IFAQs: Seeker Crime, Targath, and the Dreaming Dark

October was a chaotic month for many reasons, and I’m also preparing for Pax Unplugged—my first convention in almost two years! As a result I haven’t been able to write much for the last few weeks. There’s an article on The Mockery in the works, but for now I wanted to share a few questions posed by my Patreon supporters last month.

Is there crime in Seeker towns and villages? Since the overall theme of the Blood of Vol seems to be “we only have each other/self-improvement” at it’s most altruistic, I wonder if the usual trigger for crime (lack of resources/access and a submarket growing to fill need) exists in a community that’s living very community minded.

All of the major religions of Eberron encourage strong communities. The Silver Flame encourages people to stand together in the face of supernatural threats, and to try to fight human evil with compassion and by example. The Blood of Vol teaches that we face a hostile universe and cruel gods and all we have is one another. The Sovereign Host urges us to obey Aureon’s laws, while Boldrei binds a community together. But within any community, not everyone will hold to one of these faiths, and even those who do may not live up to the ideals of their faith… or interpret them generously. There are many faiths in our world that encourage compassion and charity; but not everyone who follows those faiths shares their possessions with the poor. And this doesn’t begin to deal with crimes of passion and other unpremeditated crime. Beyond this, there’s the possibility of a Seeker criminal who emphasizes breaking the laws of the land to get the people of their community the things they need; there’s also a practice common in many grifter communities of only targeting outsiders. Everyone knows Joey is a pickpocket, but they also know he only targets tourists and adventurers passing through, so that’s fine; he may even tithe part of his take to the local church.

So I don’t think I’d say “There is no crime in Seeker communities.” Instead, I’d consider how crime might evolve in such a community—IE criminals who are acting in the best interests of the community or targeting outsiders—and also consider the likelihood that as with Karrnath in general, the forces of the law might be especially ruthless in a Seeker community; if you DO choose to prey upon your community, they’ll make a harsh example of you. This would actually be a potential contrast between Seekers and the Silver Flame. The Flame encourages us to show compassion and inspire by example—so you want to show mercy to the criminal and try to guide them to the light. I can see Seekers being considerably more pragmatic; if you prey on your community, you’ve made your choice and will suffer the consequences. The Silver Flame believes that noble souls strengthen the Flame after death, and thus tries to guide people to the light; the Blood of Vol knows this life is all we have and won’t waste time with such notions.

Targath doesn’t get much mention after being floated as a resource for periapts of health, reducing the risk of disease, and as a weapon against deathless in ECS. Since it’s a resource found in Northern Argonnessen do you have any thoughts for ways the dragons, Seren, and dragonborn could make use of targath for both benign purposes and as a weapon?

Targath is an exotic metal introduced in the 3.5 EBerron Campaign setting, along with byreshk, bronzewood, and others. Part of the point of targath is that it’s an exotic metal almost completely unknown in Khorvaire, and mined and used by a civilization that is all but unknown and dramatically more advanced than Khorvaire. in this, it is quite similar to vibranium in the Marvel Universe—a wondrous substance, but one the common people know almost nothing about, encountered in the weapons of champions. Odds are good that only a handful of sages and artificers in Khorvaire have even encountered targath, and those who have only in weapons recovered from remnants of the Dragonborn Empire or Seren champions. The Aereni are familiar with it, but for obvious reasons they would have no reason to encourage knowledge of it or spread it around. Among other things, this makes it a fun “miracle substance” for PC artificers to “discover”—WE know it just as a set of game mechanics, but for the PC artificer it’s a source of unknown potential and an obvious “power component” they could use to create items like a periapt of health. Even the Dragonborn of Q’barra have no traffic with Argonnessen, so their Targath items would be the regalia of champions, handed down over the course of thousands of years. Essentially, the point is that this is one way to concretely identify an item as belonging to the Trothlorsvek; it’s made from a metal unknown on Khorvaire.

Looking to the Serens, the question is whether the metal can be found on the islands, or only on mainland Argonnessen. If it’s on the islands, the Serens may use it in many ways, likely incorporating it into unenchanted decorations and ornaments. This could imbue a general degree of health across their population, even without the full effect of a magic item. The Serens aren’t an advanced culture, so I wouldn’t expect to see a lot of exotic mystical uses, but they may also have items given to them by their draconic patrons. As for the dragons, keep in mind that Targath is like dragonshards: it’s an exotic material that doesn’t exist in our world but that channels a particular form of mystical energy in undefined ways. It’s especially tied to HEALTH, so amulets of health and periapts of wound closure are obvious. But a belt of giant strength, armor of poison resistance, or cloak of protection forged in Argonnessen could all be described as having Targath strands woven through them. Potions of healing from Argonnessen could be identified by the traces of Targath infused into the potion, and it could be this that allows Argonnessen to produce potions of supreme healing, potions of longevity, and elixirs of health.

Ultimately, it’s an exotic substance that allows an alien culture to produce wonders we can’t produce in the Five Nations; you can work it into any sort of magical effect associated with supernatural health.

How suspicious are the major nations of Riedra beyond what you’d usually expect of a nation looking at another nation whose intentions you’re not fully sure of?

Well, let’s compare Aerenal and Riedra. Both are distant nations. Both are isolationist cultures that don’t allow outsiders to freely travel through their lands. Both are older than Galifar and have rigid traditions. Both claim to have leaders who possess divine powers. Keep in mind that aside from its conflict with the Kalashtar, Riedra has never been a conquering power; it arose from the Sundering when the Inspired UNITED the common people to bring an end to the vicious conflict between the warring nations. So again, Riedra is older than Galifar, but has never engaged in any sort of obviously hostile action against Khorvaire. It’s been a reliable trade partner and has helped multiple nations over the course of the war. What reason is there to BE suspicious of it? The people of Khorvaire may find Riedran customs to be strange and oppressive, but overall the RIEDRANS are content; so again, what reason is there to be suspicious of them? And if there IS reason to be suspicious, would those same suspicions be applied to Aerenal? WE know about the Dreaming Dark and Riedran aspirations. But part of the point of the Dreaming Dark is that it can be a disruptive force in Khorvaire without directly employing Riedran agents. if anything, the main reason to BE suspicious of Riedra is that it’s TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE… it’s TOO friendly. Why were they so willing to help out Khorvaire during the war? Why aren’t they interested in spreading their culture or beliefs to Khorvaire? Why don’t they want outsiders roaming unrestricted in their lands?

So on a high level no one is particularly suspicious of either Riedra or Aerenal, because both are isolationist powers that don’t actually seem to WANT anything from Khorvaire. However, there may be INDIVIDUALS—spies, ministers, sages—who have personal suspicions and gut feelings they’re trying to justify. On the other hand, the Dreaming Dark can use dream manipulation to help improve their image. It’s amazing how many people have dreams about helpful, friendly Riedrans…

If the players found a way into Dal Quor, and took the fight to Tirashana (a powerful agent of the Dreaming Dark) in her home plane, where might they find her?

I think the main question is whether she’s expecting company. if so, I’d expect her to build her lair from the nightmares of the adventurers who are pursuing her. Dal Quor is a mutable reality, so her lair could include the childhood home of one of the adventurers, or the prisoner of war camp they were in during the Last War, or the site of a tragic loss. I’d look to the book/movie IT as a possible source of inspiration, in terms of what it means to attack a mistress of nightmares in the seat of her power. Likewise, you might want to read The Gates of Night, which has some general inspiration for adventures in Dal Quor. But the key point is that I would build her lair from the nightmares of the player characters. And to do that, I’d personally ask the players to help shape it. I’d ask THEM to tell me what’s so scary or creepy about a scene—because they know better than you what their character would find terrifying. One of the greatest strengths of RPGs is that they are COLLABORATIVE. Especially when it comes to horror, each player knows better than you what they would find terrifying and entertaining—and likewise, they know better than you the lines they don’t want to cross and the things they DON’T want to experience in a story.

Could describe your ideas for a Quori of Sloth? How would they effect dreamers? What is their position and role in hierarchy of Dreaming Dark?

“Sloth” isn’t quite the right word for a quori. The general idea is that quori specialize in developing and manipulating particular emotions or moods. So the key is that this quori—which I’ll call the Lluora—doesn’t embody sloth itself; rather, it specializes in SAPPING MOTIVATION. Consider all the tools of procrastination—creating distracting tasks or options; causing the mortal to endlessly question their decisions, paralyzing them with self-doubt; causing them to question their end goal; encouraging Whataboutism and “Why bother doing anything when nothing will ever really change?” I don’t think they’d be common. One possibility is that they’d be a sort of jailor, trapping mortals in their own mental prisons and preventing them from ever building up the motivation to escape. Another is that they’d advise kalaraq, suggesting ways to undermine mortal motivation.

So in short, the Lluora is a quori spirit that specializes in creating doubt, undermining self esteem, and similar tools. “Why bother doing anything at all?”

That’s all for now! Thanks again to my Patreon supporters for asking interesting questions and for making these articles possible!

Status Report: Frontiers of Eberron, PAX Unplugged, and More

Approximately one year ago, I began working on a new 5E sourcebook for Eberron: Frontiers of Eberron, a setting-within-the-setting focusing on the region that lies between Breland and Droaam. My plan was that you’d have that very book in your hands RIGHT NOW, but unfortunately, things don’t always go as planned. A great deal of work has been done on Frontiers of Eberron. We’ve commissioned maps, art, and the cover. We’ve been playtesting new mechanics, and I’ve run multiple campaigns in the region. Many chapters of the book have been completed. Unfortunately, for the last few months Frontiers has been on hold. Multiple members of my family have been dealing with health and life issues, and I’ve had to set things aside to lend a hand. The work that still needs to be done to finish Frontiers requires a period of intense focus; I haven’t had that focus over the past few months, and it may still be months before I do. I’m just as excited about Frontiers as ever, and I will finish the book—but at this point I am predicting it will come out sometime in Q2 of 2022.

If you don’t want to wait that long, you can get a taste of Threshold in the game I run for my Patreon supporters. Supporters have access to all of the previous sessions (and you can see a bit of one here), and ever Threshold patron has the chance to play in the monthly game! My patrons also select the subjects of the articles I write for this site, the next of which will be on The Mockery. With time as tight as it is, the support of my patrons means a great deal to me, so thanks to all of you who keep this site going!

While Frontiers is temporarily on hold, life continues to move on—and I’m finally going to my first convention in a long while! I’ll be at Pax Unplugged from December 10-12th with my company Twogether Studios. I’m currently confirmed as a speaker on two sessions, and waiting to hear back on a few more; I’ll provide more details a little closer to the day. And speaking of Twogether, we’re unveiling our first non-print KBP product: the tumbler pictured above, bearing the cover of Exploring Eberron. It’s a little random, but we love Tervis tumblers and we love the art from Exploring Eberron, so here we are! This is an experiment and will likely be a very limited edition, so if it’s something you’re interested in, now’s your chance.

So unfortunately, for the remainder of 2021 my Eberron content will be limited to web articles and my Threshold stream. However, we’ve got lots of things we’d like to do with KB Presents in 2022, including Frontiers of Eberron and much more! So keep up with your adventures and I’ll let you know when there’s news from the frontier.

