In the process of getting the website up to speed, I had to delete a few old posts. Since many of you may never have seen this post unless you dug deep into the archives, I figured I’d repost it now! New posts for Phoenix and Eberron are coming soon, but for now, let’s talk about elves. As always: This is my personal opinion. It is not official Eberron content and may in fact contradict canon Eberron source material. Read at your own risk.
The elves of Eberron are divided into a number of distinct cultures. Most of the elves encountered in the Five Nations have some connection to House Phiarlan or Thuranni. Others are descended from exiles who fled in the aftermath of the war between the Undying Court and the line of Vol. However, the majority of elves in Eberron live on the island of Aerenal. There they are split into two primary cultures: the Aereni (subjects of the Undying Court) and the martial Tairnadal.
One of the things that defines the elves is their relationship with death. Per 3.5 D&D rules, an elf can have a natural lifespan of up to 750 years, and is an “adult” at 110 years. I never liked the idea that an elf was literally a child for a century. Rather, I saw that 110-year mark as the age of the typical elven adventurer. In my Eberron, elves mature mentally at a rate similar to humans, perhaps a few years off. For me, the 110-year mark is driven by a society that places great expectations on its people. A post on the WotC boards mentions a traditional sushi chef who went through seven years of apprenticeship before he was allowed to go beyond preparing the rice. I see this principle extending to all levels of youth in Aerenal… intense, lengthy apprenticeships that focus with great intensity on every different aspect of a trade. Looking to an Aereni wizard, he might spend five years simply studying somatic components (mystical gestures) before ever learning to cast a spell. He would learn precise pronunciation of verbal components, and his fireball incantation would have the exact same accent as the elf who first devised the spell… and he might even learn the incantation from that elf. By contrast, a human wizard in Arcanix would learn that you can kind of fudge incantations if you find a pronunciation that resonates with your personal aura. Aerenal teaches perfect technique; Arcanix encourages you to MacGuyver a bit.
Part of this ties to the idea that a seven-hundred year old lifespan is both a blessing and a curse. Our fluid intelligence – which fuels our ability to adapt to entirely new things – peaks in young adulthood. You grandfather may be a brilliant doctor, a skilled mathematician, and still have trouble learning to use an iPhone that a three-year-old masters in three days. The child is running on fluid intelligence, which allows him to quickly adapt to new things. You grandfather is working off crystallized intelligence, the concrete skills he has perfected over time. For me, this is the fundamental difference between elves and humans… because in my Eberron, both elf and human peak in fluid intelligence at the same time. An elf’s mental facilities don’t deteriorate due to age as a human’s will, so the 110-year-old elf is still sharp and alert… but he is also just as firmly set in his ways as a hundred-year-old human, and it’s difficult for him to adapt to entirely new things. This is why, despite Aereni society having been around for over twenty thousand years, humans are beginning to do things with magic that the elves have never done. Elven society is driven by tradition rather than innovation – by absolutely perfecting the techniques of the past instead of developing entirely new ways of doing things. Innovation does happen – and an Aereni player character might be the great elf innovator of this age – but it isn’t enshrined as a cultural value as it often is among humanity; instead elves take comfort in the familiar. Looking to a 110-year-old first level elf fighter and a 20 year old first level human fighter, it’s not that it took the elf 110 years to learn the same skills as the human. Instead, it’s that the elf knows a truly astounding array of highly specialized techniques and traditions, while the human accomplishes the same things with far less style and finesse. When the ogre attacks with a club, the elf shifts into the fell-the-mighty-tree stance perfected by the ogre-slaying hero Jhaelis Tal (and he could tell you the whole saga of Jhaelis) while the human fighter says “Hey! I can stab him in the arm!” and does that. At the end of the day, the RESULT ends up being about the same, but the STYLE is completely different.
Another thing about the elves is that they have a great deal of trouble letting go of things. When you’ve had someone around for seven hundred years, it’s hard to finally let him go. Thus, many elven cultures revolve around not letting go… around find ways to preserve their greatest souls. In Aerenal the most remarkable members of society are preserved as animate deathless entities, forming the Undying Court. Thus, the young wizard can learn magic from the elf who first invented the fireball, because that elf is still around. The Aereni believe that there is a limit to the number of Deathless the island can support, so you have to be truly impressive to earn a place on the Court, and that’s the great drive of an Aereni life. The consolation prize – if you’re close but not quite awesome enough – is to have your soul preserved in a spirit idol, where others can consult with it in the future. The key point: The Aereni don’t let go. They avoid death by literally keeping their ancestors with them. The line of Vol took the approach of negative necromancy, turning THEIR best and brightest into vampires and liches. Unlike the Undying Court, there’s no obvious limitation on a vampire population, provided there’s enough living beings to provide them with blood. However, the Undying Court asserts that ALL Mabaran (negatively-charged) undead inherently consume the life energy of Eberron itself to survive… essentially, that the Vol practices would ultimately destroy all life if left unchecked. Hence, the bitter war that ended with the extermination of the line, and the ongoing duty of the Deathguard to eliminate Mabaran undead.
