IFAQ: Galifar – One Nation or Five?

As time allows I like to address shorter questions raised by my Patreon supporters. This one comes from Mariamow: I would love to see a breakdown of the fashion of the nations! Specifically how things were pre-last war mostly all being a single nation, how it evolved and why it evolved in that way.

A full nation-by-nation breakdown of fashions is a significant topic; I’ll put it on the Patreon topic poll for June. However, I wanted to take a moment to address the second half of the question: As pre-war Galifar was a single nation, how and why did the Five Nations evolve as they did?

Galifar wasn’t a single nation: it was a united kingdom. Two thousand years ago, the warlord known as Karrn the Conqueror sought to bring the nations of central Khorvaire under his control and failed. A thousand years later, Galifar I succeeded. But unlike Karrn, he didn’t seek to crush these nations and impose Karrnathi culture onto them. Galifar was a diplomat as well as a warrior, and he achieved victory through compromise. He rallied the Dragonmarked Houses to his side with the Korth Edicts. He gained the support of the goblins with the promise of freedom. And with a notable exception, he won acceptance for his rule by respecting the traditions of his defeated enemies. He appointed his children as governors of the conquered nations, and he did rename the nations after them. His homeland of Karrnath remained unchanged, but the nation of Thaliost became Aundair; Daskara became Thrane; Wroat became Breland; and Metrol became Cyre. But his children took local nobles as their spouses, and for the most part local leaders who swore fealty to Galifar and accepted his laws and edicts were allowed to keep their positions and lands. Rather than crushing the cultures of the nations, he largely embraced them and sought to harness their strengths for the greater good. Notably, each nation was granted one of the major institutions of Galifar—something that built on their existing strengths but which also served as a cultural anchor and point of pride moving forward.

  • Aundair had the strongest system of general education (later used as a model for all of Galifar) and the greatest expertise in wizardry and artifice. The was chosen as the home of the Arcane Congress, Galifar’s center for mystical research and education.
  • Breland became the seat of the King’s Citadel, service both as the strong shield of the ruler and as their eyes and ears. Beyond this, Breland would also evolve into a major center for commerce and industry. All of these were supplemented by its close ties to Zilargo, which remained culturally independent but under the general jurisdiction of Breland.
  • Karrnath had the oldest and strongest martial tradition. Rekkenmark was both the most prestigious military academy in Galifar and the secondary seat of military administration.
  • Thrane was known for its devotion to the Sovereign Host, and was the seat of the Grand Temple of the Host. The temple was devastated during the Year of Blood and Fire; following the sacrifice of Tira Miron, the majority of the people of Thrane converted to the faith of the Silver Flame, and the Grand Temple was replaced by Flamekeep.
  • Cyre was the exception to the rule of maintaining the existing culture. Here Galifar displaced the existing nobility and built a nation that would be a model for the kingdom as a whole—drawing on the cultural strengths of all five nations to and creating something new. This was a source of pride for the new Cyrans, but a bitter pill for the displaced nobles of Metrol (largely granted new lands in what is now Valenar)—and in general, there was a lingering resentment that Cyre’s prosperity was built with the sweat of the other nations.

So people considered themselves to be citizens of Galifar, but they still thought of themselves as Cyrans, Brelish, or Aundairian. The sourcebook Forge of War includes a map of Galifar before the war, and again, it’s not one nation: it’s five.

Galifar was a metropolitan society. Part of the point of spreading its major institutions across the continent is that people would go to Aundair to learn magic or to Karrnath to study war and then return to their homelands. So the nations weren’t isolated, and Cyre in particular strove to draw inspiration from all of the nations. Nonetheless, Karrns were the most likely to serve as soldiers and Aundairians the most likely to become scholars or wizards.

So while the cultures of the Five Nations have deep roots in the pre-Galifar nations, the traits most associated with them today—Aundair’s arcane strength, Thrane’s devotion—developed under Galifar. In the previous article I mentioned that the soldiers of the Five Nations started from a common base for their uniforms, because the ARMY was the army of Galifar; but the soldiers within the army had always thought of themselves as Brelish, Aundairian, etc and when they changed into civilian clothing it would reflect their local culture.

All of which is to say that there’s certainly room for a longer discussion of the cultures and fashions of the Five Nations when I have time to write about them! Until then, in dealing with the Five Nations the key point is to remember that while they have only been independent nations for a century, they Five Nations have traditions and cultural identities that go back far longer than that.

Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters for keeping this site going! As determined by the poll on Patreon, the my next major article will concern the moons and the potential for a space race in Eberron.

Dragonmarks: Aesthetics & Armor

Art by Júlio Azevedo for Exploring Eberron

Eberron is a world where you have the lightning rail, where warforged can be mass-produced, where the towers of Sharn scrape the sky. But it’s also a world where your character might be a knight in plate armor hitting things with a sword. So what does that look like? Does the world feel medieval, or is the aesthetic closer to World War I?

In creating Eberron, the design team made a conscious decision to keep the experience of the world grounded in D&D. This meant that people would still wear plate armor. They’d ride horses instead of motorcycles. They’d fight using swords and bows rather than using a version of firearms. So part of the point is that we didn’t want to make classic armor or weaponry obsolete. With the introduction of the wandslinger in fifth edition it’s possible to see how the world is moving in that direction—one of my favorite quotes from the Wayfinder’s Guide is the Aundairian exclaiming “Sovereigns above, Wyllis. We’re days away from the Eleventh Century and you’re still shooting people with pointed sticks?” So we are REACHING a point where the warlock wearing leather armor and carrying a wand is just as plausible a soldier as the fighter in plate with sword and shield. But for now it is still a world where armies clash with sword and spear.

With that said, the basic concept of Eberron is that it is a world in which magic has taken the place of the science we know. It’s a world that has trains, yes: but that train doesn’t use steam or gears, it’s a series of stagecoaches that ride a line of lightning. It’s NOT our world, and while the tools people use may have medieval names, that doesn’t mean they are medieval in form. I discussed this in a previous article dealing with crossbows, but it is equally important when thinking about armor. Heavy armor became obsolete in our world because crossbows and gunpowder weapons could easily penetrate it, and the protective value of the armor no longer offset its limitations on movement. But consider a few facts about armor in D&D…

  • Heavy armor provides equal protection against all weapons. Plate armor provides significantly better protection than leather armor, regardless of whether your attacker is using a sword, a heavy crossbow, or even a modern firearm (if you use the rules provided in the DMG).
  • Heavy armor is remarkably flexible. As long as you meet the Strength requirement, the only limitation it imposes is disadvantage on Stealth checks: it’s NOISY. But unlike previous editions, it doesn’t reduce your movement speed. And it doesn’t impose disadvantage on, say, Acrobatics or Sleight of Hand checks. That implies remarkable ease of movement. And, you can wear it all day without worrying about sores or other problems.

You can choose to look at these as the limitations of a casual rules system. But the alternative is to accept the idea that this isn’t medieval armor. It is “plate” armor, yes. It’s literally heavy and it requires a certain level of Strength to use it effectively. In terms of its materials and appearance, it’s not medieval. The same concept applies to other “medieval” things. Orien couriers use a form of horseshoes of speed that channel the power of their dragonmark (thus reducing the rarity) to give a mount greater speed and durability. So yes, people are riding horses instead of motorcycles, but that Orien courier can tear past you with blue light flashing from the hooves of the horse; less frequently you might even see a courier with horseshoes of a zephyr riding a horse across the surface of a river. It’s a MAGICAL world; don’t just think “No cars means it’s primitive”, highlight what they’ve developed instead. Mention the squad of Vadalis hippogriffs passing overhead, or the street performer weaving wonders out of illusion; it’s not medieval, it’s magical.

Magic is a part of life, and is very much a part of fashion. Glamerweave is a form of common magic item that imbues clothing with illusion. A sorcerer may wear a cloak that’s lined with a starry sky. A former soldier could have glowing sigils representing the medals bestowed upon them in their service etched into their armor. Consider also shiftweave, a common magic item that allows the wearer to shift between multiple outfits—so someone who can afford a common magic item can shift between their traveling outfit and a shimmering gown with a snap of their fingers. Exploring Eberron will also discuss cosmetic transmutation—the idea that you can go to a cosmetic illusionist and add magical details to your appearance. In Aundair in particular you can expect to see people with glowing eyes, metallic hair, or other cosmetic details that are obviously the product of magic.

Art by Olie Boldador for Exploring Eberron

Pulling back to armor and common appearance for a moment: Consider that Khorvaire is just two years out from decades of war. All genders served in the armies of the Five Nations. Combined together, you’ll see a trend toward practical clothing that allows freedom of movement. The closer you were to the front lines, the more you wanted to be ready for anything. Nobles might embrace fashions that restrict movement to make a statement—my fancy gown shows that I’m NOT going to fight, or that if I do it will be with magic, not muscle—but that would stand as an exception. Tied to this, armor has become a part of everyday life. Especially in the case of light armor, leather and even studded leather can be designed to be stylish and comfortable. Many former soldiers wear a modified form of their service armor. Think of it a little bit like gunslingers in westerns; carrying a pistol suggests you can handle yourself, but it’s not going to immediately raise alarm. The same is true of armor; heavy armor is definitely making a statement, but people won’t blink at someone causally wearing light armor.

