Dragonmarks 8/21/14 – Drow, Dwarves and More!

As some of you may recall, my original plan was to write about Aundair. However, I’ve been a little busy recently, between conventions, Gloom, and starting my own company.  I do still plan to tackle Aundair and the Eldeen in the near future, and to talk about options for 5th Edition, as much as I can. But for now, here’s a few questions that came my way about the races of Eberron. As always, these are just my personal opinions and may contradict or clash with canon sources.

Eberron is hardly lacking in diverse character options, but none of your various Drow societies allow easy opportunities for use as player characters. Was this deliberate? Could you reasonably think of a playable Drow? As it stands, the Vulkoor-worshipers, Sulatar, and Umbragen are all xenophobic “jungle savages” for adventuring parties to slay or narrowly escape.

First off: was it deliberate that they didn’t allow EASY opportunities for player characters? Absolutely. The Drow are supposed to be alien and mysterious; I wouldn’t want them to be casually integrated into the Five Nations, because if that’s the case what makes it interesting to play one? With that said, “no easy options” doesn’t mean “no options”, so let’s look at a few.

The Foundling. In my novel The Shattered Land, we run into a gray-skinned man named Gerrion. He’s a Sulatar halfblood who now lives in Stormreach as a gambler and guide. While Gerrion is specifically half-drow, his story works just as well for a full drow; he’s drow by blood but was raised among humans. Just as the city elves of Eberron are dramatically different from the Aereni or the Tairnadal, you can always just have a city drow, who is genetically drow but not influenced by their cultures.

The Fish Out Of Water. If you consider the protagonists of the Dreaming Dark trilogy to be an adventuring party, The Gates of Night introduces a drow player character in Xu’sasar. She is a Qaltiar drow (an offshoot of the Vulkoori, but with a broader animistic tradition as opposed to being entirely hung up on scorpions) who ends up stuck with the rest of the party and as lone survivor of her clan. There’s no easy way for her to physically return to her home, and with her clan dead, not much for her to return to. So she binds herself to the party and fights alongside them, doing her best to adapt to their strange world and bizarre traditions. If you want to get a better sense of how I see this working out, well, check out the book!

The Emissary. The Umbragen aren’t “jungle savages”; if you go to the primary source, they are a subterranean culture easily as advanced as the Aereni. Most critically, they are currently locked in battle with the Daelkyr lord Belashyrra… and they are losing that war. By and large, the Umbragen aren’t xenophobic; they simply don’t CARE about the surface world. The primary reason for an Umbragen to come to the surface is to find weapons, magic, or allies to help inn their war against the Daelkyr… which is a perfectly valid path for an adventurer. If that doesn’t work for you, you could easily have an Umbragen exile who has been banished from the depths for any number of reasons, and traveled to Khorvaire because hey, they aren’t some sort of jungle savage, and if they must live on the surface they’d rather do it somewhere civilized.

 
Eberron has always reveled in non-standard takes on traditional D&D races, yet the presentation of dwarves in the setting cleaves very closely to traditional view of our favorite bearded alcoholics. Was this intentional? In a setting where the elves are Mayan necromancers and the hobbits ride dinosaurs, it seems curious to have dwarves still happily mining their mountains and hating orcs.

First off, the goal of Eberron wasn’t to change races just for the sake of changing races; it was an exploration of facets of those races. Both the Aereni and the Tairnadal are essentially a response to the long lifespan of the elves, with the idea that a race of people with a potential thousand year lifespan will have trouble letting go; thus they find ways to cling to life, preserving their heroes through magic or emulation. The intrigue-laden society of the gnomes is tied to their natural knack for illusions, ability to talk to burrowing spies, and knack for alchemy (which is to say poison). In the case of the dwarves, what I wanted to explore is something that I feel doesn’t come out often… The dwarves have all the gold (along with the best steel). If you look at the picture of the male dwarf in the 3.5 ECS, he’s not a long-bearded warrior in chainmail with an axe in one hand and a stein in the other; he’s a merchant prince. The dwarves of Eberron are the Medici banks and Saudi princes. Yes, they can fall back on their natural toughness and their love of the axe, but their power is their gold. Let’s look at Antus ir’Soldorak, chancellor of the Aurum:

