Everyone in Eberron knows the story of the Progenitor Wyrms. There are a few who believe that these beings were literal dragons who ruled over a civilization we can’t even imagine… that they turned on one another and destroyed all traces of that world in their feud. But the common myth — shared in various forms by almost every culture — paints things in more mythical and metaphorical light. Here’s one version.
The Progenitor Wyrms breathed creation into the void. Siberys breathed fire and kindled the endless flames of Fernia. Khyber’s icy breath formed the frozen depths of Risia. They had new ideas and worked together to give those form. Siberys envisioned a realm of peace, and together they shaped the serene towers of Syrania. Khyber demanded an endless war, and so Shavarath was born. Eventually they made a place where all of these creations could convergence — a realm where there was both life and death, war and peace, darkness and light. And it was in this place that Khyber turned on the others, tearing Siberys to pieces. Eberron grappled with Khyber. She couldn’t defeat her sister, but she caught Khyber in her coils, wrapping around her. Eberron transformed herself into a living prison, becoming the world itself, forever trapping Khyber within the world. Dying Siberys coiled around Eberron, and so it remains today: The Dragon Above, The Dragon Below, and The Dragon Between.
Life was the only prison that could hold Khyber, and so Eberron gave birth to the natural world. The blood of Siberys fell from the sky. Some drops quickened as they fell and became the celestial couatl. Others touched Eberron, and from this union the dragons were formed. Where blood struck ice, a white dragon emerged; where it touched a swamp, a black dragon was born. Thus the dragons are the mightiest creatures of the natural world, imbued with the magic of Siberys and yet still born of Eberron and thus mortal.
Khyber could not escape her prison, but her fury spawned horrors both endless and mortal. The host of fiends rose from the depths and laid claim to Eberron, twisting the natural world and tormenting its creatures. Terror ruled for an unimaginable time. This was the First Age of the world… the Age of Demons.
As I said, this is one version of the Progenitor myth. In some versions, the Progenitors begin as siblings working in harmony. In others, they were always rivals seeking to outdo one another with acts of creation. Some say that the entire act of creation was driven by their pursuit of the Prophecy… and that Khyber killed Siberys in an attempt to harness this power. As a game master it’s up to you to decide if any element of this is true. Did three mighty beings create reality? Were they literally dragons, or unimaginable beings of untold power? Or is this all just a way to explain the world, the ring in the sky, and the darkness below where horrors are born?
Whatever the origin of the world, we haven’t talked much about the Age of Demons. But the legacy of the First Age still haunts the present day. Fiends and dragons spar in the shadows, and the threat of the Overlords is an eternal threat, held at bay by the light of the Silver Flame. But what was the world like in those days, and what would a return of the Overlords actually mean?
About The Overlords…
I’ve covered some of these topics in the past. This post is an extended discussion of the Overlords of the First Age, including a list of known Overlords, the nature of their bonds, and what they might do if released. This post discusses the Demon Wastes and the nature of demonic ruins. Here’s a quick summary of things you should know.
- The Overlords are immortal fiends with godlike power (equivalent to divine rank 7 in 3.5 terms). At full power, an Overlord exerts influence over a broad region, but this dominion is finite; it might cover a country, but not an entire continent. There were approximately thirty Overlords, and between them they dominated the world. While they have the equivalent of Divine Rank and while I may refer to them as “gods” in this article, they ARE NOT ACTUALLY DEITIES. They cannot grant divine magic, though a devout follower might be able to draw power directly from Khyber as a result of their faith.
- The Overlords cannot be permanently destroyed. The couatl sacrificed themselves and fused their celestial energy together to create the Silver Flame, a force capable of binding the Overlords and most of their minions.
- While most of the fiendish forces were bound with their masters, some slipped through. These beings largely work to release their masters, and they are called The Lords of Dust. They are opposed by the dragons of The Chamber.
- Each Overlord is bound in a physical vessel, but it is the power of the Silver Flame that keeps them bound. They can only be released if a particular piece of the Draconic Prophecy comes to pass. The Draconic Prophecy is constantly evolving, and so the Chamber and the Lords of Dust study it and seek to manipulate it to achieve their goals.
- Even while bound, the Overlords still influence the regions around their prisons. Most Overlords are effectively asleep, and this influence is essentially an effect of their dreams. A few — such as Bel Shalor, the Shadow in the Flame — are aware and actively scheming.
