The Endless Night

And on the pedestal these words appear: ‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’ Nothing beside remains. Round the decay of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare the lone and level sands stretch far away.

Percy Shelley, “Ozymandias

A sea of liquid shadows laps against black sands and basalt cliffs. A skull lies half-buried in the sand, empty sockets gazing into the roiling mist. The bone isn’t sun-bleached, for there is no sun here; only a faint glimmer from the deep violet moon that hangs in the sky. If you’re playing in Eberron, this is the plane of Mabar. If you’re playing Phoenix: Dawn Command it could be a realm of the Fallen in the deep Dusk. For now, set aside specific system and setting and consider the Endless Night.

Those who know little of what lies beyond common reality often assume that the Endless Night is the plane of “darkness” — that this physical trait is its defining concept. Though the plane is shrouded in shadows, this eternal gloom is just a symptom of the true nature of this place. Even the brightest day will eventually end in darkness, and the Endless Night embodies this idea. It is the shadow that surrounds every island of light, patiently waiting to consume it. This isn’t the place where the souls of the living go after death, but it is the plane of death itself — the hungry shadow that consumes both light and life. It is entropy, hunger and loss — embodying the idea that all things will eventually end in darkness.

ENVIRONS

Like many of the planes, the Endless Night isn’t one contiguous landscape. Rather, it’s layers of reality, each one a different vision of desolation and inevitable decay. In one layer a desert of black sand is broken by jagged obsidian peaks. In another layer, a once-fertile valley has wasted away; crumbling farms are scattered amid withered fields. Another layer is a single vast city. The fountains are dry, the walls are cracked, but rotting tapestries and chipped mosaics speak of an age of wonders. The critical thing to understand is that this cities has ALWAYS been a ruin. This is what Mabar is: the end of things embodied. When mortals pass through, the idea of decay may manifest dramatically – a bridge collapses, a floor gives way – but come back in a week and there will be a new crumbling bridge ready to fall. These layers are symbols of inevitable entropy and lost glory; the precise details may evolve and change, but the net effect remains the same.

While the stage varies — a desert, a ruined city, the withered remains of fertile farmland, or anything else you can imagine — the story is always about loss, entropy, despair, and death. Feel free to add anything that ties to these themes. A massive battlefield filled with the intertwined bones of dragons and giants. Ossuaries and catacombs. Crumbling memorials, with names just too faded to read. Barren orchards and dried riverbeds. And tombs… from tiny unmarked crypts to the death-palaces of fallen rulers, necropolises filled with traps and treasures. And this being the Endless Night, some of those dead rulers still dominate their domains, whether they take the form of undead or simply malevolent will.

These layers aren’t bound by the laws of physical space. They can be tiny, or they can be seemingly infinite. A desert may wrap back upon itself, and the alleys in a city could twist in impossible ways to always return you to the main square… or you could just come to an absolute edge, where everything falls away into an endless and all-consuming void. To move from one layer to another you must either employ spells of your own or find a portal that connects the two realms. Sometimes these are fairly obvious: a massive gate standing alone in the desert, a pit filled with swirling shadows. In other cases, the connection could be entirely abstract. If you are in the valley of the Bone King and you want to get to the desert of the Queen of All Tears, the answer is simple: all you have to do is sincerely cry, and the tears themselves will take you there.

Of course, if you want to explore the Endless Night there are problems you will face no matter where you go. The realm itself constantly consumes light and life. In 3.5 D&D terms it is minorly negative dominant. Unless you’re protected by some form of warding magics, the Night will continuously drain away your life energy, ultimately consuming your body and leaving nothing but a shadow. Even if you’re protected against this effect you must still deal with the darkness. All light sources in this plane are reduced to dim light. The radius of illumination doesn’t change, but no light can banish the perpetual gloom. Spells that use negative energy will be maximized (variable die rolls such as damage and healing have the maximum possible result; this doesn’t affect attack rolls or saving throws), while spells that rely on positive energy are minimized.

THE CONSUMING DARKNESS

Many of the layers of the Endless Night are purely symbolic. These ruins have existed for as long as the plane itself. Many… but not all. Most of the planes don’t interact with one another. The armies of the Battleground endlessly battle each other — they don’t lay siege to the Realm of Madness. The planes are self-contained and focused on their own slivers of reality. But the concept that defines the Endless Night is the hunger to consume light and life, along with the inevitable downfall of all things. And when all the forces align just perfectly, fragments of other planes can be pulled into the Endless Night. These fragments are caught on the edge of the night, the same way mortal dreams drift around the heart of the Realm of Dreams. Over time, they are drained and pulled closer to the core, until ultimately they are fully assimilated into the plane as a new bleak layer. Typically mortals will be transformed into shadows or other forms of undead; immortals might become yugoloths, or twisted into dark mockeries of their former selves.

The Drifting Citadel is just such a layer. This floating tower was once a library; in Eberron it was part of Syrania, while in Phoenix it was created by the Faeda Concord. Now it drifts through a icy void, grand windows shattered and books fallen from their shelves. Shadows of sages clutch at books with insubstantial fingers, never able to turn a page. The angelic librarians are now tormented spirits who hunger for knowledge, draining the memories from any creature unfortunate enough to fall into their grasp.

With this in mind, as you create layers of the Endless Night, consider the history of the layer. Is it a symbolic layer that has always been desolate? Or is it a place that once knew light before it was consumed by the Endless Night? Beyond this, you can also explore the fragments that are in the process of being consumed. Fragments of outer planes might understand what’s going on and be trying to find a way to fight it… but pieces stolen from the material plane may have no way to know what’s happening to them. So you could have a small kingdom ruled by a tragic lord who wields great power and yet is being consumed by darkness… an inescapable realm shrouded by mists, seeming cut off from the rest of the world. All of which is to say that this would be an easy way to add Ravenloft into a setting, as a piece of reality that is under siege by the dark powers of the Endless Night. In Eberron, the Mourning could be what happens when a piece of reality is consumed… in which case Queen Dannel could still rule over a version of Cyre that is being consumed by shadows. It could be that this wound will never heal, and that the Mournland is now a permanent part of Eberron; or it could be that given time restorative power will flow from the Eternal Dawn to restore the blighted land, creating a new Cyre. These unassimilated fragments don’t have the negative dominant trait, and can contain living creatures… but the consuming hunger of the Endless Night should always be felt in some way.

Overall, it might seem like this is something the powers of other planes would try to stop. But the it cannot be stopped, and they know it. It is part of the machinery of reality. The Endless Night consumes and fragments are lost. Those pulled into the darkness can fight against it, but the ultimate outcome is inevitable. Were it not for the Eternal Dawn, it would eventually consume everything. But as the Night consumes, the Dawn restores, and so balance is ultimately maintained. The question a GM must decide is whether the fragments that are consumed are random… or whether the Empress of Shadows has some discretion over this. It might not be possible to fight the coming of night… but it could be that planar emissaries come to the Amaranthine City to negotiate with the Empress of Shadows and turn the hungry darkness in a different direction.  

DENIZENS OF THE ENDLESS NIGHT

The most numerous inhabitants of Mabar are shadows. These semi-sentient spirits linger in places where you might expect to find people, forlornly pantomiming the roles of the absent inhabitants. You’ll find the shadows of children playing on the corner of a Mabaran street, or the shadow of a priest silently praying to an absent and unknown god in a shattered temple. Many sages who study the planes believe that these shadows are tied to mortals… that every sentient mortal creature has a shadow in the Endless Night, a manifestation of their darker impulses. These shadows don’t speak and are driven by impulse and instinct. They hunger for the lifeforce of mortals, and if planar travelers aren’t protected by magic they may be swarmed by hungry shadows.

The more desolate planes are home to nightshades. These powerful creatures are conduits of negative energy. In the obsidian desert, massive nightcrawlers lurk in the dark sands while nightwalkers lay claim to the ruins and rule over the shadows. Nightshades often attack fragments, feeding on the energy of the fragment and accelerating its assimilation. In these attacks, nightcrawlers may rely on raw force which nightwalkers may lead armies of undead. While intelligent, nightshades are more alien and primal than the yugoloths and rarely negotiate or converse with outsiders.

If the Endless Night has a heart, it would be the Amaranthine City… a metropolis that fills an entire layer. Nothing flourishes in this plane; banners are tattered and gardens are withered. But it is still wondrous in the scope of its cyclopean towers and grand fortifications. It is the capital of an empire in decline, and yet the hint of what it was at the height of its glory makes it wondrous even when faded. And it is no empty shell; it is a city alive with activity. This is the seat of the Empress of Shadows and her people; in D&D terms, these are the yugoloths. These are spirits of darkness, embodiments of hunger, despair and death. To all appearances, the yugoloths are citizens of a vast empire; they maintain that all things were once in darkness and eventually will be again.

Many yugoloths serve in the army. The Legion of Night lays siege to the fragments of planes that have powerful inhabitants of their own. The yugoloths do battle with angels and devils trapped in their doomed fragments, until the fragments are ultimately fully drained, assimilated, and their immortal inhabitants converted to a form more suited to the Endless Night. It’s questionable if these battles actually speed up the assimilation, or if they are simply a way for the fiends to pass the time; certainly, they enjoy these struggles.

Other yugoloths are gardeners… but what they cultivate is darkness. Most gardeners work with shadows. They search for promising shadows and use their abilities to strengthen a shadow in certain ways. It’s thought that this in turn feeds the darkness of the mortal tied to the shadow, potentially filling them with despair or driving them down dark paths. When the mortal eventually dies, the yugoloth can harness and refine the essence of the shadow, which can be used to create tools, elixirs, or works of art. While most gardeners work with shadows, some go into the fragments of the material plane that are being assimilated, twisting and tormenting the mortals trapped their in slow and subtle ways.

These are common paths, but there are many others. Some are philosophers and oracles who contemplate the nature of entropy and the way in which things will end. Some are artists and artisans, crafting shadow and spirit to create tools and weapons (which can cause death and despair should they make their way to the mortal world). And some serve seemingly menial roles in the Amaranthine City.

There are many other lesser inhabitants of the plane. Succubi are lesser spirits that embody emotional pain and loss. Some succubi are solitary and prey on mortals in fragments, while others live alongside the yugoloths and ply their wiles on them; the suffering of a fiend is just as satisfying to them as that of a mortal. Other succubi are gardeners, and some believe that a succubi can drain the love from a mortal heart by bleeding it from their shadow. And last but certainly not least, the Endless Night is home to undead. Most of the undead are symbolic: the endless skeletal armies of the Bone King aren’t actually the remains of mortal beings, and the Bone King himself, while he appears to be a lich, was likewise never mortal. Spectres and wraiths generally exist as predators, halfway between the Nightshades and the shadows. Some believe that when a vampire or lich is finally destroyed, its essence is pulled down into Mabar where it persists as a wraith… denied the eventual rest granted to other spirits of the dead, forever driven by the hunger of the night. Most are likely driven mad by this ordeal, but it’s possible that a vampire slain in a campaign could be encountered again as a spectral lord in the Endless Night.

TOUCHING THE MATERIAL: EBERRON

In an Eberron campaign, the Endless Night is the plane of Mabar. It affects the world in a number of ways: through manifest zones, coterminous periods, the actions of the plane and its denizens. Beyond this, some believe that Mabar is generally a source of despair and desolation, that it drains both emotional and physical energy from the world. While this is unproven, it is definitely the source of negative energy. Necromantic magics that sap energy or drain lifeforce draw on the power of the Endless Night. This is also the power that sustains most undead. Skeleton, vampire and wraith are all animated by the power of Mabar. This is the source of the vampire’s endless hunger and the draining touch of many undead. But even lesser undead innately draw life energy from the world around them. Typically this ambient drain is slight enough that there’s no mechanical effect; but this is why a haunted tomb will often be surrounded by dead plants and shriveled vines. The priests of Undying Court assert that negative undead are slowly destroying the world and that eventually this will cause irreparable harm; this is why the Aereni Deathguard seek to track and destroy Mabaran undead whenever possible.

One point here is the common confusion between Mabar and Dolurrh. Dolurrh is the realm of the dead, but it’s not the plane of death. Dolurrh is a place of transition. It is where the souls of the dead go after death, where the burdens of life are removed. So Dolurrh is where people go when they die; but Mabar embodies the idea of death, of inevitable loss and the end of all things.

COTERMINOUS AND REMOTE

According to the Eberron Campaign Setting, Mabar becomes coterminous for three days every five years. During these periods, there is a general increase in the amount of negative energy in the world. Shadows grow deeper and colder, and effects that rely on negative energy are strengthened. When one is alone in a dark place, this energy saps both strength and hope; solitary people are more likely to succumb to illness and despair. As a result, during these periods people generally come together to hold back the darkness. Communities gather around bonfires and sing or pray together; friends or families might gather into one abode for the duration, as bonds of love and friendship are a source of positive energy.

The Eberron Campaign Setting makes the consequences of the phase quite severe, stating “During the night and while underground, travel between the planes is much easier—simply stepping into an area where no light shines can transport a character from Eberron to Mabar, and barghests and shadows emerge from the Endless Night to hunt the nights of Eberron.” I consider this to be overstated for dramatic effect. Both of these things are possible, but here again, positive energy holds these effects at bay… and positive energy comes from light, life and love. So when Mabar is coterminous it is dangerous to go in the basement of the creepy abandoned house, or to wander alone on the moors at night. But if you’re in a house with your family and friends celebrating and singing around a roaring hearth, you don’t have to worry about being killed by a shadow when you go to the pantry. A child conceived during this period would have a chance to be born as a Mabaran tiefling… but in theory, if they child is conceived in love, that positive energy should prevent this.  

While it might be possible to be transported to Mabar by passing through a shadow in a desolate place during the coterminous phase, I wouldn’t have such an effect take you to the heart of Mabar, where the minor negative dominant aspect would kill a normal person within minutes; instead, I’d have them pass into a mortal fragment that’s currently on the edge of Mabar and being consumed. Which is, again, essentially Ravenloft. You go walking on the moors at night, pass through dark mists, and find yourself in a tiny and tragic kingdom besieged by despair.

On the other hand, when Mabar is remote effects that use negative energy are impeded; spirits are generally higher (though this effect is not as dramatic as a time when Irian is coterminous); and undead are often gripped with ennui.  

MANIFEST ZONES

All manifest zones to Mabar are strong sources of negative energy. Even if this doesn’t produce a direct mechanical effect, it is always the case that a Mabaran manifest zone is an excellent place to perform any sort of ritual that draws on negative energy. Other than that, here’s a few possible traits of Mabaran manifest zones.

  • Blighted or unnatural vegetation.
  • Low fertility and reduced resistance to disease. Creatures born in the region might be sickly, or you might get unnatural creatures (like Mabaran tieflings).
  • Psychological gloom: a tendency towards despair, hopelessness, and suicidal thoughts.
  • Presence of shadows, wraiths, or other undead. While these can be shades of mortals slain by other undead, they are typically just manifestations of Mabar itself – embodiments of consuming darkness.  
  • Skeletons or zombies might spontaneously animate from corpses. Such undead don’t have any of the memories of the body and will typically seek to kill any living creatures they encounter.
  • Unnatural darkness; light sources could be reduced, so even the brightest source only produces dim light. You could even have an area that is permanently shrouded in magical darkness.
  • Spells and effects that rely on negative energy could be enhanced or even maximized; undead could be strengthened.
  • Shadows could take on a life of their own without becoming fully formed aggressive monsters. It’s not that they exist independently of the things that cast them, but they might move in impossible ways or respond to actions around them.

Most of these don’t sound like very welcoming traits, and few people would likely choose a Mabaran manifest zone as a place to build their town. But there are reasons for doing it. We’ve established that in Karrnath, Blood of Vol communities often build temples in Mabaran manifest zones and perform rituals that help to contain the negative impact of the zone — and that some of the terrible famines in Karrnath were the results of soldiers seizing these towns and temples and failing to maintain these rites, resulting in sudden and dramatic blights. Beyond that, unnatural vegetation or minerals infused with Mabaran energy could have useful effects. In The Thorn of Breland books I talk about nightwater — water infused with Mabaran energy — as a common component used in disarming wards and magical traps.

So a Mabaran zone could be occupied by people trying to contain its effect or by necromancers channelling it; but often, they’re likely to be shunned areas in the wilds.

SCHEMES AND ADVENTURES

Do the denizens of Mabar ever have schemes that reach into Eberron? How could it play an interesting role in an adventure? One of the simplest ways is simply to work a manifest zone into a story. A necromancer has a tower in a blighted grove, and this empowers their magics and undead minions. The PCs take on the necromancer and defeat him. But when they return they discover that the necromancer’s work was holding the power of Mabar at bay, and the blight is spreading. Can they find a way to restore the balance? What if someone has to stay in the tower? Does one of the villagers have the talent? Or do they need to find another necromancer willing to hold the post – and can they trust her with this power?

Manifest zones could inspire many stories or interesting encounters.

  • Shadholt is a small village hidden in the woods of Karrnath… a village populated almost entirely by Mabaran tieflings. The tieflings harvest vegetation and dragonshards infused with Mabaran energies and can make interesting elixirs and items. Perhaps they simply wish to be left alone… but an encounter with superstitious foresters could lead to a conflict with the local warlord. What side will the PCs take? Are the tieflings innocent, or are they using the powers of Mabar to prey on their enemies? Or is Shadholt the source of an addictive drug that’s been spread ing across the region?
  • Passing across a moor, the PCs are set upon by the shadows of wolves and hawks. The following dawn, they discover that one of the PCs is missing their shadow… it’s been lost in the manifest zone. Do they need to go back and find it? If so, how? If not, what does it mean that the character no longer has a shadow?
  • The PCs discover that House Thuranni is experimenting with the potential of the Mark of Shadows, seeking to channel the power of Mabar. There’s a research center in a Mabaran manifest zone. What happens if the experiments work? Are the elves in full control of their powers? Or are they consumed by their own shadows, leaving dark hearts cloaked in flesh wielding terrifying powers?

Overall, the denizens of Mabar have no interest in Eberron; they have everything they need in Mabar and its fragments. However, just like the Daelkyr or the Kalashtar Quori, you could have an individual or small group of spirits that take an interest in Eberron. Here’s a few possibilities.

  • A disguised succubus is a scholar of loss, subtlely engineering disastrous tragedies for the people of a small community in order to study their reactions. Alternately you could take the same concept but she could be targeting powerful, successful individuals — such as player characters — instead of a particular place.
  • A small group of Yugoloths are studying the world and choosing the next location that will be consumed by Mabar. The consumption will happen, even if the Yugoloths are defeated… but can the damage be minimized?
  • A yugoloth artisan crafts artifacts and sows them into Eberron to cause death and despair. A weapon forged in Mabar could be a literal demon — a battleloth — or it could possess great power but bring tragedy to the one who wields it. A villain could cause great havoc with this night-forged blade; once the villain is defeated, will a PC claim the blade or leave it be?
  • A nightwalker has broken through into Eberron, turning a Mabaran manifest zones into a gateway. The dead are rising in response to the nightshade’s call, and it has a force of nightcrawlers and nightwings. The Nightwalker has no agenda other than destruction, despair, and drinking in the energy of the world. Where is this gateway? What will it take to close it and contain this threat?
  • Queen Dannel’s Cyre has been pulled into Mabar. There’s no way to reclaim it and return it to Eberron, but the now-vampire Dannel has a bigger goal. In Mabar, everything must end… even the yugoloth order. Dannel believes that she can overthrow the Empress of Shadows and become the new immortal overlord of the realm… but she needs the help of epic-level PCs to do it. Will they help transform Cyre into the new heart of the Endless Night?  

The idea of the consumed fragments opens up another host of story possibilities.

  • Forced out into the wilds during a Mabaran coterminous period, the PCs find themselves in a strange land. This could be a familiar town that’s now suffering from dangers and threats; can the PCs figure out what’s going on, and if it can’t be stopped can they help friends escape? It could be a realm pulled out of history, time slowed by the process of assimilation — the last stronghold of Karrn the Conqueror or Malleon the Reaver. Or it could be something entirely new, like Ravenloft.
  • An angel of Syrania reaches out to the PCs. Something vital is trapped in a Syranian tower that was pulled into Mabar. If the angel goes to the fragment, it will be trapped there forever; but mortals could enter the fragment, retrieve the relic and escape. What is the relic? What else might they find in the lost tower?
  • Similar ideas could take the players into the heart of Mabar itself. What treasures are hidden in the tomb of the Queen of All Tears? What secrets lie in the scattered tomes of the Drifting Citadel?

All of these ideas are literally off the top of my head, and I’m sure you can come up with others. Share your ideas in the comments!

THE DEEP DUSK: PHOENIX DAWN COMMAND

Phoenix: Dawn Command doesn’t have the complex cosmology of D&D. The Dusk is the realm that lies between life and death, a realm of spirits and magic. When a Phoenix dies, they go to a crucible – a pocket realm within the Dusk where they can earn their way back to the Daylit World. But there’s more to the Dusk than most Phoenixes ever see. The greatest of the Fallen Folk may have their own domains within the Dusk, and there can be great mystical engines left over from the Old Kingdoms, or simply from the framework of reality.

Within Phoenix, there’s a few ways you could use the Endless Night. Perhaps the Phoenixes face a great force of darkness striking against a community of innocents — a Nightwalker leading a legion of hungry wraiths and animated corpses. Destroying this being requires the Phoenixes to join their power together, sacrificing all their sparks to drive it back into the dusk. But instead of waking in their crucibles, the Phoenixes find themselves in the Endless Night, pulled into it by the spirit they banished. Can they find a way to escape the Deep Dusk? And what happens if they die before they do?

You could also explore the idea of the hungry realm… to have a piece of the Empire pulled into the Endless Night while the PCs are defending it. The life is being drawn out of it, and shadows lash out at the innocent. Can they find a way to return this farm/village/city to reality? And again, what happens if a Phoenix dies in this place? Do they simply return to the Night? Are they seemingly gone forever… and if so, is this what actually happens or have they simply been returned to the Daylit World?

