Dragonmarks: Magewrights and Wand Adepts

One of the underlying principles of Eberron is that magic is a part of civilization. It’s not limited to a handful of mighty wizards in ivory towers; there’s an arcane locksmith down on Third Street, next door to the medium and the guy who makes everbright lanterns. With that said, this magic is widespread and useful, but not powerful. The streets may be lit with continual flame, but teleportation and resurrection are rare… and a wish is unheard of. It’s wide magic, not high magic.

The previous article looked at common magic items and magic item creation, and considered how to make that work in 5E D&D. But magic items are only part of the wide magic of Eberron. It also embraces the idea that spellcasting can be a job – not limited to full wizards or sorcerers, but also people who do nothing but make magic lanterns or speak to the dead. Now, you may look at this article and say “In 5E, anyone can get the Magic Initiate feat – doesn’t that mean magic is just scattered throughout the world without any of this?” It only means that if YOU decide it means that, because there are no rules about NPCs acquiring feats. A player character can be a Magic Initiate, but as a DM and world designer it’s up to you to decide how that’s reflected in the wider world. In Eberron, magic is a science. People don’t just wake up one day with a new feat and know how to cast light. These things take time and training – and that produces magewrights and wand adepts.

Magewrights

A wizard is extremely versatile. Your wizard can grab a spellbook, spend a few hours studying it, and cast a spell they’ve never seen before. That’s great, because wizards are exceptional people. But in Eberron, you can cast magic without having that degree of versatility. This is the magewright, someone who spends years learning how to perform the skills and spells associated with a particular trade. In 3.5 D&D this was an NPC class, but that’s not required in 5E; instead, you can simple state that an NPC magewright has the ability to cast the spells you want them to cast. Beyond this, we can also say that the spells the magewrights can perform are different from those used by PCs – typically, because they are more limited. For example, Prestidigitation allows the caster to heat, chill, clean, soil, and more. Mending allows the caster to mend anything. But you can say that a magewright chef knows a limited version of Prestidigitation that only affects food – and that a launderer knows Prestidigitation and Mending, but can only work with cloth. The fact that the player character can mend anything is again a sign of their versatility and exceptional talent.

My idea of a magewright is that they can cast one to three cantrips or spells. They don’t require spellbooks or memorization; they have perfected these spells over the course of years. However, their cantrips may be limited (as noted above) and their spells can only be cast as rituals. So the arcane locksmith can cast Arcane Lock all day, but it takes time. I’ll talk more about ways in which these rituals differ from PC spells further below, but first, let’s take a look at a few Magewrights you could find in the world…

  • Chef: Prestidigitation, only affecting food; perhaps a form of Gentle Repose for preserving meals, or Purify Food and Drink. Proficient with cook’s utensils.
  • Healer: Detect Poison & DiseaseLesser Restoration, Spare the Dying. Proficient with Medicine and herbalism kits.
  • Launderer: Prestidigitation and Mending, both only affecting cloth.
  • Lamplighter: Light, Continual Flame. Uses tinkers’ tools to construct lanterns.
  • Locksmith: Arcane Lock, Knock. Proficient with thieves’ tools and tinkers’ tools.
  • Medium: Speak with Dead. Perhaps a form of Minor Illusion that produces an image of a dead person as they were in life. Possibly proficient in Insight and Persuasion, if they help bereaved make sense of a loss… or Insight and Deception, if they use grief to take advantage of mourners.
  • Oracle: Augury, Divination. Proficient in Insight and Investigation. This is definitely a case where I would adjust the magewright versions of these spells. In the hands of a magewright, Augury – which should be the bread and butter of a common oracle – should be able to predict outcomes farther in the future, though still only with the binary answer of woe or weal. An oracle who can perform full Divination should be rarer (it is a fourth level spell) and the ritual could take longer than usual and be more expensive.

These are just a handful of ideas; there are many possibilities. A suspicious noble could have a food taster who knows Detect Poison and Purify Food and Drink. The city watch in a major city could have a verifier who can cast Detect Thoughts and Zone of Truth. There’s also a critical spell from Eberron that’s missing in 5E, and that’s Magecraft – a spell that provides a bonus to a skill check related to crafting. So you begin to get a sense of the possibilities. But also consider the limitations.

  • What does it cost? Eberron treats magic as a science and magewrights as part of the economy. The lesser restoration spell has no cost, which is fine, because it’s NOT a ritual and player characters can’t use it that often; the “cost” is that it uses a limited spell slot. But if you’re going to introduce it as a service that can be performed by a magewright, you either need to ADD a cost or come up with an explanation for why disease still exists in the world. While every spell has unique components, it’s always been the idea that Eberron dragonshards are the basic fuel of the magical economy, and that applies here. House Tharashk refines raw shards to produce residuum, glowing powder that serves as a fuel for most rituals – so a locksmith can use residuum instead of powdered gold dust when casting arcane lock. You can add whatever cost you want to set the price of a service. Does curing a disease cost ten gold pieces or a hundred? Even the launderer might have to sprinkle a copper’s worth of residuum over the cloth they wish to cleanse.
  • What does it look like? These are jobs people do. Mechanically they involve performing a ritual. But it’s up to you to add the color to that. An oracle can cast augury as a ritual. But what are they doing in that ritual? Are they reading cards? Palms? Auras? Are they studying star charts or patterns of the planes? A locksmith can cast arcane lock. Are they tracing elaborate patterns in the air with an iron wand? Just because these things are mechanically all “spells” doesn’t mean that the magewright just chews their lip and concentrates for a few minutes, regardless of what they are doing. Add flavor!
  • Who can do this? In Eberron in particular, it’s established that the Dragonmarked Houses dominate certain fields of magical industry. One possibility is that the Houses are where you go to learn the skills of the magewright – that most locksmiths are trained and licensed by House Kundarak. On the other hand, if you want to give the houses a tighter hold you can say that many magewright rituals are restricted to someone with a particular dragonmark… that only Kundarak dwarves can master the rituals of the arcane locksmith, that only Jorasco halflings can be magewright healers. The reason you don’t see a verifier at every watch station is because it requires the Mark of Detection. This is a way to truly emphasize the power and influence of a house; if you want a magic lock, Kundarak is your only option. Of course this is specifically about magewrights; your PC wizard can cast Arcane Lock, but do you really want to make a living doing it?

So that’s the idea of the magewright: that beyond magical items, there are people in the world who can perform magical services. It’s up to you how prevalent they are in your campaign. In a major city like Sharn, you’d see many magewrights performing all sorts of services. But in a small village, they probably do their laundry the old fashioned way. Their might be a single magewright in town; what service do they provide?

Divine Magewrights? 

Under 3.5, “magewright” was an NPC class that specifically dealt with arcane magic, counterbalanced against the adept NPC class which was a limited divine caster. Using the approach I suggest above, I don’t think it’s necessary to draw that line so sharply. Certainly any single individual is either practicing divine or arcane magic, but I think that you can use this same approach either way; you as DM simply need to be clear in your mind which is which. Specifically taking the Healer and the Oracle suggested above: either one of these could be presented as either arcane or divine. An arcane healer might be a Jorasco halfling who makes no prayers, but simply weaves rituals to cleanse the sick… while a divine healer might be a Silver Flame friar whose faith allows them to heal the sick. The oracle could be studying arcane patterns or asking the divine for guidance. Someone versed in Arcana or Religion should easily be able to tell which is which, but MECHANICALLY they are the same: an individual who can perform a few magical effects but who lacks the abilities or versatility of a spellcasting class.

Notably, Xanathar’s Guide to Everything adds a spell called Ceremony that allows a priest to imbue a religious ritual with divine power, adding a magical effect to a wedding or a coming of age ceremony. Following this magewright approach, you could easily have Ceremony, Thaumaturgy, and maybe Spare The Dying as a common set of spells known by a typical lead priest in a community – a halfway between an entirely mundane priest and a full spellcasting cleric.

Wand Adepts

When we initially developed Eberron wands were powerful and disposable magic items, and we made a conscious decision not to make them everyday tools; a fighter who wanted to kill someone across a room would still rely on a bow or a crossbow. We invented the eternal wand – a wand with only two charges, but that recharged over time and could be used with less restrictions. But even there, the cost of such a wand was too great to make it feasible as something every soldier would carry… and it still required some magical training.

However, I certainly like the IDEA of the Aundairian “musketeer” with a bandolier of wands. And with the various changes to magic over the last two editions – notably, the introduction of cantrips, the idea of wands as nonmagical arcane focus items, and the Magic Initiate feat – I think there’s a lot of room to introduce the casual wand.

A wand adept learns to perform a few offensive spells, but they require an arcane focus to channel those effects. A typical wand adept knows two offensive cantrips and a single first level spell they can perform once per long rest. But all of these require the arcane focus of a wand. So one wand adept might know acid splash, poison spray, and color spray; another might have ray of frost, fire bolt and burning hands. The critical point here is that the adept requires a wand to perform these spells, but the wand isn’t magical. It’s not a magic item worth hundreds of gold pieces; it’s an arcane focus costing ten galifars. While you COULD say that any wand will do, I would further say that adept wands are specialized by effect. Looking above, I might say that an adept uses the same wand for fire bolt and burning hands… but that ray of frost requires a different wand, one attuned to cold. So you can have the Aundairian duelist flinging fire from one wand and ice from the other, and if you disarm them of one wand they’re limited until they recover it.

The principle of this is drawn from the Magic Initiate feat; it’s simply adding an additional restriction that a player character isn’t bound by, because PCs are remarkable. It’s adding the idea that offensive magic is evolving… but that most of the time a wand is a focus, and that the fully magic wands are more significant and expensive.

Now with this said: the idea of a wand adept IS that learning to use a wand requires training and effort. This is common in a place like Aundair, which places a high value on magical talent. But just as a player character who wanted to use a wand like this would need to get the Magic Initiate feat (with the wand being there for color), the wand adept has invested resources learning to use the wand that could have been spent elsewhere. If I have an Aundairian soldier blasting her foes with wands, I might give the Karrnathi knight the benefit of Heavy Armor Master or make the expert Thrane archer a Sharpshooter. The skill isn’t in the wand, it’s in the person using it… and if I introduce wand adepts, I’d want to make clear that they could have invested that skill in other ways.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR PLAYER CHARACTERS? Well, if you have the ability to cast an offensive cantrip, congratulations! You’re a wand adept. You’re so talented that you can cast your spell even without a wand, but nothing’s stopping you from using the wand for flavor. If you’re not a spellcaster, that’s what the Magic Initiate feat is for. Essentially, with the integration of cantrips as a reliable form of magical weapon, it’s more plausible to have people using magical attacks instead of mundane weapons – but at this point in time, the amount of training required to use a wand has prevented wands from replacing mundane weapons. And in that small Brelish village nobody knows how to use a wand, and they’ll consider your wand-wielding duelist to be an Aundairian hipster. If you and your DM want to embrace the idea of the wand adept, I could see a variation of the Magic Initiate feat that requires the use of a wand… perhaps in exchange for a +1 bonus to attack rolls or spell DC with these cantrips as a balance for requiring the focus.

Like magewrights, you COULD push beyond the limitations of the Magic Initiate feat. For example, putting the two concepts together, you could have a staff adept who can cast fireball as a ritual, but requires both a specialized staff and burns dragonshards with every casting. This is a way to compromise with the question of “How could the Five Nations afford to deploy magic items on the field?” It could be that the mystical artillery relied on the skills of the artillerists as much as on the power of the item… that a siege staff is just a big piece of carved wood if you don’t have someone who can use it. This of course gets into the question of war magic, as a fireball isn’t actually that useful in a truly large-scale military engagement… but THAT is a topic for another article.

Let’s Talk About Wands

Wands themselves serve a different role in 5E. When we created Eberron in 3.5, we introduced the idea of eternal wands as an evolution of “wand science” – a wand that wasn’t entirely disposable, and that could be used by a wider range of people. In 5E, that’s standard for a wand; the average wand has 7 charges and regains 1d6+1 charges every day. In addition, many wands don’t require the user to be a spellcaster; anyone can use a wand of magic missiles. This ties also to the introduction of at-will offensive magic over the last two editions… allowing for a character who prefers to rely on cantrips instead of ranged weapons. This idea of wand adepts is about incorporating the evolution of these mechanics into the setting in a logical way. If this is how magic works, this is how we would see it in the world.

With that said, this can cause some confusion about what exactly a wand IS. As I see it, there are three types of wands in the world.

  • Unaligned Focus Item. As described on pages 151 and 203 of the PHB. This is a wand that is generally designed for channeling arcane energy, but not for any particular purpose; a wizard can use that one wand for all of their spells. This has a base cost of 10 GP… but I’ll talk more about this later.
  • Aligned Focus Item. This is what a wand adept uses. The idea is that the design or components of the wand predispose it to channeling a particular type of energy; a “fire wand” might be made from charred wood harvested from a Fernian manifest zone. The wand has no innate power, but it’s easier to channel a particular type of energy through it, and a wand adept needs that boost. So the wand doesn’t grant you the ability to cast Burning Hands; it’s simply that if you’re a wand adept who knows how to cast Burning Hands, you still need a fire-aligned wand to cast the spell. This still has a base cost of 10 GP.
  • Actual Magic Item. This is a Wand of Fireballs or Wand of Magic Missiles. The magic is IN THE WAND… in the case of a Wand of Magic Missiles, ANYONE can use it. Many wands require “Attunement by a spellcaster” and I would allow the talents of a wand adept to count for this purpose – so if you’re a wand adept, you can attune a Wand of Lightning Bolts, even if it’s not a spell you can cast alone. You are trained in the science of wandcraft, and the power is in the wand. In 5E, a Wand of Fireballs is rare. So they definitely EXIST, but they are expensive and NOT things you’d see a common soldier carrying; We’re talking thousands of galifars, as opposed to the 10 gp aligned wand. Someone pulling out a Wand of Fireballs is like someone producing a bazooka.

Now, there’s definitely room for middle ground here… and that’s the enhanced focus item. As it stands, a fire-aligned focus item is simply restrictive – saying that the wand adept MUST have a fire-aligned wand to cast fire spells. But you could also have fancy aligned wands that provide BENEFITS when you channel certain types of spells. For example, a darkwood wand studded with Mabar crystals that adds +1 DC to any necromancy spells you cast using the wand. That should cost more than 10 GP, but certainly less that 4,000 GP. A wand adept could use it as a focus for necromancy spells, but I’d generally allow a wizard to use it with ANY spells – it’s just that necromancy spells get a bonus.

