My new book Exploring Eberron is available now on the DM’s Guild. You can find a FAQ about it here. My latest article deals with the Nobility of Galifar, and I want to address some of the questions that have come up regarding the nobles. Thanks to my Patreon supporters for choosing this topic and making these articles possible!
To begin with, I want to call out a general concept that applies to a lot of these questions, especially when dealing with nobles as antagonists in an adventure. Eberron is designed with two story poles in mind: pulp adventure and noir intrigue. This is a spectrum, and any adventure will fall somewhere in between the two. Pulp adventure thrives on over the top nefarious villainy, and it’s why we have groups such as the Order of the Emerald Claw. When adventurers encounter the Emerald Claw, they shouldn’t have to stop and think about it; they should KNOW that fighting the Emerald Claw is the right thing to do. If your local noble is a pulp villain, then they SHOULD be clearly terrible. They SHOULD be starving their people, hanging dissenters, holding Human Sacrifice Night on Tuesdays. By contrast, noir intrigue thrives on shades of gray, uncertainty, and on questions that don’t have simple answers. If your noble is a noir villain, perhaps hanging villagers, but it’s because they lost their children to an Aundairian attack in the Last War and now they are convinced that there are Aundairian spies in the village… and they might be right. If the noir lord has Human Sacrifice Night, it’s because the town is on a manifest zone to Thelanis and if they DON’T sacrifice someone, FIVE innocent people will die. The noir lord may be terrible, but are you so sure that if you remove them, the next lord won’t be worse? With that in mind…
To what extent is regional variation tolerated? How much autonomy do counts, viscounts and crown reeves have? I’m asking mainly in the context of converting non-Eberron adventures. For instance, if the local lord in an adventure is imposing arbitrary and extremely un-Galifaran laws, is that best explained because he is acting outside of his authority, or because local variation gives him wide latitude?
Lore should always be a point of inspiration rather than something that concretely prevents you from telling a good story. If you need the local lord to be acting in a manner that seems un-Galifaran, that just means you need to find a way to justify it. With that said, most stories are more entertaining if they feel plausible—if we’re not just handwaving things. So let’s consider a few elements.
The first option is the grand duchy. The whole point of palatinates is that they’re largely independent and can ignore local laws and traditions. There’s not supposed to be very many of them, but if you really need a lord behaving in a way that’s way out of line with the laws of the land, make them a grand duke.
Beyond that, it largely depends on the nation and, specifically, the liege lord. So first of all, Karrnath has harsh laws that do place near-absolute power in the hands of the local noble. Can you put the story in Karrnath? In Breland or Aundair, the main point is that the local lord shouldn’t, for example, be denying the people their right to justice under the Galifar Code. But if the next lord up the ladder is rotten or ineffective, then they can get away with it, at least for now. A few other important questions is how much of a backwater we’re talking about. If the town has an speaking stone station and a lightning rail stop it’s pretty that people should know about Bad Lord Boggle and that people might just choose to leave. On the other hand, if it’s a small town that doesn’t have these things (or the stone station was closed three years ago and never reopened, or the stonespeaker only works for Bad Lord Boggle, etc) then it’s easier to explain how the lord is getting away with their behavior. With that said…
If the local lord does behave badly, why is the intervention of the adventurers necessary, as opposed to just petitioning the duke?
This comes back to don’t let the lore ruin your story. In a perfect system, the adventurers shouldn’t be needed, which means that things aren’t perfect. The people SHOULD be able to go up to the next rung of the ladder to get help; if they can’t, is it because it’s out of reach? Missing? Rotten? Is it something that can be fixed by the adventurers or is it deep and systemic—again, the player characters can solve today’s problem, but they can’t abolish the Code of Kaius in Karrnath.
