ExE: Cults of the Dragon Below

The Cults of the Dragon Below have been a part of Eberron from the very beginning, but there’s never been much detail about them. The basic idea has always been that “Cult of the Dragon Below” is a general term applied to a vast array of disparate sects driven by delusions or by ties to a dark power (typically a daelkyr or an overlord). But there’s only been a few cases where we have concrete examples of specific Cults of the Dragon Below. The Whisperers and the Inner Sun have both been mentioned in Dragon articles, while the cult in Khyber’s Harvest are traditional loyalists tied to Belashyrra. In Exploring Eberron, I wanted to go deeper—to give very concrete examples of cults and the powers behind them. How do the cults of Dyrrn differ from the followers of Valaara or Sul Khatesh? Beyond the basic introduction shown above, this section presents ten of the dark powers that create Cults of the Dragon Below and explores their goals, methods, and beliefs.

One statement that may come as a surprise to people is the idea that “Only a fraction of the Cults of the Dragon Below knowingly serve a daelkyr or overlord.” There’s basically three levels of this understanding.

  • Many corrupted cults are influenced by a dark power but don’t recognize this and don’t worship that power. In the example given above, the Vigilant Eye is a cult that is connected to Belashyrra, and SOME Vigilant Eye cults recognize this and offer prayers and bloody sacrifices to the Lord of Eyes. But you could easily have a Vigilant Eye cult in the Sharn Watch whose members believe that their new eyes are a blessing from Aureon, and that its visions reveal hidden evils in peoples’ hearts. This is a threat, because these false visions may guide the cultists to murder innocents—but the cultists don’t worship Belashyrra and truly believe that they are serving a righteous cause.
  • Traditional cults worship an entity… but they may not acknowledge the true nature of that being. In the Shadow Marches, most people know Kyrzin as a dangerous threat; in local folktales it’s typically known as the Prince of Slime or the Bile Lord. The Whisperers worship Kyrzin by the name the Regent of Whispers, and say that the Regent grants the gift of immortality to the faithful through the medium of the Gibbering Beasts. Neither of these two groups—common Marchers, Whisperers—may know that the creature they are worshipping or cursing is a daelkyr. The daelkyr incursion took place thousands of years ago, long before humanity even arrived on Khorvaire. So the Whisperers knowingly worship a being that others fear, but a) they believe that Kyrzin is benevolent force and b) they don’t know that it’s a daelkyr. Because that’s not relevant to their beliefs; what matters is that the Regent creates gibbering mouthers and shows them the path to eternal life.
  • Loyalists and most transactional cults knowingly traffic with dark powers and may well know the name and nature of the being they are dealing with. This is your path for the Carrion barbarians who howl prayers to Rak Tulkhesh as they charge their enemies, or the warlock bargaining with Sul Khatesh for forbidden arcane secrets.

These are the fractions—those with no real knowledge of the force they serve, those who interpret that force in a different way than others, and those that knowingly embrace a daelkyr or overlord. Ultimately, it’s up to the DM to decide the balance between those three, and which is the most common.

As you can see, editing and layout is continuing (thanks to the tireless efforts of Wayne Chang and Laura Hirsbrunner). However, I am also still writing: the various complications I’ve been dealing with are ongoing (… and the book is getting longer…) and I don’t have a firm release date yet. I’ll post a date as soon as I have one I’m sure of.

In the meantime, thanks again to my Patreon supporters who keep this blog going—a gnoll article is on the way soon!

17 thoughts on “ExE: Cults of the Dragon Below

  1. These sort of analyses are really appreciated. A lot of fantasy material gives a really shallow view of religion and the actual practice thereof.

    Eberron has always been far and away better than most with the presentation of the Sovereigns, and the fact that vassals will pray to all of them depending on the situation, and even attempt to mollify the Six.

    Glad to see that work on ExE, really looking forward to it! And thank you for taking the time to post these even while working on ExE and so many other projects.

    • Between the Dark Six, radiant idols, daelkyr, and overlords there’s already so many possibilities that I hesitate to devoting too much energy to coming up with EVEN MORE. Following the model of the radiant idol, any powerful outsider could start a cult; the main question is WHY, since they ARE outsiders and typically have little interest in mortal affairs. With the overlords, they are directly tied to mortal fears and evil, and gain power by driving that behavior. The daelkyr are stuck on Eberron, and their cults may be experiments, games, or tools to break the seals. A Shavaran devil COULD start a warrior cult, but the main issue is why it would leave the Endless Battleground to do it… while Rak Tulkhesh is part of Eberron and yearns to cause war.

      One obvious option is the Dreaming Dark, who could easily create cults (driven by shared dreams) that serve their purposes. Bear in mind that the purposes of the Dreaming Dark might not be obvious; such a cult wouldn’t HAVE to be working for Riedra, but could simply be creating an emotional resonance or pocket of belief that in and of itself somehow helps with the quori plan. So a Dreaming Dark cult could take almost any form.

      On the Discord, someone noted that the Son of Khyber is essentially a Revenant cult leader—a reborn hero of the past driving a group to extremist action. However, the SoK *IS* the reborn soul of a past hero; it’s not a belief instilled by a daelkyr or overlord, nor is it serving their purposes. So this follows the model that cults can spring up driven by mortal charisma without any outside help. (Although, the SoK DOES have an immortal patron, but it’s well hidden.)

