GenCon 2019 Plans

GenCon 2019 is almost upon us! I only have one event scheduled: a seminar called Exploring Eberron, 1 PM Friday, where all be talking about all things Eberron… from how it began to what I’m working on now.

Beyond that, I’ll be spending most of my time in the Exhibition Hall, with my company Twogether Studios. I’ll be giving demos of Illimat and Action Cats, and talking about Phoenix: Dawn Command and the other projects we have in the wings.

If you have a little time, drop by and say hello. If you have a LOT of time, I’m still looking for a few good people to help me staff the booth and demo games. I’m looking for a few people who have an hour or two to spare, who can help our core team with lunch breaks. But I’m also looking for one or two people who have more time and would be interesting in working at the booth for four or more hours. Help for an hour and you could get a free game or a Rusalka promo card; a longer shift would involve more significant compensation. Demo staff need to know how to play Illimat. 

If you or someone you know is interested in helping me out at GenCon, contact me through this website!

Transformers of Eberron

One of the things I’ve always liked about the warforged is the idea that as a warforged, your body was designed for a specific purpose. If you’re a sorcerer, it may be because you were designed to be a sorcerer… and what does that even mean? Do you have wands built into your arms? If you’re a warforged barbarian, is your “Rage” a battle mode?

The idea of the envoy warforged (in The Wayfinder’s Guide to Eberron) came from this idea: the concept of a warforged specifically designed for a particular purpose. The primary benefits of this are flexibility. You gain proficiency in a skill, a tool, and a language. But building on that idea of built for a purpose, you can also pick a tool you’re proficient in and have a functioning version of that tool integrated into your body. As a rogue, you can have lockpicks built into your fingers. As a bard, you could have an integrated instrument. In a campaign I’m in, I’ve been playing a warforged druid named Rose. Functionally, she has an integrated herbalism kit. Cosmetically, I describe this as her having plants growing from the root-like tendrils that make up warforged musculature; typically, these are roses, but the idea is that she could grow the plant she needs for a specific situation. Functionally, this doesn’t allow her to do anything she couldn’t do with a standard herbalism kit; it’s just a fun visual idea.

The design intent of this feature was that you had an integrated tool, an object that could normally be held in a hand. We considered limiting it to artisan’s tools specifically, but there’s a lot of tools that are very flavorful—the warforged rogue with built in thieves’ tools, the bard with an instrument, the druid with the herbalism kit—that would be lost in this case. So we just left it as “a tool.” Some people immediately jumped on the fact that the “Tools” list on page 154 of the Player’s Handbook includes Vehicles (Land and Water). So… could you be a warforged with an integrated chariot? How about an integrated wardship? Could you be a warforged transformer? 

Again, this was never the intent. I think this is something that most people recognize, and I’m sure any future iteration of the warforged will eliminate the loophole. Among other things, the ability doesn’t grant any ability to transform; it states that the tool is integrated into the body of the warforged and that “You must have your hands free to use the use the integrated tool.” It doesn’t change your size, so as a medium sized creature, what would it even MEAN to have a wagon integrated with your body? As it wasn’t something we ever intended, I didn’t give it any further thought.

UNTIL NOW. One of my regular playtesters and I share a birthday, and therre’s a tradition of playing D&D on that day… specifically, playing a one shot with the most ridiculous characters you can come up with, characters you could never play in a serious game. As I sat down to come up with a ridiculous character, I realized that this was the time to play a warforged transformer.

The immediate question is what it actually means to have an “Integrated Vehicle.” The PHB provides very few details ABOUT vehicles to begin with. How fast can a chariot go? What exactly is the difference between a wagon and a carriage? Beyond that, as defined the Integrated Tool ability doesn’t actually allow for any sort of transformation; it’s simply that the tool is always available to you. So what does it MEAN to have an integrated carriage? Three immediate answers suggest themselves.

  • You are a wagon at all times. You have wheels and can provide cover for passengers. However, since you’re still a medium creature, you can only carry tiny passengers.
  • You have some sort of extradimensional space. If we imagine a carriage can hold at least four medium creatures, SOMEHOW you fit those medium creatures into your body. Given the vast potential for abuse in a character having a large extradimensional space, it’s not something I’d normally allow into a game, BUT this is a ridiculous session.
  • You physically transform into a vehicle… in this case, a Large carriage. Under the circumstances, I’d allow this as a sort of version of wild shape. However, because it’s not supposed to be a big advantage, I’d have the character’s statistics (including hit points and armor class) remain constant. As a carriage you won’t have hands, but you still move using your character’s base speed; you can simply carry other creatures in your body.

For the scenario we’re talking about, I’m leaning towards option three. It’s an action to transform either way. As a vehicle you have to hands and can’t cast spells requiring somatic components. I’m thinking the character can talk as a vehicle (unlike wild shape). And again, the character’s AC, hit points, and movement remain unchanged; it’s COLORFUL, but it shouldn’t be a huge advantage. The one benefit I would likely give is to ignore encumbrance in vehicle form, or at least dramatically increase it. I might limit the character’s movement to their normal speed, but I don’t think the character has to be strong enough to carry the rest of the party; that’s the benefit of being a carriage.

Given that, it means I want a character that’s fast. For the adventure, we’re making fifth level characters; both Monk and Barbarian have increased movement at 5th level, and there’s also the option of a feat. The Mobile feat adds +10 movement speed, so the character could have up to a 50′ move; not bad for a chariot or a carriage. Given that, I’m considering three possibilities.

  • Druid. When *I* used to watch Transformers, I always liked the ones that turned into animals. Ravage. Laserbeak. The Dinobots. However, this misses the whole idea of having a warforged with an integrated vehicle, and the official ruling has always been that warforged druids turn into normal animals. So scratch that.
  • Monk. A monk have fast movement and increased unarmed damage, which is an easy basis for fighting as a vehicle; if you run into someone, you can make an Unarmed Strike. And if I use the Sun Soul monk, I could have a ranged attack! I immediately thought of a warforged who turns into a tiny lightning rail engine, zooming around and zapping people with lightning from the elemental arc. Using Mobile to get the 50′ movement and being able to ram people and keep moving would certainly be entertaining.
  • Barbarian. I’ve always liked the idea that a barbarian’s rage can be reflected as a “battle mode” for a warforged. The fast movement of a barbarian provides a base 40′ movement, or 50′ with Mobile. Unlike the monk, I wouldn’t see the character as fighting in carriage form, but it still works for the idea of a sort of Optimus Prime—a powerful warrior (perhaps with a ridiculously oversized two-handed weapon) who can turn into a carriage between fights and roll out with the party on board.

That’s where I’m at right now. So with that in mind: have any of you ever allowed a warforged envoy to have an integrated vehicle? How did YOU handle it? Which of these ideas do you think I should explore? Post your comments below!

I’ve been both busy with deadlines and physically sick, so I haven’t had much time to post over the last month, but there’s many other things to discuss. Eberron has just had it’s fifteenth anniversary, and to commemorate that, the podcast Manifest Zone did an Anniversary episode with the original 3.5 Eberron design team: Myself, James Wyatt, Chris Perkins, and Bill Slavicsek. Listen to the interview here! And thanks as always to my Patreon supporters!

Sidebar: Starting A New Campaign

I’ve got a question about how you handle time progression in your home games. I’m starting my second Eberron campaign and I’m planning on having it take place at the same time as my first one but in Sharn rather than Q’barra. When you start new home campaigns, do you progress time and have the events of the last game carry over? Or do you just start over in 998 YK like it says in the books and treat each campaign as it’s own separate timeline?

This is an interesting question. You’ve finally brought a long-term campaign to a close, and you’re about to start a new one. Where—and when—do you begin?

Personally, I handle starting a new campaign much like developing a TV show. I want to consider the following things…

  • What does the audience—which is to say, the players—want to see? Previously I’ve talked about my Q’barra campaign, which I’ve described here and here. The point of the Q’barra campaign is to explore something different—fantasy blended with the tropes of the Western genre. But I wouldn’t push that on a group of players who hate Westerns! Typically I’ll pitch a few different ideas to the players (Q’barra! Gritty noir in Callestan! Commandos in the Last War!) and we’ll talk things over, likely coming up with entirely new ideas in the process. When we’ve found something everyone wants to play, I’ll move forward with that.
  • I want to focus on short term stories and a long arc. What brings the adventurers together? What’s going to happen over the first 2-3 adventures, which is a critical time for developing characters and building a bond for the group?
  • With this in mind, I usually won’t try to squeeze every major power group in Eberron into a campaign. I’ll usually focus on one of the more obvious groups—the Emerald Claw, the Aurum, the Cults of the Dragon Below—as an initial antagonist; choose one of the more subtle and powerful foes—The Dreaming Dark, the Lords of Dust, the Daelkyr—as a long-term enemy; and pick another group—the Lord of Blades, Miron’s Tears, House Tarkanan—as a wild card who could become an ally or an enemy.
  • If the campaign is going to revolve around a central hub, I’ll work with the players to establish details of that hub. I talk about how I did that in Q’barra in this post.
  • Beyond this, I’ll also work with the players to develop the backstories of their characters and figure out how those backgrounds tie into the developing story. If I’ve got a Blood of Vol paladin who’s determined to bring down Erandis Vol as a long-term character arc, I’ll make sure I factor that into the story board. Ideally, I’ll look for ways that these hooks can converge—if one player wants to bring down Erandis Vol, and another wants to destroy House Cannith, well, perhaps I’ll focus on Cannith East developing a secret alliance with the Emerald Claw…
  • Related to the two previous points, I want to make sure there’s something that ties the party together—that the players don’t feel like they’d never associate with the other characters, but they have to because, well, we’re playing this game. Do they share a common background (we all served together in the Last War)? Are they all tied to a central location (We’re all looking for opportunity in this frontier town) or united by a common purpose (we’re going to work together to bring down the Boromar Clan)? Lacking that, I’ll work to make sure that the first adventure will give them a common purpose or enemy, which will build a bond moving forward.

So, coming back to the original question: When starting a new Eberron campaign, do I incorporate the events of the previous campaign or do I start fresh? This ties to that first point above: What do the players want to experience? I was involved in a campaign that went from levels 1-30, and by the time it was over, the adventurers had changed the world in many lasting ways. One of the characters was Queen of Karrnath. Jaela Daran had sacrificed herself to rebind the unleashed Bel Shalor, and the redeemed Melysse Miron had taken her place as Keeper of the Flame. When THAT group decided to start a new game, we all agreed that we wanted to continue in THAT Eberron… that we were going to advance a further ten years and continue from there. As a result, the surviving PCs from the previous campaign were now influential NPCs in the setting. Meanwhile, one of the players decided that his PC in the new campaign would be Jaela Daran: That she would have awoken in the wilds, as an 11-year woman and a 1st level cleric, with no memory of intervening time. Part of the story of the campaign was trying to figure out what her story was. WAS she the restored Jaela? Was she a daelkyr experiment, or a creation of Mordain the Fleshweaver? For my part, I began with my changeling character Max, and established that they had strange ties to the changeling Garrow, who’d ended up as one of the major villains of the previous campaign arc.

So in that case, it was a lot of fun to build on what had gone before. But when I then brought together a group of new players for my Q’barra campaign, I didn’t even think about putting THEM in Eberron 1008 YK, because it wasn’t their story. Some of them were already familiar with the default world, and even if I took the time to explain all the changes, they wouldn’t have personal resonance for them, because THEY weren’t the ones who battled Bel Shalor. For the other group it was fun to be following in the footsteps of the epic PCs because those were once their PCs. But for a new group, I wanted to reset the world and see what THEY would do with it.

So generally speaking, I’ll treat each new campaign as its own timeline. In fact, I actually have three different Q’barra campaigns active out in the world, any of which I could get back to if I ever have time. But it can definitely be fun to build on previous campaigns, as long as the players will enjoy it.

How do you start a new campaign? Share your thoughts and questions below!

Sidebar: Elves of Eberron

While I’m dealing with deadlines, I’ve reached out to my Patreon supporters for questions that can be addressed in short articles, and I’ll be addressing these as time allows. To begin with, I want to take a quick look at the Elves of Eberron.

Elven civilization began on Xen’drik. It’s said that the giants sacked one of the great Feyspires of Thelanis, severing its ties to the Faerie Court and scattering and enslaving its people—and that over generations, these refugees became the elves. Many elves served as slaves of the giants, and this continued for thousands of years. But when the conflict with the Quori weakened the nations of the giants, the elves rose up against them. This was a long and bitter struggle fought over the course of generations. The elves lacked the resources or raw power of the giants, and couldn’t face them in the field; for the most part it was driven by guerrilla war, with heroic bands of elven champions striking against the giants and disappearing into the wilds. The Sulat giants created the Drow to hunt the elves, following them into places giants couldn’t go. There was never a point at which the elves truly stood a chance of defeating the giants, but the escalating cost of the war (both financially and in lives) eventually became unbearable. The Cul’sir giants prepared to unleash devastating, epic magic against the elves—magic on the same scale as they’d employed against the Quori, forces that destroyed a moon and threw a plane off its orbit. And in so doing, they went too far. The dragons of Argonnessen didn’t care about the elves, but they would not allow the giants to threaten Eberron itself. Flights of dragons devastated Xen’drik—giant and elf alike—and employed epic magics to ensure that no great civilization would ever rise again in the shattered land.

The prophet Aeren is known not for their deeds during the war, but for foreseeing how it would end. Aeren gathered together elves of many different clans and traditions, and convinced them to abandon Xen’drik and escape this coming apocalypse. This rag-tag fleet eventually reached a massive island, but Aeren did not survive the journey. Aeren was interred in soil of the new land, which was named Aerenal—”Aeren’s Rest.”

One of the key points in understanding the elves is that the description of their history is often simplified.The common story is Elves were enslaved by giants. Elves rebeled and eventually fled. The mistake is in thinking that “elf” and “giant” describe singular, monolithic cultures—that ALL elves were slaves of the giants, or that “the giants” were themselves a single monolithic force. Neither of these things are true. The giants had three major nations—the Sulat League, the Cul’sir Dominion, and the Group of Eleven—along with many lesser nations. There were elves who labored as slaves of the giants, but there were others who were never directly under giant rule. The Qabalrin elves maintained a city-state in the Ring of Storms that was a match for even the Cul’sir; it was destroyed not by giants, but by the cataclysmic fall of a giant Siberys dragonshard. The ancestors of the Tairnadal elves were largely nomadic tribes, fleeing further into the wilds as the giants expanded. The “Elven Uprising” involved an alliance of the nomadic tribes, seeing the vulnerabilities following the Quori conflict, combined with an internal uprising and acts of sabotage among the slaves. It was vast and long, fought on many different fronts and between many different nations, and was properly less a war and more an extended period of upheaval. It’s quite possible that the giants themselves fought one another during this time; it may well be that the Sulat League created the Drow not merely to hunt other elves, but also to strike against rivals in the Cul’sir Dominion.

The point is that the elves that followed Aeren were drawn from different nations and traditions. The elves now known as the Aereni were largely those enslaved by the giants, while the Tairnadal are descended from the nomadic warriors. This is one reason that the Aereni have a stronger arcane tradition (inherited from their giant oppressors) while the Tairnadal have a stronger role for druids and rangers. Meanwhile, the line of Vol could trace its roots back to the Qabalrin, and clung to some of their necromantic secrets. Aeren’s vision united them, but with Aeren’s death they split apart… and each pursued their own path to ensure they never lost their greatest champions. The Tairnadal preserve their heroes by serving as mortal avatars for their spirits. The Aereni learned to use the Irian manifest zones of Aerenal to create the deathless, preserving their greatest champions as positive undead; as it took thousands of years to accomplish this, it was far too late to use these techniques on Aeren. And the line of Vol and its allies perfected their techniques of Mabaran necromancy, preserving their greatest as vampires, liches, and mummies. A bitter rivalry built between the Aereni and Vol, culminating in the utter destruction of the Line of Vol—a conflict justified by their attempts to perfect the Mark of Death. Meanwhile, the Tairnadal and the Aereni have continued to exist side by side, following different paths without hostility.

If you’d like to know more about any of this, here’s a number of articles:

General Q&A

GENERAL QUESTIONS

In general, Darwinian evolution doesn’t play a major role in Eberron. How did the eladrin become elves?

The ancestors of the elves were the eladrin of Shae Tirias Tolai, and they didn’t become elves through a process of natural evolution. When the giants sacked the Feyspire, they did something to prevent the Eladrin from escaping. Remember that the giants wielded epic level magic and have been shown on multiple occasions to be able to sever planar bonds—on a small scale with the Citadel of the Fading Dream, and on a larger scale with Dal Quor itself. So they somehow severed the eladrin from Thelanis. We don’t know exactly what they did, but the result was that the children of those surviving eladrin were born as elves.

Due to the conflict of lore regarding Aeren’s pronouns between the Dragonshard (and 4E Eberron Campaign Guide) and Magic of Eberron, would it be plausible to say they’re both right, in a way, and that Aeren was genderfluid?

