The Origins of Eberron: Bill Slavicsek

Mickey Redblade was sharpening a dagger when she walked in. She was three feet of trouble – the most beautiful halfling he’d ever seen. But Mickey could see it in her eyes. She was in danger.

On a rooftop overlooking Redblade Investigations, Tyras “Deadshot” Dondarael assembled his sniper’s rod of seven parts. He’d seen the princess entering the building. Now he had to make sure she didn’t leave – alive.

Eberron didn’t start out as Eberron. In 2002 Wizards of the Coast announced the Fantasy Setting Search, an open call to find the next setting for Dungeons & Dragons. I was a lifelong D&D fan, and I was doing freelance work for Atlas Games, Goodman Games, and a number of other small publishers—but I never imagined an opportunity like this one. I submitted a number of ideas. My favorite was called Thrilling Tales of Swords and Sorcery. It incorporated themes of pulp adventure and film noir, along with the idea of magic evolving as part of society. The story above is from the original one-page submission. It was a fun idea and a world *I* wanted to explore… but I never imagined that it would eventually become one of the official worlds of Dungeons & Dragons.

Of course, Thrilling Tales wasn’t Eberron. It went through four stages of development. First there was the original one page concept, which went up against thousands of others. The next step was expanding that into ten pages, fleshing out the core idea. From there I wrote a hundred page story bible. But even then, it was still Thrilling Tales of Swords and Sorcery.

Once Thrilling Tales was chosen as the final setting, I went to Seattle and spent weeks working with an amazing team of people at Wizards of the Coast: Bill Slavicsek, Chris Perkins, James Wyatt, and many others. Together we isolated the best parts of Thrilling Tales, as well as identifying the elements that didn’t work and finding ways to improve them. You know what’s more exciting than nomadic halflings? Nomadic halflings riding dinosaursWe took the idea of dragonmarks and made the Dragonmarked Houses. The Last War, the Undying Court, the Mourning, the Church of the Silver Flame—these are all things that we built together. This was one of the most amazing creative experiences of my professional career, and it was this team that created the world as you know it… and it was Bill Slavicsek who named the world Eberron.

Despite being part of Eberron from the very beginning, there are things I’ve never known. What inspired WotC to hold the Fantasy Setting Search in the first place? What was it that people liked about Thrilling Tales? Bill Slavicsek is currently the lead writer for the Elder Scrolls Online, but he took a little time to reach back into the past and discuss the origins of Eberron.

How did the Fantasy Setting Search come about?

Wizards of the Coast had an unprecedented success with the release of Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition in 2000. We used the Greyhawk setting as the default in the core rulebooks, and we released a new edition of Forgotten Realms in 2001, but both Brand and R&D wanted to create something new. The Brand Team came up with the idea to open the search for a new setting to everyone—fans and professionals alike. So we launched the Fantasy Setting Search in 2002. We assumed we’d get a good response to our call for one-page submissions, but we never expected the deluge we received. Our offices were inundated with more than ten thousand submissions! I was the Director of R&D for Dungeons & Dragons at the time, and a member of the committee charged with reviewing and ultimately selecting the new campaign setting. The committee, which included members of WotC’s R&D, Brand, Marketing, and Sales teams, had originally hoped to have every member review every submission we received, but the sheer volume made that impossible. Instead, we divided the submissions among the various committee members and directed each one to bring the ten most-promising entries from their piles to the ongoing committee meetings for discussion.

Eberron emerged from the Fantasy Setting Search. Originally, the setting was simply called Thrilling Tales of Swords & Sorcery. Thousands of worlds were submitted to the search; what did you find appealing about this one?

Interestingly enough, Thrilling Tales was in my stack of submissions. After reading through the first couple of hundred one-page synopses in my pile, I came to the conclusion that we weren’t going to find the perfect submission. I read various takes on ice worlds and water worlds, worlds where one or more of the D&D races didn’t exist, where magic was more or less prevalent, or where the gods have disappeared. Many of these had interesting bits buried within them, but they all did something I was hoping to avoid—they made parts of the Player’s Handbook, Dungeon Master’s Guide, and Monster Manual unusable. At this point, I focused my efforts on finding a submission with a unique concept, something with a twist and the seed of an idea that I could help grow into a campaign setting worthy to take its place beside the amazing settings that had come before it. The first submission I came across that had that spark of excitement was Thrilling Tales. Even as I winnowed my pile of submissions down to a handful of contenders, I kept coming back to Keith’s proposal. Now, bear in mind, we reviewed each and every submission blind. There were no names attached to them. We wouldn’t find out who wrote what until we selected the three finalists. Remember, I was looking for a submission with a core idea that I could help nurture and grow. Keith’s original one-pager is hardly recognizable as the Eberron Campaign Setting, but if you looked closely enough and opened your imagination, you could see the kernels of Eberron ready to explode upon the page. At least, I could. I loved the idea of building a fantasy world out of the elements of pulp action and noir suspense. Once I convinced the rest of the committee that Thrilling Tales had to be among our three finalists, we were well on the way to making the world that Keith helped me imagine come to fruition.

What appealed to me about Thrilling Tales of Swords & Sorcery? The promise implied by the title, for one thing. The challenge of mixing genres, for another. And, frankly, the sheer freshness of the idea—something that hadn’t yet been tried in D&D. I championed Keith’s entry not because of what it was, but because of what it could become. Now, my team and I worked with all three finalists to help them turn their one-page submissions into hundred-page story bibles, and I was happy with how each of them turned out. But in the end, the setting that was destined to become Eberron was the one that I found to be the most exciting, both from my perspective as a fan and my role as a creative professional. In the end, the first submission to spark my interest and capture my imagination is the one we eventually published. It was a wild and amazing ride from start to finish.

You came up with many of the names used in the world… including Eberron itself. Is there a story to the name “Eberron”?

Names and concepts. Those are kind of my specialty. In fact, the first major RPG product I worked on, The Star Wars Sourcebook, was all about me coming up with names and descriptions and backgrounds for people, places, and things seen briefly in one of the three original Star Wars movies. Once we got Keith into the WotC offices and began the process of turning his one-pager into a publishable campaign setting, my first task was convincing him to take his idea in the direction I was imagining. If I remember the original one-pager correctly, it was somewhat tongue-in-cheek in its approach, a kind of send-up of a private detective story set in a D&D-esque fantasy world. I wanted Keith to embrace that, but to shift the tone to something more serious. I wanted to play the pulp and noir aspects straight. To build a fantasy world influenced by the same events that helped create the pulp stories (which reached their peak in the 1920s and 1930s) and noir tales of the 1940s and 1950s, but with a modern sensibility and an overlay of the fantastic. Keith immediately saw where I wanted to go and ran with the idea, bringing back a story bible that would serve as the basis of the world we would eventually create. As for Eberron, I knew we needed an evocative name for the setting that would look good on a logo, be memorable, and be able to be trademarked without too much fuss and bother. I just worked the word until I was happy with it, then presented it and got it approved by Brand and Sales.

Eberron has come a long way since the original submission. What’s your favorite aspect of the final setting?

Eberron has an interesting pedigree. It started life as a one-pager by Keith Baker, was adopted by myself and Chris Perkins (the project design manager), then shaped and expanded by Keith, me, and James Wyatt. More than words, though, we also utilized the talents of concept artists Dana Knutson, Steve Prescott, and Mark Tedin to help bring the amazing things we were imagining to life. Trying to choose a favorite aspect is like trying to decide which of your pets or children you most cherish. It just can’t be done. But I can narrow it down to a few key elements.

I love how we were able to successfully combine multiple genres along with the core elements of D&D to create a viable and exciting setting that was both new and still profoundly D&D. I love the set-up of the world, from the Five Nations to the Last War. I love the mix of magic and technology, from the Lightning Rail to Elemental Airships, Warforged to Artificers. And I love how that original volume ended up, from the Ten Things You Need to Know to the mix of background material and the presentation of current events that could be used to shape adventures and stories happening in the immediacy of the world. The Blood of Vol, Dragonmarks, the Silver Flame, the Emerald Claw—there’s a lot that stands out in my memory, and I’m extremely proud of what I was able to help Keith and James create almost fifteen years ago.

Have you ever played in or run an Eberron campaign of your own? If so, what was one of your favorite moments?

I ran an Eberron campaign while we were writing the Campaign Setting, utilizing ideas and events at the table to influence my writing. I playtested the original trilogy of adventures during their development. And later, I ran a campaign set in the world just for fun. Probably my favorite moment was an encounter I designed to kick off the campaign. It was designed to showcase the uniqueness of the world and throw the characters right into the action—action that was pure Eberron. It involved a chase through the skies of Sharn, the City of Towers, that took place atop an airship that was under attack by gnolls riding disks of energy. The scene was so evocative that we had Wayne Reynolds illustrate it in his impeccable style and I think we included a version of the encounter in one of those first adventures.

Thanks to all of you who’ve explored Eberron and helped to bring it to life! What do you find appealing about the setting, and what are some of your favorite Eberron moments?

Dragonmarks: The Dragonmarked Houses

In the wake of the war, many nations still want to contain the power of the dragonmarked houses. The clearest example of this attitude is the provision of the Treaty of Thronehold that called for the destruction of the creation forges that House Cannith used to create the warforged. At the time the treaty was signed, House Cannith was divided, reeling from the loss of its baron and its Cyran holdings in the Mourning. Now, realizing that weakness and concession led to Cannith’s losses, the houses refuse to be so easily cowed, and no united Galifar remains to rein them in. The houses are not bound by national borders. With the threat of renewed war looming on the horizon, the possibility of losing the services of a house is one that few nations can afford. Indeed, some leaders are working to build close ties with the houses. Aundair granted Stormhold to House Lyrandar in a clear violation of the Korth Edicts, and that house’s activities in Valenar also overstep the law. House Deneith’s military forces at its headquarters in Korth have grown beyond even the more generous provisions granted to it in the edicts, but Karrnath has yet to challenge this state of affairs.

All this creates a situation rife with intrigue and ready for adventure, as player characters—especially those who bear dragonmarks themselves—negotiate the ever-changing alliances and plots among the houses and the nations. Aside from the individual intrigues of each dragonmarked house, you might also consider the growing influence of the houses as a whole. A century ago, the balance of power clearly lay in the hands of the monarchy. Today, the divided leaders of Khorvaire’s many nations squabble and work intrigues, weakening their influence over their economies. Meanwhile, the reach of the merchant houses grows stronger with each day. There are many who whisper that if the nations of Khorvaire are ever to be united again, it will not be a descendant of Galifar who sits on the throne, but a dragonmarked heir of one of the houses.

This text is from from the fourth edition Eberron Campaign Guide, and it reflects a few of our basic design goals in creating the dragonmarked houses. Eberron is a world where magic is a part of industry, where it provides services that are part of everyday life—communication, transportation, medical services. If you need healing, you don’t go to a temple, you go to a hospital—which is to say, a Jorasco healing house. Part of our goal in doing this was to contrast the traditional feudal fantasy kingdom with the modern multinational corporation… to explore the idea that in an industrial world, the barons of industry may be as powerful—or more powerful—than kings and queens. In part this was inspired by powerful corporate families throughout history, such as the Medici Bank or Thurn & Taxis. it was equally inspired by the megacorporations of the cyberpunk genre, which often envisions a world in which industry has largely supplanted nations, where brand loyalty may mean more than nationality. Eberron isn’t at that point YET, but it was always the idea that you could imagine it going there… that the houses are growing in power while the nations are tearing themselves apart. It’s a theme you see explored in the last two Thorn of Breland novels, among others.

You don’t have to explore this in your campaign. The basic principle of Eberron is that we present more threats than any one campaign could possibly deal with—daelkyr, Dreaming Dark, Overlords rising, dragonmarked dystopia, the Next War, the Queen of the Dead—and it’s up to the DM to decide which will play a factor in a campaign, and which are still decades or centuries away from being relevant. Just as the stars may not be right for the daelkyr to arise, it could be that in YOUR Eberron the houses have no sinister agenda and are simply friendly, reliable service providers. But the idea is there that the houses are forces with the power to rival nations, driven purely by the interests of their families and an endless hunger for profit.

To be clear, it’s not the case that the houses are supposed to be evil. They’re essentially self-regulated monopolies. Given that, they could engage in vicious price gouging. They could knowingly peddle substandard goods, or take advantage of their customers in any number of ways. In general, we present them doing the reverse: we call out that people prefer to go to a Cannith-licensed smith or a Ghallanda-licensed tavern because they trust the quality and pricing, whereas an unlicensed business could be peddling substandard wares. By default, we present the houses as having earned the trust of the public over the course of centuries of reliable service. Jorasco may charge for healing; but we’ve never suggested that they charge unreasonable rates, and we’ve said that it is the industry people are used to dealing with. By defaultand you can of course change this—the houses are essentially nations. They put the interests of their nation and their citizens above the good of outsiders; Jorasco is first and foremost considered with the stability and profitability of House Jorasco, just as King Boranel puts the interests of Breland ahead of the needs of the people of Thrane. The houses aren’t GOOD; they aren’t driven by compassion and they don’t engage in charity. And they do take ruthless action to preserve their power, just as a Breland will use the King’s Dark Lanterns to eliminate threats to the nation. But as a whole, the houses are working to provide quality services at a fair price… and they could do far worse if they chose.

With that said, while a house as a whole may not be a force for evil, there are cabals and factions WITHIN the houses that are certainly engaged in cruel or ruthless actions. Looking to Jorasco, we’ve discussed the idea that there are secret facilities engaged in bioweapons research. The nosomantic chiurgeons are an order that twist the power of the Mark of Healing to do harm rather than to prevent it. The Fading Dream shows a secret facility where innocent monsters are being tortured as part of Jorasco experiments. The point is that the typical Jorasco healer would be horrified by what’s going on in that facility… just as a typical Brelish citizen may not support the actions of the Dark Lanterns or the Swords of Liberty. The LEADERS of the Houses may well pursue ruthless agendas the common heir knows nothing about. House Cannith could have caused the Mourning… but that doesn’t mean every Cannith artificer was a part of it. As the opening paragraph suggests, the houses are a source of constantly shifting alliances and plots, and this is enhanced by the fact that they aren’t loyal to or accountable to any one nation.

So the houses could be involved in a campaign in a number of ways…

  • As neutral service providers who shape the general landscape and flavor of the world, providing the everyday services adventurers come to rely on.
  • As forces whose ambitions drive adventure—either because they are seeking rare resources, exploring or seeking to establish a presence in new regions, or pushing the envelope of arcane science in dangerous ways. A group of Vadalis researchers may have no evil intent, but that won’t stop the war-beasts they’ve magebred from wreaking havoc. A Cannith artificer is creating warforged that appear human; she may have no evil purpose for them, but the Lord of Blades has a few ideas. Such situations could involve the player characters working as operatives for one of the houses, cleaning up a mess made by the house, or competing with house agents.
  • As opponents whose quests for profit or power puts innocents or allies of the PCs in danger. This could be something on a grand scale, or it could be quite specific: the PC artificer has made a remarkable discovery and House Cannith wants to either buy it or destroy it. Again, this may involve a specific faction within a house rather than the entire organization: a Traveler cult within House Cannith, a specific unit of assassins in House Thuranni, a Vadalis cabal magebreeding supersoldiers, or just a single ruthless baron with a vision and vast resources. You can even blend this with other forces, introducing a Cult of the Dragon Below or Dreaming Dark cell within a dragonmarked enclave.
  • If you want, you COULD explore the idea of the Twelve actively working to undermine the monarchies and leaders of the Thronehold Nations. As it stands, this is something that is largely happening organically; it’s not that the house are trying to take over the world, they’re just slowly pushing their limits. But if you WANT to jumpstart a dragonmarked dystopia, that’s up to you.

Needless to say, these ideas would usually involve a particular house or a cabal within a house… and could involve two houses working at cross-purposes. Here’s a few of the more significant house conflicts.

  • House Deneith resents House Tharashk for edging into the mercenary trade by brokering the services of monstrous forces.
  • House Orien is threatened by House Lyrandar’s introduction of air travel. Currently this is a very young and limited form of travel, but as it expands it could seriously hurt Orien’s monopoly on overland transportation.
  • House Thuranni split from House Phiarlan less than thirty years ago. While the two houses largely operate in different territories, there’s certainly a strong rivalry when their paths cross.
  • House Cannith lost its leaders during the Last War, and there’s currently three powerful barons vying for control of the house. It remains to be seen if one of them can unite the house behind them, or if it will shatter and follow the example of Thuranni and Phiarlan.
  • House Medani and House Tharashk are rivals in the Inquisitive business, and Medani and Deneith have overlap in personal protection. While they specialize in different things, there’s still room for rivalry.
  • All of the dragonmarked houses are made up of multiple family lines, and there can always be intrigue between them. The biggest example of this is the split of the Houses of Shadow, which occured when the Thuranni erradicated the Paelion, another Phiarlan line. But this is always a possible source of tension and intrigue.

The Twelve is an organization formed specifically to help mediate these sorts of disputes and to foster cooperation between the houses. House Sivis likewise actively works to keep the peace between and within the houses. But these are certainly points of tension that could form the basis of a plot.

Agent or Excoriate?

What does it mean to be a dragonmarked character? Are you complicit in the actions of your house or bound by its rules? Could you be a rebel, or a spy engaging in covert operations on behalf of the house? The answer is simple: what do you want your story to be? The houses are massive organizations with thousands of heirs. Are you close to the powers that run the house, or did you grow up working on the factory floor? Do you want to be limited by the rules of the house, or do you want to be on the outside?

The Dragonmarked sourcebook presents five different roles for player characters. Here’s a quick overview, along with my thoughts on how this relates to fifth edition.

The Agent

As an agent of a dragonmarked house, you have close ties to a house and its leaders. Depending on your status and accomplishments, you can draw on the authority and resources of the house—limited at first when you’ve yet to prove yourself, but increasing with your accomplishments. The flip side of this is that you have responsibilities and you’re accountable to the house. Your actions reflect upon it and you’ll be expected to follow its rules and regulations. In short, your ties to the house are a constant factor in your life, and will likely come up in every adventure—whether it’s because the house has given you a specific mission, or simply because your ties to the house affect your interactions with others. One topic that’s worth discussing with your DM is whether you want to be proud of your house and if you’d like it to be shown primarily in a positive light in the campaign… or if you like the idea of your house taking actions that force you to question your loyalty, and if you might uncover secrets you wish you didn’t know.

Your influence as an agent is based on your actions, so this is something you have to earn over time. However, there’s two backgrounds that make sense if you want this to be a long-term part of your character. House Agent from the Wayfinder’s Guide to Eberron reflects an ongoing role as an operative and troubleshooter for your house. You may not be close to the leadership, but you’re a recognized agent. Alternately, Noble reflects the idea that you are tied to one of the most powerful and influential families within the house… reflecting the idea that in Eberron, a dragonmarked baron has power to rival a prince or duke. Your Position of Power has a different flavor than that of an aristocrat, but you are still heir to wealth and power. Nobles may see you as new money, but they will respect your family’s influence.

In the novels, Lei d’Cannith begins as an agent of House Cannith. She’s a uniformed house operative serving alongside the Cyran military; she adheres to all house rules; and she has ties to important families and has been provided with an arranged marriage to solidify her position.

The Scion

As a scion you’re an heir in good standing with your house, but you aren’t actively working for a branch of the house, and you have little recognition or responsibility. At some point in your career you worked for one of the house guilds, but you’re currently out on your own. Effectively, if the houses were nations, you’d be a citizen: you have certain rights based on your citizenship, but the house will only pay attention to you if you draw attention to yourself. This is the simplest approach if you like the idea of being part of one of these powerful families, but don’t want to have a lot of responsibilities. As with the agent, it’s good to talk with your DM and discuss the role you’d prefer to see the house play in your story. Would you prefer to stay at a distance? Would you be interested in being drawn more deeply in over time as your reputation grows? The house could definitely take an interest in you as you gain influence and power. There could be intrigues with your family, or you could have prophetic significance you don’t know about. You could discover corruption within the house and have to decide whether to fight it or whether to simply break ties with it. You begin as a largely free agent, but there’s many ways your story could go.

While a scion could have any background, there are a few that could reflect your ties to your house. Guild Artisan is an obvious one, with your guild being the house guild that covers your particular trade; your Guild Membership feature means that you can call on the support of the house, even if it’s on a more practical level than the Noble or House Agent. If you’re Phiarlan or Thuranni, a background as an Entertainer may be a reflection of a career that began with the House Guilds, while if you’re a Spy you could be a former agent who’s still maintained a few contacts and covers. Soldier is a fine choice for House Deneith, and your Military Rank represents your honorable service within the Blademark mercenary corps. Lyrandar Sailors, Sivis Scholars, Tharashk Urban Bounty Hunters… all of these reflect the idea that you had an honest career within the house, but currently you don’t have any responsibilities to it.

The Orphan

As an orphan, you’ve chosen to break your ties with your house. This often happens when an heir wants to engage in actions forbidden by the Korth Edicts, such as marrying into a noble family. But it can also be driven by a matter of principle: a Jorasco heir wants to devote their life to charitable healing, or a Deneith soldier wants to fight for a particular cause instead of for gold. The main point is that you chose to cut yourself off. You’re not allow to wear the house insignia or to present yourself as an heir, but you’re not an excoriate. If your circumstances change, you could even potentially return to it. The main question to answer in creating your character is why did you leave? Was it driven by the Edicts? Was it a matter of principle? Was it tied to love, or to prevent a scandal?

In many ways being an orphan is the simplest way to play a dragonmarked character, if all you want is the abilities of the mark. You have no responsibilities, no access to house resources, and you can’t even use the house name… but you’re also not burdened by the infamy of excoriation. The main question is if you want the house to play a role in your life. If you left to avoid a scandal, do you want it to come back up? If you were driven away by love gone wrong, do you want to cross paths with your lover or your rival? If you left because of a principle, do you want that to be a theme as your story evolves? Or do you just want to focus on a career as an adventurer with a dragonmark, without getting into any of that?

An orphan can follow almost any background. The main point is that the benefits of your background will not reflect an active tie to your house. If you’re a Soldier and a Deneith orphan, you should either drop Military Rank, or say that it reflects your rank in a different military organization; you’ve broken all ties to the Blademark. If you’re a Noble, you don’t have a Position of Privilege within the house; instead, you or one of your parents could have married into the aristocracy. Of course, you could take the Noble background with the Retainers option, suggesting that you turned your back on your life of privilege but a few loyal retainers remain by your side.

In the Dreaming Dark novels, Daine is an orphan who left House Deneith in order to serve in the Cyran army.

The Excoriate

An Excoriate has committed a crime against the house and been formally cast out of it. This is far more severe than being an orphan. Your likeness is circulated; heirs of the house are forbidden from providing you with any sort of aid or assistance, and even members of other houses will usually shun excoriates. This punishment is reserved for serious offenses, and carries the weight of infamy, so the immediate question is what did you do? Did you actually commit treason or make an attack against your house? Did you deserve your excoriation, or is it the result of political maneuvering—you uncovered corruption or some other secret the house needed to keep hidden? If it was possible, would you want to find a way to return to your house, or do you despise your family and everything it stands for?

An excoriate is an orphan with an extra serving of drama. You aren’t simply ignored by the house, you will actively have to deal with the consequences of your infamy. If the adventure requires interaction with a house, you may have to disguise yourself or make yourself scare. On the other hand, perhaps you still have friends or contacts in the family… but are you willing to place them at risk by asking for their help?

