Eberron Flashback: The Lords of Dust

I’ve got a lot of articles I’d like to write when time permits, but at the moment it’s not permitting. So today I wanted to revisit a previous topic: the Lords of Dust and their masters, the Overlords of the First Age. I’m incorporating a few new questions from the mailbag, and post your questions in the comments below. I also want to give another shout-out to Maze Arcana, an Eberron livestream campaign put together by Ruty Rutenberg and Satine Phoenix, the mastermind behind the ChariD20 events I’ve done for the past few years. Check it out! And now, on to the Overlords. As always, these answers are just my opinions and may contradict canon sources… though to the best of my knowledge, I’ve written most of the canon sources on the Lords of Dust!

There are a number of decent sources of information on the Lords of Dust. I recommend the Eberron Campaign Guide (4E) and Dragon 337. With that said, let me try to clarify some of the common points of confusion right away.

The Lords of Dust is an alliance of fiends—mostly rakshasa, as they are the most common native fiends of Eberron—who serve the interests of the fiendish Overlords of the Age of Demons. There were originally approximately thirty of these Overlords. Their power was equivalent of that of gods in most other settings. Most exerted influence over a region akin to a large modern nation, but some had more subtle influence reaching across the entire world. Overlords are part of the very fabric of reality, and they cannot be destroyed any more that you can destroy death or treachery. They can only be bound, and that only with the guidance of the Prophecy. The only known force capable of binding them is the Silver Flame, which was created by the sacrifice of the Couatl host, a sacrifice that created an immortal force of light to contain the immortal force of darkness.

The Overlords of the Age of Demons are the most powerful entities that exist in the setting. An individual Overlord is equivalent in power to il-Lashtavar (the force behind the Dreaming Dark) or the entire Undying Court. A question worth asking is, if they are so incredibly powerful and had hordes of demons on top of it, how did the war of the Age of Demons last so long? It lasted for centuries… why didn’t the Overlords just win?

There’s a few answers. The first is that it wasn’t a “war” in the sense we think of it. Some of the Overlords—like Rak Tulkhesh and Katashka—fielded armies that could be fought in a traditional battle. Some sought to directly control and enslave dragons, titans, and other creatures. But with many of them, the “war” was simply existence. They are immortal. Their fiendish servants are immortal. They don’t NEED to conquer you. They just do what they do. A battle against Tul Oreshka is a battle against madness; having more soldiers doesn’t help you win a fight. The Voice in the Darkness “wins” when you succumb to madness; she doesn’t need to occupy your city if she occupies your mind.

Got that? Now add to this the fact that for the most part, the Overlords were neither friends nor allies. They are not human in any sense of the word: they are primal entities who shape reality by virtue of existing. Far from being friends, many of them actually fought one another; when you’re an incarnation of strife or discord, that’s kind of what you do. One of the main reasons they were finally defeated is because their opponents were able to target them individually or use their existing rivalries against them. And bear in mind that absolute immortality and nigh-omnipotence breeds a lot of overconfidence.

After they were bound, their surviving servants eventually recovered and began laying plans to free their masters. Eventually this brought them in conflict with one another. The Lords of Dust aren’t a monolithic force; they are more like the United Nations, with each member of the Council of Ashtakala representing the interests of a different Overlord. They don’t all share resources, and three different Lords of Dust may all have personal agents in the same court. The purpose of the Council is at best to exchange favors and at worst to try to keep the Lords from interfering with one another’s plans accidentally (key word: accidentally. Intentional interference happens). The Wyrmbreaker calls the council together and explains that he’s going to be doing something that involves a group of heroes and will probably kill the Queen of Aundair. The Shadowsword explains that he has plans involving Aurala, but based on his insights into the Prophecy, perhaps Durastoran could achieve the same results with the death of Kaius III—and he’d be happy to lend some agents to that cause. Perhaps the Wyrmbreaker agrees, perhaps he doesn’t, perhaps he agrees but still plans to see to it that Aurala dies.

The next thing is to understand what it takes to release an Overlord. It’s nothing so simple as breaking a seal or melting a ring. The conditions for the release of an Overlord are different for each one, and involve a long-term manipulation of the Prophecy. In the case of the Aurala death above, we’re not just talking about Aurala’s death; it would be trivial for one of the Lords of Dust to make that happen. Instead, it’s that a particular hero (the son of a particular person, herself the daughter of a particular person, born in particular circumstances) must kill a beloved ruler on a particular day with a particular weapon, and must do so believing they are serving a greater good but in fact be wrong. So the Lord of Dust not only can’t kill the ruler, they actually have to make sure that the person who does the killing doesn’t know why they are doing it. Some of the Overlords’ release conditions have nothing to do with one another; others are actually overlapping or contradictory, so actions cannot be taken to free one without directly screwing with another. This can result in Lords of Dust helping heroes. The problem is, if a Lord of Dust is helping you, you can be certain it’s somehow benefiting them.

If an Overlord is released, it generally won’t return at full power. It will take time for its power to grow.  Bel Shalor was released, and wreaked havoc in Thrane for almost a year before he was finally bound again by the sacrifice of Tira Miron. It wasn’t the end of the world; it was simply a year of utter terror for the people of Thrane. Of course it’s possible that Bel Shalor intended this all along as a way of infecting the Silver Flame, and thus his release wasn’t as devastating as it could be. But generally, the immediate release of an Overlord will affect an area of a few miles, spreading out until it encompasses a nation or more. The impact will also greatly depend on WHICH Overlord is released. An incarnation of madness or war will cause immediate violence or insanity. An elemental force like Dral Khatuur would cause a new ice age. But an incarnation of tyranny or betrayal may have a very subtle effect that takes years to really be noticed. It’s entirely possible that the Mourning was caused by the release of an Overlord, and that there are continuing effects that people simply haven’t identified. Essentially, the effect of an Overlord’s release is up to the DM. It could have instantly apocalyptic effects, or it could be a slow cancer that eats away at the region over time.

Tied to this, I once had a PC warlock in my campaign who was actually a willing agent of an Overlord. The idea behind his character was that it was inevitable that an overlord would eventually be released… but his overlord would at least keep society intact in a form that people could live in, as opposed to dissolving it into chaos, war, or ice. Life in the domain of his overlord might be endless tyranny and oppression and tears of blood, but it’s far better than what you’d get from Tul Oreshka or Rak Tulkhesh. He didn’t LIKE the future he believed was coming, but he believed that ONE of them had to get out eventually, and his was the best option.

So bearing all that in mind…

Is there a list of all the rajahs already published somewhere? With the rajahs theme, location and where to find the full writeup?

I’ve never done it. However, Lord Gore at the WotC forums put together this list, which may be the most comprehensive around; I’ve updated it with Overlords mentioned since it was written.

  1. Bel Shalor, the Shadow in the Flame (Tamor Hills, Khorvaire) ECG page 29
  2. Dral Khatuur, the Heart of Winter (Frostfell) female overlord Druid 25/Sorcerer 15/Frost MageFb 10 Death, ColdFb, WinterFb unpublished
  3. Eldrantulku the Oathbreaker (unknown) NE male overlord rogue 15/sorcerer 15/mindbenderCAr 10 CorruptionBoVD, Trickery Dragon 337 pages 63, 69-70
  4. Katashka the Gatekeeper (Lair of the Keeper, Khorvaire) LE male overlord cleric 8/wizard 8/true necromancerLM 14 Deathbound, UndeathECS DoE page 36, Dragon 337 page 70, ECG page 30
  5. Rak Tulkhesh, the Rage of War (Khorvaire) NE male overlord fighter 15/blackguard 10/cleric 15 Destruction, War; Dragon 337 pages 65, 70; ECG page 31; Eye on Eberron, Dragon 314
  6. Ran Iishiv the Unmaker (Korrandar, Sarlona) SoS page 12
  7. Sakinnirot the Scar that Abides (Stormreach, Xen’drik) CoS page 156
  8. Shudra the Fleshrender (Mel-Aqat, Xen’drik) PGtE page 155, TFoW page 127
  9. Sul Khatesh the Keeper of Secrets (Arcanix, Khorvaire) LE female overlord wizard 36/archmage 4 Knowledge, Magic CoS 89, Dragon 337 pages 60, 68; ECG pg 31
  10. Tiamat, the Daughter of Khyber (Pit of Five Sorrows, Argonnessen) DoE page 9
  11. Tul Oreshka, the Truth in the Darkness (unknown) CE female overlord bard 20/wizard 10/loremaster 10 Madness, ShadowECS Dragon 337 pages 64, 70
  12. Masvirik the Cold Sun (Haka’Torvhak, Q’Barra); Dungeon 185 (DDI)
  13. Unnamed (Krertok Peninsula, Sarlona) SoS page 12
  14. Unnamed (Sustrai Mor, Sarlona) SoS page 91
  15. Unnamed (Tempest’s Isle, Lhazaar Principalities) PGtE page 99 possibly a rajah
  16. Yad-Raghesh (The Vale of the Fallen Rajah, Argonnessen) colossal two-headed overlord DoE page 50 “dead”
  17. The Spinner of Shadows (Xen’drik), DDO

I believe that Sul Khatesh is the only one that’s received a complete 3.5 writeup, in Dragon 337. I’ll also note that I prefer the term Overlord to rajah. “Rajah” tends to get subsumed into “rakshasa rajah”—and while the Overlords rule the rakshasa, they are not themselves rakshasa.

For you, how many overlords do exist? There is 17 listed, that’s all? There is a couple more? 17 more? A hundred more?

According to the Eberron Campaign Guide (page 30), “approximately thirty fiendish overlords are bound in Khyber.”

How big is the area of influence of an overlord?

Thirty overlords once held dominion over all of Eberron. A fully empowered overlord can easily hold dominion over an entire nation. However, it will take time for a released overlord to regain its full power. Its immediate dominion would cover a few miles, and would then quickly grow until it covered an entire nation or more.

If Katashka is made free, how long until the effects(pests, deaths, undead hordes) are sensed in the Talenta Plains? And Q’barra? Or Xen’drik/Sarlona?

That’s entirely up to you. You could decide that Katashka’s influence spreads quickly and that within days wights are crawling out of cemeteries across the world. Or you could decide that his power is growing slowly and won’t expand exponentially until Mabar’s next coterminous phase.

What if more than one overlord is released. Would they ally or make war on one another?

It entirely depends on what overlords they are. The Voice in the Darkness doesn’t do alliances. The Oathbreaker will, but there’s no question that any alliance with him will end in betrayal. And in some cases there’s no real basis for alliance—Rak Tulkhesh wants endless war, while Dral Khatuur simply wants to freeze everything in her reach. Some might fight, but such a feud might be even worse for mortals in the disputed territory than an alliance.

Are the overlords friendly to each other enough to release some or all of the other still bound ones? If Bel Shalor breaks his bonds, he will stride to Aundair and try to release Sul Khatesh, or he will just make sure she never gets free?

First, Bel Shalor can’t stride to Aundair and release Sul Khatesh. For Sul Khatesh to be released, the conditions of her Prophecy must be met. It doesn’t matter how much raw power Bel Shalor brings to bear; releasing an overlord is delicate work. Now, would he TRY to? Possibly. Bel Shalor in particular is a devious force, and has clearly learned a thing or two from his imprisonment. He might well see the value in releasing as many of the other overlords as possible, where Tul Oreshka just wouldn’t bother. On the other hand, there are certainly rivalries and some overlords might work against one another. It’s been noted that Dral Khatuur has no love for any of the others, and as a result she doesn’t have representatives on the Council of Ashtakala.

How common is the knowledge about how their prison works or where each of of then is between the overlords? Does every overlord know how to break free? Or how to break other free?

Extremely uncommon, no, and no. The secrets are all held in the Prophecy. It likely took thousands of years of study before any rakshasa figured out the secrets of releasing their master, and there may well be ones whose release conditions have never been identified. One thing to bear in mind is that the Prophecy is a living thing that constantly shifts as the future becomes the present. So Rak Tulkhesh can be released if X, Y, and Z happen. If you remove Z from the equation—by destroying the person who was supposed to have a child or the sword that child was supposed to use—the universe will simply recalculate and find a new way to solve for Z; and all the scholars who knew the original answer will have to keep studying until they figure it out. This is what the Chamber does: seek to identify paths that will release Overlords and eliminate them, while the Lords of Dust find paths that will release them. It’s a never ending conflict, even though it rarely comes to a demon and a dragon fighting one another.

What should the response of the Argonessen dragons be if an overlord is released?

Rebinding an overlord is just as difficult as releasing one, and in the same way, brute force is no answer. Bel Shalor wreaked havoc for a year in Thrane before Tira defeated him. Do you think Argonnessen just didn’t know or care? They knew; they simply had no path to rebind him, so they stayed far away. They may well have helped Tira without her knowing it. Just as it doesn’t help Sul Khatesh to have a rakshasa kill Queen Aurala, it doesn’t help Argonnessen if an army of dragons defeats Bel Shalor; he’d just reform tomorrow. So Argonnessen would get to work trying to find an answer to the problem, and trying to isolate themselves from the impact of the release. But brute force—even all the magic of Argonnessen—is no answer to the release of an overlord.

Of course it’s possible they would take action to contain the impact of a release. If the Rage of War gets out and transformed the Five Nations into a raving army of bloodthirty reavers, the dragons might sink their boats before they can reach Argonnessen. But this won’t stop Rak Tulkhesh.

And what about Aerenal? Are they safe against one overlord? Two? How long could take to the free overlord to crack the island defenses?

The Undying Court is essentially an artificial overlord. As such, it would be able to stave off the hostile influence of another overlord for a time, but as noted above, it would also depend on the form that influence takes. Tul Oreshka drives mortals mad. Rak Tulkhesh drives them to war. Aerenal could keep Rak Tulkhesh from infecting the elves, but they can’t stop him from flinging hordes of reavers at the island. And if you had an alliance of overlords, who knows?

Realizing that the bonds of the Daelkyr have to be maintained, and with the chaos brought by one or more released overlords, is safe to assume that sooner or later they would falter, and the mad gods would spill in Eberron again. How could they interact with the acting overlord(s)?

Daelkyr are small potatoes next to overlords. Bear in mind that the daelkyr aren’t even the toughest things in Xoriat; they’re just the toughest things that have any interest in other planes. Beyond that it depends on the overlord in question. The Voice in the Darkness might welcome the daelkyr. Rak Tulkhesh doesn’t care who’s fighting as long as someone is. An overlord who actually wants to exert dominion over mortals and have some semblance of civilization—an incarnation of Tyranny, for example—would need to deal with the daelkyr to keep them from wrecking that. But many overlords might just incorporate the daelkyr into their plans.

And Sarlona? What would be the Dreaming Dark response to an age of demons again?

Pretty much any free Overlord will mess things up for the Dreaming Dark. However, the Dreaming Dark has never been noted as having expert knowledge of the Prophecy, which means a) they don’t have lots of warning about it and b) they don’t really know what to do to deal with it. And remember, fiends don’t dream. Again, the Dreaming Dark was active when Bel Shalor spent a year free in Thrane. Most likely they would keep their distance while studying the situation and trying not to panic about it. They might provide aid to whoever proves to have a chance to bind it. But a Riedran army won’t help. Thought they may not know that—so if you WANT them to, you could have them panic and do something dramatic, simply so it can fail awesomely. Heck, a confrontation between the Dreaming Dark and an overlord might be just what it takes to push Dal Quor into the next age… which could be the best thing that could possibly happen, if the next age of Dal Quor is one of light.

You mentioned that “An individual Overlord is equivalent in power to il-Lashtavar (the force behind the Dreaming Dark) or the entire Undying Court”, but then said that il-Lashtavar would lose against an overlord. Isn’t that a contradiction? Do the Quori stand no chance?

The power of il-Lashtavar isn’t directly relevant because it can’t manifest on Eberron. The specific phrase I used was “any free Overlord would mess things up for the Dreaming Dark.” Chaos is the enemy of the Dreaming Dark: they seek to enforce stagnant order and stability, and any free Overlord would shake that up. The power of the Dreaming Dark is spread over continents, and it’s not like they’d want to pull every active Inspired away from what they are doing to battle an Overlord… and even if they could defeat it, it would be reborn. So rather than fighting it directly, I would expect them to operate as they always do – by manipulating mortals to fight the battle for them.

