Dragonmarks: Warlocks

Given that it’s my Patreon patrons who make it possible for me to spend time on this site, I thought I’d take some time to write about someone else who relies on patrons… Warlocks. With that said, I am working on articles about Phoenix: Dawn Command and the 5E campaign I’m running in Q’barra, and you’ll see these soon. But for now, let’s talk about warlocks.

The basic concept of the warlock is an arcane spellcaster who gets their power from a bargain with some sort of patron. However, at the end of the day this is like the idea that the bard is a musician: it’s a cosmetic detail that doesn’t actually factor into the mechanics of the class. Yes, the warlock gets a “pact boon” and gets different abilities based on the nature of their patron. But there are no hard mechanical effects tied to their relationship with their patron. There’s nothing concrete like “You must perform a service for your patron to regain your spell slots” or any concrete statement that a warlock could lose their powers based on annoying their patron. What’s said instead is that the relationship between the warlock and patron is something that should be established between the player and the DM. It can drive adventures if that’s something you both want, or it could “consist of small favors you can do entirely between adventures.” Your patron could communicate with you directly or very indirectly. And once you accept the possibility of a friendly patron who communicates indirectly and doesn’t require you to do anything in an adventure, it’s a very small step to acknowledging that you don’t actually need a patron at all. A warlock’s patron is an excellent story hook that gives the player and DM something interesting to work with. But it’s possible to come up with an equally interesting story for a warlock that doesn’t involve a patron. In this article I’m going to talk about both approaches… starting by exploring things you can do with patrons, and then looking at warlocks who go it alone.

PATRONAGE

If you embrace the basic story, the warlock is someone who gains their powers through their relationship with an outside source. A warlock doesn’t have to have any understanding of arcane science, and they don’t have to be tied to a mystical bloodline; they can be someone who has stumbled into power or earned it through a clever bargain. And while there’s no mechanical basis for a warlock to be stripped of their abilities or denied new powers when they level, as long as both player and DM agree, you can always add this; the question of what you’re willing to do for your power can be an excellent foundation for roleplaying. And even losing your powers can be a great story… as long as you’re excited about that story and have a clear means to resolve it. Let’s look at a few ways you could handle patrons.

The Classic Patron

The standard story is that you’ve got a patron who provides you with power in exchange for you acting as their agent in the world. Perhaps you’re entirely happy with that concept, and just want a few ideas for forces in Eberron that can fill that role. Here’s a few thoughts.

  • Fey Patrons. You have made a bargain with one of the Archfey of Thelanis. I discuss the Fey at length in this post, and the critical point is that each Archfey has a story… and that story will likely tie to the services they expect you to perform. Do they seek revenge? To find a lost lover or a stolen treasure? To be freed from a curse? To spread winter over the land or to save a lost soul? A secondary question is whether your patron is in Thelanis or whether they are actually in Eberron. The 4E Eberron Campaign Guide introduces the idea of the Feyspires, Fey cities that have been trapped in Khorvaire. If your patron rules one of these cities, their needs may be more grounded in the material world.
  • Fiendish Patrons. There’s endless possibilities here. You could have a connection to an Overlord, or one of the powerful Lords of Dust; bear in mind that based on the nature of the Prophecy, a Lord of Dust may want to accomplish things that are actually benevolent in the short term in pursuit of the release of their Overlord. You could have a bargain with a powerful spirit of the outer planes – a fiend of Fernia or Shavarath. Or you could drop the fiendish aspect and say that your patron is an epic dragon; your flames aren’t hellfire, they’re dragon-fire.
  • The Great Old One. The Daelkyr are the easy choice here, but not the only one. The powers of a GOO Warlock are tied to telepathy and madness, and a powerful Quori could serve this role. Perhaps they claim to be a rebel, like those who formed the Kalashtar… do you believe them?
  • The Celestial. The Silver Flame is an easy option, but also a very abstract one. The Silver Flame is a radiant power source, but it’s not generally something you bargain with. If you want to keep that aspect, you could choose a powerful outsider from one of the planes of light. As an elf or even a half-elf, your patron could be a powerful member of the Undying Court – perhaps even a personal ancestor. As a half-elf on this path, it could be interesting to say that you are one of the last of your bloodline; thin as the connection is, you are the only living descendant of this councilor, and this is the foundation of your bond.
  • The Undying. This is an equally valid path for a Deathless Councilor. A stranger option would be Erandis Vol, or an ancient Qabalrin lich entombed in Xen’drik and not yet known in the wider world.
  • Hexblades. If you embrace the idea of a weapon as your patron, Eberron doesn’t have a lot of established options, but it’s easy enough to come up with some. A blade forged in the Age of Demons, infused with the power of a bound fiend. A weapon crafted in the Age of Giants that still holds the soul of an ancient titan. A dagger crafted by Sora Kell that holds a fragment of her spirit. A sword you found in Cyre, infused with the spirits of hundreds who died in the Mourning. The main questions are who created it and what it wants.

Many of these are dark powers. How could you be working for an Overlord or a Daelkyr? In the following sections I’ll talk about the possibility of opposing your patron. But the other point is that you could serve an evil patron with the understanding between you that there are lines you won’t cross. In particular, you could be a weapon in a war between two equally evil forces… a feud between Daelkyr or different prakhutu within the Lords of Dust. I had just such a warlock as a PC in one of my campaigns; he served an Overlord, but with the understanding that give gave him the power to protect the world from the other Overlords… and if one of them was going to end up being released, at least his one would just enslave everyone instead of killing them or driving them mad. Justifying an alliance with an evil force – whether to fight something even worse or because you believe you can use the power for good – can be a very interesting foundation for a character.

The Mysterious Patron

In the 5E Eberron game I’ve just launched, Emmett is a scion of a merchant family with a minor talent for magic (as reflected by the Magic Initiate feat). Bored with his family’s life, he stole a heirloom wand from the vault. Using the wand he found he had access to greater power. When he was injured in a friendly (nonlethal) duel, the wand lashed out and killed his opponent… the first manifestation of his Hellish Rebuke spell. Emmett was forced to flee. He disposed of the wand… and it returned to him. He doesn’t know why the wand has chosen him. He doesn’t know what it wants. But he has begun to master its powers, and he’s going to see where this path leads.

Mechanically, Emmett is a hexblade warlock. His “patron” is the Ebon Wand that he carries. But as the campaign begins, Emmett knows nothing about the wand. So far it hasn’t communicated with him. He doesn’t know what powers he might unlock; he just knows he’s become a better duelist, with a knack for spotting a weakness in his foes (as represented by Hex and Hexblade’s Curse). One thing Emmett’s player and I have agreed upon is that I can choose to trigger his powers involuntarily… that the wand might choose to perform another Hellish Rebuke on someone who harms Emmett, or Hex someone who for some reason vexes the wand, even if Emmett doesn’t choose this action. And the understanding between us is that over time, Emmett will learn more about the wand and what it wants. Maybe it will some day speak to him; maybe not. It could be that he will simply learn it’s purpose, and that things will go better for him if he makes that purpose his own. What we have established is that the wand can’t be stolen from him, that if it is lost it will always return. He knows he can’t lose his powers (even if he wants to); it’s simply that he also doesn’t completely control them.

This is an easy option for a hexblade, but it can work with any patron idea. A warlock may have always had mystical gifts, never knowing their source. Now those powers are growing… and now they may learn that these powers come with a price. Perhaps the warlock’s parents bargained with an archfey or fiend; the PC possesses powers because of this deal, but doesn’t know what their parents promised in exchange. Perhaps the warlock survived the Mourning and now seems to be channeling its power… but what does that mean? In such a campaign, uncovering the identity of the patron and the details of the bargain provide the same sort of story hooks you’d normally get from serving the patron.

The Enemy Patron

Normally a warlock’s abilities are gifts freely given by the patron. But what if this power has been stolen from the patron? As a fiendish warlock you could have found a way to tap the powers of an imprisoned Overlord… and it could even be that by using its power in this way you are delaying its release. Or a Great Old One warlock could have an involuntary connection to a Daelkyr. Belashyrra is using you as one of its eyes in this world, but that connection gives you the ability to draw on its power and visions of other schemes it has afoot. Instead of the Patron giving you tasks to perform, your connection to the patron gives you glimpses of schemes you could foil, if you’re willing to take the time.

DITCHING THE PATRON

The idea of a warlock gaining their powers from an ongoing partnership with a powerful being is an option… but you can keep the mechanical abilities of the Warlock and reflavor them in other ways. The point here is that you will pick a patron and pact… but work with your DM to agree on changes to how these cosmetically manifest. In theory you have a Book of Shadows that grants you access to additional cantrips. But in your case it could be a wand, or a charm, or a special toolkit. Consider the following “patrons”.

  • Dragonmarks. Typically, the powers of a Dragonmark are largely constructive instead of destructive. A warlock could have learned to tap this power in a deeper and more aggressive way. Storm is an easy option for this, and you could take the Fiendish patron and shift anything tied to fire to inflict lightning or thunder damage instead as a way to reflect this. There’s many warlock abilities that work well with the Mark of Shadows… deception, illusion, consuming darkness. This could be reflected with a Fey patron, simply reflavored so your abilities to teleport and charm are tied your manipulation of shadow and enchantment. A question is whether you’re an elite agent of your house, or if you’re a rogue who’s discovered ways to tap the mark the House love to unravel.
  • Aberrant Dragonmarks. Even simpler and applicable for almost any “Patron,” as aberrant dragonmarks are generally destructive and don’t follow a particular theme… and it’s beleived that powerful aberrant marks are beginning to appear. You are the heir of Tarkanan and the Lady of the Plague… will you use your powers to help other aberrants, or solely for your own good?
  • Artificer. As a final version of the artificer is still being worked out, in the interim you can actually make an offense-oriented artificer using the warlock. Cosmetically, all of your spells and incantations come from magic items that you create; it’s simply that if it comes to it, you can jury-rig an eldritch blast wand from a piece of wire and some lint. I played a warlock artificer who had a Hawkeye-style hand crossbow with different bolts representing his different cantrips and offensive spells. You’ll want to be proficient in Arcana, and taking the incantation that lets you detect magic at will can help with this
  • Spy. A Fey Warlock is an excellent model for an elite member of the Royal Eyes of Aundair – a spy who uses arcane magic to accomplish their goals. The right invocations can let you disguise self at will and disappear into shadows, and between backgrounds and invocations you can get an excellent set of skills for subterfuge. Between your cantrips and limited spell slots, you can follow the path of the assassin (powerful but limited use offensive magic) or rely more on illusion and enchantment. A Hexblade can be a good model for an Aundairian duelist.
  • Vessel. This is a twist on the enemy patron, with the idea that a spirit has been unwillingly bound to you – that you are a living prison for a powerful rakshasa or Fey. Your powers are a manifestation of the spirit inside you, and the more you use them the more they will grow… but is there the risk that the spirit could escape? Meanwhile, allies of the prisoner could seek you out and try to kill you in order to release the spirit within.

I’m out of time, so I’ll stop here for now. But there are many more ways you could take a ronin warlock. Perhaps you were born in a manifest zone and your powers are tied to your plane. Perhaps they are connected to the Mourning. Maybe you’re a follower of the Blood of Vol, and your powers are the manifestation of your own divine spark (an interesting way to deal with Celestial or Undying). The critical point is not to let the concept hold you back. The patron is a tool for creating a compelling story. But you can always follow a different path!

Q&A

Does it seem reasonable, along the vein of the enemy patron, to form a pact against the will of a patron?

Certainly, and that’s exactly what I was suggesting with the idea of the enemy Overlord. It could be that you are stealing the power; in that case, a question is whether the “Patron” is aware of it, or if you’re doing it covertly and could be in trouble if they figure it out. I also just added a “Vessel” option to the No-Patron section that could work for this.

For those forces like the Undying Court who are capable of “creating” warlocks is the process difficult/draining or does the candidate need to be exceptional in some way?

To me, it’s simply logic; if it’s easy and free, there should be Warlocks everywhere. The fact that there aren’t – at least in my Eberron – means that there are limitations. Personally, I’d be inclined to say that the answer is “both.” There needs to be something exceptional about the candidate, whether it’s bloodline or talent; and there’s a limit to what the patron can support. But that likely depends on the patron.

Sort of a cross question with the sorcerer, would a casting class skinned to a dragonmark represent a stronger or more developed mark?

When I use an expanded dragonmark as an explanation for sorcerer or warlock powers, I say that it reflects a deeper connection to the mark than most people ever develop — not necessarily a larger mark. They have found a way to use the mark as a lens for arcane energy, and most heirs can’t manage it. So if I was using a system that had a concrete progression system I wouldn’t require a Dragonmarked warlock to have a larger mark. However, if I’m using a system that DOESN’T have a clear progression for dragonmarks – such as 4E – then I might say that the dragonmark grows a bit with every level the character gains.

How would you use the Daughters of Sora Kell as a patron, either collectively or individually?

I suggested Sora Kell as a patron; I’m not sure I’d want to use her daughters. Sora Maenya is too bound to the physical world; I could see her training martial adepts, but I don’t see her granting arcane power. Sora Katra… I could see her doing it, but in my campaign I don’t see her empowering an agent like that and then just letting them roam free; she’s got so many concrete schemes in the works, and I would expect that being her warlock would be a full-time job, not a casual thing you’d do on top of a career as an adventure. On the other hand, Sora Teraza could definitely work. No one knows the extent of her powers. Her motives are mysterious and her actions don’t always benefit Droaam. She could definitely pick an agent and give them occasional directives with no clear explanation for her actions. Personally, I’d make her a Great Old One patron who provides the Book pact.

Given the name of the game, could you see a dragon as a proper patron for a warlock? What would it take for a dragon to empower a humanoid in such a way?

Sure; I suggest this at the end of the “Fiendish Patrons” section above. This isn’t something a normal dragon could do, but if you posit an ancient, epic level dragon from Argonnessen – a deep student of the Prophecy with access to eldritch machines – I think they could definitely serve as a patron. The question is whether the warlock’s power is actually coming directly from the dragon, or whether — and this is the approach I would take — the dragon is simply showing the warlock how to connect to a source of arcane power. This could even be a way to double up on your explanations. Looking to the “Vessel” idea I suggest for “No Patrons”, I could see the idea of an epic dragon binding a demon into a mortal’s body and then teaching the mortal how to tap into its powers. So the dragon is the PC’s patron and mentor, but the POWER comes from within them.

What might be some motivations for an epic level dragon to empower a warlock like that?

Off the top of my head…

  • The Draconic Prophecy is a matrix of if-then statements that can set the path of the future. This dragon could be working to lock in a particular prophetic path – which involves particular actions on the part of the PC.
  • The dragon doesn’t have a specific agenda, but they are concerned about the actions of the Lords of Dust in Khorvaire; they want a human agent who isn’t on the radar of the fiends to investigate and foil their plans.
  • It’s an experiment. Perhaps they just have a fiend they need to bind SOMEWHERE and they want to try their bind-it-to-a-human ritual… and once it’s done, they are curious to watch the warlock and see what happens. or perhaps it’s literally a lab rabbit situation; they ultimately want to use this ritual on dragons, but they’re trying it on humans first to make sure it’s not dangerous.

Are warlocks accepted in the magical colleges like Arcanix and Morgrave, or are they outside of arcane academia?

That would entirely depend on the warlock’s personal story. A warlock doesn’t need magical training. They don’t have to have proficiency/training arcana or spellcraft. If you take the Fiendish Vessel warlock I present above and set them alongside a Fey-bargain warlock, they literally have nothing in common… so it’s not like you’d have a generic “Warlock” class. On the other hand, I’m sure that there are people who study the science of pact magic, and if a warlock has Arcana training they could have worked in such an environment. And taking the idea of the warlock-as-spy as I suggest above, that could definitely be a concrete path of arcane training that you could learn at Arcanix. So in short; could there be warlocks at Arcanix? Sure. Is there a place for EVERY warlock at Arcanix? No.

Do you see the Dhakaani as having a warlock tradition? 

No. We’ve established that arcane magic wasn’t a strength of the empire and that their main traditions were bards and a form of artificer. However, the fact that there wasn’t a tradition doesn’t prevent there from being warlocks, because to my mind warlocks are highly individualistic. If you are using patrons, then the fact that person A can become a warlock doesn’t mean that warlock B could as well. For example: Dhakaani can create artifacts. Perhaps the great dirge singer Jhazaal Dhakaan bound the spirit of the greatest hero of the empire to a greatsword (or spiked chain) and whoever bears the sword can channel his power. This is a foundation for a hexblade warlock… but there can only ever be one at a time because there’s only one sword. So: there’s an example of a Dhakaani warlock – but that doesn’t mean they have an established tradition within the culture.

What about the dwarves of the Mror Holds? 

Same thing. I don’t see an established tradition of warlocks as part of their culture. But I can imagine a hexblade warrior carrying a blade forged in the Lost Kingdom, or a Aurum Concordian willing to pay any price for power who makes deals with fiends.

How about warlocks among the Valenar? …I can envision a case where you have a Valenar warlock whose “patron” is the ancestral spirit. 

