When did dragonshards become important as magical fuel? House Tharashk was discovered in 498 YK. The lightning rail went into operation in 811 YK, but Tharashk only stepped up mining in the Shadow Marches & Q’barra in the past decade? What delayed them so long?
There’s two significant questions here: When did dragonshards become important and why did it take Tharashk so long to start major mining operations in Q’barra?
The spells, items, and services available in 998 YK represent the pinnacle of arcane science. Like any form of science, these things didn’t emerge into the world fully formed. The lightning rail of 811 YK was the result of decades of research and development—and it was quite different than the lightning rail of 998 YK. It originally used volatile Fernian ash as its fuel, and both the binding and the conductor stones had flaws.
Eberron dragonshards are found across Eberron. Xen’drik, the Shadow Marches, and Q’barra are especially rich sources of dragonshards, but there are dragonshard deposits across Khorvaire. Eberron dragonshards are an important element in the creation of magic items and in maintaining ongoing magical effects—such as the lightning rail and elemental airships. Eberron shards can be refined into a powdered form that can be used in place of any spell component with a cost.
So: it’s possible to perform most forms of arcane science without dragonshards; it just takes a range of different substance, which are usually more exotic and specific to the effect being produced. However, this uses refined Eberron dragonshard powder (also known as residuum). Raw dragonshards can be used, but unless they are processed and refined it’s inefficient; you’re significantly better off using the other alternative. Because of this, the process of refining dragonshards to create residuum was a crucial breakthrough that had cascading effects across the magical economy. While creating magic items still requires a range of additional rare elements, the universal nature of refined dragonshards allowed Cannith and others to dramatically increase both the range and scale of production. Using processed dragonshards as an energy source made the lightning rail safer and allowed Orien to operate more carriages. But again, this process of refining was a breakthrough that occured less than two centuries ago, and it’s a process that continued to be explored.
So: Eberron Dragonshards have always been a valuable source of magical energy, but it wasn’t until the last two centuries that they became as valuable and universal as they are today. Eberron dragonshards CAN be found across Khorvaire, and initially, that supply was sufficient to meet demands. But within the last century that demand has steadily grown—which has in turn driven people to find richer pools to draw on.
This brings us to House Tharashk. Why are their operations in Q’barra only a decade old? House Tharashk began as a house of hunters, not prospectors. For centuries its primary focus was on inquisitive work and bounty hunting. Prospecting is a relatively new path that arose both with the increased demand for dragonshards mentioned above and crucially with the creation of the prospector’s rod. As with many houses, the base powers of the dragonmark aren’t as important as the focus items that channel that power. As the speaking stone is to House Sivis, the prospector’s rod is to Tharashk: it is this tool that expands the powers of the mark beyond the simple scope of casting locate object and allows prospecting on an industrial scale.
In my Eberron, it’s a mistake to say that prospecting in the SHADOW MARCHES only began ten years ago. Dragonmarked calls out that House Sivis originally came to the Shadow Marches in search of dragonshards, and that the mineral wealth of the Shadow Marches has always been a secondary source of wealth for the house. That effort may have increased over the past decade as the house as a whole has realized that there’s more wealth and influence to be gained from dragonshards than bounty hunting, but it’s been something that has been scaling up over the course of the past century.
Q’barra, on the other hand, IS a new development. The world’s a big place, and Tharashk hasn’t been able to search all of it. Prior to the Last War, Q’barra was a shunned backwater thought filled with hostile scales. The Dragon articles call out that it was only ten years ago that settlers discovered rich deposits of dragonshards in Q’barra. Tharashk responded quickly to this discovery and has ramped up its efforts ever since. But why didn’t they go there earlier? Because they already had a rich source of dragonshards in the Shadow Marches and were still expanding their operations, and because no one knew there were dragonshards in Q’barra. It’s entirely possible that there are other rich deposits in Khorvaire that have yet to be discovered!
Ultimately, the key takeaway here is that the arcane industry in Eberron is just like industry and science in our world. It evolves and expands. The current state of things in 998 YK reflects the latest developments; drop back to 498 YK or 811 YK and the world will be a much different place.
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