Currently I’m continuing to work on Exploring Eberron and The Adventure Zone: Bureau of Balance (which is currently in the final two days of the preorder—last chance to get promotional cards or the limited edition!). I’m also going to be in Juneau, Alaska this week for Platypus-Con. I’m going to write a new article next week, the subject of which is currently being voted on by my Patreon supporters, but as I’m about to go on a journey myself I wanted to share an article I originally wrote back in 2013, dealing with one way to handle travel in RPGs.
Travel By Montage
In today’s adventure, the intrepid band of heroes has a long trek to reach their destination. The vast forest is infamous as a haven for bandits and ruffians, shunned by the wise… but it’s the only path to the ruined temple of the Holy MacGuffin. The fact of the matter is that the adventurers are far too skilled and accomplished for a typical band of brigands to pose any sort of threat. Having a random battle would simply waste time without adding any real tension, and compared to the story you have in mind, fighting bandits is a pretty dull story. You could take the red line approach, just cutting from point A to point B with a few sentences of description, explaining just how creepy the forest is and that the bandits are smart enough to avoid the party. But at the same time, the forest is really creepy, and the presence of the bandits is a well established part of the setting; you want them to feel like they’ve taken a significant journey. What do you do?
It’s possible for the journey to be the adventure. The Hobbit is a story about a group of adventurers delving into a dragon’s lair… but the bulk of the story is about the journey to the dungeon. Mechanically, bandits can’t pose a threat to the adventurers. Well, what if they can? What if they come back to life whenever they are killed—and the only way to stop them is to find and destroy the artifact or power source that’s empowering them? Or perhaps it’s a moral dilemma: the “bandits” are actually Robin Hood-style heroes robbing from the rich to raise money for some vital cause, like buying medicine to bring an end to a local plague? The adventurers are, in fact, incredibly rich by local standards; are they willing to help in some way, or do they slaughter the last, best hope of the stricken locals?
This sort of thing can be a lot of fun. The En Route series from Atlas Games presents a host of little scenarios designed to fit into the spaces between the major parts of an adventure—challenges that aren’t simply combat encounters, but interesting stories on their own. However, playing through such a scene takes time, and if the core adventure has a strong story, you may not want to water it down with a side scene. So you don’t have time to make a bandit encounter actually interesting; you don’t want to waste time on a pointless fight; but you also don’t want to just gloss over the journey. What do you do?
What I’ve been doing lately is using a travel montage. Come up with a few interesting things that could happen on the journey and put one of these situations in the hands of each player, giving each character their own spotlight moment. So if I’ve got an elf wizard, a dwarf fighter, a halfling thief, and a human priest, I might say:
Halfling thief: “Tell me how you help the group avoid a bandit attack on the first day.”
Elf wizard: “There are constant storms in this region. By the second day your clothes are drenched, and the bridge across the local river has been washed away. How does your magic help the party get across the river?”
Dwarf fighter: “This forest is older than human civilization. You’re sure you hear the howls of ghosts on the wind, and see things moving in the shadows. You’re a brave man… what’s the one thing that actually scares you on the journey?”
Human priest: “Tell me about the dream you have on the last night.”
The point of this approach is to give each character a chance to be in the spotlight for a moment, and to encourage the players to think about what makes the journey interesting for them. Sure, any of the characters could figure out how to cross a river, but this time, it was the wizard who figured it out… now tell me how. Depending what the players come up with, you could incorporate their answers into the later adventure. Perhaps the priest’s dream will turn out to be prophetic, or the thing that frightened the dwarf will return in some way. Perhaps the thief avoided the bandits because he actually knew the bandit leader from his first guild… in which case, that character could turn up again later in a more interesting role. Alternately, the players might just make jokes out of the scenarios; the one thing that actually scares the dwarf is watching the halfling eat, or the snores of the priest. There’s nothing wrong with this. The whole point is to let the players have a chance to tell the story they want; if they want to laugh, this is a great opportunity for that.
What’s your favorite approach for making travel interesting when it’s not a central part of the adventure? What’s worked well for you?
Children in Breland, Aundair, and the Eldeen Reaches are raised on stories of Mordain the Fleshweaver and the monsters he creates. He was born into House Phiarlan and was one of the most gifted wizards of the Twelve; it’s said that the standard House Jorasco potion of healing is Mordain’s recipe. But his obsession with creating and improving life drew him down dark paths, adapting the techniques of the daelkyr and delving into the secrets of Sulk Khatesh. According to one story, he sought to magebreed a new dragonmarked house but instead produced a line of aberrations that consumed his own family before they were destroyed. Parents warn their children that Mordain steals disobedient children and carries them off to his living fortress, leaving perfect simulacra in their place so even their friends won’t miss them. Whatever the truth of these stories, Mordain was excoriated from House Phiarlan in 797 YK. According to the records of Salyon Syrralan d’Sivis, the Twelve tried to execute Mordain and failed. Salyon’s account states that Mordain was bathed in acid, burnt at the stake, drowned, and even dismembered, but after each attempt “he rose again, his vigor unchecked and flesh rebound.” He was petrified and sent to Dreadhold, but escaped before reaching the island prison; Salyon speculated that “no lesser mage could set his will over the flesh of Mordain.”
The first confirmed sighting of Blackroot – Mordain’s tower – occurred in 873 YK. In the heat of the Silver Crusade, a troop of Aundairian templars pursued a few werewolves far to the south of modern Aundair (a region now considered to be part of Droaam). Weeks later, another patrol encountered a lone survivor from this force, half-mad and delirious. The templar spoke of a tower “with blackened, leathery walls, twisted as the limb of a dragon reaching up to grasp the sun.” The soldier couldn’t account for his companions, but his own condition was testimony to the horrors he had seen. His upper torso had been fused to the lower body of what was posthumously confirmed to be a werewolf. His mental state quickly deteriorated and he soon died of self-inflicted wounds.
Mordain is the most powerful wizard living in Khorvaire today, and the region surrounding his tower is warded against divination and teleportation. Paladins of Dol Arrah have attempted to destroy the foul wizard and his works, while emissaries of every nation sought Mordain’s aid at some point in the Last War; knights and envoys both met with failure, and only a lucky few survived to share their stories. Mordain remains a sinister enigma, a dark legend on the edge of Droaam. Some believe that he has an arrangement with the Daughters of Sora Kell, but many believe that even the hags fear Mordain.
Using The Fleshweaver
The basic principle of Mordain is that he’s the mightiest mortal wizard in Khorvaire. He’s as powerful as you want him to be. His specialty is creating and transforming living creatures, but he can easily have other talents. Notably, you could substitute “Mordain” for “Mordenkainen” in spell names in Eberron; this gives us Mordain’s private sanctum and Mordain’s magnificent mansion, suggesting that he has a talent for manipulating extradimensional space; this would imply that Blackroot is far larger than it appears to be, and also makes it easy to say that Mordain has a few extradimensional back doors scattered around the continent… which allows him to drop his experiments wherever best suits a story. With that said, part of the idea is that Mordain isn’t simply using the sorts of magic that player wizards and artificers might use. His techniques are adapted from the daelkyr and the Overlords, and involve channeling the energies of Kythri and Xoriat. While he can place his experiments wherever he chooses, most of his magic can only be performed in Blackroot, which is essentially a vast eldritch machine. It’s quite possible that through his centuries of work he has essentially become Blackroot—that his physical body is just a shell he creates to interact with people, but that the true Mordain is merged with his tower. This is a way to limit his impact and adds a reason for him to work with adventurers.
Mordain pairs unmatched arcane power with an utter disregard for the suffering of others. At the same time, Mordain has no interest in wealth or influence. He’s not trying to conquer Khorvaire, and while he’s indifferent to the suffering his creations can cause, he’s not actually trying to harm others. A DM could decide that Mordain wants revenge on the dragonmarked houses for driving him away; but by default he considers the houses to be as pointless and irrelevant as the Five Nations. All that he cares about is his work—creating and perfecting life. While his tower is in a dangerous region, his location is known; adventurers know where he can be found. With this in mind, there’s a number of ways Mordain can enter a campaign.
MORDAIN THE VILLAIN
Unlike most of the major conspiracies, Mordain has no grand plans for Khorvaire, which makes him an excellent source of one-shot problems that have to be dealt with but that have no long-term consequences. While he rarely leaves his tower (assuming he even can), he can use scrying and teleportation to target his experiments across Khorvaire. Consider the following options.
Mordain might engineer a magical plague and inflict it on an isolated village to see what happens. Can the adventurers find a cure? Perhaps he’s experimenting with a new form of lycanthropy: how does it differ from the traditional form?
Mordain could introduce a dangerous monsters into a region as an isolated threat, most likely just to see how things play out. Do you want a gargantuan gelatinous cube in the heart of Aundair? Blame Mordain.
With that said, Mordain could also introduce a significant population of monsters to a region, introducing a nest of kruthik or a band of yeti into an area. A twist on this would be if he created these creatures by transforming a village. Can the victims be restored? If not, can the adventurers find a way to stabilize the situation?
Mordain’s creations don’t have to be monsters. Mordain could transform the inhabitants of a village into tortles, or create a murder of kenku. This can be a simple way to introduce a small population of an exotic population into a location; no one knows WHY Mordain put a tribe of tabaxi into the King’s Forest, but he did.
Likewise, adventurers could stumble upon bizarre experiments. Dolurrh’s Dawn—originally presented in Dragon 365—is an isolated village in Droaam where Mordain has recreated legendary characters from history. His motives are unclear; but it’s certainly an interesting thing for a group of adventurers to discover.
Mordain could also be supplying or supporting an organization that the adventurers are fighting. He could be providing them with symbionts or other magic items, or giving them access to monstrous forces (you kill the leader of the organization, but a week later he’s back as a flesh golem!). The main question here is why? How is the group interesting or useful to Mordain?
A twist on this is for Mordain to take a personal interest in the adventurers. Will he turn their friends into monsters, or grant strange powers to their enemies? Is he testing the adventurers, or is there something about them that poses a threat to his experiments? Does he know something about one of the adventurers they have yet to discover?
