When is a Crossbow not a Crossbow?

Given the overall sophistication of Eberron, it can seem strange that people use medieval weapons. In a world of airships and warforged, why haven’t people created more effective personal weapons? Rising From The Last War highlights the spread of wandslingers, soldiers who fight using damage-dealing cantrips. But becoming a wandslinger requires specialized training; you can’t just hand a peasant a wand. So the question remains: in a world that’s this sophisticated and has an industrial base, wouldn’t people develop effective weapons that anyone can use?

Gunpowder is one possible answer. The Dungeon Master’s Guide includes rules for firearms, and I present my thoughts on this in this article. But it’s not my preferred answer. One of the basic ideas of Eberron is that it’s not a setting that mixes magic and technology, but rather a world in which magic is used instead of technology. So rather than having the people of the Five Nations use gunpowder, I’d rather find an alternative that fills the same niche but is unique to Eberron. So: we’re looking for an affordable weapon that anyone can use without training. This weapon should be better than a medieval crossbow, but it doesn’t need to match a modern firearm; in general, Eberron’s advances are closer to the late 19th century than to what we had in the 20th. This ties to the simple point that this weapon shouldn’t break the balance of the game. If you introduce a cheap weapon anyone can use that does twice the damage of an offensive cantrip, you’ve just broken the balance of the magic system. Beyond that, weapons don’t NEED to do more damage. Hit points are an abstract system. Per the PHB, “Hit points represent a combination of physical and mental durability, the will to live, and luck.” If a character has 30 hit points, that’s not supposed to mean that you could stab them in the heart four times with a dagger and they’d laugh it off; it reflects the idea that you can’t land a killing blow until they run out of hit points. If they’ve got hit points, they’re able to parry an otherwise lethal blow, or a potentially deadly arrow only grazes them. 1d8 is all the damage it takes to kill a goblin or a commoner; the fact that you can’t kill a more powerful creature with a single shot isn’t necessarily the fault of the weapon, it’s the cinematic idea that you can’t land the lethal blow.

So with all that in mind, what are we actually looking for with a superior weapon? The weapons we have will already drop a commoner with one shot, so we don’t need better damage. Two obvious factors are range and rate of fire. We want our weapons to be faster and more effective than medieval weapons. But here’s the fun fact: they already are. The crossbow defined in the Player’s Handbook IS better than a medieval crossbow. The crank method for reloading a medieval crossbow limited an archer to about two shots per minute; using a light crossbow, you can fire ten bolts per minute. A modern crossbow in the hands of a skilled shooter has a range of about 240 feet; a light crossbow has a potential range of 320 feet, provided you’re skilled enough to hit at long range. The 1861 Springfield rifle—a common weapon in the American Civil War—could fire 2-4 shots per minute. Again, the crossbow isn’t a match for modern automatic weapons… but at ten shots per minute, it’s not a medieval weapon.

You can dismiss these statistics as unrealistic, designed for ease of play; after all, who would ever USE a crossbow if it took five rounds to reload it? But the alternative is to embrace it, to say that it’s not that these statistics are inaccurate: it’s that the weapons aren’t medieval. Perhaps the soldiers of Galifar I used medieval-style crossbows, with more limited range and a slow crank to reload; the crossbows used today are the result of centuries of Cannith engineering. So if we accept the idea that the statistics of the crossbow are sufficiently effective as a common weapon—the next question is how it delivers those things. How is it that you can fire and reload a crossbow in six seconds while also moving 30 feet in that time?

One thing I’d immediately throw out is the idea that Caniith crossbows use an integrated quiver… or clip, if you will. When you are loading a crossbow, you are performing an action that resets the bow and sets the next bolt in place. This is slow enough that you can’t fire two bolts in that six-second frame. But you don’t actually have to go through a process of drawing a bolt from a quiver and setting it into place by hand in addition to resetting the bow. I’m not suggesting that this eliminates the Loading trait (though see Accessories, below); I’m fine with the idea that the process of resetting the bow and advancing the clip is slow enough that you can only loose one bolt per round. But it’s still far more effective than a medieval crossbow and helps to justify that six-second move-fire-reload cycle. A quiver can hold up to 20 arrows; I’m just suggesting that the quiver is part of the weapon. With this in mind, crossbow bolts in Eberron could be smaller than we usually think of them—aerodynamic densewood quarrels—making the idea of an integrated quiver a little more manageable.

The next question is how the Cannith crossbow delivers that increased range—meaning the bolt has greater force—while simultaneously allowing you to load the bow more swiftly than a medieval weapon. I can see two ways to explain this, though there’s certainly more!

Mundane Weapon, Supernatural Methods. The Cannith crossbow isn’t a magic weapon… but it’s made using magical techniques. It may be made of wood, but Eberron has woods we don’t have access to—bronzewood, darkwood, densewood. The cord may be alchemically treated, stronger and more flexible than any mundane material. The reloading system is a clever and efficient design; there’s no strength requirement on a crossbow. This takes the idea that the crossbow looks like a traditional crossbow (aside from the possibility of an integrated clip); it’s just better than any crossbow we have.

Arcane Science. The crossbow isn’t a magical weapon… but it can still operate using magical principles. The concept of Eberron is that magic is a science. The spells of the wizard are one manifestation of that science… but that doesn’t mean they’re the only way magic can manifest. Magic can generate kinetic force, as shown by a number of spells. So, what if those principles were used to to add force to a physical bolt, as opposed to generating a bolt of pure force?

So imagine the interior of the barrel of a crossbow engraved with arcane sigils. A quarrel is likewise engraved with symbols. When the quarrel moves against the barrel, the symbols create an arcane interaction—a formula that adds kinetic energy to the bolt. With this in mind, the only force the bow has to provide is the initial push of the bolt down the barrel; it’s a spark that triggers the arcane interaction. Which means that the reason it’s so much easier to reload a Cannith crossbow—why you can thumb-load a hand crossbow—is because the bow itself is actually WEAKER than a medieval crossbow, because the true power of the weapon doesn’t depend on the tension of the bow. This also means that the crossbow doesn’t have to LOOK like a crossbow as we’re used to it. It could be closer to a rifle—the longer the barrel, the longer the arcane interaction, thus the short range of the hand crossbow, and the heavy crossbow as the largest and longest weapon. The “bow” could be a relatively small component of the weapon. Essentially, it could resemble a firearm; the point is that the force of the weapon isn’t coming from a chemical reaction, but rather an arcane one. This wouldn’t make the standard crossbow a “magic weapon” for purposes of damage resistance. There’s nothing magical about the bolt itself; It’s simply the case of an arcane reaction generating force. The game mechanics are unchanged, it’s just a different way of presenting the weapon, reflecting the fact that it is superior to a medieval crossbow.

Now, if you DO follow this idea, one could ask why this arcane reaction isn’t being used in other ways. Well, who’s to say it isn’t? It could well be that the lightning rail operates on a similar principle—that the bound elemental provides initial motive force and enhances speed, but that the arcane interaction between coach and conductor stones is the same principle that provides the kinetic force of a Cannith crossbow. Beyond this, the central concept here is that magic is a science, and science evolves. The Five Nations DID use medieval crossbows, and they’ve discovered a technique that has allowed the creation of a more efficient weapon; they could be actively exploring other applications of this kinetic formula. Arcane magic can generate heat, force, and light. It can transmute objects or teleport them. Spells are examples of what can be done with arcane science, not its absolute expression.

All of which is to say that the wandslinger represents one application of magic in war—the idea that knowledge of combat cantrips is becoming more common, and that there are people who fight their battles with fire and lightning. But there can also be a path of arcane science that focuses on enhancing physical tools… building a more efficient versions of weapons people already use, creating tools that can be used even by people with no training or magical talent. Rather than feeling like the crossbow doesn’t fit your vision of the world, consider what could make the crossbow fit.

Accessories

Once we embrace the idea that the crossbow isn’t a medieval legacy, but rather a modern weapon that’s actively being improved, there’s lots of ways one could improve upon it. Consider a few ideas…

Bayonet. The light crossbow is a simple weapon that can be used without any training and that has an impressive range. Whatever form the weapon takes—whether you embrace the idea of arcane science or just keep it as a traditional crossbow built with superior techniques and materials—it makes sense that the light crossbow is the equivalent of the infantry rifle. With that in mind, it makes sense to have a form of bayonet—a fixed blade allowing a soldier to use the crossbow in close quarters even if they run out of ammunition. It wouldn’t have the reach of a long rifle, but it would still provide the archer with a melee option that doesn’t require them to drop their crossbow. Personally, I’d see this as a simple, two-handed weapon that inflicts 1d6 piercing damage—less effective than a spear (which can be thrown and inflicts 1d8 piercing when used two-handed), but still an effective weapon.

Spellbolt. Following the principle of an arcane reaction triggered as the bolt moves across the barrel, I could imagine a bolt that is designed with a specific arcane payload that’s triggered when the bolt is fired… effectively taking the place of a grenade launcher. The advantage of this would be the ability to project a spell effect farther than normally possible. A fireball normally has a range of of 150 feet; if you could attach a fireball to a heavy crossbow bolt and fire it 400 feet, it’s a dramatic improvement. The catch, of course, is that scrolls and wands require the user to be able to cast the spell (or at least require attunement by a spellcaster). That limitation could be preserved here; perhaps a spellbolt can only be used by a spellcaster, who takes a bonus action to prime the bolt before firing it. Or perhaps this is a new development, and the bolt can be used by anyone as long as it’s fired from a specially designed crossbow. If this is the case, I’d emphasize that this is a recent development; such spellbolts could be rare, and potentially volatile! Note that this is a different approach from the siege staff, which is essentially a long wand; a siege staff can only be used by a spellcaster or someone with specialized training, and projects a purely magical effect.

Silencer. Illusion can be used to create or dampen sound. It’s easy to imagine a magical device that could be attached to a crossbow to eliminate the sound produced by firing or loading the weapon. It would be up to the DM to decide how effective this would be—whether it could allow a well-hidden creature to remain hidden when firing, or whether it would simply prevent the shot from alerting anyone outside of line of sight.

Reload. While I’ve suggested an integrated quiver as part of the Cannith crossbow, my thought is that this justifies the rate of fire allowed by the Loading trait, not that it negates it. However, especially if you follow the idea of the crossbow empowered by arcane science, you could create a superior crossbow that replaces the Loading trait with the Reload trait associated with firearms in the Dungeon Master’s Guide:A limited number of shots can be made with a weapon that has the reload property. A character must then reload it using an action or a bonus action (the character’s choice).” The size of the clip would be up to the DM. Again, I wouldn’t personally make this a standard feature—but it would be interesting if, say, Cannith East had developed a new design that was being used by elite Karrnathi units. Likewise, I could see an advanced hand crossbow with Reload 6, allowing a dual-wielder to get a few shots before needing to reload.

In Conclusion…

This is probably more than anyone ever wanted to hear about Keith’s thoughts on the crossbow, especially since my primary point is the rules don’t have to be changed. But what I hope you take away is that something can be inspired by a medieval tool and still feel modern. Whether it’s a crossbow or a stagecoach, the people of Eberron use magical techniques to improve on the mundane; this can involve flashy effects like fire and lightning, but it can also simply involve something that appears to be mundane and yet is superior to what we’re used to.

Thanks to my Patreon supporters for their support. My next major article will be on either the Znir Gnolls of Droaam or on Dolurrh, the Realm of the Dead—right now, the Patreon poll is tied!

What have you done with ranged weapons in Eberron? Have you added firearms or explored other magical solutions? Post your ideas below!

Exploring Eberron, 2/6/20

The above image shows a two-page spread from Exploring Eberron, including art from Kristóf Köteles. I’m thrilled with how the book is coming together, but it’s a long journey and it’s not over yet. 

Exploring Eberron is a huge undertaking. By the time it’s done, I expect the book to include over 180,000 words… which is longer than my first two Eberron novels combined! I know what I’m capable of when I’m writing at top speed, and that’s what my original estimates have been based on. But unfortunately I haven’t been able to maintain that speed. Over the last six months there have been family issues that have had to take priority, and once things pushed into this year it collided with the work I need to do for The Adventure Zone: Bureau of Balance. The production of board and card games is a lengthy process, and I have dates I have to meet to hit our GenCon release for Bureau. Exploring Eberron is my labor of love—but that also means it’s the one thing that has a timeline that can be pushed, and so it has been.