But what about the other elves of Aerenal… the Tairnadal? The ancient elves of Xen’drik battled the giants to earn their freedom. Rather than preserve the elves of the present day as deathless, the Tairnadal seek to preserve the legendary elves of the past. They believe that by emulating the deeds of an ancestor, they can serve as a spiritual anchor for that ancestor and ultimately become an avatar for them in the present day. Here’s a quote from an Eye of Eberron article, “Vadallia and Cardaen”…
The lives of the Tairnadal elves are shaped by those of their patron ancestors. When an elf comes of age, the Keepers of the Past read the signs to determine which of the patron ancestors has laid claim to the child. From that point forward it is the sacred duty of the child to become the living avatar of the fallen champion, mastering his or her skills and living by her code. The people of the Five Nations know little about the Tairnadal, and their general assumptions often don’t make sense. Ask ten people in Sharn, and you’ll hear that the Valenar are bloodthirsty brutes who love to pillage the weak; that they seek glory in battle and won’t fight a weaker foe; that they are bound by a strict code of honor; that they have no honor; that every Valenar is bound to a horse; and so on. In fact, no one rule applies to every Tairnadal, for every ancestor demands a different role of his or her descendants. A child chosen by Maelian Steelweaver will spend his or her days forging swords instead of wielding them. One chosen by Silence will spend life in the shadows, never touching a horse. War is the common thread that unites the Tairnadal, because the wars against giants, dragons, and goblins were what produced these legendary heroes. As such, the Tairnadal seek conflicts that will let them face the same odds and fight in the same style as their ancestors. Nowadays a child of Vadallia can’t fight giants, because the Cul’sir Dominion has fallen, but he or she must search for a foe that is equally challenging and then defeat it in the same way Vadallia would, thus creating new legends in Vadallia’s name.
A few factors here…
Tairnadal society is relentlessly martial. As noted before, war is the lens through which the Tairnadal view their patrons. These legends arose in conflict, and so the Tairnadal seek to maintain a constant state of conflict. Preferably this involves an actual, true threat – and this touches on the Valenar, which I’ll discuss in more detail later – but when there is no true threat they will create challenging scenarios. They hunt wild beasts and engage in complex wargames. This isn’t just frivolous behavior; they believe that through these actions they are preserving their greatest souls. They must keep going, or those spirits could be lost.
One analogy that works for me is Ender’s Game. From youth, Tairnadal children are trained for battle. At first, they are trained in the fundamentals, giving them a chance to prove their aptitudes and show their true nature. At this point they are selected by a patron ancestor, at which point they are assigned to a warband well suited to learning the skills of that ancestor. In the Ender analogy, this is the shift from launchie to an army. Now they have clear guidance on what they should be learning, and they WILL be placed in conflict with other warbands in wargames designed to hone those skills. As with Ender’s Game, all of this is being done in preparation for the great conflict that lies ahead, a conflict that is life or death for their culture… the difference is that they don’t know what the enemy will be. Will the Dragons finally attack in force? Will it be goblins once more? Or humanity? They don’t know, but they are determined to preserve their greatest souls until that day finally arrives.
Let’s Talk About Patrons
People often have the sense that all the Tairnadal do is fight… that they are hotheads who are always looking to start trouble. There’s a solid grounding to this: the Patron Ancestors forged their legends in battle against terrifying opposition, and so it is in battle against a challenging foe that the elves have the best opportunity to emulate the deeds of their ancestors. But let’s look to that quote again…
Ask ten people in Sharn, and you’ll hear that the Valenar are bloodthirsty brutes who love to pillage the weak; that they seek glory in battle and won’t fight a weaker foe; that they are bound by a strict code of honor; that they have no honor; that every Valenar is bound to a horse…
The point here isn’t that the people of Sharn are wrong; rather, ALL of these things are true… about different Tairnadal. There are Tairnadal who abide by a strict code of honor, and there are those who act in a relentlessly dishonorable fashion. There are those who won’t fight a weaker foe and those who seek out the weak. There are those who will draw blood at the slightest provocation and those who will never strike an innocent regardless of how severely they are provoked. Because they will do their absolute best to act as their patron ancestor would act. And there is a VAST SPECTRUM of ancestors. While we often call them “heroes”, the real point of the Patron Ancestors is that the are legends; some are infamous as much as they are famous. These are the people who defined the elves during their greatest struggles. So in thinking about a Patron Ancestor, the key things to bear in mind are:
- They are people the Tairnadal don’t want to ever forget.
- They are people who played a defining role in one of the great conflicts (which likely means they fought giants, elves, or goblins).
- There is SOMETHING about them that makes them memorable.
