Game of Thrones Bingo: The Finale!

After many years, the final episode of Game of Thrones Bingo is upon us. Will the Iron Throne be destroyed? Will we go full tyrant with executions and heads on spikes? Will we have a final opportunity for someone to pet a direwolf? We’ll find out in a few hours! Here’s a set of 14 cards:

GoT Bingo 8-6

A few clarifications…

  • words words words” means someone says that phrase – so someone has to say “Three Eyed Raven.”
  • Arya Kills means she kills someone or something. Arya Has A Moment means we have some significant point of introspection or development: Does she find Nymeria again? Does she see Syrio? Does she have some sort of revelation about what she wants?
  • Gendry, Yara, Bronn, Sam, and the Night’s Watch count if they show up in person or if they’re just named. Does someone talk about restoring the Night’s Watch? Do we see someone in the uniform?
  • The Iron Throne Destroyed requires that we either SEE it destroyed or have a verbal confirmation “Well, the Iron Throne was destroyed in the attack.” The Iron Throne Intact requires that we see it.
  • Debate is encouraged! Was that injury truly gruesome? Was Tyrion sufficiently clever?

See you on the other side!

Sidebar: Aberrant Dragonmarks

The twelve dragonmarks are tied to specific bloodlines and passed down through families. They are reliable and predictable, and their powers are constructive. They create; they heal; they protect. But there is another kind of dragonmark: marks that are unpredictable and dangerous to both the bearer and the people around them.

Wayfinder’s Guide to Eberron, page 111

I’ve talked about aberrant dragonmarks before, including this dragonmark article and this canon Dragonshard article. But I wanted to take a moment to talk about the evolution of aberrant dragonmarks and the role they’re intended to play in the setting.

From the beginning, the idea was that the aberrant dragonmarks are in essence the direct opposite of the “true” dragonmarks… that if the pure marks are believed to be a blessing from Siberys, the aberrant marks are the cursed touch of Khyber. A few critical points…

ORDER VS CHAOS

True dragonmarks reflect order. They are entirely predictable. They are tied to specific bloodlines and passed down through a family. They look exactly the same. Aberrant dragonmarks are chaotic and break all these rules. They aren’t tied to bloodlines and aren’t hereditary. The child of two aberrants has no better or worse chance of developing an aberrant dragonmark than any other child in the world… and if the child does develop an aberrant mark, it won’t look the same as either of their parents’ marks or grant the same abilities. Looking again to Wayfinder’s Guide, “If two aberrant marks grant fire bolt, one mark may be formed from scar tissue while another is traced on the skin in lines of cold fire.”

There’s a confusing twist to this, which is that the most reliable way to produce an aberrant mark is to mix the bloodlines of two different dragonmarked houses. This is also known as a mixed mark. As a result, the dragonmarked houses forbid marriages between members of different houses. A secondary element to this: most houses shun all contact with aberrants, but Dragonmarked notes that House Ghallanda has, on a few rare occasions, allowed halflings with aberrant marks to marry into the house. While this is scandalous, it’s no more of a threat to the house bloodline than allowing any entirely unmarked halfling into the house, because aberrant dragonmarks aren’t tied to bloodlines. So: if a Ghallanda halfling has a child with a Jorasco heir, there’s an excellent chance of producing an aberrant mark. If they have a child with someone who has an aberrant dragonmark, there’s no more risk of the child having an aberrant mark than if they sire a child with any other halfling.

SAFETY VS DANGER

The true dragonmarks place no burden or strain on the bearer of the mark. The powers granted by the mark are largely constructive or positive in nature, while the powers of an aberrant mark are largely destructive or disturbing. This is a broad concept, not always absolutely true; we suggest that a Lyrandar heir can learn how to harness their mark offensively as a storm sorcerer, and the nosomantic chiurgeons of House Jorasco are infamous for their power to cause injuries and disease. Conversely, it’s possible to have an aberrant mark that channels a power that isn’t directly aggressive, but even a power that has positive aspects may manifest in a chaotic and disturbing way. The Wayfinder’s Guide to Eberron doesn’t restrict the spells that an aberrant mark can grant, but it notes that “…aberrant marks always have flaws. These may not actively hurt a character, but they are always a burden in some way—a burden that could drive a weak-willed person to madness.”

