Dragonmarks 6/13/16: Cults and Fiends

As I write this, Phoenix: Dawn Command is on a boat… albeit a very slow boat… headed for the United States. In the days ahead I’m going to be spending more time talking about Phoenix, both delving into the setting and system. I’ll still be answering questions about Eberron when I can, but most likely it will only be once or twice a month.

We will be launching Phoenix at Gen Con, and our full list of events should go active sometime this week. At the moment, there are two events you can sign up for. The first is All About Phoenix, where all the secrets of Phoenix will be revealed. The second is a Q&A with Keith Baker. In the past I’ve done this as an informal event in a hotel lobby. It’s still going to be casual, but this year we’ve gone ahead and gotten a room for it. This is your chance to ASK ME ANYTHING, whether it’s about Eberron, Gloom, Phoenix, or what I had for dinner on Tuesday night.

In any case: Today’s topics are cults and fiends. Let’s get to the questions!

What do you think a cult of Siberys would look like as an existential threat, especially in contrast to the schemes of the numerous Cults of the Dragon Below?

First, let me clarify how I’m reading the question. You’re asking what it would look like as an existential threat, by which I think you’re saying if they were the villains of the story. This is a slightly odd question, because in the mythology Siberys is a positive figure… a creative force killed by treacherous Khyber. This ties to the fact that all myths agree that Siberys is dead… the pieces of his body can be seen in the night sky. So from what we’ve established, most Siberys cults focus on his sacrifice and on the gifts that he’s given us; one common assertion is that magic itself is the blood of Siberys, flowing down from the Ring of Siberys. So essentially, modern society is only possible because of the gift of Siberys.

BUT: let’s take the challenge of having a Cult of Siberys as the villains of a story.

First of all, don’t forget that few Cults of the Dragon Below literally worship Khyber; instead, most are aligned with the Daelkyr, Lords of Dust, or something else that’s more directly tangible. So a Cult of the Dragon Above might have some intermediary entity that they serve. The logical choice would be a couatl, as they are generally seen to be the children of Siberys in the same way that the rakshasa are children of Khyber, but then you have the question of what makes this cult different from a traditional Serpent/Silver Flame cult.

A concrete thing about Siberys is that there’s pieces of his body floating around the world (assuming you believe the myth). So: I’d run with that. A Siberys cult is seeking to restore Siberys to life. To do this, they seek to collect all the Siberys shards. Perhaps the chief agents of this cult embed the shards within their bodies… ultimately become a sort of living shard-fusion, sort of like the Shardminds from 4E. Such a being could channel tremendous mystical power, and they wouldn’t care how much destruction they have to wreak in the process of collecting the shards. As the cult’s plot continues, they could work on Eldritch Machines that would not only draw all Siberys shards, but also drain all the magic out of an affected region… again, magic being “the Blood of Siberys.” The cultists believe that once Siberys is restored, he will create a new, perfect world – so they aren’t concerned with the havoc or suffering caused by their actions. Presuming that they are stopped, magic would eventually return to the drained regions – but it would be up to you to decide how long this would take, and it could cause all manner of chaos. Sharn is sustained by magic, and if the region was drained, the city would collapse.

So: There’s one idea to work with.

We know that cultists of the Dragon Below believe their lords to be the children fo Khyber and that the daelkyr aren’t in any hurry to disabuse them of this false notion. But what do the daelkyr themselves think of the Dragon Below and the origins their minions attribute to them.

There’s a bunch of points to address here. But before I get to any of them, I suggest you review this Dragonmark (http://keith-baker.com/dragonmarks-the-daelkyr-and-their-cults/).

First: “Cult of the Dragon Below” is a general term that people use to encompass wildly different sects largely united by irrational behavior and often some sort of connection to Khyber… a literal connection to Khyber, be that an association with aberrations, demons, or a desire to find shelter in the underworld. Only a few actually revere Khyber, the Progenitor Dragon; and most of those do it in a fairly abstract way.

