An icy storm swirls around the Fortress of Frozen Tears. The bitter winds are mirrored by the flurry of activity on the ground. Overseers crack blazing whips, driving the hordes of lemures as they haul siege towers carved from glacial ice. Gelugons perform gruesome sacrifices, harnessing power for the horrific war magics they will soon unleash. The Fortress of Frozen Tears has withstood all enemies for a thousand years. Tonight it will fall into the hands of the Legion of the Long Winter. And tomorrow the Battalion of the Coming Dawn will arrive, beginning a siege that could last for centuries.
Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes (MToF) explores the Blood War, the conflict between devils and demons that plays an important role in the default planescape of Dungeons&Dragons. If it’s in D&D, there’s a place for it in Eberron… so how does the Blood War fit into Eberron?
One obvious answer would seem to be Shavarath, the plane of war. This was essentially the approach that was suggested in the 4E version of Eberron, where Shavarath was presented as a battleground between forces coming from other planes. But it’s not the approach I’d take. As I’ve discussed in other articles—such as my articles on Mabar and the Planes of Hope and Peace—I see the planes as being both iconic and self-contained. Shavarath isn’t *A* war. It embodies the IDEA of war, in all its many aspects. It began at the dawn of time and it will continue as long as reality exists. The beings that fight in it may have the statistics of devils and demons, angels and archons, but they are first and foremost incarnations of war. A Shavaran archon embodies courage, hope, war fought for a just cause and carried out nobly. A Shavaran devil embodies tyranny, cruelty, war fought to conquer and enslave. The lesser spirits of the war fight because they literally can’t conceive of any other existence; they exist as symbols as much as anything else. If you ask them why they are fighting—what point there is to a war that has continued for tens and thousands of years, in which there is clearly no hope of permanent victory—they will tell you that their war is reflected across all realities. They believe that the balance of justice and tyranny, hope and despair, honor and treachery—all of these things are shaped by their battle. If the Long Winter seizes the Fortress of Frozen Tears, the balance of the universe will shift slightly towards tyranny. The celestial soldier knows they can never WIN the war; but they believe that simply by fighting and holding a line, they are maintaining a balance that must be maintained.
So as a general rule, the conflict of Shavarath doesn’t DIRECTLY affect the material plane. The generals aren’t recruiting mortals for the battle, any more than the fiends of Fernia are running around lighting fires in Eberron. It can affect a campaign when a manifest zone or coterminous period causes the endless war to spill into Eberron, when an unusual spirit does go rogue, when a party of adventurers are trapped in the Plane or have to go there to obtain a celestial weapon. But in my mind, it’s not the right match for the Blood War—where you want fiends actively harvesting souls or recruiting mortals, where you could have the possibility of a dramatic upset.
So… if not Shavarath, how would I adapt the Blood War to Eberron? Here’s three ideas.
THE LEGIONS OF KHYBER
In a previous article about the Ghaash’kala, I mention the idea that Khyber is comprised of layers of demiplanes.
The Demon Wastes are peppered with passages to Khyber… not simply the physical underworld, but a host of demiplanes and demonic realms. Fiends emerge from these paths to prey on the weak… and the Ghaash’kala venture into them to find what they need. The Maruk hunt balewolves in the Abyssal Forests of Khar, and wield weapons taken from the corpses of the demon foot soldiers of the Ironlands.
In the past I’ve suggested that these demiplanes would be an excellent place to use archdevils and demon princes—beings weaker than the Overlords, but still mighty enough to rule a domain and command fiendish hordes. Notably, this was my suggestion for incorporating Demogorgon into Eberron in converting the Savage Tide adventure path. Here’s a piece of that conversion…
As spawn of Khyber, the demons of Eberron are not tied to any planar agenda, nor bound to the great war of Shavarath. Instead, they embody Khyber’s wrath and hatred of the world above. They seek to corrupt and destroy the children of Eberron.
And what of the Abyss? Again, it could be grafted onto Shavarath, with each layer being one more battlefield. But it can also be bound to Khyber. Eberron is a magical world, and it does not have to obey the laws of logic. An adventurer who ventures too far beneath the surface of Eberron will be amazed by the horrors that lurk below. A deep cavern can open into the endless maze of Baphomet. A whirlpool can draw unwary travelers into the abyssal ocean. Many people think Xen’drik is the ultimate destination for the pulp adventurer. But the most exotic and terrifying realms are not across the water; they lie beneath it, in the very heart of the Dragon Below. While these are not outer planes, they exist beyond normal space and cannot be reached by normal forms of teleportation; travelers must either find the proper path between the realms or employ planar magic to step into these demiplanes.
