Lightning Round: Dragons, Tarkanan, and More!

Hi Everyone!

The last two months have been a whirlwind of travel and deadlines, and that’s kept me largely off the internet. In addition to traveling to GenCon, DragonCon, and XOXO, I’ve been working on Exploring Eberron—The Book Formerly Known As Project Raptor—and also on the game Twogether Studios is developing with the Adventure Zone. I’m also preparing to DM at Level Eater in Portland and G.A.M.E in Springfield!

In my next post I’ll talk more about all of these things, and about Eberron: Rising From The Last War, the Eberron hardcover that is  coming out in November. Today, I want to quickly answer a few questions from my Patreon supporters!

If Aberrant Marks can’t be passed on like normal Dragonmarks, what is life typically like for the children of House Tarkanan?

For those unfamiliar with aberrant dragonmarks or House Tarkanan, this article might be a useful crash course on some of the issues associated with them.

As for this question: remember that “House Tarkanan” is nothing like a Dragonmarked House. It’s a name this organization took in mockery of the Dragonmarked Houses, sort of like a gang calling themselves “The Kings of Callestan.” Just because they call themselves “Kings” doesn’t mean they actually have any sort of sovereign power! The Dragonmarked Houses are multinational guilds formed many centuries ago through the alliances of powerful families. They are dynasties as well as businesses with a presence in multiple nations and on multiple continents. By contrast, House Tarkanan was started less than a decade ago by the survivors of a disavowed Brelish commando unit. It has expanded its operations since then, but it is still a small organization and still fundamentally a criminal organization, NOT a dynasty. You aren’t born into House Tarkanan and you don’t need to marry into it; you’re simply recruited into it. Members often use the last name Tarkanan, but that’s an affectation. The leader of the gang often calls herself Thora Tarkanan, but her actual name is Thora Tavin.

So the main point is that there are no “children of House Tarkanan.” The organization thrives by recruiting new members, not by breeding them. If you’re a Tarkanan enforcer, you could marry a Morgrave librarian and have five kids; marked or unmarked, your spouse and children aren’t considered members of House Tarkanan unless they are recruited into it.

With that said, the issue behind the question is the idea that aberrant dragonmarks aren’t hereditary. And on that point, I’m going to change MY stance slightly. We’ve always said that the most reliable way to produce an aberrant dragonmark is to cross the bloodlines of two different houses—that this is more likely to produce an aberrant mark than a person with an aberrant mark having a child. And I stand by that, in general, with one exception: I think it’s fair to say that if both parents have aberrant dragonmarks, the odds of producing an aberrant child are the same as if you mixed two house bloodlines… that two aberrants ALSO produce a “mixed mark.” Since the War of the Mark, aberrant marks have been so rare that this has rarely been an issue. But now aberrant marks are starting to appear in greater numbers, and forces like House Tarkanan are concentrating them. So this is a factor that COULD lead to House Tarkanan producing more aberrant heirs.

But the critical question is… does it want to? 

Even if you have a more reliable way to produce an aberrant mark, one of the defining factors of aberrant marks is that they are unpredictable: even if two aberrant parents produce a child with an aberrant mark, most likely that mark will have NOTHING IN COMMON with the marks of the parents. The semi-canon example we have of this is in the novel The Son of Khyber. Tarkanan lieutenant Filleon is the son of Ghallanda-Jorasco parents and has a mark that gives him a lethal touch. His daughter Zae has a mark that lets her communicate with and control vermin… nothing to do with his mark, or Jorasco, or Ghallanda. The second key element is that fact that most aberrant marks have serious physical or mental side effects. In Son of Khyber, Filleon has a withered arm that’s a result of his mark, and accidentally killed his mother when his mark manifested. While Zae can communicate with rats, it appears that she can’t actually speak; Filleon himself says that her mark is a mental burden and that he feels pity for her. Essentially, if you’re a Cannith heir with the Mark of Making, there’s no reason not to pass that on to a child. If you’re an aberrant, you have no idea if your child will develop a mark they come to see as a curse, and you also know they’ll be ostracized and persecuted.

With player characters we tend to downplay the negative side effects of aberrant marks and leave it primarily up to the player to roleplay them. But the intent is that aberrant marks are difficult and dangerous. If we look to the X-Men as a comparison, consider Cyclops—the idea that if he loses his glasses, people may die. Or Rogue, unable to touch someone without draining their life force and memories. House Tarkanan wants to protect people with aberrant marks, and to train them to use their powers. But it’s a valid question if they’d actually want to dramatically increase the number of people with aberrant marks, given how often those marks can be a burden to the people who carry them.

Do aberrant marks follow the rules of if they are removed they will manifest again elsewhere on the body? Would they manifest with the same drawback? I know the novel dwarf has essentially regeneration backlash.

Aberrant marks are dragonmarks. As such, yes, if removed they will manifest elsewhere on the body. Essentially, the power doesn’t actually come FROM the physical mark; rather, the mark is a manifestation of the power. Cut the mark off, the power remains, and eventually the mark reappears. Whether the drawback remains the same depends on the drawback. In the case of the ratspeaker Zae, the idea is that her POWER is what drives her a little crazy; she hears whispering rats in her head all the time. As long as she has that power, it will be a burden. On the other hand, if Filleon cut off his withered arm, maybe that would be that… or maybe the power of the mark would cause ANOTHER one of his limbs to wither. There’s no absolute rules, and I don’t see that as something Filleon would be inclined to put to the test.

The dwarf Brom is an unusual character who would be difficult to create as a PC—an example of a greater or Khyber-level mark. He has essentially, a dramatic form of regeneration blended with reincarnation; when he’s injured, the cells regenerate, but typically as cells of a random humanoid. And certainly, if his mark was removed, it would return.

My general understanding is that the Aurum represents an ascendant merchant class that chafes at both Nations’ and the Houses’ powers – Something which puts them at least somewhat into alignment with Tarkanan. How do you think they would align and how would they conflict?

In many ways the Aurum and House Tarkanan are opposites. The Aurum is a collection of wealthy, privileged people who want even more wealth and power. By contrast, House Tarkanan was founded by betrayed soldiers, and represents an alliance of people scorned and feared by all, people who have endured poverty and hardship. Tarkanan is a very SMALL organization – per WGtE, a “small, elite force” and only just starting to establish itself beyond Sharn – while the Aurum is spread across Khorvaire. Members of House Tarkanan are united both by their marks and the persecution they’ve endured; they feel a sense of kinship and they generally do seek to help others with aberrant marks. Meanwhile, the Aurum is largely an alliance of convenience; they aren’t driven to help other wealthy people in need.

I could see two basic points. One would be straightforward. Tarkanan is a group of mercenary criminals. The Aurum are people with money who need mercenaries to do their dirty work. It is thus entirely reasonable for an Aurum mastermind to hire House Tarkanan to assist in an operation targeting a house,  and Tarkanan would be happy to take the job. The other possibility would be for a member of the Shadow Cabinet, such as Antus Soldorak, to recognize Tarkanan as a useful tool in their goal of destabilizing houses; with this in mind, they would offer Tarkanan gold and resources, while suggesting targets. Tarkanan is a small organization and would likely be happy to have that wealthy patron. I wouldn’t make the alliance any more direct than that. Thora would likely know very little about the patron, likely not even their name; part of the point would be that the Aurum could USE Tarkanan—known to have a grudge with the houses—as a catspaw to undertake missions they don’t want traced back to them.

If a dragonmarked heir became a warlord of Droaam somehow, would anyone call them out for violating the Korth Edicts?

