I’ve got a lot going on at the moment. This Friday I’ll be playing my new Adventure Zone game with Justin McElroy, Hrishikesh Hirway, and Becca Scott on the Twogether Studios Twitch channel. I’m working on a secret Eberron project and I’ll be doing my first post about Threshold later this week. But as time permits, I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. So…
What’s the role of mummies in the Blood of Vol?
The traditions of necromancy practiced by the Blood of Vol and the Bloodsail Principalities are known to be able to produce three forms of sentient undead: mummies, vampires, and liches. Note that I don’t include the Karrnathi undead in this list, because while they are seemingly sentient, they don’t have the personality or memories of a living person. If you want to extend your own existence, these are your three options.
Of these, liches are the rarest and most difficult to produce. Setting aside the notable example of Minara Vol and Lady Illmarrow—which is an extremely unusual situation involving one of the greatest necromancers of the last 20,000 years—the general idea is that a necromancer can’t just make you into a lich: YOU have to perform the ritual yourself, and it requires both tremendous will and a deep understanding of necromancy and arcane science. This is why all liches are powerful spellcasters: because you have to be a powerful spellcaster to become a lich. And again, in my campaign, becoming a lich also requires the most iron will imaginable: not merely mystical knowledge, but an absolute will not to die, defying the pull of Dolurrh with your sheer conviction.
On the other end of the spectrum, vampires are the easiest sentient undead to produce, because if you have one vampire, they can produce more vampires. So an obvious question is why don’t they? Yes, the Blood of Vol generally believes that undeath is an inferior state that severs your connection to the Divinity Within. But still, it is trivially easy for a vampire to create more vampires. Why aren’t all of the leaders of the Emerald Claw vampires? We know that the Emerald Claw ISN’T flooded with vampires, so this is a simple logic problem: If you could turn an ally into a vampire, why wouldn’t you? In my campaign, the answer is that being a vampire isn’t easy. Of the lich, mummy, and vampire, the vampire is a PREDATOR. It is a conduit to Mabar, and Mabar is HUNGRY. The vampire needs to drain the blood and life force of other creatures, not simply in the practical way that a human needs food and water, but as a consuming drive that is always burning. This is a critical reason most vampires are evil: because the hunger of Mabar hollows them out, eroding their empathy and transforming them into pure predators. So, why doesn’t the Emerald Claw turn everyone into vampires? Because most people can’t take it. Just as it takes a powerful will to become a lich, to endlessly defy the draw of Dolurrh, it takes a powerful will to retain your own identity as a vampire. Most vampires degrade into inhuman creatures driven purely by their hunger—creatures with the statistics of Vampire Spawn, but without true human sentience. So you don’t want to just turn all of your friends into vampires because you don’t know if they will survive the experience. Their bodies will survive—but they may no longer be the people they were, or even people at all.
Which brings us to the original question: what’s the role of mummies? First of all, let’s consider that word. Mummies are indeed produced by rituals that include, among many other factors, ritualized embalming and mummification. But that’s just a physical aspect and not what Seekers see as their defining principles. Thus, Seekers and Bloodsails call them oathbound, for reasons that will soon become clear. Anyone can become oathbound; it involves a conduit to Mabar, an expert necromancer, a series of rituals including the embalming process, and a number of rare and expensive components… Which are the major limiting factor on the number of mummies in existence. But there is a second, critical component to creating a mummy: its oaths. The 5E Monster Manual says that a mummy “obeys the conditions and parameters laid down by the rituals that created it.” These conditions aren’t an extra piece added onto the ritual; they are an integral part of it. A mummy is bound by a set of oaths that it must obey, and it is these oaths that bind its essence to its body and prevent it being dragged to Dolurrh. This is how you end up with a mummy bound to protect a specific tomb; even if it’s intelligent, it CAN’T just choose to leave the tomb and forget about it; that role of tomb guardian is what defines it and preserves it. Most mummies are bound by restrictive oaths; many Bloodsail mummies are bound to their ships. The looser these oaths, the more power and components are required for the ritual. So Malevanor, the High Priest of Atur, has far fewer restrictions than most oathbound; but it’s not a simple matter to create mummies with such freedom. Of liches, vampires, and mummies, the oathbound are the most common form of undead within the Blood of Vol, but many of the oathbound are never SEEN; mummies are often bound to temples or villages. There are hundreds of mummies in Atur, but most dwell in the vaults and temples of the City of Night, tirelessly performing their duties.
OK, but… The default mummy in the Monster Manual has an Intelligence of 6. That doesn’t SEEM like it’s an ideal alternative to, say, a vampire. In my Eberron, that base MM Mummy is a classic tomb guardian. As the lore suggests, it’s someone bound to be a mummy as a sort of course, forced by their oaths to battle intruders; they haven’t tried to retain their humanity. However, oathbound such as Malevanor retain their mental ability scores, their proficiencies, and some of their class abilities; Malevanor is the high priest of Atur and can perform divine magic. The Monster Manual mummy is created to be a physical powerhouse, but I think there are oathbound who aren’t as physically powerful but are sustained by the same rituals and power; I’m posting a stat block for an oathbound priest for my Patreon supporters.
Now: oathbound aren’t driven by the hunger of the vampire. They don’t need to consume to survive. However, they are sustained by and suffused with the power of Mabar. This is why the touch of the mummy causes flesh to rot and why its gaze causes dread; it is a vessel for Mabar, which embodies the death of all that lives and the end of all hope. While it’s not as dramatic as the vampire, the influence of Mabar still does erode the compassion and the empathy of the oathbound. This is why most mummies have an evil alignment. As is always the case in Eberron, they can have an evil alignment and still be driven to DO GOOD—but because of that lack of empathy, they may do good deeds in an evil way. A mummy forgets pain, and so it doesn’t care about causing pain to others. You can have a good or neutral mummy, but there’s a reason that they are rare… and why mummies tend to be crueler than the deathless of Aerenal, who are sustained by positive energy. The rotting touch of the mummy is something the Aereni point to in asserting that the oathbound do consume the life force of the world—that even though they don’t actively feed on others as vampires do, they are still slowly destroying the world merely by existing.
So within the Emerald Claw and the broader Blood of Vol, liches are rare and remarkable. Vampires aren’t very common, but they are often found as active agents in the field because they have freedom of movement and need to find new prey. Oathbound are the most common sentient undead, and if adventurers encounter an undead priest of the Blood of Vol, it’s most likely a mummy; however, it may be bound to its temple or its village (and it may be a lesser oathbound, weaker than the default mummy). In creating one of the oathbound, the critical question is what are the oaths that bind it? What are the restrictions on its actions and choices? Who was it in life, and what key skills has it retained in its undeath? Has it retained its sense of mercy and empathy, or has this been worn away?
How do wights figure into this?
I prefer not to lump all undead into a single basket. There are different sources of undead—Qabalrin traditions, Katashka the Gatekeeper, the raw power of Mabar—and to me, a story is more interesting if those different traditions produce different undead, rather than the only difference being CR. With this in mind, the basic lore of 5E notes that wights are mortals transformed by a dark power with the goal of making eternal war on the living. With this in mind, I say that wights AREN’T created by mortal necromancers; they can be created either by Katashka the Gatekeeper or by one of the Dark Powers of Mabar, and they directly serve the agenda of the force that created them (even if they don’t know what that agenda is).
What do you think happens if an oath is broken? Would the mummy just cease to function or would it be compelled magically to restore its oath?
It’s a matter of will. I think that most oathbound simply cannot violate their oaths, and if they are somehow forced to (a guardian removed from its tomb by force) it must attempt to rectify the situation immediately. If it can’t, this will weaken the bonds that sustain its undead existence, and it would ultimately disintegrate. Having said that, there can always be exceptions. A mummy with the strength of will to break its oath might become something else—finding a new way to sustain itself—potentially becoming something like a death knight or a wight, depending on the power of the spirit and its personal story.
That’s all for now! Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters for making these articles possible.
Western Breland is an untamed land, a realm with untold opportunities… and unknown dangers. The Daughters of Sora Kell have laid claim to the land west of the Graywall mountains, and the city of Graywall marks the edge of their territory. But Graywall is a city of monsters, governed by a mind flayer and patrolled by trolls… Not a welcoming haven for Brelish settlers and opportunists. As Droaam grows stronger, Dragonmarked houses and Aurum oligarchs are considering western opportunities, but many don’t trust Graywall and its governor. And so they are looking to the towns springing up on the Brelish side of the frontier… towns like Threshold.
Beginning in November, I’m going to run an online D&D campaign set in the town of Threshold. The characters and the story will be ongoing, but the players will change; before each session, I’ll post a creative challenge to supporters, and the winners will get to play; once you’ve played you’ll be ineligible to play again for the next four sessions, to ensure that we get a rotating cast. While only five people will get to participate in each session, I’ll also be reaching out to supporters to help establish details about the characters and campaign, primarily through polls.
The support of my Patreon backers is what makes it possible for me to spend time on the articles on this site. For some time now, I’ve been thinking about ways to add value for supporters. I’ve considered exclusive content, and I have published a few Patreon-exclusive articles. But I dislike restricting material. Now, everyone who supports at the Threshold tier—which is $1/month above the current Inner Circle—gets a chance to play in the game and an opportunity to help shape the story. To be absolutely clear, there are going to be a limited number of seats and not every Threshold supporter will get to play. But everyone will have the opportunity to compete for a seat, and those who don’t get a seat at the table will still have an opportunity to shape aspects of the story.
In addition to this, I’m adding a discord channel at this level. This will be a place to discuss the campaign itself, as well as the articles I post on my website. I’ll drop in after I post new content, and I will have at least one scheduled AMA on the channel each month.
Now, this is an experiment. I’ve only run a handful of streamed games, and I expect this to be a learning experience. So the first four months are going to be a test period. Starting in November, I will run at least one game a month. I may run more than one session each month, but I don’t yet know the technical challenges I may face, and there’s a number of other things that could place unexpected demands on my time, so I’m only going to promise one session per month in this period. At the end of four months, I’ll evaluate the experiment and settle on a format and schedule for the campaign moving forward. I may or may not release the games to the public during this trial period, but they’ll certainly be available to supporters.
So in summary: I’m adding a $6/month tier to my Patreon, the Threshold tier. People who support at that level will have all the benefits of the Inner Circle—helping shape the content of the IFAQs and Dragonmark articles—but will also receive polls that will help shape the characters and story of the Threshold campaign. At least once each month, I will post a creative challenge for Threshold supporters, and the winners will play in the next session of the online campaign. In February 2021 I’ll evaluate the project and make plans for the next phase.
If you have questions, ask below! Otherwise, I hope I’ll see some of you in Threshold!
Gnomes Beyond Zilargo was the topic my Patreon supporters chose in September, and there’s a lingering question: What would you do with the Svirfneblin in Eberron?
In my personal campaign I tend to limit the number of unique species and subspecies in the world. For example, in my campaign, Hill Dwarves, Mountain Dwarves, Ruinbound Dwarves, and Mark of Warding Dwarves are all just “dwarves”—a character from the Mror Holds could use any of those subraces and I’d just describe the character as a “Mror dwarf”, not a “Mountain dwarf.” Essentially, the Mountain Dwarf subrace represents early military training—it’s a secondary background, not a genetic disposition.
So with that in mind, I have a set of questions I ask when adding any exotic race to Eberron: Why do you want to add this race to the world? Is it simply that you want a character that has its mechanical advantages? Could your character be UNIQUE—perhaps a creation of House Vadalis, Mordain the Fleshweaver, or the daelkyr? Or do you want to add the CULTURE to the world—because you specifically want to be part of the society associated with that species?
With that in mind, the next step is to look at the svirfneblin and identify their defining features in Fifth Edition. As a subrace, they don’t actually have a lot of abilities: they have Superior Darkvision, Stone Camouflage, and speak Undercommon. If we look further to the Monster Manual description, Deep Gnomes have innate spellcasting abilities, and can cast nondetection, disguise self, blur, and blindness. This ties to their existing story: they are a society of subterranean gnomes who have close ties to earth elementals and who largely use their magic to avoid contact with outsiders, hiding themselves away. Keeping both sets of abilities in mind, here’s a few ways I might use them in MY Eberron.
The Gnomes of Lorghalen
Earlier I wrote an article about the Gnomes of Lorghalen, presenting them as a reclusive culture with strong ties to elementals. I wouldn’t say that ALL Lorghalen gnomes are svirfneblin; most dwell on the surface of the island and have no use for Superior Darkvision, the Lorghali work with a wide range of elementals, and I don’t see any reason for the Lorghali to be physically distinct from their Zil ancestors. However, I think it’s entirely plausible to say that there are a number of Lorghali families who took up residence in deep caverns below the island—caves with an especially strong tie to Lamannia, specifically the element of earth. It’s this that drew these families down there—it’s much easier to perform earth magic and work with earth elementals in the depths—and that over the course of generations, the energies of the caverns mutated these families, creating the genetically distinct Deep Gnomes. Essentially, it’s a variation of the genasi. I think these Deep Gnomes would be a fully integrated part of Lorghali society, even if they largely chose to remain in their caves; the Lorghali are a close-knit society, and I don’t see the unusual appearance of the svirfneblin being an issue.
If I went with this approach, I would replace Undercommon with Primordial; the Lorghali have no contact with the daelkyr or their followers, while they use Primordial in their dealings with elementals.
Agents of the Trust
The Trust is known for its secrecy. There’s even rumors of “ghost agents” who use rings of invisibility and sustenance to live their lives entirely unknown. What if evidence surfaced that the Trust wasn’t just training and equipping spies, but that they had magebred a subspecies of gnome, born into the service of the Trust and innately imbued with the ability to evade divination? If you don’t wish to hold on to the culture of the Deep Gnomes, this is a story you could explore. Per the Monster Manual, the svirfneblin can cast nondetection at will—an exceptional tool for a spy. And disguise self and blur are both excellent tools for espionage.