My hope had been to release Exploring Eberron by the end of this month. The art has been in hand for months now, and the first half of the book have already gone through editing and layout. But I am still writing the final chapter; the recent Lamannia article is a preview of that. Once I’m done, that material will have to go through editing and layout, and then the completed book will need to go through a final review process with the DM’s Guild for hardcover printing.

So when will Exploring Eberron come out? The short answer is that I don’t have an absolute answer. I’d hoped for this month, but that seems unlikely. I’m reasonably confident that it will be released in March, but I’m not prepared to say whether it will be at the beginning or the end of the month. What I can say is that we’re close, and that I’m excited about how it’s coming together.

So thank you for your patience and your enthusiasm. We’ll continue to release previews in the days ahead, and I’ll let you know when there’s more news!

Dragonmarks: Lamannia

Eberron has a unique planar cosmology, but Rising From The Last War only scratches the surface of the planes; in this article and the upcoming Exploring Eberron, I’m digging deeper. Thanks to my Patreon supporters, who keep this site going and who chose this topic for my final January article!

LAMANNIA: THE TWILIGHT FOREST

Lamannia embodies primordial nature, untapped and untamable. It represents the raw power and majesty of the natural world. Lamannia is often called the Twilight Forest, and depicted as a realm of colossal trees and massive beasts. However, the forest is just one of the facets of Lamannia. Every natural environment is represented in Lamannia, contained in a layer that exemplifies and exaggerates its features. Windswept desert, raging ocean, endless plains; all can be found in Lamannia.

At first glance, Lamannia appears to overlap with a number of other planes. How does the Twilight Forest differ from the domain of the Forest Queen in Thelanis? How does the chill tundra differ from the icy layers of Risia? Shouldn’t the volcanoes of the Broken Lands be in Fernia? Well, there are dryads in the trees of the Endless Weald of Thelanis; sprites hide behind leaves and satyrs dance in the clearings. And in Fernia a blazing volcano could be home to Azer smiths forging wonders in its depths, or a balor who delights in unleashing streams of lava to destroy unwary adventurers. In Fernia, the volcano is a metaphor for industry or destruction. In Lamannia, it’s a metaphor for volcano. It’s an iconic, perfect example; it doesn’t need fey or fiends to make its point, because the volcano itself is the point. The elementals of Lamannia aren’t the anthropomorphic genies found in Fernia and Syrania; they are the pure, living essence of the elements, unburdened by any humanoid desire. Its primary inhabitants are beasts—both beasts that you might encounter in the wilds of Eberron, and massive creatures that can be seen as iconic representations of their type: the idealized incarnation of BEAR or WOLF.

Some scholars assert that Lamannia served as a blueprint for the material plane, that it was in Lamannia that the Progenitors perfected the ideas of storm and stone. They believe that the natural world is infused with the essence of Lamannia—and that druids and others who wield primal magic actually manipulate that Lamannian essence. Certainly, Lamannia is charged with primal power; druids who travel to the Twilight Forest can be overwhelmed by the sheer force of nature that infuses this place.

Lamannia lies close to the world, and it’s one of the easiest planes to reach. Its treasures are wood and stone—natural object imbued with elemental power, herbs and plants whose effects are far stronger than their mortal counterparts. But when you come to Lamannia, you are prey; there are many predators in this realm, and anyone who seeks to despoil the embodiment of nature will be hunted.

Universal Traits

Lamannia is a reflection of the natural world, intensified and exaggerated. The air is pure and clean, the water fresh and clear. Colors are impossibly vivid. It is suffused with life—a realm in which any stone could be an earth elemental, where any tree could be awakened.

Vegetation is nearly always in bloom and beasts are almost always in the peak of health. With the exception of layers such as The Rot, Lamannia reflects the ideal state of the natural world. Here are a few of the consistent traits of the plane.

Extended primal magic. When you cast a spell that draws on primal magic magic that has a duration of 1 minute or longer, the duration is doubled, to a maximum duration of 24 hours. Typically druids and rangers channel primal magic, but it’s up to the DM to decide in the case of each spellcaster. A paladin that follows the Oath of the Ancients might channel primal magic to cast their spells, while an Aundairian ranger could use arcane techniques.

Indomitable beasts.While in Lamannia, beasts and elementals have a +2 bonus to Constitution and advantage on saving throws against being charmed, frightened, or immobilized. When an elemental or beast first arrives in Lamannia from another plane, any magical effect that is charming it or binding it in any way is broken; this can be disastrous for an elemental airship that’s thrown into the plane.

The land provides. When you make a Wisdom (Survival) check to forage for food or shelter in Lamannia, you have advantage on the roll. The vegetation is bountiful and the land sustaining. It may be difficult to forage in the Broken Land, but you’ll at least have advantage to help you with the roll.

Primordial matter. It is difficult to destroy or contaminate the matter of Lamannia. An ongoing purify food and drink effect cleanses any sorts of poisons or contaminants from beyond the plane. In addition, natural materials such as wood and stone are tougher than their mundane counterparts. When trying to destroy such objects, increase the Armor Class suggested in Chapter 8 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide by 3 and double the hit points of the object.

Most layers of Lamannia follow a traditional day-night cycle. However, layers aren’t synchronized and likewise don’t match any time zone in Eberron. There is only one moon in the sky of Lamannia; a Wisdom (Nature) check with a DC of 10 will identify it as Olarune, though it appears larger than in the sky of Eberron and is always full.

Denizens of Lamannia

A common story of Lamannia tells of an explorer who passed through a manifest zone and found herself on a vast mountain peak. Pushing up the mountain, she was exploring a mysterious thicket when she was set upon by rats the size of wolves. She fought the rats, but was on the verge of being overwhelmed… until a giant beak flashed down and snapped up a rat in a single bite. The wide ‘thicket’ wasn’t natural briar; it was the nest of a gargantuan roc.

BEASTS

Lamannia is filled with all manner of beasts. Any natural creature can be found in Lamannia; indeed, some sages assert that the presence of a creature in Lamannia is what defines it as “natural.” These creatures fall into the following categories.

·       Mundane animals are identical to their counterparts in Eberron. Any natural creature can be found in a layer with an appropriate environment. If such beasts are the first things player characters encounter in a visit to Lamannia, they might not realize they’ve traveled to another plane.

·       Dire animals are creatures of remarkable size. Any beast described as ‘giant’ or ‘dire’ can serve in this role. Such creatures are more common than mundane animals; in the Twilight Forest, most owls are giant owls, and they prey on giant weasels and rats. While the existing animals are a place to start, any sort of beast can have a dire counterpart in Lamannia.

·       Megafauna are gargantuan beasts. The roc is an example of Lamannian megafauna; those found in Eberron have been drawn through manifest zones or slipped between planes during coterminous periods. A megafauna serpent could use the statistics of a purple worm. These two creatures provide a rough scale of power for megafauna, but a DM can create a wider range of megafauna; adventurers could be hounded by a pack of gargantuan wolves. While these creatures are similar in form to beasts, they are typically classified as monstrosities. Between their vast size and their connection to the plane, they are immune to most effects that only target beasts, and you can’t charm a roc with a simple animal friendship spell.

·       Totems are beasts that are beyond the tactical scale… creatures that can be measured in miles. The gnome explorer Tasker tells a tale of finding an island in the Endless Ocean that turned out to be an enormous turtle; another of his stories deals with a pack of lycanthropes living in the fur of a massive roaming wolf. Such totems aren’t natural creatures and don’t need to eat or excrete. Their origins and purpose are unsolved mysteries, but most sages believe that they are immortal spirits projected by the plane itself. Some claim that the totems are connected to all creatures cast in their image. Others believe that the totems are sources of primal power, that barbarians, shifters, and druids can receive power and guidance from them. All that is known for sure is that they’re immune to common spells, and to date there are no accounts of anyone successfully harming or communicating with a totem.

For the most part Lamannian beasts are no smarter than their counterparts on Eberron. However, there are animals that possess intelligence similar to that granted by the awaken spell. However, even these beasts generally follow their natural instincts and live wild lives. While in Sharn giant owls may own shops and run for city council, the giant owls of Lamannia are content to hunt the beasts of the Twilight Forest. So it’s possible to find creatures in Lamannia that speak Common or a Primordial dialect, but most have little interest in long conversations. Also, don’t forget that dinosaurs are natural beasts! While a megafauna owl is impressive, the megafauna version of a swordtooth titan (tyrannosaur) is a sight to see!

ELEMENTALS

After beasts, the most common inhabitants of the plane are elementals. Genies, mephits, and anthropomorphic elementals are found on other planes; the inhabitants of Lamannia are pure and raw in form. These include the standard earth, fire, air, and water elementals, but they can come in a wide array of sizes and forms. Adventurers exploring the broken lands could encounter tiny globs of lava crawling across the land… while the leviathans of the Endless Ocean and the elder tempests of the First Storm are forces of apocalyptic power. The elementals of Lamannia are the spirits commonly summoned and bound by the Zil, used to propel lightning rails and airships. While intelligent, these elementals are utterly alien. They have little concept of time, and perceive the world around them though the balance of elements. The sole desire of most elementals is to express their element: to burn, to flow, to fly. Many have an antagonistic attitude towards spirits of other elements, which drives the deadly conflict in the Broken Land. This is another obstacle in dealing with elementals, as they tend to perceive humanoids as globs of water. While it’s possible for a character that speaks Primordial to talk with a Lamannian elemental, it’s usually difficult to establish any sort of common basis for negotiation. Still, there are legends of wandering druids who “befriended earth and air;” anything is possible!

HUMANOIDS

The merfolk came to Eberron from Lamannia, and their ancestors remain in the Endless Ocean. These primordial merfolk are closer to their elemental roots than their counterparts in the seas of Eberron; while they are just as intelligent as their cousins, they are driven by primal instincts. They wield druidic magic, but they don’t craft tools or structures. This serves as a model for other humanoid natives of Lamannia. Any race with a strong primal connection could be tied to Lamannia, but natives of Lamannia are driven by instinct and avoid the trappings of civilization. There could be tabaxi dwelling in the branches of the Twilight Forest, but if so they will feel feral and wild.

During the Silver Crusade, a significant number of lycanthropes made their way or were exiled to Lamannia. While in Lamannia, a lycanthrope cannot spread the curse to anyone other than their offspring. The unnatural impulses of the curse—the drive to prey on innocents, the bloodlust that can cause a victim of lycanthropy to lose control of their actions—are suspended while they remain on the plane. Primal instincts are amplified; Lamannian werewolves remain predators and take joy in the hunt. But they aren’t driven to evil and remain in full control. Packs and communities of lycanthropes are scattered across the layers. Most are descended from lycanthropes who fled Eberron to escape both the templars and the dark power whose corrupting influence led to the crusade; these shapeshifters embrace their primal nature and rarely assume humanoid forms. But there are also packs descended from afflicted templars who chose exile over death, who strive to preserve the beliefs and traditions of their ancestors. There are bitter feuds between these afflicted templars and the “first wolves” and other lycanthropes of Lamannia, but the templars can be valuable allies for planar travelers.

There are also a handful of druids and rangers who have crossed into Lamannia and chosen to remain in this primal paradise. Many run with lycanthrope packs, embracing their feral instincts and spending their days in wild shape. Others act as planar shepherds, seeking to minimize the impact of dangerous manifest zones and to help unwary travelers.

HIGHER POWERS

There are no celestials or fiends in Lamannia. It is a realm of elementals and beasts, and the elementals are alien and untamed. Yet explorers often report a feeling that they are being watched. And there are times when random events seem to be guided by an unseen hand. When outsiders have sought to bring industry to bear in Lamannia, they have been found by megafauna or elder elementals, or struck by especially vicious turns of weather. It’s possible that this is the work of the totems—that totems possess omniscience and great influence over their layers. Or there could be a greater power that watches over the entire plane. There is a single moon in the sky above every layer, the moon Olarune; some scholars assert that this is the consciousness that governs the plane. This is reflected in Eldeen shifter traditions that predate the practices of the Wardens of the Wood; shifter druids suggest that it was Olarune who created the shifters, and that the first lycanthropes were her champions. It is up to the DM to decide if there’s any truth to these tales. 

