Where Have I Been?

ShrikeIt’s been two months since my last update, and you may wonder if I’ve fallen off the face of the internet. In fact I have been chained to my desk working on my upcoming RPG Phoenix: Dawn Command. We just finalized the card files yesterday, the adventure path is with the editor, and we’re just a few weeks away from sending the game to the printer. Once that’s done, I’ll get back on a regular blogging schedule… but for now, all my writing time is dedicated to Phoenix. In the meantime, there are a few things I wanted to share.


The Extra Life fundraising event is just a few weeks away. Originally I was scheduled to play with the Wizards of the Coast Team, on a team with Erin Evans, Bruce Cordell, Teos Abadia and DM Susan Morris. It’s an incredible team, but I’m chained to my desk until Phoenix is at the printer and I can’t get away until it’s done, even for an adventure as amazing as this. However, it is a fantastic cause and the WotC marathon should be an amazing event; I urge you to check out the player links in this paragraph and back someone if you can!


On October 29th, Wizards of the Coast is shutting down their community site. I’ve been posting on the WotC forums since Eberron first began, and I’m sad to see them go. In particular, I’m sad to lose the Eberron forum. However, there are a few options. The Piazza is urging people to transfer Eberron material from the WotC site to the Piazza’s dedicated Eberron Forum. The venerable ENWorld is also encouraging people to transfer favorite posts and threads to their Emergency Evacuation Lifeboat. I don’t have time to transfer posts myself, but if anyone has enjoyed the Eberron forum over the years, feel free to move a favorite thread to a new home.

Now it’s back to Phoenix for me!

My GenCon Schedule


EPSON MFP imageWe’re closing in on the finish line for Phoenix: Dawn Command development, and artists Rich Ellis and Grace Allison surprised me with a portrait of my own for my birthday… which seems like an appropriate image as I prepared to set out for GenCon.

As Phoenix is still half a year away from release, we’re not doing extensive Phoenix demos at GenCon… Ace marshal Jeremiah Shepersky is running six sessions of Phoenix at GenCon, but they filled up very quickly. However, if you have questions about Phoenix or would like to see the prototype, come to my hangout on Saturday!

So, without further ado, here’s all the places you can find me at GenCon!



Hosted by the Damsels of Dorkington, “The Damsels & Friends tell their most epic, hilarious, & butt warming tales from their nerdy lives.” I will be telling a story and hanging out.



“You’ve got a great idea for a game but how do you put together a prototype to find out if it works? First-hand advice on ways to make a game a reality.” Other panelists include James Ernest, Paul Peterson, Matt Forbeck and JT Smith. They know stuff.


“Every game has a story. Every story has characters. Heroes are defined by their villains. How do you create compelling, thought provoking characters? Learn how with this panel of experts.” I’ll be discussing this topic with Andrew Peregrin, Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan and Bryan Tillman.


“Join a lively discussion with Wil Wheaton, Ryan Wheaton, Chris Pramas, & others, discussing the creation of Titansgrave RPG for the RPG Show!” This year I had the opportunity to help create Titansgrave: The Ashes of Valkana. I’ll be talking about it with Wil Wheaton, who’s just this guy.


The creator of Fluxx & the creator of Gloom discuss the ins & outs of hosting their new podcast, The Download.” Andy and I will actually be recording an episode live, and talking with one another and with anyone who shows up about whatever topics arise!


“Join the anti-festivities as we mix Gloom, Cthulhu Gloom, Fairytale Gloom, and Munchkin Gloom for maximum despair. Depressing promos for all. BYOT to compete for the coveted Gloomiest Teacup Trophy.” The event starts at 4 PM, but due to the Download I won’t show up until five.



We like roleplaying games. Join us & fellow travelers including Keith Baker, Cam Banks, Robin D. Laws, John Nephew, & Jeff Tidball to talk about making great RPGs.”


This one isn’t a GenCon Event – it’s an entirely informal thing I like to do. From 4:30 to 6:30 I’ll be hanging out in the lobby of the Hyatt. I plan to talk about Phoenix: Dawn Command, Eberron, Gloom and anything else people want to discuss. It’s completely informal – stop by any time and stay as long as you want!



“What’s the first step in creating a new world for fiction or gaming? We’ll look at the questions you need to answer & the different approaches you can take.” I’ll be tackling this topic with Brannon Boren, Lynne Hardy and Elsa Sjunneson Henry.


Villains of Eberron

As I was writing about the daelkyr in my last Eberron post, it occurred to me that my emphasis on how alien and unknowable they are might make it hard for people to understand how to work them into a story. Eberron has a host of major villains ready to go, and sometimes it’s not always clear what differentiates them. So I figured I’d do a quick run-down of the big bad guys.