It’s certainly an idea a character could explore, but it’s not the direction I’d personally encourage… for the same reason I’d have a Celestial warlock tied to the Sovereign Host have an angel as their patron instead of a Sovereign. I see the relationship between the ancestors and the Valenar as being very similar to the Kalashtar and their quori. The spirit is connected to (and sustained by) multiple hosts. It provides subtle, almost instinctual guidance, but the Valenar has to find their own path towards it; they can’t have a direct conversation and be told what to do. And two Valenar with the same patron can argue about who has done a better job of emulating their ancestor. So wouldn’t have the warlock’s patron be the ancestor; I’d make the patron be in some way tied to emulating the ancestor. For example…

  • A Hexblade warlock carries the sentient blade once wielded by their ancestor. Can they fully master its power and unlock its secrets?
  • A Fey warlock serves the same Archfey their ancestor served. In the course of this service, will they learn secrets about their ancestor that have been lost to history? Or might they discover that the Archfey was responsible for the death of their ancestor – and if so, will they find a way to destroy their patron to avenge their ancestor, even if they risk losing their power?

If you have additional questions or ideas about warlocks, post them below!

Manifest Zone: Changelings, Shifters and Lycanthropes

I take part in a monthly Eberron podcast called Manifest ZoneThe latest episode explores changelings and shifters, with a related discussion of lycanthropes. This post is a chance to dig deeper into these subjects, so if you have questions, ask them in the comments. As always, these are my personal opinions – unless called out as such, this material is not canon and may contradict canon material.

SHIFTERS

Is the connection with nature of shifters different from orcs one?

I don’t think that orcs have a strong connection to nature. I feel that they are very primal creatures, driven by strong emotion and passion. The disciplined hobgoblin is naturally inclined to be a fighter; the wild orc makes a better barbarian. This makes them well suited towards the primal classes… but it makes them equally well suited to divine classes that embrace passionate beliefs. The Ghaash’kala paladin is just as logical a path for an orc as the Gatekeeper druid.

Looking to a shifter, I wouldn’t say that they have a connection with nature. But what they have is an animalistic side — instincts and behaviors that reflect their bestial aspect. And as opposed to the broad passion of the orc, this is something that is unique for every shifter — broadly defined by shifter type, but then further defined by their personal experience with it.

What is the key point when you play a shifter? Is there anything that they see in a completely different way from humans?

When I make a shifter, my core question is their animal affinity. I consider each shifter to have a connection to a certain type of animal, as reflected by their shifting ability. Think of it as a totem spirit that provides them with instincts and emotions. Unlike lycanthropes, this is not an overwhelming urge, and the intensity of these instincts varies my shifter. So if you take two longtooth shifters and say that they’re both lupine in nature… you have have one that has very strong wolflike tendancies, and the other who works as a blacksmith and just occasionally snarls when he gets angry. So the question to me is what is their animal nature and then how strongly does it influence them? Once you’ve made that decision, consider the animal and think about what traits would bleed over to the shifter and what that might mean.

Bear in mind that this is more mental than physical. Shifters share a common genotype, and when people see them, they are always recognized as shifters regardless of their shift type. A razorclaw shifter with feline tendencies may have features that are distinctly feline for a shifter, but you’d never mistake her for a tabaxi.

Do you see any tradition for classes that are not typically cool for shifters like shifter bards, sorcerers, warlocks or paladins?

I don’t see shifters as locked into any particular class. The wild shifters of the Eldeen Reaches might be more inclined towards primal paths… but that’s as much about their environment as their race. A shifter born in a city or raised among humans will adapt to that environment. One of the iconic 3.5 Eberron characters – seen on the covers of the ECS and Player’s Guide to Eberron – is the shifter wizard Baristi. To me, the question isn’t “Is it weird for a shifter to be a wizard”, it’s “Why did she become a wizard and how is she different from a human or elvish wizard?” She has feline characteristics, and if I were playing Baristi I’d highlight her boundless curiosity. She’s a brilliant wizard, but she’s always interested in learning something new or doing the thing she’s not supposed to do. Other fictional shifters include the inquisitve Zaehr and the fighter Geth. So again, I’ve never seen shifters as tied to any one path.

With that said, you could certainly play with shifter nature when developing a character and class. A shifter barbarian could reflavor their “rage” as being another form of shifting, assuming a more powerful form. A shifter druid could downplay any connection to a druidic order and play up her abilities as a form of shapeshifting mastery. A shifter monk could justify their improved speed, AC and unarmed damage as being tied to their shifting as opposed to martial arts; if you modified the monk path, this would be a reasonable way to create a weretouched master.

Looking to bard or warlock, I don’t see why either class has to be reflavored to connect it to a shifter. Bard is a logical path even for Eldeen shifters; add a lupine aspect and it’s about the drive to unite their pack. And a shifter is just as capable of following the warlock’s path as any other sentient being. Following the myth that the first shifters were blessed by Olarune, I could see a shifter fey pact warlock whose patron claims to be the Moon Queen or something similar.

CHANGELINGS

How malleable is age to a Changeling? Can a changeling kid pass as an adult (at least, until they start speaking)? Can an elder changeling pass as a nimble teenager and ignore the aging effects on his/her muscles?

By default, the effect of changeling shapeshifting is cosmetic. A changeling can make themselves appear more muscular, but this doesn’t change their Strength score. They can’t use their shapeshifting to heal a wound. So can a changeling appear to be older or younger? Absolutely. Does this actually remove the effects of aging? No. That elder changeling can appear to be young… but if they’ve lost Dexterity due to the effects of aging, they don’t get the Dexterity back.

Do you have any non-traditional ideas for Changeling classes? I feel like they’re typecast as Rogues, but lack good alternatives.

There’s two questions here: what’s optimal from a mechanical standpoint, and what’s got the best flavor. The mechanical question depends on what edition you’re using. In 3.5, changelings have no ability score modifiers and so they’re equally good at all things. I almost ran a campaign in which all the characters were going to be changelings, as a sort of fantasy Mission: Impossible where every session the party would be undercover in different roles. In 4E and with the current UA rules for Changelings, they have a bonus to Dexterity and Charisma.

So: in two of three editions, changelings have an edge with Charisma. Beyond that, as a changeling I prefer to wear light or no armor so that it’s easy for me to change my clothes; wearing plate armor significantly limits what I can do with my shapeshifting. Likewise, I like classes that don’t rely on large weapons. If I’m carrying a two-handed sword, it’s going to spoil things when I try to pose as a schoolteacher. What does this lead to?

Monk. This is an excellent choice both mechanically and practically. Dexterity is useful for a monk. They don’t need armor or weapons, making it easy to accommodate any disguise. From a flavor standpoint, you can present yourself as a martial artist… but you could just as easily say that you are a physical adept who has learned to weaponize your shapeshifting. Your unarmed defense could be based on actually toughening your skin and bones. Your unarmed damage can reflect hardening your fists. If I were doing a 5E Eberron book, I’d consider a subclass for monk that reflects combat shapeshifting… among other things, allowing you to choose whether your unarmed strike deals piercing, bludgeoning or slashing damage. This is definitely appropriate for the skindancers of Droaam or other changelings pursuing the idea of the doppelganger.

Bard. In my recent Dragonmark on Changelings I present the idea that tribal changelings have an oral storytelling tradition, along with the concept of personas as shared stories. Other articles have discussed the idea of Droaam’s skindancers, who work shapeshifting into artistic performance. So there’s two backstories for a changeling bard. On the other hand, in the recent CCD20 game I ran, I had a changeling bard where I reflavored Bardic Inspiration and magic as telepathic abilities, tied to telepathic “doppelganger” abilities. Story aside, Charisma and Dexterity are both good choices for bards, and a bard’s use of spells and light armor facilitates shapeshifting.

Druids and Barbarians. In another Eberron campaign I actually explored the idea that changelings were the original lycanthropes… combining shapeshifting with a connection to primal spirits. A changeling doesn’t have a bonus to Strength, but if you want to play an unarmored barbarian that works well… and you can present the “rage” as actually assuming a unique battle form. It’s a very different sort of flavor, but I think that exploring the primal aspect of shapeshifting can be interesting.

Warlocks and Sorcerers. Dexterity is always useful for lightly armored characters, and Charisma is key for both of these classes. Personally I prefer warlock to sorcerer. I’m used fey-pact changeling warlocks a number of times; it lets you really play up the idea of the changeling who lives between the two realms. I also did a changeling infernal warlock as a sort of pulp hero, a twist on The Shadow using eldritch blasts instead of handguns. No one knows that playboy Veldan ir’Tain is secretly THE SPECTRE!

I’m going to stop there, but really, almost any class can work. I had a player in one of my campaigns play a changeling cleric of the Silver Flame; it wasn’t an optimal use of the race, but he had fun with it.

How do you not make a Changeling villain not totally OP? In my current campaign I’m running, the PCs encountered a rival scholar who takes more of the “Belloq” attitude towards recovering ancient Xen’Drik artifacts. My fear now is that a Changeling is going to be a bit too difficult for them to catch because he can change into different forms.

Bear in mind that this issue isn’t unique to changelings; you have the same problem with anyone who owns a hat of disguise, or a 2nd level warlock with mask of many faces. And these two individuals are actually LESS limited than a changeling, as the changeling can’t shift their gear with them. The simplest way to limit this – if you’re trying to give your players a chance – is to have things that they can’t change. Do they have a distinctive magic item that they’d be loath to part with? Are they carrying the large, bulky gold idol? This allows Perception or Investigation to notice the piece of gear on top of the standard of Insight vs Deception to see through the disguise. With that said, do you NEED the players to catch this villain? Recurring villains are something we specifically advocate in Eberron. Is there any problem with HAVING the villain escape a time or two before they figure out that they can spot him because he’s always got that distinctive magic rod? If it is absolutely vital to the story for the villain to be caught, is there a reason they have to be a changeling instead of a human?

You’ve mentioned a few times about your changeling character Tel, and how her personas Max and Bronson and the others were shifted into depending on what the situation calls for. My question is how did you handle actually changing into them? If you were currently Max and suddenly a fight broke out, shifting into Bronson is gonna let the whole world know you’re a changeling. And while that might be okay with some road bandits, that’s not always something you can afford to let loose. Did you just try to find a way to make Max useful or something else?

This question refers to the idea of Personas, something I presented in this previous article about changelings. A persona serves two purposes. First, personas are well-established identities that have roots in different locations. The dwarf Bronson is an established figure in the underworld of Sharn, and has been so for longer than my changeling character has been alive; she inherited Bronson from another changeling, and benefits from his established reputation. Second, a persona is a mental focusing tool for the changeling using it – a way of thinking that helps in the pursuit of a particular action. Bronson is cruel and tough, and exceptionally skill with Intimidation. When Max wants to threaten someone, she wants to be Bronson.

With that said, there is a critical point here; Personas have no actual mechanical effect. The core character has the Intimidate skill, and COULD Initimidate in any form. It’s simply that it doesn’t come naturally to the generally good-hearted Max, who would rather employ Persuasion. But if it was absolutely necessary she COULD, and it’s not that it would destroy her perceived identity; she’d just handle that intimidation in a different way than Bronson would. Likewise, Bronson would rather intimidate than persuade, but he could persuade if he wanted, just like any mean dwarf could try to soften his tone; but he’d try and take this approach in a way that seems organic for the character.

This is equally true for combat. Bronson LIKES to fight. Max does not. But Max carries a rapier and knows how to use it. What my character sheet said was “She’s prepared to fight, but doesn’t enjoy it, especially if it comes to killing; she prefers to leave bloodletting to Bronson and Meriwether.” If Max knows there’s going to be a fight in advance – if we’re heading into a bar in Lower Dura and we expect it to get rough – she’ll switch into Bronson ahead of time. But if she goes as Max and a fight starts, she definitely wouldn’t switch into Bronson on the spot, ESPECIALLY in Sharn where Bronson is known best. The damage she’d do to the persona is far more serious than having to fight as Max.

With that said, if there’s an easy way TO change she might take it. She’s a rogue; if she went into hiding, she might switch and have Bronson appear, observing that he’s just shown up and nobody is gonna hurt his friends. Note that Max never hid the fact that she was a changeling from her allies; so THEY aren’t saying “Why does this Bronson guy keep showing up?” Note that Max had shiftweave with a different outfit for each persona.

Beyond this, Max was a persona without a strong established reputation, so it was OK for HER to be known as a changeling. So every now and then, SHE would do something like throw an enemy off balance by changing her face to something they cared about, or something like that. But she wouldn’t do that if she was Bronson or Merriwether. FINALLY: It’s important to note that not every face has to be a persona. A persona is a TOOL: Max could still become a random city guard if that was useful, and drop that identity the moment it’s convenient. Using a Persona is a responsibility because you have to preserve and protect the story of the persona. But you can also just make up a new face on the spot.

LYCANTHROPES

Prior to the Last War, the Lycanthropic Purge is one of the most significant military engagements in the history of Galifar. My old Dragonshard article on Lycanthropes and the Purge is a canon source of information about this event. Often people misinterpret the Lycanthropic Purge as being an unjust persecution… that the Church of the Silver Flame ruthlessly hunted down innocent lycanthropes that were minding their own business. This wasn’t the idea at all.

When we were first working on Eberron, D&D was using the third edition rules. Under third edition rules, lycanthropy works like this.

  • Lycanthropes can be afflicted (contracted the curse) or natural (born to lycanthrope parents). Under 3E rules, both afflicted and natural lycanthropes can pass the curse to others with their attacks.
  • When an afflicted lycanthrope is under the effect of the curse, their alignment changes… but more than that, they follow an extreme form of that alignment. Evil lycanthropes are specifically called out as being murderers who delight in preying on their family and friends. Even good lycanthropes will leave their friends behind to live solitary lives in the wild. Lycanthropy isn’t a power-up. It’s never something you WANT to happen to you. It is a curse. At best it will destroy your personality; at worst, it will turn you into a predator who will turn on the people you once loved. Behavior varies by lycanthropic type — wererats are more sly and communal than wild wereboars — but an evil lycanthrope is simply never someone you want to have around.
  • Setting all other factors aside, a lycanthrope possesses DR 10/silver. This makes them all but immune to the attacks of a typical first level commoner or warrior, which is the bulk of the population of Eberron. So even a first level commoner as a werewolf is a deadly foe for the typical village militia, unless they are equipped with silver weapons.

When I looked at that first point, I realized that lycanthropy has the potential for exponential expansion. One werewolf infects two people. If this process continues, within five cycles of infection we have 243 werewolves. Eberron is further complicated by the number of moons, meaning that a full moon is a very common event, ramping up the impact of the affliction and the time it takes for a victim to fall prey to its full effects. Curing lycanthropy can only be performed under certain circumstances, requires you to capture the lycanthrope you’re trying to cure; requires the victim to succeed at a DC 20 Will save (not trivial), and requires the spellpower of a 5th level cleric. That’s within the scope of Eberron’s “wide magic”, but we do specifically call out that most priests are not clerics; full clerics are rare and remarkable. So if you’ve got 243 angry werewolves on your hands, the idea that you’re going to be able to subdue them all and cure them is fairly unlikely.

So I look at this and saw the potential for a werewolf apocalypse, every bit as terrifying as 28 Days Later or The Walking Dead. The only thing holding this in check would be the idea that lycanthropes wouldn’t coordinate and would have a natural impulse to kill their victims in order to prevent spreading the affliction and drawing attention… that lycanthropes might themselves act to prevent an apocalypse. Nonetheless, it seemed logical that a civilized nation would seek to eliminate this deadly affliction. The idea of the Silver Flame eliminating lycanthropy wasn’t something we saw as the Salem Witch Trials; it was more akin to wiping out smallpox, if smallpox turned people into murderers.

But as we were writing, a magical thing occurred: D&D advanced to 3.5, and the rules had one detail that must have seemed trivial to a designer: afflicted lycanthropes couldn’t spread the affliction. It’s a smart decision that eliminates the threat of the werewolf apocalypse… but suddenly the Purge seemed unnecessary. So, we decided that history literally mirrored reality: The curse had changed. At the time of the Purge, it became more virulent. Some power was at work… a daelkyr? An Overlord? The Prophecy? Whatever it was, the Purge was precipitated by the threat of a werewolf apocalypse… and in the aftermath of the Purge, the power of the curse was weakened and afflicted victims could no longer spread the curse.

But, guess what? Fifth edition changed it back. Under 5E rules, any lycanthrope can spread the affliction. It maintains the idea that lycanthropy is a bad thing — that “most lycanthropes become evil, opportunistic creatures that prey on the weak.” So… what does that mean for us? For me, I will continue to have history mirror the changes in editions. In the time of the Purge, lycanthropy was virulent and could be easily spread. The Templars broke the power of the curse and for nearly two centuries it has been less of a threat. But now, the power is growing again. It’s just like aberrant dragonmarks: they’ve been in decline ever since the War of the Mark… but now there’s a new surge in Aberrant numbers and power. Why? That’s up to you. It could be the work of an Overlord that is once again breaking from its bonds. It could be based on the number of lycanthropes in the world. It could be a Daelkyr. Or any other idea that suits you. The funny thing is that I present this very idea in my novel The Queen of Stone, which is set in 999 YK… so apparently I can predict the future of D&D!

So here’s the quick overview of the Lycanthropic Purge.

