Dragonmarks: Lycanthropes

I’m hard at work on many projects, but I’ve had a few questions tied to lycanthropes… and with Halloween around the corner, it seems like an appropriate topic to address! Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters for supporting the blog.

I’ve been listening to the stories of the Werewolf Trials of the Middle Ages. Was the Eberron purge based on these, or is this just a coincidence?

For those of you unfamiliar with the setting, the Lycanthropic Purge is an event that occurred around two centuries before the default Eberron campaign. The Church of the Silver Flame sent an army of templars into western Aundair and what is now the Eldeen Reaches to combat a rising tide of lycanthropy. Following a brutal conflict, the church supported an ongoing campaign to root out and cure or exterminate all lycanthropes that could be found. This conflict is also the root of the Pure Flame, a zealous sect of the Church of the Silver Flame that engages in ruthless and often violent behavior.

People often think of the Purge as a sort of inquisition, similar to the Salem Witch Trials or the Werewolf Trials mentioned above. It certainly ENDED that way, with the newly minted zealots of the Pure Flame trying to hunt down every last lycanthrope… and in the process, targeting many shifters and other innocents. So you can certainly use werewolf trials as inspiration for this period. But that wasn’t how the Purge BEGAN; it’s how it ENDED, a cruel inquisition carried out by people who had suffered through a decade of terror and loss and who were hungry for bloody vengeance. So how did it start?

Under the rules of third edition D&D—the edition that existed when Eberron was created—lycanthropy was a virulent curse. Under the rules of the time, any lycanthrope could spread lycanthropy. If one wererat creates two victims, and each of them infect two others, within five cycles of infection you have 243 wererats… and that assumes each one only has two victims! Essentially, in lycanthropy as presented you have the clear potential for a zombie apocalypse: a massive wave that could result in untold death and ultimately destroy civilization as we know it. The Purge ENDED in a cruel inquisition. But it BEGAN as a noble, selfless struggle to save the world from collapsing into primal savagery. Thousands of templars gave their lives in the Towering Woods, fighting to protect the people of Aundair from supernatural horror.

Under the rules of 3.5 and 4th Edition, afflicted lycanthropes can’t spread the curse. This eliminated the threat of exponential expansion that made the Purge so necessary. Personally, I make this a part of history. At the time of the Purge, lycanthropy was more virulent. By the end of the Purge, the power of the curse had been broken. The question is: Was this tied to some specific victory, to ann Overlord being rebound or an artifact that was destroyed? Or was it simply tied to the number of lycanthropes—when the population grows, so does the power of the curse? And this is important, because in FIFTH edition, all lycanthropes can spread the curse again! Personally, I’m embracing this as the continued evolution: whatever cause the power to wane, it’s rising again. A werewolf apocalypse is a very real threat. Could another purge be called for?

What Makes Lycanthropy A Curse?

Lots of people like lycanthropes. They see lycanthropes as champions of nature, and as the persecuted victims of the purge. So why am I insistent about it being a curse?

First, there’s a simple logic to the decision. Lycanthropes possess amazing abilities. They can transfer these gifts to others, quite easily. So if there’s no downside to being a lycanthrope, why aren’t we all lycanthropes? Why isn’t this gift embraced and shared? If one member of a party contracts lycanthropy, why shouldn’t every member of the party get in on it?

With this in mind, D&D has generally inherited its view of lycanthropy from the Universal monster, not from the World of Darkness and its champions of Gaea. Even a man who’s pure of heart and says his prayers by night can become a wolf when the moon is full. It’s the vision of werewolves that chain themselves up as the moon grows close for fear of killing innocents. The third edition rules were very clear about this. Initially, when a victim falls prey to the curse, THEY BECOME AN NPC for the duration of the event and act according to their lycanthropic alignment. You lose all control and don’t know what you’ll do.

The rules specify that if this goes on long enough, the alignment change becomes permanent and it’s possible for the player to take over. But this isn’t a casual thing. In Eberron, an evil person can have a valid role in society. But 3E called out that an evil lycanthrope isn’t just “evil;” they’re murderers who enjoy preying on their former family and friends. Likewise, a good lycanthrope isn’t just a nice person; they are compelled to abandon civilization to live in the wilds. Fifth Edition echoes this. Consider the following quotes from the fifth edition Monster Manual:

  • Evil lycanthropes hide among normal folk, emerging in animal form at night to spread terror and bloodshed, especially under a full moon. Good lycanthropes are reclusive and uncomfortable around other civilized creatures, often living alone in wilderness areas far from villages and towns.

  • Most lycanthropes that embrace their bestial natures succumb to bloodlust, becoming evil, opportunistic creatures that prey on the weak.

The point here is simple: no player character should WANT to become a lycanthrope. It’s a terrifying burden; even good-aligned lycanthropy will destroy your original personality and turn you into someone else.

