It’s been over a month since the release of Exploring Eberron, and I’m working on something new—a shorter project we’re currently calling “Fool’s Gold.” However, as time permits, I like to answer interesting questions from my Patreon supporters; here’s one raised by patrons Joseph and Tiernan.
In your Eberron, do you have photography—or at least, an arcane equivalent?
We’ve often called out that Eberron is closer to the late nineteenth century than it is to the twentieth century. It’s reasonable to imagine a form of arcane photography that works with principles of, say, illusory script to cast an image onto parchment. So I think there is a LIMITED form of arcane photography in the Five Nations, but the key there is LIMITED — closer to the tintype photography of the eighteenth century than to a digital camera (or even a Polaroid). Key points…
- It wouldn’t be FAST. Like a tintype, the subject would have to sit still for a few rounds while the image was captured.
- It wouldn’t be SUBTLE. It’s not like you’re hiding this apparatus in your bow tie.
- The resolution might be limited; again, look to the tintype as an example.
- I’d expect it to require some degree of magical affinity to operate — it’s the tool of a specialized magewright, though I might allow a PC who can cast minor illusion or possibly prestidigitation to operate one.
Because this is a form of ILLUSION magic, I could imagine the image having brief animation, as with the photographs in the Harry Potter series, but I’d leave that to the DM. The main point is that this is an evolving tool and it is currently limited. In the Thorn of Breland series, Thorn is a spy, and she’d LOVE to have something like a digital camera, but she doesn’t; while I think that camera equivalent exists, it’s too bulky and too slow to be of use to her in her missions. So the Korranberg Chronicle may have pictures of a royal coronation, but it isn’t a trivial, widespread technology; you probably still need to copy the inscriptions you find in the Dhakaani tomb, not just take a photograph. With that said…
You’ve called out before that House Phiarlan uses magic to project plays in other parts of the world. Could it be something akin to this technology?
House Phiarlan doesn’t PROJECT plays to other parts of the world. A Phiarlan crystal theater uses a dragonmark focus item similar to a limited crystal ball to SCRY on the stage, and then that image is projected from that crystal focus to the local screen. So the core “technology” here isn’t a broadcast device, like a television; it’s a limited crystal ball that can only scry on a few preset locations (channels, if you will).
However, House Phiarlan DOES have the image projector, mentioned in Magic of Eberron, that allows them to record a short scene and replay it as an illusion. With this in mind, I think it’s quite reasonable for PHIARLAN (and Thuranni) to have a focus item that allows them to record images, and to transfer that image onto parchment or a similar surface. Personally, I’d see this as something like this:
Wondrous item, common (requires the Mark of Shadow)
This is a small stone disk bearing a sliver of siberys dragonshard and engraved with the Mark of Shadow; it can easily be concealed in the palm of one hand. While holding the Shol eye, a creature with the Mark of Shadow can use an action to record an image in the eye. This can be the full vista of what the bearer can currently see, or it can be focused on a specific individual or object within line of sight. A Shol eye can only hold a single image at a time. If a creature with the Mark of Shadow works with the eye for the duration of a short rest, they can transfer the stored image out of the eye and onto a sheet of parchment or similar material.
This is a common item; a more powerful item could store multiple images. This ties to the basic idea that the houses have access to tools that others do not, and it would be a definite edge for Phiarlan spies. However, as with many unique dragonmarked tools, I’d expect other forces to be working to duplicate the effect. The slow and bulky tintype equivalent would be the first step toward this. But I could see, for example, the Trust having a way to record a short audible illusion—a simple, limited voice recorder.
In any case, that’s what I would do: call it out as something that exists but in a limited form, with Phiarlan having access to superior tools and other organizations actively working to improve their capabilities. The main issue about making photography more commonplace is to consider the ways it will impact a campaign. Can adventurers take a picture of an an ancient inscription instead of having to take the time to copy it down? How easy is it for them to record evidence of wrong-doing—or to be caught red-handed themselves? If I was running a campaign in which the adventurers WERE chroniclers, I could definitely imagine giving them a camera equivalent but playing up the challenges of working with its limited capabilities: it takes four rounds to capture the image and it’s not small. CAN they keep the target talking long enough to get the image, and what happens if they spot the camera? As with anything, I’d want to make sure it makes the story more exciting and fun.
Thanks again to my Patreon supporters for making these articles possible. Have you used photography in your Eberron campaigns?