Dragonmarks: Modern Medicine

Could there be a pandemic in Eberron? A plague spread by the Children of Winter, or a bioweapon created by the nosomantic chiurgeons of House Jorasco? How does disease even work in a world where lesser restoration can remove any disease? Given events in our world, these things are on my mind and I thought I’d tackle them with a series of articles. This post will take a quick look at medicine in the Five Nations; a follow-up article will explore the role of disease and plagues in campaigns.

HEALTH AND HEALING

Fifth edition presents a largely abstract view of health. As I’ve mentioned before, hit points are a very nebulous concept—a blend of actual physical health and luck, skill, or willpower. A character can regain hit points by spending hit dice during a short rest, and is fully restored after a long rest. When you use the Medicine skill, all you need to do is role a die. But remember that when we play D&D, we are building a story together. The rules provide a foundation for that story, but it’s up to the DM and players to add the details. MECHANICALLY you’re as good as new after a long rest, and you don’t have to do anything other than hang out for eight hours to get that benefit. But if there’s a character with the Medicine skill in your party, you might tell the story of how that character worked to patch you up during that long rest—how they had to stitch up a particularly deep wound, how they gave you a shot of Irian-infused water to keep you on your feet or rubbed a Mabaran salve on your arm to numb the pain. When someone uses the Medicine skill or an herablism kit, they or the DM can DESCRIBE them as using medical tools or techniques, even if all the PLAYER does is roll a die. The point is that the rules keep things simple; we don’t WANT player characters to spend a long time sitting on the sidelines recovering from a sprained ankle or a broken rib. But you can DESCRIBE that process of recovery in as much detail as you want.

Also, remember that in fifth edition the rules that apply to player characters don’t necessarily apply to NPCs! YOU may recover fully after a long rest, because you’re the protagonist of the story; you’re the hero in the action movie who keeps pushing on after enduring ridiculous amounts of damage. But the DM can say that an NPC takes longer to recover from a serious wound—that a city guard will need days of bedrest to recover after being dropped to zero hit points, even if they were stabilized and healed. Player characters are remarkable. We can highlight this by showing that other people DO need more time to recuperate than player characters… or their particularly remarkable opponents.

JORASCO SERVICESR

In the Five Nations, most people rely on House Jorasco for medical services. As I’ve discussed in previous articles, priests in most temples and churches aren’t spellcasters; they provide spiritual guidance, not spellcasting services. So the Jorasco healing house serves the common role of a clinic or hospital in our world. Villages or communities that don’t have a dedicated healing house will still usually have a Jorasco-trained healer, whether it’s an heir of the house or someone who learned their skills from the Healer’s Guild.

Page 10 of Rising From The Last War lists the services you can obtain from House Jorasco. The first two are tied to the Medicine skill: Minor nonmagical care or major nonmagical care. This ties back to the idea that just because PLAYER CHARACTERS don’t have to deal with sprains, concussions, broken bones, and such, these things still exist in the world! Likewise, most people rely on nonmagical treatment for diseases. Lesser restoration provides an instant cure, but the 50 gp cost is beyond the reach of most commoners. But again: there’s nothing wrong with nonmagical care. The skill is called MEDICINE; it reflects the use of medicines and medical techniques—setting broken bones, disinfecting wounds, treating fevers, and on and on. Again, most player characters never need these things; but the common people do, and Jorasco provides these services.

Then we get to magical services. Lesser restoration costs 50 gp; remove curse is 75 gp; greater restoration is 150 gp. Who provides these services? What does this help actually look like? Here again, player characters are remarkable. The typical Jorasco healer isn’t a cleric; they’re a magewright. Per page 318 of Rising From The Last War, a magewright casts lesser restoration as a ritual that takes an hour and that requires “additional material components” that cost up to 40 gp. MECHANICALLY this is a “ritual that requires components.” But this is where the idea of arcane science enters the picture. I don’t see a Jorasco healer as sitting next to you chanting for that hour, and then POOF you’re healed. In my opinion, the “ritual” reflects medical work. They may be using divining rods and Irian salves instead of CAT scans and antibiotics, but they are starting with a foundation of mundane skill and then ADDING magic to accelerate the effects and perform healing that is impossible with skill alone. You can have the Jorasco chiurgeon shouting “I need a Lamannian rod and 5 cc’s of Mabaran moss, STAT!” as they work to break your curse or cure your disease. Likewise, the spell uses “40 gp of additional components”—but those components might be ENTIRELY DIFFERENT depending on WHAT they are treating. So: mechanically, a Jorasco healer can cure cackle fever or sewer plague by casting lesser restoration. But how they cure these two different diseases might LOOK entirely different. And once you accept the idea that different diseases require different components to treat them, you have the possibility that a Jorasco house could run out of the components needed to cure a specific disease! Now, refined Eberron shards can take the place of any costly component, and this can help with an outbreak; but if you’re in an isolated village, residuum could be harder to find than Mabaran moss. To be clear, this isn’t a concern for player characters. When your cleric casts lesser restoration it’s NOT a ritual and doesn’t require components… but again, that’s because player characters are remarkable!

How does the Mark of Healing factor into this? The simple answer is that most magewrights with the Healer specialty are assumed to be halflings with the Mark of Healing; they are able to master this specialty because they have the mark, and they are channeling the powers of the mark any time they cast their rituals. This is the same as the concept that you could play a Jorasco Life cleric who presents their healing magic as being drawn from their mark as opposed to religious faith. So they ARE using the mark to heal; it’s just that this uses standard magewright mechanics.

All of these same principles apply to the other services that Jorasco offers. Remove curse can be presented as a sort of magical infection. It’s not that the Jorasco healer mumbles for an hour and the curse stops; it’s that they perform a sort of mystical surgery, literally carving the curse out of your aura. While the RULES say remove curse never fails when cast on a player character, it’s still possible that it doesn’t always work on NPCs and that it’s normally potentially dangerous! Note that greater restoration is a 5th level spell—beyond the standard wide magic available in the Five Nations—and that Rising notes that only Jorasco’s finest healers can perform the ritual.

And finally, there’s raise dead. This is supposed to be a rare service, something available only at the finest Jorasco houses. This is typically tied to a focus item, the altar of resurrection. But there’s a number of points that have been spread out across various sourcebooks. The first is the idea that again, while Raise Dead always works on PLAYER CHARACTERS, it’s NOT reliable for NPCs! First of all, memory starts to fade as soon as a soul reaches Dolurrh. Someone has to CHOOSE to return to life… and if they’ve spend too much time in Dolurrh, they may no longer remember why they want to return. Even if they wish to return, sometimes the spell just doesn’t work. Sometimes it can restore life but draw the wrong soul back into the body. Or it may summon a number of hostile ghosts while leaving the corpse dead… or draw a marut that seeks to destroy the would-be healer. This is why wealthy people AREN’T automatically raised immediately after death; because for most people it simply isn’t a valid argument. What we’ve said is that IF a Jorasco house has the ability to raise the dead, they will always cast augury before raise dead… and if the proposed resurrection draws a result of woe, they will refuse to take the case. Essentially, raise dead is a tool that lets us bring player characters and crucial villains back from the dead; but it’s not a service for everyone! This is a topic I’ve discussed in more detail before: this article explores resurrection and alternatives to death, while this article considers the idea that you could add a personal price to resurrection beyond the components of the spell.

WHAT ABOUT FAITH HEALING?

As I’ve said: in the Five Nations, people don’t go to temples to be healed, they go to hospitals. But what about places like Thrane, where divine magic is more widespread? Or the Eldeen Reaches, where there’s more of an emphasis on primal magic than on the industrial magic of House Jorasco?

The Wayfinder’s Guide to Eberron discusses the idea of adepts, divine or primal counterparts to arcane magewrights. Page 127 of Rising notes that “divine adepts provide important services.” There still ARE Jorasco houses in Thrane, it’s simply that divine magic IS more widespread. You still wouldn’t go to the temple and ask the priest to cure you, but there are clinics tied to the Church of the Silver Flame where adepts can heal you. Such clinics can also be found in other nations, typically tied to adepts of Olladra; in the Eldeen Reaches, there are druidic adepts—often called gleaners—who may be able to perform healing rituals. The magic of an adept LOOKS different than that of a magewright; a Silver Flame adept will chant while they treat you, while seeking to excise malign influences with blades of light. But a critical point is that mechanically there’s no difference between an adept and a magewright, which means that this healing still takes an hour to perform and still costs the adept 40 gp. The components may be DIFFERENT than those used by the arcane magewright, but the point is that magically healing generally can’t be offered for free because it’s not free for the caster. In the Eldeen Reaches, it’s not that a druid spends 40 gp to buy components; it’s that the ritual consumes rare roots and herbs (likely charged with the essence of Lamannia or Irian) that would have such a value if they had to buy them. Usually people rely on the Medicine skill because magic has a price.

Q&A

Is the germ theory of disease known in Eberron? Or is there some truth to the humoral theory in a fantasy world where the four elements are more of a real thing than in our own? This would come into play in order to determine such behaviour as hand-washing and sterilisation of instruments or blood letting. For that matter, is there room for alternative medicines, rejecting that of Jorasco?

To answer the last question first, there’s DEFINITELY room for alternative theories and approaches to medicine. I expect that Riedra and Aerenal have dramatically different approaches to medicine. However, the crucial point is that MECHANICALLY this all works out to using the Medicine skill and to the benefits of resting. You can DESCRIBE it with exotic color, but at the end of the day it doesn’t MATTER if your healer is using Jorasco traditions or Riedran qi manipulation; the result is the same.

Going back to the first part of the question, this touches on an interesting point. Because it’s not simply whether the people of Eberron are familiar with germ theory, it’s the question of are most diseases in Eberron actually caused by germs? This is a world where werewolves, undead, and fiends are REAL THREATS. Lycanthropy isn’t caused by germs, and there could be any number of other diseases in Eberron that are actually cause by a mild form of demonic possession or by transmutation effects. There’s definitely a school of medicine that is based on the balance between planar influences, asserting that if you have a fever it’s because your Fernian influences are too high and you need to be treated with Risian ice… And in Eberron, that may be true. So there are germborne diseases in Eberron, but it’s not the ONLY form of disease out there and may not be the foundation of Jorasco treatment. I’ll talk more about kinds of diseases in the follow-up article, but the main point is, again, that this is somewhat cosmetic. Whether the disease is caused by a germ or an evil spirt, you counter it with rest, Medicine, or lesser restoration. These treatments are all tied to theories of medicine, but whichever theory you use, it will work according to the rules. Though you’re certainly free to say Bloodletting is a terrible principle that DOESN’T work, and while there are healers who perform bloodletting, they aren’t proficient in the Medicine skill and provide no actual benefits! Likewise, Jorasco potions of healing are reliable, but if you buy your healing potions from some unlicensed charlatan, you could find that all you’ve bought is snake oil. Trust that Jorasco logo!

Do the people of Eberron know how to prevent/treat scurvy or what it really is? 

This is similar to the preceding question, and could ultimately be asked about any disease from our world. But Eberron’s not our world. For all we know, the Ring of Siberys could radiate an aura of vitamin C, and it could be impossible to have a C deficiency in Eberron. There’s no rules for scurvy in 5E, and it’s never been mentioned as a problem in any sourcebook, so the default is that it’s not a problem—either because it’s been identified and people know how to deal with it, or because for some reason ((C-rays from the Ring of Siberys!) it’s just not an issue. I’ll talk about this more in the follow-up post, but the short form is that you need to decide what diseases you want to be threats, and ultimately what makes a good story. Personally, I don’t feel that players running out of oranges and catching scurvy is a story I want to tell, but that shouldn’t stop you from doing so!

