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

Cleric Octogram

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.

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!

Dragonmarks 6/6/16: Edition Wars

This is a tremendously busy time for me. As I write this, Phoenix: Dawn Command is being loaded onto a boat somewhere, and in 5-8 weeks it should be in our hands (barring unforeseen disasters like hungry whales or RPG pirates). We are preparing to launch the game at Gencon. Our first event is already listed – a seminar where we’ll be discussing every aspect of Phoenix: Dawn Command, from setting to system – but in the near future a host of new events will go live, including game sessions and a chance to try out the character generation system. So keep an eye out (or follow @twogetherstudio on Twitter)! In addition to this, I’ve been working on a number of card and board games. I can’t talk about any of these yet, but there’s exciting news in the future.

Unfortunately, there is no official news about Eberron. While I hope it will be unlocked for the DM’s Guild, I have no idea when that might happen… but at this point there’s a decent chance it won’t be in 2016. Nonetheless, I love the world and I’ll keep answering questions… though in months to come, I’m also going to start talking more about Phoenix and its setting!

If Eberron was not designed under the assumption of D&D v3.5 rules and mechanics, how might it look different to you? What would you have changed or left out? How might a system-neutral version of Eberron look?

It’s an interesting question. I’ve played Eberron using other systems, and I don’t feel it is dependent on D&D mechanics. At the same time, you’re right: it was specifically designed with those mechanics in mind. So what impact did that have? Here’s a few thoughts.

  • Alignment. The D&D Alignment system is a tough match for the shades-of-gray noir elements of Eberron. We’ve done our best to work around this. We removed most alignment constraints on monsters. We don’t require divine spellcasters to match the alignment of the deity they worship. And in general, we assert that evil people can still play a positive role within society – a more nuanced approach that I discussed in this Q&A post. But it’s still something that I could just as happily do without.
  • Arcane Magic. One of the most basic principles of Eberron is the fact that under D&D rules, arcane magic acts like a science. It is reliable. It’s repeatable. A wizard can learn a spell from another wizard or from a scroll. A spell always works, provided you don’t get punched in the face while casting it. A wizard can create a new spell or a magic item. Eberron was at its core a reaction to this: If arcane magic behaves in a scientific manner, why wouldn’t society seize upon it and incorporate it as we have with other sciences? Thus a lot of things in Eberron are looking at how we could solve problems using the spells and other supernatural tools that exist in D&D. We light the streets with continual flame and send messages across long distances using a variation of whispering wind. In Droaam, the Daughters of Sora Kell feed the masses using an endless supply of troll sausage. I can’t easily tell you what Eberron would look like if we hadn’t been working with those assumptions, because they affect the world in many different way… anywhere where someone said “Wait, you could use this spell to accomplish this useful effect.”
  • Psionics. I remember reading the psionics rules in the appendix of my old AD&D manuals. They’ve been a part of D&D since the early days, and yet they’ve never really seemed to fit in (with the notable exception of Dark Sun). I wanted a way to integrate them into the world… and yet, a way that allowed people who just don’t like psionics in their fantasy to remove them without too much difficulty. This led to the Kalashtar, the Inspired, and the storyline of Sarlona – a distant and mysterious continent where Psionics were the foundation of society in the same way that magic was used in Khorvaire. If I’d been starting COMPLETELY FROM SCRATCH and didn’t have psionics already in the mix, it’s quite possible I wouldn’t have added them in.
  • Elves and Dwarves, Orcs and Goblins. Just like alignment, these are things that come with the D&D package. If Eberron wasn’t a D&D setting, it might not have included these; Phoenix: Dawn Command doesn’t include any of the D&D classic demi-humans, for example. But because it IS a D&D setting, it needed a place and an interesting role for the classic demi-humans and humanoids… and so we have the Tairnadal, Dhakaani, and the rest.
  • Halflings Riding Dinosaurs. Like psionics, this aspect of the Talenta Plains arose because dinosaurs have always been in D&Dand yet they very rarely get used. They’re also an awesome pulpy thing. But the idea honestly came up because we were thinking of something interesting for Talenta nomads to ride, and we realize that nobody ever uses dinosaurs.

To be clear: I love the Inspired, the Undying Court, the Gatekeepers and the Ghaash’kala. I love that Eberron has halflings on raptors. But these are all things that definitely exist because Eberron was designed as a D&D setting. You can adapt them to any system, as many people have shown… but the reason they exist in the first place is because Eberron was a setting for D&D… a setting with elves, dwarves, psionics, dinosaurs, alignment, and more.

