May is a busy month. I’m swamped with writing and travel (I’m currently at Keycon 35 in Winnipeg), so I haven’t had time to write a proper article. However, I reached out to my Patreon supporters for questions for a quick Q&A, and here we are. Next week I may post some thoughts on Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes and how I’d apply it to Eberron.
Before I get to the questions, I want to tell you about something else that’s going on this week: The Gauntlet. Mox Boarding House in Bellevue, Washington is hosting a massive gaming tournament that’s raising money for charity. My company Twogether Studios is competing in the Gauntlet, raising money for Wellspring Family Services, and we need your help. Any donation is appreciated—a $5 donation would be fantastic—but if you’re in Portland, Oregon or the vicinity of Seattle, Washington and have the ability to be more generous, I’m going to offer a crazy incentive: a chance to play a one-shot session of Phoenix: Dawn Command or 5E D&D (in Eberron) with me. Here’s how this works: If you’re in Portland, a game requires a donation of $400. If you’re in the Seattle area, it’s going to be $500 (all the money goes directly to charity, but since it’s more work for me, I’m setting the bar higher…). This doesn’t have to be all from one person: I will run a game for up to six people, and their combined donations have to hit the target number.
If you want to do this, you need to be part of a group that is going to hit the target number. After making your donation, email me (use the Contact Me button on this website) and let me know who your group is. I’ll work with your group to find a time to play. It may take a while—summer is an especially busy time for me—but I’ll make sure we get to play before the end of 2018. With that said, The Gauntlet takes place on May 20th, so there’s not a lot of time to donate. Again, the Twogether Studios donation link is here. Whether or not you have the ability to donate, thanks for reading!
Now, on with the Q&A…
I was wondering about bone knights and their place in Karrnath. Are they still a component of Karrnathi culture and society after the war? Were they created specifically for the Last War or did Karrnath have a longer history with these more military necromancers? Is Kaius opposed to the Blood of Vol generally or the Emerald Claw specifically, and if the former is the Bone Knight thing something he wants gone from Karrnath?
There’s a lot of topics to unravel. From a canon perspective, my take is laid out in City of Stormreach and more specifically, the Eye on Eberron article on Fort Bones in Dungeon 195. Here’s the key points.
- The core Karrnathi culture focuses on martial skill and discipline. It has nothing to do with necromancy or the use of undead.
- The Seekers of the Divinity Within have long had a presence in Karrnath. This religion has a close association with necromancy and the practical use of the undead. The Bone Knight is specifically a Seeker tradition: an expert in commanding undead forces in combat. EoED195 calls out that Seekers of the Divinity Within served alongside Karrn the Conqueror and Galifar I. However, they were a minority faith and the army as a whole didn’t rely on or embrace their traditions.
- When Karrnath faced plagues and famines during the Last War, the Queen of the Dead offered the assistance of the Blood of Vol. In exchange, the crown was obliged to recognized and elevate Seekers and to promote their faith. The chivalric orders of the Blood of Vol expanded. Undead were produced in greater numbers than ever before and became a critical part of Karrnath’s military strategy, resulting in a need for even more Bone Knights to command them.
- Over time, the famines were brought under control and the balance of the war shifted. The traditionalist warlords despised both the erosion of Karrnathi military tradition and the increased political power of the Seekers. Furthermore, the use of undead disturbed the other nations. With the war closing, Kaius strengthened his position with the traditionalist warlords and the other nations by disavowing the Blood of Vol and stopping the production of undead, sealing the majority of the undead legions in the vaults below Atur. Most of the Seeker orders were disbanded, though some Seekers (and undead troops) have remained in service, most notably in Fort Bones and Fort Zombie. Kaius has continued to use the Blood of Vol as a convenient scapegoat to direct the frustration of his people, and has gone so far as to blame the Seekers for the plagues and famines that originally weakened the nation.
