Dragonmarks 7/11/16: Druids

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We’re closing in on the release of my new RPG Phoenix: Dawn Command, and Jenn and I are working to organize the events we’ll be running at Gen Con. But I’ve been promising to answer questions about Druids in Eberron for a while, so here goes! As a side note, the image above is actually a Devoted Phoenix, but as a Grimwald shaman he’s SORT of a druid. Anyhow…

PRIMAL MAGIC

In the previous Dragonmark, I wrote about the difference between arcane and divine magic. As I mentioned there, I prefer druidic magic to be an entirely separate path as opposed to a subset of divine magic – taking the 4E approach of making druids and rangers primal casters. If you believe the myth of the Progenitors, arcane and divine magic both draw on the power of Siberys, while primal magic is the power of Eberron – the world itself. This reinforces the idea that druidic magic is natural magic, and fundamentally different from either arcane magic or divine magic.

So… How is it different? Arcane magic is about manipulating mystical energy through scientific methods. Divine magic uses faith and willpower as a method to tap divine power sources. What’s involved in primal magic? In my opinion, it walks a path between the two. Power is present in nature, and it comes in many forms. You have the direct elemental power of wind and storm; the power of animal archetypes; the life force of the world; and more. Primal magic involves touching and channeling one of these forces. In my opinion, this is like lucid dreaming – something anyone in theory COULD do, but something that in practice few people master. Another example would be Naming in Patrick Rothfuss’s Name of the Wind. To generate lightning, a wizard will use a formula that alters the laws of physics. A cleric will call on the power of the Sovereigns. The druid simply understands the storm and knows how to ask it to do what she wants. This doesn’t require any particular belief, nor does it unlock every secret of nature at once. A ranger may have learned how to tell the world to leave no trace of his path, but that doesn’t mean he knows how to talk to the storm. With that said…

HOW DOES YOUR DRUID CAST SPELLS?

Primal magic doesn’t require belief to function… but that doesn’t prevent humans from layering belief on top of it. Each druidic sect has its own approach, and ultimately it’s up to you to decide how your primal caster operates. When you perform a spell, what do you do? Here’s a few approaches.

  • You invoke the spirits of nature. You speak to the storm and ask it to strike your foes. You call to primal spirit of the Hawk and ask it to lend you its wings.
  • You know secret words and rituals that let you channel natural forces – one word that calls the storm, another that gives you skin of bark. There’s more to this than just the word itself; it’s about understanding the storm and the tree. Nonetheless, you don’t actually talk to the storm; you simply know how to make lightning strike your enemy, the same way a farmer knows how to plant a seed so it will grow. You understand nature in a way most people do not, but to you this isn’t magical; it’s natural.
  • All things are connected through Eberron. You are already connected to the hawk and the storm. You don’t invoke them with secret names or address them as spirits; you simply reach through that connection and draw on the power you need. When you heal someone, you are helping them draw on their own connection to the primal lifeforce; when you hurt them, you are reaching through that connection and channeling disease.
  • You are a champion of Eberron, empowered by the world itself to protect her. She created the storm and the hawk, and she gives you dominion over them. You are the hand and the voice of the Wild.

In a sense, primal lies between divine and arcane, and the question is which end of the spectrum you fall under. Do you interact with spirits the same way a priest might speak to angels? Do you believe that you are a champion of the world as a paladin is a champion of the Silver Flame? Or do you believe that nature simply is, and the magic you perform is no more “magical” than a tree growing from the seed – you just know how to make natural things happen on demand?

WHAT ABOUT RANGERS?

Rangers serve as the warriors of the Eldeen druidic sects. They are primal characters in 4E and use druidic magic in 5E. Thus, as a whole, they fit the concepts presented above, and rangers from the Eldeen sects will follow the belief framework of their sect. However, it may be that you have an idea for a ranger that doesn’t really fit any of these. You want to be an awesome hunter, but you don’t really see your character thinking about “the balance of nature” or anything like that. If you want a not-so-druidic ranger, here’s a few approaches.

  • You can characterize your ranger’s spells as being more “tricks” that they’ve picked up. Perhaps you cure wounds using a salve you’ve learned to make, or create a fog cloud with a smoke grenade. Your hunter’s mark or jump could simply be driven by skill, and detect magic an innate sense of things. Mind you, all of these things WOULD still be magic, and could be dispelled, detected, etc – but it’s more that you’ve jury-rigged things that produce magical effects as opposed to having a deep connection with the power of nature.
  • Personally, I’d have no objection to a ranger who wanted to define his spells as arcane (reflecting a scientific approach to magic) or entirely divine (tied to his faith to Arawai or Balinor, for example). I wouldn’t change the spell list, as that’s part of the class balance, and because they can choose spells that fit what they are looking for – but I’d be happy to consider their magic to be arcane or divine instead of primal for any magical effects that relate to such things.
  • You can simply play a ranger who doesn’t use spells; one version of this was presented in this Unearthed Arcana article.

DRUID SECTS

To date, most of the focus on primal magic has been on the druidic sects of the Eldeen Reaches. Aside from the primary setting guide, you can find more details on these sects in the Player’s Guide to Eberron and Faiths of Eberron. Each of these sects is primarily concerned with a different aspect of nature. Here’s the very short version.

  • The Wardens of the Wood are about balance. They help people live in harmony with nature, and act to protect both the innocent and the wild. They are the largest of the Eldeen sects and the one that gets the most new recruits, as they actively work to help and protect the people of the Eldeen Reaches.
  • The Gatekeepers are about protecting nature from the unnatural. They fight the forces of Khyber and Xoriat, and maintain the seals that hold the Daelkyr at bay.
  • The Children of Winter are about the cycle of life… and death. They believe that civilization has thrown this cycle out of balance and use disease and other means to test and thin the herd. They further believe that there will come a time when an apocalypse cleanses the world, clearing a path for its rebirth. Some of them believe the Mourning is the first stage in this disaster… and that it should be welcomed and accelerated.
  • The Ashbound oppose civilization. They despise agriculture, cities, and all the ways in which civilization seeks to control or abolish the natural world… but they are especially opposed to those who warp the natural order with unnatural magic. They are the most zealous and dangerous of the sects. This sect includes a significant number of barbarians along with rangers and druids.
  • The Greensingers are ambassadors to the Fey. They linger in areas that are close to Thelanis, and often travel between the planes. While they are most strongly connected to the Fey, some Greensingers are more broadly interested in traffic with all of the planes.

The critical thing is that these five sects are NOT all of the druids in the world! To begin with, we’ve said that there’s around a dozen active sects in the Eldeen Reaches (which obviously means that there were thirteen, but one’s gone missing). We have never described the other Eldeen sects, because this is part of “There’s a place in Eberron for anything in D&D…” We intentionally left those other sects open so DMs have an easy place to drop in new sects of their own or interesting sects from other settings or sourcebooks. It’s possible we will add others in future material; I have an idea for a shifter sect with a focus on shapeshifting and living among the beasts of the wild, which hasn’t made as much of an impact as the others because its members are largely invisible within the woods. But the point is: These five sects exist to give you hooks to play with, but they are not intended to cover every possible sect.

Beyond this, within canon we’ve already presented a number of other druidic sects.

If I had the time to go through every sourcebook, I’m sure I could find more examples of druidic sects. The five named sects are those with the greatest impact on the Five Nations, and have been cast into the spotlight by the Eldeen secession. But you’re not limited to these five choices when you make a primal character of your own.

What do the Ashbound and Children of Winter think of the Undying Court, to the extent they are aware of each other? Have the Followers of the Broken Path had any significant contact with the other druid sects? Do the Gatekeepers nowadays a connection to the Wordbearer Dhakaani?

I’m merging all these together because they are all variations of the same question, which is how much contact do the Eldeen sects have with the rest of the world? The answer: not much. There’s a reason we call them the ELDEEN sects. We’re used to a world that is filled with information, where TV and internet keep us in constant contact with the entire world. Not only does Eberron lack these things, but the druid sects – especially the Ashbound – largely avoid the tools that do exist; the Ashbound aren’t going to go use House Sivis speaking stones or pick up the latest chronicle. The Wardens of the Wood rose up to protect the people of the Eldeen Reaches during the Last War; but during the thousand years Galifar was unified, they rarely left the Towering Woods.

With that said, some of the sects have taken an interest in the wider world recently BECAUSE of the Mourning. Children or Winter have ventured east to study the Mourning and to bring Winter to the great cities of the Five Nations. Some Ashbound believe they must strike deeper at the heart of civilization; some Gatekeepers want to reach out to find help in their struggle. These are things you can expand upon to meet the needs of the story you want to tell. But BY DEFAULT the Eldeen sects have little knowledge of or contact with the world beyond the Towering Woods. Among other things, this means that as a player character from one of these sects, you may be a trailblazer. The Gatekeepers haven’t been in contact with the Wordbearers or joined forces with the Kalashtar to fight the Dreaming Dark… but YOUR Gatekeeper might be the druid who restores the ancient alliance with the Dhakaani or negotiates new ties to the Kalashtar. This ties to the general philosophy of Eberron: YOU should be the people at the heart of events that change this era. There are many groups that share common interests with the Eldeen sects… but it’s up to you to establish those ties.

THE CHILDREN OF WINTER

It’s not so clear to me what’s the goal of Children of Winter. Do they want to kill any human life?

From Dragon 418:  When Eberron created life, she also created death. She gave the asp its venom and set plagues loose in the world. All these things have their purpose. Now you have pulled the serpent’s teeth and leashed the plagues with magic. Our mother will not be mocked, and her wrath is coming soon.

This is in the voice of one of the Children; a later section is clearer.

Although they surround themselves with vermin and the trappings of decay, the Children see themselves as champions of life. They believe that all natural things have a purpose, even those that seem malevolent. Death clears the way for new life. Disease weeds out the weak. The Children work to preserve this cycle. 

The Children despise the undead and destroy them whenever they encounter them… and if they WERE aware of the Undying Court, they’d despise it as well. Positive or negative energy means little to them; the simple fact is that these elves have placed themselves outside the natural cycle, and no good can come of it. And while they aren’t as dedicated to it as Gatekeepers and have no specialized spells, the Children will also fight aberrations or similar unnatural threats if they encounter them.

So why do the Children kill people? What’s their real goal? Let’s look back to Dragon 418: Like most druids, the Children see Eberron as the source of all life and the spirit of the natural world. They believe that she had a grand design for nature, a purpose yet unfulfilled. And they believe that if humanity strays too far from the path of Eberron’s design, she will wipe the slate clean and start again.

It’s not simply that the Children believe that people are “breaking the rules” with their medicine and their Undying Courts; they believe that these things THREATEN EVERYONE, and that if we don’t get the population under control the WORLD WILL BE DESTROYED. By spreading disease, they are using the tools nature designed to weed out the weak and reduce population. A significant number of Children believe that the Mourning is the harbinger of this “Winter” – the apocalypse Eberron will use to wipe the slate clean and start again. This has created a subsect whose members welcome this; this world is too far gone, and they want to bring down the Winter and reset the world. However, other Children oppose this and still believe the current world can be saved.

Are the Children of Winter aware of all the cosmic threats like Daelkyr, Lords of Dust and so on? Do they care?

No more than most people. WE know about the Lords of Dust because we have a cool book that spills all their secrets – but they are a conspiracy that has successfully remained hidden for thousands and thousands of years. The Children fight aberrations when they encounter them, but in short, the Daelkyr haven’t been a serious threat for thousands of years and the Overlords haven’t been a threat for tens of thousands of years. They’ve GOT a thing that they know about that is a real serious issue, and that’s what they worry about. Side note: Back in the day, when Bel Shalor was almost released… to the degree that the Children of Winter were aware of the troubles of Thrane, they might have considered THAT to be a possible harbinger of Winter.

THE GATEKEEPERS AND DRAGONS

As I understand the Gatekeeper sect, most of it’s knowledge came from Vvaraak’s teachings a long time ago. And most of it is lost today, especially the underlying magical principles of the seals and the annual ritual. They merely follow rituals they don’t understand any more, at least not in the fullest. So, in my understanding, they would not be able to repeat the ritual they used to seal the Gates to Xoriat – right?

That is correct.

Are the gatekeepers aware that Vvaraak was/is a dragon? If need be, would they try to find her today or seek help from another dragon?

Vvaraak taught the first Gatekeepers sixteen thousand years ago, and dragons aren’t immortal, so Vvaraak is long dead… plus, there’s a decent chance she was assassinated by the Eyes of Chronepsis for her actions in Khorvaire. The Gatekeepers have no easy way to contact Argonnessen and even if they did, the dragons wouldn’t help them. As called out on page 11 of Dragons of Eberron, Vvaraak’s actions were a betrayal of draconic customs:

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

As a whole, the dragons aren’t your friends. They aren’t here to help. They stood by and watched as the Xoriat Incursion tore apart the Empire of Dhakaan. They did nothing during the Giant-Quori War. Heck, they attack Aerenal on a regular basis just so the kids can earn their wings. The one time they took decisive action was when the giants were preparing to do something that would threaten Argonnessen… and they dealt with that by utterly destroying giant civilization. Vvaraak was an extremely rare individual who truly cared about the lesser races – but that’s not a common thing.

I read that the gatekeepers have friendly connections to the Chamber and sometimes their scholars (known as dragons?) come to converse with the druid elders. If that’s true, why not simply ask a visiting dragon what to do if something with the seals/Daelkyr threat is … threatening? Or how to repeat the ritual properly?

It is true that over the centuries the Chamber has established Siberys Observatories in the Shadow Marches. But you’re making the mistake of thinking of the Chamber as “good guys” who would help if the people needed it. The Chamber monitors the Prophecy and ensures that it remains on the approved path. The only way to monitor the Prophecy is to have agents across the world. Essentially, the Chamber is using the Gatekeepers to collect data, which they can periodically pick up. The Gatekeepers don’t fully understand what they are doing, and I don’t think their Chamber contacts identify themselves as dragons. Even if they did, they would only help if it was part of the approved path of the Prophecy. It’s entirely possible that a Daelkyr Uprising IS part of the approved path, in which case not only would the Chamber not help them stop it, they’d actively mislead them to keep things on track.

Generally speaking the Chamber is better for us than the Lords of Dust, because their endgame doesn’t involve the release of demonic Overlords. But they are not our friends. Vvaraak broke with the Chamber when she taught the Gatekeepers.

What do the Gatekeepers think about the prophecy? Do they have druids specialized in deciphering the prophecy? Is it incorporated in their daily life somehow?

Yes and no. There are Siberys Observatories in the Shadow Marches, and the Chamber has got the Gatekeepers monitoring these and collecting the data they need for occasional pickup. This data MAY be useful in the short term at predicting events within the Shadow Marches, and the Gatekeepers undoubtedly believe that it will give them advance warning of a Daelkyr resurgence. However, they are not capable of monitoring the Prophecy as a whole from one location, and the scope of the Prophecy goes way beyond the Marches. It takes a group like the Chamber, Lords of Dust, or Undying Court – immortals with vast resources and power – to be able to put together the bigger picture.

So there are druids who specialize in using the Observatories, and in using them to predict local events and monitor the seals, but they aren’t concerned with the wider scope of the Prophecy.

The Gatekeeper community getting smaller with every generation, so it gets more challenging to maintain the seals. Are there seals all over Khorvaire or are they all located in the Shadow Marches/Eldeen Reaches/Demon Wastes? 

It has been established somewhere that the location of the seals doesn’t correspond to the physical location of the imprisoned Daelkyr. With that said, in MY campaign many of the seals are highly portable. There are a few seals that are vast buried stones, but a seal could also be a pendant, or a ring, or embedded in a staff. In this case it is possible that prophecy dictates where a seal must go; it could be that to function, one of the seals needs to follow a particular path or visit a series of locations. All of this is a great foundation for a Gatekeeper PC who is assigned to carry one of the seals, and who must take it to certain dangerous places to maintain its power.

How many seals do the Gatekeepers maintain? Somehow I recall that there are 6 (or7) Daelkyr left in this world and I assumed that therefore there are 6 (or 7) major seals as well, probably accompanied by smaller ones. Is this defined in canon material? And if not, how would you do it?

There are six Daelkyr that have been called out by name, however the Player’s Guide to Eberron states “These are undoubtedly among the most powerful of their kind, with abilities beyond those presented in the EBERRON Campaign Setting.” So there are as many Daelkyr as you need for the purposes of your story, and the same holds true for the seals. Given that you’re talking to ME, obviously I would say that there were thirteen seals, but one has already been destroyed in the past, and many believe that this is why the Daelkyr are stirring now.

Do you have some ideas what special relics back from the Daelkyr war the gatekeepers might have right now or have legends about? (beside Vvaraak’s tears)

Not off the top of my head. It’s certainly a topic I’d love to explore if Eberron gets unlocked for the DM’s Guild!

THE GREENSINGERS

Am I right in thinking that you wouldn’t really have creatures of Thelanis considering themselves Greensingers or druids?

You are correct. With that said, the Greensingers themselves are the least “druidic” of the Eldeen sects. We’ve already noted the fact that they sometimes multiclass with arcane classes (typically bard)… and as far as their druidic magic goes, they are much more in the model of “I know the secret name of the storm, so I can ask it to smite my enemies” than “I am a servant of Eberron.” Shapeshifting is also a common strength of Greensingers, in part in emulation of the fey who aren’t bound to a single form.

It’s hard for me to imagine the native inhabitants of Thelanis or Lamannia taking up druidic traditions per se – even if it weren’t “the magic of Eberron itself”, Thelanis isn’t the same kind of natural world that druids care for.

First of all, I wouldn’t include Lamannia in this equation. The Greensingers have strong ties to Thelanis, largely derived from the presence of the Twilight Demesne. They have no particular attachment to Lamannia. Aside from that, the Greensingers themselves don’t care for the natural world in the way that most druids do. The Greensingers look at what nature COULD be. They see the story. They imagine that the wind is singing a song, that the tree truly dances in the wind… because in Thelanis, it does. If you wanted, you could decide that Greensinger magic is actually slightly different from that of other druids… that rather than drawing on pure nature, they are temporarily imbuing the world around them with a touch of Thelanis. A dryad isn’t a natural part of Eberron, but it could be that a Greensinger temporarily creates a dryad in a normally natural tree.

Even if you don’t go that far, that’s how the Greensinger sees it. They see the world as a magical place, and it becomes more magical around them.

THE WARDENS OF THE WOOD

How are the Wardens of the Wood inserted in the geopolitics of the Reaches? Since they were a very active part of the independence, and there is very little about how the region is organized.

From page 97 of The Player’s Guide to Eberron: 

When the plains folk seceded from Aundair, the Wardens trained their militias and fought at their sides. In their gratitude, the folk turned to the study of the druidic mysteries, and this helped make the land remarkably fertile. Today, Warden rangers patrol the entirety of the Reaches, fighting bandits, poachers, and other interlopers.

And from page 172 of the Eberron Campaign Setting: 

Long dominant in the forest, the Wardens have spread out into the plains to ensure order throughout the region. Each village has a druid counselor (of anywhere from 1st to 7th level, depending on the size of the community) who provides magical assistance and spiritual guidance, and who advises the leaders of the community. Councils made up of representatives from each farming family govern each of the communities. Bands of Warden rangers patrol the forest, responding to threats as they arise. 

As a side note, some of these druid counsellors might be gleaners. But the short form is that the Wardens advise and protect, but do not rule. Also note that while the Wardens patrol the entire region and settle any disputes between villages, each village does have its own mundane militia – trained by the Wardens, but not made up of primal-classed characters.

THE ASHBOUND AND THE MOURNING

What do the Ashbound think of clerics and their divine magic?

That it’s the unnatural result of trafficking with alien spirits. At the end of the day it’s manipulating the same energy wizards do, and they have no love of it. It’s possible a priest of Arawai or Balinor would meet with their approval if he SEEMED primal. But generally, if it’s not natural magic, it’s UNnatural magic.

Finally I am thinking on a campaign focused on the Ashbound. In that campaign they behave like real terrorists. They are fundamentalists, but they are right. Mourning happened because too much of magic has been used. So, here comes the question: if THAT is what caused the Mourning, who should know that? Lords of Dust, Chamber, the Twelve, a daelkyr, someone in Daanvi? How should they react?

The idea that the Mourning was caused by the extensive use of war magic is one of the popular theories within the world, and it is a primary reason for the Treaty of Thronehold: the fear that continuing the war will simply cause the effect to spread. As for who would KNOW THIS WITH ABSOLUTE CERTAINTY? That depends on where you want to go with it.

  • The Twelve are a weird choice, but not out of the question. You could say that Cannith knew that the extensive use of war magic was a danger but concealed this information because hey, their business is about selling war magic. If this is the case, it can be argued that THEY CAUSED THE MOURNING. That’s an interesting plotline to me, because what are you going to do about it? This is especially true if it was known to the Twelve – if the leadership of all of the houses were complicit in hiding this information and continuing to push the world closer to doomsday.
  • The Lords of Dust or the Chamber work if you want to say that the Mourning was foretold by the Prophecy. If it’s the Lords of Dust, I would argue that the Mourning is in fact the visible manifestation of weakening the bonds of the Overlords, and that at least one Overlord was released on the Day of Mourning and now lingers in the Mournland as it regains its power. So the action was caused by overuse of magic, but there is worse still to come.

Assuming that it was the result of human action, another twist on the Twelve being behind it would be to have the information shared or revealed by the Dreaming Dark, who have plucked it from the dreams of one of the Twelve conspirators. What’s their angle? I don’t know. But if you want to bring in another faction, that’s an option.

GENERAL QUESTIONS

Are the druid sects a religion? If so, the vast majority of “druids” and “rangers” are really not classed individuals, and don’t have the capabilities of a class level PC. It seems to me this distinction is always reinforced by you with wizards (most are magewrights) and clerics (most are even adepts) but is never touched with druids.

This is really two different questions, so I’ll address them in order. There is a spiritual component to the beliefs of the different druidic sects: live in harmony with the world and your surroundings. Some – on an individual basis – take this further and see themselves as champions of Eberron; but other members have a more pragmatic view, and that’s fine. Again, primal magic doesn’t REQUIRE belief the way divine magic does. A sect provides guidelines for how a person should live their life, but it doesn’t necessarily tell them what they must believe.

As for your second point, there’s once again multiple answers.

  • Every sect generally has a large number of common people who share their general beliefs and approach to life. This is especial true of the Gatekeepers. When talking about the Shadow Marches we say that a significant portion of the population follows the Gatekeeper traditions. This doesn’t mean they are druids, that they know anything about the seals other than ancient stories, or that they are ready to fight aberrations; it simply means that they tell the stories of the Gatekeepers, respect their traditions, and would welcome and honor an actual Gatekeeper druid who shows up. The same is true of the Wardens in the Eldeen Reaches. There are many commoners who are ALIGNED with the Wardens, but they wouldn’t actually CALL themselves Wardens of the Wood. Further, for every classed Warden, you might have a half dozen initiates struggling to master their skills, or working to help the sect in support roles.
  • With that in mind, when we say “Wardens of the Wood” or “Gatekeepers”, we are generally referring to the elite core of that sect – the people who do have primal classes, and who actively pursue the goals of the sect. Now, most of these people would top out at first or second level, but this IS remarkable; this one reason the Reaches were able to secede and why they still haven’t been reclaimed. It’s why groups like the Ashbound and Children of Winter are serious threats even if each may have less than a thousand active members: they are small groups of exceptional people.
  • With THAT said, part of the issue is that core D&D doesn’t have a primal NPC class – an equivalent of an adept or magewright. Which is why I made one. Years ago I made a primal NPC class called The Gleaner. This was posted on Giant In The Playground, but hasn’t been used elsewhere. It is precisely what you’re looking for here, and yes, for every full druid in the Wardens of the Wood you have a number of Gleaners who travel the Reaches and the woods helping those in need. While D&D doesn’t have a system in place for someone “evolving” from one class to another, I would personally say that many druidic sect initiates begin as first level gleaners and then evolve into rangers or druids once they fully master their skills.

In general, do how the sects see each other? Are druids of different Eldeen sects more friendly to each other than a random person they meet? Do they all pay some respect to Oalian?

This is addressed on page 57 of The Player’s Guide to Eberron: 

Despite their differences in belief, Oalian supports all the druids, since each sect embraces an aspect of the natural world. In return, most druids respect Oalian as the ultimate spiritual authority in the region, and they gather at The Greenheart for important conclaves and rituals.

Beyond that, I’d say that in general the active members of the sects will treat primals of other sect with respect, and they might work together to resolve certain problems; they joined forces during the Eldeen Secession, and members of any sect would join together to deal with undead or aberrations in the woods. But that won’t prevent Wardens from opposing members of other sects who are endangering innocents; there have certainly been many clashes between Wardens and Ashbound in the past.

If the druid sects would be aware of the Aundarian plans against the reaches, could they start a war against Aundair? Would it become a new global war?