Layers of Lamannia

Like many of the planes, Lamannia is made up of layers—a connected web of demiplanes, each highlighting a particular aspect of primal nature. The scope of any single layer is up to the DM as suits the needs of the story. One layer in Lamannia might contain a single colossal mountain peak; on the other hand, the Twilight Forest could be as large as Khorvaire itself (or even Eberron!). The edge of a layer could be an impassable physical barrier, or it could wrap around onto itself; sail far enough in the Endless Ocean and you’ll find yourself back where you began.

The layers of Lamannia are connected by physical portals, but these portals often only allow travel in one direction. Any deep pool of water may connect a layer to the Endless Ocean; but while you can get to the Ocean by diving into a pond in the Twilight Forest, but there’s no gate back to the Forest on the other side. The Endless Ocean contains small islands; people who explore these islands will find they have moved to a new layer.  

The Twilight Forest

The sky is hidden by the dense canopy of this vast rainforest, leaving the forest floor in an endless twilight. The trees are over a hundred feet in height—impressive, certainly, but not as tall as the greatpines of the Towering Wood in the Eldeen Reches. But as people explore the Twilight Forest, they will come upon strange ridges and walls of wood. Some come together, forming twisted wooden canyons. Following these, explorers will find that they are the roots of truly colossal trees, vast titans wider and taller than the towers of Sharn. The Twilight Forest as mortals experience it lies in the shadow of the grander canopy that rises far above it, and these mighty trees are home to megafauna and mightier beings.

The Twilight Forest is wild and untamed. However, explorers can find wide tracks through the lower forest. Survival experts may recognize that these aren’t tracks formed by humanoid hands; rather, they are the paths of totems, who have crushed the lesser forest beneath their colossal feet. The Forest is filled with beasts; mundane and dire creatures in the lower forests, megafauna in the grand canopy above it, and the occasional passage of totems. There are multiple communities of lycanthropes scattered throughout the lower forest. A clan of wererats have carved out a warren in the roots of a colossal tree, while a pack of wild wereboars feuds with werewolves descended from exiled templars. An ancient elf druid named Haral, who spends most of her time in the form of an owl, does her best to maintain order; she is assisted in this by a megafauna owl she calls Ruark. However, the Twilight Forest is larger than the Eldeen Reaches; these are just a few examples of the inhabitants of the forest.

Another noteworthy area is the Graveyard. Of all of the layers, the Twilight Forest is closest to Eberron. There are many manifest zones between the Twilight Forest and the material plane, and when the planes are coterminous it’s possible for people—or objects—to pass through. The region known as the Graveyard contains a number of manifest zones that are tied to the oceans of Eberron, and to the air above them—and over the course of thousands of years, they have caught a number of ships in their net. The focal point of these manifest zones are dozens of feet above the ground. First of all, this means that it’s not easy for stranded travelers to find their way back; second, this means that ships fall when they pass through, causing damage and often killing many of the travelers. So the Graveyard contains the wrecks of ships from many eras—an ancient Aereni galleon, a Lhazaar vessel, a recently lost Lyrandar airship. This provides an opportunity to introduce outside influences to the Twilight Forest, or to have forgotten treasures hidden in Lamannia. A Dhakaani vessel holds a priceless and powerful artifact long sought by all of the Heirs of Dhakaan… but the vessel was infected by spawn of the Daelkyr, and these have carved out a foul warren beneath the ship.

Elementals don’t have an especially strong presence in the Twilight Forest, but they are still present throughout it. A gust of wind, a pool of water, a rolling stone—in Lamannia, any of these things could be alive.

The Broken Land

The Broken Land is a volcanically active region filled with high mountains and lava plains. There are constant eruptions, and the layer is home to many fire and earth elementals, who engage in an ongoing environmental conflict. Fire elementals flow out with the lava as volcanoes erupt; earth elementals work to contain the eruptions and to rebuild the shattered peaks, only to have them erupt again. Few beasts manage to thrive in this layer, but there are some tough dinosaurs who’ve clawed out a niche. While this region has fewer connections to Eberron than the Twilight Forest, it’s also possible to find shipwrecks or remnants of other travelers here; it’s certainly a harsh and deadly landscape for adventurers who are stranded here or those who must recover a lost relic from this place.

The Endless Ocean

This layer reflects the majesty of the ocean depths. It is home to a vast array of fish and aquatic beasts, along with merfolk tribes and a wide range of water elementals… from simple sentient currents and weirds all the way to massive leviathans. Megafauna battles are common, and this is the source of the tale of the island that turned out to be a totem turtle. True islands are few and far between, and most are actually portals to other layers of Lamannia. There are many manifest zones spread across the Endless Ocean, almost all of which connect to the ocean depths of Eberron.

The First Storm

A layer of plains and low hills, this region is permanently lashed by hurricane winds and endless storms. Beasts huddle in caves and the limited shelter, while all manner of elementals clash in the storm-lashed plains. A massive elder tempest drives the heart of the storm; during the Sundering of Sarlona, an apocalyptic cult in Ohr Kaluun sought to bring this elemental to Eberron, believing it would destroy the world.

The Rot

Decay is part of nature, and this is reflected in the Rot. This relatively small layer is swamplike, filled with fallen, rotting trees. There are corpses of megafauna beasts scattered around the layer, and giant insects and other massive scavengers prey on their remains. There’s a community of wererats thriving in the Rot, and there could be a small outpost of the Children of Winter who found there way here. While this is a symbol of death and decay, it is entirely natural; the undead have no place here. It’s possible a necromancer could arrive here, hoping to animate the massive corpses; however, this would violate the theme of the plane, and if there is any higher power at work in Lamannia it would direct forces to counter this. While most layers of Lamannia are free from disease, disease is itself part of nature; a manifest zone tied to the Rot could spread plagues into the surrounding region.

Titan’s Folly

Lamannia is filled with precious natural resources; it’s hardly surprising that an advanced civilization would try to harvest them. During the Age of Giants, the Cul’sir Dominion set up a research station and mining camp in a layer of Lamannia. After a decade struggling against megafauna attacks and elemental-enhanced weather, the outpost was finally overwhelmed and abandoned. It is a testament to the arcane engineering of the giants that anything remains of this structure… although it may be that it remains because the ruin itself has become a symbol of nature-reclaiming-civilization, becoming the theme of the layer. Vines and moss cover shattered walls, and the bones of giants are scattered throughout the remnants of this garrison. Valuable and powerful treasures may well be hidden in the Folly, but explorers will have to contend with aggressive elementals, dangerous beasts, and traps left by the long-dead giants themselves.

Other Layers

These are just a handful of the many layers of Lamannia. In developing a layer, think of a distinctive natural feature—a canyon; a desert; a lone mountain—and build the layer around it. What creatures would be found there? Have any outsiders taken up residence? Is there an unusual role for elementals? How does it connect to other layers, or to Eberron?

Manifestations of Lamanna

There are many ways for Lamannia to influence an adventure even if the player characters never leave the material plane.

MANIFEST ZONES

Lamannia is a prolific source of manifest zones. Quite often manifest zones are found at the heart of a region that resembles the connected layer: zones tied to the Endless Ocean are found underwater, while manifest zones tied to the Twilight Forest can be found in the Towering Woods, the King’s Forest, and other vast woodlands. However, it’s also possible to find Lamannian zones in areas with no obvious connection to the layer—such as the aquatic zones tied to the Twilight Forest that produce the Graveyard. Here’s a few of the common effects of Lamannian manifest zones.

Elemental Power. Manifest zones tied to Lamannia may have strong elemental resonance. When spells that summon elementals are cast in such a region, they’re treated as if they were cast at a level one higher than the spell slot that was expended. There are a number of these zones in Zilargo, and House Cannith and the Twelve are eager to find unclaimed zones. However, there are risks associated with them. Elementals may spontaneously manifest in such places; sometimes they linger for a long time (a pool tied to Lamannia could be inhabited by water weirds), but often they only linger for a few hours and then dissipate. Passing through such a zone can also impart a surge of power to an existing elemental; this can potentially allow a bound elemental to break free from its bonds.

Gateways. A manifest zone can serve as a direct portal between Lamannia and Eberron. Typical such portals only open under certain circumstances—often when the planes are coterminous, but the requirements could be even more restricted (for example, when the planes are coterminous and Olarune is full). Such gateways can allow adventurers to travel to Lamannia, but they can also be the source of hostile elementals or deadly megafauna. Rising From The Last War suggests the idea that what appears to be a ring of standing stones could be a group of slumbering earth elementals stranded in such a gateway.

Growth. A common effect of a Lamannian manifest zone is to enhance the growth of plants or beasts in the region around it. This is less about fertility (which is commonly associated with Irian) and more about the size and health of the beast. Animals are often drawn to such zones. House Vadalis is always searching for manifest zones with this trait, and many Vadalis enclaves are built in these zones.

Purity. Vegetation and water in such a zone are healthy and pure, as if constantly affected by purify food and drink. Such zones can be a valuable resource for small communities. Such regions may also manifest the ‘primordial matter’ described earlier; stone and wood may be unusually tough. The prison of Dreadhold is built in such a manifest zone; not only is the stone of the region denser than usual, it cannot be penetrated by scrying or teleportation.

Resistance. While Lamannian manifest zones can be useful tools for communities or dragonmarked houses, some zones actively resist and repel civilization. As noted in Rising From The Last War, weather, vegetation, and a rapid rate of decay can combine to quickly destroy structures built in the zone and overgrow the ruins.

These effects aren’t mutually exclusive; a manifest zone could have both the growth and resistance traits, and also become a gateway under specific circumstances. Zones can also have very specific effects; notably, the elemental power trait is often tied to a specific element. The weird-haunted pool enhances water elementals, but doesn’t help if you’re trying to summon fire elementals.

COTERMINOUS AND REMOTE

Lamannia has a swift planar cycle. It is reliably coterminous for a week around around the summer solstice, and remote for a week during the winter solstice; it can also become coterminous at other times, often related to the lunar cycle of Olarune.

While Lamannia is coterminous, the effects of Lamannian manifest zones are enhanced. In regions of unspoiled nature—such as the Eldeen Reaches, the wilds of Q’barra—fertility of both plants and animals is enhanced, and beasts conceived in these periods are often exceptionally strong and healthy. Primal spells that affect beasts or elementals are extended; if a spell has a duration of 1 minute or longer, the duration is doubled, to a maximum duration of 24 hours.

While Lamannia is remote, fertility rates drop and beasts born in these periods are often weak or sickly. Beast are often uneasy, and the duration of any primal spell that affect beasts or elementals is cut in half, to a minimum duration of one round.

LAMANNIAN VISITORS

The inhabitants of Lamannia rarely choose to travel to Eberron. Those few civilized creatures—lycanthropes, merfolk—are content in their primal realm and generally only cross over by accident. However, accidental visitors can be a source of trouble or adventure. A powerful elemental or a megafauna beast can pose a deadly threat to a region. Megafauna creatures can become local legends; imagine a Vadalis expedition seeking a legendary megafauna ape (which, if captured, might break free while on exhibition and climb the towers of Sharn!). There’s no records of a totem beast ever passing through to Eberron, and it’s possible that they cannot manifest beyond Lamannia.

LAMANNIAN TREASURES

Lamannia vegetation is prized by alchemists. Herbs and roots from Lamannia can produce exceptionally strong potions, and many types of Lamannian vegetation have innate magical effects; there are bushes in the Twilight Forest that naturally produce goodberries. Lamannian lumber likewise can have unusual traits, mirroring the densewood and bronzewood found in Aerenal. Lamannian wood and stone can serve as powerful focuses for primal magic, for creating figurines of wondrous power, or for tools designed to summon or bind elementals.

Lamannian Stories

Lamannia is a source of elementals and dire beasts. It is wild and untamed, strengthening primal magic and providing a haven to lycanthropes. It resists any intrusion by civilization. Here’s a few ideas for working it into your story.

