Dragonmark: The Blood of Vol

With all the things I should be working on, I shouldn’t be doing another Dragonmark so soon. But this topic came up in online discussion and it’s one of those things I can’t resist talking about. The Blood of Vol is one of the most misunderstood aspects of Eberron… which is only fair, since it’s misunderstood by most of the people OF Eberron. So I figured I’d post my thoughts here so people can find them in the future. Bear in mind that everything I say here is based on MY vision of the Blood of Vol, and contradicts canon sources. 

Now as I said, the followers of the Blood of Vol – who call themselves Seekers, shorthand for Seekers of the Divinity Within – are misunderstood both by writers, players, and the majority of the people of Khorvaire. A few common beliefs: The followers of the Blood of Vol worship Erandis Vol. All Seekers revere or worship undead. All Seekers want to become undead. The Seekers are all evil. All Seekers support the Order of the Emerald Claw.

Before I address these points, let’s look at where the Blood of Vol comes from. The roots of the religion can be traced back to the early elves of Aerenal. Elven culture sought to preserve the souls of their greatest heroes, and the resulted in a cultural split. The Tairnadal believed heroes could live on through their ancestors. The Undying Court sought to preserve their heroes through reverence and positive energy. The line of Vol rejected this, saying that both of these paths relied on living elves supporting the dead. They sought an approach that would ensure that their heroes were self-sustaining or could take what they needed to survive. This resulted in the development of Mabaran necromancy and the creation of vampires, liches, and the like. Then the Mark of Death came along, and the Undying Court used this as the foundation for a brutal power grab. Per other sources, The Sibling Kings declared that the blood of Vol was to be completely destroyed, since even a drop could destroy all living things. It was believed that they successfully exterminated the line; the survival of Erandis Vol is a secret that lasts to this day. The allies of the line of Vol were allowed the option of either swearing fealty to the Undying Court or choosing exile.

Now: The religion we know as the Blood of Vol was not practiced by the line of Vol. The elves of the Bloodsail Principality (Eye on Eberron, Dragon 410) are more representative of their traditions. The Blood of Vol evolved from the interaction between elven exiles and humans who believed in the Sovereign Host, and it was something entirely new. The elves brought with them the story of heroes who sought to transcend death, and how they were wiped out by cruel beings who feared the power of their blood. This blended with the myths of the Sovereign Host and the basic question what just god would allow death and suffering? Instead of the Mark of Death, the faith of the Blood of Vol maintains that all of us have a spark of divinity within our blood… and that the jealous gods cursed us with mortality so that we would never be able to unlock that power and challenge them. So: We all have the divinity within, but the universe is against us and death is oblivion. All we can do is stand together, look after those we love, and hope that some day we can break the curse of mortality and bring about a new age.

Now let’s get back to those common misconceptions.

  • The followers of the Blood of Vol worship Erandis Vol. NOPE. The typical Seeker knows nothing about Elven history. If asked to explain who “Vol” is, most would say that Vol was the first Seeker to discover the Divinity Within; others might add that the Sovereigns wiped out Vol and their family, fearing this power. But the Seekers don’t worship any Vol. The idea that Erandis is a member of that founding family would impress Seekers, who would assume that she’s spent the last few thousand years finding a way to break the curse of Mortality and free everyone to unlock the Divinity Within… but Erandis keeps her true identity secret because she doesn’t want the Undying Court coming after her. So only her closest associates know her true identity. Most agents of the Order of the Emerald Claw only know her as “The Queen of Death,” a lich with vast power and wisdom.
  • All Seekers revere or worship undead. The Seekers see undeath as a tool. Undead such as skeletons and zombies are useful and a way to thumb your nose at the universe: You may have killed me, but you’ll have to grind my bones to dust before I stop helping my people. Seekers believe that their souls are destroyed after death, so there is nothing magical about the body; why not use it in a way that will help those who still live? In addition, throughout history the Blood of Vol has had champions who have become undead so that they can continue to teach or protect the living, or search for ways to break the curse of mortality or fight the Sovereigns themselves; essentially, undead saints. What makes these beings worthy of respect isn’t that they are undead: it’s what they do WITH their undeath. So a Seeker doesn’t inherently see a vampire as worthy of reverence; they understand that many vampires are selfish and only out for themselves. They understand that a ghoul may simply be a slavering beast. It’s simply that there are those who have become mummies or vampires or liches so that they can champion the faith, and those beings deserve reverence.
  • All Seekers want to become undead. Actually, most Seekers don’t want to become undead. While it’s a way to literally avoid death, it’s accepted that the Divinity Within is tied to your blood and your lifeforce; once you become undead, you lose that spark (not unlike the fact that Erandis Vol can’t use her dragonmark…). The undead champions are considered to be martyrs who have given up their own chance at divinity to help others. It’s a way to avoid death, but it’s a crappy half-life compared to what we could be.
  • The Seekers are all evil. The Followers of the Blood of Vol have a bleak outlook on the world. Many hate the Sovereigns and consider those who worship them to be dupes and idiots. And they are comfortable with undead and practice necromancy, things many people associate with evil. But Seekers can be any alignment. In short, being a Seeker means you believe in the Divinity within and that death is oblivion. Armed with that knowledge, do you seek personal power or do you try to protect the weak? Do you care only about yourself; your family and community; or all people, as you see every death as a tragedy? The universe is against us: Does that make you selfish, or does it fill you with compassion for those who suffer? Do you hate those who follow the Sovereigns, or do you pity them? The faith of the Blood of Vol is a foundation, and one that encourages compassion and community. It’s what YOU do with that foundation that determines your alignment.
  • All Seekers support the Order of the Emerald Claw. NOPE. Overlap between the faith and the EC is a Venn diagram. Some agents of the Emerald Claw are Seeker extremists who believe that the Queen of the Dead is an undead champion who will break the curse of mortality and show them the path to the Divinity Within. They don’t question her actions: whatever she tells them to do, she must have a reason. Others aren’t Seekers at all; some are simply Karrnathi patriots who believe she will lead their nation to greatness, or who simply seek vengeance on the rest of Khorvaire. And then there are some – like Erandis herself – who see the Emerald Claw as a tool, and don’t believe in Karrnath or the Divinity Within. Meanwhile, the typical Seeker doesn’t condone the terrorist actions of the Emerald Claw and hates the fact that the Emerald Claw paints all Seekers in a bad light.

If you want to do deep reading, here’s a few other options.

Now, let’s get to questions.

Are undead warriors an extreme solution in Karrnath or now undeads are used in common works? Do they have undead farmers?

“Karrnath” isn’t the same thing as the Blood of Vol. The Seekers are comfortable with undead and have always used mindless undead – standard skeletons and zombies – for manual labor. You can definitely find a Seeker farmstead with skeletons in the fields. But Seekers have always been a minority in Karrnath and most Karrns consider that sort of thing to be creepy. During the Last War, Kaius embraced the Blood of Vol during a time of crisis recognizing that their necromancers could help reinforce the armies of Karrnath with undead, and they did. However, many Karrns hated this practice, believing that it sullied the martial reputation of their nation; they didn’t need to turn to such dark magics. Towards the end of the war Regent Moranna broke ties with the Blood of Vol, and Kaius III has actually blamed the Seekers for some of Karrnath’s problems – perhaps it was their dark magics that sickened crops and caused famines in the first place! This is basically a populist move that helped Kaius reinforce his power base, giving his people someone to blame for their misfortunes. In keeping with this – and as a gesture of goodwill to the other Thronehold nations – Kaius largely sealed his undead forces in the catacombs below Atur or in Fort Bones. So there ARE undead still in service in Karrnath – as seen in my novel The Queen of Stone – but they are the exception rather than the rule, and undead haven’t been incorporated into all walks of life. But if you WANT to explore how undead could be incorporated into everyday life, you can do this in Seeker communities – and on a larger scale, in Atur or Fort Bones.

I thought the undead in the Karnath military were former patriotic elite soldiers?