If magewrights can carve a curse out of a person’s aura, was this ever suggested as a solution during the Lycanthropic Inquisition by Jorasco or the Silver Flame’s own minor healers?

Certainly. Under the rules of fifth edition, that’s EXACTLY how you treat lycanthropy: you cast remove curse, and if you’re doing it as a magewright ritual that means you’re performing just this sort of spiritual surgery. However, there’s a few factors here as regards the Silver Crusade…

  • Bear in mind that especially early on, I’m sure the templars DID cure people when they had the ability to do so. It simply wasn’t viable as an overall solution to the problem, based on resources, the number of lycanthropes, and the fact that you would have to capture and hold lycanthropes alive to do this—and especially in the early days of the Purge, the odds were stacked against the Templars. They didn’t have the luxury of trying to take most of their enemies alive; they were lucky if THEY could stay alive.
  • If you’re using magewrights or adepts, you need 60 gp worth of specialized components to cast that ritual. What are those components? Are they specialized to each type of lycanthropy (IE, you need to treat a wereboar with different herbs than a wererat), or general? It’s quite reasonable to say that when the Crusade began the templars didn’t have either full knowledge of proper treatment or that they simply didn’t have access to sufficient supplies of the appropriate components—and this was before the residuum revolution which lets you use refined dragonshards instead of any component.
  • Critically: Lycanthropy during the Purge was different from lycanthropy as it exists today. This is literally true, as the rules for curing lycanthropy in 3.5 rules are far more difficult that just casting remove curse. It either has to be done by a 12th level cleric within three days of the affliction (and 12th level clerics are VERY rare in Eberron) or it has to be attempted during a full moon… and the victim has to make a DC 20 Will save for it to work. Eberron gets a lot of full moons, but still, that’s a lot of time and resources for a ritual that has a very high chance of not working.

The simplest explanation for the change in the rules of lycanthropy is that lycanthropy itself has changed: that the power of the curse is now weaker than it was during the purge, because the influence of the overlord or daelkyr behind the surge has faded… or alternatively, because techniques for treating lycanthropy have advanced significantly over the last century. Either way, lycanthropy can now be effectively treated by a magewright performing remove curse; that doesn’t change the fact that it wasn’t a viable solution to the problem at the height of the purge.

That’s all for now! When time allows, I’ll write a follow-up article about using disease in an Eberron campaign, but my Patreon supporters will decide the topic of the next article. Until then, wash your hands!

IFAQ: Dragonshards and Tharashk

When did dragonshards become important as magical fuel? House Tharashk was discovered in 498 YK. The lightning rail went into operation in 811 YK, but Tharashk only stepped up mining in the Shadow Marches & Q’barra in the past decade? What delayed them so long?

There’s two significant questions here: When did dragonshards become important and why did it take Tharashk so long to start major mining operations in Q’barra?

The spells, items, and services available in 998 YK represent the pinnacle of arcane science. Like any form of science, these things didn’t emerge into the world fully formed. The lightning rail of 811 YK was the result of decades of research and development—and it was quite different than the lightning rail of 998 YK. It originally used volatile Fernian ash as its fuel, and both the binding and the conductor stones had flaws.

Eberron dragonshards are found across Eberron. Xen’drik, the Shadow Marches, and Q’barra are especially rich sources of dragonshards, but there are dragonshard deposits across Khorvaire. Eberron dragonshards are an important element in the creation of magic items and in maintaining ongoing magical effects—such as the lightning rail and elemental airships. Eberron shards can be refined into a powdered form that can be used in place of any spell component with a cost.

So: it’s possible to perform most forms of arcane science without dragonshards; it just takes a range of different substance, which are usually more exotic and specific to the effect being produced. However, this uses refined Eberron dragonshard powder (also known as residuum). Raw dragonshards can be used, but unless they are processed and refined it’s inefficient; you’re significantly better off using the other alternative. Because of this, the process of refining dragonshards to create residuum was a crucial breakthrough that had cascading effects across the magical economy. While creating magic items still requires a range of additional rare elements, the universal nature of refined dragonshards allowed Cannith and others to dramatically increase both the range and scale of production. Using processed dragonshards as an energy source made the lightning rail safer and allowed Orien to operate more carriages. But again, this process of refining was a breakthrough that occured less than two centuries ago, and it’s a process that continued to be explored.

So: Eberron Dragonshards have always been a valuable source of magical energy, but it wasn’t until the last two centuries that they became as valuable and universal as they are today. Eberron dragonshards CAN be found across Khorvaire, and initially, that supply was sufficient to meet demands. But within the last century that demand has steadily grown—which has in turn driven people to find richer pools to draw on.

This brings us to House Tharashk. Why are their operations in Q’barra only a decade old? House Tharashk began as a house of hunters, not prospectors. For centuries its primary focus was on inquisitive work and bounty hunting. Prospecting is a relatively new path that arose both with the increased demand for dragonshards mentioned above and crucially with the creation of the prospector’s rod. As with many houses, the base powers of the dragonmark aren’t as important as the focus items that channel that power. As the speaking stone is to House Sivis, the prospector’s rod is to Tharashk: it is this tool that expands the powers of the mark beyond the simple scope of casting locate object and allows prospecting on an industrial scale.

In my Eberron, it’s a mistake to say that prospecting in the SHADOW MARCHES only began ten years ago. Dragonmarked calls out that House Sivis originally came to the Shadow Marches in search of dragonshards, and that the mineral wealth of the Shadow Marches has always been a secondary source of wealth for the house. That effort may have increased over the past decade as the house as a whole has realized that there’s more wealth and influence to be gained from dragonshards than bounty hunting, but it’s been something that has been scaling up over the course of the past century.

Q’barra, on the other hand, IS a new development. The world’s a big place, and Tharashk hasn’t been able to search all of it. Prior to the Last War, Q’barra was a shunned backwater thought filled with hostile scales. The Dragon articles call out that it was only ten years ago that settlers discovered rich deposits of dragonshards in Q’barra. Tharashk responded quickly to this discovery and has ramped up its efforts ever since. But why didn’t they go there earlier? Because they already had a rich source of dragonshards in the Shadow Marches and were still expanding their operations, and because no one knew there were dragonshards in Q’barra. It’s entirely possible that there are other rich deposits in Khorvaire that have yet to be discovered!

Ultimately, the key takeaway here is that the arcane industry in Eberron is just like industry and science in our world. It evolves and expands. The current state of things in 998 YK reflects the latest developments; drop back to 498 YK or 811 YK and the world will be a much different place.

Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters for keeping this blog going! I’ll be posting a poll to the inner circle soon to determine the subject of the next article.

Dragonmarks: Gnolls and the Znir Pact

Art by Mariana Suarez Otero for Eberron Expanded

In the dawn of time, before the Sovereigns and the Silver Flame, Eberron was the domain of the fiendish overlords. This was an age of chaos, as the overlords constantly clashed with one another. The Rage of War commanded armies of fiends and savages, while the Wild Heart raised hordes of ravenous beasts. In the struggles between the two, the Wild Heart bred dire hyenas that could consume the Zakya warriors of Rak Tulkhesh. But fiends cannot be permanently slain by tooth or claw; their energy remains. Twisted from within by the immortal essence of the demons they’d devoured, the hyenas were warped into something entirely new, something that was neither beast or demon: and so the first gnolls were born.

Formed from both War and the Wild, the first gnolls were recruited and bred by both Rak Tulkhesh and the Wild Heart. As foot soldiers of the overlords they fought against orcs and the other early humanoids, as well as battling gnoll clans serving other overlords. Even after the overlords were defeated and bound by the Silver Flame, gnolls continued to be pawns of the overlords. The fiendish spark burned within them, and when they weren’t directly serving the Lords of Dust, most gnolls engaged in savage acts of brutality. The Dhakaani goblins ruthlessly exterminated gnolls in imperial territories, driving them back into the wilds.

In the present day gnolls are primarily found on the west coast of Khorvaire. Here’s a few notable concentrations of gnolls.

  • Gnolls are found across the Demon Wastes. Some have integrated into the Carrion Tribes, while other clans refuse to have anything to do with other creatures. These gnolls have embraced the Rage of War and engage in endless, ecstatic violence; when there are no outsiders to fight, they find reasons to battle the other clans. There have been times in the past when a great leader has united them and lead a horde through the Labyrinth, and this could happen again; but for the most part they are one of the ongoing dangers of the Demon Wastes, ever hungry to spill blood in the name of Rak Tulkhesh.
  • The gnolls of the Towering Wood are creatures of the Wild Heart. These feral hunters prowl through the Eldeen Reaches, preying on any creatures who cross their paths. These gnolls rarely organize beyond clans. The fact that they don’t form armies limits the overall threat that they pose to the people of the Towering Woods; they’ve never amassed in sufficient numbers to threaten the Greenheart, for example. But because they’re scattered and mobile, the Wardens of the Wood and the shifter tribes of the Towering Woods have never been able to end the threat. Clans melt away into the depths, appearing to strike isolated villages and travelers. Some say that there is a piece of the Towering Wood that can only be found by gnolls and lycanthropes who serve the Wild Heart—a dark haven where these feral forces build their strength and wait to strike.
  • There at least two gnoll clans that live deep in the King’s Forest of Breland. While smaller than the clans of the Towering Wood, these gnolls are likewise driven by the Wild Heart; they are cruel hunters who take pleasure in terrifying their quarry. Typically they remain in the wildest, darkest depths of the King’s Forest, avoiding the Knight Rangers and restricting their attacks to those fools who stray far from the safe paths. But there have been times when their numbers have grown, and when gnoll raiders have emerged from the Forest to prey on surrounding villagers.

While savage gnolls are often tied to the Rage of War or the Wild Heart, few know those names. Clans are guided by warlocks and fiendish visions, and each clan has its own name for the power that fuels their thirst for blood. The gnolls of Rak Tulkhesh show more martial discipline, while the gnolls of the Wild Heart are feral and cunning. Both are uniformly cruel, taking pleasure not simply in spilling blood but in instilling terror in their prey. The last great raid across the Labyrinth was centuries ago, but the people of Aundair still share grisly tales of the horrors unleashed by the pillaging gnolls, and Brelish children know gnolls devour those fools who stray from the path. This uniform cruelty is unusual in Eberron, where goblins are often more honorable than humans and orcs may be champions of the light. But gnolls aren’t natural creatures; they were shaped by overlords, and the essence of demons flows through their veins. They were bred to spill blood and sow terror, and for countless generations they gleefully embraced that path. But there are gnolls who reject the foul influence of their creators… such as the Znir Pact of Droaam.