Essentially, you can have both Gallahad and Lancelot: a knight celebrated for incredible purity and honor, and another celebrated for his fantastic martial skills but also defined by his ultimate betrayal of a close friend in the pursuit of love. If Lancelot was your patron ancestor, it would be your religious duty to try to get into a horrible tragic love triangle… whether you wanted to or not… to try to emulate your ancestor. Similarly, if your Patron was known as a guerrilla who struck fear into the giants by butchering civilian populations, then it would be your duty to prey on the weak. While meanwhile, the elves chosen by Gallahad will do their best to be paragons of virtue and honor… something that might actually bring them into direct conflict with elves following the path of the Butcher. Which also might directly emulate the lives of their ancestors.
The most critical point here: the spirit chooses the elf, not the other way around. To me, this is the MOST INTERESTING THING ABOUT THE TAIRNADAL as far as roleplaying goes. Who chose you? Why did they choose you? How do you feel about it? If you are chosen by Gallahad, it is your duty to be the purest, most honorable and virtuous person you can possibly be. Are you ready for that? By contrast, if you are chosen by the Butcher, it is your duty to be a brutal, ruthless murderer who preys on the weak. Are you ready for that? And that doesn’t even get into the more extreme aspects, such as the boy who has shown great promise as a warrior but who is then chosen by a legendary poet, a man who fought his wars with words. Picture this as the background of your bard. You never wanted to be a bard; you wanted to be Gallahad! You don’t even LIKE poetry. But the spirit has chosen you, and it’s your duty to follow where it leads and to become that poet in the modern day.
WHY SHOULD I DO IT?
This begs the question: If I’m chosen by the Poet but I don’t WANT to be a bard… why don’t I just become a fighter anyway? There’s a few points here.
- Society expects it of you. If you refuse to follow the path of your patron, you are putting your personal ego ahead of the preservation of the greatest souls of your race. You will be ostracized and driven out. You can be a fighter if you want, but you’ll never train with the greatest swordsmen and you’ll never earn glory in the eyes of your kin. More important than that…
- The Patron Ancestors are real. When a patron ancestor chooses you, it forms a bond to your spirit. When you emulate your ancestor, you draw on that bond. A typical elf can’t communicate directly with his patron, though this is a gift that mystics and Revenant Blades develop; but the bond is there, and through it you have access to the instincts and the guidance of your patron. If you turn your back on the patron, you are throwing that gift away. When you’re chosen by the Poet, you have the POTENTIAL to be one of the greatest bards of the modern age. Will you throw that away?
This is one of those things that transcends concrete mechanics. There are mechanics for strengthening the bond, notably the Revenant Blade prestige class. But even if you’re not a Revenant, the idea is that the bond is there and strengthening you. This is the reason why the Valenar are so scary. In a world in which we have emphasized the fact that player character classes are rare, we’ve called out that the typical Valenar is a 4th level PC-classed character… and given examples of them up to 12th level. This isn’t simply because they train harder than humans, though most do; it is because they are guided by their patron ancestors. The elf chosen by the Poet will find that the arts of the bard come quickly and easily to him, whereas if he turns his back on the Poet and insists on being a fighter, he won’t have that edge. It’s not just that society wants you to be like your patron… it’s that you will gain concrete benefits if you do.
What’s This Mean For PCs?
As I said, this isn’t something represented by concrete mechanics; it’s an idea that can be used for character hooks. The Tairnadal have many of the same story hooks as the Kalashtar, in that they are tied to a spirit. But for the Kalashtar, this choice is purely genetic and something that is with them from birth. For the Tairnadal it is something that happens on the border of adulthood. This raises a host of questions…
- What is your ancestor best known for?
- Why did they choose YOU?
- Do you and others around you agree with the choice, or does it seem illogical? You’ve been chosen by the Poet… have you always had an aptitude for the bardic arts, or have you been more celebrated for your brawn than your songs?
- Have you embraced your Patron or are you rebelling against it? How does this manifest in your actions? What could cause you to change your mind?
- What general traits or specific deeds was your patron known for? Were they especially honorable or extremely dishonorable? Bloodthirsty or restrained? Best known for their general skill or for one specific deed?
- Did your patron have any legendary feuds that you may have to take up with elves following other patrons?
- Do YOU interpret your ancestor in a different way from others?
This last point is the key one. Tairnadal aren’t clones; even more so than the kalashtar, it is up to the elf to choose the best way to emulate their ancestors. Consider the idea of a patron ancestor who is infamous for striking terror into the enemy through horrific murder of civilians. One follower of this patron might simply translate this to the battlefield, always targeting the weakest opponent, but not actually getting into murder. The typical chosen of this patron might tend to be sociopaths who have a very broad view of “the enemy” and view horrific murder as sport. Then there’s you. You were chosen by this murderer, but you feel that you were chosen precisely because these others are misrepresenting him and hurting his spirit. Yes, he murdered horribly when he had to, but he felt great remorse with every killing; he simply felt that it was the most effective tool in the battle for the survival of his people. As a result, you believe that YOUR mission is to hunt down and kill all the elves who are embodying your patron in a flawed manner… and boom, crazy elf Dexter saga.