There are two common classes of undead in military service. The rank and file undead soldiers are mindless skeletons and zombies – the sort that can be created by animate dead, which must be controlled by a capable leader. The sentient “Karrnathi Undead” were a later development created at Fort Bones using the Odakyr Rites. These produce skilled undead soldiers that can take personal initiative, but the rituals can only be performed in Mabaran manifest zones (notably Atur and Odakyr, AKA Fort Bones) and require the remains of elite Karrnathi soldiers… so to get an elite Karrnathi skeleton, you have to lose an elite living soldier. Note that Karrnathi undead are sentient but do NOT have memories of their former lives. The Fort Bones article in Dungeon 195 goes into more detail about what Karrnathi Undead are actually like.

How do Seekers see uncorporeal undead? Are they treated the same as zombies?

The undead most commonly encountered in Seeker communities are the mindless skeletons and zombies that can be created using the Animate Dead spell, a third level spell that falls in the scope of Eberron’s “Wide Magic.” Animate Greater Undead is an eighth level spell, far out of reach of most BoV clerics, so you just don’t see a lot of spectres and wraiths in the typical community the way you see skeletons. Beyond this, the attitude towards skeletons and zombies is that they are tools – they’re made with the remains of your friends, but they aren’t your friend. By contrast, a sentient incorporeal undead that has the memories of its former life, such as a ghost, falls into the category of “You’ve transcended death at the cost of your divine spark… now what are you going to do with your unlife?” There’s nothing inherently good or bad about a ghost. If that ghost chooses to help mortals, it’s an undead champion; if it’s a selfish being or a crazed killer, it’s a monster.

BoV is like two different religions. One talks of community, god within, and how to unlock it. I don’t really understand how undeads fit in that: are they experiments? Are they supposed to fight with other Gods? And who is Vol for them?

Largely answered above, but to be clear: Undeath is a tool that allows you to extend existence at the cost of your divine spark. Mindless undead are simply tools, nothing more. Sentient undead who follow the faith are supposed to help mortals, whether that’s by protecting them, teaching them, or potentially yes, finding a way to defeat the gods and break the curse of immortality to them. “Vol” is a mythical figure, possibly the first Seeker; “Erandis” isn’t a name most Seekers have ever heard. Some may know that “Vol” was an elf, a necomancer, or even part of an elven family of master necromancers. But what matters is that this Vol was the one to discover the Divinity Within.

Then there are the ones who know. Vol is an evil lich who cares nothing of humans. They believe that she can become a God. Why should they believe it so much to cast spells through that?

Most of Vol’s inner circle aren’t actually Seekers themselves; they are simply aping the faith of their Seeker followers as a way to gain their loyalty. Such individuals AREN’T divine casters; they’d be arcane casters, like Erandis herself. Those that are Seekers fall into the evil Seeker definition above: They are interested in their OWN personal power and don’t care about the greater good. But as for spellcasting, they don’t get their power from their belief in VOL; they get their power from their belief in their OWN divine sparks. For a divine-class Seeker, their power comes from within.

So the huge misunderstanding I was in is that the Blood of Vol is NOT, in your opinion, a creation of Erandis Vol. I admit this will miss me. I loved the idea of Erandis creating her own religion for transcending death or maybe creating her personal Undying Court. But if I understand you see Erandis taking control of a pre-existing religion that could even be right and twisting the believers at her own plans.

Like all things in Eberron, you should definitely do what makes sense to you! But you are correct about my idea. I like the fact that the religion is an entirely plausible faith that stands on its own and that has a logical basis for providing followers with divine power: that power comes from within them. I love the idea that in spite of the fact that the faith works, that Erandis herself doesn’t believe in it. I also like the idea that this faith has been around for thousands of years – something that’s tricky if Erandis is a visible, known figurehead, since Erandis is hunted by both Aerenal and Argonnessen and the idea of slapping a big “I AM HERE” target on her head is a little wacky. My premise is that the religion emerged long ago, the dragons and the Undying Court looked at it and said “Bad name, but it’s just a name” and that Erandis stepped in long after to take over.

Beyond this, I like it as a religion that has a plausible basis in the world. Person A believes in the Sovereigns, benevolent beings who define reality. Person B’s son dies, and she says “Why would your Sovereigns take my son from me? Why would your Arawai let us starve? Why would your Aureon let this king oppress us? If there are gods in the heavens, they care nothing for me. I will find my power within.” With that said, I also see it as the perfect atheist’s religion. SOME members of the faith believe the whole Sovereigns-are-evil concept, but others simple assert (as presented in Faiths of Eberron) that there are no gods – that all divine power comes from the Divinity Within, and clerics of other faiths are just deluded people slapping pageantry on what ultimately comes from inside them. Power is there to be taken, but that doesn’t mean gods exist.

By the way: am I right that in some canon seeker are said like to search for people to donate blood for rituals and/or for feeding vampires?

You are correct, though they don’t have to search. This is called the Sacrament of Blood, and it’s a communal activity practiced by any Seeker community: coming together and sharing their blood in a basin, which can then be transferred to barrels of preserving pine to be shared with vampires in need. While the feeding of vampires is a side benefit, symbolically it’s about affirming that the members of the community are one, and united in their divinity. It’s covered in detail on page 79 of Faiths of Eberron.

If the champions of the Blood of Vol become undead and continue to walk the earth, even by restricting this to the most valiant ones, after a few centuries of practice that’s bound to be quite a crowd. Are they super-extra-picky? Or is there another explanation?

This is exactly why I push back on the idea that “undeath is the path to divinity” – because it’s not THAT hard to become undead, really, and if that truly was the goal you should have a huge pile of vampires out in the world. Thus, my version of the faith gives a concrete reason why it’s NOT the primary goal. Aside from this: liches and mummies are the preferable form of long-term sentient undead, because they don’t require sustenance (well, the Undying Court maintains that they draw life force from the world around them and are slowly killing us all – but they don’t need blood like vampires do). So that’s the preferable choice for your undead champion… but they aren’t easy to create, and in some ages there’s no one around who CAN make one. Looking to vampires, the community sustains vampires using the Sacrament of Blood, but that’s a limited resource and thus yes, creating a new vampire is considered to be an important decision, not something done lightly.

With that said, why aren’t there more undead champions? Because of all the people who want to destroy them. The Deathguard of Aerenal, the Church of the Silver Flame, the paladins of Dol Arrah… there’s a lot of groups out there that are happy to hunt down vampires and their kin, and this is one reason Erandis Vol keeps a low profile. There is surely a codex in Atur of all the great champions who have been destroyed by misguided mortals.

A good follower of the Blood of Vol wants to preserve all life. This proves to be an uneasy goal to reach, as the very mechanics of the game tend to push players to kill their opponents without seconds thoughts more often than not. What creatures, would you think, the BoV faith may consider “impossible to save” (and so, fair game to kill if they act evil)?

Well, rather than saying they want to preserve all life, I’d say that they consider every death a loss. Every death is a tragedy, and a good follower of the BoV sympathizes will all who labor under the curse; in my opinion, BoV clerics are the MOST likely to help others with resurrection magic, because they don’t believe dying people have some pleasant future with the Sovereigns of Flame. But with that said, that doesn’t mean that every life must be saved or that they cannot kill. Every death is a tragedy, but first and foremost you have to protect your people. If a bandit tries to kill you – or if a paladin of Dol Arrah is going to destroy your undead champion – it’s OK to kill them. If you CAN take them alive, great. But if misguided people pose a clear and deadly threat to the faithful, shed a tear for them and do what you must do to protect those who are truly innocent. Basically, it’s never something you should do without a second thought – but it’s acceptable to kill someone who will kill you or your people if nothing is done.

Aberrations are definitely fair game. Strangely, undead are valid to destroy, because they’re dead. Constructs, oozes, etc – all good. Beyond that, many Seekers only see the divine spark as existing in “things that look like me”. TECHNICALLY any intelligent creature with blood has the Divinity within, but many Seekers only extend that to humanoids, and others limit even further to humans and demihumans. So if you try to protect all sentient things you’d a very noble Seeker… but many would just see the blackscale lizardfolk as a monster, not a brother-in-blood.

What would be the position of the Church toward the warforged, in your opinion?

A warforged is essentially like an undead. Pity them as they have no blood and can never attain true divinity, but if they choose to serve the faith, it’s a noble calling and they should be treated with respect. Now, the stranger case is the warforged Seeker who attains divine power; in the 5E game I’m running right now, one of the PCs is a warforged BoV paladin. Some Seekers will look at this and say that they must have a piece of the divine spark for this to occur. Others would assert that because they are acting as a champion of the faith, they are actually drawing on the divinity of the people they are protecting.