Antus’s holdings include gold and platinum mines. Following the secession of the Mror Holds, he founded the Soldorak Mint, and his currency is now commonplace throughout Karrnath and the Lhazaar Principalities. He has invested his wealth across the Five Nations, and could have an interest in any sort of industry that serves the needs of an adventure. He is determined to break the power of the Twelve and stamp out the last vestiges of Galifar, and to this end he searches for new industrial and magical developments—seeking to fund such endeavors and exploit their results before the knowledge can be acquired or destroyed by the Twelve. He has an enormous gilded airship, Chains of Gold, which includes its own speaking stone station and altar of resurrection. Soldorak spends most of his time aboard his ship, flying from city to city to oversee local operations. He purchased his noble title, and technically he is a Karrnathi warlord, but he rarely visits his estates.

Just to point out, Antus isn’t a weird unique case; while it has spread across Khorvaire, the Aurum was founded in the Mror by wealthy dwarf-lords who wished to increase their influence.

So you can HAVE the drunken dwarf warrior who wants nothing more than to go beat down those mountain orcs, but he’s likely working for one of the mighty clan lords whose power comes from gold more than from iron.

There’s no question: on the surface, the dwarves are the least distinct of Eberron’s races. But there is still a unique aspect to them that can be very interesting to explore, if you dig into it.

Did any of the dwarves who kicked out the surface tribes, survive down in Khyber below the Mror holds?

Not according to canon sources, but you could always change that in your campaign. Perhaps there’s a lone fortress still holding out against the aberrations. Perhaps explorers find an amazingly advanced peaceful dwarven civilization… but is all as it seems, or are they secretly controlled by the daelkyr? Or perhaps the only survivors are the derro, the twisted remnants of the ancient dwarves. Personally, I lean towards the latter option… all that’s left below is horror and ruin, and ancient secrets waiting to be found. But it’s certainly something you could take in a different direction.

Were there any races you wanted to have in Eberron that didn’t make the cut? If so, what were they?

Well, there were the merfolk and sahuagin in the oceans, but I wasn’t pushing for those to be playable races. The only playable race that was cut from the original write-up was goblins, who have always continued to linger on the fringes of playability.

If a new PC race were to emerge, where’s your best pick as to where?

That’s too broad a question to answer without more information. Eberron is full of options for introducing new creatures or races. In some cases, the best answer would be overlaying it on an existing element… for example, replacing the half-ogre Eneko of Sarlona with Goliaths, if you want a Goliaths in your game. Wilden could be created when Oalian explodes one day. With that said, there’s lots of entities that could produce a new race. Mordain the Fleshweaver. The Daelkyr.  House Vadalis. Someone messing with the tools the giants used to create the elves and drow. A new race could have existed for ages in Khyber or Xen’drik and simply never been encountered until recently. Or it could be the result of the Mourning – a Cyran village or town spared from death, but instead transformed into an entirely different species. Each option is simply going to bring different story hooks for a player of that race.

One thing that has nettled me for years; why does the Mark of Finding manifest across racial lines? Humans never end up with the Marks of Storm or Detection, yet Tharashk counts both humans and half-orcs among their number.

An excellent question – after all, full-blooded orcs can’t get the mark either. There is no known answer, and it’s one of the many mysteries of the Dragonmarks; why are ANY of them bound to the races that they are. However, it is something that the people of the Shadow Marches point to as proof that the half-orcs are a bridge between the two races… the Mark of Finding is something humans possess and orcs don’t, but it is shared by the jhorgun’taal (the Marcher term for half-orcs, “children of two bloods”).

How do the Gnolls of the Znir Pact feel about Gnolls throughout the rest of Khorvaire?