Galifar I established the Korth Edicts, which forbid dragonmarked heirs from holding land, noble title, or maintaining military forces. In the wake of the Last War, it’s very unclear who could actually enforce the Korth Edicts. MOST people abide by them, because they carry the weight of centuries of tradition. But there’s a number of active examples where houses are violating the Edicts and nothing is being done. Essentially, sure, someone COULD call them out… and then what? Unless that person has powerful friends who take such an interest that they are willing to try to lean on the heir’s Baron to address the situation, odds are good it would be one more case where the Edicts are been violated and nothing is being done.

With that said, it’s also a weird issue because Droaam isn’t recognized as a sovereign nation. As such, being a warlord of Droaam likely wouldn’t be recognized as a “noble title” under the terms of the Edicts.

In an episode of Manifest Zone you (I think!) mentioned that the giants of Xen’drik were more like titans rather than the several sub-races that exist now. Could you expand on that at all? If the giants were like titans did the dragons curse the race when they destroyed their empire, deliberately fragmenting the race so they could not rise to dominance again?

That’s correct. This is covered in the 3.5 sourcebooks Secrets of Xen’drik and City of Stormreach. This is from City of Stormreach. 

In dealing with the giants of Xen’drik, it’s important to bear in mind that the giants have not always been such a divergent species. Many scholars claim that all modern giants—stone and hill, fire and frost—share a common biological ancestor, beyond the mythical titans. Some adventurers speak of encounters with primordial giants or eldritch giants, and this could be the answer to these stories. In any case, evidence exists that a few of the giant subspecies—such as the fire giants of the Sul’at League—existed prior to the great cataclysm. But others, most notably the hill giants, are said to be the result of curses unleashed in that war… powers unleashed by the dragons to prevent any giant nation from rising to its prior heights.

Titans were founders and leaders of many of the giant nations, while the “common” giants were more in the mode of storm giants or eldritch giants. The dragons unleashed epic curses—the Traveler’s Curse, the Durashka Tul, and more—and the modern giants are a reflection of these curses.

Are the half-giants a result of magebreeding or some sort of result of the curses like the hill giants? Are they actually “half” anything or are they simply the smallest giants?

The canon answer is given in the Player’s Guide to Eberron:

In the distant past, giant explorers from Xen’drik visited southern Sarlona. Their descendants are the half-giants described in the Expanded Psionics Handbook. It is unclear whether half-giants actually have human ancestry or are simply degenerate descendants of the titans of Xen’drik (as most giant kinds are believed to be).

This is echoed in Secrets of Sarlona…

Perhaps the most baffling of all the races on the continent, the nomadic half-giants of Sarlona are descendants of ancient giant explorers from Xen’drik. Some say the half-giants are degenerate offspring of the Xen’drik titans, while others contend they have a mixed human ancestry.

Are ogres and trolls actually related to the giants in the ways they are in other settings, or are they simply parallel creatures with similar traits (size, strength, ferocity) but different origins?

In my opinion, ogres and trolls are entirely unrelated to giants, which is one reason we suggests that the ogres and trolls of Khorvaire should speak Goblin instead of Giant. Trolls are likely part of the same biological path as orcs; ogres developed on Sarlona.

I am using Sarmondelaryx as a Patron for one of my players, in my campaign she has been sealed by Harryn Stormblade a couple of centuries prior to the start of our campaign. What kind of goals would you think she would be aspiring to for when she manages to get released? 

Sarmondelaryx is a character referenced in the Thorn of Breland novel series. She is a rogue red dragon possessing a set of powerful dragonshard artifacts; these help her avoid detection (and thus the Eyes of Chronepsis) and to bind souls, which has the effect of extending her life. She is infamous for having killed the first Prince Thrane and devastating the nation in the early days of Galifar.

So: Sarmondelaryx is a powerful, virtually immortal dragon with enemies in both Argonnessen and Ashtakala. She has consumed demons and slain dragons, and personally I would double down on her desire to make both sides suffer—to be a wild card in the ancient war between the Conclave and the Lords of Dust. I’d see her trying to stir up conflicts between the Lords of Dust and the Chamber, setting situations where they end up fighting each other while Sarmondelaryx (or her agent) escapes with whatever prize they were seeking. What does she want? She always wants to increase her own power… but as much as anything, I think she enjoys the game of outsmarting both of the superpowers, making her enemies suffer and proving her superiority.

The church of the silver Flame seems to have a lot of variance in its presentation by author. Structurally, it consistently has the big three orders of ministers/Templars/friars. Are other orders subsidiaries of those? Same organizational level but smaller and less prominent?

Certainly. The templars, ministers, and friars are the core roles of the church. The templar defends; the minister guides a particular community; and the friar remains in motion, bringing the light of the Flame to dark places. But within those three broad categories there are many orders and sects, many with narrower missions. For example, the Argentum is technically tied to the Templars, but it is tasked with seeking out dangerous magical relics. Some of these lesser orders are also specific to particular nations; the Argentum is a Thrane order.

That’s all for now—stay tuned for more on Exploring Eberron!

DragonCon, Eberron, and Project Raptor

It’s been a long month! Earlier in August, Wizards of the Coast announced Eberron: Rising From The Last War. I can confirm that I’ve been working on this book throughout the year, and I’m excited to see it coming to fruition. In addition, I’m continuing to work on my own Eberron book for the DM’s Guild, Project: Raptor; you can see the first rough draft of an important image above. Of course, “Project: Raptor” is just a code name, tied to an old joke about someone expecting the sourcebook to be 300 pages of dinosaurs. I’m going to reveal the ACTUAL title this Friday at my Eberron panel at DragonCon.

What’s that? That’s right! This weekend I’ll be at DragonCon in Atlanta, and I’m on a lot of panels! Here’s the list:

THE STATE OF THE INDUSTRY
Time: Fri 10:00 am Location: Augusta 1-2 – Westin
Description: Find out about all of the goings-on in the pulp game industry. We discuss what has happened in the role-playing, board game, & miniatures markets. We also talk about the mainstreaming of tabletop games to a new precedent that we’ve never seen! Finally, we talk about all of the latest trends!
Panelists: Eloy Lasanta, Jason Bulmahn, Keith Baker, Jenn Ellis

EBERRON IN FIFTH EDITION!
Time: Fri 01:00 pm Location: Augusta 3 – Westin (Length: 1 Hour)
Description: I’ll be talking about the latest developments for Eberron, including Rising From The Last War and Project: Raptor! I expect to be showing off a lot of art for Raptor, as well as announcing the name of the book!
Panelists: Keith Baker

THE BEST GAME MASTERS IN THE WORLD
Time: Fri 04:00 pm Location: Centennial I – Hyatt (Length: 1 Hour)
Description: Our professional game masters come out to talk about all of their secrets–everything from the basics at the game table to their more advanced techniques.
Panelists: Jason Massey, Eloy Lasanta, Keith Baker, Devon M Chulick

THE MOST DASTARDLY VILLAINS OF ALL TIME
Time: Sat 10:00 am Location: Augusta 1-2 – Westin (Length: 1 Hour)
Description: A Year of the Bard-themed panel! We will discuss crafting memorable & exquisite villains for your campaigns. Are villains truly evil or just misunderstood? We also talk about role-playing as the villain.
Panelists: Jason Bulmahn, Keith Baker, Kenneth Hite

BEST DUNGEON EVER
Time: Sat 01:00 pm Location: Centennial I – Hyatt (Length: 1 Hour)
Description: Year after year, this is one of our most popular panels! Our designers talk about constructing the trickiest, most interesting, & most memorable dungeons ever!
Panelists: Jason Bulmahn, Keith Baker

MONSTER CREATION LAB 
Time: Sat 02:30 pm Location: Augusta 1-2 – Westin (Length: 1 Hour)
Description: In this panel, we talk to some of our award-winning designers about designing great threats for your table top. What makes a great monster? How do you make a creature that take on a whole party? How do you make unique & interesting threats that fascinate players?
Panelists: Jason Bulmahn, Keith Baker