In thinking of the capacity of the Reaches to wage war, bear in mind that they are not a normal nation. They are a collection of villages and small communities, and the closest thing they have to a single leader is a tree. They don’t have a strong industrial base to create weapons of war. Their population is a fraction of Aundair’s, let alone the other nations. One of their greatest strengths is their strong bond to the Towering Woods and their ties to the manifest zones and magic of the woods; once they lead an army into hostile territory, they lose that. And if they were to invade Aundair, what would victory look like? Would they try to actually occupy it in some way? It’s not like the people of Fairhaven are suddenly going to adopt the lifestyle of the farmers to the west.

So no: I don’t see the Eldeen Reaches waging a full-scale war against Aundair. With that said, I could certainly see them engaging in GUERILLA warfare. If Aundair begins building up forces in preparation for reclaiming the Reaches, they could definitely launch targeted strikes to take out caches, depots, or research facilities. Part of the point is that the Reaches don’t have either the infrastructure or the numbers of Aundair… but what they do have is a small but elite force. If it came to a straight-up war, Aundair simply outnumbers and outguns the Reaches. But with an army of rangers and shapeshifting druids, the Reaches are well-suited to covert strikes before disappearing back into the woods.

The Eldeen sects are so named, as you say, because they’re native to the forests of the Eldeen Reaches. Do you think their particular philosophies or concerns are tied to that location, or are they the sort of thing that might have arisen independently in other regions and/or taken root there if brought by a rare wandering druid?

Geography definitely plays a role. The Greensingers largely came about because of the Twilight Demesne, while the Children of Winter have a connection to the Gloaming. Proximity to Aundair is definitely a factor for the Ashbound.

With that said: I believe that the mechanical elements of the sects reflect different ways to focus druidic magic, and that you could see other sects adopt these same practices even if they don’t share the same name or precisely the same beliefs. The Seren Dragonshard linked to above notes that most Dragonspeakers follow the paths of the Wardens of the Wood or Gatekeepers… which is about them MECHANICALLY following those paths, not that some of them say “We’re Gatekeepers!” So in creating a new sect, if you don’t want to create entirely new mechanics, you could certainly say “Which of the five is it most like in its purpose?”

This is particularly relevant to the Greensingers. The Eldeen sect has a strong connection to the Twilight Demesne. But if you’re using the 4E story, I’d say that you could have similar sects in any of the regions where Feyspires manifest – essentially, anywhere that has a strong, ongoing connection to Thelanis. These would share similar traits – fey ambassadors, blending druidic and bardic paths – but they wouldn’t necessarily call themselves Greensingers. WITH THAT SAID… you could just as easily say that the Greensingers began in the Twilight Demense, entered Thelanis, and from Thelanis spread out to such places… and thus make them all part of the same sect.

You’ve mentioned previously that each sect tends to fight one enemy, Aberrations for Gatekeepers / Undead for Children of Winter, is there a sect setup to fight the Lords of Dust? or Demons / Devils in General?

The Overlords aren’t bound by a natural force; they are imprisoned by the SIlver Flame. Thus they are primarily opposed by forces that channel the SIlver Flame, like the Ghaash’kala orcs. So no: at present there is no canon druidic sect that focuses on fighting demons. On the other hand, I’d think EVERY sect WOULD fight demons if they encountered them.

Tied to this: the sects often have one foe they are most concerned with, but they’ll still fight the others. The Gatekeepers are focused on aberrations and the Children despise undead. But the Gatekeepers will definitely destroy undead and the Children will hunt down aberrations that cross their paths. It’s just that these things aren’t a focus of their daily lives.

How do the different druidic sects and the Church of the Silver Flame tend to perceive each other? 

Personally, I think there’s very little interaction between them. The Church can’t possibly monitor every single sect or cult that exists in the world, and the druids aren’t especially interested in interacting with them; they’re doing just fine, thank you. WE know what the Gatekeepers are doing is vitally important, but to the world at large they are obsessing about something that hasn’t been a threat since before humanity came to Khorvaire. With that said, I’d think that they would have a generally positive view of the Wardens of the Wood, who likely assisted templars during the Lycanthropic Purge, and  a generally negative view of the Children of Winter and Ashbound, both of whom take actions that can threaten innocents… and the Ashbound in turn will see the Church as channeling unnatural energy. Meanwhile, the Gatekeepers live in the shadows and don’t believe that they need the help of some human outsiders.

WITH THAT SAID: In the last 5E Eberron campaign I’ve been playing in, the players include a Ghaash’kala paladin, a cleric of the Silver Flame (well, technically, Jaela Daran), and a Gatekeeper druid. We work together well because we do all share a common goal of protecting the innocent from evil, and we’ve been happy to pursue each other’s personal issues. But we’re still playing it that our respective organizations really don’t know a lot about one another.

Furthermore, if primal magic does not require belief… could a druid believe in and follow the Silver Flame?

The question I’d ask is why they become a druid in that case, instead of becoming a cleric. But other than that, there’s no reason they couldn’t. You could easily CREATE a sect of Silver Flame-inspired druids in the Eldeen who adopted the faith after fighting alongside templars in the Lycanthropic Purge.

Are there any druidic traditions amongst the Blood of Vol?

The Seeker tradition is largely urban and druidic traditions generally develop in the wild. Further, the goals of the Seekers are fundamentally TO BREAK THE CYCLE OF NATURE; combined with their affinity for undead, this would brand them as abominations in the eyes of the Children of Winter, if not most sects.

When it comes to druids, are there any sects that tend to utilizing the feat from 3.5 “Assume Supernatural Ability”? Does it fit with any specific sect’s view on the world?

Nothing particular comes to mind… but I don’t have time to go through and figure out a) what shapes a druid could take where this would come into play and b) the level that would be required to do so, which would affect how much it could really be central to a sect. You could certainly make a new sect around the idea.

And are there any sects that use “Draconic Wildshape”?

Sure: the Seren Dragonspeakers.

Are there any druidic traditions amongst the merfolk and sahuagin? What are some druidic traditions of the Vulkoorim drow of Xen’drik?

I’m certain that there are aquatic druidic traditions. The Qaltiar drow have a tradition involving primal spirits, as seen in The Shattered Land and Gates of Night. But neither of these are things I have time to explore in this format. Once Eberron is unlocked for the DM’s Guild, I’d love to explore this in depth (or see what other people do with it).

Is there any more information about the druid(s) that awakened Oalian and Kraa’ark Lors?

Not at present.

Life in the Lhazaar Principalities revolves around the sea. What’s the possibility of there being a druidic sect in that area who focus on the sea life of the region; ensuring fishermen get bountiful catches, ensuring whaling ships don’t hurt the creatures unnecessarily, and predicting the hurricanes off the Sea of Rage?

It’s a logical role for druids or gleaners, and something that has been suggested in passing; in particular, it’s been noted that Cloudreaver priests of the Devourer may develop druidic abilities, and the Wind Whisperers are a powerful force. With that said, we haven’t presented druids as a defining pillar of society in the Lhazaar the way we have in the Eldeen Reaches, so if I was writing for canon Eberron, I probably wouldn’t make them the secret masters of the Reaches. However, I could see adding in a gleaner sect that does exactly the sort of thing you suggest – ensuring bountiful catches, predicting storms, preventing overfishing. As a Gleaner sect they could exist without DOMINATING the culture; some respect them, some curse them as annoying busybodies. But they aren’t as dramatically powerful as the Cloudreaver druids or the Wind Whisperers.

As a side note on the Wind Whisperers: In theory, their power comes from a connection to the Mark of Storms. In practice, I might give a powerful Wind Whisperer NPC druid, warlock or sorcerer levels with storm/lightning related magic reflecting a deeper connection to primal storms unlocked by the mark. So the power that makes them a force to be reckoned with is more than just the base abilities granted by the mark.

What’s the tie between the Prophecy and Primal Magic? Aren’t both a direct expression of Eberron?

Eberron may be the source of Primal Magic, but she’s not the sole source of the Prophecy. There are many different theories about the origin and nature of the Prophecy; the dominant view in the Chamber (as called out in Dragons of Eberron) is that “The Prophecy is a reflection of the ongoing struggle between Khyber and Eberron. The Progenitors shaped reality at the beginning of time, and the Prophecy reflects their divergent desires for their creation.”

If dragons know primal magic and druidism for millennia, should we suppose that a sect of very powerful, high level dragons/druids exist and take care of the equilibrium of Eberron?

Powerful draconic druids do exist. The Child of Eberron is one of the core archetypes of the religion of Thir, as covered in Dragons of Eberron: All natural life sprang from the progenitor dragon Eberron, and the child of Eberron honors the Great Mother and defends her works. However, the vast majority believe that this is a task fit solely for dragons, not something that the lesser races should be involved in. There may be a few Children of Eberron acting within Khorvaire, but they aren’t working with lesser druids (whom Vvaraak should never have taught!) and are generally dealing with primal problems we don’t even perceive. Humans are like ants to them: part of the natural world, capable of forming communities, but of no directrelevance to their actions… and if you have to wipe out a bunch of them to do something important, they’ll recover from it. The critical example of this is Xen’drik: when the giants were about to take action that seriously threatened the equilibrium of Eberron, the dragons acted and utterly destroyed their civilization.

The good news for us is that the Children of Eberron are generally only concerned with SERIOUS threats to the equilibrium of Eberron, like “destroying a moon.” Things that are just going to wipe out a bunch of human nations aren’t that big a deal… again, when you look at things from a perspective of millennia, they’ll grow back. With that said, I suspect the Children of Eberron are concerned with the Mourning, and could potentially be allies in a plot that seeks to solve this mystery… but again, if the answer to the Mourning is “humans did it” and there’s a chance they could do it again, there is a very real risk that Argonnessen would decide that human civilization should go the way of the giants.

If primal magic is the result of invoking the primal spirits, using the secret names and rituals to channel natural forces, or tapping into the interconnectedness of all things through Eberron, how do druids and other primal casters use magic when they travel to other planes? In theory, primal magic is the domain of Eberron herself, so when traveling away from her, wouldn’t a primal spellcaster be cut off from their magic?

Good question. The same problem applies to Divine and Arcane magic, which are fundamentally drawing on the power of Siberys; shouldn’t going to another plane separate them from this source? The short and simple answer is that no, it doesn’t. The Progenitors created all the planes, and all of the planes are connected to Eberron. The creatures of Eberron live and die, know peace and war, dream and go mad. This is because Eberron is touched by all of the planes. The same process works in reverse. Dal Quor may not have a direct connection to Thelanis, but it DOES have a connetion to Eberron, and this allows your caster to draw on the power of Eberron or Siberys.

Now, if YOU had more time, it would certainly be interesting to change the way that primal magic works in Thelanis or Lamannia, and it’s something I might explore if/when I have the opportunity to develop Planes of Eberron. But the simple out if you don’t have time for such tinkering is “Eberron touches all the planes.”

My next few post will be about Phoenix: Dawn Command, but I will be posting another Eberron Q&A sometime in the next few weeks; the topic will be Thelanis and The Fey. Post your questions about Phoenix or Eberron below!

Dragonmarks 6/18/16: Faith and Wisdom, Arcane and Divine

Cleric Octogram

I was planning to do my next Q&A about Druids, but this conversation took off in the comments of the last Q&A and really deserves its own page. So Druids will have to wait for another week or two. As I mentioned in my last post, I currently have two events on the schedule at Gen Con: a seminar specifically about Phoenix: Dawn Command, and a casual Q&A where we’ll talk about Eberron, Phoenix, and whatever else people wish to discuss.

Before diving into this discussion, I recommend checking out the previous Dragonmark on Religion, Faith, and Souls. This examines why faith matters; how someone can believe in gods that do not manifest in the world; and the role of souls within Eberron.

As always, let me be clear that this is how I run things in MY campaign. This isn’t canon, and it may even contradict canon material; it’s simply my opinion. Also, if you’ve read this post before: Due to the number of questions that were posed, I’ve gone back and consolidated my answers so it’s a little more concise.

I feel very stupid in asking that, but an answer would be very important to me since I never really undestood: what is the real difference between ARCANE MAGIC and DIVINE MAGIC in Eberron? We know most of priests don’t cast spells, faith is not enough and sometime not necessary. Gods might not exist. And you always say: magic in Eberron is like science. Is divine magic too? 

Both arcane magic and divine magic manipulate the same energy. This energy is an ambient force in the world that most scholars say flows from the Ring of Siberys. From a scientific viewpoint, this is why detect magic and counterspells and the like work on both kinds of magic: because fundamentally, they are different ways of manipulating the same form of energy. Arcane magic uses scientific methods to tap that power, while divine magic is driven by faith and willpower… and the intervention of something that may or may not be a god.

ARCANE MAGIC

Arcane magic is purely scientific. You’ve learned the underlying rules of the universe, and you’ve figured out the cheat codes. You have learned how to interact with that energy and shape it in specific ways. A wizard works through complex codified formulas. A sorcerer interacts with it in a more instinctive way. Some of this comes out with in the description of Lei performing infusions in The Dreaming Dark; she’s reaching out into this energy and weaving tapestries with it. This is the idea behind things like Spell-Storing Item; the artificer is inherently more “inventive” with magic, and can jury-rig spell effects they can’t normally produce. So to a certain degree you can think of an arcane caster as a software engineer, using code to manipulate the ambient energy. The caster may or may not have the talent required to create new spells, but they are approaching magic in a practical way.

Bear in mind that in Eberron, PC-classed characters are remarkable. Arcane magic is a science, but most who study it can at best achieve the status of magewright. Magewrights don’t use spellbooks, but neither are they spontaneous casters; they learn a particular set of spells they can memorize. The idea here is that the magewright spends years studying a specific set of spells. They don’t need spellbooks because they have drilled with those spells over and over and over. The spellbook is essentially the textbook they learned from… but they studied each spell for YEARS. They can’t just pick up a spellbook and memorize a completely new spell in a few hours. The fact that a wizard CAN do this is a reflection of the fact that the wizard is an amazing prodigy, who grasps the fundamental principles of magic in a way the magewright can’t. The magewright is essentially an electrician who learns to repair a specific type of appliance; the wizard or artificer is Tesla or Edison… they understand the principles of this science on a deeper level, and can work with it in a completely different way.

This model doesn’t make sense with every possible arcane caster; see the question on bards further down the page. In particular, sorcerers have the power to spontaneously produce arcane effects. A sorcerer doesn’t have to understand how they do what they do. But it’s arcane in nature because it’s drawing directly on the ambient magical power, and because it doesn’t require anything like faith… which is a critical component of divine magic.

DIVINE MAGIC

So, arcane magic involves using scientific principles to shape ambient magical energy. For divine magic, there is an intermediary involved: a divine power source that filters and focuses the power from the Ring of Siberys. Through faith and willpower, the divine caster connects to the divine source. If the arcane caster is an engineer, the divine caster is essentially connecting to a server that has a bunch of apps on it. The divine caster doesn’t need to understand anything about code or WHY the apps work; they just know that they ask for healing, and Cure Light Wounds 2.0 does its thing. There is no question that these divine power sources exist. The divine power source has an alignment; a set of domains; and specific relationship to positive and negative energy. Eberron is unique in that the alignment of a divine caster doesn’t have to match the alignment of that divine power source. Per my house rule in this Dragonshard, the alignment of the power source determines all magical alignment-oriented effects of the religion… so regardless of personal alignment, a divine caster associated with the Silver Flame casts holy word and protection from evil, because these are the powers granted by the source.

But what ARE these divine power sources? There’s the question. In some cases, we know exactly what they are: the Silver Flame is a pool of energy initially created by the couatl sacrifice in the Age of Demons, said to be strengthened by noble souls over the ages. Aside from supporting divine magic, it is the force that holds the Overlords at bay. So again: there is no question that it exists, and it’s not anthropomorphic in any way. But what of the others? If you’re a follower of the Sovereign Host, then you say that the Sovereigns are gods: they may be sources of pure divine power, but they are also sentient, omnipresent entities that watch us and guide us. If you’re a doubter, you say that these are just pools of energy like the Silver Flame; that they have coalesced around particular concepts like War or Law; and that they may be formed from mass belief (which the Undying Court shows has a certain degree of power) or from the souls of believers. There is no right answer here; no canon source is ever going to conclusively say “The Sovereigns are gods” or “The Sovereigns are pools of belief.”

But it’s important to remember one thing: in Eberron, the majority of priests are not divine casters. They’re like priests in our world: they offer spiritual guidance and comfort to their congregation. They believe in the faith, but it’s true, belief alone is not enough. Faith alone doesn’t guarantee divine magic… because in my opinion, a divine caster must have something more than just mundane faith. They have what I’ll call transcendental faith. In part this is about depth of conviction… but it is also just about a way of viewing the universe, of having a faith that lets you believe beyond the limits of mundane reality and touch the divine that lies beyond it. I can’t explain this much more clearly than this, because I don’t have it. But touching a divine power source requires an degree of faith most people simply don’t possess… just as most magewrights simply don’t have the insight and talent required to become a wizard or artificer. And even this faith alone may not be sufficient; it’s quite possible that you must in some way be chosen by the divine power source, as a paladin is called. If you view the power sources as gods, than this is an easy thing to understand. If not, it’s a little harder to explain; but in some way, a divine caster has a connection to the power source that most people will simply never have. But in my opinion, faith is always necessary. It is the conduit that forms the basic connection to the divine power source, and without it you have nothing. Regardless of alignment, a follower of the Silver Flame must believe they are using the power of the Silver Flame to protect the innocent. They can be evil and using it in a horrible unjustified witch hunt, but they must believe that the cause is justified. If you have someone who is truly a servant of the Lords of Dust and cares nothing for the principles of the Flame, then they cannot be drawing their magic from the Flame itself; they must be tied to a different divine power source. With that said, the Silver Flame has a built-in out in the Shadow in the Flame, which can empower such evildoers. But you can’t be a lover of chaos and draw power from Aureon, Lord of Law. Your alignment doesn’t have to match your divine power source… but your faith must.

So: What differentiates the cleric from the favored soul? It’s essentially the same separation as the wizard and sorcerer… but with faith added. Not all priests are clerics, but the vast majority of clerics are priests. A cleric works with tradition, learning the prayers and rituals of the faith. A favored soul has faith and feels the divine call, and needs nothing more. So in the Silver Flame, the typical cleric is a priest or friar… while a favored soul might be a farmer who hears the Voice of the Flame. I generally put paladins in this camp: a paladin has to be called. Within the Church of the Silver Flame, paladins are treasured and brought into the templars; but in my opinion, a paladin must be called, it’s not something you can just pursue.

Isn’t faith inherently irrational? And isn’t that at odds with clerics having to have a high Wisdom? And isn’t it strange that a cleric with the Madness domain could have a high Wisdom?

To begin with, I don’t view Wisdom as a statistic associated with logic; that’s what Intelligence is for. In my opinion, Wisdom is about willpower (hence, Will saves), perception, and understanding… an understanding that goes beyond the pure reason of Intelligence. Beyond that, I think it’s dangerous to try to use ability scores as a measure of someone’s beliefs… IE “This belief is stupid, therefore this individual can’t have a high Intelligence.” This is especially true when it comes to madness. In my opinion a Cleric of the Dragon Below could be exceptionally intelligent about everything but the subject of their madness. They could be a brilliant arcane scholar… and it could be that very brilliance that led them to discover the secrets that shattered their sanity.

But back to the core point: Is faith irrational? On some level, of course it is. The basic concept of faith is believing in a thing that cannot be proven. But don’t equate faith with zealotry or fanaticism. Just because a person has faith doesn’t mean that they will be driven to irrational action or that they cannot listen to reason. And just because a person has faith – even that amazing transcendental faith that I describe – doesn’t mean that they can’t have doubt. In my opinion, questioning faith is one of the most interesting things you can do as a divine character: explore why you believe what you believe, and why you hold to that faith even when it can’t be proven. The other day I was watching Shakespeare in Love, and multiple times when things are at their very worst, someone says “Don’t worry – it will all turn out well.” To which someone else responds “How?” because there is no rational way that it could. The first speaker shrugs, smiles, and says “I don’t know… it’s a mystery.” To me that’s the point of faith. One person looks at something terrible – like the Mourning – and has their faith broken by it. Another sees the same thing and says “I don’t understand how or why this could happen… but I have faith that there is a reason.” For such a person faith is a source of strength and comfort when reason provides no answer. Further below I’ll look at this point in more detail, but the basic point is that yes, faith IS irrational. But that doesn’t mean that every divine caster has to have blind faith. It doesn’t mean that they have to ignore reason or things that go against their faith, and it doesn’t mean that they can’t question their faith. The question is whether, in the end, you hold onto your faith… or whether the things that you face will break it.

With this in mind, I’d like to look at two player characters from my own Eberron campaigns. One was a changeling cleric of the Silver Flame, who as part of his character background explained that he’d encountered corruption in the church and been shocked by it. He’d left the church to go out into the world and explore the darkness of the human soul more deeply… so that he could gain the understanding he’d need to come back an drive it from the church. So: his faith was shaken by an encounter with a corrupt priest; he left the church itself; but he never stopped believing in the Silver Flame and its purpose.

The second was a character I played in the longest-running Eberron campaign I’ve been a part of. I began as a dragonborn follower of the Sovereign Host (with a Thir spin on the Sovereigns). Over the course of the campaign, I lost my faith in the Sovereigns… but ended up becoming a divine oracle of the Draconic Prophecy, and seeing that as the force shaping the world. So I questioned my faith, and it actually changed and evolved over the course of my story.

So the point of all this? A divine caster must have faith. Faith is the fuel of divine magic and a critical element that differentiates it from arcane magic. But you don’t have to be a zealot or a fanatic. You can listen to reason. You can question your faith and even change it. But in my opinion, you must have faith to perform divine magic.

In Eberron, can’t a cleric gain divine magic from a philosophy or personal belief? 

This is about the principle that in Eberron, you can cast spells with sufficient faith in ANYTHING. You could have the Church of Your Shoe. Technically, this is true. Page 35 of the original Eberron Campaign Setting says the following:

You may also decide that your cleric has no deity but instead channels divine power from the spiritual remnants of the Dragon Above. Select two domains that reflect the cleric’s spiritual inclination and abilities. The restriction on alignment domains still applies.

So yes: In Eberron, you can make a cleric of ANYTHING. With that said, the description here makes clear what you’re doing. You may worship your shoe, but your shoe isn’t what’s granting you magic; you are bypassing the divine power sources and drawing your power straight from the Ring of Siberys, which as I mentioned above is essentially the source of all magic. Beyond this, I’d note the following…

  • While this is possible, within the canon world it is incredibly rare. You’ll note that the vast majority of the divine casters presented in canon material follow the defined faiths. I’m not even sure that there is an example of an I-worship-my-shoe-style priest anywhere in canon, though I could be wrong (I was! See below). Basically, this is only possible for rare and remarkable people… but player characters ARE rare and remarkable people, so go ahead!
  • The theory behind this is that it’s easier to connect to one of the existing divine sources that has mass belief… potentially because the power sources ARE that mass belief. This is why you see so many religions that are essentially some variation of the Sovereign Host – why Rusheme has Rowa of the Leaves instead of Fiddledediddlestag the Charcoal God. The closer your god is to a Sovereign archetype, the greater the chance that your faith will produce divine spellcasters. So there are and have been many radically different faiths… but those similar to the Sovereigns have produced more spellcasters, and that’s been a form of social evolution. Basically, if you can’t connect to a belief pool/god you can go straight to the source – but that’s hard to do.

So the principle of the atheist who believes SO STRONGLY that the gods don’t exist that he actually draws divine power from this is certainly possible – but you’ll note that we didn’t present tons of these in the world. And in my campaign, if you’re playing that character and you’re suddenly faced with absolute proof that gods DO exist, you could have a crisis of faith and lose your powers…

PRIMAL MAGIC

So how do druids and rangers fit into this? In 3.5 they are considered to be divine casters. However, a ranger isn’t called as a paladin is, and the concept of a ranger doesn’t seem to require transcendental faith. This is true. A cleric with the Nature domain has an alignment aura, channels positive or negative energy, and has to have faith; a druid does none of these things. So how is it that druids are divine casters?

The fact of the matter is that this is a kluge… because they aren’t arcane casters, either. They don’t have some deep scientific understanding of magical principles. Fourth edition introduced the concept of the Primal power source as distinct from arcane and divine, and personally, that’s how I view things… all the more so because while arcane and divine magic both manipulate the ambient energy of the Ring of Siberys, I would make the case that primal magic is actually drawing on the energy of Eberron… which is to say the world itself. This is important for a number of reasons. The Ashbound hate unnatural magic, and one possibility is they could temporarily abolish it (at least within a region); this goal makes more sense if primal magic continues to function. The danger is that once you move in this direction, you open a huge rabbit hole (presumably, made by a dire rabbit). Do detect magic and dispel magic work on primal magic? Basically, adding a new sort of magic is a big can of worms for balance and complexity of play… and thus it’s generally easier to simply say that primal magic essentially functions like divine magic. But if you want to open that can of worms, go ahead!