·       A Savage Land.  When a party of adventurers unknowingly pass through a gateway, they must find a way to survive in this wild realm. This could be as simple as finding another manifest zone to take them home… or it could require them to survive in Lamannia for months while waiting for the planes to become coterminous. Another option is for the group to be stranded when their airship passes through a manifest zone and the elemental breaks free; in this case, the adventurers must decide whether to protect the other survivors, and deal with conflicts that arise among them.

·       Megafauna Island. Due to close ties to Lamannia, there’s an island that is home to an unusual array of megafauna beasts. Adventurers could stumble onto this on their own, or they could be hired by an heir of House Vadalis who wants to investigate the rumors without drawing the attention of rivals in the house.

·       The Great Beast. A Lamannian zone could realize a megafauna predator into the region, spreading terror among the locals. Must this creature be destroyed? Can it be returned through the zone, or is it even hostile?

·       Lycanthropes. Lamannia suppresses the negative effects of the curse of lycanthropy. Adventurers could stumble upon a village of lycanthropes and jump to the wrong conclusion, not knowing that the influence of the local manifest zone allows them to control the curse. Alternatively, a group of benevolent lycanthropes could return to Eberron only to fall prey to the predatory impulses of the curse: can the adventurers capture these lycanthropes alive and help them return to the Twilight Forest?

·       Relic Hunt. The trail of a powerful artifact leads to Lamannia. It might have been on a ship lost in the Graveyard, or it could be that an artificer needs Lamannian resources to complete an eldritch machine. Can the adventurers win this deadly race?

·       At War With Nature. An Ashbound druid manages to establish a new Lamannian manifest zone in a major city, such as Fairhaven or Sharn. The resistance effect is causing the city to crumble, releasing elementals and wild vegetation. Can the adventurers find a way to remove the manifest zone? Alternately, House Cannith could be determined to create a bridge that allows them to harvest Lamannian resources… will they succeed, or will their efforts backfire dramatically?

·       Unusual Flavor. The impact of a manifest zone can be felt just as part of the backdrop of a scenario. The village of Clearwater is in a hostile region, but it survives because of the small lake that provides fresh water and a seemingly inexhaustible supply of fish. In a small Eldeen village, the locals live in harmony with a breed of giant rabbits unknown elsewhere in Khorvaire. A tribe of shifters lives in the branches of the three massive trees that grow in a Lamannian manifest zone.

If you have questions or stories about what you’ve done with Lamannia, post them below!

Flashback: Travel by Montage

Art by Hari Connor (@haridraws) for TAZ:BoB!

Currently I’m continuing to work on Exploring Eberron and The Adventure Zone: Bureau of Balance (which is currently in the final two days of the preorder—last chance to get promotional cards or the limited edition!). I’m also going to be in Juneau, Alaska this week for Platypus-Con. I’m going to write a new article next week, the subject of which is currently being voted on by my Patreon supporters, but as I’m about to go on a journey myself I wanted to share an article I originally wrote back in 2013, dealing with one way to handle travel in RPGs.

Travel By Montage

In today’s adventure, the intrepid band of heroes has a long trek to reach their destination. The vast forest is infamous as a haven for bandits and ruffians, shunned by the wise… but it’s the only path to the ruined temple of the Holy MacGuffin. The fact of the matter is that the adventurers are far too skilled and accomplished for a typical band of brigands to pose any sort of threat. Having a random battle would simply waste time without adding any real tension, and compared to the story you have in mind, fighting bandits is a pretty dull story. You could take the red line approach, just cutting from point A to point B with a few sentences of description, explaining just how creepy the forest is and that the bandits are smart enough to avoid the party. But at the same time, the forest is really creepy, and the presence of the bandits is a well established part of the setting; you want them to feel like they’ve taken a significant journey. What do you do?

It’s possible for the journey to be the adventure. The Hobbit is a story about a group of adventurers delving into a dragon’s lair… but the bulk of the story is about the journey to the dungeon. Mechanically, bandits can’t pose a threat to the adventurers. Well, what if they can? What if they come back to life whenever they are killed—and the only way to stop them is to find and destroy the artifact or power source that’s empowering them? Or perhaps it’s a moral dilemma: the “bandits” are actually Robin Hood-style heroes robbing from the rich to raise money for some vital cause, like buying medicine to bring an end to a local plague? The adventurers are, in fact, incredibly rich by local standards; are they willing to help in some way, or do they slaughter the last, best hope of the stricken locals?

This sort of thing can be a lot of fun. The En Route series from Atlas Games presents a host of little scenarios designed to fit into the spaces between the major parts of an adventure—challenges that aren’t simply combat encounters, but interesting stories on their own. However, playing through such a scene takes time, and if the core adventure has a strong story, you may not want to water it down with a side scene. So you don’t have time to make a bandit encounter actually interesting; you don’t want to waste time on a pointless fight; but you also don’t want to just gloss over the journey. What do you do?

What I’ve been doing lately is using a travel montage. Come up with a few interesting things that could happen on the journey and put one of these situations in the hands of each player, giving each character their own spotlight moment. So if I’ve got an elf wizard, a dwarf fighter, a halfling thief, and a human priest, I might say:

  • Halfling thief: “Tell me how you help the group avoid a bandit attack on the first day.”
  • Elf wizard: “There are constant storms in this region. By the second day your clothes are drenched, and the bridge across the local river has been washed away. How does your magic help the party get across the river?”
  • Dwarf fighter: “This forest is older than human civilization. You’re sure you hear the howls of ghosts on the wind, and see things moving in the shadows. You’re a brave man… what’s the one thing that actually scares you on the journey?”
  • Human priest: “Tell me about the dream you have on the last night.”

The point of this approach is to give each character a chance to be in the spotlight for a moment, and to encourage the players to think about what makes the journey interesting for them. Sure, any of the characters could figure out how to cross a river, but this time, it was the wizard who figured it out… now tell me how. Depending what the players come up with, you could incorporate their answers into the later adventure. Perhaps the priest’s dream will turn out to be prophetic, or the thing that frightened the dwarf will return in some way. Perhaps the thief avoided the bandits because he actually knew the bandit leader from his first guild… in which case, that character could turn up again later in a more interesting role. Alternately, the players might just make jokes out of the scenarios; the one thing that actually scares the dwarf is watching the halfling eat, or the snores of the priest. There’s nothing wrong with this. The whole point is to let the players have a chance to tell the story they want; if they want to laugh, this is a great opportunity for that.

What’s your favorite approach for making travel interesting when it’s not a central part of the adventure? What’s worked well for you?

Dragonmarks: UA Subclasses

The latest Unearthed Arcana article presents new subclasses for the barbarian, monk, paladin, and warlock. I’ve already written articles about the barbarian, monk, and warlock that examine the role of each class and subclass in the setting, and I wanted to look at the new subclasses and share how I’d incorporate them into Eberron.

Barbarian: The Path of the Beast

The Path of the Beast allows a barbarian to physically transform: manifesting natural weapons, adapting to hostile environments, and channeling psychic power through their attacks. A simple way to use this is as a form of Weretouched Master, a tradition that enhances a shifter’s primal gifts. Shifter barbarians are found in the Eldeen Reaches, and a champion with the powers of the Path of the Beast would definitely fit in among the Ashbound or possibly the Wardens of the Wood.

With that said, one of the key features of the Path of the Beast is that you can change the benefit each time you use a feature. You can change the benefit of Bestial Soul each rest, and manifest a different natural weapon every time you use Form of the Beast… including “great mandibles” or a “spiky tail.” Add to this the idea that the higher level features have a certain psychic flavor and I think this is an interesting martial tradition for changelings—let’s call it a Changeling Monstrosity, as an alternative to the Changeling Menagerie druid suggested in this article. This is based on the idea of a changeling warrior learning to make more dramatic transformations, which fits with the fact that they can change the natural weapon each time they use it; you’ll see a few other explorations of this idea in Exploring Eberron. But where would this tradition be found? It feels too savage for the stable changelings of Sharn; instead, I see it as being a tradition developed by the changelings of Droaam, emulating the monstrous creatures they deal with on a daily basis. Imaging a changeling arguing with a minotaur and suddenly manifesting mandibles and a scorpion tail. The higher level features reflect the idea that the changelings of Lost have learned to harness latent psychic abilities. A player character following this path could have left Droaam in the service of Daask, could be serving the interests of Lost, or could simply be following their own path.

The Path of the Beast also lends itself to the idea of the Experiment… someone whose class features were bestowed upon them by an outside force. I see three obvious options for this.

  • Mordain the Fleshweaver. A person growing mandibles and a spiked tail when they get angry? That certainly sounds like something Mordain would enjoy. A major advantage to Mordain is that he might create something like this as a one-off, with no deep investment in what actually happens to the character—so it’s a way to follow this path without having a lot of strings attached. One question I’d have is whether you were created from scratch, or if you had a life before you were changed… in which case, how and when did it happen? Can you return to your old life, or are you afraid to reveal what you’ve become? You could instead be a creation of a daelkyr, which is the same basic idea on a larger (and more terrifying) scale.
  • House Vadalis. We’ve hinted at Vadalis experiments magebreeding supersoldiers; you could be the result. Unlike Mordain, if Vadalis is involved this would likely have been a carefully organized program and there would be others… unless you were the only one that survived! Given this, you could have escaped from the program, in which case you might be on the run or even forced to fight other members of your unit (consider the show Dark Angel). But you could also be an agent of the house; the program was a success, after all, and you’re proud of your heritage.
  • The Mourning. You were in Cyre on the Day of Mourning and it changed you… but you’re still learning just how deep those changes go. If I went down this path, I’d play up the unpredictable nature and the idea that you’re afraid of what you’re becoming. Even if I, the PLAYER, was fully in control of my abilities I might suggest that the CHARACTER isn’t… that they don’t always choose when they rage, and that they don’t know what Form of the Beast will take.

In all of these cases, you might say “But if you start at 1st level, you won’t HAVE any of your Path of the Beast powers when the campaign begins.” This doesn’t concern me. The whole idea is that the character is evolving. I’d start out by emphasizing how my existing class features reflect this backstory—that when I rage, my damage resistance and increased damage reflect a physical transformation—and have it just ramp up dramatically when I finally manifest the Path of the Beast.

Monk: The Way of Mercy

Monks who follow the Way of Mercy are “wandering physicians to the poor and hurt” who “learn to manipulate the life force of others to bring aid to those in need.” An immediate, simple option is for this to be an order tied to House Jorasco. There are already a number of orders that learn to use marks in unconventional ways; some of the abilities of the Way of Mercy are reminiscent of the Nosomantic Chiurgeons of Dragonmarked. Now, one could make the argument that Jorasco heirs are supposed to charge for their services and don’t simply help those in need. In previous articles I’ve called out the fact that I believe this to be overstated; that a Mercy order could be essentially a PR path for the house, or also that they might charge those they heal to perform community service as payment for their healing. But if you DO want to be strict about Jorasco-doesn’t-heal-without-pay, an alternative is to say that this is a tradition that PREDATES the house—an order of halfling monks that operate in the Talenta Plains, who have refused to accept the modern traditions and values of the house. This would add to the idea of them wearing masks—they are formally concealing their identities and connection to the house—and ties to the Talenta mask tradition. Personally, I also like the idea of a plague doctor mask based on a glidewing’s head. So you could say that this IS a part of the house, or you could say that it’s essentially a renegade tradition: the house doesn’t actively seek to suppress it, but it’s understood that its members will be masked and largely keep to the Plains.

Jorasco is the easiest option for this path, and Jorasco halfling isn’t a bad choice for a monk. But there’s certainly other options. A few off the top of my head…

  • A prototype warforged designed as a field medic.
  • An acolyte of Arawai’s Gift, a vassal sect that sees life as the gift of the Sovereign of Life and Love. Monks of this order are charged to preserve life and to mediate disputes… but if someone abuses Arawai’s Gift, it can be rescinded.
  • A kalashatar follower of the Path of Light; this tradition could combine the martial discipline of the Path of Shadows with psychometabolic healing techniques. In this case, I’d definitely flavor the features as being psionic in origin.