You mentioned that the Bloodsails are more representative of the first traditions of the line of Vol. Does it have something to do with the presence of “Lady Illmarrow”, a.k.a. Vol herself, among the Grim?

No – it’s because the Bloodsails are the direct descendants of the elves who served the line of Vol and fought alongside it against the dragons and the Undying Court. The Blood of Vol took their ideas and mixed them up with existing beliefs about the Sovereigns and such; the Bloodsails follow the more pragmatic approach that death sucks and undeath gives you power and immortality, without investing in the idea of the Divinity Within.

I assume that the Church’s leeway, so to say, from what would had been its first “orthodoxy”, *whereas their very Messiah is still alive among them*, is a side effect of the fact that the existence of the said Messiah must stay a secret laced in several layers of mystery. That’s not a configuration that facilitates control. Would that assumption be correct? Or does Lady Vol just not care at all about what the content of those religions becomes, if she can use the infrastructure as a network for her agenda?

First of all, you might be interesting in this RPG.Net thread on “What’s Erandis Vol been doing for 3,000 years?” But a catch here is that like the line of Vol itself, the Bloodsails don’t make a religion out of undeath; they consider it to be a science. Per Dragon 410, Bloodsail priests “shape their divine magic from the raw energy of Mabar.” They respect the line of Vol as essentially the greatest scientists who unlocked the secrets of Mabaran necromancy, but they respect them for their accomplishments as much as their blood. The Grim Lord Varonaen, who found a way to make the sunless isle bloom, is just as worthy of reverence as Lady Illmarrow. As for Erandis herself, this is essentially the society she grew up in. Her parents didn’t consider themselves to be gods. Now, they told her that SHE had the potential to achieve divinity, but that’s a unique thing and on top of that, she can’t touch that power. So she’s OK using the power she has as a member of the Grim to serve her agenda. Should she finally manage to unlock her TRUE power, well, that’s a question for the future.

You say that Vol doesn’t claim to be the head of the Blood of Vol since she doesn’t want the Undying Court pursuing her. She choose instead to be called the Queen of Death and being known as a wise and very powerful Lich. Isn’t that enough for the Undying Court? They hunt undead. There is a cult that openly cooperate with undead and a very powerful lich. Isn’t already a target? 

OK, there’s a whole lot of elements to unpack here.

  • Don’t overestimate the power of the Undying Court. They wield divine power in Aerenal. They can defend Aerenal from draconic attack… but we’ve specifically called out that they couldn’t retaliate against Argonnessen, because their power is limited to Aerenal. Beyond Aerenal, their power is limited to that of their divine agents – clerics and paladins – who are no more inherently powerful that clerics and paladins of any other religion, such as, say, the Blood of Vol. The elite agents of the Aereni Deathguard are good at what they do. But they’re not epic level. And beyond that, if they are acting in Khorvaire they are agents of a foreign power conducting military operations in another nation – which has all the potential issues of a nation in our world sending assassins to kill an enemy. So: The Deathguard is powerful, yes. But it’s not all-powerful.
  • In life, Erandis Vol wasn’t a powerful wizard. She was a young half-dragon, and she was killed by the forces of the Undying Court. Her mother secretly resurrected her as a lich, using all the power she and Erandis’ father (an epic-level green dragon) had at their disposal to shield their daughter from divination. So: The Undying Court doesn’t believe that anyone escaped the destruction of the line of Vol. They aren’t specifically LOOKING for Erandis, and even if they were, they wouldn’t be looking for a powerful lich wizard; she’s become a powerful lich wizard over the last few thousand years.
  • The faith of the Blood of Vol first appeared over a thousand years ago. You can be sure the Undying Court thoroughly checked it out and confirmed that the only connection to Vol was the name.
  • The Blood of Vol produces undead champions. This is a known thing. The Deathguard will destroy them when possible, which is why there’s not a lot of them. But as noted above, it’s not a trivial thing.
  • The Queen of Death is the leader of the modern Order of the Emerald Claw. She assumed leadership of it less than ten years ago. As far as Aerenal is concerned, she’s just one more undead champion, like many they’ve seen over the years. Something to deal with if there’s an opportunity, but not a reason to unleash everything at their disposal or risk war with Khorvaire. She possesses epic-level shielding against divination. Her followers don’t know her location or true identity. But the Deathguard is good at what they do, and if they dig deep enough, perhaps they CAN discover the identity of the Queen of Death: She’s Lady Illmarrow of Farlnen. She is a Grim Lord of the Bloodsail Principality, an enclave founded by elves who accepted exile following the Blood of Vol, and whose leaders are powerful undead. So: She’s a powerful lich wizard in a place with the largest number of lich wizards in Eberron. She has a legitimate identity and history in that place. And it’s a place that even the Deathguard would tread lightly… and technically, a place where the Undying Court gave these undead elves license to be.

So: all undead champions of the Blood of Vol could be considered targets of opportunity for the Aereni Deathguard – beings they’d destroy if there’s an easy chance. But as it stands, the Queen of Death has done nothing requiring greater action. If they knew she was Erandis, there stands the risk that they would unleash all power at their disposal to deal with her, regardless of the consequences to Khorvaire or Aerenal. But at the moment, she’s a Bloodsail lord allied with an extremist sect of a faith that’s been around for centuries. These are both things that have happened before and don’t require any extreme action.

Also: how many very powerful lich wizards can exist in Eberron? Can’t the prophetic Undying Court just… hem… GUESS?

There’s not a lot of them, to be sure. But the Bloodsail Principality may well have the largest number of them in one place in Eberron. And again, Erandis wasn’t a powerful wizard in life; she came by her lichdom in an unusual way, and mastered magic after the fact. So “powerful lich” doesn’t automatically equal “survivor of the line of Vol.”

Plus they had thousands of years for just finding a phylactery. Maybe for some reason connected to the prophecy they DON’T WANT to stop her?

It’s quite possible, though to me that would be a motivation for the Chamber to leave her alone. With that said, looking the the Undying Court, they haven’t been looking for a phylactery because they had no reason to believe that there was a surviving Vol lich. With that said, this brings up an interesting point. Erandis is a highly unusual lich. She didn’t choose to become a lich; it was done to her. Her mother was determined to do everything possible to protect her child. Usually, a lich regenerates next to their phylactery. In MY Eberron, Erandis regenerates in a random location unrelated to her phylactery, which is in turn shielded by epic defenses against divination. The upshot of this: Erandis herself doesn’t know where her phylactery is. In my Eberron, there have been times early in her existence when she has tried to destroy herself, but she can’t. Not something you have to do, but the point being that not even she knows where or what it is.

By rules vampires are ALWAYS evil. So: are they still the same person they where in life? If a paladin of Vol turns vampire changes his personality? Became a black guard? And how a living paladin of Vol react to these changes?

While alignment restrictions are looser in Eberron, one place where I maintain them is when alignment is enforced by magic. And it’s a good question to ask, because in my opinion the alignment change forced by lycanthropy DOES dramatically alter the victim’s personality. So I’m fine with the idea that vampires become evil… but at this point it’s vital for you to understand how define evil in Eberron, as laid out in this previous post. Evil doesn’t mean you suddenly start murdering children. It means you could start murdering children and not feel remorse. It reflects a lack of empathy and compassion for others, an ability to harm others without remorse. In the case of a vampire, I feel that this is driven by a few factors.

  • Aside from blood, a vampire is sustained by the negative energy of Mabar – an alien plane that consumes life. This is the source of a vampire’s hunger to consume both blood and life energy, and it does change the vampire increasingly over time.
  • Likewise, vampires are made to be predators. They are made to charm and deceive, to hunt and consume. The powers of the vampire come with inhuman instincts that erode their previous nature. They simply can’t feel compassion for others as they once did: they can approve of the concept intellectually, but they don’t FEEL it the way they did before. It’s the way that being a sociopath can be a chemical thing as opposed to learned behavior.

