar. Dreadhold is NOT bound by the Code of Galifar.

Fun side note: As Dreadhold is in international waters and not actually covered by the Code of Galifar, it’s technically not a crime to break into Dreadhold. It’s a frontier operation. if Kundarak catches you, well, they may just throw you in a deep cell… but you won’t end up in a court anywhere.

Again about Dreadhold, since they are in international waters, they could be payed to perform tortures to a prisioner?

I’m sure that they could; after all, one could argue that the conditions of Deep 14′s imprisonment are a form of torture. With that said, I don’t see them resorting to torture to acquire information. In a world where people have access to detect thoughts, zone of truth, discern lies, and so on, I can’t imagine that the keepers of the most sophisticated prison in Eberron would use physical torture as a primary means of extracting information… though I suppose that physical and psychological torture could be COMBINED with some of those spells as a way to force an answer and then verify its accuracy. While they could farm this out to another house, it wouldn’t surprise me if Kundarak has its own specialists in this; after all, psychological warfare would play an important role in holding certain prisoners.

Since he came up, are there any people that you have in mind for Prisoner Deep Fourteen besides the real Kaius? 

Spoilers here, so if you don’t know Kaius’ story skip this question. I don’t have anyone in mind for D14, but I could brainstorm a few possibilities, given a moment. He’s someone Kaius wants alive, but not allowed to speak or write. The idea that he’s a relative is one possibility. Another is that he’s a Karrnathi warmage who committed war crimes so vile he couldn’t be left at liberty (in part because other nations would demand justice) but Kaius wants to be able to retrieve him if there’s another war. A third even zanier possibility is that HE is Kaius I, and that the biggest secret of Karrnath is that Kaius III IS Kaius III, presenting himself to Kaius’ inner circle as his grandfather. If you want to get really deep into conspiracies, try this. Erandis arranged to have Kaius transformed. Because of the nature of this process, the vampire that transformed Kaius has direct influence over him, if s/he chooses to exert it. Unwilling to live with this threat hanging over him, Kaius I turned Kaius III into a vampire. In this theory, I’m asserting that a vampire can assert control over his direct progeny, but not over THEIR progeny. So K1 sires K3, and then arranges for K3 to send him under deep cover into Dreadhold. K3 poses as K1 posing as K3. His mission: to find and eliminate K1′s sire, so no one can dominate K1; once that’s done, he’ll free K1 from Dreadhold. In the meantime, Erandis is baffled by the fact that she can’t exert control over Kaius.

Personally, I like the idea of K3 posing as K1 posing as K3… but perhaps I’ve been watching too much Orphan Black.

Now, I just came up with this idea on the spur of the moment. But running with it a little further, you can get even farther out there and say Kaius III isn’t a vampire. Here’s the sequence of events. Kaius is turned into a vampire by Erandis. After being undercover for a time, Erandis sends him to replace K3 and take over Karrnath; she likes the idea of having a puppet on the throne. But K1 is no one’s puppet, and he has his own scheme. K3′s lover Etrigani is a deep-cover Deathguard agent, and knows rituals that can allow a living person to appear undead, a variant of the half-life techniques common among the Jhaelian clan. Together, Etrigani, K1, and K3 arrange to make it SEEM as though K3 is actually vampire K1. This “coup” – the idea that K1 has replaced K3 – is revealed to Morana and the other inner circle of Karrnath, and of course all of Vol’s spies. “K3″ – actually K1 – is sent to Dreadhold, and made incommunicado, so there is no way for Vol to manipulate him; he can’t get out even if he wanted to. Etrigani and K3-posing-as-K1 want to destroy the vampire that sired K1 and to get as much information as they can about Erandis’ inner circle and her reach in Karrnath. Again, in this scenario Etrigani is an agent of the Deathguard, who have been trying to eliminate Erandis for centuries. But K1 is under close scrutiny by Vol. She doesn’t understand why she can’t control him, but he’s doing his best NOT to reveal his true identity. He’s too closely watched. He needs agents she doesn’t know… agents like the PCs.

The main thing I like about this is that most people who know Eberron know that Kaius III is a vampire and Kaius I. To negate both of these – not only is he actually Kaius III, he’s not even a real vampire – is a great way to catch people who think they know everything about the world offguard. And it helps solidify K3 and Etrigani’s relationship; it’s not that she loves him in spite of his being a vampire, something that’s an anathema to her people; rather, she loves him because they are working together to bring down Erandis, and it’s her skills that allow him to maintain his masquerade.

 

 

Dragonmarks 4/18/14: Elven Aging and the Tairnadal

As always: This is my personal opinion. It is not official Eberron content and may in fact contradict canon Eberron source material. Read at your own risk.

The elves of Eberron are divided into a number of distinct cultures. Most of the elves encountered in the Five Nations have some connection to House Phiarlan or Thuranni. Others are descended from exiles who fled in the aftermath of the war between the Undying Court and the line of Vol. However, the majority of elves in Eberron live on the island of Aerenal. There they are split into two primary cultures: the Aereni (subjects of the Undying Court) and the martial Tairnadal.

One of the things that defines the elves is their relationship with death. Per 3.5 D&D rules, an elf can have a natural lifespan of up to 750 years, and is an “adult” at 110 years. I never liked the idea that an elf was literally a child for a century. Rather, I saw that 110-year mark as the age of the typical elven adventurer. In my Eberron, elves mature mentally at a rate similar to humans, perhaps a few years off. For me, the 110-year mark is driven by a society that places great expectations on its people. In this thread, the original poster mentions a traditional sushi chef who went through seven years of apprenticeship before he was allowed to go beyond preparing the rice. I see this principle extending to all levels of youth in Aerenal… intense, lengthy apprenticeships that focus with great intensity on every different aspect of a trade. Looking to an Aereni wizard, he might spend five years simply studying somatic components (mystical gestures) before ever learning to cast a spell. He would learn precise pronunciation of verbal components, and his fireball incantation would have the exact same accent as the elf who first devised the spell… and he might even learn the incantation from that elf. By contrast, a human wizard in Arcanix would learn that you can kind of fudge incantations if you find a pronunciation that resonates with your personal aura. Aerenal teaches perfect technique; Arcanix encourages you to MacGuyver a bit.