 

ARCANE AND DIVINE

If you’re looking for more ways to differentiate arcane and divine magic in your game, take a moment to think about the components of magic… by which I mean the verbal and somatic components, the gestures and incantations that are made. What do verbal components actually sound like? What does casting a spell actually look like?

Following the principle that arcane magic is like software engineering, in my campaign both incantations and gestures are very scientific: you are repeating syllables of power in a specific order and making very precise gestures, tracing glyphs that help channel the forces you are drawing on. Each time you cast fireball, you use exactly the same gestures and incantation, because that is the recipe for “fireball.”

By contrast, I see the typical divine spell as a prayer. You are invoking your faith and asking for a specific favor. In my opinion this isn’t about precise syllables arranged in a certain way. It may well involve names that have power, but each time a cleric casts cure light wounds the precise prayer may vary, taking into account the specific situation: “Olladra, smile on your servant Ping and let your light heal his wounds.” Because again, the cleric isn’t using a scientific method; they are invoking the source of their faith.

With that said, I believe that in the case of a cleric, spell-prayers are likely to have a very specific form based on the particular spell and nature of the religion… whereas the favored soul is more likely to have very little structure and simply call directly on the divine power.

So what about someone who level dips, like a theurge? They have the cheat codes and pray to the designer to wrote them? For those that dabble in the arcane and divine, does it come with more clarity or confusion?

Bearing in mind that this is just my opinion, I don’t think it’s confusing at all… and I personally wouldn’t try to make one answer fit all characters. Divine power sources exist. As a result, I would support the idea of a theurge as a “hacker” who had figured out an arcane method for hacking into a power source and channeling its power.

At the same time, nothing about arcane magic and divine magic is inherently in opposition. I think that many clerics of Aureon may also have levels in arcane classes. Per the belief of the Host, it is Aureon who gave mortals the gift of arcane magic; just because a cleric is capable of performing divine miracles through Aureon’s grace doesn’t mean that she can’t also learn to master the arcane arts, whether she does this as a theurge or by traditional multiclassing.

Adepts cast divine spells but can also be considered rustic mages, or is this an Adept vs Magewright issue?

I’d call it a skinning issue: how do you want to present the particular adept? I do suggest that many Jorasco healers are adepts precisely because they are NOT required to have faith.

So where do Bards fit into all of these? I know traditionally they are arcane. But I prefer to think of them as dabblers in everything, and that their spells are a mixture of arcane, divine, primal, and whatever else they heard somewhere. But can one “dabble” in divine magic? 

I generally don’t think of bards as being defined by either excessive faith or spiritual enlightenment. They don’t have a connection to a divine sphere, any sort of Channel Divinity, or the alignment aura of a cleric. Thus, I would say that while they do have certain spells that are otherwise unavailable to arcane casters (like healing), that it’s not drawing on their faith or a divine connection.

So why can a bard heal when a wizard can’t? A simple option is the same one I suggested for the mystic theurge: they are essentially hackers, using arcane techniques to tap into a divine power source. Note that they aren’t the only arcane casters who can do this; an artificer can generate healing effects using spell-storing item, something Lei does frequently in The Dreaming Dark novels. In the case of SSI, I believe that it is that the case of an artificer literally hacking a spell together from the ground up.

However, if it was ME, I’d take a different approach with bards. I’d say that story and songs have power… both the power of shaping a culture, and beyond that because story and song are a path to the power of Thelanis, just as psionics can draw power from Xoriat and Dal Quor.

Now, the bard is concretely performing arcane magic, which is relevant mechanically for anything that triggers off arcane magic. But I’d essentially argue that they perform it in, as you suggest, a “dabbling” way – and yet they can accomplish things that their technique shouldn’t allow, precisely because they are connected to Thelanis and the Trickster… or Traveler?… archetype. As with other things, a lot of it is how you skin your bard. Do you PRESENT their spells as being cast in the same way as a wizard? Or do you have it be more about flourish and style, of telling a story that becomes real?

The Magic Initiate feat in 5E also begs that question. How do you have the kind of super-faith needed to cast divine magic, but only a little?

First off, there’s no reason that you can’t possess transcendental faith and yet still only cast a few spells. I don’t think that a 20th level cleric necessarily has more FAITH than a 1st level cleric; what she’s done is either earned the respect and favor of her deity (if you believe in gods) or through experience gained a greater ability to manipulate the divine source (if you don’t). But you can have an NPC who’s a first level cleric who NEVER GAINS ANOTHER LEVEL. That doesn’t represent imperfect faith in my eyes, it simply means they’ve reached the extent of their potential for divine spellcasting ability.

Personally, if I’m running a game and I have a player who wants to that the Magic Initiate (Cleric) feat, I will ask them to explain to me how this is justified by their character’s faith. As I said above; just because you’re a wizard or a thief doesn’t mean that you can’t have spiritual faith. Obviously this isn’t required by the mechanics, but it’s what I’D do… UNLESS they could justify with their character that, as suggested with the Mystic Theurge, their access to divine spells isn’t driven by divine faith but because their CHARACTER has learned to game the system… that the wizard is so good at magic that they’ve found a way to hack a divine power source.

BEYOND THIS: Something we’ve commonly said before is that in the faith of the Sovereign Host, the Sovereigns are with us all… and that those who emulate the Sovereigns are closer to them. So the smith becomes closer to Onatar through his work… while the rogue might feel a bond to Olladra, or the wizard to Aureon. I could see any of those characters taking Magic Initiate to reflect that “bond to the Sovereign.” Though I’d still generally expect the character to have some level of faith in that Sovereign.

 

RANDOM QUESTIONS

We know that Valenar elves want to call back their ancestors.

That’s not precisely correct. Through their devotion, the Tairnadal preserve the spirits of their greatest heroes. Like the Blood of Vol and the Aereni, they believe that there is no afterlife beyond Dolurrh. By emulating the heroes of the past, they anchor those spirits to the material plane and keep them from fading away. It’s the same principle as the Undying Court, but the Undying Court preserves the deathless directly – while among the Tairnadal, the ancestors live on through their descendants.

So don’t call it a comeback… because they never left.

You might want to check out the “Vadallia and Cardaen” Eye on Eberron article in Dragon 407 for a more in-depth look at what the faith and the ancestors mean to the Tairnadal.

But does their priests have any vision of reality, a greater plan for the future beyond that? Do they see any role for other races or a destiny or duty for elves after they reach greatness? 

There’s a number of different factors here. First, for the priest: the job is never done. There’s never a point where you say “The elves have reached greatness, folks… mission accomplished.” Even if the elves of this generation are the perfect avatars of the greatest heroes, they will one day die… and when they do the next generation must be ready to take their place. So there’s always work to do. Likewise, for the follower of the faith, you could always be doing better. The patron ancestors were LEGENDS… are your deeds truly worthy of them?

In part this speaks to a fundamental difference in human and elven character. Short-lived humans are always pushing to achieve something new. Overall, both Aereni and Tairnadal essentially believe that their society IS perfect; both seek to preserve what they have and to prevent the loss of any of their greatest heroes. People of the Five Nations would say that this has essentially led to the stagnation of the elven cultures… but that’s a matter of opinion.

There are certainly Tairnadal who aren’t content to simply emulate the legends of the past; while their first concern must be to honor the ancestors, they also seek to become legends in their own right, who will become new patron ancestors after their deaths. Thus, while most of the patron ancestors date back to Xen’drik, there are heroes from the times in which the Tairnadal have battled goblins and dragons… and there may soon be new heroes from this age.

The article on Vadallia and Cardaen discusses the fact that Tairnadal actions and goals vary strongly based on the patron ancestor. Some are honorable; some are cruel. But their heroes weren’t conquerors. The original patron ancestors were rebels and guerillas fighting against an overwhelming power that sought to enslave and destroy them. This is the drama the Valenar seek to recreate. In seizing land on the mainland they are creating a killing ground; now they work to antagonize some great power into attacking them there, so they can recreate the heroic struggle of their ancestors.

In other words; what’s the “reality under reality” a Valenar cleric has to believe in?

This is an interesting question, because the answer is that all the elven cultures are largely agnostic. They don’t care about who created the world, and they don’t believe that there are unknown divine powers shaping general events. Druids and rangers both play a role in Tairnadal culture, and when it comes to questions like “Why’d that earthquake happen” a Tairnadal is more likely to say “Because that’s how the world works” than to attribute it to the Devourer or some other supernatural force. The reality beyond reality that the Tairnadal care about is simple: Through our devotion, we preserve the spirits of our greatest heroes. Those heroes in turn chose those who are to follow their path, and they can guide and inspire the chosen who emulate their deeds. That’s enough for the elves; their pantheon is made up of heroes, and they believe those heroes can influence the lives of their chosen. This is most directly seen in the extraordinary abilities of a Revenant Blade, but it’s still believed that the Patron Ancestor is with their chosen in less dramatic times. Meanwhile, it is the Patron Ancestors AS A WHOLE that empower clerics and are the source of clerical magic. I ran a one-shot where all the players made Valenar characters, and the cleric made a point of explaining the ancestor that was responsible for each of the spells that he cast. His healing is granted by the legendary healer, his spiritual weapon is the blade of Vadallia, his flame strike is the fires of Cardaen. So to draw a parallel to our world, the Tairnadal don’t care about gods; their faith is based entirely around saints, and they believe that it is only through the actions of the Tairnadal that those saints are preserved. So the cleric must always be guiding this generation and preparing the next; this is never a job that will be done.

At the moment I am playing a Khoravar Paladin of the Sovereign Host. He’s also an active member of House Medani. What I was curious about was if it is acceptable for this character to want to seek out Valenar tradition and learn about it, possibly honoring an ancestor, while still serving the Host?

I know I’ve written about this topic before, but I can’t track down the answer. Short form: It’s certainly a great path for a PC. Within the world, we’ve established that there are Khoravar who pursue this path (it’s mentioned that some of the Khoravar in Taer Valaestas do this). With that said, I think the character will receive a very mixed reaction from the Tairnadal themselves. I think some will applaud the character’s attempts to honor their ancestors; the purpose of the tradition is to preserve the ancestors, and if the PC can help do this, good for them. Others will say that those of mixed blood are flawed vessels that cannot contain the soul of a true Elven hero.

The first step towards any sort of acceptance would be having a Keeper of the Past determine and declare which ancestor has chosen you. If a respected Keeper declares that you’ve been chosen by a patron, that would be good enough for many – but convincing a Keeper to do the tests likely won’t be easy. Beyond this, even those who believe you might provoke or challenge you… whether they are doubters who seek to prove that you have no connection to the spirit, or believers who seek to emulate events from the life of your patron to strengthen your connection.

As for conflict with serving the Host, I don’t think the two are necessarily in conflict. I think there are many Tairnadal who would dismiss your faith in the Host as foolishness, and many might say “Your patron was no follower of the Host; clearly you must abandon this faith if you are to truly embody their spirit.” However, as I said, the Tairnadal faith isn’t about gods that define reality. There’s no fundamental conflict beyond the basic one that the Patron Ancestors didn’t follow the Host, so how can you truly emulate them when you do? But that seems like an interesting story to explore.

It’s quite obvious what is FAITH when you worship the Host or the Blood of Vol. But what is faith in the Undying Court or the Flame? They do exist, no doubt in that. As you say: they are pragmatical things, they exist and work.

WE know the Silver Flame exists, because WE know for a fact that it’s the only thing that keeps the Overlords from destroying everything. But if you’re standing in a field in Khorvaire, you have no way to prove that; the Silver Flame doesn’t incarnate and walk around beating up demons in front of people. So faith in the Flame means first of all, believing that it exists; believing that it holds a great evil at bay; believing that it empowers noble souls who seek to protect the innocent from evil; and believing that after death noble spirits can join with it and strengthen it. All of this then reinforces the concept that you want to be a “noble soul” – which comes back to compassionate, charity, protecting the weak, etc, etc.

The Undying Court is a different sort of thing because you CAN go visit the Court – but remember that the power of the Court is greater than its combined components. Faith in the court includes the belief that reverence for the ancestors is what sustains them; while it’s not as extreme as it is for the Tairnadal, it is your duty to venerate your ancestors and their deeds and ensure that their legacy is never forgotten. Beyond that, it is the faith that the Court as a whole is bound to the destiny of Aerenal and the Elves as a whole: that the power of the Court will shield Aerenal from any who would harm it. Finally, it is the belief that you can prove yourself worth of the Court by excelling at the Aereni traditions. So in day to day life, it’s about honoring your ancestors, having faith that they are watching over you, and seeking to perfect your own talents so you can follow in their footsteps. Unlike the Tairnadal, an Aereni wizard isn’t trying to become an avatar for his wizard ancestor – but he does seek to perfect his magic to prove himself worthy of the Court.

This does tie back to why Elven culture isn’t THAT much more advanced than human culture, despite being far older. As I think I’ve said before, the Elves essentially feel they’ve achieved perfection and the key is sustaining it. MOST Elven wizards aren’t trying to innovate, as much they are trying to perfectly match they techniques of their ancestors (who were, to be certain, amazing at what they did). This comes back to the idea of what an arcane incantation sounds like. In my opinion, an Aereni mage will spend years or even decades learning the PERFECT PRONUNCIATION of the syllables of power. His fireball sounds EXACTLY like the one cast ten thousand years ago. Whereas a mage at Arcanix learns the same basic “language’ of magic, but may fudge or modify things slightly to find a pronunciation that’s uniquely suited to them. And in the process, they might discover something entirely new.

But again, if you attend services of the Undying Court, they would be telling the stories of the Deathless… ensuring that their deeds are never forgotten, that we sustain them with our memory and reverence just as they protect us with their power.

Could you perhaps give me some insight into how the Undying Court grants spells? From what I understand, the Court can only grant spells when acting as a whole, which implies that the duty of granting spells is spread out amongst a large number of different deathless. I started wondering how they would go about granting spells, and domains, and if the process might be some variant of a spellpool that the deathless add to and allow clerics to draw from each day. I’m not sure though. Any thoughts?

The Undying Court is – in and of itself – a divine power source. Just as the Silver Flame is said to be formed from a mass of devout souls. In the case of the Undying Court you have the souls of the deathless themselves. Beyond this, the Deathless are themselves channels to Irian, adding its energy to the pool. And on top of that, add the faith of the living who are devoted to the Court. All of that woven together create a gestalt force that is the divine power source of the Undying Court… and it is this force that has a Good alignment aura, positive energy alignment, and the domains of the Court.

So when a cleric prayers for spells, it’s not like one of the Deathless suddenly stops and says “Bob wants Cure Light Wounds.” The existence of the Court creates the power source. The transcendent faith of the cleric allows them to connect to this power source and cast spells. Meanwhile, the councilors themselves can call on this power to do things like fight dragons. Essentially, it’s much like the Silver Flame: a source of pure mystical power that certain people can channel. Not that the Councilors technically DON’T have to have faith, because they are directly connected to the source; but a cleric would need faith.

Normally, my inclination would be to say that a paladin of the Undying Court is called by this gestalt spirit, not by an individual. HOWEVER, it could be an interesting story to say that in addition to having faith, a divine caster of the Undying Court must be sponsored by one of the Undying Councilors. This would create an interesting patron for the caster, and it would presumably also be that patron who would answer spells like commune. At it could be that this patron could choose to cut off the caster’s access to the Court’s magic. If you’re looking for that incarnate god experience, this might be the closest thing to it Eberron has to offer.

I know I already asked you how would you justify a hellbreed in a 3.5 eberron, where there’s no canon baator, nor hell or punishment for mortal souls. 

I’ve never personally used a Hellbred, and I don’t own whatever sourcebook covers them, so it’s not a topic I have a strong opinion on. From what I understand, a Hellbred is a damned soul who reprents just before damnation and is returned to life for a chance at redemption. I agree that this concept isn’t a great match for Eberron’s cosmology. With that said, as of 4E, Baator is a part of canon Eberron, and its denizens do make bargains with mortals for their souls. It’s simply that this is a very recent occurrence, and would require the Hellbred to have made a bargain with one of the lords of Baator.

Another possibility would be that the Hellbreed actually involves the redemption of an evil immortal, such as a rakshasa. When an immortal is killed, its energy eventually reforms into a new immortal. In the case of weaker immortals, memories are often lost and it is rededicated to its original purpose. In this case, you could say that a fiend sought to change its path and was killed by its comrades so it would be reborn and restored to its original alignment; to escape this fate, it has merged with a mortal host. It has the duration of the host’s life to complete its “redemption” and transformation into a different sort of immortal. So the mortal is actually the vessel of redemption… though the mortal could be seeking redemption as well, which would explain why they’d agree to this bargain.

I’m sure there’s other possibilities: something involving the Mourning (and all the unavenged souls that died in it); something tied to the Prophecy. But that’s all I have time to come up with now.

How would you explain a good-aligned character offering worship to an evil deity, aside from those who do so simply to appease or forestall the deity’s attention?  

There’s a number of different cultures across Eberron that worship one or more of the Dark Six, for example – and that doesn’t make all of its people evil. Per 3.5, The Blood of Vol was an “Evil” faith, and I’ve already written at length about good Seekers. In this Dragonmark I explained how you could have a hero from the Cults of the Inner Suns, who seeks to pave his way to paradise with blood… but only with the blood of evil-doers.

The most immediate point here is that very few of these people consider their gods to be evil. The people of Droaam view the Shadow as a sort of Prometheus… where jealous Aureon withheld his gifts from humanity, the Shadow gave the medusa her gaze and the harpy her voice. The Fury is a source of rage in battle and passion in life; she is the well of emotion within us all, and it is only denying her that causes madness. And while Vassals see the Mockery as espousing treachery, the folk of Droaam say that he teaches cunning – and that anyone who refuses to use cunning in battle is a fool. The Sahuagin don’t offer their worship to the Devourer simply to avoid his wrath; rather they believe that it is his wrath that tests all things, destroying the weak and strengthening those who survive it.

So you can have a heroic medusa who defends the weak and kills those who prey on the innocent… and who still slaughters her enemies using the cunning tactics espoused by the Mockery, embraces the passion of the Fury, and give thanks to the Shadow for her deadly gaze.

On the other hand, there was a player in one of my campaigns who played a warlock who served one of the Overlords. He was good and did all the usual good things – defend the innocent, help those in need, etc. But at the same time, his view was that the eventual rise of one of the Overlords was absolutely inevitable. He believed that most of the Overlords would utterly destroy civilization as we know it… while his Overlord would enslave everyone but still keep a semblance of civilization. So he viewed it as the best option when facing inevitable doom, and did his best to help others while walking this path to doomsday.

Seekers of the Blood of Vol believe that the gods cursed humans with mortality to keep all the power for themselves. What if the gods are too far away to influence the material plane directly and that’s why they us intermediaries like angels? That would make Dolurrh a road to a further afterlife, and a reordering of the planes might be necessary to gain immortality, so it might not be the gods fault or intentions. How would most seekers react if this was discovered to be the case?

How would it be “discovered to be the case”? Followers of the Silver Flame and the Sovereign Host make precisely this claim: Dolurrh is not the final fate for the dead, but simply a waystation for souls as they make a transition to a higher plane of existence. But because no mortal can go to this higher plane of existence, it remains purely theoretically… something that must be taken on faith. The Vassal believes that the Sovereigns are with us at all times. They believe that the life is merely the first stage of a journey that will ultimately lead them to union with the Sovereigns. But like most religions in our world, these things can’t be proven; it is a matter of trust and faith.

Meanwhile, the Seeker looks at what is known. People suffer. Injustices occur across the world. And what is known is that the souls of the dead go to Dolurrh, where their memories fade away. This can be proven: you can go to Dolurrh and find the husk of a friend’s spirit. Again, those of other faiths say that this is just like a cast-off snakeskin, left behind by the soul that has moved on… but why should the Seeker believe you?

Beyond this: You can tell the Seeker “The gods may be distant, but they have a wonderful plan for all of us.” The Seeker will reply “Really? Why did this plan include my children starving to death? Why did it include my husband losing his arm to an infected wound? If the gods are good, why do we suffer? Our suffering proves that they don’t care about us. The universe is against us, and all we have is one another. We must stand by our community and fight against fate, not blindly trust some fairy tale of a better world to come.”

You might have an angel appear and say “I serve Aureon, and I believe in the journey” – but why should the Seeker trust this angel? How does the word of an angel change what the Seeker has experienced? How does it justify the pain and misery the Seeker sees every day?

Essentially, religion in Eberron is very much like religion in our world. There are no absolute answers; it is about finding your faith, and choosing what to believe. The Vassal can’t prove that the Sovereigns are benevolent or that they are present in the world… but he knows it in his heart. He knows that there is a reason for pain and misfortune, that these are simply trials that must be overcome as part of the great journey. While the Seeker knows that there is no grand justification for the pain and suffering she sees every day – that if there were benevolent gods the world would be a better place. The Vassal and the Seeker will never convince the other, because it’s not about logic; it’s about faith.

Now, if you could somehow ABSOLUTELY BEYOND ANY SHADOW OF A DOUBT prove the existence of benevolent Sovereigns, justify human suffering, and promise a joyous afterlife you could undermine the Blood of Vol, but as it stands the setting is built on the assumptions that these things cannot be proven; such an absolute revelation would potentially undermine many religions. Personally, I prefer making people work on faith, because that’s what WE have to do… so for me it makes the world feel real.

How do Seekers think they are going to gain immortality? Are people like Baron Zorlan working on it? How will they deal with overcrowding?

First, they don’t believe they will gain immortality; they believe they will gain divinity. The principle is that the spark of divinity lies within our blood, and that it is the curse or mortality that prevents us from being able to attain it. Eliminating death is simply the means by which we attain divinity, and once we are divine, reality will completely change. I’m not just going to be an immortal farmer working on my farm for hundreds of years; I will be a god moving through creation. So we’re not worried about overcrowding because once we are gods we’re no longer living on Eberron. This is why most Seekers don’t actually want to be undead. It’s acknowledged that once you’re undead you have forever lost the spark of divinity and can never ascend… so you may live forever, but you’ll do it trapped in a rotting material body on Eberron. The undead champions are seen as martyrs, not something to be envied.

Now, within the faith there are two basic approaches. The first are those who care only for their own personal ascension. They want power and don’t care about the world at large. Most of Erandis’ inner circle fall into this camp. They are searching for ways that THEY can realize their divinity but don’t care about unlocking it for the masses. This is also the basis of the Thief of Life prestige class in Faiths of Eberron. However, the larger segment of the faith believes that it was whatever gods exist that cursed the living with mortality… and that thus, to break the curse, they must destroy the gods themselves. HOW? Most people have no idea. It’s not something the farmer believes he can personally help with, and it’s not something he really expects to happen in his lifetime… it’s like Judgment Day, part of the faith but not something you actually expect to happen tomorrow. For this, they look to the undead champions, who have (in theory) sacrificed their chance at divinity to become immortal heroes who might, somehow and someday, find a way to defeat the gods. This is the other reason not everyone wants to be undead; in theory the undead are tirelessly working to advance the faith. In practice, some are (like Malevenor) – others, like Erandis’ cabal, simply want that personal power.

So what that farmer does is donate blood to sustain the vampires he believes are fighting for his cause, and everything he can to strengthen his community and preserve the lives of those he cares about, while hoping that out there the undead champions are fighting a mystical war he can’t comprehend and that MAYBE, just maybe, they’ll find a way to win it.

As for Zorlan, I suspect he’s on the seeking-personal-power side of the fence… but it would be very interesting if he was on the other side, and was actually designing artifacts to rip a hole in the heavens and take the war to the Sovereigns! Could a test run of such a thing have been the cause of the Mourning?

What are the beliefs about the consequences of failing as a faithful soul? 

As things stand, the primary consequence is oblivion. Your soul goes to Dolurrh, isn’t worthy of moving on to the higher realm of the Sovereigns or joining with the Silver Flame, your memories are destroyed and everything that was you is gone. When faced with the prospect of a positive afterlife or ABSOLUTE OBLIVION I think most people would have a pretty strong opinion about which they prefer. With that said… From the start, the concept of The Keeper is that he seeks to “snatch souls on their way to Dolurrh.” We’ve never said exactly what consequences this fate has, but presumably it’s a fate worse than Dolurrh, or people would want it to happen (as the Restful Watch does, but that’s another story). So one can assume that’s a horrible fate. Of course, as it stands, everyone fears that… but it would be logical to say that living according to the virtues of the Sovereigns is the best way to avoid the Keeper.

If you want some concept of “eternal damnation” for story purposes, another option would likely be Baator. Per 4E canon, the fiends of Baator are bargaining for souls. Now, they are simply amassing souls as a source of power – essentially building their own Silver Flame. But what is the experience of the individual whose soul is thrown into this fiendish well of power? If you want, you could make it being trapped in a hell generated by the individual’s own fears. It would certainly make signing an infernal bargain a little less appealing.

