Eberron Flashback: Good and Evil

This was the first Eberron article I posted on this site, nearly six years ago. I’m juggling a host of deadlines at the moment and don’t have time to write an entirely new article this week, but this seems like an idea that’s worth revisiting.

Eberron takes a different approach to alignment, dropping the idea that draconic alignment is color coded, that orcs are always evil, or that clerics have to match the alignment of their deity. In designing the setting, how did you end up deciding against alignment constraints?

There’s a place for clear-cut struggles between good and evil, and it’s why we have forces like the Emerald Claw in Eberron. However, in my home games I’ve always preferred to challenge the players to think about their actions – to have things be less clear-cut than “We’re good, they’re evil, beating them up is the right thing to do.” From the start, film noir was called out as a major influence of Eberron, and a noir story relies on a certain level of moral ambiguity and shades of gray. It shouldn’t always be easy to decide who the villain is in a scenario… or if killing the villain will solve a problem.

Beyond this, one of the underlying principles of Eberron is that it is a world in which magic has been incorporated into society. Detect evil exists. In 3.5, paladins can use it at will. Stop and think about that for a moment. If evil was a tangible thing that could be positively identified – and if everyone who was identified as evil was unquestionably a monster with no redeeming features, while everyone who’s good is noble and pure – how would evil still exist? Over the course of two thousand years, wouldn’t we turn to paladins  and alignment-detecting magic to help us identify and weed out the bad apples until we had a healthy tree? Consider our own history of witch-hunts, inquisitions, and the like. If we had an absolute yardstick and if we knew the people who failed the test were truly vile, what would happen over the course of centuries?

Removing alignment completely was never an option. It’s a concrete part of the D&D ruleset. So instead, it was about taking an approach to alignment that could work with the noir story and take into account the existence of paladins and other alignment-linked effects – to justify a world in which good and evil people can work and fight side by side, where the existence of the value that can be identified with detect evil is accepted within society.

There’s four elements to this.

Alignment is a spectrum. Round up ten “evil” people and you’ll find that their behavior and histories are radically different. Consider the following.

  • A sociopathic serial killer who will kill or rob anyone that crosses his path without any hesitation or remorse.
  • A soldier who takes pleasure in torturing citizens of enemy nations – even civilians – but who is willing to lay down his life to protect his own people, and abides by the laws of his homeland.
  • An innkeeper who consistently waters down his ale and pads the bill a little whenever he thinks he can get away with it.
  • A repo man who ruthlessly reclaims goods on behalf of his employer, regardless of the circumstances of his victim and how the loss will affect them.

In my campaign, all four of these people will read as “evil” for purposes of detect evil. They all hurt other people on a regular basis and feel no remorse for their actions. Yet the innkeeper would never actually kill anyone. And the repo man is just doing a job and doing it well; he won’t interfere with anyone who hasn’t defaulted on their payments. In my eyes, one of the key elements of alignment is empathy. All four of these people are capable of performing actions that hurt others without remorse because they don’t empathize with their victims. But again, they vary wildly in the threat they pose to society. The serial killer is a dangerous criminal. The innkeeper is a criminal, but not a violent one. The cruel soldier is a danger to his enemies but protects his own people. The repo man has turned his lack of empathy into a productive tool. All of them are evil, but they are on different points of the spectrum.

Another important example of this for Eberron comes with clerics. Eberron allows clerics to have an alignment that is different from that of their divine power source. But it is again important to realize that an evil cleric of a good faith can mean different things. One evil priest of the Silver Flame may be a hypocrite and liar who is secretly allied with the Lords of Dust or abusing the faith of his followers for personal gain. However, another may be deeply devoted to the faith and willing to lay down his life to protect the innocent from supernatural evil – but he is also willing to regularly engage in ruthless and cruel acts to achieve this. The classic inquisitor falls into this mold. He truly is trying to do what’s best, and in a world where demonic possession is real his harsh methods may be your only hope. But he will torture you for your own good, and feel no sympathy for your pain. This makes him “evil” – yet compared to the first priest, he is truly devout and serving the interests of the church.

Alignment versus Motivation. Alignment reflects the way the character interacts with the world. Empathy is an important factor, along with the degree to which the character is willing to personally engage in immoral actions. But what it doesn’t take into account is the big picture. Let’s take two soldiers. Both joined the Brelish army of their own free will. The “evil” soldier hates the Thranes, and given the chance he will torture and loot. He wears a belt of Thranish ears. Yet he loves his country and will sacrifice his own life to defend it. He’s “evil” because he is willing to carry out those atrocities; but he’d never do such a thing to a Brelish citizen. On the other hand, the “good” soldier will kill Thranes on the battlefield, but will not condone the mistreatment of prisoners or civilians. He hates the war but feels sympathy for the civilians on both sides; he further recognizes that the enemies he fights are just protecting their people, and treats them with respect. Both soldiers have the exact same goal and will fight side by side on the battlefield; alignment simply provides insight into how they may act.

Expanding on this: one of the rulers of the Five Nations is a good-aligned monarch who seeks to restart the Last War. Another is an evil leader who seeks peace. Restarting the war will result in the deaths of tens of thousands of people – how can a “good” monarch support that? Again, in Eberron alignment doesn’t represent someone’s actions on a global scale: it reflects the manner in which they pursue those goals. The good ruler believes that a just war is possible and that a united Khorvaire will prosper under her rule. She won’t condone torture, the mistreatment of civilians, and so on. She will treat her prisoners and emissaries fairly. Of course, her ministers and generals may engage in evil behavior in the name of the war; she will be horrified when she hears of it. Meanwhile, the evil king pursuing peace has a noble goal, but will do absolutely anything to achieve it. Torture? Oppressive martial law? Assassination? Anything. He’d kill members of his own family if he had to. So in both cases, the personal alignment tells you how they conduct their personal affairs, but nothing about the big picture.

