Dragonmarks: Firearms in Eberron

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

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

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

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

The Wandslinger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Goblin Gunslingers

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

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

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

Elemental Weapons

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

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

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

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

Q&A

What class would you use as a wandslinger?

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

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

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

Dragonmarks: The City of Silver and Bone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story Hooks

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

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

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

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

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

Dragonmarks: The Aurum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s my connection to the Aurum?

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

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

Q&A

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

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

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

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

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

The Wayfinder’s Guide To Eberron

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

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

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

The Wayfinder’s Guide includes the following things. 

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

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

What Happens Next?

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

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

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

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

Dragonmarks: Lightning Round 6-18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are dragonshards a renewable resource?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is there a holiday involving gift-giving in Eberron?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But that’s just my idea.

The Raven Queen in Eberron

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

—From Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE ONCE AND FUTURE QUEEN OF DEATH

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

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

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

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

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

Q&A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sorcerers and Manifestations of Magic!

Sorcerers carry a magical birthright conferred upon them by an exotic bloodline, some otherworldly influence, or exposure to unknown cosmic forces. One can’t study sorcery as one learns a language, any more than one can learn to live a legendary life. No one chooses sorcery; the power chooses the sorcerer.

— 5E Player’s Handbook

Wizards and artificers approach magic as a science. A warlock makes a bargain to gain arcane power. Magic is part of a sorcerer. It’s possible to inherit such power, but as the PHB suggests, it could just as easily be something entirely unique to the character. Later in this article I’ll discuss sorcerous origins tied to Eberron. But first, let’s consider what magic means for a sorcerer.

Manifestations of Magic

You’re a sorcerer. Your magic is a part of you. But it is still arcane magic… and at the end of the day, when you use that power you are still casting a spell. Unless you use the Subtle Spell metamagic feature, your sorcerer spells require all the same components—verbal, somatic, and material—as when a wizard casts that spell. In some ways this seems to clash with the whole idea of being a sorcerer. If your ability to cast a fireball comes from your draconic heritage, why do you still need to speak a word of power and throw a ball of bat guano to make it work?

One way to think about this is that arcane magic is a science… that as a sorcerer, the principles of magic come to you by instinct, but you ARE still casting a spell in the same way that a wizard is. But this doesn’t work with a lot of different character concepts. So let’s take a look at each of the different sorts of components and think about what they may mean for a sorcerer.

Verbal Components

Verbal components require the character to make a sound. Per the PHB a “particular combination of sounds, with specific pitch and resonance, sets the threads of magic in motion.” In my mind, a verbal component needs to be clearly connected to a casting oa spell: it can’t be something that could be mistaken for conversation. With that said, I feel that the exact form can vary from class to class and character to character. For example, I could see any of the following as being verbal components for a fireball.

  • A forceful phrase (“Consuming flames!”) in a variant of Abyssal or Draconic. The words feel hot in the ears of anyone who hears them. While this is in a language, it’s the thought behind it that triggers this searing effect; you don’t actually burn people or convey this power when casually speaking in Draconic.
  • A series of syllables that might feel like they’re based on Abyssal, Draconic, Giant, or Elvish (“Talash zash harkala!”), but that don’t form any actual words in those languages. This is the “machine code” of reality, triggering access to the forces the wizard channels in the rest of the spells.
  • An invocation of specific forces that will be channeled to power the spell. A divine caster might specifically call on an individual (“Dol Arrah, let your searing light lay my enemies low!”), while an arcane caster might invoke a power source, such as one of the eternal firepits of Fernia or the blade storms of Shavarath. On the other hand, a Warlock could specifically call on their patron by name.
  • A straightforward but clear description of the effect you are trying to create (“Let my fiery lash burn you to ash!”).
  • A bard might sing a song to cast a spell—but as with the first example, the song should feel clearly magical (unless Subtle Spell is used). As the words are spoken they might take shape in the air, or echo in the ears, or otherwise feel like there is a power behind them.
  • This would be a place to work in naming. Perhaps your sorcerer innately sees the true names of things, and you call out that name and an effect.

The point being: You could be syllables infused with arcane might to channel power into your spell. You could be naming powerful entities or cosmic forces whose power produces your effect. You could simply describe exactly what you want to have happen to your victims, essentially making a demand the universe will obey. But whatever it is, if you’re casting spells with verbal components, you’re producing sounds that are clearly tied to the magical effects you produce… so what are those sounds?

Somatic Components

Somatic components are gestures involved with the spell. Per the PHB, the most critical detail is that “the caster must have a free hand to perform these gestures.” Like verbal components, a requirement I apply is that it must be obvious that the hand gestures are tied to the spell. Someone watching you understands that there is a purpose to your gestures and that if they immobilized you, you would stop. So what forms can somatic gestures take?

  • As a wizard, you could follow the model of the recent Doctor Strange—tracing patterns of energy in the air, essentially drawing glyphs or writing out an arcane formula.
  • Taking away the lightshow, it can still be about precise hand and finger movements that trigger and focus mystical energy.
  • On the other hand, you could combine both these things without any finesse. You need a free hand and it needs to be clear that you’re using that hand to cast a spell. You could simply conjure a ball of fire that you physically throw at your enemy… or dramatically point at them, at which point the fireball emerges from your palm.
  • Another option is the Harry Potter approach: the wand. According to the PHB, the hand you use to access an arcane focus can be the same hand you use to perform somatic components. To me, this implies that my gestures could simply be some fancy wand-work. Again, the critical things are that it requires a hand and that it’s clear I’m using that hand to cast a spell.
  • If someone’s playing a warforged sorcerer, I’d be fine with them stating “Activate artillery mode” (verbal component) and turning their hand into a cannon (somatic component)—as long as it’s understood that they require freedom of movement to do this.

So again: the point is that you require a free hand and that it is obvious to an observer that you’re using that hand to produce a magical effect. But as long as those two conditions are met, you’ve got some room to move.

Material Components

Material components fall back into the realm of “If my sorcerer isn’t performing magic like a wizard, while do I still need a ball of bat guano to cast my spell?” Once again, it’s worth taking a moment to think about the impact of material components. Free material components—like the ball of guano—are primarily important because they can be taken away. If you’re trapped in a cell, whether you’re a sorcerer or a wizard, there’s an easy way for them to stop you from casting a fireball. Expensive material components—like the 100 gp pearl required to cast identify—prevent you from casting the spell casually, especially at low levels.

Starting with free components, it’s worth noting that you can ignore free components if you are holding a spellcasting focus (holy symbol, wand, rod, orb, etc) or if you have a component pouch. Personally, if these conditions are met, I’m entirely fine with a player either defining a unique arcane focus or changing what’s IN the component pouch. So looking at examples…

  • A component pouch is a great way to define a unified set of components that fit your presentation of magic. Perhaps you perform sympathetic magic, creating a model of your victim and the effect you’re producing. Maybe you have a set of crystals, and you combine the crystals in different ways for different effects (“Fireball? I’ll need a sliver of Fernian basalt amplified with the Irianic lens”). Perhaps you literally assemble a wand tied to the specific effect you want to produce. If you want to get weird about it, you could have a component pouch full of liquids… you assemble a one-use potion from the pouch, drink it (somatic component) and then belch out the spell effect (verbal component). As a warforged sorcerer, I could have a pouch filled with little mini-wands that I attach to my hand. The critical point here is that the component pouch is a set of tools: what do your tools look like?
  • A spellcasting focus needs to cost between 5-25 GP to replace. It needs to be something that is clearly associated with the spell when it is cast. It can’t be used for another purpose (IE it can’t be a useable weapon unless your class gives you that option) and it requires a free hand to use. But personally, as long as all those conditions are met, I’m fine with that being unique to the character. A few exotic ideas for a spellcasting focus…
    • The rune-engraved skull of an ancestor. This could be a wand carved from an ancestor’s bone, or something similar.
    • The polished horn of a beast—either something I hunted and killed, or a creature that was close to me. A Talenta caster could use the fang of a former dinosaur mount.
    • An exotic mask I hold in front of my face.
    • A strange machine I’ve assembled myself.

With any unique or exotic focus, there’s two critical questions. How can you replace it? If you lose your grandfather’s skull, how do you get a new one? Normally, a player can simply go to the store in a big city and buy a new focus, so the point to me is that I’d allow a player with time and money to replace a lost focus, regardless of the form. Perhaps you can perform a ritual that reconstitutes your grandfather’s skull—it’s just that the ritual takes components that cost 10 gp, the same cost as buying a wand. Second: can you perform magic using the standard components? Normally, a wizard can use a wand or component pouch to cast a fireball, but if they lose the focus, they can whip up a ball of bat guano. Can use use guano in an emergency?

The final topic is expensive components. Chromatic orb requires a diamond worth 50 gp. It doesn’t matter what kind of a caster you are, you need that diamond. Personally, the only thing I generally care about is the cost. I’m fine with the idea that chromatic orb requires a unique focus that costs 50 gp and is only used for this one spell, but I don’t personally care if it’s something that is likewise unique to the way your character performs magic. Likewise, in my Eberron, Eberron dragonshards can take the place of any expensive component. Whether it’s the 5,000 gp cost of resurrection or the 100 gp cost of identify, that amount of refined dragonshards will do the trick; this emphasizes the idea that dragonshards are the basic fuel of the magical economy. The only reason I’d restrict a spell to a concretely specific component is if I want to play up a particular region or individual as having a monopoly on that resource… if diamonds are consistently a thing, who has the diamonds? In Eberron, this is the role of Eberron dragonshards, which is why Q’barra and House Tharashk are important.

In Conclusion…

So putting all of this together, the question is: whether you’re a wizard or a sorcerer, what form does your magic take? Does your sorcerer have a magic musket with components they swap out (IE, exotic component pouch)? Do you carry around your grandfather’s skull (focus), hold it up (somatic) and ask it to produce magical effects (verbal)? Do you have henna tattoos (focus, as long as they can be removed) that you trace with a finger (somatic) while reciting words you learned in a dream (verbal)? If your power comes from exposure to the Mourning, do you wave (somatic) a piece of your house from Cyre (focus) while calling out the names of your friends who died (verbal)? You can have a unique style… but  you need to figure out how it meets the requirements of casting a spell.

Sorcerers in Eberron

So: this is an article about sorcerers, remember? While the previous section could apply to all sorts of casters, the point is to think about how your sorcerous origin is reflected in the way that you cast magic. With that said, I’m just going to dive in and look at some possible ways to justify sorcerers in Eberron.

Child of Khyber

Sorcerous Origin: Any

Aberrant dragonmarks are an unpredictable and dangerous form of dragonmark. For many centuries the aberrant marks that have been seen have been limited in power… but in the days of the War of the Mark, the Children of Khyber wielded marks that could destroy cities. You could justify your sorcerous powers as being tied to an aberrant dragonmark, with that mark growing in both size and power as your level increases.