If a Lord of Dust was killed, would the death be for good (akin to killing a demon in the Abyss) or would it reform somewhere?

In Eberron, immortal spirits cannot be destroyed. Unless they are bound, they will always reform. This is true of every immortal from rakshasa to devils to quori. Depending on the type of immortal, it may not retain its memories after death and reincarnation. This is true of quori, and it’s why the Dreaming Dark seeks to exterminate the Kalashtar quori – so they can be reintegrated and reborn as part of il-Lashtavar. With rakshasa, weaker ones generally lose memories, while strong ones (such as the Council of Ashtakala) will generally reform with memories intact. Now, there are ways to ensure that you destroy the memories, and ways to delay that reincarnation, and the key there is to know your Prophecy. Kill the Wyrmbreaker with normal steel on a Tuesday and he’ll be back by Thursday. But if the Son of Seven Sorrows kills him with a silver sword forged in the tears of the Keeper under the light of a new moon, he might be dead for a year and a day. Which is to say, a DM should always feel free to come up with interesting circumstances under which it is possible to effectively kill a fiend.

Are there angelic or good aligned counterparts to the overlords?

If you mean “Is there an incarnate force that’s called something like ‘The Cuteness of Kittens’?” No, there isn’t. If you mean “Is there any sort of native celestials on Eberron,” there WERE: the couatl. They were never as powerful as the Overlords, and were more on par with the rakshasa… and they sacrificed themselves to create the Silver Flame. On some level you could say that the Silver Flame is the good counterpart to the Overlords, which is why it can bind them; it’s simply less concrete and more abstract.

Why is this? Look to the progenitor myth. Khyber killed Siberys and was in turn imprisoned by Eberron. The Overlords are Khyber’s children, and like Khyber, are forces of evil that cannot be vanquished, only bound. Eberron doesn’t produce incarnate spirits like the Overlords: her children are mortal. So Eberron DID create a thing that embodies the cuteness of kittens: she created kittens. Meanwhile, Siberys would be the source of native celestials, and he did create some, like the couatl – but they were created from the blood of Siberys after his defeat, and thus lack the power of the victorious Khyber.

From a purely practical worldbuilding standpoint, there’s a simple reason for this. Eberron is designed to be a world that needs heroes. All the powerful forces of good are limited. Jaela Daran is a child whose power is limited beyond Flamekeep. Oalian doesn’t leave the Greenheart. When evil rises, the world needs you; there is no ultimate good force that can step in and solve the problem for you. The Silver Flame can empower you to solve the problem, but it can’t solve the problem for you.

Is there not even a single surviving Couatl?

We have a few places in canon where there are still couatl who were left behind to watch over things. And there are of course the Shulassakar, the feathered yuan-ti. Beyond this, the fact that the couatl are gone from the word doesn’t mean that they can’t play a role–it means that they need your help to do it. Tira Miron was aided by a couatl, but it didn’t help her in corporeal form; it empowered her and advised her spiritually. In D&D 3.5 this is called divine channeling; I don’t know if 4E ever did a version of it. Essentially, it’s a form of possession that doesn’t actually control the person being possessed, instead granting them additional powers. The premise is that this isn’t something just anyone can do; Tira’s faith and courage made it possible, and it’s what defines her as the Voice of the Silver Flame — her ability to hear the Flame when others did not. So the couatl CAN affect the world, but only through the medium of heroes. Which comes back to that basic premise of Eberron: there are no forces of good that can solve the problem alone. They need you.

On the other hand, the Silver Flame preaches that it will one day cleanse the world from all evil, and naturally that involves the lords of dust, which entails that they are not truly invincible.

This idea comes from Faiths of Eberron. I didn’t work on that book, and I don’t agree with the idea. To me, the key of the Silver Flame is that you don’t fight because you think the battle can be won: you fight because it is that battle which makes the world a better place. There’s no end condition: it is an eternal struggle. There will always be a need for champions. There will always be a need for courage and sacrifice. Evil can’t be permanently vanquished, because good and evil are choices people make. You can’t eliminate lying from the world, because every time someone speaks they have the choice to lie. You can teach that person the value of honesty. You can encourage them to tell the truth. But if you truly eliminated their capacity to lie, you have taken away their free will, and how is that a good thing? This is the lesson of the Overlords. They will always be there, just as the potential for war, death, and treachery will always be there. Through our actions, we hold them at bay, both physically and in the human heart. Through courage and virtue, we show people the proper path and inspire them to be better than they are, to ignore the tempting whispers of evil. And when a noble soul dies their spirit joins the Flame, where it continues to hold evil at bay and strengthen those who fight it.

In several tales heroes tend to be inspired by higher noble powers and realize that they are still fragile and prone to temptation (this is well reflected by Eberron’s handle of alignments), and just as the lords of dust embody several aspects of evil (war…), there ought to be embodiments of goodness.

The Silver Flame is a positive source of spiritual power. It is a source of inspiration. But unlike the Overlords, it cannot act alone: it needs to act through champions. Again, this is part of what defines it as good; it cannot enforce its nature on others, but rather they must choose it. Rak Tulkhesh makes people fight. Katashka revels in death. There is no entity that forces you to be good; there are simply powers that can strengthen you if you choose to be good, just as it was Tira’s courage and virtue that allowed the couatl to empower her.

In my eyes, the fact that virtuous behavior is a choice is what makes it truly virtuous. If it is enforced–whether by a supernatural agency or a mortal power–it loses its meaning. The followers of the Silver Flame don’t do what they do because they expect to win and utterly eliminate all evil forever; they follow the precepts of the Flame because doing so is what makes the world a better place.

This is in marked contrast to the Blood of Vol, many of whose followers believe that they can some day eliminate the concept of death from the world; one can well ask what that would actually mean, and if in so doing they would also eliminate new birth. But that’s another topic. Meanwhile, you might want to consider the following…

Could the place of an Overlord be usurped, or could a person rise to become an overlord? For example, if Erandis Vol decided that her destiny was to achieve actual dominion over death, could she rise to become the embodiment of the concept of death, or failing that, usurp the place of Katashka as the gatekeeper of death?

Anything is possible. We have said that there are members of the Lords of Dust who don’t want to free their Overlord masters, but rather to usurp their power. If it’s possible for a rakshasa to do it, than it’s presumably possible for a human to do it; you’ve just got an interim step of becoming an entity of incarnate spirit like a rakshasa. With that said, you don’t have to usurp the power of an Overlord to become an embodiment of a concept. Erandis Vol wishes to become the Queen of Death (and bear in mind, she’s been working at it for thousands of years and has a unique spiritual basis for being able to do it–the Mark of Death–so clearly this isn’t a casual thing). However, I don’t think this requires her to displace Katashka. The Overlords embody horrible things. That doesn’t mean they govern them. Katashka embodies our fears of death and the horror of the undead. He can enslave the spirits of the dead and bind them to his service in the mortal world. But as he is part of this world, he doesn’t govern the fate of the dead in the worlds beyond. Rak Tulkhesh gains strength from strife, and when free he can create strife. But again, he only has dominion over the rage of war… he has nothing to do with a just conflict.

So the question you have to ask, is do you want to become an Overlord… a finite entity who can be bound and whose dominion is limited… or do you want to become a Sovereign, whose power is unbound and touches all it inspires? The Sovereign Host maintains that Dol Dorn and Dol Arrah can be found any time a blade is drawn, and that Onatar is there in every forge. Tied to the previous answer, the Sovereigns don’t take incarnate form; they inspire and act through mortal vessels. When you create something new, Onatar (or the Traveler) is with you. When you fight, Dol Dorn is with you. And, of course, when you choose to do evil in war, the Mockery is with you. But even the Mockery isn’t finite in the way an Overlord is.

People have sought to become Sovereigns before. The founder of the Library of Korranberg sought to displace Aureon as lord of knowledge. According to the draconic faith of Thir (as discussed in Dragons of Eberron), this is possible; when a new being takes on the mantle of a Sovereign, the previous one ascends to greater realms. Myths suggest that the first Sovereigns were ascended dragons who fought the Overlords in the first age. So there’s mythical precedent for it; it’s just a question of what it takes, and what it actually means if you succeed, since Sovereigns don’t manifest after ascension.

Is there any connection between Katashka the Gatekeeper and other prominent undead-themed entities (eg Vol and her followers).

Not according to canon. However, you could always decide that Katashka is connected to all negatively empowered undead, whether they know it or not… and that Vol, Kaius, and other influential undead are all secretly pawns in the Overlord’s plans. This certainly seems like a fine approach for starting with the Emerald Claw as a heroic tier threat, moving to Vol herself in paragon, and then bringing Katashka in as the true epic threat. For those wanting to know a little more about Katashka, check out Dragon 337 or this Eberron Expanded article.

Any idea what Overlord you would place under Sharn? Some of the details of Fallen (the improvement of which was a major goal of a paladin in one of my games) seems to imply something malign is buried below the city.

By canon, the spiritual force of evil in Sharn isn’t tied to an Overlord; it’s tied to the fact that it’s a dumping ground for Syrania where fallen angels… AKA Radiant Idols… are left to rot. My novel The Son of Khyber specifically addresses the idea of a malign spiritual force tied to Fallen. With that said, you could decide that the reason Sharn is such a great place for dumping angels – aside from being a manifest zone – is due to the presence of an Overlord.

Why could Siberys be killed, but Khyber only imprisoned? Or could Khyber be killed by (only) Eberron or an alive Siberys?

Assuming you take the myth at face value, there’s a few reasons. First, Khyber employed treachery, taking Siberys by surprise. Second, because that is what Khyber is: destruction. Treachery. Corruption. Evil. Eberron, on the other hand, is Life. Destruction isn’t in her nature. So she deals with Khyber by imprisoning him through creation–by building the world around Khyber, creating a living prison to hold her sibling at bay. One point I’ll make is that despite the power of Khyber’s children, their number is limited. They may never die, but if there are thirty overlords today, there will never be thirty-one tomorrow. Eberron’s children may be mortal, but they have the power of creation, and that’s something Khyber lacks. So again, Eberron didn’t create an immortal, stagnant overlord called the Cuteness of Kittens; she created kittens, and new kittens are born every day.

Of course, the progenitors and the myth are symbols as much as anything else. The triumph of Khyber explains why evil can exist in the world. Destruction cannot defeat creation, which is why Khyber can never escape Eberron; however, it can corrupt creation, as made manifest in the Age of Demons. The defeat of the demons shows that mortal life can choose a better path – that virtue can hold evil at bay – but as noted above, it can never be defeated eternally.

Meanwhile, it’s worth noting that the Ring of Siberys is the primary source of arcane energy; as such, even in death Siberys gives people the tools to change the world. They must decide whether to use them wisely.

I’m planning a campaign now and I was wondering if you had any thoughts on the Overlords and the planes… Dral Khatuur & Risia, Rak Tulkhesh & Shavarath. As Eberron natives, do you see them as being linked to the planes at all? Or do you prefer to emphasize ties to Eberron? Esp. curious about ones like those, where there’s some conceptual overlap.

Every plane has its own native spirits. The native spirits of Shavarath are the fiends and celestials who fight the Eternal War. The Overlords are native spirits of Eberron (or more, strictly, Khyber). It is true that Rak Tulkhesh embodies an aspect of war, and Shavarath embodies war. But the catch is that Shavarath is ONLY war, and ALL of its spirits represent war in some way. By contrast, Eberron is a realm where you can have war AND peace, life AND death. Thus, the native spirits of Eberron can embody ANY concept that has a place in Eberron.

One way to think about this: According to the creation myth, the Progenitors created the outer planes together. Khyber’s touch is especially strong in Kythri, Mabar, Shavarath and the like, while the hand of Siberys is felt in Syrania, Daanvi, and Irian. They crafted each of these planes around a single idea. Eberron is the final product, where all these ideas are blended together. So the native spirits of Eberron reflect the full spectrum of concepts, as opposed to the outsiders who are always tied to the core concept of their plane.

According to the myth, Eberron, Khyber and Siberys were “dragons”. So, why the children of Khyber are not dragons too?

The Progenitor myth is a metaphor. If you believe the myth, the Progenitors were beings who shaped planes. According the the legend, the planet is Eberron’s body – but the planet isn’t a giant dragon, is it? Again, assuming you believe the myth, it’s likely that the Progenitors were conceptual beings with no fixed form – that Eberron BECAME the planet to trap Khyber. But it’s not much of a story to say “In the beginning, there were three conceptual entities of no fixed form…”, and so we call them dragons.

The Overlords are themselves conceptual entities with no fixed form. The Lords of Dust article in Dragon 337 provided D&D 3.5 stats for Overlords, and noted that all Rajahs possess the following ability:

Change Form (Su): A rajah can assume any form from Fine to Colossal size, or simply increase or decrease its own size. This is similar to polymorph, but the rajah retains the outsider type and use of all of its special attacks and qualities while in another form. The rajah can maintain a form until it chooses a new one. 

Overlords have PREFERRED forms – Tiamat likes her five-headed dragon – but an Overlord can take any form it wants.

As a side note, per the classic myth, dragons as we know them were formed when drops of the blood of Siberys fell from the sky and struck Eberron. The different types of dragons are based on what the blood touched – so white dragons were born when the blood of Siberys struck ice, black dragons in the swamp, etc.

 I admit that I don’t like too much the idea that overlords don’t have a real form.

I didn’t explain the idea clearly. Overlords represent ideas. Their physical forms represent those ideas. Any overlord has a default, “resting form” that they tend to return to – such as Tiamat and the five-headed dragon. But an overlord may have a wardrobe of forms that reflect its core idea. Rak Tulkhesh might appear as a massive armored rakshasa; as a dragon with bloodstained claws and steel scales; as a handsome human general with blood on his hands. He will choose the form that fits the situation. And if he NEEDS to, he can become something else: A giant, a fly, a duck. But by default, his form will reflect his concept – and he has a few forms he will always return to, which are recorded in myths. In Dragons of Eberron there’s a picture of Dol Arrah fighting Katashka in the form of a dracolich; but that’s just one of Katashka’s shapes, chosen because it was fighting dragons.

If overlords exist since the beginning, do they KNOW if myths are true? Do they remember the agonizing Siberys and Khyber being trapped inside Eberron?

Overlords didn’t exist at the beginning. Per the legend, ALL life as we know it exists after the binding of Siberys. The Overlords emerged from the depths of Khyber onto the surface of Eberron — thus, after that legendary conflict. The beings who could have had personal interactions with the Progenitors would be the immortal spirits of the outer planes, as the planes were (according to myth) created before the struggle between Khyber and Eberron. So if you want to confirm it, check the libraries of Daanvi’s Infinite Archives. However, if you’d rather keep it mysterious, you could easily say that even the inhabitants of those planes had no contact with realms beyond their plane until after the final struggle – they were created, but they never personally encountered the entities that created them.

You’ve already made clear the differences between the Sovereign Host and the Overlords, but would you consider the Dark Six as a whole to be enemies of the Overlords as well? 

I’m going to rewrite my original answer to this question, because I think it was unclear. First of all, a defending element of the Sovereigns and Six is that their existence cannot be conclusively proven. They are said to be omnipresent and to influence their spheres wherever events occur. The Dols are present anytime blades are drawn. And yet they cannot physically manifest. In this, they are concretely different from Overlords, who influence a limited area (even if potentially a very large one) and can physically manifest. An Overlord can be bound, and an Overlord cannot. So in some ways it’s a meaningless question, because the Dark Six don’t manifest, so HOW WOULD YOU KNOW? With that said, I’d argue that EVERYONE is against the Overlords. If I’m a medusa priestess of the Shadow, I’m not going to look at Bel Shalor and say “I dunno, I kind of like the cut of his jib.” Among other things, most cultures that revere the Dark Six look at their positive elements. You could say that Tul Oreshka and the Fury have some overlap, but Tul Oreshka is PURE MADNESS, while the Fury can reflect the positive aspects of passion and emotion.