People know these things. If a paladin walks into a tavern and scans ten people, he may find that three of them are evil. This doesn’t require any immediate action on his part, and while disappointing it isn’t a surprise. In The Empire Strikes Back, Yoda looks at Luke and says “There is much anger in him.” Luke hadn’t done anything bad; but what Yoda could sense was his potential to do evil. That’s what the paladin gets from detect evil. He doesn’t know where you lie on the spectrum. He doesn’t know your motivations. He knows that you lack empathy for others and may be selfish or narcissistic; that you are capable of hurting others without remorse; but he doesn’t know if you have or ever will. This is a key point with the Church of the Silver Flame. They are devoted to fighting supernatural evil: demons, undead, lycanthropy, etc. These are the things to fight with sword and spell. HUMAN evil is something that should be fought with compassion, charity, and guidance. Per Flame creed, you defeat mortal evil by guiding people to the light, not by killing them.

So – once you accept this version of alignment, you can find many jobs in society that are actually better suited to evil people. A repo man who has too much sympathy or empathy for his targets is going to have a difficult time doing his job. A tax collector may be the same way. An evil politican who’s willing to play the game of corruption in order to get things done may actually be the best hope of a city – providing that his motivation is towards the greater good. Knowing someone’s alignment is a piece of a puzzle – but it doesn’t tell you everything and it doesn’t end the story.

One side note: you may look at some of these things and say “I’d probably just make the repo man neutral/unaligned.” And that’s a reasonable approach. With Eberron, I specifically narrowed the spectrum of “neutral” while broadening the spectrum of “evil,” because again, the less concrete evil is the easier it is for it to be incorporated into society. If evil people can contribute to society in a positive way, then knowing someone is evil doesn’t lock in a story… while if only villains are evil, it automatically becomes a villain detector.

A secondary element to all this is fact that in Eberron many creatures that are traditionally bound to a specific alignment aren’t. By and large, creatures with human intelligence are as capable of choosing their own path as humans are. You can have good medusas and evil gold dragons. However, there are exceptions to this rule, and the most notable of these are celestials, fiends, and other spiritual entities. These beings are in essence physical embodiments of ideas. A fiend is evil personified… and as a result, it is both always evil and a much purer evil than you tend to see in mortal creatures; on a scale of one to ten, it goes to eleven. It is possible for the angel to fall or the demon to rise (as shown by the Quori bound to the kalashtar), but in these cases the spirit will typically physically transform to reflect this change. An angel that falls from Syrania will become a fiend or a radiant idol, for example. So when you meet a devil, you can generally be pretty sure it’s lawful evil, because that’s what it means to BE a devil.

It’s 2018. How does this apply to Fifth Edition? 

Fifth Edition is closer to Eberron in a number of ways. The description of clerics places no concrete limit on alignment, and also calls out that clerics are rare and that most priests aren’t clerics — a radical idea when Eberron first presented it. The entry on paladins specifically calls out the idea of a paladin whose alignment is at odds with their oath:

Consider how your alignment colors the way you pursue your holy quest and the manner in which you conduct yourself before gods and mortals. Your oath and alignment might be in harmony, or your oath might represent standards of behavior that you have not yet attained.

Likewise, the detect good & evil spell and the divine sense of the paladin doesn’t actually detect ALIGNMENT; it detects aberrations, celestials, elementals, fey, fiends, and undead. Essentially, it’s the perfect tool for the Silver Flame: it tracks supernatural threats, not mortal behavior. This actually addresses many of the issues called out above, because there is no simple way to alignment-check someone. It also calls out that “Few people are perfectly and consistently faithful to the precepts of their alignment.” And it concretely calls out one of the core principles of Eberron regarding immortals:

Alignment is an essential part of the nature of celestials and fiends. A devil does not choose to be lawful evil, and it doesn’t tend toward lawful evil, but rather it is lawful evil in its essence. If it somehow ceased to be lawful evil, it would cease to be a devil.

Where the two part ways is that core 5E is more comfortable enforcing alignment on mortal creatures. Eberron has always had the principle that immortals have fixed alignment and that creatures such as undead and lycanthropes have alignment set by a supernatural force, but that natural creatures are able to choose their own path. 5E asserts that humans and demi-humans have this choice, but that OTHER races are shaped by gods and lack choice: Most orcs share the violent, savage nature of the orc god, Gruumsh, and are thus inclined toward evil. Even if an orc chooses a good alignment, it struggles against its innate tendencies for its entire life.

You can see my thoughts on orcs in Eberron here. I like calling out that orcs are not human and have a different sort of mindset — having a nature driven to strong passions and emotions — but not one that is inherently driven to evil. To me, this comes back to the story you want to tell. As I’ve said before: in Eberron, the Order of the Emerald Claw exists as the bad guys you know are bad — the force you KNOW you can feel good about fighting. This is what 5E is trying to do here with orcs and evil dragons. I just prefer that when you meet an orc in Eberron, you don’t know if she’s a cruel cultist of the Dragon Below or a noble Gatekeeper Druid.

Anyhow, that’s all for now. Feel free to share your thoughts and questions about alignment in Eberron below! And thanks as always to my Patreon supporters, who keep this blog going!

Q&A

How could a good follower of the Mockery or the Keeper be in Eberron? How could a good adventurer justify following the precepts of the Dark Six?

I have a half-written article about the Dark Six and their role in the setting, and that will delve into this subject in depth. It’s very difficult to have a good-aligned character dedicated specifically to the Mockery, because the Mockery embodies the cruelest aspects of war: deception, terror, dishonorable combat. The Mockery is about victory by any means necessary. But this comes to the conflict between personal alignment and long-term motivation. Someone dedicated to the Mockery should be evil… but they could be fighting for a just cause. When swords are drawn they will behave dishonorably, because they believe the idea of honor in war is stupid. But they may be fighting for the greater good. I’ll call out that one group that includes the worship of the Mockery is a sect called the Three Faces of War, which embraces Dol Arrah, Dol Dorn, and Dol Azur (the Mockery) as the three forces that govern the battlefield, encouraging followers to understand them all.

So essentially: the Dark Six embody frightening and dangerous behaviors: pursuing dark magic, dishonorable conduct on the battlefield, the destructive power of nature, wild emotion and passion, change and chaos, death. But someone can embrace one of these concepts as a positive tool for their community. I’ll get into this more deeply when I write the full article, but I can see heroes and villains tied to any of these concepts.