Eberron generally takes a broad approach to alignment. But lycanthropy is a special case: it is a supernatural force that IMPOSES an alignment, and this overrides the victim’s ability to choose their own path. What we do say is that there are different strains of lycanthropy, and that alignment is tied to strain. So it is possible to have a good-aligned werewolf… but if they infect someone that person will become a good-aligned werewolf. Here again, I can’t emphasize enough that being a good-aligned lycanthrope isn’t just about being a virtuous person. If it was, the Silver Flame would support it. But just look back at that quote from the Monster Manual: Good lycanthropes are “reclusive and uncomfortable” around civilization. Good or evil, the curse fundamentally changes who you are and enforces a powerful set of instincts and drives.

I feel that natural lycanthropes have a greater ability to adapt and evolve personalities around the behavior dictated by the curse. But it’s important to recognize that there is a fundamental difference between a natural lycanthrope and, say, a gnoll or a shifter. The lycanthrope isn’t just bestial in appearance; they are a vessel for a powerful supernatural force that shapes and drives their behavior. A natural werewolf can fight those urges, but the urges will always be there.

The Origin of Lycanthropy

The origins of lycanthropy are shrouded in mystery. As with the Mourning, I don’t think this is something that needs to be established in canon. I’d rather present a few different ideas, and let each DM decide which one they prefer. So consider the following.

The Gift of Olarune. Common belief is that shifters are thin-blooded lycanthropes. But there are shifters who say that their kind came first. Shifters are touched by Eberron and Olarune, tied to the natural world. Olarune empowered her champions with a stronger bond to nature, blessing them with enhanced vitality, animal form, and other gifts. According to this legend, this gift was corrupted by a dark power—one of the other forces presented below. This explains why lycanthrope traits don’t reflect the natural animal. The wolf isn’t a cruel murderer; but the werewolf embodies our fears of the savage predator that lurks in the darkness. The rat doesn’t scheme to spread disease and undermine cities… but the wererat does.

This means that there was a proto-lycanthropy that was entirely benevolent… and it allows players to have a quest to restore this, cleansing the curse as opposed to wiping it out. In my opinion, this “pure” lycanthropy wasn’t infectious—it would only produce natural lycanthropes, assuming it was hereditary at all. Alternately, it might not even resemble lycanthropy; these blessed champions could be a form of druid.

I have no objection to the idea of there being a small population of these blessed lycanthropes in the world—but again, I’d probably make them non-infectious. The blessing is something you earn, not something you get from a bite. This removes the issue of “Why don’t we all become blessed lycanthropes?”

Overlords: The Wild Heart. The novel The Queen of Stone suggests that lycanthropy is tied to one of the fiendish Overlords of the First Age, a mighty spirit known as the Wild Heart. If this is true, lycanthropy has been around since the dawn of time… and the waning and waxing of the power of the curse likely reflects the strength of the Overlord’s bonds. If you want positive lycanthropes in the world, the Wild Heart could have corrupted Olarune’s Gift… or you could reverse it and say that Olarune’s Gift is a variant that released some of those cursed by the Wild Heart.

Daelkyr: Dyrrn the Corruptor. The Daelkyr are known for transforming victims and creating monsters. Not all of their creations are aberrations; the daelkyr Orlassk is credited with creating medusas and basilisks. Dyrrn the Corruptor is especially know for, well, corruption; this certainly fits with a curse that transforms people both physically and mentally and turns victims into predators that prey on their own friends and family. This could have been something created from scratch… or they could have corrupted the existing primal gift.

So personally, I see even good lycanthropes as victims, and as people who don’t want to spread their curse because it WILL destroy the original personality of the victim. I have run a campaign in which a druid was working to restore the curse to its original blessed form.

But looking to all of this: this is how I run lycanthropes. It’s in line with the depiction in the Monster Manual, which emphasizes lycanthropy as a curse that drives unnatural behavior (whether good or evil). I personally like the idea of the lycanthrope as an alien entity, a being whose behavior is shaped by an unknown supernatural power. Essentially, D&D has a LOT of half-animal humanoids. Tabaxi, gnolls, giff… I like to make lycanthropes feel very different than all of these. Whether in human, hybrid, or animal form, a werewolf is a magical weapon, shaped and empowered to prey on the innocent (or to defend them, if it’s a good strain). Natural lycanthropes can take control of this; Zaeurl of the the Dark Pact is a brilliant warlord. Zaeurl isn’t wild or uncontrolled, she isn’t a slave to her instincts. But she is still a vessel for a power that makes her a supernatural predator, and those murderous instincts are always there. The same is true of the good lycanthrope: they aren’t cruel or murderous, but there is a deep primal core to their personality calling them to retreat to the wilds, to defend their territory.