Part of 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 him 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 he is also just as firmly set in his ways as a hundred-year-old human, and it’s difficult for him to adapt to entirely new things. This is why, despite Aereni society having been around for over twenty thousand years, humans are beginning to do things with magic that the elves have never done. Elven society is driven by tradition rather than innovation – by absolutely perfecting the techniques of the past instead of developing entirely new ways of doing things. Innovation does happen – and an Aereni player character might be the great elf innovator of this age – but it isn’t enshrined as a cultural value as it often is among humanity; instead elves take comfort in the familiar. Looking to a 110-year-old first level elf fighter and a 20 year old first level human fighter, it’s not that it took the elf 110 years to learn the same skills as the human. Instead, it’s that the elf knows a truly astounding array of highly specialized techniques and traditions, while the human accomplishes the same things with far less style and finesse. When the ogre attacks with a club, the elf shifts into the fell-the-mighty-tree stance perfected by the ogre-slaying hero Jhaelis Tal (and he could tell you the whole saga of Jhaelis) while the human fighter says “Hey! I can stab him in the arm!” and does that. At the end of the day, the RESULT ends up being about the same, but the STYLE is completely different.

Another thing about the elves is that they have a great deal of trouble letting go of things. When you’ve had someone around for seven hundred years, it’s hard to finally let him go. Thus, many elven cultures revolve around not letting go… around find ways to preserve their greatest souls. In Aerenal the most remarkable members of society are preserved as animate deathless entities, forming the Undying Court. Thus, the young wizard can learn magic from the elf who first invented the fireball, because that elf is still around. The Aereni believe that there is a limit to the number of Deathless the island can support, so you have to be truly impressive to earn a place on the Court, and that’s the great drive of an Aereni life. The consolation prize – if you’re close but not quite awesome enough – is to have your soul preserved in a spirit idol, where others can consult with it in the future. The key point: The Aereni don’t let go. They avoid death by literally keeping their ancestors with them. The line of Vol took the approach of negative necromancy, turning THEIR best and brightest into vampires and liches. Unlike the Undying Court, there’s no obvious limitation on a vampire population, provided there’s enough living beings to provide them with blood. However, the Undying Court asserts that ALL Mabaran (negatively-charged) undead inherently consume the life energy of Eberron itself to survive… essentially, that the Vol practices would ultimately destroy all life if left unchecked. Hence, the bitter war that ended with the extermination of the line, and the ongoing duty of the Deathguard to eliminate Mabaran undead.

THE TAIRNADAL

But what about the other elves of Aerenal… the Tairnadal? The ancient elves of Xen’drik battled the giants to earn their freedom. Rather than preserve the elves of the present day as deathless, the Tairnadal seek to preserve the legendary elves of the past. They believe that by emulating the deeds of an ancestor, they can serve as a spiritual anchor for that ancestor and ultimately become an avatar for them in the present day. Here’s a quote from an Eye of Eberron article, “Vadallia and Cardaen”

The lives of the Tairnadal elves are shaped by those of their patron ancestors. When an elf comes of age, the Keepers of the Past read the signs to determine which of the patron ancestors has laid claim to the child. From that point forward it is the sacred duty of the child to become the living avatar of the fallen champion, mastering his or her skills and living by her code. The people of the Five Nations know little about the Tairnadal, and their general assumptions often don’t make sense. Ask ten people in Sharn, and you’ll hear that the Valenar are bloodthirsty brutes who love to pillage the weak; that they seek glory in battle and won’t fight a weaker foe; that they are bound by a strict code of honor; that they have no honor; that every Valenar is bound to a horse; and so on. In fact, no one rule applies to every Tairnadal, for every ancestor demands a different role of his or her descendants. A child chosen by Maelian Steelweaver will spend his or her days forging swords instead of wielding them. One chosen by Silence will spend life in the shadows, never touching a horse. War is the common thread that unites the Tairnadal, because the wars against giants, dragons, and goblins were what produced these legendary heroes. As such, the Tairnadal seek conflicts that will let them face the same odds and fight in the same style as their ancestors. Nowadays a child of Vadallia can’t fight giants, because the Cul’sir Dominion has fallen, but he or she must search for a foe that is equally challenging and then defeat it in the same way Vadallia would, thus creating new legends in Vadallia’s name.

A few factors here…

Tairnadal society is relentlessly martial. As noted before, war is the lens through which the Tairnadal view their patrons. These legends arose in conflict, and so the Tairnadal seek to maintain a constant state of conflict. Preferably this involves an actual, true threat – and this touches on the Valenar, which I’ll discuss in more detail later – but when there is no true threat they will create challenging scenarios. They hunt wild beasts and engage in complex wargames. This isn’t just frivolous behavior; they believe that through these actions they are preserving their greatest souls. They must keep going, or those spirits could be lost.

One analogy that works for me is Ender’s Game. From youth, Tairnadal children are trained for battle. At first, they are trained in the fundamentals, giving them a chance to prove their aptitudes and show their true nature. At this point they are selected by a patron ancestor, at which point they are assigned to a warband well suited to learning the skills of that ancestor. In the Ender analogy, this is the shift from launchie to an army. Now they have clear guidance on what they should be learning, and they WILL be placed in conflict with other warbands in wargames designed to hone those skills. As with Ender’s Game, all of this is being done in preparation for the great conflict that lies ahead, a conflict that is life or death for their culture… the difference is that they don’t know what the enemy will be. Will the Dragons finally attack in force? Will it be goblins once more? Or humanity? They don’t know, but they are determined to preserve their greatest souls until that day finally arrives.

