Today’s article is a behind-the-scenes look at Exploring Eberron from its editor, Laura Hirsbrunner, platinum-bestselling Dungeon Masters Guild designer and editor.
In the spring of last year, Wayne Chang asked me if I was available to edit “a book.” He estimated it would be “approximately 120,000 words.”
Come to find out, this humble book was actually Exploring Eberron, a Dungeon Masters Guild hardcover written by Keith Baker. Its original working title was “Eberron Expanded,” soon affectionately dubbed “Project Raptor” (because what book is complete without a codename?). The name was born from a joke Keith made during the development of Eberron: Rising from the Last War, in which he reported the entire book would be “300 pages of different types of dinosaurs, a deep dive into Talenta.” When Wizards of the Coast failed to actually publish a book about dinosaurs, we knew we needed to pick up the torch…and so Project Raptor found its name.
445 days or so later, I regret to inform you that Project Raptor does not contain 300 pages of dinosaurs, and neither is it 120,000 words. Rather, Exploring Eberron blossomed to an enormous 247 pages and 230,000 words, its contents exceeding my wildest (dinosaur-free) expectations. I can confirm that Keith is a brilliant world-builder, a joy to collaborate with and edit for…and a very very very prolific writer.
It quickly became a running joke that when Keith says “hmm,” it means we’ll need to add another couple pages—or an entire chapter—to the book. Now, if anyone tells you I was responsible for a few of the expansions, don’t believe them… it’s only halfway true. Yes, on multiple occasions, I asked Keith things such as, “Can you write a couple more sentences to help connect the dots between these two topics?” But he’d inevitably send me at least twice as many sentences as I asked for…and so the book grew. Over the last decade, I’ve edited many hundreds of thousands of words, but working on a single project of this magnitude was an experience like no other. It turns out that editing takes immensely more work the longer the book gets! The good news is that Keith quickly earned a place as one of my very favorite editing clients of all time. Despite the fact that he’s won multiple awards for his game design and is a celebrity in the D&D world, he’s one of the most humble and kind folks I’ve had the privilege to work with, and if I had to be “stuck” with a writer on a project for a solid year, I’m quite happy it was him!
In addition to my primary role as editor, I had the unexpected opportunity to contribute to the writing and design of a few sections, alongside our producer Wayne Chang (co-host of the Manifest Zone podcast) and mechanics designer Will Brolley (my friend and co-designer of several bestselling Dungeon Masters Guild supplements). I can’t imagine a better team to have partnered with on this book, and my work was equally enjoyable, frantic, fun, overwhelming, and a tremendous learning opportunity.
Shortly before I finished editing, we discovered we would need to hire a new layout designer—and, suddenly I found myself stepping into that role as well. Not what I originally signed up for, but it was immensely satisfying to be able to take the book from raw, unedited text, all the way to its final print-ready form.
Once Exploring Eberron was completed, my jaw dropped at the final word count. I was dying to know how this compared to the recent Wizards of the Coast hardcover, Eberron: Rising from the Last War (which had not one editor, but five!). So I spent longer than I’m willing to admit copying and pasting every single section from D&D Beyond to Word so I could run a count… Though Exploring Eberron’s page count is lower, it’s over 10,000 words longer!
I am grateful beyond belief to the amazing team of playtesters and beta readers that joined us on this journey, and I can’t imagine having done this work without them. They carefully evaluated (…and reevaluated, and reevaluated again…) the character options and other mechanics presented in the book, giving us amazing feedback and helping us polish the balance and playability of each section. In addition, and perhaps even more valuable to me personally, their eagle eyes and encyclopedic memories spotted errors ranging from lore contradictions from obscure 10-year-old Dragon Magazine articles to the inevitable typos that slipped past my one-person editing team. TTRPG designers, be good to your playtesters—they represent your audience in the best of ways, and will be both your harshest critics and biggest fans. My sincerest thanks to every single one of them for their investment in this book (and their unflagging encouragement and support).
If you’d told me two years ago that I’d be Keith Baker’s editor for anything, let alone a book of this magnitude, I would’ve laughed in complete disbelief. Eberron has been such a special setting to me from the moment I discovered it, and the Eberron community is one of the most welcoming, generous, and encouraging ones I’ve ever known. I’m overwhelmed in the best of ways at having played a part in bringing more of Keith’s amazing world into your hands, and I’m looking forward to the stories of how you use it in your Eberron.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is this book “canon”?
One thing I love about Keith’s philosophy is that from the very beginning, he’s emphasized that Eberron is something you can make your own. There is an official “canon” of work in the officially published Wizards of the Coast hardcovers, the Dungeon and Dragon magazine articles, and the web articles from the old Wizards website. In addition to that, there’s a wealth of information that Keith’s written over the years on his blog in an unofficial capacity, commonly referred to as “kanon” among fans.
This book is officially licensed third-party content published by the Dungeon Masters Guild and is written by the creator of the Eberron setting – but no, it doesn’t have the same official “canon” status as Eberron: Rising from the Last War. However, this book is the culmination of nearly two decades of Keith’s dreams of what he’d write about Eberron if he had the space and time to do so—and I am entirely confident that the Eberron community, long-time fans and new players alike, will love this book (almost) as much as I do. It’s a perfect companion for Rising and books from previous editions; rather than rehashing material that’s been covered before, it complements it by diving deep on topics that have always been fascinating and yet woefully under-explored.
It’s hard for me to pick a favorite section, partially because I’ve read all the words so many times that it all blends together… but I’ll say that I especially enjoyed the sections on the Dhaakani dar, the Thunder Sea (the kar’lassa are extremely neat additions to the world), and of course, I love everything about the planes. Suffice it to say that this book contains something for everyone.
How much will I love the art in it?
You will love it a lot. A lot a lot a lot. Exploring Eberron contains 49 original artworks commissioned for this book (in addition to its 9 licensed images originally created for other purposes, 18 stock art images, and 11 images from previous Wizards of the Coast books).
Can I preorder?
Unfortunately, preorders are not available on the Dungeon Masters Guild. However, good news! The same day that the hardcover is released, you’ll immediately be able to download the PDF version. So while shipping delays might take a month or two, the content will be in your hands immediately upon release.
Will I be able to purchase it on D&D Beyond?
The licensing agreement with the Dungeon Masters Guild does not currently allow us to release the same content on D&D Beyond. However, if ever that changes, we’ll let you know. 🙂
Just tell us now, please, when will the book be released???
Exploring Eberron was originally planned for release in 2019. However, it became increasingly evident that for Keith to do justice to the many topics planned, and to write about them in the depth that he’s always dreamed of, the book would need to be much longer than originally planned. The chapter on the Planes of Eberron was the last one written, and by far the longest. It could very easily have been an entire book on its own, but we knew that section held some of the most anticipated content. So rather than cut the material on the planes for a later hardcover (which would delight absolutely nobody), we instead adjusted our timeline to plan on a Spring 2020 release.
In the midst of this process, each member of our 4-person production team was juggling various personal commitments, including two house moves, a baby’s birth, personal illness, family illness, obligations with our full-time jobs, and much more. And then…the pandemic hit. Needless to say, between life circumstances and the rapidly increasing book length, Exploring Eberron did not come out in Spring 2020. While disappointed by the delay, we were also confident that it was a book worth waiting for.
During the month of May, writing, editing, and layout were finally completed… though we all have several more gray hairs than when we began the process. Preparing the book for print-on-demand hardcover is an entirely different beast than doing layout for PDF-only publications, and by the end, I reached a level of intimacy with InDesign that perhaps made my husband a bit jealous (lucky for him, being married to him is far less stressful than creating hardcovers for print, so our marriage is saved).
Once the book was finished, we sent the PDF to our amazing team of playtesters, who eagerly devoured the new lore along with helping to spot remaining errors in the book. After a few last-minute tweaks, the book was ready for publishing, and sent off the final PDF to premedia review at the Dungeon Masters Guild! The book passed premedia checks with flying colors. However, before we can release it to the public, we have to review a final printed copy… and due to COVID-19, the printing and shipping process has been delayed, and can take well over a month.
So at this point, we are in the agonizing stage of waiting…and waiting…and waiting. As soon as I have the printed proof in my hands, I’ll review it to make sure the PDF file we submitted to the printer was processed correctly and printed according to our expectations (rarely, something goes wrong with the print process and images print incorrectly, or the margins are wrong, or a host of other potential issues). As soon as that happens and we confirm everything looks correct, we can give the Dungeon Masters Guild the green light to release the book for you!
We don’t anticipate any further delays or errors in the process of printing and shipping the proof copies of the book, but everything from this point on is out of our hands. Assuming all goes as expected, we’re delighted to announce that Exploring Eberron will officially be available for purchase in both hardcover and PDF next month, in July of 2020.
What formats is the book available in?
You can purchase Exploring Eberron as a hardcover or PDF. The former is 8.5″ x 11″ premium hardcover book (similar in size to Wizards of the Coast hardcovers); expect 1-2 months at minimum for shipping time due to the pandemic. The PDF version will be downloadable immediately upon purchase; this full-color PDF is identical to the hardcover book in layout, as well as being screen-reader friendly and providing optional print-friendly settings to toggle off the art & background. Due to the long shipping delays, for those that purchase both products at the same time, we’ll be offering a very steep discount on the bundle so you can enjoy the PDF right away while you wait for the hardcover to arrive.
Will Keith be writing more books?
Stay tuned… 😉
About the Editor
By day, Laura Hirsbrunner is a 3x platinum-bestselling TTRPG designer and editor, academic consultant, editor-in-chief of Across Eberron, play-by-post server moderator, wife to a paladin, and mother to two gibbering mouthlings. By night, she explores dungeons and slays daelkyr (because really, dragons aren’t the bad guys). Her DMsGuild work includes the Eberronicon, Archetypes of Eberron, Elminster’s Candlekeep Companion, and more. You can find her portfolio here, or follow her on Twitter.
When time permits, I like to answer questions from my Patreon supporters. Joseph asks:
Who actually leads the Tairnadal elves? Is it a theocracy?
It’s an interesting question. The Tairnadal are the elves of the Aerenal steppes, and the elves who have claimed Valenar are Tairnadal elves. The Aereni are ruled by the Undying Court and the Sibling Kings. Valenar has a “High King.” But what of the Tairnadal of Aerenal? Do they have a monarch, or are they ruled by the Keepers of the past?
The reason this hasn’t been answered in the past is because it’s not a question with a simple answer. There is no single monarch or high priest who leads the Tairnadal, and the answer is rooted in their unusual and rigid culture. All the cultures of Aerenal cling tightly to tradition and the past. The Tairnadal came to Aerenal as soldiers—fresh from fighting against the giants of Xen’drik and their minions—and never stood down. What drives and defines the Tairnadal is their devotion to their patron ancestors. This began before the elves even reached Aerenal, as a basic cult of personality: those warriors who’d served with fallen champions being determined to honor their heroes by following in their footsteps. Those who were most devoted to this path swore that they felt a connection to their idols—that the spirit of the champions were guiding them. So this basic element—preserve the ancestors by emulating their lives—was a part of Tairnadal society from the beginning. The traditions and role of the Keepers of the Past evolved on Aerenal, but the patron ancestors were with them from the start.
Tairnadal society is shaped by their religion. This is described on page 147 of Rising From The Last War and I’m not going to retread it entirely here. But to sum up: when an elf comes of age the Keepers of the Past determine which ancestor has chosen them, and “it’s your sacred duty… to live your life as they did and to allow the champion to walk the world again through you.” It’s important to recognize that there’s a twofold aspect to this duty. The first is that through this devotion, the living preserve the ancestors. But there is also the concrete belief that through this devotion, the ancestor can act through the revenant—that the living benefit because they receive their guidance from the dead. The doctrine of the faith is that you can only receive this guidance from the ancestor that has chosen you—which means that if you refuse to accept that bond, you are denying your community the chance to benefit from the ancestor’s supernatural guidance. Essentially, the Tairnadal believe that you will never be as useful on your own as you could be if you embraced the path of your patron ancestor, and that refusing to follow that path is deadly arrogance and selfishness, and there is no place for such selfishness in a tight-knit warband.
So: Tairnadal culture is based on people emulating the lives of their patron ancestors. But these ancestors were fighting a guerilla war. Which means that the Tairnadal have to engage in endless war to follow their example… and with this in mind, they have been engaging in complex wargames for tens of thousands of years. Combatants will spare an enemy when possible—you don’t finish off a fallen foe—there is no point to a battle that doesn’t truly test the skills of the combatants, and battles are fought with spell and steel.
Working with this foundation, there are two basic aspects to Tairnadal civilization: war and peace. the zaelantar and zaeltairn. The zaelantar (“peaceful souls”) maintain the civilian infrastructure, while the zaeltairn (“warrior souls”) serve in an army and fight the endless war.
The zaelantar raise and train both young elves and beasts of war and burden. They craft weapons and tools, and they maintain the settled communities of the steppes. The bulk of the zaelantar are young elves. Remember that an elf receives a patron ancestor when they come of age. But this doesn’t usually happen until an elf is at least 60! In the initial decades of their lives, they train in basic skills (Background! Elven weapon familiarity!), study Tairnadal history, and maintain their community—including carry for the younger elves. Through this process they are effectively auditioning to the patron ancestors. The young elf who excels at hunting expects they will be chosen by a legendary archer or stalker. The elf who becomes a leader in the community hopes to be chosen by one of the great leaders of the past. Nonetheless, you are talking about elves spending at least four decades of what humans would consider adult life working in a zaelantar community. So who performs basic, necessary tasks? The elves who haven’t yet been set on a different path. Other zaelantar include former tairn who are unable to fight—either because of age or some other infirmity—but who can teach the young. The Keepers of the Past are largely zaelantar, serving to train and guide. And finally, there are those who have been chosen by patron ancestors whose legendary skills are tied to the civic sphere: fabled smiths, legendary teachers, the Siyal Marrain (druids who tend the beasts), and so on.