Now: aberrant dragonmarks are specifically called out as being dangerous—channeling destructive or aggressive powers. This is your character, so this is a limitation you’re applying to yourself; but if you want to fit the IDEA of the mark, you should limit your spell selection to powers that fit this vision. You could play a divine soul as a character with an aberrant mark, but if so, you shouldn’t be using it to produce healing effects. One way to handle this is to suggest that you are essentially a crappy wizard or magewright who ALSO has an aberrant mark. So your one or two NON-aggressive spells are the spells you cast in a traditional arcane manner… and the aggressive spells are the ones tied to your mark. This also ties to the idea that an aberrant dragonmark is supposed to be a burden to its bearer, either mentally or physically. The mark could cause you pain every time you use it. It could be an effort for you to contain its power and to keep from accidentally hurting the people around you. It could whisper to you. None of these things have concrete mechanical effects; this is all about flavor and how you choose to present it. You are amazingly tough and focused and you overcome these things; but if it’s an aberrant mark, you want to keep the story idea that it is a burden.

Aberrant marks take many forms, as long as they are aggressive in nature. As a result, you could tie this to any sorcerous origin. If you justify your draconic bloodline with an aberrant mark, you aren’t ACTUALLY descended from a dragon… and the effects of your draconic bloodline could take other forms. Draconic bloodline provides you with high AC and resistance to a particular damage type. It could be that your mark actually acts as armor and absorbs the damage; the mark could even extend from your body in the form of wings. But it could also be that the mark is mutating your body in a disturbing way.

The secondary issue here is components. Your power is supposedly coming from your mark… and yet, you still need those components! One approach is to say that your mark extends to one of your hands, and you have to point that hand at the target to perform somatic components. For material components, you could use a “crystal” arcane focus—in your case, a Khyber dragonshard that amplifies the power of the mark. Which just leaves verbal components. Perhaps you shout arcane syllables that come to your mind unbidden. Perhaps you have to tell the mark what you want it to do. The critical point is it needs to be clear that you have to be able to speak, and that your words are tied to the effect.

Divine Soul

Sorcerous Origin: Divine Soul (duh)

A divine soul casts clerical magic as a sorcerer. What does that mean? Well, first of all, it doesn’t HAVE to be connected to a divine source. It could simply be that you have an aberrant dragonmark that produces traditionally clerical effects, or that you have an exceptional Mark of Healing; these are covered by my other suggestions.

But what if you DO have a connection to a divine power source? What does that mean? How does it work?

There’s a few paths I could see. First of all, the idea in Eberron is that we don’t know for certain that the gods exist. But we know that divine power sources exist. And people do have divine visions and such. So: as a divine soul, you have a connection to a divine power source. One option is that you’re hacking this power. You don’t BELIEVE in the religion; you’ve just figured out how to use arcane techniques to connect to the Undying Court or the Silver Flame and draw on its power. The power is unquestionably there, and it’s not like your using a bit of it will somehow drain the Silver Flame. Such a character could be a bit of a smug jerk—in your face, people of faith! The question would be how people OF that faith would feel about you. Your actions might not actually threaten to drain with Undying Court of its power, but that won’t stop the Deathguard from kicking your @$$ if they ever come across you.

A second path is that you have faith, you simply don’t know the rituals normally associated with it. You have connected to the Silver Flame in a weird and unique way, but you still understand what the Silver Flame is all about. You acknowledge it as the source of your power and invoke it in your verbal components, and you may use a holy symbol as your spellcasting focus. You’re NOT a cleric, but you are a person of faith.

A path that lies between these is that of the chosen one. You know nothing about the divine. You don’t know where your powers come from. And yet, you have visions that are driving you on your quest. The power has chosen YOU… but you don’t know why. Imagine your power comes from the Silver Flame. You don’t know this. You don’t believe in the Flame. But you have visions of yourself fighting supernatural evil. Perhaps a couatl whispers to you. Essentially, the Flame believes in YOU, and seems to have a purpose for you. Will you discover faith along the way? Or are you just a vessel? In this case, verbal and somatic components could be confused invocation (“Um, strange power, can you help my friend?”), or it could be that they come to you instinctively; you never know what you’re going to say when you open your mouth, but the words just come out.

Draconic Bloodline

Sorcerous Origin: Draconic Bloodline (duh)

So what if you WANT a draconic bloodline? There’s nothing wrong with that; dragons exist in Eberron and are a source of powerful magic. In standard Eberron, draconic bloodlines aren’t a defined thing. The primary magical bloodlines in the world are the Dragonmarked Houses. But there’s a few ways to do it. Perhaps you are part of a noble house that claims draconic heritage; I’d just be inclined to say that it’s very rare for a member of the family do develop powers beyond those of a first or second level sorcerer. Perhaps you’re a first generation draconic bloodline; which of your parents was a dragon, and what does it mean? Or perhaps you’re not LITERALLY descended from dragons, but rather the result of a Vadalis experiment that attempted to infuse humans with dragon’s blood. Are you the only success out of this program, or are there a number of dragon-blood super-soldiers out in the world? Are you working with House Vadalis, or are you a fugitive?

As a dragon-blooded sorcerer, you still run into the “What does my magic look like?” question. When you perform verbal components, do you instinctively speak draconic words of power? Or is it that the magic is in your blood, and you’ve jury-rigged some sort of spell system that lets you unleash it?

Dragonmarked

Sorcerous Origin: Divine Soul, Storm Sorcery, Shadow Magic

Along the same lines as an aberrant mark, if you’re of the proper race and bloodline to have a dragonmark, you can say that your unusually strong connection to your dragonmark is the source of your sorcerous abilities. Essentially, it’s clear that you have the potential to develop a Siberys Dragonmark, but rather than it manifesting all at once, it is emerging over time.  A halfling divine soul with healing abilities could attribute the power to the Mark of Healing; a Phiarlan or Thuranni elf could have access to shadow magic; a Lyrandar heir could be a storm sorcerer. Like the Child of Khyber, you’re entirely on the honor system to choose spells that make sense with your mark. Or, like I suggest for the Child of Khyber, you could present yourself as a minor wizard or general sorcerer who ALSO has a powerful mark—so the spells that don’t fit with your Dragonmark are tied to this secondary path. A Siberys dragonshard would be a logical spellcasting focus, but you could also have an object that incorporates a Siberys shard—a tool designed by your house to channel this sort of power.

Mad Artificer

Sorcerous Origin: Any

Like a wizard, an artificer approaches magic in a scientific manner. But what if they didn’t? What if they create magic items that should never actually work, yet somehow do? The point with this character would be to present all of their magic as coming from strange devices that they create. From a mechanical perspective, they’d have a component pouch—but that pouch would be filled with lint, shards of broken glass, and so on. Part of the concept—what differentiates this character from an actual artificer—is for their explanations of their magic to make no sense. “We just saw three doves in the sky. So if I pour the yoke of this dove egg on this magnifying lens, it will triple its ability to focus the light of the sun and create a deadly beam of heat. Simplicity itself!”

The mad artificer could follow any path, representing their “arcane field of study.” A draconic bloodline sorcerer who follows this path would “artifice” as an explanation for the benefits of the class. Their natural armor could be the result of mystical tattoos that channel a low-grade repulsion field; their dragon wings would be an Icarus-like set of artifical wings.  

Manifest Magic

Sorcerous Origin: Any

Manifest zones are places where the energies of the planes flow into Eberron. A character born in a manifest zone could justify their magical abilities as being based on an innate bond to that plane. A character with an innate connection to Mabar could possess shadow magic. Irian could grant the powers of a divine soul. Kythri or Thelanis could be a source of wild magic. As with other examples, you’d either need to voluntarily limit your magic to powers tied to your plane of choice, or come up with an explanation for where your other spells come from. Alternately, you could play a character who’s found a way to channel the energies of different planes—a form of the mad artificer, using spells that open up temporary portals to the planes you need. This would fit with the idea of verbal components calling out specific sources of extraplanar power, or material components tied to artifacts from the planes in question.

Mournborn

Sorcerous Origin: Any

In the City of Stormreach sourcebook we present a gang of people who survived the Mourning and emerged with strange arcane powers. While you could use this as the explanation for any sort of ability, it’s generally tied to the idea of disturbing abilities, not unlike the Child of Khyber. It could be that the Mourning is now a part of you, and you unleash its powers on your enemies. A Mourborn sorcerer with a “draconic bloodline” could be twisted into a monstrous shape. Or it could be that your magic has a secondary connection to the Mourning: you were the only survivor of your family, and now the spirits of those slain in the Mourning cling to you… demanding vengeance, but granting you the power you need to take that vengeance. This could be the sorcerer whose material focus is the bones of fallen friends, whose verbal components involve calling on them for aid.

Other

This is a deep as I can go in the time I have available, but there’s many other possibilities.

  • The warforged created as a “walking wand.”
  • A changeling who weaves glyphs and mystic sigils into their skin.
  • A Vadalis experiment, magebred to harness mystical power.
  • A creation of the daelkyr.
  • An Aundairian duelist who specializes in wandcraft

… and so on!

Q&A

I recall that in the Eberron setting dragons do not mingle freely with mortals. There’s the entire tragedy with Erandis Vol’s parents marking her status as a half dragon something unique. So how is draconic ancestry justified for a PC? Wouldn’t the dragons of Argonessen have hunted down their entire bloodline ages ago? 

The line of Vol wasn’t exterminated because of half-dragons; it was exterminated because Erandis Vol developed an apex Dragonmark, something that was likely only possible because she was a half-dragon.

The issue with dragons not mingling freely with normal races is because in a dragon you have a being that can live for thousands of years, who possesses tremendous physical and magical power and a civilization that is tens of thousands years old and has a deeper understanding of reality than most races… and then you have a human. Humans and other standard races are literally like housepets to dragons: The don’t live very long, they aren’t as smart as we are, it’s kind of cute when they act like they think they’re dragons. You might feel affection for one, but the idea of actually producing some sort of CHILD with one is simply bizarre. It’s not that the child has to be hunted down; it’s a question of WHO WOULD DO THAT? The only particularly logical reason is if it’s necessary to pursue a particular path of the Prophecy, or to achieve a specific end that absolutely requires it—both of which were the case with Erandis Vol.

So on the one hand, I suggest that you might have first-generation dragonic heritage; this would mean that you were created for a specific reason, and your draconic parent likely has an agenda involving you. On the other hand, I suggested that you might be part of a family that claims to have draconic heritage; odds are good that they’re mistaken. Either way, it definitely wouldn’t be a common thing, but neither is it something requiring immediate extermination.

Also, how common is it for celestials to mingle with humanoids in Eberron? Is it common (or at least, known to be possible) for a divine soul sorcerer to obtain their powers from celestial ancestry?

It depends what you mean by “mingle.” Celestials almost never casually interact with mortals. When they are encountered, it’s worth noting that immortals in Eberron don’t reproduce; there’s a finite number of them, and when one dies, the energy reforms to create a replacement. So if you’re suggesting that a celestial sires a child, it would be very unusual. On the other hand, what I suggested with aasimars is that the mortal is touched by or connected to an immortal. So the divine soul wouldn’t literally be the physical child of an immortal, but if there was a purpose for it, some celestial could have marked the child in the womb, or even worked magic to cause it to be born.  But again, such things are extremely rare.