With that said, who says it’s a “false notion”? According to myth, the Progenitors created the planes. The Material Plane was the last thing they created, because the world was created by their fight. Each Progenitor exerted greater influence on different planes. So Lamannia is a plane that strongly reflects the influence of Eberron, while Xoriat strongly reflects the influence of Khyber. So while the Daelkyr weren’t created in the physical realm of Khyber, that doesn’t mean that they couldn’t be considered to be “Children of Khyber.”

But to cut to the chase: Erandis Vol deceives and manipulates her followers. The Dreaming Dark and the Lords of Dust are masters of manipulation. The Daelkyr? NOT SO MUCH. They don’t need to deceive their followers, because for the most part THEIR FOLLOWERS ARE INSANE. It’s not that cultists work with Dolgaunts because they think the Dolgaunts are agents of Khyber and the Dolgaunts maintain a web of lies; they work with the dolgaunts because they think the dolgaunts are divine emissaries, the gatekeepers to a secret paradise that lies below, or the reincarnation of King Jarot. The Dolgaunts surely do a certain amount of playing along with whatever delusions the cultists are laboring under, but it’s not like they have built the deception themselves; they just need to listen to whatever the cultists are spouting and smile and nod.

Essentially, I see the Daelkyr as more primal than many of the other epic threats of Eberron. They change reality simply by existing. Their presence drives mortals mad. Their purposes are enigmatic; is change alone their goal, or do they have grander schemes we’ve yet to understand?

Are the Daelkyr still in Xoriat eager to get here?

It’s not defined in canon, so it’s really up to you. Per canon, I don’t believe we’ve actually established if there ARE any Daelkyr still in Xoriat. What we’ve said in the past is that “The Daelkyr aren’t the most powerful spirits in Xoriat; they’re simply the most powerful spirits that have an interest in Eberron.”

Part of the point of outsiders is that they are ideas given form, and that their form reflects their nature. In the article linked to above I point out that Daelkyr may essentially reflect the creatures they are dealing with. Given this I would advance the idea that the Daelkyr may literally be defined as the spirits that seek to spread madness… thus inherently there are no Daelkyr in Xoriat because it is the act of leaving Xoriat that makes them Daelkyr.

But ultimately, there is no canon answer.

If the Planes books ever get made, I’d love to see something about the themes and “exceptions” for placing monsters on that plane. For example, Fernia is obviously the fire plane, but it is also slightly evil aligned. Despite this, Celestials still arise from the pane if they have a fire theme, in defiance of alignment. I’ve been trying to place Pathfinder’s Gambling Devil in Eberron’s cosmology but have found it tough. Does it fit on Daanvi with its lawful nature? Or is Kythri better since it can manipulate probability and make people take risks? I honestly lean to the latter, despite conventional D&D wisdom on alignments, but clearer guidance would be nice.

Most planes have a “preferred” type of spirit. Quori are the primary fiends of Dal Quor. Angels are especially numerous in Syrania. Couatl and rakshasa are the most common celestials and fiends of Eberron itself (technically, of Siberys and Khyber).

With that said: You can have any spirit manifest on any plane, provided that it fits the CONCEPT of that plane.

Case in point: Shavarath, the Eternal Battleground. The three largest forces in Shavarath are an army of Archons, an army of Devils, and an army of Demons. The Archons embody the concept of just battle and war fought for noble reasons. The Devils reflect violence in pursuit of tyranny and power. And the Demons are bloodlust and chaos, random violence and brutality. You could put ANY devil you wanted into the Infernal Legions of Shavarath… but that devil would be fundamentally defined and motivated by its role in the Eternal War. Which may not serve the story you have in mind. And taking the Gambling Devil, while it IS a devil, it’s not particularly a devil that screams “I HAVE A PLACE ON THE BATTLEFIELD.”

