iFAQ: Aereni Learning

Until I’m done with Exploring Eberron, I don’t have time for deep dives. My next major article will take a deeper look at the Mror Dwarves. But meanwhile, with all of us trapped inside, I want to do a few daily posts dealing with some interesting questions from my Patreon supporters. Here’s the first!

The elves of Aerenal are supposed to spend decades perfecting the techniques of their ancestors. When an Aereni character starts out 100 years old, it’s not because they spent decades in diapers or because they’re dumber than human wizards, it’s because they’ve spent decades going deep in their studies. But how does this hold up for Aereni adventurers? They advance at the same pace as other player characters. How does an elf go from taking decades to perfect a cantrip to suddenly casting far more complex spells in a much shorter period of time?

First of all, let’s shoot the elephant in the room: character advancement doesn’t make sense. How is it that your HUMAN wizard can spend a decade studying at Arcanix, but exponentially increase their skills after a month of adventuring? How does the halfling rogue get expertise with Persuasion by stabbing a bunch of goblins? It’s a mistake to look at any of this too deeply, because it’s not logical. This also ties to the idea that the way in which player characters advance is part of what makes them remarkable and NOT typical for all inhabitants of the world. There are veterans of the Last War who still use the “Guard” statblock, because for most people that represents an OK level of skill. Player characters are supposed to be heroes, and their ability to quickly skyrocket to a greater level of power is a narrative device, not something that holds up to any sort of close analysis.

WITH THAT SAID: That doesn’t mean we can’t make it make as much sense as possible, and this is a good question. How come the Aereni wizard spent decades studying magic back home but can advance just as quickly as the human wizard? The key point is that the Aereni apprentice didn’t spend decades studying a specific spell; it didn’t take them that long to learn to cast one particular cantrip. Instead, they were mastering techniques of spellcasting. They were studying history, theory, and concretely, they were mastering somatic and verbal components. Arcane magic is a form of science, and somatic and verbal components are the underlying mechanics that make it possible. An Aereni apprentice learns precise accent and inflection of verbal components, and precise performance of somatic components, exactly mimicking the techniques of the masters of their line. They spend endless hours drilling until these techniques come naturally. When an Aereni wizard casts a spell, it looks and sounds exactly the same as the master who created the spell ten thousand years ago. Because they’ve perfected these basic principles, when they learn—or even create—new spells, the basic techniques will carry them forward. They CAN advance quickly precisely because they spent all that time learning to crawl… ensuring that they are building on a perfect foundation.

This same principle applies across all classes. The Aereni fighter is learning the basic techniques of all weapons, perfecting the most basic guards, learning to hold and move with the weapon just as their ancestors did. They are learning the most fundamental martial principles—and then they can quickly build on top of those without losing those core techniques.

Aereni PREFER to take their time with things. An Aereni fighter might spend four hours each night practicing a specific move while the other characters are taking a long rest, and continue to practice that move in their mind while trancing. But the decades they spent learning before created a foundation that lets them advance quickly when needed. They were honing the basic building blocks that they assemble as they advance with the other characters.

Now, ultimately, does all that work actually make the Aereni player character a better wizard? No. Mechanically, there’s no difference between the Arcanix-trained wizard and the Aereni wizard. But THEMATICALLY the idea is that the Aereni wizardry is beautiful and perfect, like watching a dance; by contrast the Arcanix wizard is taking a lot of shortcuts and throwing in a lot of personal touches. It works great for THAT WIZARD and may be more innovative, but the Aereni find it painful to watch. The second aspect of this is the idea that player character classes reflect a level of talent most people can’t attain, and that the Aereni have MORE people with that level of skill. It takes them longer to get there, but Aerenal has more actual wizards than Khorvaire, whereas in the Five Nations most people just spend the few years required to become magewrights.

Taking as given that player character advancement is not logical, mostly a game mechanic construct, can this focus on learning the exact techniques and history of the past account for the slow pace of technological development in Aereni cultures?