The Dreaming Dark seeks to take control of mortal civilization in order to preserve the current status quo in Dal Quor. Thus, its primary goal is conquest. However, the quori prefer to conquer in such a way that their subjects embrace their oppressors. If you look to Sarlonan history, they instigated a series of wars and political upheavals and then the Inspired emerged as the saviors who brought order to this shattered land. They are more likely to do the same thing in Khorvaire than to invade with a Riedran army. It’s entirely possible that they instigated the Last War as the first stage of this plan. The question is who they will use as their figurehead leaders. They don’t need to replicate the culture of Riedra in Khorvaire: they simply need a scenario in which mortals embrace a new, absolute ruler. Is Queen Aurala secretly a quori figurehead (which would explain her warlike ambitions)? Have they assumed control of one or more of the Dragonmarked houses? Whatever it is, the main role of the quori is to cause chaos and then to provide a seemingly perfect solution.

The Daelkyr are essentially alien scientists and artists, and their primary goal is change. When they first arrived, they engaged the Empire of Dhakaan with armies of aberrations. They took creatures of Eberron and twisted them to produce monstrosities. For the last seven thousand years they’ve been bound in Khyber, and many wonder why they haven’t been working harder to escape. The main point is that they aren’t interested in conquest: they are interested in transformation. Even from the depths they can work through their cults and their agents; read this blog post for information on why someone would be a part of a daelkyr cult. They may BE changing the world in ways people don’t even realize; one interesting idea is that the dragonmarks were actually created by the daelkyr. If you WANT a daelkyr to burst out of Khyber with a devastating army of aberrations, you can have that. Just bear in mind that they aren’t seeking to conquer or colonize Eberron: they simply want to change it. If you’re going to use a daelkyr as a major villain, think about how it seeks to change the world.

The Lords of Dust are driven to free their ancient Overlords. Thus they are driven by Prophecy. The release of an Overlord will likely shatter modern civilization. Thus the Lords of Dust have little interest in conquest… unless conquest is necessary to release the Overlord. Each Overlord has a sequence of events that must come to pass to release it – a combination to its lock. It’s up to you to decide what that combination is. So if you WANT the combination to involve the conquest of Aundair by the Carrion Tribes of the Demon Wastes, than the Lords of Dust will be working to conquer Aundair. You could have a Lord of the Ring plotline – they need to recover a lost artifact and return it to a specific location at a specific time – in which case the conflict would all be based around the artifact and those who possess it. Or their actions could be far more subtle: they need Queen Aurala to restore Galifar, and thus they are helping her conquer the other Five Nations, but they are acting behind the scenes and even she doesn’t know it. Another way to look at the Lords of Dust is The Terminator: They have a vision of the future, and they are taking the actions required to make that future come to pass. Their actions don’t always make sense to us because we don’t understand the dominoes they are lining up. Why are they helping Aurala? What’s that do for them? We’ll find out when she’s murdered on the day of her coronation and Sul Khatesh is released from her bonds.

The Aurum is an alliance of powerful and wealthy mortals, and they seek to increase their own power and influence; as such they are often driven by Greed and Ambition. In a sense, they are a cabal of Bond villains, and pretty much any James Bond plot could be laid at the feet of the Aurum. While they work together when it serves their purposes, their schemes are often the schemes of an individual Aurum concordian – thus, foiling a plot doesn’t necessarily make you the enemy of the entire Aurum. Likewise, their schemes are often on a smaller scale than those of the daelkyr or the Dreaming Dark. They want to acquire a particular thing, gain control of an organization or piece of land, eliminate a particular person. Where the daelkyr and the quori are cosmic threats, the Aurum are fundamentally human villains (even if they are dwarves or elves).

The Emerald Claw are driven by Erandis’ desire to restore her dragonmark and gain ultimate power. Like the Aurum, their actions are generally more straightforward and serve a specific purpose. Erandis is going to set off a necrotic generator that will turn everyone in Sharn into a zombie because she hopes that harnessing that power will unlock her mark. She’s going to send an army of undead against Arcanix because she needs a particular necromantic tome or artifact. The actions of her followers may be cloaked in political schemes – many agents of the Emerald Claw believe they are laying the groundwork for Karrnathi dominance – but ultimately, any large-scale Emerald Claw action is somehow about increasing Erandis’ power or furthering her personal goals.

I’ve got to get back to work on Phoenix, so I’ll stop here. How about you? Which villains are your favorites, and what have you done with them?

Things I’m Backing!

In May I successfully raised the funds to produce Phoenix: Dawn Command, thanks to 1,100 awesome backers. I’m continuing to work on Phoenix and I can’t wait to share it with the world. In the meantime there’s a new host of crowdfunding projects up online. I’m pitching in on one of them, but I think they’re all worth a moment of your time. Take a look and see if any of them interest you!

And if you’re curious what I’m up to or came here looking for an Eberron Q&A, check out my previous post!

Lost CitadelTALES OF THE LOST CITADEL is a transmedia anthology, blending fiction, art and music together to create a compelling and terrifying fantasy world. For all intents and purposes the world of Zileska has come to an end, but there is one last bastion of civilization in this world of the dead: the city of Redoubt. Project organizer C.A. Suleiman has assembled a remarkable team, including Ari Marmell, Erin Evans, Todd LockwoodJanet Morris, and many more… including a story by me! As shown by Phoenix, I love the intersection of horror and fantasy. Zileska is a fascinating world, and I want to see more of it, so please help make this project a reality!

