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?

 

Dragonmarks: Spies, Heraldry, and a Lightning Round

When I put out a call for questions last week, I didn’t expect to get fifty of them. This has inspired me to get to work organizing previous posts, both because some of the questions people asked have already been answered and because it would be nice to have all the answers on Droaam or The Mark of Death in one place. I’m going to answer a few topics in detail today, and then do a lightning round of short answers. If your question isn’t dealt with here, it may be addressed in the upcoming reorg.

As always, my answers are entirely unofficial and may contradict canon sources. If you’re looking for official answers, you might check the Dragonshard Archive, Eberron Expanded, or Eye on Eberron.

So on to the questions!

Does Eberron have a place in the next edition? Will we ever see more novels?

Eberron certainly has a place in the new edition, but I don’t have any concrete new information about what that place will be. Warforged appeared in the playtest material, and James Wyatt has mentioned Eberron a number of times in his articles about D&D Next. However, I don’t yet know exactly what that place will be or how much support you can expect, and whether novels will be a part of it. I’ll make an announcement as soon as there is concrete news.

How’s your experience been with D&D Next? And how do you run changelings in your campaign, as a player or DM?

Given that I’m playing a changeling in the D&D Next campaign I’m in, these two questions are directly related. I’m planning to write an entire post on my adventures in DDN, and I’ll cover both these questions there.

I’m hoping for advice on two fronts; I want to diversify the various intelligence agencies (Dark Lanterns, Royal Eyes, and… who do Thrane and Karrnath have?)…

First, bear in mind that the King’s Citadel isn’t just the intelligence service of Breland. back in the day, the Citadel was the intelligence service of GALIFAR, just as the Arcane Congress was the center for mystical research for Galifar, and Rekkenmark the center for training for the armies of the united kingdom. While the Citadel employed agents from all Five Nations, the bulk of its resources and command structure were based in Breland, and the vast majority of its agents were from Breland. Just as Rekkenmark reflects the martial culture of Karrnath and Aundair’s love of the arcane is tied to the presence of the Congress, the Citadel was a source of national pride for Breland and a reflection of their pragmatic culture, and the vast majority of Citadel agents were Brelish. So the reason you hear more about the Citadel than about the agencies of other nations is because it is the oldest and largest force. Prior to the Last War, Karrnath didn’t HAVE a national intelligence agency; it had the King’s Citadel. Its current agency was built at the start of the war using those Karrnathi agents who’d worked with the Citadel and the bits of infrastructure it was able to seize. But the Citadel is a national strength of Breland… just as the Arcane Congress, Rekkenmark, and Flamekeep are all institutions that once served all nations but now benefit their home nation.

So: at the start of the Last War, the Five Nations had to come up with an individual approach to intelligence. Here’s how it broke down.

Aundair. The Royal Eyes were established by Aundair herself at the dawn of Galifar. They were her personal corps of spies established to spy on the leaders of the other nations (which is to say, Aundair’s own siblings). They maintained this mission over the centuries, an have an exceptional talent for intelligence-gathering augmented by the finest arcane divination techniques and equipment in the Five Nations. Since the Last War they have expanded their numbers and the scope of their operations. However, they don’t have the numbers or resources of the Citadel, and their strength is still divination.

Breland. The Dark Lanterns and King’s Shadows once encompassed all of Galifar. As such, they have centuries of resources and techniques at their disposal. Many of their foreign safehouses and moles were identified and eliminated over the course of the Last War – but not all of them. Their agents are both more versatile and more numerous than those of the other Five Nations, and they have no particular specialty; they can carry out any sort of operation. Breland’s strong ties to House Medani and good relationship with Zilargo are additional strengths. Short form: A Dark Lantern may not be as tough in a fair fight as a Karrnathi agent and may not have the specialized magic of a Royal Eye, but they have exceptional training and strong mission support. Karrnath has warriors, Aundair has wizards, and Breland has rogues.

Cyre. Each nation had its own strengths. Breland had the Citadel. Karrnath had Rekkenmark. Cyre had the royal treasury and mint. Initially, Cyran intelligence relied heavily on House Phiarlan and House Tharashk. As the war progressed, Cyre built up its own agencies using their own ex-Citadel agencies. One that has been mentioned in the novels is the Fifth Crown, an urban strike force specializing in infiltrating enemy territory. Cyran agencies were small and had limited strategic resources (safehouses, generational moles, etc) but were generally extremely well equipped.