ULTIMATE ROLEPLAYING
Time: Sat 04:00 pm Location: International South – Hyatt (Length: 1 Hour)
Description: This is it! Our ultimate Year of the Bard panel! Here, we talk about all things role-playing, from creating characters, crafting motivations, to using mannerisms & doing voices….we talk about it all! Don’t miss the panel that you demanded!
Panelists: Jeff Burns, Keith Baker

TWOGETHER STUDIOS
Time: Sun 04:00 pm Location: Augusta 3 – Westin (Length: 1 Hour)
Description: Over the last few years, Twogether Studios has created the RPG Phoenix: Dawn Command, along with the card games Illimat and Action Cats. Join Keith Baker and Jenn Ellis as they discuss their plans for the future and reveal details about their upcoming Adventure Zone game!
Panelists: Keith Baker, Jenn Ellis

If you’re going to be at DragonCon, I hope you’ll be able to attend one or more of these panels. Beyond that, if you see me at the con, I’m almost (ALMOST) always happy to talk about Eberron, Phoenix: Dawn Command, Illimat, or anything else I’ve created!

That’s it: I hope to see you there!

Things I’m Backing!

I’ve been under a rock for the past few months, between preparing for GenCon and working on the Adventure Zone gameProject Raptor, and a few other things I can’t talk about, but I wanted to take a moment to point you to OTHER projects I’m interested in. There’s a lot of great projects out there and I’m only writing about things I’ve personally backed; if you know about other projects that are worth a look, post them in the comments!

Destination Fantastic

In 2009, I traveled around the world playing D&D with a wide assortment of interesting people. It was during this journey that I first met Satine Phoenix. Now, Satine has teamed up with Dwarven Forge founder Stefan Porkorny to create Destination Fantastic, a travel show that explores the roots of fantasy and searches for sources of inspiration. The first episode explores Iceland, which is filled with remarkable locations. As of this writing there’s only 50 hours left in the campaign and they’ve got a long ways to go, but there’s still time to back this fantastic journey.

Demigods

I’ve always loved mythology and folklore: when other children were playing cops and robbers, I was playing Aesir vs Vanir. So backing Demigods was an easy decision for me. Jason Mills has used the foundation of the Powered By The Apocalypse engine to create this RPG driven by the actions of semi-mortal descendants of gods in the modern world. If you’d like to know more, you can find the quickstart rules here. But don’t delay: as of his posting, Demigods has less than 24 hours in its campaign! It’s over 400% funded and will definitely happen, but if you want to jump onboard, back it here!

Fiasco

I’ve been a fan of Fiasco ever since its original release. It’s a collaborative storytelling game where you work together with other players to tell stories about plans that go horribly wrong. If you’re curious to get a taste of what it sounds like in action, check out the Gosh Darn Fiasco podcast—go back far enough, and you’ll find an episode I participated in! I love the flexibility of Fiasco and how it encourages players to build a story together… and to embrace the idea that not all stories have to end well.

This new edition of Fiasco abandons playlists and dice in favor of cards. I’ve been experimenting with this myself with my own Fiasco sets, and I think it’s an excellent way to make the game a little more accessible. I haven’t played this new version yet, but I have no hesitations about jumping on board the campaign. There’s still a lot of time left (and it’s already funded by more than 700%!) but if you want to get on board now, you can back Fiasco here!

Magical Kitties Save The Day!

Let me breaking this down for you. This is an all-ages roleplaying game that can be played by anyone six and up, and it involves MAGICAL KITTIES SAVING THE DAY. As a fan of both Atlas Games, storytelling, and cats (as shown by my own game Action Cats) it would be churlish of me to ignore this. If you know kids who love cats and adventures, you can back this here.

That’s what I’m backing at the moment, but if you know of other projects I should take a look at, post them in the comments below!

Yuan-Ti 2: How would *I* use them?

I’m getting ready for GenCon and working on Project Raptor and other things. But the other day I posted an article in response to a question from a Patreon supportersWhat’s the role of the yuan-ti in Eberron? In this article, I focused on the CANON role of the yuan-ti in the setting… yuan-ti civilization began in Sarlona; they were driven first to Argonnessen and then to Xen’drik, where they scheme and hunger for revenge. Which is fine. But I’ve never actually used any of that in a campaign I’ve run. In writing the article and addressing follow-up questions, I started thinking about how I would actually use them… and I thought I’d share that here.

It’s proverbial that If it exists in D&D, there’s a place for it in Eberron. But as I’ve said before, this was never meant to mean that everything in D&D IS in Eberron; it’s that it COULD be, if you want it to be a part of your campaign. I’ve always preferred to focus on fewer elements but to add more depth to them. I’ve never used the yuan-ti in a campaign because I’ve never had a need for them, when I’ve had the daelkyr, the Dreaming Dark, the Gatekeepers, the Dhakaani. But in adding anything, the question to me is what it brings—what’s unique about it. For me, the things that are compelling about the yuan-ti are…

  • Their variable phenotypes: from the purebloods who can blend in among humanity to the inhuman abominations and anathema.
  • The idea that they were once human but were corrupted by their dark devotions.
  • The principle that as a group they are up to no good… something that is rare in Eberron, where evil generally isn’t genetic. The yuan-ti are sly schemers, hungry for power and dominion over others.
  • The question of their connection to the shulassakar… who I”ll note I originally created as an alternative to the yuan-ti, a way to use the mechanics of the yuan-ti in a COMPLETELY different way than in other settings.

Now, one option is to try to take the rest of the traditional yuan-ti backstory—the fallen empire of slavers—and to fit that into the setting, and that’s essentially what the canon approach does; creating a yuan-ti nation in Sarlona that was overthrown during the Sundering. However, if I were to use them in my campaign, I wouldn’t do this. I don’t NEED another ancient kingdom, and my players have no reason to care about some nation that fell a thousand years ago on another continent. So I’d rather find a way to add the yuan-ti that makes them integral to the story that I’m telling.

So, if *I* were to use the yuan-ti, I’d turn it around and make their evolution from human to yuan-ti something that’s happening RIGHT NOW—not something that happened a thousand years ago. Q’barra is the prison of the Overlord Masvirik, also known as the Cold Sun: an archfiend embodying the divide between mammal and reptile, lord of scale and venom. Since the Age of Demons, Q’barra has seen conflict between the lizardfolk of the Cold Sun Federation and the corrupted forces of the Poison Dusk. A region of untamed jungle, Q’barra had long been ignored by the people of Galifar… until the Last War, when Ven ir’Kesslan led a flotilla of settlers east. These settlers soon discovered rich deposits of Eberron dragonshards in Q’barra, and this brought a new wave of opportunists and fortune seekers. Today, New Galifar seeks to maintain the values of the fallen kingdom, while Hope is a wild frontier.

In running a Q’barra campaign, one of the primary themes is the interaction between the settlers and the lizardfolk, tied to the idea that the settlers don’t understand the ancient dangers that linger in this land. But what if there are humans who do understand… warlocks and sages who seek to claim Masvirik’s power as their own? What if there is a conspiracy spread across the land, with agents among the nobles of New Galifar and the shard barons of Hope? What if they’re using their influence to stir up conflict between the humans and the scales… in the process destroying wards and allowing them to seize artifacts and dragonshards tied to Masvirik? And, of course, what if in doing this—in seeking to harness the power of the Cold Sun—these people are becoming something less than human?

In part, this could seem like any cult of the Dragon Below. Here’s the things I’ll call out to separate it.