- “Demon” usually refers to a chaotic evil fiend, but it can also be used as a general term for any evil immortal, and this is its context of “The Age of Demons.”
An Age of Demons
The Overlords dominated Eberron for millions of years. They didn’t choose to rule. There wasn’t any sort of organized civilization as we would recognize it. The Overlords didn’t form a government or establish countries. Rather, they shaped reality within their dominions to reflect their nature. The Heart of Winter embodies the killing cold, and bitter ice engulfs any land where she resides. The Rage of War thrives on strife and conflict, and armies clash in his wake. Katashka the Gatekeeper sets the dead against the living. Where the Overlords raised cities, it was because the city was somehow a part of this identity. Rak Tulkhesh might create a fortress simply so it could be besieged. The dark metropolis of Eldrantulku was home to clans and guilds whose endless intrigues reflected their master’s love of betrayal and discord. Mortals caught in the sphere of an Overlord would be swept into these things and forced to play a part in them. But these things didn’t build towards anything. The fortress of Rak Tulkhesh would be forgotten once his attention shifted, replaced with some new battle. We sometimes say that the Overlords had mortal slaves, but this implies an institution of slavery; it’s more accurate to say that all mortals were helpless playthings caught in the dreams of cruel gods.
The Overlords weren’t allies and had no interest in cooperation. When the domains of two overlords overlapped they would clash, and many took great joy in these conflicts. But mortals remained helpless pawns.
We have no records of precisely what creatures existed at that time or how they came to be. The Ghaash’kala orcs and lizardfolk of Q’barra seem to have traditions that can be traced back. Some believe that means these races were widespread. Some say that the orcs were created by demons, that Rak Tulkhesh imbued hobgoblins with his rage and that the Silver Flame redeemed them. The human and demihuman civilizations covered in canon didn’t come into existence for many tens of thousands of years. The dragons were first; then the giants; then the elves and goblins and dwarves. As a DM, feel free to explore this however you see fit. If you wish to add an ancient human civilization that rose and fell while the giants still ruled Xen’drik, go ahead.
The couatl helped mortals resist the influence of the Overlords, and it was this that ultimately allowed a resistance to form — primarily the dragons (themselves imbued with some of the essence of Siberys), but also other mortal species. The Overlords are immortal, and there seemed to be no way to achieve a true victory… until the Prophecy revealed the way that the Overlords could be bound. This led to the couatl sacrifice and the kindling of the Silver Flame. While the Couatl formed the Flame, just as with Tira and Bel Shalor, it took mortal heroes to complete the binding; this is where Ourelonastrix, Dularrahnak and other champions played a crucial role. The Overlords and most of their minions were bound; their works collapsed; and the normal course of history began.
What Does This Mean?
First of all, understanding the nature of the Age of Demons helps understand why the Lords of Dust don’t just take over Khorvaire. They don’t want to rule this pathetic, mundane world. They want to return to a time when their gods walked the world and reality bent to their will. Bear in mind that the Lords of Dust are immortal beings who may have been around for a million years. They aren’t human, and their motives and the way they experience time are unlike those of mortal creatures. They, too, are incarnate ideas. They are for the most part aspects of their master’s domain, and pursuing the release of their master is a natural thing. To be sure, there are a few of the Lords of Dust who want to supplant their Overlords and steal their power… but that sort of behavior would be most common in a servant of someone like Eldrantulku or even Bel Shalor, both of whom embody corruption and betrayal.
It also shows why the Lords of Dust aren’t close allies. The Overlords fought one another more often than not. The Bleak Council of Ashtakala was established to prevent the Lords of Dust from interfering with one another accidentally, and to allow sharing of resources when it is useful. But the key word there is accidentally. The circumstances that will release one Overlord might actively block the release of another; even failing this, two rakshasa might pursue a personal vendetta that goes back long before human civilization. This post talks more about the Council of Ashtakala, the binding, and the relationships between Overlords.
The Nature of the Binding
The spirit of each Overlord is contained in some sort of vessel. However, it is the Silver Flame that binds the spirit to the vessel. The only way to release an Overlord is to follow a particular path of the Draconic Prophecy. The Lords of Dust seek to drive the world down these paths, while the dragons of the Chamber work to identify and negate Prophetic paths that could release an Overlord. Prophetic paths are very specific; it’s not simply Queen Aurala must die — something a rakshasa could easily do on its own — it’s that The seventh son of the Great Kraken must slay an innocent queen with the Blade of Sorrows, in the belief that doing so will save the world. The rakshasa can’t do this alone. But to make it happen, they need to make sure the following things happen…
- Aurala becomes Queen.