But again: I embrace this because I LIKE it… because I LIKE lycanthropes, regardless of alignment, to feel dangerous and alien. I want my players to be terrified of contracting lycanthropy, not looking forward to it. If you want to do something different in your campaign, follow the path that’s going to make the best story for you and your players.

The Timeline of the Purge

Here’s a quick overview of the Lycanthropic Purge, pulled from one of my earlier posts.

  • Lycanthropes have been present throughout the history of Galifar. However, they rarely acted in any sort of coordinated fashion; afflicted lycanthropes couldn’t spread the curse; and natural lycanthropes would generally avoid spreading the curse. They were dangerous monsters and something that templars or paladins of Dol Arrah would deal with, but not perceived as any sort of massive threat… more of a bogeyman and reason to stay out of wild areas.
  • Around the Ninth Century, there was a shift in Lycanthropic behavior. Packs of werewolves began coordinating attacks. Eldeen wolves began raiding Aundair, and wererats established warrens beneath the cities of western Aundair. More victims were left alive and afflicted. While terror spread among the common folk of western Aundair, the nobles largely dismissed the claims.
  • Sages in the Church of the Silver Flame confirmed that afflicted lycanthropes could now spread the curse. They realized that the raids and urban actions might not be as random as they appeared – that this could be the groundwork and preparations for a serious large-scale assault. Combined with the risk of exponential expansion, this was a potential threat to human civilization.
  • Templars were dispatched to Aundair, and fears were confirmed; there were more lycanthropes than anyone guessed, and they were better organized than had been seen in the past. What followed was a brutal guerrilla war; the templars had numbers and discipline, but they were fighting an unpredictable and extremely powerful foe that could hide in plain sight and turn an ally into an enemy with a single bite. Thousands of Aundairians and templars died in these struggles. Cunning lycanthropes intentionally sowed suspicions and fomented conflict between templars and shifters, resulting in thousands of additional innocent deaths.
  • The precise details of the war aren’t chronicled in canon and likely aren’t known to the general public. I expect it happened in waves, with periods where the templars thought the threat had finally been contained… only to have a new resurgence in a few years. Again, canon doesn’t state what drove the power of the lycanthropes. Whatever it was – demon, daelkyr, shaman – the templars finally broke it. Afflicted lycanthropes could no longer spread the curse, and all lycanthropes were freed from whatever overarching influence had been driving their aggression.
  • While the threat was largely neutralized at this point, people didn’t know that. There’d been ups and downs before. Beyond this, the Aundairian people had suffered through decades of terror and they wanted revenge. This is the point at which the Purge shifted from being a truly heroic struggle and became something more like a witch hunt, with mobs seeking to root out any possible lingering lycanthropes. Tensions with shifters continued to escalate as bloodthirsty mobs sought outlets for their fear and anger. A critical point here is that at this point, most of the aggressors were no longer Thrane templars. The primary instigators were Aundairians who had adopted the ways of the Silver Flame over the course of the Purge. For these new believers, the Silver Flame wasn’t just about defense; it was a weapon and a tool for revenge. This is the origin of the sect known as the Pure Flame, and its extremist ways can be seen in priests like Archbishop Dariznu of Thaliost, noted for burning enemies alive.

The take-away here is that the Purge began as a truly heroic struggle against a deadly foe, and the actions of the templars may have saved Galifar from collapsing into a feral savagery. But it ended in vicious persecution that left deep scars between the shifters, the church, and the people of Aundair. And now, it may be happening again.

Q&A

How prevalent were lycanthropes during the Dhakaani Empire?

That depends on the origin you chose for them. If you follow the idea of an Overlord, than the curse would exist during the Empire. However, I think it would be extremely rare. Consider a) the Dhakaani are highly civilized and city based, and b) the Dhakaani were a highly regimented and ruthless culture. Essentially, I would see the Dhakaani as being VERY quick to completely cauterize any nest of lycanthropes, just as they would quickly wipe out any form of biological disease. Now, lycanthropes could have still flourished in the wilds— the Towering Woods, the Shadow Marches—but they wouldn’t be seen in the Empire.

On the other hand, if lycanthropes were created by Dyrrn the Corruptor, they would have been a weapon unleashed in the Xoriat Incursion. There could well be historical evidence of a stretch of the western empire that was almost completely wiped out in a lycanthropic exponential expansion. Given this, if you wanted to present a Kech of the Heirs of Dhakaan that have somehow adapted and controlled their lycanthropy, it could be an interesting story—though the other Kech might see these things as abominations.

I know that werewolves transform when any moon is full, but do the twelve moons effect them differently in any noticeable way?

We’ve never discussed this in canon. There’s certainly precedent for it with the Moonspeaker druid. We’ve suggested the idea that Olarune has the greatest influence over lycanthropes, but I think it would be very interesting to say that different moons drive different impulses or moods. Another option would be to tie each strain to a particular moon.