Likewise, as it stands we have specified that Dolurrh is NOT a place of punishment or reward. However, if I specifically wanted the ability for players to rescue a soul in torment as part of a story, I’d just add a group of immortals to Dolurrh who make it their personal responsibility to torment souls they deem worthy of punishment. It’s not part of the “mechanics” of the plane itself, but hey, it could happen. But to be clear, that is not canon.

What would be considered “corruption” in the view of the different religions and why?

That’s far too broad a question for me to answer in detail here, especially because even the major religions could have sub-sects or cults with weird beliefs. But for the most part, the same things we consider corruption in our world. To the Sovereign Host, the Sovereigns represent the virtues you should live by. Care for your community; obey the law; respect nature; if you must fight, do so with courage and honor. The Silver Flame charges its members to protect the innocent, show compassion, and fight evil both by your daily behavior and, when necessary, physically. The Blood of Vol likewise tells the faithful to care for their community, to work together, and to do what they can to free humanity from suffering and death. The Tairnadal faith is slightly different, because its core commandment is emulate your patron ancestor; if your patron ancestor was cruel, it is your religious duty to be cruel as well. I just don’t have the time to get into all the other possibilities here, like what members of a Mockery cult might believe. But generally speaking, all the major faiths encourage behavior that strengthens communities, because that’s a main reason they ended up being major faiths in the first place.

In one of my campaigns, Zilargo was essentially controlled by a Dark Six cult… the main plan of the cult is: “show how these things can be accepted, so the Dark Six can come back in the main religion”.

While that’s not part of canon Eberron, per canon Zilargo is I believe the only Thronehold nation in which you will find temples to the Dark Six operating out in the open. Per the original Eberron Campaign Setting: 

The people of Zilargo are extremely broad-minded when it comes to religion. Most gnomes try a few religions before settling on a single patron deity. Some never make a final choice; there are gnomes who attend and even perform services for both the Sovereign Host and the Silver Flame. Temples to virtually all religions can be found in the major cities of Zilargo. Korranberg even contains a temple dedicated to the Dragon Below, although the adherents are more philosophical and less disturbing than the fanatics of the Shadow Marches. Despite this seemingly cavalier attitude, most gnomes take religion very seriously; they simply don’t see a conflict in following more than one god.

First of all, there are gnomes who explore every path. Temples of the Fury hold ecstatic celebrations, and monks of the Shadow plumb the deepest mysteries of magic. Zilargo is a place where you can go and debate peacefully with a priest of the Devourer. But the last sentence of the paragraph above gets to the point that many gnomes look to the larger picture. Gods or divine power sources – however you prefer to view them – are part of reality. To the degree that it’s possible, why not try to embrace them all?

By the way, maybe you like to know that there is a canon cleric of no particular deity: Haneela d’Jorasco, cleric 13 in Fairheaven (Five Nations manual). She resurrect for money and channel “the spiritual remnants of Dragon Above, so she’s affiliated with no particular deity”. She is even a pretty powerful cleric for Eberron standards.

Good catch! I didn’t work on Five Nations, so I’m not surprised this slipped my notice. As I said above, I traditionally make Jorasco healers adepts. Personally, I feel a Clr13 is a very powerful individual to have in a minor commercial role; if I were to develop either Fairhaven or Jorasco in more detail, I’d personally expand on her character and her role in the house.

Now, Haneela is an example of what’s laid out on page 35 of the Eberron Campaign Setting… and it wouldn’t surprise me if the designer put her in there just so SOMEONE is shown as following that path. With that said, the point of channeling the Dragon Above is that you can follow a personal faith… and in Haneela’s case WE DON’T KNOW WHAT THIS IS. It’s possible that she is actually a Siberys cultist; she’s drawing her power from the Ring, and Siberys is one of the greatest life-giving forces imaginable. His blood is the source of magic, and as such, it is through his suffering and sacrifice that she has the power to heal. Personally, I’d be very tempted to make her a sort of Frankenstein. Essentially, her faith is in herself and her healing abilities: she has absolute faith that she can conquer any disease or ailment. Because she’s not worshipping a god, the trappings of this can be whatever you decide… so she could use strange unguents or tools that simply don’t work for anyone else but work wonders when SHE uses them. She comes to the dead man and says “Oh, he’s not dead; he’s just Mostly Dead. He just needs a dose of my patented Lifer-Upper!” … which mysteriously doesn’t work for anyone but her. If you could somehow cause her to doubt herself, she would lose her powers.

Essentially, I don’t like having a cleric of that power floating around with no apparent depth to her story… and if I ever delve into Fairhaven in more detail, I’ll definitely address it.

The point is that she has all the power and spells of a cleric. She can turn undead, fight better than most of warriors and cast offensive spells.

… Which is why usually make Jorasco healers adepts. Personally, I suspect that the original author just wanted someone who could cast resurrection and stuck her in there to fill that role, without consider how much power a 13th level PC-class character has in Eberron. Note that she’s not described as a mighty champion of the house; she is purely described as a healer, albeit one who’s frankly willing to do it for a low profit margin.

So, true: as a player character, a 13th level cleric can do all the things you describe. But remember that a core principle of Eberron is that the players are the heroes… that there aren’t a lot of other people out there who can step up and solve epic problems if they arise. Most of the most powerful benevolent entities are seriously handicapped in some way. Oalian is a tree. Jaela is a child who loses most of her power if she leaves Flamekeep. If I were to use Haneela as a villain – the secret mastermind behind the Nosomantic Chirugeons and Jorasco’s bioweapons research, for example – I would keep all her power intact so she could pose a challenge to players. But if I were to use her as she’s presented – essentially, a source of healing with no other dynamic role in the city – I would want to add something to explain WHY she couldn’t solve big problems on her own. Here’s a few examples.

  • Just because she CAN cast offensive spells doesn’t mean she has or ever will. A cleric gets the spells they ask for; if Haneela views her spellcasting in the Frankenstein manner I described above, she’d never actually ask for a Flame Strike because it makes no sense with her faith and view of her magic.
  • Ditto for undead. If she’s never encountered an undead creature in her life, she may not know she has that power. Again, every PLAYER cleric knows their full capabilities; that doesn’t mean every NPC has to.
  • She could be crippled in some way, just like Jaela. Perhaps she’s incredibly old, and all her physical stats are in the 6-7 range. Perhaps she’s missing an arm or a leg; because she was born with this deformity, regeneration won’t heal it (I’m making up that restriction on regeneration, but it makes sense to me).

My point is simply that there can always be a difference between a PC and an NPC. If you want to use her as a mighty force, you certainly can; and hey, nosomantic chiurgeons are creepy. But as written, she seems to be a passive healer – and there are things you could do to ensure that she remains in that role.

“Belief without evidence” as a definition of faith is something that has, of course, come up in this discussion. But insanity is belief without evidence too. Where does the difference lie? Does one have to go far enough to DENY OR RATIONALIZE contrary evidence to count as faithful enough to be a cleric and stay that way? Do clerics have to refuse to think objectively in favor of twisting whatever they see to conform to their preconceptions? Or is there, in fact, an actual difference between faith and insanity?

Good question. I’ve incorporated the answers to many of these questions in the description of divine magic presented above. As noted there, the answer is that you can listen to reason and you can question faith. With that said, let’s look at a number of Eberron’s religions very specifically here. My question to you is what rational argument or event would cause this individual to completely lose their faith?

  • The followers of the Silver Flame believe that the Silver Flame is a source of divine power that exists to protect the innocent from evil. This power holds demons at bay and answers the call of selfless souls who seek to fight the darkness. And it does this. They don’t assert that this power created the universe, or that it dictates any actions anyone takes; they simply say that it exists as a tool for those who are worthy, and that we should all strive to be worthy. They further assert that there is a Shadow in the Flame that tempts us to do evil. They acknowledge that humans are flawed and can do evil, and say that human evil should whenever possible be fought with compassion instead of with the sword. The Silver Flame does exist; it does hold demons at bay; and it does answer the call of those who seek to protect the innocent.
  • The Sovereign Host, essentially, is a very laid-back faith. It’s not uptight about doctrine. It has a very loose hierarchy; in some villages, you’ll see the local blacksmith considered to be the highest spiritual authority because people believe he is close to Onatar. The followers of the faith believe that the Sovereigns are with us at all times, and guide those who will listen to them; but they also believe that Dol Dorn guides the hand of EVERY war, regardless of which side he fights on or whether he believes in the Sovereigns himself. Further, they have the Dark Six as a way of explaining why bad things happen. You fell pray to the Fury, your fields were wrecked by a storm sent by the Devourer, your loved one who died was taken by the Keeper. So we have an explanation for things both good and bad; we don’t EXPECT the Sovereigns to appear to us in a concrete form; and we have a very loose creed so we don’t get tangled up in contradicting gospels.
  • The Blood of Vol calls bulls**t on the claim that bad things happen because of the Dark Six. What just god would allow death and suffering? If there was any benevolent power in the universe, the universe would be a better place. All we have is each other, and the only life we have is the one we know. The Seekers expect the worst, so the main way to shake the faith of a Seeker would be to somehow prove that there IS a benevolent plan to the universe, and if you can find an irrefutable logical argument that proves that to be the case, I would love to hear it!

So, let’s take an event that can – and in my opinion has – shake the faith of anyone: The Mourning. The senseless and inexplicable death of hundreds of thousands of people. In my opinion, many people HAVE lost their faith over the Mourning, as shown by Daine in The Dreaming Dark. But how can a person of faith have a logical debate with someone about it without simply sticking their fingers in their ears and saying “LALALA?”

  • Silver Flame: This changes nothing about my faith. The Silver Flame exists to empower us to defend the innocent from supernatural evil; the Mourning is exactly the sort of force it empowers us to fight. We cannot lose our faith in this moment of crisis; we must cling to it and use that strength to ensure that this never happens again.
  • Sovereign Host. Lots of different possibilities here. First off, the Shadow governs dark magic; the Traveler loves chaos; the Devourer is the lord of Destruction; and the Keeper seeks to capture the souls of the dead. All four have an easy stake in inspiring the Mourning. So my faith HAS a rational explanation for this. And just as Onatar guides the hands of the smith, evidence that this was done by humans wouldn’t shake that belief; instead, it simply goes right along with it. Of COURSE it was crazy Cannith researchers who caused the Mourning… because they were inspired by the Shadow or the Traveler. Essentially, the faith in the Sovereign Host is like water; it can fairly easily flow around obstacles without having to smash them down.
  • Blood of Vol. This is what I’ve been telling you all along. If there are gods, they hate us and will do S#!t like this for fun. This is why we need to stick together.
  • Tairnadal. My faith has nothing to do with why things like this happen; what I need to worry about is how my patron ancestor would respond to it.

If you can present me with a specific example of a rational argument and how a rational member of a specific faith might deal with it, I’m happy to take a crack at it.

As a fun side note, in the novel The Gates of Night, Lei’s father claims to know who caused the Mourning. If you read all the subtext, he’s talking about The Traveler. Lei’s parents are Traveler cultists, and his point is that whatever mortal instrument was used, the Traveler set it in motion as a force of change and evolution. At the time the novel was released, a lot of people said “I thought you said there would never be a canon answer – but he says he knows it!” He has an answer, but it’s an answer driven by faith as opposed to fact.

My next Eberron Q&A will be about Druids, but my next post will be about Phoenix: Dawn Command. Feel free to post your questions or comments about either below!

Dragonmarks 6/13/16: Cults and Fiends

As I write this, Phoenix: Dawn Command is on a boat… albeit a very slow boat… headed for the United States. In the days ahead I’m going to be spending more time talking about Phoenix, both delving into the setting and system. I’ll still be answering questions about Eberron when I can, but most likely it will only be once or twice a month.

We will be launching Phoenix at Gen Con, and our full list of events should go active sometime this week. At the moment, there are two events you can sign up for. The first is All About Phoenix, where all the secrets of Phoenix will be revealed. The second is a Q&A with Keith Baker. In the past I’ve done this as an informal event in a hotel lobby. It’s still going to be casual, but this year we’ve gone ahead and gotten a room for it. This is your chance to ASK ME ANYTHING, whether it’s about Eberron, Gloom, Phoenix, or what I had for dinner on Tuesday night.

In any case: Today’s topics are cults and fiends. Let’s get to the questions!

What do you think a cult of Siberys would look like as an existential threat, especially in contrast to the schemes of the numerous Cults of the Dragon Below?

First, let me clarify how I’m reading the question. You’re asking what it would look like as an existential threat, by which I think you’re saying if they were the villains of the story. This is a slightly odd question, because in the mythology Siberys is a positive figure… a creative force killed by treacherous Khyber. This ties to the fact that all myths agree that Siberys is dead… the pieces of his body can be seen in the night sky. So from what we’ve established, most Siberys cults focus on his sacrifice and on the gifts that he’s given us; one common assertion is that magic itself is the blood of Siberys, flowing down from the Ring of Siberys. So essentially, modern society is only possible because of the gift of Siberys.

BUT: let’s take the challenge of having a Cult of Siberys as the villains of a story.

First of all, don’t forget that few Cults of the Dragon Below literally worship Khyber; instead, most are aligned with the Daelkyr, Lords of Dust, or something else that’s more directly tangible. So a Cult of the Dragon Above might have some intermediary entity that they serve. The logical choice would be a couatl, as they are generally seen to be the children of Siberys in the same way that the rakshasa are children of Khyber, but then you have the question of what makes this cult different from a traditional Serpent/Silver Flame cult.

A concrete thing about Siberys is that there’s pieces of his body floating around the world (assuming you believe the myth). So: I’d run with that. A Siberys cult is seeking to restore Siberys to life. To do this, they seek to collect all the Siberys shards. Perhaps the chief agents of this cult embed the shards within their bodies… ultimately become a sort of living shard-fusion, sort of like the Shardminds from 4E. Such a being could channel tremendous mystical power, and they wouldn’t care how much destruction they have to wreak in the process of collecting the shards. As the cult’s plot continues, they could work on Eldritch Machines that would not only draw all Siberys shards, but also drain all the magic out of an affected region… again, magic being “the Blood of Siberys.” The cultists believe that once Siberys is restored, he will create a new, perfect world – so they aren’t concerned with the havoc or suffering caused by their actions. Presuming that they are stopped, magic would eventually return to the drained regions – but it would be up to you to decide how long this would take, and it could cause all manner of chaos. Sharn is sustained by magic, and if the region was drained, the city would collapse.

So: There’s one idea to work with.

We know that cultists of the Dragon Below believe their lords to be the children fo Khyber and that the daelkyr aren’t in any hurry to disabuse them of this false notion. But what do the daelkyr themselves think of the Dragon Below and the origins their minions attribute to them.

There’s a bunch of points to address here. But before I get to any of them, I suggest you review this Dragonmark (http://keith-baker.com/dragonmarks-the-daelkyr-and-their-cults/).

First: “Cult of the Dragon Below” is a general term that people use to encompass wildly different sects largely united by irrational behavior and often some sort of connection to Khyber… a literal connection to Khyber, be that an association with aberrations, demons, or a desire to find shelter in the underworld. Only a few actually revere Khyber, the Progenitor Dragon; and most of those do it in a fairly abstract way.

With that said, who says it’s a “false notion”? According to myth, the Progenitors created the planes. The Material Plane was the last thing they created, because the world was created by their fight. Each Progenitor exerted greater influence on different planes. So Lamannia is a plane that strongly reflects the influence of Eberron, while Xoriat strongly reflects the influence of Khyber. So while the Daelkyr weren’t created in the physical realm of Khyber, that doesn’t mean that they couldn’t be considered to be “Children of Khyber.”

But to cut to the chase: Erandis Vol deceives and manipulates her followers. The Dreaming Dark and the Lords of Dust are masters of manipulation. The Daelkyr? NOT SO MUCH. They don’t need to deceive their followers, because for the most part THEIR FOLLOWERS ARE INSANE. It’s not that cultists work with Dolgaunts because they think the Dolgaunts are agents of Khyber and the Dolgaunts maintain a web of lies; they work with the dolgaunts because they think the dolgaunts are divine emissaries, the gatekeepers to a secret paradise that lies below, or the reincarnation of King Jarot. The Dolgaunts surely do a certain amount of playing along with whatever delusions the cultists are laboring under, but it’s not like they have built the deception themselves; they just need to listen to whatever the cultists are spouting and smile and nod.

Essentially, I see the Daelkyr as more primal than many of the other epic threats of Eberron. They change reality simply by existing. Their presence drives mortals mad. Their purposes are enigmatic; is change alone their goal, or do they have grander schemes we’ve yet to understand?

Are the Daelkyr still in Xoriat eager to get here?

It’s not defined in canon, so it’s really up to you. Per canon, I don’t believe we’ve actually established if there ARE any Daelkyr still in Xoriat. What we’ve said in the past is that “The Daelkyr aren’t the most powerful spirits in Xoriat; they’re simply the most powerful spirits that have an interest in Eberron.”

Part of the point of outsiders is that they are ideas given form, and that their form reflects their nature. In the article linked to above I point out that Daelkyr may essentially reflect the creatures they are dealing with. Given this I would advance the idea that the Daelkyr may literally be defined as the spirits that seek to spread madness… thus inherently there are no Daelkyr in Xoriat because it is the act of leaving Xoriat that makes them Daelkyr.

But ultimately, there is no canon answer.

If the Planes books ever get made, I’d love to see something about the themes and “exceptions” for placing monsters on that plane. For example, Fernia is obviously the fire plane, but it is also slightly evil aligned. Despite this, Celestials still arise from the pane if they have a fire theme, in defiance of alignment. I’ve been trying to place Pathfinder’s Gambling Devil in Eberron’s cosmology but have found it tough. Does it fit on Daanvi with its lawful nature? Or is Kythri better since it can manipulate probability and make people take risks? I honestly lean to the latter, despite conventional D&D wisdom on alignments, but clearer guidance would be nice.

Most planes have a “preferred” type of spirit. Quori are the primary fiends of Dal Quor. Angels are especially numerous in Syrania. Couatl and rakshasa are the most common celestials and fiends of Eberron itself (technically, of Siberys and Khyber).

With that said: You can have any spirit manifest on any plane, provided that it fits the CONCEPT of that plane.

Case in point: Shavarath, the Eternal Battleground. The three largest forces in Shavarath are an army of Archons, an army of Devils, and an army of Demons. The Archons embody the concept of just battle and war fought for noble reasons. The Devils reflect violence in pursuit of tyranny and power. And the Demons are bloodlust and chaos, random violence and brutality. You could put ANY devil you wanted into the Infernal Legions of Shavarath… but that devil would be fundamentally defined and motivated by its role in the Eternal War. Which may not serve the story you have in mind. And taking the Gambling Devil, while it IS a devil, it’s not particularly a devil that screams “I HAVE A PLACE ON THE BATTLEFIELD.”

The original ECS said that Pit Fiends are found in Fernia. In my opinion, you can find Pit Fiends in Fernia, but I believe that you can also find Pit Fiends in Shavarath… and that you can potentially find a Pit Fiend in the Demon Wastes, spawned by Khyber and with no connection to Shavarath or Fernia. All three of these Pit Fiends would have the same statistics. However, their appearance and behavior would be quite different.

  • The Pit Fiend of Shavarath is a general in the Infernal Legion. It wears heavy armor engraved with burning runes. It embodies tyranny and war, leading with an iron fist and enforcing discipline with fear and fire. Its sole desire is gaining an edge in the eternal war, and any dealings it has with mortals will revolve around how they could shift the balance or assist in the struggle.
  • The Pit Fiend of Fernia is a dark shadow wreathed in eternal flame, the embodiment of flame used to sow terror and destroy enemy holdings. It is a cruel being that rules over a fiefdom in Fernia, and it is constantly fighting (and burning) enemies as that is part of its nature… but unlike the fiend of Shavarath, it’s dealing with a series of feuds as opposed to ONE BIG WAR. In general it has no interest in Eberron or mortals; if they do cross its path it will seek to use them as tools in its current feud.
  • The Pit Fiend of Khyber is the classic scaled fiend. It’s not tied to War or Fire; instead, it can embody whatever concept best suits your story. Pride? Tyranny? Cruelty? It might rule over a host of rakshasa and be associated with the Lords of Dust. It could be the patron fiend of one of the Carrion Tribes, and send its warriors to fight the Ghaash’kala orcs. Or it could be a lone spirit bound to a specific location within the Demon Wastes, hoping the mortals that cross its path can somehow break its bonds.
  • A surprise fourth option would be Baator. In the Eye on Eberron article I presented Baator as a demiplane… a prison created by celestial powers (some say the Sovereigns) to hold corrupted and rebellious spirits. Those, the fiends of Baator weren’t always fiends. The Pit Fiend of Baator is thus a classic fallen angel. Furthermore, the denizens of Baator want mortal souls; they are seeking to build their own power bases following the same model as the Silver Flame.

As I said, mechanically these could all be EXACTLY THE SAME; it’s simply that their behaviors and motivations will all be different… and each one would serve a different role in the story.

ALL OF WHICH IS TO SAY: You don’t have to decide where ALL Gambling Devils are from; you just need to decide where this one is from. And the critical question there is what does it want? What is the story you are trying to tell with it? If it is gambling to try to win a mortal soul, then it’s a good match for Baator. If it’s purely and generically evil, it might be spawned directly by Khyber. Heck, if it’s about taunting people with the promises of dreams that will be snatched away at the last minute, it could actually be from Dal Quor… a fringe spirit spawned by the plane but with no connection to the Dreaming Dark.

So figure out what your spirit wants and how it’s going to act. Base its plane of origin on that, and then shape its appearance to reflect the plane it’s from.

If we had an outsider that represented death by immolation, would that outsider be native to Dolurrh, native to Fernia, or native to both? Would alignment play into account at all?

If its primary purpose in the universe is BURNING ANYONE IT CAN, it’s from Fernia. If its primary purpose is BURNING ITS ENEMIES IN WAR, it’s from Shavarath. If its primary purpose is to SERVE AS AN EXAMPLE OF A PARTICULAR WAY YOU COULD DIE – IE, the “death” part is more important than the “burning” part, then sure, go for Dolurrh. And if it’s first and foremost an evil scheming spirit who just happens to be good at burning people, then I’d tie it to Khyber or Baator. Alignment should be reflected in its core concept and thus behavior. If it’s Lawful, that implies people being immolated in an organized and intentional way; if it’s chaotic, than it’s people being randomly immolated in wildfires.

We know that unofficially there is a group of Dwarves in the Demon Wastes who have Deathless among them. I would assume this means they have access to a manifest zone to Irian. What are they like religiously? Are they another splinter cult that worships the Silver Flame? An odd variation of the host? Or some other sect that doesn’t fit well with the more common religions?

Deathless are sustained both by the energy of Irian and the devotion of a group of worshippers. So like the Aereni, these dwarves revere their ancestors, and it is this devotion that sustains their deathless spirits. Be aware that this is a comparatively small community and only has a handful of deathless guardians – a powerful shelter in the Demon Wastes, but nothing on the scale of the Undying Court.

Related to the planes (but not necessarily the things that live there): Sharn’s weather is described as generally rainy (Sharn, pg. 24) but it’s also supposed to be a manifest zone for Syrania which is perpetually clear blue skies. Is it clear for Skyway and rainy for everyone below?

Manifest zones reflect an aspect of the plane that touches them, but their effects can take many different forms. A manifest zone tied to Syrania might enhance magic of flight, generate perfect blue skies, or create a peaceful aura that diffuses all hostilities (among other possibilities). Sharn’s zone affects flight, but doesn’t encourage peace in any way… and doesn’t help with the weather.

Also related to the planes, what happens in a manifest zone when another plane moves coterminous to the Material Plane?

Per canon, nothing. Eberron is touched by all of the planes. A manifest zone has a special connection to one of them, but it’s still influenced by the others.

What do the denizens of other planes think of the Greensingers and their idea of unrestricted planar travel?

Bear in mind that the majority of inhabitants of Khorvaire have never heard of the Greensingers, and they live on the same plane of existence. If you’re a horned devil in the Infernal Legion, fighting THE WAR THAT SHAPES REALITY, you really have no way to hear or reason to care about some group of druids on Khorvaire. Imagine if on D-Day you grabbed a soldier at Normandy and said “Hey! A bunch of Ecuadorian tourists would like to visit – what do you think?” Not every plane is as focused as Shavarath, but for the most part the denizens of the planes have their own $&%* to deal with and don’t really care about Eberron.

There are exceptions. The Quori have always been more interested in humanity than other outsiders because they deal with mortals all the time (through their dreams)… while that random devil in Shavarath may have never even seen a human. And the nobles of Thelanis have an interest in shaping new stories… which is why they have always been the most notable patrons of the Greensingers. If you’re playing with Baator, the former prisoners would welcome an easier path to the material plane… and it would be interesting to have a group of Greensingers who believe they are working with a benevolent fey discover that their patron is actually an archdevil. And I’m sure that entities like the Inevitables would take great issue with mortals opening up gates to Dolurrh… if it ever actually happened.