  • Lycanthropes have been present throughout the history of Galifar. However, they rarely acted in any sort of coordinated fashion; afflicted lycanthropes couldn’t spread the curse; and natural lycanthropes would generally avoid spreading the curse. They were dangerous monsters and something that templars or paladins of Dol Arrah would deal with, but not perceived as any sort of massive threat… more of a bogeyman and reason to stay out of wild areas.
  • Around the Ninth Century, there was a shift in Lycanthropic behavior. Packs of werewolves began coordinating attacks. Eldeen wolves began raiding Aundair, and wererats established warrens beneath the cities of western Aundair. More victims were left alive and afflicted. While terror spread among the common folk of western Aundair, the nobles largely dismissed the claims.
  • Sages in the Church of the Silver Flame confirmed that afflicted lycanthropes could now spread the curse. They realized that the raids and urban actions might not be as random as they appeared – that this could be the groundwork and preparations for a serious large-scale assault. Combined with the risk of exponential expansion, this was a potential threat to human civilization.
  • Templars were dispatched to Aundair, and fears were confirmed; there were more lycanthropes than anyone guessed, and they were better organized than had been seen in the past. What followed was a brutal guerrilla war; the templars had numbers and discipline, but they were fighting unpredictable and extremely powerful foe that could hide in plain sight and turn an ally into an enemy with a single bite. Thousands of Aundairians and templars died in these struggles. Cunning lycanthropes intentionally sowed suspicions and fomented conflict between templars and shifters, resulting in thousands of additional innocent deaths.
  • The precise details of the war aren’t chronicled in canon and likely aren’t known to the general public. I expect it happened in waves, with periods where the templars thought the threat had finally been contained… only to have a new resurgence in a few years. Again, canon doesn’t state what drove the power of the lycanthropes. Whatever it was – demon, daelkyr, shaman – the templars finally broke it. Afflicted lycanthropes could no longer spread the curse, and all lycanthropes were freed from whatever overarching influence had been driving their aggression.
  • While the threat was largely neutralized at this point, people didn’t know that. There’d been ups and downs before. Beyond this, the Aundairian people had suffered through decades of terror and they wanted revenge. This is the point at which the Purge shifted from being a truly heroic struggle and became something more like a witch hunt, with mobs seeking to root out any possible lingering lycanthropes. Tensions with shifters continued to escalate as bloodthirsty mobs sought outlets for their fear and anger. A critical point here is that at this point, most of the aggressors were no longer Thrane templars. The primary instigators were Aundairians who had adopted the ways of the Silver Flame over the course of the Purge. For these new believers, the Silver Flame wasn’t just about defense; it was a weapon and a tool for revenge. This is the origin of the sect known as the Pure Flame, and its extremist ways can be seen in priests like Archbishop Dariznu of Thaliost, noted for burning enemies alive.

The take-away here is that the Purge began as a truly heroic struggle against a deadly foe, and the actions of the templars may have saved Galifar from collapsing into a feral savagery. But it ended in vicious persecution that left deep scars between the shifters, the church, and the people of Aundair. And now, it may be happening again.

I thought Eberron wasn’t limited by the usual alignment rules. So… are werewolves always evil? 

Eberron generally doesn’t restrict the alignment of intelligent creatures… unless that alignment is enforced by magic. Werewolves don’t choose to be evil; they are victims of a curse that transforms them into brutal killers. That’s the inherent idea of lycanthrope, and something we wanted to maintain. What we have suggested is that lycanthropic alignment is tied to strain, not animal form. That is to say: a werewolf COULD be good or evil… but when an evil werewolf bites someone they become an evil werewolf, while the good werewolf will create good werewolves.

With that said, the critical point here is to understand that Alignment means something very different for a lycanthrope than it does for a human. Lycanthropy is NOT in any way a natural affliction. Wolves are not murderous killers who prey on their friends. But evil werewolves are. The way I reconcile this is that lycanthropy is about how humans and demi-humans perceive the animal. An EVIL lycanthrope embodies our fears of the animal. The evil werewolf isn’t based on actual lupine behavior; it’s based on our FEARS of the predator lurking in the shadows, waiting to snatch anyone who strays from the pack or goes into the forest alone. A GOOD lycanthrope can embody more noble traits we associate with the animal – the pack loyalty of the wolf, for example. But again, either way the alignment is an extreme, unnatural compulsion. If you’re an evil person and you become an evil lycanthrope, your personality is still completely transformed. You are driven by primal and magical impulses and instincts. And again, if you’re a good lycanthrope you aren’t going to just continue with your normal life; you will feel the call to flee to the wilds, to throw off the trappings of civilization and hunt with your pack. Never forget: lycanthropy is a curse, not a blessing. Good lycanthropes could be valuable and loyal allies; but that doesn’t mean that you want your character to become one.

The side effect here is that there’s MORE evil lycanthropes than good lycanthropes, because evil lycanthropes engage in aggressive behavior likely to spread the curse. Good lycanthropes are likely to primarily be natural lycanthropes who avoid preying on innocents and spreading their affliction. Again, even “good” lycanthropy destroys the personality of the victim and turns them into something else; it’s not something you want to do to an innocent. So when most people think of lycanthropes, they’re thinking of the evil ones.

With all of this said: I do feel that these dramatic magical instincts are more limited in natural lycanthropes. An afflicted werewolf will be overwhelmed by the power of the curse. A natural werewolf is born with it and grows with it. An evil natural werewolf is still filled with cruel, predatory instincts and they cannot change that; they can’t become good, because they are still shaped by magical forces. But they can resist the urge to turn on allies and murder friends. You should never be fully comfortable around an evil lycanthrope, but naturals are safer than the afflicted.

You mentioned that due to late Silver flame persecution shifters would dislike Lycans as well. What would their mindset be on a Weretouched Master?

I don’t think shifters inherently dislike lycanthropes: I think they dislike evil lycanthropes, because anyone in their right mind is going to dislike them; why would you welcome a creature that takes pleasure in preying on even friends and family into your fold? Evil lycanthropes are monsters, magically driven to prey the innocent. But shifters would be more aware of the fact that there are good lycanthropes. And they’d also know that weretouched masters AREN’T touched by the curse.

A critical point here: we often say that shifters are “thin-blooded lycanthropes.” In my opinion, most shifters believe that the reverse is true. They believe that shifters predate lycanthropes  that the first lycanthropes were shifters blessed with greater powers, and that this gift was corrupted to become the curse as it exists today.

So shifters don’t hate the CONCEPT of lycanthropes or fear the weretouched master. But they have a clearer concept of the true nature of the curse, and the fact that an evil lycanthrope is — through no fault of their own — a monster. Again, the idea is that the tension between shifters and the church is a tragedy because they could have worked together… but hidden lycanthropes actively worked to foment conflict between them.

You mention the chance that a Daelkyr was involved with lycanthropy. Do you have any canon Daelkyr that you think is suitable for that role?

Personally, I’d use Dyrrn the Corruptor. A contagious magical curse that transforms good people into monsters based on other peoples’ fears is certainly Dyrrn’s style.

I don’t see much inherent difference between the shapeshifting of a natural lycanthrope, and the stony gaze of a medusa or the cry of a harpy. All of these are inborn magical powers that COULD be used for evil, but what’s the creative decision behind making one of these an uncontrollable curse, and the other a gift?

Now, everything in Eberron is a choice. It’s perfectly fine to handle things in a different way than I do. But addressing the question of why I handle it the way I do, it’s because I find it makes it a more compelling story. D&D has a host of natural shapeshifters and half-human hybrids. I enjoy monsters that aren’t simply furry humans – that are truly alien in their outset. In looking at lycanthropes, I enjoy the following things…

  • No matter how human they look, they are fundamentally inhuman, shaped by forces beyond their control. An evil lycanthrope is supernaturally shaped to be a ruthless predator. An afflicted lycanthrope cannot resist these impulses; they are so powerful that even the most noble person can be transformed into a vicious killer. A natural lycanthrope can resist those raw urges, but they are still there. They are always a part of them; the evil lycanthrope is always a predator, and everything around it is prey. Look to Zaeurl in The Queen of Stone. She’s not savage; she’s a brilliant tactician who’s serving the Daughters to advance the interests of her pack. But she’s also not human. She is a ruthless killer, the embodiment of our fears of what lurks in the forest. She can understand the concept of mercy, but she cannot feel it.
  • By contrast, the medusa is a natural creature. It possesses a magical gift… but that gift doesn’t change the way it thinks in a way it can’t control. And the medusa also can’t bite you and turn you into a medusa. Which ties to the idea that the werewolf’s powers aren’t natural. The werewolf is a vessel for a power it can never fully control… and if it bites you, that power will change you. A werewolf is tied to something bigger that we don’t understand; a harpy or a medusa has no such ties to a corrupting magical force.
  • Tied to this: I like that Eberron is unpredictable. And even here, we say that you can have a good werewolf. But again, that werewolf is compelled to be good. Because there are times when I LIKE that pure, inhuman alignment-shifting force. There’s times when I want the demon, or the idea again that even the most noble person can be stripped of their humanity by the curse and turned into a monster. The fact that the lycanthrope can hide among use is what makes that even more terrifying; it looks like us, but it’s an alien, terrifying predator.

With all that said, I like the idea that lycanthropy has been corrupted – that it was originally a pure primal gift that – whether by an Overlord or Daelkyr – has been transformed into something that turns innocents into weapons. I like the idea that even the good lycanthrope is shaped by a force they can’t control and has to be careful lest they infect others. And I like the idea that a weretouched master PC, or a druid PC, could try to uncover the root of that corruption and find the way to end the curse.

But back to the main question, I make the werewolf different from the harpy or the medusa because I WANT it to be different from the harpy or the medusa. If a want a bestial humanoid that blends human intellect and animal instincts with no bias to good or evil, I’ll use a gnoll. When I use a lycanthrope I want that idea of something shaped by an unnatural force – a monster that can appear as human or animal, but isn’t truly either of those.  I want the shifter to feel pity for the evil werewolf, not kinship.

However, I just don’t feel like even the “natural” form of it should always be portrayed as a curse. Affliction is a horrific experience, and every system emphasizes that. The afflicted with no recourse for help is a pitiable (and scary) creature indeed. But I also like the idea of a community of good (or neutral) lycanthropes seeking out their afflicted brethren with the aim of helping them adapt to their new form rather than seeking a cure.

Well, first off I’ve been emphasizing evil lycanthropes because they are the scary ones. But as I’ve said, you can have good (or neutral) strains of lycanthropes — and in Eberron, these can be any time of lycanthrope. You could have a warren of good-aligned wererats, or a pack of good-aligned werewolves. The critical point is that even good-aligned werewolves are still afflicted with a curse. Their behavior is still dictated by powerful urges and instincts related to their animal forms. Just as the “evil” of a lycanthrope means something narrow and extreme, “good” doesn’t just mean that the lycanthrope becomes a nicer person. A good lycanthrope is compelled to take to the wilds, and will have a very difficult and uncomfortable time living in a city. They will feel a bond to their pack and to protect their lands… yes, they will protect innocents in that place, but they are still driven to protect that place. When the full moon comes and the curse takes over, you WILL lose control; you won’t murder, but you’ll flee to the woods to run with your pack. It may not make you a monster, but it will still override and ultimately destroy the person you were before. That’s why I still call it a curse. It won’t kill you and it won’t make you a killer. But it will change you in ways you cannot control… and it will make you a carrier whose bite can change others.

So you can definitely have a pack of good lycanthropes who seek both to avoid afflicting others and who help those who become afflicted. Shifters would likely welcome such lycanthropes, though the wolves would rather run with their pack that dwell with shifters. But that doesn’t change the basic nature of the affliction or mean that you should welcome the opportunity to become a good lycanthrope.

Would it be reasonable to have a few clans of them on Lammania, either because they fled to the plane of unbridled nature before the corruption happened, or because the corruption was cleansed from them living there for many generations?

Sure, I’d definitely support either of those ideas. If I was making a “pure” lycanthrope I’d start by saying that they don’t afflict at all; they are only natural. Their condition isn’t a weapon that destroys the victim’s personality; it’s their natural state.  At the same time, I’ve personally included clans of EVIL lycanthropes in Lamannia as well. And again, these are natural lycanthropes who are very comfortable with their nature and aren’t slaves to it… but they are still ruthless predators embodying our fears.

Lycanthropes as described here seem to be very primal in nature, almost wild in transformation whether in evil or good forms. How might the curse’s psychological effect work with a group like Stormreach’s Bilge Rats and the Circle of Plague with their organized structure and more human goals of controlling crime in a city.

For me, the answer is simple: Wererats. As I suggested above, my thought is that the curse changes you to reflect how people feel about the animal – embodying their fears if it’s an evil strain, or the perceived nobler qualities if it’s good. For most lycanthropes, this is going to involve a drive to be in the wild. Wererats are the exception. We don’t think about rats living in the forest; we think of them lurking in the shadows of the city, seizing opportunities. We don’t think of the rat as a vicious predator; we think of it as a sneak and a schemer, sowing disease and stealing things left unguarded. In my opinion the wererat is driven to cities, and supernaturally driven to find a warren and a band of rats to work with. That drive to control crime in Stormreach isn’t a “human goal”; the impulses enforced by the curse are to undermine and prey upon the people of the city. An evil wererat is just as much a ruthless killer as an evil werewolf, but they are about calculated murder and mayhem. In the past they are presented as lawful evil, and that speaks to the urge to work with a warren and to undermine in a systematic way. But again, the noble paladin who’s afflicted with the wererat curse will become a ruthless schemer prepared to murder any time it suits their goals. It’s not natural or human; they are driven to scheme in the shadows. With that in mind, wererats are definitely creatures I can see engaging in systematic infection, capturing useful people and afflicting them to bring them into the warren. During the Purge I call out the idea that while werewolves were raiding in the wilds, wererats were infiltrating cities and towns. And in my mind it’s the wererats who worked to sow violence between shifters and templars, because that sort of sneaky turn-my-enemies-against-each-other is exactly what I expect from cunning wererats. They don’t care that this will result in hundreds of innocent deaths; it’s an expedient way to weaken two enemies.

Random point: I wrote a sourcebook on wererats a little before Eberron happened (so this isn’t written for Eberron).

With that said, in Eberron you could have a warren of good-aligned wererats. I’d still have them drawn to cities and to work together in a warren, and inclined towards subterfuge rather than direct action; but they could serve as protectors of the city, the same way that a werebear is traditionally a protector of the wilds.

One thought I tend to like concerning the Purge is that while on one hand, taking direct and strong action was necessary at the time… on the other, having that action be completely violent without a serious effort to seek a cure, or spare and contain any lycanthropes (good-aligned ones, perhaps) for such a purpose, was an extreme urged by the Shadow in the Flame.

Absolutely. First off, that’s absolutely the idea of the Shadow in the Flame — urging good people to do bad things and drawing out their worst impulses. With that said, in my mind there were certainly people during the Purge who were TRYING to find a cure and to prevent unnecessary casualties. The point for me is that it was a brutal conflict filled with fear and paranoia… that people were legitimately terrified of the ‘thrope threat. So if you have the child who’s been afflicted, SOMEONE would be shouting that you can’t possibly kill this innocent, that there has to be a better way – and someone else shouting that there’s no time, that if she turns she could kill us all, that it’s got to be done. This is exactly the sort of thing I see during the Purge: not simple, not controlled, but a time where people are terrified and afraid that their neighbors could be wererats and wolves could burst from the woods at any moment. I do think it’s important to differentiate between the typical PC interaction with lycanthropes and the experience of the Aundairian peasant. PCs are powerful individuals and if you’ve got a cleric in the party they can probably cure the werewolf themselves. If I’m the Aundiarian peasant, then that child COULD easily kill me if she turns, and I may have never even met a cleric capable of performing a cure. So I see the pleading parents begging with the mob to help their child, and I see the terrified mob unwilling to take the chance. It’s NOT the right thing. It’s not fair or just. But it’s the kind of tragedy that can happen in those times – and the environment in which the Shadow in the Flame thrives.

Would an evil person bitten by a good-aligned werewolf suddenly acquire the need to live up to positive elements associated with wolves (loyalty, camaraderie, honour, courage, protection)?

The principle is correct: an evil person afflicted by a good lycanthrope becomes good. They’ll have a supernatural compulsion to protect the other members of their pack and to fight dark things that threaten their territory. But this isn’t a mild, subtle change to their personality. It is a dramatic shift. They don’t just become nicer; they are compelled to abandon their past life and to go to the wilds, to leave old acquaintances behind and run with a wolf pack. This is why I call it a curse even when it makes someone good: because it destroys the person they once were. If you’re bitten by an evil wererat, you don’t simply become evil; you are compelled to join the warren, and that new loyalty overrides your previous life. My point is that yes: good lycanthropy will turn an evil person into a good one. But this isn’t a glorious cure for evil that we should be actively trying to spread, because it turns you into a good werewolf; you will still be shaped by primal impulses and instincts. If everyone in Aundair became good werewolves, civilization as we know it would collapse.

As I understand it, a natural lycanthrope born to a neutral-good strain would be unable to become evil under normal circumstances Is that correct?

Correct. Their alignment is unnaturally enforced. As a natural lycanthrope they could moderate those impulses and be less driven to extremes than an afflicted lycanthrope, but the impulses are still there.

If werewolves are associated more with the wolves of stories than with the actual animals, do they belong more to Thelanis (the realm of stories) than to Lamannia, where many of them fled after the Purge?

