Dragonmark 3/19/14: Orcs, Mean Streets and More

The last few months have been very busy. I’ve got many things I’d love to write about, including a bag full of Stories & Dice entries; however, I’m working on multiple deadlines and it’s going to be another week or two before I can get to them.

In other news, I will be attending T.A.B.L.E. in Coppell, Texas on March 28-30th. It’s a gaming expo that’s working to reach out to people who don’t normally play games, and it’s got a few small-time guests like me and Steve Jackson. If you’re in the area, I hope you will come and play a game with me!

And now, the latest round of Eberron questions. As always, my answers are not official in any way and may contradict canon sources; this is how I do things in my personal Eberron.

What’s next for you and Eberron? Anything?

The main news I do have is that the PDF of the 3.5 Eberron Campaign Setting is available online here. As for new Eberron material, no news to report yet, but I’ll let you know as soon as there is anything to know.

 

Could you tell us about your dndnext Eberron experience?

I don’t have time to go into a lot of detail, I’m afraid. I’m playing a changeling inquisitive (rogue), which means I’m really playing three or four different characters. I’m having fun with my personal vision of changeling culture, in which personas are tangible things that are shared within families and passed down to descendents; so my character has a few identities that are older than he is, and he’s got obligations and expectations to fulfill whenever he uses one of them. After an adventure involving werewolves, the DM and I have actually spun off a whole new take on the history of lycanthropy in Eberron – where the curse originally came from—and this will hopefully play a larger long-term arc in the story of the character. The game itself is sent a few decades in the future of the default setting, which means I don’t know everything; one of the other players is playing Jaela, who mysteriously vanished and has now returned with only a fraction of her former abilities. So far it’s been a lot of fun. The system is very different from both 3.5 and 4E, but there’s a number of things I like about it, and we haven’t had any trouble adapting changelings, shifters, inquisitives, and other elements to the system.

 

I am trying to make the Orcs more than just Green, Strong Humans and could use some advice.

To me, a key thing is that the orcs are a very primal race. Their emotions and instincts run deep, and they are very passionate. While they are often known for their fierce rages, this passion is just as powerful when in manifests as love or grief. They engage with the world around them more fully than many humans do. It’s easy to look back at their shared history with the Dhakaani and portray the orcs as savages who lived in the woods while the goblins built empires, but the key to me is that the orcs never wanted the civilization the goblins adored. It’s not that orcs are stupid or brutish; it’s that they don’t feel the same need to impose their will on the world that many other races do. They embrace their lives as part of nature instead of holding themselves above it. This is why they have a natural inclination for the primal classes, and why they took so quickly to Vvaraak’s teaching.

As a minor aside, this quote from The Player’s Guide To Eberron might be useful.

Many of the people of the Five Nations are uncomfortable around half-orcs and find the idea of humans and orcs crossbreeding to be vile and distasteful. Such beliefs have never found root in the Shadow Marches, though, and those orcs who chose to welcome humanity to their land were quick to mate with the newcomers. Those who followed the druidic paths knew that hybrids are often the strongest plants, while the Khyber cultists have always seen change as a path to power. In the Marches, half-orcs are celebrated; they are called jhorgun’taal, “children of two bloods.” Blood is everything to the clans, and the jhorgun’taal are the proof that orc and human are kin. They have the strong spirituality of their orc forebears and the wisdom of humanity, and as such many of the greatest druids and priests are half-orcs.
The jhorgun’taal perform important tasks in the Marches, for while they are not as clever or charming as their human kin, they have the trust of both races. As a result, the sheriff of a muck-mining town is more likely to be a half-orc than a member of either of the pure races. Likewise, when the clans send ambassadors to negotiate feuds or trading rights, they often send a jhorgun’taal, even if a more charismatic human comes along as an advisor.
While half-orcs are a true-breeding race in their own right, the jhorgun’taal are just as likely to mate with humans or orcs as with their own kind. The half-orcs of the Shadow Marches don’t see themselves as a separate race; rather, they consider themselves to be the bridge that makes humans and orcs one race.

Looking to the race as a whole, I see orcs as a fundamentally chaotic race where goblins are fundamentally lawful. Goblins thrive on structure and hierarchy; orcs are more driven by instinct and impulse. Where the goblins established a vast empire, the orcs remained bound to family and clan; we’ve never mentioned a “King of the Orcs”. They are passionate and creative, but more driven by what an individual can accomplish than a nation. This doesn’t prevent them from placing value on tradition, as shown by both the Gatekeepers and Cults of the Dragons Below… but even there, both of these faiths are far less structured than the Church of the Silver Flame. Humanity has a greater impulse towards order, and House Tharashk reflects the marriage of human and orc; it benefits from orcish passion and strength, but also from the human desire to build and expand.

This is a simplistic look at a complex race. The Ghaash’kala orcs of the Demon Wastes are highly disciplined… but even there, their structure is less hierarchical and complex than that of the Church of the Silver Flame. Again, my feeling is that on a very primal level they value personal instinct and emotion more highly than the rule of law. An orc lives in the moment and follows his feelings.

