In my previous article, I answered questions my patrons posed about the Blood of Vol. In response to that, one of my patrons asked a question that had deeper roots reflected the changes to the setting over the course of three editions of D&D.
Could you please clarify the historical relationship between the vampiric Kaius, the Blood of Vol, and Erandis/Illmarrow under your current conception of their lore?
One of the most infamous “secrets” from the original Eberron Campaign Setting is that Kaius ir’Wynarn III, the King of Karrnath, is actually Kaius I—that he was transformed into a vampire by Erandis Vol and replaced his descendant. I say “secret” because this information was included in the basic description of Karrnath in the book, and because there have been images and miniatures of Kaius the Vampire… so while it was supposed to be a secret in the WORLD, most PLAYERS were aware of it. In describing this, the ECS says…
When the Last War was in full swing, Kaius I was approached by priests of the Blood of Vol. These priests promised to aid Karrnath against its enemies, provided Kaius agreed to a few minor considerations… First, the priests worked with Kaius’s own court wizards to perfect the process for creating zombie and skeleton troops to bolster Karrnath’s forces… Second, the priests provided an elite fighting force dedicated to both Vol and Kaius—the Order of the Emerald Claw.
That was in the ECS, the first Eberron book ever written. Over the course of fifteen years, the concept of the Blood of Vol, Erandis Vol, Lady Illmarrow, and the Order of the Emerald Claw all evolved. Lady Illmarrow is a spider who has agents spread among the Seekers—including priests and members of the Crimson Covenant—but the faith doesn’t serve her personally. Likewise, it has been established that the Order of the Emerald Claw was just ONE of the Seeker chivalric orders, but not the only one. So for a more detailed breakdown of the timeline as I personally run it…
- Early in the war, plagues and famines wreak havoc in Karrnath. Priests of the Blood of Vol — possibly including Malevanor’s predecessor Askalor, or even a young and still living Malevanor — approach Kaius and propose an alliance between the Seekers and the crown, offering necromantic advancements and undead troops in exchange for elevating and celebrating the faith and developing the chivalric orders.
- The Seekers celebrate this alliance and the common people grudgingly accept it. Over the course of decades, Seeker priests and necromancers work to find ways to enhance Karrnath’s military might through necromancy. This includes widespread use of common undead troops with their bone knight commanders, the development of the Seeker orders, and the perfection of the Odakyr Rites, creating the Karrnathi undead.
- This continues until the Regent Moranna turns against the Blood of Vol, disbands the orders, and breaks ties between the faith and the crown. When Kaius III rises to power, he blames Karrnath’s troubles—including the plagues and famines that originally set the alliance in motion—on the Seekers, a populist strategy that salvages Karrnathi pride and seeks to solidify support behind Kaius; this is important because not all of the warlords support his desire for peace.
This all public-facing, well documented fact. What is NOT publicly known is what happened to Kaius I and the role of Lady Illmarrow. One of the intentional choices we made when writing Eberron Rising From The Last War was to leave the ultimate truth about this up to the DM. Specifically, Rising includes a newspaper article that says Maybe Kaius is a Vampire… Or maybe he isn’t! This is tied to an in-world conspiracy theory I personally subscribe to, but I’ll get back to that later. So the main point is that what I’m about to say isn’t a spoiler, because IT MAY NOT BE TRUE IN THE CAMPAIGN YOU ARE PLAYING IN, reader. But with the assumption that Kaius I is a vampire…
Long before the Last War, Lady Illmarrow worked to spread agents throughout the Seekers. She gained power over priests and even placed a number of her own loyal servants within the Crimson Covenant. While useful, this influence was limited by the fact that the Seekers had little political influence and no organized military; there was no equivalent to the Order of the Emerald Claw for her to use. As the Last War began, she used her influence with her Seeker agents to promote the idea of the alliance with the Crown. It’s worth noting that it is entirely possible that ILLMARROW is responsible for some of the plagues and famines, creating a situation where Kaius needed the alliance. Regardless of whether this is true, the priests who approached Kaius I largely did so in good faith, truly believing that their actions would benefit both their country and their faith—while Illmarrow’s loyalists made sure to include the idea of the Seeker chivalric orders. In the decades that followed, the elevation of the Seekers and their integration into the military served Illmarrow’s agenda in a number of different ways. Her agents within the Seekers gained more broad influence in the nation. She gained greater access to the Karrnathi military (remember, not all the members of the modern Emerald Claw are Seekers—many are just Karrnathi veterans and patriots!). She had access to the arcane resources of Karrnath to help her develop necromantic weapons. And with the development of the chivalric orders, she was able to build the core of a force that could serve as her personal strike force—the Order of the Emerald Claw.