Do you consider spells to be discrete things that can be recognized? Like if an Aberrant Marked Sorcerer uses Burning Hands and a classically trained wizard cast the same spell would trained observers know they were both using “Burning Hands as isolated by Bob the Pyromaniac in year 1082…” or would they just notice bursts of flame that are superficially similar?

It’s a little hard to say. I would allow an observer trained in Arcana an opportunity to identify the spell being cast (“That’s burning hands“). But no, they aren’t doing the same thing. If a divine soul tied to the Silver Flame casts burning hands, I’d probably make the flames silvery. If an Child of Khyber does it, they might actually project dragonmark-like tendrils of energy from their skin… even if I said those tendrils inflicted fire damage. Meanwhile, I’d personally allow a Storm Sorcerer to learn a version of burning hands that inflicts lightning damage instead of fire damage, but otherwise behaves the same. So the common spells are essentially benchmarks of common effects that can be produced with magical energy, and what the Arcana check ACTUALLY tells you is “They just generated a 15-foot cone of fire, inflicting a base of 3d6 damage.”

So it’s not that the spell is literally recognized because it’s the exact same spell; it’s that the trained observer can identify and evaluate the effects. With that said, an Arcana expert could potentially identify the technique—so “That’s burning hands, and they learned it from the Arcane Congress” or “That’s burning hands, but they’ve got no magical technique whatsoever; they’re just ripping open a portal to Fernia and spilling it out.”

To elaborate a little on my question about spells as discrete things, I meant along the lines of Burning Hands being like electron energy levels, a basic part of reality, or like steel, contingent convergences of simpler natural principles.

Good way to distinguish! To me it’s like steel. We recognize the end result, but they’re achieving it in different ways with a range of cosmetic effects.

Do you see Dragons, and other “natural sorcerers” as all being the same where their magic is concerned? At least along species lines.

If a species possesses natural sorcery—like 3.5 dragons, who universally gain sorcerer ability over time—then I usually depict that as taking the same form. So you wouldn’t have one dragon who’s a divine soul and another one with “draconic ancestry.” With that said, some 3.5 dragons have class levels in addition to their natural powers. And if you had another species with innate sorcerer levels I might present that in a different way.

What have YOU done with sorcerers or arcane components? If you have questions or ideas, share them below. As always, thanks to my Patreon backers, who make this website possible!

Q&A 5/18/18: Undead, Sarlona, and More!

May is a busy month. I’m swamped with writing and travel (I’m currently at Keycon 35 in Winnipeg), so I haven’t had time to write a proper article. However, I reached out to my Patreon supporters for questions for a quick Q&A, and here we are. Next week I may post some thoughts on Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes and how I’d apply it to Eberron.

Before I get to the questions, I want to tell you about something else that’s going on this week: The Gauntlet. Mox Boarding House in Bellevue, Washington is hosting a massive gaming tournament that’s raising money for charity. My company Twogether Studios is competing in the Gauntlet, raising money for Wellspring Family Services, and we need your help. Any donation is appreciated—a $5 donation would be fantastic—but if you’re in Portland, Oregon or the vicinity of Seattle, Washington and have the ability to be more generous, I’m going to offer a crazy incentive: a chance to play a one-shot session of Phoenix: Dawn Command or 5E D&D (in Eberron) with me. Here’s how this works: If you’re in Portland, a game requires a donation of $400. If you’re in the Seattle area, it’s going to be $500 (all the money goes directly to charity, but since it’s more work for me, I’m setting the bar higher…). This doesn’t have to be all from one person: I will run a game for up to six people, and their combined donations have to hit the target number.

If you want to do this, you need to be part of a group that is going to hit the target number. After making your donation, email me (use the Contact Me button on this website) and let me know who your group is. I’ll work with your group to find a time to play. It may take a while—summer is an especially busy time for me—but I’ll make sure we get to play before the end of 2018. With that said, The Gauntlet takes place on May 20th, so there’s not a lot of time to donate. Again, the Twogether Studios donation link is here. Whether or not you have the ability to donate, thanks for reading!

Now, on with the Q&A…

I was wondering about bone knights and their place in Karrnath. Are they still a component of Karrnathi culture and society after the war? Were they created specifically for the Last War or did Karrnath have a longer history with these more military necromancers? Is Kaius opposed to the Blood of Vol generally or the Emerald Claw specifically, and if the former is the Bone Knight thing something he wants gone from Karrnath?

There’s a lot of topics to unravel. From a canon perspective, my take is laid out in City of Stormreach and more specifically, the Eye on Eberron article on Fort Bones in Dungeon 195. Here’s the key points.

  • The core Karrnathi culture focuses on martial skill and discipline. It has nothing to do with necromancy or the use of undead.
  • The Seekers of the Divinity Within have long had a presence in Karrnath. This religion has a close association with necromancy and the practical use of the undead. The Bone Knight is specifically a Seeker tradition: an expert in commanding undead forces in combat. EoED195 calls out that Seekers of the Divinity Within served alongside Karrn the Conqueror and Galifar I. However, they were a minority faith and the army as a whole didn’t rely on or embrace their traditions.
  • When Karrnath faced plagues and famines during the Last War, the Queen of the Dead offered the assistance of the Blood of Vol. In exchange, the crown was obliged to recognized and elevate Seekers and to promote their faith. The chivalric orders of the Blood of Vol expanded. Undead were produced in greater numbers than ever before and became a critical part of Karrnath’s military strategy, resulting in a need for even more Bone Knights to command them.
  • Over time, the famines were brought under control and the balance of the war shifted. The traditionalist warlords despised both the erosion of Karrnathi military tradition and the increased political power of the Seekers. Furthermore, the use of undead disturbed the other nations. With the war closing, Kaius strengthened his position with the traditionalist warlords and the other nations by disavowing the Blood of Vol and stopping the production of undead, sealing the majority of the undead legions in the vaults below Atur. Most of the Seeker orders were disbanded, though some Seekers (and undead troops) have remained in service, most notably in Fort Bones and Fort Zombie. Kaius has continued to use the Blood of Vol as a convenient scapegoat to direct the frustration of his people, and has gone so far as to blame the Seekers for the plagues and famines that originally weakened the nation.

So, looking to the questions specifically: In my opinion, the Bone Knight is an old Seeker tradition, but one that was very uncommon before the Last War because the Seekers weren’t part of the Karrnathi military tradition; their numbers increased during the Last War in order to manage the undead forces. Kaius is publicly using the Blood of Vol as a useful scapegoat. He doesn’t NEED very many Bone Knights since he’s retired most of the undead; he’s dismissed most and allowed some to be persecuted as war criminals. However, regardless of this public image he’s not personally opposed to the Seekers. He’s maintained Fort Bones and Fort Zombie, and has a small cadre of Bone Knights and necromancers whose loyalty to the nation outweighs their anger at the treatment of their brethren.

Are Bone Knights mostly Seekers or would one devoted to the Dark Six or the Sovereign Host be capable of getting far?

There’s a number of factors. They’re mostly Seekers because it’s an ancient Seeker tradition, tied to their long-standing use of practical necromancy. Theoretically someone who follows another faith could fill that role, but it requires deep devotion to the necromantic arts. If you revere the Sovereign Host—honoring Dol Arrah and Aureon—how do you embrace this dark path? The Shadow and the Keeper are the Sovereigns who would guide you on this road, and that’s a viable path, but not exactly one that Karrnath would celebrate and encourage. So sure; I think someone devoted to the Dark Six could become an accomplished Bone Knight, but that faith won’t make them any more acceptable to the general public than the Seekers… and might even result in greater distrust and suspicion.

Is the Order of Rekkenmark’s opposition to necromancers something which would prevent a Bone Knight from excelling in their organization (as advisors to the King, movers and shakers politically)?

It’s something that would make it VERY DIFFICULT for a Bone Knight to advance in their organization, absolutely. But nothing’s impossible. It simply means that the Bone Knight in question would have to be a soldier of unparalleled accomplishment and skill, someone whose dedication to Karrnath and the king is beyond reproach. It’s possible Alinda Dorn, commander of Fort Bones, is a member of the Order of Rekkenmark. She’s an advisor to and confidante of the king in any case; it’s simply a question of whether he embraces that publicly, or prefers to keep his favor for her hidden from the traditionalist warlords.

Are the rituals for creating Mabaran undead and Irian deathless completely different, or do they look fundamentally alike except for the power source?

ALL rituals for creating undead and deathless are completely different from one another. The techniques used to create deathless are dramatically different from rituals used to create Mabaran undead. But there’s no ONE TRUE RITUAL for creating undead. Looking above, a Bone Knight who draws power from faith in the Shadow and the Keeper should use different trappings from one following the path of the Divinity Within. The techniques of a wizard will as a rule be entirely different from those employed by a cleric. One’s a form of arcane science; the other an act of extreme devotion. In my opinion, the Seeker traditions walk a line between these two sides, drawing on both devotion and a form of science. We’ve established that the Odakyr Rites used to create the sentient Karrnathi undead were a breakthrough developed during the Last War—and as such, themselves unlike the techniques used elsewhere.

Did the Dhakaani have any rites or rituals to create undead? 

Did the Dhakaani as a culture embrace the creation of undead or develop techniques for creating them? Definitely not. The Dhakaani were a culture driven by martial excellence. They were agnostic (thus lacking clerics) and had very limited interest in the arcane. So no, there were no institutionalized necromancers in the Empire. With that said, it was a vast civilization that lasted for thousands of years. During that time, could a small group have developed such techniques? Could there be a Kech Mortis that has perfected these techniques during its centuries of exile, which now claims the Imperial throne with its army of undead heroes? Sure, why not! But just like Karrnath, the traditionalist like the Kech Sharaat would like be disgusting by this strange deviation from the true path.

Did they have answers to the spawn-creating plagues like ghoul fever?

The primary arcane path the Dhakaani embraced was the path of the Duur’kala, which is to say the bard. The Duur’kala inspire heroes in battle, but they also used their abilities to heal and to enhance diplomacy. The bardic spell list includes lesser restoration and greater restoration. So, there’s your answer. Now again, if you like the idea of a Kech vault that was overrun by a zombie plague the duur’kala couldn’t contain—so PCs stumbling into an ancient Dhakaani fortress filled with undead—I’m all for it. As a culture they had a tool for it, that doesn’t mean everyone always had access to that tool.

Is it very difficult to travel across the Barren Sea? Are there ports in, say, the Shadow Marches that get trade directly from Sarlona?

This is largely covered in Secrets of Sarlona. Riedra strictly limits contact with foreigners, and Dar Jin is the only port that accepts general commerce. Other than that, there are a few outposts in Ohr Kaluun and a harbor in Adar. So, it’s not so much that it’s difficult as it is that there’s very few places to go.

Zarash’ak is the only major port in the Shadow Marches, though you could certainly introduce a smuggler’s outpost on the coast near Slug Keep. It’s certainly reasonable to think that Zarash’ak could have traffic with Riedran ships from Dar Jin.