Consider Zae, a halfling in House Tarkanan who appears in a number of Eberron novels. Zae has the ability to telepathically communicate with and influence rats and other sorts of vermin. On the surface, there’s nothing negative about this; it’s not that different from the powers of the Mark of Handling. But the idea is that it’s not just that Zae can influence rats when she chooses to activate her mark, like a Vadalis heir… but that she hears the rats in her mind all the time. She feels them as a part of her. And she didn’t choose rats; that choice was made for her. Her mark isn’t destructive to others, but it’s a burden she had to learn to bear and to control.

WHAT’S THE POINT?

There are many ways for a person to get some minor magical abilities. In 5E, anyone can take the Magic Initiate feat. You could be a sorcerer with powers drawn from some manner of mystical bloodline. If you just want to have some innate magic power, you don’t need to have an aberrant mark. Given this, what makes an aberrant mark DIFFERENT from a sorcerer or an initiate IS the idea that it’s the touch of Khyber, that it’s a burden you’ve had to overcome, that it’s something that people are right to be afraid of. The trick to this is that it’s entirely a story concept. We SAY that it’s difficult to control an aberrant dragonmark, that it’s a physical and mental burden, but there’s no mechanical reflection of this. The ability to burn a hit die to improve the power of your mark is intended to reflect the idea that channeling the full power of your mark is a physical strain, but it’s something that a player character controls. The critical idea here is that player characters are remarkable. YOU don’t have any risk of your aberrant dragonmark suddenly triggering on its own and killing your friend… but that’s because we assume that you have fully mastered it. But OTHER people with aberrant dragonmarks do have that risk, and may have serious physical or mental flaws that we wouldn’t impose on a player character. Looking again to Zae, if I was playing her as a character, I’d play up the fact that I’m always hearing the whispers of the rats in my head and that it’s driven me a little crazy… but that’s my choice as a player, a flaw I’m taking on as opposed to a concrete mechanical aspect of the mark.

Questions that often come up in relation to this include are people with aberrant marks evil or just misunderstood? Are they like mutants in Marvel? Could you have an alliance of aberrants trying to do good like the X-Men? 

People with aberrant marks aren’t inherently evil. Like the mutants in the Marvel universe, they are people who have had dangerous powers thrust upon them and have to deal with prejudice because of it. And you could certainly have an alliance of aberrants trying to do good. House Tarkanan seeks to help aberrants. As seen in The Son of Khyber, they do seek to shelter aberrants and help them learn to control their powers. But they see the unmarked and the true-marked alike as their enemies. Rather than trying to change the prejudice, the Tarkanans see themselves as standing alone against the world, and willfully violate the laws of the Five Nations and do whatever they see as best for their people… so in the mutant analogy, they’re more like the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants than the X-Men.

The ultimate point is this: Someone who develops an aberrant mark is an innocent burdened with a power that’s both a blessing and a curse. They aren’t the evil children of Khyber the superstitions say. And yet, there is some truth to the superstitions. They CAN be dangerous. They can kill innocents. Their marks can drive them mad. So the idea was always that in taking a true dragonmark you are gaining a degree of social status… while in taking an aberrant dragonmark you are choosing to deal with fear and prejudice. You can absolutely fight against that. You can try to make life better for all aberrants, to change the public view; that’s a compelling and heroic arc for a player character. But it is intentional that fear of aberrants ISN’T entirely house propaganda; that aberrant marks are dangerous and disturbing in ways that the true marks aren’t.

BUT ACCORDING TO THE ECS…

What I’ve described is how I’ve always seen aberrant dragonmarks. You can see this in the portrayal of House Tarkanan in Sharn: City of Towers and the novel City of Towers… the first Eberron books I worked on following the Eberron Campaign Setting. With that said, this isn’t reflected by the Aberrant Dragonmark feat that’s presented in the 3.5 Eberron Campaign Setting sourcebook. That feat grants a number of seemingly innocuous abilities like feather fall and detect secret doors, and says nothing about the dreadful burden of a mark.