The zaeltairn engage in war, emulating their ancestors in the field. They are split into armies, each of when is further divided into clans and bands. A Tairnadal army is effectively a city-state. It isn’t a temporary duty; once assigned to an army Tairnadal serve until they die or until they retire (or are forced to retire) to train the young. Most armies are mobile; most of the patron ancestors were guerilla soldiers and mobility was vital; they follow migratory paths across the steppes. There are a few that are settled, based on the specialties of the ancestors represented by the army. Notably, each of the great jungles of the region—around Shae Thoridor and Var-Shalas—are home to an army, whose members specialize in jungle warfare and commando operations.
There are three great cities in the region held by the Tairnadal.
Var-Shalas is the largest city of the Tairnadal. It is the stronghold of the Keepers of the Past, and it is here that the Shanutar (council of lords) conducts its business.
Shae Thoridor is the second great city of the zaelantar. It is smaller than Var-shalas, but nonetheless an important seat of the Keepers of the Past and an industrial center for the goods required by the armies.
Taer Senadal is a fortress—but an unusual one. Var-Shalas and Shae Thoridor are surrounded by walls of bronzewood thorns, similar to Taer Valaestas in Valenar. Taer Senadal is a fortress of stone. Because it’s not a fortress built to defend the region from attack; it’s built to be attacked. Senadal can be roughly translated as “whetstone,” and Taer Senadal is a fortress manned by youths in the late stages of their training. Armies take turns attacking the fortress, allowing the youths to hone their skills as they defend it and the tairn to practice attacking fortifications.
All of which finally brings us back to the original question: Who rules the Tairnadal? Are they a theocracy?
Religion is the absolute foundation of Tairnadal culture. Following the dictates of the religion sensible (the faithful receive the guidance of the ancestors), a duty to the dead (it preserves the ancestors), and a duty to the community (as the ancestral guidance makes you a more effective citizen). But the Keepers of the Past are guides, not leaders. The basic leadership role within the Tairnadal is the shan, which can be loosely translated as “lord.” Each band has a lu-shan (“band lord”), clan leaders simply use the title shan, and the leaders of armies are var-shan (“great lord”). On the side of the zaelantar, an an-shan (“young lord”) is a youth who guides a band of youths, while a tar-shan (“peace lord”) maintains a village or a district of one of the great cities. Note that shan is not a gendered term, and any tairnadal can hold this position.
The twist to this is that the characterization of Shaeras Vadallia as “High King” is largely a translation error. Shaeras is the var-shan of Valenar, the Great Lord of the Army of Valenar. it is the highest position of authority that the Tairnadal recognize, but each army has a var-shan of its own.
With this in mind, the structure of Valenar is a general model for the Tairnadal overall. As described in the ECS, there are 45 warclans on Khorvaire; this is the Army of Valenar. At any given time, twenty of these clans are under the direct command of the var-shan (Shaeras Vadallia), while the rest are active in the field. The same is true for the armies on Aerenal: each army has a core of clans that remain close and under the direct command of the var-shan, while others follow general direction but operate independently. Likewise, within a clan a certain number of bands remain under the direct command of the shan, while others may be dispersed on independent operations (scouting, harrying, etc). While the structure of Tairnadal society is relentlessly martial, they actually don’t have a complex hierarchy of ranks. Warbands are essentially families, whose members serve together indefinitely. When there is a split-second military decision to be made, the lu-shan commands and cannot be questioned. But if there are other issues, the band debates them around the campfire and consensus rules. The lu-shan does have the final say, but it is rare for a lu-shan to veto the decisions of the band without clear military reason. And if this is done, the band respects the decision because they respect the lu-shan, not because of the title alone. This ties to an important fact: those appointed to leadership roles are elves channeling the spirits of legendary leaders. Within a clan, of course the Vadallia revenant is the lu-shan, because she’s channeling Vadallia. Taeri is an unparalled swordsman, but he’s not a leader; who would even think of appointing a Taeri as shan? It is also the case that a respected revenant’s word carries a great deal of weight in matters related to that ancestor. A Vadallia lu-shan is a good general war leader, but when planning an ambush they may defer to the Falaen revenant, trusting their expertise in matters of stealth and cunning.
This overall structure flows upstream. If the shan issues a command it must be obeyed. But unless it’s an urgent matter, the shan will seek the consensus of the lu-shan. If it isn’t a question of war, they will seek the guidance of Keepers of the Past or even the tar-shan. Beyond this, each army dispatches two clans to Var-Shalas and one to Shae Thoridor. These clans protect the cities, but the shans also represent their army in the shanutar—a council that includes the tar-shans, and which is overseen by Keepers of the Past.
So once again: Who leads the Tairnadal? When decisions must be made in a moment, a shan’s word is absolute. In other matters, the Tairnadal seek consensus—whether a lu-shan consulting with their band, a shan seeking consensus from the lu-shans, or the var-shan consulting the shans. Beyond this, people respect the ancestors that are channeled; they look to those guided by ancient leaders to channel that wisdom.
All of which is a VERY long answer to what seemed like a simple question, but there you have it!
How do the Draleus Tairn and the Silaes Tairn fit into this structure?
They’re armies. The Draleus Tairn are largely defined by their ancestors; their patrons are heroes renowned for fighting dragons. The Silaes Tairn have some ancestral overlap with the Valaes, but believe that the the battle should be taken back to Xen’drik. Note that bands of Draleus and Silaes Tairn DO make expeditions to Xen’drik; the Draleus are also always preparing for the next time Argonnessen attacks Aerenal.
So are armies all made up of people who follow the same ancestors?
Not at all. Essentially, think of the ancestors as being military specialties. You’re rarely going to find a warband that has more than one Vadallia, because it doesn’t NEED more than one Vadallia. On the other hand, a band with a specific purpose—commandos, archers, scouts—may have multiple elves who channel the same ancestor because they want that overlap of skills. But ancestors are shared among all the Valaes armies, assigned to clans and bands as suits the needs of each unit.
How difficult is it for an ambitious revenant to break the mold of their ancestors and forge their own name in memory? Is this more within the wheelhouse of player characters, or are there examples of exceptional tairnadal who exceed the precedent of their patron ancestor, becoming patrons in their own right?
This is specifically discussed in this article… which gives the example of Carys Daealyth, who is guided by Daealyth Taeri, who was guided by Taeri. The main point is that those champions don’t typically BREAK the mold, they go beyond it. From that article: So as a Tairnadal elf it is your duty to honor your ancestor and to do all that you can to bring glory to their name; but the hope is that in doing so you will become a vessel for their spirit and that together you will forge NEW legends—and that someday, future Tairnadal will channel YOUR spirit.
How does parenting work among the Tairnadal? Are familial relations important?
Generally, NO. Who your father and mother are is far less important than who your patron ancestor is. Tairnadal don’t maintain property, so you’re not passing your holdings down to a child. Critically, note that the Tairnadal don’t use family names: a Tairnadal elf uses a given name and the name of their patron ancestor. So Shaeras Vadallia may have been the son of Jael Cardaen and Sol Taeri; ultimately, that doesn’t matter. A child is given to the Zaelantar to be raised, and becomes an adult when chosen by a patron ancestor. And it’s worth noting that at this point, almost all Tairnadal are in some way tied to all of the patron ancestors; it’s not like there’s only one bloodline that produces Vadallias, or that you expect to be chosen by the same patron as your parents.
With that said, Tairnadal likely know who their parents are, and there are cases where relatives end up serving together in the same band or clan. So you can have siblings who feel a strong attachment or even a parent and child with a bond. But on the societal level, your personal lineage isn’t as significant as your spiritual lineage.
Can you talk a little about dynamics between Tairnadal elves and Lyrandar/Half-elves in Valenar? Especially with a Khoravar with a Tairnadal parent?
As called out in the previous answer, direct blood lineage is less important to the Tairnadal than spiritual lineage, and it is the belief of the Tairnadal (supported by existing precedent) that no Khoravar can channel a patron ancestor. So essentially, the Tairnadal treat the Khoravar as being akin to zaelantar. They are people with a connection to the elves, and they are willing to do important tasks no tairn wishes to do. However, with most zaelantar there is the understanding that they will become tairn (or that they have been chosen by a peaceful ancestor, which is still an honor and duty), while they don’t believe that to be possible with the Khoravar. So the essential point is that they see the Khoravar as useful children but don’t believe they will ever grow up or be able to undertake the true responsibility of a Tairnadal—to embody an ancestor. That’s not their fault, just a sad fact. Of course, what we’ve said is that if any Khoravar could prove this wrong and channel an ancestor, it would be a player character!
Are there ever cases where a young elf coming of age is not selected by ANY ancestor? If so, how are such elves regarded by their fellows?
The Keepers of the Past aren’t selected by any one ancestor; instead, they have the ability to hear many ancestors, which is what allows them to serve in their role. In one campaign I ran, a PC played a Tairnadal shaman whose role was specifically to channel and remember a host of lesser ancestors who weren’t significant enough to become full patron ancestors, but that deserved to be remembered.
If the elf isn’t chosen by an ancestor and lacks the gift of the Keepers, what it means is, essentially, that they didn’t graduate. I said that MOST elves receive an ancestor at around 60, after they undergo a few decades as zaelantar. If you don’t get picked? Work another decade as zaelantar and we’ll try again at the next time. It would be assumed that if you’re not picked it’s because you haven’t displayed enough value to be chosen; that doesn’t mean you deserve to be shunned, it means you need to go back to work and do better. You’re a disappointment, certainly. But there may well be a case where it’s later discovered that a particular elf didn’t get picked because ALL of the ancestors wanted them and they couldn’t reach an agreement, or something like that; there could certainly be a tale of the elf who was thought to be shunned but who was in fact the most exceptional of all (… and went on to become a player character!). But the typical answer is that they would simply continue on as zaelantar.
Second question: Since the Tairnadal are constantly looking for battles to fight, do they ever seek out manifest zones of Shavarath, or venture to that plane itself?
I write about Shavarath in Exploring Eberron, and that’s a pretty extreme option; it is a vicious meat grinder and it would take exceptional mortals to survive there for an extended amount of time. Consider that the immortals are CONSTANTLY being killed and just reform; it’s a touch road for elves to jump in where angels fear to tread. With that said, it’s entirely possible that the Tairnadal SUMMON fiends or other extraplanar threats so they have worthy foes to fight. They might even use undead! Exploring the actual forms of conflicts the Tairnadal fight on Aerenal is a deep topic that could definitely fill another article.
That’s all for now. Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters, who keep this site going and help choose topics! And if for some reason you’re looking for even MORE information about the Tairnadal,this article answers many questions and has links to many other articles!
While few outsiders know what goes on inside an Aurum hall, the existence of the organization is no secret; most members proudly wear the eight rings of their concord. If you asked a member of the Aurum to describe it, they’d say that it’s a fraternal order with a hall in every major city in the Five Nations. They’d brag about how the Aurum strengthens local communities through philanthropy and charitable work. They’d call out that the Aurum is an organization where people with different political and religious beliefs can set those differences aside and talk as friends: that it’s an organization for people who want to make a difference in the world, who can reach beyond class and nation. However, at the end of the day few can argue that one practical purpose of the organization is to increase the wealth and power of its members. Friends do favors for friends—and everyone’s friends in the Aurum. You have a problem with the Sharn Watch? Let’s have a drink with Commander Yorgan and see if we can work something out.
Push farther, and some concordians will acknowledge that one of the founding principles of the Aurum is that the existing system within Khorvaire is oppressive: the dragonmarked houses have tyrannical economic monopolies and the monarchies of the Five Nations are outdated. The Aurum brings together the finest and most capable people outside that structure, and helps them to achieve the opportunities they deserve. Now, you may have heard rumors of a “Shadow Cabinet” that seeks to tear down the houses or overthrow monarchies, but that’s just ridiculous. The Aurum is a social club. Last night we had a delightful performance from the Diva Laria. Provost Salar gave an impromptu lecture on the Sulat League and Councilor Evix discussed a Xen’drik expedition they’re funding. No one tried to conquer the world.
Anyone who’s read the sourcebooks knows that—spoiler alert—the Shadow Cabinet DOES exist. But the important point is that most members of the Aurum itself don’t actually know that. The Aurum is what it appears to be: an alliance of wealthy and influential people who enjoy each other’s company and who use their wealth and influence to help each another. Sure, many are evil in alignment, and those people are especially likely to take advantage of the connections offered by the Aurum to strengthen their positions and gain power, even if this circumvents the law or steals those opportunities from others. But there are concordians who are truly good, who do seek to use the Aurum’s influence to strengthen the local community. And many are squarely neutral, enjoying the camaraderie of the society and happy to help their fellow concordians where they can, but having no grand aspirations of their own.
So there’s a few roles an Aurum concordian can serve in a story.
Patron. Are you looking for someone who wants to fund an expedition? Someone who wants to pay a group of adventurers to do something that doesn’t quite fall within the law but isn’t entirely criminal, either? This is the role of the concordian. They have gold, and they have enough connections to arrange for watch patrols to be light around the entrance to Old Sharn, or to get you past customs when you land with contraband artifacts. But they don’t have the resources of a dragonmarked house or a spy agency; they need adventurers to run their errands. And these tasks don’t have to shake the world or threaten the city. A concordian may simply be indulging a personal (perhaps slightly illegal) hobby: adding to their collection of (contraband) Sulat elemental seals, or taking actions to humiliate a professional or social rival. Concordians are people who have enough wealth and power to be able to hire and help adventurers—but not so much power that adventurers become irrelevant.
Rival. If adventurers get on the wrong side of a concordian, it can cause a lot of trouble for them… but still, not as much trouble as making an enemy of a dragonmarked house or the King’s Citadel. A concordian may have wealth and they will certainly have contacts, but especially if they’re in the lower concords there’s a limit to how many favors they can call in. Consider Ambrose Jakis in The Name of the Wind; he’s a perfect example of how an Aurum conordian could make trouble for an adventurer who’s earned their ire. To a lesser extent, a concordian could serve as a patron for a rival group of adventurers, who thus get a lot of unfair advantages because of the wealth and influence of their patron.
