In the dawn of time, before the Sovereigns and the Silver Flame, Eberron was the domain of the fiendish overlords. This was an age of chaos, as the overlords constantly clashed with one another. The Rage of War commanded armies of fiends and savages, while the Wild Heart raised hordes of ravenous beasts. In the struggles between the two, the Wild Heart bred dire hyenas that could consume the Zakya warriors of Rak Tulkhesh. But fiends cannot be permanently slain by tooth or claw; their energy remains. Twisted from within by the immortal essence of the demons they’d devoured, the hyenas were warped into something entirely new, something that was neither beast or demon: and so the first gnolls were born.
Formed from both War and the Wild, the first gnolls were recruited and bred by both Rak Tulkhesh and the Wild Heart. As foot soldiers of the overlords they fought against orcs and the other early humanoids, as well as battling gnoll clans serving other overlords. Even after the overlords were defeated and bound by the Silver Flame, gnolls continued to be pawns of the overlords. The fiendish spark burned within them, and when they weren’t directly serving the Lords of Dust, most gnolls engaged in savage acts of brutality. The Dhakaani goblins ruthlessly exterminated gnolls in imperial territories, driving them back into the wilds.
In the present day gnolls are primarily found on the west coast of Khorvaire. Here’s a few notable concentrations of gnolls.
Gnolls are found across the Demon Wastes. Some have integrated into the Carrion Tribes, while other clans refuse to have anything to do with other creatures. These gnolls have embraced the Rage of War and embrace endless, ecstatic violence; when there are no outsiders to fight, they find reasons to battle the other clans. There have been times in the past when a great leader has united them and lead a horde through the Labyrinth, and this could happen again; but for the most part they are one of the ongoing dangers of the Demon Wastes, ever hungry to spill blood in the name of Rak Tulkhesh.
The gnolls of the Towering Wood are creatures of the Wild Heart. These feral hunters prowl through the Eldeen Reaches, preying on any creatures who cross their paths. These gnolls rarely organize beyond clans. The fact that they don’t form armies limits the overall threat that they pose to the people of the Towering Woods; they’ve never amassed in sufficient numbers to threaten the Greenheart, for example. But because they’re scattered and mobile, the Wardens of the Wood and the shifter tribes of the Towering Woods have never been able to end the threat. Clans melt away into the depths, appearing to strike isolated villages and travelers. Some say that there is a piece of the Towering Wood that can only be found by gnolls and lycanthropes who serve the Wild Heart—a dark haven where these feral forces build their strength and wait to strike.
There at least two gnoll clans that live deep in the King’s Forest of Breland. While smaller than the clans of the Towering Wood, these gnolls are likewise driven by the Wild Heart; they are cruel hunters who take pleasure in terrifying their quarry. Typically they remain in the wildest, darkest depths of the King’s Forest, avoiding the Knight Rangers and restricting their attacks to those fools who stray far from the safe paths. But there have been times when their numbers have grown, and when gnoll raiders have emerged from the Forest to prey on surrounding villagers.
While savage gnolls are often tied to the Rage of War or the Wild Heart, few know those names. Clans are guided by warlocks and fiendish visions, and each clan has its own name for the power that fuels their thirst for blood. The gnolls of Rak Tulkhesh show more martial discipline, while the gnolls of the Wild Heart are feral and cunning. Both are uniformly cruel, taking pleasure not simply in spilling blood but in instilling terror in their prey. The last great raid across the Labyrinth was centuries ago, but the people of Aundair still share grisly tales of the horrors unleashed by the pillaging gnolls, and Brelish children know gnolls devour those fools who stray from the path. This uniform cruelty is unusual in Eberron, where goblins are often more honorable than humans and orcs may be champions of the light. But gnolls aren’t natural creatures; they were shaped by overlords, and the essence of demons flows through their veins. They were bred to spill blood and sow terror, and for countless generations they gleefully embraced that path. But there are gnolls who reject the foul influence of their creators… such as the Znir Pact of Droaam.
THE ZNIR PACT
The region now known as Droaam has long been home to gnoll clans. The Rage of War seeks endless battle, and when there is no greater conflict it delights in setting its minions against one another. For countless generations, gnolls fought troll, ogre, and other gnolls seeking blood for their hungry idols. Centuries ago two gnolls from rival clans faced one another on a battlefield soaked in the blood of their kin and questioned the path that had led them there. The two urged others to deny the voice that called for endless war, to refuse to chase death in the service of a fiend. Two became four, then eight, until clans heeded the call. Clan leaders dragged their idols to the place now known as Znir—a word that simply means stone—and there they shattered the images of the fiends they once served. Together the gathered hunters, shamans, and warriors swore an oath: They might be many clans, but from this day forward they would be one pack. They would allow no one—not chieftain, god, or demon—to hold dominion over them.
This was easier said than done. Fighting the fiendish influence within was challenging enough, but the western wilds were a chaotic tapestry of battling forces. The leaders of the newly forged Pact had no desire to rule over other creatures, but even just holding their territory would invite attack. And so they developed the path that has carried them forward to this day: the road of the mercenary. The gnolls would claim no territory beyond the lands around Znir. They would fight for any who would pay a fair price. But if anyone sought to enslave a gnoll, or to strike against Znir itself, they would face the wrath of all of the united clans. This was a lesson that had to be taught many times, but after a century or so, the point was made. To those who paid them, the gnolls were as reliable as stone. Those who betrayed them or who picked a fight would fall before the might of the full Pact.
Some scholars of the Five Nations find it strange that the Znir Pact never took the path of conquest. There was no parallel to the united force of the Pact within the region, and they could have defeated the various chieftains and warlords they served. But the fact is that the gnolls have never had a desire to rule other creatures. They love the hunt and the thrill of battle. The path of the Pact allows them to do what comes naturally—to stalk and kill, to fight endless battles. But they do so together. They choose the paths they follow and the battles they fight. One could look at the Pact and say that they serve many masters. But the Znir gnoll would respond that they serve only themselves: that they choose who they fight for, that they set the terms of their service.
The Znir gnolls include a dozen different clans, each of which holds onto distinct traditions. Once the clans were devoted to different faces of the overlords, but when they shattered the statue, each clan chose one of the moons. All gnolls hunt and fight, but the Barrakas are known to be the finest trackers of the Pact; the Aryth the deadliest archers; and the Olarune are the strongest warriors and most forceful in the vanguard. Typically, mercenary units are comprised of gnolls of a single clan, assigned based on the nature of the task that lies ahead, and contracts are usually negotiated for a period based on cycles of the clan’s moon. The clans maintain distinct territories within the Znir region. Despite this, all gnolls are welcome around the hearth of any clan; the Znir take pains to crush any tension that arrises between the clans. Shamans and leaders from each clan maintain a council at the Znir, around the broken idols. Here they mediate disputes, assign contracts to clans, and allocate funds and equipment. The Eyre clan have honed their skills as smiths and tanners, and they craft much of the equipment used by the Znir gnolls… though there is still a strong tradition of scavenging among the Znir, and warriors will often claim trophies from fallen foes.
Gnoll vs Gnoll
Droaam is a small place, and the Znir will serve any who will pay a fair price. This inevitably leads to conflict between Znir gnolls. In such situations, Znir will fight one another with all their skill. But they will strike to wound… and a gnoll wounded by another gnoll will immediately withdraw from battle, no matter how superficial the wound. While some clients take umbrage at this—You can still fight! Get back out there!—this is an absolute rule of all Znir contracts, and those who defy this will be punished by the united clans.
In general, the Znir take their contracts seriously. If the client breaks the terms of the agreement, the contract immediately ends. As long as terms are met, Znir will face any danger and will never betray a client. They have earned this reputation over the course of centuries, and this gives them a place much like the Sentinel Marshals of House Deneith in Khorvaire; everyone knows that the work of a Znir is as unbreakable as stone.
The Daughters and Tharashk
In their rise to power, the Daughters of Sora Kell have contracted for fully half of the forces of the Znir Pact (divided among all clans). This is an extended contract, under which the gnolls serve both as soldiers, hunters, and peacekeepers. Most large communities have a Znir garrison that’s serving the Daughters. These troops are present to protect the region from brigands or invaders, and to help maintain order. But they serve the Daughters, not the local warlord; it’s understood that if the warlord turns against the Daughters, the local Znir will act in their interests. The remainder of the Pact serves other masters. Many warlords maintain their own Znir forces, either as bodyguards, enforcers, or hunters. House Tharashk has also begun brokering the services of Znir gnolls within the Five Nations. The Pact is still cautious about this arrangement, however. Within Droaam, Znir customs are known and respected, and the Znir can unite against anyone who defies them. The Znir recognize that they don’t hold such power over the rulers of the Five Nations… and thus they are concerned about serving so far from their stones. In addition to those who serve through House Tharashk, a number of Znir have been sent east to study the Five Nations, gathering knowledge of its people and customs so the Znir council can determine how to engage with the wider world. This scouting role is a reasonable path for a gnoll player character; it’s their job to travel the world beyond and learn its ways, and to make friends and allies.
The Demon Within
The Znir defied the overlords when they shattered their statues, but there is still a spark of a fiend in the blood of each gnoll. Znir refuse to allow the demon within to hold dominion over them. Young gnolls learn how to resist this influence—to channel the strength of the fiend without giving it power over them. For most gnolls this is simply a matter of discipline. Znir gnolls are known for remaining calm in the face of provocation; having learned to fight their own demons, they aren’t easily manipulated by mortals. However, some gnolls learn to draw on their unnatural heritage and to channel this power in useful ways. Znir gnolls have their own equivalents of rangers and barbarians; the ranger’s primal magic draws on the Wild Heart, while the barbarian channels the fury of the Rage of War. Znir shamans are similar to warlocks, typically following the path of the Fiend. However, in all of these examples, the Znir don’t serve the dark power. Rather, they can be seen as stealing their strength from it; learning to draw on it without giving anything in return.
In their determination not to let fiendish forces hold dominion over their people, the Znir gnolls have also developed their own techniques for fighting supernatural threats. Champions trained to face fiends and undead are known as hwyri, and wield powers similar to those of paladins in other lands. Most hwyri come from the Vult clan, and in some ways the Vult serve as the local equivalent of the Church of the Silver Flame; when there’s a supernatural threat, the Vult gnolls may be the best home to protect the innocent. There has been some tension between the Vult and the Dark Pack; the Vult shamans fear that the Pack is vulnerable to the influence of the Wild Heart.
ZNIR GNOLL TRAITS
Exploring Eberron will include my rules for Znir gnoll player characters. For the moment, here’s a few general tips on playing a Znir gnoll.
Bone Eaters. Gnolls possess powerful jaws, as reflected by their bite attack. Gnolls can chew through and digest bone, and dislike letting food go to waste. When savage gnolls raid a village, they will consume even the bones of their victims. Znir gnolls won’t eat their fallen foes if they’re in the company of creatures who will be uncomfortable with such behavior. But they will often eat a small piece of any creature they slay—even if it’s just a finger—to form a bond with the victim. The Znir believe that those you kill wait for you in the realm of death, and honoring them ensures that they won’t be hungry when you travel to that land.
Pack Instincts. Gnolls have very strong pack instincts. They instinctively work together in combat, and they think nothing of placing themselves in harm’s way to protect their kin. Znir gnolls will not deceive members of their pack; if there are problems, they will call them out directly. If a gnoll character adopts a group of adventurers as their temporary pack, these things apply to the other players—but they will be surprised and angry if their non-gnoll packmates don’t show them the same respect.
Casual Aggression. Gnolls often seem very aggressive to other creatures. However, gnolls themselves don’t consider casual intimidation to be a hostile act; it’s just a way to establish a place in the hierarchy of the pack, largely ignored once that hierarchy is established. One of the most common ways this manifests is that gnolls make demands rather than requests. As a gnoll, use active statements rather than passive queries.
The Fiend Within. As a gnoll, there is a spark of demonic influence within you. The Znir learn to control this at an early age. But how does it manifest in you? Do you suppress it completely, or do you channel it in some way—possibly reflected by your class abilities? Are you a hwyri who seeks to fight supernatural threats, or are you not concerned with such things?
That’s all I have time for today, but you’ll find more about gnolls and the Znir Pact in Exploring Eberron! Thanks to my Patreonsupporters, who keep this site going and who chose this topic!
People ask me a lot of questions about Eberron. While I’ve typically answered the most frequently asked questions at sometime in the past, every now and then there’s an INFREQUENTLY asked question that still seems like it’s worth answering. Over the last few weeks two of those have come my way. How could a warforged become a cleric of the Blood of Vol? And can a warforged become a vampire?
Could a Warforged Become a Cleric of the Blood of Vol?
The Blood of Vol is based on the principle that the blood of the living holds a spark of divine power, and that all mortals have the potential to harness and evolve that Divinity Within. A Seeker cleric believes they are drawing on their own divine spark when they cast spells.
Warforged don’t have blood. Therefore, it seems logical to assume that they don’t have the spark of the Divinity Within. So why would they follow the Blood of Vol, and how could a warforged Seeker paladin or cleric justify their divine magic?
To begin with, let’s start with the WHY. Ultimately, the Blood of Vol faith is grounded in the question what just god would allow death and suffering, with the conclusion none; the fact that we suffer shows that if there are gods, they are cruel. All we have is each other, and we must stand together and defy death. The Seekers place a strong emphasis on community and protecting the weak. Any death is tragic. They use undead because once the spark is gone, there’s no reason NOT to use the corpse if it can help protect the living. More powerful undead—vampires, mummies—know that they will never achieve divinity, as they lost their divine spark when they died; but they can still fight to defend and to guide the living, to be champions of life… and perhaps someday topple the Sovereigns themselves and free the entire world from the curse of mortality. This is where the warforged Seeker comes in. They have no blood, and presumably no divine spark. But they are immune to disease and to the ravages of time. A warforged is in many ways much like a mummy. They can’t achieve true divinity, but they can protect and guide others. So the warforged Seeker priest isn’t driven by a desire for personal power; rather, they are driven by compassion and the desire to protect their community from suffering and death.
But what about the HOW? If Seeker clerics draw their power from their own blood, how do they get magic? Well, first of all, remember that the “drawing power from within” is an article of faith. They don’t KNOW the power comes from within with any more absolute certainty than a paladin of Dol Arrah knows that their power comes from Dol Arrah. So one option is to simply say “It works, don’t question it.” But the other example is to look to the mummy. Malevanor, the high priest of the Blood of Vol in Atur, is a mummy. He has no blood. So how does he cast spells? There’s two simple answers. The first is the idea that he draws on the divinity of the people around him. This ties to the strong community focus of the Blood of Vol; he can’t attain personal divinity, but he can draw on that potential within you and use that power to protect or heal you. With that said, what happens if you’re not around? Well, Seeker communities donate blood to sustain their champions. Vampires drink this blood, and while it is within them this connects them to the sparks of the living. Seeker mummies and liches BATHE in the blood of the faithful, and this charges their power for a short time.