Karrnath. The people of Karrnath take pride in military discipline and skill, and think little of those who would skulk in the shadows; before the Last War, few Karrns service with the King’s Dark Lanterns. In the wake of the war, Karrnath established the Twilight Brigade as a special division of the White Lion police force; members of the Twilight Brigade are sometimes called “Dark Lions”. The Brigade specializes in counterintelligence, devoting its efforts to identifying and eliminating enemy operatives; it also serves the function of “secret police”, gathering information on Karrns on behalf of the king. Karrnath thus has a limited reach when it comes to gathering intelligence in foreign nations, often relying on Phiarlan and Thuranni for such purposes; its philosophy is to deny intelligence to the enemy and then rely on its own martial strength. With that said, during the war it made use of the Raven Corps, an organization formed from Blood of Vol mystics who specialized in gathering intelligence through the use of necromancy – interrogating corpses, using shadows as spies, and so on. The Raven Corps was a volunteer force, and was disavowed and disbanded at the same time as the Emerald Claw and other Seeker orders.

Thrane. The Argentum is a branch of the Church of the Silver Flame tasked with identifying, locating, and obtaining powerful or dangerous artifacts… by any means necessary. The Argentum has carried out this mandate for centuries, and this talent for covert operations made it the logical choice to serve as the foundation for Thrane’s intelligence agency in the war. In this, the Argentum is similar to the Royal Eyes. It is a small, specialized organization that has been operating for centuries and is highly skilled at a specific type of mission, which has now been given greater resources and drafted to perform other operations. As such, it’s on par with the Royal Eyes in terms of resources and scope, and still trailing behind the Citadel. Where the Royal Eyes specialize in information gathering, the Argentum excels at theft and extraction, and has access to the warehouse of dangerous artifacts its gathered over the centuries.

… and need a little help coming up with potential hot spots in a cold war across Khorvaire.

A personal favorite of mine isThaliost. Once a major Aundairian city, it’s now controlled by Thrane. They placed an Aundiarian bishop in charge of the city, but his zealous excesses have exacerbated a delicate situation. Violence is inches away, and there’s certainly opportunity to push things one way or the other and to threaten Thrane or Aundair.

Droaam is also good, as you can see in my novel The Queen of Stone. There’s all sorts of topics that could come up: its desire to be recognized, the threat of hostility against Breland, the activities of Daask, Droaam harboring war criminals or political refugees, a nation trying to secure a military or economic alliance with Droaam (which is sitting on many useful resources), or even Sora Teraza announcing that she has a collection of secrets that could topple governments and she’s going to release it next week – do you steal it? Destroy it? Protect it from other nations?

Stormreach has many of the same possibilities as Droaam. A nation could be pursuing a strategic resource in Xen’drik, funding an extremist group operating out of Stormreach, conducting secret business with Lyrandar, etc.

Beyond that, you can have themes that could occur anywhere. Any sort of serious research on the cause of the Mourning is a serious cold war threat; it’s the Manhattan Project all over. Any form of significant arcane research could be nearly as significant an issue – anyone creating something that could give them a position strong enough to start the war anew. This could be creation of a new spell or weapon, an alliance with Argonnessen, Aerenal, or Riedra, something that would cripple another nation (say, extinguishing the Silver Flame), etc.

Do the Dragonmark Houses place any honor, taboo, or significance on their standard beast? For example, would a Thuranni killing a displacer beast be seen as bad form?

It varies by house. The tradition of house heraldry is tied to the Twelve; bear in mind that Thuranni, for example, was Phiarlan until just a few decades ago, so they haven’t had long to build up a particular attachment to their heraldic beast. In some cases the beast was chosen by the house because it was a creature they already had an attachment to or use in some way. For example, in the Talenta Plains the blink dog has a reputation for helping stranded travelers; “ghallanda” actually means “helpful hound who appears where needed the most.” House Tharashk took the dragonne both because it is a fierce predator, but also because it’s a “dragon-that’s-not-a-dragon”; this is a reflection of their general view of themselves as outsiders (also reflected by their willingness to overlap Deneith and Vadalis in their dealings with Droaam). The cockatrice of Sivis can be seen as “the deadly quill.” For the most part the beast is chosen for what it represents, not because the house has a literal relationship with it. However, Kundarak does make use of manticore cavalry, and Lyrandar legends say that the spirits of Lyrandar elders linger as krakens in the depths.