While an excoriate can follow any background with the same limitations as the orphan, this is also a logical path for a Criminal; it could be that your criminal activities are what got you excoriated, or it could be that you were forced into a life of crime after being thrown from the house. It’s also a good match for a Folk Hero, especially if you were excoriated for doing something that hurt your house but helped the common people. A more unusual option would be Hermit or Haunted One; you have seen or discovered something the house doesn’t want known.

In the Dreaming Dark novels, Lei d’Cannith becomes an excoriate. In her case, she doesn’t know why she was driven from the house, and this is an ongoing mystery she slowly unravels over the course of her story.

The Foundling

As a foundling you never had a connection to a house. You’re presumably descended from an orphan or excoriate… or you might be the illegitimate child of a member of a house. You’ve grown up without any guidance from the house and you don’t know any of its traditions; you’ve learned to use the mark entirely on your own. As a general rule, the houses are quite happy to bring foundlings back into the family, so you COULD become a scion or agent if you ever wanted to… so the question is, why haven’t you? Is it that you’ve never had contact with a house—that you’re an Urchin, Hermit, or Outlander who has never been to a house enclave? Have you been recruited by some other organization keen to make use of your powers… so you might be a Spy or a Criminal, or an Acolyte who’s chosen your faith over your house? Or are you AFRAID of the houses… either because you know a terrible secret about them, or for purely irrational reasons?

A foundling has no immediate responsibilities; typically, the house doesn’t know you exist. Generally, the reason to play a foundling character is because you want to explore a relationship with the houses… or to play the idea of being a dragonmarked agent of another organization. If your reputation grows and your mark is revealed, your house may pressure you to join—is that a story that you want to explore? If not, you might be better off as an orphan.

Q&A

This article began as a general Q&A with questions provided by my Patreon supporters—thanks for keeping this website going! Here’s answers to those questions. 

Why did you decide to limit dragonmarks to specific bloodlines as opposed to making them available to all members of a particular race? 

In part this was inspired by historical precedent—the Medici Bank, Thurn & Taxis, industrial dynasties like the Rockefellers. But there’s a few major reasons we chose to limit it. Tying the houses to families is a way to immediately ensure self-interest and to encourage the monopoly aspect: they began in one place, they had the immediate motive to ensure the prosperity of their families, and it’s not like someone halfway across the world could develop the mark independently and challenge their monopoly. The second aspect is the fact that families have drama. If you’re dragonmarked and there’s a villain in the house, they may be your uncle or your cousin. Essentially, if you have a dragonmark, you have a connection to the house, whether you’re a foundling, orphan, or agent; it’s not the case that you just developed it randomly on your own.

This is also something that clearly and concretely distinguishes the houses from aberrant dragonmarks, which do appear entirely at random.

Was it intentional for House Jorasco to come across as a heartlessly capitalistic organization? 

The Dragonmarked sourcebook presents a particularly heartless view of House Jorasco, requiring every heir to swear an oath never to heal without payment and suggesting that heirs can actually be excoriated for breaking this oath… when excoriation is elsewhere said as a rare punishment reserved for treason and similar acts. Personally, I consider this to be extreme, and that oath isn’t something I use in my Eberron. I definitely focus on the fact that the house is a business, not a charity. Again, think of the house as a nation; Breland is going to put the interests of the Brelish people ahead of Thranes, even if that means some Thranes may die. Jorasco’s position is simple. They don’t have the resources to heal everyone. They need to make a profit to prosper and continue to provide their services. Therefore, they will limit their services to those who can pay. And people KNOW that. I live in the US, and I know that I can’t just walk into a doctor’s office and demand that the doctor give me a free checkup; it’s just not how the system works. Would it be better if everyone had all the services they needed? Of course! But that’s not how the system works… and I don’t think my doctor is evil or heartless because of it. I don’t expect an auto mechanic to fix my car for free. I don’t expect the grocer to give me free food. In Eberron, Cannith doesn’t give away warforged and Orien doesn’t offer free rides on the lightning rail… and Jorasco only heals those who can pay for it.

With that said, I feel the oath as presented in Dragonmarked is too specific and strict. I DEFINITELY don’t support the idea of a Jorasco cleric saying “Sorry, fellow PC, I can’t use a healing word until you give me 5 gp. Oath, y’know.” With that said, I think it’s entirely appropriate for the house to insist that a Jorasco agent be compensated for healing they perform… but that compensation can take many forms. If the party is performing a service for the house, that’s the payment. Otherwise, does the agent feel that the actions of the party are increasing the reputation of the house? are they helping Jorasco allies? Essentially, the services of a Jorasco healer should never be taken for granted—but even the Dragonmarked chapter notes that alternative forms of payment are an option.

I find it hard to imagine a good-aligned Jorasco PC who doesn’t in some way chafe against their House, a chaotic-aligned Jorasco PC who isn’t an excoriate, or indeed much room for good-aligned or chaotic-aligned NPC Jorascos at all; again, was that intentional?

Again, I see this as being based on the Dragonmarked idea that a Jorasco heir could be actively punished for helping without payment, and as I said, I see that as extreme. While they are at a healing house, they have to follow the rules, just as a Cannith smith has to meet the standards and follow the pricing established by the house. But I don’t support the idea that if that halfling healer is walking home and a kid falls off a bike, the healer would say “I’d love to take a look at that, but it will cost 5 crowns.” SOME Jorasco heirs may be heartless and cruel, but I also feel there are Jorasco heirs who do care about their patients and who do the best they can… and if they can’t give away full services for free, they might at least point the patient towards charitable services.

I will say that it’s hard to see a chaotic individual becoming a house agent, but not impossible; “Damn it, Dravis! You broke a dozen house regulations, but I can’t argue with your results.”

With that said, the IS the point of the orphan or excoriate. While I don’t support the Dragonmarked oath, I definitely agree that a Jorasco healer isn’t allowed to give away the services of a house of healing, and there are some who will balk at that or at the fact that the house isn’t doing more to help as many people as possible. You could leave as an orphan to do your part; or perhaps you’re a folk hero and excoriate who gave away an entire shipment of healing potions to help save a village.

There’s two points I do want to call out here. One is the fact that while Jorasco is BEST known for its healing magic, the most COMMON and affordable services are mundane treatment enhanced by the power of the mark—which is to say, use of the Medicine skill with the intuition bonus granted by the mark. If you’ve got gold you can get a lesser restoration to remove an ailment instantly, but most treatments are long term and based on the healer’s skills. So in looking to the fact that they expect payment, most of what they do is an actual SERVICE—not just the work of a moment and a spell slot.

The second is that there are people who provide charitable healing. The Church of the Silver Flame and adepts of Boldrei sometimes operate free clinics. The critical points here…

  • These places look after people who are truly in need. This is Faela in Sharn, caring for the destitute people of Fallen. If you show up with gold in your purse just trying to avoid paying Jorasco costs you clearly could afford, they’ll tell you to get lost.
  • Most priests in Eberron aren’t divine spellcasters. These charitable clinics provide access to someone trained in the Medicine skill, but this isn’t a place you go hoping for a free restoration. They don’t have dragonmark focus items or the other resources of a Jorasco house.

Essentially, in a big city there will be some options for people in desperate need, but this doesn’t change the fact that Jorasco is seen as the standard and most reliable option.

How strong or fragile are the limitations of the Korth Edicts after the War?

The Korth Edicts are the laws put in place by the united kingdom of Galifar to limit the power of the dragonmarked houses. These include restrictions on the houses holding land or maintaining military forces. The issue with the Korth Edicts is that Galifar is no longer a united entity. So if a house violates these terms… who’s going to enforce them? Cannith abided by the terms of the Treaty of Thronehold when it demanded the destruction of the Creation Forges, but that was a rare moment both of unity between all Thronehold nations and exceptional weakness for Cannith, which had just lost its leadership. But imagine if Aundair decided to call out Stormhome as Lyrandar violating the terms of the Edicts… and imagine Lyrandar saying “Of course! We completely understand your need to stand by these antiquated principles. But we were planning on Stormhome being the new center of our weather control operations, and if we can’t have the island we’ll have to discontinue this service in Aundair. It’s really too bad: I have it on good authority that you’re looking at a severe drought this summer without our help. We’ll also need to raise costs on airship travel out of Aundair to offset the costs… and House Sivis told us that if we raised our rates, they’d probably, they’ll have to increase the cost of communications across Aundair as well. Are you SURE that our little island is a problem? It would be so much simpler for all of us if we just kept things as they are.”

Essentially, the war weakened the nations and strengthened the houses. The Twelve are still testing the limits of the Korth Edicts. At the moment they aren’t violating them on a massive scale, but the main point is if they did, who would actually be able to do anything about it? This is a theme that comes up across the Thorn of Breland novels. Would the nations stand together to enforce limits on the houses? Or would the houses be able to exploit the divisions between the nations and continue to get what they want?

So the Korth Edicts are weakening. Is that how House Vadalis has land on which to put their compounds and Varna, Merylsward et al? I couldn’t think of who they pay rent to, now that the Reaches no longer under Aundairian rule. Did they just quietly claim ownership of the land?

The Player’s Guide to Eberron says “Since the houses do not own land, the edicts dictate a system of rents to be paid to the crown. In the wake of the Last War, the houses continue to operate under the edicts of Korth, treating the local ruler as the crown for purposes of the law.” Stormhome is called out as a special exception, where Aundair granted the land to Lyrandar in violation of the Korth Edicts.

The Eldeen Reaches are likewise an unusual case. Prior to the Eldeen secession, Vadalis was paying rent to the Aundairian crown for its holdings in Varna. Following the Eldeen secession, I believe that the Wardens of the Wood came to an arrangement with Vadalis, where the house holds the land in exchange for maintaining the local infrastructure and supporting the Eldeen secession. Much like the Valenar and House Lyrandar, the Wardens of the Wood have no interest in maintaining large cities, so it makes sense that they’d deputize the house to do so. Again, this is a violation of the Korth Edicts, but the Eldeen Reaches were never a part of the Korth Edicts, so why should they enforce them?

In the last book of Thorn of Breland, we see a covert joint operation between several of the Houses after Drix uses an Orien teleportation circle. What was the purpose of that operation and what are other “secret project” that the houses are working on ?

The houses are always working on joint projects; facilitating such cooperation is the primary purpose of the Twelve, along with presenting a unified front if a nation challenges the houses. The Kundarak vault network was a joint operation between Cannith, Kundarak, and Orien. Airships are a joint operation between Cannith, Lyrandar, and the Zil. In the case of The Fading Dream—and I say this because it’s not a major spoiler to the main plot of the story—they stumble into a facility that appears to be a joint Jorasco-Vadalis program seeking to unlock and replicate the supernatural abilities of various monsters. Jorasco would love to be able to replicate the regenerative powers of trolls, and Vadalis would be thrilled to be able to magebreed the harpy’s voice or medusa’s gaze into other species. House Cannith often gets dragged into things because the houses need them to build magic items or focus items… and this in turn is why they have traditionally been the most influential house within the Twelve. House Orien doesn’t especially need House Jorasco, but it relies on Cannith to produce conductor stones and coaches.

As for other secret projects, who can say? If Vadalis was magebreeding supersoldiers, I’d expect Jorasco to be involved. Likewise, we’ve hinted at the existence of Jorasco bioweapons programs, and that could likewise benefit from Vadalis insights. Each house has a specialty; in thinking of an interesting idea, consider which specialties would be required to bring it about.

House Deneith is the only House with rights, through the Treaty of Thronehold, to maintain an army. How does this contend with House Tharashk’s mercenary operation, if at all?

See the earlier discussion of the Korth Edicts. Tharashk doesn’t maintain an army in the same way that Deneith does with the Blademark; Tharashk simply brokers the services of independent monstrous mercenaries. It also generally bases these forces in Droaam or the Shadow Marches, neither of which are Thronehold nations. If it wants to establish a garrison in the Five Nations, that could be an issue.

Is there a bloodline of Halas Tarkanan?

Halas Tarkanan was the commander of one of the major aberrant dragonmarked forces during the War of the Mark. We know he had a consort, the Lady of the Plague. No canon source mentions them having children, and even if they did, one would presume that they died in the destruction of Dorasharn. House Tarkanan has never mentioned any sort of recognized Tarkanan bloodline; instead anyone with an aberrant dragonmark is considered to be a member of the house and to have a right to use the Tarkanan name. But the point is that no one knows, so this is entirely something for each DM to explore. Do you WANT a secret bloodline of Halas Tarkanan? Then come up with a story of how it survived the siege of Dorasharn and run with it.

With that said, this relates directly to the earlier question about the dragonmarked families. Aberrant dragonmarks are not reliably hereditary. The most reliable way to produce an aberrant dragonmark is by mixing pure dragonmarked lines. Aside from that, aberrant dragonmarks can appear on anyone, anywhere, regardless of heritage. We’ve said that children of aberrant parents aren’t assured of developing aberrant marks, and that those that do usually won’t inherit the abilities of their parents. In The Son of Khyber, Zae is the daughter of Fileon… but Fileon has a deadly touch, while Zae talks to rats. This is intentionally in direct opposition to the reliable, hereditary nature of “true” dragonmarks; aberrant marks are chaotic and impossible to control. So you COULD have a bloodline of Halas Tarkanan, but being an heir of Halas doesn’t automatically mean you’ll get an aberrant mark, and even if you do it may have no resemblance to his mark.

According to D&D Beyond, a warforged character can have an aberrant dragonmark. Is this a mistake? 

The Wayfinder’s Guide placed no racial restrictions on aberrant marks. Changelings, shifters, or even warforged can have aberrant marks. An aberrant warforged would be highly unusual, and raise questions about how it happened and what it means. But with that said, there IS an warforged with an aberrant dragonmark in The Son of Khyber—and again, people there are puzzled and wonder what it means. The whole point of aberrant dragonmarks is that they are unpredictable and they AREN’T tied to bloodlines.

How did Thuranni get away with the Shadow Schism? What’s the common understanding of the mass-murder/disappearance of so many Paelions?

This is covered on page 82 of Dragonmarked. The Paelions were accused of plotting a massive wave of assassinations targeting the heads of nations and dragonmarked houses. Per Dragonmarked, To this day, Baron Elar d’Thuranni maintains that he acted out of loyalty to his own house and all the dragonmarked houses, quashing a plot that would have thrown all of Khorvaire into even greater upheaval”… And within the Twelve, there are many that believe him and support him, which is why Thuranni was accepted as a house by the Twelve.

As for the public understanding of the situation, bear in mind that this occurred in the middle of a war; that the Paelions were believed to be entertainers; and that the Thuranni are expert assassins with a great deal of experience covering their tracks. Depending on the situation, assassination could have been made to look like the result of military action (Aundarian arcane explosive accidentally brings down opera house!), the work of bandits (tragic loss as bandits senselessly murder traveling Phiarlan troupe!), or criminal activity (Were gambling debts behind the carnival massacre?). It’s not like the common people even know the difference between all the Phiarlan lines. You can be sure that there are conspiracy theorists that have pieced it together, but you can be equally sure Thuranni agents have spread a host of ridiculous theories that have clogged up those channels—the Paelions were a cult of the Dragon Below! They were secret agents of the Silver Flame slain by demons! But the short form is that the public was more concerned with war and not in a place to be terribly interested in the seemingly coincidental deaths of Phiarlan entertainers.

Beyond this, one theory is that the “Shadow Schism” was an amicable arrangement between Elar and Elvinor d’Phiarlan—that they both wanted to eliminate the Paelions, and that the entire schism is a sham. Don’t forget that these are the finest actors in Eberron; this could all be part of an elaborate play that’s going to take a century to play out… which is, again, not a lot of time for an elf!

The Dragonshard articles on House Phiarlan give different locations for the Five Demesnes (the primary house enclaves) than the Dragonmarked Sourcebook. Which is correct? 

The Dragonmarked sourcebook is the more accurate source.

Have you thought about putting an explicitly anti-House organization into the setting? 

There are a few specifically anti-house organizations… it’s just a question of whether it’s a pleasant answer. The Aurum is entirely an anti-house organization. The Ashbound are anti-house, along with anti-many other things. There’s a few others like that. But we intentionally didn’t put an entirely benevolent, well organized anti-house organization for the same reason the Gatekeepers are withered and fading: we don’t want the major problems of the world to be solved by NPC organizations. Typically where there are such organizations—notably the Church of the Silver Flame, a compassionate organization that does charitable work, provides free healthcare where it can, and seeks to fight supernatural evil—we call out problems that limit its ability to accomplish that mission. Because the world needs player characters to shift the balance. As it stands it’s a world with many problems and few solutions; it’s up to YOU to find the best answer.

While most people see the houses as directly dispensing the services they provide, isn’t it the case that most of those services are actually provided by the guilds—and that the members of the guilds aren’t necessarily part of the dragonmarked family? What are the interactions between high-ranking, unmarked guild members and those house leaders who govern their affairs? 

This is a good question, and it’s covered on page 11 of Dragonmarked. You are absolutely correct: the HOUSES are families, and the GUILDS are what provide services. However, there’s a Venn diagram here, because the Guilds govern three different types of businesses.

  • House Arms are businesses directly run by blood heirs / house agents on behalf of the house.
  • Bound Businesses are essentially franchises. They’re funded by the guild in exchange for a greater share of the profits, and they maintain a recognized guild identity—for example, the Gold Dragon Inn of House Jorasco. In many cases, a bound business will have to be run by a blood heir because the business may require the use of dragonmark focus items to provide its services, but many of the employees may be outside of the house. They have more independence than a house arm, but they have significant limtiations.
  • Licensed Businesses are businesses that uphold the standards of the guild, and are usually run by people trained by the guild, but they are not directly tied to the house and generally aren’t run by blood heirs.

The critical point here is that licensed businesses can’t provide the unique house services. You can have a licensed scribe who’s Sivis-trained, but they can’t manage a message stone. Meanwhile, most Sivis message stations are house arms, because the house actively maintains and expands the stone network.

So looking to Jorasco, a house arm is directly run by the house through the guild. It will have the best equipment and the largest number of blood heirs. A bound house will likely be run by a blood heir who can use dragonmark focuses, but will have less of those focuses and a significant number of unmarked staff. And a licensed house of healing will largely provide nonmagical services, but the people there will be Jorasco trained and maintain Jorasco standards, and they may sell Jorasco potions.

Generally speaking, I expect the leadership of the guilds to be largely comprised of blood heirs… though quite possibly UNMARKED blood heirs. Remember that only around half of the heirs develop even the least mark, and guild administration is an important position that doesn’t require a mark. You don’t HAVE to be an heir to rise to a position of authority, but there’s always going to be some degree of nepotism you’ll have to deal with. Still, it’s not the case that the Finder’s Guild is primarily run by outsiders who are going to negotiate with the house; leadership will still mainly be Tharashk heirs, even if they’re unmarked, and they will have the interests of the house at heart.

Dragonmarks: Lightning Round 3/19

I’m just back from the JoCo Cruise and about to head off to PAX East, and I haven’t had an opportunity to write the next installment of the Dark Six series. Instead, I’m going to do a quick Q&A with questions submitted by my awesome Patreon supporters. These questions fall into two categories: some are questions that have canon answers, while others are essentially asking for speculation. What other failed secessions happened during the Last War, for example; none are mentioned in canon sources that I’m aware of, so any answers I give are me telling you what I might do in MY campaign. I’m marking these answers NC. 

The current political map of Khorvaire is defined largely by successful secessions – Valenar, the Mror Holds, and the Eldeen Reaches, to name a few. What kinds of *failed* secessions happened during the Last War?

(NC) One of my main rules of worldbuilding is this: In adding a detail to the lore, can I think of three ways that it could play a meaningful role in a story? I’ve never made a comprehensive list of all the rulers of Galifar, because I’ve never been in a situation where someone needed to know who was king in 464 YK; if it came up randomly at my table, I’d just make up a name and make a note of it. I bring this up for two reasons. First of all, you’ve generally heard about the winners because they HAVE defined the present map; and second, that means in describing failed secessions, I’m only interested in coming up with ideas that COULD play an interesting role in a story… whether that’s driving adventure, creating a colorful NPC or villain, or being tied to a character’s backstory.

With that in mind, here’s one idea.

Faldren’s Folly. The drive to rid Breland of the monarchy didn’t begin with Ruken ir’Clarn. In 961 YK, King Boranex of Breland committed suicide after the deaths of his two eldest sons. While Prince Boranel had proven himself in war, he was seen as an adventurer and dilettante. Commander Rand Faldren sought to rally support within the Brelish army for an overthrow of the monarchy, placing power in the hands of the parliament. He stopped short of attempting a coup, and stood down when the majority of parliament condemned the idea. However, soon thereafter he seized control of Orcbone, the fortress by the Graywall Mountains. He proclaimed the fortress to be the heart of “New Wroat,” reclaiming the pre-Galifar name of the nation, and called on those who sought freedom to join him, following the model of Q’barra. Breland dispatched a small force to retake Orcbone, which failed; given that the region was strategically unimportant and there were pressing concerns on other fronts, Boranel chose to pull soldiers back rather than to devote a major force to bring down Faldren; essentially, he put it on Faldren to defend his new settlers. This proved a disaster. As numbers grew, Faldren encouraged settlers to establish themselves in the foundation of an old goblin city… the city we now know as Graywall. These settlers were prepared for minotaur raiders, and repelled a few attacks. But they weren’t prepared for the skullcrusher ogres and war trolls that came later—the first appearance of the elite forces of Sora Maenya. The force drove deeper into New Wroat and laid waste to Orcbone. Rand Faldren was dismembered and his head was never found; some believe Sora Maenya still has it.

Boranel responded swiftly to the destruction. Orcbone was reclaimed and fortified, and many settlers were safely returned east. While some were grateful, others felt that Faldren was a martyr to the principles of a democratic Breland—that he was driven to his fate by the outdated monarchy, and that Boranel left the settlers to die because they challenged his authority. Today any western cells of the Swords of Liberty call Faldren a hero, and demand that stronger action be taken against the creatures of Droaam.

As an idea, this is tied to existing principles—the rise of Droaam and the ongoing uncertainty about the fate of the Brelish Monarchy. It serves as a rallying point for the Swords of Liberty. And a PC could have lost family in Faldren’s Folly… perhaps still yearning for vengeance against Sora Maenya or the troll commander who slaughtered their parents.

In each country, what power group would be most likely to react to a planar invasion ? Assuming it’s more covert than just a giant portal opening and a massive horde coming through. The invasion starting under the radar but growing as major threat as time progresses.

First and foremost: Who should deal with a covert planar invasion? The player characters. Eberron has always been designed as a world where there aren’t tons of powerful benevolent forces and where the ones that do exist are often limited in some way. So I’m going to continue to talk about the forces that might come into play, but in an ideal story, these forces WOULDN’T just solve the problem on their own. Perhaps they’re crippled by infighting or corruption. Perhaps they’ve been infiltrated and compromised by the invading forces. Essentially, even if the Church of the Silver Flame is ultimately the force that would fight such a thing, in my campaign the question would always be How do the player characters play a central role in that defense? 

With that said… most of the modern nations don’t have “Planar Invasion” agencies. On the one hand this is because they’re been focused on carrying out an actual war against very concrete, mundane enemies: Karrnath has been too busy fighting Thrane to devote much of their budget to the Xoriat Defense Initiative. However, part of the reason for this is that there’s a very well established and respected military force that is dedicated to protecting people of all nations from exactly this sort of threat: The Church of the Silver Flame. People often look at the Church of the Silver Flame through the lens of religion in our world. In OUR history, militant religions have often used that military force to impose their beliefs on others. But that’s never been the purpose of the templars. Instead, they are a volunteer army dedicated to defending ALL innocents—regardless of their nation or their beliefs—from the very real supernatural threats that exist in Eberron. At any time there could be a planar incursion, a horde of aberrations bursting out of Khyber, an overlord unleashed, or—just as a random example—a deadly surge in lycanthropy. And when that last one happened, who came to the defense of the people of Aundair? The Church of the Silver Flame.