So with that in mind, consider that the names of armors in D&D are arbitrary. A deeper system might explore the advantages and disadvantages of chainmail versus rigid armor; current D&D doesn’t. So consider chain shirt, scale mail, and breastplate:

  • These are all “metal armor” for spells and effects that target metal armor.
  • “Scale mail” is 20 lbs heavier and applies disadvantage to your Stealth Check, but provides better protection.
  • A “breastplate” is the same weight as a “chain shirt” but provides the same protection as “scale mail” while not imposing disadvantage on Dexterity checks.

Mechanically, these are the factors that matter: weight, AC, disadvantage on Stealth, metal armor… and the fact that someone who examines you can recognize those things. Everything else is story. There’s no reason that you can’t say that the Doldarun dwarves produce exceptionally strong, light chainmail that has the same characteristics as a breastplate rather than being heavy armor. Essentially, there’s no reason that “breastplate” armor has to BE a breastplate—as long as someone looking at the wearer can recognize the qualities of their armor. This likewise applies to, say, “studded leather.” It doesn’t have to actually involve STUDS; it is leather armor reinforced with metal, but that could be strips, metal vambraces and shinguards, etc; what’s important is that someone can say “Oh, it’s reinforced leather armor, that’ll have the stats of studded.”

Putting all of this to practical purpose, let’s talk about the common uniforms of soldiers of the Five Nations. Consider that they all BEGAN as soldiers of the army of Galifar, so while nations would evolve their own styles over the course of the war, it’s reasonable that they’d have a common base style used for conscripts. I imagine leather armor as either a leather greatcoat or, as shown with Greykell in the image above, a leather tunic supplemented with gauntlets or vambraces and high boots or shinguards. Advancing to studded leather you’d add metal to the vambraces and shinguards, and studs or strips of metal to the leather. Moving to medium armor, you’d add a metal helmet and breastplate. The standard model would MECHANICALLY be “scale mail”—but it’s a metal cuirass that’s heavy enough (that extra weight) that it applies the Stealth penalty. The improved model —the “breastplate”—is the same basic design, but uses stronger alloys to produce a thinner, lighter model that doesn’t impose the Stealth penalty. Advancing to heavy armor, I’d still keep the same cuirass design, but add chain beneath it. Now, this is definitely where you’d start to see national variation; the Karrns have always been the finest armorers of the Five Nations and will make more use of heavy armor, both in their armies and among their nobles; this can be more stylized, and even aside from the infamous bone knights you can expect gothic styling or details tied to a family crest. Meanwhile, actual chainmail would be more common in the Mror Holds and the Lhazaar Principalities… and again, I could imagine a Mror champion with reinforced double-chain that is effectively plate armor, even though it’s described as heavy chainmail.

All of this has been a very long way to say a simple thing: Just because people in Eberron use tools WE think of as medieval doesn’t mean they are medieval. You can adjust the appearance of everything from a crossbow to plate armor to make it feel more modern in its design, and you shouldn’t feel limited by the NAME of a type of armor as long as you logically maintain its STATISTICS and that someone can recognize that—again, nothing wrong with a Mror champion having chainmail “plate” as long as people KNOW that they’re fighting someone with the capabilities of plate armor.

I don’t have time to get into the individual fashions of each of the Five Nations now, but if patrons are interested in the topic, bring it up on Patreon and I may address it in an IFAQ or as a poll topic. But here’s a very high-level overview:

  • Aundair is the most magical of the Five Nations. They have the most significant number of wandslingers, and you’ll see more of a focus on the classic “musketeer”—lighter armor and wand. While mobility is key, Aundairians are definitely concerned with appearance and fashion, and are the most likely to use glamerweave or cosmetic transmutation to produce exotic effects. In general, Aundairians favor grace, mobility, and skill over heavy armor and brute strength.
  • Breland has always been called out for its industrial capacity and pragmatic nature. I see them as holding to the standard leather-and-cuirass design. People like to have some touch of personal flair, but they aren’t going to be as exotic about it as Aundairians or Cyrans.
  • Cyre falls between these two: not as dramatic as the Aundairians, but placing importance on personal style. In the past we’ve called out that Cyran fashions incorporate gloves and cloaks, with varying styles for the occasion—heavy cloak for traveling, short cloak for socializing, light long cloak with a glamerweave lining for the gala. Jewelry is likewise important for Cyrans—not necessarily holding great value, but as a form of personal expression. The fashion of “Mourningwear” is to maintain this style, but in black.
  • Karrnath is both gothic and martial in its overall style. It’s common to wear some form of armor, and heavy armor is more commonly used both on and off of the battlefield. Armor and helmets are designed to intimidate; in contrast to Aundair, in Karrnath strength is emphasized. The flag of Karrnath is black and red, and both these colors are common in their fashions.
  • Thrane is the most practical and least pretentious of the Five Nations. Templars may wear heavy armor, but the common peasant militias relies on light armor and bows. Light clothing is common, but subdued; cosmetic transmutation and glamerweave are rare. Followers of the Silver Flame will usually display a symbol of their faith, whether pendants, brooches, or painted designs.

That’s all I have time for today! Hopefully it’s been interesting. Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters for keeping this blog going, and to patron dglover for the question that inspired this post. The next major article—as chosen by the patrons—will be on the moons and the space race in Eberron, though there may be another short article before that. Add your thoughts on fashions in Eberron in the comments!

IFAQ: Show Business in Eberron

When I have time, I like to address some of the infrequently asked questions from my Patreon supporters. Today’s question comes from Ben:

How do you envision an Eberron theatre? Probably more than just The Globe with continual flame footlights, right?

Absolutely! The issue is that “theatre” covers a wide range of performances and performance spaces. The Grand Stage of Sharn employs the latest techniques and has all sorts of expensive equipment, while the Classic Theater offers minimalist performances at more reasonable prices.

Most theatre companies have a shadow orchestra. This includes one or more magewrights who use thaumaturgy and minor illusion to provide sound and dramatic effects (Thunder! Doors slamming! The roar of a dragon off stage!). Light is indeed provided by continual flame footlights (permanent), and in my opinion the orchestra can use thaumaturgy to brighten, dim, or change the color of this illumination; when performed by a trained technician on theatrical lights this effect lasts for more than a minute, so this is how you raise and lower lights, change the mood, etc.

Exceptional actors will also know thaumaturgy and many will be able to cast disguise self. Following the general principle that magewright spells can vary from standard spells, I’d say that the theatrical version of disguise self has to be cast as a ritual, but that the effect lasts for up to three hours—so it will last for the length of a performance. As not all actors will have this training, there’s common magic items that provide the voice amplification effect of thaumaturgy, along with shiftweave and similar tools for costuming.

Beyond that: the entertainment industry is dominated by the houses of Shadow. The power of the dragonmarked houses largely comes from focus items that amplify the powers of the mark, like the sending stones of House Sivis—and spells of up to 3rd level are part of wide magic. Thus, when you’re dealing with a professional Phiarlan or Thuranni theatre, you’ll have a shadow weaver—a podium that allows an operator with the Mark of Shadow to cast major image, which lets you create images, sounds, and even smells. So with this, the shadow orchestra can create anything from elaborate lighting, weather, fire, explosions, or even monsters charging on stage. In the finest Phiarlan theatres, the stage has an embedded focus item that has an effect similar to hallucinatory terrain (though able to function within a building). Traveling companies of Phiarlan’s Carnival of Shadows have such a focus item mounted in a wagon, allowing them to create an amazing set within minutes.

So the short form is that theatre will often employ illusory effects, from simple lightning and amplification of sound to more dramatic special effects. I’ll also call out the crystal theaters that have been mentioned a few times. Phiarlan’s answer to movie theaters, these use a scrying effect to project the image of a live performance on one of the house’s main stages.

In considering Eberron theater, one should also keep changelings in mind. Given that disguise self exists and that most major performances don’t require a star to SWITCH appearance, changelings may not be the stars of every show, but almost every company has at least one changeling actor who serves as understudy and plays a host of minor roles. Tavick’s Landing in Sharn is notable for changeling street performers, and while traveling changeling troupes aren’t as grand as the Carnival of Shadows, they are extremely versatile. While changelings have little use for disguise self, professional entertainers will still learn thaumaturgy and minor illusion; instead of disguise self, a changeling magewright entertainer will typically learn silent image.

Have you use the theatre in your adventures? share your story in the comments!

Exploring Eberron: The Thunder Sea

Art by Vincentius Matthew

Since Eberron began, I’ve wanted to explore aquatic civilizations. Merfolk, sahuagin, locathah—these creatures are just as intelligent (or more so) than humans. So what are their civilizations like? How do they interact with one another, and with the world above? With that said, there’s more land below the water than there is above, and no reason to think its cultures aren’t just as diverse as those of the surface dwellers. Dealing with every aquatic nation of Eberron would be a book in itself. So in Exploring Eberron I focus on the Thunder Sea, which lies between Khorvaire. Aerenal, and Xen’drik. Sharn and Stormreach are two of the ports adventurers are most likely to deal with; this explores the sea that lies between them and what you can find below it.