WITH THAT SAID: Canon sources suggest that many of the myths associated with the Sovereigns and Six are drawn from the actions of dragons in the First Age, who may have somehow ascended to become the Sovereigns; this is the foundation of Thir and the Church of the Wyrm Ascendant. By these principles, Dol Dorn, Dol Arrah and Dol Azur were all martial dragons, and Dol Azur was flayed after betraying the others – suggesting that he, at least, was working with the enemy. The dragon who became the Keeper may have had an alliance with Katashka. The MYTH of the Shadow may have been inspired by Bel Shalor – even though the Shadow that is worshipped in Droaam ISN’T Bel Shalor.

If I can humbly say my opinion, the dark six are very different from overlords.

They are entirely different. The Overlords embody very specific, dark concepts. Their influence is limited to a particular area. They can physically manifest. The Dark Six are broader in concept, universal in influence (if you believe in them) and can be seen in a positive light. Per canon sources, there are many in the Five Nations who worship the Dark Six in some way; the Three Faces of War, the Cannith Traveler cults, the Restful Watch. A Zil assassin could definitely offer a prayer to Dol Azur.

I remember you in other posts said that the myth of sovereign host exist in some way even in other planes. That suggests that they may exist since the very beginning, since before Eberron and Khyber maybe.

Yes and no. It’s unquestionably the case that in the Age of Demons, a number of dragons gained transcendental power and crafted identities that resemble the Sovereigns and Six. Beings on the outer planes interacted with these entities. This isn’t myth; this is fact. Asmodeus claims to have taught Aureon about politics. In 4E, the Sovereigns are credited with creating the demiplane of Baator.

But at the time they did these things, these beings were still less than the Sovereigns that are worshipped today. The people of the Five Nations don’t worship dragons (mostly), they worship omnipresent forces that shape reality. The question is HOW Ourelonastrix went from being an epic dragon to a divine force, and if someone else could… which is, again, the basis of the draconic religion of Thir.

 Would Rak Tulkhesh  be empowered by what philosophers call “just war” e.g. Self-defence. Would it empower an overlord, or only -as I think- aggressive conflicts or those in which atrocities as torture or attacks against civilians are committed no matter the justification? 

Rak Tulkhesh doesn’t care about goals. He doesn’t care about the overall cause: what you’re fighting for, what you’re trying to accomplish, what you do or don’t do to civilians. He cares about whether you HATE the person you are fighting, whether you hunger for vengeance, whether you yearn to hurt your opponents. He doesn’t care about Queen Aurala’s justification for war; he cares about what’s in the heart of the individual soldier when he drives his spear into the chest of an enemy. The EOE article says “He draws strength from every blow struck in anger, and his will drives the peaceful to hate. He is Rak Tulkhesh, the Rage of War.”

 

So one of the Shadowsword’s favorite things is to encourage people to start such “just wars”, because once blood is spilled it’s so much easier to fan the flames of hatred. The Lycanthropic Purge is a perfect example of this: the CAUSE was entirely just, but along the way hatred, fear, and the thirst for vengeance turned it into a bloody witch hunt.

Perhaps “just war” is embodied by the tenets of Dol Arrah and Dol Dorn and so they prevent it from empowering an overlord if no abuses are perpetrated?

Again, it’s not about the cause or the action: it’s about what’s in the heart of the soldier. If you can fight without feeling hate; if you can truly feel compassion and fight solely for justice, then your actions don’t strengthen Rak Tulkhesh, even if your cause is TERRIBLE. But if you are filled with hatred and bloodlust, the righteousness of your cause is meaningless.

Beyond that, Dol Arrah encourages just war and the Mockery supports treachery in the pursuit of victory, but Dol Dorn is simply about strength, courage and skill; he doesn’t particularly care if the war is just or not, he’s just about supporting the soldier.

How much do the Silver Flame church knows about the Lord of Dust and the Overlords? Do they know the organization, the names of the Overlords, that every demon is immortal, that every overlord can be set free following the path of the prophecy?

Good question. The foundation of the modern church is Tira’s struggle with an Overlord. From that, it’s logical to conclude that anyone who knows the story of Tira knows the following things.

  • There are ancient and powerful demons bound by the Silver Flame.
  • It is possible for them to escape, and they have demonic minions working to help free them.
  • These arch-fiends cannot be destroyed, only bound; this is why Tira’s sacrifice was necessary.
  • We must all be vigilant and prepared to make our own heroic sacrifices to protect the innocent from these forces of evil.

That much is common knowledge; it’s the basis of the faith. The greatest evil cannot be permanently destroyed; it can only be held at bay by the courage and sacrifice of good people. There are dangerous supernatural forces in the world scheming to do terrible things – fiends, undead, lycanthropes – and we need those with courage to take on the mantle of the templar and defend us from them.

Beyond that things get murkier. Bel Shalor is absolutely known and well documented, because he was freed and active in Khorvaire for a period of time… so there are records and accounts from people with first hand experience. Beyond that, it’s going to be much like the accounts of demons in OUR major religions. No human on Khorvaire has ever directly encountered Rak Tulkhesh. So what we have are accounts from sages who have spoken with Couatl, communed with the Flame, or encountered the influence of the Overlord or their minions. So while Rak Tulkhesh hasn’t been freed since the Church began, there have been Templars who have studied his influence, and surely at least one account claiming that one reason things went so wrong with the Lycanthropic Purge was because Rak Tulkhesh led the righteous astray. Meanwhile, looking to Draal Khatuur: no human has EVER encountered her or seen her influence at work. She might be included on a list of names of the Overlords – an scribe’s account of the words Tira relayed while in a trance speaking to her couatl guide, along with the name “The Heart of Winter” – but she’s been locked away in an almost entirely unexplored continent since before human civilization existed, so we don’t know much.

To further complicate matters: The Lords of Dust have been part of human civilization since the beginning. They are master manipulators who don’t WANT humanity to tell the truth. They even have agents in the Church of the Silver Flame. So for every true account that comes from some hero’s personal encounter with the Lords of Dust or a priest communing with a couatl or speaking with a dragon, you probably have two intentionally misleading accounts by rakshasa or sages duped by rakshasa that present misleading information: Rak Tulkhesh is only empowered by blood sacrifice, he can only influence deminhumans, he will be released from bondage when all the moons are full at the same time and Shavarath is coterminous. The forces of the Church have no way to perfectly verify these, and again, some Church historians surely are rakshasa or their agents.

Beyond this, remember that the Prophecy is always changing and that it’s almost impossible for a single mortal to see its full scope. So yes, it may be that the Church generally understands that the Overlords can be freed through the Prophecy – but they will be relying on accounts of sages to say what that means, and since one account was written the path of the Prophecy may have changed due to the actions of the LoD and the Chamber.

In part, this ties to What do you need for your story? If you WANT the players to have learned a chunk of the Prophecy that could release an Overlord, make it happen. But as a whole, what the Church has access to is a cauldron filled with a spectrum of good and bad information. This is what is reflected by a player character making a skill check. Someone with a reasonable check might know Tiamat is the name of an Overlord associated with dragons; someone with an exceptional skill check remembers the Codex Argent Draconum, the account of a paladin who spent an extensive amount of time working with a silver dragon who shared information about Tiamat and her legends. That information comes from in-world sources, and the degree of skill reflects both the player’s familiarity with the sources and ability to draw valid conclusions.

So: The Church knows there are demons active within the world. It even knows the names of some of these archfiends and their masters, along with stories about them that may or may not be true. These things are why the templars are always vigilant. We say that the purpose of the church is to defend the innocent from supernatural evil. This is a world where supernatural evil unquestionably exists. The Church trains exorcists because it knows they will be needed. But it doesn’t have perfect information about the enemy… all the more so because a particular cell of the Lords of Dust may literally have been laying dormant for the last thousand years waiting for the right moment to act.

After the Coautls sacrificed themselves and bound the Overlords, the remaining fiends retreated to the Demon Wastes. They plot from the ruins there. Are the cities and temples there ruins because of time, or did the dragons assault the Demon Wastes after they grew in power? Given the magic that they brought to bear against Xen’drik, and the fact that (some) dragons study the prophecy to combat (offensively and defensively) the Lords of Dust, have the dragons ever laid waste to the Demon Wastes throughout the history of Eberron?

The Demon Wastes are on my list of topics for an article when I have time. There’s a number of different factors here. The cities were ruined over the course of the millennia of conflict. But it is on the edge of Khyber, honeycombed with portals to demiplanes within Khyber. The rakshasa largely dwell in these demiplanes. Ashtakala itself exists between planes, draped in its own memories. Setting aside their impressive wards and powers, it’s difficult to spy on the Lords of Dust because much of the time they aren’t entirely on this plane. If they WERE to rebuild cities on the surfaces, the dragons would wipe them out again, and they may well have done so at times in the past. But they can’t be pried out of Khyber.

Did the Silver Flame only bind the Overlords, or were many other lesser fiends caught up in it’s power as well?

While the principle is that the small fish slipped through the net that bound the Overlords, I’ve always assumed that the majority of fiends were trapped in the Flame. During the Age of Demons, there were enough fiends to support cities of fiends, or to field vast armies. Tied to the previous question, there ARE still significant numbers of fiends in the worlds – but significantly fewer that existed in the First Age. So the release of an Overlord could easily include the release of a large force of lesser minions as well.

It’s my impression that the Night Hags made it out of the Age of Demons relatively unscathed, is that the case? And do they have their own imperative or are they also interested in releasing the Overlords?

That is the case. Despite technically being children of Khyber, they were never aligned with the Overlords. They’re neutral and independent; each one pursues their own agenda. Some served as envoys in the ancient conflict; others had no interest in it.

Do you see the Lords of Dust having an advantage over the Chamber in reading the prophecy because they are immortal and have more time, or could the rakshasas be hindered in their efforts because of limited perspective? Maybe both?

Absolutely both. Immortality is an advantage, and sages like the Bloody Sage and the Wyrmbreaker are the greatest individual authorities on the Prophecy. But at the same time, they largely operate in isolation, rarely sharing their secrets with the servants of other Overlords. By contrast, the Chamber has a host of scholars – and while they may not be immortal, they live for thousands of years and can draw on the work of those who have gone before them.

Short form: The rakshasa are the experts at the paths dealing with their specific Overlords, but the Chamber has a far WIDER view of the Prophecy and sees a bigger picture.

So I think the Lords of Dust have the edge on their specific threads – while the Chamber has a far WIDER view and has a greater understanding of the Prophecy as a whole.

Has there been a rakshasa artificer mentioned anywhere? Someone that has, over the many thousands of years, been equipping the Lords of Dust and their innumerable pawns with fiendish items? I wonder if Eberron’s take on low level magic and items applies to the fiends as well, especially given their natural talents with magic.

The rakshasa do produce magic items for their servants and even for themselves; most notably, they have a very high demand for items that can protect deep cover rakshasa from divination magic. I don’t think they are bound to low level magic; on the contrary, I think they can produce artifacts. BUT… I don’t think they’ve ever embraced the industrial approach to magic that differentiates the artificer from the wizard. A rakshasa might be able to make an artifact, but it is a focused piece of work that could take decades… because, of course, the rakshasa HAS decades.

Essentially, the raksahsa have been doing this for a hundred thousand years. If they were innovative, they’d have innovated by now. If they could developed entirely new forms of magic, they would have. So I think that they are still making the same things they would have made in the Age of Demons. In my mind, this is also the slight edge that the mortals have. Rakshasa like the Wyrmbreaker are epic-level magi capable of producing wonders, but new techniques – the artificer, things like incarnum – are beyond them.

Does anyone in other planes care about Overlords? They’re so powerful that they could easily access dimensional travel and change things there.

Their vast power is precisely why they CAN’T access dimensional travel. The most powerful spirits of planes are tightly bound to their planes; they are literally a PART of that plane, and they can’t separate from it. This is why the Quori can come to Eberron, but il-Lashtavar can’t… and why we have pointed out that the Daelkyr aren’t the most powerful spirits of Xoriat, but simply the most powerful entities that have come from Xoriat.

Is there any reason for you choosing to have “more or less 30 overlords” instead of canonic number of 12+1 (bel shalor maybe)?

Because we concretely didn’t want to have a completely list of Overlords. From the outset, we wanted to leave room for individual DMs to add Overlords to fit the needs of the story… and for us to have room to do the same. This ties to the fact that the Overlords’ powers are limited in scope. Which means that when I wrote an article exploring Q’barra in more depth, I could add a new Overlord – Masvirik, the Cold Sun – without contradicting previous material or having to force an existing Overlord into a slot that doesn’t really fit.

It has been mentioned that in Eberron, Lolth could be one of the Overlords, like Tiamat. What about other famous villains from other settings, such as the other demon lords (Orcus, Demogorgorn, etc), maybe Vecna, or even the Tarrasque? If you wanted to use them, would you cast them as other Overlords, or servants equivalent to rakshasas, or maybe just powerful fiends on par with the Daelkyr?

Per 3.5 rules, Overlords are entities with power on par to divine rank. As a result, they are concretely more powerful than demon princes and archdevils. Here’s a (somewhat lengthy) thing I wrote for the Savage Tide adventure path, which involved Demogorgon.

The influence of Demogorgon raises one of the primary challenges of converting this adventure path to Eberron. The cosmology of Eberron is quite different from that of the Great Wheel… so where does Demogorgon reside in the Eberron Campaign Setting?  

            Many demons can be found in Shavarath, the eternal battleground. It is certainly possible to place Demogorgon in Shavarath as one of the generals of this endless war. However, the spirits of Shavarath are ultimately spirits of war; the demons of Shavarath may be creatures of chaos and evil, but they are still spirits of battle.

            But there is another alternative for the DM who wants demons to be spirits of pure evil, unbound by any ties to Shavarath or the outer planes: Khyber, the Dragon Below. Legends say that in the dawn of time, the vile dragon Khyber spawned fiends in the darkness, monsters that tormented the children of Eberron. The rakshasa are the best-known native fiends, and to this day it is the rakshasa that have the strongest presence in the world above. But Khyber’s children take many forms, and there is nothing preventing the Dragon Below from creating its own variations of the spirits found in Shavarath and Fernia. Balors, Mariliths, and even demon princes; all of these could be children of Khyber. Like the rakshasa, these Khyber-spawned demons are native outsiders, but they possess most traits of true outsiders; they do not need to eat or sleep, they are immune to the ravages of time, and the most powerful among them are truly immortal.

            As spawn of Khyber, the demons of Eberron are not tied to any planar agenda. They are not bound to the great war of Shavarath. Instead, they embody Khyber’s wrath and hatred of the world above. They seek to corrupt destroy the children of Eberron. Some may seek to free the Overlords of the Age of Demons, and these fiends will usually join with the Lords of Dust. But many are spirits of pure chaos and evil, and seek only the pleasure of sowing discord and pain across Eberron.

            And what of the Abyss? Again, it could be grafted onto Shavarath, with each layer being one more battlefield. But it can also be bound to Khyber. Eberron is a magical world, and it does not have to obey the laws of logic. An adventurer who ventures too far beneath the surface of Eberron will be amazed by the horrors that lurk below. A deep cavern can open into the endless maze of Baphomet. A whirlpool can draw unwary travelers into the abyssal ocean. Many people think Xen’drik is the ultimate destination for the pulp adventurer. But the most exotic and terrifying realms are not across the water; they lie beneath it, in the very heart of the Dragon Below. While these are not outer planes, they exist beyond normal space and cannot be reached by normal forms of teleportation; travelers must either find the proper path between the realms or emply planar magic to step into these demiplanes.

            This is the path that these conversions will follow. Demogorgon is one of the lords of the worlds within the world. While he is weaker than the great Overlords of the Age of Demons, he is one of the mightiest spirits that remains unbound. He stands apart from the Lords of Dust; he seeks to claim the power of the rajahs for his own, not to free these ancient spirits. He is a patient being, and his plans take centuries to unfold. Now his latest scheme is coming to fruition, as the savage tide begins to rise.

