Lightning Round: Dragons, Tarkanan, and More!

Hi Everyone!

The last two months have been a whirlwind of travel and deadlines, and that’s kept me largely off the internet. In addition to traveling to GenCon, DragonCon, and XOXO, I’ve been working on Exploring Eberron—The Book Formerly Known As Project Raptor—and also on the game Twogether Studios is developing with the Adventure Zone. I’m also preparing to DM at Level Eater in Portland and G.A.M.E in Springfield!

In my next post I’ll talk more about all of these things, and about Eberron: Rising From The Last War, the Eberron hardcover that is  coming out in November. Today, I want to quickly answer a few questions from my Patreon supporters!

If Aberrant Marks can’t be passed on like normal Dragonmarks, what is life typically like for the children of House Tarkanan?

For those unfamiliar with aberrant dragonmarks or House Tarkanan, this article might be a useful crash course on some of the issues associated with them.

As for this question: remember that “House Tarkanan” is nothing like a Dragonmarked House. It’s a name this organization took in mockery of the Dragonmarked Houses, sort of like a gang calling themselves “The Kings of Callestan.” Just because they call themselves “Kings” doesn’t mean they actually have any sort of sovereign power! The Dragonmarked Houses are multinational guilds formed many centuries ago through the alliances of powerful families. They are dynasties as well as businesses with a presence in multiple nations and on multiple continents. By contrast, House Tarkanan was started less than a decade ago by the survivors of a disavowed Brelish commando unit. It has expanded its operations since then, but it is still a small organization and still fundamentally a criminal organization, NOT a dynasty. You aren’t born into House Tarkanan and you don’t need to marry into it; you’re simply recruited into it. Members often use the last name Tarkanan, but that’s an affectation. The leader of the gang often calls herself Thora Tarkanan, but her actual name is Thora Tavin.

So the main point is that there are no “children of House Tarkanan.” The organization thrives by recruiting new members, not by breeding them. If you’re a Tarkanan enforcer, you could marry a Morgrave librarian and have five kids; marked or unmarked, your spouse and children aren’t considered members of House Tarkanan unless they are recruited into it.

With that said, the issue behind the question is the idea that aberrant dragonmarks aren’t hereditary. And on that point, I’m going to change MY stance slightly. We’ve always said that the most reliable way to produce an aberrant dragonmark is to cross the bloodlines of two different houses—that this is more likely to produce an aberrant mark than a person with an aberrant mark having a child. And I stand by that, in general, with one exception: I think it’s fair to say that if both parents have aberrant dragonmarks, the odds of producing an aberrant child are the same as if you mixed two house bloodlines… that two aberrants ALSO produce a “mixed mark.” Since the War of the Mark, aberrant marks have been so rare that this has rarely been an issue. But now aberrant marks are starting to appear in greater numbers, and forces like House Tarkanan are concentrating them. So this is a factor that COULD lead to House Tarkanan producing more aberrant heirs.

But the critical question is… does it want to? 

Even if you have a more reliable way to produce an aberrant mark, one of the defining factors of aberrant marks is that they are unpredictable: even if two aberrant parents produce a child with an aberrant mark, most likely that mark will have NOTHING IN COMMON with the marks of the parents. The semi-canon example we have of this is in the novel The Son of Khyber. Tarkanan lieutenant Filleon is the son of Ghallanda-Jorasco parents and has a mark that gives him a lethal touch. His daughter Zae has a mark that lets her communicate with and control vermin… nothing to do with his mark, or Jorasco, or Ghallanda. The second key element is that fact that most aberrant marks have serious physical or mental side effects. In Son of Khyber, Filleon has a withered arm that’s a result of his mark, and accidentally killed his mother when his mark manifested. While Zae can communicate with rats, it appears that she can’t actually speak; Filleon himself says that her mark is a mental burden and that he feels pity for her. Essentially, if you’re a Cannith heir with the Mark of Making, there’s no reason not to pass that on to a child. If you’re an aberrant, you have no idea if your child will develop a mark they come to see as a curse, and you also know they’ll be ostracized and persecuted.

With player characters we tend to downplay the negative side effects of aberrant marks and leave it primarily up to the player to roleplay them. But the intent is that aberrant marks are difficult and dangerous. If we look to the X-Men as a comparison, consider Cyclops—the idea that if he loses his glasses, people may die. Or Rogue, unable to touch someone without draining their life force and memories. House Tarkanan wants to protect people with aberrant marks, and to train them to use their powers. But it’s a valid question if they’d actually want to dramatically increase the number of people with aberrant marks, given how often those marks can be a burden to the people who carry them.

Do aberrant marks follow the rules of if they are removed they will manifest again elsewhere on the body? Would they manifest with the same drawback? I know the novel dwarf has essentially regeneration backlash.

Aberrant marks are dragonmarks. As such, yes, if removed they will manifest elsewhere on the body. Essentially, the power doesn’t actually come FROM the physical mark; rather, the mark is a manifestation of the power. Cut the mark off, the power remains, and eventually the mark reappears. Whether the drawback remains the same depends on the drawback. In the case of the ratspeaker Zae, the idea is that her POWER is what drives her a little crazy; she hears whispering rats in her head all the time. As long as she has that power, it will be a burden. On the other hand, if Filleon cut off his withered arm, maybe that would be that… or maybe the power of the mark would cause ANOTHER one of his limbs to wither. There’s no absolute rules, and I don’t see that as something Filleon would be inclined to put to the test.