So, looking to the questions specifically: In my opinion, the Bone Knight is an old Seeker tradition, but one that was very uncommon before the Last War because the Seekers weren’t part of the Karrnathi military tradition; their numbers increased during the Last War in order to manage the undead forces. Kaius is publicly using the Blood of Vol as a useful scapegoat. He doesn’t NEED very many Bone Knights since he’s retired most of the undead; he’s dismissed most and allowed some to be persecuted as war criminals. However, regardless of this public image he’s not personally opposed to the Seekers. He’s maintained Fort Bones and Fort Zombie, and has a small cadre of Bone Knights and necromancers whose loyalty to the nation outweighs their anger at the treatment of their brethren.
Are Bone Knights mostly Seekers or would one devoted to the Dark Six or the Sovereign Host be capable of getting far?
There’s a number of factors. They’re mostly Seekers because it’s an ancient Seeker tradition, tied to their long-standing use of practical necromancy. Theoretically someone who follows another faith could fill that role, but it requires deep devotion to the necromantic arts. If you revere the Sovereign Host—honoring Dol Arrah and Aureon—how do you embrace this dark path? The Shadow and the Keeper are the Sovereigns who would guide you on this road, and that’s a viable path, but not exactly one that Karrnath would celebrate and encourage. So sure; I think someone devoted to the Dark Six could become an accomplished Bone Knight, but that faith won’t make them any more acceptable to the general public than the Seekers… and might even result in greater distrust and suspicion.
Is the Order of Rekkenmark’s opposition to necromancers something which would prevent a Bone Knight from excelling in their organization (as advisors to the King, movers and shakers politically)?
It’s something that would make it VERY DIFFICULT for a Bone Knight to advance in their organization, absolutely. But nothing’s impossible. It simply means that the Bone Knight in question would have to be a soldier of unparalleled accomplishment and skill, someone whose dedication to Karrnath and the king is beyond reproach. It’s possible Alinda Dorn, commander of Fort Bones, is a member of the Order of Rekkenmark. She’s an advisor to and confidante of the king in any case; it’s simply a question of whether he embraces that publicly, or prefers to keep his favor for her hidden from the traditionalist warlords.
Are the rituals for creating Mabaran undead and Irian deathless completely different, or do they look fundamentally alike except for the power source?
ALL rituals for creating undead and deathless are completely different from one another. The techniques used to create deathless are dramatically different from rituals used to create Mabaran undead. But there’s no ONE TRUE RITUAL for creating undead. Looking above, a Bone Knight who draws power from faith in the Shadow and the Keeper should use different trappings from one following the path of the Divinity Within. The techniques of a wizard will as a rule be entirely different from those employed by a cleric. One’s a form of arcane science; the other an act of extreme devotion. In my opinion, the Seeker traditions walk a line between these two sides, drawing on both devotion and a form of science. We’ve established that the Odakyr Rites used to create the sentient Karrnathi undead were a breakthrough developed during the Last War—and as such, themselves unlike the techniques used elsewhere.
Did the Dhakaani have any rites or rituals to create undead?
Did the Dhakaani as a culture embrace the creation of undead or develop techniques for creating them? Definitely not. The Dhakaani were a culture driven by martial excellence. They were agnostic (thus lacking clerics) and had very limited interest in the arcane. So no, there were no institutionalized necromancers in the Empire. With that said, it was a vast civilization that lasted for thousands of years. During that time, could a small group have developed such techniques? Could there be a Kech Mortis that has perfected these techniques during its centuries of exile, which now claims the Imperial throne with its army of undead heroes? Sure, why not! But just like Karrnath, the traditionalist like the Kech Sharaat would like be disgusting by this strange deviation from the true path.
Did they have answers to the spawn-creating plagues like ghoul fever?
The primary arcane path the Dhakaani embraced was the path of the Duur’kala, which is to say the bard. The Duur’kala inspire heroes in battle, but they also used their abilities to heal and to enhance diplomacy. The bardic spell list includes lesser restoration and greater restoration. So, there’s your answer. Now again, if you like the idea of a Kech vault that was overrun by a zombie plague the duur’kala couldn’t contain—so PCs stumbling into an ancient Dhakaani fortress filled with undead—I’m all for it. As a culture they had a tool for it, that doesn’t mean everyone always had access to that tool.
