Dragonmarks: The Gnomes of Lorghalen

In September, my Patreon supporters chose “Gnomes Beyond Zilargo” as the topic of the month. In the next few days, I’ll be discussing the gnomes of Lorghalen and the Feyspires.

Two years after the founding of Zilargo, a pamphlet was distributed explaining the existence of the Trust and the role that it would play in the nation moving forward. This tract concluded with the words To those who follow the proper path, we shall be as invisible as any ghost. Trust that we have your best interests at heart. Trust that we will act only when we must. Trust that we will always look after the needs of our great family, and that we need your aid as much as you need ours. Today, the Trust is universally accepted as part of Zilargo, and it’s estimated that at least a third of the population works for the Trust in some capacity. But despite what the Triumvirate would have you think, not all of the early Zil embraced the Trust with open arms. Some demanded accountability, insisting that this Trust be drawn into the light. Others called it a coup, urging their families to end the experiment of Zilargo and return to their prior independence. But few spoke out against the Trust for long; deadly accidents and unlikely misfortune quickly stilled to voices that challenged this new order. It seemed it was too late for those who opposed the Trust to remove it from their nation… And so, most chose to remove themselves, leaving their new nation behind.

Many of these dissidents immigrated into the Five Nations, and most who did so abandoned their old ways and fully embraced their new nations. A simple indicator of this is name. Zil gnomes use three names: A personal name, family name, and house name. Alina Lorridan Lyrris is Alina of the Lorridan family in House Lyrris. Even if they have distant blood connections to a Zil family, a gnome with no direct ties to Zilargo won’t be part of a Zil house. So if the gnome sage you meet in Aundair calls herself Talia Lorridan Lyrris, you know she considers herself Zil; if she’s just Talia Lorridan, she’s likely Aundairian.

Other dissidents had grander aspirations and took to the sea. The gnomes had long been accomplished sailors, and while they never had a colonizing spirit, they’d explored the coasts and made note of interesting and unclaimed lands. Now these sailors dreamt of creating their own new havens, whose glories might one day outshine the land they left behind. Sadly, most of these rebel colonies came to bad ends. Tolanen was located on the Shadow Marches; some years after its founding, a trading vessel docked to find the town completely depopulated. While the travelers blamed pillaging orcs, accounts later confirmed that there were no signs of conflict—and that the only looting was committed by the merchants themselves. New Zalanberg was established on the coast of Xen’drik, near the modern settlement of Zantashk. Over the course of decades, it prospered and grew. And then, within the span of a week, its people tore the town and one another to pieces—one of the notable examples of what has come to be recognized as the Du’rashka Tul. There were a handful of others, but only one still thrives to this day: the principality of Lorghalen.

Glancing at a map, you might wonder why Lorghalen was uninhabited when the gnomes claimed it. This tropical island seems far more inviting than the icy mountains of Orthoss and Farlnen. But names tell a story. The Tempest Strait is lashed by storms as powerful as any found in the Thunder Sea. The southernmost island is close to Mabar and Dolurrh, and there are strange ghosts and hungry shadows in the depths of the Dreadwood. The northern coastline of Lorghalen is lined with hidden reefs and unusual stone outcoppings. These threats are exacerbated by unpredictable “currents” that can dash a ship against the rocks… actually the work of the many water elementals that dwell along the coast. The safest landing is Hammer Bay, northeast of the small island. But “The Hammer” isn’t a natural island; it’s a massive earth elemental. It never ventures far from its mapped position, but it has no love of ships; any vessel that draws too close may be shattered by a hurled stone or a mighty fist.

Gnome explorers chronicled these threats long ago, and the gnomes who sailed east knew what they were heading into. The Lorghalen expedition included a number of sages specializing in elementals and Lamannia… Scholars who hoped they could convince the Hammer to let them land safely. And so they did, establishing the town of Cornerstone on the shore of Hammer Bay.

Exploring the island, the gnomes found that it was poised on the edge of Lamannia. The land was bountiful, fresh water was plentiful, and much of the island was alive. Lorghalen has the most intense concentration of elementals found beyond the wild zones of Sarlona. Stones roll of their own accord. The earth rumbles. What seems to be a peaceful pond might unexpectedly move to a new location. Most of the elementals of Lorghalen are spirits of earth and water, but there are storms that follow paths of their own choosing and pits of endless fire. These elementals are creatures of Lamannia, pure and inhuman; there are no dao or marids here. There are also a number of megafauna beasts in the deep jungle; sailors may occasionally spot rocs hunting whales off the coast of Lorghalen. This is why the island had never been colonized in the past; what city could survive the ravages of an avalanche of earth elementals? But the colonists came prepared. The leaders of the expedition had long studied elementals, convinced that it was possible to reason with these alien creatures. Using these techniques they were able to secure the region around Cornerstone. Over the course of generations, the Lorghalen gnomes developed and honed these techniques, learning how to live in harmony with the elementals and even to convince the spirits and beasts of the land to work with them. This lifestyle has consequences. Cornerstone is the only large city on the island; other gnomes live in family estates along the coast, or on the edge of the jungle. But the deep jungles of Lorghalen are left to the primal forces. The gnomes know what they can harvest without upsetting the balance, but they are careful not to push these limits.

After a few minor clashes in the region, the Lorghalen gnomes were recognized as one of the Lhazaar Principalities. Their small fleet primarily focuses on merchant trade within the Principalities. There are many unusual plants in the jungles of Lorghalen, and the Lorghali produce medicines, drugs, and potent spirits. The wood of Lorghalen is exceptionally strong, rivaling the densewood and bronzewood of Aerenal; the Lorghali don’t export lumber, but they sell fine wooden goods. While there are relatively few ships in the Lorghalen fleet, Lhazaar tread lightly around a Lorghali vessel; not only are the hulls of their ships exceptionally strong, but most vessels are accompanied by one or more water elementals. These friendly spirits help propel the vessel, allowing Lorghalen ships to match the capabilities of Lyrandar elemental galleons. In battle, Lorghalen ships are known for launching small earth elementals at opposing ships, stone missiles that continue to wreak havoc after impact. All together, the Lorghalen gnomes are known and respected within the Principalities, but are largely unknown beyond it. For the most part they do their trading within the islands, allowing others to carry their goods to distant lands.

WHO ARE THE GNOMES OF LORGHALEN?

The gnomes of Lorghalen and share some traits with their Zil cousins. They love clever oratory and prefer to solve their problems with words instead of swords. But where the gnomes of Zilargo dive deep into intrigue, the founders of Lorghalen based their society on principles of freedom and honesty. The founders of Cornerstone swore that there would be no secrets on their island: that all knowledge should be shared, and all problems drawn into the light, not removed in the shadows. Ties to previous Zil houses were dissolved, and all gnomes of the island consider themselves to be one house; so a gnome of the island might introduce themselves as Tara Tan Lorghalen.

Families are still important to the Lorghalen gnomes, and each family maintains an estate—a farming village based around a central long house. Each family is known for specific crops and skills, and Cornerstone is where they all come together. While families maintain funds for dealing with the world beyond Lorghalen, on the island the economy is largely driven by barter and the exchange of favors. All of the families have lodging in Cornerstone, and each family has three representatives on the Cornerstone Council, which governs the island and mediates disputes. The council is led by the Prince of Lorghalen, but this is an unusual position with less power than in other principalities. The Prince of Lorghalen is recognized as the cleverest gnome on the island, and as such someone whose voice should always be heard and opinion considered. But they have no power beyond that. Any Lorghali can claim the title by defeating the current prince in a series of duels of wit and strategy. Sometimes decades go by with no challenges; at other times, challenges have been a weekly or daily occurrence.

The Lorghali produce excellent mediators, apothecaries, and farmers. But what makes them truly remarkable is their tradition of primal magic and their relationship with the elementals of the region. As discussed in this article, the elementals of Lamannia are alien creatures whose thought processes and perception of reality are quite different from those of the humanoids of Eberron. Rather than binding elementals, the Lorghalen stonesingers manipulate elementals and natural forces by communing directly with the spirit and convincing it to help. At its simplest level—producing the sort of effects associated with druidcraft—this is barely more complicated than singing a few words in Primordial. More significant requests require a deeper communion with the spirits, which requires both concentration and an expenditure of will in addition to the song—urging the spirit to comply, impressing the request onto it. These things thus carry all the standard limitations of casting a spell.

The most common and important work of a stonesinger is to work with elementals. On a Lorghalen ship, a stonesinger literally sings to the elemental associated with the ship, encouraging it to move the vessel swiftly. If the stonesingers are killed, the elemental will still recognize the vessel as friendly, but it can’t be compelled to perform any particular action and it may simply wander off. On the island, stonesingers negotiate with the elementals to establish the territories where the gnomes can build, and convince earth elementals to plow their fields and water elementals to provide irrigation. Remarkable stonesingers can manipulate elemental and natural forces in more subtle ways—charming beasts, encouraging plants to grow, even conjuring fire or drawing lightning from a clear sky. Others learn the melodies that define their own bodies, learning how to heal injuries or even change their shape. Almost every Lorghalen gnome knows at least a few simple songs, but those who can work greater magics—those with the powers of bards or druids, discussed in more detail below—are greatly respected. While the stonesingers are a unique tradition that plays a central role in Lorghalen culture, they have nothing against other forms of magic; in particular, Lorghalen alchemists are able to perform wonders using the unusual plants of their island. The original immigrants included a handful of dissidents from the families of House Sivis, and while the Lorghali have made no particular effort to cultivate the Mark of Scribing, there are still a few gnomes in each generation who manifest the mark; such gnomes often become the most gifted wizards of the island.

Overall, the gnomes of Lorghalen have little interest in dealing with the outside world. They consider it to be a dangerous place driven by greed and dishonesty. However, some are drawn beyond the island by sheer curiosity, others by the challenge of matching wits with a dangerous world, and some by a need to obtain resources or techniques unavailable on Lorghalen. Most strive to remain true to the principles of their culture even in hostile lands, solving problems through open discussion rather than treachery and subterfuge. They aren’t fools; a Lorghalen gnome won’t spill every secret to a stranger, and even is a gnome doesn’t want to lie, they don’t have to say anything at all. But they prefer Persuasion to Deception—believing that they can convince an enemy of the proper path. Intimidation is also an acceptable tool, but this is largely a matter of tone—not making ideal threats, but rather making sure an enemy understands just how dangerous the wrong decision could be.

Gnomes make up the vast majority of the population of the island, though there are a few others who have immigrated over the years. Because of the dangers posed by the Hammer, usually the only way to reach Cornerstone is on a Lorghalen ship. The Lorghali are largely gracious hosts and curious gnomes are often eager to talk to outsiders, but the gnomes are aware that outsiders don’t share their traditions of honesty and watch strangers with both eyes. In particular, over the last century a number of Zil have reached out to Lorghalen. The islanders are especially suspicious of their cousins and do not trust the Trust, but there has been a little cultural exchange; notably, a fascination with the Lorghalen stonesinging techniques led to the rise of the Power of Purity movement in Zilargo.

LORGHALEN CHARACTERS

You can play a gnome from Lorghalen using standard rules. However, here’s a few variants you could consider if both DM and player approve. These are as unofficial as can possibly be, and solely reflect what I’d do at my table.

Stonesingers

The stonesingers of Lorghalen aren’t druids in the traditional sense. Notably, few have the ability to change shape, and they generally don’t speak the Druidic language. This ties to the idea that the stonesingers are largely channeling the power of Lamannia as opposed to Eberron, and channel this power through song and force of personality rather than faith. You could reflect this in two ways.

  • The typical stonesinger uses the bard class, but uses the druid spell list instead of the bard spell list. Stonesingers have no particular knack for illusion or enthralling humanoids; they use their songs to charm the elements themselves. The College of Eloquence and the College of Lore are both sound choices for stonesingers.
  • Lorghalen druids learn the Primordial language instead of Druidic, unless they already speak Primordial. Add Perform to the list of skill proficiencies available to the class. Shapeshifting stonesingers are rare, but the stories of those who can sing new shapes speak of singers who can assume elemental form, so Circle of the Moon is a reasonable choice.

Variant Gnome: Lorghalen

The standard rules for gnomes can be used for Lorghalen gnomes, especially Forest gnomes and those rare few with the Mark of Scribing. However, Lorghalen gnomes are known more for their charisma than their intellect, and for working with nature as opposed to weaving illusions. With this in mind, a DM and player could choose to represent a Lorghalen gnome by making the following changes to the Forest gnome.

  • Ability Score Increase. Your Dexterity score increases by 1, and your Charisma score increases by 2. This trait replaces the Ability Score Increase traits of both the Gnome and the Forest gnome.
  • Song of the Elements. You know the Druidcraft cantrip. Charisma is your spellcasting ability for it. In addition, you can speak, read, and write Primordial. This trait replaces the Natural Illusionist trait of the Forest gnome.

Other Elements

Any sea-related background can be an appropriate choice for a Lorghalen character. Lorghalen pirates are rare, but sailors, fishers, and shipwrights are all common on the isle. An entertainer could be the first stonesinger to actually perform on the stages of the Five Nations. A Lorghalen hermit’s discovery could involve something about Lamannia or elementals—perhaps a terrible secret about the elemental binding industry! Lorghalen gnomes generally use the forest gnome or Mark of Scribing subrace.

While stonesingers are the most distinct aspect of Lorghalen culture, a Lorghalen gnome could pursue any class. An Alchemist artificer could make their potions using strange herbs and elemental ores brought from the island. The Lorghali aren’t especially religious—they don’t see a divine hand at work in nature, instead interacting with the spirits directly—but a Lorghali paladin could present their Oath of the Ancients as being tied to Lamannia.

Of course, a crucial question for a Lorghalen gnome is why have you left? Most islanders are quite content on their elemental paradise. What’s cause you to travel into the deadlands of Khorvaire? The Reasons For Leaving Lorghalen table can provide some ideas.

LORGHALEN ADVENTURES

As with anything in Eberron, the ultimate question is why does it matter? What can Lorghalen add to your game that you can’t find anywhere else? What could bring adventurers to travel to this isolated island, or to cause a stonesinger to cross their path? Here’s a few ideas.

  • While Lorghalen’s fleet is small, its ships and fast and powerful. Traditionally it hasn’t been deeply involved with the politics of the Lhazaar Principalities, but in the wake of the Treaty of Thronehold the gnomes could play an important role in securing the position of the High Prince.
  • When adventurers stumble through a manifest zone to Lamannia, they re-emerge in Lorghalen. What will it take to return home?
  • The Lorghali dislike deception and rarely engage in piracy… until now. A Lorghali warship is terrorizing the region around the Dreadwood, supported by a host of elementals. Who is this pirate, and what are their motives?
  • There are many wonders in the deep jungles of Lorghalen: megafauna beasts, massive elementals, plants charged with the energies of Lamannia. Adventurers are sent to Lorghalen to retrieve something from the jungles. Perhaps a Cannith alchemist needs a legendary berry, or an Aurum showman wants them to capture a megafauna beast. Can they get past the Hammer? Will the Lorghali interfere with their quest?
  • The Lorghali have forged an alliance with the Power of Purity and the Ashbound druids and are launching a concerted effort to disrupt Zilargo’s elemental binding industry and sabotage elemental vessels. Is this just a matter of principle, or do they know a terrible secret that could lead to a far worse catastrophe?

GENERAL QUESTIONS

A previous article on the Lhazaar Principalities said that the gnomes occupied Lorghalen before Lhazaar arrived, whereas this suggests they claimed the island after Lhazaar.

That’s correct. What I’m now saying is that early gnome explorers discovered Lorghalen long ago, but only settled it after the rise of the Trust.

Do the Dragonmarked Houses have outposts on Lorghalen?

They don’t have a significant presence on the island. I’d rather explore the story of the houses taking an interest in Lorghalen and actively trying to expand their presence there rather than have it be established. So there’s no Orien outpost or Lyrandar docking tower in Cornerstone. I might give them a Gold Dragon Inn that’s just opened in the wake of the Treaty of Thronehold. It could also be interesting to have a Sivis outpost that’s recently established and working with Lorghali foundlings with the Mark of Scribing. House Sivis would certainly be interested in tapping a new supply of heirs—but the Council of Cornerstone is suspicious of Sivis and anything that could give the Trust a foothold on their island.

What’s the religion of the Lorghali?

The Lorghali follow a tradition of concrete animism. They live in a land that is literally alive with spirits; they refer to the lands beyond the island as “Deadlands” because of this, finding it depressing to wander in realms where the wind and waves aren’t singing back to them. There are a number of exceptionally powerful entities, including elementals like the Hammer and legendary megafauna beasts. So the Lorghali don’t believe in distant, abstract deities; instead, they focus on concrete, local spirits. They respect nature, but in a much more CONCRETE way that a druid who reveres Eberron as a whole; they have a personal relationship with the well that provides their water and the boulder that roles by every day, and they likely have festivals in which the greater spirits are invoked. But this isn’t about FAITH, it’s a practical, concrete relationship—which is why they tend toward primal magic as opposed to divine.

What are the Lorghali’s beliefs in regards to death and the afterlife then?

They’re largely laid back about it. They’re focused on living their best life, and when it’s over, it’s over; whatever happens next will happen. It’s essentially the opposite of Aerenal and the faiths that are obsessed with avoiding Dolurrh; at the end of the day, the Lorghali don’t care what happens after death, as long as they live a good life. Having said that, they also live right next to the Dreadwood, which is tied to Mabar and Dolurrh; I imagine there’s at least one story cycle that essentially presents Lorghalen as the isle of the living, and Dreadwood as the isle of the dead. But the ultimate point is that the Lorghali don’t care about the afterlife; they care about living their best life now.

How much strong do you see The Hammer in CR terms?

I don’t think you could measure the Hammer in CR terms. You’re talking about an earth elemental so large that it shows up on the map as an island. Imagine trying to destroy a mountain by hitting it with a sword; it’s a crazy concept. If I was to use it in an encounter, I’d be inclined to treat it almost as an environmental effect rather than a creature; every X rounds a boulder will impact, can you get out of range before destroys your ship? Or I’d have adventurer literally fight its hand… if they do enough damage to that, it retreats. But it’s on such a vast scale that I wouldn’t treat the Hammer itself as a standard creature.

That’s all for now. My next article will look at the gnomes of the Feyspires! Thanks to my Patreon supporters for choosing these topics and keeping this site going—I’ll be posting the stat block for the Lorghalen cannonball on Patreon!

IFAQ: Aerenal, Continued

The island of Aerenal is home to the majority of the elves of Eberron, including the Aereni and the Tairnadal. I’ve written a number of articles about these cultures, and Exploring Eberron delves deeper still, but my Patreon supporters came up with a few new questions!E

Are the people of Khorvaire aware of the basics of the Undying Court?

I think the common people of Khorvaire are aware that the Aereni worship their ancestors and keep them alive as some form of undead, but that’s about it; I wouldn’t expect a random citizen of the Five Nations to know what a “Deathless” is without making an Intelligence (Religion) check.

Have the Aereni sought to colonize a major Irian manifest zone elsewhere?

It’s never been mentioned in any canon source. The Valraean Protectorate in Exploring Eberron was established to create a secure buffer around Aerenal rather than being driven by a desire for significant expansion. However, just because it hasn’t been done in canon is no reason not to do it in your story. If *I* were to do this, I personally wouldn’t make it AERENAL that’s driving the colony, but rather a specific noble line or dissident group that wants to essentially found a “New Aerenal”—perhaps tied to the Skullborn, the elves who yearn to become deathless but who aren’t willing (or worthy) to follow the long and difficult path this transition usually requires. A secondary advantage to this—making it a smaller faction, not Aerenal as a whole—is that it makes it easier for adventurers to oppose the colony (or ally with it) without affecting their relationship with Aerenal itself.

Is it possible for other non Elven religions or groups to create and maintain positive energy undead like the Undying Court?

Sure. It requires powerful Irian manifest zones, a specific set of rituals and resources, and a population that’s fiercely devoted to the undead—as part of the idea of the positive energy undead it’s that devotion that sustains them when they leave the manifest zone. Like any sort of magic, this isn’t supposed to be easy or trivial; if it was, everyone would be doing it! But it’s not supposed to be something that’s somehow limited to ELVES. I could easily imagine an Irian zone in the Demon Wastes that serves as a bastion for the Ghaash’kala, with a few deathless elders who have protected this haven for millennia.

It seems weird to me how close the Undying Court is to the goals of the Seekers, especially considering the latter were inspired by its enemy.

All of the Elven cultures—the Tairnadal, the Aereni, the line of Vol—were driven by the basic question of how do we preserve our greatest souls? The Aereni created the Undying Court, preserving their heroes with their devotion. The Tairnadal become living avatars of their patron ancestors. The line of Vol noted that the flaw with both of these approaches is they are dependent on their being living elves who continue to practice their devotion. If all elves died—or simply had a change of heart—the patron ancestors would be forgotten and the Undying Court would be trapped in Shae Mordai. So Vol embraced Mabaran necromancy, ensuring that its beloved ancestors would be able to TAKE the lifeforce they needed to survive, whether as vampires, liches, or other undead.