I’m very curious about how lycanthrope genetics work. I know it’s a supernatural thing and probably don’t follow any scientific logic at all, but bloodlines and heritage are still strong symbolic themes to play with. 

It’s a good question. If a natural evil werewolf has a child with an afflicted good werebear, what’s the child? You’re correct to keep in mind that this is fundamentally magic and that science isn’t the factor here. I’m inclined to follow the precedent of the kalashtar, and to say that while the child may inherent genetic traits from both parents, they only inherent the supernatural lineage of one of them. In the example above, they don’t produce some sort of neutral wolfbear; the child is either a good werebear or an evil werewolf. In the kalashtar, this is predictable and tied to gender; the child inherits the curse from the parent of the same gender. But you could just as easily make it random, or assert that one of the strains (I’d tend to say the evil one) is dominant.

I will say that I don’t consider natural or afflicted to be a factor in this. Once you have the curse you have the curse. It’s more deeply rooted in the natural—it can’t be removed, and it’s shaped them psychologically since birth—but in terms of passing it to a child, I think there’s no difference.

Is it correct to assume that the children of a natural or afflicted lycanthrope with a humanoid is a shifter (albeit one with far more obvious bestial traits than average)?

No, that’s not what I’d say at all. In my opinion, the connection between lycanthropes and shifters is more nebulous than that—and as I suggest above, it could be that shifters actually predate lycanthropes. We’ve called out that with shifters it’s not necessarily clear what animal they are tied to, and that shifter traits aren’t hereditary. If shifters are related to lycanthropes, I think it’s the process of many generations.

So personally, I would say that the child of a humanoid and lycanthrope is a going to be a natural lycanthrope. The curse isn’t natural and isn’t limited by genetics; it’s a curse. WITH THAT SAID… I can see some strong story potential to making it not an absolutely sure thing, which would allow you to have a character who appears to be normal only to develop lycanthropy spontaneously late in life (Shadow over Innsmouth style).

With that said, if you want to use shifter mechanics to represent a hybrid child of a human and lycanthrope, there’s nothing wrong with that. I’d just personally say that the character isn’t a traditional shifter—that the MECHANICS are the same, but that there will be obvious physical differences (this character would be more obviously linked to the particular animal, would be driven to a specific subrace, etc).

One sourcebook (was it Secrets of Sarlona?) mentioned that shifters and lycanthropes originated from Sarlona, more specifically from the Tashana Tundra. If so, shouldn’t the daelkyr hypothesis be ruled out?

The sourcebook in question is Secrets of Sarlona. There’s a few factors to consider here.

  • Secrets of Sarlona suggests that shifters began on Sarlona, but gives no explanation of how they came to Khorvaire.
  • It specifically presents this Tashan origin as a surprise to both the humans and shifters of Khorvaire.
  • Neither shifter culture seems to have the motives or resources to organize a vast migration by sea, and the Eldeen shifter culture isn’t strongly intertwined with humanity.

Putting these three factors together suggests that shifters arrival in Khorvaire predates humanity, and was unusual in its origin. So I’ll present one hypothesis: Perhaps a large group of shifters entered one of the Wild Zones of Sarlona and were thrown into Thelanis. There, an Archfey—who called herself Olarune, after the moon—guided them through the Faerie Court, leading them out through another manifest zone into Khorvaire. This provides the basis for folktales of shifters as the chosen people of Olarune and gives them a migration that’s entirely unconnected to humanity. This could have occurred long before humanity crossed the ocean. And if we posit the Towering Wood as their landing point, it’s a wild region that was never tamed by Dhakaan; so it’s entirely possible they could have been present during the Daelkyr conflict.

WITH THAT SAID: A daelkyr wouldn’t have to cross thousands of miles to threaten Sarlona. We’ve discussed the Umbragen of Xen’drik fighting daelkyr. Remember that Khyber contains a myriad of demiplanes, which don’t follow natural law. So you could easily descend into Khyber in the Eldeen Reaches and emerge in Xen’drik, if you found the right passage.

Also: Secrets of Sarlona DOESN’T provide any explanation for the origin of lycanthropy. It seems to have had no significant impact on the history of Sarlona and is barely mentioned. It presents the possibility that it’s the result of an exposure to wild zones, but this is clearly called out as simply one possibility, not concrete fact… and I find it to be a weak story compared to the other options.

This is very well-timed, not just for Halloween, but because the shifter and the Silver Flame warlock in my group are sort of eyeing each other warily…

It’s worth exploring this a bit. The shifter tribes of the Towering Woods have far more experience with lycanthropes than humans do. They know that the good strains don’t pose a threat, and many clans would work in harmony with good-aligned lycanthropes. However, they despise EVIL lycanthropes. Again, per core rules, an evil lycanthrope is compelled to prey on the weak and innocent, even taking joy in targeting former friends and family members. The shifters understood this threat better than anyone, and had no desire to shield evil lycans. But they also understood that there were good strains as well.