The point is that this is a case where what’s presented in the ECS never matched my vision of the world, and where later books corrected that. This isn’t the only place where this happened: another clear example is the Blood of Vol. The ECS says “The Blood of Vol cult attracts followers fascinated by death and the undead. The most dedicated of these revere an ancient lich who calls herself Vol, Queen of the Dead.” The current interpretation of the Blood of Vol reverses almost all of these things. Seekers are devoted to life and seek the power of the Divinity Within; they aren’t “fascinated by death.” They view the undead as useful tools. And the Queen of the Dead leads the Emerald Claw, but she isn’t part of the core faith. Essentially, the original presentation in the ECS was half-baked; over the course of subsequent books, it was fleshed out and given more depth. The same is the case with aberrant dragonmarks. When the original feat was presented, the full ramifications of aberrant dragonmarks—the War of the Mark, House Tarkanan, their role in the world—hadn’t been thought through. The Wayfinder’s Guide to Eberron reflects the fully fleshed out concept, and it’s the path I expect any future official content to take.

I’ll note that with the WGtE version of the Aberrant Dragonmark feat, you can still have a mark that grants feather fall. But the rest of the section still applies. Like Zae the Rat Girl, even if your POWER isn’t destructive, all aberrant marks have flaws… and the question is, what is the flaw associated with your mark and how has it been a burden to you? If you don’t like the concept, you can get the exact same effect by taking Magic Initiate instead. The idea is that you should take an Aberrant Dragonmark because you WANT that story—you want to explore the burden of the mark, or the challenge posed by the fear it inspires in others.

Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters, who keep this website going!

Q&A

In the WGtE, Aberrant Dragonmark is a feat. But I want to play a half-elf with an aberrant dragonmark at first level. What can I do? 

There’s a few options.

  • The Morgrave Miscellany presents “Child of Khyber” as a race option, with subraces to reflect your species. This was designed with exactly this issue in mind, but it’s not official content.
  • You can use the idea that you possess an aberrant dragonmark as a story justification for your class abilities. An aberrant dragonmark is a simple way to explain the powers of either a warlock or sorcerer, and this would allow you to wield powers far greater than those granted by the feat.
  • As a DM, I’d be willing to give a player an aberrant dragonmark as a bonus feat if they understood and agreed to the idea that I was going to play up the drawbacks of having the mark—that they’d have to deal with fear and prejudice because of it. The powers the feat provides are not that vast, and if it’s going to make a more compelling story—and again, if the player understands that they are going to be paying a price for this “gift,” I’d allow it.

I seem to recall that some in Eberron interpret the true dragonmarks as a special manifestation of the Draconic Prophecy. From this point of view, how do aberrant marks fit it? 

Dragonmarks are considered to be an indicator of Prophetic significance, yes. This is true of both aberrant and true marks, and both mean the same thing: you are significant to the Prophecy. What we’ve said before is that in general, dragonmarks serve the same function as tarot cards in cartomancy or birds in ornithomancy: the appearance, confluence, and movements of dragonmarked individuals may provide information to someone who knows how to interpret the signs. So it’s not that aberrant dragonmarks reflect any sort of corruption of the Prophecy; the Prophecy incorporates good and evil, order and chaos, and both Khyber and Siberys have a place in it.

With that said… that’s the DEFAULT answer. You could decide that aberrant marks reflect a corruption of the Prophecy if you want. Or you could say that all of the dragonmarks are a daelkyr creation designed to interfere with the Prophecy… and if the dragons figure this out, they might try to destroy all dragonmarks!

In world lore did aberrant marks begin to manifest when the true marks did, were the first aberrant marks mixed or manifested spontaneously on random people?

Dragonmarked provides the canon answer.

Who was the first person to manifest an aberrant dragonmark? Did he consider his power to be a blessing or a curse? The answers will likely never be known. Over the course of centuries, the archivists and bards of the dragonmarked houses have carefully compiled a onesided version of history. The aberrants slain in the War of the Mark never had a chance to tell their story, and fact can no longer be distinguished from superstition.

Aberrant dragonmarks appear to have come into existence at the same time as the true dragonmarks. The first records of aberrant marks refer only to individuals as opposed to families. Scholars believe that aberrant dragonmarks appeared sporadically and were only rarely passed to children. Fragmentary histories paint a grim picture of the “children of Khyber,” attributing all manner of depravity to the bearers of aberrant marks. Of course, these tales also attribute astonishing powers to the early aberrants, such as the story of one who burned down an entire thorp with a wave of his hand because he “desired warmth.” Whether these stories have any grain of truth or not, tales of aberrant activity grew more frequent over the centuries. Approximately fifteen hundred years ago, the appearance of aberrants reached an apex—and the bearers of the true marks decided it was time to act.