Sure! That seems entirely plausible. With that said, there’s a few larger issues with the MoE depiction of history. It focuses solely on those elves enslaved by the giants, and depicts the entire struggle as being about escape from Xen’drik. It’s depicted as a prison break on a massive scale—”But secrecy… was vital, lest betrayal ruin all their years of hidden labor.” There’s no mention of the active conflict between elves and giants, the struggles that established the legends of the Tairnadal ancestors. Compare this to the original ECS description of the Age of Giants…

The remaining giant kingdoms never quite recover from the events of the quori invasion. Horrible curses and plagues sweep through the land, and the elves use the opportunity to rebel. In desperation, the giants again turn to the same magic they used to stop the quori. Before they can unleash such destruction a second time, the dragons attack. Giant civilization crumbles, the drow go into hiding in the Xen’drik countryside, and the elves flee to the island-continent of Aerenal.

By contrast, Magic of Eberron says nothing about giant civilization being crippled from the quori conflict. It doesn’t present an active war between elves and giants, the conflict that gave birth to the patron ancestors of the Tairnadal. The rebel elves launch a single massive attack and then immediately flee. There’s no mention of the Tairnadal and no mention of what causes the apocalyptic attack of the dragons. It’s fairly easy to resolve this; look to the MoE account as describing sabotage going on within the Cul’sir Dominion at the same time as the Tairnandal attacks, and something that further pushed the giants to that point f desperation. But the point is that the rebellious elves weren’t originally planning to flee; Aeren is noteworthy for foreseeing the actions of the dragons and for bringing together elves of many traditions—not just the Cul’sir slaves—and convincing them to join the exodus.

Magic of Eberron then goes on to say that Aeren became the first of the deathless, developing the techniques while on Xen’drik. The other canon sources maintain that the rituals required to develop the deathless were developed on Aerenal thousands of years after the exodus, in part because they required the powerful Irian manifest zones in that land and in part because this work was driven by the loss of Aeren—and a determination never to lose so great a soul again.

TAIRNADAL AND VALENAR ELVES

What do the Talenta halflings and the Valenar elves have to fight about? They’re both pastoral herding cultures separated by an inhospitable desert. Numerous sources mention Valenar incursions looking for a good fight. I understand why players would want to deal with a culture like that, but why would a culture encourage it on one side, and the other side, not discourage it ‘with extreme predjudice’?

It’s a mistake to think of the elves of Valenar as a “pastoral herding culture.” They are an army, in Khorvaire for the sole purpose of fighting a war that has not yet begun.

As described above, the ancestors of the Tairnadal fought against the giants of Xen’drik. It was a daring conflict against impossible odds, but through remarkable skill, strategy, and cunning the elves won remarkable victories and ultimately drove the giants to the rash actions that brought about their doom. Later the Tairnadal came to Khorvaire, where they fought the Dhakaani goblins at the height of their power. Once again, the elves performed heroic deeds in battle against an overpowering foe. In the end, they weren’t defeated; they were forced to retreat from Khorvaire to run towards an even greater battle, fighting the dragons that were attacking their homeland.

The Tairnadal elves are driven by these ancient conflicts. They believe that every Tairnadal elf is chosen by the spirit of a patron ancestor, a legendary hero tied to these wars with the giants, goblins, or dragons. The mortal elf serves as an avatar of the ancient hero. The more closely the elf emulates the ancestor, the stronger this bond becomes. This is both a duty—preserving the spirit of the ancestor from being lost to Dolurrh—and a privilege, as they believe that through the bond the elf inherits the skills and wisdom of the ancestor. And the greatest aspiration of all is to perform such glorious deeds that the living elf will be venerated as a patron ancestor by the generations yet to come.

The Tairnadal made a pledge to Dhakaan, a promise that they would not return to Khorvaire in force unless invited. During the Last War, Cyre issued that invitation. The elves didn’t come to Khorvaire because they wanted land in which to herd horses. They didn’t come because they wanted or needed the wages Cyre was paying them. They returned in search of a glorious battle, a conflict that would allow them to match the deeds of their ancestors. But they soon concluded that their work as mercenaries wouldn’t give them that. So Shaeras Vadallia seized what is now Valenar as an intentional provocation. Since the Treaty of Thronehold, these Valenar elves have been breaking the terms of the treaty and raiding their neighbors. Why? In part it’s to keep the skills of their warriors fresh. In part it’s because the members of those individual warbands seek opportunities to strengthen their bond to their ancestors in battle. But most of all, it’s because the elves want someone to attack them. Their ancestors weren’t conquerors or mercenaries; they were guerrilla warriors fighting against an overpowering foe. The Valenar want to provoke a mighty enemy—perhaps Karrnath, or a resurgent Dhakaan—into attacking them in Valenar. As elves, they are perfectly happy to wait a century for this plan to play out, and in the meantime they are learning the lay of the land in Valenar, finding ambush points, laying traps. The Tairnadal don’t care about Valenar as a colony; for them it’s a killing ground, and they are just kicking hornet’s nests and waiting for someone to take the bait.

So why raid the halflings? Largely, because they’re there. The Valenar forces in the Talenta Plains aren’t acting on Vadallia’s orders. These warbands are self-sufficient units sent off on their own recognizance. They are searching for worthy foes and violating the Treaty of Thronehold… again, provoking the other nations. These warbands aren’t primarily interested in plunder, and they generally avoid attacking civilian populations; whenever possible they are looking for WORTHY opponents. They’re also attacking swordtooth titans and other deadly dinosaurs. And some are even crossing the Plains to launch attacks into Karrnath… as that’s one of the forces they’d really like to provoke to attack Valenar.

For their part, the halflings have no interest in conflict with the Valenar. The tribes are only loosely aligned and aren’t driven by war. They seek to defend themselves against raiding warbands, but they aren’t prepared to go to war with Valenar. Now again, for this very reason, this is why the Valenar AREN’T particularly interested in fighting the halflings. They provoke them in order to try to draw out their best warriors and hunters, to try to have a challenging fight. But they would RATHER battle the full might of Karrnath, or something similar. The halflings just have the misfortune of being between the two.

So in part, bear in mind that the Valenar elves aren’t a culture as such; they are a Tairnadal army in the field, biding their time as they wait for a more powerful foe to take the bait and attack them in Valenar.

Do the Tairnadal take the namesake of the ancestor they emulate?

Many do, though not all. For example, High King Shaeras Vadallia is an avatar of Vadallia, who was described in the Eye on Eberron article in Dragon #407. But it’s not a requirement, and some consider it to be pretentious.

Are the Tairnadal ancestor spirits literally biological ancestors of the elves that they choose? Or is it more of a cultural line of descent?

It’s more of a cultural line of descent. As noted in the previous question, Tairnadal families are very fluid to begin with. Plus, the original ancestors lived around forty thousand years ago. The lifespan of an elf is about ten times that of a human; can you trace your ancestors back four thousand years? So it’s largely assumed that MOST Tairnadal are related to many of the patron ancestors, and there’s no particular fear of a bloodline dying out. UNLESS, of course, that’s a story you want to explore in your campaign!

Tairnadal ancestors choose their heirs – Why do they pick who they pick? Can there be conflicts between multiple ancestors for one heir?

By default, the patron ancestors move in mysterious ways, and mortals don’t get to know the answers to these questions. It’s up to you as a DM to decide if you want to personify the ancestors more concretely and allow PCs to find these things out. In one campaign I DM’d, one of the PCs was a Valenar ranger. His idea was that he always believed he was going to be chosen by a legendary swordsman, and he’d instead been picked by a champion archer. Furious, he’d stolen the blade of his ancestors and deserted, determined to find his own path… in spite of the fact that he had a bond to the archer and couldn’t force a bond to the swordsman. While we never completed the campaign, the idea of the story was to explore whether he would eventually choose to embrace the archer… or whether he could find some way to change his stars and forge a bond to the swordsman. Had this continued, it would have likely involved a deeper interaction with the spirits themselves and an exploration of why the archer chose him.

It’s also been mentioned that ancestors are chosen for the elf, not by the elf. I’d assume there are some cases of rejection among them, elves who do not want to follow this particular ancestor for whatever reason. What do the Valenar do about these cases?

See the previous answer! This is covered in detail in this article under the heading “Why Should I Do It?” Bear in mind that it’s not that your ancestor is chosen for you, it’s that you are chosen BY an ancestorThe spirit of a champion of legend says “This one’s mine.” You are a soldier in an army being given a command by the highest authority, and you’re a follower of a religion devoted to honoring these spirits. But yes: this means that you could be someone who believes in honor and chivalry, and then you could be chosen by the Butcher and told you must not only be ruthless and cruel, but you must do your best to EXCEL at it. If you say no, you’re a soldier refusing a command and an acolyte turning your back on your faith. So you can expect to be discharged from the army—which means being severed from your culture—and shunned by former people.

In short, it’s a great path for a player character who needs to explain why they are out adventuring instead of serving with a warband. Will you reconcile and accept the spirit that chose you? Will you find a way to forge a bond with a different ancestor? Or will you remain an outcast?

Are there any actions the Valenar do not tolerate in warfare? Things they would consider war crimes? If their patron ancestor would do things considered by society to be immoral, even in war, would they share any of those views?

The Valenar believe it is their duty to emulate the patron ancestors. If you compare it to the Sovereign Host, some of the ancestors are more like Dol Arrah, some closer to Dol Arrah, and a few could be compared to the Mockery. The elves of Xen’drik fought a guerilla war against a vastly superior foe, and there were many who relied on cunning, deception, and terror to accomplish their goals. So there are Valenar who believe in absolute chivalry and honor on the battlefield, and there are ruthless Valenar feel that deception and terror are necessarily tools—who feel they have a religious duty to strike fear into their foes. The point is that a Valenar commander KNOWS what behavior to expect from their troops. They’ll use the Dol Arrahs on the open battlefield, and they’ll use the Mockeries as commandoes and skirmishers… and they definitely won’t put the two side by side. The honorable Valenar are disgusted by the butchers, but they know that the butchers are required to be butchers.

So for example, MOST Valenar won’t kill civilians. But there are then there are a few who will specifically target civilian populations, because that’s something their ancestor was known for doing. The commander knows this, and won’t put that unit in the field unless that’s what they expect of them.

Three subgroups of Tairnadal have been described. The Valaes Tairn believe that glory in battle is the highest goal, regardless of the nature of the foe. The Silaes Tairn are determined to return to Xen’drik and reclaim the ancient realm of the elves, and the Draleus Tairn wish to destroy the dragons of Argonnessen. Do Tairnadal elves choose which group to be in or do they all grow up and stay with their group?

The Valaes Tairn are by far the largest of these three groups. They also receive the most attention because they’re the only ones who generally come to Khorvaire. The Silaes are focused on Xen’drik, and the only reason for a member of the Draleus Tairn to come to Khorvaire is a dragon hunt… and the dragons of Khorvaire generally keep a very low profile.

The first and primary factor in which group you follow is your patron ancestor. If your patron is a legendary dragon hunter, you’re likely to join the Draleus Tairn. Otherwise, the default is the Valaes Tairn, but it’s largely about what you feel your patron ancestor is calling you to do, which is something you might discuss with one of the Keepers of the Past. If you have the support of a Keeper, people will respect your decision.

Bear in mind that you won’t generally “grow up” with one of these groups. They’re all essentially military units, and until you’ve reached adulthood and the Keepers have identified your patron ancestor, you’re essentially not equipped to travel with a warband.

Why aren’t the Silaes Tairn the major sect? Obviously, dragon-slayer heir would want to fight dragons, but aren’t the majority of the ancestors giant-slayers (or drow slayers)? And are the Valaes Tairn the largest sect historically?

Because Xen’drik is a cursed ruin; the giants and the drow aren’t the same as those the ancestors fought. The Valaes Tairn believe that it doesn’t matter WHAT you fight or WHERE you fight; what matters is that you act as your ancestor would act if they were in your place. This is inherently more flexible, and that’s why it’s the most widespread belief. Someone who’s ancestor is legendary for fighting drow COULD feel drawn to the Sileus Tairn, because they want to fight drow; but they could easily say “What defines my ancestor is her courage and her techniques for fighting multiple enemies at once, and I can demonstrate both of those fighting goblins.” Essentially, most see the Silaes Tairn as slightly crazy extremists; the Valaes are the most moderate sect.

ELVES OF KHORVAIRE

What are the religious views of the elves of House Phiarlan? Did they follow the path of Vol, the Undying Court, or the Tairnadal? Do they still follow these traditions? 

Excellent question. This is covered in this Dragonshard article. Here’s part of the relevant text.

The houses of shadow can trace their roots back to the Elven Uprising, the ancient war between the giants of Xen’drik and the ancestors of the modern elves. Many assume that this was a conflict between two monolithic entities, but neither elves nor giants were unified forces. Many different giant nations existed, and there were dozens of sects of elves, ranging from former slaves to guerillas who had fought the giants for millennia. Over the course of the uprising, some elves served as liaisons between the many different tribes. These travelers saw their role in war as being more spiritual than physical: Their task was to uphold morale and maintain the alliances between the scattered soldiers. They called themselves phiarlans, or “spirit keepers.” These phiarlans learned the traditions and customs of all elven sects, and a phiarlan bard could inspire warriors from any tribe. The phiarlans were not generals or military strategists, but their motivational work and the intelligence they carried from place to place was an invaluable part of the military effort.

The article goes on to describe how the Phiarlans continued to serve this role in Aerenal—serving as envoys and mediators for elves of all lines and cultures. In essence, they acknowledged and understood all of the traditions, but they never fully embraced them. A Phiarlan bard knows the stories of the Tairnadal ancestors, but doesn’t seek to embody an ancestor. And looking to the Undying Court, the Phiarlans acknowledge that exists, but they turned their back on it when they left Aerenal; they don’t believe it watches over them and they aren’t aspiring to join it.

Overall, the elves of the House of Shadow typically aren’t very religious. They seek to understand all faiths but rarely commit to one. There are some who embrace the Sovereign Host or the Dark Six, but in general they are a pragmatic people devoted more to their work and their traditions than to abstract forces.

Is there a particular culture and history for Khorvaire elves among other regions, such as in cities or the Five Nations? How did it come to be that those elves left their Valenar and Aerenal roots, to the point that half-elves were in large enough numbers to be considered their own distinct race (Khoravar)?

As the Undying Court rose to power, there were always elves who opposed it and chose to leave Aerenal to explore other opportunities. There was a greater wave of migration following the eradication of the Line of Vol. The Vol bloodline was the only one that was exterminated; her allies had to choose exile or to swear oaths to the Court, and many chose exile. While others, like the Phiarlans, were disturbed by the conflict and left of their own accord. That was 2,600 years ago. So there are places like House Phiarlan and the Bloodsail Principality where elves maintain a unique culture, but many of these immigrants fully integrated into their nations. A typical Brelish elf is Brelish first, elf second. Elves in Thrane are likely to be devoted to the Silver Flame; it’s just that an elf elder devoted to the Flame might have personally known Tira Miron. But the short form is that elves in Khorvaire could trace their roots back to followers of Vol or immigrants driven by curiosity, but for most those roots are long buried and they have assimilated into the local culture.

Meanwhile. the reason half-elves are considered their own distinct race is because they ARE their own distinct race. Most Khoravar are children of Khoravar, and their original elven ancestors could be buried so deeply in their family trees that they don’t even know who they were. Khoravar are more fertile than elves, and so over the course of thousands of years, they’ve spread more rapidly.

Do elves still constitute a sizable portion of the Blood of Vol’s faithful and if so do they have a different take on the religion as they are only a few generations separated from the initial mixing with humans in Lhazaar?

It’s important to recognize that the religion known as “The Blood of Vol” was never practiced by the line of Vol. This is a critical point about Erandis, because she doesn’t follow the faith. The Blood of Vol is a religion that emerged over the course of centuries, inspired by the words of Vol’s allies who settled in the Lhazaar Principalities, but interpreted and adapted by the humans… and then continuing to evolve as it traveled into Karrnath, which became its heart. So no, elves don’t constitute a sizeable portion of the Seekers. Some of these refugee elves fully integrated with the cultures they joined. The place where they’ve held to their traditions—and where they still practice the ORIGINAL teachings of the line of Vol—is in the Bloodsail Principality in Lhazaar, based on the island of Farlnen. The Bloodsails were described in detail in the Eye on Eberron article in Dragon 410.

With that said, it’s been more than just a few generations. An elf can live up to 750 years, but by the 3.5 tables they are considered “Venerable” — the most extreme age category — at 350. It’s been 2,600 years since the line of Vol was wiped out. If we set the generational length at 350 (which is somewhat generous, as the human equivalent of venerable is 70, but we typically set human generations at around 25), we’re still talking over seven generations. The issue is that in following the traditions of Vol, Farlnen is home to many vampires and liches who have unliving memory of the past and maintain those ancient traditions.

 

If you have questions or thoughts about the elves of Eberron, post them here!

Sidebar: Aberrant Dragonmarks

The twelve dragonmarks are tied to specific bloodlines and passed down through families. They are reliable and predictable, and their powers are constructive. They create; they heal; they protect. But there is another kind of dragonmark: marks that are unpredictable and dangerous to both the bearer and the people around them.