So: that’s the approach I would take with Orcus and Demogorgon – powerful native fiends, above the rakshasa but below the Overlords. Looking to the Tarrasque, I might similarly make it a Khyber-spawned immortal force – but I wouldn’t consider it an Overlord.

Have you used the Lords of Dust in a campaign? Post your questions and experiences below!

Dragonmarks: Exotic Races in Eberron

The original Eberron Campaign Setting promises “If it exists in D&D, then it has a place in Eberron.” Over the years, one of the most common questions I’ve heard is “How do I use (insert unusual race) in Eberron?” How would people react to an Illumian in Sharn? Where would you put a Goliath? Recently I’ve been talking with Ruty Rutenberg of Eberron livestream Maze Arcana about tieflings and aasimars; over in Facebook’s Eberron Enthusiast group, someone was asking about playing an imp. In the weeks ahead I may look more closely at specific races and how I’d use them. But let’s start with a general discussion about introducing new races to the setting.

As a general rule, I prefer to avoid adding too many new races to the common tapestry of the world. In my mind, the streets of Fairhaven don’t look like a Mos Eisley cantina. I prefer to focus on fewer races but to make sure each one has a strong place. Warforged are defined by their role in the Last War and the chaos caused by their emancipation. Shifters are haunted by the Lycanthropic Purge and tensions with the Silver Flame. When we made dragonborn a common race in Fourth Edition, we did so by co-opting the existing story of lizardfolk in Q’barra, explaining that most humans couldn’t tell the difference between them. For the Eladrin we introduced the concept of the Feyspires, explaining that while the Eladrin were an ancient race they had always remained hidden in the shadows – until the current disaster that brought the Feyspires into the light. In this way, each race had a place in the world deep enough to generate story, without radically rewriting the setting. So that’s a starting point. If a new race exists as a true race – with a significant population and established culture – I want to think about how it fits in and the impact it should’ve had on history.

With that said, part of point of “If it exists in D&D, then it has a place in Eberron” is that there is plenty of room for unique entities. As a member of an unusual race, you could be…

  • A strange effect of the Mourning. You were once human, but you were caught in the Mourning and it transformed you.
  • A unique creation of Mordain the Fleshweaver, or one of the Daelkyr. Perhaps you escaped your creator, or perhaps you were released as part of an experiment.
  • A mutation caused due to your being conceived and born in a manifest zone/during a coterminous phase; your inhuman nature is a reflection of the influence of one or more of the planes. You could be unique, or this could be a mutation known to occur in this place at coterminous phases – so you could potentially encounter others of your kind.
  • A member of a hidden community. Your people could have a secret city in Xen’drik never seen by human eyes. You might come from a demiplane in Khyber that only touches on Eberron in a few places. You could even come from another plane, like the Eladrin; the Kenku could easily be from Lamannia or Thelanis, depending how you want to depict them. Or you could be hidden among a better known race, just as the dragonborn of Q’barra are confused with lizardfolk.
  • You might not be a member of a new race at all. If the player is primarily interested in the MECHANICS of the race as opposed to the story behind it, you have the power as DM to simply reskin that race as something else. In a 4E Eberron campaign, I played a character who was mechanically a Deva avenger with shaman subclass. However, my STORY was that I was a human peasant from Cyre who had become a host for the vengeful spirits of thousands of Cyrans who died in the Mourning. The Deva race is about having “memories of a thousand lives”; in my case, those were thousands of lives of the ghosts haunting me. The Shaman subclass gave me the ability to summon a spirit – one of my haunting spirits temporarily manifesting through me. The idea wasn’t that I was a trained warrior, but rather that the ghosts infused me with the powers of an avenger. The point being that I had all the abilities of a Deva, but we didn’t actually add a new race into the setting; we said that I was a human modified by magic.

All of this comes to the most critical question: WHY does the player want to be a member of this race? Roleplaying is collaborative storytelling, and as DM you are working with the player to create a story you’ll both enjoy. Rather than you deciding unilaterally how a race fits into the world, the critical first step is to identify the story the player is trying to create. Is the player only interested in the mechanics of the race, in which case reskinning is an option? Are they tied to the exact appearance of the race, or could you reimagine it to better fit the setting? Is it important to them to be part of a community of their own kind, or are they OK with the concept of being the only member of this species that exists in the world? Are there other elements that define the character they want to play?

For example, looking to the question “How would people feel about a tiefling in Sharn?” In my opinion, the people of Sharn would have very little reaction to a tiefling. Devils play a minor role in the world, so common folk would be more likely to consider the tiefling to be a shaved minotaur than touched by infernal power… and in Sharn in particular, the locals are used to seeing gargoyles, harpies, goblins, warforged, and even medusas. The guy with red skin and horns is exotic, sure, but I’m not going to get a mob together. But if the player specified that she wanted to be persecuted and feared – that the whole concept was that her infernal blood was a curse that made life difficulty for her – then I’d find a way to make it work. My first question would be if she was set on the general devil-horns appearance of the Tiefling, or if we might reskin it to have more of a rakshasa flavor, given that rakshasa are the most common fiends of Eberron; if so, it would be easy to play up the idea of stories of these rakshasa halfbreeds and persecution by the Church of the Silver Flame. If the devil-appearance was important, then I could easily run with it and say that people in this campaign are familiar with devils… because it’s an easy change for me to make to give the player the story she’s looking for, and I’m comfortable doing it. With that said, tieflings DO have a few defined roles in the setting, and I’ll talk about them in more detail in a future post… but you get the idea.

With that said, it’s also OK to conclude that a particular concept just doesn’t work in a campaign. Given that it’s collaborative storytelling, it’s OK for you to conclude that YOU aren’t happy with the direction the story would have to go… in which case hopefully you and the player can work together to come up with something that works for both of you. As I mentioned above, I was recently in a discussion with a DM putting together a shades-of-grey campaign set at Rekkenmark Academy, and one of the players wanted to be an imp dedicated to Dol Arrah. Through discussion, the idea was worked out that the character could be an imp-like entity tied to the Three Faces of War (since the player really wanted the ABILITIES of the imp, which were more in line with the Mockery than Dol Arrah) conjured to serve as a sort of spiritual mascot for the mortal characters. But ultimately, the player was deeply attached to the character being a pure embodiment of LAW and GOOD, and that character just didn’t belong in the noir environment the DM was creating with this Rekkenmark story; even if the DM allowed the player to use the character, the player wouldn’t get the EXPERIENCE they wanted… so ultimately, better to come up with an idea better suited to the campaign.

All of which is to say: you CAN find a place for any concept in Eberron, but that doesn’t always mean you should. Make sure that you understand the experience the player is looking for, and that the interpretation you’re using will actually provide that experience.

SUBRACES IN 5E

One point that’s come up in the comments discussion is how to incorporate the subraces of Fifth Edition into Eberron. Are Tairnadal High Elves or Wood Elves?

In my opinion, most subraces in 5E are designed for character optimization as opposed to story impact. If you’re going to play a wizard, you want to be a High Elf; if you’re going to be a ranger, play a Wood Elf. The system isn’t tied to any setting and there’s no built in reason that you HAVE to make Wood Elves and High Elves culturally distinct… so in my campaign, my answer is that all the common Elves of Eberron – Tairnadal, Aereni, Phiarlan, Thuranni – can be either Wood Elves or High Elves, as the player chooses. Essentially, subrace is a reflection of individual aptitude and specialization. WITHIN EBERRON, no one will ever use the terms “high elf” or “wood elf”; it’s simply a question of whether your Tairnadal elf is more attuned to arcane magic or to the wilds.

I’d take the same approach to most of the common subraces in the 5E handbook. A Mror Dwarf can be Hill or Mountain; a Talenta halfling can be Lightfoot or Stout. The only place where I’d separate subrace is where the subrace has a unique story, place in the world, or abilities that should have a notable cultural impact. So Wood/High Elves are simply personal aptitudes within the general “elf” race… while Drow and Eladrin are unique races/cultures with their own societies and stories. Mror dwarves can be Hill or Mountain, but Duergar are something else entirely.

As always, this is a personal choice. But to me it’s a case of most subraces serving the purpose of class specialization – and there being no compelling reason to force a player who wants to be a Valenar wizard (and there are many mighty wizards in Tairnadal legend) to be a wood elf when they’d rather have the mechanical benefits of the high elf.

In future posts I’ll talk about ways I might work particular unusual races into the setting. What races would you like to see me discuss? What unusual races have you used in your campaign?

Dragonmarks: The Evolving Artificer

The latest Unearthed Arcana presents a new version of the Artificer for 5E D&D.  Right from the start, there’s a few things to note.

  • This is a work in progress. They say at the outset that it’s a rough concept that hasn’t been refined or fully tested. They’re presenting it because they want feedback, not because they think it’s perfect.
  • This isn’t designed for Eberron. The word “Eberron” never comes up in the article or introduction. The existence of an artificer class is obviously useful for Eberron, but this isn’t specifically designed with Eberron in mind; it’s an artificer that could exist in any setting, and that thus works with the general “magic items are rare” assumption of 5E D&D.
  • I haven’t tried it out. I’m juggling a lot of projects right now, and I haven’t had a chance to review the class in depth.

Having said all of that, I’m not going to go into a detailed analysis of mechanics and balance. They aren’t claiming that it’s balanced; that’s the point of pushing it out into the world. What I’m concerned with is how it fits into Eberron and how it lines up with the original Eberron artificer.

THE GOOD

This is a big step forward from the last version of the artificer we saw in Unearthed Arcana, where it was a wizard subclass. We have a d8 hit die, light and medium armor proficiency, and proficiency with thieves tools… all things missing from the wizard and more in line with the original artificer. Just having it as a standalone class is important, because it allows for subclasses, unique spells, and similar features. I like the Tool Specialist and Magic Item Analysis features. So I like the foundation.

Wondrous Invention and Superior Attunement seem like a reasonable step at blending one of the core concepts of the artificer — being able to create magic items — with the low-magic foundation of 5E. You can’t make ANY item as a 3.5 Artificer could… but it still provides the artificer with the ability to say “Good thing I made these goggles of night!” I haven’t had time to review the item lists and really think about the impact on character balance, but it seems like a good start.

THE BAD

In Eberron, the artificer is presented as a magical engineer — someone who approaches magic in the same way a technician approaches technology. The artificer’s spells are all infusions, and all reflect the artificer’s ability to temporarily cobble together short-term magic items. This is most strongly represented by the infusions Armor Augmentation, Weapon Augmentation and Spell-Storing Item. The Augmentations allow the artificer to temporarily infuse weapon or armor with an enchantment — making your hammer Undead Bane when the vampire shows up, or adding some fire resistance to your armor when things get hot. Spell-Storing Item is the cornerstone of the artificer for me: it allows you to attempt to create a one-shot wand of almost any low-level spell, but with a chance of catastrophic failure. To me, this ties to the concept of the artificer as a magical hacker. The artificer doesn’t know the rituals and formulas a wizard uses to reliable create a fireball over and over. But she understands the principles of generating magical fire, and if you give her a moment she can put something together; just hope it doesn’t blow up in her face.

The critical point is that this emphasizes the idea of the artificer as someone who works with magic; again, spell-storing item is essentially about creating one-shot wands. One of the protagonists in my Dreaming Dark novels, Lei d’Cannith, is an artificer and I frequently represent her as weaving tapestries of magic to create her tools. She also makes regular use of spell-storing item and the augmentation spells.

By contrast, the foundation of the UA artificer is about magic… but the specialties are not. The alchemist specialty seems like it could be fun at low levels, and I love it as a way to represent a Zil alchemist. We’ve always said that the Zil were the masters of alchemy and that they manufacture alchemical weapons, and I love the concept of the gnome alchemist darting around and blowing things up. But that’s an alchemist, not an artificer. The focus here seems to be as much on science (chemistry) as on magic. Yes, the inexhaustible alchemist’s satchel is clearly magical, but the general effect is that the character is running around throwing flasks of acid and fire; it is more mundane than using spell-storing item to create a one-shot wand of fireball.

So: I like the alchemist, but it doesn’t feel like a classic artificer to me. On the other hand, for Eberron specifically, I have bigger issues with the gunsmith. Because the gunsmith is presented as USING A GUN: an alchemical device that explicitly fires lead bullets. I’ve never liked firearms in Eberron because I’ve always emphasized that people in Eberron solve their problems with magic instead of technology: make a wand of magic missiles or enchant a crossbow, don’t invent gunpowder. Next we have the obvious question: If this is a technological device, why is the artificer the only one who can use it? How is it that the Thunder Cannon becomes inert the moment the artificer hands it to a friend? If that’s the intent – that it is magical, and that’s why the artificer is the only one who can use it – then in my opinion, don’t make it a gun. Make it a literal boomstick, a staff that functions as a gun in the hands of the artificer, but which is clearly a magical tool. Or make it about elemental binding – it’s a rod with a fire elemental bound into it. In Eberron, I posited the existed of siege staffs instead of gunpowder artillery – essentially, magical staffs the size of tree trunks, enchanted for maximum range and area of effect. They serve the same FUNCTION as cannons, but they are tied to the existing wand/staff “technology” of the world, as opposed to introducing an entirely different paradigm.

Essentially, in Eberron the artificer is a magical engineer who manipulates magic as if it’s technology. Both of the UA specialties bring in a degree of mundane science – gunpowder or chemistry – that push them away from the vision of the artificer as the person who understands the principles of MAGIC. It becomes a blending of magic and ACTUAL technology, which is something I generally sought to avoid in Eberron. Warforged aren’t steam-powered; they are golems, operating on entirely magical principles.

WITH ALL THAT SAID: I still think that this is a very good start, and I can see that both these specialties work for the idea of the artificer-as-technological-tinker, which might be exactly what you want in most settings. And I think that in Eberron, many problems could be solved by adding additional infusions to the artificer spell and a specialty path that is specifically tied to Eberron. Spell-Storing Item was an infusion, not a class feature; it’s something that could easily be added to the artificer spell list in an Eberron sourcebook.

So overall, I’m happy with the article. It creates a general-purpose artificer that I can see fitting into a range of settings, and it’s a big step forward from the last version. It creates a foundation that could be adapted to Eberron. I think I’d have fun with an alchemist, at least at low levels. And as for the gunsmith, in MY campaign I’d shift the Thunder Cannon to be an entirely magical tool, but that doesn’t invalidate the concept… and I know there are many people who DO like gunpowder in their chocolate, who I’m sure will love it as is.

Update

On consideration, most of my issues are cosmetic. If you shift the appearance of the Gunsmith and Alchemist to a more magical interpretation, I’m happy to give them a try. Rather than having the Alchemist hurl flasks of oil, his “Alchemist’s satchel” could be a bandolier of components that he uses to assemble one-use charms and wands. The effects he can produce are identical, it’s just a different tone. Likewise, if the Thunder Cannon is a mystical tool – perhaps a weird variant of wand and staff that’s the size and weight of a log – I’m happy with the “Wandsmith.”

There’s still things I’d change. I’m not thrilled about every artificer having a construct companion, and I’m REALLY not thrilled about that companion being a Large creature; I might have a construct owl, but I don’t want to be followed around by something the size of a horse. I like the idea that the Mechanical Servant could be a path feature or swapped out for another Wondrous invention. I’d add a few new infusions for Eberron. But I’m certainly interested in playing around with it.

What are your thoughts on the latest UA Artificer?

Thelanis in Play: Curses

Last week I wrote about Thelanis and the Fey. This week I’m posting a few shorter pieces about how to use Thelanis in an Eberron campaign. Today’s topic: Curses!

Curses often figure prominently in Faerie stories. The search for a cure may be a driving force in a campaign, or the curse could simply be a burden a character has to bear, something that marks them as an extraordinary individual. Consider a few ways that a curse can work into a story.