    • The GATEKEEPERS know what the daelkyr are. As Gatekeepers have existed in the periphery of Marcher culture, Marchers are more likely than the average person in the Five Nations to know what daelkyr are. However, the TYPICAL Marcher does not. Again, they tell stories of the Bile Lord, of how his foul children ooze along the bed of thee Glum River and how anyone with a cold is touched by the Prince of Slime. But they don’t know that Kyrzin is a daelkyr, that it helped destroy the goblin empire, that it’s imprisoned by Gatekeeper seals. It’s just become a general bogeyman. Same goes for the Whisperers. They know the Regent of Whispers created the gibbering beasts. But again, they don’t know that the Regent is a daelkyr named Kyrzin or that it created the gibbering beasts during an incursion thousands of years ago.

  2. Do agents of the daelkyr that go rogue have to worry about repercussions, or could a dolgaunt start its own cult without fear of Belashyrra coming after it, or would it lead a hunted life?

    Similarly the question extends to entities like Xor’chylic since it has been said it is no ally of the daelkyr. Is it the pact with the Droaam Queens that help keep the mayor off of daelkyr radar or is the illithid just that capable of surviving topside?

    • This is a complicated question and I’m going to save the answer for a future post. With that said, there’s three quick answers

      1. What do you WANT the answer to be? This is important because…

      2. The daelkyr and aberrations in general are defined by their fundamentally alien psychology. They don’t want the things we want and they don’t react the same way to things as we do. Their ideas of both crimes and punishments are likely to be very different from ours.

      3. We know that they can be punished, because the common rumor is that Xor’chylic was imprisoned and was released by the Daughters. In my opinion, it doesn’t need to be protected, because most likely being severed from the consciousness of the Overmind is considered to be a fate WORSE than death; killing it would be an act of mercy. Meanwhile, people BELIEVE that what Xor’chylic wants from the Daughters is REVENGE… but again, that is called out in the ECS as a RUMOR, because who knows the mind of Xor’chylic? (Perhaps it wants to consume the mind of a daelkyr… if so, what it perhaps become that daelkyr? If so, has it ALWAYS been that daelkyr? Let’s not be limited by our flawed perception of time…)

      tl;dr Aberrations are ALIEN and I would try to make their actions and interactions with one another more difficult to fathom than the schemes of human cabals, or even a force like the Dreaming Dark.

  3. I think the only time I’ve ever thought about cultist in Eberron outside of the Shadow in the Flame, and the ones printed as religions (Blood of Vol, Path of Inspiration, Lord of Blades) has been converting modules to Eberron (The Red Hand, Kyuss’s followers…). Still interesting, since cults really are the only alternative to common criminals for low level human(oid) enemies nobody will miss.

  4. I’m very excited to hear a Gnoll article is on the way! I’m starting my first 5e experience with an Eberron campaign (another first for me!) and I’m taking the opportunity to play a Gnoll. More information would be greatly appreciated for fleshing our his background and I’m equally looking forward to the player character race stats even if I have to wait for the actual book to be released. The myriad of homebrew options have left me and my gamemaster a little unsure what really fits with Gnolls as they exist in Eberron. Questions like do they eat corpses (resist disease/poison) or possess the ability to mimic as they did in 4e leave us wondering what abilities they should get as a player race.

  5. What paladin oaths would be most appropriate to a paladin sworn to the cults of the dragon below? I can imagine sorcerers and warlocks and even wizards and clerics, but would they be more conquest, vengeance or ancients?

    • There’s no single answer because you’re not sworn to “the Cults of the Dragon Below,” you’re sworn to the All-Seer or the Foul Labyrinth, or perhaps you’re a paladin because you’re a revenant and think you’re Tira Miron or Haryn Stormblade. A paladin of Avassh would likely be Ancients. A paladin of Rak Tulkhesh would probably be Conquest, while a champion of Katashka would definitely be an Oathbreaker.

      A secondary question is how you DEPICT a paladin of the Dragon Below. Are they just driven by faith? A paladin of Dyrrn could easily present class abilities as the result of biological modification and irremovable symbionts.

  6. Keith…. a related but different question…..

    Have you any suggestions for the Khyber regions beneath Sharn and what civilisations dwell therein?

    I am thinking
    Goblin ruins
    Caverns with various spiders, aberrations and other predators….
    Illithid civilisation….

    Any other ideas?

    • This is discussed somewhat in Sharn: City of Towers. You have the old city, which has been overrun by vermin and slimes called up by the death curse of the Lady of the Plague and remnants of the War of the Mark. Below that, there are the goblin ruins of Duur’shaarat. You could add a connection to Khyber and one of the daelkyr, but that’s largely a case of “Whatever fits your story,” as passages to the daelkyr prisons can pop up anywhere.

  7. Keith, there is something about the nature of Khyber that I would like to ask… is Khyber, the place/plane/realm itself, inherently corruptive…?

    I know Khyber the Progenitor is the source of Overlords and fiends. I know many very bad things are sealed in Khyber (Overlords, Daelkyr, fiends…). I know many more bad stuff lives in Khyber’s demiplanes….

    But my question is, is the place inherently evil and corruptive…?

    If say, a dwarven clan got trapped in one of Khyber demiplanes, but they were far from any Overlord or Daelkyr and didn’t interact with demons, would they still be influenced/corrupted by Khyber and become insane, evil or monstrous…?

    Thank you very much.

    • Inherently EVIL? Certainly. Khyber is the source of fiends. Inherently CORRUPTIVE? Sometimes. Dragon 415 includes an article on the Vale of the Inner Sun, and specifically details how it corrupts (or “perfects” depending on your view…) natural creatures. On the other hand, the Umbragen have dwelled in Khyber for millennia, and their form of corruption is something they embraced; they haven’t been changed by Khyber itself.

      So in short, the answer to “Would they be corrupted” is “Do you want them to be?” If so, sure.

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