Post your thoughts and questions below. In my next article I’ll be getting back to Xanathar’s Guide to Everything and how I’d incorporate it into my Eberron campaign. Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters, who make it possible for me to spend time on this site.As always, bear in mind that nothing I say on this site is canon; these are simply ideas that I’m exploring.

Dragonmarks: Common Magic, Part One

Xanathar’s Guide to Everything was released recently, and it includes a host of options for players and gamemasters. Over the next month I’ll explore how I’d incorporate some of these ideas and options into Eberron. Right now I want to tackle a subject that intersects only partially with XGtE: the question of how Eberron can coexist with the limited magic of default 5E D&D.

The first thing to bear in mind is that Eberron is not a high magic setting – it’s a wide magic setting. Eberron is built upon the premise that arcane magic behaves as a science and would thus become integrated into the world in a scientific manner. But one of the other basic principles of Eberron is that high-level characters are rare… and this ties to the magic that’s available. Here’s a few basic principles to consider.

  • In comparing Eberron to our world, we’ve always said that it’s closer to the late 19th century than to the present day. We have magical equivalents to the telegraph and the railroad and we’re just getting started with air travel. But we don’t have widespread equivalents to automobiles, telephones, or the like.
  • Wide magic generally includes effects that mimic spells of up to third level. Spell effects of up to fifth level – teleportation, raise dead, cloudkill – are known, but rare. Higher level effects are still “magical.”
  • Making a breakthrough in magic is exactly as difficult as making a breakthrough in science. Why hasn’t someone invented an airship anyone can fly? Because they haven’t figured out how to do it, just like WE haven’t figured out cold fusion or time travel.

Which brings us to two issues: magic items in the world and magic item creation. Under third and fourth edition, magic item creation and costs are very concrete and mechanical, and this lent itself to a vision of a world where you could go to a store and buy a +2 flametongue (and maybe ask the smith to customize the flames for you). Fifth edition initially didn’t have rules for creating magic items and ran with the idea that even a +1 weapon was a remarkable treasure. For some, this meant it was impossible to reconcile Eberron with the system. For me, it’s all about setting expectations: what is common magic? 

I mentioned earlier that “wide magic” involves spell effects between 0-3rd level. Just start at the bottom and look at what you can do with those effects. My favorite spell for this is prestidigitation. Using this cantrip, you can…

  • Light a mundane fire.
  • Instantly clean an object of limited size.
  • Instantly chill, warm, or flavor food.

If we accept that these are basic principles of magic – that we’ve figured out how to use magic to produce these effects using trivial (cantrip) amounts of magic – and you have the principles you need to create magical counterparts to the refrigerator (chill food), microwave (warm food), vacuum cleaner (clean room), lighter (firestarter) and washing machine (clean clothes). These things won’t look like our tools, and they won’t act like them. Instead of a vacuum cleaner, you might have a Sorcerer’s Apprentice broom that sweeps itself, of a fancier whisk broom that simply vaporizes dirt when you wave it over a floor. Such items won’t be cheap, but they also needn’t be ridiculously expensive; what you’re talking about is an object that only does a sliver of an effect of a cantrip.

Xanathar’s Guide to Everything presents a host of items with this level of power, which it calls common magic itemsClothes of Mending automatically mend themselves at the end of each day. The Ear Horn of Hearing negates the deafened condition while it’s in use. Some of these common items already exist in Eberron. The Instrument of Illusions is essentially the Thurimbar Rod, an illusion-based instrument developed in Zilargo; and the shapeshifting Cloak of Many Fashions is similar to Eberron’s shiftweave, if somewhat more versatile. As I mentioned in a previous article, something that’s often overlooked in Eberron is the idea of glamerweave – fabric infused with illusion. You could have a cloak with a lining of stars, or a blazer emblazoned with what appear to be actual flames.

The short form is that the common magic items of XGtE are a good model for things that could be common in Eberron – and something you can use as inspiration in creating other items or setting a scene. For me, the key is to look for principles demonstrated by a low level spell and consider how that could be harnessed as a tool. For example, the Sivis sending stone is based on the principle of the spell whispering wind, which delivers a short message to a specific distant location – more limited than sending, but lower level. When you do create a new item or effect, one thing to consider is that if it’s TOO useful, it might be something that’s only found as a dragonmark focus item, especially if the effect is clearly related to a dragonmark’s sphere. Whispering wind is a simple effect – but I still decided to limit it to Sivis, because from a story perspective it’s interesting to have the house have a near-monopoly on swift communication.

So common magic items could indeed be common. With that said, I think it’s reasonable for uncommon items to be uncommon — not something you see in every household, but things that CAN be manufactured and purchased. When you go to rare and legendary items, you can keep them rare and legendary. Perhaps they’re relics of fallen civilizations, or creations of advanced ones (such as the Chamber or the Lords of Dust). Perhaps they are one of a kind things created under special circumstances — during particular planar conjunctions, using unique Siberys shards, or even fashioned in other planes. Perhaps that Elven blade was forged by a member of the Undying Court and imbued with a fraction of her spirit. In short, there’s room for magic to be both commonplace and truly magical. That everburning torch is just a tool you can buy at any Cannith forgehold… but that Vorpal Sword is a legendary weapon spoken of in song and story. Meanwhile, magical weapons can have lesser magical effects – a self-sharpening sword, an axe that glows on command – things that are useful and magical, but don’t have to have the same impact as a bonus to attack and damage. I have many thoughts about wands, but I’ll delve into that in my next article.

In considering these things, XGtE also helps with its classification of magic items as major or minor in addition to the rarities. Minor uncommon items should be easier to acquire than major uncommon items. The short form is to think about what it means for a magic item to be something that can simply be purchased. If that thing is a reliable tool that exists in the world for anyone who has enough money to acquire it, how should it impact your story?

MAGIC ITEM CREATION

So we’ve established a general yardstick for what exists in the world. The next question is what can player characters create, and how can they create it? The first thing to point out here is that whatever system House Cannith uses to make wands isn’t going to be the same system a player character uses. While Eberron doesn’t have full-on manufacturing plants, the creation of magic items is an industry. Creation Forges are the most dramatic tools available to House Cannith, but they have a host of lesser ways to improve the process of production. They may literally have enchanted assembly lines — not automated, but still, facilities designed to efficiently produce a particular type of item and enhanced with various magical effects. They acquire rare components in mass quantities – which ties to another largely unrealized idea in Eberron, that dragonshards are a critical part of creating magic items and serve as the fuel of the magical economy. Cannith may have lesser focus items that channel the Mark of Making. And they certainly have secret techniques or patterns for making specific items as efficiently as possible (which is to say, schema).

Meanwhile, your wizard or artificer is literally a guy making a thing in a garage. Cannith can make a wand of fireballs faster and cheaper than you can. But the one you make is going to be entirely unique. And perhaps you can make something they’ve never figured out how to make – because you’re an innovator, not just working on the assembly line.

All of which is to say that this actually works well with the model of magic item creation presented in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything… making the creation of a magic item part of an adventure as opposed to simply a formula you fill out with gold and XP. You can’t replicate the process Cannith uses to make a wand of fireballs, because you don’t have their facilities, resources or specialized expertise. BUT, if you could get ahold of an elemental heart from Fernia, you could use that to create your wand! And what do you know, you’ve heard that you can acquire such a thing by hunting drakes in a Fernian manifest zone in the Blade Desert. If you can get that heart, a thousand GP worth of refined Eberron shards, and a good piece of darkwood you can carve into a wand – give it a few weeks and you can make it happen.

So I like the XGtE model; just bear in mind that what you are doing ISN’T the same thing House Cannith does when they are producing something. What you are creating will be unique – and again, for that reason and because PCs are remarkable, it may be that you can create something that Cannith cannot create.

In my next article I’ll write about magewrights and wand adepts. Until then, post your questions and thoughts below. Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters, who make these articles possible.

Dragonmarks: People of the Five Nations

It’s another busy week. I’m working on new material for Phoenix: Dawn Command and doing events for the launch of Illimat. Now I’m at PAX Unplugged doing Illimat demos – if you’re at PAXU, stop by the Twogether Studios booth (449)! But I have time for a quick question from Patreon

Could we get a quick rundown on what the humans of each of the Five Nations commonly look like, physically? Or are they a grab bag of all possible looks we have in reality?

The humans of the Five Nations are ethnically diverse. Humanity didn’t evolve on Khorvaire. It began on Sarlona, where environments range from desert to arctic tundra and everything in between. Humanity came to Khorvaire in multiple waves of explorers, settlers and refugees and the Five Nations were built from this stew. On the coasts of Khorvaire you can find communities that can trace their roots back to particular nations, such as the Khunan humans of Valenar. But few of the people of the Five Nations have any concept of their Sarlonan roots; over the course of generations they’ve blended and merged. So yes, they are a grab bag of all possible looks you can imagine. Rather than being judged by the color of your skin, you’ll be evaluated by your accent, attitude and fashion. Karrns are stoic and stolid, while Aundairians tend to be dramatic and expressive.

Consider this picture, which comes from the “Humans” entry in the original 3.5 Eberron Campaign Setting.

There’s five humans and five nations… but nothing in the entry indicates who these people are or where they’re from. From left to right, here’s where I’d place them.

  • Vyenne is a duelist from Aundair. Her ruffles and hairstyle reflect the latest trends in Fairhaven fashion; while her dress appears constricting, the fabric is surprisingly flexible. She doesn’t wear armor because it’s so plebian; she’ll conjure mage armor when trouble strikes. She uses a flail in a style known as chain dancing, a technique full of dramatic flourishes, trips and disarms; it’s perfect both for showing off and embarassing an opponent. She’s also a wand adept; the three short rods in her belt are arcane foci used for channeling her talents. Unlike her neighbor, who still insists on launching sticks at his enemies. Does he know it’s almost 1000 YK?
  • Castor is a retired templar from Thrane. Compared to Vyenne, his clothing is simple and practical. He’s comfortable in his breastplate and he carries his weapons as a matter of course. He’s not looking for a fight, but he knows that danger can come at any time and he’s always ready to defend the people of his community from unexpected threats. He’s reasonably friendly – he genuinely likes people – but he is always serious and watchful, with no time for frivolity and no need for luxury. When he spoke with Vyenne, he didn’t realize she was mocking him.
  • Meris is from Cyre. She’s the last survivor of a prominent wizard’s circle in Metrol, and while she’s lost her homeland and her friends, she still ahs her pride. If you look closely you’ll see that her fine clothing is a little worn; she’s done her best to keep it fresh with mending and prestidigitation, but there’s only so much magic can do. Her ornate staff is merely a fancy arcane focus, but it belonged to her mentor in the circle and it’s her most treasured possession.
  • Harkan is a mercenary from Karrnath. Like Vyenne, he balances his martial skills with a touch of magic; this is less common in Karrnath than it is in Aundair, but it’s catching on. Where Vyenne likes her wands and her elegant chain dancing, Harkan carries a staff and is quite straightforward about crushing you with his mace. He is almost always found in armor. He’s generally curt, direct, and he doesn’t like you.
  • Baris is an entertainer from Breland; he’s generally found playing at one of the taverns in Lower Dura. He’s not part of any of the gangs, but he’s got friends in the Boromar Clan, House Tarkanan and even Daask; as such, he’s sometimes called upon to act as a go-between or mediator. While he generally keeps his hands clean, he’s not above picking the pocket of foolish tourist who has a little too much to drink.

Reflecting a little on how their cultures have shaped them… Vyenne is very gifted and wants the world to know it. She uses magic in her everyday life and considers those who don’t to be backwards. Appearance and opinions matter to her. By contrast, Castor reflects the values of the Silver Flame. He’s got an ascetic streak, and has no interest in luxuries or fancy talk. He genuinely cares about others and is prepared to put his life on the line to protect the innocent should supernatural threats arise… and he is always prepared for a threat to arise, which means he rarely drinks or engages in frivolous activities. Meris was once a wealthy socialite but has lost almost everything; she knows her courtly graces and keeps up up her mask when among strangers, but sometimes she prefers the company of her ghosts and memories to the salons she used to love. Harkan is grim, direct and focused on his work. He’s reliable, deadly, and not a lot of fun. Finally, Baris is a liar and a thief… but he also prefers diplomacy to war. He’s willing to take a lot of risks to help his friends, and he has a lot of friends.

What historical equivalent should I look to for fashion in Eberron? I’ve heard everything from late medieval/early Renaissance to 1920s and would you to hear at least /your/ take.

It’s hard to map Eberron’s fashions to Earth’s history because it’s not Earth. It’s a world where glamorweave and shiftweave exist, where arcane focuses are common fashion accessories. In our history armor was rendered obsolete by the prevalence of the musket. In Eberron, armor is often worn either as a practical tool or as a fashion statement, and I think that armor is more comfortable and flexible than equivalents we know from our history. It’s hard to imagine a medieval knight comfortably wearing jousting armor to a tavern, but that’s a perfectly valid choice for a fighter… which leads me to think that the plate itself is simply better made than we know. Essentially, I feel that there is a concept of practical armor. Light armor in particular often won’t read as armor: you might be wearing a heavy leather trenchcoat with long gauntlets and high boots. It’s protective, but you don’t necessarily look like a soldier. Moving up from there armor will clearly be armor, but there will still be designs that are intended for everyday use or social occasions as opposed to being made strictly for the battlefield. Even looking to heavier armors, it’s worth noting whether your character is wearing the uniform of a soldier, or if you’re wearing more personal and social armor (like Harkan in the illustration above).

I think this concept generally extends. If people are wearing what we generally consider as “fantasy” clothing, keep in mind that it’s evolved beyond that of the middle ages, and may be more practical, better made, more colorful, and so on. Beyond this, it’s good to fully understand glamerweave. This is clothing with fabric imbued with illusion. The possibilities of this are nearly endless, and to my mind the +100 gp price tag is simply a general overview. At the low end (likely less than 100 gp) you could simply have colors or textures that cannot be found in nature. At the high end you can have truly fantastic designs: a cloak that has a rippling starfield for its lining, leather armor that appears to be made from dragonscales, a Lyrandar noble dressed in a shirt that has the pattern of a storm – an if it’s truly fancy, perhaps it shifts and grows more thunderous based on the wearer’s mood. Essentially, this is a world where illusion exists and is used as part of fashion – so use your imagination and think about what’s possible.

Beyond that, I’m not a fashion expert. I look to the illustrations in the books for inspiration, and I think of the general tone of the nation. In Aundair you have more glamorweave and shiftweave, along with a general love of complexity and ostentatious display. Thranes are more practical and austere, always ready for trouble (so more casual armor), with some ornate displays of faith. Karrns are likewise practical, martial, and dressed to deal with a harsher climate. The Brelish are in a more tropical climate and fall in the middle – not as in love with fashion as the Aundairians, but neither as spartan as the Thranes or Karrns. And in Cyre you had both more widespread wealth and a love of art and artistry… but now carrying the scars of loss.

