Dragonmarks: High Level Adventures in Eberron

One of the core concepts of Eberron is that player characters are remarkable. The original Eberron Campaign Setting emphasized that most NPCs used NPC classes—warrior, magewright, adept—rather than player classes such as fighter or wizard. In 5E we’ve emphasized that spells of up to 3rd level are common in the Five Nations, but those of 4th or 5th level are remarkable and higher level effects are legendary.

This often leads to the mistaken assumption that Eberron is a “low-level setting”—that there are no real challenges for characters of 10th level and above. That was never the intent. The people of the Five Nations are typically low level magewrights and commoners. City guards in Sharn are low level warriors. But when we designed the setting, we didn’t expect your high level characters to be fighting city guards in Sharn! A comparison here would be The Hobbit. When Smaug comes to Laketown, the Master of Laketown isn’t a mighty champion who can fight him. All the soldiers of Laketown are helpless against the dragon. Their only chance lies with a hero who can beat the odds and do the impossible. And in Eberron, that’s you. The Lord Mayor of Sharn isn’t SUPPOSED to be able to beat you in a fight; he’s the Master of Laketown, and his power isn’t ABOUT being good at fighting. If you’re a high-level character, maybe you can defeat all the guards in Daggerwatch Garrison. But you’re not supposed to be fighting the guards, you’re supposed to be the one who DEFENDS the city when the Tarrasque shows up and no one else can stop it.

So first, people often judge Eberron based on the fact that its cities aren’t full of high level NPCs. A second reason it’s often cast as a “low-level setting” is that in Eberron, gods don’t walk the world. Which is true… but Eberron has Overlords, the archfiends who dominated the world at the dawn of time. In their original presentation in the 3.5 rules, Overlords have divine rank; they aren’t gods, but they have the same POWER as gods in other settings. As defined in Rising From The Last War, the avatar of a partially released Overlord might have a CR of 28 (with the side bonus of being immortal, which means that unless you do it properly defeating them will only incapacitate them for about a day). A fully unbound Overlord can reshape reality over the space of an entire nation; one plausible theory for the cause of the Mourning is that it’s the side effect of an Overlord’s release, and that the Mourning is just an aura that surrounds them… that if they decide to start moving, they would leave a trail of utter devastation.

So Eberron has EVIL entities that have the power of the gods of other settings… But should the Overlords be released, there’s no GOOD forces of equal power that can face them. One might ask why, given this, the people of Eberron BELIEVE in gods. The point is that the people of Eberron don’t expect the Sovereigns or the Silver Flame to manifest in the world; they expect them to guide and empower the mortals who face them. The Sovereigns defeated the Overlords in the dawn of time and then ascended to maintain reality. The Silver Flame is the prison that binds the Overlords. These are vital tasks worthy of respect and worship. And again, should an Overlord be released, people don’t expect DOL ARRAH to appear to fight it; they expect a mortal champion to face it, guided and empowered by Sovereigns and Flame, which is exactly what Tira Miron did when she battled Bel Shalor. Which brings us back to the fact that there are MALEVOLENT forces with godlike power… and if they rise, it’s up to YOU to be the Tira Miron of this age.

This ties to an important point I’ve called out before: Eberron is always one bad day away from an apocalypse. There are dozens of overlords straining against their bonds. There are thousands of lesser fiends in the world; most are trapped in places like the Demon Wastes, but those allied with the Lords of Dust could be walking the streets of Sharn right now, waiting for the moment to strike. The daelkyr and their minions crawl beneath our feet, while the quori study our dreams. Perhaps tomorrow there will be a new wave of lycanthropy. Perhaps the Lord of Blades will lead a force of restored warforged colossi against Korth. Perhaps the ancient vampires of the Qabalrin will arise from their forgotten tombs. These things don’t happen every day, which is why the civilization of the Five Nations still exists. But they could happen any day, and that’s why the world needs heroes. Most of the time, Laketown is perfectly stable and safe… but when the dragon shows up, the common people need a champion. As a player character you are supposed to be remarkable, because there ARE powerful malevolent forces and you may be the only ones who can deal with them.

Mighty and Malevolent

To start with, I want to do a quick round-up of some of the high-level forces that can be found in Eberron.


This is a big one. There was a time when Eberron was entirely dominated by fiends. The Overlords were bound along with their most powerful followers. But some of their lesser minions escaped the Flame (thing of tiny fish slipping through a net) and others have managed to escape as bonds have weakened. The common point we’ve raised is that most fiends have no interest in ruling over mortals. They are immortal beings of transcendent power and ruling mortals is basically babysitting deeply annoying children… And also risks starting a fight with the neighbors (Argonnessen). So they don’t try to RULE humanity. But they are out there. They can appear at any time that it actually serves the goals of the Lords of Dust. And they can appear at other times—perhaps summoned by a foolish wizard, or just a random fiend following their own agenda.

While we’ve always said that rakshasa are the most numerous native fiends, ANY fiend—devil, demon, otherwise—could be spawned by Khyber. The difference between a native demon and native devil is largely the point that they are embodiments of malevolent concepts—that demons reflect chaotic ideas while devils are more orderly. Any fiend tied to Rak Tulkhesh will be an embodiment of WAR and bloodshed; any fiend tied to Sul Khatesh will embody secrets and the malevolent power of magic. These native fiends don’t have the same vast hierarchy as the immortals of the planes, because they are the Lords of Dust; their kingdoms FELL a hundred thousand years ago, and they are the handful who escaped its destruction; they want to restore the Age of Demons so they can go BACK to the way reality is supposed to be. But you can still play out immortal vendettas between servants of different Overlords. But again, the main point is that native fiends largely embody the idea of pure evil, usually seen through the lens of one of the Overlords.

Now, fiends can be a powerful force, but you might say “I can’t just have a Nalfeshnee randomly walking around Sharn.” And that makes sense; we don’t SEE fiends often in the world. But never forget that the rules are a foundation for us to build on. Consider a few ways you could use fiends.