So for the most part, a Thuranni killing a displacer beast would be like a Republican killing an elephant – a humorous coincidence, but not a dishonorable act.

However, if you WANTED to take it further you could certainly decide that there is a greater significance to the beasts. Perhaps each house truly does have a totem spirit, something that revealed itself to the founders of the houses… an incarnation of the power of the mark that can choose to manifest in the wild beasts. So not every gorgon has a tie to Cannith… but any gorgon could suddenly speak to a Cannith heir and offer them advice or call on them for a favor. It could be very interesting to say that there IS a sentience to each mark; the real question then is what it means that the Mark of Shadow has two beasts.

What, if any, was the totem beast for the Mark of Death? Or was the mark eradicated before it had a chance to be a proper House?

Per canon, the line of Vol was never a “Dragonmarked House”. The traditions of the houses were established and standardized by the Twelve, and the line of Vol was exterminated long before that. If you run with the idea that the beasts are more than mere symbols, then it would make sense for the mark to have a totem beast. One possibility would be for that beast to be undead, but I wouldn’t go that way; all the others are magical beasts, and I’d look for a beast that is in some way associated with the dead.

OK: there’s a lot of good questions, but too many for me to answer in depth. So it’s time for a LIGHTNING ROUND! When I do the reorg I may expand on some of these, but for now I’m keeping it quick.

Since the code of Galifar is not applicable in Xen’drik, do the Sentinel Marshals find obstacles and is their jurisdiction denied by the storm lords in Stormreach?

Sentinel Marshals have no official jurisdiction in Stormreach and the Storm Lords could block them. However, consider that Sentinel Marshals are honored members of House Deneith. Blocking the actions of a Marshal is thus spitting on House Deneith… which could be seen as insulting the Twelve. Is this situation worth the danger of economic reprisals from the Houses? In short, the Storm Lords COULD block a marshal, but I’d only expect them to do it for a VERY good reason.

What Icons would you use for an Eberron 13th Age game?

Lucky for you, I addressed this in a previous post!

Eberron and 13th Age

Can you get Randy Lander to start up our game again?

Yes. If he knows what’s good for him. I’ve got your number, Randy.

Where can I find out more about Darguun? What is society like there? Tech level? Cultural idiosyncrasies?

At the moment, your best bet is to read Don Bassingthwaite’s novels, such as Legacy of Dhakaan.

Was the Undying Court ambivalent to the daelkyr invasion of the Dhakaani empire? Or busy with some other pressing business at the time?

Excellent question that deserves more than a lightning round answer, but that’s all the time I’ve got for it. Short answer: The power of the Undying Court is concentrated in Aerenal. They undoubtedly took action to defend Aerenal from the incursion. The Dhakaani had already fought the Tairnadal and driven them from Khorvaire, so there was no love between elf and goblin; even if the Court had the power to help Dhakaan, it’s not much of a surprise that they chose to focus on their own defense.

Is there any evidence to support the claim that the daelkyr were refugees seeking asylum in Eberron and that the Dhakaani empire was the one to initiate hostilities, forcing the daelkyr to respond in self defense?

None at all. You may be thinking of the theory that the Quori were refugees seeking asylum in Eberron when they were attacked by the Giants; there’s a fair amount of evidence suggesting that, and more important, neither culture survived to the present day, so there’s no way to verify it. Meanwhile, we have the Gatekeepers, Heirs of Dhakaan, and the Daelkyr themselves as multiple living threads attesting to the hostile intent and actions of the Daelkyr. With that said, it can be argued that the Daelkyr don’t consider collapsing civilizations and warping creatures into new forms to be a hostile act. You might consider this Dragonmark:

The Daelkyr and their Cults

Are there Gatekeepers corrupted by the Daelkyr?

Certainly. “Gatekeepers corrupted by the Daelkyr” is an entirely valid foundation for a Cult of the Dragon Below. Consider the link above.

What would it take for Droaam to be accepted as a nation the way Darguun has been?