The original ECS said that Pit Fiends are found in Fernia. In my opinion, you can find Pit Fiends in Fernia, but I believe that you can also find Pit Fiends in Shavarath… and that you can potentially find a Pit Fiend in the Demon Wastes, spawned by Khyber and with no connection to Shavarath or Fernia. All three of these Pit Fiends would have the same statistics. However, their appearance and behavior would be quite different.

  • The Pit Fiend of Shavarath is a general in the Infernal Legion. It wears heavy armor engraved with burning runes. It embodies tyranny and war, leading with an iron fist and enforcing discipline with fear and fire. Its sole desire is gaining an edge in the eternal war, and any dealings it has with mortals will revolve around how they could shift the balance or assist in the struggle.
  • The Pit Fiend of Fernia is a dark shadow wreathed in eternal flame, the embodiment of flame used to sow terror and destroy enemy holdings. It is a cruel being that rules over a fiefdom in Fernia, and it is constantly fighting (and burning) enemies as that is part of its nature… but unlike the fiend of Shavarath, it’s dealing with a series of feuds as opposed to ONE BIG WAR. In general it has no interest in Eberron or mortals; if they do cross its path it will seek to use them as tools in its current feud.
  • The Pit Fiend of Khyber is the classic scaled fiend. It’s not tied to War or Fire; instead, it can embody whatever concept best suits your story. Pride? Tyranny? Cruelty? It might rule over a host of rakshasa and be associated with the Lords of Dust. It could be the patron fiend of one of the Carrion Tribes, and send its warriors to fight the Ghaash’kala orcs. Or it could be a lone spirit bound to a specific location within the Demon Wastes, hoping the mortals that cross its path can somehow break its bonds.
  • A surprise fourth option would be Baator. In the Eye on Eberron article I presented Baator as a demiplane… a prison created by celestial powers (some say the Sovereigns) to hold corrupted and rebellious spirits. Those, the fiends of Baator weren’t always fiends. The Pit Fiend of Baator is thus a classic fallen angel. Furthermore, the denizens of Baator want mortal souls; they are seeking to build their own power bases following the same model as the Silver Flame.

As I said, mechanically these could all be EXACTLY THE SAME; it’s simply that their behaviors and motivations will all be different… and each one would serve a different role in the story.

ALL OF WHICH IS TO SAY: You don’t have to decide where ALL Gambling Devils are from; you just need to decide where this one is from. And the critical question there is what does it want? What is the story you are trying to tell with it? If it is gambling to try to win a mortal soul, then it’s a good match for Baator. If it’s purely and generically evil, it might be spawned directly by Khyber. Heck, if it’s about taunting people with the promises of dreams that will be snatched away at the last minute, it could actually be from Dal Quor… a fringe spirit spawned by the plane but with no connection to the Dreaming Dark.

So figure out what your spirit wants and how it’s going to act. Base its plane of origin on that, and then shape its appearance to reflect the plane it’s from.

If we had an outsider that represented death by immolation, would that outsider be native to Dolurrh, native to Fernia, or native to both? Would alignment play into account at all?

If its primary purpose in the universe is BURNING ANYONE IT CAN, it’s from Fernia. If its primary purpose is BURNING ITS ENEMIES IN WAR, it’s from Shavarath. If its primary purpose is to SERVE AS AN EXAMPLE OF A PARTICULAR WAY YOU COULD DIE – IE, the “death” part is more important than the “burning” part, then sure, go for Dolurrh. And if it’s first and foremost an evil scheming spirit who just happens to be good at burning people, then I’d tie it to Khyber or Baator. Alignment should be reflected in its core concept and thus behavior. If it’s Lawful, that implies people being immolated in an organized and intentional way; if it’s chaotic, than it’s people being randomly immolated in wildfires.