Why the Blood of Vol is an evil religion in 3.5? In my opinion, it doesn’t have anything inherently evil in its precepts… it´s about protection of the community and unlocking your true potential. That seems pretty neutral to me. In fact, in 4th edition the cult was categorized as unaligned…

In 3.5, every faith has a divine power source. The alignment of the divine power source, among other things, determines whether a cleric turns undead or rebukes them. The Blood of Vol has a friendly relationship with the undead and thus channels negative energy., hence the power source is “evil.” The evil alignment was also a holdover to the idea that “people who associate with undead must be evil.” This reflects the general view of the people of Khorvaire: because the Blood of Vol associates with undead and many of its followers hate the Sovereigns, they must be evil. Ever since the original ECS — in the Sharn sourcebook, Faiths of Eberron, 4E — the Blood of Vol has been presented in a more positive light, clarifying that despite channeling negative energy, the faith itself isn’t inherently evil. I’ve written about this at length in this article.

If Eberron assumes that there may be persons that fail to live up to the ideals of a group or ideology (e.g. as happens with the Silver Flame) or dark sides to good persons/groups and vice versa, what are the dark sides (if any) of the Kalashtar and the gray parts of the inspired. I have the feeling that they are portrayed as archetypes of good and evil aspects, respectively. Am I wrong?

You are in fact wrong. But it’s complicated.

The Inspired are mortal vessels directly possessed by Quori. As a result, you know that the Inspired are evil. However, as noted above, that’s personal alignment – which doesn’t tell you anything about their long-term motivation or the impact of their actions. The Dreaming Dark is an agency that is carrying out an evil agenda, and Inspired agents of the Dreaming Dark are reliably evil. But the majority of the Inspired are ambassadors and administrators maintaining an empire. A typical Inspired overseer feels no empathy for his human subjects and would feel no remorse if he had to slaughter them; but most of the time he DOESN’T have to slaughter them, and furthermore he knows that the best way to help his people accomplish their goals is to keep his subjects content. Subtlety and charisma are the greatest weapons of the Quori; they are masters of propaganda and manipulation, of tricking you into thinking you want to do what they want you to do. Which means that while they may BE evil, most Inspired appear to be benevolent rulers. They provide for the needs of their people. They will not tolerate crime or disobedience, and they will act ruthlessly and swiftly to enforce this. Nonetheless, those Riedrans who are content to follow the path assigned to them needn’t worry about food, shelter, or security. The Inspired see to their needs and protect them.

What this ultimately comes down to is that the Inspired have done a good thing: they have created a stable society whose people by and large need not worry about crime, war, disease, hunger, or even bad dreams. However, they have accomplished this by doing an evil thing – stripping people of freedom and choice. The typical Riedran doesn’t want to BE free of the Inspired… because they’ve created a society where he doesn’t have that choice. On the other hand, a Riedran farmer is likely to live a far more comfortable, stable, and secure life than his counterpart in Breland or Karrnath. So… are the Inspired purely evil? If you destroy them, you’ll throw Riedra into chaos and civil war, unleash famine and plague… is that a good act?

Now let’s look at the kalashtar. The race was created when rebellious Quori of good and neutral alignment fused with human hosts. However, that was well over a thousand years ago. Unlike the Inspired, the kalashtar aren’t directly possessed by their Quori spirits; they are merely influenced by them, and that influence comes through instinct and dream. An Inspired will always match the alignment of its Quori spirit, because it literally IS the Quori spirit. Kalashtar, on the other hand, aren’t required to match the alignment of their Quori. If the alignment of the kalashtar is radically different from that of its bound Quori spirit, it will create emotional dissonance that will result in mental instability or outright madness… but that can still make for a very dangerous villain. This is especially relevant for orphan kalashtar who know little or nothing of the history or origins of their people; the Quori voice is part of what will shape their character, but it’s not alone. This is discussed in more detail in Races of Eberron.

So first of all, you can have literally evil kalashtar. Beyond this: Just as the Church of the Silver Flame and the Blood of Vol have groups of extremists whose actions soil the fundamental principles of their faiths, there are extremists among the kalashtar as well. Overall, the Adaran kalashtar live by principles of patience and perseverance, confident that through their actions they are pushing the cycle closer to the turn of the age and destruction of the Dreaming Dark. Overall, they have avoided acts of aggression against Riedra, not wanting to harm innocents in their struggle with the Dreaming Dark. But there are exceptions. There are atavists who believe that they must take the offensive against il-Lashtavar – even if that means killing or torturing the innocent pawns trapped in the web. They will and should stand out because this behavior is so unlike the kalashtar norm, and it may create mental dissonance. But it’s still there. Beyond this, there are kalashtar who actually envy the immortal Inspired, and want to actually become like the Quori themselves. So in the end you can find darkness among kalashtar – even among the followers of the Path of Light – and there are Inspired whose lives are devoted to ensuring the comfort and survival of civilians.

You speak of good and evil immortals as metaphysical good and evil. But do you see a space for metaphysical neutrality? I think that something like that could be the Inevitables, but they could as well being bad if you depict evil as lack of empathy.

Lack of empathy is described as ONE of the factors for setting alignment; it’s not supposed to be the absolute measure. The article begins by noting that there is a place in Eberron for moral absolutes — the idea that you always know you’re doing the right thing by opposing the Emerald Claw — and this is the role of immortals. They aren’t about shades of grey; they are incarnate symbols of extreme ideas. An evil immortal isn’t just slightly evil — the evil of performing a minor cruel act without empathy — they are dramatically evil.

And bear in mind that even a lawful neutral mortal can assert that the requirements of the law are more important that sympathy for another human; but that’s not JUST driven by a complete lack of feeling for others, it’s that there is another principle that is more important. This is where neutral immortals live: there is a guiding principle that drives them, and this outweighs any consideration of good or evil.

So yes, neutral immortals exist. Especially in Daanvi, Dolurrh and Syrania.

In Shavarath there is a perpetual war between good and evil, law and chaos. But how in this eternal war that nobody can win there is space for angels for being good, for devil for being evil? I even think that they know that no action can end the world and no opponent can be killed.