THE ZNIR PACT

The region now known as Droaam has long been home to gnoll clans. The Rage of War seeks endless battle, and when there is no greater conflict it delights in setting its minions against one another. For countless generations, gnolls fought troll, ogre, and other gnolls seeking blood for their hungry idols. Centuries ago two gnolls from rival clans faced one another on a battlefield soaked in the blood of their kin and questioned the path that had led them there. The two urged others to deny the voice that called for endless war, to refuse to chase death in the service of a fiend. Two became four, then eight, until entire clans heeded the call. Clan leaders dragged their idols to the place now known as Znir—a word that simply means stone—and there they shattered the images of the fiends they once served. Together the gathered hunters, shamans, and warriors swore an oath: They might be many clans, but from this day forward they would be one pack. They would allow no one—not chieftain, god, or demon—to hold dominion over them.

This was easier said than done. Fighting the fiendish influence within was challenging enough, but the western wilds were a chaotic tapestry of battling forces. The leaders of the newly forged Pact had no desire to rule over other creatures, but even just holding their territory would invite attack. And so they developed the path that has carried them forward to this day: the road of the mercenary. The gnolls would claim no territory beyond the lands around Znir. They would fight for any who would pay a fair price. But if anyone sought to enslave a gnoll, or to strike against Znir itself, they would face the wrath of all of the united clans. This was a lesson that had to be taught many times, but after a century or so, the point was made. To those who paid them, the gnolls were as reliable as stone. Those who betrayed them or who picked a fight would fall before the might of the full Pact.

Some scholars of the Five Nations find it strange that the Znir Pact never took the path of conquest. There was no parallel to the united force of the Pact within the region, and they could have defeated the various chieftains and warlords they served. But the fact is that the gnolls have never had a desire to rule other creatures. They love the hunt and the thrill of battle. The path of the Pact allows them to do what comes naturally—to stalk and kill, to fight endless battles. But they do so together. They choose the paths they follow and the battles they fight. One could look at the Pact and say that they serve many masters. But the Znir gnoll would respond that they serve only themselves: that they choose who they fight for, that they set the terms of their service.

Znir Clans

The Znir gnolls include a dozen different clans, each of which holds onto distinct traditions. Once the clans were devoted to different faces of the overlords, but when they shattered the statue, each clan chose one of the moons. All gnolls hunt and fight, but the Barrakas are known to be the finest trackers of the Pact; the Aryth the deadliest archers; and the Olarune are the strongest warriors and most forceful in the vanguard. Typically, mercenary units are comprised of gnolls of a single clan, assigned based on the nature of the task that lies ahead, and contracts are usually negotiated for a period based on cycles of the clan’s moon. The clans maintain distinct territories within the Znir region. Despite this, all gnolls are welcome around the hearth of any clan; the Znir take pains to crush any tension that arrises between the clans. Shamans and leaders from each clan maintain a council at the Znir, around the broken idols. Here they mediate disputes, assign contracts to clans, and allocate funds and equipment. The Eyre clan have honed their skills as smiths and tanners, and they craft much of the equipment used by the Znir gnolls… though there is still a strong tradition of scavenging among the Znir, and warriors will often claim trophies from fallen foes.

Gnoll vs Gnoll

Droaam is a small place, and the Znir will serve any who will pay a fair price. This inevitably leads to conflict between Znir gnolls. In such situations, Znir will fight one another with all their skill. But they will strike to wound… and a gnoll wounded by another gnoll will immediately withdraw from battle, no matter how superficial the wound. While some clients take umbrage at this—You can still fight! Get back out there!—this is an absolute rule of all Znir contracts, and those who defy this will be punished by the united clans.

In general, the Znir take their contracts seriously. If the client breaks the terms of the agreement, the contract immediately ends. As long as terms are met, Znir will face any danger and will never betray a client. They have earned this reputation over the course of centuries, and this gives them a place much like the Sentinel Marshals of House Deneith in Khorvaire; everyone knows that the word of the Znir is as unbreakable as stone.

The Daughters and Tharashk

In their rise to power, the Daughters of Sora Kell have contracted for fully half of the forces of the Znir Pact (divided among all clans). This is an extended contract, under which the gnolls serve both as soldiers, hunters, and peacekeepers. Most large communities have a Znir garrison that’s serving the Daughters. These troops are present to protect the region from brigands or invaders, and to help maintain order. But they serve the Daughters, not the local warlord; it’s understood that if the warlord turns against the Daughters, the local Znir will act in their interests. The remainder of the Pact serves other masters. Many warlords maintain their own Znir forces, either as bodyguards, enforcers, or hunters. House Tharashk has also begun brokering the services of Znir gnolls within the Five Nations. The Pact is still cautious about this arrangement, however. Within Droaam, Znir customs are known and respected, and the Znir can unite against anyone who defies them. The Znir recognize that they don’t hold such power over the rulers of the Five Nations… and thus they are concerned about serving so far from their stones. In addition to those who serve through House Tharashk, a number of Znir have been sent east to study the Five Nations, gathering knowledge of its people and customs so the Znir council can determine how to engage with the wider world. This scouting role is a reasonable path for a gnoll player character; it’s their job to travel the world beyond and learn its ways, and to make friends and allies.

The Demon Within

The Znir defied the overlords when they shattered their statues, but there is still a spark of a fiend in the blood of each gnoll. Znir refuse to allow the demon within to hold dominion over them. Young gnolls learn how to resist this influence—to channel the strength of the fiend without giving it power over them. For most gnolls this is simply a matter of discipline. Znir gnolls are known for remaining calm in the face of provocation; having learned to fight their own demons, they aren’t easily manipulated by mortals. However, some gnolls learn to draw on their unnatural heritage and to channel this power in useful ways. Znir gnolls have their own equivalents of rangers and barbarians; the ranger’s primal magic draws on the Wild Heart, while the barbarian channels the fury of the Rage of War. Znir shamans are similar to warlocks, typically following the path of the Fiend. However, in all of these examples, the Znir don’t serve the dark power. Rather, they can be seen as stealing their strength from it; learning to draw on it without giving anything in return.

In their determination not to let fiendish forces hold dominion over their people, the Znir gnolls have also developed their own techniques for fighting supernatural threats. Champions trained to face fiends and undead are known as hwyri, and wield powers similar to those of paladins in other lands. However, hwyri don’t worship any divine power. Their abilities come from training and understanding of the demon within; they aren’t crusaders, they’re mercenary demon hunters. Most hwyri come from the Vult clan, and in a land that shuns the Silver Flame, these gnolls can be the best hope for people facing fiendish threats. There has been some tension between the Vult and the lycanthropes of the Dark Pack; the Vult shamans suspect that the Pack is vulnerable to the influence of the Wild Heart.

ZNIR GNOLL TRAITS

Exploring Eberron will include my rules for Znir gnoll player characters. For the moment, here’s a few general tips on playing a Znir gnoll.

  • Bone Eaters. Gnolls possess powerful jaws, as reflected by their bite attack. Gnolls can chew through and digest bone, and dislike letting food go to waste. When savage gnolls raid a village, they will consume even the bones of their victims. Znir gnolls won’t eat their fallen foes if they’re in the company of creatures who will be uncomfortable with such behavior. But they will often eat a small piece of any creature they slay—even if it’s just a finger—to form a bond with the victim. The Znir believe that those you kill wait for you in the realm of death, and honoring them ensures that they won’t be hungry when you travel to that land.
  • Pack Instincts. Gnolls have very strong pack instincts. They instinctively work together in combat, and they think nothing of placing themselves in harm’s way to protect their kin. Znir gnolls will not deceive members of their pack; if there are problems, they will call them out directly. If a gnoll character adopts a group of adventurers as their temporary pack, these things apply to the other players—but they will be surprised and angry if their non-gnoll packmates don’t show them the same respect.
  • Casual Aggression. Gnolls often seem very aggressive to other creatures. However, gnolls themselves don’t consider casual intimidation to be a hostile act; it’s just a way to establish a place in the hierarchy of the pack, largely ignored once that hierarchy is established. One of the most common ways this manifests is that gnolls make demands rather than requests. As a gnoll, use active statements rather than passive queries.
  • Cunning Hunters. Gnolls are strong and aggressive by nature. But both the Znir gnolls and there savage kin are cunning hunters rather than simple brutes. Gnolls work together as a pack, always searching for weaknesses in enemies and supporting injured allies. Znir goals won’t break their word, but they don’t hold to any idea of honorable conduct on the battlefield; they are ruthless and efficient, and see nothing wrong with ambushing or tricking a superior foe. Some gnolls have a supernatural knack for minicry, and will use this gift to draw enemies into danger.
  • The Fiend Within. As a gnoll, there is a spark of demonic influence within you. The Znir learn to control this at an early age. But how does it manifest in you? Do you suppress it completely, or do you channel it in some way—possibly reflected by your class abilities? Are you a hwyri who seeks to fight supernatural threats, or are you not concerned with such things?

That’s all I have time for today, but you’ll find more about gnolls and the Znir Pact in Exploring Eberron! Thanks to my Patreon supporters, who keep this site going and who chose this topic!

iFAQ: Warforged, Blood, and the Blood of Vol

People ask me a lot of questions about Eberron. While I’ve typically answered the most frequently asked questions at sometime in the past, every now and then there’s an INFREQUENTLY asked question that still seems like it’s worth answering. Over the last few weeks two of those have come my way. How could a warforged become a cleric of the Blood of Vol? And can a warforged become a vampire?

Could a Warforged Become a Cleric of the Blood of Vol?

The Blood of Vol is based on the principle that the blood of the living holds a spark of divine power, and that all mortals have the potential to harness and evolve that Divinity Within. A Seeker cleric believes they are drawing on their own divine spark when they cast spells.

Warforged don’t have blood. Therefore, it seems logical to assume that they don’t have the spark of the Divinity Within. So why would they follow the Blood of Vol, and how could a warforged Seeker paladin or cleric justify their divine magic?

To begin with, let’s start with the WHY. Ultimately, the Blood of Vol faith is grounded in the question what just god would allow death and suffering, with the conclusion none; the fact that we suffer shows that if there are gods, they are cruel. All we have is each other, and we must stand together and defy death. The Seekers place a strong emphasis on community and protecting the weak. Any death is tragic. They use undead because once the spark is gone, there’s no reason NOT to use the corpse if it can help protect the living. More powerful undead—vampires, mummies—know that they will never achieve divinity, as they lost their divine spark when they died; but they can still fight to defend and to guide the living, to be champions of life… and perhaps someday topple the Sovereigns themselves and free the entire world from the curse of mortality. This is where the warforged Seeker comes in. They have no blood, and presumably no divine spark. But they are immune to disease and to the ravages of time. A warforged is in many ways much like a mummy. They can’t achieve true divinity, but they can protect and guide others. So the warforged Seeker priest isn’t driven by a desire for personal power; rather, they are driven by compassion and the desire to protect their community from suffering and death.

But what about the HOW? If Seeker clerics draw their power from their own blood, how do they get magic? Well, first of all, remember that the “drawing power from within” is an article of faith. They don’t KNOW the power comes from within with any more absolute certainty than a paladin of Dol Arrah knows that their power comes from Dol Arrah. So one option is to simply say “It works, don’t question it.” But the other example is to look to the mummy. Malevanor, the high priest of the Blood of Vol in Atur, is a mummy. He has no blood. So how does he cast spells? There’s two simple answers. The first is the idea that he draws on the divinity of the people around him. This ties to the strong community focus of the Blood of Vol; he can’t attain personal divinity, but he can draw on that potential within you and use that power to protect or heal you. With that said, what happens if you’re not around? Well, Seeker communities donate blood to sustain their champions. Vampires drink this blood, and while it is within them this connects them to the sparks of the living. Seeker mummies and liches BATHE in the blood of the faithful, and this charges their power for a short time.