Another possibility is to explore the idea that the layers of the Endless Night are all pieces seized from the Daylit World. Perhaps the Endless Night was created as a way to avoid the doom of the Old Kingdoms, preserving communities in some fashion (albeit a dark one); now the threat of the Dread has brought this old magic back to life, and it’s going to start stealing cities anew.

Q&A

How do Mabar and the Plane of Shadows both exist in the same cosmology while remaining distinct? What is the difference in themes between these two Planes? Can the Plane of Shadows have its own Manifest Zones?

This is spelled out on page 92 of the Eberron Campaign Setting. The entire reality of Eberron — including its thirteen planes — is enfolded by the astral plane; the ethereal and shadow planes encompass the material plane but don’t touch the other planes. The easy way to think of this is that the Shadow Plane is the darkness that lies between realities. It has no meaning as Mabar does; it is simply a dark space outside of reality. Spells like shadow walk let you use it as a shortcut through space, or even in theory as a conduit to move between realities. But it isn’t part of the creation of the Progenitors. It has no meaning and it doesn’t shape reality. It’s not part of the planar orrery, and as such it never becomes coterminous or remote and it doesn’t create manifest zones; it simply is.

A minor qualm, but it seems that Mabar as portrayed here ultimately prevails when it exceptionally interacts with other planes, as Syrania in the post. Yet, using the same example, after night comes dawn…

That’s exactly the point. The night consumes every day… and the dawn eventually overcomes each night. The section on “The Consuming Darkness” calls this out: Were it not for the Eternal Dawn, (The Endless Night) would eventually consume everything. But as the Night consumes, the Dawn restores, and so balance is ultimately maintained.”

The Endless Night embodies the idea of despair and the inevitable end. But the Eternal Dawn — in Eberron, Irian — embodies the idea of hope and the indomitability of life. Anything Mabar can consume, Irian can restore… though both of these things take time. But yes, Mabar will ultimately prevail against any fragment it consumes because that fragment has been pulled out of its own concept and into the Night, which is defined by that inevitable defeat.

Is it possible for there to be Mabaran celestials, or good-aligned spirits from Mabar? For that matter, are there any Irian fiends, or evil-aligned spirits from Irian?

Certainly, in both cases. But the point is that any spirit of the Endless Night is about the concept of death, loss, despair. If you can find a way to make a being who’s a positive embodiment of these things, it could be good. For example, you could have Small Mercies — little spirits that kill those who are suffering unendurable torment. Technically they’re good; they are helping those who suffer. But their tool is still death. You won’t have a spirit in Mabar that seeks to prevent death, because that’s something that belongs in Irian. Look at Shavarath: you have noble celestials fighting vile demons, but they are all fighting; you’re not going to find a spirit from Shavarath that thinks peace is a good idea, unless it’s the peace that will come when we win our noble battle against the enemy.

So any spirit of the Endless Night will somehow embody death or loss, entropy or despair. If you can think of the positive aspects of this and personify it, that could be a Mabaran celestial. Conversely, Irian is about life and love, new beginnings and hope. If you can find a way that these things could be negative, you could have an fiend that embodies that. Perhaps there’s a spirit that spreads false hopes… though again, if its ultimate goal was to cause despair, it would belong in Mabar. Meanwhile, in a fragment of Irian being consumed by Mabar you can have the embodiment of hope that is struggling against despair; and within a fully consumed layer, it might still exist as the embodiment of crushed hopes and disappointment.

With all of that said: Bear in mind that just as celestials can fall, fiends can also rise. In the same way that an angel can become a Radiant Idol or rebel Quori can become Kalashtar, you could have a yugoloth who defies their nature and purpose. However, like the Kalashtar Quori and the Radiant Idol, if they want to maintain that identity they’d likely have to flee from Mabar.

If Mabar is indeed Death itself, then how to the Seekers argue their use of its powers. Logically, the Undying Court would be right; however, it is important to the role of the Blood of Vol that they too would have arguments. I like the idea that they do their part to contain the spread of Mabar’s power in its manifest zones, but why wouldn’t they agree with the Court that Mabar is basically a hostile plane and not to be meddled with?

It’s like fire, or nuclear power, or electricity. All of these are dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing; when harnessed by someone who understands them, they can be used to do good. An educated priest of the Blood of Vol would certainly agree that the power of Mabar is inherently dangerous — as shown by their working to contain the danger posed by manifest zones — but that’s exactly the point: they can contain that danger. They believe that their knowledge and understanding allows them to use this dangerous power in a positive way, just as we are comfortable using electricity and nuclear power in our daily lives.

Looking to the Undying Court’s assertion that all use of Mabaran energy is a threat to the world, Aerenal is a fairly isolationist country and they haven’t blanketed the Five Nations with this view. Even if they did, it’s a perfect mirror to the issue of climate change. Aerenal has logic on their side: it’s energy from the plane of Death and look at what it does in manifest zones — why use it? The Blood of Vol takes the role of people who say that cleaner coal is the answer to climate change: they know what they’re doing, they’re not going to throw away a useful tool because of some crackpots, and they don’t see any proof that things are as bad as the elves say. Plus, given that the Undying Court eradicated the line of Vol they CLEARLY have a vendetta against the BoV and this argument is simply driven by that vendetta; they’re making up excuses to persecute the BoV. Don’t be misled!

Short form: Any cleric of the Blood of Vol will tell you the power they wield is dangerous, but generations of their ancestors have learned how to master that power and wield it safely. And any arguments that it’s poisoning the world are ridiculous — again, generations of their ancestors have used it safely.

Dragonmarks: Origin of the Planes

Art by Lee Moyer for the 4th Edition Eberron Campaign Guide

This week I’m going to be writing about the planes. Tomorrow I’ll be posting a long article about the Endless Night, and later in the week I’ll be addressing some questions from my Patreon supporters. I thought we’d start off with a few of the most basic questions. Something that comes up fairly often: Why did we create a new cosmology for Eberron? 

The Great Wheel has lingered through many editions of D&D, and most official settings use a variation of this planar cosmology. But when we hammered out the details of Eberron, we made a conscious choice not to use the Great Wheel, but rather to create an entirely new cosmology from the ground up. Why?

One of the main goals in creating Eberron was to create a new world — a setting that could support stories that couldn’t be told in other settings. This included taking a different approach to the divine. Forgotten Realms had long received the most support of any D&D setting, and divine intervention and interaction plays a significant role in Faerun. But while active gods allow for tales like the Time of Troubles, they don’t work well when you want to deal with stories of schisms, corruption in a church, crusades and inquisitions that may have noble intent but which will clearly bring suffering. These are things that feel real and that we’ve dealt with in our history… but things that could easily be resolved if a deity could simply appear and say “You’re doing it wrong” or clarify a point of heresy. For this reason alone, we had to create a new cosmology. The planes of the Great Wheel are the homes of the gods; if we wanted a universe where the existence of the gods is a matter of faith, we had to start with a clean slate.

Setting gods aside, we wanted to start from scratch because we wanted to look at everything with new eyes. Eberron takes a different approach to gnomes. It takes a different approach to drow, to elves, to gnolls. Why wouldn’t we take a unique approach to fiends and celestials? If you want to use the Blood War or the Great Wheel in your game, there’s a dozen settings where you can. And for that matter, if you want to use these things in EBERRON you can, because you can always just change the universe to incorporate them.

In short, the Great Wheel already exists for those who want it; developing Eberron was an opportunity to explore a different approach to the planes. In Eberron, the planes aren’t tied to gods. They aren’t worlds tied to particular alignments. Only one of them is any sort of afterlife. Instead, they are isolated aspects of reality given concrete form. And part of the reason for doing this is because each one is a unique and fascinating place to explore… although, unfortunately, we never had the opportunity to explore them in third edition.

Did you establish the 13 Eberron-exclusive planes to discourage world-hopping from other settings, and if so why?

It was never our intention to discourage plane-hopping. If you look at page 92 of the Eberron Campaign Setting, it explains that the material plane of Eberron AND its thirteen planes are surrounded by the transitive planes: Astral, Ethereal and Shadow. From the start, Chris Perkins asserted that the Plane of Shadow connects all settings — if you wanted to get from Krynn to Eberron, you could get there through the Plane of Shadow.

With that said, while the ECS mentions the Plane of Shadow, it doesn’t CALL OUT that it could serve as a bridge between settings. Like many things in Eberron, we wanted to leave options to help GMs tell the stories they want to tell. It wasn’t our intention to discourage world-hopping, but it also wasn’t our intention to encourage it. Eberron is a self-contained setting with more than enough ways to add almost anything you want to use… and once you DO start bringing things in from other settings, it opens up various cans of worms, like what happens if a god from another setting comes into Eberron? Why are couatl in Eberron so different from couatl in other settings? But if you want to do it, it’s easy to do it. The Plane of Shadow is one option, but it’s a trivial matter to come up with others. Cannith’s created a world-hopping eldritch machine. The Mourning has torn a hole between realities. And so on.

Syrania is peace and Fernia is fire, Dal Quor is dream and Daanvi is order. What *does* the plane of Eberron represent and why is it in the center? And why does it not have any weird planar rule based on some concept?

There’s a bunch of things to unravel here.

First of all, Eberron isn’t the plane “of” anything. As called out in the Eberron Campaign Setting, Eberron is the Material Plane… which means it’s explicitly the plane of everything. From a mythological perspective, the planes were created by the Progenitors; when they were done, they created the material plane as a nexus where all those concepts overlap. The material plane is a place where you have order and chaos, strife and serenity, life and death. This is also why Eberron is where you find the most mortal creatures, as mortals are poised between many things.

With that said, I also think that the planar orrery — pictured above – is a metaphorical way to depict the planes. They aren’t actually little planets orbiting Eberron; they are layers of reality that exist sideways to Eberron. But because they move in and out of alignment in a predictable fashion, the orrery is a convenient way to depict them. And Eberron is at the center because it touches all of them, while they don’t directly touch one another.

Many of these concepts (order and chaos, war, nature, fairy tales, madness, death) are human at their core and while a lot of the intelligent species of Eberron share a lot of these notions… they also have many of their own, very relevant to them and only barely important for humans. Bloodlust for vampires. The Prophecy for dragons. And on that topic, this is a dragon centric world! Shouldn’t there be a plane of mystic secrets and a plane that’s avarice?

Life and death. Order and chaos. Strife and serenity. These aren’t concepts that are relevant to a single race; these are fundamental things experienced by almost any natural creature. In some ways this is the definition OF a “natural” creature — you live, you die, you are part of the natural world. There is chaos in nature and there is order, conflict and peace. These aren’t somehow human concepts; they are the basic pillars of reality.

Part of the issue here is that you shouldn’t look at the planar concepts with a narrow focus. By simple description Xoriat is the plane of “Madness” – but in fact it is about the alien and unknowable, the unnatural, about questions you shouldn’t ask. Madness is a potential consequence of contact with Xoriat and an easy label for it, but the actual concept that defines the plane is far broader and more flexible than that; the illithids call it the Realm of Revelations. Thelanis is the Faerie Court, but it is also the plane of stories and of magic, of the wonder we want to be in the world. Dolurrh is where spirits go after death, but Mabar is the plane of Death; it is entropy, the hunger that consumes both light and life, the shadow that waits for every light to fade. Irian is the positive force that drives and encourages life, the sun about to rise and the light waiting to banish the shadow. “Peace” is an easy way to describe Syrania, but it’s far more than that. I wish I had time and the ability to delve into every plane in more depth, and I’ll touch on these later in the week. But again, if they seem simple, it’s because the simple concepts are all most humans understand. But that’s a limitation of perception and imagination.

So taking the concepts mentioned – bloodlust for vampires, mystical secrets or greed from dragons – these are narrow ideas and already incorporated into the existing planes. Martial fury would be a part of Shavarath, while the consuming hunger of the vampire is a symptom of its tie to the endless dark of Mabar. Mystic secrets fall under Thelanis or Xoriat, depending if learning them could drive you mad; and as for greed, there’s likely a Quori who feeds on dreams of avarice. Dragons live and die. They dream and they tell stories. Vampires may not die, specifically because their tie to Mabar keeps them from Dolurrh… but they pay for that life by consuming the lives of others. They are surrounded by nature, by fire and ice. The planes define reality. Vampires, dragons and humans all just live in it.

If the Astral surrounds the entirety of the “universe” of Eberron, what lies outside the Astral?

What do you WANT to be beyond the Astral? It’s not something we’re likely to define in canon, both because it’s far outside the scope of a typical campaign and more important, because leaving it undefined creates opportunities for GMs to come up with an answer that works with the story they want to tell. A few possibilities:

  • Nothing lies beyond the Astral. We’re not bound by the laws of nature; it could be infinite and empty, extending endlessly into eternity.
  • Beyond the borders of the Astral lies the Far Realm. Perhaps, if survive your exploration of the Far Realm, you’ll find other astrals and other universes drifting beyond it. The main issue is that you’ll want to think carefully about how you distinguish the Far Realm from Xoriat (something I discuss in the recent Xoriat post).
  • Perhaps the Great Wheel lies beyond the Astral. Perhaps the Progenitors were rogue deities from the Wheel who made a new creation in secret, hidden away where the other gods couldn’t find it and meddle with its inhabitants.

There are just a few ideas. The question is what do you need the answer to do for you? Do you want the opportunity for players to explore other settings? Do you want a bizarre threat that’s so completely alien that even Xoriat is creeped out by it? Choose the answer that tells that story.

That’s all for today. Tomorrow I’ll explore the Endless Night, and later in the week I’ll answer more questions from the Patreon Inner Circle. Thanks to everyone who’s supporting the site!

Dragonmarks: Lizard Dreams

My previous post dealt with creating an Eberron campaign based in Q’barra, and it spawned the following question.

How do you see a human (or dwarf or whatever) barbarian raised by Cold Sun lizardfolk working in this campaign?

As I mentioned in my article on exotic races, the first thing I’d want to do with this is to find out why the player wants to play this character. Why do they want to have been raised by scales? What impact has it had on them? How do they see this background playing into their future? The critical issue here is that Q’barra has three distinct reptilian cultures. Each one plays a dramatically different role in the campaign. I’m not thrilled about the idea of having a player character with deep connections to the Cold Sun Federation, because they have a very alien culture. Learning their motivations and figuring out how to communicate with them is something that I’d planned on being a significant challenge that would play out over the course of multiple adventures. Having a player who has been raised among them and thus inherently understands their customs and has contacts within the Federation completely changes that story.

But: this isn’t my story. It’s our story. If the player understands what the Cold Sun Lizardfolk are all about and specifically wants to have a connection to their culture, I want to find a way to work with that. I can change the direction of the story to embrace this new hook, and I’ll talk about that below. But the thing is that I doubt the player has that in mind. I suspect that they just like the idea of being an outsider raised among the indigenous culture, of walking between two worlds, trying to reconcile the values and culture they were raised with against the common culture of their biological kin. That’s a great story. But if that’s all they are looking for, I will steer them away from the Cold Sun lizardfolk – the Masvirik’uala – and encourage them to have ties to the Trothlorsvek dragonborn.

To explain in any more detail, I have to delve into potential spoilers for a Q’barra campaign. Most of what I’m about to discuss is drawn from the Q’barra articles I wrote for Dungeon 182 and Dungeon 185. If you’ve only read the core Eberron sourcebooks you won’t have encountered some of these ideas… and it’s important to remember that in Eberron, everything is optional. If you don’t like these ideas, don’t use them – and if you’re a player, don’t assume that your DM is using these things. But this is where I’d be going in my Q’barra campaign.

TROTHLORSVEK: The Dragonborn of Ka’rhashan

Long ago the dragons of Argonnessen dispatched forces to Q’barra to stand watch over places where fiendish influences lingered from the Age of Demons. To cut a long story short, over the course of thousands of years the dragonborn grew bored with their duties and spread out to the west, establishing a nation in the Talenta Plains and Blade Desert. They clashed with the goblins that dominated the heart of Khorvaire, but it was the corruption of Rhashaak and the rise of the Poison Dusk that destroyed their empire. They fell back to Q’barra and have never regained their power; what strength they have is spent guarding the cursed sites and fighting the Poison Dusk.

The dragonborn are divided into clans. They are a martial culture, still hungry for glory; they split their energies between battling the Poison Dusk and ritual battles against other clans. There are clans and leaders who believe that the it’s time for their people to abandon the ancient duties and turn their eyes to more glorious battles… perhaps beginning by driving the softskins from Q’barra.

So looking back to the question: while it would be unusual, I can definitely imagine a human (or dwarf, or halfling) who somehow ends up being raised by dragonborn. Perhaps the child’s parents earned the respect of a dragonborn champion before they died. Perhaps it was some form of debt of honor… or perhaps an elder believed that the Prophecy called for the protection of the child. This creates a host of possible story hooks. Was the character taken in by an entire clan, or were they only accepted by a specific champion or elder? Either way, did this create conflict for the clan or champion, either with another clan or within the clan itself? Does the character still have a place among the dragonborn, or were they driven out from the clan? Over the course of a campaign, members of the clan could show up; they might need the PC’s help on a mission, or could call the PC back to clan lands to defend their foster family or to represent the clan in a ritual battle or a rivalry with another clan. Or, a rival clan could show up in pursuit of a vendetta. Or trouble could arise with the Poison Dusk – and by the traditions of the character’s clan, they’re duty bound to oppose the Poison Dusk. Will they uphold the duties of their clan, or have they turned their back on that life?

So: Lots of story hooks here. The only problem is that the dragonborn aren’t especially barbaric. They have a sophisticated martial tradition and excellent smiths, and would be more inclined to produce fighters or paladins than barbarians. But if the player is set on barbarian, you could establish this as the traditions of their particular clan – which could be something else that sets that clan at odds with others.

MASVIRIK’UALA: The Lizardfolk of Q’barra

In developing the lizardfolk of Q’barra, I wanted to make them a truly alien culture. They aren’t just humans with scales; there are fundamental differences that make it very difficult for them to understand and communicate with humans, and this is something that has led to the current conflict with the colonists. In my Eberron, part of a Q’barra campaign would be coming to understand these differences and finding a way to improve communication. So, spoilers to that mystery lie ahead.

On the surface, the lizardfolk are a primitive tribal culture. They have no written language, and in conversation they often seem terse and cryptic. While they initially held to treaties established with the colonists, they’ve recently engaged in savage attacks on mining camps and caravans, leaving no survivors.

The lizardfolk are an ancient race. The Overlord Masvirik dominated their ancestors, and the couatl freed them from this demonic tyranny. Following to the great sacrifice that kindled the Silver Flame, the couatl planted a seed in the collective unconscious of the lizardfolk of the region — something that would guide them and unite them, and help prevent Masvirik from rising again. And that is this: The lizardfolk of Q’barra have shared dreams. Their dreams aren’t in any way random: they are lessons. They dream of the battles their ancestors fought, and from those dreams they learn both how to fight. They dream of the tyranny of the Overlord, and from this they know what they are fighting against. They have no written language because they don’t need one; everything they need to know comes to them in their dreams. This is why their culture remains largely unchanged even though their civilization is ancient; their dreams haven’t changed, and their dreams show them how to live. So they follow the exact same paths of war and magic that their ancestors followed, and have never tried to improve upon them.

Because of their shared dreams, all lizardfolk know the same stories. The idea of explaining one of these stories is an alien concept, because how could someone not know the story of the infamous traitor or the brave martyr? As such, one of the lizardfolk might say “We do not embrace T’karr.” What he means is “We cannot be fooled and we will not take a traitor into our midst; we recognize your treachery.” Should someone say “Wait, I don’t understand what you mean by that” he’d be at a loss – how can you NOT know the story of T’karr? EVERYONE knows that story.

This is why communication with the lizardfolk is so difficult… because even comprehend languages can’t unpack context and metaphor. The lizardfolk call themselves the Masvirik’uala, which literally translates to “The Cold Sun Alliance” or “Cold Sun Federation.” It is obvious to the lizardfolk that what this means is the alliance that stands against the Cold Sun, and this isn’t something they have to explain… but most humans assume that it’s the federation of the Cold Sun. Likewise, I’ll preserve one mystery and won’t say exactly while the Masvirik’uala have become hostile (you can get my reasoning in Dungeon 185), but I’ll say that to them it is entirely obvious that the people they are killing are agents of the Overlord Masvirik, and they know from their own experience with the Poison Dusk that such creatures cannot be saved or reasoned with; the only thing to do is to kill them quickly. No one could be accidentally doing the foolish and dangerous things these colonists are doing, because everyone knows how foolish and dangerous those things are.

A secondary point here is that the Masvirik’uala are entirely united. They don’t appear to have a structure that bonds all the tribes together, because they don’t need one; they all share the same background and values. So their tribes never fight. They work together to share territory and resources. They aren’t set apart by petty feuds or desire for glory, because they all know the enemy they must stand against, and that’s a struggle that will never end. So the PC raised among the dragonborn can be caught up in (or the cause of) feuds between dragonborn clans, and have to deal with those rivalries and vendettas… but the Masvirik’uala don’t waste time on such petty things.

And a final point that ties to all of these things and again emphasizes how alien the lizardfolk are: they don’t experience emotion the way that humans do. Their brain chemistry is different; while they HAVE emotions, they are generally at a flatter level than how humans and demihumans experience things. It’s not like a Vulcan who choses to embrace logic over emotion; it’s that the lizardfolk simply never become as consumed with extremes of rage or sorrow as a human can. When the lizardfolk massacre a mining camp, they aren’t driven by fury: they’re approaching it with the detachment of a gardener plucking weeds. They can feel sorrow when a friend dies unexpectedly or anger when they are unexpectedly betrayed – but even their, they don’t experience those emotions as deeply as other races; they are quite literally cold blooded. They certainly have barbarians among their warriors, but their “barbarian rage” is literally a triggered adrenaline rush, not “rage” as humans experience it.