Mordain can be an interesting backstory element for an unusual character. Perhaps a player wants to create a character using a race that has no established place in Eberron, such as a Loxodon or a Simic Hybrid. Simple answer: they were created by Mordain. This path could also be used to explain class features. Perhaps a sorcerer’s arcane powers stem from being magebred by Mordain. A character who’s mechanically a half-orc barbarian could decide that they’re actually an artificial lifeform created by Mordain and that their “rage” reflects a hulking-out battle mode. A monk could likewise describe their Unarmored Defense and enhanced abilities as being tied to Mordain-crafted mutations. An idea could be even more exotic than this; tied to Dolurrh’s Dawn, a character could say that they are a clone of a famous historical figure—that they are Karrn the Conqueror or Tira Miron reborn… or even a clone of a young Mordain the Fleshweaver!
With any of these ideas, there’s a few critical questions. Were they created in an isolated incident, or are they part of a larger experiment (like Dolurrh’s Dawn)? Did Mordain release them into the wild, or did they escape captivity? Do they know the purpose for which they were created and are defying it, or could their adventuring career be part of Mordain’s plan? Which ties to the next option…
MORDAIN THE ALLY
Mordain has much to offer, from magic items to mysterious boons. Mordain could easily serve as a patron for a warlock or a mysterious mentor for a wizard… or even an entire group (following the model of the Immortal group patron, even if he may not be immortal). What would he want from adventurers? A few possibilities…
Mordain wants the adventurers to clean up his messes. Use the same seeds from the previous section, but Mordain dispatches the PCs to minimize the collateral damage. He still feels a need to drop a gargantuan gelatinous cube into Aundair, but once he’s learned what he needed, he’s happy to have the PCs deal with it.
Adventurers encounter a lot of exotic creatures. Mordain wants them to harvest organs of monsters they defeat, and will pay them (in gold or in other ways) for unusual finds.
Mordain is always interested in relics of the daelkyr, and could send players into dangerous dungeons.
The lesser of two evils: a Cult of the Dragon Below, the Lords of Dust, the Dreaming Dark or a similar force could be interfering with one of Mordain’s experiments; he sends the adventurers to resolve the problem.
Mordain could want the adventurers to mediate a local problem with some of his neighbors in Droaam (likely a last resort before resolving the problem in a horrifying and deadly fashion).
Working with Mordain should never be an entirely comfortable experience. There should always be the sense that he’s incredibly dangerous and could do something terrifying at any moment. But again, Mordain is motivated solely by his experiments; as long as those current experiments aren’t harming innocents, there’s no reason he can’t be a useful ally.
The 4E Eberron Campaign Guide included a stat block for Mordain. I’m not including one here, because in my opinion fighting Mordain is simply a bad idea—both in terms of difficulty, but also because it won’t really accomplish anything. Remember that according to the legends, the TWELVE couldn’t find a way to kill him—and that’s when they had him as a prisoner, not when he was in Blackroot surrounded by his creations and defensive spells. One option is to use the statistics of a lich as a base, though I’d consider him an aberration as opposed to undead (or humanoid) and I’d add high regeneration. But there’s another approach, which is to say that his combat abilities aren’t that dramatic but that it doesn’t really MATTER… that at this point he has essentially become Blackroot, and that he simply produces a humanoid body when he needs to interact with outsiders. So he doesn’t need to be a terrifying force of destruction, because if you kill him he’ll just make a new body within a few rounds. This ties to the basic point that his role in the story isn’t really to BE a monster himself; it’s to create monsters and challenges.
Mordain or Daelkyr?
One valid question is how Mordain differs from a daelkyr. Why use Mordain instead of Dyrrn the Corruptor? There’s a few simple answers. The first is that Mordain operates on a smaller scale. He doesn’t have cults or armies of minions spread across the continent. Likewise, the daelkyr are mysterious but unquestionably destructive; they will destroy civilizations if left unchecked. Mordain, on the other hand, has no desire to destroy civilizations; his experiments are on a smaller scale and collateral damage is generally incidental, not the point. A final critical factor is that Mordain is an eccentric sociopath, but he’s not as completely ALIEN as the daelkyr are. You CAN have a conversation with Mordain. You can talk to him about what he’s doing with his latest experiment, and he’d be happy to pay you for those remorhaz entrails you discovered on your last adventure. He’s infamous and he’s deadly, but he’s more grounded than the daelkyr, and his schemes are generally more focused.
Why So Powerful?
One of the core principles of Eberron is wide magic, not high magic. Spells of over 5th level are all but unknown in the Five Nations. So how is it that Mordain wields this level of power? Why hasn’t it had a greater impact on life in the Five Nations? Why don’t people just copy what he’s doing?
Ultimately, this is based on the idea that Mordain is a pulp villain. He’s not SUPPOSED to logically fit into the structure of the world; if he was sane and reasonable and willing to lend his skills to House Vadalis, Khorvaire would be a better place. Instead, he’s channeling powers normal artificers and wizards can’t understand and using them for dangerous and selfish reasons. But beyond that, the idea is that these powers can’t be easily duplicated and have come with a terrible cost. This ties to the idea that at this point I’d consider him an aberration, and that he may be bound to Blackroot. Even if people in Arcanix could copy what he’s doing, they might not WANT to; anyone who could master his techniques would likely lose their humanity in the process.
Have you ever used Mordain in your campaign? if so, share the story below! Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters, who make these articles possible!
We’ve never heard much about Mordain’s life before his horrific experiments were uncovered and he was excoriated. His excoriation happened two hundred years ago. Within the lifetime of elves, gnomes, and dwarves. To those who knew him before… How shocking was the discovery of his experiments. Was he well regarded and liked within The Twelve before?
I think that Mordain was a prodigy who was always pushing beyond the limits of acceptable arcane science. I think his RESULTS were respected, but I think he probably angered many seneschals and stepped on a lot of toes—and took a lot of paths that were forbidden. “Dammit, Mordain! Look at what happened to the Closed Circle in Sharn. There’s a REASON no one’s revised Dyrnin’s techniques!” I suspect that he was passionate and brilliant, and that may have won him some friends or followers. But I also think that his revelations came with a cost. I’ve suggested that at this point I’d consider him to be both a sociopath and an aberration. I think Mordain today isn’t the person he was when he started at the Twelve; and I think that by the time the Twelve failed to execute him, those who knew him were horrified by what he’d become.
With that said, the sourcebook City of Stormreach mentions Elira Dawn, a wizard and war criminal who was a protege of Mordain’s—though it incorrectly states that Mordain taught at Arcanix. One possibility is that Elira studied alongside Mordain at the Twelve; suggesting that he did have a following before his fall. The other possibility is that she worked with him AFTER he was excoriated, as I suggest could be an option for a PC wizard or warlock.
Any info on how Mordain has escaped the ire of the dragons? That level of power feels like something they’d be uncomfortable with, but more than that the last time someone tried to magebreed a new Mark into existence they destroyed an entire family line.
There’s a few answers to this. The first is that the dragons really don’t care about something unless it threatens the Prophecy or Argonnessen. The fact that they HAVEN’T destroyed Mordain implies that he’s done neither of those things. You’re correct that they took drastic action to deal with Vol, but part of that is because Vol succeeded—They DID create an apex mark, something that surely DID have Prophetic significance. By contrast, Mordain ATTEMPTED to make a new dragonmark and FAILED COMPLETELY. If he had succeeded, it might have spelled his doom; odds are likely that there was never any chance of his success.
The dragons aren’t peeking over the shoulder of every wizard. When adventurers get to 18th level they aren’t immediately killed by angry dragons. Mordain’s techniques are impressive, but compared to the epic magics the dragons used to destroy Xen’drik, they’re not THAT impressive. He’s a big deal in KHORVAIRE, but he’s hasn’t done anything that makes him a serious threat to Argonnessen.
Twogether Studios is currently developing The Adventure Zone: Bureau of Balance — a collaborative storytelling card game set in the world of The Adventure Zone’s Balance Arc. In working with the McElroy Family and developing the basic ideas for Bureau of Balance, we agreed that we wanted the game to be accessible and engaging both to established fans of The Adventure Zone and to people who know nothing about it. The Adventure Zone broke down barriers to RPGs and ultimatelyis about a group of friends creating a funny fantasy adventure together, and that’s our goal with the game: you should be able to bring together any group of friends and create your own unique story in a little over an hour. An important part of this is expanding the world of Balance to allow for new missions – other relics, villains, and locations that your team of reclaimers must overcome.
Bureau of Balance doesn’t require a game master. Instead, you create your missions dynamically by selecting three decks of challenge cards: a Villain, a Relic, and a Location. These cards provide concrete mechanical details—the numbers you need to roll to defeat the monsters, the consequences of success or failure, and the prompts and rewards for storytelling. But these cards are broad ideas that leave enough room for you to make this your story. We wanted to share a closer look one of these mission decks: The Dark Lord.
Bureau of Balance includes four villain decks. Each villain has to present a unique mechanical challenge, while also presenting a compelling foundation for adventure. The Dark Lord is a straightforward concept. We know there’s gerblins (“goblins” to those of you new to the Bureau) in the world; the Dark Lord is a malevolent tyrant with an army of gerblins and trolls, determined to use the power of the Relic to conquer the world. When you start off the game, players collectively need to answer a few questions about the Dark Lord. What is their name? What is their connection to the Relic? Consider two possible answers…
The Dark Lord is the Endless Shadow, the ghost of the demigod who forged the Relic at the dawn of time. As long as the Relic remains, the Endless Shadow will return and seek to consume the world. You must destroy the Relic once and for all!
The Dark Lord is Bob, your old roommate from Fantasy College. You always said he’d never amount to anything, and it looks like he’s out to prove you wrong. If he gets that Relic, he’s going to do something very irresponsible with it.
These two concepts show the spectrum of what’s possible within the game. Do you want your tale to be deadly serious or lighthearted? Are the gerblin minions of the Dark Lord innocents corrupted by the Endless Shadow, or are they just the loser buddies of the Dark Lord Bob?
When you face the Dark Lord, the challenges are primarily physical. Initially you’ll have to deal with gerblin spies and scouts, along with human toadies and wraiths. You could just fight your way through these hosts, but you could outwit the gerblins or even try to stir up a revolt amongst the minions. As you progress through the deck you’ll encounter more powerful challenges, and Griffin McElroy helped us come up with ideas: If there’s gerblins, there should be hob-gerblins; if there’s a Big Troll, there should also be an Even Bigger Troll. One of the unique aspects of the Dark Lord is the idea of reinforcement—that while the gerblin hordes of the Dark Lord aren’t particularly tough, they are endless; certain challenges can call back defeated gerblins to fight you once again.