Let’s Talk About Patrons

People often have the sense that all the Tairnadal do is fight… that they are hotheads who are always looking to start trouble. There’s a solid grounding to this: the Patron Ancestors forged their legends in battle against terrifying opposition, and so it is in battle against a challenging foe that the elves have the best opportunity to emulate the deeds of their ancestors. But let’s look to that quote again…

Ask ten people in Sharn, and you’ll hear that the Valenar are bloodthirsty brutes who love to pillage the weak; that they seek glory in battle and won’t fight a weaker foe; that they are bound by a strict code of honor; that they have no honor; that every Valenar is bound to a horse…

The point here isn’t that the people of Sharn are wrong; rather, ALL of these things are true… about different Tairnadal. There are Tairnadal who abide by a strict code of honor, and there are those who act in a relentlessly dishonorable fashion. There are those who won’t fight a weaker foe and those who seek out the weak. There are those who will draw blood at the slightest provocation and those who will never strike an innocent regardless of how severely they are provoked. Because they will do their absolute best to act as their patron ancestor would act. And there is a VAST SPECTRUM of ancestors. While we often call them “heroes”, the real point of the Patron Ancestors is that the are legends; some are infamous as much as they are famous. These are the people who defined the elves during their greatest struggles. So in thinking about a Patron Ancestor, the key things to bear in mind are:

  • They are people the Tairnadal don’t want to ever forget.
  • They are people who played a defining role in one of the great conflicts (which likely means they fought giants, elves, or goblins).
  • There is SOMETHING about them that makes them memorable.

Essentially, you can have both Gallahad and Lancelot: a knight celebrated for incredible purity and honor, and another celebrated for his fantastic martial skills but also defined by his ultimate betrayal of a close friend in the pursuit of love. If Lancelot was your patron ancestor, it would be your religious duty to try to get into a horrible tragic love triangle… whether you wanted to or not… to try to emulate your ancestor. Similarly, if your Patron was known as a guerrilla who struck fear into the giants by butchering civilian populations, then it would be your duty to prey on the weak. While meanwhile, the elves chosen by Gallahad will do their best to be paragons of virtue and honor… something that might actually bring them into direct conflict with elves following the path of the Butcher. Which also might directly emulate the lives of their ancestors.

The most critical point here: the spirit chooses the elf, not the other way around. To me, this is the MOST INTERESTING THING ABOUT THE TAIRNADAL as far as roleplaying goes. Who chose you? Why did they choose you? How do you feel about it? If you are chosen by Gallahad, it is your duty to be the purest, most honorable and virtuous person you can possibly be. Are you ready for that? By contrast, if you are chosen by the Butcher, it is your duty to be a brutal, ruthless murderer who preys on the weak. Are you ready for that? And that doesn’t even get into the more extreme aspects, such as the boy who has shown great promise as a warrior but who is then chosen by a legendary poeta man who fought his wars with words. Picture this as the background of your bard. You never wanted to be a bard; you wanted to be Gallahad! You don’t even LIKE poetry. But the spirit has chosen you, and it’s your duty to follow where it leads and to become that poet in the modern day.

WHY SHOULD I DO IT?

This begs the question: If I’m chosen by the Poet but I don’t WANT to be a bard… why don’t I just become a fighter anyway? There’s a few points here.

  • Society expects it of you. If you refuse to follow the path of your patron, you are putting your personal ego ahead of the preservation of the greatest souls of your race. You will be ostracized and driven out. You can be a fighter if you want, but you’ll never train with the greatest swordsmen and you’ll never earn glory in the eyes of your kin. More important than that…
  • The Patron Ancestors are real. When a patron ancestor chooses you, it forms a bond to your spirit. When you emulate your ancestor, you draw on that bond. A typical elf can’t communicate directly with his patron, though this is a gift that mystics and Revenant Blades develop; but the bond is there, and through it you have access to the instincts and the guidance of your patron. If you turn your back on the patron, you are throwing that gift away. When you’re chosen by the Poet, you have the POTENTIAL to be one of the greatest bards of the modern age. Will you throw that away?

This is one of those things that transcends concrete mechanics. There are mechanics for strengthening the bond, notably the Revenant Blade prestige class. But even if you’re not a Revenant, the idea is that the bond is there and strengthening you. This is the reason why the Valenar are so scary. In a world in which we have emphasized the fact that player character classes are rare, we’ve called out that the typical Valenar is a 4th level PC-classed character… and given examples of them up to 12th level. This isn’t simply because they train harder than humans, though most do; it is because they are guided by their patron ancestors. The elf chosen by the Poet will find that the arts of the bard come quickly and easily to him, whereas if he turns his back on the Poet and insists on being a fighter, he won’t have that edge. It’s not just that society wants you to be like your patron… it’s that you will gain concrete benefits if you do.

What’s This Mean For PCs?

As I said, this isn’t something represented by concrete mechanics; it’s an idea that can be used for character hooks. The Tairnadal have many of the same story hooks as the Kalashtar, in that they are tied to a spirit. But for the Kalashtar, this choice is purely genetic and something that is with them from birth. For the Tairnadal it is something that happens on the border of adulthood. This raises a host of questions…

  • What is your ancestor best known for?
  • Why did they choose YOU?
  • Do you and others around you agree with the choice, or does it seem illogical? You’ve been chosen by the Poet… have you always had an aptitude for the bardic arts, or have you been more celebrated for your brawn than your songs?
  • Have you embraced your Patron or are you rebelling against it? How does this manifest in your actions? What could cause you to change your mind?
  • What general traits or specific deeds was your patron known for? Were they especially honorable or extremely dishonorable? Bloodthirsty or restrained? Best known for their general skill or for one specific deed?
  • Did your patron have any legendary feuds that you may have to take up with elves following other patrons?
  • Do YOU interpret your ancestor in a different way from others?