- Someone becomes “The Great Kraken” (probably a Lyrandar heir) and has seven sons.
- That seventh son acquires the Blade of Sorrows.
- The seventh son is convinced that killing Aurala will save the world, and successfully carries out this assassination.
In setting this up, the Lords of Dust also want to use a light enough touch that they aren’t noticed by the Chamber. The key point here is that a rakshasa may end up helping player characters. They want this Lyrandar heir to become a champion who would try to save the world, and they want him to acquire the mighty Blade of Sorrows. So for a time, the rakshasa would actually be acting as a patron for the group.
Of course, there’s two forces that might interfere: the Chamber and other Lords of Dust. As I mentioned before, the circumstances that release one Overlord might block another; while killing Aurala might release Sul Khatesh, it could be that Tul Oreshka needs Aurala to marry the Seventh Son of the Great Kraken and to have a child who will then be sacrificed. Meanwhile, if dragons of the Chamber identify this particular thread, they will try to find a way to block it… which could range from keeping the Great Kraken from having children, hiding the Blade of Sorrows, or simply killing the Seventh Son. This all ties to the fluid nature of the Prophecy. There are so many possible threads that the Chamber doesn’t know them all — and any time an equation is altered, the Prophecy shifts to account for it. There will ALWAYS be a Prophetic path to release Sul Khatesh. If the Chamber kills the Seventh Son of the Great Kraken, a new path to release will be established… but it will take time for her prakhutu to discover the new path, and it could be decades or centuries before that path can be fulfilled.
So the point here is that the path to releasing an Overlord is generally something that will have been in motion for a long time, and if it connects to player characters, it may involve a series of events: gaining power, killing an enemy, acquiring an artifact, falling in love, etc, etc. If you want quick action, choose a path that can be resolved quickly. If you want things to be more dramatic, let PCs discover that they have a long-term role that has yet to play out. Say two PCs become romantically involved. What happens if they learn that their (as yet unconceived) child is destined to release Rak Tulkhesh?
All of this ties to the idea that the Dragon-Fiend conflict is a long term cold war. It involves the most epic threats to the world… but it’s something that can’t be rushed by demon or dragon, and a struggle that plays out over the course of decades and centuries.
The Fraying of Bonds
RELEASING an Overlord requires the completion of a Prophetic Path. However, there’s a range of options between absolute release and total imprisonment, and this is where Overlords like Rak Tulkhesh and Bel Shalor live.
When the Overlords were first bound, they were in absolute torpor, unaware of their surroundings and influencing the world only incidentally. But each Overlord embodies an idea. when people within a certain vicinity of the Overlord’s prison embody that idea, it strengthens the Overlord. As the Overlord gains strength, it becomes more aware and more able to actively influence events. If this goes far enough, you can even posit a partial release — the Overlord might not be able to exercise its full power, or to venture far from its prison, but it could manifest a physical form and cover a larger radius with its effect. This is what happened with Bel Shalor, who obtained a partial release and exerted influence over Thrane for a year before being rebound by the sacrifice of Tira Miron in what is now Flamekeep. You could even present a story where partially releasing an Overlord and rebinding it is desirable, because its bonds have frayed severely and rebinding it is the only way to strengthen them.
While Bel Shalor remains bound an unable to physically manifest, he has a stronger connection to the Silver Flame and is able to tempt anyone who heres the Voice of the Flame. He doesn’t have actual coercive power (…yet…) but if people fall prey to temptation, that gives him strength and frays his bonds. Likewise, it’s been suggested that Rak Tulkhesh has vessels spread across Khorvaire and that his agents are actively aggession and hatred to strengthen their master. And of course, you could decide that this kind of fraying is all that is required to achieve a partial release, or that this is tied to the Prophetic condition of the bonds. If Rak Tulkhesh requires a specific sort of war to be released, the stronger his influence, the more chance he can help to trigger that war.