So in principle, shifters and templars could have worked together against the common foe. But cunning lycans (especially wererats) worked to destroy this possibility before it could be realized. These agents intentionally sowed the idea that shifters were weretouched and supported all lycanthropes, actively working to set the templars and shifters against one another. The damage done by this lingers to this day. Many shifters hate the church, and followers of the Pure Flame hold to the idea that all shifters are weretouched or lycan sympathizers.

With that said, this isn’t universal. Many people on both sides understand that this was a trick, misinformation to turn allies against one another. There were shifters and templars who fought side by side during the Purge, and shifters who have become champions of the church in the decades that have followed.

All of which is to say: It’s up to your players to decide where they stand on this. Either one could be blinded by superstition and prejudice. Or they could understand that this hatred was engineered by a mutual foe, and be trying to work past it.

During development, was the purge specifically created to offset the “They’re heroes!” mentality that might come from such a “Holy Glorious Shenanigan” mindset otherwise?

Yes and no. The Purge was inspired by historical events, certainly: crusades, the Inquisition, wiping out smallpox. But in these situations, it’s vital to remember that Eberron isn’t our world. When we think of witch trials, we inherently assume that this involves the paranoid persecution of innocents, because (we believe) witches aren’t real. By contrast, the Purge was driven by an absolute concrete apocalypse level threat. Whatever you think about lycanthropes generally—even if you believe that lycanthropy is a blessing creating champions of the natural world—the lycanthropy presented in the rules of third edition was a curse, a supernatural force that could turn the noblest soul into a cruel murderer with the power to create more murderers. The curse that set the Purge in motion was a real, concrete supernatural threat that would have collapsed human civilization into primal murderous savagery. This is why it’s logical to think that this curse was created by the daelkyr or an Overlord: because it’s a weapon perfectly designed to tear apart a civilization from within and without.

So at its core, the Purge WAS a Holy Glorious Shenanigan. People ask why the Church didn’t put more effort into curing the victims, why it was so ruthless. To me, this fails to grasp the brutality of the situation. In my mind, we are talking about a horrific, terrifying struggle. Lycanthropes are powerful and deadly, and one-to-one the Templars were badly outmatched. Take the movie Aliens and set it in a redwood forest: that’s how I see the early days of the Purge. Add to this the idea that any village you find could be riddled with wererats scheming to poison you or turn you against innocents… or the entire village could BE innocent, and YOU DON’T KNOW. There could have been periods of peace, but when a surge occurred it would be sheer apocalyptic horror. In this phase, the templars weren’t cruel inquisitors. They weren’t in the position of power. They were heroes laying down their lives to protect the innocent people of Aundair.

After years of conflict, the tide finally turned. The power of the curse was broken. Suddenly the numbers of lycanthropes began to dwindle as they were defeated. But as noted in my timeline, this had happened before; no one knew that this time the threat was truly over. Now that the outright war had been won, the focus shifted to rooting out the survivors… those lycanthropes still hidden among the population. THIS is where we shift to the cruel inquisition and the paranoid witch hunt, taking the story we’ve seen play out many times in our history. But it’s important to remember that you’re dealing with a population that had suffered through a generation of blood-soaked terror, people who’d had lost countless loved ones to murderous lycanthropes. And remember that WE have the benefit of a rulebook that tells us with absolute authority how lycanthropy works, how it can be cured, that a good lycanthrope only creates other good lycanthropes. They had none of these things: what they had were countless conspiracy theories and superstitions born of terror and rage. And this was the foundation of the Pure Flame: a sect who saw the Silver Flame as a weapon, a tool not simply to protect the innocent but to punish the enemy, a force that had saved them from annihilation and could now make the forces that caused such terror pay for it.

So if anything, the Purge is a reflection of the moral complexity of the setting. It’s an event that can’t be painted as entirely good or purely evil. It was a conflict fought for the noblest of reasons that may have saved human civilization; and it was a ruthless persecution that resulted in the deaths of thousands of innocents and set an ember of hatred and suspicion between shifters and the church that still burns today. It is a stain upon the Church of the Silver Flame because of the innocents who died; but it’s also a symbol of selfless courage, of templars placing themselves in harms way to protect hundreds of thousands of innocent lives.

That’s all for now… happy Halloween!

Lightning Round Q&A: Manifest Zones and Magic

Hello, world!

I’ve been off the grid for a month: dealing both with a host of mundane challenges and working on Morgrave’s Miscellany, which will be released in November. This has kept me from posting much here. I will be back online next month, but for now I wanted to do a quick lightning round with some questions from my Patreon supporters.

