Dragonmarks: Cyre

The Jewel in Galifar’s Crown. Wondrous Cyre. Cyre was the heart of the united kingdom of Galifar. But what was the nation actually like? Many sourcebooks have explored the cultures and cities of Thrane, Breland, Aundair, and Karrnath. Since Cyre has fallen, the focus is often on the current plight of the refugees and not on the nation they lost. But as a Cyran PC, what are the memories you treasure? What was your childhood like? If you hope to rebuild your nation, what is it that you aspire to recreate?

In this article I’ll explore some of the history and culture of Cyre before the Mourning. Bear in mind that this is not canon material, and may even contradict canon sources.

“WHAT OUR DREAMS IMAGINE, OUR HANDS CREATE”

Galifar Wynarn was a military genius, but it was his eldest daughter Cyre who imagined the warring nations working together as a single family: Karrnathi might, Daskari faith, and the wisdom of Thaliost working together for the greater good. In crafting the map of the united kingdom, Galifar declared that Cyre would be the heart of the realm. His daughter would govern the province, and have all that she needed to pursue her vision. The crest of the Cyre is a crown and bell on a green field, above a hammer and bellows. The seat of the crown, the bell that rings in change, and the tools to build the future; the motto of the nation is “What our dreams imagine, our hands create.”

The provinces of Galifar largely retained the cultures and traditions of the nations they had once been. In many ways, their differences were reinforced and celebrated. Each nation was given one of the pillars of the united kingdom: the Arcane Congress in Aundair, the King’s Citadel in Breland, Rekkenmark in Karrnath, the Grand Temple of Thrane. Cyre was the exception. Rather than building upon the existing culture of Metrol, Cyre drew experts and artisans from across Galifar. Cyre wasn’t the center of any one discipline. Rather, it was the nexus where all of these things came together: the best of what Galifar could be. When the Arcane Congress perfected the everbright lantern, Metrol was the first city whose streets were lit with them. Soldiers trained in Rekkenmark, but the finest warriors served in the Vermishard Guard. While Metrol was the showpiece—a city of wonders—this principle was applied across central Cyre. Education, art, even agriculture; Cyre displayed the best of what Galifar could accomplish. 

This continued and evolved over the course of centuries. Karrns are tough, Thranes wise, Aundairians clever. The people of Cyre can trace their roots to all of these nations and believe they share all of these strengths; but beyond that, Cyrans strive to be creative, innovative, and artistic.

Cyre’s artistic (and some might say whimsical) temperament was balanced and sustained by the presence of House Cannith, which was based in the great city of Making. Many of Cannith’s greatest forgeholds were spread across Cyre; this provided a practical, industrial foundation that supported the wonders of Cyre. And those wonders took many forms. Where the Arcane Congress of Aundair focused on the practical applications of magic, the Wynarn Institute of Cyre explored the artistic potential of the arcane. Metrol was a city of light and marvels. Visitors could speak to illusions of past heroes and kings, and watch re-enactments of historic moments. It’s said that no one ever went hungry in Metrol, and no one ever felt the bite of winter. Cyrans say that this reflects the generosity and selflessness of the Cyran spirit; critics point out that these social projects were only possible because of the taxes paid by the people of other provinces. Certainly, Cyre held the wealth of Galifar and had a standard of living higher than any other province. Was this decadent? Or was in a work in progress, a model that could have someday been applied to all nations? There’s no way to know. Cyrans mourn what was lost; the people of other nations criticize the Cyran lifestyle as parasitic and unsustainable. What our dreams imagine, our hands build; bitter outsiders point out that it may have been Cyran hands that built, but they used the resources gathered by the hard work of others. 

This bitterness was further fueled by the Galifar’s traditions of succession. Following the example of Galifar I, the monarch’s children served as the governors of the five provinces. The eldest governed Cyre, and upon the death of the monarch they would take up the crown and their children would take over the governing positions. The prior governors would serve as regents until children were of age and as advisors moving forward, and when a monarch lacked five children the previous governors would maintain the posts. But the principle was simple: Cyre was the heart of Galifar, and all else would shift around it. Over the history of Galifar, there were multiple rebellions and attempted secessions; the Last War was simply the largest and last of them.

OUTER CYRE

Galifar’s goal with Cyre was to create something new, a culture combining the best aspects of the other nations. In the newly forged Thrane, Aundair, and Breland, the people kept their old traditions and the ruling families were often incorporated into the new governing structure. But in the old kingdom of Metrol—which covered an area roughly the size and shape of the modern Mournland—the old systems and rulers were pushed aside to make room for Cyre’s dream. Some of the noble families of Metrol embraced this new path. Others were resettled by Galifar, granted authority over regions that had previously existed as independent frontiers.

Southern Cyre covered what is now Darguun. Largely unsettled when Galifar was founded, it persisted as a backwater in the shadow of the kingdom. Its people ultimately prospered and took pride in their identity as Cyrans, aping the customs of the central kingdom. However, they had little of the wealth invested in the north or the wonders that came with it. There were ongoing clashes with goblins, a few severe—but the Ghaal’dar largely remained in the mountains and dark places until the Last War.

By contrast, Eastern Cyre —what’s now Valenar—was effectively a separate nation with dramatically different culture and values… and it was arguably Galifar’s greatest failing. The region had first been settled by immigrants from the Khunan region of western Sarlona. Galifar I wanted the lands of old Metrol, so he gave the nobles of Metrol authority over this region, setting them as the feudal overlords of the Khunan settlers. The Blade Desert served as a physical and cultural divide, and having granted the nobles their lands, Galifar largely ignored them. The noble families thus held to the traditions of Metrol rather than embracing the new culture of Cyre. Many were dissatisfied with the arrangement, and took this out on their Khunan subjects. Overall, the nobles of Eastern Cyre were petty and proud, and all too often cruel to their tenants. Some wonder why it was so simple for the elves to seize control of Valenar; first and foremost it’s because the Khunan people had no love for their Cyran rulers (generally called “thrones”) and many feel they are actually better off under the new regime.

CYRE AND THE LAST WAR

Under the reign of King Jarot, Cyre continued to shine. Aspiring artists and young nobles made their way to the heart of the kingdom, while the most promising artificers settled in the city of Making. King Jarot lavished attention on Cyre: expanding the Vermishard Palace; working with House Orien to expand the scope of the lightning rail within Cyre; spending hundreds of thousands of galifars on the Wynarn Institute of Art and the Cathedral of the Sovereign Host.

Following the death of Jarot, Galifar spiraled towards war. Initially, Cyran morale was high. Queen Mishann had centuries of tradition behind her. And everyone knew that Cyre had the best of everything: the finest wizards, the best soldiers, the foremost artificers. And on one level, this was true. But a single unit of exceptional soldiers means little when set against the martial cultures of Karrnath or Thrane. Cyre’s finest wizards were artists and theoretical scholars; Aundair had long worked on magic as a tool of war. And the expert artificers were largely tied to House Cannith, which remained neutral in the war. If you consider the nations as characters, Thrane is a paladin; Karrnath is a fighter; Aundair is a wizard; and Breland is a rogue. In this party, Cyre is the bard: elegant, clever, and doing a little bit of everything… but best when working with others, not well prepared to go toe to toe alone against a powerful foe.

Cyre adapted; it had to. Initially it relied heavily on mercenaries; it was the seat of Galifar’s treasury, and had the gold to spare. But as time passed and the scope of the conflict became clear, Cyrans devoted themselves to war. Cyre lacked the martial spirit of Karrnath or Thrane, but its people were sustained by the absolute belief that they were in the right. Beyond that, in the eyes of the people, Cyre was Galifar. It embodied the ideals of the kingdom, the best of what it could be—and that was something worth fighting for. Nonetheless, the struggle was a tremendous blow to the Cyran psyche. For centuries Cyrans had seen themselves as the stars of the show, beloved by all; now all hands were raised against them, and some at least could see their former beliefs as arrogance and narcissism. Cyre had indeed had the best of everything, but that’s because it was freely given. Now the Arcane Congress devoted its knowledge purely on the good of Aundair, Rekkenmark trained only Karrns, and the King’s Citadel served Breland. Cyre had echoes of all these things. Its wizards were still a match for any nation other than Aundair; the Vermishard Guard formed the core of Cyre’s new military academy. But it was clear that the Cyran dream had been sustained by many hands, and now the nation had to learn to stand on its own. 

TRADITIONS AND CUSTOMS

Cyran culture blends the traditions of other nations. A Cyran can play Conqueror with a Karrn, sing an add-a-verse song with an Aundairian, and debate religion with a Thrane. This reflects the founding principles of Cyre—to gather the best aspects of Galifar and to build upon them. Some call this the Cyran appreciation, and considering it an admirable thing. Others call it appropriation, depicting the Cyrans as carrion crawlers who steal from others and have the arrogance to say they can do better. But the Cyran appreciation is rooted in love, not arrogance. It’s based in the idea that there is no single perfect path, and maintains both that diversity is a source of strength and that there’s always room for improvement. Cyran culture is thus a strange chimera—a blend of familiar elements from across Khorvaire, combined with a steady, ongoing evolution. A Cyran musician might play Karrnathi funeral dirges in the style of a Thrane devotional. It’s a puzzle where the pieces are known, but they’re constantly being arranged in new ways. 

The Last War built walls between Cyre and the other nations, and every nation evolved in this isolation. Cyrans know the old add-a-verse songs beloved by Aundairians, but few know the Epic of Valiant and Vigilant, a tale of martial bravery close to the heart of every modern Aundairian. They don’t know the maxims of Beggar Dane that now serve as a cornerstone of Breland. But Cyrans still see their culture as being founded on the best principles of Galifar, and can still find some common ground with people of any nation. In playing a Cyran, you can find familiar things anywhere you go. But what is it that you treasure in your memories of Cyre? Do you cling to the past, or do you embrace the Cyran principle of always striving to find a new and better way?

Fashion

Cyran fashion blends practicality with endless diversity. Cyran clothing begins with a simple foundation: this base layer may be colorful, but it is first and foremost practical and durable. Breeches and skirts, shirts or gowns; a Cyran starts with whatever the individual finds most comfortable. Again, this base level is well made, but it is more functional than decorative. It’s what comes next that adds flair. Cloaks and gloves are both integral parts of Cyran fashion. Gloves can be short and sturdy for work or war, or long and decorative for more formal occasions. Cloaks likewise vary between the practical and purely decorative: a heavy cloak for traveling, a short cloak for a casual social event, and a long, light cloak with a glamerweave lining for an evening at the Grand Stage. In addition to gloves, boots, and cloaks, jewelry is an important part of Cyran fashion. Cyran jewelry is often made from copper, leather, wood, or glass; it’s not a display of wealth, but rather a way to express individuality. Feathers and bells are also common accessories; there is a Cyran dance that involves belled bracelets and anklets. Finally, masks are often worn at formal or festive occasions. Cyran masks aren’t intended to conceal identity or intent; rather they are a way of enhancing identity and expressing a mood.

Traditionally, Cyran fashion is filled with color (often accentuated with glamerweave). In the wake of the Last War, many Cyrans have adopted Mourningwear—clothing cut in the Cyran style, but entirely in black. Others celebrate their nation by preserving its styles. Because of the emphasis on durability, a Cyran character may still have the clothes they were wearing on the Day of Mourning. What was that outfit, and do you still wear it? Do you favor a mask, and if so, what is its design?

Cuisine

Cyran cuisine reflects all the principles taken above: working with the best of all traditions and then continuing to explore. In many ways this is similar to the Sharn fusion found in the City of Towers, and a number of Cyran refugees are rising stars in Sharn’s culinary scene. Cyrans blend the thrakel spices of Thrane with traditional Karrn stews, and add the heat of southern Breland to the delicate pastries of Aundair. While many refugees cling to family recipes as a way to remember the fallen nation, others continue the tradition of Cyran appreciation—adopting new favorites from the place they’ve found shelter, and looking for ways to improve them.

Magic

Traditionally, Cyrans viewed arcane magic as a form of art as well as a practical tool. On the one hand this lent itself to a wider study of illusion and enchantment than found in other nations. But beyond this, it’s also about the presentation of magic. Magewright, bard or wizard, a Cyran often puts more show into the performance of magic than even an Aundairian. For a wizard who’s studied at the Wynarn Institute, somatic components are almost a dance, and verbal components have the cadence of song or poetry. This ties to the Cyran love of capes and flowing clothing. As a Cyran spellcaster, you are truly a student of arcane arts; consider how your casting reflects this.

Religion

While the Silver Flame had some devoted followers and temples in Cyre, the Sovereign Host was the dominant faith. At the same time, religion is driven by faith and tradition, and Cyrans have always been encouraged to question and search for new paths. The war drove some Cyrans to embrace their faith more tightly, but for others it was another source of doubt. Likewise, the Mourning threw many devout Cyrans into a crisis of faith. With that said, there are many devout Cyrans. Followers of the Silver Flame don’t question the cause of the Mourning: they simply seek to protect the innocent from harm. Vassals of the Sovereign Host trust that there is a purpose to their suffering. And in the wake of the Mourning, some Cyrans have turned to the Blood of Vol or Cults of the Dragon Below, cursing the gods they once worshipped or following a darker vision. There are also a number of new strains of the old faiths: Cyran twists on the Flame and the Host that seek to adapt traditions to make sense of the war and the world.

The preceding paragraph primarily applies to Central Cyre. The nobles of Eastern Cyre were devout vassals, convinced that their leadership was a divine right. The people of Southern Cyre are less arrogant, but still tend to have a quiet faith in the Sovereigns.

In playing a Cyran divine caster, consider the impact the Mourning had on your faith. Are you conflicted and struggling to hold to your beliefs? Or was the Mourning a source of inspiration—you know you have a divine purpose, that your people need you? If you’re tied to an existing faith, do you follow the standard traditions or have you found an unusual path?

THE THREE CYRES

When most people say “Cyre” they’re thinking of Central Cyre. When they speak of Cyran refugees, they are talking about the people who fled the Mourning. But there were Cyran refugees long before the end of the war. The Tairnadal elves established the kingdom of Valenar in 956 YK, while Lhesh Haruuc claimed southern Cyre as Darguun in 969 YK. While Valenar was an unpleasant surprise, it had relatively little impact on the nation. Eastern Cyre had always been isolated, and the Khunan majority embraced elf rule; the refugees were thus a handful of nobles who were painfully out of touch with the traditions of the central kingdom. The loss of Darguun was a more significant blow. Southern Cyre was a backwater, but this was still close to home—and it resulted in a flood of refugees that the wartorn nation was ill-prepared to handle. In creating a Cyran character, consider which Cyre you’re from. 

  • Central Cyre. Odds are good that you yourself think of your home as the “true” Cyre. Before the Mourning, did you give much thought to the refugees of Valenar and Darguun? Even now, do you think of them when you think of your homeland? Are you devoted to the idea of rebuilding your nation and clinging to your memories and traditions? Or following the Cyran appreciation, are you instead looking forward and trying to find a new and better path, even if that means abandoning the dreams of Cyre?
  • Eastern Cyre. You’re tied to a noble family that can trace its roots back to Old Metrol, before Galifar even existed. You don’t accept any of the nonsense about Cyre being “the best of Galifar” or challenging tradition; if people had stuck to the old ways, perhaps all of this could have been avoided. Your people were devoted to the Sovereign Host and truly believed that Aureon had chosen you to rule. At the same time, your lands have been lost for over forty years, and the people of Central Cyre have never avenged you or shown your family the respect you deserve. You’re not as affected by the Mourning as some, because it wasn’t YOUR Cyre that was destroyed; now the others just get to see how you feel. As an Eastern Cyran, you have noble ancestry but you’re unlikely to have the noble background, as nobody cares about your claims. Do you despise the Valenar and hope to reclaim your long-lost homeland? Or do you want to rally Cyran survivors around the TRUE royal bloodlines, challenging Oargev and re-establishing the long-forgotten kingdom of Metrol?
  • Southern Cyre. Your people have been struggling for decades, eking out a life in camps and shelters. You were encouraged to take up military service; it was easier to send you to the front than to find a new home for you. Many of your friends and family chose to idolize the Queen and central Cyre, believing that she had a vision, that she would rebuild Galifar and restore an age of wonders. Did you feel that way? Were you an idealist and an optimist? Or were you bitter and angry at the nation that failed to protect you? Are you loyal to Cyre, or are you solely concerned with Darguun and taking vengeance on the goblins?