This is really a question that needs to be answered by an entire post an about Shavarath. But I’ll touch on it at a high level. First of all, the forces that fight the eternal war don’t expect to ever WIN. They believe that outcome of their war — the balance at any given moment between good and evil, law and chaos — is reflected across ALL REALITY. ANY victory or loss — seizing a keep, moving a battle line forward ten feet — will in some way be reflected across all of the planes. So for the archon EVERY victory matters, and the most important thing is to never falter and never let evil gain ground.

Beyond this, what’s been said before is that 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. There’s two things to bear in mind. First, for these immortals acting in a good or evil manner isn’t a choice; it is the only way they know how to act. Again, they are SYMBOLS as much as anything else. But how does this manifest? That brings us to the second point. There are civilians in Shavarath. An archon reflects war fought for just cause, protecting innocents. A demon embodies brutality and cruelty. As a result, there are innocent, noncombatant spirits in Shavarath — because there HAVE to be so that the archons can protect them, the demons can torment them, the devils can enslave them. This goes back to my post about Thelanis: you have the Archfey and greater fey who embody stories, but you also have the lesser beings who act as the set dressing. These beings may be immortal in the sense that if one dies, a new one will eventually appear to take its place… but it won’t be the same spirit. Memory and experience will be lost. The same is true of lesser archons, devils, etc. The mightiest spirits will return with their personality intact, but for lesser immortals, death IS death of your identity; it’s just that you know a new spirit will rise to take your place. So the archon who places itself at risk to save an innocent IS making a noble sacrifice, even if a new archon will always emerge to take its place should it fall.

Beyond that, this is definitely a discussion for an article about Shavarath, so I’m not going to go into further detail on this.

To what extent are quori evil? In some ways the dreaming dark behave as more as LN than LE. They don’t indulge into cruelty, they are just terribly cold, desperate and efficient.

There’s a number of factors here. The first is that the fact that the Quori don’t engage in needless cruelty in Riedra isn’t an act of kindness; it is a calculated form on psychological manipulation, which the Quori excel at. They need a docile population. Rather than enforce their rule with force and terror—things that breed defiance and resistance—they have manipulated their victims into embracing their conquerors. And as others have noted, they did this by inflaming wars, manipulating fears, and utterly destroying a number of cultures. What they’ve done is a trick. They’ve created a cage and convinced their victims that they WANT to be inside it. It’s not kind; it’s just that a prison with golden bars is more effective than one made of barbed wire.

We then come back to one of the main points of this article: That personal alignment may be at odds with the actions a character takesAn evil person can do a good thing. The Quori have created a peaceful society because it serves their purposes; that doesn’t make them good. The Quori are sculptors of nightmare who feed on negative emotions. Tsucora quori feed on mortal fear. Here’s a quote from the 3.5 ECS: When they are not serving in the great cities of their nightmare realm, (tsucora Quori) hunt the dreaming spirits of mortals. Most tsucora are cruel and calculating; they enjoy having power over others. So first of all: the Quori love manipulation and control, and that’s something that comes out in Riedra, even if that manipulation appears to be peaceful. Second, a quori doesn’t HAVE to indulge its appetite for cruelty in the waking world, because any time it goes back to Riedra, it can take a break and torment a few mortal dreamers.

So the quori are definitely embodiments of evil. They love manipulating and tormenting mortals. It’s simply that their long-term goals—ensuring their continued survival—take precedence over indulging their inherent cruelty.

37 thoughts on “Eberron Flashback: Good and Evil

  1. I have a few questions:

    How would a good follower of the Mockery or the Keeper be in Eberron? How a good adventurer can justify following the precepts of the Dark Six?

    Also, why the Blood of Vol is an evil religion in 3.5? In my opinion, it doesnt have anything inherently evil in its precepts… it´s abour protection of the community and unlocking your true potential. That seems pretty neutral to me. In fact, in 4th edition the cult was categorized as unaligned…

    • @billy I have a grave cleric (admittedly neutral turned evil after dark gifts in strahd) who revers the six. In a lot of ways, she does more good than even the LG paladin in her quest to return the six to having their rightful due in ravenloft.
      The six aren’t worshipped/revered/respected as a group rather than like individual gods in faerun are…. come to a town where everyone is kinda dead inside, without hope, etc… these poor people need to feel the blessings of the fury to counter this foul curse…. big bad gonna turn your bud into a red smear?… Mockery guide $bud’s blades to where they will be felt most, Shadow, aid my bud by obscuring his movements & intentions in combat from the big bad. Devourerer, $bud serves your hunger today(cure wounds), we mark this foe for your hunger. Keeper, this one has sent many souls to your vaults & must be returned so we may continue to restore what is due to the six in this land. Traveler guide our path through this land. Once you focus on the six as a whole rather than individual members of the six, it’s easy to pick whichever of the six needs to be involved to improve a situation.

      • Once you focus on the six as a whole rather than individual members of the six, it’s easy to pick whichever of the six needs to be involved to improve a situation.

        This is a good point: most people worship a grouping of Sovereigns and Six as opposed to a single deity, because both Sovereigns and Six cover a wide range. I think a singular focus is more common with paladins than with clerics. When we describe Tira Miron as “a paladin of Dol Arrah” it can be assumed that she paid homage to all of the Sovereigns — but that she considered it her personal responsibility to act as Dol Arrah’s hand in matters falling under her sphere. But even with this sort of focus, you see groups like the Three Faces of War, or the Restful Watch — a sect dedicated to Aureon and the Keeper who perform funerary services, maintain cemeteries, and deal with restless dead.

    • I wrote this in response to a similar question on a different post:

      The most immediate point here is that very few people consider their gods to be evil. The people of Droaam view the Shadow as a sort of Prometheus… where jealous Aureon withheld his gifts from humanity, the Shadow gave the medusa her gaze and the harpy her voice. The Fury is a source of rage in battle and passion in life; she is the well of emotion within us all, and it is only denying her that causes madness. And while Vassals see the Mockery as espousing treachery, the folk of Droaam say that he teaches cunning – and that anyone who refuses to use cunning in battle is a fool. The Sahuagin don’t offer their worship to the Devourer simply to avoid his wrath; rather they believe that it is his wrath that tests all things, destroying the weak and strengthening those who survive it.

      So you can have a heroic medusa who defends the weak and kills those who prey on the innocent… and who still slaughters her enemies using the cunning tactics espoused by the Mockery, embraces the passion of the Fury, and give thanks to the Shadow for her deadly gaze.