As discussed in Exploring Eberron, the Blood of Vol is a comparatively young religion that was born on Khorvaire and is only loosely inspired by the traditions of the line of Vol (which are preserved more closely by the Bloodsail elves of Farlnen). But actually, the goals of the Undying Court and the Blood of Vol aren’t really that similar. Both agree that death is oblivion. The Blood of Vol believes that all living creatures have a spark of divinity within them—that there is divine potential in life, but that most creatures die before they can master this power. They believe that only the living have this power, and that while undeath may be a way to escape oblivion, undead creatures—both deathless and Mabaran—no longer have the spark of divinity and can never achieve their true potential. The Undying Court essentially believes the OPPOSITE of this; they believe in a transcendental state that can only be attained by the deathless, but the fact that the deathless rely on the living to sustain them prevents everyone from getting to pursue this power. So the Aereni don’t want to live forever; they believe that death and the transition to deathlessness is a necessary part of ascension.

So, they’re similar in “They are religions that believe death is bad and that it’s possible for people to ascend to a higher state.” But the Aereni believe that only a few people can achieve this higher state and that it can only be achieved after death, while the Blood of Vol believe that it’s possible for everyone to achieve divinity, but that death is the absolute end of that journey.

What was there in Aerenal before the elves?

Describing all of the challenges the elf refugees faced in founding their nation and all of the wonders they discovered would be the subject of a major article, not an IFAQ. However, if the question is were there any CIVILIZATIONS in Aerenal before the elves, no. The elves didn’t come to Aerenal as conquerors with the power to sweep aside an existing nation. They were a diverse armada of refugees from different subcultures, fleeing both war and dragonfire. The modern cultures—Vol, Aereni, Tairnadal—evolved ON Aerenal. But the idea has always been presented that Aerenal was an untamed and undeveloped land, a seemingly blessed refuge for these weary travelers.

Having said that, it’s a valid question as to WHY Aerenal was uninhabited. Humanoids are spread across Eberron, and Aerenal is a large and fertile land. Why had no one settled there? Here’s a few possibilities, each of which could support a different story.

  • It wasn’t sheer luck that brought the refugee fleet to Aerenal, and it wasn’t pure chance that the land was uninhabited and ready from their use. A cabal of dragons were responsible for both of these things; they secretly protected and guided the fleet, and they had carefully cleared the land in advance. This surely means that Aerenal has a role to play in the Prophecy, and it would surely be tied to the ongoing Elf-Dragon Wars. Canon sources have already suggested that those “wars” might be Argonnessen honing the skills of the elves in preparation for a true challenge yet to come; it could be that they set this plan in motion tens of thousands of years ago. If this is the case, it both means that the dragons have a plan for Aerenal and that there MIGHT have been a previous civilization on Aerenal, but if so, the dragons destroyed or removed it. Who knows? Perhaps Seren civilization began on Aerenal!
  • Aerenal is filled with powerful Irian manifest zones that support the creation of deathless. It’s possible that there was a previous civilization that achieved the creation of deathless, only to disappear completely long before the elves arrived. Did all of its members achieve some sort of deathless transition? Or, like the line of Vol warned, did the living members of the society die (perhaps due to a plague, perhaps due to dragons?) leaving their deathless to fade away without mortal devotion?
  • Aerenal also holds powerful Mabaran manifest zones. One possibility is that the prior society sought to harness THIS power, and their unwise efforts ultimately resulted in the death of their people. Alternatively, their major cities could have been consumed by Mabar (as described in Exploring Eberron), perhaps still existing there; could this be the origin of the Bone King? If either of these scenarios are true, could the cataclysm occur a second time? Or could the Undying Court hold it at bay?

Are there humanoids that have a significant presence or role in Aerenal beyond elves and half elves—something more meaningful than just traders, ambassadors, or tourists?

No. The 3.5 Eberron Campaign Setting presents the population of Aerenal as 77% elves, 19% deathless, 3% half-elves, 1% other. Both Aereni and Tairnadal are insular cultures unwelcoming to outsiders, and at least throughout the history of the elven presence there’s never been a rival humanoid culture on Aerenal.

That’s all for now! Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters for making this blog possible.

IFAQ: Arcane Photography

It’s been over a month since the release of Exploring Eberron, and I’m working on something new—a shorter project we’re currently calling “Fool’s Gold.” However, as time permits, I like to answer interesting questions from my Patreon supporters; here’s one raised by patrons Joseph and Tiernan.

In your Eberron, do you have photography—or at least, an arcane equivalent?

We’ve often called out that Eberron is closer to the late nineteenth century than it is to the twentieth century. It’s reasonable to imagine a form of arcane photography that works with principles of, say, illusory script to cast an image onto parchment. So I think there is a LIMITED form of arcane photography in the Five Nations, but the key there is LIMITED — closer to the tintype photography of the eighteenth century than to a digital camera (or even a Polaroid). Key points…

  • It wouldn’t be FAST. Like a tintype, the subject would have to sit still for a few rounds while the image was captured.
  • It wouldn’t be SUBTLE. It’s not like you’re hiding this apparatus in your bow tie.
  • The resolution might be limited; again, look to the tintype as an example.
  • I’d expect it to require some degree of magical affinity to operate — it’s the tool of a specialized magewright, though I might allow a PC who can cast minor illusion or possibly prestidigitation to operate one.

Because this is a form of ILLUSION magic, I could imagine the image having brief animation, as with the photographs in the Harry Potter series, but I’d leave that to the DM. The main point is that this is an evolving tool and it is currently limited. In the Thorn of Breland series, Thorn is a spy, and she’d LOVE to have something like a digital camera, but she doesn’t; while I think that camera equivalent exists, it’s too bulky and too slow to be of use to her in her missions. So the Korranberg Chronicle may have pictures of a royal coronation, but it isn’t a trivial, widespread technology; you probably still need to copy the inscriptions you find in the Dhakaani tomb, not just take a photograph. With that said…

You’ve called out before that House Phiarlan uses magic to project plays in other parts of the world. Could it be something akin to this technology?

House Phiarlan doesn’t PROJECT plays to other parts of the world. A Phiarlan crystal theater uses a dragonmark focus item similar to a limited crystal ball to SCRY on the stage, and then that image is projected from that crystal focus to the local screen. So the core “technology” here isn’t a broadcast device, like a television; it’s a limited crystal ball that can only scry on a few preset locations (channels, if you will).

However, House Phiarlan DOES have the image projector, mentioned in Magic of Eberron, that allows them to record a short scene and replay it as an illusion. With this in mind, I think it’s quite reasonable for PHIARLAN (and Thuranni) to have a focus item that allows them to record images, and to transfer that image onto parchment or a similar surface. Personally, I’d see this as something like this:

SHOL EYE

Wondrous item, common (requires the Mark of Shadow)

This is a small stone disk bearing a sliver of siberys dragonshard and engraved with the Mark of Shadow; it can easily be concealed in the palm of one hand. While holding the Shol eye, a creature with the Mark of Shadow can use an action to record an image in the eye. This can be the full vista of what the bearer can currently see, or it can be focused on a specific individual or object within line of sight. A Shol eye can only hold a single image at a time. If a creature with the Mark of Shadow works with the eye for the duration of a short rest, they can transfer the stored image out of the eye and onto a sheet of parchment or similar material.

This is a common item; a more powerful item could store multiple images. This ties to the basic idea that the houses have access to tools that others do not, and it would be a definite edge for Phiarlan spies. However, as with many unique dragonmarked tools, I’d expect other forces to be working to duplicate the effect. The slow and bulky tintype equivalent would be the first step toward this. But I could see, for example, the Trust having a way to record a short audible illusion—a simple, limited voice recorder.

In any case, that’s what I would do: call it out as something that exists but in a limited form, with Phiarlan having access to superior tools and other organizations actively working to improve their capabilities. The main issue about making photography more commonplace is to consider the ways it will impact a campaign. Can adventurers take a picture of an an ancient inscription instead of having to take the time to copy it down? How easy is it for them to record evidence of wrong-doing—or to be caught red-handed themselves? If I was running a campaign in which the adventurers WERE chroniclers, I could definitely imagine giving them a camera equivalent but playing up the challenges of working with its limited capabilities: it takes four rounds to capture the image and it’s not small. CAN they keep the target talking long enough to get the image, and what happens if they spot the camera? As with anything, I’d want to make sure it makes the story more exciting and fun.

Thanks again to my Patreon supporters for making these articles possible. Have you used photography in your Eberron campaigns?

Dragonmarks: The First War

A hidden alliance of rakshasa and other fiends, the Lords of Dust have manipulated the world since the dawn of time. The rakshasa wove themselves into the tapestry of human civilization in its earliest days. When the explorer Lhazaar gathered her expedition for Khorvaire, there was a rakshasa advisor at her side. Looking at the power of the Council of Ashtakala, people might wonder why the Lords of Dust haven’t conquered the world. A rakshasa’s first answer to this would be, “Haven’t we?”

“Eternal Evil”, Dragon 337

The aftermath of the Last War has produced many threats. The Swords of Liberty, the Order of the Emerald Claw, and the Lord of Blades are revolutionaries or extremists. The Aurum and the Dragonmarked Houses are driven by greed and ambition, capitalizing on the chaos caused by the Last War. People frightened or unhinged by the horrors of war may embrace dark powers, creating cults of the Dragon Below.

As an adventurer, these may be first threats you’ll encounter. But as you delve deeper and grow in power, you may face older and stronger threats. Now you’re not just fighting the Cults of the Dragon Below, you’re dealing with Dyrrn the Corruptor or one of the other daelkyr who destroyed the Empire of Dhakaan. You began by battling soldiers of the Order of the Emerald Claw, but now you’re dealing with Lady Illmarrow, who has spent two thousand years plotting her revenge. Perhaps you initially fought a street gang being manipulated by their dreams; now you’re dealing with the Dreaming Dark, who spent the last thousand years consolidating their power over Sarlona and are now reaching out for Khorvaire. You may have clashed with a rakshasa or dealt with a dragon; was it operating alone, or did you have a glimpse of a greater plan?

If you pull on that thread, you may come into direct conflict with the greatest powers of Eberron: the Lords of Dust and the dragons of Argonnessen. These forces have been fighting one another since the dawn of time. Humanity may think it’s fought the last war, but the first war has never ended. The dragons (and the couatl) bound the ancient overlords who once dominated Eberron, but the Lords of Dust—the immortal servants of the overlords—endlessly toil to release their dread masters and to return Eberron to an age of primal chaos. The dragons of Argonnessen will stop at nothing to prevent this from happened. Both discovered long ago that little can be accomplished with direct physical conflict; victory depends on using the Draconic Prophecy to shape the future, which requires them to manipulate the younger races. So as the opening paragraph relates, despite their vast power neither fiends nor dragons have any interest in conquering humanity; the nations of Khorvaire are unwitting pawns in a vast and ancient game. The lesser forces you fought in your first adventurers may themselves have been manipulated by one side or the other in the First War, and you may have received assistance from a dragon or fiend—something that was surely helpful at the time, but that drove you down a particular Prophetic path.

To sum up: Most adventurers begin their stories dealing with mortal, modern threats. As they progress they will face older and stronger powers, and they may see the hand of the Chamber and the Lords of Dust. As they come into their full strength, adventurers may finally see the full scope of the First War… and they may have the power and influence to stop being pawns and to become active players in this great game. The First War cannot be won, but powerful adventurers can choose the path for the future, rather than being manipulated by ancient forces.

Friend or Foe?

The Lords of Dust want to collapse the world into a fiendish apocalypse, which is clearly bad for everyone. Argonnessen opposes that, which makes it easy to see the dragons as the heroes—champions opposing demons! But it’s important to understand that the dragons are not friends to humanity. Think of how we humans interact with mice. Most of the time, we ignore them completely. A few of us think they’re cute, and keep a few specific mice as pets. When mice become pests, we exterminate them without a second thought. And when we need something—to test our cosmetics, to study cancer or psychology—we will use them for our experiments, torturing or killing them without remorse. So it is with Argonnessen and humanity. Yes, their battling the Lords of Dust protects us from the demons, but that’s incidental. They aren’t doing it for us, and if they have to wipe out a human nation—or human civilization—to protect Argonnessen, they will. It’s entirely possible that the Chamber caused the Mourning—killing hundreds of thousands of innocent humans—because it served their goals in the First War. The dragons aren’t our saviors; they are still monsters, who can inflict devastating damage in pursuit of their goals. Why don’t they stop the Dreaming Dark, or the Last War, or injustice against warforged? Because they don’t care about any of these things. A SINGLE dragon might take an interest and help lesser creatures—as Vvaraak did when she established the Gatekeepers—but note that Vvaraak was an outcast because of these sympathies. A dragon MAY help you when you are fighting the Lords of Dust, but that’s likely because your actions serve its purposes… and if your usefulness comes to an end, it will abandon you.

Again: any individual dragon—whether a rogue pursuing its own agenda, or an agent of the Chamber manipulating mortals—could become a friend or ally of the adventurers. Dragons are mortal creatures and unique individuals; they’re pursuing interests of their civilization, but they could always choose a new path, or simply develop an attachment to their particular mortal tools. Adventurers are less likely to develop a friendship with one of the Lords of Dust; as immortals, these fiends are literal embodiments of evil and won’t stray from far from their core purpose. But the thing to remember is that as a whole the dragons aren’t fighting to protect humanoids; they’re fighting to protect Argonnessen, and any benefit to humanoids is incidental. To most dragons, humanoids are necessary tools at best, annoying pests at worst. They will sacrifice individuals, cities, or even nations without remorse if it supports their agenda… and as the non-giant civilizations of Xen’drik can attest, collateral damage is a serious risk when Argonnessen unleashes its full power.

The Battleground of Prophecy

The Lords of Dust and the Chamber are battling to drive the direction of the Prophecy. But what does that MEAN? This article goes into more detail about the prisons of the overlords and the role of the Prophecy in binding them. The short form is that the Prophecy is a vast matrix of If-Then statements. The future isn’t set in stone, but anchor events can lock in specific consequences. If the Beggar King kills Queen Aurala in the light of five moons with the Blade of Sorrows, Then the Eldeen Reaches and Aundair will join together as the Kingdom of the Pines. If the Greatpine’s Daughter is slain by the Tyrant Kraken at the Battle of the Bloody Field, then the Wild Heart shall rise again. While the grand scope of the future is always fluid, anchor events lock in particular consequences. If the Beggar King (and is this an elevated urchin… or could it be Prince Oargev?) kills Aurala as described, Eldeen and Aundair will be joined. Exactly how that happens isn’t set, but seemingly random chance will keep pushing in that direction until it happens. Anchors don’t set the ENTIRE future, but they will ensure specific parts of it.

One thing to bear in mind about the First War is that it’s being fought on many fronts. We talk about the Lords of Dust as a singular entity, but it’s an alliance of servants of many overlords, each pursuing their own goals. Looking to the example of the Beggar King, the servants of the Wild Heart have identified a Prophetic thread that leads to their goal—a series of anchoring events, likely spread out over a vast span of time. The Beggar King killing Aurala is just one point on that thread. Let’s say the Beggar King is Prince Oargev. The servants of the Wild Heart had to make sure the Mourning happened, because it was the Mourning that destroyed Cyre and created the Beggar King. Earlier in the thread, they had to ensure the creation of the Blade of Sorrows, which involved manipulating a Dhakaani daashor… so that ten thousand years later the Beggar King could use that blade to kill Aurala, and ultimately, lead to the release of the Wild Heart. Keep that glacial pace in mind. There are at least thirty overlords, and different factions of the Lords of Dust are working to unleash all of them. But each overlord is bound to different Prophetic threads, and most of those cannot be resolved in the near future. The Lords of Dust may be working on a plan to release the Voice in the Darkness, and one of its anchoring events may play out in a campaign, but she still can’t be RELEASED for at least another two centuries; a victory in the present just gets them closer to the goal. So in creating a campaign, it’s up to the DM to decide which overlords COULD be released in this current time; the others can still be background threats, but they won’t be released in this century.

It seems like such a complex web of causality would be easy to disrupt. If the Wild Heart needed the Mourning to occur, why didn’t the Chamber stop it? The first point is that there are thousands of threads of the Prophecy in motion. While the Wild Heart needed the Mourning to occur to aid in its release, the Chamber may have needed the Mourning to occur to lock in five other threads that they want to have happen. The Chamber might also want to create the Beggar King, but THEY want him to marry the Queen of Words, because that’s what will ensure that the Daughter of Khyber remains bound. It’s also entirely possible that the Chamber doesn’t KNOW about the thread concerning the Beggar King and Aurala. The signs that reveal threads are spread across the world and are constantly evolving; a major part of the work of the Chamber is digging for new threads and monitoring changes.

Changes? Yes. A crucial point is that the Prophecy is a living thing. It’s entirely possible that after all the work the Wild Heart did—ensuring the creation of the Blade of Sorrows, making sure the Mourning came to pass—that someone will simply kill the Beggar King in a manner that prevents resurrection. Hurrah! Now he can’t kill Aurala and the Wild Heart will never be released, right? Wrong. What it means is that the Prophecy will weave a new possible path that results in the release of the Wild Heart. The Lords of Dust will search for it and start setting it in motion. This is what the war looks like; the Wild Heart has surely almost been released a dozen times (and may HAVE been released or partially released during the Silver Crusade), but it’s always ultimately been blocked and rebound, kicking the can down another few centuries as new threads are woven.

Keep in mind that the Prophecy requires the actions of specific individuals, though the identity of those individuals may be cryptic: the Beggar King, the Greatpine’s Daughter, the Tyrant Kraken. It would be easy for the Cult of the Wild Heart to kill Queen Aurala. They have an army of demons. But just killing Aurala won’t serve any purpose. They need the Beggar King to do it—at a specific time and with a specific weapon. They likely needed a specific daashor to forge the Blade of Sorrows. For all their vast might, both dragons and demons are dependent on the individuals through which the Prophecy flows.

The First War and You

So, Why does this matter? What is the narrative purpose of the First War, and why did we make it part of the setting? First of all, it establishes the most powerful beings in the setting, factions that should be terrifying even to the mightiest player character. But having done that, it also provides a concrete reason why these forces don’t dominate the world, making all lesser beings and conflicts irrelevant. It’s that basic question — Why don’t the Lords of Dust conquer the world?—to which the answer is that won’t get them what they want. They COULD conquer Breland easily enough, but they don’t want to rule a kingdom of mortal mice; they want to revel in the immortal glory of the overlords, and that means following the thread. So, it establishes that there ARE powerful beings that can challenge any adventurer, but it clearly gives them something to do and a reason to keep a low profile. It also gives them a clear reason to work through mortal agents, meaning that they can be patrons for the heroes and villains alike—pushing the stories you want to have happen from the shadows. They can be mysterious benefactors and shadowy masterminds, working at any level of a story. A rakshasa patron could be assisting a bandit chief in eastern Aundair, someone who seems entirely unimportant, and who IS entirely unimportant in the big picture—except, that his rise to power and subsequent defeat at the hands of the adventurers is part of a Prophetic thread. So, the adventurers defeat the bandit chief; they get a cool magic sword, which seems way TOO cool for this thug to have; and they learn from defeated bandits that the chief received the sword from a mysterious sage, who also gave him guidance. That sage is nowhere to be seen. But perhaps, as the adventurers continue the journey, that sage will turn up again, helping another group of their enemies. Are the adventurers interfering with the plans of the Lords of Dust? Or are the adventurers themselves part of the plan—are their victories actually part of the thread that the rakshasa needs to release its overlord? You could have a campaign that is ostensibly about fighting the Emerald Claw and Lady Illmarrow, and only discover after she has been defeated that the “final fall of the Queen of the Dead” was a crucial key to the release of Katashka the Gatekeeper, and that the Lords of Dust have been helping them in minor ways all along.

As a DM, consider the following ways you could use the Draconic Prophecy and the First War in a campaign.

Who Needs Prophecy? You don’t have to use the Lords of Dust, the dragons of Argonnessen, or the Draconic Prophecy in your campaign at all. All canon is just a starting point for your stories; if you want, you can drop these elements from YOUR Eberron entirely. Even without changing any canon material, you can simply decide that nothing significant will happen with these forces over the next year, decade, or even century. Just as you can choose to run a campaign in which you completely ignore the Dreaming Dark and Sarlona, you can easily ignore the Chamber and Argonnessen. This doesn’t stop you from using dragons or native fiends in a story; it’s simply that they are rogues or loners and not involved in world-shaping schemes.