While House Tharashk strongly reflects the influence of humanity and the half-orcs, it is worth noting that Tharashk is a house that has already been pushing rules and stepping on toes. Through its dealings with Droaam it is overlapping with the existing business of Orien and Deneith, while its inquisitive business fills a role long monopolized by Medani. This ties to that early point. They are more chaotic and more inclined to pursue their own desires than to accept the established order and be content with one niche.

As a final thought: When the Daelkyr invaded, they made things from the creatures they fought. They made dolgrims, dolgaunts, and dolgarrs from the goblin races. They made chokers out of Halflings. But we’ve never said what they made out of orcs. Perhaps this is because they COULDN’T physically corrupt the orcs, and that this is another reason that Vvaarak chose them; there is something fundamentally primal about the orcs that prevents the daelkyr fleshwarping. Thus instead they chose to mentally corrupt the orcs, preying on their passions and planting the seeds of madness and the Cults of the Dragon Below. If you like this idea, here’s a few other things you could play with…

  • We have half-orcs and we have half-elves. We’ve never mentioned, say, half-dwarves, half-halflings, half-gnomes, or half-goblins. This could be because orcs are an exceptionally fertile and versatile race due to their deep primal nature. Note that when we say “half-orc” we don’t say what the other half is… so perhaps you can have orc/goblins, orc/dwarves, etc and it’s just that the orcish half is dominant enough that most people can’t tell them apart. As for elves, the elves are themselves a genetically altered slave race; they too may have an unnatural ability to interbreed with other species (and if you read the Khoravar Dragonshard, the fact that they could produce offspring with humans was a surprise to the elves as well).
  • Perhaps the orcs are actually the root race that produced the shifters. The first shifters could easily have been primal champions created by Vvaarak and the first Gatekeepers… orcs blended with animalistic spirits.

 

Why don’t we see many Cults of the Dragon Above? Apart from draconic prophets, Siberys doesn’t seem to have worshipers.

Well, if you look to the Progenitor myth, Siberys is DEAD; those are the pieces of his body floating in the night sky. People may revere Eberron as the source of natural life and Khyber as the Mother of Monsters, but Siberys died before the world was even created. He gave us gifts; many say that the energy that is the foundation of all magic is the “blood of Siberys.” But Siberys is dead and not looking for your prayers.

Beyond that, very few people worship ANY of the Progenitors directly. The short form is that the Progenitors aren’t seen as active forces. People worship the Sovereigns instead of Eberron, because the Sovereigns are seen as active forces who may intervene in mortal affairs.  Khyber won’t and can’t personally do anything to you. But Khyber’s children – the Overlords – can and will. Thus, the “Cults of the Dragon Below” are typically tied to the Daelkyr, to a particular Overlord, or they are crazies who don’t actually think of themselves AS a cult; take a look at this Dragonmark for more details.

 

Where is your favorite location in Eberron to set a game, and why? Besides Sharn.

Personally? Graywall in Droaam. It’s like Casablanca, only with more trolls. It’s a frontier nation where the law is more or less whatever Xorchylic wants to be. It’s a haven for war criminals, dissidents, bounty hunters, and other interesting characters. There’s ancient ruins dating back to Dhakaan and the Daelkyr below it. And it’s a great opportunity to explore the intriguing possibilities of a nation of monsters. Check out The Queen of Stone for more of my vision of Droaam.

 

A player wants to play an incorruptible Sharn Watch Captain. How much could he clean up his district before Boromar kills him?

There’s many different layers to this question.

First of all: How is this going to impact your game? If it’s PURELY background… if he’s playing a paladin and wants to say “I started out cleaning up the mean streets of Sharn, and now I’m heading out into the wider world”… personally, I’d let him. If you’re not IN Sharn, what’s the harm in it? It means when he goes back to Sharn, he’ll have some allies and enemies, and he may be disappointed at how things have gone to crap in his absence. But if your adventures aren’t ABOUT cleaning up Sharn, then what’s the harm in him having done some impressive things in his time on the force and somehow kept ahead of the hit men?

On the other hand, perhaps your campaign is about Sharn, and what this player is saying is that he wants clean up the streets as part of the campaign. First of all, what district is he dealing with? Many parts of Sharn already are quite clean; Skyway is a very different place from Callestan. Second, there’s a limit to what one guard can do when the structure around him is corrupt; however gifted and virtuous he is, if his targets keep getting tipoffs, if his companions let them escape, if charges don’t stick, it doesn’t matter how many he brings in. So he may need to clean up the WATCH before he can really make a dent in the Boromar Clan; and once he’s cleaned up the Watch, he’s not a lone target any more. And remember, being in the Watch doesn’t make him judge, jury, and executioner; if he runs around slaughtering Boromar fences and smugglers, HE’S the criminal.

