Dragonmarks 5/30/14: Vol, the Dark Six, and the Trouble With Aundair

Spring has been a busy time, and I haven’t had much time for the site. I’m working on a lot of exciting things, and I look forward to being able to discuss them in more detail in the future. I also have a backlog of Stories & Dice to get to. But for now, here’s a few Eberron questions. As always, bear in mind that these are only my personal opinions and that my answers may contradict canon material.

Chris Perkins said that Eberron will have 5e/DNDnext support and your input. Is this true?

Yes. It’s far too early to talk about details as to what form support will take, how extensive it will be, or anything like that, but I have been talking with Mike Mearls and Chris Perkins about Eberron in D&D Next, and I will be working with WotC on future Eberron support. More details to follow in days to come.

What makes Aundair interesting? It seems like idyllic farm land except for Aurala’s ambitions.

This question came in at the last minute, and it can easily be the subject of an entire post. So I’m just going to give you a very high level overview, and explore all these points in more detail in the future.

What makes Aundair interesting?

  • A land divided. Aundair USED to be idyllic farm land… until a big chunk of its idyllic farmers seceded to form the Eldeen Reaches. That’s huge ongoing rift with serious impact on daily life in both Eldeen and Aundair. Then to the west, you have Thaliost – a major Aundairian city now in the hands of Thrane. Of all the surviving Five Nations (we’ll leave Cyre out of this) Aundair carries the worst wounds from the war… which is one of the reasons Aundair HAS ambitions.
  • Mystical sophistication. Aundair is the seat of the Arcane Congress. It’s the smallest of the Five Nations, and during the war, Aundair relied on its arcane superiority to survive. Out of all the Five Nations, Aundair is the one where arcane magic is the most integrated into daily life. If you want to explore that aspect of Eberron, Aundair is the place to do it.
  • Ambition. Aundair dares! The bitter wounds of the war give Aundair a motive to fight – the belief (perhaps foolish) that only renewed war could settle these injustices and turn the fortunes of the nation. Combine this with the belief that Aundair’s mystical edge could let it win that war – that it’s just one super-weapon away from ultimate power. The King’s Citadel is basically working to preserve the status quo… while the Royal Eyes want to destroy it. If you want to be a spy who’s out to CAUSE trouble instead of stopping trouble, it’s the place for you.
  • A nation of dreamers. Karrnath is stoic and grim. Thrane is tied to the church. Breland is industrial and grimy. Aundair is all about magical thinking, figuratively and literally. Its people have the most romantic – and unrealistic – outlook on things, in part because as the nation of magic, they know life can BE unrealistic. Aundairians love duels. They love grand gestures. Life in Aundair is full of flair and color. This ties to the fact that most of the zealots of the Silver Flame are actually from Aundair – because they are more passionate and, if you will, magical in their beliefs, while Thranes tend to be moderate and compassionate.

I’d love to go into more detail on all of these points, but I don’t have time. But to me, the high degree of magical integration combined with the tensions of Thaliost and Eldeen can give birth to a host of interesting stories.

I notice that, in relation to Aundair, you did not mention that, according to the maps published in Forge of War, the entire of southern Aundair (including Arcanix) was actually part of Thrane before the Last War, and a good chunk of northern Thrane (not just Thaliost) used to be part of Aundair. Do you use those border changes in your home game? If so, how does that impact the nation?

This is why I always say “My answers may contradict canon material.” I have no problem with borders having shifter, but I don’t accept the idea that Arcanix was originally part of Thrane. As I said above, the whole idea of Aundair is that it’s the nation most driven by arcane magic… that Aundair herself was one of the earliest wizards and made her nation the seat of the Arcane Congress, and that this is an integral part of Aundair’s character and culture. Conversely, Thrane has nothing arcane in its culture at all (yes, Silver Pyromancers, but that’s the key – even wizardry is tied to the church). Having Thaliost or other significant cities have changed hands is interesting, but having Arcanix have been part of Thrane weakens both nations, because it doesn’t play into the character of either.

Why the Dark Six? By this I mean: What is the function of the Dark Six and their worshippers from a plot perspective? If I’m looking to run an evil cult, why the Dark Six? Or is there some completely different function that they’re serving that I am missing?