So for your warforged cleric, the simplest answer is that they draw their power from the rest of the party! If you want to be creepy about it and the rest of the characters are willing, they could actually get blood donations from the party. But you could also just say that the proximity spark does the trick. On the other hand, you could also just say that they don’t KNOW how it works, but it does work… and that they BELIEVE it’s because they (and presumably all other warforged) have divinity within as well, despite having no blood. This would certainly be an interesting long term arc to explore!
Having said all that, back around 2005 I worked with David Esbri—who was at the time doing illustrations for the RPGA—on an early concept for an Eberron comic. One of the villains in that was a Warforged tied to the Emerald Claw who had embedded components allowing it to drain blood from its victims… essentially, an artificial vampire who believed that he could use this blood to become divine. So you could always explore a more exotic path!
Can Warforged Become Vampires?
There’s many answers to this question. The simple answer is that under the rules of 3.5 they couldn’t; “vampire” was a template that couldn’t be applied to constructs, and 3.5 warforged were constructs. The 5E rules have changed, however, and by the rules as written a warforged can become a vampire. However, the rules are guidelines, not absolute and inflexible! In my opinion, this is a case where the DM has to decide what they want from the STORY. Does it make SENSE for a warforged to be able to become a vampire, when it has no blood and doesn’t eat in the first place?
In my campaign, I would say that no, a warforged cannot become a vampire. A vampire can drain the LIFE FORCE from a warforged, but it has no blood for a vampire to drink. Vampire spawn rise when “buried in the soil”—I don’t see this having much meaning for a warforged. I DO think that warforged can become undead—that they can become vessels for the power of Mabar, channels through which it can consume the essence of the living—but I would be inclined to create a unique warforged expression of vampirism, rather than just forcing the standard bloodthirsty form onto them. I’d see it as draining energy like a wight as opposed to drinking blood, and I’d consider which of the traditional vampire powers made sense and what it might have instead.
That’s all I have time for today! Have you used warforged seekers or undead in your campaign?
The Cults of the Dragon Below have been a part of Eberron from the very beginning, but there’s never been much detail about them. The basic idea has always been that “Cult of the Dragon Below” is a general term applied to a vast array of disparate sects driven by delusions or by ties to a dark power (typically a daelkyr or an overlord). But there’s only been a few cases where we have concrete examples of specific Cults of the Dragon Below. The Whisperers and the Inner Sun have both been mentioned in Dragon articles, while the cult in Khyber’s Harvest are traditional loyalists tied to Belashyrra. In Exploring Eberron, I wanted to go deeper—to give very concrete examples of cults and the powers behind them. How do the cults of Dyrrn differ from the followers of Valaara or Sul Khatesh? Beyond the basic introduction shown above, this section presents ten of the dark powers that create Cults of the Dragon Below and explores their goals, methods, and beliefs.
One statement that may come as a surprise to people is the idea that “Only a fraction of the Cults of the Dragon Below knowingly serve a daelkyr or overlord.” There’s basically three levels of this understanding.
Many corrupted cults are influenced by a dark power but don’t recognize this and don’t worship that power. In the example given above, the Vigilant Eye is a cult that is connected to Belashyrra, and SOME Vigilant Eye cults recognize this and offer prayers and bloody sacrifices to the Lord of Eyes. But you could easily have a Vigilant Eye cult in the Sharn Watch whose members believe that their new eyes are a blessing from Aureon, and that its visions reveal hidden evils in peoples’ hearts. This is a threat, because these false visions may guide the cultists to murder innocents—but the cultists don’t worship Belashyrra and truly believe that they are serving a righteous cause.
Traditional cults worship an entity… but they may not acknowledge the true nature of that being. In the Shadow Marches, most people know Kyrzin as a dangerous threat; in local folktales it’s typically known as the Prince of Slime or the Bile Lord. The Whisperers worship Kyrzin by the name the Regent of Whispers, and say that the Regent grants the gift of immortality to the faithful through the medium of the Gibbering Beasts. Neither of these two groups—common Marchers, Whisperers—may know that the creature they are worshipping or cursing is a daelkyr. The daelkyr incursion took place thousands of years ago, long before humanity even arrived on Khorvaire. So the Whisperers knowingly worship a being that others fear, but a) they believe that Kyrzin is benevolent force and b) they don’t know that it’s a daelkyr. Because that’s not relevant to their beliefs; what matters is that the Regent creates gibbering mouthers and shows them the path to eternal life.
Loyalists and most transactional cults knowingly traffic with dark powers and may well know the name and nature of the being they are dealing with. This is your path for the Carrion barbarians who howl prayers to Rak Tulkhesh as they charge their enemies, or the warlock bargaining with Sul Khatesh for forbidden arcane secrets.
These are the fractions—those with no real knowledge of the force they serve, those who interpret that force in a different way than others, and those that knowingly embrace a daelkyr or overlord. Ultimately, it’s up to the DM to decide the balance between those three, and which is the most common.
As you can see, editing and layout is continuing (thanks to the tireless efforts of Wayne Chang and Laura Hirsbrunner). However, I am also still writing: the various complications I’ve been dealing with are ongoing (… and the book is getting longer…) and I don’t have a firm release date yet. I’ll post a date as soon as I have one I’m sure of.
In the meantime, thanks again to my Patreon supporters who keep this blog going—a gnoll article is on the way soon!
Given the overall sophistication of Eberron, it can seem strange that people use medieval weapons. In a world of airships and warforged, why haven’t people created more effective personal weapons? Rising From The Last War highlights the spread of wandslingers, soldiers who fight using damage-dealing cantrips. But becoming a wandslinger requires specialized training; you can’t just hand a peasant a wand. So the question remains: in a world that’s this sophisticated and has an industrial base, wouldn’t people develop effective weapons that anyone can use?
Gunpowder is one possible answer. The Dungeon Master’s Guide includes rules for firearms, and I present my thoughts on this in this article. But it’s not my preferred answer. One of the basic ideas of Eberron is that it’s not a setting that mixes magic and technology, but rather a world in which magic is used instead of technology. So rather than having the people of the Five Nations use gunpowder, I’d rather find an alternative that fills the same niche but is unique to Eberron. So: we’re looking for an affordable weapon that anyone can use without training. This weapon should be better than a medieval crossbow, but it doesn’t need to match a modern firearm; in general, Eberron’s advances are closer to the late 19th century than to what we had in the 20th. This ties to the simple point that this weapon shouldn’t break the balance of the game. If you introduce a cheap weapon anyone can use that does twice the damage of an offensive cantrip, you’ve just broken the balance of the magic system. Beyond that, weapons don’t NEED to do more damage. Hit points are an abstract system. Per the PHB, “Hit points represent a combination of physical and mental durability, the will to live, and luck.” If a character has 30 hit points, that’s not supposed to mean that you could stab them in the heart four times with a dagger and they’d laugh it off; it reflects the idea that you can’t land a killing blow until they run out of hit points. If they’ve got hit points, they’re able to parry an otherwise lethal blow, or a potentially deadly arrow only grazes them. 1d8 is all the damage it takes to kill a goblin or a commoner; the fact that you can’t kill a more powerful creature with a single shot isn’t necessarily the fault of the weapon, it’s the cinematic idea that you can’t land the lethal blow.
So with all that in mind, what are we actually looking for with a superior weapon? The weapons we have will already drop a commoner with one shot, so we don’t need better damage. Two obvious factors are range and rate of fire. We want our weapons to be faster and more effective than medieval weapons. But here’s the fun fact: they already are. The crossbow defined in the Player’s Handbook IS better than a medieval crossbow. The crank method for reloading a medieval crossbow limited an archer to about two shots per minute; using a light crossbow, you can fire ten bolts per minute. A modern crossbow in the hands of a skilled shooter has a range of about 240 feet; a light crossbow has a potential range of 320 feet, provided you’re skilled enough to hit at long range. The 1861 Springfield rifle—a common weapon in the American Civil War—could fire 2-4 shots per minute. Again, the crossbow isn’t a match for modern automatic weapons… but at ten shots per minute, it’s not a medieval weapon.
You can dismiss these statistics as unrealistic, designed for ease of play; after all, who would ever USE a crossbow if it took five rounds to reload it? But the alternative is to embrace it, to say that it’s not that these statistics are inaccurate: it’s that the weapons aren’t medieval. Perhaps the soldiers of Galifar I used medieval-style crossbows, with more limited range and a slow crank to reload; the crossbows used today are the result of centuries of Cannith engineering. So if we accept the idea that the statistics of the crossbow are sufficiently effective as a common weapon—the next question is how it delivers those things. How is it that you can fire and reload a crossbow in six seconds while also moving 30 feet in that time?
One thing I’d immediately throw out is the idea that Caniith crossbows use an integrated quiver… or clip, if you will. When you are loading a crossbow, you are performing an action that resets the bow and sets the next bolt in place. This is slow enough that you can’t fire two bolts in that six-second frame. But you don’t actually have to go through a process of drawing a bolt from a quiver and setting it into place by hand in addition to resetting the bow. I’m not suggesting that this eliminates the Loading trait (though see Accessories, below); I’m fine with the idea that the process of resetting the bow and advancing the clip is slow enough that you can only loose one bolt per round. But it’s still far more effective than a medieval crossbow and helps to justify that six-second move-fire-reload cycle. A quiver can hold up to 20 arrows; I’m just suggesting that the quiver is part of the weapon. With this in mind, crossbow bolts in Eberron could be smaller than we usually think of them—aerodynamic densewood quarrels—making the idea of an integrated quiver a little more manageable.
The next question is how the Cannith crossbow delivers that increased range—meaning the bolt has greater force—while simultaneously allowing you to load the bow more swiftly than a medieval weapon. I can see two ways to explain this, though there’s certainly more!
Mundane Weapon, Supernatural Methods. The Cannith crossbow isn’t a magic weapon… but it’s made using magical techniques. It may be made of wood, but Eberron has woods we don’t have access to—bronzewood, darkwood, densewood. The cord may be alchemically treated, stronger and more flexible than any mundane material. The reloading system is a clever and efficient design; there’s no strength requirement on a crossbow. This takes the idea that the crossbow looks like a traditional crossbow (aside from the possibility of an integrated clip); it’s just better than any crossbow we have.
Arcane Science. The crossbow isn’t a magical weapon… but it can still operate using magical principles. The concept of Eberron is that magic is a science. The spells of the wizard are one manifestation of that science… but that doesn’t mean they’re the only way magic can manifest. Magic can generate kinetic force, as shown by a number of spells. So, what if those principles were used to to add force to a physical bolt, as opposed to generating a bolt of pure force?
So imagine the interior of the barrel of a crossbow engraved with arcane sigils. A quarrel is likewise engraved with symbols. When the quarrel moves against the barrel, the symbols create an arcane interaction—a formula that adds kinetic energy to the bolt. With this in mind, the only force the bow has to provide is the initial push of the bolt down the barrel; it’s a spark that triggers the arcane interaction. Which means that the reason it’s so much easier to reload a Cannith crossbow—why you can thumb-load a hand crossbow—is because the bow itself is actually WEAKER than a medieval crossbow, because the true power of the weapon doesn’t depend on the tension of the bow. This also means that the crossbow doesn’t have to LOOK like a crossbow as we’re used to it. It could be closer to a rifle—the longer the barrel, the longer the arcane interaction, thus the short range of the hand crossbow, and the heavy crossbow as the largest and longest weapon. The “bow” could be a relatively small component of the weapon. Essentially, it could resemble a firearm; the point is that the force of the weapon isn’t coming from a chemical reaction, but rather an arcane one. This wouldn’t make the standard crossbow a “magic weapon” for purposes of damage resistance. There’s nothing magical about the bolt itself; It’s simply the case of an arcane reaction generating force. The game mechanics are unchanged, it’s just a different way of presenting the weapon, reflecting the fact that it is superior to a medieval crossbow.
Now, if you DO follow this idea, one could ask why this arcane reaction isn’t being used in other ways. Well, who’s to say it isn’t? It could well be that the lightning rail operates on a similar principle—that the bound elemental provides initial motive force and enhances speed, but that the arcane interaction between coach and conductor stones is the same principle that provides the kinetic force of a Cannith crossbow. Beyond this, the central concept here is that magic is a science, and science evolves. The Five Nations DID use medieval crossbows, and they’ve discovered a technique that has allowed the creation of a more efficient weapon; they could be actively exploring other applications of this kinetic formula. Arcane magic can generate heat, force, and light. It can transmute objects or teleport them. Spells are examples of what can be done with arcane science, not its absolute expression.
All of which is to say that the wandslinger represents one application of magic in war—the idea that knowledge of combat cantrips is becoming more common, and that there are people who fight their battles with fire and lightning. But there can also be a path of arcane science that focuses on enhancing physical tools… building a more efficient versions of weapons people already use, creating tools that can be used even by people with no training or magical talent. Rather than feeling like the crossbow doesn’t fit your vision of the world, consider what could make the crossbow fit.
Once we embrace the idea that the crossbow isn’t a medieval legacy, but rather a modern weapon that’s actively being improved, there’s lots of ways one could improve upon it. Consider a few ideas…
Bayonet. The light crossbow is a simple weapon that can be used without any training and that has an impressive range. Whatever form the weapon takes—whether you embrace the idea of arcane science or just keep it as a traditional crossbow built with superior techniques and materials—it makes sense that the light crossbow is the equivalent of the infantry rifle. With that in mind, it makes sense to have a form of bayonet—a fixed blade allowing a soldier to use the crossbow in close quarters even if they run out of ammunition. It wouldn’t have the reach of a long rifle, but it would still provide the archer with a melee option that doesn’t require them to drop their crossbow. Personally, I’d see this as a simple, two-handed weapon that inflicts 1d6 piercing damage—less effective than a spear (which can be thrown and inflicts 1d8 piercing when used two-handed), but still an effective weapon.
Spellbolt. Following the principle of an arcane reaction triggered as the bolt moves across the barrel, I could imagine a bolt that is designed with a specific arcane payload that’s triggered when the bolt is fired… effectively taking the place of a grenade launcher. The advantage of this would be the ability to project a spell effect farther than normally possible. A fireball normally has a range of of 150 feet; if you could attach a fireball to a heavy crossbow bolt and fire it 400 feet, it’s a dramatic improvement. The catch, of course, is that scrolls and wands require the user to be able to cast the spell (or at least require attunement by a spellcaster). That limitation could be preserved here; perhaps a spellbolt can only be used by a spellcaster, who takes a bonus action to prime the bolt before firing it. Or perhaps this is a new development, and the bolt can be used by anyone as long as it’s fired from a specially designed crossbow. If this is the case, I’d emphasize that this is a recent development; such spellbolts could be rare, and potentially volatile! Note that this is a different approach from the siege staff, which is essentially a long wand; a siege staff can only be used by a spellcaster or someone with specialized training, and projects a purely magical effect.