Member. A player character could be given a chance to JOIN the Aurum. An existing member (perhaps a patron) would have to sponsor them, and they’d begin in the Copper Concord. As such, they wouldn’t have a lot of pull right away—but if they do favors for concordians, others will do favors in return. They may receive opportunities they’d never have gained on their own, and have access to gossip and secrets they’d never have been able to learn. It’s a great opportunity… but they will be expected to do favors for the higher ranking concordians.
But what about the Shadow Cabinet?
From a design perspective, the Aurum is designed to be an easy source of patrons and rivals. The connections of the Aurum make a concordian a dangerous enemy or a powerful ally, but part of the point of the Aurum is that it’s NOT a tightly knit conspiracy; members have to pay for favors with favors, and there are members of the Aurum who aren’t friends with one another. It’s not as tightly knit as the Dreaming Dark or even as a dragonmarked house. It’s a quick source of influential figures, but these are people low-level adventurers can deal with.
But what about the Shadow Cabinet? This follows the idea of the Illuminati or SPECTRE: an hidden organization of powerful people who intend to shift the balance of power. Members of the Shadow Cabinet ARE more tightly connected, and do freely share resources—making them far more dangerous than just an individual Silver Concordian. They want to disrupt or control monarchies, to break the power of the dragonmarked houses; a DM who wants a dramatic twist could reveal that the Shadow Cabinet was responsible for the Shadow Schism that divided House Phiarlan (whether working with or framing the Paelions)—and that they are now actively encouraging the rivalries between the three Cannith factions, hoping to permanently split that house as well. One might well say “If I want a plutocratic villain, why not just use a dragonmarked house? They seem to have more power and cooler gimmicks.“ And that’s correct: the houses DO have far more power. The point of the Shadow Cabinet is that they ARE the upstarts and the underdogs—that they are FIGHTING the established great powers of the monarchies and houses. For all his wealth and power, Antus ir’Soldorak still needs Lyrandar excoriates to fly his grand airship. He doesn’t have all the power he wants: which is why he’s fighting to disrupt the Twelve. This is a struggle that will surely take decades to bear meaningful fruit. Again, it’s possible that the Shadow Schism was a great victory for the Aurum, and that took place 26 years ago. I don’t expect the Shadow Cabinet to have any chance to actually take over the world in the course of campaign; if they COULD somehow destroy the dragonmarked houses in a year, Khorvaire would collapse into chaos. The power is that they are trying. They are working to disrupt the order, to turn houses against one another, to fund innovations that would reduce their power. They are actively trying to shake the status quo, and this can drive the events of an adventure. But their role in the story is to be the disruptive underdogs, not to actually be on top. With that said, a very important point that differentiates the houses and the Shadow Cabinet is that a dragonmarked hosue has massive power and influence within a single field. The Shadow Cabinet has agents spread across society, in places the houses can’t touch. They have concordians in the military, in the judiciary, in the arts. Their power is less CONCRETE than that of the houses, but it is more subtle; a concordian customs inspector can cause a lot of trouble for local house operations!
Hearing all of this raises an interesting option: the Shadow Cabinet COULD be presented in a heroic light. The dragonmarked houses DO wield oppressive monopolistic power. The monarchies of the Five Nations could be seen as outdated. It is entirely possible to present the Shadow Cabinet as a heroic alliance that is trying to make change—that is fighting to help the artificer working on an airship that anyone could pilot, or to push democracy in the Five Nations. By default, canon presents the Shadow Cabinet as being driven by purely selfish goals: it doesn’t actually want to make the world a better place, it wants to make it a better place for members of the Shadow Cabinet. But it is entirely possible to present it in a more altruistic light. And the reason I’m saying this with no spoilers is because, as a player, you don’t know what your DM is doing with them. When you spot someone wearing eight rings, you know they’re in the Aurum. But are they secretly plotting to throw the Five Nations into chaos? Are they fighting a secret battle in pursuit of economic innovation and democracy? Or are they a casual member who just enjoys a good game of Conqueror at the club? And as a DM, if you want to maintain that mystery, the point is to use concordians in those different capacities. Have the adventurers benefit from Aurum philanthropy. Have them need to protect an orphanage that was built with Aurum donations. When the concordian comes to them with a seemingly innocent job, is it exactly what it appears to be… or could it be serving a hidden agenda? W
Who’s In The Aurum?
The common impression is that the Aurum is an alliance of the wealthy and powerful, because it’s those wealthy and powerful members who attract attention. And usually by the time someone is in the Gold or Platinum Concords they will be wealthy or powerful… but they may not have started out that way. The Aurum doesn’t look for wealth: it looks for influence and potential. The Copper Concord includes people who don’t have power yet—but their sponsor sees a way that they could, if the right strings are pulled. Officers in the military or the watch. Civic officials. Up and coming artists. Promising artisans. The further up you go, the more wealth and influence the concordian is likely to have. They’re not a watch officer, they command a district garrison. They aren’t an aspiring playwright, they’re an international sensation. Or they could be a wealthy collector of rare Sarlonan antiquities—but if they’re in the Gold or Platinum Concords, they will be VERY wealthy…
The Aurum Concordian table provides a quick way to generate a random concordian. You’ll have to establish the basic details—this concordian is an old Brelish dwarf—but the table helps to establish that he’s an ambassador who profited off the Last War and has close ties to the Brelish military. These are basic prompts, and it’s up to you to decide how he profited off the war, or what those close ties are like—does he have personal sway with a single military unit (he can call on the Redcloak Battalion in Sharn) or does he have broader ties to Brelish military leadership?
To be clear, the Aurum seeks to shake the status quo and thus tends to reject members who are powerful nobles or well-placed dragonmarked heirs. However, a concordian could be from a lesser noble family (a minor Lhazaar prince), or as in the case of Antus ir’Soldorak, could have bought a noble title. Likewise, concordians won’t include members of powerful dragonmarked families, but they can include excoriates or members of families that have fallen into disfavor and are unhappy with the Twelve… and the Aurum includes many people who run businesses licensed by the houses, but who aren’t tied to the house by blood and chafe under its yoke.
So again, an Aurum concordian can be a useful patron, a dangerous rival, someone seeking to help strengthen their community or someone determined to increase their own power at all costs. Invoking the Aurum is a quick way to establish that someone has wealth and influence… but it shouldn’t automatically establish someone as a VILLAIN. The Aurum is intended to be a source of easy foes for low-level adventures, but it can be just as useful as a source of patrons. In the novel The City of Towers, the down-on-their-luck adventurers turn to a member of the Aurum for work. And while concordians COULD turn to organizations like the Boromar Clan, House Tarkanan, or House Deneith, some members prefer not to deal with actual criminals or economic rivals… and that’s where adventurers come in!
What’s Your Connection?
The table above is a quick way to generate a random concordian. But perhaps you want an adventurer to have a concrete connection to that character. The following tables (originally posted in this article) help with that. It turns out that one of the adventurers was childhood friends we the ambassador, and that the ambassador pulled strings a year ago to get them out of jail… but now the ambassador is being targeted for assassination and they’re calling in that favor. The Aurum Concordian table takes the place of the “Aurum Member” table below, but I’m leaving that column in below, as it gives some quick and concrete examples.
Does a member of the Copper Concord who’s also in the Shadow Cabinet outrank a member of the Gold Concord who’s not in the Cabinet?
The Shadow Cabinet—if it even exists!—is a secret even to members of the Aurum. So no, the copper concordian can’t make demands of the gold concordian, because the gold concordian doesn’t recognize their authority. However, the people IN the secret society work more closely together than most members of the Aurum. So a member of the Platinum Concord may go out of their way to help the copper, in a way that seems unusual—because both are in the Shadow Cabinet, and it serves the purposes of the Cabinet. But it’s always possible a DM could decide to use the Aurum WITHOUT the Shadow Cabinet… or they could decide that there’s no difference between the two, and that all members of the Aurum pursue the goals of the Cabinet.
Is there an initiation ceremony or ritual involved with joining the Aurum? If so, what is that like?
Like most fraternal orders, the Aurum undoubtedly has a vast number of secret ceremonies and rituals. What are they like? SECRET. This is a level of detail you’re not likely to ever see in canon because we could easily write an entire book about the rituals of the Aurum, but for most campaigns it will never matter. Should the adventurers ever happen to witness an Aurum initiation, you can invent the rituals or even ask your players to suggest details. But certainly, it’s a solemn, complicated ceremony and it likely involved swearing oaths under a zone of truth.
When someone joins the Aurum, they join a particular hall. We use the concord rank (gold, silver, etc) as a general indicator because it’s all that most adventurers will ever have to deal with, but you can be sure that there are a vast number of internal honors and titles used within a hall. Someone’s not just a gold concordian, they’re a “Faithful Warden of the Gold Concord” —which is itself a step up from being an “Honored Initiate of the Gold Concord.” The one that matters most is the Keeper of the Hall, who is the ultimate local authority (and almost always a member of the Platinum Concord). While I’m not going to try to suggest all the secret rituals that go on as part of initiation or advancement, I will say that in either case the initiate receives the eight rings of their concord and they also receive a concordian’s coinof the metal of their concord. The rings are produced locally; every hall has their own variation on the basic design, but they are mundane metal. A concordian’s coin is a magic item produced by the Soldorak Mint. The coin has the Aurum seal on one face (the chained crown) and a profile on the other (see below). A concordian’s coin has the following properties.
The coin is initially unbound. When someone holds the coin in the fist and recites a specific oath, the coin is bound to that person; the only way to break this bond is to destroy or disenchant the coin. Initially, the profile on the face of the coin is a blank silhouette. When the coin is bound, it takes on the appearance of the person it’s bound to.
Only the person the coin is bound to can hold the coin. Anyone else who touches it will receive an unpleasant arcane shock. This doesn’t cause permanent damage, but if someone picks up or holds a concordian’s coin they must make a DC 10 Wisdom save each round to keep from dropping it.
The person the coin is bound to can use it as an arcane focus. It can also be used as a holy symbol by a cleric of the Sovereign Host (specifically Kol Korran or the Keeper).
A concordian’s coin is a common magic item. Coins of the gold and platinum concords often carry additional enchantments; a concordian’s coin might be enchanted to serve as an amulet of proof against detection and location, for example.
Beyond this, there is also a series of protocols involving both coins and rings. For example, when shaking hands on first meeting, a concordian will tap a particular finger against the finger of the other concordian, who will answer with a different tap based on the respective ranks of the members. Likewise, at a meal between concordians they may place their coins on the table; placing them in certain configurations (crown up, to the left of a drink) can convey hidden messages.
How distinctive are the rings and coin of an Aurum concordian?
Each hall has a unique ring design. However, these rings are pure metal and the designs aren’t so complex; part of the point of the ring is that another ring can be easily worn above it (like many engagement rings). So Aurum rings wouldn’t be that hard to fabricate, especially if the people you’re dealing with aren’t familiar with the hall designs. The coin is another matter. Each one is unique to the bearer, and if someone is familiar with the Aurum and has any doubts about your identity, one of the first things they’ll do is touch your coin to see if they get a shock. All concordian’s coins are made at the Soldorak Mint; counterfeiting one isn’t just about craftsmanship, it’s about calibrating the shock to feel like the Solodrak shock. It’s something a capable artificer with proficiency in forgery could accomplish, but it’s not a trivial thing. Of course, all of this comes to the question of if you’re trying to fool a member of the AURUM. Most people don’t even know concordians carry coins, let allow that they’ll shock you.
Would the Aurum take action against someone falsely claiming to be a concordian?
ABSOLUTELY. This is a highly exclusive organization of rich and powerful people. They will NOT take kindly to people seeking to profit off their reputation. Of course, they have to find out about the hoax to take action… so a charlatan could get away with it for as long as they can get away with it. But the local hall will NOT be happy with charlatans passing themselves off as concordians.
That’s all for now. Thanks to my Patreon supporters for keeping this site going! The Patreon poll to determine the subject of the next major article ends soon—currently it’s neck and neck between Sarlona and the nobility of Khorvaire.
It’s hard to talk about dragonmarks and the dragonmarked houses without also discussing aberrant dragonmarks and the War of the Mark. I posted a sidebar article about Aberrant Dragonmarks not too long ago, but my Patreonsupporters recently raised a number of questions recently about the aberrant champions of the War of the Mark, notably Halas Tarkanan.
For a quick refresher: Long ago aberrant dragonmarks were more widespread than they are today, and they were also more powerful than the common aberrant mark known today—the simple powers granted by the Aberrant Dragonmark feat. The dragonmarked houses—quite young at the time—used the fear of aberrant dragonmarks as a scapegoat, both as a cause that helped to unite the houses themselves and to strengthen public opinion that “true” dragonmarks were good, and aberrant dragonmarks were the foul touch of Khyber… and lest it go without saying, many members of the houses believed the tales they spread. There’s no cure for an aberrant dragonmark, and this led to mob violence and from there to more organized persecution on the part of the houses. “The War of the Mark” implies a conflict between two even sides, and this was anything but. Due to house propaganda, people with aberrant marks were feared and ostracized, and this was more of a witch-hunt than a war. However, as it drew on, a number of leaders emerged among the aberrants—people with the charisma to lead and the foresight to plan, and with enough raw power that even the houses came to fear them. These leaders gathered bands of aberrants around them and sought to establish sanctuaries or hold off her houses.
The band whose exploits are best known was tied to three powerful aberrants. Halas Tarkanan was known as “The Earthshaker,” and his aberrant mark gave him power over elemental forces. His two greatest allies were known only by titles. The Lady of the Plague controlled vermin and disease, and was widely seen as the most dangerous of the aberrants. The Dreambreaker wielded vast psychic power and could crush lesser minds. Beyond his personal power, Tarkanan was a master strategist. Under his guidance, they seized the city of Sharn (which far smaller than it is today) and established it as a haven for the aberrant. But the houses had superior numbers, resources, and discipline. Sharn was besieged, and when it became clear that the battle was lost, Halas determined to make the victory as costly as possible. The three aberrant leaders gave their lives and poured their essence into terrible death curses. Little is known about the impact of the Dreambreaker’s curse. But Tarkanan’s curse shook the earth and collapsed the old towers, while the Lady of the Plague spread deadly disease throughout the ruins and called up strange forms of vermin. Those few soldiers who survived the attack lingered just long enough to carry the plagues to their comrades; even in death, the Lady of the Plague inflicted a lasting blow on the house forces. Today it’s her curse that is still felt. The region known as “Old Sharn” is sealed off because it’s believed that her plagues still linger in the depths, and there are forms of vermin found in Sharn that aren’t seen anywhere else in Khorvaire.