SixthGunTHE SIXTH GUN is a series of graphic novels created by Cullen Bunn and artist Brian Hurtt. It’s a fantastic supernatural Western adventure. Reading it made me want to play Deadlands. Now Pinnacle Entertainment Group – the creators of Deadlands – are creating a Sixth Gun RPG that will be completely compatible with the Weird West! As of my writing this, there’s only 26 hours left in the campaign – so if you’re interested, check it out now!

BlueRoseBLUE ROSE is The AGE Roleplaying Game of Romantic Fantasy. The first edition of Blue Rose was released in 2005; this campaign is creating a new edition using Green Ronin’s AGE system, as recently seen in the Titansgrave: Ashes of Valkana webseries. I admire Green Ronin’s work and their drive to go beyond traditional fantasy tropes. Take a look and see what you think!

Finally, SHERWOOD’S LEGACY is the latest game from designer Thomas Gofton. It’s described as a cooperative tower defense game; working as a team, you must hold out against the forces of the Sheriff for ten turns. This is fully funded and stretch goals are being unlocked: there’s one week left to go!

What are YOU funding? Post in the comments!






Latest News and Eberron Q&A!

EPSON MFP imageI’ve spent much of the last few weeks sick with the flu, but I’ve finally bounced back. I’m continuing to work on Phoenix: Dawn Command, and I’m excited about how the adventures are coming together. I’m still not 100% certain what we’ll be doing at Gen Con and whether there will be full demo sessions, but at the very least I’ll have a get together to discuss the game and show you how it works. The above image is from one of our stretch goals – a challenge created by the amazing Jason Morningstar.

In other news, Fairytale Gloom is out in the wild… though it doesn’t seem to have reached all stores yet. I’m keen to hear what people think. If you’ve had a chance to play and have any questions or comments, let me know!

And finally, I wanted to dig a little deeper into the vast backlog of Eberron questions. I’m afraid I still have no concrete information about 5E Eberron development; I’m hoping there will be news of some sort at Gen Con. Today’s questions focus on warforged, the Silver Flame, and the devious daelkyr…

A very interesting point in my opinion is the conflict between the ideals of the Flame and the corruption and racism of the Church. For example about warforgeds. How are the lives of warforged living in Thrane?

This is a complicated issue. To begin with, let’s talk about racism in Thrane.

The 3.5 ECS says nothing about endemic racism in Thrane. This is a concept that was introduced in Five Nations, a book I didn’t work on. It’s not a concept I personally endorse. There’s nothing in the core beliefs of the Silver Flame that sets humanity apart or above other races. At its ultimate core it is about defending the children of Eberron and Siberys from the children of Khyber. Broadly interpreted it’s about protecting the innocent from supernatural evil… not “innocent humans.” ALL noble souls can strengthen the Flame after death, and it was originally kindled by a noble sacrifice made long before human civilization existed. Many sources feature nonhuman Thrane clerics of the Silver Flame, and one of Tira Miron’s most trusted allies was an elf avenger. Aundair doesn’t have a human majority, yet Thrane’s templars put themselves in harms way to defend Aundair from the lycanthropic threat. If anything, I would expect Thrane to have LESS racism than the other Five Nations as it is grounded in a faith that is driven to protect all innocents. So speaking personally: I didn’t come up with the idea of excessive racism in Thrane and it’s not something I embrace at my table or in my writing.

WITH THAT SAID: If I were to embrace Five Nations’ depiction of racism in Thrane, I would say that it is a relatively recent development that seems to be getting worse every day… And that it is in all likelihood a manifestation of Bel Shalor’s growing power. The Shadow in the Flame thrives on drawing out the darkness inside of people, and this would be a logical manifestation of that. I’d call out the fact that it IS in opposition to the principles of the Flame, and have a few notable voices (such as Jaela) trying unsuccessfully to steer people back to the light.

The warforged are a special case. The Church doesn’t accept that Cannith could artificially manufacture souls. Thus warforged don’t fall into the category of “innocents to be protected.” A warforged is like a sword: a tool to be used in the battle. The Treaty of Thronehold gave the warforged freedom, but it can’t give them souls… and thus, in the eyes of the faithful, they remain things. What’s been said before is that Thrane warforged often end up in various forms of indentured servitude. They are seen as tools, and the Treaty hasn’t changed that.

In my campaign one of the players is a warforged paladin and most of the hierarchy doesn’t even look at him as a living being. As my players are growing up to mid-high levels, I’m thinking: what if keeper of the flame would create him a cardinal? How would the hierarchy react? How the people? Would it be a playable role?

Certainly. In MY campaign, you can’t decide to be a paladin; you have to be called. Cannith couldn’t build a paladin. Thus, the warforged paladin is proof to those with eyes to see that warforged DO have souls and can be part of the Flame. It would be something many Thranes would have difficulty accepting, but it could ultimately cause change across Thrane… or it could trigger a hostile backlash, especially if natural doubts were fanned by the Shadow in the Flame. And as such, it is an extremely playable role.

