Dragonmarks: Riedra in 5E

Rising From The Last War focuses on the continent of Khorvaire. Humanity thrives on Khorvaire, but it didn’t begin there; humanity came from the continent of Sarlona. Today, Sarlona is largely a mystery to the people of the Five Nations. It is dominated by the Unity of Riedra, and while this nation isn’t hostile to the Five Nations—indeed, it provided humanitarian aid and assistance to many nations during the Last War—its borders are largely closed, with outsiders only welcome in the port cities of Dar Jin on the east coast and Dar Ulatesh to the west. Most people know that Riedra is ruled by the Inspired, nobles said to be be bound to celestial spirits; and many have heard stories of the strange forms of magic used in Riedra. But most commoners know nothing more about the realm of the Inspired.

Sarlona is described in detail in the 3.5 sourcebook Secrets of Sarlona. I personally wrote the Riedra section of that sourcebook, and my vision of the rest of Sarlona doesn’t perfectly match the canon depiction. My current goal is to expand on Secrets of Sarlona rather than to rewrite it. I may present my approach to Adar, Syrkarn, and Tashana in future articles, but these articles focus on Riedra. This article explores the narrative role of Riedra and the Inspired, and how to approach both of these in fifth edition given the limitations of the current mechanics.

THE PURPOSE OF RIEDRA

What does Riedra add to the world of Eberron? Why did we create it in the first place, and what does it offer to a campaign? Before we consider what it is, let’s take a moment call out what it isn’t. Riedra is not intended to reflect any nation or culture on Earth. It’s home to psychic warriors and soulknives, not to samurai and ninja. It’s not supposed to be some sort of version of the Soviet Union—in Eberron, the cold war is being fought between the Five Nations, not between Khorvaire and Riedra. From the beginning Riedra was always supposed to be unique and alien. It’s a culture shaped by overlords from the Realm of Dreams. It’s a realm where people craft tools and towers out of solidified emotions and where the rulers weave dreams for their subjects. It fills the pulp trope of “mysterious, isolated nation with exotic traditions.” But in looking for inspiration, don’t look to our world or our history. Look to your imagination; this is a realm that should feel as if it’s shaped from dreams and nightmares.

The core idea of Khorvaire and the Five Nations was civilizations where arcane magic has been incorporated as part of society. The most basic, core idea of Riedra was a civilization where psionics are the foundation of society. With Eberron we wanted to look at the logical consequences of magic existing; with Riedra, we wanted to do the same for psionics. At the same time, knowing that many DMs don’t LIKE psionics and feel that they clash with classical fantasy, it felt appropriate to make Riedra isolated and mysterious. DMs who WANTED to delve into psionics could either take adventures to Sarlona or simply have more contact with Riedran and Adaran characters. But that core idea was simple. Psionics are a well-established part of D&D that feel out of place directly alongside arcane magic. Let’s create a place where psionics BELONG—where they are a key tool of civilization.

The second purpose of Sarlona and Riedra is as the birthplace of humanity. We decided from the start that humans weren’t native to Khorvaire; that while they are the dominant species on Khorvaire, they are colonizers and on a fundamental level they are on the wrong side of history. But while humanity came from Sarlona, it’s no longer the land they left behind. In Riedra we have a new nation built upon the bones of those ancient realms, with many forgotten secrets waiting to be found.

Riedra is a dystopia where tyrants even control the dreams of their subjects. Or is it a utopia without crime, hunger, or doubt? We as players and DMs know that it’s an oppressive dictatorship, and yet it’s not the enemy of Khorvaire and many nations want its aid, which is again part of its story role: what do you do when your country allies with an oppressive nation? One of the fundamental principles of Eberron is that things aren’t supposed to be simple. WE know that the quori have stolen the freedom of the people of Riedra, but the greatest trick of the Dreaming Dark was convincing the people to build their own chains; the Riedrans don’t WANT your freedom. So we look at Riedra and feel that they SHOULD be the enemy; they are an oppressive dystopia, a vast and alien empire. But by default, they aren’t the enemy. So how do you deal with them? It’s the base of the Dreaming Dark, but the common people of Riedra don’t even know the Dreaming Dark exists.

So from a design perspective, here are the things Riedra brings to the world and to a campaign.

  • It’s a source for psionic content. Characters with psionic classes or abilities can be from Sarlona or have learned from a Sarlonan teacher. It provides an opportunity to introduce psionic villains and it’s a source for psionic artifacts. If you want a deep psionic campaign, it’s a place to run it. While that’s currently complicated by the lack of deep psionic rules, those rules are under development. I suggest alternatives later in this article, but if you do want to use the psi knight fighter or the soulknife rogue, this is where they belong.
  • It’s a dystopian tyranny, more inspired by 1984 or The Giver than any nation in our history. If you want to play out an underdogs-against-the-empire campaign, it’s better suited to that than any nation in Khorvaire… whether on the Adaran front, as a band of Akiak commandos, or a group of unchained dreamers hiding in the heart of the empire. Yet Riedra is also a place to explore what would we give up for security? Riedra has no crime, no hunger, no doubt. Are we so sure Khorvaire is better, with its greedy Houses, warring Wynarns, and Boromar Clan?
  • It holds the hidden bones of the nations that gave birth to humanity. Which means that it may hold many secrets lost in the Sundering. What did Khalesh know about the Silver Flame that the people of Thrane have yet to discover? Did the Pyrineans have ways to invoke the Sovereigns—new divine spells—that never made it to Khorvaire? What wonders and terrors are hidden in the war-mazes of Ohr Kaluun?
  • It’s closer to the planes than any other continent. In addition to massive manifest zones, it has wild zones—regions where a plane essentially projects into the material—and reality storms. This is a point that will be explored in greater detail in the upcoming article on the provinces.
  • Tied to a number of these points, Riedra is alien. It is shaped by spirits from another plane. It uses a supernatural science that’s all but unknown in Khorvaire, and it’s built on a foundation of nations that tapped the planes in strange ways. After a thousand years of Galifar, Khorvaire is known; Riedra is home to thriving civilizations, yet still unknown.

So in bringing Riedra into a campaign, you have a number of choices. If you have no interest in psionics you can ignore it completely. You can use it in the background, as a source for psychic characters and tools—the home of a single recurring villain or PC. You can highlight its role as an enigmatic ally—highlighting its presence in Q’barra, dealing with the Inspired ambassador at the Tain Gala—noting that it is a force that is technically helping and that the Five Nations want good relationships within, while also invoking its alien nature and dystopian aspects; if the Inspired ambassador offers aid, do the adventurers take it? If you choose to make the Dreaming Dark a major foe in the campaign, Riedra can become far more important, as diplomatic immunity and embassies serve as shields for Riedran villains. You could take the campaign to Riedra; perhaps the adventurers are fighting the Dreaming Dark or working with the Adarans, or perhaps they need to find a relic lost in a ruined temple in Khalesh or hidden in a war-maze in Ohr Kaluun. Or you could set your entire campaign in Riedra, focusing on the struggle against an all-powerful alien dictatorship that holds the common people in its thrall.

A RIEDRAN INVASION?

Riedra is a massive, tyrannical empire. The Dreaming Dark yearns to control all mortal lives. On the surface, this seems like it’s a set-up for a vast invasion. And if that’s a story you really want to tell in your campaign, your ally is Lord Zoratesh, the kalaraq quori who commands Riedra’s armies. However, in canon Eberron, it’s not a scenario that’s likely to occur. Secrets of Sarlona says…

Both the Devourer of Dreams (leader of the Dreaming Dark) and Lady Sharadhuna (leader of the Thousand Eyes) believe that (open war with Khorvaire) would be disastrous, providing a common enemy to unite the people of Khorvaire, destabilizing Riedra, and risking the ire of the dragons, the Lords of Dust, and other conspiracies currently watching from the shadows. 

Lady Sharadhuna believes that the quori don’t need Khorvaire—that dominating Sarlona is sufficient for their needs. The Devourer of Dreams does plan to conquer Khorvaire, but not through brute force. Secrets of Sarlona notes that “The unity of Riedra succeeds because the people believe that the Inspired are saviors, not conquerors.” The quori created Riedra through manipulation. They tricked the old kingdoms of Sarlona into fighting each other, eroded faith in the old religions, played on prejudices and fears. And then they created the Inspired as champions who rose up from among the common people, uniting the people to fix the disasters the quori had carefully engineered. So the PEOPLE believe that the Inspired are heroes—legends who guided them through a terrible age of darkness and into a golden age.

The Devourer of Dreams plans to use the same script in Khorvaire… and most likely is already doing it. Over the last century, a stable kingdom collapsed into chaos and civil war. This war was driven by the paranoia of the last king and by the ambitions of the heirs—exactly the sorts of emotional states that could be engineered or enhanced by quori manipulation. We’ve never said conclusively that the Dreaming Dark DID cause the Last War, because ultimately we want each DM to make that decision themselves. But it certainly fits their style. They don’t conquer with invading armies; they conquer by tricking people into tearing their own nations apart. The trick here is that if the quori DID ignite the Last War, they surely DIDN’T cause the Mourning. It’s the Mourning that has brought a sudden and immutable end to the war, as the nations are afraid to continue their battles until the mystery is solved. So if the Dreaming Dark caused the war, the Mourning is surely a deep source of frustration for them… and they are likely trying to solve this mystery themselves!

But if you want to explore the quori conquest, there’s a crucial second piece of the puzzle. The quori don’t need the people of Khorvaire to adopt Riedran customs. The Dreaming Dark wants to create a stable civilization where it controls the dreams of the public, using a system similar to the hanbalani monoliths in Riedra. But they don’t NEED people to worship the Inspired or to follow the Path of Inspiration. They created the Inspired because it fit the situation they’d created—because they were saviors who rose from within to solve the problem. If they’re using the same script in Khorvaire, they will create something local and new—a force that the people of Khorvaire will accept as their saviors. Consider a few possibilities…

  • The Sovereign Swords. Presented in Dragon 412, the Sovereign Swords are an order of selfless heroes guided by the Sovereigns and strengthened by their angels. Or are they? The Swords truly are devout champions who seek to aid those in need. But are their powers and visions coming from the Sovereigns? Or are their “angels” actually quori, and their visions carefully scripted by the Dreaming Dark? The original Inspired were heroes who rose up within the common people, guided and strengthened by celestial powers. The Sovereign Swords could be unwitting tools of the quori, following the same script… but how can adventurers be sure?
  • The Dragonmarked Houses. Again, the Dreaming Dark doesn’t need Khorvaire to resemble Riedra; it just needs the situation to be stable and it needs people to accept their quori-designed monolithic dreams. One of the basic themes of Eberron is the balance of power between the old monarchies and the dragonmarked houses. Perhaps the quori are working within one or more houses to drive this—pushing for a future in which the common people accept that the old nations are irrelevant and that the houses are the future—creating a functional dictatorship run not by godlike Inspired, but simply by gold. In such a future, the monolithic dreams could be presented as a SERVICE: House Cannith and House House Sivis working together to provide you with OneDream™, the latest in somnambulant entertainment! Tasker’s Dream is a House Sivis think tank working on the potential of telepathy; could it be a quori front?
  • The Once and Future King. Alternately, the Dreaming Dark could have helped to tear down Galifar in order to rebuild it… to its own design. The Dreaming Dark could choose one of the existing candidates and work to present them as the true, destined savior who will restore Galifar. Queen Aurala is a possibility since she is known to want to restore Galifar, but an exotic option would be Prince Oargev of Cyre—if the Dreaming Dark helps to create a narrative of how the prince who lost everything is the one destined to save us all. This option is a way to have a LITTLE bit of a Riedran invasion, since Riedra could lend troops to support Oargev’s claim—but again, the goal of the Dreaming Dark would be to convince the common people to support Oargev; they don’t want to CONQUER, they want the people to build their own cage. So using dreams and agents, they’d work to convince people that Oargev IS blessed, that the Sovereigns are behind him, that he’s the one who can sweep away the corruption and terrors of the war and restore a golden age, where even dreams are always happy.

The net point is that Riedra is a looming and powerful force, but it doesn’t want outright war with Khorvaire; instead, the Dreaming Dark seeks to rebuild from within. But who will be their figureheads and catspaws?

RIEDRA AND THE INSPIRED IN FIFTH EDITION

The basic concept of Riedra is that it’s a society built on a foundation of everyday psionics… and there’s no system for psionics in fifth edition. What’s the answer? How can you make a Dreaming Dark assassin feel suitably different from a mundane rogue? How do you make Riedra feel truly alien?

Psionic Characters and NPCs

While the fifth edition of Dungeons & Dragons doesn’t have finalized rules for D&D, Unearthed Arcana has explored a number of different approaches to psionics. Here’s the latest version, which includes a Soulknife archetype for rogues, a Psi-knight fighter, and a Psionic Soul archetype for sorcerers. The article also calls out that the Great Old One warlock has always had “psi-themed powers”—its class features grant telepathy, a thought shield, and the ability to mentally dominate a thrall.

So you can work with the options in Unearthed Arcana. If you want a psionics system that’s as entirely unique as the third edition system, there are third party options available on the DM’s Guild. But my personal approach is simpler. If you separate class mechanics from the default flavor associated with them, you have the tools to create a wide assortment of characters. A barbarian doesn’t have to be angry. A bard doesn’t have to be an entertainer. Consider the following ideas, which could be agents of the Dreaming Dark or heroic PCs.

  • Tactile Telekinetic. This is a human child—an urchin living in a bad part of Sharn, ignored by the world. Despite their childlike appearance, they display surprising strength—because they are channeling telekinetic ability through their body. When they are forced into battle, they’re surrounded by a translucent field of energy—a force field that reduces damage from physical attack and increases the damage of their melee attacks. As long as they are aware of threats, they can try to use their gift to shield them from threats that require a Dexterity save. That’s the STORY. Mechanically, this character is a halfling urchin barbarian. The halfling race is used to represent “young human”—small and quick. Mechanically, the character has a high strength, but they don’t LOOK like it; nothing says that a strong character has to have big muscles! The telekinetic shield is reflected by Unarmored Defense, temporarily supercharged when the character activates “Rage.” They describe “Danger Sense” as being able to deflect threats with their shield. Fast Movement? Kinetic enhancement. The point is that what Rage DOES is provide you with a temporary boost to melee damage, resistance to physical attacks, and advantage on Strength checks. It’s up to you what that looks like—whether it’s primal fury that allows you to only take half damage from physical attacks, or if you’re generating a telekinetic shield.
  • Thoughtstealer. This clever agent blends exceptional training with coercive telepathic power. They carry no weapons, preferring to strike their enemies with disorienting psychic blasts. They can use their telepathic gifts to guide the actions of their allies or to disable their enemies. And above all, they excel at beguiling their foes. This is a bard of the College of Lore, who fights with vicious mockery and describes Bardic Inspiration and Cutting Words as telepathic guidance or interference. Friends, charm person, and suggestion round out their powers of mental coercion; they could add sleep as the power to shut down enemy minds, and detect thoughts is an obvious choice. Bardic Inspiration and vicious mockery are limited by the fact that the victim has to be able to hear the target, but in MY campaign, if the bard is a kalashtar, I’d allow this to combine with their racial Mind Link power; the caster doesn’t have to speak aloud if the target is within range of their Mind Link.
  • Mindbreaker. Perhaps I want a more aggressive psion. Though they carry no weapons and wear no armor, this Inspired commando can shield themself with a kinetic shield, blast enemies with telekinetic force, and unleash devastating blasts of psychic power. When an enemy strikes them, empathic feedback causes the attacker to share their pain. This is a warlock, flavoring eldritch blast as telekinetic force bolts and mage armor as a kinetic shield. To add some flavor I’ve changed some damage types; the “empathic feedback” is armor of Agathys but dealing psychic damage instead of frost damage. The character is a Fiend pact warlock, but I’m changing the damage type on all their fire spells—burning hands, scorching ray, fireball—to psychic damage and saying that they don’t cause any damage to nonliving creatures… so the Mindbreaker can unleash a psychic blast that devastates a crowd (psychic fireball) but doesn’t burn down the building.