  • It’s always been a theme of the yuan-ti that they aren’t devoted to their gods; they want their power. I’d highlight that here. The Poison Dusk are fanatically devoted to Masvirik. The yuan-ti have absolutely no love for the Cold Sun: they are opportunists who want to steal his power.
  • Q’barra includes dusk shards: dragonshards imbued with the power of Masvirik. The yuan-ti would be amassing these shards and using this dark power—to create eldritch machines, to create magic items, or as focus items. Some might grind up the shards and drink them. Acquiring dusk shards would be a common, basic goal of the yuan-ti… and something that would place them at odds with the Cold Sun Federation.
  • Rather than priests, I’d likely focus on these yuan-ti as sorcerers and warlocks; they are stealing the power rather than having it granted to them. A yuan-ti warlock could be tricking Masvirik into granting power, but more likely the Cold Sun isn’t an ACTIVE patron; rather, the warlock has just found a way to tap into its power. For NPCs, the point would be that these abilities are sustained and enhanced by dusk shards.
  • The mutation is caused by long term exposure to dusk shards and dramatically enhanced by channeling Masvirik’s power, and it’s something that’s happening right now. These yuan-ti have only been active for a few decades, and they’re still learning about their true nature. The abominations were born human and were once important members of their community; other members of their families have to hide the abominations, and cover for their inability to conduct business face to face. At this moment in time, there may not BE any anathema; one or more abominations will BECOME anathema over the course of the campaign.

Among other things, this allows a recurring NPC to mutate over the course of the story. The PCs deal with a villain; when they finally capture him, they discover that he’s a pureblood with serpentine characteristics. He escapes, causes more trouble, and eventually appears to be killed… only to return later as a malison or anathema, explaining how the Cold Sun revived him, and changed him in the process. Essentially, I don’t just want them to be snake people; I want to highlight that they are BECOMING snake people because of what they’re doing. I also wouldn’t limit them to humanity; there will be dwarves, elves, and orcs who are becoming yuan-ti.

What I like about this is that it makes the yuan-ti an unpredictable wild card. The Poison Dusk serve Masvirik. The Cold Sun Federation opposes him. They’ve been fighting this war for thousands of years. But the yuan-ti are new and are here for POWER. They are tied into the power structures of the settlers, and have allies at all levels of society.

Meanwhile, the shulassakar have been servants of the Silver Flame for thousands of years, transformed by their tie to the couatl. Shulassakar agents may show up mid-arc, sensing the disruption being caused by the actions of yuan-ti and Poison Dusk alike… just in time to confuse the PCs, who by now will have learned to distrust serpentine humans. Will they sort it out?

So, that’s what I would do with the yuan-ti. If you’ve done something else with them in your campaign, post it in the comments!

Yuan-ti have a strong connection to psionics, and in 3.5 they have natural psionic powers. However, in Eberron they have a strong arcane or even divine influence by being connected to the overlords. What would be the most common yuan-ti spellcaster? A psionic, a mage a priest or another one?

I don’t feel a need to add psionics to 5E yuan-ti just because they had them in 3.5. As noted above, I would focus on sorcerers and warlocks. The sorcerer would channel powers largely through supernatural mutation, while the warlock would be using arcane knowledge to essentially steal power from Masvirik.

Traditionally physical mutation is more associated with the daelkyr than with the Overlords. Are there other examples of Overlords causing physical mutations? How would you distinguish it from the daelkyr? 

It’s always been called out that agents of the Poison Dusk may be physically corrupted; 4E suggested that the Blackscale Lizardfolk weren’t actually a separate species, but were simply mutated champions of Masvirik. Beyond this, another Overlord noted for physical corruption is Katashka the Gatekeeper, who transforms followers (and others) into undead. The main question is whether the Overlord’s domain has an obvious physical aspect. Masvirik is associated with reptiles, and it’s reasonable that mammals who channel his power could develop reptilian traits. While Sul Khatesh embodies dangerous and arcane knowledge, and the manifestation of her corruption is that knowledge.

One way I’d highlight the difference between such Overlord corruption and the work of the daelkyr is that the corruption isn’t directed. Goblins didn’t spontaneously become dolgrims; Dyrrn took goblin prisoners and MADE dolgrims from them. By contrast, it’s not that Masvirik is intentionally turning these people into yuan-ti, and it’s not something they have control over; it’s a consequence of channeling his power.

This isn’t ENTIRELY dissimilar from some daelkyr; we’ve called out that followers of Belashyrra may start growing new eyes. However, that corruption doesn’t go very far; we’ve never suggested that they become beholders, for example. The key point I’d call out here is that the yuan-ti aren’t cultists, and the transformation isn’t a gift; it’s a consequence of their hunger for power.

Sidebar: The Yuan-Ti

As we lead up to GenCon, there’s a lot going on.

  • Here’s my GenCon Plans. If you’re going to be there, drop by the Twogether Studios Booth or come to my Eberron talk!
  • I’ve just announced “Project Raptor“, a new sourcebook I’ll be releasing on the DM’s Guild later this year.
  • There’s a new episode of Manifest Zone talking about it!

However, until GenCon I’m working through the big pile of questions submitted by my Patreon supporters. One asks “Could you expand on the yuan-ti in Eberron?” So, let’s talk about the serpentfolk.

Yuan-Ti in Eberron

The origin of the yuan-ti is shrouded in mystery. Here are the absolute facts.

  • The yuan-ti first appeared on the continent of Sarlona, in the early stages of the Sundering—the conflict that paved the way for the rise of Riedra and the Inspired. When the human nation of Khunan was devastated by a mystic conflict, the yuan-ti rose up in the ruins and established a new nation, which they called Syrkarn.
  • The early Inspired set their allied forces to the task of erradicating the yuan-ti. However, even in victory, the Inspired order all humans in Syrkarn and the surrounding regions to abandon the land. The Inspired have shunned the region ever since. A handful of yuan-ti survived and remain hidden within the ruins.
  • When they were persecuted by the Inspired, a number of yuan-ti fled Sarlona and sought refuge on Argonnessen. At first they were granted sanctuary, and the best of them were welcomed into the city of Io’vakas, a haven where humanoids lived in harmony with the dragons. However, some of the yuan-ti sought forbidden power, mastering dangerous arcane secrets; the dragons responded by leveling Io’vakas and exterminating the yuan-ti. A handful remain, but they continue to be eliminated when they are found.
  • A few yuan-ti escaped persecution in Xen’drik—perhaps with the help of sympathetic dragons—and reached Xen’drik. Now they lurk in the shadows of Stormreach and beyond, plotting vengeance against both humanity and the dragons.

These are the facts: they began in Sarlona, fled to Argonnessen, and fled once more to Xen’drik. But there are crucial questions. Where did they come from, when they first appeared in Sarlona? Why did the Inspired order the mass exodus of Syrkarn? Why, in a world where few creatures are bound to the alignment, do the yuan-ti of Xen’drik and Argonnessen seem entirely evil?

The scholar Abel Varmanc proposed an answer to these questions. The Overlords of the first age are bound across Eberron, and it is certain that one is imprisoned beneath Syrkarn; Abel believes that “Syrkarn” is in fact the name of this archfiend. Varmanc asserts that during the epic magewars that destroy Khunan, the seals of Syrkarn were weakened… and that the first yuan-ti were humans corrupted by Syrkarn’s power. Varmanc further believes that the Inspired couldn’t find a way to fully rebind the Overlord, which is why they evacuated the region; if they couldn’t completely defeat the fiend, they could at least deny it subjects and victims. The final piece of the Varmanc’s theory is this: the yuan-ti are uniquely vulnerable to the influence of the Overlords. As they traveled from continent to continent, they were further touched and corrupted by the influence of others—by the Daughter of Khyber in Argonnessen, who fanned the flames of yuan-ti ambition and set the destruction in of Io’vakas in motion; and by the Scar that Abides in Xen’drik, further fueling their hatred and hunger for vengeance.