THE WONDERS OF CYRE

Cyre is lost to the Mournland, and all people have are their memories. But what are those memories? Cyre was a land of wonders… what are some of those wonders? Here’s a few of them…

  • The Vermishards. Seven spires rise up from Metrol, a natural (or supernatural) wonder. These plateaus held the ancestral homes of the noble lines of Old Metrol, and the Royal Vermishard was the seat of the Cyran crown. However, over the course of centuries other powerful forces—such as House Cannith and House Phiarlan—made their way to the Vermishards. Cannith and Phiarlan worked together with Cyran magewrights to embed illusory lighting into the Vermishards, and these glittering spires were a remarkable part of the Metrol skyline.
  • The Wynarn Institute of Art. The Wynarn institute was both one of the foremost academies of magic in Khorvaire and one of its most amazing museums. In addition to purely artistic exhibits, the Hall of Kings allowed rulers to converse with illusory replicas of the past rulers of Galifar. Treasures of the pre-Galifar kingdoms were displayed here, along with modern works of art.
  • The Vault. The Royal Treasury of Galifar was commonly known as the Vault. While there were reserves hidden around the kingdom, the Vault included both the mint, the primary reserves of both currencies and precious metals, and cultural artifacts deemed too valuable to be displayed. Salvagers have dreamed of finding the “Golden Palace,” but there are stories saying that the Vault is actually missing. The Mourning had strange effects on Metrol, and the Vault may have simply been physically displaced, or it could have fallen into another plane.
  • The Cathedral of the Sovereign Host. Following the spread of the Church of the Silver Flame in Thrane, the Cathedral of the Sovereign Host became the primary seat of vassal devotion on Galifar. Many of the rulers of Galifar would make an addition to the Cathedral as a way of showing their piety. By the reign of King Jarot, it was a wonder. Nine colossal statues encircle the temple. Illusory displays within depicted scenes from the faith, and there was a vast collection of relics and artifacts. The fate of the cathedral and its treasures remains unknown.

All of these are within Metrol itself, and they just scratch the surface of what was possible. Aundair has floating towers; Cyre expanded on this with floating gardens, flower petals falling on the wind to the cities below. Even small towns had crystal theaters when people could scry on the great performances in the Demesne of Shape. There was always music in the air and lights in the sky. With this in mind, feel free to create wonders. Cyre was the seat of House Cannith and House Phiarlan, and second only to Aundair in arcane sophistication. What your dreams imagine, their hands could create. And even if they DIDN’T create the things you dream of, people might believe that they did; the legends of Cyre only continue to grow now that the kingdom is lost.

FINAL THOUGHTS

As a Cyran, you come from a culture that strove to find the best in all things, a tradition that encouraged creativity and innovation. But your people have also lived through a century of betrayal and war, fighting enemies on all sides. How has this affected you? Are you an idealist who still believes in the promise of Galifar—someone who believes that the Five Nations can and should unite, someone who tries to bring people together? Or do you curse the traitors who betrayed Mishann and doomed Galifar? Are you scarred by the memory of the Mournign and determined to reclaim your homeland or rebuild it somewhere else, or are you always looking forward to what happens next? Do you have any living relatives, and if so where are they now and what is their condition? Will you send money to your family in High Walls or New Cyre, or are you alone in the world? Beyond that, where was your home and what did you leave behind? Is there anything you wish you could recover from the Mournland, whether it’s something with practical value or simply sentimental? What do you still have to remind you of Cyre? 

GENERAL Q&A

Do Cyran nobles still have authority even though their lands have been lost?

This depends on the family and on the people you’re dealing with. The nobility of Cyre was originally drawn from across the Five Nations, and many Cyran noble families still have strong ties to other nations. Some families had significant holdings in other nations and still have wealth and influence, even if it’s limited. On the other hand, many Cyran nobles have lost everything but their titles. Some Thronehold nobles treat these displaced aristocrats with courtesy, but many dismiss them: at the Treaty of Thronehold, Queen Aurala famously said “Cyre no longer exists, and refugees have no place at these proceedings.”

In regard to YOUR character, there’s a simple way to determine the standing of your family: Your choice of background. If you take the noble background, your Position of Privilege means that you are treated with the respect of any noble; this implies that your family still has holdings or at least the respect of other aristocrats. But you could also be a fallen noble forced down a dark path (criminal background), a dandy who uses charm to find your way into courts even though you no longer have influence (charlatan), or a hero who still fights to protect the common people of Cyre even though you have no rank (folk hero). You could also take the noble background with the variant Retainers feature, reflecting that while you no longer have a position of privilege, you still have a few loyal followers who have been with your family for as long as you can remember.

The Forge of War says that Thrane turned away or even attacked Cyran refugees fleeing from the Mourning. You’ve said that this is inaccurate and possibly Karrnathi propaganda. Would this be a pervasive rumor? Would Cyrans think of Thranes as butchers who turned their backs? Is Karrnath exempted from this? What about Breland and Aundair?  

The faith of the Silver Flame is founded on the basic principle of defending the innocent from supernatural evil. I’ve already called out that if followers of the Flame were serving on opposite sides in a battle and a group of demons suddenly appeared, I’d expect the templars to set aside their political differences until the supernatural threat was dealt with. The same principle applies here. I could easily imagine an initial violent response if the surge of refugees was perceived as an attack. However, once it became clear that thi sis literally innocents fleeing a supernatural threat, I would expect Thrane to be the MOST active nation in providing support and shelter.

So my initial reaction is that Forge of War is simply WRONG. The situation as described makes no sense and I don’t see it as a rumor that would stick, because anyone familiar with the church should know it makes no sense. Why would they do something like that?

WITH THAT SAID: Maybe you WANT it to be true. If this is the case, the question is what could MAKE it happen as described. The simplest answer is that the facts aren’t straight. The Mourning transforms things caught within it. So perhaps Thrane templars DID “slaughter a host of Cyrans fleeing from the Mourning”—because those Cyrans had been caught in the Mourning and transformed into a ravening pack of bloodthirsty killers. They weren’t FLEEING the mists, they were charging out of them to kill anything they could get their hands on, and the templars had no choice but to put them down. So it is an absolute fact that Thrane forces killed a host of Cyran refugees, and Karrnath or other nations have publicized the story. But the truth isn’t as they present it—and beyond that, I’d still expect people who hear the story to say “But that doesn’t make any sense!”

So as a quick overview of how nations have responded to Cyrans, here’s MY personal opinion.

  • Breland has been presented as the most willing to shelter Cyrans without strings, as shown by the establishment of New Cyre. There are certainly tensions between the common people of Breland and the refugees, and life in camps like High Walls is hardly ideal, but it’s better than anything offered by Aundair or Karrnath.
  • I think Thrane would have responded with compassion and provided significant support. However, I can imagine Thrane focusing on integrating refugees into Thrane society as opposed to trying to preserve Cyran culture or supporting Cyran nobles; consider that they already set aside the Wynarn monarchy in favor of the Church. So they’d provide support and opportunities—for a new life as Thranes.
  • Aundair has been presented as unsympathetic (see that quote from Queen Aurala at the Treaty of Thronehold), and that makes sense. Aundair is the smallest of the Five Nations and has its own problems with the Eldeen Reaches, and Aurala still believes she would be the best ruler for a restored Galifar; none of this suggests sympathy for Cyre.
  • Likewise, I think Karrnath would be VERY unsympathetic. Cyre and Karrns were bitter rivals; per Forge of War, the Mourning followed directly on the heels of a Cyran sneak attack on the city of Atur. Karrnath had long struggled with famines and thus lacks the ability to suddenly support an influx of outsiders, and Karrns are known for being ruthless and pragmatic. Beyond this, as I called out in my last article, the Karrnathi undead are perfectly willing to slaughter civilians. If anyone slaughtered masses of Cyran refugees on the border, I’d expect it to be Karrnath.

Several maps show parts of the Talenta plains (or the borderlands) as part of Cyre during the Last War. Were these wartime holdings? Provinces of Cyre? How was Cyre’s relationship with the Halflings?

This is covered on page 202 of the 3.5 ECS:

Karrnath and Cyre both claimed parts of the Talenta Plains during the Last War. Prior to the fall of the kingdom of Galifar, the halfling tribes were permitted to wander their ancestral lands as long as they paid tribute to the Galifar king. With the coming of war, the halfling tribes began to cooperate in unprecedented ways to protect the Plains that all the tribes revered. Warriors of different tribes banded together, repelling invaders from Karrnath and Cyre by using their knowledge of the ways of the Plains to confuse and confound the invaders. Later, when the Plains became the place for various combatant nations to clash, the halfling tribes tried to stay out of the way.

Cannith had a lot of holdings in Cyre, and almost invariably there would have been mingling with the locals. Do you see the Houses as having a mostly distinct culture or also being something like citizens of the nation they grew up in? Cannith worked a lot with Cyre during the war, was that more an accident of proximity and money or did a lot of the leadership sympathize with the Cyrans? For example, is there a Cannith style or are there Cyran Cannith, Brelish Cannith, etc. styles of architecture/production?

The houses definitely hold themselves as extranational entities. They take their neutrality very seriously, and the only house we’ve suggested as having a national bias is Medani: so Cyre’s heavy association with Cannith was certainly based on gold. Cannith heirs consider themselves to be Cannith first, nation second. However, there’s certainly a national component to the personality of a dragonmarked heir. Beyond interaction with the locals, you’ve got the fact that houses are comprised of different families and these families are based in different nations—so the Vown are Brelish Cannith, while Juran are (or were) Cyran Cannith. It’s also the case that different enclaves have different focuses, which also affects corporate culture. Cannith South is focused on general industry, while Cannith East is more driven by weapons research and recently, experimenting with necromancy.

With that said, the HOUSES hold themselves as neutral; the members of the houses often had their own sympathies. In The Dreaming Dark novels, Daine is a Deneith heir who cut ties with the Blademark in order to fight for Cyre. Dragonmarked discusses such characters, who are generally referred to as “orphans.”

What would YOU like to know about Cyre? Post your questions below. And thanks as always to my Patreon supporters for requesting the topic and making it possible!

Dragonmarks: Karrnathi Undead

The nation of Karrnath became infamous for its use of undead during the Last War. Initially, the bulk of the undead forces were common, mindless skeletons and zombies. But as the war progressed, the science of necromancy continued to evolve. The greatest breakthrough came when the high priest Malevenor and master necromancer Gyrnar Shult developed the Odakyr Rites: Techniques that could imbue the skeleton or corpse of an elite Karrnathi warrior with malign intelligence and increased resilience. The Karrnathi undead possess deadly skill and considerable cunning; once given direction, a unit of Karrnathi undead can operate autonomously, adapting to deal with unexpected threats or strategic setbacks.

Most of the Karrnathi undead were retired after the Treaty of Thronehold, sealed away in vast vaults beneath Atur or stationed at Fort Bones and Fort Zombie. But a few remain in service. Recently people have reached out to me with a number of questions related to Karrnathi undead. What is the intelligence level of Karrnathi Undead? Do they have any memories of their past lives? Do they have thoughts and opinions? Would a Karrnathi Undead be a viable player character? Do the families of Karrnathi Undead get visiting hours to pay their respects to their dead relatives?

As always, the real answer here is what’s going to make the best story? But let’s start with the canon presentation and move on from there.

The Canon

To begin with, consider the following facts about Karrnathi undead from the 3.5 Eberron Campaign Guide. 

  • Karrnathi undead are described as being “imbued with malign intelligence.” They possess 11 Intelligence, 10 Wisdom, and can speak Common.
  • Karrnathi undead have an alignment of Always lawful evil. Sentient creatures rarely have an always alignment; certainly, the elite soldiers of Karrnath aren’t always lawful evil. So already this tells us that the consciousness isn’t the consciousness of the deceased donor of the corpse. A dictated alignment is typically tied to a creature that embodies an idea, such as a celestial or fiend; or a creature whose behavior is dictated by a supernatural force, like a lycanthrope. This ties to the fact that the undead is imbued with “malign” intelligence.
  • Karrnathi undead possess remarkable skills. But in the ECS listing, they have no advancement. One of the defining features of the warforged is that they can learn new things: a warforged built to be a fighter can become a wizard. Karrnathi undead have tactical intelligence, but they can’t evolve.

With these things in mind, consider this description of Karrnathi undead from the article on Fort Bones in Dungeon 195.

The Karrnathi undead are tremendously efficient solders. A normal zombie requires some sort of necromancer to sustain and command it, but the sentient Karrnathi undead can integrate with any unit. Fear, hunger, and exhaustion are alien to them. They can see in perfect darkness—an advantage over the warforged, and one that Karrnath often exploited in conflicts with Cyre. One of the few limitations of the undead derives from their utter lack of mercy or compassion. Left on its own, a Karrnathi skeleton will slaughter all opposing forces—soldiers, civilians, even children. A commander must exercise close control if he wants his undead to leave anyone alive.

The Odakyr Rites—the ritual used to create the Karrnathi undead—isn’t a cheap form of Raise Dead. The original victim is gone. A Karrnathi skeleton doesn’t have the specific memories of the warrior who donated his bones. The military specialty of the undead reflects that of the fallen soldier, so only the bones of a bowman can produce a skeletal archer. However, the precise techniques of the skeleton aren’t those of the living soldiers. Rekkenmark doesn’t teach the bone dance or the twin scimitar style common to the skeletal swordsmen. So where, then, do these styles come from?

Gyrnar Shult believed that the Karrnathi undead were animated by the martial spirit of Karrnath itself. This is why they can be produced only from the corpses of elite Karrnathi soldiers: an enemy corpse lacks the connection to Karrnath, while a fallen farmer has no bond to war. However, the current commander of the Corpse Collectors fears that the undead aren’t animated by the soul of Karrnath, but rather by an aspect of Mabar itself—that the combat styles of the undead might be those of the dark angels of Mabar. Over the years, he has felt a certain malevolence in his skeletal creations that he can’t explain, not to mention their love of slaughter. He has also considered the possibility that they are touched by the spirits of the Qabalrin ancestors of Erandis Vol. The Kind hasn’t found any proof for these theories, but they haunt his dreams.

Karrnathi undead never show emotion and never speak without cause. A Karrnathi skeleton is content to stand motionless and silent for days if there is no reason to move. A soldier’s name is typically a combination of name and number and the records of the original identity of the body are hidden in the tomes of the Corpse Collectors. The distinctive armor of the Karrnathi skeletons is forged for them and fitted to their fleshless bones. Fort Bones operates a small forge for this purpose, though most of this armor is created at the Night Forge of Atur.

So with all this in mind, let’s look back at those questions. A Karrnathi skeleton is as intelligent as a typical human, but it doesn’t have a human personality or think like a human does.

Do Karrnathi undead have thoughts and opinions? Well, how would you know? A Karrnathi skeleton obeys the orders of its commander without question. It fights without fear and will hold a position even at the cost of its own existence. The Karrnathi undead never speak unless spoken to, or unless necessary in pursuit of their duties; if they have thoughts, they don’t share them. If questions, their opinions appear to be an absolute commitment to the Karrnathi cause, and the opinions of one are shared by all of them; so they do have opinions, but they all have the SAME opinions. A warforged might compose a poem. A Karrnathi skeleton might know a poem, but if it does, then all Karrnathi skeletons know that poem, even though no one ever taught it to them. And what about that underlying cruelty, that always lawful evil? In my opinion, even a Karrnathi commander has to worry that maybe the dead are just going along with them… that maybe there’s a darker force behind those eyeless sockets, waiting for the right moment to turn its blades on you.

Regarding memories of past lives: by canon, no, Karrnathi undead have no memories of their past lives. While they can only be created from the corpses of elite Karrnathi soldiers, theit skills and techniques don’t match those of the donor. They are always lawful evil, regardless of the alignment of the donor. In my opinion, the Karrnathi undead don’t even know the names of the people who donated their bones. BUT… with that said, see the next section for other ideas.

With all this in mind: Would a Karrnathi Undead be a viable player character? By canon, definitely not. They can’t learn new skills or advance. Their true opinions and thoughts are intentionally mysterious. With that said, see “Other Options” below.

Ultimately, there’s a critical point here: The Karrnathi undead are supposed to creep you out. They aren’t just warforged who happen to be made out of bone. There is a sense of a malign intelligence in them… a touch of Pet Semetery, with that lingering fear that you should have let them stay dead.