There’s two ways to take this. The first is more benevolent—the process of becoming a Deep Gnome is voluntary, and involves both training and alchemical, arcane treatments—more Captain America than Doctor Moreau. If I went this way, then a player character svirfneblin might be an active agent of the Trust: James Jalius Bonde.
A second approach is to emphasize that the process used to create these Deep Agents is horrifying and that they are forced to serve through lifelong indoctrination and psychological conditioning—that the people of Zilargo don’t know about the svirfneblin and would be horrified if they found out. In this case, I’d emphasize that this is the work of a small sub-branch of the Trust—a semi-rogue agency who has hidden their work from the Triumvirate. The reason for this is to emphasize that if a player character is a svirvneblin who’s broken free, that they aren’t being pursued by the entire Trust, which is a crazy burden to place on a PC; rather, they are dealing with a secret agency WITHIN the Trust, which has limited resources. My inspiration here would be the Bourne Identity series—The hero is hunted by Treadstone, not the entire US government. I’d suggest that the player character is presumed dead, and is trying to stay off the grid. With that in mind, I’d actually be willing to give the Svirfneblin Magic feat, but emphasize that they NEED to stay hidden or they will be targeted by assassins. While it’s a powerful ability, there’s a limited number of scenarios that will actually be broken by nondetection, and I think it’s a fun story to explore.
A third possibility would be to make the svirfneblin a society of gnomes WITHIN Zilargo who managed to magebreed themselves to induce the natural nondetection and other talents, as a way to avoid being watched Trust. Essentially, a secret enclave of brilliant alchemist artificers who believe that the Trust is watching EVERYONE with divination magic ALL THE TIME—sort of a tinfoil hat conspiracy taken to an amazing extreme!
Would these Eberron deep gnomes still be gray and bald?
The Lorghali deep gnomes would. The idea is that it’s a physical mutation similar to a genasi. In the case of the “Captain America” agent of the Trust or the “Tinfoil Hat” gnome, I’d be inclined to give them the abilities of the deep gnome but not the traditional appearance; in which case Stone Camouflage might be a sort of limited invisibility (given that it works regardless of what the character is wearing, it’s presumable not just based on skin color). With the “Bourne Identity” version of the Trust agent, I personally WOULD keep the gray-and-bald appearance to emphasize how dramatic the experiments were—that they largely DO stay hidden (though again, Svirfneblin Magic gives them limited use of disguise self!). Of course, in that storyline almost no one knows what a deep gnome is; they’d be a curiosity, quite possibly mistaken for some sort of goblin.
Have you used svirfneblin in an Eberron campaign? If so, share your approach in the comments! And if you’ve missed any of the previous gnome articles, check out the Gnomes of Lorghalen and the Gnomes of Pylas Pyrial! And if you want to vote on the topic of the next dragonmark article, check out my Patreon!
In September, my Patreon supporters chose “Gnomes Beyond Zilargo” as the topic of the month, and I partially covered the topic with this article on The Gnomes of Lorghalen. It’s no longer September, but I wanted to address the Gnomes of Pylas Pyrial before moving on to the next topic.
The Glamerwind River connects the Zil city of Oskilor to the Thunder Sea. There’s only a few small villages along the banks of the river. But choose the right time to sail down the Glamerwind and you may hear ethereal music coming from the Shimmerwood. At night, you might see swarms of glimmering lights dancing among the trees—flights of pixies creating dazzling displays of illusion. If you abandon your boat and follow the music or the dancing lights, you may find a massive tower rising up in a vast clearing, a spire of glowing white stone entwined with threads of gleaming gold. This is Pylas Pyrial, the Gate of Joy—a citadel of the Faerie Court, a wonder from Thelanis momentarily in the mortal world.
Pylas Pyrial is a feyspire. Most of the time it rests in the Moonlit Vale of Thelanis, at certain times it is drawn into Eberron. Usually this occurs when the moon Rhaan is full, but this alone isn’t the determining factor; according to Shan Pyrial, the ruler of the spire, it is the “tides of joy” that draw it to the material plane. Even when it is present, it can’t always be found; people have wandered in the Shimmerwood for days, trying to follow the music and yet never finding it. Additional information about the feyspires can be found in the 4E Eberron Campaign Guide. In general, most feyspires remain hidden from the nations that surround them and are known only from stories. Pylas Pyrial has been known to the gnomes since long before Zilargo was founded, and the majority of the inhabitants of the feyspire are gnomes. Many Korranberg scholars believe that the gnomes of Eberron are most likely descended from gnomes who left Pylas Pyrial long ago; this explains the natural talents for illusion and wild speech that many gnomes develop, both of which are common among the gnomes of Pylas Pyrial. The question is why these ancient gnomes would have left Pylas Pyrial in sufficient numbers to create a beachhead for a new species on Eberron… and adding to this mystery is the fact that Shan Pyrial refuses to discuss it.
While Pylas Pyrial is known to the Zil, they haven’t spread the news of its existence widely. It’s generally seen as a family secret shared by the Zil—told as a story that they know is real. But given how sporadically it appears, one can’t ever be sure of finding it. The region of the Shimmerwood surrounding the tower is a powerful Thelanian manifest zone, and those who have tried to clear the forest or build too close to the spire have always suffered disasters; and those who come to the spire driven by greed cannot pass through the gates. There are a few villages along the Glamerwind, whose people maintain ties with the spire and rejoice when it returns… and there are agents of the Trust in these villages, who monitor the tower and make sure the fey don’t pose a threat to the nation. But by and large Pylas Pyrial is allowed to be a wonder. While it’s shown on OUR maps, the Zil don’t mark it on the standard maps they produce; after all, most of the time it’s not there!
THE GNOMES OF JOY
When the Prince of Summer was betrayed by his lover, his heart froze and he became the Prince of Frost. So bitter was he that he tore the sun from the sky, swearing that there should be no light in the vale while there was no light in his heart. None of the lords of the court challenged him. Some remained silent out of fear, but most found that they preferred to live in moonlight, and so the Moon Court found its name. But there was a gnome who loved to dance under the sun and sought a respite from the somber shadows. She went to the prince’s palace of frozen tears, and found the doors frozen shut. She sang a happy song, and caught the notes as they rose to the sky, carrying her to the highest tower. The prince’s servants barred her path, but the gnome danced with them and melted their frozen hearts. She found the prince on his glittering throne, and begged for him to return the sun. The Prince challenged the gnome to dance for him, to maintain her high spirits while he spoke of every tragedy of the past and of those yet to come. The Prince was certain her heart would freeze as his had, but the gnome held fast to her hope and her light. At last the Prince relented, telling her: You shall be the Prince of Joy, keeper of the summer sun. But you must keep it within your own tower until all of the lords of the Moon Court ask for its return. And you must keep joy bright in your heart, for if it ever fades, the sun will fade with it.
Consider the basic attributes of the Forest gnome. They’re quick, they’re clever, they have a talent for illusions and the ability to speak with small beasts. Add to this mix strong curiosity and a general love of life. These are the gnomes of Pylas Pyrial. In dealing with a Pyrial gnome, imagine that they have stepped right out of a folktale—because in a very real sense, they have. They live in a world that is defined by storybook logic, a world where a good heart and noble intent will allow the reckless hero to overcome those who would do them harm. Some Pyrial gnomes are idealistic and naive, easily deceived; however, others are far more clever than their enemies expect, affecting trust to convince an enemy to lower their guard. However, even such cunning gnomes are never cruel or driven by selfish goals. Joy is the defining principle of Pylas Pyrial. The spire and its people celebrate life, embracing the brightest moments and pushing through the dark.
If this sounds extremely optimistic for the noir-touched world of Eberron, it’s because it is. Pylas Pyrial isn’t a mortal city. It’s an idea, a story about the happiest place on Eberron. It’s a place where the sunlight never fades, where there is always music and laughter. It’s a city where everyone looks out for each other, where people give the happiness of a neighbor the same weight as their own. If it’s hard to imagine how this works, the answer is to not look at it too closely. Because again, on a certain level it’s not real. The gardens always produce a surplus. The golden light of the Summer Sunbanishes disease. Most of its people have never experienced hardship or bitter loss. Some are artisans, creating the wonders that are part of everyday life in the Spire. Some are entertainers, tasked to sing and dance, raising the spirits of those who see and hear them. Others tend the gardens and work in the kitchens, for in Pylas Pyrial every day ends with a grand feast and celebration. Regardless of their position, the people of Pylas Pyrial love what they do, and love bringing happiness to those around them.
Pylas Pyrial typically only appears in Zilargo for a few days each year. Its people welcome guests, but those carrying greed or cruelty in their hearts cannot pass through the Gate of Joy. This is a trait of the gates themselves, not something the guards can control; generally, the guards will talk with those who cannot enter, trying to learn what burdens them and help them to find a path to joy. Once within the spire, strangers are celebrated. The people of Pylas Pyrial are always curious to learn more about the “Sunlit World” (their name for Eberron, in contrast to the Moonlit Vale where the spire spends most of its days). Visitors are encouraged to tell stories, and display whatever talents they might possess. Entertainers will find an enthusiastic audience, and the day always ends with a glorious heroes feast.
The people of Pylas Pyrial trade with the local villagers, and it’s possible to obtain wonders here; common magic items truly are commonplace, and more powerful items can be obtained. But the Pyrial gnomes have no need of gold and no interest in profit. They seek things that bring joy, and may be willing to trade a magic item for a fantastic joke or a heirloom that has brought delight to many despite having no real value. They may also trade things in exchange for promises—a promise to spread joy or to help those dwelling in darkness. But bear in mind that those driven by greed cannot pass the gates, and further that as Pylas Pyrial is on the edge of Thelanis, promises made here carry great weight. While the spire can be a source of wonderful magic items, the creations of Pylas Pyrial cannot easily be replicated in the Sunlit World of Eberron; Zil artificers have long tried to reverse-engineer these gifts, but the magic woven into them is tied to Thelanis and defies all logical arcane science.
The spire itself is surprisingly reminiscent of one of the great towers of Sharn; it is a vast hollow cylinder, with people living on ledges around the edges and platforms and bridges crossing it. At a glance, it seems that the sun itself is at the top of the spire, but in fact this is a globe in a golden cage. The Pyrials say that this is the sun the prince plucked from the sky in Thelanis; on closer examination, it seems to be a crystal sphere about the size of a wagon wheel. Flights of pixies and sprites fill the air. There is always music, and yet it can dramatically change from platform to platform. The temperature is perfect, and there are delightful scents in the air… but both those scents and the temperature vary to match what delights you. On some platforms people play games; on others people dance, dine, or contemplate things of beauty. Many visitors might wish to remain forever, but few can. Most creatures of the Sunlit World will find themselves left behind when the spire departs, suddenly standing in the Shimmerwood. Those who do remain within find it easy to be lost in the endless celebration, losing track of time and whatever goals they might have had. However, those who keep their wits about them can venture out into the Moonlit Vale. In this way, Pylas Pyrial can both provide a passage to Thelanis and a safe haven for adventurers who wish to explore it or negotiate with the Moon Court.
Trouble In Paradise
At a glance, Pylas Pyrial is a magical wonderland… A literal embodiment of joy. Those with evil in their hearts can’t cross its threshold. But there are a number of ways to challenge the joy of Pylas Pyrial. Consider the following ideas…
Wounded in War. During the Last War Aundair launched a sneak attack against Zilargo, targeting a production facility in the Shimmerwood creating alchemical weapons for Breland. This force—which included ground troops, siege staffs, and a team of bombardiers on skystaffs—successfully made it up the Glamerwind, but mistook Pylas Pyrial for its target. The spire withstood the fierce siege, but sustained damage before it disappeared, and a number of residents of the spire who’d been wandering in the woods were left behind. Shan Pyrial was injured in this attack and her wound will not heal; some fear that the vision of war has wounded her sense of joy, and should that fade the tower will crumble and perhaps, the sun itself will be extinguished. It may be that the spire has not returned to Eberron since then, or that if it has the inhabitants have refused to open the gates.
Stranded on Eberron. The 4E Eberron Campaign Guide proposed the idea that a number of Feyspires have been trapped on Eberron since the Mourning, and that the cataclysm also stripped the towers of the defenses that have kept them hidden—along with the enchantments that keep those of evil intent from entering the spire. In the past, the people of Pylas Pyrial knew that visitors had to have good intent and that the visit would only last a few days. Now the spire is trapped, possibly forever. And the longer it remains, the more its fairytale magic may also begin to fade. What do they do if their gardens begin to fade and they don’t have enough food for their endless feasts? Can hope sustain the Gate of Joy even if its magic fades? Will they join the Triumvirate, and if so, will they accept the Trust, or will they defy it?
Hidden Serpents. The effect that prevents those with evil intent from entering Pylas Pyrial is powerful magic, but that doesn’t mean it’s impervious. Perhaps some evil force has taken root inside the citadel. One possibility is rival fey: the Prince of Frost may still yearn to see Shan Pyrial thrown into despair, and his agents could try to trick adventurers into being their tools. Or perhaps a rogue dragon has plans for the tower—or the Trust has managed to get a foothold, not realizing that their malign intentions could poison the spire itself. Perhaps someone seeks to steal the Summer Sun; this is a powerful artifact and immense source of power, but its removal could doom the spire.
Magical Mystery Tour. The spire rejects those who come with greed in their hearts, and the Zil don’t spread word of its existence. But the gnomes who dwell on the Glamerwind love the spire, and a Zil might want to bring friends to the Feyspire. Or perhaps House Ghallanda has learned of the spire and begun to arrange a few expeditions for those seeking something truly exotic; the tour guide’s heart may be weighed down by greed, preventing them from entering the spire, but they can still bring others to it! Pylas Pyrial doesn’t follow an entirely reliable schedule, but there are times it’s most LIKELY to appear. So adventurers could be invited to visit the spire by Zil friends or asked to accompany a Ghallanda tour, perhaps to protect high-paying celebrities from across Khorvaire…
The first question with any Pyrial character is why you’ve left the Gate of Joy to walk the decidedly unjoyful world. A few possibilities…
Curiosity. You’re that storybook hero whose curiosity draws them into endless danger. You’ve always been fascinated by the Sunlit World and chose to leave the spire of your own free will. You may have a particular mystery you want to see or solve—Have tea with a dragon! Find a fey artifact stolen long ago! Meet every king or queen!—or you may have no agenda at all, merely trusting that the road will lead you where you need to go.