These two pages provide an overview of the chapter, and I’m not going to expand on it in depth here because the book itself will do that soon. But I can say that these two pages are literally the tip of the iceberg. The Eternal Dominion, the merfolk of Karakala, the Valraen Protectorate, the mysterious kar’lassa—all of these are dealt with in this section, and each provides a host of interesting hooks for adventures or adventurers.

The raw text of Exploring Eberron is complete, but I’m not going to predict a release date until layout is complete. The final text is still going through editing, and with a book of this size layout and review will take time. So we haven’t crossed the ocean yet, but we can see land on the horizon!

IFAQ: Who Trusts The Trust?

My Patreon supporters are currently voting on the subject of the next long article, but when time permits I like to address shorter, infrequently asked questions. Today’s question comes from Neut:

It is my understanding that the Zil Gnomes are very willing to use assassination as a valid tool for progression (be it professional, or just enforcing secrets being kept). How does this not conflict with the Code of Galifar, which as far as I have understood, still exists within the recognized Thronehold Nations?

There’s vital misunderstanding here. Assassination is NOT a valid tool for progression in Zilargo. Murder, theft, and all other major crimes recognized under the Code of Galifar are crimes in Zilargo. What defines Zilargo isn’t the laws themselves; it’s how they are enforced. This is clearly called out on page 131 of Rising From The Last War:

Zil gnomes live their lives within a web of intrigues. The Trust condones their actions, as long as they break no laws and don’t threaten the state or the status quo. A gnome charlatan can connive to steal a jewel mine from another gnome—as long as the charlatan accomplishes the deed through cunning, negotiation, or deception rather than violence or outright theft, and as long as the mine stays in Zil hands.

So Zil culture encourages intrigue, but only when it DOESN’T involve breaking the law. So… why might someone have this mistaken impression of Zil society as a place where assassination and poisoning are commonplace? It’s not because of what the law allows; it’s about how the laws are enforced. It’s about The Trust. This is an organization of spies and assassins who act to maintain order in Zilargo. Rising suggests that as much of a third of the population of Zilargo serve the Trust in some way, primarily as informants. By combining this massive network with excellent divination techniques, the Trust knows everything that happens in Zilargo—or at least, that’s what they want to think. There is no due process in Zilargo. If you even PLAN to break the law, the Trust can pass sentence and take action. Now: assassination isn’t the automatic punishment for all crimes; that would be ridiculously extreme. The first step is just a warning, a ghost sound whisper of “I wouldn’t do that.” They might just impose a fine, or exile you. The main point is that the gnomes don’t like confrontation and they don’t believe in imprisonment. If they feel that you can’t safely be a part fo society and exile isn’t a logical answer, they will remove you from society permanently, and do so in a quiet way with minimal impact on everyone else.

So: Zil gnomes do NOT see assassination as a valid tool for progression. On the whole, the Zil are MORE law-abiding than the people of the Five Nations. The Zil take pride in the fact that you can walk through the alleys of Trolanport at night without carrying a weapon—because they know the Trust is watching them, and that it will both protect them from any malefactors and kill them if they step out of line. They will push up to the edge of the law with their intrigues, but they won’t cross it.

Just to set the tone of the Trust, consider this quote from the Eye on Eberron article in Dragon 406:

Two years after Zilargo was founded, a pamphlet was distributed across the nation announcing the existence of the Trust and the role it would play in days to come. This tract lauded the shared virtues of the Zil: love of family, ingenuity, curiosity, and the ability to overcome adversity through wit and wisdom. The pamphlet acknowledged that friendly competition between neighbors is the whetstone that keeps wits sharp. Competition would be accepted—crime would not. The precise definition of crime is quite vague, and it ends  “To those who follow the proper path, we shall be as invisible as any ghost. Trust that we have your best interests at heart. Trust that we will act only when we must. Trust that we will always look after the needs of our great family, and that we need your aid as much as you need ours.”

The essential point is this. To most of us, Zilargo sounds like a terrifying nightmare. It’s an absolute surveillance state where at least one in three people is an informer, and where secret police are authorized to preemptively assassinate you when you haven’t even committed a crime yet. You don’t get to see your accuser or offer a defense, and the only force policing the Trust is the Trust itself. But it’s not terrifying to the Zil, because they actually trust the Trust. They truly believe that it only uses its unchecked power for the good of Zilargo, and so far—as hard as this is for most outsiders to conceive of—that seems to be the case. The Zil are willing to sacrifice their privacy and some measure of their freedom for absolute security, and they are proud of the fact that their homeland has the lowest crime rate in Khorvaire—even if that’s because you can potentially be killed for even planning a crime.

So to the original question, this is acceptable under the Code of Galifar because the Code establishes what is considered a crime; but individual nations can decide how to enforce the laws and how they punish crimes. Both Zilargo and Karrnath impose harsh systems of justice on top of the foundation of the Code. Murder is a crime: but in these nations, the forces of the law have a license to kill.

How do the Zil view how OTHER nations establish their laws and punishments? How do they treat people who are not Zil and do not understand the Trust?

The Zil think that other nations are dangerous cesspools of crime and violence, though they understand that the rest of the world just doesn’t get their trust of the Trust. So the Zil think their way of life is superior, which is why they support it so strongly. With that in mind, the job of the Trust is to protect the people of Zilargo, not to coddle outsiders. If you pose a threat you will be dealt with. However, assassination isn’t the first choice. Remember that whole thing about a third of the nation working for the Trust? The first step is to DISSUADE you. Warn you that you’re being watched. Remind you that people don’t do things that way in Zilargo. Potentially, drug you and toss you on the first boat to Sharn, warning you never to return. The important point here is that it shouldn’t be impossible for adventurers to adventure in Zilargo—but they need to understand that they can’t just resort to brute force or do things the same way they would in Sharn; they need to play the game. If I’m running a Zil story, I will make sure the PCs have a local guide who will call out the risks and offer alternatives. “You do that and you’re all going to get killed. But if you want to get that same result, you could do it THIS way.”

How would the Trust handle high-level (15+) PCs coming to Zilargo? What preparations would they make to handle potential violations of laws and norms by people who will be hard to intimidate or control?

The first and simplest step is to send a very clear warning. “We’re pleased your business brings you to Zilargo. We are aware of your destructive activities in [[INSERT PLACE NAME]], and for your benefit and ours we want to inform you that we will not tolerate any violation of our laws. We will not risk our citizens in any kind of open conflict. If we are forced to take action against you it will be decisive and final; we are also prepared to take retaliatory action against [[NPC YOU CARE ABOUT]]. There will be no further warning. Do not put us to the test.”

Now, there’s two critical questions here. The first is COULD the Trust defeat high level player characters, and the answer to that is YES. The second is more important, and it’s does anyone want that to happen? And the answer to that is NO. The Trust will know everything there is to know about the PCs. Their secrets. Their weaknesses. The magic items they rely on and the spells they like to use. The Zil aren’t warriors; they are experts in illusion and divination, and fighting them will be like being the chump in a heist movie. They’ll steal your magic items and replace them with mundane duplicates. They can poison every drink you take, with a poison tailored to kick in… NOW. Heck, this room we’re standing in? It’s designed to drop into a sphere of annihilation, because we are NOT taking chances. But that’s back to the second question. They COULD do this, but none of us wants that. They don’t want to burn that awesome sphere of annihilation trap, and no player wants their character to be destroyed with no save. So set aside the idea of whether they can beat the PCs and instead say “How can they get the PCs out of Zilargo as quickly and safely as possible.” Which means that instead of FIGHTING the PCs, the most likely answer is that the Trust will HELP them to get what they want — either obviously or secretly. They’ll surround the PCs with undercover agents, who will make sure that the PCs get the information they need as quickly as possible. Heck, if the PCs are looking for an object, it could just turn up on their bed with a note saying “You can go now.” Again, the Trust doesn’t LIKE assassinating people; it’s just always looking for the most efficient way to protect the people of Zilargo.

What about the practice of slavery in Darguun? That’s a clear violation of the Code of Galifar.

This is certainly true. The Code strictly outlaws slavery, but there are Marguul and Ghaal’dar clans who practice it. The main issue is that Lhesh Haruuc wants to put an end to it, but currently lacks the support among the Ghaal’dar warlords to do so. So the question is what happens next. Everyone is still recovering from the war and foreign leaders understand Haruuc is in a difficult position; as long as he’s seen to be working toward it, I think most leaders will be satisfied. The most likely scenario is that if he fails to make significant progress in a few years, at least some nations will impose economic and diplomatic sanctions—putting pressure on Haruuc to take more decisive action.

To the upshot of that is: Thronehold nations are supposed to adhere to and uphold the Code of Galifar. They can go further if they choose, and both Karrnath and Zilargo do. However, it’s not yet clear what will happen if a nation fails to uphold the Code, because the Treaty has only been in force for two years and no one has yet called out a major violation and demanded an international response; the system has yet to be put to the test. But Darguun is currently failing to enforce the Code and it that’s not resolved soon, it could become an issue. This also applies to Valenar’s acts of aggression. These do violate the terms of the Treaty, but so far they haven’t been significant enough to push someone to take action.

Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters for keeping this blog going!

IFAQ: Mysteries of History

Every month I ask my Patreon supporters to choose a topic for a major article, and that poll will happen next week. But in the process I get a lot of smaller, infrequently asked questions that can be addressed quickly. Today’s IFAQ comes from Patrick.

I’m always having trouble thinking of what the mortal inhabitants of the world would know in terms of history – and to which degree history has been researched with the aid of magic. For instance, would it be common knowledge that the Age of Giants ended roughly 40,000 years ago? How would that be supported – divination magic perhaps? Would Morgrave University teach chronomantic spells so scholars visiting ancient ruins could catch glimpses of what once happened?

This is one of the tricky questions in any setting. As players and DMs, we have access to a perfect source of information that tells us everything there is to know about the setting. But what do the people IN the world know, and how do they know it? This is complicated by the fact that (thanks in part to the existence of long-lived races like elves and dragons), the scope of history is VAST. By the canon timeline, the civilization of the giants fell forty thousand years ago. In OUR world, forty thousand years ago Neanderthals were making flutes out of bones; the Cro-magnon were still thousands of years from achieving dominance. The timeline of the Empire isn’t that far off Mesopotamia in our world, and again, we all know a great deal about Mesopotamia, right? So it’s reasonable to wonder how much people would know about these truly ancient civilizations.

The 3.5 Player’s Guide to Eberron and the 4E Eberron Campaign Guide both have tables that provide exactly this sort of information, listing skills like History, Arcana, and Religion and setting the DC to know specific facts. Since this is an IFAQ—which means, short answer—I’ll leave that there; if you want to know WHAT people know, you can check one of those out. But that leaves the question of HOW do the people of the Five Nations know these things?

The first answer is simple. Yes, they know the Age of Giants ended 40,000 years ago, because they learned about it from the elves. Aereni civilization is an unbroken path that goes all the way back to Xen’drik, and they care deeply about their history. Aside from the fact that the Five Nations has long had diplomatic relations with Aerenal and there’s an exchange of information, there’s been a significant number of Aereni immigrants over the course of thousands of years, including both House Phiarlan—a house that originally specialized in bards, people who preserved information—and the elves exiled after the fall of the Line of Vol. One of Phiarlan’s branches is the Demesne of Memory, which is all about history and the written word. And, of course, Phiarlan is about ENTERTAINMENT; it’s quite likely that even in the Five Nations, you have at least a few plays, operas, and popular songs that romanticize the battles of the elves and giants.

This same principle applies to later history. Dhakaani civilization collapsed and the Ghaal’dar themselves know little of it… and the Heirs of Dhakaan are largely unknown and not inclined to share their knowledge. But the elves fought the Dhakaani. There are Tairnadal patron ancestors who are celebrated for fighting the dar, and members of the Undying Court who may have personally negotiated with Dhakaani leaders, back in their mortal lives. So once you get to the rise of the Undying Court, you have people with (un)living memory of a vast scope of history — even if, thanks to their insular nature, that may not go very deep.

So that answers the question of whether people understand the BROAD scope of history: yes, they do, because unlike in our world, in Eberron you can essentially go TALK to a Neanderthal leader, and his distant descendants still carefully practice his bone-flute-making techniques.

But the next question is: How MUCH do they know and do they use magic to do it? How much is, again, answered in the PGtE and ECG. An important point here is to always stop and think “What makes a good story?” Because ultimately that’s what matters most. We don’t actually WANT the people of the Five Nations to know everything there is to know about the giants of Xen’drik, because it makes a better adventure to have your characters be on the cutting edge of finding it all out. Yes, the people of the Five Nations know that the Age of Giants ended 40,000 years ago, and scholars even know that the largest and most powerful giant civilization was the Cul’sir Dominion. But they DON’T know what actually happened to the Emperor Cul’sir. They don’t know exactly what happened to the 13th moon, even if some scholars know the giants had something to do with it. Which means your adventurers could learn those answers by finding the Cul’sir Moonbreaker and destroy the emperor’s demi-lich! It’s good for people to have a broad scope of history to know “There was a great nation that fell in war” – but it will usually be more compelling to players to uncover history in the field instead of through a book report.

Which gets us back to the use of magic. The answer is certainly, yes, people DEFINITELY use magic as a tool for archaeology. But remember that the wide magic of the Five Nations tops out at around 3rd level. Which means that speak with dead is absolutely in the quiver of your adventuring archaeologist, but commune or legend lore generally aren’t. It is VERY likely that they do employ chronomantic and divination techniques designed specifically for this purpose, but keep in mind that they should be of about that 1st-3rd level of power; they might show scenes, but they aren’t providing the kind of information you’d expect to get from a 5th or 6th level spell. And it’s also quite possible that they are rituals that may take a while to perform. These are academic tools, and won’t be fine-tuned for the adventurer who needs to cast things in 6 seconds. It might take an hour for a magewright archaeologist to perform the ghosts of the past ritual… and, of course, they’ll need someone to protect them while they do it!

So in short: the people of the Five Nations know the broad scope of history but don’t know a lot of specific details. Scholars know more, and the EPG and ECG give a broad set of skill checks for this purpose. Magic is used to research history, but common magic only goes to 3rd level and spells or rituals may not be optimized for use by player characters. Finally, always consider what will make the best story, and whether you WANT information to come from a skill role or whether adventurers might be making historic discoveries through their actions.

I’d also like to learn what people, both laymen and scholars, know about the history of humanity on Sarlona, given how it’s easier to explore Xen’drik than to convince the Inspired to let anyone past their port city.

Good point, double so because the elves had no contact with the people of Sarlona so that route is closed. The answer is definitely that they remember some things because they brought history with them. The modern faith of the Sovereign Host was established in the Sarlonan nation of Pyrine. But that nation fell in the Sundering over a thousand years ago, and archaeologists CAN’T go visit its sites. And while the modern faith is called “The Pyrinean Creed”, with proficiency in History or Religion a commoner probably doesn’t know what “Pyrine” is (A priest? A city? A nation? All of the above?). With checks people know the names and stories that they have either pieced together from the preserved records and traditions or through use of divination. But largely, the nations of old Sarlona are MORE mysterious to people of the Five Nations than the giants of Xen’drik.

That’s all for now! Thanks again to my Patreon supporters for keeping this site going and for asking great questions.

Behind The Scenes of Exploring Eberron

Work in progress illustration by Carolina Cesario!

We’ve been working on Exploring Eberron for a long time, but some of you may not know HOW long it’s been! In this guest post, producer Wayne Chang pulls back the curtain…

SOON™.

We all hate that phrase, because it means something we are looking forward to—generally in the Dungeons & Dragons-o-sphere—is delayed. We want it NOW, but that is never an indicator of when.

My name is Wayne, and I am the producer and art director for Keith Baker‘s Exploring Eberron. Many may not know or realize my involvement with the book–Keith’s book, my project–but I wanted to put some behind-the-scenes insights for all the fans waiting so patiently. I’ll also give an update on the status of the book at the end.

The first inkling of Exploring Eberron came about in the fall of 2018. Keith was attending a local convention as a guest and we had a chance to hang out, eat, and chat. We’d been recording Manifest Zone since 2017 and worked on a couple DMs Guild Eberron adventures together, but had never met face-to-face. We talked about a few ideas he had about possible Eberron products–smaller productions like warforged and dragonmarks–and I talked about wanting a physical D&D book with my name in the credits.

It wasn’t until PAX East in 2019, over a couple plates of wings, that we made the decision to really nail down and start on what would publicly be known as “Project: Raptor”. (The name comes from a joke Keith made about 300 pages of dinosaurs.) The premise was to consolidate Keith’s evolving ideas about Eberron over the past 15 years and to expand upon the things he didn’t have the chance to officially write with Wizards of the Coast. I wanted a book of Keith’s Eberron (i.e. Kanon) all in one place and not spread out over years of blogs and correspondences, with pretty pictures to go with. I really wanted to emphasize the “in my Eberron” aspect of Keith’s work and give my good friend a chance to write whatever he wanted.

Our brainstorm document for Eberron Expanded–the original working name for the book–is over 4,000 words for a book we planned on being 160 pages long. We started an imprint–KB Presents–and made project plans regarding the book and launch, including securing permission for print-on-demand. We were excited! On July 23, 2019, one year after the launch of Wayfinder’s Guide to Eberron, we officially announced Project: Raptor.

This was not an idle time, however. Keith was already busy writing Eberron: Rising from the Last War for Wizards of the Coast, The Adventure Zone: Bureau of Balance with the McElroy’s, additional projects with Twogether Studios, and family emergencies. I was taking time off with my newborn son and maintaining my brokerage from a distance while on leave. We produced plenty in the background, but every stone unturned brought about new subjects Keith wanted to write about and expand. Other background problems plagued us on the production side: artists missing deadlines or flaking out, layout designer issues (including one layout person who needed to be fired and refused to return their advance), and an ever expanding book that ballooned from the original 160-page estimate as writing progressed.