Now, if a player really wanted to play a character raised among the Masvirik’uala – if they couldn’t get what they were looking for from the Dragonborn – I’d let them run with it. The critical question is does the human share their dreams? There’s no logical reason why they would… and without knowing their dreams the human would always be an outsider. They’d have learned some of the stories and references over time and they’d have a weird emotional affect, but they’d always be an outsider. However, at the end of the day the dreams of the Masvirik’uala come from the Silver Flame. It was the couatl who planted the dreams in their unconscious, and in many ways this is a model of the Voice of the Flame revered in the Five Nations. So you could say that a human raised among the lizardfolk actually learned to hear their Voice of the Flame — and as such, though human, they dream the lizardfolk dream. This would mean that they understand the ways and culture of the lizardfolk, that they can interpret their metaphors — that when the elder says “We don’t embrace T’karr” they know what that means; and they understand why the lizardfolk would massacre a mining camp, and that such an action would actually make sense to them. A critical question is why this character would LEAVE the Masvirik’uala and live among humans who don’t know any of these things. One logical reason would be because they want to serve as a bridge between the two cultures, and to try to mediate or rally the colonists — in which case that story should be a major part of the campaign. But it could also be that they were raised by lizardfolk but then “rescued” at a relatively early age by colonists. So they dream the lizardfolk dream and that keeps them on the path of the barbarian… but they haven’t actually been part of a tribe for a while.

With that said: My original plan for a campaign was that learning the motivations of the lizardfolk and figuring out how to communicate with them would be an ongoing challenge. If there’s a player who gets all of this, I might add a new mystery. The Masvirik’uala are driven by dreams. Those dreams are shaped by a divine force and thus, in theory, immune to manipulation by, say, Quori. But what if they aren’t? What if the Dreaming Dark has been manipulating the shared dream to create conflict? In Sarlona, the Dreaming Dark created a terrible war so that their Inspired vessels could emerge as the heroes of that conflict. They could do the same thing here — escalate the conflict, and have their new chosen vessels (who could be a noble family in Newthrone, a dragonmarked house, followers of some religion, etc…) take the spotlight as the people who will defend against this threat. Because the player character also dreams the dreams, they know why the lizardfolk are fighting; but because they are among the colonists, they know that what the dreams claim is untrue. Can they uncover the Quori manipulation and find a way to stop it before the conflict goes too far?

How would you handle a Q’barran lizardfolk leaving the tribe to become an adventurer, or a lizardfolk acting against the cultural norms in general? Would they be ostracised? Is there room for interpretation in the Lizardfolk Dream?

Sure. The lizardfolk are less driven by raw emotion than humans are, and they essentially know they have a purpose in a way humans don’t. They aren’t generally driven by a desire for change or innovation, and thus their civilization has remained largely unchanged for tens of thousands of years. They all know all the same stories. But once you set all that aside, they aren’t mindless. They have elders and priests to help guide them — and that means that individuals can always find their own paths.

So, my question is WHY one of the lizardfolk would leave their people and travel among the softskins – these strange savages who know so little of the world. Here’s a few ideas I could see.

  • They have had a unique and personal diving vision beyond the shared dream. This could be the direct intervention of a couatl spirit — just as Tira Miron had a couatl guide her on her path. Or if could be a Quori who’s intentionally misleading them. Either way, this vision could establish that there is something they must do away from their tribe.
  • They could have a role that’s clearly defined IN the shared dream. Perhaps the lizardfolk PC is tied to the Prophecy and has a role to play in dealizing with Rhashaak or Masvirik, and all the Masvirik’uala know it. Whenever they encounter lizardfolk, they’ll treat the “chosen one” with respect… meanwhile, the Poison Dusk is particularly targeting this PC.
  • Due to extended contact with outsiders, the PC has come to question the dreams. They believe that the dreams are holding their people back and are determined to find out more about other places and cultures. Meanwhile, they have been banished from the Masvirik’uala for these heretical beliefs. Yet they still dream the shared Dream — something terrible threatens their people, they’ll know about it through the dream.
  • The PC was touched by the Poison Dusk, which cut them off from the Dream. The PC then overcame the corruption and broke free from the influence of the Cold Sun, which no one has ever done before… but their connection to the Dream was never restored. The Masvirik’uala believe the PC is corrupted and has exiled them. Is the PC corrupted, or is their victory proof that they are the one who can bring down the Poison Dusk once and for all?

The idea that people can’t tell the difference between lizardfolk and dragonborn seems hard to swallow. 

The idea was never that people literally can’t tell the two species apart; it’s that most people have never cared enough TO tell the species apart. The distinction isn’t part of the common knowledge of a person living in Khorvaire. The settlement of Q’barra only began seventy years ago, and during a time of war. Q’barra includes multiple species: kobolds, troglodytes, lizardfolk (who come in multiple shades and sizes) and dragonborn. All of these cultures are insular and many are either actively hostile to the colonists or have difficulty communicating. So: A jungle guide or a Newthrone envoy will know ALL about the differences between these difference species and cultures. But even a typical prospector doesn’t CARE to know the difference. They’re all creepy. They’re all dangerous. It doesn’t make a difference if they’re tall or short, if they have tails or don’t have tails; they’re all scales. Meanwhile, in the Five Nations Q’barra is little more than a curiosity. People know stories of miners being attacked by dinosaurs and reptilian humanoids. There are probably stories that dragons live in the jungle, or even that the colonists domesticate dinosaurs. A SCHOLAR may know all about the Trothlorsvek and the Masivirik’uala… but the commoner doesn’t know and probably doesn’t care. They’re lizard people halfway across the world.

THE POISON DUSK

So what about the third faction: The Poison Dusk? Per Dungeon 182/185, the colonists have never understood the true nature of the Poison Dusk. They’ve assumed it’s just another tribe, when in fact they are the victims of fiendish corruption — reptilian creatures of many species who have fallen under the sway of Masvirik and Rhashaak. This is why they’ve never been completely destroyed. Even if they are wiped out, they eventually return; often those most involved in the destruction end up falling prey to corruption. Per canon, humans – and for that matter, any warmblooded creatures – aren’t vulnerable to Masvirik’s influence. However, just as with the shared dream of the Cold Sun, you could say that THIS human was touched by Masvirik, which would explain why the Poison Dusk took them in.

If I were to do this, I’d probably say that there is a dusk shard – a dragonshard imbued with demonic energy – embedded in the body of the player character. For most of their life, the demon in the shard has controlled them. At some point the PC was on a raid; their scaled comrades were killed; and something happened that broke the demon’s hold over the PC. If another member of the party is a divine character, I’d suggest that it was their power that freed the PC. Now the PC is in control, but they don’t entirely know what that means; they’ve been driven by a demon their entire life, and they have to discover what it means to make their own choices. Assuming you stuck with barbarian as a class, I might come up with a new Barbarian path playing with the idea that their “rage” draws on the demonic power of their shard. This is a way to justify the PC growing up in a savage culture while giving them an opportunity to be innocent of atrocities they may have committed while with the Poison Dusk (and I would definitely have them end up visiting villages they raided while with the PD and facing the families of people they murdered)… to have them have to decide if they want to embrace a brighter path or cling to their demonic instincts. And is there a risk that the demon could regain control of them?

RHASHAAK: LORD OF HAKA’TORVHAK

The black dragon Rhashaak came to Haka’torvhak as a guardian. He was corrupted by Masvirik and now channels part of the power of the Overlord… and because of this, he too is bound to Haka’torvhak. He is the figurehead of the Poison Dusk, and the colonists believe that the Poison Dusk worship Rhashaak as their living god. Which for all intents and purposes they do. But what does Rhashaak actually WANT? How can you use him in a campaign? Here’s a few ideas.

The Voice of Masvirik

Rhashaak is the living avatar of the Overlord Masvirik, one of the most powerful and evil beings ever to walk the world. Most of the Overlords essentially slumber in their prisons, but Masvirik is fully aware; the dragon is effectively a puppet. But While Masvirik is conscious, he is bound to the body of the dragon and has only a fraction of his power. His primary goal is to build his power, crush his enemies, and ultimately find a way to break the bonds of the Silver Flame and regain his full power. He calls himself “Rhashaak” because there’s no reason to let his enemies know that he has returned. But in truth, he is the Overlord Masvirik.

Under this storyline, Rhashaak remains as the god-king of the Poison Dusk. The critical aspects are that his ultimate purpose is to break the bonds and release Masvirik in his full glory.

The Mad Wyrm

Rhashaak is fused with the consciousness of Masvirik. He dreams the dreams of the slumbering Overlord, but doesn’t fully understand them. Instead, he truly believes that he, Rhashaak, is a god… or at least, he has the potential to become one. He seeks to force all of the people of Q’barra — both the lizardfolk and the softskins — to bow down and worship him. He is certain that if he can only bend enough followers to his cause, he will achieve his true divine potential, break the bonds holding him to Haka’torvhik and ascend to the heavens. It’s up to you if he thinks he’s going to become one of the Sovereigns or Dark Six, or if he will be an entirely new godlike being.

In this storyline, Rhashaak’s schemes DON’T clearly intersect with a desire to free Masvirik. His power comes from Masvirik, and the Poison Dusk are drawn to him because of this, but he will never mention the Overlord. He’s focused on dealing with dawn and dusk shards, and in fact, House Tharashk is more likely to free Masvirik than Rhashaak is. Instead, his actions purely about expanding his personal power in Q’barra, crushing his enemies, and forcing people to worship him. In this case, there could be a SEPARATE sect of dusk-shard fiendish reptilian champions that are working to free the Overlord… who resemble the servants of Rhashaak, but are actually working against him.

 

The Tortured Mastermind

Rhashaak began as a guardian. If you want to make the dragon a more complicated villain, you could say that he’s still that guardian. He’s been merged with Masvirik. The Poison Dusk worship him as a god and expect him to show them the path to unleash the Cold Sun. But he hates the Overlords and would never unleash Masvirik. At the same time, if the Poison Dusk knew this they would turn on him. He has to keep them believing that they are working towards the rise of the Cold Sun… all the while trying to find his own path to freedom and to ensure that Masvirik is never freed. In this scenario, a party of adventurers could be captured by the Poison Dusk and brought to Haka’Torvhak to be sacrificed – only to have Rhashaak himself set them free and help them escape.

Now, this is tricky enough – but if you want to make it even trickier, you could say that just because Rhashaak isn’t the villain people think he is doesn’t mean he’s a hero. Rhashaak may hate the Cold Sun and the Poison Dusk… but he could still be working towards a plan that will grant him divinity. This could be something that will let him claim Masvirik’s power as his own… or it could be something more akin to the divine power of the Undying Court. If he can fully bind Masvirik and also secure the full devotion of all of the scales, he could harness that to become something like a god. Would he use this power to redeem the Poison Dusk and be a just guide to the scales? Or would be be an even deadlier tyrant, free to unleash both his divine power and draconic might against the colonists?

This was supposed to be a quick two-paragraph answer to a question, and instead it turned into all this. Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters; the more support I have, the more time I can justify spending on the site… so if you want to see more content, check it out! I’ll be answering questions from patrons whenever time permits.

Dragonmarks: A Q’Barra Campaign

My last post raised a question: what cities or locations in Eberron can support an entire campaign? Sharn and Stormreach can fill this role, if you want them to. But what about other locations? Someone raised the idea of the city of Newthrone in Q’barra, and that got me thinking. Because I think you could easily run an entire campaign in Q’barra, but I wouldn’t start it in Newthrone.

In my mind, a Q’barra campaign would be a fantasy twist on the classic Western. The adventurers are people who’ve chosen to live on the frontier, searching for fortune, redemption, or simply an escape from something. Rather than starting them in the largest city in the region, I’d do the reverse and start them in an entirely new community. Q’barra is a frontier nation largely untouched by humans, but in the past decades prospectors and settlers have discovered rich deposits of dragonshards in Q’barra. Much like the classic gold rush, this has drawn a host of opportunists and fortune seekers – and all the sorts of people who hope to profit or prey upon them.

Player Backgrounds

So: I’d sit down with the players and establish that there’s a new town in the Hope region of Q’barra. Tharashk prospectors have identified the region as rich in shards, and it’s on the precipice of a boom. With that in mind, I’d ask the players if any of them want to be founders of this community. There’s a couple of roles a player could choose to fill:

  • The Law. Someone needs to keep order in this small town… do you have what it takes to pin that star to your chest? This is an easy go-to for a paladin, but there’s no reason a fighter or even a rogue can’t design to be the lawkeeper. It’s also a role that could be shared among multiple characters, either equally or as a warden with deputies.
  • The Faith. As a divine character — or a druid, for that matter — could be the spiritual guide for this small town. Their choice of faith will say a great deal about the flavor of the town; is the local church dedicated to the Silver Flame or to the Blood of Vol? And does the character have the respect of a significant portion of the community, or are they an evangelist trying to convert the faithless townsfolk? This is an opportunity to play up the idea of a divine caster filling the actual duties of a priest – guiding and counseling a community – as well as smiting undead.
  • The Money. It’s a small town, but someone’s got to buy and sell. Personally, I’d be inclined to have the primary merchant prince be an NPC so you have a little flexibility in tracking the local economy and you don’t get into the weird space of “Why don’t I give all my goods away to the party?” But you could certainly have a bard or rogue running the local saloon — having a stake in the local economy, and having a little bit of a minigame involving managing goods and employees.

If one or more players is up for taking one of these central roles, I’d ask them to name the townThey may not be the mayor, but they’re one of the founders… so what did they call it? For the rest of the article, I’m going to call my town Felhaven. But having the players name the town is a way to give them a concrete connection to it and establish that it is new. It’s not on the existing maps of Q’barra because it wasn’t there when those maps were made.

So, what about the rest of the players? Everyone needs a reason to be in Felhaven: What is it? Here’s a few ideas, just off the top of my head…

  • A rogue or bard could be any combination of grifter, gambler, entertainer or professional “companion” (an especially strong role for a changeling).
  • A ranger would make an excellent Tharashk bounty hunter — someone who’d have ties to the Tharashk prospectors in the area, and who could be offered work tracking down troublemakers. You could take the same path with another class, but ranger’s a great match.
  • I love the idea of a warlock or sorcerer as a professional wandslinger – gambler, duelist, and general scoundrel. Either one could also have ties to the dark powers in the region, either by choice or unwillingly.
  • A fighter could be an ex-soldier fleeing the war. They could be a deserter who fled during the war, a Cyran soldier without a home, someone who served with distinction but now feels they have no place in the Five Nations. But they could just as easily be a mercenary looking for opportunities — Firefly terms, Mal or Jayne. A deserter
  • An artificer or wizard could be interested in rare dragonshards in the region — believing that if they can locate a supply of these shards, they could make some sort of arcane breakthrough. Or they could be a sage interested in the history of the Age of Demons, eager to explore the local ruins.
  • A halfling druid, barbarian or ranger could have come from the Talenta Plains. They could have formed a bond to one of the other PCs and this is what drew them from their homeland… or they could have been exiled from their tribe, for reasons that will be explored as the campaign continues.

Given that Q’barra is off the beaten path, it’s also an easy place for any sort of unusual character who doesn’t feel comfortable in the Five Nations. Tiefling, warforged, magebred exotic race – Felhaven’s a perfect place for a person who doesn’t fit in elsewhere.

Once players have basic concepts, I’d also suggest that they come up with exactly what has brought their character to Felhaven… a hook that could be explored in future adventures. Here’s a few ideas:

  • Family. This is a good match for someone who has an important role in the town. Family could mean parents and siblings, but if could just as easily mean a spouse and children. Often adventurers are rootless, but in this scenario, Felhaven is the character’s home. Personally, if a player picked this path, I’d have each of the other players also take on the roles of a member of the PC’s family – rather than me playing them all as NPCs, if there’s a scene with the PC’s spouse, one of the players always takes on that role. In doing this, it gives the other players both a stronger connection to the fate of the family and to the town overall.
  • Profit. The character is a mercenary who’s in this for quick gold. They’re here for tomb raiding, bounty hunting, and anything else that could get a few galifars in their purse. Will they discover there’s something more important than gold as time goes on? Alternately, the character could be a dragonmarked heir, either sent to oversee a specific house operation or hoping to make a name for themselves within the house through their own action.
  • Redemption. The character did something terrible in the Last War… something they deeply regret. It’s possible that they are a wanted criminal in the Five Nations… and if so, it’s possible bounty hunters could show up in pursuit of them. Was the terrible action justified? Is it that they once were a truly terrible person and remorse has changed them? What will redemption involve?
  • Revenge. Someone wronged the PC in a terrible way – murdered their family, stole their future, what have you – and that person is somewhere in Q’barra. Felhaven is just the first step in tracking them down.
  • Knowledge. Q’barra has well-preserved ruins from the Age of Demons. The people of the Five Nations also know little about the lizardfolk and the Dragonborn. Any of these could be an interesting thing to pursue, and the PC could have a specific lead or contact they’re following up on.
  • Vision. This is an easy option for a divine character, but anyone can have a vision. The character has had a vision of a terrible darkness that could sweep out to destroy Khorvaire – and knows that the path to stopping it begins in Felhaven. Is this a true divine vision? Or could they be being manipulated by the Dreaming Dark?
  • Spy. The character is working for an organization that wants to keep an eye on this developing community. Easy options include the Aurum or a local crime boss in Newthrone… but you could have a secret agent of a Dragonmarked House or even the Lords of Dust. A changeling companion could have ties to the Cabinet of Faces. This most likely is something that gets the PC a little extra gold on a regular basis, but they could start getting orders that put them at odds with the needs of the community. Turning on their boss is a great arc for a midlevel story!
  • Mystery. The PC has a map to a fortune. It could be treasures stashed during the Last War, an ancient fiendish vault, or a rich shard field. Whatever it is, they have a lead on a fantastic opportunity – but it’s not something they can pull off alone.

Building The Town

So: now we have some well rounded player characters and some hooks to explore in upcoming episodes. Next I want to develop the town itself. Who are the major NPCs? Who are the power brokers? If the players didn’t take on these parts, someone has to be the law and there will certainly be some sort of temple or church. There will surely be a saloon, inn or brothel (or some combination of all of these) and a general store. There’s a local leader: is this a mayor, or is this town a Tharashk outpost governed by a Tharashk baron (in which case Tharashk would also provide the “law”)? What other groups are here? Who’s the richest person in town, and how desperate is the poorest person? I’d certainly want to develop these characters myself so they have secrets for the PCs to uncover, but I’d also engage the players to help me fill out details. “Bob, the innkeeper at the Rusty Nail is a beloved pillar of the community. What gender is the innkeeper? Sarah, what race are they? Galen, any distinctive physical details?” Again, I’m establishing the critical story detail – the innkeeper is a beloved figure, as opposed to a hated pennypincher – but I’m letting the players add details that give them a connection.

In creating the town, there’s a few critical questions. What services are available here? Is there a Sivis message station? Is there a Jorasco healer? What can be bought, and what’s the limit on what the merchants can afford to buy? Who are the potential troublemakers, and who could be patrons or long-term enemies of the PCs? In particular…

  • Is someone in town a disguised agent of the Chamber or the Lords of Dust?
  • Is someone being manipulated by the Dreaming Dark?
  • Is someone a spy for one of those groups I mentioned before?

Personally, I WOULDN’T provide a lot of dragonmarked services to begin with, because it’s a great way to establish the growth of the community; I’ll talk more about this below.

What last thing to consider: Manifest zones. Is the town built by or in a manifest zone, and if so, what are its effects? Manifest zones can have very useful effects; a zone tied to Lamannia might naturally purify all water in the region, while a zone tied to Fernia might cause fires to burn longer and brighter than normal. Logically, if people were going to build in a manifest zone it should have some sort of useful effect. But it’s also possible that the founders didn’t know the zone was there – or that there’s a zone adjacent to the town that has dangerous effects.

Plots

So we’ve got a fun location. We have interesting characters. What do we do for story? Here’s a few easy starting adventures….

  • There are ruins near the town. These could date back to the Age of Demons, or they could be tied to the fallen dragonborn nation. At low levels, you don’t necessarily want people stumbling into Haka’Torvhak, but these could be tiny outposts or tombs with simple traps and minor undead or local wildlife. This is a great opportunity for the PCs to do something that sends a longer term plot in motion: they take the magic orb from the tomb, little realizing that it was a warding stone holding an evil spirit in check… and in future adventures, they’ll have to deal with the unleashed spirit and its corrupted minions.
  • Bandits or criminals can threaten the town, preying on the honest prospectors. Can the PCs act as mediators, or violence the only solution?
  • Likewise, you could have any number of mysterious strangers showing up for an adventure of the week. A wealthy explorer shows up with a map but needs bold adventurers to help her find the prize. A large group of Cyran refugees shows up and wants to settle, but are they as innocent as they seem? A crusading priest shows up and tries to rally the townsfolk to his cause. A traveling tinker has a host of mystical treasures for sale… but we’ve long been warned to beware the gifts of the Traveler!
  • The PCs can run into trouble with the local scales – hostile lizardfolk and dragonborn. The Poison Dusk are aggressive servants of the local demon Overlord; the Cold Sun lizardfolk fight the Poison Dusk, but could end up fighting the PCs or Felhaven because the PCs have unknowingly violated a taboo or threatened the local balance. Can the PCs establish communication and work out an alliance with the Cold Sun? Logically, this is something that starts small – clashes with a few bands of warriors – but that over time draws PCs into the ancient conflict in the region and reveals the history of the dragonborn and the Cold Sun.
  • Within the town itself, you could have a Cult of the Dragon Below or a Dreaming Dark cell spread like a cancer until it’s uncovered. You could also simply have mundane troubles – organized crime or a Dragonmarked House seeking to claim the town as their own.

Beyond this, you’ve got a lot of hooks in the choices made by the players. If a PC is the law in these parts, you can always drop in quarrels or crimes they need to deal with… while the preacher may have to deal with morale and the saloon owner with economic challenges. If someone came to town seeking revenge, well, where’s that trail lead?

Now: In this scenario, I’d make the town essentially a character in the game as well… as the PCs grow in power, the town can gain levels as well. While the PCs are going on adventures, prospectors are hunting for shard deposits and farmers are settling in. if the PCs can hold off bandits and scales, the town prospers and should gain services. Each time the players gain a level, consider adding something new: a Sivis message station (perhaps initially only connected to Newthrone), a Jorasco healer, a magecrafting blacksmith, a Cannith tinker who produces a few minor magic items, a larger Tharashk refinery that raises the cap on what merchants can afford to play. If the players screw up, things could be lost; the message stone operator could be killed, or simply decide it’s too dangerous for him to stay. The players should feel a meaningful impact both for their triumphs and failures.

