Phoenix and GenCon 2016!

EPSON MFP image

First of all, PHOENIX IS IN THE WILD! If you’re on Twitter, let me know (@Hellcowkeith) when you get your copy! For those of you who didn’t back the Kickstarter, we’ll be bringing Phoenix to Gen Con 2016! If you want to find Phoenix at Gen Con, here’s a few opportunities.

  • Blackbox will be selling Phoenix in the Kickstarter Room (Room 143, near the Exhibit Hall). Supplies are limited!
  • You can play a two-hour demo of Phoenix. This is a short scenario using pregenerated characters, but it’s a chance to dive in and give it a try.
  • You can create a character. This is a one-hour event that takes you through the process of developing a character and a wing. Character creation is one of my favorite parts of the system, and you get a Phoenix notebook as a takeaway!
  • We’re holding a seminar about Phoenix on Friday. We’ll be talking about the system, the setting, and the three-year journey to get it out!
  • And finally, I’ll be talking about Phoenix at the Q&A with Keith! This is a casual conversation, so I’ll also be talking about Eberron, Gloom, and what’s in development!

I hope to see you there!

Gloom Digital on Kickstarter!

Gloom Kickstarter Image

It’s been almost thirteen years since I invented the card game Gloom in my basement in Boulder, Colorado. As a longtime fan of Edward Gorey, Charles Addams, Gahan Wilson, Lemony Snickett and others, I wanted a game about telling the most miserable tale. Over the years a number of new versions of Gloom have emerged. In Cthulhu Gloom you want your family of investigators to go mad and come to an unhappy end. In Fairytale Gloom you want to find the unhappiest end to your tale. And in Munchkin Gloom, you want to describe the worst dungeon adventure in history. I love playing them all, because I love seeing the stories that emerge from each game.

Now, Skyship Studios has taken to Kickstarter to create a digital version of Gloom. Initially, they are developing the game for the PC; if it is successful, they will develop a tablet version. The game will support both single player and online play, allowing you to craft your gloomy stories with friends across the globe.

Gloom Gameplay

Creating a digital version of Gloom is a tricky business, since storytelling is an integral part of the Gloom experience. But every medium has something to offer. In Skyship’s Gloom, the characters themselves will come to life (before tragically dying). The characters will be animated and speak for themselves, providing their own take on the misfortunes that come their way. Beyond this, Skyship is continuing to explore ways to bring the flavor of Gloom to the digital experience.

Just to be clear: I’m not part of Skyship Studios and I’m not running this campaign. However, I am thrilled that Skyship is working to bring my game to life in a new medium, and look forward to playing it.

So if you like Gloom, please check out the Kickstarter here!

Dragonmarks 7/11/16: Druids

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We’re closing in on the release of my new RPG Phoenix: Dawn Command, and Jenn and I are working to organize the events we’ll be running at Gen Con. But I’ve been promising to answer questions about Druids in Eberron for a while, so here goes! As a side note, the image above is actually a Devoted Phoenix, but as a Grimwald shaman he’s SORT of a druid. Anyhow…

PRIMAL MAGIC

In the previous Dragonmark, I wrote about the difference between arcane and divine magic. As I mentioned there, I prefer druidic magic to be an entirely separate path as opposed to a subset of divine magic – taking the 4E approach of making druids and rangers primal casters. If you believe the myth of the Progenitors, arcane and divine magic both draw on the power of Siberys, while primal magic is the power of Eberron – the world itself. This reinforces the idea that druidic magic is natural magic, and fundamentally different from either arcane magic or divine magic.

So… How is it different? Arcane magic is about manipulating mystical energy through scientific methods. Divine magic uses faith and willpower as a method to tap divine power sources. What’s involved in primal magic? In my opinion, it walks a path between the two. Power is present in nature, and it comes in many forms. You have the direct elemental power of wind and storm; the power of animal archetypes; the life force of the world; and more. Primal magic involves touching and channeling one of these forces. In my opinion, this is like lucid dreaming – something anyone in theory COULD do, but something that in practice few people master. Another example would be Naming in Patrick Rothfuss’s Name of the Wind. To generate lightning, a wizard will use a formula that alters the laws of physics. A cleric will call on the power of the Sovereigns. The druid simply understands the storm and knows how to ask it to do what she wants. This doesn’t require any particular belief, nor does it unlock every secret of nature at once. A ranger may have learned how to tell the world to leave no trace of his path, but that doesn’t mean he knows how to talk to the storm. With that said…

HOW DOES YOUR DRUID CAST SPELLS?

Primal magic doesn’t require belief to function… but that doesn’t prevent humans from layering belief on top of it. Each druidic sect has its own approach, and ultimately it’s up to you to decide how your primal caster operates. When you perform a spell, what do you do? Here’s a few approaches.

  • You invoke the spirits of nature. You speak to the storm and ask it to strike your foes. You call to primal spirit of the Hawk and ask it to lend you its wings.
  • You know secret words and rituals that let you channel natural forces – one word that calls the storm, another that gives you skin of bark. There’s more to this than just the word itself; it’s about understanding the storm and the tree. Nonetheless, you don’t actually talk to the storm; you simply know how to make lightning strike your enemy, the same way a farmer knows how to plant a seed so it will grow. You understand nature in a way most people do not, but to you this isn’t magical; it’s natural.
  • All things are connected through Eberron. You are already connected to the hawk and the storm. You don’t invoke them with secret names or address them as spirits; you simply reach through that connection and draw on the power you need. When you heal someone, you are helping them draw on their own connection to the primal lifeforce; when you hurt them, you are reaching through that connection and channeling disease.
  • You are a champion of Eberron, empowered by the world itself to protect her. She created the storm and the hawk, and she gives you dominion over them. You are the hand and the voice of the Wild.

In a sense, primal lies between divine and arcane, and the question is which end of the spectrum you fall under. Do you interact with spirits the same way a priest might speak to angels? Do you believe that you are a champion of the world as a paladin is a champion of the Silver Flame? Or do you believe that nature simply is, and the magic you perform is no more “magical” than a tree growing from the seed – you just know how to make natural things happen on demand?

WHAT ABOUT RANGERS?

Rangers serve as the warriors of the Eldeen druidic sects. They are primal characters in 4E and use druidic magic in 5E. Thus, as a whole, they fit the concepts presented above, and rangers from the Eldeen sects will follow the belief framework of their sect. However, it may be that you have an idea for a ranger that doesn’t really fit any of these. You want to be an awesome hunter, but you don’t really see your character thinking about “the balance of nature” or anything like that. If you want a not-so-druidic ranger, here’s a few approaches.

  • You can characterize your ranger’s spells as being more “tricks” that they’ve picked up. Perhaps you cure wounds using a salve you’ve learned to make, or create a fog cloud with a smoke grenade. Your hunter’s mark or jump could simply be driven by skill, and detect magic an innate sense of things. Mind you, all of these things WOULD still be magic, and could be dispelled, detected, etc – but it’s more that you’ve jury-rigged things that produce magical effects as opposed to having a deep connection with the power of nature.
  • Personally, I’d have no objection to a ranger who wanted to define his spells as arcane (reflecting a scientific approach to magic) or entirely divine (tied to his faith to Arawai or Balinor, for example). I wouldn’t change the spell list, as that’s part of the class balance, and because they can choose spells that fit what they are looking for – but I’d be happy to consider their magic to be arcane or divine instead of primal for any magical effects that relate to such things.
  • You can simply play a ranger who doesn’t use spells; one version of this was presented in this Unearthed Arcana article.

DRUID SECTS

To date, most of the focus on primal magic has been on the druidic sects of the Eldeen Reaches. Aside from the primary setting guide, you can find more details on these sects in the Player’s Guide to Eberron and Faiths of Eberron. Each of these sects is primarily concerned with a different aspect of nature. Here’s the very short version.

  • The Wardens of the Wood are about balance. They help people live in harmony with nature, and act to protect both the innocent and the wild. They are the largest of the Eldeen sects and the one that gets the most new recruits, as they actively work to help and protect the people of the Eldeen Reaches.
  • The Gatekeepers are about protecting nature from the unnatural. They fight the forces of Khyber and Xoriat, and maintain the seals that hold the Daelkyr at bay.
  • The Children of Winter are about the cycle of life… and death. They believe that civilization has thrown this cycle out of balance and use disease and other means to test and thin the herd. They further believe that there will come a time when an apocalypse cleanses the world, clearing a path for its rebirth. Some of them believe the Mourning is the first stage in this disaster… and that it should be welcomed and accelerated.
  • The Ashbound oppose civilization. They despise agriculture, cities, and all the ways in which civilization seeks to control or abolish the natural world… but they are especially opposed to those who warp the natural order with unnatural magic. They are the most zealous and dangerous of the sects. This sect includes a significant number of barbarians along with rangers and druids.
  • The Greensingers are ambassadors to the Fey. They linger in areas that are close to Thelanis, and often travel between the planes. While they are most strongly connected to the Fey, some Greensingers are more broadly interested in traffic with all of the planes.

The critical thing is that these five sects are NOT all of the druids in the world! To begin with, we’ve said that there’s around a dozen active sects in the Eldeen Reaches (which obviously means that there were thirteen, but one’s gone missing). We have never described the other Eldeen sects, because this is part of “There’s a place in Eberron for anything in D&D…” We intentionally left those other sects open so DMs have an easy place to drop in new sects of their own or interesting sects from other settings or sourcebooks. It’s possible we will add others in future material; I have an idea for a shifter sect with a focus on shapeshifting and living among the beasts of the wild, which hasn’t made as much of an impact as the others because its members are largely invisible within the woods. But the point is: These five sects exist to give you hooks to play with, but they are not intended to cover every possible sect.

Beyond this, within canon we’ve already presented a number of other druidic sects.

If I had the time to go through every sourcebook, I’m sure I could find more examples of druidic sects. The five named sects are those with the greatest impact on the Five Nations, and have been cast into the spotlight by the Eldeen secession. But you’re not limited to these five choices when you make a primal character of your own.

What do the Ashbound and Children of Winter think of the Undying Court, to the extent they are aware of each other? Have the Followers of the Broken Path had any significant contact with the other druid sects? Do the Gatekeepers nowadays a connection to the Wordbearer Dhakaani?

I’m merging all these together because they are all variations of the same question, which is how much contact do the Eldeen sects have with the rest of the world? The answer: not much. There’s a reason we call them the ELDEEN sects. We’re used to a world that is filled with information, where TV and internet keep us in constant contact with the entire world. Not only does Eberron lack these things, but the druid sects – especially the Ashbound – largely avoid the tools that do exist; the Ashbound aren’t going to go use House Sivis speaking stones or pick up the latest chronicle. The Wardens of the Wood rose up to protect the people of the Eldeen Reaches during the Last War; but during the thousand years Galifar was unified, they rarely left the Towering Woods.

With that said, some of the sects have taken an interest in the wider world recently BECAUSE of the Mourning. Children or Winter have ventured east to study the Mourning and to bring Winter to the great cities of the Five Nations. Some Ashbound believe they must strike deeper at the heart of civilization; some Gatekeepers want to reach out to find help in their struggle. These are things you can expand upon to meet the needs of the story you want to tell. But BY DEFAULT the Eldeen sects have little knowledge of or contact with the world beyond the Towering Woods. Among other things, this means that as a player character from one of these sects, you may be a trailblazer. The Gatekeepers haven’t been in contact with the Wordbearers or joined forces with the Kalashtar to fight the Dreaming Dark… but YOUR Gatekeeper might be the druid who restores the ancient alliance with the Dhakaani or negotiates new ties to the Kalashtar. This ties to the general philosophy of Eberron: YOU should be the people at the heart of events that change this era. There are many groups that share common interests with the Eldeen sects… but it’s up to you to establish those ties.

THE CHILDREN OF WINTER

It’s not so clear to me what’s the goal of Children of Winter. Do they want to kill any human life?

From Dragon 418:  When Eberron created life, she also created death. She gave the asp its venom and set plagues loose in the world. All these things have their purpose. Now you have pulled the serpent’s teeth and leashed the plagues with magic. Our mother will not be mocked, and her wrath is coming soon.

This is in the voice of one of the Children; a later section is clearer.

Although they surround themselves with vermin and the trappings of decay, the Children see themselves as champions of life. They believe that all natural things have a purpose, even those that seem malevolent. Death clears the way for new life. Disease weeds out the weak. The Children work to preserve this cycle. 

The Children despise the undead and destroy them whenever they encounter them… and if they WERE aware of the Undying Court, they’d despise it as well. Positive or negative energy means little to them; the simple fact is that these elves have placed themselves outside the natural cycle, and no good can come of it. And while they aren’t as dedicated to it as Gatekeepers and have no specialized spells, the Children will also fight aberrations or similar unnatural threats if they encounter them.

So why do the Children kill people? What’s their real goal? Let’s look back to Dragon 418: Like most druids, the Children see Eberron as the source of all life and the spirit of the natural world. They believe that she had a grand design for nature, a purpose yet unfulfilled. And they believe that if humanity strays too far from the path of Eberron’s design, she will wipe the slate clean and start again.

It’s not simply that the Children believe that people are “breaking the rules” with their medicine and their Undying Courts; they believe that these things THREATEN EVERYONE, and that if we don’t get the population under control the WORLD WILL BE DESTROYED. By spreading disease, they are using the tools nature designed to weed out the weak and reduce population. A significant number of Children believe that the Mourning is the harbinger of this “Winter” – the apocalypse Eberron will use to wipe the slate clean and start again. This has created a subsect whose members welcome this; this world is too far gone, and they want to bring down the Winter and reset the world. However, other Children oppose this and still believe the current world can be saved.

Are the Children of Winter aware of all the cosmic threats like Daelkyr, Lords of Dust and so on? Do they care?

No more than most people. WE know about the Lords of Dust because we have a cool book that spills all their secrets – but they are a conspiracy that has successfully remained hidden for thousands and thousands of years. The Children fight aberrations when they encounter them, but in short, the Daelkyr haven’t been a serious threat for thousands of years and the Overlords haven’t been a threat for tens of thousands of years. They’ve GOT a thing that they know about that is a real serious issue, and that’s what they worry about. Side note: Back in the day, when Bel Shalor was almost released… to the degree that the Children of Winter were aware of the troubles of Thrane, they might have considered THAT to be a possible harbinger of Winter.

THE GATEKEEPERS AND DRAGONS

As I understand the Gatekeeper sect, most of it’s knowledge came from Vvaraak’s teachings a long time ago. And most of it is lost today, especially the underlying magical principles of the seals and the annual ritual. They merely follow rituals they don’t understand any more, at least not in the fullest. So, in my understanding, they would not be able to repeat the ritual they used to seal the Gates to Xoriat – right?

That is correct.

Are the gatekeepers aware that Vvaraak was/is a dragon? If need be, would they try to find her today or seek help from another dragon?

Vvaraak taught the first Gatekeepers sixteen thousand years ago, and dragons aren’t immortal, so Vvaraak is long dead… plus, there’s a decent chance she was assassinated by the Eyes of Chronepsis for her actions in Khorvaire. The Gatekeepers have no easy way to contact Argonnessen and even if they did, the dragons wouldn’t help them. As called out on page 11 of Dragons of Eberron, Vvaraak’s actions were a betrayal of draconic customs:

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

As a whole, the dragons aren’t your friends. They aren’t here to help. They stood by and watched as the Xoriat Incursion tore apart the Empire of Dhakaan. They did nothing during the Giant-Quori War. Heck, they attack Aerenal on a regular basis just so the kids can earn their wings. The one time they took decisive action was when the giants were preparing to do something that would threaten Argonnessen… and they dealt with that by utterly destroying giant civilization. Vvaraak was an extremely rare individual who truly cared about the lesser races – but that’s not a common thing.

I read that the gatekeepers have friendly connections to the Chamber and sometimes their scholars (known as dragons?) come to converse with the druid elders. If that’s true, why not simply ask a visiting dragon what to do if something with the seals/Daelkyr threat is … threatening? Or how to repeat the ritual properly?

It is true that over the centuries the Chamber has established Siberys Observatories in the Shadow Marches. But you’re making the mistake of thinking of the Chamber as “good guys” who would help if the people needed it. The Chamber monitors the Prophecy and ensures that it remains on the approved path. The only way to monitor the Prophecy is to have agents across the world. Essentially, the Chamber is using the Gatekeepers to collect data, which they can periodically pick up. The Gatekeepers don’t fully understand what they are doing, and I don’t think their Chamber contacts identify themselves as dragons. Even if they did, they would only help if it was part of the approved path of the Prophecy. It’s entirely possible that a Daelkyr Uprising IS part of the approved path, in which case not only would the Chamber not help them stop it, they’d actively mislead them to keep things on track.