First off, it’s a mistake to separate the Dark Six from the Sovereign Host. The Shadow is cast by Aureon. The Mockery puts Dol Dorn and Dol Arrah in perspective… as shown by the Three Faces of War, which is devoted to all three of them. We’ve mentioned a number of cults that blend the worship of Host and Six – for example, the Restful Watch, who revere both Aureon and the Keeper. The Host and the Six are all part of the same big picture, and you should always consider how your cult walks the line between the two.

Looking to one simple example: Onatar is the divine patron of House Cannith. However, the house has always been a haven for Traveler Cults. Canniths who follow the Traveler typically do so because the Traveler drives innovation. Onatar guides the hands of the smith when he makes a sword, but is the Traveler who gives him the idea for a gun or a bomb – something that could utterly change the face of warfare (for better or for worse). The Traveler encourages dangerous risks and paradigm shifts. These things are dangerous, and that’s what puts the Traveler in the Dark Six. But Cannith Traveler cultists have made some of the largest breakthroughs in the history of the house. Sometimes dangerous risks pay off.

The Three Faces of War maintain that all the Dols have a place on the battlefield. Dol Arrah is the patron of honor and strategy, and there’s a time for that. Dol Dorn is the rough-and-tumble patron of the career soldier. But war can get ugly… and that’s where Dol Azur comes in. The Mockery pursues victory at any cost. He shows you the path to defeat the undefeatable foe. He’s not honorable. He’s not strong. But he will win, and so will you… if you’re willing to follow his path.

In Droaam, the Six are revered as positive forces. Humans see the Shadow as the corrupting force that creates monsters. Well, monsters see the Shadow as the Prometheus who gave them their gifts, powers Aureon won’t share with humanity. For wizards, the Shadow/Aureon divide is much like Traveler/Onatar or Mockery/Dol Arrah. Do you follow the rules, or do you follow the path others are afraid of?

In short, don’t just think about one of the Six in isolation. Think of them alongside their counterparts in the Host, and think about what it says about a person that they embrace the aspect represented by the Six.

Could some way the cultists of the Dark Six and the Lord of Dust cooperate? Maybe could a rakshasa impersonate a god?

Certainly! In my opinion, both the Lords of Dust and the Chamber have posed as deities to manipulate mortal cults. Of course, I wouldn’t really call this “cooperation”; the cultists don’t realize they’re working with a fake god, after all. But yes, the Lords of Dust may manipulate cults of the Dragon Below, the Dark Six, or for that matter the Sovereign Host (though that’s usually the dragons’ department).

Why is the Order of the Emerald Claw not shown to have grey morality too? It can have tragic figures.

I have a different answer to each of these sentences. Taking the last one first: It’s very easy for the Emerald Claw to have tragic figures associated with it. Its members can be driven by tragic past, misguided patriotism or religious zeal, or an understandable desire for vengeance for crimes inflicted during the war. Erandis Vol herself is a very tragic figure, with many valid reasons for doing what she is trying to do.

But that’s where we come to grey morality. Erandis is a tragic figure with understandable motives for doing what she is trying to do. But when what she is trying to do is suck out the life force of everyone in Sharn so she can power her necrotic resonator and become Queen of the Dead, there’s no question that your PCs are doing the right thing when they try to stop her. And that’s the purpose of the Emerald Claw. It’s like Cobra in GI Joe or the bad guys in Raiders of the Lost Ark; these are PULP villains, enemies that the PCs KNOW they should oppose whenever they are encountered.

If you want more shades of grey, just pick a different order. Personally, I use the Order of the Ebon Skull as my go-to Blood of Vol chivalric order with a complex moral agenda. But from a storytelling perspective, there is a value to having a particular force that the players KNOW they don’t need to think about; if the Emerald Claw is up to something, stopping it is the right thing to do.

So the key point: You can do anything you want with the Emerald Claw. YOU can make them more complex. But their role within the setting as designed is specifically to BE a black-and-white pulp enemy as opposed to a shades of gray noir faction.

How are Outsiders, native and otherwise, seen in Blood of Vol theology?  They have blood, and they have immortality. Do Outsiders have the divine spark?  If so, why aren’t they getting divinity and deific status with the massive amounts of time at *their* disposal?