Longer term, you can start bringing in more powerful organizations and greater challenges.

  • An elite Emerald Claw squad comes through – what are they looking for in the jungle, and should the PCs stop them? Do they want to outright fight the Emerald Claw on the streets of Felhaven – which could result in a lot of innocent deaths – or find another answer? It could be that the secret to Erandis Vol’s ascension lies in the region – which is a reason to have a long term and evolving Emerald Claw presence. This is a good basic for a recurring villain, such as the necromancer Demise.
  • The Lords of Dust have plans involving Felhaven. Logically this would invovle the Overlord Masvirik, the demon bound in Haka’Torvhak… but you could also have agents of a different Overlord with plans that run counter to what Masvirik wants. The Lords of Dust seek to enact a particular branch of the Prophecy – and they’ll help the PCs, but only because they are trying to steer the PCs into unleashing Masvirik or another Overlord. Eventually the PCs might expose the rakshasa hiding in Felhaven – but is it too late to stop the demon’s plans?
  • You could likewise have an agent of the Chamber, whose plans involve the Prophecy and the scales. This character could be a patron who wants to use the party against the servants of Masvirik… but dragons have little regard for individual human lives, and missions could put the PCs in grave danger.
  • Initial casual bandit raids could escalate into a larger struggle. Does the powerful bandit leader have a goal beyond simply getting gold? Are they an agent of the Lords of Dust, the Dreaming Dark, a Dragonmarked House. or are they just a brilliant, charismatic leader? This could lead to a full-on attack on Felhaven.
  • A dragonmarked house could have plans that threaten the entire community. This could be about acquiring resources – Cannith wants all the rare dragonshards- or it could just be about direct house conflict, like Deneith striking against Tharashk. Following the idea of the rare dragonshards, Felhaven could end up being at the center of a conflict between agents of the three Cannith houses… and meanwhile, the Cold Sun could be furious because removing these shards is empowering the local fiends.
  • The Dreaming Dark could be attempting to create a new puppet figurehead — people who can take on the role of the Inspired in the event of a Quori takeover. Can the PCs uncover and expose this plot?
  • A Dragonmarked baron could seek to expand the power of their house across the region – either with or without the support of the Twelve.

Beyond this: gateways to Khyber can be found anywhere… and where you have Khyber, you can have the Daelkyr. What begins as a simple (and easily defeated) Cult of the Dragon Below can ultimately be tied to the rising power of a Daelkyr, complete with aberrant dinosaurs or warped lizardfolk. Alternately, the same approach can be taken with the Overlord Masvirik. A cult to Masvirik could also end up producing yuan-ti – literally new yuan-ti reflecting the corrupting influence of Masvirik, so the local merchant prince becomes yuan-ti over the course of the campaign.

Long term, this can lead to epic developments in the region:

  • Masvirik is unbound, and there is a bitter conflict as corrupted scales and possessed dinosaurs ravage the region.
  • A Daelkyr rises, unleashing abberant terror (with the exact nature depending on the Daelkyr).
  • Erandis Vol herself comes to Q’barra; once her mark is restored, she raises an army of undead dragonborn and lizardfolk.
  • The Dreaming Dark unleashes a scheme to take over Q’barra, using their makeshift Inspired (local heroes they’ve created and raised) as the figureheads.

Ideally, this is something where things that have been around from the start end up being central to the epic finale. That greedy Cannith baron who’s been a throne in the PC’s side throughout the campaign ends up becoming the vessel for Masvirik due to his foolish experiments with corrupted Dragonshards! Perhaps there’s even an army of possessed warforged, as this evil artificer has found a way to use the shards to implant demons into warforged!

Now: Felhaven might be the heart of the campaign, but that doesn’t mean the players will never leave it. Events and adventures should take the PCs to ruins across the region, to the cities of the Dragonborn or warrens of the lizardfolk, to Haka’Torvak and to Newthrone. But Felhaven can always be at the heart of it.

That ended up being longer than I planned, but I hope it’s interesting both in terms of developing stories in Q’barra and as a look at how I think about campaigns. In the meantime, I’m working on a number of big articles you’ll see in future weeks. As always, the more support I get on my Patreon the more time I can justify spending on this site. If you’re already supporting me, thank you very much; if not, check it out here!

Also: the ideas I present here draw heavily on the expanded Q’barra articles I wrote for Dungeon 182 and Dungeon 185. D182 examines the Dragonshard trade and introduces the concept of dusk shards and dawn shards. D185 delves deeper into the Cold Sun, Poison Dusk, and dragonborn of the region, along with additional information about the role it played during the Age of Demons.

 

What have you done with Q’barra? What would you do in a Q’barra campaign? Post your answers below!

Favorite Cities in Eberron?

I’ve spent the last six weeks traveling the US in a van to demo my card game Illimat, and that’s meant that I haven’t had much time for writing. I have three big articles I’m working on for the website, but they’re complicated topics and need more time. But rather than leave you all hanging, I wanted to pull out an easy question from the ones submitted by my Patreon supporters… and while I’m at it, thanks to everyone who has chosen to support me and this site! Now on to the question:

If you had the chance to to another Eberrron city book on the scale of Sharn or Stormreach, which city would be your first pick and why?

My first choice would definitely be Graywall. This is the second largest city in Droaam, lying directly on the border between Droaam and Breland. Why Graywall? Here’s a few reasons…

  • Like Stormreach, Graywall is a frontier — a gateway to a world the people of the Five Nations know little about.
  • Droaam is a nation of monsters. Humans are in the minority here, and that creates a lot of potential for interesting stories that don’t work in many other places. It’s a chance for player characters to interact with “monsters” as something other than enemies – to deal with medusas, harpies and werewolves in ways they wouldn’t anywhere else.
  • It’s a city filled with intrigue and opportunities. Droaam has only been a nation for a decade. Many of the warlords have their own agendas, and there are those who which to bring down warlords to take their places. Beyond this you have the mysterious schemes of the Daughters of Sora Kell. As it’s not bound by the laws of Thronehold, you have opportunities for war criminals, outlaws, or wizards engaging in arcane research forbidden in other places. Beyond this, it’s built atop ancient Dhakaani ruins… yet one more thing to explore.
  • Beyond the city itself, such a sourcebook would be an opportunity to explore the many cultures of Droaam in more depth. Droaam is a tapestry woven from many distinct and very different cultures: the doppelgangers of Lost, the tieflings of the Venomous Demesne, the lycanthropes of the Dark Pack, the gnolls of the Znir Pact, etc, etc. I’d love to be able to delve into each of these more deeply, creating hooks that are equally useful for DMs building stories and players who want to play a member of that culture.

Graywall is a chance to take something very different and distinctly part of Eberron and to tell stories that you couldn’t tell in any city in the Five Nations.

So: that’s my first choice. But there’s lots of other possibilities.

  • Thaliost. This Aundairian city was seized by Thrane during the Last War. The Last War never really ended in Thaliost, and it’s a great place to explore the lingering tensions and ongoing intrigues between these two nations.
  • Atur. The City of Night is the heart of the Blood of Vol in Karrnath and the center of their necromantic research. It grew in power and influence along with the Blood of Vol, but now that Kaius has abandoned the faith it is a city in crisis – an a place filled with opportunity, adventure, and a chance to consider how necromancy could be integrated into society.
  • Rukhaan Draal. The capital city of Darguun intrigues me for many of the same reasons as Graywall — an opportunity to explore adventures in the city of those usually considered monsters in other settings. It’s also an opportunity to dig deeper into the customs of both the Ghaal’dar and Dhakaani goblins.

Taer Valaestas in Valenar. Pylas Talaer in Aerenal. Almost any city in the Lhazaar Principalities… like most of those described above, it’s the chance both to flesh out a city as a hub for adventure, but also to delve deeper into the cultures that shape it.

To be clear: This isn’t necessarily one of the first sourcebooks I’d make if I had the power to do so. I’d rather write a sourcebook on Darguun than specifically one on Rukhaan Draal, and I’d pick a Droaam sourcebook over a Graywall sourcebook — because there’s so much to delve into about those entire regions. And I might write a book on the Planes before that. This is a thought experiment — if someone appeared tomorrow and said “You can write an Eberron book, but it has to be a city sourcebook” what would I want it to be?

Anyhow, that’s all I have time for today. What cities would you like to see developed in more depth?

The Cost of a Life

Recently I’ve started a Patreon to help me justify spending more time on this site. The full Dragonmark/Imperial Dispatch articles take a significant amount of time and there’s a limit on how often I can post one of those, but I want to post more short articles. I’ve asked my Inner Circle of Patrons to pose questions about Eberron, Phoenix: Dawn Command, or game design in general, and I’ll be answering these whenever I have time. So, here’s the first one.

Regarding your Death and Resurrection post, what are some good dark bargains higher powers might want met in exchange for letting you go back?  

In my previous article on Death and Resurrection, I suggested that you could set a personal price on resurrection. This could be a bargain the dead character makes in order to return under their own power… or you could say that even if their allies use resurrection magic, the character’s spirit still has to make a bargain to benefit from the spell. Depending on the cosmology of your game, this could be a bargain with a deity, a demon, an inevitable, or something else entirely.

So… what might a powerful being demand in exchange for helping a mortal spirit return to the world? To me, the critical thing is to make this an interesting decision that drives story. Here’s a few ideas off the top of my head. I’ll note that many of these ideas carry the inherent threat that the character could permanently die if they don’t hold up their end of the bargain. If you aren’t willing to have that threat on the table, you’d need to come up with another consequence to give the threat of failure dramatic significance.

A Life For A Life. The entity will return the victim to life – but the PC must pledge to kill a specific person who has somehow cheated death. The PC has a set amount of time in which to accomplish this task; if they fail or choose not to complete the bargain, they will die for good. It’s up to you how many details the entity reveals about the target. Here’s a few different ways this could play out.

  • The target is a vicious tyrant. They’re a horrible person who deserves to die, but they have an army and a fortress. So morally the PC is on solid ground, but it’s going to be a very difficult task to accomplish.
  • The target is a fiend, a vampire, or something else that clearly IS cheating death or doesn’t belong here. Again, easily justified, but a difficult target to take down. In Eberron, you might have to find and destroy a lich’s phylactery (maybe Erandis Vol?) or even destroy one of the Deathless Councilors of Aerenal.
  • The target is a cult leader who’s sacrificed many innocent victims. This seems like a reasonable quest, but when the PCs track down the cultist they discover that he’s turned on his old faith and is seeking redemption by helping and healing the needy. The entity that resurrected the PC is in fact the cultist’s previous deity – and wants the cult leader killed as vengeance for his betrayal. Does the PC kill the cultist as punishment for his previous actions? Or spare someone trying to do the right thing, even if it means their own death? Together, could they find some other way to keep the PC alive?
  • The target is an adventurer, someone pretty much just like the PCs. Perhaps they have a checkered past, perhaps not; but they’ve certainly cheated death multiple times. Will your PCs execute someone who’s following the same path they are?

These are just a few examples of where you could go with this. The question is whether the challenge is primarily physical or moral, and if there are any long term consequences of fulfilling the bargain. There’s one easy long-term hook: At any point, the resurrected PC can be targeted by another group of adventurers… because one of their members was resurrected by the same entity and pledged to kill someone who cheated death!

Your Days Are Numbered. The entity will return the PC to life, no strings attached… for a set period of time, after which the PC will permanently die. This creates a different sort of tension: what can the PC accomplish in this time? Now their death isn’t a random thing: it’s an absolute, known fact and the question is what they can do to make their last days mean something. You can always introduce a path for them to escape the bargain, but it can be more interesting to hold them to it and make them really think about how they’d face this known death. And, of course, you could always decide that if they face it well the entity might grant them more time… or that they will die, but achieve some form of spiritual evolution or apotheosis after this second death. In some ways, this is the basic premise of Phoenix: Dawn Command; players are reborn after death, but they know they will permanently die after their seventh death.

A Lease On Life. A combination of the two preceding ideas. Every job the PC accomplishes buys them another (month) of life. This works best if the people the PC is being sent to execute are generally bad people… but this is an opportunity, after the PC has killed a bunch of scumbags, to suddenly introduce an apparent innocent. Does the player trust that the Entity would only target people who deserve to die? This bargain doesn’t have to involve killing; it could be that the PC must save a life each week, or something like that.

Everyone Loves A Good Host. The Entity can resurrect the PC – but only by imbuing them with part of its own spirit, incidentally making them a vessel for it to act in the physical world. This could be a very specific arrangement: The entity gets to use the PC’s body for one hour out of every day, or for one day out of every week. It could be that the PC becomes an NPC during these times, or if the player’s up for the challenge, you could tell them what the entity is like and have them play the entity-in-the-PC’s-body at those times. Alternately, the Entity could be present in an abstract way; perhaps exercising magical powers around the PC… which could potentially be very useful, but in a way that’s entirely uncontrolled and unpredictable. So when the PC has a conversation with a rude innkeeper, flames suddenly burst from the PC’s eyes and burn the arrogant innkeeper. This would be sort of like becoming a warlock, but the PC doesn’t have any control over the warlock abilities.

Another approach on this path is to have the arrangement initially appear to be benign, but every time some specific trigger occurs – say, any time the PC kills someone – the Entity takes more possession of the host. The PC might even gain new abilities as this process continues, but they also start having blackout periods or personality shifts and know that this will eventually give the Entity full control of their body.

The Orpheus Gambit. The PC is returned to life and will remain alive as long as they DON’T do something… but if they break this rule, they permanently die. This could be a common action: the PC will remain alive as long as they don’t kill anyone else, but if they take a life they’ll die. 5E helps this by stating that a PC can decide the fate of someone reduced below zero HP, so its easy for a player to spare their victims… but what do they do when there’s someone who truly needs to die? The prohibition could be more specific: you can’t ever return to Sharn, you can’t see your one true love ever again, you can’t conceive a child. Needless to say, this should be something that seems reasonable on the surface… but as time goes on, there should be a host of compelling reasons to do that thing.

Start A Movement! The resurrected PC could be called on to start a movement on behalf of the entity. If the entity is a deity, the PC might have to resolve a schism in their church or bring down corrupt leadership. It might be a forgotten deity that wants its faith revised. In either of these cases, the PC could gain some divine benefits – but it could be that the PC doesn’t have to have faith, they just need to inspire it in others. However, this could also involve something mundane. Rally an oppressed population. Revitalize a secret society. Crush a cult or overthrow a government oppressing a region the entity cares about. The main thing is that this will require leadership on the part of the PC.

If You Build It, You Will Live. The PC might have to create something on behalf of the Entity: a monument, a temple, or something else. Rather than spending 5000 GP on a resurrection spell, they need to spend that money acquiring land and labor. Alternately, they could have to cleanse a temple or stronghold overtaken by dark forces – which is to say, go on an epic dungeon crawl!

WHAT ABOUT PHOENIX? 

One of the core elements of Phoenix: Dawn Command is that the PCs can die and return stronger after death, up to seven times. A Phoenix has to earn each new life by enduring a series of trials in a pocket limbo known as The Crucible. By default this isn’t a bargain as such. However, you can certainly add a bargain into the story, if both you and the player like the story. There’s a few ways this could work.

A Mentor’s Demands. A Phoenix has one guide in the Crucible: their Mentor, the spirit of a previous Phoenix who’s been through all seven lives. Normally a mentor helps with no strings… but you could say that the mentor has set a price on their help. The simplest approach is that the mentor has unfinished business they want the PC to complete for them.

  • The mentor wants a message delivered to a loved one or someone else they left behind.
  • The mentor wants the PC to resolve a grudge or vendetta against another Phoenix. This could be one of the Marshals – in which case the PC’s mentor might know a dark secret about the Marshal in question. Is the PC willing to disrupt Dawn Command at this critical time? Are they sure they can trust their own mentor? Alternately, the vendetta come be with a dead Phoenix – the mentor of another member of their wing.
  • A Shrouded mentor could have any number of unfinished schemes left in motion. They need the PC to be their go-between with a network of mortal agents. But does the PC understand exactly what they’re becoming part of?

The Fallen. The Crucibles exist in the Dusk, a realm between life and death. But the Dusk isn’t empty; it’s inhabited by the Fallen Folk. It’s possible that one of the Fallen could appear in the PC’s Crucible and offer a bargain. This can mirror any of the ideas presented in the first part of this post. If you take the Vessel approach, you could represent this by adding an Affliction card to the player’s deck. Every time the Affliction card comes up, the Entity takes an action or takes over briefly. As described above, it could the that the PC actually gains new powers – that the Entity can do something useful or powerful when it acts – but it’s something that the PC can’t predict or control. Given that Phoenixes normally don’t HAVE to make bargains to return, if this is an inconvenience you’d need to balance it with an obvious benefit. This could be something that benefits the PC directly – a new trait or lesson, for example – or it could be story driven. If the PC will act as a host for the spirit, they will send their minions to protect the player’s family.

In Eberron, what sort of powers exist that could make these sorts of deals? 

Well, if the character is being raised by divine magic, the answer is easy – whatever force is raising them. If you’re being raised by a cleric of the Undying Court, your spirit might be called before the Court for judgment and negotiation. If you’re being raised by the power of the Silver Flame, a couatl might speak for the Flame… or perhaps Tira Miron. A manifestation of the Sovereign Host will depend on your view of the Sovereigns, but if you don’t want an actual encounter with a Sovereign, you could use an angel acting on behalf of a Sovereign. With the Blood of Vol, you might be dealing with the priest’s divine spark – which could be a separate consciousness from the mortal awareness of the priest. Essentially, the cleric’s raise dead spell invokes the divine power and requests that you be restored… but there’s nothing stopping that power from demanding a personal price.

Another option is The Keeper. Mythologically, the Keeper snatches souls on their way to Dolurrh. Most stories say that the Keeper hoards these stolen souls, but there are those – notably the Watchful Rest – who maintain that the Keeper takes these souls to preserve them from Dolurrh so they won’t fade and be lost… and so that they can be returned when they are needed. THIS interpretation of the Keeper would be exactly what you’re looking for – something that could choose to spare a soul and negotiate for its return. In MY Eberron, BOTH of these Keepers – the greedy hoarder and the noble preserver – would exist, but neither one is actually a Sovereign. Instead, both would be mighty inevitables, among the most powerful spirits of Dolurrh. The preserving Keeper could fill much the same role as the Raven Queen in 4E… while the hoarding Keeper is a darker and more selfish force. Beyond this, you can always assert that there are other entities with the power. There are certainly spirits of Irian and Mabar that can restore life, though they’d usually do this through the medium of undeath.

Anyhow, this ended up being longer than planned, so I’m going to stop here. If you’ve got ideas for life-or-death bargains, share them below!

Dragonmarks: The Demon Wastes vs The Mournland

Over on my Twitter (@HellcowKeith) I received a question that seemed worthy of a more-than-140-character response.

Demon Wastes vs Mournland: what are the key differences? When would I choose to set an adventure in either one? Both have similar elements: magical wasteland, “edge of the world” vs “apocalyptic” feel, manipulative villains scheming from ruined cities. Roaming savages & arcane horrors prey on PCs; devastated landscape, unnaturally hostile weather; both are essentially nation-wide dungeons.

Tldr: What kind of encounter/challenge/adventure/story would fit in either one, but not the other?

The Demon Wastes and the Mournland are both nation-sized dungeons, but they are different in many ways.

  • The Demon Wastes are ancient; the Mournland is brand new.
  • The ruins in the Demon Wastes are cities built by demons. They have been ruins for tens of thousands of years, and they hold magic that humans can’t begin to create… and anything perishable has long since perished, unless preserved by magic. The ruins in the Mournland are ruins of human cities. They were only ruined two years ago, and they contain everything you’d expect to find in a human city that was suddenly depopulated… including things that may be precious to people who survived the Mourning.
  • The inhuman threats of the Demon Wastes are fiends and the creations of fiendish power. They are ancient and innately malevolent; it is a place that is fundamentally EVIL. The inhuman threats of the Mournland are mutations seemingly created with no rhyme or reason. It may be dangerous, but it’s not evil.
  • The mortal threats of the Demon Wastes are well-established and have been in places for hundreds or thousands of years. The Carrion Tribes are themselves ancient. The Ghaash’kala have been defending the Labyrinth longer than human civilization has existed. This things have history and customs. By contrast, nothing in the Mournland is more than two years old. If there is any sort of organization or culture – IE followers of the Lord of Blades, Eladrin, Mournland Magebred – they’ve either come from the outside or only just sprung into existence. The Mournland has no history.
  • The Demon Wastes are peppered with portals into Khyber that led to demonic demiplanes. This means that you can find all sorts of bizarre wonders and worlds in the Demon Wastes, if you can find the portals. In my recent post on the Ghaash’kala I mentioned the Abyssal Forest of Khar and the battlefields of the Ironlands. A point here is that THESE places are ancient and have their own histories and structures, even if they are entirely new to the players… and again, they are fundamentally shaped by evil and filled with demons. By contrast, the Mournland is random and unpredictable. You can find all sorts of strange environments, but you won’t find ancient cities populated by demon warriors.
  • The Demon Wastes are a great place to find ancient magic humans could never create – artifacts and strange tools. The Mournland is a great place to find treasures people CAN create, left behind when they were killed.
  • The Demon Wastes are off in a corner of the world and hidden behind the Labyrinth, and have been essentially stable for tens of thousands of years. The Mournland is right in the middle of the Five Nations and is a mystery; people fear that it could suddenly start to expand.

With that in mind, here’s a bunch of adventure hooks for each that I am literally making up on the spot, so no promises that they are good.