This last point is the key one. Tairnadal aren’t clones; even more so than the kalashtar, it is up to the elf to choose the best way to emulate their ancestors. Consider the idea of a patron ancestor who is infamous for striking terror into the enemy through horrific murder of civilians. One follower of this patron might simply translate this to the battlefield, always targeting the weakest opponent, but not actually getting into murder. The typical chosen of this patron might tend to be sociopaths who have a very broad view of “the enemy” and view horrific murder as sport. Then there’s you. You were chosen by this murderer, but you feel that you were chosen precisely because these others are misrepresenting him and hurting his spirit. Yes, he murdered horribly when he had to, but he felt great remorse with every killing; he simply felt that it was the most effective tool in the battle for the survival of his people. As a result, you believe that YOUR mission is to hunt down and kill all the elves who are embodying your patron in a flawed manner… and boom, crazy elf Dexter saga.

The point being that six elves chosen by Gallahad will all embody him in different ways and with different degrees of success. However, it is their cultural and religious duty TO embody him, and those who do so successfully should gain power and skill as their bond to his spirit grows stronger.

Another thing to consider when creating a Tairnadal PC: after you are chosen by a patron, you are assigned to a warband. This is a group of elves whose ancestors are at least in line with yours (so the brutal killer of innocents doesn’t get teams up with the conscientious defender of the innocent), selected to work and train together. Often this is a lifelong bond. Unless your whole group embraces this, odds are good you don’t have those partners with you. So what happened to them? Did you abandoned your warband to become a PC? Did you take a leave of absence? Were they all killed, and if so do you want vengeance? Or did you kill them in a terrible parting of the ways?

THE VALENAR

The Tairnadal humans know best are the elves of Valenar. They came to Khorvaire during as mercenaries during the Last War. They sold their swords to Cyre, but late in the war turned on Cyre and seized a section of land as their own. The newly appointed High King asserted that this territory had been claimed by their ancestors long before humanity came to Khorvaire and that it was theirs by right.

However, a few things are worth noting…

  • The Valenar don’t NEED this land. They’ve got enough room back home in Aerenal.
  • The Valenar don’t have a particular interest in being lords of the land. They’ve passed a great deal of civic administration duties to Khoravar or Lyrandar, and largely ignored the human population. They’ve claimed a kingdom, but they aren’t very attached to it.
  • Valenar does NOT reflect the structure of Tairnadal life back in Aerenal. There is no King of the Tairnadal. Beyond that, the civic infrastructure of the Tairnadal… the teachers, the children, the breeders of horses… are all still in Aerenal. For the elves, Valenar isn’t a home; it’s a military beachhead.

Ultimately, what the Valenar want is an opportunity to emulate the deeds of their ancestors in battle. Their ancestors weren’t conquerors; they were guerrillas fighting a superior foe, strengthened by their knowledge of the land. So in my Eberron – and you could take things a different way – Valenar is in fact a trick. The elves aren’t building a kingdom; they are preparing a battlefield. The reason that they are so antagonistic and provocative in their dealings with the other nations – notably Karrnath and Darguun – is because they want to be attacked by a challenging foe. They don’t want to be invaders or conquerors; they want to provoke a powerful force into attacking them on their home ground. For the last few decades they have been acclimatizing themselves to the land, learning its tricks, determining the ideal spots for ambushes or ways to disrupt supply lines, and so on. The aren’t bringing their cultural infrastructure to Valenar because at the end of the day, they are ready to LOSE Valenar; if worst came to worst, they could retreat to Aerenal and be back where they started. The Last War was a good starting point, but now they are setting the stage for the REAL opportunity to emulate their ancestors.

Not all of the Tairnadal support this idea. There are some sects that have different ideas of what to do – they think the elves should fight the dragons, or return to Xen’drik. And then there are those who are perfectly content with the way things have been done for the last ten thousand years, who think the Valenar are hotheads. If you play a Tairnadal elf, it’s up to you to decide where you fall on this spectrum. Do you support the High King and the Host of Valenar? If so, why aren’t you in Valenar now, or serving as a mercenary? Are you on extended leave and simply waiting for the call to go back? Are you a spy gathering intelligence, or a provocateur getting into a position where you could help trigger the war? Do you oppose the High King and his plan… do you believe in Valenar as a kingdom, or perhaps want to protect the innocent humans of the region from future bloodshed? Or are you a Tairnadal with no ties to Valenar, either wandering the world in you own pursuit of your patron’s path or driven from your homeland by your beliefs?

In closing, a point I’ll emphasize again: The Valenar are an army. There are no Valenar children; they’re raised and trained on Aerenal. The finest smiths and horsebreeders are in Aerenal. In Valenar, almost all civilians are humans or Khoravar (half-elves). The elves aren’t invested in Valenar for the long term; it’s a tool in a larger plan.

… At least, in my Eberron.

FURTHER READING

Here’s some additional online articles that might prove interesting.

QUESTION AND ANSWER

Post your questions in the comments and I’ll get to them as time allows.

I remember the Vadallia & Cardaen article, but I also remember how Saer Vordalyn behaved in Queen of Stone.  And while some of the ancestors may have been great poets, given their history the majority must have been warriors (clearly not many of them were urban administrators, since they have outsourced those functions to Lyrandar).

In looking at Saer Vordalyn, consider a few things. He is Valenar, which means he is, innately, a warrior. Second, his ancestor may well have been known for pride or aggression. Essentially, when a Valenar acts like a jerk, it could be because he, the Valenar is personally a jerk; because his ancestor was a jerk and he’s obliged to act that way; or both.

As for the poet, the key point is that the poet had to do something in a time or war to achieve legendary status in the eyes of the elves. Bards are VERY important to the Tairnadal, both serving to inspire troops and more important to preserve the tales of the ancestors. So the poet could be a bard who travels with a warband. On the other hand, it could be that there is a poet who is a legend OFF the battlefield. It could be he crafted the songs that are sung by every bard, or the code that defines the Tairnadal culture. He became a legend in a time of war, but that doesn’t mean he had to be a warrior. As for the lack of civic administration, see the points above. Tairnadal culture generally avoids massive cities; even if it didn’t, the best civic administrators are back in Aerenal keeping the home fires burning. Using local talent is an excellent way to keep your personal investment in the city low.