There is no canon origin for lycanthropy. In this Dragonshard I describe a shifter legend…

The moon Olarune sought to create guardians who could protect the world of nature; reaching down from the sky, she touched a handful of chosen shifters, granting them the power to fully assume animal form. But the moonspeakers say that a thirteenth spirit is in the sky — a dark moon that hides its face from the world. This darkness corrupted Olarune’s gift, infecting many of her chosen with madness and evil.

Is this legend based on reality? If so, who is “Olarune” and what is “the Darkness”? It could be that both Olarune and the Darkness are archfey and that the origins of lycanthropes are tied to Thelanis. Or it could be that Olarune was an aspect of Eberron and that the darkness was an Overlord. It could be that “Olarune” was simply a source of primal magic within Eberron tapped by shifter druids… and Dyrrn the Corruptor warped it. So the lycanthropes fled to Lamannia because there was a passage, and because they found an environment that could support them. But that doesn’t mean they are innately tied to it.

Is it conceivable that an established werewolf family (such as my branch of Vadalis) would be good, but infect people introduced to the clan (for mariage, for instance), so long as those people are willing and receive support and training?

Sure! With that said, in MY Eberron it would be unusual for a family of werewolves to be able to do something like run a business, because their primal instincts would always be pushing them to run to the wilds. However, if any house could pull this off it would be Vadalis. I could even see a case being made that their Mark of Making allows them to “control the beast within” – mitigating those primal impulses. But I do think it would be a hard transition for people introduced to the clan.

Are lycanthropes exclusive to the Eldeen, or just more concentrated there? Karrnath also gives of a vibe that would suit lycanthropes, but there is no mention of the crusade ever going there. What about the Tashana Tundra, the homeland of the shifters?

Lycanthropes aren’t exclusive to the Eldeen. But dangerous lycanthropes have ALWAYS been hunted by the Silver Flame and paladins of Dol Arrah. And wererats aside, most lycanthropes are uncomfortable in urban environments. So sure, there may have been werewolves in Thrane, but if they killed someone, the church would deal with them. The Eldeen is a place that appealed to the wild instincts of lycanthropes and that could support large numbers of them… and where those numbers could grow without being noticed by the outside world. So sure, you could have werewolves in the wilds of Karrnath, if you’re looking for a Ravenloft vibe; the fact that the Silver Flame is weak there would help explain why they haven’t been hunted down.

As for the Tashana Tundra, to me that’s going to be tied to your explanation for lycanthropy. I personally say that it started on Khorvaire. It’s spread of Stormreach, at least – but I haven’t put it in Sarlona.

Would you give lycanthropes access to shifter feats and classes (such as the moonspeaker)?

Shifter feats seems reasonable. As for the Moonspeaker, that depends. For a good lycanthrope. probably. For an evil lycanthrope I’d be inclined to say that whatever bond they might have had to such a natural force has been corrupted and that they shouldn’t be access that power; I might create a different druidic path specifically for evil lycanthropes.

Do the lycanthropes who fled to Lammania still carry the virulent curse? Their descendants or original hosts in the case of longer lived like dwarves and elves?

There’s no canon answer to this, because there’s no canon explanation for why the curse became virulent and why it weakened. In The Queen of Stone I present the idea that it’s based on the NUMBER of lycanthropes, and that once that number dropped below a certain level it weakened the influence of the Overlord. Using that explanation there’s no difference between those in Lamannia and those in Eberron; the curse is exactly the same, and it’s just that the worst parts of it don’t trigger until the population reaches a threshold.

How old is the curse of lycanthropy in Eberron? Did giants suffer from its affliction? 

There’s no canon answer to this, and it depends on the story you want to tell. If an Overlord is responsible, then I would expect the curse to have been around since the Age of Demons and for there to have been afflicted giants. On the other hand, if it’s the work of Dyrrn the Corruptor, it’s only been around for eight thousand years and has nothing to do with the giants. So it’s a question of what story you want to tell in your campaign, and the logical consequences of that decision.

WHY NOT BECOME A LYCANTHROPE?

In conclusion, I want to touch on a critical point – why I keep harping on the fact that lycanthropy is a curse. Set all flavor aside and mechanically, being a lycanthrope is awesome. You get damage resistance, improved abilities and senses, the power to assume an animal form. It’s easy to pass on to others. Which means that if there was no downside we should all be doing it. If you could be a werewolf and still continue your normal life… why WOULDN’T you become a werewolf?

This is why Eberron – and third edition D&D, back in the day – emphasizes the extreme downside of being a lycanthrope: the idea that it utterly destroys the person you once were, and forces you on a path of extreme behavior. Third edition rules emphasized that even good lycanthropes would abandon their friends and civilization. When you become a good-aligned werebear, you may look like the person you once were, but mentally you aren’t. If the people of Aundair all became good werebears, civilization as we know it would collapse as they all abandoned cities for the wilds. Consider that most editions of D&D – including 5E – emphasize that when the character is fully under the influence of the curse they should be played as an NPC… because they aren’t the person they were before the curse.

So: I relentlessly beat the drum of how terrible the curse is because Eberron is a place where we embrace magic in a logical manner… and if lycanthropy DIDN’T have massive drawbacks, logically it is a thing that everyone should embrace. So there HAS to be a downside to even good-aligned lycanthropy that justifies people rejecting it and treating it as a curse instead of a blessing. In my case, I emphasize that it’s that mental transformation… that once your friend becomes a werewolf, regardless of whether he’s good or evil, he’s not your friend anymore; he’s an alien being in your friend’s body. You don’t want to become a lycanthrope because when you finally succumb, it will destroy the person you were. But that’s me. And even in my Eberron I can see druids seeking to cure the corruption that makes it a curse, or even House Vadalis seeking to mimic the effects without the downsides.

In Queen of Stone, you refer to a rakshasa Overlord known by its epithet “The Wild Heart”, and its speaker, Drulkalatar Atesh, the Feral Hand. I was wondering whether you have anything more you can share about this pair.

Novels aren’t canon, of course. But it is canon that SOMETHING caused the surge in the virulence of lycanthropy that triggered the Purge, and that SOMETHING dramatically changed as a result of the Purge and broke the power of the curse. The Queen of Stone proposes that all of these can be tied to the Overlord known as the Wild Heart – that it touched the world through lycanthropes, that the more of them there were, the more its power and influence grew, until it fully controlled them and could turn them all to evil. The defeat of the Wild Heart broke the power of the curse for a time – but that required a dramatic reduction in the number of lycanthropes. So again, the farther the curse spreads, the stronger the Wild Heart becomes.

No other details have ever been provided about the Wild Heart, and its name is not known. The point to me is that like lycanthropes, there’s nothing natural about the Wild Heart. What it embodies is mortal FEARS of the natural world. Again, it doesn’t reflect the actual, natural behavior of the wolf; it reflects the fears of the humans huddling around the fire, imagining the bloodthirsty beasts lurking in the shadows around them. And it then turns natural creatures into these monsters. So rather than being revered by druids, I’d see it as being despised by druids as a force that corrupts the natural order… though with that said, a group of mad druids who embraced the Wild Heart would be a sound Cult of the Dragon Below.

As for its connections to Dral Khatuur… she’s called out as having little to do with the others. Both reflect negative versions of nature, but I see the Wild Heart as being more focused on beasts than on weather; Dral Khatuur is the Killing Cold, and she will kill the minions of the Wild Heart just as happily as she will humans. There are also other Overlords that have some overlap in their spheres; it’s not quite as clean as a divine pantheon where a deity has absolute authority over a domain.

Beyond that, I have NOT established all the concrete details. Did the Templars learn of the Wild Heart? Was it the minions of the Silver Flame who defeated the Feral Hand in the past and broke the power of the curse? Or might it have been shifters, druids or a band of heroes, who won the most crucial victory without the Templars ever even knowing it happened?

Well, I just spent way more time on lycanthropes than I expected to – but I’m happy to answer questions about Shifters and Changelings! Post your questions below!

Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters, who make this blog possible. I’ve got articles about classes, my current 5E Eberron campaign, and Phoenix Dawn Command in the works!

Dragonmarks: The Fighter

It’s 2018, and what better way to start the new year than by continuing the series of articles I began in 2017? I’m currently running a 5E Eberron campaign, and that means I’m digging more deeply into 5E and how it works with Eberron. As a result, I’m going through each class and considering how it fits into the setting, along with the new options from Xanathar’s Guide to Everything. So far I’ve looked at the Bard and the Barbarian, and in this article I want to think about the Fighter.

Let’s start with a basic point: just as most priests aren’t clerics, most soldiers aren’t fighters. Eberron is based on the idea that PC classes represent exceptional skill – that even at low levels, a player character is remarkable because of that. In the original 3.5 Campaign Setting, most soldiers were warriors – possessing proficiency with martial weapons and armor, but lacking the unique abilities of a fighter. 5E doesn’t have NPC classes as such; it’s up to the DM to decide what traits to apply to an NPC. The Fighting Style ability is a logical thing for any warrior that has a specialty; if a soldier is called an “archer,” it’s reasonable to give them the benefits of the Archery fighting style. I could also see adding a feat to represent further specialization. As noted in a previous article, many Aundairian soldiers might be Wand Adepts, while a Thrane archer might be a Sharpshooter and a Karrnathi knight could be a Heavy Armor Master.

So what are the unique aspects of the Fighter – the traits not possessed by the common warrior?

  • Second Wind. You can regain hit points in the middle of battle. Is this sheer physical toughness? Mental discipline that lets you ignore pain? Or something else?
  • Action Surge. You can take an extra action when you need it most. Is this due to remarkable reflexes? Combination moves tied to your particular style? A surge of morale?
  • Martial Archetype. Each archetype provides its own set of unique skills, each supporting a different story.
  • Feats and Ability Scores. A warrior might get a single feat to reflect specialization, but a fighter gets more Ability Score Improvements than any other class… which translates to more feats if you’re using them.

So: You’re a fighter, someone possessing exceptional martial skills. Where did you acquire these skills? What did you do with them before you became an adventurer? This is especially important in Eberron because as of 998 YK, the world is barely out of a bitter, all-consuming war. What was your role in the conflict? Consider the following questions.

  • Did you fight in the Last War? 
  • If so, in what capacity? Did you serve in the army of one of the Five Nations, and if so, which one? Were you a mercenary, and if so did you serve House Deneith directly or work with a smaller independent company?
  • If so, why are you no longer serving? If you take the Soldier or Noble background you may have left honorably and still have recognized rank; otherwise, you may have left dishonorably, whether this was justified or not. Perhaps you disobeyed orders to protect innocents – something that cost you your rank, but may have left you as a Folk Hero. Perhaps you discovered corruption in the ranks, and deserted in disgust… or perhaps you were framed by your corrupt commander, blamed for the crimes of others. Or perhaps you were a soldier of Cyre, and no longer have a nation to serve.
  • If you didn’t fight in the Last War, why didn’t you put your remarkable skills to good use? Perhaps you were fighting your own war on the mean streets of Sharn as an enforcer for a gang or as a member of the city watch. Maybe you ignored the war, pursuing opportunities as a settler in Q’barra or Stormreach. Or maybe your duty took you in a different direction, as you trained for a specific mission.

Essentially, if you’re a fighter you likely learned your skills by fighting. What was that conflict, and why have you left it behind for the life of an adventurer? Or are you somehow still pursuing that original path as an adventurer?

Now, let’s take a look at the different Martial Archetypes and different ways you could take them. If you’re starting at first level, of course, you won’t have a Martial Archetype right away. But if you know the archetype you want to take, you can still develop your backstory with that archetype in mind.

Champion

In many ways Champion is the simplest archetype: it simply makes you good at fighting. Combine Soldier and Champion and you might have been an elite warrior on the front lines of the Last War. Blend Criminal and Champion if you want to be a gang enforcer who’s looking to do more with your life.

Generally speaking, the Champion reflects martial skill. But consider a few alternatives.

  • Revenant Blade. If you’re playing a Valenar fighter, your abilities can reflect martial excellence… but they could also reflect the guidance of your patron ancestor. When you take your Second Wind it’s your ancestor giving you strength and encouragement. Your Action Surge is your ancestor guiding you in a perfect action. Your Improved Critical likewise reflects this guidance. This idea could apply to any archetype, and there’s no mechanical difference; it’s just up to you to describe these benefits as the voice of your Ancestor… and it’s up to the DM whether to do more with that, perhaps granting you visions that guide you on the path to adventure.
  • Warforged Champion. Your abilities could be the result of design as opposed to training. When you engage Second Wind, you are triggering swift healing enchantments. Action Surge is a form of overdrive, temporarily pushing beyond your limits. If you take the Heavy Armor Master feat, that could reflect your actually growing thicker armor plates. Again, mechanically there’s no difference here; it’s a matter of how you think about your abilities.

Battle Master

The flavor of Battle Master really depends on the maneuvers you choose. Combine the Noble or Soldier background with Commander’s Strike and Rally and you have a sound basis for serving as an officer in the Last War. On the other hand, you could blend Entertainer with Feinting Attack and Disarming Strike to reflect a career as an swashbuckling duelist, renowned for your showmanship in battle (a path that could also work for a College of Swords bard). Karrnathi soldiers might be known for Menacing Attack, while Aundairians might prefer lighter armor and Evasive Footwork. This is another easy path for a Valenar revenant, with your chosen maneuvers reflecting the specialties of your patron ancestor.

Eldritch Knight

Arcane magic forms the foundation of Aundair’s military strategy, and this is an easy path for the Knights Phantom of Aundair. But they weren’t the only Eldritch Knights in the war. In Karrnath, the knights of the Ebon Skull blended swordplay with necromantic magic. And House Cannith could easily have experimented with warforged designed to supplement martial skill with arcane power. I could also imagine a Greensinger champion who studies the arts of war in Thelanis. For me, a critical question with an Eldritch Knight is who teaches you. Do you suddenly learn the arts of magic spontaneously? Or do you have a mentor – whether an old soldier, a fey knight, or even an elderly artificer who helps your warforged Eldritch Knight unlock its arcane potential?

Arcane Archer

Xanathar’s Guide to Everything presents this as an Elvish tradition, and it certainly works as a Tairnadal technique. But there’s no reason this archetype has to be Elvish… or even arcane. Archery is a devotional practice of followers of the Silver Flame, and Thrane was renowned for its archers during the Last War. The Silver Bows could be an elite order of templars who infuse their weapons with the power of the Flame. If you take this route, Arcane Archer Lore should provide proficiency with the Religion skill and the Thaumaturgy cantrip. All other abilities remain the same; just bear in mind that the Archer of the Flame is charging their arrows with devotion instead of arcane power, and that their mystical bolts are wreathed in silver flame. If you take the Soldier background, you could be an active agent of the Church, with your Military Rank being recognized by any who follow the Flame.

The Nature/Druidcraft approach is well suited to warriors of the Eldeen Reaches. You could be a serious Warden of the Woods or a carefree Greensinger, blending primal magic and martial skill. It could even be a specialty of the elite hunters of House Tharashk, with the seeking arrow drawing on the power of the Mark of Finding.

What about Aundair? Personally, I prefer to keep “Arcane Archer” as a Thrane archetype, and to have Aundairians focus on the Eldritch Knight. We’ve called out Thrane as the preeminent archers in the Five Nations, and this supports that; meanwhile, I see Aundair as placing a greater emphasis on the use of wands and offensive cantrips than on archery, even arcane archery. But I could see a fighter/rogue tradition using the arcane version… perhaps developed by House Thuranni, perhaps by the Dark Lanterns or Royal Eyes.

Cavalier

The Cavalier is an easy path for the Valenar, who are known as the finest cavalry forces in Khorvaire. But there’s other cavaliers of note. Talenta halflings may not fit the typical image of the knight, but a bold warrior with a close bond with his clawfoot could definitely follow this path. Within the Five Nations I personally see the Karrns as having the strongest chivalric tradition, but I could see cavaliers tied to any of the Five Nations. Setting aside the cavalry aspect and focusing on the Cavalier’s talent for defending others, this is also a plausible path for a champion of House Deneith.

Samurai

There’s no culture in Eberron that is a simple match to feudal Japan. But here again the issue is to ignore the name and look at the mechanical elements that define the archetype: a talent for Persuasion and courtly manners; proficiency with Wisdom saving throws; and most notably, Fighting Spirit – a surge of temporary hit points accompanied by advantage on an attack role. Here’s a few ways I could interpret those abilities…

  • A Karrnathi chivalric order. The “fighting spirit” is a literal spirit conjured to guide and protect the knight.
  • The gift of an Archfey of Thelanis; the warrior who swears allegiance to the Prince of Swords can call on his favor on the battlefield or in the court.
  • As suggested above, a Tairnadal could call on their patron ancestor for guidance and strength.