In considering the aberrant leaders, there’s a few things to bear in mind. The first is that they possessed aberrant marks of a level of power not yet seen in the present day—aberrant dragonmarks comparable to the Siberys dragonmarks of the houses. But beyond that, just like the house of today, their greatest powers came not simply from their dragonmarks, but from tools that focused and amplified the powers of these marks. Tarkanan channeled his power through a gauntlet he called the Earth’s Fist. The Dreambreaker used the Delirium Stone to focus his mental energy. And the Lady of the Plague wore a cloak she called Silence. So it’s not that Halas destroyed a city with his mark alone; just Cannith has creation forges and Lyrandar has its storm spires, it was the Earth’s Fist that allowed Tarkanan to level Sharn. And while these leaders died, it’s quite possible these artifacts survived. Each one was designed to interface with the unique marks of the champions who carried them, but it’s possible that a modern creature with a similar aberrant dragonmark could attune to one of these deadly artifacts.
So who were these aberrant champions? The short answer is that no one knows for sure. They lived over fifteen centuries ago, most were outcasts, and of course, the winners write history. Any serious scholar has to eliminate the propaganda circulated by the houses at the time—stories that present Tarkanan and his allies as monsters. Sivis propaganda suggested that Tarkanan was an avatar of the Devourer—a story supported by his elemental power—sent to bring suffering to innocents. Other tales claimed that all of the aberrant leaders were “lords of dust,” lingering fiends from the Age of Demons that delighted in chaos and bloodshed. So the short form is that it’s hard to be certain of anything and that adventurers could always discover new answers over the course of their adventures. What follows is the answer in my Eberron—the truth that could be found by a diligent sage—but that doesn’t mean it’s the absolute truth.
Halas Tarkanan was the son of Ilana Halar d’Deneith, an heir of House Deneith, and Grayn Tarkanan, a mercenary licensed by the house. Ilana commanded the mercenary regiment Grayn served in, and the two fell in love. When Grayn developed an aberrant dragonmark his contact with the house was severed and Illana was ordered to end her relationship with him. She refused and was excoriated. Ilana and Grayn left Korth behind, working as independent mercenaries in southern Wroat (the region that’s now Breland), where Deneith had yet to fully establish its presence.They served the self-appointed King Breggor III in a series of bitter conflicts between Wroat lords, and Halas was raised on the battlefield. Ilana taught her son the arts of war, and he was as capable as any Deneith heir. A Sivis account says that Halas murdered his parents, but the truth is more complex. In this time the houses were expanding their whispering campaign against aberrants, and House Deneith was expanding its operations in Wroat. Deneith promised to support Breggor, but first he had to rid himself of his aberrant and excoriate champions. Illana’s troop was sent into an ambush and trapped on a now-forgotten bridge over the Dagger River. They were surrounded by enemies when Halas’s aberrant dragonmark manifested. Its power collapsed the bridge, killing both his family and their enemies, and Halas himself was presumed dead; the destruction of the bridge was held up as yet another example of the dangers posed by aberrant dragonmarks. But Halas survived.
There’s few concrete records of the next decade of Tarkanan’s life. Some say that he secretly made his way to Rekkenmark, and served in the armies of Karrnath; in these stories, some of his unmarked comrades in arms later joined his struggles in Wroat. Certainly, he eventually fought a one-man war against Breggor and House Deneith’s operations in Wroat, gaining greater control over his powers with each guerrilla attack. He obtained the Earth’s Fist during this time, presumably by working with the Tinker. He met the Lady of the Plague in this time, but none know exactly how. Within House Tarkanan, one story says that the Lady found Halas dying of infected wounds and saved his life; another tale says that the two were both sheltering in the same village during an aberrant purge. Whatever the truth, they were already partners when the houses and their supporters began executing aberrants.
Halas was a gifted tactician, and the Lady of the Plague seems to have been a persuasive speaker; together, they executed an exodus through southern Wroat, rallying aberrants from across the region around Sharn. The rest is history; in the novel The Son of Khyber, a contemporary says of Halas “I think he always knew how the struggle would end, but he was determined to give our people hope and to make the houses pay for the blood they spilled.”
So: what’s known of Halas Tarkanan? He was the child of a Deneith excoriate and hated House Deneith above all others. He was skilled with a sword, but his talents as a commander were more important than his skills with a blade. He was ruthless when he had to be, and was willing to make sacrifices when it was the only way to hurt his enemy. And not only did he possess an aberrant mark of great power, he knew techniques that allowed him to manipulate his mark in ways unknown in the present day… as shown by the “death curse” that leveled old Sharn. Many dragonmarks place a burden—physical or mental—on the bearer. There’s no records of what price Halas paid for his power, but some stories suggest that his mark may have reacted to his mood—that he was always calm, because his anger could shatter the world. But as with so much about him, this is largely conjecture. There are no records of him having children, but if any existed it’s likely he would have kept their existence as secret as possible. Certainly by the end of the War of the Mark, the houses claimed to have completely eliminated the “blood of Khyber”—but as as aberrant dragonmarks aren’t hereditary in the same way as true marks, it’s possible he could have had an unmarked child who slipped past the divinations of the Twelve.
The Lady of the Plague
If you have a moment, there’s someone I’d like you to meet. She grew up in village in Daskara, not far from the modern city of Sigilstar. She loved the country and taking care of the livestock. When she was 13, her family fell ill with a disease no one had ever seen before. They died, and the plague spread to the rest of the village and their stock. Only two things were unaffected: the rats and the girl. When everyone was dead, she fled to the town of Sarus. You’ve never heard of Sarus, because it doesn’t exist anymore. It was burnt by those who sought to keep the plague from spreading. The rats kept the girl alive, and were the only thing that kept her close to sane. In time she learned to control her power. Even so, she couldn’t bear the burden of the deaths on her conscience. She declared that the girl had died with her family. She was someone new, someone without a name. She was the Lady of the Plague.
This is the most detailed description of the Lady of the Plague, drawn from this (noncanon) article on aberrant dragonmarks. On a small scale, the Lady could use her mark to inflict effects similar to harm and insect plague. But her greater gift was the power to create virulent diseases—plagues that could spread across entire cities. However, she had no ability to cure the diseases she could create. Unleashing a disease was like setting a fire; it could spread farther and faster than she intended. She was one of the most infamous aberrants of the age; the destruction of Sarus was a regular feature in the propaganda of the Twelve, carrying the warning that sparing one aberrant could doom your entire city.
Halas Tarkanan was a strategist and a warrior, and is usually seen as the leader of the Wroat aberrants. But sages who dig deep will find that while Halas was the warrior, the Lady was the visionary—that it was her impassioned speeches that rallied the refugees when spirits were low, and she who convinced people to follow and fight alongside them. While Sivis accounts typically depict the refugees as all aberrants, the fact is that there were many unmarked people who joined the aberrant cause. Some were relatives or lovers of the marked, but others were compelled by the Lady’s words, and made the choice to stand by those innocents being hunted by the houses. Halas and the Lady rallied other oppressed people, and many Wroat goblins joined their cause. When the Twelve finally laid siege to Sharn, only about half of the people in the city had aberrant marks, but all chose to stand and fight.
It’s known that the Lady had unusual theories about the nature and purpose of aberrant dragonmarks. It’s possible she had some inkling of the Draconic Prophecy, but she may have simply believed that aberrant marks and those who carried them had a role to play in the grand order of things. There are no known recordings of her beliefs… but perhaps one of her journals remains hidden in Old Sharn, or even somewhere in Aundair.
Like Halas, the Lady of the Plague possessed the ability to enhance her power through her own pain, and her death curse lingers to this day. Her cloak Silence helped her contain her power and prevent accidental infection of innocents, but it also amplified her abilities.
The Dreambreaker was a gnome born in what’s now Zilargo. His aberrant mark allowed him to shatter the minds of people around him and some accounts suggest that he could twist time and space. However, his power also affected his own perception of reality. It’s said that he believed the Wroat aberrants were actually fighting the Sovereigns, and that the houses and their mortal minions were simply manifestations of this greater cosmic struggle. He was devoted to the aberrant cause and his sheer power was a vital weapon in their arsenal, but his instability prevented him from leading forces on his own. Like the Lady of the Plague, the Dreambreaker was often featured in anti-aberrant propaganda; Sivis spread wild tales of his abilities to crush minds and claimed that he could murder innocent people in their dreams.
The Dreambreaker possessed a focus item called the Delirium Stone, presumably created by the Tinker. He is presumed to have died in the siege of Sharn, but he is known to have been fighting in a different tower than Halas Tarkanan and some accounts suggest that he planned to twist time, stealing the future from the houses… but nothing was ever heard from him following the destruction of Sharn.
Halas Tarkanan, the Dreambreaker, The Lady of the Plague, Kalara of the Ten Terrors, and more—the most infamous champions of the War of the mark all possessed artifacts that channeled and focused the powers of their aberrant marks. But where did these tools come from? Halas was no artificer, and the aberrants didn’t have the resources of House Cannith. Or did they? It’s recorded that Halas ascribed the Earth’s Fist to “the tinker,” and storytellers have used that to create a mysterious figure—an aberrant heir of House Cannith! Whose dragonmark allows them to consume or twist the enchantments of objects! Others say that this tinker must have been a fiend—able to create tools to channel the power of Khyber because they themselves were one of the true children of Khyber. Either of these are possible, but there is a simpler possibility: that “the tinker” may have been a term referring to a number of sympathetic artificers within House Cannith who opposed the War of the Mark and sought to aid their aberrant foes.
The true identity of the Tinker could be an interesting mystery to solve—especially if House Tarkanan starts receiving aberrant focus items in the present day. Are these gifts from the original Tinker, somehow preserved through centuries? Or is this the legacy of a movement in House Cannith—perhaps tied to the humble Juran line—that has hidden in the shadows of the house?
Why Does This Matter?
For centuries after the War of the Mark, aberrant dragonmarks were all but unknown. Over the age of Galifar they slowly began to return, but their powers were trivial in comparison to the might of Halas Tarkanan or the Lady of the Plague. Within the last century aberrant dragonmarks have been appearing at an unprecedented rate, and a few with greater power have been reported. Is this the work of the daelkyr? A sign that an overlord is close to breaking its bonds? Or could it be a manifestation of the Draconic Prophecy: could the aberrants have a vital role to play in the days ahead?
While there are no concrete mechanics for powerful aberrant marks, as with an dragonmark a player character could ascribe their class features to an aberrant dragonmark. A sorcerer’s spells could be drawn from their mark; a warlock could take their aberrant mark as their patron, perhaps even hearing it whisper or receiving strange dreams. Even a barbarian could say that their rage is the power of their aberrant mark. I personally played a character in a campaign who believed that he had inherited Halas Tarkanan’s mark, and that it was his destiny to rally and protect the aberrants of the present day. That’s one possibility: the idea that the essence of one of these champions could be reborn in the present. Another possibility is that the Dreambreaker could have been right all along; that he did have the power to twist time and space, and that he channeled the essence of the aberrants to the present day (a variation of this is explored in the old RPGA adventure “The Delirium Stone”). Alternately adventurers could encounter a ghost or some other legacy of one of these champions—or perhaps find a journal of the Lady of the Plague, containing strange insights.
Were aberrant marks always ostracized? When Cannith and Sivis began to rally the other bloodlines into the Houses, were mixed marks thought of as undiscovered new marks, or were their destructive abilities quickly categorized into the realm of dangerous and taboo?
There was certainly a time when aberrant marks weren’t as feared as they are today, let alone the crazed fear that drove the War of the Mark. We’ve called out that the houses actively fanned the flames of fear and built up that hatred for decades before the War of the Mark finally took place. But while it may not have been as intense, they were always feared, because as called out in the other linked articles, they ARE dangerous. The Lady of the Plague DID destroy multiple communities before learning to master her power—and there are many aberrants who never learn to master their powers. It was easy for the houses to amplify the fear because people were already afraid, and the houses encouraged this instead of working to bring people together. But there were also surely communities that refused to give into that fear—villages that were havens for those with aberrant dragonmarks. Such communities would have provided the bulk of the numbers in the Wroat exodus, both of marked and unmarked refugees; while the people in these communities stood together, they also knew that they couldn’t fight house forces.
Regarding why the marks weren’t seen as undiscovered new dragonmarks, and why they quickly became taboo, there’s two factors. Aberrant dragonmarks aren’t hereditary and don’t have a common appearance. Three marks that grant burning hands could all manifest in entirely different ways. It’s rare to find any two aberrant marks that are identical, let alone that resemble the “true” marks, so people were pretty quick to conclude that these weren’t just some undiscovered new mark. Beyond this, the issue is that not only is an aberrant mark not hereditary, manifesting an aberrant mark severs your connection to any other dragonmark. When the child of an Orien and Cannith manifests an aberrant mark, it also eliminates any possibility that their children could manifest the Mark of Making or Mark of Passage. As the houses were still working to build their numbers and the strength of their lines, this revelation was as significant a factor in banning inter-house liasons as fears of the mixed marks themselves.
How do you see the participation of the Houses that existed at the time playing out in the War of the Mark?