So for your warforged cleric, the simplest answer is that they draw their power from the rest of the party! If you want to be creepy about it and the rest of the characters are willing, they could actually get blood donations from the party. But you could also just say that the proximity spark does the trick. On the other hand, you could also just say that they don’t KNOW how it works, but it does work… and that they BELIEVE it’s because they (and presumably all other warforged) have divinity within as well, despite having no blood. This would certainly be an interesting long term arc to explore!

Having said all that, back around 2005 I worked with David Esbri—who was at the time doing illustrations for the RPGA—on an early concept for an Eberron comic. One of the villains in that was a Warforged tied to the Emerald Claw who had embedded components allowing it to drain blood from its victims… essentially, an artificial vampire who believed that he could use this blood to become divine. So you could always explore a more exotic path!

Can Warforged Become Vampires?

There’s many answers to this question. The simple answer is that under the rules of 3.5 they couldn’t; “vampire” was a template that couldn’t be applied to constructs, and 3.5 warforged were constructs. The 5E rules have changed, however, and by the rules as written a warforged can become a vampire. However, the rules are guidelines, not absolute and inflexible! In my opinion, this is a case where the DM has to decide what they want from the STORY. Does it make SENSE for a warforged to be able to become a vampire, when it has no blood and doesn’t eat in the first place?

In my campaign, I would say that no, a warforged cannot become a vampire. A vampire can drain the LIFE FORCE from a warforged, but it has no blood for a vampire to drink. Vampire spawn rise when “buried in the soil”—I don’t see this having much meaning for a warforged. I DO think that warforged can become undead—that they can become vessels for the power of Mabar, channels through which it can consume the essence of the living—but I would be inclined to create a unique warforged expression of vampirism, rather than just forcing the standard bloodthirsty form onto them. I’d see it as draining energy like a wight as opposed to drinking blood, and I’d consider which of the traditional vampire powers made sense and what it might have instead.

That’s all I have time for today! Have you used warforged seekers or undead in your campaign?

ExE: Cults of the Dragon Below

The Cults of the Dragon Below have been a part of Eberron from the very beginning, but there’s never been much detail about them. The basic idea has always been that “Cult of the Dragon Below” is a general term applied to a vast array of disparate sects driven by delusions or by ties to a dark power (typically a daelkyr or an overlord). But there’s only been a few cases where we have concrete examples of specific Cults of the Dragon Below. The Whisperers and the Inner Sun have both been mentioned in Dragon articles, while the cult in Khyber’s Harvest are traditional loyalists tied to Belashyrra. In Exploring Eberron, I wanted to go deeper—to give very concrete examples of cults and the powers behind them. How do the cults of Dyrrn differ from the followers of Valaara or Sul Khatesh? Beyond the basic introduction shown above, this section presents ten of the dark powers that create Cults of the Dragon Below and explores their goals, methods, and beliefs.

One statement that may come as a surprise to people is the idea that “Only a fraction of the Cults of the Dragon Below knowingly serve a daelkyr or overlord.” There’s basically three levels of this understanding.

  • Many corrupted cults are influenced by a dark power but don’t recognize this and don’t worship that power. In the example given above, the Vigilant Eye is a cult that is connected to Belashyrra, and SOME Vigilant Eye cults recognize this and offer prayers and bloody sacrifices to the Lord of Eyes. But you could easily have a Vigilant Eye cult in the Sharn Watch whose members believe that their new eyes are a blessing from Aureon, and that its visions reveal hidden evils in peoples’ hearts. This is a threat, because these false visions may guide the cultists to murder innocents—but the cultists don’t worship Belashyrra and truly believe that they are serving a righteous cause.
  • Traditional cults worship an entity… but they may not acknowledge the true nature of that being. In the Shadow Marches, most people know Kyrzin as a dangerous threat; in local folktales it’s typically known as the Prince of Slime or the Bile Lord. The Whisperers worship Kyrzin by the name the Regent of Whispers, and say that the Regent grants the gift of immortality to the faithful through the medium of the Gibbering Beasts. Neither of these two groups—common Marchers, Whisperers—may know that the creature they are worshipping or cursing is a daelkyr. The daelkyr incursion took place thousands of years ago, long before humanity even arrived on Khorvaire. So the Whisperers knowingly worship a being that others fear, but a) they believe that Kyrzin is benevolent force and b) they don’t know that it’s a daelkyr. Because that’s not relevant to their beliefs; what matters is that the Regent creates gibbering mouthers and shows them the path to eternal life.
  • Loyalists and most transactional cults knowingly traffic with dark powers and may well know the name and nature of the being they are dealing with. This is your path for the Carrion barbarians who howl prayers to Rak Tulkhesh as they charge their enemies, or the warlock bargaining with Sul Khatesh for forbidden arcane secrets.

These are the fractions—those with no real knowledge of the force they serve, those who interpret that force in a different way than others, and those that knowingly embrace a daelkyr or overlord. Ultimately, it’s up to the DM to decide the balance between those three, and which is the most common.

As you can see, editing and layout is continuing (thanks to the tireless efforts of Wayne Chang and Laura Hirsbrunner). However, I am also still writing: the various complications I’ve been dealing with are ongoing (… and the book is getting longer…) and I don’t have a firm release date yet. I’ll post a date as soon as I have one I’m sure of.

In the meantime, thanks again to my Patreon supporters who keep this blog going—a gnoll article is on the way soon!

When is a Crossbow not a Crossbow?

Given the overall sophistication of Eberron, it can seem strange that people use medieval weapons. In a world of airships and warforged, why haven’t people created more effective personal weapons? Rising From The Last War highlights the spread of wandslingers, soldiers who fight using damage-dealing cantrips. But becoming a wandslinger requires specialized training; you can’t just hand a peasant a wand. So the question remains: in a world that’s this sophisticated and has an industrial base, wouldn’t people develop effective weapons that anyone can use?

Gunpowder is one possible answer. The Dungeon Master’s Guide includes rules for firearms, and I present my thoughts on this in this article. But it’s not my preferred answer. One of the basic ideas of Eberron is that it’s not a setting that mixes magic and technology, but rather a world in which magic is used instead of technology. So rather than having the people of the Five Nations use gunpowder, I’d rather find an alternative that fills the same niche but is unique to Eberron. So: we’re looking for an affordable weapon that anyone can use without training. This weapon should be better than a medieval crossbow, but it doesn’t need to match a modern firearm; in general, Eberron’s advances are closer to the late 19th century than to what we had in the 20th. This ties to the simple point that this weapon shouldn’t break the balance of the game. If you introduce a cheap weapon anyone can use that does twice the damage of an offensive cantrip, you’ve just broken the balance of the magic system. Beyond that, weapons don’t NEED to do more damage. Hit points are an abstract system. Per the PHB, “Hit points represent a combination of physical and mental durability, the will to live, and luck.” If a character has 30 hit points, that’s not supposed to mean that you could stab them in the heart four times with a dagger and they’d laugh it off; it reflects the idea that you can’t land a killing blow until they run out of hit points. If they’ve got hit points, they’re able to parry an otherwise lethal blow, or a potentially deadly arrow only grazes them. 1d8 is all the damage it takes to kill a goblin or a commoner; the fact that you can’t kill a more powerful creature with a single shot isn’t necessarily the fault of the weapon, it’s the cinematic idea that you can’t land the lethal blow.

So with all that in mind, what are we actually looking for with a superior weapon? The weapons we have will already drop a commoner with one shot, so we don’t need better damage. Two obvious factors are range and rate of fire. We want our weapons to be faster and more effective than medieval weapons. But here’s the fun fact: they already are. The crossbow defined in the Player’s Handbook IS better than a medieval crossbow. The crank method for reloading a medieval crossbow limited an archer to about two shots per minute; using a light crossbow, you can fire ten bolts per minute. A modern crossbow in the hands of a skilled shooter has a range of about 240 feet; a light crossbow has a potential range of 320 feet, provided you’re skilled enough to hit at long range. The 1861 Springfield rifle—a common weapon in the American Civil War—could fire 2-4 shots per minute. Again, the crossbow isn’t a match for modern automatic weapons… but at ten shots per minute, it’s not a medieval weapon.

You can dismiss these statistics as unrealistic, designed for ease of play; after all, who would ever USE a crossbow if it took five rounds to reload it? But the alternative is to embrace it, to say that it’s not that these statistics are inaccurate: it’s that the weapons aren’t medieval. Perhaps the soldiers of Galifar I used medieval-style crossbows, with more limited range and a slow crank to reload; the crossbows used today are the result of centuries of Cannith engineering. So if we accept the idea that the statistics of the crossbow are sufficiently effective as a common weapon—the next question is how it delivers those things. How is it that you can fire and reload a crossbow in six seconds while also moving 30 feet in that time?

One thing I’d immediately throw out is the idea that Caniith crossbows use an integrated quiver… or clip, if you will. When you are loading a crossbow, you are performing an action that resets the bow and sets the next bolt in place. This is slow enough that you can’t fire two bolts in that six-second frame. But you don’t actually have to go through a process of drawing a bolt from a quiver and setting it into place by hand in addition to resetting the bow. I’m not suggesting that this eliminates the Loading trait (though see Accessories, below); I’m fine with the idea that the process of resetting the bow and advancing the clip is slow enough that you can only loose one bolt per round. But it’s still far more effective than a medieval crossbow and helps to justify that six-second move-fire-reload cycle. A quiver can hold up to 20 arrows; I’m just suggesting that the quiver is part of the weapon. With this in mind, crossbow bolts in Eberron could be smaller than we usually think of them—aerodynamic densewood quarrels—making the idea of an integrated quiver a little more manageable.

The next question is how the Cannith crossbow delivers that increased range—meaning the bolt has greater force—while simultaneously allowing you to load the bow more swiftly than a medieval weapon. I can see two ways to explain this, though there’s certainly more!

Mundane Weapon, Supernatural Methods. The Cannith crossbow isn’t a magic weapon… but it’s made using magical techniques. It may be made of wood, but Eberron has woods we don’t have access to—bronzewood, darkwood, densewood. The cord may be alchemically treated, stronger and more flexible than any mundane material. The reloading system is a clever and efficient design; there’s no strength requirement on a crossbow. This takes the idea that the crossbow looks like a traditional crossbow (aside from the possibility of an integrated clip); it’s just better than any crossbow we have.

Arcane Science. The crossbow isn’t a magical weapon… but it can still operate using magical principles. The concept of Eberron is that magic is a science. The spells of the wizard are one manifestation of that science… but that doesn’t mean they’re the only way magic can manifest. Magic can generate kinetic force, as shown by a number of spells. So, what if those principles were used to to add force to a physical bolt, as opposed to generating a bolt of pure force?

