Dragonmarks: People of the Five Nations

It’s another busy week. I’m working on new material for Phoenix: Dawn Command and doing events for the launch of Illimat. Now I’m at PAX Unplugged doing Illimat demos – if you’re at PAXU, stop by the Twogether Studios booth (449)! But I have time for a quick question from Patreon

Could we get a quick rundown on what the humans of each of the Five Nations commonly look like, physically? Or are they a grab bag of all possible looks we have in reality?

The humans of the Five Nations are ethnically diverse. Humanity didn’t evolve on Khorvaire. It began on Sarlona, where environments range from desert to arctic tundra and everything in between. Humanity came to Khorvaire in multiple waves of explorers, settlers and refugees and the Five Nations were built from this stew. On the coasts of Khorvaire you can find communities that can trace their roots back to particular nations, such as the Khunan humans of Valenar. But few of the people of the Five Nations have any concept of their Sarlonan roots; over the course of generations they’ve blended and merged. So yes, they are a grab bag of all possible looks you can imagine. Rather than being judged by the color of your skin, you’ll be evaluated by your accent, attitude and fashion. Karrns are stoic and stolid, while Aundairians tend to be dramatic and expressive.

Consider this picture, which comes from the “Humans” entry in the original 3.5 Eberron Campaign Setting.

There’s five humans and five nations… but nothing in the entry indicates who these people are or where they’re from. From left to right, here’s where I’d place them.

  • Vyenne is a duelist from Aundair. Her ruffles and hairstyle reflect the latest trends in Fairhaven fashion; while her dress appears constricting, the fabric is surprisingly flexible. She doesn’t wear armor because it’s so plebian; she’ll conjure mage armor when trouble strikes. She uses a flail in a style known as chain dancing, a technique full of dramatic flourishes, trips and disarms; it’s perfect both for showing off and embarassing an opponent. She’s also a wand adept; the three short rods in her belt are arcane foci used for channeling her talents. Unlike her neighbor, who still insists on launching sticks at his enemies. Does he know it’s almost 1000 YK?
  • Castor is a retired templar from Thrane. Compared to Vyenne, his clothing is simple and practical. He’s comfortable in his breastplate and he carries his weapons as a matter of course. He’s not looking for a fight, but he knows that danger can come at any time and he’s always ready to defend the people of his community from unexpected threats. He’s reasonably friendly – he genuinely likes people – but he is always serious and watchful, with no time for frivolity and no need for luxury. When he spoke with Vyenne, he didn’t realize she was mocking him.
  • Meris is from Cyre. She’s the last survivor of a prominent wizard’s circle in Metrol, and while she’s lost her homeland and her friends, she still ahs her pride. If you look closely you’ll see that her fine clothing is a little worn; she’s done her best to keep it fresh with mending and prestidigitation, but there’s only so much magic can do. Her ornate staff is merely a fancy arcane focus, but it belonged to her mentor in the circle and it’s her most treasured possession.
  • Harkan is a mercenary from Karrnath. Like Vyenne, he balances his martial skills with a touch of magic; this is less common in Karrnath than it is in Aundair, but it’s catching on. Where Vyenne likes her wands and her elegant chain dancing, Harkan carries a staff and is quite straightforward about crushing you with his mace. He is almost always found in armor. He’s generally curt, direct, and he doesn’t like you.
  • Baris is an entertainer from Breland; he’s generally found playing at one of the taverns in Lower Dura. He’s not part of any of the gangs, but he’s got friends in the Boromar Clan, House Tarkanan and even Daask; as such, he’s sometimes called upon to act as a go-between or mediator. While he generally keeps his hands clean, he’s not above picking the pocket of foolish tourist who has a little too much to drink.