You can apply this principle to any character, PC or NPC. Mage armor or stoneskin? Wall of force or Bigby’s hand? Telekinesis. Detect thoughts or enthrall? Telepathy. Even disguise self could be described as planting a telepathic image in the minds of viewers; to add flavor, a DM could say that this spell won’t affect someone protected by a ring of mind shielding or creatures immune to being charmed. A fighter could describe Second Wind as psychometabolic healing, and Action Surge as momentarily altering their perception of time. A monk can easily present their qi-related abilities as being psionic disciplines, and for this reason we’ve always presented monks as being more common in Sarlona. Sometimes it makes sense to change a damage type or a detail of an effect; perhaps a Kalashtar quori-hunting paladin deals psionic damage instead of radiant damage with their smite, and Divine Sense and Divine Smite are effective against aberrations instead of undead. On some levels, this is a question of balance; radiant damage is a powerful tool against undead, and if my campaign was going to be all about fighting the Emerald Claw, I wouldn’t make that change to a PC. But if DM and player approve, there’s nothing wrong with having a “paladin” who smites with the power of their mind and lays on hands using a psychometabolic discipline. The EFFECT is extra-damage-on-melee-attack and heal-on-touch; nothing says it HAS to come from a divine power.

The default with this approach is that “psionic spells” are still treated as magic for purposes of detect magic, antimagic field, etc. The essential principle is that all forms of supernatural power—divine, arcane, primal, psionic—are different ways of manipulating energy, but that the results are similar enough to overlap. On the other hand, if a DM chooses, they could change the rules. Perhaps psionic spells can’t be countered with counterspell or negated with an antimagic field—in which case I’d likewise say that a psionic version of counterspell would only work on other psionic spells. This is a way to emphasize the alien nature of psionics—the diviner can’t even sense them!—but can raise balance issues.

So the primary question is what do you want from psionics in your game? If you WANT them to be entirely unique and to have nothing in common with other forms of magic, the best bet will be a third party approach. If what you are looking for is unique flavor, you can add that directly. So personally, I don’t have any problem using the Dreaming Dark in the current system; I just make a few changes to the creatures and characters I use as a base.

An Inspired as a PC? It’s possible someone could be set on playing an Inspired as a player character. While the obvious answer is to have them be a rogue Chosen who’s wearing a charm that protects them from being possessed by their quori spirit, perhaps they WANT to play an active Inspired. This isn’t as impossible as it sounds. There are factions within the Dreaming Dark; Lady Sharadhuna of the Thousand Eyes believes that the Inspired don’t NEED to conquer Khorvaire and that the Devourer of Dreams is chasing their own personal ambition, not working for the good of all quori. A PC could easily be a Chosen vessel of Sharadhuna or one of her top lieutenants, sent to Khorvaire to monitor and potentially interfere with the Devourer’s schemes. They’d be entirely loyal to Riedra and to their Quori spirit, but that doesn’t mean they are evil or intend any harm to the people of Khorvaire. Personally, I’d design this character as a kalashtar warlock—either using the Fiend patron and the Mindbreaker model I suggest above, or the Great Old One patron and more of a telepath/manipulation spell set. The point of the Inspired is that the powerful spirits have multiple Chosen hosts, intentionally spread around; so the character’s patron might BE Sharadhuna, but she very rarely actively possesses the character aside from to give them direction; she’s got far more important things to take care of in Riedra. As with any warlock patron, they teach the character to use their supernatural abiolities and give them direction; and the DM has the OPTION to have the character be fully possessed (temporarily gaining a boost in power) if it serves the needs of the story, but the character can’t trigger this.

Everyday Psionics

Here we run into a more basic problem. If we are using reflavored spell effects to represent psionics, than how is the psionic society of Riedra any different from the wide magic society of the Five Nations? And wasn’t that the whole point of Riedra?

The saving point here is that unlike Khorvaire, the economy and society of Riedra isn’t based on the widespread presence of low-level casters. Sarlona doesn’t rely on the psionic equivalent of magewrights. Psionic training and power is concentrated in the hands of a small group of extremely powerful people—the Inspired. Essentially, we always say that Khorvaire is “wide magic” instead of “high magic,” because it’s about a vast number of people employing low level magic, while high level spellcasters are very rare. Riedra is the opposite. It’s high psionic—a nation where a privileged corps of extremely powerful immortals have used their powers to create the infrastructure. Under 3.5 rules, there are 20th level psions among the Inspired; by comparison, Merrix d’Cannith is a 12th level character. Because of this, it’s less about what effects are used on a daily basis? What psionic powers might a local merchant use? and more what massive wondrous systems have been put in place by the metaconcert of the Inspired? This ties to the point that most dragonmarked tools require a dragonmarked heir to operate them. In Riedra, the infrastructure systems are powered by the psychic energy gathered by the monoliths; they don’t NEED the common people to do anything. Again, rather than widespread low-level casters, Riedra relies on the small corps of extremely powerful individuals creating self-sustaining systems.

The main point is that the infrastructure systems described in Secrets of Sarlona can be used as described even if we don’t have a perfect psionics system underlying them—because most of their effects are story effects as opposed to magewrights actively casting spells. Let’s take a quick look at the psionic infrastructure in place in Riedra.

  • The Hanbalani Altas. The most iconic element of Riedra is the massive ovoid monoliths spread across the landscape. These monoliths draw on the thoughts and emotions of the surrounding populace and convert this into psychic energy, which is used to power most of the effects described below. They are also planar anchors, slowly helping to bring Dal Quor back into alignment with the material plane. Where most of the services in Khorvaire are provided through individual dragonmarked enclaves and different focuses, the hanbalani represent a chokepoint for the Inspired; disabling a hanbalan is a way to essentially “cut power” to a region. This ties back to the basic point that the Inspired have great power in their SYSTEMS, but that power isn’t spread throughout the populace.
  • Nondetection. Each hanbalan is the center of a massive nondetection effect that prevents outsiders from scrying on Riedra. Once people are within the field, scrying and divination work normally, and people within the field can scry on those beyond it. But this field prevents diviners in Khorvaire from spying on the Inspired.
  • Dreamshaping. The quori believe that by stabilizing the dreams of mortals they can stabilize Dal Quor itself, preventing the prophesied turning of the edge that will end il-Lashtavar and reshape all quori. One of the most important functions of the monoliths is to broadcast the dream programming that is shared by all the people of Riedra. From Secrets of Sarlona: The typical Riedran dream is soothing and vague, blending images to project the wonder of Riedra, the joys of being part of a greater whole, and the celestial benevolence of the Inspired. Every so often, these soothing visions are interspersed with flashes of the dark horrors that lurk outside the borders of Riedra.” These dreams can be fine-tuned, targeting a region or village with a specific village, but the purpose is to have a single dream whenever possible.
  • The Voice of Riedra. Just as they broadcast dreams, the hanbalani allow the Inspired to broadcast telepathic messages over a wide area. Through the network, a message can be broadcast across the entire Unity. However, messages are usually tailored to a specific region or even a particular village. The Voice provides news, instructions, and encouragement throughout the day. It allows the Inspired to mobilize a region against a problem—for example, sharing a description of a dangerous group of rogue adventurers. It also provides the sense that the Inspired are always watching, even though the Voice is just an outward projection.
  • Teleportation. Swift transit is an important area in which Riedra has a significant advantage over Khorvaire. Riedra has a network of massive teleportation circles that connect points in space. There are two very important distinctions between the psionic circles of Riedra and the teleportation circle network House Orien is developing in Khorvaire. The Riedran circles connect two specific gates. The circle in the fortress of Kintam Lar connects to the city of Durat Tal and that’s all; it can’t be adjusted to teleport to Dar Jin. While that’s inherently more limited than the typical teleportation circle, where it has an enormous advantage is that it’s always on. As long as the portal can draw power from the hanbalani, it is always active. The Inspired can move entire armies across the continent, or transport vast quantities of food and supplies. Durat Tal is the central hub for this network—so in moving that army, it will march through the gate at Kintam Lar, arrive in Durat Tal, and then enter another gate to, say, reinforce Kintam Keera in Borunan. The kintam fortresses and bastion cities are thus connected by teleportation networks, and caravans deliver goods or troops from these hubs to surrounding villages. By contrast, House Orien is developing a system that works using the teleportation circle spell. This allows one Orien circle to connected to any other Orien circle, but an heir must have the ability to cast the spell to open the circle and it only remains open for one round. So currently the system is a novelty—a way for wealthy clients to move swiftly, but not a system that can be used to move armies or replace the lightning rail as a means of transporting goods. A key point of the Riedran system is that the gates are all heavily guarded and that this service isn’t available to the general public; Riedrans aren’t SUPPOSED to travel. But this ability to swiftly move forces across the length of Riedra is one of the most powerful tools of the Inspired.
  • Light and Heat. In Khorvaire, light is provided by individually enchanted everbright lanterns. In Riedra, the energy of the hanbalani flows into specially treated crysteel (a substance that has properties of both crystal and metal) and causes it to glow. In villages light comes from mounted crystal globes, while in larger communities the buildings themselves shed light; seen from afar, a bastion city is a stunning vision of glowing domes and spires. This same system can provide climate control, heating buildings in the chill north or cooling them in the tropical regions of the south. As such, fire is rarely seen in a Riedran community; light and heat are gifts of the Inspired.

These are systems that are immediately obvious, even to outsiders. Other systems are more subtle; the Thousand Eyes has a network of remote viewing (psionic scrying) that dwarfs the capabilities of even House Phiarlan or the Trust. The Inspired also have an interesting advantage in terms of communication, which is that any Inspired can leave its current vessel and return to Dal Quor at any time. There are Inspired whose sole role is to deliver messages; they have host Chosen in every major city and fortress, and can move between them to get news where it needs to go within seconds.

So in comparing Riedra to the Five Nations, the INSPIRED have capabilities that far outstrip the nobles of Khorvaire. They have a system of swift communication, a vast network of observation, the ability to transport forces across the continent in a brief time. But the common people don’t have access to any of these services, and daily life is more limited than life in the Five Nations. There’s no casual equivalent to the widespread magewrights and wandslingers of Khorvaire. While there are humans trained in psionics or magic, they are devoted to very specific roles—notably the Edgewalkers who protect the people from supernatural threats. The people benefit from crystal illumination, the guiding Voice, the unifying dreams. But they are dependent on the Inspired for these services… and if a hanbalani is deactivated, these services will be lost.

Casual Telepathy. One more point to consider when working to present the alien flavor of Riedra and the everyday role of psionics is the casual, institutional use of telepathy. Street signs don’t bother with names (and many Riedrans are illiterate); instead, a subtle telepathic signal means that you always know where you are in a Riedran city, if you stop to think about it. Riedran monuments project feelings or images; in studying a statue of a hero you may feel a swell of pride at their achievements, and when you visit a memorial you may find that you remember the tragedy that it commemorates, as if you were there. All of this is perfectly normal to a Riedran, but it can feel intrusive or unsettling to people from Khorvaire.

Riedran Tools

While Riedrans make use of wood, metal, leather, and other materials commonly found in Khorvaire. However, they use a few materials that are less common. Crystal is a useful medium for psionic energies; as noted, crystal spheres provide illumination in most Riedran villages. Crysteel is a substance that has the appearance of crystal, but the durability and flexibility of metal; it is an excellent channel for psionic power and is used both to make buildings, tools, and weapons. Sentira is a substance that has the appearance of polished shell; it is actually a form of ectoplasm, created from pure, solidified emotions. Sentira is a critical part of Reidran tools, as it is an excellent channel for psionic effects tied to its associated emotion.

Should you use a unique psionic system, Riedra is the logical source for psionic tools. But as with character abilities, you can create things that feel like psionic tools but that use the rules for traditional magic items… perhaps with a twist or two. Consider the following…

  • A flame tongue sword that inflicts psychic damage instead of fire damage; it channels the rage of the bearer and directs it at the target.
  • A crystal that serves as a wand of fireballs, but deals psychic damage instead of fire damage and causes no damage to nonliving targets.
  • A shard of crystal that serves as a psionic equivalent of a scroll, holding a single charge of a psionic spell effect.
  • A psionic tattoo. This can be transferred to a willing creature by touch, and triggered as a bonus action; it duplicates the effects of a potion, and vanishes when its power is used.
  • A crystal figurine of wondrous power. When activated, the statue doesn’t grow or animate; instead, it projects an ectoplasmic construct of the associated creature around the crystal core.

… And so on. Effects that can be easily identified as telepathy, telekinesis, or teleportation are logical. It makes sense for a Dreaming Dark spy to have a cape of the mountebank, a ring of mind shielding, and perhaps a sword of life stealing that deals psychic damage instead of necrotic damage. Riedran wings of flying might work through telekinetic force rather than by becoming actual wings. An important limitation is that many “psionic magic items” can only be attuned or activated by people with some degree of psionic talent. Depending on how the DM decides to implement psionics, this could be a negligible issue; on the other hand, it could be a way to provide agents of the Dreaming Dark with powerful tools that can’t be immediately used by the adventurers (even if they can surely find people in House Cannith or Sivis who will be happy to pay for them!).

Speaking to the overall alien aesthetic of Riedra, most structures are built from stone, sentira, and crysteel. Structures are often shaped through metacreative techniques; spheres are more common than sharp angles, and sentira tools have the look of horn or shell—more grown than built.

Loose Ends

This covers the most basic issues, but there’s certainly other questions one might ask regarding Riedra in fifth edition…

What about elans and dromites?

Elans and dromites are races that were added in the 3.5 Psionics Handbook and given a place in Sarlona. Immortal elans were described as being living prisons for exiled quori, while the insectoid dromites leave deep below Sarlona and fight an ongoing war with the Inspired. Elans play such a trivial role in the setting that it’s not something I’ve personally taken steps to correct. For dromites, the simplest answer at the moment is to use the psionic version of the thri-kreen to represent them. It’s not perfect (among other things, dromites are a small race) but if you don’t want to design a new version of the dromites or use a third party resource, thrikreen are an existing option. I’d love to write more about my vision of dromite culture in Sarlona, but that’s another topic.

Do you see a way for PCs of Khorvaire to enter Riedra without being sneaky? A more lawful or proper way?

Sure, this is discussed on page 46 of Secrets of Sarlona.

The Iron Gate does not charge for transit visas, but it rarely grants them. Riedra isn’t for tourists. Travelers must provide a valid reason for entry and show that they have no criminal tendencies or intent, as well as enough knowledge to avoid accidentally breaking Riedran laws. A successful DC 30 Diplomacy check is sufficient to get an entry request considered, but even then the reason must stand on its own. Finally, mind probe (EPH 119) is often brought into play to ensure that the travelers have no hidden motives. If the request is especially intriguing or risky, the Iron Gate might allow travel but send a member of the Thousand Eyes along as a chaperone and observer. Unless the party is deemed a serious risk, this observer is a Chosen; the controlling spirit only takes possession of the vessel every few hours to check on the situation.

Obviously this only scratches the surface of Riedra, but that’s what I have time to address here. This isn’t intended to invalidate Secrets of Sarlona, so you can find more information there. My next article will dive into the provinces of Riedra. Because of the length of that article (which is considerably longer than this one), I’ll be posting an excerpt of it here on the site, and posting the full text to the Inner Circle of my Patreon. Thanks to the Patreon supporters who keep this site going and who chose this topic!

IFAQ: The Inspired

I’m still working on my Riedra article—which will now be split into multiple articles, though I’ll post both this week—but I thought I’d start the week off with an IFAQ on a related topic raised by my Patreon supporters: The Inspired.