And does the majority of trade between, say, Karrnath and Breland go via boats through the Lhazaar Principalities, or is the faster/cheaper to use overland shipment?

I addressed this specific question in a previous Q&A, so check that out. River barges, lightning rails, and airships are all options, though the Lhazaar route is also a possibility.

Do you have any brief tips for involving the Venomous Demesne into a campaign?

The Venomous Demesne is a Tiefling city-state on the far side of Droaam. They’re isolationists and largely unknown in the Five Nations. I discuss hooks for characters from the Venomous Demesne in this article. As for ways to use it in a campaign, here’s three ideas entirely off the top of my head.

  • The Venom Lords are working on an Eldritch Machine. They’ve sent agents into the wider world acquiring the rare components required for this device. Are they working on behalf of the Daughters of Sora Kell, or does the device have a more sinister purpose?
  • The vaults of the Venomous Demesne hold secrets that date back to the ancient nation of Ohr Kaluun. The player characters could need to acquire Kaluunite lore for an unrelated plot: tied to another Eldritch machine, to a path of the Prophecy, or perhaps to understanding some sort of demonic threat. To get what they need, they’ll have to go to the Venomous Demesne and earn the trust of its lords.
  • A variation of the previous idea is needing something that can only be obtained or acquired in the Venomous Demesne: a particular magic item or artifact, learning a spell, etc.
  • The lords of Ohr Kaluun made pacts with a wide variety of extraplanar and fiendish forces. If you want to do something with some sort of archfiend (such as demon lords from Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes), one of the lines of the Demesne could work as its agents (or be opposed to it, but still know its secrets). Personally I’d use such a being as a powerful force in Khyber—below the level of an Overlord, but nonetheless a powerful threat that has recently broken loose from binding and is just starting to rebuild its influence in Eberron.

Is there any possibility of getting a (rough) timeline of when the events of human/Sarlonan history occurred? Were there any trade relations between Dhakaan and Khorvaire at some point, or was Lhazaar the first human to see the shores of Khorvaire?

The ancient nations of Sarlona are left intentionally vague so that they can fill the role you want them to fill. I see no reason that Lhazaar should be the first human to have set foot on Khorvaire; in all likelihood, she set out for Khorvaire because she’d heard stories of the land from previous explorers. The idea of canon is that Lhazaar’s expedition marked the first sustained and successful contact between the two. If you want to have players stumble across the ruins of an Uorallan outpost in the Shadow Marches — evidence of a settlement completely lost to history — do it. But I don’t think we’ll be defining those pre-Lhazaar civilizations in significantly more detail in a canon source.

(The founder of the Kalashtar) Taratai is female in Races of Eberron, and male in Secrets of Sarlona. Which is it?

It’s a legitimately confusing issue. Here’s a quote from “The Legend of Taratai” in Secrets of Sarlona (page 24):

She led sixty-seven spirits that became the kalashtar to Adar, where the monk Hazgaal and his students accepted them. In Hazgaal’s body as Haztaratai (though many stories still call her Taratai), she taught and wrote the precepts of the Path of Light… 

So: both SoS and RoE agree that the kalaraq quori Taratai identified as female. However, per SoS she bonded with the human monk Hazgaal, who was male. This means that the spiritual lineage of Taratai were male kalashtar, though they were bound to a female spirit. Quite a few kalashtar lines have this sort of disconnect, which results in a great deal of gender fluidity within kalashtar culture.

Do the Kalashtar believe in reincarnation, like the Riedrans do?

Sort of, but they aren’t as concerned with it as the Riedrans are. First of all, as a kalashtar you are already part of something immortal. You are bound to the quori spirit, and your memories and experiences remain with the spirit even after your physical body dies; so the kalashtar don’t see death as an absolute end. Beyond that, SoS notes that the Path of Light maintains that “Dolurrh is a place where the ego dies, but the spirit is immortal, and it returns to the Material Plane again and again.” LIFE is eternal. The soul is part of the celestial machine of the universe. But it’s not about YOU, and they don’t believe that the form your spirit takes in its next incarnation is somehow tied to your actions in your previous life, as the Path of Inspiration states. It’s not a reward or a punishment; it’s just the nature of the universe. Your legacy remains with your lineage, and the soul that was yours continues on its journey.

Why didn’t the Inspired seize Syrkarn as well as the other ancient kingdoms, instead satisfying themselves with a shallow “protectorate” title and some behind-the-curtain schemes?

The Inspired have no interest in conquering Syrkarn. The territory is too large, the population too low, and they are still concerned about the lingering threat of the rakshasa rajah buried beneath the realm. The Inspired don’t feel a need to control every single individual; they are looking to control massive populations. There’s not enough people in Syrkarn to be worth the effort, doubly so when combined with the vast stretches of relatively barren land… not to mention the threat of the Overlord.

More generally, what makes Syrkarn interesting, according to you, as a playground?

First of all, it’s a part of Sarlona in which people can move freely. Second, I’d look to page 86 of Secrets of Sarlona. Scheming yuan-ti! An Overlord stirring! Karrak cults! The Heirs of Ohr Kaluun and the Horned Shadow! Relics from pre-Sundering Sarlona! Tribal conflicts (perhaps stirred up by the yuan-ti or the Overlord)! Possibly even surprising ties to the giants of Xen’drik, lingering through the eneko.

From a game design point of view, why define Sarlona as being a blind spot in the Draconic Prophecy? 

It’s summed up on page nine of Secrets of Sarlona: “The dragons of the Chamber shun Sarlona, but they want to know what is transpiring beyond its shores. PCs who have ties to the Chamber, the Undying Court, or even the Lords of Dust could be sent to explore mysteries related to the draconic Prophecy.” By making it a region where dragons fear to tred, we add a reason why player characters should go there; it provides a range of potential story hooks you don’t have in other lands.

Adar is wider than Aundair or Thrane (while understandably less populated). Now that the kalashtar can see the Inspired openly moving unto Khorvaire, how comes Adar didn’t make itself known too, nor officially voice some warning?

First of all, per SOS it’s population density is around one person for every two square miles of land—lower than Alaska or Tibet. Its people have been described as “insular to the point of xenophobia.” Direct travel between Adar and Khorvaire is extremely difficult, meaning that you have no regular stream of commerce or communication, nor any particular interest in such commerce. We’ve established that the Adaran kalashtar believe that the battle against il-Lashtavar will be won by their persistence and devotion: they don’t NEED to get the world on their side, they just need to hold their ground and continue what they are doing.

Many kalashtar in Khorvaire hold to the same general belief: we will triumph through perseverance. What’s important is protecting our community and continuing our devotions. Some younger kalashtar have embraced more active intervention, but even they largely believe that this is their war to fight, and that the humans wouldn’t listen to them or believe them. And they’re likely right. Riedra is a valuable trade partner, and it has come to the assistance of many nations during the Last War. There is a concrete benefit to working with Riedra. By contrast, Adar has virtually no recognition and nothing to offer. Even if I believe your story about the leaders of Riedra being aliens, the leaders of the Aereni are DEAD and we deal with them. And you may SAY that they want to conquer the world, but I’m not seeing it happening, and trust me, crazy monk, if they start any trouble, we can handle it. So: self-interest and arrogance are likely to outweigh the stories of the few kalashtar who do speak out against Riedra.

While religions are not required to comment on the truth or falsity of each other’s doctrines, are there any Adaran scholars aware of the Valenar and their apparent reality of the potential continuity of identity their (in purely mechanical terms) higher average levels indicate?

Possibly. There’s not a lot of overlap between them, geographically or culturally. But I don’t think there’s much to debate. Spirits exist; devotion creates positive energy that can sustain a spirit, as proven by the concrete example of the Undying Court; devoted Valenar display a level of skill that seems to support guidance from ancestral spirits. I could see a follower of the Blood of Vol saying “But how do you know that the spirit isn’t just a manifestation of YOU? The power comes from within you; you’re just creating this myth of your ancestor to help you interpret it.” I could see someone else saying “You’re getting guidance from a spirit, but are you sure it’s not some kind of demon or something masquerading as your ancestor?” Essentially, i don’t think there are many people saying that the Tairnadal religion has no grounding in reality; but I could imagine people arguing that some of the DETAILS might not be what the Valenar believe them to be.

How much of the ancient history of the Giant Empire is known in Khorvaire, and since when? On the one hand, it makes plenty of sense, both in-world and for game purpose, that it’s still shrouded in mystery, that only a few scholars and daring explorers start to poke at. But on the other hands, there are elves assimilated in Khorvaire since centuries, and their whole culture revolves about perpetuating tradition: why would they hide their stories from the other races?

There’s quite a few factors here.

  • The elves know THEIR history. That doesn’t mean they know the history of the giants. Consider the tale of Cardaen. “He was born in a high tower, and Cul’sir made sure his feet never touched the ground.” That’s quite different from “He was born in the city of Aulantaara in the year 14,004 RTC, where he served as an arcane adjunct to the Cul’sir College of Evocation, eventually rising to the Fourth Circle.” The Elves have preserved STORIES about the giants; that doesn’t mean they ever knew the absolute FACTS.
  • The elves are isolationist by nature. Their history and the tales of the ancestors are part of the foundation of their religion, and we’ve never suggested that they want members of other species to adopt their religion. I think they’d spread some details out of pride, but at the same time, I think there’s a certain level of “Our history is none of your business.”
  • The civilizations of the giants fell forty thousand years ago on another continent. How much does the typical westerner know about Sumerian history? If someone threw a musical version of the myth of Gilgamesh onto Broadway, do you think it would dethrone Hamilton? I’m sure SCHOLARS know as much as is known about the history of the giants, and that reflects the information you could get with a History check. But I think most humans just don’t care about the history of the giants; it’s an obscure ancient civilization that has virtually no relevance to their modern lives.

So, COULD a modern playwright produce a play about the story of Vadallia and Cardaen? Absolutely. I’m sure that there’s multiple versions of just such a play created over the millennia by phiarlans. But is such a play going to appeal to a modern human audience, or would they rather see a tale of Lhazaar, or Karrn the Conqueror, or Aundair’s forbidden love, or the sacrifice of Tira Miron? It’s possible that it would succeed—that it would be exotic and unusual and people would latch onto it. But even so, what people would then know about the giants is the same as a human who knows about early American history because they watched Hamilton; they know Cardaen was a slave who worked magic, but that doesn’t mean they know much about the actual structure of the Cul’sir Dominion, beyond the name of its evil titan king. Personally I think it’s the same general model as what the typical Westerner knows about Sumer, or ancient Egypt: the names of a few of their rulers, sure. A few stories that have been featured in popular culture or enshrined by scholars. But if you stopped someone on the street, do you think they could tell you about the structure of the Egyptian military under the Pharaoh Snefru? How many pharoahs could they name? Could they tell you how many dynasties their were? And that’s a human culture that existed just five thousand years ago.