  • Possession. There are more fiends around us than we know, because they are possessing mortal hosts. On the simple level, this might just be an explanation for someone acting in an evil manner. Moving on, you could say that a victim of possession has some of the powers of the possessing spirit (such as its innate spellcasting). Moving even further, you could say that SOME possessing fiends can actually fully transform a host when they choose too. So you don’t see a nalfeshnee in the world, but when you attack the corrupt judge he can BECOME a full nalfeshnee… until you kill him, at which point his body reverts to the battered form of the dead mortal. This is especially strong if allies of the adventurers can be involuntarily possessed, meaning adventurers need to try to find a way to exorcise them, not simply kill them.
  • Disguised Immortals. We assert that there are disguised dragons and rakshasa around, using ancient magic to hide from mortal eyes. This same principle can be added to any fiend. Again, the rules are a foundation: but nothing is STOPPING you from saying that this particular erinyes can assume a perfect mortal disguise. One example of a way to do this without completely just saying “all fiends are shapeshifters!” is to introduce the idea of amulets created through blood sacrifice that let the fiend assume the form of the mortal sacrificed. That erinyes can’t just assume the form of ANY mortal; they can assume form of one particular mortal, and only while they wear the amulet… abut it also shields them from most divinations, showing them to be that mortal.
  • Artificial Fiends. Perhaps House Vadalis and Jorasco, working together, create a horrific monster with the power of a goristro—a beast they can’t control that breaks free and starts a terrible rampage. Perhaps Cannith creates a steel marilith. These could be vessels for actual fiends, driven by an immortal consciousness—or they could be entirely artificial creatures that have the STATISTICS of fiends but don’t have their minds or motivations.

Native fiends are the pure embodiment of evil and of mortal fears. They are most common in the Demon Wastes and similar places. But they are in the world. The more powerful adventurers become, the more chance they have of drawing the attention of these beings or over stumbling into their plans. So, there’s a host of potentially powerful beings for you to deal with.


Existing aberrations have their own roles in the world. A cult devoted to Belashyrra could be led by a beholder, while aberrations scheme in the depths of the Thunder Sea. But the general concept of aberrations is that they are things that should not be. And aberrations can appear anywhere. Yes, the daelkyr have armies of existing aberrations. But they can also CREATE aberrations, as can Mordain the Fleshweaver… and others might be created spontaneously by the energies of Xoriat. Do you want to have an Aboleth in the sewers of Fairhaven, but you can’t think of an explanation? It could have been created by the daelkyr Kyrzin, fused from the ooze of the sewers and given foul life. The main thing is that if I did this, I’d describe it in a different way from a standard aboleth, describing it as being translucent and formed from the same mucous that surrounds it, just fused into a solid form. Likewise, the slaadi may be natives of Kythri, but there’s nothing stopping Dyrrn the Corruptor from creating a creature with the same STAT BLOCK as a red slaad that simply doesn’t look anything like a red slaad and pursues the daelkyr’s agenda. Again, stat blocks are a foundation. There’s no reason a creature with the stat block of a red slaad has to be red or a slaad! It could be a slimy green humanoid covered with tiny tentacles, that infects its victims by embedding one of those tentacles within them. This has the added bonus of confounding players who have memorized the Monster Manual and are baffled by this “Green Corruptor” — even though YOU know you just converted a red slaad.

This same principle holds true for creatures that AREN’T aberrations. You could have a daelkyr create a creature that has the same basic stats as a goristro and change its type from “fiend” to “aberration.” Nothing’s stopping the daelkyr from creating ANYTHING. Dyrrn could create aberrant unicorns… I’d just change their appearance to fit the daelkyr aesthetic (it’s not a horn projecting out, it’s that their spine extends out through their brain…).


There’s any number of high-CR undead creatures that can pose challenges to high level adventurers. At a quick glance there’s vampires, mummy lords, liches, dracoliches, demi-liches, death knights; I discuss how such things might appear in Eberron in this article. Such forces COULD be tied to the Lady Illmarrow and the Order of the Emerald Claw, but they can just as easily be entirely unique. An ancient Qabalrin vampire may have come to Sharn and started creating a network of vampire minions (and for a high level games, those “minions” could be CR 13+ vampires, with the Qabalrin elder being something far more powerful I’d create for the campaign). A death knight could have been formed by its own tragic backstory. A dracolich bound to Katashka could be expanding its reach. One of the advantages of undead is that common people can become undead. So the adventurers could have spent their low levels fighting a group of criminals, and then in their teens discover that the guildmaster they thought they’d killed has returned as a vampire, and both she and her minions are now far more powerful than they were in life.

Mortal Ingenuity

The common people aren’t that tough. But first of all, that leaves room for UNCOMMON people — people like the player characters. The Lord of Blades. Mordain the Fleshweaver. They were low level characters once—and like the player characters, they have potential beyond that of the common folk. We say that there’s not a lot of powerful BENEVOLENT NPCs, because that’s your job as PCs. But there can easily be NPCs with however much power the story requires; the point is simply to emphasize that they ARE remarkable. If you want Merrix d’Cannith to have the abilities of a 20th level artificer in your story, give him the abilities of a 20th level artificer. But make sure to call out how astonishing that is. And if it were me I’d add details that really make that point. Maybe he’s actually transforming himself into a construct (in the style of the old renegade mastermaker). Maybe he’s embedded an ancient docent into his forehead. He can BE ridiculously powerful, it’s just good to call out that this isn’t typical—that he’s just as remarkable as you are.

But even if you aren’t dealing with individual characters that have the abilities of player characters, you can also deal with “common people”—magewrights, adepts—who able to CREATE things that can pose a threat to high level PCs. Because NPCs don’t use the same rules as PCs, they may be using rituals that require multiple casters, that take years to complete, etc—but that still lets them do things no wizard can do. Artificers can create constructs with tremendous power: just look at the warforged titans and colossi! As I’ve suggested above, maybe Vadalis could create living weapons with the power of fiends… only to find that they can’t actually CONTROL them. It may be that mortals created the Mourning! You could say that an artificer has created a suit of armor that gives its wearer great power, as long as there’s a good reason adventurers won’t take it when the villain is defeated (because it taps into your spine and kills the wearer within three days).

Planar Danger

When you’re searching for high level threats, a simple option is to leave the world behind and to travel to the planes. Exploring Eberron provides details about the thirteen planes, and all of them have options for high level play. Engage in dangerous wagers with an efreeti in Fernia. Fight alongside the Legion of Freedom in Shavarath. Try to free your city after it’s been claimed by Mabar, before it can be fully consumed by the Endless Night. Go to Daanvi to try to break someone out of the Inescapable Prison, or try to learn the location of Illmarrow’s phylactery by reading Minara’s diary in the Library of Dolurrh. Overall the denizens of the planes have little interest in Eberron, but YOU might have something to accomplish in the realms beyond.