One thing I am curious about is why did the Treaty of Thronehold include the destruction or disassembly of all of the creation forges? Why do that when you’re also including in there that all warforged are considered individuals rather than property? The way I see it, it’s like neutering an entire race…

The fact that the Treaty of Thronehold helps the warforged is incidental. Its primary purpose was to limit the power of both the Five Nations and House Cannith. At the end of the war, every nation had warforged armies of various sizes. Disbanding these armies was a symbol of standing down from military footing. In my opinion, the original draft of the treaty ordered that all warforged be destroyed; shifting this to freedom for the warforged took a serious amount of lobbying on the part of sympathizers who’d worked with warforged over the wars. But the primary intention was eliminating standing armies, and I doubt that even many of the sympathizers considered this “the birth of a new race.”

Meanwhile, the destruction of the creation forges was a way to rein in the power of House Cannith. Left unchecked, Cannith could produce armies of warforged. Already there’s reason to question if the Five Nations truly have the power to enforce the Korth Edicts; no one liked the idea of Cannith being able to field an army of its own.

So both of these actions were about the balance of power in Khorvaire, not a grand vision of the sanctity of warforged life; in all likelihood, it was a near thing that the warforged weren’t destroyed along with the forges.

Maybe the Keeper could create cardinal a paladin orc?

This seems far less likely to me. I’m actually playing an orc paladin of the Ghaash’kala in a 5E Eberron campaign (a home game run by a friend). One of these days I’ll post some of what I’ve written about the Ghaash’kala over the course of the campaign. The short form is that my paladin would have no interest in being part of the hierarchy of Thrane. He comes from a completely different culture and a different tradition of the Flame. The excessive hierarchy and traditions of the Church seem frivolous to him; he is a warrior used to being on the front line of an endless war. I could see Jaela doing something to more officially acknowledge the Ghaash’kala as comrades in faith – but I don’t think appointing one of them to be a cardinal in Flamekeep would work out well for anyone involved.

Do you think the Lord of the Blades could have some connections with an Overlord? Maybe the mourning was caused by the freeing of an Overlord; or maybe the Becoming God is nothing but a living machine for channeling the energy of an Overlord. Or maybe he is trying to create with warforgeds something like Elves did in Aerenal.

All of these things are certainly possible if it’s a story you want to tell. The Lord of Blades could have connections with an Overlord. He could even be a Lord of Dust who’s only masquerading as a warforged. Try this on for size: We’ve never said where warforged souls come from. This is because warforged souls are tiny, tiny fragments of an Overlord, tiny enough to slip through the binding of the Flame. The Becoming God is a vessel that will ultimately absorb all the souls of the warforged and recreate the Overlord. So once the vessel for the Becoming God is completed, the “Lord of Blades” may start setting up situations to kill warforged – because when they die, their spirits are sucked into the vessel of the God. The trick is that each individual soul is innocent and unique, as long as it can keep from being reabsorbed. So a warforged PC is thus a part of a great evil – but by staying alive, they are preventing that evil from being reborn and turning its power to a good purpose.

I remember somewhere you wrote that it COULD exist a good Daelkyr, even if it still would be somehow crazy. Have you ever played something like that? Could the Daelkyr join the Silver Flame? Do you think Gatekeepers would fight him anyway?

I touch on this in a reply to a comment in my blog post on The Daelkyr And Their Cults. The critical point of the issue is that you could have a “good daelkyr” in the sense that its overall agenda is intended to help the people of Eberron. However, that doesn’t mean that agenda would appear to be good to everyone else. Daelkyr are as alien as alien gets: their idea of doing good might be to change all humans into changelings, to spread a linguistic virus that transforms Khorvaire into a group mind, or something like that. In the long run this might actually promote world peace and harmony, but it’s not likely to be something the existing cultures welcome. Even a daelkyr who simply wants to protect Eberron from other forms of supernatural evil – so one that serves the same purpose as the Silver Flame – would be likely to do so in a way that’s inexplicable to humans. One option I’ve thrown on the table is the idea that the daelkyr created Dragonmarks; perhaps that’s their way of trying to help humanity against other evil forces.

The main thing is that I personally wouldn’t have a daelkyr show up in Flamekeep and have a rational discussion with Krozen and Jaela (or the PCs) about how they can join forces to fight evil. If I wanted to do this with some traditional force of evil I’d use a Lord of Dust or a Quori. The Lords of Dust are native fiends of Eberron and the Quori are tied to human dreams, and as such there is a basic foundation for understanding. While in my mind what defines the daelkyr is that there is NO foundation for understanding. The mere presence of a daelkyr causes confusion, and if it focuses its attention on you it can inflict permanent mental damage. To me this is a side effect of the fact that it’s a powerful telepath whose thoughts are so innately alien that the telepathic broadcast breaks human minds. If you touch its mind, you will go insane. To quote the ECS…

The mind of a daelkyr is a labyrinth that can swallow the thoughts of lesser creatures. Any creature who attempts to read the thoughts of a daelkyr or otherwise study its mind must make a DC 29 Will save or suffer the effect of an insanity spell.

Note that this isn’t an active power. It’s not something the Daelkyr CHOOSES to do. It is simply what happens to any creature of Eberron that touches the mind of a daelkyr.