Weaving Threads. The Lords of Dust and the Chamber are both advancing threads, but there is no threat of an overlord being released, and they aren’t setting anything major in motion like the Mourning. One of these forces could have a particular interest in a player character (described in more detail). One of them could be supporting a faction that does play a major role in the campaign, but their involvement only goes as far as to ensure a critical triggering event occurs; they want a particular player character to destroy a specific lieutenant of the Lord of Blades in a particular battle, but after that battle occurs, they’ll abandon the Lord of Blades; he’s served his purpose. Essentially, a dragon or rakshasa may serve as a mysterious patron or sinister foe for any adventure or two… but this isn’t building to an epic conflict with an overlord or a showdown with Argonnessen. The First War touches the story of the campaign, but it’s not what the campaign is ABOUT, and the adventurers don’t need to ever know the true scope of the war.

Operation: Overlord. An entire campaign could be build around a single overlord; WotC’s Tyranny of Dragons campaign is an example of this form, with a plotline that slowly drives towards a final conflict with an archfiend. This can begin with clashes with lesser cultists or forces that don’t even know they’re serving the Lords of Dust. The adventurers might battle the Aurum in one adventure and the Emerald Claw in the next, slowly picking up the clues that reveal the true danger—Why are they all collecting pieces of a shattered Khyber shard? Who’s this mysterious sage who’s advising all of these groups? By the middle of the campaign they’re fighting more powerful foces—fiends, possessed mortals, perhaps even corrupted dragons. By the time they understand the nature of the threat (perhaps with the assistance of a Chamber advisor or a couatl) the overlord may already have been partially released, just as Bel Shalor was partially released for a year in Thrane. The overlord won’t be able to channel its full power or to leave the region of its prison, but it can manifest an avatar (which is the role of the stat blocks for Rak Tulkhesh and Sul Khatesh in Rising From The Last War), it can unleash more of its fiendish servants into the world, and it can exert its influence over a wide area. This may seem like an obvious time to rally an army, but the critical point is that numbers may not matter. If you raise an army and send it against the avatar of Rak Tulkhesh, the Rage of War will cause the soldiers to turn on one another; all you’ll accomplish is to send your allies into slaughter. Even the Chamber can’t destroy an overlord, and the only way to restore its bonds is to do so in a manner laid out in the Prophecy. The adventurers must build their strength and learn the key to victory—and then assemble the pieces they need for success. Consider Tiran Miron and the Shadow in the Flame. When Tira heard the call of the Flame urging her to fight Bel Shalor, the archfiend was already partially released; along the way she had to protect innocents from both fiends roaming Thrane and mortals corrupted by the overlord. And in the end, she had to defeat Bel Shalor in a very specific manner and with a great sacrifice. The adventurers can’t just charge into the final battle, because it’s not just about whether they can defeat the overlord’s avatar, it’s whether they can defeat it in the way that will actually restore its binding.

Players in the Great Game. The previous example focuses on a single overlord, leading to an ultimate battle with a semi-released archfiend. Another campaign could focus on a wider interaction with the First War, where the adventurers find themselves dealing with lesser schemes of multiple factions of the Lords of Dust. These aren’t schemes that could directly release a warlord, they’re anchoring events or plots that gather resources or information for the fiends. So the adventurers defeat a bandit chief—how’d he get that cool magic sword? They clash with an Aurum warlock—why has Sul Khatesh given him this power? The truth is that the adventurers are being used as tools by the Chamber. They could know this from the start (while dragons aren’t immortal, this is essentially the Immortal Being group patron), or they could come to realize that the helpful ally who keeps setting them on the right path is a Chamber dragon. At first this might seem great. They’re fighting fiends who are doing evil things! How can this be bad? But then they might learn that the Chamber has done terrible things in pursuit of its goals—for example, that the Chamber (in this version of Eberron) caused the Mourning. They realize that the Chamber is using them, that neither side in the First War cares about human lives. What will they do? What can they do? On the one hand you have an army of immortal fiends; on the other, you have a continent of dragons. It doesn’t matter how powerful the adventurers become, they can’t defeat these threats by rolling initiative and killing them one at a time. So what can they do? If they have Prophetic significance, they may be able to use that as leverage; the dragons need them to fulfill a particular anchor event, but they want the Conclave to make promises before they’ll play the game. If you want a truly apocalyptic solution, perhaps the adventurers can find a way to destroy the Prophecy, or at least cause it to become unreadable; this is something that would likely involve an unlikely alliance with daelkyr or Xoriat. This would be a pretty extreme step, but even having it as a threat would be way to give the adventurers real leverage over both sides.

The key is that a campaign could focus on a single thread of the Prophecy—a specific faction within the Lords of Dust, a particular overlord—or it could focus on the Prophecy as a whole, with the adventurers dealing with servants of different overlords and ultimately engaging with the broad scope of the First War itself.

Characters Bound to the Prophecy

The preceding section considers ways the Prophecy could affect a campaign. Another question is whether any of the player characters have a specific role to play in one or more threads of the Prophecy. Looking to the example given above, one of the player characters could be destined to become the Beggar King or the Tyrant Kraken; factions within the Chamber or the Lords of Dust could have a vested interest in the character’s future. The Prophetic Role table provides a few ideas…

So, a few examples to consider…

  • You must create a child with your mortal enemy.
  • You must destroy the Orb of Dol Azur while Fernia, Shavarath, and Mabar are coterminous.
  • You must restore Cyre while wearing the Crown of Galifar.
  • You must take control of House Lyrandar by betraying someone you love.
  • You must found a new religion at the cost of your own life.

A key point with a Prophetic Role is what’s the consequence? The Prophecy is a series of If/Then statements. It’s not that you MUST have a child with your mortal enemy, it’s that IF you have a child with your mortal enemy, THEN that child will reunite Galifar… or IF you take control of House Lyrandar by betraying someone you love, Eldrantulku will be released from its bonds. So a Prophetic Role could be something you WANT to happen, or it could be something you really DON’T want to happen, because even if it’s good in the short term it will have disastrous long-term consequences. But the servants of Eldrantulku WANT you to take control of House Lyrandar through an act of betrayal, and they will do their best to direct you down that path.

A Prophetic Role is something that must be approved by the DM, as it will play into the unfolding story of a campaign. Personally, I wouldn’t make a character a lynchpin of the Prophecy without at least discussing the idea with the player first (even if they won’t know the DETAILS of the Prophecy they’re tied to). I’d also be open to a player presenting me with a thread they’d like to have tied to their character… that they want their artificer to be destined to create a significant artifact in a distant land. Again, this doesn’t mean that this WILL happen, it means that if it does there will be a significant consequence for the future—and that there are powerful forces that want it to happen to that want to be sure it DOESN’T happen.

Dragonmarks and the Prophecy. Dragonmarked characters inherently have Prophetic significance, but that doesn’t mean they automatically have an important role to play. There are many ways to interpret the shifting threads of the Prophecy; just as some people read the future in tea leaves or the movements of birds, there are scholars who can gain information from gatherings or actions of dragonmarked characters. Essentially, think of dragonmarked characters as tarot cards; the individual card isn’t important, but it has symbolic meaning and one who understands the mysteries can gain information by interacting with it. It’s also the case that all of the previous examples have been extremely specific events with massive impacts on the future. But there’s also thousands of minor threads that are constantly in motion. IF someone with the Mark of Storms burns their tongue on hot tal at midday, THEN a conductor stone on the eastern rail will fail in the evening. These are micro-anchors with minor, short term effects, and in that example anyone with the Mark of Storms will do. So, dragonmarked characters have an innate minor tie to the Prophecy, but that’s not as significant as being the Beggar King. Though dragonmarked characters can ALSO have major roles to play in addition to their lesser significance; as noted above, the Tyrant Kraken is likely a Lyrandar heir who seizes control of the house by betraying a loved one!

In Conclusion…

Rising From The Last War provides a host of ideas and story hooks for using both the Lords of Dust and the Chamber, and this builds on that. The First War is a source of threats that can challenge epic characters, but there’s a reason those forces don’t dominate the world. Fiends or dragons (or their humanoid agents) can serve as patrons for either the adventurers or their enemies. It can be a reason for the characters to receive unexpected aid: A kindly stranger has a skill or spell they need; a local merchant has exactly the scroll in stock that will help them out; a watch patrol shows up at just the right moment, and they’re actually good at their job. However, when character receive such aid, there’s always the question of whether it’s a good thing. If one of the Lords of Dust is helping you, it probably means your actions will help them in the future!

Q&A

This article began with a few questions from my Patreon supporters, and grew into something larger. But I do want to address those questions…

What would be the biggest difficulties in exposing the Lords of Dust, the Chamber, and/or the Dreaming Dark to the nations of Khorvaire?

A major question here is whether you are exposing a specific plan versus whether you are trying to expose the vast scope of these conspiracies. Exposing a specific plan—An unnatural force is controlling the House Kundarak enclave in Sharn!—is going to be far easier than convincing people the Lords of Dust have been manipulating all of us for thousands of years and we must all rally together to hunt them down once and for all! In the case of that corrupted enclave, you don’t HAVE to convince people of the vast conspiracy and ultimately, it doesn’t matter who’s behind it; you are simply convincing people that there is a concrete threat that we can and should eliminate. That’s quite different from we need to rally together to stop a fiendish conspiracy that caused the Last War by manipulating our dreams.

A second aspect to this is how difficult do you WANT it to be? If you and your players WANT to explore a story where they expose the Lords of Dust once and for all, then for Aureon’s sake, tell that story! It’s YOUR campaign. YOU decide just how many agents the Chamber has hidden in Khorvaire and who can be trusted. But just to look at the things that COULD make it difficult to expose these forces…

Limited Knowledge. When you’re looking to the grand scheme of things, one question is how much you REALLY KNOW about these threats. Do you actually know what the Chamber is trying to accomplish? Do you know how many Chamber agents are operating in Khorvaire? Do you have absolute, unimpeachable evidence? Again, this is where it’s easier to convince people “Someone is manipulating the Boromar Clan in Sharn” as opposed to “Someone has manipulated human civilization since Lhazaar came to Khorvaire.”

Who Can You Trust? The Lords of Dust and the Chamber have been planting agents across the Five Nations since civilization began. In addition to hidden rakshasa and shapechanged dragons, there are families who have served these masters for countless generations, and others who have sold their loyalty without even knowing who they’re working for. These hidden agents could be watch captains, chronicle reporters, royal advisors. Do we know with certainty that Queen Aurala herself isn’t a quori mind seed? Often the sole job of these agents is to observe, collecting information and watching for people who try to reveal inconvenient truths… and either to discredit or eliminate them. So part of the difficulty of exposing these plans is whether you can truly trust anyone—or whether the moment you start spreading these rumors, agents of the Citadel will target you as a “threat to national security”, while a royal advisor presents Boranel with trumped up proof of your instability and unreliability. Tied to this…

Crying Wolf. These powers have had agents within society for ages. Which means they’ve had centuries to spread false rumors and get people to believe that these ideas are ridiculous. It’s not that people have never heard of the Lords of Dust, it’s that they’ve heard SO MANY ridiculous stories (King Jarot was possessed by a demon! The entire Wynarn family ARE demons!) that no one is going to take YOUR story seriously. It would be like trying to convince people on our world that world leaders really ARE reptoid aliens in disguise. While people know that dragons and demons exist, they’re sure all those stories of “vast demonic conspiracies” are rubbish. Besides which, if something like that exists, surely the Church of the Silver Flame will deal with it! Again, this is why it will be easier to convince a LOCAL leader of a LOCAL threat, using concrete proof, than to convince a NATION that there’s a GLOBAL threat (where again, you’ll immediately get loyalist pundits and chroniclers muddying the waters and presenting countering evidence). A secondary aspect of this is why anyone should trust you. Are you just a group of vagabonds and murder hobos? Or do you have an established reputation, with nobles or barons in your debt who will trust your word even when your story is ridiculous?

What Will It Achieve? One of the core themes of Eberron is that player characters are remarkable and that they can achieve things normal people can’t. For sake of argument, imagine that the adventurers discover that the dragons of Argonnessen are going to destroy Khorvaire in a week. Rallying all the nations won’t be too much help, because this isn’t a problem that can be solved by a human army. All the armies of the Five Nations combined would be slaughtered within minutes if they faced the full force of Argonnessen. King Boranel has no particular weight when negotiating the dragons; they don’t care about his crown or his nation. This doesn’t mean that humanity is doomed; it means that the adventurers will have to do something seemingly impossible. They’ll have to sneak into Argonnessen and find a way to make the Conclave listen to them. How? Maybe they can somehow channel the spirit of Ourelonastrix. Maybe they can threaten to release the Daughter of Khyber if the dragons don’t back down. Perhaps they can can find proof that the Conclave has misinterpreted the Draconic Prophecy. The point is that all the horses and all the king’s men may be useless in this struggle, while six bold adventurers may be able to do the impossible.

You COULD Expose Them… But SHOULD You? Another possibility is that you discover a plot, you have all the proof you need to expose it… and you discover a compelling reason why you SHOULDN’T. Imagine you discover that the Chamber is planning to trigger a second Mourning that will destroy Valenar. You’ve obtained all the information you need to expose this to the world, to prove with absolute clarity that Argonnessen is behind it. And THEN you discover that this second Mourning is the only thing that will prevent the release of Rak Tulkhesh who will collapse ALL the nations of Khorvaire into a brutal conflict that will make the Last War look like a play date. Further, you discover that it was Mordakhesh the Shadowsword who helped you obtain your evidence and he clearly WANTS you to expose the plot. So, do you? If you do nothing, you’re allowing a hundred thousand people to die when you could stop it. If you expose it, you may be dooming millions when Rak Tulkhesh rises. Do you take that chance, confident you can find another way to stop the Rage of War? Or do you allow Valenar to be destroyed? One of the central themes of Eberron is stories don’t always end well, and while this should be the norm, I love to present my adventurers with situations where there IS no good answer, where it’s a question of deciding what is the lesser of two evils. The second aspect of You could, but should you? is whether your actions will make you or your loved ones—or even your entire nation—a target for retribution. Generally these powers are so far above you that they don’t feel a need to take vengeance; yes, you stopped the second Mourning they had planned, but you’re human and in fifty years you’ll be dead, and that’s the blink of an eye to a dragon. But again, using the mouse analogy, when humanoids become pests they’ll be wiped out… and as Xen’drik shows, they have no concerns with inflicting massive collateral damage. Again, MOST of the time even what appears to be a serious setback doesn’t require retribution; the Lords of Dust and Argonnessen have been feuding for A HUNDRED THOUSAND YEARS, and if they have to kick the can down the road for another three centuries so be it. But if the adventurers KNOW that, say, revealing the cause of the Mourning might cause Argonnessen to kill everyone who has that knowledge—including Breland itself, just to make sure—are they going to take that chance?

Ultimately, this is the same principle you see in stories like Men in Black—why don’t they just tell the world about aliens? Often, the answer is because it would cause panic and wouldn’t actually accomplish anything useful. The player characters can solve problems that entire nations can’t. HOWEVER, again, ultimately it’s up to you how difficult it should be. If you WANT the final challenge to require the adventurers to unite the Five Nations, perhaps they can find a way to expose the servants of the Lords of Dust, or even present such a compelling case that these agents will change sides. Perhaps they can bring the Twelve and the Church of the Silver Flame together to create a device that can reveal rakshasa across Khorvaire. It’s not supposed to be easy, but this is always about the story YOU want to tell. 

If these forces are so powerful, why don’t they immediately kill player characters that get in the way of their plans?

There’s two basic answers here. The first is why don’t you kill the mouse that chewed through your power cord? An aspect of the Lords of Dust and the Chamber being so far above humanity is that they don’t really pay too much attention to specific mortals. If an Anchor event fails, what matters is finding the new thread that will take its place; why bother killing the humans responsible, when they’ll all have died of old age by the time the next thread comes together?

That’s fine as a general principle. But perhaps the adventurers have an ongoing, antagonistic relationship with a particular rakshasa. They’ve foiled its plans time after time. Surely THIS fiend will want revenge. One option plays on the fact that immortals have all the time in the world. Death is easy; this enemy wants to make the player characters suffer. It wants to wait until they have children, so it can kill their children or make them serve its overlords. It wants to wait until they have risen to great heights so it can make it all come tumbling down. It doesn’t want death, it wants pain, and it has ALL OF TIME to take it (and to be clear, when it DOES come for revenge, I certainly hope the adventurers will find a way to foil those plans!). A second approach is to say Good question… why ISN’T it taking revenge? The obvious answer is that it can’t kill or punish them because it needs them. If the player characters have a Prophetic role that serves the ends of one of the Lords of Dust, that fiend may have forbidden others from breaking its toys.

It seems like the Chamber and the Lords of Dust fill the same role that gods play in other settings. I thought one of the central ideas of Eberron was not to have incarnate gods?

There’s certainly some truth to this. Mechanically, the overlords in 3.5 actually used Divine Rank and possessed the power of gods. However, philosophically there are a number of important differences between these forces and gods as they appear in other settings. Gods typically depend upon and demand mortal worship, and reward those who give them devotion. The Lords of Dust and the Chamber are so secret that most people don’t even know they exist; they aren’t demanding human worship. The clerics and paladins of Eberron don’t get their magic from dragons or fiends; their power comes from faith, belief in something far great than a great wyrm. A second aspect is that gods often servant as ultimate embodiments of good and evil, while as noted about, Argonnessen isn’t GOOD; it just happens to not want a demon apocalypse, and we can all agree on that, but that doesn’t mean it won’t destroy your entire kingdom to achieve that. Generally you don’t WANT dragons to get involved in your story, because they’re NOT benevolent celestials; they are ruthless, powerful, and interested solely in what serves Argonnessen.

Rather than looking at Argonnessen as fantasy gods, I would go the other direction and consider them as a powerful alien race in a science fiction series—consider the Shadows and the Vorlons in Babylon Five. They possess science far beyond that of humanity and can accomplish things that appear to be miracles. They can raze a continent if they choose. But instead they largely remain in isolation, with their agents moving among the primitive people and carrying out secret agendas, while humanity may not even know they exist.

But why does the setting NEED to have beings of such power in the first place? Why not just leave them out?

One of the founding principles of Eberron is “There’s a place for everything.” That includes dragons. But we also like exploring the logical consequences of mechanics. The dragons of 3.5 possess great intelligence as well as power. A default gold great wyrm has a 32 Intelligence and the spellcasting ability of a 19th level sorcerer, giving it the potential to cast wish. A basic question was if creatures of such intellect and power existed—and had existed for tens of thousands of years—why would the be randomly sitting in caves waiting for adventurers to wander by? If we’re saying that human spellcasters have used their magic to build civilization, and all dragons eventually become near-epic spellcasters, shouldn’t they have the most powerful civilization in the world? Essentially, rather than follow the standard trope of a-dragon-is-a-monster-in-a-cave, we decided that dragons were masterminds and hidden manipulators, the ultimate illuminati. We gave them a place in the world, but that place is hidden in the shadows. Likewise, the mechanics for Divine Rank exist. It can be a fun challenge for epic adventurers to face a creature with Divine Rank… and in Eberron you can, by fighting the avatar of Rak Tulkhesh. It creates a PLACE for these epic threats, but keeps them from overshadowing the action from the very beginning. Argonnessen is a spot on the map where no-one returns from, a place labeled here there be dragons. The Demon Wastes is known as a place of ancient evil, but the people of the Five Nations are generally more worried about the monsters of Droaam than the Council of Ashtakala. And again, this is why you could choose to remove these forces entirely if you don’t want them in your campaign… or just say that they’re going to be dormant this century. They are so secretive that no one will NOTICE if they’re absent. So they exist for those DMs who want to pit their adventurers against great wyrms and archfiends, but they are so deep in the shadows that adventurers could go their entire lives without seeing them.

The Prophecy and the First War are both hooks you can use to shape and direct a campaign arc, with adventurers coming to realize that their early adventurers were all part of a grand cosmic plot. But you CAN choose to have your entire campaign stay grounded in the now, focusing on the Lord of Blades, the Twelve, House Tarkanan, the struggle the reunite Galifar. Ultimately it’s a question of the story you want to tell.

How could this conflict come to an end?

Under canon, there’s only one way it could actually end: if the Lords of Dust unleash the overlords, destroying all current civilizations and collapsing Eberron into fiendish chaos. The basic principle is that the overlords cannot be destroyed, and that as a result, no one—not the Chamber, the Church of the Silver Flame, even the player characters—can permanently eliminate the threat that they pose. Tira Miron can certainly be considered one of the “player characters” of her age, but she couldn’t DESTROY Bel Shalor; however, she rebound the archfiend and created a force that would fight on for the light even after she was gone. “Victory” against the overlords doesn’t mean that the conflict is OVER; it means that you have bought peace for a time, whether that’s years or centuries. But ultimately this is tied to the idea that Eberron will ALWAYS need heroes, that evil cannot be entirely and conclusively defeated; there will always been a need for the next generation to remain vigilant, to choose light over darkness.

You can of course change this if you want to. You could say that in YOUR Eberron the overlords can be destroyed. But in both canon and kanon, it’s a core part of the idea that the threat of the overlords will always require vigilance and courage, that there will always be a need for new champions to be ready to fight to preserve the light.

Thanks again to my Patreon supporters, who make it possible for me to write these articles. And if you haven’t seen them already, check out Exploring Eberron and Magic Sword: An Eberron Adventure Seed on the DM’s Guild!