I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: The Church of the Silver Flame has more in common with the Jedi and the Men in Black than with any religion in our world. The Silver Flame isn’t a traditional god; it is a force that holds demons at bay and that empowers champions who fight to defend the innocent from supernatural threats. Breland doesn’t need a Planer Defense Initiative because they know that IF such a threat arises, templars and exorcists from across the Five Nations will stand against it, and they DO specialize in dealing with this sort of thing. Again, when the Purge happened, Galifar as a whole said “Not our problem;” It was the Silver Flame that took action. Having said this: The Lycanthropic Purge shows that the best-intentioned plans can have terrible consequences. The Pure Flame sees the faith as a weapon to punish the wicked as opposed to a shield to protect the innocent. The rise of the theocracy has created opportunities for those who pursue rank in the church because they seek power as opposed to being devoted to defending the innocent. Part of the point of Eberron is that few things are entirely good or evil. But at its heart, defending the innocent from planar incursions is exactly the job of the Church of the Silver Flame.

The Gatekeepers are next in line as a force specifically trained and dedicated to protecting Eberron from planar incursions. However, they are a small force and lack the widespread recognition of the Silver Flame. If an exorcist of the Silver Flame shows up, presents their holy symbol and says “There’s a planar breach, I need you to get out of the way” many people would respond to their authority; whereas if someone says “I’m a Gatekeeper, I need your help” most people in Sharn will say “A what now?” The same holds true for the Shadow Watchers of the Kalashtar; while primarily dedicated to fighting the Dreaming Dark, they might uncover other planar agendas… but they lack resources or influence.

Beyond this, however, a covert threat is a covert threat. How different is this threat from one posed by mundane terrorists or spies? As such, you could get the King’s Citadel (note that the Blackened Book of Sharn and the King’s Wands are trained to deal with mystical threats), the Royal Eyes of Aundair, or the Trust of Zilargo engaging with such a threat.

Speaking of planar incursions, we know of the Daelkyr Invasion and the lycanthrope and shifter Lamannia exodus during the Purge, and feyspires being stuck in Eberron, are there any other historical en masse planar jumps either to Eberron from other planes and natives or a time when a significant group of Eberron natives went elsewhere in the cosmos?

(NC) This is back to noncanon speculation. The short answer? Yes, absolutely. The longer answer will have to wait, because it requires me to actually sit down and make some up. Just for a start, I’ll point you to my article on Mabar; there’s certainly regions that have been pulled into Mabar in the past.

There are no Daanvi manifest zones in any canon material. What would one be like, do you think?

(NC) Manifest zones channel some aspect of the plane. Daanvi is more subtle than some of the planes; per the 3.5 ECS, there are no effects when Daanvi is coterminous. Personally, I think it’s that there’s no physically obvious effects when Daanvi is coterminous, but that’s a subject for another time. The basic issue is the imposition of law and order. Here’s just a few ways I could imagine this manifesting.

  • Modrons manifest in the region, designing and maintaining a system of pendulums or some other monument to stability and order.
  • The region is permanently under the influence of a zone of truth.
  • Magic that seems inherently “lawful” could be cast at a higher spell slot in the region, with disadvantage to save versus its effects; magic that is inherently chaotic could have its effect minimized, and saves could have advantage.
  • The region could subtly push people to come together in groups, to embrace rules and laws or surrender freedoms. On some level, one could make a case that Korranberg could be in a manifest zone to Daanvi, which drove the original foundation of the Trust and enhanced people’s willingness to grant such brought authority to the institution.
  • Natural phenomena could manifest in ways that are unnaturally symmetrical or uniform.

Kalashtar: do you see most of them living in kalahtar communities, or more like a family secret that’s passed down through the generations, and you may or may not meet another kalashtar in your lifetime? And would an orphaned kalashtar simply believe themselves to be human, though with strange/unexplainable experiences?

Per canon, there’s a few factors here.

  • Kalashtar are described as mostly living in kalashtar communities.
  • Kalashtar lineage is very clear cut. If a human and kalashtar have a child, there’s a 50/50 chance of that child being human or kalashtar, and it’s 100% one or the other; either it inherits the bond and is kalashtar or it’s not and is entirely human. So it’s not like it lingers in the bloodline as a latent trait that can manifest in the child of two human parents.
  • By canon, kalashtar are close to human—in 3.5 they don’t have a penalty when disguising themselves as human—but they still HAVE to disguise themselves in order to pass as human. Kalashtar are kalashtar. Their body language, their features, the eyes-that-can-glow-when-they’re-emotional… if they aren’t hiding it, they’re just as distinctive as, say, an elf. Because they are rarer than elves, there are many people who see them and don’t know exactly what they are; but if they aren’t trying to hide it, it’s clear that they aren’t entirely human.
  • It is established in canon that an orphan kalashtar doesn’t inherently gain an understanding of what it means to be a kalashtar or of the true nature of their kalashtar spirit. So you can have a kalashtar orphan who doesn’t KNOW what they are… but they will CERTAINLY know that they are different from the humans around them. On the other hand, in a world with sorcerers and aberrant dragonmarks they may not assume “I am a different species,” but they will know they are different.

That’s all by canon. As with all things in Eberron, you can always do what makes a good story. Do you want to play the first kalashtar somehow born to two human parents? Then do it (with your DM’s permission, of course). But that’s definitely not normal.

Are the Kalashtar’s pale skin and black hair the general look for people from Adar? The Inspired are also fairly pale with (purple-blue?) dark hair, so is that region of Sarlona just known for pale people?  Or is there a huge spread, dark skin, pale skin, in between, dark hair, fair hair, curly hair, straight hair, so that noticing a Kalashtar or Inspired from far away isn’t as cut and dry (ignoring that Disguise exists and they still look weird and have glowy eyes)?

Sarlona is home to a diverse range of ethnicities based on its highly divergent environments—the Tashana Tundra, the deserts of Syrkarn, the Corvaguran rain forests, the mountains of Adar. The Inspired were drawn from across Sarlona, appearing in ALL of the nations involved in the Sundering, so there should absolutely be a full spectrum; now you call it out, I’m disappointed that we haven’t seen any dark skinned Inspired in art and I’d like to see that change.

The same is true of the kalashtar. Despite the limited depictions in art, this is from the EPG:

The monastery where the sixty-seven humans became kalashtar was a place of refuge, so the humans who lived there were diverse. Kalashtar have thus retained a diversity of appearance, possessing the same variety of skin, hair, and eye colors found among humans. They are usually slimmer and taller than humans, although short or stocky kalashtar exist.

I also feel that while the quori bond doesn’t remain latent in the human side of the gene pool — a child either has it or they don’t — a kalashtar inherits physical traits from both its parents, So you could have three kalashtar who share the same quori spirit but are physically distinct from one another.

If you imagine Droaam has an Ithilid population beyond it’s mayor. What attempts could be made to reconcile their brain-eating needs the same way troll-flesh is used to reconcile the carnivorous population’s needs?

By canon, Droaam doesn’t have a significant Illithid population. Xorchyllic is called out as being a very unusual exception, found imprisoned below Graywall and working with the Daughters of Sora Kell for reasons of its own. In general I see mind flayers as being far more alien than most of the creatures of Droaam; while I have nothing against the idea of having a few more in the mix, in my campaign their motives would be VERY different from any other warlords.

So first of all, you’re only feeding one or maybe a few mind flayers, not an entire army of carnivorous creatures. So I don’t see an industry around it. My assumption is that Xorchyllic acts as judge, jury, and executioner in Graywall, and execution involves it eating your brain. If it’s especially hungry, then guess what, jaywalking just became a capital offense…

To what extent does Rekkenmark train officers, as opposed to elite troops or even standard troops. Is it primarily about tactics or skill? In 4e terms, is it training warlords, or fighters, or both?

Here’s a few quotes from Five Nations. 

  • After the Kingdom of Galifar was established, military officers from across the land trained at the Rekkenmark Academy.
  • What if she washed out of the academy? A third of first-year officers don’t come back to Rekkenmark for the second year.

  • The vast majority of warlords and officers in the various Karrnathi armies graduated with honors from the Rekkenmark Academy and earned a place in the Order of Rekkenmark.

So: Rekkenmark ACADEMY trains officers. That could be 4E warlords; in 5E battle master fighters and Purple Dragon Knights could definitely be part of the Order of Rekkenmark.

The critical point here, though, is that Rekkenmark isn’t JUST an academy; it’s a city. And that city is also a central garrison and training center for the general Karrnathi military. So any sort of fighter might have “Trained at Rekkenmark.” The question is if you graduated from the Academy and if you’re part of the Order (which would be an interpretation of the “Military Rank” benefit of the Soldier background.)

That’s all for now! If you’re going to be at PAX East, I’ll be at the Twogether Studios/Table Titans booth. And if you haven’t seen it already, check out my recent release The Morgrave Miscellany on the DM’s Guild! And while you’re there, take a look at Rime or Reasonthe latest installment in the Across Eberron adventure path!

The Morgrave Miscellany

I’ve just returned from the JoCo Cruise, where I helped organize a massive Eberron session that involved 400 players and DMs. I’m in the middle of multiple deadlines AND I’ll be at PAX East in a few weeks, but I will do my best to get a new Dark Six article out soon.

In the meantime, the Morgrave Miscellany is available on the DM’s Guild! This 164 page PDF includes a host of ideas for Eberron characters, with material from myself, Ruty Rutenberg, Greg Marks, Shawn Merwin, and Derek Nekritz, along with fantastic art from Kim Van Deun. Here’s a quick breakdown:

  • Chapter One: Classes in Eberron examines the roles of each of the core character classes in Eberron. This includes additional lore and ideas for tying a character into the setting, delving into the druid sects, warlock patrons, arcane schools of thought, and far more. Is your barbarian a Talenta dinosaur rider or a Vadalis super soldier? Is your druid a Greensinger, or a changeling menagerie? In addition to providing story hooks and lore you can use, it includes new subclasses and player options, including the Bone Knight, the Argent Fist, and the Pact of the Host.
  • Chapter Two: Cultures of Eberron explores races and other character options, including racial feats, alternate approaches to dragonmarks, Siberys Marks, and the Mark of Death. This includes deeper dives into the Talenta Halflings, the role of tieflings in Eberron, aberrant dragonmarks… and a new race, the Dragonforged.
  • Chapter Three: Fantasy Noir offers ideas and options for DMs and players who want to focus on the hard boiled noir aspects of the campaign setting.
  • Chapter Four: The Gumshoe Chronicles provides suggestions and hooks for low-level noir adventures.

The Morgrave Miscellany expands on many ideas presented in the Wayfinder’s Guide to Eberron. What IS the Test of Siberys? Are there Greater Aberrant Dragonmarks? Are there other sorts of shifters? If you have questions or feedback about the Morgrave Miscellany, please post them below. I may not have answers to all of the questions, but I’d love to hear about any issues you have with the book.

Why isn’t this content being added to Wayfinders? I thought that wasn’t content complete yet.

The Wayfinder’s Guide is officially sanctioned by WotC, even though it is playtest/UA content. The Miscellany is unofficial content, exploring ideas developed by myself and the other authors. As such, it needs to be a separate product.

Has the Greatwenge Embrisa appeared in previous sources?  

No, she’s something we came up with in developing this book. The Greatpine Oalian is a concrete, established part of the setting, and we liked the idea that if there was one awakened tree with great druidic powers, why couldn’t there be others? Personally, I’d be happy to see a few more revealed over time.

I thought you said you’d never provide statistics for the Mark of Death? 

This is addressed in the book itself.

The Dragonmark of Death is one of the great mysteries of Eberron, and it is unlikely that it will become official content or ever have an official answer. In this section, the designers present rules for using the mark in fifth edition, which intends the Mark of Death to be a useful tool as opposed to a deadly weapon, supporting the sympathetic view of the line of Vol. As always, a DM may decide to use the mark as presented here or introduce a different form of the mark to suit the campaign.

The Mark of Death is a part of the lore of Eberron, and this is a possible interpretation of it. But as a DM you can always choose to use a different approach.

The Mark of Death section says that the mark was “once an accepted member of the known houses.” Wasn’t the Mark of Death eliminated centuries before the Dragonmarked Houses were founded?  

That’s correct. The Line of Vol was wiped out before the dragonmarked houses were established, and there was never a House Vol in Khorvaire. This is something that slipped through editing, but the detailed history that follows it is accurate.

On the Mark of Death thing – could we get some clarification/detail on the whole “The Twelve know there was a Mark of Death and so have left an empty floor in remembrance” bit?

If this is stated in the MM, it may be an error. Can you give me a page reference? As for the original idea, here’s the text from the 3.5 ECS.

The keep (of the Twelve) was built by Alder d’Cannith, a visionary wizard and master fabricator who used his studies of the sky to determine that the keep should possess thirteen towers. “The moons suggest that the perfect number of dragonmarks is thirteen,” Alder cryptically explained, “but we shall call the institution the Twelve, for the thirteenth mark was cast off long ago.” No one argued with him. (While the elves remember the Mark of Death, it is a topic they wish to forget. Aside from the elf leaders, few know the truth behind the lost dragonmark.)

The Keep of the Twelve has thirteen towers, but one of them isn’t set aside in remembrance; it’s actively used. Most people don’t know why there’s thirteen towers; it’s generally accepted that Alder d’Cannith was eccentric. Scholars who know better believe that he may have had insight into the Prophecy.

What’s the inspiration behind the dragonforged? … It’s a bit odd to drop a brand new race into the setting.

The Miscellany isn’t canon. It presents alternate ideas you can use if you find them to be interesting. I expect some people will like the idea of the Dragonforged, and others will ignore them. Beyond that, they follow the same principle I suggest in this article for adding any other exotic race into the setting. There’s only a few of them and they have only existed for a very short time. Primarily, they are an unusual offshoot of the warforged, similar to the Psiforged from 3.5.

Have you read the Morgrave Miscellany? Let me know what you think!

Dragonmarks: The Artificer

A staff serves as a channel for destructive powers. A scroll holds words that can alter reality when read allowed. A potion is imbued with energies that can transform whoever drinks it. These treasures don’t simply appear in dungeons. In Eberron, magic is a form of science. Magic items are technology, and artificers are the engineers who work with these tools.

For the last two months I’ve been writing about the Dark Six. I’m tied up with multiple deadlines, and I will finish the Dark Six series as soon as I can. However, Wizards of the Coast just released a new version of the Artificer and I want to share my thoughts on it right away. Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters, who keep this website going!

This latest version of the artificer was designed with Eberron in mind, however the goal wasn’t to precisely replicate either the third or fourth edition versions of the artificer. An artificer is an arcane engineer who channels magic through tools, and who expresses creativity in a number of ways. Bear in mind that Unearthed Arcana is playtest material and that it specifically calls out that the next month’s UA article may contain additional content for the artificer. So the subclasses and content presented aren’t intended to be comprehensive or final. With that in mind, let’s explore a few things.

Artificers and Spells

Some people are disappointed that the artificer casts spells, and wish that it had a unique system of its own. A few things to bear in mind…

  • Scrolls and wands are examples of the technology artificers work with. What’s a scroll? A tool that casts a spell. The idea that the artificer produces spell effects through using tools is the logical extension of this. If an artificer created chemical explosives or firearms, it would make sense for them to use some other system. But they create items that produce spell effects, so it makes sense that the class can produce those effects.
  • The third edition artificer also cast spells. They were called “infusions” and had to be placed in objects, but aside from a few cosmetic aspects, they were spells. Now, the artificer had access to some unique effects, and we’ve already introduced one of these; arcane weapon is a variation of personal weapon augmentation. And there could be additional unique artificer spells in the future. But there’s no need to create an entirely separate system of mechanics for an artificer to heal when cure wounds is a simple, functional option. I’ll note that the artificer Lei in my novels frequently heals people; in 3E terms she’s using spell-storing item to create a cure wounds item, but the end result was that she was using a tool to cast cure wounds.

The critical point here is about flavor. From a STORY perspective, an artificer isn’t “casting a spell” like a wizard or cleric does—they are using tools to produce magical effects. As the Magic of Artifice sidebar calls out, while this follows the tried and true rules of spellcasting, from a story perspective it’s quite different. An artificer has to use a tool to perform magic, and the question is what that looks like. MECHANICALLY, an artificer gains no benefits and suffers no penalties from the fact that they are performing magic in a different way. But as long as you don’t demand something that should change the rules, this is an opportunity for you to add flavor to your particular artificer.

The Tools of Magic

Most artisans’ tools aren’t a single object. You’re not proficient with “a hammer”; you’re proficient with smith’s tools. So when you use a tool to cast a spell, it’s not that you just have a single magic hammer that you wave. Which elements of your tool are you using? What are you producing that creates the effect? Consider a few ideas…

  • Tinker’s Tools. This is a general catchall, as you can justify almost any sort of odd gadget with tinker’s tools. When using tinker’s tools, the idea isn’t that you’re producing your effect with the tools themselves (unless you’re casting mending or something similar), but rather that you’ve tinkered together some sort of prototype item. For example, my tinker artificer might use a dragon-shaped sidearm to produce fire bolt, or use a modified gauntlet to deliver shocking grasp. The point is that these things are unstable prototypes that can’t be used by anyone else and that I have to constantly tinker with to maintain. So I have to possess my tinker’s tools; I have to have a tool in hand to produce the spell effect; but that “tool” can be a dragon-gun as opposed to a pair of pliers. Regardless of what it LOOKS like, bear in mind that it is inherently magical. I might cast cure wounds using a tiny metal spider I’ve tinkered. But while it may LOOK like a clockwork construct, it’s magic that allows it to move and think. Mundane engineering may be a part of a tinker’s creations, but magic is what makes them work.
  • Alchemist’s Supplies. Alchemy blends chemical reaction with magic. This is the underlying principle behind most potions; the challenge of creating a potions is to suspend the mystical reaction so it can be consumed at a later date. It’s much easier to trigger an instant effect, and that’s what you’re doing when you use alchemist’s supplies to cast your spells. Your firebolt could be a thrown flask or some sort of dragon-gun like the tinker; in your case, it’s activating and spitting your flaming concoction. Poison spray is easily justified as flinging foul substances. Cure woundsfalse life, water breathing could all be potions you mix and serve on the spot: disguise self or alter self could be mystically charged cosmetics.
  • Calligrapher’s Supplies. Sigilry channels arcane power through symbols and sound, using special inks and techniques. As alchemy is to potions, sigilry is to scrolls; it’s much easier to produce an instant effect than to suspend and sustain it as a scroll. When you cast fire bolt, it could be that you use your quill to trace the name of fire in the air before you; or if could be that you have the sigil written down, and all you have to do is read it to produce the effect. Whether you draw sigils onto things or craft simple scrolls and read them, your pen is mightier than most swords.
  • Cartographer’s Supplies. This is a twist on the sigilist. On the one hand, you could just use your tools in the same way, drawing sigils. But if you want to be more exotic about it, you could specialize in calculating ley lines and the relationships between the planes. Essentially, the world is filled with mico-manifest zones waiting to be triggered; you’re using your tools to calculate the proper alignments to channel the energies you need.
  • Painter’s Supplies. If you want to be fanciful about it, you could paint what you need into reality. When you cure wounds, you’re literally painting over the injury; when you cast fire bolt, you paint the flame in the air and it flies towards your opponent. This is a variation of sigilry, but the same underlying principles apply. You might even create scrolls that are images rather than words!
  • Thieves’ Tools. All artificers are proficient with both thieves’ tools and tinker’s tools, and the point is that you largely use them in the same way. Thieves’ tools are picks and other fine manipulators. It’s not that you cast a fire bolt by pointing a lockpick at someone; it’s that you can use the lockpick to clear out that problematic valve on your dragon-pistol. Of course, if you WANT to come up with some lock-based form of artifice you can.
  • Woodcarver’s Tools. Wands, staffs, and rods are one of the most basic forms of arcane focus. As with tinker’s tools, if you perform magic with woodcarver’s tools, you aren’t actually blasting someone with a saw. Instead, you are using experimental, exotic, or otherwise temporary wands or rods. Again, the effect is that you have to have a tool in your hand and you have to possess woodcarver’s tools to perform your magic, but the exact nature of the tool in your hand is up to you. It could appear to be a traditional wand, or you could have come up with some new revolutionary form of wand/staff/rod.

Use your imagination, and remember that while you need a tool, you don’t have to work your magic with the tool itself; it’s that it enables you to use whatever you actually have in your hand to produce the effect. You don’t fling your alchemist’s tools at your enemy; you throw a temporary potion created using your alchemist’s tools. But you still have to have alchemist’s tools and a free hand to do this.

Spell Preparation and Infusions

During a long rest, an artificer prepares a number of spells equal to their Intelligence modifier + half their artificer level. They can also swap out one of their cantrips. But this isn’t a wizard reading a book. When an artificer prepares spells, it’s about putting together the specialized supplies and tools you need for the things you want to do. You can’t create a scroll with just ANY ink; a sigilist has to mix entirely different inks based on the type of effects they’re going to produce. Likewise for an alchemist, who prepares special reagents that they’ll combine to produce spell effects. If you’re a tinker, you’re creating and fine tuning your gadgets. The same is true of your cantrip; if you switch light for fire bolt, you’re apparently weaponizing your torch. All of this also explains the idea of spell SLOTS. The reagents you’ve prepared are tricky to produce and don’t last forever. You’re preparing as much as you can, but once you go through all your mystic inks you can’t produce another scroll effect until you have a few hours to work on it. Effectively, your spells use temporary magic items that only you can use—and you prepare those during your long rest.

Meanwhile, infusions allow you to create longer-lasting tools that your friends CAN use. This is a compromise with the generally low-magic approach of 5E and the idea that artificers should be able to create magic items. You CAN create items, but you can’t flood the party with them; it’s up to you what you do with this limited resource.

Turrets and Homunculi

We’ve said before that Eberron is a world where the weapons of war are magical. I’ve talked about siege staffs, tree-trunk sized staffs that can produce evocation effects far beyond the typical fireball or lightning bolt. First of all, you can assume that the artillerist is capable of maintaining and operating siege staffs.

Then we come to the turret. A turret is “a magical object that occupies a space and has crablike legs.” This base design reflects the apparatus of Kwalish and the arcane ballista seen in some previous designs. The main point is that it is fundmantally magical. It may have crablike legs, but it’s magic that animates them.

Beyond this, though, you and your DM can work out the exact form of YOUR turret. The main point is that it can produce the effects described and that it has a walking speed of 15 feet. Your force ballista could look like a mundane ballista that fires bolts of energy instead of physical projectiles. But it could also be a metal dragon that spits energy bolts. it should reflect YOUR personal style of artifice. Likewise, the Alchemical Homunculus of the alchemist is a tiny construct that can fly and that produces alchemical salves or splashes of acid. It could be a metal dragonfly that secretes salves, or it could be a tiny floating cauldron! Whatever it is, it’s a construct designed to deliver alchemical substances.

Styles of Artificer

As with any other class, there’s many ways to interpret the artificer and many different stories you can tell. Here’s a few ideas.