Rising From The Last War has this to say about the Inspired.

Any humanoid who can dream can volunteer to serve as a quori vessel. But the Inspired of Sarlona are humans bred to be such vessels. They have no choice in this destiny, since they can’t resist quori possession. Physically, Inspired resemble the kalashtar, possessing an almost supernatural beauty.

Rising from the last war, page 294

This is concrete and clear. The quori can possess any dreaming humanoid that agrees to the possession. The Inspired are members of a subspecies of humanity—known as the Chosen in Riedra—bred to be possessed. What Rising doesn’t call out is that in the original canon, Chosen are bred to be possessed by a specific quori spirit; you’re not simply a generic Chosen available to all quori, you’re Chosen of Lord Sulatesh. Chosen can volunteer to be possessed by another quori (and most would be happy to do so), but only one spirit has unlimited access. In Riedra, GENERALLY “Inspired” means Chosen-who-is-actively-being-possessed, but if the spirit leaves an Inspired host because of important business in another host, the “empty” Inspired still maintains their position and will carry on in the spirit’s absence.

Now, Rising muddies the water a little with this subsequent paragraph.

Most of the people of the Five Nations have heard of the Inspired lords of Riedra—never realizing that Inspired are spread throughout Khorvaire as well. Beggars and generals, merchants and mayors might all be secret servants of the Dreaming Dark. Such Inspired have to willingly accept quori possession, but the Dreaming Dark has long experience in weaving dreams that can convince mortals to surrender their bodies.

RISING FROM THE LAST WAR, PAGE 294

The main point here is that the section is using “Inspired” as a general term for any creature possessed by a quori spirit. Which is fine, because you can use the STAT BLOCK for any such creature. But it’s important to understand that this second class of people—humanoids who have ALLOWED a quori to possess them—will not CALL themselves “Inspired” and they would not be recognized as Inspired by the people of Riedra. Likewise, it is the CHOSEN who “resemble the kalashtar, having an almost supernatural beauty.” There’s no change to the appearance of people who willingly allow themselves to become possessed, and again, these voluntary hosts can be of any humanoid species that can dream. The stat block in Rising presumes a Chosen host, but you could have a dwarf, an ogre, or even a shifter infected with lycanthropy as a voluntary host.

Quori possession is entirely different from the relationship between a kalashtar and their quori spirit. With the kalashtar, the quori is a passive presence that simultaneously guides many kalashtar. With the Inspired (voluntary or otherwise) the quori is an active presence that controls a single body at a time, and it fully dominates the host. What we’ve said is that while possessed by a quori, it feels like you are making your own decisions, but you have no control; because of this, people who are possessed by a quori for long periods of time often find that their personality shifts to mirror that of the quori, because it feels natural. This is why the Inspired are trusted even when they aren’t inhabited; even without the quori presence, they tend to think like the quori. However, this sort of shift requires years of possession. Someone who is tricked into accepting quori possession and quickly freed—either because the quori voluntarily leaves or because it is driven out—remembers what happened while they were possessed and can refuse to let the quori return.

So: a quori working with Chosen hosts can move between its vessels at will. It could have Chosen vessels on three different continents and coordinate international schemes involving all three hosts. However, if the quori is working with someone who was voluntarily possessed, they may not have this option; it could be that the moment they leave the host it will turn against them, raising the alarm and undoing their schemes. Note that such a freed host may not KNOW much about the quori’s grand schemes. Usually quori trick victims into accepting possession with clever lies—claiming to be an angel, or the spirit of a heroic ancestor, or something like that. The victim may quickly realize that’s true, but they don’t know what the quori actually is or what it wants. The quori gets access to the memories of the victim, but the victim doesn’t learn the secrets of the quori. So again, freeing a host can be a major snag in the plans of the Dreaming Dark, but it doesn’t provide access to all their secrets.

So just to sum up: The Inspired is the title used for the rulers of Riedra. These rulers are raised up from the Chosen—a magebred form of humanity who cannot resist being possessed by the patron quori of their line. Quori can also possess any willing humanoid capable of dreaming, but the once they leave that host they will have to be granted permission to return to it. 

The humans found in the Carrion Tribes of the Demon Wastes are supposed to be descended from refugees from Sarlona. Could some of these refugees have been people who were part of the Chosen magebreeding program? It seems wonderfully tragic for them to flee Sarlona to avoid being possessed only to end up in a land of fiends. Could this mean that there is a bloodline of Carrion Tribe barbarians optimized for fiendish possession?

Sure! We don’t know what was involved in creating the Chosen. It’s quite possible that the Inspired experimented with existing possessing fiends to perfect their hosts, and began with a vessel that was broadly vulnerable to any form of possession. The main point is that they’d have to have been failures as CHOSEN, because the defining feature of the Chosen is that they can be possessed ANYWHERE. Again, a quori of the Dreaming Dark can have Chosen vessels on every continent and move between them at will; their physical location is irrelevant. So a Chosen vessel can’t simply RUN from its patron quori; it will need to have some form of supernatural protection to avoid possession. But sure, you could have a bloodline in the Demon Wastes whose members are descended from early failures in the programs that created the Chosen.

The ECS notes the Chosen/Empty Vessels have slight fiendish and elven qualities (pg 290). With Sarlona and Aerenal being quite separate, is this elven quality a result of some magebreeding, selective breeding with traders, or just a way to describe their grace and etherealness?

Largely the latter. Rising is clearer about this, simply stating “Inspired resemble the kalashtar, possessing an almost supernatural beauty.” Actual elves would be a weird options since they’re very uncommon on Sarlona and because they don’t dream, which makes them a strange choice for a dream-host; I’d actually think that part of what defines the Chosen is that on one level they are ALWAYS dreaming, that their innate connection to Dal Quor is stronger than that of most creatures. The quori may have worked with tieflings from Ohr Kaluun as part of their program (giving that fiendish touch); another possible vector for an elf aspect is something that will come up in the upcoming articles, namely that one of the sorcerer-lines of Corvagura drew its power from Thelanis and had fey features.

What’s the story with mind seeds?

Mind seed is a psionic discipline from the 3.5 psionics rules that replaces the consciousness of the victim with a copy of the consciousness of the caster. In 3.5 the kalaraq quori had a specialized version of this—focused mind seed—that replaced the PERSONALITY of the victim while keeping their memories and skills intact, which is a pretty important detail if you want to to replace a top spy and not have them lose all the skills they need to perform their job.

Mind seed is a perfect example of an ability that is, ultimately, a plot device and doesn’t actually require psionics rules to be used in a story. It’s not intended to be used on player characters; it’s a tool that allows the Dreaming Dark to infiltrate other organizations, seeding people in their dreams. Seeds are the ultimate moles, because they aren’t possessed and thus can’t be exorcised; once the seed personality has taken hold, the only way to recover the original personality is with the equivalent of a wish. So again, it doesn’t really NEED mechanics; all that matters is that the Dreaming Dark has the capability to replace a victim’s personality with the personality of a Kalaraq quori, which allows them to have moles almost anywhere.

Of course, it’s reasonable to wonder: why doesn’t the Dreaming Dark have hundreds of mind seeds? Why aren’t all the rulers of Khorvaire mind seeded? There’s a few factors. The kalaraq generally plant seeds in dreams, so there’s the basic idea that they can only affect mortal humanoids that dream; they can’t mind seed elves or warforged. It’s also the case that mind seed is a slow process that can be stopped if it’s identified along the way (in the 5E version, you have about 6 days in which the effect can be removed by remove curse). So, for example, in Adar people know what to look for and will generally nip potential mind seeds in the bud. But people in Khorvaire are less familiar with this… so, why don’t they mind seed ALL the important people in Khorvaire? The answer is called out in Secrets of Sarlona: The quori don’t CONTROL mind seeds. Someone who’s possessed is entirely dominated by the possessing spirit. A mind seed is a copy of the quori in a humanoid body. The driving cause that unites the quori is the fear that the turning age of Dal Quor could destroy them all… but a mind seed ISN’T a quori and isn’t actually threatened by this. And worse still, the kalaraq quori are spirits of ambition. So it’s rare, but kalaraq mind seeds have cut ties with the Dreaming Dark to pursue their own ambitions… and as they have the cunning and knowledge of one of the leaders of the Dreaming Dark, these rogue seeds can be serious threats. As a result, the quori are very careful about not relying too heavily on mind seeds. The ideal mind seed has an interesting challenge that will keep the seed from becoming bored, while not having so much power that it will collapse the quori plans if the seed does rebel.

With that said, Rising From The Last War presents a simpler version of this that states that the victim “becomes a thrall under the quori’s control.” And you can certain take this approach, perhaps just limiting the number of thralls each kalaraq can have. But I prefer the original concept, which is that the mind seeds AREN’T under quori control. They serve solely because of inherited loyalty; but they have the potential, however rare, to evolve and rebel.

That’s all for now! More on Riedra will be coming this week. Thanks to my Patreon backers for keeping this site going!

IFAQ: Moons and Lycanthropes

I’m still working on the article about Riedra in Fifth Edition. It’s a very long article and I still have a ways to go with it, so I wanted to break things up with a quick question from one of my Patreon supporters.

How do the multiple moons of Eberron affect lycanthropes?

The canon answer is simple: lycanthropes are affected by all of the moons equally, and this is one reason the Lycanthropic Surge was such a threat; it’s common to there to be at least one full moon at any time.

Now, that’s the canon answer. Personally, I say that the answer is more complicated and tied to the fact that we’ve never provided a canon explanation for the cause of lycanthropy. After all, if lycanthropy was created by an overlord, why are there ANY good lycanthropes? So my answer is that there are multiple forms of lycanthropy, each with a different relationship to the moons.

The most benign form of lycanthropy is Olarune’s Blessing. This is a condition that spontaneously manifests: it’s not hereditary and it cannot be transmitted by bite (or any other method). It’s primarily been observed among shifters of the Towering Wood, who believe that it is a sign of being called to service by Olarune, charged to protect innocents from the threats of the wild and to protect the wild itself from threats. Just as vampirism tends to pull someone toward an evil alignment, Olarune’s blessing draws a person toward good alignment; they feel a drive to embody the most positive aspects mortals associate with their animal form. However, this is not the absolute eradication of personality that can be seen in other strains, and those carrying Olarune’s blessing can choose their own paths. A lycanthrope carrying Olarune’s blessing is only affected by the moon Olarune. In my Eberron, most werebears are the result of Olarune’s blessing—but the blessing can be tied to any form.

The second would be Dyrrn’s Corruption. The daelkyr Dyrrn took twisted Olarune’s blessing to create this form of lycanthropy, which is both hereditary and infectious. Each strain of Dyrrn’s corruption associates an alignment (typically neutral or evil), a form, and a moon—neutral tigers tied to Rhaan—and overwrites the personality of the victim. So there may be neutral werewolves, and they will create new neutral werewolves when they spread the affliction. While Dyrrn’s corruption is infectious, it can only spread one step; natural lycanthropes can infect new people, but victims of the affliction can’t spread it themselves. So can spread, but not rapidly. When Dyrrn’s corruption fully takes hold, it destroys the personality and many of the memories of the victim; while there are neutral strains, they are alien in their outlook, and a player character overtaken by Dyrrn’s affliction would likely become an NPC. Each strain of corrupted lycanthropy is driven by its own inscrutable (and unnatural) instincts. Some pursue dangerous activities, acting as Cults of the Dragon Below; others are simply enigmatic, creating strange monuments in the wild or howling in eerie choirs. It’s also the case that Dyrrn’s while Dyrrn’s lycanthropes could be physically indistinguishable from other lycanthropes, they could be more alien in appearance or horrific in their transformations. Perhaps the corrupted werewolf transforms into a skinless wolf. Maybe only Dyrrn produces werespiders, and they aren’t actually natural spiders but rather alien, chitinous horrors. Or maybe the lycanthrope appears to take the form of a mundane wolf, but when you cut it tentacles reach out from the wound, or its blood has a life of its own!

The final form is The Curse of the Wild Heart. The Wild Heart is an archfiend, an overlord of the first age who embodies mortal fears of the wild. This is both hereditary and infectious. Regardless of the form, it enforces an evil alignment upon its victim, driving them to become predators; this is the infamous curse that will cause a werewolf to prey upon their own family and loved ones. Victims of the curse don’t embody any actual traits of their associated animal, but rather are driven to embody the darkest fears and superstitions associated with them. Victims of the curse of the Wild Heart are affected by ALL moons equally. The trick of the curse of the Wild Heart is that it fluctuates in power based on the current status of the Wild Heart itself. When the Wild Heart is dormant or distant, the curse only has the one-step affliction of Dyrrn’s corruption (natural lycanthropes can pass it, but afflicted victims can’t). When the Wild Heart is stirring—or if someone is near to its prison—the curse grows stronger. Under these circumstances any lycanthrope can spread the curse and the drive toward cruel and predatory behavior is amplified.

The behavior of creatures afflicted by the curse of the Wild Heart is extreme and predatory; this is the source of the terrifying tales of lycanthropic bloodshed. Natural-born cursed lycanthropes are still driven toward predatory cruelty, but they can learn to control these impulses. A key example of this is cursed werewolf Zaeurl, the leader of the Dark Pack of Droaam. She is a born predator and a ruthless hunter, but she isn’t controlled by the curse and doesn’t serve the Wild Heart; she chooses her own path.

The final catch is that the power of the Wild Heart trumps that of Dyrrn or Olarune. During the Lycanthropic Surge, the Wild Heart was close to breaking its bonds. And at that time, it co-opted ALL lycanthropes as its thralls. Even good-aligned champions of Olarune and neutral carriers of Dyrrn’s corruption became cruel predators bound to serve the Wild Heart. These lycanthropes returned to their previous states when the power of the Wild Heart was broken, but the threat remains.

Unfortunately, there’s no way to identify the form of lycanthropy you’re dealing with when you meet a lycanthope, aside from letting them bite you and see if you become infected. The short form is that if a lycanthrope seems to embody the noble aspects of the beast it’s bound to it is likely one of Olarune’s blessed; if it embodies the worst superstitions and acts in a predatory manner it carries the curse; and if it just acts in an unpredictable manner, it’s one of Dyrrn’s. Olarune’s blessed do not spread the curse of lycanthropy. Those cursed by the Wild Heart can currently spread it freely (using the standard 5E rules for lycanthropes!)… which suggests the power of the Wild Heart is again on the rise! Only natural-born corrupted lycanthropes can spread the curse.

Can shifters contract lycanthropy?

Yes, shifters can contract any of the forms of lycanthropy described above. The Towering Wood is a nexus for all forms of lycanthropy, and one reason it was so easy for the servants of the Wild Heart to turn the templars against the shifters during the Silver Crusade is because the vast majority of the lycanthropes in the first wave of the surge were cursed shifters. The shifters had been fighting the cursed lycanthropes well before the templars even knew of the danger. With the arrival of the templars, the servants of the Wild Heart knew they couldn’t allow shifters and templars to become allies, so they staged events and spread lies. Imagine that a werewolf leaps into a village and starts slaughtering people. When it’s finally brought down by templars, it reverts to its natural form—the form of a shifter. A local hunter swears that she’s seen whole villages of these things roasting farmers and howling at the moons. The hunter’s a wererat or a rakshasa, and the story is entirely untrue—but this was a time of sheer terror, when ANYONE you knew could secretly be a murderous lycanthrope waiting to strike, and it was all too easy for fiends to sow fear and hate. This in no way excuses the deaths of innocents; but it’s an example of the fact that in Eberron stories aren’t supposed to be simple. Innocents suffer. Stories end badly. If not for the Silver Crusade, the Wild Heart would have risen and destroyed civilization; but that’s cold comfort to the innocents who suffered and died.