In my experience few people live up to, or even understand, the ideal of whatever religious or secular ideology they espouse.  I can’t shake the sense that a great many adolescents would use their ancestors as excuses to indulge in bad behavior (I see this happening in real life all of the time, with teens and adults), and a great many adults would take a very simplistic and conventional view of their ancestor’s activities.

Certainly. Which ties to two points above. The first is the fact that Tairnadal culture is FAR more structured and intense than typical Sunday school. Again, I personally compare it to Ender’s Game. Tairnadal children are constantly training, fighting, and learning the stories of their ancestors. It’s not just a casual “Oh, your ancestor liked swords”; it’s a matter of drilling in his precise style, learning every account of him from history by heart, and spending hours each day sparring. You have a concrete bond to his spirit, which is something that makes you distinctly different from a human adolescent. You spar for three hours a day because it is in battle that they hope that you will find that bond, and come to understand him on a very fundamental level.

Elves in Khorvaire live more casual lives. But I see both the cultures of Aerenal as very intense. As a Tairnadal, you are part of an army preparing for a war. We don’t know if that war will come in your lifetime, but if it does, you will be ready.

How do the Stillborn deal with this situation? I gather their raison d’être is to be a contrast to the heavily tradition-bound Aereni society, but are they equally unchanging – simply more egoistical and convinced that they already know everything – or are they actually the rare Aereni equivalent of the rebellious teenager who doesn’t want to sit and have tea with great-great-great-grandmama and kiss her on the decomposing cheek, because he knows better than his elders?

They are indeed the rebellious teens. Among other things, most are drawing on the traditions of the line of Vol, which were inherently more independent. It is the nature of the Deathless that they are sustained by the devotion of living elves. Part of the reason Aerenal is so mired in tradition is that it NEEDS people to follow those traditions to sustain their divinities – same with the Tairnadal. If you follow Vol’s path, once you’re a lich you can do whatever you want; you have no obligation to anyone else. The Stillborn see undeath as a gift. They don’t want to defeat death or any other grand philosophy: they want undeath and they want it now. As a side note, Erandis Vol and her inner circle – like Demise – are largely following this same theme. The Blood of Vol faith has far deeper philosophical goals and themes – the Divinity Within, ending death for all. But the Stillborn just want to be vampires, liches, or whatever because it beats being alive.

Does this tie in with the Shadow Schism? As far as I understand what you wrote about the Phiarlan in the dragonshards, Phiarlan is almost religiously dedicated to their role of keeping peace and harmony by any means necessary, ever since the giant-quori wars – though this did not work so well after Jarot’s death. But Thuranni is presented as a much more innovative House, which wanted to move away from this world of duty (and also decided to eradicate another line of the House).

While it’s not necessarily called out in the canon material, I think there’s a lot to be said for Phiarlan being made up of those who have continued to hold to Aereni tradition (albeit not the traditions of the Tairnadal or Undying Court) while Thuranni represents an evolution that has come from living among humanity. I think it makes for Thuranni to generally be more innovative and unconventional… while Phiarlan still has the majority of the greatest practitioners of traditional arts.

Speaking of the kalashtar, how would they live their increased lifespans? It’s not as long as that of elves, but still vastly exceeds that of a human – and, though it’s not their dominant personality, their Quori part is essentially immortal and has been around since the giant-quori wars (though it is not spread thin)?

That’s an entirely different subject, but one critical point I’d make there is that the child is touched by the immortal spirit from the moment of conception and shaped by that. I see a considerable difference between true immortals and long-lived mortals. Essentially, I see long life as carrying many burdens – seeing your human friends fall, societies change, everything you know fade away. The elves largely deal with this by clinging to tradition and thus minimizing change. However, with the kalashtar, one thing NEVER changes – and that is the bond to your spirit. It was with you at birth and it will be with you to death. Essentially, I see kalashtar as having a little more natural serenity… though that will certainly vary by the individual.

I thought, though, that Five Nations elf citizens outnumbered members of dragonmarked houses . . .

By canon numbers, this is certainly true. Checking the 3.5 ECS, elves make up around 7% of the population of the Five Nations. However, as I said, these articles may clash with canon numbers… and as the setting has evolved, that number has come to feel a little high to me. I don’t feel that the elves of Aerenal have a strong drive for immigration unless forced to it, as the allies of Vol were. Some would have left in protest of the conflict even if they didn’t have to; some likely did come in search of opportunity. However, all signs suggest that elves have slow population growth – again, they’ve been on Aerenal for almost forty thousand years and haven’t grown out of it – and as a result, it seems unlikely that they would make up such a large segment of the Five Nations. So essentially, in my Eberron I’m dropping their numbers a bit – but if you hold to canon, you are correct.

With that said, I think life is challenging for elves blended into human society, given the short lifespans of the people around them and the degree to which society changes. I think urban elves likely attach themselves to institutions that can give a sense of stability – for example, the churches. Of course, if you have a 600 year old elf cleric of the Church of the Silver Flame, she is actually older than the church itself; she might have known Tira Miron personally, and helped her evangelize in the first days of the Silver Flame. I’d think that elves might also look to their relationships with humans as being a relationship with the family rather than the individual; individuals come and go, but the family will endure.

A few questions, though: what would life be like for a Tairnadal whose Ancestor was known as an innovator/inventor/visionary? Would such an Ancestor even exist, as even the elves of Xen’drik may have been largely perfecting already known techniques?