So: the Blood War could exist exactly as presented, fought between demon and devil… but fought within Khyber itself. The River Styx is a portal that connects these demiplanes. Just as the Silver Flame holds the Overlords at bay, it prevents this evil from spilling out into the world en masse. It could be that it’s always been possible for a few of the fiends to venture out and seek aid among the mortal world, but if it was ME, I’d say that this is a recent thing—that the Mourning fundamentally shook up the mystical balance of the world, and it is only in the last four years that these fiends have been able to send agents into Eberron. The advantage this has is that they aren’t simply continuing to do what they’ve been doing for tens of thousands of years: this is both a new opportunity for the fiends and a new threat to Eberron. The fiends themselves are still figuring out what they can do with mortals and mortal souls. This is a new threat that’s not recorded in the Library of Korranberg, one even the Chamber knows little about. The greatest experts would likely be the Ghaash’kala, who have encountered the Blood War in their expeditions into Khyber. This allows the goals of the fiends to be mysterious and the player characters to be on the tipping point of figuring things out… and to have it be something that ALL the powers of Eberron are concerned about.
STRANGERS ON A PLANE
A twist on this is to have the Blood War be the same Blood War encountered elsewhere, but to have it only just spilling into Eberron. The cosmology of Eberron is self-contained, with the planes surrounding the material in its own corner of the Astral. One possibility is that the Progenitors intentionally created Eberron in isolation from the rest of the multiverse; it could even be that the Ring of Siberys actively blocks contact to or from other realities. If this is the case, this protection could finally be fading… allowing forces from the broader multiverse to touch Eberron.
This keeps the same basic concept as mentioned above: the idea of the Blood War being an entirely new threat that the powers of Eberron know little about. It’s primarily useful if you WANT to have traffic between Eberron and other settings; now there’s a path, but it’s an extremely dangerous one. It’s not the route I’d personally take, but it could be interesting.
What if the Blood War was being fought in the Mournland? This could be a variation of either of the two previous ideas; the Mourning could have opened a breach into Khyber, causing the conflict to spill into the world in the Mournland. On the other hand, this could be an opportunity to dramatically reduce the SCALE of the Blood War, but have it be a new and ongoing thing. The demons and devils were literally brought into existence with the Mourning; they might even be formed from the souls of humans caught in the Mourning and transformed. If this is the case, the archfiends could themselves have once been mortals, possibly generals from the Last War itself. What if Zuggtmoy was the horribly transformed Queen Dannel of Cyre?
If we do the “strangers on a plane” route, how would you approach the planes of Eberron? As the actual moons, or related to them in a specific way? Demiplanes made by the progenitors?
There’s definitely a relationship between the moons and the planes, but I personally wouldn’t say that the moons ARE the planes. With that said, let’s take a quick look at the original Eberron Campaign Setting and what it says about cosmology.
Eberron spins within its own Material Plane, enfolded by three coexistent transitive planes: the Astral Plane, the Ethereal Plane, and the Plane of Shadow, just as in the core D&D cosmology (see Chapter 5 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide). Within Eberron’s Astral Plane, thirteen planes revolve in a complex orbit around the Material Plane. These planes are a combination of features of Inner Planes and Outer Planes…
I see Eberron as its own pocket of creation. Each plane is an isolated concept; a layer of reality embodying a particular idea. The material plane is the nexus where all these come together: a place of life and death, war and peace, light and darkness. I see “orbit” as a metaphorical concept, reflecting the fact that the planes move into and out of alignment with the material. I’ve never actually played Spelljammer, so I don’t know how this concept meshes there, but to me, think of Eberron as a galaxy surrounded by a vast void, but in this case the void is astral. If you can find a way across that vast void, perhaps you can find another galaxy. PERSONALLY, I’m not interested in mixing settings; but from the very beginning it was suggested that the way to do it would be to slip through the Plane of Shadow.
I would also say that Eberron’s equivalent of the blood war was it’s creation, Siberys and Khyber’s fight, whether allegory or literal.
It’s an interesting approach, but in my opinion it doesn’t really fit the Blood War… at least following the classical mythology. Part of the point of the Blood War—and a reason I don’t map it to Shavarath—is that it’s specifically a conflict of evil fighting evil. As decent people we don’t identify with EITHER side. If you make it a fight between good and evil, heroes have a reason to WANT to take part; as is, it’s just a bloody mess of a war between two equally unpleasant factions. Beyond that, looking to the metaphorical conflict of the Progenitors, the fight between Khyber and Siberys is OVER, and Siberys lost. The conflict between Eberron and Khyber continues, but it’s a passive struggle: Eberron can’t defeat Khyber, but Khyber can’t escape from Eberron.
I’m not very familiar with the concept of Blood War… but couldn’t the Mourning be caused by the Blood War itself?
If you WANT it to be, sure. You could say that some sort of dramatic action in the Blood War caused it to spill out into Cyre and triggered the Mourning. Personally, I prefer to have the Mourning be in some way related to the Last War—whether directly caused by it, or the result of Cannith testing weapons, or others tampering with dangerous forces to try to create an edge—than to say that it just randomly happened to occur while the war was going on. But it’s certainly an approach you could take if you wanted.