Is it very difficult to travel across the Barren Sea? Are there ports in, say, the Shadow Marches that get trade directly from Sarlona?
This is largely covered in Secrets of Sarlona. Riedra strictly limits contact with foreigners, and Dar Jin is the only port that accepts general commerce. Other than that, there are a few outposts in Ohr Kaluun and a harbor in Adar. So, it’s not so much that it’s difficult as it is that there’s very few places to go.
Zarash’ak is the only major port in the Shadow Marches, though you could certainly introduce a smuggler’s outpost on the coast near Slug Keep. It’s certainly reasonable to think that Zarash’ak could have traffic with Riedran ships from Dar Jin.
And does the majority of trade between, say, Karrnath and Breland go via boats through the Lhazaar Principalities, or is the faster/cheaper to use overland shipment?
I addressed this specific question in a previous Q&A, so check that out. River barges, lightning rails, and airships are all options, though the Lhazaar route is also a possibility.
Do you have any brief tips for involving the Venomous Demesne into a campaign?
The Venomous Demesne is a Tiefling city-state on the far side of Droaam. They’re isolationists and largely unknown in the Five Nations. I discuss hooks for characters from the Venomous Demesne in this article. As for ways to use it in a campaign, here’s three ideas entirely off the top of my head.
- The Venom Lords are working on an Eldritch Machine. They’ve sent agents into the wider world acquiring the rare components required for this device. Are they working on behalf of the Daughters of Sora Kell, or does the device have a more sinister purpose?
- The vaults of the Venomous Demesne hold secrets that date back to the ancient nation of Ohr Kaluun. The player characters could need to acquire Kaluunite lore for an unrelated plot: tied to another Eldritch machine, to a path of the Prophecy, or perhaps to understanding some sort of demonic threat. To get what they need, they’ll have to go to the Venomous Demesne and earn the trust of its lords.
- A variation of the previous idea is needing something that can only be obtained or acquired in the Venomous Demesne: a particular magic item or artifact, learning a spell, etc.
- The lords of Ohr Kaluun made pacts with a wide variety of extraplanar and fiendish forces. If you want to do something with some sort of archfiend (such as demon lords from Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes), one of the lines of the Demesne could work as its agents (or be opposed to it, but still know its secrets). Personally I’d use such a being as a powerful force in Khyber—below the level of an Overlord, but nonetheless a powerful threat that has recently broken loose from binding and is just starting to rebuild its influence in Eberron.
Is there any possibility of getting a (rough) timeline of when the events of human/Sarlonan history occurred? Were there any trade relations between Dhakaan and Khorvaire at some point, or was Lhazaar the first human to see the shores of Khorvaire?
The ancient nations of Sarlona are left intentionally vague so that they can fill the role you want them to fill. I see no reason that Lhazaar should be the first human to have set foot on Khorvaire; in all likelihood, she set out for Khorvaire because she’d heard stories of the land from previous explorers. The idea of canon is that Lhazaar’s expedition marked the first sustained and successful contact between the two. If you want to have players stumble across the ruins of an Uorallan outpost in the Shadow Marches — evidence of a settlement completely lost to history — do it. But I don’t think we’ll be defining those pre-Lhazaar civilizations in significantly more detail in a canon source.
(The founder of the Kalashtar) Taratai is female in Races of Eberron, and male in Secrets of Sarlona. Which is it?
It’s a legitimately confusing issue. Here’s a quote from “The Legend of Taratai” in Secrets of Sarlona (page 24):
She led sixty-seven spirits that became the kalashtar to Adar, where the monk Hazgaal and his students accepted them. In Hazgaal’s body as Haztaratai (though many stories still call her Taratai), she taught and wrote the precepts of the Path of Light…
So: both SoS and RoE agree that the kalaraq quori Taratai identified as female. However, per SoS she bonded with the human monk Hazgaal, who was male. This means that the spiritual lineage of Taratai were male kalashtar, though they were bound to a female spirit. Quite a few kalashtar lines have this sort of disconnect, which results in a great deal of gender fluidity within kalashtar culture.