The point being that six elves chosen by Gallahad will all embody him in different ways and with different degrees of success. However, it is their cultural and religious duty TO embody him, and those who do so successfully should gain power and skill as their bond to his spirit grows stronger.
Another thing to consider when creating a Tairnadal PC: after you are chosen by a patron, you are assigned to a warband. This is a group of elves whose ancestors are at least in line with yours (so the brutal killer of innocents doesn’t get teams up with the conscientious defender of the innocent), selected to work and train together. Often this is a lifelong bond. Unless your whole group embraces this, odds are good you don’t have those partners with you. So what happened to them? Did you abandoned your warband to become a PC? Did you take a leave of absence? Were they all killed, and if so do you want vengeance? Or did you kill them in a terrible parting of the ways?
The Tairnadal humans know best are the elves of Valenar. They came to Khorvaire during as mercenaries during the Last War. They sold their swords to Cyre, but late in the war turned on Cyre and seized a section of land as their own. The newly appointed High King asserted that this territory had been claimed by their ancestors long before humanity came to Khorvaire and that it was theirs by right.
However, a few things are worth noting…
- The Valenar don’t NEED this land. They’ve got enough room back home in Aerenal.
- The Valenar don’t have a particular interest in being lords of the land. They’ve passed a great deal of civic administration duties to Khoravar or Lyrandar, and largely ignored the human population. They’ve claimed a kingdom, but they aren’t very attached to it.
- Valenar does NOT reflect the structure of Tairnadal life back in Aerenal. There is no King of the Tairnadal. Beyond that, the civic infrastructure of the Tairnadal… the teachers, the children, the breeders of horses… are all still in Aerenal. For the elves, Valenar isn’t ahome; it’s a military beachhead.
Ultimately, what the Valenar want is an opportunity to emulate the deeds of their ancestors in battle. Their ancestors weren’t conquerors; they were guerrillas fighting a superior foe, strengthened by their knowledge of the land. So in my Eberron – and you could take things a different way – Valenar is in fact a trick. The elves aren’t building a kingdom; they are preparing a battlefield. The reason that they are so antagonistic and provocative in their dealings with the other nations – notably Karrnath and Darguun – is because they want to be attacked by a challenging foe. They don’t want to be invaders or conquerors; they want to provoke a powerful force into attacking them on their home ground. For the last few decades they have been acclimatizing themselves to the land, learning its tricks, determining the ideal spots for ambushes or ways to disrupt supply lines, and so on. The aren’t bringing their cultural infrastructure to Valenar because at the end of the day, they are ready to LOSE Valenar; if worst came to worst, they could retreat to Aerenal and be back where they started. The Last War was a good starting point, but now they are setting the stage for the REAL opportunity to emulate their ancestors.
Not all of the Tairnadal support this idea. There are some sects that have different ideas of what to do – they think the elves should fight the dragons, or return to Xen’drik. And then there are those who are perfectly content with the way things have been done for the last ten thousand years, who think the Valenar are hotheads. If you play a Tairnadal elf, it’s up to you to decide where you fall on this spectrum. Do you support the High King and the Host of Valenar? If so, why aren’t you in Valenar now, or serving as a mercenary? Are you on extended leave and simply waiting for the call to go back? Are you a spy gathering intelligence, or a provocateur getting into a position where you could help trigger the war? Do you oppose the High King and his plan… do you believe in Valenar as a kingdom, or perhaps want to protect the innocent humans of the region from future bloodshed? Or are you a Tairnadal with no ties to Valenar, either wandering the world in you own pursuit of your patron’s path or driven from your homeland by your beliefs?
In closing, a point I’ll emphasize again: The Valenar are an army. There are no Valenar children; they’re raised and trained on Aerenal. The finest smiths and horsebreeders are in Aerenal. In Valenar, almost all civilians are humans or Khoravar (half-elves). The elves aren’t invested in Valenar for the long term; it’s a tool in a larger plan.
… At least, in my Eberron.
Unfortunately, many of the online articles once hosted by WotC have been removed from the internet. However, here’s some online articles that might prove interesting.
- Dragonshard: The Elves of Valenar, Part 1
- Dragonshard: The Elves of Valenar, Part 2
- Dragonshard: The Khoravar – Half-Elves of Khorvaire
- Dragonshard: The Elves of Aerenal, Part 1
- Dragonshard: The Elves of Aerenal, Part 2
QUESTION AND ANSWER
Post your questions in the comments and I’ll get to them as time allows.
I remember the Vadallia & Cardaen article, but I also remember how Saer Vordalyn behaved in Queen of Stone. And while some of the ancestors may have been great poets, given their history the majority must have been warriors (clearly not many of them were urban administrators, since they have outsourced those functions to Lyrandar).