Other Options

So, that’s the canon approach. But there’s two things to consider. First, the science of necromancy has continued to evolve. As a DM, you can introduce sentient skeletons or zombies that AREN’T produced using the Odakyr Rites. Such skeletons could possess more distinct personalities, could be capable of learning new skills, and could possess memories of their former lives. You could play around with a form of undeath that can preserve mortal soul and memory in a rotting shell. And this could work for a player character.

But with that said, personally I believe the Karrnathi undead should feel creepy… and I like to play up the idea that even the Seekers don’t know exactly what they are dealing with. Mabar is the plane of entropy and loss, the darkness that eventually consumes all light. THIS is the force that’s animating the Karrnathi undead. You can TELL yourself that it’s animated by a pure spirit of Karrnathi patriotism. You can say that there’s nothing of your wife left in those bones… but then one night you might hear her voice singing a song only the two of knew as the skeleton patrols the line. You might wonder if you would find her again, if you also died on the battlefield. Or you might wonder if some piece of her is trapped in those bones, held captive by the cruel spirit and never truly able to rest.

So as with anything in Eberron, do what feels right for the story. But for me, I’m always looking for a way to make the undead disturbing. Even if there’s a zombie with the perfect memories and personality of your friend, I’m going to point out that there’s maggots in their flesh and occasionally a tooth will fall out… and again, are you SURE it’s the soul of your friend in there?

Q&A

Does this mean that undead aren’t used for menial labor in Karrnath?

There’s two issues here. The followers of the Blood of Vol—who prefer the term Seekers—are the ones who practice necromancy and embrace the undead. The Blood of Vol has had a presence in Karrnath for over a thousand years, but it has never been the faith of the majority. During the Last War, Kaius I embraced the Blood of Vol and it gained greater influence, and it was in this time that the undead were incorporated into the Karrnathi army. In more recent years, Kaius III and the Regent Moranna turned against the Blood of Vol. The chivalric orders of the Seekers were disbanded, and Kaius has used the Seekers as a scapegoat—blaming the famines and plagues that crippled Karrnath on the Seekers. The faith still has a significant presence in Karrnath, but it is neither the majority faith nor in a position of power. Karrnathi traditionalists despise the use of undead, which they see as a stain on Karrnath’s proud martial tradition; this is another reason Kaius sealed the bone legions in the vaults below Atur. He doesn’t want to throw this weapon away, but he gained political points among the established Karrnathi warlords by reducing the role of undead. More on this—including the history of the Bone Knight—can be found in this article.

Now: the Seekers have always used undead for menial tasks. They have no emotional attachment to corpses; a Seeker wants their body to be put to good use after they are gone. So within a Seeker community, you could definitely find zombies working the fields. The main point is that these are traditional mindless zombies, who have to be provided with clear direction. The sentient Karrnathi zombies are a different thing—a more recent development, and ill-suited to noncombat tasks. The Odakyr undead are weapons: sentient, yes, but imbued with malign purpose.

Do the families of Karrnathi Undead get visiting hours to pay their respects to their dead relatives?

By canon presentation, no. First of all, Seekers aren’t sentimental about corpses. The bones of a dead relative are no different than a set of clothes or piece of jewelry the deceased wore in life. The basic principle of the Blood of Vol is that what matters is the divine spark (what others might call the soul) and that this is obliterated in Dolurrh. A Seeker pays respects to the dead by recalling their deeds and following their example. The bones the deceased leave behind are a resource to be used, not a thing to be treasured. In addition, while the identity of the donor is noted when the Odakyr Rites are performed, this information isn’t publicly available and the undead warrior doesn’t know the name of the donor.

Were the Odakyr Rites created, found, or both? What was the malign spark that granted them the sudden necromantic advance?

This is covered in Dungeon 195. The Blood of Vol has always had a strong presence in the agricultural region of Odakyr, which also contains a powerful manifest zone tied to Mabar. When Kaius I embraced the Last War, Fort Bones was established in Odakyr as a center for necromantic research. Gyrnar Shult and Malevenor (then living) developed the Odakyr Rites after years of research and work. It’s noteworthy that they can only be performed in a place with a strong manifest zone to Mabar; in Karrnath, this means Fort Bones or Atur. As for exactly how the breakthrough was made, it’s not defined in canon, and for me the answer would depend on how I planned to use the Karrnathi undead in the story. Did Shult and Malevenor discover some sort of artifact tied to Mabar at the heart of the manifest zone? Did they tap into the power of Katashka the Gatekeeper, or acquire some sort of ancient Qabalrin tome from Erandis Vol? Or did they just legitimately develop a new necromantic technique that no one had mastered before, which is entirely possible? Despite their cruelty, are the Karrnathi undead truly what Shult believed—empowered by the patriotic spirits of the fallen—or is there a darker secret?

Were Karrnathi undead created for any other branches of the Karrnathi military? Presumably, if they are canonically inclined to slaughter, undead sailors wouldn’t be of much use, but were there undead Marines aboard Karrnathi ships in the Last War? Did Karrnath have any airships in its service with undead parachute troopers? 

There’s a lot to unpack here.

First of all, even more so than warforged, Karrnathi undead aren’t robots. They aren’t precisely programmed; the Dungeon article notes that you can’t use the Odakyr Rites to create an undead farmer. The basic principle of the Odakyr Rites is one of sympathy: if you perform the Rites on the corpse of an expert archer you’ll be an archer, if you perform them on an elite melee fighter you’ll get a melee fighter. But even there, it’s not as if it’s a perfect proficiency match: the Karrnathi skeletons favor a two-weapon style that isn’t a standard technique for Karrnathi infantry. And again, they’re incapable of learning entirely new skills. So you could certainly have a Karrnathi galleon that has a skeleton crew manning the oars, but a) they wouldn’t be skilled sailors and given that, b) they’d likely be mundane skeletons, not sentient Karrnathi undead. However, that same galleon could certainly have a squad of undead Marines (who also have the advantage of not needing to breathe).

Looking to airship paratroopers, remember that airships are a recent development—they’re only been in active use for eight yearsand require Lyrandar pilots. Most air battles mentioned in canon involve aerial cavalry: Thrane wyverns, Aundairian dragonhawks. With that said, you could certainly equip undead troops with feather tokens and drop them into enemy territory; as they don’t need food or sleep, can operate tirelessly, have darkvision, and are happy to engage in suicide missions, I’m sure this was done.

It seems unlikely to me, even if a GM broadens the possibilities of Karrnathi undead, that they would be created for anything other than warriors. Spellcasters would require higher INT, WIS or CHA, and more independence of thought. 

I’m fine with the idea that there are additional forms of Karrnathi undead we haven’t seen in canon—even just skeletons and zombies with different skill sets. It could even be that a spellcaster produced using the Odakyr Rites is a more wraithlike entity. But remember that the core principle of the Odakyr Rites is sympathy: to raise a spellcaster, you’d need the corpse of a dedicated Karrnathi spellcaster. Assuming this is possible, every spellcaster raised by the Rites would have the same spell set, which wouldn’t have anything to do with the spells possessed by the donor corpse, and they couldn’t learn new ones. Given the tie to Mabar, I’d expect their spell selection to mainly be necromantic attack spells.

With that said, the undead champions of the Blood of Vol have long included both mummies and vampires—so there are other options for elite undead spellcasters.

Do we, or even their commanders, know how spoofable the officer recognition is on Odakyr undead is? If a Brelander wearing a Karrnathi uniform speaking with a Karrnathi accent showed at Fort Bones would the undead obey them? 

I see two possible approaches here. The first is to follow the point that they are sentient. Could this ruse fool a normal human soldier? If so, maybe it could fool the undead; handle it the same way, with a Deception/Insight check if you think one is called for.

The second approach is to emphasize that they’re supernatural… that we don’t entirely KNOW why they follow orders. The THEORY is that they are animated by the martial spirit of Karrnath. Do you think you can fool that spirit with your crappy accent? Do you really want to take that chance?

How would they react if there was a civil war and they were being used on each other?

Excellent question. I think the answer is that NO ONE KNOWS. This is one reason the traditionalist warlords hate the use of undead; because they don’t know where their loyalty truly lies. They never betrayed Karrnath during the war; but what would happy if Karrns fought Karrns? Would they follow their local commanders? Would they be loyal to the crown? Would they be loyal to who THEY believe deserves the crown, and if so, does that prove the legitimacy of the candidate they support? Or could it be that once you tell them to spill Karrnathi blood… that they would turn on ALL Karrns?

If the Karrnathi undead are just going along with the commands of whatever Karrnathi Commander is leading them….is it a possibility that their true loyalty is to Vol?

It’s certainly a possibility. With that said, if that’s the case the question would be why she hasn’t already exercised that power—what is she waiting for?

Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters for making this possible. My next article will delve into Cyre!

Dragonmarks: Lycanthropes

I’m hard at work on many projects, but I’ve had a few questions tied to lycanthropes… and with Halloween around the corner, it seems like an appropriate topic to address! Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters for supporting the blog.

I’ve been listening to the stories of the Werewolf Trials of the Middle Ages. Was the Eberron purge based on these, or is this just a coincidence?

For those of you unfamiliar with the setting, the Lycanthropic Purge is an event that occurred around two centuries before the default Eberron campaign. The Church of the Silver Flame sent an army of templars into western Aundair and what is now the Eldeen Reaches to combat a rising tide of lycanthropy. Following a brutal conflict, the church supported an ongoing campaign to root out and cure or exterminate all lycanthropes that could be found. This conflict is also the root of the Pure Flame, a zealous sect of the Church of the Silver Flame that engages in ruthless and often violent behavior.

People often think of the Purge as a sort of inquisition, similar to the Salem Witch Trials or the Werewolf Trials mentioned above. It certainly ENDED that way, with the newly minted zealots of the Pure Flame trying to hunt down every last lycanthrope… and in the process, targeting many shifters and other innocents. So you can certainly use werewolf trials as inspiration for this period. But that wasn’t how the Purge BEGAN; it’s how it ENDED, a cruel inquisition carried out by people who had suffered through a decade of terror and loss and who were hungry for bloody vengeance. So how did it start?

Under the rules of third edition D&D—the edition that existed when Eberron was created—lycanthropy was a virulent curse. Under the rules of the time, any lycanthrope could spread lycanthropy. If one wererat creates two victims, and each of them infect two others, within five cycles of infection you have 243 wererats… and that assumes each one only has two victims! Essentially, in lycanthropy as presented you have the clear potential for a zombie apocalypse: a massive wave that could result in untold death and ultimately destroy civilization as we know it. The Purge ENDED in a cruel inquisition. But it BEGAN as a noble, selfless struggle to save the world from collapsing into primal savagery. Thousands of templars gave their lives in the Towering Woods, fighting to protect the people of Aundair from supernatural horror.

Under the rules of 3.5 and 4th Edition, afflicted lycanthropes can’t spread the curse. This eliminated the threat of exponential expansion that made the Purge so necessary. Personally, I make this a part of history. At the time of the Purge, lycanthropy was more virulent. By the end of the Purge, the power of the curse had been broken. The question is: Was this tied to some specific victory, to ann Overlord being rebound or an artifact that was destroyed? Or was it simply tied to the number of lycanthropes—when the population grows, so does the power of the curse? And this is important, because in FIFTH edition, all lycanthropes can spread the curse again! Personally, I’m embracing this as the continued evolution: whatever cause the power to wane, it’s rising again. A werewolf apocalypse is a very real threat. Could another purge be called for?

What Makes Lycanthropy A Curse?

Lots of people like lycanthropes. They see lycanthropes as champions of nature, and as the persecuted victims of the purge. So why am I insistent about it being a curse?

First, there’s a simple logic to the decision. Lycanthropes possess amazing abilities. They can transfer these gifts to others, quite easily. So if there’s no downside to being a lycanthrope, why aren’t we all lycanthropes? Why isn’t this gift embraced and shared? If one member of a party contracts lycanthropy, why shouldn’t every member of the party get in on it?

With this in mind, D&D has generally inherited its view of lycanthropy from the Universal monster, not from the World of Darkness and its champions of Gaea. Even a man who’s pure of heart and says his prayers by night can become a wolf when the moon is full. It’s the vision of werewolves that chain themselves up as the moon grows close for fear of killing innocents. The third edition rules were very clear about this. Initially, when a victim falls prey to the curse, THEY BECOME AN NPC for the duration of the event and act according to their lycanthropic alignment. You lose all control and don’t know what you’ll do.

The rules specify that if this goes on long enough, the alignment change becomes permanent and it’s possible for the player to take over. But this isn’t a casual thing. In Eberron, an evil person can have a valid role in society. But 3E called out that an evil lycanthrope isn’t just “evil;” they’re murderers who enjoy preying on their former family and friends. Likewise, a good lycanthrope isn’t just a nice person; they are compelled to abandon civilization to live in the wilds. Fifth Edition echoes this. Consider the following quotes from the fifth edition Monster Manual:

  • Evil lycanthropes hide among normal folk, emerging in animal form at night to spread terror and bloodshed, especially under a full moon. Good lycanthropes are reclusive and uncomfortable around other civilized creatures, often living alone in wilderness areas far from villages and towns.

  • Most lycanthropes that embrace their bestial natures succumb to bloodlust, becoming evil, opportunistic creatures that prey on the weak.

The point here is simple: no player character should WANT to become a lycanthrope. It’s a terrifying burden; even good-aligned lycanthropy will destroy your original personality and turn you into someone else.

Eberron generally takes a broad approach to alignment. But lycanthropy is a special case: it is a supernatural force that IMPOSES an alignment, and this overrides the victim’s ability to choose their own path. What we do say is that there are different strains of lycanthropy, and that alignment is tied to strain. So it is possible to have a good-aligned werewolf… but if they infect someone that person will become a good-aligned werewolf. Here again, I can’t emphasize enough that being a good-aligned lycanthrope isn’t just about being a virtuous person. If it was, the Silver Flame would support it. But just look back at that quote from the Monster Manual: Good lycanthropes are “reclusive and uncomfortable” around civilization. Good or evil, the curse fundamentally changes who you are and enforces a powerful set of instincts and drives.

I feel that natural lycanthropes have a greater ability to adapt and evolve personalities around the behavior dictated by the curse. But it’s important to recognize that there is a fundamental difference between a natural lycanthrope and, say, a gnoll or a shifter. The lycanthrope isn’t just bestial in appearance; they are a vessel for a powerful supernatural force that shapes and drives their behavior. A natural werewolf can fight those urges, but the urges will always be there.

The Origin of Lycanthropy

The origins of lycanthropy are shrouded in mystery. As with the Mourning, I don’t think this is something that needs to be established in canon. I’d rather present a few different ideas, and let each DM decide which one they prefer. So consider the following.

The Gift of Olarune. Common belief is that shifters are thin-blooded lycanthropes. But there are shifters who say that their kind came first. Shifters are touched by Eberron and Olarune, tied to the natural world. Olarune empowered her champions with a stronger bond to nature, blessing them with enhanced vitality, animal form, and other gifts. According to this legend, this gift was corrupted by a dark power—one of the other forces presented below. This explains why lycanthrope traits don’t reflect the natural animal. The wolf isn’t a cruel murderer; but the werewolf embodies our fears of the savage predator that lurks in the darkness. The rat doesn’t scheme to spread disease and undermine cities… but the wererat does.

This means that there was a proto-lycanthropy that was entirely benevolent… and it allows players to have a quest to restore this, cleansing the curse as opposed to wiping it out. In my opinion, this “pure” lycanthropy wasn’t infectious—it would only produce natural lycanthropes, assuming it was hereditary at all. Alternately, it might not even resemble lycanthropy; these blessed champions could be a form of druid.

I have no objection to the idea of there being a small population of these blessed lycanthropes in the world—but again, I’d probably make them non-infectious. The blessing is something you earn, not something you get from a bite. This removes the issue of “Why don’t we all become blessed lycanthropes?”

Overlords: The Wild Heart. The novel The Queen of Stone suggests that lycanthropy is tied to one of the fiendish Overlords of the First Age, a mighty spirit known as the Wild Heart. If this is true, lycanthropy has been around since the dawn of time… and the waning and waxing of the power of the curse likely reflects the strength of the Overlord’s bonds. If you want positive lycanthropes in the world, the Wild Heart could have corrupted Olarune’s Gift… or you could reverse it and say that Olarune’s Gift is a variant that released some of those cursed by the Wild Heart.