Wayfinder’s Guide to Eberron, page 111

I’ve talked about aberrant dragonmarks before, including this dragonmark article and this canon Dragonshard article. But I wanted to take a moment to talk about the evolution of aberrant dragonmarks and the role they’re intended to play in the setting.

From the beginning, the idea was that the aberrant dragonmarks are in essence the direct opposite of the “true” dragonmarks… that if the pure marks are believed to be a blessing from Siberys, the aberrant marks are the cursed touch of Khyber. A few critical points…

ORDER VS CHAOS

True dragonmarks reflect order. They are entirely predictable. They are tied to specific bloodlines and passed down through a family. They look exactly the same. Aberrant dragonmarks are chaotic and break all these rules. They aren’t tied to bloodlines and aren’t hereditary. The child of two aberrants has no better or worse chance of developing an aberrant dragonmark than any other child in the world… and if the child does develop an aberrant mark, it won’t look the same as either of their parents’ marks or grant the same abilities. Looking again to Wayfinder’s Guide, “If two aberrant marks grant fire bolt, one mark may be formed from scar tissue while another is traced on the skin in lines of cold fire.”

There’s a confusing twist to this, which is that the most reliable way to produce an aberrant mark is to mix the bloodlines of two different dragonmarked houses. This is also known as a mixed mark. As a result, the dragonmarked houses forbid marriages between members of different houses. A secondary element to this: most houses shun all contact with aberrants, but Dragonmarked notes that House Ghallanda has, on a few rare occasions, allowed halflings with aberrant marks to marry into the house. While this is scandalous, it’s no more of a threat to the house bloodline than allowing any entirely unmarked halfling into the house, because aberrant dragonmarks aren’t tied to bloodlines. So: if a Ghallanda halfling has a child with a Jorasco heir, there’s an excellent chance of producing an aberrant mark. If they have a child with someone who has an aberrant dragonmark, there’s no more risk of the child having an aberrant mark than if they sire a child with any other halfling.

SAFETY VS DANGER

The true dragonmarks place no burden or strain on the bearer of the mark. The powers granted by the mark are largely constructive or positive in nature, while the powers of an aberrant mark are largely destructive or disturbing. This is a broad concept, not always absolutely true; we suggest that a Lyrandar heir can learn how to harness their mark offensively as a storm sorcerer, and the nosomantic chiurgeons of House Jorasco are infamous for their power to cause injuries and disease. Conversely, it’s possible to have an aberrant mark that channels a power that isn’t directly aggressive, but even a power that has positive aspects may manifest in a chaotic and disturbing way. The Wayfinder’s Guide to Eberron doesn’t restrict the spells that an aberrant mark can grant, but it notes that “…aberrant marks always have flaws. These may not actively hurt a character, but they are always a burden in some way—a burden that could drive a weak-willed person to madness.”

Consider Zae, a halfling in House Tarkanan who appears in a number of Eberron novels. Zae has the ability to telepathically communicate with and influence rats and other sorts of vermin. On the surface, there’s nothing negative about this; it’s not that different from the powers of the Mark of Handling. But the idea is that it’s not just that Zae can influence rats when she chooses to activate her mark, like a Vadalis heir… but that she hears the rats in her mind all the time. She feels them as a part of her. And she didn’t choose rats; that choice was made for her. Her mark isn’t destructive to others, but it’s a burden she had to learn to bear and to control.

WHAT’S THE POINT?

There are many ways for a person to get some minor magical abilities. In 5E, anyone can take the Magic Initiate feat. You could be a sorcerer with powers drawn from some manner of mystical bloodline. If you just want to have some innate magic power, you don’t need to have an aberrant mark. Given this, what makes an aberrant mark DIFFERENT from a sorcerer or an initiate IS the idea that it’s the touch of Khyber, that it’s a burden you’ve had to overcome, that it’s something that people are right to be afraid of. The trick to this is that it’s entirely a story concept. We SAY that it’s difficult to control an aberrant dragonmark, that it’s a physical and mental burden, but there’s no mechanical reflection of this. The ability to burn a hit die to improve the power of your mark is intended to reflect the idea that channeling the full power of your mark is a physical strain, but it’s something that a player character controls. The critical idea here is that player characters are remarkable. YOU don’t have any risk of your aberrant dragonmark suddenly triggering on its own and killing your friend… but that’s because we assume that you have fully mastered it. But OTHER people with aberrant dragonmarks do have that risk, and may have serious physical or mental flaws that we wouldn’t impose on a player character. Looking again to Zae, if I was playing her as a character, I’d play up the fact that I’m always hearing the whispers of the rats in my head and that it’s driven me a little crazy… but that’s my choice as a player, a flaw I’m taking on as opposed to a concrete mechanical aspect of the mark.

Questions that often come up in relation to this include are people with aberrant marks evil or just misunderstood? Are they like mutants in Marvel? Could you have an alliance of aberrants trying to do good like the X-Men? 

People with aberrant marks aren’t inherently evil. Like the mutants in the Marvel universe, they are people who have had dangerous powers thrust upon them and have to deal with prejudice because of it. And you could certainly have an alliance of aberrants trying to do good. House Tarkanan seeks to help aberrants. As seen in The Son of Khyber, they do seek to shelter aberrants and help them learn to control their powers. But they see the unmarked and the true-marked alike as their enemies. Rather than trying to change the prejudice, the Tarkanans see themselves as standing alone against the world, and willfully violate the laws of the Five Nations and do whatever they see as best for their people… so in the mutant analogy, they’re more like the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants than the X-Men.

The ultimate point is this: Someone who develops an aberrant mark is an innocent burdened with a power that’s both a blessing and a curse. They aren’t the evil children of Khyber the superstitions say. And yet, there is some truth to the superstitions. They CAN be dangerous. They can kill innocents. Their marks can drive them mad. So the idea was always that in taking a true dragonmark you are gaining a degree of social status… while in taking an aberrant dragonmark you are choosing to deal with fear and prejudice. You can absolutely fight against that. You can try to make life better for all aberrants, to change the public view; that’s a compelling and heroic arc for a player character. But it is intentional that fear of aberrants ISN’T entirely house propaganda; that aberrant marks are dangerous and disturbing in ways that the true marks aren’t.

BUT ACCORDING TO THE ECS…

What I’ve described is how I’ve always seen aberrant dragonmarks. You can see this in the portrayal of House Tarkanan in Sharn: City of Towers and the novel City of Towers… the first Eberron books I worked on following the Eberron Campaign Setting. With that said, this isn’t reflected by the Aberrant Dragonmark feat that’s presented in the 3.5 Eberron Campaign Setting sourcebook. That feat grants a number of seemingly innocuous abilities like feather fall and detect secret doors, and says nothing about the dreadful burden of a mark.

The point is that this is a case where what’s presented in the ECS never matched my vision of the world, and where later books corrected that. This isn’t the only place where this happened: another clear example is the Blood of Vol. The ECS says “The Blood of Vol cult attracts followers fascinated by death and the undead. The most dedicated of these revere an ancient lich who calls herself Vol, Queen of the Dead.” The current interpretation of the Blood of Vol reverses almost all of these things. Seekers are devoted to life and seek the power of the Divinity Within; they aren’t “fascinated by death.” They view the undead as useful tools. And the Queen of the Dead leads the Emerald Claw, but she isn’t part of the core faith. Essentially, the original presentation in the ECS was half-baked; over the course of subsequent books, it was fleshed out and given more depth. The same is the case with aberrant dragonmarks. When the original feat was presented, the full ramifications of aberrant dragonmarks—the War of the Mark, House Tarkanan, their role in the world—hadn’t been thought through. The Wayfinder’s Guide to Eberron reflects the fully fleshed out concept, and it’s the path I expect any future official content to take.

I’ll note that with the WGtE version of the Aberrant Dragonmark feat, you can still have a mark that grants feather fall. But the rest of the section still applies. Like Zae the Rat Girl, even if your POWER isn’t destructive, all aberrant marks have flaws… and the question is, what is the flaw associated with your mark and how has it been a burden to you? If you don’t like the concept, you can get the exact same effect by taking Magic Initiate instead. The idea is that you should take an Aberrant Dragonmark because you WANT that story—you want to explore the burden of the mark, or the challenge posed by the fear it inspires in others.

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Q&A

In the WGtE, Aberrant Dragonmark is a feat. But I want to play a half-elf with an aberrant dragonmark at first level. What can I do? 

There’s a few options.

  • The Morgrave Miscellany presents “Child of Khyber” as a race option, with subraces to reflect your species. This was designed with exactly this issue in mind, but it’s not official content.
  • You can use the idea that you possess an aberrant dragonmark as a story justification for your class abilities. An aberrant dragonmark is a simple way to explain the powers of either a warlock or sorcerer, and this would allow you to wield powers far greater than those granted by the feat.
  • As a DM, I’d be willing to give a player an aberrant dragonmark as a bonus feat if they understood and agreed to the idea that I was going to play up the drawbacks of having the mark—that they’d have to deal with fear and prejudice because of it. The powers the feat provides are not that vast, and if it’s going to make a more compelling story—and again, if the player understands that they are going to be paying a price for this “gift,” I’d allow it.

I seem to recall that some in Eberron interpret the true dragonmarks as a special manifestation of the Draconic Prophecy. From this point of view, how do aberrant marks fit it? 

Dragonmarks are considered to be an indicator of Prophetic significance, yes. This is true of both aberrant and true marks, and both mean the same thing: you are significant to the Prophecy. What we’ve said before is that in general, dragonmarks serve the same function as tarot cards in cartomancy or birds in ornithomancy: the appearance, confluence, and movements of dragonmarked individuals may provide information to someone who knows how to interpret the signs. So it’s not that aberrant dragonmarks reflect any sort of corruption of the Prophecy; the Prophecy incorporates good and evil, order and chaos, and both Khyber and Siberys have a place in it.

With that said… that’s the DEFAULT answer. You could decide that aberrant marks reflect a corruption of the Prophecy if you want. Or you could say that all of the dragonmarks are a daelkyr creation designed to interfere with the Prophecy… and if the dragons figure this out, they might try to destroy all dragonmarks!

In world lore did aberrant marks begin to manifest when the true marks did, were the first aberrant marks mixed or manifested spontaneously on random people?

Dragonmarked provides the canon answer.

Who was the first person to manifest an aberrant dragonmark? Did he consider his power to be a blessing or a curse? The answers will likely never be known. Over the course of centuries, the archivists and bards of the dragonmarked houses have carefully compiled a onesided version of history. The aberrants slain in the War of the Mark never had a chance to tell their story, and fact can no longer be distinguished from superstition.

Aberrant dragonmarks appear to have come into existence at the same time as the true dragonmarks. The first records of aberrant marks refer only to individuals as opposed to families. Scholars believe that aberrant dragonmarks appeared sporadically and were only rarely passed to children. Fragmentary histories paint a grim picture of the “children of Khyber,” attributing all manner of depravity to the bearers of aberrant marks. Of course, these tales also attribute astonishing powers to the early aberrants, such as the story of one who burned down an entire thorp with a wave of his hand because he “desired warmth.” Whether these stories have any grain of truth or not, tales of aberrant activity grew more frequent over the centuries. Approximately fifteen hundred years ago, the appearance of aberrants reached an apex—and the bearers of the true marks decided it was time to act.

Are there any unmarked groups in Eberron that don’t find the Aberrant marked dangerous? Do the various faiths (Seekers, Purifiers, druids) treat them as aberrations? Do the people of Sarlona have enough exposure to either group of marks notable enough to have a sweeping opinion on them?

Public opinion has been against the aberrants since before the War of the Mark, as noted above. Some feel their powers are a gift of the Traveler or the touch of the Shadow; most just think of them as Children of Khyber, cursed by dark powers. As I’ve said before, an aberrant who can’t control their mark can pose a very real threat to innocent people, and the purpose of the templars of the Silver Flame is to protect the innocent from supernatural threats; combined with house-driven propaganda, the Silver Flame generally sees aberrants as a danger to be dealt with.

With all of that said, bear in mind that following the War of the Mark and the imposition of strict rules to avoid mixed marks, aberrant dragonmarks were extremely rare. Part of why they are feared is because people have no actual experience with them; they only know the terrifying stories. Aberrant marks have become more common in the last century and are starting to manifest with even greater levels of power, but this is a new development. House Tarkanan first formed SIX YEARS AGO. So many organizations don’t yet HAVE a fully formalized take on aberrant dragonmarks. A typical templar of the Silver Flame would see aberrants as threats, but I could also see priests who would seek to create a sanctuary for aberrants and help them control their powers—much like the haven for tieflings in Thrane (it’s actually quite likely to think that the same community would house both). It’s possible there are Seekers who would see aberrant dragonmarks as a manifestation of the Divinity Within. As for Sarlona, dragonmarks don’t manifest in Sarlona and I doubt people have an opinion about them. People in the trade cities will have met dragonmarked merchants, but I expect it’s just thrown into the general pile of “Creepy things about foreigners.”

In regards to the bit about Aberrant-marked halflings being “safe” to marry into Ghallanda (or any) house because aberrant marks aren’t tied to a bloodline, what about mixed marks? Those are aberrant, and they’re explicitly caused by mingling two bloodlines. Wouldn’t those halflings pose a threat to create more and more aberrant marks?

Good question. The catch is that manifesting any sort of aberrant mark BREAKS the bloodline. If you’re a halfling born to a Ghallanda mother and Jorasco father and you develop an aberrant dragonmark, you are no longer tied to either the Mark of Healing or the Mark of Hospitality: you have an aberrant mark, and that’s all. It’s believed the same is true of all aberrant marks; if your great-grandfather was Jorasco and none of your family has manifested the Mark of Healing, in theory it’s latent in your bloodline; but Ghallanda asserts that anyone who manifests an aberrant dragonmark purges any ties to any other mark. So in that way, someone with an aberrant dragonmark is the SAFEST out-of-house heir to bring in, because you don’t have to worry about any latent ties to other houses.

In general, a bloodline can only carry a single mark; remember that this isn’t normal genetics, it’s MAGIC and the Prophecy. If your mother is Ghallanda and your father is Jorasco, if you don’t manifest a mixed mark, you’ll have the chance to develop one of the two marks, but that’s the only one tied to your bloodline. If you manifest the Mark of Healing, your children won’t ever spontaneously manifest the Mark of Hospitality.

If the aberrant marks are chaotic, are they Chaotic with a capital C? How do devotees of the Traveller regard those with aberrant marks? Is there any connection to Kythri?

Aberrant dragonmarks aren’t tied to Kythri, and true marks aren’t tied to Daanvi; they are believed to be tied to Siberys and Khyber. Looking to followers of the Traveler, there’s two aspects. Manifesting an aberrant dragonmark is a change that can bring chaos and crisis into someone’s life, and yet can ultimately make them stronger. As such, yes, many devotees of the Traveler would consider aberrant dragonmarks to be a gift of the Traveler; others see them as the touch of the Shadow. Because of this, there are certainly aberrants who embrace the faith of the Traveler.

The Test of Siberys is based on the idea that true dragonmarks manifest in stressful situations tied to the function of the mark. Is this also true of aberrant dragonmarks?

Absolutely, and given that many aberrant mark powers are dangerous, this often leads to tragedy. Someone loses their temper in a heated argument and suddenly burning hands. With that said, aberrant marks don’t always require such a situation. Take the story from the previous dragonmark…

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

Now, one possibility is that she was angry when the plague first manifested. Another is that she became sick, and fighting off the infection triggered the manifestation of the mark. Or that when the first family member fell ill, her fears for them actually caused her power to activate and the disease to spread. Again, the whole point of aberrant marks is that in comparison to true marks, they are unpredictable—so it would be difficult to design a single test that could work for every aberrant mark.

I’m wondering what kind of person Halas Tarkanan was, in your imagining?

The primary information on Halas Tarkanan comes from The Son of Khyber. Speaking of Tarkanan, an associate of his says the following.

“(Halas was) the greatest man I ever met. Even when we were enemies, I admired him. If people had listened to him sooner, if he could have built his army back before the purge began, he might even have won the war—or at least have created a sanctuary for the aberrants that the others could not touch. As it was, I think he always knew how the struggle would end, but he was determined to give our people hope and to make the houses pay for the blood they spilled.” 

Later they add…

…His mark gave him power over the destructive forces of nature, but his mind was his greatest weapon. If he’d been unmarked, he might have united the Five Kingdoms centuries before Galifar. And the world would be a different place today.”

What was his plan for holding Dorasharn, if he had any, and what went wrong? (Besides being hopelessly outnumbered, of course.)

What went wrong? He was hopelessly outnumbered. The house forces had resources and discipline. They were soldiers, whereas many of the people Halas was shepherding were traumatized civilians. And as noted in the previous quote, he didn’t have time to put together a perfect plan; he chose Dorasharn as the best possible place to make a stand.