THE DEMON WASTES

  • The adventurers must steal a scroll from the Library of Ashtakala. Perhaps it reveals the true plans of Bel Shalor, the only way to defeat Rak Tulkhesh, or exactly where Sul Khatesh is imprisoned. While in the Library, they could find entirely new arcane magic spells and rituals created by the rakshasa, or details of a new threat tied to the Draconic Prophecy.
  • Someone near and dear to the party (perhaps a PC) has been slain by a Keeper’s Fang dagger. This leads the adventurers to go to the Lair of the Keeper in the Demon Wastes to see if the soul can be reclaimed. Is this just the laid of a mundane dracolich (perhaps the FIRST dracolich), or is it a portal to another plane? Can the soul actually be found there and reclaimed?
  • An unnatural plague is sweeping through Aundair and the Eldeen Reaches. It’s definitely come from the Demon Wastes – can they find the source and a cure in the Wastes? Is the source in the wastes proper, or must you find a path to the Abyssal Forests of Khar to find that cure?
  • Take the same idea but make it personal: a PC is afflicted by a curse or disease that is tied to the Age of Demons. Perhaps they found a cursed artifact that they can’t get rid of, or dealt with a fiend or fiendish ruin elsewhere in Khorvaire. The only way to solve the problem is to go to the Wastes. It could be that this is the only place that artifact can be removed or destroyed (a la Lord of the Rings), that they need to bargain with a fiend, or just that it’s the only place that information can be found.
  • A great paladin of the Silver Flame went to the Demon Wastes and never returned. Can you discover what happened to him and reclaim his holy relics?
  • You need to do something tied to one of the planes, and the only being who can tell you what you need to know is the ancient night hag who served as ambassador to that plane during the Age of Demons. Can you find her in the Demon Wastes, and if so, what will she demand in exchange for her services?
  • The couatl sent Tira Miron to the Demon Wastes to find her sword Kloijner, the only weapon that could harm Bel Shalor. Likewise, a PC could be sent to the Demon Wastes by a vision or through lore to recover a powerful artifact from the Dragon-Fiend war.
  • Scholars are always curious to discover more about the ancient prehuman civilizations. You can blatantly rip off At The Mountains of Madness: The PCs accompany a scholarly expedition seeking to delve into the prehuman history of the Wastes, but the ruined city they explore isn’t quite as dead as they expect…

THE MOURNLAND

  • One of the Cannith factions hires the PCs to recover house secrets from a forgehold in the Mourning. This can be entirely straightforward… or the work may have evolved or mutated, or may be something Cannith doesn’t want the world to know exists. This could also be critical to the power balance between the Cannith factions – will the PCs change sides, or be opposed by another faction? Alternately, someone OTHER than Cannith could be trying to steal these secrets…
  • As above, but with ANY Dragonmarked house: a house enclave in the Mournland holds an important artifact that must be recovered, but that may have mutated or evolved in an interesting way.
  • Prince Oargev needs you to recover family tools or secrets from Metrol. Did Cyre have a secret weapon or plan that they never had a chance to deploy because of the Mourning? If so, does Oargev want to ensure that this doesn’t cause anyone harm, or does he want to use its power for New Cyre?
  • If any of the PCs are Cyrans, they could simply want to recover family heirlooms from their homes, or to try to discover the fate of their home town.
  • Inhuman raiders are striking from the Mournland and then retreating back into it. Can you find them in the Mournland and end this threat?
  • Something new (Eladrin, Magebred, Warforged) has set up a base in the Mournland, and you must go into it in order to negotiate with them.

I’m short on time so I’ll stop there, but the critical thing with the Mournland is that it’s filled with things that people want: family heirlooms, treasured works of art, secret weapons or plans from the war. It has museums, forgeholds, palaces – and people know that these things are there, in contrast to the ancient and mysterious secrets of the Demon Wastes. Consider if Washington DC was suddenly warped by magic: there would be people who would want to recover artifacts from the Smithsonian, plans from the Pentagon, family treasures, etc. By contrast, the ruins of the Demon Wastes are entirely unknown; we have no idea what rakshasa civilization even looked like, let along what treasures or dangers their cities hold.

A few more questions have come up…

Any tips on what a rakshasa city looks like? 

An important point here is that fiendish cities were created, not constructed. They were made by the Overlords, for whom it was a trivial matter to shape reality within their sphere. So the first main point is which Overlord created the city? There’s no common style here. Katashka might build a city from bones, while Rak Tulkhesh’s followers would live in a fortress of steel and stone. The city of Sul Khatesh would be a spectacle of magic while also being filled with secrets. Tul Oreshka might not have a city… or her city might exist as a shared delusion that overtakes anyone who comes upon it.

In general, things to consider:

  • These cities were formed by epic magic as opposed to mundane labor. You can have floating towers or monuments. You can have structures made out of impossible substances – a living tower, a house made from mist that somehow never drifts apart. Need light? Buildings could simply glow, or anyone in the city might find that they have darkvision within its confines.
  • Magic still lingers in these places, but that doesn’t mean it’s as strong as it was. You might have one floating tower that’s standing while another has come crashing down. A fountain of fire or blood could still be running, or it could be scroched or dried up. We’ve said of Ashtakala that the memories of the city linger even though the city is ruined – and that anyone who enters it will be cloaked in those memories.

So go deep alien and feel free to use impossible materials and designs… as opposed to the Mournland, where things may have been warped, but the FOUNDATION is entirely familiar and mundane.

What did demons like to do before the Overlords were trapped?

Immortals are ideas given form, and the primary thing they like to do is embody that idea. The demons and archons of Shavarath have been fighting since the dawn of time, and with a few remarkable exceptions they never grow tired or question the struggle; it is their PURPOSE and sole interest. During the Age of Demons, lesser fiends were essentially an extension of their Overlords. The minions of Rak Tulkhesh delighted in spreading war, and if there was no war to spread they would simply fight one another in an endless cycle of pointless violence (as they’d eventually reincarnate after death). The fiends living in Eldrantulku’s domain surely had an incredibly elaborate bureaucracy and series of houses engaged in endless schemes and vendettas. Not all Overlords HAD rakshasa or other fiends as their primary minions; Draal Khatuur is called out as preferring the company of her own icy spirits and creations to the rakshasa, and Katashka the Gatekeeper would likely rule a realm filled with undead (with a foundation of fiends specializing in necromancy and slaughter).

As I’ve said before, in Eberron immortals generally have less free will than mortals do. They don’t decide what they want to be; they KNOW what they ARE, and know it with absolute clarity. Because they’ve been so long separated from their Overlords, some rakshasa have drifted a bit – but even a rakshasa who seeks to usurp her master’s power instead of trying to free him seeks that power so SHE can become the Overlord and embody that concept. But looking to the height of the Age of Demons you can almost think of the rakhsasa as actors in a play, endlessly playing out the roles defined by their Overlord. It’s not entirely scripted, but the direction never changes. The minions of Eldrantulku are always coming up with their own new ideas and schemes – but they couldn’t just decide “Why don’t we all work together and NOT betray each other for once?”

I wonder why, if that is the nature of the cities, there aren’t demon ruins spread everywhere in Eberron. And WHY do demons need cities?

First off, demon ruins aren’t confined to the Demon Wastes. Page 20 of the 4E Eberron Campaign Guide described demon ruins as one of the types of places you can find adventure, noting in part “Fiendish strongholds are likely to be found at the edges of civilization, in places such as the Demon Wastes and Q’barra, but a subterranean ruin could lie hidden anywhere in Khorvaire.” Krezent in the Talenta Plains and Ha’katorvhak in Q’barra are both ruins from the Age of Demons. So these ruins ARE spread across Eberron. It’s simply that very, very few have survived. The Age of Demons was over a hundred thousand years ago. What hasn’t succumbed to time was often intentionally destroyed, either in the conflicts of the time or leveled by dragons in ages after. Those places that have survived are generally extremely isolated, incredibly durable, and generally infused with immensely powerful magic – like Ashtakala.

But let’s take a moment to look at the question of WHY these cities existed in the first place. Demons don’t need cities in the same way that humans do. They don’t need food. They don’t sleep. They aren’t concerned with shelter from the elements. Their numbers are static, so they don’t create NEW cities to house a growing population.

Now, the greatest cities would be the seats of power of Overlords. The city is a reflection of the Overlord; they don’t NEED it, but it is a representation of the Overlord and their power. Let’s call these citadels. There were a limited number of Overlords and not every Overlord would have a citadel, so that’s a concrete limit right there. An Overlord wouldn’t and couldn’t make more than one citadel; it literally is the heart of their power. Thus, Haka’torvhak is the seat of the Cold Sun. These places are the most likely to survive in some form, because they are suffused with the power of an overlord. But the fact that we haven’t mentioned, say, a citadel of Sul Khatesh suggests that even these could be destroyed.

Lesser cities serves a different purpose: they’d house mortals. Because most of the Overlords feed on mortals. Not literally – but it’s through mortals that the Overlords express their nature. Rak Tulkhesh is the Rage of War and yearns to create conflict and bloodshed. He can get his demons to fight each other just as a way to pass the time…but it’s not real. They’re immortal. They don’t feel rage and loss and death the way mortals do. Tul Oreshka needs mortals to experience her madness. An Overlord of Tyranny exists to dominate mortals. Tiamat is the darkness in dragons – which is meaningless without dragonsNot all Overlords need mortals. Draal Khatuur embodies the killing cold, and she is happy to lord over a desolate frozen waste. This was the point of the PC warlock in one of my campaign who was working for an Overlord of Tyranny. He didn’t WANT his Overlord to escape, but if one of them HAD to escape, at least his Overlord needed to keep mortals around… while Draal Khatuur would be happy to kill them all.

So it was these mortal cities that would have been spread across Eberron, but there WEREN’T made to last for a hundred thousand years and most are ash and rubble… hence the surviving demons assuming the title “Lords of Dust.”

And with all of THAT said: the current cities like Ashtakala do survive a concrete purpose. They are places for the rakshasa to meet and scheme. They are places for them to store their lore and their treasures. The Lords of Dust DON’T have the transcendent power of the Overlords, and they do value their artifacts and lore. So they don’t need cities the way humans do – but they still need places to keep their stuff!

Do the dead grey mists cover the sky? Or do they merely act as walls around the perimeter of the Mournland? 

They form a dome over the Mournland. We’ve put the ceiling at around 150 feet in the past; we’ve never said how deep the mist layer is. This also means that you never directly see the sun while in the Mournland.

What would happen if a flying airship entered the Mournland?

Like many things in Eberron, the primary answer is what do you want to have happen? The defining trait of the Mournland is that it is unpredictable. There are many things that could happen…

  • The powers of the Mournland interfere with the elemental binding. The elemental is unleashed and the airship crashes in the Mournland.
  • The airship is attacked by a flying creature. This could be a living spell. It might be something like a warped dragon; there were surely some Chamber observers in Cyre at the time of the Mourning, and they could have been twisted by its power. It could be some sort of transformed elemental – originally part of an airship, it was released and transformed during the Mourning, and now it seeks to free all other bound elementals it senses.
  • The airship is attacked by some sort of entrenched defenses still in place from the war.
  • The airship encounters unnatural weather that could bring it down.

All of these are the reasons people DON’T take airships over the Mournlands, of course…

I always hear that the Mournland is full of mutants, but it’s never been very clear to me what that actually means. Are we talking normal beasts and monsters with some extra bits on them? Unique monstrosities from obscure sourcebooks? Aberrations, but somehow distinct from the creations of the daelkyr?

All of the above. I generally say “warped” or “transformed” instead of “mutated”; to me, mutation suggests that there’s some sort of genetic logic behind things, while the Mournland doesn’t follow any predictable patterns. I’ve said before that you can use the Mournland as a place to add any unusual creature, because you don’t have to explain its evolution; if you want to drop a city of Abeil (bee-people) into the Mournland, you could say that it’s a village of humans who have been transformed into abeil by the Mourning… or a hive of bees transformed into abeil! You have altered animals like the carcass crab. You have undead, like the glass zombies. You also have natural or supernatural forces that have been transformed, like living spells or the razor wind (a warped elemental) in The Fading Dream.

To me, the only predictable thing about the Mournland is that it’s not predictable – that if you find one city of abeil, that’s not an indication that there’s going to be any more.

If you’re reading this, what have YOU done with the Mournland or the Demon Wastes?

In case you haven’t heard, I’ve started a Patreon to fund content for this site. The Inner Circle gets to vote on what topics are covered in the future. This one was spur of the moment, but the next Dragonmark will be about Planes and Manifest Zones! Thanks to all of you who are already supporters!

Dragonmarks 8-11-17: Xoriat

I’m on the road for the next few weeks. I’ll be continuing to write on the road, and I have lots of things planned – including more Phoenix support. But… I’m part of a monthly Eberron podcast called Manifest Zone. Our most recent episode focused on Xoriat and the Daelkyr, and this question came out of that… and it crept into my mind like a worm that wouldn’t leave until I wrote down the answer.

In the spirit of “If it has stats we can kill it,” what would an adventure to Xoriat look like? While “you cannot comprehend the nature of it” is good for illustrating the whirling madness of it all, it’s hard to work with as a setting.

I can’t answer this in detail until it’s legal for me to create a planar handbook, but I can at least share some basic thoughts. This is based on the original design and 3.5 lore; 4E did some odd things to try to merge Eberron with core cosmology and ignoring that.

To begin with: The Far Realm can be a useful source of inspiration, because it’s a very alien realm that produces aberrations and madness. But bear in mind that Xoriat is not the Far Realm. It’s not beyond reality. It is one of the thirteen planes that define reality; it is part of the planar orrery, and it touches and influences Eberron and all its inhabitants. It is defined by being alien and unknowable, a source of madness and inspiration. But it is still part of the underlying machinery of reality.

So with THAT in mind, consider the role it plays. Kythri is the churning chaos – which means that Xoriat isn’t about chaos. Instead, I see Xoriat as being a parallel to Dal Quor. I think you have islands of stability — regions that have coalesced around particularly powerful spirits, much as il-Lashtavar creates a central core in Dal Quor. These islands are surrounded by a sea of shifting reality – not entirely chaotic, but inexorably changing.

The islands are relatively stable. It’s on these islands that the Daelkyr have their domains, and where the mortal inhabitants – like the Illithids – have cities and communities. These regions aren’t chaotic;  they are alien. Consider an island where everything — buildings, food, the air — is alive. Perhaps you tell time by the shifting gravity; if you’re walking on the ceiling, that means it’s midday, while by evening you’ll be back on the floor. Apply Escher logic. Consider that many aberrations don’t need traditional food or water to survive; instead, a farmer may tend a field of misery. However strange these places are, you can come to understand them and learn their ways.

Out in the sea of madness, you can find almost anything. But here the key is to differentiate it from Dal Quor and its shifting dreams. Dreams generally have an internal logic; you may be giving a musical recital in your underwear, but the musical recital is something that actually happened in your past and being in your underwear is about some sort of issue you’re dealing with. The fringes of Xoriat don’t have any internal logic and aren’t drawn from your memories. They might be things you never imagined — or they could be revelatory insights that could either drive you made or change the way you look at reality. Consider the following…

  • A house built from hate. What does incarnated hate look like? You’ll have to decide, but the PCs innately know that’s what it is. Mirrors reflect the things you hate. Books in the house chronicle hateful deeds and people. And the longer you stay in it, the more you begin to hate the people around you… or yourself.
  • An endless void of empty white space. There is no end to this bleak solitude, and you know that this is what mortal existence is. To proceed, you must simply act out your travel, just as you pretend that the events of your life actually mean something. Eventually, if you convince yourself, you’ll find yourself in the world you’ve imagined.
  • A lush orchard. The trees grow secrets, and secrets buzz around in the air like tiny birds. Some of them may be your secrets, or those of your enemies. Others may be secrets of strangers, or secrets about the nature of reality. Think carefully before you listen to their songs.
  • Your home – the ooze-creche you were grown in when Kyrzin first made you. What, you thought you were adventurers? No, you’re cerebral oozes created by Kyrzin and loosed upon the world in ages past. You crawl into the minds of mortals and consume them, assuming their identities for as long as it’s useful, then moving to a new host. You’ve been a Dhakaani champion. You ate the mind of Malleon the Reaver. And then each of you consumed one of these adventurers. You compelled them to come together, knowing that they would finally be able to return you to your home, to the pools of primal slime where you were made. At last you can abandon this singular existence and return to the unifying ichor. So dive into the pool and let it all go. Or what? Can you truly continue as you did in the past, knowing that this person you think you are is simply a collection of residual memories and that you’re a thought-eating ooze with who knows how many alien instincts programmed into you?  To be clear: In all likelihood this is a delusion, not actual fact. But if you’re in a room full of oozes and you have clear memories of BEING an ooze and suddenly remember other lives – how do you KNOW if it’s true or not?

The trick here is to consider that these are things that could drive you mad. In the garden of secrets, any secret you listen to should have the capacity to deeply shake what you thought to be true… something that could literally break a lesser person. Can you handle the truth? While this could be secrets of people, it could also be universal truths. As a wizard, one of these secrets might show you a way to cast all spells as if you’d used a higher level spell slot – with the absolute knowledge that you are going to die in thirty years, and each time you cast a spell in this way you are cutting a year off your life. Again, a lesser wizard might be driven mad either by the revelation that magic is slowly killing us or that the time of your death is set or simply by the science involved. Perhaps your PC isn’t troubled by that… but are you going to use this magic? Conversely, you might have to deal with physical changes. Passing through a portal might cause your gender or race to flip, or shift the minds of the PCs into the bodies of the PCs sitting to their right. Touching something might cause a strange fungus to start spreading on your arm, slowly and inexorably. You know is consuming you and feeding off your memories, and that most everyone in your life are themselves hollow fungus slaves. What will you do?

Aside from this, you could have currents of madness that simply run through the entire realm. If a rage-storm hits, people who fail will saves might be driving into a murderous frenzy. Streams of sorrow flow through the air, and one drop can render you catatonic. Watch out!

You’ve mentioned in the past that there are things more powerful than the Daelkyr in Xoriat. How do you envision these entities? Like primordial Lovecraftian beings? Or like Thelanis´ Archfeys, but with alien agendas and rivalries?

These entities are the geography of Xoriat. They are vast and alien, and even the daelkyr are like fleas to them. We know they exist because the islands of stability are the side effect of their presence, reality shaped by the gravity of their spirits. If the Daelkyr are like the Kalaraq Quori – mighty masterminds with armies of followers – these beings are like il-Lashtavar. Too vast for us to interact with, but we know them by their impact on the plane.

With that said, I expect there are other entities that are on the same power level and cosmic scale as the Daelkyr who simply have no interest in physically traveling to other worlds. Like most planar immortals, these would represent some aspect of their plane. So looking to my example of maddening secrets, you could easily have something like the Cthaeh from Wise Man’s Fear – a static entity who is a repository of maddening knowledge, who has no agenda but who could be both extremely valuable and tremendously dangerous for anyone who encounters it.

A second question is: how is Mordain the Fleshweaver different from the Daelkyr? Why you should choose him as an enemy instead of a Daelkyr?

It’s a good question. I’ve written a number of articles about Mordain; here’s one that’s online. The thing about Mordain is that he operates on a smaller scale on every level. He’s essentially a mad scientist. He’s not trying to topple civilizations or transform the world; he’s engaging in interesting local experiments. Here’s one example of something he might do. He is one of the most powerful wizards on Khorvaire, but he’s still mortal – not an immortal incarnation that drives people insane by looking at them. His projects are generally going to show results in the short term, while the Daelkyr may set things in motion that won’t fully develop for thousands of years. He has a small army of creatures he’s made, but not the legions of aberrations that the Daelkyr have at their disposal.

Beyond this: I generally wouldn’t use Mordain as an enemy. He doesn’t leave his tower and has little interest in the world beyond using it as a test ground for his creations. I use him as an enigmatic third party – someone who could be an ally or a threat depending on how an experiment plays out. Is there a player who wants a character of a strange race? Maybe they were created by Mordain. Is there a disease that can’t be cured? Maybe Mordain can cure it – assuming he didn’t create it! An alliance with Mordain could give the Daughters of Sora Kell access to powerful living weapons – can you disrupt the alliance? You’ve found a rare magical resource that Mordain undoubtedly wants – what would you want from him in exchange?

Conversely, the Daelkyr have plans that have been in motion for millennia. They have vast armies at their disposal. They have hidden cults and can create new ones on the spur of the moment. We’ve suggested that they may have created the Dragonmarks – which means that it’s something that’s been unfolding for over two thousand years. Their actions could be small-scale – a cult causing trouble in a small town – or they could threaten entire civilizations.

Would the inhabitants of Xoriat are mindless undead and constructs as an affront, since their madness can’t touch them?

Here’s the thing: calling Xoriat “The Realm of Madness” reflects a biased mortal view. I don’t think the DAELKYR consider themselves to be lords of “Madness”. They might call Xoriat “the Realm of Revelations.” It is a fact that exposure to Xoriat typically drives mortals mad – but that’s because WE CAN’T HANDLE IT, not because that’s its purpose. Kyrzin is the Prince of Slime, not the Lord of Schizophrenia. The fact that his attention temporarily drives you mad and that you’ll go completely insane if you try to read his thoughts is incidental to him, a sign of your small mind as opposed to his right to drive you mad. I think Belashyrra would be more annoyed by the fact that a skeleton has no eyes than the fact that it doesn’t go insane.

Related to this: The wizard spell confusion is an enchantment with the sole purpose of disrupting a creature’s ability to think. Meanwhile, a Daelkyr has the ability to cause confusion at will. But in my opinion that’s NOT a “I will disrupt your thoughts now” ability: it’s literally that if the Daelkyr focuses its full attention on you, it breaks your brain. Your mind can’t handle the Daelkyr’s presence. So if the Daelkyr encounters a thinking creature who’s immune to mind-altering effects, I think it’s more likely to find it a novelty than to be outraged.

That’s all I have time for at the moment, but hopefully it gives you some ideas to work with. It’s not chaos, and it’s not a dream; it is madness. This can carry lies or revelations. It is a place where there is no concept of the impossible. And it is a place that you should not go.