For the most part, that they are feral barbaric savages. But it’s not like there’s a lot of gnolls IN Khorvaire outside of Droaam, and most are in desolate places like the Demon Wastes or the depths of the King’s Forest, so it’s a rare thing for a Znir gnoll to actually encounter a non-Znir gnoll.

How are warforged handling their new OS? (That is to say, 5th edition)

It’s too soon to say. There was an early version of warforged presented in the alpha playtest materials, but I think it could be improved upon, and as it wasn’t included in the PHB there’s still an opportunity for that to happen.

How may warforged did a creation forge make at one time? Did they come off in batches?

In my opinion, this varied by forge, but most forges would be designed to produce multiple warforged of the same design at one time.

If the eladrin had a chance to get a portal or spell or something that could take them back to Thelanis would they take it? Would they leave the feyspires behind?

Some might. But if you read my novel The Fading Dream, my premise is that many of the more powerful fey are tied to their spires… that they are in some ways manifestations or extensions of the spire. They could wander from it for a time, but they couldn’t choose to abandon it forever without losing their identity.

 

GenCon, Gloom, and Twogether!

GenCon2014I’m back from GenCon with a few new games to try out. While I didn’t have a lot of opportunities to play games, it was an inspiring trip and an opportunity to catch up with lots of old and new friends. There were also a few important announcements that I wanted to share.

Gloom2GLOOM 2.0 AND MUNCHKIN GLOOM

The second edition of Gloom is in stores now. You can find more information about it here, but I wanted to highlight a few things. This is an improvement to the existing game, not a complete transformation. While there are significant differences, it is possible to mix old and new cards together. With that said, if you own the first edition but still want to get the second edition, I’m working on something that will let you get good use from outdated cards… expect more news on that in a few weeks. if you have any questions about Gloom Second Edition, ask below.

However, there was another piece of Gloomy news at GenCon. I’m teaming up with Atlas Games and Steve Jackson to produce MUNCHKIN GLOOM. You may wonder how this works… after all, the goal of Gloom is to tell a sad story while keeping your opponents happy, while the foundation of Munchkin is backstabbing your friends while you amass ultimate power and wealth. Well, how exactly do you GET all that power and wealth? Munchkin Gloom takes a look at the other side of the coin, placing you in control of a dungeon full of monsters whose lives are about to be ruined by a band of obnoxiously overpowered adventurers. We’ve got a lot of fun ideas and I think it’s going to be a great flip side to the basic Munchkin saga. Munchkin Gloom will be out in 2015, along with Fairy Tale Gloom.

twogether_color_webINTRODUCING… TWOGETHER STUDIOS!

It’s been a long time coming, but my wife Jennifer Ellis and I are finally launching our own game company: Twogether Studios. I’m best known for creating Gloom and Eberron, and Twogether will reflect the principles seen in both of these. We intend to create engaging products with a strong emphasis on storytelling and imagination. We are working on RPGs, card games, and other ideas, and expect to launch our first Kickstarter in February 2015 to fund the production of a game we’ve been working on for the last year. If you want to keep up with what we’re doing, you can follow us on Twitter at @Twogetherstudio, or keep an eye on our website. I’m very excited about our plans for 2015!

PantsDnDWHAT ABOUT EBERRON?

I’m afraid this weekend didn’t produce new information about Eberron support in Fifth Edition. The D&D team at Wizards of the Coast has a lot on their plate right now managing the release of the new books, and I suspect it’s going to be a little while before they can focus on this. However, it’s something that is still in motion and I’m excited about the possibilities, so hopefully there will be solid news in a month or two. In the meantime, I’ll be getting a Q&A out later this week. And for my part, I just put together a half-orc paladin of the Silver Flame (from the Demon Wastes) to play in the 5E campaign I’m playing in. More news as soon as it’s available!

Gen Con 2014 Schedule!