Looking to Jorasco’s Mercy or Arawai’s Gift, I’d probably flavor the character less as an aggressive martial artist and more focused on deep knowledge of pressure points and Qi. Even when using a standard unarmed strike—and even though it still deals bludgeoning damage—I might still describe it as a gentle touch that nonetheless deals significant damage.

Paladin: The Oath of the Watchers

The Oath of the Watchers is a little more straightforward than the previous two subclasses. A few ideas…

  • The Shadow Watchers are a kalashtar order that seek to fight the agents of the Dreaming Dark. As quori are classified as aberrations in Rising From The Last War, Abjure The Extraplanar is a useful tool. Spells such as chromatic orb could be presented as psychic manifestations, though other abilities could be derived from faith in il-Yannah.
  • The Edgewalkers are an elite Riedran military force trained to combat extraplanar threats. You could be a renegade Edgewalker who fled Sarlona after discovering that your masters ARE extraplanar threats, or you could be a goodwill envoy sent by the Inspired to help deal with a rising threat in Khorvaire (the Inspired don’t like the Lords of Dust or daelkyr any more than anyone else does).
  • The Oath of the Watchers is a perfectly logical path for templars of the Silver Flame; the Church has always had its orders of exorcists.

While the Gatekeepers are also well known for battling extraplanar threats, I personally prefer druid/ranger/barbarians as Gatekeepers; but any Watcher Paladin would likely find a good ally in a Gatekeeper.

Warlock: The Noble Genie

The role of genies in Eberron is a larger topic I don’t have time to cover right now. With that said, there’s relatively little about the subclass that requires a connection to a genie. The most distinctive features are the idea that you have an object that you use to tether creatures to temporarily add them to your patron’s menagerie, and that you can ultimately call on your patron for favors. A few alternatives…

  • An Ancient Dragon is using you as a remote researcher. When you use Genie’s Entertainment, you’re actually transporting the victim to your patron’s laboratory in Argonnessen.
  • An Archfey‘s story revolves around their vast menagerie, and Genie’s Entertainment draws the victim to their domain in Thelanis. There’s nothing that says an Archfey HAS to serve as an Archfey patron, if the powers of a different patron make sense with their story!
  • You could actually be a field researcher for a University… perhaps the Library of Korranberg, Arcanix, or Morgrave University. Rather than having an all-powerful patron, your Vessel and the benefits could all be tools created by artificers at your University; if it’s Morgrave, it could very new and experimental, with new class features literally reflecting new innovations your department has developed.

How do you plan to use these subclasses? The topic of the next article will be chosen by my Patreon supporters, who keep the website going—thanks for your support!

Dragonmarks: Mordain the Fleshweaver

Children in Breland, Aundair, and the Eldeen Reaches are raised on stories of Mordain the Fleshweaver and the monsters he creates. He was born into House Phiarlan and was one of the most gifted wizards of the Twelve; it’s said that the standard House Jorasco potion of healing is Mordain’s recipe. But his obsession with creating and improving life drew him down dark paths, adapting the techniques of the daelkyr and delving into the secrets of Sulk Khatesh. According to one story, he sought to magebreed a new dragonmarked house but instead produced a line of aberrations that consumed his own family before they were destroyed. Parents warn their children that Mordain steals disobedient children and carries them off to his living fortress, leaving perfect simulacra in their place so even their friends won’t miss them. Whatever the truth of these stories, Mordain was excoriated from House Phiarlan in 797 YK. According to the records of Salyon Syrralan d’Sivis, the Twelve tried to execute Mordain and failed. Salyon’s account states that Mordain was bathed in acid, burnt at the stake, drowned, and even dismembered, but after each attempt “he rose again, his vigor unchecked and flesh rebound.” He was petrified and sent to Dreadhold, but escaped before reaching the island prison; Salyon speculated that “no lesser mage could set his will over the flesh of Mordain.”

The first confirmed sighting of Blackroot – Mordain’s tower – occurred in 873 YK. In the heat of the Silver Crusade, a troop of Aundairian templars pursued a few werewolves far to the south of modern Aundair (a region now considered to be part of Droaam). Weeks later, another patrol encountered a lone survivor from this force, half-mad and delirious. The templar spoke of a tower “with blackened, leathery walls, twisted as the limb of a dragon reaching up to grasp the sun.” The soldier couldn’t account for his companions, but his own condition was testimony to the horrors he had seen. His upper torso had been fused to the lower body of what was posthumously confirmed to be a werewolf. His mental state quickly deteriorated and he soon died of self-inflicted wounds.

Mordain is the most powerful wizard living in Khorvaire today, and the region surrounding his tower is warded against divination and teleportation. Paladins of Dol Arrah have attempted to destroy the foul wizard and his works, while emissaries of every nation sought Mordain’s aid at some point in the Last War; knights and envoys both met with failure, and only a lucky few survived to share their stories. Mordain remains a sinister enigma, a dark legend on the edge of Droaam. Some believe that he has an arrangement with the Daughters of Sora Kell, but many believe that even the hags fear Mordain.

Using The Fleshweaver

The basic principle of Mordain is that he’s the mightiest mortal wizard in Khorvaire. He’s as powerful as you want him to be. His specialty is creating and transforming living creatures, but he can easily have other talents. Notably, you could substitute “Mordain” for “Mordenkainen” in spell names in Eberron; this gives us Mordain’s private sanctum and Mordain’s magnificent mansion, suggesting that he has a talent for manipulating extradimensional space; this would imply that Blackroot is far larger than it appears to be, and also makes it easy to say that Mordain has a few extradimensional back doors scattered around the continent… which allows him to drop his experiments wherever best suits a story. With that said, part of the idea is that Mordain isn’t simply using the sorts of magic that player wizards and artificers might use. His techniques are adapted from the daelkyr and the Overlords, and involve channeling the energies of Kythri and Xoriat. While he can place his experiments wherever he chooses, most of his magic can only be performed in Blackroot, which is essentially a vast eldritch machine. It’s quite possible that through his centuries of work he has essentially become Blackroot—that his physical body is just a shell he creates to interact with people, but that the true Mordain is merged with his tower. This is a way to limit his impact and adds a reason for him to work with adventurers.

Mordain pairs unmatched arcane power with an utter disregard for the suffering of others. At the same time, Mordain has no interest in wealth or influence. He’s not trying to conquer Khorvaire, and while he’s indifferent to the suffering his creations can cause, he’s not actually trying to harm others. A DM could decide that Mordain wants revenge on the dragonmarked houses for driving him away; but by default he considers the houses to be as pointless and irrelevant as the Five Nations. All that he cares about is his work—creating and perfecting life. While his tower is in a dangerous region, his location is known; adventurers know where he can be found. With this in mind, there’s a number of ways Mordain can enter a campaign.

MORDAIN THE VILLAIN

Unlike most of the major conspiracies, Mordain has no grand plans for Khorvaire, which makes him an excellent source of one-shot problems that have to be dealt with but that have no long-term consequences. While he rarely leaves his tower (assuming he even can), he can use scrying and teleportation to target his experiments across Khorvaire. Consider the following options.

  • Mordain might engineer a magical plague and inflict it on an isolated village to see what happens. Can the adventurers find a cure? Perhaps he’s experimenting with a new form of lycanthropy: how does it differ from the traditional form?
  • Mordain could introduce a dangerous monsters into a region as an isolated threat, most likely just to see how things play out. Do you want a gargantuan gelatinous cube in the heart of Aundair? Blame Mordain.
  • With that said, Mordain could also introduce a significant population of monsters to a region, introducing a nest of kruthik or a band of yeti into an area. A twist on this would be if he created these creatures by transforming a village. Can the victims be restored? If not, can the adventurers find a way to stabilize the situation?
  • Mordain’s creations don’t have to be monsters. Mordain could transform the inhabitants of a village into tortles, or create a murder of kenku. This can be a simple way to introduce a small population of an exotic population into a location; no one knows WHY Mordain put a tribe of tabaxi into the King’s Forest, but he did.
  • Likewise, adventurers could stumble upon bizarre experiments. Dolurrh’s Dawn—originally presented in Dragon 365—is an isolated village in Droaam where Mordain has recreated legendary characters from history. His motives are unclear; but it’s certainly an interesting thing for a group of adventurers to discover.
  • Mordain could also be supplying or supporting an organization that the adventurers are fighting. He could be providing them with symbionts or other magic items, or giving them access to monstrous forces (you kill the leader of the organization, but a week later he’s back as a flesh golem!). The main question here is why? How is the group interesting or useful to Mordain?

A twist on this is for Mordain to take a personal interest in the adventurers. Will he turn their friends into monsters, or grant strange powers to their enemies? Is he testing the adventurers, or is there something about them that poses a threat to his experiments? Does he know something about one of the adventurers they have yet to discover?

SECRET ORIGIN

Mordain can be an interesting backstory element for an unusual character. Perhaps a player wants to create a character using a race that has no established place in Eberron, such as a Loxodon or a Simic Hybrid. Simple answer: they were created by Mordain. This path could also be used to explain class features. Perhaps a sorcerer’s arcane powers stem from being magebred by Mordain. A character who’s mechanically a half-orc barbarian could decide that they’re actually an artificial lifeform created by Mordain and that their “rage” reflects a hulking-out battle mode. A monk could likewise describe their Unarmored Defense and enhanced abilities as being tied to Mordain-crafted mutations. An idea could be even more exotic than this; tied to Dolurrh’s Dawn, a character could say that they are a clone of a famous historical figure—that they are Karrn the Conqueror or Tira Miron reborn… or even a clone of a young Mordain the Fleshweaver!

With any of these ideas, there’s a few critical questions. Were they created in an isolated incident, or are they part of a larger experiment (like Dolurrh’s Dawn)? Did Mordain release them into the wild, or did they escape captivity? Do they know the purpose for which they were created and are defying it, or could their adventuring career be part of Mordain’s plan? Which ties to the next option…

MORDAIN THE ALLY

Mordain has much to offer, from magic items to mysterious boons. Mordain could easily serve as a patron for a warlock or a mysterious mentor for a wizard… or even an entire group (following the model of the Immortal group patron, even if he may not be immortal). What would he want from adventurers? A few possibilities…

  • Mordain wants the adventurers to clean up his messes. Use the same seeds from the previous section, but Mordain dispatches the PCs to minimize the collateral damage. He still feels a need to drop a gargantuan gelatinous cube into Aundair, but once he’s learned what he needed, he’s happy to have the PCs deal with it.
  • Adventurers encounter a lot of exotic creatures. Mordain wants them to harvest organs of monsters they defeat, and will pay them (in gold or in other ways) for unusual finds.
  • Mordain is always interested in relics of the daelkyr, and could send players into dangerous dungeons.
  • The lesser of two evils: a Cult of the Dragon Below, the Lords of Dust, the Dreaming Dark or a similar force could be interfering with one of Mordain’s experiments; he sends the adventurers to resolve the problem.
  • Mordain could want the adventurers to mediate a local problem with some of his neighbors in Droaam (likely a last resort before resolving the problem in a horrifying and deadly fashion).

Working with Mordain should never be an entirely comfortable experience. There should always be the sense that he’s incredibly dangerous and could do something terrifying at any moment. But again, Mordain is motivated solely by his experiments; as long as those current experiments aren’t harming innocents, there’s no reason he can’t be a useful ally.

FIGHTING MORDAIN?

The 4E Eberron Campaign Guide included a stat block for Mordain. I’m not including one here, because in my opinion fighting Mordain is simply a bad idea—both in terms of difficulty, but also because it won’t really accomplish anything. Remember that according to the legends, the TWELVE couldn’t find a way to kill him—and that’s when they had him as a prisoner, not when he was in Blackroot surrounded by his creations and defensive spells. One option is to use the statistics of a lich as a base, though I’d consider him an aberration as opposed to undead (or humanoid) and I’d add high regeneration. But there’s another approach, which is to say that his combat abilities aren’t that dramatic but that it doesn’t really MATTER… that at this point he has essentially become Blackroot, and that he simply produces a humanoid body when he needs to interact with outsiders. So he doesn’t need to be a terrifying force of destruction, because if you kill him he’ll just make a new body within a few rounds. This ties to the basic point that his role in the story isn’t really to BE a monster himself; it’s to create monsters and challenges.

Mordain or Daelkyr?