In developing the image of the Dark Lord, artist Hari Connor worked with the idea of an imposing, armored figure that still maintains a sense of mystery. What lies beneath the Dark Lord’s armor? In the final image you can see tusks—is the Dark Lord some sort of uber-gerblin, or are these just decoration? We wanted the sense that the Dark Lord is commanding an army, and the flavor of The Adventure Zone is carried through by the slogans on the banners of the army (Career Opportunities! Join the Forces of Evil!).
The Adventure Zone: Bureau of Balance is a collaborative storytelling card game for 2-5 people. A single session takes 60-90 minutes to play, and the dynamic design provides over a hundred hours of possible adventures. Preorder now through January 25th (ships August 2020). Each preordered game includes an exclusive Reclaimer Rewards expansion. Find out more at : theadventurezonegame.com! If you’d like to see it in action, check out this episode of AFK!
The Darguul warlord studied Caerys, slowly spinning the chan of his flail. “What could bring you to this place, elf?” His tribe gathered around them, forming a wide circle of shadows and gleaming red eyes.
Caerys held her double blade in the falcon guard, level with her shoulders and spreading out like wings. “I came in search of legends. Ten thousand years ago Daealyth of Taeri stood this ground and faced your ancestors, and twenty fell before his singing blades. You are no Dhakaani of old, and a mere twenty of you will bring no honor to the Taeri.”The warlord hissed in fury, and his flail flashed in the firelight. The chain wrapped around Caerys’ blade but she twisted away. The flail flew into the darkness. She spun forward, her double blade weaving a circle of fire as she danced toward the chieftain. In a moment the song of steel was over.
Caerys watched as the warlord fell to the ground. With a contemptuous snap of her wrist, she flicked the blood from her blade into the eyes of the stunned onlookers. She smiled behind her spirit veil, counting the blades arrayed against her.
The Tairnadal elves of Eberron are devoted to the arts of war. When a Tairnadal elf reaches adolescence, a rite is perform that determines which of the patron ancestors has chosen the child. From that point on, it is the duty of the elf to emulate this ancestor, perfecting their skills and following in their footsteps. Each Tairnadal wears a zaelshin, an amulet that bears the sigil of their patron; when performing heroic deeds they cover their face with a veil known as a zaelta (“spirit mask”), so the enemy sees the zaelshin rather than the face of the living elf.
The Tairnadal have always been called out as one of the most efficient and deadly fighting forces in Eberron. In part this is due to their discipline and absolute devotion to the arts of war. The Tairnadal are ascetics who undergo decades of harsh training, and spend their lives searching for ever greater challenges for their skills. But the idea has always been that there’s a possibly supernatural aspect. Through their devotion, the Tairnadal preserve the spirits of their greatest champions; but the idea is that this allows the ancient heroes to guide the living elves. When a Tairnadal elf acts on instinct and intuition, they believe that the spirit of their ancestor can guide their hands and direct their thoughts. So for a Tairnadal, following the path of an ancestor isn’t simply an annoying chore; they believe that the more closely they emulate the ancestor, the easier it is for the patron to live through them, sharing their legendary skills.
So in part, the devotion of the Tairnadal is based on the belief that they are keeping the spirits of their ancestors from fading into oblivion. But this is balanced against the belief that the living Tairnadal receive concrete benefits from this relationship—that the exceptional skills of Tairnadal warriors and wizards reflect the direct guidance of these ancestors.
Over the years, there are a number of questions that come up frequently.
If Tairnadal culture is based on the relationship with the ancestors, how did it begin? Who were the first ancestors?
Is it possible for my character to become a patron ancestor, or can living elves never be seen as the equals of their ancestors?
Where are the patron ancestors? If their spirits still exist, why haven’t they been resurrected?
How do I choose a patron ancestor for my character? Why does it matter?
Can half-elves become Tairnadal?
What’s the difference between Valenar elves and Tairnadal?
Who are the patron ancestors?
One thing that many people don’t realize is that the original patron ancestors weren’t Tairnadal. The elves who fought against the ancient giants came from many different cultures. In Dragon 407, the article “Vadallia and Cardaen” presents two patron ancestors—one a warrior queen who was born free in the wilds of Xen’drik, the other a wizard trained by the Cul’sir giants who turned against his masters. The original patron ancestors were united by their common cause, but they came from many different cultures and backgrounds. Tairnadal culture was born on Aerenal, forged by refugees united by the stories of their champions and the determination that they would never be conquered again.
So the FIRST patron ancestors were heroes who fought against the giants. But while the foundation of the Tairnadal faith is to honor and preserve the ancestors, it’s understood that this is because it lets the mortal elf channel the skills of those legendary heroes… and potentially to use those skills to become legends in their own right. Look back to the story that begins this article. What this tells us was that in the Age of monsters there was a Tairnadal champion named Daealyth who was channeling the patron ancestor Taeri, one of the champions of Xen’drik. But the deeds of Daealyth were so exceptional that she herself became a legend—and TODAY, we have the elf Caerys, who is channeling Daealyth. So as a Tairnadal elf it is your duty to honor your ancestor and to do all that you can to bring glory to their name; but the hope is that in doing so you will become a vessel for their spirit and that together you will forge NEW legends—and that someday, future Tairnadal will channel YOUR spirit.
A secondary aspect to this is the idea that when dealing with generational ancestors, you do honor the patrons of your patron. In the opening paragraph, Caerys says that the battle will “bring no honor to the Taeri.” While she is the chosen of Daealyth, Daealyth was chosen by Taeri, and Caerys feels a secondary allegiance to the original champion.
Summing up: The first patron ancestors were champions of the conflicts on Xen’drik. However, over the course of tens of thousands of years new patrons have risen, and if you perform legendary deeds as a Tairnadal elf you yourself could become a patron ancestor.
in developing a patron ancestor—whether as a player or DM—consider that they are a celebrated, legendary figure and that the elves what to make sure they are never forgotten. Why are they celebrated and admired? What was their greatest achievement? Did they have a particular tool or treasure they were known for? Despite being beloved and preserved in memory, did they have any notable flaws? Because it’s the duty of the revenant to embody their flaws as well as their virtues! But an elf wouldn’t be preserve as a patron ancestor unless their virtues significantly outweighed their flaws.
But where ARE the patron ancestors? Are they in Dolurrh? Why don’t they get resurrected?
People only linger in Dolurrh for about a month before their spirits fade. In the past this has been used as a concrete limit on any form of resurrection; that unless a spirit is somehow kept from fading in Dolurrh (as some say occurs if the soul is snatched by the Keeper), there’s no way to return after it fades.
This is concrete fact. But no one knows if there’s anything beyond Dolurrh. The vassals of the Sovereign Host believe that Dolurrh is a gateway to the realms of the Sovereigns. Followers of the Silver Flame say the spirit moves on from Dolurrh to merge with the Silver Flame. The Blood of Vol says that fading is oblivion. The Tairnadal faith maintains that you persist for as long as you’re remembered. The more people who remember you, the stronger your spirit and the greater your ability to influence the world. Thus, the patron ancestors aren’t in Dolurrh and are beyond the reach of resurrection, but it’s believed that they continue to exist regardless.
How do I choose a patron ancestor for my character? Why does it matter?
Tairnadal elves don’t get to choose their patron ancestors; rather, the ancestor chooses the living elf. So Tairnadal children spend their youth essentially auditioning for the ancestors. The basic belief is that if you prove yourself to be an exceptional archer you’ll be chosen by a patron who specializes in archery—that early aptitudes inform the choice. But again, ultimately, the patron chooses the elf. You might EXPECT to be chosen by the legendary archer because of your skill, only to be chosen by a brave swordsman—who may have picked you because of your bravery, or some other aspect of your character you haven’t considered to be an asset.
One thing that is rarely a factor is bloodline. Consider the assertion that one in every 200 people is thought to be related to Genghis Khan. Most Tairnadal elves are related to many of the patron ancestors. It’s possible that you will end up tied to the same ancestor as your parents or siblings, but it’s not expected.
So in choosing a patron ancestor for your character, the primary question is how will it affect your story. Consider the following elements. F
Legend. The Tairnadal patrons are legends. They become patrons because the elves believe that their deeds must not be forgotten and that others should follow their example. What did your patron do to earn this devotion? What were they known for? What was their greatest deed? Did they have a legendary weapon or accessory (and if so, are you working to find it)? A signature move or spell? What is a distinctive thing about them that you can emulate?
Ideals, Bonds, Flaws. As a Tairnadal you’re expected to pattern your after your ancestor. Are your personality traits something you’ve cultivated to be more like your ancestor? Or are they things you’re trying to overcome? For example, if your flaw is your overconfidence, it could be that you’re NOT naturally overconfident, but you’re TRYING to be, because that’s something your ancestor was known for.
Class Features. Patrons are suppose to share their skills with their revenants. Do you see your ancestor as a source of class features—either those you have at the moment or those you will eventually gain? For example, if you’re a ranger, your Favored Enemy and Fighting Style likely reflect your ancestor. When you cast hunter’s mark, you might describe it as feeling your ancestor guide your aim. As a rogue or bard, it makes sense for your expertise to be tied to the skills your ancestor was celebrated for. If you’re a sorcerer or a true, your patron likely was as well. If you’re a warlock you might serve the same patron as your ancestor; if you’re a hexblade, your patron might be the weapon they carried. So, what does your class and your choices say about your ancestor?
Relationship. Are you proud to follow in your ancestor’s footsteps? Do you value their guidance and believe that together you will create new legends? Did you hope you’d be chosen by them, or did you always imagine you’d be chosen by a different patron? Beyond that, what is your actually relationship with the patron? Do you feel their presence guiding you? Do you have visions while trancing? This is especially appropriate for Tairnadal paladins, clerics, or warlocks; you could believe that the ancestor has a concrete purpose for you to fulfil.
Rivals. There are many more elves than patrons, and most patron ancestors have multiple elves following in their footsteps. You can find entire warbands dedicated to a particular patron. How well-represented is your patron among the Tairnadal? Are there dozens or hundreds of elves following in their footsteps, or are you one of only a few? What makes you stand out from the others? Do you have a particular rival who’s determined to be a better revenant than you?
Once you’ve considered these things, you can work out the rest of the details with your DM. How will your patron fit into the campaign? Are you trying to find their legendary artifact weapon? Are you driven to defend the innocent, or to hunt down a particular type of creature? As a Tairnadal you have a story you’re trying to relive; ideally that story should fit into the scope of the campaign your DM has in mind, not clash with it.
Can Half-Elves Become Tairnadal?