  • Wage Mage (Guild Artisan). You learned your trade from House Cannith, whether as an heir or in one of their trade schools. You put in your time in a house enclave or factory, and you’ve still got contacts in the business. Your artifice is functional and by the book, using the latest principles of accepted arcane science… unless, of course, your were thrown out of your job because you tried to push beyond the envelope.
  • Siege Engineer (Soldier). You operated and maintained the engines of war. Which nation did you serve? Are you haunted by the memory of blasted battlefields, or are you proud of your deeds? The Military Rank of the soldier background implies that you served with distinction, but you could be a Folk Hero who deserted during the war, or a mercenary veteran.
  • Innovator (Sage). You don’t do well with authority, and you never got along with House Cannith. As far as you’re concerned, the standard techniques of the magewrights and guild artisans are antiquated. You do things your way… though it’s up to you to say that the difference is! You could be a devotee of the Traveler, working on ideas that could shatter the current industrial paradigm. Or you could just be working with unusual materials or techniques.
  • Tool of War (Warforged Envoy). As a warforged, you were built to maintain other magical systems. Are you an experimental prototype, or a maintenance worker whose abilities outshone any expectations? Are you just doing a job, or do you hope you can use your skills to help all warforged? As an envoy, your Integrated Tool allows you to have your spellcasting focus embedded in your body, but bear in mind that you still have to devote a hand to using that tool; this doesn’t allow you to perform magic hands-free.
  • Thelanian Tinker (Entertainer or Outlander). In your youth you slipped through a manifest zone to Thelanis, and during your time there you learned unusual fey techniques. Like any other artificer, you use tools to produce magical effects and you can create temporary magic items. But your techniques are entirely UNscientific. You may sing to your tools, or talk to them as if they were alive; you replicate boots of flying by CONVINCING your boots that they are actually birds. Your turret or homunculus may be animated by a minor fey—perhaps a friend from your childhood.

Conclusions

This latest iteration of the artificer is just that—an iteration. It will surely continue to evolve, and your feedback could be part of that. But in use it as it stands, the key point to me is to recognize the creativity inherent in the class. Whether you’re swapping a cantrip or preparing entirely new spells, it reflects your character’s creative nature. You use the same basic rules for spellcasting as other classes, but from a story perspective it’s about you producing those effects with innovative techniques and tools. And while the ability to create permanent magic items is limited—a necessity given the basic assumptions of 5E—infusions allow you to create and modify your own unique items.

Q&A

Currently, the rules state “You must have a spellcasting focus—specifically thieves’ tools or some kind of artisan’s tool—in hand when you cast any spell with this Spellcasting feature.” Do you think it’s fair to amend that to say “Or an item crafted by your artisans’ tools?”

I think that the wording should be clarified, yes; again, it’s a playtest. However, my point is that tools are inherently abstract objects. “Tinker’s tools” weigh ten pounds. That’s not a single solid ten pound tool; it’s a tool KIT that has a lot of separate components. My argument is that when the text says “You have to have an artisan’s tool in hand” it doesn’t mean that you have to be holding your entire toolbox; you have to have the kit in your possession, and you have to have a hand free to make use of that tool. If you accept that, then I’m saying that the dragon pistol or alchemical salve is PART of the tinker’s tools or alchemist’s supplies.

Essentially, you have to have the tool in your possession and you have to have a hand dedicated to using that tool. If these conditions are met, what does it matter what the thing in your hand actually looks like? But with that said, I agree that it should be clarified if this is the desired outcome.

Post your thoughts and questions about this latest version of the artificer below!

Dark Six: The Shadow

The Shadow was the first of the Dark Six. As Aureon drew the first words of power in the blood of Siberys, his shadow was tracing sigils in the blood of Khyber. As Aureon gained power, the darkness in his heart gained strength and sentience. It was the whispers of the Shadow that led the Mockery down his dark path and stoked the anger of the Devourer. For the Shadow is the maker of monsters. The Shadow gave the harpy a voice that lures innocents to their doom, and gave the medusa her deadly gaze. But the Shadow can make monsters of any of us, tempting us down evil paths. Aureon and Dol Arrah show us the path to the common good, while the Shadow urges us to give in to our own darkness. It is up to you to listen to the light and to take the higher road. 

—Halas Molan, High Priest of Wroat

Eat your vegetables. Look both ways before crossing the street. Don’t learn that spell, it’s dangerous! Aureon, the king, the judge, the teacher… the world is filled with people telling you what to do, people who want to impose their laws on your life. They say the Shadow urges you to do evil, but who decides what’s evil? The Shadow wants you to achieve your full potential, to live your best life—not to be limited by lesser people and their laws. And if that makes you a ‘monster’ in their eyes, so be it. 

—Thalanna of Sharn

The war between the Shadow and Aureon rages in all of us. Aureon’s voice tells us that we are stronger together, that it’s worth it to suffer for the sake of the common good. The Shadow whispers that there is no common good—that all that matters is what you need and what you can do. Why should you make sacrifices for others instead of doing what’s best for yourself? Why should you give when you can take?

In the common tradition of the Five Nations, the Shadow is broadly responsible for evil within the world. The Sovereigns banished and bound the Overlords of the First Age, but the Shadow is a part of Aureon and couldn’t be destroyed; metaphorically, this reflects the idea that the potential for evil is in everyone. But as with all of the Dark Six, the Shadow has different aspects: the Sovereign of Ambition, the Tempter, the Keeper of Secrets, and the Maker of Monsters.

Ambition and Temptation

The Shadow is the source of ambition. It’s the voice that keeps you from ever being satisfied, that urges you to achieve greater things. A little ambition can be a good thing, but the Shadow is never satisfied. It embodies the hunger to succeed regardless of the cost to yourself or others. Those who revere the Shadow emphasize this as a positive trait: The Shadow will show you the path to power, how to be the best that you can be. But how far will you go? Would you murder your boss if it’s the only way to advance? What if you can simply ruin their reputation with a lie? Would you employ dark magics even if you’ll take a year off an innocent’s life each time you cast a spell? This is how ambition becomes a pathway to temptation.

But what is the purpose of temptation? Why does the Shadow want to lead you astray, and why should his followers care about you? Because Dolurrh isn’t the end of existence. Most Vassals believe that Dolurrh is a place where the soul transitions to a higher level of existence: the realm of the Sovereigns. Some believe that that this is a true afterlife based on the concept of each Sovereign: that Arawai and Balinor govern a realm of perfect nature, while Aureon presides over a grand assembly of courts and libraries. Others believe that Vassals become part of the Sovereign they most resemble—that the soul of the sage becomes one with Aureon. But one led astray by the Shadow becomes part of the Shadow. This might mean dissolution of the soul or it could be an eternity trapped in a formless void; either way it’s not going to be fun. Of course, as with all things related to the Sovereigns, there’s no absolute proof of this… and a devotee of the Shadow will tell you it’s exactly the kind of story followers of Aureon use to control you. Are you going to let fear keep you from achieving your ambitions?

Those who follow this aspect of the Shadow often call themselves mentors, but others refer to them as tempters or Shadowtongues. A tempter specializes in helping others find a path to power… but always driving them towards the darkest path. While this has some overlap with a talon of the Keeper, there are significant differences between the two. A talon negotiates a deal with explicit terms and benefits: your inn will prosper, in exchange for which you will die at the age of forty and the Keeper will take your soul. By contrast, a tempter doesn’t make a specific promise or ask you for anything. A mentor simply offers advice… helping you figure out how to solve your problem or achieve your goal yourself. But in the process, they will urge you to follow darker and darker paths… to become a monster.

A skilled tempter needs to know secret paths to power and to have the charm to convince others to follow them. A mentor could be a cleric, following either the Knowledge or Trickery domain; a warlock, using the Archfey patron to reflect a talent for beguiling others and slipping into the shadows; or a bard using the College of Whispers. Some tempters believe that their powers are a direct gift from the Shadow, and that they hear whispers from the Shadow telling them who to corrupt. Other tempters trust that the Shadow rewards them for their work, but don’t have direct interaction with the Shadow or an immortal emissary.

Another divine option is the Oath of Conquest paladin: a would-be tyrant who believes that the Shadow is giving them the power they need to achieve their ambitions. What separates a paladin of the Shadow from a paladin of the Mockery is the focus on power rather than war. Where a Mockery paladin lives for conflict, the Shadow paladin is only concerned with the end result.

Mentors are typically villains, and they facilitate the evil actions of others. But it’s a possible paths for a player character, albeit a dark one. A tempter emphasizes choice and freedom. They may excel at solving problems, and can help other characters achieve noble goals; the point is that a follower of the Shadow believes that nothing is forbidden. A Shadowtongue bard could even be searching for light in the darkness—tempting in the hopes of finding someone who resists corruption. Alternately, a player character could be haunted by a previous encounter with a tempter, who helped them achieve whatever position or power they hold today. Is this character permanently spiritually tainted by the actions they took to achieve their ambition? Or can they find redemption?

The Keeper of Secrets

Aureon is the Sovereign of Knowledge, who uses science (arcane and otherwise) to build a better world. As the dark side of Aureon, the Shadow is also the Sovereign of Knowledge… but specifically the things you shouldn’t know. The Shadow knows the evil that lurks in the hearts of mortals. It knows who killed your parents. It knows what your lover really thinks about you. And it knows secrets of magic that Aureon won’t share… techniques that can provide power, but at a cost. This is one of the main things that can draw a Vassal to invoke the Shadow… the desire to gain knowledge they know they shouldn’t seek.

In dealing with a priest of the Shadow—NPC or player character—consider the ideas in my article on Adding Drama to the Divine. A priest of the Shadow may regularly receive revelations—information about the people around them, or the world. But unlike an augury or commune, the priest doesn’t ASK for this knowledge and has no control over it. Sometimes this knowledge will be useful, but just as often it will reveal things you don’t actually want to know… knowledge that will hurt people if you share it. With that said, people with this sort of connection to the Shadow often end up as fixers in the criminal underworld; are you willing to pay the price for their knowledge? Knowledge clerics and Whispers bards are both sound paths, though the College of Lore is also a reasonable option for a follower of the Shadow; the Cutting Words ability of the Lore bard can reflect your knowledge of a weakness, or a whispered secret that causes your victim to stumble.

While this reflects general knowledge, the Shadow is particularly known for arcane secrets—for teaching techniques that good people will shun. At a simple level, this makes the Shadow a standard patron for Warlocks. Because this is about deadly power, the actual “patron” is flexible; Fiend or Hexblade both work, and as noted before an Archfey warlock could reflect powes of coercion and deception as opposed to an actual tie to the Fey. Like all gods of Eberron, the Shadow won’t actually manifest to a warlock. But the warlock may BELIEVE they have a direct channel to the Shadow; and they could have a sinister spirit acting as an emissary of the Shadow, or they might actually be working for the Overlord Sul Khatesh. The main thing is that a Shadow Warlock believes they are making a sacrifice to gain mystical power… and that they are expected to use that power for malevolent purposes.

The Shadow Sorcerer is also a logical servant of the Shadow. In this case, the power may have been given to you involuntarily. Perhaps your parents were Shadow cultists, and you are the result of a a terrible ritual: are you doomed to be consumed by evil, or can you use your power in the service of the light?

Beyond this, any wizard can be presented as having received inspiration from the Shadow. You’d never have mastered necromancy on your own, but you woke from a dream and realized you understood it. This is fine as a general idea, but it’s also possible for a DM to introduce ACTUAL gifts of the Shadow into the game. The whole idea of the Shadow is that it knows secrets of magic people shouldn’t use. The magic of D&D isn’t designed that way. So, as a DM you can ADD forbidden magic. There’s a few ways to do this. One is to introduce new spells that are unusually powerful or have especially horrifying effects. Another is to allow a character to gain a metamagic benefit (as if they were a Sorcerer) by taking on a penalty. Here’s a few thoughts on effects that the magic of the Shadow might have.

  • Every time you cast the spell, roll 1d4. You permanently lose that many hit points.
  • Every time you cast the spell, roll 1d6. The DM chooses you or one of your allies, and either inflicts the result as necrotic damage or applies it as a penalty to the victim’s next saving throw.
  • When you cast the spell, an innocent creature dies. You have no control over who will suffer and may never know who it is.
  • Whenever you cast the spell, plants withers and all natural creatures within 15 feet suffer one point of necrotic damage.
  • Any time you cast the spell, there is a chance that a hostile shadow will manifest; if it does, it will try to harm you and your friends.
  • When you cast the spell, choose an ally within sight. The player must reveal a horrifying secret about their character to you. This must be worse than any previous secret they’ve revealed; if they can’t (or if the player chooses not to) the spell fails. Note that this is a choice of the player; the character doesn’t have this choice, and it’s up to the DM if they realize their secret has been shared.

These are all ideas that are at least PLAUSIBLE for player characters. An NPC wielding secrets of the Shadow could have more dramatic effects or costs to their spells. The main point is that when we say “This is power people shouldn’t use,” it’s NOT just Aureon being a jerk; these powers truly are dangerous.

The Maker of Monsters

Through temptation, the Shadow can transform anyone into a monster. But the Shadow is also infamous for unleashing monsters into the world. The definition of “monster” varies by culture, but the essential point is that this is the influence of malevolent magic twisting nature; thus, it usually includes most aberrations and monstrosities, along with giants or humanoids that are seen as evil by the culture in question. Mythologically, the idea is that the Shadow took evil humans (or dwarves, or halflings, etc) and transformed them into harpies, medusas, hags, and the like—and there’s a host of myths that deal with these monstrous origin stories. It should be noted that these are MYTHS and are in many cases provably false; certain creatures are known to be the creations of specific Overlords or daelkyr. But it isn’t always possible to prove the origin of a species; many scholars assert that the daelkyr Orlaask created medusas, while the medusas themselves attribute their powers to the Shadow.

This aspect of the Shadow overlaps with Cults of the Dragon Below and the daelkyr. But it’s another way that you can find wizards or warlocks who are seeking to create monsters. Looking to a warlock, the Pact of the Chain can be reflavored to suggest that the character created their familiar.

The Shadow in Monstrous Cultures

The Dark Six have been called out as having significant support in Droaam and Darguun. It’s important to recognize that these articles generally focus on the Nine and Six as they are presented in the Pyrinean Creed, the common Sovereign faith of the Five Nations. The people of Droaam have their own interpretations of the Nine and Six that are both entirely different from the Five Nations and from one another. Droaam is a tapestry woven together from wildly diverse cultures. The Last Dirge harpies worship the Fury, but they say that she was born from Eberron’s cry in birthing the world. The minotaurs worship the Horned Prince, but interpretation varies by clan and some are effectively worshipping the Mockery, Dol Dorn, Dol Arrah, or Rak Tulkhesh.

Following the unification of Droaam, the traditions of Cazhaak Draal have effectively become the state religion. People still hold to their own traditions, but the Voices of the Shadow—typically medusas or oni—are recognized as spiritual authorities. Here’s a few critical details about the Cazhaak faith.

  • All members of the Dark Six are worshipped by their common titles (Shadow, Fury, Keeper, Mockery, Devourer, Traveler)… though usually in Goblin.
  • The Shadow is the foremost of the Six. In addition to the traditional spheres of magic and knowledge, the Shadow is generally considered to be a guide and guardian to the monstrous species. As such, a medusa cleric of the Shadow might actually have the Life domain… because she sees the Shadow as being the bringer of life to her people.
  • The Sovereigns are considered to be the cruel and petty gods of the people of the East. The general assertion is that the Sovereigns want to keep their subjects small and weak; that the Shadow rebelled and broke free from Aureon, giving gifts to its creations. Thus, there is some overlap with the way the Seekers of the Divinity Within view the Sovereigns; a Voice of the Shadow feels pity for a human Vassal.
  • A Voice of the Shadow reveres all members of the Six and will invoke all of them when it is appropriate. However, there are priests who are devoted to a single deity and who lead or provide services tied to that god… so, there is a priestess of the Keeper in Graywall who performs funerary services.
  • One question that’s come up is whether the Cazhaak Six are seen in a more positive light than the Pyrinean Six. On the one hand, they definitely are; they are seen as positive forces in civilization. On the other hand, they still embody the same core ideas; part of this is that the values of Droaamite civilization are very different than the Five Nations. Droaam is a place where there is no distinction between vengeance and justice, where victory in battle is more important than honor. It’s a meritocracy where having the talent to take power is more important than following a system of laws. I will say that the Cazhaak Shadow drops the aspect of the tempter. The Voice of the Shadow asserts that knowledge is power, that people should pursue their ambition and that there should be no limits on knowledge. But they scoff at the idea that the Shadow tempts people to do evil; that’s the product of a civilization that’s bound and blinded by its laws and moral codes, that fears ambition and instinct.

It’s been asked before how a human follower of the Sovereign Host would react to a Voice of the Shadow, and vice versa. The short answer is that each will recognize that the other is following a different creed, and each will assert that the other’s interpretation is flawed. The Voice of the Shadow pities the fool who worships Aureon; how good can your god be, when he didn’t even give you eyes that can see in the dark? Meanwhile, the Sovereign priest will dismiss the Shadow-worshipper as a servant of the Tempter, both deceived and deceiver.

The critical point, however, is that the Pyrinean creed presents the Sovereigns and Six and two sides of a coin. The Droaamite faiths either focus on a single entity (such as the harpy faiths) or generally dismiss the Sovereigns as evil entities.

What About The Overlords?

The Shadow has specific overlap with two of the best known Overlords of the First Age. Sul Khatesh is also known as the Keeper of Secrets, and also said to be a source both of arcane knowledge and things best kept hidden. While Bel Shalor is known as the Shadow in the Flame and specializes in temptation.

There are a number of scholars who assert that the myths of the Shadow are actually based on interactions between draconic champions and Overlords… that the story of Aureon learning magic may actually be based on a bargain between the dragon Ourelonastrix and Sul Khatesh. It’s up to a DM to decide if there’s any truth to these tales. However, even if these tales are false, the fact remains that Sul Khatesh and Bel Shalor are concrete, very real entities that can serve in the role of the Shadow… and that warlocks or cults that believe they are dealing with the Shadow could easily be working with one of these archfiends.

Using The Shadow

So how can you use the Shadow in a campaign? What would a villain devoted to the Shadow actually want?

As noted above, in many cases a servant of the Shadow may be an instigator as opposed to the primary villain. A mentor drives others to do evil, and helps facilitate their plans. A priest of the Keeper of Secrets may serve as a general fixer in the criminal underworld, but can also set trouble in motion by revealing a secret. Combined with their knowledge of dark magic, such a character could be an interesting frenemy for a group of player characters. Consider Thalanna, a human priestess of the Shadow in Sharn. She’s known as a reliable source of information about the underworld, always willing to share her knowledge… for a price. But she may also approach the players and simply tell them things. Did they know that Ilya Boromar is going to assassinate Saiden Boromar tonight? Did they know that Thora Tarkanan was the one who killed a friend of theirs? Thalanna has nothing personal to gain by sharing this information, but she enjoys setting wheels in motion. And if one of the players is a wizard, Thalanna can offer to teach them a few things they won’t learn in Arcanix… tied to the ideas presented above. These secrets ARE powerful… but is the character willing to pay the price?

Shadow sects can also fill the classic role of the warlock cabal or the infernal bargain… people being granted mystical power in exchange for performing malevolent actions. Often this is about ambition—getting the power you need to fulfill your darkest desires—but it can also be driven by fear. The leader of a warlock coven may play on fears of the Mourning, refugees, or even monsters. Join them and they will teach you the magic you need to protect yourself! As mentioned above, such a cult could be found to have connections to the Lords of Dust, either Sul Khatesh or Bel Shalor.

Another Shadow-driven villain is the wizard who is determined to unlock ultimate arcane power, regardless of cost. Such a character could even have a noble goal; for example, a wizard who believes that they must unlock the power of the Mourning so they can prevent it from spreading, or being harnessed and used by one of the Five Nations. The point is that this character is consumed by their ambition and doesn’t care about who they hurt in pursuit of their goal. Perhaps they need to open a manifest zone to Mabar in the middle of Sharn to complete a ritual or learn a secret… even though doing so will break Sharn’s connection to Syrania and bring down the towers. It doesn’t matter, because the knowledge they acquire will help them save the entire world!

To be clear: these examples are extremes. There are some who offer prayers to the Shadow who aren’t warlocks or wizards, and who don’t seek to tempt others or destroy the world. The ultimate principle of the Shadow is that nothing is forbidden: that you shouldn’t let laws or the dictates of society hinder your ambition. Do you believe that you’d do a better job than your boss, but it’s going to take decades to get there if you follow the system? The Shadow tells you the system is the problem. Beyond this, the Shadow embraces those that society calls “monsters.” The Mockery and the Keeper can both serve as patrons for criminals driven by greed or violence, but the Shadow is a general patron for someone who feels that they stand apart from Boldrei and Aureon; that they don’t have a place in a community, or that the laws only exist to hold them back. In this, there’s some overlap with the Traveler; the net is that the Traveler encourages people to challenge systems and to drive change, while the Shadow is more about pursuing personal ambition.

As for player characters, here to you can have the person pursuing knowledge at any cost; the character shaped by a past bargain who now seeks redemption; the bard who sees the Shadow as the source of knowledge and freedom, who does good but on their own terms. Looking to the paragraph above, you can also have a rogue who’s a casual supporter of the Shadow, asserting that laws are for other people. You can have the Conquest Paladin who is willing to use the power of the Shadow to seize their ambition… will they have a change of heart along the way?

Long Shadows

The Sharn: City of Towers sourcebook calls out a number of “holidays” in Eberron. One of these are the nights of Long Shadows, which takes place from the 26th through the 28th of the month of Vult. It’s said that on these three nights the power of the Shadow is at its peak—that malevolent magics are stronger, and that monsters—either those born monsters, or those who have become monsters—are free to act. It’s up to the DM to decide what truth there is to this superstition. Perhaps people have disadvantage on saving throws against any sort of “dark magic” during this time. Maybe those who act with evil intent will receive advantage to their actions, or other supernatural benefits. Perhaps there are mystic rituals that can only be performed on these nights. In any case, these are three nights when good folk tend to stay in and huddle around the fire, while the forces of evil rise up and take action.

Q&A

Is necromancy associated with the Shadow? Is it forbidden, or is it taught in Arcanix?  

Divine necromancy—such as a cleric with the Death domain—would usually be associated with the Keeper or the Blood of Vol. Arcane necromancy is generally associated with the Shadow. Sharn: City of Towers presents the shrine of the Shadow as a gathering place for necromancers, and Thalanna is presented as a cleric/necromancer. Only Karrnath employed necromancy in the Last War, and that was primarily divine necromancy provided by the Blood of Vol. We’ve never said that it is strictly FORBIDDEN; it’s not like a cleric of the Blood of Vol can be arrested for having a skeleton companion. But it’s definitely seen as a dark path that good people avoid. I suspect that Arcanix has a small necromancy department that primarily focuses on passive necromancy—such as speak with dead—and that is constantly struggling to maintain its funding.

As the Shadow is a creator of monsters, how would you present a Shadow-themed barbarian? 

I could see two paths. One would use the Zealot subclass and be similar to the Conquest paladin; a warrior strengthened by malevolent magic, who has been granted power to achieve their ambition. On the other hand, one could present a barbarian character as actually being physically altered by the power of the Shadow… with the Rage feature reflecting a sort of Jekyll and Hyde physical transformation.

Droaam is a nation where the official religion seems to be the Six, but do its leaders, the Daughters of Sora Kell, truly support it?

If you mean “Do the Daughters attend services and offer prayers to the Six”— No, I don’t think they do. None of the Daughters feel that their fates are in the hands of higher powers, and their mother may have known Ourelonastrix or Bel Shalor. What I’ve said is that the common faith is based on the traditions of Cazhaak Draal. It’s a tradition that’s broad enough to be able to incorporate the beliefs of other subcultures, which allows it to serve as a unifying force, and that’s all the Daughters care about; if a Voice of the Shadow can get a harpy, a minotaur, and a goblin to all attend the same service, mission accomplished. But to the Daughters it’s just a tool, not something they believe in.