And So On…

This is just a starting point. I haven’t discussed the dragons, the Dreaming Dark, the Heirs of Dhakaan, or artifacts —all of which could drive higher level adventures and serve as dangerous foes. The critical point is that just because the majority of the population are low level doesn’t mean that Eberron lacks high level threats; it means that the people need YOU to face these, because the city guard CAN’T solve the problem on their own. I want to reiterate that the rules are a foundation and that you can change them to fit your story; just because a fiend doesn’t have disguise self doesn’t prevent you from GIVING it disguise self, and nothing stops you from using the statistics of a marilith but making it an aberration.

With Great Power…

One point that’s been raised is the idea that as characters grow in power they may outgrow the things that make the setting unique. Once they’re fighting fiends and liches, once they can do things that are beyond everyday magic, doesn’t that just make it like any other setting? Once they’re fighting Overlords, how is it not just about fighting gods? Maybe your characters began as plucky orphans in Callestan dealing with Daask and the Boromar Clan and you don’t WANT to clash with dragon and vampires. There’s a few ways to deal with this.

Never Grow Up

If you want a campaign where the city guard is ALWAYS a threat, don’t advance your characters to higher levels. Decide what the maximum level for the campaign will be and use milestone advancement. It’s good to allow characters to advance in SOME way so there’s a sense of progression and so players don’t get bored, but there’s lots of ways to handle that. If you want to boost them mechanically, grant characters feats instead of class levels. This gives them new options and capabilities but doesn’t improve their hit points or give them access to spells beyond the reach of everyday magic. Instead of rare magic items, let them earn favors from powerful people; when you ARE arrested by the city guard, that favor the Captain owes you might be more useful than a +1 sword! Give characters new territory, new titles, and new responsibility — all of these can add to the sense of story progression even if you never (or only rarely) gain a level. As I mentioned in the previous article, I was in a campaign where the adventurers were professional ratcatchers. We started at 3rd level and stayed 3rd level the entire campaign. We made connections and we earned improvements for our business (Sewer maps! A superior toxin kit!) but we never gained levels; we were never going to go from being ratslayers to being dragonslayers, and we knew it.

Level Up The Opposition

So you want to level up, you want to keep fighting the Boromar Clan, and you don’t want them to become irrelevant because of your newly magnified power. No worries: have them evolve with you. This doesn’t have to mean that Boromar standard enforcers are all 7th level rogues. But first of all, Boromar might have a team of exceptional enforcers—their OWN party of adventurers, if you will (they might even hire them from the Deathsgate Adventurer’s Guild!). Or perhaps they have a transformative event that creates worthy high-level foes. They become lycanthropes. Saiden becomes a vampire and transforms his lieutenants. They make a bargain with an Overlord and are possessed by fiends. So they continue to be a threat, but they are a very DIFFERENT threat; as you have become more powerful, THEY have become more powerful, in a way that feels natural within the story. Meanwhile, all of you are more powerful that the common folk around you. You are exceptional, but your enemies are exceptional as well.

Great Responsibility

My common approach is to change the focus of a campaign as the adventurers both gain power but also gain recognition and connections across the world. In the last article I wrote about a campaign in which a PC wanted to overthrow Kaius, take over Karrnath, and then have to defeat Lady Illmarrow. Here’s the “Series Overview” I put together for that.

  • Prologue (1-4). Adventurers are on an airship to Stormreach. They have to foil a skyjacking, but despite their success the ship passes through a manifest zone into Lamannia and crashes. The adventurers must work together both to help the other survivors and find a way to escape Lamannia. This brings the characters together, as only that have the skills required to succeed.
  • Adventurers (5-10). Having made it to Stormreach, each character has a few hooks to explore – but they need allies and they don’t know anyone except the other players. Some of these challenges are local intrigues (drawing them into the schemes of the Storm Lords and the Kraken), others are action (one character wants to find the crown of the last emperor of Dhakaan). Along the way they become powerful both in skills and in connections. The key piece is that the Karrn PC needs to win the loyalty of the Blades of Karrn, who will serve as their core force in their campaign against Kaius.
  • Rebels (11-15). We shift to Karrnath. To achieve the characters goal not just of killing Kaius but of claiming the crown, the action must shift to a much higher level. It doesn’t MATTER that the adventurers could easily kill dozens of Karrnathi soldiers, because that won’t win them the loyalty of the common people. They need to negotiate with warlords, inspire commoners, use the allies they made in Stormreach, make dangerous bargains with Dragonmarked houses and accept unwise help from Lady Illmarrow. They need to identify and eliminate Kaius’ hidden weapons. When they fight they aren’t fighting common soldiers, they are fighting Kaius’ CHAMPIONS—bone knights, Rekkenmark paragons, strange things created during the Last War. They will finally face Kaius, but that will be the end of a long road of diplomacy and investigation.
  • Rulers (16-20). Somehow Kaius was preventing Illmarrow from exerting control over the Karrnathi undead. with his downfall Illmarrow turns Karrnath’s legions of undead against the living. She cares nothing for who rules Karrnath; she just wants massive casualties to fuel her rituals. Karrnathi undead might not be a threat to the high-level PCs, but they can’t personally destroy tens of thousands of them; they don’t have TIME, and the death count grows with every hour. They need to direct the forces they’ve amassed and allies they’ve made as effectively as possible to slow down the undead apocalypse while they find the real answer. They need to face Illmarrow’s champions at the sites that are crucial to her ritual—and these champions are mummy lords, death knights, and liches. They must find Illmarrow’s phylactery—which is so well hidden even she doesn’t know where it is—and destroy it. They must face HER and defeat her. But it could be that even in defeat her ritual works, and they must finally go to Dolurrh itself to either destroy Illmarrow for once and for all… or perhaps to find a way to guide her own to a positive path as the new Queen of the Dead. And even after all that, they must restore order to Karrnath—dealing with the aftermath of the undead attack and dealing with the very real that that one or more of the Five Nations will take advantage of Karrnath’s weakness, especially if the players haven’t won the support of the other Wynarn monarchs before killing their kinsman.