Silencer. Illusion can be used to create or dampen sound. It’s easy to imagine a magical device that could be attached to a crossbow to eliminate the sound produced by firing or loading the weapon. It would be up to the DM to decide how effective this would be—whether it could allow a well-hidden creature to remain hidden when firing, or whether it would simply prevent the shot from alerting anyone outside of line of sight.
Reload. While I’ve suggested an integrated quiver as part of the Cannith crossbow, my thought is that this justifies the rate of fire allowed by the Loading trait, not that it negates it. However, especially if you follow the idea of the crossbow empowered by arcane science, you could create a superior crossbow that replaces the Loading trait with the Reload trait associated with firearms in the Dungeon Master’s Guide: “A limited number of shots can be made with a weapon that has the reload property. A character must then reload it using an action or a bonus action (the character’s choice).” The size of the clip would be up to the DM. Again, I wouldn’t personally make this a standard feature—but it would be interesting if, say, Cannith East had developed a new design that was being used by elite Karrnathi units. Likewise, I could see an advanced hand crossbow with Reload 6, allowing a dual-wielder to get a few shots before needing to reload.
This is probably more than anyone ever wanted to hear about Keith’s thoughts on the crossbow, especially since my primary point is the rules don’t have to be changed. But what I hope you take away is that something can be inspired by a medieval tool and still feel modern. Whether it’s a crossbow or a stagecoach, the people of Eberron use magical techniques to improve on the mundane; this can involve flashy effects like fire and lightning, but it can also simply involve something that appears to be mundane and yet is superior to what we’re used to.
Thanks to my Patreon supporters for their support. My next major article will be on either the Znir Gnolls of Droaam or on Dolurrh, the Realm of the Dead—right now, the Patreon poll is tied!
What have you done with ranged weapons in Eberron? Have you added firearms or explored other magical solutions? Post your ideas below!
The above image shows a two-page spread from Exploring Eberron, including art from Kristóf Köteles. I’m thrilled with how the book is coming together, but it’s a long journey and it’s not over yet.
Exploring Eberron is a huge undertaking. By the time it’s done, I expect the book to include over 180,000 words… which is longer than my first two Eberron novels combined! I know what I’m capable of when I’m writing at top speed, and that’s what my original estimates have been based on. But unfortunately I haven’t been able to maintain that speed. Over the last six months there have been family issues that have had to take priority, and once things pushed into this year it collided with the work I need to do for The Adventure Zone: Bureau of Balance. The production of board and card games is a lengthy process, and I have dates I have to meet to hit our GenCon release for Bureau. Exploring Eberron is my labor of love—but that also means it’s the one thing that has a timeline that can be pushed, and so it has been.
My hope had been to release Exploring Eberron by the end of this month. The art has been in hand for months now, and the first half of the book have already gone through editing and layout. But I am still writing the final chapter; the recent Lamannia article is a preview of that. Once I’m done, that material will have to go through editing and layout, and then the completed book will need to go through a final review process with the DM’s Guild for hardcover printing.
So when will Exploring Eberron come out? The short answer is that I don’t have an absolute answer. I’d hoped for this month, but that seems unlikely. I’m reasonably confident that it will be released in March, but I’m not prepared to say whether it will be at the beginning or the end of the month. What I can say is that we’re close, and that I’m excited about how it’s coming together.
So thank you for your patience and your enthusiasm. We’ll continue to release previews in the days ahead, and I’ll let you know when there’s more news!
Eberron has a unique planar cosmology, but Rising From The Last War only scratches the surface of the planes; in this article and the upcoming Exploring Eberron, I’m digging deeper. Thanks to my Patreon supporters, who keep this site going and who chose this topic for my final January article!
LAMANNIA: THE TWILIGHT FOREST
Lamannia embodies primordial nature, untapped and
untamable. It represents the raw power and majesty of the natural world.
Lamannia is often called the Twilight Forest, and depicted as a realm of
colossal trees and massive beasts. However, the forest is just one of the
facets of Lamannia. Every natural environment is represented in Lamannia,
contained in a layer that exemplifies and exaggerates its features. Windswept
desert, raging ocean, endless plains; all can be found in Lamannia.
At first glance, Lamannia appears to overlap with a
number of other planes. How does the Twilight Forest differ from the domain of
the Forest Queen in Thelanis? How does the chill tundra differ from the icy
layers of Risia? Shouldn’t the volcanoes of the Broken Lands be in Fernia?
Well, there are dryads in the trees of the Endless Weald of Thelanis; sprites
hide behind leaves and satyrs dance in the clearings. And in Fernia a blazing
volcano could be home to Azer smiths forging wonders in its depths, or a balor
who delights in unleashing streams of lava to destroy unwary adventurers. In
Fernia, the volcano is a metaphor for industry or destruction. In Lamannia,
it’s a metaphor for volcano. It’s an
iconic, perfect example; it doesn’t need fey
or fiends to make its point, because the volcano itself is the point. The
elementals of Lamannia aren’t the anthropomorphic genies found in Fernia and
Syrania; they are the pure, living essence of the elements, unburdened by any
humanoid desire. Its primary inhabitants are beasts—both beasts that you might
encounter in the wilds of Eberron, and massive creatures that can be seen as
iconic representations of their type: the idealized incarnation of BEAR or
Some scholars assert that Lamannia served as a
blueprint for the material plane, that it was in Lamannia that the Progenitors
perfected the ideas of storm and stone. They believe that the natural world is
infused with the essence of Lamannia—and that druids and others who wield
primal magic actually manipulate that Lamannian essence. Certainly, Lamannia is
charged with primal power; druids who travel to the Twilight Forest can be
overwhelmed by the sheer force of nature that infuses this place.
Lamannia lies close to the world, and it’s one of the
easiest planes to reach. Its treasures are wood and stone—natural object imbued
with elemental power, herbs and plants whose effects are far stronger than
their mortal counterparts. But when you come to Lamannia, you are prey; there
are many predators in this realm, and anyone who seeks to despoil the
embodiment of nature will be hunted.
Lamannia is a reflection of the natural world,
intensified and exaggerated. The air is pure and clean, the water fresh and
clear. Colors are impossibly vivid. It is suffused with life—a realm in which
any stone could be an earth elemental, where any tree could be awakened.
Vegetation is nearly always in bloom and beasts are
almost always in the peak of health. With the exception of layers such as The
Rot, Lamannia reflects the ideal state of the natural world. Here are a few of
the consistent traits of the plane.
Extended primal magic. When you cast a spell that draws on primal magic magic that has a duration of 1 minute or longer, the duration is doubled, to a maximum duration of 24 hours. Typically druids and rangers channel primal magic, but it’s up to the DM to decide in the case of each spellcaster. A paladin that follows the Oath of the Ancients might channel primal magic to cast their spells, while an Aundairian ranger could use arcane techniques.
Indomitable beasts.While in Lamannia, beasts and elementals have a +2 bonus to Constitution and advantage on saving throws against being charmed, frightened, or immobilized. When an elemental or beast first arrives in Lamannia from another plane, any magical effect that is charming it or binding it in any way is broken; this can be disastrous for an elemental airship that’s thrown into the plane.
The land provides. When you make a Wisdom (Survival) check to forage for food or shelter in Lamannia, you have advantage on the roll. The vegetation is bountiful and the land sustaining. It may be difficult to forage in the Broken Land, but you’ll at least have advantage to help you with the roll.
Primordial matter. It is difficult to destroy or contaminate the matter of Lamannia. An ongoing purify food and drink effect cleanses any sorts of poisons or contaminants from beyond the plane. In addition, natural materials such as wood and stone are tougher than their mundane counterparts. When trying to destroy such objects, increase the Armor Class suggested in Chapter 8 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide by 3 and double the hit points of the object.
Most layers of Lamannia follow a traditional
day-night cycle. However, layers aren’t synchronized and likewise don’t match
any time zone in Eberron. There is only one moon in the sky of Lamannia; a
Wisdom (Nature) check with a DC of 10 will identify it as Olarune, though it
appears larger than in the sky of Eberron and is always full.
Denizens of Lamannia
A common story of Lamannia tells of an explorer who
passed through a manifest zone and found herself on a vast mountain peak.
Pushing up the mountain, she was exploring a mysterious thicket when she was
set upon by rats the size of wolves. She fought the rats, but was on the verge
of being overwhelmed… until a giant beak flashed down and snapped up a rat in a
single bite. The wide ‘thicket’ wasn’t natural briar; it was the nest of a
Lamannia is filled with all manner of beasts. Any
natural creature can be found in Lamannia; indeed, some sages assert that the
presence of a creature in Lamannia is what defines it as “natural.” These creatures
fall into the following categories.
animals are identical to their counterparts in Eberron. Any natural
creature can be found in a layer with an appropriate environment. If such
beasts are the first things player characters encounter in a visit to Lamannia,
they might not realize they’ve traveled to another plane.
animals are creatures of remarkable size. Any beast described as ‘giant’ or
‘dire’ can serve in this role. Such creatures are more common than mundane
animals; in the Twilight Forest, most owls are giant owls, and they prey on
giant weasels and rats. While the existing animals are a place to start, any
sort of beast can have a dire counterpart in Lamannia.
are gargantuan beasts. The roc is an example of Lamannian megafauna; those
found in Eberron have been drawn through manifest zones or slipped between
planes during coterminous periods. A megafauna serpent could use the statistics
of a purple worm. These two creatures provide a rough scale of power for
megafauna, but a DM can create a wider range of megafauna; adventurers could be
hounded by a pack of gargantuan wolves. While these creatures are similar in
form to beasts, they are typically classified as monstrosities. Between their
vast size and their connection to the plane, they are immune to most effects
that only target beasts, and you can’t charm a roc with a simple animal friendship spell.
· Totems are beasts that are beyond the tactical scale… creatures that can be measured in miles. The gnome explorer Tasker tells a tale of finding an island in the Endless Ocean that turned out to be an enormous turtle; another of his stories deals with a pack of lycanthropes living in the fur of a massive roaming wolf. Such totems aren’t natural creatures and don’t need to eat or excrete. Their origins and purpose are unsolved mysteries, but most sages believe that they are immortal spirits projected by the plane itself. Some claim that the totems are connected to all creatures cast in their image. Others believe that the totems are sources of primal power, that barbarians, shifters, and druids can receive power and guidance from them. All that is known for sure is that they’re immune to common spells, and to date there are no accounts of anyone successfully harming or communicating with a totem.
For the most part Lamannian beasts are no smarter than their
counterparts on Eberron. However, there are animals that possess intelligence
similar to that granted by the awaken spell.
However, even these beasts generally follow their natural instincts and live wild
lives. While in Sharn giant owls may own shops and run for city council, the
giant owls of Lamannia are content to hunt the beasts of the Twilight Forest.
So it’s possible to find creatures in Lamannia that speak Common or a
Primordial dialect, but most have little interest in long conversations. Also,
don’t forget that dinosaurs are natural beasts! While a megafauna owl is
impressive, the megafauna version of a swordtooth titan (tyrannosaur) is a
sight to see!
After beasts, the most common inhabitants of the plane
are elementals. Genies, mephits, and
anthropomorphic elementals are found on other planes; the inhabitants of
Lamannia are pure and raw in form. These include the standard earth, fire, air,
and water elementals, but they can come in a wide array of sizes and forms.
Adventurers exploring the broken lands could encounter tiny globs of lava
crawling across the land… while the leviathans of the Endless Ocean and the
elder tempests of the First Storm are forces of apocalyptic power. The
elementals of Lamannia are the spirits commonly summoned and bound by the Zil,
used to propel lightning rails and airships. While intelligent, these elementals
are utterly alien. They have little concept of time, and perceive the world
around them though the balance of elements. The sole desire of most elementals
is to express their element: to burn,
to flow, to fly. Many have an antagonistic attitude towards spirits of other
elements, which drives the deadly conflict in the Broken Land. This is another
obstacle in dealing with elementals, as they tend to perceive humanoids as
globs of water. While it’s possible for a character that speaks Primordial to
talk with a Lamannian elemental, it’s usually difficult to establish any sort of
common basis for negotiation. Still, there are legends of wandering druids who
“befriended earth and air;” anything is possible!
The merfolk came to Eberron from Lamannia, and their
ancestors remain in the Endless Ocean. These primordial merfolk are closer to
their elemental roots than their counterparts in the seas of Eberron; while
they are just as intelligent as their cousins, they are driven by primal
instincts. They wield druidic magic, but they don’t craft tools or structures.
This serves as a model for other humanoid natives of Lamannia. Any race with a
strong primal connection could be tied to Lamannia, but natives of Lamannia are
driven by instinct and avoid the trappings of civilization. There could be
tabaxi dwelling in the branches of the Twilight Forest, but if so they will
feel feral and wild.
During the Silver Crusade, a significant number of
lycanthropes made their way or were exiled to Lamannia. While in Lamannia, a
lycanthrope cannot spread the curse to anyone other than their offspring. The
unnatural impulses of the curse—the drive to prey on innocents, the bloodlust
that can cause a victim of lycanthropy to lose control of their actions—are
suspended while they remain on the plane. Primal instincts are amplified;
Lamannian werewolves remain predators and take joy in the hunt. But they aren’t
driven to evil and remain in full
control. Packs and communities of lycanthropes are scattered across the layers.
Most are descended from lycanthropes who fled Eberron to escape both the templars
and the dark power whose corrupting influence led to the crusade; these
shapeshifters embrace their primal nature and rarely assume humanoid forms. But
there are also packs descended from afflicted templars who chose exile over
death, who strive to preserve the beliefs and traditions of their ancestors.
There are bitter feuds between these afflicted templars and the “first wolves”
and other lycanthropes of Lamannia, but the templars can be valuable allies for
There are also a handful of druids and rangers who
have crossed into Lamannia and chosen to remain in this primal paradise. Many
run with lycanthrope packs, embracing their feral instincts and spending their
days in wild shape. Others act as planar shepherds, seeking to minimize the
impact of dangerous manifest zones and to help unwary travelers.
There are no celestials or fiends in Lamannia. It is a
realm of elementals and beasts, and the elementals are alien and untamed. Yet
explorers often report a feeling that they are being watched. And there are times when random events seem to be
guided by an unseen hand. When outsiders have sought to bring industry to bear
in Lamannia, they have been found by megafauna or elder elementals, or struck
by especially vicious turns of weather. It’s possible that this is the work of
the totems—that totems possess omniscience and great influence over their
layers. Or there could be a greater power that watches over the entire plane.
There is a single moon in the sky above every layer, the moon Olarune; some
scholars assert that this is the consciousness that governs the plane. This is
reflected in Eldeen shifter traditions that predate the practices of the
Wardens of the Wood; shifter druids suggest that it was Olarune who created the
shifters, and that the first lycanthropes were her champions. It is up to the
DM to decide if there’s any truth to these tales.