What are YOUR thoughts on fashion in the Five Nations? Share your thoughts below!

Phoenix: Dhakaani Command

The Empire faces the greatest challenge in its history. Alien horrors have torn through the walls of reality and even the legions of Dhakaan can’t stop these terrors. Madness is sweeping over cities and your kin are being transformed into monsters. No mortal can face the Lords of Xoriat in battle. But you’re no longer mortal. You’ve fought your way back from Dolurrh to protect Dhakaan. You’re a Phoenix, and you have seven lives to save the world.  

In the past people have asked me how I’d adapt Phoenix: Dawn Command to the Eberron setting. The trick is that PDC is designed to tell a specific sort of story: a tale of champions who may have to lay down their lives to defend the world they care about. The default Eberron setting of 998 YK is intentionally open-ended… there’s a lot of problems brewing in the world, but you don’t have the sort of existential threat that drives the action of Phoenix. But there’s a period in Eberron’s history that fits the bill nicely, and it’s a period I’ve always wanted to explore in more depth: the conflict between the Empire of Dhakaan and the forces of Xoriat, the Realm of Madness.

So look back through the ages, to a time before humanity set foot on Khorvaire. It is a golden age. The elves have been driven back to their foul island. The aggressive lizardfolk and savage orcs are confined to the barren wilds, lands with no value to the Empire. It’s an age of order and reason… and perhaps this is what drew the many eyes of the Daelkyr. Now Xoriat is unleashing its power against Dhakaan. The war takes many forms, each one more terrible than anything that’s come before. Armies of aberrations surge through gates and manifest zones. Soldiers fall beneath the gaze of the eye tyrants. Flayers feast on the brains of living prisoners, and their bodies are used to create new monsters. Dhakaan has the finest armies in the known world, but many of these threats cannot be fought with steel or adamantine alone. What army can triumph when madness turns allies into enemies? Defeating the Daelkyr will require champions who can venture into the deepest darkness and wrest the secrets from this foe. You may not survive the battles that lie ahead, but it won’t be the first time you’ve died and it won’t be the last.

SEVEN LIVES TO SAVE THE EMPIRE

The principle of Phoenix is simple. You lived a normal life and you died. You could have been a hero in your first life — a deadly assassin from the Silent Knives, a dirge singer, a chainmaster — or you might have been a simple farmer or bootmaker. But regardless of your achievements in your first life, you possessed courage and strength of will… and these things didn’t go unnoticed or unrewarded. Your spirit was pulled from Dolurrh and into a demiplane of Irian known as the Crucible. There, you went through trials to prove your courage and to hone your skills. You overcame every challenge you faced, and now you have been reborn. You’re infused with the power of the Eternal Dawn. You’re not immune to the corruption of Xoriat, but you can resist it and take on enemies that no mortal could face. If you die, you’ll return to the Crucible once more, and if you can overcome the trials again you will return even stronger. But there’s a limit to the power you can contain. You have seven lives to save the Empire; after that, you can finally rest.

HEROES OF DHAKAAN

One of the nice things about Phoenix is that the powers of a Phoenix overshadow racial differences. So as a Phoenix, the differences between a goblin and a bugbear are largely cosmetic… though easily represented by traits. As a goblin you might take Small & Quick; as a bugbear you could take Too Big To Fail. So let’s consider a wing of Phoenixes you could find in Dhakaan…

  • Maul is a Bitter bugbear. He was raised to be the fist of Dhakaan, and dreamt of dying in battle. Instead, he was caught in an outbreak of madness and torn apart by his own family. He’s filled with fury and yearns to unleash it against the Daelkyr. His talon is his spiked chain, and he is Reckless, Too Big To Fail, Crude But Effective, and Vengeful. However, his Death Wish may get him into trouble…
  • Dirge is a Devoted hobgoblin. In her time in the Crucible she studied with one of the first dirge singers, and she will use the knowledge she’s gained to guide her allies and the Empire. She’s The Smartest Person In The Room, The Heart Of The Wing, Inspiring and Noble… and she’s Seen This Before.
  • Grim is a Durant hobgoblin. He’s a Seasoned Veteran whose Absolute Conviction will help him resist madness, and a skilled Commander and Paragon whose martial skills make him all but Untouchable in battle..
  • Shiv is a Shrouded goblin. She won’t speak about her past, and no one knows if she was one of the Khesh’dar in her first life. But she’s Small & Quick and remarkably Sneaky… and when it comes to uncovering secrets, her Supernatural Senses and Psychometry can help her make Brilliant Deductions
  • Worg is a Forceful goblin. He always wanted to be one of the Tarka’khesh, but he was killed as a child; in the Crucible he ran with actual wolves and learned the ways of the wild. He’s a Feral Hunter with Killer Instincts, and when he strikes he’s a Blur of Motion that’s Terrifying to his foes. 
  • The final member of the wing is Ash, an Elemental goblin. In life he was a sapper and siege engineer; as a Phoenix he is a Pyromancer with the power to unleash pure elemental force on his foes. More often than not, his Astonishing Luck and Extensive Training are the only things keeping him alive. But trust him: he’s got a Master Plan and he Makes It Look Easy

This small unit can go places no legion could reach and face enemies that would scatter armies. The fight against Xoriat will take them into Kyrzin’s liquid labyrinths and toe to toe with the colossus of Orlassk. If you’ve ever wanted to grab a beholder by the eyestalks and hurl it into an army of dolgrims, this may be the story for you.

HOW DOES THIS WORK?

This is a high-level idea for a Phoenix campaign. If you have the Phoenix: Dawn Command core set, you could choose to set your story in the last days of Dhakaan instead of Dalea. Many of the existing Challenges can be reflavored to fit the storyline; the Chant is a contagious madness created by the Daelkyr, the Fallen lesser spirits of Xoriat or opportunistic spirits from other planes. The core story remains intact: you are the champions of the Empire, seeking to defend its people against supernatural terrors. Because of the nature of Phoenix you don’t need special rules for different goblin subspecies; the characters described above are all made using the standard PDC creation tools.

What I love about this is that it’s an opportunity to delve into an interesting period in Eberron’s past and to be on the front lines of an epic struggle. It could be an interesting parallel to a modern D&D campaign that’s also dealing with the Daelkyr; perhaps the Phoenixes in the past will manage to stall a threat that will finally become active again in 998 YK. But it’s well-suited to the things Phoenix does best: high-stakes action, suspense and mystery.

As Eberron remains under lock and key I’m limited in what I could do to support this… but there’s a lot that could be done without treading on Eberron’s unique IP. I couldn’t specifically incorporate the Shaarat’khesh or the Duur’kala, but I could write up some ideas about an empire of goblin assassins and hobgoblin bards facing an invasion of horrors from beyond time and space. If you’d be interested in seeing a PDF of PHOENIX: GOBLIN WARS, let me know below!

Phoenix: Dawn Command is currently available at the Twogether Studios website. The core set is currently $59.95 with free shipping in the US; this gives you everything you need for a gamemaster and up to four players, including a seven-mission adventure path (not set in Dhakaan, but it could be adapted…). If you have questions or thoughts, post them below!

I have a somewhat opposite question, a thought experiment if you will. Is it possible to run a game of Phoenix with the D&D system? What would be the main challenges?

It’s not as simple as it seems. PDC is designed around the idea of heroic sacrifice; D&D is a game where death generally means failure. Here’s a few critical design differences.

  • The reason PDC uses cards instead of dice is because it provides a player with more narrative control. There’s rarely any wasted action. From round to round there’s a random aspect – what cards do you have in your hand – but you know what you have to work with BEFORE you take your action. Essentially, you already know your die rolls – it’s a matter of what you’ll do with them.
  • Beyond this, you have a pool of magical energy – Sparks – that you can use to push your results beyond what you’re currently capable of – essentially, adding them to your die roll. So you can buy success… but when you run out of Sparks, you die. Again, this means that results often are about player choice as opposed to a random roll.
  • In D&D, the success of an attack is determined by my attack and damage rolls as DM and your potential saving throw as a player. In Phoenix, it’s a question of whether you want to use your cards for defense or save them — potentially suffering damage you could avoid because you want to conserve your resources to do something awesome on your next action. Sometimes you may not have the cards you’d need to avoid an attack, in which case there’s no choice – but even there, you know that you can’t dodge your enemy, it’s not a random thing.
  • Tying all these points together: In D&D you may die because the monster rolled a critical hit or because you failed a saving throw – all random things. You’re at the mercy of the dice. In Phoenixes, most of the time a PC dies by choice – because they’re burning all their sparks to do something amazing, or because they’re throwing themselves in front of an ally, jumping on the grenade, holding the bridge against the balrog.
  • Tied to all that: because of sparks and because death isn’t the end, it’s possible for characters of different power levels to work together far more effectively than characters of different level in D&D. The more times you die, the more power you have… but the more wisely you have to use it, lest you run out of lives and die your final death. The low-level character can be more reckless. They can hold the bridge against the balrog – an act that doesn’t take raw power, but rather just the courage to smash the bridge while you’re standing on it. And because of Sparks they can perform acts that are beyond their normal capabilities… it’s just that they may kill themselves doing it. But if they’re on their early lives, that’s OK. Essentially, a 2nd level D&D character may not have anything useful to contribute in a party of 12th level characters, while a Rank One Phoenix can still do something just as impressive as a Rank Five Phoenix – they just can’t sustain that level of performance without dying.
  • Beyond that, you have a lot of other little differences. Since D&D is built around the idea of not dying you have lots of forms of healing that simply eliminate wounds. In Phoenix, the primary method of healing is the Devoted, who can take on the wounds of others… but that means SOMEONE is still wounded. The Devoted can heal themself by inflicting their wounds on enemies – but it’s a weightier thing than just slugging a potion of healing.

Basically, Phoenix isn’t just like D&D but you level up when you die. D&D is built around the d20, a random factor with a wide variance. It has a lot of uncertainty. PDC is built around emphasizing player choice. You have your resources in hand and you need to decide how to spend them. You don’t die because you made a bad roll; you die because the thing you’re trying to accomplish is so important that it’s worth it to die if that’s what it takes.

Dragonmarks: Locks and Wards

It’s a busy month. I’m working on a Phoenix article, and Illimat is being released next week! But in the meantime, I wanted to address a few more questions from my Patreon supporters.
I always tell my players that thieves’ tools in eberron look more like specialized artificer’s tools than lockpicks. What are some examples of locks of different qualities that might exist in a society where magic is a science & spells like knock exist to trivialize purely mechanical locks?
I’m going to start by addressing the general principle of locks in the setting, and then move on to specific examples of locks and tools. First of all: The existence of a tool — the knock spell — that can bypass any mundane lock doesn’t mean that people will suddenly give up on using mundane locks. There’s an increasing number of tools – both technological and mundane – that can unlock a lock on a car door, and failing that anyone can put a rock through a window; and yet we still lock our cars. We haven’t equipped every car with a new impregnable lock and we haven’t just given up on locks entirely. Instead, we accept that our lock isn’t perfect, but it will keep out any casual intruder — at least requiring some degree of effort or skill.
The same principle applies to Eberron. Go to a typical village and people will be using bars or mundane locks, because they don’t expect people to be running around with fancy knock spells, and if they do have them spells, well, there’s nothing you can do about it. My barn might get struck by lightning and burn down, but I can’t afford a lightning ward, so it goes.
But let’s assume that you’re serious about security. Your lock isn’t just a delaying tactic, it’s supposed to keep people out. Here’s some options.
  • Arcane Lock. The standard in security, available from any good Kundarak locksmith. This enhances the difficulty of forcing/picking a lock by mundane means. A knock spell suppresses an arcane lock, but if the arcane lock is combined with a mundane lock they’ll still have to bypass that, even if it’s at normal difficulty.
  • Multiple Mundane Locks. Each casting of a knock spell only opens one lock (according to the 5E SRD). Stick five locks on your door and you’ll at least make it costly for a caster.
  • Alarm. This doesn’t make a lock harder to open, but it warns you when it is opened. It’s not affected by knock. See notes below.
  • Glyph of Warding. Typically this is a one-shot spell, but Kundarak can certainly make reusable glyphs that recharge after a period of time. A GoW isn’t affected by Knock, so it’s your ultimate deterrent against the person who thinks their wand of knock is a key to all doors. Bear in mind that most people aren’t going to want to set off explosions in their homes, but a GoW can produce any spell effect of 3rd level or below. I’d make the price of a Kundarak recharging glyph vary based on the level of the associated effect, so more people would have a 1st level GoW than a 3rd. Any sort of targeted offensive spell is an option for an aggressive lock, but here’s a few other ideas…
    • Guilt Trap. Charm Person/Suggestion variant that makes the victim feel shame for their actions and causes them to dissuade other would-be thieves, or even to try to defend the house from them if necessary.
    • Unwelcome Mat. A simple Command effect that targets anyone that can hear it, ordering them to leave!
    • Sleeper. A Sleep spell, which would generally be combined with an Alarm to summon guards. Web or Hold Person are other options.
    • Guardians. While Conjure Animals is an option, Spirit Guardians are cleaner and harder to deal with – an excellent option to make life difficult if there are additional locks that need to be bypassed.
The magical options — alarm, GoW and arcane lock — all have a wide range of options for how they can be disarmed. A password is the simplest option, allowing anyone who knows the password to use the door. But they can also be keyed to virtually any sort of biometrics — to individuals, to particular races, to possessing a particular object. Kundarak certainly produces combination arcane/mundane locks where the trigger that deactivates the arcane lock simultaneously unlocks the mundane lock, so you can have a place where even these fancy locks can be opened with just a word or a touch of a hand, instead of requiring an additional key… though if the magic is deactivated by knock, this combo lock would be stuck in the locked position.
So looking back to the original question: what do locks look like?
  • Simple, mundane locks or bars. Common in any place that simply isn’t that concerned about serious security.
  • Multiple mundane locks or bars. We’re concerned about security, but not enough to pay for magic.
  • A simple combination arcane/mundane lock. We’ve got money and we take things seriously. The arcane lock could be keyed to a phrase or a keycharm.
  • Lockless doors sealed purely by arcane locks. Opened when someone who meets the right conditions (could be biometric, could be carrying a key charm) touches the door. Looks cool, but a knock spell will get you right inside… though the door could also have an alarm triggered if anyone opens the door without properly unlocking it.
  • A serious door could be more formal. Take a Kundarak Manticore lock. There’s a Manticore bust by the door. You need to place your hand on the bust and speak the keyword; it check both biometrics (say, Kundarak dwarf) and the phrase. If you fail to meet either condition it triggers the glyph of warding. Meanwhile, the door has four mundane locks and an arcane lock. Take that, knock spell. If I was having a rogue disarm it, I’d give them a chance at a high DC to disarm the entire system at once — or they could work on each system and lock separately, but it would take a lot of time and the risk of the alarm or glyph reactivating if they take too long.
The manticore is simply one example of a fancier system. A magic mouth could demand the password. An emplaced illusion could appear, threatening intruders with consequences. But critically, you’re looking at combinations of GoW, arcane lock, alarm, and mundane locks.
In a large city, you’re also going to have an option of a Kundarak alarm system. When the alarm on the door is triggered, you’re alerted but it also triggers an alert at a Kundarak enclave, who will dispatch a Deneith squad to respond to the intrusion.
Now given all this: I hold to the 3.5 approach under which a trained rogue has the ability to attempt to bypass magical wards and locks. Given that, I agree with the secondary aspect of the original post. In the Thorn of Breland books, Thorn’s lockpicking tools include lengths of mithral wire, vials of Mabar-infused water, divinatory powders, and other tools that are specifically tied to detecting and disarming mystical systems as well as tools for picking a mundane lock.