Beyond this: what about those vessels? I’ve already said that shattering a vessel doesn’t release the Overlord… it just spreads their influence. So… is that a GOOD thing? Is there any negative to the Overlord? Yes, certainly. The smaller the vessel, the more restricted its influence is in range and effect. An overlord with a singular prison might be bound to a Khyber shard the size of a small whale. This might have a powerful effect across a radius of miles and absolutely overwhelm weak-minded people in its immediate vicinity. By contrast, a shard of Rak Tulkhesh embedded in the hilt of a sword might empower and influence its wielder, and might have a minor effect in their vicinity (encouraging aggression in a 120 radius, say), but it’s not the same. On the other hand, it lets the Rage of War draw strength from a wider area. So breaking up a vessel sacrifices concentrated power for a wider net. If an an Overlord is truly released, its essence will be drawn from all its shards. So it’s not a requirement for its agents to reassemble a shattered prison; if it was, ALL prisons would have been shattered and scattered.
Other Ways To Use This
Obviously the endgame of plots involving the Lords of Dust can generally involve an Overlord. But what else can you do with the Lords of Dust or Overlords that doesn’t involve that epic conflict? Here’s a few points.
Trouble with Vessels. The vessels of the Overlords take many forms. Khyber crystals are common… and if those crystals are shattered, every shard has a link to the Overlord. So you could have a static, immovable prison that influences the region around it. You could have a shard of an Overlord’s vessel embedded into an object — creating a powerful (and potentially useful) item, but one that spreads the Overlord’s influence. A sword bearing a shard of Rak Tulkhesh would surely be powerful in battle… but it might cause conflict to break out in its vicinity, or drive the bearer into a rage. With either static or mobile vessels, you might also say that the influence is amplified under certain circumstances. The effects of Katashka’s vessel might be amplified when Mabar is coterminous, and the sword of Rak Tulkhesh could grow stronger with every battle in which it is used. Consider the ideas of “The Fraying of Bonds”, above.
A Piece of a Puzzle. Releasing an Overlord is a long term project. PCs could be caught up in an early stage action — rakshasas or their agents seeking to steal an artifact, assassinate someone, manipulate someone. Success or failure won’t obviously alter the fate of the world, because it’s so far down the road… but it gives an immediate action to deal with.
Ancient Feuds. PCs could be caught up in conflict between servants of different Overlords, or even manipulated by one fiend into fighting another.
Spreading Influence. When Lords of Dust aren’t specifically working to release their masters, they may seek to strengthen the Overlord by encouraging the behavior tied to their sphere. Mordakhesh, the speaker of the Rage of War, encourages conflict across Khorvaire. Hektula might (in disguise) spread arcane knowledge — whether aiding an enemy cult or mentoring a player character — because the discovery of arcane secrets forges a bond with Sul Khatesh. Again, this doesn’t enable the RELEASE of the Overlord, but it increases their awareness and ability to affect the world from within their prison.
Active Agents. Setting the Lords of Dust aside, you can have mortals working directly with the Overlords. A barbarian berserker’s rage could come from a bond to Rak Tulkhesh; the fiend grants them great power, but will they some day demand a price? Likewise, Overlords are great patrons for warlocks, and you can find an Overlord for almost any pact. It could be that the Overlord begins with requests that seem harmless — for example, asking the warlock to battle the agents of other Overlords, so hey, they’re just fighting bad guys, right? Or perhaps the warlock believes that THEIR Overlord is actually just misunderstood; Sul Khatesh just wants to share knowledge the Silver Flame seeks to keep from humanity! You can certainly have a story where the longer it goes, the more questionable the requests get… or you could decide that while the Overlord is EVIL, their power can be used to achieve good things. The main thing here is to make sure the player is on board with the direction you’re going in.
Another option is to say that the power of the PC is drawn from the Overlord, meaning that the PC is actively weakening the Overlord by using that power — so the warlock isn’t doing the bidding of the Overlord, they are actually working against them and using their own power to do it. This is back to the Fraying of Bonds. Such a warlock isn’t significantly weakening the full immortal power of the Overlord, they are simply limiting its ability to perceive and influence the world.
Agents of Darkness
A quick point, but an important one. It may be that you just don’t like rakshasa. That’s fine. Rakshasa are the most common native fiends, and they are well suited to subtle manipulation. But as noted in this article, any sort of fiend can serve an Overlord. And as noted above, you can likewise have mortal agents who are in some way empowered by an Overlord — with or without any sort of connection to the Lords of Dust. Some Overlords are called out as NOT associating with rakshasa; Tiamat and Dral Khatuur are two such fiends.