We know that unofficially there is a group of Dwarves in the Demon Wastes who have Deathless among them. I would assume this means they have access to a manifest zone to Irian. What are they like religiously? Are they another splinter cult that worships the Silver Flame? An odd variation of the host? Or some other sect that doesn’t fit well with the more common religions?

Deathless are sustained both by the energy of Irian and the devotion of a group of worshippers. So like the Aereni, these dwarves revere their ancestors, and it is this devotion that sustains their deathless spirits. Be aware that this is a comparatively small community and only has a handful of deathless guardians – a powerful shelter in the Demon Wastes, but nothing on the scale of the Undying Court.

Related to the planes (but not necessarily the things that live there): Sharn’s weather is described as generally rainy (Sharn, pg. 24) but it’s also supposed to be a manifest zone for Syrania which is perpetually clear blue skies. Is it clear for Skyway and rainy for everyone below?

Manifest zones reflect an aspect of the plane that touches them, but their effects can take many different forms. A manifest zone tied to Syrania might enhance magic of flight, generate perfect blue skies, or create a peaceful aura that diffuses all hostilities (among other possibilities). Sharn’s zone affects flight, but doesn’t encourage peace in any way… and doesn’t help with the weather.

Also related to the planes, what happens in a manifest zone when another plane moves coterminous to the Material Plane?

Per canon, nothing. Eberron is touched by all of the planes. A manifest zone has a special connection to one of them, but it’s still influenced by the others.

What do the denizens of other planes think of the Greensingers and their idea of unrestricted planar travel?

Bear in mind that the majority of inhabitants of Khorvaire have never heard of the Greensingers, and they live on the same plane of existence. If you’re a horned devil in the Infernal Legion, fighting THE WAR THAT SHAPES REALITY, you really have no way to hear or reason to care about some group of druids on Khorvaire. Imagine if on D-Day you grabbed a soldier at Normandy and said “Hey! A bunch of Ecuadorian tourists would like to visit – what do you think?” Not every plane is as focused as Shavarath, but for the most part the denizens of the planes have their own $&%* to deal with and don’t really care about Eberron.

There are exceptions. The Quori have always been more interested in humanity than other outsiders because they deal with mortals all the time (through their dreams)… while that random devil in Shavarath may have never even seen a human. And the nobles of Thelanis have an interest in shaping new stories… which is why they have always been the most notable patrons of the Greensingers. If you’re playing with Baator, the former prisoners would welcome an easier path to the material plane… and it would be interesting to have a group of Greensingers who believe they are working with a benevolent fey discover that their patron is actually an archdevil. And I’m sure that entities like the Inevitables would take great issue with mortals opening up gates to Dolurrh… if it ever actually happened.

Do planar beings of different planes have contact between themselves? Or it’s more common to have contact/travel to the Material Plane?

The Material Plane is the hub where all the planes together. Each plane is a pure concept: War, Peace, Order, Chaos. On Eberron, all these things come together. Beyond that, you have soft spots such as Manifest Zones. So essentially, Syrania HAS a connection to the Material Plane… while it has no inherent connection to Kythri. Thus it is far easier and more common for there to be contact between Eberron and Syrania that between Syrania and Kythri. With that said, this is also the role of demiplanes – to serve as bridges between planes with no innate connections. Baator is one example of this, serving as a prison for immortals of many planes. There is at least one “crossroads” demiplane, though it’s not something I’m going to expand on until I can do so for the DM’s Guild.

Beyond this: Think of each plane as a machine. Each immortal is a cog in that machine, with a very specific role to play. Unlike mortals, the immortals have a very clear sense of their place and their purpose. A soldier in one of the armies of Shavarath never stops to say “Why am I fighting? Is there something better I could be doing?” They are embodiments of War; they have no other purpose. Essentially, for all that they may be brilliant, immortals generally have less free will than mortals. So as a general rule, the soldier in Shavarath has no interest in anything beyond fighting the war… and thus no interest in contacting Eberron or any other plane. However, Eberron is the plane they are most likely to contact by accident, being caught in a manifest zone or coterminous effect.