Next up: look at any good noir story. How often do the bad guys just shoot the good guy in the head? It shouldn’t be as simple as “He arrests some guys so they kill him.” Instead, you want to draw it out, and put him in a position where he has to think about his actions and the price of his principles. If this were MY game, I would sit down with the player and ask a number of questions. I’d ask him to tell me his three favorite places in the district he protects. What’s his favorite bar? Or shop? Then tell me his three favorite people. The barmaid? The orphan beggar boy? I’d like to know about his family; his vision of what he wants the district to be; and the worst mistake he ever made (because if this is a noir character, he’s made AT LEAST one). Once I know all these things, I have a wealth of tools to play with that are far more interesting that just killing him. After all, the Boromars aren’t an especially violent organization; they prefer blackmail and coercion to murder. What does he do if they threaten his family? If they take that beggar boy hostage? If they threaten reprisals, and when he ignores the threat, they burn down that bar? If the only tool you have to work with is the life or death of the player, it’s all or nothing. So you need the player to care about other things in the world, so you can threaten those… and follow through on some of those threats. A final challenge here is to come up with a reason the Boromars don’t WANT to kill him. Perhaps he’s so beloved that they don’t want the attention that would come from an assassination… in which case one thing they’ll do is to try and attack his reputation. Perhaps Saiden Boromar has a personal vendetta… the classic “I will take everything away from him before I give him the mercy of death.” Perhaps his family has a connection to the Boromars he doesn’t know about; his father was a corrupt cop who saved Saiden Boromar’s life three times, and Saiden is going to ignore three mortal insults before he takes action.

Side note: personally, I’d be inclined to have the PC be a relative newcomer in the district he wants to clean up. Either he’s just been transferred from a nicer district, or this is where he grew up but he’s been away. Rather than explain how he’s been a pain in Boromar’s rear for years and has never dealt with the consequences, start the clock NOW.

You could turn it around and say that it simply makes no sense that the PC has survived this long… but someone else is looking out for him. Someone shoves the assassin from his hiding place so the PC has a chance to defend himself. Someone pushes the poisoned drink from his hand. Someone gets the barmaid out of the bar before it’s destroyed. Is it the Chamber? A Lord of Dust who has plans for the PC? The Tyrants? House Thuranni? Someone could have long term plans for the PC… or they could want to see the PC clean up the district, but want him to be the figurehead.

The short form: There’s lots of ways to make this background work. It’s all a question of how far you want to go with it, and what impact it’s really going to have on your actual campaign. As a minor recommendation, I suggest Warren Ellis’ Fell (available in graphic novel form); here you have a story of a remarkable detective sent into a corrupt place, who does his best to clean it up but is limited by the overwhelming scope of the corruption and his own very limited resources. Find ways to make little things feel like big victories; he doesn’t have to bring down the entire Boromar Clan on day one, and they can overlook a lot of little losses.

 

How do you keep track of SO many factions?

Generally speaking, I don’t. In any particular campaign, I pick a certain number of factions I want to use, and I pick a few of the major villains. I don’t try to weave Vol, the Dreaming Dark, the Daelkyr, the Aurum, the Lord of Blades and half a dozen Overlords into a single coherent plot; instead I pick two or three that I will focus on, typically with one as the obvious initial threat, one as the hidden long-term threat, and one as the wild card, and focus on those. The others are around for me to sprinkle in for interesting one-shots, but I don’t try to make them all equal. Short form: Most of these forces are playing a waiting game. The Stars (or the Prophecy) need to be right for the Daelkyr to pose a threat. If I don’t want to use them, I simply assert that their stars won’t be right for another century; they simply aren’t going to be major players in this arc. This also addresses the question of why all these world-threatening forces aren’t stomping on each others’ toes; they simply don’t all have to be active right at this moment.

 

Are there many other large ‘franchises’ in Eberron, aside from the Houses?

Certainly. Most of the major members of the Aurum are people with their own franchises of one form or another; I suggest you check out this Eye on Eberron, if you can. Organized crime gives you another recognized brand, such as Daask and the Boromar Clan. Many of these sorts of franchises are limited to a particular nation, but are still everyday encounters in those nations. On a broader scale, you have the Church of the Silver Flame, which touches the world in many ways; a key example would be their free clinics. You generally can’t get the magical services you could get at a Jorasco house and it’s not as comfortable, but it’s a low-cost alternative for people who need help and something everyone is familiar with. Another would be the Korranberg Chronicle, which is known and respected across Khorvaire.

 

Drow – Why scorpions?

It’s a common misconception (one made by many of the inhabitants of Khorvaire and Stormreach) that the drow are especially hung up on scorpions. The Sulatar and Umbragen don’t care about scorpions at all. Among the jungle tribes, Vulkoor the Scorpion is simply one of a pantheon of primal spirits; if you read The Gates of Night or The Shattered Land, Xu’sasar calls on a number of other spirits. The Vulkoori tribes consider Vulkoor to be the greatest and most powerful of these spirits, but that’s a particular choice of a particular group of tribes.

 

WHY do souls go to Dolurrh? Did they originate there and are returning home? Is there some sort of magic pulling people there? Where did it originate? Why are souls made? (Are these “Big Unanswerables”?)