Generally speaking the Chamber is better for us than the Lords of Dust, because their endgame doesn’t involve the release of demonic Overlords. But they are not our friends. Vvaraak broke with the Chamber when she taught the Gatekeepers.

What do the Gatekeepers think about the prophecy? Do they have druids specialized in deciphering the prophecy? Is it incorporated in their daily life somehow?

Yes and no. There are Siberys Observatories in the Shadow Marches, and the Chamber has got the Gatekeepers monitoring these and collecting the data they need for occasional pickup. This data MAY be useful in the short term at predicting events within the Shadow Marches, and the Gatekeepers undoubtedly believe that it will give them advance warning of a Daelkyr resurgence. However, they are not capable of monitoring the Prophecy as a whole from one location, and the scope of the Prophecy goes way beyond the Marches. It takes a group like the Chamber, Lords of Dust, or Undying Court – immortals with vast resources and power – to be able to put together the bigger picture.

So there are druids who specialize in using the Observatories, and in using them to predict local events and monitor the seals, but they aren’t concerned with the wider scope of the Prophecy.

The Gatekeeper community getting smaller with every generation, so it gets more challenging to maintain the seals. Are there seals all over Khorvaire or are they all located in the Shadow Marches/Eldeen Reaches/Demon Wastes? 

It has been established somewhere that the location of the seals doesn’t correspond to the physical location of the imprisoned Daelkyr. With that said, in MY campaign many of the seals are highly portable. There are a few seals that are vast buried stones, but a seal could also be a pendant, or a ring, or embedded in a staff. In this case it is possible that prophecy dictates where a seal must go; it could be that to function, one of the seals needs to follow a particular path or visit a series of locations. All of this is a great foundation for a Gatekeeper PC who is assigned to carry one of the seals, and who must take it to certain dangerous places to maintain its power.

How many seals do the Gatekeepers maintain? Somehow I recall that there are 6 (or7) Daelkyr left in this world and I assumed that therefore there are 6 (or 7) major seals as well, probably accompanied by smaller ones. Is this defined in canon material? And if not, how would you do it?

There are six Daelkyr that have been called out by name, however the Player’s Guide to Eberron states “These are undoubtedly among the most powerful of their kind, with abilities beyond those presented in the EBERRON Campaign Setting.” So there are as many Daelkyr as you need for the purposes of your story, and the same holds true for the seals. Given that you’re talking to ME, obviously I would say that there were thirteen seals, but one has already been destroyed in the past, and many believe that this is why the Daelkyr are stirring now.

Do you have some ideas what special relics back from the Daelkyr war the gatekeepers might have right now or have legends about? (beside Vvaraak’s tears)

Not off the top of my head. It’s certainly a topic I’d love to explore if Eberron gets unlocked for the DM’s Guild!

THE GREENSINGERS

Am I right in thinking that you wouldn’t really have creatures of Thelanis considering themselves Greensingers or druids?

You are correct. With that said, the Greensingers themselves are the least “druidic” of the Eldeen sects. We’ve already noted the fact that they sometimes multiclass with arcane classes (typically bard)… and as far as their druidic magic goes, they are much more in the model of “I know the secret name of the storm, so I can ask it to smite my enemies” than “I am a servant of Eberron.” Shapeshifting is also a common strength of Greensingers, in part in emulation of the fey who aren’t bound to a single form.

It’s hard for me to imagine the native inhabitants of Thelanis or Lamannia taking up druidic traditions per se – even if it weren’t “the magic of Eberron itself”, Thelanis isn’t the same kind of natural world that druids care for.

First of all, I wouldn’t include Lamannia in this equation. The Greensingers have strong ties to Thelanis, largely derived from the presence of the Twilight Demesne. They have no particular attachment to Lamannia. Aside from that, the Greensingers themselves don’t care for the natural world in the way that most druids do. The Greensingers look at what nature COULD be. They see the story. They imagine that the wind is singing a song, that the tree truly dances in the wind… because in Thelanis, it does. If you wanted, you could decide that Greensinger magic is actually slightly different from that of other druids… that rather than drawing on pure nature, they are temporarily imbuing the world around them with a touch of Thelanis. A dryad isn’t a natural part of Eberron, but it could be that a Greensinger temporarily creates a dryad in a normally natural tree.

Even if you don’t go that far, that’s how the Greensinger sees it. They see the world as a magical place, and it becomes more magical around them.

THE WARDENS OF THE WOOD

How are the Wardens of the Wood inserted in the geopolitics of the Reaches? Since they were a very active part of the independence, and there is very little about how the region is organized.

From page 97 of The Player’s Guide to Eberron: 

When the plains folk seceded from Aundair, the Wardens trained their militias and fought at their sides. In their gratitude, the folk turned to the study of the druidic mysteries, and this helped make the land remarkably fertile. Today, Warden rangers patrol the entirety of the Reaches, fighting bandits, poachers, and other interlopers.

And from page 172 of the Eberron Campaign Setting: 

Long dominant in the forest, the Wardens have spread out into the plains to ensure order throughout the region. Each village has a druid counselor (of anywhere from 1st to 7th level, depending on the size of the community) who provides magical assistance and spiritual guidance, and who advises the leaders of the community. Councils made up of representatives from each farming family govern each of the communities. Bands of Warden rangers patrol the forest, responding to threats as they arise. 

As a side note, some of these druid counsellors might be gleaners. But the short form is that the Wardens advise and protect, but do not rule. Also note that while the Wardens patrol the entire region and settle any disputes between villages, each village does have its own mundane militia – trained by the Wardens, but not made up of primal-classed characters.

THE ASHBOUND AND THE MOURNING

What do the Ashbound think of clerics and their divine magic?

That it’s the unnatural result of trafficking with alien spirits. At the end of the day it’s manipulating the same energy wizards do, and they have no love of it. It’s possible a priest of Arawai or Balinor would meet with their approval if he SEEMED primal. But generally, if it’s not natural magic, it’s UNnatural magic.

Finally I am thinking on a campaign focused on the Ashbound. In that campaign they behave like real terrorists. They are fundamentalists, but they are right. Mourning happened because too much of magic has been used. So, here comes the question: if THAT is what caused the Mourning, who should know that? Lords of Dust, Chamber, the Twelve, a daelkyr, someone in Daanvi? How should they react?

The idea that the Mourning was caused by the extensive use of war magic is one of the popular theories within the world, and it is a primary reason for the Treaty of Thronehold: the fear that continuing the war will simply cause the effect to spread. As for who would KNOW THIS WITH ABSOLUTE CERTAINTY? That depends on where you want to go with it.

  • The Twelve are a weird choice, but not out of the question. You could say that Cannith knew that the extensive use of war magic was a danger but concealed this information because hey, their business is about selling war magic. If this is the case, it can be argued that THEY CAUSED THE MOURNING. That’s an interesting plotline to me, because what are you going to do about it? This is especially true if it was known to the Twelve – if the leadership of all of the houses were complicit in hiding this information and continuing to push the world closer to doomsday.
  • The Lords of Dust or the Chamber work if you want to say that the Mourning was foretold by the Prophecy. If it’s the Lords of Dust, I would argue that the Mourning is in fact the visible manifestation of weakening the bonds of the Overlords, and that at least one Overlord was released on the Day of Mourning and now lingers in the Mournland as it regains its power. So the action was caused by overuse of magic, but there is worse still to come.

Assuming that it was the result of human action, another twist on the Twelve being behind it would be to have the information shared or revealed by the Dreaming Dark, who have plucked it from the dreams of one of the Twelve conspirators. What’s their angle? I don’t know. But if you want to bring in another faction, that’s an option.

GENERAL QUESTIONS

Are the druid sects a religion? If so, the vast majority of “druids” and “rangers” are really not classed individuals, and don’t have the capabilities of a class level PC. It seems to me this distinction is always reinforced by you with wizards (most are magewrights) and clerics (most are even adepts) but is never touched with druids.

This is really two different questions, so I’ll address them in order. There is a spiritual component to the beliefs of the different druidic sects: live in harmony with the world and your surroundings. Some – on an individual basis – take this further and see themselves as champions of Eberron; but other members have a more pragmatic view, and that’s fine. Again, primal magic doesn’t REQUIRE belief the way divine magic does. A sect provides guidelines for how a person should live their life, but it doesn’t necessarily tell them what they must believe.

As for your second point, there’s once again multiple answers.

  • Every sect generally has a large number of common people who share their general beliefs and approach to life. This is especial true of the Gatekeepers. When talking about the Shadow Marches we say that a significant portion of the population follows the Gatekeeper traditions. This doesn’t mean they are druids, that they know anything about the seals other than ancient stories, or that they are ready to fight aberrations; it simply means that they tell the stories of the Gatekeepers, respect their traditions, and would welcome and honor an actual Gatekeeper druid who shows up. The same is true of the Wardens in the Eldeen Reaches. There are many commoners who are ALIGNED with the Wardens, but they wouldn’t actually CALL themselves Wardens of the Wood. Further, for every classed Warden, you might have a half dozen initiates struggling to master their skills, or working to help the sect in support roles.
  • With that in mind, when we say “Wardens of the Wood” or “Gatekeepers”, we are generally referring to the elite core of that sect – the people who do have primal classes, and who actively pursue the goals of the sect. Now, most of these people would top out at first or second level, but this IS remarkable; this one reason the Reaches were able to secede and why they still haven’t been reclaimed. It’s why groups like the Ashbound and Children of Winter are serious threats even if each may have less than a thousand active members: they are small groups of exceptional people.
  • With THAT said, part of the issue is that core D&D doesn’t have a primal NPC class – an equivalent of an adept or magewright. Which is why I made one. Years ago I made a primal NPC class called The Gleaner. This was posted on Giant In The Playground, but hasn’t been used elsewhere. It is precisely what you’re looking for here, and yes, for every full druid in the Wardens of the Wood you have a number of Gleaners who travel the Reaches and the woods helping those in need. While D&D doesn’t have a system in place for someone “evolving” from one class to another, I would personally say that many druidic sect initiates begin as first level gleaners and then evolve into rangers or druids once they fully master their skills.

In general, do how the sects see each other? Are druids of different Eldeen sects more friendly to each other than a random person they meet? Do they all pay some respect to Oalian?

This is addressed on page 57 of The Player’s Guide to Eberron: 

Despite their differences in belief, Oalian supports all the druids, since each sect embraces an aspect of the natural world. In return, most druids respect Oalian as the ultimate spiritual authority in the region, and they gather at The Greenheart for important conclaves and rituals.

Beyond that, I’d say that in general the active members of the sects will treat primals of other sect with respect, and they might work together to resolve certain problems; they joined forces during the Eldeen Secession, and members of any sect would join together to deal with undead or aberrations in the woods. But that won’t prevent Wardens from opposing members of other sects who are endangering innocents; there have certainly been many clashes between Wardens and Ashbound in the past.

If the druid sects would be aware of the Aundarian plans against the reaches, could they start a war against Aundair? Would it become a new global war?

In thinking of the capacity of the Reaches to wage war, bear in mind that they are not a normal nation. They are a collection of villages and small communities, and the closest thing they have to a single leader is a tree. They don’t have a strong industrial base to create weapons of war. Their population is a fraction of Aundair’s, let alone the other nations. One of their greatest strengths is their strong bond to the Towering Woods and their ties to the manifest zones and magic of the woods; once they lead an army into hostile territory, they lose that. And if they were to invade Aundair, what would victory look like? Would they try to actually occupy it in some way? It’s not like the people of Fairhaven are suddenly going to adopt the lifestyle of the farmers to the west.

So no: I don’t see the Eldeen Reaches waging a full-scale war against Aundair. With that said, I could certainly see them engaging in GUERILLA warfare. If Aundair begins building up forces in preparation for reclaiming the Reaches, they could definitely launch targeted strikes to take out caches, depots, or research facilities. Part of the point is that the Reaches don’t have either the infrastructure or the numbers of Aundair… but what they do have is a small but elite force. If it came to a straight-up war, Aundair simply outnumbers and outguns the Reaches. But with an army of rangers and shapeshifting druids, the Reaches are well-suited to covert strikes before disappearing back into the woods.

The Eldeen sects are so named, as you say, because they’re native to the forests of the Eldeen Reaches. Do you think their particular philosophies or concerns are tied to that location, or are they the sort of thing that might have arisen independently in other regions and/or taken root there if brought by a rare wandering druid?

Geography definitely plays a role. The Greensingers largely came about because of the Twilight Demesne, while the Children of Winter have a connection to the Gloaming. Proximity to Aundair is definitely a factor for the Ashbound.

With that said: I believe that the mechanical elements of the sects reflect different ways to focus druidic magic, and that you could see other sects adopt these same practices even if they don’t share the same name or precisely the same beliefs. The Seren Dragonshard linked to above notes that most Dragonspeakers follow the paths of the Wardens of the Wood or Gatekeepers… which is about them MECHANICALLY following those paths, not that some of them say “We’re Gatekeepers!” So in creating a new sect, if you don’t want to create entirely new mechanics, you could certainly say “Which of the five is it most like in its purpose?”

This is particularly relevant to the Greensingers. The Eldeen sect has a strong connection to the Twilight Demesne. But if you’re using the 4E story, I’d say that you could have similar sects in any of the regions where Feyspires manifest – essentially, anywhere that has a strong, ongoing connection to Thelanis. These would share similar traits – fey ambassadors, blending druidic and bardic paths – but they wouldn’t necessarily call themselves Greensingers. WITH THAT SAID… you could just as easily say that the Greensingers began in the Twilight Demense, entered Thelanis, and from Thelanis spread out to such places… and thus make them all part of the same sect.

You’ve mentioned previously that each sect tends to fight one enemy, Aberrations for Gatekeepers / Undead for Children of Winter, is there a sect setup to fight the Lords of Dust? or Demons / Devils in General?

The Overlords aren’t bound by a natural force; they are imprisoned by the SIlver Flame. Thus they are primarily opposed by forces that channel the SIlver Flame, like the Ghaash’kala orcs. So no: at present there is no canon druidic sect that focuses on fighting demons. On the other hand, I’d think EVERY sect WOULD fight demons if they encountered them.

Tied to this: the sects often have one foe they are most concerned with, but they’ll still fight the others. The Gatekeepers are focused on aberrations and the Children despise undead. But the Gatekeepers will definitely destroy undead and the Children will hunt down aberrations that cross their paths. It’s just that these things aren’t a focus of their daily lives.

How do the different druidic sects and the Church of the Silver Flame tend to perceive each other? 

Personally, I think there’s very little interaction between them. The Church can’t possibly monitor every single sect or cult that exists in the world, and the druids aren’t especially interested in interacting with them; they’re doing just fine, thank you. WE know what the Gatekeepers are doing is vitally important, but to the world at large they are obsessing about something that hasn’t been a threat since before humanity came to Khorvaire. With that said, I’d think that they would have a generally positive view of the Wardens of the Wood, who likely assisted templars during the Lycanthropic Purge, and  a generally negative view of the Children of Winter and Ashbound, both of whom take actions that can threaten innocents… and the Ashbound in turn will see the Church as channeling unnatural energy. Meanwhile, the Gatekeepers live in the shadows and don’t believe that they need the help of some human outsiders.

WITH THAT SAID: In the last 5E Eberron campaign I’ve been playing in, the players include a Ghaash’kala paladin, a cleric of the Silver Flame (well, technically, Jaela Daran), and a Gatekeeper druid. We work together well because we do all share a common goal of protecting the innocent from evil, and we’ve been happy to pursue each other’s personal issues. But we’re still playing it that our respective organizations really don’t know a lot about one another.

Furthermore, if primal magic does not require belief… could a druid believe in and follow the Silver Flame?

The question I’d ask is why they become a druid in that case, instead of becoming a cleric. But other than that, there’s no reason they couldn’t. You could easily CREATE a sect of Silver Flame-inspired druids in the Eldeen who adopted the faith after fighting alongside templars in the Lycanthropic Purge.

Are there any druidic traditions amongst the Blood of Vol?

The Seeker tradition is largely urban and druidic traditions generally develop in the wild. Further, the goals of the Seekers are fundamentally TO BREAK THE CYCLE OF NATURE; combined with their affinity for undead, this would brand them as abominations in the eyes of the Children of Winter, if not most sects.

When it comes to druids, are there any sects that tend to utilizing the feat from 3.5 “Assume Supernatural Ability”? Does it fit with any specific sect’s view on the world?