IFAQ: Airships and Arcanix

I’m currently traveling across the country for the first time since March. I’ve got a few hours to kill and I’m camped out in an abandoned food court in the Detroit Airport, so before I start my Gamma World kingdom, I thought I’d answer a few questions from my Patreon supporters tied to things that float—airships and Arcanix!

What do the of crew an airship and a train of lightning cars do to assist their respective pilots? More specifically, what are the most interesting things you have the respective crews do in your games?

In my opinion, an airship is just as complicated to run as a sailing vessel. You have to maintain the windwards (which are what keep people from getting blown off the upper deck). There are a host of lesser focusing crystals that maintain the ring and that have to be adjusted if conditions change dramatically. Refined dragonshards need to be fed to the heart to maintain the binding, especially when the elemental is operating at full capacity. The same basic principles apply to the lightning rail, though like comparing a train to a masted galleon, I think the lightning rail doesn’t require a large crew; you’ve got a pair of engineers maintaining the binding and ensuring all other systems are running, a few assistants, and conductors or staff to deal with the passengers.

As for MY games? I largely have the crew stay out to the way and do their jobs, because they’re too busy to chat with adventurers. I’ve run a one-shot set on an airship a number of times over the past year, and the main NPC the adventurers encounter is the steward, because it’s his job to deal with them. When there’s a dramatic combat scene, I may call out a number of NPC crew members in the scene who are doing their jobs and note that if these innocents die bad things could happen; if a fireball takes out the guy maintaining the windwards, things could get very unstable!

What are some amenities you could find at a House Lyrandar docking tower?

As I’m sitting in an airport as I write this, it’s tempting to just start listing off things I see around me. However, it’s important to remember that air travel is a very recent development. Per canon, the first elemental airships went into service in 990 YK — only eight years before the default start date! In my opinion this date refers to the launch of Lyarandar air travel as a commercial service, and is the culminations of decades of experiments and prototypes. But as an INDUSTRY it’s still very young. Likewise, tourism is largely a new development as of the signing of the Treaty of Thronehold; the Brelish weren’t going sightseeing in Thrane while the Last War was underway. So I think most Lyrandar docking towers are simple and functional; they haven’t had TIME to build up the full range of amenities that you see in a large modern airport. With that said, I think that in the largest hubs you could start to see that coming together. I imagine a deal with Ghallanda to have Gold Dragon Inn tavern franchises. You’d certainly have a lavatory equipped with a cleansing sphere. It’s not unreasonable to imagine a souvenir stand—in our world, souvenirs have been around for thousands of years!

Do airships require a constant stream of refined dragonshards to keep the elemental bound? Do they need this when the ship is idle? How expensive is it to continue fueling these ships? Can you elaborate on the refined nature of the dragonshards mentioned here?

This is called out on page 257 of Rising From The Last War.

Eberron dragonshards are rosy crystals with crimson swirlds flowing in the depths and are typically refined into a glowing powder… Eberron dragonshard dust is used in the creation of some magic items, and many powerful tools—such as the lightning rail and elemental airships—require an ongoing expenditure of Eberron dragonshards to maintain their enchantments.

A key phrase there is to maintain their enchantments. An airship doesn’t use dragonshards as FUEL and it’s not a constant, steady rate of consumption. Airships have a web of additional secondary enchantments in addition to the binding—the windwards, the control systems—and these have to be maintained. If you compare it to a car, it’s like changing your oil or adding antifreeze; it’s not the FUEL, but it’s a vital ongoing expense that ensures that the car continues to operate. The job of the engineer is to monitor and maintain those many enchantments. So it’s not like feeding coal into a boiler, but it’s still a vital activity. Notably, there’s no risk of the elemental escaping if this isn’t maintain—the binding process uses a Khyber shard and is a separate thing; the issue is the enchantments that channel its power and integrate it with the ship to produce effects like the elemental ring.

Is Arcanix the name of the floating towers or the village?

For anyone who doesn’t recognize the name, Arcanix is one of the prominent institutes of arcane learning in Khorvaire. It’s located in Aundair, and described as floating towers hovering above a village. Earlier canon sources complicated things by suggesting that Arcanix was originally part of Thrane before the war, which seems odd as arcane magic has always been a focus of Aundairian culture, and Arcanix is supposed to be closely tied to the Arcane Congress. So, here’s MY answer.

Arcanix is the village. It has long been contested by Aundair and Thrane, and by Thaliost and Daskara before that; while it was part of Thrane under Galifar, many of the inhabitants were Aundairians who traveled to the village. Because, mysteriously, Arcanix seems to inspire people who seek arcane knowledge. This isn’t always incredibly dramatic; it’s not like everyone who studies magic at Arcanix revolutionizes the field of science as we know it. But if you study the statistics, people are more likely to master the arcane arts if they study in Arcanix. So: while Arcanix was part of Thrane under Galifar, it was largely inhabited by Aundairians and Aundairians CONSIDERED it to be part of Aundair, which is why, when the Last War broke out, they seized it and moved the floating towers there to secure it. Because that’s the thing about FLOATING TOWERS—you can move them! The floating towers were a previous asset of the Arcane Congress and thus have always been a facility for arcane research and learning, as well as being fortified; so the towers were already an established arcane school before being moved, and placing them in Arcanix was just a bonus. Whatever the effect of the region that enhances arcane comprehension works above the village as well as on the ground, so modern students study in the towers. But the village was called Arcanix before the towers were there.

A secondary question, of course, is WHY the region is so conducive to the study of the arcane. This is something that is SUPPOSED be a mystery within the world, and is surely something debated in Arcanix itself. Arcanix is in a Thelanian manifest zone, so that’s surely a factor—it’s up to the DM to decide if this is an active portal, and if so if there’s a particular acrhfey associated with it (The Mother of Invention would be a logical choice) or if it’s a more subtle zone. But there may be a darker power at work beyond this. Some scholars believe that Arcanix is above the soul-prison of the overlord Sul Khatesh. There have been times when cults of the Queen of Shadows have taken root in Arcanix, and there have been a few individuals who have actively bargained with Sul Khatesh or her minons. But even without any active or malefic influence, the mere presence of the Keeper of Secrets may help those seeking arcane knowledge… and this has been sufficient to crush the objections of those who fear the Queen of Shadows. But again, all of these are things that COULD be. As a DM it’s up to you to decide if Arcanix is haunted by Sul Khatesh, blessed by Aureon, watched over by the Mother of Invention, or if there’s an even stranger explanation.

Also on the topic of Arcanix, what is the relationship between the way its towers float, and the way Sharn’s towers float?

The manifest zone of Sharn enhances magic related to flight and levitation. This is why you have flying buttresses and skycoaches in Sharn; those tools don’t work outside the zone. Skyway and the floating towers of Sharn use these same principles, so they aren’t the SAME as Arcanix. But the towers of Sharn inspired Arcanix, driving the Arcane College to find a way to replicate the effects without the zone. Arcanix and the Tower of the Twelve are proof that it can be done, but the fact that we don’t see such towers everywhere—and that both of these two are the seat of arcane research facilities—suggests that the enchantment requires regular maintenance by arcane experts. Which is easy enough when your tower is filled with some of the most gifted arcanists in Khorvaire. So the Sharn towers are stable, drawing on the manifest zone to maintain the effect; other floating towers require expert maintenance.

Is there any correlation between Arcanix and, as of Rising from the Last War, the Aundairian attack on Sharn’s Glass Tower? Was Aundair able to achieve such an attack precisely because they Aundair was also intimately familiar with floating towers?

Certainly. The Arcane Congress created the towers of Arcanix using information gleaned from studying the floating towers of Sharn, and during the Last War, they explored ways to weaponize that. The main question is why they didn’t target Skyway, which would have devastated a far larger area. It’s possible that they didn’t WANT to—that the Glass Tower was an experiment or a warning, but they didn’t want to cause such extreme destruction. Or it’s possible Skyway is a more powerful and stable effect and that the techniques used on the Glass Tower couldn’t bring it down.

Thanks again to my Patreon supporters for keeping this site going and for posing interesting questions. The Inner Circle supporters are currently voting on the topic for the next major article; the Library of Korranberg is in the lead, but there’s still one day to cast a vote! And check out my latest DM’s Guild PDF: a collaboration with the band Magic Sword!

Magic Sword: An Eberron Story Seed

The music of Magic Sword reminds me of my earliest days of playing Dungeons & Dragons. These memories are echoed by the story behind their music: a simple but powerful tale of hope and heroism. When I had an opportunity to run the Magic Sword: Shadow Marches campaign for the band (along with Satine Phoenix and Damion Poitier), I naturally saw how I’d adapt this concept to my world of Eberron—but the core idea has a place in any world.Whenever a champion prepares to fight a hopeless battle against evil, there is a chance that the Magic Sword will appear, giving them the strength to battle the darkness. This provides a clear, concrete direction for adventure: there is a battle that must be fought, and your adventurers are the only ones who can fight it. Who will bear the Magic Sword

This is the principle behind Magic Sword: An Eberron Story Seed, my latest PDF on the DM’s Guild. The Magic Sword is a powerful weapon that can appear to a chosen champion when there is a battle that must be fought. One character must wield the Magic Sword, but they cannot stand alone. The immortals who tend the Sword will guide this champion, either by directly manifesting in the world or by imbuing mortal vessels with their power. In this, the Magic Sword provides a clear purpose—highlighting a darkness that must be fought—while giving every adventurer involved a unique gift to strengthen them in the struggle that lies ahead.

Magic Sword: An Eberron Story Seed includes statistics for the Magic Sword and a set of supernatural gifts reflecting the powers of the immortals. It includes four campaign hooks tied to the world of Eberron. But it also discusses ways that the Sword could drive a campaign or adventure in any setting. It can be the focus of a full campaign, as the champions fight their way closer to the darkness that must be defeated. But it can also be used in a single adventure, providing adventurers with an unexpected surge and a battle that must be won.

You can see this material in play in the most recent session of Magic Sword: Shadow Marches, or check out the preview of the product on the DM’s Guild. Who will take up the Magic Sword?

IFAQ: Breaking The Law

I’m busy working on my next Eberron product for the DM’s Guild, and I’ll share more information about that when it’s further along. I’ve also just released a new short product— Magic Sword: An Eberron Story Seed — on the DM’s Guild. You can find more information about it in this article or watch my last session with Magic Sword in Eberron. But as time allows, I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. Today’s questions deal with breaking the law in Upper Sharn and the relationship between the Church of the Silver Flame and the Daughters of Sora Kell.

Inquisitives and the Law

How would you handle players doing overtly illegal things like physically roughing someone up in a place like Upper Menthis? To what extent would the law try to apprehend them?

As a general rule, Upper Sharn is a dangerous place to break the law. Even if the Watch doesn’t care about justice, they are well paid to protect the people of the district… and the sort of people you find in Upper Sharn can afford to hire Medani, Tharashk, Deneith, or even Thuranni. Keep in mind that wealthy people may have a wide range of defenses that aren’t automatically obvious. The coward’s pearl was a consumable item in 3.5 that allowed a quick escape; in fifth edition, a similar item might combine the effects of misty step and invisibility, allowing the user to disappear and flee. Another simple object would be an amulet that can trigger an alarm, alerting a security team or the watch. This latter approach would work like a silent alarm in a bank; the victim would trigger it at the first sign of trouble, and then try to delay and get the criminals talking long enough for assistance to respond. Looking to other types of crime, homes and businesses in Upper Sharn may well be equipped with arcane locks, glyphs of warding, alarms, and other magical defenses; here’s an article I wrote on that topic.

Now, it’s POSSIBLE to get away with crimes in Upper Sharn. It’s just not EASY. The Watch WILL actually do their job, and even if you get away initially, Medani, Tharashk, and the Blackened Book could all be deployed to track you down. Part of the question is who was targeted. Robbing a minor merchant might not have major consequences, but if you steal from the ir’Tains, they will spare no expense to track you down—and that means Medani, Tharashk, Sentinel Marshals. Again, I’m not saying it’s impossible to get away with it, but it should be EXTREMELY DIFFICULT: this is the stuff of heist movies, not random smash and grab.

But the key is that your players need to understand that. If they’re used to solving their problems with random violence, they need to know that they’ve moved into new territory—that you’re in Ocean’s Eleven now, and Danny can’t get what he wants by walking into the casino and beating people up. Personally, if the players have never been to Upper Sharn before, I’d start the session with something like this.

Before you begin, there’s something you need to know. Up to this point, you’ve been able to do a lot of bad and frankly stupid things and get away with them. That’s all about to change. Upper Sharn is the domain of some of the richest and most powerful people in Khorvaire. They aren’t powerful in the same way you are; you could easily beat them in a fight. But if you annoy them—worse yet, if you kill them—you won’t get away with it, not unless you have done some VERY careful planning. Gold buys services. Medani will find out who you are. The Sentinel Marshals will track you down. You might evade them for a while, but they WILL find a way to bring you to justice. I don’t want to waste the next three sessions dealing with you being fugitives, so if you commit a stupid, obvious crime in this adventure, I’m going to let each of you tell me one cool thing you do while you’re on the run and one thing that leads to your capture, and then we’ll cut straight to your trial and punishment. So. Unless you WANT to be branded as outlaws—literally—don’t do something stupid while you’re in Upper Sharn. You’re in deep waters now and you’d better learn to swim.

Then, when someone DOES suggest a really stupid course of action, I’ll say “Remember that conversation we had earlier? This is you doing that stupid thing. Do you really want to do this? Because I’ve told you what happens next.”

The important thing is that this should never be the DM against the players. You’re working together to create a story you’ll all enjoy. The players just need to understand the rules of the scene: that this is not a place where you can get away with that. If you make this clear ahead of time—if you establish that this is Ocean’s Eleven, not Reservoir Dogs—you can hopefully avoid problems. Alternately, you can let the players do their stupid thing, and have them NOT suffer any consequences… and then have the powerful person who pulled strings on their behalf show up and explain why they aren’t standing on an Eye of Aureon and what they need to do now to repay the favor. Again, at the end of the day, we’re all supposed to be creating a story we enjoy. If people aren’t going to enjoy being exiled or imprisoned (because hey, this COULD be your chance to switch to an escape-from-Dreadhold campaign arc!) then either warn them away from foolish courses of action or make their getting away with it a compelling part of the story.

Do inquisitives and agents of House Medani and House Tharashk have any ability to enforce the law? Or are they just gathering information for the forces of the law to act upon?

House Medani and House Tharashk don’t have any special dispensation to enforce the law. They are, essentially, licensed private investigators and bounty hunters. Agents of the law understand the role that they play, and may either welcome their help or dismiss it. But Medani and Tharashk inquisitives have no legal authority of their own. The Sentinel Marshals of House Deneith are authorized to enforce the law, but this is very closely monitored and a marshal who abuses this authority will be stripped of rank.

I’m running a campaign where the players are using the Inquisitive Agency group patron. It seems anticlimactic if they can’t actually enforce the law, and have to rely on the Watch to resolve things.

If you look to the genre, there’s a vast array of stories about private investigators. Sherlock Holmes is a “consulting detective” with no legal authority; he works with Scotland Yard, not for them. The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, Stumptown, HBO’s new Perry Mason… part of the point of these stories is that these people are PRIVATE detectives, working on the edge of the law. Sometimes they have a good relationship with the law, as with Sherlock Holmes. In other cases, the forces of the law are corrupt and part of the problem; it’s because the detective is on the outside that they can get things done. Because they’re not officers of the law, detectives aren’t always as bound by rules and regulations, and they can deal with people who might not interact with an agent of the law. In developing the campaign, a crucial question is whether the adventurers are close allies of the law—in which case you could even choose to make them deputies with limited powers of their own—or if the local watch is part of the problem, with only a few people they can truly trust.

Looking to the question of whether the story will be anticlimactic if the adventurers turn it over to the forces of the law… just because the job of the detective is to gather information as opposed to catch the villain doesn’t mean that YOUR ADVENTURE should involve them gathering information, reporting it to the authorities, and then going home while the law deals with it. The adventurers solve a mystery and identify the villain. Yes, they SHOULD let the Watch handle it. But perhaps they don’t because…

  • … There’s no time! The villain is about to flee, and if the adventurers don’t act immediately they’ll get away with it.
  • … The adventurers have caught the villain red-handed, but now they have to deal with them immediately.
  • … The villain trusts the adventurers, or they’ve got an inside ally—they can get close enough to the villain to strike, while the city watch never could.
  • … The adventurers know that the watch will bungle the capture. If they want the job done right, they’ll have to do it themselves.
  • … The city watch won’t take the adventurers seriously. Or perhaps the villain has an agent or allies within the watch; they’ll either warn the villain or keep the watch from acting altogether.
  • … The villain hasn’t actually committed a crime. They’ve done something terrible, but somehow, legally, they are going to get away with it. Will the adventurers allow it?

There’s nothing stopping the adventurers from defeating the villain themselves and delivering them to the forces of the law. They just shouldn’t MURDER them in the process. Yes, they may have to break a law or to themselves in the process, but if they’ve exposed a terrible crime the watch might not ask too many questions about their breaking and entering to pull it off. So it’s not that the adventurers need to let the law do the takedown of the villain; it’s that they should deliver the villain to justice, not execute them. And yes, this means that there’s a chance the villain WILL evade justice and return to threaten them again. Which is, after all, the plot of every Batman story ever (movies aside): Vigilante detective unravels crime, beats up criminal and turns them over to the law, villain eventually escapes to cause more trouble, rinse and repeat.

So Medani and Tharashk can’t enforce the law, but what about House Deneith?

There is inconsistent canon regarding the role of House Deneith. Notably, Dragonmarked contradicts Sharn: City of Towers. I wrote the section in Sharn, and it’s what *I* do. Here’s the critical piece.

During the reign of King Galifar III, House Deneith was granted the right to enforce the laws of the kingdom, bringing fugitives to justice and enforcing punishments in exchange for gold. Originally, this was a largely honorary role that allowed House Deneith to assist the Galifar Guard in an official capacity. With the Last War and the formation of the Five Kingdoms, these Sentinel Marshals have become far more important. The Sharn Watch, the Blackened Book, and the King’s Citadel are all agents of the Brelish crown, and they cannot pursue fugitives into Aundair or Thrane. The Sentinel Marshals of House Deneith can. These elite agents are authorized to enforce the law in all five kingdoms—although they are not authorized to break the law in pursuit of justice! Sentinel Marshals are usually employed as auxiliaries by regional authorities, but they are occasionally hired by private individuals when the local justices lack the resources to pursue a case.
A Sentinel Marshal holds the honor of House Deneith in his hand, and only the most trusted members of the house are granted this authority. A Sentinel Marshal must possess exceptional skills and knowledge of the laws of all of the kingdoms of Khorvaire, and it is rare for an heir to even be considered for this honor unless he has served with both the Blademark and the Defender’s Guild. It is possible that a player character would be granted the title of Sentinel Marshal after performing an exceptional service for the house, but a DM should always remember that this position does not place the character above the law—and should he ever abuse his authority, it will be stripped from him and he will in all likelihood be expelled from the house.

So, Sentinel Marshals enforce the law for gold. They are freelancers hired as auxiliaries by local authorities, not champions of justice expected to be fightin’ crime pro bono. Their most valuable attribute is the fact that they are recognized as neutral and extranational, able to enforce the laws across the Thronehold nations and pursue fugitives across borders.

Just to give a sense of how rare and special Sentinel Marshals are, according the Sharn: City of Towers there are NINE of them in Sharn… And Sharn is the largest city in Khorvaire! Sentinel Marshals aren’t supposed to take the place of the Watch; they are elite specialists called in for jobs that require their skills and ability to cross borders. With that said, the watch can also just hire standard Deneith mercenaries to help out with a rough situation; but that doesn’t grant the Blademarks the authority of Sentinel Marshals.

Are the brands used to mark criminals in Sharn recognizable in most of the Five (Four) Nations? Are the brands simply physical brands? If not, what kind(s) of enchantment are involved?

The brands are standardized under the Galifar Code of Justice and would be recognized in all of the Five Nations. There would be a few new nation-specific ones (“Exiled from Nation X”) but any agent of the law will recognize them. These details are discussed in Sharn: City of Towers:

Repeat offenders are often marked with a symbol that warns others about their criminal tendencies. In the past, these marks were made with branding irons. In this more civilized age, a House Sivis heir inscribes the mark using a pen of the living parchment (see page 169). Marks are either placed on the forehead or on the back of the right hand, and guards often demand that suspicious strangers remove their gloves and show the backs of their hands.

The section on the pen of the living parchment adds the following information.