These are Big Unanswerables. A key point is that no one actually agrees on what Dolurrh IS or what happens to the souls that go there. It’s a provable fact that when someone dies a soul appears in Dolurrh that matches them, and that this soul then fades over time. The most common theory among the Sovereign Host is that the “fading” isn’t destruction at all; rather, Dolurrh is a GATEWAY to the realm of the Sovereigns, a place that is beyond all mortal experience and cannot be visited even with planar magic. The “fading” effect is the process of the soul transitioning to this higher realm; and what is left behind is just a husk, like a discarded snakeskin. Meanwhile, the Blood of Vol asserts that Dolurrh is the end; some believe that the Sovereigns created Dolurrh specifically to destroy mortal spirits, and that your spirit is drawn their after death because they designed it that way. Others say that the “fading” is the spirit being cleansed so it can be reused and reincarnated. But there’s no absolute “right” answer.

With that said… the general answer to big unanswerables such as “Why are souls made and what draws them to Dolurrh” is “The Progenitors did it.” The Progenitor myth includes the creation of the planes and the creation of mortal and immortal life. They set the system in place; they simply don’t interfere with it directly now it’s in motion. Meanwhile, the Sovereigns aren’t described as having CREATED the world; they simply govern particular aspects of it.

 

In your opinion, which nation is most likely to restart the Last War?

In MY Eberron, definitely Aundair. Of the current rulers of the Five Nations, Aurala is the only one who’s called out as really having a strong vision of reuniting Galifar. In my Eberron, Aundair is also aggressively pursuing research into new forms of war magic, as arcane magic is the only thing that offsets Aundair’s small size and population. This could be seen as a threat or provocation by the other nations… or alternately, if Aundair does develop superior rituals it could give them the confidence to act.

Another possibility is Cyre. Groups such as Dannel’s Wrath want vengeance for the fall of Cyre, and might engage in terrorist actions designed to provoke the other nations to war.

None of the other rulers—Boranel, Jaela, or Kaius—are portrayed as having an interest in war. However, Boranel and Kaius are specifically called out as being in precarious positions. Boranel is old and there’s a movement that’s interested in unseating the monarchy in Breland; and Kaius has alienated many of the warlords. If a current ruler is displaced, a new ruler could emerge with a more aggressive agenda.

 

The comic introducing Chapter 1 of Magic of Eberron suggests that nobility can have Karrnathi undead minions. Is that common?

It depends how you define “minions.” You can’t buy Karrnathi undead, and you can’t key them to be specifically loyal to a particular person. For more information on the process used to create them and the nature of Karrnathi undead, check out the article on Fort Bones.

Karrnathi undead are soldiers by nature. It’s believed that they channel the martial spirit of Karrnath. As such, they typically abide by the military chain of command; in The Queen of Stone, there’s a Karrnathi skeleton with the Karrnathi delegation. You could also find them serving bone knights regardless of their current standing. So personally, when I look at the comic in Magic of Eberron, I assume that Lord ir’Krast is a bone knight or a high-ranking member of the Emerald Skull or a similar order. The skeleton is loyal to someone who happens to be a noble; that doesn’t mean any random noble could purchase a Karrnathi skeleton. It’s one of the economic advantages of the warforged; anyone could buy one of those.

 

How would one get to the Lair of the Keeper in the Demon Wastes?

The simplest way would be to take a boat to the ruins of Desolate and cut across on land from there. A more difficult path would be to go through the Labyrinth to Festering Holt and go north, which among other things takes you very close to Ashtakala. Bear in mind that there’s no perfect maps of the Demon Wastes, so it’s not as though anyone in the Five Nations knows EXACTLY where the Lair of the Keeper is (and SURPRISE – it’s shielded from divination!). It’s very much a “Here there be dragons” situation; its location is loosely derived from a handful of ancient accounts and Ghaash’kala myths. If you really want to find it, you’d be best off getting a local guide or dealing with a living person who’s been there… say, Sora Teraza.

 

What info have you been hiding about the dwarves that got sealed in Khyber by their now topside dwelling kin?

I feel like I’ve written about this in detail somewhere, but I don’t remember where. Short form: In MY Eberron, they were wiped out or corrupted beyond recognition during the Daelkyr Incursion. The ruins of the Old Kingdom are now filled with aberrations and other horrors, and there’s a Daelkyr somewhere beneath the Ironroot Mountains. Mror heroes sometimes go below in search of glory and treasure.

Oh, and bear in mind, the surface dwarves didn’t seal the other dwarves below… the surface dwarves got KICKED OUT of the awesome subterranean kingdom. Check out this Dragonshard on the subject.

 

Which factions or countries have the largest rivalries with each other?

There’s no shortage of rivalries…

Karrnath and Thrane

The Chamber and the Lords of Dust

The Royal Eyes of Aundair and the King’s Citadel of Breland

The Kalashtar and the Dreaming Dark

Adar and Riedra

The Blood of Vol and the Sovereign Host

Thuranni and Phiarlan

Cannith and Cannith (and Cannith)

The Aurum and the Twelve

House Tarkanan and the Twelve

Aundair and the Eldeen Reaches

The Ashbound and House Vadalis

The Gatekeepers and (some of) the Cults of the Dragon Below

The Boromar Clan and Daask

The Lhazaar Princes and the Lhazaar Princes

Erandis Vol and the Undying Court

The Swords of Liberty and the Brelish Monarchy

… And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Beyond that, if you pick one of the Five Nations, you can probably find a faction in any of the other Five Nations that hates them.