So: I don’t think the history of the giants is an ABSOLUTE mystery. I think the common person knows that there were multiple giant cultures; that they enslaved the elves; that there was an elvish uprising and the giants were destroyed by dragons. They might know the name Cul’sir specifically because they’ve encountered it in Elvish tales, the way many Westerners know Cleopatra because of her role in popular culture but have never heard of Menes… or they might just know him as “that evil titan king.” But I doubt the common person knows much more than that.

If you have questions on these or other topics, ask below!

Dragonmarks: Halflings

Halflings have a variety of compelling roles in Eberron. At the same time, they are shrouded in mystery. Where did halflings come from? How do the subraces of Fifth Edition map to their roles in Eberron? Here’s my thoughts on the matter. As always, these are my personal thoughts, and may contradict canon sources; notably, my thoughts on subraces are certainly at odds with the Player’s Guide to Eberron.

WHAT’S A HALFLING?

In dealing with any nonhuman race, one of the first questions to ask is how are they different from humans? How is a halfling rogue fundamentally different from a human rogue? What does it mean to be a halfling?

At the end of the day, halflings are more like humans than most races. They don’t have darkvision. They don’t have inherent mystical abilities like the forest gnomes. They live slightly longer than humans—5E has them live to around 150 years—but that’s not such a dramatic difference that it’s going to shape a culture as it does for the elves. So on a basic, fundamental level, what does it mean to be a halfling and how might this affect you?

The first critical element is sizeHalflings are small. For a Talenta halfling in the Plains, this doesn’t have much impact; you’re the primary humanoid race of your region and what civilization exists is designed to accommodate you. But a halfling in the Five Nations is a small creature in a medium world. Even Ghallanda designs its inns to accommodate medium creatures, though they at least have furniture and a few rooms designed specifically for small creatures. But as a rule, everything around you is annoyingly oversized. While humans are rationally used to dealing with halflings and gnomes, on a subconscious level many are still likely to treat you as children or to dismiss you as a physical threat. How do you react to all these things? Is it a constant source of irritation? Is it something you embrace and use, taking advantage of the human tendency to underestimate you?

Next up is speedDue to their small size, halflings are literally slower than humans (25 ft walking speed). But they are quick, something reflected both by their high Dexterity and the Halfling Nimbleness ability that allows them to pass through the squares of larger creatures. Combine this with the Naturally Stealthy trait of the Lightfoot halfling—which as I note below, is my default halfling—and you have a creature with a natural ability to outmanuever and outwit their enemies. Halflings live in a world of clumsy giants. When it comes to battle, rather than matching strength to strength, halflings are naturally going to lean towards mobility and finesse. Looking to the Talenta Plains, this ties to the fact that they don’t forge heavy armor. Their warriors aren’t plate-armored fighters; they’re rogues, barbarians, and rangers. Skill and speed are important; even the barbarian is going to make use of their fast movement to outmaneuver their foes.

Beyond this you have bravery and luck. How is it that every halfling is lucky? Who can say. Maybe it’s Eberron’s blessing; maybe it’s an aspect of the Prophecy. But it’s there; halflings are luckier than other creatures, and it’s hardly surprising that luck would breed bravery. Despite their small size, halflings tend to be bold and more willing to take chances than creatures of other races. In contrast to the staid hobbits of Tolkein, I generally see halflings as being innately curious and inclined to take chances. But again, this ties to the quick wit mentioned above. Just because a halfling is brave doesn’t mean that they’re stupid. They aren’t oblivious to risk; it’s just that on a fundamental level, they are generally more willing to take risks than members of other species.

SUBRACES

What sort of halflings do you find in the Talenta Plains? My answer is “all of them.” Unless a subrace is concretely distinct from the core race—like drow or duergar—I prefer to use subraces as a reflection of individual aptitude or unique qualities as opposed to linking biology and culture. I’d rather look at the story of a particular character and if it feels like that character should be Lightfoot, then make them Lightfoot regardless of where they are from. So looking at this, what does subrace mean?

  • Lightfoot halflings combine a natural talent for stealth with remarkable charisma. To me, this is the default for Eberron’s halflings. Naturally Stealthy is a boon for a Talenta hunter or a Boromar enforcer, while Charisma serves Ghallanda barkeep and Boromar grifter alike.
  • Stout halflings sacrifice charm and stealth for resilience. I’m happy to simply see this as a possible expression of being a halfling; hunters tend to be more stealthy, while other members of the community are more durable.
  • I see Ghostwise halflings as rare anomalies, a trait that may be as much mystical as biological. The halflings believe that spirits shape the world. In the Plains, a Ghostwise halfling is seen as touched by the spirits, and is likely to become a druid or shaman. In the Five Nations, a Ghostwise halfling would be seen as a curiosity or even a freak.

CHARACTER ROLES

So you’re making a halfling character. Where are you from? What’s your role in the story? What does being a halfling mean for you? Here’s a few ideas.

The Talenta Halfling

The halflings of the Talenta Plains hold to a way of life that has sustained them for thousands of years. Most are content to follow their ancient ways, but the world has been shrinking. Between the stories of the dragonmarked houses, the growth of Q’barra and Valenar, and the general impact of the war, an increasing number of halflings have been drawn into the outside world. Consider the following possibilities…

  • You served as a mercenary scout in the Last War. You’ve stayed with your comrades in arms since then, hoping to find fortune and adventure.
  • Some force—Emerald Claw? Aurum? Lords of Dust?—wiped out your tribe. You have ventured to the Distant Lands to learn more about your foe and to determine how you can take your revenge.
  • The Treaty of Thronehold declared the Talenta Plains a sovereign nation, but this concept is still strange to the people of the Plains. Your tribe has sent you to the Distant Lands to learn more about them and to find allies that can help your tribe and the Plains overall if there is trouble in the days ahead.
  • The spirits have marked you for a purpose. You have visions that guide you. You don’t yet know what they mean, but you know that you have a destiny you must fulfill, and you won’t turn your back on adventure.
  • You’re simply curious. You’ve always wondered what lies beyond the Plains, and you’re on a journey of discovery. You’re thrilled with ANY adventure… and you find adventure in things that others see as quite mundane.

As a Talenta halfling in the Five Nations, you’re a stranger in a strange land. Cities, airships, lightning rails—these are wondrous things, and it’s amazing what the people of these places take for granted. You are also unaccustomed to the myriad laws and customs of these places; your culture is simpler and more open. Outlander and Hermit are both logical backgrounds, reflecting your relative isolation from civilization. Barbarians, rangers, and rogues are all possible paths for Talenta hunters and warriors. Bards exist, entertaining and carrying news between tribes; I see the flamboyant College of Blades as a good path for the Plains. Spiritual leaders tend to be druids or nature clerics; their faith is a blend of ancestor worship and respect for primal spirits, with a layer of the Sovereign Host (notably, Balinor is thought to have been a great Talenta hunter). If you have XGtE, the Circle of the Guardian is a good choice for the druids of the Plains. Otherwise, both the Circle of Land and Moon are perfectly appropriate, with the Land druid caring for the Plains themselves and the Moon druid bonding with its creatures (and reveling in dinosaur shapes!). If you have a dinosaur companion, bear in mind that you believe your spirit is connected to theirs; they aren’t simply a mount, they are the closest thing you have to family in these foreign lands.

The Dragonmarked Halfling

House Jorasco and House Ghallanda are major institutions in the Five Nations. Ghallanda has maintained stronger ties to the Plains than Jorasco, but for the house members who live in the Five Nations, the Plains are more a part of your peoples’ colorful past than something you particularly embrace yourself.

An immediate question to consider is your role in your house. Are you a workin’ stiff—in which case you might that the Guild Artisan or Entertainer background? Or are you a child of a matriarch, or otherwise connected to the heart of the house… making you for all intents and purposes a Noble? Here’s a few random ideas.

  • You’re an heir to one of the wealthiest families in your house. You’ve never had to work for anything in your life, and your family even bought you magic powers from an archfey (you’re not sure exactly how they managed it, but that’s not your concern). Are you slumming with adventurers just to see how the little people live? Or has your family finally cut you off so you will learn to survive on your own? (Archfey Warlock with the Noble background)
  • You’re a healer, with a remarkable connection to the Mark of Healing. You served as a mercenary medic during the Last War, but after all the suffering you saw you couldn’t bear to work only for gold. Now you’re trying to use your abilities to help the innocent—and since you started down the path, your powers have grown. (This character is technically a Life domain Cleric, but they are drawing their spells and powers through their dragonmark instead of through devotion to a deity.)
  • You used to own a nice little inn in Cyre. It might have been lost in the Mourning or just destroyed in the war. Now you’re on the road with a few of the unusual characters who used to hang out in your bar. Perhaps you’re hoping to raise the funds and find the right place to start a new inn. Or perhaps you’re determined to unlock the mystery of the Mourning, or take vengeance on the Karrnathi commander who destroyed your place. (Rogue with the Guild Artisan background)

Incidentally, all of these are characters I’ve seen or used in my own adventures and campaigns.

The Boromar Clan

The Boromar Clan has dominated the criminal underworld of Sharn for centuries. For the most part, Boromar focuses on non-violent crime… theft, smuggling, gambling… but the halflings are willing to get their hands dirty when they have to. And recently, they’ve had to. Refugees from Cyre and the monstrous forces of Daask are shaking up the established order in Sharn, and your family is going to have to fight to hold onto its kingdom. Where do you stand in all of this?

The Boromar Clan is an easy story for any halfling with the Criminal or Charlatan background. The question is if you’re still connected with the Clan, or whether you’ve left that life behind. Either way, do you still have rivals or allies? A close connection with the Clan can be a benefit in Sharn, but a strong Boromar connection can be a curse as well; you may be called upon to do missions for your family, or you may be targeted by Daask or other enemies.

While it’s easy enough to have a single character with a Boromar connection—the equivalent of the classic thief with a tie to a guild—another option for a noir campaign is to have an entire party tied to the Boromar Clan. While halflings are the foundation of the organization, they hire people of any race and background. With that said, it could be interesting to have an all-halfling crew trying to hold a chunk of territory against Daask: a whisper bard as the mastermind, an assassin rogue and a barbarian (or ranger) as the muscle, maybe a dino-wildshaping druid as your eccentric mystical support. If Sharn doesn’t suit you, this same crew could be sent to Stormreach or even Q’barra to spearhead a new operation!

The Five Nations

Not every halfling is an innkeeper or a criminal. Halflings are spread across the Five Nations, and they can follow any path a human might. Your halfling could have studied magic at Arcanix or felt Boldrei’s call to become a cleric. As with most races in Eberron, ultimately culture is more important than species; you can embrace one of the ideas I’ve suggested above, but don’t be limited by them!

ORIGINS

One question that’s come up in the past is where are halflings FROM? Humans come from Sarlona. Dwarves migrated from the Frostfell and had an empire below the surface. Elves started in Xen’drik. What’s the story of halflings?