As the November 2019 launch deadline loomed, we pushed back to December. More problems and emergencies came around, and holidays would slow and stop progress on the book. We knew we were disappointing many fans, but we pushed back the launch date again into 2020. The book kept expanding, pushing well past 200 pages at this point. More art was ordered and more stock art was acquired to punctuate the growing number of pages. All of this brought on more delays, but we pushed through. Even the ENnies nomination deadline came and went, something I had hoped we would hit.

Some people have wondered what kind of testing and vetting the book has received. Since the fall of 2019, a select group of playtesters has reviewed mechanics, text, and also fact-checked sources for us. This group carries the confidence of not only the production team, but are also experts in the field of Eberron lore. I will not reveal their names here, but they have our utmost thanks as well as credits in Exploring Eberron. I say “production team” because this project grew beyond just Keith and myself to include a multi-talented editor/layout/designer, as well as an additional designer. Some might be aware of the former, but both their identities will remain hidden for a little while longer. I joked once that I could put together an Exploring Eberron: Unabridged by stringing together chat messages between all of us–it would likely be longer than the book itself!

So, where is Exploring Eberron? The process for each chapter is: text, questions and feedback, response, editing, layout, review. The majority of art assets are already completed, additional art and resources might be required in the layout phase. As of the writing of this article, the raw text of the book is nearly done and down to the last 20 pages or so. Post production takes a while and we will not skip anything that may reduce the quality or polish on the book. After review is signed off, we will send the final documents to DMs Guild for approval. A hardcover is ordered and review begins again, this time looking for physical discrepancies. Once all that is done, we can launch. We cannot accurately give a timeline for everything you see above, which can take a month or two, but we are getting closer to a predictable estimate. I promised to be as transparent as possible when I can.

Exploring Eberron is over 240 pages in length, has over 50 pieces of custom and exclusive art, and has consumed over a year of our lives. It has cost blood, sweat, and tears–as well as conventional time and money–but working on the book has brought me great pride and amusement. We know you are waiting (im)patiently for it and our goal to exceed your expectations. So stick with us a little longer, you’re in for quite a book…

Dolurrh, the Realm of the Dead

Every month, my Patreon supporters select a topic for a major Eberron article. This month’s choice was the plane of Dolurrh. Additional information about Dolurrh and all of the planes of Eberron is coming soon inExploring Eberron!

Endless caverns stretch throughout Dolurrh, bleak passages of gray stone. Wherever you go, shadowy figures reach towards you, imploring, but you feel only the faintest chill as their insubstantial fingers pass through you. Mist pools around your feet, and as you press forward you realize this swirling mist is moaning. This is no natural phenomenon; these are the remnants of souls who have forgotten their original form. This is Dolurrh, where mortal souls go after their bodies die, where memories fade and lives are forgotten.

Mortal spirits are drawn to Dolurrh within moments of death, and their memories begin to decay immediately. Within days, most spirits no longer have any desire to leave Dolurrh; within weeks, most only have the faintest memories of their previous lives. The faiths of Aerenal and the Blood of Vol assert that Dolurrh is the absolute end of existence, the last echoes of a life before it is gone completely. But when Dorius Alyre ir’Korran drew his classic planar map he used the octogram symbol of the Sovereign Host to represent Dolurrh, because he declared it to be the door through which all mortals must pass to join with the Sovereigns. This has come to be a common view: what appears to be memory fading is actually the soul slowly ascending to a higher form of existence, rising to a level of reality no mortal can experience. The vassals of the Sovereign Host say the faithful finally join the Sovereigns; followers of the Silver Flame say that noble souls strengthen the Flame. What is left behind is a husk—the cast-off remnants, like an abandoned snakeskin or the traces of memory that can be read using speak with dead. Thus, while Dolurrh has long been known as the Realm of the Dead, there are many who call it The Gateway. Ultimately, this is a matter of faith. Whether the other side of Dolurrh is oblivion or paradise, no one ever returns from it.

All living creatures will come to Dolurrh, sooner or later. Those that come here before death are almost always looking for something: a lost soul, a forgotten memory. But living or dead, any who come to Dolurrh can be trapped by its power.

Universal Traits

Everything about Dolurrh is gray and gloomy. Even the brightest colors seem faded, the most joyful sounds seem dull. The heavy weight weight of ennui settles on travelers the moment they arrive, making even the simplest tasks feel challenging. And there is a constant pull, tugging on memory and emotion, a desire to just sit down and let it all go.

  • Eternal Ennui. When you enter Dolurrh, you immediately gain one level of ennui (described below). This cannot be removed by rest or any other effect. It is immediately removed when you leave Dolurrh.
  • Impeded Magic. In order to cast a spell of 1st level or higher in Dolurrh, you must succeed on a spellcasting ability check with a DC equal to 10 + the level of the spell. On a failed check, the spell is not cast and its spell slot is not expended, but the action is lost.
  • Timeless. Time passes on Dolurrh at the same rate as on Eberron. But creatures on Dolurrh don’t age, and do not need to eat, sleep, or drink. Other natural processes may be delayed, though living creatures can benefit from resting normally and can suffer damage and die.
  • Inevitable Entrapment. Every time you complete a short or long rest, you must make a DC 12 Wisdom saving throw. If you fail, you gain one level of ennui. Each time you make this saving throw, the difficulty increases by 1. If you don’t complete a rest over the course of a 24 hour period, you must make this saving throw at dawn.

Ennui reflects the soul-sapping power of Dolurrh. It’s gained in levels, and duplicates the effects of exhaustion. However, it affects all creatures, including undead and other creatures immune to exhaustion. Ennui saps motion and memory. When a creature reaches six levels of ennui, its will is completely broken and it can take no purposeful action; if this happens to a living creature, its physical body dies and it becomes a husk bound to Dolurrh. Ennui is separate from exhaustion, and levels don’t stack. If a creature has both ennui and exhaustion, use which has more levels to determine the effects.

Undead cannot recover from ennui while in Dolurrh. If a living creature completes a long rest and succeeds on the saving throw against Inevitable Entrapment by 5 or more, they reduce their ennui level by 1. Creatures native to Dolurrh are immune to Eternal Ennui and Inevitable Entrapment, but still have to deal with the effects of Impeded Magic.

DENIZENS OF DOLURRH

The Quick

The native creatures of Dolurrh are bound to the cycle of transition, and all have some role to serve in this process. Nalfeshnee demons patrol the Catacombs of Dolurrh, dispersing melds and lemures and dealing with mortal intruders; Dolurrhi nalfeshnee appear as large humanoids whose features are shrouded by gray mist. Marut inevitables are more powerful guardians, and are occasionally dispatched to Eberron to intervene with acts of resurrection. No one is sure what triggers this deadly intervention, but Jorasco healers will always cast augury before raising the dead; if the result is “woe” they will refuse the job. Finally, the shadar-kai are servants of the Queen of the Dead, shades granted new life in this form. They serve her in the Vault of Memories and occasionally as her hands on Eberron, though their actions are almost always enigmatic. Other denizens of Dolurrh are unique. The Librarian is found in the Vault of Memories, while the Smith of Souls dwells in the Crucible; both are described later in this section.

The Dead

The spirits of the dead are omnipresent in Dolurrh. Shades are souls that are freshly arrived in Dolurrh, and maintain a portion of their memory and original appearance. They are insubstantial and can’t interact with material objects. Shades that are overcome by ennui become husks, which have only the vaguest memories of their past lives or awareness of their surroundings. Occasionally a group of husks cluster around one strong memory, forming an ectoplasmic mass called a meld that seeks more memories to consume; these are presented in more detail in Exploring Eberron.

Sometimes a shade clings to a memory with such intensity that even Dolurrh can’t eradicate it—perhaps a terrible mistake or bitter grudge. Other memories fade, but the creature lingers as a ghost and can be a danger to mortals. Other forms of undead are rarely seen in Dolurrh. The entities found here are the spirits of the dead, either undergoing transition or trapped in the process. Corporeal undead such as ghouls, skeletons, or zombies have no place here, while undead that hunger to consume life belong in Mabar.

The Lingering

Memories of joy and happiness do no harm in Dolurrh. But memories of pain, of cruelty, of anger… these don’t fade so easily, and they can hurt others. Even if they don’t trap shades as ghosts, this psychic residue can build up in the gears of the spiritual machinery of Dolurrh. Often it takes the presence of a mortal to trigger it; when this occurs, the lingering pain and hate coalesces into a solid form. The least of these are lemures, which are formed from hateful memories or deeds. The emotional residue of hundreds or thousands of people can form deadly sorrowsworn. In particular, the Last War and the Mourning created a lot of deaths that could fuel manifestations of the Angry and the Lost. When a character is struck by one of the Lingering, they may have a flash of one of the memories or deeds that drive the entity.

The Lingering are formed in Dolurrh and are immune to the effects of Eternal Ennui and Inevitable Entrapment. However, they are a waste product, not the desired result. Nalfeshnee, maruts, and other guardians will destroy the Lingering whenever they are found. 