It’s been a busy week getting ready for Gen Con – I hope I’ll see some of you there! If you’re going, here’s a few places you can find me.

THURSDAY AUGUST 14

2 PM, Room 210: DUNGEONCRAFT LIVE!

Kenneth Hite, Ray Winninger and I will be providing our best GMing tips.

FRIDAY AUGUST 15

4 PM, Room 210: PLAYING GOD

The role of the divine is an interesting part of world design. How do you make faith matter in a setting? How do you involve deities without making mortals feel irrelevant? I’ll be discussing these topics and more with Greg Stafford and Steve Kenson!

SATURDAY AUGUST 16

11 AM, Room 211: FEAR OF THE UNKNOWN

Horror campaigns can be tricky to pull off in RPGs. How do you overcome player knowledge? How to you address the fact that people playing a horror RPG are expecting the unnatural? I’ll be exploring the subject with Kenneth Hite, Shane Hensley, and Andrew Hackard.

5 PM – 7 PM, Hyatt Lobby: GEN CON MEETUP!

One of my favorite things about Gen Con is getting a chance to catch up with old friends and meet new people. I’ll be hanging out in the Hyatt Lobby for two hours, and happy to talk about Gloom, Eberron, or any of the projects I’m working on now!

 

If you’re not going to make it to Gen Con, I’m also going to be at PAX Prime, Rose City Comic Con, and Geek Girl Con. If you are going to be at Gen Con and plan to attend one of more of these events, leave a note below… especially if you have a topic you’d like to see covered at one of the panels!

What’s Going On With Gloom?

SDCC Booth

GLOOM SECOND EDITION

Gloom Second Edition is due to hit stores this week, and I hope to be playing it at Gen Con. But what is Gloom Second Edition? What’s different, and why was it changed?

Starting with what’s different, Atlas has a helpful list of significant changes on their website. The fundamental structure and layout of the game hasn’t changed, and it is possible to play with first and second edition cards mixed together into one deck. Here’s a few key points…

Look at Cthulhu Gloom. Like Cthulhu Gloom, the second edition uses timing icons to specify when card effects are resolved, and it has the tombstone images on death cards. One improvement over Cthulhu Gloom: Event cards now have a central image that gives them the same silhouette as Deaths, so you can’t recognize them from the back of the card.

Troublesome cards have been changed or removed. There have always been a few cards that have been too powerful (Body Thief), too confusing (Til Death Do Us Part), or simply awkward (any card that has an effect that resolves on your next turn). Some of these cards have been removed completely; others have been streamlined.

Expansion Symbols. A long-standing issue has been the difficulty of pulling out an expansion once you’ve mixed it in with your core set. Now all cards have symbols that indicates what set they belong to, making it easy to play with just one expansion at a time. In addition, the art for the story icons has had a facelift. 

All of these things are the results of ten years of playing Gloom and bumping into things I wish I could change. It’s not a complete redesign; it’s just an opportunity to improve a host of little problems. Think of it as a Designer’s Cut (I wanted to add a commentary track and some deleted scenes, but it just didn’t work out). Let me know what you think of the changes, and if you have any questions ask here!

FAIRY TALE GLOOM

My next project is Fairy Tale Gloom. We all know that many of the fairy tales we know and love turn out badly in the end, whether it’s the Little Mermaid dissolving into foam when she fails to win her Prince (spoiler alert!) or Snow White’s stepmother being forced to dance to death in red-hot iron boots. Fairy Tale Gloom gives you the opportunity to establish once and for all just which classic character had it the worst… though the winner is expected to come up with a moral for their story!

Fairy Tale Gloom is a stand-alone game that supports 2-5 players. It’s possible to mix it with any other set, and in the promo card Atlas has been handing out this summer – The Looking Glass - is intentionally compatible with both Fairy Tale and classic Gloom. However, like Cthulhu Gloom, it uses a few icons you won’t find in other sets, so you’ll water down the effect a bit if you mix it together. There’s some interesting twists in FT Gloom, but at this point we’re not sure when it will be out – certainly not until the end of the year – so I’m going to wait to dig into the details until we have a release date set!