Do planar beings of different planes have contact between themselves? Or it’s more common to have contact/travel to the Material Plane?

The Material Plane is the hub where all the planes together. Each plane is a pure concept: War, Peace, Order, Chaos. On Eberron, all these things come together. Beyond that, you have soft spots such as Manifest Zones. So essentially, Syrania HAS a connection to the Material Plane… while it has no inherent connection to Kythri. Thus it is far easier and more common for there to be contact between Eberron and Syrania that between Syrania and Kythri. With that said, this is also the role of demiplanes – to serve as bridges between planes with no innate connections. Baator is one example of this, serving as a prison for immortals of many planes. There is at least one “crossroads” demiplane, though it’s not something I’m going to expand on until I can do so for the DM’s Guild.

Beyond this: Think of each plane as a machine. Each immortal is a cog in that machine, with a very specific role to play. Unlike mortals, the immortals have a very clear sense of their place and their purpose. A soldier in one of the armies of Shavarath never stops to say “Why am I fighting? Is there something better I could be doing?” They are embodiments of War; they have no other purpose. Essentially, for all that they may be brilliant, immortals generally have less free will than mortals. So as a general rule, the soldier in Shavarath has no interest in anything beyond fighting the war… and thus no interest in contacting Eberron or any other plane. However, Eberron is the plane they are most likely to contact by accident, being caught in a manifest zone or coterminous effect.

With that said: There are some immortals whose nature encompasses curiosity or a desire to push beyond their plane. A sage from Syrania or Daanvi might well travel to other planes in search of knowledge. Beyond that, there are always those rare exceptions who evolve beyond their original purpose. Taratai and the other Kalashtar Quori. Radiant idols and the prisoners of Baator. Thelestes and Korliac of the Gray Flame in the Lords of Dust. So there’s always room in a story to have spirits crossing planar lines – but it is certainly the rare exception, not the norm.

This applies to the immortal inhabitants of the planes. It’s less true for the mortal inhabitants, who aren’t so closely bound to their planes and who have more free will. Again, it would be more common to find them in demiplanes, as there’s no direct path between, say, Shavarath and Syrania… but such travel surely does happen.

If immortals incarnate concepts and has no free will, how does it come that (rogue Eladrin) Luca Syara choose to fight the war, became deprimited and change her alignment to neutral?

The same way Taratai turned against the Dreaming Dark, or an angel becomes a Radiant Idol. Check the paragraph above: “…there are always those rare exceptions who evolve beyond their original purpose.” Out of all the Quori that exist, sixty-seven rebelled to form the Kalashtar. Likewise, there may be a dozen or so Radiant Idols… which is a tiny percentage of the Host of Syrania.

The statement “Immortals have no free will” is a little too forceful. The Devourer of Dreams and Lady Sharadhuna of the Thousand Eyes differ in opinion as to the path the Quori should take in Eberron, and each has their own schemes and intrigues. The point is that both are utterly devoted to il-Lashtavar, and that this wasn’t a choice either of them made; it is a fundamental part of who they are, present from the moment they came into existence. The same is true of all Quori. They come into existence with purpose, and very few of them ever evolve the ability to question that purpose. Likewise, the soldier in the army of Shavarath doesn’t fight the endless war because they’ve thought about it, considered all the options, and decided that war is the thing for them… they fight because it is the only reality they can imagine. They choose HOW they fight. They come up with cunning strategies, they negotiate and break alliances, but they fight and they fight and they fight. IT IS POSSIBLE for one of these eternal soldiers to break away from this… but again, you’re talking about a handful over the course of history out of tens of thousands of spirits.

WITH THAT SAID: Luca Syara is a Ghaele Eladrin. The powerful immortals of Thelanis aren’t united by a common purpose. Each one has their own unique story and they play out that story. In Luca’s case, there’s a few possibilities. She was drawn to Eberron by what she saw as a righteous war, and odds are excellent that THAT was part of her defined nature. Now, one possibility is that her disillusionment is a legitimate shift in her nature, as Taratai turned away from the Dreaming Dark. BUT… it is also possible that this IS her story: that she joins righteous but doomed causes and then goes through a cycle of tragic despair, before finding a new righteous but doomed cause.

You said that an immortal who change his alignment would become something complitely different. A good rakshasa wouldn’t be a rakshasa anymore, like a radiant idol is not an angel. Is there any canon creature you would use as an ex-rakshasa? 

Not that comes to mind. Personally, I’d want to design something from the ground up, as we did with Radiant Idols. With that said, with the Baator article we assert that the fiends in Baator are corrupted spirits from other planes. So there’s precedent for just using whatever makes sense to you.

Could this be a path for introducing a hellbreed in Eberron? A rakshasa that lost most of his power, including immortality, in a path of redemption?

It’s feasible. I think I’ve also heard this concept being used for Devas.

How would you shape a planar campaign in Eberron? Players with abilities to plane travel? A planar transportation(an ancient giant ship)? Is there Sigil in Eberron somewhere?

I think all three of those are sound ideas, but frankly I wouldn’t design a planar campaign in Eberron until there’s been an opportunity to describe the planes in more detail.

The planes are not inhabited only by spirits born of ideas. There are some more normal and mortal beings living there. How is their religion? Do they worship aspects of the Host/Flame like everyone else?

That’s not an easy question to answer in this format, because I simply don’t have the time or room to describe the faiths that DON’T have any parallel in Eberron. The short form is that some do associate themselves with the Sovereigns, though often with their own twists. But there are certainly other beliefs tied to their own planes and the powerful spirits within it. Within Thelanis, for example, most mortal fey are more concerned with allegiance to their ruling immortal than abstract belief in some greater power.

The Silver Flame doesn’t have much of a following in the planes, because it is concretely a Material thing: a force created by spirits of Eberron to protect the people of Eberron. There are some who appreciate the CONCEPT of it, but they don’t devote themselves to it.

Do they have the same creation myth of the Progenitor Dragons? The myth itself is very Material Plane-centric, are they ok being just “Side” planes?

Most do have the same creation myth, which among other things justifies the fact that their planes ARE connected to and influence the Material. But most would argue with your assertion that the myth is “Material Plane-centric.” As a planar entity, I would point out that the planes were the FIRST creations of the Progenitors, and that they were completed. By contrast, Eberron the world is a thing that occurred as the result of a brawl. They say that the Material is touched by and shaped by all planes simply because it is the final resting place of the Progenitors who created them all, not because the Material is somehow the pinnacle of creation. Essentially, the angel of Syrania asserts that Syrania is a perfectly designed machine… while the Material is an unfinished lump of clay that just happens to be where the Progenitors called it quits.

Sharn is a fantasy city inspired in the manifest zone to Syrania. In an alternative dimension Eberron, how could Sharn be affected by different manifest zones?

This seems like a broader question about the effects of manifest zones in general. Whenever the opportunity comes to write about the planes in more detail, I’d definitely like to present multiple examples of manifest zones tied to each plane, and to go into more detail about the effects of coterminous and remote periods. But it’s not something I have time for right now.

Khyber runs under the entirety of Eberron, so are there deep trenches underwater that lead to the “Deeps”; flooded sections of Khyber?

Certainly. But bear in mind that Khyber is more than just a physical underworld; it also contains portals to demiplanes, allowing the discovery of fantastic regions that transcend the limits of reality.

Is it possible that there are one or more daelkyr that had no interest in the surface races and instead went after the underwater world? What sort of ‘dol-merrow’ concepts would you think such a daelkyr would come up with?

It’s certainly possible. However, just to present another alternative, the Eberron Expanded article on Lords of Madness calls out the Aboleths as contemporaries of the Rakshasas and the demon Overlords, and Sahuagin legend speaks of a battles between the Devourer and the ancient fiends back in the dawn of time that friend the sahuagin from Aboleth domination. A Daelkyr would thus be a relatively recent entry into this ancient Aboleth-sahuagin rivalry. As for what a daelkyr might do with merfolk or sahuagin as a starting point, I’ll have to think about it.

The 3.5 sourcebook Elder Evils had a gigantic creature called “the Leviathan”; a creature of “pure chaos left over from the creation of the world”… My question is then: Would you consider the ‘primordial chaos beast’ Leviathan to be a child of Khyber, creation of the Daelkyr, or from some other being entirely? If the Head of Eberron (whether it is actually her physical head shall be left out of this question) is in Argonessen, could the Leviathan or source of its legends be the “Head of Khyber”?

I would personally make such a thing tied to Khyber as opposed to the Daelkyr, and making it the “Head of Khyber” seems plausible. The very first draft of Eberron actually included a serpent literally wrapped around the world, essentially filling this same role. The faith of the Sahuagin includes ritually consuming an enemy to gain its strength; back in that first draft, the Sahuagin were searching for a way to eat the world serpent.

 

That’s all I have time for. The next Q&A will be about the Lords of Dust or Druids, depending on which gets more interest… so if you have any questions, post them in the comments!

Dragonmarks 6/6/16: Edition Wars

This is a tremendously busy time for me. As I write this, Phoenix: Dawn Command is being loaded onto a boat somewhere, and in 5-8 weeks it should be in our hands (barring unforeseen disasters like hungry whales or RPG pirates). We are preparing to launch the game at Gencon. Our first event is already listed – a seminar where we’ll be discussing every aspect of Phoenix: Dawn Command, from setting to system – but in the near future a host of new events will go live, including game sessions and a chance to try out the character generation system. So keep an eye out (or follow @twogetherstudio on Twitter)! In addition to this, I’ve been working on a number of card and board games. I can’t talk about any of these yet, but there’s exciting news in the future.

Unfortunately, there is no official news about Eberron. While I hope it will be unlocked for the DM’s Guild, I have no idea when that might happen… but at this point there’s a decent chance it won’t be in 2016. Nonetheless, I love the world and I’ll keep answering questions… though in months to come, I’m also going to start talking more about Phoenix and its setting!

If Eberron was not designed under the assumption of D&D v3.5 rules and mechanics, how might it look different to you? What would you have changed or left out? How might a system-neutral version of Eberron look?

It’s an interesting question. I’ve played Eberron using other systems, and I don’t feel it is dependent on D&D mechanics. At the same time, you’re right: it was specifically designed with those mechanics in mind. So what impact did that have? Here’s a few thoughts.

  • Alignment. The D&D Alignment system is a tough match for the shades-of-gray noir elements of Eberron. We’ve done our best to work around this. We removed most alignment constraints on monsters. We don’t require divine spellcasters to match the alignment of the deity they worship. And in general, we assert that evil people can still play a positive role within society – a more nuanced approach that I discussed in this Q&A post. But it’s still something that I could just as happily do without.
  • Arcane Magic. One of the most basic principles of Eberron is the fact that under D&D rules, arcane magic acts like a science. It is reliable. It’s repeatable. A wizard can learn a spell from another wizard or from a scroll. A spell always works, provided you don’t get punched in the face while casting it. A wizard can create a new spell or a magic item. Eberron was at its core a reaction to this: If arcane magic behaves in a scientific manner, why wouldn’t society seize upon it and incorporate it as we have with other sciences? Thus a lot of things in Eberron are looking at how we could solve problems using the spells and other supernatural tools that exist in D&D. We light the streets with continual flame and send messages across long distances using a variation of whispering wind. In Droaam, the Daughters of Sora Kell feed the masses using an endless supply of troll sausage. I can’t easily tell you what Eberron would look like if we hadn’t been working with those assumptions, because they affect the world in many different way… anywhere where someone said “Wait, you could use this spell to accomplish this useful effect.”
  • Psionics. I remember reading the psionics rules in the appendix of my old AD&D manuals. They’ve been a part of D&D since the early days, and yet they’ve never really seemed to fit in (with the notable exception of Dark Sun). I wanted a way to integrate them into the world… and yet, a way that allowed people who just don’t like psionics in their fantasy to remove them without too much difficulty. This led to the Kalashtar, the Inspired, and the storyline of Sarlona – a distant and mysterious continent where Psionics were the foundation of society in the same way that magic was used in Khorvaire. If I’d been starting COMPLETELY FROM SCRATCH and didn’t have psionics already in the mix, it’s quite possible I wouldn’t have added them in.
  • Elves and Dwarves, Orcs and Goblins. Just like alignment, these are things that come with the D&D package. If Eberron wasn’t a D&D setting, it might not have included these; Phoenix: Dawn Command doesn’t include any of the D&D classic demi-humans, for example. But because it IS a D&D setting, it needed a place and an interesting role for the classic demi-humans and humanoids… and so we have the Tairnadal, Dhakaani, and the rest.
  • Halflings Riding Dinosaurs. Like psionics, this aspect of the Talenta Plains arose because dinosaurs have always been in D&Dand yet they very rarely get used. They’re also an awesome pulpy thing. But the idea honestly came up because we were thinking of something interesting for Talenta nomads to ride, and we realize that nobody ever uses dinosaurs.

To be clear: I love the Inspired, the Undying Court, the Gatekeepers and the Ghaash’kala. I love that Eberron has halflings on raptors. But these are all things that definitely exist because Eberron was designed as a D&D setting. You can adapt them to any system, as many people have shown… but the reason they exist in the first place is because Eberron was a setting for D&D… a setting with elves, dwarves, psionics, dinosaurs, alignment, and more.

About Eberron in 5e, ignoring the drastic difference in content for Eberron between the D&D versions, which ruleset do you think works best to capture the feel of Eberron?

I’ve run Eberron in many different systems, from 3E – 5E for D&D to the Lady Blackbird and Over The Edge systems. I know people who have played it using Savage Worlds, Pathfinder, Fate Core, Mutants and Mastermind, and GURPS, though I never have.

I don’t feel that there’s a One True Eberron system. Each system has strengths and weaknesses. Really, it depends on the type of story that you want to tell and which mechanics will best represent that system. For example, Over The Edge is a rules-light system that’s great for a story-driven game, but it’s not a system I’d use for a combat-heavy adventure. It also depends on the players that you’re working with. I’ve found that 4E is a good game when dealing with people who have played MMOs but never played a tabletop RPG before, because many of the basic concepts make sense to them… equipment slots, powers with cooldown timers, etc. Looking to 5E, I like the simplification of certain mechanics and the use of Inspiration and backgrounds as a way to try to encourage roleplaying… though I like Lady Blackbird for going considerably farther with the idea of mechanically encouraging a player to roleplay their character.

With that said, there is one particular element of 4E+ that I like for Eberron, and that is rituals. Vancian magic has never quite made sense as the foundation for Eberron’s magical economy, because it’s a little hard to see how a magewright locksmith could make a living when he can only cast Arcane Lock twice a day. Under the 4E ritual system, Arcane Lock takes ten minutes to cast and uses 25 gp worth of components. The magewright locksmith can lock as many doors as time and resources allow, jacking up the price sufficiently to make it worth his time. The downside to this is that by the rules, the only limitation on casting rituals is being a ritual caster and having the right book. So there’s no concept of having a magewright specialized in casting a particular ritual; instead, in theory any magewright could change jobs by picking up a different book. At my table, I rectified that with a house rule stating that the ability to cast any ritual from a book reflects a remarkable level of skill generally only possessed by PCs… and by adding a “Magewright” feat that allows a character to cast select three rituals and to perform them without a book (though still requiring the normal time and component cost). Thus you have the locksmith who knows Knock and Arcane Lock, the lamplighter who can cast Continual Flame all day, and so on. But that’s still just a specific mechanical element that helps with the overall logic of Eberron’s economy… and as shown by 5E, something that can easily be adapted.

So the long and the short of it is that I don’t have a preference. 4E combat in particular is a very different experience from 3E or 5E, and the question is do you want that experience? When I was working on a different campaign setting a few years back – Codex – I was considering not just making it system neutral but encouraging people to change systems between adventures, picking the system that best models the story you want to tell. In retrospect that’s a lot of work (mainly converting characters constantly), but to me it’s still a case that each system has different strengths – find the one that YOU like best. Eberron will work wherever you go.

I would love an article on Eberron’s magic (level) and the new rules system with its “even low level magic items are mighty”-approach. 

In the comments on the last update, Pteryx suggests a “Book of Everyday Magic” to address this point, and I think that’s a great idea. I see what 5E is trying to do with the “even low-level magic items are mighty” approach, and I’m not opposed to it; when I’m playing 5E, it IS kind of cool that my +1 sword is a big deal… especially in contrast to 4E, where you’ve got to constantly be upgrading every slot to be on par with your level. At the same time, I don’t feel that this rules out the general feel of Eberron, which has always been “wide magic, not high magic.” You can still have the streets lit with continual flame and airships in the sky even if +1 weapons are rare. The cantrip prestidigitation allows the caster to heat, chill, flavor, or clean… So an innkeeper (especially a Ghallanda innkeeper) might have a chest that keeps contents cool, a pan that instantly cooks with no heat, and a broom that instantly cleans a room in one sweep. Canon sources already mention the idea that Aundair has cleansing stones that serve as communal washing machines. Even when it comes to weapons and armor, you can have minor effects that are clearly useful magic without actually providing a full +1 enhancement. Imagine a suit of armor or a sword with an innate mending effect – over the course of an hour, it will restore itself to pristine condition, eliminating dents or rust. Such a sword would sharpen itself. Now, in mechanical terms players never worry about rust or sharpening weapons… but that just mean you’d want to call out that something remarkable is going on here!

Essentially, the issue is that 5E wants to make a +1 enhancement feel powerful… which means that magic items with a direct effect on COMBAT (or healing, spell recovery, or other things that affect combat capabilities) need to be rare. But that still leaves room for lots of everyday magic, and someday when I have time I’d love to create that Book of Everyday Magic.

Can you think of another new class unique to Eberron other than the Artificer?

There was another class we considered when we were originally developing Eberron. We called it the Journeyman, but “Everyman” or “Unlikely Hero” would have worked just as well. In pulp stories, you often have a normal person who gets swept up in the adventure and carried along with the heroes. A nosy reporter, a bartender whose bar got burnt down, a spunky kid, a nightclub singer who just happened to be dating the hero. We considered a variation of this for Eberron: the character who is NOT an adventurer, not a warrior or a wizard, but who nonetheless gets caught up and carried along with the adventurers… the Watson to Holmes, or the Xander to Buffy.

The Journeyman would be something of a skill monkey, because the point was that they HAD a normal profession and might be quite good at it. But the main strength of the Journeyman is amazing, pulp-level luck. Even though he has no right to survive the terrifying dangers that threaten paladins and rangers, SOMEHOW that spunky chronicler lands a lucky blow or evades the deadly trap. In practice this would have related to action points: the Journeyman would have more action points than any other character and a number of specialized uses for them – essentially, spell-like abilities fueled by action points. In fifth edition, I could also see a Journeyman having a number of abilities along the lines of those granted by a typical Background – things that aren’t at all useful in combat, but that can have a lot of value to story. The nosy chronicler isn’t as good a fighter as the rogue, but he excels at research and has sources all over Khorvaire.

Ultimately, we decided not to develop this class. But I might take a crack at it one of these days; it’s certainly something that can provide some interesting story and roleplaying hooks.

As side note: Jode from The Dreaming Dark novels could be an example of a journeyman. He’s a Jorasco healer. He’s quick and quick-witted, but he’s not a spell-caster or a combat monster. I think I considered him to be a rogue, justifying his backstabbing as “a healer’s knowledge of anatomy” as opposed to any sort of talent for assassination. But he’d work just as well as a Journeyman: he’s legitimately a healer, trained in mundane healing supplemented by his dragonmark, who gets by on wit and luck.

I always loved the numbers of Eberron. You know, all the 12+1 missing/different. Did you ever think any reason for that? It’s just “how prophecy work”? 

Essentially, yes… it’s “how prophecy works.” The premise of the Prophecy is that there is a code that defines reality… and if you understand it, you can manipulate the future. The Prophecy doesn’t follow a single path; it’s a massive matrix of if-then statements. The key point here is that there are underlying rules to reality. It’s not unreasonable to think that arcane magic (and possible divine as well) is tapping this same underlying system: if the proper rituals or formulas are invoked, reality is altered. Once you accept the idea that arcane magic is a science – that reality follows rules – it’s logical to have patterns that can be seen in the world. In some cases these are literal patterns, such as the dragonmarks that appear on landmarks. In others, it’s things like the linked numbers of planes, dragonmarks, clans, etc.

In this case, it began with a coincidence: the fact that we had thirteen planes of which one was lost, and thirteen dragonmarks of which one was lost. That wasn’t carefully planned, but once we realized it we liked the idea that it was a reflection of the underlying order, and so people continued to work the pattern into future things.

The funny thing? The fact that it’s a “Baker’s Dozen” was something we didn’t even notice until someone pointed it out.

That’s all the time I have for this week. Based on the stack of questions already in the queue, next week’s Q&A is going to deal with cults, druid sects, and denizens of the planes. If you have questions on any of these subjects, feel free to ask below!

Dragonmarks 5/10/16 : Planes, Druids, and Fiends

I’m working away on a number of different projects that I can’t talk about just yet, while waiting for Phoenix: Dawn Command to come back from the printer. One thing I can mention: I’m scheduled to be a guest at Acadecon 2016 (Dayton, Ohio on November 11th-13th), which is in the last few days of funding on Kickstarter. It’s a small event but has a great lineup of guests, so if you might be interested, follow the link and check it out.

Meanwhile, I’ve got dozens of Eberron questions to work through, and many could be the subject of entire posts. But there’s a few that can be answered quickly, and I’m going to see how many I can get through in one sitting.

If Eberron is ever opened for DM’s Guild, would you consider finally writing and publishing a complete Planes of Eberron?

Absolutely. I have a long list of topics I would love to write about as soon as it is possible to do so, and the Planes are high on that list.

Some planes have a key role in Eberron’s story and are very important for Eberron’s flavour. I mean Dal Quor, Xoriat, Dolurrh. Other planes, at least in core set, looks more as “a place where you can find some creatures that wouldn’t fit anywhere else”. But somehow I feel these creatures would need to be “eberronized”. 

I feel that all of the planes have much more to offer than simply being a source of exotic creatures. Each plane needs to be a compelling foundation for stories, whether the plane is the location of the story or something that directly influences it. I have deeper ideas for all the planes that have been revealed so far, and I feel that Mabar and Lamannia have just as much to offer as Xoriat or Dal Quor. And I look forward to writing about them as soon as it’s possible!

Months ago, we discussed the idea of a Daelkyr obsessed with the Silver Flame and trying to make it stronger in creepy ways. Do you think it could work more on celestial versions of aberration, or maybe in aberrating celestials, like a half-illithid angel?

In my opinion, part of what defines the material plane is that its inhabitants are innately connected to ALL of the planes. Humans live and die. They dream and know madness. They can fight wars and find peace. They are already connected to every plane, and that makes it relatively easy for them to be corrupted or transformed by the influence of planar beings. Beyond this, most mortals are creatures of flesh and blood, influenced by genetics, disease, and similar factors. So creatures of Eberron are easy clay for a daelkyr to work with.

By contrast, immortal outsiders are formed from the pure essence of a single plane. They are ideas given form, only loosely bound to physical reality. An archon from Shavarath is a pure embodiment of war. It wasn’t bred or born; it embodies an idea, and madness isn’t part of that idea. So I think it’s far more difficult for a daelkyr to transform an angel or a quori that to affect a mortal. With that said, anything is possible if it makes a good story. In a way, you can think of an angel as a piece of computer code as opposed to a being of flesh and blood. If the daelkyr could find a way to hack that code and rewrite the fundamental idea that defines the angel, they could twist it. It would just be a completely different process from the fleshwarping techniques they use on the creatures of Eberron.

If a paladin of the Blood of Vol who grew up in the ranks of the church or in another way discovers the true nature of the cult, would he lose his abilities? Or do you think in Eberron can exist a corrupted paladin or a paladin without a faith?

PERSONALLY, I hold paladins to a very different standard than clerics. I am a firm believer in the idea that you don’t choose to be a paladin: it is a divine calling that chooses you. As such, I do feel that it is vital for a paladin to remain “on-mission” and that a paladin who loses faith would lose their abilities until they could find their way back to it. With that said, I feel that paladins are defined by THEIR view of their faith. Clerics typically work through doctrine and study; an illiterate farm girl could become a paladin if she is called. She won’t lose her powers just because she’s excommunicated, and she’s unlikely to lose her faith after encountering a single corrupt priest; instead, she will likely be inspired to follow her calling and do something about that corruption.

This is especially true in the case of the Blood of Vol. Where do divine casters tied to the Blood of Vol draw their strength? The Divinity Within. Seekers believe that we all have the divine spark in our blood – that we could all be gods, and that we were cursed with mortality to keep us from reaching this potential. A paladin of the Blood of Vol isn’t getting her powers from an outside source; she has been called by her own divine spark, her own potential urging her to protect her people and fight death.