Layers of Lamannia
Like many of the planes, Lamannia is made up of layers—a
connected web of demiplanes, each highlighting a particular aspect of primal
nature. The scope of any single layer is up to the DM as suits the needs of the
story. One layer in Lamannia might contain a single colossal mountain peak; on
the other hand, the Twilight Forest could be as large as Khorvaire itself (or
even Eberron!). The edge of a layer could be an impassable physical barrier, or
it could wrap around onto itself; sail far enough in the Endless Ocean and
you’ll find yourself back where you began.
The layers of Lamannia are connected by physical portals, but
these portals often only allow travel in one direction. Any deep pool of water
may connect a layer to the Endless Ocean; but while you can get to the Ocean by
diving into a pond in the Twilight Forest, but there’s no gate back to the
Forest on the other side. The Endless Ocean contains small islands; people who
explore these islands will find they have moved to a new layer.
The Twilight Forest
The sky is hidden by the dense canopy of this vast
rainforest, leaving the forest floor in an endless twilight. The trees are over
a hundred feet in height—impressive, certainly, but not as tall as the
greatpines of the Towering Wood in the Eldeen Reches. But as people explore the
Twilight Forest, they will come upon strange ridges and walls of wood. Some
come together, forming twisted wooden canyons. Following these, explorers will
find that they are the roots of truly colossal trees, vast titans wider and
taller than the towers of Sharn. The Twilight Forest as mortals experience it
lies in the shadow of the grander canopy that rises far above it, and these
mighty trees are home to megafauna and mightier beings.
The Twilight Forest is wild and untamed. However,
explorers can find wide tracks through the lower forest. Survival experts may
recognize that these aren’t tracks formed by humanoid hands; rather, they are
the paths of totems, who have crushed the lesser forest beneath their colossal
feet. The Forest is filled with beasts; mundane and dire creatures in the lower
forests, megafauna in the grand canopy above it, and the occasional passage of
totems. There are multiple communities of lycanthropes scattered throughout the
lower forest. A clan of wererats have carved out a warren in the roots of a
colossal tree, while a pack of wild wereboars feuds with werewolves descended
from exiled templars. An ancient elf druid named Haral, who spends most of her
time in the form of an owl, does her best to maintain order; she is assisted in
this by a megafauna owl she calls Ruark. However, the Twilight Forest is larger
than the Eldeen Reaches; these are just a few examples of the inhabitants of
Another noteworthy area is the Graveyard. Of all of
the layers, the Twilight Forest is closest to Eberron. There are many manifest
zones between the Twilight Forest and the material plane, and when the planes
are coterminous it’s possible for people—or objects—to pass through. The region
known as the Graveyard contains a number of manifest zones that are tied to the
oceans of Eberron, and to the air above them—and over the course of thousands
of years, they have caught a number of ships in their net. The focal point of
these manifest zones are dozens of feet above the ground. First of all, this
means that it’s not easy for stranded travelers to find their way back; second,
this means that ships fall when they
pass through, causing damage and often killing many of the travelers. So the
Graveyard contains the wrecks of ships from many eras—an ancient Aereni
galleon, a Lhazaar vessel, a recently lost Lyrandar airship. This provides an
opportunity to introduce outside influences to the Twilight Forest, or to have
forgotten treasures hidden in Lamannia. A Dhakaani vessel holds a priceless and
powerful artifact long sought by all of the Heirs of Dhakaan… but the vessel was
infected by spawn of the Daelkyr, and these have carved out a foul warren
beneath the ship.
Elementals don’t have an especially strong presence
in the Twilight Forest, but they are still present throughout it. A gust of
wind, a pool of water, a rolling stone—in Lamannia, any of these things could
The Broken Land
The Broken Land is a volcanically active region filled
with high mountains and lava plains. There are constant eruptions, and the
layer is home to many fire and earth elementals, who engage in an ongoing
environmental conflict. Fire elementals flow out with the lava as volcanoes
erupt; earth elementals work to contain the eruptions and to rebuild the
shattered peaks, only to have them erupt again. Few beasts manage to thrive in
this layer, but there are some tough dinosaurs who’ve clawed out a niche. While
this region has fewer connections to Eberron than the Twilight Forest, it’s
also possible to find shipwrecks or remnants of other travelers here; it’s
certainly a harsh and deadly landscape for adventurers who are stranded here or
those who must recover a lost relic from this place.
The Endless Ocean
This layer reflects the majesty of the ocean depths. It
is home to a vast array of fish and aquatic beasts, along with merfolk tribes
and a wide range of water elementals… from simple sentient currents and weirds
all the way to massive leviathans. Megafauna battles are common, and this is
the source of the tale of the island that turned out to be a totem turtle. True
islands are few and far between, and most are actually portals to other layers
of Lamannia. There are many manifest zones spread across the Endless Ocean,
almost all of which connect to the ocean depths of Eberron.
The First Storm
A layer of plains and low hills, this region is
permanently lashed by hurricane winds and endless storms. Beasts huddle in
caves and the limited shelter, while all manner of elementals clash in the
storm-lashed plains. A massive elder tempest drives the heart of the storm;
during the Sundering of Sarlona, an apocalyptic cult in Ohr Kaluun sought to
bring this elemental to Eberron, believing it would destroy the world.
Decay is part of nature, and this is reflected in the
Rot. This relatively small layer is swamplike, filled with fallen, rotting
trees. There are corpses of megafauna beasts scattered around the layer, and
giant insects and other massive scavengers prey on their remains. There’s a
community of wererats thriving in the Rot, and there could be a small outpost
of the Children of Winter who found there way here. While this is a symbol of
death and decay, it is entirely natural; the undead have no place here. It’s
possible a necromancer could arrive here, hoping to animate the massive
corpses; however, this would violate the theme of the plane, and if there is
any higher power at work in Lamannia it would direct forces to counter this. While
most layers of Lamannia are free from disease, disease is itself part of
nature; a manifest zone tied to the Rot could spread plagues into the surrounding
Lamannia is filled with precious natural resources; it’s
hardly surprising that an advanced civilization would try to harvest them.
During the Age of Giants, the Cul’sir Dominion set up a research station and
mining camp in a layer of Lamannia. After a decade struggling against megafauna
attacks and elemental-enhanced weather, the outpost was finally overwhelmed and
abandoned. It is a testament to the arcane engineering of the giants that
anything remains of this structure… although it may be that it remains because
the ruin itself has become a symbol of nature-reclaiming-civilization, becoming
the theme of the layer. Vines and moss cover shattered walls, and the bones of
giants are scattered throughout the remnants of this garrison. Valuable and
powerful treasures may well be hidden in the Folly, but explorers will have to
contend with aggressive elementals, dangerous beasts, and traps left by the
long-dead giants themselves.
These are just a handful of the many layers of Lamannia.
In developing a layer, think of a distinctive natural feature—a canyon; a
desert; a lone mountain—and build the layer around it. What creatures would be
found there? Have any outsiders taken up residence? Is there an unusual role
for elementals? How does it connect to other layers, or to Eberron?
Manifestations of Lamanna
There are many ways for Lamannia to influence an
adventure even if the player characters never leave the material plane.
Lamannia is a prolific source of manifest zones. Quite
often manifest zones are found at the heart of a region that resembles the
connected layer: zones tied to the Endless Ocean are found underwater, while
manifest zones tied to the Twilight Forest can be found in the Towering Woods, the
King’s Forest, and other vast woodlands. However, it’s also possible to find
Lamannian zones in areas with no obvious connection to the layer—such as the
aquatic zones tied to the Twilight Forest that produce the Graveyard. Here’s a
few of the common effects of Lamannian manifest zones.
Elemental Power. Manifest zones tied to Lamannia may have strong elemental resonance. When spells that summon elementals are cast in such a region, they’re treated as if they were cast at a level one higher than the spell slot that was expended. There are a number of these zones in Zilargo, and House Cannith and the Twelve are eager to find unclaimed zones. However, there are risks associated with them. Elementals may spontaneously manifest in such places; sometimes they linger for a long time (a pool tied to Lamannia could be inhabited by water weirds), but often they only linger for a few hours and then dissipate. Passing through such a zone can also impart a surge of power to an existing elemental; this can potentially allow a bound elemental to break free from its bonds.
Gateways. A manifest zone can serve as a direct portal between Lamannia and Eberron. Typical such portals only open under certain circumstances—often when the planes are coterminous, but the requirements could be even more restricted (for example, when the planes are coterminous and Olarune is full). Such gateways can allow adventurers to travel to Lamannia, but they can also be the source of hostile elementals or deadly megafauna. Rising From The Last War suggests the idea that what appears to be a ring of standing stones could be a group of slumbering earth elementals stranded in such a gateway.
Growth. A common effect of a Lamannian manifest zone is to enhance the growth of plants or beasts in the region around it. This is less about fertility (which is commonly associated with Irian) and more about the size and health of the beast. Animals are often drawn to such zones. House Vadalis is always searching for manifest zones with this trait, and many Vadalis enclaves are built in these zones.
Purity. Vegetation and water in such a zone are healthy and pure, as if constantly affected by purify food and drink. Such zones can be a valuable resource for small communities. Such regions may also manifest the ‘primordial matter’ described earlier; stone and wood may be unusually tough. The prison of Dreadhold is built in such a manifest zone; not only is the stone of the region denser than usual, it cannot be penetrated by scrying or teleportation.
Resistance. While Lamannian manifest zones can be useful tools for communities or dragonmarked houses, some zones actively resist and repel civilization. As noted in Rising From The Last War, weather, vegetation, and a rapid rate of decay can combine to quickly destroy structures built in the zone and overgrow the ruins.
These effects aren’t mutually exclusive; a manifest
zone could have both the growth and resistance traits, and also become a
gateway under specific circumstances. Zones can also have very specific effects;
notably, the elemental power trait is often tied to a specific element. The
weird-haunted pool enhances water elementals, but doesn’t help if you’re trying
to summon fire elementals.
COTERMINOUS AND REMOTE
Lamannia has a swift planar cycle. It is reliably
coterminous for a week around around the summer solstice, and remote for a week
during the winter solstice; it can also become coterminous at other times,
often related to the lunar cycle of Olarune.
While Lamannia is coterminous, the effects of Lamannian
manifest zones are enhanced. In regions of unspoiled nature—such as the Eldeen
Reaches, the wilds of Q’barra—fertility of both plants and animals is enhanced,
and beasts conceived in these periods are often exceptionally strong and
healthy. Primal spells that affect beasts or elementals are extended; if a
spell has a duration of 1 minute or longer, the duration is doubled, to a
maximum duration of 24 hours.
While Lamannia is remote, fertility rates drop and
beasts born in these periods are often weak or sickly. Beast are often uneasy,
and the duration of any primal spell that affect beasts or elementals is cut in
half, to a minimum duration of one round.
The inhabitants of Lamannia rarely choose to travel to
Eberron. Those few civilized creatures—lycanthropes, merfolk—are content in
their primal realm and generally only cross over by accident. However,
accidental visitors can be a source of trouble or adventure. A powerful
elemental or a megafauna beast can pose a deadly threat to a region. Megafauna
creatures can become local legends; imagine a Vadalis expedition seeking a
legendary megafauna ape (which, if captured, might break free while on
exhibition and climb the towers of Sharn!). There’s no records of a totem beast
ever passing through to Eberron, and it’s possible that they cannot manifest
Lamannia vegetation is prized by alchemists. Herbs and
roots from Lamannia can produce exceptionally strong potions, and many types of
Lamannian vegetation have innate magical effects; there are bushes in the
Twilight Forest that naturally produce goodberries.
Lamannian lumber likewise can have unusual traits, mirroring the densewood and
bronzewood found in Aerenal. Lamannian wood and stone can serve as powerful
focuses for primal magic, for creating figurines
of wondrous power, or for tools designed to summon or bind elementals.
Lamannia is a source of elementals and dire beasts. It
is wild and untamed, strengthening primal magic and providing a haven to
lycanthropes. It resists any intrusion by civilization. Here’s a few ideas for
working it into your story.
Land. When a party of
adventurers unknowingly pass through a gateway, they must find a way to survive
in this wild realm. This could be as simple as finding another manifest zone to
take them home… or it could require them to survive in Lamannia for months
while waiting for the planes to become coterminous. Another option is for the
group to be stranded when their airship passes through a manifest zone and the
elemental breaks free; in this case, the adventurers must decide whether to
protect the other survivors, and deal with conflicts that arise among them.
Island. Due to close ties to Lamannia, there’s an island that is home to an
unusual array of megafauna beasts. Adventurers could stumble onto this on their
own, or they could be hired by an heir of House Vadalis who wants to
investigate the rumors without drawing the attention of rivals in the house.
Beast. A Lamannian zone could realize a megafauna predator into the region,
spreading terror among the locals. Must this creature be destroyed? Can it be
returned through the zone, or is it even hostile?
Lamannia suppresses the negative effects of the curse of lycanthropy. Adventurers
could stumble upon a village of lycanthropes and jump to the wrong conclusion,
not knowing that the influence of the local manifest zone allows them to
control the curse. Alternatively, a group of benevolent lycanthropes could
return to Eberron only to fall prey to the predatory impulses of the curse: can
the adventurers capture these lycanthropes alive and help them return to the
Hunt. The trail of a powerful artifact leads to Lamannia. It might have
been on a ship lost in the Graveyard, or it could be that an artificer needs
Lamannian resources to complete an eldritch machine. Can the adventurers win
this deadly race?
With Nature. An Ashbound druid manages to establish a new Lamannian
manifest zone in a major city, such as Fairhaven or Sharn. The resistance
effect is causing the city to crumble, releasing elementals and wild
vegetation. Can the adventurers find a way to remove the manifest zone?
Alternately, House Cannith could be determined to create a bridge that allows
them to harvest Lamannian resources… will they succeed, or will their efforts
· Unusual Flavor. The impact of a manifest zone can be felt just as part of the backdrop of a scenario. The village of Clearwater is in a hostile region, but it survives because of the small lake that provides fresh water and a seemingly inexhaustible supply of fish. In a small Eldeen village, the locals live in harmony with a breed of giant rabbits unknown elsewhere in Khorvaire. A tribe of shifters lives in the branches of the three massive trees that grow in a Lamannian manifest zone.
If you have questions or stories about what you’ve done with Lamannia, post them below!
Children in Breland, Aundair, and the Eldeen Reaches are raised on stories of Mordain the Fleshweaver and the monsters he creates. He was born into House Phiarlan and was one of the most gifted wizards of the Twelve; it’s said that the standard House Jorasco potion of healing is Mordain’s recipe. But his obsession with creating and improving life drew him down dark paths, adapting the techniques of the daelkyr and delving into the secrets of Sulk Khatesh. According to one story, he sought to magebreed a new dragonmarked house but instead produced a line of aberrations that consumed his own family before they were destroyed. Parents warn their children that Mordain steals disobedient children and carries them off to his living fortress, leaving perfect simulacra in their place so even their friends won’t miss them. Whatever the truth of these stories, Mordain was excoriated from House Phiarlan in 797 YK. According to the records of Salyon Syrralan d’Sivis, the Twelve tried to execute Mordain and failed. Salyon’s account states that Mordain was bathed in acid, burnt at the stake, drowned, and even dismembered, but after each attempt “he rose again, his vigor unchecked and flesh rebound.” He was petrified and sent to Dreadhold, but escaped before reaching the island prison; Salyon speculated that “no lesser mage could set his will over the flesh of Mordain.”