Nothing particular comes to mind… but I don’t have time to go through and figure out a) what shapes a druid could take where this would come into play and b) the level that would be required to do so, which would affect how much it could really be central to a sect. You could certainly make a new sect around the idea.

And are there any sects that use “Draconic Wildshape”?

Sure: the Seren Dragonspeakers.

Are there any druidic traditions amongst the merfolk and sahuagin? What are some druidic traditions of the Vulkoorim drow of Xen’drik?

I’m certain that there are aquatic druidic traditions. The Qaltiar drow have a tradition involving primal spirits, as seen in The Shattered Land and Gates of Night. But neither of these are things I have time to explore in this format. Once Eberron is unlocked for the DM’s Guild, I’d love to explore this in depth (or see what other people do with it).

Is there any more information about the druid(s) that awakened Oalian and Kraa’ark Lors?

Not at present.

Life in the Lhazaar Principalities revolves around the sea. What’s the possibility of there being a druidic sect in that area who focus on the sea life of the region; ensuring fishermen get bountiful catches, ensuring whaling ships don’t hurt the creatures unnecessarily, and predicting the hurricanes off the Sea of Rage?

It’s a logical role for druids or gleaners, and something that has been suggested in passing; in particular, it’s been noted that Cloudreaver priests of the Devourer may develop druidic abilities, and the Wind Whisperers are a powerful force. With that said, we haven’t presented druids as a defining pillar of society in the Lhazaar the way we have in the Eldeen Reaches, so if I was writing for canon Eberron, I probably wouldn’t make them the secret masters of the Reaches. However, I could see adding in a gleaner sect that does exactly the sort of thing you suggest – ensuring bountiful catches, predicting storms, preventing overfishing. As a Gleaner sect they could exist without DOMINATING the culture; some respect them, some curse them as annoying busybodies. But they aren’t as dramatically powerful as the Cloudreaver druids or the Wind Whisperers.

As a side note on the Wind Whisperers: In theory, their power comes from a connection to the Mark of Storms. In practice, I might give a powerful Wind Whisperer NPC druid, warlock or sorcerer levels with storm/lightning related magic reflecting a deeper connection to primal storms unlocked by the mark. So the power that makes them a force to be reckoned with is more than just the base abilities granted by the mark.

What’s the tie between the Prophecy and Primal Magic? Aren’t both a direct expression of Eberron?

Eberron may be the source of Primal Magic, but she’s not the sole source of the Prophecy. There are many different theories about the origin and nature of the Prophecy; the dominant view in the Chamber (as called out in Dragons of Eberron) is that “The Prophecy is a reflection of the ongoing struggle between Khyber and Eberron. The Progenitors shaped reality at the beginning of time, and the Prophecy reflects their divergent desires for their creation.”

If dragons know primal magic and druidism for millennia, should we suppose that a sect of very powerful, high level dragons/druids exist and take care of the equilibrium of Eberron?

Powerful draconic druids do exist. The Child of Eberron is one of the core archetypes of the religion of Thir, as covered in Dragons of Eberron: All natural life sprang from the progenitor dragon Eberron, and the child of Eberron honors the Great Mother and defends her works. However, the vast majority believe that this is a task fit solely for dragons, not something that the lesser races should be involved in. There may be a few Children of Eberron acting within Khorvaire, but they aren’t working with lesser druids (whom Vvaraak should never have taught!) and are generally dealing with primal problems we don’t even perceive. Humans are like ants to them: part of the natural world, capable of forming communities, but of no directrelevance to their actions… and if you have to wipe out a bunch of them to do something important, they’ll recover from it. The critical example of this is Xen’drik: when the giants were about to take action that seriously threatened the equilibrium of Eberron, the dragons acted and utterly destroyed their civilization.

The good news for us is that the Children of Eberron are generally only concerned with SERIOUS threats to the equilibrium of Eberron, like “destroying a moon.” Things that are just going to wipe out a bunch of human nations aren’t that big a deal… again, when you look at things from a perspective of millennia, they’ll grow back. With that said, I suspect the Children of Eberron are concerned with the Mourning, and could potentially be allies in a plot that seeks to solve this mystery… but again, if the answer to the Mourning is “humans did it” and there’s a chance they could do it again, there is a very real risk that Argonnessen would decide that human civilization should go the way of the giants.

If primal magic is the result of invoking the primal spirits, using the secret names and rituals to channel natural forces, or tapping into the interconnectedness of all things through Eberron, how do druids and other primal casters use magic when they travel to other planes? In theory, primal magic is the domain of Eberron herself, so when traveling away from her, wouldn’t a primal spellcaster be cut off from their magic?

Good question. The same problem applies to Divine and Arcane magic, which are fundamentally drawing on the power of Siberys; shouldn’t going to another plane separate them from this source? The short and simple answer is that no, it doesn’t. The Progenitors created all the planes, and all of the planes are connected to Eberron. The creatures of Eberron live and die, know peace and war, dream and go mad. This is because Eberron is touched by all of the planes. The same process works in reverse. Dal Quor may not have a direct connection to Thelanis, but it DOES have a connetion to Eberron, and this allows your caster to draw on the power of Eberron or Siberys.

Now, if YOU had more time, it would certainly be interesting to change the way that primal magic works in Thelanis or Lamannia, and it’s something I might explore if/when I have the opportunity to develop Planes of Eberron. But the simple out if you don’t have time for such tinkering is “Eberron touches all the planes.”

My next few post will be about Phoenix: Dawn Command, but I will be posting another Eberron Q&A sometime in the next few weeks; the topic will be Thelanis and The Fey. Post your questions about Phoenix or Eberron below!

Phoenix Q&A 7/5/16

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Dan Garrison and I have been working on Phoenix: Dawn Command for the last three years. We’ll be releasing the game in August, and it seems like a good time to start talking about it! If you missed the prior post, here’s a link to the events we’ll be running at Gen Con. Meanwhile, if you have questions about the system or the setting, ask away!

You once mentioned how magic in a setting should truly affect the world. How does it affect day to day life of the world of Phoenix?

In Eberron – and D&D in general – magic behaves in a scientific manner. It is reliable: as long as you don’t get punched in the face while you’re casting it, your fireball will always work. One wizard can teach a spell to another. Eberron was thus based on the idea that if magic behaved like science, then it should be incorporated into the world just as science has been.

Phoenix works from a completely different core assumption. Magic isn’t reliable: it is mysterious, powerful, and very dangerous. Humanity has dabbled with it for a long time, but never truly mastered it. Each region has its own magical traditions… the Grimwald shamans invoke natural spirits, while Skavi warlocks bargain with the Fallen Folk and the Talu families draw on the power of their House Gods. Or at least, they used to. Again, while powerful, all of these practices were dangerous and unpredictable. When the Phoenixes established the Empire, they drove the Fallen Folk into the Dusk and banished the House Gods. The practicing of magic was forbidden, and much arcane knowledge was lost. This continued throughout the Phoenix Imperium. Following the Civil War, the Phoenixes themselves disappeared. In the following centuries, some people have begun to dabble with these dangerous arts once more… but it remains an obscure and hidden practice. And now we have the Dread. Are the Fallen Folk returning? Could the Talu reclaim their House Gods? Could the Dread itself have been caused by such foolish dabbling with forces best left alone? Of course, all of this is deals with the personal use of magic. There are also magical artifacts in the world. The Bulwark cities of Skavia are built around powerful such relics… and some of the cities ARE such relics, such as the remnants of a massive bridge now known as Hafsbridge. In a sense, you could look at this as similar to manifest zones in Eberron: People have found an ambient magical effect and settled their to take advantage of its power.

So Phoenix is a setting where magic exists and IS part of the world… but where humans have very little understanding of it. In Phoenix, investigation is part of the story. Defeating a threat is obviously important – but understanding what it is and why it has appeared is even more important, if you hope to turn the tide.

There is one approved form of magic, and that is Ash Sorcery – an art that deals with the Imperial Flame and uses the final ashes of Phoenixes for major workings. But that’s explained in more detail in the book. Intellect-driven Phoenixes can choose to dabble in one of these old paths of magic, and Skavi or Talu Phoenixes could have ties to their ancestral traditions. But again… these are things that have been buried as opposed to being embraced. Even Phoenixes are now considered legends; as one of the new generation of Phoenixes, you are bringing magic back to the Empire.

Phoenix Trio

I had the impression that heroes are more “guys with superpowers” than traditional fantasy heroes, and that these powers don’t look like magic. Did you considered this aspect? Do you think this make the world of Phoenix more similar to the fantasy of Japanese anime than traditional european/american fantasy?

Well, let’s take a look at three Phoenixes. Shepherd (left) is a Durant Phoenix, a tough warrior who faces her enemies with sword and shield. She draws on her power to survive injuries that would bring down others, and to give her the strength to protect her allies and bring down her enemies. Elegy (middle) is a Shrouded Phoenix, whose magic shrouds her in shadow and allows her to learn the secrets of her foes. Drake (right) is a Devoted Phoenix. The light of his flame strengthens his allies and heals their wounds. A shaman in his first life, he knows the ways of the spirits and can exorcise the restless dead.

Phoenixes are, in a sense, superheroes. They are mortals reborn and infused with mystical power. No one can just decide to become a Phoenix; you have to be chosen and you must endure the tests of the Crucible. So that is very different from the typical d20 character. With that said, Shepherd is a warrior who goes toe to toe with her enemies, Elegy makes devastating attacks from the shadows, and Drake is a healer who strengthens his allies; in terms of story roles, not SO different from a fighter, a rogue, and a cleric.

With that said, YOU decide exactly how your Phoenix’s powers manifest. This also ties to the Traits you select in character creation. Drake selected the Trait Shaman; as a result he decided that his magic involves calling on natural spirits. One Elemental could say that his Talon is a spellbook, and that he conjures his flames by reading from its pages; while another could take an Engineering specialty and present his Elemental as an artificer, saying his Talon is a makeshift flamethrower and that his attacks use this and grenades of his own design. One Durant could explain her resistance to damage by saying that she is just exceptionally good at blocking attacks with her shield, while another says that he’s actually just a massive suit of armor.

So the ROLES of the characters are familiar: Warrior, healer, rogue. But how their abilities manifest is up to you. A wing of Phoenixes could look exactly like a typical D&D party… or they could be considerably more exotic.

Have you ever considered to use the d20 system for Phoenix? Do you think you could project an adaptation for that system?

Making a new system isn’t something to do lightly. There’s a lot of good systems out there; why make a new one? When Dan and I first started working on Phoenix: Dawn Command, we considered the possibility of driving it with the d20 engine. In some ways, it would be a relatively simple conversion. Start PCs at second level, and each time they die they gain three levels. The Phoenix Schools translate fairly easily to d20 classes: Bitter (barbarian), Durant (fighter or warlord), Devoted (cleric or druid), Shrouded (bard or thief), Elemental (sorcerer or warlock), Forceful (ranger or monk). In Phoenix you have a pool of energy – Sparks – that let you push beyond your limits; you could represent with an expanded version of the Action Point system.

But there are other elements of the system that don’t translate so easily. When an enemy attacks you, does it hit you and how much damage does it do? When you attack it, are you successful? How much damage do YOU do? When they cast a spell on you, do you resist it? In d20, these things are determined by random die rolls. In Phoenix, all of these things are in the hands of the player – literally, in their hand of cards. It’s not simply a question of what cards you have in your hand, but how you choose to play them. In Phoenix you may well decide to be struck by an attack you COULD avoid… because you’d rather save your best cards to do something amazing on your next turn. You can push beyond your limits with Sparks, but you die when you run out of Sparks. Is this the right time to use that power?

Essentially, when you fail or die in D&D it’s typically because random events didn’t go your way. You fail a saving throw. Your enemy rolls a critical hit. In Phoenix, as often as not, when you die it’s because you CHOOSE to die… because with your sacrifice you were able to do something important. You use the last ounce of your power to hold the door against the horde of zombies or strike the mortal blow against the ultimate enemy. You may die, but quite often it feels like a triumph, not just a bad roll of the dice.

Another way to look at this: Your paladin is facing the Lord of Evil. He makes a grand speech swearing to avenge the demon’s innocent victims. He uses his mightiest attack. And then… he rolls a one, the attack fails, and your turn is a dud. There are times when this can be hilarious and fun, but from a dramatic perspective that’s not how you wanted the scene to go. In Phoenix, you can look at your hand and your Sparks and know before you make that speech whether you can pull this attack off. It’s possible you have a crappy hand and you simply CAN’T perform a successful attack this turn. But if that’s the case, you know it and you can try to figure out what you CAN do with the cards that you have. Hold that big speech and attack for your next turn; this time, save the victim on the altar or grab that scroll in the corner.

So you could make a VERSION of Phoenix using d20. But unless you substantially change the system, it won’t feel the same as actually playing Phoenix.

 

I’m a little bit skeptical about the whole “accessible to non-roleplayers” thing. Have you actually tested that claim with some random friends or relatives that have never gamed before?

I understand your skepticism! We’ve been testing across the country over the last three years, and I’ve played with a lot of people who aren’t my friends or relatives… including quite a few who haven’t gamed before. One of my favorite sessions involved three generations of a family, in which the grandparent had never played before and the youngest member of the group had played games like Pokemon and Magic, but never an RPG. I wouldn’t recommend it to someone who’s not at least interested in trying an RPG, but as long as they are up for trying it, there’s a number of things that make it easy to learn. As a player, everything you need to know is in the cards that are in front of you and in your hand. There’s a minimal amount of terms to pick up – you’re not dealing with dozens of stats and game terms, and you don’t have to look up rules during play. The core mechanic is very straightforward: tell the GM what you want to do, and they’ll tell you what you cards you need to play. That same mechanic underlies attack, defense, and noncombat actions… so once you’ve got that down, you can do anything.

The GM needs to understand the rules. But it’s an easy game as a player. It’s NOT a good game for someone who likes complex simulation or lots of fiddly rules. With that said, there are strategic decisions and optimization choices that give more experienced gamers something to play with. Complexity also varies by School – Durant is one of the simplest Schools to play, while Devoted and Forceful are more complex.

At the end of the day, it’s an RPG, and there will be some people who will always be intimidated by that. But I have played with many non-gamers over the last few years, and as long as someone is interested in giving it a try, it really is easy to pick up.

Are there are plans for Supplements? Of what Kind?

Certainly. The Marshal’s Handbook only has room for a high level overview of the setting. I’d like to delve into the regions and cultures of the Empire; the manifestations of the Dread; conspiracies and other threats beyond the Dread itself; additional mission arcs; and of course, more Challenges for GMs and more Lessons, Traits, and Talons for players. In the long term, I’d be interested in exploring other periods in the history of the Daylit World. I’ve also been playing around with Phoenix fiction. Essentially, all the things I can’t currently do for Eberron. However, the scope and form of this support will of course depend on the success of the core game; at this point, we don’t know what the demand will be.

Do you think Phoenix will be translated in any language different from English?

This is entirely dependent on how successful it is and whether there’s a demand for it. Right now, it’s to early to know.

Did Dragonlance Saga had any influence on this work?

No – I’d never even heard of Fifth Age until over a year after we’d been working on Phoenix, and I’ve still never actually played it. From skimming the rules, I think there’s definitely some overlap – both use cards to remove the random factor of dice, and both encourage a more freeform approach to skills and magic. However, there are some fairly substantial differences. In Phoenix, each character has a unique deck that reflects the abilities and traits of their character; in FA people draw from a common deck and combine the cards with a separate character sheet. I believe that FA uses hand size as a reflection of health, while Phoenix uses tokens to track health. Phoenix has the resource of Sparks, which allow you to push beyond your limits… but you die if you run out of them. And, of course, in Phoenix death is how you grow stronger.

They’re both card-based fantasy RPGs, and there’s bound to be some overlap. But it’s coincidental rather than intentional.

Regarding the PDF download: I hoped we would get some NPCs write ups, specially for the Marshals… There are conflicting reports about the manner of a certain character’s death in the front and back portions of the book. I assume that’s intentional?

The PDF that has been sent to backers doesn’t include the 200-page mission arc that’s included in the physical book – we just wanted to give backers a chance to familiarize themselves with the rules. The mission arc gives a much deeper look into the world, and includes descriptions of many NPCs and locations. It also explains the discrepancy you’re asking about, which is indeed intentional; during the missions, the players have an opportunity to learn secrets that have been hidden from history.

The missions have some sort of timeline occurring besides the one the players will be doing? Do have a sense of all the success and failures of the Command in the world, and lessen the “we are the only group doing something around here” feeling?