Reflecting a little on how their cultures have shaped them… Vyenne is very gifted and wants the world to know it. She uses magic in her everyday life and considers those who don’t to be backwards. Appearance and opinions matter to her. By contrast, Castor reflects the values of the Silver Flame. He’s got an ascetic streak, and has no interest in luxuries or fancy talk. He genuinely cares about others and is prepared to put his life on the line to protect the innocent should supernatural threats arise… and he is always prepared for a threat to arise, which means he rarely drinks or engages in frivolous activities. Meris was once a wealthy socialite but has lost almost everything; she knows her courtly graces and keeps up up her mask when among strangers, but sometimes she prefers the company of her ghosts and memories to the salons she used to love. Harkan is grim, direct and focused on his work. He’s reliable, deadly, and not a lot of fun. Finally, Baris is a liar and a thief… but he also prefers diplomacy to war. He’s willing to take a lot of risks to help his friends, and he has a lot of friends.

What historical equivalent should I look to for fashion in Eberron? I’ve heard everything from late medieval/early Renaissance to 1920s and would you to hear at least /your/ take.

It’s hard to map Eberron’s fashions to Earth’s history because it’s not Earth. It’s a world where glamorweave and shiftweave exist, where arcane focuses are common fashion accessories. In our history armor was rendered obsolete by the prevalence of the musket. In Eberron, armor is often worn either as a practical tool or as a fashion statement, and I think that armor is more comfortable and flexible than equivalents we know from our history. It’s hard to imagine a medieval knight comfortably wearing jousting armor to a tavern, but that’s a perfectly valid choice for a fighter… which leads me to think that the plate itself is simply better made than we know. Essentially, I feel that there is a concept of practical armor. Light armor in particular often won’t read as armor: you might be wearing a heavy leather trenchcoat with long gauntlets and high boots. It’s protective, but you don’t necessarily look like a soldier. Moving up from there armor will clearly be armor, but there will still be designs that are intended for everyday use or social occasions as opposed to being made strictly for the battlefield. Even looking to heavier armors, it’s worth noting whether your character is wearing the uniform of a soldier, or if you’re wearing more personal and social armor (like Harkan in the illustration above).

I think this concept generally extends. If people are wearing what we generally consider as “fantasy” clothing, keep in mind that it’s evolved beyond that of the middle ages, and may be more practical, better made, more colorful, and so on. Beyond this, it’s good to fully understand glamerweave. This is clothing with fabric imbued with illusion. The possibilities of this are nearly endless, and to my mind the +100 gp price tag is simply a general overview. At the low end (likely less than 100 gp) you could simply have colors or textures that cannot be found in nature. At the high end you can have truly fantastic designs: a cloak that has a rippling starfield for its lining, leather armor that appears to be made from dragonscales, a Lyrandar noble dressed in a shirt that has the pattern of a storm – an if it’s truly fancy, perhaps it shifts and grows more thunderous based on the wearer’s mood. Essentially, this is a world where illusion exists and is used as part of fashion – so use your imagination and think about what’s possible.

Beyond that, I’m not a fashion expert. I look to the illustrations in the books for inspiration, and I think of the general tone of the nation. In Aundair you have more glamorweave and shiftweave, along with a general love of complexity and ostentatious display. Thranes are more practical and austere, always ready for trouble (so more casual armor), with some ornate displays of faith. Karrns are likewise practical, martial, and dressed to deal with a harsher climate. The Brelish are in a more tropical climate and fall in the middle – not as in love with fashion as the Aundairians, but neither as spartan as the Thranes or Karrns. And in Cyre you had both more widespread wealth and a love of art and artistry… but now carrying the scars of loss.

What are YOUR thoughts on fashion in the Five Nations? Share your thoughts below!

20 thoughts on “Dragonmarks: People of the Five Nations

  1. My party recently traveled to Aundair, their first step into civilization, and I stressed the fashion and the utility of magic, tavern signs with continual light and faerie fire to glow in unusual colors even at night, glamerweave outfits that mimic the morning sky and billowing flowers… Magnificent things that made the outlanders feel even more outlandish.

    I like to pepper in certain fashions from the civilized lands, the goblin was highly amused in using the Brelish arrows they found in hopes that some poor Brelander might be held accountable for certain actions. I have also shown characters out of time-a Karrn soldier turned back from stone with a soldier’s uniform from nearly a century ago, a kobold leader and her foppish (stolen) Brelish cap, especially in regions like Droaam where textiles are probably imported. I like those little flairs to random treasure drops.