 

What is the royal symbol of the kingdom of Galifar?

I’m not sure it’s ever been defined in a canon source. In my Eberron, it’s a gold crown bearing five jewels, set against a green field; I believe a canon source somewhere speaks of Cyre as “the purple jewel in Galifar’s crown,” and this is where that expression comes from. Cyre kept the Crown of Galifar on its flag during the war, while adding other elements.

 

Are there equivalents to European monastic orders for the major faiths?

Sure. It’s touched on at the beginning of this Dragonshard, though it then turns to a description of more martial orders.

Many of the creatures can trace a path back to their origins, but what of shapechangers? We know changelings descend from dopplegangers, but where do beasties like dopplegangers, and by proxy things like tibbits, come from?

Depending on what edition you’re using, the distinction between changelings and doppelgangers can be blurred. In 3.5 they are concretely distinct species; in 4E “doppelganger” is an alternate word for changeling, implying that the changeling uses his abilities for larcenous purposes. As for origins, I’ve developed a particular changeling creation myth for my D&D Next character; perhaps I’ll include it in a dedicated Changeling post in the future. I’ll also point out that one of the first D20 products I had published was The Complete Guide to Doppelgangers, by Goodman Games; there I propose a lifecycle that links doppelgangers and mimics, though it’s not something I’d use for changelings as presented in canon Eberron.

Who judges those convicted to go to Dreadhold? Sivis judges, international judges, judges from the 5 nations?

The key thing to bear in mind is that Dreadhold isn’t directly tied to ANYONE’S legal system. Dreadhold is a for-profit operation run by a business, House Kundarak. Consider prisoner Deep Fourteen, who some believe to be the true Kaius III. He was never convicted of any crime. Almost no one in the world knows that he exists. He was sent to Dreadhold by the King of Karrnath, who is paying for his incarceration. With that said, does this mean ANYONE can send someone to Dreadhold? Probably not. I expect that Kundarak has a certain criteria they apply before they accept prisoners from you, likely defined by your legal status and your wealth. The short form is that they take prisoners sent to them by the courts of the Five Nations… but they probably also take prisoners sent to them by the Aurum or patriarchs of Dragonmarked Houses. It’s not Kundarak’s job to determine guilt or innocence; it’s their job to imprison the people they are paid to imprison, for as long as they are paid to do so. A potentially interesting point would be to have Dreadhold release a host of dangerous criminals or political dissidents (some who may have been preserved in the Stone Ward for centuries) that were imprisoned by United Galifar or Cyre, because none of the Thronehold nations want to keep paying for their imprisonment.

Being a private or for-profit endeavor, house Kundarak could get in trouble in my opinion if they accept to imprison someone in exchange for payment when that someone is innocent or not deserving such a harsh punishment and is sent to Dreadhold by a nation or anyone else who is its rival.

First off: We HAVE discussed the existence of international courts that judge war crimes, established under the terms of the Treaty of Thronehold. The key is that these courts have nothing in particular to do with Dreadhold. They can choose to send a person to Dreadhold, but if they do someone will have to be designated to pay for it, and be treated like any other client. Kundarak evaluates every prisoner submitted to Dreadhold. They consider all the risks associated with incarceration; these include the challenges posed by the prisoner and risks associated with the prisoner’s outside influence. If they decide to accept the prisoner, they set the cost of imprisonment. If the client agrees to those terms, they will maintain the incarceration until the client or their heirs cease payment or cancel the contract.

What DON’T they consider? If the prisoner is innocent or guilty. That’s not their problem. Dreadhold isn’t about justice. Every nation has its own prisons. Dreadhold isn’t part of any nations’ judicial system. You send someone to Dreadhold when no other prison can hold them; when you are concerned about an uprising or military action to free them; or when you can’t kill them but never want them to see the light of day again, like Melysse Miron. Dreadhold exists in international waters, and it’s not under the jurisdiction of any kingdom. If Aundair objects to the imprisonment of someone Breland has sent to Dreadhold, Kundarak’s answer is simple: take it up with Breland. If you want, you can lay siege to Dreadhold; however, it is one of the most impregnable fortresses in Eberron and on top of that, your nation would face immediate sanctions from the Twelve.

This touches on one of the key themes of Eberron: the balance of power between the houses and Eberron. When Galifar was united, Kundarak would be unlikely to refuse the King of Galifar if he demanded the release of a prisoner. But the Queen of Aundair is an entirely different matter… and it can be argued that Aundair needs the Twelve far more than they need her. Is she willing to risk losing the services of all the houses at a time when she’s contemplating war? Essentially, no single house HAS the leverage to place demands on Kundarak… and thus, Kundarak will simply say “Take it up with the people who sent the prisoner to us.”

Case in point: Prisoner Deep Fourteen. He’s being held incommunicado, masked, in a deep cell. His identity is hidden from the world. Is he guilty of something? Given that we don’t even know his identity, who knows? Kaius wanted this person to disappear forever, so he sent him to Dreadhold… there’s no one to challenge this, and Kundarak doesn’t care what his story is.