My players are on track to break into a lesser Kundarak vault in Korranberg, Sharn. Aside from your standard locks and wards and the Silver Guard, what are some quick hits of other challenges they could conceivably face? 
Well, as noted above there’s going to be various arcane systems that can be easily bypassed if they have the right things — passwords, keycharms, someone who meets the biometric restrictions (“Kundarak dwarf”, probably). There will certainly be alarm spells, and likely a nonlethal glyph of warding (Say, a 9d8 sleep spell tied to an alarm). What else?
  • An iron defender is a nice guardian who doesn’t require food or regular care, who will react aggressively if anyone enters without someone it recognizes.
  • Alternatively, you can have a living creature on guard; Kundarak likes their manticores.
  • Consider an illusion that conceals a critical part of the chamber… or the simpler, mundane secret door. Another option would be a particular object or safety deposit box tied to another glyph of warding effect; the staff know you never touch this thing.
  • When an inner alarm is triggered, it restores and reactivates the arcane lock on the outer door – potentially trapping troublemakers in the vault, if they’ve expended their resources.
  • Following principles of prestidigitation and arcane mark, I think it would be relatively simple for Cannith and Kundarak to come up with something similar to a paint bomb — something that would mystically mark people with an indelible marker. Can they find some way to dispel the marker before they’re caught? This presents a different challenge depending if the marker is visible to everyone and everyone knows the significant (you’re running around covered in purple) or if it’s invisible except to Kundarak trackers.

That’s all I’ve got for now, but hopefully it gives you some ideas. Post your own thoughts below!

Q&A: Player Races, Goblins and Overlords

I’ve collected a lot of questions from my Patreon supporters over the last few months — some related to Eberron, some to Phoenix: Dawn CommandIllimat, or other things. I’ll be working through the list as time permits. Here’s the first installment.

I’d love to see a master list of races you would include in a 5E Eberron campaign.

As a rule, limit the number of races in my campaign. I don’t want Sharn to look like Mos Eisley; I prefer to work with fewer races and to have more room to really delve into their roles in the world and their relationships than to cram as many races into the world as possible. As a result, in my Eberron the Five Nations tend to include the standard Humans, Elves, Halflings, Dwarves, and Gnomes; Shifters, Changelings, Warforged, Kalashtar, Orcs and Goblins; and the various hybrid races, such as Half-Orcs and the Khoravar. On top of this you have the monstrous races (not all of which are available as PCs) that have a place in the world depending where you are… Ogres, Trolls, Minotaurs, Gnolls, Harpies, MedusasLizardfolk, Kobolds, Troglodytes, Dragonborn, SahuaginEladrin are optional if I’m going to work in the Feyspiresand Drow are an option if we’re dealing with Xen’drik.

I’m sure I’ve forgotten a few. Now right there we’ve got 26 sentient races — 28 once you add in the different Goblin subspecies — and that’s not even touching the options for subcultures and subraces. For me, that’s enough; left entirely on my own I’m not going to add in Tieflings (for example), because I just don’t need more races. On the other hand, if a player comes to me and wants to play a Tiefling or an Aasimar or a Kenku and has an interesting story in mind, I’ll generally embrace that story — as I’ve discussed in this post. So I can’t give you a true master list, because I CAN include anything, and generally I WILL if there’s a compelling story to be told and not just “I want this particular special ability.” And in the case of wanting that racial ability, I’d look at whether it could be reskinned to an existing race — such as the time I played a character that was mechanically a Deva, but in the story was a human from Cyre possessed by spirits of people who died in the Mourning.

And to be clear: this is a list of what I will use, not what’s out there in canon. Canon sources add Tieflings, Skulks, Aasimar, Eneko, Xephs, Eladrin, Yuan-Ti, and goodness knows how many more… because again, Eberron is designed to have room for almost anything. But that list in the first paragraph is what *I* will generally use when I’m creating a cast of characters for an adventure.

I don’t remember Canon sources speaking of kobolds and troglodytes, may you help me?

Kobolds appear in a number of places. This Dragonshard article is the primary canon source, but they appear in asides in many sourcebooks. Kethelrax the Cunning is a kobold warlord in Darguun, while Hassalac Chaar is the most powerful spellcaster in Stormreach. Troglodytes are covered in far less detail, but are mentioned as being present in Q’barra in the 4E Eberron Campaign Guide, and I worked this into the articles I wrote about Q’barra for Dragon.

It appears that in Eberron, Goblin is the name for goblins, hobgoblins and bugbears? 

The Common tongue does have this semantic issue. When using it, I use Goblin to refer to the language or overall species, and goblin for the subsecies. This problem is solved if you use the Goblin language, in which the overall species are the Dar, and the subspecies are golin’dar (goblin), ghaal’dar (hobgoblin) and guul’dar (bugbear).

In 5E would those three be a subraces of goblin rather than listed separately?

If the question is whether I’d mechanically represent “Goblin” as a primary race and have bugbear, hobgoblin and goblin be subraces of that race, no I wouldn’t. There’s significant differences both physically and psychologically and I believe that each of these subspecies deserves it’s own race entry. In fact, since tend to use 5E’s subraces as a form of individual expression and optimization as opposed to true biological divisions (an approach I discuss here) I’d conceivably include subraces FOR each of the Dar.

Does the Church of the Silver Flame have any presence in Darguun?

I don’t believe it’s ever been mentioned in canon. In my Eberron, the Dar are inherently rational and have difficulty accepting things on faith — something I call out in this article. This is stronger with the Dhakaani, which is why Dhakaan is presented as an agnostic civilization that lacks divine magic. It’s something that was likely weakened along with the eusocial bond, and thus you do have goblins pursuing religions after Dhakaan, but I still maintain that it’s not something that has either the width or depth of faith in the Five Nations. So this is why you have the Ghaash’kala among the orcs and no equivalent among the Dar: the Goblin psyche just doesn’t lend itself towards it. And personally, I think you’d need something like the Ghaash’kala. The Church of the Silver Flame as it exists in the Five Nations is based around the sacrifice of a human to save a human nation; I don’t see the concept as being especially appealing to creatures still seen as monsters by many humans, and the CotSF is a militant enough force that I don’t think people looking to establish a local church would be welcomed with open arms in Rhukaan Draal.

Now, if you want to START something — to have a Dar PC (or NPC) who hears the Flame and seeks to start a movement, becoming a new Voice of the Flame — that seems like an excellent thing to drive a campaign. And you could certainly have a friar in Darguun trying to pave the way for something. The fact that it doesn’t exist in canon simply means that it’s a chance for it to be the unique story of one of your characters. But I do think it would be a challenging path to walk.

Worshipping the Silver Flame still requires faith, which the Dar find difficult, but would it be easier for them to have faith in something that can be shown to be real?

Not really, no. Channeling divine magic is about more than simply believing that the power source exists. Note that in Eberron, most priests aren’t divine spellcasters. Those priests believe in their faith, but even they can’t truly touch the divine itself. I talk about transcendental faith in this post and about the question of divine purpose in this one. The net is that it’s more than just believing in a thing. It’s not rational. It’s about having an absolute faith both in the force; in its divine purpose; and that you yourself are a part of that, that YOU have a higher purpose and role to play. The typical Dar can believe that the Silver Flame exists. As established in canon, some among the Ghaal’dar and the Marguul DO worship variants of the Sovereign Host or Dark Six. And yet when it comes down to the ultimate surrender of self — the belief that there is a purpose to the universe and that you and this force are part of it — something in the subconscious of the Dar freezes up. To me, the logical explanation would be that it’s tied to the eusocial bond, which essentially defined a Dar’s place in the universe. Biologically, they weren’t designed to question their place in the universe; they fundamentally knew it. As such, their brains simply aren’t wired for the sort of abstract and transcendental faith that produces divine magic. On the other hand, they have a natural bent towards organization and discipline. Orcs on the other hand are passionate and primal and have a far easier time embracing abstract ideas… in small groups. But this also leads to an independent nature that makes it difficult for them to form large rigid hierarchies. Which is why even though the Ghaash’kala have been around far longer than the Church of the Silver Flame, they are far fewer in number and don’t have anywhere near the degree of hierarchy or ritual that the CotSF has developed.

Of course, none of this should stop YOU from having a Dar character or NPC who has found that transcendental faith. It’s simply an explanation for why the Dar as a whole have few divine casters and few prominent religious institutions.

How much is known, in general, about the demonic overlords? Is it generally accepted fact that the world was once ruled by demons and they’re imprisoned underground or is that considered a fairytale to frighten children or is it something only the most learned of scholars would know?
The Overlords are part of the core creed of the Church of the Silver Flame. The modern Church was founded because of the partial escape of an Overlord, which wreaked havoc on Thrane; so the people of Thrane, at least, take the threat quite seriously and are certain it’s based in fact. Any follower of the Silver Flame will know of the Shadow in the Flame and be aware of the fact that there are many other Overlords bound by the Flame, even if they don’t know deep details about them.
Meanwhile, I’m sure the Sovereign Host has myths about how the Sovereigns fought and defeated demons in the dawn of time. Bear in mind that there were dragons who had names and attributes similar to the Sovereigns; some believe they were the Sovereigns, but it’s just as simple to say that they were avatars for the true Sovereigns. Either way, we’ve already established that their deeds are the basis for myths, and hence you’d definitely have myths of their battles with demons (likely omitting the important role of the Silver Flame). And those myths could certainly include variations of their names and attributes. In Dragons of Eberron we present a battle between Dularahnak and Katashka the Gatekeeper, and there could easily be a related myth about a battle between Dol Arrah and the Lord of Death (though most versions of this might identify Katashka as the Keeper of the Dark Six).
So I think that followers of the Silver Flame consider the Overlords to be fact, and followers of the Sovereigns know them from myth – and the question is whether they believe the myths or just think of them as stories. Either way: common knowledge may include vague and possibly inaccurate details as you’d get from myths, but only a scholar is going to reliably know names and attributes of specific Overlords.

Did the Dreambreaker intend to betray Halas Tarkanan during the War of the Mark?

That’s a pretty deep cut. The Dreambreaker is one of the aberrant commanders from the War of the Mark. He first appeared in the module The Delirium Stone, and was further described in places like this Dragonmark.

In my opinion, the Dreambreaker was a true champion and loyal to the cause. However, he was also insane. Along with the Lady of the Plague, the Dreambreaker represents the fact that aberrant marks often come with a terrible price. The Lady of the Plague destroyed her village before she mastered her mark, and had to exercise constant control to keep from harming the people around her. The Dreambreaker had the power to cause madness… but this also affected his mind. The Delirium Stone gives this advice to the DM playing the Dreambreaker: “He sees visions no one else can see, and he believes the true battle is with the gods, with time and space, and that the people around him are merely manifestations of patterns. When playing the Dreambreaker, always act as if you know terrible things others can’t imagine. Take care of the Aberrants in your charge – but treat them as children, because that’s what they are to you.”

So the Dreambreaker wouldn’t intentionally betray Halas… but he’s not entirely predictable.

Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters! Share your thoughts on these or other questions below!

Dragonmarks: Planar Q&A

I’m working on a post about Phoenix for next week, but today I’m going to address a few more questions about the planes of Eberron. Like much about the planes, most of these topics have no answers in canon material, so what you’re dealing with are my current thoughts and opinions, and NOT canon.

Did the effects of the Mournland bleed into other planes where Cyran manifests zones existed?

In Dragon #408 I said “The devastation of the Mourning had repercussions across the planes. Perhaps the grievous wound to Eberron was felt across her creations.” That article presents Baator as a demiplane where corrupted spirits are imprisoned and asserts that on the Day of Mourning the wards holding the prisoners faltered — so in this version of Eberron, the devils have only been in control of Baator for a few years. Given this, it’s logical to think that other planes could also have felt similar impacts. We haven’t suggested major transformations, but I think it’s interesting to explore pockets of the planes that have been transformed in unpredictable ways.

Is there any connection between Siberys and the Silver Flame? The latter seems too embedded in the material plane.

The Silver Flame is embedded in the material plane, as are the fiends that it holds at bay. The Silver Flame was created by the combined spiritual energy of the couatl — Eberron’s native celestials — in order to bind Eberron’s native fiends. In a way it can be seen as a parallel to the myth of Eberron and Khyber; Eberron couldn’t destroy Khyber, but she could bind her. It’s commonly asserted that just as Khyber is the source of Eberron’s fiends, Siberys was the source of its celestials, so in that way the Silver Flame IS tied to Siberys. This is also something of an explanation for why the celestials of Eberron aren’t as powerful as the Overlords; after all, Khyber killed Siberys, so the balance between celestial and fiend started off poorly.

There’s nothing strange about having a divine power source based in the material plane. The demons it binds are based in the material and the champions it empowers are in the material. The Undying Court is another divine force based entirely in the material.

How do celestials relate to the Sovereigns? Do the celestials associated to the Sovereigns believe in them like the mortal races do? Are they formed from the faith of the mortals? Are there any celestials that don’t believe in any deities other than the Progenitors?

Looking at the last three questions, the answer is “yes.” When a cleric uses planar ally an outsider answers the call. There’s three possible reasons ways this could happen.