First off, this is why vampires AREN’T the preferred choice for undead champions. Mummies don’t have alignment alteration and don’t need to prey on others as vampires do; they aren’t predators by nature. Thus, the high priest Malevenor is a mummy, not a vampire. But with that said, in Eberron evil characters CAN do good. King Kaius is pushing for peace. You can have an evil paladin of the Silver Flame. So the paladin of the Blood of Vol doesn’t HAVE to become a blackguard when they become a vampire. They COULD – or in 5E terms, they could change their Oath to reflect their nature – but they don’t have to. A vampire champion could still devote his existence to protecting Seekers and seek do serve the greater good. But he’ll find it easier and easier to kill those who oppose him without feeling any remorse, to torture someone to get information when such an act would have seemed repugnant in his warmer days, and so on. Essentially, Eberron is a world in which an evil character can still be a hero – but he’ll find it easier to do bad things in pursuit of that noble cause.

Considering the views the BoV has on undeadhood, and the value of the living, does this also apply the the karnathi skeletons and zombies? You mentioned that while intelligent they do not recall their life before death. Going by their 3.5 stat block their int and wis are completely average but they have a Cha of 1. does this mean they have a complete lack of personality, simply emodying the stereotypical “good soldier” if so I’m curious how their “always evil” alignment plays out?

The principle of the Karrnathi undead is that they are intelligent but not in any way human. They all possess identical skills and by default cannot advance, which is to say that unlike warforged, they can’t learn. The most detailed canon description of the Karrnathi undead comes from Dungeon 195, which notes:

Fear, hunger, and exhaustion are alien to them… One of the few limitations of the undead derives from their utter lack of mercy or compassion. Left on its own, a Karrnathi skeleton will slaughter all opposing forces—soldiers, civilians, even children…  the Kind fears that the undead aren’t animated by the soul of Karrnath, but rather by an aspect of Mabar itself—that the combat styles of the undead might be those of the dark angels of Mabar. Over the years, he has felt a certain malevolence in his skeletal creations that he can’t explain, not to mention their love of slaughter. He has also considered the possibility that they are touched by the spirits of the Qabalrin ancestors of Lady Vol. 

Now: you can always make exceptions to these rules. By default, Karrnathi undead can’t advance. However, I’ve MADE Karrnathi undead with a higher level of skill and with a more distinct (even if still inhuman) personality. So you can certainly create such unique beings if you choose. But looking to the rank and file of the Karrnathi undead, they are intelligent but entirely inhuman. Where each warforged is an individual capable of learning, evolving, and feeling, Karrnathi undead are largely identical sociopaths. This is why I’ve said you couldn’t use them as farmers; they hunger for battle, and would eventually end up killing a stablehand. So when Kaius agreed to seal the bulk of his undead forces below Atur, in part this was a friendly gesture to the other nations… but surely there was an element of him being nervous about leaving the undead standing around when they have nothing to kill.

So who was Erandis in life? 

There’s no canon answer to this, and it’s really a question of what do you want the answer to be? For me, a true answer to this and to the other related questions would require a serious examination of the culture that surrounded the line of Vol. The Bloodsail Principality is an example of the culture that evolved from this, but we haven’t established if they shared most of the same culture and values as the Aereni, or if they were as different from the Aereni as the Tairnadal are. Without a clear understanding of that culture, it’s impossible to say what her life was like. But if you assume some general similarity to the Aereni there’s a few things you can extrapolate.

  • All the Elven cultures are tied to a respect for the great souls of the past, and developing ways to save the great souls of the future. Lineage and history are important, and you are expected to DO something with your life – whether that’s to emulate the deeds of your ancestors or to master (and potentially exceed) their accomplishments. Erandis would surely have grown up knowing that she represents the pinnacle of her family’s work, and that it was her duty to live up to their expectations. Essentially: a “normal childhood” for an elf on Aerenal means something entirely different than what we think of as a “normal childhood”, at it’s going to involve concentrated study in the history of your line and the arts they perfected.
  • Erandis was a half-dragon produced in a secret breeding project with the potential to alter the world. Her existence was probably a secret, so to the degree that elven children run around and play games, she wouldn’t have been running around with them. However, she was part of a breeding program, which to me suggests that she did have siblings; she was simply the only one to manifest the apex mark.
  • My thought is that the war began the day Erandis fully manifested her mark – nothing Vol could do could hide that from Argonnessen. So Erandis had her mark for a period of time, but it’s a form of the mark that had never existed before and she didn’t have time to unlock its power before she was killed.
  • Given all that: I’ve suggested that she was probably around a 6th level wizard when she died. Given the general power level of Eberron, that’s an amazing degree of skill to possess as an adolescent.

So: my PERSONAL belief at this moment (because it might completely change, should I do a more in-depth exploration of the Vol culture) is that Erandis grew up in isolation, surrounded by attendants, tutors, and her siblings. I expect that it was a highly competitive environment – almost Ender’s Game level – as the tutors sought both to determine if any of the subjects possessed the apex mark and to prepare them to use it if they did. So I think you were combining intense necromantic study and competition (again, producing an adolescent 6th level wizard) with trials similar to the Test of Siberys. With all that said, I think there would have been intense focus on the fact that these children were the legacy of the line of Vol and the next generation of elven heroes. They weren’t raised to be weapons; they were raised to be Vol’s answer to the Undying Court. They were raised to be the god-heroes of ages to come. We’ve also established that Erandis’s mother truly loved her. Now, we don’t know how much sentimentality they actually expressed, but I think Erandis knew her parents and knew that they loved her – and that this was part of her drive to succeed – to make them proud.

And then, alone among her siblings, she DOES succeed. She manifests the apex mark. But she dies before she can master it, and her entire culture is wiped out. So again, to me her story is one of maddening tragedy – of having come within inches of a glorious destiny and fulfilling the dreams of her line, only to fail and carry the physical mark of that failure on her skin, the mark she can never unlock.

As a side note: She didn’t get to play with all the girls and boys. But she was a necromantic prodigy and even before she manifested the apex mark she may have displayed unnatural potential. Which is to say that I think even as a child, many of her friends and some of her teachers were dead – she probably spent a lot of time talking with ghosts.

How does a mummy like Malevanor become a spellcasting cleric of the Blood of Vol? If faith is required to cast clerical spells and the tenets of the faith of the Blood of Vol state that such power comes from the Divinity Within and undead are effectively cut off from that, wouldn’t a priest who became undead lose faith in his ability to cast spells?

It’s an excellent point, and why Erandis and Demise are arcane casters, not divine. But there are two ways to justify undead wielding divine power in the BoV, depending on which seems more convenient for the story of your campaign.

The easy version is to say that yes: Malevanor has no divine spark to draw on, but instead he draws on the undeveloped divinity of the faithful he serves. Essentially, the shepherd draws power from his flock. The power still comes from the Divinity Within, but he’s drawing on YOUR Divinity, not his own.

The more convoluted path comes back to the Sacrament of Blood, mentioned earlier: the Seeker practice of communally donating blood for the benefit of undead champions. While this has obvious direct value for vampires, it’s possible that a mummy like Malevanor could also drink blood: it doesn’t provide him with sustenance, but he then draws on the divine spark of the blood in his system. What’s interesting about this is that it makes the blood of the faithful a valuable commodity to more than just vampires – and also means that if Malevanor was cut off from his supply, his divine power would dwindle.

All religions do charity work right? Would the blood of Vol care for a Vampire that was not connected to their religion? For example, someone is turned vampire against their will and is abandoned by their family/group/religion, and resists giving in to the urges of his/hers new instincts, would the seekers care about this person?

It would depend on the Seekers in question. A few observations:

  • Priests of the Blood of Vol are generally very familiar with undead. They understand the needs of vampires better than almost anyone. However, as mentioned above they don’t inherently equate “undead” with “worthy of reverence.” They know ghouls are a threat and excel at dealing with them. They know vampires can be allies or predators, and they’ll deal harshly with predatory vampires. So they could help, but they’re also well-versed in what it would take to simply destroy this rogue vampire.
  • As noted in the previous examples, the Sacrament of Blood is a precious resource. The BoV limits the number of blood-dependent undead it intentionally creates because it has a limited ability to support them. The blood it takes to support this vampire could go to a true champion of the faith.
  • Given that, the situation is no different than if the person in question was simply suffering from a mundane disease. Is the compassion of the priest or community sufficient to cause them to share their limited resources with a stranger? Or do they feel the need to put the needs of their own community first?