So which type of lycanthropes escaped to Lamannia?

You could find any of the three forms of lycanthrope as refugees, though I’d say that it would be Olarune’s blessed who would have been most keen to find a sanctuary that would keep them from having to fight or kill innocents. I’ve said here that Olarune’s blessing is NOT hereditary; one interesting possibility would be to say that it IS hereditary in Lamannia, so that there are communities of blessed lycanthropes in the Twilight Forest.

Is there any geographic basis for the different forms of lycanthropy?

Any form of lycanthrope could be found anywhere in Eberron. Olarune’s blessing is the rarest of the three but could manifest in any place where primal magic is especially strong; this is often tied to manifest zones connected to Lamannia. Again, though, even in such regions the blessing rarely occurs. Dyrrn’s corruption typically spreads from a passage to Khyber connected to Dyrrn’s realm (while we haven’t suggested it, it might well be an issue in the Mror Holds!). Because of the nature of Khyber and demiplanes, this could be found anywhere. Likewise, while creatures afflicted with Dyrrn’s corruption can’t spread the curse, a natural-born lycanthrope can start a cult and spread the corruption to their followers. The curse of the Wild Heart is strongest above the Wild Heart’s prison—which is presumably in the Towering Wood of the Eldeen Reaches—but it is the most contagious curse and could easily spread. The Wild Heart also has rakshasa and other fiendish servants, and its more powerful servants may have the power to spread its curse. So all three forms are especially prevalent in the Towering Wood of Khorvaire, but lycanthropes can be found anywhere.

Do you see these as the only forms of lycanthropy?

Not at all. Of the top of my head, I can immediately imagine two more forms. I could see a form of lycanthropy tied to Thelanis, literally based on the STORIES of people becoming beasts. Beyond that, we’ve called out the existence of a cabal in House Vadalis called the Feral Heart (no relation to the Wild Heart!) that strives to create living weapons; I could easily see them developing their own strain of lycanthropy. In each case, I’d probably add a unique twist based on the strain. It could be that Thelanian lycanthropes are vulnerable to cold iron instead of silver, or that Vadalis lycanthropes aren’t tied to the moons at all. And that’s just what I came up with now; I’m sure I could develop other interesting options if I put my mind to it. Perhaps House Ghallanda has a secret line of lycanthropic blink dogs! Don’t be limited by the idea that all lycanthropes have to share a common origin and identical abilities; if you have an interesting story, change the rules to match it!

And to be clear: none of these ideas are canon. Within a particular campaign you might decide that it is only the Wild Heart who is responsible for lycanthropes, or only the daelkyr. I like having both out in the world, but there no reason not to just pick one form of lycanthropy and leave it at that.

That’s all for now! Next up: Riedra! Thanks again to my Patreon supporters, who make this blog possible!

Magic Sword: Shadow Marches

I’m about to join forces with the band Magic Sword and gamers Damion Poitier and Satine Phoenix to tell a tale set in the Shadow Marches of Eberron. As I write this, the game is just a few hours away—starting at 4 PM Pacific time, streaming here. However, if you miss the live stream, it should still be available to view after the fact!

Preparing for this game has kept me busy, so my next article will be slightly delayed. Last month’s Patreon poll ended in a tie, and while I thought I was going to write about nobility, because of reasons the next article will be about Riedra in Fifth Edition. But don’t worry, Nobility fans, I’ll write that article as soon as I can.

I hope you can join me and Magic Sword as we explore the Marches! And thanks as always to my Patreon supporters!

IFAQ: The Elves of Aerenal

As chosen by my Patreon supporters, my next major article is going to be on the nobility of Khorvaire. This article is a shorter subject. Last week I wrote about the Tairnadal elves. This article deals with the other culture of Aerenal: the Aereni elves, the servants of the Undying Court. I’ve written about Aerenal in this article and this article, and there’s a section on Aerenal in Exploring Eberron; I’m including the two pages we’ve already previewed below. Let’s consider a few infrequently asked questions!

Image by Matthew Riley for Exploring Eberron

Are Phiarlan and Thuranni elves still considered Aereni? Are they eligible to become spirit idols or deathless? What about the elves with the Mark of Shadow who serve with the Cairdal Blades in Aerenal?

The answer to this is largely spelled out in this article. “Aereni” is a culture; being Aereni means that you honor your ancestors, give your devotion to the Undying Court, and serve the Sibling Kings. The shadow-marked families—Tialaen, Shol, Ellorrenthi, Paelion, Thuranni—were never actually Aereni; they remained independent from the Undying Court, the line of Vol, and the Tairnadal, and traveled between communities of all of these cultures. When the Undying Court eradicated the line of Vol and exiled its allies, the shadow-marked families chose to leave with them. Some feared that they too would be persecuted for their marks; others believed that the supporters of the Undying Court had committed an unforgivable sin in spilling so much elven blood. As this article says, “to mark their departure from elven society, (the shadow-marked families) formally joined their lines into a new alliance: House Phiarlan.

As for those shadow-marked elves who are occasionally seen in the Cairdal Blades? This is also explained in the article: “A handful remained, believing that it was their duty to the kingdom; these elves found themselves largely absorbed into other lines, and this mingling of blood causes the Mark of Shadows to occasionally appear in Aerenal.” The elves who develop the Mark of Shadow in Aerenal aren’t Phiarlan or Thuranni; they are now Jhaelian or Mendyrian. And the mark only appears rarely because unlike the houses, the Aereni aren’t trying to arrange matches to produce the mark; the marked bloodlines are heavily diluted.

So no: the elves of House Thuranni and Phiarlan aren’t Aereni. They intentionally severed their ties to their homeland and have no loyalty to the Undying Court or the Sibling Kings. And since elevation to the Undying Court—whether as a spirit idol or as one of the deathless—is an honor the Aereni bestow on their most celebrated citizens, it is not offered to those elves who have abandoned their homeland and its traditions.

With that said, a Phiarlan elf could return to Aerenal, abandoning the house and embracing the Aereni traditions; they’d just have to find a noble line willing to adopt them, just like the shadow-marked elves who stayed behind when the phiarlans originally left. And as Aereni, such elves would be eligible to join the Court, though again, they’d have to impress the priests and people with their worth. But joining the court isn’t about whether you have a dragonmark; it’s whether you are a devotee of the Undying Court who has proven yourself worthy to join it, and whose talents and achievements justify this gift.


Could someone use a spirit idol as a template to clone a revered ancestor? Perhaps by transferring the soul into a construct body, or even a living elf willing to give their body to the ancestor?

All of this seems possible, but the real question is would the ancestor be happy about it? As noted in the ExE preview, for many Aereni becoming a spirit idol is something they look forward to. When they aren’t interacting with the living, the spirit within the idol exists within a paradise of its own making, dwelling within its memories and ideas. The Aereni see life as something you do to prepare for your afterlife. You don’t want to die too quickly, because then you don’t have enough memories to build a satisfying eternity. But most see life as the chrysalis, with the spirit idol as a blessed ascension, eternity unbound by the physical form.

So COULD the soul within a spirit idol be transferred into some other vessel? Sure, I don’t see why not. But this isn’t a problem the Priests of Transition are trying to solve; they see the spirit idol as being a blessed member of the Undying Court, not as a victim who needs to be saved.

Do Aereni ever join the Tairnadal, for instance one who feels rejected and out of place with their family?

Sure! We’ve mentioned it before. And likewise, zaelantar youths sometimes leave the steppes and become Aereni; this is one path for a Tairnadal youth who doesn’t get chosen by a patron ancestor. This isn’t common in either direction; a would-be Aereni has to be accepted by a noble line, while a would-be Tairnadal has to be chosen by a patron ancestor to truly become Tairnadal. But it certainly happens.

The Tairnadal faith seems fundamentally more demanding than the Undying Court. Both revolve around preserving and communing with honored ancestors, but the Tairnadal faith requires imitation and constant war, while it doesn’t seem like the Undying Court places any demands on its followers (maybe to eliminate Mabaran undead)?

The Tairnadal faith is more demanding than the Undying Court, yes. This is because the end result of the devotion is completely different. Through their faith, the Aereni seek to preserve the Undying Court. But with the exception of the ascendant counselors and divine spellcasters, the Aereni have a very concrete, limited relationship with their ancestors. If you took the Right of Counsel feat in the 3.5 ECS, you had to physically go to Shae Mordai to speak with your ancestor. By contrast, each Tairnadal vessel believes that they are a living vessel for the spirit of their patron. They believe that the patron offers them direct, personal guidance—that their remarkable skills are the result of the patron guiding their hands. So the Tairnadal endures this more demanding service because they believe that they receive a more dramatic benefit in exchange.

Having said that, a critical point is that we just haven’t talked much about what Aereni devotion actually looks like. Only the elite Deathguard are charged to fight Mabaran undead. An Aereni civilian shows their devotion through prayers, which combine expressions of gratitude for the ongoing protection the Court provides with tales that commemorate their deeds and discoveries. But the second way an Aereni honors the ancestors is by following in their footsteps. This isn’t as dramatic or absolute as the Tairnadal revenant. But Aereni do seek to hone a skill that one of their ancestors perfected—to study their teachings and master their techniques. The point is that these skills often have nothing to do with WAR and often aren’t as OBVIOUS as the revenant’s martial devotion. But the Aereni painter is honoring a great painter of the past. The bowyer followers the example of a legendary artisan (and may have served the deathless artisan as an apprentice). As a side note, this is why the WGtE suggested an Aereni variant that sacrificed weapon proficiencies for expertise with a single skill or tool—because that focused expertise is a form of Aereni devotion. Exploring Eberron includes a different approach to this concept.

So Tairnadal devotion is more demanding and intense than Aereni devotion. But the Aereni do offer prayers to their ancestors throughout the day, and they think about their ancestors constantly, reflecting on their lessons and honoring them through the exercise of their skills.

How do clerics of the Undying Court actually MANIFEST? Are they rare? For the cleric, what does it feel like to cast a spell and how do they believe they are doing it?

So under the hood, the Undying Court actually has a great deal in common with the Silver Flame. The Silver Flame was created when a force of immortals bound their spirits together into a force of pure celestial energy. The Undying Court is likewise a gestalt of souls—it is essentially a smaller Silver Flame, whose coherent elements are able to also maintain independent existence (as deathless) while still adding their power to the whole.

When a cleric of the Undying Court casts a spell, they are drawing on that GESTALT, not dealing with a single, specific member of the Court. They don’t send in a request for magic that has to be approved; what it MEANS to be a cleric of the Undying Court is that you have been recognized as a worthy vessel of its power and you have been granted the ability to draw on that well of energy. This is especially important beyond Aerenal, as the Court can’t directly affect the world the way it does in Aerenal; it NEEDS champions to serve as its hands. But essentially, as a cleric of the Undying Court, when you cast a spell, you are reaching out with your mind and channeling the power of your collective ancestors. You can FEEL them all around you, hear dozens of whispering voices, feel their strength and support. But it’s not that ONE SPECIFIC ANCESTOR is with you; it’s the gestalt as a whole.

HAVING SAID THAT, in my campaign I WILL give a cleric or paladin of the Undying Court a close relationship to a particular ancestor. They can’t initiate contact with that ancestor, but it may give them divine visions (something I discuss in this article) and missions. If they use commune or similar spells, it will be that ancestor who gives them answers. It’s a little like the idea of Tira Miron being the Voice of the Flame; the UC spellcaster will have a specific ancestor who acts as their intermediary to the Court. So that’s a unique aspect to worshipping the Court.

As for rarity, in my opinion Aerenal has more divine spellcasters than any nation in Khorvaire, even Thrane. For the Aereni, divine magic IS a science. They CREATED a divine power source, and it’s part of their government! A divine caster of the Undying Court still needs faith; it’s that faith that allows them to channel the power. But they are also, essentially, granted a license to draw on the power of the Court.

Of course, that’s if they ARE legitimate representatives of the Court. You could certainly play a character who is in essence a divine hacker—stealing energy from the Court to cast their spells WITHOUT actually being an authorized agent of the Court. This could be an interesting path for a Divine Soul sorcerer. Another option would be an Undying Warlock, who would have a relationship with a specific ancestor rather than drawing on the power of the Court… which could be because the ancestor is running a rogue operation hidden from the rest of the Court!

Just how many bodily desires do Deathless retain anyways?

In my opinion, none. Deathless are described as desiccated corpses. Consider the description of the ascendant counselor: the corpse of an elf so shriveled and aged it seems no more substantial than smoke. What survives in the deathless is the SOUL, loosely bound to the body. What makes an ascendant counselor “ascendant” is that they have moved almost entirely beyond their bodies; from the 3.5 ECS “They rarely inhabit their physical forms, preferring to explore the universe in astral form.” The body of a deathless is a corpse. it has no biological processes; if you pushed food down its throat it would just rot in its stomach cavity.

However, the counter to this is that the deathless experience reality in a way mortals can’t imagine. They are sustained by positive energy, by the love of their descendants; that is their food and drink. Do they love? Certainly. On a certain level, they ARE love; just as they are sustained by the energy of their descendants, they are defined by the love they feel for them in return. This is why deathless are “usually neutral good.” What we’ve said about Mabaran undead is that they are drawn towards evil because the hunger of Mabar hollows them out emotionally, driving them to become predators; conversely, the Deathless are sustained by love, and this softens a cruel heart.

Meanwhile, spirit idols are sustained by positive energy but live in a world they craft from their memories. They eat, they drink, they love. But they eat anything they can imagine, whether it’s having the memory of their favorite meal or whether they can combine different tastes they remember to create something new. Their companions are likewise the memories of people they knew, so they can return to an old lover, duel with a rival, or share a drink with a close friend. All of which ties to whether either form of deathless would WANT to return to life. The key with the spirit idol is that the elves believe that you need to live long enough to HAVE enough memories and ideas to populate eternity. So they will raise people who die young, even if they are deemed worthy of joining the court, because they haven’t completely the life segment of their spiritual journey. But they see physical existence as, essentially, a chore—something you do in preparation for what comes next, not the highest form of existence.

That’s all for now, but there’s more Aerenal ahead in Exploring Eberron! Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters, who keep this site going!

Behind The Scenes of Exploring Eberron

Today’s article is a behind-the-scenes look at Exploring Eberron from its editor, Laura Hirsbrunner, platinum-bestselling Dungeon Masters Guild designer and editor.

In the spring of last year, Wayne Chang asked me if I was available to edit “a book.” He estimated it would be “approximately 120,000 words.”

Come to find out, this humble book was actually Exploring Eberron, a Dungeon Masters Guild hardcover written by Keith Baker. Its original working title was “Eberron Expanded,” soon affectionately dubbed “Project Raptor” (because what book is complete without a codename?). The name was born from a joke Keith made during the development of Eberron: Rising from the Last War, in which he reported the entire book would be “300 pages of different types of dinosaurs, a deep dive into Talenta.” When Wizards of the Coast failed to actually publish a book about dinosaurs, we knew we needed to pick up the torch…and so Project Raptor found its name.

445 days or so later, I regret to inform you that Project Raptor does not contain 300 pages of dinosaurs, and neither is it 120,000 words. Rather, Exploring Eberron blossomed to an enormous 247 pages and 230,000 words, its contents exceeding my wildest (dinosaur-free) expectations. I can confirm that Keith is a brilliant world-builder, a joy to collaborate with and edit for…and a very very very prolific writer.