One of the basic principles of noir is that the system is unreliable—either corrupt, blind, or toothless. With this in mind, the Why Can’t The Duke Help? table provides a few suggestions. Other things to consider are that the locals may be too afraid to take action, or too ground down by systemic oppression. Sure, in THEORY everyone has a right to justice under the Galifar Code, but we ain’t never seen that code in Blackwood, mister. Beyond that, there could be any number of concrete reasons the liege lord won’t listen to the adventurers. Do they have any sort of reputation, or are they just a bunch of armed vigilantes and professional tomb robbers? Are they all from the local nation, or might some of them be enemy spies? Do you have one of those untrustworthy warforged? It’s a well known fact that the Duke HATES warforged because of that incident at Orcbone at the end of the war…
With that said, if the player characters DO have a good reputation, and have for example a noble whose Position of Privilege specifically allows the to request an audience with a noble, you should LET them go petition the duke. There’s no reason that can’t be just as valid a solution to the problem as stabbing the evil count. You just want to make sure it’s a good story and that it’s as interesting for the players as the fight would be. Do they have evidence? Is there a conspiracy or cult manipulating the duke that the adventurers can expose? If the duke is being blackmailed or enchanted, can the adventurers solve the problem? A little court intrigue can be just as much fun as storming the castle…
What age are noble heirs considered to be “of age” for ruling?
It’s not established in canon. I’ll arbitrarily say “Sixteen!” but I’m making that number up right now and at least one leader—Jaela—breaks that rule, though she’s obviously a weird case. There’s also the point that there are non-human nobles, so the age would vary for, say, dwarves. But I think human-sixteen is a good baseline.
How does noble inheritance and succession treat rare resurrections?
It’s an excellent question. Sharn: City of Towers establishes that the Galifar Code doesn’t consider undead to be citizens, and undead nobles can’t hold property. On the one hand, I could see a case being made that death is death, and if you die you lose your rights; on the other hand, especially with lower level spells such as revivify, that seems a little extreme. I think I’d probably institute a two-week grace period, essentially, allowing the soul to pass through Dolurrh. If you’re raised from the dead in that time, you retain your rights and privileges. After two weeks, you are considered dead and all the legal aspects proceed; if you are returned to life after that, you are essentially considered to be a new person with no claim to your old titles or property. There’s likely a legal term for this; if someone brought Queen Wroaan back now, she wouldn’t take over Breland, but they might give her a room at the palace and call her “Queen-Posthumous”.
Sharn:CoT has examples of local laws that are extremely classist. If the adventurers to remove an evil crown reeve with extreme prejudice, instead of going to the count, how is the law likely to view them?
This again comes back to How do you want the story to go? Because for sure, “everyone is entitled to justice under the Galifar Code” includes the evil reeve, and unless your adventurers are appointed justiciars, a bunch of random lowlife vigilantes killing a noble is not something that should end well. The question is what story do you and your players want to experience and how do you point them toward it?
- Justice With Murder. If the crimes of the reeve are extreme, the evidence is entirely clear, and the public is on the side of the adventurers, it’s entirely reasonable to say that the locals will cover the adventurers’ tracks and that the law won’t care about hunting them down because it’s clear that they did a good thing.
- Justice Without Murder. The reeve has committed crimes. There’s tons of evidence. But she should be brought to justice, not killed. Player characters get to DECIDE what happens to a creature they reduce to zero hit points. As DM, you can make clear “If you kill her, the rest of the campaign will be about all of you being on the run from Sentinel Marshals until you’re hauled in front of Brelish justice… is that really what you want?”
- No Justice, No Murder. If you’re going full noir, it’s entirely possible that the adventurers CAN’T bring the noble to justice. If they kill the noble, they’ll be hunted down as murderers. Or perhaps if they kill the noble, the Mabaran manifest zone adjacent to town will expand and kill everyone. Or perhaps the noble has blast disks on a deadman trigger. If they don’t kill the noble, there’s no evidence and no justice will be done. This can be a very interesting story, but as a DM building such a scenario you have to consider how is there a satisfying conclusion for the adventurers—even if they can’t get the answer that they WANT, can they get an answer that they can live with and take some pride in having done the best they possibly could? And also, because adventurers have free will, if you set up a scenario like this you have to be ready for them to kill the reeve anyway. This isn’t YOUR story, it’s EVERYONE’S story; and if they players say “We don’t care about the blast disks, we’re killing the damn reeve” are you actually prepared to go through with it? Or was it, in fact, a bluff?