Good vs Evil
One question has come up a few times, essentially: why are the forces of evil stronger than the forces of good? Why aren’t there benevolent equivalents of the Overlords? If the rakshasa can’t be killed, how come the Couatl were sacrificed?
There’s two basic answers to this — one ground in mythology, and one based on game design.
Mythologically, consider the most basic lesson of the Progenitors. Khyber (immortal evil) treacherously defeated Siberys (immortal good). Eberron (mortal life) contains Khyber and holds it at bay. Siberys is dead, but his gifts — magic — empower the children of Eberron to fight the children of Khyber. The Silver Flame reflects this same metaphor: The couatl sacrificed themselves to create the Silver Flame, and now they can’t fight evil themselves — but through the Silver Flame empowers mortals to fight evil. Eberron is founded on the principle that evil used treachery to gain a strong position, but that mortals can triumph over it.
From a game design standpoint, one of the fundamental principles of Eberron is that it is a world in need of heroes. If everything is in balance — if the forces of good were as strong or stronger than the forces of evil — then heroes wouldn’t be as vital. If a rashasa is doing something evil, a couatl isn’t going to just show up and smite it, because that doesn’t involve YOU. Instead, the Voice of the Flame will give you a vision of the threat and the spirit of a couatl will empower you through divine channeling… but YOU are still the critical component.
So the short form is that we WANTED evil to be stronger than good, because that’s why the world needs YOU. There’s no all-powerful force of good that can solve the problem without you. With that said, the couatl weren’t destroyed. They sacrificed their existence as individuals in order to create a gestalt force of immortal energy with the power to bind ALL THE OVERLORDS. It’s simply that they can’t exercise that power on their own; they need mortals to be their champions. But that force for good is there. Anything that the Overlords can do can be undone by mortal heroes. There’s always hope; it’s just that there’s never an ABSOLUTE victory. There will always be threats for the heroes of the next generation to deal with.
Here’s a few questions that touch on this subject. If you have questions, ask in the comments!
Do the big bads of other settings have a place in eberron? Tiamat, jubilex, demogorgon…
Certainly. If the entity in question has godlike power, the logical approach is to recast it as an Overlord, and this is exactly what was done with Tiamat; see Dragons of Eberron for more information. If the entity is powerful but not THAT powerful — such as Demogorgon — there’s a few options. One is to place them in one of the outer planes, if there’s a good match. Another is to make them lieutenants of an Overlord, because remember, it’s not ALL about rakshasa. Orcus could be the prakutu of Katashka, if that fit your vision of him. The third option is what I suggested for Demogorgon when I converted the Savage Tide adventure path: to make the demon prince ruler of a realm within Khyber itself. As I talk about in this post, my vision is that Khyber is filled with demiplanes, which larger fill the role of layers of the Abyss. So Demogorgon could rule a realm within Khyber. Throughout most of history, he has simply dwelled within his realm — perhaps held in check by the Ghaash’kala or other agents of the Silver Flame. Now something has changed and he is reaching out to affect the mortal world.
Are there any Overlords imprisoned on Sarlona? Any ancient wielders of the Silver Flame (the human equivalent of the Ghaashkala?) Or do the Inspired maintain the barriers themselves?
Yes, there are Overlords in Sarlona. Secrets of Sarlona says “Scholars sifting the legends of the Age of Fiends believe that three rakshasa rajahs are bound in Sarlona—one within the heart of Korrandar in Adar, one beneath the yuan-ti ruins of Syrkarn, and a third in the Krertok Peninsula of the Tundra.” The ancient human kingdom of Khalesh is presented as having had a bond to the Silver Flame and the Shulassakar; Khalesh fell during the Sundering, but a secret order of adepts might survive. But the Adarans act to contain the fiend in Korrandar, and the Inspired have an elite order known as The Edgewalkers who are trained to deal with this sort of thing.
Are denizens of other planes aware of the Overlords? What effect might a freed Overlord’s influence have on manifest zones, can effects of its dominion bleed through to other planes?
This answer goes both ways. Every plane has powerful entities that could match an Overlord. But these spirits are bound to their planes just as the Overlords are bound to Eberron. A manifest zone would be a beachhead that could give such a bring influence in another plane, but by default, the native powers of the plane will trump interlopers. On Eberron, Tul Oreshka has more power than il-Lashtavar; if Tul Oreshka extended herself into Dal Quor, the Dreaming Dark would put her in her place.