  2. I generally choose to emphasise to my players that clothes are more modern in Eberron than traditional Fantasy. The Renaissance/Steampunk comparison is usually the fastest way to get that across. I also emphasise that it isn’t either of those in actuality. I use phrases like “to us it would resemble,” a lot. Most of my NPCs have a tendency towards trenchcoat and similar long coats because of this change. When I would describe someone in a different setting wearing a cloak or blanket, I’d mention the Eberron NPC wearing their coat or jacket.

  3. Would it seem likely that there would be fads based on various lost cultures? Say after a major cache of Xendrik relics ends up in Sharn that Breland goes through a Sulatar inspired craze maybe spreading maybe not? What about the influence of Zilargo who are neighbors of Breland without the baggage of having been at war with them.

    Great article as always!

  4. Let’s see what’s come up in my campaign …

    * Our party includes a “threadcrafter” – representative (sole representative, after the Day of Mourning) of an ancient fabric-based changeling artificing tradition. They’re an old person from a rural area, so they dress in practical, simple knitwear – but they are from Cyre, so they’ve got magic woven in to ward off blows and change with their face. Their arcane implements are simply knitting needles and crochet hooks.
    * We also have a Thaliost resident of mixed Aundairian-Thranish descent, who combines a very Aundairian sense of flair with Flamic aesthetics – but as a member of the Scions Liberation Front, they do it in a punk way, their “leather armor” a leather jacket with a couatl wing design sewn onto the back. Their rod is military issue, short and to the point.
    * There’s the illusionist, who lived on the streets in and around Karrnath and the Lhazaar Principalities before manifesting the Mark of Shadows and getting picked up by House Thuranni. They wear a warm, well-mended robe and knit hat – but use disguise self (which I’ve houseruled as being able to do simple and obvious cosmetics/costuming without using up the dragonmark for the day) to display every look imaginable. Their arcane implement is a wand built into the bow of their viol.
    * The Aundairian warforged and the Eldeen kalashtar haven’t talked much about appearance, although the warforged’s player did go with the arcane archer UA, which I felt was a very Aundairian touch towards combat – not a spellcaster, but a guy picking up a few specialized magical effects to complement his archery.

    Moving outside the party …
    * Lady Elaydren dresses somewhat understatedly for an Aundairian – lots of glamerweave, yes, but with simply-styled dresses in plain colors. She makes up for this, though, by having a gleaming white prosthetic arm powered by a small bound water elemental, proudly blazoned with the Cannith coat of arms.
    * They’ve dealt briefly with a branch of Daask, who I’ve dressed mostly in work clothes – ratty vests and high collars, cleaned with prestidigitation but poorly repaired. These goblins mostly rely on intimidation instead of actual armor.
    * The Sharn Watch wear breastplates and leather strips, openly armored over their well-cut black-and-green. The medusa sergeant I introduced them to wears a particularly expensive and severe-looking set of blinders.
    * The artificers of the Twelve wear white labcoats, since I’m a sucker for the classics.

  5. Your comments on armor as a fashion statement actually map up pretty well with thoughts I’ve had. I’ve assumed that in Eberron, part of the charge for leather, hide, or studded leather armor would be a dye job to suit one’s tastes. (By contrast, I assume that such armor in other settings is simply… brown. Maybe shifted to a dark brownish-grey for the rogue’s sake at most.)

    Shoes are another thing to give some consideration. In contrast to the official description of a peasant’s outfit, I do assume that aside from extreme cases like the desperate folks in Sharn’s sewers, the lower classes in the Five Nations have actual shoes instead of just fabric tied around their feet… even if they’re cheap and simple, thin soft leather (which may have tears hastily stitched back together) with hard boiled leather for soles. Going up in means from there, shoe styles vary a lot from place to place. Processes akin to vulcanization exist, allowing people with the money for a decent pair of shoes to have rubber soles if it fits the style they’re going for. (And rubber balls for middle-class children to play with, for that matter.)