  • Ancestral Guilt. A character could be born cursed due to the fault of an ancestor. In Sleeping Beauty the princess is cursed because her parents insult a faerie patron. In the Ulster Cycle Macha curses all the men of Ulster for the actions of their king.
  • Personal Backstory. A curse could be something a character has earned through their own misdeeds, while still being something that is part of a backstory as opposed to happening in play. Your rogue stole from the Tomb of the Forgotten King and the curse has haunted you ever since.
  • A Fey WrongedOne aspect of faerie stories is that power isn’t always consistent. A nymph might have the standard statistics provided by the Monster Manual – being a relatively minor spirit, not an archfey – and still have the power to curse someone who scorns her love. This is especially true if adventurers travel into Thelanis itself. The plane itself is a magical place, and the people who break its rules can suffer consequences.
  • The Price. A curse that afflicts a player character could be the consequence of a negotiated bargain: the character willingly accepts a curse in exchange for a service or goods. This could be part of a backstory – the price of a warlock’s Fey Pact – or it could be part of a campaign, where an archfey offers her assistance provided someone will give up their fame, their heart or their voice. More often than not, fey are more interested in intangible things than in material goods, and it’s part of the unnatural logic of Thelanis that the nymph can offer you something in exchange for your ability to love.

Choosing to have a player character cursed from the start of the game may seem like a strange decision, but it’s something that can give an adventurer immediate purpose: What do you need to do to lift this curse of poverty? The best curses don’t affect combat or prevent the character from being an effective adventurer; instead, they shape story, which is what Thelanis is about. Beyond this, a GM might choose to provide a corresponding benefit to a character who willingly takes on a curse. Perhaps the Forgotten King has cursed you with poverty… but you still have the mysterious key you took from his tomb, and some day you may find the door that it opens. Or perhaps your line has ties to two fey sisters; one has always favored you, while the other cursed you out of jealousy. You have to bear the curse, but your patron may come to you in your darkest times to offer advice or assistance.

The spell Bestow Curse gives examples of curses with concrete effects, and you can certainly have a wronged fey lay such a curse on an enemy. However, those curses are severe mechanical penalties and not something you’d casually take as a ongoing handicap. As I said above, the best fey curses don’t prevent a character from being effective at what they do: instead, they shape story. They are extremely meaningful to the individual, but not crippling. Consider the following…

  • Upcoming Doom. The character will sicken and die when they reach a certain age. Three generations of their ancestors have fallen prey to the curse, and they only have one year to find the answer.
  • Infamy. No one remembers any heroic deeds the character accomplishes. They will be held responsible for all of their misdeeds, but anything good they do will be attributed to someone else (quite possibly other members of the adventuring party).
  • Poverty. All gold, platinum, or gems the character touches disappears within one hour, transported away to fill the coffers of the wronged fey.
  • Loneliness. The character will never find love. The more they love someone, the less the target of their affection will feel for them.
  • Suspicion. A more severe take on Infamy, the character will by default be blamed when things go wrong. People can’t explain it – that character just seems like the kind of person who would be up to something.
  • Cloud of Misfortune. The character themselves doesn’t suffer, but bad things happen to the people they care about. This is primarily aimed at NPCs. If they start to frequent a tavern, it will burn down. Their horse breaks its leg. Their family farm suffers a bad harvest. They should always feel concerned about getting too attached to anyone… because what will happen if they do?

Looking to Infamy or Poverty, as described other PCs can mitigate the effects; the cursed character can’t touch gold, so someone else has to handle all transactions. It’s not the end of the world, as long as the other players aren’t jerks about it. But if the cursed character is a rogue who longs for personal wealth, it’s a curse to them. Likewise, shifted fame or lost love is only an issue if love and fame are things the character wants. They won’t stop you from saving a village from marauders; you’ll just have to heave a sigh when the grateful villagers heap their gratitude on everyone but you.

In any case, the usual purpose of having a curse is to drive the story in a direction: How can the curse be broken? Is it about righting a wrong committed by an ancestor? Earning the gratitude of the fey you angered? Simply finding a holy person whose power is great enough to override the will of the Fey? Or if it’s the price of your warlock pact, can you find a patron willing to grant you power on better terms?

As with many of the previous topics, the primary purpose of curses is to enhance a story. Yes, you defeated that evil dryad… but now you have to deal with her dying curse. Not all players will enjoy such things, but with the right group a curse can be a great way to explore how characters deal with adversity.

Share your thoughts, questions, and ideas below. And check out the previous posts on artifacts and manifest zones!

Thelanis in Play: Manifest Zones

Last week I wrote about Thelanis and the Fey. This week I’m posting a few shorter pieces about how to use Thelanis in an Eberron campaign. Today’s topic: Manifest zones!

Manifest zones are places where the walls between worlds are thin, where the influence of a plane can be felt on Eberron. A manifest zone could extend for miles, encompassing an entire forest or city… or it could be as small as a single well or a stone arch in the midst of a grove.

Every manifest zone influences its environs in a manner connected to its plane. However, two manifest zones tied to the same plane can have wildly different effects. By and large, Thelanian manifest zones tend to impart a sense of otherworldliness to their environs. Plants might be unnaturally healthy, colors especially vivid. This could be idyllic; hostile creatures might avoid the tranquil grove and its always-pure fountain. But it could just as easily be unnaturally menacing. You’re safe in Taiden Wood as long as you stay on the path… but those who venture off the path are rarely seen again.

Overall, Thelanian zones tend to fall into one of three categories.

Gateways. There are many tales of heroes or adventurers who accidentally find themselves in the Faerie Court, certainly more so than any other plane. This is due to the fact that many Thelanian zones serve as portals between the worlds. These are rarely constantly active. Instead, they are triggered under certain circumstances: a particular confluence of moons; a hunter pursuing a particular beast; someone newly in love, or someone whose heart has just been broken. Needless to say, these circumstances can be whatever you want them to be… as long as this justifies the fact that people aren’t using the portal every day. For purposes of an adventure, this is an easy way to take players to Thelanis. It can happen accidentally; they happen to hit the right circumstances to activate the gate and are suddenly in Thelanis. It may take a while for them to realize this, if the local environs are similar on both sides. More important, the gate may not work both ways – so one of the biggest challenges may be finding a way back! Alternately, the adventurers might know about the gateway and have to figure out how to activate it – whether to escape an unbeatable foe, to find someone who has been lost in Thelanis, or to reach an artifact or ally in the Faerie Court.

Beachheads. Sometimes a manifest zone actually brings a piece of Thelanis directly into the material plane. This is the case with the Feyspires introduced in the fourth edition of D&D (and featured in The Fading Dream), and is the general concept of the Twilight Demesne in the Eldeen Reaches. Like the gateways, these are typically temporary. Coterminous periods, phases of the moon, or special circumstances might trigger a beachhead. It could be that the locals know about it and that the arrival of the beachhead is a celebrated and anticipated event… whether by the community as a whole or by a small sect, such as a group of Greensingers who celebrate with the Fey on nights when three moons are full. Or the beachhead may be a cause of alarm – such as Taer Syraen in Karrnath, where the local warlord is concerned that the Feyspire is an invading force. The Feyspires are full cities, but a beachhead could be anything. Perhaps an archfey’s tomb appears once each century, providing a rare chance to delve into this dungeon. Or a monster appears and haunts the region for one night a month; will you track it down before it disappears again?

Influence. The most common manifest zones simply bring some of the flavor of Thelanis to the region without offering a direct connection. As described above, this influence could be seen in the environment. You can’t actually go to Thelanis, but you might find a dryad in the woods, or a talking wolf that embodies your fears. Such influence can also be intangible. Perhaps if you make a promise in the grove it must be kept, or if you bury your sword and the hair of a murderer by the blood-red tree it will become a bane blade for purposes of taking vengeance.

The critical point is that Thelanis is the place where the world works like a faerie story – and that the manifest zone can bring a touch of that into the real world. You can have magic that doesn’t strictly follow the rules, like the unbreakable vow… or simply something unexpected, like the dryads in the trees.

Putting all of this together, here’s a few ideas for Thelanian manifest zones.

  • Taiden Woods. People have always shunned this dark forest. In the past a few local lords have sought to cut it down, but none have succeeded. Some say the trees won’t burn, and that they bleed when cut. All that is none for certain is that there is a path that runs through it, and those who stay on the path are safe… but those who leave it are often never seen again. Walking the Taiden path you may hear lovely voices calling to you, or beautiful music. But if you value your life and those you love, never leave the path. Taiden Wood shows the influence of Thelanis, but the last few sentences suggest the idea of a gateway. It doesn’t always happen, but if you hear the music and follow it you will find yourself in Thelanis – and this is why many of those who leave the path truly never return. Beyond this, the wood is home to a few dryads that don’t like people, some enhanced predators, and a few other lesser fey. 
  • The Tomb of the Forgotten King. In the Mror Holds, the old miners tell a story of the Tomb of the Forgotten King. It varies from telling to telling, but core details remain the same. It cannot be found by those who seek it out; instead, it is found when a traveler seeks shelter in a cave and discovers deeper passages. Following these tunnels, they find themselves in a ancient tomb. Jewels are embedded in the walls. Coins are heaped on tables, spilling onto the floor. In some versions of the story, there are guardians patrolling the tomb, spirits of stone and metal. In others there are deadly traps. But one detail remains the same throughout all the tales: treasures taken from the tomb always bring misfortune, curses that linger until the thief finds the tomb again and returns what they have stolen… or until the robber dies. In one story the explorer finds the casket of the king himself, and from it takes the Final Blade, whose wounds cannot be healed. He uses it to settle a feud with a rival clan… only to die when he stumbles and cuts his own wrist with the blade. His daughter returned the blade to the tomb, and it has never been seen again. Here we have a beachhead – a piece of Thelanis that comes and goes. It’s also a dwarven tale, so the fey in this tomb will be spirits of stone and steel. Adventurers could stumble upon this by accident, only to have a dwarven PC recognize it from the tales. Will they seek out the Final Blade? 
  • The Grove of Promises. There is a fountain in a nearby forest. No one knows who built it, but its water is clear and pure and it has never run dry. Local stories say that if you make a promise to someone and then share a drink from the fountain that you must keep your word – that if you are false, you will sicken and die. The people of the town perform marriages in the Grove. Young lovers sneak away to pledge their hearts. There are even merchants who like to seal their deals in the Grove. The people of the town never break a promise sworn in the Grove… will you? This is an example of influence. Breaking a vow made on the fountain will afflict the liar with a disease; it can be survived, but it won’t be pleasant. It’s possible that there is actually a fey tied to the fountain who judges such things and can make the punishment more or less severe; and during a coterminous phase, that fey might even be able to manifest and leave the fountain. 

Post your thoughts or questions below!

Thelanis in Play: Artifacts

Last week I wrote about the Faerie Court of Thelanis and the fey. While it’s interesting in principle, that Q&A doesn’t get into the practical applications of how to directly incorporate either fey or Thelanis into a typical Eberron campaign. It’s a big topic, so rather than piling it all into one big post I’m going to split it up into a number of small posts spread throughout the week. Over the next few days I’m going to explore the impact of artifacts, fey patrons, curses, manifest zones, and a final round up of questions. Let’s start with the first approach: Artifacts

Eberron is a world where magic is treated as a science, where there is a certain degree of gritty realism laid over the fantasy. It often breaks the mold of classic fantasy. So how does this mesh with Thelanis, a plane that essentially embodies the faerie tale? To begin with, understand that Thelanis is its own world. In his essay about fairy stories, J.R.R. Tolkien notes that if fey creatures “really exist independently of our tales about them, then this also is certainly true: elves are not primarily concerned with us, nor we with them. Our fates are sundered, and our paths seldom meet. Even upon the borders of Faërie we encounter them only at some chance crossing of the ways.” Unlike the quori, the inhabitants of Thelanis as a whole have no interest in Eberron. Individual fey may have a story that drives them to interact with mortals, or seek amusement abroad. But by and large interactions are incidental. And yet, this lack of a single massive driving plot actually allows Thelanis to touch a wide array of stories, precisely because its inhabitants aren’t as united as the quori.

To start with, let’s consider a way that Thelanis can influence a story without the appearance of a single fey creature: artifacts. Khorvaire is a place of industrialized magic, a place where things make sense. Thelanis is a realm of storybook magic, and it often defies logic. Things from this world – from the greatest treasures to seemingly trivial things – can have remarkable qualities. The catch is that these things often come with twists… frequently things that don’t quite follow the rules people are used to dealing with when it comes to magic items. Consider the following…

  • The Mithral Falcon. This statue has no obvious powers other than its exceptional beauty… but it can amplify greed and desire, causing powerful people to shed blood to obtain it. The player characters may not want the Falcon, but it could be a  catalyst for mayhem around them as rival ganglords fight over the Falcon in the streets of Sharn. Or perhaps an Aurum concordian will hire the PCs to “acquire” the Falcon from a rival.
  • Tascara’s Eye. If you activate the power of this crystal orb, it will show you glimpses of the past, present, or future.  Most of the time the Eye shows things you want to know – warnings about threats, answers to mysteries that have been troubling you. But there is no way to control it what is shown, and sometimes it shows you things you didn’t want to know… or visions that if misinterpreted could lead you to disaster. Will you use its power and take that risk, or leave it alone?
  • Stone of Rebirth. After slaying a long-time foe, the PCs are surprised when she returns unharmed. This is because she possesses the Stone of Rebirth, an artifact that works much like a lich’s phylactery. Once someone has formed a bond to the stone, nothing can prevent them from being resurrected by it after death. The heroes must learn of the stone, figure out where it is being kept and how to sever the villain’s bond. But then what do they do with it? Does one of them want to use it? If so, will they discover that there is a price that must be paid for this eternal life? Perhaps the stone kills someone close to the bearer as a price for rebirth, or perhaps each new life comes with a curse. If they don’t want to use the stone themselves, how will they deal with the many powerful people in the world who covet it?
  • The Final Blade. The wounds inflicted by this weapon cannot be healed by any method. Those that are killed by it cannot be resurrected; it may even be that it can permanently kill immortals. But every time it takes a life, this sword strikes a blow against its wielder… and this wound can never be healed. Who will wield the Final Blade?
  • The Keepsake. This locket provides +1 bonus to AC and Saving Throws. It contains the images of two Eladrin, lovers from an ancient story. Each time the bearer levels up, the power of the amulet increases… but the bearer changes slightly. A skill proficiency shifts. A background benefit changes. Hair color shifts. The character remembers something that’s not their memory… but it’s a memory that can lead the party to adventure and treasure. With each advance, the character changes further. They are gaining power and information that leads to a grand adventure, but they are becoming one of the characters in the ancient story. Will they accept this fate? If not, it it possible to undo the changes that have already occurred? And what will it take to remove the amulet?

The general concept of Thelanian artifacts is that they come with a price… or that they draw characters into their story. The Mithral Falcon creates a story of betrayal and greed.The Keepsake literally draws its wearer into the story. Tascara’s Eye gives information… and in so doing, shapes the path the PCs will take. Once they know their employer is betraying them, can they continue working for him?

Thelanian artifacts can be acquired by dealing with the Fey, but they can also be found in hoards, collections, or the hands of powerful people. Perhaps the Daughters of Sora Kell give Tascara’s Eye to the leader of the Daask cell in Sharn… but was Sora Teraza intending for it to fall into the PC’s hands from the very beginning?

Next up: Manifest Zones!

Dragonmarks: Thelanis and the Fey

It’s been a busy few months for me, between IllimatPhoenix, and other projects I can’t discuss at the moment. There’s still no news about Eberron development for 5E, and that limits what I can do here. However, in 2017 I will be launching a Patreon to support more extensive gaming-related content on the site. For now, here’s the long-promised Q&A about the Fey of Eberron. 

What if every story you were told as a child is true? The Sleeping Princess, the Maze of Thorns, the lurkers who wait in the shadows to steal sleeping children. What if all of these things are real, poised just beyond the curtain of the material plane?