Exactly so. This is something that’s discussed in this article and in this episode of Manifest Zone. A critical quote:

This is why, despite Aereni society having been around for over twenty thousand years, humans are beginning to do things with magic that the elves have never done. Elven society is driven by tradition rather than innovation – by absolutely perfecting the techniques of the past instead of developing entirely new ways of doing things. Innovation does happen – and an Aereni player character might be the great elf innovator of this age – but it isn’t enshrined as a cultural value as it often is among humanity…

Part of the idea is that what the elves see as sloppy Arcanix techniques might actually be BETTER than the ancient Aereni traditions; certainly they’re easier to learn. But the elves take comfort in adherence to what they know.

Thanks again to my Patreon supporters, and I’ll tackle another question tomorrow!

25 thoughts on “iFAQ: Aereni Learning

  1. Taking as given that player character advancement is not logical, mostly a game mechanic construct, can this focus on learning the exact techniques and history of the past account for the slow pace of technological development in Aereni cultures? A civilisation lasting as long as theirs by our standards would be Star Trek levels of advanced, yet the Aereni are not notably more magictechnically developed than Khorvaire; there’s no Aereni space programme or internet, for example.

    • I’ve added the answer to the end of the post, as it draws on previous articles about the Aereni. But this is exactly correct: the Aereni don’t value innovation the same way humanity does, and their society has advanced very slowly in comparison to humanity.

      • Thanks, Keith.

        I had a rather long discussion as to why the civilisations of Eberron aren’t developing at rates comparative to our human civilisations. My point was that they’re distinctly nonhuman:
        > The Dhakaani had a “perfect” system of muut and atcha that discouraged the sort of independent thinking that innovation so often requires.
        > The Aereni are very focused on their past and the achievements of those before them.
        > The Titans of Xen’drik may well have had high-tech inventions, but the fact that the civilisation was thoroughly destroyed by dragonfire means that if they did, the devices are likely destroyed.
        > Argonessen has the huge lifespans of dragons; an ‘abrupt innovation’ for a dragon could take a human’s entire lifespan. And they probably do have the epic-level magitech. It’s just designed for dragons, and probably unrecognisable to us.

        • Yes, I agree with that. But I also definitely agree that dragons have epic-level magictech that is so advanced we aren’t even recognizing its existence. Bear in mind that they deployed weapons of mass destruction to level Xen’drik FORTY THOUSAND YEARS AGO (and we still don’t understand what they did!). I’m all for the idea that dragons might have explored the moons and established bases in the Ring of Siberys long before human civilization existed, or that they could have some equivalent of the internet. Think about how much mice actually know about what human civilization has accomplished.

          As a side note on the space race, also consider that we’ve called out that members of the Undying Court “explore the multiverse in astral form.” Again, they aren’t building SPACESHIPS, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t engaging in advanced exploration.

  2. I like that explanation a lot as it never occurred to me that a character who was sufficiently expert in such things might be able to infer something about the background of another character by watching how they fight and cast spells (such as who their master was or that they studied at Arcanix).

    • Exactly. Three wizards may be MECHANICALLY identical and may all cast the same spell — but it should LOOK different based on their techniques and training.

    • In 3rd edition terms, this would fall under a Spellcraft or Knowledge: Arcana (Both mandatory for wizards, and relatively common on other casters) check.

  3. How would this apply to Aereni Artificers? Would they copy the same exact magical machine as the first person who made it?

    • They’d use the same TECHNIQUES as the great masters. As an analogy, if we used modern technology, the Aereni would record music on vinyl. They’d have perfected amazing compression techniques to squeeze extra music in a small space. They’d have developed records that are both lighter and more durable than humanity’s vinyl records. But they’re still making vinyl records, and in some cases, an artisan hand carves the grooves on each one.

      By comparison, humans were never able to make records that could compare to Aereni vinyl. But they moved on to cassette tapes and CDs, and now they’re focused on streaming.

      So it’s not that the Aereni haven’t made ANY progress over the past ten thousand years. But they progress slowly because they insist on perfecting their existing techniques rather than abandoning them and embracing entirely new paths.