About Eberron in 5e, ignoring the drastic difference in content for Eberron between the D&D versions, which ruleset do you think works best to capture the feel of Eberron?

I’ve run Eberron in many different systems, from 3E – 5E for D&D to the Lady Blackbird and Over The Edge systems. I know people who have played it using Savage Worlds, Pathfinder, Fate Core, Mutants and Mastermind, and GURPS, though I never have.

I don’t feel that there’s a One True Eberron system. Each system has strengths and weaknesses. Really, it depends on the type of story that you want to tell and which mechanics will best represent that system. For example, Over The Edge is a rules-light system that’s great for a story-driven game, but it’s not a system I’d use for a combat-heavy adventure. It also depends on the players that you’re working with. I’ve found that 4E is a good game when dealing with people who have played MMOs but never played a tabletop RPG before, because many of the basic concepts make sense to them… equipment slots, powers with cooldown timers, etc. Looking to 5E, I like the simplification of certain mechanics and the use of Inspiration and backgrounds as a way to try to encourage roleplaying… though I like Lady Blackbird for going considerably farther with the idea of mechanically encouraging a player to roleplay their character.

With that said, there is one particular element of 4E+ that I like for Eberron, and that is rituals. Vancian magic has never quite made sense as the foundation for Eberron’s magical economy, because it’s a little hard to see how a magewright locksmith could make a living when he can only cast Arcane Lock twice a day. Under the 4E ritual system, Arcane Lock takes ten minutes to cast and uses 25 gp worth of components. The magewright locksmith can lock as many doors as time and resources allow, jacking up the price sufficiently to make it worth his time. The downside to this is that by the rules, the only limitation on casting rituals is being a ritual caster and having the right book. So there’s no concept of having a magewright specialized in casting a particular ritual; instead, in theory any magewright could change jobs by picking up a different book. At my table, I rectified that with a house rule stating that the ability to cast any ritual from a book reflects a remarkable level of skill generally only possessed by PCs… and by adding a “Magewright” feat that allows a character to cast select three rituals and to perform them without a book (though still requiring the normal time and component cost). Thus you have the locksmith who knows Knock and Arcane Lock, the lamplighter who can cast Continual Flame all day, and so on. But that’s still just a specific mechanical element that helps with the overall logic of Eberron’s economy… and as shown by 5E, something that can easily be adapted.

So the long and the short of it is that I don’t have a preference. 4E combat in particular is a very different experience from 3E or 5E, and the question is do you want that experience? When I was working on a different campaign setting a few years back – Codex – I was considering not just making it system neutral but encouraging people to change systems between adventures, picking the system that best models the story you want to tell. In retrospect that’s a lot of work (mainly converting characters constantly), but to me it’s still a case that each system has different strengths – find the one that YOU like best. Eberron will work wherever you go.

I would love an article on Eberron’s magic (level) and the new rules system with its “even low level magic items are mighty”-approach. 

In the comments on the last update, Pteryx suggests a “Book of Everyday Magic” to address this point, and I think that’s a great idea. I see what 5E is trying to do with the “even low-level magic items are mighty” approach, and I’m not opposed to it; when I’m playing 5E, it IS kind of cool that my +1 sword is a big deal… especially in contrast to 4E, where you’ve got to constantly be upgrading every slot to be on par with your level. At the same time, I don’t feel that this rules out the general feel of Eberron, which has always been “wide magic, not high magic.” You can still have the streets lit with continual flame and airships in the sky even if +1 weapons are rare. The cantrip prestidigitation allows the caster to heat, chill, flavor, or clean… So an innkeeper (especially a Ghallanda innkeeper) might have a chest that keeps contents cool, a pan that instantly cooks with no heat, and a broom that instantly cleans a room in one sweep. Canon sources already mention the idea that Aundair has cleansing stones that serve as communal washing machines. Even when it comes to weapons and armor, you can have minor effects that are clearly useful magic without actually providing a full +1 enhancement. Imagine a suit of armor or a sword with an innate mending effect – over the course of an hour, it will restore itself to pristine condition, eliminating dents or rust. Such a sword would sharpen itself. Now, in mechanical terms players never worry about rust or sharpening weapons… but that just mean you’d want to call out that something remarkable is going on here!