But that’s the default, and as always, the real question here is “What’s the story you want to tell?”
What could be some other ways that the Bleak Council can use the Draconic Prophecy against the Dragons (and all of Eberron as well) ?
The Draconic Prophecy is a series of complex If-Then statements. If (X) happens, (Y) will happen. It can predict the release of an Overlord, the death of an individual, a natural disaster, the rise of a cult, or anything else. If X happens, a massive volcano will detonate in the heart of Argonnessen. If X happens, manifest zones to Syrania will be cut off and the towers of Sharn will collapse. If X happens, an avatar of Tiamat will cause a civil war among the dragons. Generally these are all things that could happen. It’s not that doing the thing suddenly makes a volcano appear in Argonnessen; there’s a dormant volcano already there, and it COULD suddenly become active, but if this path is enacted it WILL happen. You are taking a possible path of the future and locking it in.
Is there any motives other then breaking free that a overlord could have? More concretely, how could a non-evil warlock constructively work with a patron that was revealed to be a overlord (at first seemed to be a elven tairndal ancestor)?
This is covered by my point above. They could be interested in something that will help them break free… in two centuries. Is the PC warlock concerned about helping start a path that won’t be resolved for generations? The could be interested in any sort of action that is logically within their sphere, because this theoretically strengthens them. Or for the simple answer, they could want the PC to fight the agents of other Overlords, enacting some old grudge.
Can you tell us more about Sakinnirot, the Scar that Abides? Any advice on how you can show Sakinnirot’s influence in and around Stormreach?
According to page 157 of City of Stormreach, the Scar That Abides is “patron to all those who plot bloody revenge, reveling in the gratification of a grudge satisfied. Its following is the cult of an injury savored, and wounds of both a physical and spiritual nature are left to fester in its name.” That same page calls out that Sakinnirot enjoys conflict between the Dragonmarked Houses, especially if that conflict ends in violence or ruin. Sakinnirot’s domains are Passion and Destruction.
Sakinnirot is clearly a cousin to Eldrantulku and Bel Shalor, who also specialize in sowing discord. But each are still distinct. Bel Shalor focuses on drawing good people to evil action. Eldrantulku specializes in pure strife and chaos. Sakinnirot is about lingering hate and resentment that builds to destruction… the infection that remains hidden until it is far too late to be cured. So the first and simplest way to reflect Sakinnirot’s influence is an increase in violent vendettas and feuds. This begins with people taking bitter offense at any possible slight, and nursing that hatred until it bursts into a violent flame. This can start small — an increase in murders, an innkeeper poisoning customers because they don’t appreciate her hard work — but it could build to dramatic tensions that threaten the city. Consider a Romeo & Juliet scenario where members of two Dragonmarked houses fall in love, resulting in the death both of the lovers and a few other members of the houses. This leads to further retaliatory measures and murders, which escalates to open, violent conflict between members of those houses, along with demands on other local houses and powers to take sides. It seems ridiculous to throw the city into chaos over such a thing — yet neither side will relinquish their burning hatred for the other. This is one example, but you could likewise see bitter rivalries between the Coin Lords and their followers, or open violence between followers of different religions. We’re back to the convergence of Passion and Destruction… the city becoming a haven for hate in all its forms, passion that leads to destruction.
Should Sakinnirot’s power grow, you could also play up the physical aspect of lingering wounds that won’t heal. Healing magics could begin to falter, initially healing for only half the usual amount… and if the effect continues, possibly failing altogether.
If one was to try to stat out The Scar that Abides, what would you theme his abilities around?
Follow up on the ideas suggested above. Wounds that won’t heal. The ability to amplify existing tensions… if I can identify a grievance between two people, I can use a suggestion effect to amplify this and force them to turn on one another. You can also play up the idea of bloody revenge, saying that Sakinnirot can return any injury done to him with even greater effect. And, of course, you can use the abilities of the Passion and Destruction domains as inspiration. Beyond that, like any Overlord, he’s a being of immense raw power.
In Eberron what is the difference between a Devil, Demon, and Yugoloth?