The first confirmed sighting of Blackroot – Mordain’s tower – occurred in 873 YK. In the heat of the Silver Crusade, a troop of Aundairian templars pursued a few werewolves far to the south of modern Aundair (a region now considered to be part of Droaam). Weeks later, another patrol encountered a lone survivor from this force, half-mad and delirious. The templar spoke of a tower “with blackened, leathery walls, twisted as the limb of a dragon reaching up to grasp the sun.” The soldier couldn’t account for his companions, but his own condition was testimony to the horrors he had seen. His upper torso had been fused to the lower body of what was posthumously confirmed to be a werewolf. His mental state quickly deteriorated and he soon died of self-inflicted wounds.
Mordain is the most powerful wizard living in Khorvaire today, and the region surrounding his tower is warded against divination and teleportation. Paladins of Dol Arrah have attempted to destroy the foul wizard and his works, while emissaries of every nation sought Mordain’s aid at some point in the Last War; knights and envoys both met with failure, and only a lucky few survived to share their stories. Mordain remains a sinister enigma, a dark legend on the edge of Droaam. Some believe that he has an arrangement with the Daughters of Sora Kell, but many believe that even the hags fear Mordain.
Using The Fleshweaver
The basic principle of Mordain is that he’s the mightiest mortal wizard in Khorvaire. He’s as powerful as you want him to be. His specialty is creating and transforming living creatures, but he can easily have other talents. Notably, you could substitute “Mordain” for “Mordenkainen” in spell names in Eberron; this gives us Mordain’s private sanctum and Mordain’s magnificent mansion, suggesting that he has a talent for manipulating extradimensional space; this would imply that Blackroot is far larger than it appears to be, and also makes it easy to say that Mordain has a few extradimensional back doors scattered around the continent… which allows him to drop his experiments wherever best suits a story. With that said, part of the idea is that Mordain isn’t simply using the sorts of magic that player wizards and artificers might use. His techniques are adapted from the daelkyr and the Overlords, and involve channeling the energies of Kythri and Xoriat. While he can place his experiments wherever he chooses, most of his magic can only be performed in Blackroot, which is essentially a vast eldritch machine. It’s quite possible that through his centuries of work he has essentially become Blackroot—that his physical body is just a shell he creates to interact with people, but that the true Mordain is merged with his tower. This is a way to limit his impact and adds a reason for him to work with adventurers.
Mordain pairs unmatched arcane power with an utter disregard for the suffering of others. At the same time, Mordain has no interest in wealth or influence. He’s not trying to conquer Khorvaire, and while he’s indifferent to the suffering his creations can cause, he’s not actually trying to harm others. A DM could decide that Mordain wants revenge on the dragonmarked houses for driving him away; but by default he considers the houses to be as pointless and irrelevant as the Five Nations. All that he cares about is his work—creating and perfecting life. While his tower is in a dangerous region, his location is known; adventurers know where he can be found. With this in mind, there’s a number of ways Mordain can enter a campaign.
MORDAIN THE VILLAIN
Unlike most of the major conspiracies, Mordain has no grand plans for Khorvaire, which makes him an excellent source of one-shot problems that have to be dealt with but that have no long-term consequences. While he rarely leaves his tower (assuming he even can), he can use scrying and teleportation to target his experiments across Khorvaire. Consider the following options.
Mordain might engineer a magical plague and inflict it on an isolated village to see what happens. Can the adventurers find a cure? Perhaps he’s experimenting with a new form of lycanthropy: how does it differ from the traditional form?
Mordain could introduce a dangerous monsters into a region as an isolated threat, most likely just to see how things play out. Do you want a gargantuan gelatinous cube in the heart of Aundair? Blame Mordain.
With that said, Mordain could also introduce a significant population of monsters to a region, introducing a nest of kruthik or a band of yeti into an area. A twist on this would be if he created these creatures by transforming a village. Can the victims be restored? If not, can the adventurers find a way to stabilize the situation?
Mordain’s creations don’t have to be monsters. Mordain could transform the inhabitants of a village into tortles, or create a murder of kenku. This can be a simple way to introduce a small population of an exotic population into a location; no one knows WHY Mordain put a tribe of tabaxi into the King’s Forest, but he did.
Likewise, adventurers could stumble upon bizarre experiments. Dolurrh’s Dawn—originally presented in Dragon 365—is an isolated village in Droaam where Mordain has recreated legendary characters from history. His motives are unclear; but it’s certainly an interesting thing for a group of adventurers to discover.
Mordain could also be supplying or supporting an organization that the adventurers are fighting. He could be providing them with symbionts or other magic items, or giving them access to monstrous forces (you kill the leader of the organization, but a week later he’s back as a flesh golem!). The main question here is why? How is the group interesting or useful to Mordain?
A twist on this is for Mordain to take a personal interest in the adventurers. Will he turn their friends into monsters, or grant strange powers to their enemies? Is he testing the adventurers, or is there something about them that poses a threat to his experiments? Does he know something about one of the adventurers they have yet to discover?
Mordain can be an interesting backstory element for an unusual character. Perhaps a player wants to create a character using a race that has no established place in Eberron, such as a Loxodon or a Simic Hybrid. Simple answer: they were created by Mordain. This path could also be used to explain class features. Perhaps a sorcerer’s arcane powers stem from being magebred by Mordain. A character who’s mechanically a half-orc barbarian could decide that they’re actually an artificial lifeform created by Mordain and that their “rage” reflects a hulking-out battle mode. A monk could likewise describe their Unarmored Defense and enhanced abilities as being tied to Mordain-crafted mutations. An idea could be even more exotic than this; tied to Dolurrh’s Dawn, a character could say that they are a clone of a famous historical figure—that they are Karrn the Conqueror or Tira Miron reborn… or even a clone of a young Mordain the Fleshweaver!
With any of these ideas, there’s a few critical questions. Were they created in an isolated incident, or are they part of a larger experiment (like Dolurrh’s Dawn)? Did Mordain release them into the wild, or did they escape captivity? Do they know the purpose for which they were created and are defying it, or could their adventuring career be part of Mordain’s plan? Which ties to the next option…
MORDAIN THE ALLY
Mordain has much to offer, from magic items to mysterious boons. Mordain could easily serve as a patron for a warlock or a mysterious mentor for a wizard… or even an entire group (following the model of the Immortal group patron, even if he may not be immortal). What would he want from adventurers? A few possibilities…
Mordain wants the adventurers to clean up his messes. Use the same seeds from the previous section, but Mordain dispatches the PCs to minimize the collateral damage. He still feels a need to drop a gargantuan gelatinous cube into Aundair, but once he’s learned what he needed, he’s happy to have the PCs deal with it.
Adventurers encounter a lot of exotic creatures. Mordain wants them to harvest organs of monsters they defeat, and will pay them (in gold or in other ways) for unusual finds.
Mordain is always interested in relics of the daelkyr, and could send players into dangerous dungeons.
The lesser of two evils: a Cult of the Dragon Below, the Lords of Dust, the Dreaming Dark or a similar force could be interfering with one of Mordain’s experiments; he sends the adventurers to resolve the problem.
Mordain could want the adventurers to mediate a local problem with some of his neighbors in Droaam (likely a last resort before resolving the problem in a horrifying and deadly fashion).
Working with Mordain should never be an entirely comfortable experience. There should always be the sense that he’s incredibly dangerous and could do something terrifying at any moment. But again, Mordain is motivated solely by his experiments; as long as those current experiments aren’t harming innocents, there’s no reason he can’t be a useful ally.
The 4E Eberron Campaign Guide included a stat block for Mordain. I’m not including one here, because in my opinion fighting Mordain is simply a bad idea—both in terms of difficulty, but also because it won’t really accomplish anything. Remember that according to the legends, the TWELVE couldn’t find a way to kill him—and that’s when they had him as a prisoner, not when he was in Blackroot surrounded by his creations and defensive spells. One option is to use the statistics of a lich as a base, though I’d consider him an aberration as opposed to undead (or humanoid) and I’d add high regeneration. But there’s another approach, which is to say that his combat abilities aren’t that dramatic but that it doesn’t really MATTER… that at this point he has essentially become Blackroot, and that he simply produces a humanoid body when he needs to interact with outsiders. So he doesn’t need to be a terrifying force of destruction, because if you kill him he’ll just make a new body within a few rounds. This ties to the basic point that his role in the story isn’t really to BE a monster himself; it’s to create monsters and challenges.
Mordain or Daelkyr?
One valid question is how Mordain differs from a daelkyr. Why use Mordain instead of Dyrrn the Corruptor? There’s a few simple answers. The first is that Mordain operates on a smaller scale. He doesn’t have cults or armies of minions spread across the continent. Likewise, the daelkyr are mysterious but unquestionably destructive; they will destroy civilizations if left unchecked. Mordain, on the other hand, has no desire to destroy civilizations; his experiments are on a smaller scale and collateral damage is generally incidental, not the point. A final critical factor is that Mordain is an eccentric sociopath, but he’s not as completely ALIEN as the daelkyr are. You CAN have a conversation with Mordain. You can talk to him about what he’s doing with his latest experiment, and he’d be happy to pay you for those remorhaz entrails you discovered on your last adventure. He’s infamous and he’s deadly, but he’s more grounded than the daelkyr, and his schemes are generally more focused.
Why So Powerful?
One of the core principles of Eberron is wide magic, not high magic. Spells of over 5th level are all but unknown in the Five Nations. So how is it that Mordain wields this level of power? Why hasn’t it had a greater impact on life in the Five Nations? Why don’t people just copy what he’s doing?
Ultimately, this is based on the idea that Mordain is a pulp villain. He’s not SUPPOSED to logically fit into the structure of the world; if he was sane and reasonable and willing to lend his skills to House Vadalis, Khorvaire would be a better place. Instead, he’s channeling powers normal artificers and wizards can’t understand and using them for dangerous and selfish reasons. But beyond that, the idea is that these powers can’t be easily duplicated and have come with a terrible cost. This ties to the idea that at this point I’d consider him an aberration, and that he may be bound to Blackroot. Even if people in Arcanix could copy what he’s doing, they might not WANT to; anyone who could master his techniques would likely lose their humanity in the process.
Have you ever used Mordain in your campaign? if so, share the story below! Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters, who make these articles possible!
We’ve never heard much about Mordain’s life before his horrific experiments were uncovered and he was excoriated. His excoriation happened two hundred years ago. Within the lifetime of elves, gnomes, and dwarves. To those who knew him before… How shocking was the discovery of his experiments. Was he well regarded and liked within The Twelve before?
I think that Mordain was a prodigy who was always pushing beyond the limits of acceptable arcane science. I think his RESULTS were respected, but I think he probably angered many seneschals and stepped on a lot of toes—and took a lot of paths that were forbidden. “Dammit, Mordain! Look at what happened to the Closed Circle in Sharn. There’s a REASON no one’s revised Dyrnin’s techniques!” I suspect that he was passionate and brilliant, and that may have won him some friends or followers. But I also think that his revelations came with a cost. I’ve suggested that at this point I’d consider him to be both a sociopath and an aberration. I think Mordain today isn’t the person he was when he started at the Twelve; and I think that by the time the Twelve failed to execute him, those who knew him were horrified by what he’d become.
With that said, the sourcebook City of Stormreach mentions Elira Dawn, a wizard and war criminal who was a protege of Mordain’s—though it incorrectly states that Mordain taught at Arcanix. One possibility is that Elira studied alongside Mordain at the Twelve; suggesting that he did have a following before his fall. The other possibility is that she worked with him AFTER he was excoriated, as I suggest could be an option for a PC wizard or warlock.
Any info on how Mordain has escaped the ire of the dragons? That level of power feels like something they’d be uncomfortable with, but more than that the last time someone tried to magebreed a new Mark into existence they destroyed an entire family line.
There’s a few answers to this. The first is that the dragons really don’t care about something unless it threatens the Prophecy or Argonnessen. The fact that they HAVEN’T destroyed Mordain implies that he’s done neither of those things. You’re correct that they took drastic action to deal with Vol, but part of that is because Vol succeeded—They DID create an apex mark, something that surely DID have Prophetic significance. By contrast, Mordain ATTEMPTED to make a new dragonmark and FAILED COMPLETELY. If he had succeeded, it might have spelled his doom; odds are likely that there was never any chance of his success.
The dragons aren’t peeking over the shoulder of every wizard. When adventurers get to 18th level they aren’t immediately killed by angry dragons. Mordain’s techniques are impressive, but compared to the epic magics the dragons used to destroy Xen’drik, they’re not THAT impressive. He’s a big deal in KHORVAIRE, but he’s hasn’t done anything that makes him a serious threat to Argonnessen.
The Darguul warlord studied Caerys, slowly spinning the chan of his flail. “What could bring you to this place, elf?” His tribe gathered around them, forming a wide circle of shadows and gleaming red eyes.
Caerys held her double blade in the falcon guard, level with her shoulders and spreading out like wings. “I came in search of legends. Ten thousand years ago Daealyth of Taeri stood this ground and faced your ancestors, and twenty fell before his singing blades. You are no Dhakaani of old, and a mere twenty of you will bring no honor to the Taeri.”The warlord hissed in fury, and his flail flashed in the firelight. The chain wrapped around Caerys’ blade but she twisted away. The flail flew into the darkness. She spun forward, her double blade weaving a circle of fire as she danced toward the chieftain. In a moment the song of steel was over.
Caerys watched as the warlord fell to the ground. With a contemptuous snap of her wrist, she flicked the blood from her blade into the eyes of the stunned onlookers. She smiled behind her spirit veil, counting the blades arrayed against her.
The Tairnadal elves of Eberron are devoted to the arts of war. When a Tairnadal elf reaches adolescence, a rite is perform that determines which of the patron ancestors has chosen the child. From that point on, it is the duty of the elf to emulate this ancestor, perfecting their skills and following in their footsteps. Each Tairnadal wears a zaelshin, an amulet that bears the sigil of their patron; when performing heroic deeds they cover their face with a veil known as a zaelta (“spirit mask”), so the enemy sees the zaelshin rather than the face of the living elf.
The Tairnadal have always been called out as one of the most efficient and deadly fighting forces in Eberron. In part this is due to their discipline and absolute devotion to the arts of war. The Tairnadal are ascetics who undergo decades of harsh training, and spend their lives searching for ever greater challenges for their skills. But the idea has always been that there’s a possibly supernatural aspect. Through their devotion, the Tairnadal preserve the spirits of their greatest champions; but the idea is that this allows the ancient heroes to guide the living elves. When a Tairnadal elf acts on instinct and intuition, they believe that the spirit of their ancestor can guide their hands and direct their thoughts. So for a Tairnadal, following the path of an ancestor isn’t simply an annoying chore; they believe that the more closely they emulate the ancestor, the easier it is for the patron to live through them, sharing their legendary skills.