Part of the purpose of the war was to strengthen the ties between the newly minted houses—creating a common foe they could fight together. This was also a way to familiarize the people of Khorvaire with houses that had previously been limited to a particular region and to help them spread. There were houses that didn’t exist—Thuranni, Tharashk. The Mark of Detection had only just appeared, and it’s quite possible that Medani was formed during the war, as the hunt for aberrant marks would certainly have discovered this new true mark. But Phiarlan performed reconnaissance, Deneith provided the bulk of the soldiers, Cannith armed them, Jorasco healed them, Ghallanda supported them. Vadalis provided mounts to ride and beasts to track the foe. Sivis most likely focused on logistics and propaganda. In the adventure “The Delirium Stone” (EMH-7), adventurers encounter a squad of soldiers including Deneith infantry, a Phiarlan archer, and a Jorasco healer supporting the unit. Later encounters include a Vadalis magebred swarm and a Cannith construct.
Ghallanda is an interesting question. While I expected it was pressured to support the action and likely helped with supplies, I can definitely imagine individual Ghallanda heir providing sanctuary to aberrant refugees, holding their principles over the goals of the alliance.
In Dragonmarked it’s said that the Medani were originally thought to be aberrants, and that they were subsequently coerced into joining the Twelve.
It’s difficult for me to imagine that there was any significant length of time in which Medani were mistaken for aberrants. Aberrant dragonmarks and true dragonmarks are dramatically different. All true dragonmarks share the same general coloration, sizing, and overall design; the Mark of Detection is distinctly different from the Mark of Making, but at a DISTANCE it looks the same. Aberrant marks vary wildly in color and design. They aren’t hereditary and two marks that grant the same power may be dramatically different in appearance. Even if someone believed that despite looking just like a true mark that a mark was aberrant, the moment they saw that the person had a brother with the same mark they should know something was up. And remember that the Twelve were LOOKING for additional true marks; they called themselves “The Twelve” before they’d found twelve marks, because they were convinced there were others out there waiting to be found.So I have great trouble imagining a widespread series of events in which Medani were mistaken for aberrants. One or two minor incidents, sure, But even at a distance, if someone saw the blue-purple mark they likely wouldn’t say “No, wait, that’s not exactly like one of ours”—they’d say “Damn, that half-elf has a dragonmark! Who let a Lyrandar in here?”
With that said: The Mark of Detection manifested during the War of the Mark. So those who carried it lived alongside aberrants, and could easily have been caught up in the purges that targeted them. As such, I can see many Medani having sympathy for the aberrants and choosing to stand alongside them: “Why do you treat me differently than her, just because my mark is blue and the same as my father’s?” So I think it’s quite plausible that a number of early Medani rejected the Twelve and actually fought alongside the aberrants; but that’s not the same as being mistaken for aberrants. And I do think that overall, the Medani were pressured—even threatened—by the other houses to join the Twelve, and that this underlies their attitude toward the Twelve to this day.
That’s all I have time for now. Have you used aberrant dragonmarks or the champions of the War of the Mark in your campaign? If so, share your stories below. Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters, who keep this site going; supporters are currently voting on the topic of the next major article (Sarlona is currently in the lead!).
Today I want to continue the discussion of the Dragonmarked Houses with a few questions raised by my Patreon supporters. The first comes from Joseph:
My understanding is both Lyrandar and Orien participated in the supply lines of the nation’s militaries, not just civilian supplies. Was their neutrality respected? Was that part of the price? Or did attacks happen, probably while trying to disguise the source?
To begin with, it’s important to consider the nature of the Last War. It was never a total war, fought with the intent to utterly annihilate the enemy. The goal of every nation was to place their ruler upon the throne of a reunited Galifar… which in turn meant that severe destruction of infrastructure and attacks on civilians were discouraged, because ultimately you’re hoping that all of it will be YOUR infrastructure and that those civilians will accept your leader’s right to rule. So to begin with, just consider our rules of war. We can be sure that the Five Nations were operating under similar restrictions, if not necessarily identical: Targeting civilians was a war crime, and civilians, aid workers, and medical personnel should be protected. In the early days of the war, the Twelve established a basic set of principles with the leaders of the Five Nations. Essentially, house forces were to be treated as noncombatants, even if on the battlefield… and in turn, would not be expected to engage in combat. A Cannith artificer might be present with a unit of soldiers to maintain the warforged and artillery, but they wouldn’t engage in active combat and offer no resistance to an enemy. A Jorasco healer would only heal soldiers of the nation that contracted their services, but again, they wouldn’t fight members of an opposing nation. This would in turn apply to their vehicles as well. The lightning rail and Orien carriages were forbidden targets. If a coach was transporting military personnel or supplies, it could be STOPPED and those supplies could be confiscated or personnel taken prisoner, but the coach and its Orien crew should be allowed to pass.
That’s the basic principle, and it further increased the value of those services; a purely Karrnathi coach is a valid target for Cyran attack, while an Orien coach is inviolate. Of course, this is the PRINCIPLE, but there’s a number of additional factors.
There were always commanders and soldiers willing to disregard the rules of war (just consider the destruction of the White Arch Bridge or the bombardment of Korth). Just because you weren’t supposed to target the lightning rail doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.
Any House personnel or vehicles actively engaging in conflict forego this protection. So first of all, Deneith mercenaries are treated like any other combatant. A Orien coach that’s got a mounted weapon and fires on soldiers can be destroyed. And if the Cannith artificer disobeys House orders and fights alongside the unit they’re embedded with, they become a valid target. Certainly, there were times when soldiers would claim House personnel offered resistance even when they hadn’t.
With both of these things in mind, bear in mind that the primary incentive against this behavior was financial. House personnel serving with the enemy were not to be killed, but they would be taken prisoner and ransomed back to the house. There was a clearly established rate of exchange and this would be applied against that nation’s bills with the house. Meanwhile, the houses would impose financial penalties and raise rates when nations violated their rules. So As a soldier, if you kill a Jorasco healer, you’re costing your nation gold—while if you take them prisoner, you’re saving money. It’s not simply a good idea; officers would enforce this seriously.
So in short: people generally respected the neutrality of the Dragonmarked houses. It was rare that they would, for example, blow up an Orien caravan even if it was carrying military supplies. However, they could STOP the caravan and confiscate those supplies. Or they COULD blow it up, likely trying to pin the crime on another nation. But if it was the truth was discovered, they would suffer financial penalties. So you can be sure it happened, just not constantly.
A secondary point to consider here is the fact that the houses wield monopolistic power unrivaled by any corporation in our world (because we have laws preventing it!). For many of the services they provided, there simply was no reliable alternative. Nations certainly worked at it: the Arcane Congress surely worked to develop a system of arcane communication that could take the place of the Sivis speaking stones, Thrane assembled a corps of adept healers, etc. But none of these had the full scope of the services the houses could provide. You couldn’t just buy your warforged from somewhere else, and if you didn’t work with Orien your goods would take longer to reach their destination. Every nation relied on the services of at least SOME of the houses. There was undoubtedly at least one incident where an officer seized control of house facilities, essentially seeking to nationalize them—or even just used a house facility as a shield for military operations. This is where the Twelve was vitally important, because while ONE house might have trouble challenging a nation, no nation could make do without the services of all twelve. So an attack on a Vadalis facility could result in a rate increase from all houses—or even a service blackout for a particular region. Again, these things surely happened—and there were consequences when they did.
Deneith seems like it would have substantially higher casualties than the other houses due to its focus. Do they ransom their heirs if they’re captured during house business? Do they do anything special to keep their numbers up?
As noted above, Deneith personnel serving as soldiers are valid targets and don’t receive the same protections as a Sivis stonespeaker or a Jorasco healer. With that said, the general rules of war likely prohibited killing soldiers who are too injured to fight or who surrender (again, that doesn’t mean it didn’t HAPPEN, just that people were supposed to accept surrender). So Deneith soldiers would have to fight fiercely enough that people would actually want to hire them: but they could surrender if seriously injured. And just as with all house personnel, there was surely a system of ransom for them. The rate would vary based on the position of the person: a marked Deneith heir would bring in a good ransom, while a mercenary with no blood tie to the house would command a fairly low rate. But soldiers would know that if you could take a Deneith officer alive, it’s best to do so.
Having said that, it’s also important to remember that the bulk of Deneith soldiers aren’t blood heirs of the house: they are mercenaries licensed and trained by the house. In some cases—look to the Ghaal’dar and the Valenar—they weren’t even trained by the house; the house simply served as a broker for their services. So losing a Blademark unit is a loss to the house because they’ll have to recruit and train new soldiers—but they’d only lose a few blood heirs in the process. So they certainly had higher casualty rates than the other houses, but not every slain mercenary was a Deneith heir.
Thanks to my Patreon supporters for keeping this site going! I’ll be posting the topic poll for the next major article soon.
When time allows, I like to answer interesting questions submitted by my Patreon backers. This week, I’m going to answer a few questions about the Dragonmarked Houses. Today’s question comes from Alex. According to the 3.5 Dragonmarked sourcebook, the Mark of Sentinel was the first dragonmark to appear among the humans of Khorvaire. The Deneith warlords ruled the region around Karrlakton for around four centuries; it then fell into two centuries of warfare, which came to an end when Karrn the Conqueror united the region and established the nation of Karrnath. Alex asks:
Given that they were in power for 400 years, should we assume that some of Karrnath’s culture is actually the culture of the Deneith bloodline?
While the subject is Deneith, this is a question that applies to all of the houses. Where did the houses come from? To what degree do their cultures reflect those of the nations in which they first appeared, or vice versa? A critical factor is that the houses didn’t begin as HOUSES. The houses as they exist today evolved over time. Consider this passage from the 3.5 sourcebook Dragonmarked.
It is often assumed that each house has a single founder: that some ancient Master Cannith was the first person to develop the Mark of Making, with House Cannith born of his children. The truth is not so simple. Each dragonmark first appeared within multiple families, although the marks were bound to specific races and regions. The Mark of Sentinel appeared among the people of Khorvaire’s northern coast, while the Mark of Making was found in the region that would eventually become Cyre. It took generations for these first dragonmarked to realize the significance and power of their marks.
The Lyrriman gnomes of House Sivis claim that their forebears were the first to identify and unify the dragonmarked families, while members of the Vown family of House Cannith make similar claims. Seven dragonmarks were known by the time Karrn the Conqueror sought to bring all Khorvaire under his rule, though the families that bore them were not yet unified. The Sivis League, the Tinkers Guild of Cannith, and the Phiarlans of Aerenal had all laid the groundwork for their future houses, but the Sentinel families of the north were still divided. Some fought alongside Karrn, while others were among his strongest foes.
So: the Mark of Sentinel didn’t appear on House Deneith, because House Deneith didn’t exist at the time. Each mark appeared on multiple families. These families were united by their species and by their general region, and also by their aptitudes. The Aashta and Torrn clans of the Shadow Marches were already renowned hunters before they developed the Mark of Finding . On Aerenal, the Elorrenthi and Thuranni had served as phiarlans (essentially, traveling bards) for tens of thousands of years before appearance of the Mark of Shadows. In a few cases—scribing, shadows—the marked families already had close ties. But more often than not, the families had no ties; and even if they shared a broad occupation, they might approach it in different ways. Looking at the Mark of Making, the Vown family were wealthy and respected artisans even before they developed the dragonmark. But the Jurans were a rootless family of itinerant tinkers with little wealth or influence. The Mark of Making was a boon to the traveling Jurans, allowing them to mend broken things with a touch; but they were still on a very different path from the wealthy Vowns.
Over the course of generations, early dragonmarked barons were able to confirm that the child of two parents who bore the same dragonmark was more likely to develop that mark, and this drew the families together. Other dragonmarked opportunists saw the benefit of uniting those that carried the marks—of consolidating this power behind a single house. But this idea wasn’t universally or immediately accepted. In the Shadow Marches, the Torrn and Aashta clans were bitter rivals, in part due to their respective ties to the Gatekeepers and the Cults of the Dragon Below. Other families simply didn’t recognize the value of unity; it took the efforts of the young House Sivis and House Cannith to convince the bearers of the other marks to follow their example and to join together. Many of the things now seen as standard practices of the houses are traditions developed by House Sivis and incorporated into the foundation of the Twelve.
So now, let’s come back to the original question and take a look at the young House Deneith. We’ve never mentioned any of its families by name. Dragonmarked contains a seeming internal contradiction in canon. The introduction clearly talks about the Sentinel families and notes that these families were deadly rivals. On the other hand, the Deneith chapter says the following:
House Deneith was founded centuries ago from a family of warlords… The skill of Deneith warlords in battle was already well known, and when the mark appeared in their bloodline, it only added to their fearsome reputation. For over four hundred years, they ruled over the area near modern-day Karrlakton. Then war and a cycle of famine weakened the Deneith leadership and allowed rival factions to challenge it… Legends tell of how the leaders of House Deneith pledged themselves to Karrn even before he began his quest for power, though their reasons for doing so have been lost to time.
I didn’t write this section, so I can’t speak to the intention behind it. But there’s a very simple way to reconcile the apparent contradiction. The introduction says that there were multiple Sentinel families, and that some fought alongside Karrn while others fought against him. The Deneith chapter specifically talks about Deneith warlords and how they allied with Karrn. The logical answer is that DENEITH is the name of ONE of the Sentinel families—the family that was established in the region of Karrlakton. But there were other Sentinel families near what is now Korth, Vedakyr, Vulyar. And note that the chapter text above doesn’t claim that these Deneith ruled what is now KARRNATH; they only ruled the region around KARRLAKTON. So they were never more than local warlords. Following “war and a cycle of famine” they lost that concrete position and ultimately allied with Karrn. How I’M going to interpret that is that for a time they were warlords, but after their downfall they became mercenaries. Because even though they allied with Karrn and he was victorious, theydidn’tbecome Karrnathi warlords.
So how I see it is this. Deneith was a powerful family with a strong martial tradition that ruled the region around Karrlakton. However, they were better soldiers than rulers. They weren’t great at managing peasants or handling famines, and they were forced to abandon Karrlakton following famine and rebellion. However, the core of the family remained intact as a remarkable mercenary company, their skills enhanced by the Mark of Sentinel. They were rivals with a number of other Sentinel families; every warlord wanted their own “Sentinel Guard.” In allying with Karrn, Deneith wasn’t seeking land; they sought dominance over the other Sentinel families that served Karrn’s enemies. And as Karrn united the warlords under his rule, the Sentinel families were forced to submit and serve with the Deneith Blademark—forming the foundation of the house as it exists to day. Integration with the Twelve restored a little more sense of balance between the families of the house, but it nonetheless bears the name of Karrn’s victorious allies.