The dwarf Brom is an unusual character who would be difficult to create as a PC—an example of a greater or Khyber-level mark. He has essentially, a dramatic form of regeneration blended with reincarnation; when he’s injured, the cells regenerate, but typically as cells of a random humanoid. And certainly, if his mark was removed, it would return.

My general understanding is that the Aurum represents an ascendant merchant class that chafes at both Nations’ and the Houses’ powers – Something which puts them at least somewhat into alignment with Tarkanan. How do you think they would align and how would they conflict?

In many ways the Aurum and House Tarkanan are opposites. The Aurum is a collection of wealthy, privileged people who want even more wealth and power. By contrast, House Tarkanan was founded by betrayed soldiers, and represents an alliance of people scorned and feared by all, people who have endured poverty and hardship. Tarkanan is a very SMALL organization – per WGtE, a “small, elite force” and only just starting to establish itself beyond Sharn – while the Aurum is spread across Khorvaire. Members of House Tarkanan are united both by their marks and the persecution they’ve endured; they feel a sense of kinship and they generally do seek to help others with aberrant marks. Meanwhile, the Aurum is largely an alliance of convenience; they aren’t driven to help other wealthy people in need.

I could see two basic points. One would be straightforward. Tarkanan is a group of mercenary criminals. The Aurum are people with money who need mercenaries to do their dirty work. It is thus entirely reasonable for an Aurum mastermind to hire House Tarkanan to assist in an operation targeting a house,  and Tarkanan would be happy to take the job. The other possibility would be for a member of the Shadow Cabinet, such as Antus Soldorak, to recognize Tarkanan as a useful tool in their goal of destabilizing houses; with this in mind, they would offer Tarkanan gold and resources, while suggesting targets. Tarkanan is a small organization and would likely be happy to have that wealthy patron. I wouldn’t make the alliance any more direct than that. Thora would likely know very little about the patron, likely not even their name; part of the point would be that the Aurum could USE Tarkanan—known to have a grudge with the houses—as a catspaw to undertake missions they don’t want traced back to them.

If a dragonmarked heir became a warlord of Droaam somehow, would anyone call them out for violating the Korth Edicts?

Galifar I established the Korth Edicts, which forbid dragonmarked heirs from holding land, noble title, or maintaining military forces. In the wake of the Last War, it’s very unclear who could actually enforce the Korth Edicts. MOST people abide by them, because they carry the weight of centuries of tradition. But there’s a number of active examples where houses are violating the Edicts and nothing is being done. Essentially, sure, someone COULD call them out… and then what? Unless that person has powerful friends who take such an interest that they are willing to try to lean on the heir’s Baron to address the situation, odds are good it would be one more case where the Edicts are been violated and nothing is being done.

With that said, it’s also a weird issue because Droaam isn’t recognized as a sovereign nation. As such, being a warlord of Droaam likely wouldn’t be recognized as a “noble title” under the terms of the Edicts.

In an episode of Manifest Zone you (I think!) mentioned that the giants of Xen’drik were more like titans rather than the several sub-races that exist now. Could you expand on that at all? If the giants were like titans did the dragons curse the race when they destroyed their empire, deliberately fragmenting the race so they could not rise to dominance again?

That’s correct. This is covered in the 3.5 sourcebooks Secrets of Xen’drik and City of Stormreach. This is from City of Stormreach. 

In dealing with the giants of Xen’drik, it’s important to bear in mind that the giants have not always been such a divergent species. Many scholars claim that all modern giants—stone and hill, fire and frost—share a common biological ancestor, beyond the mythical titans. Some adventurers speak of encounters with primordial giants or eldritch giants, and this could be the answer to these stories. In any case, evidence exists that a few of the giant subspecies—such as the fire giants of the Sul’at League—existed prior to the great cataclysm. But others, most notably the hill giants, are said to be the result of curses unleashed in that war… powers unleashed by the dragons to prevent any giant nation from rising to its prior heights.

Titans were founders and leaders of many of the giant nations, while the “common” giants were more in the mode of storm giants or eldritch giants. The dragons unleashed epic curses—the Traveler’s Curse, the Durashka Tul, and more—and the modern giants are a reflection of these curses.

Are the half-giants a result of magebreeding or some sort of result of the curses like the hill giants? Are they actually “half” anything or are they simply the smallest giants?

The canon answer is given in the Player’s Guide to Eberron:

In the distant past, giant explorers from Xen’drik visited southern Sarlona. Their descendants are the half-giants described in the Expanded Psionics Handbook. It is unclear whether half-giants actually have human ancestry or are simply degenerate descendants of the titans of Xen’drik (as most giant kinds are believed to be).

This is echoed in Secrets of Sarlona…

Perhaps the most baffling of all the races on the continent, the nomadic half-giants of Sarlona are descendants of ancient giant explorers from Xen’drik. Some say the half-giants are degenerate offspring of the Xen’drik titans, while others contend they have a mixed human ancestry.

Are ogres and trolls actually related to the giants in the ways they are in other settings, or are they simply parallel creatures with similar traits (size, strength, ferocity) but different origins?

In my opinion, ogres and trolls are entirely unrelated to giants, which is one reason we suggests that the ogres and trolls of Khorvaire should speak Goblin instead of Giant. Trolls are likely part of the same biological path as orcs; ogres developed on Sarlona.

I am using Sarmondelaryx as a Patron for one of my players, in my campaign she has been sealed by Harryn Stormblade a couple of centuries prior to the start of our campaign. What kind of goals would you think she would be aspiring to for when she manages to get released? 