The upshot is that it would depend on the state of the community (can they afford to spare the blood?), the demeanor of the vampire (are they at least friendly towards the Seekers, or are they behaving in an actively hostile or predatory fashion?), and the alignment of the priest. An evil cleric would say that the foolish mistakes of outsiders aren’t their concern, and they might actually try to destroy the vampire just to keep it from becoming a threat. A neutral cleric would likely help but would demand something in return; the vampire needs to perform some positive service for the community, or to take time to listen to Seeker doctrine in the hopes they might choose to become a champion of the faith. And a good priest would try to help them because it’s the right thing to do, and because they appreciate the vampire’s desire not to become a predator – though again, they’d likely use this as an opportunity to try to draw the vampire into the faith.

What would the Apex Mark of Death look like?

It’s not something I’ve ever thought about, and not something I’m prepared to give a concrete answer to without further contemplation. But looking at the factors in my mind: It is a form of the Mark of Death – an evolution beyond Siberys, but NOT an entirely new type of Mark. Therefore, I would say that it would have a clear resemblance to the true dragonmarks in general and the Mark of Death specifically. As I mentioned previously, the marks can always be identified: the Siberys Mark has the “nucleus” image of the core mark in the heart of all the widespread lines.

Speaking entirely personally, my vision has always been that it covered her body, like a Siberys mark. So, how is it DIFFERENT from a Siberys mark? What clearly marks it as something grander? Well, my answer would be to say that it extends beyond her body – that she anchors the mark, but that its power reaches into the world. We’ve seen this sort of thing before with the aberrant mark of the Son of Khyber in the novel of the same name and the Living Dragonmark feat, illustrated below.

If you go with this idea, when she was alive and empowered the Mark could literally have surrounded her. It was asked if this would be painful: I don’t see why. Aberrant marks can be painful, but the true Dragonmark is a more harmonious thing. As such, this could be another element of tragedy for Erandis. When her mark fully manifested, it surrounded her. It could be that she could hear it, feel reality in new ways through it, but again… she couldn’t quite UNDERSTAND it or control it. Then she was killed, and NOW the mark is simply dead lines on withered flesh. She knows what it was and what it could be, and knows it is lost.

I suspect a lot of them haven’t thought about the potential problems getting rid of death on a COSMIC level would introduce because of that narrow idea of what constitutes “death”. Makes me suspect there’s room for the story of a struggle against well-intentioned but misguided Seekers who have a potentially functional plan for destroying death… not thinking about how horribly that would screw up the natural world.

That’s definitely a story you could explore. With that said, it’s pretty easy to see that removing the concept of death from our world without any other changes would cause all sorts of disasters. And it’s important to understand that a farmer who follows the Blood of Vol doesn’t want to be an immortal farmer. The principle of the Blood of Vol is that we are all caterpillars, clinging to the branch of a tree. Given enough time, we can undergo a chrysalis and become butterflies – at which point we leave the branch and experience the existence in a new way. When you fully unlock the Divinity Within, you won’t just be a person with magic powers; you will ascend to an entirely different level of existence. The core belief of the Blood of Vol is that mortality means that we end up dying as caterpillars… and that death is final and absolute, condemning our divine spark to dissolution in Dolurrh and oblivion.

So: the BoV doesn’t want a world of immortal caterpillars. They want to end suffering – to eliminate plague and famine – and they want everyone to have lives long enough that they can achieve their potential, unlocking their divinity and moving on to the next stage of existence. In their perfect world, people will be born and they will leave existence: but they leave existence because they move on to something better, not because they die and are extinguished.

A few thoughts tied to this:

  • It is POSSIBLE for people to unlock the Divinity Within and move on without breaking the who cycle for everyone. So selfish Seekers this is all they want to do: achieve personal ascension, with no concern for others. But there are surely BoV “saints” who ARE believed to have ascended and to exist in a higher form already; we just want to make that possible for everyone.
  • Tying to the point that most BoV followers consider the “Vol” in the Blood of Vol to be the original Seeker who discovered the Divinity Within: there’s no issue with this clashing with the true history of the line of Vol. Elves live a long time and thus HAVE more time to try to unlock the Divinity Within. Hearing the true history of the line of Vol, a Seeker would say “So, it’s a family of elves who was studying necromancy? Clearly, the Vol WE reference was a member of that family who discovered the Divinity Within as part of that work.” Essentially, they don’t know WHICH member of the family it was, but there’s nothing problematic about the idea that a long-lived Elven necromancer might have stumbled upon this secret and accomplished something the rest of his family didn’t follow up on.
  • Honestly, I think Seeker sages pity the elves. They have the right idea and they have such long lives they ought to be able to accomplish it. But looking to the Undying Court, they tie themselves to this world – when someone who unlocks the Divinity Within should ascend to something BETTER than this world.

So: You definitely could have fun with a story about Seekers who literally just remove death from a particular area. But for most Seekers it’s not about achieving immortality in this world; it’s about an end to suffering and having as much time as you need to unlock the DW and move on to the next level of existence.

54 thoughts on “Dragonmark: The Blood of Vol

  1. Taking from this, would a Blood of Vol temple offer necromantic skills to others? The local Prince in my campaign wants to rebuild her port, but needs more labourers. Would the local Blood of Vol temple offer skeletons and/or zombies as the necessary unskilled labour if they were trying to get into her good graces?

    • Taking from this, would a Blood of Vol temple offer necromantic skills to others? The local Prince in my campaign wants to rebuild her port, but needs more labourers. Would the local Blood of Vol temple offer skeletons and/or zombies as the necessary unskilled labour if they were trying to get into her good graces?

      Sure. First of all, it’s what they did with Kaius. Second, they could do it because they wanted to get in her good graces… or they could do it because it’s something they see as being for the good of the community, which is to say, the right thing to do. But they also know most people are creeped out by undead, and my avoid doing it if they felt it would cause negative attention for them.

      • Could be fun to help a Seeker community by helping them help others without creeping them out, perhaps using illusions.

        Do you think Seekers would go for that kind of deception, hiding the fact the laborours are skeletons, or view it as a sucky thing they don’t want to have to do?

      • The local priest is LE, so he’s more about the “increase the standing of the temple and myself” than “do the right thing”, but that’s specifically him instead of the whole Seeker community.

        I’d probably have them have the zombies/skeletons wear clothes and gloves if only for propriety’s sake. A corpse is still a body.

  2. Great post Keith! Thank you!
    So the huge misunderstanding I was in is that the Blood of Vol is NOT, in your opinion, a creation of Erandis Vol. I admit this will miss me. I loved the idea of Erandis creating her own religion for trascending death or maybe creating her personal Undying Court.
    But if I understand you see Erandis taking control of a pre-existing religion that could even be right and twisting the belivers at her own plans.

    By the way: am I right that in some canon seeker are said like to search for people to donate blood for rituals and/or for feeding vampires?

    • You should definitely stick with the vision of the BoV that works best for the story you want to tell. Beyond that, I’ve added answers to both these things to the end of the main article.

  3. Would a Blood Magus (Complete Arcane) fit more into the Seeker side, the BoV side, or be one of those captured in the middle of the Diagram?

    Do Seekers have better than common knowledge about types of undead? Are Seeker commoners taught differences between zombies and ghouls?

    • Would a Blood Magus (Complete Arcane) fit more into the Seeker side, the BoV side, or be one of those captured in the middle of the Diagram?

      I think it can go in the middle. As I mention late in the article, the faith is split between those who assert that the Sovereigns exist and afflected the world with mortality (the maltheists, if you will) and those who believe that there are no gods at all, only the Divinity Within. With their arcane and thus almost scientific approach to the power of blood, I could see a Blood Magus as likely being more on the atheist side of this argument. But at the end of the day, a Blood Magus is a wizard who understands that there is power in blood, and they could fit into the faith on any side of things.

    • Do Seekers have better than common knowledge about types of undead? Are Seeker commoners taught differences between zombies and ghouls?

      They’d certainly have a better understanding of the types of undead they consider to be tools or allies. They’d thus recognize a ghoul as not being one of those things, even if they weren’t extensively trained in additional lore about ghouls specifically.