In looking at Saer Vordalyn, consider a few things. He is Valenar, which means he is, innately, a warrior. Second, his ancestor may well have been known for pride or aggression. Essentially, when a Valenar acts like a jerk, it could be because he, the Valenar is personally a jerk; because his ancestor was a jerk and he’s obliged to act that way; or both.
As for the poet, the key point is that the poet had to do something in a time or war to achieve legendary status in the eyes of the elves. Bards are VERY important to the Tairnadal, both serving to inspire troops and more important to preserve the tales of the ancestors. So the poet could be a bard who travels with a warband. On the other hand, it could be that there is a poet who is a legend OFF the battlefield. It could be he crafted the songs that are sung by every bard, or the code that defines the Tairnadal culture. He became a legend in a time of war, but that doesn’t mean he had to be a warrior. As for the lack of civic administration, see the points above. Tairnadal culture generally avoids massive cities; even if it didn’t, the best civic administrators are back in Aerenal keeping the home fires burning. Using local talent is an excellent way to keep your personal investment in the city low.
In my experience few people live up to, or even understand, the ideal of whatever religious or secular ideology they espouse. I can’t shake the sense that a great many adolescents would use their ancestors as excuses to indulge in bad behavior (I see this happening in real life all of the time, with teens and adults), and a great many adults would take a very simplistic and conventional view of their ancestor’s activities.
Certainly. Which ties to two points above. The first is the fact that Tairnadal culture is FAR more structured and intense than typical Sunday school. Again, I personally compare it to Ender’s Game. Tairnadal children are constantly training, fighting, and learning the stories of their ancestors. It’s not just a casual “Oh, your ancestor liked swords”; it’s a matter of drilling in his precise style, learning every account of him from history by heart, and spending hours each day sparring. You have a concrete bond to his spirit, which is something that makes you distinctly different from a human adolescent. You spar for three hours a day because it is in battle that they hope that you will find that bond, and come to understand him on a very fundamental level.
Elves in Khorvaire live more casual lives. But I see both the cultures of Aerenal as very intense. As a Tairnadal, you are part of an army preparing for a war. We don’t know if that war will come in your lifetime, but if it does, you will be ready.
How do the Stillborn deal with this situation? I gather their raison d’être is to be a contrast to the heavily tradition-bound Aereni society, but are they equally unchanging – simply more egoistical and convinced that they already know everything – or are they actually the rare Aereni equivalent of the rebellious teenager who doesn’t want to sit and have tea with great-great-great-grandmama and kiss her on the decomposing cheek, because he knows better than his elders?
They are indeed the rebellious teens. Among other things, most are drawing on the traditions of the line of Vol, which were inherently more independent. It is the nature of the Deathless that they are sustained by the devotion of living elves. Part of the reason Aerenal is so mired in tradition is that it NEEDS people to follow those traditions to sustain their divinities – same with the Tairnadal. If you follow Vol’s path, once you’re a lich you can do whatever you want; you have no obligation to anyone else. The Stillborn see undeath as a gift. They don’t want to defeat death or any other grand philosophy: they want undeath and they want it now. As a side note, Erandis Vol and her inner circle – like Demise – are largely following this same theme. The Blood of Vol faith has far deeper philosophical goals and themes – the Divinity Within, ending death for all. But the Stillborn just want to be vampires, liches, or whatever because it beats being alive.
Does this tie in with the Shadow Schism? As far as I understand what you wrote about the Phiarlan in the dragonshards, Phiarlan is almost religiously dedicated to their role of keeping peace and harmony by any means necessary, ever since the giant-quori wars – though this did not work so well after Jarot’s death. But Thuranni is presented as a much more innovative House, which wanted to move away from this world of duty (and also decided to eradicate another line of the House).
While it’s not necessarily called out in the canon material, I think there’s a lot to be said for Phiarlan being made up of those who have continued to hold to Aereni tradition (albeit not the traditions of the Tairnadal or Undying Court) while Thuranni represents an evolution that has come from living among humanity. I think it makes for Thuranni to generally be more innovative and unconventional… while Phiarlan still has the majority of the greatest practitioners of traditional arts.
Speaking of the kalashtar, how would they live their increased lifespans? It’s not as long as that of elves, but still vastly exceeds that of a human – and, though it’s not their dominant personality, their Quori part is essentially immortal and has been around since the giant-quori wars (though it is not spread thin)?
That’s an entirely different subject, but one critical point I’d make there is that the child is touched by the immortal spirit from the moment of conception and shaped by that. I see a considerable difference between true immortals and long-lived mortals. Essentially, I see long life as carrying many burdens – seeing your human friends fall, societies change, everything you know fade away. The elves largely deal with this by clinging to tradition and thus minimizing change. However, with the kalashtar, one thing NEVER changes – and that is the bond to your spirit. It was with you at birth and it will be with you to death. Essentially, I see kalashtar as having a little more natural serenity… though that will certainly vary by the individual.