One valid question is how Mordain differs from a daelkyr. Why use Mordain instead of Dyrrn the Corruptor? There’s a few simple answers. The first is that Mordain operates on a smaller scale. He doesn’t have cults or armies of minions spread across the continent. Likewise, the daelkyr are mysterious but unquestionably destructive; they will destroy civilizations if left unchecked. Mordain, on the other hand, has no desire to destroy civilizations; his experiments are on a smaller scale and collateral damage is generally incidental, not the point. A final critical factor is that Mordain is an eccentric sociopath, but he’s not as completely ALIEN as the daelkyr are. You CAN have a conversation with Mordain. You can talk to him about what he’s doing with his latest experiment, and he’d be happy to pay you for those remorhaz entrails you discovered on your last adventure. He’s infamous and he’s deadly, but he’s more grounded than the daelkyr, and his schemes are generally more focused.

Why So Powerful?

One of the core principles of Eberron is wide magic, not high magic. Spells of over 5th level are all but unknown in the Five Nations. So how is it that Mordain wields this level of power? Why hasn’t it had a greater impact on life in the Five Nations? Why don’t people just copy what he’s doing?

Ultimately, this is based on the idea that Mordain is a pulp villain. He’s not SUPPOSED to logically fit into the structure of the world; if he was sane and reasonable and willing to lend his skills to House Vadalis, Khorvaire would be a better place. Instead, he’s channeling powers normal artificers and wizards can’t understand and using them for dangerous and selfish reasons. But beyond that, the idea is that these powers can’t be easily duplicated and have come with a terrible cost. This ties to the idea that at this point I’d consider him an aberration, and that he may be bound to Blackroot. Even if people in Arcanix could copy what he’s doing, they might not WANT to; anyone who could master his techniques would likely lose their humanity in the process.

Have you ever used Mordain in your campaign? if so, share the story below! Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters, who make these articles possible!

Q&A

We’ve never heard much about Mordain’s life before his horrific experiments were uncovered and he was excoriated. His excoriation happened two hundred years ago. Within the lifetime of elves, gnomes, and dwarves. To those who knew him before… How shocking was the discovery of his experiments. Was he well regarded and liked within The Twelve before?

I think that Mordain was a prodigy who was always pushing beyond the limits of acceptable arcane science. I think his RESULTS were respected, but I think he probably angered many seneschals and stepped on a lot of toes—and took a lot of paths that were forbidden. “Dammit, Mordain! Look at what happened to the Closed Circle in Sharn. There’s a REASON no one’s revised Dyrnin’s techniques!” I suspect that he was passionate and brilliant, and that may have won him some friends or followers. But I also think that his revelations came with a cost. I’ve suggested that at this point I’d consider him to be both a sociopath and an aberration. I think Mordain today isn’t the person he was when he started at the Twelve; and I think that by the time the Twelve failed to execute him, those who knew him were horrified by what he’d become.

With that said, the sourcebook City of Stormreach mentions Elira Dawn, a wizard and war criminal who was a protege of Mordain’s—though it incorrectly states that Mordain taught at Arcanix. One possibility is that Elira studied alongside Mordain at the Twelve; suggesting that he did have a following before his fall. The other possibility is that she worked with him AFTER he was excoriated, as I suggest could be an option for a PC wizard or warlock.

Any info on how Mordain has escaped the ire of the dragons? That level of power feels like something they’d be uncomfortable with, but more than that the last time someone tried to magebreed a new Mark into existence they destroyed an entire family line.

There’s a few answers to this. The first is that the dragons really don’t care about something unless it threatens the Prophecy or Argonnessen. The fact that they HAVEN’T destroyed Mordain implies that he’s done neither of those things. You’re correct that they took drastic action to deal with Vol, but part of that is because Vol succeeded—They DID create an apex mark, something that surely DID have Prophetic significance. By contrast, Mordain ATTEMPTED to make a new dragonmark and FAILED COMPLETELY. If he had succeeded, it might have spelled his doom; odds are likely that there was never any chance of his success.

The dragons aren’t peeking over the shoulder of every wizard. When adventurers get to 18th level they aren’t immediately killed by angry dragons. Mordain’s techniques are impressive, but compared to the epic magics the dragons used to destroy Xen’drik, they’re not THAT impressive. He’s a big deal in KHORVAIRE, but he’s hasn’t done anything that makes him a serious threat to Argonnessen.

Bureau of Balance: The Dark Lord

Art by Hari Connor

Twogether Studios is currently developing The Adventure Zone: Bureau of Balance — a collaborative storytelling card game set in the world of The Adventure Zone’s Balance Arc. In working with the McElroy Family and developing the basic ideas for Bureau of Balance, we agreed that we wanted the game to be accessible and engaging both to established fans of The Adventure Zone and to people who know nothing about it. The Adventure Zone broke down barriers to RPGs and ultimately is about a group of friends creating a funny fantasy adventure together, and that’s our goal with the game: you should be able to bring together any group of friends and create your own unique story in a little over an hour. An important part of this is expanding the world of Balance to allow for new missions – other relics, villains, and locations that your team of reclaimers must overcome.

Bureau of Balance doesn’t require a game master. Instead, you create your missions dynamically by selecting three decks of challenge cards: a Villain, a Relic, and a Location. These cards provide concrete mechanical details—the numbers you need to roll to defeat the monsters, the consequences of success or failure, and the prompts and rewards for storytelling. But these cards are broad ideas that leave enough room for you to make this your story. We wanted to share a closer look one of these mission decks: The Dark Lord. 

An early prototype game board

Bureau of Balance includes four villain decks. Each villain has to present a unique mechanical challenge, while also presenting a compelling foundation for adventure. The Dark Lord is a straightforward concept. We know there’s gerblins (“goblins” to those of you new to the Bureau) in the world; the Dark Lord is a malevolent tyrant with an army of gerblins and trolls, determined to use the power of the Relic to conquer the world. When you start off the game, players collectively need to answer a few questions about the Dark Lord. What is their name? What is their connection to the Relic? Consider two possible answers…

  • The Dark Lord is the Endless Shadow, the ghost of the demigod who forged the Relic at the dawn of time. As long as the Relic remains, the Endless Shadow will return and seek to consume the world. You must destroy the Relic once and for all! 
  • The Dark Lord is Bob, your old roommate from Fantasy College. You always said he’d never amount to anything, and it looks like he’s out to prove you wrong. If he gets that Relic, he’s going to do something very irresponsible with it. 

These two concepts show the spectrum of what’s possible within the game. Do you want your tale to be deadly serious or lighthearted? Are the gerblin minions of the Dark Lord innocents corrupted by the Endless Shadow, or are they just the loser buddies of the Dark Lord Bob? 

When you face the Dark Lord, the challenges are primarily physical. Initially you’ll have to deal with gerblin spies and scouts, along with human toadies and wraiths. You could just fight your way through these hosts, but you could outwit the gerblins or even try to stir up a revolt amongst the minions. As you progress through the deck you’ll encounter more powerful challenges, and Griffin McElroy helped us come up with ideas: If there’s gerblins, there should be hob-gerblins; if there’s a Big Troll, there should also be an Even Bigger Troll. One of the unique aspects of the Dark Lord is the idea of reinforcement—that while the gerblin hordes of the Dark Lord aren’t particularly tough, they are endless; certain challenges can call back defeated gerblins to fight you once again. 

In developing the image of the Dark Lord, artist Hari Connor worked with the idea of an imposing, armored figure that still maintains a sense of mystery.  What lies beneath the Dark Lord’s armor? In the final image you can see tusks—is the Dark Lord some sort of uber-gerblin, or are these just decoration? We wanted the sense that the Dark Lord is commanding an army, and the flavor of The Adventure Zone is carried through by the slogans on the banners of the army (Career Opportunities! Join the Forces of Evil!). 

The Adventure Zone: Bureau of Balance is a collaborative storytelling card game for 2-5 people. A single session takes 60-90 minutes to play, and the dynamic design provides over a hundred hours of possible adventures. Preorder now through January 25th (ships August 2020).  Each preordered game includes an exclusive Reclaimer Rewards expansion. Find out more at :  theadventurezonegame.com! If you’d like to see it in action, check out this episode of AFK!

FAQ: Tairnadal Patrons and Beasts

The Darguul warlord studied Caerys, slowly spinning the chan of his flail. “What could bring you to this place, elf?” His tribe gathered around them, forming a wide circle of shadows and gleaming red eyes.

Caerys held her double blade in the falcon guard, level with her shoulders and spreading out like wings. “I came in search of legends. Ten thousand years ago Daealyth of Taeri stood this ground and faced your ancestors, and twenty fell before his singing blades. You are no Dhakaani of old, and a mere twenty of you will bring no honor to the Taeri.”The warlord hissed in fury, and his flail flashed in the firelight. The chain wrapped around Caerys’ blade but she twisted away. The flail flew into the darkness. She spun forward, her double blade weaving a circle of fire as she danced toward the chieftain. In a moment the song of steel was over.

Caerys watched as the warlord fell to the ground. With a contemptuous snap of her wrist, she flicked the blood from her blade into the eyes of the stunned onlookers. She smiled behind her spirit veil, counting the blades arrayed against her.

“But forty will.”

—Dragonshards: Elves of Valenar, Part One

The Tairnadal elves of Eberron are devoted to the arts of war. When a Tairnadal elf reaches adolescence, a rite is perform that determines which of the patron ancestors has chosen the child. From that point on, it is the duty of the elf to emulate this ancestor, perfecting their skills and following in their footsteps. Each Tairnadal wears a zaelshin, an amulet that bears the sigil of their patron; when performing heroic deeds they cover their face with a veil known as a zaelta (“spirit mask”), so the enemy sees the zaelshin rather than the face of the living elf.

The Tairnadal have always been called out as one of the most efficient and deadly fighting forces in Eberron. In part this is due to their discipline and absolute devotion to the arts of war. The Tairnadal are ascetics who undergo decades of harsh training, and spend their lives searching for ever greater challenges for their skills. But the idea has always been that there’s a possibly supernatural aspect. Through their devotion, the Tairnadal preserve the spirits of their greatest champions; but the idea is that this allows the ancient heroes to guide the living elves. When a Tairnadal elf acts on instinct and intuition, they believe that the spirit of their ancestor can guide their hands and direct their thoughts. So for a Tairnadal, following the path of an ancestor isn’t simply an annoying chore; they believe that the more closely they emulate the ancestor, the easier it is for the patron to live through them, sharing their legendary skills.

So in part, the devotion of the Tairnadal is based on the belief that they are keeping the spirits of their ancestors from fading into oblivion. But this is balanced against the belief that the living Tairnadal receive concrete benefits from this relationship—that the exceptional skills of Tairnadal warriors and wizards reflect the direct guidance of these ancestors.

Over the years, there are a number of questions that come up frequently.

  • If Tairnadal culture is based on the relationship with the ancestors, how did it begin? Who were the first ancestors?
  • Is it possible for my character to become a patron ancestor, or can living elves never be seen as the equals of their ancestors?
  • Where are the patron ancestors? If their spirits still exist, why haven’t they been resurrected?
  • How do I choose a patron ancestor for my character? Why does it matter?
  • Can half-elves become Tairnadal?
  • What’s the difference between Valenar elves and Tairnadal?

Who are the patron ancestors?

One thing that many people don’t realize is that the original patron ancestors weren’t Tairnadal. The elves who fought against the ancient giants came from many different cultures. In Dragon 407, the article “Vadallia and Cardaen” presents two patron ancestors—one a warrior queen who was born free in the wilds of Xen’drik, the other a wizard trained by the Cul’sir giants who turned against his masters. The original patron ancestors were united by their common cause, but they came from many different cultures and backgrounds. Tairnadal culture was born on Aerenal, forged by refugees united by the stories of their champions and the determination that they would never be conquered again.