Gameplay: Surviving The Impossible

Image by Carolina Cesario from Exploring Eberron

Typically, I only answer questions that are posed by my Patreon supporters. However, I do occasionally read the Eberron forum on Reddit, and a question caught my eye. A DM explained that his players—who were playing fourth level characters—had chosen to split up while in the Mournland, planning to individually make their way back across thirty miles of Mournland and meet up on the other side of the mist. The DM had explained just how dangerous this was, but the players were committed to the action. The DM was asking for ideas on how to handle this, noting that they didn’t want to have the characters die here, even though it’s essentially a suicidal action. I’m addressing this here because there is a larger principle at play, which is what to do when your players are determined to do something that should be impossible. This is the story the players want to experience. The DM doesn’t want to just shut it down. They don’t want to just say “Mists fall, everybody dies.” But is the DM required to now create interesting encounters for each individual character while also ensuring that these encounters won’t just kill them (which, in the Mournland, should be a very real threat)? If not, what do they do?

At MY table, what I would do is to make this a challenge for the players. First, I’d say “You’ve chosen to do something incredibly foolhardy. You’ve separated in one of the most dangerous places in Eberron, a region brimming with supernatural threats and with very little safe food or water. You’re a hero, and somehow you will survive this. But how? How does your character survive this impossible journey?

RPGs are collaborative stories, and that means you can ask the players to share the creative burden. You know that you don’t want the adventurers to die, even though in all likelihood they should. So ask them to explain how they manage to do the impossible. How do they think their character could survive this? As DM, I would work with them to temper their answer, especially as I know more about the world than they do. If they say “I find an airship and fly it” and aren’t Lyrandar, I’ll note that this isn’t how airships work… but I’d see if I could work with them to come up with an alternative that fit the general idea of this story, while also being actually plausible. Maybe they just find a lost skystaff (Broom of Flying). Maybe they find an experimental Cannith vehicle and manage to make it work just long enough to get them through the mists. Beyond this, while I won’t shut a player’s idea down completely, I will QUESTION ideas and help them refine them. In the vehicle example, if the character is an artificer, of course they can jumpstart an experimental vehicle. But if they’re a fighter with a low Intelligence and no Arcana or Land Vehicles proficiency, I would point that out and say “How is YOUR CHARACTER going to accomplish this?” If they can come up with a good answer, great! If not, perhaps we can evolve the idea into something else. The point is that we all know they WILL succeed; we’re just trying to create a satisfying story about how they do it.

However, after all this I’d ask a second question. “You have survived the unimaginable journey, but you can’t do something that dangerous without consequences. The Mournland is full of deadly supernatural threats. It can also mutate or transform creatures in strange ways. You have a scar from this experience—a permanent, lingering reminder of this journey. What is it?

This could be something obvious and dramatic—the adventurer’s skin turns purple; their hair now moves on its own, like a medusa’s mane—or it could be a more mundane scar or a lingering fear of shellfish. If I was playing an artificer in this scenario, I might suggest that I lost a limb but managed to fashion a prosthetic out of things I found on the way, and go forward with a sentimental (and literal) attachment to this odd prosthetic. As with the previous question, I’d work with each player to hone their answer. This shouldn’t be something that imposes a permanent, ongoing penalty on the character—but it should be something that may prove an inconvenience at times, something that draws comment or attention, something that reminds them of the time they did something suicidally stupid but managed to survive. Going forward, I might continue to expand on this with Flashbacks. When the players encounter a mysterious symbol, I might say “Bob, you ran into this symbol when you were crossing the Mournland alone. Where did you see it?” We all know the adventurers survived a long, grueling trek across the Mournland; but we also know that we didn’t cover it in detail, and perhaps there could be more to the story!

Adding Depth and Danger

The approach I describe above is intended to fast forward through the difficult situation. The characters will carry scars of their journey, but there’s no chance that they will fail—and because of this, I won’t actually require any sort of skill check. We’re agreeing from the start that it WILL work, we’re just sorting out the details. But perhaps you DO want a chance of failure. In this case, I’d take an approach much like I described in the Travel By Montage article. I wouldn’t actually develop full encounters and combats; instead, I’d take turns posing characters with specific challenges. For example…

  • You’re traveling along an old road. Up ahead, you see the severed arm of a warforged colossus. Somehow, it’s still active; it’s pulling itself across the landscape, crushing everything it encounters. It’s headed directly for you; how will you avoid it?
  • You reach a wide river; the bridge is broken. There’s a powerful current, and there’s threads of red flowing through the water, like veins of blood. You could follow the bank until you find another bridge, but that could take you many miles off your course and will be exhausting; what do you do?
  • It begins to rain. The liquid glows with green light, and burns your armor and clothing. How will you survive this acid rain?
  • You find the rest of your adventuring party! After celebrating this reunion, you continue your journey… but slowly you realize that these aren’t actually your friends. You don’t know if they’re doppelgangers, illusions, or something else—but they aren’t your companions, and you feel danger in the air. How will you deal with this?
  • Though you haven’t seen the sun since you entered the Mournland, it’s clear that night is falling; the gray light is fading. Will you try to continue through the darkness? If not, how will you find shelter?

… And so on. For each question, I’d require the character to propose an ability check; for each one they failed, I’d impose a consequence. This could be one or more levels of exhaustion, with the threat of death if exhaustion gets too high; so taking the river crossing, they could accept an automatic level of exhaustion to find another bridge, or attempt the crossing with the risk of more severe consequences on failure. Alternately, I could impose a scar for each failure. The point is that the characters are directly using their character abilities and that there is a chance of failure, but that I’m not going to take the time to fully develop each of these as tactical encounters; we’re essentially summarizing their success or failure. Looking to the “Imposter” example, the adventurer might decide to fight them; I’d still likely pick a skill to reflect their chance of success (Athletics for the strong fighter, Stealth or Acrobatics for the swift rogue) rather than play out the scene.

Even here, it’s potentially a lot of work for me to come up with those questions… and also, if the characters are all separated, it’s a lot of time for players to be waiting for their turn to come around. With that in mind, even here, I’d start off by providing a solid set of challenges so people understand the nature of the region. But at that point, if I feel my players would enjoy it (becuase not all would, and that’s fine!) I might ask the other players to propose challenges for their fellow players. What do they think Bob might encounter in the Mournland? As before, I might refine an idea to fit the lore of the world, or even to tie into other things I have planned; but I can work with the players to develop the story rather than making it up entirely on my own.

In conclusion, as a DM, don’t be afraid to call on your players to share the narrative workload! If the players do something foolish and you don’t want them to die, you can ask them to explain how they get away with it.

Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters; this support is the only thing that makes these articles possible. So if you want to see more articles—or if you have questions you want to ask!—check it out.

IFAQ: September Lightning Round!

As time permits, I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. Here’s a few of the questions that came up this month!

In our world, some fairy tales heroes deal with/encounter undead: Ghosts, wraiths, skeletons, headless horsemen, etc. On the material plane, the hero would encounter them in manifest zones to Dolurrh or Mabar, but how would that story be told in Thelanis? Are there any fey in Thelanis that have to do with undead or necromancy?

First of all, you can find almost anything in Thelanis if it fits a story archetype. There’s a barony in Thelanis with a massive dragon in it, and a barony filled with ghosts. But the key point is that those ghosts were never living mortals, and that dragon likewise isn’t mortal (it’s an archfey!) and has no connection to Argonnessen or the dragons of Eberron. If a ghost story is about a ghost that lingers because of unfinished business, it’s likely tied to Dolurrh. If it’s about an aggressive undead being who consumes life or hope, it’s likely tied to Mabar. If it’s more about the abstract idea—a story that can be found repeated in many cultures, that’s more about the allegory than the specific actions of a historical undead creature—then it could be tied to Thelanis. You can have devils in Fernia, Shavarath, and Daanvi, but they’re very different from one another; likewise, you can have ghosts in Mabar, Dolurrh, or Thelanis, but they’re very different from one another. Thelanian undead aren’t actually the remnants of mortals; they’re the IDEA of remnants of mortals. It’s up to the DM to decide whether these creatures should even be considered to be undead for purposes of magical effects, or if they are in fact fey. personally, I’d probably be inclined to make Thelanian ghosts both undead AND fey; they ARE fey, but they react like you’d expect undead to react, because that’s the story.

Who is Lady Dusk of the Crimson Covenant?

The article on the Crimson Covenant notes that members of the Covenant “guide and protect other Seekers. The Crimson Covenant are the oldest and most powerful of these undead champions, some of whom were guiding the Seekers before Erandis Vol even knew the faith existed. ” It’s also long been noted that Seeker communities donate blood which is kept in barrels of preserving pine to sustain vampire champions. This practice began with Lady Dusk, believed by some to be the first human vampire in Khorvaire. Given her age and the secrecy with which she shrouds herself, few facts are known about her. The most common of these is that she was the daughter of a warlord in the first days of Karrnath; recent scholarly work suggests that she was a member of the House of the Ram, one of the warlord dynasties that would eventually merge into House Deneith. When elf refugees came west fleeing the destruction of the Line of Vol, the lady gave them shelter and fell in love with one of these refugees. When her family decided to exterminate these elves, Lady Dusk fought alongside them. She was executed by her family… but, according to the story, her lover had already shared her blood and Dusk rose as a child of the night.

Ever since then, Lady Dusk has followed the path of the undead champion—acting to guide and protect the Seekers of the Divinity Within. She’s the model of an undead champion of the faith and the reason communities began storing reserves of blood. With that said, this is dangerous work; over the centuries, most of her peers—including her lover—have been destroyed, and Dusk herself has narrowly escaped many times. As such she rarely acts openly; she disguises herself and works from the shadows. If something is threatening a Seeker community, she won’t just charge in with fangs bared; she will try to organize mortal resistance. It’s the idea of teaching someone to fish instead of fishing for them; Lady Dusk is a GUIDE, and those she assists may never know who their mentor was.

What do the Carrion Tribes of the Demon Wastes eat to survive? Do they make use of Shadow Demiplanes for resources in the same way as the Ghaash’kala?

There’s flora and fauna in the Demon Wastes, it’s just highly aggressive and often poisonous or infused with fiendish power. Over many generations the Carrion Tribes have developed resistances to these natural and supernatural toxins, and they can eat things travelers can’t safely eat—though in part because of this diet, members of the Carrion Tribes have a very low life expectancy and their numbers remain relatively low. The Carrion Tribes aren’t as disciplined or well equipped as the Ghaash’kala and also rarely retain institutional knowledge; for all of these reasons, they don’t harness demiplanes as effectively as the Ghaash’kala. Essentially, there’s lots of things you can eat in the Demon Wastes, if you don’t mind hosting infernal parasites, shortening your lifespan and suffering hallucinations and severe mood swings; for the Carrion Tribes, that’s just a typical Tuesday.

How do you imagine the curriculum at Arcanix to be? Is the goal of classes specifically to teach how to cast spells in a practical manner, in which case I’d imagine most courses don’t go beyond the Third Circle, or are there classes in which the theory of higher level magic is studied even if the spell can’t be cast by the students? Accompanying this, I’m curious if there’s a presence by Wizard Circles in Arcanix similar to companies at universities trying to recruit talent near graduation.

The Strixhaven book coming out in a month is sure to have lots of suggestions about this topic, so I’m somewhat loathe to discuss it now. But first of all, arcane magic is a form of science, so to begin with, consider how any form of science is taught. You’re going to have base entry-level classes that teach the principles of Arcana along with the basics of arcane science and history. These will advance into practical magic, from there into study of specific schools of magic, from there into specialized topics within that field. Most students of Arcanix don’t become wizards, and there are some who can cast perform ritual magic that’s beyond the Third Circle, just more limited than what a wizard can do; so yes, there are definitely classes dealing with magical THEORY that goes beyond the practical limits of 3rd level spells. Keep in mind that Arcanix is always driving students to push beyond the limits of what’s currently possible; Third Circle may be the practical limit of everyday magic TODAY, but the students of Arcanix intend to change that.