Sarmondelaryx is a character referenced in the Thorn of Breland novel series. She is a rogue red dragon possessing a set of powerful dragonshard artifacts; these help her avoid detection (and thus the Eyes of Chronepsis) and to bind souls, which has the effect of extending her life. She is infamous for having killed the first Prince Thrane and devastating the nation in the early days of Galifar.

So: Sarmondelaryx is a powerful, virtually immortal dragon with enemies in both Argonnessen and Ashtakala. She has consumed demons and slain dragons, and personally I would double down on her desire to make both sides suffer—to be a wild card in the ancient war between the Conclave and the Lords of Dust. I’d see her trying to stir up conflicts between the Lords of Dust and the Chamber, setting situations where they end up fighting each other while Sarmondelaryx (or her agent) escapes with whatever prize they were seeking. What does she want? She always wants to increase her own power… but as much as anything, I think she enjoys the game of outsmarting both of the superpowers, making her enemies suffer and proving her superiority.

The church of the silver Flame seems to have a lot of variance in its presentation by author. Structurally, it consistently has the big three orders of ministers/Templars/friars. Are other orders subsidiaries of those? Same organizational level but smaller and less prominent?

Certainly. The templars, ministers, and friars are the core roles of the church. The templar defends; the minister guides a particular community; and the friar remains in motion, bringing the light of the Flame to dark places. But within those three broad categories there are many orders and sects, many with narrower missions. For example, the Argentum is technically tied to the Templars, but it is tasked with seeking out dangerous magical relics. Some of these lesser orders are also specific to particular nations; the Argentum is a Thrane order.

That’s all for now—stay tuned for more on Exploring Eberron!

Yuan-Ti 2: How would *I* use them?

I’m getting ready for GenCon and working on Project Raptor and other things. But the other day I posted an article in response to a question from a Patreon supportersWhat’s the role of the yuan-ti in Eberron? In this article, I focused on the CANON role of the yuan-ti in the setting… yuan-ti civilization began in Sarlona; they were driven first to Argonnessen and then to Xen’drik, where they scheme and hunger for revenge. Which is fine. But I’ve never actually used any of that in a campaign I’ve run. In writing the article and addressing follow-up questions, I started thinking about how I would actually use them… and I thought I’d share that here.

It’s proverbial that If it exists in D&D, there’s a place for it in Eberron. But as I’ve said before, this was never meant to mean that everything in D&D IS in Eberron; it’s that it COULD be, if you want it to be a part of your campaign. I’ve always preferred to focus on fewer elements but to add more depth to them. I’ve never used the yuan-ti in a campaign because I’ve never had a need for them, when I’ve had the daelkyr, the Dreaming Dark, the Gatekeepers, the Dhakaani. But in adding anything, the question to me is what it brings—what’s unique about it. For me, the things that are compelling about the yuan-ti are…

  • Their variable phenotypes: from the purebloods who can blend in among humanity to the inhuman abominations and anathema.
  • The idea that they were once human but were corrupted by their dark devotions.
  • The principle that as a group they are up to no good… something that is rare in Eberron, where evil generally isn’t genetic. The yuan-ti are sly schemers, hungry for power and dominion over others.
  • The question of their connection to the shulassakar… who I”ll note I originally created as an alternative to the yuan-ti, a way to use the mechanics of the yuan-ti in a COMPLETELY different way than in other settings.

Now, one option is to try to take the rest of the traditional yuan-ti backstory—the fallen empire of slavers—and to fit that into the setting, and that’s essentially what the canon approach does; creating a yuan-ti nation in Sarlona that was overthrown during the Sundering. However, if I were to use them in my campaign, I wouldn’t do this. I don’t NEED another ancient kingdom, and my players have no reason to care about some nation that fell a thousand years ago on another continent. So I’d rather find a way to add the yuan-ti that makes them integral to the story that I’m telling.

So, if *I* were to use the yuan-ti, I’d turn it around and make their evolution from human to yuan-ti something that’s happening RIGHT NOW—not something that happened a thousand years ago. Q’barra is the prison of the Overlord Masvirik, also known as the Cold Sun: an archfiend embodying the divide between mammal and reptile, lord of scale and venom. Since the Age of Demons, Q’barra has seen conflict between the lizardfolk of the Cold Sun Federation and the corrupted forces of the Poison Dusk. A region of untamed jungle, Q’barra had long been ignored by the people of Galifar… until the Last War, when Ven ir’Kesslan led a flotilla of settlers east. These settlers soon discovered rich deposits of Eberron dragonshards in Q’barra, and this brought a new wave of opportunists and fortune seekers. Today, New Galifar seeks to maintain the values of the fallen kingdom, while Hope is a wild frontier.

In running a Q’barra campaign, one of the primary themes is the interaction between the settlers and the lizardfolk, tied to the idea that the settlers don’t understand the ancient dangers that linger in this land. But what if there are humans who do understand… warlocks and sages who seek to claim Masvirik’s power as their own? What if there is a conspiracy spread across the land, with agents among the nobles of New Galifar and the shard barons of Hope? What if they’re using their influence to stir up conflict between the humans and the scales… in the process destroying wards and allowing them to seize artifacts and dragonshards tied to Masvirik? And, of course, what if in doing this—in seeking to harness the power of the Cold Sun—these people are becoming something less than human?

In part, this could seem like any cult of the Dragon Below. Here’s the things I’ll call out to separate it.