The short form is that no one knows. The Talenta halflings have primarily relied on oral traditions. Their culture has existed for thousands of years, but there are no concrete records of exactly how it began or what came before. Currently canon leaves this a mystery, and I doubt that’s going to change; as such, if you want the ancient history of the halflings to be a part of your story, it’s something you’ll have to develop. A simple answer is that halflings share a common ancestor with gnomes; perhaps gnomes evolved on a divergent path due to long-term exposure to Thelanian manifest zones, or perhaps gnomes are the descendants of halflings who immigrated TO Thelanis, returning as something entirely new. Or perhaps halflings are simply children of Eberron, created by the Progenitor herself according to a divine plan. In any case, it seems likely that the Talenta halflings have held their land and their traditions for thousands of years. The Player’s Guide to Eberron suggests that chokers are halflings warped by the Daelkyr, which would place the halflings into the Age of Monsters; as noted in previous posts, the Dhakaani had little interest in enslaving other races and would have simply driven the halflings to the edges of the empire. So you can certainly ADD more details—explore epic conflicts with Dhakaani and Dragonborn—but in general, they’ve simply been following the same path throughout history.

Q&A

Are there any strong arcane traditions amongst the Talentans?

It depends how you define “arcane.” The Talenta halflings don’t have a strong inclination towards scientific inquiry, which is reflected by the fact that their culture hasn’t really changed over the course of thousands of years. So I think wizards and artificers are entirely unknown there. Bards definitely have a role in the Plains, but I’d be somewhat inclined to paint their magic as calling on the spirits for favors, or as tricks they’ve learned from the spirits. This is the same path I’d take for an Archfey warlock, which would be the type of warlock that seems most likely in the Plains… though I could see a Celestial warlock who’s found a couatl patron in Krezent. Sorcerers are as possible in the Plains as they are anywhere, but we’ve never talked about powerful lines of sorcerers in Talenta, and I’d consider them to be rare and remarkable; as with the warlock, I could see a divine soul being touched by the power of Krezent.

Have Eberronian halflings ever had wars where they weren’t somehow squashed “because small”? Do you have any ideas for what sorts of tactics they would use?

I don’t think the halflings have every been “squashed.” Largely they’ve chosen to avoid combat; they’re nomadic, and they’re simply moved out of the way of conflict. Looking to the ECS, it notes:

With the coming of the humans and the rise of the Five Nations, the halflings found their territory shrinking as human settlements encroached on the wide-open plains.

It’s not that the halflings were defeated in battle; it’s that they simply moved out of the way of the settlers, eventually discovering that they were running out of space. Which leads to the next section…

At times, the halflings attempted to hold their position and drive the humans away, and a number of bloody battles punctuate the shared history of the two races. In the end, the two races found common ground and eventually discovered a way to peacefully coexist (the Last War not withstanding).

Again: the halflings weren’t defeated. There were bloody battles, and in the end they reached common ground (and notably, the halflings held onto the Talenta Plains). Now, during the Last War, it’s noted that both Karrnath and Cyre began claiming land in the Plains. The ECS says that “the halfling tribes were permitted to wander their ancestral lands as long as they paid tribute to the Galifar king” and for a time they did that. But during the Last War…

With the coming of war, the halfling tribes began to cooperate in unprecedented ways to protect the Plains that all the tribes revered. Warriors of different tribes banded together, repelling invaders from Karrnath and Cyre by using their knowledge of the ways of the Plains to confuse and confound the invaders.

Ultimately the issue of the the Plainsfolk isn’t their small stature; it’s their small NUMBERS and limited military resources. From a strategic perspective they’re guerrilla warriors who will use mobility and knowledge of the region to outmanuever their enemies. But when you set the Talentans against Karrnath, you are essentially talking about the Ewoks fighting the Empire; they don’t have the numbers, the resources, or the martial or arcane discipline that the Karrns have (not to mention undead). The fact that they HAVE won battles against Karrn forces is a testament to their innovation and their guerrilla tactics.

One thing I’d say here: Talenta forces lack the power and discipline of, say, Dhakaani or Valenar—both cultures that are ENTIRELY FOCUSED on martial excellence. However, I would say that the general harsh environment would likely produce a higher than average number of Talentans that have a level of a player character class than you normally see in Eberron. So most Talentan forces will be made of up 1st level rogues, rangers, or barbarians as opposed to warriors or commoners. And you’ll have heroes who are higher level and potentially druids, clerics, or paladins (such as Holy Uldra). So one-on-one, the halflings are probably tougher than the average Brelish soldier – but when it comes to a war, they still lack the numbers and the military/arcane machinery of the Five Nations.

Why have they never been seen as a threat to other nations? Is it their culture and lack of large scale unification, or generic fantasy underestimation by the big folk?

Lack of large scale unification, lack of population, and essentially, lack of any compelling reason to go on the offensive. By their nature, the halflings have always been the stream that flows around obstacles instead of a force that tries to conquer them. I see no problem with presenting legends of a Lathon who DID unite tribes and wreak havoc in a previous age, and these would be stories Holy Uldra would be invoking now as she rallies warriors to her banner; it’s just not something that’s happened any time recently.

Is there much conflict between urban halflings, Talenta halflings and Dragonmarked halflings? And for that matter, between criminal Boromar and other urban halflings? Criminal halflings and the nomads?

In the world itself, these things aren’t so easily divided. Sharn: City of Towers notes that the Boromar Clan still has ties to the Talenta Plains and has a squad of barbarians—the Clawfoots—they use for brute force operations. So you can be sure that there’s Boromars who take pride in their heritage and Plainsfolk proud to work with them, Boromars who think halflings from the Plains are bumpkins, and Talentans who think the Boromars are city slickers who wouldn’t survive a day in the Plains. Likewise there are specific Jorasco and Ghallanda heirs who work closely with the Boromar Clan, and others who despise criminals and anyone who works with them. As for urban halflings, as I’ve said, many will put their national identity before their racial identity. Dragonmarked halflings won’t fault anyone for this; it’s not like they’re inviting unmarked halflings to join their house. Boromar halflings essentially ARE urban halflings, they’ve just formed a common bond. And Talentans might see urban halflings as creeps for abandoning their traditions, or they might not care – it depends on the individual.

What does the Boromar clan of the Talenta plains think of their Sharn counterpart?

I don’t think the Boromars of the Plains have a very clear concept of what Sharn IS, let alone the precise role of the Boromar Clan there. We know that there is some ongoing connection, because of the presence of the Clawfoot enforcers. My guess is that once a year, Saiden Boromar sends a delegation to the Plains with gifts and supplies for the old family; if there’s talented people who want to join the Clawfoots, they travel back with that delegation.

In general I think they understand Sharn to be a tower of the big folk, and the Boromar Clan to be a group of clever hunters who use their wits to profit off the big folk. I’m sure there’s some who think that their city cousins have lost their way and who don’t want their gifts, and others who think it sounds like a grand adventure. This would likely mean that this tribe is one of the best-equipped tribes in the Plains, in terms of forged weapons, armor, potions, and gifts they might receive.

 Is the above statement about “not all halflings being either innkeeps or criminals” a stereotype that has traction in Eberron?

Ghallanda and Jorasco are the PUBLIC face of halflings in the Five Nations; the Boromar Clan (and thus, the criminal stereotype) is specific to Sharn. So “Innkeeps and Healers” for sure, “Criminals” mainly in Breland. Unlike goblins, I don’t think halflings in the Five Nations are broadly forced into criminal paths.

Are some dinosaurs feathered in Khorvaire and if so do the Talenta incorporate these feathers into their dress/ceremonies?

We haven’t seen any in canon artwork, but it seems appropriate – especially given the couatl. And if they ARE feathered, I’d expect those feathers to be used in rituals, yes.

Would a halfling from the Talenta Plains be as capable (from a fluff perspective) of connecting with dinosaurs from Q’Barra, Xen’drik or Argonnessen if raised there?

The bond is a cultural thing, not genetic. If a Talenta halfling went to Q’barra, the same techniques they use to work with dinosaurs in the Plains should work on dinosaurs in Q’barra, and they could form a connection. But a halfling child raised by humans in Stormreach and then dropped in the middle of Xen’drik doesn’t have some sort of innate magical bond; it’s part of Talenta tradition.

My player is planning to open a brothel and I ruled that Ghallanda has control over that, but do they or is that more a Phiarlan/Thuranni entertainment field?

Per canon prostitution has been presented as “legal but shady”, and generally falls into the domain of the underworld, not something that is licensed and sanctioned by a Dragonmarked House. In Sharn, for example, prostitution is primarily the domain of the Tyrants. So I’d say it’s handled on a more local level as opposed to being part of a house guild.

Are there paladin traditions among the Talenta halflings, devoted to Balinor or other sovereigns?

Sure, I think you could find an Oath of the Ancients paladin tied to Balinor in the Plains. But bear in mind that the Talenta tradition maintains that Balinor was a great halfling hunter, so it’s essentially woven together WITH ancestor worship and general veneration of nature spirits.

These questions are about the mask weavers, the Talenta druids. What visages do the masks of the mask weavers tend to reflect? Are there any specific paths for the mask weavers, from the newer editions point? Could a mask weaver also serve as lath?

The masks are spirit masks. They aren’t made to represent a particular creature or totem; they are a vessel for the spirit of the wearer or their mount. As such, I think there is an extreme variety; it is about creating a mask that reflects the spirit of the wearer. Within a particular tribe you’d have a common general style, but the subject of the mask will vary and in many cases will be more abstract than concrete. A spiritual leader could certainly serve as lath; while she’s a cleric, I’ll point out that Uldra is a lath. As for paths, as suggested above, the Circle of the Guardian is a logical path, but Moon or Land can both work.

Can you expand more on the classes and subclasses you think fit Talenta Halflings, and other halflings, like aren’t there Ghallandan assassins? Do you see a place for Talentan Monks, Warlocks (5e needs a “Primal Spirits” style warlock patron), Cavalier Fighters, etc?

The Ghallandan assassins you’re thinking of are the Black Dogs, who specialize in the use of poison (and are covered in Dragonmarked). The short form is that there’s a way to do almost anything. Personally, I DON’T see an order of Talenta monks; like wizards and artificers, to me the monk implies a static development of a tradition that feels at odds with the nomadic lifestyle of the plains. But if I WANTED to play a Talenta monk, I’d 100% introduce the idea of an Open Hand tradition that is all about fighting like a dinosaur. Take this Hammertail Kick, villain!” Looking to Warlocks, I already suggested options for Archfey and Celestial warlocks earlier. Again, this is a way to look at trappings. The Talenta believe that there are spirits in the world, and they may view the fey through that lens; I’ll point to Xu’sasar in Gates of Night, who is perfectly happy to see Vulkoor in Thelanis. The Archfey approach can also be seen as tying to the Talenta love of stories, which also blends with ancestor worship. A SCHOLAR may look at it and say “You’re dealing with some sort of archfey.” A Talenta Warlock may say “I’m talking with the Voice of the Winds, who guided Lathon Jhelan when he needed to fool the scale-king.”