This comes back to how different people interpret the Patron’s actions. Say you have a Tairnadal wizard who invented pyromancy. I think the TYPICAL Tairnadal would respond to this by trying to master pyromancy, seeing that as the ancestor’s defining feature. A rare elf might instead say “His thing wasn’t pyromancy; it was inventing a new field of magic. I will honor him by embracing that spirit and inventing a NEW school of magic of my own!” The same principle holds true for patrons who created new martial techniques; most would respond by perfecting those techniques, and it would be a rarer individual who would recognize innovation itself as the feature to be emulated. But that certain makes for an interesting player character!

This brings up another possibility… What about the ancestors who didn’t rate patron status? In one 4E game I ran, a PC created a Valenar shaman based on the idea that rather than having a single patron ancestor, he was essentially shepherding all the spirits who were good but not quite good enough to rate patron status. An amazing cook; a remarkable jerk; etc. it was a very interesting character, as he basically developed a different ancestor for each of his powers; I could certainly see a rebellious inventor as fitting in at this level.

Also, while this may not come up much in modern campaigns, but what stance did the Qabalrin have towards tradition?

The Qabalrin are the spiritual (and physical) ancestors of the line of Vol. As noted above, it’s an approach that favors the independent individual, while the Undying Court focuses on the strength of community and tradition. This lends itself to the assertion that there was significant infighting between Qabalrin schools. So I’d say the Qabalrin were more innovative, but also more volatile.

What, however, about dwarves, who would live to 450 years, and gnomes, who can live half a millenium? The dwarves seem to be about as unchanging as the elves, if less obsessed with death; the gnomes are however known for research and progress.

It’s true. Curiosity has been established as a defining feature of the gnomes – a desire to explore, and learn, and try new things. In part this is driven by a deep-rooted desire for security; if you know everything you can’t be taken unawares, and knowing the secrets of others is a powerful weapon. But I would say that the gnomes definitely have a different fluid/crystaline balance than the elves, and that their fluid intelligence declines more slowly than most races.

How would a Tairnadal be treated if they were not touched by an ancestor spirit? Would they be a pariah; considered tainted or unworthy to be an anchor? Or would they be considered an unfettered soul; someone who could become a legendary spirit like the ancestors of old?

Well, anyone has the potential to become a legend, even if they follow the path of a patron. You’re supposed to focus on embodying the ancestor, but that hasn’t stopped later Tairnadal from becoming legends in their own right. We’ve established that there are patron ancestors from the Dhakaani conflict and the wars with the dragons; presumably THOSE elves were themselves chosen by Xen’drik patrons.

With that said, there’s no hard and fast rule established. I think it’s a rare thing and would depend on the person. If the person was lazy and uninspired, it would likely be seen as rejection due to their faults and they would be assigned to menial duties. If the person was seen as a rising star who mysteriously wasn’t chosen, it would draw more attention. In a 4E campaign I ran, someone played a Tairnadal shaman who had no personal patron but was instead in touch with a host of lesser ancestors… spirits not QUITE remarkable enough to be full patron ancestors. Each of his spells was thus associated with channeling a different patron. The same concept could generally be true of ALL of the Keepers of the Past; rather than being chosen by any one spirit, they have a broad attunement to many.

For as long as the Tairnadal have been acting as anchors for their ancestors, have they ever questioned where their souls go? Are they sacrificing their spiritual existence simply to further the existence of an ancestor’s soul?

It’s an established fact where souls go: to Dolurrh, where they fade away. The point of the Tairnadal faith is to preserve the greatest souls from this fading. It’s generally accepted that you can’t save them all; thus, a sacrifice is made to save those most important to the culture as a whole. But as noted above, the idea is out there that if you are TRULY remarkable, you may yourself become a patron to future generations; emulating an ancestor doesn’t rule this out. Again, the bond to a patron enhances your talents, allowing you a greater opportunity to achieve great deeds.

Wow, so become great or fade away into the emptiness that Dolurrh. Good to know that even though you’re representing an ancestor your deeds are still your own thus you can still have a chance to become a patron as they are.

Certainly. As I said, embodying the patron preserves the ancestor and gives you a chance to draw on their strengths, but Tairnadal history is full of those who added their own legends in the process. Technically that’s not what you should be TRYING to do, but there’s surely many who have it in mind.

So with the Tairnadal having a much less physical attachment to their ancestors, where do these spirits reside? Are they basically treating their descendants as impromptu spirit idols?

It’s essentially the same mystical principle as the kalashtar and the quori. The patron spirit is tied to multiple mortals. As long as at least one of them is alive, the spirit still has an anchor. In the case of the Tairnadal, the connection is purely spiritual where with the kalashtar it’s partially genetic; as a result, the faith and the actions of the Tairnadal matter. The elf can strengthen the bond through both belief and by emulating the deeds of the patron; an elf who has no faith and makes no effort gains nothing from the bond, and provides no real anchor.

Also, if there is a literal spiritual connection to the patron spirits, could some affect the patron by messing with their anchors? Say that a Daelkyr started messing with the elves, driving them to madness in a way that they still embodied their patron’s ideals, but in a twisted way, could the madness somehow be passed to the spirit’s soul too?

Anything is POSSIBLE, if you want it to be. With that said, as it stands we don’t say that the actions of the living elf transform the spirit; rather, the more the elf acts like the spirit, the easier it is for the spirit to guide her. But it does sound like something a Daelkyr would do, and I’ve had fun with Tairnadal Cults of the Dragon Below myself.

What else would you like to discuss?

Things I’m Backing: Games

For some reason, January 2014 was the Month Of Kickstarters. Ever day seemed to bring a new project I had to back. There’s too many projects for me to discuss in a single post, but if I don’t write something soon time will run out, so let’s get started!