And for all these reasons: Yes, a Gatekeeper would fight him anyway. Because ultimately it doesn’t matter what his intentions are. He’s a fundamentally alien entity who doesn’t belong in Eberron, and who innately spreads madness and corruption simply by virtue of his presence. Which may be a tragedy if he means well, but there it is.

So I’m certainly open to a story about a daelkyr who’s trying to help the people of Eberron… but I’d make his help enigmatic and potentially dangerous, not some sort of simple “creepy ally.”

Is a human mind as alien to a daelkyr as a daelkyr mind is to a human, and if not, why not? Do daelkyr suffer similar problems if they read the mind of a creature from Eberron?

No. In general aberrations are alien creatures, but you can use detect thoughts on a dolgrim, beholder or mind flayer without getting your brain fried. It’s not simply that daelkyr are alien; it’s that they are primal immortal entities who ALSO happen to be indescribably alien. So a daelkyr looking at your thoughts will going to find them very alien and puzzling… but so incredibly tiny and insignificant that it doesn’t really have a big impact.

Personally, I would put the relationship between human and daelkyr as much like the relationship between a fruit fly and a human. From your perspective the fly’s life is trivially short and relatively meaningless. Look at a single fruit fly: can you tell me what it’s thinking or the purpose behind its actions? Do you believe it feels emotions or has dreams or thoughts as you do? Meanwhile, do you think the fly understands YOU? You’re so vast that all it can really perceive is your foot or the finger descending to kill it; it doesn’t even have a full picture of what you are. Comparing lifespans you are essentially immortal. And again, do you think it understands WHY you do what you do? Perhaps you’re a scientist running an experiment in genetics. Perhaps you’re a bored child pulling the wings off insects for the fun of it. Perhaps different daelkyr represent these different things… so Belashyrra is pursuing a vast experiment (one that will take many, many human generations to show any results) while Dyrrn the Corruptor is simply the child frying ants with a magnifying glass. This allows the one daelkyr whose actions, however bizarre, do involve a vast scheme – and the other whose cruelty is purely pernicious.

Now if you WANT a daelkyr to take a personal interest in a PC as part of a storyline, go ahead. It happens that they’re a particularly remarkable fly and the culmination of a particular experiment and it’s actually keeping an eye on them to see how it plays out. But it still doesn’t understand or empathize with them; they are still just insects, even if they happen to be interesting ones.

Doom, Gloom and Eberron Q&A


Since the Phoenix Kickstarter campaign ended, I’ve been working hard on finishing the writing for Phoenix and that’s going to be my focus for the next few months. However, I don’t want to completely drop off the face of the earth, and I’ve got a big backlog of Eberron questions to get to.

First, news: Fairytale Gloom comes out this week. I’m very happy with the game and I look forward to hearing what people think of it. One thing I like is that you’re working with characters you already know – which makes it easy to come up with a new story. Furthermore, Fairytale Gloom doesn’t use preset families; instead you assemble a family from the cast of 20 characters. So you can assemble the cast of a classic fairy tale… or you can decide that Snow White, Red Riding Hood and Cinderella are secret agents working for the mysterious “Granny.”

Beyond that, there’s big news in the world of Kickstarter. For those who aren’t familiar with The Doom That Came To Atlantic City, in 2012 a guy named Erik Chevalier licensed a game I’d designed with my friend Lee Moyer, and went to Kickstarter to raise the money to produce it. He raised four times the amount he was asking for; told everyone that he was making the game; and a year later revealed that he was out of money and had never actually gotten around to making the game. Here’s my post from when I received this news. Because Erik had broken his contract, the rights to the game returned to Lee and I. We worked out an arrangement with Cryptozoic where they made the game and game everyone who backed it a free copy. It wasn’t an ideal solution – Erik had promised many things that Cryptozoic couldn’t provide, especially since they were doing it entirely as a gesture of goodwill to the people who’d been robbed – but thanks to Cryptozoic the game exists and made it to the backers. For the last two years there’s been no further news… until yesterday. The FTC has leveled a $112K judgment against Erik Chevalier as punishment for his duplicitous practices. Supposedly he’s also enjoined to honor his pledge to refund backers. It’s of limited effect as Erik is apparently broke – but I’m glad to see SOMETHING done about this. Crowdfunding is an amazing thing. Thanks to people who have put there faith in me I’m producing Phoenix  a game I could never have produced on my own. It’s a chance to bring things in the world that might never exist otherwise, and I hate seeing that trust abused.

So, that’s the short news here: I’m still working on Phoenix, Fairy Tale Gloom will be on shelves any day now, and there is finally some degree of justice for Doom backers.

I have a big slush pile of Eberron questions that I’ll get to as time allows… here’s a few to get the ball rolling again. At this time I have no news about any developments with 5E Eberron. Rest assured, I’ll share news if and when I have any. Now on with the questions…

The Mourning is the big obvious “no canonical answer” Eberron mystery. Any others in the setting that you particularly like?

Where do warforged souls come from? What do the Daelkyr want? What were the Quori of the previous age like? What exactly are aberrant dragonmarks, and why are they starting to appear again after lying dormant for so long?

When running Eberron, what is the single most important thing to remember? How does Eberron differ from other settings?