Dragonmarks: Orcs and the Ghaash’kala

Last week I wrote about Goblins, Orcs, and the Dhakaani. It turns out that there’s a lot to say about goblins, and the post has grown to an unwieldy size. So for the ease of future generations I’ve decided to separate the orc material into a standalone post. As as long as we’re talking about orcs, I want to takes some time to delve into the Ghaash’kala, a topic that’s received little attention in the main sourcebooks.

As I said in the previous post, my goal in Eberron is always to explore what makes each PC race unique. In what way are orcs not just humans with green (or grey) skin and fangs? How are they different from goblins and other “savage humanoids”? Let’s take a look.

ORCS

While they aren’t as directly animalistic as shifters, I see orcs as a very primal race. They’re extremely passionate and emotional; this can manifest as aggression or rage, but it’s just as strong when it comes to loyalty, affection and faith. They believe in things intensely. This led to them being the first druids on Khorvaire and having one of the oldest sects of the Silver Flame – the Ghaash’kala guardians of the Demon Wastes. But they’re also highly individualistic… leaning more towards chaos than law. They are very effective in small tribes or family groups, where they all know each other and are working together… but they aren’t good with faceless authority, blind obedience, or being part of a huge infrastructure. This is one of the main reasons the orcs never dominated Khorvaire. They are barbarians by nature. They have no innate desire to build vast cities or organize huge armies; the small tribe is what they are comfortable with. This led to their being pushed into the fringes of Khorvaire by the Dhakaani goblins, and that’s where this linger to this day. If the goblins are like ants or wasps, orcs are like wolves: fierce, loyal to their pack, but not inclined to form into a massive legion of wolves and conquer the world.

In playing an orc – whether as a player or DM – I’d emphasize this primal and passionate nature. They feel emotions strongly, and are quick to anger but equally quick to celebrate. They believe things deeply, and can be very spiritual. As an orc, you’re loyal to your pack – whether that’s your family or your adventuring companions – and quick to distrust massive, faceless forces and invisible authority. This may seem at odds with the idea of strong faith, but they’re equally distrustful of monolithic organized religions. The Ghaash’kala are one of the oldest sects of the Silver Flame, but they operate in small clans and have never formed the sort of political hierarchy that you see in the Church of the Silver Flame. So as an orc, follow your heart; explore your faith; be true to your friends and suspicious of those who would tell you what to do.

Half-orcs blend the traits of orc and human, and it’s up to you to decide which manifest most strongly in your personality. Do you have the quick emotion and deep faith of your orcish ancestor? Or has this been tempered by your human side? Half-orcs are celebrated in much of the Shadow Marches, where they are thought to possess the best qualities of both races. However, the people of the Five Nations don’t generally share this view… and for that matter, most of the people of the Five Nations assume that orcs are brutish.

If the orcs are so chaotic & don’t make big cities, how do we have Zarash’ak and House Tharashk?   

Because of humanity. There are two primary cultures in the Shadow Marches. The tribes are the older culture and continue to live as their ancestors did thousands of years ago. The clans embraced humanity – and over the generations, they adopted many human customs. House Tharashk is an unprecedented alliance between clans, and one that would never survive if not for the humans and half-orcs that balance the chaotic tendencies of their orcish kin. Tharashk orcs have grown up in this blended culture. While they are used to it, it’s still in their nature to question authority, and most Tharashk orcs are ultimately more loyal to their close kin and enclave than to the overall institution – but that’s enough to keep the house intact. Zarash’ak is the largest city the Marches have ever seen, built by House Tharashk when success demanded it; the orcs had no desire to build such things in the past.

Orcs make up the Gatekeepers and the Ghaash’kala. So are they fundamentally good creatures? 

Not at all. Yes, the Ghaash’kala and Gatekeepers are two forces that have protected Eberron for thousands of years. But for every orc in the Ghaash’kala, there’s at least two in the Carrion Tribes of the Demon Wastes. For every Gatekeeper, there’s an orc tied to a cult of the Dragon Below. One reason the Daelkyr didn’t create an orcish equivalent of the Dolgaunts and Dolgrims was because many orcs were quick to embrace their cause; they didn’t need to make an orc slave race. So orcs are passionate in their beliefs, but that includes belief in the Overlords just as easily as loyalty to the Silver Flame.

Have you ever imagined a bardic tradition for orcs?

So a critical thing to bear in mind here is that most people in the world don’t use PC classes. In Eberron, most priests are experts or adepts, NOT clerics. The same applies here. Do orcs have traditions of music and dance? Absolutely! They’re passionate, creative and emotional. I can imagine a tradition of ecstatic song and dance, where listeners are exhorted to let go and give themselves to the music; and I can imagine a tradition of song that is more mournful – similar to Portuguese fado – that is about exhorting the listener to feel the pain or anger of the song. And I’d expect specific musical traditions tied to both the Gatekeepers and the Cults of the Dragon Below. As I call out below, the Dhakaani goblins don’t enjoy art for arts sake; their songs educate you about the past, their dancing is a form of combat drill. For the orcs, art is something to experience and enjoy.

But with that said, most entertainers wouldn’t be bardsA bard isn’t just an entertainer. They are arcane spellcasters and highly skilled loremasters. If all you’re looking for is entertainment, all you need is an expert trained in Performance and perhaps Insight and Persuasion. Among the Dhakaani the dirge singers are deeply integrated into their civilization, serving not simply as entertainers but also as healers, diplomats, and spiritual guides. We have not presented a similar critical role for bards in either the Ghaash’kala or Shadow Marches. With that said, do they exist? Sure. Here’s three ideas.

  • Memories. Much of the secret lore of the Gatekeepers has never been committed to writing; it is the task of a Memory to preserve this knowledge, remembering all things that both their modern comrades and future generations will need to know. Memories typically lead public services in Gatekeeper communities, and this is where inspiration comes in; they are master orators who can exhort the people to remember the importance of their cause. So a higher level druid might be the leader of a Gatekeeper sect, but the Memory may be the one who conveys his message to the people. In looking to the wider word, Memories could be sent out beyond the Marches both the confirm that their knowledge is still accurate (for example, checking the locations of Khyber seals to ensure they are still intact) and to update their knowledge base, investigating mysteries and learning new things. Memories generally know spells related to nature (Animal Friendship, Speak With Animals, Animal Messenger), healing spells, and spells that will help them uncover secrets, and they are usually well versed in knowledge-based skills (Arcana, History).
  • Passions. The Cults of the Dragon Below have always had a strong presence in the Shadow Marches. Many cults don’t have traditional priests or clerics; instead, they have Passions, ecstatic speakers who fan the flames of emotion (and often madness) in their communities. At their best, Passions are spiritual guides and mediators; at their worst they are demagogues and firebrands, inflaming dangerous emotions. As such they rarely have skills like History or Arcana; instead they are well-versed in Insight, Intimidation and Persuasion. Their spells likewise tie to emotion, manipulation and madness. Vicious Mockery, Charm Person, Hideous Laughter, and Suggestion are all solid choices for Passions. If you’re playing an edition where bards have a Bardic Knowledge ability, for a Passion this would reflect literal mad insights; they haven’t studied a topic, but they just declare what they believe – and strangely, that’s often the truth. There’s no organization among Passions; they general spring up spontaneously. Generally there’s only one per community. A Passion PC might have developed a passion for travel; they might be following a mad vision, having an idea of a grand quest that might or might not have any basis in reality; or they could even have been driven from their community for causing trouble, and it’s up to the PC to decide if they’re remorseful adn seek redemption, or if they’re out to sow more chaos.
  • Bridge. In the Shadow Marches, half-orcs are called jhorgun’taal, “the bridge of two bloods.” Some exceptional half-orcs embrace this role. They travel from community to community, carrying local news and helping to bind those communities together. They are entertainers and mediators, seeking to spread cheer and resolve feuds. They typically know the ways of both Gatekeepers and the Cults, and seek to bring out the best in followers of both paths. A Bridge bard would be a helpful guide and advisor to strangers coming to the Marches for the first time. It would be unusual for a Bridge to leave the Marches, but one could be driven by sheer curiosity or a desire to help a wider community.

THE GHAASH’KALA

Everyone knows about the Gatekeepers, the orc druids who fought the Daelkyr. But there’s another group of orc champions who’ve been fighting evil for far longer, and whose vigil has never waned: The Ghaash’kala of the Demon Wastes.

I created the Ghaash’kala in the original ECS. The only canon source that’s expanded on them is the Player’s Guide to Eberron. This is one of those cases where I don’t agree with what was written there – it’s not bad, it’s just not my vision. So to be clear, what you’re about to read contradicts canon and is literally what I do in my Eberron. A few years ago a friend of my ran a 5E Eberron campaign and I played a Ghaash’kala paladin, so I put more thought into the Ghost Guardians, and what follows is the result of that.

HISTORY

In the dawn of time the world belonged to the fiends. The Binding Flame was born from a desperate act of sacrifice. The Overlords cannot be destroyed, merely held at bay; their power yearns to break free from the Flame that binds them, and their servants prey upon those who have inherited the world. The Flame is fueled by courage, and it is only through the vigilance and sacrifice of champions that the light remains strong enough to hold the darkness at bay.

The prisons of the Overlords are scattered across the world, but their power is strongest in the Demon Wastes. Here lies the ruins of Ashtakala, the greatest city of the Age of Demons. Though the Overlords are bound, their power corrupts nature and weak minds. The Wastes are filled with horrors, both mortal and immortal. Left unchecked, these terrors would spread to the south and bathe Khorvaire in blood. But ancient magic and geography have established a barrier: the mountain range known as the Labyrinth. This barrier can’t stop the powerful rakshasa from leaving the Wastes, but it serves as a funnel for the lesser horrors. Bloodthirsty barbarians, minor fiends, twisted creatures… all flow through the Labyrinth seeking release. One force guards the gates of the Labyrinth and protects the innocents to the south: The Ghost Guardians, the Ghaash’kala, sworn to serve the Binding Flame from birth to death and beyond. The life of a Ghost Guardian is one of endless strife. It is a mirror to the Flame itself: it is a battle than can never be truly won, but through sacrifice they can continue to contain the evil and protect the innocent from harm.

The Ghaash’kala have no written records and don’t know exactly how long their ancestors have fought against the darkness. It’s clear that couatl trained and equipped the first Ghaash’kala; it may not have been during the Age of Demons itself, but it was long before humanity came to Khorvaire. As such, the Ghaash’kala may be the first humanoids to channel the power of the Silver Flame… or as they call it, Kalok Shash, the Binding Flame.

STRUCTURE

There are four Ghaash’kala clans spread across the Labyrinth. As far as they are concerned, the world is divided into two sides: the living and the fel (a word that could be translated both as “unliving” or “unnatural”; it is a term that encompasses both undead, fiends and life that has been corrupted). They have no interest in politics or commerce; should the Overlords rise, they will care nothing for trivialities of mortal nations. The Ghaash’kala place most people into the category of “The weak innocents we are protecting,” but they will accept members of any race into their ranks. They feel disdain for anyone strong enough to fight who ignores the greater duty, especially mercenaries who squander their gifts without any conviction whatsoever.

The Kalok Shash is a simple faith, and the Ghaash’kala don’t waste time on the elaborate rituals or titles of the Church of the Silver Flame. There are only a few recognized positions among the faithful.

  • A korta (“Speaker”) is someone who hears the Voice of the Flame more clearly than others. The korta serve as spiritual guides, diplomats and healers, using their connection to the Flame to guide and advise others. A korta’sha is a divine spellcaster. The korta’sha are always on the front lines, leading war parties and battling demonic influences.
  • A kala (“Guardian”) is a warrior who fights in service to the Flame; this includes the bulk of the Ghaash’kala population. A kala’sha is a divine warrior – typically a paladin.
  • A drok (“Hand”) is a non-combatant, either because of infirmity or because of a vital non-combat skill needed to support the fight.

There are no equivalent ranks to bishop, priest, cardinal, or any of that. The Ghaash’kala are few enough in number that the korta and kala are distinguished by their deeds. Everyone knows that the korta’sha Hurok is the greatest of the Speakers; he doesn’t need some special title to indicate that. The Ghaash’kala are also considerably more blase about divine spellcasters than most human cultures. To the Ghaash’kala, these individuals are weapons. A korta’sha isn’t necessarily holier than a non-casting korta… but she has a purpose and a duty. She is a tank, and a tank belongs on the battlefield. While Ghaash’kala despise mercenary soldiers, they are truly baffled by the idea of divine spellcasters who do not use their powers to directly fight evil.

Now: how have the Ghaash’kala survived in the Demon Wastes for tens of thousands of years? Where do they get the supplies they need, from steel for their weapons to the food and water they need to survive? What are their shelters like?

To start with the last: Each of the four clans has a stronghold carved deep into the rock of the Labyrinth, each drawing on the powers of a manifest zone. These were created by dragons and couatl in the first age, and are imbued with powerful magic; it is these fortifications that have served as a final refuge in even the hardest times. Likewise, the Ghaash’kala possess tools and weapons that have been handed down for generations. The Ghaash’kala consider these relics to be sacred gifts, and they might as well be; the most potent of them were crafted by the beings who first kindled the Flame itself. Of course, an artifact is not something to be used lightly; sometimes generations pass before someone successfully bonds with a relic. Some say that Tira Miron’s blade Kloijner came from the Wastes, that the couatl guided her north to claim the weapon she needed to face Bel Shalor. If one of your players is a champion of the Flame, perhaps there is an artifact waiting for them in the vaults of the Ghaash’kala.

Such tools certainly help explain the survival of the Ghaash’kala. But there are only a few such artifacts. The Maruk stronghold has a well that never runs dry, a variation of the Alchemy Jug. But they still need food and any number of basic supplies that can’t be found in this poisoned land. But the very thing that makes the Wastes so dangerous also provides opportunity. The Demon Wastes are peppered with passages to Khyber… not simply the physical underworld, but a host of demiplanes and demonic realms. Fiends emerge from these paths to prey on the weak… and the Ghaash’kala venture into them to find what they need. The Maruk hunt balewolves in the Abyssal Forests of Khar, and wield weapons taken from the corpses of the demon foot soldiers of the Ironlands. These strange realms are alien and deadly, but over the many centuries the Ghaash’kala have learned their secrets. As a result, the Ghaash’kala have resources that can’t be found anywhere in Khorvaire. Their weapons are forged from unknown materials, and they brew salves and unguents that would make Jorasco weep. So the idea is that the Ghaal’dar are essentially barbarians living in an apocalyptic landscape – but by mastering that environment, making the most of the resources available to them, and preserving and using ancient relics, they have found what they need to hold the line in their never-ending war.

KALOK SHASH: THE BINDING FLAME

Overall, the faith of the Binding Flame is harsh, simple and compassionate. It is the duty of the strong to protect the weak. It is the duty of the living to fight the fel… whether with the sword, or in the case of the drok by caring for the warriors and producing more warriors. Harsh sacrifice is often necessary, but the loss of any innocent life is a tragedy. With that said, there is a concrete line over which innocence is lost. One of the constant threats faced by the Ghaash’kala are the Carrion Tribe barbarians, mortals who serve the Overlords. The Ghaash’kala call a mortal who chooses to serve evil a fel’gha – “Vile Soul.” They do not waste time or tears on the fel’gha; there are too many threats to the world to worry about redeeming the corrupt. A Ghaash’kala would cast any human who chooses to prey on other humans in this category, and typically one deals with fel’gha with the sword. This can be a difficult challenge for a kala’sha who travels in the south, where many humans seek to take advantage of one another. A greedy innkeeper most likely isn’t a true fel’gha deserving of death… but the Ghaash’kala are disgusted that anyone would seek to harm others for profit.

While they may give it a different name, the Ghaash’kala channel the power of the Silver Flame. They may shout different invocations, but the visible manifestations of their magic are identical to those of an exorcist of the Silver Flame or a silver pyromancer. A paladin from Thrane and a korta’sha who observe each other in battle recognize that they wield the same forces. With that said, if you’re planning to use the Ghaash’kala in a campaign involving divine characters tied to the Flame, it’s an excellent opportunity to shift around spell lists. Perhaps the Ghaash’kala know ways to use the Flame that humans have never discovered… while Tira’s followers have discovered more subtle rituals that the Korta’sha have never imagined. The simplest way to handle this is to give the Ghaash’kala spells found in a new supplement or sourcebook – so you aren’t taking away core spells from a player, but rather providing an interesting path for learning new spells. Rather than having new options magically appear over night, it’s more interesting to make a cleric study with a korta’sha to learn that new spell or channel divinity option. And perhaps they have something to teach in return.

But wait: earlier, I said the korta hear the Voice of the Flame. Isn’t Tira Miron the Voice of the Flame? She is… for the Church of the Silver Flame. A Voice is the anchor of a manifestation of the faith. Tira is the Voice of Flamekeep. But the Ghaash’kala have their own Voice, just as the people of Khalesh did in Sarlona. One can assume that the Voice of Kalok Shash was an orc from long ago, but if so their name has been lost; they are simply known as Korta’Shash. If you use my idea of learning new divine spells by training with the Ghaash’kala, it could be that this isn’t just about learning a new incantation or gesture as it would be for a wizard… but rather realizing that there is more than one Voice of the Flame, and learning how to hear the Voice of Kalok Shash.

USING THE GHAASH’KALA

Here’s a few ideas about ways to bring the Ghaash’kala into your campaign.

  • If your adventurers need to go to the Demon Wastes – perhaps to explore the Lair of the Keeper? Or on a secret mission to Ashtalaka? – they will have to deal with the Ghaash’kala to get through the Labyrinth. The Guardians won’t stop people from going in, but will warn that no one tainted by the influences of the Wastes will be allowed to leave – are you sure this trip is worth it?
  • An adventurer with ties to the Silver Flame may be guided to the Labyrinth. There is an artifact in the Maruk stronghold that they must claim… but can they prove their worthiness to the guardians?
  • The players stumble onto a rakshasa plot to weaken the wards of the Labyrinth. The PCs must work with the Ghaash’kala to stop it – but will distrust or treachery doom this effort and unleash a horde of Carrion barbarians into Aundair?
  • A Ghaash’kala paladin arrives in the PC’s community. She’s tracking an escaped possessing fiend, and will do whatever she must to destroy it. Can the PCs help capture the fiend with minimal collateral damage?

Beyond this, the Ghaash’kala can be an entertaining background for a PC. Have you been sent in pursuit of a particular agenda – Stopping the rise of an overlord? Reclaiming Kloijner? Protecting one of the other PCs, even though neither you nor they know why this is important? Are you pursuing escaped demons or the opposing the Lords of Dust? Were you exiled for a crime (and did you actually commit it)? Or are you an ambassador, sent to learn the ways of the soft southerners and protect them? As someone who played a Ghaash’kala paladin, it can be fun to play a character who is truly a warrior in the cause of light… and yet, completely unfamiliar with the ways of civilization. While most Ghaash’kala are orcs, they accept members of any races. My paladin was a half-orc; his human father was a paladin who had returned Kloijner to the Wastes, and now the blade was guiding my character on a new quest in the south.

Is there a physical manifestation somewhere in the Wastes where the Voice of the Flame can be found, similar to Tira Miron?

You may be confusing Tira Miron – the Voice of the Flame – with Jaela Daran, the Keeper of the Flame. There’s no physical location where Tira Miron can be found. Flamekeep is the site of Tira’s sacrifice and the seat of Jaela’s power, but Tira isn’t physically; anyone who follows this branch of the faith can hear Tira no matter where they are.

The Ghaash’kala have no equivalent of the Keeper of the Flame. Every clan likely has a korta they consider to be closest to the Flame, but that’s based on their actions as opposed to being a special mystical connection; there’s no equivalent to the power boost Jaela gets in Flamekeep.

With that said: there is no canon explanation of what it takes to become a Voice of the Flame. It would certainly be reasonable to say that a mortal can become a Voice of the Flame when they voluntarily bind an Overlord – that in the process, their spirit merges with the Flame, but WITHOUT the usual process of going through Dolurrh, which means that they retain more of their individuality and consciousness. In which case, the Voice of Kalok Shash could have a story similar to Tira. Perhaps long ago a Ghaash’kala champion sacrificed themselves to bind Rak Tulkhesh. Somewhere in the Demon Wastes lies the point where this sacrifice took place; and like Flamekeep, this could be a place of power. Essentially, the Ghaash’kala don’t have a Keeper and don’t know where this point of sacrifice is, because it’s somewhere in the incredibly hostile Wastes. But if they could find it and somehow secure it, perhaps they COULD have a Keeper in the future.

Does the leaders of the Church of the Silver Flame know about the Ghaash’kala? If so, what does the relationship between those in the groups that know of each other look like?

Yes and no. There are a number of scattered sects that worship the Silver Flame. The Ghaash’kala and the Shulassakar are two prominent ones, but there are others. These are often called “Serpent Cults.” So the Church knows about the Ghaash’kala and has studied them. Whether an individual knows would be about a Religion check. It’s not COMMON knowledge, but neither is it entirely unknown. The Ghaash’kala have little interest in the outside world, because they have a war to fight.

So: in the campaign in which I played my Ghaash’kala paladin, there was a cleric of the Silver Flame from Flamekeep (technically a clone of Jaela, long story) and a Silver Pyromancer. I’d had a vision that guided me from the Wastes to protect the Jaela-clone. In their eyes, I was a barbarian – clearly serving the interests of the Silver Flame, but still a savage. In my opinion, they were soft folk who likewise had the right idea but had never fought on the front lines of the eternal war; lucky for them that I was there to protect them. So initially we didn’t UNDERSTAND each other – but we still respected one another as serving the same overall cause.

But here’s the thing. You COULD say that the Ghaash’kala and Church work closely together, that Flamekeep recognizes the importance of what the Ghaash’kala are doing and supports them. But is that a fun story? In my opinion it’s more interesting for YOUR STORY if there’s been fairly little contact between the two and each largely dismisses the other… which means that YOUR ADVENTURERS – whether they are from Thrane or the Wastes – will be the ones who ESTABLISH understanding and alliances. Let your players take an active role in establishing (or destroying the chances of) an alliance – because this is exactly the sort of thing that lets the PCs make a difference within the world.

That’s all I have time to write, but if you have questions or thoughts about the orcs or the Ghaash’kala, share them below!