The missions focus on the player characters. However, there is a bigger picture going on. The Bones are moving north. Cities may fall to the Chant. This is something that is conveyed in interludes, stories that are told between missions. Interludes generally don’t require gameplay; it’s an opportunity for players and GM to address other events in the world. As part of this, players are encouraged to create a rival wing – another group of Phoenixes that are out on missions at the same time as the players. Now, these Phoenixes don’t actually HAVE to be rivals; they simply serve to emphasize that there ARE other Phoenixes out in the world, and during interludes the GM may report on their actions. “While you were fighting the Chant in Ilona, the B-Wing was dealing with skinchangers in the Grimwald. Badger and Cutter were killed, but Mercy was able to banish the possessing spirits and save Talmouth.”

About number of players, the game is supposed to be played with 3-4 players, is possible to play the missions with just one or two?

It is definitely possible to play with fewer than three or more than five. However, it’s not ideal. Phoenix is designed with teamwork in mind, and many situations require sacrifice for victory. So a single player is going to lack all the skills required to handle most situations, and will be in a bind if faced with a situation requiring sacrifice. Conversely, in a 5-6 player game each player has less time in the spotlight and there’s less of a sense of limited resources. So 3-4 is definitely the magic number… but once the game is out we’ll post advice on running for other group sizes.

About NPCs, the rules are very much us against them, how can we handle friendly (and helpful) NPCs? Like very capable humans, wizards, other phoenix.

The focus of Phoenix is defending the innocent, and you’ll often end up in situations where there are mortals who need your help. With that said, even an exceptional human is extremely fragile next to a Phoenix; further, many mortals simply have no defenses against the threats that Phoenixes can resist (possession, the Chant, etc). Phoenix uses a mechanic called the Buddy System, whereby a Phoenix teams up with one or more mortals and is responsible for keeping them alive. Capable mortals will enhance the Phoenix they are teamed with.

None of the existing missions involve teaming the wing with NPC Phoenixes. Essentially, there just aren’t enough Phoenixes in the world for Dawn Command to be able to spare more than one wing for anything but the direst of threats. A situation that did call for multiple wings – for example, a group of Devoted working together to exorcise a mass haunting – would likely be done as an abstracted skill action as opposed to tactical combat. We could certainly expand the system to include Phoenixes as allies in combat – there’s a future mission I want to write that would involve it – but it’s not the primary focus of the system.

How can we proceed when a player misses the game night? In other systems the DM can play for him, or another player assume at least the control of the mechanical decisions. Is this situation, how do we proceed? Just handwave the actions of the absent player?

The simplest answer is to come up with a reason for the character’s absence. Provided you’re starting a new mission, come up with an alternate assignment for the missing character: a Forceful was sent on a vital scouting mission, a Devoted had to go help with a mundane plague, a Durant is organizing a militia force. For whatever reason, they aren’t at Pyre and can’t accompany the wing, and the group will just have to make do without them. This ties to the difference between Phoenix and d20. No one character is absolutely vital. A Devoted is useful, but not having a Devoted isn’t the same experience as not having a healer in another game… because death isn’t the end of the story. The mission is there, and if you have to take it on shorthanded, you’ll have to push yourself even harder to succeed. You may not all make it. But death is how you advance, and if you never fall, you’ll never rise to greater heights.

The situation is more awkward if you’ve split a single mission into multiple sessions and a player drops out in the middle of a mission. Even there, I would be more inclined to come up with a reason that the character has to leave than to have them tag along without a player. While the system is simple, there’s a lot of decisions about how to best use your resources, to justify your traits, and simply engaging with the story – it’s much more involved than just saying ‘Well, the fighter would make a Power Attack.” You certainly COULD play two characters or have the GM control a character, but it will be more complicated than it would be in a system like d20, and it would be far cleaner to simply drop the character from the scenario. If there’s absolutely no logical way to justify it, the simplest answer is to come up with something that kills them; they can be reborn once the player returns.

With all that said: I believe the game is optimal with 3-4 players, and the core set only has enough cards to support four players at a time. But if you have a group of players who often can’t make every session, you can have six players come up with characters… and simply only have four of them play in any one session. So the Durant can’t make it this session? Great, it’s time to call in the Bitter. This is an approach I’ve used with many other systems. In Phoenix it works well because most missions do begin with a reset on Pyre – so the current roster is whichever four members are in Pyre when the call goes out.

A similar question – do you think it would be possible to play without physically being around a table? For example, if I had the game, and my friends lived in other cities, how crazy would it be to try to play via forum post, or skype, or something like that?

I’ve never tried it, but I believe it could be done. As it stands, the issue is that each character needs deck of cards. If each player had a deck – whether because each player owned a copy of the game, or because you broke up your copy and sent the character decks out to each player – then you could play over Skype, provided you trusted your players to be honest about the cards in their hands. It’s a narrative game, so play-by-post isn’t actually weird at all; it’s just again a matter of the player having to have their character deck, and you trusting them to be honest about the draw.

Again with NPCs, in the missions we will have other phoenix, besides the Rival Group and the Marshals?
There are a few other Phoenixes that appear in the missions, yes. But again, bear in mind that Phoenixes don’t have time to just hang out and socialize. There’s less than a hundred Phoenixes in the world. They can be instantly sent into danger, but they have to make their own way back to Pyre before they can be sent out again… and there is a constant stream of new threats every day. So as a Phoenix you’ll be lucky to have a few hours at the Grand Aerie before you’re back out in the world. But certainly we will be presenting additional Phoenixes over time – including the iconic characters we use in our demos and the Phoenixes created by our Tragic Backstory and Portrait backers.

Rules Question: Speed. So, the Challenge acts after X Speed player turn has passed. So a reduction of the Speed value is good, and a increase is bad. So why when a challenge is Stunned it has it’s speed REDUCED?
Drat – that is a mistake that slipped through. Your analysis of Speed is correct, and yes, when a challenge is Stunned its speed should in fact be increased by one – since the EFFECT of this is to make it act less often. We’ll make sure to have this in the errata when the game is released.

What else would you like to know?

Phoenix: Dawn Command

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As a Phoenix, death is not the end of your story. 

You have passed through death and returned stronger than before. Now you are the last hope of a world besieged by nightmares. To defeat the Dread you will have to unravel ancient mysteries and overcome terrifying threats. You have seven lives to save the world: make each one count. 

Phoenix: Dawn Command is a fantasy roleplaying gaming coming out in August 2016. Phoenix’s card-driven system puts the skills and strengths of the character directly into your hands – an intuitive system that’s accessible both to longtime gamers and those who have never played a roleplaying game before. For the GM, the system facilitates collaborative storytelling with a minimal amount of prep time… and the basic game comes with a seven-mission story arc ready to run out of the box.

Daniel Garrison and I began working on Phoenix: Dawn Command almost three years ago. I like to say that it’s a bridge between Eberron and Gloom. Like Eberron, it’s a fantasy setting with an intriguing story to explore. Like Gloom, it’s a card-driven game that encourages storytelling… and in which you eventually want your character to die. It is a world where the stakes are high, where your missions matter, and where victory often requires terrible sacrifice. You have seven lives, and you grow stronger each time you die… but each time you come closer to your final death. Death isn’t the end, but neither is it trivial… and I love the stories that you can build with this foundation.

Phoenix: Dawn Command will be released in August. Over the next few weeks I’ll be writing more about the setting, the rules, and answering any questions that you have. I’ll be doing my first Phoenix Q&A later this week, so if you have questions, post them in the comments or contact me directly. If you’re a Kickstarter backer (at the $45 level or above), you should have already received a link to download a pdf of the sourcebook; if you haven’t, use the contact me button to let me know and we’ll see what we can do.

For now, here’s a few things you might want to check out.

  • Twogether Studios will be demoing Phoenix at Gen Con. Here’s a schedule of our events. 
  • Last year, playtester Richard Malena posted a series of YouTube videos explaining various elements of the game, including Character Creation, Skill Spreads, and Combat. Bear in mind that Richard made these a year ago, so he’s using prototype materials. The mechanics are sound, but this isn’t what the final game actually looks like.

Post your questions about Phoenix: Dawn Command in the comments below!

Game of Thrones Bingo: Season Six Finale!

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The Game of Thrones finale is here, which means one last chance for bingo. Will The Hound and Brienne face off in the North? Does Arya have something cooking? Will Cersei somehow find a way to choose violence… and will she have a drink before she does?

You can download the ten-card set here: GoT Bingo 6-10

 

Game of Thrones Bingo, Episode 6.9

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It’s possible you’ve ended up here while trying to find an Eberron Q&A – if so, follow the link for that. If you’re here for Game of Thrones, what we know is that this episode is supposed to focus almost entirely on the battle for Winterfell. Given that, I’ve only included North-centric squares, and we have a lot of “Someone kills someone” spaces. It seems like a sure bet that Ramsay will kill someone, but what about Sansa? We know Wun Wun the Giant will charge into battle, but will he crush an enemy by stepping on someone? And will someone turn out to be unexpectedly pregnant? Only time will tell!

You can get the ten-card set of cards here: GoT Bingo 6-9

 

Dragonmarks 6/18/16: Faith and Wisdom, Arcane and Divine

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I was planning to do my next Q&A about Druids, but this conversation took off in the comments of the last Q&A and really deserves its own page. So Druids will have to wait for another week or two. As I mentioned in my last post, I currently have two events on the schedule at Gen Con: a seminar specifically about Phoenix: Dawn Command, and a casual Q&A where we’ll talk about Eberron, Phoenix, and whatever else people wish to discuss.

Before diving into this discussion, I recommend checking out the previous Dragonmark on Religion, Faith, and Souls. This examines why faith matters; how someone can believe in gods that do not manifest in the world; and the role of souls within Eberron.

As always, let me be clear that this is how I run things in MY campaign. This isn’t canon, and it may even contradict canon material; it’s simply my opinion. Also, if you’ve read this post before: Due to the number of questions that were posed, I’ve gone back and consolidated my answers so it’s a little more concise.

I feel very stupid in asking that, but an answer would be very important to me since I never really undestood: what is the real difference between ARCANE MAGIC and DIVINE MAGIC in Eberron? We know most of priests don’t cast spells, faith is not enough and sometime not necessary. Gods might not exist. And you always say: magic in Eberron is like science. Is divine magic too? 

Both arcane magic and divine magic manipulate the same energy. This energy is an ambient force in the world that most scholars say flows from the Ring of Siberys. From a scientific viewpoint, this is why detect magic and counterspells and the like work on both kinds of magic: because fundamentally, they are different ways of manipulating the same form of energy. Arcane magic uses scientific methods to tap that power, while divine magic is driven by faith and willpower… and the intervention of something that may or may not be a god.

ARCANE MAGIC

Arcane magic is purely scientific. You’ve learned the underlying rules of the universe, and you’ve figured out the cheat codes. You have learned how to interact with that energy and shape it in specific ways. A wizard works through complex codified formulas. A sorcerer interacts with it in a more instinctive way. Some of this comes out with in the description of Lei performing infusions in The Dreaming Dark; she’s reaching out into this energy and weaving tapestries with it. This is the idea behind things like Spell-Storing Item; the artificer is inherently more “inventive” with magic, and can jury-rig spell effects they can’t normally produce. So to a certain degree you can think of an arcane caster as a software engineer, using code to manipulate the ambient energy. The caster may or may not have the talent required to create new spells, but they are approaching magic in a practical way.

Bear in mind that in Eberron, PC-classed characters are remarkable. Arcane magic is a science, but most who study it can at best achieve the status of magewright. Magewrights don’t use spellbooks, but neither are they spontaneous casters; they learn a particular set of spells they can memorize. The idea here is that the magewright spends years studying a specific set of spells. They don’t need spellbooks because they have drilled with those spells over and over and over. The spellbook is essentially the textbook they learned from… but they studied each spell for YEARS. They can’t just pick up a spellbook and memorize a completely new spell in a few hours. The fact that a wizard CAN do this is a reflection of the fact that the wizard is an amazing prodigy, who grasps the fundamental principles of magic in a way the magewright can’t. The magewright is essentially an electrician who learns to repair a specific type of appliance; the wizard or artificer is Tesla or Edison… they understand the principles of this science on a deeper level, and can work with it in a completely different way.

This model doesn’t make sense with every possible arcane caster; see the question on bards further down the page. In particular, sorcerers have the power to spontaneously produce arcane effects. A sorcerer doesn’t have to understand how they do what they do. But it’s arcane in nature because it’s drawing directly on the ambient magical power, and because it doesn’t require anything like faith… which is a critical component of divine magic.

DIVINE MAGIC

So, arcane magic involves using scientific principles to shape ambient magical energy. For divine magic, there is an intermediary involved: a divine power source that filters and focuses the power from the Ring of Siberys. Through faith and willpower, the divine caster connects to the divine source. If the arcane caster is an engineer, the divine caster is essentially connecting to a server that has a bunch of apps on it. The divine caster doesn’t need to understand anything about code or WHY the apps work; they just know that they ask for healing, and Cure Light Wounds 2.0 does its thing. There is no question that these divine power sources exist. The divine power source has an alignment; a set of domains; and specific relationship to positive and negative energy. Eberron is unique in that the alignment of a divine caster doesn’t have to match the alignment of that divine power source. Per my house rule in this Dragonshard, the alignment of the power source determines all magical alignment-oriented effects of the religion… so regardless of personal alignment, a divine caster associated with the Silver Flame casts holy word and protection from evil, because these are the powers granted by the source.

But what ARE these divine power sources? There’s the question. In some cases, we know exactly what they are: the Silver Flame is a pool of energy initially created by the couatl sacrifice in the Age of Demons, said to be strengthened by noble souls over the ages. Aside from supporting divine magic, it is the force that holds the Overlords at bay. So again: there is no question that it exists, and it’s not anthropomorphic in any way. But what of the others? If you’re a follower of the Sovereign Host, then you say that the Sovereigns are gods: they may be sources of pure divine power, but they are also sentient, omnipresent entities that watch us and guide us. If you’re a doubter, you say that these are just pools of energy like the Silver Flame; that they have coalesced around particular concepts like War or Law; and that they may be formed from mass belief (which the Undying Court shows has a certain degree of power) or from the souls of believers. There is no right answer here; no canon source is ever going to conclusively say “The Sovereigns are gods” or “The Sovereigns are pools of belief.”

But it’s important to remember one thing: in Eberron, the majority of priests are not divine casters. They’re like priests in our world: they offer spiritual guidance and comfort to their congregation. They believe in the faith, but it’s true, belief alone is not enough. Faith alone doesn’t guarantee divine magic… because in my opinion, a divine caster must have something more than just mundane faith. They have what I’ll call transcendental faith. In part this is about depth of conviction… but it is also just about a way of viewing the universe, of having a faith that lets you believe beyond the limits of mundane reality and touch the divine that lies beyond it. I can’t explain this much more clearly than this, because I don’t have it. But touching a divine power source requires an degree of faith most people simply don’t possess… just as most magewrights simply don’t have the insight and talent required to become a wizard or artificer. And even this faith alone may not be sufficient; it’s quite possible that you must in some way be chosen by the divine power source, as a paladin is called. If you view the power sources as gods, than this is an easy thing to understand. If not, it’s a little harder to explain; but in some way, a divine caster has a connection to the power source that most people will simply never have. But in my opinion, faith is always necessary. It is the conduit that forms the basic connection to the divine power source, and without it you have nothing. Regardless of alignment, a follower of the Silver Flame must believe they are using the power of the Silver Flame to protect the innocent. They can be evil and using it in a horrible unjustified witch hunt, but they must believe that the cause is justified. If you have someone who is truly a servant of the Lords of Dust and cares nothing for the principles of the Flame, then they cannot be drawing their magic from the Flame itself; they must be tied to a different divine power source. With that said, the Silver Flame has a built-in out in the Shadow in the Flame, which can empower such evildoers. But you can’t be a lover of chaos and draw power from Aureon, Lord of Law. Your alignment doesn’t have to match your divine power source… but your faith must.

So: What differentiates the cleric from the favored soul? It’s essentially the same separation as the wizard and sorcerer… but with faith added. Not all priests are clerics, but the vast majority of clerics are priests. A cleric works with tradition, learning the prayers and rituals of the faith. A favored soul has faith and feels the divine call, and needs nothing more. So in the Silver Flame, the typical cleric is a priest or friar… while a favored soul might be a farmer who hears the Voice of the Flame. I generally put paladins in this camp: a paladin has to be called. Within the Church of the Silver Flame, paladins are treasured and brought into the templars; but in my opinion, a paladin must be called, it’s not something you can just pursue.