  • The ally is manifested on the spot from the energy of the divine power source. Once its job is done it will be absorbed back into the source. This is particularly logical for the Silver Flame, which as described above has no roots in the outer planes. Given that, if I DID have an angel respond to a Silver Flame caster’s spells, I might use angel stats but I’d likely give it couatl features — rainbow wings, feathers instead of hair, etc. Essentially, a celestial of this sort is a pure embodiment of the faith and should have whatever trappings are appropriate for that.
  • The ally is an existing immortal who is devoted to the faith. In Fourth Edition material we suggest that there are angels (which in 4E is a broader class of celestial than in previous editions) who are devoted to the Sovereigns. The account is essentially that the Sovereigns at one point were present in the planes before ascending to a higher level of existence (which lines up with the Draconic Thir view of the Sovereigns). The angels have no direct line of communication with the Sovereigns, but have absolute faith that the Sovereigns exist and are part of the machinery of reality, and that my carrying out their functions the angels are following the plans of the Sovereigns. This is also in line with the idea of Radiant Idols — who are essentially angels who have become jealous of the worship the absent Sovereigns receive and want such worship themselves.  
  • But you could just as easily say that the angel in question doesn’t believe in the faith and that this doesn’t matter. When a cleric of Dol Arrah calls for a planar ally, they might get an angel from Irian who is devoted to protecting life and inspiring hope. Or they might get an archon from Shavarath who embodies combat fought for a just cause. Neither of these celestials cares exactly what the mortal believes; they are responding to the justice of the cause. It’s clear that this is aligned with their purpose… and that’s all that matters.

If I ever get to write a sourcebook on the planes, I’ll have to decide which of those last two answers I’ll run with. But both are plausible.

Can spells call on planar allies from sources like the Path of Light or the Becoming God that haven’t become Sovereign or Planar dominating yet?

Sure: either the first or third options I share above apply to this situation. The Path of Light is divine power source. Therefore the planar ally could be manifested on the spur of the moment from that source. It doesn’t have a truly independent identity and existence; it comes into being to fulfil the needs of the caster and vanishes once it’s done. If you’ve seen Rick & Morty, it’s a Mister Meeseeks. The third option is the idea that you’re just drawing an outsider who supports what you’re trying to do, even if they don’t share your faith.

Where do the fiendish/devil/demons conjured by evil clerics come from? Can you do some examples as you did for celestial creatures?

All the premises given for divine casters summoning celestials apply to fiends as well. They’re either formed directly from the divine power source, immortals devoted to the force in question, or immortals who approve of the general principle of the call. Mabaran fiends are generally happy for an opportunity to cause loss or crush hopes. Demons of Shavarath enjoy savage bloodshed.

We know of Mabar and Irian crystals, and dusk and dawnshards have been mentioned, are there other planar shards or crystals?

Certainly. There are a host of minerals and vegetation infused with planar energies or shaped by exposure to those energies, and this is true of every plane. Such things are most typically found in manifest zones, where they are shaped by long-term exposure to planar energies. In the case of plants, they usually won’t grow outside such zones… or they’ll grow, but will lack their remarkable properties. This is why covadish leaves (ECS 91) are only found in Aerenal; they are specifically found in certain manifest zones tied to Mabar, which are most common in Aerenal.

So: there are many different forms of planetouched minerals and plants. Many of these serve as components for spells and the creation of magic items; we’ve just never called these things out. For example, in the Thorn of Breland books Thorn uses Mabaran nightwater when disarming mystical wards. In my opinion, this wasn’t a special magic item that was giving her extra bonuses; it’s that nightwater is part of a rogue’s basic toolkit when dealing with magical traps. Likewise, while the core PHB might suggest that a fireball requires sulpher or guano as a component, in Eberron wizards might instead use a pinch of Fernian firedust. This is no more difficult to acquire than sulfur would be in another setting; it’s simply that it’s a resource unique to the world.

When it becomes possible to create new Eberron material, I’d love to put together a more substantial list of such things — both those background items like nightwater and firedust and things that are rarer and have more dramatic uses.

Do dragonshards operate differently on other planes?

We’ve never suggested that they behave in unusual ways when taken to other planes, and at least in the novels we have planar travelers who don’t experience any unusual behavior with dragonshards or dragonmarks. 

Eberron has various Ages in its history, are there any planar milestones tracked on other planes?

Sure, but I can’t give you specific examples until there’s an opportunity to develop the planes in more detail. The Turning of the Age in Dal Quor is an example of this established in canon. Perhaps Fernia has a similar cycle — it’s currently mildly evil-aligned and thus dominated by the malevolent aspects of fire, but perhaps at other times it’s been mildly good-aligned and more positive. The Endless Night has cycles of absorption and assimilation. I have thoughts about how milestones might unfold in Shavarath — but it’s something that will have to wait for a longer article. 

I’d love to read about how the gith survive on Kythri. With how chaotic it is, how do permanent establishments exist?

First of all, I think Kythri is more complex than the previous description gives it credit for. Its layers are symbols of chaos, change and uncertainty; that doesn’t necessarily mean that the entire plane is literally formless, churning chaos. The Githzerai might have drifting monastaries that ARE constantly changing and evolving — but they never stop being monastaries, and the change occurs over hours or days, not seconds. The Githzerai are comfortable with this constant change; like a zen garden, they meditate on the shifting form and how it reflects reality. It may well be that it’s the mental discipline of the Githzerai that imposes this relative stability; if the monks were to abandon their monastary (or if they were killed) it would dissolve into the greater chaos.

If you have questions or thoughts about the planes, post them below! And thanks as always to the Patreon supporters who keep the blog going.

Dragonmarks: Aasimar

Recently I polled my Patreon backers for questions related to the Planes of Eberron. There’s still a lot of questions I’d like to address, so I’m going to keep talking about the planes for the rest of the month; I’ll hold a poll on Patreon soon to determine next month’s topic.

Have you done any thinking on the role of aasimar in the setting? I’d love an example or two of uniquely Eberron takes on them.

First of all, you might want to check my previous posts on using exotic races and tieflings, since many of the concepts overlap. I haven’t personally used aasimar in Eberron in the past. The Kalashtar already fill the role of “race touched by noble celestial force” and they have a well-established place in the setting; beyond that, we also already have the shulassakar as a race of divine champions touched by the Silver Flame.

Of course, aasimars don’t have to be an entire race. They can easily be individuals shaped by exposure to divine forces… or literally planetouched, altered by the energies of one of the planes. Here’s a few quick takes.

SHULASSAKAR

Do you want to be a member of a hidden race touched by divine power and devoted to fighting the forces of darkness? Then the shulassakar might be right for you. As described in this Dragonshard, the ancestors of the shulassakar were human; but after generations of serving the Silver Flame and the couatl, they have evolved into something new. They are described as being similar to yuan-ti, but as specifically having couatl traits instead of general serpent traits. Like the yuan-ti, the degree of this mutation varies. Transcendent shulassakar are equivalent to yuan-ti abominations. Flametouched shulassakar are similar to the malisons of 5E. And Flamesworn shulassakar are much like yuan-ti purebloods… nearly human, with just a few twists that reveal their true heritage and connection to the Silver Flame.

In playing an aasimar in 5E Eberron, one of the simplest options is to be a Flamesworn shulassakar. Your celestial guide is the spirit of a couatl, and your radiant racial powers reflect your connection both to the couatl and the Silver Flame. If you choose the Protector subrace, the wings you manifest are the rainbow-feathered wings of a couatl. As a Scourge you unleash the radiant power of the Silver Flame. The other racial features are all sound enough; as a Flamesworn shulassakar you don’t have sufficient serpentine traits to require mechanical representation. Physically you should appear to be generally human, but you could have a few unusual cosmetic details to make life interesting. You could have a mane of rainbow feathers instead of hair. Less dramatically, you could have serpentine eyes… and your irises might swirl in a rainbow of colors. You could have patches of iridescent scales. But mechanically you can use the features of the aasimar.

In playing a shulassakar aasimar, one question is your connection to others of your race. The shulassakar are a true-breeding race, devoted to fighting darkness and demons. They are few in number and generally work from the shadows. Have you been given a particular mission by a leader of your people? Or perhaps your cell was wiped out by the Lords of Dust, leaving you the only survivor? You could have a concrete mission you’re trying to accomplish, or you could be relying on your couatl mentor to guide you towards your destiny.

THE MIRON GAMBIT

When Bel Shalor threatened Thrane, a couatl contacted Tira Miron and guided her on the path to bind the demon. This was more than the typical tie between a cleric or paladin and their divine power source; Tira received direct guidance and power from a spiritual emissary of the Silver Flame. What does that look like if it happens today? Take a human; add the ability to communicate with an emissary of a divine force; say that this connection gives them an infusion of radiant energy and the ability to manifest this power; and you have an aasimar. The point is that this isn’t genetic; this is about destiny and faith. You weren’t born an aasimar; you were chosen to become one. Most likely you appear entirely human except when you use your radiant racial abilities; at these times you might be surrounded by a halo or similar dramatic effects. Why were you chosen? What is your mission? What is your spiritual guide?

The concept here is that an aasimar is someone that has a direct connection to a celestial and a mission from one of the primary faiths of Eberron. The Silver Flame is easy; you manifest radiant fire. If you’re tied to the Sovereign Host, the manifestation of your abilities might be reflected by the Sovereign you’re tied to. If you’re connected to Arawai, your radiant power might be a verdant green, and plants might flower when you touch them. If you’re tied to Olladra, you might have minor manifestations of good fortune — if you walk through a casino, the slot machines hit jackpots. The radiant manifestations of an aasimar tied to the Blood of Vol might be blood-red flames.

The critical question is what your celestial guide is like. If you want to have a mentor relationship with your guide — if it’s someone that you can TALK to — then it shouldn’t be a Sovereign or the Flame; instead it should be a celestial devoted to that force. So if you’re tied to Arawai, you don’t talk to HER; instead you have an angel from Irian who guides you in Olladra’s name. As an aasimar tied to the Silver Flame, you’re guided by a couatl (just like Tira Miron was). The strangest idea is that of the aasimar of the Blood of Vol, whose spiritual guide could be their own divine spark — the piece of divinity that exists within them and knows what they could become. Alternately you could have the aasimar receive visions or pronouncements that might come directly from a Sovereign. But following the general principle of Eberron that the divine is mysterious, you shouldn’t be able to just chat with a Sovereign; they would communicate in visions and intuition.

PLANETOUCHED AASIMARS

Aasimar are often described as “planetouched.” In Eberron, that’s an easy thing to be. If you want aasimar to be a thing that exists within the world in significant numbers, an easy option is to say that an aasimar is the result of a child being conceived in a powerful manifest zone or during a coterminous period tied to a generally positively aligned plane. A few obvious options are Irian, Syrania, Shavarath or Fernia.

 

  • Irian is the plane of light and life, and the easiest option for the classic Aasimar. You might have luminous eyes and a vibrant, healthy glow. Your celestial mentor would encourage you to fight the forces of darkness and to give hope to the hopeless.
  • If you’re tied to Shavarath, you have a connection to the Archons that embody just conflict. You should naturally be aggressive, quick to fight for any just cause and quick to assume that conflict can be the best response to a problem… though equally bound by principles of honor and chivalry. Your hair or even skin might be the color of steel, and you are most comfortable with a weapon in your hand.
  • Syrania is the plane of peace and contemplation. As a Syranian aasimar you would be driven to be a mediator, to settle disputes and bring people together. Given Syrania’s aerial aspect, the Protector aasimar is the logical path for a Syranian aasimar. Alternately, your celestial guide could be the divine spark of an Angel banished from Syrania after becoming a Radiant Idol; the angel has fallen, but the spark of its original nobility is with you… and perhaps it’s your destiny to find a way to reunite that spark with the Idol and redeem the fallen angel.
  • Fernia is a slightly odd choice, but noble spirits of Fernia embody the positive aspects of fire: the light that keeps shadows at bay and holds off the killing cold. The Scourge aasimar is the logical choice for Fernia; I might further replace any “necrotic” racial abilities with “Fire”, and the Scourge ability might inflict fire damage instead of radiant. Note that this is different from a Genasi because you’re not about elemental fire; you are about the idea of fire as a positive force in the world. As a Fernian aasimar, you might have a mane of cold fire instead of hair, or burning eyes.

 

The critical question with planetouched aasimar is how many of them exist? If your Fernian aasimar with the burning hair walks into a bar, does anyone know what you are? And of those who do, are you considered to be blessed, or are you a freak? Sharn is in a Syranian manifest zone and since it’s not full of aasimar, presumably it takes more than proximity alone to produce one… unless you decide that your Sharn IS full of aasimar, in which case people are probably fairly familiar with them!

OFF THE WALL

As long as we’re considering crazy ideas…

  • You’re an experiment by House Vadalis. You HAVE a connection to the Silver Flame, but it’s artificially engineered, not driven by faith. You escaped from the house and they’re hunting you — if they can isolate your connection, they can harness the power of the Flame for the Twelve.
  • Same idea, but it’s the Lords of Dust who are behind it. The divine power that’s tied to you is the prison of a specific Overlord; the stronger you grow, the weaker his bonds become.
  • You’re one of nine aasimar born at the same time. Each one of you hears the voice of a Sovereign guiding you. As you gain power, you could BECOME an avatar of that Sovereign. Is this a natural process, something that happens every so often? Or has this been engineered by a Daelkyr or by the Blood of Vol — incarnating the Sovereigns so something can be done to them?

If I was a player and interested in something like this, I’d probably just tell the DM to surprise me. Anyhow, hopefully this has given you some ideas to play with. Share your questions and thoughts below! And thanks again to my Patreon supporters.

Planes of Hope, Peace and Order

All of the Planes of Eberron have stories to tell and things to offer a campaign. Unfortunately, we never had time to explore them in depth. Until Eberron is unlocked for 5E, there’s a limit to what I can do. Yesterday I posted a long article about the Endless Night, but even that only scratches the surface. I’d love to delve deeper into the denizens of the Night and schemes that could drive adventures, and to develop unique creatures or treasures that could be found there. Hopefully this will be possible in the future. 

Some planes have generated more requests than others. In particular, Daanvi, Irian, and Syrania have all come up. Some people have said they don’t know what to do with them, that they’re too benevolent or too abstract, or simply that they have no touchstones to base them on. I don’t have the time to explore all of these with the same focus as the Endless Night article. But here’s some quick takes that may inspire ideas. As always, bear in mind that this information is not canon for Eberron and could contradict canon Eberron sources; this is what I’d do in my own campaign.

THE ETERNAL DAWN

Yesterday I explored the Endless Night. The Eternal Dawn is its opposite in all ways. The Dawn embodies both life and hope. It’s the dawn that inevitably overcomes the darkness, the spring that will eventually triumph over even the coldest winter. It is the wellspring of positive energy, which is the foundation of light, life and love.