Next, the ECS tells us this:
When Vol, the ancient lich at the heart of the Blood of Vol cult, appeared before Kaius to collect her “considerations” for the aid her priests provided him, he had no choice but to submit. In addition to allowing the cult to establish temples and bases throughout Karrnath, Vol demanded that Kaius partake in the Sacrament of Blood. Instead of the usual ceremony, Vol invoked an ancient incantation that turned Kaius into a vampire. Instead of becoming a compliant thrall, however, Kaius fought to keep his independence. Furious that the vampire refused to be humbled, Vol eventually forced the issue by triggering Kaius’s blood lust (something he had been struggling to control). When the crimson haze cleared, Kaius discovered that he had killed his beloved wife.
Even with the many changes over the years, in my campaign the basic idea of this is the same. As the price of the continued Seeker alliance—something Illmarrow could control through her agents—Kaius was forced to become a vampire. This should have made him a thrall forced to do Illmarrow’s bidding, but somehow he was able to resist her control… though not before killing his wife. We know that what happened next is that he went into hiding. There’s likely two reasons for this: the first being that the world wasn’t (and still isn’t) ready to put a vampire on the throne of Galifar, and the second being that whatever allowed him to resist Illmarrow’s control wasn’t reliable; he had to go into hiding until he found a way to protect himself from her influence. The ECS tells us “Now, after eighty years of hiding and secretly working to break all ties with the Blood of Vol, Kaius has returned to govern his nation. He has taken the place of his great grandson, pretending to be Kaius III.” Looking back to the public-facing facts, it is at this time that Karrnath breaks ties with the Seekers and disbands the chivalric orders. It’s up to you how far this goes; as I say above, in my campaign Kaius III is now using the faith as a straw man to build support. Regardless of whether you follow that path, Kaius III has taken an anti-Seeker stance and opposes Illmarrow, while Illmarrow has reformed the Order of the Emerald Claw as her personal army, including both original Seeker members and Karrnathi fanatics who believe she will return Karrnath to greatness (unlike peace-loving Kaius III).
The question that remains is who is Kaius III? It is possible that he’s Kaius I the vampire pretending to be Kaius III. I personally like the theory that he’s Kaius III pretending to be Kaius I pretending to be Kaius III—that the reason Illmarrow can’t control him is because he’s NOT really Kaius I, but rather Kaius I is remaining in hiding and working through K3 until they can find a way to break Illmarrow’s hold over him. This ties to the next question, which is assuming K1 is a vampire, what IS Illmarrow’s hold over him? The ECS account implies that Erandis used a ritual to turn K1 into a vampire. *I* prefer the idea that she turned him the old fashioned way—that one of her top vampire lieutenants sired Kaius, and that it is actually that lieutenant who can control Kaius, using the standard bond between sire and spawn. One of the main reasons I prefer this is because it means killing that vampire is the key to breaking Illmarrow’s hold over Kaius, and that’s a story adventurers could get involved in.
If you follow the original narrative in which Kaius I is a vampire who replaces Kaius III, what to you think he did in all the years between disappearing and becoming Kaius III? It is almost 100 years for a ex-king vampire probably with none or few allies.
First of all, I COMPLETELY disagree with the idea that Kaius I had “no or few allies.” He didn’t just run away. His disappearance would have been very carefully planned. To my knowledge the exact circumstances have never been described, but I expect that he faked his own death, used cosmetic transmutation to enact a long term disguise, and then went into hiding among a carefully established network of supporters. For the sake of absolute secrecy it’s quite likely that many of the people sheltering him didn’t know who he was, but they would know that he was a loyal servant of the former king. He would have retained contact with followers with influence in court, and in MY Eberron he was certainly continuing to manipulate events in Karrnath from hiding, offering guidance to generals and nobles who remained loyal to him and likely dealing with political rivals from the shadows. Ultimately, this culminated with his working closely with Moranna to plan the Regency and his return. Again, aside from Moranna many of the people he worked with may not have had known exactly who they were dealing with, but they certainly respected and valued his advice.