Daelkyr: Dyrrn the Corruptor. The Daelkyr are known for transforming victims and creating monsters. Not all of their creations are aberrations; the daelkyr Orlassk is credited with creating medusas and basilisks. Dyrrn the Corruptor is especially know for, well, corruption; this certainly fits with a curse that transforms people both physically and mentally and turns victims into predators that prey on their own friends and family. This could have been something created from scratch… or they could have corrupted the existing primal gift.

So personally, I see even good lycanthropes as victims, and as people who don’t want to spread their curse because it WILL destroy the original personality of the victim. I have run a campaign in which a druid was working to restore the curse to its original blessed form.

But looking to all of this: this is how I run lycanthropes. It’s in line with the depiction in the Monster Manual, which emphasizes lycanthropy as a curse that drives unnatural behavior (whether good or evil). I personally like the idea of the lycanthrope as an alien entity, a being whose behavior is shaped by an unknown supernatural power. Essentially, D&D has a LOT of half-animal humanoids. Tabaxi, gnolls, giff… I like to make lycanthropes feel very different than all of these. Whether in human, hybrid, or animal form, a werewolf is a magical weapon, shaped and empowered to prey on the innocent (or to defend them, if it’s a good strain). Natural lycanthropes can take control of this; Zaeurl of the the Dark Pact is a brilliant warlord. Zaeurl isn’t wild or uncontrolled, she isn’t a slave to her instincts. But she is still a vessel for a power that makes her a supernatural predator, and those murderous instincts are always there. The same is true of the good lycanthrope: they aren’t cruel or murderous, but there is a deep primal core to their personality calling them to retreat to the wilds, to defend their territory.

But again: I embrace this because I LIKE it… because I LIKE lycanthropes, regardless of alignment, to feel dangerous and alien. I want my players to be terrified of contracting lycanthropy, not looking forward to it. If you want to do something different in your campaign, follow the path that’s going to make the best story for you and your players.

The Timeline of the Purge

Here’s a quick overview of the Lycanthropic Purge, pulled from one of my earlier posts.

  • Lycanthropes have been present throughout the history of Galifar. However, they rarely acted in any sort of coordinated fashion; afflicted lycanthropes couldn’t spread the curse; and natural lycanthropes would generally avoid spreading the curse. They were dangerous monsters and something that templars or paladins of Dol Arrah would deal with, but not perceived as any sort of massive threat… more of a bogeyman and reason to stay out of wild areas.
  • Around the Ninth Century, there was a shift in Lycanthropic behavior. Packs of werewolves began coordinating attacks. Eldeen wolves began raiding Aundair, and wererats established warrens beneath the cities of western Aundair. More victims were left alive and afflicted. While terror spread among the common folk of western Aundair, the nobles largely dismissed the claims.
  • Sages in the Church of the Silver Flame confirmed that afflicted lycanthropes could now spread the curse. They realized that the raids and urban actions might not be as random as they appeared – that this could be the groundwork and preparations for a serious large-scale assault. Combined with the risk of exponential expansion, this was a potential threat to human civilization.
  • Templars were dispatched to Aundair, and fears were confirmed; there were more lycanthropes than anyone guessed, and they were better organized than had been seen in the past. What followed was a brutal guerrilla war; the templars had numbers and discipline, but they were fighting an unpredictable and extremely powerful foe that could hide in plain sight and turn an ally into an enemy with a single bite. Thousands of Aundairians and templars died in these struggles. Cunning lycanthropes intentionally sowed suspicions and fomented conflict between templars and shifters, resulting in thousands of additional innocent deaths.
  • The precise details of the war aren’t chronicled in canon and likely aren’t known to the general public. I expect it happened in waves, with periods where the templars thought the threat had finally been contained… only to have a new resurgence in a few years. Again, canon doesn’t state what drove the power of the lycanthropes. Whatever it was – demon, daelkyr, shaman – the templars finally broke it. Afflicted lycanthropes could no longer spread the curse, and all lycanthropes were freed from whatever overarching influence had been driving their aggression.
  • While the threat was largely neutralized at this point, people didn’t know that. There’d been ups and downs before. Beyond this, the Aundairian people had suffered through decades of terror and they wanted revenge. This is the point at which the Purge shifted from being a truly heroic struggle and became something more like a witch hunt, with mobs seeking to root out any possible lingering lycanthropes. Tensions with shifters continued to escalate as bloodthirsty mobs sought outlets for their fear and anger. A critical point here is that at this point, most of the aggressors were no longer Thrane templars. The primary instigators were Aundairians who had adopted the ways of the Silver Flame over the course of the Purge. For these new believers, the Silver Flame wasn’t just about defense; it was a weapon and a tool for revenge. This is the origin of the sect known as the Pure Flame, and its extremist ways can be seen in priests like Archbishop Dariznu of Thaliost, noted for burning enemies alive.

The take-away here is that the Purge began as a truly heroic struggle against a deadly foe, and the actions of the templars may have saved Galifar from collapsing into a feral savagery. But it ended in vicious persecution that left deep scars between the shifters, the church, and the people of Aundair. And now, it may be happening again.

Q&A

How prevalent were lycanthropes during the Dhakaani Empire?

That depends on the origin you chose for them. If you follow the idea of an Overlord, than the curse would exist during the Empire. However, I think it would be extremely rare. Consider a) the Dhakaani are highly civilized and city based, and b) the Dhakaani were a highly regimented and ruthless culture. Essentially, I would see the Dhakaani as being VERY quick to completely cauterize any nest of lycanthropes, just as they would quickly wipe out any form of biological disease. Now, lycanthropes could have still flourished in the wilds— the Towering Woods, the Shadow Marches—but they wouldn’t be seen in the Empire.

On the other hand, if lycanthropes were created by Dyrrn the Corruptor, they would have been a weapon unleashed in the Xoriat Incursion. There could well be historical evidence of a stretch of the western empire that was almost completely wiped out in a lycanthropic exponential expansion. Given this, if you wanted to present a Kech of the Heirs of Dhakaan that have somehow adapted and controlled their lycanthropy, it could be an interesting story—though the other Kech might see these things as abominations.

I know that werewolves transform when any moon is full, but do the twelve moons effect them differently in any noticeable way?

We’ve never discussed this in canon. There’s certainly precedent for it with the Moonspeaker druid. We’ve suggested the idea that Olarune has the greatest influence over lycanthropes, but I think it would be very interesting to say that different moons drive different impulses or moods. Another option would be to tie each strain to a particular moon.

I’m very curious about how lycanthrope genetics work. I know it’s a supernatural thing and probably don’t follow any scientific logic at all, but bloodlines and heritage are still strong symbolic themes to play with. 

It’s a good question. If a natural evil werewolf has a child with an afflicted good werebear, what’s the child? You’re correct to keep in mind that this is fundamentally magic and that science isn’t the factor here. I’m inclined to follow the precedent of the kalashtar, and to say that while the child may inherent genetic traits from both parents, they only inherent the supernatural lineage of one of them. In the example above, they don’t produce some sort of neutral wolfbear; the child is either a good werebear or an evil werewolf. In the kalashtar, this is predictable and tied to gender; the child inherits the curse from the parent of the same gender. But you could just as easily make it random, or assert that one of the strains (I’d tend to say the evil one) is dominant.

I will say that I don’t consider natural or afflicted to be a factor in this. Once you have the curse you have the curse. It’s more deeply rooted in the natural—it can’t be removed, and it’s shaped them psychologically since birth—but in terms of passing it to a child, I think there’s no difference.

Is it correct to assume that the children of a natural or afflicted lycanthrope with a humanoid is a shifter (albeit one with far more obvious bestial traits than average)?

No, that’s not what I’d say at all. In my opinion, the connection between lycanthropes and shifters is more nebulous than that—and as I suggest above, it could be that shifters actually predate lycanthropes. We’ve called out that with shifters it’s not necessarily clear what animal they are tied to, and that shifter traits aren’t hereditary. If shifters are related to lycanthropes, I think it’s the process of many generations.

So personally, I would say that the child of a humanoid and lycanthrope is a going to be a natural lycanthrope. The curse isn’t natural and isn’t limited by genetics; it’s a curse. WITH THAT SAID… I can see some strong story potential to making it not an absolutely sure thing, which would allow you to have a character who appears to be normal only to develop lycanthropy spontaneously late in life (Shadow over Innsmouth style).

With that said, if you want to use shifter mechanics to represent a hybrid child of a human and lycanthrope, there’s nothing wrong with that. I’d just personally say that the character isn’t a traditional shifter—that the MECHANICS are the same, but that there will be obvious physical differences (this character would be more obviously linked to the particular animal, would be driven to a specific subrace, etc).

One sourcebook (was it Secrets of Sarlona?) mentioned that shifters and lycanthropes originated from Sarlona, more specifically from the Tashana Tundra. If so, shouldn’t the daelkyr hypothesis be ruled out?

The sourcebook in question is Secrets of Sarlona. There’s a few factors to consider here.

  • Secrets of Sarlona suggests that shifters began on Sarlona, but gives no explanation of how they came to Khorvaire.
  • It specifically presents this Tashan origin as a surprise to both the humans and shifters of Khorvaire.
  • Neither shifter culture seems to have the motives or resources to organize a vast migration by sea, and the Eldeen shifter culture isn’t strongly intertwined with humanity.

Putting these three factors together suggests that shifters arrival in Khorvaire predates humanity, and was unusual in its origin. So I’ll present one hypothesis: Perhaps a large group of shifters entered one of the Wild Zones of Sarlona and were thrown into Thelanis. There, an Archfey—who called herself Olarune, after the moon—guided them through the Faerie Court, leading them out through another manifest zone into Khorvaire. This provides the basis for folktales of shifters as the chosen people of Olarune and gives them a migration that’s entirely unconnected to humanity. This could have occurred long before humanity crossed the ocean. And if we posit the Towering Wood as their landing point, it’s a wild region that was never tamed by Dhakaan; so it’s entirely possible they could have been present during the Daelkyr conflict.

WITH THAT SAID: A daelkyr wouldn’t have to cross thousands of miles to threaten Sarlona. We’ve discussed the Umbragen of Xen’drik fighting daelkyr. Remember that Khyber contains a myriad of demiplanes, which don’t follow natural law. So you could easily descend into Khyber in the Eldeen Reaches and emerge in Xen’drik, if you found the right passage.

Also: Secrets of Sarlona DOESN’T provide any explanation for the origin of lycanthropy. It seems to have had no significant impact on the history of Sarlona and is barely mentioned. It presents the possibility that it’s the result of an exposure to wild zones, but this is clearly called out as simply one possibility, not concrete fact… and I find it to be a weak story compared to the other options.

This is very well-timed, not just for Halloween, but because the shifter and the Silver Flame warlock in my group are sort of eyeing each other warily…

It’s worth exploring this a bit. The shifter tribes of the Towering Woods have far more experience with lycanthropes than humans do. They know that the good strains don’t pose a threat, and many clans would work in harmony with good-aligned lycanthropes. However, they despise EVIL lycanthropes. Again, per core rules, an evil lycanthrope is compelled to prey on the weak and innocent, even taking joy in targeting former friends and family members. The shifters understood this threat better than anyone, and had no desire to shield evil lycans. But they also understood that there were good strains as well.

So in principle, shifters and templars could have worked together against the common foe. But cunning lycans (especially wererats) worked to destroy this possibility before it could be realized. These agents intentionally sowed the idea that shifters were weretouched and supported all lycanthropes, actively working to set the templars and shifters against one another. The damage done by this lingers to this day. Many shifters hate the church, and followers of the Pure Flame hold to the idea that all shifters are weretouched or lycan sympathizers.

With that said, this isn’t universal. Many people on both sides understand that this was a trick, misinformation to turn allies against one another. There were shifters and templars who fought side by side during the Purge, and shifters who have become champions of the church in the decades that have followed.

All of which is to say: It’s up to your players to decide where they stand on this. Either one could be blinded by superstition and prejudice. Or they could understand that this hatred was engineered by a mutual foe, and be trying to work past it.

During development, was the purge specifically created to offset the “They’re heroes!” mentality that might come from such a “Holy Glorious Shenanigan” mindset otherwise?

Yes and no. The Purge was inspired by historical events, certainly: crusades, the Inquisition, wiping out smallpox. But in these situations, it’s vital to remember that Eberron isn’t our world. When we think of witch trials, we inherently assume that this involves the paranoid persecution of innocents, because (we believe) witches aren’t real. By contrast, the Purge was driven by an absolute concrete apocalypse level threat. Whatever you think about lycanthropes generally—even if you believe that lycanthropy is a blessing creating champions of the natural world—the lycanthropy presented in the rules of third edition was a curse, a supernatural force that could turn the noblest soul into a cruel murderer with the power to create more murderers. The curse that set the Purge in motion was a real, concrete supernatural threat that would have collapsed human civilization into primal murderous savagery. This is why it’s logical to think that this curse was created by the daelkyr or an Overlord: because it’s a weapon perfectly designed to tear apart a civilization from within and without.

So at its core, the Purge WAS a Holy Glorious Shenanigan. People ask why the Church didn’t put more effort into curing the victims, why it was so ruthless. To me, this fails to grasp the brutality of the situation. In my mind, we are talking about a horrific, terrifying struggle. Lycanthropes are powerful and deadly, and one-to-one the Templars were badly outmatched. Take the movie Aliens and set it in a redwood forest: that’s how I see the early days of the Purge. Add to this the idea that any village you find could be riddled with wererats scheming to poison you or turn you against innocents… or the entire village could BE innocent, and YOU DON’T KNOW. There could have been periods of peace, but when a surge occurred it would be sheer apocalyptic horror. In this phase, the templars weren’t cruel inquisitors. They weren’t in the position of power. They were heroes laying down their lives to protect the innocent people of Aundair.

After years of conflict, the tide finally turned. The power of the curse was broken. Suddenly the numbers of lycanthropes began to dwindle as they were defeated. But as noted in my timeline, this had happened before; no one knew that this time the threat was truly over. Now that the outright war had been won, the focus shifted to rooting out the survivors… those lycanthropes still hidden among the population. THIS is where we shift to the cruel inquisition and the paranoid witch hunt, taking the story we’ve seen play out many times in our history. But it’s important to remember that you’re dealing with a population that had suffered through a generation of blood-soaked terror, people who’d had lost countless loved ones to murderous lycanthropes. And remember that WE have the benefit of a rulebook that tells us with absolute authority how lycanthropy works, how it can be cured, that a good lycanthrope only creates other good lycanthropes. They had none of these things: what they had were countless conspiracy theories and superstitions born of terror and rage. And this was the foundation of the Pure Flame: a sect who saw the Silver Flame as a weapon, a tool not simply to protect the innocent but to punish the enemy, a force that had saved them from annihilation and could now make the forces that caused such terror pay for it.

So if anything, the Purge is a reflection of the moral complexity of the setting. It’s an event that can’t be painted as entirely good or purely evil. It was a conflict fought for the noblest of reasons that may have saved human civilization; and it was a ruthless persecution that resulted in the deaths of thousands of innocents and set an ember of hatred and suspicion between shifters and the church that still burns today. It is a stain upon the Church of the Silver Flame because of the innocents who died; but it’s also a symbol of selfless courage, of templars placing themselves in harms way to protect hundreds of thousands of innocent lives.

That’s all for now… happy Halloween!

Lightning Round Q&A: Manifest Zones and Magic

Hello, world!

I’ve been off the grid for a month: dealing both with a host of mundane challenges and working on Morgrave’s Miscellany, which will be released in November. This has kept me from posting much here. I will be back online next month, but for now I wanted to do a quick lightning round with some questions from my Patreon supporters.

MANIFEST ZONES

Manifest zones are often portrayed as this Venn diagram overlap between Eberron and another dimension/world, with the overlap recurring cyclically like the orbits of planetary bodies. Assuming that’s an accurate depiction of what you intended them to be… are manifest zones subject to continental drift, ocean levels, etc.?

This isn’t an entirely accurate description; it’s combining two separate ideas.

Manifest Zones are permanent locations: places where the influence of another plane can be felt in Eberron. This isn’t cyclical; it is ongoing and reliable. Sharn is built on a manifest zone that enhances spells tied to levitation and flight, and this supports the great towers and enables skycoaches; if that connection were to fade or be severed, the towers could collapse. Likewise, Dreadhold is built on a manifest zone, and this is tied into its security. Manifest zones are reliable. They are (super)natural resources, like rivers and veins of precious metal; thus many of the great cities and institutions are built to take advantage of them. Generally speaking we haven’t suggested that manifest zones are subject to effects such as tides or rising ocean levels. I think that the location of the manifest zone is static; if the land beneath it drifts or rises or lowers, the zone will remain constant. We’ve presented manifest zones that are small points high in the air or underwater, so they aren’t tied to soil.