Random Ideas

Setting aside specific archetypes, here’s a few ideas for fighters I might play…

  • The Fallen Paladin. Once I believed in the righteousness of the Sovereigns. Once I believed I had a calling. Then I discovered the web of lies surrounding the people I’d trusted and realized the terrible things I’d done in Dol Arrah’s name. The Sovereigns and I… we’re not on speaking terms any more.  Mechanically this character is a fighter, probably a Cavalier or warlord-style Battle Master. But in theory he began as a paladin, who lost his divine powers when he lost his faith. Now he’s just trying to find his way on the mean streets. He’s got a good heart; it’s just been shaken by failure and betrayal. Think Malcolm Reynolds from Firefly. Can he regain his faith in himself and humanity over the course of the campaign? If so, might return to a divine path? For a background, I’m probably do Criminal or Mercenary Veteran with the idea that he’s been doing grunt work in the underworld… but there’s many backgrounds that could work here.
  • The Survivor. You used to be the sheriff of a small town… a town that was wiped out by war criminals/Droaam raiders/brigands. You’re not going to rest until you’ve avenged your fallen family and friends… and you’re looking for a posse who will help you get the job done. This is a character with a very specific story to tell, and I’d want to run it past the DM before I dove into it. There’s a number of ways it could run. As written, you could be a “Soldier” (a recognized law enforcer) seeking vengeance against a specific villain, something that could potentially drive low-level adventures. On the other hand, the target could be something too powerful to easily face. You’re a Karrnathi Noble/Cavalier, whose family was scapegoated by Kaius and brought down in disgrace; now you’re determined to bring down Kaius himself. You’re a Cyran folk hero whose village was destroyed in the Mourning, and you’re going to find out who was responsible for that devastation. But at the end of the day… you’re a fighter with a mission.

That’s all I have time for now, but share your ideas and questions below! As always, thanks to my Patreon supporters, who make this blog possible.

Dragonmarks: The Barbarian

The barbarian is a savage warrior from a primitive culture, who relies on pure rage or primal magic to overwhelm foes. Or so they are generally depicted. But as with all classes, you can use the mechanics of the barbarian to represent a wide variety of stories. In this post I’ll look at how the barbarian fits into Eberron, and present some alternate ideas for barbarian characters that could fit into any campaign.

ACTUAL BARBARIANS

Sometimes you just want to be an actual barbarian, and Eberron has a number of options that fill this need. Bear in mind that just as every priest isn’t a cleric, not ever warrior from a savage culture is a barbarian; classed barbarians would typically be elite warriors and champions.

  • Talenta Halflings. That’s right: our iconic barbarian is a halfling. This Dragonshard calls out the fact that “The Talenta druid believes that her ancestors are all around her, affecting every aspect of life“… which makes Xanathar’s Path of the Ancestral Guardian an easy option for a Talenta halfling. But I can also see a pint-sized Berserker, or a Totem Warrior with the totems renamed… the Eagle becomes the Glidewing, the Wolf becomes the Clawfoot, the Bear can be the Threehorn.
  • The Carrion Tribes. The people of the Demon Wastes are savage killers bound to fiendish Overlords. For a PC, the main question is why you broke with your tribe and left the Wastes. The simple answer is the Drizzt approach: you had a revelation that now sets you in opposition to your ancestors and their demonic patrons. Perhaps you were going to be sacrificed because you have the potential to shift the Prophecy in a way that harms the Lords of Dust – and now you seek to discover how to bring that destiny about. An interesting possibility here is that your “Rage” could actually be drawing on the power of your Overlord. You could be bound to Rak Tulkhesh, and that connection still gives you power in battle… even as you oppose his plans. If your rage has such a supernatural element, it makes a good justification for Xanathar’s Storm Herald path. Strangely, you could also justify the Zealot path with necrotic damage… with the argument that even though you are drawing on the POWER of an Overlord, you don’t revere them.
  • The Ghaash’kala. The orcs of the Demon Wastes use the power of the Silver Flame to fight the Lords of Dust and the Carrion Tribes. Traditionally this is a case where I’d say “You don’t have to take the barbarian class to be a barbarian”; when I played a Ghaash’kala half-orc, he was a straight-up paladin. The Ghaash’kala certainly have paladins and clerics, but Xanathar’s Zealot path for the barbarian is a way to combine these two things together.
  • The Eldeen Reaches. Barbarians are often presented as a primal path, which is entirely in keeping with the Druidic sects of the Eldeen Reaches. You could definitely find barbarian champions protecting the roving tribes of the Towering Woods. I’ll talk more about shifters in general below. The Totem path is an easy match for any of the Eldeen sects, but I could see Storm Herald or Berserker working just as well. And the Zealot path could actually be an interesting one for a warrior of the Children of Winter – not actually worshipping a god, but channeling the power of life itself in their pursuit of undead and others who violate the natural order.
  • The Shadow Marches. The Marches are split into the largely civilized clans and the more savage tribes, and you could definitely have a tribal warrior who follows a barbaric path. Berserker is an easy choice for the typical half-orc barbarian, but Totem is equally logical for someone who follows the ways of the Gatekeepers.

This is an easy few, but there are definitely other options. Xen’drik, Q’barra, Droaam, the tundras or deserts of Sarlona – there are lots of uncivilized regions a character could come from. With that said, a barbarian doesn’t have to BE a barbarian…

A RAGE BY ANY OTHER NAME

As with the bard, let’s take a moment to look at the concrete mechanical definition of a barbarian.

  • d12 hit die – the best hit points of any class.
  • Proficiency with martial weapons, shields, and light and medium armor… essentially everything except heavy armor.
  • A skill set that certainly skews towards nature (Nature, Survival, Animal Handling)… but that includes the more general Athletics, Intimidation and Perception.
  • A barbarian is a survivor – something reflected by Unarmored Defense, Danger Sense, and Feral Instinct.
  • A barbarian is fast – as reflected by Fast Movement and Feral Instinct.
  • A barbarian can choose to take advantage on their attack rolls, at the cost of providing advantage to enemies that attack them. This is called Reckless Attack – but there’s no reason it can’t be presented as a calculated martial technique.

And finally we have Rage – the heart of the barbarian. But what IS Rage? It’s a state the barbarian enters voluntarily and can end voluntarily as a bonus action. It is tied to combat, ending early if the user doesn’t make an attack or suffer an injury. It provides resistance to damage, advantage on strength checks and saves, and a bonus to damage with melee attacks. But does it have to be “Rage”? The character remains in full control of their actions and can end the state voluntarily; they aren’t somehow clouded by a fog of war. “Rage” is a state of heightened combat ability that can only be maintained for a short time; but if you change the name to Battle Trance or something similar, you can have a very different feel. Back in 3.5 we called out the idea that Dhakaani bugbears were trained as barbarians, but that “Dhakaani barbarians are not stereotypical savages; instead, the barbarian class represents a specialized form of combat training, with the Rage ability reflecting a consciously cultivated state of battle fury.” A similar approach is suggested for the Droranath dwarves of the Mror Holds: civilized warriors who cultivate battle-rage as a weapon. Both of these examples still present it as “fury” – but there’s no reason it has to involve anger. It’s a short period where you can do more damage in melee combat and resist physical injury, along with special abilities related to your path. Let’s look at a few more variations of the barbarian.

HACKING THE SHIFTER

At the moment there isn’t a strong conversion of the Shifter in 5E. But what defined the Shifter of 3.5? Well, depending on your subtype, you got a temporary boost to your abilities that could only be maintained for a short period of time, along with traits like fast movement and tough hide. If you’re willing to simply ignore defined race and class and to call your rage “shifting”, you can make characters that FEEL like shifter champions by combining different base races with the barbarian.

Beasthide Shifter: Combine half-orc and Bear Totem barbarian. You’re strong, durable, and when you shift you’re extremely resistant to damage.

Longstrider Shifter: Combine wood elf and Eagle Totem barbarian. You’re extremely fast, and when you shift you’re faster still. You can slip into the shadows of the forest with ease. And yes, there’s some elf traits that don’t make sense – but you can interpret elven trance as “light sleeper”, saying that the shifter does sleep but will always awaken should there be any threat.

Certainly, this isn’t a long-term solution to the lack of shifter statistics… but in the short term, it works surprisingly well. We used this approach in the first 5E Eberron campaign I played in, and over the course of seven levels of play it held up just fine.

THE REVENANT BLADE

The Tairnadal believe that their ancestors work through them. The Revenant Blade specializes in channeling the spirit of their patron ancestor. Set aside all the preconceptions of the barbarian and consider it as an elite Tairnadal soldier: lightly armored, blindingly fast and comfortable in the wilds (with a wood elf base and fast movement, a base speed of 45 and able to hide in natural environs). Their high hit points reflect exceptional skill as opposed to sheer physical durability. And their “rage” is about channeling the spirit of their ancestor and letting it guide them; let’s call it Revenant Trance. For such a warrior, their resistance to damage while “raging” doesn’t reflect physical durability, but rather a preternatural ability to avoid damage. The additional damage while raging reflects absolute precision. While Ancestral Guardian might seem like a logical path for such a barbarian, that path deals with spirits that manifest BEYOND the character. Personally I think the Berserker path is a good one, just with all the effects recolored. Frenzy reflects the amazing martial abilities of the guiding spirit, with the exhaustion that follows reflecting the difficulty of channeling the spirit; Mindless Rage – which simply protects from charm and fear – reflects the patron ancestor shielding the Revenant.

One could reasonably ask “If the damage bonus from rage is about precision rather than force, shouldn’t they be able to use it with a bow?” It’s a reasonable question. But the whole point of the ancestral guidance is that it only lets you do what the ANCESTOR excelled at. This idea is based on the premise that the ancestor in question was an exceptional melee combatant with a fighting style that placed offense ahead of their own safety (explaining the “Reckless Attack” ability). The character can USE a bow… but it’s not what their patron specialized in, and thus, they gain no special benefit when they use it during their Revenant Trance.

WARFORGED JUGGERNAUT

Barbarian can also be an interesting choice for a warforged… a skirmisher designed to hit fast and hard, who can temporarily go into an overdrive mode when things are at their worst. Given the concept of a warforged as an innately magical being, I can imagine the warforged physically transforming in “rage” mode – with the resistance to damage being reflected either by ablative plating generated on the spot or by a temporary hardening of all surfaces. Personally I lean towards the Berserker model for this style of warforged, but you could reflavor Totem to reflect design as opposed to spiritual interaction. Another interesting option is to take the warforged Zealot Barbarian as a warforged built to channel the power of the Silver Flame. As a side note, in the Shadows of Stormreach story I wrote for D&D Online, I envisioned the warforged Spike as a barbarian.

HAUNTED

I just made a barbarian for a charity livestream I’m on this weekend. Max is an orphaned urchin who grew up in a bad part of a big city. His father was a blacksmith, and Max believes that his father’s spirit is still with him, strengthening and advising him. To start off, this justifies a scrawny teenager with a Strength of 16; he doesn’t LOOK strong, but something gives him the strength to wield his giant maul. His Danger Sense reflects the guidance of the spirit… and his “Rage” is about letting the spirit take over and guide his actions. I went with Berserker as my path for the simplicity of it, and because I like leaving it as a mystery whether he actually IS haunted; perhaps he’s just crazy, or perhaps he’ll discover that the spirit he thinks is his father is something else. However, if I fully embraced this idea I could see running with Ancestral Guardian and having the spirits in question be the spirits of his immediate family; nothing says that Ancestral Guardian has to be an ancient tradition.

LYRANDAR LIGHTNING BLADE

The barbarian shuns heavy armor, and has excellent unarmored defense. Combine this with the speed and reflexes of the barbarian – Fast Movement, Danger Sense, Feral Instinct – and you can imagine a swashbuckler who relies on precision instead of force. In this case, Reckless Attack again becomes a conscious style that favors offense over defense as opposed to sheer wildness. I tie this to Lyrandar because it fits with the idea of the Storm Herald path… specifically the Sea path, which ties to lightning and water. In this case I envision a Lyrandar heir who enters a battle trance using the Mark of Storm. Given that the Storm Herald suggests an ongoing storm around them, you could see the physical damage resistance as being winds that deflect incoming blows. If I was going to CHANGE rules, I’d shift the Rage Damage bonus to be lightning damage and potentially switch the Strength-related bonuses to be Dexterity related – making this a path for a finesse-driven swashbuckler who might have no Strength to speak of – but that’s not an absolute requirement to make the idea work. Obviously this is awkward when, y’know, we don’t have rules for Dragonmarks – but the point of the Lyrandar Storm Sorcerer or Barbarian is that you can use the class abilities as a way to imply the presence of the Dragonmark even if you DON’T have rules for using it on its own. Alternately, you could drop the Dragonmark entirely, shift the Storm Herald focus to Fire, and imagine an Aundairian Flame Blade — a variation of the Knight Arcane focusing on martial prowess with a touch of fire. Unarmored Defense could be flavored as a form of Mage Armor instead of pure physical toughness, with the powers of the Storm Herald being ultimately arcane in nature.

BLADES OF FURY

Rather than being the product of a civilization, the abilities of the barbarian could stem from literal madness. Either the Cults of the Dragon Below or a deep faith in The Fury could lead to ecstatic battle-rage. Depending on which path you’re taking, things like Danger Sense and Feral Instinct could be flavored as being deeply attuned to primal instinct (through the Fury) or the same, but flavored in madness (“The little man on my shoulder told me to dodge, so I did.”). Berserker is an easy path for follow, but you could also reflavor Storm Herald’s Fire path to inflict psychic damage, suggesting a character in the midst of a psychic maelstrom.

I’m going to stop here, but please share your thoughts, questions and ideas about ways to use the barbarian! And as always: Nothing here is canon in any way, and thank you to my Patreon backers, who make this blog possible!

Q&A

There is a old RTS videogame set in Eberron. In that game the basic infantry units are Silver Flame dwarven berserkers that use their religious conviction as fury.

I almost mentioned these dwarves in the original post, but they’re so obscure I skipped them. But since you brought them up… The game in question is called Dragonshard. The dwarves are the Hammerfist Dwarves, a clan that lives in isolation in the Demon Wastes, fighting the Carrion Tribes and the Demons and sustained by the power of an Irian manifest zone. Where the Ghaash’kala guard the Labyrinth, the Hammerfist Dwarves are deep in the Wastes. Like the Ghost Guardians, they oppose the darkness – but they have little contact with the Ghaash’kala.

Now: in Dragonshard the dwarves are serving with the Order of the Flame – the “Good Guy” faction – but they are not followers of the Silver Flame. Instead, they follow a tradition that runs parallel to the Undying Court of the Aereni: They have Deathless. It’s established that what you need to create Deathless is a strong manifest zone to Irian and deep devotion of a group of people. They have both in the Demon Wastes, and this has let them create their own tiny Undying Court; this is reflected by the other Dwarven unit in the game, the Deathless Guardian.

So the Hammerfist Dwarves do call on their faith when they fight, and this is about as easy a justification for a Path of the Zealot barbarian that one could ask for. On the other hand, because they are all about revering their ancestors and drawing on their undying power, the Path of the Ancestral Guardian is equally logical for them.

Dragonmarks: The Bard

Xanathar’s Guide to Everything came out recently. I want to share my thoughts on how to incorporate its new options into Eberron and at the gaming table in general… but as I started working on this, I realized that instead of just talking about the new Xanathar’s subclasses, I want to take a broader look at the classes of Fifth Edition in general and how I’d use them. So without further ado… let’s talk about BARDS.

As presented in 5E, the bard is “an inspiring magician whose power echoes the song of creation.” The PHB entry describes the bard as “a master of song, speech, and all the magic they contain.” There’s many ways to develop the idea of the performer whose work inspires listeners…

  • House Phiarlan’s Five Demesnes are the most formal bardic order in Khorvaire, and fit the structure of colleges quite well. The Demesne of Memory teaches the techniques of the College of Lore. The Demesne of Song is tied to the College of Glamour. The Demesne of Motion can be tied to the College of Swords. And the Demesne of Shadow can be tied to the College of Whispers. Note that members of any race can study with Phiarlan – though they have to have exceptional talent to earn a place in one of the Demesnes.
  • The Dirge Singers of Dhakaan primarily fall under Lore, though battlefield bards might follow Valor. I could see a particular Kech that follows Whispers, but the Duur’kala are primarily leaders; those who whisper instead of sing would be a rare few.
  • The Greensinger druids blend fey bardic traditions with their druidic magic. Glamour is an easy choice for a Greensinger bard, but I could also see Swords as the teachings of Thelanian knights.
  • Tairnadal society revolves around the heroes of the past, and the bards who tell their tales play a vital role among the Valenar. Most take to the battlefield and follow the path of Valor or Swords, inspiring through deed as well as word. It’s possible that a Tairnadal bard bridges the gap between arcane and divine; the spells and Inspiration of a Valenar bard could involve directly channeling the favor or a patron ancestor. For a PC, a critical question is why such a bard would leave their warband… but perhaps the ancestors have laid a strange path before you.

All of these are examples of inspiring entertainers. But a bard doesn’t have to be a BARD. A class is a set of mechanics, allowing a character to do certain things. These mechanics are the bones, but I’ve always believed that the flavor that’s attached to them can and should be adjusted to fit the story of a particular character.

So let’s look at the bare bones of the bard. Mechanically, what defines a bard?

  • Proficiency with light armor, simple weapons, and a few others… the hand crossbow, rapier and longsword. More of a duelist or swashbuckler than a soldier.
  • Excellent skill selection, along with Jack of All Trades and Expertise. A bard can be good at ANYTHING; they don’t have to use their Expertise on skills related to performance.
  • “Bardic Inspiration” – The ability to enhance the rolls of others.
  • Spellcasting – Flexible arcane spellcasting with a focus on enchantment, divination and illusion… along with a touch of healing.