A character who possesses the arcane mark ability of the Least Mark of Scribing can use the pen to inscribe permanent arcane marks onto the flesh of living creatures. These are commonly used by the courts of Khorvaire to mark criminals and exiles, warning all observers about the nature of the character’s offense… Removing such a mark is extremely difficult, and requires the use of break enchantment, limited wish, miracle, or wish; the DC for a break enchantment check is 18. Removing a criminal’s mark is a crime under the Galifar Code of Justice, so it may be difficult to find someone to break the enchantment. The character who inscribed the mark can also remove it, using the same pen they used to create it in the first place… Placing a criminal’s mark upon an innocent victim is a serious crime under Galifar law, and the Blackened Book is assigned to track down anyone believed to be performing this form of forgery.

The Silver Flame and Droaam

What would Jaela Daran’s official position, as Keeper of the Flame, be concerning the tier of evil that the Daughters of Sora Kell are classified under?

In the past, the Church of the Silver Flame cast most “monsters” under the umbrella of Innate Evil. This is called out clearly in Exploring Eberron:

Entities of innate evil. This is the most contentious category on the list, and it is the idea of monsters—that there are creatures native to Eberron who are evil by nature. In the past, the church has placed medusas, harpies, trolls, and similar creatures into this category, asserting that through no fault of their own, these creatures are vessels for supernatural evil and pose a threat to the innocent.

It’s this principle that justified the actions of templars raiding the Barrens in the past, protecting the innocent people of the Five Nations by killing these monsters. Of course, that’s what’s been done in the past. Jaela Daran embodies the compassionate principles of the faith, and in my Eberron I could easily see her asserting that the denizens of Droaam—from the Daughters to the harpy to the gnoll—are no different than any human, and pose a threat only if they choose evil. However, in doing this, she would be fighting against tradition; the Pure Flame in particular might rebel against the idea of treating MONSTERS as innocents instead of threats to the innocent. But in MY Eberron, I’d have her make that pronouncement NOW—so the player characters are actively caught in the middle of it and could play a role in what happens next—as opposed to it just being something that happened a few years ago and has largely been settled.

But aren’t the Daughters of Sora Kell half-fiends?

Maybe, but what does that even mean? Normally, immortal entities don’t reproduce. We don’t even know with certainty HOW the Daughters were born. While they are long-lived, in my opinion they are mortal and can be killed. They are capable of CHOICE… just like tieflings, and consider that the Church of the Silver Flame established Rellekor as a place for tieflings to reproduce. The Daughters of Sora Kell are evil beings of great power, but are they FORCED to do evil or do they choose it? The critical point here is that this defines the interpretation of Droaam itself. If you classify the Daughters of Sora Kell as immortal evils they must be opposed and are seen as incapable of doing anything good; thus, Droaam MUST serve an evil purpose. On the other hand, if the Daughters are capable of choice, they are capable of change; while they’ve done evil things in the past, Droaam COULD be a good thing. I prefer to have Jaela open to the concept that Droaam may actually serve a noble purpose as opposed to definitively condemning it.

How willing is Jaela Daran to accept monsters as “peers”?

While it doesn’t have close ties to them, the church has known about the Ghaash’kala for ages. The modern church accepts orcs, goblins, changelings, and shifters (despite the troubles around the Purge) as equals in the eyes of the Flame. What makes an ogre so different from an orc? The question is solely does this creature have the capacity to choose to do good? Can they touch the Flame? Or, like lycanthropes, are they compelled to harm innocents by a power beyond their control? I think that many “monsters” suffered by virtue of being UNKNOWN; no one had SEEN an ogre in any context other than “This is a monster that will try to kill my friends,” whereas now it’s a laborer working in Sharn for an honest wage. I think the VOICE of the Silver Flame would encourage compassion in this case; the question is whether mortals will listen to the Voice of the Flame, or whether the Shadow in the Flame can play on their fears.

Are the generally traditionalist Thranes willing to entertain such equivalence or would Jaela esposing such beliefs be a possible weak point for Cardinal Krozen or Blood Regent Diani to capitalize on? Or that would inflame tensions with Solgar Dariznu of Thaliost?

The Silver Flame is based on principles of compassion: on the idea that those who can choose the light should be guided toward it, and only those who are irredeemably evil need to be destroyed for the greater good. In my opinion, the people of Thrane are the people who hew most clearly to those core principles of the faith. In Aundair, the Silver Crusade created the Pure Flame, whose adherents see the Flame as a weapon; in Breland, it suffers from the general cynicism and pragmatism of the Brelish character. But if there’s a place where people will TRY to follow the core tenets of the faith, it’s Thrane. So, PERSONALLY, I believe that there are many who would follow her, or who have already come to such conclusions on their own. In my novel The Queen of Stone, Minister Luala of Thrane is diplomatic in her interactions with the creatures of Droaam, notably discussing her regrets with the Silver Crusade and the ‘madness of the zealots’ that it spawned. As I said, I think the adherents of the Pure Flame would disagree, and say that the medusa and the harpy are clearly twisted creatures of innate evil that should be destroyed; so such a ruling by Jaela would surely reate a rift with Dariznu. With Diani or Krozen? It’s a plot you could certainly explore if you want to. But I’ll call out Rellekor; where many fear tieflings, Thrane has created a haven for them. I think if you WANTED to make it an issue, the key thing would be to have a major tragedy instigated by Droaamites—a pack of war trolls slaughtering people in Flamekeep—that Diani or Krozen could use as a rallying point for fear. But again, in my opinion Thrane is the nation whose faithful are MOST likely to embrace compassion, because that is the core of the faith.

That’s all for now! I draw IFAQ topics from my Patreon supporters, as well as polling them to determine the subject of the major article for the month. There’s four days left in the current poll, and it’s currently a tight race between The Library of Korranberg and The Fey of Aundair—but there’s still time for another topic to pull ahead!

IFAQ: Marchers, Zil, and Borders

This has been a busy month. I’ve been focused on supporting Exploring Eberron and I just posted a long article about the Nobility of Galifar, along with a supporting IFAQ and an exclusive article for my Patreon supporters. But at the start of each month I ask my patrons to present interesting, short questions, and I’d like to answer a few more before August comes to an end. So…

How Dhakaani heirs see orcs? Do you think that after fighting together with orcs, Dhakaani heirs have a better vision of them? At least about Gatekeepers?

On page 96 of Exploring Eberron, the song of the duur’kala says…

Our empire was so grand that even the spirits grew jealous. The Lords of Madness crawled out of the shadows. They made monsters of our children and sought to break our people with terror. But no power could stand against the champions of Dhakaan. Our heroes blinded the Lord of Eyes and cut the roots of the Rotting Queen. They fought the great Corruptor and brought him down…

On the one hand, this can be seen as the “winners” writing history. The Dhakaani systematically oppressed the orcs and drove them into the barren places of Khorvaire. The Kech Dhakaan have lived in isolation for many centuries and subsisted on tales of Dhakaani glory. The last thing the duur’kala want to do is to inject a story of how the Dhakaani COULDN’T win on their own and needed those very people they oppressed to defeat the enemy, even if that’s the truth. But there’s a bigger issue here, which is that most dar likely never knew the role that the Gatekeepers played. The conflict against the daelkyr raged across the entirety of the Empire. But the Gatekeepers were only active in the west. They didn’t join up with Dhakaani forces across the land; if they had, we’d SEE evidence of Marcher and Gatekeeper culture spread further, whereas instead the orcs we see in the east are an entirely different culture. We know that the Gatekeeper seals don’t need to be “on site”—the Gatekeepers didn’t have to be physically adjacent to the daelkyr to perform the rituals that bound them. Essentially, even though the Gatekeepers performed the crucial ritual that ended the daelkyr threat, they did in in the Shadow Marches—and the dar in what is now Darguun never knew what the Gatekeepers had done.

There are exceptions. As the sages of the empire, I would expect the Kech Volaar to know about the Gatekeepers and their contributions, though even they might assert that the empire WOULD have found a path to victory even without the Gatekeepers. The Kech Ghaalrac DID fight directly alongside Gatekeepers, and there are orcs among the Ghaalrac; so they are a Kech that feels a close kinship with the orcs, but they’re also a Kech that has had very little contact with the other Keepers. If I were to place one of the new Kechs in the region of Droaam—most likely the Kech Nasaar, as it’s mentioned in that region in the comics—I’d likely say that they worked more closely with the orcs during the war and respect the Gatekeepers. But most dar know little about the orcs and may have never heard of the Gatekeepers.

Ultimately, it’s up to what you want to do in your Eberron; a case can be made for different paths. The dar known that the orces are native to Khorvaire and thus not chaat’oor, and you could say that this is sufficient to create a bond between them in these difficult times. Nasaar or Ghaalrac dar could take this further and view them as valuable allies. But in general, I’d say that while they aren’t chaat’oor, they’re not dar; they are a people that the ancient dar defeated and drove into the dark corners of the land.

Is the Shadow Marches considered part of Breland? Have the Marchers always called themselves Marchers, or did they ever consider themselves Brelish (or Wroatish)?

Consider this: The Mark of Finding existed in the Shadow Marches for five hundred years before it was discovered by “House Sivis explorers” in 498 YK. In my opinion, that’s a pretty strong indicator that there was essentially no contact between the Marches and the Five Nations up to that point; the Sivis who discovered the mark are called explorers, not, say, merchants. To me, the intent has always been that the Marches are a highly inhospitable region with a low population density on the other side of the monster-infested Barrens—that the people of the Marches never had any interest in the outside world, and up until 498 YK, the outside world never had any interest in them. The people of Breland might have laid claim to it on a map, but they barely settled past the Graywall Mountains during the time of Galifar, and no one IN Galifar had ever made it past the Watching Wood; even if some lord THEORETICALLY held a claim to that territory, they’d never EXERCISED it and the people of the Marches were entirely unaware of it.

So definitely, the Marchers never considered themselves to be part of Breland or Wroat, and it is the intent that the Marches are not a Thronehold nation and that Marchers aren’t Brelish citizens. With that said, that’s not a fact that’s typically INVOKED; the common people of Breland don’t stop Marchers in the street and say “Wait a second… you’re not a Brelish citizen, I bet I could just murder you right now with no consequences!” In part this is because most Marchers encountered in the Five Nations are associated with House Tharashk, whose heirs do have the rights of citizens… and even if a Marcher ISN’T tied to the house, most people will ASSUME that they are.

What’s your take on the Library of Korranberg? Is it one big Tardis of a building, a collection of structures that cover a campus, a borough of books? Are certain places within the library subject to smaller manifest zones or planar connections?

This is covered in the 3.5 sourcebook Player’s Guide to Eberron, which is available on the DM’s Guild. The Library of Korranberg isn’t a building; it’s an institution and an organization, supporting thousands of students and scholars and with active agents across Khorvaire. Per the PGtE, the Library is comprised of eight separate colleges, in addition to the corps of sages, librarians, and agents who work for the unifying foundation. I’d be happy to explore this further in a deeper article, but for now the PGtE is the best source for further information.

Does the Library of Korranberg being eight colleges essentially make Korranberg itself a university town, or that the city of Korranberg has one or more districts that are entirely the Library while other districts are more traditional?

The latter. Korranberg is one of the three ruling cities of Zilargo. It’s the ancestral seat of House Sivis, and home to the largest temple to Aureon in Khorvaire (the Codex Vault) and to the Korranberg Chronicle. The Library is an important, major part of the city, but there’s more to Korranberg than just the Library.

I really like the idea of the Trust as an organization and I have a decent sense of how people in Zilargo view the trust, but less of a sense of how people outside Zilargo view the Trust. So my question is how do the citizens of other nations on Khorvaire view the Trust, how much would an average person, or as a contrast a person in power, know about the organization, and what are some potential region specific rumors that people believe about the trust (say in the Mror Holds and in Thrane).

Most people in the Five Nations don’t take Zilargo terribly seriously, which is just how the Zil like it. Remember, on the surface, Zilargo looks like a cheerful, colorful gingerbread village (that’s an exaggeration, but you get the idea). The Zil don’t WANT to be seen as a threat. They’re librarians! And scholars! They make great glamerweave and do the elemental binding! That’s the extent of what the COMMON person knows; Zilargo is seen as useful (everybody deals with House Sivis!) but not powerful or dangerous.

People with a little more knowledge know that Zilargo is a ruthless police state. But a lot of people who have never been there don’t really believe that. A vast network of ruthless gnome assassins? That’s ridiculous. Next you’ll say that there’s a secret order of Ghallanda vigilantes who use the Mark of Hospitality to poison people. People who have been to Zilargo or who deal with the nation directly know that it IS true, and we’ve suggested that most find it horrifying and are amazed that the Zil don’t. But again, the Zil don’t, so it’s not like THEY are running around talking about it.

So in general, if non-Zil have heard about the Trust at all, they tend to think it’s an exagerated fairy tale. Ooooh, watch what you say, invisible Trust assassins could be listening in. On the other hand, people who are actually IN the business of espionage—Dark Lanterns, Royal Eyes, House Phiarlan or Medani, etc—know all about the Trust and take them very seriously. They know how capable the Trust is, especially in Zilargo itself. They don’t know how strong its influence is beyond Zilargo, because hello, that’s why they’re called secret agents, but they know enough to treat them as a serious potential threat and as someone to be treated with respect in negotiations.

So generally, I’d say the typical commoner in Thrane has never even heard of the Trust. The people of the Mror Holds might have heard of it just because they have a closer relationship with the Zil, but they’d still know it as “That’s the spooky police in Zilargo, right? My Zil buddy says they see everything.”

Surely the Twelve know about the Trust. Does this mean they’d avoid putting anything too important—like research facilities—in Zilargo?

Anyone who does business in Zilargo knows about the Trust, and the Twelve are surely well aware of the Trust. The curious counter argument is that this might be why they’d choose to put important facilities IN Zilargo. The Zil don’t have any sort of monopoly on spies. Before the Last War, the King’s Dark Lanterns operating across Zilargo, and now you have the Royal Eyes, the Argentum, etc. The Trust are especially good at what they do, and yes, I would assume that the houses take the approach that there are no secrets in Zilargo; that if they are doing something in Zilargo, ASSUME that the Trust will find out about it. But with that in mind, so what? The beauty of the Twelve’s research is that it can’t be stolen because it relies on use of dragonmarks. Zilargo couldn’t steal Cannith’s techniques for creating warforged because you need the Mark of Making to operate a creation forge. The second point is if you assume that SOMEONE’S spies will find out what you’re up to, who would you rather it be: the Royal Eyes, the Dark Lanterns or the Trust? The Royal Eyes and the Dark Lanterns are active participants in the cold war and will seek any advantage that will help them against the other nations. But Zilargo is largely neutral. It’s not trying to claim the throne of Galifar. What are they going to DO with the knowledge that Cannith is creating a new weapon? The purpose of the Trust is to maintain order and ensure the security of Zilargo. As long as it doesn’t threaten either of those things, they don’t care if Cannith is building a new bomb; they’ll make note of it, file it away, and be done with it. The strong ties between Sivis and the Trust strengthen this; as a general rule, Zilargo wants to work WITH the Twelve, not fight them. This has come up in previous discussions of “Why doesn’t House Cannith steal elemental binding from the Zil?” The key answer is that for now, both sides would rather maintain an alliance that benefits both parties rather than to start a war that would cripple everyone involved. With that in mind—the idea that if SOMEONE is going to know your house secrets, it’s better for it to be the Trust than for it to be the Royal Eyes—that’s where the exceptional talents of the Trust HELP the Twelve with their Zilargo research facilities… because the Trust will target any other spies that try to infiltrate Zil facilities. Not to mention that Zilargo has a lower crime rate than any other nation!

Essentially, the Twelve will assume that there are no secrets in Zilargo, that the Trust will know about anything they’re doing. But they will also assume that unless that work poses a direct threat to the Zil people, they won’t DO anything with that knowledge. And they know that Zilargo values a good working relationship with the Twelve. SO: If the Twelve are working on a secret scheme to conquer all nations? Yeah, don’t work on that in Zilargo. But if they’re just working on a more efficient lightning rail or a new form or Lyrandar weather control? They don’t CARE if the Trust knows about it—and in the case of the improved lightning rail, odds are good that they’ll want Zil artificers working with them!

What’s the climate/environment like in the Demon Wastes? I’ve always envisioned it as a desert wasteland like Dark Sun.

I recommend you read this article if you haven’t already. And you might want to listen to the latest episode of Manifest Zone, which covers the Demon Wastes. Beyond that, it’s been described as “A plain of blackened sand and volcanic glass… among the ruins of shattered fortresses and the open pits to Khyber… Amid rivers of lava, bubbling pits of noxious stew, and barren wasteland, a few barbaric tribes of orcs and humans struggle to survive.” So generally, yes, desert wasteland; but also, a key point is that it is deeply unnatural. Part of the point of those “open pits to Khyber” is that reality isn’t what you’re used to. The fiendish influence doesn’t just manifest in the fiends you fight; it imbues the plants and land itself.

How strict is border enforcement in the Five Nations?

The Five Nations are just two years out of a century of war, and there are many people who don’t believe that the peace will hold. Borders shifted in the Last War, and some are still contested; so it’s not like there are vast walls separating the nations, and they can’t stop a party of adventurers from making their way across the border unseen. But there are definitely keeps and watchtowers along the borders, and checkpoints on the main roads where caravans may be searched. The original Eberron Campaign Setting says “Anyone who travels across national borders is usually required to carry traveling papers identifying them, their residence, their destination, and their reason for travel.

Having said that? I have never in sixteen years told a group of my players “Oh, sorry, Bob’s a Marcher and doesn’t have traveling papers, so I guess she can’t go with you to Aundair.” Ultimately this comes back to what is going to make a fun story for you and your players? If it would be FUN for the adventurers to figure out how to smuggle Bob across the border or how they can get her papers, then OK, maybe I would make it part of the adventure. If one of the PCs is specifically wanted by the Aundairian authorities if could be fun for them to have to acquire fake papers. Otherwise, I generally assume that the party’s patron has provided them with the papers they need, or that they just take a minor detour to avoid a checkpoint; getting hassled at the border because a passport is my something I associate with a bad vacation, not an epic adventure.

That’s all for now! Thanks again to my Patreon supporters for asking interesting questions and for keeping this site going!

IFAQ: Noble Questions

My new book Exploring Eberron is available now on the DM’s Guild. You can find a FAQ about it here. My latest article deals with the Nobility of Galifar, and I want to address some of the questions that have come up regarding the nobles. Thanks to my Patreon supporters for choosing this topic and making these articles possible!

To begin with, I want to call out a general concept that applies to a lot of these questions, especially when dealing with nobles as antagonists in an adventure. Eberron is designed with two story poles in mind: pulp adventure and noir intrigue. This is a spectrum, and any adventure will fall somewhere in between the two. Pulp adventure thrives on over the top nefarious villainy, and it’s why we have groups such as the Order of the Emerald Claw. When adventurers encounter the Emerald Claw, they shouldn’t have to stop and think about it; they should KNOW that fighting the Emerald Claw is the right thing to do. If your local noble is a pulp villain, then they SHOULD be clearly terrible. They SHOULD be starving their people, hanging dissenters, holding Human Sacrifice Night on Tuesdays. By contrast, noir intrigue thrives on shades of gray, uncertainty, and on questions that don’t have simple answers. If your noble is a noir villain, perhaps hanging villagers, but it’s because they lost their children to an Aundairian attack in the Last War and now they are convinced that there are Aundairian spies in the village… and they might be right. If the noir lord has Human Sacrifice Night, it’s because the town is on a manifest zone to Thelanis and if they DON’T sacrifice someone, FIVE innocent people will die. The noir lord may be terrible, but are you so sure that if you remove them, the next lord won’t be worse? With that in mind…

To what extent is regional variation tolerated? How much autonomy do counts, viscounts and crown reeves have? I’m asking mainly in the context of converting non-Eberron adventures. For instance, if the local lord in an adventure is imposing arbitrary and extremely un-Galifaran laws, is that best explained because he is acting outside of his authority, or because local variation gives him wide latitude?

Lore should always be a point of inspiration rather than something that concretely prevents you from telling a good story. If you need the local lord to be acting in a manner that seems un-Galifaran, that just means you need to find a way to justify it. With that said, most stories are more entertaining if they feel plausible—if we’re not just handwaving things. So let’s consider a few elements.

The first option is the grand duchy. The whole point of palatinates is that they’re largely independent and can ignore local laws and traditions. There’s not supposed to be very many of them, but if you really need a lord behaving in a way that’s way out of line with the laws of the land, make them a grand duke.

Beyond that, it largely depends on the nation and, specifically, the liege lord. So first of all, Karrnath has harsh laws that do place near-absolute power in the hands of the local noble. Can you put the story in Karrnath? In Breland or Aundair, the main point is that the local lord shouldn’t, for example, be denying the people their right to justice under the Galifar Code. But if the next lord up the ladder is rotten or ineffective, then they can get away with it, at least for now. A few other important questions is how much of a backwater we’re talking about. If the town has an speaking stone station and a lightning rail stop it’s pretty that people should know about Bad Lord Boggle and that people might just choose to leave. On the other hand, if it’s a small town that doesn’t have these things (or the stone station was closed three years ago and never reopened, or the stonespeaker only works for Bad Lord Boggle, etc) then it’s easier to explain how the lord is getting away with their behavior. With that said…

If the local lord does behave badly, why is the intervention of the adventurers necessary, as opposed to just petitioning the duke?