Are there any unmarked groups in Eberron that don’t find the Aberrant marked dangerous? Do the various faiths (Seekers, Purifiers, druids) treat them as aberrations? Do the people of Sarlona have enough exposure to either group of marks notable enough to have a sweeping opinion on them?

Public opinion has been against the aberrants since before the War of the Mark, as noted above. Some feel their powers are a gift of the Traveler or the touch of the Shadow; most just think of them as Children of Khyber, cursed by dark powers. As I’ve said before, an aberrant who can’t control their mark can pose a very real threat to innocent people, and the purpose of the templars of the Silver Flame is to protect the innocent from supernatural threats; combined with house-driven propaganda, the Silver Flame generally sees aberrants as a danger to be dealt with.

With all of that said, bear in mind that following the War of the Mark and the imposition of strict rules to avoid mixed marks, aberrant dragonmarks were extremely rare. Part of why they are feared is because people have no actual experience with them; they only know the terrifying stories. Aberrant marks have become more common in the last century and are starting to manifest with even greater levels of power, but this is a new development. House Tarkanan first formed SIX YEARS AGO. So many organizations don’t yet HAVE a fully formalized take on aberrant dragonmarks. A typical templar of the Silver Flame would see aberrants as threats, but I could also see priests who would seek to create a sanctuary for aberrants and help them control their powers—much like the haven for tieflings in Thrane (it’s actually quite likely to think that the same community would house both). It’s possible there are Seekers who would see aberrant dragonmarks as a manifestation of the Divinity Within. As for Sarlona, dragonmarks don’t manifest in Sarlona and I doubt people have an opinion about them. People in the trade cities will have met dragonmarked merchants, but I expect it’s just thrown into the general pile of “Creepy things about foreigners.”

In regards to the bit about Aberrant-marked halflings being “safe” to marry into Ghallanda (or any) house because aberrant marks aren’t tied to a bloodline, what about mixed marks? Those are aberrant, and they’re explicitly caused by mingling two bloodlines. Wouldn’t those halflings pose a threat to create more and more aberrant marks?

Good question. The catch is that manifesting any sort of aberrant mark BREAKS the bloodline. If you’re a halfling born to a Ghallanda mother and Jorasco father and you develop an aberrant dragonmark, you are no longer tied to either the Mark of Healing or the Mark of Hospitality: you have an aberrant mark, and that’s all. It’s believed the same is true of all aberrant marks; if your great-grandfather was Jorasco and none of your family has manifested the Mark of Healing, in theory it’s latent in your bloodline; but Ghallanda asserts that anyone who manifests an aberrant dragonmark purges any ties to any other mark. So in that way, someone with an aberrant dragonmark is the SAFEST out-of-house heir to bring in, because you don’t have to worry about any latent ties to other houses.

In general, a bloodline can only carry a single mark; remember that this isn’t normal genetics, it’s MAGIC and the Prophecy. If your mother is Ghallanda and your father is Jorasco, if you don’t manifest a mixed mark, you’ll have the chance to develop one of the two marks, but that’s the only one tied to your bloodline. If you manifest the Mark of Healing, your children won’t ever spontaneously manifest the Mark of Hospitality.

If the aberrant marks are chaotic, are they Chaotic with a capital C? How do devotees of the Traveller regard those with aberrant marks? Is there any connection to Kythri?

Aberrant dragonmarks aren’t tied to Kythri, and true marks aren’t tied to Daanvi; they are believed to be tied to Siberys and Khyber. Looking to followers of the Traveler, there’s two aspects. Manifesting an aberrant dragonmark is a change that can bring chaos and crisis into someone’s life, and yet can ultimately make them stronger. As such, yes, many devotees of the Traveler would consider aberrant dragonmarks to be a gift of the Traveler; others see them as the touch of the Shadow. Because of this, there are certainly aberrants who embrace the faith of the Traveler.

The Test of Siberys is based on the idea that true dragonmarks manifest in stressful situations tied to the function of the mark. Is this also true of aberrant dragonmarks?

Absolutely, and given that many aberrant mark powers are dangerous, this often leads to tragedy. Someone loses their temper in a heated argument and suddenly burning hands. With that said, aberrant marks don’t always require such a situation. Take the story from the previous dragonmark…

She grew up in village in Daskara, not far from the modern city of Sigilstar. She loved the country and taking care of the livestock. When she was 13, her family fell ill with a disease no one had ever seen before. They died, and the plague spread to the rest of the village and their stock. Only two things were unaffected: the rats and the girl. When everyone was dead, she fled to the town of Sarus. You’ve never heard of Sarus, because it doesn’t exist anymore. It was burnt by those who sought to keep the plague from spreading. The rats kept the girl alive, and were the only thing that kept her close to sane. In time she learned to control her power. Even so, she couldn’t bear the burden of the deaths on her conscience. She declared that the girl had died with her family. She was someone new, someone without a name. She was the Lady of the Plague.