So in part, the devotion of the Tairnadal is based on the belief that they are keeping the spirits of their ancestors from fading into oblivion. But this is balanced against the belief that the living Tairnadal receive concrete benefits from this relationship—that the exceptional skills of Tairnadal warriors and wizards reflect the direct guidance of these ancestors.
Over the years, there are a number of questions that come up frequently.
If Tairnadal culture is based on the relationship with the ancestors, how did it begin? Who were the first ancestors?
Is it possible for my character to become a patron ancestor, or can living elves never be seen as the equals of their ancestors?
Where are the patron ancestors? If their spirits still exist, why haven’t they been resurrected?
How do I choose a patron ancestor for my character? Why does it matter?
Can half-elves become Tairnadal?
What’s the difference between Valenar elves and Tairnadal?
Who are the patron ancestors?
One thing that many people don’t realize is that the original patron ancestors weren’t Tairnadal. The elves who fought against the ancient giants came from many different cultures. In Dragon 407, the article “Vadallia and Cardaen” presents two patron ancestors—one a warrior queen who was born free in the wilds of Xen’drik, the other a wizard trained by the Cul’sir giants who turned against his masters. The original patron ancestors were united by their common cause, but they came from many different cultures and backgrounds. Tairnadal culture was born on Aerenal, forged by refugees united by the stories of their champions and the determination that they would never be conquered again.
So the FIRST patron ancestors were heroes who fought against the giants. But while the foundation of the Tairnadal faith is to honor and preserve the ancestors, it’s understood that this is because it lets the mortal elf channel the skills of those legendary heroes… and potentially to use those skills to become legends in their own right. Look back to the story that begins this article. What this tells us was that in the Age of monsters there was a Tairnadal champion named Daealyth who was channeling the patron ancestor Taeri, one of the champions of Xen’drik. But the deeds of Daealyth were so exceptional that she herself became a legend—and TODAY, we have the elf Caerys, who is channeling Daealyth. So as a Tairnadal elf it is your duty to honor your ancestor and to do all that you can to bring glory to their name; but the hope is that in doing so you will become a vessel for their spirit and that together you will forge NEW legends—and that someday, future Tairnadal will channel YOUR spirit.
A secondary aspect to this is the idea that when dealing with generational ancestors, you do honor the patrons of your patron. In the opening paragraph, Caerys says that the battle will “bring no honor to the Taeri.” While she is the chosen of Daealyth, Daealyth was chosen by Taeri, and Caerys feels a secondary allegiance to the original champion.
Summing up: The first patron ancestors were champions of the conflicts on Xen’drik. However, over the course of tens of thousands of years new patrons have risen, and if you perform legendary deeds as a Tairnadal elf you yourself could become a patron ancestor.
in developing a patron ancestor—whether as a player or DM—consider that they are a celebrated, legendary figure and that the elves what to make sure they are never forgotten. Why are they celebrated and admired? What was their greatest achievement? Did they have a particular tool or treasure they were known for? Despite being beloved and preserved in memory, did they have any notable flaws? Because it’s the duty of the revenant to embody their flaws as well as their virtues! But an elf wouldn’t be preserve as a patron ancestor unless their virtues significantly outweighed their flaws.
But where ARE the patron ancestors? Are they in Dolurrh? Why don’t they get resurrected?
People only linger in Dolurrh for about a month before their spirits fade. In the past this has been used as a concrete limit on any form of resurrection; that unless a spirit is somehow kept from fading in Dolurrh (as some say occurs if the soul is snatched by the Keeper), there’s no way to return after it fades.
This is concrete fact. But no one knows if there’s anything beyond Dolurrh. The vassals of the Sovereign Host believe that Dolurrh is a gateway to the realms of the Sovereigns. Followers of the Silver Flame say the spirit moves on from Dolurrh to merge with the Silver Flame. The Blood of Vol says that fading is oblivion. The Tairnadal faith maintains that you persist for as long as you’re remembered. The more people who remember you, the stronger your spirit and the greater your ability to influence the world. Thus, the patron ancestors aren’t in Dolurrh and are beyond the reach of resurrection, but it’s believed that they continue to exist regardless.
How do I choose a patron ancestor for my character? Why does it matter?
Tairnadal elves don’t get to choose their patron ancestors; rather, the ancestor chooses the living elf. So Tairnadal children spend their youth essentially auditioning for the ancestors. The basic belief is that if you prove yourself to be an exceptional archer you’ll be chosen by a patron who specializes in archery—that early aptitudes inform the choice. But again, ultimately, the patron chooses the elf. You might EXPECT to be chosen by the legendary archer because of your skill, only to be chosen by a brave swordsman—who may have picked you because of your bravery, or some other aspect of your character you haven’t considered to be an asset.
One thing that is rarely a factor is bloodline. Consider the assertion that one in every 200 people is thought to be related to Genghis Khan. Most Tairnadal elves are related to many of the patron ancestors. It’s possible that you will end up tied to the same ancestor as your parents or siblings, but it’s not expected.
So in choosing a patron ancestor for your character, the primary question is how will it affect your story. Consider the following elements. F
Legend. The Tairnadal patrons are legends. They become patrons because the elves believe that their deeds must not be forgotten and that others should follow their example. What did your patron do to earn this devotion? What were they known for? What was their greatest deed? Did they have a legendary weapon or accessory (and if so, are you working to find it)? A signature move or spell? What is a distinctive thing about them that you can emulate?
Ideals, Bonds, Flaws. As a Tairnadal you’re expected to pattern your after your ancestor. Are your personality traits something you’ve cultivated to be more like your ancestor? Or are they things you’re trying to overcome? For example, if your flaw is your overconfidence, it could be that you’re NOT naturally overconfident, but you’re TRYING to be, because that’s something your ancestor was known for.
Class Features. Patrons are suppose to share their skills with their revenants. Do you see your ancestor as a source of class features—either those you have at the moment or those you will eventually gain? For example, if you’re a ranger, your Favored Enemy and Fighting Style likely reflect your ancestor. When you cast hunter’s mark, you might describe it as feeling your ancestor guide your aim. As a rogue or bard, it makes sense for your expertise to be tied to the skills your ancestor was celebrated for. If you’re a sorcerer or a true, your patron likely was as well. If you’re a warlock you might serve the same patron as your ancestor; if you’re a hexblade, your patron might be the weapon they carried. So, what does your class and your choices say about your ancestor?
Relationship. Are you proud to follow in your ancestor’s footsteps? Do you value their guidance and believe that together you will create new legends? Did you hope you’d be chosen by them, or did you always imagine you’d be chosen by a different patron? Beyond that, what is your actually relationship with the patron? Do you feel their presence guiding you? Do you have visions while trancing? This is especially appropriate for Tairnadal paladins, clerics, or warlocks; you could believe that the ancestor has a concrete purpose for you to fulfil.
Rivals. There are many more elves than patrons, and most patron ancestors have multiple elves following in their footsteps. You can find entire warbands dedicated to a particular patron. How well-represented is your patron among the Tairnadal? Are there dozens or hundreds of elves following in their footsteps, or are you one of only a few? What makes you stand out from the others? Do you have a particular rival who’s determined to be a better revenant than you?
Once you’ve considered these things, you can work out the rest of the details with your DM. How will your patron fit into the campaign? Are you trying to find their legendary artifact weapon? Are you driven to defend the innocent, or to hunt down a particular type of creature? As a Tairnadal you have a story you’re trying to relive; ideally that story should fit into the scope of the campaign your DM has in mind, not clash with it.
Can Half-Elves Become Tairnadal?
Ultimately that’s not up to mortals; it’s up to the patrons. What we’ve said is that there’s never been a case of a half-elf being chosen by a patron ancestor. But there’s nothing stopping you from making a Khoravar character who believes they HAVE been chosen and is trying to prove it. Again, if a Keeper of the Past could confirm it, it’s not the place of mortals to deny it.
What’s the difference between Valenar and Tairnadal?
Valenar are a subset of the Tairnadal elves. They are Tairnadal who came to Khorvaire as mercenaries and laid claim to the region they were protecting. The short form is that if you’re VALENAR then you fought in the Last War and served under High King Shaeras Vadallia. if you’re Tairnadal you could have remained on Aerenal and taken no part in the Last War. The Valenar are an armed host engaged in an active military operation; this means, for example, that there are no Tairnadal children in Valenar, because the civilian infrastructure of Tairnadal society remains in Aerenal; the Valenar are part of an ongoing military operation.
Previous editions have focused on the amazing horses of the Valenar, beasts with seemingly supernatural attributes. We’ve always highlighted that despite its best efforts, House Vadalis has never been able to breed these horses in captivity. Over the course of two editions, we’ve called out a few things the first is the idea that what makes the horses special isn’t simply genetic—that it’s tied to the idea that the HORSE is channeling the spirit of a legendary ancestor, that this is replicating the bond between the patron and their animal companion. This led us to the thought that it shouldn’t be limited to horses. While the Valenar are renowned for their cavalry, they also have expert commandos, assassins, and soldiers of every specialty—an elf could have a remarkable hound or hawk. The key point is that the idea of being chosen by a Valenar beast isn’t simply that the animal likes you; it’s that there’s a bond between you and the spirit within the beast. This is why you can only have one Valenar beast; if your patron was bound to a hawk, you can have a Valenar hawk as a companion, but you can’t later trade it in for a horse. The hawk is a defining part of your ancestor’s story.
Rising From The Last War does suggest that a Valenar beast could bond to a non-elf adventurer. This would be exceptionally remarkable, and the big question is what this means. Do you have some distant blood tie to the ancestor? Do you have a spiritual connection to them? Could you be an elf reincarnated in human form? Or has the spirit simply judged you to be a worthy companion?
House Vadalis hasn’t given up on replicating Valenar beast. But the idea is that what makes the beast special is the SPIRIT, and this only manifests when it is bound to a Tairnadal companion; when bred in captivity away from their people, the spirit won’t manifest and the Valenar beast will be born as a mundane creature, not fey.
This isn’t the first article I’ve written about the Tairnadal. If you want to dig deep, you should explore the following links.
If you have questions about the Tairnadal, post them in the comments! Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters, who keep this site running.
Has there ever been a Tairnadal who was later turned into a deathless?
It’s an interesting question, and more complicated than you might think. Bear in mind that the Aereni and the Tairnadal are two entirely different cultures with different values and traditions. The Tairnadal are ascetic, nomadic, and relentlessly martial. The Aereni are static and peaceful. While they join forces against common threats, they have relatively little in common and there’s not a lot of interaction between them. Looking to the deathless, the Aereni consider their tradition to be superior because the deathless continues to exist in this world. The Tairnadal consider their path to be superior, because the ancestor lives on through hundreds of revenants; they see that as a form of ascension, a superior form of immortality to just being trapped in Shae Mordai for eternity. A secondary factor is that while, per 3.5 rules, it is possible for a priest of the Undying Court to animate lesser deathless, the entire principle of the undying is that they are sustained by the devotion of their descendants—that for a Tairnadal deathless to survive, they would need to have the love and devotion of a sufficient population of local elves.
So could it happen? Sure. The Tairnadal and Aereni have joined forces multiple times to fight against dragons, and perhaps a Tairnadal champion performed such great deeds that the Aereni animated them after death and have sustained them with their love. But the TAIRNADAL might consider this to be a punishment rather than a blessing; they might rather live on in the memories of their descendants rather than be trapped in an undead body.
In saying that the Tairnadal ancestors aren’t in Dolurrh, are you confirming that there IS something beyond Dolurrh? Doesn’t that have enormous implications for other religions?
The Tairnadal faith is just that: a faith. The Tairnadal BELIEVE their ancestors are reaching out from beyond Dolurrh, just as a Vassal smith believes that Onatar is guiding her hands. You can’t just have a casual conversation with a patron—”Hey, Great-great-great-uncle Haen, what’s it like beyond Dolurrh?” Instead, they communicate through visions and intuition.
With that said: the Tairnadal are channeling SOMETHING. It is a concrete fact that a revenant blade can gain a supernatural level of skill by following the path of their ancestors. There is SOMETHING real going on here. And it’s quite possible that it’s exactly what the Tairnadal believe it to be. The idea of a patron ancestor existing in a state beyond death and guiding multiple descendants is very similar to the kalashtar quori, who also exist in the collective souls of their bloodlines. But the point is that there’s no absolute certainty here… and even if the Tairnadal spirits do somehow exist beyond Dolurrh, it doesn’t reveal what happens to the souls of faithful Vassals or reveal whether the Sovereigns exist.
What is the relationship between the Aereni and Tairnadal like? Did they just kinda divide up the isles between them and call it good?
This is summed up on page 218 of the original Eberron Campaign Setting: “Relations between the Tairnadal and the elves of the Undying Court are cordial. They honor the same ancestors, and respect the shared blood that flows through their veins.” It’s also the case that elves do move between the two cultures. Children who don’t adapt to the harsh life of the Tairnadal may be fostered among the Aereni, while the ECS says that “In the last few millennia many younger elves of southern bloodlines have left their homes to join the Tairnadal.” The Tairnadal have fought alongside the Aereni when Aerenal has been attacked, and as I suggest elsewhere, you might well find Tairnadal mercenaries serving as marines on Aereni ships. So yes, they split up the island long ago. The Tairnadal have remained in their territory, and so far there’s never been a conflict over those borders; Aerenal isn’t overcrowded.
What sources of internal conflict does Valenar/the Tairnadal have?
Tairnadal culture has little room for internal dissent. It is, in essence, a highly disciplined army that is further united by deep devotion to a shared religion. This ties to the general elf dedication to tradition and is reflected by the fact that the civilization has stood, virtually unchanged, for over twenty thousand years. On the one hand, this reflects unity and stability; on the other hand, it also reflects the general stagnation of Aerenal.
So: the Tairnadal are effectively an army, broken into a clearly defined system of warclans and warbands. The endless training exercises conducted between these united provides an outlet for competition within the culture, as does the competition between revenants struggling to be the best avatars of their patrons. There’s also a tension between revenants whose patron ancestors had feuds. But this is friendly competition; people who truly don’t fit it will simply be expelled from the society, typically fostered to the Aereni. With that said, there are some philosophical divisions, shown by the Silaes Tairn, Dralaeus Tairn, and Valaes Tairn; but these are long-established sects that have coexisted for millennia.
Within the Valaes Tairn, the primary point of conflict is simple: who supports the Valenar initiative? While many of the warclans joined Shaeras’s expedition, others chose to remain on Aerenal and disapprove of his actions (which some see as a dishonorable betrayal of a client). As a Tairnadal elf, you should decide if you serve in Valenar or if you oppose it.