That’s was a very long example. But the point is that the players started by doing traditional adventures, dealing with local gangs and intrigues. As they reached a degree of power that made those local thugs irrelevant they shifted both to leading groups of weaker characters and to fighting champions of equal power. And in the end they were dealing with threats that could destroy nations and bargaining with extraplanar forces. It was the same basic idea with my Q’barra campaigns. In the beginning the characters were fighting bandits and exploring tombs. By they end they would be clashing with the half-fiend dragon Rhashaak and ultimately the Overlord Masvirik, and their actions would determine the fate of the Cold Sun Federation and New Galifar. It’s not simply that the characters gained greater POWER—it’s that they also gained greater responsibility, directing allies and making decisions that could affect thousands of people instead of just fighting a tougher monster.

Again, you don’t have to advance to this epic scale! You COULD spend the whole campaign in Sharn, with the Boromar clan becoming infested by demons. You could never go beyond 3rd level. But you could also choose to entwine your characters WITH the fate of Khorvaire—to have them broker a lasting peace or ignite the next war, to have them solve the mystery of the Mourning or perhaps make it worse.

This is a huge topic that I COULD write about for days, and I’m going to rein it in here. I will be posting a final follow-up with a few specific high level adventure ideas next week on Patreon (for Inner Circle and Threshold) patrons, along with establishing the time for the next Threshold adventure! Thanks to my Patrons for making these articles possible!

54 thoughts on “Dragonmarks: High Level Adventures in Eberron

  1. How would you handle campaigns of a truly epic and cosmic scale, like turning the Age? Or perhaps the “If Winter Falls” scenario that you propose in your article on the Children of Winter, which is a radical upheaval to the entire setting?

    • Specifically, how would one even begin to structure these cosmic-scale campaigns, when their scope is so vast and far-reaching that the DM must squeeze in an extreme amount of “plot density” right from the very beginning, with absolutely no filler?

      • You start by answering the question “how does someone do the thing?” and then you work backwards. Turning the Age requires little more than time really, or maybe it requires a specific set of circumstances. But you as the DM need to answer that question, not Keith. It has to suit you and your players. Is it a game that’s starting at level 1 with “we’re going to turn the age”? That’s going to feel pretty artificial and silly. So you’re going to need to build to it, and the Dreaming Dark is a villain for mid to high levels, so there’s plenty of room for what you’d call filler.

    • It’s a little too broad and hypothetical for me to say. Looking to something like Winter Falling, a lot depends on how I want the adventurers to intereact with it. Is it their fault? Do I want a lot of build-up that ties them into it? Is there a way they can fix things? Or do I just want to start the campaign in post-Winter Eberron, which is in someways Dark Sun with warforged and Eberron place names?

      Essentially, *I* personally am not really interested in those huge setting-transforming plotlines because I like the setting; I’d rather explore it in interesting ways rather than transform it. I’ve never even run a campaign in which players have found the answer to the Mourning, because I LIKE the Mourning as a mystery.

      • Is Eberron an unsuitable setting for long-term campaigns wherein the theme is enacting vast and sweeping changes onto the setting (e.g. turning the Age), rather than merely resetting the status quo (e.g. preventing an overlord release or two)?

        • No, I don’t think it’s UNSUITABLE for that at all. If you as a DM want to make those sweeping changes, that’s great; but on some levels I’d argue that once you make those sweeping changes you’re playing in a different setting. Which is fine, but it’s not like we specifically designed the setting to try to support that.

  2. Do Siberys dragonmarks or even apex dragonmarks give a decent justification for why a dragonmarked NPC is high-level? For example, in your example of making Merrix a 20th-level artificer, would “He has manifested a [Siberys/apex] dragonmark” be a sufficient justification, ala Castal d’Cannith?

    Speaking of Castal d’Cannith, are some of the prisoners in Dreadhold examples of the heights of mortal power (or even immortal power, in Kotharel’s case)?

    • I know that 3.5 tethered the Siberys mark to a certain power level, but I think a compelling story is always better than running a game solely off of the printed text. One of the more memorable NPCs my players met was a child prodigy who had manifested a Siberys Mark of Scribing that she was still learning the extents of.

  3. How does “Their only chance lies with a hero who can beat the odds and do the impossible” gel with the fact that there are, in fact, elite organizations whose charter includes combating mighty forces? Consider the Gatekeepers, the templars of the Silver Flame, the knights of Dol Arrah, the Deathguard, the Gatekeepers, the King’s Citadel, or the Redcloak Battalion, some of which are listed as valid group patrons.

    For example, in your example of fighting Lady Illmarrow, surely, the Deathguard and the Karrnathi templars of the Silver Flame would be happy to lend a helping hand?

    Likewise, if the party goes up against the Dreaming Dark, there are some seriously heavy hitters on the side of the Path of Light, such as the 15th-level atavist NPCs in Khorvaire detailed in 3.5 Races of Eberron, or the high-level Adarans mentioned in 3.5 Secrets of Sarlona.

    • Consider the Gatekeepers, the templars of the Silver Flame, the knights of Dol Arrah, the Deathguard, the Gatekeepers, the King’s Citadel, or the Redcloak Battalion, some of which are listed as valid group patrons.

      Most of those things aren’t as impressive as they sound. Most priests aren’t clerics, and most templar aren’t paladins; the typical templar is a 2nd level warrior. Looking to the Karrnath scenario, templars WOULD support the character in their efforts, but on their own they couldn’t STOP it; their value would be on the strategic level, engaging the tens of thousands of undead forces while the high level players engage Illmarrow. The Knights of Dol Arrah are a smaller and more elite force that might have a few paladins, but even a 5th level paladin would be impressive by their standards; they don’t have 15th level paladins running around! The Redcloak Battaleon are literally legends celebrated in song and story, and they are largely ninth-level characters with 7 levels of warrior in there — again, not a match for Illmarrow! The Gatekeepers are a fading order that can’t even maintain the seals that are left, let alone fight the new threats that arise. They can guide and they can teach, but they can’t singlehandedly face these effects on their own. This is part of the point OF group patrons; they provide guidance adn resources, but by the time you reach the mid-teen levels, you may be more powerful that your patrons.