Many of the students of Arcanix will never cast spells as a wizard or sorcerer does. However, Aundair has the highest percentage of wandslingers and war wizards in the Five Nations. Thus you have the War College within Arcanix, which focuses on practical battlefield magic. It’s here that you will get direct training in combat cantrips, arcane sparring, drills to hone concentration, and so on, along with classes in tactics and strategy.

Meanwhile, wizard circles aren’t COMPANIES. The equivalent to companies would be the dragonmarked houses or the Arcane Congress, both of which do send recruiters to Arcanix. But wizard circles are essentially fraternities; they don’t simply have recruiters at Arcanix, they have CHAPTERS at Arcanix.

How do the magic tattoos from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything fit into Eberron?

Like all magic items, magical tattoos are a set of mechanics, which can be flavored very differently based on the story and cosmetic elements associated with them. There’s no single form of magic tattoo or single culture associated with them; instead, there are a number of different forms of magical tattooing. Sigilry is the field of arcane science that is used to create scrolls, and master sigilists can create magical tattoos infused with arcane power. On Khorvaire, the Mark of Scribing has given Sivis the edge in creating magical tattoos, but Thuranni and Phiarlan also have a limited tradition of arcane tattoos. But magical tattoos can also be created using divine magic—such as the couatl tattoos of the Ghaash’kala, which I mentioned in a recent article. Such tattoos are in part empowered by the faith of the bearer and can usually only be attuned by a person who shares the faith of the creator. There’s also a primal tradition of tattooing, employed by the shifters of the Towering Wood; Races of Eberron discusses these tattoos, which shift in appearance when the bearer activates their shifting trait. So it’s the same way that many different cultures use wands, but the design of the wand and the powers channeled will vary based on the culture and their magical tradition.

What do the Valaes Tairn do when they aren’t fighting? Would there be a reason for a group of warriors to be in Sharn besides looking for an artifact of some kind?

What they do when not fighting depends on their patron ancestor. Tairnadal seek to emulate their patrons at all times, not just in battle; so what was their patrons known for? Were they explorers? Entertainers? Arcane researchers? With that said, as long as it doesn’t directly oppose what their patrons would do, Tairnadal can also pursue their own interests when there’s no clearly mandated path. So a group of Tairnadal in Sharn could be looking for work; they could be tourists passing the time between mercenary assignments; they could be pursuing a rogue Tairnadal who betrayed their warband; they could be following the example of their patron. There were grand cities in Xen’drik at the time of the elven rebellion; perhaps their patron was known for protecting the innocent in the shadows of the greatest city of the age. The Tairnadal have identified Sharn as the closest equivalent and are fighting crime in Lower Dura!

That’s all for now! If you have an infrequently asked question, I’ll be taking another round soon on my Patreon!

IFAQ: The Shulassakar

Eberron often takes an unusual approach to familiar things. In Eberron, you can find gnoll demon-hunters, r gnome assassins, and dine on troll sausage. When developing the setting, we decided that couatls were the primary native celestials of Eberron. With this in mind, the 3.5 ECS has this throwaway line in the description of the Talenta Plains…

Krezent: This ancient ruin is all that remains of a couatl city from ages past. The halflings tend to avoid the site, since it is home to a tribe of benevolent yuan-ti who honor and revere the couatl and the Silver Flame.

This is the only mention of these beings in the ECS. It’s a random idea: yuan-ti are evil serpent-folk, but what if there were feathered yuan-ti devoted to the light? I loved the idea, so I expanded upon it in an early Dragonshard article, which gave these beings a name: the Shulassakar. This article also answered the seeming contradiction of the original quote: if these feathered yuan-ti were benevolent, why did the halflings of the Plains avoid them?

Over time, the shulassakar appeared in a number of places. We determined that there were shulassakar among the people of Khalesh in ancient Sarlona, and that they were targeted in the Sundering. Shulassakar were presented as an option for player characters in City of Stormreach

With that said, the shulassakar haven’t received much attention—in part because they are supposed to be rare and reclusive. They were never intended to be a central part of the setting, but rather an exotic element that could surprise players used to thinking of yuan-ti as evil.

When I have time, I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters, and this month there were a few questions about the shulassakar.

Do shulassakar have similar roles in their society/culture to the anathema (big hulking multiheaded divine figures) of yuan-ti culture?

The original shulassakar article notes that the shulassakar refer to purebloods as “servants,” halfbloods as “flametouched,” and abominations as “transcendent,” adding that they believe in reincarnation and that the three different forms of shulassakar represent this spiritual growth.

The shulassakar equivalent of an anathema is a Choir. This is formed when a group of transcendent shulassakar willingly sacrifice themselves in a ritual based on the original couatl sacrifice, which fuses body and spirit to create a gestalt entity possessing great power. Choirs are physically immortal—they don’t age and are immune to the effects of hunger and thirst—though they aren’t true immortals and can be killed. The ritual that creates a choir isn’t somehow instinctively known to all shulassakar, and thus different shulassakar sects have discovered it and employed it for different reasons. There could be a shulassakar choir hidden somewhere in Khalesh, the last remnant of the ancient servants who merged together to survive the Sundering. Adventurers could find a shulassakar monastery whose anchorites chose to join together in the ultimate communion. Or a choir could be found guarding a post that required an immortal sentinel. The fusing of spirits gives a choir an unusual detachment from mortality; choirs can meditate in isolation for centuries with no sense of boredom. The main point is that joining a choir does mean sacrificing one’s individual identity. It’s not something most shulassakar aspire to and they aren’t inherently rulers of shulassakar; they are created for a purpose, whether to guard a position, to gain the power needed to survive, or in the case of the monks, the pursuit of a truly transcendental state.

What do the shulassakar do for food? Are the snake-people of Krezent engaging in agriculture?

As noted in the quote above, Krezent is a RUIN and the Shulassakar are guarding it. It’s not a Shulassakar city, it’s a job; the guardians of Krezent come from a fortress-city in a demiplane they claimed long ago. Beyond this, Krezent is a COUATL RUIN, which is to say, a place built by celestial beings at the height of their power. So the guardians don’t need to farm or hunt; Krezent has divine tools that replicate the effects of create food and water for those who know how to use them.

What is the attitude of the shulassakar to the troubles of the people around them? what would drive a shulassakar adventurer?

The canon answer can be seen in the Talenta Plains, in which the halflings AVOID Krezent. This tells us that the Shulassakar aren’t running around trying to help the halflings with basic everyday problems. They aren’t mediating tribal disputes or helping when there’s an outbreak of plague. Beyond this they are completely unknown in the Five Nations; there isn’t a council of shulassakar in Thrane. This ties to a general principle of Eberron, which is that powerful NPCs aren’t going to show up to solve your problems. Personally, I’d attribute this to three factors: there are very few shulassakar, likely speaking to a low fertility rate. Shulassakar who act too openly may well be targeted by agents of the Lords of Dust. And finally, there’s the Shavarath principle: they believe that the things they are doing are MORE IMPORTANT than whatever troubles the people around them are dealing with. Yes, it’s very sad that you’re dealing with a plague, but that plague is in fact a natural occurrence and that’s how the world works… whereas if someone releases the fiends of pestilence we’re keeping bound, THAT’S going to be a serious unnatural problem. Also consider the line from the original article: “A shulassakar always prefers to solve a problem on its own or to call in a more powerful servant to handle the problem.” They don’t work WITH other people; they’re going to solve your problems for you, and likely you’ll never know. This ties to why the halflings fear the Shulassakar; “They fight against darkness with ruthless efficiency and will make any sacrifice necessary for the greater good, including the lives of innocents.”

So looking to shulassakar PCs, the question is WHY they are getting involved in other people’s problems and working directly with non-shulassakar adventurers. The simple answer is that it’s because they have been assigned a divine mission (either by a shulassakar superior or by a divine vision) and thus they’re following the dictates of their faith and culture in doing what they’re doing; it’s their SACRED DUTY to pursue their quest. The other alternative is that they are rebelling and following a path that THEY feel is more important than their sacred duties, in which case they would likely be censured by their people.

Have you every used the Shulassakar in your camapign? If so, share the story in the comments! As always, thanks to my Patreon supporters, who make it possible for me to write these articles. If you have infrequently asked questions of your own, pose them on Patreon!

Dragonmark: Couatls and the Silver Flame

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Anyone who’s been to a church of the Silver Flame has seen the image of Tira and the couatl. But what are the couatls, and what do people actually know about them? How can you encounter them in the present day?

What are Couatls?

Couatls are native celestials, the last children of Siberys. They were born in the first age of the world, and they helped the mortal species of that time in their struggles against the fiendish overlords. The balance of power dramatically favored the fiends, and the children of Siberys realized that the only path to victory was through sacrifice. Working together, the native celestials abandoned their individual forms and fused their immortal essence together, creating a well of pure divine energy. As the dragons and other mortals defeated the overlords, this Silver Flame was able to bind them. Since that point, the Flame has been strengthened by the addition of millions of mortal souls, but it began with the sacrifice of the native celestials, and that immortal essence is the foundation of the Flame.

The question of the imbalance of power between fiends and celestials is one that is often discussed by sages and theologians. Why are fiends found across the world, while the celestials seemingly abandoned it… especially when planes such as Shavarath and Daanvi have a more even division between fiends and celestials? In his Codex of All Mysteries, Korran asserts that the answer is simple: Khyber slew Siberys. Through treachery, Khyber slew Siberys even before the world was formed and the native celestials are a reflection of the final spark of Siberys. In that time so long ago, the native celestials realized that as the balance of power tilted so dramatically toward the fiends that what they could accomplish as isolated individuals was trivial. But in fusing their essence into one great gestalt they could generate a power that could at least bind the overlords, and which could empower mortals to battle the fiends themselves. This ties to a crucial underlying theme of the setting: Eberron is a world that needs heroes. The Silver Flame is the greatest force of light in the world, but it cannot act on its own; it depends on mortal champions to carry its light against the darkness. A small handful of independent celestials remain in the world, and this will be discussed later in this article. But the bulk of celestial power in Eberron is concentrated into the Silver Flame—a tool and a weapon for mortals to wield.

Now, couatls aren’t the only form of native celestial. But just as the rakshasa are the most common form of fiend, the couatls are the most common form of celestial on Eberron. Any other form of celestial could potentially be used as a native celestial, but most such spirits will share some cosmetic elements with couatl: prismatic coloring, feathers, serpentine characteristics. So a native deva might have rainbow-feathered wings and fine iridescent scales. Why these traits? One theory is that this is a reflection of Siberys himself; the nation of Khalesh used a banner that showed Eberron and Khyber as dragons entwined, with Siberys as a winged serpent encircling the struggling wyrms. This is purely speculative, the coloring and other traits are common among native celestials and are sometimes inherited by mortal creatures infused with celestial energy, such as the Shulassakar or aasimar tied to the Silver Flame.

One complication in dealing with couatls is their shifting power level in different editions of Dungeons&Dragons. The 3.5 couatl had a challenge rating of 10, with the note that it was possible to encounter a huge couatl with up to three times as many hit dice as that CR 10 version. However, the 5E Monster Manual presents the couatl as a fairly minor celestial, with a Challenge rating of 4. The trick is that in Eberron, “couatl” is like “rakshasa”—it’s a category, spanning spirits with a wide range of power. Looking to the rakshasa, not only are there different classes—the standard rakshasa, the ak’chazar, the naztharune, the zakya—but you also have unique individuals with far greater power than the rank and file. Just as Mordakhesh is dramatically more powerful than the typical Zakya rakshasa, the couatl Hezcalipa (the ally and mentor of the dragon Ourelonastrix, who might be the inspiration for the Sovereign Aureon) was dramatically more powerful than a typical CR 4 couatl. But what do you do with this in fifth edition, which only provides statistics for the CR 4 couatl? There’s a few options.