This is the case in the Eberron Campaign Setting. The material plane is a blending of substance and ideals. The outer planes are purified ideas, realms that embody particular concepts. Shavarath is the eternal battleground; this conflict began at the dawn of time, and it will continue until the end of creation. Shavarath embodies war. Dolurrh is a place of death. Kythri is chaos and change, while Daanvi is order and stability. Fernia is fire and Risia is ice. But what exactly is Thelanis? Lamannia is the plane of Nature… But Thelanis is home to dryads and similar spirits. What does this mean?

Personally, I focus on Lamannia as a place of primal nature: iconic entities and elemental forms. While the Greensingers would take issue with this, in my opinion the Fey of Thelanis aren’t part of nature… not even the dryad. The Fey are the magic we wish was in the world. The dryad is the spirit we want the tree to have, when we see a slender willow and think of it as a beautiful woman. But there’s nothing natural about a tree having a spirit that resembles a human woman; it’s something magical, a story we want to believe. For me, this is what Thelanis is. The realm of stories. The realm of the magic we want in the world. The Fey reflect hopes, fears, secrets and desires both conscious and unconscious.

But if Thelanis is the realm of stories, how is it different from Dal Quor, the region of dreams? Stories are concrete. They may evolve over time, but a story can hold its general shape for centuries. Stories can hold lessons and morals that ring true across cultures and generations. By contrast, dreams are intensely temporary and personal. Dreams aren’t passed down; they are created anew every night. The quori (the primary spirits of Dal Quor) don’t embody specific dreams; rather, they embody the emotions and forces that shape our dreams, and they themselves have the power to manipulate the content of dreams. By contrast, the immortal Fey are the subjects of stories. This raises the chicken-and-egg question: A powerful Fey resembles the subject of a well-known story. Does the story exist because the Fey exists and has passed her story into the collective unconscious of Eberron? Or has the Fey herself been shaped and ultimately created because of a story mortals began telling on her own? Can a Fey actively change her own story… or could mortals actively change her by purposefully changing the way a particular story is told? There’s no clear answer to this question, and it’s not easily proven either way. You can be certain that it is a subject of debate in the ivory towers of Eberron itself, and in my Eberron novels (notably The Fading Dream) you can see some of the inhabitants of Eberron and Thelanis wrestling with this issue. And looking back to Dal Quor, the Feyspire of Shae Doresh was essentially the bridge between Thelanis and Dal Quor, and may have been a physical reflection of that tie between stories and dreams.

The Geography of Thelanis

It’s easy to think of the planes as being essentially alien worlds. The Feyspires are like cities, so you must be able to walk from city to city, right? This is a dangerous mistake. Thelanis isn’t a planet; it’s a plane. It is potentially infinite in size… and at the same time, it doesn’t follow the physical laws of our reality. The Woodsman lives in a forest beneath the Deepwood Moon, and there is no end to that forest; it is a closed pocket of space, and if you start walking west you’ll eventually find yourself back where you began. If you’re trying to reach the Silver Tree or the domain of the Queen of Dusk, you can’t just get on a horse and ride there; you have to find a path. Inhabitants of Thelanis have gates they can open or slip through, but as a mortal you generally have to follow a story – taking actions that either complete the story of the realm you’re in, or that draw you to a different place.

What does this mean for DMs and players? Thelanis isn’t a mundane world. Every piece of it exists in isolation and is tied around one or more stories. It’s essentially made for adventure. When players go there, it’s up to you to decide what the local story is, and what they need to do to move through it. The realm of the Prince of Frost is forever shrouded in ice and night, while the Queen of Sand lives in a desert where the sun never sets. While each realm has a core story, bear in mind that it’s not the ONLY story that can play out there. In my novel The Gates of Night, the heroes need to deal with the Woodsman to leave the Deepwood Moon; but while in the realm they also have to deal with trouble at the Inn of the Crooked Tree and with the questioning serpent. Essentially, each realm has a ruling entity whose story defines and shapes the region – but many other beings inhabit each region, bringing their own stories with them. Which brings us to the next point…

The Fey

So who are the Fey? What do they want?

First of all, I draw a sharp distinction between “fey creatures” – which I define as “mortal creatures from Thelanis” – and capital-F Fey, by which I mean immortal spirits of Thelanis. Depending on edition, gnomes, elves, and eladrin all have the fey subtype. You can find both gnomes and eladrin in Thelanis, and they make up the bulk of the population of the Feyspires. These mortal creatures aren’t substantially different from their cousins on Eberron; they are the courtiers and serfs of Thelanis. An eladrin knight serving in the feyspire of Shaelas Tiraleth isn’t THAT different from a paladin of the Undying Court; both are proud and long-lived warriors who fight on behalf of immortal rulers. That knight is one of dozens of knights, and he isn’t personally embodying some ancient story. His attitudes are shaped by growing up in Thelanis, and his customs will feel strange to people of Khorvaire, but not THAT strange. And he can grow old, have children, sicken, and eventually die.

Next we have the lesser true fey: immortal spirits, but with relatively limited power and dominion. Dryads, sprites, and similar creatures fall into this category. Such creatures are essentially immortal. They cannot die by natural means, and their numbers always remain static; when one of them dies a new one will eventually manifest to take its place. Most of these beings have a fundamentally different relationship with time than the mortals of Eberron; they escape immortal ennui by living purely in the moment, giving almost no thought to past or future. A sprite could be thousands of years old, but she might not be able to recall something that happened a week ago, because time has essentially just passed through her. The sprite is almost like a flower; it’s a part of the color of Thelanis, but it cannot learn or change; it simply IS. If they harm you, it’s generally with a sort of innocent, childlike malice; poke the rose and the thorn will prick you. By tomorrow they won’t even remember it.

So you can think of these least immortals as “background fey” – they essentially exist as set dressing for stories, and they don’t hold on to many personal details (or feel any loss at this). However, it’s possible that one of these chorus members can get promoted to have a story of their own. In The Gates of Night we encounter two dryads who DO have stories and strong individual identities: Lady Darkheart and the Crooked Tree. As they become part of a story they develop more individual identity and can have goals and desires. But even here, their personalities are only as deep as their story requires. They may be defined by an event that happened centuries ago, and still hold to that tragic romance or bitter vendetta as if there was nothing else in the world. They don’t change in the way mortals do; they can’t simply forgive a slight, unless that in itself fits the shape of their story.

But when I talk about “The Fey”, I’m usually talking about the people at the top of the food chain: what mechanically would be called Archfey. Humanoid Archfey are often (though not always) known as Ghaele Eladrin, but it’s important not to confuse them with the lesser mortal eladrin. In Shaelas Tiraleth you have hundreds of mortal eladrin, but only one Ghaele: the Lady of the Silver Tree. She is the immortal heart of the Feyspire; it is her story. Ghaele are technically immortal, but their stories can evolve and change. Thus the Lady of the Silver Tree has a father, and some day she could die and be replaced by a prince; but that transition would represent the story that defines Shaelas Tiraleth fundamentally changing.

Dragon magazine ran a series called The Court of Stars that profiled Archfey, and I wrote a piece on the Prince of Frost for issue 374 (that’s him on the cover). Here’s a note from that article: “The great powers of the Feywild dance through time unburdened by its chains, leaving their marks in stories and histories. Little can be known for certain about the archfey. Some accounts say that the Maiden of the Moon was once an eladrin who rose to power through passion for the hunt. Others claim that she is a dream of the moon. Perhaps neither tale is the truth. Maybe both are. So it is with the Prince of Frost. It is foolish to seek fact in the Feywild, but one can find stories.” According to his story, the Prince of Frost was originally the Sun Prince and betrothed to one of the three Daughters of Delight. When his lover forsook him for a noble mortal warrior, his heart grew cold… and when she and her lover cast their spirits forward in time to escape him, his heart became ice. Now he waits for his love to be reborn so he can possess her; but in the meantime he takes pleasure in tormenting mortal heroes in memory of the one who stole his beloved.

The Prince of Frost is a perfectly suitable Fey to appear in Thelanis. He has long-term goals – find his beloved when she is reborn, torment mortal heroes – and he will recruit mortal agents (Greensingers, Fey Pact warlocks) to help achieve these goals. The issue is that he is defined by his story. He can’t suddenly meet a new love and drop the whole vengeance thing, or suddenly be convinced to take an interest in the war between Droaam and Breland. He is ancient and powerful, but in some ways he is simpler than most mortal villains; he is, in essence, a storybook villain. He can be subtle and clever in pursuing his goals, but at the same time, he’s going to KEEP PURSUING THOSE GOALS FOREVER until the story somehow finally comes to an end. Like the dryad, he doesn’t really learn or evolve… unless his defining story itself somehow evolves.

The next critical thing about immortal Fey is that they are bound by rules and storybook logic; this is a thing that can limit them despite their power. Most are bound to keep their promises. The Court of Stars article calls out that a player can gain concrete, mechanical benefits if they learn the true name of the Prince (and can say it); if they learn the song Lady Sharaea composed for her beloved; or if they possess the amulet the Prince of Frost gave to Sharaea. So a mortal gnome can give her word and break it a minute later; but a Ghaele is defined by her words, and can be tricked into making a promise that saves a mortal.

All of which brings us back to the question: what do they want? The answer is different for each Archfey. Most of them are simply living out their story and want whatever suits that story. The Prince of Frost wants to torment selfless heroes while searching for his beloved. The Lady of the Silver Tree wants nothing more than the care for her tree. They may be defined by feuds with other Archfey or mortals; essentially, come up with a story and it will tell you what they want.

Another question that sometimes comes up is whose stories do the Fey represent? The answer? Everyone. In The Gates of Night, the drow Xu’sasar encounters the ghost scorpion in Thelanis – an important piece of the stories of her people, but one with no meaning to the other travelers. Likewise, she interprets the entire experience of Thelanis in a different way than the others. The fey we are FAMILIAR with reflect human stories; that doesn’t mean there aren’t OTHER fey in Thelanis who are based around Goblin stories, or a dryad-equivalent based on how a Goblin sees a tree. With that said, some fey concepts are relatively universal; everyone has to deal with Winter sometime. In that case, what you might have is a single spirit that’s perceived in a different form by different beings; so a human sees a Ghaele of Winter as an elf-like human, while a goblin might see a bugbear with ice-crusted fur. The Ghaele might interact with human and goblin in a different way, instinctively adopting the customs they expect from their tales. If you’re familiar with Gaiman’s Sandman comics, it’s the same way beings of different races and cultures all see Dream through their own lens. So as humans, we tend to see the human face of Thelanis… but there are many others.

Now, let me address a few specific questions submitted by you all.

Do the fey courts ever have any interest in the goings on outside their realm, in Eberron proper?

As a general rule, the inhabitants of the outer planes think about Eberron as much or possibly less than the people of Eberron think about the outer planes. They know it exists, and there are some scholars who study it, and a rare few go there, but the vast majority barely ever think about it. With that said, the primary effect of manifest zones to Thelanis is to allow travel between the two realms. In an area with a manifest zone, you could easily have more casual contact between the realms for better or for worse. These are the villages where you could have changelings swapped for human children, or where a villager might leave a gift in exchange for a fey boon. And these are also the places where you could have stories of sinister lurkers who cause mayhem in the dark of the moon, or where the Wild Hunt passes through the woods when the planes are coterminous.

With the Archfey, it depends entirely on their stories. The Prince of Frost has a story that gives him a concrete, specific reasons to meddle in Eberron: he’s watching for his beloved’s return, and in the meantime taking vengeance on mortal heroes. In The Dreaming Dark series, there’s an Archfey plot playing out in the background of the main story. So if you want an Archfey to have an interest in Eberron, come up with a story that explains it.

I’d love you to tell us more about the mischievous personality of the Fey.

I think this mainly applies to the “background Fey” – the immortals who serve as the set dressing of Thelanis. The playful sprite, the raucous satyr, the shy dryad. To me, the key point here is that these Fey live entirely in the moment. There is no tomorrow, there is no past. There is no fear of consequence, only the pure experience of love, joy, or rage. When a dryad curses a traveler who steals fruit from her tree, it’s because in that moment this is the worst thing that could ever happen and he deserves it. While the dancing satyr has no concerns about anything other than the party we are having RIGHT NOW. So if a fey is mischievous – and not all are – it’s very much a childlike thing, pure mischief with little consequence or deep intent.

I don’t think “mischievous” is a word that applies to most Archfey, unless you’re creating an Archfey whose story is all about spreading mischief (The Prince of Misrule!). There’s nothing mischievous at all about the Prince of Frost or the Lady of the Silver Tree; they are deadly serious.

How would you use the Greensingers in a campaign? What are they trying to accomplish, and who are they in conflict with?

The Greensingers are the least monolithic or predictable of the Druid sects. Unlike the other sects, they have no leaders or fixed communities. They are tied together by common experiences, by magical traditions, and by a shared love of fey things. But as noted in the Player’s Guide to Eberron, “The lords of Thelanis draw courtiers and entertainers from Eberron, and many Greensingers spend time in the halls of the Faerie Court before returning to Eberron to act as ambassadors, servants, and spies for the fey lords.” The critical point here is that Greensingers work for different Archfey – and that’s what will tell you what they are trying to accomplish. A Greensinger working for the Prince of Frost will watch for his lost love and attempt to lure noble heroes into his traps, and as such could be a villain in a campaign. A Greensinger working for the Lady of the Silver Tree could simply be trying to help protect Shaelas Tiraleth, and serve as an ambassador in the wider world and a guide who could take the adventurers to the tree. So when you’re dealing with a Greensinger all you know is that they have a tie to the Fey; until you learn more about WHICH Fey, you won’t know what they are trying to accomplish. Some Greensingers aren’t tied to specific Fey, but simply seek to live their life in the fey manner – living in the moment while drifting through time.

What is the kind of task an Archfey could ask of players that they can’t do by themselves nor order to Greensingers?

First of all, most Archfey are exceptionally powerful within their own realms. Like the Undying Court, this is a territorial thing. Some can’t ever leave their realms; others put themselves at risk or lose power if they did. So first of all, an Archfey may turn to an adventurer, warlock, or Greensinger to accomplish any task that has to be done in Eberron, because the Archfey quite likely can’t actually go to Eberron to do it. Beyond that, it’s all about the story. Again, the Prince of Winter seeks his reborn beloved and seeks to torment selfless heroes. He’s always looking for information. He might want a player emissary to recover his lost locket, to kidnap someone he thinks might be his beloved, or to engage in a feud against a particular hero. As for “Why pick a player character instead of a Greensinger,” it’s entirely up to you if a particular Archfey has any Greensinger agents.

Beyond this, an easy way to tie an Archfey to a group of adventurers is if you have a Greensinger druid or Fey Pact Warlock as one of the player characters. In which case, you want to define the story of the Archfey patron, which will in turn tell you what they want and ask of their mortal agents. But again, despite their great power, most Archfey are tied to their realms and need mortal help to act in the wider world.

If I want to do a short adventure in Thelanis, like recover an object there, what would make it unique, very different from a normal adventure in savage lands?

The simplest answer I can give is “Read The Gates of Night” which includes what amounts to a short adventure in Thelanis. Bear in mind the following things:

  • It’s a world that doesn’t have to obey any of our physical laws. You can have a forest that never ends, a bottomless well, a land where the Sun never rises.
  • It should feel like a fairy tale. Things don’t have to make sense if they fit the story. Why is the serpent just waiting at the river when the players arrive? Why is it willing to help them cross the river if they each answer a question? Because that’s how the story goes.

I’ll touch on this more in a future post.

How do the fey view the gods? Are there some that claim to be Dol Arrah or the Mockery, or do they claim to be the archetypes that the gods represent in myth?

More the latter. The Fey don’t claim to be things; they are things. So the Prince of Frost doesn’t acknowledge the existence or sovereignty of Arawai or the Devourer; in his story, HE is the Prince of Frost, and that is all the reality he cares about. Those Archfey that pay more attention to cosmology (like Thelania in Gates of Night) would likely acknowledge Sovereigns as powerful spirits, but assert that they are gods of Eberron and have no dominion over Thelanis. With that said, you could have SOME fey who acknowledge one of the main faiths if it fits their story. Surely somewhere there is a forest in Thelanis with an old holy man in the woods; the question is whether he’s devoted to the Sovereigns – which would be perfectly valid – or to some vague, archetypal faith that only really exists in his story.