Coterminous and remote planes are the result of the constant shifting of planar influence on the world. This is something that occurs cyclically, like the orbit of planetary bodies. When a plane is coterminous, it strongly influences Eberron, causing broad effects not unlike what a manifest zones can produce—but universally across the world. When its remote, the influence of that plane is far weaker.

You could say that while a plane is coterminous, the effects of a manifest zone are increased. So for example: you might say that tieflings may be born when a child is conceived in a manifest zone during a coterminous period. But that;s a double whammy, and critically the effects of a manifest zone continue even while the plane is remote.

The 4e ECG says that some manifest zones are permanent, and others may appear where no one was before. 

It’s entirely reasonable to say that a manifest zone can appear unexpectedly or that an existing manifest zone could suddenly fade. My point is simply that this isn’t how manifest zones USUALLY work. The ebb and flow of planar power—remote to coterminous—is a part of the setting, but it is a separate thing from the functioning of manifest zones, and that’s what I wanted to clarify. But there’s nothing wrong with having a new manifest zone appear.

Are there zones that respond to stimulus at a lower level of magic than eldritch machine?

We often say that manifest zones are a requirement for creating eldritch machines or for performing powerful magical rituals. But it’s not that the zone responds to the machine; it’s that the machine harnesses the existing power of the zone. Most manifest zones have perceivable effects at all times, just not as dramatic as the powers of an eldritch machine.

When I have more time, I’d certainly like to give more examples of manifest zones and the sorts of effects they can produce.

Is there any specific listed canon method to shut off a manifest zone?

In canon? No. Manifest zones also aren’t uniform in size, shape, or power, so I doubt that there’s a single method that would apply to all manifest zones; I’d also expect the method using to have to relate to the plane involved.

With that said, the idea that it can be done has certainly been presented. My novel The Son of Khyber involves an attempt to destroy Sharn using a Cannith weapon that would disrupt the manifest zone. Again, this isn’t canon (Eberron novels are suggestion, not concrete fact); and it is a weapon that critically had to be used in a very specific location and required a massive amount of arcane power. So when it has come up, it’s presented as a difficult challenge. But yes, it’s certainly POSSIBLE.

Could a tinkering arcanist build a music box that opens a foot-sized manifest zone? 

Sure. Anything is possible if it’s a story you want to involve. But something that CREATES a manifest zone certainly isn’t a trivial effect. It’s not something that people casually do. Again, manifest zones are things that must be found and harnessed; they aren’t created (if they could be easily created, we’d have more cities like Sharn). But if you WANT to say that this particular NPC has made some sort of bizarre breakthrough and created an artifact that produces a tiny manifest zone, why not?

Do the deathless need the manifest zone of Irian to stay “alive,” or just need it for their creation?

Deathless require an ongoing supply of positive energy to sustain their existence. There’s two primary sources of this: manifest zones to Irian, and the devotion of loyal followers. So Shae Mordai is located on a powerful Irian manifest zone, and that means that even if all the living elves were wiped out, the Court could survive. But a deathless who spends an extended amount of time outside manifest zone needs to have a pool of positive energy to draw on, which means devoted followers. The deathless counsellor in Stormreach is sustained by the devotion of the local Aereni community, and if they all left, she’d have to leave too.

This was the fundamental divide between the Line of Vol and the Undying Court. Positively charged undead can’t take the power they need to survive; it has to be freely given. Negatively charged undead consume the lifeforce they need; even if every living elf died, the vampire or lich will continue. So Vol asserts that Mabaran undeath is the only way to ensure the survival of the finest souls; the Undying Court asserts that all Mabaran undead consume the ambient lifeforce of the world, and that creating them is unethical and ultimately a threat to all life.

MAGIC IN THE WORLD

How do you imagine ID systems in Khorvaire? Who checks them, how are they authenticated?

We’ve generally suggested that Eberron is at a rough level equivalent to late 19th century earth, NOT 20th century. When you get into magical wards you can have more advanced forms of identification. But when it comes to ID papers, it’s NOT supposed to be on par with our modern day systems of databases, biometrics, or anything like that.

House Sivis fills the role of the notary in Eberron. Originally, arcane mark was one of the powers of the Mark of Scribing. The idea is simple: each Sivis heir can produce a unique arcane mark—a sort of mystical signature. A Sivis heir goes through training and testing to become a notary, and their mark is on record in the house. Like a modern notary, a Sivis notary would make a record of all documents they notarize and this would be held by the house. So: ID papers would be notarized by a Sivis scribe, who would review all materials before placing their mark. An arcane mark is difficult (though not impossible) to forge. A border guard is primarily just going to look at your ID papers and say “This appears to be you, and you’ve got a valid Sivis mark.” IF there was some reason to question things, the papers could be confiscated and referred to a Sivis enclave, who could use a speaking stone to check with the primary house records to confirm that ht papers were legitimately notarized. But that’s a very big step. Generally it’s a question of if you have a valid Sivis arcane mark.

Fifth Edition doesn’t have arcane mark, so instead we added in the scribe’s pen as a dragonmark focus item that allows a Sivis heir to inscribe mystical symbols. This would still work the same way: a Sivis heir would have to go through a process to become a notary, their personal mark is recorded, and records are made of every document they notarize.

So getting all the way to the point: 95% of the time, verification will essentially be on a level of what could be done in the 19th century: a cursory check for obvious signs of forgery, confirming that the material in the document is accurate (IE, it says you’re a dwarf but you’re clearly an elf), and that it has a Sivis mark. Forgery is thus entirely possible; the challenge is forging the arcane mark, because that’s a glowing magical symbol and you’d have to have some sort of magical tool to pull it off.

How do mundane craftsmen and martial characters stay relevant in an increasingly magical world like the Five Nations? I feel like the Houses and magewrights crowd out trade and spellcasting ability seems borderline required going forward for spies and fighters alike.

Magewrights don’t crowd out trade; magewrights are the future of trade. It’s essentially saying “Does a washing machine drive people who are washing by hand out of business?” Sure, so that launderer probably wants to invest in a washing machine. I still have a large article half-written that talks about the general concept of what it means to be a magewright. Essentially, as a blacksmith your life is simply easier if you can cast mending and magecraft (which I see as a skill-specific version of guidance). Now, those two cantrips on their own aren’t that much of a job; it’s the combination of those cantrips and mundane skill that make a good blacksmith. So I’m saying that in Eberron, most successful craftsmen will KNOW a cantrip or two.

With that said, you can also say “Why didn’t the microwave drive chefs who use longer cooking techniques out of business?” Prestidigitation allows you to heat food instantly, but you could certainly say that food snobs think that food produced through mundane means is BETTER.

The critical point here is that Eberron in 998 YK is based on the idea that civilization is evolving. The wandslinger is something new, a reflection of improved techniques developed during the Last War and now spreading out to the civilian population. Magic isn’t supposed to be a static force that’s remained unchanging for centuries; we are at a moment in time where people can ask “Can you really be a good spy without knowing magic?”

As I said, I’ll certainly write more about this in the future.

GENERAL

You’ve said that nothing in Eberron is born evil. Does that include aberrations created by the daelkyr, like the dolgrim, dolgaunts, and dolgrue?

My short form is that entirely natural creatures aren’t bound to an alignment; their alignment will be shaped by their culture and experiences. UNnatural creatures can be either forced into a particular alignment (like celestials, fiends, and lycanthropes) or strongly driven in a particular direction (like a vampire, who is driven towards evil by their connection to Mabar)…though you can have good vampires and even fallen celestials.

First of all, I don’t think you can make a single canon ruling on all aberrations. Beyond that, we have given examples of beholders and illithids who are at least neutral in Eberron. I think I see it as the equivalent of the vampire. A dolgrim or illithid is pushed in a particular direction. It’s gone alien brain chemistry. Its mind literally doesn’t work the way the human or dwarf brain does. However, I think that MANY aberrations have the ability to ultimately follow a unique path—that they aren’t absolutely locked into a particular form of behavior.

So let’s imagine a baby dolgrim raised by peaceful goblin farmers. I don’t think it would be just like any other normal goblin child, because IT’S NOT NORMAL. It’s brain was physically shaped in a particular direction by an alien geneticist. It’s tied to Xoriat and likely has vivid visions and possibly hallucinations pushing it in a particular way. And it has two unique (and yet merged) consciousnesses. So it wouldn’t just present as any old goblin that happens to have two mouths. But I don’t think it would necessarily be EVIL; it could find a unique path.

I know that werewolves transform when any moon is full, but do the twelve moons effect them differently in any noticeable way?

Not that we’ve said in canon so far, but I think it’s an excellent idea to explore and develop. In the past we’ve suggested that Olarune is the PRIMARY moon that influences lycanthropes. But if I was exploring the idea in more depth, I’d love to present ways in which different moons influence lycanthropes, suggesting that each moon pushes a particular time of emotion or behavior.

If their ships were made airtight, what’s to prevent House Lyrandar from flying into space? What would they find when they got there?

That depends. How are you viewing space? Are we using spelljammer concepts or modern science? Could a fire elemental exist in a vacuum, or would it be extinguished? Are we going to consider the stresses of re-entry that a rocket actually deals with and the sort of speed and forced required to break escape velocity, or are we going to saying that in THIS universe, magic propulsion overrides gravity? Or that there’s a universal gravity, and that when your Lyrandar airship sails into space people can still walk around as if there was gravity?

Essentially: I like the idea of an Eberron space race, though I’d likely start by exploring the moons. But if I was to propose such a campaign I’d need to stop and answer a lot of questions about the physics of the universe that we haven’t yet answered… and I’d want to think carefully about it before I do. For example, let’s just look at the moons. I can imagine the moons being fantastic wonderous locations, like Barsoom in Edgar Rice Burroughs novels. But I could ALSO imagine the revelation that the moons aren’t celestial bodies at all; they’re actually massive planar portals, allowing an airship to physically sail into another plane. I’d want to think about which story feels more interesting and which I’d like to explore. But as of now, there is no canon answer.

Would you ever allow a player to play as an escaped Chosen vessel?

Sure. I think there’s stats for them in Secrets of Sarlona. But the main issue is that the Chosen have no voluntary say in being possessed. Chosen vessels are genetically designed to be possessed by a particular quori. So my question is how your PC vessel deals with this. Are they a ticking time bomb who could be possessed at any time? Have they been given some sort of Adaran artifact that keeps them safe as long as they don’t lose the item? Or has the particular quori tied to their line been bound?

Were a particular quori to be made incapable of possessing its Inspired hosts, whether by destruction or imprisonment, would it be possible that the Chosen and Inspired of that particular line be “reassigned”? Would Dal Quor remove the Inspired as well if they removed the quori? Would an “unused” Chosen be given to a new quori or share the fate of the “used” Inspired?

The principle that’s been established is that the bond between quori and vessel is in some way biological. So Dal Quor can’t simply reassign a Chosen line; they’d have to breed a new one. With that said, Chosen CAN be possessed by any quori; it’s simply that they have to ALLOW themselves to be possessed, while they have no choice when dealing with the quori bound to their line. So there could easily be Chosen who are serving as voluntary vessels for other quori; it’s just that it can’t be forced.

That’s all for now! If you have questions related to these topics, post them below!

Dragonmarks: Firearms in Eberron

There are a few questions I’ve been asked time and again over the years, and one of those came up again just recently: How do firearms fit into Eberron? There’s a number of different gunpowder related classes and rules out in the world; Unearthed Arcana even included a version of the artificer with a Gunsmith archetype. So, how do firearms fit into the setting?

The short and simple answer is they don’t. From the very beginning, Eberron was designed as a setting where arcane magic was the foundation of civilization. The core idea is that in Eberron people wouldn’t pursue the development of firearms and gunpowder, because they have a different tool for creating explosions and hurting people at a distance… so they’d refine that magical tool instead of pursuing something entirely different.

But… isn’t another core principle of Eberron If it exists in D&D, there’s a place for it in Eberron? So: there’s a gunslinger class and I’ve got a player who really wants to use it… what do I do with it?

In any situation like this, the most critical question is: WHY do you want to add this thing into Eberron? What is the story you are trying to tell, and do you need to change the world to tell it? Does your story absolutely require the existence of some form of gunpowder analogue… or could you take the same basic idea and reflavor it to work using magical principles instead of gunpowder?

The Wandslinger

The basic principle of Eberron is that people are finding ways to solve the problems we’ve solved with technology by using magic. Instead of using telegraphs or cell phones, they have speaking stones and sending. Thus, the idea that’s most in keeping with the setting is to develop a magical analogue to the firearm. Wands, staves, and rods are tools that can hold and channel mystical power. In third edition, it wasn’t feasible to use wands as personal sidearms; they were too expensive and also entirely disposable, and it was hard to imagine a unit of soldiers equipped with such a tool. But we took steps towards this by introducing the eternal wand, which had fewer restrictions on who could use it and which recharged every day. While statistics were never presented for it, in my novels I also presented the idea of the siege staff, Khorvaire’s answer to artillery. The idea’s simple: if a wand holds a little power and a staff can hold greater power, then a staff made from a tree trunk could hold greater power still, dramatically amplifying the range and radius of a spell effect to fill the same role as cannons in our world.

The later editions of D&D have made casual combat magic easier to use. In fifth edition, a wand is an arcane focus that costs a fraction of the price of a longbow. Such a wand has no inherent power of its own; it channels the power of a spellcaster. Meanwhile, the Magic Initiate feat establishes the idea that you don’t need to be a wizard or warlock to know a cantrip or two. So in the Wayfinder’s Guide to Eberron we embrace this idea and suggest that over the course of the Last War the nations began training elite arcaneers—essentially, soldiers who gain the Magic Initiate feat and can perform simple combat magic. Because NPCs don’t need to follow exactly the same rules as player characters, I suggest that wandslingers typically only know offensive cantrips (spells that require an attack roll or saving throw), and further that the typical wandslinger needs an arcane focus to perform their magic. Essentially, for a player character a wand is an optional tool; for a wandslinger, it’s a requirement. This is intended both to emphasize that player characters are remarkable, but also to establish that in this world arcane focuses are important tools—that there’s a form of science at work here, and that the “wand technology” is significant.

There’s a few issues with arcane focuses replacing firearms. One of the obvious ones is range: a fire bolt has a range of 120 feet, while a bow can hit an enemy up to 600 feet away; don’t we need a solution that can match that? There’s also the issue that only spellcasters can use the wand, so wouldn’t we have an answer that anyone can use? Addressing the second point first, we do have a solution anyone can use: a bow or crossbow. And anyone CAN learn to use a wand… if they put in the time. Again, the core idea of Eberron is that the magic used by a magewright or a wandslinger is a form of science. Different people may have a special aptitude to different types of spells, just as in our world some people have a talent for a certain type of instrument while others just aren’t very musical. But anyone CAN learn to play an instrument… and in Eberron, anyone could learn to use a wand. On the other hand, they could also put that time and energy into mastering another skill. So Aundair’s elite infantry may be made up of wandslingers, who have the equivalent of Magic Initiate; while Thrane’s elite archers have the equivalent of the Sharpshooter feat, reflecting their specialized training.

So: a basic principle of Eberron’s widespread magic is that many magical tools do have a living component. A siege staff requires a trained person to operate it. And this is why crossbows and arbalests DO still have a place in the world. But remember that here too, these tools can be enhanced by magic. If an Aereni ship uses an arbalest, the bolts could easily be explosive; we’ve also mentioned livewood bolts bound to a dryad, allowing the dryad to manifest on the ship struck by the bolt. Rather than saying “An arbalest is inferior to a cannon, they’d have to have developed cannons,” consider the ways that you could magically enhance an arbalest to match the capabilities of a cannon… even if, like the livewood arbalest, the actual results are very different.

Still, there’s a few valid points. Range is a significant limitation for the battlefield wandslinger. And another thing that bothers me is that in fifth edition there’s no difference between the arcane focuses. Wand, staff, orb… it’s a purely cosmetic choice with no practical effect. Given the idea that these things are tools, I wanted the choice of focus to matter. The Wayfinder’s Guide to Eberron includes one set of rules. Here’s a summary of what I’m playing with now. The staff rules are new and largely untested, which is why they aren’t in the WGtE, but you could try them out if your players and DMs agree.