Ultimately that’s not up to mortals; it’s up to the patrons. What we’ve said is that there’s never been a case of a half-elf being chosen by a patron ancestor. But there’s nothing stopping you from making a Khoravar character who believes they HAVE been chosen and is trying to prove it. Again, if a Keeper of the Past could confirm it, it’s not the place of mortals to deny it.
What’s the difference between Valenar and Tairnadal?
Valenar are a subset of the Tairnadal elves. They are Tairnadal who came to Khorvaire as mercenaries and laid claim to the region they were protecting. The short form is that if you’re VALENAR then you fought in the Last War and served under High King Shaeras Vadallia. if you’re Tairnadal you could have remained on Aerenal and taken no part in the Last War. The Valenar are an armed host engaged in an active military operation; this means, for example, that there are no Tairnadal children in Valenar, because the civilian infrastructure of Tairnadal society remains in Aerenal; the Valenar are part of an ongoing military operation.
Previous editions have focused on the amazing horses of the Valenar, beasts with seemingly supernatural attributes. We’ve always highlighted that despite its best efforts, House Vadalis has never been able to breed these horses in captivity. Over the course of two editions, we’ve called out a few things the first is the idea that what makes the horses special isn’t simply genetic—that it’s tied to the idea that the HORSE is channeling the spirit of a legendary ancestor, that this is replicating the bond between the patron and their animal companion. This led us to the thought that it shouldn’t be limited to horses. While the Valenar are renowned for their cavalry, they also have expert commandos, assassins, and soldiers of every specialty—an elf could have a remarkable hound or hawk. The key point is that the idea of being chosen by a Valenar beast isn’t simply that the animal likes you; it’s that there’s a bond between you and the spirit within the beast. This is why you can only have one Valenar beast; if your patron was bound to a hawk, you can have a Valenar hawk as a companion, but you can’t later trade it in for a horse. The hawk is a defining part of your ancestor’s story.
Rising From The Last War does suggest that a Valenar beast could bond to a non-elf adventurer. This would be exceptionally remarkable, and the big question is what this means. Do you have some distant blood tie to the ancestor? Do you have a spiritual connection to them? Could you be an elf reincarnated in human form? Or has the spirit simply judged you to be a worthy companion?
House Vadalis hasn’t given up on replicating Valenar beast. But the idea is that what makes the beast special is the SPIRIT, and this only manifests when it is bound to a Tairnadal companion; when bred in captivity away from their people, the spirit won’t manifest and the Valenar beast will be born as a mundane creature, not fey.
This isn’t the first article I’ve written about the Tairnadal. If you want to dig deep, you should explore the following links.
If you have questions about the Tairnadal, post them in the comments! Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters, who keep this site running.
Has there ever been a Tairnadal who was later turned into a deathless?
It’s an interesting question, and more complicated than you might think. Bear in mind that the Aereni and the Tairnadal are two entirely different cultures with different values and traditions. The Tairnadal are ascetic, nomadic, and relentlessly martial. The Aereni are static and peaceful. While they join forces against common threats, they have relatively little in common and there’s not a lot of interaction between them. Looking to the deathless, the Aereni consider their tradition to be superior because the deathless continues to exist in this world. The Tairnadal consider their path to be superior, because the ancestor lives on through hundreds of revenants; they see that as a form of ascension, a superior form of immortality to just being trapped in Shae Mordai for eternity. A secondary factor is that while, per 3.5 rules, it is possible for a priest of the Undying Court to animate lesser deathless, the entire principle of the undying is that they are sustained by the devotion of their descendants—that for a Tairnadal deathless to survive, they would need to have the love and devotion of a sufficient population of local elves.
So could it happen? Sure. The Tairnadal and Aereni have joined forces multiple times to fight against dragons, and perhaps a Tairnadal champion performed such great deeds that the Aereni animated them after death and have sustained them with their love. But the TAIRNADAL might consider this to be a punishment rather than a blessing; they might rather live on in the memories of their descendants rather than be trapped in an undead body.
In saying that the Tairnadal ancestors aren’t in Dolurrh, are you confirming that there IS something beyond Dolurrh? Doesn’t that have enormous implications for other religions?
The Tairnadal faith is just that: a faith. The Tairnadal BELIEVE their ancestors are reaching out from beyond Dolurrh, just as a Vassal smith believes that Onatar is guiding her hands. You can’t just have a casual conversation with a patron—”Hey, Great-great-great-uncle Haen, what’s it like beyond Dolurrh?” Instead, they communicate through visions and intuition.
With that said: the Tairnadal are channeling SOMETHING. It is a concrete fact that a revenant blade can gain a supernatural level of skill by following the path of their ancestors. There is SOMETHING real going on here. And it’s quite possible that it’s exactly what the Tairnadal believe it to be. The idea of a patron ancestor existing in a state beyond death and guiding multiple descendants is very similar to the kalashtar quori, who also exist in the collective souls of their bloodlines. But the point is that there’s no absolute certainty here… and even if the Tairnadal spirits do somehow exist beyond Dolurrh, it doesn’t reveal what happens to the souls of faithful Vassals or reveal whether the Sovereigns exist.
What is the relationship between the Aereni and Tairnadal like? Did they just kinda divide up the isles between them and call it good?
This is summed up on page 218 of the original Eberron Campaign Setting: “Relations between the Tairnadal and the elves of the Undying Court are cordial. They honor the same ancestors, and respect the shared blood that flows through their veins.” It’s also the case that elves do move between the two cultures. Children who don’t adapt to the harsh life of the Tairnadal may be fostered among the Aereni, while the ECS says that “In the last few millennia many younger elves of southern bloodlines have left their homes to join the Tairnadal.” The Tairnadal have fought alongside the Aereni when Aerenal has been attacked, and as I suggest elsewhere, you might well find Tairnadal mercenaries serving as marines on Aereni ships. So yes, they split up the island long ago. The Tairnadal have remained in their territory, and so far there’s never been a conflict over those borders; Aerenal isn’t overcrowded.
What sources of internal conflict does Valenar/the Tairnadal have?
Tairnadal culture has little room for internal dissent. It is, in essence, a highly disciplined army that is further united by deep devotion to a shared religion. This ties to the general elf dedication to tradition and is reflected by the fact that the civilization has stood, virtually unchanged, for over twenty thousand years. On the one hand, this reflects unity and stability; on the other hand, it also reflects the general stagnation of Aerenal.
So: the Tairnadal are effectively an army, broken into a clearly defined system of warclans and warbands. The endless training exercises conducted between these united provides an outlet for competition within the culture, as does the competition between revenants struggling to be the best avatars of their patrons. There’s also a tension between revenants whose patron ancestors had feuds. But this is friendly competition; people who truly don’t fit it will simply be expelled from the society, typically fostered to the Aereni. With that said, there are some philosophical divisions, shown by the Silaes Tairn, Dralaeus Tairn, and Valaes Tairn; but these are long-established sects that have coexisted for millennia.
Within the Valaes Tairn, the primary point of conflict is simple: who supports the Valenar initiative? While many of the warclans joined Shaeras’s expedition, others chose to remain on Aerenal and disapprove of his actions (which some see as a dishonorable betrayal of a client). As a Tairnadal elf, you should decide if you serve in Valenar or if you oppose it.
Valenar is a different issue, because it involves many different factions. The TAIRNADAL in Valenar are strongly united; they are, again, a disciplined army in the field. But you also have Cyran loyalists, House Lyrandar, Khoravar immigrants, and the khunan majority, all with different aspirations and dreams. House Lyrandar imagines a Khoravar state, while most Tairnadal see the kingdom as a tool—the perfect place to fight a war without threatening Aerenal.
There are no Valenar civilians? This is news to me. Do they rely on locals for everything else? Are children and noncombatants shipped out?
This is discussed in more detail in this post, among other places. But yes, that’s the idea. The Tairnadal don’t need land. They don’t care about Valenar as a long-term kingdom (with the understanding that “long-term” has a different meaning for people who live for centuries). It’s a military beachhead and an opportunity for conflict; what they WANT is to encourage a powerful enemy to attack them, allowing them to emulate their ancestors (who fought a guerilla war against a powerful foe). By keeping their civilian infrastructure on Aerenal they maintain the ability to abandon Valenar entirely if it serves their purposes.
I understand that the Valenar elves use the locals to fill civilian roles but who does that for the Tairnadal back home. Who grows the food, looks after the kids, makes sure no one poops in the well, etc?
On Aerenal, much of the mundane work is done by elves who have yet to earn blade or steed. But there are master craftsmen among the elves of Valenar, those who dedicate their lives to the work of supporting the soldiers. This is not a choice; it is religious duty. When a child comes of age among the Tairnadal, the Keepers of the Past perform divinations to see which of the ancient heroes has chosen the initiate. Honorable warrior, stormcalling druid, merciless hunter, master smith –- these are just a few of the archetypes found among the ancient Tairnadal, and it is up to the young elf to follow whatever path is laid before him. Most of the Valaes Tairn are deadly warriors, but some are destined to support their kindred as smiths, engineers, or other vital tasks. These elves are known as the zaelantar, “peaceful spirits.” They are viewed with a mixture of respect and pity by their warlike brethren; the work they do is vital, and yet they are denied the chance to ride into battle or stalk prey.
The critical point here is that Tairnadal undergo decades of training and service before they are bound to an ancestor. So you might not be bound to an ancestor until you’re 60 years old. Which is fairly trivial for an elf who could live for a thousand years, but that’s still a good 40 years of productive labor. So who looks after the kids? Older kids. Meanwhile, elders who’ve retired from active duty train the youth, along with the Keepers of the Past.
With that said, bear in mind that Tairnadal society is completely unlike life in the Five Nations. The Tairnadal are essentially an army, and you’re in boot camp for the first few decades of your life. EVERYONE does latrine duty when it’s their turn, and everyone makes sure people don’t poop in the well; if you do, expect harsh military discipline. As an adult, you’re part of a warband; the warbands are nomadic, remaining in motion and living off the land. This lifestyle is sustained both by strict population control AND by powerful druidic magic that ensures that the Tairnadal don’t grow beyond the ability to sustain this nomadic lifestyle—with primal magic used both to enhance the fertility of the land and its creatures and to improve the efficiency of Tairnadal foraging (see the cualra flask in the article linked above).
So Tairnadal warbands are mobile and self-sufficent. These migrate between settled communities that train the young and provide the services of the zaelantar and the Keepers of the Past. Most of the work to maintain these communities is performed by young elves (who can, again, be up to 60 years old!) who’ve yet to be assigned an ancestor and a warband. Meanwhile, the Siyal Marrain are responsible for maintaining both the Valenar beasts and the land itself, ensuring that the warbands aren’t overtaxing its resources.