Of course, this is just a theory. Perhaps the yuan-ti are the product of evil and have only grown crueler and more dangerous over time; or perhaps they have always been innocent. Perhaps Io’kovas is an example of draconic tyranny as opposed to yuan-ti ambition. Perhaps all the stories of Syrkarn were just one more way for the Inspired to use fear to control the people, and to continue to manipulate them today. So in using the yuan-ti in your campaign, you have a choice. Are they…

  • Malevolent Masterminds. Varmanc’s theory is absolutely correct. The yuan-ti don’t serve the Lords of Dust, but they are vessels of immortal evil. Just as they did in Io’vakas, they seek arcane power that will allow them to dominate or destroy all other creatures. They are few in number, so they must use cunning and deception. Wherever they are found, they are either seeking power or sowing discord. In this case, the physical form of the yuan-ti is a reflection of their corruption, with the abominations being the closest to the overlords and most innately vile.
  • Consumed by Revenge. The yuan-ti aren’t inherently evil or corrupted by Overlords. But they are driven by the desire for revenge on humanity and the dragons—revenge they believe is absolutely justified. They aren’t unnecessarily cruel, but their ancestors have been betrayed by all they have trusted and they are hunted on two continents. In this case, the physical forms of the yuan-ti could have been created through Khunan magebreeding; there’s nothing evil about it, they simply sought to transcend their humanity.
  • Maligned Innocents. Another option is to say that the stories are entirely untrue, and that the yuan-ti are neither innately evil nor hungry for vengeance; they are simply persecuted refugees, afraid of both the Chamber and Inspired, trying to find a place where they can prosper. As above, the physical form of the yuan-ti could be the result of active magebreeding.

There’s another option to consider that could expand any of these: that the yuan-ti don’t serve the Overlords, but rather believe that they have been abused by the archfiends and seek their power too. It could well be that the yuan-ti have an innate connection to the Overlords, and that they believe they can use this to harness the power for themselves: not releasing the Overlords, but using their might for their own purposes. In this case, whatever path you choose, the physical form of the yuan-ti could be the product of the Overlords’ power and reflect their desire to transcend their human origins.

While the yuan-ti are primarily found in Sarlona, Argonnessen, and Xen’drik, depending on the path you take they could be found anywhere. There could be yuan-ti in Q’barra tapping into the power of the Cold Sun, or yuan-ti lurking in the sewers of Sharn. The question is whether they are simply hiding and trying to survive, or whether they are pursuing power and sowing discord.

Do the yuan-ti have any relation to the shulassakar?

Not directly. The shulassakar first appeared within Khalesh, a nation dedicated to the Silver Flame; the yuan-ti appeared later and to the west, in Khunan. However, as with all things yuan-ti, there’s a few possibilities. The simple one is that they are spiritual cousins. The shulassakar are humans transformed by the power of the Silver Flame; it’s thus reasonable to say that the yuan-ti are humans transformed in a similar manner but by a darker power, the Overlord Syrkarn. However, if you WANT them to be related, you could say that the yuan-ti are specifically shulassakar corrupted by Syrkarn… that a group of shulassakar embraced the darkness and went west in pursuit of power, and this dark force physically transformed them.

Are there any groups hunting the shulassakar? Inspired, the Lords of Dust, etc? Did they remain in Sarlona or make the exodus with the humans, changelings and ogres to Khorvaire?

While there’s conflicting statements about the shulassakar, the intent was that there was never a shulassakar NATION and they didn’t begin with a unique culture. Khalesh was a nation devoted to the Silver Flame, though with a far stronger focus on the couatl than the modern church or the Ghaash’kala. The shulassakar arose within Khalesh, and were the secret leaders of the land; they were seen as being blessed by the Flame. During the Sundering, the Inspired specifcally exposed and targeted the shulassakar, aligning them with the yuan-ti and depciting them as touched by evil; this turned Nulakhesh and Corvagura against Khalesh, and the shulassakar were relentlessly hounded. Some escaped to Khorvaire , others fled to Adar, others managed to hide within Riedra. But there were never many of them to begin with and their still aren’t. In Riedra, they are absolutely hunted by the Thousand Eyes and the Edgewalkers. They aren’t really common enough in Khorvaire to REQUIRE that they be hunted by the Lords of Dust, but yes, a shulassakar that is too open in its actions would attract the same sort of enemies as any dangerous champion of the Silver Flame.

If you have questions or thoughts about the yuan-ti in Eberron, post them below!

Announcing Project Raptor

Discover the unexplored Eberron…

KB Presents is pleased to announce a brand new Eberron sourcebook coming to PDF and print-on-demand hardcover for the Dungeon Masters Guild! Written by Eberron creator and designer Keith Baker, Project “Raptor” expands upon Eberron as only Keith is able to, including never-before-explored areas of the setting.

This 160+ page book is slated for a late 2019 release, with exact launch date to be determined. Keith’s writing will be accompanied by illustrations from a range of talented artists, and supported by a dedicated team of professionals for editing, layout, and project management.

A design diary on the KB Presents Facebook page will provide project updates, spotlights on the team, and teasers of the work-in-progress, as well as features from Keith’s blog (www.keith-baker.com).

At the mandate of the hat, we hope you are as excited as we are compelled to be, and we look forward to bringing you more Eberron in the near future!

What is Project Raptor? From the moment Eberron was released, there have been places and things I’ve wanted to explore in more depth—things that intrigue me, but were never fully explored in the official sourcebooks. Ever since Eberron was unlocked in the DM’s Guild, I’ve been looking forward to the opportunity to finally dig deeper into some of my favorite topics. The book will be released late this year, and I’ll talk more about the specifics over the next few months, but I’ll give one example now. For me, one of the intriguing elements of Eberron is its planes. Whether you view it in absolute isolation from the Great Wheel or consider it to be a shielded reality, Eberron has its own unique planar cosmology. Aside from the possibility of planar travel, manifest zones and coterminous periods allow the planes to influence adventures at all levels of plane. And yet, over the course of fifteen years, we’ve never explored the planes of Eberron in enough depth to fully support that potential. Project Raptor will dig deeper than ever before, finally exploring the potential of the planes. Here you can see two of the pieces of art commissioned for the book. This is the Amaranthine City, the heart of both Irian and Mabar—an immortal city that embodies both hope and despair.

KB Presents is the work of myself and Wayne Chang—one of my cohosts on the Manifest Zone podcast and the mastermind behind the Across Eberron adventure path. I’m writing the content for Project Raptor, while Wayne is coordinating production and physical design, including a legion of amazing artists. As noted in the announcement, we’ll be spotlighting those artists and their amazing work in the months ahead, as well as revealing other subjects covered in Project Raptor.

To be absolutely clear: Project Raptor is NOT an official sourcebook. Unlike the Wayfinder’s Guide to Eberron, this is being produced by KB Presents alone and will not be supported by Wizards of the Coast. This is your glimpse into my Eberron; it will be released on the DM’s Guild, and available in print on demand.

Eberron awaits, and I look forward to exploring it together!

Q&A: Daelkyr and the Prophecy

There’s a lot going on this week. I’m getting ready for GenCon (see more about my plans here). I’ve just made an announcement about my next big Eberron project. But beyond that, i’m going to be doing a series of small articles addressing questions posed by my Patreon supporters. So, let’s get to it!

How do the Daelkyr interact with the Draconic Prophecy (if at all)? Are they “outside” the prophecy? Did the prophecy foretell their arrival in Eberron?