  • Reskin other celestials. Couatl aren’t the only native celestials. You could introduce a deva or a ki-rin as a child of Siberys. But you could also take the stat block of one of these more powerful celestials and just describe the entity as a winged serpent instead of as a winged humanoid or golden-scaled beast. A deva attacks with a mace, inflicting 1d6+4 bludgeoning damage plus 4d6 radiant damage; you can have the deva-couatl attack with a bite that deals 1d6+4 piercing damage and “floods their body with radiant venom” which deals 4d6 radiant damage. Yes, this is different from the poison effect of the CR 4 couatl, and the deva doesn’t have the ability to constrict its foe; but just as not all serpents constrict or produce venom, not all couatl do either. So make the simplest changes—swapping the bludegoning damage of the mace to piercing for fangs, because that’s obvious—but otherwise, just change the way you describe the creature and its attacks. This doesn’t have to be limited to celestials; you could easily take the guardian naga stat block, change it from monstrosity to celestial, and describe it as a wingless couatl.
  • Blend old and new. You can follow the same basic idea, but actually change a few abilities to more closely reflect the couatl. It makes sense that any form of couatl would have the Shielded Mind trait of the CR 4 couatl. For a couatl ki-rin you could describe the Horn attack as a bite attack (which just doesn’t produce venom), but replace the two hoof attacks of the ki-rin with a single Constrict attack, following the model of the CR 4 couatl—perhaps raising the DC to escape to DC 17, reflecting the Ki-rin/Couatl’s higher CR and Strength. Likewise, you could swap out spells on the Ki-Rin’s spell list to include all the spells on the CR 4 couatl’s spell list. But overall, you can still us the ki-rin stat block to reflect the more powerful creature.
  • Create something new. If you have the time, you can use the CR 4 as a blueprint to create your own unique powerful couatl. It’s not something *I* have time to do right now, but I think it makes perfect sense to create couatl with distinct abilities—a loremaster couatl (such as Hezcalipa), perhaps a warlike couatl guardian shrouded in (silver) flame.

Likewise, keep in mind that couatl don’t have to be as powerful as the CR 4 version! A Celestial warlock with the Chain pact could have a tiny couatl as a familiar. Use the statistics of a pseudo-dragon, but describe it as a couatl; this has the same relationship to a standard couatl that an imp does to a more powerful devil. Remember that as celestials, couatls are essentially divine tools and ideas given form. The tiny couatl is simply a minor spirit of light; it’s not biologically related to the more powerful couatl.

This ties to one other point, which is that immortals are tools and concepts. They exist for a reason, and they don’t choose that path as mortals can. The tiny couatl familiar exists to advise the warlock; you could play it as a minor spirit of wisdom or as a guardian angel. But every couatl has a purpose and/or embodies a concept. Where the immortals of the planes embody concepts tied to their planes (War, Hope, Law, etc) the immortals of Eberron are more broadly “good” and “evil.” In creating a specific couatl, a DM could decide that it’s a spirt of truth, or courage, or wisdom—and play its personality accordingly. Swapping out spells is another simple way to reflect this and give a particular couatl some unique flavor.

What Do People Know About Couatls?

Anyone in a nation where the Silver Flame has a presence is familiar with the basic idea of the couatls—their appearance and the fact that they’re celestial emissaries of the Silver Flame. In this, they are much like angels in OUR world; almost everyone can look at a picture of one and say “That’s an angel,” but not everyone believes they exist, and even those people who DO believe they exist don’t generally expect to meet one. Couatls are part of the mythology of the Silver Flame. Tira Miron was guided by a couatl, and the templars use rainbow fletching on their arrows to emulate the swift-flying couatl. Couatls are often also part of the manifestations of divine magic tied to the Silver Flame. When a cleric of the Flame casts spirit guardians, the guardians are often couatl-like shapes formed of silver fire. Summon celestial and planar ally typically manifest couatls or other creatures with couatl-like attributes. These spells aren’t commonplace, but the point is that people associate couatls with the Silver Flame, and if they see one they will say “That’s a couatl! Like the one that guided Tira!” as opposed to “What’s that?”

With that said, Khorvaire’s Church of the Silver Flame isn’t actually that old… and couatls have been known since the dawn of time. Anyone proficient in History or Religion may know that couatls have been revered by many cultures. As mentioned earlier, the pre-Sundering nation of Khalesh in Sarlona was devoted to the celestial serpents. The orc kala’sha paladins of Ghaash’kala often tattoo a couatl wound around one of their arms; they know the couatl as emmissaries of the Binding Flame.

So almost everyone in the Five Nations knows what a couatl is. Again, think of it as analgous to angels in our world. Anyone can recognize a picture of one, but it’s going to take a Religion check to explain the difference between a cherub or a seraph.

Silvertide and Serpent Cults

So: in kanon, everyone knows what a couatl is. Everyone’s seen that picture of Tira and the couatl. However, canon has some inconsistencies in this regard. On the one hand, page 70 of City of Stormreach says this of a priest…

He only speaks of it to his most trusted parishioners, but (the priest) practices the traditions of an ancient serpent cult, passed down to his father by a feathered yuan-ti. Although the values are similar to those of the modern church, this faith teaches that the Silver Flame was kindled by the sacrifice of the couatls in the dawn times; Tira Miron and the Keeper of the Flame are stewards who bring the light of the Flame to humans too limited to see the ancient force on their own. Guin has served as an intermediary for the shulassakar yuan-ti in the past, and this could serve as the basis for an adventure.

This isn’t the heresy that has caused the Stormreach church to be severed from Flamekeep; the section specifies that it’s the opposition to the theocracy that’s the major problem, and the quote here specifies that the priest only speaks of his beliefs to those close to him. It’s not that these beliefs are heretical, but they are unusual. However, the 4E Eberron Campaign Guide introduces the concept of Silvertide, saying “This highest holy day of the faith celebrates the sacrifice of the couatls and the birth of the Silver Flame.” So Stormreach says that the idea of the couatl sacrifice is a secret the priest only shares with his most trusted friends, while the ECG says it’s the basis of the most important holy day the church has. How do we reconcile this contradiction?

The Age of Demons ended a hundred thousand years ago, the precise details of what happened then frankly aren’t as important to most of the people of Khorvaire as the things that happened a few centuries ago. In my opinion, the tales of the Age of Demons and the story of Tira’s sacrifice can be seen as similar to the Old and New Testaments. While the two are directly related, different religions place different weight on the two books. The Serpent Cults are primarily interested with the ORIGINAL story and see Tira’s sacrifice as a recent and relatively minor development. But to the people of the Five Nations, Tira’s sacrifice is the most important story, because it happened to them. Tira saved the people of Thrane from a fiendish apocalypse, and as the Voice of the Flame, she continues to guide them today. They know the general stories about how the Flame was kindled in the dawn of time to bind the overlords and they are grateful for that first sacrifice, but it’s just too long ago to have deep personal meaning; while Tira is the Voice that speaks to them today, and her sacrifice is the reason Thrane even exists.

With this in mind, you can see how I describe the festival of Silvertide on my ongoing Threshold campaign. A key point is that the priest doesn’t actually describe that original sacrifice as the COUATL sacrifice, because those details are largely irrelevant; she speaks of the battle between the forces of light and darkness and of the sacrifice of those first champions to kindle the Flame. Because the LESSON of Silvertide is the power of sacrifice—to respect the first champions whose sacrifice lit the Flame; Tira, whose sacrifice allows us all to draw upon it; and anyone whose sacrifices have made a difference in your own personal life. A key part of the festival is to call out and honor sacrifices others have made for you, and to consider what sacrifices you can make for others. So as the ECG says, it IS a festival that honors the couatl sacrifice; but it honors the SACRIFICE, not the COUATL.

This brings us to the idea of serpent cults. A number of canon sources describe serpent cults—sects found across the world and throughout history. What differentiates a serpent cult from a Silver Flame faith is the direct focus on the couatl as opposed to the Flame. A Flame sect focuses on the Silver Flame as it exists today—a conglomeration of countless noble souls of many species. Most honor the couatl as emissaries and servants of the Flame, but they are secondary to the Flame itself. A serpent cult focuses on the couatl, honoring them as the first children of Siberys and emphasizing their role in creating the Flame. Serpent cults often downplay the idea that other creatures can join the Flame and instead emphasize the Flame as the pure light of the couatl. Looking at key named sects, the Sarlonan nation of Khalesh was a serpent cult devoted to the couatl; the Ghaash’kala, on the other hand, are a Flame sect. They may call it the Binding Flame instead of the Silver Flame, but it is the FLAME that they honor above all; couatl are its tools.

So looking back to Stormreach, again, the priest’s beliefs aren’t dire heresy; they’re just unorthodox views that most followers of the modern Church don’t share or care about. To the typical Thrane parishoner, emphasizing that the first sacrifice was entirely couatl would be a slightly eccentric belief that undermines the moral of the story—that we all have the power to make a difference through our sacrifices, and that any noble soul can strengthen the Flame. This is reflected in the original statement on page 303 of the Eberron Campaign Setting

Ultimately the couatls sacrificed most of their number in order to seal the overlords within their combined souls. Scholars have theorized that this is the ultimate source of the force worshiped by the Church of the Silver Flame. The Church ministry is ambivalent about this theory, stating that regardless of how the Flame was first kindled, there is a place within the Flame for all noble souls.

Encountering Couatls

There’s three main ways to encounter a couatl in the present age.

Ancient Guardian. The quote from the ECS states that most of the couatl joined together to found the Flame. Most isn’t all; a handful remained as incarnate individuals to accomplish vital tasks that couldn’t be entrusted to mortals. Keep in mind that they use mortal agents when they can—the shulassakar, the Masivirk’uala lizardfolk, and the Ghaash’kala, even Tira Miron are all examples of this. A few reasons you might need an actual couatl are to preserve knowledge that can’t be trusted to a mortal; to oversee a project that will take many generations to unfold; do accomplish a task that requires the innate celestial powers of the couatl; or to guard an area that’s either too hostile, isolated, or corruptive to entrust to a mortal. An ancient guardian is an immortal who has existed since the Age of Demons; they don’t have heart demiplanes and typically are reborn in the location where they are destroyed, with the length of time this takes depending on the strength of the couatl and the manner in which it is destroyed. While they are incarnate spirits of light, the fact that they have usually existed in intense isolation can make these guardians more intense than their temporary counterparts; they often have tunnel vision tied to their vital task. A temporary couatl has watched humanity grow; a guardian may not have seen another living creature since before human civilization existed.

Temporary Emissary. When a priest of the Silver Flame casts summon celestial, they aren’t pulling a couatl from some other location in the world. Instead, the spirit is directly manifesting from the Silver Flame itself, and when its work is done it will return to the Flame. The Silver Flame is a mass of hundreds of thousands of souls, but within the Flame those spirits exist as a transcendent gestalt, not as individual personalities. When a temporary couatl manifests, it will employ the personality of one of the original couatl; this could allow adventurers to actually speak with Hezcalipa, for example. But Hezcalipa doesn’t exist as an individual while she’s part of the Flame, and her actions when she does appear are moderated by being part of that gestalt; she is first and foremost an emissary of the Flame, shaped by the memories of a couatl who sacrificed itself long ago.

Channeling and Visions. You don’t have to meet a couatl in the flesh. The CR 4 fifth edition couatl can cast dream, a useful tool for guiding and advising mortals. The 3.5 ECS also explored the idea of divine channeling…

A mortal who channels a celestial becomes a mortal manifestation of the celestial’s power. The celestial can draw on all the mortal’s memories, and the celestial senses what the mortal senses. The mortal and the celestial can communicate telepathically, but neither has complete access to the current thoughts of the other.