Essentially, the issue is that 5E wants to make a +1 enhancement feel powerful… which means that magic items with a direct effect on COMBAT (or healing, spell recovery, or other things that affect combat capabilities) need to be rare. But that still leaves room for lots of everyday magic, and someday when I have time I’d love to create that Book of Everyday Magic.

Can you think of another new class unique to Eberron other than the Artificer?

There was another class we considered when we were originally developing Eberron. We called it the Journeyman, but “Everyman” or “Unlikely Hero” would have worked just as well. In pulp stories, you often have a normal person who gets swept up in the adventure and carried along with the heroes. A nosy reporter, a bartender whose bar got burnt down, a spunky kid, a nightclub singer who just happened to be dating the hero. We considered a variation of this for Eberron: the character who is NOT an adventurer, not a warrior or a wizard, but who nonetheless gets caught up and carried along with the adventurers… the Watson to Holmes, or the Xander to Buffy.

The Journeyman would be something of a skill monkey, because the point was that they HAD a normal profession and might be quite good at it. But the main strength of the Journeyman is amazing, pulp-level luck. Even though he has no right to survive the terrifying dangers that threaten paladins and rangers, SOMEHOW that spunky chronicler lands a lucky blow or evades the deadly trap. In practice this would have related to action points: the Journeyman would have more action points than any other character and a number of specialized uses for them – essentially, spell-like abilities fueled by action points. In fifth edition, I could also see a Journeyman having a number of abilities along the lines of those granted by a typical Background – things that aren’t at all useful in combat, but that can have a lot of value to story. The nosy chronicler isn’t as good a fighter as the rogue, but he excels at research and has sources all over Khorvaire.

Ultimately, we decided not to develop this class. But I might take a crack at it one of these days; it’s certainly something that can provide some interesting story and roleplaying hooks.

As side note: Jode from The Dreaming Dark novels could be an example of a journeyman. He’s a Jorasco healer. He’s quick and quick-witted, but he’s not a spell-caster or a combat monster. I think I considered him to be a rogue, justifying his backstabbing as “a healer’s knowledge of anatomy” as opposed to any sort of talent for assassination. But he’d work just as well as a Journeyman: he’s legitimately a healer, trained in mundane healing supplemented by his dragonmark, who gets by on wit and luck.

I always loved the numbers of Eberron. You know, all the 12+1 missing/different. Did you ever think any reason for that? It’s just “how prophecy work”? 

Essentially, yes… it’s “how prophecy works.” The premise of the Prophecy is that there is a code that defines reality… and if you understand it, you can manipulate the future. The Prophecy doesn’t follow a single path; it’s a massive matrix of if-then statements. The key point here is that there are underlying rules to reality. It’s not unreasonable to think that arcane magic (and possible divine as well) is tapping this same underlying system: if the proper rituals or formulas are invoked, reality is altered. Once you accept the idea that arcane magic is a science – that reality follows rules – it’s logical to have patterns that can be seen in the world. In some cases these are literal patterns, such as the dragonmarks that appear on landmarks. In others, it’s things like the linked numbers of planes, dragonmarks, clans, etc.

In this case, it began with a coincidence: the fact that we had thirteen planes of which one was lost, and thirteen dragonmarks of which one was lost. That wasn’t carefully planned, but once we realized it we liked the idea that it was a reflection of the underlying order, and so people continued to work the pattern into future things.

The funny thing? The fact that it’s a “Baker’s Dozen” was something we didn’t even notice until someone pointed it out.

That’s all the time I have for this week. Based on the stack of questions already in the queue, next week’s Q&A is going to deal with cults, druid sects, and denizens of the planes. If you have questions on any of these subjects, feel free to ask below!

Game of Thrones Bingo, Episode 6.7

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I’ll be posting a new Eberron Q&A and writing about Phoenix next week, but for now, here’s the ten-card bingo set for this week’s episode of Game of Thrones. Will someone Lose Face (figuratively or literally)? Will we see another familiar zombie? And will someone (possibly a cook) be revealed to have a bun in the oven? Remember, in the Game of Bingo, you win or… you don’t win. Basically.

Download the cards here: GoT Bingo 6-7

Game of Thrones Bingo, Episode 6.6

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It’s the end of the week, and that means it’s time for Game of Thrones Bingo. Last week turned out to be a fairly easy card. I’m not sure about this one, as I’ve dropped a lot of fringe possibilities into the list. We know the episode features Margaery… Will Loras or Olenna appear? Will we see Walder Frey or Littlefinger? Will Dany be reunited with her dragons? And will we see a beloved character… perhaps from last episode… return as a wight? Time will tell!