Also, are there non-military ancestors (great healers and guides, to say nothing of artists and lovers)?
There are great healers and guides, as well as artists and lovers; they’re just ALSO deadly warriors. Luckily, D&D supports this. The great healer is a war cleric or druid, who can smite as well as heal. The great artist might a bard of the College of Blades, whose artistry is deadly. As for great lovers, the story of Vadallia and Cardaen is a story of tragic love; it’s just that the lovers happen to be a peerless warrior and a mighty wizard.
This is a fundamental difference between Tairnadal and Aereni. The Ascendant counselors of the Undying Court include sages, philosophers, and abstract artists. But Tairnadal society is relentlessly martial. Life revolves around perfection of martial skill and magic. Those who yearn for a more peaceful life can become Aereni; this does happen, just as some among the Aereni leave their culture to follow the path of the Tairnadal. With that said, there are patrons that fill more traditionally civilian roles; we’ve spoken of the zaelantar artisans (mentioned above) and of the Siyal Marrain who tend the horses and the land. But even they are part of the core cycle of Tairnadal culture. There’s no patron who’s “the poet who never touched a blade or cast a spell,” unless he somehow defeated an army with his words.
Is it possible for a Tairnadal warlock’s patron to BE their ancestor?
I’m inclined to say no, because to me this muddies the line between cleric and warlock. To me, a cleric is someone who draws their magic from their faith in a higher power… while a warlock has an arrangement with a concrete entity. Essentially, the cleric requires faith while the warlock doesn’t; the warlock is making a deal with someone they know exists. This changes the dynamic because warlock patrons usually have clear, finite agendas, and because in principle you COULD find a warlock patron and punch them in the nose.
So looking to an Archfey warlock: if their patron is an archfey of Thelanis, that’s a being that exists and who we can go and meet. It can have quarrels with other archfey. It might betray or deceive the warlock. It could give you a physical gift or want you to bring it something. By contrast, if it’s a patron ancestor it only exists in this abstract “It’s sustained in the memory of all Tairnadal” way… it’s more like the devotion of a cleric or paladin than the bargaining of a warlock.
So personally, I would keep that intact. Rather than saying that the patron is your ancestor, I’d say that you have the SAME patron as your ancestor. If your ancestor was an archfey warlock, you are following in their footsteps by becoming an archfey warlock, serving the same patron they did—and there’s an interesting relationship in that your patron is an immortal being who KNEW your ancestor. It can still be that your pact blade is the blade your ancestor wielded, that your familiar was their familiar—but it’s because you’re serving the same patron they didn’t, not because they are the patron.
What’s up with the Valenar slaughtering refugees fleeing from the Mourning?
I didn’t work on the book that described this incident, and it doesn’t make any sense to me. Valenar don’t revel in needless bloodshed. The ancestors they emulate were rebels who rose up against tyranny and cruelty. As a rule, the Valenar don’t want to conquer or oppress; they want to fight conquerors and oppressors. Note that they themselves don’t actually RULE Valenar; they’ve left the administration to the Khoravar. Many believe that the Valenar don’t actually WANT a kingdom; what they want is to provoke a powerful nation into attacking them, because THAT replicates the conflict with the giants—guerillas fighting against overwhelming odds. It’s very likely that they’ve claimed Valenar solely because they want Karrnath or Darguun to try to take it from them.
So: in suggesting that they needlessly slaughtered civilians, I want to know WHY. Valenar aren’t inherently cruel. They could have perceived the refugees as a threat, perhaps thought they were BRINGING the Mourning. Or it’s possible they were in some way following the path of an ancestor. But if so, I’d want to know HOW the ancestor’s story drove them to slaughter civilians—and what it is that would make such an ancestor a figure worth celebrating and preserving. If you said that there’s an ancestor who was undefeated in battle, who saved tens of thousands of elves, but who also showed no mercy to enemy civilians, OK, I could perhaps accept that. But the short form is that this incident was created by an author who didn’t explain the reasons behind it and likely didn’t fully understand Tairnadal culture, so I don’t give it a lot of weight.
If all goes well, I’ll be doing more Eberron support on this site in 2020. The frequency and form of this content will depend on my Patreon support. In addition to feature articles, I’ll always be tackling frequently asked questions about Eberron. But I also want to take the time to answer a few INfrequently asked questions.
Can Warforged Cry?
In MY Eberron, no: warforged don’t cry. There’s two major reasons for this. The first is that warforged are generally depicted as having crystaline eyes. They thus have no need to lubricate their eyes and there’s no logical reason for them to have any sort of tear duct. So there’s no biological reason for it. But beyond that: I don’t WANT non-human species of behave just like humans. I always think it’s more interesting to explore how a nonhuman species differs from humanity as opposed to saying “They’re just like us, but with pointy ears or green skin.” So I want to know what warforged do INSTEAD of crying.
Warforged have the capacity to feel emotion. A warforged can feel joy or sorrow. But they can’t smile, and in my opinion, they can’t cry. So how do these emotions come out? Is there an involuntarily physiological response like a tear? Is there a more voluntary response, like when you embrace the sorrow and start sobbing? In MY Eberron, a warforged’s involuntary response to sorrow is a slight trembling that runs through the root-like musculature of the warforged. If the warforged has metal armor plating, this will rattle the plates against one another, creating a soft, dissonant chiming sound. If the warforged has non-metal armor, if will be more of a rustling like rain. When a warforged is in the grip of sorrow, a common response is to bring its arms together—as if hugging itself—and to rhythmically tap is fingers against its forearms, essentially creating an amplified version of that “crying” sound. A warforged may also do this rhythmic tapping against one forearm as a general expression of sorrow or frustration—the equivalent of taking a deep sigh.
Now, that’s what *I* do in MY Eberron. The second side of the question is what I think the official answer might be, and my suspicion is that it’s “If there’s no rule that states a warforged can’t cry, than it can cry.” If I HAD to explain how this would work, I’d say “The organic components of a warforged are infused with alchemical fluids. Warforged tears are an involuntarily expulsion of these fluids.” But again, I personally would prefer for them to express their grief in a way that’s unique to warforged, rather than to mirror humanity.
What are your thoughts on warforged crying? Have you ever addressed it in your campaign? Post your answers below! Also, go to TheAdventureZoneGame.com to check out my latest game, currently in preorder until mid-January 2020!
I had a fantastic time at PAX Unplugged, but I’m busy as ever! I’m still working on Exploring Eberron, and it will be out early next year. In the meantime, there’s two other things happening right now!
The Adventure Zone: Bureau of Balance
The Adventure Zone: Bureau of Balance is the latest game from my company Twogether Studios! Working with the McElroy family, we’ve developed a game that lets you create your own unique adventures in the world of the Balance Arc. TAZ: BoB is a collaborative storytelling game for 2-5 people, and it takes about an hour to play. There’s no gamemaster; each dungeon is dynamically generated, and you build the story together.
Nine years ago, Satine Phoenix invited me to participate in a livestreamed D&D event to raise money for children’s literacy charity Reach Out And Read. Tomorrow (Saturday, December 14th) the tradition continues! I’m guiding a team of awesome players through an Eberron adventure, starting at 10 AM Pacific Time! Other DMs will be running the same adventure for different groups throughout the day. You can find more information—and a link to donate to Reach Out and Read at the CCD20 website. I hope some of you will check it out!
That’s what’s keeping me busy. I’ve got a few short Eberron articles on the back burner, so tune in next week for those!
I’ve just arrived in Philadelphia for PAX Unplugged, one of my favorite conventions. I’ll be spending a fair amount of the convention at the booth for my company Twogether Studios. We’re just about to launch the preorder for our latest game, The Adventure Zone: Bureau of Balance, and we’re going to be demoing and testing the game throughout the weekend; you can also find our other games, including Illimat, Action Cats, and Action Pups!
The Adventure Zone: Bureau of Balance is a storytelling card game that allows you and your friends to create your own adventures in the wider world of The Adventure Zone. It’s a cooperative game and doesn’t require a gamemaster; working with your friends you seek to reach the bottom of a deadly dungeon and recover a dangerous artifact, all in about an hour. You might have to armwrestle an ogre, cross a vile jelly pit, or endure the withering criticism of a sarcastic specter. No knowledge of The Adventure Zone is required to play the game. Like my previous card game Gloom, it’s a game that encourages you to build a story with your friends—but like Gloom, you’re not penalized if you aren’t comfortable telling elaborate stories.
If you want to talk about Eberron, you can do that too! I will have dedicated signings Friday from 4 PM – 5 PM and Saturday from 5 PM – 6 PM, but if I’m at the booth and not in the middle of something else, I’m always happy to answer questions or sign books. Since people sometimes forget to bring the books they want signed, this year we have special bookplates you can have signed, featuring art from Exploring Eberron.
Speaking of Exploring Eberron, I’m afraid that the release has been delayed. While we’ve already started layout and editing, holidays and a number of personal issues have delayed by work on the final chapter and I’m still getting it wrapped up. I will announce here as soon as I have a date I am confident in, but at this point I feel that it’s probably going to be a January 2020 release. I am as disappointed as anyone about this, but the Traveler had other plans.
Thanks as always to my Patreon backers (Patrons, I’ll be reaching out soon to get some input about future content) and I hope to see some of you at PAX Unplugged!
This is a time to think of all the things we’ve thankful for, and I for one am thankful that I haven’t been replaced by a changeling. So it seems like a good time to address a few of the questions I’ve received about changelings, the shapeshifters of Rising From The Last War.
First, let’s take a quick look at the foundation of the changeling:
As an action, you can change your appearance and your voice. You determine the specifics of the changes, including your coloration, hair length, and sex. You can also adjust your height and weight, but not so much that your size changes. You can make yourself appear as a member of another race, though none of your game statistics change. You can’t duplicate the appearance of a creature you’ve never seen, and you must adopt a form that has the same basic arrangement of limbs that you have. Your clothing and equipment aren’t changed by this trait. You stay in the new form until you use an action to revert to your true form or until you die.
A question that comes up quite often is given the threat posed by changelings impersonating people, what steps do Eberron’s factions and governments take to deal with them?