With that said: Kundarak can and will refuse submissions. Let’s say Erandis Vol kidnapped Jaela and sent her to Dreadhold. Kundarak would in all likelihood refuse to take her, not wanting to have the entire Church of the Silver Flame rise against them. On the other hand, if Cardinal Krozen sent her to Dreadhold with the full support of the church, they would take her. It’s not a question of innocence or guilt; it’s the fact that if she’s sent by the church, it’s safer for Kundarak to take her.

But the key thing to remember: Dreadhold isn’t about justice. It’s a business, plain and simple. Half the people in there may be innocent; if you want to get them out, take it up with the people who imprisoned them, or break them out yourself.

Is the Church of the Silver Flame still paying for Melysse Miron’s incarceration, or do they have an alternate deal worked out with Kundarak?

Yes, they are still paying for her. With that said, I doubt she’s the only one; I suspect they have a significant ongoing payment that covers a significant number of prisoners. It’s likely they are covering Saeria Lantol’s imprisonment as well. The mandate of the church is to protect the innocent from supernatural evil. If the best way to do that is to pay for its incarceration, they will.

How do the Sentinel Marshals view Dreadhold?  On the one hand, it houses legitimate prisoners, which they must support, but does the incarceration of others not in accordance with any law give them pause?  If a person was kidnapped according to the laws of the nation in which the crime occurred, and then sent to Dreadhold, would the Marshals feel a need to do anything about it?

A key point: The Sentinel Marshals aren’t some sort of Justice League, fighting crime for the good of all. Let’s take a look at the first source to describe the Sentinel Marshals, Sharn: City of Towers:

During the reign of King Galifar III, House Deneith was granted the right to enforce the laws of the kingdom, bringing fugitives to justice and enforcing punishments in exchange for gold.

Sentinel Marshals aren’t tied to the Watch. They aren’t casual law enforcers. If a Sentinel Marshal is walking down the street and sees a robbery, he’s not OBLIGATED to do anything about it. Many are honorable people who MIGHT… but that’s not their job. They are private contractors who are authorized to enforce the law across Khorvaire. Some Sentinel Marshals are deeply concerned with honor and justice; for others it’s just a job. It’s a job they have to take very seriously – Sentinel Marshals are held to very high standards of conduct – but you could easily have an evil Sentinel Marshal, who plays strictly by the rules but doesn’t give a damn what happens to the criminals he brings in. Meanwhile, looking back to Kundarak: THEY aren’t the kidnappers. As I said, Dreadhold is in international waters. If the person who brought the prisoner to Dreadhold kidnapped them, fine – FIND THE KIDNAPPER and get them to end the incarceration contract. So say Saiden Boromar kidnaps someone and sends them to Dreadhold. If there’s a Sentinel Marshal who’s so infuriated by this miscarriage of justice that he’s going to take independent action to do something about it, the best thing for him to do would be to expose Saiden and bring him to justice. SAIDEN has committed the crime of kidnapping in a nation bound by the Code of Galifar. Dreadhold is NOT bound by the Code of Galifar.

Fun side note: As Dreadhold is in international waters and not actually covered by the Code of Galifar, it’s technically not a crime to break into Dreadhold. It’s a frontier operation. if Kundarak catches you, well, they may just throw you in a deep cell… but you won’t end up in a court anywhere.

Again about Dreadhold, since they are in international waters, they could be payed to perform tortures to a prisioner?

I’m sure that they could; after all, one could argue that the conditions of Deep 14’s imprisonment are a form of torture. With that said, I don’t see them resorting to torture to acquire information. In a world where people have access to detect thoughts, zone of truth, discern lies, and so on, I can’t imagine that the keepers of the most sophisticated prison in Eberron would use physical torture as a primary means of extracting information… though I suppose that physical and psychological torture could be COMBINED with some of those spells as a way to force an answer and then verify its accuracy. While they could farm this out to another house, it wouldn’t surprise me if Kundarak has its own specialists in this; after all, psychological warfare would play an important role in holding certain prisoners.

Since he came up, are there any people that you have in mind for Prisoner Deep Fourteen besides the real Kaius? 

Spoilers here, so if you don’t know Kaius’ story skip this question. I don’t have anyone in mind for D14, but I could brainstorm a few possibilities, given a moment. He’s someone Kaius wants alive, but not allowed to speak or write. The idea that he’s a relative is one possibility. Another is that he’s a Karrnathi warmage who committed war crimes so vile he couldn’t be left at liberty (in part because other nations would demand justice) but Kaius wants to be able to retrieve him if there’s another war. A third even zanier possibility is that HE is Kaius I, and that the biggest secret of Karrnath is that Kaius III IS Kaius III, presenting himself to Kaius’ inner circle as his grandfather. If you want to get really deep into conspiracies, try this. Erandis arranged to have Kaius transformed. Because of the nature of this process, the vampire that transformed Kaius has direct influence over him, if s/he chooses to exert it. Unwilling to live with this threat hanging over him, Kaius I turned Kaius III into a vampire. In this theory, I’m asserting that a vampire can assert control over his direct progeny, but not over THEIR progeny. So K1 sires K3, and then arranges for K3 to send him under deep cover into Dreadhold. K3 poses as K1 posing as K3. His mission: to find and eliminate K1’s sire, so no one can dominate K1; once that’s done, he’ll free K1 from Dreadhold. In the meantime, Erandis is baffled by the fact that she can’t exert control over Kaius.

