I’ve been traveling for the last few weeks and haven’t had a lot of time. There’s a lot of good questions in the Q&A slush pile, and I still have other features I want to work on. But last time I said I’d finally address the question of Dragonmarked Heraldry, so that’s what I’m doing today. As always, this is just my personal opinion, and it may contradict existing or future canon material.
A question regarding the emblems of each Dragonmarked House…. why did each house choose each particular magical beast?
Flip open the ECS or ECG and turn to the section on Dragonmarked Houses, and you will see the seals of the houses. Each house has a particular beast, such as House Orien and its Unicorn. But why exactly does Kundarak use a manticore? What’s the basis behind these?
The current structure of the Dragonmarked Houses is an artificial construct established at the founding of the Twelve. Some of the houses were already operating as monolithic guilds, but others were more scattered; there were tinker families with the Mark of Making that weren’t tied to the influential Vown artificers. While every house has unique traditions, the Twelve worked to establish a unifying foundation, codifying the system of licenses and bound businesses; adoption of foundlings and excoriation; patriarchs and seneschals; and so on. Part of the purpose of this was to establish the houses as a united front in the face of kings and lesser guilds. The Guild seals were thus established in deliberate emulation of noble heraldry, with a unifying theme: the use of magical beasts, creatures who—like the Dragonmarked themselves—possessed innate mystical powers that set them apart from mundane wolves and bears.
The upshot of all this is that some of the houses had a preexisting attachment to their chosen symbol… while others literally chose a beast on the spot because it was the structure that had been agreed upon. So Kundarak actually does have a strong ongoing relationship with manticores, while Thuranni has no attachment to real displacer beasts. Needless to say, in the centuries that followed the selection of these symbols some houses have developed an attachment to their patron creature or superstitions connected to it, like the claim that Orien heirs need to remain virgins until the Test of Siberys to “attract the Unicorn.” But many of the houses had no pre-existing connection to the beast they chose. Anyhow, here’s my thoughts on the origins of these symbols…
Cannith are artificers, who weave magic into steel. The bull has long been a symbol of power and triumph. What better symbol for this industrial house than a steel bull? The core Cannith guild was already using this symbol, and it was Cannith that proposed the magical-beast tradition; Sivis latched onto the idea and helped them push it through.
The families that founded House Deneith had each prospered as independent mercenary companies. Each company had its own heraldic beast. While they couldn’t preserve each of these traditional symbols, they embraced the idea that like the chimera, their new house bound multiple beasts together into an even more fierce form.
GHALLANDA: THE BLINK DOG
As described in Dragonmarked, “Ghallanda” is the Talenta name for the blink dog. Talenta tales identify the blink dog as a helpful creature who appears to help stranded travelers: “The helpful hound who appears where needed the most.” It’s Eberron’s answer to the Saint Bernard with the barrel of booze on its neck.
The Jorasco leaders wanted to use the Glidewing as their symbol, but the majority insisted on a unified theme of magical beasts. The Jorasco matriarch had seen a painting of griffons descending on a battlefield to help the wounded, and it stuck with her; this was accepted by her kin and the Twelve. As it turns out, the image was actually of griffons descending on a battlefield to feed on carrion, so it’s often been seen as an odd choice, but the house has stuck by it.
As noted in Dragonmarked, this is tied to a legend of an early alliance between the clan and the manticores of the Ironroot Mountains. The house maintains this alliance to this day, and employs manticore cavalry in the mountains.
Also called out in Dragonmarked; a common legend of the house founder holds that a kraken emerged from the depths to save him when he was attacked by pirates. Beyond this, a hidden sect within the house maintains that the founders of the house continue to exist as immortal krakens, though this tale is largely unknown outside the house.
Medani’s power is observation. They will see your enemies before they can harm you. They will spot threats… and eliminate them. Thus, a creature with a deadly gaze was a logical choice.
Pretty straightforward: the Unicorn is a swift land creature, a strong image, and it has the ability to teleport (check the SRD!). ‘Nuff said.
Also covered in Dragonmarked. The five heads of the Hydra represent the five artistic demesnes of the house, and they also appreciate its general reputation for resilience.
SIVIS: THE COCKATRICE
The power of Sivis lies in words; thus, the a creature with a “deadly quill” seemed to be an appropriate choice.
Again, from Dragonmarked: The Dragonne is a deadly hunter touched by dragons, long respected by Marcher hunters.
Like Orien, it’s pretty straightforward; a feared predator who’s never where you think it is. What better symbol for a house of shadowy assassins?
House Vadalis claims to have bred the first hippogriff. Whether or not this is true, they were certainly the first to domesticate the creatures and sell them as mounts; this was a strong part of their early success and an obvious choice for house symbol. However, as the house breeds many flying mounts, it’s not considered gauche for a Vadalis to back a different creature in the Race of Eight Winds.
When Thora Tavin and her allies established House Tarkanan, they deliberately adopted some of the trappings of the Dragonmarked Houses. However, rather than choosing a magical beast, they chose one of the mightiest aberrations. This works on multiple levels. Obviously it’s a powerful creature feared by others; it also ties to the fact that aberrants are often treated as monsters or abominations by the “pure” dragonmarked.
I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind recapping some of your ideas for the beast that the Mark of Death would use if it hadn’t been scrubbed away into obscurity and (nigh) extinction.
As noted before, the Line of Vol was never a “Dragonmarked House”; it was erradicated centuries before the Twelve came into existence. As such, it never had any reason to follow the magical beast tradition, and would have been more likely to use the traditional elven seal of the line, or a creature more traditionally associated with psychopomps or the dead (such as a raven). If for some reason it had to follow suit, one possibility would be the Catoblepas, which is a “magical beast” and death-themed. However, the Catoblepas is deadly as opposed to being associated with death, and the Mark of Death is more about understanding and interacting with the dead than killing things, so it’s not a very good match. If I had to pick a magical beast for them, I’d personally choose the Sphinx; hidden knowledge is more appropriate for line than a deadly gaze.
You mention how some of the Houses have adopted their beast, but as many of the beasts are intelligent as well, how do they feel about representing a humanoid structure of power? Do Displacer Beast Packlords revel in their feline authority to see themselves plastered on flags, if they know how to interpret such things? Do unicorns accept their majesty being condensed into a symbol of travel and transport?
I don’t see it as a serious concern. Despite their varying intellects, none of these creatures have been presented as having anything on par with a nation. The Kundarak dwarves made a pact with a particular manticore tribe, but we’ve never presented manticores as having any remote political or cultural impact; it’s sort of like saying “Does Karrnath worry that wolves don’t like their being used on the flag?” Taking unicorns, I think it’s going to vary by unicorn; some may be amused, some may be insulted, most probably won’t care in the slightest. But there’s no unicorn nation that is going to band together and raise some sort of concerted outcry about it. And at the end of the day, the images being used aren’t especially offensive or specific to any particular cultural group among those species; it’s essentially the equivalent of having a sports team called “The Human Beings.”
Back on the previous point, some of the houses actually do interact with their heraldic beasts. Vadalis breeds manticores. Some Talenta-based Ghallanda have friendships with local blink dog packs. Kundarak still deals with Ironroot manticores. But even there, MOST Ghallanda have never seen a blink dog, and a Kundarak dwarf doesn’t have some sort of special in with a manticore from Droaam, any more than having human friends from Karrnath will help you when some thugs from Thrane want to beat you up.