Isn’t faith inherently irrational? And isn’t that at odds with clerics having to have a high Wisdom? And isn’t it strange that a cleric with the Madness domain could have a high Wisdom?

To begin with, I don’t view Wisdom as a statistic associated with logic; that’s what Intelligence is for. In my opinion, Wisdom is about willpower (hence, Will saves), perception, and understanding… an understanding that goes beyond the pure reason of Intelligence. Beyond that, I think it’s dangerous to try to use ability scores as a measure of someone’s beliefs… IE “This belief is stupid, therefore this individual can’t have a high Intelligence.” This is especially true when it comes to madness. In my opinion a Cleric of the Dragon Below could be exceptionally intelligent about everything but the subject of their madness. They could be a brilliant arcane scholar… and it could be that very brilliance that led them to discover the secrets that shattered their sanity.

But back to the core point: Is faith irrational? On some level, of course it is. The basic concept of faith is believing in a thing that cannot be proven. But don’t equate faith with zealotry or fanaticism. Just because a person has faith doesn’t mean that they will be driven to irrational action or that they cannot listen to reason. And just because a person has faith – even that amazing transcendental faith that I describe – doesn’t mean that they can’t have doubt. In my opinion, questioning faith is one of the most interesting things you can do as a divine character: explore why you believe what you believe, and why you hold to that faith even when it can’t be proven. The other day I was watching Shakespeare in Love, and multiple times when things are at their very worst, someone says “Don’t worry – it will all turn out well.” To which someone else responds “How?” because there is no rational way that it could. The first speaker shrugs, smiles, and says “I don’t know… it’s a mystery.” To me that’s the point of faith. One person looks at something terrible – like the Mourning – and has their faith broken by it. Another sees the same thing and says “I don’t understand how or why this could happen… but I have faith that there is a reason.” For such a person faith is a source of strength and comfort when reason provides no answer. Further below I’ll look at this point in more detail, but the basic point is that yes, faith IS irrational. But that doesn’t mean that every divine caster has to have blind faith. It doesn’t mean that they have to ignore reason or things that go against their faith, and it doesn’t mean that they can’t question their faith. The question is whether, in the end, you hold onto your faith… or whether the things that you face will break it.

With this in mind, I’d like to look at two player characters from my own Eberron campaigns. One was a changeling cleric of the Silver Flame, who as part of his character background explained that he’d encountered corruption in the church and been shocked by it. He’d left the church to go out into the world and explore the darkness of the human soul more deeply… so that he could gain the understanding he’d need to come back an drive it from the church. So: his faith was shaken by an encounter with a corrupt priest; he left the church itself; but he never stopped believing in the Silver Flame and its purpose.

The second was a character I played in the longest-running Eberron campaign I’ve been a part of. I began as a dragonborn follower of the Sovereign Host (with a Thir spin on the Sovereigns). Over the course of the campaign, I lost my faith in the Sovereigns… but ended up becoming a divine oracle of the Draconic Prophecy, and seeing that as the force shaping the world. So I questioned my faith, and it actually changed and evolved over the course of my story.

So the point of all this? A divine caster must have faith. Faith is the fuel of divine magic and a critical element that differentiates it from arcane magic. But you don’t have to be a zealot or a fanatic. You can listen to reason. You can question your faith and even change it. But in my opinion, you must have faith to perform divine magic.

In Eberron, can’t a cleric gain divine magic from a philosophy or personal belief? 

This is about the principle that in Eberron, you can cast spells with sufficient faith in ANYTHING. You could have the Church of Your Shoe. Technically, this is true. Page 35 of the original Eberron Campaign Setting says the following:

You may also decide that your cleric has no deity but instead channels divine power from the spiritual remnants of the Dragon Above. Select two domains that reflect the cleric’s spiritual inclination and abilities. The restriction on alignment domains still applies.

So yes: In Eberron, you can make a cleric of ANYTHING. With that said, the description here makes clear what you’re doing. You may worship your shoe, but your shoe isn’t what’s granting you magic; you are bypassing the divine power sources and drawing your power straight from the Ring of Siberys, which as I mentioned above is essentially the source of all magic. Beyond this, I’d note the following…

  • While this is possible, within the canon world it is incredibly rare. You’ll note that the vast majority of the divine casters presented in canon material follow the defined faiths. I’m not even sure that there is an example of an I-worship-my-shoe-style priest anywhere in canon, though I could be wrong (I was! See below). Basically, this is only possible for rare and remarkable people… but player characters ARE rare and remarkable people, so go ahead!
  • The theory behind this is that it’s easier to connect to one of the existing divine sources that has mass belief… potentially because the power sources ARE that mass belief. This is why you see so many religions that are essentially some variation of the Sovereign Host – why Rusheme has Rowa of the Leaves instead of Fiddledediddlestag the Charcoal God. The closer your god is to a Sovereign archetype, the greater the chance that your faith will produce divine spellcasters. So there are and have been many radically different faiths… but those similar to the Sovereigns have produced more spellcasters, and that’s been a form of social evolution. Basically, if you can’t connect to a belief pool/god you can go straight to the source – but that’s hard to do.

So the principle of the atheist who believes SO STRONGLY that the gods don’t exist that he actually draws divine power from this is certainly possible – but you’ll note that we didn’t present tons of these in the world. And in my campaign, if you’re playing that character and you’re suddenly faced with absolute proof that gods DO exist, you could have a crisis of faith and lose your powers…

PRIMAL MAGIC

So how do druids and rangers fit into this? In 3.5 they are considered to be divine casters. However, a ranger isn’t called as a paladin is, and the concept of a ranger doesn’t seem to require transcendental faith. This is true. A cleric with the Nature domain has an alignment aura, channels positive or negative energy, and has to have faith; a druid does none of these things. So how is it that druids are divine casters?

The fact of the matter is that this is a kluge… because they aren’t arcane casters, either. They don’t have some deep scientific understanding of magical principles. Fourth edition introduced the concept of the Primal power source as distinct from arcane and divine, and personally, that’s how I view things… all the more so because while arcane and divine magic both manipulate the ambient energy of the Ring of Siberys, I would make the case that primal magic is actually drawing on the energy of Eberron… which is to say the world itself. This is important for a number of reasons. The Ashbound hate unnatural magic, and one possibility is they could temporarily abolish it (at least within a region); this goal makes more sense if primal magic continues to function. The danger is that once you move in this direction, you open a huge rabbit hole (presumably, made by a dire rabbit). Do detect magic and dispel magic work on primal magic? Basically, adding a new sort of magic is a big can of worms for balance and complexity of play… and thus it’s generally easier to simply say that primal magic essentially functions like divine magic. But if you want to open that can of worms, go ahead!

 

ARCANE AND DIVINE

If you’re looking for more ways to differentiate arcane and divine magic in your game, take a moment to think about the components of magic… by which I mean the verbal and somatic components, the gestures and incantations that are made. What do verbal components actually sound like? What does casting a spell actually look like?

Following the principle that arcane magic is like software engineering, in my campaign both incantations and gestures are very scientific: you are repeating syllables of power in a specific order and making very precise gestures, tracing glyphs that help channel the forces you are drawing on. Each time you cast fireball, you use exactly the same gestures and incantation, because that is the recipe for “fireball.”

By contrast, I see the typical divine spell as a prayer. You are invoking your faith and asking for a specific favor. In my opinion this isn’t about precise syllables arranged in a certain way. It may well involve names that have power, but each time a cleric casts cure light wounds the precise prayer may vary, taking into account the specific situation: “Olladra, smile on your servant Ping and let your light heal his wounds.” Because again, the cleric isn’t using a scientific method; they are invoking the source of their faith.

With that said, I believe that in the case of a cleric, spell-prayers are likely to have a very specific form based on the particular spell and nature of the religion… whereas the favored soul is more likely to have very little structure and simply call directly on the divine power.

So what about someone who level dips, like a theurge? They have the cheat codes and pray to the designer to wrote them? For those that dabble in the arcane and divine, does it come with more clarity or confusion?

Bearing in mind that this is just my opinion, I don’t think it’s confusing at all… and I personally wouldn’t try to make one answer fit all characters. Divine power sources exist. As a result, I would support the idea of a theurge as a “hacker” who had figured out an arcane method for hacking into a power source and channeling its power.

At the same time, nothing about arcane magic and divine magic is inherently in opposition. I think that many clerics of Aureon may also have levels in arcane classes. Per the belief of the Host, it is Aureon who gave mortals the gift of arcane magic; just because a cleric is capable of performing divine miracles through Aureon’s grace doesn’t mean that she can’t also learn to master the arcane arts, whether she does this as a theurge or by traditional multiclassing.

Adepts cast divine spells but can also be considered rustic mages, or is this an Adept vs Magewright issue?

I’d call it a skinning issue: how do you want to present the particular adept? I do suggest that many Jorasco healers are adepts precisely because they are NOT required to have faith.

So where do Bards fit into all of these? I know traditionally they are arcane. But I prefer to think of them as dabblers in everything, and that their spells are a mixture of arcane, divine, primal, and whatever else they heard somewhere. But can one “dabble” in divine magic? 

I generally don’t think of bards as being defined by either excessive faith or spiritual enlightenment. They don’t have a connection to a divine sphere, any sort of Channel Divinity, or the alignment aura of a cleric. Thus, I would say that while they do have certain spells that are otherwise unavailable to arcane casters (like healing), that it’s not drawing on their faith or a divine connection.

So why can a bard heal when a wizard can’t? A simple option is the same one I suggested for the mystic theurge: they are essentially hackers, using arcane techniques to tap into a divine power source. Note that they aren’t the only arcane casters who can do this; an artificer can generate healing effects using spell-storing item, something Lei does frequently in The Dreaming Dark novels. In the case of SSI, I believe that it is that the case of an artificer literally hacking a spell together from the ground up.

However, if it was ME, I’d take a different approach with bards. I’d say that story and songs have power… both the power of shaping a culture, and beyond that because story and song are a path to the power of Thelanis, just as psionics can draw power from Xoriat and Dal Quor.

Now, the bard is concretely performing arcane magic, which is relevant mechanically for anything that triggers off arcane magic. But I’d essentially argue that they perform it in, as you suggest, a “dabbling” way – and yet they can accomplish things that their technique shouldn’t allow, precisely because they are connected to Thelanis and the Trickster… or Traveler?… archetype. As with other things, a lot of it is how you skin your bard. Do you PRESENT their spells as being cast in the same way as a wizard? Or do you have it be more about flourish and style, of telling a story that becomes real?

The Magic Initiate feat in 5E also begs that question. How do you have the kind of super-faith needed to cast divine magic, but only a little?

First off, there’s no reason that you can’t possess transcendental faith and yet still only cast a few spells. I don’t think that a 20th level cleric necessarily has more FAITH than a 1st level cleric; what she’s done is either earned the respect and favor of her deity (if you believe in gods) or through experience gained a greater ability to manipulate the divine source (if you don’t). But you can have an NPC who’s a first level cleric who NEVER GAINS ANOTHER LEVEL. That doesn’t represent imperfect faith in my eyes, it simply means they’ve reached the extent of their potential for divine spellcasting ability.

Personally, if I’m running a game and I have a player who wants to that the Magic Initiate (Cleric) feat, I will ask them to explain to me how this is justified by their character’s faith. As I said above; just because you’re a wizard or a thief doesn’t mean that you can’t have spiritual faith. Obviously this isn’t required by the mechanics, but it’s what I’D do… UNLESS they could justify with their character that, as suggested with the Mystic Theurge, their access to divine spells isn’t driven by divine faith but because their CHARACTER has learned to game the system… that the wizard is so good at magic that they’ve found a way to hack a divine power source.

BEYOND THIS: Something we’ve commonly said before is that in the faith of the Sovereign Host, the Sovereigns are with us all… and that those who emulate the Sovereigns are closer to them. So the smith becomes closer to Onatar through his work… while the rogue might feel a bond to Olladra, or the wizard to Aureon. I could see any of those characters taking Magic Initiate to reflect that “bond to the Sovereign.” Though I’d still generally expect the character to have some level of faith in that Sovereign.

 

RANDOM QUESTIONS

We know that Valenar elves want to call back their ancestors.

That’s not precisely correct. Through their devotion, the Tairnadal preserve the spirits of their greatest heroes. Like the Blood of Vol and the Aereni, they believe that there is no afterlife beyond Dolurrh. By emulating the heroes of the past, they anchor those spirits to the material plane and keep them from fading away. It’s the same principle as the Undying Court, but the Undying Court preserves the deathless directly – while among the Tairnadal, the ancestors live on through their descendants.

So don’t call it a comeback… because they never left.

You might want to check out the “Vadallia and Cardaen” Eye on Eberron article in Dragon 407 for a more in-depth look at what the faith and the ancestors mean to the Tairnadal.

But does their priests have any vision of reality, a greater plan for the future beyond that? Do they see any role for other races or a destiny or duty for elves after they reach greatness? 

There’s a number of different factors here. First, for the priest: the job is never done. There’s never a point where you say “The elves have reached greatness, folks… mission accomplished.” Even if the elves of this generation are the perfect avatars of the greatest heroes, they will one day die… and when they do the next generation must be ready to take their place. So there’s always work to do. Likewise, for the follower of the faith, you could always be doing better. The patron ancestors were LEGENDS… are your deeds truly worthy of them?

In part this speaks to a fundamental difference in human and elven character. Short-lived humans are always pushing to achieve something new. Overall, both Aereni and Tairnadal essentially believe that their society IS perfect; both seek to preserve what they have and to prevent the loss of any of their greatest heroes. People of the Five Nations would say that this has essentially led to the stagnation of the elven cultures… but that’s a matter of opinion.

There are certainly Tairnadal who aren’t content to simply emulate the legends of the past; while their first concern must be to honor the ancestors, they also seek to become legends in their own right, who will become new patron ancestors after their deaths. Thus, while most of the patron ancestors date back to Xen’drik, there are heroes from the times in which the Tairnadal have battled goblins and dragons… and there may soon be new heroes from this age.

The article on Vadallia and Cardaen discusses the fact that Tairnadal actions and goals vary strongly based on the patron ancestor. Some are honorable; some are cruel. But their heroes weren’t conquerors. The original patron ancestors were rebels and guerillas fighting against an overwhelming power that sought to enslave and destroy them. This is the drama the Valenar seek to recreate. In seizing land on the mainland they are creating a killing ground; now they work to antagonize some great power into attacking them there, so they can recreate the heroic struggle of their ancestors.

In other words; what’s the “reality under reality” a Valenar cleric has to believe in?

This is an interesting question, because the answer is that all the elven cultures are largely agnostic. They don’t care about who created the world, and they don’t believe that there are unknown divine powers shaping general events. Druids and rangers both play a role in Tairnadal culture, and when it comes to questions like “Why’d that earthquake happen” a Tairnadal is more likely to say “Because that’s how the world works” than to attribute it to the Devourer or some other supernatural force. The reality beyond reality that the Tairnadal care about is simple: Through our devotion, we preserve the spirits of our greatest heroes. Those heroes in turn chose those who are to follow their path, and they can guide and inspire the chosen who emulate their deeds. That’s enough for the elves; their pantheon is made up of heroes, and they believe those heroes can influence the lives of their chosen. This is most directly seen in the extraordinary abilities of a Revenant Blade, but it’s still believed that the Patron Ancestor is with their chosen in less dramatic times. Meanwhile, it is the Patron Ancestors AS A WHOLE that empower clerics and are the source of clerical magic. I ran a one-shot where all the players made Valenar characters, and the cleric made a point of explaining the ancestor that was responsible for each of the spells that he cast. His healing is granted by the legendary healer, his spiritual weapon is the blade of Vadallia, his flame strike is the fires of Cardaen. So to draw a parallel to our world, the Tairnadal don’t care about gods; their faith is based entirely around saints, and they believe that it is only through the actions of the Tairnadal that those saints are preserved. So the cleric must always be guiding this generation and preparing the next; this is never a job that will be done.

At the moment I am playing a Khoravar Paladin of the Sovereign Host. He’s also an active member of House Medani. What I was curious about was if it is acceptable for this character to want to seek out Valenar tradition and learn about it, possibly honoring an ancestor, while still serving the Host?

I know I’ve written about this topic before, but I can’t track down the answer. Short form: It’s certainly a great path for a PC. Within the world, we’ve established that there are Khoravar who pursue this path (it’s mentioned that some of the Khoravar in Taer Valaestas do this). With that said, I think the character will receive a very mixed reaction from the Tairnadal themselves. I think some will applaud the character’s attempts to honor their ancestors; the purpose of the tradition is to preserve the ancestors, and if the PC can help do this, good for them. Others will say that those of mixed blood are flawed vessels that cannot contain the soul of a true Elven hero.