It quickly became a running joke that when Keith says “hmm,” it means we’ll need to add another couple pages—or an entire chapter—to the book. Now, if anyone tells you I was responsible for a few of the expansions, don’t believe them… it’s only halfway true. Yes, on multiple occasions, I asked Keith things such as, “Can you write a couple more sentences to help connect the dots between these two topics?” But he’d inevitably send me at least twice as many sentences as I asked for…and so the book grew. Over the last decade, I’ve edited many hundreds of thousands of words, but working on a single project of this magnitude was an experience like no other. It turns out that editing takes immensely more work the longer the book gets! The good news is that Keith quickly earned a place as one of my very favorite editing clients of all time. Despite the fact that he’s won multiple awards for his game design and is a celebrity in the D&D world, he’s one of the most humble and kind folks I’ve had the privilege to work with, and if I had to be “stuck” with a writer on a project for a solid year, I’m quite happy it was him!

In addition to my primary role as editor, I had the unexpected opportunity to contribute to the writing and design of a few sections, alongside our producer Wayne Chang (co-host of the Manifest Zone podcast) and mechanics designer Will Brolley (my friend and co-designer of several bestselling Dungeon Masters Guild supplements). I can’t imagine a better team to have partnered with on this book, and my work was equally enjoyable, frantic, fun, overwhelming, and a tremendous learning opportunity.

Shortly before I finished editing, we discovered we would need to hire a new layout designer—and, suddenly I found myself stepping into that role as well. Not what I originally signed up for, but it was immensely satisfying to be able to take the book from raw, unedited text, all the way to its final print-ready form.

Once Exploring Eberron was completed, my jaw dropped at the final word count. I was dying to know how this compared to the recent Wizards of the Coast hardcover, Eberron: Rising from the Last War (which had not one editor, but five!). So I spent longer than I’m willing to admit copying and pasting every single section from D&D Beyond to Word so I could run a count… Though Exploring Eberron’s page count is lower, it’s over 10,000 words longer!

I am grateful beyond belief to the amazing team of playtesters and beta readers that joined us on this journey, and I can’t imagine having done this work without them. They carefully evaluated (…and reevaluated, and reevaluated again…) the character options and other mechanics presented in the book, giving us amazing feedback and helping us polish the balance and playability of each section. In addition, and perhaps even more valuable to me personally, their eagle eyes and encyclopedic memories spotted errors ranging from lore contradictions from obscure 10-year-old Dragon Magazine articles to the inevitable typos that slipped past my one-person editing team. TTRPG designers, be good to your playtesters—they represent your audience in the best of ways, and will be both your harshest critics and biggest fans. My sincerest thanks to every single one of them for their investment in this book (and their unflagging encouragement and support).

If you’d told me two years ago that I’d be Keith Baker’s editor for anything, let alone a book of this magnitude, I would’ve laughed in complete disbelief. Eberron has been such a special setting to me from the moment I discovered it, and the Eberron community is one of the most welcoming, generous, and encouraging ones I’ve ever known. I’m overwhelmed in the best of ways at having played a part in bringing more of Keith’s amazing world into your hands, and I’m looking forward to the stories of how you use it in your Eberron.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is this book “canon”?

One thing I love about Keith’s philosophy is that from the very beginning, he’s emphasized that Eberron is something you can make your own. There is an official “canon” of work in the officially published Wizards of the Coast hardcovers, the Dungeon and Dragon magazine articles, and the web articles from the old Wizards website. In addition to that, there’s a wealth of information that Keith’s written over the years on his blog in an unofficial capacity, commonly referred to as “kanon” among fans.

This book is officially licensed third-party content published by the Dungeon Masters Guild and is written by the creator of the Eberron setting – but no, it doesn’t have the same official “canon” status as Eberron: Rising from the Last War. However, this book is the culmination of nearly two decades of Keith’s dreams of what he’d write about Eberron if he had the space and time to do so—and I am entirely confident that the Eberron community, long-time fans and new players alike, will love this book (almost) as much as I do. It’s a perfect companion for Rising and books from previous editions; rather than rehashing material that’s been covered before, it complements it by diving deep on topics that have always been fascinating and yet woefully under-explored.

It’s hard for me to pick a favorite section, partially because I’ve read all the words so many times that it all blends together… but I’ll say that I especially enjoyed the sections on the Dhaakani dar, the Thunder Sea (the kar’lassa are extremely neat additions to the world), and of course, I love everything about the planes. Suffice it to say that this book contains something for everyone.

How much will I love the art in it?

You will love it a lot. A lot a lot a lot. Exploring Eberron contains 49 original artworks commissioned for this book (in addition to its 9 licensed images originally created for other purposes, 18 stock art images, and 11 images from previous Wizards of the Coast books).

Can I preorder?

Unfortunately, preorders are not available on the Dungeon Masters Guild. However, good news! The same day that the hardcover is released, you’ll immediately be able to download the PDF version. So while shipping delays might take a month or two, the content will be in your hands immediately upon release.

Will I be able to purchase it on D&D Beyond?

The licensing agreement with the Dungeon Masters Guild does not currently allow us to release the same content on D&D Beyond. However, if ever that changes, we’ll let you know. 🙂

Just tell us now, please, when will the book be released???

Exploring Eberron was originally planned for release in 2019. However, it became increasingly evident that for Keith to do justice to the many topics planned, and to write about them in the depth that he’s always dreamed of, the book would need to be much longer than originally planned. The chapter on the Planes of Eberron was the last one written, and by far the longest. It could very easily have been an entire book on its own, but we knew that section held some of the most anticipated content. So rather than cut the material on the planes for a later hardcover (which would delight absolutely nobody), we instead adjusted our timeline to plan on a Spring 2020 release.

In the midst of this process, each member of our 4-person production team was juggling various personal commitments, including two house moves, a baby’s birth, personal illness, family illness, obligations with our full-time jobs, and much more. And then…the pandemic hit. Needless to say, between life circumstances and the rapidly increasing book length, Exploring Eberron did not come out in Spring 2020. While disappointed by the delay, we were also confident that it was a book worth waiting for.

During the month of May, writing, editing, and layout were finally completed… though we all have several more gray hairs than when we began the process. Preparing the book for print-on-demand hardcover is an entirely different beast than doing layout for PDF-only publications, and by the end, I reached a level of intimacy with InDesign that perhaps made my husband a bit jealous (lucky for him, being married to him is far less stressful than creating hardcovers for print, so our marriage is saved). 

Once the book was finished, we sent the PDF to our amazing team of playtesters, who eagerly devoured the new lore along with helping to spot remaining errors in the book. After a few last-minute tweaks, the book was ready for publishing, and sent off the final PDF to premedia review at the Dungeon Masters Guild! The book passed premedia checks with flying colors. However, before we can release it to the public, we have to review a final printed copy… and due to COVID-19, the printing and shipping process has been delayed, and can take well over a month.

So at this point, we are in the agonizing stage of waiting…and waiting…and waiting. As soon as I have the printed proof in my hands, I’ll review it to make sure the PDF file we submitted to the printer was processed correctly and printed according to our expectations (rarely, something goes wrong with the print process and images print incorrectly, or the margins are wrong, or a host of other potential issues). As soon as that happens and we confirm everything looks correct, we can give the Dungeon Masters Guild the green light to release the book for you!

We don’t anticipate any further delays or errors in the process of printing and shipping the proof copies of the book, but everything from this point on is out of our hands. Assuming all goes as expected, we’re delighted to announce that Exploring Eberron will officially be available for purchase in both hardcover and PDF next month, in July of 2020.

What formats is the book available in?

You can purchase Exploring Eberron as a hardcover or PDF. The former is 8.5″ x 11″ premium hardcover book (similar in size to Wizards of the Coast hardcovers); expect 1-2 months at minimum for shipping time due to the pandemic. The PDF version will be downloadable immediately upon purchase; this full-color PDF is identical to the hardcover book in layout, as well as being screen-reader friendly and providing optional print-friendly settings to toggle off the art & background. Due to the long shipping delays, for those that purchase both products at the same time, we’ll be offering a very steep discount on the bundle so you can enjoy the PDF right away while you wait for the hardcover to arrive.

Will Keith be writing more books?

Stay tuned… 😉

About the Editor

By day, Laura Hirsbrunner is a 3x platinum-bestselling TTRPG designer and editor, academic consultant, editor-in-chief of Across Eberron, play-by-post server moderator, wife to a paladin, and mother to two gibbering mouthlings. By night, she explores dungeons and slays daelkyr (because really, dragons aren’t the bad guys). Her DMsGuild work includes the Eberronicon, Archetypes of Eberron, Elminster’s Candlekeep Companion, and more. You can find her portfolio here, or follow her on Twitter.

IFAQ: Who Leads The Tairnadal?


When time permits, I like to answer questions from my Patreon supporters. Joseph asks:

Who actually leads the Tairnadal elves? Is it a theocracy?

It’s an interesting question. The Tairnadal are the elves of the Aerenal steppes, and the elves who have claimed Valenar are Tairnadal elves. The Aereni are ruled by the Undying Court and the Sibling Kings. Valenar has a “High King.” But what of the Tairnadal of Aerenal? Do they have a monarch, or are they ruled by the Keepers of the past?

The reason this hasn’t been answered in the past is because it’s not a question with a simple answer. There is no single monarch or high priest who leads the Tairnadal, and the answer is rooted in their unusual and rigid culture. All the cultures of Aerenal cling tightly to tradition and the past. The Tairnadal came to Aerenal as soldiers—fresh from fighting against the giants of Xen’drik and their minions—and never stood down. What drives and defines the Tairnadal is their devotion to their patron ancestors. This began before the elves even reached Aerenal, as a basic cult of personality: those warriors who’d served with fallen champions being determined to honor their heroes by following in their footsteps. Those who were most devoted to this path swore that they felt a connection to their idols—that the spirit of the champions were guiding them. So this basic element—preserve the ancestors by emulating their lives—was a part of Tairnadal society from the beginning. The traditions and role of the Keepers of the Past evolved on Aerenal, but the patron ancestors were with them from the start.

Tairnadal society is shaped by their religion. This is described on page 147 of Rising From The Last War and I’m not going to retread it entirely here. But to sum up: when an elf comes of age the Keepers of the Past determine which ancestor has chosen them, and “it’s your sacred duty… to live your life as they did and to allow the champion to walk the world again through you.” It’s important to recognize that there’s a twofold aspect to this duty. The first is that through this devotion, the living preserve the ancestors. But there is also the concrete belief that through this devotion, the ancestor can act through the revenant—that the living benefit because they receive their guidance from the dead. The doctrine of the faith is that you can only receive this guidance from the ancestor that has chosen you—which means that if you refuse to accept that bond, you are denying your community the chance to benefit from the ancestor’s supernatural guidance. Essentially, the Tairnadal believe that you will never be as useful on your own as you could be if you embraced the path of your patron ancestor, and that refusing to follow that path is deadly arrogance and selfishness, and there is no place for such selfishness in a tight-knit warband.

So: Tairnadal culture is based on people emulating the lives of their patron ancestors. But these ancestors were fighting a guerilla war. Which means that the Tairnadal have to engage in endless war to follow their example… and with this in mind, they have been engaging in complex wargames for tens of thousands of years. Combatants will spare an enemy when possible—you don’t finish off a fallen foe—there is no point to a battle that doesn’t truly test the skills of the combatants, and battles are fought with spell and steel.

Working with this foundation, there are two basic aspects to Tairnadal civilization: war and peace. the zaelantar and zaeltairn. The zaelantar (“peaceful souls”) maintain the civilian infrastructure, while the zaeltairn (“warrior souls”) serve in an army and fight the endless war.

The zaelantar raise and train both young elves and beasts of war and burden. They craft weapons and tools, and they maintain the settled communities of the steppes. The bulk of the zaelantar are young elves. Remember that an elf receives a patron ancestor when they come of age. But this doesn’t usually happen until an elf is at least 60! In the initial decades of their lives, they train in basic skills (Background! Elven weapon familiarity!), study Tairnadal history, and maintain their community—including carry for the younger elves. Through this process they are effectively auditioning to the patron ancestors. The young elf who excels at hunting expects they will be chosen by a legendary archer or stalker. The elf who becomes a leader in the community hopes to be chosen by one of the great leaders of the past. Nonetheless, you are talking about elves spending at least four decades of what humans would consider adult life working in a zaelantar community. So who performs basic, necessary tasks? The elves who haven’t yet been set on a different path. Other zaelantar include former tairn who are unable to fight—either because of age or some other infirmity—but who can teach the young. The Keepers of the Past are largely zaelantar, serving to train and guide. And finally, there are those who have been chosen by patron ancestors whose legendary skills are tied to the civic sphere: fabled smiths, legendary teachers, the Siyal Marrain (druids who tend the beasts), and so on.

The zaeltairn engage in war, emulating their ancestors in the field. They are split into armies, each of when is further divided into clans and bands. A Tairnadal army is effectively a city-state. It isn’t a temporary duty; once assigned to an army Tairnadal serve until they die or until they retire (or are forced to retire) to train the young. Most armies are mobile; most of the patron ancestors were guerilla soldiers and mobility was vital; they follow migratory paths across the steppes. There are a few that are settled, based on the specialties of the ancestors represented by the army. Notably, each of the great jungles of the region—around Shae Thoridor and Var-Shalas—are home to an army, whose members specialize in jungle warfare and commando operations.

There are three great cities in the region held by the Tairnadal.

  • Var-Shalas is the largest city of the Tairnadal. It is the stronghold of the Keepers of the Past, and it is here that the Shanutar (council of lords) conducts its business.
  • Shae Thoridor is the second great city of the zaelantar. It is smaller than Var-shalas, but nonetheless an important seat of the Keepers of the Past and an industrial center for the goods required by the armies.
  • Taer Senadal is a fortress—but an unusual one. Var-Shalas and Shae Thoridor are surrounded by walls of bronzewood thorns, similar to Taer Valaestas in Valenar. Taer Senadal is a fortress of stone. Because it’s not a fortress built to defend the region from attack; it’s built to be attacked. Senadal can be roughly translated as “whetstone,” and Taer Senadal is a fortress manned by youths in the late stages of their training. Armies take turns attacking the fortress, allowing the youths to hone their skills as they defend it and the tairn to practice attacking fortifications.

All of which finally brings us back to the original question: Who rules the Tairnadal? Are they a theocracy?

Religion is the absolute foundation of Tairnadal culture. Following the dictates of the religion sensible (the faithful receive the guidance of the ancestors), a duty to the dead (it preserves the ancestors), and a duty to the community (as the ancestral guidance makes you a more effective citizen). But the Keepers of the Past are guides, not leaders. The basic leadership role within the Tairnadal is the shan, which can be loosely translated as “lord.” Each band has a lu-shan (“band lord”), clan leaders simply use the title shan, and the leaders of armies are var-shan (“great lord”). On the side of the zaelantar, an an-shan (“young lord”) is a youth who guides a band of youths, while a tar-shan (“peace lord”) maintains a village or a district of one of the great cities. Note that shan is not a gendered term, and any tairnadal can hold this position.

The twist to this is that the characterization of Shaeras Vadallia as “High King” is largely a translation error. Shaeras is the var-shan of Valenar, the Great Lord of the Army of Valenar. it is the highest position of authority that the Tairnadal recognize, but each army has a var-shan of its own.

With this in mind, the structure of Valenar is a general model for the Tairnadal overall. As described in the ECS, there are 45 warclans on Khorvaire; this is the Army of Valenar. At any given time, twenty of these clans are under the direct command of the var-shan (Shaeras Vadallia), while the rest are active in the field. The same is true for the armies on Aerenal: each army has a core of clans that remain close and under the direct command of the var-shan, while others follow general direction but operate independently. Likewise, within a clan a certain number of bands remain under the direct command of the shan, while others may be dispersed on independent operations (scouting, harrying, etc). While the structure of Tairnadal society is relentlessly martial, they actually don’t have a complex hierarchy of ranks. Warbands are essentially families, whose members serve together indefinitely. When there is a split-second military decision to be made, the lu-shan commands and cannot be questioned. But if there are other issues, the band debates them around the campfire and consensus rules. The lu-shan does have the final say, but it is rare for a lu-shan to veto the decisions of the band without clear military reason. And if this is done, the band respects the decision because they respect the lu-shan, not because of the title alone. This ties to an important fact: those appointed to leadership roles are elves channeling the spirits of legendary leaders. Within a clan, of course the Vadallia revenant is the lu-shan, because she’s channeling Vadallia. Taeri is an unparalled swordsman, but he’s not a leader; who would even think of appointing a Taeri as shan? It is also the case that a respected revenant’s word carries a great deal of weight in matters related to that ancestor. A Vadallia lu-shan is a good general war leader, but when planning an ambush they may defer to the Falaen revenant, trusting their expertise in matters of stealth and cunning.