Gloom aside, it’s an exciting time. I’ll be at Gen Con and PAX Prime, and I’ll post my Gen Con schedule in the next few days… along with a new Dragonmark!

 

San Diego Comic Con 2014: Gloomy Plans!

Tomorrow morning… far too early tomorrow morning… I am heading to SAN DIEGO COMIC CON. I’m going to be spending most of my time there in the Geek & Sundry Lounge, hanging out and playing Gloom. I’ve got the following special events on my schedule…

Friday, 11 AM – Noon: FAIRY TALE GLOOM WITH MOLLY AND MARIAN

Want a peek at the next Gloom product? I’m going to be playing a round (using an early prototype deck, to be clear) with awesome musicians Molly Lewis and Marian Call. Drop by and take a look!

Friday, 1:30 – 2:30: THE BIG GLOOM GAME

Five tables of Gloom, giant Story cards, and awesome celebrity players like Patrick Rothfuss, Boyan Radokovich, and Nika Harper! Unfortunately the tables are all filled, but it should be a good spectacle.

Friday, 4:30 – 5:30: MIDDLE-GLOOM

A few years ago I created a science-fiction themed version of Gloom that you will NEVER see published. If you want to see Wesley Crusher Set Up By Sith and Captured In Carbonite, this is the game for you. This year I’m adding a few new cards tied to one of my favorite TV shows, The Middleman, and playing with Middleman creator Javier Grillo-Marxuach and Middlewriter Margaret Dunlap. I expect both hilarity and hijinks!

Beyond that: on Thursday I will be hanging out at the G&S Lounge off and on, talking about all the things and playing Gloom. Beyond that: I’m also going to be at Gen Con and PAX Prime. I hope to see some of you soon!

Six Questions: Jonathan Tweet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What subraces do you use in D&D Next?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

What happened to Eberron’s thirteenth moon?

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

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

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

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

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

 Would anyone on Khorvaire care if Stormreach was destroyed?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dragonmarks 6/25/14: House Heraldry

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

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

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

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

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

CANNITH: THE GORGON

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

DENEITH: THE CHIMERA

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

GHALLANDA: THE BLINK DOG

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

JORASCO: THE GRIFFON

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

KUNDARAK: THE MANTICORE

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

LYRANDAR: THE KRAKEN

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

MEDANI: THE BASILISK

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

ORIEN: THE UNICORN

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

PHIARLAN: THE HYDRA

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

SIVIS: THE COCKATRICE

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

THARASHK: THE DRAGONNE

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

THURANNI: THE DISPLACER BEAST

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

VADALIS: THE HIPPOGRIFF

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

TARKANAN: THE BEHOLDER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What makes Aundair interesting?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eberron Expanded: Libris Mortis

Dragonmark: The Mark of Death

Dragonmark: Erandis Vol – Hot or Not?

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

RPG.Net: The Blood of Vol

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s next for you and Eberron? Anything?

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

 

Could you tell us about your dndnext Eberron experience?

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

There’s many different layers to this question.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

How do you keep track of SO many factions?

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

 

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

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

 

Drow – Why scorpions?

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

There’s no shortage of rivalries…

Karrnath and Thrane

The Chamber and the Lords of Dust

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

The Kalashtar and the Dreaming Dark

Adar and Riedra

The Blood of Vol and the Sovereign Host

Thuranni and Phiarlan

Cannith and Cannith (and Cannith)

The Aurum and the Twelve

House Tarkanan and the Twelve

Aundair and the Eldeen Reaches

The Ashbound and House Vadalis

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

The Boromar Clan and Daask

The Lhazaar Princes and the Lhazaar Princes

Erandis Vol and the Undying Court

The Swords of Liberty and the Brelish Monarchy

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

 

What is the royal symbol of the kingdom of Galifar?

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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