The first step towards any sort of acceptance would be having a Keeper of the Past determine and declare which ancestor has chosen you. If a respected Keeper declares that you’ve been chosen by a patron, that would be good enough for many – but convincing a Keeper to do the tests likely won’t be easy. Beyond this, even those who believe you might provoke or challenge you… whether they are doubters who seek to prove that you have no connection to the spirit, or believers who seek to emulate events from the life of your patron to strengthen your connection.

As for conflict with serving the Host, I don’t think the two are necessarily in conflict. I think there are many Tairnadal who would dismiss your faith in the Host as foolishness, and many might say “Your patron was no follower of the Host; clearly you must abandon this faith if you are to truly embody their spirit.” However, as I said, the Tairnadal faith isn’t about gods that define reality. There’s no fundamental conflict beyond the basic one that the Patron Ancestors didn’t follow the Host, so how can you truly emulate them when you do? But that seems like an interesting story to explore.

It’s quite obvious what is FAITH when you worship the Host or the Blood of Vol. But what is faith in the Undying Court or the Flame? They do exist, no doubt in that. As you say: they are pragmatical things, they exist and work.

WE know the Silver Flame exists, because WE know for a fact that it’s the only thing that keeps the Overlords from destroying everything. But if you’re standing in a field in Khorvaire, you have no way to prove that; the Silver Flame doesn’t incarnate and walk around beating up demons in front of people. So faith in the Flame means first of all, believing that it exists; believing that it holds a great evil at bay; believing that it empowers noble souls who seek to protect the innocent from evil; and believing that after death noble spirits can join with it and strengthen it. All of this then reinforces the concept that you want to be a “noble soul” – which comes back to compassionate, charity, protecting the weak, etc, etc.

The Undying Court is a different sort of thing because you CAN go visit the Court – but remember that the power of the Court is greater than its combined components. Faith in the court includes the belief that reverence for the ancestors is what sustains them; while it’s not as extreme as it is for the Tairnadal, it is your duty to venerate your ancestors and their deeds and ensure that their legacy is never forgotten. Beyond that, it is the faith that the Court as a whole is bound to the destiny of Aerenal and the Elves as a whole: that the power of the Court will shield Aerenal from any who would harm it. Finally, it is the belief that you can prove yourself worth of the Court by excelling at the Aereni traditions. So in day to day life, it’s about honoring your ancestors, having faith that they are watching over you, and seeking to perfect your own talents so you can follow in their footsteps. Unlike the Tairnadal, an Aereni wizard isn’t trying to become an avatar for his wizard ancestor – but he does seek to perfect his magic to prove himself worthy of the Court.

This does tie back to why Elven culture isn’t THAT much more advanced than human culture, despite being far older. As I think I’ve said before, the Elves essentially feel they’ve achieved perfection and the key is sustaining it. MOST Elven wizards aren’t trying to innovate, as much they are trying to perfectly match they techniques of their ancestors (who were, to be certain, amazing at what they did). This comes back to the idea of what an arcane incantation sounds like. In my opinion, an Aereni mage will spend years or even decades learning the PERFECT PRONUNCIATION of the syllables of power. His fireball sounds EXACTLY like the one cast ten thousand years ago. Whereas a mage at Arcanix learns the same basic “language’ of magic, but may fudge or modify things slightly to find a pronunciation that’s uniquely suited to them. And in the process, they might discover something entirely new.

But again, if you attend services of the Undying Court, they would be telling the stories of the Deathless… ensuring that their deeds are never forgotten, that we sustain them with our memory and reverence just as they protect us with their power.

Could you perhaps give me some insight into how the Undying Court grants spells? From what I understand, the Court can only grant spells when acting as a whole, which implies that the duty of granting spells is spread out amongst a large number of different deathless. I started wondering how they would go about granting spells, and domains, and if the process might be some variant of a spellpool that the deathless add to and allow clerics to draw from each day. I’m not sure though. Any thoughts?

The Undying Court is – in and of itself – a divine power source. Just as the Silver Flame is said to be formed from a mass of devout souls. In the case of the Undying Court you have the souls of the deathless themselves. Beyond this, the Deathless are themselves channels to Irian, adding its energy to the pool. And on top of that, add the faith of the living who are devoted to the Court. All of that woven together create a gestalt force that is the divine power source of the Undying Court… and it is this force that has a Good alignment aura, positive energy alignment, and the domains of the Court.

So when a cleric prayers for spells, it’s not like one of the Deathless suddenly stops and says “Bob wants Cure Light Wounds.” The existence of the Court creates the power source. The transcendent faith of the cleric allows them to connect to this power source and cast spells. Meanwhile, the councilors themselves can call on this power to do things like fight dragons. Essentially, it’s much like the Silver Flame: a source of pure mystical power that certain people can channel. Not that the Councilors technically DON’T have to have faith, because they are directly connected to the source; but a cleric would need faith.

Normally, my inclination would be to say that a paladin of the Undying Court is called by this gestalt spirit, not by an individual. HOWEVER, it could be an interesting story to say that in addition to having faith, a divine caster of the Undying Court must be sponsored by one of the Undying Councilors. This would create an interesting patron for the caster, and it would presumably also be that patron who would answer spells like commune. At it could be that this patron could choose to cut off the caster’s access to the Court’s magic. If you’re looking for that incarnate god experience, this might be the closest thing to it Eberron has to offer.

I know I already asked you how would you justify a hellbreed in a 3.5 eberron, where there’s no canon baator, nor hell or punishment for mortal souls. 

I’ve never personally used a Hellbred, and I don’t own whatever sourcebook covers them, so it’s not a topic I have a strong opinion on. From what I understand, a Hellbred is a damned soul who reprents just before damnation and is returned to life for a chance at redemption. I agree that this concept isn’t a great match for Eberron’s cosmology. With that said, as of 4E, Baator is a part of canon Eberron, and its denizens do make bargains with mortals for their souls. It’s simply that this is a very recent occurrence, and would require the Hellbred to have made a bargain with one of the lords of Baator.

Another possibility would be that the Hellbreed actually involves the redemption of an evil immortal, such as a rakshasa. When an immortal is killed, its energy eventually reforms into a new immortal. In the case of weaker immortals, memories are often lost and it is rededicated to its original purpose. In this case, you could say that a fiend sought to change its path and was killed by its comrades so it would be reborn and restored to its original alignment; to escape this fate, it has merged with a mortal host. It has the duration of the host’s life to complete its “redemption” and transformation into a different sort of immortal. So the mortal is actually the vessel of redemption… though the mortal could be seeking redemption as well, which would explain why they’d agree to this bargain.

I’m sure there’s other possibilities: something involving the Mourning (and all the unavenged souls that died in it); something tied to the Prophecy. But that’s all I have time to come up with now.

How would you explain a good-aligned character offering worship to an evil deity, aside from those who do so simply to appease or forestall the deity’s attention?  

There’s a number of different cultures across Eberron that worship one or more of the Dark Six, for example – and that doesn’t make all of its people evil. Per 3.5, The Blood of Vol was an “Evil” faith, and I’ve already written at length about good Seekers. In this Dragonmark I explained how you could have a hero from the Cults of the Inner Suns, who seeks to pave his way to paradise with blood… but only with the blood of evil-doers.

The most immediate point here is that very few of these people consider their gods to be evil. The people of Droaam view the Shadow as a sort of Prometheus… where jealous Aureon withheld his gifts from humanity, the Shadow gave the medusa her gaze and the harpy her voice. The Fury is a source of rage in battle and passion in life; she is the well of emotion within us all, and it is only denying her that causes madness. And while Vassals see the Mockery as espousing treachery, the folk of Droaam say that he teaches cunning – and that anyone who refuses to use cunning in battle is a fool. The Sahuagin don’t offer their worship to the Devourer simply to avoid his wrath; rather they believe that it is his wrath that tests all things, destroying the weak and strengthening those who survive it.

So you can have a heroic medusa who defends the weak and kills those who prey on the innocent… and who still slaughters her enemies using the cunning tactics espoused by the Mockery, embraces the passion of the Fury, and give thanks to the Shadow for her deadly gaze.

On the other hand, there was a player in one of my campaigns who played a warlock who served one of the Overlords. He was good and did all the usual good things – defend the innocent, help those in need, etc. But at the same time, his view was that the eventual rise of one of the Overlords was absolutely inevitable. He believed that most of the Overlords would utterly destroy civilization as we know it… while his Overlord would enslave everyone but still keep a semblance of civilization. So he viewed it as the best option when facing inevitable doom, and did his best to help others while walking this path to doomsday.

Seekers of the Blood of Vol believe that the gods cursed humans with mortality to keep all the power for themselves. What if the gods are too far away to influence the material plane directly and that’s why they us intermediaries like angels? That would make Dolurrh a road to a further afterlife, and a reordering of the planes might be necessary to gain immortality, so it might not be the gods fault or intentions. How would most seekers react if this was discovered to be the case?

How would it be “discovered to be the case”? Followers of the Silver Flame and the Sovereign Host make precisely this claim: Dolurrh is not the final fate for the dead, but simply a waystation for souls as they make a transition to a higher plane of existence. But because no mortal can go to this higher plane of existence, it remains purely theoretically… something that must be taken on faith. The Vassal believes that the Sovereigns are with us at all times. They believe that the life is merely the first stage of a journey that will ultimately lead them to union with the Sovereigns. But like most religions in our world, these things can’t be proven; it is a matter of trust and faith.

Meanwhile, the Seeker looks at what is known. People suffer. Injustices occur across the world. And what is known is that the souls of the dead go to Dolurrh, where their memories fade away. This can be proven: you can go to Dolurrh and find the husk of a friend’s spirit. Again, those of other faiths say that this is just like a cast-off snakeskin, left behind by the soul that has moved on… but why should the Seeker believe you?

Beyond this: You can tell the Seeker “The gods may be distant, but they have a wonderful plan for all of us.” The Seeker will reply “Really? Why did this plan include my children starving to death? Why did it include my husband losing his arm to an infected wound? If the gods are good, why do we suffer? Our suffering proves that they don’t care about us. The universe is against us, and all we have is one another. We must stand by our community and fight against fate, not blindly trust some fairy tale of a better world to come.”

You might have an angel appear and say “I serve Aureon, and I believe in the journey” – but why should the Seeker trust this angel? How does the word of an angel change what the Seeker has experienced? How does it justify the pain and misery the Seeker sees every day?

Essentially, religion in Eberron is very much like religion in our world. There are no absolute answers; it is about finding your faith, and choosing what to believe. The Vassal can’t prove that the Sovereigns are benevolent or that they are present in the world… but he knows it in his heart. He knows that there is a reason for pain and misfortune, that these are simply trials that must be overcome as part of the great journey. While the Seeker knows that there is no grand justification for the pain and suffering she sees every day – that if there were benevolent gods the world would be a better place. The Vassal and the Seeker will never convince the other, because it’s not about logic; it’s about faith.

Now, if you could somehow ABSOLUTELY BEYOND ANY SHADOW OF A DOUBT prove the existence of benevolent Sovereigns, justify human suffering, and promise a joyous afterlife you could undermine the Blood of Vol, but as it stands the setting is built on the assumptions that these things cannot be proven; such an absolute revelation would potentially undermine many religions. Personally, I prefer making people work on faith, because that’s what WE have to do… so for me it makes the world feel real.

How do Seekers think they are going to gain immortality? Are people like Baron Zorlan working on it? How will they deal with overcrowding?

First, they don’t believe they will gain immortality; they believe they will gain divinity. The principle is that the spark of divinity lies within our blood, and that it is the curse or mortality that prevents us from being able to attain it. Eliminating death is simply the means by which we attain divinity, and once we are divine, reality will completely change. I’m not just going to be an immortal farmer working on my farm for hundreds of years; I will be a god moving through creation. So we’re not worried about overcrowding because once we are gods we’re no longer living on Eberron. This is why most Seekers don’t actually want to be undead. It’s acknowledged that once you’re undead you have forever lost the spark of divinity and can never ascend… so you may live forever, but you’ll do it trapped in a rotting material body on Eberron. The undead champions are seen as martyrs, not something to be envied.

Now, within the faith there are two basic approaches. The first are those who care only for their own personal ascension. They want power and don’t care about the world at large. Most of Erandis’ inner circle fall into this camp. They are searching for ways that THEY can realize their divinity but don’t care about unlocking it for the masses. This is also the basis of the Thief of Life prestige class in Faiths of Eberron. However, the larger segment of the faith believes that it was whatever gods exist that cursed the living with mortality… and that thus, to break the curse, they must destroy the gods themselves. HOW? Most people have no idea. It’s not something the farmer believes he can personally help with, and it’s not something he really expects to happen in his lifetime… it’s like Judgment Day, part of the faith but not something you actually expect to happen tomorrow. For this, they look to the undead champions, who have (in theory) sacrificed their chance at divinity to become immortal heroes who might, somehow and someday, find a way to defeat the gods. This is the other reason not everyone wants to be undead; in theory the undead are tirelessly working to advance the faith. In practice, some are (like Malevenor) – others, like Erandis’ cabal, simply want that personal power.

So what that farmer does is donate blood to sustain the vampires he believes are fighting for his cause, and everything he can to strengthen his community and preserve the lives of those he cares about, while hoping that out there the undead champions are fighting a mystical war he can’t comprehend and that MAYBE, just maybe, they’ll find a way to win it.

As for Zorlan, I suspect he’s on the seeking-personal-power side of the fence… but it would be very interesting if he was on the other side, and was actually designing artifacts to rip a hole in the heavens and take the war to the Sovereigns! Could a test run of such a thing have been the cause of the Mourning?

What are the beliefs about the consequences of failing as a faithful soul? 

As things stand, the primary consequence is oblivion. Your soul goes to Dolurrh, isn’t worthy of moving on to the higher realm of the Sovereigns or joining with the Silver Flame, your memories are destroyed and everything that was you is gone. When faced with the prospect of a positive afterlife or ABSOLUTE OBLIVION I think most people would have a pretty strong opinion about which they prefer. With that said… From the start, the concept of The Keeper is that he seeks to “snatch souls on their way to Dolurrh.” We’ve never said exactly what consequences this fate has, but presumably it’s a fate worse than Dolurrh, or people would want it to happen (as the Restful Watch does, but that’s another story). So one can assume that’s a horrible fate. Of course, as it stands, everyone fears that… but it would be logical to say that living according to the virtues of the Sovereigns is the best way to avoid the Keeper.

If you want some concept of “eternal damnation” for story purposes, another option would likely be Baator. Per 4E canon, the fiends of Baator are bargaining for souls. Now, they are simply amassing souls as a source of power – essentially building their own Silver Flame. But what is the experience of the individual whose soul is thrown into this fiendish well of power? If you want, you could make it being trapped in a hell generated by the individual’s own fears. It would certainly make signing an infernal bargain a little less appealing.

Likewise, as it stands we have specified that Dolurrh is NOT a place of punishment or reward. However, if I specifically wanted the ability for players to rescue a soul in torment as part of a story, I’d just add a group of immortals to Dolurrh who make it their personal responsibility to torment souls they deem worthy of punishment. It’s not part of the “mechanics” of the plane itself, but hey, it could happen. But to be clear, that is not canon.

What would be considered “corruption” in the view of the different religions and why?

That’s far too broad a question for me to answer in detail here, especially because even the major religions could have sub-sects or cults with weird beliefs. But for the most part, the same things we consider corruption in our world. To the Sovereign Host, the Sovereigns represent the virtues you should live by. Care for your community; obey the law; respect nature; if you must fight, do so with courage and honor. The Silver Flame charges its members to protect the innocent, show compassion, and fight evil both by your daily behavior and, when necessary, physically. The Blood of Vol likewise tells the faithful to care for their community, to work together, and to do what they can to free humanity from suffering and death. The Tairnadal faith is slightly different, because its core commandment is emulate your patron ancestor; if your patron ancestor was cruel, it is your religious duty to be cruel as well. I just don’t have the time to get into all the other possibilities here, like what members of a Mockery cult might believe. But generally speaking, all the major faiths encourage behavior that strengthens communities, because that’s a main reason they ended up being major faiths in the first place.

In one of my campaigns, Zilargo was essentially controlled by a Dark Six cult… the main plan of the cult is: “show how these things can be accepted, so the Dark Six can come back in the main religion”.