First: The Blood of Vol maintains that Eberron and its inhabitants are special, a belief shared by others. The planes are isolated aspects of reality: War, peace, light, darkness, order, chaos. Eberron (well, the material plane in general) is where all these things come together. Mortals know war AND peace, order AND chaos. They dream, they have inspiration, and at times this can drive them to madness. The pit fiend of Fernia and the angel of Syrnia each possess tremendous power, but both are limited by their fundamental nature. An embodiment of war can’t become a force for peace. In a sense, it’s about free will. Ultimately, very few immortal outsiders actually have it. They are incarnate ideas, but that means that they are bound by their nature. Changing their fundamental nature literally means a physical transformation; a fallen angel becomes a devil or a radiant idol or what have you. And it’s very rare that this can happen in the first place.

So: an angel has vast power to begin with, but it’s limited by its nature. You don’t get to be a hashalaq quori by starting out as a tsucora and working your way up; you either are a hashalaq or you’re not.

The mortals of Eberron have nothing BUT potential. A baby has no power at all, but he can grow up and become an amazing sorcerer or a mighty cleric. If he can do all that in a single century while also suffering the daily trials of mortal life, what could he achieve with eternity at his disposal?

Looking at it another way: the basic premise of the BoV is that mortals have a divine spark and the potential to achieve divinity… and that because of this the gods afflicted them with mortality. The fact that outsiders are immortal is, essentially, a sign that they have no spark… because the gods don’t see them as threats or rivals. Which makes them tools, weapons, slaves, servants… call it what you will. The key point is that for all its power, a pit fiend (or a lich, for that matter) lacks the raw potential of a mortal human.

As a side note, I personally don’t think that immortals DO have blood in the same sense as mortals. If you want to get purely mechanically, if a creature doesn’t specifically say it can’t be killed by stirges then it theoretically has some form of circulatory fluid that can be drained with a negative effect. But even if that’s true, I don’t think that an angel’s blood or demon ichor is going to resemble the blood of a human or an elf. I might say that an angel’s blood is light, while the blood of a demon might be a foul black substance that slowly eats away at mortal matter… and I’d probably change this based on the nature of the angel or demon. Really, that’s a DM’s call – but I don’t think immortal blood resembles mortal blood, and that’s enough for a BoV priest to call it a mockery or imitation.

Are there any particularly handy resources already floating around where you’ve commented on the Blood of Vol history or philosophy, particularly the role of its undead champions (when they’re not just being used as a corny “eeevil” death cult), the nature of House Vol before its fall, or the history of the Blood of Vol dating back to before Galifar such as Aerenal or the Qabalrin?

I don’t know about “handy.” One of these days I’ll have to consolidate some of these into a single coherent entry. But here’s a few scattered pieces and discussions across the web. The RPG.Net links are discussion threads, but ones where I’ve posted at some length.

Eberron Expanded: Libris Mortis

Dragonmark: The Mark of Death

Dragonmark: Erandis Vol – Hot or Not?

RPG.Net: What’s Erandis Been Doing For 3,000 Years?

RPG.Net: The Blood of Vol

On this one, I particularly recommend pages 2 and 3, which discuss what makes it an attractive religion to followers and what a paladin of the BoV can do to “fight death”.

Is there a dark side of house Ghallanda? Hosting illegal parties with dangerous substances and activities I would guess…

Anything can have a dark side, if you want it to.  House Ghallanda doesn’t just run inns and restaurants; they are the masters of the urban social arena. They know what to do to make their clients comfortable. A Ghallanda fixer is the person who can get you anything. He may employ members of other houses to accomplish that – turning to Sivis, Medani, or Tharashk, among others – but the point is, the concierge at the Gold Dragon Inn can get you anything. You can just as easily have crisis managers and cleaners – the branch of Ghallanda who takes care of things when there’s a dead body in the prince’s room or when the Countess overdoses on the dreamlily the concierge obtained for her. Ghallanda also has its promoters who build up celebrities to help as draw to Ghallanda events and locations.

Beyond that… are you familiar with the Black Dogs, from Eberron? These are Ghallanda assassins, who among other things are experts at mystically poisoning food and drink.

Do you have any thoughts on what place Vestiges and Pact Magic might have in Eberron? 

Personally, I say that Vestiges are immortal entities that linger in Dal Quor. Not exactly gods, they are beings who have become legends, and their spirits draw power and sustenance from that. I’ve called out titans of Xen’drik and ancient dragons as possible Vestiges. It’s entirely possible the Daughters of Sora Kell are trying to become Vestiges, or that Sora Kell is one.