Download the set of ten cards here: GoT Bingo 6-6

Dragonmarks 5/23/16: What Comes Next?

It’s a busy time right now. Phoenix: Dawn Command is on the move, and we’re making plans for our demo events at Gen Con. If you’re attending GenCon, I recommend checking out our main seminar on Phoenix… but there will also be opportunities to try out the game itself. I’m looking forward to exploring the world of Phoenix in more depth once the game is out.

At the same time, there’s a lot of material I’d like to create for Eberron if the opportunity presents itself. So this question at the top of the Q&A pile caught my eye.

Which supplements are you most eager to write?

There’s still no news on when – or for that matter if – Eberron will be unlocked for people to use in the DM’s Guild. However, I’m still optimistic that it will happen sometime in the next few months or years. But if it happened tomorrow… what would I start writing?

The short answer is that there’s far more things I’d like to write than I realistically will have time to create. given that, I’m very curious what you would like to read. I’m more interested in exploring regions of the world that haven’t been dealt with in depth than just revisiting the same core locations. But here’s just a few things I’d love to develop, if the opportunity ever presents itself.

THEMES OF EBERRON

There’s a few sorts of stories that work well in Eberron that don’t necessarily work in every setting. Any of these could be explored in greater depth, providing both character options related to that theme (backgrounds, spells, class options, tools, skill applications) and information for the DM about developing and running adventures or campaigns focused on that concept. A few possible themes that could be explored…

  • Investigation. How to make mystery the central theme of an adventure or entire campaign. This would include options for the professional Inquisitive along with general ways to work mysteries and investigation part of a compelling story. As an Eberron product, it could also explore the existing detectives of Eberron (Tharashk, Medani), and present both organizations, locations, and situations well-suited to such stories. 
  • Espionage. The Five Nations are caught in a cold war as everyone races to unlock the secrets of the Mourning and to prepare for the next war. How can this shadow war impact your stories? What about the other forces at play, from the Trust and the Houses of Shadow to the ancient struggle between the Chamber and the Lords of Dust? As with Investigation, this would present options for players and storytellers alike. 
  • Dreaming. Dreams are something that has always intrigued me. In Eberron, Dal Quor is the underpinning of reality, a place we all touch when we sleep. How can dreams affect and enhance a campaign? How can players interact with the Quori? Could you play a character who is a vestige of an ancient dream somehow returned to the waking world? This would explore both the casual use of dreams in a story and ways to make them a central focus of a campaign, along with new options for players and DMs. 

These are just a few examples. I could see Themes about Crime (campaigns based around the underworld of Sharn, Stormreach, or other major cities); Death (What exactly happens when you die? How can mortals interact with Dolurrh? What lies beyond?); Prophecy (What are practical ways to incorporate the Draconic Prophecy into a campaign? Could you have a cleric devoted to the Prophecy, or a bard who specializes in interpreting it? ); War (How can the Last War affect a campaign? Where is new violence most likely to occur, and what happens if it does?) and many more.

PLANES OF EBERRON

At the moment, the planes are little more than high concepts. I’d like to do a piece on each plane, discussing…

  • The metaphysical role of the plane, and how it relates both to Eberron and the other planes. I think in some cases my personal vision of each plane isn’t clearly presented; see the discussion about Syrania in last week’s Q&A for an example of this.
  • The inhabitants of the plane: their nature, culture, goals, and interaction both with one another and outsiders.
  • Examples of manifest zones, coterminous/remote effects, and other ways that the plane’s influence can be felt on Eberron.
  • Notable locations, story hooks, and other ways that the plane can be a meaningful part of a story.

There’s 13 planes, not to mention the discussion of demiplanes. Rather than spending months working on a single massive tome, I’d likely want to do this as a monthly thing, with a new plane every month or so.

THE GOBLIN HANDBOOK

I’ve long wanted to do a comprehensive sourcebook on the goblins of Eberron. Different sections of this would include Goblin PCs, including character options, ways to integrate goblinoids into normal adventuring parties, and themes and ideas for goblinoid parties and campaigns; Dhakaan, a more in-depth look at history, the clans, and tools and techniques of Dhakaan; Darguun, a detailed look at the nation, including more details on major cities, ruins and other interesting adventure location, factions, plot hooks, and more; The Khesh’dar, the Silent Clans; and possibly a look at running a campaign set during the Xoriat Incursion. To do this probably, I’d want to team up with Don Bassingthwaite on a number of things… but I think that could happen.