The Eternal Dawn is also filled with layers, but its layers are about beginnings. These include fertile realms untouched by cultivating tools, but also budding towns or new villages, or the capital of an empire in its first days of glory. So: how does such a capital differ from a fortress in the Battleground? How is a virgin woodland any different from something you’d find in the Twilight Forest? The issue is the theme, which is always felt throughout the plane. In the Battleground, you will never escape the presence of war and strife. There are always archons drilling for battle, the scent of blood and smoke in the air, constant preparation for the next struggle. By contrast, the Amaranthine City in the Eternal Dawn is suffused by a sense of optimism and opportunity. There may be guards, but you won’t see armies; there may be fortifications, but they don’t feel worn and they don’t dominate things. The landscapes of the Twilight Forest emphasize the primordial power of nature; in the Eternal Dawn the focus is simply on vibrance and fertility. And yes, the Amaranthine City at the heart of the Dawn shares its name with the city at the core of the Endless Night.

It is believed that whenever the Endless Night seizes a fragment of reality, a new seed appears in the Eternal Dawn – a realm that grows as its counterpart in the Night is consumed, ultimately flowing away from the Dawn to fill the vacant space and restore the balance of energy in the wounded plane.

The Eternal Dawn is a constant source of hope and positive energy. Its celestials and Lumi rarely intrude directly on other planes, because they don’t have to; just as the Gardeners of the Endless Night cultivate despair without ever leaving their plane, the powers of the Dawn promote hope from beyond. With that said, the celestials of the Eternal Dawn are those most likely to help mortals. In Eberron, the celestials of Irian are the spirits that commonly respond to planar ally and similar mystic requests from divine casters tied to the Sovereign Host. Some of these celestials are devoted to the Sovereigns; others are simply happy to answer the call of someone in need. (In my opinion, the Silver Flame usually generates temporary celestials out of the raw energy of the Flame… but there are certainly spirits in Irian who would be glad to support Templars facing forces of darkness.)

Here’s a few other ways the Eternal Dawn could touch a campaign.

  • While the Dawn rarely intervenes, occasionally one or more Lumi will venture to the material to strike darkness directly. The PCs could encounter a group of vigilantes backed by Lumi. A Lumi could appear and announce that it’s here to help the PCs with the darkness that has targeted them… which is a way for a group to discover that they’ve been targeted by darkness. Do they embrace the Lumi and follow its lead? Or do they think the celestial is crazy?
  • A PC injured by dark magic has a wound that seemingly will never heal. But the Waters of Life in the Amaranthine City can cure any ill; they may be the only hope for the victim.
  • There is a manifest zone tied to the Eternal Dawn between two villages on a national border, and both villages lay claim to this region (which amplifies fertility of both plants and animals). This feud is on the verge of breaking into open conflict… can the PCs resolve the situation?
  • A paladin is presented with a weapon, shield or tool that holds the essence of a celestial from the Dawn. Can they live up to the expectations of the spirit?
  • A planar scholar believes that the power of Irian could restore the Mournland. Will the PCs travel to the Amaranthine City and implore the Dawn Emperor for aid? Assuming the Emperor has the power to direct the restorative powers of the Dawn to this purpose, what will he require?

THE AZURE SKY

Crystal spires floating in blue sky. Farms are spread across soft banks of clouds. It is breathtaking, serene, and above all, peaceful. The Azure Sky is the realm of peace and of those things that flourish in peaceful times, such as abstract knowledge and commerce.

It is virtually impossible to conceive an aggressive thought while in this plane. For this reason, it has become a crossroads for planar travelers, both immortal and otherwise. The Immeasurable Market hosts artisans and merchants from across realities. While the Market includes beings from many planes, most of the floating towers of the Azure Sky are home only to angels engaged in serene contemplation. Some of these angels are scholars studying a particular topic. Others are philosophers who contemplate a particular concept. Others simply embody an idea. This can overlap with other planes in strange ways. You could have an angel of Hope in the Azure Sky, but this is very different from a celestial from the Eternal Dawn. The angel in the Azure Sky doesn’t INNATELY embody hope; rather it is about the idea of someone seeking to embrace and understand hope… and beyond that, it is the only angel in the plane who has this role. You can even have an angel who studies the arts of war; but it does so in an abstract and peaceful way, as opposed to the active aggression of an Archon of the Battlefield.  

As a rule the Azure Sky doesn’t meddle in the affairs of other realms. But here’s a few ideas.

  • An angel could venture into the material plane seeking to prove a thesis related to its field of study. This could require interaction with (or manipulation of) player characters. Alternately, the angel could intend to be present only as an observer but instead be drawn into a conflict.
  • An unusual merchant might have a back door that opens onto the Immeasurable Market, where they trade mundane things as exotic curiosities.
  • A traveling merchant selling goods from the Immeasurable Market could cause chaos, innocently or intentionally.
  • PCs could require specific knowledge known only to an angelic scholar or goods only available in the Immeasurable Market. Or perhaps they are pursuing a fugitive who has managed to flee to the Azure Sky… how do you capture this villain in a realm where conflict is impossible?

THE PERFECT ORDER

As with many other planes, the Perfect Order has levels and layers that embody different aspects of the ideas of Law and Order, Discipline and Civilization. Unlike the other planes, in the Perfect Order these layers are carefully laid out and connected by a clear and simple system of portals — of course, you have to follow the proper protocols and be authorized to USE those portals. There are districts where Formians endlessly toil over perfectly maintained fields. There’s an endless series of courts where Inevitable tribunals judge the actions of mortals, chronicling every crime every committed; in some instances judgement is passed instantly, where other cases can last a mortal lifetime. All laws, systems of government, and violations of these laws are recorded and filed away in the Infinite Archives, catalogued and managed by a seemingly endless hierarchy of modrons. There are districts that are prefect models of utopian societies… and districts where the law is a brutal and oppressive force. Order is powerful, but it’s not innately good; the Perfect Order thus embodies law as a force for justice as well as the crushing weight of an oppressive system.

This is a slight twist from the depiction of Daanvi in The Eberron Campaign Setting, which focuses on order purely as a dispassionate force for an abstractly general good. In my mind, the Perfect Order should be entirely as diverse as Shavarath, and with the same dichotomy: the nature of an outsider reflects whether it represents Order as a positive or negative force. Formians, Inevitables and Modrons are neutral, and they reflect the dispassionate imposition or law and order outside of judgement of good or evil. But then you have devils embodying the harsh imposition of order and the use of laws as a tool of oppression – with celestials embodying the noble aspects of law and order, the quest for justice and for a utopian society. In many cases an entire district will follow a particular theme, but there are surely districts where devils debate archons before impassive inevitable arbiters, engaging in cases that could last for centuries. I’d love to explore this in more depth — exactly what sorts of fiends and celestials would fill these roles? What are some specific examples of an oppressive district? — but it will have to wait until another time.

Here’s a few thoughts about ways to use the Perfect Order in a campaign.

  • It’s unusual for an inevitable to interfere with the material world. But there are oaths that can be sworn — mystical vows that enforce a bargain with the power of Daanvi. It’s no trivial thing to enact such a pact, but should it be broken the oathbreaker will be hounded by kolyaruts and other inevitable forces.
  • The Infinite Archive records all laws and transgressions since the dawn of time. Perhaps the PCs need to know the details of some ancient transgression… but can they work their way through the modron bureaucracy to get it?
  • The tribunals of Daanvi judge all crimes, but they don’t have the jurisdiction to punish crimes on the material plane. However, if a mortal comes forward and offers to serve justice against a heinous transgressor, the powers of Daanvi might provide tools to help this person enact a proper punishment. However, this would call the eye of Daanvi down onto this person and their allies, and place them under the jurisdiction of the Court… are they so sure they are without crimes of their own?
  • As with the Azure Sky, a fugitive could flee to the Perfect Order. The PCs need to apprehend this person quickly to prevent some sort of disaster. But when they get to the Perfect Order they discover that the villain is already on trial… but that this trial could last a decade. Can the PCs find a way to either extract their target or so speed up the justice of Daanvi?
  • Artifacts from the Perfect Order could have powerful effects with dangerous consequences. A stone could cause all creatures within a mile to always speak the truth. A scourge could purge all thoughts of rebellion from anyone struck with it. A crown could whisper advice to its wearer, guiding its bearer to rule a perfect kingdom – but is it just order, or cruel tyranny?
  • Whether by natural mishap or the actions of an enemy, PCs could suddenly find themselves in a brutally oppressive district in the Perfect Order. Can they survive and escape? Through their actions, could they even shift the balance of the district – replacing tyranny with justice?

QUESTIONS

If we wanted to place fiends on Irian, would it follow that fiends related to cancers and tumours (aka uncontrolled growth) would be appropriate?

Irian isn’t about the mechanical and scientific idea of life, which is really more tied to Lamannia. In a sense ALL diseases could be defined as being about life, as viruses simply seek to reproduce. More than anything, Irian is about positive energy and all that that embodies. It’s about life in opposition to death, creation versus destruction, hope versus despair – not the difficulties and complications that come with life. One quick thing to consider: Irian is the source of positive energy, which is the basis of all healing magic. In your Eberron, can cancer be cured with healing magic? If so, I see no reason why the concept of it would thrive in Irian. If not – which could be interesting – then maybe it would fit in Irian. But I generally see embodiments of disease being tied to Mabar (as things that decay and destroy) or Lamannia (as part of nature).

Of all the planes, Mabar and Irian have the strongest innate alignment towards “good” and “evil”, which is why I call our Irian as the source of most planar allies. Looking to Shavarath, Daanvi, even Fernia we generally look at the positive and negative aspects of the core concept. But Irian and Mabar ARE positive and negative. There’s not a lot of room for darkness in the Eternal Dawn.

Is there any connection or possible connections between warforgeds and inevitables?

I don’t see that being something we’d ever suggest in canon Eberron. While Inevitables look like constructs, they’re immortal outsiders — not living constructs like the warforged. And per canon sources, if anyone outsiders influenced the creation of the warforged it’s most likely to have been the pre-Dreaming Dark Quori (as hinted at in Secrets of Xen’drik and The Shattered Land). But if YOU want to play with the idea of the Inevitables inspiring or aiding the creation of the Warforged — and perhaps having the power to commandeer warforged bodies — it could be an interesting plotline.

What are the “eternal laws” that inevitables will enforce? Did somebody build them?

In my opinion, the Inevitables are immortal spirits that embody the idea of law and inevitable justice. They weren’t built, and they aren’t actually constructs in the same sense as warforged; they simply APPEAR to be constructs because that fits the concept of an utterly impartial agent of order.

I’ve suggested that the courts of Irian judge all mortal creatures — and my thought there is that they judge each creature according to the laws of its community. The Infinite Archive is a catalogue of all systems of law, and the tribunals of Daanvi impartially judge you based on YOUR laws. But that’s where they lack the jursidiction to enact sentences; they judge, but have no authority to punish. In my examples, I suggest that this is where a PC could potentially go to Daanvi and be a “process server” — but that in taking on this role, they’d better have a clean record. I could also see this as an excellent role for a paladin PC: they aren’t a paladin of a particular god, but rather acting as an enforcer for the justice of Daanvi.

As for when Inevitables will act directly, it’s up to you. In MY Eberron I don’t want Inevitables to be trivial or commonplace. I don’t want them to screw up my story (He just broke his word! Why don’t the inevitables show up to  punish him?) or to diminish the role of PCs. I want them to be exotic, frightening, and as a result RARE. So I’d say that Inevitables only act when they have jurisdiction… and they can only gain jursidiction when under the following circumstances.

  • When they are given jurisdiction by the target. As I suggest earlier, I think it should be possible to swear an oath that puts you under the eye of Daanvi. But this should be an actual magical ritual with expensive components, not something done trivially. A member of the Aurum could pull this out when demanding loyalty from PCs, but it’s not something you’re going to do with a common merchant.
  • The Inevitables could have jursidiction over actions taken in a manifest zone to Daanvi, or when Daanvi is coterminous with Eberron. So you may have the ancient oathstone where a tribe makes their vows (…and eternal justice will punish he who breaks his vow to the stones…) or a time when EVERYONE knows that you have to tread carefully when Daanvi is coterminous.

But as always in Eberron, what makes a good story?

So: how common are travelers in Syrania and Daanvi?

I think it’s very rare for extraplanar travelers to go to Daanvi. Among other things, anyone going to Daanvi is going to have to deal with all the various restrictions and regulations, with serious consequences if you transgress.

Syrania, on the other hand, is a place that is welcoming to planar travelers. You still may not have many travelers from Eberron, but there are certainly some; you might have a dragon from the Chamber consulting angelic scholars or a Night Hag browsing the Immeasurable Market. But I certainly think you have a mix of mortals and lesser immortals from other planes, along with a few powerful spirits. The question is WHY a powerful spirit would choose to leave its home plane. One point is that Syrania is a place of absolute peace; perhaps opposing generals in Shavarath might meet in Syrania as an absolute neutral ground, or a Thelanian wizard might share arcane notes and stories with a counterpart from Xoriat. All of these things would still be rare — but again, if that’s the story you want to tell, Syrania is a good place for it to play out.

Dragons have power for dimensional travel and are mortals. But it looks like they don’t do it very often even if it could be a great resource against demons. Why?

Powerful dragons are certainly potential planar travelers. But it’s not necessarily as great a resource as you might think. As a rule, planar travel is dangerous. You’re dealing with powerful beings driven by alien logic and odds are good you don’t understand their worldview. Very few of them are interesting in helping you, and those who are will need an excellent reason. On the whole, the archons of Shavarath don’t care about the dragons’ current squabble with some demons, because the war the archons are fighting themselves is more important and is, in their opinion, defining the balance of the entire universe. Essentially, by fighting their war the Archons believe they ARE already helping everyone on Eberron and they don’t have time for your petty, small-minded mortal problems: they’ve got to get back to the war. A Syranian scholar may be willing to take some time to talk to you, but again, their contemplation is more important than your mortal problems — and if you expect to get much of their time, you’d better have something interesting to offer them.

But in short: dragons MAY be engaging in dimensional travel. A Chamber agent might have access to a sword forged in the Eternal Dawn or a treasure from the Immeasurable Market. We don’t know about it because we know next to nothing about what dragons are doing in their struggle against the Lords of Dust. But they aren’t bringing in hordes of allies from Shavarath (or other planes) because the immortals aren’t interested. I’ll talk more about the motivations of celestials tomorrow.