Good question, and one that’s explored in my novel The Queen of Stone. You might also look at the following Dragonmark:

Droaam and the Daughters of Sora Kell

Who fathered the Daughters of Sora Kell? Do they have any favorite children of their own?

They each have different fathers, which is why they are all different types of hags. The identities of their fathers have never been revealed in any canon source. No children have ever been mentioned in a canon source, though you might find a possibility in the comic Eye of the Wolf.

How would the Daughters of Sora Kell react if the Queen of Stone was assassinated?

The main question is if they were aware of it in advance or orchestrated it themselves. Remember that Sora Teraza is the most gifted oracle of the age, so you can be sure SHE’D know; the question is if she shared the information with her sisters. Personally, my feeling is that if they allowed it to happen it’s because it helps them in some way. They could have allowed it in order to replace her with a more pliable warlord. It could be a calculated move to create a martyr to inspire their forces or to demand concession from the nation of the assassins. I’d check that Dragonmark about and consider what the motives of the Daughters are in your campaign.

I watched Game of Thrones seasons 1-3. I noticed quite a lot of parallels between it and the Eberron setting. Is Eberron more than just a little inspired by A Song Of Ice And Fire?

My original pitch for Eberron was “Lord of the Rings meets Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Maltese Falcon.”  If I wrote that today, I’d probably substitute Song of Ice and Fire for LotR, because there are lots of similar aspects; stories don’t always end well, there’s more shades of gray than black and white morality, and hey, a terrible civil war. I can only imagine that I hadn’t really gotten into SoI&F when I was first working on Eberron. With that said, there are major differences. One of the central themes of Eberron is exploring the impact of magic on civilization, while Westeros is a low-magic society. SoI&F has three dragons; Eberron has an entire continent of them. SoI&F is more about the balance of power between kings, while Eberron is more about the balance between the aristocracy and the mercantile Dragonmarked Houses. Essentially, I think Game of Thrones is a great inspiration for a martial or political Eberron campaign, but it wasn’t a driving factor in the original development of the world.

What would a Warforged god be like? Domains? Favored weapon?

Faiths of Eberron includes two: the Becoming God and the Lord of Blades. That’s a place to start.

Is it settled that warforged have souls?

No, it’s not settled. This is a quote from an old HDWT post:

This is one of the key mysteries of the setting, and one that should never be given a canon answer. The artificers of House Cannith generally assert that (the spark of life in a warforged) is something artificial that they have created; others, such as the kalashtar, maintain that this is impossible, and that no mortal agency can create a soul. With this in mind, a number of theories are out there. One is that they are reincarnated spirits of soldiers who died during the war, thus explaining their natural talents for war. Another is that they are quori vessels waiting to be filled; it’s a back-up plan that would allow the quori to escape Dal Quor if the age turns, and the soul is a sliver of the quori. For a third, turn to the Sovereign Host theory that the spirits found in Dolurrh are just the husks of the true souls, which must strip away these worldly trappings to ascend to the realms of the Sovereigns… so the Warforged soul is essentially the recycled compost of a previous soul. Anyhow, there’s a few possibilities – I’m sure you can come up with more!

THAT’S ALL FOR NOW… I’d love to answer more questions, but I need to sleep and do some actual work. Upcoming posts will address Phoenix, my experiences playing D&D Next, and the next Dice Story – along with working on organizing old Dragonmarks.

Got more questions or thoughts on these topics? I’d love to hear them!

 

 

 

Stories & Dice: Ed Hurtley

In 2009 I wandered around the world playing games in exchange for a place to stay. One of my goals was to meet gamers from as many different places and walks of life as possible… to break the stereotypes of the gamer and find out what drew different people to the table. I stayed with students, strippers, executives, prison guards, teachers, soldiers, and more. It was a fascinating experience, and I wrote about a few of my stops for The Escapist. Eventually, however, the real world caught up with me. It was a cheap way to see the world, but not a free one; sooner or later I had to settle down and get back to work.

In December 2013 my wife Jennifer Ellis gave me an amazing gift: a gumball machine of dice. However, there’s still space in the machine, and that got me thinking. I may not be able to get out to hear people’s gaming stories in person… but perhaps people would be willing to share. So I posted a request, asking people to help me fill the machine by sending a die and a story. Who are you? Why do you play? What moments has this die seen? Ed Hurtley was the first to respond.