  • It’s always been a theme of the yuan-ti that they aren’t devoted to their gods; they want their power. I’d highlight that here. The Poison Dusk are fanatically devoted to Masvirik. The yuan-ti have absolutely no love for the Cold Sun: they are opportunists who want to steal his power.
  • Q’barra includes dusk shards: dragonshards imbued with the power of Masvirik. The yuan-ti would be amassing these shards and using this dark power—to create eldritch machines, to create magic items, or as focus items. Some might grind up the shards and drink them. Acquiring dusk shards would be a common, basic goal of the yuan-ti… and something that would place them at odds with the Cold Sun Federation.
  • Rather than priests, I’d likely focus on these yuan-ti as sorcerers and warlocks; they are stealing the power rather than having it granted to them. A yuan-ti warlock could be tricking Masvirik into granting power, but more likely the Cold Sun isn’t an ACTIVE patron; rather, the warlock has just found a way to tap into its power. For NPCs, the point would be that these abilities are sustained and enhanced by dusk shards.
  • The mutation is caused by long term exposure to dusk shards and dramatically enhanced by channeling Masvirik’s power, and it’s something that’s happening right now. These yuan-ti have only been active for a few decades, and they’re still learning about their true nature. The abominations were born human and were once important members of their community; other members of their families have to hide the abominations, and cover for their inability to conduct business face to face. At this moment in time, there may not BE any anathema; one or more abominations will BECOME anathema over the course of the campaign.

Among other things, this allows a recurring NPC to mutate over the course of the story. The PCs deal with a villain; when they finally capture him, they discover that he’s a pureblood with serpentine characteristics. He escapes, causes more trouble, and eventually appears to be killed… only to return later as a malison or anathema, explaining how the Cold Sun revived him, and changed him in the process. Essentially, I don’t just want them to be snake people; I want to highlight that they are BECOMING snake people because of what they’re doing. I also wouldn’t limit them to humanity; there will be dwarves, elves, and orcs who are becoming yuan-ti.

What I like about this is that it makes the yuan-ti an unpredictable wild card. The Poison Dusk serve Masvirik. The Cold Sun Federation opposes him. They’ve been fighting this war for thousands of years. But the yuan-ti are new and are here for POWER. They are tied into the power structures of the settlers, and have allies at all levels of society.

Meanwhile, the shulassakar have been servants of the Silver Flame for thousands of years, transformed by their tie to the couatl. Shulassakar agents may show up mid-arc, sensing the disruption being caused by the actions of yuan-ti and Poison Dusk alike… just in time to confuse the PCs, who by now will have learned to distrust serpentine humans. Will they sort it out?

So, that’s what I would do with the yuan-ti. If you’ve done something else with them in your campaign, post it in the comments!

Yuan-ti have a strong connection to psionics, and in 3.5 they have natural psionic powers. However, in Eberron they have a strong arcane or even divine influence by being connected to the overlords. What would be the most common yuan-ti spellcaster? A psionic, a mage a priest or another one?

I don’t feel a need to add psionics to 5E yuan-ti just because they had them in 3.5. As noted above, I would focus on sorcerers and warlocks. The sorcerer would channel powers largely through supernatural mutation, while the warlock would be using arcane knowledge to essentially steal power from Masvirik.

Traditionally physical mutation is more associated with the daelkyr than with the Overlords. Are there other examples of Overlords causing physical mutations? How would you distinguish it from the daelkyr? 

It’s always been called out that agents of the Poison Dusk may be physically corrupted; 4E suggested that the Blackscale Lizardfolk weren’t actually a separate species, but were simply mutated champions of Masvirik. Beyond this, another Overlord noted for physical corruption is Katashka the Gatekeeper, who transforms followers (and others) into undead. The main question is whether the Overlord’s domain has an obvious physical aspect. Masvirik is associated with reptiles, and it’s reasonable that mammals who channel his power could develop reptilian traits. While Sul Khatesh embodies dangerous and arcane knowledge, and the manifestation of her corruption is that knowledge.

One way I’d highlight the difference between such Overlord corruption and the work of the daelkyr is that the corruption isn’t directed. Goblins didn’t spontaneously become dolgrims; Dyrrn took goblin prisoners and MADE dolgrims from them. By contrast, it’s not that Masvirik is intentionally turning these people into yuan-ti, and it’s not something they have control over; it’s a consequence of channeling his power.

This isn’t ENTIRELY dissimilar from some daelkyr; we’ve called out that followers of Belashyrra may start growing new eyes. However, that corruption doesn’t go very far; we’ve never suggested that they become beholders, for example. The key point I’d call out here is that the yuan-ti aren’t cultists, and the transformation isn’t a gift; it’s a consequence of their hunger for power.

Sidebar: The Yuan-Ti

As we lead up to GenCon, there’s a lot going on.

  • Here’s my GenCon Plans. If you’re going to be there, drop by the Twogether Studios Booth or come to my Eberron talk!
  • I’ve just announced “Project Raptor“, a new sourcebook I’ll be releasing on the DM’s Guild later this year.
  • There’s a new episode of Manifest Zone talking about it!

However, until GenCon I’m working through the big pile of questions submitted by my Patreon supporters. One asks “Could you expand on the yuan-ti in Eberron?” So, let’s talk about the serpentfolk.

Yuan-Ti in Eberron

The origin of the yuan-ti is shrouded in mystery. Here are the absolute facts.