Beyond that, one of the most important things he was doing was learning everything he could about vampires. He was surely working to master his own abilities, but also to understand his weaknesses and particularly to understand the methods Illmarrow could use to control him and what he could do to block them. In this, I expect that he was working closely with Seekers. Remember that Kaius has been called out as having a loyal cabal of Seeker followers who, among other things, provide him with blood. Part of the idea is that even though Kaius PUBLICLY denounces the Seekers—because it’s politically expedient to do so—he maintains ties with a devoted sect OF Seekers. Why would they follow him? Because they recognize that Illmarrow holds a poisonous influence within their faith and that Kaius opposes her—they believe that in the long term, Kaius WILL help the Seekers. Time will tell if they are correct.
But to the short form, I believe that the vampire Kaius I was always pursuing his return, which required him to learn more about the nature of vampires and to manipulate events from the shadows. He built alliances, destroyed enemies, and studied the nature of the undead.
WHY DOES THIS MATTER?
All this may be fun for folks who like quibbling over inconsistencies in canon sources, but as a DM or player, why does any of this matter to you? Here’s the key breakdown.
- The Order of the Emerald Claw is a force that is directly loyal to Lady Illmarrow. Its forces include Seekers with elite military training—bone knights, battlefield necromancers—as well as Karrnathi veterans who aren’t Seekers but who are fanatically devoted to Illmarrow.
- While there are still necromantic forces integrated into the Karrnathi military—non-Seeker Karrns learned necromancy during the time of the alliance—a significant portion of this strength was lost when the crown broke ties with the Seekers. The bulk of the Karrnathi undead were sealed in subterranean vaults, and some of the warlords are afraid that they cannot be trusted.
- As a Karrnathi Seeker, you may have to deal with hatred from your own people, who have been encouraged to blame the Seekers for all of Karrnath’s woes. Some Seekers are angry about this and have turned against the Crown, and it’s many of these Seekers who support the Emerald Claw. However, other Seekers are still devoted to Karrnath and trust that this time will pass.
- Kaius III opposes Lady Illmarrow and the Emerald Claw. It may be that Kaius is a vampire who has found a way to resist her control; that he isn’t a vampire at all; or that he is actively carrying out a plan to break her power (IE destroying his sire). Illmarrow seeks to undermine Kaius; her loyalists in the Emerald Claw accuse him of being weak, of robbing Karrnath of its rightful victory by pursuing peace, and so on.
- It also ties to the most basic question of whether Kaius is a potential ally or whether he’s a dangerous enemy. If adventurers oppose Lady Illmarrow, Kaius could be a powerful friend. On the other hand, while he may want a peaceful solution, in my opinion Kaius still wants to rule Galifar; remember that if he is the vampire Kaius I, he’s one of the five rulers who STARTED the Last War. I believe that he pursues peace because he doesn’t feel Karrnath can win and reunite Galifar through force, at least for now. But in my opinion he is a ruthless man and a brilliant strategist who has been scheming for a year. He may be the enemy of your enemy if you’re opposing Illmarrow, but that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have sinister plans of his own… it’s just that where Aurala is willing to restart the Last War, I think Kaius is searching for a different path to the throne of Galifar.
As a Karrnathi Seeker player character, an important question is whether you are angry at Kaius III for turning on your faith (and if so, if you actually have a positive opinion of the Order of the Emerald Claw); whether you simply have no opinion; or whether you are actually loyal to your king in spite of this betrayal. If you choose the latter approach, one option is that you are actually part of the king’s inner circle (even if only at the lowest level)—that you are sworn to help him find a way to break Lady Illmarrow’s poisonous influence within the faith.
As an example of this: In a campaign I ran, a player created a paladin of the Blood of Vol. His backstory was that his parents were members of a Seeker chivalric order and were killed when Moranna turned on the faith. As a child, the PC was taken in and raised by Lady Illmarrow, taught to harness his powers and led to believe that Kaius III betrayed his faith and was responsible for the death of his parents. As a PC, his initial arc was to build his power and gain allies to help him bring down Kaius III. That was the PC’s goal, but what the PLAYER knew from the start was that his character was a dupe and that Kaius III wasn’t truly guilty. His whole idea was that, assuming he succeeded in killed Kaius, it would through Karrnath into chaos and the PC would realize Illmarrow had lied—that the SECOND arc of his story would be undoing the damage he’d done and bring down Lady Illmarrow. We never actually reached that second arc in the campaign, but I appreciated the idea—that he KNEW his character’s goal was something foolish that would have disastrous consequences, but that his long-term character arc would be cleaning up that mess. And in this story you can see something I talked about in the previous article—that it may be that any number of Illmarrow’s agents serve her because they believe she has the best interests of the Seekers or of Karrnath at heart, and that if they discover absolute proof that this is not the case, they could turn against her.