Agent of Joy. Shan Pyrial has charged you with a mission vital to the safety of the spire. If you’re using the Wounded in War plotline, you could be searching for something that will cure the wounded shan. If you’re using the Stranded on Eberron plotline, you might be searching for a way to return your home to Thelanis… perhaps by unraveling the mystery of the Mourning itself. Alternately, you could be trying to recover a treasure stolen from the spire by some clever mortal. A key question is how urgent this quest is. Is it the driving force of the campaign? Or do you have time to explore the world and pursue other quests—just always making sure to keep your eyes open for something that will help you as you go about other adventures?
War Orphan. Following the Wounded in War plotline, you could have been stranded in Eberron during the siege of Pylas Pyrial. You might have fled from the Aundairian forces, or you could have even been captured and taken back to Aundair as a prisoner. In both of these cases you may hope to return to Pylas Pyrial, though you may have realized that something’s keeping the spire from returning. Can you maintain your optimism even in the face of unrelenting adversity? Alternately, it could be that you were just a child when you were stranded, perhaps growing up as an urchin; you barely remember the Gate of Joy, but you still have the ability to weave its storybook logic into your artifice or spells.
Pyrial gnomes are defined by their optimism and their fey worldview. While they understand that evil and greedy people exist—most stories have a villain, after all—they hold to hope and to the broader belief that the world is a place of wonders and joy. Even when outwittng or battling a foe, a Pyrial gnome is never cruel. Cruel and greedy behavior on the part of those they consider friends will deeply disturb them, though they may try to draw their friends onto a brighter path rather than simply abandoning them. The key element is that Pyrial gnomes are used to living in a world that meets their expectations. The longer a Pyrial gnome dwells in the Sunlit World, the more they will have to come to terms with the cruelty and suffering that is a part of it. The question is whether hope and optimism will prove stronger than despair, or whether the gnome will be broken by the misery of the mortal world. A Pyrial gnome who’s been overcome by despair could serve as an interesting villain, as they seek to steal the hopes of others.
The second important aspect of Pyrial gnomes is that they carry a touch of Thelanis with them. They are used to operating under storybook logic… and often, that continues to work even beyond their spire. This is especially relevant with Pyrial artificers. These characters use the approach that Exploring Eberron calls “Magical Thinking”. A Pyrial Alchemist might use Cook’s Utensils as a spellcasting focus, producing baked goods with magical effects (have you ever seen someone killed by a catapult pie?). A Pyrial artillerist might use painter’s tools to paint bolts of fire that then become real. A Pyrial urchin artificer can use tinker’s tools just like any other artificer, but create things out of garbage—things that logically shouldn’t work, and yet somehow do.
While artificers are an obvious example of this, Pyrial gnomes can follow many other paths. The gnomes of Pylas Pyrial are gifted illusionists, although they generally use their magic to entertain others, not to harm them; but a Pyrial illusionist will happily use their magic to trick those who would harm others. A Pyrial rogue can describe their class abilities as being tied to remarkable luck; Sneak Attack and Evasion could both reflect being in the perfect place, an enemy stumbling, or something else that follows the story of the lucky gnome. While gnomes are naturally suited to being illusionist wizards and artificers, a Pyrial gnome could easily be an archfey warlock—especially if they’re following the path of the Agent of Joy.
Ultimately, the Pyrial gnome provides an opportunity to play a character who’s literally out of this world—a character who’s stepped out of a fairy tale and who expects the world to act like one. It can serve as a beachhead for a campaign that involves exploring Thelanis, allowing the characters to travel to the Faerie Court and serving as a safe haven while they’re there. If you explore the Wounded In War or Stranded On Eberron plots, it can be a tragic location, with its optimistic people being forced to deal with harsh reality.
Characters don’t have to be gnomes to have a connection to Pylas Pyrial. While gnomes make up a significant portion of the population, the spire is also home to eladrin and to a wide range of fey. Beyond that, any bard or archfey warlock could say that they were drawn to the spire and went with it to Thelanis, learning their skills from fey mentors.
So are the Pyrial gnomes just normal gnomes? Or are they fey?
That depends where they are. Part of the idea is that the mortal inhabitants of Thelanis become more mortal when they leave it. Note that the 5E monster stat blocks for eladrin generally count them as fey—but eladrin player characters are simply humanoids. The gnomes of Pylas Pyrial generally use the traits of Forest gnomes, and they are especially adept with their illusions, which they use constantly to entertain; while in Pylas Pyrial, most residents also possess the abilties of prestidigitation. At the DM’s descretion, Pyrial gnomes could be considered as fey while in the spire. But when they are walking in the Sunlit World, their magic fades a little, and they are largely indistinguishable from their Zil cousins.
Has the Trust infiltrated Pylas Pyrial?
Most Zil assume that it has, but ultimately it’s up to the DM. It’s not a simple matter; agents have to be able to get past the gate, which means that they can’t have evil intent. So you could certainly have agents who just want to protect Zilargo by observing the spire—and again, protecting Zilargo is the mission of the Trust—but you couldn’t have people who hoped to somehow steal the power of the spire or profit from it. Second, you can’t be sure that your agents will remain with the spire when it returns to Thelanis; they could easily be left in the Shimmerwood. Third, for those that are taken with the spire there is a very real risk of them going native. The joy of the spire is infectious, and many would-be spies have likely been swept up in it and forgotten their original missions.
Having said that, there’s no question that the Trust MONITORS Pylas Pyrial and that it has agents in the Glamerwind villages. Someone who receives a remarkable magic item or has some sort of unusual dealings with the spire could be intercepted by Trust agents after leaving Pylas Pyrial.
Do the Dragonmarked Houses have dealings with Pylas Pyrial?
Ultimately this is up to the DM. The general idea is no: the Zil haven’t publicized it; the Pyrial gnomes don’t WANT to have a Gold Dragon Inn opening in the spire; and those driven by greed can’t enter. Given that the spire appears sporadically and that its wonders can’t easily be duplicated, it’s not the most logical investment. If I were to pursue this idea in a campaign, I wouldn’t say that the houses already have dealings with the spire—I’d focus on the idea that they have just learned about it and WANT to have dealings with it. Following on the idea of the Magical Mystery Tour, Ghallanda and Sivis could establish a Glamerwind village—a sort of amusement park on the doorstep—while Cannith could be determined to crack the secret of how fey magic works. All of these create possibilities for active interaction NOW that could involve player characters, rather than just saying that the houses have been working with the spire for centuries.
How do you pronounce “Glamerwind”?
As with anything in Eberron, you can be sure that there are people who pronounce it different ways. However, it’s “wind” as in “wind a clock”—because it’s the river that winds down to the Glamer Bay.
The Zil gnomes don’t identify themselves by clanholds like the Mror, but they do maintain deeply connected and widespread familial connections, yes? Are there family names you use when highlighting Pylas ties?
Zil don’t have clanholds, but they do have HOUSES, which are deeply established alliances of families (note that Sivis was a Zil house before it waas a dragonmarked house). However, the Pyrial gnomes don’t have any sort of concept like this, in part because Zil houses are often a foundation for intrigue and competition and the Pyrial gnomes don’t devote their energies to such things. It’s also a very small population, so a Pyrial gnome is more likely to have a name like Big Halan (because there’s only two Halans and he’s the big one) or Jala the Butcher’s Daughter. This adds to the general chicken and egg mystery of whether Zil gnomes were originally Pyrial immigrants, because you don’t have clear family links.
Do Pyrial gnomes speak the gnome language, Elvish, or Sylvan?
I consider Sylvan and Elvish to be dialects; Elvish uses Sylvan as its base, but has drifted and has a number of slang words and new concepts, and has lost other words. So anyone who speaks Elvish can understand Sylvan and vice versa, but there’s a noticeable accent and a few things that don’t perfectly translate. Meanwhile, we’ve said before that the Gnome language is an artificial, intentionally constructed language created by the early gnomes to replace what they considered to be their original, inferior language (presumably Sylvan). So yes, Pyrial gnomes speak Sylvan by default, not Gnome. There could well be some denizens of Pylas Pyrial who speak Sylvan and Gnome but don’t actually speak Common.
Regarding the Gate of Joy barring those with evil in their hearts: given Eberron’s take on alignment, does this apply to all creatures with an evil alignment or is this protection more particular than that?
It’s more particular. Note that when I first mentioned it I didn’t use the word evil, I mentioned greed and cruelty. The Gate rejects anyone who comes to the spire with evil or selfish INTENT, regardless of the alignment written on their character sheet. An evil character who truly means no harm to the spire and has no desire to profit from their visit could be allowed in, while a good character who’s there with a commercial agenda would be kept out, even if they BELIEVED their goal was a good one. You can’t come into the spire if you intend to cause harm, spread sorrow, or to take advantage of the spire or its people; it’s about purity of purpose, not just alignment.
That’s all for now! Thanks to my Patreon supporters for choosing the topic and keeping the site going. Voting on the next Dragonmark topic is starting now!
As time permits, I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. Here’s a few relating to transportation in Eberron.
How ubiquitous was the lighting rail before/during the last war? Going from the map, it doesn’t look like it actually connects to all that much.
The lightning rail has been in operation for almost two centuries, and in my opinion it is a widespread, common form of long distance transportation. I feel that the rail lines shown on the map are just a few of the most notable ones, but that more or less any major city in the Five Nations will have a lightning rail station, unless it was damaged in the Last War and is awaiting repair. In my first draft of the adventure Shadows From The Last War the adventurers take a lightning rail from Sharn to Rukhaan Draal, and use a lightning runner (see below) on the abandoned rails in Darguun to reach Rose Quarry. So in short, it’s as common as you want it to be, but in MY Eberron, most significant cities of the Five Nations are connected by lightning rail.
Does Eberron have an equivalent to cars or motorcycles?
Magical land vehicles are uncommon in Eberron. Aside from the lightning rail, House Orien uses horses with the equivalent of horseshoes of speed for couriers and high-speed stagecoaches, but the horse is still the motive force (note that these are a form of dragonmark focus item and require a rider or coachman with the Mark of Passage). My first draft of SotLW had a lightning runner, a stagecoach-sized vehicle that can run on the lightning rail. The Explorer’s Handbook introduced the elemental land cart, which is essentially an automobile, but notes “Most of the few elemental land carts in existence belong to nobles of one of the dragonmarked houses.” House Orien and the Twelve are surely WORKING on new forms of land transportation and you can introduce them into your campaign if you choose, but they aren’t common in canon Eberron.
How far in the future do you pitch House Orien demiplane transportation? Could it be introduced tomorrow or is it still a few years away in your mind?
To clarify: Demiplanes are small pockets of reality that connected to the material plane in Khyber. These connections defy normal space, so you could find an entrance to the daelkyr Belashyrra’s prison demiplane in the Shadow Marches, walk for a mile, and then emerge in Xen’drik — a trip that would have taken days or weeks by other methods. It’s been suggested that House Orien would love to find a way to harness this effect, creating a system of transplanar highways.
The people of the Five Nations know almost nothing about demiplanes. The idea of Orien’s interest assumes that the house has stumbled upon a demiplane, confirmed that it is a spatial shortcut, and wants to make use of it. My assumption is that they are working on creating artificial portals, because most existing portals won’t be much use; they can’t do much with a random portal out in the middle of the Shadow Marches. But they could develop an eldritch machine that uses the power of the Mark of Passage (hence, Orien) to rip a path into a demiplane.
With all that in mind, how close is that to being functional? NOT AT ALL. First consider that the whole thing is highly experimental. Consider also that they need to figure out how to get passengers safely through the demiplane. It may be a shortcut, but you still may have to travel for a mile across Belashyrra’s prison to reach the exit point; how are they doing that?. What dangers might they face? Which reaches the main point: in my Eberron, ORIEN HAS NO IDEA WHAT THEY ARE MESSING WITH. This is entirely like Weyland-Yutani discovering a xenomorph and saying “I’ll bet we can use that.” They don’t KNOW that they are opening portals into, for example, daelkyr prisons or overlord’s hearts. I expect that these efforts will have DISASTROUS CONSEQUENCES. So in my campaign, this isn’t a service you can actually expect to WORK any time soon; it’s something that serves to drive ADVENTURES, as adventurers are hired to explore demiplanes, or accompany Orien pathfinders, or to deal with the horrors the house accidentally released into Passage by opening portals best left closed.
What about Brooms of Flying? Exploring Eberron says Aundair used these in the war; have they been adapted for civilian use?
By the rules of Fifth Edition, a broom of flying is an extremely useful item. It’s an uncommon magic item, putting it within the range of Khorvaire’s wide magic. Unlike wings of flying, there’s no time limit on the use of the item, and critically, it doesn’t even require attunement. What’s been suggested is that Aundair used these for elite units and that other nations developed them in smaller quantities—so they aren’t commonplace in civilian life, but they are in the world.
With this in mind, the first question I’d ask is are they brooms? While the core magic item is a broom, I see no logical reason that they should be actual brooms in Eberron; remove the mythology of Earth and there’s no particular reason a broom is associated with flight. So I’d actually call them skystaffs. Keep the same essential shape—a short wooden haft—but remove the bristles, add a seat, and perhaps handles that fold out from the shaft. Essentially, make it a tool clearly designed for its function as opposed to a household item that does something unexpected. I’d then say that while anyone can use one, they require Dexterity checks for tight maneuvers or sustained balance at full speed, unless the rider has proficiency in air vehicles—so anyone CAN use one, but it requires some training to actually use one effectively. As a final element, I’d say that a skystaff is made using soarwood, which is a crucial factor in why there aren’t more of them in service at the moment. The enchantment isn’t that difficult—again, “uncommon” level in terms of its power—but the actual components required to create one are in limited supply, so there aren’t that many around. Having said that, they are most often seen in Aundair, and you’ll certainly see a few in the skies above Fairhaven or darting around Arcanix.