HAVING SAID THAT… There’s no absolute answer as to who the fathers of the Daughters are. I could see Sora Maenya asserting that she’s a daughter of the Devourer; this certainly fits her wild nature and insatiable appetite. And asserting that she’s kin to the Fury would be a fun thing to add to her myth and reputation…

When did the Dark Six lose their names? Magic of Eberron reveals the names Shurkaan, Szorawai, Kol Turrant, and Dol Azur; when did the Church of the Sovereign Host decide those names would be forgotten in favor of the titles used today? 

There’s a few points here. The first is that it’s important to recognize that different traditions use different names and titles; the titles given here are the Pyrinean titles, just as Aureon and Boldrei are Pyrinean names. Shurkaan is also known as Shargon (hence Shargon’s Teeth near Xen’drik). The Harpies of Droaam call the Fury The Song of Rage and Fury or more typically The Song; they don’t accept the Arawai/Devourer story or use the name Szorawai. The Cazhaak tradition uses the titles, because they take the Six as embodiments of those ideas; they don’t hold to the Pyrinean myths. So to the priestess of Graywall, the Keeper is the Keeper; that IS his name.

Now, looking to the Pyrinean tradition, it wasn’t the CHURCH that stripped the Six of their names; it was the Sovereigns. Dol Azur was stripped of his name—and his skin—after he betrayed Dol Arrah and Dol Dorn. The Keeper was cast down after making his bargains with Death. So the CORE church has always separated Sovereigns and Six… but you’ve also always had the Three Faces sects and other groups that have preserved the names.

Do the Cazhaak have a unified symbol for the Six like the Octogram or do they just use the Six’s usual symbols?

Have you met the Hexagram? With that said, the Cazhaak tradition is also the main source of the five-bones-and-a-shadow symbol that often is incorrectly assigned to the Devourer. But essentially, any prominent display of six points—or five points and a shadow—is common.

how do the Cazhaak respond to the more aggressive extremes of the non-Cazhaak veneraters of the six?

As we’ve called out elsewhere, Droaam basis its laws more on the principles of the Fury and Shadow than on Aureon. The most powerful force—the Daughters and their governors—define and enforce the law. But justice and vengeance are still largely synonymous; if someone does you wrong, you don’t take the problem to the Flayer Guard, you handle it yourself. So the short form is anyone whose actions threaten the good of the city or nation will be dealt with by the authorities; otherwise, people can do whatever they can get away with. So a Voice of the Shadow tries to mitigate those extremes—to take the Last Dirge harpy and say “I recognize your devotion to the Song; here in Graywall we know her as the Fury, and let me teach you ways to honor her that won’t get you killed.”

I’m currently in the midst of a series of articles about the Dark Six, the sinister side of the Sovereign Host. You can find my articles about the Fury and the Keeper through these links. Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters, who make these articles possible.

Also, while it has nothing to do with Eberron (Aside from Arawai being the Protector of Puppies), please check out the Kickstarter for my new game: ACTION PUPS! It’s a casual storytelling game about revealing the secret lives of dogs, and we need your dog pictures! If you like dogs or storytelling, take a look! 

Dark Six: Myths and The Fury

There are many myths of the Sovereigns and Six. Dol Arrah battling Death itself. The Mockery’s betrayal of his siblings Dol Arrah and Dol Dorn, only to be stripped of name and skin by his brother. The Keeper bargaining with Death to gain the power to steal souls. The birth of the Fury, Aureon unleashing the Shadow. We’ve only mentioned a few of these myths in canon sources, but there are hundreds within the world. Often these explain natural phenomena; the massive volcano in the Mror Holds is called the Fist of Onatar, because it’s said that Onatar smashed the mountain to create his first forge.

How can this be? Deities don’t physically manifest in Eberron. The Devourer is the storm and the raging sea, not an angry giant who’s going to personally knock your house down. The answer is that the myths are tales of their deeds before they became the Sovereigns. Reality was created by the struggle between the Progenitors. Khyber’s children rose from the darkness and seized control of the world. A band of heroes rose in this time to battle the fiends and establish the foundation for civilization. The myths are the stories of these champions… heroic deeds, vile betrayals, and more. Ultimately these champions defeated the Overlords. This left the world in need of guiding hands: and so these first heroes and villains ascended to become the Sovereigns and Six, merging with reality and rising to a higher form of existence. So there are many tales of Dol Arrah’s heroism, but no one expects her to physically manifest today; vassals know that she is ALWAYS with them, guiding the hand of every virtuous warrior.

There’s no canon list of these myths, in part because there are many different interpretations across different cultures. The common vassal traditions of the Five Nations are based on the Pyrinean Creed, developed in Sarlona before Lhazaar’s journey. But the Talentans say Bally-Nur was a clever halfling hunter, and if you go to Khazaak Draal you’ll hear stories about the Shadow never told in a human temple. The Church of the Wyrm Ascendant is a sect in the Five Nations that claims that the Sovereigns were dragons, and that the myths are based on the actual deeds of draconic champions and villains in the Age of Demons. However, this isn’t a universally accepted belief. Most myths are vague about the nature of the Sovereigns, and it’s common for them to be depicted as members of the dominant culture sharing the story. Pyrinean temples occasionally depict the Sovereigns as dragons, but this is considered to be metaphor, not literal portraits.

The point is that while the Sovereigns and Six don’t manifest in the world and can’t be proven to exist, you CAN have artifacts, locations, or deeds that are attributed to them. You can visit the Lair of the Keeper, or find Dol Arrah’s Sunblade or a cloak said to be made from the flayed skin of the Mockery. That doesn’t mean these things are actually what people say they are—but the idea of finding Dol Arrah’s sword isn’t at odds with her never manifesting today, because this was her sword before her ascension.

Now let’s take a closer look at another member of the Dark Six: the Fury.

THE FURY

When I found my lover murdered, I gave myself to the Fury. I don’t remember the rest of the night. But I regret nothing, and thank the Dark Lady that justice was done. 

The Fury is a silent whisper that can drive you to doubt or despair. She is blind rage and all-consuming passion. Instinct is the voice of the Fury, guiding us when rational thought fails. And she is the Sovereign of Revenge, promising vengeance to those willing to surrender to her. Her father the Devourer embodies the devastating power of the storm; the Fury is the storm that rages within us all, wild emotions that we fight to control.

As with all of the Dark Six, the Fury is acknowledged by the vassals who worship the Sovereign Host. She is the source of any unbalanced emotion. Someone consumed by despair is carrying the Fury on his shoulders, while anyone who lets anger driven them to rash action has given the reins to the Fury. Love is also an emotion, but in the hands of the Fury it is wild and dangerous. Just as there are Three Faces of War, there are Three Faces of Love: Boldrei is the love that binds, Arawai is the love that brings life, and Szorawai—the Fury—is the love that burns.

So typically the Fury is something civilized people guard against, something that must be contained and controlled lest she leave your life in ruins. But she is a part of the world, and there are those who chose to embrace her. While there are priests of the Fury—especially along the path of the Revelers—typically people find the Fury on their own. You don’t need a priest to speak to the Fury; she is part of you, already speaking through your rage and your sorrow. You just need to listen.

THE REVELERS

Civilized societies typically fear the Fury, seeing her influence as disruptive. However, there are those who see her “madness” as a virtue. This path asserts that it’s  only fighting the Fury that brings pain. Aureon’s laws are chains. Break them. Let your instincts guide you, experience your emotions fully, and you will know a freedom others cannot imagine. This path is more common in Droaam than in the Five Nations. Adherents are encouraged to act without thinking, to trust impulse and instinct. Whether you feel sorrow or anger, embrace it and follow where it leads.

Such followers of the Fury often engage in fevered celebrations. Outsiders generally call these frenziesand depict them as a blend of celebration, orgy, and riot; they’re seen as dangerous and immoral. But those who participate call them revels. One aspect of a revel is to experience unbridled joy; all extreme emotions are the touch of the Fury. But the primary purpose of a revel is to shatter Aureon’s chains, to experience a moment unfettered by the expectations of others… and in that moment to find your true self.

This is typically the path of those who publicly identify as followers of the Fury. While any character could follow this philosophy, if you want to reflect a supernatural connection to the Fury there’s a few ways to do it.

  • It’s a plausible path for any barbarian, though Berserker is the most logical choice. You could depict such a character as having been raised as a warrior in a community where the Fury is respected, and having always embraced and cultivated their rage—an outlander or soldier from Droaam, for example. But you could also play such a character as a sage or a guild artisan who’s extremely articulate and civilized except when you give yourself fully to your rage. Such a character could even have a high Strength score that’s not reflected by their physical appearance, because it’s more about your ability to channel adrenaline in the moment you need that strength… so a character that seems like a harmless scholar until you unleash your fury. You could also have a barbarian urchin who grew up nearly feral in the streets, who follows the guidance of the Fury wherever it leads.
  • Depending on the spells that you choose, it’s likewise a plausible path for a sorcerer. You could say that your magic comes from a place of primal instinct; you don’t consciously know how to perform it and might not even be able to cast every spell on your list on demand, but when the time is right the knowledge rises up within you. There’s no particular subclass ideally suited to this, but I’d probably go with Wild Magic to reflect the idea that you don’t fully understand what you’re doing and don’t have absolute control over it.
  • In some ways, a bard makes a better reveler priest than a cleric. Following the College of Glamour, you have the ability to inspire primal emotions; it’s your task to encourage people to fully experience and feel their feelings. You could play such a character like the barbarian mentioned above—only embracing the Fury fully when in the throes of performance. But you could also play this character as a priest who tries to help people understand their feelings at all times… or as someone who fights to bring down any system that seeks to compel or control peoples’ thoughts and emotions. This is different, however, from the priest of the Traveler who inspires chaos and change on a societal level; the Fury is more driven by the storm within each heart. If someone were to follow this path in my campaign, I’d be willing to consider their bard spells as divine magic as opposed to arcane—gifts of devotion as opposed to lore—but this wouldn’t have a mechanical effect.
  • There isn’t an official cleric domain that reflects this path well. Strangely, I would consider the Order domain presented in the Guildmaster’s Guide to Ravnica, simply reversing the flavor of the abilities. As written the Order priest compels because people respect their inherent authority; for the Fury, all of the compelling abilities would be about generating raw emotion. A command FEELS so right in the moment that the victim obeys… while hold person could reflect a paralyzing doubt and despair that the victim must shake off before they can act normally.
  • Many of the members of the Dark Pack of Droaam—worgs, lycanthropes, and other predators—view the Fury as a personal guide and patron. This ties to the principle that instinct is more important than reason, and that one should always let instinct guide action. You could play a Moon druid whose powers flow from this idea; rather than being tied to a druidic sect, you are primal predator whose form and actions are shaped by the Fury.

Boldrei is the patron of mediators and therapists, those who help maintain peace within a community and help people overcome negative emotions. However, there is an alternative. When a vassal makes a sacrifice to the Devourer in the face of an oncoming storm, they don’t expect the storm to suddenly stop; they are begging the Devourer to turn his rage to someone else. Sometimes you may find a simple altar to the Fury hidden in a vassal community. The principle is simple: if you are dealing with an emotion you can’t handle, you can make a sacrifice… and if it is accepted, your pain will be given to someone else. This practice is largely reviled because it’s a zero sum game; SOMEONE will suffer your sorrow or despair. But if you’re willing to pass your pain to a stranger, it’s a possibility. Likewise, such an altar could be used to beg the Fury to ignite a spark of passion in an object of affection; but once again, the love of the Fury is wild and uncontrollable, and often leaves ashes in its wake.

THE SOVEREIGN OF REVENGE

The Fury is there whenever you suffer pain or anguish. Aureon’s laws provide a path for order in a civilized society, and Dol Arrah guides the justiciar. But perhaps you feel the forces of the law are corrupt and will never punish your enemy. Perhaps the wrong that’s been done to you isn’t a crime, but you still want the cause of your pain to suffer for what they’ve done. Or perhaps you don’t want justice… you want bitter and bloody REVENGE, to make your enemy suffer and feel the pain they’ve inflicted upon you a thousand times over.

In some cultures—certainly in parts of Droaam and Darguun—revenge and justice are seen as one and the same; it is understood that anyone who’s harmed has the right to revenge, and that the Fury promises that vengeance. With the Five Nations people generally support systems of well defined laws and frown on vigilante justice, but this aspect of the Fury can be seen in two ways.

The first is urban legend as much as it is myth: the idea that if you’ve been wronged, you can engrave the name of the person you seek vengeance upon into a red candle, blend a drop of blood with the wax, and leave the lit candle in your window. This is a symbol that the Fury burns within you, demanding vengeance on the person you have named. In some stories, this is simply a call for the Fury to take vengeance for you, acting through environmental forces; if your target falls from a horse the next day, that’s the Fury answering your prayers. Others say that there’s a hidden order of assassins who roam Khorvaire, who will fulfill the promise of the crimson candle. What’s understood with either option is that once the Fury is invoked, you have no control over what form the vengeance will take or how many people will be hurt in the process. This ties to the point that this isn’t justice, and that while vengeance comes with a price YOU may not be the one who pays it. The Fury doesn’t eliminate pain and suffering; she spreads it and magnifies it. Because of this, the crimson candle isn’t used lightly; placing the candle in your window is a public declaration that you want revenge and you don’t care about the cost or who knows it. If the adventurers come into a village with dozens of crimson candles burning in the windows, it’s a sign that something is terribly wrong. And to the person named on the candle, it’s a question of whether you will try to make amends and convince the victim to extinguish the candle before the Fury takes notice of the plea.

The crimson candle is an invocation of the Fury, a request that someone or something else could grant vengeance. But there’s also the belief that someone who has been terribly wronged can surrender entirely to the Fury, abandoning moral principles and personal responsibility until vengeance is obtained. According to the stories, a vengeful hand is a vessel for the Fury, capable of superhuman feats; however, it’s entirely up to the DM to decide if there’s any truth to these tales or if it’s simply a form of temporary psychosis. Either way, this isn’t a common thing. Anyone can say that it was the voice of the Fury who drove them to rash action; but the vengeful hand is someone gripped by focused madness, whether divine or otherwise. And while people may sympathize with a vengeful hand, while it’s understood that they would never commit such horrific crimes under other circumstances, this doesn’t excuse the crimes they commit in pursuit of revenge.

There’s a number of ways this could be reflected in a player character. As before, any character could be driven by vengeance regardless of their class abilities. In developing the character idea, the question is what fuels your need for vengeance and if it’s a quest that can ever be completed. For example, someone could be driven by a desire for vengeance against Erandis Vol… but they have no idea where Vol is and know they don’t have the personal power to bring her down, so they’ll devote themselves to fighting the entire Emerald Claw until the path to Vol is made clear. Or if a criminal killed your parents, you could devote yourself to vengeance upon all criminals. The critical point is that someone driven by the Fury doesn’t care about the cost of revenge, and that this isn’t about fair punishment; it is about raining down pain and suffering upon those who have wronged you. Can you ever come to the end of that dark path? Or is your need for vengeance an all consuming flame? Here’s a few specific character ideas.

  • The Oath of Vengeance is an obvious choice for a paladin of the Fury, a warrior infused with divine power to me used in pursuit of revenge. This path works just as well for a Zealot barbarian, or potentially a cleric with the War or Death domains. This could fit the idea of the vengeful hand: you were a peaceful civilized person until you swore your oath of vengeance, and you have been filled with the power you need to see it through. On the other hand, you could also have been granted your powers to help others take vengeance; you are the one who answers the call of the crimson candle. In either case, I again call out this difference between this and the path of Dol Arrah. The hands of the Fury don’t pursue justice; they seek vengeance, regardless of how much new pain and suffering is generated in the course of revenge.
  • A warlock could be presented as someone who has made their vow to the Fury, gaining power to be used in the quest for revenge. As above, this could be a pact made in pursuit of personal vengeance, or the warlock could be assigned to help others obtain revenge. In regards to how this relates to the idea that the gods can’t be proven to exist, there’s a few ways to handle it. The first is that the warlock doesn’t directly interact with their patron; the warlock swore an oath and knows what they have to do. Another option is that the warlock’s patron is a fiend who considers themselves to be a voice of the Fury: perhaps a spirit of Mabar who enjoys the pain and death that accompanies these quests. Alternately, the warlock could have visions they believe are coming directly from the Fury… but is there a way to truly prove that these aren’t just delusions?
  • A bard of the College of Whispers is skilled at manipulating emotions and fears, both weapons in the arsenal of the Fury. This ties to the idea that vengeance need not always be bloody. A Whispers bard devoted to the Fury could be a character assassin, carrying out missions of vengeance like any other vengeful hands but focusing on destroying the lives of their victims as opposed to simply ending them.

Overall, the point here is that the people of the Five Nations don’t revere the Fury: but they certainly acknowledge her presence and her power. Typically she’s seen as something you should fight against: bite back your anger, overcome your despair, trust in the law to see that justice is done. So in general, you won’t find a priest of the Fury on the streets of the Five Nations… and paladin who acts as a vengeful hand may not ANNOUNCE that, as again, acting in the name of the Fury doesn’t let you get away with murder. But people don’t need a priest of the Fury to hear her voice. And putting a crimson candle in your window is usually seen as a cry for help or an act of protest, not heresy that needs to be punished.

Q&A

The myths mentioned above seem to imply that Death is a separate entity. Is it something a cleric could worship?

In the myth, “Death” is something that Dol Arrah defeats and binds. Most of the myths are about the champions battling hostile aspects of reality, which is what ultimately leds to their ascension. So technically “Death” is something that exists—which is why people still die—but it’s not free to act wantonly or maliciously. Mythologically Death is a subject of the Keeper… tied to the previous article that notes that the Keeper can target people with illness and misfortune in order to kill them.

An arcane scholar who believes that the Sovereign myths are legends of ascended dragons would assert that “Dol Arrah’s battle with death” is an account of a draconic champion fighting the Overlord Katashka, who embodies our fears of death and the undead… a battle depicted on page 6 of Dragons of Eberron.

Could someone worship it? Sure, just as someone could worship Katashka the Gatekeeper. But again, bear in mind that by the myths, Death is now a vassal of the Keeper—just as the Overlords themselves are bound. It’s possible such an individual would be able to channel divine magic, but a Vassal would assert that this power COMES from the Keeper; that whatever they call it, “Death” is the Keeper.

Are the “true/previous” names of the Dark Six common knowledge? Dol Azur and Szorawai and the like? Is it considered heretical to refer to them by that name? Or simply esoteric/academic?

The general idea is that stripping the Six of their names is a way to strip them of power. When Dol Azur betrayed his comrades, they took his skin and his name. Because they aren’t commonly used, most people only know them by their titles. Many people feel that addressing one of the Six by its original name can draw its attention, and thus it’s superstitiously avoided. However, in sects such as the Three Faces of War or Love where the member of the Six is acknowledged as part of the core faith, it’s more common to use the name. So if you say “Szorawai” to a group of common vassals, probably a third of them won’t recognize it, another third will gasp in horror, and the final third will nod sagely… and followers of the Three Faces of Love will roll their eyes at the people of gasp and urge them to get over it.

Are the Devourer (Shurkaan) and Keeper’s (Kol Turrant) names in other sources canonical?

The names of the Dark Six—Shurkaan the Devourer, Kol Turrant the Keeper, Dol Azur the Mockery, and Szorawai the Fury—were presented in Faiths of Eberron, which is a canon source. However, like the Sovereigns, different cultures and sects will also have their own names. Shurkaan is also known as “Shargon,” though some people who use that name just think it refers to a legendary sea monster. So yes, these are canonical names, but you can also come up with others.

Would it be true to say that the Dark Six are ultimately opposed to Khyber and the Overlords—that even if they are evil and dark, they are on the side of dragons and mortals? 

Largely, yes. The relationship between the Overlords and the Nine and Six is somewhat analogous to the Titans and Olympians of Greek mythology. The Dark Six are themselves Sovereigns, though most Vassals don’t acknowledge that… but the Sovereigns gained their sovereignty by overthrowing the Overlords. So the Dark Six may PREY upon good people, but none of them want to return the world to the chaotic rule of the Overlords.

With that said, mythologically some of the Six had DEALINGS with the Overlords. The Mockery and the Keeper both made bargains with Overlords, and some scholars say that the myth of the Shadow could actually refer to Aureon making a deal with Bel Shalor or Sul Khatesh. But even in those cases, the Mockery and the Keeper continued to oppose the Overlords overall.

Likewise, we’ve suggested that there are fiends who count themselves as agents of the Dark Six; such fiends wouldn’t be loyal to Overlords.

Do the Dark Six’s followers acknowledge the Traveler as an equal part of the Six or is it a separate entity even within the Six? 

“The Dark Six” is largely a mortal construct. It’s not like it’s the Justice League and the Legion of Doom, and that they each have headquarters and membership cards. What makes someone a member of the Dark Six is that they are seen as holding dominion over dark powers… not that they are supposedly friends. So the Traveler is unquestionably part of the Dark Six. But the Traveler has also always been a mystery. They have no established name and appear in a different form in each myth. looking to the previous questions, mythologically the Traveler stood with the host against the Overlords, but it was still never known and understood as the others were.

Do most followers of the Dark Six worship the pantheon as a whole, or are they generally devoted to individual deities?

Like the Sovereign Host, I’d say that most acknowledge the entire pantheon (and that typically also means that they acknowledge the existence of the Sovereigns) but they choose to offer their greatest devotion to the deity that holds the most influence over their life. The changelings of Lost are first and foremost devoted to the Traveler. This doesn’t mean that they don’t believe in the Shadow or the Fury; they just don’t particularly care about them.

So looking to Droaam as a whole, most of them do acknowledge all of the Six and at least respect them all; but they may have a particular deity they see as their personal guide and patron. There are variants that ONLY acknowledge a specific deity—tied to variant myths, such as the harpy assertion that the Fury was born from Eberron’s cry of pain—but those are less common.

Would you say those who approach the Six with the intention of getting something from a deity they believe to be evil tend to be worse than those who viewed them as less or not evil?

With many of the Six, this is less about Good and Evil and more about Law and Chaos. The Sovereigns largely embody the values that support civilization. When you are wronged, DON’T seek bloody revenge; follow the established system that will provide justice. When you’re making a bargain or fighting on the battlefield, don’t engage in treacherous behavior. Think of others, don’t just pursue your own greed or ambition. The Five Nations value the rule of law and consider these to be virtues. By contrast, Droaam is a very chaotic nation where people are expected to solve their own problems and look out for themselves. There’s no difference between vengeance and justice. You’re not expected to rein in your emotions for the benefit of others; if someone angers you, they need to deal with the consequences of your anger; you’re not expected to harness your fury and let the insult go.

So the main point is that in a chaotic culture the ideas embodied by the Six may not be seen as negative concepts… whereas in a lawful culture they often are. In Droaam there’s nothing wrong with embracing the Fury; restraining emotions is the strange and artificial thing. On the other hand, if you’re a citizen of the Five Nations and you light a crimson candle, you’re asking the Fury to circumvent the system of justice and grant you revenge, regardless of who may be hurt in the process. So you are definitely making a SELFISH choice, a choice in which your pain matters more than the potential consequences of revenge. You are making a choice you know goes against the moral and legal values of your society.

The same is true of a wizard who seeks forbidden arcane lore. The Shadow asserts that there should be no limits on the pursuit of knowledge. The fact that you’re choosing to violate Aureon’s laws doesn’t necessarily make you evil; that’s a question of what you’re willing to do to get the knowledge and what you’ll do with the power once you’ll have it. But it certainly means that you’re placing your personal desires over the laws of your society… so again, Law versus Chaos more than Good versus Evil.