You used to talk about Erandis Vol as quite a sympathetic character, murdered and robbed of her birthright while still a teenager, but your presentation of “Lady Illmarrow” is quite different; she seems more unambiguously evil.
There’s a few important elements here. From the very beginning Erandis Vol was intended to be one of the major antagonists of the setting. Eberron draws on Pulp and Noir themes, and Erandis and the Emerald Claw were always intended to weigh on the pulp side of that spectrum. They’re the Nazis in an Indiana Jones movie, Ming the Merciless in Flash Gordon, COBRA in GI Joe. What I’ve always said is that the Emerald Claw are the villains adventurers can always feel good about opposing: you never need to stop and say “I wonder if we should actually let the Nazis have the Ark of the Covenant” or “Maybe COBRA has some good points.” The SEEKERS have a far greater degree of moral complexity and depth of story, and SEEKERS can be allies or enemies. But Erandis and the Emerald Claw are supposed to be some of the most reliable, straightforward villains you can encounter in the world.
Having said that: I see Erandis as a TRAGIC character, and I always have. I LIKE villains to have depth and motivations we can understand. Erandis has endured horrors and carries an enormous burden. I can understand why she commits atrocities. But the key point there is that she commits atrocities. We may feel sympathy for her loss, we may understand her drive to reclaim her birthright, but the simple fact is that she will destroy nations and slaughter countless innocents in pursuit of that goal. She’s a tragic villain, but the key word there is VILLAIN.
The second important point here is that the people who work for her DON’T KNOW HER TRAGEDY. And that’s what underlies this question and WHY we introduced the identity of Lady Illmarrow. Erandis Vol is the woman murdered as an adolescent, who saw her entire bloodline unjustly eradicated because of a mark she bears on her skin but cannot use, who cannot even choose oblivion but is bound to an eternity to contemplate her failings and the stolen legacy of her line. It is Erandis who must hide her name and nature lest the forces that eradicated everyone she cares about come after her again. She CAN’T share her burden. She can’t even declare her name with pride lest she bring down ruin on all she has accomplished. And thus, she created Lady Illmarrow, a Grim Lord who has risen to power among the Bloodsails entirely on her own merits, unburdened by ancient tragedy. Lady Illmarrow is infamous not for the deeds of her family, but for her own deeds and power. She is respected and feared by her minions, even those who have no knowledge of her true past and potential.
It could well be that Erandis uses Illmarrow to channel her darkest impulses and to be the ruthless tyrant she needs to be to achieve her destiny, while Erandis remains the murdered adolescent still mourning her family. She’s been alive for thousands of years and has suffered through immense tragedy; it could well be that Illmarrow is in some ways an independent persona, that the mask Erandis created has taken on a life of its own and in this way allows the core of Erandis to retain some innocence. However, the ultimate point is that whether she’s Erandis or Illmarrow, she is a dangerous villain who will break the world if it allows her to achieve her goals.
If Erandis Vol wants to die (“she cannot choose oblivion”) why doesn’t she just reveal her presence to the Deathguard and let them destroy her?
First of all, just because Erandis may hate her existence doesn’t mean that she wants the DEATHGUARD to end it. The Undying Court destroyed her entire bloodline and she is all that’s left of their legacy. If she was to be destroyed without mastering her mark, all of that would be for nothing. And she will NOT allow the Undying Court to win this struggle.
Second: the Deathguard can’t destroy her. Since Rising From The Last War, it is canon that the elocation of Erandis’s phylactery is unknown; if her body is destroyed, she will reform in a random location hundreds of miles away. So the Deathguard can’t grant her oblivion. What it CAN do is slaughter all her allies, steal or destroy all the relics she’s gathered, and ruin all the plans she’s carefully built up over centuries. The danger they pose isn’t to her personally, but rather to everything she has managed to accomplish. Imagine you’d spent 800 years building up a plan; would you want a bunch of $&%* paladins to suddenly drop in, destroy everything, and leave you in a new body hundreds of miles away having to spend centuries to rebuild everything you’ve lost?
I’ve written a number of articles that are quite relevant to this topic, so for people who HAVEN’T been reading this blog for years, here’s a few you might want to check out.
That’s all for now. Thanks to my Patreon supporters for making these articles possible!