Dark Six: The Traveler

Boldrei unites us as a community, and Aureon’s laws bring order to our lives. Dol Arrah shows us the path of honor and Dol Dorn gives us courage. The Traveler seeks to destroy all of this. It wanders the world, hiding behind a hundred different faces. It offers gifts, tempting you to take risks and to stray from the path. It has one goal: chaos. Try something new! Listen to this secret! Take this risky opportunity! All of these are the gifts of the Traveler, and all will lead you to despair. Trust in tradition. Trust the neighbor you know, not the stranger on the road. Beware the gifts of the Traveler.

—Halas Molan, High Priest of Wroat

‘Don’t speak to strangers.’ ‘Don’t try anything new.’ The priests tell you to treasure the life you have now, and to avoid anything that might place it at risk. Well, the sheep in the field live predictable lives of absolute security… until the shepherd grows hungry! The Traveler will shatter the life you have known, yes. Because it is in that chaos that you will find YOUR path and learn who you truly are. It is only by leaving your comfortable home that you’ll see all the wonders the world has to offer. If you care only about peace and stability, you might as well crawl into your grave right now. If you want to experience everything life has to offer—moments of despair, yes, but also the greatest joys you can imagine—embrace the gifts of the Traveler.      

—Chance of Sharn

Five bones lashed together—one of the oldest and simplest symbols of the Dark Six, found in countless shrines in Droaam. But why five bones? Because the Traveler can’t be bound to one place or one form. The Traveler is the space on the wall, acknowledged in their absence.

Our lives are balanced between order and chaos, and the Traveler is always trying to push us over the edge. In the myths of the Nine and Six, the Traveler is never encountered as “The Traveler.” The Traveler is the smith who gives Dol Dorn a sword, only to have it shatter in the first battle; the thief who steals Aureon’s tome the moment he needs it most; the sage who exposes Dol Azur’s treachery. The Traveler wears a different name and face in every tale, but we KNOW they’re the Traveler because of the impact of their actions. Sometimes the gifts of the Traveler can raise you up, and sometimes they will ruin you. The only constants are chaos and change—shattering the foundation of your life and forcing you to find a new path forward.

In the common traditions of the Sovereign Host, the Traveler is presented as a malicious entity who revels in misfortune, chaos, and confusion. Good fortune is the blessing of Olladra; when something fails at the worst possible moment, it’s the hand of the Traveler. In these stories, the Traveler seeks to undermine all security, to tear down every foundation. Any stranger could be the Traveler, seeking to bring you to ruin. By contrast, those who follow the Traveler say that the change it brings is a positive thing—that chaos spurs innovation and revelation, that it’s important to challenge traditions and abandon those that have served their purpose. Like most of the Dark Six, the Traveler focuses on the good of the individual over the stability of institutions: the Traveler helps you find YOUR path, rather than being bound by tradition. When you meet a stranger on the road, are you afraid of this possible threat or excited to meet someone new?

When this article refers to vassals, it’s a reference to those who follow the Pyrinean Creed—the default faith of the Sovereign Host as practiced in the Five Nations. There are two other sects that are relevant here. The Cazhaak tradition is the common faith of Droaam; it respects the chaos of the Traveler as a force that challenges tradition and forces people and civilizations to evolve. The most devoted followers of the Traveler are the Children, the faith of the nomadic changelings who view the Traveler as a personal guide and source of inspiration.

Chaos and Change

The Traveler touches the domains of many other Sovereigns. Like Aureon and the Shadow, the Traveler is a source of knowledge. Along with Olladra and the Mockery, the Traveler is a patron of those who rely on deception and cunning. Like Onatar, they can provide inspiration to the artisan. Both those who fear the Traveler and those who revere them agree on one thing: whatever gifts the Traveler gives, they always lead to chaos. If the Traveler gives you knowledge, it’s because the revelation will force you to reevaluate everything you have known. If they help you deceive, it’s because your actions will introduce chaos and crisis—whether into your life or the lives of others. Onatar will teach a swordsmith to make a better sword; the Traveler might show her how to make a bomb, changing the face of warfare. The Traveler isn’t here to help you to satisfy your greed or to achieve your ambitions. The Traveler will set you on paths you never thought to try. They may grant you good fortune… but when you call on the Traveler, you are inviting the unexpected into your life.

The Traveler isn’t evil in the same way as the Devourer or the Shadow. But most vassals view the Traveler as an entirely malicious force—while those who honor the Traveler emphasize the potentially positive aspects of chaos. Take the myth mentioned above as an example. A smith gives Dol Dorn a magic sword, promising that it can defeat any foe. Dol Dorn rashly challenges a band of demons, but as soon as battle is joined the blade shatters. Refusing to retreat, Dol Dorn fights on and brings down his enemies with his fists and feet… creating the martial art practiced by the Order of the Broken Blade. The typical vassal interprets the role of the Traveler as entirely negative: the sword shattered and it was only the strength and courage of Dol Dorn that allowed him to triumph. Whereas one of the Children will say that it was because the blade shattered that Dol Dorn was forced to create something entirely new: that the Traveler’s goal wasn’t to kill Dol Dorn, but rather to challenge him and force this moment of innovation. The Cazhaak tradition maintains that the chaos of the Traveler is a flame that tests and tempers traditions and beliefs, whether these define a society or an individual. The Traveler doesn’t seek absolute anarchy; but they want you to constantly challenge your beliefs, and to abandon traditions that have outlived their usefulness. Under this interpretation the Traveler is ultimately a positive force, though they force you to live in interesting times. However, the majority of vassals dismiss this and see the Traveler solely as a bringer of misfortune and mischief.

Walk Your Own Path

In the Pyrinean myths, the Traveler seeks to lure you off the path of safety and security. In the traditions of the Children, the Traveler is the guide who walks by your side when you choose the unknown road. Because it’s only by walking your own path that you can find yourself. These two concepts—walk your own path and find yourself are important principles for those who honor the Traveler. Walk your own path is a principle that can be embraced both literally and metaphorically. On the one hand, it’s a faith that encourages a nomadic lifestyle, embracing the chaos of the road and seeking out new places and experiences. Beyond that, it’s a simple directive not to let others control your life; trust your instincts and don’t fear the unknown.

Find yourself can likewise be embraced on multiple levels. Identify your strengths and your passions. But beyond that, figure out who you want to be and become that person. While this is an easy directive for a changeling, Eberron is a world of magic and it’s something that can be a literal truth for anyone. Disguise self and alter self allow people to temporarily assume identities, but there are transmutation spells and rituals that allow someone to permanently change any aspect of appearance or gender. Followers of the Traveler are urged not to feel bound by anyone’s expectations—only you know who you are.

So while the vassals fear the Traveler as a malevolent force that seeks to pull you into chaos, the Children and those that follow the Cazhaak faith see the Traveler as the one who will stand by you when you choose to leap into the unknown or to challenge tradition.

Paths of the Traveler

Those who follow the Traveler generally embrace one of three paths.

  • The Trickster sows chaos for the joy of it, believing that as long as they are causing trouble for someone they will be protected by the Traveler. Some tricksters are manic and wild, causing disruptions wherever they go but rarely causing any huge disasters. Others are careful and calculating, forgoing petty disruptions in favor of actions that will shake cities or institutions. With that said, most tricksters have no long term agenda beyond chaos itself; their purpose is to light the fire, and how far it spreads or what it consumes is in the hands of fate. Tricksters are primarily found among the vassals; as the faith has a purely negative view of the Traveler, those who follow their path embrace that destructive view.
  • The Mentor creates chaos because they believe it will have a positive outcome. In comparison to tricksters, mentors are rarely manic in demeanor; a mentor is more calculating. The mentor is the smith who gives Dol Dorn a flawed sword knowing that Dol Dorn relies too heavily on his sword and needs to learn he doesn’t need it. Of course, it’s the mentor who decides what lesson you need to learn, and there’s no promise you’ll survive the ensuing strife. But the mentor creates chaos with a goal in mind, whether it’s testing an institution, a law, or a particular individual. Mentors can also focus on guiding those who are in moments of crisis. Just as you believe the Traveler is by your side in chaotic times leading you towards the positive outcome, you could take that role for others. You believe that traditions need to be challenged, that people need to be tested; but ultimately you want people to learn a positive lesson, not to be lost to the chaos.
  • The Wanderer follows their own path, pursuing a life of constant change and new experiences. They don’t seek to cause chaos, either maliciously or with good intent. Rather they embrace it in their own life, seeking to live unfettered by expectations and to avoid settling into any negative patterns.

Any character or NPC could follow any of these paths. Remember that you don’t have to be a divine spellcaster to believe that you have a divine purpose, or even to play the role of priest. Bards, rogues, and charlatans make excellent mentors or tricksters. A sorcerer specializing in illusion or enchantment could attribute their gifts to the Traveler. An Archfey warlock could set the Traveler as their patron… but are they actually serving the Sovereign, or an archfey who’s taken on the mantle? A ranger could easily follow the path of the wanderer, as could a changeling monk who seeks to perfect their own form.

Using the Traveler

The Traveler is the only Sovereign who’s often depicted as wandering the world. However, this is a flawed interpretation of what’s actually going on. The Traveler is the stranger on the road, the spark that creates the Flame. The Traveler takes a different form in every story, but we know they’re the Traveler because of the consequences of their actions. On the one hand, you could posit this as the work of a single divine entity.. On the other, it can simply be the actions of many different people. The Children believe that the Traveler acts through them; that when you do the work of a mentor, in that moment you ARE the Traveler. Likewise, there are many powerful beings—from archfey to the legendary Sora Kell—who have taken on the mantle of the Traveler or whose actions have been attributed to the Traveler. So you could choose to actually have players interact with an individual who claims to be the Traveler: but is it actually a god? Is it an archfey or celestial that’s taken on the mantle? Is it simply a changeling priest? Here’s a few other options to consider.

Player Characters

In making a player character who’s devoted to the Traveler, the critical question is how you’re going to interact with the other members of your party. The carefree trickster who sows chaos with no concern for consequence might be fun for YOU, but why would the other player characters associate with you (unless they share your beliefs)? As such, the mentor or the wanderer are better paths for player characters. The wanderer is primarily a free spirit; you’re going to encourage the party to keep moving forward, to question authority and to keep from being tied down, but you are focused on your OWN journey as opposed to trying to bring chaos to others. The mentor can be an excellent path for a PC. As a mentor, you can focus on bringing down corrupt systems and institutions: challenging the Dragonmarked Houses, exposing corruption in local guilds or temples, and meanwhile trying to help innocents find a positive path through chaotic times. This is also a possible place to use some of the things I suggest for Adding Drama to the Divine. Your mentor could be pointed at people to help or institutions to challenge. You may not know the entire story, but you know that it’s your task to bring down the Daggerwatch Garrison in Sharn… are you up to the task?

As a cleric of the Traveler, you could focus on the Trickery or Knowledge domain depending on your vision of your character. Are you more about active deception, or do you work by exposing secrets? Another option is the Forge cleric (or artificer) focused on creating things that will change the world; see the Cannith cult below for more thought on this. There’s no particular paladin oath that’s ideally suited to the Traveler, but that means that you could follow any oath as long as you’re pursuing the goals of the Traveler. If you’re primarily a wanderer, you could take the Oath of the Ancients. If you’re focused on tearing down corrupt systems you might take Vengeance, while if you’re primarily driven to help guide others through times of chaos and crisis you could follow the path of Devotion.

The primary point in following the Traveler is that you embrace instability and chaos as positive tools. Unless you’re a trickster, you don’t want to cause trouble without reason. But you believe in taking chances, embracing uncertainty, and pushing others to do the same.

THE CABINET OF FACES

Most tribal changelings follow the path of the wanderer. They live nomadic lives and walk their own paths, with little concern for the greater world around them. However, there is an alliance of changelings who follow the path of the mentor—who actively sow chaos in large and small ways. As most members of the Cabinet of Faces are changelings, their exact numbers are impossible to track and it’s up to you as a DM to decide just how widespread they are and how deep their resources go. There could be members of the Cabinet in every city, with agents hidden in positions of power. Or there could be merely a dozen members of the Cabinet, each of who assumes a hundred different roles.

Members of the Cabinet of Faces play the role of the Traveler in the myths. They take actions that will set chaos in motion. This could be a gift, a theft, a revelation. Consider the following possibilities.

  • A old sage asks the party to investigate a Dhakaani barrow. They recover a powerful sword that holds the essence of a Dhakaani champion—a powerful weapon for whoever wields it, but also something that could change the balance of power between the Heirs of Dhakaan. When the players return from their adventure, the sage is nowhere to be found. What will they do with the sword?
  • The players are ambushed by a member of a local organization who escapes after being seen. In fighting the organization, the PCs shake up a corrupt and engrained system, but they never encounter the person who originally attacked them.
  • A scholar arrives with proof that one of the players has a claim to a noble title… but what chaos will ensue if they pursue it?
  • The party is accosted by a group of guards, as a member of the party was clearly seen committing a crime earlier: will they sort out the situation, or panic and dig in deeper?

In all of these examples, a single individual is setting a chaotic series of events in motion. The assassin, the sage, the criminal—they don’t have a personal investment in the outcome; they are simply working to place the player characters in a challenging situation or using the player characters to challenge a powerful institution or tradition.

The key with the Cabinet of Faces is that their actions will always create a crisis. This could be a personal crisis—what do we do with this artifact? Do I pursue my ancestral claim?—or it could be a set of events that could bring down a dragonmarked house, a high priest, or a nation. It’s possible that these actions can objectively be seen as noble; they will often target corrupt institutions. But they can also be challenging virtuous institutions or traditions just to make sure that they are still serving their purpose and to force them to evolve. Their goal isn’t “good”—it is chaos, with the hope that that chaos will have a positive outcome.

CANNITH CULTS

Onatar is generally seen as the patron of House Cannith. And as noted above, Onatar does inspire artisans and help them find better ways to do their work… but slowly and carefully. Onatar can be seen as following the Prime Directive: the Sovereign of the Forge won’t share any ideas until the world is ready for them. But there are those in House Cannith who believe that there should be no limits on arcane advancement, divine or otherwise. Artificers and artisans who invoke the Traveler pursue ideas that could change the world. One common theory is that the Mourning was caused by a Cannith cult of the Traveler—that they were creating a weapon that would completely change the face of modern warfare and lost control of it. There’s no question that the Mourning has forced change upon the world… but it also shows the potential danger of meddling with forces we don’t understand. Others say that Aaren d’Cannith was a devotee of the Traveler, and that the Sovereign of Change showed him the path to warforged sentience… a discovery that is forcing us to reconsider the nature of life and the rights of our creations.

From a story perspective, this can be the source of a single mad mage with big dreams and creations they can’t control. Or it can be a cabal that is actively working to release something that could fundamentally change civilization as we know it. Reliable resurrection. Cheap teleportation. Part of the point of introducing such a thing would be to explore the chaos it would cause, and the ways in which it would transform the world.

Cannith cults are the best known of these because they can hide within the infrastructure of the house, but any artificer can seek inspiration from the Traveler. The risk is that House Cannith always seeks to contain any advances that could threaten its monopolies. Working within the house you can try to hide your true work within legitimate paths; as an independent you don’t have the shield provided by family connections or knowledge of the house. But it’s certainly the case that an independent artificer who creates a revolutionary ritual can threaten the established dominance of the house… and bringing down established powers is certainly one of the goals of the Traveler.

INDEPENDENT OPERATORS

As noted above, anyone who causes chaos or crisis can be perceived as hands of the Traveler. But there are also those who do the work of the Traveler in less dramatic ways. In Sharn, there’s a priest of the Traveler who runs a gambling hall; encouraging people to task risks and facilitating unusual wagers. The Tyrants of Sharn aren’t as far-reaching in their actions as the Cabinet of Faces, but they also take subtle actions to challenge the institutions of the city… exacerbating the conflict between Daask and the Boromar Clan, subtling interfering in the espionage and diplomacy that occurs throughout the city. The basic question when introducing a devotee of the Traveler is the question of mentor or trickster… do they believe that their actions could have a positive outcome, or are they lighting the fire because they want to watch things burn?

Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters for keeping this website going! Share your thoughts and questions on the Traveler below.

Q&A

Why is the Traveler in the Dark Six? The other five members have evil alignments, but it is CN. So why’s it with the rest of them?

Because it’s not about the alignment of the entity, it’s about the consequences of their actions. The Sovereign Host are seen as forces that strengthen and support civilization: law, agriculture, industry, commerce, honor. The Dark Six are forces that are either destructive or that favor the individual. Even if you accept the mentor’s view that chaos can have a positive end result, the Traveler is fundamentally a deity driven by challenging tradition and shattering order: placing them directly in opposition with Onatar, Aureon, and the rest of the Nine.

Mythologically, does the Traveler predate the other Sovereigns?

Mythologically, no one knows. That’s the message of the five bones: the Traveler may be grouped with the Dark Six, but they’ve always walked their own path. The Traveler is present in the myths, but there’s no story that explains their origin. So it’s possible that they predate the Sovereigns or possible that they came into existence with the Sovereigns; the critical point is that they’re always there, shaping the story from the sidelines.