Similarly, how do Vassals and other devout reconcile the different views of the Six? If a vassal heard that Medusa talking about the Shadow would they think that both descriptions were true or that one of the two was wrong?

Vassals know that many cultures have skewed ideas of the Sovereigns and Six. The Talenta halflings say Bally-Norr was a halfling hunter, and everyone knows that’s not true. So first of all you’ll have the indulgent “You’re just a savage who doesn’t understand the truth of the faith.” So in part it depends how it’s presented. The Fury as she’s revered in Droaam is largely the same concept as the Fury in the Pyrinean Creed; it’s simply that the Droaamite believes that embracing your instincts and emotions is a virtue, while the Vassal believes that it’s weakness. Likewise, the Vassal sees the Shadow as malevolent because it creates monsters; the medusa sees the Shadow in the same light, but sees “creating monsters” as a positive thing as opposed to a negative.

Do the harpies of Droaam adhere to any aspects of the faith that most other Fury followers don’t?

Many of the harpy wings of Droaam say that the harpy sings with the Fury’s voice. For these harpies, song is an act of prayer, and they frequently engage in ecstatic choruses. Many consider their ability to throw the emotions of others out of balance as a sign that they are truly the children of the Fury. However, in this they tend to focus on the emotional aspects of the Fury; by contrast, the Dark Pack is also strongly devoted to the Fury, but more in her role as the source of instinct.

I’ve always found it tonally inappropriate that the Fury was born of rape — it’s the only mention of sexual assault in an Eberron book, and while I get that it *happens* in real-world myths, it’s never been something I’ve particularly cared for… Are there other myths of the Fury’s origin?

There’s certainly other myths. The harpies say that Eberron cried out in pain when she brought life into being, and the Fury is her cry (note that by this story, the Fury is actually older than the other Sovereigns and Six). Another myth says that the Devourer was bound by his enemies; his rage gave him the strength to break his bonds, but it was so powerful that it burst forth as the Fury.

With that said, the Pyrinean myth is largely metaphorical. The prosperous farm is the bounty of Arawai, and the storm and fire that threaten to destroy it are the Devourer. So to the farmer, the Devourer is constantly attacking Arawai. The farmer whose field has been laid waste feels rage and despair… and so, the Fury is born of the Devourer’s attack on Arawai.

The Fury and The Cults of the Dragon Below appear similar since they both encompass the Madness Domain. What are the ways Revelers might be distinguished from the Cultists of the Dragon Below?

It’s an interesting question. First of all, the Cults of the Dragon Below are incredibly diverse. But I’d say the crucial difference is that the Cults of the Dragon Below don’t worship a personification of insanity; rather, they are themselves insane. Meanwhile, the priests of the Fury don’t worship the idea of madness; they worship the Fury as a source of passion and powerful emotions that can push someone into madness. So if a priest of the Fury casts feeblemind on you, they are consciously making a decision to drive you insane, overwhelming you with sorrow or doubt. If a cleric of the Dragon Below casts the same spell, they may actually describe it as if it’s dominate: “Let me show you the truth of our cause and you will see we’re correct!”… and then they’ll be disappointed when this “revelation” breaks your brain. This article on the Cults of the Dragon Below might help.

If you have questions about the Fury, post them below! And thanks as always to my Patreon backers for making this blog possible!

The Dark Six: The Keeper

The Mockery is the lord of treachery and terror. The Devourer commands the destructive powers of nature. The Keeper will strike you down with disease and then snatch your soul so he can continue to torment you for eternity. Everything that we fear—poverty, disease, betrayal, madness, monsters—all of these fall under the sway of the Dark Six. What could drive people to worship these malevolent deities? What sort of player characters would follow them?

In the days ahead I’ll be delving into each of the Dark Six and their followers, starting here with an overview of the Six and a deeper look at the Keeper. Bear in mind that this is my personal take on the Dark Six and the Sovereign Host. It’s not canon material, and it may contradict canon sources.

NINE AND SIX AND ONE

Sourcebooks generally present the Dark Six and the Sovereign Host as if they’re two different faiths, but they’re closely intertwined. The world holds good and evil, joy and tragedy. The Sovereigns need the Dark Six to explain injustice and suffering. When there’s a bountiful harvest, farmers praise Arawai; when there’s a drought, they curse the Devourer. When magic is used for the greater good, it’s a blessing of Aureon; when magic causes suffering, it’s the work of the Shadow. The vassals (devotees) of the Sovereign Host don’t praise the Dark Six, but they acknowledge their existence and power. Prayers refer to the Nine and Six and One, but the point is that the Nine and Six ARE one. A few places where this can be seen…

  • When faced with a deadly storm, a vassal sailor may toss something precious into the water—making a sacrifice to placate the Devourer.
  • The Three Faces of War is a vassal cult found across the armies of the Five Nations. Initiates honor Dol Arrah, Dol Azur, and Dol Dorn—acknowledging that all three have a place on the battlefield, and that each warrior must choose a path between them.
  • The Restful Watch believe that the Keeper and Aureon occasionally work together; at Aureon’s direction, the Keeper catches the souls of heroes so that they aren’t lost to Dolurrh and can be returned when they are needed. The Restful Watch still acknowledge the Keeper as generally malevolent, but willing to bargain with Aureon to serve the greater good.

None of these three examples challenge the basic depiction of the Six. The Mockery, Devourer, and Keeper are still seen as dangerous and dark; it’s simply understood that they are part of the world and that there are times where it’s better to acknowledge them or even work with them than to ignore or entirely deny them. This same principle flows in reverse. A medusa of Khazaak Draal who reveres the Shadow doesn’t deny the existence of Aureon; she accepts them both and CHOOSES the path of the Shadow over that of Aureon. The choice is more meaningful because it is a choice; the medusa doesn’t deny that Aureon may exist, but says that if he does, his laws and attempt to impose morals on magic are misguided and tyrannical.

WHO FOLLOWS THE DARKNESS?

While most vassals acknowledge the existence of the Dark Six, most choose to live their lives according to the principles of the Nine. The ideas represented by the Nine form the foundation of civilization: knowledge, community, industry, commerce, honor, prosperity. The farmer depends on Arawai’s goodwill, and the hunter needs Balinor’s guidance; for both of them, the wrath of the Devourer is something to be feared. Any vassal can choose to bargain with the Six; the common practice of burying a corpse with valuables to distract the Keeper is an example of this. But this is a matter of placating one of the Six when you enter their domain as opposed to revering them.

The question is what drives someone to offer their first devotion to the Six: not simply placating them in desperate times, but idolizing one of these dark powers. In future articles I’ll explore each of the Dark Six, but let’s begin with the Sovereign of Death and Decay: The Keeper.

The Keeper

Sovereign over: Greed, death, hoarded wealth, unfair bargains

Common Subclasses: Death, Trickery (Cleric), Oathbreaker (Paladin), Fiend, Hexblade (Warlock)

Never flaunt good fortune. Avoid arrogance or pride. Those who crow too loudly may catch the jealous eye of the Keeper. Even the mightiest hero can be laid low by disease or ill fortune; the Keeper has a vast arsenal to bring down those that he desires. Once he pulls you down into the darkness, he will snatch your soul before it can reach Dolurrh and and you to his endless hoard, where he can toy with you and torment you until the end of time.

On first reading, this might not sound so bad. Isn’t Dolurrh a place where the soul fades and memories are lost? Aren’t those taken by the Keeper being spared from oblivion? Yes and no. The fading of Dolurrh is an observable effect. But the Vassals maintain that souls that fade in Dolurrh aren’t lost; rather, the fading of memory reflects the transition of the soul to a higher level of reality, where it joins the Sovereigns. So first of all, you’re losing a chance at paradise; second, even if you don’t accept that idea, it’s a choice of oblivion versus eternal torment. So, most people prefer to avoid the Keeper’s grasp. Initiates of the Restful Watch specialize in setting a price on the soul, establishing what must be buried or burned with the corpse to placate the Keeper.

The Keeper is the brother of Kol Korran and reflects the darker aspects of commerce, inspiring avarice, conspicuous consumption, and insatiable greed that can lead to murder or theft.Greed and hoarding are defining aspects of the Keeper; death is simply the tool that he uses to add souls to his hoard. This introduces an often overlooked aspect of the Keeper: bargaining. The Keeper is always searching for new treasures to add to his hoard… and these treasures can include souls, memories, and even more abstract things. A bargain with the Keeper can get you wealth, magic items, the powers of a warlock, or more. While the gifts of the Traveler often have unexpected consequences, the goods of the Keeper are generally exactly what they appear to be: but the Keeper never makes a deal unless the price is in his favor. Whatever you get from the Keeper, you’ll have to give up something of even greater value.

Followers of the Keeper

Out of the Six, the Keeper is the deity most commonly acknowledged by vassals—every funeral acknowledges his presence—but revered by few. Here’s a few ways you might encounter followers of the Keeper in the world.

The Greedy and Devious. Kol Korran is the patron of commerce and honest trade. The Keeper guides those who put their own personal gain above all else. The Keeper helps the liar and the cheat. The Mockery guides those who use deception to spill blood, but those who use guile to gain gold rely on the guidance of the Keeper. Criminals and rogues who see themselves as heroes may look to Olladra for good fortune in their endeavors. But those willing to acknowledge their own greed may offer prayers to the Keeper.

This sort of worship is typically a personal thing. Many members of the Boromar Clan offer prayers to the Keeper, but the clan doesn’t maintain a shrine to him. Individuals who are especially skilled at separating people from their riches may be considered to be blessed by the Keeper, just as a skilled blacksmith may be thought to be favored by Onatar; they may not have the trappings of a priest, but others may still ask for (and pay for) their blessing. On the other hand, you could also have a priest of the Keeper who runs their own guild of thieves; the critical point is that such a priest would typically see their congregation as tools to further their own greed. A cleric following this aspect of the Keeper would have the Trickery domain, but it’s just as appropriate for any rogue, criminal, or charlatan.

While a player character could follow this path, there’s little heroic about it. The Keeper is the lord of greed. Kol Korran governs the positive aspects of trade, and Olladra guides the playful trickster and bard. The Keeper is the patron of those concerned solely with their own personal gain regardless of the cost to others. However, it’s still possible for a mercenary character to begin their career as a cold-hearted devotee of the Keeper—fighting solely for gold—and to perhaps discover that there are things more important than simple acquisition along the way.

The Restful Watch. Priests of the Restful Watch specialize in embalming, funerals, and maintaining cemeteries. They can be found in every major city in the Five Nations, and even smaller towns may have a devotee of the Watch tending the boneyard. The doctrine of the Restful Watch is based on the idea that most spirits pass through Dolurrh and into the realm of the Sovereigns, but that once someone has entered the realm of the Sovereigns they can never return. As a result, if Aureon knows that a dead hero will be needed in the future, he has the Keeper snatch the soul before it reaches Dolurrh, so it can be restored when the time is right. Thus, initiates of the Restful Watch present themselves first and foremost as servants of Aureon, but they understand the Keeper. One of their most important duties is helping the bereaved choose appropriate grave goods or a sacrifice sufficient to distract the Keeper and ensure that the soul reaches Dolurrh. For a simple person with few achievements, a single coin might suffice; but the more remarkable the deceased, the greater interest the Keeper will have… requiring a more significant sacrifice to distract him.

While the Restful Watch can be found in any major city, they maintain a low profile; unless you’re planning a funeral, there’s little reason to interact with them. However, there’s a few ways that they could intersect with adventurers or serve as the foundation for a player character. Clerics of the Restful Watch typically take the Grave domain, reflecting their balance between the light of Aureon and the darkness of the Keeper. However, both the Knowledge domain and the Death domain are options. Likewise, Watch paladins typically embrace the Oaths of Devotion or Redemption, but those especially close to the Keeper could take the darker path of the Oathbreaker. With that in mind, here’s a few options for the Watch.

  • The Restful Watch believes that Aureon has preserved the souls of heroes so they may return for an apocalyptic conflict that lies ahead. Many scholars believe this cataclysm predicts the collapse of the Silver Flame and the unleashing of the Overlords of the First Age. As a Watchful Eye, you have been sent out into the world to search for signs that this cataclysm is drawing nigh. You may have a specific set of things you’re supposed to look for or investigate (such as the Mournland), or you could be largely given a free rein.
  • Occasionally the Watch identifies individuals who they’re sure have been marked by Aureon for preservation. You may have been assigned to such an individual—one of the other player characters—with the task of chronicling this person’s life and performing the proper rituals when they die. Whether or not the person appreciates or wants your companionship is irrelevant. “Don’t mind me, I’m just going to follow you around until your heroic death. Trust me, I think you’re going to accomplish some big things!”
  • Especially gifted priests of the Restful Watch serve as exorcists and mediums. As a cleric with the Grave domain, you may consider it your holy purpose to seek out the undead and lay their troubled spirits to rest.

Keeper’s Hands. Dedicated priests of the Keeper can be found in Droaam, Darguun, and even in Zilargo or the Lhazaar Principalities. These priests generally take the place of the Restful Watch, though they lack the benevolent aspect of Aureon. They still perform funerals and tend cemeteries, but they have no qualms about presenting themselves as servants of the the Keeper as opposed to being tied to some greater good. Like the Restful Watch, they will set a price for a soul’s passage; however, this will definitely include profit for the priest. In such places it’s generally accepted that one can gain the Keeper’s favor by sending him choice souls, either by simple dedication (which anyone can try—”Keeper take your soul!”) or more thorough ritual… so if you don’t pay the Keeper’s Hand to ensure the soul’s passage to Dolurrh, they’ll sell the soul to the Keeper themselves. Necromancy is also a common path for Keeper’s Hands, whether they are adepts, clerics (Death domain) or Oathbreaker paladins. They see necromancy as an earned gift from the Keeper and consider it the necromancer’s right to compel the dead to service… so, a far cry from the Restful Watch seeking to lay the dead to rest.

A Keeper’s Hand doesn’t see any of this as evil. It’s just the way the universe works. Life and death are business transactions, and a Keeper’s Hand is a merchant who expects to profit from them. Keeper’s Hands may also serve as talons (see Bargaining With The Keeper). As a path for a PC, you may have been raised in one of these dark cultures and simply be trying to use your gifts for your own benefit. Working with a mercenary band of violent adventurers is an excellent way to be around death—and you’re happy to dedicate those deaths to the Keeper in hope for favor.

While this focuses on the DEATH aspect of the Keeper, Keeper’s Hands are also often shrewd negotiators. Especially in more civilized regions, a Keeper’s Hand may be involved with smuggling or managing other criminal enterprises in addition to their religious duties. As a lone wolf adventurer, you could likewise be focused on all things that could bring you profit. There’s no reason you can’t be willing to share these profits with your friends, as long as you get what you want—so again, a Keeper’s Hand can be an excellent match for mercenary adventurers driven primarily by profit.

Keeper’s Fangs. The Keeper’s Hand simply pursues general profit, dedicating any deaths they can to the Keeper and hoping that this earns them favor. However, a few individuals feel a closer connection to the Keeper—they hear his voice or know what he wants most of all. Known as Keeper’s Fangs, these assassins hunt down and slay anyone marked by the Keeper. They may also be charged to find treasures the Keeper wants to add to his hoard. It’s up to the DM to decide if such a treasure must be immediately sacrificed upon acquisition, or if the Fang can make use of the relic before it is claimed by the Keeper.

In the ancient Sarlonan nation of Pyrine, Keeper’s Fangs were assassins who would sell death for gold. Assassination isn’t sanctioned in the Five Nations, but there is an order of Keeper’s Fangs who follows these old traditions. They are few enough in number that House Thuranni generally doesn’t see them as a threat to business. While this order exists, there are just as many Keeper’s Fangs who have an entirely personal relationship with the Keeper: they see what he wants in visions, and act in the hopes of personal reward. This is a logical path for a Hexblade warlock, whose shadow-infused weapons are a gift from the Keeper. However, it’s just as plausible for a Death cleric, Oathbreaker paladin, or rogue assassin.

Others. As noted above, these are a FEW ways to encounter followers of the Keeper. These ideas follow the traditional Pyrinean interpretation of the Six; but the Sovereigns and Six have been interpreted in many ways in various cultures. Among the giants of Rusheme, the Keeper is known as Karaak the Final Guardian, and considered to save the souls of the worthy from dissolution—similar to the beliefs of the Restful Watch, but without adding Aureon into the equation. The Keeper is always associated with death and greed, but the exact interpretation can vary considerably.

Bargaining With The Keeper

How do bargains with the Keeper work? The Six don’t walk the world, so you have to find an intermediary who can make a bargain. This could be a devoted outsider, or it could be a mortal with a strong connection to the Keeper. This could fall into any of the categories described above—a priest of the Restful Watch, a criminal considered to be blessed by the Keeper, a Keeper’s Hand or Fang. Someone operating in this capacity is referred to as a talon. Despite all of these options, talons are exceptionally rare—and those with established track records even more so. This is because working with a talon is entirely a matter of faith. The petitioner comes with a request. The talon establishes the exact terms. Payment is often abstract: the most common fee is the assurance that the Keeper will claim the petitioner’s soul after death, often with an added limitation on maximum lifespan (“Should you live to be forty years of age, the Keeper will end your life and claim his rightful prize”). But payment could be something unique that the petitioner possesses, whether physical or metaphysical. The only constant is that the Keeper never makes a bargain unless the price is in his favor; the cost will always be dear.

If a bargain has a material cost, the talon takes the goods on behalf of the Keeper. But the talon doesn’t provide the reward, and there’s no guarantee as to when the Keeper will uphold his end of the bargain. So an aspiring merchant could make a deal to acquire wealth and success in exchange for a 40-year lifespan and the only picture of her mother. The talon takes the picture and the merchant goes on her way. Within the year, she has a run of good fortune, or finds a wealthy investor, or stumbles upon buried treasure that allows her to set up her business. Is this the result of the bargain, or just coincidence? WILL she die when she’s forty, or is that also just superstition? An established talon is defined by having a string of successes; people have to BELIEVE that the talon can speak for the Keeper. But the Keeper acts in his own time and in his own way, and there’s nothing about a talon’s bargain that can’t be questioned by a skeptic.

A Keeper’s bargain is an excellent way to establish a character’s backstory. Player characters possess remarkable talent; did a character bargain for that talent, and if so, what was the cost? Perhaps the terms of the agreement only give the character one year to live: can they find a way to break the bargain before time runs out? This is also a possible explanation for the powers of a warlock, especially if the warlock specializes in conjuration and necromancy. In this case the warlock may not have an active and ongoing relationship with their patron (though the following section presents alternatives) but what were the terms of the deal? If a player character wants to make a bargain with a talon during a campaign, it’s up to the DM to decide what terms the Keeper will offer and what the practical effects will be. If someone offers to give up their musical talent in exchange for a silver tongue, the DM could allow them to swap a proficiency with Performance for Deception… but again, it’s up to the DM to decide if such a thing is possible and how to implement it. If someone bargains for “skill at arms” the DM could rule that this skill will be acquired over time as they gain levels; again, the benefit doesn’t have to come instantly, and most people can’t gain levels as PCs do. It’s also possible that a talon could approach the player characters with an offer. Perhaps they’ve acquired the Book of Vile Darkness and no one actually wants to read it. But a talon approaches them; the Keeper has spoken to them and wants the book, and is offering a different artifact in exchange. Are they interested? And again, such a bargain doesn’t mean that the talon possesses the other artifact; it’s simply assured that should the PCs give the book to the talon, the other artifact will come to them. Metaphysically, the theory is that most of the gifts the Keeper can bestow come from imbuing the beneficiary with an element of one of the souls in his hoard; the Keeper grants musical talent by imbuing the seeker with the soul of a renowned bard. As such, there are certainly things the Keeper CAN’T grant. The Keeper can’t granted arcane knowledge that no mortal has discovered; that would be the domain of the Shadow.

The Keeper and the Afterlife

DOES the Keeper snatch souls on their way to Dolurrh? As with anything tied to the divine, there’s no absolute proof. But from the preponderance of myths to the concrete fact of soul-trapping Keeper’s fang weapons, it’s POSSIBLE for souls to be lost in this way. There are tales told of heroes finding the Lair of the Keeper in the Demon Wastes and negotiating with a skeletal dragon to recover souls lost to Keeper’s Fangs. Perhaps these stories are literally true. Or perhaps the “Lair of the Keeper” is a portal to a demiplane ruled by the first and most powerful dracolich… and this mighty creature created the Keeper’s fangs. Ultimately it’s up to the DM to decide. Is there anything to a talon’s bargains beyond superstition and coincidence? Can souls be taken by the Keeper, and if so, how can they be recovered?

In this article I discuss the cost of resurrection—whether cast as a spell, or offered to a slain hero by supernatural forces. In Eberron, this is one more opportunity to bargain with the Keeper. Should a player character die early in their career, the Keeper (or something posing as him) could offer resurrection—but at what cost? Alternately, if the player characters have the ability to raise the dead, the Keeper can add an unexpected obstacle. If the Keeper claims a soul, Raise Dead won’t work unless the Keeper chooses to release the soul… which will require a bargain. See the linked article for ideas about what such bargains could entail!

This adds one more interesting background for a player character: the REVENANT. Even as a first level character, you could have died and been released by the Keeper… what bargain did you make? Is this tied to your class abilities? Did you die recently, or did you linger in limbo for centuries before returning—exactly what the Restful Watch describes? This could allow you to play an elf from the age of Aeren; a human who fought along Lhazaar, Galifar, or Tira Miron; a Goblin who fought the daelkyr; or any other hero from the past. This could have required a bargain with the Keeper (or something claiming to be the Keeper)… or perhaps there is something to the beliefs of the Restful Watch and you’ve been returned without strings—but if so, why were you preserved and why have you been restored now? What’s your purpose in the present day?

Q&A

I love the idea of people burying treasures with the dead to distract the Keeper. If this is a common practice for everyone in Eberron, would you think it would lead to extensive grave robbing by non-believers? Is there some “curse” rumored to go with grave robbing?

Good question. It’s definitely seen as a bad idea to steal grave goods—even if the Keeper doesn’t physically take them, his eye has been on them and by taking them you’re drawing his eye to you. However, that’s only going to deter vassals; if someone doesn’t believe in the Keeper, they won’t believe in the curse. With that said, bear in mind that for MOST people we aren’t talking about things of tremendous value—a few copper crowns, something that was valuable to the deceased but doesn’t necessarily have high market value. if the thing that was most valuable to the deceased was a portrait of their lost child, that might suffice… even though you couldn’t get a great price for it. Beyond that, this is one of the specific duties of the Restful Watch—maintaining and protecting cemeteries.  And in the case of someone who would be buried with things of considerable value—a noble, a hero—you would have crypts with actual security.

All of which leads to possible adventure: You need to get into the crypt of first King of Metrol to recover the sword that was buried with him… but is its power intact, or is it now cursed?

If you were to create a 3.5 lawful good paladin of the Keeper, what positive aspects of the Keeper would you emphasize? Or would you prefer they be a Paladin of the Restful Watch instead?

It’s a tough sell. I personally define the good alignments as reflecting empathy and altruism, and altruism is literally the antithesis of the Keeper. Even the Restful Watch doesn’t present the Keeper as an altruist; he’s just willing to work with Aureon, presumably profiting from the deal in some way. To me, the people who worship one of the Six above the Sovereigns don’t try to change the basic message of the Six, they simply embrace the darkness. The merchant who follows the Keeper is a mirror of the “Greed is Good” stockbroker, or the con artist who believes that if they can fool you, they’ve earned your gold. So personally, I’d go with the Restful Watch.