That’s all for now! Thanks to my Patreon supporters for their support and questions.
Every month I ask my Patreon supporters for short questions. Normally I’d spread these out over a lot of short articles, but September kept me busy and I didn’t have a chance. So, here’s an assortment of infrequently asked questions, dealing with dwarves, Dar, the Dark Six, numerology, electrum, and much too much more!
Are the Dark six truly evil? Or are they just misunderstood by the civilized people?
There’s no absolute answer, because the Sovereigns and Six can’t be judged independently of their followers. The Sovereigns and Six are IDEAS. To people who follow the Pyrinean Creed, the Dark Six are literally symbols of evil. The Devourer is the source of the destructive powers of nature. The Shadow creates monsters and lures people down dark paths. While to someone who follows the Cazhaak traditions, the Devourer tests us and weeds out the weak, and the Shadow helps us unlock our true potential. But the whole point of religion in Eberron is that there is no absolute proof that one of these beliefs is right and that the other is wrong. The question is which YOU believe to be true, and what you will do because of those beliefs. So, are the Dark Six truly evil? It depends who you ask. I’ve written a number of articles that talk about how different groups view the Dark Six; these include articles on the Shadow, the Keeper, the Fury, and the Traveler.
How well known is the commonality of the 13-1 in Eberron? Is it common numerology? Does it cause issues with there being 15 member of the Sovereign Host?
People within the setting are aware of the patterns that link certain phenomena. The ones most people know about are the moons, the planes, and the Dragonmarks. Most people believe that this is because there is a relationship between these things—that the moons are linked to the planes or to the dragonmarks in some meaningful way. Most people don’t believe that EVERYTHING is somehow tied to a baker’s dozen, so no one things it’s strange that there’s 15 deities in the Sovereign Host or that there’s only eight beasts in the Race of Eight Winds. And while most people do believe that the numerology of moons, marks, and planes is significant, MOST will say that some of the other baker’s dozens—the number of Mror Holds for example—are surely just a bizarre coincidence, though others will claim that it’s tied to the Prophecy. So people are AWARE of it, but they don’t believe that it does or should apply to every aspect of the world.
You once said “Antus ir’Soldorak recently began minting electrum coins called “Eyes” (due to the stylized eye on one face).” What are the public/private reasons for that eye and what has been the public reaction(s)?
So setting aside the IN-WORD explanation, there’s two explanations for why *I* made those decisions. Electrum pieces have been a weird outlier since AD&D; 4E dropped them completely. I wanted to give them an actual concrete role in the setting, along with a reason why they WEREN’T used in 4E — that they are actually new in the world. As for “Eye”, the MAIN reason for this is to fit the pattern of the coin name matching the letter of the metal: copper crowns, silver sovereigns, gold galifars, electrum eyes. Of course, I chose “Eyes” —rather than, say, “Elephants”—because I liked the idea that perhaps there IS a greater significance to it. The Player’s Guide to Eberron introduces an enchantment spell created by the Aurum that uses a platinum piece as a component; it seemed very in line with Soldorak’s ambitions to create a coin that could be used, perhaps, as a specialized scrying target… that in spreading this new currency across the Five Nations, he’s actually laying the groundwork for a vast spying network.
Is that true? That’s up to you to decide, based on the role of the Aurum in your campaign. Likewise on the reaction to the coins themselves. Personally, I think the reaction would vary from indifference to disdain—with some people seeing it as a publicity stunt and others seeing it as unnecessary. On the other hand, Soldorak could create a publicity campaign suggesting that his electrum coins are more reliable than others—especially if this was combine with a surge in counterfeiting of traditional currencies with base metals.
What’s Shaarat Kol and Kethelrax like? Do the kobolds and goblins have the same culture, or are kobolds as described in Volo’s?
In brief: This article discusses the most widespread kobold culture in Eberron. Droaam in particular has a number of micro-cultures created by the interactions between kobolds, goblins, and the other inhabitants of the regions, so there are isolated kobold clans and bands of goblins that have entirely unique traditions. However, most of the kobolds and goblins of the region have a shared history of being oppressed and dominated by other creatures, which has established a strong bond between the two species and a number of common traditions. This is the foundation of Shaarat Kol: it is a dominion formed from the ground up by kobolds and goblins freed from subjugation and working together to CREATE their own culture. It blends together a number of different micro-cultures, and it’s still finding its identity. Full details on Shaarat Kol and Kethelrax could be a topic for a future Dragonmark article.
Do magebred flowers and plants exist and what uses could they have?
Eberron possesses a host of flora not seen on our world. The most common source of such unusual plant-life is the influence of manifest zones. We’ve already talked about many such plants over time: livewood, Araam’s crown, dawn’s glory. The pommow plant of Riedra is specifically called out as being actively magebred—not merely “naturally” occurring in a manifest zone, but developed by the Inspired. A more detailed exploration of magebred and supernatural plants could be a subject for a future Dragonmark article.
What is the path to citizenship in the Five Nations?
Galifar is based on feudal principles, and most nations retain that basic foundation. To become a citizen of such a nation requires an audience with a local noble. The applicant swears fealty to the nation and its ruler, and also direct allegiance to that local noble; the noble in turn formally accepts them as a subject. This means that the noble is accepting responsibility for that individual, and the individual is promising to obey that noble, pay taxes, and answer any call for conscription, as well as to respect the laws of the land. The noble doesn’t HAVE to accept an offer of fealty, and most won’t unless the potential subject intends to reside within their domain. So it’s entirely valid for a Brelish noble to refuse to accept the fealty of an ogre from Droaam because either they don’t believe the ogre will uphold the laws or they don’t believe that the ogre intends to remain within their domain. Likewise, back before Droaam, the Barrens were considered to be part of Breland but the inhabitants of the region weren’t Brelish citizens, because they’d never sworn fealty to any Brelish lord; legally (from the perspective of Galifar) they were outlaws squatting in Brelish land.
In the modern age, much of this process is handled by bureaucracy, especially in the case of children of existing citizens. In some regions there are annual ceremonies where each child swears an oath to the local lord before being recognized as an adult. But in a populous region like Sharn, the parents will file paperwork when the child is born, and when the child becomes an adult they’ll file their own statement. But the underlying principle remains the same: someone needs to make a decision on behalf of the local lord as to whether to accept the offer of fealty, and this will be based on the applicant’s residence, reputation, family, and other factors.
How do governance and taxation work in the biggest principalities in Lhazaar? Are there any established checks on the princes’ powers, or are they all like little autocracies?
Every principality is unique, and the laws of a principality can dramatically change from prince to prince. As shown by the recent article on Lorghalen, the culture and traditions of the gnome islanders have nothing in common with the Bloodsails. The idea of the Principalities as a truly formalized alliance with a single leader and a more unified set of laws is a very new concept; Ryger ir’Wynarn is striving to bring the Principalities together, but that’s very much a work in progress.
What makes the dwarves of the Realm Below concretely different from the dar of Dhakaan? They’re both subterranean empires. If I want to have adventurers have to deal with daelkyr forces massing in a subterranean ruin, why would I use one instead of the other?
One reason to use one culture instead of the other is the location of the story. Sol Udar occupies a small region, primarily just the land under the Ironroot Mountains. Under most of Khorvaire, the Dhakaani were the only advanced subterranean nation. In Xen’drik you don’t have Dhakaani or Udar; instead you might find the Umbragen drow or Giant ruins. As for cosmetic differences, the appearance of the Realm Below is discussed on page 119 of ExploringEberron. The civilization of Sol Udar was a highly magical civilization that incorporated cantrip effects into daily life. An Udar ruin will have magical lighting, illustrate music, climate control. The Dhakaani are primarily a martial society: their forge adepts created magical weapons, but they didn’t have arcane air conditioners or magical jukeboxes. Dhakaani structures are stark and brutalist in design, though extremely durable; from the ground up, they were designed for WAR. The Udar weren’t so warlike, and their homes have a lot more cosmetic comforts. The second aspect is the degree to which the Udar specialized in working with demiplanes—meaning that for any Udar ruin you want to establish what demiplane it’s attached to and how those effects manifest in the ruin.
In Exploring Eberron, Jhazaal Dhakaan is said to have created the Ghaal’duur horn, but she’s also described as a bard. How does this fit with the fact that the Dhakaani have a strong tradition of artificers?
It’s not just Exploring Eberron; the Ghaal’duur is first mentioned as a creation of Jhazaal in the 3.5 Eberron Campaign Setting. It’s always been assumed that the duur’klala create magic items, but they create magic items associated with bardic magic. Duur’kala create items associated with enchantment, inspiration, and healing, while the daashor generally create armor and weapons of war. Now, the daashor CAN create any sort of item. Jhazaal created the First Crown, which is an artifact tied to inspiration; but it was a daashor who created the Rod of Kings. Still, the general principle is that the forge adepts create the tools of war, while the dirge singers create items associated with peace.
Do the Dragonmark houses view The Twelve as an authority or an advisory body?
The Twelve is technically a RESOURCE. It’s an arcane institute devoted to developing tools and techniques that benefit all of the dragonmarked houses. Dragonmarked heirs learn the arcane arts from the Twelve, and many important tools—such as the Kundarak vault network and most dragonmark focus items—were developed by the Twelve. The Council of the Twelve discusses issues of interest to all houses and helps to mediate disputes, but it has no AUTHORITY… though because its work is of great value to all of the houses, no house would want to take actions that would cause it to be cut off from the institute.
What stands out about Eberron’s transitive planes? Or are they just part of the backbone of Eberron’s reality, and a shortcut to the other planes in the Deep Ethereal and the Astral?
They’re primarily a part of the backbone of Eberron’s reality. In the 3.5 ECS the transitive planes were called out as functioning normally, and we’ve never suggested that they were created by the progenitors; instead, they are part of the basic metaphysical framework that the progenitors built upon. So they are largely supposed to fill the same function as they do in other settings.
What was the family of Mordain Fleshweaver inside House Phiarlan?
This is the sort of question I prefer not to answer. The answer has no significance for me. I could make a D6 table of named Phiarlan families and randomly say “Shol”, because hey, that’s a Phiarlan family. But that doesn’t make anyone’s story BETTER. The question is what do you WANT his family to be? If one of your player characters is a Thuranni, you might say that Mordain is also Thuranni, and might take an interest in the character because of that. Or you could say he was Paelion and will have a vendetta against the PC for that reason. But perhaps you’ve got a character who’s a Shol from Phiarlan… well, maybe Mordain is a Shol! Essentially, Mordain’s specific lineage isn’t an important part of his story, so I don’t want to make a choice that has no meaning for me but might get in the way of YOUR story. Since you’re asking the question, you presumably have a situation where it’s going to matter; so what do you WANT the answer to be? What will be the most interesting answer for your campaign?
That’s all for now! I’ll be asking my Patreon supporters for October questions soon, and I have a new Patreon experiment I’ll discuss next week!
In September, my Patreon supporters chose “Gnomes Beyond Zilargo” as the topic of the month. In the next few days, I’ll be discussing the gnomes of Lorghalen and the Feyspires.
Two years after the founding of Zilargo, a pamphlet was distributed explaining the existence of the Trust and the role that it would play in the nation moving forward. This tract concluded with the words To those who follow the proper path, we shall be as invisible as any ghost. Trust that we have your best interests at heart. Trust that we will act only when we must. Trust that we will always look after the needs of our great family, and that we need your aid as much as you need ours. Today, the Trust is universally accepted as part of Zilargo, and it’s estimated that at least a third of the population works for the Trust in some capacity. But despite what the Triumvirate would have you think, not all of the early Zil embraced the Trust with open arms. Some demanded accountability, insisting that this Trust be drawn into the light. Others called it a coup, urging their families to end the experiment of Zilargo and return to their prior independence. But few spoke out against the Trust for long; deadly accidents and unlikely misfortune quickly stilled to voices that challenged this new order. It seemed it was too late for those who opposed the Trust to remove it from their nation… And so, most chose to remove themselves, leaving their new nation behind.
Many of these dissidents immigrated into the Five Nations, and most who did so abandoned their old ways and fully embraced their new nations. A simple indicator of this is name. Zil gnomes use three names: A personal name, family name, and house name. Alina Lorridan Lyrris is Alina of the Lorridan family in House Lyrris. Even if they have distant blood connections to a Zil family, a gnome with no direct ties to Zilargo won’t be part of a Zil house. So if the gnome sage you meet in Aundair calls herself Talia Lorridan Lyrris, you know she considers herself Zil; if she’s just Talia Lorridan, she’s likely Aundairian.
Other dissidents had grander aspirations and took to the sea. The gnomes had long been accomplished sailors, and while they never had a colonizing spirit, they’d explored the coasts and made note of interesting and unclaimed lands. Now these sailors dreamt of creating their own new havens, whose glories might one day outshine the land they left behind. Sadly, most of these rebel colonies came to bad ends. Tolanen was located on the Shadow Marches; some years after its founding, a trading vessel docked to find the town completely depopulated. While the travelers blamed pillaging orcs, accounts later confirmed that there were no signs of conflict—and that the only looting was committed by the merchants themselves. New Zalanberg was established on the coast of Xen’drik, near the modern settlement of Zantashk. Over the course of decades, it prospered and grew. And then, within the span of a week, its people tore the town and one another to pieces—one of the notable examples of what has come to be recognized as the Du’rashka Tul. There were a handful of others, but only one still thrives to this day: the principality of Lorghalen.