So the FIRST patron ancestors were heroes who fought against the giants. But while the foundation of the Tairnadal faith is to honor and preserve the ancestors, it’s understood that this is because it lets the mortal elf channel the skills of those legendary heroes… and potentially to use those skills to become legends in their own right. Look back to the story that begins this article. What this tells us was that in the Age of monsters there was a Tairnadal champion named Daealyth who was channeling the patron ancestor Taeri, one of the champions of Xen’drik. But the deeds of Daealyth were so exceptional that she herself became a legend—and TODAY, we have the elf Caerys, who is channeling Daealyth. So as a Tairnadal elf it is your duty to honor your ancestor and to do all that you can to bring glory to their name; but the hope is that in doing so you will become a vessel for their spirit and that together you will forge NEW legends—and that someday, future Tairnadal will channel YOUR spirit.

A secondary aspect to this is the idea that when dealing with generational ancestors, you do honor the patrons of your patron. In the opening paragraph, Caerys says that the battle will “bring no honor to the Taeri.” While she is the chosen of Daealyth, Daealyth was chosen by Taeri, and Caerys feels a secondary allegiance to the original champion.

Summing up: The first patron ancestors were champions of the conflicts on Xen’drik. However, over the course of tens of thousands of years new patrons have risen, and if you perform legendary deeds as a Tairnadal elf you yourself could become a patron ancestor.

in developing a patron ancestor—whether as a player or DM—consider that they are a celebrated, legendary figure and that the elves what to make sure they are never forgotten. Why are they celebrated and admired? What was their greatest achievement? Did they have a particular tool or treasure they were known for? Despite being beloved and preserved in memory, did they have any notable flaws? Because it’s the duty of the revenant to embody their flaws as well as their virtues! But an elf wouldn’t be preserve as a patron ancestor unless their virtues significantly outweighed their flaws.

But where ARE the patron ancestors? Are they in Dolurrh? Why don’t they get resurrected?

People only linger in Dolurrh for about a month before their spirits fade. In the past this has been used as a concrete limit on any form of resurrection; that unless a spirit is somehow kept from fading in Dolurrh (as some say occurs if the soul is snatched by the Keeper), there’s no way to return after it fades.

This is concrete fact. But no one knows if there’s anything beyond Dolurrh. The vassals of the Sovereign Host believe that Dolurrh is a gateway to the realms of the Sovereigns. Followers of the Silver Flame say the spirit moves on from Dolurrh to merge with the Silver Flame. The Blood of Vol says that fading is oblivion. The Tairnadal faith maintains that you persist for as long as you’re remembered. The more people who remember you, the stronger your spirit and the greater your ability to influence the world. Thus, the patron ancestors aren’t in Dolurrh and are beyond the reach of resurrection, but it’s believed that they continue to exist regardless.

How do I choose a patron ancestor for my character? Why does it matter?

Tairnadal elves don’t get to choose their patron ancestors; rather, the ancestor chooses the living elf. So Tairnadal children spend their youth essentially auditioning for the ancestors. The basic belief is that if you prove yourself to be an exceptional archer you’ll be chosen by a patron who specializes in archery—that early aptitudes inform the choice. But again, ultimately, the patron chooses the elf. You might EXPECT to be chosen by the legendary archer because of your skill, only to be chosen by a brave swordsman—who may have picked you because of your bravery, or some other aspect of your character you haven’t considered to be an asset.

One thing that is rarely a factor is bloodline. Consider the assertion that one in every 200 people is thought to be related to Genghis Khan. Most Tairnadal elves are related to many of the patron ancestors. It’s possible that you will end up tied to the same ancestor as your parents or siblings, but it’s not expected.

So in choosing a patron ancestor for your character, the primary question is how will it affect your story. Consider the following elements. F

  • Legend. The Tairnadal patrons are legends. They become patrons because the elves believe that their deeds must not be forgotten and that others should follow their example. What did your patron do to earn this devotion? What were they known for? What was their greatest deed? Did they have a legendary weapon or accessory (and if so, are you working to find it)? A signature move or spell? What is a distinctive thing about them that you can emulate?
  • Ideals, Bonds, Flaws. As a Tairnadal you’re expected to pattern your after your ancestor. Are your personality traits something you’ve cultivated to be more like your ancestor? Or are they things you’re trying to overcome? For example, if your flaw is your overconfidence, it could be that you’re NOT naturally overconfident, but you’re TRYING to be, because that’s something your ancestor was known for.
  • Class Features. Patrons are suppose to share their skills with their revenants. Do you see your ancestor as a source of class features—either those you have at the moment or those you will eventually gain? For example, if you’re a ranger, your Favored Enemy and Fighting Style likely reflect your ancestor. When you cast hunter’s mark, you might describe it as feeling your ancestor guide your aim. As a rogue or bard, it makes sense for your expertise to be tied to the skills your ancestor was celebrated for. If you’re a sorcerer or a true, your patron likely was as well. If you’re a warlock you might serve the same patron as your ancestor; if you’re a hexblade, your patron might be the weapon they carried. So, what does your class and your choices say about your ancestor?
  • Relationship. Are you proud to follow in your ancestor’s footsteps? Do you value their guidance and believe that together you will create new legends? Did you hope you’d be chosen by them, or did you always imagine you’d be chosen by a different patron? Beyond that, what is your actually relationship with the patron? Do you feel their presence guiding you? Do you have visions while trancing? This is especially appropriate for Tairnadal paladins, clerics, or warlocks; you could believe that the ancestor has a concrete purpose for you to fulfil.
  • Rivals. There are many more elves than patrons, and most patron ancestors have multiple elves following in their footsteps. You can find entire warbands dedicated to a particular patron. How well-represented is your patron among the Tairnadal? Are there dozens or hundreds of elves following in their footsteps, or are you one of only a few? What makes you stand out from the others? Do you have a particular rival who’s determined to be a better revenant than you?

Once you’ve considered these things, you can work out the rest of the details with your DM. How will your patron fit into the campaign? Are you trying to find their legendary artifact weapon? Are you driven to defend the innocent, or to hunt down a particular type of creature? As a Tairnadal you have a story you’re trying to relive; ideally that story should fit into the scope of the campaign your DM has in mind, not clash with it.

Can Half-Elves Become Tairnadal?

Ultimately that’s not up to mortals; it’s up to the patrons. What we’ve said is that there’s never been a case of a half-elf being chosen by a patron ancestor. But there’s nothing stopping you from making a Khoravar character who believes they HAVE been chosen and is trying to prove it. Again, if a Keeper of the Past could confirm it, it’s not the place of mortals to deny it.

What’s the difference between Valenar and Tairnadal?

Valenar are a subset of the Tairnadal elves. They are Tairnadal who came to Khorvaire as mercenaries and laid claim to the region they were protecting. The short form is that if you’re VALENAR then you fought in the Last War and served under High King Shaeras Vadallia. if you’re Tairnadal you could have remained on Aerenal and taken no part in the Last War. The Valenar are an armed host engaged in an active military operation; this means, for example, that there are no Tairnadal children in Valenar, because the civilian infrastructure of Tairnadal society remains in Aerenal; the Valenar are part of an ongoing military operation.

Valenar Beasts

Previous editions have focused on the amazing horses of the Valenar, beasts with seemingly supernatural attributes. We’ve always highlighted that despite its best efforts, House Vadalis has never been able to breed these horses in captivity. Over the course of two editions, we’ve called out a few things the first is the idea that what makes the horses special isn’t simply genetic—that it’s tied to the idea that the HORSE is channeling the spirit of a legendary ancestor, that this is replicating the bond between the patron and their animal companion. This led us to the thought that it shouldn’t be limited to horses. While the Valenar are renowned for their cavalry, they also have expert commandos, assassins, and soldiers of every specialty—an elf could have a remarkable hound or hawk. The key point is that the idea of being chosen by a Valenar beast isn’t simply that the animal likes you; it’s that there’s a bond between you and the spirit within the beast. This is why you can only have one Valenar beast; if your patron was bound to a hawk, you can have a Valenar hawk as a companion, but you can’t later trade it in for a horse. The hawk is a defining part of your ancestor’s story.

Rising From The Last War does suggest that a Valenar beast could bond to a non-elf adventurer. This would be exceptionally remarkable, and the big question is what this means. Do you have some distant blood tie to the ancestor? Do you have a spiritual connection to them? Could you be an elf reincarnated in human form? Or has the spirit simply judged you to be a worthy companion?

House Vadalis hasn’t given up on replicating Valenar beast. But the idea is that what makes the beast special is the SPIRIT, and this only manifests when it is bound to a Tairnadal companion; when bred in captivity away from their people, the spirit won’t manifest and the Valenar beast will be born as a mundane creature, not fey.

Further Reading…

This isn’t the first article I’ve written about the Tairnadal. If you want to dig deep, you should explore the following links.

Additional Questions…

If you have questions about the Tairnadal, post them in the comments! Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters, who keep this site running.

Has there ever been a Tairnadal who was later turned into a deathless?

It’s an interesting question, and more complicated than you might think. Bear in mind that the Aereni and the Tairnadal are two entirely different cultures with different values and traditions. The Tairnadal are ascetic, nomadic, and relentlessly martial. The Aereni are static and peaceful. While they join forces against common threats, they have relatively little in common and there’s not a lot of interaction between them. Looking to the deathless, the Aereni consider their tradition to be superior because the deathless continues to exist in this world. The Tairnadal consider their path to be superior, because the ancestor lives on through hundreds of revenants; they see that as a form of ascension, a superior form of immortality to just being trapped in Shae Mordai for eternity. A secondary factor is that while, per 3.5 rules, it is possible for a priest of the Undying Court to animate lesser deathless, the entire principle of the undying is that they are sustained by the devotion of their descendants—that for a Tairnadal deathless to survive, they would need to have the love and devotion of a sufficient population of local elves.

So could it happen? Sure. The Tairnadal and Aereni have joined forces multiple times to fight against dragons, and perhaps a Tairnadal champion performed such great deeds that the Aereni animated them after death and have sustained them with their love. But the TAIRNADAL might consider this to be a punishment rather than a blessing; they might rather live on in the memories of their descendants rather than be trapped in an undead body.

In saying that the Tairnadal ancestors aren’t in Dolurrh, are you confirming that there IS something beyond Dolurrh? Doesn’t that have enormous implications for other religions?

The Tairnadal faith is just that: a faith. The Tairnadal BELIEVE their ancestors are reaching out from beyond Dolurrh, just as a Vassal smith believes that Onatar is guiding her hands. You can’t just have a casual conversation with a patron—”Hey, Great-great-great-uncle Haen, what’s it like beyond Dolurrh?” Instead, they communicate through visions and intuition.

With that said: the Tairnadal are channeling SOMETHING. It is a concrete fact that a revenant blade can gain a supernatural level of skill by following the path of their ancestors. There is SOMETHING real going on here. And it’s quite possible that it’s exactly what the Tairnadal believe it to be. The idea of a patron ancestor existing in a state beyond death and guiding multiple descendants is very similar to the kalashtar quori, who also exist in the collective souls of their bloodlines. But the point is that there’s no absolute certainty here… and even if the Tairnadal spirits do somehow exist beyond Dolurrh, it doesn’t reveal what happens to the souls of faithful Vassals or reveal whether the Sovereigns exist.

What is the relationship between the Aereni and Tairnadal like? Did they just kinda divide up the isles between them and call it good?

This is summed up on page 218 of the original Eberron Campaign Setting: “Relations between the Tairnadal and the elves of the Undying Court are cordial. They honor the same ancestors, and respect the shared blood that flows through their veins.” It’s also the case that elves do move between the two cultures. Children who don’t adapt to the harsh life of the Tairnadal may be fostered among the Aereni, while the ECS says that “In the last few millennia many younger elves of southern bloodlines have left their homes to join the Tairnadal.” The Tairnadal have fought alongside the Aereni when Aerenal has been attacked, and as I suggest elsewhere, you might well find Tairnadal mercenaries serving as marines on Aereni ships. So yes, they split up the island long ago. The Tairnadal have remained in their territory, and so far there’s never been a conflict over those borders; Aerenal isn’t overcrowded.

What sources of internal conflict does Valenar/the Tairnadal have?

Tairnadal culture has little room for internal dissent. It is, in essence, a highly disciplined army that is further united by deep devotion to a shared religion. This ties to the general elf dedication to tradition and is reflected by the fact that the civilization has stood, virtually unchanged, for over twenty thousand years. On the one hand, this reflects unity and stability; on the other hand, it also reflects the general stagnation of Aerenal.