Now, one possibility is that she was angry when the plague first manifested. Another is that she became sick, and fighting off the infection triggered the manifestation of the mark. Or that when the first family member fell ill, her fears for them actually caused her power to activate and the disease to spread. Again, the whole point of aberrant marks is that in comparison to true marks, they are unpredictable—so it would be difficult to design a single test that could work for every aberrant mark.

I’m wondering what kind of person Halas Tarkanan was, in your imagining?

The primary information on Halas Tarkanan comes from The Son of Khyber. Speaking of Tarkanan, an associate of his says the following.

“(Halas was) the greatest man I ever met. Even when we were enemies, I admired him. If people had listened to him sooner, if he could have built his army back before the purge began, he might even have won the war—or at least have created a sanctuary for the aberrants that the others could not touch. As it was, I think he always knew how the struggle would end, but he was determined to give our people hope and to make the houses pay for the blood they spilled.” 

Later they add…

…His mark gave him power over the destructive forces of nature, but his mind was his greatest weapon. If he’d been unmarked, he might have united the Five Kingdoms centuries before Galifar. And the world would be a different place today.”

What was his plan for holding Dorasharn, if he had any, and what went wrong? (Besides being hopelessly outnumbered, of course.)

What went wrong? He was hopelessly outnumbered. The house forces had resources and discipline. They were soldiers, whereas many of the people Halas was shepherding were traumatized civilians. And as noted in the previous quote, he didn’t have time to put together a perfect plan; he chose Dorasharn as the best possible place to make a stand.

The Origins of Eberron: Bill Slavicsek

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

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

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

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

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

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

How did the Fantasy Setting Search come about?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Game of Thrones Bingo: Episode 8.2

The final season continues! Will the Dothraki complain about the snow? Will Brienne have a touching moment with Jaime, Tormund, or both? Will we ever see Ghost again? If so, you might get a bingo! Click on the link for a set of twelve cards!

GoT Bingo 8-2

A few reminders…

  • words words words” means someone says that phrase – so someone has to say “Valyrian steel.”
  • person/person means that those two characters have some sort of interesting interaction… more than just being in the same room. Will Dany and Sansa go another round?
  • Debate is encouraged! Was that injury truly gruesome? For what it’s worth, I’ll allow “Gruesome Injury” even if the injury kills the victim, IE axe-in-the-head…

Dragonmarks: The Dragonmarked Houses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Agent or Excoriate?

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

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

The Agent

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

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

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

The Scion

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

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

The Orphan

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

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

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

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

The Excoriate

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

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

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

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

The Foundling

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

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

Q&A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is there a bloodline of Halas Tarkanan?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Dragonmarked sourcebook is the more accurate source.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dragonmarks: Lightning Round 3/19

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

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

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

With that in mind, here’s one idea.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Per canon, there’s a few factors here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s a few quotes from Five Nations. 

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

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

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

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

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

The Morgrave Miscellany

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

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

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

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

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

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

Has the Greatwenge Embrisa appeared in previous sources?  

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

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

This is addressed in the book itself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dragonmarks: The Artificer

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

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

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

Artificers and Spells

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

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

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

The Tools of Magic

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

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

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

Spell Preparation and Infusions

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

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

Turrets and Homunculi

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

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

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

Styles of Artificer

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

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

Conclusions

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

Q&A

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

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

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

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

What’s the story with Action Pups?

We’re in the final two days of my latest Kickstarter and I’m still looking for some good dogs. But what IS this game? What it all about? What do I love about it?

In 2017 I made a game called Action Cats! as a labor of love. I never intended to release it; I just wanted to make a game with pictures of my friends’ cats. The structure is simple: the judge presents a picture of the cat and gives that cat a name. Everyone else combines two cards in their hand to create a sentence, and then tells that story. This is a critical point. You don’t just hand the cards in; you present the story, expanding and adding as much detail as you want. It was a simple side project, but once I started playing it with people, I discovered that it was a lot of fun. Collaborative storytelling is one of my favorite activities, and it’s the best part of Gloom. But… we’re living in very gloomy times, and as much as I love Gloom, it’s fun to have an excuse to tell HAPPY stories for a change.