While that’s not part of canon Eberron, per canon Zilargo is I believe the only Thronehold nation in which you will find temples to the Dark Six operating out in the open. Per the original Eberron Campaign Setting: 

The people of Zilargo are extremely broad-minded when it comes to religion. Most gnomes try a few religions before settling on a single patron deity. Some never make a final choice; there are gnomes who attend and even perform services for both the Sovereign Host and the Silver Flame. Temples to virtually all religions can be found in the major cities of Zilargo. Korranberg even contains a temple dedicated to the Dragon Below, although the adherents are more philosophical and less disturbing than the fanatics of the Shadow Marches. Despite this seemingly cavalier attitude, most gnomes take religion very seriously; they simply don’t see a conflict in following more than one god.

First of all, there are gnomes who explore every path. Temples of the Fury hold ecstatic celebrations, and monks of the Shadow plumb the deepest mysteries of magic. Zilargo is a place where you can go and debate peacefully with a priest of the Devourer. But the last sentence of the paragraph above gets to the point that many gnomes look to the larger picture. Gods or divine power sources – however you prefer to view them – are part of reality. To the degree that it’s possible, why not try to embrace them all?

By the way, maybe you like to know that there is a canon cleric of no particular deity: Haneela d’Jorasco, cleric 13 in Fairheaven (Five Nations manual). She resurrect for money and channel “the spiritual remnants of Dragon Above, so she’s affiliated with no particular deity”. She is even a pretty powerful cleric for Eberron standards.

Good catch! I didn’t work on Five Nations, so I’m not surprised this slipped my notice. As I said above, I traditionally make Jorasco healers adepts. Personally, I feel a Clr13 is a very powerful individual to have in a minor commercial role; if I were to develop either Fairhaven or Jorasco in more detail, I’d personally expand on her character and her role in the house.

Now, Haneela is an example of what’s laid out on page 35 of the Eberron Campaign Setting… and it wouldn’t surprise me if the designer put her in there just so SOMEONE is shown as following that path. With that said, the point of channeling the Dragon Above is that you can follow a personal faith… and in Haneela’s case WE DON’T KNOW WHAT THIS IS. It’s possible that she is actually a Siberys cultist; she’s drawing her power from the Ring, and Siberys is one of the greatest life-giving forces imaginable. His blood is the source of magic, and as such, it is through his suffering and sacrifice that she has the power to heal. Personally, I’d be very tempted to make her a sort of Frankenstein. Essentially, her faith is in herself and her healing abilities: she has absolute faith that she can conquer any disease or ailment. Because she’s not worshipping a god, the trappings of this can be whatever you decide… so she could use strange unguents or tools that simply don’t work for anyone else but work wonders when SHE uses them. She comes to the dead man and says “Oh, he’s not dead; he’s just Mostly Dead. He just needs a dose of my patented Lifer-Upper!” … which mysteriously doesn’t work for anyone but her. If you could somehow cause her to doubt herself, she would lose her powers.

Essentially, I don’t like having a cleric of that power floating around with no apparent depth to her story… and if I ever delve into Fairhaven in more detail, I’ll definitely address it.

The point is that she has all the power and spells of a cleric. She can turn undead, fight better than most of warriors and cast offensive spells.

… Which is why usually make Jorasco healers adepts. Personally, I suspect that the original author just wanted someone who could cast resurrection and stuck her in there to fill that role, without consider how much power a 13th level PC-class character has in Eberron. Note that she’s not described as a mighty champion of the house; she is purely described as a healer, albeit one who’s frankly willing to do it for a low profit margin.

So, true: as a player character, a 13th level cleric can do all the things you describe. But remember that a core principle of Eberron is that the players are the heroes… that there aren’t a lot of other people out there who can step up and solve epic problems if they arise. Most of the most powerful benevolent entities are seriously handicapped in some way. Oalian is a tree. Jaela is a child who loses most of her power if she leaves Flamekeep. If I were to use Haneela as a villain – the secret mastermind behind the Nosomantic Chirugeons and Jorasco’s bioweapons research, for example – I would keep all her power intact so she could pose a challenge to players. But if I were to use her as she’s presented – essentially, a source of healing with no other dynamic role in the city – I would want to add something to explain WHY she couldn’t solve big problems on her own. Here’s a few examples.

  • Just because she CAN cast offensive spells doesn’t mean she has or ever will. A cleric gets the spells they ask for; if Haneela views her spellcasting in the Frankenstein manner I described above, she’d never actually ask for a Flame Strike because it makes no sense with her faith and view of her magic.
  • Ditto for undead. If she’s never encountered an undead creature in her life, she may not know she has that power. Again, every PLAYER cleric knows their full capabilities; that doesn’t mean every NPC has to.
  • She could be crippled in some way, just like Jaela. Perhaps she’s incredibly old, and all her physical stats are in the 6-7 range. Perhaps she’s missing an arm or a leg; because she was born with this deformity, regeneration won’t heal it (I’m making up that restriction on regeneration, but it makes sense to me).

My point is simply that there can always be a difference between a PC and an NPC. If you want to use her as a mighty force, you certainly can; and hey, nosomantic chiurgeons are creepy. But as written, she seems to be a passive healer – and there are things you could do to ensure that she remains in that role.

“Belief without evidence” as a definition of faith is something that has, of course, come up in this discussion. But insanity is belief without evidence too. Where does the difference lie? Does one have to go far enough to DENY OR RATIONALIZE contrary evidence to count as faithful enough to be a cleric and stay that way? Do clerics have to refuse to think objectively in favor of twisting whatever they see to conform to their preconceptions? Or is there, in fact, an actual difference between faith and insanity?

Good question. I’ve incorporated the answers to many of these questions in the description of divine magic presented above. As noted there, the answer is that you can listen to reason and you can question faith. With that said, let’s look at a number of Eberron’s religions very specifically here. My question to you is what rational argument or event would cause this individual to completely lose their faith?

  • The followers of the Silver Flame believe that the Silver Flame is a source of divine power that exists to protect the innocent from evil. This power holds demons at bay and answers the call of selfless souls who seek to fight the darkness. And it does this. They don’t assert that this power created the universe, or that it dictates any actions anyone takes; they simply say that it exists as a tool for those who are worthy, and that we should all strive to be worthy. They further assert that there is a Shadow in the Flame that tempts us to do evil. They acknowledge that humans are flawed and can do evil, and say that human evil should whenever possible be fought with compassion instead of with the sword. The Silver Flame does exist; it does hold demons at bay; and it does answer the call of those who seek to protect the innocent.
  • The Sovereign Host, essentially, is a very laid-back faith. It’s not uptight about doctrine. It has a very loose hierarchy; in some villages, you’ll see the local blacksmith considered to be the highest spiritual authority because people believe he is close to Onatar. The followers of the faith believe that the Sovereigns are with us at all times, and guide those who will listen to them; but they also believe that Dol Dorn guides the hand of EVERY war, regardless of which side he fights on or whether he believes in the Sovereigns himself. Further, they have the Dark Six as a way of explaining why bad things happen. You fell pray to the Fury, your fields were wrecked by a storm sent by the Devourer, your loved one who died was taken by the Keeper. So we have an explanation for things both good and bad; we don’t EXPECT the Sovereigns to appear to us in a concrete form; and we have a very loose creed so we don’t get tangled up in contradicting gospels.
  • The Blood of Vol calls bulls**t on the claim that bad things happen because of the Dark Six. What just god would allow death and suffering? If there was any benevolent power in the universe, the universe would be a better place. All we have is each other, and the only life we have is the one we know. The Seekers expect the worst, so the main way to shake the faith of a Seeker would be to somehow prove that there IS a benevolent plan to the universe, and if you can find an irrefutable logical argument that proves that to be the case, I would love to hear it!

So, let’s take an event that can – and in my opinion has – shake the faith of anyone: The Mourning. The senseless and inexplicable death of hundreds of thousands of people. In my opinion, many people HAVE lost their faith over the Mourning, as shown by Daine in The Dreaming Dark. But how can a person of faith have a logical debate with someone about it without simply sticking their fingers in their ears and saying “LALALA?”

  • Silver Flame: This changes nothing about my faith. The Silver Flame exists to empower us to defend the innocent from supernatural evil; the Mourning is exactly the sort of force it empowers us to fight. We cannot lose our faith in this moment of crisis; we must cling to it and use that strength to ensure that this never happens again.
  • Sovereign Host. Lots of different possibilities here. First off, the Shadow governs dark magic; the Traveler loves chaos; the Devourer is the lord of Destruction; and the Keeper seeks to capture the souls of the dead. All four have an easy stake in inspiring the Mourning. So my faith HAS a rational explanation for this. And just as Onatar guides the hands of the smith, evidence that this was done by humans wouldn’t shake that belief; instead, it simply goes right along with it. Of COURSE it was crazy Cannith researchers who caused the Mourning… because they were inspired by the Shadow or the Traveler. Essentially, the faith in the Sovereign Host is like water; it can fairly easily flow around obstacles without having to smash them down.
  • Blood of Vol. This is what I’ve been telling you all along. If there are gods, they hate us and will do S#!t like this for fun. This is why we need to stick together.
  • Tairnadal. My faith has nothing to do with why things like this happen; what I need to worry about is how my patron ancestor would respond to it.

If you can present me with a specific example of a rational argument and how a rational member of a specific faith might deal with it, I’m happy to take a crack at it.

As a fun side note, in the novel The Gates of Night, Lei’s father claims to know who caused the Mourning. If you read all the subtext, he’s talking about The Traveler. Lei’s parents are Traveler cultists, and his point is that whatever mortal instrument was used, the Traveler set it in motion as a force of change and evolution. At the time the novel was released, a lot of people said “I thought you said there would never be a canon answer – but he says he knows it!” He has an answer, but it’s an answer driven by faith as opposed to fact.

My next Eberron Q&A will be about Druids, but my next post will be about Phoenix: Dawn Command. Feel free to post your questions or comments about either below!

Dragonmarks 6/13/16: Cults and Fiends

As I write this, Phoenix: Dawn Command is on a boat… albeit a very slow boat… headed for the United States. In the days ahead I’m going to be spending more time talking about Phoenix, both delving into the setting and system. I’ll still be answering questions about Eberron when I can, but most likely it will only be once or twice a month.

We will be launching Phoenix at Gen Con, and our full list of events should go active sometime this week. At the moment, there are two events you can sign up for. The first is All About Phoenix, where all the secrets of Phoenix will be revealed. The second is a Q&A with Keith Baker. In the past I’ve done this as an informal event in a hotel lobby. It’s still going to be casual, but this year we’ve gone ahead and gotten a room for it. This is your chance to ASK ME ANYTHING, whether it’s about Eberron, Gloom, Phoenix, or what I had for dinner on Tuesday night.

In any case: Today’s topics are cults and fiends. Let’s get to the questions!

What do you think a cult of Siberys would look like as an existential threat, especially in contrast to the schemes of the numerous Cults of the Dragon Below?

First, let me clarify how I’m reading the question. You’re asking what it would look like as an existential threat, by which I think you’re saying if they were the villains of the story. This is a slightly odd question, because in the mythology Siberys is a positive figure… a creative force killed by treacherous Khyber. This ties to the fact that all myths agree that Siberys is dead… the pieces of his body can be seen in the night sky. So from what we’ve established, most Siberys cults focus on his sacrifice and on the gifts that he’s given us; one common assertion is that magic itself is the blood of Siberys, flowing down from the Ring of Siberys. So essentially, modern society is only possible because of the gift of Siberys.

BUT: let’s take the challenge of having a Cult of Siberys as the villains of a story.

First of all, don’t forget that few Cults of the Dragon Below literally worship Khyber; instead, most are aligned with the Daelkyr, Lords of Dust, or something else that’s more directly tangible. So a Cult of the Dragon Above might have some intermediary entity that they serve. The logical choice would be a couatl, as they are generally seen to be the children of Siberys in the same way that the rakshasa are children of Khyber, but then you have the question of what makes this cult different from a traditional Serpent/Silver Flame cult.

A concrete thing about Siberys is that there’s pieces of his body floating around the world (assuming you believe the myth). So: I’d run with that. A Siberys cult is seeking to restore Siberys to life. To do this, they seek to collect all the Siberys shards. Perhaps the chief agents of this cult embed the shards within their bodies… ultimately become a sort of living shard-fusion, sort of like the Shardminds from 4E. Such a being could channel tremendous mystical power, and they wouldn’t care how much destruction they have to wreak in the process of collecting the shards. As the cult’s plot continues, they could work on Eldritch Machines that would not only draw all Siberys shards, but also drain all the magic out of an affected region… again, magic being “the Blood of Siberys.” The cultists believe that once Siberys is restored, he will create a new, perfect world – so they aren’t concerned with the havoc or suffering caused by their actions. Presuming that they are stopped, magic would eventually return to the drained regions – but it would be up to you to decide how long this would take, and it could cause all manner of chaos. Sharn is sustained by magic, and if the region was drained, the city would collapse.

So: There’s one idea to work with.

We know that cultists of the Dragon Below believe their lords to be the children fo Khyber and that the daelkyr aren’t in any hurry to disabuse them of this false notion. But what do the daelkyr themselves think of the Dragon Below and the origins their minions attribute to them.

There’s a bunch of points to address here. But before I get to any of them, I suggest you review this Dragonmark (http://keith-baker.com/dragonmarks-the-daelkyr-and-their-cults/).

First: “Cult of the Dragon Below” is a general term that people use to encompass wildly different sects largely united by irrational behavior and often some sort of connection to Khyber… a literal connection to Khyber, be that an association with aberrations, demons, or a desire to find shelter in the underworld. Only a few actually revere Khyber, the Progenitor Dragon; and most of those do it in a fairly abstract way.

With that said, who says it’s a “false notion”? According to myth, the Progenitors created the planes. The Material Plane was the last thing they created, because the world was created by their fight. Each Progenitor exerted greater influence on different planes. So Lamannia is a plane that strongly reflects the influence of Eberron, while Xoriat strongly reflects the influence of Khyber. So while the Daelkyr weren’t created in the physical realm of Khyber, that doesn’t mean that they couldn’t be considered to be “Children of Khyber.”

But to cut to the chase: Erandis Vol deceives and manipulates her followers. The Dreaming Dark and the Lords of Dust are masters of manipulation. The Daelkyr? NOT SO MUCH. They don’t need to deceive their followers, because for the most part THEIR FOLLOWERS ARE INSANE. It’s not that cultists work with Dolgaunts because they think the Dolgaunts are agents of Khyber and the Dolgaunts maintain a web of lies; they work with the dolgaunts because they think the dolgaunts are divine emissaries, the gatekeepers to a secret paradise that lies below, or the reincarnation of King Jarot. The Dolgaunts surely do a certain amount of playing along with whatever delusions the cultists are laboring under, but it’s not like they have built the deception themselves; they just need to listen to whatever the cultists are spouting and smile and nod.

Essentially, I see the Daelkyr as more primal than many of the other epic threats of Eberron. They change reality simply by existing. Their presence drives mortals mad. Their purposes are enigmatic; is change alone their goal, or do they have grander schemes we’ve yet to understand?

Are the Daelkyr still in Xoriat eager to get here?

It’s not defined in canon, so it’s really up to you. Per canon, I don’t believe we’ve actually established if there ARE any Daelkyr still in Xoriat. What we’ve said in the past is that “The Daelkyr aren’t the most powerful spirits in Xoriat; they’re simply the most powerful spirits that have an interest in Eberron.”

Part of the point of outsiders is that they are ideas given form, and that their form reflects their nature. In the article linked to above I point out that Daelkyr may essentially reflect the creatures they are dealing with. Given this I would advance the idea that the Daelkyr may literally be defined as the spirits that seek to spread madness… thus inherently there are no Daelkyr in Xoriat because it is the act of leaving Xoriat that makes them Daelkyr.

But ultimately, there is no canon answer.

If the Planes books ever get made, I’d love to see something about the themes and “exceptions” for placing monsters on that plane. For example, Fernia is obviously the fire plane, but it is also slightly evil aligned. Despite this, Celestials still arise from the pane if they have a fire theme, in defiance of alignment. I’ve been trying to place Pathfinder’s Gambling Devil in Eberron’s cosmology but have found it tough. Does it fit on Daanvi with its lawful nature? Or is Kythri better since it can manipulate probability and make people take risks? I honestly lean to the latter, despite conventional D&D wisdom on alignments, but clearer guidance would be nice.