This comes back to don’t let the lore ruin your story. In a perfect system, the adventurers shouldn’t be needed, which means that things aren’t perfect. The people SHOULD be able to go up to the next rung of the ladder to get help; if they can’t, is it because it’s out of reach? Missing? Rotten? Is it something that can be fixed by the adventurers or is it deep and systemic—again, the player characters can solve today’s problem, but they can’t abolish the Code of Kaius in Karrnath.

One of the basic principles of noir is that the system is unreliable—either corrupt, blind, or toothless. With this in mind, the Why Can’t The Duke Help? table provides a few suggestions. Other things to consider are that the locals may be too afraid to take action, or too ground down by systemic oppression. Sure, in THEORY everyone has a right to justice under the Galifar Code, but we ain’t never seen that code in Blackwood, mister. Beyond that, there could be any number of concrete reasons the liege lord won’t listen to the adventurers. Do they have any sort of reputation, or are they just a bunch of armed vigilantes and professional tomb robbers? Are they all from the local nation, or might some of them be enemy spies? Do you have one of those untrustworthy warforged? It’s a well known fact that the Duke HATES warforged because of that incident at Orcbone at the end of the war…

With that said, if the player characters DO have a good reputation, and have for example a noble whose Position of Privilege specifically allows the to request an audience with a noble, you should LET them go petition the duke. There’s no reason that can’t be just as valid a solution to the problem as stabbing the evil count. You just want to make sure it’s a good story and that it’s as interesting for the players as the fight would be. Do they have evidence? Is there a conspiracy or cult manipulating the duke that the adventurers can expose? If the duke is being blackmailed or enchanted, can the adventurers solve the problem? A little court intrigue can be just as much fun as storming the castle…

What age are noble heirs considered to be “of age” for ruling?

It’s not established in canon. I’ll arbitrarily say “Sixteen!” but I’m making that number up right now and at least one leader—Jaela—breaks that rule, though she’s obviously a weird case. There’s also the point that there are non-human nobles, so the age would vary for, say, dwarves. But I think human-sixteen is a good baseline.

How does noble inheritance and succession treat rare resurrections?

It’s an excellent question. Sharn: City of Towers establishes that the Galifar Code doesn’t consider undead to be citizens, and undead nobles can’t hold property. On the one hand, I could see a case being made that death is death, and if you die you lose your rights; on the other hand, especially with lower level spells such as revivify, that seems a little extreme. I think I’d probably institute a two-week grace period, essentially, allowing the soul to pass through Dolurrh. If you’re raised from the dead in that time, you retain your rights and privileges. After two weeks, you are considered dead and all the legal aspects proceed; if you are returned to life after that, you are essentially considered to be a new person with no claim to your old titles or property. There’s likely a legal term for this; if someone brought Queen Wroaan back now, she wouldn’t take over Breland, but they might give her a room at the palace and call her “Queen-Posthumous”.

Sharn:CoT has examples of local laws that are extremely classist. If the adventurers to remove an evil crown reeve with extreme prejudice, instead of going to the count, how is the law likely to view them?

This again comes back to How do you want the story to go? Because for sure, “everyone is entitled to justice under the Galifar Code” includes the evil reeve, and unless your adventurers are appointed justiciars, a bunch of random lowlife vigilantes killing a noble is not something that should end well. The question is what story do you and your players want to experience and how do you point them toward it?

  • Justice With Murder. If the crimes of the reeve are extreme, the evidence is entirely clear, and the public is on the side of the adventurers, it’s entirely reasonable to say that the locals will cover the adventurers’ tracks and that the law won’t care about hunting them down because it’s clear that they did a good thing.
  • Justice Without Murder. The reeve has committed crimes. There’s tons of evidence. But she should be brought to justice, not killed. Player characters get to DECIDE what happens to a creature they reduce to zero hit points. As DM, you can make clear “If you kill her, the rest of the campaign will be about all of you being on the run from Sentinel Marshals until you’re hauled in front of Brelish justice… is that really what you want?”
  • No Justice, No Murder. If you’re going full noir, it’s entirely possible that the adventurers CAN’T bring the noble to justice. If they kill the noble, they’ll be hunted down as murderers. Or perhaps if they kill the noble, the Mabaran manifest zone adjacent to town will expand and kill everyone. Or perhaps the noble has blast disks on a deadman trigger. If they don’t kill the noble, there’s no evidence and no justice will be done. This can be a very interesting story, but as a DM building such a scenario you have to consider how is there a satisfying conclusion for the adventurers—even if they can’t get the answer that they WANT, can they get an answer that they can live with and take some pride in having done the best they possibly could? And also, because adventurers have free will, if you set up a scenario like this you have to be ready for them to kill the reeve anyway. This isn’t YOUR story, it’s EVERYONE’S story; and if they players say “We don’t care about the blast disks, we’re killing the damn reeve” are you actually prepared to go through with it? Or was it, in fact, a bluff?
  • Forget it, Jake. It’s Callestan. Depending where you are, it’s entirely possible to say that the law simply doesn’t apply here. This isn’t to say that actions won’t have consequences, but that it may be that the corrupt count and the local watch won’t give a damn whether you kill the crown reeve… but the Boromar Clan, who she was working for, might.

Basically, this is a stylistic question that you should work out with your adventurers in advance. Is this a world in which the player characters can get away with murder, or is this a world where killing a noble in cold blood will ultimately destroy the campaign? The goal of all of this is for people to have fun, and while I’d like to believe that people can have fun without murder, the DM and the players need to be on the same page.

For Breland, it canonically has a house of nobles as a bicameral parliament. It’s also the largest of the five nations by far. Would seats in the House of Nobles be limited to Dukes, or would counts be included as well?

The 3.5 Eberron Campaign Setting has this to say about the Brelish Parliament.

Breland’s parliament consists of both elected legislators and hereditary noble legislators. The citizens of Breland elect legislators every two years. These elected lawmakers, selected by popular vote (one from each village or town, two from each city, and three each from the metropolises of Sharn and Wroat), are sent to the capital to participate in all parliamentary proceedings. The noble legislators gain their seats in the parliament based on the status of their families; each noble family holds one seat in the parliament. Each year, the recognized head of the family appoints a family member to parliamentary duty. In many cases, the yearly appointment is symbolic, and each family has one representative who serves year in and year out. Twenty-seven noble families serve the crown of Breland.

There’s a number of ways to interpret this, but how *I* read it is that of the many noble families of Breland, 27 have the right to appoint a member to parliament. Personally, I’d consider this to be a royal appointment, acknowledging a family as part of the Lords Parliament; so like being Minister of Magic, this is an office and honor that exists separately from a title. In my opinion, there’s only ten dukes in Breland; it’s likely that all of the ducal families would be Lords Parliament, which leaves 17 seats for lesser lords. I think these are largely static appointments, and that they are hereditary until a sovereign revokes that status—and that this would be a dramatic action for a sovereign to take, especially if they removed one of the ducal families. Take note that the FAMILY holds the office and chooses the representative; this is an office that would typically be held by an heir of the house, not the head of it.

In Breland, and specifically in Sharn, are the nobles there typically true nobles with the same requirements in taking care of counties and land? If so, how is that broken up within Sharn, or Breland as a whole?

While Sharn is within a duchy (which I’m arbitrarily naming The Hilt, referring to the cross-section of the Dagger river), the city is governed by the Lord Mayor, who’s appointed by the elected city council. So the nobles within Sharn don’t govern Sharn itself; it’s not like the city is broken into counties, and the actual leaders you’ll encounter there are city councilors and Watch captains. With that said, there are 25 noble families represented in Sharn, along with the 35 other powerful families that make up the Sixty, the social nobility of Sharn. Some of those families are true nobles who maintain estates in Sharn; even if the actual lord isn’t in residence, their heirs might be in Sharn to enjoy the season. Others are indeed courtesy nobles. Notably, the ir’Tain family—generally seen as the crown jewel of the social scene—draw their influence from vast wealth and have ir’Tains have served as Lord Mayor, but we’ve never actually said what rank they hold and if they have domains elsewhere in Breland. So if you assume that 12-15 of those noble families are “true” nobles, they’re likely from across Breland, and the title holders are probably only in Sharn occasionally.

Regarding “the inherent belief that the Wynarn bloodline is blessed by Aureon,” Galifar had 5 kids a thousand years ago. There’s many scholarly organizations on Eberron, and at least one group (Vadalis) that actively studies geneology. Is the simple math that a substanial chunk of Khorvaire’s humans should be of the Wynarn bloodline at this point general knowledge among the educated?

Possibly, but the key point is that this “blessing” isn’t something that’s based on science or, for that matter, widely believed. It’s something that Galifar I believed a thousand years ago and because of that, it’s baked into the systems he created. But as noted in the article, it’s not something people tend to talk about in the present day. The Daskarans took it seriously, and some of the nobles of Thrane still do, but largely it’s just understood to be a faerie tale that justifies the customs of the monarchy. Beyond that, the “blessing” is really only something that’s supposed to apply to the active rulers—”Aureon smiles on a Wynarn king”—not a mutation that is passed down the line to anyone with a drop of Wynarn blood.

If an Aundarian noble can only cast 0-level spells, is there an “of the Xth Circle” title for that?

No. Including “I have the ability to cast cantrips” as part of your title in Aundair would be like saying “I graduated kindergarten” or “I have a learner’s permit”—it’s not something to brag about. Even most magewrights and wandslingers can cast at least one 1st level spell. With that said, this does bring up an important secondary point. I talk about the idea that everyday magic is more common in Aundair than elsewhere in Khorvaire, that nobles are expected to have some mystical talent. Yet by the 3.5 books they don’t; in Five Nations, Queen Aurala isn’t a spellcaster. Is this intentional? No. This is a point where both the concept of the nation evolved and where the SYSTEM now supports new ideas. 3.5 didn’t have ritual magic or wide cantrips, and NPCs in 3.5 used the same general rules as PCs. We didn’t have a good way to represent wandslingers in 3.5, but now we’re saying that wandslingers are a major part of Aundair’s forces. So with that in mind I would update Aurala’s statistics for 5th edition. I wouldn’t make her a mighty wizard; she’s not supposed to be the most powerful spellcaster in the land. But I’d definitely give her a few cantrips and a few one-use spells or rituals… essentially, on par with a gifted magewright.

What does knighthood mean in Galifar? You suggest that it’s typically not a landed title, but in medieval Europe it was typically the grant of land that allowed a knight to afford the equipment required to meet their obligations to their lord. Without that income, how would knights maintain their equipment?

Knighthood in present-day Khorvaire is NOT a feudal exchange of land for military service. It is an HONOR—often granted to someone who is already performing military service, but not necessarily. If you’re looking to emulate the medieval arrangement, you’d have a crown reeve tasked with military service who is also granted a knighthood.

In Eberron, knights are typically part of an ORDER. You’re not simply a knight, you’re a Knight of the Order of the Emerald Claw, or a Knight of the Order of the Inviolate Way. Knightly orders serve three functions. A knighthood is an honor reflecting the favor of a duke or sovereign. Knightly orders are fraternal orders and members are expected to support one another in both war and peace. And knightly orders are also elite military units. However, that last part is essentially split in the same way as a courtesy title versus a substantive title. You may be appointed a Knight of the Order of the Blackened Sky because you’re an exceptional combat alchemist whose skills will serve Karrnath well on the battlefield. Or you might be appointed a Knight of the Order of the Blackened Sky because you’re one of the first citizens of Karrlakton and the Duchess of Karrlakton wants both to honor your service and to connect you to other members of the order—even though it is understood that you are not a soldier and will never serve the order on the battlefield. Sometimes a knighthood comes with an annuity, making it a concrete reward that will help support a non-noble knight. But also, this is where support the order both in peace and war comes in. In the example given above, the combat alchemist may not be a noble and may not have great funds. But the non-martial knight IS a wealthy man, and he may serve as a patron to the alchemist. The orders are ways to bring the finest citizens together, people who might normally be split by class lines; it is a way to elevate gifted commoners without actually raising them to the nobility, and to forge connections between nobles and exceptional commoners.

The most detailed description of knightly orders that we have in canon is on page 54 of Forge of War, which describes six Karrnathi orders. As I mentioned before, the Order of the Inviolate Way ONLY accepts those of noble blood—which highlights the fact that most of the orders are not so restricted.

That’s all for now! Thanks again to my Patreon supporters, and I expect to be posting the Patreon-exclusive article tomorrow.

Dragonmarks: Nobility of Galifar

So you’re making a character, and you take the Noble background. What does that actually mean? What are the titles commonly used within the Five Nations? Is a noble title purely hereditary, or can it be purchased? Do nobles have duties, or is it largely symbolic? This article answers these questions and more, exploring the practical impact of noble birth along with the role and form of the nobility in the nations of Khorvaire. Thanks to my Patreon supporters for choosing this topic; I’ll be posting a bonus “deleted scene” to the Inner Circle on Patreon, describing a few notable past rulers of Galifar and the Five Nations. Because of the scope of the topic, this article primarily deals with the Five Nations and other nations that have inherited the traditions of Galifar. If there is interest, a follow-up article could explore those nations of Khorvaire that have quite different approaches to nobility, such as Darguun and the Lhazaar Principalities.

PREFACE: DESIGN INTENT

From the very beginning, one of the goals of Eberron was to make sure that the experience of adventuring in the world still felt like D&D. This is why people still fight using swords and crossbows, why you still have knights in plate armor, and why you have nations ruled by kings and queens. We knew from the start that an important theme of the setting would be the steady rise of industrial power and the shifting balance of power between the dragonmarked houses and the established aristocracy. We knew that Breland in particular would be shifting away from the medieval vision of monarchy. But we wanted both of those things to be relevant in the campaign, in 998 YK. D&D is stereotypically medieval. Our goal was never to completely abandon that flavor, but rather to present a vision of a world that’s actively evolving and straining against it. As I discussed in my previous post, when making history you always want to know why it matters. In creating the setting we wanted adventurers to be caught in the middle of these changes, to have to deal with the Sword of Liberty and overreaching houses, to have to decide whether to challenge tradition or defend it. So while it may seem strange that the Five Nations still have as many medieval trappings as they do, that was always the intent—that Eberron would be a world actively caught between the traditional medievalism associated with D&D and the active pull of social and industrial evolution.

With that said, both Exploring Eberron and my previous article discuss the idea of Untold History. No one’s saying that the semi-feudal status quo of Galifar remained unchallenged for nearly a thousand years. In my opinion, there were many uprisings and social experiments. It’s entirely possible that there was a thirty year period in which Aundair broke away and existed as the Republic of Thaliost before being pulled back into Galifar; this early rebellion might have laid the foundation for the more successful secession of the Eldeen Reaches in the tenth century. So it was always the intent that as of 998 YK there are still traces of medieval flavor to the culture of Galifar; but you can always explore untold moments of history if it makes your campaign more interesting.

And as always: this article is my vision of the setting. While I’ve tried to remain consistent with canon where possible, canon sources aren’t always consistent and there are certain sourcebooks I disagree with. So make of this what you will, and as always, do what’s best for your story.

THE FOUNDATION: POSITION OF PRIVILEGE

What does it mean to be a noble? In most of the nations of Khorvaire, nobles are actively involved in the governance of a region, whether large or small. They collect taxes, maintain lands, manage tenants. Nobles may not administer justice directly within the Five Nations, but they are responsible for ensuring that there is justice within their domains, maintaining the courts and sustaining the forces of the law. In the wake of the Last War, nobles are working to repair the damage to their domains, to reintegrate soldiers into civilian life and deal with the impact of casualties, and to address the needs of refugees seeking shelter in their lands. The short form is that with great power comes great responsibility… and that as such, few landed nobles have the time to go on adventures. It’s not impossible to make the story work, if you and the DM are determined; perhaps you have a younger sibling who’s doing all the work, or a truly remarkable steward. But it’s more likely that a “noble” adventurer will be the scion of a powerful family—the heir, not the holder of the title. Your blood grants you prestige, but you don’t carry the responsibilities of your rank and you don’t have access to the full resources of your domain.

This is reflected by the benefits granted by the noble background. As a noble, you have proficiency with History and Persuasion. You have a set of fine clothes and 25 gp in your pocket. But you don’t have an army at your beck and call. You don’t have a treasury filled with coffers of coin… just as you don’t actually have to do the work of collecting taxes. What you do have is a benefit called Position of Privilege.

Thanks to your noble birth, people are inclined to think the best of you. You are welcome in high society, and people assume you have the right to be wherever you are. The common folk make every effort to accommodate you and avoid your displeasure, and other people of high birth treat you as a member of the same social sphere. You can secure an audience with a local noble if you need to.

So: the precise duties and powers of nobles vary by nation. But the defining, practical benefit of being a noble is respect. Note that this says nothing about “While in your home nation.” The principle is that as a noble—or even as a significant heir of a noble family—you will be recognized as a peer by local aristocrats and generally accommodated by “the common folk.” You’re not above the law. You can’t get away with murder. But people “are inclined to think the best of you,” believing that you are someone who will uphold the honor and dignity of your noble position. Just as in wartime, an enemy might be more inclined to ransom you than to simply kill you; your rank will be recognized even when you hold no actual authority in a region. Within the Five Nations, this is tied to the romantic notion that Galifar may someday be restored; all nobles are treated with respected because someday we’ll all be one kingdom again. Even in Darguun or the Mror Holds, you’re likely to be treated with respect because of your connections.

Having said that: Position of Privilege represents the respect and recognition that come from your position and title. But not all nobles receive that recognition. If you’re a noble from Cyre with this background benefit, it means that people DO still afford you the respect due your title, even though you no longer have your estate or your fortune; presumably your family was so beloved or well-connected that the respect lingers. But most Cyran nobles don’t receive this recognition. If you’re playing such a noble, you could take the variant Retainers benefit instead of Position of Privilege; your estates were lost to the Mourning, but you still have three loyal servants who are sworn to follow you to the bitter end. You could also say that you were an earl of Cyre, but having lost your fortune you were forced to turn to crime, and thus take the criminal background (or anything else) instead of the noble background; from a STORY perspective you were once a noble, but you don’t receive any practical BENEFITS from your lineage. The advantage is that this allows you to actually have BEEN the landed title-holder, as opposed to an heir; you HAD many duties and responsibilities in the past, but they were stripped away with your fortune, and now you are merely an adventurer.

This same principle can apply to a noble who’s lost their lands for any reason. Maybe you were a Lhazaar prince driven from your throne by a treacherous sibling. Perhaps your were the Lord of Stubborn, the Brelish settlement in Droaam now known as Stonejaw. Whatever the circumstances, the impact is the same. If you take the noble background and the Position of Privilege benefit, people still treat you with the respect due your rank. If you take the Retainers benefit, you no longer wield any authority but you still have an entourage sworn to serve you. And if you take any other background, it means that your nobility may be a plot point, but it will rarely have any direct impact in an adventure.

When is a Noble not a Noble?

Just as you can be a noble without the noble background, you can also take the noble background even if you’re not part of the nobility. The Position of Privilege benefit means that you are treated as an equal by nobles, that you can request an audience with local authorities, and that common folk are generally impressed by you. This is often the case with especially wealthy or influential members of dragonmarked houses. As a dragonmarked “noble” you are either close to house leadership or part of an especially wealthy or powerful branch of the family, and critically, people know it; being this sort of “noble” means that you are a recognized celebrity. With that said, your Position of Privilege is a courtesy, not a right… it reflects the fact that people recognize the power of your family and show you respect because of it.

Gaining Privilege…

Noble may be a background, but just as adventurers can become soldiers or criminals during a campaign, it’s possible to be raised to the nobility. The traditions associated with this are described in later sections, but a greater question is the practical impact of this elevation. Does a new noble gain the benefits of Position of Privilege? What are their duties and responsibilities?

An adventurer could gain a noble title as a reward for service, or depending on nation, they might win their title through battle. A critical question is whether it is a substantive title—one that is associated with land and subjects, which can be passed down to heirs—or whether the title is simply a courtesy that doesn’t carry lands or duties. Being granted a knighthood may not confer the benefits of Position of Privilege, but it alway won’t get in the way of adventuring. Becoming a Lhazaar Prince might grant that privilege, but it also means that you need to manage your principality… or employ people to do it for you (the Valenar method) and hope they do a good job. Personally, if I grant player characters substantive titles in a campaign I’m running, I’m going to make the management and defense of their domain an integral part of the campaign moving forward. On the other hand, if Boranel grants someone the title of Shield of the East, it’s a symbolic courtesy that will carry significant weight with Brelish nobles (as it reflects the favor of the king) but carries no actual responsibilities and doesn’t have the impact of Position of Privilege in other nations.