Looking to the tale of Tira Miron, the original idea was that most of the time Tira was channeling the couatl; it was guiding her, but it wasn’t just flying along next to her. In other places we’ve suggested that her guiding couatl was actually bound with her sword Kloijner. This is why in the image above, you can’t see the rainbow feathers of the couatl; it’s a spiritual presence. When it comes to a dream vision or channeling a couatl, there’s still the question of whether the spirit is an ancient guardian that has always been separate from the Flame or if it’s a temporary emissary sent out into the world to accomplish this task. In the case of emissaries, an emissary who grants dreams might never fully manifest as a physical couatl; think of it as an antenna extended from the Flame to broadcast a signal, after which it is retracted.

With any use of visions in dreams, a valid question is how this relates to Dal Quor. In my opinion, couatl visions don’t occur in Dal Quor; they effectively intercept the dreaming spirit before it reaches Dal Quor. This ties to the idea that they actually isolated the dreams of the Masvirik’uala, as described in this article. If you embrace this idea, it’s possible that they could actually give visions to mortal who sleep in some way but don’t actually dream, such as Kalashtar or elves—but that’s definitely up to the DM to decide. The general idea is that couatls have an affinity for mortal minds, something reflected in earlier editions by their psionic abilities; but they are native celestials, not creatures of Dal Quor. With that said, a scheming quori could definitely impersonating a couatl when manipulating someone with its own dream visions…

So, how can you encounter a couatl? You might find one as the guardian of an ancient vault, sworn to keep the cursed items within from falling into mortal hands… or to guide mortal champions to reclaim these deadly artifacts after the vault is breached. You could be visited by a couatl who has emerged from the Flame to assist you in overcoming a great threat, but it can only remain at your side for a brief time—or, potentially it can only assist you through dreams, or a moment of divine channeling. The main thing to keep in mind is that all of these are incredibly rare. There are only a handful of ancient guardians in existence, and they are dealing with tasks no mortal could handle. As for emissaries, the Silver Flame is a machine designed to do two things: to bind overlords and to empower mortal champions. Short term spells like summon celestial are part of that machine—tools that work through mortals and lasts briefly. For a couatl emissary to emerge from the Flame is like pulling a random gear off the machine; it’s difficult and potentially dangerous to the machine itself. It’s the sort of thing that happens to people like Tira Miron—heroes who can change the fate of the nation or the world. But overall, the Silver Flame deals with problems by empowering mortals, not by deploying celestials. This ties to that fundamental principle: Eberron is a world that needs heroes. The physical appearance of an emissary is a legendary event… but player characters have the potential to be legends.

That’s all for now! Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters for making these articles possible.

Dragonmarks: Night Hags and Nightmares

The night hags of Eberron are mysterious and enigmatic. The Princess Aundair asserted that night hags were fallen fey cast out of Thelanis; it was likewise Aundair who popularized the idea that night hags created nightmares by ripping the wings off of pegasi. The scholars of Galifar debunked both of these ideas, and established that night hags are native fiends of Eberron that have existed since the Age of Demons. But many questions remain unanswered. If night hags are fiends, why do they seem to have no sympathy for raksashas or other native fiends? How is it that on the one hand you have Sora Kell, who’s described as tearing apart armies with her talons and laying waste to a city with a single spell… and on the other, you have stories describing night hags who seem little more powerful than a typical troll? And if the night hags are native fiends, why do they have such an affinity for dreams and a talent for traveling to other planes?

The most reliable source on the topic is the Codex of All Mysteries, written by Dorius Alyre ir’Korran. The Codex makes the following observations.

Thirteen hags emerged in the First Night, old on their first day; they were called grandmothers even before the first mortal was born. Twelve of these night hags were bound in covens of three; even then, Sora Kell made her own path. Most fiends are tied to one of the dread overlords, and it would be easy to think that the first hags were children of Sul Khatesh, given their affinity for both secrets and magic. But there is no overlord in the First Night. Rather, it seems that the twelve and one collectively embody an idea. Many fiends embody concepts that mortals fear, and the simplest answer is that the night hags embody mortal fears of the night—both specifically of nightmares, but also of the unknown forces lurking in the darkness. The accounts of Jhazaal Dhakaan add a twist to this, suggesting that the night hags embody the curiosity of Khyber itself. Jhazaal observes that the night hags should be considered evil, as they will lead mortals into despair and doom without remorse. But she notes that the hags lack the greater malevolence of the overlords, that they have no desire to dominate mortals or the world; instead, they love to watch stories unfold, especially stories that end in tragedy. In the first days to the world, the night hags served as intermediaries between mortals, fiends, and the other great powers of reality. They took no sides in the many wars of that time, finding joy in moving stories along and watching the horrors that unfolded; they had no agenda, for this story needed no finger on the scales to tilt it toward disaster. The hags simply loved being in the midst of the chaos, and reveled in turning the pages of history.

Should we accept these stories, a night hag is many things at once. She is a shaper of nightmares, who takes joy in hand-crafting nocturnal visions so terrifying that a mortal might fear to ever sleep again. She is an ancient being who may have spoken with dragons, demons, and even overlords. And above all, she is a creature who delights in watching stories unfold and in seeing what happens next—especially when those tales end in tragedy.

What of the curious spectrum between night hags? How can we reconcile the legend of Sora Kell shattering an army with the tale of Sola the Smith outwrestling Sora Tenya? How can we account for the fact that a catalogue of night hags produces more than thirteen names? The answer may be found in another Dhakaani account. The dirge singer Uula Korkala blamed the hag Sora Ghazra for the tragedy that befell her city, and rallied the greatest champions of the age to her pursuit of vengeance. She worked with the legendary hunter Ur’taarka to track the hag and to create snares that could bind even the greatest of fiends. She worked with the daashors to enchant the chain of the mighty Guul’daask, creating a weapon that would shatter the hag’s spirit even as it crushed her bones. Korkala took her vengeance, and Sora Ghazra was defeated. But it is no simple thing to kill an immortal. The shards of Ghazra’s shattered spirit embedded themselves in her killers. Ur’taarka, Guul’daask, even Korkala herself—all were haunted by nightmares. Unable to sleep, they wasted away in body and mind. Eventually the magic of this curse reshaped them into hags—lesser versions of the primal crone they’d destroyed. This created a line of night hags, each bearing this curse. When any one of them dies, the killers will be consumed by nightmares. The curse grows weaker with each generation, and there are heroes who have survived this gauntlet of nightmares; but any who are broken by these terrors will become a weaker hag. Thus, should you encounter a night hag who seems not to live up to the terrifying legend of Sora Kell, she is likely one of Ghazra’s line; the threat she poses will depend on how far removed she is from her ancestor.

Dorius Alyre ir’Korran is a legendary scholar and diviner, known for his ambition to supplant Aureon himself; the Codex is the most trusted source of information on the hags. The actual entry includes far more information than just this, providing further details on many of the original thirteen hags and their covens. However, it is as always up to the DM to decide if any of this is true, or if it is still speculation or even misinformation spread by the hags themselves.

If you trust the Codex, there are a few things to keep in mind.

  • Night hags can have a vast range of power. The Challenge 5 night hag presented in fifth edition is likely a weak descendent of Sora Ghazra. Sora Kell was the most powerful of the primal night hags—the one who always stood alone—and likely has a Challenge rating over 20. Other hags—between the other primal hags and the greater descendants of Sora Ghazra—would fall somewhere within that spectrum. Because of Ghazra’s story, there’s no absolute limit on the number of night hags in the world. There may have only been thirteen primal night hags, but the extent of Ghazra’s brood is entirely up to the DM. The lesser hags of Ghazra’s brood DO NOT retain many memories of the hag that spawned them; they have a basic foundation, but a CR 5 hag doesn’t have memories of the Age of Demons and doesn’t retain all the contacts and connections of their parent hag.
  • Night hags largely view mortals as a form of entertainment. They typically have a cruel sense of humor, and they take joy in hand-crafting nightmares for people who catch their interest. Many of them do enjoy testing virtuous heroes and seeing if they can hold to their ideals. But at the end of the day, most are driven by cruel curiosity; if a hero DOES persevere and overcome adversity, they’ll chuckle and move on, making a note to check back in a few decades. They don’t CARE about the goals of the overlords or the Chamber; they just love good stories. The night hag Jabra sells goods in both Droaam and the Immeasurable Market of Syrania. Her goods won’t necessarily bring misfortune to the buyer; among other things, she sells dreams she’s collected over the centuries. But SOME of her goods are certainly bound to bring tragedy to someone, if not necessarily the person who purchases them. And more than anything, her work as a merchant is a way to while away the immortal hours while she waits for someone interesting to cross her path—a story she can delight in following to its end.
  • Night hags wield power in Dal Quor, as measured by their ability to manipulate dreams. They have an understanding with the quori; remember, the primal night hags once served as ambassadors to all the great powers, and they can be persuasive when they choose. Night hags can smell the touch of a quori on a mortal’s dream, and they will thus avoid interfering with dreamers who play critical roles in the plans of the Dreaming Dark. Beyond this, Dal Quor is vast; night hags and quori generally do their best to stay out of each others’ way. With that said, there have been stories of friendships, rivalries, and feuds between specific quori and night hags; a particular tsucora and a child of Ghazra might take turns tormenting a particular mortal, each trying to craft the most terrifying dream.
  • Night hags have a particular affinity for dreams and Dal Quor. For a night hag, shaping a dream is like playing an instrument; it’s both art and a satisfying hobby. A night hag doesn’t HAVE to have some grand agenda in deciding to haunt a particular mortal, any more than a writer has some specific vendetta against the sheet of paper they select on which to write a story. On the other hand, they may well focus on people who draw their attention. In Droaam, Jabra has been known to buy peoples’ dreams. The simple fact is that she can haunt someone’s dreams whether they agree to it or not; but Jabra enjoys convincing a victim to agree to their torment.
  • Primal night hags are immortal and have existed since the dawn of time. If slain, they will reform in the demiplane known as the First Night. Ghazra’s brood can be killed, at which point they infect their killers with their nightmare curse. Each such generation grows weaker, and it’s possible that the CR 5 night hag of the Monster Manual is simply too far removed from the source to curse its killers… or it might be that they have only to enduring a single nightmare or a few nights to overcome the curse.
  • Primal night hags don’t require a heartstone to become ethereal. A heartstone is a focusing item that allows one of Ghazra’s brood to tap into this power, concentrating their weaker spirit.

With all that in mind, let’s consider a few specific questions.

The ECS says that Night Hags are neutral, but here you say they’re evil. Which is it?

Many ideas in the ECS have evolved over time. When I wrote that original section in the ECS, the intent was to emphasize that the night hags aren’t allied with the Lords of Dust and the overlords—that they are, ultimately, neutral. However, in retrospect, I feel that they should both be fiends and should have an evil alignment. They were born in Khyber, and on a personal level, they delight in tragedies and will unleash nightmares without remorse. We’ve called out that good people can do evil things and that evil people can do good; in the case of the night hags, they are evil beings who choose not to serve a greater good or greater evil.

The immortals of Eberron draw from a finite pool of energy and don’t reproduce. But Sora Kell has daughters, and there’s also hagblood characters. How’s this work?

Night hags can reproduce, but this doesn’t follow normal biological science and most never do. Essentially, what a night hag does in creating a child is much like how they create a nightmare; each of the Daughters of Sora Kell are, essentially, nightmares made real. It’s quite likely that the hag has to invest a certain amount of her own essence in her children, not unlike the story of Sora Ghazra. If so, Sora Kell is likely no longer as powerful as she once was, and this could explain why she’s been missing for so long.