  • A wand, crystal, or orb is used in one hand. This has no inherent impact unless you’re using a special focus (imbued wood, orb of shielding, etc).
  • A rod can be used with one or two hands. If it is used with two hands, the range of any offensive cantrip you cast is increased by 50%. Using a two handed arcane focus meets the somatic requirements of a spell.
  • A staff requires two hands. When casting an offensive cantrip, the standard range is the listed range for the cantrip, but the staff provides a long range equal to four times the listed range: so when using a staff, fire bolt has a standard range of 120 feet and a long range of 480 feet. When casting an offensive cantrip beyond normal range, you have disadvantage on the attack roll and the target has advantage on the saving throw. Using a two handed arcane focus meets the somatic requirements of a spell.

The goal here is to present the wand as a sidearm—short range, easily concealable—with the staff as the analogue to the rifle. A team of Aundairian arcaneers equipped with staves can’t quite match the range of Aundairian archers, but they can come close… and of course the staff doesn’t require ammunition and the damage scales with the user’s skill. Note that these rules specifically apply to “offensive cantrips”—cantrips requiring an attack roll or saving throw. The staff increases the range of fire bolt, but it doesn’t quadruple the range of message.

The basic principle here is simple: rather than say “A cantrip is inferior to a gun, so people would develop guns,” consider how magic might evolve to fill the same niche. We need to kill someone from farther away? Let’s see if we can increase the range of the spell by making a longer wand (IE, a staff). Want a silencer? Perhaps you can buy a ring that goes around the end of a wand or staff and reduces the obvious discharge. Explore magical solutions. With that said, bear in mind that part of presenting magic as a form of science is that magic has the same limitations as science, one of which is that progress comes slowly. Within current lore the idea is that the techniques of the wandslinger only developed over the last thirty years. People are actively working to improve these things and to make better focus items.

So, the first question is whether it’s possible to just reflavor whatever class or element is calling for guns to use a magical alternative. Currently I’m running a campaign in Q’barra that has the flavor of a fantasy western, and so far, I’ve been very happy with how the wandslinging rules fill the gap for firearms. The sheriff relies on sword and bow; the warlock’s a fancy wandslinger with a brace of imbued-wood wands; the innkeeper has a rod behind the bar in case of trouble.

Goblin Gunslingers

So: I would just reflavor a gunslinger class to use wands. But perhaps that doesn’t work. Maybe the mechanics don’t make sense with a wand, or maybe the DM or player really, really wants something that functions more like an actual gunpowder weapon.

There’s a place for everything in Eberron; you just have to find it. If I had a player who really, really wanted to be a gunslinger, I wouldn’t solve this problem by giving firearms to House Cannith or the Five Nations. The core idea is that the Five Nations solve their problems by using arcane magic, not technology. But… what about a society that DOESN’T possess arcane magic? An advanced, militaristic civilization already renowned for its metallurgy and smithing techniques—a civilization that is thus perfecting the mundane arts of war? Those of you who know the setting well may already have guessed who I’m talking about: the goblinoid Heirs of Dhakaan.

Now: I’m not suggesting that the goblins of Darguun—the Ghaal’dar—have guns. And I’m not saying that the Dhakaani had firearms when they fought the Daelkyr. The Heirs of Dhakaan have been in subterranean isolation for thousands of years, and I’m suggesting that some of their clans may have developed this technology during that time. The Kech Volaar study arcane magic, and thus they wouldn’t have firearms. The Kech Sharaat pride themselves on their mastery of melee combat. So I’d introduce the Kech Hashrach, a clan that has developed firearms and artillery. I’d want them to be as surprising and as threatening to Darguun as to the Five Nations, and present this as an entirely alien form of technology—a path of science others haven’t explored at all. Essentially, in clashing with the Kech Hashrach there would be a chance to explore the conflict between magic and technology. So going back to the player character who wants to be a gunslinger, I’d figure out a way that they could have acquired their tools from the Kech Hashrach. Could they have been a slave who learned the ways of the gun before escaping? Would the player be interested in having ties to the clan—in having somehow earned their respect and been inducted into the Kech? Or might they simply have befriended an old goblin sharpshooter who taught them her secrets? Essentially, I’m fine with a single player character having an exotic weapon, but I’d play up the idea that it IS exotic… and that the Cannith artificer doesn’t get why you’re messing around with dangerous explosives when the basic arcane formulas for pyrotechnic magic are well established and quite safe.

Elemental Weapons

If you don’t like the Dhakaani, there’s another path that we’ve mentioned but never fully explored: Elemental weapons. The gnomes of Zilargo are noted for their skill with alchemy and for elemental binding, and we specifically call out that they provided Breland with “elemental weaponry” during the Last War… but we’ve never explained exactly what this is. One possibility is to play up the alchemical side and explore explosive technology. Another is to focus more on the idea of bound elementals; but this would be a way to create a fire-based weapon that’s distinct from a wand.

I don’t have time to explore this concept in detail here, but it’s a path that would allow you to create a sidearm or form of artillery that isn’t based on direct spellcasting, while still engaging with in-world lore. And I could certainly imagine interesting ways to make it distinct from mundane firearms. Imagine a form of canon that fires globes containing small fire elementals; when the weapon strikes, it doesn’t just explode, it unleashes the fire elemental in the midst of your enemies.

Giving this to the Zil and Breland is also another way to differentiate between nations and to shift the power dynamic from the houses. Aundair might have the finest wandslingers, and House Cannith might be the primary source for arcane weapons of mass destruction. But the Zil could be providing Breland with a form of weaponry none of the other nations use… and the Kech Hashach could be emerging from the depths of Khyber with yet another form of unfamiliar weaponry.

So: I personally focus on using magic in place of firearms, but here’s a few alternatives to consider. Have you used firearms in your Eberron? Have you tried out the wandslinger? Share your thoughts below!

Q&A

What class would you use as a wandslinger?

Anyone who can cast an offensive arcane cantrip COULD be a wandslinger. It’s largely a question of style. Your wizard can cast fire bolt. Does he take pride in this? Does he carry a fine wand of Fernian ash on his hip, or a battleworn rod over his shoulder? Or is he a scholar who KNOWS the words to produce fire, but prefers only to use them as a last resort? Essentially: does the character use offensive cantrips? If so, do they use an arcane focus more often than not? If so, do they take some pride in this? If so, that character’s a wandslinger. It doesn’t matter if they’re a sorcerer, wizard, warlock, bard, or just anyone who’s taken Magic Initiate. And again, with NPCs they generally aren’t any class at all; the ONLY magic a typical arcaneer knows is the battle magic they channel through their foci.

Now, there is something I always wanted to ask Keith ever since he first talked about wandslingers, how common were they in the Last War? And how common are they in post-war Khorvaire? Could you be mugged by a thug with a wand in a dark alley?

The short answer is “They’re as rare or as common as you want them to be in your story.” In my Eberron Aundair fielded the first elite arcaneer units in the last 30 years of the war, and they’ve become more common since then. Today I think wand use is common in Aundair, rare in Thrane, and uncommon everywhere else—which is to say, everyone is familiar with the concept of it, people know a wandslinger when they see one, but the city watch are still using crossbows. In my Q’barra campaign, the sheriff uses a bow, but when the slick Tharashk operatives showed up in town, two of them were wandslingers… and again, the innkeeper keeps a rod over the bar. Essentially, wandslinging is definitely new… but sure, you could be mugged by a thug with a wand. But again: in your campaign, it’s as common as you want it to be.

Dragonmarks: The City of Silver and Bone

The fourth edition of Dungeons & Dragons introduced the concept of the Feyspires: cities that drift between the Faerie Court of Thelanis and the material world. Legends say that the giants of Xen’drik pillaged one of these mystical cities, stealing its treasures and taking its people as slaves. According to these tales, the elves of Eberron are descended from these fallen fey. And it’s said that the ruins of the citadel remain somewhere in the wilds of Xen’drik. But these events occurred many tens of thousands of years ago, and the elves themselves know nothing about their distant ancestors. All that we know is the name of the fallen feyspire: Shae Tirias Tolai, the City of Silver and Bone.

So: the ruins of an ancient mystical city are lost in Xen’drik. But what will explorers find if they discover this shattered feyspire? What WAS the City of Silver and Bone? As with anything in Eberron, the answer is ultimately up to you. But here’s one possibility… an option that sheds new light on a few of the mysteries of the elves.

Study the lore of ancient cultures, and you’ll find a recurring story of a city that stands on the edge of life and death. A shade is drawn to Dolurrh, but along the way it passes through a wondrous city of silver and bone, a city with tapestries of fine glamerweave and bone fountains filled with blood. The librarians of this final city record the tales of the ghosts, a last record before their memories are lost in Dolurrh. The artists work with creative shades, offering a last chance to complete unfinished works. And then there are the necromancers who make darker bargains, offering a chance to return to the world of the living… but at a terrible cost.

This was Shae Tirias Tolai: the city at the crossroads, the repository of final thoughts and the last chance for the fallen to find a way back to the world. And its existence answers a number of questions that have lingered for some time.

  • The Qabalrin. It’s said that the Qabalrin were an elven nation of mighty necromancers who were feared by the giants, and who pioneered many techniques of necromancy. Stories say that there are ancient Qablarin vampires hidden in deep crypts, mighty undead that have been slumbering for tens of thousands of years. But the question has always remained: where did these elves come from? How did they learn these grand secrets of necromancy, this magic that rivaled the giants? If the tales are true, the first Qabalrin were fugitive citizens of Shae Tirias Tolai, survivors who used their necromantic knowledge to found a new realm in the mortal world.
  • Elven Necromancy. Likewise, the distant tie to Tirias Tolai explains the elven penchant for necromancy, both positive and negative. The Aereni and the line of Vol know nothing about their ancient ancestors, but memories still linger in their blood… and this may explain how the elves came to form two of the most remarkable necromantic traditions in Eberron.

But… it’s said that the giants feared the Qabalrin. How could that be, if they defeated Shae Tirias Tolai? Well, the story is that the titans of old took Shae Tirias Tolai by surprise, using treachery and careful preparation to catch the people of this city unaware. Beyond that, the inhabitants of the City of Silver and Bone weren’t warlike by nature. They dealt peacefully with the shades; they never expected an attack and weren’t prepared for battle. The Qabalrin, on the other hand, turned all their knowledge and power into weapons. They also rooted themselves in the mortal world. The original inhabitants of the City of Silver and Bone WEREN’T arch-liches or vampires; they simply knew the secrets of creating such things. In destroying the Silver City, the giants forced the survivors down a dark path.

So what lies in the ruins of the City of Silver and Bone? The first thing to bear in mind is that it is at its heart an imaginary city. It is literally ripped out of a faerie tale, and its structures and elements don’t have to conform to any sort of natural logic. It was always a gothic citadel that blended beauty and luxury with morbid reminders of death. Its people have been taken and it has been bound to the material world, but in a strange sense the city itself is still alive. Its story has simply evolved to encompass its downfall. Envision every story of a haunted castle or mansion and project it here. It is a city that was built using bones as its base—bones of dragons, giants, and all manner of lesser creature. Bone blends with marble and silver, with pools of fresh blood (which by all logic should have coagulated tens of thousands of years ago). Imagine a place of gothic beauty, and now add the aftermath of a terrible battle. Glamerweave tapestries display the tales of forgotten heroes, but the cloth is torn and tattered. The sounds of battle can still be heard as echoes. The spirit of every giant that fell in that ancient battle remain bound here, along with the angry shades of doomed eladrin and other innocent shades who were trapped in transition. Explorers may be overwhelmed by visions of that terrible final conflict, or assaulted by spirits who seek vengeance or a final release. An important point is that these spirits don’t have consecutive memory: for the most part, they are still trapped in the moment of their demise, still fighting their final battles and yearning for revenge on a nation that’s now dust.

Within this concept, it’s up to the DM to decide what wonders remain. Perhaps the library remains intact, holding the secrets of thousands of ancient champions (including dragons, giants, orcs, eladrin, and many others). Maybe there’s a vault of demiliches of dozens of different species, dragon-skulls who still remember the battles against the Overlords. The mightiest artifacts would have been taken by the giants, but there could be many lesser treasures that were beneath their notice… or deep vaults (such as that ossuary of demiliches) where even the giants feared to tread. Ultimately, it’s still important to bear in mind that it’s NOT simply the ruins of a mortal city; explorers are stepping into the story of a haunted ruin, clinging to its tragic loss. Another question to consider is whether the archfey of the city still remains, and if so in what form.

Strangely, this could be another way to explore the Raven Queen in Eberron. Perhaps the ruins of Shae Tirias Tolai still linger between Eberron, Thelanis, and Dolurrh. The Raven Queen is the archfey of the city that stands between life and death. The Shadar-Kai are all that remain of her beautiful children, and the memories she captures are what preserve her existence. If you take this route, the ruins would be revealed to be a gateway to Dolurrh. The question is whether the Raven Queen has accepted her fate and embraced her new story… or whether the player characters could undo the damage that has been done and somehow restore the City of Silver and Bone, allowing it to serve once again as a friendly waystation on the journey into oblivion.

Story Hooks

People exploring Xen’drik could simply stumble onto the ruins of Shae Tirias Tolai. The Curse of the Traveler makes the geography of Xen’drik unreliable; explorerers could discover the ruins once and never find their way back to the shattered city. But they could also be drawn to the haunted city. Consider the following ideas.

  • The party discovers a trinket from Shae Tirias Tolai. It could be carried by an enemy, found in a villain’s hoard, or simply discovered in a flea market or the trash heaps of Sharn. The trinket yearns to be returned to the City of Silver and Bone, and whoever holds it will have visions of the ancient city and its final battle. The trinket serves as a compass, and the party that carries it can ignore the Traveler’s Curse. Will they follow where it leads? A table of possible trinkets is included at the end of this article.
  • The Order of the Emerald Claw is searching for Shae Tirias Tolai. There are secrets in the City of Silver and Bone that are critical to the plans of the Queen of the Dead. Perhaps she can raise an army of lingering giant ghosts and bind them to her will. Possibly a crumbling dragon demilich knows the secret of restoring her lost mark. Whatever power she seeks, the PCs must find a way to reach Tirias Tolai before the Queen of the Dead… or if they arrive too late, to turn the lingering ghosts of the city against the Emerald Claw.
  • When a previously unknown undead force (Acererak? A Qablarin arch-vampire? A sinister being directly channeling the power of Mabar and Dolurrh?) threatens the world, the key to understanding this villain may lie in Shae Tirias Tolai. It could be held in a crumbling scroll in the library, found on a tattered tapestry, or contained in the cracked skull of an ancient demilich.
  • Someone who has been raised from the dead finds that they hear whispers, and are haunted by nightmares when they sleep or trance. Even though they have returned from death, a piece of their spirit has been trapped in Shae Tirias Tolai… and unless it can be released, their soul will eventually be torn from their body and pulled down into the haunted city. Play this a horror movie: the player character returned from the dead, but they came back incomplete and that hole in their soul is growing; if they can’t find the city they see in their visions, they will either die again or become some sort of undead monster.
  • Consider a variation of the Eye of Vecna. The giants couldn’t destroy the archfey of Shae Tirias Tolai, but they took pieces of the archfey and scattered them across the world. Each of these pieces grants great power, but the pieces yearn to be reunited and to return to the fallen feyspire. The spirit may not be evil in the traditional sense, but all mortals are as dust to it, and all that it cares about is its restoration and the restoration of its citadel. One possibility is that the sentience of the archfey doesn’t communicate directly with those who bear the pieces… but that they all know that ultimate power awaits in the haunted city.

These are just a few ideas. The point is that the City of Silver and Bone can serve many roles. It could be a haunted dungeon that adventurers stumble into once while exploring Xen’drik. It could the the ultimate capstone in the plans of the Emerald Claw. Or it could be a mystery that develops over time, a slow burn tied to the visions of a resurrected hero or the whispers of a powerful artifact.

Here’s a few ideas for trinkets tied to Shae Tirias Tolai. Even if the adventurers never go to the City of Silver and Bone, one of these trinkets could add interesting color to a story.

If you have questions or ideas tied to the City of Silver and Bone, share them below! Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters, who keep this website going. I’ll be at DragonCon, and I’ll post my schedule tomorrow!