The Prophecy certainly foretold their arrival on Eberron, and that’s why we have the Gatekeeper druids. From the 3.5 ECS:

Over fifteen thousand years ago, the green dragon Vvaraak came to the Shadow Marches and gathered followers around her. She had foreseen a cataclysm that only the younger races would be able to avert, and so she taught the orcs how to work with earth and wood…

How do they interact with it? As with most things related to the daelkyr, it’s difficult to know. They don’t appear to study it the way the dragons and Lords of Dust do. There’s two important factors to consider in this.

The first is the daelkyrs’ relationship with time. In my Eberron, I emphasize that the daelkyr are fundamentally alien entities. It’s not just that they are gooey and like things with extra eyes; it’s that we don’t experience reality in the same way that they do. Using the 3.5 game stats, a daelkyr can cause confusion at will and anyone who tries to read the mind of a daelkyr may go insane. To me, that confusion effect isn’t that they are casting a spell; it’s that their focused attention literally breaks your brain, and trying to thing like they do severely damages a normal mind. In particular, I assert the idea that the daelkyr don’t experience time in a linear fashion. Rather, they are simultaneously aware of their entire timeline. The reason the daelkyr aren’t in a hurry to break the seals is that from their perspective, the seals are already broken… even if that won’t happen for another five thousand years from our linear perspective. They don’t fear death the way other creatures do, because they already know how they will die. One could look at this and say “But doesn’t that mean that they should be able to outwit everyone, because they already know what you’re going to try to do to stop them?” No… because they only know about it because that’s how you stop them. Again, the whole point of this is that they don’t think the way we do; they don’t fight their future because for them, it’s not the future. So other creatures interact with the Prophecy to try to predict or shape the path of the future. The daelkyr have no reason to do this, because from their perspective, past and future are meaningless concepts.

Now, one could ask if this implies absolute predestination. If the daelkyr knows how it will die, then there’s no way for players to change the outcome, right? Wrong. The future can always be changing; but the daelkyr always knows what it is, and for the daelkyr, that new future is what it’s always been. Doesn’t make sense? That’s the point. Again, if you read its mind and try to experience reality through its eyes, it will shatter your sanity. Dragons, rakshasa, quori—they may be inhuman, but we can still fundamentally understand how they think. The daelkyr are entirely alien.

This ties to my idea of how daelkyr perceive mortals. Imagine that you are immortal. You are aware of the flow of time over tens of thousands of years. From that perspective, a human is essentially an ant… the tiniest blip on your radar, present only for the briefest moment of existence. Beyond this, it’s an ant with no understanding of the true nature of reality. Daelkyr feel no more remorse killing or twisting mortal lives than we do working with fruit flies; you have to experiment on something. What they DO recognize are civilizations. The daelkyr didn’t care about individual goblins, but they recognized the Empire of Dhakaan itself as an entity – massive thing that lasted for thousands of years. And even though we see the Daelkyr as having been defeated, they succeeded in transforming and destroying Dhakaan. In my opinion, they don’t see individual humans as sentient creatures; what they recognize is human civilizations. What they do to you personally is again, like a scientist breeding fruit flies or an artist who uses insects as part of their work.

Not that this is not true of the SERVANTS of the daelkyr. This is why we’ve called out that in some ways it seems like the mind flayers are more concerned with breaking the seals than the daelkyr themselves are. Most of the servants of the daelkyr are themselves mortal. They are touched by Xoriat and have a greater understanding of its mysteries than humans do, but you’ll have an easier time talking to a dolgaunt than to Dyrrn the Corruptor.

I think you’ve spoken before about how the Daelkyr could be responsible for aberrant marks if they are trying to corrupt the Draconic Prophecy…

Not exactly. The idea that’s come up is that the daelkyr could be responsible for ALL DRAGONMARKS. A dragonmark is a manifestation of the Prophecy on a physical creature. The Prophecy is part of the underlying code of reality, but dragonmarks only appeared a few millenia ago—and the dragons were taken entirely by surprise. This means it’s entirely reasonable to think that they could have been created by an outside force. The daelkyr specialize in transforming creatures. They interact with time—and thus the Prophecy—in a fundamentally different way than others. So they would be well positioned to perceive that there IS a Draconic Prophecy and to try to do something completely unpredictable with it.

The critical question is: if the daelkyr created dragonmarks, why did they do it? A few possibilities…

  • Because they could. This is part of the point of the daelkyr. Unlike the Lords of Dust, the Dreaming Dark, or the Chamber, their actions don’t always have motives that make sense to us. We’ve described the daelkyr both as alien artists and as scientists. They could have simply been intrigued by the Prophecy and bound it to flesh because it’s a beautiful expression of its nature.
  • To shape civilization. I’ll touch on this further below, but Daelkyr don’t really consider humans and their kin as individuals; they are interested in civilizations. They may have made dragonmarks in order to fundamentally change the civilizations of Khorvaire, just as they sowed seeds of madness that brought down Dhakaan.
  • To destroy the Prophecy. On the other hand, it’s certainly possible that they DID do it as an attack on the Prophecy… that by existing, dragonmarks are slowly transforming or corrupting the Prophecy. If Argonnessen confirms this, the dragons could conclude that it’s necessary to utterly eradicate the dragonmarked houses, as they did with the Line of Vol. How would they do it? A brute force attack on Khorvaire? Something more subtle? In either case, the devastation and chaos that would cause could also have been the daelkyrs’ goal all along.

With this in mind, aberrant marks take on an entirely new meaning. It could be that they are simply an organic part of the experiment. It could be that one daelkyr created the core marks, and another created aberrant marks to destabilize it. Or it could be that ABERRANT marks are actually a manifestation of the Prophecy itself, reflecting the Prophecy fighting back and attempting to destroy this unnatural infection.

Do the daelkyr cooperate, or did they during the invasion? Was it a unified group effort to twist the civilization of Dhakaan or a competitive race between artists to see whose creation would come to fruition?

This is a question for you, based on the role you want the daelkyr to play in your game. What is clear in canon is that they cooperate on SOME level. Notably, Dyrrn the Corruptor created the dolgaunts and dolgrims, but almost all daelkyr make some use of them. Beholders are children of Belashyrra, but again, they can be found as allies of other daelkyr. They appeared to be somewhat unified in their physical attacks against Dhakaan. BUT, the critical point is that the physical attacks may have been incidentalthat the real attack may have been the actions they took to dissolve the eusocial bond of the goblinoids, leading to the long term collapse of the civilization. Was that something all the daelkyr were involved in, or was that the work of Dyrrn alone? Belashyrra and Kyrzin play the most significant role in the Shadow Marches—are they the only daelkyr interested in orcs, or are they just assigned to that post?

I think it’s entirely reasonable to say that the different daelkyr are pursuing their own experiments, and that these may appear to set them at cross purposes. But I would emphasize that this is very different than feuds between the Lords of Dust. Again, the core principle of the daelkyr is that it’s almost impossible to understand their reasoning.

Canonically, are the Daelkyr only interested in Khorvaire? The Gatekeepers were founded by a dragon to combat them, but does the Chamber in general care? The Undying Court was around for the fall of Dhakaan – did they notice? The Inspired lords of Sarlona are all about (enforced) stability – would they consider Daelkyr meddling a threat? 

The daelkyr are bound to KHYBER. Khyber doesn’t directly match the geography of Eberron. Belashyrra is known to have touched the Shadow Marches, but is also canonically active in Xen’drik, where it’s fighting the Umbragen drow. In short, they can show up wherever you want them so show up, but as long as the Gatekeeper seals remain intact they can’t leave Khyber.