Do the Kalashtar believe in reincarnation, like the Riedrans do?
Sort of, but they aren’t as concerned with it as the Riedrans are. First of all, as a kalashtar you are already part of something immortal. You are bound to the quori spirit, and your memories and experiences remain with the spirit even after your physical body dies; so the kalashtar don’t see death as an absolute end. Beyond that, SoS notes that the Path of Light maintains that “Dolurrh is a place where the ego dies, but the spirit is immortal, and it returns to the Material Plane again and again.” LIFE is eternal. The soul is part of the celestial machine of the universe. But it’s not about YOU, and they don’t believe that the form your spirit takes in its next incarnation is somehow tied to your actions in your previous life, as the Path of Inspiration states. It’s not a reward or a punishment; it’s just the nature of the universe. Your legacy remains with your lineage, and the soul that was yours continues on its journey.
Why didn’t the Inspired seize Syrkarn as well as the other ancient kingdoms, instead satisfying themselves with a shallow “protectorate” title and some behind-the-curtain schemes?
The Inspired have no interest in conquering Syrkarn. The territory is too large, the population too low, and they are still concerned about the lingering threat of the rakshasa rajah buried beneath the realm. The Inspired don’t feel a need to control every single individual; they are looking to control massive populations. There’s not enough people in Syrkarn to be worth the effort, doubly so when combined with the vast stretches of relatively barren land… not to mention the threat of the Overlord.
More generally, what makes Syrkarn interesting, according to you, as a playground?
First of all, it’s a part of Sarlona in which people can move freely. Second, I’d look to page 86 of Secrets of Sarlona. Scheming yuan-ti! An Overlord stirring! Karrak cults! The Heirs of Ohr Kaluun and the Horned Shadow! Relics from pre-Sundering Sarlona! Tribal conflicts (perhaps stirred up by the yuan-ti or the Overlord)! Possibly even surprising ties to the giants of Xen’drik, lingering through the eneko.
From a game design point of view, why define Sarlona as being a blind spot in the Draconic Prophecy?
It’s summed up on page nine of Secrets of Sarlona: “The dragons of the Chamber shun Sarlona, but they want to know what is transpiring beyond its shores. PCs who have ties to the Chamber, the Undying Court, or even the Lords of Dust could be sent to explore mysteries related to the draconic Prophecy.” By making it a region where dragons fear to tred, we add a reason why player characters should go there; it provides a range of potential story hooks you don’t have in other lands.
Adar is wider than Aundair or Thrane (while understandably less populated). Now that the kalashtar can see the Inspired openly moving unto Khorvaire, how comes Adar didn’t make itself known too, nor officially voice some warning?
First of all, per SOS it’s population density is around one person for every two square miles of land—lower than Alaska or Tibet. Its people have been described as “insular to the point of xenophobia.” Direct travel between Adar and Khorvaire is extremely difficult, meaning that you have no regular stream of commerce or communication, nor any particular interest in such commerce. We’ve established that the Adaran kalashtar believe that the battle against il-Lashtavar will be won by their persistence and devotion: they don’t NEED to get the world on their side, they just need to hold their ground and continue what they are doing.
Many kalashtar in Khorvaire hold to the same general belief: we will triumph through perseverance. What’s important is protecting our community and continuing our devotions. Some younger kalashtar have embraced more active intervention, but even they largely believe that this is their war to fight, and that the humans wouldn’t listen to them or believe them. And they’re likely right. Riedra is a valuable trade partner, and it has come to the assistance of many nations during the Last War. There is a concrete benefit to working with Riedra. By contrast, Adar has virtually no recognition and nothing to offer. Even if I believe your story about the leaders of Riedra being aliens, the leaders of the Aereni are DEAD and we deal with them. And you may SAY that they want to conquer the world, but I’m not seeing it happening, and trust me, crazy monk, if they start any trouble, we can handle it. So: self-interest and arrogance are likely to outweigh the stories of the few kalashtar who do speak out against Riedra.
While religions are not required to comment on the truth or falsity of each other’s doctrines, are there any Adaran scholars aware of the Valenar and their apparent reality of the potential continuity of identity their (in purely mechanical terms) higher average levels indicate?