HOWEVER, if I absolutely had to make an LG paladin of the Keeper who wasn’t associated with the Restful Watch, I’d emphasize the role of the Talon. They help people make bargains with the Keeper. They don’t seek personal profit, and they offer the best advice they can to the prospective client. It could be that the paladin then acts to make the deal come true; if the Keeper has promised someone wealth, it’s up to the paladin to actual get it for them. So essentially, even though the Keeper always gets the best of the bargain, the paladin sees themselves as doing good by helping people make the deals to get what they need.

A general question about the Dark Six: How do you present them as being worshipped as a pantheon? Usually things focus on cults dedicated to individual members of the Six. 

I lean towards the Nine and Six and One. Rather than say “There is a group that explicitly worships all six of the Dark Six and denies the Sovereigns,” I lean towards “There is a pantheon of fifteen deities, which ones appeal to the individual?” For example, a gnoll hunter in Droaam might respect the Keeper and the Shadow, but as a hunter they could also offer thanks to the Lord of Hunt and Horn—which is to say, Balinor. While Balinor is traditionally part of the Nine, if you’re a hunter, he’s your patron. The Devourer doesn’t guide the hunter; he resides in the storm and the wildfire. The gnoll might RESPECT the Devourer, but if he’s looking for guidance in the hunt, that’s not what the Devourer does.

Essentially, with any of the Sovereigns and Six, there will be members of the pantheon who are more relevant to your life than others. If you’re not a soldier you don’t have a lot of reasons to invoke the Three Faces of War. If you’re not an artisan you may never have a need to ask Onatar for guidance. The same holds true with the Six. The Keeper is relevant to everyone, because we all die. The Shadow is generally seen as the patron of monsters and thus is broadly relevant to all of the denizens of Droaam. But the Devourer and the Fury are more specialized and typically only invoked when needed.

With that said, there are certainly cults in the Five Nations who take it as a point of pride that they follow the Six instead of the Nine. Typically this is seen as a statement of freedom and independence. The Nine are tied to the typical rules of civilization; law, honor, duty, commerce. The Six embody the things we fear, the forces that defy civilization. Someone who embraces the Six is stating that they choose to stand with these forces… even if they may never actually invoke the Devourer directly.

How do followers of the Blood of Vol feel about the Keeper? 

This is a case where people say “They both use necromancy, so they must be allies, right?” WRONG. Many followers of the Blood of Vol maintains that mortality is a curse set on the world by cruel gods… and the Keeper is a cruel god who inflicts death and suffering. The Keeper grants power over the dead, but the Blood of Vol sees the entire idea of the Keeper and any who would revere him as abominations.

What makes The Keeper and Katashka: the Gatekeeper definitely different beings and sources of power to the dragons?

Katashka the Gatekeeper is one of the Overlords of the First Age, an archfiend embodying the fears of death and undeath. There’s certainly some overlap, and one of the common theories is that the inspiration for the Keeper was a draconic champion of the First Age who bargained with Katashka and became the first dracolich—and that this entity could be the inhabitant of the Lair of the Keeper in the Demon Wastes. But there are critical differences between the two. Again, Katashka is a fiend who embodies our fears of death and undeath. If freed from his bonds, Katashka would create a blighted realm in which undead prey upon the living. Katashka is in essence a predator who strikes indiscriminately, spreading the influence of the dead across his domain. He is a source of necromantic power, certainly, but he’s an immortal fiend—not something a dragon could aspire to become.

By contrast, the Keeper is the embodiment of greed… it just happens that one of the things he covets is souls, and he uses death and disease as a way to acquire them. The Thir archetype tied to the Keeper is the Master of the Hoard; dragons who emulate the Keeper “treat life and death as simple negotiations and collect actual souls.” As a general rule, Katashka isn’t interested in bargaining or acquiring PARTICULAR souls; he’s all-consuming. The Keeper is a connoisseur who relishes his hoard and who’s always interested in a bargain. And of course, dragons believe that it’s possible for an exceptional Master of the Hoard to BECOME the new Keeper.

My question would be what kind of monsters or monstrous humanoids would have an association with the Keeper? 

It’s not generally a strict racial connection. There are Keeper’s Hands in Droaam and Darguun, but they aren’t tied to a particular species. Medusas revere the Shadow, but in Graywall the primary priestess of the Keeper is a medusa. Essentially, it’s the same principle as anyone worshipping the Sovereign Host; offer devotion to the deities you feel govern your situation or whose guidance you seek. Culturally many of the inhabitants of Droaam are more comfortable with death and with open greed than people of the Five Nations. Humans usually embrace Kol Korran over the Keeper because they want to feel that they are the hero of the story—clever, certainly, but not rapacious or cruel. Following the Keeper acknowledges that you put your own desires ahead of all others. And again, while there are Keeper’s Hands in Droaam, there’s also Keeper’s Hands in Zilargo or Lhazaar.

With all that said, a monstrous race that lives on the edge of life and death or is closely aligned with negative energy could see themselves as children of the Keeper. I can’t think of one off the top of my head, but maybe I’m missing one.

Post your questions and comments about the Keeper below! And thanks as always to my Patreon supporters for making this possible!

Dragonmarks: Cyre

The Jewel in Galifar’s Crown. Wondrous Cyre. Cyre was the heart of the united kingdom of Galifar. But what was the nation actually like? Many sourcebooks have explored the cultures and cities of Thrane, Breland, Aundair, and Karrnath. Since Cyre has fallen, the focus is often on the current plight of the refugees and not on the nation they lost. But as a Cyran PC, what are the memories you treasure? What was your childhood like? If you hope to rebuild your nation, what is it that you aspire to recreate?

In this article I’ll explore some of the history and culture of Cyre before the Mourning. Bear in mind that this is not canon material, and may even contradict canon sources.

“WHAT OUR DREAMS IMAGINE, OUR HANDS CREATE”

Galifar Wynarn was a military genius, but it was his eldest daughter Cyre who imagined the warring nations working together as a single family: Karrnathi might, Daskari faith, and the wisdom of Thaliost working together for the greater good. In crafting the map of the united kingdom, Galifar declared that Cyre would be the heart of the realm. His daughter would govern the province, and have all that she needed to pursue her vision. The crest of the Cyre is a crown and bell on a green field, above a hammer and bellows. The seat of the crown, the bell that rings in change, and the tools to build the future; the motto of the nation is “What our dreams imagine, our hands create.”

The provinces of Galifar largely retained the cultures and traditions of the nations they had once been. In many ways, their differences were reinforced and celebrated. Each nation was given one of the pillars of the united kingdom: the Arcane Congress in Aundair, the King’s Citadel in Breland, Rekkenmark in Karrnath, the Grand Temple of Thrane. Cyre was the exception. Rather than building upon the existing culture of Metrol, Cyre drew experts and artisans from across Galifar. Cyre wasn’t the center of any one discipline. Rather, it was the nexus where all of these things came together: the best of what Galifar could be. When the Arcane Congress perfected the everbright lantern, Metrol was the first city whose streets were lit with them. Soldiers trained in Rekkenmark, but the finest warriors served in the Vermishard Guard. While Metrol was the showpiece—a city of wonders—this principle was applied across central Cyre. Education, art, even agriculture; Cyre displayed the best of what Galifar could accomplish. 

This continued and evolved over the course of centuries. Karrns are tough, Thranes wise, Aundairians clever. The people of Cyre can trace their roots to all of these nations and believe they share all of these strengths; but beyond that, Cyrans strive to be creative, innovative, and artistic.

Cyre’s artistic (and some might say whimsical) temperament was balanced and sustained by the presence of House Cannith, which was based in the great city of Making. Many of Cannith’s greatest forgeholds were spread across Cyre; this provided a practical, industrial foundation that supported the wonders of Cyre. And those wonders took many forms. Where the Arcane Congress of Aundair focused on the practical applications of magic, the Wynarn Institute of Cyre explored the artistic potential of the arcane. Metrol was a city of light and marvels. Visitors could speak to illusions of past heroes and kings, and watch re-enactments of historic moments. It’s said that no one ever went hungry in Metrol, and no one ever felt the bite of winter. Cyrans say that this reflects the generosity and selflessness of the Cyran spirit; critics point out that these social projects were only possible because of the taxes paid by the people of other provinces. Certainly, Cyre held the wealth of Galifar and had a standard of living higher than any other province. Was this decadent? Or was in a work in progress, a model that could have someday been applied to all nations? There’s no way to know. Cyrans mourn what was lost; the people of other nations criticize the Cyran lifestyle as parasitic and unsustainable. What our dreams imagine, our hands build; bitter outsiders point out that it may have been Cyran hands that built, but they used the resources gathered by the hard work of others. 

This bitterness was further fueled by the Galifar’s traditions of succession. Following the example of Galifar I, the monarch’s children served as the governors of the five provinces. The eldest governed Cyre, and upon the death of the monarch they would take up the crown and their children would take over the governing positions. The prior governors would serve as regents until children were of age and as advisors moving forward, and when a monarch lacked five children the previous governors would maintain the posts. But the principle was simple: Cyre was the heart of Galifar, and all else would shift around it. Over the history of Galifar, there were multiple rebellions and attempted secessions; the Last War was simply the largest and last of them.

OUTER CYRE

Galifar’s goal with Cyre was to create something new, a culture combining the best aspects of the other nations. In the newly forged Thrane, Aundair, and Breland, the people kept their old traditions and the ruling families were often incorporated into the new governing structure. But in the old kingdom of Metrol—which covered an area roughly the size and shape of the modern Mournland—the old systems and rulers were pushed aside to make room for Cyre’s dream. Some of the noble families of Metrol embraced this new path. Others were resettled by Galifar, granted authority over regions that had previously existed as independent frontiers.

Southern Cyre covered what is now Darguun. Largely unsettled when Galifar was founded, it persisted as a backwater in the shadow of the kingdom. Its people ultimately prospered and took pride in their identity as Cyrans, aping the customs of the central kingdom. However, they had little of the wealth invested in the north or the wonders that came with it. There were ongoing clashes with goblins, a few severe—but the Ghaal’dar largely remained in the mountains and dark places until the Last War.

By contrast, Eastern Cyre —what’s now Valenar—was effectively a separate nation with dramatically different culture and values… and it was arguably Galifar’s greatest failing. The region had first been settled by immigrants from the Khunan region of western Sarlona. Galifar I wanted the lands of old Metrol, so he gave the nobles of Metrol authority over this region, setting them as the feudal overlords of the Khunan settlers. The Blade Desert served as a physical and cultural divide, and having granted the nobles their lands, Galifar largely ignored them. The noble families thus held to the traditions of Metrol rather than embracing the new culture of Cyre. Many were dissatisfied with the arrangement, and took this out on their Khunan subjects. Overall, the nobles of Eastern Cyre were petty and proud, and all too often cruel to their tenants. Some wonder why it was so simple for the elves to seize control of Valenar; first and foremost it’s because the Khunan people had no love for their Cyran rulers (generally called “thrones”) and many feel they are actually better off under the new regime.

CYRE AND THE LAST WAR

Under the reign of King Jarot, Cyre continued to shine. Aspiring artists and young nobles made their way to the heart of the kingdom, while the most promising artificers settled in the city of Making. King Jarot lavished attention on Cyre: expanding the Vermishard Palace; working with House Orien to expand the scope of the lightning rail within Cyre; spending hundreds of thousands of galifars on the Wynarn Institute of Art and the Cathedral of the Sovereign Host.

Following the death of Jarot, Galifar spiraled towards war. Initially, Cyran morale was high. Queen Mishann had centuries of tradition behind her. And everyone knew that Cyre had the best of everything: the finest wizards, the best soldiers, the foremost artificers. And on one level, this was true. But a single unit of exceptional soldiers means little when set against the martial cultures of Karrnath or Thrane. Cyre’s finest wizards were artists and theoretical scholars; Aundair had long worked on magic as a tool of war. And the expert artificers were largely tied to House Cannith, which remained neutral in the war. If you consider the nations as characters, Thrane is a paladin; Karrnath is a fighter; Aundair is a wizard; and Breland is a rogue. In this party, Cyre is the bard: elegant, clever, and doing a little bit of everything… but best when working with others, not well prepared to go toe to toe alone against a powerful foe.

Cyre adapted; it had to. Initially it relied heavily on mercenaries; it was the seat of Galifar’s treasury, and had the gold to spare. But as time passed and the scope of the conflict became clear, Cyrans devoted themselves to war. Cyre lacked the martial spirit of Karrnath or Thrane, but its people were sustained by the absolute belief that they were in the right. Beyond that, in the eyes of the people, Cyre was Galifar. It embodied the ideals of the kingdom, the best of what it could be—and that was something worth fighting for. Nonetheless, the struggle was a tremendous blow to the Cyran psyche. For centuries Cyrans had seen themselves as the stars of the show, beloved by all; now all hands were raised against them, and some at least could see their former beliefs as arrogance and narcissism. Cyre had indeed had the best of everything, but that’s because it was freely given. Now the Arcane Congress devoted its knowledge purely on the good of Aundair, Rekkenmark trained only Karrns, and the King’s Citadel served Breland. Cyre had echoes of all these things. Its wizards were still a match for any nation other than Aundair; the Vermishard Guard formed the core of Cyre’s new military academy. But it was clear that the Cyran dream had been sustained by many hands, and now the nation had to learn to stand on its own. 

TRADITIONS AND CUSTOMS

Cyran culture blends the traditions of other nations. A Cyran can play Conqueror with a Karrn, sing an add-a-verse song with an Aundairian, and debate religion with a Thrane. This reflects the founding principles of Cyre—to gather the best aspects of Galifar and to build upon them. Some call this the Cyran appreciation, and considering it an admirable thing. Others call it appropriation, depicting the Cyrans as carrion crawlers who steal from others and have the arrogance to say they can do better. But the Cyran appreciation is rooted in love, not arrogance. It’s based in the idea that there is no single perfect path, and maintains both that diversity is a source of strength and that there’s always room for improvement. Cyran culture is thus a strange chimera—a blend of familiar elements from across Khorvaire, combined with a steady, ongoing evolution. A Cyran musician might play Karrnathi funeral dirges in the style of a Thrane devotional. It’s a puzzle where the pieces are known, but they’re constantly being arranged in new ways. 

The Last War built walls between Cyre and the other nations, and every nation evolved in this isolation. Cyrans know the old add-a-verse songs beloved by Aundairians, but few know the Epic of Valiant and Vigilant, a tale of martial bravery close to the heart of every modern Aundairian. They don’t know the maxims of Beggar Dane that now serve as a cornerstone of Breland. But Cyrans still see their culture as being founded on the best principles of Galifar, and can still find some common ground with people of any nation. In playing a Cyran, you can find familiar things anywhere you go. But what is it that you treasure in your memories of Cyre? Do you cling to the past, or do you embrace the Cyran principle of always striving to find a new and better way?

Fashion

Cyran fashion blends practicality with endless diversity. Cyran clothing begins with a simple foundation: this base layer may be colorful, but it is first and foremost practical and durable. Breeches and skirts, shirts or gowns; a Cyran starts with whatever the individual finds most comfortable. Again, this base level is well made, but it is more functional than decorative. It’s what comes next that adds flair. Cloaks and gloves are both integral parts of Cyran fashion. Gloves can be short and sturdy for work or war, or long and decorative for more formal occasions. Cloaks likewise vary between the practical and purely decorative: a heavy cloak for traveling, a short cloak for a casual social event, and a long, light cloak with a glamerweave lining for an evening at the Grand Stage. In addition to gloves, boots, and cloaks, jewelry is an important part of Cyran fashion. Cyran jewelry is often made from copper, leather, wood, or glass; it’s not a display of wealth, but rather a way to express individuality. Feathers and bells are also common accessories; there is a Cyran dance that involves belled bracelets and anklets. Finally, masks are often worn at formal or festive occasions. Cyran masks aren’t intended to conceal identity or intent; rather they are a way of enhancing identity and expressing a mood.

Traditionally, Cyran fashion is filled with color (often accentuated with glamerweave). In the wake of the Last War, many Cyrans have adopted Mourningwear—clothing cut in the Cyran style, but entirely in black. Others celebrate their nation by preserving its styles. Because of the emphasis on durability, a Cyran character may still have the clothes they were wearing on the Day of Mourning. What was that outfit, and do you still wear it? Do you favor a mask, and if so, what is its design?

Cuisine

Cyran cuisine reflects all the principles taken above: working with the best of all traditions and then continuing to explore. In many ways this is similar to the Sharn fusion found in the City of Towers, and a number of Cyran refugees are rising stars in Sharn’s culinary scene. Cyrans blend the thrakel spices of Thrane with traditional Karrn stews, and add the heat of southern Breland to the delicate pastries of Aundair. While many refugees cling to family recipes as a way to remember the fallen nation, others continue the tradition of Cyran appreciation—adopting new favorites from the place they’ve found shelter, and looking for ways to improve them.

Magic

Traditionally, Cyrans viewed arcane magic as a form of art as well as a practical tool. On the one hand this lent itself to a wider study of illusion and enchantment than found in other nations. But beyond this, it’s also about the presentation of magic. Magewright, bard or wizard, a Cyran often puts more show into the performance of magic than even an Aundairian. For a wizard who’s studied at the Wynarn Institute, somatic components are almost a dance, and verbal components have the cadence of song or poetry. This ties to the Cyran love of capes and flowing clothing. As a Cyran spellcaster, you are truly a student of arcane arts; consider how your casting reflects this.

Religion

While the Silver Flame had some devoted followers and temples in Cyre, the Sovereign Host was the dominant faith. At the same time, religion is driven by faith and tradition, and Cyrans have always been encouraged to question and search for new paths. The war drove some Cyrans to embrace their faith more tightly, but for others it was another source of doubt. Likewise, the Mourning threw many devout Cyrans into a crisis of faith. With that said, there are many devout Cyrans. Followers of the Silver Flame don’t question the cause of the Mourning: they simply seek to protect the innocent from harm. Vassals of the Sovereign Host trust that there is a purpose to their suffering. And in the wake of the Mourning, some Cyrans have turned to the Blood of Vol or Cults of the Dragon Below, cursing the gods they once worshipped or following a darker vision. There are also a number of new strains of the old faiths: Cyran twists on the Flame and the Host that seek to adapt traditions to make sense of the war and the world.

The preceding paragraph primarily applies to Central Cyre. The nobles of Eastern Cyre were devout vassals, convinced that their leadership was a divine right. The people of Southern Cyre are less arrogant, but still tend to have a quiet faith in the Sovereigns.

In playing a Cyran divine caster, consider the impact the Mourning had on your faith. Are you conflicted and struggling to hold to your beliefs? Or was the Mourning a source of inspiration—you know you have a divine purpose, that your people need you? If you’re tied to an existing faith, do you follow the standard traditions or have you found an unusual path?

THE THREE CYRES

When most people say “Cyre” they’re thinking of Central Cyre. When they speak of Cyran refugees, they are talking about the people who fled the Mourning. But there were Cyran refugees long before the end of the war. The Tairnadal elves established the kingdom of Valenar in 956 YK, while Lhesh Haruuc claimed southern Cyre as Darguun in 969 YK. While Valenar was an unpleasant surprise, it had relatively little impact on the nation. Eastern Cyre had always been isolated, and the Khunan majority embraced elf rule; the refugees were thus a handful of nobles who were painfully out of touch with the traditions of the central kingdom. The loss of Darguun was a more significant blow. Southern Cyre was a backwater, but this was still close to home—and it resulted in a flood of refugees that the wartorn nation was ill-prepared to handle. In creating a Cyran character, consider which Cyre you’re from. 

  • Central Cyre. Odds are good that you yourself think of your home as the “true” Cyre. Before the Mourning, did you give much thought to the refugees of Valenar and Darguun? Even now, do you think of them when you think of your homeland? Are you devoted to the idea of rebuilding your nation and clinging to your memories and traditions? Or following the Cyran appreciation, are you instead looking forward and trying to find a new and better path, even if that means abandoning the dreams of Cyre?
  • Eastern Cyre. You’re tied to a noble family that can trace its roots back to Old Metrol, before Galifar even existed. You don’t accept any of the nonsense about Cyre being “the best of Galifar” or challenging tradition; if people had stuck to the old ways, perhaps all of this could have been avoided. Your people were devoted to the Sovereign Host and truly believed that Aureon had chosen you to rule. At the same time, your lands have been lost for over forty years, and the people of Central Cyre have never avenged you or shown your family the respect you deserve. You’re not as affected by the Mourning as some, because it wasn’t YOUR Cyre that was destroyed; now the others just get to see how you feel. As an Eastern Cyran, you have noble ancestry but you’re unlikely to have the noble background, as nobody cares about your claims. Do you despise the Valenar and hope to reclaim your long-lost homeland? Or do you want to rally Cyran survivors around the TRUE royal bloodlines, challenging Oargev and re-establishing the long-forgotten kingdom of Metrol?
  • Southern Cyre. Your people have been struggling for decades, eking out a life in camps and shelters. You were encouraged to take up military service; it was easier to send you to the front than to find a new home for you. Many of your friends and family chose to idolize the Queen and central Cyre, believing that she had a vision, that she would rebuild Galifar and restore an age of wonders. Did you feel that way? Were you an idealist and an optimist? Or were you bitter and angry at the nation that failed to protect you? Are you loyal to Cyre, or are you solely concerned with Darguun and taking vengeance on the goblins?

THE WONDERS OF CYRE

Cyre is lost to the Mournland, and all people have are their memories. But what are those memories? Cyre was a land of wonders… what are some of those wonders? Here’s a few of them…

  • The Vermishards. Seven spires rise up from Metrol, a natural (or supernatural) wonder. These plateaus held the ancestral homes of the noble lines of Old Metrol, and the Royal Vermishard was the seat of the Cyran crown. However, over the course of centuries other powerful forces—such as House Cannith and House Phiarlan—made their way to the Vermishards. Cannith and Phiarlan worked together with Cyran magewrights to embed illusory lighting into the Vermishards, and these glittering spires were a remarkable part of the Metrol skyline.
  • The Wynarn Institute of Art. The Wynarn institute was both one of the foremost academies of magic in Khorvaire and one of its most amazing museums. In addition to purely artistic exhibits, the Hall of Kings allowed rulers to converse with illusory replicas of the past rulers of Galifar. Treasures of the pre-Galifar kingdoms were displayed here, along with modern works of art.
  • The Vault. The Royal Treasury of Galifar was commonly known as the Vault. While there were reserves hidden around the kingdom, the Vault included both the mint, the primary reserves of both currencies and precious metals, and cultural artifacts deemed too valuable to be displayed. Salvagers have dreamed of finding the “Golden Palace,” but there are stories saying that the Vault is actually missing. The Mourning had strange effects on Metrol, and the Vault may have simply been physically displaced, or it could have fallen into another plane.
  • The Cathedral of the Sovereign Host. Following the spread of the Church of the Silver Flame in Thrane, the Cathedral of the Sovereign Host became the primary seat of vassal devotion on Galifar. Many of the rulers of Galifar would make an addition to the Cathedral as a way of showing their piety. By the reign of King Jarot, it was a wonder. Nine colossal statues encircle the temple. Illusory displays within depicted scenes from the faith, and there was a vast collection of relics and artifacts. The fate of the cathedral and its treasures remains unknown.

All of these are within Metrol itself, and they just scratch the surface of what was possible. Aundair has floating towers; Cyre expanded on this with floating gardens, flower petals falling on the wind to the cities below. Even small towns had crystal theaters when people could scry on the great performances in the Demesne of Shape. There was always music in the air and lights in the sky. With this in mind, feel free to create wonders. Cyre was the seat of House Cannith and House Phiarlan, and second only to Aundair in arcane sophistication. What your dreams imagine, their hands could create. And even if they DIDN’T create the things you dream of, people might believe that they did; the legends of Cyre only continue to grow now that the kingdom is lost.