  2. Keith – Could you comment on how the non-human races of Eberron may have principles that don’t fit the human good-evil paradigm? You’ve previously discussed the Dhakaani goblinoid principles of “muut” and “atcha”. Do other non-human races have similar principles that dont’ cleanly map to the alignment grid?

  3. ‘A devil does not choose to be lawful evil, and it doesn’t tend toward lawful evil, but rather it is lawful evil in its essence. If it somehow ceased to be lawful evil, it would cease to be a devil.’ On this how would see the Sanctify the Wicked spell from Book of Exalted Deeds working in Eberron ?. I had an idea for a char aligned with the Silver Flame who would use the spell on devils & demons as he follows the ideal of ‘the best way to defeat evil is to turn it to your cause’.

    • If the spell just changes the alignment of outsiders, it’s not a great match for the setting as presented in canon. The whole point of the Overlords and their minions is that there is no permanent solution; there’s no absolute victory. You can bind them and hold them at bay, but there’s always the risk of them escaping. The dragons and fiends have been fighting their cold war for tens of thousands of years, and the dragons have access to epic-level magic; if there’s a spell that could turn the demons into allies, why are their any evil demons left by this point?

      With that said, following the principle of “There’s a place for anything”, if I had a player who was absolutely set on this idea, I would say that this is a completely unique thing – that no one has ever seen this power before, and it’s tied to the Prophecy. Personally, I’d also make the effect temporary and say that the caster doesn’t know how long it will last – that it depends on the power of the spirit, the conjunction of the planes – so it’s a dangerous thing.

  4. I find 5e having brought back the idea of divinely mandated unequal distribution of free will to be a cringeworthy backslide into racism which, while clearly where D&D started, is something that really shouldn’t be given any sort of explicit endorsement anymore. While Eberron isn’t ENTIRELY lacking in racist undertones — notably, I personally find how orcs and goblinoids are described to be more fundamentally limiting of their full range of sapience than how elves and dwarves are described, even if they are granted free rein in terms of alignment — it doesn’t come anywhere near the 5e alignment chapter’s blanket justification of genocidal treatment of “evil” races.

      • I agree, though I would say that elves do have a bit of inborn inclinations.

        The point to me is that it’s a logical consequence of inhuman biology. We have a balance between fluid intelligence — the ability to solve new problems and adapt to new situations — and crystalized intelligence, the ability to use our learned knowledge and experience. As we grow older, our brains shift towards crystalized intelligence. That’s why a two year old can figure out how to use an iPhone while your grandfather can’t; it’s not that your grandfather is stupid, it’s a difference in brain chemistry. Meanwhile, your grandfather is better able to apply logic and experience than the two-year-old. So my point with elves is that while they can live to be a thousand, that shift toward crystalized intelligence happens just as quickly as it does for humans. So by the time an elf is considered “an adult”, they are relying on crystalized intelligence over fluid intelligence; they are a nation of grand-dads, and they’d rather keep using the VCR than figure out your new-fangled “streaming.” But along the way they have absolutely perfected the VCR.

        This is likewise the point of goblins. Eusociality is an interesting biological trait that exists in our world, from insects to naked mole rats. We’ve never encountered a sentient eusocial species. But it fits with the established physiology of the goblin subraces and is an opportunity to explore a sentient race that IS very different from humanity.

        As I said, I don’t see considering ways in which alien species might BE alien based on different physiology and evolutionary factors to be “racist” — to me, it’s an interesting way to think about what it means to be human, about the traits that unite us all, and about how a different species might experience the universe in a different way than we do.

        • Excellent stuff, as usual.

          I agree that these depictions of elves and goblins aren’t racist. Importantly, they don’t draw on real world stereotypes and apply them to an inhuman race of beings, like the classic Orc does.

          One way that I’ve been trying to make this more clear in my own game (and my dnd campaigns) is to also talk about some inclinations that humans have that other races don’t, o that they experience differently, and I think Eberron helped influence me in that direction.

    • I find 5e having brought back the idea of divinely mandated unequal distribution of free will to be a cringeworthy backslide…

      Yeah, I was surprised by that as well.

      I personally find how orcs and goblinoids are described to be more fundamentally limiting of their full range of sapience than how elves and dwarves are described, even if they are granted free rein in terms of alignment

      For me, the problem here is halflings and dwarves, not goblins and orcs. Eberron takes the approach that a mundane sentient creature can find its own path. It can embrace any alignment, choose any class, do any thing. But to me, the idea of saying all sentient creatures are exactly the same is an extremely boring way to look at the universe. In science fiction, I hate it when an alien species turns out to be exactly like humans except for the funny bumps on their forehead. Because we’re not talking about races; we’re talking about species. These are beings who are fundamentally and biologically different from humanity. To me, it’s more interesting to think about the impact those differences might have on psychology and culture than to simply assume that all species will be just like us. Let’s take a trivially simple example: Darkvision. If a race has darkvision, how is that reflected in their architecture? Are they diurnal, or are they naturally nocturnal… or in the case of a race with a largely subterranean culture, is the whole day-night cycle a fundamentally (and physiologically) alien concept to them? Do they have the subconscious fear of the dark that humans have, or does darkvision mean that they don’t really understand that fear, because it’s NEVER fully dark for them?

      Looking to elves, this is where I call out the impact of their long lifespans. Humans have a balance between fluid intelligence and crystalized intelligence. With elves, I say that biologically this transition occurs at the same rate as it does for humans. This in turn is why elves are so bound by tradition in Eberron. They can live far, far longer than humanity… but biologically, they are less innovative than humanity because they are a culture fundamentally driven by crystalized intelligence. That’s not somehow a weakness or an insult; it just means that they focus on perfecting existing traditions instead of developing new ones. The Tairnadal are the finest warriors in Khorvaire… but they aren’t innovative in the same way as humans, and that’s due to a logical biological factor. Likewise, with goblins we have the basic situation of a dimorphic species whose diverse subspecies worked together to create a vast and long-lasting empire. To me, this suggests a eusocial species… which is something I find fascinating. Rather than just say “goblins are exactly like humans except with orange skin”, I’d rather explore what a sentient eusocial culture would look like… and in playing a Dhakaani goblin, to think about how I relate to that, whether it’s something I embrace or rebel against.