MANIFEST ZONES

Manifest zones are often portrayed as this Venn diagram overlap between Eberron and another dimension/world, with the overlap recurring cyclically like the orbits of planetary bodies. Assuming that’s an accurate depiction of what you intended them to be… are manifest zones subject to continental drift, ocean levels, etc.?

This isn’t an entirely accurate description; it’s combining two separate ideas.

Manifest Zones are permanent locations: places where the influence of another plane can be felt in Eberron. This isn’t cyclical; it is ongoing and reliable. Sharn is built on a manifest zone that enhances spells tied to levitation and flight, and this supports the great towers and enables skycoaches; if that connection were to fade or be severed, the towers could collapse. Likewise, Dreadhold is built on a manifest zone, and this is tied into its security. Manifest zones are reliable. They are (super)natural resources, like rivers and veins of precious metal; thus many of the great cities and institutions are built to take advantage of them. Generally speaking we haven’t suggested that manifest zones are subject to effects such as tides or rising ocean levels. I think that the location of the manifest zone is static; if the land beneath it drifts or rises or lowers, the zone will remain constant. We’ve presented manifest zones that are small points high in the air or underwater, so they aren’t tied to soil.

Coterminous and remote planes are the result of the constant shifting of planar influence on the world. This is something that occurs cyclically, like the orbit of planetary bodies. When a plane is coterminous, it strongly influences Eberron, causing broad effects not unlike what a manifest zones can produce—but universally across the world. When its remote, the influence of that plane is far weaker.

You could say that while a plane is coterminous, the effects of a manifest zone are increased. So for example: you might say that tieflings may be born when a child is conceived in a manifest zone during a coterminous period. But that;s a double whammy, and critically the effects of a manifest zone continue even while the plane is remote.

The 4e ECG says that some manifest zones are permanent, and others may appear where no one was before. 

It’s entirely reasonable to say that a manifest zone can appear unexpectedly or that an existing manifest zone could suddenly fade. My point is simply that this isn’t how manifest zones USUALLY work. The ebb and flow of planar power—remote to coterminous—is a part of the setting, but it is a separate thing from the functioning of manifest zones, and that’s what I wanted to clarify. But there’s nothing wrong with having a new manifest zone appear.

Are there zones that respond to stimulus at a lower level of magic than eldritch machine?

We often say that manifest zones are a requirement for creating eldritch machines or for performing powerful magical rituals. But it’s not that the zone responds to the machine; it’s that the machine harnesses the existing power of the zone. Most manifest zones have perceivable effects at all times, just not as dramatic as the powers of an eldritch machine.

When I have more time, I’d certainly like to give more examples of manifest zones and the sorts of effects they can produce.

Is there any specific listed canon method to shut off a manifest zone?

In canon? No. Manifest zones also aren’t uniform in size, shape, or power, so I doubt that there’s a single method that would apply to all manifest zones; I’d also expect the method using to have to relate to the plane involved.

With that said, the idea that it can be done has certainly been presented. My novel The Son of Khyber involves an attempt to destroy Sharn using a Cannith weapon that would disrupt the manifest zone. Again, this isn’t canon (Eberron novels are suggestion, not concrete fact); and it is a weapon that critically had to be used in a very specific location and required a massive amount of arcane power. So when it has come up, it’s presented as a difficult challenge. But yes, it’s certainly POSSIBLE.

Could a tinkering arcanist build a music box that opens a foot-sized manifest zone? 

Sure. Anything is possible if it’s a story you want to involve. But something that CREATES a manifest zone certainly isn’t a trivial effect. It’s not something that people casually do. Again, manifest zones are things that must be found and harnessed; they aren’t created (if they could be easily created, we’d have more cities like Sharn). But if you WANT to say that this particular NPC has made some sort of bizarre breakthrough and created an artifact that produces a tiny manifest zone, why not?

Do the deathless need the manifest zone of Irian to stay “alive,” or just need it for their creation?

Deathless require an ongoing supply of positive energy to sustain their existence. There’s two primary sources of this: manifest zones to Irian, and the devotion of loyal followers. So Shae Mordai is located on a powerful Irian manifest zone, and that means that even if all the living elves were wiped out, the Court could survive. But a deathless who spends an extended amount of time outside manifest zone needs to have a pool of positive energy to draw on, which means devoted followers. The deathless counsellor in Stormreach is sustained by the devotion of the local Aereni community, and if they all left, she’d have to leave too.

This was the fundamental divide between the Line of Vol and the Undying Court. Positively charged undead can’t take the power they need to survive; it has to be freely given. Negatively charged undead consume the lifeforce they need; even if every living elf died, the vampire or lich will continue. So Vol asserts that Mabaran undeath is the only way to ensure the survival of the finest souls; the Undying Court asserts that all Mabaran undead consume the ambient lifeforce of the world, and that creating them is unethical and ultimately a threat to all life.