I thought, though, that Five Nations elf citizens outnumbered members of dragonmarked houses . . .
By canon numbers, this is certainly true. Checking the 3.5 ECS, elves make up around 7% of the population of the Five Nations. However, as I said, these articles may clash with canon numbers… and as the setting has evolved, that number has come to feel a little high to me. I don’t feel that the elves of Aerenal have a strong drive for immigration unless forced to it, as the allies of Vol were. Some would have left in protest of the conflict even if they didn’t have to; some likely did come in search of opportunity. However, all signs suggest that elves have slow population growth – again, they’ve been on Aerenal for almost forty thousand years and haven’t grown out of it – and as a result, it seems unlikely that they would make up such a large segment of the Five Nations. So essentially, in my Eberron I’m dropping their numbers a bit – but if you hold to canon, you are correct.
With that said, I think life is challenging for elves blended into human society, given the short lifespans of the people around them and the degree to which society changes. I think urban elves likely attach themselves to institutions that can give a sense of stability – for example, the churches. Of course, if you have a 600 year old elf cleric of the Church of the Silver Flame, she is actually older than the church itself; she might have known Tira Miron personally, and helped her evangelize in the first days of the Silver Flame. I’d think that elves might also look to their relationships with humans as being a relationship with the family rather than the individual; individuals come and go, but the family will endure.
A few questions, though: what would life be like for a Tairnadal whose Ancestor was known as an innovator/inventor/visionary? Would such an Ancestor even exist, as even the elves of Xen’drik may have been largely perfecting already known techniques?
This comes back to how different people interpret the Patron’s actions. Say you have a Tairnadal wizard who invented pyromancy. I think the TYPICAL Tairnadal would respond to this by trying to master pyromancy, seeing that as the ancestor’s defining feature. A rare elf might instead say “His thing wasn’t pyromancy; it was inventing a new field of magic. I will honor him by embracing that spirit and inventing a NEW school of magic of my own!” The same principle holds true for patrons who created new martial techniques; most would respond by perfecting those techniques, and it would be a rarer individual who would recognize innovation itself as the feature to be emulated. But that certain makes for an interesting player character!
This brings up another possibility… What about the ancestors who didn’t rate patron status? In one 4E game I ran, a PC created a Valenar shaman based on the idea that rather than having a single patron ancestor, he was essentially shepherding all the spirits who were good but not quite good enough to rate patron status. An amazing cook; a remarkable jerk; etc. it was a very interesting character, as he basically developed a different ancestor for each of his powers; I could certainly see a rebellious inventor as fitting in at this level.
Also, while this may not come up much in modern campaigns, but what stance did the Qabalrin have towards tradition?
The Qabalrin are the spiritual (and physical) ancestors of the line of Vol. As noted above, it’s an approach that favors the independent individual, while the Undying Court focuses on the strength of community and tradition. This lends itself to the assertion that there was significant infighting between Qabalrin schools. So I’d say the Qabalrin were more innovative, but also more volatile.
What, however, about dwarves, who would live to 450 years, and gnomes, who can live half a millenium? The dwarves seem to be about as unchanging as the elves, if less obsessed with death; the gnomes are however known for research and progress.
It’s true. Curiosity has been established as a defining feature of the gnomes – a desire to explore, and learn, and try new things. In part this is driven by a deep-rooted desire for security; if you know everything you can’t be taken unawares, and knowing the secrets of others is a powerful weapon. But I would say that the gnomes definitely have a different fluid/crystaline balance than the elves, and that their fluid intelligence declines more slowly than most races.
How would a Tairnadal be treated if they were not touched by an ancestor spirit? Would they be a pariah; considered tainted or unworthy to be an anchor? Or would they be considered an unfettered soul; someone who could become a legendary spirit like the ancestors of old?
Well, anyone has the potential to become a legend, even if they follow the path of a patron. You’re supposed to focus on embodying the ancestor, but that hasn’t stopped later Tairnadal from becoming legends in their own right. We’ve established that there are patron ancestors from the Dhakaani conflict and the wars with the dragons; presumably THOSE elves were themselves chosen by Xen’drik patrons.
With that said, there’s no hard and fast rule established. I think it’s a rare thing and would depend on the person. If the person was lazy and uninspired, it would likely be seen as rejection due to their faults and they would be assigned to menial duties. If the person was seen as a rising star who mysteriously wasn’t chosen, it would draw more attention. In a 4E campaign I ran, someone played a Tairnadal shaman who had no personal patron but was instead in touch with a host of lesser ancestors… spirits not QUITE remarkable enough to be full patron ancestors. Each of his spells was thus associated with channeling a different patron. The same concept could generally be true of ALL of the Keepers of the Past; rather than being chosen by any one spirit, they have a broad attunement to many.
For as long as the Tairnadal have been acting as anchors for their ancestors, have they ever questioned where their souls go? Are they sacrificing their spiritual existence simply to further the existence of an ancestor’s soul?