FINAL THOUGHTS

As a Cyran, you come from a culture that strove to find the best in all things, a tradition that encouraged creativity and innovation. But your people have also lived through a century of betrayal and war, fighting enemies on all sides. How has this affected you? Are you an idealist who still believes in the promise of Galifar—someone who believes that the Five Nations can and should unite, someone who tries to bring people together? Or do you curse the traitors who betrayed Mishann and doomed Galifar? Are you scarred by the memory of the Mournign and determined to reclaim your homeland or rebuild it somewhere else, or are you always looking forward to what happens next? Do you have any living relatives, and if so where are they now and what is their condition? Will you send money to your family in High Walls or New Cyre, or are you alone in the world? Beyond that, where was your home and what did you leave behind? Is there anything you wish you could recover from the Mournland, whether it’s something with practical value or simply sentimental? What do you still have to remind you of Cyre? 

GENERAL Q&A

Do Cyran nobles still have authority even though their lands have been lost?

This depends on the family and on the people you’re dealing with. The nobility of Cyre was originally drawn from across the Five Nations, and many Cyran noble families still have strong ties to other nations. Some families had significant holdings in other nations and still have wealth and influence, even if it’s limited. On the other hand, many Cyran nobles have lost everything but their titles. Some Thronehold nobles treat these displaced aristocrats with courtesy, but many dismiss them: at the Treaty of Thronehold, Queen Aurala famously said “Cyre no longer exists, and refugees have no place at these proceedings.”

In regard to YOUR character, there’s a simple way to determine the standing of your family: Your choice of background. If you take the noble background, your Position of Privilege means that you are treated with the respect of any noble; this implies that your family still has holdings or at least the respect of other aristocrats. But you could also be a fallen noble forced down a dark path (criminal background), a dandy who uses charm to find your way into courts even though you no longer have influence (charlatan), or a hero who still fights to protect the common people of Cyre even though you have no rank (folk hero). You could also take the noble background with the variant Retainers feature, reflecting that while you no longer have a position of privilege, you still have a few loyal followers who have been with your family for as long as you can remember.

The Forge of War says that Thrane turned away or even attacked Cyran refugees fleeing from the Mourning. You’ve said that this is inaccurate and possibly Karrnathi propaganda. Would this be a pervasive rumor? Would Cyrans think of Thranes as butchers who turned their backs? Is Karrnath exempted from this? What about Breland and Aundair?  

The faith of the Silver Flame is founded on the basic principle of defending the innocent from supernatural evil. I’ve already called out that if followers of the Flame were serving on opposite sides in a battle and a group of demons suddenly appeared, I’d expect the templars to set aside their political differences until the supernatural threat was dealt with. The same principle applies here. I could easily imagine an initial violent response if the surge of refugees was perceived as an attack. However, once it became clear that thi sis literally innocents fleeing a supernatural threat, I would expect Thrane to be the MOST active nation in providing support and shelter.

So my initial reaction is that Forge of War is simply WRONG. The situation as described makes no sense and I don’t see it as a rumor that would stick, because anyone familiar with the church should know it makes no sense. Why would they do something like that?

WITH THAT SAID: Maybe you WANT it to be true. If this is the case, the question is what could MAKE it happen as described. The simplest answer is that the facts aren’t straight. The Mourning transforms things caught within it. So perhaps Thrane templars DID “slaughter a host of Cyrans fleeing from the Mourning”—because those Cyrans had been caught in the Mourning and transformed into a ravening pack of bloodthirsty killers. They weren’t FLEEING the mists, they were charging out of them to kill anything they could get their hands on, and the templars had no choice but to put them down. So it is an absolute fact that Thrane forces killed a host of Cyran refugees, and Karrnath or other nations have publicized the story. But the truth isn’t as they present it—and beyond that, I’d still expect people who hear the story to say “But that doesn’t make any sense!”

So as a quick overview of how nations have responded to Cyrans, here’s MY personal opinion.

  • Breland has been presented as the most willing to shelter Cyrans without strings, as shown by the establishment of New Cyre. There are certainly tensions between the common people of Breland and the refugees, and life in camps like High Walls is hardly ideal, but it’s better than anything offered by Aundair or Karrnath.
  • I think Thrane would have responded with compassion and provided significant support. However, I can imagine Thrane focusing on integrating refugees into Thrane society as opposed to trying to preserve Cyran culture or supporting Cyran nobles; consider that they already set aside the Wynarn monarchy in favor of the Church. So they’d provide support and opportunities—for a new life as Thranes.
  • Aundair has been presented as unsympathetic (see that quote from Queen Aurala at the Treaty of Thronehold), and that makes sense. Aundair is the smallest of the Five Nations and has its own problems with the Eldeen Reaches, and Aurala still believes she would be the best ruler for a restored Galifar; none of this suggests sympathy for Cyre.
  • Likewise, I think Karrnath would be VERY unsympathetic. Cyre and Karrns were bitter rivals; per Forge of War, the Mourning followed directly on the heels of a Cyran sneak attack on the city of Atur. Karrnath had long struggled with famines and thus lacks the ability to suddenly support an influx of outsiders, and Karrns are known for being ruthless and pragmatic. Beyond this, as I called out in my last article, the Karrnathi undead are perfectly willing to slaughter civilians. If anyone slaughtered masses of Cyran refugees on the border, I’d expect it to be Karrnath.

Several maps show parts of the Talenta plains (or the borderlands) as part of Cyre during the Last War. Were these wartime holdings? Provinces of Cyre? How was Cyre’s relationship with the Halflings?

This is covered on page 202 of the 3.5 ECS:

Karrnath and Cyre both claimed parts of the Talenta Plains during the Last War. Prior to the fall of the kingdom of Galifar, the halfling tribes were permitted to wander their ancestral lands as long as they paid tribute to the Galifar king. With the coming of war, the halfling tribes began to cooperate in unprecedented ways to protect the Plains that all the tribes revered. Warriors of different tribes banded together, repelling invaders from Karrnath and Cyre by using their knowledge of the ways of the Plains to confuse and confound the invaders. Later, when the Plains became the place for various combatant nations to clash, the halfling tribes tried to stay out of the way.

Cannith had a lot of holdings in Cyre, and almost invariably there would have been mingling with the locals. Do you see the Houses as having a mostly distinct culture or also being something like citizens of the nation they grew up in? Cannith worked a lot with Cyre during the war, was that more an accident of proximity and money or did a lot of the leadership sympathize with the Cyrans? For example, is there a Cannith style or are there Cyran Cannith, Brelish Cannith, etc. styles of architecture/production?

The houses definitely hold themselves as extranational entities. They take their neutrality very seriously, and the only house we’ve suggested as having a national bias is Medani: so Cyre’s heavy association with Cannith was certainly based on gold. Cannith heirs consider themselves to be Cannith first, nation second. However, there’s certainly a national component to the personality of a dragonmarked heir. Beyond interaction with the locals, you’ve got the fact that houses are comprised of different families and these families are based in different nations—so the Vown are Brelish Cannith, while Juran are (or were) Cyran Cannith. It’s also the case that different enclaves have different focuses, which also affects corporate culture. Cannith South is focused on general industry, while Cannith East is more driven by weapons research and recently, experimenting with necromancy.

With that said, the HOUSES hold themselves as neutral; the members of the houses often had their own sympathies. In The Dreaming Dark novels, Daine is a Deneith heir who cut ties with the Blademark in order to fight for Cyre. Dragonmarked discusses such characters, who are generally referred to as “orphans.”

Could you elaborate a bit on what would happen to the royals and their families of the other nations once they were done reigning/advising. Would they be demoted to “regular” noble status? Would they hold land, and how would they inherit?

The position of governor came with land, but those holdings were tied to the position and would be passed to the new governor. The tradition was for a governor to marry into one of the noble families of the nation they governed, which served both to strengthen their connection to the land and to give them estates after their tenure passed. So the warlord families of Karrnath include many former governors. But this does mean that when the nations rallied behind their “kings” and “queens” to start the Last War, it was a substantial change. Frankly, this reflects how easy it was for Thrane to shift to a theocracy; they weren’t deeply attached to Wrogar’s line. Likewise, we’ve said that Kaius III is still in a delicate position with the Warlords of Karrnath; they trace their lineage back to the founders of the nation, while Kaius I was a son of Jarot. But the short answer to the question is that the governors would marry into the local nobility, which helped both to keep bloodlines fresh and to strengthen ties between Galifar and the local nobility.

What would YOU like to know about Cyre? Post your questions below. And thanks as always to my Patreon supporters for requesting the topic and making it possible!

Dragonmarks: Karrnathi Undead

The nation of Karrnath became infamous for its use of undead during the Last War. Initially, the bulk of the undead forces were common, mindless skeletons and zombies. But as the war progressed, the science of necromancy continued to evolve. The greatest breakthrough came when the high priest Malevenor and master necromancer Gyrnar Shult developed the Odakyr Rites: Techniques that could imbue the skeleton or corpse of an elite Karrnathi warrior with malign intelligence and increased resilience. The Karrnathi undead possess deadly skill and considerable cunning; once given direction, a unit of Karrnathi undead can operate autonomously, adapting to deal with unexpected threats or strategic setbacks.

Most of the Karrnathi undead were retired after the Treaty of Thronehold, sealed away in vast vaults beneath Atur or stationed at Fort Bones and Fort Zombie. But a few remain in service. Recently people have reached out to me with a number of questions related to Karrnathi undead. What is the intelligence level of Karrnathi Undead? Do they have any memories of their past lives? Do they have thoughts and opinions? Would a Karrnathi Undead be a viable player character? Do the families of Karrnathi Undead get visiting hours to pay their respects to their dead relatives?

As always, the real answer here is what’s going to make the best story? But let’s start with the canon presentation and move on from there.

The Canon

To begin with, consider the following facts about Karrnathi undead from the 3.5 Eberron Campaign Guide. 

  • Karrnathi undead are described as being “imbued with malign intelligence.” They possess 11 Intelligence, 10 Wisdom, and can speak Common.
  • Karrnathi undead have an alignment of Always lawful evil. Sentient creatures rarely have an always alignment; certainly, the elite soldiers of Karrnath aren’t always lawful evil. So already this tells us that the consciousness isn’t the consciousness of the deceased donor of the corpse. A dictated alignment is typically tied to a creature that embodies an idea, such as a celestial or fiend; or a creature whose behavior is dictated by a supernatural force, like a lycanthrope. This ties to the fact that the undead is imbued with “malign” intelligence.
  • Karrnathi undead possess remarkable skills. But in the ECS listing, they have no advancement. One of the defining features of the warforged is that they can learn new things: a warforged built to be a fighter can become a wizard. Karrnathi undead have tactical intelligence, but they can’t evolve.

With these things in mind, consider this description of Karrnathi undead from the article on Fort Bones in Dungeon 195.

The Karrnathi undead are tremendously efficient solders. A normal zombie requires some sort of necromancer to sustain and command it, but the sentient Karrnathi undead can integrate with any unit. Fear, hunger, and exhaustion are alien to them. They can see in perfect darkness—an advantage over the warforged, and one that Karrnath often exploited in conflicts with Cyre. One of the few limitations of the undead derives from their utter lack of mercy or compassion. Left on its own, a Karrnathi skeleton will slaughter all opposing forces—soldiers, civilians, even children. A commander must exercise close control if he wants his undead to leave anyone alive.

The Odakyr Rites—the ritual used to create the Karrnathi undead—isn’t a cheap form of Raise Dead. The original victim is gone. A Karrnathi skeleton doesn’t have the specific memories of the warrior who donated his bones. The military specialty of the undead reflects that of the fallen soldier, so only the bones of a bowman can produce a skeletal archer. However, the precise techniques of the skeleton aren’t those of the living soldiers. Rekkenmark doesn’t teach the bone dance or the twin scimitar style common to the skeletal swordsmen. So where, then, do these styles come from?

Gyrnar Shult believed that the Karrnathi undead were animated by the martial spirit of Karrnath itself. This is why they can be produced only from the corpses of elite Karrnathi soldiers: an enemy corpse lacks the connection to Karrnath, while a fallen farmer has no bond to war. However, the current commander of the Corpse Collectors fears that the undead aren’t animated by the soul of Karrnath, but rather by an aspect of Mabar itself—that the combat styles of the undead might be those of the dark angels of Mabar. Over the years, he has felt a certain malevolence in his skeletal creations that he can’t explain, not to mention their love of slaughter. He has also considered the possibility that they are touched by the spirits of the Qabalrin ancestors of Erandis Vol. The Kind hasn’t found any proof for these theories, but they haunt his dreams.

Karrnathi undead never show emotion and never speak without cause. A Karrnathi skeleton is content to stand motionless and silent for days if there is no reason to move. A soldier’s name is typically a combination of name and number and the records of the original identity of the body are hidden in the tomes of the Corpse Collectors. The distinctive armor of the Karrnathi skeletons is forged for them and fitted to their fleshless bones. Fort Bones operates a small forge for this purpose, though most of this armor is created at the Night Forge of Atur.

So with all this in mind, let’s look back at those questions. A Karrnathi skeleton is as intelligent as a typical human, but it doesn’t have a human personality or think like a human does.

Do Karrnathi undead have thoughts and opinions? Well, how would you know? A Karrnathi skeleton obeys the orders of its commander without question. It fights without fear and will hold a position even at the cost of its own existence. The Karrnathi undead never speak unless spoken to, or unless necessary in pursuit of their duties; if they have thoughts, they don’t share them. If questions, their opinions appear to be an absolute commitment to the Karrnathi cause, and the opinions of one are shared by all of them; so they do have opinions, but they all have the SAME opinions. A warforged might compose a poem. A Karrnathi skeleton might know a poem, but if it does, then all Karrnathi skeletons know that poem, even though no one ever taught it to them. And what about that underlying cruelty, that always lawful evil? In my opinion, even a Karrnathi commander has to worry that maybe the dead are just going along with them… that maybe there’s a darker force behind those eyeless sockets, waiting for the right moment to turn its blades on you.

Regarding memories of past lives: by canon, no, Karrnathi undead have no memories of their past lives. While they can only be created from the corpses of elite Karrnathi soldiers, theit skills and techniques don’t match those of the donor. They are always lawful evil, regardless of the alignment of the donor. In my opinion, the Karrnathi undead don’t even know the names of the people who donated their bones. BUT… with that said, see the next section for other ideas.

With all this in mind: Would a Karrnathi Undead be a viable player character? By canon, definitely not. They can’t learn new skills or advance. Their true opinions and thoughts are intentionally mysterious. With that said, see “Other Options” below.

Ultimately, there’s a critical point here: The Karrnathi undead are supposed to creep you out. They aren’t just warforged who happen to be made out of bone. There is a sense of a malign intelligence in them… a touch of Pet Semetery, with that lingering fear that you should have let them stay dead.

Other Options

So, that’s the canon approach. But there’s two things to consider. First, the science of necromancy has continued to evolve. As a DM, you can introduce sentient skeletons or zombies that AREN’T produced using the Odakyr Rites. Such skeletons could possess more distinct personalities, could be capable of learning new skills, and could possess memories of their former lives. You could play around with a form of undeath that can preserve mortal soul and memory in a rotting shell. And this could work for a player character.

But with that said, personally I believe the Karrnathi undead should feel creepy… and I like to play up the idea that even the Seekers don’t know exactly what they are dealing with. Mabar is the plane of entropy and loss, the darkness that eventually consumes all light. THIS is the force that’s animating the Karrnathi undead. You can TELL yourself that it’s animated by a pure spirit of Karrnathi patriotism. You can say that there’s nothing of your wife left in those bones… but then one night you might hear her voice singing a song only the two of knew as the skeleton patrols the line. You might wonder if you would find her again, if you also died on the battlefield. Or you might wonder if some piece of her is trapped in those bones, held captive by the cruel spirit and never truly able to rest.

So as with anything in Eberron, do what feels right for the story. But for me, I’m always looking for a way to make the undead disturbing. Even if there’s a zombie with the perfect memories and personality of your friend, I’m going to point out that there’s maggots in their flesh and occasionally a tooth will fall out… and again, are you SURE it’s the soul of your friend in there?

Q&A

Does this mean that undead aren’t used for menial labor in Karrnath?

There’s two issues here. The followers of the Blood of Vol—who prefer the term Seekers—are the ones who practice necromancy and embrace the undead. The Blood of Vol has had a presence in Karrnath for over a thousand years, but it has never been the faith of the majority. During the Last War, Kaius I embraced the Blood of Vol and it gained greater influence, and it was in this time that the undead were incorporated into the Karrnathi army. In more recent years, Kaius III and the Regent Moranna turned against the Blood of Vol. The chivalric orders of the Seekers were disbanded, and Kaius has used the Seekers as a scapegoat—blaming the famines and plagues that crippled Karrnath on the Seekers. The faith still has a significant presence in Karrnath, but it is neither the majority faith nor in a position of power. Karrnathi traditionalists despise the use of undead, which they see as a stain on Karrnath’s proud martial tradition; this is another reason Kaius sealed the bone legions in the vaults below Atur. He doesn’t want to throw this weapon away, but he gained political points among the established Karrnathi warlords by reducing the role of undead. More on this—including the history of the Bone Knight—can be found in this article.

Now: the Seekers have always used undead for menial tasks. They have no emotional attachment to corpses; a Seeker wants their body to be put to good use after they are gone. So within a Seeker community, you could definitely find zombies working the fields. The main point is that these are traditional mindless zombies, who have to be provided with clear direction. The sentient Karrnathi zombies are a different thing—a more recent development, and ill-suited to noncombat tasks. The Odakyr undead are weapons: sentient, yes, but imbued with malign purpose.

Do the families of Karrnathi Undead get visiting hours to pay their respects to their dead relatives?

By canon presentation, no. First of all, Seekers aren’t sentimental about corpses. The bones of a dead relative are no different than a set of clothes or piece of jewelry the deceased wore in life. The basic principle of the Blood of Vol is that what matters is the divine spark (what others might call the soul) and that this is obliterated in Dolurrh. A Seeker pays respects to the dead by recalling their deeds and following their example. The bones the deceased leave behind are a resource to be used, not a thing to be treasured. In addition, while the identity of the donor is noted when the Odakyr Rites are performed, this information isn’t publicly available and the undead warrior doesn’t know the name of the donor.

Were the Odakyr Rites created, found, or both? What was the malign spark that granted them the sudden necromantic advance?

This is covered in Dungeon 195. The Blood of Vol has always had a strong presence in the agricultural region of Odakyr, which also contains a powerful manifest zone tied to Mabar. When Kaius I embraced the Last War, Fort Bones was established in Odakyr as a center for necromantic research. Gyrnar Shult and Malevenor (then living) developed the Odakyr Rites after years of research and work. It’s noteworthy that they can only be performed in a place with a strong manifest zone to Mabar; in Karrnath, this means Fort Bones or Atur. As for exactly how the breakthrough was made, it’s not defined in canon, and for me the answer would depend on how I planned to use the Karrnathi undead in the story. Did Shult and Malevenor discover some sort of artifact tied to Mabar at the heart of the manifest zone? Did they tap into the power of Katashka the Gatekeeper, or acquire some sort of ancient Qabalrin tome from Erandis Vol? Or did they just legitimately develop a new necromantic technique that no one had mastered before, which is entirely possible? Despite their cruelty, are the Karrnathi undead truly what Shult believed—empowered by the patriotic spirits of the fallen—or is there a darker secret?

Were Karrnathi undead created for any other branches of the Karrnathi military? Presumably, if they are canonically inclined to slaughter, undead sailors wouldn’t be of much use, but were there undead Marines aboard Karrnathi ships in the Last War? Did Karrnath have any airships in its service with undead parachute troopers? 

There’s a lot to unpack here.

First of all, even more so than warforged, Karrnathi undead aren’t robots. They aren’t precisely programmed; the Dungeon article notes that you can’t use the Odakyr Rites to create an undead farmer. The basic principle of the Odakyr Rites is one of sympathy: if you perform the Rites on the corpse of an expert archer you’ll be an archer, if you perform them on an elite melee fighter you’ll get a melee fighter. But even there, it’s not as if it’s a perfect proficiency match: the Karrnathi skeletons favor a two-weapon style that isn’t a standard technique for Karrnathi infantry. And again, they’re incapable of learning entirely new skills. So you could certainly have a Karrnathi galleon that has a skeleton crew manning the oars, but a) they wouldn’t be skilled sailors and given that, b) they’d likely be mundane skeletons, not sentient Karrnathi undead. However, that same galleon could certainly have a squad of undead Marines (who also have the advantage of not needing to breathe).

Looking to airship paratroopers, remember that airships are a recent development—they’re only been in active use for eight yearsand require Lyrandar pilots. Most air battles mentioned in canon involve aerial cavalry: Thrane wyverns, Aundairian dragonhawks. With that said, you could certainly equip undead troops with feather tokens and drop them into enemy territory; as they don’t need food or sleep, can operate tirelessly, have darkvision, and are happy to engage in suicide missions, I’m sure this was done.

It seems unlikely to me, even if a GM broadens the possibilities of Karrnathi undead, that they would be created for anything other than warriors. Spellcasters would require higher INT, WIS or CHA, and more independence of thought. 

I’m fine with the idea that there are additional forms of Karrnathi undead we haven’t seen in canon—even just skeletons and zombies with different skill sets. It could even be that a spellcaster produced using the Odakyr Rites is a more wraithlike entity. But remember that the core principle of the Odakyr Rites is sympathy: to raise a spellcaster, you’d need the corpse of a dedicated Karrnathi spellcaster. Assuming this is possible, every spellcaster raised by the Rites would have the same spell set, which wouldn’t have anything to do with the spells possessed by the donor corpse, and they couldn’t learn new ones. Given the tie to Mabar, I’d expect their spell selection to mainly be necromantic attack spells.

With that said, the undead champions of the Blood of Vol have long included both mummies and vampires—so there are other options for elite undead spellcasters.

Do we, or even their commanders, know how spoofable the officer recognition is on Odakyr undead is? If a Brelander wearing a Karrnathi uniform speaking with a Karrnathi accent showed at Fort Bones would the undead obey them? 

I see two possible approaches here. The first is to follow the point that they are sentient. Could this ruse fool a normal human soldier? If so, maybe it could fool the undead; handle it the same way, with a Deception/Insight check if you think one is called for.

The second approach is to emphasize that they’re supernatural… that we don’t entirely KNOW why they follow orders. The THEORY is that they are animated by the martial spirit of Karrnath. Do you think you can fool that spirit with your crappy accent? Do you really want to take that chance?

How would they react if there was a civil war and they were being used on each other?

Excellent question. I think the answer is that NO ONE KNOWS. This is one reason the traditionalist warlords hate the use of undead; because they don’t know where their loyalty truly lies. They never betrayed Karrnath during the war; but what would happy if Karrns fought Karrns? Would they follow their local commanders? Would they be loyal to the crown? Would they be loyal to who THEY believe deserves the crown, and if so, does that prove the legitimacy of the candidate they support? Or could it be that once you tell them to spill Karrnathi blood… that they would turn on ALL Karrns?

If the Karrnathi undead are just going along with the commands of whatever Karrnathi Commander is leading them….is it a possibility that their true loyalty is to Vol?

It’s certainly a possibility. With that said, if that’s the case the question would be why she hasn’t already exercised that power—what is she waiting for?

Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters for making this possible. My next article will delve into Cyre!