So imagine the interior of the barrel of a crossbow engraved with arcane sigils. A quarrel is likewise engraved with symbols. When the quarrel moves against the barrel, the symbols create an arcane interaction—a formula that adds kinetic energy to the bolt. With this in mind, the only force the bow has to provide is the initial push of the bolt down the barrel; it’s a spark that triggers the arcane interaction. Which means that the reason it’s so much easier to reload a Cannith crossbow—why you can thumb-load a hand crossbow—is because the bow itself is actually WEAKER than a medieval crossbow, because the true power of the weapon doesn’t depend on the tension of the bow. This also means that the crossbow doesn’t have to LOOK like a crossbow as we’re used to it. It could be closer to a rifle—the longer the barrel, the longer the arcane interaction, thus the short range of the hand crossbow, and the heavy crossbow as the largest and longest weapon. The “bow” could be a relatively small component of the weapon. Essentially, it could resemble a firearm; the point is that the force of the weapon isn’t coming from a chemical reaction, but rather an arcane one. This wouldn’t make the standard crossbow a “magic weapon” for purposes of damage resistance. There’s nothing magical about the bolt itself; It’s simply the case of an arcane reaction generating force. The game mechanics are unchanged, it’s just a different way of presenting the weapon, reflecting the fact that it is superior to a medieval crossbow.

Now, if you DO follow this idea, one could ask why this arcane reaction isn’t being used in other ways. Well, who’s to say it isn’t? It could well be that the lightning rail operates on a similar principle—that the bound elemental provides initial motive force and enhances speed, but that the arcane interaction between coach and conductor stones is the same principle that provides the kinetic force of a Cannith crossbow. Beyond this, the central concept here is that magic is a science, and science evolves. The Five Nations DID use medieval crossbows, and they’ve discovered a technique that has allowed the creation of a more efficient weapon; they could be actively exploring other applications of this kinetic formula. Arcane magic can generate heat, force, and light. It can transmute objects or teleport them. Spells are examples of what can be done with arcane science, not its absolute expression.

All of which is to say that the wandslinger represents one application of magic in war—the idea that knowledge of combat cantrips is becoming more common, and that there are people who fight their battles with fire and lightning. But there can also be a path of arcane science that focuses on enhancing physical tools… building a more efficient versions of weapons people already use, creating tools that can be used even by people with no training or magical talent. Rather than feeling like the crossbow doesn’t fit your vision of the world, consider what could make the crossbow fit.

Accessories

Once we embrace the idea that the crossbow isn’t a medieval legacy, but rather a modern weapon that’s actively being improved, there’s lots of ways one could improve upon it. Consider a few ideas…

Bayonet. The light crossbow is a simple weapon that can be used without any training and that has an impressive range. Whatever form the weapon takes—whether you embrace the idea of arcane science or just keep it as a traditional crossbow built with superior techniques and materials—it makes sense that the light crossbow is the equivalent of the infantry rifle. With that in mind, it makes sense to have a form of bayonet—a fixed blade allowing a soldier to use the crossbow in close quarters even if they run out of ammunition. It wouldn’t have the reach of a long rifle, but it would still provide the archer with a melee option that doesn’t require them to drop their crossbow. Personally, I’d see this as a simple, two-handed weapon that inflicts 1d6 piercing damage—less effective than a spear (which can be thrown and inflicts 1d8 piercing when used two-handed), but still an effective weapon.

Spellbolt. Following the principle of an arcane reaction triggered as the bolt moves across the barrel, I could imagine a bolt that is designed with a specific arcane payload that’s triggered when the bolt is fired… effectively taking the place of a grenade launcher. The advantage of this would be the ability to project a spell effect farther than normally possible. A fireball normally has a range of of 150 feet; if you could attach a fireball to a heavy crossbow bolt and fire it 400 feet, it’s a dramatic improvement. The catch, of course, is that scrolls and wands require the user to be able to cast the spell (or at least require attunement by a spellcaster). That limitation could be preserved here; perhaps a spellbolt can only be used by a spellcaster, who takes a bonus action to prime the bolt before firing it. Or perhaps this is a new development, and the bolt can be used by anyone as long as it’s fired from a specially designed crossbow. If this is the case, I’d emphasize that this is a recent development; such spellbolts could be rare, and potentially volatile! Note that this is a different approach from the siege staff, which is essentially a long wand; a siege staff can only be used by a spellcaster or someone with specialized training, and projects a purely magical effect.

Silencer. Illusion can be used to create or dampen sound. It’s easy to imagine a magical device that could be attached to a crossbow to eliminate the sound produced by firing or loading the weapon. It would be up to the DM to decide how effective this would be—whether it could allow a well-hidden creature to remain hidden when firing, or whether it would simply prevent the shot from alerting anyone outside of line of sight.

Reload. While I’ve suggested an integrated quiver as part of the Cannith crossbow, my thought is that this justifies the rate of fire allowed by the Loading trait, not that it negates it. However, especially if you follow the idea of the crossbow empowered by arcane science, you could create a superior crossbow that replaces the Loading trait with the Reload trait associated with firearms in the Dungeon Master’s Guide:A limited number of shots can be made with a weapon that has the reload property. A character must then reload it using an action or a bonus action (the character’s choice).” The size of the clip would be up to the DM. Again, I wouldn’t personally make this a standard feature—but it would be interesting if, say, Cannith East had developed a new design that was being used by elite Karrnathi units. Likewise, I could see an advanced hand crossbow with Reload 6, allowing a dual-wielder to get a few shots before needing to reload.

In Conclusion…

This is probably more than anyone ever wanted to hear about Keith’s thoughts on the crossbow, especially since my primary point is the rules don’t have to be changed. But what I hope you take away is that something can be inspired by a medieval tool and still feel modern. Whether it’s a crossbow or a stagecoach, the people of Eberron use magical techniques to improve on the mundane; this can involve flashy effects like fire and lightning, but it can also simply involve something that appears to be mundane and yet is superior to what we’re used to.

Thanks to my Patreon supporters for their support. My next major article will be on either the Znir Gnolls of Droaam or on Dolurrh, the Realm of the Dead—right now, the Patreon poll is tied!

What have you done with ranged weapons in Eberron? Have you added firearms or explored other magical solutions? Post your ideas below!

Exploring Eberron, 2/6/20

The above image shows a two-page spread from Exploring Eberron, including art from Kristóf Köteles. I’m thrilled with how the book is coming together, but it’s a long journey and it’s not over yet. 

Exploring Eberron is a huge undertaking. By the time it’s done, I expect the book to include over 180,000 words… which is longer than my first two Eberron novels combined! I know what I’m capable of when I’m writing at top speed, and that’s what my original estimates have been based on. But unfortunately I haven’t been able to maintain that speed. Over the last six months there have been family issues that have had to take priority, and once things pushed into this year it collided with the work I need to do for The Adventure Zone: Bureau of Balance. The production of board and card games is a lengthy process, and I have dates I have to meet to hit our GenCon release for Bureau. Exploring Eberron is my labor of love—but that also means it’s the one thing that has a timeline that can be pushed, and so it has been.

My hope had been to release Exploring Eberron by the end of this month. The art has been in hand for months now, and the first half of the book have already gone through editing and layout. But I am still writing the final chapter; the recent Lamannia article is a preview of that. Once I’m done, that material will have to go through editing and layout, and then the completed book will need to go through a final review process with the DM’s Guild for hardcover printing.

So when will Exploring Eberron come out? The short answer is that I don’t have an absolute answer. I’d hoped for this month, but that seems unlikely. I’m reasonably confident that it will be released in March, but I’m not prepared to say whether it will be at the beginning or the end of the month. What I can say is that we’re close, and that I’m excited about how it’s coming together.

So thank you for your patience and your enthusiasm. We’ll continue to release previews in the days ahead, and I’ll let you know when there’s more news!

Dragonmarks: Lamannia

Eberron has a unique planar cosmology, but Rising From The Last War only scratches the surface of the planes; in this article and the upcoming Exploring Eberron, I’m digging deeper. Thanks to my Patreon supporters, who keep this site going and who chose this topic for my final January article!

LAMANNIA: THE TWILIGHT FOREST

Lamannia embodies primordial nature, untapped and untamable. It represents the raw power and majesty of the natural world. Lamannia is often called the Twilight Forest, and depicted as a realm of colossal trees and massive beasts. However, the forest is just one of the facets of Lamannia. Every natural environment is represented in Lamannia, contained in a layer that exemplifies and exaggerates its features. Windswept desert, raging ocean, endless plains; all can be found in Lamannia.

At first glance, Lamannia appears to overlap with a number of other planes. How does the Twilight Forest differ from the domain of the Forest Queen in Thelanis? How does the chill tundra differ from the icy layers of Risia? Shouldn’t the volcanoes of the Broken Lands be in Fernia? Well, there are dryads in the trees of the Endless Weald of Thelanis; sprites hide behind leaves and satyrs dance in the clearings. And in Fernia a blazing volcano could be home to Azer smiths forging wonders in its depths, or a balor who delights in unleashing streams of lava to destroy unwary adventurers. In Fernia, the volcano is a metaphor for industry or destruction. In Lamannia, it’s a metaphor for volcano. It’s an iconic, perfect example; it doesn’t need fey or fiends to make its point, because the volcano itself is the point. The elementals of Lamannia aren’t the anthropomorphic genies found in Fernia and Syrania; they are the pure, living essence of the elements, unburdened by any humanoid desire. Its primary inhabitants are beasts—both beasts that you might encounter in the wilds of Eberron, and massive creatures that can be seen as iconic representations of their type: the idealized incarnation of BEAR or WOLF.

Some scholars assert that Lamannia served as a blueprint for the material plane, that it was in Lamannia that the Progenitors perfected the ideas of storm and stone. They believe that the natural world is infused with the essence of Lamannia—and that druids and others who wield primal magic actually manipulate that Lamannian essence. Certainly, Lamannia is charged with primal power; druids who travel to the Twilight Forest can be overwhelmed by the sheer force of nature that infuses this place.

Lamannia lies close to the world, and it’s one of the easiest planes to reach. Its treasures are wood and stone—natural object imbued with elemental power, herbs and plants whose effects are far stronger than their mortal counterparts. But when you come to Lamannia, you are prey; there are many predators in this realm, and anyone who seeks to despoil the embodiment of nature will be hunted.

Universal Traits

Lamannia is a reflection of the natural world, intensified and exaggerated. The air is pure and clean, the water fresh and clear. Colors are impossibly vivid. It is suffused with life—a realm in which any stone could be an earth elemental, where any tree could be awakened.

Vegetation is nearly always in bloom and beasts are almost always in the peak of health. With the exception of layers such as The Rot, Lamannia reflects the ideal state of the natural world. Here are a few of the consistent traits of the plane.

Extended primal magic. When you cast a spell that draws on primal magic magic that has a duration of 1 minute or longer, the duration is doubled, to a maximum duration of 24 hours. Typically druids and rangers channel primal magic, but it’s up to the DM to decide in the case of each spellcaster. A paladin that follows the Oath of the Ancients might channel primal magic to cast their spells, while an Aundairian ranger could use arcane techniques.

Indomitable beasts.While in Lamannia, beasts and elementals have a +2 bonus to Constitution and advantage on saving throws against being charmed, frightened, or immobilized. When an elemental or beast first arrives in Lamannia from another plane, any magical effect that is charming it or binding it in any way is broken; this can be disastrous for an elemental airship that’s thrown into the plane.

The land provides. When you make a Wisdom (Survival) check to forage for food or shelter in Lamannia, you have advantage on the roll. The vegetation is bountiful and the land sustaining. It may be difficult to forage in the Broken Land, but you’ll at least have advantage to help you with the roll.