The everyday magic that drives the civilization of Khorvaire only goes up to around 3rd level. So you don’t have guards stationed with true seeing at every important location. Which is good, because from a metagame perspective, changelings should be able to fool people. That’s the point of playing a changeling. We don’t muzzle dragonborn to keep them from using their breath weapons or make wood elves wear cement boots to negate their extra movement. If you play a changeling, you should be able to fool people.
With that said, that doesn’t mean it should be EASY. The people of Khorvaire are very aware of the existence of changelings, and after centuries of coexistence have a very good idea of their capabilities. So let’s consider those for a moment.
As a changeling it is assumed that you can perfectly replicate the appearance of a creature you’ve seen before (just like someone using disguise self). No roll is required to duplicate basic physical appearance.
However, this doesn’t provide you with any knowledge of that person and their quirks. It’s taken for granted that you sound like them—the voice comes with the shape—but you don’t know their mannerisms or their vocabulary.
Likewise, the most crucial limitation on changelings is that clothing and equipment don’t change. You can look like a guard, but you don’t get the uniform for free.
So: People of Khorvaire know there are people out there that can duplicate their appearance… but that they can’t steal their memories or copy their belongings. One immediate impact of this is that people make a conscious effort to develop unique mannerisms and accessories. People establish in-jokes and call-and-response phrases. They will often have at least one unique, personal accessory—a piece of clothing, jewelery, even a pet—that they carry all the time as an identifying factor. In part, this is simply about developing a personal style; but in Eberron, it also has the absolute concrete underlay that “If you see me without this accessory, you should be suspicious.’
So in my case, I have a hat that I wear all the time. Everyone knows me by that hat. If I every show up without the hat, my friends will notice. They won’t automatically assume that I’m an imposter, but they WILL probably try out one of our shared jokes or stories and see if I respond to it. This same basic principle applies to institutions. Guards will have distinctive uniforms. They will have SOME sort of ID object—whether it’s identification papers, a brooch of rank—that will stand out if it’s absent. And they WILL have a system of passwords or phrases that they use to test people suspected of being imposters. Because after all, changelings aren’t the only threat; anyone can get a hat of disguise. In a high security location, this system could have more layers to further confuse people. The ID item could change regularly. Imagine an ID brooch that’s a common magic item, enchanted so you can change its color by touching it and saying a command word. The appropriate color could vary based on the current time and day of the week. So an imposter with disguise self could duplicate the appearance of the uniform; but if they don’t know the system, they won’t know what color their brooch should be.
While this isn’t foolproof, these sorts of systems can make it very difficult for a changeling to fool people. However, this is where DECEPTION comes into play. You don’t have to make a skill check to duplicate someone’s appearance. You have to make a skill check when you do something that makes them suspicious… and if you are successful, it means you’ve managed to allay their suspicions. If you duplicate my appearance and don’t have my hat, a successful Deception check means you’ve recognized that people are suspicious and done SOMETHING to convince them that nothing’s wrong. Perhaps you make an excuse about what happened to the hat. Perhaps you never even know the hat is the issue, but you’re just so skilled at putting people at ease that they forget about the hat. It’s the same principle with a password or an ID badge. The fact that you don’t know the password doesn’t mean that it’s impossible for you to get past a guard; an excellent Deception check means you’re able to convince them there’s a good reason you don’t have the password, or to otherwise get them to ignore it. On the other hand, there can also be inanimate security systems that can’t be fooled. An alarm could be tied to that common magic ID badge; if you enter the chamber without one, it will trigger the alarm. Which means you CAN still pull off this job; but you are going to have to somehow get one of those badges to do it.
In general, if you’re playing a changeling bard with expertise in Deception, you are SUPPOSED to be a master deceiver. You SHOULD be able to fool people. On the other hand, you’re not going to be able to simply walk into the Kundarak vault and steal all the treasure because you’re wearing someone’s face. They will have passphrases, and they will use magic that’s available (up to 3rd level); so you will have alarm, and in the case of a Kundarak vault you might even be questioned under a zone of truth. People KNOW changelings are around. They are PREPARED. But it’s always possible to overcome these with enough work and preparation.
One key point to bear in mind is that an easy way to not get caught is to not impersonate someonein the first place. The whole idea of a persona is that changelings will CREATE unique identities for their purposes. If a family of changelings created the identity of “Keith Baker,” they’re the ones who came up with the hat in the first place; they KNOW all the recognizable quirks of the character. The traveling changelings often don’t duplicate the appearance of outsiders; they simply use the persona best suited to the situation.
Another question that’s come up is can a changeling impersonate a warforged?This ties to a second question, can a changeling appear to be wearing a mask, but it’s actually just their face?
The answer to both of these hinges on the phrase your clothing and equipment aren’t changed by this trait. A mask is a piece of equipment, so no, you can’t make a fake mask. Likewise, you can duplicate the appearance of a warforged, but you can’t replicate armor—and most warforged are always wearing armor. So you could be a “naked’ warforged, which means you’ve just got the livewood musculature exposed, but that’s not normal for warforged and you’ll draw a lot of attention.
If a Changeling transformed into someone/thing with webbed hands and feet, or claws, would they have any benefit, even if it’s not a lot?
No. A changeling gains no mechanical benefit from their disguise. As suggested in the comments, I could imagine granting a Stealth bonus to a naked changeling who wants to shift the color of their skin to hide in a snowbank, but the key points there are “naked” and “snowbank” (IE, not a complex background). A changeling can make it LOOK like they have sharper teeth or claws, but this doesn’t actually give them natural weapons; it’s a deception. Essentially, it is a form of disguise self, NOT alter self.
Having said that, Exploring Eberron will have a few options that allow changelings to improve their natural shapeshifting abilities in order to get mechanical benefits from it.
Could a particularly skilled Changeling pull off a Cuttlefish impression?
No; the ability states “you must adopt a form that has the same basic arrangement of limbs that you have.” With that said, I have in the past suggested the idea of a Changeling Menagerie—a changeling who is mechanically a Circle of the Moon druid, but who explains their class features as being derived from their mastery of shapeshifting as opposed to druidic traditions.
I’d love to know more about Changeling Culture. I do have a question, and it might be addressed in your book already, but here it is: In your Eberron, how would Changelings view love and romance? Would they stick with their persona the entire time they’re with their significant other, or show their true nature once they decide to commit to each other?
Exploring Eberron does go into more detail about changeling cultures, and the key point is that this isn’t a simple answer because there’s more than one changeling culture and the common answer (as there’s always exceptions in love!) would definitely vary by culture.
Stable changelings live openly as changelings and wouldn’t need to hide their true nature in the first place. I’d expect them to use personas as part of courting, but not to deceive the lover—rather to show them all the different facets of the changeling’s personality, to explore all the possibilities of their relationship. This could be confusing for a non-changeling lover, but between changelings it would be an important part of learning about one another. A final aspect of this could be developing an entirely new persona that is used ONLY with the lover: this is who I am with YOU.
Passers—lone changelings blending into non-changeling communities—might chose to share their true nature with a lover because they want to be completely honest with them. But there are passers who deny their own changeling nature and consider their chosen persona to BE their true identity; so they might believe they are BEING honest in using the persona. But part of the point is that passers aren’t really a culture; each one deals with unique circumstances.
Where the static changeling might create personas to show their facets to a lover, for the traveling changelings personas are important tools and stories. Many personas are shared, and any change you make to the core story of the persona would have to be followed by anyone else using the persona. If Tel-as-Bronson takes Jesse as a lover as Bronson and their cousin Dal also uses Bronson, then it’s Dal’s job to love Jesse when they are Bronson. So essentially, the question is are you taking this lover yourself—in which case, once you are certain about the relationship, you would DEFINITELY want them to know your true face—or is the persona taking this lover—in which case you’d never want to let them see your true face. This doesn’t mean the persona-lover would be any less intense or real; but it’s not part of YOUR story, it’s THEIR romance.
And these are just three of the more prevalent changeling cultures. So there’s a lot of possibilities.
I would think changelings must have some kind of internal law system for dealing with malcontents.
Remember that just like elves or for that matter drow, “changelings” don’t have anything as a whole. They aren’t a monolithic force; they have different cultures, and each culture will have their own traditions. With that said, yes, there would definitely be punishments for those whose actions threaten the community. Also bear in mind that theft of identity is a crime under the Code of Galifar; obviously casual actions can be hard to prove, but it’s an issue a changeling had best be aware of if they are going to be going before the law of the Five Nations.
One of the simplest but most severe punishments would be an indelible mark—a magical tattoo that cannot be removed by shapeshifting. The technique of the indelible mark is a secret held close by the elders of the Children of Jes, used only in severe situations. An equally severe punishment for serious offenses is removal of all or part of a limb; as noted above, changelings can’t create limbs with their power. With both of these punishments, the message is simple: if you abuse your gift, it can be taken from you. A lesser punishment would be the destruction of the criminal’s personal personas (through other changelings adopting the person and taking actions that can’t be undone).
Do changelings sometimes use their shapechanging artistically or outlandishly? Wild hair colors, patterned skin, strange eyes?
This is a question of culture. In stable changeling communities where they live openly as changelings, they absolutely use shapeshifting artistically and as a form of expression. The Queen of Stone has a changeling dancer changing patterns on their skin as part of the performance. Page 18 of Rising From The Last War notes that changeling names often incorporate a minor degree of cosmetic shapeshifting—Jin-with-vivid-blue-eyes. Traveling changelings and passers hiding their changeling nature obviously won’t use shapeshifting in this way, but still use it subtly to convey messages to family members.
Can all changelings get pregnant? Are they biologically asexual and just choose their current sex with shapeshifting?
Yes. What’s been stated in the past is that changelings set their sex with shapeshifting. Prior canon has said that a pregnant changeling actually loses the ability to shapeshift during the pregnancy. This seems extreme to me, but I could see the idea that they need to maintain a female form in order to maintain the pregnancy (and that shifting form very early in the pregnancy would simply end it, so changelings have a very easy form of birth control). The idea that changing sex is an instinctual thing, like flipping a light switch, and that a normal changeling couldn’t, for example, assume a male form but keep the uterus. With that said, if you had a changeling called out as having greater control over their abilities (for example, the Changeling Menagerie druid I’ve mentioned elsewhere) I might allow that.
Can changelings mate with non-changelings, and are their children full-blooded changelings?
What we’ve said before is that changelings can mate with most humanoids, and that the child is always a changeling. The child is born with the apparent species of the mother, and the shapeshifting ability doesn’t set in for around a year. This is the origin of the name “changeling” — because when someone’s previously human child suddenly becomes a pale thing, it was once thought that the original child had been taken to Thelanis.