If you could add a new continent to Eberron, what would you put on it?

Drawing on past answers, the simplest is that I wouldn’t add a new continent; I’d add more depth (get it?) to the undersea civilizations. At the moment, I don’t feel a need to add something completely new to the surface world, in part because it’s so easy to add an entirely new race/civilization/whatever to Xen’drik.

You once mentioned how the future of Eberron may be (warriors with many magical weapons, etc) Have you played in a future era?

I’ve played in some very near-future scenarios, but not in a future where the level of magic has changed significantly.

If warforged have no souls, which is an option, could Canniths somehow force/program them to do something against their will?

People in the world argue about whether or not warforged have souls. Speaking personally, the question to me isn’t whether warforged have souls; the fact that they can be raised from the dead is basically proof of that. Instead the question is how can they have souls, and where those souls come from. Whatever your stance on this, whether or not warforged have souls doesn’t affect Cannith’s ability to manipulate them. You can’t “program” a warforged; if you could, Cannith would have done it to all of them. There are quite a few aspects of sentience Cannith would love to have selectively removed from the warforged, but sentience came fully formed. Cannith can provide basic direction to the warforged – producing a model with an inherent aptitude for combat or recon, for example – and it is this that suggests that they might actually be using recycled souls. The reason Warforged X pops out with an innate aptitude for combat is because he has the soul of a soldier.

In any case, the key point is that by canon there is no way for an artificer to “program” a warforged. You could always introduce something – say that Merrix has a secret network of Warforged Manchurian candidates – but it’s not the default.

I must admit, though, that I prefer the possession of souls by warforged to not be settled under canon but to be left to each DM…

Even if it is established under canon, it’s ALWAYS up to each DM to change canon as they see fit. The main issue is that warforged BEHAVE as if they have souls for purposes of magic that directly affects a soul – resurrection, trap the soul, magic jar, etc. The DM could certainly come up with an explanation for why this is possible when they don’t actually have souls – but MECHANICALLY they are treated like creatures that do have souls.

I wonder if perhaps Cannith artificers do not at the very least have the capacity to “charm” warforged in a very powerful way, being their creators, or of removing their souls from their bodies -temporarily or not- if they do have souls.

Again, it’s always up to you as a DM. But from a world design standpoint, the concept has always been that Cannith itself doesn’t fully understand or control the warforged. If every aspect of the warforged was under their control, there are many aspects of humanity they would probably eliminate. The idea is that they didn’t CHOOSE to give the warforged the capability to feel love, or sorrow, or fear; these things simply came with the package when they found a way to imbue them with sentience. Again, the key is that warforged aren’t robots; they are living beings who were created through artificial means.

Thus, a typical Cannith has no means to control the thoughts of a warforged, even one he created. However, what he does have are many, many ways to DESTROY a warforged… disable construct, inflict damage, etc. We see this in the Dreaming Dark novels with Lei; she can’t take control of a warforged, but she can certainly shut one down.They can’t manipulate their thoughts any more than they can manipulate the thoughts of any other living being. But they can take apart their bodies, because that’s the part of the warforged the Cannith understand perfectly.

With that said, you can do anything with the right Eldritch Machine; this is presumably the foundation of the soul-stripping plotline in DDO.

I’m sure it’s been asked before, but… name one new technology you’d like to see replicated Eberron-style. Smartphones?

In the original proposal I had “crystal theaters.” Essentially, the theater has a GIANT CRYSTAL BALL, with a number of preset “channels” – Phiarlan and Thuranni stages where major events are performed. At showtime, the screen is tuned to the proper location. It’s an example of magic accomplishing the same function as technology, but using the existing mechanics of magic. Rather that the event being broadcast to the screen, the screen is scrying on the stage. I use these in my campaign, but I don’t think they made it into any official source.

Bear in mind that Eberron’s key principle is finding ways to use D&D magic to accomplish the things we do with technology. So in thinking about something like a smartphone, the question is how you create a smartphone using existing D&D principles. Is it a sentient magic item with decent knowledge skills combined with a form of sending that can only connect with someone carrying another smartphone? That sort of thing would work, but of course, a sentient magic item is SENTIENT… so you might have to worry about whether your smartphone is smarter than you.

That’s all for today. A late question is “Why do the Dragonmarked Houses use the animal symbols they do” and I’ll see about addressing that as a bonus tomorrow.

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