The Traveler seems an obvious figure to be seen as the driving force behind a revolution. Are there any revolutionary groups in Eberron, past or present, that pay tribute to the Traveler?

It’s not quite as obvious as it appears. Under the Pyrinean Creed—the dominant faith of the Five Nations—the Traveler is seen in a purely negative light. Look again to the myth of Dol Dorn’s broken sword; the Vassal interpretation isn’t that the Traveler helped Dol Dorn learn a lesson, but rather that the Traveler intended mischief and Dol Dorn’s courage and strength allowed him to triumph in spite of it. As a result, groups like the Swords of Liberty don’t invoke the Traveler as their patron. They invoke Aureon, saying that they seek to create a better system of laws and leadership; Dol Arrah, saying that they fight for a just cause; Boldrei, saying that they are the ones fighting for the good of the community; or Dol Dorn, asking for the strength and courage to see their battle through. They don’t see the Traveler as the guiding their efforts to bring change; they fear that the Traveler will bring them misfortune or through their plans into chaos.

Essentially, the vassals assume that all who follow the Traveler are tricksters. The idea of the mentor and the positive aspects of chaos are largely tied those who follow the Cazhaak traditions and the Children. While there are those in the Five Nations who share these beliefs, it’s not usually something they would proclaim openly as it would generally be misinterpreted. So there may be those WITHIN the Swords of Liberty who offer prayers to the Traveler and view them as a patron of their efforts—but it’s not something embraced by the movement as a whole.

With that said? Certainly, it’s happened in the past. Bear in mind that the Last War isn’t the first time there’s been strife over the succession of Galifar. There was a princess of Aundair who invoked the Traveler, calling for a fundamental change to both the system of the Galifar and the dominance of the Pyrinean Creed; there was likewise a movement in Cyre that sought vast changed and called themselves the Travelers. However, neither of these ended well, and most Vassals blame this on the foolish concept of placing any faith in the Traveler.

How common are cloaks as a motif in the practices of the Children? Beyond the obvious utility of a cloak, are cloaks part of the vestments of clerics, are they handed down and repaired rather than replaced? 

I’d take this a step farther. The Children don’t rely on clothes to identify a priest. Among other things, having a recognizable uniform prevents the changeling from assuming other roles… and one of the roles of a priest of the Traveler is to be able to BE the stranger on the road, which is hard to do if you’re wearing a distinctive uniform.

So rather than clothing, I’d see the Children developing personas for their priests. I know my priest by their face and their voice. Helgin is a white-haired dwarf with a scar over his left eye and a deep booming voice. He’s also one of the priests of my tribe, and when I see Helgin, I know it’s a priest acting in his official capacity. It doesn’t matter what he’s wearing; the SHAPE is the vestment, and it is something that would be handed down and shared by multiple priests within the tribe.

Tied to this, in my opinion the Children don’t use a consistent holy symbol for the Traveler. Instead, I feel that the holy symbol is something that has personal significance and importance to the individual priest… not unlike an okus in Illimat. So an heirloom cloak could certainly be a PARTICULAR cleric’s holy symbol; as symbols are usually handheld it’s slightly odd, but the point would be that to USE it as a holy symbol, you’d have to lift a corner in your hand (same as a priest of the Undying Court has to place a hand on their mask to use it as a holy symbol).

So yes, I think a cloak is an interesting holy symbol. But I also think that the Children recognize their priests based on personas as opposed to clothing.

How does guarding and protecting a persecuted people interact with introducing chaos as an agent of change?

This is the critical point that highlights why the Traveler gets pushed to the Dark Six. The mentor will try to help you through crisis, but they will CREATE the crisis to begin with. Weathering a storm makes you stronger, so I’m going to push you into a storm. This also ties to the three paths I described. The trickster creates chaos and doesn’t care about helping people in crisis. The wanderer follows a chaotic life, believing the Traveler walks with them; they likewise don’t care about OTHER people in crisis. It’s the mentor who actively tries to help others… but again, they will create crises if you’re not already dealing with one.

Do the Children have any thoughts on their purpose in the Traveler’s path? Are they considered to be his agents?

Most of the Children follow the path of the wanderer. Look back to the Jes myth: ‘I will protect your children if they follow my path. Let them wander the world. None will know them. They will have no kingdom but the road, and no enemy will find them. They may be shunned by all the world, but they will never be destroyed.’ The Children don’t care about anyone else; they believe that as long as they embrace a path of constant chaos and change, always moving and adapting, that the Traveler will guide and protect them. So overall, the Children consider themselves to be the chosen people of the Traveler, but that doesn’t require them to interfere with others.

Now, SOME of the Children believe that they are active agents of the Traveler. The Cabinet of Faces is primarily comprised of Children, and largely follows the path of the mentor. Others become tricksters, seeing it as a sacred duty to sow chaos. And beyond this you have priests, who often believe that they are the hands of the Traveler in guiding and protecting the Children.

Is the connection between the Traveler and the Children a known part of the distrust of changelings or just a happy coincidence?

The Children don’t feel that the laws of others apply to them, and see it as their right to deceive single-skins. And yes, this has increased the general distrust of changelings. But it’s worth noting that the Children are extremely secretive; they’re known more as urban legend than concrete fact. Unlike many traveling people in our world, you’re not likely to ever know when a group of the Children pass through your city.

What beliefs does Lost have about the Traveler? They’re a more stable doppelgänger community aren’t they?

That depends how you define “stable.” Lost is a mobile village whose BUILDINGS can shapeshift. This follows the basic principle of the path of the wanderer: they are ever-moving, ever-changing, and as such the Traveler remains by their side.

Lost is described in Dungeon 193. The article presents a version of the myth of Jes’s Children later seen in WGtE, stating that the founders of Lost were fleeing enemies in Ohr Kaluun and that the Traveler helped them hide. “In exchange, the people of Lost swore to bring confusion to his enemies and change to the world.” So the inhabitants of Lost are a branch of the Children, albeit one that’s less influenced by regular contact with the culture of the Five Nations. Beyond this, it’s important to remember that the followers of the Traveler aren’t opposed to tradition; they simply believe that traditions should always be challenged and should evolve when necessary, and this is true in Lost. From the article, the people of Lost “…find joy in change, both within the individual and the ripples they create in the lives of others. Although each doppelganger has a unique thought-symbol that serves as a true name, the people of Lost are ambivalent regarding permanent identity in a way that that outsiders find disconcerting.” Again, this ties to the WGtE statement that the Children don’t write down their myths, because a story should be allowed to take different forms. Lost is the oldest community of the Children, and devoted to the Traveler. But the village itself changes location and appearance, and the people likewise embrace continuous change… even if their devotion to the Traveler remains a constant throughout.

The Origins of Eberron: Bill Slavicsek

Mickey Redblade was sharpening a dagger when she walked in. She was three feet of trouble – the most beautiful halfling he’d ever seen. But Mickey could see it in her eyes. She was in danger.

On a rooftop overlooking Redblade Investigations, Tyras “Deadshot” Dondarael assembled his sniper’s rod of seven parts. He’d seen the princess entering the building. Now he had to make sure she didn’t leave – alive.

Eberron didn’t start out as Eberron. In 2002 Wizards of the Coast announced the Fantasy Setting Search, an open call to find the next setting for Dungeons & Dragons. I was a lifelong D&D fan, and I was doing freelance work for Atlas Games, Goodman Games, and a number of other small publishers—but I never imagined an opportunity like this one. I submitted a number of ideas. My favorite was called Thrilling Tales of Swords and Sorcery. It incorporated themes of pulp adventure and film noir, along with the idea of magic evolving as part of society. The story above is from the original one-page submission. It was a fun idea and a world *I* wanted to explore… but I never imagined that it would eventually become one of the official worlds of Dungeons & Dragons.

Of course, Thrilling Tales wasn’t Eberron. It went through four stages of development. First there was the original one page concept, which went up against thousands of others. The next step was expanding that into ten pages, fleshing out the core idea. From there I wrote a hundred page story bible. But even then, it was still Thrilling Tales of Swords and Sorcery.

Once Thrilling Tales was chosen as the final setting, I went to Seattle and spent weeks working with an amazing team of people at Wizards of the Coast: Bill Slavicsek, Chris Perkins, James Wyatt, and many others. Together we isolated the best parts of Thrilling Tales, as well as identifying the elements that didn’t work and finding ways to improve them. You know what’s more exciting than nomadic halflings? Nomadic halflings riding dinosaursWe took the idea of dragonmarks and made the Dragonmarked Houses. The Last War, the Undying Court, the Mourning, the Church of the Silver Flame—these are all things that we built together. This was one of the most amazing creative experiences of my professional career, and it was this team that created the world as you know it… and it was Bill Slavicsek who named the world Eberron.

Despite being part of Eberron from the very beginning, there are things I’ve never known. What inspired WotC to hold the Fantasy Setting Search in the first place? What was it that people liked about Thrilling Tales? Bill Slavicsek is currently the lead writer for the Elder Scrolls Online, but he took a little time to reach back into the past and discuss the origins of Eberron.

How did the Fantasy Setting Search come about?

Wizards of the Coast had an unprecedented success with the release of Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition in 2000. We used the Greyhawk setting as the default in the core rulebooks, and we released a new edition of Forgotten Realms in 2001, but both Brand and R&D wanted to create something new. The Brand Team came up with the idea to open the search for a new setting to everyone—fans and professionals alike. So we launched the Fantasy Setting Search in 2002. We assumed we’d get a good response to our call for one-page submissions, but we never expected the deluge we received. Our offices were inundated with more than ten thousand submissions! I was the Director of R&D for Dungeons & Dragons at the time, and a member of the committee charged with reviewing and ultimately selecting the new campaign setting. The committee, which included members of WotC’s R&D, Brand, Marketing, and Sales teams, had originally hoped to have every member review every submission we received, but the sheer volume made that impossible. Instead, we divided the submissions among the various committee members and directed each one to bring the ten most-promising entries from their piles to the ongoing committee meetings for discussion.

Eberron emerged from the Fantasy Setting Search. Originally, the setting was simply called Thrilling Tales of Swords & Sorcery. Thousands of worlds were submitted to the search; what did you find appealing about this one?

Interestingly enough, Thrilling Tales was in my stack of submissions. After reading through the first couple of hundred one-page synopses in my pile, I came to the conclusion that we weren’t going to find the perfect submission. I read various takes on ice worlds and water worlds, worlds where one or more of the D&D races didn’t exist, where magic was more or less prevalent, or where the gods have disappeared. Many of these had interesting bits buried within them, but they all did something I was hoping to avoid—they made parts of the Player’s Handbook, Dungeon Master’s Guide, and Monster Manual unusable. At this point, I focused my efforts on finding a submission with a unique concept, something with a twist and the seed of an idea that I could help grow into a campaign setting worthy to take its place beside the amazing settings that had come before it. The first submission I came across that had that spark of excitement was Thrilling Tales. Even as I winnowed my pile of submissions down to a handful of contenders, I kept coming back to Keith’s proposal. Now, bear in mind, we reviewed each and every submission blind. There were no names attached to them. We wouldn’t find out who wrote what until we selected the three finalists. Remember, I was looking for a submission with a core idea that I could help nurture and grow. Keith’s original one-pager is hardly recognizable as the Eberron Campaign Setting, but if you looked closely enough and opened your imagination, you could see the kernels of Eberron ready to explode upon the page. At least, I could. I loved the idea of building a fantasy world out of the elements of pulp action and noir suspense. Once I convinced the rest of the committee that Thrilling Tales had to be among our three finalists, we were well on the way to making the world that Keith helped me imagine come to fruition.

What appealed to me about Thrilling Tales of Swords & Sorcery? The promise implied by the title, for one thing. The challenge of mixing genres, for another. And, frankly, the sheer freshness of the idea—something that hadn’t yet been tried in D&D. I championed Keith’s entry not because of what it was, but because of what it could become. Now, my team and I worked with all three finalists to help them turn their one-page submissions into hundred-page story bibles, and I was happy with how each of them turned out. But in the end, the setting that was destined to become Eberron was the one that I found to be the most exciting, both from my perspective as a fan and my role as a creative professional. In the end, the first submission to spark my interest and capture my imagination is the one we eventually published. It was a wild and amazing ride from start to finish.

You came up with many of the names used in the world… including Eberron itself. Is there a story to the name “Eberron”?

Names and concepts. Those are kind of my specialty. In fact, the first major RPG product I worked on, The Star Wars Sourcebook, was all about me coming up with names and descriptions and backgrounds for people, places, and things seen briefly in one of the three original Star Wars movies. Once we got Keith into the WotC offices and began the process of turning his one-pager into a publishable campaign setting, my first task was convincing him to take his idea in the direction I was imagining. If I remember the original one-pager correctly, it was somewhat tongue-in-cheek in its approach, a kind of send-up of a private detective story set in a D&D-esque fantasy world. I wanted Keith to embrace that, but to shift the tone to something more serious. I wanted to play the pulp and noir aspects straight. To build a fantasy world influenced by the same events that helped create the pulp stories (which reached their peak in the 1920s and 1930s) and noir tales of the 1940s and 1950s, but with a modern sensibility and an overlay of the fantastic. Keith immediately saw where I wanted to go and ran with the idea, bringing back a story bible that would serve as the basis of the world we would eventually create. As for Eberron, I knew we needed an evocative name for the setting that would look good on a logo, be memorable, and be able to be trademarked without too much fuss and bother. I just worked the word until I was happy with it, then presented it and got it approved by Brand and Sales.

Eberron has come a long way since the original submission. What’s your favorite aspect of the final setting?

Eberron has an interesting pedigree. It started life as a one-pager by Keith Baker, was adopted by myself and Chris Perkins (the project design manager), then shaped and expanded by Keith, me, and James Wyatt. More than words, though, we also utilized the talents of concept artists Dana Knutson, Steve Prescott, and Mark Tedin to help bring the amazing things we were imagining to life. Trying to choose a favorite aspect is like trying to decide which of your pets or children you most cherish. It just can’t be done. But I can narrow it down to a few key elements.

I love how we were able to successfully combine multiple genres along with the core elements of D&D to create a viable and exciting setting that was both new and still profoundly D&D. I love the set-up of the world, from the Five Nations to the Last War. I love the mix of magic and technology, from the Lightning Rail to Elemental Airships, Warforged to Artificers. And I love how that original volume ended up, from the Ten Things You Need to Know to the mix of background material and the presentation of current events that could be used to shape adventures and stories happening in the immediacy of the world. The Blood of Vol, Dragonmarks, the Silver Flame, the Emerald Claw—there’s a lot that stands out in my memory, and I’m extremely proud of what I was able to help Keith and James create almost fifteen years ago.

Have you ever played in or run an Eberron campaign of your own? If so, what was one of your favorite moments?

I ran an Eberron campaign while we were writing the Campaign Setting, utilizing ideas and events at the table to influence my writing. I playtested the original trilogy of adventures during their development. And later, I ran a campaign set in the world just for fun. Probably my favorite moment was an encounter I designed to kick off the campaign. It was designed to showcase the uniqueness of the world and throw the characters right into the action—action that was pure Eberron. It involved a chase through the skies of Sharn, the City of Towers, that took place atop an airship that was under attack by gnolls riding disks of energy. The scene was so evocative that we had Wayne Reynolds illustrate it in his impeccable style and I think we included a version of the encounter in one of those first adventures.

Thanks to all of you who’ve explored Eberron and helped to bring it to life! What do you find appealing about the setting, and what are some of your favorite Eberron moments?

Dragonmarks: The Dragonmarked Houses

In the wake of the war, many nations still want to contain the power of the dragonmarked houses. The clearest example of this attitude is the provision of the Treaty of Thronehold that called for the destruction of the creation forges that House Cannith used to create the warforged. At the time the treaty was signed, House Cannith was divided, reeling from the loss of its baron and its Cyran holdings in the Mourning. Now, realizing that weakness and concession led to Cannith’s losses, the houses refuse to be so easily cowed, and no united Galifar remains to rein them in. The houses are not bound by national borders. With the threat of renewed war looming on the horizon, the possibility of losing the services of a house is one that few nations can afford. Indeed, some leaders are working to build close ties with the houses. Aundair granted Stormhold to House Lyrandar in a clear violation of the Korth Edicts, and that house’s activities in Valenar also overstep the law. House Deneith’s military forces at its headquarters in Korth have grown beyond even the more generous provisions granted to it in the edicts, but Karrnath has yet to challenge this state of affairs.

All this creates a situation rife with intrigue and ready for adventure, as player characters—especially those who bear dragonmarks themselves—negotiate the ever-changing alliances and plots among the houses and the nations. Aside from the individual intrigues of each dragonmarked house, you might also consider the growing influence of the houses as a whole. A century ago, the balance of power clearly lay in the hands of the monarchy. Today, the divided leaders of Khorvaire’s many nations squabble and work intrigues, weakening their influence over their economies. Meanwhile, the reach of the merchant houses grows stronger with each day. There are many who whisper that if the nations of Khorvaire are ever to be united again, it will not be a descendant of Galifar who sits on the throne, but a dragonmarked heir of one of the houses.