Having said that: while changelings CAN mate with other humanoids, I’d say that it is RARE for them to impregnate creatures of other species. It can happen, but the fertility rate isn’t that high. It’s quite possible that humans and other human-compatible species are the most viable. With that said…
Are changelings biologically compatible with other changelings or are they parasitic with humanoids?
Changelings are biologically compatible with changelings. Most changeling cultures are relatively insular, precisely because many traditions of the culture are tied to shapeshifting and a fluid outlook on identity, and it’s difficult to integrate a single-skin into the community. There certainly are changelings who choose to pursue relationships with members of other species —see the changeling romance answer above—but it’s not the common practice.
Can they disguise injuries, like if a guard cut your face and you escaped but they try to track you by the cut?
It would depend on the extent of the injury. There is no mechanical benefit to changeling shapeshifting, so they can’t actually heal themselves. However, I’d personally say that they can conceal minor injuries. If it’s a specific story point—an especially grievous wound inflicted for the express purpose of marking the changeling—I’d probably have the changeling make a Wisdom (Medicine) check to simply seal the wound. If they failed that, I’d still likely let them minimize and conceal it, but if someone was explicitly looking for an injured changeling it would be grounds for requiring a Charisma (Deception) check to conceal it.
What if you cut off a changeling’s arm?
Changeling shapeshifting provides no mechanical benefit, and as a changeling “you must adopt a form that has the same basic arrangement of limbs that you have.” The ability to regrow a lost limb would certainly be a mechanical benefit. So as noted above, this is a particular brutal form of justice in a changeling community.
Can changelings fake convincing dragonmarks? Can changelings be tattooed?
Yes and yes. A changeling can duplicate the appearance of a creature they’ve seen; there’s no exception stating “unless that creature has a dragonmark.” With that said, dragonmarks glow when used; if the character is attempting to make it appear functional, I’d definitely require a Charisma (Deception) check, and for them to have seen the mark used before. And note that this sort of fake dragonmark won’t let you use a dragonmark focus item.
As for being tattooed, changelings can definitely be tattooed, and they can just as easily erase the tattoo with a moment’s thought. As mentioned above, the Children of Jes have a curse known as the indelible mark which can only be removed using a spell that would remove a curse, but a mundane tattoo can be easily faked or removed.
What’s up with doppelgangers? We know changelings believe they’re a kind of insane changeling, but how true is that if doppelgangers seem to come from Khyber?
Under 5E lore, doppelgangers are changelings twisted by the daelkyr Dyrrn the Corruptor. A general belief is that this change is actually primarily psychological. Doppelgangers have a fundamentally alien outlook. They are predators who so paranoia and chaos when not working for a specific Cult of the Dragon Below, but there’s often no apparent motive for their actions. This is largely about the horror of a creature who knows your thoughts, who can kill you with its bare hands and steal your face, but that you don’t know WHY or what it wants.
One possibility is that doppelgangers are biologically distinct from changelings. Another possibility is that they are physically identical, and that the doppelganger’s superior abilities are simply unlocked by its alien psychology. With this said, it’s possible that changelings can also unlock these same abilities—but that in so doing they will lose their original personality and become doppelgangers.
Would a scholar be able to tell the difference between a changeling and a doppelganger? Would a changeling be able to recognize a doppelganger if they saw it using its abilities?
In their natural forms, doppelgangers and changelings are quite different. Just take a look at the picture in the Monster Manual! Doppelgangers are hairless and less human in their proportions. If you embrace the idea of the changeling becoming a doppelganger, once it underwent the psychological transition its “true form” would change to match the hairless doppelganger form.
With that said, a changeling could DISGUISE itself as a doppelganger (if it had see one in its true form), and vice versa!
As for recognizing it, the BASIC shapeshifting action is identical. You don’t see someone shift faces and say “That’s not a changeling, it’s a doppelganger!” You recognize it by its ability to read thoughts and by its deadly unarmed attack.
Does the 2nd level Moonbeam work against changelings? If so, wouldn’t this have large implications in the viability of hiding as a changeling? Likewise, are changelings immune to the polymorph spell, which fails when used on shapeshifters?
WotC has confirmed that changelings are considered to have the Shapechanger subtype. So they are indeed immune to polymorph and can be affected by moonbeam.
With that said: Moonbeam isn’t a particularly effective changeling test. It’s a 2nd level spell, so it is in the world, but that’s still not something people use all the time. It’s also a druid spell, and druidic magic isn’t common in the Five Nations. Most important, it inflicts 2d10 radiant damage, which is MORE than enough to kill a normal person. So using moonbeam to check if someone’s a changeling is like shooting them in the face to see if they’re a vampire.
To what degree are 4th (Private Sanctum), 5th (Geas), and 6th (Forbiddence) level spells available to high end buyers (eg Royalty). I know the 3.5 Dreadhold write up had antimagic, which is 8th level, but I don’t have a sense to grade from “Standard enclave” to “The most impenetrable prison of all time”. I know greater marks go up to 5th, but are 5th level spells that aren’t on a Spells of the Mark list available for the ultrawealthy?
This isn’t strictly a changeling question, but it ties to the general topic of detection. First of all: one of the general principles of Eberron is that only magic of up to 3rd level is commonly available — employed by magewrights, etc. This article discusses a range of options that fall under that umbrella, based on alarm, glyph of warding, and arcane lock.
Spells of 4th level and above can be available, but they are rare and expensive—not services you should take for granted. The Spells of the Mark tables are good guidelines but are NOT complete. These are spells heirs may be able to CAST, but the direct powers of a mark are not as important as the ability to use focus items – and for example, I have a focus item in Exploring Eberron that allows a dwarf with the mark of warding to cast guards & wards. Effects such as forbiddance and true seeing are POSSIBLE, but they should be RARE, not something anyone would take for granted. It’s the sort of thing where a commoner might have HEARD of a Kundarak houseward but never seen one.
Meanwhile, Dreadhold is the most secure prison in Khorvaire. It is LEGENDARY. Yes, it employs forbiddance and antimagic—but that doesn’t mean you should find these effects in a typical city jail.
Doesn’t the Shapechanger ability of the changeling invalidate the 9th level Infiltration Expertise and 13th level Imposter ability of the Assassin rogue? Isn’t that too powerful? I assume that a changeling should get advantage on Deception checks because of its disguise, but that’s what Imposter does.
I don’t see the conflict between these abilities. ANYONE can get the ability to change their appearance as a changeling does. Disguise self is a 1st level spell and the hat of disguise is an uncommon magic item, and both of these are BETTER than the changeling’s Shapechanger power because they allow the user to change the appearance of their equipment and clothing. It’s been called out in the past that hats of disguise are standard issue for elite members of the Royal Eyes of Aundair; if this uncommon item entirely negated the 9/13 abilities of the assassin, it would be pretty sad for the assassin.
The 9th level Infiltration Expertise ability allows you to “establish the history, profession, and affiliations for an identity… For example, you might acquire appropriate clothing, letters of introduction, and official-looking certification…” The changeling Shapechanger ability doesn’t give you ANY of these things, specifically NOT letting you change your clothing. Infiltration Expertise is the perfect tool for a changeling who wants to create a new persona. The Shapechanger ability changes their face, but Infiltration Expertise creates an IDENTITY that will hold up if the disguise is questioned.
Meanwhile, the basic idea of the Shapechanger ability—like the hat of disguise or disguise self—is that the disguise is PHYSICALLY perfect, but that the changeling will have to make a Deception check if there’s reason for someone to be suspicious. Imposter gives a changeling—or an assassin using a hat of disguise—advantage on any Deception check, which is extremely useful.
A key point here: You suggest “The implication to me would be that a Changeling would have an advantage on deception for casual disguises.” I disagree. The disguise itself is physically perfect and requires no roll (again, like disguise self and hat of disguise). If there is a reason that the disguise would be questioned—they run into a close friend of the person they’re impersonating, they don’t know a password or have an important identifying object—they have to make a Deception check. They don’t inherently get advantage because of the disguise; they are MAKING the check because the disguise is being questioned. To get advantage they’d have to have something else that shifted the odds in their favor — they’d done extensive research, someone provides a distraction, or they’re an expert assassin with the Imposter ability.
So in short, being a changeling is like having a hat of disguise that doesn’t affect your clothing. It lets you change your personal appearance, nothing more. If the disguise is questioned you have to make a Deception check. If you have the Imposter feature you get advantage on this check; and if you have Infiltration Expertise, you ALSO have the proper clothing, identification, and background connections for the role… which reduces the chance that your appearance will BE questioned in the first place.
I’ll be writing more about changeling culture in my upcoming book Exploring Eberron. In my next post I’ll talk about my plans for PAX Unplugged and The Adventure Zone: Bureau of Balance!
And thanks as always to my Patreon supporters! I hope to do more with the site in the future, and support will help determine what’s possible.
If you have questions or thoughts about changelings, post them below!
The Ironroot Mountains are rich in precious metals and ore, and the dwarves of the Mror Hold wield considerable economic power for such a small nation. The Mror dwarves have long been miners and warriors, proud of their clans and their traditions. And the clans have long told stories of the great deeds of their ancestors—of dwarves who ruled a vast domain below the roots of the mountains, who battled the ancient goblins long before humanity came to Khorvaire, of artificers who crafted wonders deep below the earth. According to these stories, the first clan lords were exiled from the Realm Below for their wild and reckless ways—but that someday, when the Mror walked a righteous path, the gates of the Realm Below would be opened to them once more.
In the early days of the Last War, the legends were revealed to be true. Delving ever deeper, Mror miners broke through into an ancient hall. There is a vast subterranean realm below the Ironroot Mountains, and the ancient dwarves who carved these halls did produce amazing artifacts and legendary weapons. But those dwarves died long ago. The daelkyr Dyrrn the Corruptor has laid claim to the Realm Below, and the minions of the Foul Labyrinth are spread throughout its halls. Dolgrims, dolgaunts, mind flayers, and other vile aberrations dwell in the depths. Degenerate derro dwell among these creatures, perhaps the last remnant of the dwarves of old.