Dragonmarks: The Aurum

Khorvaire is shaped by two powerful forces. The power of the aristocracy rests on land and tradition. The dragonmarked houses have used their gifts to carve out economic monopolies. How can a common person challenge these forces? If you don’t possess noble blood or a dragonmark, are you ultimately doomed to serve one of these forces?

The Aurum is a fraternal order that began in the Mror Holds; over the last century it’s spread across the Five Nations. Members of the Aurum are drawn from different religions, nations, races, and social classes. However, the order is highly selective in those that it allows to join. Notably, despite a general image as being a society of the wealthy and powerful, the Aurum rarely admits members of major noble families or dragonmarked heirs. Founder Anton Soldorak maintains that members of the Aurum must earn their place in the world, not simply stumble into it.

The Aurum is split into four levels, called concords. New members are admitted to the Copper Concord. While many believe that membership in the Aurum requires wealth, what the recruiters actually look for is influence and potential. To gain membership in the Copper Concord—the lowest level of the Aurum—you need to possess influence that will make you useful to other members. You could be a soldier, a member of the city watch, a prosperous merchant, a renowned actor, a respected sage in Morgrave, a member of a powerful criminal organization, a successful barrister… it’s a matter of impressing a patron with your talent, your influence, and most of all, your potential. Do you have skills or connections that will benefit the society? Or could you, with a little help? To move up in the ranks, you have to prove your talents and increase your influence. Members of the Gold Concord aren’t just actors, soldiers, or criminals; they’re crimelords, superstars, and generals. Members of the upper concords ARE invariably wealthy… but they’ve gained that wealth through their influence.

So what does the Aurum do? It’s a social club, with a hall in every major city in the Five Nations. It’s a philanthropic organization that supports local communities and arts. It’s a place where people with different political and religious beliefs can set those differences aside and talk; according to Soldorak, many of the most important negotiations of the Last War took place around a golden table. But ultimately, at the end of the day, it’s an organization that exists to increase the wealth and power of its members. Members of the Aurum are encouraged to assist one another and to exchange favors. Individually, Aurum concordians may not have the power of royalty or dragonmarked barons, but acting together they can accomplish great things.

So: the Aurum isn’t a SECRET society. It’s private, certainly; outsiders aren’t allowed into the halls. But even if the existence of the Aurum isn’t a secret, there are a host of conspiracy theories and stories about its hidden rituals and secret agendas. The most dramatic rumors speak of a cabal hidden within this cabal… a Shadow Cabinet of the most powerful individuals in Khorvaire. According to these stories, these concordians aren’t content to merely increase their own power; they are actively using the resources of the Aurum to undermine the Dragonmarked Houses and the old nobility of Galifar. On the surface this could seem to be a noble act. But the members of the Shadow Cabinet aren’t idealists working for the common good; they are simply determined to remove all obstacles to their personal power.

At its base, the Aurum is a society of wealthy and influential people. While the Aurum works together for the common good of its members, it’s not a tight-knit conspiracy like the Lords of Dust or the Dreaming Dark; it’s mainly a way to further justify the power of a few very powerful individuals. As such, there’s a few primary ways to use the Aurum.

  • As an enemy. Need a powerful foe for the players… who’s not TOO powerful? An Aurum concordian has power and influence, but can be driven by entirely selfish or eccentric goals. They aren’t trying to conquer the world; they’re trying to drive down property values in High Walls so they can buy a block of tenements on the cheap. If an Aurum concordian wants the Orb of Dol Azur it probably ISN’T because they’ll use it to kill everyone in Sharn; it’s just that they need it to complete their collection. Kaspar Gutman, the “Fat Man” of The Maltese Falcon, would definitely be in the Aurum if he lived in Eberron.
  • As an ally. All the things that make a concordian a useful enemy also make them good patrons for player characters. They have wealth, influence, and they’re generally not attached to any massive agenda; they’re driven either to increase their own wealth and influence, or simply to pursue their own interests. A concordian could be an eccentric collector seeking a rare artifact, an inventor who needs a priceless component only produced by House Cannith and reserved for the use of its heirs, or a ruthless criminal who’s going to draw the PCs into a web of intrigue. But again, they aren’t tied to any nation, any faith, or any vast and ancient force; they’re just people with money and things they want.
  • As an organization. An ambitious player character could be an aspiring member of the Aurum. Someone with the Criminal background could take the Aurum as their “criminal connection”—it’s not exactly a criminal organization, but it has criminal members and a great deal of shady influence. The Noble background couldreflect a character with a hereditary path into the Aurum… though again, Aurum membership must be earned. While members of the society will treat you with respect if you’re the child of a Platinum Concordian, and while that connection will get you past a lot of obstacles, you’ll have to prove yourself before you can wear the rings of a concordian.
  • The Shadow Cabinet. Part of the appeal of the Aurum is that it’s a society of individuals without a deep agenda. But what if there IS a group of shadowy masterminds pulling the strings from deep within, using the resources of its influential members to shatter the status quo? This storyline can be more compelling if players have already become entangled with the society in another way… if what appeared to be a club of eccentric and self-centered people are now revealed to be evil masterminds.

What’s my connection to the Aurum?

In the novel The City of Towers, the protagonist Daine has previously worked as a bodyguard for Alina Lorridan Lyrris, an Aurum concordian with great wealth and questionable morality. Daine doesn’t like or trust Alina, but when he and his companions are down on their luck, Alina is willing to offer them work. With the approval of the DM, any character could have a connection to an Aurum concordian. The first three tables establish a past connection to a member of the Aurum, while the DM can use the fourth table to determine the concordian’s current agenda.

Thanks as always to my Patreon backers, who keep this website going! And if you’re not up to date on Eberron in fifth edition, check out the Wayfinder’s Guide to Eberron and Curtain Call!

Q&A

What kind of economic sectors are not monopolized enough by Dragonmarked Houses (and the feudal nobility) to justify an Aurum concordian’s wealth?

First off, even within the fields monopolized by the houses, not everyone works directly for the house. Most people within a field are licensed by the house. They may receive training from the house; they pay a percentage to the house; they agree to meet house standards or follow certain practices (thus, standardized pricing for a longsword); and in exchange they can use the house seal. The Aurum includes many people whose businesses are licensed by a house. The most beloved singer in Sharn, from the list above, is surely licensed and booked by Phiarlan or Thuranni; but they aren’t necessarily an heir of the house, which means they will always be an outsider.

Beyond that, the house monopolies themselves aren’t absolute. Cannith dominates manufacturing, but they don’t control fashion or construction. Property management and real estate are options in places where the feudal monarchy has sold off land (which is certainly the case in parts of Breland and other nations). The houses have no role in the military, in religion, in crime, or in civic administration (examples of all those being given above). Anton Soldorak derives his wealth from mines, as do many concordians from the Mror Holds. Though by the principles of the Aurum, to rise to the upper concords you’d have to do more than inherit a mine; it’s Soldorak’s business accumen that turned those mines into an empire and founded the largest mint in Khorvaire.

So is the Shadow Cabinet a real thing, or not?

I think it is, but ultimately that’s up to each DM. The important thing is that even if it is real, most members of the Aurum itself don’t know about it. They may be tools of its schemes, and they might even support it if they did know about it, but it’s a secret society within a semi-secret society.

The Wayfinder’s Guide To Eberron

Eberron was born sixteen years ago. It’s been eight years since I’ve been able to write new material, and in that time I’ve worked on many things… Illimat. Action Cats. Even another roleplaying game, Phoenix: Dawn CommandBut in all that time, my heart’s still been in Eberron. And now Eberron has come to fifth edition.

The Wayfinder’s Guide to Eberron is now available on the DM’s Guild. It’s a PDF product, and it’s treated as Unearthed Arcana material. This is Eberron as I’m playing it at my table. The goal is of the book is to give you everything you need to start running Eberron at your table… but also to test these ideas and get your feedback on them. It’s a 170 page book, and the bulk of it is about the world. But it’s also a living document, and the mechanical material—races, dragonmarks—will evolve over time. This is one reason it’s not currently available as print on demand; the PDF will be updated as we gather feedback on the material.

So what is the Wayfinder’s Guide to EberronI’ll start by telling you what it’s not, and that’s a rehash of either the Eberron Campaign Setting or the Eberron Campaign Guide. Both of those books are available on the DM’s Guild, and it seemed foolish to lead off with a book that simply repackages information many of you already have. The WGtE isn’t an encyclopedia. It doesn’t delve deeply into history or geography. Instead it talks about the themes of Eberron, the things that define the setting, and how these can affect your game. How can you capture the feel of pulp adventure or neo-noir intrigue? What impact could the Last War have on your character or your campaign?

The Wayfinder’s Guide includes the following things. 

  • New versions of changelings, kalashtar, shifters, and warforged, along with information and ideas about how the common races fit into Eberron. If you’re a Mror dwarf, why did you leave the Holds? if you’re a Zil gnome, what schemes are you caught up in?
  • An overview of Khorvaire with a focus on ideas for characters and NPCs from each nation.
  • Rules for dragonmarks, the mystical sigils that play an important role in the setting. This includes greater dragonmarks and aberrant dragonmarks.
  • A selection of unique magic items, including dragonshards, warforged component items, and new arcane focuses for your wandslinger.
  • An overview of Sharn, City of Towers with a focus on getting you started with your character or your story. This includes a host of interesting background hooks and story ideas, along with three separate starting points for different styles of campaign… including the gritty Callestan campaign I’m running at home!

The Wayfinder’s Guide is written for both players and DMs. It doesn’t give away any of the deep secrets of the world, but it’s designed to serve as an inspiration both for creating characters and adventures… and I’ll just say that there’s a lot of ideas squeezed into those 170 pages.

What Happens Next?

Eberron has been unlocked for the DM’s Guild. I’m currently working on the Morgrave’s Miscellany with guild adept & Inkwell Society creator Ruty Rutenberg (who collaborated on the dragonmarks and races for the WG). The Miscellany will delve into a range of subjects that didn’t make it into the Wayfinder’s Guide, including Siberys Dragonmarks and some classic Eberron archetypes. Beyond that, there’s a host of topics I’ve been wanting to explore for years now: the Planes of Eberron, Droaam, Darguun, Eberron Underwater, and more. I’ll get to all of these things and more; it’s a question of when. I’ve posted a poll here, on my Patreon site; you don’t have to be a patron to vote on it. Let me know what you want to see first!

In addition to writing new material for Eberron, I want to get back to another project that’s been on a back burner for a long time. Back in 2009—before the age of Kickstarter and Patreon—I bootstrapped something I called Have Dice Will TravelI roamed around the world running an Eberron game for interesting groups of people. I wrote about a few of my adventures for The Escapist, but lack of funding and a creative collaborators caused it to fizzle out. Now with crowdfunding, new support for Eberron, and my partnership with Jenn Ellis and our company Twogether Studios, we’re exploring different ways to bring back Have Dice Will Travel.

We don’t yet know exactly what form this will take. A travel/D&D podcast? A book? Both? What we do know is that we want to capture the diverse people around the world who play RPGs and tell their stories. If you want to make sure you get the latest news, join the Twogether Studios mailing list. And if you feel that you have a particularly interesting gaming group or town we might want to visit on our tour, follow this link and tell us about it!

That’s all for now. Thank you for joining me in this return to Eberron. I look forward to seeing what all of you do with the world!

Dragonmarks: Lightning Round 6-18

I’m dealing with a deadline and don’t have time to address a topic in depth, so here’s a quick lightning round of Eberron questions submitted by my Patreon supporters.

What were some of your plans for Greykell that never made it to print or comic?

For those who don’t know, Greykell ir’Ryc is a character who first appears in my novel City of TowersShe later became the protagonist of the comic Eye of the Wolf; the easiest way to find it now is in this collection.

Eye of the Wolf left a number of hooks I’d love to explore. In the last panel you can see that Greykell has the battlefist of her warforged companion, Mace, sitting on a bench. So if I’d picked it up, the immediate story would have been finding Mace and getting the band back together. Following that, the primary plotline would be unlocking the mystery of the Key to the Kingdom of Night, the artifact revealed in Eye of the Wolf. What is its purpose? Why does the Emerald Claw want it? Beyond this, there’s certainly questions to be resolved concerning Greykell’s lineage, her sword, and other things. So: that’s what I had in mind at the time. If I were to pick her story up again, I’d consider if there were any new directions I’d rather take.

How rare are dragonmarks and dragonshards, numerically? I can’t come up with a relatable analogy or real-world example. 1) How limited of a resource are dragonshards? Equivalent to Industrial Revolution coal? Or gold? 

Good question. Starting with dragonmarks, it depends on the type. Eberron dragonshards are the basic fuel of the magical economy. In my opinion they are fairly common and are usually encountered in a refined, powdered form; you can almost think of this as Eberron’s answer to oil. What I’ve said before is that in magic item creation, it should be understood that a chunk of the “base GP cost” represents Eberron dragonshards—that pretty much any major act of creation will use them.

Siberys and Khyber shards are considerably rarer, and would be more in line with uranium. They are crucial for certain types of magic, but not generally used for trivial effects and much harder to come by.

Are dragonshards a renewable resource?

Yes and no. They are a form of crystal; it’s not implausible to say that Eberron shards form naturally over time. However, if this occurs, it’s not fast. The discover of new shard fields in Q’barra wouldn’t be as important if the existing fields were a never-ending cornucopia. Essentially, I’ve never intended there to be a storyline in which the world simply runs out of dragonshards, but it is the case that the discover of a new source of shards is supposed to be valuable and significant.

How often would you encounter someone with a dragonmark on the streets of Sharn, or in your modest village?

What we’ve said before is that about 50% of dragonmarked heirs develop the least manifestation of the mark. Someone who does develop a mark has a valuable skill and a tie to a dragonmarked house. So looking to your modest village, it’s relatively unlikely: unless they are performing a specific job in the village, why wouldn’t they take that mark to the big city and make some gold? As for Sharn, we actually did a dragonmarked breakdown when we were working on the Sharn: City of Towers book. I don’t remember the results, but there were definitely hundreds of least-marked heirs, if not thousands.

Both Shard and Mark are required to perform most of the abilities that run the Eberron economy, so how common are these “jobs,” of all jobs in the economy?

Of all jobs in the economy? Not very. An airship needs a pilot with the Mark of Storm (and maybe a co-pilot for a long flight); compare that the the number of people working maintenance or support on any flight. A Sivis message station needs an heir to operate the stone, but it’s not as those there’s a message station on every street corner. Cannith heirs run the creation forges and similar focus items, but there’s many more jobs that simply require magecraft or mundane talent.

Short form: The marked services are the things that give the houses their edge, since others simply can’t provide these services. But they are a small percentage of the actual jobs in the world.

How do you feel about the loophole in 3.5 that allows goodberry to provide healing in the Mournland? Is this something that should carry over to 5e, or other systems?

I’ve never considered it an absolute rule that healing doesn’t function in the Mournland, because I don’t think anything about the Mournland should be absolutely reliable. Given that, I’m fine with the idea of unusual resources and approaches (goodberries, healing potions brewed in the Mournland, etc) that healing possible. Essentially, what’s important to me is that the Mournland means that you can’t rely on the things you’re used to.

With that said, the goodberry effect wasn’t intentionally planned out, so I don’t care if that PARTICULAR loophole makes its way into 5E; I’m just saying that I’m amenable to DMs providing ways for PCs to heal in the Mournland, as long as it requires some effort.

Is there a holiday involving gift-giving in Eberron?

A simple option is Boldrei’s Feast (9 Rhaan), which is a celebration of community. Another possibility is Sun’s Blessing (15 Therendor) which is a day of peace and a time to set aside differences. Aureon’s Crown (26 Dravago) is a day for people to share knowledge.

Those are all in canon. Unofficially, I introduced a tradition in one of my campaigns which I just called “The Gifts of the Traveler,” which was effectively a Secret Santa exchange. In my campaign, the warforged paladin gave another character a collection of poems she’d written called Rust & Blood; given that none of us knew she was writing poems, it was kind of sweet.

Does the Blood of Vol have a “Martin Luther” character in its lore, that have experienced and rejected the machiavellian schemes of Vol and the Crimson Covenant, and seeks to create a more “pure” faith? 