So: the Tairnadal are effectively an army, broken into a clearly defined system of warclans and warbands. The endless training exercises conducted between these united provides an outlet for competition within the culture, as does the competition between revenants struggling to be the best avatars of their patrons. There’s also a tension between revenants whose patron ancestors had feuds. But this is friendly competition; people who truly don’t fit it will simply be expelled from the society, typically fostered to the Aereni. With that said, there are some philosophical divisions, shown by the Silaes Tairn, Dralaeus Tairn, and Valaes Tairn; but these are long-established sects that have coexisted for millennia.

Within the Valaes Tairn, the primary point of conflict is simple: who supports the Valenar initiative? While many of the warclans joined Shaeras’s expedition, others chose to remain on Aerenal and disapprove of his actions (which some see as a dishonorable betrayal of a client). As a Tairnadal elf, you should decide if you serve in Valenar or if you oppose it.

Valenar is a different issue, because it involves many different factions. The TAIRNADAL in Valenar are strongly united; they are, again, a disciplined army in the field. But you also have Cyran loyalists, House Lyrandar, Khoravar immigrants, and the khunan majority, all with different aspirations and dreams. House Lyrandar imagines a Khoravar state, while most Tairnadal see the kingdom as a tool—the perfect place to fight a war without threatening Aerenal.

There are no Valenar civilians? This is news to me. Do they rely on locals for everything else? Are children and noncombatants shipped out?

This is discussed in more detail in this post, among other places. But yes, that’s the idea. The Tairnadal don’t need land. They don’t care about Valenar as a long-term kingdom (with the understanding that “long-term” has a different meaning for people who live for centuries). It’s a military beachhead and an opportunity for conflict; what they WANT is to encourage a powerful enemy to attack them, allowing them to emulate their ancestors (who fought a guerilla war against a powerful foe). By keeping their civilian infrastructure on Aerenal they maintain the ability to abandon Valenar entirely if it serves their purposes.

I understand that the Valenar elves use the locals to fill civilian roles but who does that for the Tairnadal back home. Who grows the food, looks after the kids, makes sure no one poops in the well, etc?

This is covered in this article:

On Aerenal, much of the mundane work is done by elves who have yet to earn blade or steed. But there are master craftsmen among the elves of Valenar, those who dedicate their lives to the work of supporting the soldiers. This is not a choice; it is religious duty. When a child comes of age among the Tairnadal, the Keepers of the Past perform divinations to see which of the ancient heroes has chosen the initiate. Honorable warrior, stormcalling druid, merciless hunter, master smith –- these are just a few of the archetypes found among the ancient Tairnadal, and it is up to the young elf to follow whatever path is laid before him. Most of the Valaes Tairn are deadly warriors, but some are destined to support their kindred as smiths, engineers, or other vital tasks. These elves are known as the zaelantar, “peaceful spirits.” They are viewed with a mixture of respect and pity by their warlike brethren; the work they do is vital, and yet they are denied the chance to ride into battle or stalk prey.

The critical point here is that Tairnadal undergo decades of training and service before they are bound to an ancestor. So you might not be bound to an ancestor until you’re 60 years old. Which is fairly trivial for an elf who could live for a thousand years, but that’s still a good 40 years of productive labor. So who looks after the kids? Older kids. Meanwhile, elders who’ve retired from active duty train the youth, along with the Keepers of the Past.

With that said, bear in mind that Tairnadal society is completely unlike life in the Five Nations. The Tairnadal are essentially an army, and you’re in boot camp for the first few decades of your life. EVERYONE does latrine duty when it’s their turn, and everyone makes sure people don’t poop in the well; if you do, expect harsh military discipline. As an adult, you’re part of a warband; the warbands are nomadic, remaining in motion and living off the land. This lifestyle is sustained both by strict population control AND by powerful druidic magic that ensures that the Tairnadal don’t grow beyond the ability to sustain this nomadic lifestyle—with primal magic used both to enhance the fertility of the land and its creatures and to improve the efficiency of Tairnadal foraging (see the cualra flask in the article linked above).

So Tairnadal warbands are mobile and self-sufficent. These migrate between settled communities that train the young and provide the services of the zaelantar and the Keepers of the Past. Most of the work to maintain these communities is performed by young elves (who can, again, be up to 60 years old!) who’ve yet to be assigned an ancestor and a warband. Meanwhile, the Siyal Marrain are responsible for maintaining both the Valenar beasts and the land itself, ensuring that the warbands aren’t overtaxing its resources.

Also, are there non-military ancestors (great healers and guides, to say nothing of artists and lovers)?

There are great healers and guides, as well as artists and lovers; they’re just ALSO deadly warriors. Luckily, D&D supports this. The great healer is a war cleric or druid, who can smite as well as heal. The great artist might a bard of the College of Blades, whose artistry is deadly. As for great lovers, the story of Vadallia and Cardaen is a story of tragic love; it’s just that the lovers happen to be a peerless warrior and a mighty wizard.

This is a fundamental difference between Tairnadal and Aereni. The Ascendant counselors of the Undying Court include sages, philosophers, and abstract artists. But Tairnadal society is relentlessly martial. Life revolves around perfection of martial skill and magic. Those who yearn for a more peaceful life can become Aereni; this does happen, just as some among the Aereni leave their culture to follow the path of the Tairnadal. With that said, there are patrons that fill more traditionally civilian roles; we’ve spoken of the zaelantar artisans (mentioned above) and of the Siyal Marrain who tend the horses and the land. But even they are part of the core cycle of Tairnadal culture. There’s no patron who’s “the poet who never touched a blade or cast a spell,” unless he somehow defeated an army with his words.

Is it possible for a Tairnadal warlock’s patron to BE their ancestor? 

I’m inclined to say no, because to me this muddies the line between cleric and warlock. To me, a cleric is someone who draws their magic from their faith in a higher power… while a warlock has an arrangement with a concrete entity. Essentially, the cleric requires faith while the warlock doesn’t; the warlock is making a deal with someone they know exists. This changes the dynamic because warlock patrons usually have clear, finite agendas, and because in principle you COULD find a warlock patron and punch them in the nose.

So looking to an Archfey warlock: if their patron is an archfey of Thelanis, that’s a being that exists and who we can go and meet. It can have quarrels with other archfey. It might betray or deceive the warlock. It could give you a physical gift or want you to bring it something. By contrast, if it’s a patron ancestor it only exists in this abstract “It’s sustained in the memory of all Tairnadal” way… it’s more like the devotion of a cleric or paladin than the bargaining of a warlock.

So personally, I would keep that intact. Rather than saying that the patron is your ancestor, I’d say that you have the SAME patron as your ancestor. If your ancestor was an archfey warlock, you are following in their footsteps by becoming an archfey warlock, serving the same patron they did—and there’s an interesting relationship in that your patron is an immortal being who KNEW your ancestor. It can still be that your pact blade is the blade your ancestor wielded, that your familiar was their familiar—but it’s because you’re serving the same patron they didn’t, not because they are the patron.

What’s up with the Valenar slaughtering refugees fleeing from the Mourning?

I didn’t work on the book that described this incident, and it doesn’t make any sense to me. Valenar don’t revel in needless bloodshed. The ancestors they emulate were rebels who rose up against tyranny and cruelty. As a rule, the Valenar don’t want to conquer or oppress; they want to fight conquerors and oppressors. Note that they themselves don’t actually RULE Valenar; they’ve left the administration to the Khoravar. Many believe that the Valenar don’t actually WANT a kingdom; what they want is to provoke a powerful nation into attacking them, because THAT replicates the conflict with the giants—guerillas fighting against overwhelming odds. It’s very likely that they’ve claimed Valenar solely because they want Karrnath or Darguun to try to take it from them.

So: in suggesting that they needlessly slaughtered civilians, I want to know WHY. Valenar aren’t inherently cruel. They could have perceived the refugees as a threat, perhaps thought they were BRINGING the Mourning. Or it’s possible they were in some way following the path of an ancestor. But if so, I’d want to know HOW the ancestor’s story drove them to slaughter civilians—and what it is that would make such an ancestor a figure worth celebrating and preserving. If you said that there’s an ancestor who was undefeated in battle, who saved tens of thousands of elves, but who also showed no mercy to enemy civilians, OK, I could perhaps accept that. But the short form is that this incident was created by an author who didn’t explain the reasons behind it and likely didn’t fully understand Tairnadal culture, so I don’t give it a lot of weight.

Thanks for reading and happy holidays!

IfAQ: Can Warforged Cry?

Art by Júlio Azevedo for Exploring Eberron!

If all goes well, I’ll be doing more Eberron support on this site in 2020. The frequency and form of this content will depend on my Patreon support. In addition to feature articles, I’ll always be tackling frequently asked questions about Eberron. But I also want to take the time to answer a few INfrequently asked questions.

Can Warforged Cry?

In MY Eberron, no: warforged don’t cry. There’s two major reasons for this. The first is that warforged are generally depicted as having crystaline eyes. They thus have no need to lubricate their eyes and there’s no logical reason for them to have any sort of tear duct. So there’s no biological reason for it. But beyond that: I don’t WANT non-human species of behave just like humans. I always think it’s more interesting to explore how a nonhuman species differs from humanity as opposed to saying “They’re just like us, but with pointy ears or green skin.” So I want to know what warforged do INSTEAD of crying.

Warforged have the capacity to feel emotion. A warforged can feel joy or sorrow. But they can’t smile, and in my opinion, they can’t cry. So how do these emotions come out? Is there an involuntarily physiological response like a tear? Is there a more voluntary response, like when you embrace the sorrow and start sobbing? In MY Eberron, a warforged’s involuntary response to sorrow is a slight trembling that runs through the root-like musculature of the warforged. If the warforged has metal armor plating, this will rattle the plates against one another, creating a soft, dissonant chiming sound. If the warforged has non-metal armor, if will be more of a rustling like rain. When a warforged is in the grip of sorrow, a common response is to bring its arms together—as if hugging itself—and to rhythmically tap is fingers against its forearms, essentially creating an amplified version of that “crying” sound. A warforged may also do this rhythmic tapping against one forearm as a general expression of sorrow or frustration—the equivalent of taking a deep sigh.

Now, that’s what *I* do in MY Eberron. The second side of the question is what I think the official answer might be, and my suspicion is that it’s “If there’s no rule that states a warforged can’t cry, than it can cry.” If I HAD to explain how this would work, I’d say “The organic components of a warforged are infused with alchemical fluids. Warforged tears are an involuntarily expulsion of these fluids.” But again, I personally would prefer for them to express their grief in a way that’s unique to warforged, rather than to mirror humanity.

What are your thoughts on warforged crying? Have you ever addressed it in your campaign? Post your answers below! Also, go to TheAdventureZoneGame.com to check out my latest game, currently in preorder until mid-January 2020!

What I’m up to: TAZ and CCD20!

I had a fantastic time at PAX Unplugged, but I’m busy as ever! I’m still working on Exploring Eberron, and it will be out early next year. In the meantime, there’s two other things happening right now!

The Adventure Zone: Bureau of Balance

The Adventure Zone: Bureau of Balance is the latest game from my company Twogether Studios! Working with the McElroy family, we’ve developed a game that lets you create your own unique adventures in the world of the Balance Arc. TAZ: BoB is a collaborative storytelling game for 2-5 people, and it takes about an hour to play. There’s no gamemaster; each dungeon is dynamically generated, and you build the story together.

You can find out more about The Adventure Zone: Bureau of Balance here, and if you preorder in the next month you’ll get bonus cards! If you’d like to see it in play, LoadingReadyRun played in last week—check it out here!

CCD20 2019

Nine years ago, Satine Phoenix invited me to participate in a livestreamed D&D event to raise money for children’s literacy charity Reach Out And Read. Tomorrow (Saturday, December 14th) the tradition continues! I’m guiding a team of awesome players through an Eberron adventure, starting at 10 AM Pacific Time! Other DMs will be running the same adventure for different groups throughout the day. You can find more information—and a link to donate to Reach Out and Read at the CCD20 website. I hope some of you will check it out!

That’s what’s keeping me busy. I’ve got a few short Eberron articles on the back burner, so tune in next week for those!