Ever since this discovery, the Mror Clans have been waging a war to reclaim their ancestral holdings. The aberrations have yet to mount a counter-offensive or truly organized defense, and the dwarves have established a beachhead in the depths. Along the way, they have recovered both relics of the ancient dwarfs and weapons and tools of the daelkyr themselves—living weapons and items known as symbionts. Some of the clans—notably Clan Mroranon, the strongest of the holds—take the stance that all things tied to the daelkyr are abominable, and that any use of such things will lead to corruption. But others—notably Clan Soldorak—assert that symbionts are just tools, and that the weapons of the enemy can be used against them. Over the course of decades, Soldorak and its allies have brought symbionts into their daily lives, finding new uses for these living tools. Soldorak warlocks have found ways to draw on the power of the daelkyr themselves. Such warlocks swear that they’ll only use these powers for the good of the Holds, but Mroranon purists mutter that there can be no traffic without corruption.
The Present Day
Today, the dwarves continue their slow war in the darkness. Occasionally a force of aberrations seeks to rise up from the depths, but overall there is a stalemate; the Mror have claimed upper halls, but it will take a great effort to press deeper. From a practical standpoint, this means that there is a vast dungeon below the Holds. Many clans would be happy to have adventurers drive deeper into the daelkyr-held halls beneath their holds, especially if those adventurers include among them a dwarf of their line. This is an especially logical focus for a dwarf with the noble background; among many of the clan lines, the elders have asserted that if their heirs want territory, they must carve it out of the Realm Below.
So on the one hand, the Mror Holds are shaped by the knowledge of the Realms Below—the awareness that there is untold wealth and power to be gained in the depths, combined with the knowledge that a deadly enemy with vast and as yet untested power lies beneath their feet. Dyrrn the Corruptor has yet launch an organized attack against the surface, but many feel that it’s only a matter of time. Some say that it’s a question of poking the hornets nest, that all traffic with the Realm Below should be severed before Dyrrn rises. Others believe that Dyrrn is biding its time while spreading its corruption through its symbionts and cults—that Dyrrn is already attacking the Mror Holds, just not through brute force. While some say that these are the excuses of cowards: that the aberrations are not as strong as others think, and that the holds should launch a concetnrated campaign to fully reclaim the Realm Below. It’s up the a DM to decide the truth and the path a campaign will take. Are Dyrrn’s minions already corrupting the dwarves from within? Do you want to have a resurgence of this ancient threat, with the dwarves fighting a desperate battle to contain hordes rising from below? Or do you want to keep the Realm Below as a mysterious dungeon for bold adventurers to explore?
Rising From The Last War presents the foundation of this idea, and provides a few example symbionts. Exploring Eberron goes farther, with a deeper look into the cultural impact of these events, along with additional symbionts and character options.
Why Did This Happen?
Since Eberron began, the Mror dwarves have been called out as being fundamentally less interesting than the dino-riding Talenta halflings, the deadly gnomes of Zilargo, and the ancestor-worshipping warrior elves of Valenar. In the past, their primary direction has been about their economic power; but that’s a subtle distinction. In developing Rising From The Last War, we wanted to add something that made the Mror dwarves distinct without completely rewriting their history. But the Realm Below has always been part of their history. This article was the first mention of the ancient kingdom below the Holds—a realm of wonders destroyed by the daelkyr long ago. Likewise, symbionts were introduced in the original 3.5 Eberron Campaign Setting and expanded upon in Magic of Eberron. But neither of these elements received much attention. Rising presented an opportunity to expand on both of these. We give the daelkyr a more significant role and create a line in the sand for adventurers who want to face them: here is a place where you know one can be found. We also take symbionts—something I’ve always liked—and say that there is a place in the world where they are being used as tools, the same way magic is used as a tool. For adventurers who prefer a more traditional dwarven story, there’s the Mroranon and their allies—proud warriors staunchly opposing the aberrations and holding to the traditions of their ancestors. For players who want something new, try the Soldorak with their warlocks and their symbionts. A critical point here is that the Soldorak aren’t evil or inherently corrupt; they see symbionts as one more tool, as a science to be mastered. Some of the other clans say that it can’t be mastered without sowing corruption—but that’s a decision the DM will have to decide. So ultimately, this was an opportunity to add a unique path for dwarf adventurers, while also expanding on the role of symbionts and the daelkyr.
But wait, you say? I keep mentioning dwarf warlocks, and dwarves aren’t especially good at being warlocks? Well, perhaps there’s an option in Exploring Eberron that will help those would-be Soldorak cultists…
What About The Shadow Marches?
The Shadow Marches also have a division between those who follow the Daelkyr adn those who oppose them. Is this just the same story repeated?
On a grand cosmic scale, it can be seen that way. But the two are very different. The story of the Marches has been playing out for thousands of years. The Gatekeepers are a truly ancient tradition. The Cults of the Dragon Below are an established part of Marcher culture. The Gatekeepers maintain the seals that keep the daelkyr bound, while the Kyrzin’s Whisperers maintain the gibbering mouthers that live in their basements and consume their elders. It is an established tradition on both sides. By contrast, the situation in the Mror Holds is active and unfolding. There IS the risk that Kyrzin could drive an all out offensive (even if the daelkyr itself can’t leave Khyber). The Soldorak are actively trying to harness and use the symbionts in a more industrial manner than the ancient cults of the Marches. And frankly, the Mroranon may oppose the daelkyr, but they don’t understand what they are fighting as the Gatekeepers do. There’s also the simply point that there’s different daelkyr involved. The Marches are primarily associated with Kyrzin and Belashyrra, while it’s Dyrrn the Corruptor who’s active below the Holds. Part of this is that it’s a great reason for a Gatekeeper adventurer to be sent to the Mror Holds, to find out just what’s happening in the east and report back to the elders in the Marches.
How does House Kundarak fit into this picture?
The original 3.5 lore suggests that it was the Kundarak dwarves that opened the passages to the Realm Below. This isn’t entirely eliminated, but it’s downplayed. The idea remains that the Kundarak dwarves weren’t exiled; they left the Realm Below as guardians assigned to watch over the exiles and prevent their return. There’s a few things to consider here.
The timeline isn’t as interesting. Set aside the idea that Dragonmark of Warding just happened to manifest on a line of dwarves maintaining wards (thousands of years after their being assigned to that position), it sets the discovery of the Realm Below as something that happened centuries ago, removing the urgency and drama of the situation. We want the interaction with the Realm Below to be recent enough that’s adventurers can be an active part of the discover, and its impact on the Holds is still unfolding.
The previous approach meant that Kundarak maintained a direct cultural line to the Realm Below. We preferred the idea that this line was broken, that no dwarf really knows what they’ll find in the Realm Below. This ties to the fact that the ancient dwarves could make artifacts, and that there are secrets below any artificer would love to master. But it also means that the dwarves could discover that their ancestors weren’t what they believe them to have been.
Which all leads to the idea that the Kundarak did seal and protect the paths to the Realm Below long ago… but that then thousands of years passed and they, too, largely forgot what had come before. They didn’t fail in their duty; the paths were sealed. They just were so successful that they eventually forgot what that duty was and moved on (again, over the course of thousands of years and the rise of new civilizations) and eventually someone else DID break the seals.
But the answer is simple. If you prefer the old lore, you can use that Dragonshard exactly as it reads. The Kundarak DID open the seals to the Realm Below a thousand years ago. But this only revealed the upper levels, which were empty and long abandoned. What happened recently wasn’t the discovery of the Realm Below; it was that someone found a way to go even deeper into it, and that’s when they found the levels still occupied. So it was a known curiosity, but only recently became an opportunity and a threat.
Will you ever give a canon answer for the other 10 clans where they fall on the symbiont acceptability spectrum?
I doubt it. Exploring Eberron addresses some of the other clans, but a number are left intentionally neutral so DMs and players can decide what to do with them.
The only small niggle I have was that one in-universe tabloid on a Mror noble going to Korth kitted out with a slew of symbionts. Personally find it difficult to swallow that they’d travel internationally as such. But then, can you really believe everything you read? Especially with the Karrns likely bitter still over Mror ceding from Karrnath.
The clipping in question is on page 121 of Rising From The Last War. With all of those clippings, It’s very important to look at the source. The Korranberg Chronicle is the most reliable source. The Five Voices — in this case, the Voice of Karrnath — present inflammatory and nationalistic views. So it’s hardly surprising that the Voice of Karrnath would focus on the unsavory aspects of a visiting Mror dignitary and try to generate fear.
With that said, I DON’T have a problem with the idea of Lord Malus showing up in his living armor. You have to consider WHY he’s doing this, and WHERE. If he’s an ambassador coming to Fairhaven on bended knee, this would be a terrible choice. But to paraphrase 300, this is Karrnath. This is the nation that has entire fortresses staffed with the undead. It is a nation that understands displays of power and wielding tools that terrify others. In wearing his armor, Lord Malus is intentionally seeking to intimidate and to project power: I have mastered these terrifying things.
And there’s one other element to consider. Most symbionts have a feature called symbiotic nature. Attuning to a symbiont is a commitment, and they can’t be casually removed. Malus could surely have had his armor removed before leaving the Mror Holds; but he couldn’t simply take it off before coming to the meeting.
That’s all for now! Let me know your thoughts on this new twist on the dwarves of Eberron. And thanks as always to my Patreon supporters, who keep this site alive. I hope to do more on the site in the months ahead, and Patreon support will help determine what that looks like. And thanks as well to Júlio Azevedo, who produced the image above for Exploring Eberron!
Eberron: Rising From The Last War is out in the world, but I’d still hard at work on my next project. Rising provides a basic introduction to the setting, while Exploring Eberron delves deeper into aspects of the world that have received relatively little attention—from the aquatic nations of the Thunder Sea to the newly introduced idea of the Mror dwarves working with symbionts. As part of the development cycle we commissioned new art from a host of fantastic artists. The image above is the mock-up of the front cover; below you can see the full wrap-around image, designed by artist Thomas Bourdon.
In developing the book, Wayne Chang and I developed a few iconic characters who appear in multiple images. Here they’re dealing with a few friends from Dal Quor (note the portal in the background), which ties to the planar content in the book. But each one has their own story. Ban is a golin’dar (goblin) rogue with ties to the Sharaat’khesh. Dela Harn d’Cannith is an artificer with the Mark of Making, pursuing research forbidden by her house. Rev is a warforged barbarian who’s been extensively repaired and tinkered on by Dela; his name is short for “Revenant,” after a comrade remarked on the number of times Dela brought him back to life. Rusty is a dwarf warlock and wandslinger from the Mror Holds. And Gentle is a kalashtar monk. If you’re wondering what’s up with her claws, Gentle and Dela are both using subclass options presented in the book, while Rusty’s symbionts are also in the book.
Let me know what you think of the cover! And thanks as always to my Patreon supporters!