Glancing at a map, you might wonder why Lorghalen was uninhabited when the gnomes claimed it. This tropical island seems far more inviting than the icy mountains of Orthoss and Farlnen. But names tell a story. The Tempest Strait is lashed by storms as powerful as any found in the Thunder Sea. The southernmost island is close to Mabar and Dolurrh, and there are strange ghosts and hungry shadows in the depths of the Dreadwood. The northern coastline of Lorghalen is lined with hidden reefs and unusual stone outcoppings. These threats are exacerbated by unpredictable “currents” that can dash a ship against the rocks… actually the work of the many water elementals that dwell along the coast. The safest landing is Hammer Bay, northeast of the small island. But “The Hammer” isn’t a natural island; it’s a massive earth elemental. It never ventures far from its mapped position, but it has no love of ships; any vessel that draws too close may be shattered by a hurled stone or a mighty fist.
Gnome explorers chronicled these threats long ago, and the gnomes who sailed east knew what they were heading into. The Lorghalen expedition included a number of sages specializing in elementals and Lamannia… Scholars who hoped they could convince the Hammer to let them land safely. And so they did, establishing the town of Cornerstone on the shore of Hammer Bay.
Exploring the island, the gnomes found that it was poised on the edge of Lamannia. The land was bountiful, fresh water was plentiful, and much of the island was alive. Lorghalen has the most intense concentration of elementals found beyond the wild zones of Sarlona. Stones roll of their own accord. The earth rumbles. What seems to be a peaceful pond might unexpectedly move to a new location. Most of the elementals of Lorghalen are spirits of earth and water, but there are storms that follow paths of their own choosing and pits of endless fire. These elementals are creatures of Lamannia, pure and inhuman; there are no dao or marids here. There are also a number of megafauna beasts in the deep jungle; sailors may occasionally spot rocs hunting whales off the coast of Lorghalen. This is why the island had never been colonized in the past; what city could survive the ravages of an avalanche of earth elementals? But the colonists came prepared. The leaders of the expedition had long studied elementals, convinced that it was possible to reason with these alien creatures. Using these techniques they were able to secure the region around Cornerstone. Over the course of generations, the Lorghalen gnomes developed and honed these techniques, learning how to live in harmony with the elementals and even to convince the spirits and beasts of the land to work with them. This lifestyle has consequences. Cornerstone is the only large city on the island; other gnomes live in family estates along the coast, or on the edge of the jungle. But the deep jungles of Lorghalen are left to the primal forces. The gnomes know what they can harvest without upsetting the balance, but they are careful not to push these limits.
After a few minor clashes in the region, the Lorghalen gnomes were recognized as one of the Lhazaar Principalities. Their small fleet primarily focuses on merchant trade within the Principalities. There are many unusual plants in the jungles of Lorghalen, and the Lorghali produce medicines, drugs, and potent spirits. The wood of Lorghalen is exceptionally strong, rivaling the densewood and bronzewood of Aerenal; the Lorghali don’t export lumber, but they sell fine wooden goods. While there are relatively few ships in the Lorghalen fleet, Lhazaar tread lightly around a Lorghali vessel; not only are the hulls of their ships exceptionally strong, but most vessels are accompanied by one or more water elementals. These friendly spirits help propel the vessel, allowing Lorghalen ships to match the capabilities of Lyrandar elemental galleons. In battle, Lorghalen ships are known for launching small earth elementals at opposing ships, stone missiles that continue to wreak havoc after impact. All together, the Lorghalen gnomes are known and respected within the Principalities, but are largely unknown beyond it. For the most part they do their trading within the islands, allowing others to carry their goods to distant lands.
WHO ARE THE GNOMES OF LORGHALEN?
The gnomes of Lorghalen and share some traits with their Zil cousins. They love clever oratory and prefer to solve their problems with words instead of swords. But where the gnomes of Zilargo dive deep into intrigue, the founders of Lorghalen based their society on principles of freedom and honesty. The founders of Cornerstone swore that there would be no secrets on their island: that all knowledge should be shared, and all problems drawn into the light, not removed in the shadows. Ties to previous Zil houses were dissolved, and all gnomes of the island consider themselves to be one house; so a gnome of the island might introduce themselves as Tara Tan Lorghalen.
Families are still important to the Lorghalen gnomes, and each family maintains an estate—a farming village based around a central long house. Each family is known for specific crops and skills, and Cornerstone is where they all come together. While families maintain funds for dealing with the world beyond Lorghalen, on the island the economy is largely driven by barter and the exchange of favors. All of the families have lodging in Cornerstone, and each family has three representatives on the Cornerstone Council, which governs the island and mediates disputes. The council is led by the Prince of Lorghalen, but this is an unusual position with less power than in other principalities. The Prince of Lorghalen is recognized as the cleverest gnome on the island, and as such someone whose voice should always be heard and opinion considered. But they have no power beyond that. Any Lorghali can claim the title by defeating the current prince in a series of duels of wit and strategy. Sometimes decades go by with no challenges; at other times, challenges have been a weekly or daily occurrence.
The Lorghali produce excellent mediators, apothecaries, and farmers. But what makes them truly remarkable is their tradition of primal magic and their relationship with the elementals of the region. As discussed in this article, the elementals of Lamannia are alien creatures whose thought processes and perception of reality are quite different from those of the humanoids of Eberron. Rather than binding elementals, the Lorghalen stonesingers manipulate elementals and natural forces by communing directly with the spirit and convincing it to help. At its simplest level—producing the sort of effects associated with druidcraft—this is barely more complicated than singing a few words in Primordial. More significant requests require a deeper communion with the spirits, which requires both concentration and an expenditure of will in addition to the song—urging the spirit to comply, impressing the request onto it. These things thus carry all the standard limitations of casting a spell.
The most common and important work of a stonesinger is to work with elementals. On a Lorghalen ship, a stonesinger literally sings to the elemental associated with the ship, encouraging it to move the vessel swiftly. If the stonesingers are killed, the elemental will still recognize the vessel as friendly, but it can’t be compelled to perform any particular action and it may simply wander off. On the island, stonesingers negotiate with the elementals to establish the territories where the gnomes can build, and convince earth elementals to plow their fields and water elementals to provide irrigation. Remarkable stonesingers can manipulate elemental and natural forces in more subtle ways—charming beasts, encouraging plants to grow, even conjuring fire or drawing lightning from a clear sky. Others learn the melodies that define their own bodies, learning how to heal injuries or even change their shape. Almost every Lorghalen gnome knows at least a few simple songs, but those who can work greater magics—those with the powers of bards or druids, discussed in more detail below—are greatly respected. While the stonesingers are a unique tradition that plays a central role in Lorghalen culture, they have nothing against other forms of magic; in particular, Lorghalen alchemists are able to perform wonders using the unusual plants of their island. The original immigrants included a handful of dissidents from the families of House Sivis, and while the Lorghali have made no particular effort to cultivate the Mark of Scribing, there are still a few gnomes in each generation who manifest the mark; such gnomes often become the most gifted wizards of the island.
Overall, the gnomes of Lorghalen have little interest in dealing with the outside world. They consider it to be a dangerous place driven by greed and dishonesty. However, some are drawn beyond the island by sheer curiosity, others by the challenge of matching wits with a dangerous world, and some by a need to obtain resources or techniques unavailable on Lorghalen. Most strive to remain true to the principles of their culture even in hostile lands, solving problems through open discussion rather than treachery and subterfuge. They aren’t fools; a Lorghalen gnome won’t spill every secret to a stranger, and even is a gnome doesn’t want to lie, they don’t have to say anything at all. But they prefer Persuasion to Deception—believing that they can convince an enemy of the proper path. Intimidation is also an acceptable tool, but this is largely a matter of tone—not making ideal threats, but rather making sure an enemy understands just how dangerous the wrong decision could be.
Gnomes make up the vast majority of the population of the island, though there are a few others who have immigrated over the years. Because of the dangers posed by the Hammer, usually the only way to reach Cornerstone is on a Lorghalen ship. The Lorghali are largely gracious hosts and curious gnomes are often eager to talk to outsiders, but the gnomes are aware that outsiders don’t share their traditions of honesty and watch strangers with both eyes. In particular, over the last century a number of Zil have reached out to Lorghalen. The islanders are especially suspicious of their cousins and do not trust the Trust, but there has been a little cultural exchange; notably, a fascination with the Lorghalen stonesinging techniques led to the rise of the Power of Purity movement in Zilargo.
You can play a gnome from Lorghalen using standard rules. However, here’s a few variants you could consider if both DM and player approve. These are as unofficial as can possibly be, and solely reflect what I’d do at my table.
The stonesingers of Lorghalen aren’t druids in the traditional sense. Notably, few have the ability to change shape, and they generally don’t speak the Druidic language. This ties to the idea that the stonesingers are largely channeling the power of Lamannia as opposed to Eberron, and channel this power through song and force of personality rather than faith. You could reflect this in two ways.
The typical stonesinger uses the bard class, but uses the druid spell list instead of the bard spell list. Stonesingers have no particular knack for illusion or enthralling humanoids; they use their songs to charm the elements themselves. The College of Eloquence and the College of Lore are both sound choices for stonesingers.
Lorghalen druids learn the Primordial language instead of Druidic, unless they already speak Primordial. Add Perform to the list of skill proficiencies available to the class. Shapeshifting stonesingers are rare, but the stories of those who can sing new shapes speak of singers who can assume elemental form, so Circle of the Moon is a reasonable choice.
Variant Gnome: Lorghalen
The standard rules for gnomes can be used for Lorghalen gnomes, especially Forest gnomes and those rare few with the Mark of Scribing. However, Lorghalen gnomes are known more for their charisma than their intellect, and for working with nature as opposed to weaving illusions. With this in mind, a DM and player could choose to represent a Lorghalen gnome by making the following changes to the Forest gnome.
Ability Score Increase. Your Dexterity score increases by 1, and your Charisma score increases by 2. This trait replaces the Ability Score Increase traits of both the Gnome and the Forest gnome.
Song of the Elements. You know the Druidcraft cantrip. Charisma is your spellcasting ability for it. In addition, you can speak, read, and write Primordial. This trait replaces the Natural Illusionist trait of the Forest gnome.
Any sea-related background can be an appropriate choice for a Lorghalen character. Lorghalen pirates are rare, but sailors, fishers, and shipwrights are all common on the isle. An entertainer could be the first stonesinger to actually perform on the stages of the Five Nations. A Lorghalen hermit’s discovery could involve something about Lamannia or elementals—perhaps a terrible secret about the elemental binding industry! Lorghalen gnomes generally use the forest gnome or Mark of Scribing subrace.
While stonesingers are the most distinct aspect of Lorghalen culture, a Lorghalen gnome could pursue any class. An Alchemist artificer could make their potions using strange herbs and elemental ores brought from the island. The Lorghali aren’t especially religious—they don’t see a divine hand at work in nature, instead interacting with the spirits directly—but a Lorghali paladin could present their Oath of the Ancients as being tied to Lamannia.
Of course, a crucial question for a Lorghalen gnome is why have you left? Most islanders are quite content on their elemental paradise. What’s cause you to travel into the deadlands of Khorvaire? The Reasons For Leaving Lorghalen table can provide some ideas.
As with anything in Eberron, the ultimate question is why does it matter? What can Lorghalen add to your game that you can’t find anywhere else? What could bring adventurers to travel to this isolated island, or to cause a stonesinger to cross their path? Here’s a few ideas.
While Lorghalen’s fleet is small, its ships and fast and powerful. Traditionally it hasn’t been deeply involved with the politics of the Lhazaar Principalities, but in the wake of the Treaty of Thronehold the gnomes could play an important role in securing the position of the High Prince.
When adventurers stumble through a manifest zone to Lamannia, they re-emerge in Lorghalen. What will it take to return home?
The Lorghali dislike deception and rarely engage in piracy… until now. A Lorghali warship is terrorizing the region around the Dreadwood, supported by a host of elementals. Who is this pirate, and what are their motives?
There are many wonders in the deep jungles of Lorghalen: megafauna beasts, massive elementals, plants charged with the energies of Lamannia. Adventurers are sent to Lorghalen to retrieve something from the jungles. Perhaps a Cannith alchemist needs a legendary berry, or an Aurum showman wants them to capture a megafauna beast. Can they get past the Hammer? Will the Lorghali interfere with their quest?
The Lorghali have forged an alliance with the Power of Purity and the Ashbound druids and are launching a concerted effort to disrupt Zilargo’s elemental binding industry and sabotage elemental vessels. Is this just a matter of principle, or do they know a terrible secret that could lead to a far worse catastrophe?
A previous article on the Lhazaar Principalities said that the gnomes occupied Lorghalen before Lhazaar arrived, whereas this suggests they claimed the island after Lhazaar.
That’s correct. What I’m now saying is that early gnome explorers discovered Lorghalen long ago, but only settled it after the rise of the Trust.
Do the Dragonmarked Houses have outposts on Lorghalen?
They don’t have a significant presence on the island. I’d rather explore the story of the houses taking an interest in Lorghalen and actively trying to expand their presence there rather than have it be established. So there’s no Orien outpost or Lyrandar docking tower in Cornerstone. I might give them a Gold Dragon Inn that’s just opened in the wake of the Treaty of Thronehold. It could also be interesting to have a Sivis outpost that’s recently established and working with Lorghali foundlings with the Mark of Scribing. House Sivis would certainly be interested in tapping a new supply of heirs—but the Council of Cornerstone is suspicious of Sivis and anything that could give the Trust a foothold on their island.
What’s the religion of the Lorghali?
The Lorghali follow a tradition of concrete animism. They live in a land that is literally alive with spirits; they refer to the lands beyond the island as “Deadlands” because of this, finding it depressing to wander in realms where the wind and waves aren’t singing back to them. There are a number of exceptionally powerful entities, including elementals like the Hammer and legendary megafauna beasts. So the Lorghali don’t believe in distant, abstract deities; instead, they focus on concrete, local spirits. They respect nature, but in a much more CONCRETE way that a druid who reveres Eberron as a whole; they have a personal relationship with the well that provides their water and the boulder that roles by every day, and they likely have festivals in which the greater spirits are invoked. But this isn’t about FAITH, it’s a practical, concrete relationship—which is why they tend toward primal magic as opposed to divine.