Valenar is a different issue, because it involves many different factions. The TAIRNADAL in Valenar are strongly united; they are, again, a disciplined army in the field. But you also have Cyran loyalists, House Lyrandar, Khoravar immigrants, and the khunan majority, all with different aspirations and dreams. House Lyrandar imagines a Khoravar state, while most Tairnadal see the kingdom as a tool—the perfect place to fight a war without threatening Aerenal.
There are no Valenar civilians? This is news to me. Do they rely on locals for everything else? Are children and noncombatants shipped out?
This is discussed in more detail in this post, among other places. But yes, that’s the idea. The Tairnadal don’t need land. They don’t care about Valenar as a long-term kingdom (with the understanding that “long-term” has a different meaning for people who live for centuries). It’s a military beachhead and an opportunity for conflict; what they WANT is to encourage a powerful enemy to attack them, allowing them to emulate their ancestors (who fought a guerilla war against a powerful foe). By keeping their civilian infrastructure on Aerenal they maintain the ability to abandon Valenar entirely if it serves their purposes.
I understand that the Valenar elves use the locals to fill civilian roles but who does that for the Tairnadal back home. Who grows the food, looks after the kids, makes sure no one poops in the well, etc?
On Aerenal, much of the mundane work is done by elves who have yet to earn blade or steed. But there are master craftsmen among the elves of Valenar, those who dedicate their lives to the work of supporting the soldiers. This is not a choice; it is religious duty. When a child comes of age among the Tairnadal, the Keepers of the Past perform divinations to see which of the ancient heroes has chosen the initiate. Honorable warrior, stormcalling druid, merciless hunter, master smith –- these are just a few of the archetypes found among the ancient Tairnadal, and it is up to the young elf to follow whatever path is laid before him. Most of the Valaes Tairn are deadly warriors, but some are destined to support their kindred as smiths, engineers, or other vital tasks. These elves are known as the zaelantar, “peaceful spirits.” They are viewed with a mixture of respect and pity by their warlike brethren; the work they do is vital, and yet they are denied the chance to ride into battle or stalk prey.
The critical point here is that Tairnadal undergo decades of training and service before they are bound to an ancestor. So you might not be bound to an ancestor until you’re 60 years old. Which is fairly trivial for an elf who could live for a thousand years, but that’s still a good 40 years of productive labor. So who looks after the kids? Older kids. Meanwhile, elders who’ve retired from active duty train the youth, along with the Keepers of the Past.
With that said, bear in mind that Tairnadal society is completely unlike life in the Five Nations. The Tairnadal are essentially an army, and you’re in boot camp for the first few decades of your life. EVERYONE does latrine duty when it’s their turn, and everyone makes sure people don’t poop in the well; if you do, expect harsh military discipline. As an adult, you’re part of a warband; the warbands are nomadic, remaining in motion and living off the land. This lifestyle is sustained both by strict population control AND by powerful druidic magic that ensures that the Tairnadal don’t grow beyond the ability to sustain this nomadic lifestyle—with primal magic used both to enhance the fertility of the land and its creatures and to improve the efficiency of Tairnadal foraging (see the cualra flask in the article linked above).
So Tairnadal warbands are mobile and self-sufficent. These migrate between settled communities that train the young and provide the services of the zaelantar and the Keepers of the Past. Most of the work to maintain these communities is performed by young elves (who can, again, be up to 60 years old!) who’ve yet to be assigned an ancestor and a warband. Meanwhile, the Siyal Marrain are responsible for maintaining both the Valenar beasts and the land itself, ensuring that the warbands aren’t overtaxing its resources.
Also, are there non-military ancestors (great healers and guides, to say nothing of artists and lovers)?
There are great healers and guides, as well as artists and lovers; they’re just ALSO deadly warriors. Luckily, D&D supports this. The great healer is a war cleric or druid, who can smite as well as heal. The great artist might a bard of the College of Blades, whose artistry is deadly. As for great lovers, the story of Vadallia and Cardaen is a story of tragic love; it’s just that the lovers happen to be a peerless warrior and a mighty wizard.
This is a fundamental difference between Tairnadal and Aereni. The Ascendant counselors of the Undying Court include sages, philosophers, and abstract artists. But Tairnadal society is relentlessly martial. Life revolves around perfection of martial skill and magic. Those who yearn for a more peaceful life can become Aereni; this does happen, just as some among the Aereni leave their culture to follow the path of the Tairnadal. With that said, there are patrons that fill more traditionally civilian roles; we’ve spoken of the zaelantar artisans (mentioned above) and of the Siyal Marrain who tend the horses and the land. But even they are part of the core cycle of Tairnadal culture. There’s no patron who’s “the poet who never touched a blade or cast a spell,” unless he somehow defeated an army with his words.
Is it possible for a Tairnadal warlock’s patron to BE their ancestor?
I’m inclined to say no, because to me this muddies the line between cleric and warlock. To me, a cleric is someone who draws their magic from their faith in a higher power… while a warlock has an arrangement with a concrete entity. Essentially, the cleric requires faith while the warlock doesn’t; the warlock is making a deal with someone they know exists. This changes the dynamic because warlock patrons usually have clear, finite agendas, and because in principle you COULD find a warlock patron and punch them in the nose.
So looking to an Archfey warlock: if their patron is an archfey of Thelanis, that’s a being that exists and who we can go and meet. It can have quarrels with other archfey. It might betray or deceive the warlock. It could give you a physical gift or want you to bring it something. By contrast, if it’s a patron ancestor it only exists in this abstract “It’s sustained in the memory of all Tairnadal” way… it’s more like the devotion of a cleric or paladin than the bargaining of a warlock.
So personally, I would keep that intact. Rather than saying that the patron is your ancestor, I’d say that you have the SAME patron as your ancestor. If your ancestor was an archfey warlock, you are following in their footsteps by becoming an archfey warlock, serving the same patron they did—and there’s an interesting relationship in that your patron is an immortal being who KNEW your ancestor. It can still be that your pact blade is the blade your ancestor wielded, that your familiar was their familiar—but it’s because you’re serving the same patron they didn’t, not because they are the patron.
What’s up with the Valenar slaughtering refugees fleeing from the Mourning?
I didn’t work on the book that described this incident, and it doesn’t make any sense to me. Valenar don’t revel in needless bloodshed. The ancestors they emulate were rebels who rose up against tyranny and cruelty. As a rule, the Valenar don’t want to conquer or oppress; they want to fight conquerors and oppressors. Note that they themselves don’t actually RULE Valenar; they’ve left the administration to the Khoravar. Many believe that the Valenar don’t actually WANT a kingdom; what they want is to provoke a powerful nation into attacking them, because THAT replicates the conflict with the giants—guerillas fighting against overwhelming odds. It’s very likely that they’ve claimed Valenar solely because they want Karrnath or Darguun to try to take it from them.
So: in suggesting that they needlessly slaughtered civilians, I want to know WHY. Valenar aren’t inherently cruel. They could have perceived the refugees as a threat, perhaps thought they were BRINGING the Mourning. Or it’s possible they were in some way following the path of an ancestor. But if so, I’d want to know HOW the ancestor’s story drove them to slaughter civilians—and what it is that would make such an ancestor a figure worth celebrating and preserving. If you said that there’s an ancestor who was undefeated in battle, who saved tens of thousands of elves, but who also showed no mercy to enemy civilians, OK, I could perhaps accept that. But the short form is that this incident was created by an author who didn’t explain the reasons behind it and likely didn’t fully understand Tairnadal culture, so I don’t give it a lot of weight.
If all goes well, I’ll be doing more Eberron support on this site in 2020. The frequency and form of this content will depend on my Patreon support. In addition to feature articles, I’ll always be tackling frequently asked questions about Eberron. But I also want to take the time to answer a few INfrequently asked questions.
Can Warforged Cry?
In MY Eberron, no: warforged don’t cry. There’s two major reasons for this. The first is that warforged are generally depicted as having crystaline eyes. They thus have no need to lubricate their eyes and there’s no logical reason for them to have any sort of tear duct. So there’s no biological reason for it. But beyond that: I don’t WANT non-human species of behave just like humans. I always think it’s more interesting to explore how a nonhuman species differs from humanity as opposed to saying “They’re just like us, but with pointy ears or green skin.” So I want to know what warforged do INSTEAD of crying.
Warforged have the capacity to feel emotion. A warforged can feel joy or sorrow. But they can’t smile, and in my opinion, they can’t cry. So how do these emotions come out? Is there an involuntarily physiological response like a tear? Is there a more voluntary response, like when you embrace the sorrow and start sobbing? In MY Eberron, a warforged’s involuntary response to sorrow is a slight trembling that runs through the root-like musculature of the warforged. If the warforged has metal armor plating, this will rattle the plates against one another, creating a soft, dissonant chiming sound. If the warforged has non-metal armor, if will be more of a rustling like rain. When a warforged is in the grip of sorrow, a common response is to bring its arms together—as if hugging itself—and to rhythmically tap is fingers against its forearms, essentially creating an amplified version of that “crying” sound. A warforged may also do this rhythmic tapping against one forearm as a general expression of sorrow or frustration—the equivalent of taking a deep sigh.
Now, that’s what *I* do in MY Eberron. The second side of the question is what I think the official answer might be, and my suspicion is that it’s “If there’s no rule that states a warforged can’t cry, than it can cry.” If I HAD to explain how this would work, I’d say “The organic components of a warforged are infused with alchemical fluids. Warforged tears are an involuntarily expulsion of these fluids.” But again, I personally would prefer for them to express their grief in a way that’s unique to warforged, rather than to mirror humanity.
What are your thoughts on warforged crying? Have you ever addressed it in your campaign? Post your answers below! Also, go to TheAdventureZoneGame.com to check out my latest game, currently in preorder until mid-January 2020!
This is a time to think of all the things we’ve thankful for, and I for one am thankful that I haven’t been replaced by a changeling. So it seems like a good time to address a few of the questions I’ve received about changelings, the shapeshifters of Rising From The Last War.
First, let’s take a quick look at the foundation of the changeling:
As an action, you can change your appearance and your voice. You determine the specifics of the changes, including your coloration, hair length, and sex. You can also adjust your height and weight, but not so much that your size changes. You can make yourself appear as a member of another race, though none of your game statistics change. You can’t duplicate the appearance of a creature you’ve never seen, and you must adopt a form that has the same basic arrangement of limbs that you have. Your clothing and equipment aren’t changed by this trait. You stay in the new form until you use an action to revert to your true form or until you die.
A question that comes up quite often is given the threat posed by changelings impersonating people, what steps do Eberron’s factions and governments take to deal with them?
The everyday magic that drives the civilization of Khorvaire only goes up to around 3rd level. So you don’t have guards stationed with true seeing at every important location. Which is good, because from a metagame perspective, changelings should be able to fool people. That’s the point of playing a changeling. We don’t muzzle dragonborn to keep them from using their breath weapons or make wood elves wear cement boots to negate their extra movement. If you play a changeling, you should be able to fool people.
With that said, that doesn’t mean it should be EASY. The people of Khorvaire are very aware of the existence of changelings, and after centuries of coexistence have a very good idea of their capabilities. So let’s consider those for a moment.
As a changeling it is assumed that you can perfectly replicate the appearance of a creature you’ve seen before (just like someone using disguise self). No roll is required to duplicate basic physical appearance.
However, this doesn’t provide you with any knowledge of that person and their quirks. It’s taken for granted that you sound like them—the voice comes with the shape—but you don’t know their mannerisms or their vocabulary.
Likewise, the most crucial limitation on changelings is that clothing and equipment don’t change. You can look like a guard, but you don’t get the uniform for free.
So: People of Khorvaire know there are people out there that can duplicate their appearance… but that they can’t steal their memories or copy their belongings. One immediate impact of this is that people make a conscious effort to develop unique mannerisms and accessories. People establish in-jokes and call-and-response phrases. They will often have at least one unique, personal accessory—a piece of clothing, jewelery, even a pet—that they carry all the time as an identifying factor. In part, this is simply about developing a personal style; but in Eberron, it also has the absolute concrete underlay that “If you see me without this accessory, you should be suspicious.’
So in my case, I have a hat that I wear all the time. Everyone knows me by that hat. If I every show up without the hat, my friends will notice. They won’t automatically assume that I’m an imposter, but they WILL probably try out one of our shared jokes or stories and see if I respond to it. This same basic principle applies to institutions. Guards will have distinctive uniforms. They will have SOME sort of ID object—whether it’s identification papers, a brooch of rank—that will stand out if it’s absent. And they WILL have a system of passwords or phrases that they use to test people suspected of being imposters. Because after all, changelings aren’t the only threat; anyone can get a hat of disguise. In a high security location, this system could have more layers to further confuse people. The ID item could change regularly. Imagine an ID brooch that’s a common magic item, enchanted so you can change its color by touching it and saying a command word. The appropriate color could vary based on the current time and day of the week. So an imposter with disguise self could duplicate the appearance of the uniform; but if they don’t know the system, they won’t know what color their brooch should be.
While this isn’t foolproof, these sorts of systems can make it very difficult for a changeling to fool people. However, this is where DECEPTION comes into play. You don’t have to make a skill check to duplicate someone’s appearance. You have to make a skill check when you do something that makes them suspicious… and if you are successful, it means you’ve managed to allay their suspicions. If you duplicate my appearance and don’t have my hat, a successful Deception check means you’ve recognized that people are suspicious and done SOMETHING to convince them that nothing’s wrong. Perhaps you make an excuse about what happened to the hat. Perhaps you never even know the hat is the issue, but you’re just so skilled at putting people at ease that they forget about the hat. It’s the same principle with a password or an ID badge. The fact that you don’t know the password doesn’t mean that it’s impossible for you to get past a guard; an excellent Deception check means you’re able to convince them there’s a good reason you don’t have the password, or to otherwise get them to ignore it. On the other hand, there can also be inanimate security systems that can’t be fooled. An alarm could be tied to that common magic ID badge; if you enter the chamber without one, it will trigger the alarm. Which means you CAN still pull off this job; but you are going to have to somehow get one of those badges to do it.
In general, if you’re playing a changeling bard with expertise in Deception, you are SUPPOSED to be a master deceiver. You SHOULD be able to fool people. On the other hand, you’re not going to be able to simply walk into the Kundarak vault and steal all the treasure because you’re wearing someone’s face. They will have passphrases, and they will use magic that’s available (up to 3rd level); so you will have alarm, and in the case of a Kundarak vault you might even be questioned under a zone of truth. People KNOW changelings are around. They are PREPARED. But it’s always possible to overcome these with enough work and preparation.
One key point to bear in mind is that an easy way to not get caught is to not impersonate someonein the first place. The whole idea of a persona is that changelings will CREATE unique identities for their purposes. If a family of changelings created the identity of “Keith Baker,” they’re the ones who came up with the hat in the first place; they KNOW all the recognizable quirks of the character. The traveling changelings often don’t duplicate the appearance of outsiders; they simply use the persona best suited to the situation.