It’s an established fact where souls go: to Dolurrh, where they fade away. The point of the Tairnadal faith is to preserve the greatest souls from this fading. It’s generally accepted that you can’t save them all; thus, a sacrifice is made to save those most important to the culture as a whole. But as noted above, the idea is out there that if you are TRULY remarkable, you may yourself become a patron to future generations; emulating an ancestor doesn’t rule this out. Again, the bond to a patron enhances your talents, allowing you a greater opportunity to achieve great deeds.
Wow, so become great or fade away into the emptiness that Dolurrh. Good to know that even though you’re representing an ancestor your deeds are still your own thus you can still have a chance to become a patron as they are.
Certainly. As I said, embodying the patron preserves the ancestor and gives you a chance to draw on their strengths, but Tairnadal history is full of those who added their own legends in the process. Technically that’s not what you should be TRYING to do, but there’s surely many who have it in mind.
So with the Tairnadal having a much less physical attachment to their ancestors, where do these spirits reside? Are they basically treating their descendants as impromptu spirit idols?
It’s essentially the same mystical principle as the kalashtar and the quori. The patron spirit is tied to multiple mortals. As long as at least one of them is alive, the spirit still has an anchor. In the case of the Tairnadal, the connection is purely spiritual where with the kalashtar it’s partially genetic; as a result, the faith and the actions of the Tairnadal matter. The elf can strengthen the bond through both belief and by emulating the deeds of the patron; an elf who has no faith and makes no effort gains nothing from the bond, and provides no real anchor.
Also, if there is a literal spiritual connection to the patron spirits, could some affect the patron by messing with their anchors? Say that a Daelkyr started messing with the elves, driving them to madness in a way that they still embodied their patron’s ideals, but in a twisted way, could the madness somehow be passed to the spirit’s soul too?
Anything is POSSIBLE, if you want it to be. With that said, as it stands we don’t say that the actions of the living elf transform the spirit; rather, the more the elf acts like the spirit, the easier it is for the spirit to guide her. But it does sound like something a Daelkyr would do, and I’ve had fun with Tairnadal Cults of the Dragon Below myself.
Is it correct to say that the Undying court is the most powerful good entity in Eberron?
“Most powerful?” Probably. We’ve established that the Undying Court has the power to shield Aerenal from an attack by a significant force of dragons, and I’m not sure who else has that level of power… and even as individuals the Deathless Counselors are pretty tough. However, “Good?” That depends on your definition. Consider how long the Court has been around. It certainly didn’t help the Dhakaani when they were being attacked by the Daelkyr. It didn’t act when human invaders were massacring and enslaving goblins, or when they began massacring humans in the War of the Mark. It instructed its followers to ruthlessly exterminate a political rival in the Line of Vol. It’s positively aligned as an energy source, and it acts to protect AERENAL – it’s up to you whether that fits your definition of “good”.
Beyond that, it’s been firmly established that its power is focused on Aerenal. It can defend Aerenal from draconic attack, but it can’t channel that same power aggressively against Argonnessen. Beyond Aerenal, it can only affect things by empowering divine champions (IE clerics, paladins, etc) who can then use that power as they see fit… just like the Silver Flame, the Undying Court doesn’t personally approve every spell cast.
If that is true, how would you set a campaign in Aerenal? Isn’t it against the code “PCs are the heroes”?
There’s places in Eberron where players aren’t the most powerful entities around. If you decide to set a campaign in Argonnessen, I wouldn’t suddenly depower all the dragons. If there is a draconic attack on Aerenal, they don’t need the player characters to solve the problem; we know the Undying Court can handle that… UNLESS something is sabotaging the Court’s ability to form a spiritual gestalt, and that something is using magic that conceals its presence from any deathless entity or that is tied to Mabar in such a way that destroys any deathless that contacts it and/or negates any divine magic that Court clerics can bring to bear. If you want a situation where the players are the only hope, you can always create one.
Beyond that, though: Even in Aerenal, the Undying Court isn’t omnipresent or omniscient, and unlike the Trust in Zilargo, the Undying Court isn’t interested in poking into everyone’s lives. The Court deals with MAJOR threats: Invasion! Planar incursions! But you can still have any number of “street-level” intrigues and schemes that are simply beneath the radar of the Undying Court.
Out of curiosity, what would happen if a Tairnadal got a non-standard patron. For example, what would happen if an Elf was chosen by say, a warlock who sold his or her soul to one of the overlords?
In MY Eberron, fiendish bargains for souls are a fairly new concept – something introduced when I worked Baator into Eberron as a demiplane whose immortal denizens have only recently engineered a jailbreak and are in the soul business in an attempt to build sources of mystical power. But that’s neither here nor there. The short answer is that it’s up to you. In principle, the religious duty of the elf would be to sell their soul – following the same path as the patron. In practice, they could decide that it’s too extreme and that they just aren’t going to do it; this would just mean that they’d never be an exceptional avatar for that patron, and wouldn’t be able to become a Revenant Blade or otherwise draw strong inspiration from the patron.