Most planes have a “preferred” type of spirit. Quori are the primary fiends of Dal Quor. Angels are especially numerous in Syrania. Couatl and rakshasa are the most common celestials and fiends of Eberron itself (technically, of Siberys and Khyber).

With that said: You can have any spirit manifest on any plane, provided that it fits the CONCEPT of that plane.

Case in point: Shavarath, the Eternal Battleground. The three largest forces in Shavarath are an army of Archons, an army of Devils, and an army of Demons. The Archons embody the concept of just battle and war fought for noble reasons. The Devils reflect violence in pursuit of tyranny and power. And the Demons are bloodlust and chaos, random violence and brutality. You could put ANY devil you wanted into the Infernal Legions of Shavarath… but that devil would be fundamentally defined and motivated by its role in the Eternal War. Which may not serve the story you have in mind. And taking the Gambling Devil, while it IS a devil, it’s not particularly a devil that screams “I HAVE A PLACE ON THE BATTLEFIELD.”

The original ECS said that Pit Fiends are found in Fernia. In my opinion, you can find Pit Fiends in Fernia, but I believe that you can also find Pit Fiends in Shavarath… and that you can potentially find a Pit Fiend in the Demon Wastes, spawned by Khyber and with no connection to Shavarath or Fernia. All three of these Pit Fiends would have the same statistics. However, their appearance and behavior would be quite different.

  • The Pit Fiend of Shavarath is a general in the Infernal Legion. It wears heavy armor engraved with burning runes. It embodies tyranny and war, leading with an iron fist and enforcing discipline with fear and fire. Its sole desire is gaining an edge in the eternal war, and any dealings it has with mortals will revolve around how they could shift the balance or assist in the struggle.
  • The Pit Fiend of Fernia is a dark shadow wreathed in eternal flame, the embodiment of flame used to sow terror and destroy enemy holdings. It is a cruel being that rules over a fiefdom in Fernia, and it is constantly fighting (and burning) enemies as that is part of its nature… but unlike the fiend of Shavarath, it’s dealing with a series of feuds as opposed to ONE BIG WAR. In general it has no interest in Eberron or mortals; if they do cross its path it will seek to use them as tools in its current feud.
  • The Pit Fiend of Khyber is the classic scaled fiend. It’s not tied to War or Fire; instead, it can embody whatever concept best suits your story. Pride? Tyranny? Cruelty? It might rule over a host of rakshasa and be associated with the Lords of Dust. It could be the patron fiend of one of the Carrion Tribes, and send its warriors to fight the Ghaash’kala orcs. Or it could be a lone spirit bound to a specific location within the Demon Wastes, hoping the mortals that cross its path can somehow break its bonds.
  • A surprise fourth option would be Baator. In the Eye on Eberron article I presented Baator as a demiplane… a prison created by celestial powers (some say the Sovereigns) to hold corrupted and rebellious spirits. Those, the fiends of Baator weren’t always fiends. The Pit Fiend of Baator is thus a classic fallen angel. Furthermore, the denizens of Baator want mortal souls; they are seeking to build their own power bases following the same model as the Silver Flame.

As I said, mechanically these could all be EXACTLY THE SAME; it’s simply that their behaviors and motivations will all be different… and each one would serve a different role in the story.

ALL OF WHICH IS TO SAY: You don’t have to decide where ALL Gambling Devils are from; you just need to decide where this one is from. And the critical question there is what does it want? What is the story you are trying to tell with it? If it is gambling to try to win a mortal soul, then it’s a good match for Baator. If it’s purely and generically evil, it might be spawned directly by Khyber. Heck, if it’s about taunting people with the promises of dreams that will be snatched away at the last minute, it could actually be from Dal Quor… a fringe spirit spawned by the plane but with no connection to the Dreaming Dark.

So figure out what your spirit wants and how it’s going to act. Base its plane of origin on that, and then shape its appearance to reflect the plane it’s from.

If we had an outsider that represented death by immolation, would that outsider be native to Dolurrh, native to Fernia, or native to both? Would alignment play into account at all?

If its primary purpose in the universe is BURNING ANYONE IT CAN, it’s from Fernia. If its primary purpose is BURNING ITS ENEMIES IN WAR, it’s from Shavarath. If its primary purpose is to SERVE AS AN EXAMPLE OF A PARTICULAR WAY YOU COULD DIE – IE, the “death” part is more important than the “burning” part, then sure, go for Dolurrh. And if it’s first and foremost an evil scheming spirit who just happens to be good at burning people, then I’d tie it to Khyber or Baator. Alignment should be reflected in its core concept and thus behavior. If it’s Lawful, that implies people being immolated in an organized and intentional way; if it’s chaotic, than it’s people being randomly immolated in wildfires.

We know that unofficially there is a group of Dwarves in the Demon Wastes who have Deathless among them. I would assume this means they have access to a manifest zone to Irian. What are they like religiously? Are they another splinter cult that worships the Silver Flame? An odd variation of the host? Or some other sect that doesn’t fit well with the more common religions?

Deathless are sustained both by the energy of Irian and the devotion of a group of worshippers. So like the Aereni, these dwarves revere their ancestors, and it is this devotion that sustains their deathless spirits. Be aware that this is a comparatively small community and only has a handful of deathless guardians – a powerful shelter in the Demon Wastes, but nothing on the scale of the Undying Court.

Related to the planes (but not necessarily the things that live there): Sharn’s weather is described as generally rainy (Sharn, pg. 24) but it’s also supposed to be a manifest zone for Syrania which is perpetually clear blue skies. Is it clear for Skyway and rainy for everyone below?

Manifest zones reflect an aspect of the plane that touches them, but their effects can take many different forms. A manifest zone tied to Syrania might enhance magic of flight, generate perfect blue skies, or create a peaceful aura that diffuses all hostilities (among other possibilities). Sharn’s zone affects flight, but doesn’t encourage peace in any way… and doesn’t help with the weather.

Also related to the planes, what happens in a manifest zone when another plane moves coterminous to the Material Plane?

Per canon, nothing. Eberron is touched by all of the planes. A manifest zone has a special connection to one of them, but it’s still influenced by the others.

What do the denizens of other planes think of the Greensingers and their idea of unrestricted planar travel?

Bear in mind that the majority of inhabitants of Khorvaire have never heard of the Greensingers, and they live on the same plane of existence. If you’re a horned devil in the Infernal Legion, fighting THE WAR THAT SHAPES REALITY, you really have no way to hear or reason to care about some group of druids on Khorvaire. Imagine if on D-Day you grabbed a soldier at Normandy and said “Hey! A bunch of Ecuadorian tourists would like to visit – what do you think?” Not every plane is as focused as Shavarath, but for the most part the denizens of the planes have their own $&%* to deal with and don’t really care about Eberron.

There are exceptions. The Quori have always been more interested in humanity than other outsiders because they deal with mortals all the time (through their dreams)… while that random devil in Shavarath may have never even seen a human. And the nobles of Thelanis have an interest in shaping new stories… which is why they have always been the most notable patrons of the Greensingers. If you’re playing with Baator, the former prisoners would welcome an easier path to the material plane… and it would be interesting to have a group of Greensingers who believe they are working with a benevolent fey discover that their patron is actually an archdevil. And I’m sure that entities like the Inevitables would take great issue with mortals opening up gates to Dolurrh… if it ever actually happened.

Do planar beings of different planes have contact between themselves? Or it’s more common to have contact/travel to the Material Plane?

The Material Plane is the hub where all the planes together. Each plane is a pure concept: War, Peace, Order, Chaos. On Eberron, all these things come together. Beyond that, you have soft spots such as Manifest Zones. So essentially, Syrania HAS a connection to the Material Plane… while it has no inherent connection to Kythri. Thus it is far easier and more common for there to be contact between Eberron and Syrania that between Syrania and Kythri. With that said, this is also the role of demiplanes – to serve as bridges between planes with no innate connections. Baator is one example of this, serving as a prison for immortals of many planes. There is at least one “crossroads” demiplane, though it’s not something I’m going to expand on until I can do so for the DM’s Guild.

Beyond this: Think of each plane as a machine. Each immortal is a cog in that machine, with a very specific role to play. Unlike mortals, the immortals have a very clear sense of their place and their purpose. A soldier in one of the armies of Shavarath never stops to say “Why am I fighting? Is there something better I could be doing?” They are embodiments of War; they have no other purpose. Essentially, for all that they may be brilliant, immortals generally have less free will than mortals. So as a general rule, the soldier in Shavarath has no interest in anything beyond fighting the war… and thus no interest in contacting Eberron or any other plane. However, Eberron is the plane they are most likely to contact by accident, being caught in a manifest zone or coterminous effect.

With that said: There are some immortals whose nature encompasses curiosity or a desire to push beyond their plane. A sage from Syrania or Daanvi might well travel to other planes in search of knowledge. Beyond that, there are always those rare exceptions who evolve beyond their original purpose. Taratai and the other Kalashtar Quori. Radiant idols and the prisoners of Baator. Thelestes and Korliac of the Gray Flame in the Lords of Dust. So there’s always room in a story to have spirits crossing planar lines – but it is certainly the rare exception, not the norm.

This applies to the immortal inhabitants of the planes. It’s less true for the mortal inhabitants, who aren’t so closely bound to their planes and who have more free will. Again, it would be more common to find them in demiplanes, as there’s no direct path between, say, Shavarath and Syrania… but such travel surely does happen.

If immortals incarnate concepts and has no free will, how does it come that (rogue Eladrin) Luca Syara choose to fight the war, became deprimited and change her alignment to neutral?

The same way Taratai turned against the Dreaming Dark, or an angel becomes a Radiant Idol. Check the paragraph above: “…there are always those rare exceptions who evolve beyond their original purpose.” Out of all the Quori that exist, sixty-seven rebelled to form the Kalashtar. Likewise, there may be a dozen or so Radiant Idols… which is a tiny percentage of the Host of Syrania.

The statement “Immortals have no free will” is a little too forceful. The Devourer of Dreams and Lady Sharadhuna of the Thousand Eyes differ in opinion as to the path the Quori should take in Eberron, and each has their own schemes and intrigues. The point is that both are utterly devoted to il-Lashtavar, and that this wasn’t a choice either of them made; it is a fundamental part of who they are, present from the moment they came into existence. The same is true of all Quori. They come into existence with purpose, and very few of them ever evolve the ability to question that purpose. Likewise, the soldier in the army of Shavarath doesn’t fight the endless war because they’ve thought about it, considered all the options, and decided that war is the thing for them… they fight because it is the only reality they can imagine. They choose HOW they fight. They come up with cunning strategies, they negotiate and break alliances, but they fight and they fight and they fight. IT IS POSSIBLE for one of these eternal soldiers to break away from this… but again, you’re talking about a handful over the course of history out of tens of thousands of spirits.

WITH THAT SAID: Luca Syara is a Ghaele Eladrin. The powerful immortals of Thelanis aren’t united by a common purpose. Each one has their own unique story and they play out that story. In Luca’s case, there’s a few possibilities. She was drawn to Eberron by what she saw as a righteous war, and odds are excellent that THAT was part of her defined nature. Now, one possibility is that her disillusionment is a legitimate shift in her nature, as Taratai turned away from the Dreaming Dark. BUT… it is also possible that this IS her story: that she joins righteous but doomed causes and then goes through a cycle of tragic despair, before finding a new righteous but doomed cause.

You said that an immortal who change his alignment would become something complitely different. A good rakshasa wouldn’t be a rakshasa anymore, like a radiant idol is not an angel. Is there any canon creature you would use as an ex-rakshasa? 

Not that comes to mind. Personally, I’d want to design something from the ground up, as we did with Radiant Idols. With that said, with the Baator article we assert that the fiends in Baator are corrupted spirits from other planes. So there’s precedent for just using whatever makes sense to you.

Could this be a path for introducing a hellbreed in Eberron? A rakshasa that lost most of his power, including immortality, in a path of redemption?

It’s feasible. I think I’ve also heard this concept being used for Devas.

How would you shape a planar campaign in Eberron? Players with abilities to plane travel? A planar transportation(an ancient giant ship)? Is there Sigil in Eberron somewhere?

I think all three of those are sound ideas, but frankly I wouldn’t design a planar campaign in Eberron until there’s been an opportunity to describe the planes in more detail.

The planes are not inhabited only by spirits born of ideas. There are some more normal and mortal beings living there. How is their religion? Do they worship aspects of the Host/Flame like everyone else?

That’s not an easy question to answer in this format, because I simply don’t have the time or room to describe the faiths that DON’T have any parallel in Eberron. The short form is that some do associate themselves with the Sovereigns, though often with their own twists. But there are certainly other beliefs tied to their own planes and the powerful spirits within it. Within Thelanis, for example, most mortal fey are more concerned with allegiance to their ruling immortal than abstract belief in some greater power.

The Silver Flame doesn’t have much of a following in the planes, because it is concretely a Material thing: a force created by spirits of Eberron to protect the people of Eberron. There are some who appreciate the CONCEPT of it, but they don’t devote themselves to it.

Do they have the same creation myth of the Progenitor Dragons? The myth itself is very Material Plane-centric, are they ok being just “Side” planes?

Most do have the same creation myth, which among other things justifies the fact that their planes ARE connected to and influence the Material. But most would argue with your assertion that the myth is “Material Plane-centric.” As a planar entity, I would point out that the planes were the FIRST creations of the Progenitors, and that they were completed. By contrast, Eberron the world is a thing that occurred as the result of a brawl. They say that the Material is touched by and shaped by all planes simply because it is the final resting place of the Progenitors who created them all, not because the Material is somehow the pinnacle of creation. Essentially, the angel of Syrania asserts that Syrania is a perfectly designed machine… while the Material is an unfinished lump of clay that just happens to be where the Progenitors called it quits.

Sharn is a fantasy city inspired in the manifest zone to Syrania. In an alternative dimension Eberron, how could Sharn be affected by different manifest zones?

This seems like a broader question about the effects of manifest zones in general. Whenever the opportunity comes to write about the planes in more detail, I’d definitely like to present multiple examples of manifest zones tied to each plane, and to go into more detail about the effects of coterminous and remote periods. But it’s not something I have time for right now.

Khyber runs under the entirety of Eberron, so are there deep trenches underwater that lead to the “Deeps”; flooded sections of Khyber?

Certainly. But bear in mind that Khyber is more than just a physical underworld; it also contains portals to demiplanes, allowing the discovery of fantastic regions that transcend the limits of reality.

Is it possible that there are one or more daelkyr that had no interest in the surface races and instead went after the underwater world? What sort of ‘dol-merrow’ concepts would you think such a daelkyr would come up with?

It’s certainly possible. However, just to present another alternative, the Eberron Expanded article on Lords of Madness calls out the Aboleths as contemporaries of the Rakshasas and the demon Overlords, and Sahuagin legend speaks of a battles between the Devourer and the ancient fiends back in the dawn of time that friend the sahuagin from Aboleth domination. A Daelkyr would thus be a relatively recent entry into this ancient Aboleth-sahuagin rivalry. As for what a daelkyr might do with merfolk or sahuagin as a starting point, I’ll have to think about it.

The 3.5 sourcebook Elder Evils had a gigantic creature called “the Leviathan”; a creature of “pure chaos left over from the creation of the world”… My question is then: Would you consider the ‘primordial chaos beast’ Leviathan to be a child of Khyber, creation of the Daelkyr, or from some other being entirely? If the Head of Eberron (whether it is actually her physical head shall be left out of this question) is in Argonessen, could the Leviathan or source of its legends be the “Head of Khyber”?

I would personally make such a thing tied to Khyber as opposed to the Daelkyr, and making it the “Head of Khyber” seems plausible. The very first draft of Eberron actually included a serpent literally wrapped around the world, essentially filling this same role. The faith of the Sahuagin includes ritually consuming an enemy to gain its strength; back in that first draft, the Sahuagin were searching for a way to eat the world serpent.

 

That’s all I have time for. The next Q&A will be about the Lords of Dust or Druids, depending on which gets more interest… so if you have any questions, post them in the comments!

Game of Thrones Bingo, Episode 6.8

Screen Shot 2016-06-12 at 11.43.00 AM

For anyone playing along at home, here’s the bingo cards for this week’s Game of Thrones:

GoT Bingo 6-8

There’s a few holdovers from last week, as we’re still hoping to see Arya on a boat and at least one dead Frey, not to mention a few possibilities for more familiar zombies. And while we all know that Stannis is Dead, the space refers to someone – most likely Brienne – specifically bringing it up in conversation. “Face Off” primarily means someone removing their face (as we saw last episode)… but we’ll accept a particularly dramatic confrontation!

Have fun!