The year was 1985, and Ed Hurtley was a Boy Scout. The Boy Scouts had just instituted the D20 Merit Badges, and Ed needed another level of rogue to get the Multiclass Achievement Badge.

I’m kidding, of course… though you’d think the Boy Scouts might support Pathfinder. There really is a Game Design merit badge, but that’s a relatively recent development. In 1985, Ed had never heard of roleplaying games or D&D. He just knew that some of the older scouts were up to something. He heard shouts of triumph and groans of despair coming from the tent where the boys were gathered. He pushed his way into the tent, watched the game unfold, and he was hooked. Next campout, the kid who usually played the Thief didn’t show up. Ed swears he had nothing to do with this absence, but he took the seat at the table and picked up the dice. He’s been rolling those dice for over twenty-five years. Now he’s got hand-carved stone dice and a twenty-sided that blinks when he rolls a critical hit. He’s got two Crown Royal bags filled with dice. But he’s always kept his first set from his days playing the Red Box, and those are the dice he gave to me.

Ed was born in Portland, Oregon and he still lives there today. As a Boy Scout (and a Thief) he thought he’d grow up to be an aerospace engineer or an Air Force pilot, but along the way he discovered that he knew how to use computers and that people would pay him to do it; he dove into the world of Tech Support and has been living there ever since. He collects vintage computers, and has nearly a hundred different systems in his collection; his daughter loves playing Apple II games. He’s still playing in a regular weekly RPG group, bouncing around between D&D, Rifts, Pathfinder, and other systems. He’s been playing with three of the people in that group for nearly fifteen years.

That’s one thing I found when I was traveling around the world: gaming is something that holds people together. Back in 2009, my Scottish host John McLintock said that what he loved about gaming was that it created a “personal mythology” – a shared set of stories that his friends still told decades later. What I love most about roleplaying is the collaborative aspect of it. It’s a story I create with my friends, and even when I’m the game master I don’t know how it will end.

I’d like to thank Ed and everyone who’s shared a story or rolled some dice with me. If you or someone you know would like to take part in Stories & Dice, my address is PO Box 13250, Portland OR 97213. Please include your email address so I can follow up with you! You can also catch me at a convention, though I don’t have anything scheduled for the next few months.

Thanks for reading, and I hope I’ll hear your story soon.

Over The Edge

From high school on, I knew I wanted to write roleplaying games. What I didn’t know was how to get that job. In 1997 I responded to an open call online… Atlas Games was looking for submissions for Forgotten Lives, a collection of adventures for Jonathan Tweet’s Over The Edge. I submitted a piece called “Dreaming On The Verge Of Strife”, about conspiracies that only exist in peoples’ dreams… a theme I’d later revisit in Eberron with the Dreaming Dark. The image above is one of Grey Thornberry’s pieces from “Dreaming…” My friend Lee Moyer and I collaborated on a host of ideas for the next OTE anthology, a collection of businesses called At Your Service. “The Rose Hotel” is one of my favorite creations, and a scenario I still enjoy running today.

Why am I bringing this up now? Because there’s never been a better time for you to explore Over The Edge. For the next nine days, the Bundle of Holding is offering a comprehensive collection of DRM-free Over The Edge PDFs. For $5.95 you get the rulebook, player’s guide, and a novel by Robin D. Laws. If you beat the average price, you get a stack of supplements, including Forgotten Lives and At Your Service.

What is Over The Edge? The tagline is “The roleplaying game of surreal danger.” Set in roughly modern day, it’s based on the bizarre island of Al Amarja – a haven for all manner of conspiracies and curiosities. Mash together Fringe, The Twilight Zone, Naked Lunch, Illuminati and Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas and you’ve got something that tastes like Al Amarja. It’s got a simple rules system that encourages creativity and can handle almost any character you can come up with; I’d describe it in more detail, but hey, for six dollars you can see for yourself. Because of the flexibility of setting and system, it can support many different playstyles. I’ve had players who played simple, serious characters – the secret agent on a mission, the reporter determined to get the Big Story, the local gamer who knows everybody. Others drifted slightly further from the beaten path… a Kaiju trapped in a human body; a cowboy abducted by aliens and dropped off in the present day; Kurt Cobain seen through the lens of Six-String Samurai; Phil Lovecraft, private eye. And then there’s been some very odd characters, such as Zombie Jesus and Five Ducks In A Battlesuit. The beauty of Over The Edge is that the system handles all these concepts with ease – and that the setting can encompass all of them. Over The Edge also includes one of my favorite game mechanics of all time – Robin D. Law’s Cut-Ups Method, included in the Weather The Cuckoo Likes supplement.