In many settings these beings are affiliated with a particular plane. In Eberron these classifications are much like “Elf” or “Dwarf” — they inform you about the basic nature of the fiend, but not its CULTURE… which is defined by its plane of origin. As a general rule, demons embody concepts of chaos and evil; devils concepts of law and evil; and yugoloths, just evil. This is discussed further in this post — in short, a devil from Shavarath is above the organized and evil implementation of WAR, while one from Fernia is about FIRE, and one from Khyber might just be about corruption and strife. In Shavarath, you have an endless bitter struggle between devils, demons, archons and more — but the devils of Shavarath don’t care about the demons of Fernia.
How would you Imagine an Eberron Campaign themed around thwarting the LOD to play out, how would you start it off and what direction/ story elements would you introduce to make for an exciting long term campaign?
Laying out an entire campaign arc is the sort of thing I’d want to devote an entire article to. There’s no one simple option. Are you focusing on pulp or noir? Are your players big damn heroes? Are they researchers who dig too deeply? This ties to the fact that the choice of Overlord would have an ENORMOUS effect on the flavor of the campaign. If I choose Rak Tulkhesh as my big bad, then I might have the players be former soldiers and have the campaign focus on their dealing with the scars of the Last War and the tensions that are driving towards a second war. Whereas if my Overlord is Sul Khatesh I’d want a strongly arcane part dealing with new arcane revelations. And if the Overlord is Katashka, I might do something more straightforward like the Age of Worms or a zombie apocalypse. I don’t have time to go into all these sort of options in depth. But the point is to start by choosing your Overlord and to consider: What are the actions that help her followers fray her bonds? What are the visible effects of her greater influence and awareness? What is the nature of her vessel? If it’s singular, where is it? If it’s split, how might the players encounter a fragment of it? If she could be released, what are the Prophetic conditions of her release?
That last one is a big deal, because it’s something that the players should be driven towards and it’s something they would have to slowly piece together… even if they can’t stop it, the slow revelation of it would be an important part of the campaign. You’d never want to say “Surprise! You released an Overlord!” You’d want to say “Remember how that mysterious old man helped you get the Blade of Sorrows? How you all thought that was a little weird? Now you know why.”
So: I’d want to figure out the Overlord. I’d want to decide how their growing influence would be reflected in the campaign. I’d want to come up with the Prophetic seal and figure out how meeting that condition would be spread across the campaign. I’d want to come up with a “seasonal arc” that the characters are going to deal with at low levels — the Overlord and their Prakhutu may be the big bads, but what’s a compelling storyline — that may or may not have any connection — to start things off? So maybe the early bad guy is going to be ann Aurum greedhead who’s collecting Khyber shards. Eventually it will become an issue that’s he’s stupidly been bringing together shards tied to a particular Overlord. But initially he’s just a low-level bad guy who might start off hiring us to get shards, and who we can then clash with once we discover he’s bad, and that gets us a little ways and a little power before we start to realize there are greater powers at work.
That’s as much as I have time for now, but hopefully you get the idea.
I feel that there are two kind of Overlords: the ones that involve “moral corruption” and the ones that involve physical threats like killing cold. Do you agree that the first one are more interesting for a campaign? How is an Overlord of cold campaign different from one involving the plain of cold?
There’s a number of different things to unpack here. First: I agree that the more subtle Overlords are generally more interesting for a campaign… but not every Overlord has to be part of a campaign. Dral Khatuur was created for use with a backdrop in the Frostfell, and was intended to justify the powerful magic and supernatural threats that explorers encountered in that place. She wasn’t intended to drive a campaign; she was intended to drive a short, horrific story arc. Thus it helps for the threat she poses to BE more concrete and obvious, because the players don’t have time to be drawn into a larger and more complex storyline. Tied to this, Dral Khatuur is called out as not having a faction among the Lords of Dust. She’s an Overlord, but she serves a different sort of story purpose. Her story included the possibility that if freed, she would reach out to strike Khorvaire or other lands, but that wasn’t the primary context in which she was presented. This same principle holds true of other Overlords. Tul Oreshka, the Voice in the Darkness, is an Overlord I’d be more likely to use as part of a short arc dealing with madness and revelation than as the big bad of an entire campaign. Katashka the Gatekeeper could be the main arc of an entire campaign, but I’d make that campaign about the dead rising to prey on the living, a blend of zombie apocalypse and ghost-story horror… and it would again be far more obvious and physically dangerous than the subtle machinations of Bel Shalor. And yet, that could be a tremendously compelling campaign if the players were in the mood for it.