The Queen of the Dead

The Queen of the Dead dwells in the great spire that rises up above the Vault of Memories. She is the most powerful being in Dolurrh, and has the ability to pluck shades from the cycle of entrapment and even to grant them new life. She appears to be an elf woman, robed in silver and black, her face hidden by a cracked alabaster mask. But little is known about her motives or her origins. She creates the shadar-kai by housing shades in new bodies. She saves other souls that she never restores; she preserves them in the Vault of Memories, saving them from dissolution for unknown reasons. She collects secrets and memories, plucking her favorites from those gathered by the Librarian and keeping them in her personal collection. Sometimes she seems to directly oppose mortal necromancers, especially Lady Illmarrow. At other times she seems to be interested in killing specific people, perhaps so she can preserve their spirits or their memories. But such direct action is extremely rare, remarkable if it occurs more than once in a century; most of the time she remains silent in Dolurrh, unknown and unknowable.

There are many mysteries about the Queen of the Dead. She takes the form of an elf and gives her shadar-kai elven bodies, yet she existed long before the elves. Her actions directly involve the Material Plane, in a way unusual for the great planar powers. This may simply be tied to her role as keeper of the gateway; or there may be some greater secret yet to be revealed.

LAYERS OF DOLURRH

Dolurrh is universally gray and gloomy. All layers that have been described in the accounts of explorers have appeared to be underground; no one has ever seen the sky in Dolurrh. Unlike most planes, the layers of Dolurrh don’t embody different ideas; instead, they serve different functions. Dolurrh is a machine for gathering, collecting, and perhaps transitioning souls; all of its layers serve that purpose. Here are four of them.

The Catacombs

Tunnels are carved into gray stone. In some places they are painfully tight; in others they widen into grand halls, with ceilings lost in the darkness. The dead are everywhere, shades pleading for release and husks keening in the shadows. Some chambers contain vast wells filled with moaning mist; in others nalfeshnee herd shades into pens or scrape lemures off the walls. There is no particular logic to it, just endless tunnels.

The Catacombs may be larger than Khorvaire, or even Eberron. A mortal could wander forever through these winding tunnels, or at least until they are consumed by ennui. However, there are junction points that transcend the logic of distance. If one knows the right symbols to follow, they can cross the vastness of the Catacombs quickly or pass to other layers.

The Kennel

All the mortals born on Eberron are bound to Dolurrh, but like spirits are drawn together. The Catacombs holds the spirits of dead humanoids. The Kennel is similar in appearance, but it contains the shades and husks of beasts and monstrosities. Here you’ll hear the howls of fading wolf spirits, and see flocks of spectral birds flying through grand halls… along with larger and more fierce creatures. Beast spirits rarely linger long in Dolurrh, as most have fewer memories to erase.

It’s possible that the Queen of the Dead has created special servants that wander these halls, just as she has made the shadar-kai; adventurers could be questioned by a clever raven with the soul of a poet. But nalfeshnee and maruts can be found here as well as in the Catacombs.

The Crucible

In the Crucible, the immortal spirit known as the Smith of Souls refines the essence of faded spirits and creates things out of this husksteel. The Smith forges the armor and weapons of the shadar-kai, and creates the maruts from the husks of brave souls. She also creates smaller and stranger items from husksteel. This is a comparatively small layer, but it is still a grand foundry, tended by shadar-kai and guarded by newly-forged maruts.

The Smith wears a mask of black steel and an apron that seems to be made from dragonhide. When forging maruts she is a giant; when crafting tiny trinkets she appears to be a gnome. It’s possible that she collects the memories of mortal artisans, and can replicate their works at her forge.

The Vault of Memories

The heart of Dolurrh is the Vault of Memories. It’s a tower carved up through gray stone, larger than any of the great towers of Sharn. The lowest levels are the Library. Here, the spirit known as the Librarian interviews each shade and makes a record of its life. The power of the Librarian is such that an entire life can be confined to a single large page. Every sigil inscribed holds a crucial memory; a character proficient in Arcana can read the symbol to experience that memory. The many floors of the library hold countless books of preserved lives, carefully tended by shadar-kai scribes. The Librarian himself is a massive hooded figure, and his books are enormous. It’s said that he can be many places at once, which is how he is able to speak to every shade before it fades. 

In the halls above the library, the Queen of the Dead keeps her many treasures. What seem to be obsidian statues are actually shades, crystallized to prevent them from fading into husks. Paintings and crystals contain memories that the Queen has chosen to isolate. Beyond these are countless trinkets and oddities, items collected by her shadar-kai over the vast scope of history. And higher still are the chambers of the Queen herself, where she usually sits in silent contemplation listening to the whispers of the countless shades in her domain. 

MANIFESTATIONS OF DOLURRH

Here are a few of the ways Dolurrh can affect the Material Plane.

Manifest Zones

Manifest zones tied to Dolurrh rarely possess the full properties of the plane. But they are close to the Realm of the Dead, and that means they are almost always haunted. Shadows may move in strange ways, and travelers may hear whispers they can’t quite make out.

Restless spirits yearn to return to the Material Plane, and it’s easier for them to do so in Dolurrhi zones. Sometimes they manifest as ghosts. Other times they’ll animate the corpses of people buried in the zone; these creatures are effectively zombies, but may display unusual intelligence as they seek to resolve their unfinished business. Raising the dead can be dangerous in a Dolurrhi zone; there’s a chance that the wrong spirit will be returned to the body!

While these are negative traits, Dolurrhi zones can have positive effects. In many zones it is easier to return people from the dead; you only have to spend half the usual material components when casting such a spell. In others, anyone can cast speak with dead as a ritual; this takes an hour to perform, and the caster must have the corpse they wish to speak with and a personal connection to the deceased.

The most dramatic manifest zones are those that serve as gateways to the Catacombs of Dolurrh. Opening such a gateway might require a special ritual, a significant sacrifice, an alignment involving the moon Aryth, or all of the above. It might only work if Dolurrh is coterminous. But under the right circumstances, you can use the gateway to enter the Realm of the Dead—and hopefully, to return. 

Coterminous and Remote

As with any plane, Dolurrh can become coterminous or remote when it serves the needs of a story. It has has a slow planar cycle, and becomes coterminous for a full year once every century. Fifty years after that, it is remote for a full year. Shorter phases are tied to the movements of the moon Aryth.

While Dolurrh is coterminous, it’s easier for ghosts to slip from the Realm of the Dead into the Material Plane, especially around Dolurrhi manifest zones. Any form of magic that restores life to the dead can also serve as a conduit for unwanted spirits.

While Dolurrh is remote, no form of magic that restores life to the dead—including revivify or reincarnate—will function. The only way to restore life to the dead in these times is by directly traveling to Dolurrh and pulling the shade back to the world. Ghosts are also especially common in this time. But these aren’t ghosts that return from Dolurrh; rather, if Dolurrh is remote when people die in the grip of great emotion or with vital unfinished business, their spirits can more easily resist Dolurrh’s pull.

Dolurrhi Visitors

 The most common types of visitors from Dolurrh have already been discussed. A marut may show up in response to resurrection. Ghosts may drag their way back into the world. And the shadar-kai—or other revenant servants of the Queen of the Dead—may come to the world pursuing her enigmatic missions.

Dolurrhi Artifacts

The most common Dolurrhi artifacts are the creations of the Smith of Shadows. These are formed of husksteel, the fused essence of faded souls. Depending on the nature of the object, it could be crafted from a single spirit—a dagger whose edge is forged from a single moment of pain—or from the emotional residue of multiple husks. Despite the name, husksteel can appear as dark metal, slick black leather, dark iridescent cloth, or other substances.

In creating a husksteel object, consider the memory or emotion that is the heart of the item. For a magic item, this should reflect its purpose; a husksteel cloak of elvenkind could be formed from a secret. A husksteel variation on a dagger of venom might be formed from a moment of absolute terror; when its power is invoked, the victim struck by the dagger must succeed on a DC 15 Wisdom saving throw or take 2d10 psychic damage and be frightened of the wielder for 1 minute. 

Other husksteel items are largely curiosities. Adventurers could find a monocle that shows the last thing seen by a dead man, or a journal containing poems written by a celebrated poet—after they died.

CONCERNING RESURRECTION

Returning life to the dead is not a reliable service in Eberron. There are many characters who are capable of casting the necessary spells, from clerics to adepts of House Jorasco. But just because it can be cast doesn’t mean that it should be cast… or that it will work if it does.

The first and simplest limitation is time. The longer a spirit remains in Dolurrh, the more it falls under the sway of ennui. Any spell that returns life to the dead requires the spirit to want to return. Once the shade becomes a husk, it can no longer make that decision and can’t be raised or reincarnated; note that most religions maintain that this is because at this point the true soul has moved on to a higher level of existence; you can’t easily pull someone back from their union with the Sovereigns. So you only have about a week or two—depending on the strength of will of the victim—to pull them back. But even before that time, it is quite possible that the spirit will simply choose not to return. What is it they have to live for? Is that worth fighting to lulling ennui of Dolurrh?