Primordial matter. It is difficult to destroy or contaminate the matter of Lamannia. An ongoing purify food and drink effect cleanses any sorts of poisons or contaminants from beyond the plane. In addition, natural materials such as wood and stone are tougher than their mundane counterparts. When trying to destroy such objects, increase the Armor Class suggested in Chapter 8 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide by 3 and double the hit points of the object.

Most layers of Lamannia follow a traditional day-night cycle. However, layers aren’t synchronized and likewise don’t match any time zone in Eberron. There is only one moon in the sky of Lamannia; a Wisdom (Nature) check with a DC of 10 will identify it as Olarune, though it appears larger than in the sky of Eberron and is always full.

Denizens of Lamannia

A common story of Lamannia tells of an explorer who passed through a manifest zone and found herself on a vast mountain peak. Pushing up the mountain, she was exploring a mysterious thicket when she was set upon by rats the size of wolves. She fought the rats, but was on the verge of being overwhelmed… until a giant beak flashed down and snapped up a rat in a single bite. The wide ‘thicket’ wasn’t natural briar; it was the nest of a gargantuan roc.

BEASTS

Lamannia is filled with all manner of beasts. Any natural creature can be found in Lamannia; indeed, some sages assert that the presence of a creature in Lamannia is what defines it as “natural.” These creatures fall into the following categories.

·       Mundane animals are identical to their counterparts in Eberron. Any natural creature can be found in a layer with an appropriate environment. If such beasts are the first things player characters encounter in a visit to Lamannia, they might not realize they’ve traveled to another plane.

·       Dire animals are creatures of remarkable size. Any beast described as ‘giant’ or ‘dire’ can serve in this role. Such creatures are more common than mundane animals; in the Twilight Forest, most owls are giant owls, and they prey on giant weasels and rats. While the existing animals are a place to start, any sort of beast can have a dire counterpart in Lamannia.

·       Megafauna are gargantuan beasts. The roc is an example of Lamannian megafauna; those found in Eberron have been drawn through manifest zones or slipped between planes during coterminous periods. A megafauna serpent could use the statistics of a purple worm. These two creatures provide a rough scale of power for megafauna, but a DM can create a wider range of megafauna; adventurers could be hounded by a pack of gargantuan wolves. While these creatures are similar in form to beasts, they are typically classified as monstrosities. Between their vast size and their connection to the plane, they are immune to most effects that only target beasts, and you can’t charm a roc with a simple animal friendship spell.

·       Totems are beasts that are beyond the tactical scale… creatures that can be measured in miles. The gnome explorer Tasker tells a tale of finding an island in the Endless Ocean that turned out to be an enormous turtle; another of his stories deals with a pack of lycanthropes living in the fur of a massive roaming wolf. Such totems aren’t natural creatures and don’t need to eat or excrete. Their origins and purpose are unsolved mysteries, but most sages believe that they are immortal spirits projected by the plane itself. Some claim that the totems are connected to all creatures cast in their image. Others believe that the totems are sources of primal power, that barbarians, shifters, and druids can receive power and guidance from them. All that is known for sure is that they’re immune to common spells, and to date there are no accounts of anyone successfully harming or communicating with a totem.

For the most part Lamannian beasts are no smarter than their counterparts on Eberron. However, there are animals that possess intelligence similar to that granted by the awaken spell. However, even these beasts generally follow their natural instincts and live wild lives. While in Sharn giant owls may own shops and run for city council, the giant owls of Lamannia are content to hunt the beasts of the Twilight Forest. So it’s possible to find creatures in Lamannia that speak Common or a Primordial dialect, but most have little interest in long conversations. Also, don’t forget that dinosaurs are natural beasts! While a megafauna owl is impressive, the megafauna version of a swordtooth titan (tyrannosaur) is a sight to see!

ELEMENTALS

After beasts, the most common inhabitants of the plane are elementals. Genies, mephits, and anthropomorphic elementals are found on other planes; the inhabitants of Lamannia are pure and raw in form. These include the standard earth, fire, air, and water elementals, but they can come in a wide array of sizes and forms. Adventurers exploring the broken lands could encounter tiny globs of lava crawling across the land… while the leviathans of the Endless Ocean and the elder tempests of the First Storm are forces of apocalyptic power. The elementals of Lamannia are the spirits commonly summoned and bound by the Zil, used to propel lightning rails and airships. While intelligent, these elementals are utterly alien. They have little concept of time, and perceive the world around them though the balance of elements. The sole desire of most elementals is to express their element: to burn, to flow, to fly. Many have an antagonistic attitude towards spirits of other elements, which drives the deadly conflict in the Broken Land. This is another obstacle in dealing with elementals, as they tend to perceive humanoids as globs of water. While it’s possible for a character that speaks Primordial to talk with a Lamannian elemental, it’s usually difficult to establish any sort of common basis for negotiation. Still, there are legends of wandering druids who “befriended earth and air;” anything is possible!

HUMANOIDS

The merfolk came to Eberron from Lamannia, and their ancestors remain in the Endless Ocean. These primordial merfolk are closer to their elemental roots than their counterparts in the seas of Eberron; while they are just as intelligent as their cousins, they are driven by primal instincts. They wield druidic magic, but they don’t craft tools or structures. This serves as a model for other humanoid natives of Lamannia. Any race with a strong primal connection could be tied to Lamannia, but natives of Lamannia are driven by instinct and avoid the trappings of civilization. There could be tabaxi dwelling in the branches of the Twilight Forest, but if so they will feel feral and wild.

During the Silver Crusade, a significant number of lycanthropes made their way or were exiled to Lamannia. While in Lamannia, a lycanthrope cannot spread the curse to anyone other than their offspring. The unnatural impulses of the curse—the drive to prey on innocents, the bloodlust that can cause a victim of lycanthropy to lose control of their actions—are suspended while they remain on the plane. Primal instincts are amplified; Lamannian werewolves remain predators and take joy in the hunt. But they aren’t driven to evil and remain in full control. Packs and communities of lycanthropes are scattered across the layers. Most are descended from lycanthropes who fled Eberron to escape both the templars and the dark power whose corrupting influence led to the crusade; these shapeshifters embrace their primal nature and rarely assume humanoid forms. But there are also packs descended from afflicted templars who chose exile over death, who strive to preserve the beliefs and traditions of their ancestors. There are bitter feuds between these afflicted templars and the “first wolves” and other lycanthropes of Lamannia, but the templars can be valuable allies for planar travelers.

There are also a handful of druids and rangers who have crossed into Lamannia and chosen to remain in this primal paradise. Many run with lycanthrope packs, embracing their feral instincts and spending their days in wild shape. Others act as planar shepherds, seeking to minimize the impact of dangerous manifest zones and to help unwary travelers.

HIGHER POWERS

There are no celestials or fiends in Lamannia. It is a realm of elementals and beasts, and the elementals are alien and untamed. Yet explorers often report a feeling that they are being watched. And there are times when random events seem to be guided by an unseen hand. When outsiders have sought to bring industry to bear in Lamannia, they have been found by megafauna or elder elementals, or struck by especially vicious turns of weather. It’s possible that this is the work of the totems—that totems possess omniscience and great influence over their layers. Or there could be a greater power that watches over the entire plane. There is a single moon in the sky above every layer, the moon Olarune; some scholars assert that this is the consciousness that governs the plane. This is reflected in Eldeen shifter traditions that predate the practices of the Wardens of the Wood; shifter druids suggest that it was Olarune who created the shifters, and that the first lycanthropes were her champions. It is up to the DM to decide if there’s any truth to these tales. 

Layers of Lamannia

Like many of the planes, Lamannia is made up of layers—a connected web of demiplanes, each highlighting a particular aspect of primal nature. The scope of any single layer is up to the DM as suits the needs of the story. One layer in Lamannia might contain a single colossal mountain peak; on the other hand, the Twilight Forest could be as large as Khorvaire itself (or even Eberron!). The edge of a layer could be an impassable physical barrier, or it could wrap around onto itself; sail far enough in the Endless Ocean and you’ll find yourself back where you began.

The layers of Lamannia are connected by physical portals, but these portals often only allow travel in one direction. Any deep pool of water may connect a layer to the Endless Ocean; but while you can get to the Ocean by diving into a pond in the Twilight Forest, but there’s no gate back to the Forest on the other side. The Endless Ocean contains small islands; people who explore these islands will find they have moved to a new layer.  

The Twilight Forest

The sky is hidden by the dense canopy of this vast rainforest, leaving the forest floor in an endless twilight. The trees are over a hundred feet in height—impressive, certainly, but not as tall as the greatpines of the Towering Wood in the Eldeen Reches. But as people explore the Twilight Forest, they will come upon strange ridges and walls of wood. Some come together, forming twisted wooden canyons. Following these, explorers will find that they are the roots of truly colossal trees, vast titans wider and taller than the towers of Sharn. The Twilight Forest as mortals experience it lies in the shadow of the grander canopy that rises far above it, and these mighty trees are home to megafauna and mightier beings.

The Twilight Forest is wild and untamed. However, explorers can find wide tracks through the lower forest. Survival experts may recognize that these aren’t tracks formed by humanoid hands; rather, they are the paths of totems, who have crushed the lesser forest beneath their colossal feet. The Forest is filled with beasts; mundane and dire creatures in the lower forests, megafauna in the grand canopy above it, and the occasional passage of totems. There are multiple communities of lycanthropes scattered throughout the lower forest. A clan of wererats have carved out a warren in the roots of a colossal tree, while a pack of wild wereboars feuds with werewolves descended from exiled templars. An ancient elf druid named Haral, who spends most of her time in the form of an owl, does her best to maintain order; she is assisted in this by a megafauna owl she calls Ruark. However, the Twilight Forest is larger than the Eldeen Reaches; these are just a few examples of the inhabitants of the forest.

Another noteworthy area is the Graveyard. Of all of the layers, the Twilight Forest is closest to Eberron. There are many manifest zones between the Twilight Forest and the material plane, and when the planes are coterminous it’s possible for people—or objects—to pass through. The region known as the Graveyard contains a number of manifest zones that are tied to the oceans of Eberron, and to the air above them—and over the course of thousands of years, they have caught a number of ships in their net. The focal point of these manifest zones are dozens of feet above the ground. First of all, this means that it’s not easy for stranded travelers to find their way back; second, this means that ships fall when they pass through, causing damage and often killing many of the travelers. So the Graveyard contains the wrecks of ships from many eras—an ancient Aereni galleon, a Lhazaar vessel, a recently lost Lyrandar airship. This provides an opportunity to introduce outside influences to the Twilight Forest, or to have forgotten treasures hidden in Lamannia. A Dhakaani vessel holds a priceless and powerful artifact long sought by all of the Heirs of Dhakaan… but the vessel was infected by spawn of the Daelkyr, and these have carved out a foul warren beneath the ship.

Elementals don’t have an especially strong presence in the Twilight Forest, but they are still present throughout it. A gust of wind, a pool of water, a rolling stone—in Lamannia, any of these things could be alive.

The Broken Land

The Broken Land is a volcanically active region filled with high mountains and lava plains. There are constant eruptions, and the layer is home to many fire and earth elementals, who engage in an ongoing environmental conflict. Fire elementals flow out with the lava as volcanoes erupt; earth elementals work to contain the eruptions and to rebuild the shattered peaks, only to have them erupt again. Few beasts manage to thrive in this layer, but there are some tough dinosaurs who’ve clawed out a niche. While this region has fewer connections to Eberron than the Twilight Forest, it’s also possible to find shipwrecks or remnants of other travelers here; it’s certainly a harsh and deadly landscape for adventurers who are stranded here or those who must recover a lost relic from this place.