Generally, both inspiration and bardic magic are presented as performance. The PHB says that Bardic Inspiration inspires others “through stirring words or music.” But the critical effect is that the bard can use it on one creature within 60 feet that can hear the bard – and that the benefit must be used in the next ten minutes. As long as those conditions are met, does it matter if cosmetically this benefit involves a song or speech? Or could it be that the character just gives really good advice? Does the magic have to be a performance, or can it just represent training in a particular set of arcane skills? Consider a few different ways to present a bard.

THE SPY

Background: Charlatan

Skills: Deception (B), Insight, Investigation, Persuasion, Sleight of Hand (B)

Important Spells: Friends, Message, Charm Person, Disguise Self, Detect Thoughts

Rogues are often seen as the go-to path for spies, but in a world where arcane magic is a recognized tools, spells can be far more useful than a sneak attack. If you need your spy to stab someone in the back or to dodge a fireball you want a rogue – but if you’re looking for a charming envoy who can pluck secrets from someone’s thoughts and share that information with a whispered message, a bard may be what you’re looking for. This is an excellent path for a PC who’s trained with the Trust or the Royal Eyes of Aundair… and even in the Thorn of Breland novels, we have a Dark Lantern who makes good use of Disguise Self. In these cases, as a DM I might allow the player to exchange the three musical instrument proficiencies that come with being a bard for a single proficiency with Thieves’ Tools (or they could take the Criminal background instead of the Charlatan). On the other hand, a Phiarlan or Thuranni spy USES those performance abilities as part of a cover for their spying. Either the Criminal or Charlatan background has other useful features for a spy – the false identity of the charlatan is a well established cover, while criminal contacts can easily be shifted to reflect contacts with your agency.

For a spy, Bardic Inspiration can reflect secrets – something useful you’ve noticed about a target. The spy/bard provides the beneficiary with a useful piece of information, and within the next ten minutes the target can make use of that secret to gain an advantage. Personally, I wouldn’t specify the secret until it is used… and I’d have the person benefiting from it explain what it was and how it helped. In other words, the spy says “I’m using inspiration on Bob.” Three rounds later Bob is attacking a guard and wants to add the inspiration die to his attack roll. At that point he says “Keith told me about this guy! He’s got a war wound and can’t block properly with his left arm.” Again, not knowing WHAT you’ll use the inspiration for, I can’t define the secret right away – but we establish that I’ve told you SOMETHING useful.

Looking to Colleges, there’s a few options. The College of Lore is an easy choice; a spy can use more skills (say, Stealth, Perception, and a knowledge skill of some sort); Cutting Words reflects your own ability to benefit from the secrets you’ve observed; and the ability to choose a few spells from any class list definitely provides useful options. On the other hand, the College of Whispers is good for a spy with a touch of darker magic… and is something I could definitely use for a disturbing Trust agent or a Thuranni assassin.

THE WANDSLINGER

Background: Criminal

Skills: Acrobatics, Deception (B), Perception, Sleight of Hand, Stealth (B)

Important Spells: Friends, Charm Person, Disguise Self

The Wandslinger is a scoundrel – a gambler and duelist, a literally charming troublemaker. Were I making this character, I’d make them a human from Aundair and use the variant human rules to take the Magic Initiate feat, selecting a pair of offensive cantrips to use in battle… thus justifying the name, as I’d have a few fine wands as arcane foci. A high elf could also do this with their racial cantrip. But the basic point of the character is to be a scoundrel in a society where magic is on the table – someone who can get out of trouble with a smile and a cast of Friends… even if they’ve got an angry mob coming after them when the spell wears off. You could get some of the same mileage with an Arcane Trickster rogue, but you’d have to wait a few levels to get there… and the rogue is defined by that sneak attack. This Wandslinger is about charm and charisma, preferring to talk their way throw a situation and only drawing wands  and unleashing firebolts if there’s no other option. Any College could work, but I do like the flare of the College of Swords for this character. When they use Bardic Inspiration on others, it would be along the lines of general encouragement and charisma; the optimism and confidence of the Wandslinger is infectious, together you can find a way to beat the odds.

THE SUPERSTAR

Background: Entertainer

Skills: Acrobatics (B), Deception, Insight, Performance (B), Persuasion

Important Spells: Prestidigitation, Illusion, Enthrall

In Khorvaire, magic is a tool used for warfare, healing… and entertainment. Phiarlan and Thuranni are well known for weaving illusion into their performances, but you don’t have to be an elf to get in on this act. If you follow this path, you aren’t simply a wandering minstrel; you’re an entertainer who’s built up a reputation for your amazing performances. You may know Dancing Lights, Minor Illusion, Silent Image, Faerie Fire, and Prestidigitation – because you use these spells as part of your performances. You CAN use Faerie Fire to outline an enemy in battle – but you use it to light up yourself during a performance. You might use Disguise Self for quick changes during a show, or Charm Person to deal with troublesome fans. Acrobatics may reflects actual tumbling or a remarkable talent for dance. When it comes to College, you’re all about Xanathar’s College of Glamour. It’s not that you are calling on fey powers… it’s that you are literally that good.

With the Superstar, the question is going to be why are you an adventurer? You could make a decent living on stage, and likely you already have. Do you have a literal quest to pursue – a mystical instrument you’re trying to find, or a family mystery you’re trying to unravel? Is your adventuring career a publicity stunt? Have you tired of the spotlight and you’re trying to do something meaningful with your life? Whatever the answer, you should definitely establish your previous life, as people will definitely recognize you and want you to perform!

THE MEDDLING KID

Background: Urchin

Skills: Acrobatics, Deception, Perception, Sleight of Hand (B), Stealth (B)

Important Spells: Blade Ward, Heroism, Hideous Laughter, True Strike, Vicious Mockery

In the original proposal for Eberron I explored the idea of a class called “the Journeyman.” The idea for this was the character who has no place being an adventurer… who somehow survives dangerous situations through sheer luck. There’s many ways you could go with this. You could take the Guild Artisan background and be a chronicler for the Sharn Inquisitive who wants to report the stories of REAL adventurers. You could go with Folk Hero and be everybody’s favorite bartender who got swept along with the adventurers after your bar burnt down. Or you could go the route I’m suggesting here: A character who is mechanically a halfling bard (small, fearless and lucky), but who for flavor purposes I’m describing as a human child who just has more luck than anyone deserves. They grew up on the streets of Sharn and they know their way around a big city… but they’ve still got no business being an adventurer.

Like the Revenant Blade, this is a case where I’m bending things quite a bit. First of all, while this character’s spells can BE magical effects – which is to say, they won’t work in an antimagic zone, they can be counterspelled, etc – the idea is that the character doesn’t actually KNOW magic. Rather, they are just favored by the Prophecy or similarly touched by a benign force and things just go their way… and they can share this luck with others. When they use an effect like Bardic Inspiration, True Strike or Heroism, they aren’t consciously casting a spell; they’re literally just saying something like “You can do this, Jo! I believe in you!” and it works. When they use Vicious Mockery or Hideous Laughter, they are literally just viciously mocking the target… but that insult really stings! If I was playing this character, I wouldn’t even carry a weapon; I’d rely entirely on cantrips and magic in combat, unleashing stinging insults, being surprisingly charming, and helping my friends with my ridiculous luck.

Meddling Kid or Journeyman, this isn’t a sort of character that works in every campaign. You have to have a group of players willing to bend logic a little, to accept that idea that when Little Billy casts as spell, he isn’t actually casting a spell. You have to figure out why a party of adventurers would let this character tag along. For all these reasons this sort of character often works best in a one-shot. On the other hand, if you do run with this, you have the interesting opportunity for the character to literally grow as the campaign progresses… to start off being represented as a “halfling” bard and then to evolve into a human of another class, losing their crazy luck as they grow into their actual skills.

You get the idea. The mastermind whose “inspiration” is about executing an excellent plan. The Medani detective who uses a little magic to help in their investigations (and Khoravar bards get a lot of skills to work with!), whose inspiration comes from Sherlock-style deductions about an attack or target. The chronicler who adventures to report on the greatest stories in Khorvaire… and whose inspiration comes from things they’ve seen on their journeys or facts they’ve learned. “Trust me, if he tries to charm you, just start humming!”

I could go on, but hopefully this gets the point across while also suggesting ways to use the new colleges from Xanathar’s Guide. Stretch the idea of the class, and think about the story you want it to have.

What have you done with bards in your campaign? Share your thoughts and questions below!

How would you set up an all-bard one shot adventure in Eberron?

It’s easier to do than with most classes because the bard is an inherently flexible class. You can have five bards with different skills sets and specialties – a Swords bard focused on melee combat, a Lore bard who’s got Medicine and healing magic, a Glamour bard who specializes in enchantment and manipulation. Part of the question is how you justify the team, and whether they consider themselves to be “bards” – or if they are spies, meddling kids (Really Stranger Things), or what have you. If I was making a one shot, I’d make the characters an elite Phiarlan team trained in the different demesnes. That way you could combine their artistic talents with the actual mission. They’re performing at an Aundairian diplomatic reception, but the REAL job is to rob Queen Aurala!

Dragonmarks: Magewrights and Wand Adepts

One of the underlying principles of Eberron is that magic is a part of civilization. It’s not limited to a handful of mighty wizards in ivory towers; there’s an arcane locksmith down on Third Street, next door to the medium and the guy who makes everbright lanterns. With that said, this magic is widespread and useful, but not powerful. The streets may be lit with continual flame, but teleportation and resurrection are rare… and a wish is unheard of. It’s wide magic, not high magic.

The previous article looked at common magic items and magic item creation, and considered how to make that work in 5E D&D. But magic items are only part of the wide magic of Eberron. It also embraces the idea that spellcasting can be a job – not limited to full wizards or sorcerers, but also people who do nothing but make magic lanterns or speak to the dead. Now, you may look at this article and say “In 5E, anyone can get the Magic Initiate feat – doesn’t that mean magic is just scattered throughout the world without any of this?” It only means that if YOU decide it means that, because there are no rules about NPCs acquiring feats. A player character can be a Magic Initiate, but as a DM and world designer it’s up to you to decide how that’s reflected in the wider world. In Eberron, magic is a science. People don’t just wake up one day with a new feat and know how to cast light. These things take time and training – and that produces magewrights and wand adepts.

Magewrights

A wizard is extremely versatile. Your wizard can grab a spellbook, spend a few hours studying it, and cast a spell they’ve never seen before. That’s great, because wizards are exceptional people. But in Eberron, you can cast magic without having that degree of versatility. This is the magewright, someone who spends years learning how to perform the skills and spells associated with a particular trade. In 3.5 D&D this was an NPC class, but that’s not required in 5E; instead, you can simple state that an NPC magewright has the ability to cast the spells you want them to cast. Beyond this, we can also say that the spells the magewrights can perform are different from those used by PCs – typically, because they are more limited. For example, Prestidigitation allows the caster to heat, chill, clean, soil, and more. Mending allows the caster to mend anything. But you can say that a magewright chef knows a limited version of Prestidigitation that only affects food – and that a launderer knows Prestidigitation and Mending, but can only work with cloth. The fact that the player character can mend anything is again a sign of their versatility and exceptional talent.

My idea of a magewright is that they can cast one to three cantrips or spells. They don’t require spellbooks or memorization; they have perfected these spells over the course of years. However, their cantrips may be limited (as noted above) and their spells can only be cast as rituals. So the arcane locksmith can cast Arcane Lock all day, but it takes time. I’ll talk more about ways in which these rituals differ from PC spells further below, but first, let’s take a look at a few Magewrights you could find in the world…

  • Chef: Prestidigitation, only affecting food; perhaps a form of Gentle Repose for preserving meals, or Purify Food and Drink. Proficient with cook’s utensils.
  • Healer: Detect Poison & DiseaseLesser Restoration, Spare the Dying. Proficient with Medicine and herbalism kits.
  • Launderer: Prestidigitation and Mending, both only affecting cloth.
  • Lamplighter: Light, Continual Flame. Uses tinkers’ tools to construct lanterns.
  • Locksmith: Arcane Lock, Knock. Proficient with thieves’ tools and tinkers’ tools.
  • Medium: Speak with Dead. Perhaps a form of Minor Illusion that produces an image of a dead person as they were in life. Possibly proficient in Insight and Persuasion, if they help bereaved make sense of a loss… or Insight and Deception, if they use grief to take advantage of mourners.
  • Oracle: Augury, Divination. Proficient in Insight and Investigation. This is definitely a case where I would adjust the magewright versions of these spells. In the hands of a magewright, Augury – which should be the bread and butter of a common oracle – should be able to predict outcomes farther in the future, though still only with the binary answer of woe or weal. An oracle who can perform full Divination should be rarer (it is a fourth level spell) and the ritual could take longer than usual and be more expensive.

These are just a handful of ideas; there are many possibilities. A suspicious noble could have a food taster who knows Detect Poison and Purify Food and Drink. The city watch in a major city could have a verifier who can cast Detect Thoughts and Zone of Truth. There’s also a critical spell from Eberron that’s missing in 5E, and that’s Magecraft – a spell that provides a bonus to a skill check related to crafting. So you begin to get a sense of the possibilities. But also consider the limitations.

  • What does it cost? Eberron treats magic as a science and magewrights as part of the economy. The lesser restoration spell has no cost, which is fine, because it’s NOT a ritual and player characters can’t use it that often; the “cost” is that it uses a limited spell slot. But if you’re going to introduce it as a service that can be performed by a magewright, you either need to ADD a cost or come up with an explanation for why disease still exists in the world. While every spell has unique components, it’s always been the idea that Eberron dragonshards are the basic fuel of the magical economy, and that applies here. House Tharashk refines raw shards to produce residuum, glowing powder that serves as a fuel for most rituals – so a locksmith can use residuum instead of powdered gold dust when casting arcane lock. You can add whatever cost you want to set the price of a service. Does curing a disease cost ten gold pieces or a hundred? Even the launderer might have to sprinkle a copper’s worth of residuum over the cloth they wish to cleanse.
  • What does it look like? These are jobs people do. Mechanically they involve performing a ritual. But it’s up to you to add the color to that. An oracle can cast augury as a ritual. But what are they doing in that ritual? Are they reading cards? Palms? Auras? Are they studying star charts or patterns of the planes? A locksmith can cast arcane lock. Are they tracing elaborate patterns in the air with an iron wand? Just because these things are mechanically all “spells” doesn’t mean that the magewright just chews their lip and concentrates for a few minutes, regardless of what they are doing. Add flavor!
  • Who can do this? In Eberron in particular, it’s established that the Dragonmarked Houses dominate certain fields of magical industry. One possibility is that the Houses are where you go to learn the skills of the magewright – that most locksmiths are trained and licensed by House Kundarak. On the other hand, if you want to give the houses a tighter hold you can say that many magewright rituals are restricted to someone with a particular dragonmark… that only Kundarak dwarves can master the rituals of the arcane locksmith, that only Jorasco halflings can be magewright healers. The reason you don’t see a verifier at every watch station is because it requires the Mark of Detection. This is a way to truly emphasize the power and influence of a house; if you want a magic lock, Kundarak is your only option. Of course this is specifically about magewrights; your PC wizard can cast Arcane Lock, but do you really want to make a living doing it?

So that’s the idea of the magewright: that beyond magical items, there are people in the world who can perform magical services. It’s up to you how prevalent they are in your campaign. In a major city like Sharn, you’d see many magewrights performing all sorts of services. But in a small village, they probably do their laundry the old fashioned way. Their might be a single magewright in town; what service do they provide?

Divine Magewrights? 

Under 3.5, “magewright” was an NPC class that specifically dealt with arcane magic, counterbalanced against the adept NPC class which was a limited divine caster. Using the approach I suggest above, I don’t think it’s necessary to draw that line so sharply. Certainly any single individual is either practicing divine or arcane magic, but I think that you can use this same approach either way; you as DM simply need to be clear in your mind which is which. Specifically taking the Healer and the Oracle suggested above: either one of these could be presented as either arcane or divine. An arcane healer might be a Jorasco halfling who makes no prayers, but simply weaves rituals to cleanse the sick… while a divine healer might be a Silver Flame friar whose faith allows them to heal the sick. The oracle could be studying arcane patterns or asking the divine for guidance. Someone versed in Arcana or Religion should easily be able to tell which is which, but MECHANICALLY they are the same: an individual who can perform a few magical effects but who lacks the abilities or versatility of a spellcasting class.

Notably, Xanathar’s Guide to Everything adds a spell called Ceremony that allows a priest to imbue a religious ritual with divine power, adding a magical effect to a wedding or a coming of age ceremony. Following this magewright approach, you could easily have Ceremony, Thaumaturgy, and maybe Spare The Dying as a common set of spells known by a typical lead priest in a community – a halfway between an entirely mundane priest and a full spellcasting cleric.

Wand Adepts

When we initially developed Eberron wands were powerful and disposable magic items, and we made a conscious decision not to make them everyday tools; a fighter who wanted to kill someone across a room would still rely on a bow or a crossbow. We invented the eternal wand – a wand with only two charges, but that recharged over time and could be used with less restrictions. But even there, the cost of such a wand was too great to make it feasible as something every soldier would carry… and it still required some magical training.

However, I certainly like the IDEA of the Aundairian “musketeer” with a bandolier of wands. And with the various changes to magic over the last two editions – notably, the introduction of cantrips, the idea of wands as nonmagical arcane focus items, and the Magic Initiate feat – I think there’s a lot of room to introduce the casual wand.