What are the Lorghali’s beliefs in regards to death and the afterlife then?
They’re largely laid back about it. They’re focused on living their best life, and when it’s over, it’s over; whatever happens next will happen. It’s essentially the opposite of Aerenal and the faiths that are obsessed with avoiding Dolurrh; at the end of the day, the Lorghali don’t care what happens after death, as long as they live a good life. Having said that, they also live right next to the Dreadwood, which is tied to Mabar and Dolurrh; I imagine there’s at least one story cycle that essentially presents Lorghalen as the isle of the living, and Dreadwood as the isle of the dead. But the ultimate point is that the Lorghali don’t care about the afterlife; they care about living their best life now.
How much strong do you see The Hammer in CR terms?
I don’t think you could measure the Hammer in CR terms. You’re talking about an earth elemental so large that it shows up on the map as an island. Imagine trying to destroy a mountain by hitting it with a sword; it’s a crazy concept. If I was to use it in an encounter, I’d be inclined to treat it almost as an environmental effect rather than a creature; every X rounds a boulder will impact, can you get out of range before destroys your ship? Or I’d have adventurer literally fight its hand… if they do enough damage to that, it retreats. But it’s on such a vast scale that I wouldn’t treat the Hammer itself as a standard creature.
That’s all for now. My next article will look at the gnomes of the Feyspires! Thanks to my Patreon supporters for choosing these topics and keeping this site going—I’ll be posting the stat block for the Lorghalen cannonball on Patreon!
The island of Aerenal is home to the majority of the elves of Eberron, including the Aereni and the Tairnadal. I’ve written a number of articles about these cultures, and Exploring Eberron delves deeper still, but my Patreon supporters came up with a few new questions!E
Are the people of Khorvaire aware of the basics of the Undying Court?
I think the common people of Khorvaire are aware that the Aereni worship their ancestors and keep them alive as some form of undead, but that’s about it; I wouldn’t expect a random citizen of the Five Nations to know what a “Deathless” is without making an Intelligence (Religion) check.
Have the Aereni sought to colonize a major Irian manifest zone elsewhere?
It’s never been mentioned in any canon source. The Valraean Protectorate in Exploring Eberron was established to create a secure buffer around Aerenal rather than being driven by a desire for significant expansion. However, just because it hasn’t been done in canon is no reason not to do it in your story. If *I* were to do this, I personally wouldn’t make it AERENAL that’s driving the colony, but rather a specific noble line or dissident group that wants to essentially found a “New Aerenal”—perhaps tied to the Skullborn, the elves who yearn to become deathless but who aren’t willing (or worthy) to follow the long and difficult path this transition usually requires. A secondary advantage to this—making it a smaller faction, not Aerenal as a whole—is that it makes it easier for adventurers to oppose the colony (or ally with it) without affecting their relationship with Aerenal itself.
Is it possible for other non Elven religions or groups to create and maintain positive energy undead like the Undying Court?
Sure. It requires powerful Irian manifest zones, a specific set of rituals and resources, and a population that’s fiercely devoted to the undead—as part of the idea of the positive energy undead it’s that devotion that sustains them when they leave the manifest zone. Like any sort of magic, this isn’t supposed to be easy or trivial; if it was, everyone would be doing it! But it’s not supposed to be something that’s somehow limited to ELVES. I could easily imagine an Irian zone in the Demon Wastes that serves as a bastion for the Ghaash’kala, with a few deathless elders who have protected this haven for millennia.
It seems weird to me how close the Undying Court is to the goals of the Seekers, especially considering the latter were inspired by its enemy.
All of the Elven cultures—the Tairnadal, the Aereni, the line of Vol—were driven by the basic question of how do we preserve our greatest souls? The Aereni created the Undying Court, preserving their heroes with their devotion. The Tairnadal become living avatars of their patron ancestors. The line of Vol noted that the flaw with both of these approaches is they are dependent on their being living elves who continue to practice their devotion. If all elves died—or simply had a change of heart—the patron ancestors would be forgotten and the Undying Court would be trapped in Shae Mordai. So Vol embraced Mabaran necromancy, ensuring that its beloved ancestors would be able to TAKE the lifeforce they needed to survive, whether as vampires, liches, or other undead.
As discussed in Exploring Eberron, the Blood of Vol is a comparatively young religion that was born on Khorvaire and is only loosely inspired by the traditions of the line of Vol (which are preserved more closely by the Bloodsail elves of Farlnen). But actually, the goals of the Undying Court and the Blood of Vol aren’t really that similar. Both agree that death is oblivion. The Blood of Vol believes that all living creatures have a spark of divinity within them—that there is divine potential in life, but that most creatures die before they can master this power. They believe that only the living have this power, and that while undeath may be a way to escape oblivion, undead creatures—both deathless and Mabaran—no longer have the spark of divinity and can never achieve their true potential. The Undying Court essentially believes the OPPOSITE of this; they believe in a transcendental state that can only be attained by the deathless, but the fact that the deathless rely on the living to sustain them prevents everyone from getting to pursue this power. So the Aereni don’t want to live forever; they believe that death and the transition to deathlessness is a necessary part of ascension.
So, they’re similar in “They are religions that believe death is bad and that it’s possible for people to ascend to a higher state.” But the Aereni believe that only a few people can achieve this higher state and that it can only be achieved after death, while the Blood of Vol believe that it’s possible for everyone to achieve divinity, but that death is the absolute end of that journey.
What was there in Aerenal before the elves?
Describing all of the challenges the elf refugees faced in founding their nation and all of the wonders they discovered would be the subject of a major article, not an IFAQ. However, if the question is were there any CIVILIZATIONS in Aerenal before the elves, no. The elves didn’t come to Aerenal as conquerors with the power to sweep aside an existing nation. They were a diverse armada of refugees from different subcultures, fleeing both war and dragonfire. The modern cultures—Vol, Aereni, Tairnadal—evolved ON Aerenal. But the idea has always been presented that Aerenal was an untamed and undeveloped land, a seemingly blessed refuge for these weary travelers.
Having said that, it’s a valid question as to WHY Aerenal was uninhabited. Humanoids are spread across Eberron, and Aerenal is a large and fertile land. Why had no one settled there? Here’s a few possibilities, each of which could support a different story.
It wasn’t sheer luck that brought the refugee fleet to Aerenal, and it wasn’t pure chance that the land was uninhabited and ready from their use. A cabal of dragons were responsible for both of these things; they secretly protected and guided the fleet, and they had carefully cleared the land in advance. This surely means that Aerenal has a role to play in the Prophecy, and it would surely be tied to the ongoing Elf-Dragon Wars. Canon sources have already suggested that those “wars” might be Argonnessen honing the skills of the elves in preparation for a true challenge yet to come; it could be that they set this plan in motion tens of thousands of years ago. If this is the case, it both means that the dragons have a plan for Aerenal and that there MIGHT have been a previous civilization on Aerenal, but if so, the dragons destroyed or removed it. Who knows? Perhaps Seren civilization began on Aerenal!
Aerenal is filled with powerful Irian manifest zones that support the creation of deathless. It’s possible that there was a previous civilization that achieved the creation of deathless, only to disappear completely long before the elves arrived. Did all of its members achieve some sort of deathless transition? Or, like the line of Vol warned, did the living members of the society die (perhaps due to a plague, perhaps due to dragons?) leaving their deathless to fade away without mortal devotion?
Aerenal also holds powerful Mabaran manifest zones. One possibility is that the prior society sought to harness THIS power, and their unwise efforts ultimately resulted in the death of their people. Alternatively, their major cities could have been consumed by Mabar (as described in Exploring Eberron), perhaps still existing there; could this be the origin of the Bone King? If either of these scenarios are true, could the cataclysm occur a second time? Or could the Undying Court hold it at bay?
Are there humanoids that have a significant presence or role in Aerenal beyond elves and half elves—something more meaningful than just traders, ambassadors, or tourists?
No. The 3.5 Eberron Campaign Setting presents the population of Aerenal as 77% elves, 19% deathless, 3% half-elves, 1% other. Both Aereni and Tairnadal are insular cultures unwelcoming to outsiders, and at least throughout the history of the elven presence there’s never been a rival humanoid culture on Aerenal.
That’s all for now! Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters for making this blog possible.
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?
A hidden alliance of rakshasa and other fiends, the Lords of Dust have manipulated the world since the dawn of time. The rakshasa wove themselves into the tapestry of human civilization in its earliest days. When the explorer Lhazaar gathered her expedition for Khorvaire, there was a rakshasa advisor at her side. Looking at the power of the Council of Ashtakala, people might wonder why the Lords of Dust haven’t conquered the world. A rakshasa’s first answer to this would be, “Haven’t we?”
“Eternal Evil”, Dragon 337
The aftermath of the Last War has produced many threats. The Swords of Liberty, the Order of the Emerald Claw, and the Lord of Blades are revolutionaries or extremists. The Aurum and the Dragonmarked Houses are driven by greed and ambition, capitalizing on the chaos caused by the Last War. People frightened or unhinged by the horrors of war may embrace dark powers, creating cults of the Dragon Below.
As an adventurer, these may be first threats you’ll encounter. But as you delve deeper and grow in power, you may face older and stronger threats. Now you’re not just fighting the Cults of the Dragon Below, you’re dealing with Dyrrn the Corruptor or one of the other daelkyr who destroyed the Empire of Dhakaan. You began by battling soldiers of the Order of the Emerald Claw, but now you’re dealing with Lady Illmarrow, who has spent two thousand years plotting her revenge. Perhaps you initially fought a street gang being manipulated by their dreams; now you’re dealing with the Dreaming Dark, who spent the last thousand years consolidating their power over Sarlona and are now reaching out for Khorvaire. You may have clashed with a rakshasa or dealt with a dragon; was it operating alone, or did you have a glimpse of a greater plan?
If you pull on that thread, you may come into direct conflict with the greatest powers of Eberron: the Lords of Dust and the dragons of Argonnessen. These forces have been fighting one another since the dawn of time. Humanity may think it’s fought the last war, but the first war has never ended. The dragons (and the couatl) bound the ancient overlords who once dominated Eberron, but the Lords of Dust—the immortal servants of the overlords—endlessly toil to release their dread masters and to return Eberron to an age of primal chaos. The dragons of Argonnessen will stop at nothing to prevent this from happened. Both discovered long ago that little can be accomplished with direct physical conflict; victory depends on using the Draconic Prophecy to shape the future, which requires them to manipulate the younger races. So as the opening paragraph relates, despite their vast power neither fiends nor dragons have any interest in conquering humanity; the nations of Khorvaire are unwitting pawns in a vast and ancient game. The lesser forces you fought in your first adventurers may themselves have been manipulated by one side or the other in the First War, and you may have received assistance from a dragon or fiend—something that was surely helpful at the time, but that drove you down a particular Prophetic path.
To sum up: Most adventurers begin their stories dealing with mortal, modern threats. As they progress they will face older and stronger powers, and they may see the hand of the Chamber and the Lords of Dust. As they come into their full strength, adventurers may finally see the full scope of the First War… and they may have the power and influence to stop being pawns and to become active players in this great game. The First War cannot be won, but powerful adventurers can choose the path for the future, rather than being manipulated by ancient forces.
Friend or Foe?
The Lords of Dust want to collapse the world into a fiendish apocalypse, which is clearly bad for everyone. Argonnessen opposes that, which makes it easy to see the dragons as the heroes—champions opposing demons! But it’s important to understand that the dragons are not friends to humanity. Think of how we humans interact with mice. Most of the time, we ignore them completely. A few of us think they’re cute, and keep a few specific mice as pets. When mice become pests, we exterminate them without a second thought. And when we need something—to test our cosmetics, to study cancer or psychology—we will use them for our experiments, torturing or killing them without remorse. So it is with Argonnessen and humanity. Yes, their battling the Lords of Dust protects us from the demons, but that’s incidental. They aren’t doing it for us, and if they have to wipe out a human nation—or human civilization—to protect Argonnessen, they will. It’s entirely possible that the Chamber caused the Mourning—killing hundreds of thousands of innocent humans—because it served their goals in the First War. The dragons aren’t our saviors; they are still monsters, who can inflict devastating damage in pursuit of their goals. Why don’t they stop the Dreaming Dark, or the Last War, or injustice against warforged? Because they don’t care about any of these things. A SINGLE dragon might take an interest and help lesser creatures—as Vvaraak did when she established the Gatekeepers—but note that Vvaraak was an outcast because of these sympathies. A dragon MAY help you when you are fighting the Lords of Dust, but that’s likely because your actions serve its purposes… and if your usefulness comes to an end, it will abandon you.
Again: any individual dragon—whether a rogue pursuing its own agenda, or an agent of the Chamber manipulating mortals—could become a friend or ally of the adventurers. Dragons are mortal creatures and unique individuals; they’re pursuing interests of their civilization, but they could always choose a new path, or simply develop an attachment to their particular mortal tools. Adventurers are less likely to develop a friendship with one of the Lords of Dust; as immortals, these fiends are literal embodiments of evil and won’t stray from far from their core purpose. But the thing to remember is that as a whole the dragons aren’t fighting to protect humanoids; they’re fighting to protect Argonnessen, and any benefit to humanoids is incidental. To most dragons, humanoids are necessary tools at best, annoying pests at worst. They will sacrifice individuals, cities, or even nations without remorse if it supports their agenda… and as the non-giant civilizations of Xen’drik can attest, collateral damage is a serious risk when Argonnessen unleashes its full power.