Some planes have a deep impact on eberron. Some of the main villains come from outer plains: Xoriat, Khyber, Dal Quor. How would you use Shavarath if you want it to have a bigger impact on your campaign?
The main issue is that you need a REASON for the beings of the plane to take an interest in Eberron. The Quori interest is directly tied to their survival, due to the Turning of the Age. The Daelkyr are largely depicted as explorers and artists… and we’ve called out a number of times that they aren’t the most powered spirits of Xoriat, they’re simply the ones that have taken an interest in other realms. So you COULD have an expeditionary force from Shavarath conducting military operations in Eberron, but the question is why now? Why are they suddenly taking an interest when they never have before?
The most logical answer to the question is the event that defines the age: The Mourning. Whatever caused it, you could say that the Mourning caused some sort of tear between Eberron and Shavarath. Perhaps Shavarath is literally bleeding into Eberron and will continue to do so unless the Mourning is undone. While this could occur in the Mournland itself, it would be more dramatic if this “bleed” occurred in random places around Khorvaire. The Fortress of Frozen Tears is superimposed onto one of the towers of Sharn, and now a legion of devils are assaulting it; can the PCs find a way to break the alignment before everyone dies?
That’s just one idea, but really the possibilities are infinite. Pursuit of a deserter. Planar convergence. “We had to seize reality to save it.” I’d just want to know WHO is leading the incursion; WHY it’s happening now when it hasn’t happened before; and WHAT their objective is.
Can you share a small sample list of the names and titles of prominent demons, devils, and archons on Shavarath? Just like two or three of each?
Personally, I tend to focus on titles rather than names. Aside from the idea of names having power, the position is eternal even if the specific spirit that holds it changes. Title meanwhile we be a reflection of the aspect of war that the spirit embodies. Here’s a few entirely random ideas.
Archons: The Last Bastion, The Sword of Hope, The Pillar of Justice
Devils: The Fourth Dominion, The Bringer of Chains, The End of Hope
Demons: The First Terror, The Gray Butcher, The Bloody Tide
All of these would go along with a direct title. So a full name would be something like Malecarius, Bringer of Chains, First Lord of the Legion of Winter. Meanwhile, a rank and file soldier would be Fifth Spear, Third Cohort, Battalion of the Coming Dawn.
How would you describe a typical landscape in Shavarath that does not involve archons, demons or devils in constant fight? Something that you could explore? Or, perhaps, you see Shavarath more as a contiguous landscape rather than a cluster of layers of reality?
Some of regions described in the Blood War section seem to map pretty well to various actual planes: Stygia/Risia, Phlegos/Fernia, Cania/Irian. What do you think about using those various sections as sections of those planes where relevant?
I’m answering these together because they are reflections of one another. As with the other planes, I don’t see Shavarath as a single contiguous landscape. I see it as being layers, each reflecting a different aspect of war and conflict. The environment that surrounds those conflicts can be extremely varied, because war is extremely varied. Look to the paragraph I wrote at the start of this article; it presents an icy tower buffeted by bitter winds. To me, this is an eternal reflection of a siege in a long winter, a battle in which the weather itself takes a toll on both sides. Which is to say that you don’t have to actually go to Risia to have a battlefield in Shavarath that is brutally cold. Essentially, the question to me is what the most defining aspect of the situation is. If this is a movie, is the focus of the movie on the ice and winter? If so, you might be in Risia. But if the focus is the SIEGE, and the ice and winter is something that adds flavor to this particular siege and differentiates it from a hundred others, then you’re in Shavarath; the fact that this is the endless winter siege is important, but still secondary.
In regards to what else is out there, in Shavarath everything is going to in some way be connected to a battle. It’s not that every square foot is occupied by fiends and celestials in direct conflict. But if you don’t have that direct conflict, you’re going to have a maze of trenches that lies between battlelines, or a vast field strewn with mangled corpses and the wreckage of siege machines, or fire pits where lemure slaves toil endlessly forging weapons. If the situation doesn’t involve an actual battle, it deals with the aftermath of one or the build-up of it. So what could you explore? You could be thrown into the trenches, trying to find your way out or find someone else lost somewhere in this maze. You could need something that’s in one of the many fortresses. You could come across a small village where people are pinned down by an arcane sniper. Essentially, if you can imagine a location as a scene in a war movie—regardless of whether there’s actively war—then it could be a place in Shavarath.
I’m going to stop here, but feel free to add your questions and thoughts about the Blood War and Shavarath below. Next week I’ll share my thoughts on the Raven Queen in Eberron. As always, thanks to my Patreon supporters, who make it possible for me to spend time on this blog!