Add to this, I actually think the faith of the Blood of Vol has no more corruption than any other organized religion in Eberron… it’s simply that it’s called out more dramatically in Erandis. I believe that the majority of priests of the Blood are committed to the principles of their faith. In my campaign, Malevenor is a true Seeker and Atur a stronghold of the faith. The leaders of the Order of the Emerald Claw are corrupt and abusing the faith of their followers, but the devoted priests far outnumber the corrupt.

Now, if your question was “If a BoV paladin raised in the Emerald Claw discovered the corrupt nature of its inner circle, would she lose her faith and her powers,” I think she would turn on the corrupt priests – but I don’t believe that this would shatter her faith in the basic principles of the religion, especially since her divine power actually comes from within her, and isn’t in any way a gift from those corrupt priests.

A long time ago you wrote that you were playing an orc paladin of Demon Wastes and that you were going to tell us about this experience. I think it is a very interesting point in Eberron. How can a few of orcish tribes stand against all the demons of Demon Wastes?

There’s many more questions you could ask. Where do the demons of the Demon Wastes come from, anyway? What do they do when they aren’t trying to escape the Wastes? Why don’t the demons just go AROUND the Labyrinth? Why were the Ghaash’kala first chosen to guard the Labyrinth, and who set them there? And setting aside the demons, how can the Ghaash’kala survive in such a harsh landscape? What to they eat? Where do they acquire their weapons and armor?

This is a big topic, and when Eberron comes to the DM’s Guild the Demon Wastes is a topic I intend to explore in detail. But here’s the high level overview. There’s far more going on in the Demon Wastes than outsiders realize. It is a web of manifest zones, ancient wards, eldritch machines and demiplanes. Just as the modern Gatekeeper Druids hold back the Daelkyr by maintaining the ancient wards, the Ghaash’kala are also working with tools that date back to the Age of Demons and the foundation of the Silver Flame. As for how they obtain resources and food, they forage in Khyber. There are entrances to Khyber all across the Demon Wastes. When I say “Khyber” here, I don’t mean physical caves; I mean the demiplanes where demons are bound and born. Essentially, the Ghaash’kala raid the Abyss to obtain resources that aren’t available on the material plane.

Needless to say, this is the very tip of the iceberg… but I look forward to explaining in greater detail when it’s possible to do so.

I have a new group of players. They would love to play or a team related to Greensingers or to Ashbounds. But I feel like Greensingers are nice people singing and getting drunk in the almost-innocent plane of Thelanis and Ashbounds are interesting only at low levels, since their natural enemies are humans. Would you have any suggestion for either a Greensinger or Ashbound campaign?

I have a very different view of each sect, and I think you could definitely run a campaign tied to either sect.

Let’s start with the Greensingers. I don’t see them as “nice people” or, for the most part, as drunkards. The Greensingers are concerned about the balance between the natural world and the planes… especially Thelanis and the Fey. It’s noted that “many Greensingers spend time in the halls of the Faerie Court before returning to Eberron to act as ambassadors, servants, and spies for the fey lords.” This same article notes that “These individuals can serve as guides to Thelanis (and perhaps other planes), but they cannot always be trusted; their motives are as mysterious as the fey themselves.”

If I was going to run a campaign based on the Greensingers, I’d start by developing their Fey patrons. I’d want members of the party to have ties to different patrons, and to work with each player to develop their own personal goals. These could be tied to threats that are passing from one realm to the other; to the plight of the Feyspires; or to ancient bargains or pacts established by the Fey themselves. I’d look at the depiction of Bast and the fae in Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss, or in my own novels Gates of Night or The Fading Dream. In my view, a Greensinger campaign could have all the action and suspense of Mission Impossible and Ocean’s Eleven spread across two planes. The Greensingers are tied to a secret world most mortals know nothing about it, and they alone know how that world threatens and is threatened by Eberron.

As for the Ashbound, the last thing I’d worry about is that their threats are primarily low-level or human. The stereotype of the Ashbound is that they are crazy fanatics who run around burning down Vadalis magebreeding facilities, and some of them do. But the basic drive of the Ashbound is to protect the world from the unnatural influence of magic, and there’s a lot of that going around. Perhaps you’ve heard of the Mourning? If I was running an Ashbound campaign, I would emphasize the terrible threat posed by the irresponsible use of magic. Driven by greed and the thirst for power, the Five Nations and the Dragonmarked Houses are pushing the limits of magic further and further. Concern of a second Mourning is certainly a possibility: but you can also emphasize the smaller scale horrors such research has unleashed. Explore the biological weapons Jorasco’s nosomatic chirugeons are developing, or the war magics Minister Adal is exploring in his quest to ensure victory in the Next War. Expand on Magebreeding… the experiments that have gone horrible wrong and the creations that Vadalis cannot control. and that’s not even touching demons and other unnatural magical entities that are anathema in the eyes of the Ashbound. You can play the Ashbound as zealots who primarily bother humans… but you can also play them as champions fighting a secret crusade against threats and villains the common folk don’t know about. You can play them as fanatics… but they can just as easily be the supernatural world’s answer to the Men in Black, protecting the innocent from arcane terrors they never even know about.

What relations to Night Hags – any of the nine supposed to inhabit the Demon Wastes, and great Sora Kell herself – have with the Quori? We know that they had a quasi-neutral situation as ambassadors in the Dragon-Fiend wars, but they also have powers over dreams. How do the Quori feel about this, and, conversely, do the hags know about the previous incarnations of Dal Quor?

There’s no canon answer to this. If you’re asking how I’d run it: First off, keep in mind the vast scale of Dal Quor. Every creature that dreams visits Dal Quor… and we’ve also indicated that there’s regions of Dal Quor made up of the dreams of long-dead entities, and places like the Citadel of Fading Dreams. Natural dreams are created through the interaction of the dreamer’s subconscious with the mutable reality of Dal Quor. Quori have the power to override this and alter an individual’s dreams, but it’s not as if they are personally monitoring and shaping EVERY DREAM. As a result, if your wizard uses Dream or Nightmare, he’s not innately stepping on the toes of the Quori; he’ll only draw attention if he happens to mess with a dream a Quori IS directly shaping for some purpose.

So you COULD say that the Night Hags fly under the radar of the Quori; they have enough experience to recognize when a dream is being manipulated by Quori and choose to avoid interfering. However, I’d personally say that the Night Hags are known in Dal Quor – I think they’d extend their role as fiendish ambassador to include their interaction with Dal Quor. I think they’d HAVE to know more about the previous incarnations of Dal Quor than the Quori do, which would be an immediate basis for a relationship. It could be that they have helped shape the Quori reaction to the turn of the age in this and previous ages… they might have even set the Quori-Giant war in motion.

The short form, though, is what works best for your story? Do you want a Night Hag to be able to act as a neutral intermediary between the party and il-Lashtavar? Would you like to have a Night Hag with a bitter feud with a powerful Quori… or a deep love formed in a previous age, leading her to want to force the turn of the age in the hopes of restoring her lover’s spirit to the form she once knew? It’s up to you.

What is the difference between some of the Rajahs who seem to step on each other’s toes: (a) Bel Shalor is a spirit of treason, but so is Eldrantulku. Though I assume Bel Shalor is more of the classical temptor and corruptor of innocence. (b) Sul Katesh is the keeper of secrets, but Tul Oreshka also has power over them. (c) Dral Khatuur and the overlord served by Drulkalatar are spirits of the wild, though Dral Khatuur is more specialised in cold.

The Overlords of the First Age aren’t gods, and they can step on each other’s toes. The range of their influence is limited; if Rak Tulkhesh is influencing events in the Five Nations, he’s out of range to also be influencing events in Xen’drik – but there could be ANOTHER Overlord tied to war influencing Stormreach. With that said, the ones you’ve described are different from one another. I’d love to do a more detailed accounting of each of these when the DM’s Guild opens up for Eberron, but in short:

  • Bel Shalor is more about corruption while Eldrantulku is about chaos and discord.
  • Sul Khatesh is the master of arcane secrets, while Tul Oreshka knows the secrets that will drive you mad. Sul Khatesh knows incantations that can destroy cities or raise the dead; Tul Oreshka knows what your lover truly thinks about you, and what’s lurking underneath your bed in the dark.
  • Dral Khatuur embodies the chill that kills the harvest and saps the strength of the strongest man. The Wild Heart is the predator that lurks within, the rabid instincts that lie beneath the surface waiting to be unleashed.

The key is that the Overlords are fundamentally about the EVIL that their spheres can do – the things that cause fear and death. There’s nothing positive about Dral Khatuur; she embodies the killing cold. She’s not part of the natural cycle; she will bring unending winter. Likewise, the Feral Master is a corruptor of natural impulses, turning innocents into savage monsters.

Back on the WotC forums, in the days when they existed, you mentioned that you had details on Dral Khatuur and her place of imprisonment, but had to clear it with WotC whether you could release any information. Has there been any movement on this?

I have a 10,000 word backdrop on Dral Khatuur and her prison in the Frostfell. If Eberron is unlocked for the DM’s Guild I’ll see if I can revise it and post it there.

How do various Rajahs – or, for that matter, gods – interact with planes that are within their spheres: Dral Khultur with Risia, Rak Tulkesh with Savarath, the Wild Heart with Lamannia, Katashka with Mabar and Dollurh, and so forth?

As I mentioned above, Eberron is touched and influenced by all the planes. The Overlords are fundamentally spirits of Eberron and as such reflect how the planes influence mortals as opposed to having some sort of personal tie to the planes. So Tul Oreshka is strongly tied to Madness and has a closer connection to Xoriat than to the other planes… but that’s just an amplified version of the connection ALL mortals have to Xoriat, and it doesn’t mean that she has some sort of bond to or influence over the Daelkyr or other creatures of Xoriat.

That’s all I have time for today. As always, leave your questions and comments below!

Dragonmarks 5/02/16: Ravenloft and Cyre

My last call for Eberron questions produced over forty questions, many quite complex. So it’s going to be some time before I get to them all. But let’s get started with one of the big ones… though as always, important disclaimers. Nothing I say here is official. These are my thoughts – often off the top of my head – and how I might handle things in MY campaign. I may contradict canon sources. As with all things, use what you like and ignore what you don’t. With that said…

Do you have any advice for incorporating Ravenloft in an Eberron Campaign?

Ravenloft is set in the Demiplane of Dread, a pocket dimension shaped by the enigmatic Dark Powers. These mysterious forces draw realms from the material plane, along with individuals of great evil; these become the Dreadlords who rule over these domains. The most infamous Dreadlord is Strahd von Zarovich, who rules over his domain of Barovia from Castle Ravenloft.

In tying Ravenloft to Eberron, the first question is whether you want the Demiplane of Dread to serve as a bridge between realities – if you want to have Lord Soth ruling a piece of Krynn, or to say that Barovia is a piece of the Forgotten Realms. If not, it’s a simple matter to say that all of the domains in the Demiplane of Dread are drawn from different points in Eberron’s history… especially if you assert that time passes differently in the Domain of Dread, so while a domain may have disappeared thousands of years ago, it may have only been years or centuries from the perspective of those trapped within it. Here’s a few possibilities to consider.

  • Ancient Karrnath. Barovia could easily have been a fiefdom in pre-Galifar Karrnath. With this approach you could use Strahd and his history exactly as written. Alternately, you could keep the basic story of Strahd, but change him to an infamous character from the history of Khorvaire. My first choice would be to make him Karrn the Conqueror, the king who first sought to unite the Five Nations by force… and failed. In this model, Karrn retreated to his ancestral stronghold of Ravenloft after his defeat, drawing his family and closest allies to him – and it is here that you could overlay the existing story of Strahd. This would be interesting because it would present Barovia as Karrn’s idealized vision of what Karrnath (and the Five Nations under his rule) should have been. It would also present the vision of a ruthless, vampire Karrn king… an interesting contrast and foil to Kaius III of present day Karrnath. And it opens the possibility that Karrn/Strahd could be seeking a way to return to Eberron, still hoping to unite the Five Nations under his rule. If I ran Ravenloft in Eberron, this is the path I would likely take.
  • Ohr Kaluun. This is one of the pre-Sundering kingdoms of Sarlona. Its people were known both for their strong mystical traditions and their dark practices, and it’s easy to imagine that a Dreadlord such as Hazlik could be drawn from this place. One of the distinctive aspects of Ohr Kaluun is the War Labyrinths used as citadels by the ruling families; a haunted fortress maze could certainly fit into Ravenloft.
  • The Dhakaani. Who says domains have to be dominated by humans? The Demiplane of Dread could contain a fiefdom plucked out of the Dhakaani empire at the height of its power. If you want to add a little more Lovecraftian flavor to your Gothic horror, the hobgoblin Dreadlord could secretly be running a Cult of the Dragon Below; rather than being undead, she could be bonded to life-sustaining symbionts.
  • The Qabalrin. Little is known about this ancient Elven civilization, aside from the fact that they possessed vast knowledge of the arts of necromancy and produced the first humanoid vampires and liches. They are thought to have been decadent and cruel; it’s said that they learned their secrets directly from the Shadow, and that Aureon himself destroyed their civilization. You could easily say that a piece of the Qabalrin survived the destruction that formed the Ring of Storms by being drawn into the Demiplane of Dread… or perhaps, that the entire civilization of the Qabalrin was drawn into the Demiplane, and that the meteor strike was an unrelated event that occurred in the aftermath. As the Qabalrin are thought to have been the greatest mortal masters of necromancy, it would be easy to say that Vecna is one of the first Qabalrin liches.

While you can work any or all of these options into an Eberron Ravenloft campaign, there’s another possibility that has even greater potential.

Could Cyre be tied to Ravenloft?

Four years ago the nation of Cyre was consumed by the Mourning, a catastrophe that left twisted remnants of the nation surrounded by dead-gray mists. As mists are the traditional hallmark of the Dark Powers, it would be an easy thing to say that the Mourning was nothing less than Cyre being consumed by the Demiplane of Dread. If you decide to follow this path, a critical question is just how much of Cyre you want to incorporate into the Demiplane. Is the entire country there? Or did only a small region survive the transition, such as the city of Metrol?

Per existing canon, the mists spread across Cyre on the Day of Mourning, killing or transforming anything caught within them. If you follow this path, you could say that those things twisted by the Mourning died in Eberron but lived on in the Demiplane of Dread.At first, transportation to this Dread Cyre might seem like a dream come true to Cyran PCs. Here they could find villages destroyed by the Mourning, friends or family thought long dead, or other treasures or secrets long lost in core Eberron. But over time the full extent of the realm’s corruption would be revealed. Mad Cannith artificers are performing horrific experiments, perhaps blending human and warforged to create something new and terrible. A legendary bard is perfecting a performance that drives all who hear it mad. And, of course, no one can escape the mists that surround the nation. Queen Dannel rules with an iron fist, justifying this cruelty as necessary to preserve the nation through this vital time. But what is the truth of Dannel’s tale? Is she the domain’s Dreadlord, and if so, what evil deed caused her and her nation to be drawn into Dread? Were her misdeeds tied to personal passion or ambition, or did she travel down a dark path in a quest to save her people? Does she believe that she HAS saved Cyre by pulling it out of the Last War? Or is she searching for a way to return the nation to Eberron… and if so, has she developed a horrific weapon that will ensure Cyran dominion upon its return?

A possible twist on this is to start a campaign with the player characters in Cyre on the Day of Mourning (you’d want to make clear to the players that they’ve never heard of the Mourning, and that the war is still going on). They see the dead-grey mists, but when the mists pass over them… nothing happens. Everything appears to be the same. Continue the adventure as normal, but the players will eventually learn of the impassible wall of mist surrounding the borders of the nation, and discover the slowly spreading darkness that is corrupting every aspect of their land. What will they do? Say they find a way to return… but discover that Dannel has been working on a horrific weapon of mass destruction, and that it was this work that drew the nation into Dread? Will they seek to return Cyre to Eberron if it could result in a far greater horror than the Mourning being unleashed on the rest of Khorvaire? Or will they remain in the Demiplane of Dread and find a way to live with the darkness?

What are the Dark Powers? 

Ravenloft is shaped by the Dark Powers, entities that both empower and torment the Dreadlords. The Dark Powers are largely enigmatic, but it may help you to determine their true nature in the contact of Eberron. Here’s a few possibilities.

  • The Dark Powers could be one or more of the Overlords of the First Age – the fiendish masters of the Lords of Dust banished over a hundred thousand years ago. The Demiplane of Dread could potentially be inside an Overlord (metaphysically speaking). The corrupt nature of the Dreadlord creates a link to the Overlord, who then consumes the Dreadlord and the surrounding domain and gains strength by slowly digesting it. Tul Oreshka (AKA The Voice In The Darkness) would be a good match from the Overlords that have been named so far, but you could easily create a new Overlord for this purpose.
  • The prime spirit of Dal Quor is il-Lashtavar, “The Darkness That Dreams.” The Demiplane of Dread could in fact be a part of Dal Quor. Each domain is literally the nightmare of its tormented Dreadlord. These domains serve as anchors that help il-Lashtavar avoid the turning of the age that will end its existence. A question to address with this is whether the Quori are aware of this and interact with it, or whether this is a private practice of the great darkness that its minions know nothing about.
  • Mabar is the consuming darkness. It is always seeking a foothold in Eberron, an opprtunity to consume its light and life. Mabar is the source of the negative energy that sustains the undead, and they are its unwitting touchstones into the world. The Dark Powers could be the prime spirits of Mabar, and the process of absorbing domains and corrupting Dreadlords could be part of a slow quest to consume all of Eberron. This would be a way to explain why Cyre is far larger than any other domain; the connection is growing stronger each time, and the next consumption could take an entire continent.

These are just a few ideas, and you don’t have to go to such extremes to use Ravenloft in your game. If you’ve done something different with Ravenloft in Eberron, post your ideas in the comments!

What are some easy points of reference for Cyran culture? We know that Karrnath is generally dour and proud of its military heritage and that the Brelish are cosmopolitan and welcoming, but descriptions of Cyre tend to be “was welcoming, now is a smouldering wasteland.” What values would a Cyran character have? What was its niche back when it still existed? 

The great institutions of Galifar were spread throughout the Five Nations, and while they belonged to the kingdom they had considerable impact on the nations in which they lay. Karrnath has Rekkenmark, and has always prided itself on martial skill and discipline. Aundair has the Arcane Congress, and values knowledge and all things arcane. Thrane has Flamekeep; while not a branch of Galifar, it is still an institution that has shaped the nation. Breland has the King’s Citadel. Back in the day this organization served all of Galifar, but it was based in Breland… and while Brelish may be cosmopolitan and welcoming, they are also extremely pragmatic. Essentially, if you had to assign classes to the nations, Karrnath is the fighter; Aundair the wizard; Thrane the cleric; and Breland is the rogue. So where does this leave Cyre?

Cyre was the heart of Galifar. Thronehold was the literal capital, but all the arms and various attendants of government spilled out from the island into Cyre. The nation was a center for trade, but beyond this it was the nexus of art and culture within Galifar. Breland had a strong industrial capacity, but Cyre produced the finest things in the kingdom. Poets, playwrights, artisans of all sorts: if you were at the top of your field, then Metrol is where you belonged. Add to this the fact that Cyre was the ancestral home of House Cannith and seat of most of its Forgeholds. Essentially, the other four nations had a strong single focus; Cyre is where the best of all of those things came together, or at least that’s what a Cyran would tell you. If I had to put a class to it, Cyre would be the bard. Of all the nations, it was the most charismatic, and its people valued diplomacy, commerce, and art over brute strength, devout faith, or pure knowledge.

With that said, no accounting of Cyran character would be complete without considering the impact of the Last War. The war lasted nearly a hundred years, and any human Player Character from Cyre will know no other life. Here’s a few things to consider:

  • They were in the right. Mishann ir’Wynarn was Jarot’s rightful heir. Mishann should have been Queen of Galifar; the Last War began because others challenged her rightful succession. The Cyrans know with absolute certainty that they are the only nation whose actions were beyond reproach, that it was the greed and betrayal of the other nations that destroyed Galifar. The loss of their nation simply reinforces this: it is the ultimate injustice, as they alone were truly in the right. As a side note, Mishann was assassinated by the Order of the Emerald Claw. While this was relatively early in the war, it’s still a potential foundation for prejudice against Karrns in general and the Blood of Vol specifically.
  • Surrounded by enemies. Karrnath, Thrane, Breland, and towards the end of the war Darguun and Valenar. Every other nation had one or more relatively secure borders, areas of the nation that were less affected by the ongoing conflict. There was no safe haven in Cyre, and they were always girding for the next attack.This fostered a strong community spirit – it’s us against the world – and led to…
  • Resourcefulness. Cyre didn’t have the military power of Karrnath or the mystical might of Aundair. It lacked Breland’s spy network or the divine force of Thrane. Cyre had to somehow hold off all of these foes. This led Cyre to employ more warforged and mercenary forces than any other nation (something that didn’t work out so well in Valenar and Darguun), but it also forced the Cyran people to become extremely adaptable and resourceful – stretching resources, adapting tactics to deal with their many and varied foes, and always being prepared for an attack from a new quarter. This trait has served Cyrans well as refugees, as they must continue to make the most of limited resources and constant adversity.
  • Artistry. The luxurious lifestyle of old Cyre was quickly lost as all resources were devoted to the war, but the people always treasured the fine things they still had: music, dance, literature. The most heartwrenching and uplifting works of art of this time still come from Cyre, and most Cyrans hone some sort of artistic talent, be it dabbling in an instrument, telling stories, or simply drawing in the dirt. This continues to be a source of pride for Cyrans in their exile; whatever they have lost, they know they have the talents to create new treasures. In this, there is some common ground with Aundairians, who place great value on wit and knowledge. However, the Aundiarians are more naturally scholars while Cyrans are artists. The finest histories of the war were produced in Aundair; the most heartwrenching songs came out of Cyre. Likewise, throughout the war, Aundair was able to maintain its ivory towers. Cyran artists lived and worked with mud, sweat, and tears.

Cyrans are proud. They may not have been the best warriors, wizards, or priests. But they were in the right from the very beginning of the war. They stood back to back against the enemies that surrounded them. Even when the war took everything from them, they have held on to the culture that defined them. Once Cyran tailors worked with the finest silks, and now they work with rags; but they still find ways to make things that are unique and beautiful.

Phew! Two questions down, thirty-eight to go. Share your thoughts or questions on Ravenloft, Cyre, Eberron, or anything else below!

Villains of Eberron

As I was writing about the daelkyr in my last Eberron post, it occurred to me that my emphasis on how alien and unknowable they are might make it hard for people to understand how to work them into a story. Eberron has a host of major villains ready to go, and sometimes it’s not always clear what differentiates them. So I figured I’d do a quick run-down of the big bad guys.

The Dreaming Dark seeks to take control of mortal civilization in order to preserve the current status quo in Dal Quor. Thus, its primary goal is conquest. However, the quori prefer to conquer in such a way that their subjects embrace their oppressors. If you look to Sarlonan history, they instigated a series of wars and political upheavals and then the Inspired emerged as the saviors who brought order to this shattered land. They are more likely to do the same thing in Khorvaire than to invade with a Riedran army. It’s entirely possible that they instigated the Last War as the first stage of this plan. The question is who they will use as their figurehead leaders. They don’t need to replicate the culture of Riedra in Khorvaire: they simply need a scenario in which mortals embrace a new, absolute ruler. Is Queen Aurala secretly a quori figurehead (which would explain her warlike ambitions)? Have they assumed control of one or more of the Dragonmarked houses? Whatever it is, the main role of the quori is to cause chaos and then to provide a seemingly perfect solution.

The Daelkyr are essentially alien scientists and artists, and their primary goal is change. When they first arrived, they engaged the Empire of Dhakaan with armies of aberrations. They took creatures of Eberron and twisted them to produce monstrosities. For the last seven thousand years they’ve been bound in Khyber, and many wonder why they haven’t been working harder to escape. The main point is that they aren’t interested in conquest: they are interested in transformation. Even from the depths they can work through their cults and their agents; read this blog post for information on why someone would be a part of a daelkyr cult. They may BE changing the world in ways people don’t even realize; one interesting idea is that the dragonmarks were actually created by the daelkyr. If you WANT a daelkyr to burst out of Khyber with a devastating army of aberrations, you can have that. Just bear in mind that they aren’t seeking to conquer or colonize Eberron: they simply want to change it. If you’re going to use a daelkyr as a major villain, think about how it seeks to change the world.