How is an overlord of cold different from an elemental? And if all it wants is freezing and killing, how does he shows his immense intelligence?
Dral Khatuur isn’t an embodiment of the natural concept of cold. She embodies mortal fear of the cold and the darkness. She is the winter that steals the sun, the terror you feel when you hear the icy wind howling in the night. She can trap the spirits of those she kills; if that icy wind sounds like screaming, it may be the tortured cries of Dral Khatuur’s victims. She can even craft simulacrums of her victims out of frost, and send them back to prey on their friends… so if a comrade of yours disappears for a time in the icy dark and then returns, are you sure that it’s still your friend? In short it’s the same as a lycanthrope; it resembles a natural phenomenon, but it is embodying mortal fears as opposed to an actual, natural concept. This comes back to the fact that Dral Khatuur was designed to drive a suspense/horror story arc as opposed to a long term campaign.
How much is the undying court aware of the Overlords? What do the various groups in Eberron know about this story? I assume the general populace of Khorvaire knows often warped mythology, but do the sages of Arxanix know what rests underneath their island-towers? Does the Library of Korranberg have records on the Age of Demons? What do Phiarlan, Thuranni, and to a lesser extent, Medani know about this? What has the Silver Flame pieced together? Does Dariznu, for instance, know that a shard of Rak Tulkhesh’s essence lies below Thaliost? Do the Carrion Tribes know what exactly they worship?
I’ve lumped these all together, because it all ties together. The basic concept of the Overlords is common knowledge. Followers of the Sovereign Host assert that the Sovereigns defeated mighty demons in the dawn of the world; the Church of the Silver Flame is founded on protecting the world from fiends. So the GENERAL story is common knowledge: there were mighty demons, they were defeated and bound, and there are still lesser fiends out in the world seeking to prey on innocents and free their masters.
Now: the specific names and attributes of those fiends? Where they are bound? Much more obscure. It’s not simply that it’s unknown; it’s that accurate information is buried in massive amounts of inaccurate myths and outright lies. Aside from knowledge just being clouded by time, consider that throughout human history you’ve had agents of the Lords of Dust intentionally spreading misinformation. If Korranberg had a tome that was truly a threat to the Lords of Dust, they’d either have it destroyed or discredited. So this is the point of making a skill check. Say you set the difficulty of a check at 25. That doesn’t mean that if you get a 24 you know NOTHING — it means that you know an assortment of conflicting stories, or slightly inaccurate information.
The basic point here: in my Eberron, the cold war between the dragons and the Lords of Dust is the ultimate high level story. The Dreaming Dark and the Daelkyr have been causing trouble for a few thousand years; the Lords of Dust have been here since the dawn of time. They have literally been pulling the strings of history. The only reason they don’t rule the world is because that would be a boring waste of time. In MY Eberron, this is why I’m going to usually have some OTHER villain in the spotlight. You THINK the bad guy is the Aurum, or the Emerald Claw, or even the Dreaming Dark. It’s only as you work through these battles that you may discover that all of your previous actions — heroic though they were — were all leading down a particular path of the Prophecy.
But beyond all of that, in my Eberron it’s important to me to have the players at the heart of things. Does Dariznu know about Rak Tulkhesh’s influence in Thaliost? Well in MY campaign, either he doesn’t and the players may be able to help things by discovering this… or he knows about it and if someone keeping it secret and using it for his own ends, and the PCs may discover THAT. Same goes for Arcanix and Sul Khatesh. Surely it’s not a coincidence that Arcanix was moved to a location within the influence of the Keeper of Secrets. The question is if it was arranged by a human who hopes to gain arcane knowledge… or if one or more of the masters of Arcanix are agents of Ashtakala. So SOMEONE knows, sure… but I’d make it something the PCs need to discover, not anything like common knowledge.
With that said, I might have SOME locations that have been identified by the Church of the Silver Flame over the years. It’s just back to the core question: will it make a better STORY for the knowledge to be known, or is it more interesting for the players to uncover a secret.
As for the Undying Court, they surely know OF the Overlords. But their power — and interest — is limited beyond Aerenal. I’m sure they are very focused on protecting Aerenal from the Lords of Dust — just as they protect it from Argonnessen. But in my Eberron they aren’t actively out in the world fighting the Lords of Dust… because again, that’s the job of the PCs.
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