      The Deathguard is a more solid example, as Aerenal does have a higher base level to work with. But keep in mind that they don’t have a strong existing presence in Khorvaire—and further, it’s possible in the scenario I described that the Deathguard agent stationed in Karrnath was working with Kaius and was what was allowing him to hold off Illmarrow to begin with (IE Etrigani) and that it may have been killing that agent that set this problem in motion! Rather than helping the PCs, the Deathguard may decide to handle the problem themselves and in the process BE a problem for the PCs. Essentially, this comes to the diplomatic side of things. In MY campaign, the Deathguard wouldn’t be the cavalry who rides in and saves the day; but they would be a powerful potential ally the PCs would have to negotiate with, and IF they negotiate successfully they could provide assistance and cover some of the ritual sites. Because again, I’m describing a vast unfolding situation with multiple hotspots; saying “You have four capable squads — one Deathguard, one Dol Arrah, one Rekkenmark’s finest and you — and six problem sites. Who’s going where?” is a perfectly valid choice for players to have to make in that sort of scenario.

    • As a Secrets of Sarlona fan I have to ask, you mean the guy in his sixties? That 15th level guy? And his equally as old sister?

      The NPCs in the part of the book Keith didn’t write?

      They don’t need to exist, oddly enough. They could be assassinated by their many rivals, either as a ploy by the Dreaming Dark or unrelated.

      Any given atavist is not simply a recruitable unit the PCs can walk up to and pressgang. How do they know you have the answer to stop the Dreaming Dark? Why don’t YOU give up YOUR plan and work as THEIR resource instead? There’s rumblings in Syrkarn of the Thousand Eyes infiltrating tribes, you go look into that while the atavist does the real work.

      Or not, they could all be ready to throw down, and the PCs need to get them all pointed at the Dreaming Dark, simultaneous strikes to disable the teleport networks, an alliance of the Syrk, Adarans and the Akiak dwarves and Tundra shifters against key cities, ALL OUT WAR if only every faction can put aside their pain and hurt and grievances with the all too real nation of Riedra, let alone their personal feuds, to unite against the scary dream demons who manipulated them all into this. And at the end of the day, the party is still dealing with their fight alone, just now with an explanation for “so what’s happening in Dar Jin at the same time?”

  4. Fantastic article, lots of great takeaways, especially that rules are a foundation to expand upon to tell the story you want to imagine.

  5. Are the challenge 28 overlord statistics in Rising from the Last War merely “the avatar of a partially released Overlord”? The book itself is not particularly clear on the matter.

    Is the challenge 24 Dyrrn merely an avatar of Dyrrn, or is that the real Dyrrn?

    For that matter, how does the Lord of Blades, a relatively “mortal” warforged, attain enough power to be challenge 18, while an ancient warlord-fiend like Mordakhesh is merely challenge 15? What does that make a marilith, a challenge 16 warlord-fiend? Or even a challenge 19 balor, or a challenge 20 pit fiend?

    • Are the challenge 28 overlord statistics in Rising from the Last War merely “the avatar of a partially released Overlord”? The book itself is not particularly clear on the matter.
      In my opinion they are. Sul Khatesh’s 5E stats are FAR weaker than her 3.5 stats. Even Bel Shalor was able to effect a NATION with his “lair actions” with his release. In my opinion, the Overlord stats in Rising reflect a trivial fraction of their power. They can certainly be used as avatars as suits the needs of the campaign, but should not be seen as a reflection of the full capabilities of an unbound Overlord.

      Is the challenge 24 Dyrrn merely an avatar of Dyrrn, or is that the real Dyrrn?

      Daelkyr ARE far weaker than Overlords. 24 could be the actual Dyrrn. With that said, I would also emphasize that the daelkyr’s capabilities should be able to go beyond the simple rules. I might say that Dyrrn could channel the emotions fo the common people to create Sorrowsworn. There’s nothing in his stat block that allows that, but it fits the story of what he’s capable of.

      For that matter, how does the Lord of Blades, a relatively “mortal” warforged, attain enough power to be challenge 18, while an ancient warlord-fiend like Mordakhesh is merely challenge 15?

      First off, I cannot possible make sense of all of these things. I didn’t create the monsters in Rising; I didn’t design the level/CR system of Dungeons and Dragons; and on a fundamental level it DOESN’T make sense. But to answer this question, consider; How does the player character who’s a 20th level paladin have more power than Mordakhesh? The whole idea of the Lord of Blades is that HE’S LIKE A PLAYER CHARACTER. He started as a warforged soldier, but he had the same unbridled potential that allows a player character to go from 1st level to 20th level in the course of a campaign. The fact that this warforged soldier is more powerful than Mordakhesh seems impossible — and yet there he is, beating all the odds. While Mordakhesh, as an native immortal, doesn’t gain levels with the passage of time, something I’ve discussed in other posts.

      With that said: I CANNOT MAKE SENSE of all the issues you’re going to find here. There are many, MANY inconsistences in canon material; you will have to decide how you deal with it in your campaign.

    • “the Lord of Blades, a relatively “mortal” warforged, attain enough power to be challenge 18”

      At least back in 3.5, the Lord of Blades’s history was supposed to be enigmatic AKA to be filled in by the DM: LoB is not necessarily a normal warforged. LoB could be a superpowered prototype gone wrong/right, sent from the future to ensure victory over meatbags, sent from the future to force meatbags to rise against the machine menace before it’s too late, the avatar of some divine force, a side effect of the mourning, an ancient Xen’driki proto-Warforged or something else entirely.

      • For that matter, one of my favourite little twists to do in my games is to go back to the days before Five Nations, when the Lord of Blades was a shadowy figure. Where he might not actually be A) real, or B) a warforged at all.

        Aaren d’Cannith is unaccounted for, after all. And a man who loved the warforged like his own children . . . might be the kind of person able to resurrect them or awaken them after the Mourning, improve them, and make enough high powered big hulking juggernauts who give rise to the belief the Lord of Blades is a big warforged. The stats for the LoB could easily be just one of his “avatars” while the old man wanders the Mournland, broken and twisted.

        • In one of my campaigns, I went with the idea that the Lord of Blades was actually MULTIPLE warforged — a few warforged with different specialities who manufactured the identity as a rallying cry. Which has the advantage of adventurers being able to encounter and even kill a few Lords of Blades at different levels. On the other hand, I’ve always been a fan of the option that the Lord of Blades could be an armored Aaren.

          • Ok. I’m thinking of a Doombots scenario, where the Lord of Blades is an armored up Aaren d’Cannith, but whenever he’s “killed”, it’s one of those specialist warforged created specifically to stand in for him.

        • Or what might happen if somebody was operating the creation forge when the Mourning hit? Perhaps a Cannith heir fused with the warforged he was creating, making something new?