Sora Ghazra’s children are created when a sliver of her spirit reshapes a mortal body. The weaker the are, the more mortal they are; the least of these hags might be able to have children in the normal way, though these children wouldn’t be night hags.

Night hags can trap mortal souls in soul bags. Why do they want mortal souls?

Trapping souls is hardly unheard of in Eberron. Sora Maenya isn’t a night hag, but she’s known for trapping the souls of her victims in their skulls and keeping them. She doesn’t DO anything with them; she just likes collecting them. Sora Teraza traps souls in books, cataloguing the life of the subject. This is the model for night hags. Some may bind captured souls into objects, keeping a collection of soul-bound dolls, for example. Others may weave the souls into acts of magic. For example…

What’s the origin of nightmares (the monsters) in Eberron? Do they have a connection to night hags?

Nightmares are fiends that protect their riders from fire and allow them to travel between the planes. The first nightmares were created by Sora Azhara, a primal night hag with a particular love of Fernia. She crafted the first nightmares by fusing literal nightmares with the ashes of the Demon Wastes and mortal souls. A few of her sisters admired her creations, delighting in their ability to carry mortals into dangerous places, and created nightmares of their own. Any creature capable of casting nightmare could potentially learn the ritual for creating a nightmare. This requires a bound mortal soul slain by nightmares; ashes from the Demon Waste; and a living equine creature, which serves as the physical framework. This is the origin of the tortured pegasus story—but the victim doesn’t have to be a pegasus. A creature who’s soul is bound into a nightmare can’t be raised from the dead by any means until the nightmare is destroyed; the soul is however preserved from Dolurrh while bound. Typically, the mortal spirit is unconscious and oblivious to the passage of time during this binding.

What does it mean that the primal night hags serve as ambassadors? If there were thirteen of them, did they have ties to specific planes?

“Ambassador” isn’t an official title. Night hags are capable of moving across planes, something that’s uncomfortable for most native immortals. Essentially, they spend a lot of time traveling—they are in part driven by curiosity—and they know people. The dragons and fiends of the Age of Demons found it useful to have a recognized neutral force, and the night hags enjoyed being a part of the story. This continues today. The night hag Jabra knows thousands of immortals through the time she’s spent at the Immeasurable Market. A random lesser night hag may know a number of quori—some friends, some rivals. Sora Azhara has a love of Fernia and is a regular guest at the parties of the efreet. But this is ultimately an informal role, more “I know a hag who knows a guy” than being officially appointed by the Progenitors or anything like that.

That’s all for now! Thank you to my Patreon supporters both for making these articles possible and for suggesting the topic; in my monthly call for questions, someone asked “Night Hags! Just Night Hags!… So here we are! If you want to have a chance to shape future topics and help insure that there are more articles, pitch in at my Patreon.

Also: I am continuing to work on Frontiers of Eberron: Threshold, and TONIGHT (Wednesday September 8th) I’m kicking off a new stream to playtest the material. It’s part of the Fugue State stream, which I play in with Colin Meloy and Chris Funk of the Decemberists, Charlie Chu of Oni Press, Han Duong, and Jennifer Kretchmer. It’s going to run for about six weeks and the first episode is TONIGHT, so if you want to see it kick off, drop by the Twogether Studios Twitch channel at 7:30 PM Pacific Time! This is a very casual stream—basically just our home game in action—but I’m sure it will be fun!

IFAQ: August Lightning Round!

As time permits, I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. Sometimes these are weighty topics—like whaling or medusa reproduction—that require a full article. Others I just answer directly on Patreon. Here’s a few of those short answers from last month!

The warforged colossus Artorok is designated WX-73. Were there seventy three colossuses?

Nope! Every colossus has two names—So you have Artorok (WX-73), Arkus (WX-11), and so on. The name is the name of the BODY of the colossus. The numeric designation is actually the designation of the master docent that serves as the heart of the docent network that drives the colossus. “WX” stands for “Waylon/Xen’drik” and refers to the expedition that recovered the docent. So more than seventy-three docents were recovered from Xen’drik, but only a handful of those docents were intact and capable of maintaining a colossus. Personally, I think that Cannith had time to develop twelve colossuses; they were working on the thirteenth when the Mourning struck.

What is the difference in terms of magic advancement between the Dhakanni and the Dwarves of Sol Udar?

They’re vastly different. As called out in Exploring Eberron, “The dwarves of Sol Udar were an advanced civilization employing arcane science beyond that currently possessed by the Five Nations. The halls were shaped by elemental magic—an improved form of the move earth spell—and reinforced to be stronger than any natural stone. Barring any alien influence, the air is renewed by magic and remarkably fresh; a permanent prestidigitation effect keeps these halls clean after thousands of years and untold conflicts… Widespread magic was a part of daily life in Sol Udar.

By contrast, the Dhakaani are exceptional in many ways but DON’T have a tradition of wide magic. From Exploring Eberron: “Dhakaani daashor are the finest weaponsmiths on Khorvaire. Their traditions blend mundane skill and transmutation to create and manipulate remarkable alloys, including adamantine, mithral, and byeshk. Their skill at metallurgy outstrips even House Cannith, and Dhakaani champions often wield weapons forged from such material. Dhakaani equipment is designed for durability and efficiency, rarely gaudy or bejeweled. Likewise, armor is tough and flexible—often with the properties of mithral or adamantine armor—but not dramatic in style. Dhakaani magic items are either created by the daashor (who specialize in armor and weapons) or by gifted duur’kala. Dhakaani magic rarely focuses on evocation effects, and they have no tradition of elemental binding.”

So the Dhakaani make excellent WEAPONS AND ARMOR, but part of that is tied advances in mundane science. Beyond that, the items they have are created by duur’kala, with the key point being that the duur’kala are BARDS—primarily spiritual leaders and diplomats, NOT devoted to manufacturing. So the Dhakaani HAVE magic, but it’s NOT as widespread as magic in the Five Nations—let alone Sol Adar, which is considerably more advanced than the Five Nations. Essentially, the Dhakaani excel at things that are related to WAR… though even there, the point is that they don’t employ siege staffs, airships, or similar magical tools. The Dhakaani daashor make the finest SWORDS on Khorvaire… but they don’t have a strong tradition of WANDS. Now, the catch is that the ancient Dhakaani could create ARTIFACTS, as could the dwarves of Sol Udar. But these artifacts were extremely rare—the weapons of champions and tools of the Marhu—and they didn’t have a strong tradition of EVERYDAY magic.

The Sol Udar dwarves use air refreshing magic to sustain life in the depths… What do the Dhakaani do?

There’s three factors. The first is that the Dar as a species have adapted to thrive in a subterranean environment. Much as creatures in high altitudes adapt to the lower oxygen content, as creatures who evolved in the depths I’d expect Dar to be better suited to the challenges of a deep environment. I wouldn’t see this as having a strong game effect, but if I was running a long-term subterranean campaign and decided to develop environmental effects for bad air, I might give the Dar a ribbon similar to the Goliath’s Mountain Born—”You are acclimated to deep subterranean environments.” Note that I’m specifically saying the DAR—the Dhakaani who have remained in their deep vaults for thousands of years—as opposed to all goblinoids.

With that said, just because the Dar are more capable of surviving in such environments doesn’t mean they don’t need oxygen. I have always assumed that they engineer solutions that can bring fresh air to the depths—that just like creating aqueducts and mundane systems for channeling water, they use mundane (but remarkable) solutions to channel air to the depths. Thinking further, however, there’s a third factor: certain manifest zones and demiplane portals could well serve as oxygen sources in the deeps—and Dhakaani might build around these just as they would build around good sources of water. But the general principle is that while the Dhakaani aren’t as magically adept as some cultures, they are better at many forms of mundane science… which is also why I’ve said that if I was to add traditional firearms to Eberron, I’d start by giving them to the Dhakaani.

How does the Cazhaak Creed view the aberrant creations of the daelkyr, such as the illithid Xorchylic of Graywall? Are they considered children of the Shadow as much as any other aberration?

Through the sourcebooks, we have access to a lot of specific knowledge that people in world don’t have. WE know mind flayers are creations of Dyrrn the Corruptor. But most people—in Breland and Droaam alike—know nothing about mind flayers. For most of the people of Graywall, Xorchyllic is an entirely unique terror. Followers of the Cazhaak faith would likely say “Does it possess awesome powers? Are humans terrified of it? Check, check—seems like a child of the Shadow.”

This ties to the point that the Cazhaak traditions are about FAITH, not fact. If you presented a Cazhaak medusa with absolute proof that they were created by Orlassk, they would say “So what? This Orlassk may have sculpted our bodies, but it was surely the Shadow who guided its hands and who gave it the inspiration; thus, it is the Shadow who is our TRUE creator and who deserves our devotion.” Having said that, knowledge of the daelkyr is certainly present in Droaam. As will be called out in FRAG, the sages of Cazhaak Draal DO know of Orlassk, but they consider it a tyrant they broke free from, not a being they should worship. Again, their point is that it doesn’t matter if Orlassk physically created the first medusa; in doing so, it was merely a tool of the Shadow, and they owe nothing to Orlassk.

Back to the original question, Cazhaak sages who know of the daelkyr will generally extend the same understanding they have of themselves to others. THEY believe that they are children of the Shadow, regardless of any ties they might have to Orlassk. They embrace gargoyles as children of the Shadow, in spite of their ties to Orlassk. Mind flayers, dolgrims—they too are children of the Shadow. But if they choose to serve the daelkyr and seek to destroy other children of the Shadow, then that’s sufficient reason to consider them enemies and destroy them.

What does the release of an overlord due to the Prophecy actually look like? Does it just spontaneously happen, or does it trigger some sort of cascade of events leading up to the release?

The release of an Overlord isn’t instantaneous; it’s simply that once set in motion by the breaking of bonds, it is usually inevitable. So if we imagine the final stage of releasing Sul Khatesh is for the Broken Hero (a PC) to murder Queen Aurala at Arcanix with the Blade of Sorrows, first we’ve had a chain of events to get there. When the event finally occurs and the bonds are broken, SOMETHING will happen immediately—it’s clear that we’re in trouble. In this case, the towers of Arcanix might fall, or the region around Arcanix could be shrouded in supernatural darkness, which spreads over the next few days and weeks as Sul Khatesh regains her power. A concrete example of this comes in the 4E Eberron Campaign Guide regarding Bel Shalor:

If the Shadow in the Flame is freed, his influence will begin to extend out over the land around him, first covering a few miles, and ultimately spreading out across an entire nation. People who fall under his sway become selfish and cruel, turning on one another instead of standing against him. PCs are immune to this passive effect, but it might affect their ability to find allies. Within this sphere of influence, people grow pale and their shadows become clearer and more vivid even in poor lighting, often seeming to move of their own accord. It is said that the shadows conspire against their owners, telling Bel Shalor of their secret plans; you must decide if this claim is true.

The point is that it’s not just “A hole opens up and a big monster hops out!” The physical form of the overlord is just one aspect of it (which comes back to the point that destroying that physical form doesn’t permanently destroy the overlord). The first thing that will be felt is its INFLUENCE. If the bonds of Rak Tulkhesh are broken, the FIRST thing that will happen is that people in his sphere of influence will begin fighting one another. Eventually the Rage of War will physically manifest, but its PRESENCE will be felt before that happens.

Where is House Phiarlan’s Demesne of Shape? Some sources suggest it’s in Thaliost, while others say it’s in Wroat.