    While trenchcoats exist (and are popular in Sharn), the overall feel I tend to shoot for in the Five Nations’ fashion is roughly in line with fashion trends for men in the 18th century, and an assumption of bras instead of corsets and mobility instead of concealment and restriction of the legs for women. (What sense is an undergarment that hampers your breathing and a gown you could trip over or get tangled in when an enemy nation could have attacked at any time until a few years ago, after all? Not to mention in a world without quite so negative a view of women in the first place.) Details such as brightness of colors and general flourishes will vary from place to place, but no one but an ignorant warforged will find a cravat strange or assume a fancy light jacket that complements the rest of one’s outfit is meant to be taken off while indoors.

    • your post made me consider something that fits perfectly with droaam’s “grist” mills. Specifically trollskin leather shoes. Very few things have tasty skin under normal cooking conditions, but the troll hide would be a potentially valuable waste product in a far more abundant supply than other forms of sturdy leather.

      straight from droaam! trollhide boots, quarter crown a pair! sorry no, the ones with the ‘fur’ get shipped up to the frozen Karrns, but i can order you a pair & get them in a couple months.

  6. Great stuff, and points that I haven’t put too much thought into until now.

    Something I have put a lot of thought into is regional cuisine. Perhaps someday you could do a similar post on that subject?

  7. I like to take inspiration from real world historical clothing for Eberron fashion, but use it in an intensely anachronistic way, so it usually loses any historical significance. Generally the inspiration comes from a mix of everything from the 1800s to early 1900s, but overall you can’t place them in any particular era. The styles would generally signify the status and personality of the wearer, and most clothing beyond the most strange of haute-couture would be a lot more practical.

    And haute-couture in Eberron would be as unusual and surreal as that of modern day Earth, possibly taking inspiration from ancient and foreign cultures.

  8. I’m curious how this would read if you swap humans with the different monstrous races of droaam, do you think you could shed some light there? Droaam is a few years into a stable & growing society making efforts to be recognized by the eastern nations. Unfortunately, the monster manual is pretty faerun centric loincloth clad if anything & I think the kobold/lizardfolk(?) on xge39 in cerimonial garb is the most clothed monstrous race image i’ve seen in a book… but few wear ceremonial garb regularly

  9. One of the remarks above about trollhide boots got me thinking. What is the attitude in the Five Nations toward items made from the body parts of sentient species? One of the common tropes of many classic D&D settings is dragonhide armor, for example. I’d tend to think that such things would be rare and very daring indeed in Eberron! But, given the broader acceptance of non-human races in Eberron, I’d expect that even items made from less dangerous species than dragons would be looked down upon be the average citizen of the Five Nations. Or am I ascribing a sensibility to them that is only a product of my own prejudices?

    • Considering the elf-dragon war and the ancient war between dragons and giants, it also wouldn’t surprise me that armor were made of slain dragons by elves and giants as a mark of power.

      Also, sentient wouldn’t necessarily register as “people” if these sentient beings are of vastly different species. Elementals are sentient, but they’re bound to dragonshards to power machines and weapons just the same, and most citizens of the Five Nations wouldn’t think twice about it. So while there might be people who champion the basic rights of sentient “monstrous” races that are familiar — notably goblinoids and warforged — I doubt the average human would care much about the rights of a troll, let alone a drake.

    • (that was me on the troll hide boots (please use the idea if you like it!). given troll regeneration capabilities, a set of troll hide boots would be more like the parachute ropes made of woven hair in ww…1(?) & hair ropes for all kinda stuff prior to that I would imagine.
      It kind of changes the morality equation when the troll literally walks into a mill on their own, gets a spike to the brain, starts having bits chopped off, & eventually the spike gets removed for the troll to walk out with a bag of coins a few minutes later not remembering the last several hours of being brainspiked (or otherwise magically unaware).