Regarding the dragons, Dragons of Eberron addresses this at length.  From DoE: 

A true child of Eberron, Vvaraak foresaw a disaster that would wound the world itself. The Conclave had no interest in this struggle; just as the dragons had stood aside while the giants of Xen’drik battled Dal Quor, the elders of the Conclave told Vvaraak that they would act when a clear threat to Argonnessen existed, and not before.

As a rule, the dragons are not your friends. Remember that when they DID finally decide the giants of Xen’drik posed a threat, they destroyed all civilizations on Xen’drik. The Chamber opposes the machinations of the Lords of Dust; they aren’t generally interested in the problems of humanity. This is what makes Vvaraak remarkable: that she actually cared about lesser beings. So you can have dragons like Vvaraak, but they are the exception; in GENERAL, no, dragons don’t care unless Argonnessen itself is threatened. And if it IS threatened, they will act with force that can level civilizations.

As for the others, any nation could potentially be threatened by the daelkyr. The Undying Court may well have expunged daelkyr corruption over the course of past centuries. The Thousand Eyes watch for ALL forms of subversion in Riedra, and the Edgewalkers are Riedra’s answer to the Gatekeepers and the Silver Flame. However, in both cases these are again forces that are isolationist and only concerned with protecting THEIR people. This ties to the basic principle of Eberron: If the daelkyr are threatening Breland, the Undying Court won’t show up to solve the problem for you.

While we’re on the topic of the daelkyr and their works, I’m curious about the lifecycle and reproduction method of the dolgrim. It’s stated canonically that the first dolgrims were created by Dyrrn the Corruptor merging two goblins together, resulting in the four-armed, two-faced, two-brained mishmash that we know. But how are “modern”, “young” dolgrims created? 

The dols—dolgrims, dolgaunts, and the other creatures the daelkyr created from goblin stock—are self-sustaining. Dyrrn isn’t continuously kidnapping goblins to make more. However, part of the concept of aberrations is that they are fundamentally unnatural. 5E suggests that beholders may form other beholders through dreaming, though I’ll specifically call out in Eberron I’d expect these “dreams” to be tied to Xoriat as opposed to Dal Quor. As for the Dols, there is no canon answer. But here’s my thoughts.

  • Dolgrims reproduce through parthenogenesis. They split just above the lower mouth; the “grimling” thus has a mouth, eyes, and a single pair of arms, while the lower half keeps a pair of arms, legs, and mouth, along with vestigal eyes that quickly grow in. Over the course of a month, each piece regrows the missing chunk of body. Most daelkyr territories in Khyber have grimling pits filled with regenerating spawn.
  • Dolgaunts have hollow eyesockets filled with cilia. When a dolgaunt is prepared to spawn, it grapples a humanoid and injects a number of these cilia into the victim’s eyes. The cilia-worms consume the eyes and burrow into the victim’s body, taking root in the brain; this causes the victim to fall into a coma. The body then undergoes a process of cellular transformation, ultimately becoming a clone of the spawning dolgaunt. Note that this isn’t a swift process, and can’t be used as a regular attack; it can only be performed against a helpless or unconscious creature, and is essentially a sort of coup de grace.

In both cases, the “newborn” dol is using the memory template of the dol that spawned it; so among other things, there’s no “Dolgrim Kindergarten” in Khyber. This also means that they can spawn quite rapidly when they need to bolster their numbers. Typically, a dol population is maintained at a particularly level in a region, and they only spawn to repopulate losses.

If you have questions about the daelkyr or the Prophecy, post them below. You may also want to check out my previous articles on the daelkyr and Xoriat.

GenCon 2019 Plans

GenCon 2019 is almost upon us! I only have one event scheduled: a seminar called Exploring Eberron, 1 PM Friday, where all be talking about all things Eberron… from how it began to what I’m working on now.

Beyond that, I’ll be spending most of my time in the Exhibition Hall, with my company Twogether Studios. I’ll be giving demos of Illimat and Action Cats, and talking about Phoenix: Dawn Command and the other projects we have in the wings.

If you have a little time, drop by and say hello. If you have a LOT of time, I’m still looking for a few good people to help me staff the booth and demo games. I’m looking for a few people who have an hour or two to spare, who can help our core team with lunch breaks. But I’m also looking for one or two people who have more time and would be interesting in working at the booth for four or more hours. Help for an hour and you could get a free game or a Rusalka promo card; a longer shift would involve more significant compensation. Demo staff need to know how to play Illimat. 

If you or someone you know is interested in helping me out at GenCon, contact me through this website!

Transformers of Eberron

One of the things I’ve always liked about the warforged is the idea that as a warforged, your body was designed for a specific purpose. If you’re a sorcerer, it may be because you were designed to be a sorcerer… and what does that even mean? Do you have wands built into your arms? If you’re a warforged barbarian, is your “Rage” a battle mode?

The idea of the envoy warforged (in The Wayfinder’s Guide to Eberron) came from this idea: the concept of a warforged specifically designed for a particular purpose. The primary benefits of this are flexibility. You gain proficiency in a skill, a tool, and a language. But building on that idea of built for a purpose, you can also pick a tool you’re proficient in and have a functioning version of that tool integrated into your body. As a rogue, you can have lockpicks built into your fingers. As a bard, you could have an integrated instrument. In a campaign I’m in, I’ve been playing a warforged druid named Rose. Functionally, she has an integrated herbalism kit. Cosmetically, I describe this as her having plants growing from the root-like tendrils that make up warforged musculature; typically, these are roses, but the idea is that she could grow the plant she needs for a specific situation. Functionally, this doesn’t allow her to do anything she couldn’t do with a standard herbalism kit; it’s just a fun visual idea.

The design intent of this feature was that you had an integrated tool, an object that could normally be held in a hand. We considered limiting it to artisan’s tools specifically, but there’s a lot of tools that are very flavorful—the warforged rogue with built in thieves’ tools, the bard with an instrument, the druid with the herbalism kit—that would be lost in this case. So we just left it as “a tool.” Some people immediately jumped on the fact that the “Tools” list on page 154 of the Player’s Handbook includes Vehicles (Land and Water). So… could you be a warforged with an integrated chariot? How about an integrated wardship? Could you be a warforged transformer? 

Again, this was never the intent. I think this is something that most people recognize, and I’m sure any future iteration of the warforged will eliminate the loophole. Among other things, the ability doesn’t grant any ability to transform; it states that the tool is integrated into the body of the warforged and that “You must have your hands free to use the use the integrated tool.” It doesn’t change your size, so as a medium sized creature, what would it even MEAN to have a wagon integrated with your body? As it wasn’t something we ever intended, I didn’t give it any further thought.

UNTIL NOW. One of my regular playtesters and I share a birthday, and therre’s a tradition of playing D&D on that day… specifically, playing a one shot with the most ridiculous characters you can come up with, characters you could never play in a serious game. As I sat down to come up with a ridiculous character, I realized that this was the time to play a warforged transformer.

The immediate question is what it actually means to have an “Integrated Vehicle.” The PHB provides very few details ABOUT vehicles to begin with. How fast can a chariot go? What exactly is the difference between a wagon and a carriage? Beyond that, as defined the Integrated Tool ability doesn’t actually allow for any sort of transformation; it’s simply that the tool is always available to you. So what does it MEAN to have an integrated carriage? Three immediate answers suggest themselves.

  • You are a wagon at all times. You have wheels and can provide cover for passengers. However, since you’re still a medium creature, you can only carry tiny passengers.
  • You have some sort of extradimensional space. If we imagine a carriage can hold at least four medium creatures, SOMEHOW you fit those medium creatures into your body. Given the vast potential for abuse in a character having a large extradimensional space, it’s not something I’d normally allow into a game, BUT this is a ridiculous session.
  • You physically transform into a vehicle… in this case, a Large carriage. Under the circumstances, I’d allow this as a sort of version of wild shape. However, because it’s not supposed to be a big advantage, I’d have the character’s statistics (including hit points and armor class) remain constant. As a carriage you won’t have hands, but you still move using your character’s base speed; you can simply carry other creatures in your body.