Possibly. There’s not a lot of overlap between them, geographically or culturally. But I don’t think there’s much to debate. Spirits exist; devotion creates positive energy that can sustain a spirit, as proven by the concrete example of the Undying Court; devoted Valenar display a level of skill that seems to support guidance from ancestral spirits. I could see a follower of the Blood of Vol saying “But how do you know that the spirit isn’t just a manifestation of YOU? The power comes from within you; you’re just creating this myth of your ancestor to help you interpret it.” I could see someone else saying “You’re getting guidance from a spirit, but are you sure it’s not some kind of demon or something masquerading as your ancestor?” Essentially, i don’t think there are many people saying that the Tairnadal religion has no grounding in reality; but I could imagine people arguing that some of the DETAILS might not be what the Valenar believe them to be.
How much of the ancient history of the Giant Empire is known in Khorvaire, and since when? On the one hand, it makes plenty of sense, both in-world and for game purpose, that it’s still shrouded in mystery, that only a few scholars and daring explorers start to poke at. But on the other hands, there are elves assimilated in Khorvaire since centuries, and their whole culture revolves about perpetuating tradition: why would they hide their stories from the other races?
There’s quite a few factors here.
- The elves know THEIR history. That doesn’t mean they know the history of the giants. Consider the tale of Cardaen. “He was born in a high tower, and Cul’sir made sure his feet never touched the ground.” That’s quite different from “He was born in the city of Aulantaara in the year 14,004 RTC, where he served as an arcane adjunct to the Cul’sir College of Evocation, eventually rising to the Fourth Circle.” The Elves have preserved STORIES about the giants; that doesn’t mean they ever knew the absolute FACTS.
- The elves are isolationist by nature. Their history and the tales of the ancestors are part of the foundation of their religion, and we’ve never suggested that they want members of other species to adopt their religion. I think they’d spread some details out of pride, but at the same time, I think there’s a certain level of “Our history is none of your business.”
- The civilizations of the giants fell forty thousand years ago on another continent. How much does the typical westerner know about Sumerian history? If someone threw a musical version of the myth of Gilgamesh onto Broadway, do you think it would dethrone Hamilton? I’m sure SCHOLARS know as much as is known about the history of the giants, and that reflects the information you could get with a History check. But I think most humans just don’t care about the history of the giants; it’s an obscure ancient civilization that has virtually no relevance to their modern lives.
So, COULD a modern playwright produce a play about the story of Vadallia and Cardaen? Absolutely. I’m sure that there’s multiple versions of just such a play created over the millennia by phiarlans. But is such a play going to appeal to a modern human audience, or would they rather see a tale of Lhazaar, or Karrn the Conqueror, or Aundair’s forbidden love, or the sacrifice of Tira Miron? It’s possible that it would succeed—that it would be exotic and unusual and people would latch onto it. But even so, what people would then know about the giants is the same as a human who knows about early American history because they watched Hamilton; they know Cardaen was a slave who worked magic, but that doesn’t mean they know much about the actual structure of the Cul’sir Dominion, beyond the name of its evil titan king. Personally I think it’s the same general model as what the typical Westerner knows about Sumer, or ancient Egypt: the names of a few of their rulers, sure. A few stories that have been featured in popular culture or enshrined by scholars. But if you stopped someone on the street, do you think they could tell you about the structure of the Egyptian military under the Pharaoh Snefru? How many pharoahs could they name? Could they tell you how many dynasties their were? And that’s a human culture that existed just five thousand years ago.
So: I don’t think the history of the giants is an ABSOLUTE mystery. I think the common person knows that there were multiple giant cultures; that they enslaved the elves; that there was an elvish uprising and the giants were destroyed by dragons. They might know the name Cul’sir specifically because they’ve encountered it in Elvish tales, the way many Westerners know Cleopatra because of her role in popular culture but have never heard of Menes… or they might just know him as “that evil titan king.” But I doubt the common person knows much more than that.
If you have questions on these or other topics, ask below!