This overall structure flows upstream. If the shan issues a command it must be obeyed. But unless it’s an urgent matter, the shan will seek the consensus of the lu-shan. If it isn’t a question of war, they will seek the guidance of Keepers of the Past or even the tar-shan. Beyond this, each army dispatches two clans to Var-Shalas and one to Shae Thoridor. These clans protect the cities, but the shans also represent their army in the shanutar—a council that includes the tar-shans, and which is overseen by Keepers of the Past.

So once again: Who leads the Tairnadal? When decisions must be made in a moment, a shan’s word is absolute. In other matters, the Tairnadal seek consensus—whether a lu-shan consulting with their band, a shan seeking consensus from the lu-shans, or the var-shan consulting the shans. Beyond this, people respect the ancestors that are channeled; they look to those guided by ancient leaders to channel that wisdom.

All of which is a VERY long answer to what seemed like a simple question, but there you have it!

How do the Draleus Tairn and the Silaes Tairn fit into this structure?

They’re armies. The Draleus Tairn are largely defined by their ancestors; their patrons are heroes renowned for fighting dragons. The Silaes Tairn have some ancestral overlap with the Valaes, but believe that the the battle should be taken back to Xen’drik. Note that bands of Draleus and Silaes Tairn DO make expeditions to Xen’drik; the Draleus are also always preparing for the next time Argonnessen attacks Aerenal.

So are armies all made up of people who follow the same ancestors?

Not at all. Essentially, think of the ancestors as being military specialties. You’re rarely going to find a warband that has more than one Vadallia, because it doesn’t NEED more than one Vadallia. On the other hand, a band with a specific purpose—commandos, archers, scouts—may have multiple elves who channel the same ancestor because they want that overlap of skills. But ancestors are shared among all the Valaes armies, assigned to clans and bands as suits the needs of each unit.

How difficult is it for an ambitious revenant to break the mold of their ancestors and forge their own name in memory? Is this more within the wheelhouse of player characters, or are there examples of exceptional tairnadal who exceed the precedent of their patron ancestor, becoming patrons in their own right?

This is specifically discussed in this article… which gives the example of Carys Daealyth, who is guided by Daealyth Taeri, who was guided by Taeri. The main point is that those champions don’t typically BREAK the mold, they go beyond it. From that article:
So as a Tairnadal elf it is your duty to honor your ancestor and to do all that you can to bring glory to their name; but the hope is that in doing so you will become a vessel for their spirit and that together you will forge NEW legends—and that someday, future Tairnadal will channel YOUR spirit.

How does parenting work among the Tairnadal? Are familial relations important?

Generally, NO. Who your father and mother are is far less important than who your patron ancestor is. Tairnadal don’t maintain property, so you’re not passing your holdings down to a child. Critically, note that the Tairnadal don’t use family names: a Tairnadal elf uses a given name and the name of their patron ancestor. So Shaeras Vadallia may have been the son of Jael Cardaen and Sol Taeri; ultimately, that doesn’t matter. A child is given to the Zaelantar to be raised, and becomes an adult when chosen by a patron ancestor. And it’s worth noting that at this point, almost all Tairnadal are in some way tied to all of the patron ancestors; it’s not like there’s only one bloodline that produces Vadallias, or that you expect to be chosen by the same patron as your parents.

With that said, Tairnadal likely know who their parents are, and there are cases where relatives end up serving together in the same band or clan. So you can have siblings who feel a strong attachment or even a parent and child with a bond. But on the societal level, your personal lineage isn’t as significant as your spiritual lineage.

Can you talk a little about dynamics between Tairnadal elves and Lyrandar/Half-elves in Valenar? Especially with a Khoravar with a Tairnadal parent?

If you can find it, this is discussed in an Expeditionary Dispatches article from WotC called “The People of Taer Valaestas.”

As called out in the previous answer, direct blood lineage is less important to the Tairnadal than spiritual lineage, and it is the belief of the Tairnadal (supported by existing precedent) that no Khoravar can channel a patron ancestor. So essentially, the Tairnadal treat the Khoravar as being akin to zaelantar. They are people with a connection to the elves, and they are willing to do important tasks no tairn wishes to do. However, with most zaelantar there is the understanding that they will become tairn (or that they have been chosen by a peaceful ancestor, which is still an honor and duty), while they don’t believe that to be possible with the Khoravar. So the essential point is that they see the Khoravar as useful children but don’t believe they will ever grow up or be able to undertake the true responsibility of a Tairnadal—to embody an ancestor. That’s not their fault, just a sad fact. Of course, what we’ve said is that if any Khoravar could prove this wrong and channel an ancestor, it would be a player character!

Are there ever cases where a young elf coming of age is not selected by ANY ancestor? If so, how are such elves regarded by their fellows?

The Keepers of the Past aren’t selected by any one ancestor; instead, they have the ability to hear many ancestors, which is what allows them to serve in their role. In one campaign I ran, a PC played a Tairnadal shaman whose role was specifically to channel and remember a host of lesser ancestors who weren’t significant enough to become full patron ancestors, but that deserved to be remembered.

If the elf isn’t chosen by an ancestor and lacks the gift of the Keepers, what it means is, essentially, that they didn’t graduate. I said that MOST elves receive an ancestor at around 60, after they undergo a few decades as zaelantar. If you don’t get picked? Work another decade as zaelantar and we’ll try again at the next time. It would be assumed that if you’re not picked it’s because you haven’t displayed enough value to be chosen; that doesn’t mean you deserve to be shunned, it means you need to go back to work and do better. You’re a disappointment, certainly. But there may well be a case where it’s later discovered that a particular elf didn’t get picked because ALL of the ancestors wanted them and they couldn’t reach an agreement, or something like that; there could certainly be a tale of the elf who was thought to be shunned but who was in fact the most exceptional of all (… and went on to become a player character!). But the typical answer is that they would simply continue on as zaelantar.

Second question: Since the Tairnadal are constantly looking for battles to fight, do they ever seek out manifest zones of Shavarath, or venture to that plane itself?

I write about Shavarath in Exploring Eberron, and that’s a pretty extreme option; it is a vicious meat grinder and it would take exceptional mortals to survive there for an extended amount of time. Consider that the immortals are CONSTANTLY being killed and just reform; it’s a touch road for elves to jump in where angels fear to tread. With that said, it’s entirely possible that the Tairnadal SUMMON fiends or other extraplanar threats so they have worthy foes to fight. They might even use undead! Exploring the actual forms of conflicts the Tairnadal fight on Aerenal is a deep topic that could definitely fill another article.

That’s all for now. Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters, who keep this site going and help choose topics! And if for some reason you’re looking for even MORE information about the Tairnadal, this article answers many questions and has links to many other articles!

Sidebar: Aurum Concordians

While few outsiders know what goes on inside an Aurum hall, the existence of the organization is no secret; most members proudly wear the eight rings of their concord. If you asked a member of the Aurum to describe it, they’d say that it’s a fraternal order with a hall in every major city in the Five Nations. They’d brag about how the Aurum strengthens local communities through philanthropy and charitable work. They’d call out that the Aurum is an organization where people with different political and religious beliefs can set those differences aside and talk as friends: that it’s an organization for people who want to make a difference in the world, who can reach beyond class and nation. However, at the end of the day few can argue that one practical purpose of the organization is to increase the wealth and power of its members. Friends do favors for friends—and everyone’s friends in the Aurum. You have a problem with the Sharn Watch? Let’s have a drink with Commander Yorgan and see if we can work something out.

Push farther, and some concordians will acknowledge that one of the founding principles of the Aurum is that the existing system within Khorvaire is oppressive: the dragonmarked houses have tyrannical economic monopolies and the monarchies of the Five Nations are outdated. The Aurum brings together the finest and most capable people outside that structure, and helps them to achieve the opportunities they deserve. Now, you may have heard rumors of a “Shadow Cabinet” that seeks to tear down the houses or overthrow monarchies, but that’s just ridiculous. The Aurum is a social club. Last night we had a delightful performance from the Diva Laria. Provost Salar gave an impromptu lecture on the Sulat League and Councilor Evix discussed a Xen’drik expedition they’re funding. No one tried to conquer the world.

Anyone who’s read the sourcebooks knows that—spoiler alert—the Shadow Cabinet DOES exist. But the important point is that most members of the Aurum itself don’t actually know that. The Aurum is what it appears to be: an alliance of wealthy and influential people who enjoy each other’s company and who use their wealth and influence to help each another. Sure, many are evil in alignment, and those people are especially likely to take advantage of the connections offered by the Aurum to strengthen their positions and gain power, even if this circumvents the law or steals those opportunities from others. But there are concordians who are truly good, who do seek to use the Aurum’s influence to strengthen the local community. And many are squarely neutral, enjoying the camaraderie of the society and happy to help their fellow concordians where they can, but having no grand aspirations of their own.

So there’s a few roles an Aurum concordian can serve in a story.

  • Patron. Are you looking for someone who wants to fund an expedition? Someone who wants to pay a group of adventurers to do something that doesn’t quite fall within the law but isn’t entirely criminal, either? This is the role of the concordian. They have gold, and they have enough connections to arrange for watch patrols to be light around the entrance to Old Sharn, or to get you past customs when you land with contraband artifacts. But they don’t have the resources of a dragonmarked house or a spy agency; they need adventurers to run their errands. And these tasks don’t have to shake the world or threaten the city. A concordian may simply be indulging a personal (perhaps slightly illegal) hobby: adding to their collection of (contraband) Sulat elemental seals, or taking actions to humiliate a professional or social rival. Concordians are people who have enough wealth and power to be able to hire and help adventurers—but not so much power that adventurers become irrelevant.
  • Rival. If adventurers get on the wrong side of a concordian, it can cause a lot of trouble for them… but still, not as much trouble as making an enemy of a dragonmarked house or the King’s Citadel. A concordian may have wealth and they will certainly have contacts, but especially if they’re in the lower concords there’s a limit to how many favors they can call in. Consider Ambrose Jakis in The Name of the Wind; he’s a perfect example of how an Aurum conordian could make trouble for an adventurer who’s earned their ire. To a lesser extent, a concordian could serve as a patron for a rival group of adventurers, who thus get a lot of unfair advantages because of the wealth and influence of their patron.
  • Member. A player character could be given a chance to JOIN the Aurum. An existing member (perhaps a patron) would have to sponsor them, and they’d begin in the Copper Concord. As such, they wouldn’t have a lot of pull right away—but if they do favors for concordians, others will do favors in return. They may receive opportunities they’d never have gained on their own, and have access to gossip and secrets they’d never have been able to learn. It’s a great opportunity… but they will be expected to do favors for the higher ranking concordians.

But what about the Shadow Cabinet?

From a design perspective, the Aurum is designed to be an easy source of patrons and rivals. The connections of the Aurum make a concordian a dangerous enemy or a powerful ally, but part of the point of the Aurum is that it’s NOT a tightly knit conspiracy; members have to pay for favors with favors, and there are members of the Aurum who aren’t friends with one another. It’s not as tightly knit as the Dreaming Dark or even as a dragonmarked house. It’s a quick source of influential figures, but these are people low-level adventurers can deal with.

But what about the Shadow Cabinet? This follows the idea of the Illuminati or SPECTRE: an hidden organization of powerful people who intend to shift the balance of power. Members of the Shadow Cabinet ARE more tightly connected, and do freely share resources—making them far more dangerous than just an individual Silver Concordian. They want to disrupt or control monarchies, to break the power of the dragonmarked houses; a DM who wants a dramatic twist could reveal that the Shadow Cabinet was responsible for the Shadow Schism that divided House Phiarlan (whether working with or framing the Paelions)—and that they are now actively encouraging the rivalries between the three Cannith factions, hoping to permanently split that house as well. One might well say “If I want a plutocratic villain, why not just use a dragonmarked house? They seem to have more power and cooler gimmicks. And that’s correct: the houses DO have far more power. The point of the Shadow Cabinet is that they ARE the upstarts and the underdogs—that they are FIGHTING the established great powers of the monarchies and houses. For all his wealth and power, Antus ir’Soldorak still needs Lyrandar excoriates to fly his grand airship. He doesn’t have all the power he wants: which is why he’s fighting to disrupt the Twelve. This is a struggle that will surely take decades to bear meaningful fruit. Again, it’s possible that the Shadow Schism was a great victory for the Aurum, and that took place 26 years ago. I don’t expect the Shadow Cabinet to have any chance to actually take over the world in the course of campaign; if they COULD somehow destroy the dragonmarked houses in a year, Khorvaire would collapse into chaos. The power is that they are trying. They are working to disrupt the order, to turn houses against one another, to fund innovations that would reduce their power. They are actively trying to shake the status quo, and this can drive the events of an adventure. But their role in the story is to be the disruptive underdogs, not to actually be on top. With that said, a very important point that differentiates the houses and the Shadow Cabinet is that a dragonmarked hosue has massive power and influence within a single field. The Shadow Cabinet has agents spread across society, in places the houses can’t touch. They have concordians in the military, in the judiciary, in the arts. Their power is less CONCRETE than that of the houses, but it is more subtle; a concordian customs inspector can cause a lot of trouble for local house operations!

Hearing all of this raises an interesting option: the Shadow Cabinet COULD be presented in a heroic light. The dragonmarked houses DO wield oppressive monopolistic power. The monarchies of the Five Nations could be seen as outdated. It is entirely possible to present the Shadow Cabinet as a heroic alliance that is trying to make change—that is fighting to help the artificer working on an airship that anyone could pilot, or to push democracy in the Five Nations. By default, canon presents the Shadow Cabinet as being driven by purely selfish goals: it doesn’t actually want to make the world a better place, it wants to make it a better place for members of the Shadow Cabinet. But it is entirely possible to present it in a more altruistic light. And the reason I’m saying this with no spoilers is because, as a player, you don’t know what your DM is doing with them. When you spot someone wearing eight rings, you know they’re in the Aurum. But are they secretly plotting to throw the Five Nations into chaos? Are they fighting a secret battle in pursuit of economic innovation and democracy? Or are they a casual member who just enjoys a good game of Conqueror at the club? And as a DM, if you want to maintain that mystery, the point is to use concordians in those different capacities. Have the adventurers benefit from Aurum philanthropy. Have them need to protect an orphanage that was built with Aurum donations. When the concordian comes to them with a seemingly innocent job, is it exactly what it appears to be… or could it be serving a hidden agenda? W

Who’s In The Aurum?

The common impression is that the Aurum is an alliance of the wealthy and powerful, because it’s those wealthy and powerful members who attract attention. And usually by the time someone is in the Gold or Platinum Concords they will be wealthy or powerful… but they may not have started out that way. The Aurum doesn’t look for wealth: it looks for influence and potential. The Copper Concord includes people who don’t have power yet—but their sponsor sees a way that they could, if the right strings are pulled. Officers in the military or the watch. Civic officials. Up and coming artists. Promising artisans. The further up you go, the more wealth and influence the concordian is likely to have. They’re not a watch officer, they command a district garrison. They aren’t an aspiring playwright, they’re an international sensation. Or they could be a wealthy collector of rare Sarlonan antiquities—but if they’re in the Gold or Platinum Concords, they will be VERY wealthy…

The Aurum Concordian table provides a quick way to generate a random concordian. You’ll have to establish the basic details—this concordian is an old Brelish dwarf—but the table helps to establish that he’s an ambassador who profited off the Last War and has close ties to the Brelish military. These are basic prompts, and it’s up to you to decide how he profited off the war, or what those close ties are like—does he have personal sway with a single military unit (he can call on the Redcloak Battalion in Sharn) or does he have broader ties to Brelish military leadership?