This text is from from the fourth edition Eberron Campaign Guide, and it reflects a few of our basic design goals in creating the dragonmarked houses. Eberron is a world where magic is a part of industry, where it provides services that are part of everyday life—communication, transportation, medical services. If you need healing, you don’t go to a temple, you go to a hospital—which is to say, a Jorasco healing house. Part of our goal in doing this was to contrast the traditional feudal fantasy kingdom with the modern multinational corporation… to explore the idea that in an industrial world, the barons of industry may be as powerful—or more powerful—than kings and queens. In part this was inspired by powerful corporate families throughout history, such as the Medici Bank or Thurn & Taxis. it was equally inspired by the megacorporations of the cyberpunk genre, which often envisions a world in which industry has largely supplanted nations, where brand loyalty may mean more than nationality. Eberron isn’t at that point YET, but it was always the idea that you could imagine it going there… that the houses are growing in power while the nations are tearing themselves apart. It’s a theme you see explored in the last two Thorn of Breland novels, among others.

You don’t have to explore this in your campaign. The basic principle of Eberron is that we present more threats than any one campaign could possibly deal with—daelkyr, Dreaming Dark, Overlords rising, dragonmarked dystopia, the Next War, the Queen of the Dead—and it’s up to the DM to decide which will play a factor in a campaign, and which are still decades or centuries away from being relevant. Just as the stars may not be right for the daelkyr to arise, it could be that in YOUR Eberron the houses have no sinister agenda and are simply friendly, reliable service providers. But the idea is there that the houses are forces with the power to rival nations, driven purely by the interests of their families and an endless hunger for profit.

To be clear, it’s not the case that the houses are supposed to be evil. They’re essentially self-regulated monopolies. Given that, they could engage in vicious price gouging. They could knowingly peddle substandard goods, or take advantage of their customers in any number of ways. In general, we present them doing the reverse: we call out that people prefer to go to a Cannith-licensed smith or a Ghallanda-licensed tavern because they trust the quality and pricing, whereas an unlicensed business could be peddling substandard wares. By default, we present the houses as having earned the trust of the public over the course of centuries of reliable service. Jorasco may charge for healing; but we’ve never suggested that they charge unreasonable rates, and we’ve said that it is the industry people are used to dealing with. By defaultand you can of course change this—the houses are essentially nations. They put the interests of their nation and their citizens above the good of outsiders; Jorasco is first and foremost considered with the stability and profitability of House Jorasco, just as King Boranel puts the interests of Breland ahead of the needs of the people of Thrane. The houses aren’t GOOD; they aren’t driven by compassion and they don’t engage in charity. And they do take ruthless action to preserve their power, just as a Breland will use the King’s Dark Lanterns to eliminate threats to the nation. But as a whole, the houses are working to provide quality services at a fair price… and they could do far worse if they chose.

With that said, while a house as a whole may not be a force for evil, there are cabals and factions WITHIN the houses that are certainly engaged in cruel or ruthless actions. Looking to Jorasco, we’ve discussed the idea that there are secret facilities engaged in bioweapons research. The nosomantic chiurgeons are an order that twist the power of the Mark of Healing to do harm rather than to prevent it. The Fading Dream shows a secret facility where innocent monsters are being tortured as part of Jorasco experiments. The point is that the typical Jorasco healer would be horrified by what’s going on in that facility… just as a typical Brelish citizen may not support the actions of the Dark Lanterns or the Swords of Liberty. The LEADERS of the Houses may well pursue ruthless agendas the common heir knows nothing about. House Cannith could have caused the Mourning… but that doesn’t mean every Cannith artificer was a part of it. As the opening paragraph suggests, the houses are a source of constantly shifting alliances and plots, and this is enhanced by the fact that they aren’t loyal to or accountable to any one nation.

So the houses could be involved in a campaign in a number of ways…

  • As neutral service providers who shape the general landscape and flavor of the world, providing the everyday services adventurers come to rely on.
  • As forces whose ambitions drive adventure—either because they are seeking rare resources, exploring or seeking to establish a presence in new regions, or pushing the envelope of arcane science in dangerous ways. A group of Vadalis researchers may have no evil intent, but that won’t stop the war-beasts they’ve magebred from wreaking havoc. A Cannith artificer is creating warforged that appear human; she may have no evil purpose for them, but the Lord of Blades has a few ideas. Such situations could involve the player characters working as operatives for one of the houses, cleaning up a mess made by the house, or competing with house agents.
  • As opponents whose quests for profit or power puts innocents or allies of the PCs in danger. This could be something on a grand scale, or it could be quite specific: the PC artificer has made a remarkable discovery and House Cannith wants to either buy it or destroy it. Again, this may involve a specific faction within a house rather than the entire organization: a Traveler cult within House Cannith, a specific unit of assassins in House Thuranni, a Vadalis cabal magebreeding supersoldiers, or just a single ruthless baron with a vision and vast resources. You can even blend this with other forces, introducing a Cult of the Dragon Below or Dreaming Dark cell within a dragonmarked enclave.
  • If you want, you COULD explore the idea of the Twelve actively working to undermine the monarchies and leaders of the Thronehold Nations. As it stands, this is something that is largely happening organically; it’s not that the house are trying to take over the world, they’re just slowly pushing their limits. But if you WANT to jumpstart a dragonmarked dystopia, that’s up to you.

Needless to say, these ideas would usually involve a particular house or a cabal within a house… and could involve two houses working at cross-purposes. Here’s a few of the more significant house conflicts.

  • House Deneith resents House Tharashk for edging into the mercenary trade by brokering the services of monstrous forces.
  • House Orien is threatened by House Lyrandar’s introduction of air travel. Currently this is a very young and limited form of travel, but as it expands it could seriously hurt Orien’s monopoly on overland transportation.
  • House Thuranni split from House Phiarlan less than thirty years ago. While the two houses largely operate in different territories, there’s certainly a strong rivalry when their paths cross.
  • House Cannith lost its leaders during the Last War, and there’s currently three powerful barons vying for control of the house. It remains to be seen if one of them can unite the house behind them, or if it will shatter and follow the example of Thuranni and Phiarlan.
  • House Medani and House Tharashk are rivals in the Inquisitive business, and Medani and Deneith have overlap in personal protection. While they specialize in different things, there’s still room for rivalry.
  • All of the dragonmarked houses are made up of multiple family lines, and there can always be intrigue between them. The biggest example of this is the split of the Houses of Shadow, which occured when the Thuranni erradicated the Paelion, another Phiarlan line. But this is always a possible source of tension and intrigue.

The Twelve is an organization formed specifically to help mediate these sorts of disputes and to foster cooperation between the houses. House Sivis likewise actively works to keep the peace between and within the houses. But these are certainly points of tension that could form the basis of a plot.

Agent or Excoriate?

What does it mean to be a dragonmarked character? Are you complicit in the actions of your house or bound by its rules? Could you be a rebel, or a spy engaging in covert operations on behalf of the house? The answer is simple: what do you want your story to be? The houses are massive organizations with thousands of heirs. Are you close to the powers that run the house, or did you grow up working on the factory floor? Do you want to be limited by the rules of the house, or do you want to be on the outside?

The Dragonmarked sourcebook presents five different roles for player characters. Here’s a quick overview, along with my thoughts on how this relates to fifth edition.

The Agent

As an agent of a dragonmarked house, you have close ties to a house and its leaders. Depending on your status and accomplishments, you can draw on the authority and resources of the house—limited at first when you’ve yet to prove yourself, but increasing with your accomplishments. The flip side of this is that you have responsibilities and you’re accountable to the house. Your actions reflect upon it and you’ll be expected to follow its rules and regulations. In short, your ties to the house are a constant factor in your life, and will likely come up in every adventure—whether it’s because the house has given you a specific mission, or simply because your ties to the house affect your interactions with others. One topic that’s worth discussing with your DM is whether you want to be proud of your house and if you’d like it to be shown primarily in a positive light in the campaign… or if you like the idea of your house taking actions that force you to question your loyalty, and if you might uncover secrets you wish you didn’t know.

Your influence as an agent is based on your actions, so this is something you have to earn over time. However, there’s two backgrounds that make sense if you want this to be a long-term part of your character. House Agent from the Wayfinder’s Guide to Eberron reflects an ongoing role as an operative and troubleshooter for your house. You may not be close to the leadership, but you’re a recognized agent. Alternately, Noble reflects the idea that you are tied to one of the most powerful and influential families within the house… reflecting the idea that in Eberron, a dragonmarked baron has power to rival a prince or duke. Your Position of Power has a different flavor than that of an aristocrat, but you are still heir to wealth and power. Nobles may see you as new money, but they will respect your family’s influence.

In the novels, Lei d’Cannith begins as an agent of House Cannith. She’s a uniformed house operative serving alongside the Cyran military; she adheres to all house rules; and she has ties to important families and has been provided with an arranged marriage to solidify her position.

The Scion

As a scion you’re an heir in good standing with your house, but you aren’t actively working for a branch of the house, and you have little recognition or responsibility. At some point in your career you worked for one of the house guilds, but you’re currently out on your own. Effectively, if the houses were nations, you’d be a citizen: you have certain rights based on your citizenship, but the house will only pay attention to you if you draw attention to yourself. This is the simplest approach if you like the idea of being part of one of these powerful families, but don’t want to have a lot of responsibilities. As with the agent, it’s good to talk with your DM and discuss the role you’d prefer to see the house play in your story. Would you prefer to stay at a distance? Would you be interested in being drawn more deeply in over time as your reputation grows? The house could definitely take an interest in you as you gain influence and power. There could be intrigues with your family, or you could have prophetic significance you don’t know about. You could discover corruption within the house and have to decide whether to fight it or whether to simply break ties with it. You begin as a largely free agent, but there’s many ways your story could go.

While a scion could have any background, there are a few that could reflect your ties to your house. Guild Artisan is an obvious one, with your guild being the house guild that covers your particular trade; your Guild Membership feature means that you can call on the support of the house, even if it’s on a more practical level than the Noble or House Agent. If you’re Phiarlan or Thuranni, a background as an Entertainer may be a reflection of a career that began with the House Guilds, while if you’re a Spy you could be a former agent who’s still maintained a few contacts and covers. Soldier is a fine choice for House Deneith, and your Military Rank represents your honorable service within the Blademark mercenary corps. Lyrandar Sailors, Sivis Scholars, Tharashk Urban Bounty Hunters… all of these reflect the idea that you had an honest career within the house, but currently you don’t have any responsibilities to it.

The Orphan

As an orphan, you’ve chosen to break your ties with your house. This often happens when an heir wants to engage in actions forbidden by the Korth Edicts, such as marrying into a noble family. But it can also be driven by a matter of principle: a Jorasco heir wants to devote their life to charitable healing, or a Deneith soldier wants to fight for a particular cause instead of for gold. The main point is that you chose to cut yourself off. You’re not allow to wear the house insignia or to present yourself as an heir, but you’re not an excoriate. If your circumstances change, you could even potentially return to it. The main question to answer in creating your character is why did you leave? Was it driven by the Edicts? Was it a matter of principle? Was it tied to love, or to prevent a scandal?

In many ways being an orphan is the simplest way to play a dragonmarked character, if all you want is the abilities of the mark. You have no responsibilities, no access to house resources, and you can’t even use the house name… but you’re also not burdened by the infamy of excoriation. The main question is if you want the house to play a role in your life. If you left to avoid a scandal, do you want it to come back up? If you were driven away by love gone wrong, do you want to cross paths with your lover or your rival? If you left because of a principle, do you want that to be a theme as your story evolves? Or do you just want to focus on a career as an adventurer with a dragonmark, without getting into any of that?

An orphan can follow almost any background. The main point is that the benefits of your background will not reflect an active tie to your house. If you’re a Soldier and a Deneith orphan, you should either drop Military Rank, or say that it reflects your rank in a different military organization; you’ve broken all ties to the Blademark. If you’re a Noble, you don’t have a Position of Privilege within the house; instead, you or one of your parents could have married into the aristocracy. Of course, you could take the Noble background with the Retainers option, suggesting that you turned your back on your life of privilege but a few loyal retainers remain by your side.

In the Dreaming Dark novels, Daine is an orphan who left House Deneith in order to serve in the Cyran army.

The Excoriate

An Excoriate has committed a crime against the house and been formally cast out of it. This is far more severe than being an orphan. Your likeness is circulated; heirs of the house are forbidden from providing you with any sort of aid or assistance, and even members of other houses will usually shun excoriates. This punishment is reserved for serious offenses, and carries the weight of infamy, so the immediate question is what did you do? Did you actually commit treason or make an attack against your house? Did you deserve your excoriation, or is it the result of political maneuvering—you uncovered corruption or some other secret the house needed to keep hidden? If it was possible, would you want to find a way to return to your house, or do you despise your family and everything it stands for?

An excoriate is an orphan with an extra serving of drama. You aren’t simply ignored by the house, you will actively have to deal with the consequences of your infamy. If the adventure requires interaction with a house, you may have to disguise yourself or make yourself scare. On the other hand, perhaps you still have friends or contacts in the family… but are you willing to place them at risk by asking for their help?

While an excoriate can follow any background with the same limitations as the orphan, this is also a logical path for a Criminal; it could be that your criminal activities are what got you excoriated, or it could be that you were forced into a life of crime after being thrown from the house. It’s also a good match for a Folk Hero, especially if you were excoriated for doing something that hurt your house but helped the common people. A more unusual option would be Hermit or Haunted One; you have seen or discovered something the house doesn’t want known.

In the Dreaming Dark novels, Lei d’Cannith becomes an excoriate. In her case, she doesn’t know why she was driven from the house, and this is an ongoing mystery she slowly unravels over the course of her story.

The Foundling

As a foundling you never had a connection to a house. You’re presumably descended from an orphan or excoriate… or you might be the illegitimate child of a member of a house. You’ve grown up without any guidance from the house and you don’t know any of its traditions; you’ve learned to use the mark entirely on your own. As a general rule, the houses are quite happy to bring foundlings back into the family, so you COULD become a scion or agent if you ever wanted to… so the question is, why haven’t you? Is it that you’ve never had contact with a house—that you’re an Urchin, Hermit, or Outlander who has never been to a house enclave? Have you been recruited by some other organization keen to make use of your powers… so you might be a Spy or a Criminal, or an Acolyte who’s chosen your faith over your house? Or are you AFRAID of the houses… either because you know a terrible secret about them, or for purely irrational reasons?

A foundling has no immediate responsibilities; typically, the house doesn’t know you exist. Generally, the reason to play a foundling character is because you want to explore a relationship with the houses… or to play the idea of being a dragonmarked agent of another organization. If your reputation grows and your mark is revealed, your house may pressure you to join—is that a story that you want to explore? If not, you might be better off as an orphan.

Q&A

This article began as a general Q&A with questions provided by my Patreon supporters—thanks for keeping this website going! Here’s answers to those questions. 

Why did you decide to limit dragonmarks to specific bloodlines as opposed to making them available to all members of a particular race? 

In part this was inspired by historical precedent—the Medici Bank, Thurn & Taxis, industrial dynasties like the Rockefellers. But there’s a few major reasons we chose to limit it. Tying the houses to families is a way to immediately ensure self-interest and to encourage the monopoly aspect: they began in one place, they had the immediate motive to ensure the prosperity of their families, and it’s not like someone halfway across the world could develop the mark independently and challenge their monopoly. The second aspect is the fact that families have drama. If you’re dragonmarked and there’s a villain in the house, they may be your uncle or your cousin. Essentially, if you have a dragonmark, you have a connection to the house, whether you’re a foundling, orphan, or agent; it’s not the case that you just developed it randomly on your own.

This is also something that clearly and concretely distinguishes the houses from aberrant dragonmarks, which do appear entirely at random.

Was it intentional for House Jorasco to come across as a heartlessly capitalistic organization? 

The Dragonmarked sourcebook presents a particularly heartless view of House Jorasco, requiring every heir to swear an oath never to heal without payment and suggesting that heirs can actually be excoriated for breaking this oath… when excoriation is elsewhere said as a rare punishment reserved for treason and similar acts. Personally, I consider this to be extreme, and that oath isn’t something I use in my Eberron. I definitely focus on the fact that the house is a business, not a charity. Again, think of the house as a nation; Breland is going to put the interests of the Brelish people ahead of Thranes, even if that means some Thranes may die. Jorasco’s position is simple. They don’t have the resources to heal everyone. They need to make a profit to prosper and continue to provide their services. Therefore, they will limit their services to those who can pay. And people KNOW that. I live in the US, and I know that I can’t just walk into a doctor’s office and demand that the doctor give me a free checkup; it’s just not how the system works. Would it be better if everyone had all the services they needed? Of course! But that’s not how the system works… and I don’t think my doctor is evil or heartless because of it. I don’t expect an auto mechanic to fix my car for free. I don’t expect the grocer to give me free food. In Eberron, Cannith doesn’t give away warforged and Orien doesn’t offer free rides on the lightning rail… and Jorasco only heals those who can pay for it.