  10. I have fashion related quirk for the goblins in my games.
    They don’t trust people who wear hats, helmets, or hoods outside of time of inclement weather and battle. They find that people who cover their ears are trying to hide something or deceive you. I got the Idea from Legacy of Dhakaan where it talked about how goblins ears help express body language.

    I could see this making hair accessories, bandanas, circlets and other head ornaments that do not cover or hide the ears popular among City goblins.

  11. I’ve brought up fashion to my players. They are helping New Cyre rebuild and were present during the remembrance of the Day of Mourning. The Cyrans were dressed in their best, wearing black and greys. Later in the night the bright colors came out as remembrance of things lost turned to futures won. I gave Cyran fashion a more modern look, tuxedo pants and vests for the men (or women), and pencil skirts and long jackets for the women. I wanted to emphasize the artistic flair and more modern attitudes. It helps that I often have to watch Project runway with my wife and knew the terms :). After that the Cyrans have been in worn but well maintained work clothes, showing what they have lost.

  12. Interesting thoughts for sure, especially on the fashion front. My home games have leaned hard into a vaguely Victorian through Jazz Age look, with the idea that the Last War is a close enough WW1 analogue and the lightning rail, airship, and Sivis networks fill the same roll as trains, planes, and telegraphs respectively, so that other aspects of the world should conform to feel familiar. I’ve also assumed at times that the rise of magic weapons and wands during the War made most armor a heavy burden not too likely to save you from cloudkill, fireball, and (in one campaign – please don’t hate me!) firearms. Interesting to see you take the opposite tack, that armor became more efficient, because I hadn’t even considered it.

    The best reflection I can give of what MY Eberron looks like is an old character one of my players had years ago; a Dwarf veteran of the War who retired to the life of an inquisitive, never seen without his monocle and trenchcoat.

  13. Fashion police were a thing during the Renaissance. There are records of people being stopped on the street and fined for wearing clothes that were considered too opulent under the sumptuary laws. I think it could be interesting if the same were true of glamourweave in certain parts of the five nations, though the purpose of such laws might vary. They could be meant to uphold social mores in Thrane and Karrnath, or to maintain social divisions in Aundair.

  14. Religious Aundairians are keen on clothing which displays their piety, including clothing which depicts scenes from mythology, edging designed to resemble silver flames and outfits which resemble depictions of their dieties. A warrior might dress to resemble Dol Arrah or Dol Dorn when in their armour and an innkeeper might dress as Boldrei the hearthkeeper.

    Brelanders are less showy than other nations but personal items such as flamic pendants or octogram belt buckles identify those with religious conviction. It’s not uncommon for people to have religious scenes and icons tattoed on themselves, often in the form of sleeve patterns which are shown in the warmer climes. Like religion in Breland, it’s not something you have to put much daily effort into showing off but it’s under your skin and a part of you.

    Cyrans went in for religious jewellery and personalised accessories, which you can now find at pawn shops all over the continent. Though some did go for conspicuous displays of wealth and false piety, for many a gem-studded octogram or finely detailed silver pendant were made by religious artisans to bring the beauty of the divine into reality. A sapphire and citrine octogram ring might seem to be a display of bling to outsiders, but to you it’s part of an enduring tradition in your family which has been passed down for generations.

    As Karrnathis enjoy practical designs, most of their religious displays are second to the functionality of their clothes. It has become common for Blood of Vol followers to add red stripes or ribbons to their clothing, as well as the familiar red gemstone aspect. Red thread for clothing is commonplace, representing blood that binds the community together and keeps us alive. Displays for the Sovereign Host are similarly practical, usually taking the form of small etchings in tools, armour and weapons. For all religious, Karrnathis usually bring out their religious side more in their art and architecture.

    Thranes by comparison are relatively subdued, especially since the theocracy arose. You don’t need to show off that you follow the flame because of course you do, so do all of your neighbours. It doesn’t help matters that Thrane has often been cut off from resources during the war. This subdued nature goes out the window during festivals though, with people bringing out their finery and the streets being awash with silver and white clothing and silver jewellry.

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