- Forget it, Jake. It’s Callestan. Depending where you are, it’s entirely possible to say that the law simply doesn’t apply here. This isn’t to say that actions won’t have consequences, but that it may be that the corrupt count and the local watch won’t give a damn whether you kill the crown reeve… but the Boromar Clan, who she was working for, might.
Basically, this is a stylistic question that you should work out with your adventurers in advance. Is this a world in which the player characters can get away with murder, or is this a world where killing a noble in cold blood will ultimately destroy the campaign? The goal of all of this is for people to have fun, and while I’d like to believe that people can have fun without murder, the DM and the players need to be on the same page.
For Breland, it canonically has a house of nobles as a bicameral parliament. It’s also the largest of the five nations by far. Would seats in the House of Nobles be limited to Dukes, or would counts be included as well?
The 3.5 Eberron Campaign Setting has this to say about the Brelish Parliament.
Breland’s parliament consists of both elected legislators and hereditary noble legislators. The citizens of Breland elect legislators every two years. These elected lawmakers, selected by popular vote (one from each village or town, two from each city, and three each from the metropolises of Sharn and Wroat), are sent to the capital to participate in all parliamentary proceedings. The noble legislators gain their seats in the parliament based on the status of their families; each noble family holds one seat in the parliament. Each year, the recognized head of the family appoints a family member to parliamentary duty. In many cases, the yearly appointment is symbolic, and each family has one representative who serves year in and year out. Twenty-seven noble families serve the crown of Breland.
There’s a number of ways to interpret this, but how *I* read it is that of the many noble families of Breland, 27 have the right to appoint a member to parliament. Personally, I’d consider this to be a royal appointment, acknowledging a family as part of the Lords Parliament; so like being Minister of Magic, this is an office and honor that exists separately from a title. In my opinion, there’s only ten dukes in Breland; it’s likely that all of the ducal families would be Lords Parliament, which leaves 17 seats for lesser lords. I think these are largely static appointments, and that they are hereditary until a sovereign revokes that status—and that this would be a dramatic action for a sovereign to take, especially if they removed one of the ducal families. Take note that the FAMILY holds the office and chooses the representative; this is an office that would typically be held by an heir of the house, not the head of it.
In Breland, and specifically in Sharn, are the nobles there typically true nobles with the same requirements in taking care of counties and land? If so, how is that broken up within Sharn, or Breland as a whole?
While Sharn is within a duchy (which I’m arbitrarily naming The Hilt, referring to the cross-section of the Dagger river), the city is governed by the Lord Mayor, who’s appointed by the elected city council. So the nobles within Sharn don’t govern Sharn itself; it’s not like the city is broken into counties, and the actual leaders you’ll encounter there are city councilors and Watch captains. With that said, there are 25 noble families represented in Sharn, along with the 35 other powerful families that make up the Sixty, the social nobility of Sharn. Some of those families are true nobles who maintain estates in Sharn; even if the actual lord isn’t in residence, their heirs might be in Sharn to enjoy the season. Others are indeed courtesy nobles. Notably, the ir’Tain family—generally seen as the crown jewel of the social scene—draw their influence from vast wealth and have ir’Tains have served as Lord Mayor, but we’ve never actually said what rank they hold and if they have domains elsewhere in Breland. So if you assume that 12-15 of those noble families are “true” nobles, they’re likely from across Breland, and the title holders are probably only in Sharn occasionally.
Regarding “the inherent belief that the Wynarn bloodline is blessed by Aureon,” Galifar had 5 kids a thousand years ago. There’s many scholarly organizations on Eberron, and at least one group (Vadalis) that actively studies geneology. Is the simple math that a substanial chunk of Khorvaire’s humans should be of the Wynarn bloodline at this point general knowledge among the educated?