      But again: as an individual elf or goblin, you can ignore all of this. You can do or be whatever you want. You can be the most creative elf in the world or the most independent lone wolf hobgoblin. And saying that elves tend to be driven by tradition or that goblins like hierarchies is very different from saying “ALL ORCS ARE BIOLOGICALLY EVIL.” But for me personally, it’s more interesting to consider the ways in which aliens might BE alien than to say that elves are just humans with pointy ears. I’d rather explore the things that make halflings and dwarves different from humans than make every other species just like humans.

      • Further thoughts: In fantasy, elves are often depicted as an inherently superior race — which is why I like looking at how things like their long lifespans could actually have negative consequences as well as the obvious positive ones. When I suggest that goblins have a harder time pursuing divine classes than humans do, that’s not supposed to be some sort of critical flaw; rather, it’s a flip side of the idea that they are inherently more disciplined than humans are, that they experience the world in a more pragmatic and practical way… which in turn enabled them to created a civilization that flourished far longer than any modern human civilization has. And none of this prevents you from making a goblin cleric. It’s just encouragement to think about how being a goblin cleric is different from being a human cleric; about the choices that led you down the path, about what it’s like trying to explain your faith to your family, about whether you see your faith and the world in a different way from the dwarf cleric of the same religion. I don’t see the goblin as limited, because they CAN do anything; rather I just want to explore and celebrate the ways in which a goblin might be different from a human.

        All of which is very different from saying “This species was created by an evil god to do evil things and the world would be a better place if orcs weren’t in it.”

        An interesting side note to this topic are the warforged… who were created by HUMANS to serve as weapons of war. With that said, the point of the warforged is that while they were made as tools of war, they aren’t locked into that path and can find their own identity. But again, when I play a warforged, I DON’T want to play it as if I’m just a human in armor. I try to think about the ways in which I experience the world in a different manner from humanity and the impact that has. Again, for me, the opportunity to look at the world through alien eyes is an interesting way to reflect on what it means to be human and the things that we all have in common.

  5. How comes that Cults of Dragon Below all draw from the same energy? Is pretty different to adore an Overlord, a Daelkyr, or a single Beholder. And I remember a topic where you suggested the idea of a cult of the Dragon Below who kills possessed humans (letting open the question if they are really fighting the dreaming dark or are just crazy). What I mean is: if a crazy cleric follow a Daelkyr thinking that he is an Aureon, shouldn’t he be a cleric of Aureon?

    My final question is even an answer to a precedent user: if you want to have a good cleric of the Mockery, you could switch to a good favoured soul. He knows his powers are evil, but he is good. May I ask you how would you master it to keep the feeling that MAYBE he shouldn’t use that powers? And how would you build the character to justify his belief of being chosen by a god that he despice?

    • How comes that Cults of Dragon Below all draw from the same energy?

      “Cult of the Dragon Below” is a general term that covers many functions. In the example of your crazy priest of Aureon, it would be up to you as DM to decide whether this individual is primarily a priest of Aureon who’s gone mad — in which case they should use the domains of the Sovereign Host — or whether they are a crazy person who TALKS about Aureon but whose beliefs and rituals have nothing in common with the traditional worship of the host, in which case they should use the Dragon Below domains. If I wanted to have a Cult of the Dragon Below in the Church of the Silver Flame, I could definitely choose to have clerics and paladins still drawing on the power of the Silver Flame, as long as their madness hasn’t twisted their fundamental approach. A paladin who fervently believes that he’s protecting the innocent from supernatural harm even though he’s deluded and actually attacking innocents could theoretically still draw on the Flame. A paladin who believes that he must kill innocents to earn his passage to the vale of the Inner Sun has turned away from the core principles of the Silver Flame and I’d have his divine powers reflect the Dragon Below domains, whether or not HE consciously understands that.

      The Dragon Below domain largely reflects the idea of instinctively drawing power from Khyber or Xoriat; it’s a reflection of someone who touches that power because of MADNESS, and THAT is the unifying factor. Whether you worship an Overlord, a Daelkyr or a single beholder is irrelevant, because that creature isn’t the source of your power; rather it’s that your madness has let you touch a force of power. This is also one reason you often find wilders in the CotDB; their madness and passion can be translated into psionic power, even if they don’t really understand how or what they are doing.

  6. Thank you Keith, smart and very clarifying answer as always. Please save tho mockery question for future Q&A sessions 🙂

  7. Hi everybody,

    I’m french, so english is not my native language. I beg your pardon for the mistakes I could make.
    I’ve run adventures in Eberron for a while, and I find this universe a great one, even if I had made some modifications to suit my own mind…
    I play with D&D 3.5, mixed with Green Ronin “Thieves’ World” and a bit of Pathfinder, and I don’t see canon as “divine law”.

    I’ve fallen onto this blog only recently, and I must admit it’s a well of good ideas. Thank you all.

    As for this article, it seems there is three main points: alignment in itself, the races and their ways of thinking, and the alignment in religion (or in their practitioners).

    1- Alignment
    Great thing! Which comes with a lot of readings, which in turn create a lot of misunderstandings… and a lot of problems!

    Keith said: “one of the key elements of alignment is empathy” and I agree.

    But when you say: “These beings (evil outsiders) are in essence physical embodiments of ideas. A fiend is evil personified (…)”, I feel compeled to say that a evil-fiend becoming a good-fiend is becoming dead! But there are (stories of) good-fiends…? How can this be? As for the “embodiment of (un)empathy”, I can’t see… (Yes I can, but I won’t admit it.)

    So I added a second grid of alignment (this is non canon at all!)
    The first one is about empathy: good is empathic (altruistic), evil is not (selfish); lawful is reason over passion, chaos is passion over reason… you get the point.
    The second one is about commitment: good is Purity (“good” outsiders, monks and godsworn*; clerics following deities; etc.), and evil is Taint (“evil” outsiders, cultists making a pact with a demon; etc.)
    As it is, I have no qualm with an empathic demon, or a selfish angel, for example.