I don’t think there’s one answer that covers all Eberron games. If you’re more on the pulp end of the spectrum, then you want to look for ways to make the PCs feel remarkable. Never have a fight on solid ground when you could have it on the back of a moving lightning rail or an airship plummeting from the sky. Emphasize the villainy of the villains and the stakes of the conflict, and make sure your players feel like big damn heroes. All of this changes when you go to the noir side of the spectrum. In the mean streets of Sharn, things aren’t so clearly defined. It’s hard to tell the heroes from the villains. Stories don’t always end well – and sometimes it’s best when they don’t. In a noir campaign your want hard decisions and difficult revelations.

But there are a few things that can apply to any Eberron game, and these are things I try to call out when I’m creating an Eberron adventure for a convention or charity event. One of these is the war. Khorvaire is just two years out of a horrific war that ended with the utter destruction of nation. How did the war affect the player characters? Who did they fight for, or why didn’t they fight? How can its impact be felt in the adventure – whether it’s the scars of the conflict or the tensions of the current cold war? How about the impact of industrialized magic… how can you show magic being used as a tool within society?

When running con games I call out elements of the setting that are especially unique. In previous games I’ve used parties of Dhakaani goblins; monstrous agents of the Daughters of Sora Kell; and a Blood of Vol undead equivalent of the A-Team. It’s a way to immediately impress on people that things aren’t what they’re used to – that monsters aren’t always bad guys and that the bad guys aren’t always monsters.

Eberron is a world that is waiting for heroes. Do you think it’s a world with a place for a campaign for high level evil characters? Beside that forces of evil look already preeminent, I am worried that a ruthless high level cleric or mage could easily overpower any human institution.

This question comes up a fair bit. There’s a lot of different ways to answer it. But the first question I have is what’s the experience your players are looking for? In choosing to be evil, what do they WANT their story to be like? In my opinion, RPGs are about building a collaborative story. As DM, your challenge is to build out that story, to make it challenging and interesting. In choosing to be evil, do your players want to simply achieve wealth and personal power? Do they want to create a criminal empire? Do they want to depose rulers and take over Khorvaire? Each of these stories builds room for different sorts of opposition. An equally important question is what they want the tone to be… is this story more pulp or noir?

Personally, I see an “evil” campaign as leaning more towards noir. The typical noir story has very few heroes… but deals with the fact that villains will happily prey on each other. In a noir story, I’d reveal that the world is a lot darker than anyone realizes. I’d play up the number of organizations that are secretly controlled by the Lords of Dust, the Aurum, or the Dreaming Dark. I’d work in the extremely ruthlessness of organizations such as the Trust, the Citadel or the Chamber. I’d have my villainous PCs constantly on edge for the threat of betrayal, assassination or dangerous revelation. Sure, that institution LOOKS like an easy target… but that’s because you don’t realize that the “low level cleric” running the temple is actually an epic level rakshasa or an Inspired. In short, in a noir villain campaign, I’d pit the PCs against other villains who are every bit as powerful as they are – or more so – and in a far better starting position.

On the other hand, perhaps the players WANT a pulp-style evil campaign in which they are the worst villains the world has every seen. In that case, I’d play down the Lords of Dust and Dreaming Dark; if the players WANT to be the coolest villains around, it’s not so much fun to be constantly tripping over older evil conspiracies. Instead, I’d create heroes. Eberron is intentionally designed as a world in need of heroes because the PCs are expected to fill that role. If the PCs instead choose to play villains, as DM I’d create the heroes that would usually be PCs. Let’s have Tira Miron reborn as a new crusader of the Silver Flame. Trade out the Lord of Blades for a heroic warforged uniting his people into a force for good… a Professor X instead of a Magneto. Perhaps the Twelve assemble a team of dragonmarked champions as their own answer to the Avengers. For that matter, you could bring in any of the protagonists of the Eberron novels; the reason novels aren’t canon is because we don’t want these heroes treading on the toes of the PCs, but if the PCs don’t want the part, why not? Alternately, you could have a truly powerful group of heroes – heroes who always seem to come back no matter how they are defeated or destroyed. The ultimate revelation is that these champions are actually shapechanged dragons – agents of the Chamber acting to preserve their preferred path of the prophecy. They always return because even if killed, a new dragon can assume the role of the fallen champion.

Basically, the default assumptions of Eberron assume the PCs are heroic. If they aren’t, change those assumptions. Create what you need to create to present the challenges the PCs want to deal with. And don’t be afraid to LET the PCs disrupt existing organizations, if that’s the story they want to be part of. LET them throw Kaius out and take over Karrnath… because once they’ve got territory to control, you’ve got a lot more hooks to work with.

That’s all for now!



What Else Is Out There?