Possibly, but the key point is that this “blessing” isn’t something that’s based on science or, for that matter, widely believed. It’s something that Galifar I believed a thousand years ago and because of that, it’s baked into the systems he created. But as noted in the article, it’s not something people tend to talk about in the present day. The Daskarans took it seriously, and some of the nobles of Thrane still do, but largely it’s just understood to be a faerie tale that justifies the customs of the monarchy. Beyond that, the “blessing” is really only something that’s supposed to apply to the active rulers—”Aureon smiles on a Wynarn king”—not a mutation that is passed down the line to anyone with a drop of Wynarn blood.
If an Aundarian noble can only cast 0-level spells, is there an “of the Xth Circle” title for that?
No. Including “I have the ability to cast cantrips” as part of your title in Aundair would be like saying “I graduated kindergarten” or “I have a learner’s permit”—it’s not something to brag about. Even most magewrights and wandslingers can cast at least one 1st level spell. With that said, this does bring up an important secondary point. I talk about the idea that everyday magic is more common in Aundair than elsewhere in Khorvaire, that nobles are expected to have some mystical talent. Yet by the 3.5 books they don’t; in Five Nations, Queen Aurala isn’t a spellcaster. Is this intentional? No. This is a point where both the concept of the nation evolved and where the SYSTEM now supports new ideas. 3.5 didn’t have ritual magic or wide cantrips, and NPCs in 3.5 used the same general rules as PCs. We didn’t have a good way to represent wandslingers in 3.5, but now we’re saying that wandslingers are a major part of Aundair’s forces. So with that in mind I would update Aurala’s statistics for 5th edition. I wouldn’t make her a mighty wizard; she’s not supposed to be the most powerful spellcaster in the land. But I’d definitely give her a few cantrips and a few one-use spells or rituals… essentially, on par with a gifted magewright.
What does knighthood mean in Galifar? You suggest that it’s typically not a landed title, but in medieval Europe it was typically the grant of land that allowed a knight to afford the equipment required to meet their obligations to their lord. Without that income, how would knights maintain their equipment?
Knighthood in present-day Khorvaire is NOT a feudal exchange of land for military service. It is an HONOR—often granted to someone who is already performing military service, but not necessarily. If you’re looking to emulate the medieval arrangement, you’d have a crown reeve tasked with military service who is also granted a knighthood.
In Eberron, knights are typically part of an ORDER. You’re not simply a knight, you’re a Knight of the Order of the Emerald Claw, or a Knight of the Order of the Inviolate Way. Knightly orders serve three functions. A knighthood is an honor reflecting the favor of a duke or sovereign. Knightly orders are fraternal orders and members are expected to support one another in both war and peace. And knightly orders are also elite military units. However, that last part is essentially split in the same way as a courtesy title versus a substantive title. You may be appointed a Knight of the Order of the Blackened Sky because you’re an exceptional combat alchemist whose skills will serve Karrnath well on the battlefield. Or you might be appointed a Knight of the Order of the Blackened Sky because you’re one of the first citizens of Karrlakton and the Duchess of Karrlakton wants both to honor your service and to connect you to other members of the order—even though it is understood that you are not a soldier and will never serve the order on the battlefield. Sometimes a knighthood comes with an annuity, making it a concrete reward that will help support a non-noble knight. But also, this is where support the order both in peace and war comes in. In the example given above, the combat alchemist may not be a noble and may not have great funds. But the non-martial knight IS a wealthy man, and he may serve as a patron to the alchemist. The orders are ways to bring the finest citizens together, people who might normally be split by class lines; it is a way to elevate gifted commoners without actually raising them to the nobility, and to forge connections between nobles and exceptional commoners.
The most detailed description of knightly orders that we have in canon is on page 54 of Forge of War, which describes six Karrnathi orders. As I mentioned before, the Order of the Inviolate Way ONLY accepts those of noble blood—which highlights the fact that most of the orders are not so restricted.
That’s all for now! Thanks again to my Patreon supporters, and I expect to be posting the Patreon-exclusive article tomorrow.