The Lords of Dust are driven to free their ancient Overlords. Thus they are driven by Prophecy. The release of an Overlord will likely shatter modern civilization. Thus the Lords of Dust have little interest in conquest… unless conquest is necessary to release the Overlord. Each Overlord has a sequence of events that must come to pass to release it – a combination to its lock. It’s up to you to decide what that combination is. So if you WANT the combination to involve the conquest of Aundair by the Carrion Tribes of the Demon Wastes, than the Lords of Dust will be working to conquer Aundair. You could have a Lord of the Ring plotline – they need to recover a lost artifact and return it to a specific location at a specific time – in which case the conflict would all be based around the artifact and those who possess it. Or their actions could be far more subtle: they need Queen Aurala to restore Galifar, and thus they are helping her conquer the other Five Nations, but they are acting behind the scenes and even she doesn’t know it. Another way to look at the Lords of Dust is The Terminator: They have a vision of the future, and they are taking the actions required to make that future come to pass. Their actions don’t always make sense to us because we don’t understand the dominoes they are lining up. Why are they helping Aurala? What’s that do for them? We’ll find out when she’s murdered on the day of her coronation and Sul Khatesh is released from her bonds.

The Aurum is an alliance of powerful and wealthy mortals, and they seek to increase their own power and influence; as such they are often driven by Greed and Ambition. In a sense, they are a cabal of Bond villains, and pretty much any James Bond plot could be laid at the feet of the Aurum. While they work together when it serves their purposes, their schemes are often the schemes of an individual Aurum concordian – thus, foiling a plot doesn’t necessarily make you the enemy of the entire Aurum. Likewise, their schemes are often on a smaller scale than those of the daelkyr or the Dreaming Dark. They want to acquire a particular thing, gain control of an organization or piece of land, eliminate a particular person. Where the daelkyr and the quori are cosmic threats, the Aurum are fundamentally human villains (even if they are dwarves or elves).

The Emerald Claw are driven by Erandis’ desire to restore her dragonmark and gain ultimate power. Like the Aurum, their actions are generally more straightforward and serve a specific purpose. Erandis is going to set off a necrotic generator that will turn everyone in Sharn into a zombie because she hopes that harnessing that power will unlock her mark. She’s going to send an army of undead against Arcanix because she needs a particular necromantic tome or artifact. The actions of her followers may be cloaked in political schemes – many agents of the Emerald Claw believe they are laying the groundwork for Karrnathi dominance – but ultimately, any large-scale Emerald Claw action is somehow about increasing Erandis’ power or furthering her personal goals.

I’ve got to get back to work on Phoenix, so I’ll stop here. How about you? Which villains are your favorites, and what have you done with them?

Latest News and Eberron Q&A!

EPSON MFP imageI’ve spent much of the last few weeks sick with the flu, but I’ve finally bounced back. I’m continuing to work on Phoenix: Dawn Command, and I’m excited about how the adventures are coming together. I’m still not 100% certain what we’ll be doing at Gen Con and whether there will be full demo sessions, but at the very least I’ll have a get together to discuss the game and show you how it works. The above image is from one of our stretch goals – a challenge created by the amazing Jason Morningstar.

In other news, Fairytale Gloom is out in the wild… though it doesn’t seem to have reached all stores yet. I’m keen to hear what people think. If you’ve had a chance to play and have any questions or comments, let me know!

And finally, I wanted to dig a little deeper into the vast backlog of Eberron questions. I’m afraid I still have no concrete information about 5E Eberron development; I’m hoping there will be news of some sort at Gen Con. Today’s questions focus on warforged, the Silver Flame, and the devious daelkyr…

A very interesting point in my opinion is the conflict between the ideals of the Flame and the corruption and racism of the Church. For example about warforgeds. How are the lives of warforged living in Thrane?

This is a complicated issue. To begin with, let’s talk about racism in Thrane.

The 3.5 ECS says nothing about endemic racism in Thrane. This is a concept that was introduced in Five Nations, a book I didn’t work on. It’s not a concept I personally endorse. There’s nothing in the core beliefs of the Silver Flame that sets humanity apart or above other races. At its ultimate core it is about defending the children of Eberron and Siberys from the children of Khyber. Broadly interpreted it’s about protecting the innocent from supernatural evil… not “innocent humans.” ALL noble souls can strengthen the Flame after death, and it was originally kindled by a noble sacrifice made long before human civilization existed. Many sources feature nonhuman Thrane clerics of the Silver Flame, and one of Tira Miron’s most trusted allies was an elf avenger. Aundair doesn’t have a human majority, yet Thrane’s templars put themselves in harms way to defend Aundair from the lycanthropic threat. If anything, I would expect Thrane to have LESS racism than the other Five Nations as it is grounded in a faith that is driven to protect all innocents. So speaking personally: I didn’t come up with the idea of excessive racism in Thrane and it’s not something I embrace at my table or in my writing.

WITH THAT SAID: If I were to embrace Five Nations’ depiction of racism in Thrane, I would say that it is a relatively recent development that seems to be getting worse every day… And that it is in all likelihood a manifestation of Bel Shalor’s growing power. The Shadow in the Flame thrives on drawing out the darkness inside of people, and this would be a logical manifestation of that. I’d call out the fact that it IS in opposition to the principles of the Flame, and have a few notable voices (such as Jaela) trying unsuccessfully to steer people back to the light.

The warforged are a special case. The Church doesn’t accept that Cannith could artificially manufacture souls. Thus warforged don’t fall into the category of “innocents to be protected.” A warforged is like a sword: a tool to be used in the battle. The Treaty of Thronehold gave the warforged freedom, but it can’t give them souls… and thus, in the eyes of the faithful, they remain things. What’s been said before is that Thrane warforged often end up in various forms of indentured servitude. They are seen as tools, and the Treaty hasn’t changed that.

In my campaign one of the players is a warforged paladin and most of the hierarchy doesn’t even look at him as a living being. As my players are growing up to mid-high levels, I’m thinking: what if keeper of the flame would create him a cardinal? How would the hierarchy react? How the people? Would it be a playable role?

Certainly. In MY campaign, you can’t decide to be a paladin; you have to be called. Cannith couldn’t build a paladin. Thus, the warforged paladin is proof to those with eyes to see that warforged DO have souls and can be part of the Flame. It would be something many Thranes would have difficulty accepting, but it could ultimately cause change across Thrane… or it could trigger a hostile backlash, especially if natural doubts were fanned by the Shadow in the Flame. And as such, it is an extremely playable role.

One thing I am curious about is why did the Treaty of Thronehold include the destruction or disassembly of all of the creation forges? Why do that when you’re also including in there that all warforged are considered individuals rather than property? The way I see it, it’s like neutering an entire race…

The fact that the Treaty of Thronehold helps the warforged is incidental. Its primary purpose was to limit the power of both the Five Nations and House Cannith. At the end of the war, every nation had warforged armies of various sizes. Disbanding these armies was a symbol of standing down from military footing. In my opinion, the original draft of the treaty ordered that all warforged be destroyed; shifting this to freedom for the warforged took a serious amount of lobbying on the part of sympathizers who’d worked with warforged over the wars. But the primary intention was eliminating standing armies, and I doubt that even many of the sympathizers considered this “the birth of a new race.”

Meanwhile, the destruction of the creation forges was a way to rein in the power of House Cannith. Left unchecked, Cannith could produce armies of warforged. Already there’s reason to question if the Five Nations truly have the power to enforce the Korth Edicts; no one liked the idea of Cannith being able to field an army of its own.

So both of these actions were about the balance of power in Khorvaire, not a grand vision of the sanctity of warforged life; in all likelihood, it was a near thing that the warforged weren’t destroyed along with the forges.

Maybe the Keeper could create cardinal a paladin orc?

This seems far less likely to me. I’m actually playing an orc paladin of the Ghaash’kala in a 5E Eberron campaign (a home game run by a friend). One of these days I’ll post some of what I’ve written about the Ghaash’kala over the course of the campaign. The short form is that my paladin would have no interest in being part of the hierarchy of Thrane. He comes from a completely different culture and a different tradition of the Flame. The excessive hierarchy and traditions of the Church seem frivolous to him; he is a warrior used to being on the front line of an endless war. I could see Jaela doing something to more officially acknowledge the Ghaash’kala as comrades in faith – but I don’t think appointing one of them to be a cardinal in Flamekeep would work out well for anyone involved.

Do you think the Lord of the Blades could have some connections with an Overlord? Maybe the mourning was caused by the freeing of an Overlord; or maybe the Becoming God is nothing but a living machine for channeling the energy of an Overlord. Or maybe he is trying to create with warforgeds something like Elves did in Aerenal.

All of these things are certainly possible if it’s a story you want to tell. The Lord of Blades could have connections with an Overlord. He could even be a Lord of Dust who’s only masquerading as a warforged. Try this on for size: We’ve never said where warforged souls come from. This is because warforged souls are tiny, tiny fragments of an Overlord, tiny enough to slip through the binding of the Flame. The Becoming God is a vessel that will ultimately absorb all the souls of the warforged and recreate the Overlord. So once the vessel for the Becoming God is completed, the “Lord of Blades” may start setting up situations to kill warforged – because when they die, their spirits are sucked into the vessel of the God. The trick is that each individual soul is innocent and unique, as long as it can keep from being reabsorbed. So a warforged PC is thus a part of a great evil – but by staying alive, they are preventing that evil from being reborn and turning its power to a good purpose.

I remember somewhere you wrote that it COULD exist a good Daelkyr, even if it still would be somehow crazy. Have you ever played something like that? Could the Daelkyr join the Silver Flame? Do you think Gatekeepers would fight him anyway?

I touch on this in a reply to a comment in my blog post on The Daelkyr And Their Cults. The critical point of the issue is that you could have a “good daelkyr” in the sense that its overall agenda is intended to help the people of Eberron. However, that doesn’t mean that agenda would appear to be good to everyone else. Daelkyr are as alien as alien gets: their idea of doing good might be to change all humans into changelings, to spread a linguistic virus that transforms Khorvaire into a group mind, or something like that. In the long run this might actually promote world peace and harmony, but it’s not likely to be something the existing cultures welcome. Even a daelkyr who simply wants to protect Eberron from other forms of supernatural evil – so one that serves the same purpose as the Silver Flame – would be likely to do so in a way that’s inexplicable to humans. One option I’ve thrown on the table is the idea that the daelkyr created Dragonmarks; perhaps that’s their way of trying to help humanity against other evil forces.

The main thing is that I personally wouldn’t have a daelkyr show up in Flamekeep and have a rational discussion with Krozen and Jaela (or the PCs) about how they can join forces to fight evil. If I wanted to do this with some traditional force of evil I’d use a Lord of Dust or a Quori. The Lords of Dust are native fiends of Eberron and the Quori are tied to human dreams, and as such there is a basic foundation for understanding. While in my mind what defines the daelkyr is that there is NO foundation for understanding. The mere presence of a daelkyr causes confusion, and if it focuses its attention on you it can inflict permanent mental damage. To me this is a side effect of the fact that it’s a powerful telepath whose thoughts are so innately alien that the telepathic broadcast breaks human minds. If you touch its mind, you will go insane. To quote the ECS…

The mind of a daelkyr is a labyrinth that can swallow the thoughts of lesser creatures. Any creature who attempts to read the thoughts of a daelkyr or otherwise study its mind must make a DC 29 Will save or suffer the effect of an insanity spell.

Note that this isn’t an active power. It’s not something the Daelkyr CHOOSES to do. It is simply what happens to any creature of Eberron that touches the mind of a daelkyr.

And for all these reasons: Yes, a Gatekeeper would fight him anyway. Because ultimately it doesn’t matter what his intentions are. He’s a fundamentally alien entity who doesn’t belong in Eberron, and who innately spreads madness and corruption simply by virtue of his presence. Which may be a tragedy if he means well, but there it is.

So I’m certainly open to a story about a daelkyr who’s trying to help the people of Eberron… but I’d make his help enigmatic and potentially dangerous, not some sort of simple “creepy ally.”

Is a human mind as alien to a daelkyr as a daelkyr mind is to a human, and if not, why not? Do daelkyr suffer similar problems if they read the mind of a creature from Eberron?

No. In general aberrations are alien creatures, but you can use detect thoughts on a dolgrim, beholder or mind flayer without getting your brain fried. It’s not simply that daelkyr are alien; it’s that they are primal immortal entities who ALSO happen to be indescribably alien. So a daelkyr looking at your thoughts will going to find them very alien and puzzling… but so incredibly tiny and insignificant that it doesn’t really have a big impact.

Personally, I would put the relationship between human and daelkyr as much like the relationship between a fruit fly and a human. From your perspective the fly’s life is trivially short and relatively meaningless. Look at a single fruit fly: can you tell me what it’s thinking or the purpose behind its actions? Do you believe it feels emotions or has dreams or thoughts as you do? Meanwhile, do you think the fly understands YOU? You’re so vast that all it can really perceive is your foot or the finger descending to kill it; it doesn’t even have a full picture of what you are. Comparing lifespans you are essentially immortal. And again, do you think it understands WHY you do what you do? Perhaps you’re a scientist running an experiment in genetics. Perhaps you’re a bored child pulling the wings off insects for the fun of it. Perhaps different daelkyr represent these different things… so Belashyrra is pursuing a vast experiment (one that will take many, many human generations to show any results) while Dyrrn the Corruptor is simply the child frying ants with a magnifying glass. This allows the one daelkyr whose actions, however bizarre, do involve a vast scheme – and the other whose cruelty is purely pernicious.

Now if you WANT a daelkyr to take a personal interest in a PC as part of a storyline, go ahead. It happens that they’re a particularly remarkable fly and the culmination of a particular experiment and it’s actually keeping an eye on them to see how it plays out. But it still doesn’t understand or empathize with them; they are still just insects, even if they happen to be interesting ones.

Doom, Gloom and Eberron Q&A

FTGloom

Since the Phoenix Kickstarter campaign ended, I’ve been working hard on finishing the writing for Phoenix and that’s going to be my focus for the next few months. However, I don’t want to completely drop off the face of the earth, and I’ve got a big backlog of Eberron questions to get to.

First, news: Fairytale Gloom comes out this week. I’m very happy with the game and I look forward to hearing what people think of it. One thing I like is that you’re working with characters you already know – which makes it easy to come up with a new story. Furthermore, Fairytale Gloom doesn’t use preset families; instead you assemble a family from the cast of 20 characters. So you can assemble the cast of a classic fairy tale… or you can decide that Snow White, Red Riding Hood and Cinderella are secret agents working for the mysterious “Granny.”

Beyond that, there’s big news in the world of Kickstarter. For those who aren’t familiar with The Doom That Came To Atlantic City, in 2012 a guy named Erik Chevalier licensed a game I’d designed with my friend Lee Moyer, and went to Kickstarter to raise the money to produce it. He raised four times the amount he was asking for; told everyone that he was making the game; and a year later revealed that he was out of money and had never actually gotten around to making the game. Here’s my post from when I received this news. Because Erik had broken his contract, the rights to the game returned to Lee and I. We worked out an arrangement with Cryptozoic where they made the game and game everyone who backed it a free copy. It wasn’t an ideal solution – Erik had promised many things that Cryptozoic couldn’t provide, especially since they were doing it entirely as a gesture of goodwill to the people who’d been robbed – but thanks to Cryptozoic the game exists and made it to the backers. For the last two years there’s been no further news… until yesterday. The FTC has leveled a $112K judgment against Erik Chevalier as punishment for his duplicitous practices. Supposedly he’s also enjoined to honor his pledge to refund backers. It’s of limited effect as Erik is apparently broke – but I’m glad to see SOMETHING done about this. Crowdfunding is an amazing thing. Thanks to people who have put there faith in me I’m producing Phoenix  a game I could never have produced on my own. It’s a chance to bring things in the world that might never exist otherwise, and I hate seeing that trust abused.

So, that’s the short news here: I’m still working on Phoenix, Fairy Tale Gloom will be on shelves any day now, and there is finally some degree of justice for Doom backers.

I have a big slush pile of Eberron questions that I’ll get to as time allows… here’s a few to get the ball rolling again. At this time I have no news about any developments with 5E Eberron. Rest assured, I’ll share news if and when I have any. Now on with the questions…

The Mourning is the big obvious “no canonical answer” Eberron mystery. Any others in the setting that you particularly like?

Where do warforged souls come from? What do the Daelkyr want? What were the Quori of the previous age like? What exactly are aberrant dragonmarks, and why are they starting to appear again after lying dormant for so long?

When running Eberron, what is the single most important thing to remember? How does Eberron differ from other settings?

I don’t think there’s one answer that covers all Eberron games. If you’re more on the pulp end of the spectrum, then you want to look for ways to make the PCs feel remarkable. Never have a fight on solid ground when you could have it on the back of a moving lightning rail or an airship plummeting from the sky. Emphasize the villainy of the villains and the stakes of the conflict, and make sure your players feel like big damn heroes. All of this changes when you go to the noir side of the spectrum. In the mean streets of Sharn, things aren’t so clearly defined. It’s hard to tell the heroes from the villains. Stories don’t always end well – and sometimes it’s best when they don’t. In a noir campaign your want hard decisions and difficult revelations.

But there are a few things that can apply to any Eberron game, and these are things I try to call out when I’m creating an Eberron adventure for a convention or charity event. One of these is the war. Khorvaire is just two years out of a horrific war that ended with the utter destruction of nation. How did the war affect the player characters? Who did they fight for, or why didn’t they fight? How can its impact be felt in the adventure – whether it’s the scars of the conflict or the tensions of the current cold war? How about the impact of industrialized magic… how can you show magic being used as a tool within society?

When running con games I call out elements of the setting that are especially unique. In previous games I’ve used parties of Dhakaani goblins; monstrous agents of the Daughters of Sora Kell; and a Blood of Vol undead equivalent of the A-Team. It’s a way to immediately impress on people that things aren’t what they’re used to – that monsters aren’t always bad guys and that the bad guys aren’t always monsters.

Eberron is a world that is waiting for heroes. Do you think it’s a world with a place for a campaign for high level evil characters? Beside that forces of evil look already preeminent, I am worried that a ruthless high level cleric or mage could easily overpower any human institution.

This question comes up a fair bit. There’s a lot of different ways to answer it. But the first question I have is what’s the experience your players are looking for? In choosing to be evil, what do they WANT their story to be like? In my opinion, RPGs are about building a collaborative story. As DM, your challenge is to build out that story, to make it challenging and interesting. In choosing to be evil, do your players want to simply achieve wealth and personal power? Do they want to create a criminal empire? Do they want to depose rulers and take over Khorvaire? Each of these stories builds room for different sorts of opposition. An equally important question is what they want the tone to be… is this story more pulp or noir?

Personally, I see an “evil” campaign as leaning more towards noir. The typical noir story has very few heroes… but deals with the fact that villains will happily prey on each other. In a noir story, I’d reveal that the world is a lot darker than anyone realizes. I’d play up the number of organizations that are secretly controlled by the Lords of Dust, the Aurum, or the Dreaming Dark. I’d work in the extremely ruthlessness of organizations such as the Trust, the Citadel or the Chamber. I’d have my villainous PCs constantly on edge for the threat of betrayal, assassination or dangerous revelation. Sure, that institution LOOKS like an easy target… but that’s because you don’t realize that the “low level cleric” running the temple is actually an epic level rakshasa or an Inspired. In short, in a noir villain campaign, I’d pit the PCs against other villains who are every bit as powerful as they are – or more so – and in a far better starting position.

On the other hand, perhaps the players WANT a pulp-style evil campaign in which they are the worst villains the world has every seen. In that case, I’d play down the Lords of Dust and Dreaming Dark; if the players WANT to be the coolest villains around, it’s not so much fun to be constantly tripping over older evil conspiracies. Instead, I’d create heroes. Eberron is intentionally designed as a world in need of heroes because the PCs are expected to fill that role. If the PCs instead choose to play villains, as DM I’d create the heroes that would usually be PCs. Let’s have Tira Miron reborn as a new crusader of the Silver Flame. Trade out the Lord of Blades for a heroic warforged uniting his people into a force for good… a Professor X instead of a Magneto. Perhaps the Twelve assemble a team of dragonmarked champions as their own answer to the Avengers. For that matter, you could bring in any of the protagonists of the Eberron novels; the reason novels aren’t canon is because we don’t want these heroes treading on the toes of the PCs, but if the PCs don’t want the part, why not? Alternately, you could have a truly powerful group of heroes – heroes who always seem to come back no matter how they are defeated or destroyed. The ultimate revelation is that these champions are actually shapechanged dragons – agents of the Chamber acting to preserve their preferred path of the prophecy. They always return because even if killed, a new dragon can assume the role of the fallen champion.

Basically, the default assumptions of Eberron assume the PCs are heroic. If they aren’t, change those assumptions. Create what you need to create to present the challenges the PCs want to deal with. And don’t be afraid to LET the PCs disrupt existing organizations, if that’s the story they want to be part of. LET them throw Kaius out and take over Karrnath… because once they’ve got territory to control, you’ve got a lot more hooks to work with.

That’s all for now!

 

 

Dragonmarks 3/12/15: Origins, Authors and Thrane

It’s been a busy few months for Twogether Studios. We’re continuing to work towards the Phoenix: Dawn Command Kickstarter campaign, and I’ll be writing more about Phoenix soon. But it’s been nearly three months since my last Eberron Q&A, and I figure it’s time to get to some questions!

With the recent Unearthed Arcana release of the Eberron material, do you like the 5e work up of the material? Would you change it any further from what is currently “playtesting?” Do you think the Artificer should be re-designed in 5e as a stand-alone class, or would you like to see it supported as a Wizard (or other) type of sub-class?

At the moment, I’ve held off creating my own 5E Eberron material, beyond the vague first drafts I’ve presented for the warforged and artificer. I’m keen to develop new Eberron material, but until it’s been authorized by WotC I’ve got more things to work on than I have time. I’ve been focused on playtesting Phoenix Dawn Command for the past year, and there’s always more to do there – not to mention the Gloom variations and other projects I can’t talk about yet.

Given that: I’m glad to see WotC exploring Eberron in Unearthed Arcana. Personally, I would like to explore different approaches to the material, but the UA article specifically states that it’s an exploratory first draft… and it’s always good to explore multiple directions. The 3.5 warforged went through seven drafts before the final one. In one version warforged could attach extra limbs. In another, they absorbed the energy from magic items to gain enchantments. I don’t see a version I’d want to consider final in the UA material, but if I have an opportunity to work on official Eberron material I’ll certainly consider the UA drafts and the feedback people have given about them. Which comes back to my previous request: tell ME what you think about them, and what you would keep, add or change.

If the Du’rashka Tul tale proves to be true, could it be neutralized or dispelled? And could its effects go to Khorvaire?

For those not familiar with it, the Du’rashka Tul is mentioned on page 53 of Secrets of Xen’drik. According to legend, it is a powerful curse laid on the continent of Xen’drik by the forces of Argonnessen when the dragons destroyed the civilization of the giants. The theory is that the Du’rashka Tul is triggered any time a civilization or settlement reaches a certain level of size or sophistication. The curse drives members of the civilization into a homicidal madness; they turn on each other and destroy themselves. In this way, the dragons ensured that the giants would never rebuild their ancient power. As a result, there is evidence of a number of civilizations that have risen only to suddenly disappear over the course of the last thirty thousand years.

As it stands, details about the Du’rashka Tul are far too nebulous for me to be able to answer the questions that are posed here. So the question is how do you WANT it to work for purposes of your campaign? If you don’t want it to be possible for it to be dispelled, then it’s a curse leveled on the entire continent using a form of magic human mages can’t even begin to understand. On the other hand, if you want to be able to break it, the first thing is to define it. Perhaps it’s tied to an artifact: the skull of the titan emperor Cul’sir, engraved with draconic runes and imbued with immense magical power. First you have to find it; then you have to decide what to do with it. If it’s an artifact, it may be impossible to destroy or dispel it. You don’t know how far its radius is (it’s currently affecting all of Xen’drik). Do you drop it in the ocean and potentially destroy the civilizations of the sahuagin and merfolk? Take it back to Argonnessen and see what happens? Or might someone bring it back to Khorvaire not knowing what it is and accidentally trigger an apocalypse?

If you don’t like that approach, you could decide that it’s actually tied to a living creature. Ever since the destruction of the giants, there has been a dragon stationed in Xen’drik maintaining the Du’rashka Tul. Can you find it? Do you need to kill it, or could you just convince the guardian that the time has come to end the curse?

About the Du’rashka Tul… If it could be dispelled, would it bring about an era of colonization of Xen’drik by the great powers? If so, that could bring about potential conflict not only between the great nations of Khorvaire, but also with the Riedran empire, who already have a settlement therein. Do you think more cities would be created? And could the traveler’s curse be removed as well?