The second limitation is risk. The appearance of maruts is extraordinarily rare, but in part that’s because Jorasco knows to check beforehand and won’t raise someone if there’s a risk. Essentially, the question is whether this person is supposed to come back… or if this is, indeed, their time to die. If so, a marut may appear to challenge the resurrection.

The final risk is the direct intervention of a higher power. It’s said that the Keeper can snatch souls before they reach Dolurrh. It’s up to the DM to decide if there’s any truth to this myth; the story says that such souls must be recovered from the Lair of the Keeper in the Demon Wastes. The Keeper itself may or may not be there, but it’s certainly the abode of a powerful dracolich! Alternatively, the Queen of the Dead can crystallize a shade and prevent it from being restored, or she can catch a spirit that’s about to be restored and set a price on its passage. The flip side of direct intervention is that the Queen of Death—or another power that seems dramatically appropriate, as chosen by the DM—could offer to return a shade to life for a price. This is a way to bring a low-level character who can’t afford resurrection back to life, while adding a hook to their story. This article provides some ideas about the possible cost of a life.

Perhaps your augury warns you of woe. Perhaps Dolurrh is remote. There’s one way you can always bring someone to life: to go to Dolurrh, find their shade, and drag it back out to the Material Plane. All you need to do is to locate a single soul in the endless Catacombs (perhaps with the help of a native guide, the records in the Vault of Memories, or powerful divination magic) and evade the many guardians to return to the world. But if you succeed, the victim receives a new body, just as if you’d cast true resurrection; and while the defenders will try to stop you from leaving, they won’t interfere once you return to Eberron. It is theoretically possible to restore a husk in this way as well, but it won’t restore lost memories. Most resurrected husks are effectively mindless. Some can relearn new skills, though their original memories are forever lost. This is why people don’t try to bring back the Tairnadal ancestors or Galifar I; you could bring a body back, but it’s not the original person in any meaningful way. This is why the Queen of the Dead (and perhaps the Keeper) preserves certain shades from decay—so that it could be possible to restore them, even after centuries.

In the Age of Giants, the Cul’sir Dominion sent an army into Dolurrh to recover the spirits of a family lost in the Quori Conflict; none returned. The Queen of the Dead doesn’t care if a shade or two are stolen every century or even every decade. But her power cannot be contested in Dolurrh, and thieves who attract her personal attention will find their shades torn from their bodies in the blink of an eye.

DOLURRHI STORIES

Dolurrh can inspire many simple stories through its manifest zones or escaped ghosts. A husksteel trinket could provide a flash of memory that sets the adventurers on a particular path. And finding a way to rescue a shade from the underworld is always an epic tale. Here’s a few deeper stories to consider.

The Once and Future Queen of the Dead. The Queen of the Dead is an enigmatic figure who wields great power in Dolurrh. But there’s another being who uses this title: Erandis Vol, the last heir of the Mark of Death. Through her agents in the Order of the Emerald Claw and beyond, Erandis seeks to restore the power of her dragonmark; no one knows what godlike powers she might wield if she unlocks its full potential. Meanwhile, the Queen of the Dead seems to oppose Erandis, and often sends her agents—both shadar-kai and adventurers she’s restored to life at a price—to interfere with Vol’s schemes. This could be exactly what it appears. The Queen of the Dead may despise necromancers, and Vol is seeking to depose her. But perhaps there’s more to it. Time works in strange ways when dealing with the planes and beings of vast power. Perhaps the Queen of the Dead isn’t trying to stop Erandis; perhaps she’s guiding her down a very specific path. Perhaps Erandis will become the Queen of the Dead, in which case, she always will have been her. Or perhaps that’s what’s supposed to happen, but there’s a way in which it could still go wrong… which could destroy the Queen of the Dead and throw Dolurrh itself into chaos.

Agent of Death. After the adventurers kill a nefarious villain, their foe reappears alive and well. This happens time and again. How is the villain escaping from Dolurrh? Are acting as an agent for the Queen of the Dead, or have they simply found a back door to the Realm of the Dead? Either way, what can the adventurers do to lay them to rest once and for all?

Devastating Sorrow. When Dolurrh becomes coterminous, a powerful sorrowsworn emerges and devastates the region. The adventurers may not have the ability to defeat the sorrowsworn in battle, but if they understand the circumstances of its creation—the emotion that drives it and the event that triggered it they might be able to disperse the deadly monster by defusing this emotion. 

That’s it for now. Thanks again to my Patreon supporters for choosing the topic!

Exploring Eberron: Dhakaan

Illustration by Kristof Koteles

In Exploring Eberron, I delve into topics I’ve been wanting to exploring in more detail for over a decade. One of these is the Kech Dhakaan, the goblinoids who still maintain the traditions of the Empire of Dhakaan. This section examines Dhakaani history, the active clans, and provides support for playing characters from the Kech Dhakaan—as well as a glossary if you’re worried about keeping track of all those dar words!

I don’t want to give a release date for Exploring Eberron until I’m sure of it; I am still wrapping up the final pieces now. But we’re getting very close, and I can’t wait to share it with the world!

As always, thanks to my Patreon supporters: I’ll be posting the requested Dolurrh article tomorrow!

IFAQ: Houses and Politics

I’m still busy working on Exploring Eberron, but I like to take time to answer questions from my Patreon supporters when I can. Today’s question comes from Reighndragon:

How far do the dragonmarked houses involve themselves in national politics? How do they view the restrictions imposed on them by the Korth Edicts? In specific: Is it possible for a dragonmarked gnome of House Sivis to take a seat in the advisory council of the king of Q’Barra? Would House Lyrandar be inclined to send an airship for the Aundairian army to perform a paratrooper invasion of Thaliost?

First of all, I suggest reviewing this article for a deeper look at the houses overall, including a discussion of the Korth Edicts. Let’s look at the basic points.

  • The houses are first and foremost BUSINESSES. They are interesting in making a profit.
  • They do business with and have holdings in most of the nations of Khorvaire.
  • In many cases—especially Sivis and Kundarak—their business depends on their customers believing that they are neutral, reliable forces. If it was revealed that House Sivis was sharing all its data with the Royal Eyes of Aundair, it would be a disaster for the house.

So this is a simple equation: What does a house gain from getting involved in politics, and what does it have to lose? In the long run, will this help its profits, or hurt them? Let’s look at the two examples.

Can a Sivis gnome take a seat on the advisory council of the King of Q’barra?

Certainly. This doesn’t even violate the Korth Edicts, which prevent a member of a dragonmarked house from owning land, holding a noble title, or maintaining an army. If a King wants ADVICE, where’s the harm in that? Corporations in our world hire lobbyists and get included on advisory boards all the time. The only reason it would be a problem is if word got out that this advisor was sharing Sivis customer secrets; if that were to happen, I would expect the advisor to be very publicly excoriated from the house, and possibly be faced with more severe punishments for scarring the reputation of the house.

A quick point of comparison is Valenar. House Lyrandar essentially runs the administration of the nation on behalf of the Tairnadal. But they don’t actually hold noble titles or own the land; it’s a simple arrangement where they do work the Tairnadal don’t want to do, while allowing them to create opportunities for Khoravar immigrants. But here’s the big thing: they don’t give the Tairnadal free shipping. Their administrative work is a separate business transaction; but if the Tairnadal want to use Lyrandar airships, they pay just like anyone else. Which brings us to the next question…

Would House Lyrandar be inclined to send an airship for the Aundairian army to perform a paratrooper invasion of Thaliost?

House Lyrandar is a BUSINESS. They can and did provide transport services to ALL nations during the war. The opening of my novel City of Towers involves a Cyran force defending against an airship attack. But that isn’t a political move on the part of Lyrandar, because they serve anyone who can pay for the service. So sure, they’d allow Aundair to charter an airship for their paratroops, and then they’d let Thrane charter a ship for its counter attack. They aren’t choosing a side; they’re selling their services to anyone with the gold.

Now, COULD they decide to take sides and offer their services to Aundair for free? Sure, they could, but WHY? How does this help their bottom line, when it invites distrust and possible retaliation from the rest of the Five Nations? Their neutrality is their shield and maximizes their profits; once they choose sides, they are narrowing their markets. Why is this a sound business decision? What is Aundair offering that’s worth risking their business? We’ve called out that Aurala is friends with the Matriarch of the house, and Aurala could offer them a second grant like Stormhome (which ALSO violates the Edicts…). But essentially, why wouldn’t they just ask Aundair to PAY for the ship? Aurala can definitely afford it, and that’s what Lyrandar does.

So: at the end of the day, houses are going to make their choices driven by profit. At the moment, they work with anyone willing to pay for their services. They definitely can and will do favors for allies—see House Jorasco’s ties to the Boromar Clan in Sharn—but that is always measured on the balance of will this help our hurt our profits? Now let’s hit one more part of the question…

How do they view the restrictions imposed on them by the Korth Edicts?