  4. Ah, so much thoughts! I’m quite a fan of the Blood of Vol as you present it here and there, as opposed to the caricatural “All Evil Bloodthirsty Minions of Death” approach. One of my favorite PCs is actually a Lawful Good BoV cultist. Mechanically, he’s a 4E Invoker, with a bunch of rituals on the side. Thematically, he’s a Tharashk heir, primarily acting as an Inquisitive based in Sharn. Basically, he’s a necromancer Sherlock Holmes, so he’s Lawful Good but… tending toward contemptuous. He thinks that most people are fools (especially pious Vassals, of course), but the job *and* the goal in the long term is to save them all nonetheless. Suffice to say, the contrast tends to make common folks feel a bit queasy. Well, I suppose the presence of his zombie servant, when he receives clients in his apartment of Highest-Towers, doesn’t help either.

    On with a barrage of questions……

    * My character doesn’t seek the martyrdom of becoming an undead. But, being a PC, the more he levels up, the more he becomes an exceptional individual… and so I sense that’s a thought, at the very least, that he can’t just dismiss forever. On the other hand: the champions of the Sovereigns die, the souls of the champions of the Flame join the Flame, but if the champions of the Blood of Vol become undead and continue to walk the earth, even by restricting this to the most valiant ones, after a few centuries of practice that’s bound to be quite a crowd. Are they super-extra-picky? Or is there another explanation?

    * The character’s credo is to preserve all life, or at least as much as possible, including the ones of the enemies he fights. It proves to be an uneasy goal to reach, as the very mechanics of the game tend to push players to kill their opponents without seconds thoughts more often than not. What creatures, would you think, the BoV faith may consider “impossible to save” (and so, fair game to kill if they act evil)? I suppose both mindless undead and extraplanar invaders fall in that category. Also, probably dragons, for more than one reason! But what else? Aberrations? Other mindless/soulless monsters? Or would it revolve mainly around the question of the presence of blood in their veins?

    * On that note, more generally speaking… What would be the position of the Church toward the warforged, in your opinion? They don’t have blood, but they have a soul. That may come from somewhere, or from nowhere. Either way, I’d think this could set for an interesting in-house debate considering the long-term goals of the Blood of Vol.

    * You mentioned that the Bloodsails are more representative of the first traditions of the line of Vol. Does it have something to do with the presence of “Lady Illmarrow”, a.k.a. Vol herself, among the Grim? I assume that the Church’s leeway, so to say, from what would had been its first “orthodoxy”, *whereas their very Messiah is still alive among them*, is a side effect of the fact that the existence of the said Messiah must stay a secret laced in several layers of mystery. That’s not a configuration that facilitates control. Would that assumption be correct? Or does Lady Vol just not care at all about what the content of those religions becomes, if she can use the infrastructure as a network for her agenda?

    Thanks by advance for the replies!

  5. You say that Vol doesn’t claim to be the head of the bov since she doesn’t want the undying court be on her.
    She choose instead to be called the Queen of Death and being known as a wise and very powerful Lich.
    Isn’t that enough for the undying court? They haunt undeads. There is a cult that openly cooperate with undeads and a very powerful Lich. Isn’t already a target?
    Also: how many very powerful Lich wizards can exist in Everton? Can’t the prophetic undying court just… hem… GUESS?
    Finally: it’s pretty clear in canon that the undying court is far more powerful than erandis alone. Plus they had thousands of years for just finding a philactery. Maybe for some reason connected to the prophecy they DON’T WANT to stop her?

    • (Sorry I didn’t want to submit… And sorry since I know it’s a long comment)

      Finally as we already discussed I see Vol trying to build her own undying court. She wants to become a goddess. The seekers want to find the God Within. Can’t this be the way? She wants to create a pool of divine energy for transcending. So in some way she is telling the truth. Just she doesn’t care if any other will transcend after her. Do you see it as a good compromise? 🙂

      Really last question: somebody asked how a seeker sees a warforged. But i’d point: how a seeker would react to a priest of the becoming God? A God that can be built is an enemy or the beginning of the liberation?

      Thank you in advance since I know there are a lot of questions here

      • She wants to become a goddess. The seekers want to find the God Within. Can’t this be the way? She wants to create a pool of divine energy for transcending.

        You could, as always, use this story in your game. The reason I wouldn’t use it in my Eberron is that Erandis means something entirely different when she talks about becoming a goddess. She doesn’t believe that all mortals have divinity within. She believes that SHE does, and it’s not because of faith: it is because of SCIENCE. She is the end result of an extensive elf-dragon breeding product designed to produce the apex expression of the Mark of Death. She died before she could master that power (though the fact that she can’t use it now does tie to the Seeker idea that undead lose their divinity…). What SHE wants to do is simply to unlock the power of her Dragonmark, and that doesn’t require generating a pool of divine energy or anything that would be of use to anyone NOT bearing an Apex Dragonmark.

        Essentially, the line of Vol were necromantic scientists, not priests. Vol herself is a wizard, not a cleric. She’s happy to play the role of undead champion, but she herself doesn’t share the faith of her followers.

        how a seeker would react to a priest of the becoming God? A God that can be built is an enemy or the beginning of the liberation?

        It depends on how it’s presented, but I’d think that this would be seen as a possible ally in their battle.

      • Cool! Very very intriguing, Keith!
        I hope I’m not rude if I say you didn’t answer my last two questions. I do it since may be you lost them because of the double post 🙂

        The last question raised is this one: by rules vampires are ALWAYS evil. So: are they still the same person they where in life? If a paladin of Vol turns vampire changes his personality? Became a black guard? And how a living paladin of Vol react to theese changes?

        • I hope I’m not rude if I say you didn’t answer my last two questions. I do it since may be you lost them because of the double post

          Which questions did I miss? I address the questions of the Becoming God and Erandis becoming a goddess in the comments section, and the question of how Erandis hides from the Court and why they haven’t found her phylactery in the main post. I’m answering the vampire alignment question in the main post now, though it make take a bit before it shows up for you.

          • For some reason I see your answer on the becoming god only if I see your blog from my computer, like now, and it doesn’t show up on my phone. There is some daelkyr playing with me 🙂

  6. A small note on the “hot or not” post, because I’m vain. I was doctorbadwolf, and I was not contending that Vol should be hot. Simply that I see her as instinctively using her magics to shape her undead flesh into her own mental image of what she looked like in life, or an idea of what she would have looked like if she had been allowed to grow up, or some obviously unnatural but compellingly beautiful skull-masked being visually worthy of the title, Queen of Death.
    Even when alone. Even when in dire circumstances.
    Maybe even while dying again, weeping or screaming in rage or laughing in mad defiance as her enemies destroy her like they have so many times she’s lost count.
    She may not even do it on purpose! But she is driven, IMO, by the memory of her brief life before undeath, and by what was stolen from her.
    Not just the power, and this is where I feel strongly that she keeps up the “illusion” even when alone, and it’s more than a simple illusion, more like True Polymorph or something.
    Her whole life was stolen from her, right as it was beginning. Her family and her youth and her potential, all of it. Because she was powerful. She wants to reclaim her mark and all that, but she also is haunted by the simple fact that she will never be like her mother was.

    If my players fight Erandis, and cause her form to go “full lich”, that is when shit gets *really* bad for them.

    • Certainly, I agree with all of that. I’m all about the tragic Erandis. A secondary point here is that it is valuable for her to have and maintain the identity of Lady Illmarrow – who is also a lich, certainly, but presumably NOT a half-dragon. So she’d be very comfortable in that form.

      • I gotta drill Illmarrow into my head better, I tend to forget about that part.

        Follow up, what do you think she would do if somehow given a choice between continueing her quest to regain use of her mark, and being made a living person again?

        Like, if someone came to her with a ritual that would restore an intelligent undead to life, but only if they had a Dragonmark, because the component cost of the ritual is the mark itself?

        Also, I love the idea of the triple false identity for Kaius III.
        * ie the idea that some people think it’s Kaius I in disguise, but really that idea was planted by the Kaiuses to throw off Vol and others, and Kaius III really is himself, masquerading as his grandfather masquerading as him. Cold War spy thriller level stuff.

        Meanwhile, what is Kaius I doing?