MAGIC IN THE WORLD

How do you imagine ID systems in Khorvaire? Who checks them, how are they authenticated?

We’ve generally suggested that Eberron is at a rough level equivalent to late 19th century earth, NOT 20th century. When you get into magical wards you can have more advanced forms of identification. But when it comes to ID papers, it’s NOT supposed to be on par with our modern day systems of databases, biometrics, or anything like that.

House Sivis fills the role of the notary in Eberron. Originally, arcane mark was one of the powers of the Mark of Scribing. The idea is simple: each Sivis heir can produce a unique arcane mark—a sort of mystical signature. A Sivis heir goes through training and testing to become a notary, and their mark is on record in the house. Like a modern notary, a Sivis notary would make a record of all documents they notarize and this would be held by the house. So: ID papers would be notarized by a Sivis scribe, who would review all materials before placing their mark. An arcane mark is difficult (though not impossible) to forge. A border guard is primarily just going to look at your ID papers and say “This appears to be you, and you’ve got a valid Sivis mark.” IF there was some reason to question things, the papers could be confiscated and referred to a Sivis enclave, who could use a speaking stone to check with the primary house records to confirm that ht papers were legitimately notarized. But that’s a very big step. Generally it’s a question of if you have a valid Sivis arcane mark.

Fifth Edition doesn’t have arcane mark, so instead we added in the scribe’s pen as a dragonmark focus item that allows a Sivis heir to inscribe mystical symbols. This would still work the same way: a Sivis heir would have to go through a process to become a notary, their personal mark is recorded, and records are made of every document they notarize.

So getting all the way to the point: 95% of the time, verification will essentially be on a level of what could be done in the 19th century: a cursory check for obvious signs of forgery, confirming that the material in the document is accurate (IE, it says you’re a dwarf but you’re clearly an elf), and that it has a Sivis mark. Forgery is thus entirely possible; the challenge is forging the arcane mark, because that’s a glowing magical symbol and you’d have to have some sort of magical tool to pull it off.

How do mundane craftsmen and martial characters stay relevant in an increasingly magical world like the Five Nations? I feel like the Houses and magewrights crowd out trade and spellcasting ability seems borderline required going forward for spies and fighters alike.

Magewrights don’t crowd out trade; magewrights are the future of trade. It’s essentially saying “Does a washing machine drive people who are washing by hand out of business?” Sure, so that launderer probably wants to invest in a washing machine. I still have a large article half-written that talks about the general concept of what it means to be a magewright. Essentially, as a blacksmith your life is simply easier if you can cast mending and magecraft (which I see as a skill-specific version of guidance). Now, those two cantrips on their own aren’t that much of a job; it’s the combination of those cantrips and mundane skill that make a good blacksmith. So I’m saying that in Eberron, most successful craftsmen will KNOW a cantrip or two.

With that said, you can also say “Why didn’t the microwave drive chefs who use longer cooking techniques out of business?” Prestidigitation allows you to heat food instantly, but you could certainly say that food snobs think that food produced through mundane means is BETTER.

The critical point here is that Eberron in 998 YK is based on the idea that civilization is evolving. The wandslinger is something new, a reflection of improved techniques developed during the Last War and now spreading out to the civilian population. Magic isn’t supposed to be a static force that’s remained unchanging for centuries; we are at a moment in time where people can ask “Can you really be a good spy without knowing magic?”

As I said, I’ll certainly write more about this in the future.

GENERAL

You’ve said that nothing in Eberron is born evil. Does that include aberrations created by the daelkyr, like the dolgrim, dolgaunts, and dolgrue?

My short form is that entirely natural creatures aren’t bound to an alignment; their alignment will be shaped by their culture and experiences. UNnatural creatures can be either forced into a particular alignment (like celestials, fiends, and lycanthropes) or strongly driven in a particular direction (like a vampire, who is driven towards evil by their connection to Mabar)…though you can have good vampires and even fallen celestials.

First of all, I don’t think you can make a single canon ruling on all aberrations. Beyond that, we have given examples of beholders and illithids who are at least neutral in Eberron. I think I see it as the equivalent of the vampire. A dolgrim or illithid is pushed in a particular direction. It’s gone alien brain chemistry. Its mind literally doesn’t work the way the human or dwarf brain does. However, I think that MANY aberrations have the ability to ultimately follow a unique path—that they aren’t absolutely locked into a particular form of behavior.

So let’s imagine a baby dolgrim raised by peaceful goblin farmers. I don’t think it would be just like any other normal goblin child, because IT’S NOT NORMAL. It’s brain was physically shaped in a particular direction by an alien geneticist. It’s tied to Xoriat and likely has vivid visions and possibly hallucinations pushing it in a particular way. And it has two unique (and yet merged) consciousnesses. So it wouldn’t just present as any old goblin that happens to have two mouths. But I don’t think it would necessarily be EVIL; it could find a unique path.