Consider also the symbol of the house: the three-headed chimera. To me it makes sense that this represents the fact that there are three major families within the house, each of which identifies with one of the beasts. Deneith is the Dragon, the heart of the house, and has its roots in Karrlakton. The other two heads were its ancestral rivals; I’ll say that the Lion was based in what is now Rekkenmark, while the Ram was based in Vedykar—so the house seal is also a sort of marp of the house roots on the map, with the lion in the west, the dragon in the center, and the Ram in the east. Having said that, there are certainly lesser families within the house—just as Tharashk has three major families (Torrn, Aashta, and Velderan) but additional lesser families. And again, these Sentinel families are now all united—but looking to the seal, the Deneith dragon is definitely the first among equals.
Which brings us to the second part of the question. Is Karrnath’s culture actually Deneith culture? Yes and no. Deneith never ruled Karrnath, it simply dominated the area around Karrlakton… and they were deposed two centuries before Karrn the Conqueror established Karrnath itself. I think there’s no question that Deneith is strongly defined by its Karrnathi roots, but I think that they were shaped by proto-Karrn culture as opposed to concretely defining it. And I do think that even before the reign of Karrn they had chosen the path of the mercenary over that of the landed warlord. It could well be that in establishing the Korth Edicts, Galifar ir’Wynarn (who was himself a Karrn, don’t forget!) was inspired by the existing relationship between the Karrnathi warlords and House Deneith—that he essentially said “What if you were all like Deneith—mercenaries who provide a service rather than nobles and landowners?“
So I do think that Deneith is proud of its ancient roots and its ties to Karrnathi history. But I also think that Deneith has its own unique culture—something that has evolved tied to its centuries of service as the house of mercenaries and trusted enforcers of the law.
I’ll answer additional questions about the Dragonmarked Houses later in the week. Thanks to Alex and the rest of my Patreon backers, who keep this blog going!
Nearly a quarter of Exploring Eberron is devoted to the planes of Eberron, providing a deeper look into these different layers of reality. While this addresses the supernatural cosmology of Eberron, my Patreon supporters have posed a number of questions tied to the Material Plane. What do the people of Eberron know about the physical universe beyond Eberron? What is the nature of the moons? Could there be a space race in Eberron? Others have raised more practical questions: how do the many moons of Eberron affect its tides? Wouldn’t the destruction of a moon have had even more cataclysmic results than have been suggested?
Ultimately, this begins with a crucial question: what is the Material Plane? In the myth of the Progenitors—a tale told in some form by nearly every culture—the three Progenitors work together to create thirteen planes, each one an idealized exploration of a particular concept: Life, death, war, peace. Following this effort, they rest in the emptiness that lies at the center of the planes. There the Progenitors quarrel. Khyber kills Siberys and tears him apart. Eberron enfolds Khyber and becomes the world itself, forming a living prison she cannot escape.
Whether this is truth or metaphor, it is a basic explanation for natural phenomenon.
Eberron is the world and source of natural life. It is surrounded by the shattered Ring of Siberys, and it contains Khyber. Whether or not Eberron was once a noble dragon who imprisoned another dragon, it is a natural world that surrounds and imprisons a source of fiends and aberrations.
Eberron—and its Material Plane—lies between the thirteen planes. It is influenced by all of them but it’s not part of any of them. It’s a world that knows both war and peace, life and death.
By canon (Rising p. 228), Eberron is the sole planet in its Material Plane. Beyond this, when people dream in Eberron, their spirits go to Dal Quor. When they die, they go to Dolurrh. There are no accounts of people encountering spirits from OTHER material worlds in either plane.
So the first thing to bear in mind: There is nothing natural about the universe of Eberron. The story of the Progenitors might be fact or it could be mere myth. But Eberron does appear to be the center of its Material Plane. It is the fulcrum of the 13 planes, the point where they all intersect — and as shown by Dal Quor and Dolurrh, the creatures of the Material Plane are tied to the other planes. Dig below the surface of Eberron and you won’t simply find a molten core; you’ll find the demiplanes of Khyber. You can go down a tunnel in the Mror Holds, walk five miles, and come out in Xen’drik. Which is to say, this is a supernatural reality. Arcane and divine magic are side effects of this; Eberron is suffused with a fundamental force that doesn’t exist in our world. Now, this may be because Eberron as a setting is a created artifact—that some form of the myth of the Progenitors is true. Or it could be the result of undirected evolution… but that doesn’t change the fact that it is a supernatural reality, fundamentally different from the universe that we know.
This initial section examines the known facts about the celestial objects of Eberron. This is followed by a discussion of the possible space race, which goes into more detail about what might be found on the moons or in the ring. Lest it go without saying, this is my vision of Eberron and may contradict existing sourcebooks.
The Sun and the Stars
In the Progenitor Myth, the three Progenitors rested in the Material Plane after creating the planes. They created the sun, Arrah, much as mortals might kindle a campfire. This fire remained even after their battle, and continues to provide light, heat, and comfort to the world. Arrah is rarely mentioned because it functions much like the sun we’re used to; it’s good that it’s there, but you definitely wouldn’t want to visit it. In the Sovereign Host, Dol Arrah is the Sovereign of Sun and Sacrifice; her name is, essentially, “The Warrior Sun.”
As for the stars, there are stars in the sky of Eberron, but they aren’t the anchors of distant solar systems. There are limits to the Material Plane, and the stars mark those limits; whether or not you embrace the concepts of Spelljammer, you can think of them as glittering points in the shell of a crystal sphere. The common constellations are figures of ancient dragons—Io, Tiamat, Chronepsis—though most people can’t actually say where these names come from. It’s generally assumed that they were handed down by one of the ancient kingdoms of Sarlona, or established by the ancestors of the Aereni; in fact, this is a tradition that was spread by dragons, as they moved secretly among the lesser races.
The Ring of Siberys
The closest celestial object is the Ring of Siberys, a brilliant equatorial band of light that dominates the sky. We know that the Ring is comprised of siberys dragonshards, because it’s where those dragonshards come from. Most fallen shards are quite small, but it’s there are definitely larger shards in the Ring; the civilization of the Qabalrin elves of Xen’drik was destroyed when the Ring of Storms was struck by a massive dragonshard now known as the Heart of Siberys. It’s possible that the entire ring is made up of pure dragonshards, or it could be that there are shards embedded in a more inert material—perhaps the petrified flesh of an ancient cosmic dragon.
One of the more popular schools of arcane thought maintains that all arcane magic (and perhaps divine magic as well) manipulates energy that radiates from the Ring—that magic itself is the “Blood of Siberys.” Whether or not this is true, siberys dragonshards are an extremely valuable resource. Siberys shards are used for dragonmark focus items, but per Rising From The Last War they are also used for “eldritch machines or the creation of legendary items or artifacts.” A nation or house that can secure a reliable source of siberys shards will have a huge advantage in advancing arcane science. It’s also possible that an outpost in the Ring could harness the ambient energy of the Ring itself to perform epic magic. So the Ring of Siberys is close to Eberron and unquestionably valuable; if a space race begins, it’s the logical first step.
Twelve orbiting moons are visible from Eberron. Each moon goes through standard lunar phases, and during the month that shares its name, the moon enters an “ascendant phase”; during this time the moon is brighter than usual. Each moon is associated with certain personality traits, and it’s believed that people are influenced by the moon that is ascendant at the time of their birth. Canon descriptions of the moons can be found in this article. Moving beyond canon (something suggested but never defined) there’s a further complication, because the moons are also tied to the planes—and each moon enters its ascendant phase when its associated plane is coterminous, and becomes unusually dim when the plane is remote. So while unusual, it’s possible for there to be two or three ascendant moons at a particular time, if multiple coterminous periods converge.
The connection between the planes and the moons is reinforced by the fact that within a plane, the associated moon is the only one that can be seen in the sky (assuming that any moon can be seen; not all planar layers have a visible sky). However, the phase of the moon doesn’t match its current phase on Eberron. It may be fixed in a single phase—such as in Lamannia, where the moon is always full, or it could change from layer to layer.
By canon lore, no humanoid has ever visited one of the moons. Because of this, their nature remains a mystery. They could be similar to the moon of Earth—harsh and barren. It’s possible that they aren’t planetoids at all, but are in fact planar gateways—that a vessel that tries to land on Dravago will find itself in Risia. This would explain why the moons don’t have the expected impact on tides; it may be that they don’t actually have any mass! A third option lies between these two: that the moons are habitable planetoids that are strongly influenced by the planes they are tied to. The moon Vult isn’t inhabited by the angels and demons of Shavarath, but it could be home to societies of tieflings and aasimar locked in an endless war… though unlike the immortals of Shavarath, the people of Vult might decide to turn their aggressive attention to Eberron!
THE SPACE RACE
By canon, Eberron is the only planet in its material plane. Between the planes and the demiplanes of Khyber, there’s ample opportunity for adventurers to explore strange new worlds, and deep space exploration was never planned as part of the setting; we don’t need to have alien invaders come from a distant planet when we already have alien invaders crawling out of Xoriat. Nothing’s stopping the DM from going full Spelljammer and breaking through the wall of stars. But by default, that’s not the story Eberron was designed to tell.
However, you don’t have to go into deep space to have a space race. The Ring of Siberys is a clear target for any advanced nation. Siberys dragonshards are an immensely valuable resource; now that the Five Nations are using dragonshards in an industrial capacity and can see the potential of siberys shards, it’s only logical that people would be looking to the skies and dreaming of the power waiting to be claimed. Beyond the ring you have the moons. Perhaps they’re barren orbs. But if they’re planar gateways they could be the key to serious planar exploration, and if they’re manifest worlds they could hold unknown wonders. So there’s clearly something to be gained from reaching for the sky. And just as in our world, a space race gives a clear, tight focus for the current cold war. The people of the Five Nations may be afraid to start the Last War anew… but which nation will be the first to plant their flag in the Ring of Siberys?
In dealing with the space race, there’s a few questions to consider. What are the obstacles that have to be overcome? Who’s in the race? Who’s already up there? And what might people find?
If all that it takes to reach the moons is to fly straight up, people would have done it long ago. Even though airships are a relatively recent innovation, surely in three decades SOMEONE has determined just how high they can go… and while airships may be new, brooms of flying and similar devices have been around. If there’s no obstacles, there’s no tension and it’s hard to explain why it hasn’t happened. Yet at the same time, this isn’t our reality and there’s no reason that the obstacles to space travel should be the SAME obstacles that we had to overcome. So as a DM planning a space race, consider the following factors.
Gravity. If you have to escape the gravity of Eberron to reach the Ring of Siberys, it’s easy to say that no standard methods of flight provide sufficient velocity to accomplish this. This provides room for different nations to be exploring different approaches to attaining that velocity. Elemental binding is an option; how many elementals can you bind to a vessel? Another option is to expand on the arcane principles of levitation, perhaps burning siberys shards to provide a temporary surge of energy. A more exotic option would be to abandon flight in favor of teleportation; imagine flinging a teleport circle anchor at the target.
Cosmic Rays. The Ring of Siberys is thought by many to be the source of arcane energy. If so, this radiation could be lethal without proper protection. Alternately, the energy might be harmless, but it could overload unprotected enchantments: until people figure out how to protect against this surge, all magical systems could burn out and shut down in the vicinity of the Ring of Siberys. This could form a deadly layer around the entire planet, or this could be a way to explain why people are aiming for the moons instead of the Ring; because they can’t safely get close to the Ring, but they can avoid it.
Oxygen. At what point does the air become too thin to breathe? Is there a vacuum between Eberron and the moons? Because this isn’t natural space, it could be that there IS breathable air throughout the entire system, or that the Ring or the moons have atmosphere—or it could be that the atmosphere largely behaves the way that we’re used to. If oxygen is an obstacle, it doesn’t affect the design of a vessel, but travelers will need to have a solution. Spells and magic items that allow people to breathe underwater could be adapted for this purpose; it’s possible that the same item could work both underwater or in the Ring of Siberys.
Hostile Environment. In our world, space travel may require you to deal both with extreme cold or heat. Is the Ring of Siberys shrouded in bitter cold, or is it mysteriously maintained at a comfortable temperature? Chapter 5 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide provides basic guidelines for dealing with extreme cold, extreme heat, or high altitude. These could be intensified to reflect a truly alien environment, either reducing the time between required saving throws or amplifying the effects of failure. This could also be a factor in vessel design. Airships are made of soarwood; will a wooden ship burn up on re-entry?
Who’s In The Race?
The idea of a space race is that there’s a sense of tension and competition. The Ring of Siberys is too vast for any nation to claim dominion over it. But the first nation to establish an outpost in the Ring or on the moons with have the first opportunity to explore the environment, to harness its resources, and to establish contact with whatever creatures could be found there. The idea is that no nation or dragonmarked house has had unlimited access to Siberys shards; no one knows what could be done with that reliable source. So for purposes of the story, people should KNOW who’s in the race; adventurers could involve helping an allied power gain the resources it needs to advance or acting to block a rival power. So who’s in the race?
One option is to focus on the Five Nations: this is about Breland, Aundair, and Karrnath racing to the sky. A second option is to make it a rivalry between house and nation; perhaps it’s about the Twelve competing against the space program of the Arcane Congress.
Personally, my inclination is to focus on the Five Nations—emphasizing that the Last War has been replaced by a cold war. But I’d also throw in additional alliances. House Cannith is involved with everyone; it’s split in three and the house thus wins in any scenario, but part of the question is who wins; it could be generally understood that the Cannith faction that wins the space race will also claim the leadership of the house. So here’s the factions I’d use in MY space race.