Would you have any idea about the kind of things a host of angels from the Azure Sky would like to keep secure, that may kindle envy from an outsider (be it a NPC or, for that matter, PC in a different context)?

Given the theme of commerce, it could literally be anything, because it could have come from another plane. But looking to something with a concrete tie to the plane…

  • A gemstone that is believed to hold an entire reality within it. The gem serves as a source of power for divine spells, as the attuned bearer can draw on the devotion of an entire world.
  • A crystal that is the essence of an angel, who engaged in contemplation so deep that they condensed into this form; it’s unknown if they will one day reform, and if so what revelations they will bear.
  • A cloud seed. If activated, it will extrude an island-sized mass of solid (but floating) cloud-matter that can serve as a foundation for buildings. This region is also treated as a manifest zone to Syrania; this could have the same properties as the Sharn zone, or it could have an additional enforced peace effect.
  • A coin with which you can purchase anything. Anything that can be bought can be purchased with this coin; its irresistible magic compels the owner to make the trade. In the process this means you’re giving them the coin, so you only get to use it once. But you can buy anything that can be bought with it.
  • A book scribed by a since-fallen angel that is the absolute source of knowledge on something. A particular Overlord or type of demon. An epic spell that could have catastrophic effects if cast. Some secret lore about one of the planes. If you want to take things a step farther, the angel could have “fallen” into Xoriat; this book holds some secret about the nature of reality so fundamentally destabilizing that realizing it shifted them into being a spirit of madness.

I wish that I had more time to explore these things, and I hope that someday I will. Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments. And as always, thanks to everyone who’s supporting the site on Patreon; the more support we have, the more I can do with it in the future.

The Endless Night

And on the pedestal these words appear: ‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’ Nothing beside remains. Round the decay of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare the lone and level sands stretch far away.

Percy Shelley, “Ozymandias

A sea of liquid shadows laps against black sands and basalt cliffs. A skull lies half-buried in the sand, empty sockets gazing into the roiling mist. The bone isn’t sun-bleached, for there is no sun here; only a faint glimmer from the deep violet moon that hangs in the sky. If you’re playing in Eberron, this is the plane of Mabar. If you’re playing Phoenix: Dawn Command it could be a realm of the Fallen in the deep Dusk. For now, set aside specific system and setting and consider the Endless Night.

Those who know little of what lies beyond common reality often assume that the Endless Night is the plane of “darkness” — that this physical trait is its defining concept. Though the plane is shrouded in shadows, this eternal gloom is just a symptom of the true nature of this place. Even the brightest day will eventually end in darkness, and the Endless Night embodies this idea. It is the shadow that surrounds every island of light, patiently waiting to consume it. This isn’t the place where the souls of the living go after death, but it is the plane of death itself — the hungry shadow that consumes both light and life. It is entropy, hunger and loss — embodying the idea that all things will eventually end in darkness.

ENVIRONS

Like many of the planes, the Endless Night isn’t one contiguous landscape. Rather, it’s layers of reality, each one a different vision of desolation and inevitable decay. In one layer a desert of black sand is broken by jagged obsidian peaks. In another layer, a once-fertile valley has wasted away; crumbling farms are scattered amid withered fields. Another layer is a single vast city. The fountains are dry, the walls are cracked, but rotting tapestries and chipped mosaics speak of an age of wonders. The critical thing to understand is that this cities has ALWAYS been a ruin. This is what Mabar is: the end of things embodied. When mortals pass through, the idea of decay may manifest dramatically – a bridge collapses, a floor gives way – but come back in a week and there will be a new crumbling bridge ready to fall. These layers are symbols of inevitable entropy and lost glory; the precise details may evolve and change, but the net effect remains the same.

While the stage varies — a desert, a ruined city, the withered remains of fertile farmland, or anything else you can imagine — the story is always about loss, entropy, despair, and death. Feel free to add anything that ties to these themes. A massive battlefield filled with the intertwined bones of dragons and giants. Ossuaries and catacombs. Crumbling memorials, with names just too faded to read. Barren orchards and dried riverbeds. And tombs… from tiny unmarked crypts to the death-palaces of fallen rulers, necropolises filled with traps and treasures. And this being the Endless Night, some of those dead rulers still dominate their domains, whether they take the form of undead or simply malevolent will.

These layers aren’t bound by the laws of physical space. They can be tiny, or they can be seemingly infinite. A desert may wrap back upon itself, and the alleys in a city could twist in impossible ways to always return you to the main square… or you could just come to an absolute edge, where everything falls away into an endless and all-consuming void. To move from one layer to another you must either employ spells of your own or find a portal that connects the two realms. Sometimes these are fairly obvious: a massive gate standing alone in the desert, a pit filled with swirling shadows. In other cases, the connection could be entirely abstract. If you are in the valley of the Bone King and you want to get to the desert of the Queen of All Tears, the answer is simple: all you have to do is sincerely cry, and the tears themselves will take you there.

Of course, if you want to explore the Endless Night there are problems you will face no matter where you go. The realm itself constantly consumes light and life. In 3.5 D&D terms it is minorly negative dominant. Unless you’re protected by some form of warding magics, the Night will continuously drain away your life energy, ultimately consuming your body and leaving nothing but a shadow. Even if you’re protected against this effect you must still deal with the darkness. All light sources in this plane are reduced to dim light. The radius of illumination doesn’t change, but no light can banish the perpetual gloom. Spells that use negative energy will be maximized (variable die rolls such as damage and healing have the maximum possible result; this doesn’t affect attack rolls or saving throws), while spells that rely on positive energy are minimized.

THE CONSUMING DARKNESS

Many of the layers of the Endless Night are purely symbolic. These ruins have existed for as long as the plane itself. Many… but not all. Most of the planes don’t interact with one another. The armies of the Battleground endlessly battle each other — they don’t lay siege to the Realm of Madness. The planes are self-contained and focused on their own slivers of reality. But the concept that defines the Endless Night is the hunger to consume light and life, along with the inevitable downfall of all things. And when all the forces align just perfectly, fragments of other planes can be pulled into the Endless Night. These fragments are caught on the edge of the night, the same way mortal dreams drift around the heart of the Realm of Dreams. Over time, they are drained and pulled closer to the core, until ultimately they are fully assimilated into the plane as a new bleak layer. Typically mortals will be transformed into shadows or other forms of undead; immortals might become yugoloths, or twisted into dark mockeries of their former selves.

The Drifting Citadel is just such a layer. This floating tower was once a library; in Eberron it was part of Syrania, while in Phoenix it was created by the Faeda Concord. Now it drifts through a icy void, grand windows shattered and books fallen from their shelves. Shadows of sages clutch at books with insubstantial fingers, never able to turn a page. The angelic librarians are now tormented spirits who hunger for knowledge, draining the memories from any creature unfortunate enough to fall into their grasp.

With this in mind, as you create layers of the Endless Night, consider the history of the layer. Is it a symbolic layer that has always been desolate? Or is it a place that once knew light before it was consumed by the Endless Night? Beyond this, you can also explore the fragments that are in the process of being consumed. Fragments of outer planes might understand what’s going on and be trying to find a way to fight it… but pieces stolen from the material plane may have no way to know what’s happening to them. So you could have a small kingdom ruled by a tragic lord who wields great power and yet is being consumed by darkness… an inescapable realm shrouded by mists, seeming cut off from the rest of the world. All of which is to say that this would be an easy way to add Ravenloft into a setting, as a piece of reality that is under siege by the dark powers of the Endless Night. In Eberron, the Mourning could be what happens when a piece of reality is consumed… in which case Queen Dannel could still rule over a version of Cyre that is being consumed by shadows. It could be that this wound will never heal, and that the Mournland is now a permanent part of Eberron; or it could be that given time restorative power will flow from the Eternal Dawn to restore the blighted land, creating a new Cyre. These unassimilated fragments don’t have the negative dominant trait, and can contain living creatures… but the consuming hunger of the Endless Night should always be felt in some way.

Overall, it might seem like this is something the powers of other planes would try to stop. But the it cannot be stopped, and they know it. It is part of the machinery of reality. The Endless Night consumes and fragments are lost. Those pulled into the darkness can fight against it, but the ultimate outcome is inevitable. Were it not for the Eternal Dawn, it would eventually consume everything. But as the Night consumes, the Dawn restores, and so balance is ultimately maintained. The question a GM must decide is whether the fragments that are consumed are random… or whether the Empress of Shadows has some discretion over this. It might not be possible to fight the coming of night… but it could be that planar emissaries come to the Amaranthine City to negotiate with the Empress of Shadows and turn the hungry darkness in a different direction.  

DENIZENS OF THE ENDLESS NIGHT

The most numerous inhabitants of Mabar are shadows. These semi-sentient spirits linger in places where you might expect to find people, forlornly pantomiming the roles of the absent inhabitants. You’ll find the shadows of children playing on the corner of a Mabaran street, or the shadow of a priest silently praying to an absent and unknown god in a shattered temple. Many sages who study the planes believe that these shadows are tied to mortals… that every sentient mortal creature has a shadow in the Endless Night, a manifestation of their darker impulses. These shadows don’t speak and are driven by impulse and instinct. They hunger for the lifeforce of mortals, and if planar travelers aren’t protected by magic they may be swarmed by hungry shadows.

The more desolate planes are home to nightshades. These powerful creatures are conduits of negative energy. In the obsidian desert, massive nightcrawlers lurk in the dark sands while nightwalkers lay claim to the ruins and rule over the shadows. Nightshades often attack fragments, feeding on the energy of the fragment and accelerating its assimilation. In these attacks, nightcrawlers may rely on raw force which nightwalkers may lead armies of undead. While intelligent, nightshades are more alien and primal than the yugoloths and rarely negotiate or converse with outsiders.

If the Endless Night has a heart, it would be the Amaranthine City… a metropolis that fills an entire layer. Nothing flourishes in this plane; banners are tattered and gardens are withered. But it is still wondrous in the scope of its cyclopean towers and grand fortifications. It is the capital of an empire in decline, and yet the hint of what it was at the height of its glory makes it wondrous even when faded. And it is no empty shell; it is a city alive with activity. This is the seat of the Empress of Shadows and her people; in D&D terms, these are the yugoloths. These are spirits of darkness, embodiments of hunger, despair and death. To all appearances, the yugoloths are citizens of a vast empire; they maintain that all things were once in darkness and eventually will be again.

Many yugoloths serve in the army. The Legion of Night lays siege to the fragments of planes that have powerful inhabitants of their own. The yugoloths do battle with angels and devils trapped in their doomed fragments, until the fragments are ultimately fully drained, assimilated, and their immortal inhabitants converted to a form more suited to the Endless Night. It’s questionable if these battles actually speed up the assimilation, or if they are simply a way for the fiends to pass the time; certainly, they enjoy these struggles.

Other yugoloths are gardeners… but what they cultivate is darkness. Most gardeners work with shadows. They search for promising shadows and use their abilities to strengthen a shadow in certain ways. It’s thought that this in turn feeds the darkness of the mortal tied to the shadow, potentially filling them with despair or driving them down dark paths. When the mortal eventually dies, the yugoloth can harness and refine the essence of the shadow, which can be used to create tools, elixirs, or works of art. While most gardeners work with shadows, some go into the fragments of the material plane that are being assimilated, twisting and tormenting the mortals trapped their in slow and subtle ways.

These are common paths, but there are many others. Some are philosophers and oracles who contemplate the nature of entropy and the way in which things will end. Some are artists and artisans, crafting shadow and spirit to create tools and weapons (which can cause death and despair should they make their way to the mortal world). And some serve seemingly menial roles in the Amaranthine City.

There are many other lesser inhabitants of the plane. Succubi are lesser spirits that embody emotional pain and loss. Some succubi are solitary and prey on mortals in fragments, while others live alongside the yugoloths and ply their wiles on them; the suffering of a fiend is just as satisfying to them as that of a mortal. Other succubi are gardeners, and some believe that a succubi can drain the love from a mortal heart by bleeding it from their shadow. And last but certainly not least, the Endless Night is home to undead. Most of the undead are symbolic: the endless skeletal armies of the Bone King aren’t actually the remains of mortal beings, and the Bone King himself, while he appears to be a lich, was likewise never mortal. Spectres and wraiths generally exist as predators, halfway between the Nightshades and the shadows. Some believe that when a vampire or lich is finally destroyed, its essence is pulled down into Mabar where it persists as a wraith… denied the eventual rest granted to other spirits of the dead, forever driven by the hunger of the night. Most are likely driven mad by this ordeal, but it’s possible that a vampire slain in a campaign could be encountered again as a spectral lord in the Endless Night.

TOUCHING THE MATERIAL: EBERRON

In an Eberron campaign, the Endless Night is the plane of Mabar. It affects the world in a number of ways: through manifest zones, coterminous periods, the actions of the plane and its denizens. Beyond this, some believe that Mabar is generally a source of despair and desolation, that it drains both emotional and physical energy from the world. While this is unproven, it is definitely the source of negative energy. Necromantic magics that sap energy or drain lifeforce draw on the power of the Endless Night. This is also the power that sustains most undead. Skeleton, vampire and wraith are all animated by the power of Mabar. This is the source of the vampire’s endless hunger and the draining touch of many undead. But even lesser undead innately draw life energy from the world around them. Typically this ambient drain is slight enough that there’s no mechanical effect; but this is why a haunted tomb will often be surrounded by dead plants and shriveled vines. The priests of Undying Court assert that negative undead are slowly destroying the world and that eventually this will cause irreparable harm; this is why the Aereni Deathguard seek to track and destroy Mabaran undead whenever possible.

One point here is the common confusion between Mabar and Dolurrh. Dolurrh is the realm of the dead, but it’s not the plane of death. Dolurrh is a place of transition. It is where the souls of the dead go after death, where the burdens of life are removed. So Dolurrh is where people go when they die; but Mabar embodies the idea of death, of inevitable loss and the end of all things.

COTERMINOUS AND REMOTE

According to the Eberron Campaign Setting, Mabar becomes coterminous for three days every five years. During these periods, there is a general increase in the amount of negative energy in the world. Shadows grow deeper and colder, and effects that rely on negative energy are strengthened. When one is alone in a dark place, this energy saps both strength and hope; solitary people are more likely to succumb to illness and despair. As a result, during these periods people generally come together to hold back the darkness. Communities gather around bonfires and sing or pray together; friends or families might gather into one abode for the duration, as bonds of love and friendship are a source of positive energy.