Dragonmarks: Goblins

I don’t believe I’ve written about goblins in depth on this site. If you want to catch up on previous information, you might want to review my Dragonshard about the Dhakaani or this Dhakaani Strike Force. I’ve also written about the Kech Ghaalrac in Dragon 413.

In many settings, goblins and orcs are presented as genetically evil — malicious by nature, enemies the players can always feel good about fighting. From the start, we wanted to take a different approach to goblins and orcs in Eberron. I liked the idea that these creatures were fundamentally inhuman, and had a cultural history that often them set at odds with humanity, but that they were no more innately evil than dwarves or elves. This led to the idea that these were the primary aboriginal races of Khorvaire. The goblins once had an advanced civilization that dominated the continent: The Empire of Dhakaan. Conflict with the Daelkyr destroyed this civilization long before humanity came to the continent. When humans arrived the goblins had fallen into a savage state (and were far fewer in number than they had been at their height). Some goblins were enslaved by humans, a practice that continued until Galifar abolished it a thousand years ago; their descendants integrated into the population, and these are the city goblins you find in most major cities. Others goblins were driven into undesirable lands, and these were the ancestors of the current goblin population of Darguun and Droaam. So, goblins aren’t evil, but from a cultural standpoint they have every right to dislike the humans who took their lands and enslaved their ancestors. Even Sharn is built on the foundations of a great Dhakaani city.

So: this gave a sound role for goblins and orcs in the setting. But what are they like? What makes them different from humanity and from other monstrous races? How are they truly alien races, as opposed to just being humans with fangs and unusual skin colors?

GOBLINS

So what separates goblins from humans and orcs? One of the critical things to understand is that goblins themselves are split into three very distinct categories.

City goblins are descended from slaves. They have lived among the people of the Five Nations for as long as those nations have existed. All too often they are poor, and many feel driven to crime. City goblins have adopted many human customs and many have little knowledge of or attachment to their history.

The Ghaal’dar are the descendants of those goblins who fought the human settlers and were driven into inhospitable lands. While they are less barbaric than the tribal orcs, they are less sophisticated than the people of the Five Nations and are often thought of as warlike and savage; they are noted as practicing slavery. Looking at the Ghaal’dar, humans have a hard time believing that the goblins once had an advanced society that created tools House Cannith can’t replicate today. And they are right to be dubious. The Ghaal’dar are not the goblins of old. The Empire of Dhakaan fought the Daelkyr, and with the help of the Gatekeepers they banished these Lords of Madness to Khyber. But this war had deep and lingering consequences… consequences so severe that one can question if the Daelkyr are the ones who actually won the war. Even though the Daelkyr were banished, over the course of the long war they had sown seeds of madness and corruption among their enemies, and over time those seeds began to grow. The Empire had been stable for thousands of years… but within the course of generations, Dhakaan fell into civil war. Cults, coups, and madness tore apart their advanced civilization. Within centuries, the empire had collapsed. Soon its advanced traditions were lost. The Ghaal’dar don’t know how to smelt and refine adamantine alloys. They don’t possess the martial disciplines or techniques used by their ancestors. The strong dominate the weak, while under Dhakaan all worked together. There are still exceptional people among the Ghaal’dar – people like Lhesh Haruuc, who founded Darguun. But they are very different from the goblins who once dominated the continent.  Which brings us to…

The Heirs of Dhakaan, commonly just called the Dhakaani. Following the defeat of the Daelkyr, a number of Dhakaani leaders saw the signs of spreading madness. They constructed deep vaults and retreated from the world, taking their best and brightest with them. In doing this, they avoided the subtle curses that afflicted the rest of the goblins. For thousands of years they have honed their skills, and now they have returned. Currently they are split into Kech factions. They have no Emperor and this has kept them from uniting. Their numbers are limited, as each Kech carefully controlled population to deal with limited resources. But their martial discipline is rivaled only by the Tairnadal. Their smiths produce arms and armor superior to the work of House Cannith. Dhakaani champions are a match for any hero on Khorvaire. And they aren’t happy to see these soft creatures living in their ancestral lands. The Dhakaani are few in number and still divided… but they are a force to be reckoned with, and a way to surprise players who think of goblins as savages.

Common Traits

City goblins, the Ghaal’dar, and the Dhakaani have dramatic cultural differences. But they are all goblins, and share basic traits that concretely differentiate them from humans, elves, and other races. Goblins possess darkvision, and are quite comfortable dwelling underground. While they aren’t the only race to do so, it’s still a thing to bear in mind. Goblins don’t fear night or shadows the way many creatures do. On a primal, instinctual level night is a time when humans are vulnerable; for a goblin, it is a time when they are strong, as their darkvision gives them an advantage over their enemies. They don’t need light as humans do, which means that their buildings will have fewer windows and that they have no need for casual lighting. This is a small thing, but it’s part of remembering that they aren’t just humans with orange skin. They are a different species that has evolved under different circumstances and who have different instincts and brain chemistry than humans do. Here’s a few more things I consider to be basic goblin traits.

  • Goblins are innately lawful. They don’t have anything like an insect hive mind, but they naturally gravitate to hierarchical societies, establishing a social order and holding to it. Where orcs question authority, goblins are quick to establish structure and like being part of a greater whole. Note that I am using “lawful” to describe instincts – this doesn’t mean they feel any compulsion to obey human laws. Poor city goblins often turn to crime – but they will quickly form gangs and establish an order amongst themselves. The Ghaal’dar aren’t anywhere near as organized as the Dhakaani, but they still hold to a clear hierarchy and system of punishments for those who step out of line. And like the Tairnadal, the Dhakaani are essentially a martial society, with every aspect of life being tied to duty to the Empire.
  • Tied to this is the idea that goblins are inherently rational. Goblins are deeply pragmatic and faith is an alien concept to them. The Dhakaani never had clerics; they don’t believe in forces they cannot see influencing reality.This was called out from the start in the 3.5 Eberron Campaign Setting book, which said the Dhakaani don’t have clerics; their spiritual leaders are the bards who inspire the people with tales of the great deeds of the past. Note that these bards inspire the Dhakaani with tales of things that actually happened – they don’t see the appeal of fiction in any form. Again, this is a deep divide between the orcs and goblins. Orcs are passionate and imaginative; goblins are rational and practical. This is why the goblins NEEDED the orcish Gatekeepers in the fight against the Daelkyr. It wasn’t that the goblins didn’t bother to have their own druids; it’s that they fundamentally couldn’t grasp the sort of faith required to follow the divine and primal paths. While this is generally true of all goblins, it is especially strong among the DhakaaniWe’ve noted that AFTER the Empire fell, some goblins DID turn to a faith similar to the Host and Six; I believe you also saw a spectrum of Dragon Below cults. All of these things are symptoms of the “madness” planted by the Daelkyr… something that undermined this core aspect of goblin character. So you COULD find a cleric among the Ghaal’dar, even if they are far more rare than among other civilizations. But you should never see them among the Dhakaani, who resisted this corruption and maintained the traditions of their people.

So: regardless of culture, a goblin inherently prefers structure to disorder. You like having a clearly established leader and a clearly defined course of action. You are rational and pragmatic, always looking for an efficient solution to the problem at hand and rarely romanticizing things or engaging in wild speculation. Goblins aren’t emotionless Vulcans, by any means. But they aren’t as passionate as orcs: they are practical, always looking to cut the Gordian knot and solve problems as opposed to speculating about them.

Eusocial Creatures

So the first step in differentiating goblins and orcs was the idea of orcs as passionate and chaotic, with goblins being practical and more lawful. But there’s another thing that distinguishes goblins: multiple subspecies. There are at least three goblin subspecies – goblins, hobgoblins, and bugbears. There could easily be others that were around in the age of Dhakaan and have died out on the surface, goblin subtypes humans have never seen. To me, this is a fascinating aspect of goblins that’s rarely explored in any depth. It reminds me of eusocial species like ants, bees, and naked mole rats – and in such species, the different subspecies all serve a particular role within their society and work together. In most settings this isn’t true of goblins; instead, it’s usually a case of might makes right, with the stronger goblin species oppressing the weaker. But as called out in the ECS and this Dragonshard: 

 Among the Ghaal’dar and the Marguul, the strong rule the weak. Leadership is founded on fear, and the weaker races hate the stronger tyrants. Among the Dhakaani goblinoids, this is not the case. Each species has a role to serve in society, and each embraces this role. The hobgoblins rule not through force of arms but because the goblins and bugbears respect their ability to maintain structure and discipline. The strength of the bugbears is turned against the enemies of the clan. 

With Dhakaan, I wanted to emphasize the species worked together, each using their particular strengths for the benefit of the whole. The bugbears bring strength and courage. The goblins have cunning and finesse. And the hobgoblins are the most rational and disciplined, the most naturally oriented to build, to organize. In my opinion, it was the loss of this eusocial bond that truly destroyed the Empire – a subtle corruption that caused the sub-species to stop seeing themselves as one. But it’s something that is preserved in the Heirs of Dhakaan – a natural instinct to work towards the common good.

Which is not to say that the Dhakaani lack individuality or self-determination. They aren’t ants; every Dhakaani goblin is a sentient being with free will and their own dreams. A goblin has their general role in society mapped out, but they could still end up as a common laborer, an artificer, or one of the Sharaat’khesh. In one of my favorite Eberron campaigns, one of the PCs was a male Dhakaani hobgoblin who wanted to be a bard, a traditionally female role. Individual goblins may lack the eusocial instincts that drive the Dhakaani as a whole. But it’s still a critical note for the Empire as a whole. It is a place where racial caste roles are deeply engrained, and where people are respected for filling those roles. The goblins are the laborers, but they are appreciated for performing this vital function – not oppressed and forced into it.

GOBLIN HEROES

One question that’s been raised is how goblins can be used as allies or heroes in a campaign. To begin with, the Dhakaani are certainly heroes in their own eyes. They are champions who have returned from a self-imposed exile to find their homeland in the hands of aliens and their people reduced to savagery. The Dhakaani struggle to recover their lost artifacts and figure out how to restore their civilization is an inspiring one, and only “evil” if you’re one of those wretched aliens now holding their lands. So one way to use the Dhakaani as heroes is to play Dhakaani. One of the one-shot adventures I sometimes run at conventions puts players in the roles of a Kech Volaar strike force working to recover a lost artifact. Alternately, you can play an entire party tied to the Ghaal’dar, working for Lhesh Haruuc; as troubleshooters for the Lhesh, you can be trying to maintain order and ensure the survival of Darguun as a nation – something that requires dealing with the Valenar, the Marguul, the Dhakaani and, of course humanity.

In a broader sense, an obvious answer is to look to Don Basingthwaite’s trilogy of novels that deal with Darguun. You can easily set the (human) players in a position where they have to decide what faction to support in Darguun. Should they support the Ghaal’dar? Or can they work with someone like Tuura Dhakaan to choose a Dhakaani emperor who will serve as a stabilizing force in the region and ultimately prove a stronger and more valuable ally for the Five Nations than the unstable Ghaal’dar? Convincing the Dhakaani to respect the Five Nations instead of planning to drive these aliens from their homeland would be a challenge, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

Looking at goblin player characters in a party that’s primarily non-goblinoid:

  • City goblins have largely adopted the cultures of the regions they live in. My Dreaming Dark novels mention a goblin serving voluntarily in the Cyran army, who’s for all intents and purposes Cyran. City goblins do have to deal with a certain amount of suspicion and prejudice, but that can be an interesting thing to struggle with. The majority of city goblins live in poverty – is that true of your family, or are you prosperous? Are you trying to help your family, or are you a loner?
  • Ghaal’dar aren’t as unified as the Dhakaani. As a Ghaal’dar goblin you could be an emissary of Lhesh Haruuc doing the will of the Lhesh. You could be a child of Haruuc seeking adventures that will prove your worth to succeed him when he dies. You could be a mercenary, just seeking to make your fortune in the world. Or you could have been driven from Darguun by a feud; perhaps you are gathering allies and strength so you can go back and avenge your slain kin.
  • Dhakaani are slightly odd as loners, but not impossible. Tuura Dhakaan of the Kech Volaar is more curious about this new world than many of her peers, and she may have sent you out into the world in order to gather information about it, and to learn about these alien invaders (humans). Should they be destroyed, or is co-existence a possibility? You could be on a quest to reclaim lost relics, either for your Kech or for some personal reason. Or you could be an exile banished from your Kech – was the exile justified, or is there a possibility of redemption and return?

Another possibility for goblin PCs is to be tied to the Khesh’dar, the spies and assassins of Dhakaan. In this case you might choose a different background that’s your cover story – and it’s up to you and the DM to decide what your real mission is, and when you’ll decide to share your true identity with the party.

THE DHAKAANI

So: let’s talk specifically about the Dhakaani. Here I speak both of the civilization that spread to dominate Khorvaire and the modern goblins who have preserved its traditions. Again, in my opinion there is a fundamental psychological difference between the Dhakaani and the Ghaal’dar; it’s not just that the Ghaal’dar weren’t raised in Dhakaani society, but also that their ancestors were subtly influenced by Xoriat and lack the eusocial bond and innate discipline of the Dhakaani goblins. But: What are the core elements of Dhakaan? Why was the Empire so successful?

If orcs can be seen as easily embracing the primal and divine, the Dhakaani are a fundamentally martial culture. War is in their blood. Some sages have theorized that the goblins are a magebred race, that their subspecies are the result of some long-forgotten force — A dragon? The Overlord Rak Tulkhesh? — crafting a warrior species. This is reflected by their natural instinct to hierarchy and discipline, but also by a racial genius for the arts of war. All of the Dhakaani can follow any martial path, but each subspecies has its specialties. Hobgoblins are exceptional fighters and warlords. The goblin Sharrat’khesh and Tarkha’hhesh are gifted rangers and rogues. Bugbears often serve as scouts, but the iconic Dhakaani bugbear is the barbarian. But the Dhakaani barbarian isn’t a primal savage; rather, their “rage” is a carefully cultivated state of ecstatic frenzy.

Honor and Duty, Atcha and Muut

Much like the Tairnadal, this martial mindset bleeds into all aspects of Dhakaani life. The Empire is always in a state of battle-readiness; if it’s not actively expanding, it’s preparing for the next inevitable conflict. The Heirs of Dhakaan have been in seclusion for thousands of years, but they have never lowered their guard or ceased their training. This also reflects the direction of Dhakaan society. As called out by Don Bassingthwaite, Dhaakani culture revolves around the concepts of muut and atcha. Muut is essentially about the honor of the Empire, and can be roughly translated as duty; atcha is personal honor. The most common form of thanks is ta muut, essentially “You do your duty.” Meanwhile Paatcha! is an offer of honor, typically an exhortation of a commander to his troops – this is your chance to gain honor! The key is that the Dhakaani are always considering these concepts: how you are fulfilling your duty to the Empire, and how your actions reflect on you. The key here – and a statement that’s often misunderstood – is that the Dhakaani idea of honor on the battlefield is very different from human concepts. I’ve said before that Dhakaani “don’t care about honor on the battlefield.” What I mean by that is that Dhakaani have no compunctions about killing a helpless foe, about killing civilians if it’s strategically logical, about ambushing an enemy, and similar actions that we generally consider dishonorable. The Dhakaani are concerned with victory. Honor comes from following the orders of your commander, from standing your ground against any odds, from displaying both skill and discipline. Do what you have pledged to do, and do it well. So Dhakaani take personal honor far more seriously than most human soldiers – but it’s important to understand what “honor” means to them.

An Evil Society? 

People have asked if the Dhaakani were an evil society. In my opinion, if you mapped them to an alignment it would be lawful neutral: highly structured and disciplined, but neither exceptionally cruel, corrupt, or altruistic. Note that the two primary Dhakaani leaders mentioned so far are Ruus Dhakaan, the lawful neutral leader of the Kech Shaarat; and Tuura Dhakaan, the neutral leader of the Kech Volaar. Dhakaani society is neither cruel nor kind: it is efficient and expedient. It is a society driven by constant war, and warfare is carried out in the most efficient and effective manner possible. They’d generally avoid targeting civilian populations not because it’s the morally correct thing to do, but because destroying them is a waste of resources that could be used in the future. Their leaders do what is best for the empire, which often means doing what is best for the people. But if it was for some reason necessary to wipe out an innocent village for the good of the Empire, they’d do it without hesitation… but they’d do it for the good of the Empire, not for personal gain. Again, corruption is extremely rare among the Dhakaani (though it can certainly be found among the Marguul and Ghaal’dar). Pursue muut above all and then your atcha. So the Dhakaani may often oppose player characters – but that doesn’t make them evil.

A secondary aspect is the role of slavery in the Empire. The Ghaal’dar and Marguul practice slavery, but in my opinion it was relatively rare in Dhakaan. The eusocial bond and racial caste system are the foundation of the Empire. Every goblin has a clearly defined role and embraces that role. Members of other species have no sense of muut and atcha. They are difficult to control, will always seek to rebel, and have no clear role in the first place. In some ways the Dhakaani can be seen as ants: they spread as efficiently as possible, and they don’t seek to compel other insects to work as slaves in their anthills; they simply kill rivals or drive them away. So it was with the Dhakaani. They spread to dominate the best lands in Khorvaire, and they drove their enemies into the lands they didn’t want. This isn’t to say that slavery was unknown, but it’s a rare practice that comes into play when a specific slave has a skill the Dhakaani need – a translator, a wizard, etc – as opposed to a major institution within the society.

Magic and Metallurgy

There are many things humans take for granted that the Dhakaani have never developed. But the Dhakaani are the finest armorers and weaponsmiths in the known world, superior even to House Cannith and the Tairnadal. They have mastered metallurgy and learned to produce and work with alloys that other races haven’t even discovered. Adamantine is a Dhakaani specialty; Cannith has learned to work with this metal, but it is costly and difficult, and they don’t understand it as the Dhakaani do.

This leads to the question of magic. The Dhakaani never developed the traditions of the wizard or sorcerer, and as noted above, they don’t have divine classes. Their primary sources of magic were bards and artificers. However, it’s important to recognize that these classes were NOT identical to Cannith artificers or Phiarlan bards. These core classes existed, but they would have had their own unique subclasses and specific spell lists. They may have developed paths that aren’t seen today, and may never have done things that we commonly associated with the classes. Specifically…

Dhakaani artificers are primarily armorers, weaponsmiths, and combat engineers. They don’t use constructs but excel at combat fortifications and siege warfare. Among hobgoblins this is primarily a male tradition, but exceptional goblins of both genders can follow this path.

Bards are the duur’kala, “dirge singers.” This path is almost exclusively followed by female hobgoblins. The duur’kala fill the roles that clerics do in many other societies; they are healers, diplomats, and spiritual leaders. They inspire the troops in battle. They heal the injured – note that in 5E, bards are nearly as gifted healers as clerics, and their spell list includes both raise dead and resurrection. They’re also vital to communication and coordination; note that the bardic spell list includes sending, clairvoyance, and various forms of teleportation. Powers of suggestion and charm are vital when mediating disputes and maintaining order within the Emopire, and equally useful for negotiating with enemies. So we generally depict the bard as an entertainer or vagabond. Within the Dhakaani, the duur’kala are leaders and healers with critical roles both on and off the battlefield. There’s nothing frivolous or light-hearted about them.

The critical point here is that lacking the paths of wizard or sorcerer, the Dhakaani rarely used magic as a direct weapon in combat. They relied more on the skill of well-equipped soldiers than on fireballs or cloudkill. The duur’kala heal and strengthen soldiers, but magic isn’t the primary weapon. It’s simply a branch of arcane science the Dhakaani never explored. But they’re interested in it now. They realize that the arcane magic wielded by the people of the Five Nations is an extremely effective weapon. The Kech Volaar are at the forefront of experimenting with this, and goblins are learning the arts of wizardry – and this is a place where you may find Volaar kidnapping human wizards to try to learn their secrets. But it’s still a new program, not one they’ve fully explored.

Known and Unknown

A critical thing about the Heirs of Dhakaan is that they’ve been in isolation for thousands of years. We haven’t gone into great depth about their achievements to begin with, and it’s entirely possible that a particular clan has developed something new over the course of centuries. Consider the following possibilities…

  • We’ve presented the Kech clans as being relatively small – having controlled their populations and remained within a single region. However, you could decide that a particular Kech spread and expanded and has a vast underground territory… that what’s been seen is just the tip of the iceberg, and that they already have armies on par with any of the Five Nations.
  • In a campaign I ran, I introduced a Kech clan that worked with necromancy. They bound the spirits of warriors into spheres, and could channel this power in devastating magical blasts. These spirit orbs could only be controlled and used by a duur’kala, and if the bard died, her sphere would explode – potentially taking out her killers. This did present a particular Kech with a form of powerful offensive magic – but that magic was still controlled by bards.
  • Tied to this… if you want to introduce firearms into Eberron, a very logical approach would be to give them to a particular Dhakaani Kech. This fits with the Dhakaani martial approach – again, more emphasis on developing weapons than magic. This could be a way to have a small Kech have a dramatic impact on Khorvaire… and it would be up to you how the other nations responded to the introduction of these weapons.

In Dragon 413 I introduced the Kech Ghaalrac, a Dhakaani force that has continually fought the Daelkyr since the incursion. These goblins have blended Gatekeeper horrid magebreeding, Daelkyr symbionts, and Dhakaani industry to create a wide range of innovations. So feel free to explore such things.

GENERAL QUESTIONS

Lots of good questions. Let’s get to them.

Would it fit the Dhakaani Empire if I used the Roman Empire as inspiration for their society, architeture, martial tactics and weapons and armours?