I know that werewolves transform when any moon is full, but do the twelve moons effect them differently in any noticeable way?

Not that we’ve said in canon so far, but I think it’s an excellent idea to explore and develop. In the past we’ve suggested that Olarune is the PRIMARY moon that influences lycanthropes. But if I was exploring the idea in more depth, I’d love to present ways in which different moons influence lycanthropes, suggesting that each moon pushes a particular time of emotion or behavior.

If their ships were made airtight, what’s to prevent House Lyrandar from flying into space? What would they find when they got there?

That depends. How are you viewing space? Are we using spelljammer concepts or modern science? Could a fire elemental exist in a vacuum, or would it be extinguished? Are we going to consider the stresses of re-entry that a rocket actually deals with and the sort of speed and forced required to break escape velocity, or are we going to saying that in THIS universe, magic propulsion overrides gravity? Or that there’s a universal gravity, and that when your Lyrandar airship sails into space people can still walk around as if there was gravity?

Essentially: I like the idea of an Eberron space race, though I’d likely start by exploring the moons. But if I was to propose such a campaign I’d need to stop and answer a lot of questions about the physics of the universe that we haven’t yet answered… and I’d want to think carefully about it before I do. For example, let’s just look at the moons. I can imagine the moons being fantastic wonderous locations, like Barsoom in Edgar Rice Burroughs novels. But I could ALSO imagine the revelation that the moons aren’t celestial bodies at all; they’re actually massive planar portals, allowing an airship to physically sail into another plane. I’d want to think about which story feels more interesting and which I’d like to explore. But as of now, there is no canon answer.

Would you ever allow a player to play as an escaped Chosen vessel?

Sure. I think there’s stats for them in Secrets of Sarlona. But the main issue is that the Chosen have no voluntary say in being possessed. Chosen vessels are genetically designed to be possessed by a particular quori. So my question is how your PC vessel deals with this. Are they a ticking time bomb who could be possessed at any time? Have they been given some sort of Adaran artifact that keeps them safe as long as they don’t lose the item? Or has the particular quori tied to their line been bound?

Were a particular quori to be made incapable of possessing its Inspired hosts, whether by destruction or imprisonment, would it be possible that the Chosen and Inspired of that particular line be “reassigned”? Would Dal Quor remove the Inspired as well if they removed the quori? Would an “unused” Chosen be given to a new quori or share the fate of the “used” Inspired?

The principle that’s been established is that the bond between quori and vessel is in some way biological. So Dal Quor can’t simply reassign a Chosen line; they’d have to breed a new one. With that said, Chosen CAN be possessed by any quori; it’s simply that they have to ALLOW themselves to be possessed, while they have no choice when dealing with the quori bound to their line. So there could easily be Chosen who are serving as voluntary vessels for other quori; it’s just that it can’t be forced.

That’s all for now! If you have questions related to these topics, post them below!

Dragonmarks: Firearms in Eberron

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

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

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

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

The Wandslinger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Goblin Gunslingers

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

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

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

Elemental Weapons

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

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

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

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

Q&A

What class would you use as a wandslinger?

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

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

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

Dragonmarks: The City of Silver and Bone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story Hooks

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

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

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

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

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

Dragonmarks: The Aurum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s my connection to the Aurum?

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

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

Q&A

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

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

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

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

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

The Wayfinder’s Guide To Eberron

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

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

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

The Wayfinder’s Guide includes the following things. 

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

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

What Happens Next?

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

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

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

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

Dragonmarks: Lightning Round 6-18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are dragonshards a renewable resource?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is there a holiday involving gift-giving in Eberron?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But that’s just my idea.

The Raven Queen in Eberron

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

—From Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE ONCE AND FUTURE QUEEN OF DEATH

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

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

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

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

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Q&A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sorcerers and Manifestations of Magic!

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

— 5E Player’s Handbook

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

Manifestations of Magic

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

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

Verbal Components

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

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

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

Somatic Components

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

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

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

Material Components

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

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

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

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

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

In Conclusion…

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

Sorcerers in Eberron

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

Child of Khyber

Sorcerous Origin: Any

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

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

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

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

Divine Soul

Sorcerous Origin: Divine Soul (duh)

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

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

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

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

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

Draconic Bloodline

Sorcerous Origin: Draconic Bloodline (duh)

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

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

Dragonmarked

Sorcerous Origin: Divine Soul, Storm Sorcery, Shadow Magic

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

Mad Artificer

Sorcerous Origin: Any

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

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

Manifest Magic

Sorcerous Origin: Any

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

Mournborn

Sorcerous Origin: Any

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

Other

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

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

… and so on!

Q&A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now, on with the Q&A…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There’s quite a few factors here.

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

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

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

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