The Eberron Campaign Setting makes the consequences of the phase quite severe, stating “During the night and while underground, travel between the planes is much easier—simply stepping into an area where no light shines can transport a character from Eberron to Mabar, and barghests and shadows emerge from the Endless Night to hunt the nights of Eberron.” I consider this to be overstated for dramatic effect. Both of these things are possible, but here again, positive energy holds these effects at bay… and positive energy comes from light, life and love. So when Mabar is coterminous it is dangerous to go in the basement of the creepy abandoned house, or to wander alone on the moors at night. But if you’re in a house with your family and friends celebrating and singing around a roaring hearth, you don’t have to worry about being killed by a shadow when you go to the pantry. A child conceived during this period would have a chance to be born as a Mabaran tiefling… but in theory, if they child is conceived in love, that positive energy should prevent this.  

While it might be possible to be transported to Mabar by passing through a shadow in a desolate place during the coterminous phase, I wouldn’t have such an effect take you to the heart of Mabar, where the minor negative dominant aspect would kill a normal person within minutes; instead, I’d have them pass into a mortal fragment that’s currently on the edge of Mabar and being consumed. Which is, again, essentially Ravenloft. You go walking on the moors at night, pass through dark mists, and find yourself in a tiny and tragic kingdom besieged by despair.

On the other hand, when Mabar is remote effects that use negative energy are impeded; spirits are generally higher (though this effect is not as dramatic as a time when Irian is coterminous); and undead are often gripped with ennui.  

MANIFEST ZONES

All manifest zones to Mabar are strong sources of negative energy. Even if this doesn’t produce a direct mechanical effect, it is always the case that a Mabaran manifest zone is an excellent place to perform any sort of ritual that draws on negative energy. Other than that, here’s a few possible traits of Mabaran manifest zones.

  • Blighted or unnatural vegetation.
  • Low fertility and reduced resistance to disease. Creatures born in the region might be sickly, or you might get unnatural creatures (like Mabaran tieflings).
  • Psychological gloom: a tendency towards despair, hopelessness, and suicidal thoughts.
  • Presence of shadows, wraiths, or other undead. While these can be shades of mortals slain by other undead, they are typically just manifestations of Mabar itself – embodiments of consuming darkness.  
  • Skeletons or zombies might spontaneously animate from corpses. Such undead don’t have any of the memories of the body and will typically seek to kill any living creatures they encounter.
  • Unnatural darkness; light sources could be reduced, so even the brightest source only produces dim light. You could even have an area that is permanently shrouded in magical darkness.
  • Spells and effects that rely on negative energy could be enhanced or even maximized; undead could be strengthened.
  • Shadows could take on a life of their own without becoming fully formed aggressive monsters. It’s not that they exist independently of the things that cast them, but they might move in impossible ways or respond to actions around them.

Most of these don’t sound like very welcoming traits, and few people would likely choose a Mabaran manifest zone as a place to build their town. But there are reasons for doing it. We’ve established that in Karrnath, Blood of Vol communities often build temples in Mabaran manifest zones and perform rituals that help to contain the negative impact of the zone — and that some of the terrible famines in Karrnath were the results of soldiers seizing these towns and temples and failing to maintain these rites, resulting in sudden and dramatic blights. Beyond that, unnatural vegetation or minerals infused with Mabaran energy could have useful effects. In The Thorn of Breland books I talk about nightwater — water infused with Mabaran energy — as a common component used in disarming wards and magical traps.

So a Mabaran zone could be occupied by people trying to contain its effect or by necromancers channelling it; but often, they’re likely to be shunned areas in the wilds.

SCHEMES AND ADVENTURES

Do the denizens of Mabar ever have schemes that reach into Eberron? How could it play an interesting role in an adventure? One of the simplest ways is simply to work a manifest zone into a story. A necromancer has a tower in a blighted grove, and this empowers their magics and undead minions. The PCs take on the necromancer and defeat him. But when they return they discover that the necromancer’s work was holding the power of Mabar at bay, and the blight is spreading. Can they find a way to restore the balance? What if someone has to stay in the tower? Does one of the villagers have the talent? Or do they need to find another necromancer willing to hold the post – and can they trust her with this power?

Manifest zones could inspire many stories or interesting encounters.

  • Shadholt is a small village hidden in the woods of Karrnath… a village populated almost entirely by Mabaran tieflings. The tieflings harvest vegetation and dragonshards infused with Mabaran energies and can make interesting elixirs and items. Perhaps they simply wish to be left alone… but an encounter with superstitious foresters could lead to a conflict with the local warlord. What side will the PCs take? Are the tieflings innocent, or are they using the powers of Mabar to prey on their enemies? Or is Shadholt the source of an addictive drug that’s been spread ing across the region?
  • Passing across a moor, the PCs are set upon by the shadows of wolves and hawks. The following dawn, they discover that one of the PCs is missing their shadow… it’s been lost in the manifest zone. Do they need to go back and find it? If so, how? If not, what does it mean that the character no longer has a shadow?
  • The PCs discover that House Thuranni is experimenting with the potential of the Mark of Shadows, seeking to channel the power of Mabar. There’s a research center in a Mabaran manifest zone. What happens if the experiments work? Are the elves in full control of their powers? Or are they consumed by their own shadows, leaving dark hearts cloaked in flesh wielding terrifying powers?

Overall, the denizens of Mabar have no interest in Eberron; they have everything they need in Mabar and its fragments. However, just like the Daelkyr or the Kalashtar Quori, you could have an individual or small group of spirits that take an interest in Eberron. Here’s a few possibilities.

  • A disguised succubus is a scholar of loss, subtlely engineering disastrous tragedies for the people of a small community in order to study their reactions. Alternately you could take the same concept but she could be targeting powerful, successful individuals — such as player characters — instead of a particular place.
  • A small group of Yugoloths are studying the world and choosing the next location that will be consumed by Mabar. The consumption will happen, even if the Yugoloths are defeated… but can the damage be minimized?
  • A yugoloth artisan crafts artifacts and sows them into Eberron to cause death and despair. A weapon forged in Mabar could be a literal demon — a battleloth — or it could possess great power but bring tragedy to the one who wields it. A villain could cause great havoc with this night-forged blade; once the villain is defeated, will a PC claim the blade or leave it be?
  • A nightwalker has broken through into Eberron, turning a Mabaran manifest zones into a gateway. The dead are rising in response to the nightshade’s call, and it has a force of nightcrawlers and nightwings. The Nightwalker has no agenda other than destruction, despair, and drinking in the energy of the world. Where is this gateway? What will it take to close it and contain this threat?
  • Queen Dannel’s Cyre has been pulled into Mabar. There’s no way to reclaim it and return it to Eberron, but the now-vampire Dannel has a bigger goal. In Mabar, everything must end… even the yugoloth order. Dannel believes that she can overthrow the Empress of Shadows and become the new immortal overlord of the realm… but she needs the help of epic-level PCs to do it. Will they help transform Cyre into the new heart of the Endless Night?  

The idea of the consumed fragments opens up another host of story possibilities.

  • Forced out into the wilds during a Mabaran coterminous period, the PCs find themselves in a strange land. This could be a familiar town that’s now suffering from dangers and threats; can the PCs figure out what’s going on, and if it can’t be stopped can they help friends escape? It could be a realm pulled out of history, time slowed by the process of assimilation — the last stronghold of Karrn the Conqueror or Malleon the Reaver. Or it could be something entirely new, like Ravenloft.
  • An angel of Syrania reaches out to the PCs. Something vital is trapped in a Syranian tower that was pulled into Mabar. If the angel goes to the fragment, it will be trapped there forever; but mortals could enter the fragment, retrieve the relic and escape. What is the relic? What else might they find in the lost tower?
  • Similar ideas could take the players into the heart of Mabar itself. What treasures are hidden in the tomb of the Queen of All Tears? What secrets lie in the scattered tomes of the Drifting Citadel?

All of these ideas are literally off the top of my head, and I’m sure you can come up with others. Share your ideas in the comments!

THE DEEP DUSK: PHOENIX DAWN COMMAND

Phoenix: Dawn Command doesn’t have the complex cosmology of D&D. The Dusk is the realm that lies between life and death, a realm of spirits and magic. When a Phoenix dies, they go to a crucible – a pocket realm within the Dusk where they can earn their way back to the Daylit World. But there’s more to the Dusk than most Phoenixes ever see. The greatest of the Fallen Folk may have their own domains within the Dusk, and there can be great mystical engines left over from the Old Kingdoms, or simply from the framework of reality.

Within Phoenix, there’s a few ways you could use the Endless Night. Perhaps the Phoenixes face a great force of darkness striking against a community of innocents — a Nightwalker leading a legion of hungry wraiths and animated corpses. Destroying this being requires the Phoenixes to join their power together, sacrificing all their sparks to drive it back into the dusk. But instead of waking in their crucibles, the Phoenixes find themselves in the Endless Night, pulled into it by the spirit they banished. Can they find a way to escape the Deep Dusk? And what happens if they die before they do?

You could also explore the idea of the hungry realm… to have a piece of the Empire pulled into the Endless Night while the PCs are defending it. The life is being drawn out of it, and shadows lash out at the innocent. Can they find a way to return this farm/village/city to reality? And again, what happens if a Phoenix dies in this place? Do they simply return to the Night? Are they seemingly gone forever… and if so, is this what actually happens or have they simply been returned to the Daylit World?

Another possibility is to explore the idea that the layers of the Endless Night are all pieces seized from the Daylit World. Perhaps the Endless Night was created as a way to avoid the doom of the Old Kingdoms, preserving communities in some fashion (albeit a dark one); now the threat of the Dread has brought this old magic back to life, and it’s going to start stealing cities anew.

Q&A

How do Mabar and the Plane of Shadows both exist in the same cosmology while remaining distinct? What is the difference in themes between these two Planes? Can the Plane of Shadows have its own Manifest Zones?

This is spelled out on page 92 of the Eberron Campaign Setting. The entire reality of Eberron — including its thirteen planes — is enfolded by the astral plane; the ethereal and shadow planes encompass the material plane but don’t touch the other planes. The easy way to think of this is that the Shadow Plane is the darkness that lies between realities. It has no meaning as Mabar does; it is simply a dark space outside of reality. Spells like shadow walk let you use it as a shortcut through space, or even in theory as a conduit to move between realities. But it isn’t part of the creation of the Progenitors. It has no meaning and it doesn’t shape reality. It’s not part of the planar orrery, and as such it never becomes coterminous or remote and it doesn’t create manifest zones; it simply is.

A minor qualm, but it seems that Mabar as portrayed here ultimately prevails when it exceptionally interacts with other planes, as Syrania in the post. Yet, using the same example, after night comes dawn…

That’s exactly the point. The night consumes every day… and the dawn eventually overcomes each night. The section on “The Consuming Darkness” calls this out: Were it not for the Eternal Dawn, (The Endless Night) would eventually consume everything. But as the Night consumes, the Dawn restores, and so balance is ultimately maintained.”

The Endless Night embodies the idea of despair and the inevitable end. But the Eternal Dawn — in Eberron, Irian — embodies the idea of hope and the indomitability of life. Anything Mabar can consume, Irian can restore… though both of these things take time. But yes, Mabar will ultimately prevail against any fragment it consumes because that fragment has been pulled out of its own concept and into the Night, which is defined by that inevitable defeat.

Is it possible for there to be Mabaran celestials, or good-aligned spirits from Mabar? For that matter, are there any Irian fiends, or evil-aligned spirits from Irian?

Certainly, in both cases. But the point is that any spirit of the Endless Night is about the concept of death, loss, despair. If you can find a way to make a being who’s a positive embodiment of these things, it could be good. For example, you could have Small Mercies — little spirits that kill those who are suffering unendurable torment. Technically they’re good; they are helping those who suffer. But their tool is still death. You won’t have a spirit in Mabar that seeks to prevent death, because that’s something that belongs in Irian. Look at Shavarath: you have noble celestials fighting vile demons, but they are all fighting; you’re not going to find a spirit from Shavarath that thinks peace is a good idea, unless it’s the peace that will come when we win our noble battle against the enemy.

So any spirit of the Endless Night will somehow embody death or loss, entropy or despair. If you can think of the positive aspects of this and personify it, that could be a Mabaran celestial. Conversely, Irian is about life and love, new beginnings and hope. If you can find a way that these things could be negative, you could have an fiend that embodies that. Perhaps there’s a spirit that spreads false hopes… though again, if its ultimate goal was to cause despair, it would belong in Mabar. Meanwhile, in a fragment of Irian being consumed by Mabar you can have the embodiment of hope that is struggling against despair; and within a fully consumed layer, it might still exist as the embodiment of crushed hopes and disappointment.

With all of that said: Bear in mind that just as celestials can fall, fiends can also rise. In the same way that an angel can become a Radiant Idol or rebel Quori can become Kalashtar, you could have a yugoloth who defies their nature and purpose. However, like the Kalashtar Quori and the Radiant Idol, if they want to maintain that identity they’d likely have to flee from Mabar.

If Mabar is indeed Death itself, then how to the Seekers argue their use of its powers. Logically, the Undying Court would be right; however, it is important to the role of the Blood of Vol that they too would have arguments. I like the idea that they do their part to contain the spread of Mabar’s power in its manifest zones, but why wouldn’t they agree with the Court that Mabar is basically a hostile plane and not to be meddled with?

It’s like fire, or nuclear power, or electricity. All of these are dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing; when harnessed by someone who understands them, they can be used to do good. An educated priest of the Blood of Vol would certainly agree that the power of Mabar is inherently dangerous — as shown by their working to contain the danger posed by manifest zones — but that’s exactly the point: they can contain that danger. They believe that their knowledge and understanding allows them to use this dangerous power in a positive way, just as we are comfortable using electricity and nuclear power in our daily lives.

Looking to the Undying Court’s assertion that all use of Mabaran energy is a threat to the world, Aerenal is a fairly isolationist country and they haven’t blanketed the Five Nations with this view. Even if they did, it’s a perfect mirror to the issue of climate change. Aerenal has logic on their side: it’s energy from the plane of Death and look at what it does in manifest zones — why use it? The Blood of Vol takes the role of people who say that cleaner coal is the answer to climate change: they know what they’re doing, they’re not going to throw away a useful tool because of some crackpots, and they don’t see any proof that things are as bad as the elves say. Plus, given that the Undying Court eradicated the line of Vol they CLEARLY have a vendetta against the BoV and this argument is simply driven by that vendetta; they’re making up excuses to persecute the BoV. Don’t be misled!

Short form: Any cleric of the Blood of Vol will tell you the power they wield is dangerous, but generations of their ancestors have learned how to master that power and wield it safely. And any arguments that it’s poisoning the world are ridiculous — again, generations of their ancestors have used it safely.