Hero Forge White BackHERO FORGE: CUSTOMIZABLE 3D PRINTED MINIATURES

I’ve always been a sucker for miniatures. Like many others, I backed Reaper Miniatures’ Bones campaign, and was thrilled when the huge box of minis finally arrived. Hero Forge is a different sort of animal. Rather than offering quantity, Hero Forge offers the chance to create a miniature tailored specifically to your needs. More often then not, I ended up using a miniature that is close to my character, but not quite right… wrong weapon, wrong armor, SOMETHING I’d like to change. Hero Forge aspires to solve that problem. Using an online tool, you select from different poses, equipment, race, gender… hopefully finding the perfect match. The miniature you design is then printed in plastic (or other materials) and sent your way. Obviously there are limitations; you can only choose from the poses, equipment and races they provide, so my dreams of the warforged fighter wielding a Talenta tangat are off the table… at least for now. But there’s a wealth of options, and an opportunity to create a miniature that truly feels like a personal representation of your character. And as time goes on, they will be continuing to expand the library of parts, both expanding the existing lineup and adding new genres. They’ve already committed to Wild West and Sci-Fi lineups; Pulp/Noir, Steampunk, and other genres are just around the corner.

Hero Forge - Dramatic Lineup UnpaintedHero Forge isn’t a cheap way to get a figure; depending on the material and number of figures you select, you’re putting anywhere from $15 – $30 into a single miniature. With that said, I’ve had a chance to examine Hero Forge miniatures directly, and I’m impressed with the quality and variety of the figures. Hero Forge isn’t about quantity. I wouldn’t use Hero Forge if I needed thirty goblins that will likely be wiped out in a single fireball. But when it comes to representing a specific individual, it’s a fantastic opportunity. I have to be honest: I never end up using most of the miniatures I purchase. Quite often I’m chasing one specific figure, and it comes with others that I simply never need. A Hero Forge figure may cost as much as a half dozen premade-minis… but it’s exactly the figure I want it to be, and I know I’m going to use it.

As of today, Hero Forge has been funded and already reached numerous stretch goals. I’ve seen their products and have no doubt that they will follow through with it. Time is running out, so if it interests you, check it out today!

 

PDarkPROJECT: DARK

As a professional designer, there’s a handful of people whose work consistently amazes me… people who inspire me and make me want to do more with my own designs. Will Hindmarch is one of those people. His cyberpunk epic Always/Never/Now is one of my all-time favorite roleplaying experiences. Now he’s launching a new game, Project: Dark. Personally, I think there’s an abundance of good systems out in the world, from the many flavors of D&D to Fate, Cortex, WaRP, Savage Worlds, GURPS, and on and on. As a result, it takes a lot to get me interested in an entirely new system. I want a reason for new mechanics… for the system to create a play experience that I simply couldn’t replicate with a difference system. And that’s what Dark does. It’s not a general-purpose system. It’s designed to tell a very specific sort of story – a story focused around stealth and exploration, about devising the perfect plan and creeping through the shadows to carry it out. While it’s designed for a certain style of adventure, it’s not tied to a single setting; currently it will include three distinct settings, each well-suited to the sort of stories the system does best.

I’ll be talking with Will Hindmarch about Dark in more detail in the next few weeks, so keep an eye out for that. The project is already fully funded with a few weeks to go, and it’s not Will’s first foray into Kickstarter. This is a project that’s going to happen, and a game worth checking out. So do it already!

 

BoxMockZEPPELDROME

From the minds of Anthony Gallela and Jeff Wilcox comes Zeppeldrome, The Hazardous Dirigible Rally. If you’re like me, you’ve been bemoaning the horrifying dearth of dirigible-based board games on the market today (though there’s a surprising surge in dirigible games on Kickstarter!). Zeppeldrome doubles down on this concept, as it’s a dirigible race in which the racecourse is itself in an even larger dirigible. This isn’t just a load of hot air, folks. Well, it is, but it’s also an intriguing game involving a modular board, pre-planned movement, and the ability to interfere with your opponent’s preplanned movement, while remaining casual and fun. So if you’ve been hankering for a quality game about humorously awkward airships, take a look!

CW_airships_color_final_72dpi

Timewatch-Cover-MockupTIMEWATCH

I’ve always loved time travel. As a kid I ran into it through Peabody & Sherman’s Wayback Machine and Ray Bradbury’s “The Fox and the Forest”, and made my way to The Anubis Gates, TimeWars, The Sarah Connor Chronicles, and so much more… I love it all. At the same time, I’ve never actually run a roleplaying game based around the concept. And more often than not, I’ve been frustrated by stories that feature time travel without truly considering the consequences of the technology. Kevin Kulp’s TimeWatch tackles both of these; it’s a brilliant time travel RPG that dives into all the issues that I find intriguing about the concept. TimeWatch is based on Robin D. Laws’ GUMSHOE system, tuned in various ways to fit the concept. As a TimeWatch agent, it’s your job to protect history from a myriad host of threats. Greedy Humans? Check. Radioactive cockroaches from the future trying to engineer nuclear war? Check. In any given mission, it’s up to you to figure out how history has been altered and what you need to do to resolve the problem. Like Project: Dark, TimeWatch has already been funded and already blown through multiple stretch goals, and it’s still got a week to go. If you like time travel, this is definitely worth a look!

Phew! That’s all for today, but that’s just the GAMES I’ve backed this month. I’ll be back later this week with a few more projects to check out. In the meantime, let me know what YOU’RE backing!

Stories & Dice: Erika and Teagan

Diceball MachineIn December 2013, my wife gave me a gumball machine filled with dice. There’s a little space at the top, and rather than fill it myself I decided to turn to you. I want you to send me a die and a story. It could be a story about the die itself, or just about you: who you are and why you play games. Traveling around the world, I’ve found that gamers cover an amazing spectrum – teachers and students, celebrities and children, strippers and soldiers. Everyone has a story, and I’d like to share yours.

ErikaTeaganDieI met Teagan and Erika during my recent trip to LA. Erika is an actress; Teagan is the Technical Art Director at Naughty Dog, a video game developer that’s produced a few obscure titles you’ve probably never heard of (Uncharted, The Last Of Us, Crash Bandicoot). Their home is filled with games, custom miniatures, and more NERF guns than I’ve ever seen in one place… and I’ve seen a lot of NERF in my time. They gave me a remarkable die that Teagan had actually made himself. I’ll let him tell the story.