The Endless Ocean

This layer reflects the majesty of the ocean depths. It is home to a vast array of fish and aquatic beasts, along with merfolk tribes and a wide range of water elementals… from simple sentient currents and weirds all the way to massive leviathans. Megafauna battles are common, and this is the source of the tale of the island that turned out to be a totem turtle. True islands are few and far between, and most are actually portals to other layers of Lamannia. There are many manifest zones spread across the Endless Ocean, almost all of which connect to the ocean depths of Eberron.

The First Storm

A layer of plains and low hills, this region is permanently lashed by hurricane winds and endless storms. Beasts huddle in caves and the limited shelter, while all manner of elementals clash in the storm-lashed plains. A massive elder tempest drives the heart of the storm; during the Sundering of Sarlona, an apocalyptic cult in Ohr Kaluun sought to bring this elemental to Eberron, believing it would destroy the world.

The Rot

Decay is part of nature, and this is reflected in the Rot. This relatively small layer is swamplike, filled with fallen, rotting trees. There are corpses of megafauna beasts scattered around the layer, and giant insects and other massive scavengers prey on their remains. There’s a community of wererats thriving in the Rot, and there could be a small outpost of the Children of Winter who found there way here. While this is a symbol of death and decay, it is entirely natural; the undead have no place here. It’s possible a necromancer could arrive here, hoping to animate the massive corpses; however, this would violate the theme of the plane, and if there is any higher power at work in Lamannia it would direct forces to counter this. While most layers of Lamannia are free from disease, disease is itself part of nature; a manifest zone tied to the Rot could spread plagues into the surrounding region.

Titan’s Folly

Lamannia is filled with precious natural resources; it’s hardly surprising that an advanced civilization would try to harvest them. During the Age of Giants, the Cul’sir Dominion set up a research station and mining camp in a layer of Lamannia. After a decade struggling against megafauna attacks and elemental-enhanced weather, the outpost was finally overwhelmed and abandoned. It is a testament to the arcane engineering of the giants that anything remains of this structure… although it may be that it remains because the ruin itself has become a symbol of nature-reclaiming-civilization, becoming the theme of the layer. Vines and moss cover shattered walls, and the bones of giants are scattered throughout the remnants of this garrison. Valuable and powerful treasures may well be hidden in the Folly, but explorers will have to contend with aggressive elementals, dangerous beasts, and traps left by the long-dead giants themselves.

Other Layers

These are just a handful of the many layers of Lamannia. In developing a layer, think of a distinctive natural feature—a canyon; a desert; a lone mountain—and build the layer around it. What creatures would be found there? Have any outsiders taken up residence? Is there an unusual role for elementals? How does it connect to other layers, or to Eberron?

Manifestations of Lamanna

There are many ways for Lamannia to influence an adventure even if the player characters never leave the material plane.

MANIFEST ZONES

Lamannia is a prolific source of manifest zones. Quite often manifest zones are found at the heart of a region that resembles the connected layer: zones tied to the Endless Ocean are found underwater, while manifest zones tied to the Twilight Forest can be found in the Towering Woods, the King’s Forest, and other vast woodlands. However, it’s also possible to find Lamannian zones in areas with no obvious connection to the layer—such as the aquatic zones tied to the Twilight Forest that produce the Graveyard. Here’s a few of the common effects of Lamannian manifest zones.

Elemental Power. Manifest zones tied to Lamannia may have strong elemental resonance. When spells that summon elementals are cast in such a region, they’re treated as if they were cast at a level one higher than the spell slot that was expended. There are a number of these zones in Zilargo, and House Cannith and the Twelve are eager to find unclaimed zones. However, there are risks associated with them. Elementals may spontaneously manifest in such places; sometimes they linger for a long time (a pool tied to Lamannia could be inhabited by water weirds), but often they only linger for a few hours and then dissipate. Passing through such a zone can also impart a surge of power to an existing elemental; this can potentially allow a bound elemental to break free from its bonds.

Gateways. A manifest zone can serve as a direct portal between Lamannia and Eberron. Typical such portals only open under certain circumstances—often when the planes are coterminous, but the requirements could be even more restricted (for example, when the planes are coterminous and Olarune is full). Such gateways can allow adventurers to travel to Lamannia, but they can also be the source of hostile elementals or deadly megafauna. Rising From The Last War suggests the idea that what appears to be a ring of standing stones could be a group of slumbering earth elementals stranded in such a gateway.

Growth. A common effect of a Lamannian manifest zone is to enhance the growth of plants or beasts in the region around it. This is less about fertility (which is commonly associated with Irian) and more about the size and health of the beast. Animals are often drawn to such zones. House Vadalis is always searching for manifest zones with this trait, and many Vadalis enclaves are built in these zones.

Purity. Vegetation and water in such a zone are healthy and pure, as if constantly affected by purify food and drink. Such zones can be a valuable resource for small communities. Such regions may also manifest the ‘primordial matter’ described earlier; stone and wood may be unusually tough. The prison of Dreadhold is built in such a manifest zone; not only is the stone of the region denser than usual, it cannot be penetrated by scrying or teleportation.

Resistance. While Lamannian manifest zones can be useful tools for communities or dragonmarked houses, some zones actively resist and repel civilization. As noted in Rising From The Last War, weather, vegetation, and a rapid rate of decay can combine to quickly destroy structures built in the zone and overgrow the ruins.

These effects aren’t mutually exclusive; a manifest zone could have both the growth and resistance traits, and also become a gateway under specific circumstances. Zones can also have very specific effects; notably, the elemental power trait is often tied to a specific element. The weird-haunted pool enhances water elementals, but doesn’t help if you’re trying to summon fire elementals.

COTERMINOUS AND REMOTE

Lamannia has a swift planar cycle. It is reliably coterminous for a week around around the summer solstice, and remote for a week during the winter solstice; it can also become coterminous at other times, often related to the lunar cycle of Olarune.

While Lamannia is coterminous, the effects of Lamannian manifest zones are enhanced. In regions of unspoiled nature—such as the Eldeen Reaches, the wilds of Q’barra—fertility of both plants and animals is enhanced, and beasts conceived in these periods are often exceptionally strong and healthy. Primal spells that affect beasts or elementals are extended; if a spell has a duration of 1 minute or longer, the duration is doubled, to a maximum duration of 24 hours.

While Lamannia is remote, fertility rates drop and beasts born in these periods are often weak or sickly. Beast are often uneasy, and the duration of any primal spell that affect beasts or elementals is cut in half, to a minimum duration of one round.

LAMANNIAN VISITORS

The inhabitants of Lamannia rarely choose to travel to Eberron. Those few civilized creatures—lycanthropes, merfolk—are content in their primal realm and generally only cross over by accident. However, accidental visitors can be a source of trouble or adventure. A powerful elemental or a megafauna beast can pose a deadly threat to a region. Megafauna creatures can become local legends; imagine a Vadalis expedition seeking a legendary megafauna ape (which, if captured, might break free while on exhibition and climb the towers of Sharn!). There’s no records of a totem beast ever passing through to Eberron, and it’s possible that they cannot manifest beyond Lamannia.

LAMANNIAN TREASURES

Lamannia vegetation is prized by alchemists. Herbs and roots from Lamannia can produce exceptionally strong potions, and many types of Lamannian vegetation have innate magical effects; there are bushes in the Twilight Forest that naturally produce goodberries. Lamannian lumber likewise can have unusual traits, mirroring the densewood and bronzewood found in Aerenal. Lamannian wood and stone can serve as powerful focuses for primal magic, for creating figurines of wondrous power, or for tools designed to summon or bind elementals.

Lamannian Stories

Lamannia is a source of elementals and dire beasts. It is wild and untamed, strengthening primal magic and providing a haven to lycanthropes. It resists any intrusion by civilization. Here’s a few ideas for working it into your story.

·       A Savage Land.  When a party of adventurers unknowingly pass through a gateway, they must find a way to survive in this wild realm. This could be as simple as finding another manifest zone to take them home… or it could require them to survive in Lamannia for months while waiting for the planes to become coterminous. Another option is for the group to be stranded when their airship passes through a manifest zone and the elemental breaks free; in this case, the adventurers must decide whether to protect the other survivors, and deal with conflicts that arise among them.

·       Megafauna Island. Due to close ties to Lamannia, there’s an island that is home to an unusual array of megafauna beasts. Adventurers could stumble onto this on their own, or they could be hired by an heir of House Vadalis who wants to investigate the rumors without drawing the attention of rivals in the house.

·       The Great Beast. A Lamannian zone could realize a megafauna predator into the region, spreading terror among the locals. Must this creature be destroyed? Can it be returned through the zone, or is it even hostile?

·       Lycanthropes. Lamannia suppresses the negative effects of the curse of lycanthropy. Adventurers could stumble upon a village of lycanthropes and jump to the wrong conclusion, not knowing that the influence of the local manifest zone allows them to control the curse. Alternatively, a group of benevolent lycanthropes could return to Eberron only to fall prey to the predatory impulses of the curse: can the adventurers capture these lycanthropes alive and help them return to the Twilight Forest?

·       Relic Hunt. The trail of a powerful artifact leads to Lamannia. It might have been on a ship lost in the Graveyard, or it could be that an artificer needs Lamannian resources to complete an eldritch machine. Can the adventurers win this deadly race?

·       At War With Nature. An Ashbound druid manages to establish a new Lamannian manifest zone in a major city, such as Fairhaven or Sharn. The resistance effect is causing the city to crumble, releasing elementals and wild vegetation. Can the adventurers find a way to remove the manifest zone? Alternately, House Cannith could be determined to create a bridge that allows them to harvest Lamannian resources… will they succeed, or will their efforts backfire dramatically?

·       Unusual Flavor. The impact of a manifest zone can be felt just as part of the backdrop of a scenario. The village of Clearwater is in a hostile region, but it survives because of the small lake that provides fresh water and a seemingly inexhaustible supply of fish. In a small Eldeen village, the locals live in harmony with a breed of giant rabbits unknown elsewhere in Khorvaire. A tribe of shifters lives in the branches of the three massive trees that grow in a Lamannian manifest zone.

If you have questions or stories about what you’ve done with Lamannia, post them below!

Flashback: Travel by Montage

Art by Hari Connor (@haridraws) for TAZ:BoB!

Currently I’m continuing to work on Exploring Eberron and The Adventure Zone: Bureau of Balance (which is currently in the final two days of the preorder—last chance to get promotional cards or the limited edition!). I’m also going to be in Juneau, Alaska this week for Platypus-Con. I’m going to write a new article next week, the subject of which is currently being voted on by my Patreon supporters, but as I’m about to go on a journey myself I wanted to share an article I originally wrote back in 2013, dealing with one way to handle travel in RPGs.

Travel By Montage

In today’s adventure, the intrepid band of heroes has a long trek to reach their destination. The vast forest is infamous as a haven for bandits and ruffians, shunned by the wise… but it’s the only path to the ruined temple of the Holy MacGuffin. The fact of the matter is that the adventurers are far too skilled and accomplished for a typical band of brigands to pose any sort of threat. Having a random battle would simply waste time without adding any real tension, and compared to the story you have in mind, fighting bandits is a pretty dull story. You could take the red line approach, just cutting from point A to point B with a few sentences of description, explaining just how creepy the forest is and that the bandits are smart enough to avoid the party. But at the same time, the forest is really creepy, and the presence of the bandits is a well established part of the setting; you want them to feel like they’ve taken a significant journey. What do you do?