    Commitment in “law” is Honor; commitment in “chaos” is Dishonor. The spells (and descriptors) about “empathy” are modified into spells about “commitment”, and if a paladin can “detect taint” at will, this will help him in finding possessed innocents (for example) but won’t help him rooting the traitor in his church… or helping a possessed innocent!

    More than that, Purity/Taint and Honor/Dishonor have scores of their own and have in-game effects.

    2- The races and their ways of thinking
    Thank you Keith… I was used to consider elves as “just humans with pointy ears”!
    I will take your point of view in play…

    3- The alignment in religion
    “good”-aligned religion lead by example: that is Purity-driven!
    “evil”-aligned religion lead by exchange of favors: services, blood or soul! That is Taint-driven.

    Oh… I think deities are Pure (even the Mockery), and demons, overlords, etc. are Tainted. But what about heretical cults?
    Here are the precepts I use for the mockery (all cults, whatever their domains) for the lowest positive Purity score (every point gets harder with higher Purity scores):
    – You will not let an enemy live if killing him has few risks and many benefits.
    – You will carry my symbol engraved in the flesh.
    – You will not help a disciple of Dol Arrah.
    – You will lie if there is few risks and many benefits.
    – You will use poison if there is few risks and many benefits.

    I will welcome every advice or correction… and please, tell me if I say something unpleasant or annoying 😉

    *: Green Ronin “Thieves’ World”

  8. 1) I was checking on my 3.5 Eberron CS and I am surprised to read that the description of Blood of Vol religion is very clear into making a bad religion out of it. I have it in Italian but it says “blood of vol attracts follower charmed by death and undeads” “they worship a powerful lich called vol” “the believe that undeads are the key to immortality” “clerics tent to be lawful evil and their domains are law, evil, death and necromancer”. Not a single word on community or divinity within. I wonder: is Italian translation such different from English one, or when exactly you started changing mind and making blood of vol more a “shades of grey” thing? Or did you have a different approach since the beginning, but was cut in the first manual?
    2) Also, it says that “seekers have a fetish for blood in both literal and metaphoric sense: they often try to manipulate inheritated genes through experiments for their aberrant goals”. That is an aspect of bov that has never been implemented as far as I know: if you look for genetic manipulation there are Daelkyr, moradin and house vadalis. Do you have any thought on that?
    3) googling on bov I found some brief info on two sects: keeper of Blood and hornblade clan. Do you know where I can find more about them? Did you write any post on theese heretic sects?

    • I wonder: is Italian translation such different from English one, or when exactly you started changing mind and making blood of vol more a “shades of grey” thing? Or did you have a different approach since the beginning, but was cut in the first manual?

      Both: I had a different approach from the beginning that wasn’t well represented in the original ECS, and that idea continued to evolve over time. You see a more nuanced depiction of the Blood of Vol in the Sharn sourcebook, which was the first sourcebook I worked on following the release of the ECS; it’s depicted with more depth in Faiths of Eberron and any other book I worked on; and of course, in 4E it’s called out as a potentially unaligned religion. In my option the ECS description represents the negative opinions many outsiders have of the faith… but it’s really more about the Order of the Emerald Claw than the traditional seekers.

      As for question #2, the original translation is: They are captivated by the figurative and literal meaning of blood and by heredity, seeking to manipulate bloodlines to accomplish some fiendish purpose. This is never something I’ve explored, but it’s perfectly valid. However, I’d not that your translation uses the word “aberrant” and the original doesn’t. I don’t see this as being anything like the work of Mordain or the Daelkyr; I see it as being more straightforward eugenics. There’s a divine spark in blood; can we find a way to breed a line that has greater access to that power?

      On question three: The Hornblade Clan was created by C. A. Suleiman in Faiths of Eberron; I don’t think it’s been used or expanded on by anyone else. I myself was unaware of it until you asked about it. The same is true of the Keepers of Blood — they were added in Faiths of Eberron, and I don’t think any additional information exists.

  9. Thank you Keith! Whenever you have time, I think your take on theese two heretic sects would be interesting. Have a nice day!

  10. Sorry Keith I come with 3 more question about good and evil 🙂
    1) you speak of good and evil immortals as metaphysical good and evil. But do you see a space for metaphysical neutrality? A special place for neutral immortals with pure goal of balance like neutral gods in Dragonlance? I think that something like that could be the Inevitables, but they could as well being bad if you depict evil as lack of empathy.
    2) in Shavarath there is a perpetual war between good and evil, law and chaos. But how in this eternal war that nobody can win there is space for angels for being good, for devil for being evil? I even think that they know that no action can end the world and no opponent can be killed.
    3) maybe I already asked you something about Luka Syara. In Sharn she is scheduled as an Angel of Shavarath turned neutral. (And, btw, she left war and became a writer). Shouldn’t she change her nature in some way? Not being an Angel anymore, since she is not metaphysical good?

    • But do you see a space for metaphysical neutrality?

      Certainly. Formians, inevitables, modrons are examples, and these have been called out as existing in Dolurrh and Daanvi. While we’ve mainly spoken of Syrania as a plane of angels, I see many of its spirits as primarily neutral.

      But how in this eternal war that nobody can win there is space for angels for being good, for devil for being evil? I even think that they know that no action can end the world and no opponent can be killed.

      This really requires a full post about Shavarath. The short form is that the warriors in Shavarath don’t expect to ever WIN the war. It is the ETERNAL Battleground. But they believe that the actions of the war are reflected across all places. ANY victory — seizing a keep, even just advancing a battle-line by ten feet — changes the balance between good and evil and will be reflected across reality. They know that slain opponents will eventually return — but the act of defeating them still matters. It terms of opportunities to “do good and evil”, let’s take a look at a previous post. 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. So their ideas are reflected in form and action. Whatever an archon does, it carries itself in a manner that reflects the noblest impulses and reasons for war.

      maybe I already asked you something about Luka Syara. In Sharn she is scheduled as an Angel of Shavarath turned neutral. (And, btw, she left war and became a writer). Shouldn’t she change her nature in some way? Not being an Angel anymore, since she is not metaphysical good?

      Luca Syara isn’t an angel of Shavarath, embodying a concept of war; she’s a ghaele eladrin of Thelanis, shaped by a story. In a previous post, I said: 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.