        • So the Aereni essentially made Stradivari viols and Damascus steel, the likes of which the world has never seen elsewhere or again, but humanity has marched on and made all but the greatest swordmasters obsolete, and replicated the sounds of the greatest string instruments with vulgar but efficient synthesizers.

  4. For me, the analogy that works best is cooking. Like a classically trained French chef, the Aereni wizard has mastered thousands of techniques for producing results that are magnificent and beautiful, as artistic as practical, and full of subtlety that only another master can appreciate. The human wizard is like a line cook, able to whip out results quickly and efficient without a lot of bells and whistles. The meals of both are equally nourishing.

  5. The 3E ECS (Page 132) says “For those who don’t want to become scholars, apprenticeships and on-the-job training replace higher education. The exception to this system involves magewrights and wizards, who must attend one of the magical colleges for at least some of their training.”. Is the absolute must an exaggeration, or are there truly no master to apprentice teachings of wizardry?

    • Arcane magic is a science. Being a magewright is a vocation. I think being a wizard is in some ways like becoming a physicist, while becoming a magewright is like becoming an electrician or a mechanic. I think both of these things are easier if you’re working with a dedicated program for training or education. However, I think it’s unnecessarily harsh to say that it’s IMPOSSIBLE to master through an apprenticeship.

  6. University is the primary way magewrights and wizards are educated. Is a Magewright getting further education to become a Wizard like going from a bachelor’s degree to a doctorate (Wizard 3) or a second, separate, degree (Magewright 2/Wizard 1)?

  7. A silly question – what would a hidebound ambassador of Aerenal say when they took their first ride in a comfortable first class Lightning Rail? What would a more liberal one say?

    • I don’t know that they’d say anything. Aereni aren’t chatterboxes by nature. I think they’d just sigh… a sigh that says a CIVILIZED society would have a system of teleportation circles.

  8. In our world we’re learning that doing things the slow way, the artisanal way, the lower tech way is also more sustainable / less destructive. With permaculture techniques you can feed a small amount of people for millenia without stripping your environment. With industrial agriculture you can feed 10 billion +, but it uses a lot of land, a lot of water, a lot of resources faster than they can replenish and is therefore ultimately unsustainable. Is some equivalent principle at work in Eberron? Is the magi-tech society of the Five Nations recklessly extractive and doomed in a couple centuries to hit a wall? Do the Aereni recognize this?

    • I ran an Eberron game (in 3.5) where the players discovered magic was an abundant, but ultimately finite/not automatically renewable, resource. The world was headed towards a “peak magic” situation, like “peak oil”.

      In concept, I was transitioning Eberron into a “Dark Sun” situation, just at the very early stages. Sadly, the campaign was interrupted by people moving away, having kids, and life in general, so never really concluded, but it was a fun concept.

      • Yeah! It’s definitely a story lurking in the setting. Maybe not a story everyone would want to tell because it’s too close to reality, but it’s at least implicit in Eberron. The Ashbound Druids…. House Tharaskh doing all that prospecting and extractive mining… the Mournland as a superfund site…

    • I think this is entirely plausible. It’s worth noting that Aereni civilization HAS endured for over twenty thousand years; clearly they have devised a system that is extremely sustainable, both in terms of arcane “technology” and in managing their resources and population. We’ve called out that they don’t do mass production as Cannith does, and I don’t think they consume Dragonshards at remotely the same rate as the Five Nations currently do. And yes, I think it’s reasonable to say that the current curse of the Five Nations isn’t sustainable in the long term.

  9. Does the Aereni approach to things inform their use of densewood, datkwood, bronzewood, and soarwood as materials? Or did they discover abundant fantastic wood and use it? Would Aereni find excess use of metal distasteful? Would there be more “darkleaf” suits of fullplate among them than steel?

    • Aereni traditions definitely include darkwood and other exotic woods. Many of the treasured Aereni traditions weren’t perfected until long after the elves had settled on Aerenal and discovered its resources. Remember that it took thousands of years to create the Undying Court; the ascendant councilors were born on Aerenal, not Xen’drik.

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