For the scenario we’re talking about, I’m leaning towards option three. It’s an action to transform either way. As a vehicle you have to hands and can’t cast spells requiring somatic components. I’m thinking the character can talk as a vehicle (unlike wild shape). And again, the character’s AC, hit points, and movement remain unchanged; it’s COLORFUL, but it shouldn’t be a huge advantage. The one benefit I would likely give is to ignore encumbrance in vehicle form, or at least dramatically increase it. I might limit the character’s movement to their normal speed, but I don’t think the character has to be strong enough to carry the rest of the party; that’s the benefit of being a carriage.

Given that, it means I want a character that’s fast. For the adventure, we’re making fifth level characters; both Monk and Barbarian have increased movement at 5th level, and there’s also the option of a feat. The Mobile feat adds +10 movement speed, so the character could have up to a 50′ move; not bad for a chariot or a carriage. Given that, I’m considering three possibilities.

  • Druid. When *I* used to watch Transformers, I always liked the ones that turned into animals. Ravage. Laserbeak. The Dinobots. However, this misses the whole idea of having a warforged with an integrated vehicle, and the official ruling has always been that warforged druids turn into normal animals. So scratch that.
  • Monk. A monk have fast movement and increased unarmed damage, which is an easy basis for fighting as a vehicle; if you run into someone, you can make an Unarmed Strike. And if I use the Sun Soul monk, I could have a ranged attack! I immediately thought of a warforged who turns into a tiny lightning rail engine, zooming around and zapping people with lightning from the elemental arc. Using Mobile to get the 50′ movement and being able to ram people and keep moving would certainly be entertaining.
  • Barbarian. I’ve always liked the idea that a barbarian’s rage can be reflected as a “battle mode” for a warforged. The fast movement of a barbarian provides a base 40′ movement, or 50′ with Mobile. Unlike the monk, I wouldn’t see the character as fighting in carriage form, but it still works for the idea of a sort of Optimus Prime—a powerful warrior (perhaps with a ridiculously oversized two-handed weapon) who can turn into a carriage between fights and roll out with the party on board.

That’s where I’m at right now. So with that in mind: have any of you ever allowed a warforged envoy to have an integrated vehicle? How did YOU handle it? Which of these ideas do you think I should explore? Post your comments below!

I’ve been both busy with deadlines and physically sick, so I haven’t had much time to post over the last month, but there’s many other things to discuss. Eberron has just had it’s fifteenth anniversary, and to commemorate that, the podcast Manifest Zone did an Anniversary episode with the original 3.5 Eberron design team: Myself, James Wyatt, Chris Perkins, and Bill Slavicsek. Listen to the interview here! And thanks as always to my Patreon supporters!

Sidebar: Starting A New Campaign

I’ve got a question about how you handle time progression in your home games. I’m starting my second Eberron campaign and I’m planning on having it take place at the same time as my first one but in Sharn rather than Q’barra. When you start new home campaigns, do you progress time and have the events of the last game carry over? Or do you just start over in 998 YK like it says in the books and treat each campaign as it’s own separate timeline?

This is an interesting question. You’ve finally brought a long-term campaign to a close, and you’re about to start a new one. Where—and when—do you begin?

Personally, I handle starting a new campaign much like developing a TV show. I want to consider the following things…

  • What does the audience—which is to say, the players—want to see? Previously I’ve talked about my Q’barra campaign, which I’ve described here and here. The point of the Q’barra campaign is to explore something different—fantasy blended with the tropes of the Western genre. But I wouldn’t push that on a group of players who hate Westerns! Typically I’ll pitch a few different ideas to the players (Q’barra! Gritty noir in Callestan! Commandos in the Last War!) and we’ll talk things over, likely coming up with entirely new ideas in the process. When we’ve found something everyone wants to play, I’ll move forward with that.
  • I want to focus on short term stories and a long arc. What brings the adventurers together? What’s going to happen over the first 2-3 adventures, which is a critical time for developing characters and building a bond for the group?
  • With this in mind, I usually won’t try to squeeze every major power group in Eberron into a campaign. I’ll usually focus on one of the more obvious groups—the Emerald Claw, the Aurum, the Cults of the Dragon Below—as an initial antagonist; choose one of the more subtle and powerful foes—The Dreaming Dark, the Lords of Dust, the Daelkyr—as a long-term enemy; and pick another group—the Lord of Blades, Miron’s Tears, House Tarkanan—as a wild card who could become an ally or an enemy.
  • If the campaign is going to revolve around a central hub, I’ll work with the players to establish details of that hub. I talk about how I did that in Q’barra in this post.
  • Beyond this, I’ll also work with the players to develop the backstories of their characters and figure out how those backgrounds tie into the developing story. If I’ve got a Blood of Vol paladin who’s determined to bring down Erandis Vol as a long-term character arc, I’ll make sure I factor that into the story board. Ideally, I’ll look for ways that these hooks can converge—if one player wants to bring down Erandis Vol, and another wants to destroy House Cannith, well, perhaps I’ll focus on Cannith East developing a secret alliance with the Emerald Claw…
  • Related to the two previous points, I want to make sure there’s something that ties the party together—that the players don’t feel like they’d never associate with the other characters, but they have to because, well, we’re playing this game. Do they share a common background (we all served together in the Last War)? Are they all tied to a central location (We’re all looking for opportunity in this frontier town) or united by a common purpose (we’re going to work together to bring down the Boromar Clan)? Lacking that, I’ll work to make sure that the first adventure will give them a common purpose or enemy, which will build a bond moving forward.

So, coming back to the original question: When starting a new Eberron campaign, do I incorporate the events of the previous campaign or do I start fresh? This ties to that first point above: What do the players want to experience? I was involved in a campaign that went from levels 1-30, and by the time it was over, the adventurers had changed the world in many lasting ways. One of the characters was Queen of Karrnath. Jaela Daran had sacrificed herself to rebind the unleashed Bel Shalor, and the redeemed Melysse Miron had taken her place as Keeper of the Flame. When THAT group decided to start a new game, we all agreed that we wanted to continue in THAT Eberron… that we were going to advance a further ten years and continue from there. As a result, the surviving PCs from the previous campaign were now influential NPCs in the setting. Meanwhile, one of the players decided that his PC in the new campaign would be Jaela Daran: That she would have awoken in the wilds, as an 11-year woman and a 1st level cleric, with no memory of intervening time. Part of the story of the campaign was trying to figure out what her story was. WAS she the restored Jaela? Was she a daelkyr experiment, or a creation of Mordain the Fleshweaver? For my part, I began with my changeling character Max, and established that they had strange ties to the changeling Garrow, who’d ended up as one of the major villains of the previous campaign arc.

So in that case, it was a lot of fun to build on what had gone before. But when I then brought together a group of new players for my Q’barra campaign, I didn’t even think about putting THEM in Eberron 1008 YK, because it wasn’t their story. Some of them were already familiar with the default world, and even if I took the time to explain all the changes, they wouldn’t have personal resonance for them, because THEY weren’t the ones who battled Bel Shalor. For the other group it was fun to be following in the footsteps of the epic PCs because those were once their PCs. But for a new group, I wanted to reset the world and see what THEY would do with it.

So generally speaking, I’ll treat each new campaign as its own timeline. In fact, I actually have three different Q’barra campaigns active out in the world, any of which I could get back to if I ever have time. But it can definitely be fun to build on previous campaigns, as long as the players will enjoy it.

How do you start a new campaign? Share your thoughts and questions below!