Aundair: The Dragonhawk Initiative. Aundair’s space program is an alliance between the Arcane Congress, Cannith West (under Jorlanna d’Cannith), and House Orien. While they are exploring all possibilities, the Dragonhawk Initiative is focusing on teleportation. There are three current paths under investigation: direct teleportation (which also requires scrying to confirm the target point); physical projection of an object that serves as a teleportation circle; or using a passage through a plane to cross space. Thelanis and Xoriat are the planes most tied to these efforts. There is a branch of the Dragonhawk exploring traditional levitation, but leadership is convinced that teleportation is the cleanest and safest approach.
Breland: The King’s Observatory. The Observatory is a branch of the King’s Citadel, formed in alliance with Zilargo, Cannith South (under Merrix d’Cannith), and Hosue Lyrandar. While they are exploring traditional levitation techniques, the Observatory is primarily focused on building a better elemental airship, overcoming the obstacles with elemental binding and Cannith ingenuity. Merrix has been experimenting with living ships—a step that could render Lyrandar pilots obsolete. Syrania and Fernia are the planes most associated with their efforts.
Karrnath: The Blade of Siberys. The Blade is an alliance between the Karrnathi crown, Cannith East (under Zorlan d’Cannith), and a number of wealthy individuals. Antus ir’Soldorak brings tremendous wealth and mineral resources to the table; Alina Lorridan Lyrris is an expert transmuter and owns the richest khyber shard mines in Khorvaire. The fact that they’re both members of the Platinum Concord of the Aurum is a remarkable coincidence. The Blade of Siberys is primarily interested in reaching the Ring rather than the moons. It is focused on traditional magic of flight, but Zorlan is exploring ways necromancy could be used to solve this problem: ghost astronauts? A shadow engine that draws on the power of the Endless Night? These efforts involve the Mabaran manifest zones in Karrnath, but they are considering the potential of other planes. The Blade is also very focused on the military potential of this program, and any Karrnathi space vessel will be heavily armed.
Thrane is currently a minor player in the race, though the Argentum is exploring the possibilities for an engine that harnesses the power of the Silver Flame itself. Likewise, New Cyre lacks the resources to compete with these main players… but Oargev dreams of establishing a true new Cyre on Olarune.
Who’s Already Up There?
The Five Nations may be working to win the space race, but someone else likely won that race long ago. The dragons of Argonessen are an ancient and advanced civilization, and believe themselves to be the children of Eberron and Siberys; if it’s possible to reach the Ring of Siberys, they surely did it long ago. They could use outposts in the Ring to watch for the appearance of Prophecy marks, and the epic magics unleashed in the destruction of Xen’drik may well have been channeled through siberys shards harvested from the Ring. However, the Ring of Siberys is vast and the dragons are secretive; their outposts are surely well hidden, both physically and magically. Having said that, the dragons may not have bothered to explore the moons—so they could be a truly unexplored frontier.
The giants of ancient Xen’drik were also powerful and advanced. Both the Cul’sir Dominion and the Group of Eleven explored the planes; either one could have ventured into space. Any giant outposts in the Ring of Siberys would have been destroyed by the dragons when they laid waste to Xen’drik, but there could be still be ruins in the Ring. And if a DM wants to introduce a powerful force of giants or empyreans, they could have used a powerful sequester effect to conceal a base in the Ring or on one of the moons.
The Undying Court aren’t involved in the space race. The Ascendant Counselors explore the universe in astral form and have no need to do it physically. The Lords of Dust don’t have any outposts of their own, but they are surely watching all the participants in the space race. As the fiends are the children of Khyber, it’s possible that the pure essence of Siberys is especially repellant to them—that any fiend that approaches the Ring will be destroyed.
These are creatures of Eberron who might have settled above it; possible natives are discussed below.
Exploring the Ring of Siberys
The Ring of Siberys is the logical first stop in the space race, being closer than the moons and having a clear strategic value. If the DM would rather focus on the moons, the magical energies of the Ring can be deadly to living creatures. If the Ring is the destination, the first question is whether the Ring has gravity and atmosphere. This is the most magical place in existence, so anything is possible. The next question is whether the Ring is in fact entirely comprised of massive dragonshards, or if the bulk of it is some other material; it could be a soft stone, that some might see as the calcified flesh of an ancient dragon. Even if there is an atmosphere, the Ring is entirely barren. People may be able to dig into it or build structures on the surface, but there’s no natural sources of food or water; travelers will need to either have strong supply lines, or more likely, to come prepared with ways to magically create food and water.
Magic is dramatically enhanced within the Ring. One option is that all spells cast in the Ring benefit from the Distant Spell and Extended Spell Metamagic options presented in the sorcerer class. But it’s difficult to channel this power; if the DM uses this option, all spellcasting carries the risk of a sorcerer’s Wild Magic Surge. With time, it could be that spellcasters could learn unique spells that can only be cast in the magic-rich environment of the Ring.
Even if the energies of the Ring aren’t directly lethal, they can produce many dangerous effects. Just as the energies of the Ring can be used to produce fireballs and lighting bolts, the Ring produces dramatic, unnatural weather effects—bursts of fire, acid rain, illusory manifestations, psychic storms. The Ring also produces living spells, which linger for a time before being absorbed back into the Ring. Other native creatures are rare, given the difficulty of surviving in the RIng. However, just as the rakshasa are said to be the children of Khyber, the native celestials of Eberron—the couatl—are said to have been born of Siberys. While most of the couatl sacrificed their existence to bind the overlords, there could be a few powerful celestials still bound to the Ring. Given that Thrane isn’t a major player in the space race, the first explorers could be surprised to discover embodiments of the Silver Flame itself in the Ring of Siberys.
There’s another exotic possibility. Legends speak of the Irsvern—winged kobolds said to be blessed by Siberys. According to these tales the Irsvern live on the peaks of the tallest mountains; but what if they’re actually natives of the Ring of Siberys? What powers might these children of the Ring possess?
Exploring The Moons
Exploring Eberron provides more details about the planes, and will prove a useful resource whether the moons are planar portals or merely strongly influenced by planes. The main difference between the planar portal and the idea of the manifest world is the degree to which the adventurers can have a lasting impact, and the degree to which the world is an entirely new frontier. The planes are known, even if mortals don’t visit them regularly; and the planes cannot be fundamentally changed. On the other hand, manifest worlds are an opportunity to explore entirely new and alien realms—to have first contact with unknown cultures. This is another a way to introduce exotic races or elements from other settings; perhaps loxodons are from Olarune!
Does Arrah orbit Eberron? If so, is it much further away than the moons?
There’s no canon answer to this. What we know is that Eberron has traditional seasons (as defined by the calendar)—that Arrah FUNCTIONS in the way we’re used to a sun working. On the one hand, there’s some logic to Eberron being stuck in the center of its sphere (though it could well be that it rotates in that central point and that Arrah is fixed!).
But let’s consider the Progenitor myth, which again, may or may not be exactly true but is still the closest thing we have to an explanation. In the myth, the Progenitors finish their work and rest in the Material Plane. They kindle Arrah as a campfire. They then fight: Siberys is killed, Eberron and Khyber entwined. Arrah exists BEFORE Eberron becomes a world, and I think it’s perfectly logical to say that ARRAH is at the very center of the plane and that Eberron orbits it. Though another sage could argue that the Progenitors were clearly the focal point of creation and that Arrah would have been pulled into their orbit. So like many things in Eberron, I expect that it’s something sages are actively debating in the world itself.
How do the multiple moons of Eberron affect lycanthropes?
The origin of lycanthropy remains a mystery. All lycanthropes are influenced by the moons, but not all in the same way; this suggests that there may be multiple strains of lycanthropy with different origins. The first strain is only affected by the phases of the moon Olarune; this is typically associated with good-aligned lycanthropes. The second strain of lycanthropy is affected by all of the moons, and multiple full moons can cause extreme behavior; this is the effect reported by the templars during the Lycanthropic Purge, and it encourages aggressive behavior and drives victims to quickly succumb to the curse. The third strain of lycanthrope is affected by the moon(s) that were ascendant at the moment of its birth or at the moment it was afflicted; this is common among natural lycanthropes. When adventurers encounter lycanthropes, the DM will have to decide which strain they’re dealing with.
In the past you’ve said that the Gith come from another world… could this be one of the moons?
It’s a possibility, but not the one I personally use. Exploring Eberron goes into more detail about how I use the Gith in my Eberron.
How do the shifter Moonspeakers see the moons? Are they planar portals or more like spiritual guides?
The Moonspeaker druids view the moons as spiritual guides. This doesn’t invalidate the possibility that they are planetoids or portals; the Moonspeakers invoke the spiritsof the moons, just as some other druids invoke the spirit of Eberron. With that said, it’s worth noting that this material contradicts the Moonspeaker’s assignment of the moons; I didn’t design the Moonspeaker and I don’t agree with all of its choices.
While the moons correlate with the planes, is there really a correlation with the Dragonmarks, too? The lost moon is tied to Dal Quor, but the lost mark is the Mark of Death, which would have been tied to the same moon as Dolurrh, I would have thought.
There’s a few basic points here. The moons and the planes are both part of creation; they have both existed since the dawn of time. The Dragonmarks have barely existed for three thousand years, and it’s quite possible they were created by the daelkyr. Consider that Crya was lost tens of thousands of years before the Mark of Death even existed! So the ultimate point is that the association of dragonmarks and moons isn’t a concrete, natural FACT as the association of planes and moons is; it’s a superstition, where people have ASSIGNED marks to moons, because hey, twelve marks, twelve moons. And the people who made those assignments may not even know that there once was a thirteenth moon! So it’s possible that people have stumbled onto a cosmic truth in linking these together‚that even those the marks are recent, they tied into this cosmic code. But it could also be entirely speculative.
Having said that, consider what Dolurrh actually is. It’s NOT the “Plane of Death.” Many believe that it is the plane of transition, where the soul leaves its burdens behind and ascends to a higher realm. Aryth is “The Gateway” — and the dragonmark associated with it is the Mark of Passage. The point of this association is that Dolurrh ISN’T actually the destination; it’s a pathway to the unknown realm that lies beyond.
The moons of Eberron are tied to the planes. What about the sun? What’s it tied to?
There is no canon answer to this question, and I’m sure that sages debate it at Arcanix and Korranberg. I’ll give you three answers that all likely have supporters. One is that it represents nothing. It was created by the Progenitors to serve a utilitarian function; it’s the divine campfire. Another is that just as the moons are tied to the planes, the sun represents the MATERIAL plane. A third is tied to the theory that Dolurrh is a gateway that allows people to transition to the Realm of the Sovereigns, a higher realm no mortal can know; some surely believe that Arrah is tied to THAT plane, which is why it’s so much brighter than the moons; it’s a glimpse of the truly celestial realm.
Thanks to my Patreon supporters, who chose this topic and who keep this blog going! How have you used the moons or the space race in your campaign?
As time allows I like to address shorter questions raised by my Patreon supporters. This one comes from Mariamow: I would love to see a breakdown of the fashion of the nations! Specifically how things were pre-last war mostly all being a single nation, how it evolved and why it evolved in that way.
A full nation-by-nation breakdown of fashions is a significant topic; I’ll put it on the Patreon topic poll for June. However, I wanted to take a moment to address the second half of the question: As pre-war Galifar was a single nation, how and why did the Five Nations evolve as they did?
Galifar wasn’t a single nation: it was a united kingdom. Two thousand years ago, the warlord known as Karrn the Conqueror sought to bring the nations of central Khorvaire under his control and failed. A thousand years later, Galifar I succeeded. But unlike Karrn, he didn’t seek to crush these nations and impose Karrnathi culture onto them. Galifar was a diplomat as well as a warrior, and he achieved victory through compromise. He rallied the Dragonmarked Houses to his side with the Korth Edicts. He gained the support of the goblins with the promise of freedom. And with a notable exception, he won acceptance for his rule by respecting the traditions of his defeated enemies. He appointed his children as governors of the conquered nations, and he did rename the nations after them. His homeland of Karrnath remained unchanged, but the nation of Thaliost became Aundair; Daskara became Thrane; Wroat became Breland; and Metrol became Cyre. But his children took local nobles as their spouses, and for the most part local leaders who swore fealty to Galifar and accepted his laws and edicts were allowed to keep their positions and lands. Rather than crushing the cultures of the nations, he largely embraced them and sought to harness their strengths for the greater good. Notably, each nation was granted one of the major institutions of Galifar—something that built on their existing strengths but which also served as a cultural anchor and point of pride moving forward.
Aundair had the strongest system of general education (later used as a model for all of Galifar) and the greatest expertise in wizardry and artifice. The was chosen as the home of the Arcane Congress, Galifar’s center for mystical research and education.
Breland became the seat of the King’s Citadel, service both as the strong shield of the ruler and as their eyes and ears. Beyond this, Breland would also evolve into a major center for commerce and industry. All of these were supplemented by its close ties to Zilargo, which remained culturally independent but under the general jurisdiction of Breland.
Karrnath had the oldest and strongest martial tradition. Rekkenmark was both the most prestigious military academy in Galifar and the secondary seat of military administration.
Thrane was known for its devotion to the Sovereign Host, and was the seat of the Grand Temple of the Host. The temple was devastated during the Year of Blood and Fire; following the sacrifice of Tira Miron, the majority of the people of Thrane converted to the faith of the Silver Flame, and the Grand Temple was replaced by Flamekeep.
Cyre was the exception to the rule of maintaining the existing culture. Here Galifar displaced the existing nobility and built a nation that would be a model for the kingdom as a whole—drawing on the cultural strengths of all five nations to and creating something new. This was a source of pride for the new Cyrans, but a bitter pill for the displaced nobles of Metrol (largely granted new lands in what is now Valenar)—and in general, there was a lingering resentment that Cyre’s prosperity was built with the sweat of the other nations.
So people considered themselves to be citizens of Galifar, but they still thought of themselves as Cyrans, Brelish, or Aundairian. The sourcebook Forge of War includes a map of Galifar before the war, and again, it’s not one nation: it’s five.