Personally, I like the idea of K3 posing as K1 posing as K3… but perhaps I’ve been watching too much Orphan Black.

Now, I just came up with this idea on the spur of the moment. But running with it a little further, you can get even farther out there and say Kaius III isn’t a vampire. Here’s the sequence of events. Kaius is turned into a vampire by Erandis. After being undercover for a time, Erandis sends him to replace K3 and take over Karrnath; she likes the idea of having a puppet on the throne. But K1 is no one’s puppet, and he has his own scheme. K3’s lover Etrigani is a deep-cover Deathguard agent, and knows rituals that can allow a living person to appear undead, a variant of the half-life techniques common among the Jhaelian clan. Together, Etrigani, K1, and K3 arrange to make it SEEM as though K3 is actually vampire K1. This “coup” – the idea that K1 has replaced K3 – is revealed to Morana and the other inner circle of Karrnath, and of course all of Vol’s spies. “K3” – actually K1 – is sent to Dreadhold, and made incommunicado, so there is no way for Vol to manipulate him; he can’t get out even if he wanted to. Etrigani and K3-posing-as-K1 want to destroy the vampire that sired K1 and to get as much information as they can about Erandis’ inner circle and her reach in Karrnath. Again, in this scenario Etrigani is an agent of the Deathguard, who have been trying to eliminate Erandis for centuries. But K1 is under close scrutiny by Vol. She doesn’t understand why she can’t control him, but he’s doing his best NOT to reveal his true identity. He’s too closely watched. He needs agents she doesn’t know… agents like the PCs.

The main thing I like about this is that most people who know Eberron know that Kaius III is a vampire and Kaius I. To negate both of these – not only is he actually Kaius III, he’s not even a real vampire – is a great way to catch people who think they know everything about the world offguard. And it helps solidify K3 and Etrigani’s relationship; it’s not that she loves him in spite of his being a vampire, something that’s an anathema to her people; rather, she loves him because they are working together to bring down Erandis, and it’s her skills that allow him to maintain his masquerade.

 

 

Dragonmarks: Spies, Heraldry, and a Lightning Round

When I put out a call for questions last week, I didn’t expect to get fifty of them. This has inspired me to get to work organizing previous posts, both because some of the questions people asked have already been answered and because it would be nice to have all the answers on Droaam or The Mark of Death in one place. I’m going to answer a few topics in detail today, and then do a lightning round of short answers. If your question isn’t dealt with here, it may be addressed in the upcoming reorg.

As always, my answers are entirely unofficial and may contradict canon sources. If you’re looking for official answers, you might check the Dragonshard Archive, Eberron Expanded, or Eye on Eberron.

So on to the questions!

Does Eberron have a place in the next edition? Will we ever see more novels?

Eberron certainly has a place in the new edition, but I don’t have any concrete new information about what that place will be. Warforged appeared in the playtest material, and James Wyatt has mentioned Eberron a number of times in his articles about D&D Next. However, I don’t yet know exactly what that place will be or how much support you can expect, and whether novels will be a part of it. I’ll make an announcement as soon as there is concrete news.

How’s your experience been with D&D Next? And how do you run changelings in your campaign, as a player or DM?

Given that I’m playing a changeling in the D&D Next campaign I’m in, these two questions are directly related. I’m planning to write an entire post on my adventures in DDN, and I’ll cover both these questions there.

I’m hoping for advice on two fronts; I want to diversify the various intelligence agencies (Dark Lanterns, Royal Eyes, and… who do Thrane and Karrnath have?)…

First, bear in mind that the King’s Citadel isn’t just the intelligence service of Breland. back in the day, the Citadel was the intelligence service of GALIFAR, just as the Arcane Congress was the center for mystical research for Galifar, and Rekkenmark the center for training for the armies of the united kingdom. While the Citadel employed agents from all Five Nations, the bulk of its resources and command structure were based in Breland, and the vast majority of its agents were from Breland. Just as Rekkenmark reflects the martial culture of Karrnath and Aundair’s love of the arcane is tied to the presence of the Congress, the Citadel was a source of national pride for Breland and a reflection of their pragmatic culture, and the vast majority of Citadel agents were Brelish. So the reason you hear more about the Citadel than about the agencies of other nations is because it is the oldest and largest force. Prior to the Last War, Karrnath didn’t HAVE a national intelligence agency; it had the King’s Citadel. Its current agency was built at the start of the war using those Karrnathi agents who’d worked with the Citadel and the bits of infrastructure it was able to seize. But the Citadel is a national strength of Breland… just as the Arcane Congress, Rekkenmark, and Flamekeep are all institutions that once served all nations but now benefit their home nation.

So: at the start of the Last War, the Five Nations had to come up with an individual approach to intelligence. Here’s how it broke down.