With that said: There are some immortals whose nature encompasses curiosity or a desire to push beyond their plane. A sage from Syrania or Daanvi might well travel to other planes in search of knowledge. Beyond that, there are always those rare exceptions who evolve beyond their original purpose. Taratai and the other Kalashtar Quori. Radiant idols and the prisoners of Baator. Thelestes and Korliac of the Gray Flame in the Lords of Dust. So there’s always room in a story to have spirits crossing planar lines – but it is certainly the rare exception, not the norm.

This applies to the immortal inhabitants of the planes. It’s less true for the mortal inhabitants, who aren’t so closely bound to their planes and who have more free will. Again, it would be more common to find them in demiplanes, as there’s no direct path between, say, Shavarath and Syrania… but such travel surely does happen.

If immortals incarnate concepts and has no free will, how does it come that (rogue Eladrin) Luca Syara choose to fight the war, became deprimited and change her alignment to neutral?

The same way Taratai turned against the Dreaming Dark, or an angel becomes a Radiant Idol. Check the paragraph above: “…there are always those rare exceptions who evolve beyond their original purpose.” Out of all the Quori that exist, sixty-seven rebelled to form the Kalashtar. Likewise, there may be a dozen or so Radiant Idols… which is a tiny percentage of the Host of Syrania.

The statement “Immortals have no free will” is a little too forceful. The Devourer of Dreams and Lady Sharadhuna of the Thousand Eyes differ in opinion as to the path the Quori should take in Eberron, and each has their own schemes and intrigues. The point is that both are utterly devoted to il-Lashtavar, and that this wasn’t a choice either of them made; it is a fundamental part of who they are, present from the moment they came into existence. The same is true of all Quori. They come into existence with purpose, and very few of them ever evolve the ability to question that purpose. Likewise, the soldier in the army of Shavarath doesn’t fight the endless war because they’ve thought about it, considered all the options, and decided that war is the thing for them… they fight because it is the only reality they can imagine. They choose HOW they fight. They come up with cunning strategies, they negotiate and break alliances, but they fight and they fight and they fight. IT IS POSSIBLE for one of these eternal soldiers to break away from this… but again, you’re talking about a handful over the course of history out of tens of thousands of spirits.

WITH THAT SAID: Luca Syara is a Ghaele Eladrin. The powerful immortals of Thelanis aren’t united by a common purpose. Each one has their own unique story and they play out that story. In Luca’s case, there’s a few possibilities. She was drawn to Eberron by what she saw as a righteous war, and odds are excellent that THAT was part of her defined nature. Now, one possibility is that her disillusionment is a legitimate shift in her nature, as Taratai turned away from the Dreaming Dark. BUT… it is also possible that this IS her story: that she joins righteous but doomed causes and then goes through a cycle of tragic despair, before finding a new righteous but doomed cause.

You said that an immortal who change his alignment would become something complitely different. A good rakshasa wouldn’t be a rakshasa anymore, like a radiant idol is not an angel. Is there any canon creature you would use as an ex-rakshasa? 

Not that comes to mind. Personally, I’d want to design something from the ground up, as we did with Radiant Idols. With that said, with the Baator article we assert that the fiends in Baator are corrupted spirits from other planes. So there’s precedent for just using whatever makes sense to you.

Could this be a path for introducing a hellbreed in Eberron? A rakshasa that lost most of his power, including immortality, in a path of redemption?

It’s feasible. I think I’ve also heard this concept being used for Devas.

How would you shape a planar campaign in Eberron? Players with abilities to plane travel? A planar transportation(an ancient giant ship)? Is there Sigil in Eberron somewhere?

I think all three of those are sound ideas, but frankly I wouldn’t design a planar campaign in Eberron until there’s been an opportunity to describe the planes in more detail.