Perfect gifts sometimes only happen when everything falls into place. We’d been hard at work on a custom miniatures startup “Hero Forge” we planned on Kickstarting come the new year. We’d received a few test prints back already so I was pretty familiar with the process of sending 3D models off to get 3D printed. I turned to finding a Christmas gift for my lovely and vivacious D&D partner and girlfriend Erika Ishii. It needed to somehow compensate for how absent I’d been putting so much work into the Kickstarter! A custom made silver D20 that could be worn as a necklace was the perfect intersection of beautiful jewelry and functional nerd culture. The 20 was replace with an E&T encased in a heart. Cheesy but… “critical hit to the heart cheesy” according to Erika. She was ecstatic, and insisted on wearing it nearly all the time. By the end of our New Year’s party she had bruises where the dice was around her neck from all the hugs she’d been getting!

The dice I’m sending you for your dice machine is a test print before I ordered it in full silver. It’s the exact same material we’re printing our Hero Forge miniatures in! 3D printing is going to bring so much personalization and meaning that was just not possible before. We’re very excited about what the future holds… although Erika might want to avoid wearing the necklace during celebrations where there’s frequent hugging.

Erika Necklace

Teagan started playing games at an early age, but there were religious restrictions on what his parents would allow in the household. As a result he made his own games, crafting books of puzzles and mazes. The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time was a defining experience for him, drawing him into a new and magical world. While video games have played a central role in his life and career, tabletop roleplaying has only become a passion in the last few years. In his own words: I discovered just how engaging and exciting it is to collectively tell a story with your friends while face to face. There’s a power there that video games just aren’t advanced enough to provide. Seeing the emotion in your friends’ faces and participating in the back and forth. It’s powerful stuff!

By contrast, Erika’s first brush with roleplaying came as a sophomore in high school, when a friend handed her the 3rd Edition Player’s Handbook and said it was the game she was meant to play. Apparently he was correct. Erika was captivated by the game and read the PHB cover to cover, and generated a host of characters. This continues to be one of the most compelling parts of the gaming experience today. She’s not a min-maxer or rules lawyer, but she puts a great deal of time and effort into developing elaborate character backstories and roleplaying her characters’ tics and motivations… even when they aren’t beneficial to her as a player. More than anything, what she loves is the experience of collaborative storytelling… hearing and shaping living, organic stories with her friends.

Both Erika and Teagan have plans for the world of gaming. Teagan is especially interested in finding ways to blend technology and tabletop, building on the virtual tabletops that exist today and finding more ways to merge virtual aspects with the tangible… ways to maintain the vital experience of being face to face with friends even when it’s impossible. Erika would like to have a hand in making games more inclusive of women and minorities; in her words, “I think the miniature market could stand to have a few tiny people of color on the shelves… and Josh and Teagan have promised me that Hero Forge will give you the option of creating a female miniature that doesn’t have giant breasts, which is extremely novel.”

Today Teagan is in the midst of his Hero Forge campaign, and the 3D printer is churning out new figures. Erika wears the silver die on a chain around her neck, while the prototype rests at the top of the gumball machine… a symbol of love of games, but more important, of their love for one another.

Do you have a story and a die? If you’d like to take part, send both of them to Keith Baker, PO Box 13250, Portland OR 97213. Make sure to include contact information so I can get in touch with you for follow up questions!

Sundry and Geeky Gloom News

Ten years ago I made a game called Gloom. In 2012 Gloom was featured on an episode of Geek & Sundry’s awesome series TableTop, with Wil Wheaton, Meghan Camarena, Amber Benson, and Michelle Boyd. In 2013, Atlas and I teamed up with Geek & Sundry to produce a special TableTop-themed Gloom expansion, which was given away on International TableTop Day.

TableTopGloomCoverWell, it’s 2014, and International TableTop Day is happening again – on April 5th 2014! Last weekend I had the good fortune to be at the announcement party, and it sounds like Geek & Sundry still has some copies of TableTop Gloom on hand. We only did a limited run on it, so no promises that they’ll have it at any particular ITD event… but they might! So if you missed TableTop Gloom last year, look for a ITD event near you.

One of the highlights of the party was playing the game with Meghan Camarena – better known as Strawburry17 – her brother David, and my friend Satine Phoenix. So I got to play TableTop Gloom with one of the people who played Gloom on TableTop, which was a awesomely palindromic way to end a day. On top of which, we killed Wil Wheaton. Twice.

Strawberry GloomOf course, as long as I’m talking about TableTop Gloom, I’d be remiss if I didn’t post a link to the video I made last TableTop Day, with The Doubleclicks and Molly Lewis!

I’m working on a few Gloom-related projects that I’m not quite ready to talk about, but there is one interesting thing happening RIGHT NOW. Artist Len Peralta is producing a new series of Geek Trading cards: Geek-A-Week Year Five Two, and I’m in the roster for the set. Looking at it, my first thought was “I want to play Gloom with these cards!” I talked to Len, and if the Kickstarter hits $20,000 I’m going to put together a set of Geek-A-Week Gloom cards using his artwork. To be clear: This won’t be a fully produced expansion on translucent plastic; plastic cards are expensive to produce, especially in a small run. Instead, this will be a single sheet for you to download and print on cardstock, taking eight of Len’s geeks and translating them in guests and characters for Gloom. Since characters are always on the bottom of the stack, it doesn’t matter if they aren’t transparent. But if you’ve ever wanted to tell a terrifying story in which Patrick Rothfuss traps Neil Gaiman on a train just in time for them both to be murdered by The Doubleclicks and Anne Wheaton, help make this Gloom set a reality! Plus, it means that I’ll get to be on a Gloom card, and I’ve got some ideas for that.

GAW GloomI’ve been meaning to write a Gloom Q&A for a while now, but I’ve never gotten around to it. So… what do you want to know about Gloom?