Another question that’s come up is can a changeling impersonate a warforged?This ties to a second question, can a changeling appear to be wearing a mask, but it’s actually just their face?
The answer to both of these hinges on the phrase your clothing and equipment aren’t changed by this trait. A mask is a piece of equipment, so no, you can’t make a fake mask. Likewise, you can duplicate the appearance of a warforged, but you can’t replicate armor—and most warforged are always wearing armor. So you could be a “naked’ warforged, which means you’ve just got the livewood musculature exposed, but that’s not normal for warforged and you’ll draw a lot of attention.
If a Changeling transformed into someone/thing with webbed hands and feet, or claws, would they have any benefit, even if it’s not a lot?
No. A changeling gains no mechanical benefit from their disguise. As suggested in the comments, I could imagine granting a Stealth bonus to a naked changeling who wants to shift the color of their skin to hide in a snowbank, but the key points there are “naked” and “snowbank” (IE, not a complex background). A changeling can make it LOOK like they have sharper teeth or claws, but this doesn’t actually give them natural weapons; it’s a deception. Essentially, it is a form of disguise self, NOT alter self.
Having said that, Exploring Eberron will have a few options that allow changelings to improve their natural shapeshifting abilities in order to get mechanical benefits from it.
Could a particularly skilled Changeling pull off a Cuttlefish impression?
No; the ability states “you must adopt a form that has the same basic arrangement of limbs that you have.” With that said, I have in the past suggested the idea of a Changeling Menagerie—a changeling who is mechanically a Circle of the Moon druid, but who explains their class features as being derived from their mastery of shapeshifting as opposed to druidic traditions.
I’d love to know more about Changeling Culture. I do have a question, and it might be addressed in your book already, but here it is: In your Eberron, how would Changelings view love and romance? Would they stick with their persona the entire time they’re with their significant other, or show their true nature once they decide to commit to each other?
Exploring Eberron does go into more detail about changeling cultures, and the key point is that this isn’t a simple answer because there’s more than one changeling culture and the common answer (as there’s always exceptions in love!) would definitely vary by culture.
Stable changelings live openly as changelings and wouldn’t need to hide their true nature in the first place. I’d expect them to use personas as part of courting, but not to deceive the lover—rather to show them all the different facets of the changeling’s personality, to explore all the possibilities of their relationship. This could be confusing for a non-changeling lover, but between changelings it would be an important part of learning about one another. A final aspect of this could be developing an entirely new persona that is used ONLY with the lover: this is who I am with YOU.
Passers—lone changelings blending into non-changeling communities—might chose to share their true nature with a lover because they want to be completely honest with them. But there are passers who deny their own changeling nature and consider their chosen persona to BE their true identity; so they might believe they are BEING honest in using the persona. But part of the point is that passers aren’t really a culture; each one deals with unique circumstances.
Where the static changeling might create personas to show their facets to a lover, for the traveling changelings personas are important tools and stories. Many personas are shared, and any change you make to the core story of the persona would have to be followed by anyone else using the persona. If Tel-as-Bronson takes Jesse as a lover as Bronson and their cousin Dal also uses Bronson, then it’s Dal’s job to love Jesse when they are Bronson. So essentially, the question is are you taking this lover yourself—in which case, once you are certain about the relationship, you would DEFINITELY want them to know your true face—or is the persona taking this lover—in which case you’d never want to let them see your true face. This doesn’t mean the persona-lover would be any less intense or real; but it’s not part of YOUR story, it’s THEIR romance.
And these are just three of the more prevalent changeling cultures. So there’s a lot of possibilities.
I would think changelings must have some kind of internal law system for dealing with malcontents.
Remember that just like elves or for that matter drow, “changelings” don’t have anything as a whole. They aren’t a monolithic force; they have different cultures, and each culture will have their own traditions. With that said, yes, there would definitely be punishments for those whose actions threaten the community. Also bear in mind that theft of identity is a crime under the Code of Galifar; obviously casual actions can be hard to prove, but it’s an issue a changeling had best be aware of if they are going to be going before the law of the Five Nations.
One of the simplest but most severe punishments would be an indelible mark—a magical tattoo that cannot be removed by shapeshifting. The technique of the indelible mark is a secret held close by the elders of the Children of Jes, used only in severe situations. An equally severe punishment for serious offenses is removal of all or part of a limb; as noted above, changelings can’t create limbs with their power. With both of these punishments, the message is simple: if you abuse your gift, it can be taken from you. A lesser punishment would be the destruction of the criminal’s personal personas (through other changelings adopting the person and taking actions that can’t be undone).
Do changelings sometimes use their shapechanging artistically or outlandishly? Wild hair colors, patterned skin, strange eyes?
This is a question of culture. In stable changeling communities where they live openly as changelings, they absolutely use shapeshifting artistically and as a form of expression. The Queen of Stone has a changeling dancer changing patterns on their skin as part of the performance. Page 18 of Rising From The Last War notes that changeling names often incorporate a minor degree of cosmetic shapeshifting—Jin-with-vivid-blue-eyes. Traveling changelings and passers hiding their changeling nature obviously won’t use shapeshifting in this way, but still use it subtly to convey messages to family members.
Can all changelings get pregnant? Are they biologically asexual and just choose their current sex with shapeshifting?
Yes. What’s been stated in the past is that changelings set their sex with shapeshifting. Prior canon has said that a pregnant changeling actually loses the ability to shapeshift during the pregnancy. This seems extreme to me, but I could see the idea that they need to maintain a female form in order to maintain the pregnancy (and that shifting form very early in the pregnancy would simply end it, so changelings have a very easy form of birth control). The idea that changing sex is an instinctual thing, like flipping a light switch, and that a normal changeling couldn’t, for example, assume a male form but keep the uterus. With that said, if you had a changeling called out as having greater control over their abilities (for example, the Changeling Menagerie druid I’ve mentioned elsewhere) I might allow that.
Can changelings mate with non-changelings, and are their children full-blooded changelings?
What we’ve said before is that changelings can mate with most humanoids, and that the child is always a changeling. The child is born with the apparent species of the mother, and the shapeshifting ability doesn’t set in for around a year. This is the origin of the name “changeling” — because when someone’s previously human child suddenly becomes a pale thing, it was once thought that the original child had been taken to Thelanis.
Having said that: while changelings CAN mate with other humanoids, I’d say that it is RARE for them to impregnate creatures of other species. It can happen, but the fertility rate isn’t that high. It’s quite possible that humans and other human-compatible species are the most viable. With that said…
Are changelings biologically compatible with other changelings or are they parasitic with humanoids?
Changelings are biologically compatible with changelings. Most changeling cultures are relatively insular, precisely because many traditions of the culture are tied to shapeshifting and a fluid outlook on identity, and it’s difficult to integrate a single-skin into the community. There certainly are changelings who choose to pursue relationships with members of other species —see the changeling romance answer above—but it’s not the common practice.
Can they disguise injuries, like if a guard cut your face and you escaped but they try to track you by the cut?
It would depend on the extent of the injury. There is no mechanical benefit to changeling shapeshifting, so they can’t actually heal themselves. However, I’d personally say that they can conceal minor injuries. If it’s a specific story point—an especially grievous wound inflicted for the express purpose of marking the changeling—I’d probably have the changeling make a Wisdom (Medicine) check to simply seal the wound. If they failed that, I’d still likely let them minimize and conceal it, but if someone was explicitly looking for an injured changeling it would be grounds for requiring a Charisma (Deception) check to conceal it.
What if you cut off a changeling’s arm?
Changeling shapeshifting provides no mechanical benefit, and as a changeling “you must adopt a form that has the same basic arrangement of limbs that you have.” The ability to regrow a lost limb would certainly be a mechanical benefit. So as noted above, this is a particular brutal form of justice in a changeling community.
Can changelings fake convincing dragonmarks? Can changelings be tattooed?
Yes and yes. A changeling can duplicate the appearance of a creature they’ve seen; there’s no exception stating “unless that creature has a dragonmark.” With that said, dragonmarks glow when used; if the character is attempting to make it appear functional, I’d definitely require a Charisma (Deception) check, and for them to have seen the mark used before. And note that this sort of fake dragonmark won’t let you use a dragonmark focus item.
As for being tattooed, changelings can definitely be tattooed, and they can just as easily erase the tattoo with a moment’s thought. As mentioned above, the Children of Jes have a curse known as the indelible mark which can only be removed using a spell that would remove a curse, but a mundane tattoo can be easily faked or removed.
What’s up with doppelgangers? We know changelings believe they’re a kind of insane changeling, but how true is that if doppelgangers seem to come from Khyber?
Under 5E lore, doppelgangers are changelings twisted by the daelkyr Dyrrn the Corruptor. A general belief is that this change is actually primarily psychological. Doppelgangers have a fundamentally alien outlook. They are predators who so paranoia and chaos when not working for a specific Cult of the Dragon Below, but there’s often no apparent motive for their actions. This is largely about the horror of a creature who knows your thoughts, who can kill you with its bare hands and steal your face, but that you don’t know WHY or what it wants.
One possibility is that doppelgangers are biologically distinct from changelings. Another possibility is that they are physically identical, and that the doppelganger’s superior abilities are simply unlocked by its alien psychology. With this said, it’s possible that changelings can also unlock these same abilities—but that in so doing they will lose their original personality and become doppelgangers.
Would a scholar be able to tell the difference between a changeling and a doppelganger? Would a changeling be able to recognize a doppelganger if they saw it using its abilities?
In their natural forms, doppelgangers and changelings are quite different. Just take a look at the picture in the Monster Manual! Doppelgangers are hairless and less human in their proportions. If you embrace the idea of the changeling becoming a doppelganger, once it underwent the psychological transition its “true form” would change to match the hairless doppelganger form.
With that said, a changeling could DISGUISE itself as a doppelganger (if it had see one in its true form), and vice versa!
As for recognizing it, the BASIC shapeshifting action is identical. You don’t see someone shift faces and say “That’s not a changeling, it’s a doppelganger!” You recognize it by its ability to read thoughts and by its deadly unarmed attack.
Does the 2nd level Moonbeam work against changelings? If so, wouldn’t this have large implications in the viability of hiding as a changeling? Likewise, are changelings immune to the polymorph spell, which fails when used on shapeshifters?
WotC has confirmed that changelings are considered to have the Shapechanger subtype. So they are indeed immune to polymorph and can be affected by moonbeam.
With that said: Moonbeam isn’t a particularly effective changeling test. It’s a 2nd level spell, so it is in the world, but that’s still not something people use all the time. It’s also a druid spell, and druidic magic isn’t common in the Five Nations. Most important, it inflicts 2d10 radiant damage, which is MORE than enough to kill a normal person. So using moonbeam to check if someone’s a changeling is like shooting them in the face to see if they’re a vampire.
To what degree are 4th (Private Sanctum), 5th (Geas), and 6th (Forbiddence) level spells available to high end buyers (eg Royalty). I know the 3.5 Dreadhold write up had antimagic, which is 8th level, but I don’t have a sense to grade from “Standard enclave” to “The most impenetrable prison of all time”. I know greater marks go up to 5th, but are 5th level spells that aren’t on a Spells of the Mark list available for the ultrawealthy?
This isn’t strictly a changeling question, but it ties to the general topic of detection. First of all: one of the general principles of Eberron is that only magic of up to 3rd level is commonly available — employed by magewrights, etc. This article discusses a range of options that fall under that umbrella, based on alarm, glyph of warding, and arcane lock.
Spells of 4th level and above can be available, but they are rare and expensive—not services you should take for granted. The Spells of the Mark tables are good guidelines but are NOT complete. These are spells heirs may be able to CAST, but the direct powers of a mark are not as important as the ability to use focus items – and for example, I have a focus item in Exploring Eberron that allows a dwarf with the mark of warding to cast guards & wards. Effects such as forbiddance and true seeing are POSSIBLE, but they should be RARE, not something anyone would take for granted. It’s the sort of thing where a commoner might have HEARD of a Kundarak houseward but never seen one.
Meanwhile, Dreadhold is the most secure prison in Khorvaire. It is LEGENDARY. Yes, it employs forbiddance and antimagic—but that doesn’t mean you should find these effects in a typical city jail.
Doesn’t the Shapechanger ability of the changeling invalidate the 9th level Infiltration Expertise and 13th level Imposter ability of the Assassin rogue? Isn’t that too powerful? I assume that a changeling should get advantage on Deception checks because of its disguise, but that’s what Imposter does.
I don’t see the conflict between these abilities. ANYONE can get the ability to change their appearance as a changeling does. Disguise self is a 1st level spell and the hat of disguise is an uncommon magic item, and both of these are BETTER than the changeling’s Shapechanger power because they allow the user to change the appearance of their equipment and clothing. It’s been called out in the past that hats of disguise are standard issue for elite members of the Royal Eyes of Aundair; if this uncommon item entirely negated the 9/13 abilities of the assassin, it would be pretty sad for the assassin.
The 9th level Infiltration Expertise ability allows you to “establish the history, profession, and affiliations for an identity… For example, you might acquire appropriate clothing, letters of introduction, and official-looking certification…” The changeling Shapechanger ability doesn’t give you ANY of these things, specifically NOT letting you change your clothing. Infiltration Expertise is the perfect tool for a changeling who wants to create a new persona. The Shapechanger ability changes their face, but Infiltration Expertise creates an IDENTITY that will hold up if the disguise is questioned.
Meanwhile, the basic idea of the Shapechanger ability—like the hat of disguise or disguise self—is that the disguise is PHYSICALLY perfect, but that the changeling will have to make a Deception check if there’s reason for someone to be suspicious. Imposter gives a changeling—or an assassin using a hat of disguise—advantage on any Deception check, which is extremely useful.
A key point here: You suggest “The implication to me would be that a Changeling would have an advantage on deception for casual disguises.” I disagree. The disguise itself is physically perfect and requires no roll (again, like disguise self and hat of disguise). If there is a reason that the disguise would be questioned—they run into a close friend of the person they’re impersonating, they don’t know a password or have an important identifying object—they have to make a Deception check. They don’t inherently get advantage because of the disguise; they are MAKING the check because the disguise is being questioned. To get advantage they’d have to have something else that shifted the odds in their favor — they’d done extensive research, someone provides a distraction, or they’re an expert assassin with the Imposter ability.
So in short, being a changeling is like having a hat of disguise that doesn’t affect your clothing. It lets you change your personal appearance, nothing more. If the disguise is questioned you have to make a Deception check. If you have the Imposter feature you get advantage on this check; and if you have Infiltration Expertise, you ALSO have the proper clothing, identification, and background connections for the role… which reduces the chance that your appearance will BE questioned in the first place.
I’ll be writing more about changeling culture in my upcoming book Exploring Eberron. In my next post I’ll talk about my plans for PAX Unplugged and The Adventure Zone: Bureau of Balance!
And thanks as always to my Patreon supporters! I hope to do more with the site in the future, and support will help determine what’s possible.
If you have questions or thoughts about changelings, post them below!