It’s possible for the journey to be the adventure. The Hobbit is a story about a group of adventurers delving into a dragon’s lair… but the bulk of the story is about the journey to the dungeon. Mechanically, bandits can’t pose a threat to the adventurers. Well, what if they can? What if they come back to life whenever they are killed—and the only way to stop them is to find and destroy the artifact or power source that’s empowering them? Or perhaps it’s a moral dilemma: the “bandits” are actually Robin Hood-style heroes robbing from the rich to raise money for some vital cause, like buying medicine to bring an end to a local plague? The adventurers are, in fact, incredibly rich by local standards; are they willing to help in some way, or do they slaughter the last, best hope of the stricken locals?

This sort of thing can be a lot of fun. The En Route series from Atlas Games presents a host of little scenarios designed to fit into the spaces between the major parts of an adventure—challenges that aren’t simply combat encounters, but interesting stories on their own. However, playing through such a scene takes time, and if the core adventure has a strong story, you may not want to water it down with a side scene. So you don’t have time to make a bandit encounter actually interesting; you don’t want to waste time on a pointless fight; but you also don’t want to just gloss over the journey. What do you do?

What I’ve been doing lately is using a travel montage. Come up with a few interesting things that could happen on the journey and put one of these situations in the hands of each player, giving each character their own spotlight moment. So if I’ve got an elf wizard, a dwarf fighter, a halfling thief, and a human priest, I might say:

  • Halfling thief: “Tell me how you help the group avoid a bandit attack on the first day.”
  • Elf wizard: “There are constant storms in this region. By the second day your clothes are drenched, and the bridge across the local river has been washed away. How does your magic help the party get across the river?”
  • Dwarf fighter: “This forest is older than human civilization. You’re sure you hear the howls of ghosts on the wind, and see things moving in the shadows. You’re a brave man… what’s the one thing that actually scares you on the journey?”
  • Human priest: “Tell me about the dream you have on the last night.”

The point of this approach is to give each character a chance to be in the spotlight for a moment, and to encourage the players to think about what makes the journey interesting for them. Sure, any of the characters could figure out how to cross a river, but this time, it was the wizard who figured it out… now tell me how. Depending what the players come up with, you could incorporate their answers into the later adventure. Perhaps the priest’s dream will turn out to be prophetic, or the thing that frightened the dwarf will return in some way. Perhaps the thief avoided the bandits because he actually knew the bandit leader from his first guild… in which case, that character could turn up again later in a more interesting role. Alternately, the players might just make jokes out of the scenarios; the one thing that actually scares the dwarf is watching the halfling eat, or the snores of the priest. There’s nothing wrong with this. The whole point is to let the players have a chance to tell the story they want; if they want to laugh, this is a great opportunity for that.

What’s your favorite approach for making travel interesting when it’s not a central part of the adventure? What’s worked well for you?

Dragonmarks: UA Subclasses

The latest Unearthed Arcana article presents new subclasses for the barbarian, monk, paladin, and warlock. I’ve already written articles about the barbarian, monk, and warlock that examine the role of each class and subclass in the setting, and I wanted to look at the new subclasses and share how I’d incorporate them into Eberron.

Barbarian: The Path of the Beast

The Path of the Beast allows a barbarian to physically transform: manifesting natural weapons, adapting to hostile environments, and channeling psychic power through their attacks. A simple way to use this is as a form of Weretouched Master, a tradition that enhances a shifter’s primal gifts. Shifter barbarians are found in the Eldeen Reaches, and a champion with the powers of the Path of the Beast would definitely fit in among the Ashbound or possibly the Wardens of the Wood.

With that said, one of the key features of the Path of the Beast is that you can change the benefit each time you use a feature. You can change the benefit of Bestial Soul each rest, and manifest a different natural weapon every time you use Form of the Beast… including “great mandibles” or a “spiky tail.” Add to this the idea that the higher level features have a certain psychic flavor and I think this is an interesting martial tradition for changelings—let’s call it a Changeling Monstrosity, as an alternative to the Changeling Menagerie druid suggested in this article. This is based on the idea of a changeling warrior learning to make more dramatic transformations, which fits with the fact that they can change the natural weapon each time they use it; you’ll see a few other explorations of this idea in Exploring Eberron. But where would this tradition be found? It feels too savage for the stable changelings of Sharn; instead, I see it as being a tradition developed by the changelings of Droaam, emulating the monstrous creatures they deal with on a daily basis. Imaging a changeling arguing with a minotaur and suddenly manifesting mandibles and a scorpion tail. The higher level features reflect the idea that the changelings of Lost have learned to harness latent psychic abilities. A player character following this path could have left Droaam in the service of Daask, could be serving the interests of Lost, or could simply be following their own path.

The Path of the Beast also lends itself to the idea of the Experiment… someone whose class features were bestowed upon them by an outside force. I see three obvious options for this.

  • Mordain the Fleshweaver. A person growing mandibles and a spiked tail when they get angry? That certainly sounds like something Mordain would enjoy. A major advantage to Mordain is that he might create something like this as a one-off, with no deep investment in what actually happens to the character—so it’s a way to follow this path without having a lot of strings attached. One question I’d have is whether you were created from scratch, or if you had a life before you were changed… in which case, how and when did it happen? Can you return to your old life, or are you afraid to reveal what you’ve become? You could instead be a creation of a daelkyr, which is the same basic idea on a larger (and more terrifying) scale.
  • House Vadalis. We’ve hinted at Vadalis experiments magebreeding supersoldiers; you could be the result. Unlike Mordain, if Vadalis is involved this would likely have been a carefully organized program and there would be others… unless you were the only one that survived! Given this, you could have escaped from the program, in which case you might be on the run or even forced to fight other members of your unit (consider the show Dark Angel). But you could also be an agent of the house; the program was a success, after all, and you’re proud of your heritage.
  • The Mourning. You were in Cyre on the Day of Mourning and it changed you… but you’re still learning just how deep those changes go. If I went down this path, I’d play up the unpredictable nature and the idea that you’re afraid of what you’re becoming. Even if I, the PLAYER, was fully in control of my abilities I might suggest that the CHARACTER isn’t… that they don’t always choose when they rage, and that they don’t know what Form of the Beast will take.

In all of these cases, you might say “But if you start at 1st level, you won’t HAVE any of your Path of the Beast powers when the campaign begins.” This doesn’t concern me. The whole idea is that the character is evolving. I’d start out by emphasizing how my existing class features reflect this backstory—that when I rage, my damage resistance and increased damage reflect a physical transformation—and have it just ramp up dramatically when I finally manifest the Path of the Beast.

Monk: The Way of Mercy

Monks who follow the Way of Mercy are “wandering physicians to the poor and hurt” who “learn to manipulate the life force of others to bring aid to those in need.” An immediate, simple option is for this to be an order tied to House Jorasco. There are already a number of orders that learn to use marks in unconventional ways; some of the abilities of the Way of Mercy are reminiscent of the Nosomantic Chiurgeons of Dragonmarked. Now, one could make the argument that Jorasco heirs are supposed to charge for their services and don’t simply help those in need. In previous articles I’ve called out the fact that I believe this to be overstated; that a Mercy order could be essentially a PR path for the house, or also that they might charge those they heal to perform community service as payment for their healing. But if you DO want to be strict about Jorasco-doesn’t-heal-without-pay, an alternative is to say that this is a tradition that PREDATES the house—an order of halfling monks that operate in the Talenta Plains, who have refused to accept the modern traditions and values of the house. This would add to the idea of them wearing masks—they are formally concealing their identities and connection to the house—and ties to the Talenta mask tradition. Personally, I also like the idea of a plague doctor mask based on a glidewing’s head. So you could say that this IS a part of the house, or you could say that it’s essentially a renegade tradition: the house doesn’t actively seek to suppress it, but it’s understood that its members will be masked and largely keep to the Plains.

Jorasco is the easiest option for this path, and Jorasco halfling isn’t a bad choice for a monk. But there’s certainly other options. A few off the top of my head…

  • A prototype warforged designed as a field medic.
  • An acolyte of Arawai’s Gift, a vassal sect that sees life as the gift of the Sovereign of Life and Love. Monks of this order are charged to preserve life and to mediate disputes… but if someone abuses Arawai’s Gift, it can be rescinded.
  • A kalashatar follower of the Path of Light; this tradition could combine the martial discipline of the Path of Shadows with psychometabolic healing techniques. In this case, I’d definitely flavor the features as being psionic in origin.

Looking to Jorasco’s Mercy or Arawai’s Gift, I’d probably flavor the character less as an aggressive martial artist and more focused on deep knowledge of pressure points and Qi. Even when using a standard unarmed strike—and even though it still deals bludgeoning damage—I might still describe it as a gentle touch that nonetheless deals significant damage.

Paladin: The Oath of the Watchers

The Oath of the Watchers is a little more straightforward than the previous two subclasses. A few ideas…

  • The Shadow Watchers are a kalashtar order that seek to fight the agents of the Dreaming Dark. As quori are classified as aberrations in Rising From The Last War, Abjure The Extraplanar is a useful tool. Spells such as chromatic orb could be presented as psychic manifestations, though other abilities could be derived from faith in il-Yannah.
  • The Edgewalkers are an elite Riedran military force trained to combat extraplanar threats. You could be a renegade Edgewalker who fled Sarlona after discovering that your masters ARE extraplanar threats, or you could be a goodwill envoy sent by the Inspired to help deal with a rising threat in Khorvaire (the Inspired don’t like the Lords of Dust or daelkyr any more than anyone else does).
  • The Oath of the Watchers is a perfectly logical path for templars of the Silver Flame; the Church has always had its orders of exorcists.

While the Gatekeepers are also well known for battling extraplanar threats, I personally prefer druid/ranger/barbarians as Gatekeepers; but any Watcher Paladin would likely find a good ally in a Gatekeeper.

Warlock: The Noble Genie

The role of genies in Eberron is a larger topic I don’t have time to cover right now. With that said, there’s relatively little about the subclass that requires a connection to a genie. The most distinctive features are the idea that you have an object that you use to tether creatures to temporarily add them to your patron’s menagerie, and that you can ultimately call on your patron for favors. A few alternatives…

  • An Ancient Dragon is using you as a remote researcher. When you use Genie’s Entertainment, you’re actually transporting the victim to your patron’s laboratory in Argonnessen.
  • An Archfey‘s story revolves around their vast menagerie, and Genie’s Entertainment draws the victim to their domain in Thelanis. There’s nothing that says an Archfey HAS to serve as an Archfey patron, if the powers of a different patron make sense with their story!
  • You could actually be a field researcher for a University… perhaps the Library of Korranberg, Arcanix, or Morgrave University. Rather than having an all-powerful patron, your Vessel and the benefits could all be tools created by artificers at your University; if it’s Morgrave, it could very new and experimental, with new class features literally reflecting new innovations your department has developed.

How do you plan to use these subclasses? The topic of the next article will be chosen by my Patreon supporters, who keep the website going—thanks for your support!