  • The yuan-ti first appeared on the continent of Sarlona, in the early stages of the Sundering—the conflict that paved the way for the rise of Riedra and the Inspired. When the human nation of Khunan was devastated by a mystic conflict, the yuan-ti rose up in the ruins and established a new nation, which they called Syrkarn.
  • The early Inspired set their allied forces to the task of erradicating the yuan-ti. However, even in victory, the Inspired order all humans in Syrkarn and the surrounding regions to abandon the land. The Inspired have shunned the region ever since. A handful of yuan-ti survived and remain hidden within the ruins.
  • When they were persecuted by the Inspired, a number of yuan-ti fled Sarlona and sought refuge on Argonnessen. At first they were granted sanctuary, and the best of them were welcomed into the city of Io’vakas, a haven where humanoids lived in harmony with the dragons. However, some of the yuan-ti sought forbidden power, mastering dangerous arcane secrets; the dragons responded by leveling Io’vakas and exterminating the yuan-ti. A handful remain, but they continue to be eliminated when they are found.
  • A few yuan-ti escaped persecution in Xen’drik—perhaps with the help of sympathetic dragons—and reached Xen’drik. Now they lurk in the shadows of Stormreach and beyond, plotting vengeance against both humanity and the dragons.

These are the facts: they began in Sarlona, fled to Argonnessen, and fled once more to Xen’drik. But there are crucial questions. Where did they come from, when they first appeared in Sarlona? Why did the Inspired order the mass exodus of Syrkarn? Why, in a world where few creatures are bound to the alignment, do the yuan-ti of Xen’drik and Argonnessen seem entirely evil?

The scholar Abel Varmanc proposed an answer to these questions. The Overlords of the first age are bound across Eberron, and it is certain that one is imprisoned beneath Syrkarn; Abel believes that “Syrkarn” is in fact the name of this archfiend. Varmanc asserts that during the epic magewars that destroy Khunan, the seals of Syrkarn were weakened… and that the first yuan-ti were humans corrupted by Syrkarn’s power. Varmanc further believes that the Inspired couldn’t find a way to fully rebind the Overlord, which is why they evacuated the region; if they couldn’t completely defeat the fiend, they could at least deny it subjects and victims. The final piece of the Varmanc’s theory is this: the yuan-ti are uniquely vulnerable to the influence of the Overlords. As they traveled from continent to continent, they were further touched and corrupted by the influence of others—by the Daughter of Khyber in Argonnessen, who fanned the flames of yuan-ti ambition and set the destruction in of Io’vakas in motion; and by the Scar that Abides in Xen’drik, further fueling their hatred and hunger for vengeance.

Of course, this is just a theory. Perhaps the yuan-ti are the product of evil and have only grown crueler and more dangerous over time; or perhaps they have always been innocent. Perhaps Io’kovas is an example of draconic tyranny as opposed to yuan-ti ambition. Perhaps all the stories of Syrkarn were just one more way for the Inspired to use fear to control the people, and to continue to manipulate them today. So in using the yuan-ti in your campaign, you have a choice. Are they…

  • Malevolent Masterminds. Varmanc’s theory is absolutely correct. The yuan-ti don’t serve the Lords of Dust, but they are vessels of immortal evil. Just as they did in Io’vakas, they seek arcane power that will allow them to dominate or destroy all other creatures. They are few in number, so they must use cunning and deception. Wherever they are found, they are either seeking power or sowing discord. In this case, the physical form of the yuan-ti is a reflection of their corruption, with the abominations being the closest to the overlords and most innately vile.
  • Consumed by Revenge. The yuan-ti aren’t inherently evil or corrupted by Overlords. But they are driven by the desire for revenge on humanity and the dragons—revenge they believe is absolutely justified. They aren’t unnecessarily cruel, but their ancestors have been betrayed by all they have trusted and they are hunted on two continents. In this case, the physical forms of the yuan-ti could have been created through Khunan magebreeding; there’s nothing evil about it, they simply sought to transcend their humanity.
  • Maligned Innocents. Another option is to say that the stories are entirely untrue, and that the yuan-ti are neither innately evil nor hungry for vengeance; they are simply persecuted refugees, afraid of both the Chamber and Inspired, trying to find a place where they can prosper. As above, the physical form of the yuan-ti could be the result of active magebreeding.

There’s another option to consider that could expand any of these: that the yuan-ti don’t serve the Overlords, but rather believe that they have been abused by the archfiends and seek their power too. It could well be that the yuan-ti have an innate connection to the Overlords, and that they believe they can use this to harness the power for themselves: not releasing the Overlords, but using their might for their own purposes. In this case, whatever path you choose, the physical form of the yuan-ti could be the product of the Overlords’ power and reflect their desire to transcend their human origins.

While the yuan-ti are primarily found in Sarlona, Argonnessen, and Xen’drik, depending on the path you take they could be found anywhere. There could be yuan-ti in Q’barra tapping into the power of the Cold Sun, or yuan-ti lurking in the sewers of Sharn. The question is whether they are simply hiding and trying to survive, or whether they are pursuing power and sowing discord.

Do the yuan-ti have any relation to the shulassakar?

Not directly. The shulassakar first appeared within Khalesh, a nation dedicated to the Silver Flame; the yuan-ti appeared later and to the west, in Khunan. However, as with all things yuan-ti, there’s a few possibilities. The simple one is that they are spiritual cousins. The shulassakar are humans transformed by the power of the Silver Flame; it’s thus reasonable to say that the yuan-ti are humans transformed in a similar manner but by a darker power, the Overlord Syrkarn. However, if you WANT them to be related, you could say that the yuan-ti are specifically shulassakar corrupted by Syrkarn… that a group of shulassakar embraced the darkness and went west in pursuit of power, and this dark force physically transformed them.