Whenever I prepare an Over The Edge adventure, I like to provide the players with the latest issue of Al Amarja Today (something suggested in the rules). Here’s an example…

To put things in perspective, one of the PCs in the campaign was Jan Brady: Ninja. No one pays attention to Jan Brady… so when she grew up, she put that talent to use as a professional ninja. Of course she continues to be overshadowed by her sister Marcia, who is not only a musical superstar but also a better ninja than Jan. This ties to one of ways OTE influenced Eberron. While the game provides all sort of details about the setting, it encourages you to pick and choose what you want – and to change things to fit your game. In “canon” Over The Edge, the beloved singer-songwriter with the Good Tunes is Karla Sommers. When my friend came to me with the idea of playing Jan, I just changed “Karla” to “Marcia”. It gave me a host of material to work with, but now completely revolving around the PC. That attitude to “canon” – something to serve as a starting point and source of inspiration, not something that limits the game – directly influenced my approach to Eberron.

Anyhow: Over The Edge has long been one of my favorite RPGs, and The Bundle of Holding is a fantastic opportunity to pick it up. So check it out!

Stories And Dice

A few years back I told Jenn “You know what would be awesome? A gumball machine filled with dice.” I forgot about it… she didn’t. So meet the newest addition to our house. It’s just as awesome as I expected, but it’s not a small machine. Jenn included a few pounds of dice as part of the present, and I’ve added in all the loose dice I had around the house, but that’s still left us with a significant amount of room at the top. And that gave me an idea.

As gamers, dice are our faithful (and sometimes treacherous) companions and tools. We have our favorites, we have superstitions, we have memories of amazing critical hits and tragic fumbles. One of my favorite experiences during my Have Dice Will Travel tour was the story of how D&D came to Bulgaria… in particular, how for many years it was very difficult for Bulgarian gamers to acquire dice. A set of dice was a relic to be treasured by a gaming group. At one point the first Bulgarian gamer had to sell some of his dice to raise rent money. Stop and think about that for a moment: you need some significant cash, fast, so what do you do? Sell some dice, right? At the end of my trip to Bulgaria, my guide Stefan gave me one of those very dice (both pictured below), and that little grey die is one of my regulars today. It’s not much to look at, but once upon a time it was one of the only dice in Bulgaria.

Dice aside, I love hearing people’s stories about how they started gaming, why they play, or favorite moments. It’s especially great to hear from people who have enjoyed something I’ve done – to hear YOUR stories of Eberron, Gloom, or anything else. Last year at Calgary Expo I met a pair of newlyweds who’d met in an Eberron campaign; the year before I met a soldier whose unit played Eberron in Iraq using dice made out of toilet paper.

So I have a diceball machine with empty space at the top, and thousands of people out there whose stories I haven’t heard. I could just buy another two pounds of dice, but I thought I’d do something different. I want you to send me a die and a story. It doesn’t have to be your favorite die, and it doesn’t have to be an epic story; just tell me something about you. Why do you game? What was one of your favorite moments? If you played in Eberron, what’s the most awesome thing you did there? I’ve made a layer of white at the top of the machine so I can tell where the story dice begin, and if we get enough I’ll drain it from below. Perhaps someday every die in the machine will have a story.

If you’d like to take part, send your die and your story to:

Keith Baker

PO Box 13250

Portland, OR 97213

… or catch up with me in person somewhere! Let me know if it’s all right to share your story with others, and make sure to include your email address so I can follow up with you. And please pass this along to anyone you know who might be interested.

As long as I’m talking about the stories of dice, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention The Bones, an anthology assembled by the brilliant Will Hindmarch. The Bones includes stories from Kenneth Hite, Matt Forbeck, John Kovalic, and many others… including a more detailed account of my time in Bulgaria.

In the days ahead I’ll be writing about Phoenix, Gloom, and the many exciting projects I’ve got lined up for 2014. I’ll be back with more Eberron Q&As. Until then, I hope you’re having a fantastic holiday, and I hope you’ll share a story with me!