DROAAM: NATION OF MONSTERS

Droaam is one of my favorite regions of Eberron, both because of the vast range of adventuring options and because it’s interesting to explore the cultures and possibilities that can evolve from a foundation of unified monsters. As with Darguun, I’d love to present options for PCs or campaigns starting out of Droaam; explore the politics and power groups; look at the locations that can drive stories, including Graywall, Khazaak Draal, and the Great Crag; delve deeper into the Daughters of Sora Kell; and generally explore the story potential of the region.

THE DEMON WASTES

As I’ve mentioned in previous Q&As, the Demon Wastes are an area ripe for adventurers, but one that isn’t explored in much depth in the current material. It’s more than just a barren wasteland; it’s a nexus of demiplanes and manifest zones, and home to a host of ancient evils. What lurks in the Lair of the Keeper? What treasures await in Ashtakala? What are the dangers of the Labyrinth, and what is the saga of the Ghaash’kala orcs who guard it? Who are the demons of the Wastes, and what threat do they pose to the world beyond? In addition to resources for building adventures, this would also explore options for PCs from the Demon Wastes, including the Ghaash’kala.

A BOOK OF BEGINNINGS

Quite often, groups of adventurers have no coherent story. Each character is born in isolation, and they come together in a tavern to fight evil and gain gold because that’s what they have to do so we can play this adventure tonight. But an adventure can be far more satisfying if the entire party has a shared story. This would explore this concept both at a high level and concretely, presenting different sorts of player groups and shared stories and looking at how this could influence an entire campaign. Are you Cyran veterans fighting to find a place in a world after the war? Are you agents of the Citadel on a mission for the Brelish crown, or crusaders united in service to the Sovereign Host or Silver Flame? Are you operatives of the Twelve, and if so, do you share a common dream or are each of you putting the interests of your family first? Or might you actually be experiements of the Twelve… magebred humans escaped from a Vadalis facility?

This would present a number of compelling concepts, along with player options tied to each concept and ideas for DMs to explore.

TIMES PAST

I don’t particularly want to advance the timeline… but I’d be interested in exploring the past in more depth. Any of the following times could make an interesting period for adventuring.

  • The Last War. What adventures are possible in the midst of the War itself? This would explore the potential of a Last War campaign, dealing both with martial conflict and the unexpected challenges that can arise in Eberron – such as when your unit stumbles upon a passage to Khyber or an ancient Dhakaani ruin in the midst of what would otherwise be a simple operation. This would also explore the tools of war – spells and items employed on the battlefield. 
  • The Lycanthropic Purge. Two centuries ago, a threat arose in the west that could have destroyed Galifar itself. It was a terrifying and brutal conflict. What did it look like on the ground? Do you want to take on the roles of the templars battling the darkness or the innocents struggling to survive it? 
  • The War of the Mark. Will you play a squad of Dragonmarked heirs fighting against the darkness? Or a group of persecuted Aberrants struggling to survive? Either way, it’s a chance to delve into the prehistory of modern civilization… and to explore aberrant marks and dragonmarks in more depth.
  • The Xoriat Incursion. The Empire of Dhakaan is at its height, but the world is falling apart. The armies of Madness have clawed their way into reality, and now the Dhakaani must seek allies from across Eberron to stand against the armies of the Daelkyr. This is a chance to explore a very different vision of Khorvaire, and to face one of the most terrifying forces in the setting.

That’s seven core concepts already, and already around twenty ideas if you break all the individual possibilities out. And I could come up with more. So really, one of the most important questions is what do you want to read? Do any of the above ideas actually appeal to you? Let me know in the comments!

Game of Thrones Bingo, Ep. 6.5

Screen Shot 2016-05-21 at 10.55.56 AMAs with last week, I’ve created a set of ten bingo cards for this week’s episode of Game of Thrones. While I have avoided spoilers about the episode, the preview shown last week gave an indication of which plotlines will be at the heart of the episode; as such, I’ve left out any references to King’s Landing but added in spaces dealing with Braavos, Bran, and the Castle Black Crew. As always, there is a good chance that a particular square will not actually appear in the episode, but that’s what keeps it interesting. We know that Littlefinger appears… but will he be creepy about Sansa? Will Meera have anything to do other than waking up Bran? Will we actually hear “Promise me” at the Tower of Joy?

Anyhow, if you’d like to play along, download a copy of the cards here: GoT Bingo 6-5