While I’m on the topic of non-standard patrons, what if an avatar was chosen by more than one patron?
As above: the patron chooses the elf, but the choice is meaningless unless the elf chooses to emulate the patron. It is through this emulation that a bond is established, sustaining the ancestor and in theory providing guidance and strength to the avatar. So if the elf was chosen by two substantially different patrons – meaning they CAN’T somehow emulate both at once – the question is really on the elf as to which they will emulate.
In one campaign I ran, a Valenar player decided that he’d been chosen by a patron who was a legendary archer… but that he WANTED to be chosen by the traditional patron of the men in his family, a famous swordsman. Since this mean he was defying his religious duty, he’d stolen his family’s heirloom scimitar and fled Valenar, and was working at being the best swordsman he could be and ignoring his declared destiny. The player’s CONCEPT was that, over time, he probably WOULD come to terms with his destiny and embrace his future as an avatar of the archer; but in the meantime, he was TRYING to defy tradition and become an avatar of the swordsman in spite of not being chosen by him.
I’ve also already mentioned the Valenar shaman who defined his character as essentially being the caretaker of all the not-quite-legendary legends… the lesser characters who didn’t quite make it to patronhood. This was a 4E game, and every time he used one of his powers he’d explain which ancestor was helping him with it. So technically, he was working with dozens of demi-patrons as opposed to having one primary patron.
If I’m a Tairnadal avatar, and one of the other avatar’s of my patron is killed (especially if it’s in a fashion inappropriate for my patron), might I become aware of it in some fashion?
Sure. We’ve said that Tairnadal don’t communicate with their patrons casually, but there is supposed to be a bond between them. In theory, this is the same sort of connection a vassal believes they have with the Sovereigns; an avatar attributes some of their skill and success to the instinctive guidance of the patron. Essentially, the avatar simply feels what the patron feels; they don’t need to communicate as such. But you could certainly play that up – especially with an avatar that’s especially close to a patron – and say that they do have visions or flashes of divine insight.
If a given Patron were beginning to run low on avatars (for whatever reason), would that Patron become more aggressive in choosing new avatars. Or is there is spiritual queue: “I’m sorry, Poet, but you chose an avatar last month; you’ll just have to sit in the ethereal waiting room until Butcher and Galahad have chosen their next avatars.”
This process is entirely undefined. It could be that there’s a quota… or it could be that there is a reason certain elves are picked, and that an elf truly is only suitable for one particular patron. But in short, it’s a decision you should make as best suits your story.
I have a new player with a half-drow, raised by elves. Her idea was to be raised by racists, in an unhealthy enviroment. Basically, she was taken care of, but still treated as other, because she is half drow. To you, does that fit Valenar elves?
There’s a few ways it could work. It’s important to note that the elves that are in Valenar are literally AN ARMY. Their civilian infrastructure is back on Aerenal. They don’t consider Valenar to be their homeland; they consider it to be a staging ground for military operations. So they are making no effort to incorporate the humans and half-elves in the region into Tairnadal culture, and this is why they are largely letting Lyrandar run the administration of the nation. So first of all, there’s the question of whether she wants to be someone who has lived ADJACENT to the Tairnadal in Valenar – in which case she could absolutely live as an abused outsider scorned for her drow blood – or if she wants to actually be an integrated part of Tairnadal society.
Looking to what that means: There’s a reason we present the Tairnadal as the being pound-for-pound the most dangerous people on the planet. It’s because their lives are intensely structured and devoted to emulating their greatest champions. Tairnadal children undego decades of intense training in the path of their ancestor. If the typical human soldier is a first level warrior and the typical Tairnadal soldier is a fourth level ranger, it’s because that Tairnadal has spent a decades mastering those skills… and, as noted above, because they are further being guided and inspired by their patron ancestor.
So there’s no such thing as being a casual Tairnadal. Either you are a civilian, in which case you live adjacent to the chosen and perform the necessary tasks that keep society running… or you’re chosen by an ancestor and you spend decades in elf Battle School.
So if she was raised on Aerenal, she either was chosen or she wasn’t, and if she wasn’t it’s important to understand that she’s not part of what we think of as “Valenar.” She could still become a hero and such through pluck – but she wouldn’t be part of a warband or trained alongside potential revenants.
Now, if this was in my campaign, I’d say that she IS chosen by a patron ancestor. I’d work with the player to figure out who that ancestor is and think about why she’d be chosen, when as a half-drow she’s clearly a flawed reflection of that ancestor. Others around her would scoff and say that she can’t possibly do justice to the ancestor, and there’s your abusive environment. If it was ME, I’d have the punchline – only discovered far down the road – be that the ANCESTOR was half-drow and this has long been covered up, and that she’s the first warrior in millennia who CAN truly embody that ancestor. Alternately, she can find her own path, as mentioned above.