        IMO,
        * serving his people in some way, for sure (perhaps trying to investigate the source of the famine, or working with BoV “heretics” who suspect the truth of the church leadership and EC, and want to excise them while saving the church as a whole?),
        *and probably trying to find a way to break the bond with his sire, or even cure his vampirism.

        Have you used that idea in your campaigns at all? I know you’ve discussed it before. What do you think of those questions and ideas?

        • Follow up, what do you think she would do if somehow given a choice between continueing her quest to regain use of her mark, and being made a living person again?

          What do I personally think? I think that regaining the use of her mark is something she’s worked on for thousands of years. As I mention in the article, it’s essentially the reason her family was wiped out and she never mastered it, so if she were to abandon it, they died for nothing. So I couldn’t imagine MY Erandis being willing to give up her mark for anything.

          Also, I love the idea of the triple false identity for Kaius III. Have you used that idea in your campaigns at all?

          I love the idea, especially because it’s a great way to trip up people who think they know all the secrets of the setting. I haven’t used it, but I probably would have if the paladin with the quest to Kill Kaius had actually seen it through – he kills Kaius III, and then when he discovers that he’s made a terrible mistake and that Erandis was using him, I could pop up to help him. So I love it, but I just haven’t had a call for it.

          • Another small, but possibly fun, aspect of the “Kaius-Kaius-Kaius” scenario for players who think they know everything about the setting: The mystery prisoner in the Dreadhold. Widely assumed to be Kaius III, but if both Kaiuses are out running loose, then Khorvaire’s version of the Man inthe Iron Mask has to be someone els altogetherr, and a potential surprise for any would-be prison break artists.

  7. Considering the views the BoV has on undeadhood, and the value of the living, does this also aply the the karnathi skeletons and zombies? You mentioned that while intelligent they do not recall their life before death. Going by their 3.5 stat block their int and wis are completely average but they have a Cha of 1. does this mean they have a complete lack of personality, simply emodying the stereotypical “good soldier” if so I’m curious how their “always evil” alignment plays out? are they cruel or vicious where possible or is more of a throwback to basic dnd “undead are evil” mentality? I must say either way in “my” eberron there will at least be one karnathi skeleton who actually is not a bad guy at all, and might end up a ally of the player from time to time, in your view, would a such a persona be even possible as a player character, or do the karnathi undead not gain enough personality and experiance to be considered such without being a specific exeption to the standard?

    • Good question. I’ve added a longer answer to the main post. The short answer is that you can always create exceptional or unusual individuals for your campaign, but by default Karrnathi undead don’t have a human personality. Unlike warforged, who feel emotion and can learn, Karrnathi undead are largely emotionless and fixed in their skills. But again, you can create exceptions to this – and I have my MY games.

      • Interesting, and this does explain the whole “seal the undead in the tombs” thing a lot more for me if they have a lust for battle and a tendency towards it you couldn’t simply command them to stand still and wait like regular mindless undead.
        I think I’m going to dig a bit deeper into the possible undead to find a better-suited option for my “enemy of my enemy” undead ally.

        • Exactly. This is one reason Karrnath USED warforged, since one could say “Why would they bother buying warforged when they had Karrnathi Undead?” The idea is that some Seekers find the Karrnathi undead to be a little creepy, and they are less versatile than warforged. You can give a warforged a hammer and teach him to make a sword, or any other noncombat task. Karrnathi undead are efficient and flexible killers, but you can’t teach them to be anything else… and you’re always going to be wondering if they are thinking about killing YOU.

  8. One recurring question I’ve had in general has always been about old memories, science, historians and clashing with forgotten secrets.

    The short question, shouldn’t it be common knowledge to the seekers who the Vol line was in relation to the dragonmarks?

    We’ve discussed the undying court and their research into BoV to make sure there was no connection. However, we haven’t discussed BoV and the houses. They are aware of the Mark of Death, even built a memorialized floor in the college, just a handful of generations back, the Phiarlan family and Vol family should have known of each other? .

    • Oops, I didn’t complete my thought.

      If Phiarlan (and the halflings maybe) were aware of one another, then it seems to me the Mark of Death memorial at the college of The Twelve (I believe I read they had some kind of memorial for the missing mark), would mention the name Vol.

      Seems like that knowledge could end up in a seekers hands pretty quick.

    • The short question, shouldn’t it be common knowledge to the seekers who the Vol line was in relation to the dragonmarks?

      For the typical Seeker, Vol is like Noah in the story of Noah’s Ark. What’s important is the role he plays: in this case, Vol is the first Seeker, discovering the Divinity within, being killed by enemies, but teaching the secret to others before he died, who carry that secret to Khorvaire. The thing is, like Noah, this is just a story tied to the faith, an explanation for the name – not the central pillar of the faith. The common Seeker doesn’t really care about the facts behind the story. If someone comes along and says “Did you know Vol was actually an elf family? That they were awesome necromancers and had the Dragonmark of Death?” Their reaction would likely be “But they were exploring ways to unlock power, and they were killed for it? Yes, that’s how our story goes, too.” It’s the same way that we may come up with scientific facts about the primordial deluge… but it’s not like the story of Noah is going to be edited to include the most up-to-date Deluge research.

      Even an EDUCATED Seeker, meanwhile, who’s studied history and knows all about the Dragonmark of Death and the fact that the line of Vol itself didn’t practice their faith would likely say “The Vol who discovered the Divinity Within has no name. Thus, even if the family as a whole didn’t practice our faith, that doesn’t preclude the idea that a MEMBER of the family – the one we call Vol – discovered the secret and shared it.”

      MEANWHILE, however, should Erandis tell a Seeker “I AM THE LAST OF THE LINE OF VOL” – that is impressive, and they would likely assume that she is a great undead champion who has spent the last few thousand years finding ways to undo the curse of mortality – which is in its own way true, even if she’s mainly trying to find a way to get her Dragonmark back.

      The funny thing? I suspect that Erandis wouldn’t be the first Seeker champion to claim to be descended from Vol. Given that for the BoV, “Vol” is a mythical figure, I think that over the course of two thousand years you may have had a number of religious leaders claiming a direct connection to Vol (which may in turn have caused some minor panic in the Undying Court until someone says “Wait, that guy’s human. That doesn’t even make any sense.”).

      • Love it, thanks Keith.

        One parting question/request on this topic (BoV/Claw)

        You did reference a venn diagram of BoV, Emerald Claw as a theoretical. Why does it have to be theoretical? This seems like an extrodinarily useful illustration. Is this something you could create, have created, or would you be willing to comment on one if shared to you by someone attempting to capture all the different relevant groups.

  9. On the subject of Erandis’s phylactery, I always had this idea:

    Her phylactery is the blood of Vol. Not the religion, the literal descendants of the line of Vol. Epic level magic blocks divination attempting to hide her phylactery; in my version, this effect also allowed a few of Erandis’s cousins to escape with their exiled allies.

    Centuries later, there are elves, half-elves, and even humans with traces of the bloodline of Vol. Whenever Erandis’s body is destroyed, instead of reforming near a phylactery, her soul possesses a body that contains that trace of her lineage, forcefully evicting the soul already there and killing the body in the process, transmuting it into her lich form.

    So in order to kill Erandis, you must commit genocide on every descendant of the hidden line of Vol.

    Rumors of this, of any descendant of Vol having the “potential to become our greatest champion” is what fueled the early development of the idea of the “Divinity Within” being tied to blood, eventually losing its original meaning and becoming the Blood of Vol religion.

  10. Thanks as always Keith! I had a couple questions.

    1. I recall somewhere that the Blood of Vol is very interested in ancestry and lineage. Is this because they believe some bloodlines are more divine than others? And, if so, is this what separates, in their minds, spellcasting Seeker clerics from their lay brethren? Or is it more a matter of having faith in the power of your own blood even if that spark of divinity is small?

    2. One of my players asked me this so I’ll relay it to you: What percentage of Karrnath’s undead come from the BoV? I wasn’t sure so I said roughly half or so, with the remainder coming from arcane necromancers.

    3. Not really about the BoV, but has the fact that there is a paramilitary terrorist organization with the same name as Lady Vol’s father aroused any suspicions among the Aerni or Argonessen?

    Thanks!

    • I recall somewhere that the Blood of Vol is very interested in ancestry and lineage. Is this because they believe some bloodlines are more divine than others?