As for others, I don’t really have time to run down every possible subclass. I generally prefer rogue, ranger, and barbarian as Talenta warriors, but if you want a fighter the cavalier definitely makes sense; likewise, you can certainly have a paladin (Ancients seems sound) with a celestial dino-mount. Ultimately, anything is possible; some paths just make more sense than others.

If you have questions or thoughts, share them below! Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters, who make these articles possible.

Eberron Flashback: Good and Evil

This was the first Eberron article I posted on this site, nearly six years ago. I’m juggling a host of deadlines at the moment and don’t have time to write an entirely new article this week, but this seems like an idea that’s worth revisiting.

Eberron takes a different approach to alignment, dropping the idea that draconic alignment is color coded, that orcs are always evil, or that clerics have to match the alignment of their deity. In designing the setting, how did you end up deciding against alignment constraints?

There’s a place for clear-cut struggles between good and evil, and it’s why we have forces like the Emerald Claw in Eberron. However, in my home games I’ve always preferred to challenge the players to think about their actions – to have things be less clear-cut than “We’re good, they’re evil, beating them up is the right thing to do.” From the start, film noir was called out as a major influence of Eberron, and a noir story relies on a certain level of moral ambiguity and shades of gray. It shouldn’t always be easy to decide who the villain is in a scenario… or if killing the villain will solve a problem.

Beyond this, one of the underlying principles of Eberron is that it is a world in which magic has been incorporated into society. Detect evil exists. In 3.5, paladins can use it at will. Stop and think about that for a moment. If evil was a tangible thing that could be positively identified – and if everyone who was identified as evil was unquestionably a monster with no redeeming features, while everyone who’s good is noble and pure – how would evil still exist? Over the course of two thousand years, wouldn’t we turn to paladins  and alignment-detecting magic to help us identify and weed out the bad apples until we had a healthy tree? Consider our own history of witch-hunts, inquisitions, and the like. If we had an absolute yardstick and if we knew the people who failed the test were truly vile, what would happen over the course of centuries?

Removing alignment completely was never an option. It’s a concrete part of the D&D ruleset. So instead, it was about taking an approach to alignment that could work with the noir story and take into account the existence of paladins and other alignment-linked effects – to justify a world in which good and evil people can work and fight side by side, where the existence of the value that can be identified with detect evil is accepted within society.

There’s four elements to this.

Alignment is a spectrum. Round up ten “evil” people and you’ll find that their behavior and histories are radically different. Consider the following.

  • A sociopathic serial killer who will kill or rob anyone that crosses his path without any hesitation or remorse.
  • A soldier who takes pleasure in torturing citizens of enemy nations – even civilians – but who is willing to lay down his life to protect his own people, and abides by the laws of his homeland.
  • An innkeeper who consistently waters down his ale and pads the bill a little whenever he thinks he can get away with it.
  • A repo man who ruthlessly reclaims goods on behalf of his employer, regardless of the circumstances of his victim and how the loss will affect them.

In my campaign, all four of these people will read as “evil” for purposes of detect evil. They all hurt other people on a regular basis and feel no remorse for their actions. Yet the innkeeper would never actually kill anyone. And the repo man is just doing a job and doing it well; he won’t interfere with anyone who hasn’t defaulted on their payments. In my eyes, one of the key elements of alignment is empathy. All four of these people are capable of performing actions that hurt others without remorse because they don’t empathize with their victims. But again, they vary wildly in the threat they pose to society. The serial killer is a dangerous criminal. The innkeeper is a criminal, but not a violent one. The cruel soldier is a danger to his enemies but protects his own people. The repo man has turned his lack of empathy into a productive tool. All of them are evil, but they are on different points of the spectrum.

Another important example of this for Eberron comes with clerics. Eberron allows clerics to have an alignment that is different from that of their divine power source. But it is again important to realize that an evil cleric of a good faith can mean different things. One evil priest of the Silver Flame may be a hypocrite and liar who is secretly allied with the Lords of Dust or abusing the faith of his followers for personal gain. However, another may be deeply devoted to the faith and willing to lay down his life to protect the innocent from supernatural evil – but he is also willing to regularly engage in ruthless and cruel acts to achieve this. The classic inquisitor falls into this mold. He truly is trying to do what’s best, and in a world where demonic possession is real his harsh methods may be your only hope. But he will torture you for your own good, and feel no sympathy for your pain. This makes him “evil” – yet compared to the first priest, he is truly devout and serving the interests of the church.

Alignment versus Motivation. Alignment reflects the way the character interacts with the world. Empathy is an important factor, along with the degree to which the character is willing to personally engage in immoral actions. But what it doesn’t take into account is the big picture. Let’s take two soldiers. Both joined the Brelish army of their own free will. The “evil” soldier hates the Thranes, and given the chance he will torture and loot. He wears a belt of Thranish ears. Yet he loves his country and will sacrifice his own life to defend it. He’s “evil” because he is willing to carry out those atrocities; but he’d never do such a thing to a Brelish citizen. On the other hand, the “good” soldier will kill Thranes on the battlefield, but will not condone the mistreatment of prisoners or civilians. He hates the war but feels sympathy for the civilians on both sides; he further recognizes that the enemies he fights are just protecting their people, and treats them with respect. Both soldiers have the exact same goal and will fight side by side on the battlefield; alignment simply provides insight into how they may act.

Expanding on this: one of the rulers of the Five Nations is a good-aligned monarch who seeks to restart the Last War. Another is an evil leader who seeks peace. Restarting the war will result in the deaths of tens of thousands of people – how can a “good” monarch support that? Again, in Eberron alignment doesn’t represent someone’s actions on a global scale: it reflects the manner in which they pursue those goals. The good ruler believes that a just war is possible and that a united Khorvaire will prosper under her rule. She won’t condone torture, the mistreatment of civilians, and so on. She will treat her prisoners and emissaries fairly. Of course, her ministers and generals may engage in evil behavior in the name of the war; she will be horrified when she hears of it. Meanwhile, the evil king pursuing peace has a noble goal, but will do absolutely anything to achieve it. Torture? Oppressive martial law? Assassination? Anything. He’d kill members of his own family if he had to. So in both cases, the personal alignment tells you how they conduct their personal affairs, but nothing about the big picture.

People know these things. If a paladin walks into a tavern and scans ten people, he may find that three of them are evil. This doesn’t require any immediate action on his part, and while disappointing it isn’t a surprise. In The Empire Strikes Back, Yoda looks at Luke and says “There is much anger in him.” Luke hadn’t done anything bad; but what Yoda could sense was his potential to do evil. That’s what the paladin gets from detect evil. He doesn’t know where you lie on the spectrum. He doesn’t know your motivations. He knows that you lack empathy for others and may be selfish or narcissistic; that you are capable of hurting others without remorse; but he doesn’t know if you have or ever will. This is a key point with the Church of the Silver Flame. They are devoted to fighting supernatural evil: demons, undead, lycanthropy, etc. These are the things to fight with sword and spell. HUMAN evil is something that should be fought with compassion, charity, and guidance. Per Flame creed, you defeat mortal evil by guiding people to the light, not by killing them.

So – once you accept this version of alignment, you can find many jobs in society that are actually better suited to evil people. A repo man who has too much sympathy or empathy for his targets is going to have a difficult time doing his job. A tax collector may be the same way. An evil politican who’s willing to play the game of corruption in order to get things done may actually be the best hope of a city – providing that his motivation is towards the greater good. Knowing someone’s alignment is a piece of a puzzle – but it doesn’t tell you everything and it doesn’t end the story.

One side note: you may look at some of these things and say “I’d probably just make the repo man neutral/unaligned.” And that’s a reasonable approach. With Eberron, I specifically narrowed the spectrum of “neutral” while broadening the spectrum of “evil,” because again, the less concrete evil is the easier it is for it to be incorporated into society. If evil people can contribute to society in a positive way, then knowing someone is evil doesn’t lock in a story… while if only villains are evil, it automatically becomes a villain detector.

A secondary element to all this is fact that in Eberron many creatures that are traditionally bound to a specific alignment aren’t. By and large, creatures with human intelligence are as capable of choosing their own path as humans are. You can have good medusas and evil gold dragons. However, there are exceptions to this rule, and the most notable of these are celestials, fiends, and other spiritual entities. These beings are in essence physical embodiments of ideas. A fiend is evil personified… and as a result, it is both always evil and a much purer evil than you tend to see in mortal creatures; on a scale of one to ten, it goes to eleven. It is possible for the angel to fall or the demon to rise (as shown by the Quori bound to the kalashtar), but in these cases the spirit will typically physically transform to reflect this change. An angel that falls from Syrania will become a fiend or a radiant idol, for example. So when you meet a devil, you can generally be pretty sure it’s lawful evil, because that’s what it means to BE a devil.

It’s 2018. How does this apply to Fifth Edition? 

Fifth Edition is closer to Eberron in a number of ways. The description of clerics places no concrete limit on alignment, and also calls out that clerics are rare and that most priests aren’t clerics — a radical idea when Eberron first presented it. The entry on paladins specifically calls out the idea of a paladin whose alignment is at odds with their oath:

Consider how your alignment colors the way you pursue your holy quest and the manner in which you conduct yourself before gods and mortals. Your oath and alignment might be in harmony, or your oath might represent standards of behavior that you have not yet attained.

Likewise, the detect good & evil spell and the divine sense of the paladin doesn’t actually detect ALIGNMENT; it detects aberrations, celestials, elementals, fey, fiends, and undead. Essentially, it’s the perfect tool for the Silver Flame: it tracks supernatural threats, not mortal behavior. This actually addresses many of the issues called out above, because there is no simple way to alignment-check someone. It also calls out that “Few people are perfectly and consistently faithful to the precepts of their alignment.” And it concretely calls out one of the core principles of Eberron regarding immortals:

Alignment is an essential part of the nature of celestials and fiends. A devil does not choose to be lawful evil, and it doesn’t tend toward lawful evil, but rather it is lawful evil in its essence. If it somehow ceased to be lawful evil, it would cease to be a devil.

Where the two part ways is that core 5E is more comfortable enforcing alignment on mortal creatures. Eberron has always had the principle that immortals have fixed alignment and that creatures such as undead and lycanthropes have alignment set by a supernatural force, but that natural creatures are able to choose their own path. 5E asserts that humans and demi-humans have this choice, but that OTHER races are shaped by gods and lack choice: Most orcs share the violent, savage nature of the orc god, Gruumsh, and are thus inclined toward evil. Even if an orc chooses a good alignment, it struggles against its innate tendencies for its entire life.

You can see my thoughts on orcs in Eberron here. I like calling out that orcs are not human and have a different sort of mindset — having a nature driven to strong passions and emotions — but not one that is inherently driven to evil. To me, this comes back to the story you want to tell. As I’ve said before: in Eberron, the Order of the Emerald Claw exists as the bad guys you know are bad — the force you KNOW you can feel good about fighting. This is what 5E is trying to do here with orcs and evil dragons. I just prefer that when you meet an orc in Eberron, you don’t know if she’s a cruel cultist of the Dragon Below or a noble Gatekeeper Druid.