How do the fey interact with historical stories? For example, Lhazaar has been historically portrayed as an explorer, but modern scholarship is tilting towards a less generous portrayal of her. Does that have an impact on any of the archfey? Likewise, do the Valenar and the Keepers of the Past have a special relationship to Thelanis because of the stories they preserve?

The stories that define the Archfey aren’t history. They are archetype and fable, or more on the nose, faerie tales. There might be a story of a mythical pirate queen that inspired Lhazaar, and that’s the story that would be reflected on the seas of Thelanis. But unless Lhazaar’s actions have somehow fundamentally changed the way people view that fictional character, it wouldn’t impact the Fey. Likewise for the Tairnadal. Their heroes are REAL PEOPLE, and the whole point of what they are doing is that it preserves the spirits of those mortal heroes.

To drill down on this… the stories that are reflected in Thelanis aren’t stories that anyone can concretely track to one origin. It’s not that Stephen d’King wrote a story about a pirate queen and suddenly she was in Thelanis. It’s that the story of the Pirate Queen is a classic tale known across Sarlona and especially beloved in Rhiavhaar… but no one knows exactly where it began. Azhaan’s Voyage is the earliest written version but far more people know Azhaara the Queen. As I said – no one knows if the story inspired the fey or the fey inspired the story.

With that said, I could see an interesting story based around the idea that the Tairnadal ancestors are so old that they’ve created a subset of fictional tall tales, and these have in turn taken form in a realm in Thelanis. But the point is that these stories aren’t actually things the heroes really did; they’re just stories that have somehow creeped into popular consciousness, and no one knows exactly when people started telling the story that Vadallia’s eye was a tear that fell from an angel’s eye. Far from liking this, I think the Keepers of the Past would HATE it; the point would be that these Thelanian fey are sort of like parasites latching onto the story and in the process changing it. The Keepers could be worried that if nothing was done, the story might eventually be twisted to a point where it no longer supports the actual ancestor. But how can they stop it?

Since Thelanis is the realm of stories… When mortals narrate or create passionate, intense or otherwise special stories artistically or with their lives, can they unconsciously give birth to lands or beings in Thelanis? e.g. Is there a ‘Mournland’-related land in Thelanis or a new Archfey?

This is an echo of the preceding question. Thelanis is The Faerie Court; when I say that it’s the realm of stories, I’m specifically talking about faerie stories. First of all, if you read The Fading Dream what you’ll see is that there is an Archfey who HAS incorporated the Mourning into her personal story – but she’s done it in a way that fits the logic and form of faerie tales. The development of a new Archfey is certainly possible, but it’s the sort of thing that would generally take generations as a story becomes part of the culture – and even there the critical question is whether the story would create the Archfey, or if the birth of an Archfey would inspire and define a new story.

What do the Ashbound think of fey? Are they natural, like magical beasts, or arcane?

I don’t think Ashbound are innately opposed to mortal fey creatures like elves or gnomes. Powerful Fey often employ arcane magic, which would draw the ire of Ashbound. You could decide that Ashbound are inherently opposed to dryads and other immortal Fey that impose on our world, if you like the story; I don’t think we’ve called it out in canon.

How did the Mourning impact things? How does the Mournland interact with feyspire(s) within? 

Both of these questions are integral to the plot of The Fading Dream (the third book of the Thorn of Breland series), so if you want to know my thoughts on this, read The Fading Dream!

Are there still werewolves?  if werewolves comes form Thelanis, does it means there are moons there? How much? Could fey become lycanthropes?

Werewolves don’t come from Thelanis. Werewolves are found in Lamannia, but they aren’t natives of that plane: The 3.5 ECS says “Lycanthropes… are common in Lamannia, since many fled to this plane during the crusade that nearly exterminated them from Khorvaire.” As for whether Thelanis has moons, that varies by realm. In The Gates of Night, the moons are a way to determine which realm the protagonists are in. But the point is that those moons may not actually exist in any meaningful way. They might be made of cheese, or might just be a pool of light in the sky. The moon is there because the story calls for it to be there, not because of gravity or science. Given that, it’s POSSIBLE that a moon would affect a lycanthrope normally… or it could be that it has no impact at all, because it’s not real in the same way as the moons of Eberron. As for whether Fey can become lycanthropes, that depends on the mechanics of the system/edition you’re using. Personally, I’d tend to say that immortal fey can’t become lycanthropes by the traditional method, but their personal stories could involve something that resembles lycanthropy if it fits the story.

What manner of fey are Sora Kell and her daughters? It always seemed to me that Sora Kell, at least, must be immortal. 

The Daughters of Sora Kell are an interesting case. Just as rakshasa are native outsiders – immortal spirits native to Eberron itself – the Daughters are essentially native fey. If you check out this Dragonshard it calls out the fact that the Daughters are the subjects of many stories, but the point is that those stories actually happened. When Beren shares a story about Sora Maenya in The Queen of Stone, he’s talking about something that personally happened to him. Whereas many (though not all) of the stories of the Archfey are mythological, metaphorical, or happened in Thelanis. This also means that the Daughters aren’t trapped by their stories the way the Archfey are. You can think of the Archfey a little like the hosts in Westworld; they are very clever and powerful, but they aren’t really in control of their own actions. Sora Katra doesn’t have quite so many strings holding her back, and she’s more invested in modern and mundane affairs.

Beyond that, Sora Kell is a night hag, which have been called out from the start as being native outsiders of Eberron; they served as ambassadors and mediators during the Age of Demons. So Sora Kell is immortal (and mechanically, her Daughters are half-fiends), but she’s a spirit of Eberron as opposed to being an outsider.

Setting the Daughters aside, different editions of the rules have bounced hags back and forth between being fey and just monstrous humanoids, so it’s up to you how to handle other hags. But the Daughters are definitely Eberron natives.

How is it that each of them is a different variety of hag?

Because they have different fathers, of course. No one knows for certain, but at least one tale claims that Maenya’s father was a giant; Katra was sired by a demon; and Teraza emerged from the womb of her own accord after Sora Kell had spent a long time exploring Dal Quor.

It seems that in at least two points you contradict canon Eberron (3.5). First, Thelanis is essentially described as a plane of forests; second, in faith of Eberron is told that greensingers nave a strong organization and a kind of secret plan for melding Thelanis and Eberron. Just asking if you changed your mind (in the first case) or why you disagree (on the second).

I used to put a disclaimer at the start of each of these posts that said “Things I write here may contradict canon.” Everything you read on this site is my version of Eberron, and may not match canon sources – especially because canon sources themselves often contradict themselves. Case in point: *I* wrote the Greensinger entry in the Player’s Guide to Eberron, which predates Faiths of Eberron. Meanwhile, Faiths of Eberron is one of the few Eberron books (including Forge of War, Magic of Eberron, and The Explorer’s Handbook) that I had no involvement in. So if I disagree with it, it would be because someone else took it in a different direction than I originally intended. However, I just glanced over Faiths of Eberron and I don’t particularly agree with your interpretation that they have “a strong order.” Throughout the entry it calls out their fierce individualism and states straight out “The sect is generally reclusive, with no formal organization.” It posits that what unites them is a shared belief that the planes are part of nature and should be made manifest in it, and that they will occasionally work together to help open planar connections. But they aren’t a concrete organization with a concrete goal; they are a very chaotic organization with an extremely loosely defined goal. Meanwhile, they are often more driven by the personal bonds they have made with Archfey and other planar entities.

As for the second point, it’s true: the 3.5 ECS says “Thelanis is a realm of rugged natural beauty—primarily lush forests and crystal-clear waters.” My point is that these places exist and may form the majority of the environmental types in Thelanis… but not all of them. This is what happens when you have a single paragraph to describe an entire layer of reality, and in The Gates of Night the first vision we have of Thelanis is a rocky moor, not a lush forest. It’s not that I changed my mind, as much as there is more to the plane than the 3.5 description could encompass.

Thelanis is the place where we see the magic that we want to be in the world… but isn’t Eberron highly magic? Magic is everywhere there, do they need Thelanis?

There’s magic, and there’s magic. First off, Thelanis is eternal. It existed long before humanity ever mastered arcane or divine magic. But beyond that, Tolkien hits a critical point in his essay On Fairy Stories: “Faerie itself may perhaps most nearly be translated by Magic—but it is magic of a peculiar mood and power, at the furthest pole from the vulgar devices of the laborious, scientific, magician.” The arcane magic that is the cornerstone of Khorvaire is the very definition of the “scientific magician” – while the magic of Thelanis remains mysterious and wild. If you read The Gates of Night or The Fading Dream, you can see people from Eberron bumping into the wild fey magic, and how it differs from the world that they know.

Thelanis is the plane of fairies. But Thelanis is the plane of stories. A lot of stories don’t speak of fairies, but for same of gods. Why don’t we have Auron and the shadow battling in Thelanis? Why don’t we have some great Hero of the last war?

I touch on this in previous answers, but it’s because Thelanis isn’t simply the plane of Faerie or the plane of Stories… it’s the plane of FAERIE STORIES. As noted in Tolkein’s essays, a faerie story doesn’t even have to involve actual faeries; it’s about its tone and style. The stories that define Thelanis aren’t based on concrete events. They aren’t chronicles of history, or stories created by a single mortal mind. They are about archetypes and about wonder. As I said above, you could have a realm in Thelanis inspired by the Tairnadal ancestors, but if you did it WOULDN’T actually depict them accurately or re-enact their actual deeds; it would be about the faerie stories inspired by the truth, the things people want them to have done… even if those deeds are wildly impossible.

Humans see the Prince of Frost as an elfy creature. Bugbears as a bugbear. What about a recenti created warforged, that don’t know and story nor understands love?

It’s a good question. To be clear, my concept is that most Archfey have a default form. It’s not that everyone sees them differently; any human/elf/etc will see the Prince of Frost as “Elfy”, and if the two of us drew a picture of him it would look the same. Because elves fit in our cultural view. A bugbear raised among goblinoids generally isn’t thinking of things in terms of humans or elves, and thus he puts a goblinoid spin on it – but all goblinoids would likely see the same shape. So taking your warforged, as long as the warforged spent its life among humans and elves – which most have – it is logical for it to perceive the default “elfy” shape. If you took a warforged that had never seen humans, then you would say “How would it personify winter?” Perhaps it would be a frost-covered warforged. Perhaps a warforged made out of ice. It’s really up to you.

Tied to this: In The Gates of Night, the warforged Pierce sees Thelania in the same form as the others. But the feast she serves appears to be everyone’s favorite meal. For Pierce, who has no experience with food, this manifests as a flavorless paste.

Add your questions and thoughts about the Fey below!

The Luminaries

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For the last year I’ve been developing a card game called Illimat with the band The Decemberists. As I write this, there’s less than twelve hours left in the Kickstarter for Illimat… but I still want to take a moment to write about one of my favorite elements of the game.

One of the design goals with Illimat was to create a card game that felt like it could have been around a hundred years ago and simply been forgotten… or that it might be a classic card game from another world, a game that the characters of The Hazards of Love might play. As one of my favorite books is the Codex Seraphinianus, I loved the idea of creating a deck of cards that felt familiar and yet fantastic… and fortunately for me, Carson Ellis has always wanted to make a deck of cards as well. We started with a base deck of five suits – the four familiar seasons, and a fifth suit of Stars that is added in when you play with four players. These are the primary tools of play. But we also came up with a second set of cards… the major arcana of our fictional deck, and its strongest connection to The Decemberists. We called these Luminaries. Within the context of the game, Luminaries are dealt face-down in each corner of the board. Each Luminary has a special ability that comes into effect when the card is revealed. Some of these are simple: while The Maiden is on the board, Winter has no effect. Others are more complicated; The Changeling allows you to exchange a card from your hand for a card in The Changeling’s field, which opens up a host of possibilities.

The interaction between the Luminaries helps to make each session of Illimat unique. But my favorite thing is how Carson Ellis has blended the artistic goal – creating a set of iconic, tarot-like images – with the mechanical effects of the cards. We don’t write the rules for the Luminary on the card, but once you know what they do, the image serves to remind you. For example…

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The Changeling is inspired by the character of William from Hazards of Love. Stolen by the Forest Queen as a child, he takes the form of a faun by day while reverting to human form at night. The Changeling card presents this basic concept in an interesting and iconic way, but it also shows the exchange of cards, which is what The Changeling does in the game itself; one card is changed into another.

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In The Hazards of Love, William must find a way to cross the deadly river. In Illimat, the field that contains The River is filled with six cards, making it more difficult to clear than other fields. This is reflected by the six cards floating in the River. At the same time, the image of the cards in the reveal feels iconic to me, not unlike the classic Five of Cups – the cards being swept away. The card also has a secondary effect. Normally the player who harvests the most Winter cards LOSES 2 points; but if they have The River, it freezes over and they can cross… so instead they GAIN two points.

Developing the Luminaries was a threefold process of coming up with a set of core concepts that felt strong and iconic while still feeling grounded in The Hazards of Love; coming up with game effects that were interesting but felt like they reflected the concept; and then developing art that combined both the effect and the concept. I’m happy with their mechanical element – but I’m especially thrilled with how Carson brought them to life.

You can read Carson’s thoughts on developing Illimat here, and if you read the before 8 PM Pacific Time on October 3rd you can back Illimat here!

Any questions?

The Story of ILLIMAT

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Two days ago, I launched the Kickstarter for a game I’m making with The Decemberists: ILLIMAT. It’s a card game for 2-4 players, and you can play it in 15 minutes or an hour. I could describe it in more detail, but you can go to the page and see it right now or if you’d like to see it played, you can watch this gameplay video from One Shot Game Night… or this detailed overview of the game from GeekDad

But what IS Illimat? Where did it come from? And what, exactly, do The Decemberists have to do with it?

In 2009, The Decemberists were preparing to release the album The Hazards of Love. As Colin Meloy says, they “were doing what most bands do in preparation for such an event: trying out new hairstyles, inviting people to be in their band, and participating in photoshoots.” They had an idea for a shoot in which they’d pretend to be a secret society that met in strange places to play a mysterious board game. Artist Carson Ellis and photographer Autumn DeWilde made an inscrutable two-part board. The shoot happened, the board was tucked away somewhere, and that was that. But over the course of the next six years, the Decemberists began playing more and more games while on the road. At some point someone said “Remember that mysterious board? Could we make that into an actual game?”

I got to know guitarist Chris Funk through Gloom, and he came to me with the idea of making this game. He and Colin Meloy dropped by my house and presented me with the following enigmatic artifact.

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They also had a few specific requests. They want a game that…

  • … Felt like it could be an old game, something that might have been played a hundred years ago and just forgotten.
  • … Didn’t actually depict the events of Hazards of Love, but somehow felt like a game that would be played in the world of HoL. 
  • … Tying to the secret society vibe, something that felt mysterious and even “humorously obtuse” – while still being easy to learn and play.

The board sat in my basement for a few months while I pondered this challenge. From a design perspective, there’s a bunch of basic challenges. The board is divided into four quadrants. Does each player use a different quadrant? Does each quadrant had a different effect? What’s the relevance of the numbers and symbols in the corners? Most of all: What about that second box that sits in the center? Why do you put a box in the middle of the board – and what can you do with it?

One of the first things that struck me was that we wanted to make the box in the center the actual box for the game. The board was beautiful but also somewhat unwieldy – over time we came up with the idea of putting the design onto a cloth board that could fold up and fit into the central box. I’m very happy with the end result of this: the final game is very compact and transportable, but keeps the basic beauty of the design.

Next, I started thinking about making something that felt as though it could have been “played a hundred years ago and then forgotten.” I picked up my 1875 copy of Hoyle and started looking at games I’d heard of but never played, like Whist and Bazique. I was intrigued by the core mechanic used in Cassino and Scopa, and started experimenting with that. I decided to have each of the four quadrants of the board hold a different set of cards, but not to limit access to those fields to a specific player. This led to the next big jump: The idea that the box in the center would determine the rules that applied to each field… and that when the box turned, the rules would change.