The Battleground of Prophecy
The Lords of Dust and the Chamber are battling to drive the direction of the Prophecy. But what does that MEAN? This article goes into more detail about the prisons of the overlords and the role of the Prophecy in binding them. The short form is that the Prophecy is a vast matrix of If-Then statements. The future isn’t set in stone, but anchor events can lock in specific consequences. If the Beggar King kills Queen Aurala in the light of five moons with the Blade of Sorrows, Then the Eldeen Reaches and Aundair will join together as the Kingdom of the Pines. If the Greatpine’s Daughter is slain by the Tyrant Kraken at the Battle of the Bloody Field, then the Wild Heart shall rise again. While the grand scope of the future is always fluid, anchor events lock in particular consequences. If the Beggar King (and is this an elevated urchin… or could it be Prince Oargev?) kills Aurala as described, Eldeen and Aundair will be joined. Exactly how that happens isn’t set, but seemingly random chance will keep pushing in that direction until it happens. Anchors don’t set the ENTIRE future, but they will ensure specific parts of it.
One thing to bear in mind about the First War is that it’s being fought on many fronts. We talk about the Lords of Dust as a singular entity, but it’s an alliance of servants of many overlords, each pursuing their own goals. Looking to the example of the Beggar King, the servants of the Wild Heart have identified a Prophetic thread that leads to their goal—a series of anchoring events, likely spread out over a vast span of time. The Beggar King killing Aurala is just one point on that thread. Let’s say the Beggar King is Prince Oargev. The servants of the Wild Heart had to make sure the Mourning happened, because it was the Mourning that destroyed Cyre and created the Beggar King. Earlier in the thread, they had to ensure the creation of the Blade of Sorrows, which involved manipulating a Dhakaani daashor… so that ten thousand years later the Beggar King could use that blade to kill Aurala, and ultimately, lead to the release of the Wild Heart. Keep that glacial pace in mind. There are at least thirty overlords, and different factions of the Lords of Dust are working to unleash all of them. But each overlord is bound to different Prophetic threads, and most of those cannot be resolved in the near future. The Lords of Dust may be working on a plan to release the Voice in the Darkness, and one of its anchoring events may play out in a campaign, but she still can’t be RELEASED for at least another two centuries; a victory in the present just gets them closer to the goal. So in creating a campaign, it’s up to the DM to decide which overlords COULD be released in this current time; the others can still be background threats, but they won’t be released in this century.
It seems like such a complex web of causality would be easy to disrupt. If the Wild Heart needed the Mourning to occur, why didn’t the Chamber stop it? The first point is that there are thousands of threads of the Prophecy in motion. While the Wild Heart needed the Mourning to occur to aid in its release, the Chamber may have needed the Mourning to occur to lock in five other threads that they want to have happen. The Chamber might also want to createthe Beggar King, but THEY want him to marry the Queen of Words, because that’s what will ensure that the Daughter of Khyber remains bound. It’s also entirely possible that the Chamber doesn’t KNOW about the thread concerning the Beggar King and Aurala. The signs that reveal threads are spread across the world and are constantly evolving; a major part of the work of the Chamber is digging for new threads and monitoring changes.
Changes? Yes. A crucial point is that the Prophecy is a living thing. It’s entirely possible that after all the work the Wild Heart did—ensuring the creation of the Blade of Sorrows, making sure the Mourning came to pass—that someone will simply kill the Beggar King in a manner that prevents resurrection. Hurrah! Now he can’t kill Aurala and the Wild Heart will never be released, right? Wrong. What it means is that the Prophecy will weave a new possible path that results in the release of the Wild Heart. The Lords of Dust will search for it and start setting it in motion. This is what the war looks like; the Wild Heart has surely almost been released a dozen times (and may HAVE been released or partially released during the Silver Crusade), but it’s always ultimately been blocked and rebound, kicking the can down another few centuries as new threads are woven.
Keep in mind that the Prophecy requires the actions of specific individuals, though the identity of those individuals may be cryptic: the Beggar King, the Greatpine’s Daughter, the Tyrant Kraken. It would be easy for the Cult of the Wild Heart to kill Queen Aurala. They have an army of demons. But just killing Aurala won’t serve any purpose. They need the Beggar King to do it—at a specific time and with a specific weapon. They likely needed a specific daashor to forge the Blade of Sorrows. For all their vast might, both dragons and demons are dependent on the individuals through which the Prophecy flows.
The First War and You
So, Why does this matter? What is the narrative purpose of the First War, and why did we make it part of the setting? First of all, it establishes the most powerful beings in the setting, factions that should be terrifying even to the mightiest player character. But having done that, it also provides a concrete reason why these forces don’t dominate the world, making all lesser beings and conflicts irrelevant. It’s that basic question — Why don’t the Lords of Dust conquer the world?—to which the answer is that won’t get them what they want. They COULD conquer Breland easily enough, but they don’t want to rule a kingdom of mortal mice; they want to revel in the immortal glory of the overlords, and that means following the thread. So, it establishes that there ARE powerful beings that can challenge any adventurer, but it clearly gives them something to do and a reason to keep a low profile. It also gives them a clear reason to work through mortal agents, meaning that they can be patrons for the heroes and villains alike—pushing the stories you want to have happen from the shadows. They can be mysterious benefactors and shadowy masterminds, working at any level of a story. A rakshasa patron could be assisting a bandit chief in eastern Aundair, someone who seems entirely unimportant, and who IS entirely unimportant in the big picture—except, that his rise to power and subsequent defeat at the hands of the adventurers is part of a Prophetic thread. So, the adventurers defeat the bandit chief; they get a cool magic sword, which seems way TOO cool for this thug to have; and they learn from defeated bandits that the chief received the sword from a mysterious sage, who also gave him guidance. That sage is nowhere to be seen. But perhaps, as the adventurers continue the journey, that sage will turn up again, helping another group of their enemies. Are the adventurers interfering with the plans of the Lords of Dust? Or are the adventurers themselves part of the plan—are their victories actually part of the thread that the rakshasa needs to release its overlord? You could have a campaign that is ostensibly about fighting the Emerald Claw and Lady Illmarrow, and only discover after she has been defeated that the “final fall of the Queen of the Dead” was a crucial key to the release of Katashka the Gatekeeper, and that the Lords of Dust have been helping them in minor ways all along.
As a DM, consider the following ways you could use the Draconic Prophecy and the First War in a campaign.
Who Needs Prophecy? You don’t have to use the Lords of Dust, the dragons of Argonnessen, or the Draconic Prophecy in your campaign at all. All canon is just a starting point for your stories; if you want, you can drop these elements from YOUR Eberron entirely. Even without changing any canon material, you can simply decide that nothing significant will happen with these forces over the next year, decade, or even century. Just as you can choose to run a campaign in which you completely ignore the Dreaming Dark and Sarlona, you can easily ignore the Chamber and Argonnessen. This doesn’t stop you from using dragons or native fiends in a story; it’s simply that they are rogues or loners and not involved in world-shaping schemes.
Weaving Threads. The Lords of Dust and the Chamber are both advancing threads, but there is no threat of an overlord being released, and they aren’t setting anything major in motion like the Mourning. One of these forces could have a particular interest in a player character (described in more detail). One of them could be supporting a faction that does play a major role in the campaign, but their involvement only goes as far as to ensure a critical triggering event occurs; they want a particular player character to destroy a specific lieutenant of the Lord of Blades in a particular battle, but after that battle occurs, they’ll abandon the Lord of Blades; he’s served his purpose. Essentially, a dragon or rakshasa may serve as a mysterious patron or sinister foe for any adventure or two… but this isn’t building to an epic conflict with an overlord or a showdown with Argonnessen. The First War touches the story of the campaign, but it’s not what the campaign is ABOUT, and the adventurers don’t need to ever know the true scope of the war.
Operation: Overlord. An entire campaign could be build around a single overlord; WotC’s Tyranny of Dragons campaign is an example of this form, with a plotline that slowly drives towards a final conflict with an archfiend. This can begin with clashes with lesser cultists or forces that don’t even know they’re serving the Lords of Dust. The adventurers might battle the Aurum in one adventure and the Emerald Claw in the next, slowly picking up the clues that reveal the true danger—Why are they all collecting pieces of a shattered Khyber shard? Who’s this mysterious sage who’s advising all of these groups? By the middle of the campaign they’re fighting more powerful foces—fiends, possessed mortals, perhaps even corrupted dragons. By the time they understand the nature of the threat (perhaps with the assistance of a Chamber advisor or a couatl) the overlord may already have been partially released, just as Bel Shalor was partially released for a year in Thrane. The overlord won’t be able to channel its full power or to leave the region of its prison, but it can manifest an avatar (which is the role of the stat blocks for Rak Tulkhesh and Sul Khatesh in Rising From The Last War), it can unleash more of its fiendish servants into the world, and it can exert its influence over a wide area. This may seem like an obvious time to rally an army, but the critical point is that numbers may not matter. If you raise an army and send it against the avatar of Rak Tulkhesh, the Rage of War will cause the soldiers to turn on one another; all you’ll accomplish is to send your allies into slaughter. Even the Chamber can’t destroy an overlord, and the only way to restore its bonds is to do so in a manner laid out in the Prophecy. The adventurers must build their strength and learn the key to victory—and then assemble the pieces they need for success. Consider Tiran Miron and the Shadow in the Flame. When Tira heard the call of the Flame urging her to fight Bel Shalor, the archfiend was already partially released; along the way she had to protect innocents from both fiends roaming Thrane and mortals corrupted by the overlord. And in the end, she had to defeat Bel Shalor in a very specific manner and with a great sacrifice. The adventurers can’t just charge into the final battle, because it’s not just about whether they can defeat the overlord’s avatar, it’s whether they can defeat it in the way that will actually restore its binding.
Players in the Great Game. The previous example focuses on a single overlord, leading to an ultimate battle with a semi-released archfiend. Another campaign could focus on a wider interaction with the First War, where the adventurers find themselves dealing with lesser schemes of multiple factions of the Lords of Dust. These aren’t schemes that could directly release a warlord, they’re anchoring events or plots that gather resources or information for the fiends. So the adventurers defeat a bandit chief—how’d he get that cool magic sword? They clash with an Aurum warlock—why has Sul Khatesh given him this power? The truth is that the adventurers are being used as tools by the Chamber. They could know this from the start (while dragons aren’t immortal, this is essentially the Immortal Being group patron), or they could come to realize that the helpful ally who keeps setting them on the right path is a Chamber dragon. At first this might seem great. They’re fighting fiends who are doing evil things! How can this be bad? But then they might learn that the Chamber has done terrible things in pursuit of its goals—for example, that the Chamber (in this version of Eberron) caused the Mourning. They realize that the Chamber is using them, that neither side in the First War cares about human lives. What will they do? What can they do? On the one hand you have an army of immortal fiends; on the other, you have a continent of dragons. It doesn’t matter how powerful the adventurers become, they can’t defeat these threats by rolling initiative and killing them one at a time. So what can they do? If they have Prophetic significance, they may be able to use that as leverage; the dragons need them to fulfill a particular anchor event, but they want the Conclave to make promises before they’ll play the game. If you want a truly apocalyptic solution, perhaps the adventurers can find a way to destroy the Prophecy, or at least cause it to become unreadable; this is something that would likely involve an unlikely alliance with daelkyr or Xoriat. This would be a pretty extreme step, but even having it as a threat would be way to give the adventurers real leverage over both sides.
The key is that a campaign could focus on a single thread of the Prophecy—a specific faction within the Lords of Dust, a particular overlord—or it could focus on the Prophecy as a whole, with the adventurers dealing with servants of different overlords and ultimately engaging with the broad scope of the First War itself.
Characters Bound to the Prophecy
The preceding section considers ways the Prophecy could affect a campaign. Another question is whether any of the player characters have a specific role to play in one or more threads of the Prophecy. Looking to the example given above, one of the player characters could be destined to become the Beggar King or the Tyrant Kraken; factions within the Chamber or the Lords of Dust could have a vested interest in the character’s future. The Prophetic Role table provides a few ideas…
So, a few examples to consider…
You must create a child with your mortal enemy.
You must destroy the Orb of Dol Azur while Fernia, Shavarath, and Mabar are coterminous.
You must restore Cyre while wearing the Crown of Galifar.
You must take control of House Lyrandar by betraying someone you love.
You must found a new religion at the cost of your own life.
A key point with a Prophetic Role is what’s the consequence? The Prophecy is a series of If/Then statements. It’s not that you MUST have a child with your mortal enemy, it’s that IF you have a child with your mortal enemy, THEN that child will reunite Galifar… or IF you take control of House Lyrandar by betraying someone you love, Eldrantulku will be released from its bonds. So a Prophetic Role could be something you WANT to happen, or it could be something you really DON’T want to happen, because even if it’s good in the short term it will have disastrous long-term consequences. But the servants of Eldrantulku WANT you to take control of House Lyrandar through an act of betrayal, and they will do their best to direct you down that path.
A Prophetic Role is something that must be approved by the DM, as it will play into the unfolding story of a campaign. Personally, I wouldn’t make a character a lynchpin of the Prophecy without at least discussing the idea with the player first (even if they won’t know the DETAILS of the Prophecy they’re tied to). I’d also be open to a player presenting me with a thread they’d like to have tied to their character… that they want their artificer to be destined to create a significant artifact in a distant land. Again, this doesn’t mean that this WILL happen, it means that if it does there will be a significant consequence for the future—and that there are powerful forces that want it to happen to that want to be sure it DOESN’T happen.
Dragonmarks and the Prophecy. Dragonmarked characters inherently have Prophetic significance, but that doesn’t mean they automatically have an important role to play. There are many ways to interpret the shifting threads of the Prophecy; just as some people read the future in tea leaves or the movements of birds, there are scholars who can gain information from gatherings or actions of dragonmarked characters. Essentially, think of dragonmarked characters as tarot cards; the individual card isn’t important, but it has symbolic meaning and one who understands the mysteries can gain information by interacting with it. It’s also the case that all of the previous examples have been extremely specific events with massive impacts on the future. But there’s also thousands of minor threads that are constantly in motion. IF someone with the Mark of Storms burns their tongue on hot tal at midday, THEN a conductor stone on the eastern rail will fail in the evening. These are micro-anchors with minor, short term effects, and in that example anyone with the Mark of Storms will do. So, dragonmarked characters have an innate minor tie to the Prophecy, but that’s not as significant as being the Beggar King. Though dragonmarked characters can ALSO have major roles to play in addition to their lesser significance; as noted above, the Tyrant Kraken is likely a Lyrandar heir who seizes control of the house by betraying a loved one!