      The BoV isn’t monolithic. There are those that believe the Sovereigns cursed humanity, and those who believe that there are no gods other than the Divinity Within. There are some who yearn to become vampires, even though most consider it a tragic fate. I don’t believe the faith as a whole believes that bloodline determines the odds of your being able to harness the Divinity Within, but it’s an entirely valid fringe belief.

      And, if so, is this what separates, in their minds, spellcasting Seeker clerics from their lay brethren? Or is it more a matter of having faith in the power of your own blood even if that spark of divinity is small?

      Again, you could pursue the first idea as a fringe belief, but more the latter.

      3. Not really about the BoV, but has the fact that there is a paramilitary terrorist organization with the same name as Lady Vol’s father aroused any suspicions among the Aerni or Argonessen?

      Sure. But bear in mind that it’s been around for a long time; it was a chivalric order among the Seekers long before it became a paramilitary terrorist organization. And almost no one IN the order knows that it has the same name as Erandis’s father. So I’m sure a century ago people checked it out and concluded that it was essentially a coincidence – much like the BoV. If they were going to act, they’d have done it long ago. (And bear in mind that it’s just one of the Seeker orders.)

      • Awesome as always, Keith! I just realized another question related to the first that I’ve been scratching my head over.

        How does a mummy like Melevenor (sp?) become a spellcasting cleric of the Blood of Vol? If faith is required to cast clerical spells and the tenets of the faith of the Blood of Vol state that such power comes from the Divinity Within and undead are effectively cut off from that, wouldn’t a priest who became undead lose faith in his ability to cast spells?

  11. I would so much love to see an epic battle between Erandis Vol with her minions and the Undying Court.

  12. So who was Erandis in life? You have said that you consider her not quite a full adult, but what was her childhood like? Did her parents share any love, or was Erandis merely the pragmatic achievement to their goals? Was she raised being solely taught that she is a paragon, or a weapon? Did she have any elf, half-dragon, or dragon siblings? Does she hold any reverence for her elven or draconic heritages, or are the sum of her parts just the means to her apex mark?

    • It’s not a question that can really be answered in this time or in this format, but I’ve added some thoughts on the matter to the end of the main post.

    • Was she raised being solely taught that she is a paragon, or a weapon?

      As a side note: The Mark of Death was a constructive force, not a destructive one. Certainly, her family believed that she could possess untold power – that she could become a divine psychopomp, a Queen of Death. But she wasn’t bred to be a weapon; she was bred to carry the ultimate expression of the Mark of Death, and that mark wasn’t a weapon. If it gave her the power to kill, that would be a side effect – not the goal.

  13. Speaking of Erandis is life, what would an apex dragonmark look like when it manifests? In canon, we know that dragonmarks become larger and more complex as we move from least to lesser to greater to Siberys – with the Siberys mark covering virtually the entire body of its possessor. All still e the same basic color, and the larger marks look more and more like a stylized dragon. So..what would the Apex Mark of Death look like? Would it still bear a “familial” resemblance to the least, lesser, greater, Siberys marks? Would it glow? Throb with power? And would its manifestation have been excruciatingly painful or ecstatically pleasurable to Erandis?

  14. Another question related to Erandis Vol: You’ve previously mentioned that there are ways and places for dragonborn to fit into Eberron. But how about half-dragons? Is Erandis the only canonical half-dragon? What is the attitude of the Chamber toward half-dragons? (My guess is they’re not very happy with the concept…but maybe they see a role in the Prophecy for certain such beings?) After the Erandis incident, half-dragons where the other half is from a Dragonmarked house would probably be strictly verboten. Do dragons who take the form of other races find members of those races sexually attractive? If so, are Chamber agents walking among the squishy races under orders to avoid…entanglements? If they do mate (for whatever reason) would any resulting conception be frequent? rare? require special magical intervention? If the non-dragon is the mohter, is the pregnancy invariably difficult?

  15. “And it’s a good question to ask, because in my opinion the alignment change forced by lycanthropy DOES dramatically alter the victim’s personality. So I’m fine with the idea that vampires become evil”

    The thought i always had where lycanthropes & Vampires are concerned is that their new state applies a strong new predatory urge upon the person turned, they have to prey on other beings because that is now part of their nature.

    An idea i had was of someone who was turned into a vampire but was given a specially crafted ring of sustenance so he never had to to prey on people since the ring sustained him.

    • An idea i had was of someone who was turned into a vampire but was given a specially crafted ring of sustenance so he never had to to prey on people since the ring sustained him.

      That’s a reasonable way to keep the vampire from having to feed. But for me, that doesn’t change the fact that his basic NATURE has changed. He is sustained by the energy of Mabar – suffused by a force that yearns to consume life energy. In addition to this, emotions are in part driven by body chemistry – and he doesn’t HAVE body chemistry any more, because he’s dead. He still has the MEMORY of love, fear, etc – but he doesn’t experience them the way he used to. He doesn’t feel remorse when he kills, because he literally doesn’t FEEL remorse.

      So again: the fact that his alignment becomes “evil” doesn’t mean that he can’t devote his life to doing good – but he has to WORK at it, because his instincts are against it.

      (Again, that’s just how *I* do it…)

      • that vampire idea i had was related to a plot i thought up that when Galifar united the five nations, he arranged for one of his most loyal followers (an elf to help cover his immortality up) to willing become a vampire and to help guide his descendants and protect his legacy as the seneschal of Thronehold castle. Basically heading & creating a special intelligence organization that serves only the Galifar throne and kind of networked all the five nations intelligence agencies together.

  16. Question. Does any of the events from Matt Forbeck’s The Lost Mark trilogy have any bearing on the canon at all? It was an excellent read and look into the machinations of both the Undying Court, and the dragons of Argonesson. The main recipient of the mark, the Elven child Espre, was supposed to be a very loose decendant of Erandis Vol. Just wanted to know if any of it had any bearing, much like how the books of the Brimstone Angels has had an impact on the lore of Tiefling origins in general.

    • Question. Does any of the events from Matt Forbeck’s The Lost Mark trilogy have any bearing on the canon at all?

      No. The Eberron setting made the conscious choice that the events of novels are NOT canon. As a DM, YOU can decide to make the events of a novel canon in your campaign – but by default they are not. We want your Eberron stories to be about YOUR heroes, not ours. One example of this: In The Shattered Land, Pierce acquires an artifact – the docent Shira. In Secrets of Xen’drik, we included a write-up on Shira… but we didn’t mention Pierce. Because in your campaign, we want it to be YOUR warforged hero that finds her. And we want to leave room for a character in YOUR campaign to be the one who inherits the Mark of Death.

      So: You can use the events of any Eberron novel exactly as written, or as inspiration for similar events, or you can ignore it completely. But the core material does not take the events of novels into account. They are things that COULD happen in Eberron as opposed to things that HAVE happened.

  17. While the Blood of Vol talks about conquering death, what they seem to actually MEAN by that is that SAPIENT BEINGS should be immortal. As such, I suspect a lot of them haven’t thought about the potential problems getting rid of death on a COSMIC level would introduce because of that narrow idea of what constitutes “death”. Makes me suspect there’s room for the story of a struggle against well-intentioned but misguided Seekers who have a potentially functional plan for destroying death… not thinking about how horribly that would screw up the natural world.

    • I’ve addressed this at the end of the post. The short form is that what you suggest IS a great idea for a story, but what most Seekers want is “A world without suffering, where people have as much time as they need to unlock the Divinity Within and in so doing, ascend to a new level of existence” – not a world where everyone continues to live human lives for an eternity. So in this perfect world, people WOULD still “die” – but they’d only die when they’re ready to ascend to something better than this life.

  18. If you were running a game in which the Hand of Vecna had been found, how would you consider working Vecna into Eberron’s history?
    I have considered some of the thoughts in the “Age of Worms Overload” article (servitor of the Keeper and Shadow, FIRST Human Lich, etc) as well as the concept of either/both of these applying to an early heretic of the Blood of Vol (once it started to form among Humans).
    I’ve also considered working him/It into the early days of Galifar; perhaps Karrnath?
    Then there’s all that about his treacherous Lieutenant Kas…
    It’s great history with some amazing D&D pedigree, but how would YOU work it all into Eberron?

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