Even writers make mistakes, and that’s likely what happened here. However, my answer is “Both.” Thaliost is a crazy place to establish an important facility in the wake of the war. It’s deeply contested occupied territory. Wroat, on the other hand, is a very secure national capital. In my opinion, Viceroy Idal chose Thaliost specifically because they believe that a Phiarlan presence could help maintain peace and understanding in the city and because the Serpentine Table wants a strong Phiarlan enclave in this hotspot. So the Thaliost enclave is the official Demense of Shape. However, a rival within the house has also established an “understudy” Shape facility in Wroat, because they believe that the Thaliost demesne could get burnt down any day now.

How would you make the Kech Draguus distinct from the Draelaes Tairn?

The Kech Draguus is a very deep cut. They weren’t mentioned in Exploring Eberron, and I believe the only canon source for them is a Dragonshard article I wrote, which states “Long ago, a rogue gold dragon formed an alliance with a clan of Dhakaani hobgoblins. Now this Kech Draguus has emerged from hiding. With a corps of half-dragon goblinoids and a few full-blooded dragons at its disposal, the Kech Draguus are poised to reshape Darguun.” The Draleus Tairn, on the other hand, are dragon SLAYERS. Dragons of Eberron has this to say: “The Draleus faith holds that the warrior draws strength from victory, and passes this energy to his ancestors . . . and no victory is greater than the defeat of a dragon.” There are RUMORS that Draleus dragon slayers can gain draconic powers and could become half-dragons, dragon shamans, etc, but those are of course rumors.

So, the two are VERY different. The Draguus are a Dhakaani Kech, which is to say, a tightly disciplined military force. They work WITH dragons, and essentially, they’re the Dhakaani answer to the Targaryens; they are going to employ dragons as living siege engines on the battlefield. Their champions may be half-dragons, but if so they were created with the blessing of their dragon patron, who in all likelihood counsels the leaders of the Kech. As the Dragonshard says, they have an ALLIANCE with dragons. By contrast, if there’s a half-dragon Draleus warrior, they gained that power by killing a dragon and ritually bathing in its blood. There’s no alliance between the Draleus and dragons; rather, they are bitter enemies. Beyond that, as Dragons of Eberron calls out, “The Draleus Tairn rarely socialize with outlanders, or even other elves… due to their isolation and reputation, few elves trouble the dragon slayers.” So the Draleus Tairn are at best isolated warbands, and often LONE INDIVIDUALS pursuing their personal quests… while the Kech Draguus are a militaristic, disciplined city-state.

That’s all for now! If you have infrequently asked questions of your own, you might be able to find the answer on my Patreon. Thanks to my patrons for making these articles possible!

IFAQ: Bagmon and Conqueror

As time permits, I like to address the INfrequently asked questions of Eberron—interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. Here’s a few you may not have heard before! As always, these are MY opinions and may contradict canon sources.

How would a trading/collectible card game (like Pokémon TCG, Magic the Gathering) manifest in Khorvaire? What Dragonmarked house (or other) would develop and manufacture these games?

Why make a TCG when you could make actual Pokemon? A Bag of Tricks is an uncommon magic item that lets you summon a random beast from a specific list. I could easily see the Twelve—specifically Vadalis, Orien, and Cannith—working together to produce a variant Bag of Tricks. Rather than summoning a beast with a random roll on a table, it starts containing only one special Vadalis-bred beast and you expand your list by finding and collecting other monsters. Aside from that limitation/advantage, it would work exactly like a Bag of Tricks—it’s an action to summon a beast, you can use it three times a day, beast disappears when reduced to 0 HP. Perhaps, with work, you can evolve your creatures into more powerful forms. BAGMON, it’s the new big thing!

When I initially answered this question, I’d forgotten that my Manifest Zone co-host Imogen Gingell has in fact already created a host of Eberron-themed Pokemon that you could use with as Bagmon creatures. Her Five Nations set is pictured above, but you can find more here! In addition, she’s actually developed a full bestiary with stats for these creatures, which is available on the DM’s guild. She ties them to Thelanis rather than my Cannith/Vadalis Bagmon idea, but the creatures can work with any of these ideas.

If I was going to make a card game like Magic, I’d want it to still be magical—to have the cards produce Prestidigitation-level sounds and illusions as you play it. With this in mind, I could see three paths. It could be Aundairian; we’ve always called out Aundair as having the most use of casual magic. It could be created as a joint product by Sivis and Phiarlan, blending Scribing with the illusory elements of Shadow, and being both a printing thing and a form of entertainment. But I could also see it as being a Fey artifact from Thelanis—something that came to Eberron through a manifest zone and is now spreading rapidly, like a weed or a predator introduced into an environment that’s not prepared to deal with it.

Did you ever think up rules, terminology, and/or a simple general description of how the game of Conqueror is played? Is there a word to announce your victory, kinda like “checkmate”?

Conqueror was introduced in Five Nations, a book I didn’t work on. It runs into a tricky question of worldbuilding. The idea is that the Karrns are a people with a deep love of competition and strategy; the game is described as “Chesslike.” The problem with creating new rules and terms for the game is that YOUR PLAYERS WON’T KNOW THESE RULES AND TERMS. The SIMPLE approach is to say that Conqueror uses the basic rules and terms of Chess. It is less deeply satisfying because why would this alien world have a game we play—but the point is that if a villain says “Checkmate” the players understand the reference whereas if a villain says “No more conquests” you’re going to have to explain to the players “That’s a term from the game Conqueror which is used when the opponent is out of moves, sort of like saying ‘checkmate.'” Essentially, is it worth the effort involved on all sides to create an entirely new game, or is it simpler to just have the Karrnathi warlord say “Checkmate”?

With this in mind, when I had people playing Thrones a recent Threshold game, I essentially said “It’s like poker, but it uses a five-suited deck with a suit for each of the Five Nations.” While it would make more sense for it to have entirely unique rules, for SPEED OF PLAY it was easier to have it use basic Poker rules, because the players KNOW those. The five suited deck changes the odds a bit and added a unique twist (and I came up with the face cards based on notable figures from each nation), but I didn’t have to make up an entirely new game and the players could make some quick decisions based on their pre-existing knowledge of Poker.

The main thing is that if I was going to make rules for Conqueror, I’d want to go all in and MAKE A SET THE PLAYERS CAN PLAY, and play it with them a bunch of times, so they KNOW the terms when I drop them into the world. And like Thrones and Poker, I’d probably use Chess as a foundation (IE, 8×8 grid board, pieces with specific movement patterns, win by capturing an opponent’s Sovereign) rather than making something completely unique, because again, ultimately I WANT THE PLAYERS TO UNDERSTAND THE GAME. Creating an entirely unique game that only I really understand is a cool thing, but the question is whether the experience at the TABLE will be satisfying for the players or if it’s going to be more fun all around if I just said “Checkmate.”

Are there Khorvaire (or Karrnath) parallels to our chess champions?

Five Nations calls out Conqueror as the national pastime of Karrnath. With that in mind you can be certain that there are competitions and champions, and I’d expect Rekkenmark to make use of a form of Kriegsspiel. And I do expect that there are players across the Five Nations, it’s just that Karrns dominate the game. So I could definitely imagine running a Queen’s Gambit style campaign in which a young warlock is a Conqueror prodigy and they go to competitions across Khorvaire—possibly being pushed by Kaius as a peace initiative and way to bring the nations back together. But I’d be fairly likely to lean heavily on Chess terms unless I had time to create something entirely new—just as I use the foundation of Poker for Thrones in Threshold.

That’s all for now! Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters, both for asking interesting questions and making it possible for me to spend time on these articles. If you have an infrequently asked question of your own, you can ask me on Patreon!

IFAQ: Medusas

The race of medusas was born in Khyber, but two hundred twenty years ago a clan emerged from the darkness and laid claim to the city of Cazhaak Draal in Droaam. The medusas have played an important role in Droaam’s rise as a nation. They are skilled stonemasons and architects, and their deadly gaze attack makes them dangerous warriors and valuable bodyguards.

This is what the original Eberron Campaign Setting had to say about medusas. It followed our general approach of questioning and considering previous assumptions. Traditionally, medusas were monsters, expected to hang around in statue-filled caves waiting for adventurers. But third edition didn’t present them as being created by a curse or otherwise existing in isolation—and further, the mental ability scores of the typical medusa were superior of those to the typical human. So why would these intelligent, powerful creatures hang around dank dungeons waiting to fight adventurers? Why wouldn’t they have a civilization of their own? Beyond this, it was easy to see how medusas could play an important role in Droaam. They’re smarter than humans, let alone ogres—and they have a power that even a gargoyle or minotaur has to respect. Breland might not think much of a city of ogres, but a city of medusas is a force anyone has to take seriously.

I expanded on the medusas of Eberron in this Dragonshard article, which added a few additional twists. The medusas of Cazhaak Draal use their serpent manes as secondary eyes, allowing them to see while their primary eyes are closed or covered. They’ve developed a language called Serpentine, which uses the hisses and motions of their serpents. Medusas can petrify other medusas (something that has varied by edition) though they’ve developed a ritual to negate the effects of their gaze. Within their own culture they use petrification as a tool, preserving elders or mortally wounded medusas. However, this article leaves many questions unanswered… a situation further complicated by the constantly shifting lore about medusas. Sharn: City of Towers has male medusas with the same capabilities (serpents, petrification) as females, while non-Eberron lore in some editions presents male medusas as a divergent species with entirely different abilities. Fifth edition presents medusas as isolated individuals rather than a distinct species; in 5E, medusas (male or female) are created as the result of a curse and they have no culture.

Eberron has always diverged from default lore; just look at gnolls, drow, and mind flayers. The fact that the default lore of medusas has changed in fifth edition doesn’t make any difference, because Eberron wasn’t using the lore of previous editions either; again, in S:CoT we have the male medusa Harash, who’s notably not a maedar. The medusas of Eberron are the medusas of Eberron: a unique species who emerged from Khyber to found a city-state on the surface, and who possess a distinct culture and language. In Eberron, vanity alone can’t make you a medusa. Which is fine, but it leaves many questions unanswered. Keep in mind that—like all of these articles—all of what I’m about to say is what I do in my Eberron campaign. Nothing here is canon, and it’s entirely possible I will contradict canon sources. This is how I use medusas; it’s a suggestion, not a fact.

What’s so interesting about medusas?

There’s many things I like about medusas.

  • They’re traditionally encountered as lone monsters, and I love turning that around and exploring the idea of medusas as a civilized people. Along with the Venomous Demesne, they have a sophisticated culture that predates Droaam, and they’re a power bloc the Daughters want to keep as allies.
  • Many of the creatures of Droaam—ogres, trolls—are creatures that rely on brute force. Medusas are more intelligent than humans. They’re an excellent tool for getting across the point that these things humans consider to be monsters may be alien, but that doesn’t make them subhuman.
  • At the same time, medusas ARE very alien, and I like exploring that. I like digging deeper into the serpent mane, and in playing up ways that human assumptions about them can be very off-base.
  • Medusas are POWERFUL and dangerous. The mere threat of their gaze is enough to change the dynamics of a conversation.
  • The Cazhaak medusas are a very spiritual people, and are the primary priests of the dominant religion in Droaam—a religion based on deities humanity fears. This is another source of power and potential story hooks, and something that can give a medusa goals that run counter to those of Droaam; Zerasha of Graywall places the her duty to the Shadow above the desires of the Daughters.

All of these things combined can make medusas excellent ambassadors, enigmatic priests, or Daask commanders. They can enforce order among dangerous and diverse minions, but they aren’t inherently bloodthirsty or brutish. They are a truly alien species, and for people who have never actually dealt with them before it’s fun to play with expectations and fears.

Where do the medusas of Eberron come from? Were they created by Orlassk?