The planes are not inhabited only by spirits born of ideas. There are some more normal and mortal beings living there. How is their religion? Do they worship aspects of the Host/Flame like everyone else?

That’s not an easy question to answer in this format, because I simply don’t have the time or room to describe the faiths that DON’T have any parallel in Eberron. The short form is that some do associate themselves with the Sovereigns, though often with their own twists. But there are certainly other beliefs tied to their own planes and the powerful spirits within it. Within Thelanis, for example, most mortal fey are more concerned with allegiance to their ruling immortal than abstract belief in some greater power.

The Silver Flame doesn’t have much of a following in the planes, because it is concretely a Material thing: a force created by spirits of Eberron to protect the people of Eberron. There are some who appreciate the CONCEPT of it, but they don’t devote themselves to it.

Do they have the same creation myth of the Progenitor Dragons? The myth itself is very Material Plane-centric, are they ok being just “Side” planes?

Most do have the same creation myth, which among other things justifies the fact that their planes ARE connected to and influence the Material. But most would argue with your assertion that the myth is “Material Plane-centric.” As a planar entity, I would point out that the planes were the FIRST creations of the Progenitors, and that they were completed. By contrast, Eberron the world is a thing that occurred as the result of a brawl. They say that the Material is touched by and shaped by all planes simply because it is the final resting place of the Progenitors who created them all, not because the Material is somehow the pinnacle of creation. Essentially, the angel of Syrania asserts that Syrania is a perfectly designed machine… while the Material is an unfinished lump of clay that just happens to be where the Progenitors called it quits.

Sharn is a fantasy city inspired in the manifest zone to Syrania. In an alternative dimension Eberron, how could Sharn be affected by different manifest zones?

This seems like a broader question about the effects of manifest zones in general. Whenever the opportunity comes to write about the planes in more detail, I’d definitely like to present multiple examples of manifest zones tied to each plane, and to go into more detail about the effects of coterminous and remote periods. But it’s not something I have time for right now.

Khyber runs under the entirety of Eberron, so are there deep trenches underwater that lead to the “Deeps”; flooded sections of Khyber?

Certainly. But bear in mind that Khyber is more than just a physical underworld; it also contains portals to demiplanes, allowing the discovery of fantastic regions that transcend the limits of reality.

Is it possible that there are one or more daelkyr that had no interest in the surface races and instead went after the underwater world? What sort of ‘dol-merrow’ concepts would you think such a daelkyr would come up with?

It’s certainly possible. However, just to present another alternative, the Eberron Expanded article on Lords of Madness calls out the Aboleths as contemporaries of the Rakshasas and the demon Overlords, and Sahuagin legend speaks of a battles between the Devourer and the ancient fiends back in the dawn of time that friend the sahuagin from Aboleth domination. A Daelkyr would thus be a relatively recent entry into this ancient Aboleth-sahuagin rivalry. As for what a daelkyr might do with merfolk or sahuagin as a starting point, I’ll have to think about it.

The 3.5 sourcebook Elder Evils had a gigantic creature called “the Leviathan”; a creature of “pure chaos left over from the creation of the world”… My question is then: Would you consider the ‘primordial chaos beast’ Leviathan to be a child of Khyber, creation of the Daelkyr, or from some other being entirely? If the Head of Eberron (whether it is actually her physical head shall be left out of this question) is in Argonessen, could the Leviathan or source of its legends be the “Head of Khyber”?

I would personally make such a thing tied to Khyber as opposed to the Daelkyr, and making it the “Head of Khyber” seems plausible. The very first draft of Eberron actually included a serpent literally wrapped around the world, essentially filling this same role. The faith of the Sahuagin includes ritually consuming an enemy to gain its strength; back in that first draft, the Sahuagin were searching for a way to eat the world serpent.

 

That’s all I have time for. The next Q&A will be about the Lords of Dust or Druids, depending on which gets more interest… so if you have any questions, post them in the comments!

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