Rising From The Last War provides a host of ideas and story hooks for using both the Lords of Dust and the Chamber, and this builds on that. The First War is a source of threats that can challenge epic characters, but there’s a reason those forces don’t dominate the world. Fiends or dragons (or their humanoid agents) can serve as patrons for either the adventurers or their enemies. It can be a reason for the characters to receive unexpected aid: A kindly stranger has a skill or spell they need; a local merchant has exactly the scroll in stock that will help them out; a watch patrol shows up at just the right moment, and they’re actually good at their job. However, when character receive such aid, there’s always the question of whether it’s a good thing. If one of the Lords of Dust is helping you, it probably means your actions will help them in the future!
This article began with a few questions from my Patreon supporters, and grew into something larger. But I do want to address those questions…
What would be the biggest difficulties in exposing the Lords of Dust, the Chamber, and/or the Dreaming Dark to the nations of Khorvaire?
A major question here is whether you are exposing a specific plan versus whether you are trying to expose the vast scope of these conspiracies. Exposing a specific plan—An unnatural force is controlling the House Kundarak enclave in Sharn!—is going to be far easier than convincing people the Lords of Dust have been manipulating all of us for thousands of years and we must all rally together to hunt them down once and for all! In the case of that corrupted enclave, you don’t HAVE to convince people of the vast conspiracy and ultimately, it doesn’t matter who’s behind it; you are simply convincing people that there is a concrete threat that we can and should eliminate. That’s quite different from we need to rally together to stop a fiendish conspiracy that caused the Last War by manipulating our dreams.
A second aspect to this is how difficult do you WANT it to be? If you and your players WANT to explore a story where they expose the Lords of Dust once and for all, then for Aureon’s sake, tell that story! It’s YOUR campaign. YOU decide just how many agents the Chamber has hidden in Khorvaire and who can be trusted. But just to look at the things that COULD make it difficult to expose these forces…
Limited Knowledge. When you’re looking to the grand scheme of things, one question is how much you REALLY KNOW about these threats. Do you actually know what the Chamber is trying to accomplish? Do you know how many Chamber agents are operating in Khorvaire? Do you have absolute, unimpeachable evidence? Again, this is where it’s easier to convince people “Someone is manipulating the Boromar Clan in Sharn” as opposed to “Someone has manipulated human civilization since Lhazaar came to Khorvaire.”
Who Can You Trust? The Lords of Dust and the Chamber have been planting agents across the Five Nations since civilization began. In addition to hidden rakshasa and shapechanged dragons, there are families who have served these masters for countless generations, and others who have sold their loyalty without even knowing who they’re working for. These hidden agents could be watch captains, chronicle reporters, royal advisors. Do we know with certainty that Queen Aurala herself isn’t a quori mind seed? Often the sole job of these agents is to observe, collecting information and watching for people who try to reveal inconvenient truths… and either to discredit or eliminate them. So part of the difficulty of exposing these plans is whether you can truly trust anyone—or whether the moment you start spreading these rumors, agents of the Citadel will target you as a “threat to national security”, while a royal advisor presents Boranel with trumped up proof of your instability and unreliability. Tied to this…
Crying Wolf. These powers have had agents within society for ages. Which means they’ve had centuries to spread false rumors and get people to believe that these ideas are ridiculous. It’s not that people have never heard of the Lords of Dust, it’s that they’ve heard SO MANY ridiculous stories (King Jarot was possessed by a demon! The entire Wynarn family ARE demons!) that no one is going to take YOUR story seriously. It would be like trying to convince people on our world that world leaders really ARE reptoid aliens in disguise. While people know that dragons and demons exist, they’re sure all those stories of “vast demonic conspiracies” are rubbish. Besides which, if something like that exists, surely the Church of the Silver Flame will deal with it! Again, this is why it will be easier to convince a LOCAL leader of a LOCAL threat, using concrete proof, than to convince a NATION that there’s a GLOBAL threat (where again, you’ll immediately get loyalist pundits and chroniclers muddying the waters and presenting countering evidence). A secondary aspect of this is why anyone should trust you. Are you just a group of vagabonds and murder hobos? Or do you have an established reputation, with nobles or barons in your debt who will trust your word even when your story is ridiculous?
What Will It Achieve? One of the core themes of Eberron is that player characters are remarkable and that they can achieve things normal people can’t. For sake of argument, imagine that the adventurers discover that the dragons of Argonnessen are going to destroy Khorvaire in a week. Rallying all the nations won’t be too much help, because this isn’t a problem that can be solved by a human army. All the armies of the Five Nations combined would be slaughtered within minutes if they faced the full force of Argonnessen. King Boranel has no particular weight when negotiating the dragons; they don’t care about his crown or his nation. This doesn’t mean that humanity is doomed; it means that the adventurers will have to do something seemingly impossible. They’ll have to sneak into Argonnessen and find a way to make the Conclave listen to them. How? Maybe they can somehow channel the spirit of Ourelonastrix. Maybe they can threaten to release the Daughter of Khyber if the dragons don’t back down. Perhaps they can can find proof that the Conclave has misinterpreted the Draconic Prophecy. The point is that all the horses and all the king’s men may be useless in this struggle, while six bold adventurers may be able to do the impossible.
You COULD Expose Them… But SHOULD You? Another possibility is that you discover a plot, you have all the proof you need to expose it… and you discover a compelling reason why you SHOULDN’T. Imagine you discover that the Chamber is planning to trigger a second Mourning that will destroy Valenar. You’ve obtained all the information you need to expose this to the world, to prove with absolute clarity that Argonnessen is behind it. And THEN you discover that this second Mourning is the only thing that will prevent the release of Rak Tulkhesh who will collapse ALL the nations of Khorvaire into a brutal conflict that will make the Last War look like a play date. Further, you discover that it was Mordakhesh the Shadowsword who helped you obtain your evidence and he clearly WANTS you to expose the plot. So, do you? If you do nothing, you’re allowing a hundred thousand people to die when you could stop it. If you expose it, you may be dooming millions when Rak Tulkhesh rises. Do you take that chance, confident you can find another way to stop the Rage of War? Or do you allow Valenar to be destroyed? One of the central themes of Eberron is stories don’t always end well, and while this should be the norm, I love to present my adventurers with situations where there IS no good answer, where it’s a question of deciding what is the lesser of two evils. The second aspect of You could, but should you? is whether your actions will make you or your loved ones—or even your entire nation—a target for retribution. Generally these powers are so far above you that they don’t feel a need to take vengeance; yes, you stopped the second Mourning they had planned, but you’re human and in fifty years you’ll be dead, and that’s the blink of an eye to a dragon. But again, using the mouse analogy, when humanoids become pests they’ll be wiped out… and as Xen’drik shows, they have no concerns with inflicting massive collateral damage. Again, MOST of the time even what appears to be a serious setback doesn’t require retribution; the Lords of Dust and Argonnessen have been feuding for A HUNDRED THOUSAND YEARS, and if they have to kick the can down the road for another three centuries so be it. But if the adventurers KNOW that, say, revealing the cause of the Mourning might cause Argonnessen to kill everyone who has that knowledge—including Breland itself, just to make sure—are they going to take that chance?
Ultimately, this is the same principle you see in stories like Men in Black—why don’t they just tell the world about aliens? Often, the answer is because it would cause panic and wouldn’t actually accomplish anything useful. The player characters can solve problems that entire nations can’t. HOWEVER, again, ultimately it’s up to you how difficult it should be. If you WANT the final challenge to require the adventurers to unite the Five Nations, perhaps they can find a way to expose the servants of the Lords of Dust, or even present such a compelling case that these agents will change sides. Perhaps they can bring the Twelve and the Church of the Silver Flame together to create a device that can reveal rakshasa across Khorvaire. It’s not supposed to be easy, but this is always about the story YOU want to tell.
If these forces are so powerful, why don’t they immediately kill player characters that get in the way of their plans?
There’s two basic answers here. The first is why don’t you kill the mouse that chewed through your power cord? An aspect of the Lords of Dust and the Chamber being so far above humanity is that they don’t really pay too much attention to specific mortals. If an Anchor event fails, what matters is finding the new thread that will take its place; why bother killing the humans responsible, when they’ll all have died of old age by the time the next thread comes together?
That’s fine as a general principle. But perhaps the adventurers have an ongoing, antagonistic relationship with a particular rakshasa. They’ve foiled its plans time after time. Surely THIS fiend will want revenge. One option plays on the fact that immortals have all the time in the world. Death is easy; this enemy wants to make the player characters suffer. It wants to wait until they have children, so it can kill their children or make them serve its overlords. It wants to wait until they have risen to great heights so it can make it all come tumbling down. It doesn’t want death, it wants pain, and it has ALL OF TIME to take it (and to be clear, when it DOES come for revenge, I certainly hope the adventurers will find a way to foil those plans!). A second approach is to say Good question… why ISN’T it taking revenge? The obvious answer is that it can’t kill or punish them because it needs them. If the player characters have a Prophetic role that serves the ends of one of the Lords of Dust, that fiend may have forbidden others from breaking its toys.
It seems like the Chamber and the Lords of Dust fill the same role that gods play in other settings. I thought one of the central ideas of Eberron was not to have incarnate gods?
There’s certainly some truth to this. Mechanically, the overlords in 3.5 actually used Divine Rank and possessed the power of gods. However, philosophically there are a number of important differences between these forces and gods as they appear in other settings. Gods typically depend upon and demand mortal worship, and reward those who give them devotion. The Lords of Dust and the Chamber are so secret that most people don’t even know they exist; they aren’t demanding human worship. The clerics and paladins of Eberron don’t get their magic from dragons or fiends; their power comes from faith, belief in something far great than a great wyrm. A second aspect is that gods often servant as ultimate embodiments of good and evil, while as noted about, Argonnessen isn’t GOOD; it just happens to not want a demon apocalypse, and we can all agree on that, but that doesn’t mean it won’t destroy your entire kingdom to achieve that. Generally you don’t WANT dragons to get involved in your story, because they’re NOT benevolent celestials; they are ruthless, powerful, and interested solely in what serves Argonnessen.
Rather than looking at Argonnessen as fantasy gods, I would go the other direction and consider them as a powerful alien race in a science fiction series—consider the Shadows and the Vorlons in Babylon Five. They possess science far beyond that of humanity and can accomplish things that appear to be miracles. They can raze a continent if they choose. But instead they largely remain in isolation, with their agents moving among the primitive people and carrying out secret agendas, while humanity may not even know they exist.
But why does the setting NEED to have beings of such power in the first place? Why not just leave them out?
One of the founding principles of Eberron is “There’s a place for everything.” That includes dragons. But we also like exploring the logical consequences of mechanics. The dragons of 3.5 possess great intelligence as well as power. A default gold great wyrm has a 32 Intelligence and the spellcasting ability of a 19th level sorcerer, giving it the potential to cast wish. A basic question was if creatures of such intellect and power existed—and had existed for tens of thousands of years—why would the be randomly sitting in caves waiting for adventurers to wander by? If we’re saying that human spellcasters have used their magic to build civilization, and all dragons eventually become near-epic spellcasters, shouldn’t they have the most powerful civilization in the world? Essentially, rather than follow the standard trope of a-dragon-is-a-monster-in-a-cave, we decided that dragons were masterminds and hidden manipulators, the ultimate illuminati. We gave them a place in the world, but that place is hidden in the shadows. Likewise, the mechanics for Divine Rank exist. It can be a fun challenge for epic adventurers to face a creature with Divine Rank… and in Eberron you can, by fighting the avatar of Rak Tulkhesh. It creates a PLACE for these epic threats, but keeps them from overshadowing the action from the very beginning. Argonnessen is a spot on the map where no-one returns from, a place labeled here there be dragons. The Demon Wastes is known as a place of ancient evil, but the people of the Five Nations are generally more worried about the monsters of Droaam than the Council of Ashtakala. And again, this is why you could choose to remove these forces entirely if you don’t want them in your campaign… or just say that they’re going to be dormant this century. They are so secretive that no one will NOTICE if they’re absent. So they exist for those DMs who want to pit their adventurers against great wyrms and archfiends, but they are so deep in the shadows that adventurers could go their entire lives without seeing them.
The Prophecy and the First War are both hooks you can use to shape and direct a campaign arc, with adventurers coming to realize that their early adventurers were all part of a grand cosmic plot. But you CAN choose to have your entire campaign stay grounded in the now, focusing on the Lord of Blades, the Twelve, House Tarkanan, the struggle the reunite Galifar. Ultimately it’s a question of the story you want to tell.
How could this conflict come to an end?
Under canon, there’s only one way it could actually end: if the Lords of Dust unleash the overlords, destroying all current civilizations and collapsing Eberron into fiendish chaos. The basic principle is that the overlords cannot be destroyed, and that as a result, no one—not the Chamber, the Church of the Silver Flame, even the player characters—can permanently eliminate the threat that they pose. Tira Miron can certainly be considered one of the “player characters” of her age, but she couldn’t DESTROY Bel Shalor; however, she rebound the archfiend and created a force that would fight on for the light even after she was gone. “Victory” against the overlords doesn’t mean that the conflict is OVER; it means that you have bought peace for a time, whether that’s years or centuries. But ultimately this is tied to the idea that Eberron will ALWAYS need heroes, that evil cannot be entirely and conclusively defeated; there will always been a need for the next generation to remain vigilant, to choose light over darkness.
You can of course change this if you want to. You could say that in YOUR Eberron the overlords can be destroyed. But in both canon and kanon, it’s a core part of the idea that the threat of the overlords will always require vigilance and courage, that there will always be a need for new champions to be ready to fight to preserve the light.