To be clear, the Aurum seeks to shake the status quo and thus tends to reject members who are powerful nobles or well-placed dragonmarked heirs. However, a concordian could be from a lesser noble family (a minor Lhazaar prince), or as in the case of Antus ir’Soldorak, could have bought a noble title. Likewise, concordians won’t include members of powerful dragonmarked families, but they can include excoriates or members of families that have fallen into disfavor and are unhappy with the Twelve… and the Aurum includes many people who run businesses licensed by the houses, but who aren’t tied to the house by blood and chafe under its yoke.

So again, an Aurum concordian can be a useful patron, a dangerous rival, someone seeking to help strengthen their community or someone determined to increase their own power at all costs. Invoking the Aurum is a quick way to establish that someone has wealth and influence… but it shouldn’t automatically establish someone as a VILLAIN. The Aurum is intended to be a source of easy foes for low-level adventures, but it can be just as useful as a source of patrons. In the novel The City of Towers, the down-on-their-luck adventurers turn to a member of the Aurum for work. And while concordians COULD turn to organizations like the Boromar Clan, House Tarkanan, or House Deneith, some members prefer not to deal with actual criminals or economic rivals… and that’s where adventurers come in!

What’s Your Connection?

The table above is a quick way to generate a random concordian. But perhaps you want an adventurer to have a concrete connection to that character. The following tables (originally posted in this article) help with that. It turns out that one of the adventurers was childhood friends we the ambassador, and that the ambassador pulled strings a year ago to get them out of jail… but now the ambassador is being targeted for assassination and they’re calling in that favor. The Aurum Concordian table takes the place of the “Aurum Member” table below, but I’m leaving that column in below, as it gives some quick and concrete examples.

General Q&A

Does a member of the Copper Concord who’s also in the Shadow Cabinet outrank a member of the Gold Concord who’s not in the Cabinet?

The Shadow Cabinet—if it even exists!—is a secret even to members of the Aurum. So no, the copper concordian can’t make demands of the gold concordian, because the gold concordian doesn’t recognize their authority. However, the people IN the secret society work more closely together than most members of the Aurum. So a member of the Platinum Concord may go out of their way to help the copper, in a way that seems unusual—because both are in the Shadow Cabinet, and it serves the purposes of the Cabinet. But it’s always possible a DM could decide to use the Aurum WITHOUT the Shadow Cabinet… or they could decide that there’s no difference between the two, and that all members of the Aurum pursue the goals of the Cabinet.

Is there an initiation ceremony or ritual involved with joining the Aurum? If so, what is that like?

Like most fraternal orders, the Aurum undoubtedly has a vast number of secret ceremonies and rituals. What are they like? SECRET. This is a level of detail you’re not likely to ever see in canon because we could easily write an entire book about the rituals of the Aurum, but for most campaigns it will never matter. Should the adventurers ever happen to witness an Aurum initiation, you can invent the rituals or even ask your players to suggest details. But certainly, it’s a solemn, complicated ceremony and it likely involved swearing oaths under a zone of truth.

When someone joins the Aurum, they join a particular hall. We use the concord rank (gold, silver, etc) as a general indicator because it’s all that most adventurers will ever have to deal with, but you can be sure that there are a vast number of internal honors and titles used within a hall. Someone’s not just a gold concordian, they’re a “Faithful Warden of the Gold Concord” —which is itself a step up from being an “Honored Initiate of the Gold Concord.” The one that matters most is the Keeper of the Hall, who is the ultimate local authority (and almost always a member of the Platinum Concord). While I’m not going to try to suggest all the secret rituals that go on as part of initiation or advancement, I will say that in either case the initiate receives the eight rings of their concord and they also receive a concordian’s coin of the metal of their concord. The rings are produced locally; every hall has their own variation on the basic design, but they are mundane metal. A concordian’s coin is a magic item produced by the Soldorak Mint. The coin has the Aurum seal on one face (the chained crown) and a profile on the other (see below). A concordian’s coin has the following properties.

  • The coin is initially unbound. When someone holds the coin in the fist and recites a specific oath, the coin is bound to that person; the only way to break this bond is to destroy or disenchant the coin. Initially, the profile on the face of the coin is a blank silhouette. When the coin is bound, it takes on the appearance of the person it’s bound to.
  • Only the person the coin is bound to can hold the coin. Anyone else who touches it will receive an unpleasant arcane shock. This doesn’t cause permanent damage, but if someone picks up or holds a concordian’s coin they must make a DC 10 Wisdom save each round to keep from dropping it.
  • The person the coin is bound to can use it as an arcane focus. It can also be used as a holy symbol by a cleric of the Sovereign Host (specifically Kol Korran or the Keeper).
  • A concordian’s coin is a common magic item. Coins of the gold and platinum concords often carry additional enchantments; a concordian’s coin might be enchanted to serve as an amulet of proof against detection and location, for example.

Beyond this, there is also a series of protocols involving both coins and rings. For example, when shaking hands on first meeting, a concordian will tap a particular finger against the finger of the other concordian, who will answer with a different tap based on the respective ranks of the members. Likewise, at a meal between concordians they may place their coins on the table; placing them in certain configurations (crown up, to the left of a drink) can convey hidden messages.

How distinctive are the rings and coin of an Aurum concordian?

Each hall has a unique ring design. However, these rings are pure metal and the designs aren’t so complex; part of the point of the ring is that another ring can be easily worn above it (like many engagement rings). So Aurum rings wouldn’t be that hard to fabricate, especially if the people you’re dealing with aren’t familiar with the hall designs. The coin is another matter. Each one is unique to the bearer, and if someone is familiar with the Aurum and has any doubts about your identity, one of the first things they’ll do is touch your coin to see if they get a shock. All concordian’s coins are made at the Soldorak Mint; counterfeiting one isn’t just about craftsmanship, it’s about calibrating the shock to feel like the Solodrak shock. It’s something a capable artificer with proficiency in forgery could accomplish, but it’s not a trivial thing. Of course, all of this comes to the question of if you’re trying to fool a member of the AURUM. Most people don’t even know concordians carry coins, let allow that they’ll shock you.

Would the Aurum take action against someone falsely claiming to be a concordian?

ABSOLUTELY. This is a highly exclusive organization of rich and powerful people. They will NOT take kindly to people seeking to profit off their reputation. Of course, they have to find out about the hoax to take action… so a charlatan could get away with it for as long as they can get away with it. But the local hall will NOT be happy with charlatans passing themselves off as concordians.

That’s all for now. Thanks to my Patreon supporters for keeping this site going! The Patreon poll to determine the subject of the next major article ends soon—currently it’s neck and neck between Sarlona and the nobility of Khorvaire.

Sidebar: Aberrant Champions

It’s hard to talk about dragonmarks and the dragonmarked houses without also discussing aberrant dragonmarks and the War of the Mark. I posted a sidebar article about Aberrant Dragonmarks not too long ago, but my Patreon supporters recently raised a number of questions recently about the aberrant champions of the War of the Mark, notably Halas Tarkanan.

For a quick refresher: Long ago aberrant dragonmarks were more widespread than they are today, and they were also more powerful than the common aberrant mark known today—the simple powers granted by the Aberrant Dragonmark feat. The dragonmarked houses—quite young at the time—used the fear of aberrant dragonmarks as a scapegoat, both as a cause that helped to unite the houses themselves and to strengthen public opinion that “true” dragonmarks were good, and aberrant dragonmarks were the foul touch of Khyber… and lest it go without saying, many members of the houses believed the tales they spread. There’s no cure for an aberrant dragonmark, and this led to mob violence and from there to more organized persecution on the part of the houses. “The War of the Mark” implies a conflict between two even sides, and this was anything but. Due to house propaganda, people with aberrant marks were feared and ostracized, and this was more of a witch-hunt than a war. However, as it drew on, a number of leaders emerged among the aberrants—people with the charisma to lead and the foresight to plan, and with enough raw power that even the houses came to fear them. These leaders gathered bands of aberrants around them and sought to establish sanctuaries or hold off her houses.

The band whose exploits are best known was tied to three powerful aberrants. Halas Tarkanan was known as “The Earthshaker,” and his aberrant mark gave him power over elemental forces. His two greatest allies were known only by titles. The Lady of the Plague controlled vermin and disease, and was widely seen as the most dangerous of the aberrants. The Dreambreaker wielded vast psychic power and could crush lesser minds. Beyond his personal power, Tarkanan was a master strategist. Under his guidance, they seized the city of Sharn (which far smaller than it is today) and established it as a haven for the aberrant. But the houses had superior numbers, resources, and discipline. Sharn was besieged, and when it became clear that the battle was lost, Halas determined to make the victory as costly as possible. The three aberrant leaders gave their lives and poured their essence into terrible death curses. Little is known about the impact of the Dreambreaker’s curse. But Tarkanan’s curse shook the earth and collapsed the old towers, while the Lady of the Plague spread deadly disease throughout the ruins and called up strange forms of vermin. Those few soldiers who survived the attack lingered just long enough to carry the plagues to their comrades; even in death, the Lady of the Plague inflicted a lasting blow on the house forces. Today it’s her curse that is still felt. The region known as “Old Sharn” is sealed off because it’s believed that her plagues still linger in the depths, and there are forms of vermin found in Sharn that aren’t seen anywhere else in Khorvaire.

In considering the aberrant leaders, there’s a few things to bear in mind. The first is that they possessed aberrant marks of a level of power not yet seen in the present day—aberrant dragonmarks comparable to the Siberys dragonmarks of the houses. But beyond that, just like the house of today, their greatest powers came not simply from their dragonmarks, but from tools that focused and amplified the powers of these marks. Tarkanan channeled his power through a gauntlet he called the Earth’s Fist. The Dreambreaker used the Delirium Stone to focus his mental energy. And the Lady of the Plague wore a cloak she called Silence. So it’s not that Halas destroyed a city with his mark alone; just Cannith has creation forges and Lyrandar has its storm spires, it was the Earth’s Fist that allowed Tarkanan to level Sharn. And while these leaders died, it’s quite possible these artifacts survived. Each one was designed to interface with the unique marks of the champions who carried them, but it’s possible that a modern creature with a similar aberrant dragonmark could attune to one of these deadly artifacts.

So who were these aberrant champions? The short answer is that no one knows for sure. They lived over fifteen centuries ago, most were outcasts, and of course, the winners write history. Any serious scholar has to eliminate the propaganda circulated by the houses at the time—stories that present Tarkanan and his allies as monsters. Sivis propaganda suggested that Tarkanan was an avatar of the Devourer—a story supported by his elemental power—sent to bring suffering to innocents. Other tales claimed that all of the aberrant leaders were “lords of dust,” lingering fiends from the Age of Demons that delighted in chaos and bloodshed. So the short form is that it’s hard to be certain of anything and that adventurers could always discover new answers over the course of their adventures. What follows is the answer in my Eberron—the truth that could be found by a diligent sage—but that doesn’t mean it’s the absolute truth.

Halas Tarkanan

Halas Tarkanan was the son of Ilana Halar d’Deneith, an heir of House Deneith, and Grayn Tarkanan, a mercenary licensed by the house. Ilana commanded the mercenary regiment Grayn served in, and the two fell in love. When Grayn developed an aberrant dragonmark his contact with the house was severed and Illana was ordered to end her relationship with him. She refused and was excoriated. Ilana and Grayn left Korth behind, working as independent mercenaries in southern Wroat (the region that’s now Breland), where Deneith had yet to fully establish its presence.They served the self-appointed King Breggor III in a series of bitter conflicts between Wroat lords, and Halas was raised on the battlefield. Ilana taught her son the arts of war, and he was as capable as any Deneith heir. A Sivis account says that Halas murdered his parents, but the truth is more complex. In this time the houses were expanding their whispering campaign against aberrants, and House Deneith was expanding its operations in Wroat. Deneith promised to support Breggor, but first he had to rid himself of his aberrant and excoriate champions. Illana’s troop was sent into an ambush and trapped on a now-forgotten bridge over the Dagger River. They were surrounded by enemies when Halas’s aberrant dragonmark manifested. Its power collapsed the bridge, killing both his family and their enemies, and Halas himself was presumed dead; the destruction of the bridge was held up as yet another example of the dangers posed by aberrant dragonmarks. But Halas survived.

There’s few concrete records of the next decade of Tarkanan’s life. Some say that he secretly made his way to Rekkenmark, and served in the armies of Karrnath; in these stories, some of his unmarked comrades in arms later joined his struggles in Wroat. Certainly, he eventually fought a one-man war against Breggor and House Deneith’s operations in Wroat, gaining greater control over his powers with each guerrilla attack. He obtained the Earth’s Fist during this time, presumably by working with the Tinker. He met the Lady of the Plague in this time, but none know exactly how. Within House Tarkanan, one story says that the Lady found Halas dying of infected wounds and saved his life; another tale says that the two were both sheltering in the same village during an aberrant purge. Whatever the truth, they were already partners when the houses and their supporters began executing aberrants.

Halas was a gifted tactician, and the Lady of the Plague seems to have been a persuasive speaker; together, they executed an exodus through southern Wroat, rallying aberrants from across the region around Sharn. The rest is history; in the novel The Son of Khyber, a contemporary says of Halas “I think he always knew how the struggle would end, but he was determined to give our people hope and to make the houses pay for the blood they spilled.”

So: what’s known of Halas Tarkanan? He was the child of a Deneith excoriate and hated House Deneith above all others. He was skilled with a sword, but his talents as a commander were more important than his skills with a blade. He was ruthless when he had to be, and was willing to make sacrifices when it was the only way to hurt his enemy. And not only did he possess an aberrant mark of great power, he knew techniques that allowed him to manipulate his mark in ways unknown in the present day… as shown by the “death curse” that leveled old Sharn. Many dragonmarks place a burden—physical or mental—on the bearer. There’s no records of what price Halas paid for his power, but some stories suggest that his mark may have reacted to his mood—that he was always calm, because his anger could shatter the world. But as with so much about him, this is largely conjecture. There are no records of him having children, but if any existed it’s likely he would have kept their existence as secret as possible. Certainly by the end of the War of the Mark, the houses claimed to have completely eliminated the “blood of Khyber”—but as as aberrant dragonmarks aren’t hereditary in the same way as true marks, it’s possible he could have had an unmarked child who slipped past the divinations of the Twelve.

The Lady of the Plague

If you have a moment, there’s someone I’d like you to meet. She grew up in village in Daskara, not far from the modern city of Sigilstar. She loved the country and taking care of the livestock. When she was 13, her family fell ill with a disease no one had ever seen before. They died, and the plague spread to the rest of the village and their stock. Only two things were unaffected: the rats and the girl. When everyone was dead, she fled to the town of Sarus. You’ve never heard of Sarus, because it doesn’t exist anymore. It was burnt by those who sought to keep the plague from spreading. The rats kept the girl alive, and were the only thing that kept her close to sane. In time she learned to control her power. Even so, she couldn’t bear the burden of the deaths on her conscience. She declared that the girl had died with her family. She was someone new, someone without a name. She was the Lady of the Plague.