We released Action Cats early in 2018. The next day, I woke up to find my pug staring at me as if to say “Dude, where’s MY game?” Scientific studies have determined that he’s 104.2% as cute as our cats (full disclosure, these are pug-funded studies), and we know a lot of other people with adorable dogs. So Action Pups! seems like the next logical step.

Gameplay

At a quick glance, Action Pups! looks like a lot of games you’ve likely already played. There’s a judge. People combine cards to make an answer. The judge makes a choice. It is a common design, and that’s a good thing about it; it’s a game I can play with any member of my family, and I can teach you how to play in 15 seconds. But the actual experience of playing it is quite different from, say, Apples 2 Apples. Let’s consider a round.

The judge sets a dog in the middle of the table and introduces them… in this case, the judge declares that this dog is Loudmouth Larry.

Each player has a hand of cards. One side of the card has a picture of a dog; the other has two story prompts—the beginning and the end of a sentence. Each player combines two cards to create a story; when everyone is done, they take turns pitching their stories.

Keith: At the end of the day, I think there’s one question we all ask ourselves. Who… think about it… Who’s a good dog? Is it you? Is it YOU? Every week, Loudmouth Larry examines another of the great dogs of popular culture. This week: Snoopy. Cultural icon, sure: but is he a good dog? Tune in to find out!

Jenn: I admit, “Who’s A Good Boy” is a compelling podcast. But Loudmouth Larry’s personal story is far more interesting. You may not have thought about this, but when people go into witness protection, they can’t take their dogs with them; it’s a dead giveaway for someone searching for them. Loudmouth Larry is a professional surrogate dog, providing people on the lam with temporary canine companionship until they can return to their own lives. His podcasting is the one thing that provides continuity in this nomadic life. 

Now, if you’re not feeling inspired, you can just read the text straight off the card. But like Gloom, what I love about the game is using the card text as a starting point for a more interesting story. If the dog is a superhero’s sidekick, who’s that hero? Does the dog have a super power and a secret identity, and if so, what are they? If they have a podcast, what’s its name? Who sponsors it?

One of the things I enjoy about this is that it adds variety. There’s over 28,000 possible card combinations. But someone can play the same combination of cards three games in a row and come up with a different take on it each time. This is further enhanced by the use of gray text. In the example about, the card says ‘This dog would like to know: who’s a “good dog?”‘ The fact that good dog is in gray means that you can change it when you present the story. So Loudmouth Larry wants to know who’s a SOMETHING. He might want to know “who’s a cat in disguise?” or “who’s addicted to podcasts?”

Ultimately, the goal of Action Pups! is to encourage people to tell stories… to give you a reason to think about what your pup’s podcast might be, or how this dog is going to save the world. It’s family friendly, and some of the best games I’ve played have been with three generations at the table. It’s not a game about winning; but it’s a fun tool to get people telling stories. And, of course, it’s a chance to…

Get Your Dog In The Game

Action Pups! will include 170 dogs. But we don’t just want any dogs in the game; we want YOUR dogs. Anyone who backs the game can submit pictures of their dogs, and our favorites will be in the game. In submitting pictures, there’s a few things we’re looking for.

  • Portrait Orientation. The picture needs to fit on the back of a card.
  • Pups, Not People. We want images of individual dogs with no people in the shot. It’s about the dog’s story.
  • Props. Poise, or Potential. We’re looking for dogs that inspire stories. They’re all good dogs, but we want pictures that make you say “What’s that Pug doing in front of a microphone?” or “Why is that Corgi wearing a crown?” Whether it’s an interesting location, funny costume or prop, an interesting pose or expression, we’re looking for pictures that will inspire stories.

That’s all there is to it. But there’s not much time left! If you think your dog is an action pup, back the Kickstarter campaign before it comes to a close!

Dark Six: The Shadow

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

—Halas Molan, High Priest of Wroat

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

—Thalanna of Sharn

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

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

Ambition and Temptation

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Keeper of Secrets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Maker of Monsters

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

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

The Shadow in Monstrous Cultures

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

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

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

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

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

What About The Overlords?

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

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

Using The Shadow

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

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

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

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

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

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

Long Shadows

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

Q&A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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