Anyhow, that’s all for now. Feel free to share your thoughts and questions about alignment in Eberron below! And thanks as always to my Patreon supporters, who keep this blog going!

Q&A

How could a good follower of the Mockery or the Keeper be in Eberron? How could a good adventurer justify following the precepts of the Dark Six?

I have a half-written article about the Dark Six and their role in the setting, and that will delve into this subject in depth. It’s very difficult to have a good-aligned character dedicated specifically to the Mockery, because the Mockery embodies the cruelest aspects of war: deception, terror, dishonorable combat. The Mockery is about victory by any means necessary. But this comes to the conflict between personal alignment and long-term motivation. Someone dedicated to the Mockery should be evil… but they could be fighting for a just cause. When swords are drawn they will behave dishonorably, because they believe the idea of honor in war is stupid. But they may be fighting for the greater good. I’ll call out that one group that includes the worship of the Mockery is a sect called the Three Faces of War, which embraces Dol Arrah, Dol Dorn, and Dol Azur (the Mockery) as the three forces that govern the battlefield, encouraging followers to understand them all.

So essentially: the Dark Six embody frightening and dangerous behaviors: pursuing dark magic, dishonorable conduct on the battlefield, the destructive power of nature, wild emotion and passion, change and chaos, death. But someone can embrace one of these concepts as a positive tool for their community. I’ll get into this more deeply when I write the full article, but I can see heroes and villains tied to any of these concepts.

Why the Blood of Vol is an evil religion in 3.5? In my opinion, it doesn’t have anything inherently evil in its precepts… it´s about protection of the community and unlocking your true potential. That seems pretty neutral to me. In fact, in 4th edition the cult was categorized as unaligned…

In 3.5, every faith has a divine power source. The alignment of the divine power source, among other things, determines whether a cleric turns undead or rebukes them. The Blood of Vol has a friendly relationship with the undead and thus channels negative energy., hence the power source is “evil.” The evil alignment was also a holdover to the idea that “people who associate with undead must be evil.” This reflects the general view of the people of Khorvaire: because the Blood of Vol associates with undead and many of its followers hate the Sovereigns, they must be evil. Ever since the original ECS — in the Sharn sourcebook, Faiths of Eberron, 4E — the Blood of Vol has been presented in a more positive light, clarifying that despite channeling negative energy, the faith itself isn’t inherently evil. I’ve written about this at length in this article.

If Eberron assumes that there may be persons that fail to live up to the ideals of a group or ideology (e.g. as happens with the Silver Flame) or dark sides to good persons/groups and vice versa, what are the dark sides (if any) of the Kalashtar and the gray parts of the inspired. I have the feeling that they are portrayed as archetypes of good and evil aspects, respectively. Am I wrong?

You are in fact wrong. But it’s complicated.

The Inspired are mortal vessels directly possessed by Quori. As a result, you know that the Inspired are evil. However, as noted above, that’s personal alignment – which doesn’t tell you anything about their long-term motivation or the impact of their actions. The Dreaming Dark is an agency that is carrying out an evil agenda, and Inspired agents of the Dreaming Dark are reliably evil. But the majority of the Inspired are ambassadors and administrators maintaining an empire. A typical Inspired overseer feels no empathy for his human subjects and would feel no remorse if he had to slaughter them; but most of the time he DOESN’T have to slaughter them, and furthermore he knows that the best way to help his people accomplish their goals is to keep his subjects content. Subtlety and charisma are the greatest weapons of the Quori; they are masters of propaganda and manipulation, of tricking you into thinking you want to do what they want you to do. Which means that while they may BE evil, most Inspired appear to be benevolent rulers. They provide for the needs of their people. They will not tolerate crime or disobedience, and they will act ruthlessly and swiftly to enforce this. Nonetheless, those Riedrans who are content to follow the path assigned to them needn’t worry about food, shelter, or security. The Inspired see to their needs and protect them.

What this ultimately comes down to is that the Inspired have done a good thing: they have created a stable society whose people by and large need not worry about crime, war, disease, hunger, or even bad dreams. However, they have accomplished this by doing an evil thing – stripping people of freedom and choice. The typical Riedran doesn’t want to BE free of the Inspired… because they’ve created a society where he doesn’t have that choice. On the other hand, a Riedran farmer is likely to live a far more comfortable, stable, and secure life than his counterpart in Breland or Karrnath. So… are the Inspired purely evil? If you destroy them, you’ll throw Riedra into chaos and civil war, unleash famine and plague… is that a good act?

Now let’s look at the kalashtar. The race was created when rebellious Quori of good and neutral alignment fused with human hosts. However, that was well over a thousand years ago. Unlike the Inspired, the kalashtar aren’t directly possessed by their Quori spirits; they are merely influenced by them, and that influence comes through instinct and dream. An Inspired will always match the alignment of its Quori spirit, because it literally IS the Quori spirit. Kalashtar, on the other hand, aren’t required to match the alignment of their Quori. If the alignment of the kalashtar is radically different from that of its bound Quori spirit, it will create emotional dissonance that will result in mental instability or outright madness… but that can still make for a very dangerous villain. This is especially relevant for orphan kalashtar who know little or nothing of the history or origins of their people; the Quori voice is part of what will shape their character, but it’s not alone. This is discussed in more detail in Races of Eberron.

So first of all, you can have literally evil kalashtar. Beyond this: Just as the Church of the Silver Flame and the Blood of Vol have groups of extremists whose actions soil the fundamental principles of their faiths, there are extremists among the kalashtar as well. Overall, the Adaran kalashtar live by principles of patience and perseverance, confident that through their actions they are pushing the cycle closer to the turn of the age and destruction of the Dreaming Dark. Overall, they have avoided acts of aggression against Riedra, not wanting to harm innocents in their struggle with the Dreaming Dark. But there are exceptions. There are atavists who believe that they must take the offensive against il-Lashtavar – even if that means killing or torturing the innocent pawns trapped in the web. They will and should stand out because this behavior is so unlike the kalashtar norm, and it may create mental dissonance. But it’s still there. Beyond this, there are kalashtar who actually envy the immortal Inspired, and want to actually become like the Quori themselves. So in the end you can find darkness among kalashtar – even among the followers of the Path of Light – and there are Inspired whose lives are devoted to ensuring the comfort and survival of civilians.

You speak of good and evil immortals as metaphysical good and evil. But do you see a space for metaphysical neutrality? I think that something like that could be the Inevitables, but they could as well being bad if you depict evil as lack of empathy.

Lack of empathy is described as ONE of the factors for setting alignment; it’s not supposed to be the absolute measure. The article begins by noting that there is a place in Eberron for moral absolutes — the idea that you always know you’re doing the right thing by opposing the Emerald Claw — and this is the role of immortals. They aren’t about shades of grey; they are incarnate symbols of extreme ideas. An evil immortal isn’t just slightly evil — the evil of performing a minor cruel act without empathy — they are dramatically evil.

And bear in mind that even a lawful neutral mortal can assert that the requirements of the law are more important that sympathy for another human; but that’s not JUST driven by a complete lack of feeling for others, it’s that there is another principle that is more important. This is where neutral immortals live: there is a guiding principle that drives them, and this outweighs any consideration of good or evil.

So yes, neutral immortals exist. Especially in Daanvi, Dolurrh and Syrania.

In Shavarath there is a perpetual war between good and evil, law and chaos. But how in this eternal war that nobody can win there is space for angels for being good, for devil for being evil? I even think that they know that no action can end the world and no opponent can be killed.

This is really a question that needs to be answered by an entire post an about Shavarath. But I’ll touch on it at a high level. First of all, the forces that fight the eternal war don’t expect to ever WIN. They believe that outcome of their war — the balance at any given moment between good and evil, law and chaos — is reflected across ALL REALITY. ANY victory or loss — seizing a keep, moving a battle line forward ten feet — will in some way be reflected across all of the planes. So for the archon EVERY victory matters, and the most important thing is to never falter and never let evil gain ground.

Beyond this, what’s been said before is that The three largest forces in Shavarath are an army of Archons, an army of Devils, and an army of Demons. The Archons embody the concept of just battle and war fought for noble reasons. The Devils reflect violence in pursuit of tyranny and power. And the Demons are bloodlust and chaos, random violence and brutality. There’s two things to bear in mind. First, for these immortals acting in a good or evil manner isn’t a choice; it is the only way they know how to act. Again, they are SYMBOLS as much as anything else. But how does this manifest? That brings us to the second point. There are civilians in Shavarath. An archon reflects war fought for just cause, protecting innocents. A demon embodies brutality and cruelty. As a result, there are innocent, noncombatant spirits in Shavarath — because there HAVE to be so that the archons can protect them, the demons can torment them, the devils can enslave them. This goes back to my post about Thelanis: you have the Archfey and greater fey who embody stories, but you also have the lesser beings who act as the set dressing. These beings may be immortal in the sense that if one dies, a new one will eventually appear to take its place… but it won’t be the same spirit. Memory and experience will be lost. The same is true of lesser archons, devils, etc. The mightiest spirits will return with their personality intact, but for lesser immortals, death IS death of your identity; it’s just that you know a new spirit will rise to take your place. So the archon who places itself at risk to save an innocent IS making a noble sacrifice, even if a new archon will always emerge to take its place should it fall.

Beyond that, this is definitely a discussion for an article about Shavarath, so I’m not going to go into further detail on this.

To what extent are quori evil? In some ways the dreaming dark behave as more as LN than LE. They don’t indulge into cruelty, they are just terribly cold, desperate and efficient.

There’s a number of factors here. The first is that the fact that the Quori don’t engage in needless cruelty in Riedra isn’t an act of kindness; it is a calculated form on psychological manipulation, which the Quori excel at. They need a docile population. Rather than enforce their rule with force and terror—things that breed defiance and resistance—they have manipulated their victims into embracing their conquerors. And as others have noted, they did this by inflaming wars, manipulating fears, and utterly destroying a number of cultures. What they’ve done is a trick. They’ve created a cage and convinced their victims that they WANT to be inside it. It’s not kind; it’s just that a prison with golden bars is more effective than one made of barbed wire.

We then come back to one of the main points of this article: That personal alignment may be at odds with the actions a character takesAn evil person can do a good thing. The Quori have created a peaceful society because it serves their purposes; that doesn’t make them good. The Quori are sculptors of nightmare who feed on negative emotions. Tsucora quori feed on mortal fear. Here’s a quote from the 3.5 ECS: When they are not serving in the great cities of their nightmare realm, (tsucora Quori) hunt the dreaming spirits of mortals. Most tsucora are cruel and calculating; they enjoy having power over others. So first of all: the Quori love manipulation and control, and that’s something that comes out in Riedra, even if that manipulation appears to be peaceful. Second, a quori doesn’t HAVE to indulge its appetite for cruelty in the waking world, because any time it goes back to Riedra, it can take a break and torment a few mortal dreamers.

So the quori are definitely embodiments of evil. They love manipulating and tormenting mortals. It’s simply that their long-term goals—ensuring their continued survival—take precedence over indulging their inherent cruelty.