    • For that matter, how does the Lord of Blades, a relatively “mortal” warforged, attain enough power to be challenge 18, while an ancient warlord-fiend like Mordakhesh is merely challenge 15?

      As a side note, Mordakhesh was dramatically depowered in his conversion to 5E. In 3.5 Mordakhesh is a zakya rakshasa with 15 prestige class levels (Blackguard 10/Legendary Leader 5)… significantly more powerful than both the versions of the Lord of Blades presented in 3.5. I wasn’t involved in the conversion of Mordakhesh and don’t know why that decision was made, but he’s significantly weaker than his original presentation.

    • You could easily justify that Mordakhesh could command a CR 16 marilith, CR 19 balor, or CR 20 pit fiend for the same reason Keith gave for the mayor of Sharn not needing to be the most powerful individual servant of Rak Tulkhesh. It might be Mordakhesh is the most powerful servant of Rak Tulkhesh not bound by the Silver Flame or confined to Khyber/the Demon Wastes, and unless the PC’s prevent him from achieving some milestones he would get those fiends on his side and be able to command them by virtue of his position as the hand of the Rage of War.

      A four-star general isn’t necessarily the most dangerous combatant on the field, and certainly doesn’t need to be the one driving a tank or piloting a plane!

  6. In my setting, I answered the “Where are the high level NPCs”? by saying: They’re dust blowing on the scorched plains of the Mournlands.

    I’m playing with the idea that there’s a legitimate power vacuum that was left with the destruction of Cyre. Many armies were arrayed there from multiple nations, and at the crest of those armies were the most hardened and experienced soldiers.

    My PCs, and others, are rising in power and suddenly filling that vacuum.

    Love your work, Keith, and the setting you’ve created to create within.

  7. Is it feasible to run a compromise between “beating up fiends, aberrations, and quori across the globe and the planes” and “sticking to urban adventures in Sharn”? Perhaps, for whatever reason, Sharn is the ultimate hotspot for everything important in 998 YK, and various supernatural factions’ goals ultimately converge on the city, thus requiring even high-level heroes to defend the street-bridges of Sharn? It is a tried-and-true trope in urban fantasy.

    • Sharn is an ancient city built on even more ancient ruins. It’s also common knowledge it is built on a stable manifest zone.

      Otherwise, one of the fun things about Eberron’s canon is that you can inflict all sorts of problems on Sharn. Rash adventurers accidentally smash the containment device holding an eldritch horror and unleash it on the city? Only matters for that campaign.

  8. Are planar scholars able to differentiate between (for example) a Khyber balor, a Fiernan balor, a Shavarath balor, a Mabaran balor, etc? Do they all look similar until closely observed or are they the same stat block for several extremely different creatures, like Xen’drik hill giants vs Droaam hill giants (actually massive ogres)?

    Is the Ghaash’kala mostly trying to foil subterfuge and stealth or do they occasionally have to repel brute force attacks by the higher CR fiends? A player asked this recently of me and I said it was mostly an issue of power dispersal (rakshasa require less investment by their overlord than a pit fiend) as to why the orcs are immediately overrun, as well as it being rather attractive to simply lord over lesser fiends and Carrion Tribes in the Demon Wastes, but is there something about the Labyrinth that stops a pit fiend from simply burning their way in a straight line through as many Ghaash’kala as get in their way?

    • Are planar scholars able to differentiate between (for example) a Khyber balor, a Fiernan balor, a Shavarath balor, a Mabaran balor, etc? Do they all look similar until closely observed or are they the same stat block for several extremely different creatures?
      The latter. This is addressed in Exploring Eberron: The same type of creature can appear in different planes—demons can be found in Fernia, Dolurrh, Shavarath, and more. They might use the same statistics, but their appearance and motivations vary dramatically based on their planes, and they have no sense that being “demons” makes them all allies. The balor of Shavarath embodies the savagery of war; its wings are of steel, and blood drips from its notched sword. The balor of Fernia represents the terrifying destructive power of fire; its wings and sword are made of pure flame. With any planar creature—especially immortals—consider the idea it represents and how that can be uniquely embodied.

      It might take a planar scholar to recognize the Shavaran balor as coming from Shavarath, but anybody would see that the Shavaran and Fernian balors are different.

      • In my weak defense, I am still working through Exploring Eberron and hadn’t reached that part yet. It’s just so dense!!

        Thank you, that clarifies a lot. To cross a question off my list of Lightning Round questions (getting further and further from the subject, feel free to not answer) does this hold true for the oni of Droaam (possible hag-ogre hybrids) vs oni of Borunan (ogres who bind fiends within them)? Are they one creature with multiple choice backgrounds (theoretically none of them true), one creature with different paths to the same result (like doppelgangers) or two different creatures with the same stat block?

    • Is the Ghaash’kala mostly trying to foil subterfuge and stealth or do they occasionally have to repel brute force attacks by the higher CR fiends?

      The powerful fiends aren’t held in check by the Ghaash’kala, they’re held in check by Kalok Shash — the Binding Flame. The Labyrinth is suffused with the power of the Silver Flame, and powerful fiends can’t even enter it. But it’s the same concept of a fishing net being able to catch the big fish while little fish slip through. High CR fiends can’t enter the Labyrinth, but low-CR fiends and mortals like the Carrion Tribes can, and THOSE are the forces the Ghaash’kala holds at bay.

      Meanwhile, many high-CR fiends CAN find ways to get around the barrier… which is how the Lords of Dust can meet in Ashtakala and then return to their work elsewhere. Essentially, the Labyrinth and the Ghaash’kala aren’t a perfect impenetrable barrier — but they can prevent mass invasions of Carrion barbarians and lesser fiends.

      • Why has the Light of Siberys not been regularly staging strafing runs against the Demon Wastes? Why have the Demon Wastes not already been glassed by the Light of Siberys?

        • The Daughter of Khyber grows stronger

          Not to mention going into the Demon Wastes, the one place where the fiends are in their fastness and not held back, might not go so hot for the dragons

        • To me this goes back to Eberron needing heroes. If powerful NPCs solve every problem before the PCs even know about the threat… that isn’t a very fun story to tell.

          There can certainly be larger than life problems, but the point of a cooperative storytelling game should be finding ways to expand that lens to include the actions and choices of the characters to interact with those threats, if you just tell the PCs that the Wastes were slagged what story does that tell, is it a hook or just a narrative barrier?