With that said, I feel the oath as presented in Dragonmarked is too specific and strict. I DEFINITELY don’t support the idea of a Jorasco cleric saying “Sorry, fellow PC, I can’t use a healing word until you give me 5 gp. Oath, y’know.” With that said, I think it’s entirely appropriate for the house to insist that a Jorasco agent be compensated for healing they perform… but that compensation can take many forms. If the party is performing a service for the house, that’s the payment. Otherwise, does the agent feel that the actions of the party are increasing the reputation of the house? are they helping Jorasco allies? Essentially, the services of a Jorasco healer should never be taken for granted—but even the Dragonmarked chapter notes that alternative forms of payment are an option.

I find it hard to imagine a good-aligned Jorasco PC who doesn’t in some way chafe against their House, a chaotic-aligned Jorasco PC who isn’t an excoriate, or indeed much room for good-aligned or chaotic-aligned NPC Jorascos at all; again, was that intentional?

Again, I see this as being based on the Dragonmarked idea that a Jorasco heir could be actively punished for helping without payment, and as I said, I see that as extreme. While they are at a healing house, they have to follow the rules, just as a Cannith smith has to meet the standards and follow the pricing established by the house. But I don’t support the idea that if that halfling healer is walking home and a kid falls off a bike, the healer would say “I’d love to take a look at that, but it will cost 5 crowns.” SOME Jorasco heirs may be heartless and cruel, but I also feel there are Jorasco heirs who do care about their patients and who do the best they can… and if they can’t give away full services for free, they might at least point the patient towards charitable services.

I will say that it’s hard to see a chaotic individual becoming a house agent, but not impossible; “Damn it, Dravis! You broke a dozen house regulations, but I can’t argue with your results.”

With that said, the IS the point of the orphan or excoriate. While I don’t support the Dragonmarked oath, I definitely agree that a Jorasco healer isn’t allowed to give away the services of a house of healing, and there are some who will balk at that or at the fact that the house isn’t doing more to help as many people as possible. You could leave as an orphan to do your part; or perhaps you’re a folk hero and excoriate who gave away an entire shipment of healing potions to help save a village.

There’s two points I do want to call out here. One is the fact that while Jorasco is BEST known for its healing magic, the most COMMON and affordable services are mundane treatment enhanced by the power of the mark—which is to say, use of the Medicine skill with the intuition bonus granted by the mark. If you’ve got gold you can get a lesser restoration to remove an ailment instantly, but most treatments are long term and based on the healer’s skills. So in looking to the fact that they expect payment, most of what they do is an actual SERVICE—not just the work of a moment and a spell slot.

The second is that there are people who provide charitable healing. The Church of the Silver Flame and adepts of Boldrei sometimes operate free clinics. The critical points here…

  • These places look after people who are truly in need. This is Faela in Sharn, caring for the destitute people of Fallen. If you show up with gold in your purse just trying to avoid paying Jorasco costs you clearly could afford, they’ll tell you to get lost.
  • Most priests in Eberron aren’t divine spellcasters. These charitable clinics provide access to someone trained in the Medicine skill, but this isn’t a place you go hoping for a free restoration. They don’t have dragonmark focus items or the other resources of a Jorasco house.

Essentially, in a big city there will be some options for people in desperate need, but this doesn’t change the fact that Jorasco is seen as the standard and most reliable option.

How strong or fragile are the limitations of the Korth Edicts after the War?

The Korth Edicts are the laws put in place by the united kingdom of Galifar to limit the power of the dragonmarked houses. These include restrictions on the houses holding land or maintaining military forces. The issue with the Korth Edicts is that Galifar is no longer a united entity. So if a house violates these terms… who’s going to enforce them? Cannith abided by the terms of the Treaty of Thronehold when it demanded the destruction of the Creation Forges, but that was a rare moment both of unity between all Thronehold nations and exceptional weakness for Cannith, which had just lost its leadership. But imagine if Aundair decided to call out Stormhome as Lyrandar violating the terms of the Edicts… and imagine Lyrandar saying “Of course! We completely understand your need to stand by these antiquated principles. But we were planning on Stormhome being the new center of our weather control operations, and if we can’t have the island we’ll have to discontinue this service in Aundair. It’s really too bad: I have it on good authority that you’re looking at a severe drought this summer without our help. We’ll also need to raise costs on airship travel out of Aundair to offset the costs… and House Sivis told us that if we raised our rates, they’d probably, they’ll have to increase the cost of communications across Aundair as well. Are you SURE that our little island is a problem? It would be so much simpler for all of us if we just kept things as they are.”

Essentially, the war weakened the nations and strengthened the houses. The Twelve are still testing the limits of the Korth Edicts. At the moment they aren’t violating them on a massive scale, but the main point is if they did, who would actually be able to do anything about it? This is a theme that comes up across the Thorn of Breland novels. Would the nations stand together to enforce limits on the houses? Or would the houses be able to exploit the divisions between the nations and continue to get what they want?

So the Korth Edicts are weakening. Is that how House Vadalis has land on which to put their compounds and Varna, Merylsward et al? I couldn’t think of who they pay rent to, now that the Reaches no longer under Aundairian rule. Did they just quietly claim ownership of the land?

The Player’s Guide to Eberron says “Since the houses do not own land, the edicts dictate a system of rents to be paid to the crown. In the wake of the Last War, the houses continue to operate under the edicts of Korth, treating the local ruler as the crown for purposes of the law.” Stormhome is called out as a special exception, where Aundair granted the land to Lyrandar in violation of the Korth Edicts.

The Eldeen Reaches are likewise an unusual case. Prior to the Eldeen secession, Vadalis was paying rent to the Aundairian crown for its holdings in Varna. Following the Eldeen secession, I believe that the Wardens of the Wood came to an arrangement with Vadalis, where the house holds the land in exchange for maintaining the local infrastructure and supporting the Eldeen secession. Much like the Valenar and House Lyrandar, the Wardens of the Wood have no interest in maintaining large cities, so it makes sense that they’d deputize the house to do so. Again, this is a violation of the Korth Edicts, but the Eldeen Reaches were never a part of the Korth Edicts, so why should they enforce them?

In the last book of Thorn of Breland, we see a covert joint operation between several of the Houses after Drix uses an Orien teleportation circle. What was the purpose of that operation and what are other “secret project” that the houses are working on ?

The houses are always working on joint projects; facilitating such cooperation is the primary purpose of the Twelve, along with presenting a unified front if a nation challenges the houses. The Kundarak vault network was a joint operation between Cannith, Kundarak, and Orien. Airships are a joint operation between Cannith, Lyrandar, and the Zil. In the case of The Fading Dream—and I say this because it’s not a major spoiler to the main plot of the story—they stumble into a facility that appears to be a joint Jorasco-Vadalis program seeking to unlock and replicate the supernatural abilities of various monsters. Jorasco would love to be able to replicate the regenerative powers of trolls, and Vadalis would be thrilled to be able to magebreed the harpy’s voice or medusa’s gaze into other species. House Cannith often gets dragged into things because the houses need them to build magic items or focus items… and this in turn is why they have traditionally been the most influential house within the Twelve. House Orien doesn’t especially need House Jorasco, but it relies on Cannith to produce conductor stones and coaches.

As for other secret projects, who can say? If Vadalis was magebreeding supersoldiers, I’d expect Jorasco to be involved. Likewise, we’ve hinted at the existence of Jorasco bioweapons programs, and that could likewise benefit from Vadalis insights. Each house has a specialty; in thinking of an interesting idea, consider which specialties would be required to bring it about.

House Deneith is the only House with rights, through the Treaty of Thronehold, to maintain an army. How does this contend with House Tharashk’s mercenary operation, if at all?

See the earlier discussion of the Korth Edicts. Tharashk doesn’t maintain an army in the same way that Deneith does with the Blademark; Tharashk simply brokers the services of independent monstrous mercenaries. It also generally bases these forces in Droaam or the Shadow Marches, neither of which are Thronehold nations. If it wants to establish a garrison in the Five Nations, that could be an issue.

Is there a bloodline of Halas Tarkanan?

Halas Tarkanan was the commander of one of the major aberrant dragonmarked forces during the War of the Mark. We know he had a consort, the Lady of the Plague. No canon source mentions them having children, and even if they did, one would presume that they died in the destruction of Dorasharn. House Tarkanan has never mentioned any sort of recognized Tarkanan bloodline; instead anyone with an aberrant dragonmark is considered to be a member of the house and to have a right to use the Tarkanan name. But the point is that no one knows, so this is entirely something for each DM to explore. Do you WANT a secret bloodline of Halas Tarkanan? Then come up with a story of how it survived the siege of Dorasharn and run with it.

With that said, this relates directly to the earlier question about the dragonmarked families. Aberrant dragonmarks are not reliably hereditary. The most reliable way to produce an aberrant dragonmark is by mixing pure dragonmarked lines. Aside from that, aberrant dragonmarks can appear on anyone, anywhere, regardless of heritage. We’ve said that children of aberrant parents aren’t assured of developing aberrant marks, and that those that do usually won’t inherit the abilities of their parents. In The Son of Khyber, Zae is the daughter of Fileon… but Fileon has a deadly touch, while Zae talks to rats. This is intentionally in direct opposition to the reliable, hereditary nature of “true” dragonmarks; aberrant marks are chaotic and impossible to control. So you COULD have a bloodline of Halas Tarkanan, but being an heir of Halas doesn’t automatically mean you’ll get an aberrant mark, and even if you do it may have no resemblance to his mark.

According to D&D Beyond, a warforged character can have an aberrant dragonmark. Is this a mistake? 

The Wayfinder’s Guide placed no racial restrictions on aberrant marks. Changelings, shifters, or even warforged can have aberrant marks. An aberrant warforged would be highly unusual, and raise questions about how it happened and what it means. But with that said, there IS an warforged with an aberrant dragonmark in The Son of Khyber—and again, people there are puzzled and wonder what it means. The whole point of aberrant dragonmarks is that they are unpredictable and they AREN’T tied to bloodlines.

How did Thuranni get away with the Shadow Schism? What’s the common understanding of the mass-murder/disappearance of so many Paelions?

This is covered on page 82 of Dragonmarked. The Paelions were accused of plotting a massive wave of assassinations targeting the heads of nations and dragonmarked houses. Per Dragonmarked, To this day, Baron Elar d’Thuranni maintains that he acted out of loyalty to his own house and all the dragonmarked houses, quashing a plot that would have thrown all of Khorvaire into even greater upheaval”… And within the Twelve, there are many that believe him and support him, which is why Thuranni was accepted as a house by the Twelve.

As for the public understanding of the situation, bear in mind that this occurred in the middle of a war; that the Paelions were believed to be entertainers; and that the Thuranni are expert assassins with a great deal of experience covering their tracks. Depending on the situation, assassination could have been made to look like the result of military action (Aundarian arcane explosive accidentally brings down opera house!), the work of bandits (tragic loss as bandits senselessly murder traveling Phiarlan troupe!), or criminal activity (Were gambling debts behind the carnival massacre?). It’s not like the common people even know the difference between all the Phiarlan lines. You can be sure that there are conspiracy theorists that have pieced it together, but you can be equally sure Thuranni agents have spread a host of ridiculous theories that have clogged up those channels—the Paelions were a cult of the Dragon Below! They were secret agents of the Silver Flame slain by demons! But the short form is that the public was more concerned with war and not in a place to be terribly interested in the seemingly coincidental deaths of Phiarlan entertainers.

Beyond this, one theory is that the “Shadow Schism” was an amicable arrangement between Elar and Elvinor d’Phiarlan—that they both wanted to eliminate the Paelions, and that the entire schism is a sham. Don’t forget that these are the finest actors in Eberron; this could all be part of an elaborate play that’s going to take a century to play out… which is, again, not a lot of time for an elf!

The Dragonshard articles on House Phiarlan give different locations for the Five Demesnes (the primary house enclaves) than the Dragonmarked Sourcebook. Which is correct? 

The Dragonmarked sourcebook is the more accurate source.

Have you thought about putting an explicitly anti-House organization into the setting? 

There are a few specifically anti-house organizations… it’s just a question of whether it’s a pleasant answer. The Aurum is entirely an anti-house organization. The Ashbound are anti-house, along with anti-many other things. There’s a few others like that. But we intentionally didn’t put an entirely benevolent, well organized anti-house organization for the same reason the Gatekeepers are withered and fading: we don’t want the major problems of the world to be solved by NPC organizations. Typically where there are such organizations—notably the Church of the Silver Flame, a compassionate organization that does charitable work, provides free healthcare where it can, and seeks to fight supernatural evil—we call out problems that limit its ability to accomplish that mission. Because the world needs player characters to shift the balance. As it stands it’s a world with many problems and few solutions; it’s up to YOU to find the best answer.

While most people see the houses as directly dispensing the services they provide, isn’t it the case that most of those services are actually provided by the guilds—and that the members of the guilds aren’t necessarily part of the dragonmarked family? What are the interactions between high-ranking, unmarked guild members and those house leaders who govern their affairs? 

This is a good question, and it’s covered on page 11 of Dragonmarked. You are absolutely correct: the HOUSES are families, and the GUILDS are what provide services. However, there’s a Venn diagram here, because the Guilds govern three different types of businesses.

  • House Arms are businesses directly run by blood heirs / house agents on behalf of the house.
  • Bound Businesses are essentially franchises. They’re funded by the guild in exchange for a greater share of the profits, and they maintain a recognized guild identity—for example, the Gold Dragon Inn of House Jorasco. In many cases, a bound business will have to be run by a blood heir because the business may require the use of dragonmark focus items to provide its services, but many of the employees may be outside of the house. They have more independence than a house arm, but they have significant limtiations.
  • Licensed Businesses are businesses that uphold the standards of the guild, and are usually run by people trained by the guild, but they are not directly tied to the house and generally aren’t run by blood heirs.

The critical point here is that licensed businesses can’t provide the unique house services. You can have a licensed scribe who’s Sivis-trained, but they can’t manage a message stone. Meanwhile, most Sivis message stations are house arms, because the house actively maintains and expands the stone network.

So looking to Jorasco, a house arm is directly run by the house through the guild. It will have the best equipment and the largest number of blood heirs. A bound house will likely be run by a blood heir who can use dragonmark focuses, but will have less of those focuses and a significant number of unmarked staff. And a licensed house of healing will largely provide nonmagical services, but the people there will be Jorasco trained and maintain Jorasco standards, and they may sell Jorasco potions.

Generally speaking, I expect the leadership of the guilds to be largely comprised of blood heirs… though quite possibly UNMARKED blood heirs. Remember that only around half of the heirs develop even the least mark, and guild administration is an important position that doesn’t require a mark. You don’t HAVE to be an heir to rise to a position of authority, but there’s always going to be some degree of nepotism you’ll have to deal with. Still, it’s not the case that the Finder’s Guild is primarily run by outsiders who are going to negotiate with the house; leadership will still mainly be Tharashk heirs, even if they’re unmarked, and they will have the interests of the house at heart.

Dragonmarks: Lightning Round 3/19

I’m just back from the JoCo Cruise and about to head off to PAX East, and I haven’t had an opportunity to write the next installment of the Dark Six series. Instead, I’m going to do a quick Q&A with questions submitted by my awesome Patreon supporters. These questions fall into two categories: some are questions that have canon answers, while others are essentially asking for speculation. What other failed secessions happened during the Last War, for example; none are mentioned in canon sources that I’m aware of, so any answers I give are me telling you what I might do in MY campaign. I’m marking these answers NC. 

The current political map of Khorvaire is defined largely by successful secessions – Valenar, the Mror Holds, and the Eldeen Reaches, to name a few. What kinds of *failed* secessions happened during the Last War?

(NC) One of my main rules of worldbuilding is this: In adding a detail to the lore, can I think of three ways that it could play a meaningful role in a story? I’ve never made a comprehensive list of all the rulers of Galifar, because I’ve never been in a situation where someone needed to know who was king in 464 YK; if it came up randomly at my table, I’d just make up a name and make a note of it. I bring this up for two reasons. First of all, you’ve generally heard about the winners because they HAVE defined the present map; and second, that means in describing failed secessions, I’m only interested in coming up with ideas that COULD play an interesting role in a story… whether that’s driving adventure, creating a colorful NPC or villain, or being tied to a character’s backstory.

With that in mind, here’s one idea.