Galifar was a metropolitan society. Part of the point of spreading its major institutions across the continent is that people would go to Aundair to learn magic or to Karrnath to study war and then return to their homelands. So the nations weren’t isolated, and Cyre in particular strove to draw inspiration from all of the nations. Nonetheless, Karrns were the most likely to serve as soldiers and Aundairians the most likely to become scholars or wizards.
So while the cultures of the Five Nations have deep roots in the pre-Galifar nations, the traits most associated with them today—Aundair’s arcane strength, Thrane’s devotion—developed under Galifar. In the previous article I mentioned that the soldiers of the Five Nations started from a common base for their uniforms, because the ARMY was the army of Galifar; but the soldiers within the army had always thought of themselves as Brelish, Aundairian, etc and when they changed into civilian clothing it would reflect their local culture.
All of which is to say that there’s certainly room for a longer discussion of the cultures and fashions of the Five Nations when I have time to write about them! Until then, in dealing with the Five Nations the key point is to remember that while they have only been independent nations for a century, they Five Nations have traditions and cultural identities that go back far longer than that.
Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters for keeping this site going! As determined by the poll on Patreon, the my next major article will concern the moons and the potential for a space race in Eberron.
Eberron is a world where you have the lightning rail, where warforged can be mass-produced, where the towers of Sharn scrape the sky. But it’s also a world where your character might be a knight in plate armor hitting things with a sword. So what does that look like? Does the world feel medieval, or is the aesthetic closer to World War I?
In creating Eberron, the design team made a conscious decision to keep the experience of the world grounded in D&D. This meant that people would still wear plate armor. They’d ride horses instead of motorcycles. They’d fight using swords and bows rather than using a version of firearms. So part of the point is that we didn’t want to make classic armor or weaponry obsolete. With the introduction of the wandslinger in fifth edition it’s possible to see how the world is moving in that direction—one of my favorite quotes from the Wayfinder’s Guide is the Aundairian exclaiming “Sovereigns above, Wyllis. We’re days away from the Eleventh Century and you’re still shooting people with pointed sticks?” So we are REACHING a point where the warlock wearing leather armor and carrying a wand is just as plausible a soldier as the fighter in plate with sword and shield. But for now it is still a world where armies clash with sword and spear.
With that said, the basic concept of Eberron is that it is a world in which magic has taken the place of the science we know. It’s a world that has trains, yes: but that train doesn’t use steam or gears, it’s a series of stagecoaches that ride a line of lightning. It’s NOT our world, and while the tools people use may have medieval names, that doesn’t mean they are medieval in form. I discussed this in a previous article dealing with crossbows, but it is equally important when thinking about armor. Heavy armor became obsolete in our world because crossbows and gunpowder weapons could easily penetrate it, and the protective value of the armor no longer offset its limitations on movement. But consider a few facts about armor in D&D…
Heavy armor provides equal protection against all weapons. Plate armor provides significantly better protection than leather armor, regardless of whether your attacker is using a sword, a heavy crossbow, or even a modern firearm (if you use the rules provided in the DMG).
Heavy armor is remarkably flexible. As long as you meet the Strength requirement, the only limitation it imposes is disadvantage on Stealth checks: it’s NOISY. But unlike previous editions, it doesn’t reduce your movement speed. And it doesn’t impose disadvantage on, say, Acrobatics or Sleight of Hand checks. That implies remarkable ease of movement. And, you can wear it all day without worrying about sores or other problems.
You can choose to look at these as the limitations of a casual rules system. But the alternative is to accept the idea that this isn’t medieval armor. It is “plate” armor, yes. It’s literally heavy and it requires a certain level of Strength to use it effectively. In terms of its materials and appearance, it’s not medieval. The same concept applies to other “medieval” things. Orien couriers use a form of horseshoes of speed that channel the power of their dragonmark (thus reducing the rarity) to give a mount greater speed and durability. So yes, people are riding horses instead of motorcycles, but that Orien courier can tear past you with blue light flashing from the hooves of the horse; less frequently you might even see a courier with horseshoes of a zephyr riding a horse across the surface of a river. It’s a MAGICAL world; don’t just think “No cars means it’s primitive”, highlight what they’ve developed instead. Mention the squad of Vadalis hippogriffs passing overhead, or the street performer weaving wonders out of illusion; it’s not medieval, it’s magical.
Magic is a part of life, and is very much a part of fashion. Glamerweave is a form of common magic item that imbues clothing with illusion. A sorcerer may wear a cloak that’s lined with a starry sky. A former soldier could have glowing sigils representing the medals bestowed upon them in their service etched into their armor. Consider also shiftweave, a common magic item that allows the wearer to shift between multiple outfits—so someone who can afford a common magic item can shift between their traveling outfit and a shimmering gown with a snap of their fingers. Exploring Eberron will also discuss cosmetic transmutation—the idea that you can go to a cosmetic illusionist and add magical details to your appearance. In Aundair in particular you can expect to see people with glowing eyes, metallic hair, or other cosmetic details that are obviously the product of magic.
Pulling back to armor and common appearance for a moment: Consider that Khorvaire is just two years out from decades of war. All genders served in the armies of the Five Nations. Combined together, you’ll see a trend toward practical clothing that allows freedom of movement. The closer you were to the front lines, the more you wanted to be ready for anything. Nobles might embrace fashions that restrict movement to make a statement—my fancy gown shows that I’m NOT going to fight, or that if I do it will be with magic, not muscle—but that would stand as an exception. Tied to this, armor has become a part of everyday life. Especially in the case of light armor, leather and even studded leather can be designed to be stylish and comfortable. Many former soldiers wear a modified form of their service armor. Think of it a little bit like gunslingers in westerns; carrying a pistol suggests you can handle yourself, but it’s not going to immediately raise alarm. The same is true of armor; heavy armor is definitely making a statement, but people won’t blink at someone causally wearing light armor.
So with that in mind, consider that the names of armors in D&D are arbitrary. A deeper system might explore the advantages and disadvantages of chainmail versus rigid armor; current D&D doesn’t. So consider chain shirt, scale mail, and breastplate:
These are all “metal armor” for spells and effects that target metal armor.
“Scale mail” is 20 lbs heavier and applies disadvantage to your Stealth Check, but provides better protection.
A “breastplate” is the same weight as a “chain shirt” but provides the same protection as “scale mail” while not imposing disadvantage on Dexterity checks.
Mechanically, these are the factors that matter: weight, AC, disadvantage on Stealth, metal armor… and the fact that someone who examines you can recognize those things. Everything else is story. There’s no reason that you can’t say that the Doldarun dwarves produce exceptionally strong, light chainmail that has the same characteristics as a breastplate rather than being heavy armor. Essentially, there’s no reason that “breastplate” armor has to BE a breastplate—as long as someone looking at the wearer can recognize the qualities of their armor. This likewise applies to, say, “studded leather.” It doesn’t have to actually involve STUDS; it is leather armor reinforced with metal, but that could be strips, metal vambraces and shinguards, etc; what’s important is that someone can say “Oh, it’s reinforced leather armor, that’ll have the stats of studded.”
Putting all of this to practical purpose, let’s talk about the common uniforms of soldiers of the Five Nations. Consider that they all BEGAN as soldiers of the army of Galifar, so while nations would evolve their own styles over the course of the war, it’s reasonable that they’d have a common base style used for conscripts. I imagine leather armor as either a leather greatcoat or, as shown with Greykell in the image above, a leather tunic supplemented with gauntlets or vambraces and high boots or shinguards. Advancing to studded leather you’d add metal to the vambraces and shinguards, and studs or strips of metal to the leather. Moving to medium armor, you’d add a metal helmet and breastplate. The standard model would MECHANICALLY be “scale mail”—but it’s a metal cuirass that’s heavy enough (that extra weight) that it applies the Stealth penalty. The improved model —the “breastplate”—is the same basic design, but uses stronger alloys to produce a thinner, lighter model that doesn’t impose the Stealth penalty. Advancing to heavy armor, I’d still keep the same cuirass design, but add chain beneath it. Now, this is definitely where you’d start to see national variation; the Karrns have always been the finest armorers of the Five Nations and will make more use of heavy armor, both in their armies and among their nobles; this can be more stylized, and even aside from the infamous bone knights you can expect gothic styling or details tied to a family crest. Meanwhile, actual chainmail would be more common in the Mror Holds and the Lhazaar Principalities… and again, I could imagine a Mror champion with reinforced double-chain that is effectively plate armor, even though it’s described as heavy chainmail.
All of this has been a very long way to say a simple thing: Just because people in Eberron use tools WE think of as medieval doesn’t mean they are medieval. You can adjust the appearance of everything from a crossbow to plate armor to make it feel more modern in its design, and you shouldn’t feel limited by the NAME of a type of armor as long as you logically maintain its STATISTICS and that someone can recognize that—again, nothing wrong with a Mror champion having chainmail “plate” as long as people KNOW that they’re fighting someone with the capabilities of plate armor.
I don’t have time to get into the individual fashions of each of the Five Nations now, but if patrons are interested in the topic, bring it up on Patreon and I may address it in an IFAQ or as a poll topic. But here’s a very high-level overview:
Aundair is the most magical of the Five Nations. They have the most significant number of wandslingers, and you’ll see more of a focus on the classic “musketeer”—lighter armor and wand. While mobility is key, Aundairians are definitely concerned with appearance and fashion, and are the most likely to use glamerweave or cosmetic transmutation to produce exotic effects. In general, Aundairians favor grace, mobility, and skill over heavy armor and brute strength.
Breland has always been called out for its industrial capacity and pragmatic nature. I see them as holding to the standard leather-and-cuirass design. People like to have some touch of personal flair, but they aren’t going to be as exotic about it as Aundairians or Cyrans.
Cyre falls between these two: not as dramatic as the Aundairians, but placing importance on personal style. In the past we’ve called out that Cyran fashions incorporate gloves and cloaks, with varying styles for the occasion—heavy cloak for traveling, short cloak for socializing, light long cloak with a glamerweave lining for the gala. Jewelry is likewise important for Cyrans—not necessarily holding great value, but as a form of personal expression. The fashion of “Mourningwear” is to maintain this style, but in black.
Karrnath is both gothic and martial in its overall style. It’s common to wear some form of armor, and heavy armor is more commonly used both on and off of the battlefield. Armor and helmets are designed to intimidate; in contrast to Aundair, in Karrnath strength is emphasized. The flag of Karrnath is black and red, and both these colors are common in their fashions.
Thrane is the most practical and least pretentious of the Five Nations. Templars may wear heavy armor, but the common peasant militias relies on light armor and bows. Light clothing is common, but subdued; cosmetic transmutation and glamerweave are rare. Followers of the Silver Flame will usually display a symbol of their faith, whether pendants, brooches, or painted designs.
That’s all I have time for today! Hopefully it’s been interesting. Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters for keeping this blog going, and to patron dglover for the question that inspired this post. The next major article—as chosen by the patrons—will be on the moons and the space race in Eberron, though there may be another short article before that. Add your thoughts on fashions in Eberron in the comments!
When I have time, I like to address some of the infrequently asked questions from my Patreon supporters. Today’s question comes from Ben:
How do you envision an Eberron theatre? Probably more than just The Globe with continual flame footlights, right?
Absolutely! The issue is that “theatre” covers a wide range of performances and performance spaces. The Grand Stage of Sharn employs the latest techniques and has all sorts of expensive equipment, while the Classic Theater offers minimalist performances at more reasonable prices.
Most theatre companies have a shadow orchestra. This includes one or more magewrights who use thaumaturgy and minor illusion to provide sound and dramatic effects (Thunder! Doors slamming! The roar of a dragon off stage!). Light is indeed provided by continual flame footlights (permanent), and in my opinion the orchestra can use thaumaturgy to brighten, dim, or change the color of this illumination; when performed by a trained technician on theatrical lights this effect lasts for more than a minute, so this is how you raise and lower lights, change the mood, etc.
Exceptional actors will also know thaumaturgy and many will be able to cast disguise self. Following the general principle that magewright spells can vary from standard spells, I’d say that the theatrical version of disguise self has to be cast as a ritual, but that the effect lasts for up to three hours—so it will last for the length of a performance. As not all actors will have this training, there’s common magic items that provide the voice amplification effect of thaumaturgy, along with shiftweave and similar tools for costuming.
Beyond that: the entertainment industry is dominated by the houses of Shadow. The power of the dragonmarked houses largely comes from focus items that amplify the powers of the mark, like the sending stones of House Sivis—and spells of up to 3rd level are part of wide magic. Thus, when you’re dealing with a professional Phiarlan or Thuranni theatre, you’ll have a shadow weaver—a podium that allows an operator with the Mark of Shadow to cast major image, which lets you create images, sounds, and even smells. So with this, the shadow orchestra can create anything from elaborate lighting, weather, fire, explosions, or even monsters charging on stage. In the finest Phiarlan theatres, the stage has an embedded focus item that has an effect similar to hallucinatory terrain (though able to function within a building). Traveling companies of Phiarlan’s Carnival of Shadows have such a focus item mounted in a wagon, allowing them to create an amazing set within minutes.
So the short form is that theatre will often employ illusory effects, from simple lightning and amplification of sound to more dramatic special effects. I’ll also call out the crystal theaters that have been mentioned a few times. Phiarlan’s answer to movie theaters, these use a scrying effect to project the image of a live performance on one of the house’s main stages.
In considering Eberron theater, one should also keep changelings in mind. Given that disguise self exists and that most major performances don’t require a star to SWITCH appearance, changelings may not be the stars of every show, but almost every company has at least one changeling actor who serves as understudy and plays a host of minor roles. Tavick’s Landing in Sharn is notable for changeling street performers, and while traveling changeling troupes aren’t as grand as the Carnival of Shadows, they are extremely versatile. While changelings have little use for disguise self, professional entertainers will still learn thaumaturgy and minor illusion; instead of disguise self, a changeling magewright entertainer will typically learn silent image.
Have you use the theatre in your adventures? share your story in the comments!