        • What makes you think they DIDN’T lay waste to it long ago? It’s entirely possible that that’s WHY it’s a blasted wasteland, and WHY Ashtakala is a ruin. So the question is why they don’t do that on a regular basis. As others have pointed out, the concrete answer is because there’s nothing interesting or useful to the story in having them do so; we don’t WANT the dragons to be solving problems for humanity. But the question is why they don’t, and there’s three simple answers.

          1. Fiends are immortal. The Light of Siberys could lay waste to the region — as they might have done long ago — and all the demons would return within weeks. It would kill the Carrion Tribes, but that brings us to the next point.

          2. The Carrion Tribes and lesser fiends trapped by the Labyrinth don’t pose a threat to the WORLD, they pose a threat to Aundair and the Reaches. The dragons don’t CARE if a wave of fiends and barbarians slaughters every living thing in Aundair. If it doesn’t pose a threat to Argonnessen it is not their concern. This ties to the fact that the Ghaash’kala have nothing to do with dragons; they serve the Silver Flame. They and the Labyrinth were put in place long ago by the COUATL, who were compassionate beings who DO care about the suffering of lesser creatures.

          3. We already know dragons are prone to corruption; given that, diving straight into the heart of fiendish power sounds like a terrible idea.

          I’d say that the dragons DID lay waste to the waste, say 90,000 years ago — and that the army they sent returned to Argonnessen turned by the Daughter of Khyber and possessed by lesser fiends, and devastated much of the Vast before these corrupted dragons were destroyed. Ever since then the dragons have shunned the region. There is nothing for them to gain by attacking it and much that they can lose.

          Again, the basic point is that the dragons are not our friends and they aren’t here to solve our problems. Establishing that they can be corrupted by the Wastes adds a further potential story hook, and can be a source of villains (foolish dragons who ventured into the Wastes and were corrupted by its power) or adventures (if the Chamber DOES need something done in the Wastes, they can’t do it themselves so they’ll need to rely on player characters).

          • In the 3.5 Explorer’s Handbook, Ashtakala is still a viable, functioning headquarters for the Lords of Dust. It retains an array of magical facilities, some of which are very powerful, like the Drain Works.

            Does the Light of Siberys have nothing to gain from a targeting blasting of Ashtakala, if only to eliminate it as a resource? Or is Ashtakala actually supposed to be a genuinely blasted ruin, where the Lords of Dust meet in the… dust?

          • There’s a few factors. The first question is what makes a better story: saying that there was a citadel of evil, but the dragons destroyed it long ago and the Lords of Dust have no central meeting point… or saying that Ashtakala exists, that there is a reason the dragons can’t or don’t destroy it, and if they need to interact with it — to spy on it, attack it, steal something from it — they need the help of player characters.

            *I* am always going to choose that second option. Which means that the question is “Why CAN’T the dragons attack it directly?” As I suggested above, the simplest answer I see is that Ashtakala is such a concentrated locus of Khyberian power that any dragon who gets close to it will be corrupted. They literally CANNOT GO NEAR IT. A secondary point is that Ashtakala existed in the Age of Demons and is the only known Khyberian city to have survived. The Age of Demons involved battles with legions of dragons. Therefore, if Ashtakala survived then, it may be because it has a host of powerful wards SPECIFICALLY DESIGNED TO COUNTER DRAGONS AND DRACONIC MAGIC. So again, it may be that even while a dragon is vastly more powerful than a human, the human can accomplish something the dragon can’t because the defenses of Ashtakala are designed with dragons in mind.

            And even setting all that aside: I mention in another article that the cities of the overlords were more extensions of the overlords than mortal cities. This is reflected by the statement that Ashtakala is something of a ruin, but that it is cloaked in an illusion of its former glory. Essentially, it CAN’T be destroyed, because it’s in many ways an imaginary city. The walls still standing are indestructible demonglass. The inhabitants are themselves immortal. You could drop a nuke on it and the demonglass frame would remain — and within a week or a year, the fiends would all return and the illusion would assert itself again.

            So I’d argue that there is a power that keeps the dragons from even approaching Ashtakala, but I’d also say that even if they could attack it, there’s very little they could DO to it in the long term. It has lingered for a hundred thousand years, it has withstood all the power both couatl and dragons could bring to bear. All that power is concentrated in this one spot, this tiny but indelible stain that cannot be wiped from the surface of Eberron. And even with all that being said… so what? The demons are immortal. They will be SOMEWHERE. Even if the dragons could somehow destroy Ashtakala, the fiends would reform and go somewhere else. As is, the Chamber at least has some idea where they are… and they COULD send a human spy or thief if they wanted to check it out.

            As with everything by in Eberron, YOU can do whatever you want. If you prefer the idea that the dragons have destroyed Ashtakala, go ahead and make it so in your Eberron! I LIKE having Ashtakala as the last indelible remnant of the Age of Demons, as the stain that cannot be removed… so I’ll go with the ideas I’ve suggested above.

          • To expand on my statement that it’s an “imaginary” city, it’s not simply an illusion. But remember what fiends ARE in Eberron: ideas that take on physical form. If you destroy them they will eventually return, because they’re not creatures of flesh and blood; they are IDEAS. Ashtakala is exactly the same — but it’s an idea that takes the form of a CITY instead of a tiger-headed humanoid. There is a demonglass framework underneath it, the ancient bones of Ashtakala. But the rest of it is an idea made solid. It’s not something the Lords of Dust have any power over, which is why they can’t EXPAND the city; it remains fundamentally unchanged, a glimpse of the Age of Demons lingering in the present. So the Lords of Dust dwell in it and take advantage of it, but they didn’t BUILD it.

  9. I like high-poewr Aberrant Dragonmarked as a threat. “Earthshaker II” The Sequel” could represent a high level challenge.
    Speaking of the “thre aren’t high-level NPC goodguys to intervene, I like the idea of a group of PCs headed toward a boss battle, being confronted by a dragon, and being told “The Prophecy foretold that YOU could potentially deal with this threat. We have carefully overseen your growth to pring you to this point. However, if you do not wish to fulfill your role, we can handle it. Much the same way we handled the giants of Xen’drik… Your choice.”

  10. Is it feasible to run an Eberron campaign all the way up to the high levels in the most “vanilla” way possible? By “vanilla,” I do not mean that derogatorily; I mean long-term campaigns focused on raw, mortal politics between nations, their intelligence agencies, and their extremist groups. No megacorporation-like dragonmarked houses pulling all the strings, no Aurum Bond villains, definitely no supernatural quori or rakshasas.