This is the most detailed description of the Lady of the Plague, drawn from this (noncanon) article on aberrant dragonmarks. On a small scale, the Lady could use her mark to inflict effects similar to harm and insect plague. But her greater gift was the power to create virulent diseases—plagues that could spread across entire cities. However, she had no ability to cure the diseases she could create. Unleashing a disease was like setting a fire; it could spread farther and faster than she intended. She was one of the most infamous aberrants of the age; the destruction of Sarus was a regular feature in the propaganda of the Twelve, carrying the warning that sparing one aberrant could doom your entire city.

Halas Tarkanan was a strategist and a warrior, and is usually seen as the leader of the Wroat aberrants. But sages who dig deep will find that while Halas was the warrior, the Lady was the visionary—that it was her impassioned speeches that rallied the refugees when spirits were low, and she who convinced people to follow and fight alongside them. While Sivis accounts typically depict the refugees as all aberrants, the fact is that there were many unmarked people who joined the aberrant cause. Some were relatives or lovers of the marked, but others were compelled by the Lady’s words, and made the choice to stand by those innocents being hunted by the houses. Halas and the Lady rallied other oppressed people, and many Wroat goblins joined their cause. When the Twelve finally laid siege to Sharn, only about half of the people in the city had aberrant marks, but all chose to stand and fight.

It’s known that the Lady had unusual theories about the nature and purpose of aberrant dragonmarks. It’s possible she had some inkling of the Draconic Prophecy, but she may have simply believed that aberrant marks and those who carried them had a role to play in the grand order of things. There are no known recordings of her beliefs… but perhaps one of her journals remains hidden in Old Sharn, or even somewhere in Aundair.

Like Halas, the Lady of the Plague possessed the ability to enhance her power through her own pain, and her death curse lingers to this day. Her cloak Silence helped her contain her power and prevent accidental infection of innocents, but it also amplified her abilities.

The Dreambreaker

The Dreambreaker was a gnome born in what’s now Zilargo. His aberrant mark allowed him to shatter the minds of people around him and some accounts suggest that he could twist time and space. However, his power also affected his own perception of reality. It’s said that he believed the Wroat aberrants were actually fighting the Sovereigns, and that the houses and their mortal minions were simply manifestations of this greater cosmic struggle. He was devoted to the aberrant cause and his sheer power was a vital weapon in their arsenal, but his instability prevented him from leading forces on his own. Like the Lady of the Plague, the Dreambreaker was often featured in anti-aberrant propaganda; Sivis spread wild tales of his abilities to crush minds and claimed that he could murder innocent people in their dreams.

The Dreambreaker possessed a focus item called the Delirium Stone, presumably created by the Tinker. He is presumed to have died in the siege of Sharn, but he is known to have been fighting in a different tower than Halas Tarkanan and some accounts suggest that he planned to twist time, stealing the future from the houses… but nothing was ever heard from him following the destruction of Sharn.

The Tinker

Halas Tarkanan, the Dreambreaker, The Lady of the Plague, Kalara of the Ten Terrors, and more—the most infamous champions of the War of the mark all possessed artifacts that channeled and focused the powers of their aberrant marks. But where did these tools come from? Halas was no artificer, and the aberrants didn’t have the resources of House Cannith. Or did they? It’s recorded that Halas ascribed the Earth’s Fist to “the tinker,” and storytellers have used that to create a mysterious figure—an aberrant heir of House Cannith! Whose dragonmark allows them to consume or twist the enchantments of objects! Others say that this tinker must have been a fiend—able to create tools to channel the power of Khyber because they themselves were one of the true children of Khyber. Either of these are possible, but there is a simpler possibility: that “the tinker” may have been a term referring to a number of sympathetic artificers within House Cannith who opposed the War of the Mark and sought to aid their aberrant foes.

The true identity of the Tinker could be an interesting mystery to solve—especially if House Tarkanan starts receiving aberrant focus items in the present day. Are these gifts from the original Tinker, somehow preserved through centuries? Or is this the legacy of a movement in House Cannith—perhaps tied to the humble Juran line—that has hidden in the shadows of the house?

Why Does This Matter?

For centuries after the War of the Mark, aberrant dragonmarks were all but unknown. Over the age of Galifar they slowly began to return, but their powers were trivial in comparison to the might of Halas Tarkanan or the Lady of the Plague. Within the last century aberrant dragonmarks have been appearing at an unprecedented rate, and a few with greater power have been reported. Is this the work of the daelkyr? A sign that an overlord is close to breaking its bonds? Or could it be a manifestation of the Draconic Prophecy: could the aberrants have a vital role to play in the days ahead?

While there are no concrete mechanics for powerful aberrant marks, as with an dragonmark a player character could ascribe their class features to an aberrant dragonmark. A sorcerer’s spells could be drawn from their mark; a warlock could take their aberrant mark as their patron, perhaps even hearing it whisper or receiving strange dreams. Even a barbarian could say that their rage is the power of their aberrant mark. I personally played a character in a campaign who believed that he had inherited Halas Tarkanan’s mark, and that it was his destiny to rally and protect the aberrants of the present day. That’s one possibility: the idea that the essence of one of these champions could be reborn in the present. Another possibility is that the Dreambreaker could have been right all along; that he did have the power to twist time and space, and that he channeled the essence of the aberrants to the present day (a variation of this is explored in the old RPGA adventure “The Delirium Stone”). Alternately adventurers could encounter a ghost or some other legacy of one of these champions—or perhaps find a journal of the Lady of the Plague, containing strange insights.

General Q&A

Were aberrant marks always ostracized? When Cannith and Sivis began to rally the other bloodlines into the Houses, were mixed marks thought of as undiscovered new marks, or were their destructive abilities quickly categorized into the realm of dangerous and taboo?

There was certainly a time when aberrant marks weren’t as feared as they are today, let alone the crazed fear that drove the War of the Mark. We’ve called out that the houses actively fanned the flames of fear and built up that hatred for decades before the War of the Mark finally took place. But while it may not have been as intense, they were always feared, because as called out in the other linked articles, they ARE dangerous. The Lady of the Plague DID destroy multiple communities before learning to master her power—and there are many aberrants who never learn to master their powers. It was easy for the houses to amplify the fear because people were already afraid, and the houses encouraged this instead of working to bring people together. But there were also surely communities that refused to give into that fear—villages that were havens for those with aberrant dragonmarks. Such communities would have provided the bulk of the numbers in the Wroat exodus, both of marked and unmarked refugees; while the people in these communities stood together, they also knew that they couldn’t fight house forces.

Regarding why the marks weren’t seen as undiscovered new dragonmarks, and why they quickly became taboo, there’s two factors. Aberrant dragonmarks aren’t hereditary and don’t have a common appearance. Three marks that grant burning hands could all manifest in entirely different ways. It’s rare to find any two aberrant marks that are identical, let alone that resemble the “true” marks, so people were pretty quick to conclude that these weren’t just some undiscovered new mark. Beyond this, the issue is that not only is an aberrant mark not hereditary, manifesting an aberrant mark severs your connection to any other dragonmark. When the child of an Orien and Cannith manifests an aberrant mark, it also eliminates any possibility that their children could manifest the Mark of Making or Mark of Passage. As the houses were still working to build their numbers and the strength of their lines, this revelation was as significant a factor in banning inter-house liasons as fears of the mixed marks themselves.

How do you see the participation of the Houses that existed at the time playing out in the War of the Mark?

Part of the purpose of the war was to strengthen the ties between the newly minted houses—creating a common foe they could fight together. This was also a way to familiarize the people of Khorvaire with houses that had previously been limited to a particular region and to help them spread. There were houses that didn’t exist—Thuranni, Tharashk. The Mark of Detection had only just appeared, and it’s quite possible that Medani was formed during the war, as the hunt for aberrant marks would certainly have discovered this new true mark. But Phiarlan performed reconnaissance, Deneith provided the bulk of the soldiers, Cannith armed them, Jorasco healed them, Ghallanda supported them. Vadalis provided mounts to ride and beasts to track the foe. Sivis most likely focused on logistics and propaganda. In the adventure “The Delirium Stone” (EMH-7), adventurers encounter a squad of soldiers including Deneith infantry, a Phiarlan archer, and a Jorasco healer supporting the unit. Later encounters include a Vadalis magebred swarm and a Cannith construct.

Ghallanda is an interesting question. While I expected it was pressured to support the action and likely helped with supplies, I can definitely imagine individual Ghallanda heir providing sanctuary to aberrant refugees, holding their principles over the goals of the alliance.

In Dragonmarked it’s said that the Medani were originally thought to be aberrants, and that they were subsequently coerced into joining the Twelve.

It’s difficult for me to imagine that there was any significant length of time in which Medani were mistaken for aberrants. Aberrant dragonmarks and true dragonmarks are dramatically different. All true dragonmarks share the same general coloration, sizing, and overall design; the Mark of Detection is distinctly different from the Mark of Making, but at a DISTANCE it looks the same. Aberrant marks vary wildly in color and design. They aren’t hereditary and two marks that grant the same power may be dramatically different in appearance. Even if someone believed that despite looking just like a true mark that a mark was aberrant, the moment they saw that the person had a brother with the same mark they should know something was up. And remember that the Twelve were LOOKING for additional true marks; they called themselves “The Twelve” before they’d found twelve marks, because they were convinced there were others out there waiting to be found.So I have great trouble imagining a widespread series of events in which Medani were mistaken for aberrants. One or two minor incidents, sure, But even at a distance, if someone saw the blue-purple mark they likely wouldn’t say “No, wait, that’s not exactly like one of ours”—they’d say “Damn, that half-elf has a dragonmark! Who let a Lyrandar in here?”

With that said: The Mark of Detection manifested during the War of the Mark. So those who carried it lived alongside aberrants, and could easily have been caught up in the purges that targeted them. As such, I can see many Medani having sympathy for the aberrants and choosing to stand alongside them: “Why do you treat me differently than her, just because my mark is blue and the same as my father’s?” So I think it’s quite plausible that a number of early Medani rejected the Twelve and actually fought alongside the aberrants; but that’s not the same as being mistaken for aberrants. And I do think that overall, the Medani were pressured—even threatened—by the other houses to join the Twelve, and that this underlies their attitude toward the Twelve to this day.

That’s all I have time for now. Have you used aberrant dragonmarks or the champions of the War of the Mark in your campaign? If so, share your stories below. Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters, who keep this site going; supporters are currently voting on the topic of the next major article (Sarlona is currently in the lead!).

IFAQ: The Houses At War

Today I want to continue the discussion of the Dragonmarked Houses with a few questions raised by my Patreon supporters. The first comes from Joseph:

My understanding is both Lyrandar and Orien participated in the supply lines of the nation’s militaries, not just civilian supplies. Was their neutrality respected? Was that part of the price? Or did attacks happen, probably while trying to disguise the source?

To begin with, it’s important to consider the nature of the Last War. It was never a total war, fought with the intent to utterly annihilate the enemy. The goal of every nation was to place their ruler upon the throne of a reunited Galifar… which in turn meant that severe destruction of infrastructure and attacks on civilians were discouraged, because ultimately you’re hoping that all of it will be YOUR infrastructure and that those civilians will accept your leader’s right to rule. So to begin with, just consider our rules of war. We can be sure that the Five Nations were operating under similar restrictions, if not necessarily identical: Targeting civilians was a war crime, and civilians, aid workers, and medical personnel should be protected. In the early days of the war, the Twelve established a basic set of principles with the leaders of the Five Nations. Essentially, house forces were to be treated as noncombatants, even if on the battlefield… and in turn, would not be expected to engage in combat. A Cannith artificer might be present with a unit of soldiers to maintain the warforged and artillery, but they wouldn’t engage in active combat and offer no resistance to an enemy. A Jorasco healer would only heal soldiers of the nation that contracted their services, but again, they wouldn’t fight members of an opposing nation. This would in turn apply to their vehicles as well. The lightning rail and Orien carriages were forbidden targets. If a coach was transporting military personnel or supplies, it could be STOPPED and those supplies could be confiscated or personnel taken prisoner, but the coach and its Orien crew should be allowed to pass.

That’s the basic principle, and it further increased the value of those services; a purely Karrnathi coach is a valid target for Cyran attack, while an Orien coach is inviolate. Of course, this is the PRINCIPLE, but there’s a number of additional factors.

  • There were always commanders and soldiers willing to disregard the rules of war (just consider the destruction of the White Arch Bridge or the bombardment of Korth). Just because you weren’t supposed to target the lightning rail doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.
  • Any House personnel or vehicles actively engaging in conflict forego this protection. So first of all, Deneith mercenaries are treated like any other combatant. A Orien coach that’s got a mounted weapon and fires on soldiers can be destroyed. And if the Cannith artificer disobeys House orders and fights alongside the unit they’re embedded with, they become a valid target. Certainly, there were times when soldiers would claim House personnel offered resistance even when they hadn’t.

With both of these things in mind, bear in mind that the primary incentive against this behavior was financial. House personnel serving with the enemy were not to be killed, but they would be taken prisoner and ransomed back to the house. There was a clearly established rate of exchange and this would be applied against that nation’s bills with the house. Meanwhile, the houses would impose financial penalties and raise rates when nations violated their rules. So As a soldier, if you kill a Jorasco healer, you’re costing your nation gold—while if you take them prisoner, you’re saving money. It’s not simply a good idea; officers would enforce this seriously.

So in short: people generally respected the neutrality of the Dragonmarked houses. It was rare that they would, for example, blow up an Orien caravan even if it was carrying military supplies. However, they could STOP the caravan and confiscate those supplies. Or they COULD blow it up, likely trying to pin the crime on another nation. But if it was the truth was discovered, they would suffer financial penalties. So you can be sure it happened, just not constantly.

A secondary point to consider here is the fact that the houses wield monopolistic power unrivaled by any corporation in our world (because we have laws preventing it!). For many of the services they provided, there simply was no reliable alternative. Nations certainly worked at it: the Arcane Congress surely worked to develop a system of arcane communication that could take the place of the Sivis speaking stones, Thrane assembled a corps of adept healers, etc. But none of these had the full scope of the services the houses could provide. You couldn’t just buy your warforged from somewhere else, and if you didn’t work with Orien your goods would take longer to reach their destination. Every nation relied on the services of at least SOME of the houses. There was undoubtedly at least one incident where an officer seized control of house facilities, essentially seeking to nationalize them—or even just used a house facility as a shield for military operations. This is where the Twelve was vitally important, because while ONE house might have trouble challenging a nation, no nation could make do without the services of all twelve. So an attack on a Vadalis facility could result in a rate increase from all houses—or even a service blackout for a particular region. Again, these things surely happened—and there were consequences when they did.

Deneith seems like it would have substantially higher casualties than the other houses due to its focus. Do they ransom their heirs if they’re captured during house business? Do they do anything special to keep their numbers up?

As noted above, Deneith personnel serving as soldiers are valid targets and don’t receive the same protections as a Sivis stonespeaker or a Jorasco healer. With that said, the general rules of war likely prohibited killing soldiers who are too injured to fight or who surrender (again, that doesn’t mean it didn’t HAPPEN, just that people were supposed to accept surrender). So Deneith soldiers would have to fight fiercely enough that people would actually want to hire them: but they could surrender if seriously injured. And just as with all house personnel, there was surely a system of ransom for them. The rate would vary based on the position of the person: a marked Deneith heir would bring in a good ransom, while a mercenary with no blood tie to the house would command a fairly low rate. But soldiers would know that if you could take a Deneith officer alive, it’s best to do so.

Having said that, it’s also important to remember that the bulk of Deneith soldiers aren’t blood heirs of the house: they are mercenaries licensed and trained by the house. In some cases—look to the Ghaal’dar and the Valenar—they weren’t even trained by the house; the house simply served as a broker for their services. So losing a Blademark unit is a loss to the house because they’ll have to recruit and train new soldiers—but they’d only lose a few blood heirs in the process. So they certainly had higher casualty rates than the other houses, but not every slain mercenary was a Deneith heir.

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