Are there any groups hunting the shulassakar? Inspired, the Lords of Dust, etc? Did they remain in Sarlona or make the exodus with the humans, changelings and ogres to Khorvaire?

While there’s conflicting statements about the shulassakar, the intent was that there was never a shulassakar NATION and they didn’t begin with a unique culture. Khalesh was a nation devoted to the Silver Flame, though with a far stronger focus on the couatl than the modern church or the Ghaash’kala. The shulassakar arose within Khalesh, and were the secret leaders of the land; they were seen as being blessed by the Flame. During the Sundering, the Inspired specifcally exposed and targeted the shulassakar, aligning them with the yuan-ti and depciting them as touched by evil; this turned Nulakhesh and Corvagura against Khalesh, and the shulassakar were relentlessly hounded. Some escaped to Khorvaire , others fled to Adar, others managed to hide within Riedra. But there were never many of them to begin with and their still aren’t. In Riedra, they are absolutely hunted by the Thousand Eyes and the Edgewalkers. They aren’t really common enough in Khorvaire to REQUIRE that they be hunted by the Lords of Dust, but yes, a shulassakar that is too open in its actions would attract the same sort of enemies as any dangerous champion of the Silver Flame.

If you have questions or thoughts about the yuan-ti in Eberron, post them below!

Announcing Project Raptor

Discover the unexplored Eberron…

KB Presents is pleased to announce a brand new Eberron sourcebook coming to PDF and print-on-demand hardcover for the Dungeon Masters Guild! Written by Eberron creator and designer Keith Baker, Project “Raptor” expands upon Eberron as only Keith is able to, including never-before-explored areas of the setting.

This 160+ page book is slated for a late 2019 release, with exact launch date to be determined. Keith’s writing will be accompanied by illustrations from a range of talented artists, and supported by a dedicated team of professionals for editing, layout, and project management.

A design diary on the KB Presents Facebook page will provide project updates, spotlights on the team, and teasers of the work-in-progress, as well as features from Keith’s blog (www.keith-baker.com).

At the mandate of the hat, we hope you are as excited as we are compelled to be, and we look forward to bringing you more Eberron in the near future!

What is Project Raptor? From the moment Eberron was released, there have been places and things I’ve wanted to explore in more depth—things that intrigue me, but were never fully explored in the official sourcebooks. Ever since Eberron was unlocked in the DM’s Guild, I’ve been looking forward to the opportunity to finally dig deeper into some of my favorite topics. The book will be released late this year, and I’ll talk more about the specifics over the next few months, but I’ll give one example now. For me, one of the intriguing elements of Eberron is its planes. Whether you view it in absolute isolation from the Great Wheel or consider it to be a shielded reality, Eberron has its own unique planar cosmology. Aside from the possibility of planar travel, manifest zones and coterminous periods allow the planes to influence adventures at all levels of plane. And yet, over the course of fifteen years, we’ve never explored the planes of Eberron in enough depth to fully support that potential. Project Raptor will dig deeper than ever before, finally exploring the potential of the planes. Here you can see two of the pieces of art commissioned for the book. This is the Amaranthine City, the heart of both Irian and Mabar—an immortal city that embodies both hope and despair.

KB Presents is the work of myself and Wayne Chang—one of my cohosts on the Manifest Zone podcast and the mastermind behind the Across Eberron adventure path. I’m writing the content for Project Raptor, while Wayne is coordinating production and physical design, including a legion of amazing artists. As noted in the announcement, we’ll be spotlighting those artists and their amazing work in the months ahead, as well as revealing other subjects covered in Project Raptor.

To be absolutely clear: Project Raptor is NOT an official sourcebook. Unlike the Wayfinder’s Guide to Eberron, this is being produced by KB Presents alone and will not be supported by Wizards of the Coast. This is your glimpse into my Eberron; it will be released on the DM’s Guild, and available in print on demand.

Eberron awaits, and I look forward to exploring it together!

Q&A: Daelkyr and the Prophecy

There’s a lot going on this week. I’m getting ready for GenCon (see more about my plans here). I’ve just made an announcement about my next big Eberron project. But beyond that, i’m going to be doing a series of small articles addressing questions posed by my Patreon supporters. So, let’s get to it!

How do the Daelkyr interact with the Draconic Prophecy (if at all)? Are they “outside” the prophecy? Did the prophecy foretell their arrival in Eberron?

The Prophecy certainly foretold their arrival on Eberron, and that’s why we have the Gatekeeper druids. From the 3.5 ECS:

Over fifteen thousand years ago, the green dragon Vvaraak came to the Shadow Marches and gathered followers around her. She had foreseen a cataclysm that only the younger races would be able to avert, and so she taught the orcs how to work with earth and wood…

How do they interact with it? As with most things related to the daelkyr, it’s difficult to know. They don’t appear to study it the way the dragons and Lords of Dust do. There’s two important factors to consider in this.