    • The last couple articles would suggest that no, completely political games wouldn’t go all the way to 20th.

      Also without even the Aurum, I’m not sure how into the setting you could actually go in terms of depth. No dragonmarked houses or supernatural entities, but Karrnath and Aundair’s politics are tied to Deneith and Vadalis and Lyrander, to the Emerald Claw and Sul Khatesh. Deneith is involved with the Dreaming Dark, Tharask with the Gatekeepers and the Cult of the Dragon Below. The Citadel’s trained aberrant mark assassins are loose now in Sharn, you’d need to come up with really contrived reasons that the NPCs are extremely high level without the aid of those other groups. Would start being a lot more like Faerun with random unexplained epic level fighters than Eberron

  11. Great read! As far as high CR threats go in my Eberron, in my session 0s I remind players that the NPC contingent of an average small city’s 50 guards (CR 1/8), 5 priests (CR 2), and 10 veterans (CR 3) factor up to a CR 22 encounter. And that’s not including the horses. And they’re all likely veterans of the last war in some capacity and thus familiar with spellcaster tactics and spell ranges. So don’t get cocky.

    For high CR encounters, I’ve found that upping the number of monsters is more reliable than upping the CR of a single one.

    • Does this not undermine the role of great heroes, if the local lord can simply muster up the men-at-arms to face a significant threat?

      • Not really…think about how many of those people would be slaughtered trying to fight, and ask yourself how many of them would stand their ground while everyone arround them dies horribly? That would take a true hero’s courage!

      • It undermines that one particular story, but not the notion of the player-as-protagonist. Argonth exists in this setting. In Eberron a local lord has access to enough military surplus to handle escalating threats bluntly and violently. The player’s job in the grand narrative is to stop these threats from escalating in the first place, or to find a more creative solution. If the PCs can’t deftly handle a breakout of ghouls in a single night, the fallout is going to get handled gruesomely by a hovering fortress or a floating tower of wizards or a team of gryphon riding paladins that drop stones well out of bow range.

        It’s the DMs job to figure out a good reason why the firmly established blunt instruments of the Last War aren’t being sent in to where the PCs are. Or to start the story in a place where an army *isn’t* and can’t get to in time. If a local lord is hiring a group of four mercs to do some DPS because he can’t be arsed to staff a militia or call for backup from the capital, they aren’t “great heroes”. They’re non-union contractors.

  12. How viable are the floating towers of Arcanix as a Khorvairian jumping point for all sorts of high-level adventures? Arcanix has a remarkably strong concentration of high-level (literally high-level) intrigue going on. Arcanix’s Mosaic Committee studies the Draconic Prophecy and hunts dragons, albeit from the wrong perspective, while Adal has Arcanix’s best wizards working on a superweapon for use against Thaliost. Sul Khatesh is right underneath it, and the Court of Shadows is based in Arcanix. 3.5 Dragons of Eberron claims that a dragon of the Chamber sits on the Arcane Congress, and the 4e Eberron Campaign Guide gives us a perfect candidate, Yllosavax, a Chamber dragon who observes arcane researchers. The Gate of Xabra offers access to planar adventures across the Orrery. And besides all that, Arcanix boasts an impressive number of mid-level spellcasters.

    I am surprised that so few adventures leverage Arcanix for high-level gameplay. I have seen only Oracle of War go into Arcanix for a high-level adventure.

  13. You mention that when the silver flame bound the demons that only the weakest demons escaped, does this mean that there are other demons less powerful than the overlords but more powerful than the Rakshasa in their own prisons?

    • Definitely. In 3.5 we suggested that entities like Demogorgon and Orcus — both of who were significantly weaker than the 3.5 interpretation of Overlords — could be seen as lieutenants of the Overlords bound by the Flame, and could be fully or partially released with less of a grand impact than an Overlord.

      • It’s also worth noting that SOME of the weakest fiends escaped. It’s reasonable to think that thousands of lesser fiends were bound with their Overlords; they once dominated the globe. So some slipped through the net, but many more were successfully caught in it.

          • Exploring Eberron says: “Heart realms are typically inhabited by a host of lesser fiends bound to that overlord. Many have no desire to return to Eberron until their overlords are free, while others serve in the Lords of Dust, using the heart as a refuge.”

            The key thing to remember here is that immortals aren’t just mortals who live for a long time. They embody ideas, and for the most part, THEY DON’T CHANGE. When we say “Many have no desire to return to Eberron” we don’t mean “… But they could be talked into it.” These lesser fiends are PART of the overlord’s identity, like fleas clinging to its fur. They CAN’T return to Eberron until it does, and even when they were in Eberron, they couldn’t leave its sphere of influence. When Bel Shalor was partially released in the Year of Blood and Fire, we’re told that a host of demons terrorized Thrane. When he was bound, they all went away — returned to his heart. They aren’t bound by the Flame, they’re bound to the overlord; they are essentially just a manifestation of its power. With that said, it’s possible that they could be PULLED from a heart plane by a summoning spell, but they couldn’t leave of their own volition and would return as soon as they are no longer compelled.

            So the point is that Hektula is a semi-independent spirit who can freely pass in and out of the heart realm of Sul Khatesh. She is one of the spirits who “serve in the Lords of Dust, using the heart as a refuge.” But the MAJORITY of the fiends in a heart plane can’t choose to leave unless their overlord is released — at which point they will be drawn out into the world with it. Again, they aren’t truly independent beings; they are minor manifestations of the overlord itself.

  14. How do eldritch machines figure into high-level gameplay and adventures? Is it feasible to have an adventure wherein, for example, Ashbound try to smuggle a spell sink (in the form of a tree) into Sharn to disable the Syranian magics and crumble the towers?

    • Eldritch machines were designed to be plot devices — to serve the needs of the story. The idea that Ashbound could smuggle a spell sink into Sharn that would destroy the towers is exactly why there are eldritch machines. Given that 3.5 had very specific item creation rules, we largely introduced eldritch machines so that the DM COULD say “I just want an item that does this cool thing that will drive my story” without having to explain it or justify it under the item creation rules. Want to open a gateway to Shavarath in the middle of Wroat? Eldritch machine. Want to petrify everyone in Fairhaven? Eldritch machine. So yes, eldritch machines can definitely figure into high level adventures.

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