A wand adept learns to perform a few offensive spells, but they require an arcane focus to channel those effects. A typical wand adept knows two offensive cantrips and a single first level spell they can perform once per long rest. But all of these require the arcane focus of a wand. So one wand adept might know acid splash, poison spray, and color spray; another might have ray of frost, fire bolt and burning hands. The critical point here is that the adept requires a wand to perform these spells, but the wand isn’t magical. It’s not a magic item worth hundreds of gold pieces; it’s an arcane focus costing ten galifars. While you COULD say that any wand will do, I would further say that adept wands are specialized by effect. Looking above, I might say that an adept uses the same wand for fire bolt and burning hands… but that ray of frost requires a different wand, one attuned to cold. So you can have the Aundairian duelist flinging fire from one wand and ice from the other, and if you disarm them of one wand they’re limited until they recover it.

The principle of this is drawn from the Magic Initiate feat; it’s simply adding an additional restriction that a player character isn’t bound by, because PCs are remarkable. It’s adding the idea that offensive magic is evolving… but that most of the time a wand is a focus, and that the fully magic wands are more significant and expensive.

Now with this said: the idea of a wand adept IS that learning to use a wand requires training and effort. This is common in a place like Aundair, which places a high value on magical talent. But just as a player character who wanted to use a wand like this would need to get the Magic Initiate feat (with the wand being there for color), the wand adept has invested resources learning to use the wand that could have been spent elsewhere. If I have an Aundairian soldier blasting her foes with wands, I might give the Karrnathi knight the benefit of Heavy Armor Master or make the expert Thrane archer a Sharpshooter. The skill isn’t in the wand, it’s in the person using it… and if I introduce wand adepts, I’d want to make clear that they could have invested that skill in other ways.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR PLAYER CHARACTERS? Well, if you have the ability to cast an offensive cantrip, congratulations! You’re a wand adept. You’re so talented that you can cast your spell even without a wand, but nothing’s stopping you from using the wand for flavor. If you’re not a spellcaster, that’s what the Magic Initiate feat is for. Essentially, with the integration of cantrips as a reliable form of magical weapon, it’s more plausible to have people using magical attacks instead of mundane weapons – but at this point in time, the amount of training required to use a wand has prevented wands from replacing mundane weapons. And in that small Brelish village nobody knows how to use a wand, and they’ll consider your wand-wielding duelist to be an Aundairian hipster. If you and your DM want to embrace the idea of the wand adept, I could see a variation of the Magic Initiate feat that requires the use of a wand… perhaps in exchange for a +1 bonus to attack rolls or spell DC with these cantrips as a balance for requiring the focus.

Like magewrights, you COULD push beyond the limitations of the Magic Initiate feat. For example, putting the two concepts together, you could have a staff adept who can cast fireball as a ritual, but requires both a specialized staff and burns dragonshards with every casting. This is a way to compromise with the question of “How could the Five Nations afford to deploy magic items on the field?” It could be that the mystical artillery relied on the skills of the artillerists as much as on the power of the item… that a siege staff is just a big piece of carved wood if you don’t have someone who can use it. This of course gets into the question of war magic, as a fireball isn’t actually that useful in a truly large-scale military engagement… but THAT is a topic for another article.

Let’s Talk About Wands

Wands themselves serve a different role in 5E. When we created Eberron in 3.5, we introduced the idea of eternal wands as an evolution of “wand science” – a wand that wasn’t entirely disposable, and that could be used by a wider range of people. In 5E, that’s standard for a wand; the average wand has 7 charges and regains 1d6+1 charges every day. In addition, many wands don’t require the user to be a spellcaster; anyone can use a wand of magic missiles. This ties also to the introduction of at-will offensive magic over the last two editions… allowing for a character who prefers to rely on cantrips instead of ranged weapons. This idea of wand adepts is about incorporating the evolution of these mechanics into the setting in a logical way. If this is how magic works, this is how we would see it in the world.

With that said, this can cause some confusion about what exactly a wand IS. As I see it, there are three types of wands in the world.

  • Unaligned Focus Item. As described on pages 151 and 203 of the PHB. This is a wand that is generally designed for channeling arcane energy, but not for any particular purpose; a wizard can use that one wand for all of their spells. This has a base cost of 10 GP… but I’ll talk more about this later.
  • Aligned Focus Item. This is what a wand adept uses. The idea is that the design or components of the wand predispose it to channeling a particular type of energy; a “fire wand” might be made from charred wood harvested from a Fernian manifest zone. The wand has no innate power, but it’s easier to channel a particular type of energy through it, and a wand adept needs that boost. So the wand doesn’t grant you the ability to cast Burning Hands; it’s simply that if you’re a wand adept who knows how to cast Burning Hands, you still need a fire-aligned wand to cast the spell. This still has a base cost of 10 GP.
  • Actual Magic Item. This is a Wand of Fireballs or Wand of Magic Missiles. The magic is IN THE WAND… in the case of a Wand of Magic Missiles, ANYONE can use it. Many wands require “Attunement by a spellcaster” and I would allow the talents of a wand adept to count for this purpose – so if you’re a wand adept, you can attune a Wand of Lightning Bolts, even if it’s not a spell you can cast alone. You are trained in the science of wandcraft, and the power is in the wand. In 5E, a Wand of Fireballs is rare. So they definitely EXIST, but they are expensive and NOT things you’d see a common soldier carrying; We’re talking thousands of galifars, as opposed to the 10 gp aligned wand. Someone pulling out a Wand of Fireballs is like someone producing a bazooka.

Now, there’s definitely room for middle ground here… and that’s the enhanced focus item. As it stands, a fire-aligned focus item is simply restrictive – saying that the wand adept MUST have a fire-aligned wand to cast fire spells. But you could also have fancy aligned wands that provide BENEFITS when you channel certain types of spells. For example, a darkwood wand studded with Mabar crystals that adds +1 DC to any necromancy spells you cast using the wand. That should cost more than 10 GP, but certainly less that 4,000 GP. A wand adept could use it as a focus for necromancy spells, but I’d generally allow a wizard to use it with ANY spells – it’s just that necromancy spells get a bonus.

Post your thoughts and questions below. In my next article I’ll be getting back to Xanathar’s Guide to Everything and how I’d incorporate it into my Eberron campaign. Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters, who make it possible for me to spend time on this site.As always, bear in mind that nothing I say on this site is canon; these are simply ideas that I’m exploring.

Dragonmarks: Common Magic, Part One

Xanathar’s Guide to Everything was released recently, and it includes a host of options for players and gamemasters. Over the next month I’ll explore how I’d incorporate some of these ideas and options into Eberron. Right now I want to tackle a subject that intersects only partially with XGtE: the question of how Eberron can coexist with the limited magic of default 5E D&D.

The first thing to bear in mind is that Eberron is not a high magic setting – it’s a wide magic setting. Eberron is built upon the premise that arcane magic behaves as a science and would thus become integrated into the world in a scientific manner. But one of the other basic principles of Eberron is that high-level characters are rare… and this ties to the magic that’s available. Here’s a few basic principles to consider.

  • In comparing Eberron to our world, we’ve always said that it’s closer to the late 19th century than to the present day. We have magical equivalents to the telegraph and the railroad and we’re just getting started with air travel. But we don’t have widespread equivalents to automobiles, telephones, or the like.
  • Wide magic generally includes effects that mimic spells of up to third level. Spell effects of up to fifth level – teleportation, raise dead, cloudkill – are known, but rare. Higher level effects are still “magical.”
  • Making a breakthrough in magic is exactly as difficult as making a breakthrough in science. Why hasn’t someone invented an airship anyone can fly? Because they haven’t figured out how to do it, just like WE haven’t figured out cold fusion or time travel.

Which brings us to two issues: magic items in the world and magic item creation. Under third and fourth edition, magic item creation and costs are very concrete and mechanical, and this lent itself to a vision of a world where you could go to a store and buy a +2 flametongue (and maybe ask the smith to customize the flames for you). Fifth edition initially didn’t have rules for creating magic items and ran with the idea that even a +1 weapon was a remarkable treasure. For some, this meant it was impossible to reconcile Eberron with the system. For me, it’s all about setting expectations: what is common magic? 

I mentioned earlier that “wide magic” involves spell effects between 0-3rd level. Just start at the bottom and look at what you can do with those effects. My favorite spell for this is prestidigitation. Using this cantrip, you can…

  • Light a mundane fire.
  • Instantly clean an object of limited size.
  • Instantly chill, warm, or flavor food.

If we accept that these are basic principles of magic – that we’ve figured out how to use magic to produce these effects using trivial (cantrip) amounts of magic – and you have the principles you need to create magical counterparts to the refrigerator (chill food), microwave (warm food), vacuum cleaner (clean room), lighter (firestarter) and washing machine (clean clothes). These things won’t look like our tools, and they won’t act like them. Instead of a vacuum cleaner, you might have a Sorcerer’s Apprentice broom that sweeps itself, of a fancier whisk broom that simply vaporizes dirt when you wave it over a floor. Such items won’t be cheap, but they also needn’t be ridiculously expensive; what you’re talking about is an object that only does a sliver of an effect of a cantrip.

Xanathar’s Guide to Everything presents a host of items with this level of power, which it calls common magic itemsClothes of Mending automatically mend themselves at the end of each day. The Ear Horn of Hearing negates the deafened condition while it’s in use. Some of these common items already exist in Eberron. The Instrument of Illusions is essentially the Thurimbar Rod, an illusion-based instrument developed in Zilargo; and the shapeshifting Cloak of Many Fashions is similar to Eberron’s shiftweave, if somewhat more versatile. As I mentioned in a previous article, something that’s often overlooked in Eberron is the idea of glamerweave – fabric infused with illusion. You could have a cloak with a lining of stars, or a blazer emblazoned with what appear to be actual flames.

The short form is that the common magic items of XGtE are a good model for things that could be common in Eberron – and something you can use as inspiration in creating other items or setting a scene. For me, the key is to look for principles demonstrated by a low level spell and consider how that could be harnessed as a tool. For example, the Sivis sending stone is based on the principle of the spell whispering wind, which delivers a short message to a specific distant location – more limited than sending, but lower level. When you do create a new item or effect, one thing to consider is that if it’s TOO useful, it might be something that’s only found as a dragonmark focus item, especially if the effect is clearly related to a dragonmark’s sphere. Whispering wind is a simple effect – but I still decided to limit it to Sivis, because from a story perspective it’s interesting to have the house have a near-monopoly on swift communication.

So common magic items could indeed be common. With that said, I think it’s reasonable for uncommon items to be uncommon — not something you see in every household, but things that CAN be manufactured and purchased. When you go to rare and legendary items, you can keep them rare and legendary. Perhaps they’re relics of fallen civilizations, or creations of advanced ones (such as the Chamber or the Lords of Dust). Perhaps they are one of a kind things created under special circumstances — during particular planar conjunctions, using unique Siberys shards, or even fashioned in other planes. Perhaps that Elven blade was forged by a member of the Undying Court and imbued with a fraction of her spirit. In short, there’s room for magic to be both commonplace and truly magical. That everburning torch is just a tool you can buy at any Cannith forgehold… but that Vorpal Sword is a legendary weapon spoken of in song and story. Meanwhile, magical weapons can have lesser magical effects – a self-sharpening sword, an axe that glows on command – things that are useful and magical, but don’t have to have the same impact as a bonus to attack and damage. I have many thoughts about wands, but I’ll delve into that in my next article.

In considering these things, XGtE also helps with its classification of magic items as major or minor in addition to the rarities. Minor uncommon items should be easier to acquire than major uncommon items. The short form is to think about what it means for a magic item to be something that can simply be purchased. If that thing is a reliable tool that exists in the world for anyone who has enough money to acquire it, how should it impact your story?

MAGIC ITEM CREATION

So we’ve established a general yardstick for what exists in the world. The next question is what can player characters create, and how can they create it? The first thing to point out here is that whatever system House Cannith uses to make wands isn’t going to be the same system a player character uses. While Eberron doesn’t have full-on manufacturing plants, the creation of magic items is an industry. Creation Forges are the most dramatic tools available to House Cannith, but they have a host of lesser ways to improve the process of production. They may literally have enchanted assembly lines — not automated, but still, facilities designed to efficiently produce a particular type of item and enhanced with various magical effects. They acquire rare components in mass quantities – which ties to another largely unrealized idea in Eberron, that dragonshards are a critical part of creating magic items and serve as the fuel of the magical economy. Cannith may have lesser focus items that channel the Mark of Making. And they certainly have secret techniques or patterns for making specific items as efficiently as possible (which is to say, schema).

Meanwhile, your wizard or artificer is literally a guy making a thing in a garage. Cannith can make a wand of fireballs faster and cheaper than you can. But the one you make is going to be entirely unique. And perhaps you can make something they’ve never figured out how to make – because you’re an innovator, not just working on the assembly line.

All of which is to say that this actually works well with the model of magic item creation presented in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything… making the creation of a magic item part of an adventure as opposed to simply a formula you fill out with gold and XP. You can’t replicate the process Cannith uses to make a wand of fireballs, because you don’t have their facilities, resources or specialized expertise. BUT, if you could get ahold of an elemental heart from Fernia, you could use that to create your wand! And what do you know, you’ve heard that you can acquire such a thing by hunting drakes in a Fernian manifest zone in the Blade Desert. If you can get that heart, a thousand GP worth of refined Eberron shards, and a good piece of darkwood you can carve into a wand – give it a few weeks and you can make it happen.

So I like the XGtE model; just bear in mind that what you are doing ISN’T the same thing House Cannith does when they are producing something. What you are creating will be unique – and again, for that reason and because PCs are remarkable, it may be that you can create something that Cannith cannot create.

In my next article I’ll write about magewrights and wand adepts. Until then, post your questions and thoughts below. Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters, who make these articles possible.

Illimat is in the Wild!

In 2015 Colin Meloy and Chris Funk presented me with a mysterious board with a small box in the center. Could you make this into a game? Something that feels like it could be a hundred years old and just forgotten — something you might find in the back of your grandfather’s attic? It was a crazy challenge, and the board sat in my basement for a few months while I thought about what sort of game it wanted to be. I playtested my first prototype with my father almost exactly two years ago today. And now that game is a reality. You can get Illimat at Illimat.com or at The Decemberists website, and you can check to see if it’s available at your FLGS; if you’re in the Pacific Northwest, I know it’s currently available at Mox Boarding House and Guardian Games. 

Illimat is built on the foundation of classic card games, such as Gin, Cassino, and Scopa. It’s about creating and collecting sets of cards, and if you’ve played any traditional card game you’ll pick up the basics quickly. But there’s a twist! The box is placed in the center of the board, and it sets the season for each of the four fields… and that in turn limits the actions you can take in a field. So you can do anything in summer, but you cannot harvest (collect) cards in Winter; you cannot stockpile (combine) cards in Spring; and you can’t sow (discard) in Autumn. When you play a face card you change the season to match that card, so when I harvest with the King of Summer, it becomes Summer in that field. This adds a dynamic element, as every turn of the Illimat changes what’s possible… and it’s extremely satisfying when you can block an opponent’s play by turning the Illimat to Winter. 

A second twist comes in the form of the Luminaries, Tarot-sized cards that are dealt into the corners of the board. When a field is cleared, the Luminary in that corner is revealed… and every Luminary has a unique ability that affects the rules of the game. Like the Illimat, this is a dynamic element that keeps each game fresh.

I’m proud of Illimat, and I hope you’ll check it out! A special thanks to all the Kickstarter backers who made it possible for us to create it. If you have any questions or comments, share them below.

The Luminaries are cards in Illimat that depict iconic characters and things — The Changeling, The Forest Queen, The River — and generally have the flavor of tarot cards. Are the tales of the Luminaries contained in the Decemberists’ songs? Or will they be? 

Yes. The Luminaries included in the core Illimat set represent characters and themes from the Decemberists album The Hazards of Love. The expansion includes Luminaries inspired by The Crane Wife.

If you were to bring Illimat into Eberron, as a game played like Conqueror or Three Dragon Ante, what would you alter? Would Luminaries be kept as they are as tales passed from Thelanis, or would you change them to signifiers like Galifar monarchs or legendary figures from the past?

For anyone who doesn’t understand the question, Eberron is a fantasy world I created for Dungeons & Dragons. 

Personally, I think it’s easy to ground the existing Luminaries in the setting. I’d establish the basic story of The Hazards of Love as a tale tied to Thelanis, and as such, something that could play into a campaign. The Forest Queen is an archfey who rules an endless taiga in Thelanis. She took The Changeling as a child, but The Maiden wandered through a manifest zone into Thelanis and she and the Changeling fell in love. The Forest Queen called on The Rake to deal with the Maiden, but with a little help from The River and the Rake’s murdered Children the Changeling manages to rescue the Maiden, and they all drown happily leaving only The Newborn behind.

Once I’ve established the tale in the campaign and people have played some Illimat, I’d introduce the Forest Queen as an archfey who could be a patron, enemy or both… and the Rake as a potential foe. Depending on the power level of the players and the role I want him to play, the Rake could be a powerful fey; a full archfey in his own right; or perhaps a human warlock/rogue who’s made bargains with a range of dark powers in order to satiate his desires. Given the whole idea of the powers of Thelanis as figures known from story, it would be a fun way to have players learn the story and then encounter these spirits in the world.