The Du’rashka Tul is an unproven myth, so I don’t think THAT’S what’s stopping the colonization of Xen’drik. The Traveler’s Curse is unquestionably real and a serious hindrance to colonization; who wants to establish a colony if you might not be able to find it later? If you posit that you remove BOTH curses, then the main issue is that you’re dealing with a continent that’s still full of powerful monsters… and the fact that Khorvaire isn’t exactly overcrowded right now. The main draw to go there is untapped resources and treasure hunting. So if you took away all the curses, I certainly think you’d get an expansion of settlements there to claim and harvest resources, in a sort of Wild West gold rush development… but I don’t think you’d see a vast proliferation of permanent settlements. Heck, if you’re looking to live on a dangerous frontier because you want a chance to strike it rich with dragonshards, you can already do that in Q’barra.

As for bumping into the Riedrans over territory, Xen’drik is the same size as Khorvaire, and KHORVAIRE still isn’t overcrowded, so it seems a little hard to imagine it happening in a hurry. Personally, I’d make it more about conflict between settlers from the Five Nations and the Dragonmarked Houses. Tharashk would definitely want to harness the resources as quickly and efficiently as possible, and any number of the other houses could see this as a way to establish lands outside of the Korth Edicts. So you could certainly have conflict between would-be independent prospectors hoping to strike it rich and dragonmarked Tharashk.

If my goal was to run a campaign focused on territorial conflict between Riedra and the Five Nations, I’d actually create a new massive island in the Lhazaar Sea. Let’s say that it’s a chunk of another plane that suddenly drops in during an odd planar conjunction – so a piece of Lamannia, filled with natural and mystical resources never even seen before on Eberron. This gives a new desirable territory directly between Khorvaire and Sarlona; lets it be small enough that forces can quickly come into conflict; places it in a region where Lhazaar pirates can pose an interesting threat; and lets in be filled with unknown threats and commodities. I think that could make for a very interesting campaign… though I’d also throw the Dragonmarked Houses in as a third player in the conflict.

There are some fairly close thematic similarities between the kalashtar and the githzerai: both use psionics, both have extraplanar connections, both are at eternal war with a race of shared origin. Were these similarities intentional when the kalashtar were designed? If so, were they meant to be a playable version of the githzerai for your campaign (ie, lacking in level adjustment)?

Interesting theory, but no. The kalashtar have the distinction of being the one new race that was mentioned in the original ten-page overview of Eberron in the setting search (though the idea of a playable doppelganger was also there in the ten-pager). For me, the defining elements of the kalashtar are that they are mortal humanoids tied to immortal spirits and their unique connection to the world of dreams, something that’s been a long-time interest of mine. My first published piece of RPG material dealt with a conspiracy of people who shared dreams and affected the world through dream manipulation (more than a decade before Inception, mind you). So no, I’m afraid it’s just a coincidence.

Meanwhile, I’ve always used the Gith as a race whose world was destroyed by the Daelkyr before they came to Eberron. I consider the Illithids to be to the Gith as the Dolgaunts are to hobgoblins; they are creatures the Daelkyr created from Gith stock. Thus the Gith are a race who have lost their world, and they despise the Mind Flayers both as the instruments of their destruction and a mockery of their people.

Also, I have read elsewhere that warforged and shifters were elements introduced to Eberron only after WotC accepted it as their contest winner. In the pre-WotC conception of Eberron, did elements related to warforged and shifters exist?

That’s not quite true. The Warforged and Shifters weren’t present in the TEN page submission, because I made the assumption that WotC wouldn’t be interested in adding lots of new races when so many already existed. As such, the kalashtar were the only NEW race I presented. When WotC chose Eberron as a finalist, I had the opportunity to talk to the D&D R&D team and they discussed the aspects of Eberron they liked and what they wanted to see more of in the 100-page final story bible. In particular, they wanted to see more races – specifically races that addresses the magic-as-part-of-life aspect of the world. Sentient war golems and playable lycanthropes both fit that bill. So warforged, shifters and changelings were all in the 100-page story bible that was submitted in the final round of the setting search… and then after Eberron was selected, they were further defined and refined for inclusion in the 3.5 Eberron Campaign Setting.

Is it conceivable for a 5e Great Old One Warlock to have a bond with a Quori? If so, how would you interpret a warlock bond with a Quori outside of the Kalashtar case?

You can certainly have a Great Old One Warlock tied to Dal Quor. Here’s a few ways I could see it working.

Higher Power. The Warlock isn’t dealing with the lesser entities of the Quori; rather, he is dealing directly with one of the greater spirits of the plane. If he tends towards evil, this would be the dominant spirit, il-Lashtavar, the Darkness that Dreams. If he’s benevolent, this would be il-Yannah, the Dawn Yet To Come.

Essentially, the Quori are the creations and servants of il-Lashtavar. If a PC warlock is directly chosen by the great spirit, he is being elevated above the Kalashtar or even the rank and file members of the Dreaming Dark; among the Quori, only the Devourer of Dreams communes directly with il-Lashtavar. This would make the PC a remarkable special person… as a PC should be. The question then becomes HOW the power communicates with him and why. Does it have specific requests, and if so why can’t those be handled by Kalashtar or Quori? Or does it simply need a mortal vessel for some other reason?

Enemy of Higher Power. Twist the concept of the Warlock. The PC isn’t a SERVANT of il-Lashtavar. Instead, the Warlock has essentially hacked into il-Lashtavar and is draining its power by casting spells. This concept works well if you don’t plan for a lot of direct warlock-patron interaction. Alternately, you could say that the power is taken from il-Lashtavar, but the patron is il-Yannah; by weakening the darkness, you speed the coming of the light.

Quori Stooge. The player’s patron is a malevolent quori, likely one of the most powerful of the Kalaraq (such as the Devourer of Dreams). It is posing as some awesome dream entity; it is only through play that the PC will realize that the missions he’s being given are pushing the world in a subtly sinister direction. At this point he’ll need to find a new patron, such as…

Lost Kalashtar. The rebel kalaraq Taratai started the Kalashtar rebellion, but all of her kalashtar hosts have been eliminated and her spirit is lost, presumed to have been reabsorbed by il-Lashtavar. But perhaps it still survives, and has managed to reach out to the warlock. While this bond wouldn’t be the same as being a Kalashtar, it would make the warlock incredibly important to the Kalashtar.

If you named a bunch of books, or films, or TV shows, or whatever, whose inspiration has been critical in creating Eberron, in a sort of multimedia Eberron Appendix N, which would they be?

I could swear there’s a two page list in one of the 3.5 sourcebooks, but a quick search isn’t turning it up. Putting together a list of every book, show or film that I think could possibly inspire people working on Eberron would take more time than I currently have. For example, I have a FEELING that some people might find China Mieville’s books to be inspiring for Eberron, but I’ve never actually read them (which is embarrassing, as all accounts suggest they are awesome – I’ve just never gotten around to it). Likewise, I’ve never played a Final Fantasy game. So I’m going to list a few things, but these are simply a few things that personally inspired me – not every possible source of inspiration.

Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett and almost any Film Noir movie.

The original one sentence description of Eberron was “Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Maltese Falcon meet Lord of the Rings.” Anything in this vein will help inspire adventures tied to dirty dealings on the mean streets of Sharn… and I’ve always described Graywall in Droaam as “Casablanca with ogres.” For what it’s worth, I prefer The Maltese Falcon as a movie and The Big Sleep as a book.

Two-Fisted Tales of Adventure!

The Mummy. Any Indiana Jones movie. Any Republic serial (such as “Nyoka and the Tigermen”). Anything by Edgar Rice Burroughs or Jules Verne. I originally came up with the idea for Eberron because I’d spent a few years working on a pulp-flavored MMORPG that ended up being cancelled, and I’d been watching a LOT of pulp serials.

Neuromancer

William Gibson’s Neuromancer is one of the early cyberpunk novels. It combines aspects of a dystopia future with some basic film noir tropes. There are certainly ways in which the Dragonmarked Houses are inspired by the classic cyberpunk megacorps, with the basic question of what happens when corporate power equals or exceeds the relevance of nations. Almost any cyberpunk novel can provide inspiration for a House-heavy game, but Neuromancer remains my favorite.

Steven Brust

Brust’s Taltos series are pulp stories set in a fantasy world, and deal with many of the same issues as Eberron… though Dragaera is more magically advanced than Eberron; teleportation and resurrection are basic tools available to civilization and everyone effectively has a psionic cell phone. I’ve often considered running a Taltos-style campaign in Eberron, in which the PCs are small time operators in the Boromar Clan trying to hold their turf and expand their reputation and influence. I also like Brust’s Phoenix Guards series, in part because it’s set in an earlier age and there’s an opportunity to see how the science of magic evolves. And as long as we’re mentioning The Phoenix Guards, you also can’t go wrong with anything by Alexandre Dumas.

Phillip K. Dick

I prefer PKD’s short stories to his novels, but I love the questions he raises in his work. The warforged essentially spring from my long love of Blade Runner, bringing us back to cyberpunk. What is the nature of life? What do you do if you were made to be a weapon and there is no war?

H.P. Lovecraft

If you’re going to get into the Cults of the Dragon Below or the Lords of Dust, you should delve into some Lovecraft.

I’m going to stop here because I could keep this list going for pages, and I’m out of time… but anyone reading, post your inspirational films and stories in the comments! For honorable mention, as authors I’ve read and enjoyed who may or may not have directly influenced Eberron: Jack Vance (anything to do with the Dying Earth); Tanith Lee (Night’s Master or Tales From The Flat Earth); J. R. R. Tolkien; George R. R. Martin; Michael Moorcock; Robert E. Howard; Sheri S. Tepper; Neil Gaiman; Patrick Rothfuss; William S. Burroughs (maybe not useful for Eberron, but great if you’re running Over The Edge)… I’ll stop there, but I’m sure I’ll think of a dozen more as soon as I post this.

And now, the Thrane and the Silver Flame questions…

Is there any cardinal who is seriously opposed to Krozen or is suspicious about him? Does Jaela Daran mistrust Krozen?

As with many things about Eberron, it depends on your campaign. In MY campaign, I might decide to have Jaela be a canny politician who’s quite suspicious of Krozen and seeks personal agents to help her carry out personal missions. However, more often I cast Jaela as the truly spiritual leader of the Church, who has little interest in politics and thus tends to trust Krozen and rely on him to handle that side of things. I hate to say this with so many questions, but it’s really a question of how you want the story to go; there’s no wrong answer.

In the 4e ECG it’s mentioned that Aundair refused to return lands to Thrane and that is why Thrane kept Thaliost. Why did Aurala attach more importance to those lands than to such a city? Magic, strategic importance, or other settlements?

Personally I see this as an oversimplification. It’s not that Thrane offered to return Thaliost and Aundair said “No deal,” it’s that each nation had made territorial gains and neither one was willing to give ground. Remember that Aurala in particular believes in the righteousness of her claim to the throne of Galifar and has the least interest in the peace process. What’s been said in other sourcebooks is that Aundair claimed the land that is currently home to Arcanix during the war; note that as Arcanix is a set of floating towers, it was moved to this location to help secure the claim. However, if you consider what makes specific locations strategically important in Eberron, if I were to write something about Arcanix in the future I’d propose that the current location is a powerful manifest zone that is valuable for the research conducted at Arcanix… which would explain both why Aundair attaches such importance to the location, why they moved the university there, and why they aren’t prepared to surrender it.

Wasn’t it mentioned somewhere that Overlord Sul Khatesh is imprisoned under Arcanix?

Good catch! You’d think I’d remember that, since I wrote it (it’s on page 31 of the 4E ECG). In my opinion, this isn’t something anyone KNOWS – it’s a fact for you, the DM. But it’s an excellent reason to say “Arcane magic is remarkably effective in this region and people are far more likely to make amazing breakthroughs in arcane studies.” People think it’s because of a manifest zone, but in fact it’s the influence of Sul Khatesh. So Aundair does believe it’s an ideal site for the University. If I was looking for a plot hook, I’d have some Church scholar figure it out and Thrane suddenly urgently pushing to take back the region, which threatens to escalate into open conflict.

What kind of discrimination (if any) would an aristocrat face who is a devoted follower of the Silver Flame but who holds lands in Cyre, Breland, Aundair, etc.  Having that kind of dual loyalty would strike me as fertile ground for rivals to nibble away at holdings. 

The Silver Flame was widespread across Galifar before the Last War. Ever since the Lycanthropic Purge it’s been especially strong in Aundair, which has always been the stronghold of the Pure Flame. However, devotion to the Flame DOES NOT EQUAL LOYALTY TO THRANE. Many of the Purified don’t approve of the theocratic government of Thrane, asserting that involving the Keeper and cardinals in secular politics distracts the Church from its true mission and breeds corruption.

The purpose of the church is to protect the innocent from supernatural evil. Mortal politics don’t enter into the equation. So a Brelish noble who is loyal to the Flame can absolutely oppose the soldiers of Thrane when they are engaged in military action on behalf of Thrane. If, say, an army of demons pops up, all of the Purified would be expected to join forces against this supernatural threat; once that’s out of the picture they could return to their secular conflict.

So: an Aristocrat who is devoted to the Flame is unlikely to suffer significant prejudice in any nation other than Karrnath. However, a noble who vocally supported his national government being dissolved in favor of Thranish theocracy would likely suffer trouble.

How prolific is the CoSF in Karnath and to what degree would the Karnathi Purified have been persecuted?

The CoSF has never had a strong presence in Karrnath. The people of Karrnath are pragmatic and pessimistic by nature, and the Silver Flame is fed by optimism and altruism. Beyond this, the Blood of Vol was deeply rooted in Karrnath a thousand years before the modern CotSF was even formed… and the Blood of Vol is fundamentally opposed to the Silver Flame, as it embraces what the Church would call “Supernatural Evil”. So it was weak to begin with, and most SF loyalists would have risen in revolt when the state embraced the Blood of Vol as the state faith and began employing undead in the military. This is also the reason Thrane and Karrnath have the deepest emnity of any of the Five Nations. There are surely some in Karrnath who embraced the faith of the Flame… and even if most immigrated or revolted during the war, some could have chosen to hold position and endure so that they could continue to protect the innocents of Karrnath. But they would certainly be viewed with distrust and disdain by those around them, and could easily be accused of treason (true or not).

Side note: While the state no longer supports the Blood of Vol, the cultural tone of Karrnath is still a better match for the BoV – which is a bleak faith based on the concept that the universe and the gods are our enemies and ultimate dissolution is inevitable – than the Silver Flame.

After the Day of Morning, Thrane turned away Cyran refugees.  Would the Purified of Cyran birth been exempt from this prohibition?

Well, here’s the thing. In the extended aftermath of the DoM I could see Thrane refusing to admit refugees. However, in the IMMEDIATE aftermath, it’s the only nation I CAN’T imagine refusing refugees. The entire purpose of the church is to DEFEND THE INNOCENT FROM SUPERNATURAL EVIL. Not “Defend the citizens of Thrane” or “Defend the followers of the Flame”, DEFEND THE INNOCENT. The Mourning is about as “supernatural evil” as things get. It is utterly bizarre to suggest that when faced with clear evidence of supernatural attack that anyone devoted to the Flame would turn back civilians to fend for themselves.

So frankly, the first thing I’d do would be to rewrite whichever history book says that they turned away refugees in the immediate aftermath. After that, I’d have to come up with an explanation that would make sense to me as to how they would justify turning away refugees in a long-term situation. I do feel that they would accept anyone who wished to serve the church itself, because again, the purpose of the church transcends politics. I could see AUNDAIRIAN Templars aligned with the Pure Flame taking such actions (turning back any who didn’t support the Flame) because the Pure Flame is an extremist movement that frequently ignores the core principles of the faith (as shown by Archbishop Dariznu burning people)… but it’s very out of character for Thrane Templars, and personally I’d ignore it in any campaign I run.

I can see the explanation for turning away refugees to involve something along the lines of, “In our capacity as worldly rulers, we are forced to separate ourselves from our spiritual roles as leaders of the Church. So, it is with a heavy heart we are forced to look at what is good for Thrane, rather than what is good for for the suffering souls of Cyre. We are therefore closing our borders to any, and all, refugees from the event known as the Day of Mourning.”

Certainly. If I had to come up with an explanation for it, it would the the reasons that any government turns away refugees. I’m just saying that of all the Cyre-adjacent countries, Thrane seems like the strangest one to make that decision. Consider our options…

  • Karrnath. A very logical choice. Not only are they a highly pragmatic, militant culture used to making harsh decisions, they are also called out as dealing with famine and thus legitimately lacking the resources to suddenly support refugees. If I was picking one of the Five Nations to turn away refugees, it would be Karrnath.
  • Breland. On the one hand, you have Breland’s egalitarian character; on the other, Breland is often also presented as pragmatic and opportunistic. It wouldn’t surprise me to have some corrupt border patrols lining their pockets in exchange for safe haven.
  • Thrane. The odd duck. Thrane isn’t noted as suffering from a crippling lack of resources that would prevent it from accepting refugees. The fundamental principle of the Silver Flame is protecting the innocent from supernatural threats… like the Mourning. Thrane abandoned its secular government in favor of a theocracy based on this faith, and this faith is widespread throughout the nation – so even if the secular leaders gave such an order, I’d expect many border forces to ignore it and follow their faith. Bear in mind that when Aundair was threatened by a plague of lycanthropy a few centuries early, an army of Thranes threw themselves in harm’s way to protect their neighbors. They are the one nation with a proven history of altruistic behavior. Now, I have no problem with Thrane turning away immigrants under any other circumstance… but specifically turning away refugees fleeing from a horrific supernatural threat is bizarrely out of character for Thrane.

Historically, Thrane has the least consistency in its presentation by different authors. The corruption is often blown out of proportion, when a) the CotSF isn’t supposed to have MORE corruption than any other faith in Eberron, it’s simply that there IS corruption even in this altruistic institution; and b) the majority of that corruption is based in Breland. The zealotry becomes a focus, when Aundair is supposed to be the stronghold of the Pure Flame and Thrane the seat of the moderate faith. Heck, we can’t even get consistency on the fact that archery is an important cultural tradition.

So: there is a book that says that Thrane ruthlessly turned away refugees on the Day of Mourning. I could come up with an explanation for that if I had to. But in MY campaign, I’m simply going to ignore it and say it was Karrnath that turned people away… which was an unfortunate necessity due to their limited resources.

So, in your view the Cyran refugees problem presented in the books happening in Breland, it also exists in Thrane? With ghettos and maybe a big refugee camp( like a smaller New Cyre). If not, why the refugee problem exists only in Breland? They have gone there BECAUSE of New Cyre? The Thrane refugees adopted quickly the faith and culture of Thrane and are more keen to mingle and adapt than the Brelanders?

All good questions! To be clear: My issue is the concept that Thrane would turn away people fleeing from a severe supernatural threat. Once that imminent threat is over, I have no issue with them placing political reality ahead of altruism. It’s the same idea that Thrane followers of the Flame can fight Brelish followers of the Flame, but if that demons appear they should both stop fighting to deal with them. For followers of the Flame, a supernatural threat should override political concerns – but once that threat is resolved, politics are back in play.

I believe that Cyran refugees are a problem across Khorvaire (and heck, as far away as Stormreach). If there’s a nation where they aren’t a problem, I’d pick Karrnath… both as the nation legitimately most likely to reject them in the first place (famine!) and as the nation most use to draconian enforcement (Code of Kaius). However, I think that Breland is unique in embracing the refugees… specifically creating New Cyre, a place where their culture is allowed to flourish. Thrane could well be pushing its refugees to abandon their culture and assimilate into Thrane and the Church… given which, those with the means to do so would likely have made their way to New Cyre.

So if I was creating a Flamekeep sourcebook, I would certainly address the presence of Cyran refugees within it. But again, I’m happy with the idea that they are under significant pressure to assimilate, and that NEW refugees aren’t welcome. It’s not that Thrane is the kindest, gentlest nation; it’s that it is specifically altruistic when it comes to fighting supernatural threats, and the actual event of the Mourning would fall under that umbrella.

The accounts of the spread of the Mourning suggest it was very fast (it was the Day of Mourning, not the Week of Mourning or the Month of Mourning, and the Field of Ruins was certainly overrun that same day). If that is the case, how are there any significant number of refugees at all? For that matter, how was there time for any official policy on refugees to be formed? It doesn’t seem like anyone other than border guards would have had time to react before the refugees were already there.

Another excellent set of questions. You’re absolutely correct: it’s called the Day of Mourning for a reason. The first point is that the effects of the Mourning bizarrely conform to a particular set of borders. In my opinion, the bulk of the “refugees” weren’t actually in Cyre when the Mourning occurred; they were soldiers and support staff either in enemy territory or land temporarily seized. This raises one of the long-term issues of dealing with Cyran refugees: most of them were actually enemy combatants, and the war wasn’t over.

In terms of civilian refugees, start with those already out of the borders. Add to those communities on the very edge of Cyre… it was the Day of Mourning, not the Hour of Mourning, after all. The cloud could be seen from a great distance away, and you could easily have had a few places where there was communication – a Speaking Stone station sends a message out saying “Cloud approaching” and then drops off the grid. People on the edge who discover that no inner city is responding might have time to make it to the border… though given that they wouldn’t have known it would stop at the border, odds are good that you’d just have general panic and “SOMETHING IS COMING!!!” – again, the sort of supernatural threat Templars are supposed to defend the innocent from.

HOWEVER, at the same time, it was a time of war and for all border guards would know, it could be a trick. In a time of war, it’s not unreasonable for any nation to act with fear and suspicion; it’s simply that of all the nations, Thrane has the most compelling reason in the very short term to set that suspicion aside to defend those endangered by a supernatural threat.

So for refugees, this gives us Cyrans in enemy territory already; civilians on the very edge who were able to flee before the Mourning reached them; and one more category: survivors. The effects of the Mourning weren’t entirely predictable, and not everyone exposed to it died. The Storm Hammers in Stormreach (City of Stormreach, p.73) are a group of such survivors. So you could have had people in border communities who didn’t escape – but who survived and then fled in a panic.

In any case, you’re right: we’re not talking about large numbers of refugees, and it would be the border guards that would be making the initial decision.

What’s your take on the event leading to the creation of the Church of the Silver Flame?

Well, the 3.5 ECS has this to say…

In 299 YK, the event that started the religion of the Silver Flame took place. In that year, a terrible eruption split the ground and a great pillar of crimson fire emerged from the resulting chasm. No one understood the significance of the blazing column of flame, but most who dared approach it felt unrelenting malevolence in its radiating heat… Tira Miron, a paladin dedicated to Dol Arrah, received a powerful vision about this strange fire while exploring the western reaches of the realm. In her vision, a great rainbow-winged serpent warned her that a terrible evil was emerging in the east, riding crimson fire from the depths of Khyber itself. Tira rallied the forces of Thrane and defeated the dark creatures that had come to venerate the crimson fire and help free the malevolent entity trapped within its flames.

A key point here that’s sometimes missed is that Bel Shalor was never truly free; he just got VERY VERY close to being released. This caused the appearance of demons. Some were likely drawn to the region from other points (such as his followers in the Lords of Dust), but many were probably just released from the Flame itself in advance of him… imagine a fishing net pulled from the ocean with one big fish trapped in it and hundreds of smaller fish tumbling out through the gaps. So: Demons were afoot in Thrane, and their numbers were increasing over time. However, I think that the actions of mortals were more noticeable than the presence of demons. As Bel Shalor’s influence over the region grew, he brought out the worst in people. As noted in the 4E ECG, “People who fall under his sway become selfish and cruel, turning on one another instead of standing against him.” So you’d see feuds and vendettas taken to extremes, the rise of petty tyrants, widespread banditry, and far worse. It makes me think a little of Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles – there ARE demons in the darkness, but the people are more concerned with increasing banditry, war, taxes and the like… not realizing the darker forces that are influencing things.

Tira becomes aware of the threat, but in my opinion she doesn’t just rush over and dive in. Personally, I feel that it took her the better part of a year to prepare – gathering mortal and immortal allies, traveling across Khorvaire and even the outer planes to learn about Bel Shalor and how he could be defeated. In my personal campaign, she went to the Demon Wastes to obtain Kloijner; the greatsword was forged by the couatl (technically it’s a couatl frozen in steel) in the Age of Demons and was previously in the possession of the Ghaash’kala orcs.

In coming back through Thrane, the first step was uniting people and helping them break free of Bel Shalor’s influence; then she led these forces and her allies to the site of the breach, where she defeated the demons and sacrificed herself to force Bel Shalor back into the Flame. Those she left behind then laid the foundation of the modern church. As a side note, in my opinion Tira was essentially one member of a party of adventurers. Dragon 417 includes an article called Miron’s Tears, which identifies an Avenger named Samyr Kes as one of these allies. Others haven’t been named – but these would be the people who established the Church.

One other point: While Bel Shalor was never fully released, it seems likely that his prakhutu, The Wyrmbreaker (described on page 30-31 of the 4E Eberron Campaign Guide) would have been commanding the forces defending the breach… so likely Tira and her allies had to defeat him before they could reach the Flame.

Phew! That’s all for this installment. I’ll certainly let you know as soon as I have any news about Eberron development of 5E. Next up: More about Phoenix: Dawn Command!