The first is the daelkyrs’ relationship with time. In my Eberron, I emphasize that the daelkyr are fundamentally alien entities. It’s not just that they are gooey and like things with extra eyes; it’s that we don’t experience reality in the same way that they do. Using the 3.5 game stats, a daelkyr can cause confusion at will and anyone who tries to read the mind of a daelkyr may go insane. To me, that confusion effect isn’t that they are casting a spell; it’s that their focused attention literally breaks your brain, and trying to thing like they do severely damages a normal mind. In particular, I assert the idea that the daelkyr don’t experience time in a linear fashion. Rather, they are simultaneously aware of their entire timeline. The reason the daelkyr aren’t in a hurry to break the seals is that from their perspective, the seals are already broken… even if that won’t happen for another five thousand years from our linear perspective. They don’t fear death the way other creatures do, because they already know how they will die. One could look at this and say “But doesn’t that mean that they should be able to outwit everyone, because they already know what you’re going to try to do to stop them?” No… because they only know about it because that’s how you stop them. Again, the whole point of this is that they don’t think the way we do; they don’t fight their future because for them, it’s not the future. So other creatures interact with the Prophecy to try to predict or shape the path of the future. The daelkyr have no reason to do this, because from their perspective, past and future are meaningless concepts.

Now, one could ask if this implies absolute predestination. If the daelkyr knows how it will die, then there’s no way for players to change the outcome, right? Wrong. The future can always be changing; but the daelkyr always knows what it is, and for the daelkyr, that new future is what it’s always been. Doesn’t make sense? That’s the point. Again, if you read its mind and try to experience reality through its eyes, it will shatter your sanity. Dragons, rakshasa, quori—they may be inhuman, but we can still fundamentally understand how they think. The daelkyr are entirely alien.

This ties to my idea of how daelkyr perceive mortals. Imagine that you are immortal. You are aware of the flow of time over tens of thousands of years. From that perspective, a human is essentially an ant… the tiniest blip on your radar, present only for the briefest moment of existence. Beyond this, it’s an ant with no understanding of the true nature of reality. Daelkyr feel no more remorse killing or twisting mortal lives than we do working with fruit flies; you have to experiment on something. What they DO recognize are civilizations. The daelkyr didn’t care about individual goblins, but they recognized the Empire of Dhakaan itself as an entity – massive thing that lasted for thousands of years. And even though we see the Daelkyr as having been defeated, they succeeded in transforming and destroying Dhakaan. In my opinion, they don’t see individual humans as sentient creatures; what they recognize is human civilizations. What they do to you personally is again, like a scientist breeding fruit flies or an artist who uses insects as part of their work.

Not that this is not true of the SERVANTS of the daelkyr. This is why we’ve called out that in some ways it seems like the mind flayers are more concerned with breaking the seals than the daelkyr themselves are. Most of the servants of the daelkyr are themselves mortal. They are touched by Xoriat and have a greater understanding of its mysteries than humans do, but you’ll have an easier time talking to a dolgaunt than to Dyrrn the Corruptor.

I think you’ve spoken before about how the Daelkyr could be responsible for aberrant marks if they are trying to corrupt the Draconic Prophecy…

Not exactly. The idea that’s come up is that the daelkyr could be responsible for ALL DRAGONMARKS. A dragonmark is a manifestation of the Prophecy on a physical creature. The Prophecy is part of the underlying code of reality, but dragonmarks only appeared a few millenia ago—and the dragons were taken entirely by surprise. This means it’s entirely reasonable to think that they could have been created by an outside force. The daelkyr specialize in transforming creatures. They interact with time—and thus the Prophecy—in a fundamentally different way than others. So they would be well positioned to perceive that there IS a Draconic Prophecy and to try to do something completely unpredictable with it.

The critical question is: if the daelkyr created dragonmarks, why did they do it? A few possibilities…

  • Because they could. This is part of the point of the daelkyr. Unlike the Lords of Dust, the Dreaming Dark, or the Chamber, their actions don’t always have motives that make sense to us. We’ve described the daelkyr both as alien artists and as scientists. They could have simply been intrigued by the Prophecy and bound it to flesh because it’s a beautiful expression of its nature.
  • To shape civilization. I’ll touch on this further below, but Daelkyr don’t really consider humans and their kin as individuals; they are interested in civilizations. They may have made dragonmarks in order to fundamentally change the civilizations of Khorvaire, just as they sowed seeds of madness that brought down Dhakaan.
  • To destroy the Prophecy. On the other hand, it’s certainly possible that they DID do it as an attack on the Prophecy… that by existing, dragonmarks are slowly transforming or corrupting the Prophecy. If Argonnessen confirms this, the dragons could conclude that it’s necessary to utterly eradicate the dragonmarked houses, as they did with the Line of Vol. How would they do it? A brute force attack on Khorvaire? Something more subtle? In either case, the devastation and chaos that would cause could also have been the daelkyrs’ goal all along.

With this in mind, aberrant marks take on an entirely new meaning. It could be that they are simply an organic part of the experiment. It could be that one daelkyr created the core marks, and another created aberrant marks to destabilize it. Or it could be that ABERRANT marks are actually a manifestation of the Prophecy itself, reflecting the Prophecy fighting back and attempting to destroy this unnatural infection.

Do the daelkyr cooperate, or did they during the invasion? Was it a unified group effort to twist the civilization of Dhakaan or a competitive race between artists to see whose creation would come to fruition?

This is a question for you, based on the role you want the daelkyr to play in your game. What is clear in canon is that they cooperate on SOME level. Notably, Dyrrn the Corruptor created the dolgaunts and dolgrims, but almost all daelkyr make some use of them. Beholders are children of Belashyrra, but again, they can be found as allies of other daelkyr. They appeared to be somewhat unified in their physical attacks against Dhakaan. BUT, the critical point is that the physical attacks may have been incidentalthat the real attack may have been the actions they took to dissolve the eusocial bond of the goblinoids, leading to the long term collapse of the civilization. Was that something all the daelkyr were involved in, or was that the work of Dyrrn alone? Belashyrra and Kyrzin play the most significant role in the Shadow Marches—are they the only daelkyr interested in orcs, or are they just assigned to that post?