The Phoenix: Dawn Command Kickstarter campaign wrapped up at 8 AM this morning (Wednesday, May 6th). Thanks to all the people who backed us, we are going to be able to make this game a reality. It’s been a long eighteen months, and I’m grateful to everyone who’s been a part of it. I’m looking forward to NOT looking at computers or Kickstarters for a few days, but before I drop off the net I wanted to talk about some of the OTHER Kickstarters out there that I’m interested in…

ApocryphaThe Apocrypha Adventure Card Game

Creator Mike Selinker describes Apocrypha as the next evolution of two games that he helped to create: The Pathfinder Adventure Card Game and one of my favorite board games, Betrayal At House On The Hill. It is a massive game – if you get the full edition, it comes with over a thousand cards. I’m not backing Apocrypha… because I’m part of it! Apocrypha’s stretch goals include Chapters that add more content to the game, and I’m working on the Book of the Dreamer. At this moment Apocrypha has six days left – check it out!

CampaignCOins2Campaign Coins Starter Sets and Epic Treasure

Campaign Coins makes awesome coins with a great weight, and I’ve found lots of ways to use them over the years. However, there’s less than a day left in this, so if you’re interested you’ll have to act fast!

FallofMagicFall of Magic

I only found out about this yesterday, but I’ve run into a number of people who are very excited about it and the basic concept is certainly intriguing. It’s a roleplaying game that’s played using a handmade scroll, which is unrolled as you make your way through your journey. I want to learn more about this before I jump in – it’s not cheap, because HAND-MADE SCROLL – but there’s 24 days left, so there’s time to dig deeper.

DoubleclicksThe Doubleclicks: President Snakes

As I was writing this very post, I discovered that The Doubleclicks had launched a new campaign, so I stopped and backed it immediately. You should too. I’ll let them speak for themselves: “Our next album is called ‘President Snakes.’ It’s not all nerdy, not all folky, not all funny, but definitely a mix of those things. It’s the most honest and personal album we’ve ever created. There is sadness and happiness and a cat or two. It’s the next step for us and it is full of songs we are extremely proud of…” 

GeekDad’s Legal Costs

While I’m not a dad myself, I’ve long been a fan of the Geekdad website. Once upon a time they were affiliated with Wired, and after breaking free they had a protected struggle with Conde Nast over the Geekdad identity. They’ve settled, but they’re still paying the cost. As someone who’s run into this sort of problem with many things I’ve created, I sympathize and I’d like to see the site and team prosper. This is a GoFundMe campaign, so it’s an ongoing thing.

My goal was to STOP staring at the computer for a little while, so I’m going to stop here. However, there’s still MORE campaigns that were recommended to me: Witch Hunter: Grand Tome of Adversaries (9 Days Left) and The Planet Mercenary Roleplaying Game (11 Days Left). Take a look!

THAT’S IT! Again, thank you so much to those of you who backed Phoenix and helped to make my dream a reality; hopefully some of these other campaigns will also catch your interest!

What Phoenix Means To Me

Phoenix TrioAs I write this, there’s seventeen hours left in my first Kickstarter campaign. We’re closing in on a thousand backers, which is an amazing experience. I wanted to take a few moments to reflect on why I’m so passionate about this project and why I’m so grateful to everyone who’s put their trust in me.

A World Without Limits

I’ve created a lot of worlds you’ve never seen. Collectively I’ve spent a decade developing worlds for MMORPGs that have never seen the light of day. As I don’t own any of those ideas, they’ve slipped into the IP tar pits never to be seen again. Eberron was my first opportunity to share a world on a wide scale, and it’s been an amazing, life-changing experience. I hope there’s a future for Eberron, but it’s out of my hands. I’ve supported it as far as I can on forums and on my site, but there’s many things I’d like to do that I can’t.

Phoenix is a chance to share a world without those limits – a world that can be explored as deeply as time and interest allows. I’ve probably done it a disservice by focusing on the unique mechanics of the game – card-driven resolution and advancement through resurrection – as opposed to the world itself. Phoenix has a simple premise that can be summed up in a sentence, but the world itself is filled with layers and mysteries. It’s a world without easy answers, with room for both intrigue and action, and I’d love to develop it further in both games and fiction. And like Eberron, it’s a world I want to share. I’ll give you my answers to its mysteries, but I want you to be free to come up with your own – to take any inspiration it offers and run with it.

A Different Sort Of Story

You could separate the setting and system of Phoenix if you wanted. With some work, you could translate it to D&D or use the Phoenix system in Eberron. However, the system excels at telling a certain sort of story – and the setting is built around those stories. It’s a setting where the stakes are high, the odds aren’t in your favor, and where your missions are more important than your lives. I’ve run over ninety sessions of Phoenix over the last few years, and I’ve killed a lot of characters – but I’m amazed how often those deaths feel like triumphs instead of failures. My co-designer Dan Garrison wrote a piece about this, using examples from actual play sessions.

I could write pages and pages, but the key is that I love both the world and system of Phoenix: Dawn Command. Thank you to all of you who have made this possible, and who are taking a chance and exploring this new world with me.

This is going to be my last blog post before the campaign is over, so for anyone who’s just learning about it for the first time, here’s a few things that might be useful:

  • Rich Malena has made a series of short videos that walk through the mechanics of Phoenix, including Character Creation, Skill Spreads and Combat.
  • The OneShot Podcast has a full play session where I’m running Phoenix for Will Hindmarch and the rest of the OneShot Crew. Here’s part one and part two.
  • You can find lots of posts on my website – and a series of design diaries from our artists at the Twogether Blog.