 Any more questions about Illimat? Ask below!

Dragonmarks: People of the Five Nations

It’s another busy week. I’m working on new material for Phoenix: Dawn Command and doing events for the launch of Illimat. Now I’m at PAX Unplugged doing Illimat demos – if you’re at PAXU, stop by the Twogether Studios booth (449)! But I have time for a quick question from Patreon

Could we get a quick rundown on what the humans of each of the Five Nations commonly look like, physically? Or are they a grab bag of all possible looks we have in reality?

The humans of the Five Nations are ethnically diverse. Humanity didn’t evolve on Khorvaire. It began on Sarlona, where environments range from desert to arctic tundra and everything in between. Humanity came to Khorvaire in multiple waves of explorers, settlers and refugees and the Five Nations were built from this stew. On the coasts of Khorvaire you can find communities that can trace their roots back to particular nations, such as the Khunan humans of Valenar. But few of the people of the Five Nations have any concept of their Sarlonan roots; over the course of generations they’ve blended and merged. So yes, they are a grab bag of all possible looks you can imagine. Rather than being judged by the color of your skin, you’ll be evaluated by your accent, attitude and fashion. Karrns are stoic and stolid, while Aundairians tend to be dramatic and expressive.

Consider this picture, which comes from the “Humans” entry in the original 3.5 Eberron Campaign Setting.

There’s five humans and five nations… but nothing in the entry indicates who these people are or where they’re from. From left to right, here’s where I’d place them.

  • Vyenne is a duelist from Aundair. Her ruffles and hairstyle reflect the latest trends in Fairhaven fashion; while her dress appears constricting, the fabric is surprisingly flexible. She doesn’t wear armor because it’s so plebian; she’ll conjure mage armor when trouble strikes. She uses a flail in a style known as chain dancing, a technique full of dramatic flourishes, trips and disarms; it’s perfect both for showing off and embarassing an opponent. She’s also a wand adept; the three short rods in her belt are arcane foci used for channeling her talents. Unlike her neighbor, who still insists on launching sticks at his enemies. Does he know it’s almost 1000 YK?
  • Castor is a retired templar from Thrane. Compared to Vyenne, his clothing is simple and practical. He’s comfortable in his breastplate and he carries his weapons as a matter of course. He’s not looking for a fight, but he knows that danger can come at any time and he’s always ready to defend the people of his community from unexpected threats. He’s reasonably friendly – he genuinely likes people – but he is always serious and watchful, with no time for frivolity and no need for luxury. When he spoke with Vyenne, he didn’t realize she was mocking him.
  • Meris is from Cyre. She’s the last survivor of a prominent wizard’s circle in Metrol, and while she’s lost her homeland and her friends, she still ahs her pride. If you look closely you’ll see that her fine clothing is a little worn; she’s done her best to keep it fresh with mending and prestidigitation, but there’s only so much magic can do. Her ornate staff is merely a fancy arcane focus, but it belonged to her mentor in the circle and it’s her most treasured possession.
  • Harkan is a mercenary from Karrnath. Like Vyenne, he balances his martial skills with a touch of magic; this is less common in Karrnath than it is in Aundair, but it’s catching on. Where Vyenne likes her wands and her elegant chain dancing, Harkan carries a staff and is quite straightforward about crushing you with his mace. He is almost always found in armor. He’s generally curt, direct, and he doesn’t like you.
  • Baris is an entertainer from Breland; he’s generally found playing at one of the taverns in Lower Dura. He’s not part of any of the gangs, but he’s got friends in the Boromar Clan, House Tarkanan and even Daask; as such, he’s sometimes called upon to act as a go-between or mediator. While he generally keeps his hands clean, he’s not above picking the pocket of foolish tourist who has a little too much to drink.

Reflecting a little on how their cultures have shaped them… Vyenne is very gifted and wants the world to know it. She uses magic in her everyday life and considers those who don’t to be backwards. Appearance and opinions matter to her. By contrast, Castor reflects the values of the Silver Flame. He’s got an ascetic streak, and has no interest in luxuries or fancy talk. He genuinely cares about others and is prepared to put his life on the line to protect the innocent should supernatural threats arise… and he is always prepared for a threat to arise, which means he rarely drinks or engages in frivolous activities. Meris was once a wealthy socialite but has lost almost everything; she knows her courtly graces and keeps up up her mask when among strangers, but sometimes she prefers the company of her ghosts and memories to the salons she used to love. Harkan is grim, direct and focused on his work. He’s reliable, deadly, and not a lot of fun. Finally, Baris is a liar and a thief… but he also prefers diplomacy to war. He’s willing to take a lot of risks to help his friends, and he has a lot of friends.

What historical equivalent should I look to for fashion in Eberron? I’ve heard everything from late medieval/early Renaissance to 1920s and would you to hear at least /your/ take.

It’s hard to map Eberron’s fashions to Earth’s history because it’s not Earth. It’s a world where glamorweave and shiftweave exist, where arcane focuses are common fashion accessories. In our history armor was rendered obsolete by the prevalence of the musket. In Eberron, armor is often worn either as a practical tool or as a fashion statement, and I think that armor is more comfortable and flexible than equivalents we know from our history. It’s hard to imagine a medieval knight comfortably wearing jousting armor to a tavern, but that’s a perfectly valid choice for a fighter… which leads me to think that the plate itself is simply better made than we know. Essentially, I feel that there is a concept of practical armor. Light armor in particular often won’t read as armor: you might be wearing a heavy leather trenchcoat with long gauntlets and high boots. It’s protective, but you don’t necessarily look like a soldier. Moving up from there armor will clearly be armor, but there will still be designs that are intended for everyday use or social occasions as opposed to being made strictly for the battlefield. Even looking to heavier armors, it’s worth noting whether your character is wearing the uniform of a soldier, or if you’re wearing more personal and social armor (like Harkan in the illustration above).

I think this concept generally extends. If people are wearing what we generally consider as “fantasy” clothing, keep in mind that it’s evolved beyond that of the middle ages, and may be more practical, better made, more colorful, and so on. Beyond this, it’s good to fully understand glamerweave. This is clothing with fabric imbued with illusion. The possibilities of this are nearly endless, and to my mind the +100 gp price tag is simply a general overview. At the low end (likely less than 100 gp) you could simply have colors or textures that cannot be found in nature. At the high end you can have truly fantastic designs: a cloak that has a rippling starfield for its lining, leather armor that appears to be made from dragonscales, a Lyrandar noble dressed in a shirt that has the pattern of a storm – an if it’s truly fancy, perhaps it shifts and grows more thunderous based on the wearer’s mood. Essentially, this is a world where illusion exists and is used as part of fashion – so use your imagination and think about what’s possible.

Beyond that, I’m not a fashion expert. I look to the illustrations in the books for inspiration, and I think of the general tone of the nation. In Aundair you have more glamorweave and shiftweave, along with a general love of complexity and ostentatious display. Thranes are more practical and austere, always ready for trouble (so more casual armor), with some ornate displays of faith. Karrns are likewise practical, martial, and dressed to deal with a harsher climate. The Brelish are in a more tropical climate and fall in the middle – not as in love with fashion as the Aundairians, but neither as spartan as the Thranes or Karrns. And in Cyre you had both more widespread wealth and a love of art and artistry… but now carrying the scars of loss.

What are YOUR thoughts on fashion in the Five Nations? Share your thoughts below!

Phoenix: Dhakaani Command

The Empire faces the greatest challenge in its history. Alien horrors have torn through the walls of reality and even the legions of Dhakaan can’t stop these terrors. Madness is sweeping over cities and your kin are being transformed into monsters. No mortal can face the Lords of Xoriat in battle. But you’re no longer mortal. You’ve fought your way back from Dolurrh to protect Dhakaan. You’re a Phoenix, and you have seven lives to save the world.  

In the past people have asked me how I’d adapt Phoenix: Dawn Command to the Eberron setting. The trick is that PDC is designed to tell a specific sort of story: a tale of champions who may have to lay down their lives to defend the world they care about. The default Eberron setting of 998 YK is intentionally open-ended… there’s a lot of problems brewing in the world, but you don’t have the sort of existential threat that drives the action of Phoenix. But there’s a period in Eberron’s history that fits the bill nicely, and it’s a period I’ve always wanted to explore in more depth: the conflict between the Empire of Dhakaan and the forces of Xoriat, the Realm of Madness.

So look back through the ages, to a time before humanity set foot on Khorvaire. It is a golden age. The elves have been driven back to their foul island. The aggressive lizardfolk and savage orcs are confined to the barren wilds, lands with no value to the Empire. It’s an age of order and reason… and perhaps this is what drew the many eyes of the Daelkyr. Now Xoriat is unleashing its power against Dhakaan. The war takes many forms, each one more terrible than anything that’s come before. Armies of aberrations surge through gates and manifest zones. Soldiers fall beneath the gaze of the eye tyrants. Flayers feast on the brains of living prisoners, and their bodies are used to create new monsters. Dhakaan has the finest armies in the known world, but many of these threats cannot be fought with steel or adamantine alone. What army can triumph when madness turns allies into enemies? Defeating the Daelkyr will require champions who can venture into the deepest darkness and wrest the secrets from this foe. You may not survive the battles that lie ahead, but it won’t be the first time you’ve died and it won’t be the last.

SEVEN LIVES TO SAVE THE EMPIRE

The principle of Phoenix is simple. You lived a normal life and you died. You could have been a hero in your first life — a deadly assassin from the Silent Knives, a dirge singer, a chainmaster — or you might have been a simple farmer or bootmaker. But regardless of your achievements in your first life, you possessed courage and strength of will… and these things didn’t go unnoticed or unrewarded. Your spirit was pulled from Dolurrh and into a demiplane of Irian known as the Crucible. There, you went through trials to prove your courage and to hone your skills. You overcame every challenge you faced, and now you have been reborn. You’re infused with the power of the Eternal Dawn. You’re not immune to the corruption of Xoriat, but you can resist it and take on enemies that no mortal could face. If you die, you’ll return to the Crucible once more, and if you can overcome the trials again you will return even stronger. But there’s a limit to the power you can contain. You have seven lives to save the Empire; after that, you can finally rest.

HEROES OF DHAKAAN

One of the nice things about Phoenix is that the powers of a Phoenix overshadow racial differences. So as a Phoenix, the differences between a goblin and a bugbear are largely cosmetic… though easily represented by traits. As a goblin you might take Small & Quick; as a bugbear you could take Too Big To Fail. So let’s consider a wing of Phoenixes you could find in Dhakaan…

  • Maul is a Bitter bugbear. He was raised to be the fist of Dhakaan, and dreamt of dying in battle. Instead, he was caught in an outbreak of madness and torn apart by his own family. He’s filled with fury and yearns to unleash it against the Daelkyr. His talon is his spiked chain, and he is Reckless, Too Big To Fail, Crude But Effective, and Vengeful. However, his Death Wish may get him into trouble…
  • Dirge is a Devoted hobgoblin. In her time in the Crucible she studied with one of the first dirge singers, and she will use the knowledge she’s gained to guide her allies and the Empire. She’s The Smartest Person In The Room, The Heart Of The Wing, Inspiring and Noble… and she’s Seen This Before.
  • Grim is a Durant hobgoblin. He’s a Seasoned Veteran whose Absolute Conviction will help him resist madness, and a skilled Commander and Paragon whose martial skills make him all but Untouchable in battle..
  • Shiv is a Shrouded goblin. She won’t speak about her past, and no one knows if she was one of the Khesh’dar in her first life. But she’s Small & Quick and remarkably Sneaky… and when it comes to uncovering secrets, her Supernatural Senses and Psychometry can help her make Brilliant Deductions
  • Worg is a Forceful goblin. He always wanted to be one of the Tarka’khesh, but he was killed as a child; in the Crucible he ran with actual wolves and learned the ways of the wild. He’s a Feral Hunter with Killer Instincts, and when he strikes he’s a Blur of Motion that’s Terrifying to his foes. 
  • The final member of the wing is Ash, an Elemental goblin. In life he was a sapper and siege engineer; as a Phoenix he is a Pyromancer with the power to unleash pure elemental force on his foes. More often than not, his Astonishing Luck and Extensive Training are the only things keeping him alive. But trust him: he’s got a Master Plan and he Makes It Look Easy

This small unit can go places no legion could reach and face enemies that would scatter armies. The fight against Xoriat will take them into Kyrzin’s liquid labyrinths and toe to toe with the colossus of Orlassk. If you’ve ever wanted to grab a beholder by the eyestalks and hurl it into an army of dolgrims, this may be the story for you.

HOW DOES THIS WORK?

This is a high-level idea for a Phoenix campaign. If you have the Phoenix: Dawn Command core set, you could choose to set your story in the last days of Dhakaan instead of Dalea. Many of the existing Challenges can be reflavored to fit the storyline; the Chant is a contagious madness created by the Daelkyr, the Fallen lesser spirits of Xoriat or opportunistic spirits from other planes. The core story remains intact: you are the champions of the Empire, seeking to defend its people against supernatural terrors. Because of the nature of Phoenix you don’t need special rules for different goblin subspecies; the characters described above are all made using the standard PDC creation tools.

What I love about this is that it’s an opportunity to delve into an interesting period in Eberron’s past and to be on the front lines of an epic struggle. It could be an interesting parallel to a modern D&D campaign that’s also dealing with the Daelkyr; perhaps the Phoenixes in the past will manage to stall a threat that will finally become active again in 998 YK. But it’s well-suited to the things Phoenix does best: high-stakes action, suspense and mystery.

As Eberron remains under lock and key I’m limited in what I could do to support this… but there’s a lot that could be done without treading on Eberron’s unique IP. I couldn’t specifically incorporate the Shaarat’khesh or the Duur’kala, but I could write up some ideas about an empire of goblin assassins and hobgoblin bards facing an invasion of horrors from beyond time and space. If you’d be interested in seeing a PDF of PHOENIX: GOBLIN WARS, let me know below!

Phoenix: Dawn Command is currently available at the Twogether Studios website. The core set is currently $59.95 with free shipping in the US; this gives you everything you need for a gamemaster and up to four players, including a seven-mission adventure path (not set in Dhakaan, but it could be adapted…). If you have questions or thoughts, post them below!

I have a somewhat opposite question, a thought experiment if you will. Is it possible to run a game of Phoenix with the D&D system? What would be the main challenges?

It’s not as simple as it seems. PDC is designed around the idea of heroic sacrifice; D&D is a game where death generally means failure. Here’s a few critical design differences.

  • The reason PDC uses cards instead of dice is because it provides a player with more narrative control. There’s rarely any wasted action. From round to round there’s a random aspect – what cards do you have in your hand – but you know what you have to work with BEFORE you take your action. Essentially, you already know your die rolls – it’s a matter of what you’ll do with them.
  • Beyond this, you have a pool of magical energy – Sparks – that you can use to push your results beyond what you’re currently capable of – essentially, adding them to your die roll. So you can buy success… but when you run out of Sparks, you die. Again, this means that results often are about player choice as opposed to a random roll.
  • In D&D, the success of an attack is determined by my attack and damage rolls as DM and your potential saving throw as a player. In Phoenix, it’s a question of whether you want to use your cards for defense or save them — potentially suffering damage you could avoid because you want to conserve your resources to do something awesome on your next action. Sometimes you may not have the cards you’d need to avoid an attack, in which case there’s no choice – but even there, you know that you can’t dodge your enemy, it’s not a random thing.
  • Tying all these points together: In D&D you may die because the monster rolled a critical hit or because you failed a saving throw – all random things. You’re at the mercy of the dice. In Phoenixes, most of the time a PC dies by choice – because they’re burning all their sparks to do something amazing, or because they’re throwing themselves in front of an ally, jumping on the grenade, holding the bridge against the balrog.
  • Tied to all that: because of sparks and because death isn’t the end, it’s possible for characters of different power levels to work together far more effectively than characters of different level in D&D. The more times you die, the more power you have… but the more wisely you have to use it, lest you run out of lives and die your final death. The low-level character can be more reckless. They can hold the bridge against the balrog – an act that doesn’t take raw power, but rather just the courage to smash the bridge while you’re standing on it. And because of Sparks they can perform acts that are beyond their normal capabilities… it’s just that they may kill themselves doing it. But if they’re on their early lives, that’s OK. Essentially, a 2nd level D&D character may not have anything useful to contribute in a party of 12th level characters, while a Rank One Phoenix can still do something just as impressive as a Rank Five Phoenix – they just can’t sustain that level of performance without dying.
  • Beyond that, you have a lot of other little differences. Since D&D is built around the idea of not dying you have lots of forms of healing that simply eliminate wounds. In Phoenix, the primary method of healing is the Devoted, who can take on the wounds of others… but that means SOMEONE is still wounded. The Devoted can heal themself by inflicting their wounds on enemies – but it’s a weightier thing than just slugging a potion of healing.

Basically, Phoenix isn’t just like D&D but you level up when you die. D&D is built around the d20, a random factor with a wide variance. It has a lot of uncertainty. PDC is built around emphasizing player choice. You have your resources in hand and you need to decide how to spend them. You don’t die because you made a bad roll; you die because the thing you’re trying to accomplish is so important that it’s worth it to die if that’s what it takes.