I think it’s entirely reasonable to say that the different daelkyr are pursuing their own experiments, and that these may appear to set them at cross purposes. But I would emphasize that this is very different than feuds between the Lords of Dust. Again, the core principle of the daelkyr is that it’s almost impossible to understand their reasoning.

Canonically, are the Daelkyr only interested in Khorvaire? The Gatekeepers were founded by a dragon to combat them, but does the Chamber in general care? The Undying Court was around for the fall of Dhakaan – did they notice? The Inspired lords of Sarlona are all about (enforced) stability – would they consider Daelkyr meddling a threat? 

The daelkyr are bound to KHYBER. Khyber doesn’t directly match the geography of Eberron. Belashyrra is known to have touched the Shadow Marches, but is also canonically active in Xen’drik, where it’s fighting the Umbragen drow. In short, they can show up wherever you want them so show up, but as long as the Gatekeeper seals remain intact they can’t leave Khyber.

Regarding the dragons, Dragons of Eberron addresses this at length.  From DoE: 

A true child of Eberron, Vvaraak foresaw a disaster that would wound the world itself. The Conclave had no interest in this struggle; just as the dragons had stood aside while the giants of Xen’drik battled Dal Quor, the elders of the Conclave told Vvaraak that they would act when a clear threat to Argonnessen existed, and not before.

As a rule, the dragons are not your friends. Remember that when they DID finally decide the giants of Xen’drik posed a threat, they destroyed all civilizations on Xen’drik. The Chamber opposes the machinations of the Lords of Dust; they aren’t generally interested in the problems of humanity. This is what makes Vvaraak remarkable: that she actually cared about lesser beings. So you can have dragons like Vvaraak, but they are the exception; in GENERAL, no, dragons don’t care unless Argonnessen itself is threatened. And if it IS threatened, they will act with force that can level civilizations.

As for the others, any nation could potentially be threatened by the daelkyr. The Undying Court may well have expunged daelkyr corruption over the course of past centuries. The Thousand Eyes watch for ALL forms of subversion in Riedra, and the Edgewalkers are Riedra’s answer to the Gatekeepers and the Silver Flame. However, in both cases these are again forces that are isolationist and only concerned with protecting THEIR people. This ties to the basic principle of Eberron: If the daelkyr are threatening Breland, the Undying Court won’t show up to solve the problem for you.

While we’re on the topic of the daelkyr and their works, I’m curious about the lifecycle and reproduction method of the dolgrim. It’s stated canonically that the first dolgrims were created by Dyrrn the Corruptor merging two goblins together, resulting in the four-armed, two-faced, two-brained mishmash that we know. But how are “modern”, “young” dolgrims created? 

The dols—dolgrims, dolgaunts, and the other creatures the daelkyr created from goblin stock—are self-sustaining. Dyrrn isn’t continuously kidnapping goblins to make more. However, part of the concept of aberrations is that they are fundamentally unnatural. 5E suggests that beholders may form other beholders through dreaming, though I’ll specifically call out in Eberron I’d expect these “dreams” to be tied to Xoriat as opposed to Dal Quor. As for the Dols, there is no canon answer. But here’s my thoughts.

  • Dolgrims reproduce through parthenogenesis. They split just above the lower mouth; the “grimling” thus has a mouth, eyes, and a single pair of arms, while the lower half keeps a pair of arms, legs, and mouth, along with vestigal eyes that quickly grow in. Over the course of a month, each piece regrows the missing chunk of body. Most daelkyr territories in Khyber have grimling pits filled with regenerating spawn.
  • Dolgaunts have hollow eyesockets filled with cilia. When a dolgaunt is prepared to spawn, it grapples a humanoid and injects a number of these cilia into the victim’s eyes. The cilia-worms consume the eyes and burrow into the victim’s body, taking root in the brain; this causes the victim to fall into a coma. The body then undergoes a process of cellular transformation, ultimately becoming a clone of the spawning dolgaunt. Note that this isn’t a swift process, and can’t be used as a regular attack; it can only be performed against a helpless or unconscious creature, and is essentially a sort of coup de grace.

In both cases, the “newborn” dol is using the memory template of the dol that spawned it; so among other things, there’s no “Dolgrim Kindergarten” in Khyber. This also means that they can spawn quite rapidly when they need to bolster their numbers. Typically, a dol population is maintained at a particularly level in a region, and they only spawn to repopulate losses.

If you have questions about the daelkyr or the Prophecy, post them below. You may also want to check out my previous articles on the daelkyr and Xoriat.

GenCon 2019 Plans

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

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

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

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

Transformers of Eberron

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sidebar: Starting A New Campaign

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sidebar: Elves of Eberron

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

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

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

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

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

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

General Q&A

GENERAL QUESTIONS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TAIRNADAL AND VALENAR ELVES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ELVES OF KHORVAIRE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Sidebar: Aberrant Dragonmarks

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

Wayfinder’s Guide to Eberron, page 111

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

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

ORDER VS CHAOS

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

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

SAFETY VS DANGER

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

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

WHAT’S THE POINT?

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

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

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

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

BUT ACCORDING TO THE ECS…

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

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

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

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Q&A

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

There’s a few options.

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

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

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

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

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

Dragonmarked provides the canon answer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Later they add…

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

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

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