… And Losing It

Just as a lowborn adventurer can gain a noble title, a highborn character can lose it. The simplest path to being stripped of a title is to be convicted of treason. However, in the Five Nations nobles have duties, and if the family fails in those duties the sovereign can strip them of their title and property. In the Lhazaar Principalities, a character could lose their title because someone else takes it by force. And, of course, countless Cyran nobles lost their holdings in the Mourning, and the Treaty of Thronehold effectively stripped them of their privileges. Should a player character be stripped of their title, it’s up to the player and DM to decide how this affects their Position of Privilege. If the character is widely known and beloved, it’s possible to say that the benefit lingers based solely on that goodwill, as with a PC Cyran noble who takes the benefit. As a DM, if I was to remove the benefits of Position of Privilege, I would grant a new benefit to replace it, based on the circumstances of its loss. Was the noble convicted of treason because they opposed a tyrant? They might lose Position of Privilege but gain the Rustic Hospitality of a folk hero… or perhaps the infamy of their deeds will earn them the Bad Reputation of a pirate, or a Criminal Contact. Shifting benefits can be an interesting way to have the character’s capabilities reflect the story; the shift from Position of Privilege of Bad Reputation gives real weight to events that may have taken place off-screen. This sort of shift can also be a great way to drive a new arc of the campaign: if their family was unjustly convicted of treason, can the adventurer redeem their honor and restore their title?

THE TRADITIONS OF GALIFAR

The culture of the Five Nation is a blend of the united traditions of Galifar and the preserved traditions of each nation. There are two vital things to bear in mind. The first is that the Last War was fought in an attempt to reunite Galifar; it wasn’t a war of independence, it was a war fought to determine who would rule the united kingdom. With a few notable exceptions (Thranish theocracy, the Code of Kaius) the Five Nations intentionally preserved the traditions of Galifar, because they always hoped that within another year or so their ruler would be the sovereign of the reunited Galifar.

A second important point is that Galifar was a united kingdom, but not a single monolithic culture; the idea of “the Five Nations” was a constant throughout its history, and people thought of themselves as Thranes and Aundairians even while they also considered themselves to be citizens of Galifar. Galifar I began by conquering the neighboring kingdom of Metrol, and Metrol was almost entirely transformed in its transition to Cyre. Galifar displaced existing nobles and instituted new systems, making Cyre the heart of Galifar. But the other three nations were ultimately brought into Galifar by diplomacy, not by absolute conquest (though Galifar’s clear military superiority was the iron fist that drove these negotiations). Galifar instituted changes at the highest levels of society, appointing his children as the rulers of each nation; but he largely did this by marrying them into the families of the existing rulers, building upon the existing structures of authority. So Galifar redirected the existing feudal structures of the Five Nations, making clear that all power ultimately flowed from the sovereign of Galifar. Over time, he streamlined systems and added new universal concepts—the Galifar Code of Justice, expanded education—while also nationalizing and expanding the role of institutions such as the Arcane Congress, the King’s Citadel, and Rekkenmark. He instituted a standardized currency—the crown-sovereign-galifar-dragon values still used today—and established the Karrnathi dialect as the Common tongue used today. So all the nations of Galifar were united by a vital set of shared customs and laws, but they also still maintained their own unique traditions and quirks, some of which will be discussed later in this article.

Sovereigns and Sovereigns

The faith of the Sovereign Host played a crucial role in the foundation of the united kingdom. Galifar I believed that he was guided by Aureon, and was fulfilling a destiny laid out by the Sovereign; given his remarkable successes, it’s entirely possible that Galifar I was a paladin of host, possibly even a subtle aasimar. This is a vital cornerstone of the Galifar monarchy: the inherent belief that the Wynarn bloodline is blessed by Aureon. It’s this bedrock principle that prevents a consort from claiming the crown and that has stood against uprisings and would-be usurpers. This is not something that’s called out often in the present day, and the modern monarchs vary in their piety, but the belief underlies the traditions of Galifar. The Galifar Code of Justice invokes Aureon, and there are other aspects of law where a casual faith in the Sovereigns is assumed. The faith of the Sovereign Host has never been a monolithic or powerful institution in the same way as the Church of the Silver Flame, but just as nobles are required to maintain courts, collect taxes, and levy troops within their domains, they’re required to sustain the Vassal faith. Based on the size of a community, this could involve maintaining a grand temple; a small temple with a single priest; or just a small shrine. For most nobles of Galifar this wasn’t seen as a hardship, but rather as an opportunity to display piety; especially zealous nobles would lavish resources on their favored temples, or raise monuments or shrines to a particular Sovereign. Vassal dukes often competed to lure the most accomplished scholars to their seminaries. Within the Sovereign faith anyone seen as guided by the Nine can fill the role of priest, and there are have been a number of renowned nobles who have also acted as priests of the Sovereign Host.

Despite his deep faith, Galifar never sought to FORCE his beliefs on others. The principles of Galifar presume simple faith in the Sovereigns, and nobles must support the faith, but they aren’t actually required to practice it and Galifar never sought to stamp out divergent sects. Throughout the untold history of Galifar, there have been pious nobles who have gone further—hunting down and publicly executing followers of the Dark Six (real or imagined), or persecuting “heretical” sects; historically this has included the Three Faces sects, which are why these tend to operate as mystery cults. So today the Five Nations are largely tolerant and many of the monarchs aren’t especially devout, but the principle of Aureon’s Blessing remains at the heart of the myth of Galifar.

The Role of the Nobility

When Galifar was founded, the Five Nations all employed forms of medieval feudalism. Nobles governed lands tended by tenant farmers in exchange for providing taxes and military service to the leader of the nation. In many nations, the nobility was also responsible for the administration of justice. Galifar was built on this framework. It was acknowledged that all power and authority flowed from the sovereign, through the princes and princesses that governed the land, and then down through local nobles and administrators. Throughout Galifar, the nobility remained the foundation of the united kingdom. Nobles were responsible for maintaining their territory, including collecting taxes and raising levies for military and national service. Under the Galifar Code of Justice, the nobles didn’t administer justice, but it was their duty to maintain the system, appointing justices and maintaining the local courts. As the kingdom expanded and as life became increasingly more complicated, this produced a class of dedicated civil servants and landowners—initially ennobled viscounts and crown reeves, but ultimately expanding into gentry and merchant classes. But at the start of the Last War, it remained the case that the majority of property was associated with a noble’s domain, and that it was the local lord who appointed justices, mayors, and other officials. A crown reeve was responsible to the count, the count to their duke, the duke to the prince, the prince to the king.

As noted earlier, there has always been a distinction between courtesy titles—titles that carry respect and prestige, but nothing more—and substantive titles, which are associated with land and the duties of maintaining it. The eldest child of a duke or duchess is allowed to use the title of count or countess, the second heir has the title of viscount, and other children are lords or ladies… but these titles are merely courtesies, and the heir has no actual authority over the domain. Likewise, an important administrator might be granted a courtesy title to reflect their service, but no land would be tied to that title. Typically courtesy titles are tied to the holder and cannot be transferred to heirs. Courtesy titles allow an adventurer to be a count or shield of the realm without having to make sure that roads are being maintained and taxes collected in their domain.

Noble Ranks and Titles

The following titles were instituted by Galifar I, and remain the common ranks of nobility to this day, listed in descending order of status. This also reflects the practical reality of land ownership and chain of command. A crown reeve holds territory within a county, and is responsible to a count. Counties are tied to duchies, and counts are bound to dukes. Anyone holding one of the ranks given below is allowed to use the ir’ prefix with their surname.

  • King / Queen. The ruler of the united kingdom of Galifar.
  • Prince/Princess. A child of the king or queen. As a governor of a nation, uses the title “Prince/ss of (nation).”
  • Archduke/Archduchess. A duke or duchess married to a prince or princess.
  • Grand Duke/Duchess. A duke or duchess governing a palatine region.
  • Duke/Duchess. The ruler of a duchy. Originally synonymous with “Warlord.”
  • Shield. Ruler of a county seen as a dangerous border. Such a noble typically uses count/ess as a courtesy, but is styled Shield of (county) in formal address.
  • Count/Countess. Ruler of a county.
  • Viscount/Viscountess. This is an appointed, nonhereditary title, typically granted by a count or duke to someone performing important administrative duties within their domains.
  • Crown Reeve. This is the lowest rank of nobility, roughly equivalent to the traditional use of baron. Crown reeves typically administer lands within a county, but this title was also given to members of the gentry who purchased lands from the crown. In common speech, a crown reeve is addressed as “lord” or “lady.” This rank can be hereditary (as in the case of the landed gentry) but is often tied to service.

Knighthood is an honor, not a title of nobility. Traditionally, a duke or higher noble can appoint a knight; this carries status as it reflects service to the nation, but it isn’t hereditary and it isn’t associated with land. So while there were Karrnathi nobles among the original Order of the Emerald Claw, many members of the order came from the gentry; among the Karrnathi chivalric orders, the Order of the Inviolate Way is noted as only accepting members who are also of noble blood. Many other titles fall into the category of honor or office: for example, in Aundair Darro ir’Lain is the Duke of Passage and Second Warlord of the Realm. That second title is an office he holds, not something he carries for life. If he falls out of favor with Queen Aurala, there would soon be a new Second Warlord. Likewise, “Minister of Magic” is an office, not a noble rank.

Princes, Archdukes, and Grand Dukes

The succession traditions of Galifar are a tangled web, and it’s a miracle that the united kingdom endured as long as did. The principle is this.

  • Each of the Five Nations was divided into duchies.
  • Each of the Five Nations was governed by one of the five eldest children of the Wynarn ruler of Galifar. When this child came of age, they would be married into one of the duchies of that nation. They would be acknowledged prince/ss of that nation, and the previous prince/ss would become a duke or duchess. If the reigning monarch didn’t produce five heirs, the title would remain with the current prince/ss and their heirs; there were certainly cases where a governing prince survived multiple kings.
  • The leader of the duchy the prince/ss married into became the archduke of that nation, taking this title from its previous holder. Should death create a vacancy with no Wynarn heir of age to rule as prince/ss, the archduke would reign until a prince/ss came of age.

The net result of this is that the balance of power between duchies would regularly shift, with the rise of a new king or queen ultimately displacing the current prince and often the current archduke or archduchess as well. As we’ve noted, the Last War wasn’t the first time a nation or duchy resisted this change. The current Archdukes are thus those duchies associated with the princes who governed when the Last War begin; there are archdukes of Fairhaven, Korth, Wroat, and Sigilstar.

Grand dukes are rulers of palatinates, more typically referred to as grand duchies. These are regions recognized as holding a degree of independence from the surrounding nation and having a direct relationship with the sovereign, thus having the right to enforce local laws and practice customs that might be at odds with those of the surrounding nation. The first palatinate was the Grand Duchy of Atur in Karrnath, but the most significant palatinate was Zilargo. When the armies of Galifar passed the Howling Peaks, they were met by Zil diplomats. These envoys negotiated the incorporation of the region into the overall mantle of Breland, but as three grand duchies—with the net result that the Zil became part of Galifar while still maintaining nearly complete autonomy. The three grand duchies of Zilargo were Zolanberg, Trolanport, and Korranberg; further impact of this is discussed in the Zilargo section below. It is up to the DM to decide if there are any other grand duchies in Khorvaire.

Gaining a Title: Elevation, Inheritance, and Marriage

Under the traditions of Galifar, a hereditary title passes to the oldest child of the title-holder regardless of gender. If there is no living heir, it passes to the siblings of the noble or their heirs; failing that, it falls to the noble who oversees the domain to reassign it. A number of royal lines were lost in the Last War (or convicted of treason and stripped of rank) so there are dukes with counties to dispense and counts in need of qualified crown reeves. While the local noble has the power to make such appointments, they must always be ratified by the sovereign.

In most of the Five Nations, marriage doesn’t convey title. This stems from the principle that only a Wynarn can rule; when the Wynarn monarch dies, their consort has no claim to the throne. Often, a noble consort is granted a courtesy title, as seen with Queen Etrigani of Karrnath; but if Kaius III were to die, the crown of Karrnath would immediately pass to his eldest heir, not to Etrigani. This principle generally holds throughout the ranks. Someone who marries into a royal family is a consort. They may be granted a courtesy title, but they are not the equal of their noble spouse and it is up to the DM to decide if their status is sufficient to justify gaining Position of Privilege. This would largely depend on public perception: do the nobles and common folk respect the consort? While many nobles limit themselves to a single consort, this isn’t enforced by law. A monarch could have multiple consorts, and the child of any official consort would be considered an heir. There was a lengthy period in which it was accepted tradition for a reigning sovereign to have a consort from each of the Five Nations, in part to spread out the burden of producing five heirs. In the wake of the Last War, some of the nobles have continued this tradition—Kaius III of Karrnath maintains harem, though only Etrigani carries the title of queen. On the other side of things, Queen Aurala of Aurala has a single consort, but has not granted him any title.

In most of the nations of Khorvaire, only the sovereign can create a new title. Lesser nobles can assign vacant titles within their domains, though this requires the approval of the sovereign. Many domains are associated with a specific set of courtesy titles that can be dispensed at the discretion of the local noble. For example, the Count of Threeshadows may have the authority to appoint a Viscount Threeshadows and two knights… though again, these are honors that aren’t passed on to heirs.

In most nations, it is illegal for anyone to sell a title, whether it is their own or a domain within their jurisdiction; Breland is a notable exception to this rule.

What About Dragonmarks?

The Korth Edicts prevent members of dragonmarked houses from owning land or holding titles. A noble can marry a dragonmarked heir, but one of them must completely sever all legal ties to their family. A noble who marries into House Deneith must renounce their title and rights, while for a Deneith heir to marry into a noble family they must cut all ties to their house, including their family name. Of course, this doesn’t prevent such a union from having important diplomatic implications. The 3.5 Eberron Campaign Setting observes…

Some tension exists between the houses and the crown since the marriage of Queen Aurala to Sasik of House Vadalis. Traditionally, the dragonmarked houses and the royal families have avoided mixing to maintain a division between rulership and commerce. Even though Sasik, as the royal consort, has severed his claims to the House Vadalis fortune, he nevertheless maintains ties that make the other houses nervous about what advantages Vadalis might be gaining in its dealings with Aundair.

It’s also the case that not all nations care about the Korth Edicts. The elves of Valenar are effectively appointing Lyrandar viscounts, though they aren’t using that title; these Lyrandar administrators don’t severe ties to their houses. To date this has gone unchallenged, in part because it’s not entirely clear who would challenge it and in what forum; this is touched on in this article. Even though dragonmarked heirs had to abandon their house ties to marry into noble families, they brought their blood, and this means that there have been nobles who carried dragonmarks. However, the frequency with which dragonmarks appear in the houses reflect the intentional mingling of strong dragonmarked bloodlines. We’ve noted before that foundling marks are quite rare, to the point that someone who develops a mark may not even realize that they had a connection to a house in their history. So the dragonmarked nobles are possible, but by no means common.

The Wynarn Family

Galifar Wynarn believed that he has been blessed by Aureon, and this belief underlies the united kingdom that he built. Only someone of the Wynarn bloodline could hold the throne. An underlying question is what defines the Wynarn bloodline? There are nobles of all races, and there have been a few Khoravar reigns; however, these have often ended poorly, with rival heirs using this as a basis to say that the sovereign isn’t truly of Wynarn blood. Following a short but brutal civil war in the seventh century, all Wynarn sovereigns have been human. Kaius III has declared the elf Etrigani to be his queen, but he has yet to produce an heir with her. Kaius III maintains a harem, and it’s largely assumed that this is to ensure that he has a human heir, though he has yet to either produce an heir or appoint an official consort within this harem.

Military Service

Under the traditions of Galifar, every duchy was obliged to contribute a certain number of soldiers to the Army of Galifar. Soldiers were paid a wage, and often this quota could be met with volunteer forces. If not, it was the responsibility of the duke/duchess (who might delegate to counts) to make up the shortfall, by whatever methods they deemed necessary. While conscription occurred in the earliest days, in time it became common practice for nobles in peaceful regions to pay for Karrnathi troops to enlist in their name; as Karrnathi had a tradition of mandatory military service, this worked out well for all sides.

With the outbreak of the Last War, sovereigns continued to rely on nobles to levy troops. Thrane and Karrnath had little trouble meeting quotas, but other nations did fall back on conscription when necessary. In the present day, most nations are reducing their current forces. Nobles are responsible for maintaining the local watch in their domains, and are entitled to maintain a household guard, though numbers are limited (with the amount varying by nation).

Why Does This Matter?

As with any element of lore, a key question remains: why does any of this matter? Why should player characters care about the laws of inheritance or the difference between a grand duke and an archduke? Here’s a few possibilities.

  • If an adventurer is from the Five Nations and isn’t a noble themselves, they grew up in the domain of a noble. Who was their lord? What’s their relationship with them? Were they a fair ruler the adventurer might try to help, or who might serve as a patron for the party? Or does the adventurer want to expose the lord’s cruelties or crimes?
  • Perhaps an adventurer’s family use to hold title or land within a nation, but lost it due to treason, war, or treachery. The How Did You Lose Your Title table provides ideas. Does the character want to reclaim their title? If so, what would it take?
  • An adventurer who follows the Blood of Vol could have ties to the Grand Duchy of Atur. The grand duke fears that the warlords are preparing to formally conquer the duchy and assimilate it into Karrnath. Can the adventurers prevent this conflict from occurring?
  • When a noble character comes into their inheritance, they’re suddenly responsible for the maintenance of the domain. How will they balance this with their adventuring life? Will they find a steward to administer the lands in their name… and if so, can the steward be trusted? Will they abdicate the title in favor of a younger sibling?
  • For service to the crown, an adventure is granted a title and domain… but the domain is land seized during the war, and the adventurer is expected to quell unrest. How will they handle this? Can they justify and enforce their sovereign’s claim to the region?
  • The adventurer is involved in a romance or business affair that can’t proceed unless the character acquires a title (even if it’s just a courtesy title). What can they do to gain status?

THE FIVE NATIONS

What’s been described is the standard traditions of Galifar. However, even while Galifar was united the nations had their own unique customs, and there have been further changes over the course of the last century. What’s the different between nobles of Breland and Karrnath? Find out below.

Aundair

Aundair has held closely to the old traditions of Galifar, and its people have a romantic view of the nobility. Perhaps it’s due the influence of Thelanis; whatever the reason, Aundairians have always entertained the notions of noblesse oblige and chivalry. The common folk value self-reliance and ambition, but most believe that the nobility is noble in all senses of the word, that their leaders will do what’s best for the country and for their people. This idealism doesn’t extend to all nobles; Aundairians have long believed that their people—both nobles and commoners—possess a dignity and decency beyond their neighbors. With that said, over the last two centuries a rift formed between the farmers of the west and the grand cities of the east; this led first to the embrace of the Pure Flame, and eventually culminated in the secession of the Eldeen Reaches. Nonetheless, most remaining Aundairians are proud of their rulers and feel a bond to their local lords.

Noble Ranks. Aundair uses the standard ranks of Galifar. Accomplished arcane spellcasters will also often add a title that describes their primary school of magic, along with a designator indicating the highest level spell they can cast; so a noble might be introduced as Alara ir’Lain, Countess of Askelios, Diviner of the Fourth Circle. Bear in mind that NPC spellcasters may not have the full capabilities of a PC class. Countess Alara is capable of casting at least one 4th level divination spell, but that doesn’t mean she has all the versatility of a 9th level wizard; it’s also possible that she casts her spells as rituals, like a magewright.

Playing an Aundairian Noble. Aundairians have high expectations of their nobles. Aundair is a land that values wit, knowledge, and arcane talent, and a noble is expected to possess all of these. Nobles may not be accomplished spellcasters, but if you can’t at least perform a cantrip your peers will chuckle and your parents will push you to study harder. Likewise, Aundairian nobles have high standards of honor and duty, and crass or selfish behavior will reflect poorly on your family.

Noble is a logical background, but if you’re a second child or further down the line, both soldier and sage are good choices for Aundairian nobles; many Aundairian officers were drawn from noble families. You could also be one of the “Lost Lords,” nobles whose domains were lost in the secession of the Eldeen Reaches. While a few of the Lost Lords still have enough influence to justify a Position of Privilege, this is a sound basis for taking the Retainers benefit instead; if your retainers are members of long-lived species, they might have served your family long before the Eldeen rebellion.

Aundair has a significant population of elves and Khoravar, and these are folded into its noble families; there are also a few noble families of comprised of gnomes. A significant number of noble estates are close to manifest zones tied to Thelanis, and many of the oldest families claim to have ancient agreements with fey (which could range from a formal pact with an archfey to a simple understanding with a dryad who dwells in the local wood). It’s also the case that Sul Khatesh is bound beneath Aundair, and some families have secret ties to the Queen of Shadows. In creating an Aundairian noble, consider whether your family has any ancient compacts in their history, and if so if this is a point of public pride or a secret.

Breland

The kingdom of Wroat was founded by reavers and bandits, and its rulers held their power through a blend of charisma, cunning, and force. Wroat was a collection of city-states, loosely aligned under Wroat as the greatest power in the region. It was clear from the start that Wroat would ultimately fall to Galifar’s disciplined forces; those leaders who wisely chose to ally with the invader became the nobles of the newly-forged Breland.