Again, check out this article for a deeper look at this question. One of the key story elements of Eberron is the idea that it may no longer be possible to enforce the Korth Edicts. If Breland makes a Deneith heir a duke, who’s actually going to do something about it? Queen Aurala’s consort is a Vadalis heir, and though he holds no title it’s pretty sketchy. The Korth Edicts worked when Galifar was united; now, it’s possible no single nation can enforce them, and we’ve called out examples of houses that ARE pushing against them. One concrete example is House Tharashk; in brokering the services of Droaamite services, they are likely breaking the “no armies” clause. But who’s going to try to stop them… especially when everyone wants to hire their monster mercenaries? So again, it’s all about will this help or hurt their profits?

The other big thing people often forget about the Korth Edicts is that they weren’t simply a burden on the houses; they were an opportunity. Essentially, they were a deal with Galifar: If the houses agreed not to challenge him politically (no titles of nobility) or militarily (no land, no armies) he wouldn’t challenge them economically. The houses hold monopolies on a scale that’s illegal in the US today, and under the Edicts they regulate their own industries. So they don’t particularly want to throw out the Edicts, because for House Sivis, the lack of antitrust laws is far more important to their bottom line than being able to have a noble title. This ties to one last question that came up in another discussion. Paraphrased…

My character was hired by House Cannith to do a job that involved me being locked in a room with no way to leave. While I was doing this job, a bunch of cultists teleported in and because I couldn’t leave, my friends and I were nearly killed. Can I sue Cannith for negligence? And if I do, would they be more likely to settle or to do something dramatic like assassinate me?

The good news is that they probably wouldn’t assassinate you. The bad news it that it’s because you don’t have a case. There’s no worker protection laws in Eberron. The Korth Edicts specifically protect the nobility—the houses can’t raise armies against them or create rival kingdoms—but they aren’t about protecting the commoners. On the contrary, the Edicts specifically lay the foundation for the house monopolies. This is far more like The Jungle than the world we live in today. Having said that, this isn’t to say that they houses are intentionally careless with the lives of their employees, especially heirs of their own house; part of being family businesses is that they don’t want their own children to die. If a Lyrandar heir is injured on the job, they likely will be taken care of. But this is driven by their own self-interest, not the law; and if a random “adventurer” is hurt while working for them… isn’t that why they call them adventurers?

Now: I said they wouldn’t assassinate you… which is BECAUSE you have no case. If you did, or at least were posing some other sort of threat to them? Then it’s at least on the table. We’re back to that original question: how will this affect their bottom line? Are you a hero whose actions matter and whose death would be noticed? Do they NEED to assassinate you, or can they just threaten you? Slander you? Buy your company and have you fired? We’ve said before that the houses will do terrible things to maintain their power. The question is always back to the balance sheet; how much are you going to cost them, and what’s the best way to minimize that number? It’s also definitely the case that some houses are worse than others, and that ultimately it will come to who’s in charge of the region. I think the majority of Lyrandar heirs would be horrified at the idea of their house sanctioning assassination. But Calynden d’Lyrandar, the Kraken of Stormreach? That dude has Thuranni on speed dial.

To be clear: this is a terrible terrible situation… and that’s the point. Overall, the houses are amoral corporate entities driven by profit and possessing potentially unchecked power. Because one of the other core principles of Eberron is that it’s a world that needs heroes. Some heroes fight demons; others battle corrupt corporations. Which story do you want to explore? Note that if it’s a story you DON’T want to explore, you can push a more positive view of the houses. But the current situation is intentionally imperfect.

Why did the Twelve permit Cannith to agree to the shutting down of the creation forges in the Treaty of Thronehold? Beyond producing warforged it seems like that is a huge hit to their ability to produce goods on a massive scale.

Excellent question, and also discussed in the other linked article. Here’s the factors.

  • The Treaty of Thronehold represented a rare moment of unity. The reason the Korth Edicts are difficult to enforce is because no one nation can enforce them alone. This was a demand made by ALL THE NATIONS.
  • House Cannith’s leadership and its major operations were lost in the Mourning, and the house is STILL reeling from that blow. Starrin d’Cannith, the patriarch lost in the Mourning, might well have found a way to counter the demand. But as of the Treaty of Thronehold, Cannith doesn’t even HAVE a patriarch.
  • The warforged are seen as weapons. Most nations were uncomfortable with Cannith having the capability of producing its own private army of constructs, given that the war was now over. The recognition of warforged as sentient, free beings was a further nail in this coffin: It could be seen as violating both the Korth Edicts (no house armies) AND the Code of Galifar (no slaves).
  • Last but not least: Cannith had always dominated the Twelve. Many of the other houses were HAPPY to see Cannith taken down a peg. So they weren’t fighting as fiercely as they might have against other restrictions.

Bear in mind, the creation forges are NOT the primary tool that Cannith uses for mass production of mundane goods; they have other eldritch machines and focus items that assist general mass production. Rising From The Last War specifically identifies the forges as producing warforged (page 280) while the Eberron Campaign Guide says “These enormous contraptions… are designed to churn out mechanized soldiers.” They were also used to produce titans and homunculi, but again, they WEREN’T the be-all end-all of Cannith’s production facilities, and there are “Forgeholds” that don’t have creation forges.

So this article paints the Dragonmark Houses in a bleaker and more corporate light than most… but they’re definitely not monolithic. So I’m curious as to which of the Houses you think is more willing to incidentally hurt people on their way to profit (aka less empathy), versus those with more empathy involved in their methods.

This is a good question. I am presenting the houses in a harsh light here, because the point is that they could do terrible things if they chose. The theme we wanted to explore with them from the start is that in the wake of the Last War, are the houses more powerful than nations? But the fact that there are few checks on their power isn’t supposed to make them monsters. The idea is that over centuries, most people have come to trust and rely on the houses, because they’ve been reliable. You believe that Sivis will keep your secrets safe, that Kundarak protects your goods, that you’ll get the best sword at a smith with the Cannith seal and you won’t get food poisoning at the Ghallanda inn. I call out that they regulate their own industries as a sign of the power they possess; but the twist is that they actually DO regulate their own industries. There’s tremendous potential for abuse, but that doesn’t mean it’s common. In general, MOST PEOPLE view the houses as reliable businesses, not as terrifying corporate tyrants. It’s just that, again, they DO have unchecked power and COULD abuse it… and what happens if and when they do?

So the question is: What houses are willing to hurt people in the name of profit? Which generally lack empathy? As the question notes, houses aren’t monolithic. So I’ll call out that I think Cannith is near the top of the “low empathy” list. During the war they manufactured weapons for all sides, and they essentially created a slave race that they threw onto the front lines of that war. On the other hand, I’ll note that Aaren d’Cannith—the creator of the modern warforged—left the house in protest of the treatment of the warforged. Of the current Cannith contenders I’d say that Jorlanna is probably the best of them; both Zoraln and Merrix are pretty ruthless.

So Cannith is up there. Thuranni surely is as well; it’s a house who’s specialty IS assassination. Calynden may make the order, but it will be a Thuranni heir who actually fires the crossbow. Phiarlan is somewhat better, and again, there are a significant number of Phiarlan heirs who truly believe in the ARTISTIC mission of the house and don’t work with the Serpentine Table.

I’d put Vadalis on the low-empathy side, as well. They are essentially about manipulating animals for the benefit of humanity, and I don’t think PETA would approve of their methods. Sivis is tricky because they definitely place the APPEARANCE of neutrality as paramount… but they’re also Zil gnomes, so they live in a society that embraces the idea of assassination as an acceptable tool in pursuit of the greater good. I tend to think of Sivis as one of the nicer houses, but in part that’s because they DON’T have a lot of competition; if something came up, we’d likely see a darker side pretty quickly.

So which are the nicest houses? I think Kundarak is pretty much what it says on the can: they are honest folk who want to keep your stuff safe for you. Ghallanda is literally in the business of hospitality, and their name means “The Helpful Hound That Appears Where Needed The Most”; i think they are the most inclined to offer empathy and even charity when called for; at the end of the day, I think Ghallanda likes people. I think Medani is a reasonably empathetic house and tries to do what it feels is right, which is also why they’re one of the less influential houses. I tend to think that Orien is another house that basically just tries to provide a useful service; they haven’t tried to destroy Lyrandar’s airship business…. yet.

The others all fall in the middle. I think Lyrandar is generally a friendly house. But if someone started developing airships anyone can fly? People like Calynden would go to great extremes to eliminate that threat. Individual Tharashk inquisitives can be great, but the house as a whole is very ambitious. Jorasco is very complicated, and discussed at more length in the article linked earlier; there are many Jorasco HEIRS who are driven by empathy and want to help however they can, but there’s also ruthless people determined to ensure that the house thrives as a business.

I’m going to stop there, because this has already gone on WAAAY too long for an IFAQ. BUt the ultimate answer is this: The houses are as ruthless and frightening as you want them to be. The framework is there to run a campaign in which the houses are ruthless dystopian megacorporations, and it’s questionable who could stop them if they go in that direction. But you CAN also just focus on them as reliable service providers, and just ignore the lack of outside oversight or labor laws.

Thanks again to my Patreon supporters! Per the latest Patreon poll, the next major article will explore Dolurrh, the Realm of the Dead!