That’s it! If you have any questions please ask, otherwise I’ll see you on the other side.


Phoenix: Dread and Empire

Map-FinalUp to this point I’ve mainly talked about the story of Phoenix: Dawn Command at the highest level: The Empire is fighting the Dread (and losing). This is a good one sentence description of the concept. A group of nations is facing a terrifying supernatural threat. But it’s a statement that implies a clash of monolithic forces and paints a very simplistic view of the setting – and I want to dig a little deeper. Because both the Empire and the Dread are anything but monolithic or simple.

Over the last three years the people of the Empire have suffered a wave of attacks and supernatural terrors. They refer to this as The Dread. But really, “The Dread” means “Anything we don’t understand.” Part of the terror of the Dread is that there’s no logic to it – no obvious connection between its many manifestations.

  • The Bones are the skeletons of soldiers from past wars who have risen up to fight the living. They retain the skills of the former lives and fight with military discipline. In the south, a legion of Bones has been steadily advancing and slaughtering everything in its path… and no one has found a way to stop it. Smash the Bones and they just rise again.
  • The Chant can start anywhere. Someone begins chanting and trying to kill those around them, and this behavior spreads rapidly. That’s about all that’s known. How does it spread? Is it from physical contact or hearing the Chant? How does it get started?
  • The Fallen Folk are figures from Skavi folklore, mysterious and powerful beings who dwell in the Dusk and bargain with mortals. Some feed on greed or fear. Others can offer great power to a clever warlock. The first Phoenixes drove the Fallen from the world and forbade any dealings with them… and now the Fallen have returned.

These are just three manifestations of the Dread… and the only obvious thing they have in common is they’ve all appeared (or re-appeared) in the last few years. The Fallen don’t work with the Bones. Neither Fallen or Bones appear to have anything to do with the Chant… or the skinchangers… or the hauntings… and so on. As a Phoenix you will be fighting manifestations of the Dread, but the most important thing you can do in any mission is to understand the enemy. Stopping a particular outbreak of the Chant is a minor victory if you can’t understand why it’s happening in the first place or how to help mortals deal with the next outbreak. Likewise, we say that one of the major drives of the story in Phoenix is to solve the mystery of the Dread. But it’s not a mystery with a single answer; you won’t finish one adventure and know EVERYTHING. Instead, it’s a puzzle with many different pieces, one that could take multiple story arcs to completely unravel. The seven-mission adventure path that ships with the game deals with a particular subset of the Dread, and you can solve that particular puzzle… but you’ll still be a long, long way from a complete understanding of the Dread.

In a way, it’s a Lovecraftian scenario. This is a world where magic exists, and yet it is something that has been buried and forgotten. It is a dangerous force that often causes great harm to those who delve into its secrets. And now the stars are right and terrible things are happening across the world… and you need to investigate these threats and deal with them before your world is destroyed. It’s simply the case that those threats are actively in the process of destroying the world – and you’re an investigator with tremendous personal power and seven lives.

Next up: The Empire. This conjures an image of a tightly unified civilization with a monolithic culture. In fact, the name is quite deceptive. Centuries ago the nations of the Daylit World were divided. Each practiced different forms of magic. Many fought each other, or simply preyed on their own people. The first Phoenixes put a stop to this, using their power to systematically conquer and unite the disparate nations, and to end injustice and the use of magic. They called this the Pyrean Empire. But it didn’t last. Resentment grew and eventually many people rebelled against their immortal leaders. The civil war that followed was bloody, and in the end the Phoenixes abdicated to bring an end to the destruction. They wouldn’t rule the Empire; they would simply protect it from the sidelines. And so they did, for a time. But the new Empire no longer needed them, and they stopped returning from death. Their numbers dwindled and faded. Many of the changes they had instituted stayed in effect. Magic remained abolished. The peace between nations continued, by and large. The Empire was a loose alliance, but it lasted through two centuries of relative prosperity… until the Dread.

So we call it the Empire, and there is an Imperial Army, Imperial roads, and other unified services… But every province retains its distinct culture, and some cleave more tightly to Imperial customs than others. Meanwhile, as of a few years ago the Phoenixes had become legends. Now they are finally returning, but they are few in number and opinions are divided. Are they heroes of old and the only hope against the Dread? Or are they themselves harbingers of doom, would-be tyrants, or manifestations of the Dread itself? Your actions over the course of the campaign will determine the role that Phoenixes will play within the Empire. Will you try to re-establish the order imposed by your predecessors? Will you stop other Phoenixes if they follow this path?

The upshot of all of this is that there’s nothing simple about “The Empire fighting the Dread.” This is the conflict that will drive your initial missions… but it’s a setting with a great deal of depth and complexity, and there are many stories to be told. And just like Eberron, this is your world as well as mine. Dan and I are creating a foundation to work with, but it’s always up to you to decide what to keep and what to change… and quite often we’ll offer suggestions as to changes you can make. We want our setting to inspire stories, not to limit them.

We’ve got five more days left in the Kickstarter campaign and we still need your help to reach our stretch goals – especially the mark that will let us add 40 pages to the sourcebook! Take a look.