Meanwhile, we wanted something that wasn’t about Hazards of Love, but felt like it could be played in that world. I wanted to make what essentially felt like a Tarot deck from another world. We set the suits of the cars to the seasons – Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter – and created a set of eight Luminaries – the Major Arcana of this deck – inspired by the iconic elements of Hazards of Love. Thus we have The Forest Queen, The Changeling and The River. The central box – which had been named “the Illimat” in the original photoshoot – would set the season, and the season would restrict the actions. Anything is possible in Summer, but you can’t stockpile in Spring, sow in Autumn, or harvest in Winter.

There’s many more details I’d like to delve into, especially the design of the Luminaries themselves, and I’ll get to those in future posts. But that’s how the story begins… and here’s the current image of the game as we envision it, in contrast to that original board in the picture above.

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Check out the Kickstarter if you have a moment! We’re off to a great start, but the journey is just beginning. If you have any questions, post them below!

Eberron Flashback: Aberrant Dragonmarks

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There’s lots of great things afoot. I’m keen to delve deeper into the setting of Phoenix and to explore the topics sitting on the burner for Eberron. However, at the moment I am under the gun as I prepare to launch the Kickstarter campaign for my new game illimatcoming to Kickstarter this Tuesday, October 4th! and I don’t have any time to write. So instead, I’m resurrecting an old topic from 2012: Aberrant Dragonmarks.

Dragonmarks are mystical symbols that provide mystical power to the people that bear them. “True” dragonmarks are bound to bloodlines, and over time the dragonmarked houses have turn their mystical powers to industrial purpose and carved out economic empires. Such dragonmarks are reliable and useful, and largely have postive, constructive effects. But there’s another sort of dragonmark: twisted marks that are unpredictable in every way, and which grant powers that frighten and hurt others. Where the pure dragonmarks let their bearers heal and create, those who bear aberrant dragonmarks may produce fire, spread plagues, control minds, or worse. While aberrant dragonmarks often result when people of diferent dragonmarks bloodlines have children, they can manifest on anyone. There are many prejudices and superstitions tied to aberrant dragonmarks, adn centuries ago there was a massive purge – the “War of the Mark” – that virtually wiped out the aberrant population. For a time, aberrant dragonmarks were just legend. Now they are beginning to return.

While their powers are dangerous, on the surface aberrant dragonmarks don’t seem that bad. So you can cast burning hands once per day. So can a sorcerer, and he’s not being hunted by a mob. The main point is that aberrant dragonmarks are defined by story as well as rules. The concept of the aberrant dragonmark is that it is dangerous and often unpleasant for its bearer, and that even if they can control it now, they likely couldn’t when it first manifested. As an adventurer, the power provided by an aberrant dragonmark may seem to be a blessing; but per story, at some point in your life it has surely been a curse. As you develop an aberrant character, think about that concept. How did it first manifest? Who was hurt by it? How does it feel – are you comfortable with your mark, or does it burn against your skin? Many marks are accompanied by physical or mental disfigurement… is yours? If you want your character to develop an aberrant dragonmark over the course of play, you may want to place it in the hands of your DM and have it manifest at an inconvenient time, to advance the story and explore the burden. Or as a DM, with your players’ permission you could give one or more of them aberrant dragonmarks they can’t control – so don’t require them to pay the cost of the feat, but it’s up to you exactly when and how the power manifests.

With all that in mind, let’s look back at some of the questions people have had about aberrant dragonmarks.

I was always perplexed about the detail of the War of the Mark. First, there is an apparent lack of public opposition to the persecution of aberrants. Hundreds or even thousands of them must have been killed across the continent for no other reason than manifesting the wrong version of the dragonmarks. Of course, the Houses’ propaganda painted them as evil, but there is just that much propaganda can do. Most of those people had families and friends who knew otherwise. I doubt that aberrants have any bigger tendency to become criminals due to destructive powers of their marks than, say, sorcerers, who learn how to cast burning hands and magic missiles.

If you have a moment, there’s someone I’d like you to meet.

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

Before I continue, have you read any of the following?

  • The RPGA adventure The Delirium Stone, in which players actually experience a flashback to the War of the Mark.
  • The Children of Khyber Dragonshard article.
  • The novels The Son of Khyber or The City of Towers, in which we interact with modern aberrants and get to see some of them. They’re not all bad people. But many of them are strange or disturbing. Little “Junior Lady Of The Plague” Zae who only talks to rats. Brom with his troll’s arm. Crippled Filleon with his deadly touch.

Here’s a quote from the Dragonshard article, describing what it’s like to have a powerful aberrant mark:

You can feel your power festering within you. It’s different for every child of Khyber. One feels a chill no warmth can push away, while another complains of fire burning beneath his skin. An heir with the power of confusion feels the force of madness in his mind, trying to claw its way out and feast on the thoughts of others. Your mark may bring you pain. It may whisper to you as you try to sleep. But it is a part of you.

You say “Why would an aberrant be any more likely to be a criminal than a sorcerer?” The answer is that a sorcerer chooses his path. Sorcery may be a natural talent as opposed to wizardry, but the sorcerer applies himself to its study and chooses the path he wants to follow. The aberrant doesn’t. His power chooses him, and often in a very unpleasant way. If the aberrant has burning hands, odds are good it manifested for the first time when he was angry at someone. Was that in a lover’s quarrel? When he was arguing with a parent? A friend? What death is on his conscience? And whenever he gets angry, can he hold the flames in? Likewise, for a sorcerer the power isn’t a burden; it’s a tool he learns to use. For an aberrant it’s something he must master and control, lest it drive him mad or harm those around him.

Powerful aberrant marks are dangerous to the bearer. They often cause disfigurements or madness. Yes, with training these dangers can be controlled or limited, and that’s something Tarkanan was trying to do. But to your question of “Why didn’t people care? Why did people believe the propaganda?”… look at the Salem witch trials and imagine that these things were unquestionably real. That someone has a livid red mark on their skin and that they burned their mother to death – and that you’ve HEARD the stories about how these people are touched by Khyber, how they are all monsters. Are you going to say “Oh, he didn’t mean it, he just needs to learn to control it. So he killed my wife – mistakes happen.” Or are you going to sending a messenger out to find the nearest Deneith extermination squad? And again, in terms of just how dangerous these marks could be, I’ll note that Halas Tarkanan destroyed a city when he unleashed his mark – and that the curse of the Lady of the Plague still lingers over a thousand years after. Far from trying to STOP the Dragonmarked from persecuting the aberrants, most local authorities were glad they were there.

The aberrant marks seen today – the “least” aberrant marks, if you will – don’t carry the same restrictions or power. You can have an aberrant mark without being a madman or a cripple. And you’re not going to use that mark to destroy a city. But the stories haven’t been forgotten, and the houses simply keep them alive. And now the more powerful marks are starting to return… so what happens next?

So you are basically saying that abberant dragonmarks do tend to make people outcasts and criminals…

Aberrant dragonmarks certainly make people outcasts. They don’t necessarily make them criminals; being outcasts may, however. The point is that there’s a significant difference between having an aberrant mark that produces burning hands and being a sorcerer who can do it. For the aberrant, it begins as a dangerous burden. Some are driven mad. Some inadvertently take actions that lead to their deaths (unleashing burning hands in a public place and getting lynched as a result). Those that survive learn to control their powers – but it’s not an easy or comfortable thing.

But the logical conclusion would be that the society had been trying to deal with this threat long before War of the Mark. If I knew a kid who caused a whole village to die from disease and another kid who torched his mom in anger and they both had those scary red marks on their skin, I would probably vote for a kill-on-sight policy for anyone with a similar mark. I would have had a lynching mob go after such people. And if it were too dangerous, I would call on my liegelord to send a squad of archers and shoot the baddie from a safe distance.

Society would only have to deal with this threat “long before the War of the Mark” if aberrant marks existed in significant numbers long before the War of the Mark… and they didn’t. Mixed marks appeared in small numbers when houses mingled; this is how the houses discovered these existed and how “the threat” became known. At the time the houses set their policy, it was largely the way we have incest laws: mingling the blood of two houses has unsavory results, don’t do it. Then the marks began spreading – yet not tied to lineage or any predictable pattern. The first of these were the equivalent of least marks. Stories begin to spread… but bear in mind that there were no airships, lightning rails, or speaking stones at this time, so word certainly didn’t spread as fast as it once did. A boy burned his mother, and he had a mark like those of the Twelve, but traced in blood. More powerful marks begin to appear, but still nothing on the level of Tarkanan or the Lady of the Plague. People say it’s Khyber stirring in the depths. There are more stories of marks driving their bearers mad, and the deaths that have resulted are sensationalized. Ghallanda spreads the word through the inns. Orien passes it along the trade roads, and Lyranar the seas. Phiarlan sings songs of the unsavory aberrants… and it’s now that the Lady of the Plague appears, and her tale is one that terrifies the public. Families that have been hiding their aberrant kid begin to question their actions. And the marks keep appearing in greater numbers, and becoming increasingly dangerous. Now Deneith-backed squads show up promising to protect people from these unclean children of Khyber – and now is the time that people start calling on them for help, or organizing lynch mobs of their own. But…

… remember that aberrant dragonmarks aren’t predictable. They can appear on anyone at any time. It’s not just “a kid” who has the mark. It could be a soldier. A Duke. A powerful priest. Anyone could get an aberrant mark, and as society turned on the aberrants in fear, those who developed aberrant marks knew exactly what fate awaited them. The boy who burned a parent wouldn’t turn himself in; he would run. The duke would try to conceal his mark, fortify his stronghold and hide from the world. This degree of versatility meant that aberrant forces could have unexpected skills and resources. And then you have Halas Tarkanan. He was a Karrnathi officer before he developed his mark, a brilliant soldier who learned the arts of war at Rekkenmark and the ways of House Deneith from his mother. His forces weren’t solely aberrants; many of his unmarked soldiers stood by him, and he won others to his cause… as well as taking in goblins and other oppressed forces.

My point is – there wouldn’t be enough aberrants hiding out there to form a force capable to wage a regular war under Tarkanan. That would require a sudden surge of aberrant powers similar to what is happening in the world in present-day, which is quite possible actually.

First off, the current surge is far less than what was seen in the century leading up to the War of the Mark. It appears to be starting again, and a DM can take it that way. But at the moment, there’s neither the number or power level seen in the past. In canon sources (remember, novels aren’t canon), no one has been described as possessing an aberrant mark matching the power of Halas Tarkanan or his lieutenants… and it was the power of these marks that kept the aberrant forces alive.

Beyond this, bear in mind that they never fought a “regular war.” You never had formations of aberrant soldiers facing off against dragonmarked house armies. While Halas did his best to provide basic training, the majority of the aberrants were noncombatants, though with their marks they could put up a defense when cornered and forced to fight. Somewhat to my surprise, the best analogy I can think of is Battlestar Galactica. Think of the aberrants as fleets of largely civilian vessels, huddling around an individual like Tarkanan or the Dreambreaker – their battlestar, whose power was singlehandedly great enough to disperse conventional forces. You then have a small group of trained soldiers and people with lesser/greater marks – the vipers of the Battlestar analogy, able to carry out their commander’s will. But they were still always on the run, relying on the raw power of their commanders (and Tarkanan’s tactical genius) just to survive, always searching for some lasting sanctuary. They were occasionally able to gather small elite units for their own commando strikes, but they never faced the houses with proper armies. And in the end, despite Tarkanan’s best efforts, they were herded to Shaarat and forced to make a final stand. And again, you can see a little of what that’s like in the RPGA adventure The Delirium Stone.

Is this what’s happening today? Aberrant marks are manifesting in ever-greater numbers, but are they going to reach the same level of power as Tarkanan possessed? And if so, is this a natural cycle? Part of the Prophecy? Or is it being actively manipulated by the Lords of Dust or some other force? That’s up to you…

I’d like to revisit one point…

If I knew a kid who caused a whole village to die from disease and another kid who torched his mom in anger and they both had those scary red marks on their skin, I would probably vote for a kill-on-sight policy for anyone with a similar mark.

Bear in mind that nothing about aberrant marks is predictable. The red and black marks that we’ve shown are the most common sort of aberrant mark, but aberrant marks can take a vast array of forms. The lines of a burning hands mark might be formed from livid scar tissue. An aberrant mark that grants charm person could actually be a shining array of glowing white lines that’s almost hypnotic to look at… while another charm person mark is red and black. Aberrant marks are, well, aberrant. So this helped slow things down. Sure, the kid with the scary scar mark burned his mom, but our daughter’s mark is beautiful. And she’s not hurting anyone, is she? Really?

Ultimately people would decide that yes, the charmer was hurting people – that mind controllers are scary. But again, this combination of diversity and limited long-distance communication added to the amount of time it took for public opinion to form.

In conclusion…

Aberrant marks originally existed in small numbers and low power. In the century leading up to the War of the Mark, they rapidly increased in number and power. There was excellent reason for people to fear the marks. If Tarkanan had been born earlier and been a diplomat instead of a soldier, he might have convinced people that the aberrants weren’t at fault – that if they were taught to control their marks, they could peacefully coexist (though some were, of course, mad or sociopathic). But most of the media of the time was in the hands of the houses, and when the fear was spreading there was no spokesperson for the aberrants. The “war” began as a simple witchhunt and purge. Tarkanan organized survivors into small guerrilla forces with enough firepower to defend themselves as they fled. Ultimately they were caught and erradicated.

In the centuries that followed, aberrant marks appeared in small numbers and only at the lowest level of power. But the stories remained and grew with each telling. People don’t run in terror from aberrants, because it’s been over a thousand years since the Lady of the Plague laid her curse on Shaarat. But they still know the stories, and aberrants are still shunned and treated with suspicion. And now the numbers of marks are growing again, and their power with them. But this is new and unusual. House Tarkanan has noticed it, and it is acting to gather the aberrants. But society as a whole hasn’t yet noticed exactly what’s going on. aberrants are an old bogeyman; even the houses are only just now looking at House Tarkanan and trying to figure out what’s happening.

Moving to more general discussion about the marks…

“Aberrant” seems like it’s shifted in meaning since the setting was originally published, and it was always kind of broad to begin with.

It’s something that was never developed as far as I wanted. I actually had a full system for aberrant marks developed for the Sharn: City of Towers sourcebook, but it ended up being cut for space. It is the case that a number of the SLAs in the original 3.5 sourcebook do NOT, in my mind, qualify for my vision of aberrant marks. I don’t see feather fall or detect secret doors as aberrant marks. To me, a core difference between aberrant and normal dragonmarks is that aberrant marks channel destructive or aggressive forces, while true marks are constructive. With that said, we’ve seen that true marks can be used in aggressive ways – from Lyrandar slamming you with a gust of wind to the Orien assassin teleporting behind you and killing you. But note that when aberrant marks were expanded in Dragonmarked the lists didn’t include superior flight or expanded detection capabilities.

What I’m wondering is if there’s some kind of substantive difference between Aberrant Marks and Mixed Marks. For example, would mixed marks tend to appear more as a mixture of the true marks? And would such a mark exhibit powers that call to mind the two true marks involved? Or is it more like the mixture of the marks corrupts their fundamental nature and creates some bizarre, unrelated effect?

The original idea is definitely the latter. Aberrant marks are entirely unpredictable. If you knew that Orien + Lyrandar = feather fall, then it’s not an aberrant mark anymore; it’s “the Mark of PassageStorms.” The idea of the mixed mark was simply that it was and is the only reliable way to produce an aberrant mark – but that there’s no telling what that mark will be. Likewise, this is part of the 3.5 aberrant mark system in Dragonmarked. You can have charm person as your least power and poison as your lesser power. You might have an aberrant individual who develops powers along a specific theme – all fire, all fear – but unlike the true marks this isn’t a given.

Now again, this is how it’s been presented. If you want to do things differently – and for that matter, play up existing elements like the feather fall aberrant mark – go for it!