      • Thanks Keith. It looks like I remember wrong about Luca… and I am using her as an Angel in my current campaign 🙂

        I even realize that I wasn’t clear in my first question. I mean: if Inevitables or formians lack of empathy and don’t care of mortal lifes or pain, why are they neutral and not evil? Whilst a bov vampire that lacks of empathy but helps humans is still evil?

        • Note that the article says that empathy is ONE of the factors in determining alignment; it’s not the only thing. From the beginning the article calls out that there is a place in Eberron for clear cut good and evil – for forces like the Emerald Claw, Who you KNOW you should oppose. And that’s where immortals live. Immortals aren’t about shades of grey, is-this-Evil-really-Evil. They literally embody our ideas of good and evil; they are dramatic extremes. And bear in mind that even a lawful neutral mortal can assert that the requirements of the law are more important that sympathy for another human; but that’s not JUST driven by a complete lack of feeling for others, it’s that there is another principle that is more important. This is where neutral immortals live: there is a guiding principle that drives them, and this outweighs any consideration of good or evil.

          But again, empathy is primarily for mortals. Even good immortals must place their driving principles ahead of the consequences for individual mortals. In many ways empathy is about recognizing ourself in others, and a human and an angel have little in common; it may feel sad if it has to kill you, but it is a tool of the plan of the universe, and that has to override such things.

      • Is there a resonance between the three-way eternal battle in Shavarath and the Three Faces of War as worshipped in Eberron? Did the Eternal Battle shape the war-oriented members of the Sovereigns/Dark Six? Does the faith of their worshippers have an effect on the ebb and flow of battle in Shavarath?
        Also, do the outcomes of battles on the material plane have a feedback effect in Shavarath?

        • The forces of Shavarath don’t perfectly map to the Three Faces of War. Dol Arrah has a sideline in “Fighting Evil”, but the Mockery isn’t specifically about “Fighting Good”… and Dol Dorn doesn’t have a strong moral alignment. Essentially, Dol Arrah is about fighting with honor; Dol Azur fights dishonorably; and Dol Dorn covers the space in between. Dol Arrah inspires the strategist; Dol Azur the deceiver; and Dol Dorn is just about the skill, strength and courage that you need to make it through the day.

          So the Archons map well enough to Dol Arrah, and there are certainly aspects of Dol Azur among the fiends (though Dol Azur doesn’t particularly approve of the brutality common among the demons; if anything, that would fall into the frenzy of the Fury). But Dol Dorn is basically EVERYWHERE in Shavarath.

          We’ve said that areas of intense conflict on Eberron can DRAW a region closer to Shavarath. But I don’t think the OUTCOME of a battle matters at all. People might say “We’re fighting on the side of archons!” but at the end of the day, when Aundair fights Breland, which side is the archons and which is the fiends? If it draws on anything, I think it would be the individual actions of the soldiers. At the same time, I think the warriors of Shavarath feel that their influence is broader than just the BATTLEFIELDS of Eberron; their war continues even when there’s peace across Eberron. Rather, it reflects the overall strength and balance of tyranny and justice, cruelty and kindness, of all the things that can inspire people to fight or defend.

  11. I see your feelings and thoughts on alignment … align with my own
    That’s one reason I hope you’re tapped to do the (hopefully!) eventual conversion of Ebberon to 5E.

  12. Thanks Keith, great as always!
    It’s interesting that in Shavarath they think that their war is shaping the reality of eberron. It question in some way the free will of even very powerful creatures.
    That even makes me think to Dal Quor. Kalashtar believe that the new age will bring happiness and prosperity as if Eberron was a reflex of Dal Quor too. I’d like to see a kalashtar and an archon debating 🙂
    If you had to play a campaign in which the turn of the age HAPPENS, how would you play it? What effect could be interesting for story purposes in eberron?

    That leads me to another (sorry) more in topic question: to what extent quori are evil? In secret of Sarlona is told that the centre of Dal Quor is a nightmare but in some way the dreaming dark behave as more as LN than LE. They don’t indulge into cruelty, they are just terribly cold, desperate and efficient

    • As far as your last question is concerned, it seems to me that robbing entire populations of their free will, and, in fact, enslaving them, kinda qualifies as “evil”. Even if the Inspired are not sadistic torturers on top of that, and even if the slaves are kept “happy” (…because they can’t have the very concept of another possibility, and those who fail to follow that path are quickly eliminated). Not to mention the ways they used centuries ago to end up in charge of Sarlonia, by sparkling and manipulating wars. In regard to the initial thoughts about alignments that were reposted up there –which, by the way, were a great reading for me the first time they appeared and I used in many a debate since then–, the key element of empathy is totally lacking in the Quori. They use people are mere tools.

      • I was wondering more on how are they evil in Dal Quor, how is the world of dream evil.
        But in any case they are undertaking extreme measures because they think they are all going to die if they don’t do that. Would the undying court act differently if that was the only way to save the even race?

        • I was wondering more on how are they evil in Dal Quor, how is the world of dream evil.

          They feed off of negative emotions, and create nightmares that generate those emotions. Bear in mind that most dreams occur randomly, so when you have a GOOD dream it’s not because a Quori created it. Quori can (and do) step in and hand-craft nightmares, but you can also have a nightmare entirely on your own.

          And any race might enslave another if it was necessary for their survival. A good creature would be highly conflicted about this; likely try to find another path that could have the same effect; and at least do what they could to ease the suffering of those they’ve enslaved out of sympathy, not necessity. The Quori are happy to embrace the path of enslavement; ENJOYED creating the Sundering and tricking societies into tearing themselves apart; and to the degree that they have created a civilization without suffering, it’s because it’s the most effective way to trick their followers into accepting their rule, not something done out of sympathy for their victims.

          Another way to look at this: A serial killer may be an extremely effective office worker who doesn’t kill anyone at his day job; nothing about his actions at the office suggest that when he goes home he enjoys killing people. For the Quori serving as administrators, running Riedra is that day job. They have an important job to do and they do it efficiently; then they take the night off and terrify a few dozen Brelish dreamers with horrifying nightmares.

    • The question of what would happen if Dal Quor shifted is a subject for a different article, but I added thoughts on Quori to the end of the article.

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