Not by canon, but I think ALL the religions of Eberron should have this sort of thing. Part of the point of faith in Eberron is that there’s no one absolute authority on interpretation. We’ve talked about the Time of Two Keepers with the Silver Flame, not to mention the Pure Flame. We’ve already called out that the BoV has a few divergent paths—those who believe in a war against the Sovereigns, those interested solely in personal ascension, those loyal to the Queen of Death. So: there’s no existing NPC, but it’s a great story to explore.

Given the assumption that all arcane magic can be ultimately drawn from one of the planes, which plane do you think would manipulate time (slow, haste, time stop, etc.)

That’s not my personal assumption, but GIVEN that assumption, I’d either use Thelanis or Xoriat. Thelanis because of the idea that time is unpredictable in the fey realm and because it is about the world behaving in a magical way; Xoriat because it embodies things NOT working in accordance with nature, and if you’re breaking natural laws it’s a reasonable force to use.

Does Droaam have any kind of international trade aside from byeshk and brokering monsters through House Tharashk?

Like Darguun, I see Droaam as still focusing on establishing its own infrastructure. They’re building and expanding their own cities and working on producing or acquiring the resources they need to keep the nation going. Mercenaries services and Byeshk are two known commodities that already have a market. Beyond these, they are still figuring out what surpluses they may have or what they can produce. So right now, I don’t see them as offering much more (aside from things like Dragon’s Blood, which is under the table). But if you want to INTRODUCE something as a new development, that makes perfect sense. And bear in mind that “mercenary” is a loaded term that sounds like it’s solely about soldiers. Most of the “monstrous mercenaries” Tharashk manages in Sharn are ogre laborers, gargoyle couriers, and other nonviolent services.

A side note here: Many of the dragonmarked houses are interested in Droaam BECAUSE it’s largely undeveloped and it’s not yet known what resources they possess. So there’s certainly merchants in Graywall both looking to sell the things that Droaam needs and to see if they can make deals to get unique resources that haven’t yet been fully tapped.

Have you ever used Argonth or any of the floating fortresses in any of your games? 

I never have! I’ve thought about it a few times—in developing games for CCD20, “Die Hard on Argonth” has been on my list—but no, I never have.

Are you going to be allowed to talk about converting Waterdeep: Dragon Heist for Eberron when the time comes?

I don’t think I’m forbidden from talking about anything. What I’m not allowed to do is to produce concrete material: adventures, race conversions, etcSo I could do an article on this site about a general conversion, as long as I had the time to do it. I just couldn’t actually convert NPC stats to Eberron or present my version of Dragonmarks as part of it.

That’s it! Feel free to post additional questions below—though as I am very busy, I can’t promise they’ll be answered.

Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes for 5e shows that Mordenkainen (who in 3e was a 27th level wizard) is aware of Eberron and the Last War. What would you do with the implication that high level wizards like Elminster, Murlynd and Dalamar do visit Eberron?

Well, Mordenkainen could be aware of Eberron without actually having visited it. Setting aside epic scrying magic, he could have consulted with other travelers—plucked images of Eberron from the memories of a mind flayer.

I have two main caveats concerning any connection between Eberron and other planes. The first is that it has to be optional. The flip side of “There’s a place for everything in Eberron…” is “… but you get to decide whether you use it.” If someone WANTS to put Elminster in Eberron, more power to ’em—but *I* don’t.

But assuming you DO: one of the design principles of Eberron is that there’s no powerful good guys. If the Tarrasque attacks Sharn, there’s no 27th level wizards sitting around waiting to teleport in and solve the problem. Where there ARE powerful benevolent NPCs—The Keeper of the Flame, the Great Druid—they are limited in some way. Jaela loses her powers if she leaves Flamekeep. Oalian is a giant tree. So if I were to add Elminster into Eberron, I’d want to add a similar handicap. Two options come to mind. The first is that he can’t exercise his full powers without disrupting some sort of balance—whenever he uses his magic in Eberron, Sul Khatesh learns one of his secrets, and once she learns them all she’ll be freed (and he knows this). The second option—which can be combined with the first—is that the Chamber is aware of him and will act to eliminate him if he threatens to disrupt the balance. Even a 27th level wizard should tread lightning around a host of epic level dragons.

So I’m fine with saying that they’ve been around but tread lightly… or exploring the consequences of them NOT treading lightly. For example, I’d love to say The Daelkyr Incursion was the result of Mordenkainen coming to Eberronwhatever method he used to breach the planes drew the attention of the Daelkyr and ultimately destroyed the Empire of Dhakaan.

You may have mentioned this in a prior post, but what do you use/think for the religious views of the jhorash’tal orcs?

Personally, I see the Jhorash’tal orcs as culturally distinct from the orcs of both the Shadow Marches and Demon Wastes. I use a blend of Sovereigns and Six—similar to the Three Faces of War, but encompassing some of the others as well.

what do you think of animal familiar in Eberron? What does it say on magic the fact that every wizard and every sorcerer has one?

Two things there: whether EVERY wizard and sorcerer has one is a function of the edition you’re playing. Even if that is the case, remember that both wizards and sorcerers are rare in Eberron. Most professional spellworkers are magewrights. So familiars will be rare even if every wizard has one.

Second, there critical question is what is a familiar? The traditional familiar is a normal animal that becomes a magical beast when summoned to service. In essence, a minor spirit of some sort possesses the animal body. You could present this as being extraplanar (and in the case of a warlock, an emissary of the warlock’s patron). However, I’m more inclined to say that it’s a manifestation of the spellcaster’s subconscious mind. Especially if ALL wizards have one, I’d argue that when you unlock the part of your mind that allows you to master arcane magic—shaping reality with your thoughts and words—that it allows your subconscious to manifest through a local vessel. The familiar is literally the voice of the piece of you that understands magic.

But that’s just my idea.

The Raven Queen in Eberron

The Raven Queen is trapped by her fascination with the past. She sits in her fortress, amidst all the memories of the world, looking at the ones that please her the most as though they were glittering jewels. 

—From Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes

The Raven Queen was introduced in 4th edition Dungeons&Dragons. In her original form she’s a mortal who attained godhood after death. She’s the goddess of death, but specifically she’s a psychopomp—her role is to safeguard the soul’s passage to its final destination. She is also presented as a goddess of fate and winter. Her tenets include the idea that death is the natural end of life and that her followers should bring down the proud who cast off the chains of fate. So: She’s a shadowy goddess of death, but presented in a positive light—and specifically being opposed to Orcus and the undead. She’s also presented as being able to spare worthy mortals from death if they will perform services for her.

Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes brings her to 5th edition, and in the process changes up her story. In 5th edition, she was originally an elf queen, a contemporary of Lolth and Corellon. She sought to attain godhood and in the process was pulled into the Shadowfell with her followers. She became an “entity composed of symbols, images, and perceptions.” She sustains herself by drawing on mortal memories, and thus created her Fortress of Memories. Those who go to her realm are “transported to a strange fairy tale world pulled from their experiences, filled with metaphors, parables, and allegories.” People might seek her out to free themselves from a dark past; to learn the secrets of the dead; or to find answers that only she possesses.

In both incarnations, she is served by the shadar-kai. In 5th edition, these servants are immortal; if they die, she will cloak them in new bodies to return to her service. She sends them out to uncover secrets or memories the Queen wishes to acquire.

So: we have a goddess of natural death who despises undead and seeks to safeguard soles and the natural course of fate. We have an Elven keeper of secrets who collects tragic memories. Both dwell in the Shadowfell, have shadowy servants, and may deal with mortals. How does this translate to Eberron?

Lest it go without saying, Eberron doesn’t have incarnate gods. So we know one thing she’s NOT, and that’s a god. She is a powerful extraplanar entity who can serve as a patron for warlocks. Perhaps it’s even possible for a cleric or paladin to gain power in her service, but if so, the power isn’t coming from her directly; it’s power gained in service to her ideals.

There’s a lot of different ways you could go with this. Here’s a few quick takes.

THELANIS. The archfey of Thelanis embody epic faerie tales, and that’s explicitly what the 5E version of the Raven Queen is: a fairy tale about a queen who sought power, was consumed by shadows, and now feeds on tragedy. It’s a simple matter to take her exactly as presented in MToF and simply place her Fortress of Memories in a shadowy layer of Thelanis. In this case, the shadar-kai are essentially immortal fey spirits temporarily housed in mortal forms to play their role in her story. She continues to seek memories and tragedy because that’s her story; it’s simply the case that when you deal with her, you want to think of her as a character in a faerie tale, to bear in mind that her goals and the logic driving her actions aren’t the same as those of mortals. If you want to follow this path, I’d check out my post on Thelanis. Note that this doesn’t incorporate any of the “Goddess of Death” aspect.

MABAR. In my article on Mabar I discuss the idea that realms are consumed by the Endless Night. The MToF story of the Raven Queen fits that idea well; it’s a tale of a mighty queen who seeks godhood and is consumed by her hubris, dragging herself and her followers into shadows from where she continues to feed on tragedy. You could certainly make the Raven Queen the ruler of a domain within Mabar. However, if this is the case, it would definitely play to presenting her as a more sinister and dangerous figure as opposed to being a possible ally or patron.

DOLURRH. The basic principle of Dolurrh is that it draws in the spirits of the dead and consumes their memories, leaving behind only forlorn shades. Most of the major religions assert that this is a side effect: that the memories aren’t being LOST, but rather they’re transitioning to a higher form of existence… either bonding with the Silver Flame or reaching the realm of the Sovereigns. Nonetheless, memories are lost. You could combine the two approaches and say that the Raven Queen is a powerful being who dwells in Dolurrh and saves the memories of the dead from being lost. This plays to the idea of people seeking her out to learn long-lost secrets from the memories of the dead. It also fits with the idea that she could restore ancient champions to life—that she preserves their spirits from the dissolution of Dolurrh so they can potentially be restored at a future time. This also fits with the idea that she could offer resurrection to a dead player character in exchange for their services in the mortal world, or that her shadar-kai are spirits restored to mortal bodies. In my mind, this is the best way to combine the two versions of her: she is a powerful entity who works to preserve the natural order of Dolurrh, encourages the natural cycle of death and despises undead, yet who also preserves the memories of the dead and could grant resurrection.

THE CHILDREN OF WINTER. If you work with the idea that “death is the natural end of life,” the Raven Queen could be the patron of the Children of Winter. This likely works best if she’s tied to Dolurrh, but it could work with any option. This would justify mixing a few warlocks among the druids and rangers.

ELVEN ORIGINS. Playing off the idea that she is connected to the history of the elves; that she hates those who defy fate; and that she collects memories, there’s another interesting path you could take: she could oppose the elves of Aerenal and Valenar. The elves seek to preserve their greatest souls from being lost to Dolurrh. The Raven Queen could seek the downfall of Tairnadal champions in order to claim the spirits of the patron ancestors they are sustaining; she could also oppose the Undying Court and its agents.

GUARDIAN OF FATE. In Eberron, fate is determined by the Draconic Prophecy. One option is to say that the Raven Queen knows the path the Prophecy is supposed to follow. When forces on Eberron—the Lords of Dust, the Chamber, the Undying Court—seek to change that path, the Raven Queen seeks to set things right, either using shadar-kai or pushing player characters onto the right path.

All of these are valid options, and you can mix and match them: She rules a layer of Mabar, but she was once an elf queen and seeks to destroy the Undying Court. She’s a power in Dolurrh and served by the Children of Winter. But there’s a final option that’s MY personal favorite, as it brings a number of different ideas together: tragic Elven backstory, mortal who’s become a godlike being, guardian of the natural cycle of death, mysterious motives and ties to fate, specific tie to Eberron. And that’s ERANDIS VOL.

THE ONCE AND FUTURE QUEEN OF DEATH

Erandis Vol was the product of experiments conducted by dragons and elves, experiments designed to produce a godlike being with power over death. But she was killed before she could unlock the powers of her apex dragonmark. She was brought back as a lich, but as an undead being she can’t access the power of her dragonmark and achieve her destiny. Her phylactery is hidden even from her; she can’t truly die, even if she wants to. For thousands of years she has tried to achieve her destiny. She’s done terrible things in pursuit of this goal. She raised ann army of undead champions and fanatics. Perhaps she’s gone mad. But at the heart, she’s trying to achieve her destiny: to become the Queen of Death.

One option is to say that there IS no Raven Queen… yet. Erandis is trying to BECOME the Raven Queen. But if it was me? I’d push things one level further. I’d use the Dolurrh version of the Raven Queen: the enigmatic spirit who preserves the experiences of the dead in her Fortress of Memories, who has the ability to catch the spirits of the dead and restore them if they serve her. This Raven Queen can be a mysterious ally for the PCs. She despises undead and those who seek to cheat and manipulate fate. She can point the PCs in directions that bring them into conflict with the Emerald Claw. And yet, even if they fight the Emerald Claw, these battles might also push Erandis towards her goals. On the surface, it seems like the Raven Queen and Erandis are the bitterest enemies, opposed in every way. But in fact, Erandis IS the Raven Queen… or will be. The process of ascension isn’t a simply thing; it transcends our normal understanding of time and reality. The Raven Queen has dwelt in her Fortress of Memories for eons: but at the same time, she is Erandis, and she still has to ascend. So the ascended Erandis despised the actions of the lich and helps those who oppose her; and yet, she also has to ensure that the ascension takes place.

Simple, right? And you can easily add the Raven Queen hating the Undying Court into that mix: not only do they defy the natural order of life and death, they also killed her family and HER, back when she was mortal.

So: there’s my thoughts on the Raven Queen in Eberron. Any questions?

As always, thanks to my Patreon supporters: I couldn’t keep doing this without you!

Q&A

How do you see Raven Queen cultists as behaving in Eberron?

Have you met the Children of Winter? Seriously, though: it depends on how you interpret her. If you embrace the 4E direction, she’s about sustaining the natural cycle of life and death and enforcing fate, and as such being strongly opposed to the undead. You could easily play up these aspects of the Children of Winter. Currently they focus on how the tools of civilization interfere with the natural cycle, but they are presented as despising undead and you could choose to play this up. As suggested above, I’d see Raven cultists as being opposed to the Elven faiths and anyone seeking to shift the direction of the Draconic Prophecy. Beyond that—and with whichever version of the Queen that you use—as she is a powerful outsider as opposed to an abstract god, she can give concrete directives to cultist, whether that’s digging up a secret, killing someone who’s escaped their fate, or what have you.

With the Raven Queen’s emphasis on death being the natural and fated end, how might you see her interactions with maruts? Would she pluck them from Daanvi to guard her fortress of memories or deploy them against those who would cheat death?

Per the 3.5 ECS, maruts are normally found in Dolurrh. Personally I see Dolurrh as being very mechanical in nature (philosophically, not necessarily visually). The process of drawing souls in and processing them isn’t done by hand; normally you don’t get some sort of cosmic judge reviewing your actions, it’s just “Souls come in, rinse, repeat.” I see maruts as being part of that machine—in essence, the antibodies of Dolurrh. If you come in and try to drag a soul out, you’ll have to deal with maruts. And as I called out in City of Stormreach, any time you use resurrection to return someone who isn’t fated to return, there’s a chance you’ll draw the attention of a marut; which is why Jorasco will generally perform an augury before they’ll do a resurrection.

With this in mind, I’d personally say that the Raven Queen DOESN’T employ maruts. I prefer to say that she is living IN the machine, grabbing memories before they’re lost forever, but she’s not actually OPERATING the machine. Largely this is because I prefer her to have to work through mortal agents—be they temporarily mortal shadar-kai, Children of Winter, or player characters—than to have an army of maruts at her disposal.

If one were to utilize the Crucible from Phoenix (specifically the Dhakaani Phoenix strike force version) in Eberron as well, how might the Raven Queen tie in to the Crucible?

If you’re adapting Phoenix to Eberron, you could certainly present the Raven Queen as being the force that created the Crucibles — saving spirits from the dissolution of Dolurrh so they can return as champions. In a sense, this mirrors the 5E concept of the shadar-kai, with the added ideas that power grows with each reincarnation and that they only get seven lives. The main question is how the Phoenixes interact with the Raven Queen. Traditionally, the only being a Phoenix interacts with in the Crucible is their mentor, the spirit of a prior Phoenix of their school. If you chose, you could say that ever mentor is in fact an aspect of the Raven Queen herself.

In Phoenix itself, you don’t have elves or gods. Personally, I’d make the Raven Queen one of the Fallen Folk — a Faeda spirit created to preserve the memories of the dead. Over the ages, she’s built her fortress of memories in the Deep Dusk, and could be a source of information or guidance for Phoenixes.