Faldren’s Folly. The drive to rid Breland of the monarchy didn’t begin with Ruken ir’Clarn. In 961 YK, King Boranex of Breland committed suicide after the deaths of his two eldest sons. While Prince Boranel had proven himself in war, he was seen as an adventurer and dilettante. Commander Rand Faldren sought to rally support within the Brelish army for an overthrow of the monarchy, placing power in the hands of the parliament. He stopped short of attempting a coup, and stood down when the majority of parliament condemned the idea. However, soon thereafter he seized control of Orcbone, the fortress by the Graywall Mountains. He proclaimed the fortress to be the heart of “New Wroat,” reclaiming the pre-Galifar name of the nation, and called on those who sought freedom to join him, following the model of Q’barra. Breland dispatched a small force to retake Orcbone, which failed; given that the region was strategically unimportant and there were pressing concerns on other fronts, Boranel chose to pull soldiers back rather than to devote a major force to bring down Faldren; essentially, he put it on Faldren to defend his new settlers. This proved a disaster. As numbers grew, Faldren encouraged settlers to establish themselves in the foundation of an old goblin city… the city we now know as Graywall. These settlers were prepared for minotaur raiders, and repelled a few attacks. But they weren’t prepared for the skullcrusher ogres and war trolls that came later—the first appearance of the elite forces of Sora Maenya. The force drove deeper into New Wroat and laid waste to Orcbone. Rand Faldren was dismembered and his head was never found; some believe Sora Maenya still has it.

Boranel responded swiftly to the destruction. Orcbone was reclaimed and fortified, and many settlers were safely returned east. While some were grateful, others felt that Faldren was a martyr to the principles of a democratic Breland—that he was driven to his fate by the outdated monarchy, and that Boranel left the settlers to die because they challenged his authority. Today any western cells of the Swords of Liberty call Faldren a hero, and demand that stronger action be taken against the creatures of Droaam.

As an idea, this is tied to existing principles—the rise of Droaam and the ongoing uncertainty about the fate of the Brelish Monarchy. It serves as a rallying point for the Swords of Liberty. And a PC could have lost family in Faldren’s Folly… perhaps still yearning for vengeance against Sora Maenya or the troll commander who slaughtered their parents.

In each country, what power group would be most likely to react to a planar invasion ? Assuming it’s more covert than just a giant portal opening and a massive horde coming through. The invasion starting under the radar but growing as major threat as time progresses.

First and foremost: Who should deal with a covert planar invasion? The player characters. Eberron has always been designed as a world where there aren’t tons of powerful benevolent forces and where the ones that do exist are often limited in some way. So I’m going to continue to talk about the forces that might come into play, but in an ideal story, these forces WOULDN’T just solve the problem on their own. Perhaps they’re crippled by infighting or corruption. Perhaps they’ve been infiltrated and compromised by the invading forces. Essentially, even if the Church of the Silver Flame is ultimately the force that would fight such a thing, in my campaign the question would always be How do the player characters play a central role in that defense? 

With that said… most of the modern nations don’t have “Planar Invasion” agencies. On the one hand this is because they’re been focused on carrying out an actual war against very concrete, mundane enemies: Karrnath has been too busy fighting Thrane to devote much of their budget to the Xoriat Defense Initiative. However, part of the reason for this is that there’s a very well established and respected military force that is dedicated to protecting people of all nations from exactly this sort of threat: The Church of the Silver Flame. People often look at the Church of the Silver Flame through the lens of religion in our world. In OUR history, militant religions have often used that military force to impose their beliefs on others. But that’s never been the purpose of the templars. Instead, they are a volunteer army dedicated to defending ALL innocents—regardless of their nation or their beliefs—from the very real supernatural threats that exist in Eberron. At any time there could be a planar incursion, a horde of aberrations bursting out of Khyber, an overlord unleashed, or—just as a random example—a deadly surge in lycanthropy. And when that last one happened, who came to the defense of the people of Aundair? The Church of the Silver Flame.

I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: The Church of the Silver Flame has more in common with the Jedi and the Men in Black than with any religion in our world. The Silver Flame isn’t a traditional god; it is a force that holds demons at bay and that empowers champions who fight to defend the innocent from supernatural threats. Breland doesn’t need a Planer Defense Initiative because they know that IF such a threat arises, templars and exorcists from across the Five Nations will stand against it, and they DO specialize in dealing with this sort of thing. Again, when the Purge happened, Galifar as a whole said “Not our problem;” It was the Silver Flame that took action. Having said this: The Lycanthropic Purge shows that the best-intentioned plans can have terrible consequences. The Pure Flame sees the faith as a weapon to punish the wicked as opposed to a shield to protect the innocent. The rise of the theocracy has created opportunities for those who pursue rank in the church because they seek power as opposed to being devoted to defending the innocent. Part of the point of Eberron is that few things are entirely good or evil. But at its heart, defending the innocent from planar incursions is exactly the job of the Church of the Silver Flame.

The Gatekeepers are next in line as a force specifically trained and dedicated to protecting Eberron from planar incursions. However, they are a small force and lack the widespread recognition of the Silver Flame. If an exorcist of the Silver Flame shows up, presents their holy symbol and says “There’s a planar breach, I need you to get out of the way” many people would respond to their authority; whereas if someone says “I’m a Gatekeeper, I need your help” most people in Sharn will say “A what now?” The same holds true for the Shadow Watchers of the Kalashtar; while primarily dedicated to fighting the Dreaming Dark, they might uncover other planar agendas… but they lack resources or influence.

Beyond this, however, a covert threat is a covert threat. How different is this threat from one posed by mundane terrorists or spies? As such, you could get the King’s Citadel (note that the Blackened Book of Sharn and the King’s Wands are trained to deal with mystical threats), the Royal Eyes of Aundair, or the Trust of Zilargo engaging with such a threat.

Speaking of planar incursions, we know of the Daelkyr Invasion and the lycanthrope and shifter Lamannia exodus during the Purge, and feyspires being stuck in Eberron, are there any other historical en masse planar jumps either to Eberron from other planes and natives or a time when a significant group of Eberron natives went elsewhere in the cosmos?

(NC) This is back to noncanon speculation. The short answer? Yes, absolutely. The longer answer will have to wait, because it requires me to actually sit down and make some up. Just for a start, I’ll point you to my article on Mabar; there’s certainly regions that have been pulled into Mabar in the past.

There are no Daanvi manifest zones in any canon material. What would one be like, do you think?

(NC) Manifest zones channel some aspect of the plane. Daanvi is more subtle than some of the planes; per the 3.5 ECS, there are no effects when Daanvi is coterminous. Personally, I think it’s that there’s no physically obvious effects when Daanvi is coterminous, but that’s a subject for another time. The basic issue is the imposition of law and order. Here’s just a few ways I could imagine this manifesting.

  • Modrons manifest in the region, designing and maintaining a system of pendulums or some other monument to stability and order.
  • The region is permanently under the influence of a zone of truth.
  • Magic that seems inherently “lawful” could be cast at a higher spell slot in the region, with disadvantage to save versus its effects; magic that is inherently chaotic could have its effect minimized, and saves could have advantage.
  • The region could subtly push people to come together in groups, to embrace rules and laws or surrender freedoms. On some level, one could make a case that Korranberg could be in a manifest zone to Daanvi, which drove the original foundation of the Trust and enhanced people’s willingness to grant such brought authority to the institution.
  • Natural phenomena could manifest in ways that are unnaturally symmetrical or uniform.

Kalashtar: do you see most of them living in kalahtar communities, or more like a family secret that’s passed down through the generations, and you may or may not meet another kalashtar in your lifetime? And would an orphaned kalashtar simply believe themselves to be human, though with strange/unexplainable experiences?

Per canon, there’s a few factors here.

  • Kalashtar are described as mostly living in kalashtar communities.
  • Kalashtar lineage is very clear cut. If a human and kalashtar have a child, there’s a 50/50 chance of that child being human or kalashtar, and it’s 100% one or the other; either it inherits the bond and is kalashtar or it’s not and is entirely human. So it’s not like it lingers in the bloodline as a latent trait that can manifest in the child of two human parents.
  • By canon, kalashtar are close to human—in 3.5 they don’t have a penalty when disguising themselves as human—but they still HAVE to disguise themselves in order to pass as human. Kalashtar are kalashtar. Their body language, their features, the eyes-that-can-glow-when-they’re-emotional… if they aren’t hiding it, they’re just as distinctive as, say, an elf. Because they are rarer than elves, there are many people who see them and don’t know exactly what they are; but if they aren’t trying to hide it, it’s clear that they aren’t entirely human.
  • It is established in canon that an orphan kalashtar doesn’t inherently gain an understanding of what it means to be a kalashtar or of the true nature of their kalashtar spirit. So you can have a kalashtar orphan who doesn’t KNOW what they are… but they will CERTAINLY know that they are different from the humans around them. On the other hand, in a world with sorcerers and aberrant dragonmarks they may not assume “I am a different species,” but they will know they are different.

That’s all by canon. As with all things in Eberron, you can always do what makes a good story. Do you want to play the first kalashtar somehow born to two human parents? Then do it (with your DM’s permission, of course). But that’s definitely not normal.

Are the Kalashtar’s pale skin and black hair the general look for people from Adar? The Inspired are also fairly pale with (purple-blue?) dark hair, so is that region of Sarlona just known for pale people?  Or is there a huge spread, dark skin, pale skin, in between, dark hair, fair hair, curly hair, straight hair, so that noticing a Kalashtar or Inspired from far away isn’t as cut and dry (ignoring that Disguise exists and they still look weird and have glowy eyes)?

Sarlona is home to a diverse range of ethnicities based on its highly divergent environments—the Tashana Tundra, the deserts of Syrkarn, the Corvaguran rain forests, the mountains of Adar. The Inspired were drawn from across Sarlona, appearing in ALL of the nations involved in the Sundering, so there should absolutely be a full spectrum; now you call it out, I’m disappointed that we haven’t seen any dark skinned Inspired in art and I’d like to see that change.

The same is true of the kalashtar. Despite the limited depictions in art, this is from the EPG:

The monastery where the sixty-seven humans became kalashtar was a place of refuge, so the humans who lived there were diverse. Kalashtar have thus retained a diversity of appearance, possessing the same variety of skin, hair, and eye colors found among humans. They are usually slimmer and taller than humans, although short or stocky kalashtar exist.

I also feel that while the quori bond doesn’t remain latent in the human side of the gene pool — a child either has it or they don’t — a kalashtar inherits physical traits from both its parents, So you could have three kalashtar who share the same quori spirit but are physically distinct from one another.

If you imagine Droaam has an Ithilid population beyond it’s mayor. What attempts could be made to reconcile their brain-eating needs the same way troll-flesh is used to reconcile the carnivorous population’s needs?

By canon, Droaam doesn’t have a significant Illithid population. Xorchyllic is called out as being a very unusual exception, found imprisoned below Graywall and working with the Daughters of Sora Kell for reasons of its own. In general I see mind flayers as being far more alien than most of the creatures of Droaam; while I have nothing against the idea of having a few more in the mix, in my campaign their motives would be VERY different from any other warlords.

So first of all, you’re only feeding one or maybe a few mind flayers, not an entire army of carnivorous creatures. So I don’t see an industry around it. My assumption is that Xorchyllic acts as judge, jury, and executioner in Graywall, and execution involves it eating your brain. If it’s especially hungry, then guess what, jaywalking just became a capital offense…

To what extent does Rekkenmark train officers, as opposed to elite troops or even standard troops. Is it primarily about tactics or skill? In 4e terms, is it training warlords, or fighters, or both?

Here’s a few quotes from Five Nations. 

  • After the Kingdom of Galifar was established, military officers from across the land trained at the Rekkenmark Academy.
  • What if she washed out of the academy? A third of first-year officers don’t come back to Rekkenmark for the second year.

  • The vast majority of warlords and officers in the various Karrnathi armies graduated with honors from the Rekkenmark Academy and earned a place in the Order of Rekkenmark.

So: Rekkenmark ACADEMY trains officers. That could be 4E warlords; in 5E battle master fighters and Purple Dragon Knights could definitely be part of the Order of Rekkenmark.

The critical point here, though, is that Rekkenmark isn’t JUST an academy; it’s a city. And that city is also a central garrison and training center for the general Karrnathi military. So any sort of fighter might have “Trained at Rekkenmark.” The question is if you graduated from the Academy and if you’re part of the Order (which would be an interpretation of the “Military Rank” benefit of the Soldier background.)

That’s all for now! If you’re going to be at PAX East, I’ll be at the Twogether Studios/Table Titans booth. And if you haven’t seen it already, check out my recent release The Morgrave Miscellany on the DM’s Guild! And while you’re there, take a look at Rime or Reasonthe latest installment in the Across Eberron adventure path!

The Morgrave Miscellany

I’ve just returned from the JoCo Cruise, where I helped organize a massive Eberron session that involved 400 players and DMs. I’m in the middle of multiple deadlines AND I’ll be at PAX East in a few weeks, but I will do my best to get a new Dark Six article out soon.

In the meantime, the Morgrave Miscellany is available on the DM’s Guild! This 164 page PDF includes a host of ideas for Eberron characters, with material from myself, Ruty Rutenberg, Greg Marks, Shawn Merwin, and Derek Nekritz, along with fantastic art from Kim Van Deun. Here’s a quick breakdown:

  • Chapter One: Classes in Eberron examines the roles of each of the core character classes in Eberron. This includes additional lore and ideas for tying a character into the setting, delving into the druid sects, warlock patrons, arcane schools of thought, and far more. Is your barbarian a Talenta dinosaur rider or a Vadalis super soldier? Is your druid a Greensinger, or a changeling menagerie? In addition to providing story hooks and lore you can use, it includes new subclasses and player options, including the Bone Knight, the Argent Fist, and the Pact of the Host.
  • Chapter Two: Cultures of Eberron explores races and other character options, including racial feats, alternate approaches to dragonmarks, Siberys Marks, and the Mark of Death. This includes deeper dives into the Talenta Halflings, the role of tieflings in Eberron, aberrant dragonmarks… and a new race, the Dragonforged.
  • Chapter Three: Fantasy Noir offers ideas and options for DMs and players who want to focus on the hard boiled noir aspects of the campaign setting.
  • Chapter Four: The Gumshoe Chronicles provides suggestions and hooks for low-level noir adventures.

The Morgrave Miscellany expands on many ideas presented in the Wayfinder’s Guide to Eberron. What IS the Test of Siberys? Are there Greater Aberrant Dragonmarks? Are there other sorts of shifters? If you have questions or feedback about the Morgrave Miscellany, please post them below. I may not have answers to all of the questions, but I’d love to hear about any issues you have with the book.

Why isn’t this content being added to Wayfinders? I thought that wasn’t content complete yet.

The Wayfinder’s Guide is officially sanctioned by WotC, even though it is playtest/UA content. The Miscellany is unofficial content, exploring ideas developed by myself and the other authors. As such, it needs to be a separate product.

Has the Greatwenge Embrisa appeared in previous sources?  

No, she’s something we came up with in developing this book. The Greatpine Oalian is a concrete, established part of the setting, and we liked the idea that if there was one awakened tree with great druidic powers, why couldn’t there be others? Personally, I’d be happy to see a few more revealed over time.

I thought you said you’d never provide statistics for the Mark of Death? 

This is addressed in the book itself.

The Dragonmark of Death is one of the great mysteries of Eberron, and it is unlikely that it will become official content or ever have an official answer. In this section, the designers present rules for using the mark in fifth edition, which intends the Mark of Death to be a useful tool as opposed to a deadly weapon, supporting the sympathetic view of the line of Vol. As always, a DM may decide to use the mark as presented here or introduce a different form of the mark to suit the campaign.

The Mark of Death is a part of the lore of Eberron, and this is a possible interpretation of it. But as a DM you can always choose to use a different approach.

The Mark of Death section says that the mark was “once an accepted member of the known houses.” Wasn’t the Mark of Death eliminated centuries before the Dragonmarked Houses were founded?  

That’s correct. The Line of Vol was wiped out before the dragonmarked houses were established, and there was never a House Vol in Khorvaire. This is something that slipped through editing, but the detailed history that follows it is accurate.

On the Mark of Death thing – could we get some clarification/detail on the whole “The Twelve know there was a Mark of Death and so have left an empty floor in remembrance” bit?

If this is stated in the MM, it may be an error. Can you give me a page reference? As for the original idea, here’s the text from the 3.5 ECS.

The keep (of the Twelve) was built by Alder d’Cannith, a visionary wizard and master fabricator who used his studies of the sky to determine that the keep should possess thirteen towers. “The moons suggest that the perfect number of dragonmarks is thirteen,” Alder cryptically explained, “but we shall call the institution the Twelve, for the thirteenth mark was cast off long ago.” No one argued with him. (While the elves remember the Mark of Death, it is a topic they wish to forget. Aside from the elf leaders, few know the truth behind the lost dragonmark.)

The Keep of the Twelve has thirteen towers, but one of them isn’t set aside in remembrance; it’s actively used. Most people don’t know why there’s thirteen towers; it’s generally accepted that Alder d’Cannith was eccentric. Scholars who know better believe that he may have had insight into the Prophecy.

What’s the inspiration behind the dragonforged? … It’s a bit odd to drop a brand new race into the setting.

The Miscellany isn’t canon. It presents alternate ideas you can use if you find them to be interesting. I expect some people will like the idea of the Dragonforged, and others will ignore them. Beyond that, they follow the same principle I suggest in this article for adding any other exotic race into the setting. There’s only a few of them and they have only existed for a very short time. Primarily, they are an unusual offshoot of the warforged, similar to the Psiforged from 3.5.

Have you read the Morgrave Miscellany? Let me know what you think!