Nothing in Eberron is intended to directly map to our world, and Dhakaan is no exception. There’s certainly some base similarities to Rome – military discipline, widespread empire – and some similarities to feudal Japan or ancient India. And critically, Rome is a HUMAN civilization; Dhakaan is fundamentally an ALIEN civilization, shaped by things like the presence of the multiple goblin species. A few points of sharp dissimilarity to Rome:

  • The most critical element is the racial caste system, which in turn underlies the concept of muut. Everyone knows they are a part of the greater whole, and there is a natural instinct that encourages them to work together – something humans (and even the Ghaal’dar) lack.
  • Tied to this, a core practice of the Roman Empire was to assimilate other cultures – to spread their cultures and traditions to their conquered people. The Dhakaani have no interest in this – if you’re not a goblin, you can’t have muut – and they general drove their enemies from their lands, or simply eradicate them.
  • The Dhakaani Dragonshard calls out that the Dhakaani used infantry, cavalry, and archers. The hobgoblins favored speed and precision over strength and chain weapons (flails, spiked chains) are common. It also notes “A Dhakaani army is both tightly structured and surprisingly flexible. The military is based around small units of infantry that can quickly adapt tactics and formations to evolving combat conditions.” So a Dhakaani force can act in a large formation, but then suddenly split into many smaller units.
  • Looking to architecture: As I’ve called out earlier, the Dhakaani don’t need windows for light, and a Dhakaani fortress would only have slits for archers and visibility. In many cases their fortresses and cities are at least partially underground or carved into mountains.
  • Looking to armor, I see Dhakaani armor as being considerably more sophisticated than Roman armor, as well as being made from finer materials. Part of the point is that Dhakaani armor is better that what the Five Nations uses: more flexible, better coverage, lighter. Even their run-of-the-mill armor would still be considered masterwork. Again, this is an area where the Dhakaani are MORE advanced than the Five Nations.

As a side note, in the past we’ve suggested Dhakaan as a place to introduce martial traditions that don’t have a clear place in the Five Nations, including the Samurai, Kensai and Ninja classes.

I know during the Dhakaani Empire they fought a huge battle against the Daelkyr, with the assistance of the Gatekeepers saved Eberron. But who were the main enemies of the Dhakaani empire before that?

The Dhakaani fought every other major intelligent race on Khorvaire at some point. There was a time when orcs were spread across Khorvaire; the goblins DROVE them into places like the Shadow Marches, and the same may well be true of gnolls and other species. They fought the Tairnadal elves and the Dragonborn of Ka’rhashan, and may have clashed with the dwarven civilization that was also destroyed by the Daelkyr (the predecessors of the Mror). Beyond that, you have all the threats that linger today. The Lords of Dust were just as active then, and you had undead, lycanthropes, and the threat of other planar incursions.

Can you go into a little bit of the relationship between Lhesh Haruuc and the Dhakaani? If I remember correctly from the novels, they sort of grudgingly respect his position, but don’t really see Darguun as a proper goblin nation. 

As always, it’s worth noting that the novels – like this blog – are not canon. Both are possible interpretations, but you can always go in a different direction in your own campaign. So with that said, here’s my opinion.

The ancestors of the modern Heirs of Dhakaan went into isolation because they believed a curse was destroying their civilization. Thousands of years later they have returned… and discover that it’s exactly what happened. There are these alien creatures living in their ancestral lands, and the modern “goblins” are savages with no muut. Lhesh Haruuc shows that there is still a spark of Dhakaani spirit left in these corrupted creatures, but overall the Ghaal’dar – and even moreso, the Marguul – are a deeply disturbing display of how far their people have fallen. The critical question is whether it is possible to salvage anything, whether these modern goblins can be integrated into a new empire… or whether, in fact, the first step in restoring Dhaakan should be purging these disgusting remnants. I believe that this is a matter on which the Kech leaders differ; offhand I’d say that Tuura prefers integration and education, while Ruus advocates wiping them out. Part of the question you need to answer here is how many soldiers do the Heirs of Dhakaan have? How deep are their vaults, and how many Kech forces are out there? COULD they choose to wipe out the Ghaal’dar, or do they need their numbers?

So, in my opinion the relationship between Dhakaani & Haruuc varies by Khesh – and Haruuc himself is likely very on the fence as to whether these goblins are allies or enemies. Even in the best case, Tuura would want to reestablish Dhakaani society, and it’s worth noting that the Ghaal’dar have more freedom and individuality than the Dhakaani. In causing that eusocial bond to atrophy, the Daelkyr introduced an element of chaos in that strongly lawful goblin psyche – and the modern goblins may find they don’t want to be Dhakaani.

Are dirge-singers incorporated into the current Dhakanni military as a learned specialty serving specific tactical needs or more as a rank denoting authority in certain fields? Or something else entirely?

Something else entirely and somewhere in between. Dirge Singer isn’t a rank on its own, and you surely had different categories and ranks of duur’kala within the Empire; I would expect that some duur’kala focused specifically on healing, while others dealt more with diplomacy, lore, etc. So a low-ranking duur’kala specializing in healing might accompany a unit of soldiers in a support capacity – while a high-ranking diplomat/loremaster might assume control of a military unit for purposes of a particular mission. If you look to the Dragonshard, the fiction essentially depicts a duur’kala who is leading a unit of soldiers to reclaim a relic, because she’s their lore expert – but when it comes to battle, the military commander would take over.

The Dhakaani dominated the centre of Khorvaire, roughly corresponding with the modern Five Nations, but did they ever have a maritime culture?

In my opinion, their maritime culture was largely limited to river and coastal travel. As you suggest, the presence of Shaarat suggests that they did value rivers, which is logical for a widespread society. We’ve never discussed goblin incursions on Aerenal or suggested a goblin presence in Xen’drik. With that said, in my Bermuda-Triangle-influenced Lamannia adventure I have a massive Dhakaani galley lost en route to Xen’drik, but the idea is that it was a pioneering attempt and it didn’t go well.

If I wanted to use Koalinth (linked here) in name and spirit, how do you guys see them coming about? Were they bred to be aquatic hobgoblins, as the goblins and bugbears are said to be engineered for their roles? Or are they elite hobgoblins warriors using artifice to swim like fish and breathe and fight underwater?

Either one is an option. As it stands, the idea that the goblinoids were magebred is just that – an idea – and something that would have predated Dhakaan as opposed to being a part of it. So Rak Tulkhesh may have created them to be an army… and long after the Overlord was bound, the goblins developed a martial culture of their own. By this concept, the magebreeding idea is simply a justification for having this eusocial set of linked subraces… not a science possess by the Empire. So running with things as they ARE, it’s simpler to make the Koalinth specially trained goblins, working either with artifice tools. You could even say that they have been permanently modified – some sort of alchemical process – but that it’s not a true subrace.

With that said, I think it would be very interesting to say that magebreeding WAS a science the Dhakaani possessed and actively used. I’d be inclined to say that it was relatively rare – the work of specialists in a particular region of the Empire. But this would be an opportunity to use any of the other variant goblins – blues, norkers, varags, etc. A wacky twist would be to make these magebreeders responsible for the horrid animals found in the west. Currently the theory is that these were created by the Gatekeepers… but we’ve never really said how or why the Gatekeepers accomplished this, and if it’s something they can still do. It would be interesting to say that the horrid animals were the result of collaboration between the Gatekeepers and Dhakaani magebreeders during the Xoriat incursion – that the goblins created them, but gave them to the druids who were better able to control them.

So if I wanted to follow this, I’d introduce a new faction in modern day Eberron: The Kech Vorg’dar. Located on the western edge of the Five Nations – either on the edge of Breland or Aundair – this Kech was the heart of Dhakaani magebreeding and has both preserved the ancient techniques and improved upon them. They have a host of subraces, and other living weapons. How will they interact with the Wardens of the Wood, the Ashbound, and House Vadalis?

At one point, the PCs in my campaign were told that we were “honorable…for humans”. That raises my question: I’m guessing that “honor” in this case would be atcha – personal honor. We dealt honestly and respectfully with the dirgesingers and Tuura Dhakaan in particular, and returned a batch of Dhakaani treasures to the Kech Volaar. But would Dhakaani recognize any kind of “muut” among non-goblins?

I think you’re correct: humans could have atcha, but it would be hard for them to have muut. Muut is a reflection of the fact that in Dhakaan, every goblin HAS an established role and duty. It’s part of your blood and your instinct. You know what muut demands, or you should… whereas atcha is more about personal choice and action. Your actions helped the Empire, but you were acting based on personal integrity, not because of your established duty owed to the Empire. It’s possible that they would see a Brelish soldier doing his duty to Boranel as having a human form of muut, but essentially, they don’t see humans as having a society that has muut; humans are acting in a way that vaguely resembles a true society, but they are still basically disconnected savages with no real sense of the common good.

Without wizarding or sorcerous practices, were the otherworldly invaders a surprise to the Dhakaani? Were they aware of the planes/worlds?

The planes are an integral part of Eberron. The Dhakaani may not have had wizards, but they dealt with the effects of manifest zones and coterminous/remote periods. Note that Sharn is built on the foundations of a great Dhakaani city – meaning the Dhakaani chose to build their city in the manifest zone. In addition, both Arcana and Religion are bard skills; the Dhakaani might not believe in gods, but the Religion skill would still encompass knowledge of outsiders, undead, etc.

Did the Dhakaani have a concept of an afterlife, or was your honor in this life to you and the Empire what mattered?

Honor in this life is what matters, and it’s what ensures you are remembered in the future. You set an example that inspires others, and that lives on.

If they are not ants I guess there are some good or evil Dhakaani. So there are some moral discussion on what should be done or how to interact with other races.

Absolutely. The point is that all of those discussions would take for granted the basic assumption that the good of the Empire is paramount. Evil Dhakaani likely argue that all other species should be eradicated; good Dhakaani would press for enemies being allowed to flee and to settle in lands of no use to the Empire. As that’s what ended up being the more common practice, there’s certainly good Dhakaani out there. With that said, I’d maintain that most Dhakaani tend towards neutrality and also that corruption is not tolerated. One of the characteristics of an evil alignment is putting your desires ahead of the needs of others, and a Dhakaani caught pursuing their own agendas over the good of the Empire would be executed.

In general, I wonder what Dhakaani do when they don’t prepare for war.

Easy… prepare for war. Like the Tairnadal, this is the structure of their lives. If you’re a soldier, you hone your skills, drilling and engaging in tactical exercises and wargames. If you’re an artisan, you do the work that needs to be done, and then you work on honing and refining your skills. If you’re an armorer, spend any spare time you have working on ways to make even better armor.

Essentially, a critical part of “prepare for war” is to be the best you can be – so when they  have spare time, Dhakaani are almost always going to be practicing whatever it is they do so they can be better at it. A typical Dhakaani just perfects their talent, while an exceptional Dhakaani looks for new ways to innovate and improve upon the current techniques. And bear in mind that for the Dhakaani, that’s fun. As a bugbear barbarian, you love spending some downtime sparring with a comrade… even if you spent the day training, this is where you just fight for fun, proving your talent.

With that said, even for the Dhakaani there must be times when they relax, right? So what do they do? Here’s a few things.

  • Listen to the Duur’kala, who regale you with tales of past heroes and the glory of the Empire, reminding you WHY you work so hard every day.
  • Not all such entertainments would just be “listen to a bard.” There would likely be some that are acted (with a question being if there are professional Dhakaani actors, or if it’s simply an honor for a soldier to step up and take on the role of a hero). And I think you get more dramatic reenactments that double as war games.
  • Dance. I imagine that the Dhakaani have forms of dance that are similar to kata or the Maori haka – again, something that hones or expresses preparation for war, but nonetheless, it’s still a dance.

The main point – again, like the Tairnadal – is that for a Dhakaani, work isn’t a chore, it’s the focus of your life. You strike for muut and atcha. You gain muut by doing what you must do, and atcha by going above and beyond that. Engaging in activities that hone your skills IS entertainment. So essentially, Dhakaani look at Ghaal’dar or most humans and see them as incredibly slothful and unfocused, wasting the potential and with no sense of communal good.

How do the Dhakaani see love/sex/mate? 

I think Dhakaani feel love as others do, and there is certainly a duty to produce offspring and honor to be gained by guiding them on the proper path. With that said, family is less important than the Empire; when children reach an age that their aptitudes can be determines, I expect they are fostered in a school that focuses on those skills. So if you’re a goblin miner and your son has the potential to be one of the Shaarat’khesh, he goes to join the Khesh’dar and you may not see him again for years, or ever. Accepting that is muut. It’s also the case that within the Kech, reproduction would have to have been controlled to manage limited resources. We’ve established that goblinoids – especially goblins have a high rate of reproduction, and if the Kech are relatively small today that has to have been an intentional choice.

With that said, bear in mind that there’s an aspect here of the Dhakaani are not human. As humans, we are inherently alone. Love is in part about finding a companion, about building a family, and about ensuring its survival and prosperity. The point of the eusocial bond is that on a fundamental, biological and psychological level, Dhakaani goblins feel a bond to one another that humans don’t. Basically, they have a general love for each other that we don’t have as humans. The strength of the Empire is that it isn’t simply a political construct; its people work well together because they feel an inherent connection and loyalty to their comrades. So a Dhakaani goblinoid can certainly have a specific greater sense of love for a particular individual – but they have a broad real sense of connection to all the people of the Empire that we as humans don’t have with one another. And I’m saying that this was one of the critical things that was lost in the wake of the Daelkyr, and the loss of that connection that caused the Empire to collapse and led to civilizations like the Marguul and the Ghaal’dar. So again, this is a fundamental difference between the Heirs of Dhakaan and the Ghaal’dar.

Do the subraces reproduce among each other? How is that different for other goblins?

As far as I know, it’s never been established what happens if a bugbear mates with a goblin. I suspect that in Dhakaan it’s not an option, which is made easier by the fact that you spend most of your life surrounded by and interacting with members of your own subrace. Looking to love, again, I’m sure it exists and there may be tragic tales of the bugbear who loved a goblin, and you could certainly have that as a platonic relationship… but in terms of actual family, you must do what muut demands. With the other goblins, I doubt there are any absolute restrictions, but within a society like the Marguul I find it hard to image a bugbear consorting with a goblin. Family is definitely important among the Ghaal’dar, and for that reason it also seems likely that a hobgoblin bonding with a goblin would be at least somewhat scandalous.

Where was the heartland of the Empire? Was it a single palace under a singular Emperor, or were there multiple emperors ruling at once across the land?

We’ve never said where the Empire began; what works best for your story? We’ve implied that there was a single Emperor, but there were certainly regional leaders who served as the Imperial authority within an area.

I was hoping you could clear something up for me about “city goblins”. I’m not sure if it was written this way in canon, but my impression was always that only the Small goblinoids were incorporated into human society. Is this accurate, or do you see a lot of hobgoblin and bugbears that have grown up among humans as well?

You’re close. page 304 of the 3.5 ECS says:

During the initial human colonization of Khorvaire, Sarlonan invaders enslaved thousands of goblinoids. Today, goblinoids can be found in most of the major cities of Khorvaire. These goblinoids (mostly goblins, but some hobgoblins and bugbears) have been entirely assimilated into humanoid culture.

So that majority of the city goblin population are made up of actual goblins, but there are exceptions. It’s worth noting that “true” goblins have the highest birth rate and are already disposed towards common labor, so they were both the easiest to enslave and quickest to thrive in the years that followed… whereas the more aggressive bugbears and hobgoblins were more difficult to integrate and more likely to just be killed. But yes, there are city bugbears and hobgoblins, just not as many.

Do you think Darguun has any large scale dealings with Droam? Do you think their people or governments see each other as kindred spirits considering their histories?

In my novel The Queen of Stone, Darguun sends emissaries as part of the diplomatic mission to the Great Crag. No mention is made there or elsewhere that I’m aware of about any other significant dealings between the two nations. Darguun is already on thin ice regarding its own recognition as a nation, and a close alliance with a nation seen as something of a terrorist state wouldn’t help that. I’m sure that the Daughters have reached out to Haruuc with just such arguments – “We’re all outsiders, we should stand together” because Droaam needs allies. But what can Droaam offer Darguun – especially that would be worth endangering relations with Breland to gain? And as for being kindred spirits, they’re really not kindred spirits. Looking specifically to goblins, prior to the rise of the Daughters of Sora Kell most goblins in the region were oppressed by more powerful creatures – as they often are among the Ghaal’dar and Marguul. The fact that they have their own warlord in Droaam is a significant change that is thrilling for the goblins (and what makes them among the most loyal supporters of the Daughters) – and something that could actually cause trouble for the hobgoblin-dominated Ghaal’dar or bugbear-led Marguul if their goblin population is inspired to rebel. Essentially, yes, they are all “monsters” and deal with prejudice from humans – but culturally they don’t have a lot in common.

I wonder if dhaakaani would have been doomed against a free overlord or could have found another way to battle/imprison it.

Technically, the Dhakaani were doomed against the Daelkyr; it was the alliance with the Gatekeepers that enabled their defeat. So, if they fought an Overlord, it seems you’d end up with something similar. I could easily see a story based on the partial release of Rak Tulkhesh shaking the Empire thousands of years before the Daelkyr. Dhakaani skill might not be able to end the conflict, but this is where you could have a critical alliance with the Ghaash’kala of the Demon Wastes… champions of the Silver Flame who might leave the Labyrinth to bind the demon. Which brings us back to the difference we’ve established between orcs and goblins. The orcs are innately passionate and drawn to primal and divine paths; the goblins are innately pragmatic and drawn to martial paths. Goblin pragmatism and discipline allowed them to dominate Khorvaire; but Orc faith may have saved the world multiple times.

Just how secluded and hidden were the Kech clans? Thousands of years, operating entirely in secret, hidden from their fellow Dar, hidden from all the other underground races, yet never physically changing?

There’s a few different things to consider here.

  • The Dhakaani goblins already had a partially subterranean civilization; consider that the goblin ruins of Shaarat extend deep below Sharn. There were likely many goblins who already spent the vast majority of their lives underground. So that alone wouldn’t be enough to justify a physical change; goblins are already adapted to subterranean life.
  • We’ve never said they were hidden from all subterranean races. The Kech Ghaalrac are specifically called out as having been fighting a continuous war against the Dhakaani. Other Kech may have had to deal with other foes. They may even have had to fight corrupted Dhakaani in the last days of the Empire. However, these conflicts never extended to the surface.
  • So yes: The Dhakaani avoided all contact with the surface. Remember, their premise – which was correct – was that there was some form of psychic infection corrupting the goblins on the surface. They needed to avoid all contact with them until they could confirm that this curse was no longer a threat – something they were only sure of relatively recently.

Where did Ghaal’dar clan Bards come from if they weren’t somehow trained by the Kech Volaar?

Where do Brelish fighters come from if they aren’t trained in Karrnath? The Ghaal’dar are a unique culture that has evolved in the wake of Dhakaan. Their combat and bardic traditions might have hints of Dhakaan techniques that have lingered through generations, but they are not the same: a Ghaal’dar bard is NOT a duur’kala.  We’ve never particularly established that the Ghaal’dar HAVE a well-established bardic tradition; it might be that Ghaal’dar bards are basically self-taught mavericks. In 5E bards don’t have to know lore, so a Ghaal’dar bard could be more like the orcish Passion mentioned above.

How did the hidden clans come into the light? Did Haruuc know of the Dhakaani Kech clans before starting his rebellion? Did House Deneith have contact with them? Could a pre-969 Hobgoblin or Bugbear tribal chief hire a Khesh’Dar assassin or spy?

Haruuc knew nothing of the Kech when he started his rebellion. Full details of the Return have never been provided, and are something that would have to wait until there’s an ability to truly create new setting material, especially since each Kech has its own story and approach to contact. However, there’s a few basic things that have been established. The ECS notes Kech Volaar goblinoids often venture beyond Darguun in search of Dhakaani ruins, but they do not work as mercenaries. They rarely interact with other races except in the pursuit of a mission.

Beyond that…

  • The Khesh’dar were the first to return. They spent a few decades gathering information, confirming that it was safe to return, and establishing a basic intelligence network so the Kech weren’t returning blind. They might have sold their services to the locals, as working with modern goblins would be a good way to blend in and gain information, but they wouldn’t announce themselves as the Khesh’dar; they’d simply present themselves as talented mercenaries.
  • Before the Heirs of Dhakaan can decide how to deal with outsiders, they need an Emperor. As such their primary focus is dealing with each other – whether through conquest or diplomacy. The Kech Shaarat are assimilating others through combat, but these are calculated actions. The Kech Volaar are seeking to prove their right to rule by recovering artifacts. Every Kech should have a specific path it is following to assert its claim to the Imperial crown – or, barring that, have chosen another Kech to support.
  • The rise of Darguun has been specified as a trigger for the Return. One of the primary reasons for this is that it provides them with cover to act without drawing attention. Thanks to Darguun, there is a location where there’s a strong goblin presence. As Darguun is a Thronehold nation, Ghaal’dar have freedom to move throughout the Five Nations – and most citizens of the Five Nations don’t know enough about goblins to know the difference between Kech soldiers and Ghaal’dar. So a group of Kech Shaarat soldiers don’t walk around bragging about being Kech Shaarat. They pursue their objective quickly and efficiently, avoiding contact with outsiders whenever possible, and trust those outsiders won’t know that they aren’t just some sort of Ghaal’dar.
  • Tied to this: the basic premise that the Kech see everyone in Khorvaire as potential enemies. It’s POSSIBLE the Ghaal’dar can be salvaged, but it’s equally possible they’re corrupted abominations that will have to be wiped out. And if they are bad, humanity is worse. These things have stolen their lands and defiled their cities and tombs. So they aren’t walking up to House Deneith and saying “Hi! Do you want to hire us as mercenaries?” – unless they’re doing it specifically to infiltrate the House and learn its weaknesses. They aren’t here to make friends, and any contact with outsiders is going to be founded on the premise of Are you a threat, and if not, what is your value to our long term agenda?

So the main point of the Heirs of Dhakaan is that they are NOT known to the world at large. They are engaged in a shadow war with each other, and adventurers who interact with them are essentially pioneers on the edge of an exciting developing situation.  It’s up to you to decide whether the Dhakaani see a reason to interact with the PCs or will simply pursue their agenda as efficiently as possible. But this is about the fact that in Eberron, PCs are supposed to be the protagonists of the novel. When they run into the Kech Dhakaani, they are DISCOVERING something cool – there’s powerful ancient goblins, and they’re in conflict with other ancient goblins! – not just bumping into something that’s already well known.