The Cazhaak creed asserts that the Sovereigns created and cultivated weak creatures that they could dominate—pathetic, powerless creatures, like humans. It was the Shadow who gave the blessed creatures—those humans call “monsters”—their gifts. The oldest medusa myths maintain that their ancestors were slaves in the depths of Khyber—enslaved by a “stone tyrant,” most likely the daelkyr Orlassk—and that the Shadow gave them their powers and inspired them to break the yoke of their oppression and claim their freedom. Keep in mind that these are myths, passed down through oral tradition for centuries before they were even concretely codified. Gatekeepers and many modern scholars assert that it was most likely Orlaask who actually created the medusas, blending humans (Explorers? Some sort of colony?) with basilisks. But religion is about faith; even if they were presented with absolute concrete proof that Orlaask created the first medusa by merging a human and a basilisk, a medusa would say that Orlaask was simply a pawn guided by the Shadow, and that it was the Shadow who gave their ancestors the strength to rebel against the Stone Tyrant. The Cazhaak medusas know that they are children of the Shadow, and simple facts won’t shake this faith.

Regardless of the truth, the medusas are a relatively young species. In describing Cazhaak Draal, the Eberron Campaign Setting says that Cazhaak Draal “was abandoned after the daelkyr released a horde of basilisks, gorgons, and cockatrices from the depths of Khyber.” Note the lack of medusas in that description. Medusas generally resemble humans more than they do hobgoblins or dwarves (let alone gnolls), and their first historical appearance on the surface world is when they emerge to claim Cazhaak Draal. It seems likely that as a species, medusas are little over a thousand years old. On the other hand, it is entirely possible that there is a second culture of medusas that has yet to be encountered by humans—medusas who remained servants of the Stone Tyrant. So explorers in Khyber could discover a city of medusas still devoted to Orlaask, who know nothing of the Shadow or the Cazhaak creed.

What is the life cycle of medusas in your Eberron?

First of all, in my campaign maedar—the serpentless “male medusas”—are an entirely separate species. Fourth edition presented them as having a “venomous gaze” and I’d be more inclined to use these scaly, venomous humanoids as creations of the overlord Masvirik, the Cold Sun—an overlord noted for reptilian traits and poison. The medusas of Eberron are defined by their serpent mane and their petrifying gaze.

Cazhaak medusas can have a masculine or feminine appearance. Thus we have Queen Sheshka, but also the medusa Harash in Sharn, who is described as male. The majority of medusas—around 80%—have a feminine appearance. However, the fact is that medusa physiology is nothing like that of humanity and that this presumption of gender is misleading. “Female” medusas may have a feminine shape, but they don’t suckle their young and don’t actually have mammary glands. Medusa myths suggest that they were created (whether by Orlaask or the Shadow) from another humanoid species, and most likely their silhouette is an artifact of that forgotten past.

Medusa reproduction is nothing like human reproduction, and any two medusas can reproduce. After a period of foreplay that causes key chemicals to be released, two medusas entwine their serpent manes. They bite one another’s serpents, and those bitten in this way fall off of the head. The entwined, impregnated serpents undergo a metamorphosis, merging together into leathery “eggs,” eventually releasing a young medusa that blends the traits of both parents. A stranger aspect of this lifecycle is that there’s no absolute assurance how long it will take for a medusa’s egg to mature. It takes at least a year, but it’s not uncommon for an egg to take anywhere up to ten years to hatch… and some eggs never produce a child. Many medusas believe that a child has to want to emerge. Eggs are typically buried in warm sand, and it’s not uncommon for one parent to tend to their brood, singing to the eggs each night; it’s this caregiver who the medusas would call the “mother,” even though they don’t carry the children directly. This slow gestation is offset by a long lifespan. Medusas can live between three hundred to four hundred years before falling victim to old age; There are many medusas in Cazhaak Draal who were part of the expedition that originally claimed the city.

When interacting with other humanoids, medusas often adopt the pronouns people typically associate with their appearance; thus, Sheshka is a queen and uses she/her pronouns. However, the Serpentine language doesn’t use gendered terms. In Serpentine, Sheshka is simply leader, not queen.

Where did the medusas live before Cazhaak Draal? Do they live there still?

The medusas have never been a widespread or numerous people. Their myths speak of a long period of nomadic wandering following their escape from the Stone Tyrant, and describe periods of settlement in what seem to be different demiplanes—periods that always end in disaster, with the medusas being forced to move on. This exodus came to an end when they settled in a Dhakaani city deep below the surface, a vault whose keepers were slain long ago. The medusas call this city Niaanu Draal, the Mother City, and it was here that they wrote down their myths and established the traditions they carry on today. They remained in Niaanu Draal for over two centuries, before this, too, ended in tragedy. The forces of a daelkyr drove the medusas from Niaanu Draal. These enemies could not (or would not) follow the medusas to the surface, and so they came to Cazhaak Draal and claimed it as their home.

Which daelkyr did they fight? It’s possible that it was Orlaask, that the minions of the Stone Tyrant sought to reclaim its former subjects. It could be that Belashyrra was offended by these creatures with their deadly gaze, or that the crawling hordes of Valaara overran the Mother City. This battle took place centuries ago, and ultimately it only matters if a DM wants to run a story related to Niaanu Draal; as a DM, if you want to tell that story, it’s up to you to decide which daelkyr best suits the needs of your campaign. Note that this isn’t a mystery to the medusas themselves; there are medusa elders who took part in the battle, along with petrified elders who once lived in Niaanu Draal. It’s simply that there’s no reason for me to lock in a specific daelkyr here, when a different daelkyr might serve your story better. The medusas faced a great enemy they couldn’t defeat, but it has left them alone ever since. Given the enigmatic nature of the daelkyr, it’s entirely possible that this exodus was the daelkyr’s goal all along… that for some reason it wanted the medusas to rise up from Khyber.

Has Sheshka always been the Queen of Cazhaak Draal? If not, how did she gain the title?

It wasn’t Sheshka who led the medusas to Cazhaak Draal. In the novel The Queen of Stone, a warrior who’s been petrified for over a century recognizes Sheshka as “Lady Sheshka” and is surprised to discover that she is now queen. Sheshka inherited her title, but it is about more than just bloodline. Also from The Queen of Stone

“It’s not as simple as it seems.” Sheshka’s hand brushed against the silver collar that hung around her neck. “I am Sheshka, the Queen of Stone. To you, that may seem an arrogant title, an affectation of a woman who governs a city smaller than your Wroat or Passage. But it is not just a title of nobility: it is a statement of fact. I am the Queen of Stone. I hear the whisper of marble and granite…”

Essentially, Sheshka is the Queen of Stone because she IS the Queen of Stone. In a sense this is similar to the Keeper of the Flame. Medusas have varying degrees of natural affinity for stone. The regalia of the queen—the pendant Sheshka wears—amplifies this gift, but only one with the gift can attune to the collar. If Sheshka were to be killed, the medusas would search among their people for another with this gift—starting with Sheshka’s relatives, but continuing until a suitable medusa is found. So it’s as much a theocracy as it is a monarchy; Sheshka is considered to be blessed by the Shadow.

How do you see a medusa’s gaze working in general interactions. 5e’s gaze feature indiscriminately tries to petrify any qualifying targets in range…

Not exactly. Let’s look at the text…

When a creature that can see the medusa’s eyes starts its turn within 30 feet of the medusa, the medusa can force it to make a DC 14 Constitution saving throw if the medusa isn’t incapacitated and can see the creature…

There’s nothing indiscriminate about this. The medusa CAN force the creature to make a saving throw as long as the medusa can see the target, but it doesn’t HAVE to. My interpretation of this isn’t that a medusa can somehow make it safe for other creatures to look it in the eye, but rather that it’s a simple enough matter for a medusa to avoid meeting another creature’s gaze, using any of the methods I describe in this article. Notably, I still maintain that a medusa only petrifies with its primary eyes, and it can close them (or wear eyeblinders or a blindfold) and use its serpent mane for vision. In 3.5 I assigned a -2 penalty when a medusa uses its serpents for vision, and that’s an option here (fifth edition rarely does penalties, but disadvantage feels too severe). On the other hand, it’s also reasonable to say that the fifth edition medusa can choose not to petrify creatures, and that it does this by closing its main eyes and using its serpents—and therefore apply no penalty for doing so.

Fifth edition also says…

If the medusa sees itself reflected on a polished surface within 30 feet of it and in an area of bright light, the medusa is, due to its curse, affected by its own gaze.

I’m ambivalent about this. It seems very vague and ill-defined compared to the very specific degree of control the medusa has in dealing with enemies. A medusa can choose not to look at an adventurer (not forcing them to make a saving throw)—if that adventurer is holding a mirror, I’d assume it can avoid looking at that, too? I’m not adverse to the idea that a medusa could be affected by its own gaze—as the article suggests, medusas can petrify other medusas—but I think they’d be VERY used to the risks and good at avoiding them; and they’d be able to avoid the threat completely by closing their main eyes (or blindfold) and seeing through their serpents. I’d also hold closely to that “polished surface” and say that they don’t get petrified by, for example, looking at rhe rippling surface of a glass of water. So I’m fine with saying that if there’s a really well-executed plan it is POSSIBLE to petrify a medusa with their own gaze, but that it’s not something you can do casually by just wearing a mirror around your neck.

Cazhaak Draal is noted as being the spiritual center of Droaam. Do the medusas have an arcane tradition as well, and if so, what is that like?

The Cazhaak medusas have an arcane tradition. They are devoted to the Shadow, and the Shadow is a deity of KNOWLEDGE; according to Cazhaak myths, it was the Shadow who taught Aureon all that he knows. However, the Shadow is also about personal ambition and power, and rather than developing a shared system of arcane science that can support wizards and artificers (as seen in the Venomous Demesne), Cazhaak Draal is more a collection of individuals following their own secret paths to power.

Cazhaak Draal has both magewrights and adepts. Medusas have a natural affinity for stone, and their spellcasters often cast spells (or rituals) related to stone, earth, or poison. Cazhaak Draal thus has a strong corps of magewrights capable of casting mold earth and stone shape; working together and using arcane focuses they can cast move earth. More sophisticated spellcasters generally follow the model of bards (most often Whispers), sorcerers (typically Shadow or Storm), or warlocks (potentially any). In the case of warlocks, most Cazhaak warlocks believe their powers flow from the Shadow; they might have the powers of an Archfey of Great Old One patron, but those are the gifts the Shadow has bestowed upon them. However, medusa warlocks believe that the Shadow’s gift was connecting them TO their patron, and you could find a medusa warlock dealing with an archfey, a dao, or some other patron. The main point is that such spellcasters are remarkable individuals, each blazing their own trail—and thus, Cazhaak Draal overall doesn’t have the arcane infrastructure of the Venomous Demesne.

Does it bother you that mythologically, Medusa was a specific gorgon, while in D&D, medusas are a species and gorgons are an entirely different, unrelated creature?

Not really. D&D is full of such flawed mythological analogues. Greek Mythology is as irrelevant to the medusas of Eberron as the default lore of third or fourth edition. The medusas of Eberron are an alien species that share a name and a few cosmetic traits with medusa and the gorgons of mythology. (As a side note, I’ve always loved the name Euryale—one of Medusa’s sisters.)

In conclusion… What I enjoy about medusas is that they alien and intelligent, that they are spiritual but devoted to a tradition humanity shuns. Cazhaak Draal is a distinct faction within Droaam that has considerable power and influence, and I enjoy exploring its relationship with the Daughters. And I like the dramatic weight that comes with the medusa’s gaze, especially when dealing with a medusa in a non-combat situation.

Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters, who requested this topic and who are the only reason I can taker the time to write these articles!