While Breland accepted the feudal structure of Galifar, its people never fully embraced the nobility. It’s always been said that a Brelish farmer sees themselves as the equal of any king; they accepted that the nobles had the power, but never bought into romantic ideals of divine bloodlines. This was tied to the fact that Breland was an active frontier. When Galifar was formed, the lands west of the Dagger were still home to ogres and gnolls, and goblins and gnomes held the lands to the east. Zilargo was quickly incorporated into the united kingdom, but it took centuries for Breland to achieve its current borders. The shield lords of the west were far more practical than the grand lords of Aundair. The common folk relied on the nobles to direct military action and to bring the resources of the crown to bear, while the lords relied on the people to be more self-directed than in other nations; Brelish communities chose their own reeves and lesser officials, and even simple matters of justice would be resolved by the people instead of going to the courts.

Throughout the history of Breland it was vital for the nobles to maintain the respect of their subjects, not merely to rely on tradition to keep them in place. As long as they respect their leaders, Brelish are proud and loyal; but Breland has also seen more minor uprisings than any of the other Five Nations. The Brelish Parliament existed before the Last War, and was established as a representative body that advised the Prince of Breland. At the outbreak of the Last War, Princess Wroaan ir’Wynarn promised to make Breland a place where “People would be judged by word and deed instead of social class.” In 895 YK Wroaan granted greater powers to the Brelish Parliament, granting it the authority it has today; the parliament makes the laws, and the crown enforces them—as well as conducting all business related to foreign affairs and national security. As noted throughout the canon sources, King Boranel is an exceptionally popular ruler, but there is a strong movement that believes that the Brelish monarchy should come to an end with Boranel’s reign—or at least be relegated to a purely symbolic position.

The sourcebook Five Nations has this to say about the modern Brelish:

The people of Breland have a strong tradition of independence and free thought. They are fiercely loyal to the kingdom and to the Brelish crown, but at the same time they don’t want the laws interfering with their daily lives. The Brelish always speak their minds, and while they treat aristocrats and officers with the respect due to rank, they still consider themselves to be the equal of any other person. While the Brelish expect their voices to be heard, they also take the time to listen to others, and they are known for their tolerance. There is also a strong strain of skeptical pragmatism in the Brelish character; the Brelish always try to find the catch in every deal, question what others take on faith, and look for a personal advantage in any situation. This attitude has its dark side, and the major cities of Breland have the highest crime rates in Khorvaire.

Noble Ranks. Breland uses the traditional ranks of Galifar, but there are a significant number of shields, especially west of the Dagger. Even though most of these counties have been secure for centuries, the shield lords still take pride in their titles and the deeds of their ancestors. Most cities and large communities have a council that manages local affairs, and in many counties these councils actually appoint viscounts, rather than the noble lord; a canon example of this is the Lord Mayor of Sharn, a viscount appointed by the city council.

Breland is the only one of the Five Nations that allows nobles to sell their titles and domains. Any such transaction must be approved by the sovereign, and the crown takes a cut of the proceedings. The new noble is required to fulfill the duties of their position and it can be stripped away should they fail. Notably, this is how Antus ir’Soldorak of the Aurum obtained his ‘ir’.

Playing a Brelish Noble. Brelish nobles need to be popular with their people to rule effectively. If you’re a noble with Position of Privilege, what’s the foundation of your popularity? Are you charismatic, or have you or your family performed great deeds that ensure the love of your people? Is there a song the local bards sing about you? Are you from a core county that’s always been part of the realm, or are you a shield lord whose ancestors took your lands from the monsters of the west? Is your domain secure now, or are you along the edge of the border with Droaam—in which case, why are you adventuring instead of standing with them? Can your family trace its roots back to the foundation of Galifar, or did they buy their title?

If you don’t want to take the noble background, one possibility is that your lands were west of the Graywall mountains and was lost in the rise of Droaam; perhaps Graywall itself was your family’s domain! As a minor Brelish noble popular with the people, you might take the folk hero background instead of noble; your deeds supporting the common folk are so well known that you’re celebrated even in other nations. Alternatively, if you’re from a small county with relatively little influence, you might take the criminal background instead of noble. Is this because your noble family has deep dealings with the criminal community? Or are your family criminals who’ve bought a minor title?

CYRE

The conquest of Metrol was Galifar’s first step in establishing his united kingdom. It was his bitterest enemy, and the realm that was most completely transformed in defeat. Hand-picked by Galifar I, the nobles of central Cyre were devoted to the ideals of the united kingdom and believed that they embodied those ideals—and that “What our dreams imagine, our hands create.” While some will argue that these dreamers were decadent and soft, they were devoted to arts, sciences, philosophy—though not to challenging the concept of the monarchy itself. To the Cyrans, the crown was the bedrock foundation of Galifar, and all of their dreams were built on that foundation.

Of course, things were quite different for the nobles of southern and eastern Cyre. To realize his dreams for central Cyre, Galifar claimed the lands to the south and east to resettle the nobles. The lands to the south were inhabited by goblins, and the distant region across the Blade Desert by farmers who traced their roots back to the Khunan region of Sarlona. Neither of these forces were organized into nations, and neither had the power to resist Galifar, but both regions were claimed by conquest. While outright slavery was forbidden, Galifar was willing to overlook the excesses of feudal serfdom. Central Cyre may have embodied the ideals of Galifar, but eastern Cyre was its antitheses. Due to its isolation, it was simply ignored by the rest of the united kingdom, its nobles allowed to rule their petty fiefdoms as they wished.

Following the outbreak of the Last War, the Cyrans continued to hold to the traditions of Galifar; after all, they were the rightful heirs of the true kingdom, and were fighting to defend it. Eastern and Southern Cyre were lost in the uprisings that formed Valenar and Darguun, and then central Cyre fell in the Mourning. As a result, most Cyran nobles now have little but their pride. The Treaty of Thronehold established Cyre as a fallen nation, and its nobles had no voice in shaping the treaty. While Boranel has granted Prince Oargev the land now known as New Cyre, the only power Cyran nobles now wield is what others choose to give them.

Noble Ranks. Cyran used the standard ranks of Galifar. Nobles of southern Cyre were often shields, as the land was taken from the goblins and there were ongoing conflicts over the centuries. 

Playing a Cyran Noble. Position of Privilege is extremely rare among Cyran nobles. If you take the noble background, the Retainer benefit makes more sense. If you have a Position of Privilege, it means that your family is so well known and liked that people grant you respect even though your family has lost its privilege; why is that? If you’ve fought to help the refugees, you might instead be a folk hero who can find shelter in any refugee community. Otherwise, with the approval of your DM, you could take any background and add a lost Cyran title to your story; you should be the Count of Woodbridge, but instead you were forced to become a criminal. In developing the story of a Cyran noble, an important question is whether your domain is within central Cyre (the Mournland) or whether it was in southern Cyre (Darguun) or east Cyre (Valenar). Valenar and Darguun were lost almost four decades ago, and if you’re human you may have never known these lands. On the other hand, if you’re from one of these regions your lands still exist and are in enemy hands; do you yearn to reclaim them from the elves or goblins?

Where I normally suggest that adventurers should be heirs as opposed to actively holding a title—explaining why you’re not bound by the duties of your rank and why you don’t have access to its resources—Cyre provides another answer to this. It could be that you were the Duchess of Eston, that you were part of Dannel’s councils—and now, you’re a refugee with only three loyal retainers left to show for it. Again, unless you have Position of Privilege, your title doesn’t mean much; once you may have been Duchess of Eston, but now you’re just a woman with a well-worn sword and the skills to use it.

KARRNATH

While first settled by raiders from Rhiavhaar, the seeds that blossomed to form Karrnath can be traced back to the ancient nation of Nulakesh. The Karrns are a hard people who have always valued martial discipline and strict order. It was Karrn the Conqueror whose deeds secured human dominance over Khorvaire, even though he failed to hold that power himself; and Galifar himself was a son of Karrnath. The Cyrans believe that they are the rightful heirs of Galifar because of the traditions of succession; but the Karrns know that it was their people who created Galifar, their language that is now the common tongue. And if Kaius III can’t reclaim the throne of the united kingdom, perhaps another capable Karrnathi warlord will be the next Galifar and start the cycle anew.

In Karrnath, the Galifar Code of Justice has been supplanted by the harsh Code of Kaius, a form of harsh martial law. This met little resistance and remains in place even today, in part because it reflects the overall character of the Karrns and the culture they had in place before Galifar I crafted a more enticing foundation for his united kingdom. While there are certainly exceptions, most Karrns are proud of their strict laws and view the other nations as soft and corrupt. This tendency is reinforced by the fact that all Karrns serve a term in the military and are thus used to operating within a chain of command. One might ask what Karrnath needed with such a sizable army, especially during the most peaceful years of Galifar; the answer is that the Karrnathi army is used for many purposes within the nation. Local law enforcement is largely provided by soldiers, with a small corps of career officers who maintain continuity of service. Soldiers perform public works. A term in the army is a term of service to the nation, where you are prepared to go in harm’s way for the good of your people; but the precise form of that service is up to your sovereign and the warlord.

Karrnath is notable for the Grand Duchy of Atur. This region’s independence was negotiated long ago in recognition for the work it does in containing the dangerous influence of the powerful Mabaran manifest zone at the heart of the region, and was reinforced in agreements with Kaius I in exchange for the support of Atur’s elite necromancers. This is why Atur remains a public stronghold of the Blood of Vol even after Regent Moranna and Kaius III turned against the faith. Atur is still home to the finest necromancers in the nation, and most of Karrnath’s undead troops are stored in its vaults. There are warlords who despise the Blood of Vol or who fears that the undead it maintains could be turned against Karrnath. But these nobles know that seizing Atur would prove disastrous unless they had the knowledge necessary to contain the power of the manifest zone, and so the City of Night remains inviolate.

Noble Ranks. Karrnath uses the standard ranks of Galifar. It’s common for dukes to use the title of warlord, but both titles are valid. Counts along the new borders of the nation take pride in the title of shield. Nobles are expected to levy a specific number of troops for the service of the crown, but they may maintain additional forces as they see fit within their realms; likewise, it’s understood that they are lending soldiers to the crown, and that those troops retain their loyalty to their duke.

Playing a Karrnathi Noble. As a Karrnathi noble, consider carefully whether you want the noble background or the soldier background. All Karrns serve in the military, and nobles were often officers (though only if they actually possessed the skills required to lead). The Position of Privilege benefit of the noble background reflects greater diplomatic influence; the Military Rank benefit of the soldier background reflects respect earned on the battlefield, deeds that will be respected even by enemy soldiers. Which is a better fit for your noble Karrn?

A second question for any Karrnathi noble is where you stand on the Blood of Vol and the use of undead. The faith has always had deep roots in Karrnathi. It spread when it was embraced by the crown earlier in the war, adn then withered when Regent Moranna turned against it. Are you from a proud Seeker family, perhaps tied to the Grand Duchy of Atur, and if so, how has the turn against the faith affected your family? Did your embrace the faith only to abandon it—and if so, are you still a believer in spite of your faithless forbears? Or are you a true vassal devoted to Dol Dorn and the Sovereigns, who believes that the use of undead in battle was a crutch proud Karrnath never needed?

Another question is where you stand on Kaius III and his efforts to strengthen peace. Do you believe that the current peace is best for all? Do you trust that your king is doing what’s best for the nation, even if you hope this is merely a stratagem in a longer game? Or do you believe that Kaius is squandering Karrnathi might, and hope that a new warlord will lead your nation to greatness? Do you think you could be that warlord, given time?

THRANE

Daskara was a nation devoted to the Sovereign Host, reflecting the influence of ancient Pyrine and to a lesser extent, Irian. Just as Karrnath has a number of powerful manifest zones tied to Mabar, Daskara (now Thrane) has a few noteworthy zones tied to Irian, notably the region where Flamekeep now stands. Like Galifar I, the people of Daskara believed their rulers were blessed by the Sovereigns and governed with divine right. This faith was shaken by their defeats at the hands of Galifar’s forces, but Galifar I was able to convince most that his united kingdom was part of the divine plan, that their blessed lords were meant to kneel to the Wynarn king; Galifar further strengthened this by establishing Daskara as the seat of the Grand Temple of the Host, the greatest temple in the lands. However, this new pillar was broken when the dragon Sarmondelaryx ravaged the newly christened Thrane, killing its prince and burning the Grand Temple.

These challenges didn’t shatter the faith of the Thranes, but they strained them. It took the overlord Bel Shalor to change everything. It wasn’t a prince who saved the nation from terror, nor the Sovereigns; it was a warrior of lowly birth strengthened by courage and the power of the Silver Flame. In the years and centuries that followed, the people of Thrane largely abandoned the Sovereign Host and embraced the Silver Flame. The Grand Temple of the Host had been destroyed by the forces of Bel Shalor, and the people chose to replace it with the citadel of Flamekeep; the Cathedral of the Sovereign Host in Metrol became the new seat of the Vassal faith.

This shift left the nobles of Thrane in an odd position. They had long touted their supposed divine blessing… but now the people were shifting away from the faith that supported it. Many nobles responded to this by embracing the Silver Flame—sharing the faith of the people and further, acknowledging the power that saved their nation. Others sought to balance both traditions; even if the Grand Temple was never rebuilt, the faith of the Silver Flame didn’t deny the possibility that the Sovereigns might exist and might have blessed the noble lines. And a few clung bitterly to the old ways and refused to acknowledge the new faith, struggling to limit the power of the church within their domains.

Following the death of King Thalin in 914 YK, Thrane officially became a theocracy led by the Keeper of the Silver Flame and the Council of Cardinals. The lands once held through the crown were now considered the property of the church, and both civil and military administration were taken over by the church. The roles of viscounts and blood regents were dissolved and taken over by church functionaries. Higher nobles were allowed to retain a single manor and estate, but no more. Many chose to work with the church, helping with the transition and earning rank within the theocracy through faith and service. Others were willing to remain in a decorative, ceremonial role. This is the position that Queen Diani ir’Wynarn finds herself in today. In theory, she is the Blood Regent and serves as adviser to the Keeper and the Cardinals. In practice, she is largely ignored. While she smiles at the services she attends, Diani believes that Aureon and Dol Arrah have plans for her, and there are loyalists—known as Throneholders—who dream of restoring the monarchy to its rightful place.

Noble Ranks. The nobility of Thrane uses the standard ranks, but there are no viscounts or crown reeves. Only the eldest heir of a Thrane noble receives a courtesy title. Thrane nobles cannot create titles or take any action that would require the approval of the sovereign. and most have no authority beyond their estates unless they also serve in the church.

Playing a Thrane Noble. If you want to play someone of influence in Thrane, the best choice is to take the acolyte or soldier background. An acolyte is the equivalent of a civil servant, and Shelter of the Faithful gives you the same sort of influence among the faithful and within the church that Position of Privilege gives with nobles. As a soldier, Military Rank reflects your role either with the templars or the general army of Thrane; either way, your deeds were significant enough that you are respected even by the soldiers of other nations. What did you do to earn this respect? What was your most noteworthy battle?

Should you wish to plan a disenfranchised noble, the Retainer benefit makes more sense than Position of Privilege. Beyond your retainers, your family still has an estate you can return to, but they have little influence or resources to spare. As a noble of Thrane, are you devoted to the Silver Flame, supporting the new direction of the nation? Or are you a bitter Throneholder determined to restore the old order? For a more dramatic twist, you might believe that you have been chosen by one or more of the Sovereigns for some divine purpose; is this the restoration of the nobility, or do the Sovereigns have a purpose for you that doesn’t actually place you at odds with the church?

GALIFAR ADJACENT

While most of the other nations of Khorvaire have their own unique traditions of nobility, a few have inherited some elements from Galifar, and these are briefly addressed below. A critical point to consider with any of the other nations is that the Position of Privilege benefit reflects a broad recognition of your authority. If you wield great power within a Lhazaar principality but don’t have any influence beyond it, you don’t need to take the noble background; you can be a sailor or a pirate, and work out the other elements of your backstory with your DM. Your background benefit reflects the aspect of your background that will regularly come into play. If you want to have an interesting story hook that may well never actually come up in the campaign, that comes down to the approval of your DM.

The Eldeen Reaches

The Eldeen Reaches seceded from Aundair in 958 YK, and its people swore their allegiance to the Great Druid Oalian. The Eldeen Charter affirmed that the land now belong to the Eldeen people and that the titles and claims of the nobility of Aundair were no longer recognized. Many nobles weren’t in residence at the time (which was part of the reason for the secession). Others fled to Aundair, becoming the Lost Lords mentioned earlier. But a few chose to stay with the people and to start a new life, working to be good community leaders even without the titles and privileges of their former lives.

Because of the timeframe, a human adventurer likely wouldn’t have actually held power in the Eldeen Reaches before the uprising. But as an elf or Khoravar, you could easily have been a noble in the Reaches. Are you a Lost Lord hoping to reclaim your birthright? Or have you embraced your new nation and worked to strengthen it?

Q’barra: New Galifar

The nation of Q’barra was founded by Ven ir’Kesslan of Cyre, once duke of the Dollen region. Ven named his settlement New Galifar, and claimed his intention to recreate the noble model of Galifar in this untamed land. The former duke thus became the first king of New Galifar, despite not being tied to the Wynarn bloodline. Those few counts that had supported his cause became dukes, and wealthy donors who had funded the expedition became counts. Having said that, New Galifar is small and still actively expanding. Newthrone is the royal seat, and the only two actual “duchies” are Whitecliff and Adderport. Q’barran counts rule over villages that would barely justify a crown reeve in the Five Nations. Most nobles are “claim lords”—they’ve been granted titles and parcels of land by the King of Q’barra, but they haven’t actually claimed or cultivated those lands. Adderport and Newthrone together have a kingdom’s worth of dukes and counts, but most only over a handful of retainers and a small city estate.

A Q’barran title currently means little in the wider world, and it’s unlikely that a Q’barran noble would have a Position of Privilege unless they were tied to some other office, such as being an appointed ambassador. With your DM’s approval, your character could be a claim lord, regardless of your actual background; as such you have a title and some influence when you’re actually in Newthrone, but it has no real significance elsewhere. While this would not provide you with the benefits of a Position of Privilege, your king could charge you to perform services in the name of New Galifar.

Valenar

As far as the outside world can tell, the Host of Valenar seized the lands of eastern Cyre, drove out the Cyran nobility, and replaced them as feudal overlords. High King Vadallia granted the fiefs to his war leaders, so there is a Count of Moonshadow and a Duke of Pylas Maradal. However, this was largely a show for the rest of the world; the Valenar have never cared about holding land or titles, as the ancestors they emulate didn’t rule petty fiefdoms. The Valenar nobles are rarely found in their supposed domains, and it is Khoravar immigrants who make up the civil service and administer justice in their names.

There’s little logical basis for using the noble background for a character from Valenar. Being the Count of Moonshadow won’t get you the benefits of a Position of Privilege in the wider world. If you want to be a person of influence within the Host of Valenar, use the Soldier background; among the Tairnadal, Military Rank is more important than some noble’s title. If you want to be a former Cyran lord yearning to reclaim your lands, you could take the noble background with the Retainer feature (bearing in mind that Valenar was seized 42 years ago)… or almost any background and simply say that your family has claim to a title in Valenar, if your DM supports the idea.

Zilargo

As described earlier in this article, when the forces of Galifar advanced to conquer the lands beyond the Howling Peaks, they were met by gnome negotiators. After lengthy discussions and a wide array of offers and enticements (many of which turned out to favor the gnomes more than they originally appeared), the region of Zilargo was recognized as the Grand Duchies of Korranberg, Trolanport, and Zolanberg, with the region being governed by triumvirate with a representative from each duchy. While ostensibly part of Breland, their status as a grand duchies allowed them to largely remain autonomous. To this day, there are three noble families in Zilargo—the ir’Korrans, the ir’Trolans, and the ir’Zolans—and heirs happily compete for the title of grand duke and hold elaborate coronations. But grand duke is a symbolic role that was largely only brought out for special interactions with nobles of Galifar, while the Triumvirate, the Councils of Nine, and of course the Trust actually maintain the nation.

In the wake of the Treaty of Thronehold, the Grand Dukes are even more toothless than they were before. The three ducal families are among the most powerful families in Zilargo, but the title of Grand Duke is more of a toy than an actual position of significance; these families often hold elabroate duels or games, with the victor claiming the title for a year. The actual positions of authority within Zilargo are elected offices—though these elections are often decided by vast webs of intrigue.

That’s all for now! As this article is already 11,000 words, I’m going to post answers to questions about it in a follow-up article as opposed to adding them to the end of this one. Thanks to my Patreon supporters for choosing this topic and keeping this site going, and I’ll be posting a Patreon exclusive article about a few notable nobles of Galifar soon for the Inner Circle. And if you’d like to know more about Cyre and the ruling clans of the Mror Holds, check out Exploring Eberron on the DM’s Guild!