Aundair. The Royal Eyes were established by Aundair herself at the dawn of Galifar. They were her personal corps of spies established to spy on the leaders of the other nations (which is to say, Aundair’s own siblings). They maintained this mission over the centuries, an have an exceptional talent for intelligence-gathering augmented by the finest arcane divination techniques and equipment in the Five Nations. Since the Last War they have expanded their numbers and the scope of their operations. However, they don’t have the numbers or resources of the Citadel, and their strength is still divination.

Breland. The Dark Lanterns and King’s Shadows once encompassed all of Galifar. As such, they have centuries of resources and techniques at their disposal. Many of their foreign safehouses and moles were identified and eliminated over the course of the Last War – but not all of them. Their agents are both more versatile and more numerous than those of the other Five Nations, and they have no particular specialty; they can carry out any sort of operation. Breland’s strong ties to House Medani and good relationship with Zilargo are additional strengths. Short form: A Dark Lantern may not be as tough in a fair fight as a Karrnathi agent and may not have the specialized magic of a Royal Eye, but they have exceptional training and strong mission support. Karrnath has warriors, Aundair has wizards, and Breland has rogues.

Cyre. Each nation had its own strengths. Breland had the Citadel. Karrnath had Rekkenmark. Cyre had the royal treasury and mint. Initially, Cyran intelligence relied heavily on House Phiarlan and House Tharashk. As the war progressed, Cyre built up its own agencies using their own ex-Citadel agencies. One that has been mentioned in the novels is the Fifth Crown, an urban strike force specializing in infiltrating enemy territory. Cyran agencies were small and had limited strategic resources (safehouses, generational moles, etc) but were generally extremely well equipped.

Karrnath. The people of Karrnath take pride in military discipline and skill, and think little of those who would skulk in the shadows; before the Last War, few Karrns service with the King’s Dark Lanterns. In the wake of the war, Karrnath established the Twilight Brigade as a special division of the White Lion police force; members of the Twilight Brigade are sometimes called “Dark Lions”. The Brigade specializes in counterintelligence, devoting its efforts to identifying and eliminating enemy operatives; it also serves the function of “secret police”, gathering information on Karrns on behalf of the king. Karrnath thus has a limited reach when it comes to gathering intelligence in foreign nations, often relying on Phiarlan and Thuranni for such purposes; its philosophy is to deny intelligence to the enemy and then rely on its own martial strength. With that said, during the war it made use of the Raven Corps, an organization formed from Blood of Vol mystics who specialized in gathering intelligence through the use of necromancy – interrogating corpses, using shadows as spies, and so on. The Raven Corps was a volunteer force, and was disavowed and disbanded at the same time as the Emerald Claw and other Seeker orders.

Thrane. The Argentum is a branch of the Church of the Silver Flame tasked with identifying, locating, and obtaining powerful or dangerous artifacts… by any means necessary. The Argentum has carried out this mandate for centuries, and this talent for covert operations made it the logical choice to serve as the foundation for Thrane’s intelligence agency in the war. In this, the Argentum is similar to the Royal Eyes. It is a small, specialized organization that has been operating for centuries and is highly skilled at a specific type of mission, which has now been given greater resources and drafted to perform other operations. As such, it’s on par with the Royal Eyes in terms of resources and scope, and still trailing behind the Citadel. Where the Royal Eyes specialize in information gathering, the Argentum excels at theft and extraction, and has access to the warehouse of dangerous artifacts its gathered over the centuries.

… and need a little help coming up with potential hot spots in a cold war across Khorvaire.

A personal favorite of mine isThaliost. Once a major Aundairian city, it’s now controlled by Thrane. They placed an Aundiarian bishop in charge of the city, but his zealous excesses have exacerbated a delicate situation. Violence is inches away, and there’s certainly opportunity to push things one way or the other and to threaten Thrane or Aundair.

Droaam is also good, as you can see in my novel The Queen of Stone. There’s all sorts of topics that could come up: its desire to be recognized, the threat of hostility against Breland, the activities of Daask, Droaam harboring war criminals or political refugees, a nation trying to secure a military or economic alliance with Droaam (which is sitting on many useful resources), or even Sora Teraza announcing that she has a collection of secrets that could topple governments and she’s going to release it next week – do you steal it? Destroy it? Protect it from other nations?

Stormreach has many of the same possibilities as Droaam. A nation could be pursuing a strategic resource in Xen’drik, funding an extremist group operating out of Stormreach, conducting secret business with Lyrandar, etc.

Beyond that, you can have themes that could occur anywhere. Any sort of serious research on the cause of the Mourning is a serious cold war threat; it’s the Manhattan Project all over. Any form of significant arcane research could be nearly as significant an issue – anyone creating something that could give them a position strong enough to start the war anew. This could be creation of a new spell or weapon, an alliance with Argonnessen, Aerenal, or Riedra, something that would cripple another nation (say, extinguishing the Silver Flame), etc.

Do the Dragonmark Houses place any honor, taboo, or significance on their standard beast? For example, would a Thuranni killing a displacer beast be seen as bad form?

It varies by house. The tradition of house heraldry is tied to the Twelve; bear in mind that Thuranni, for example, was Phiarlan until just a few decades ago, so they haven’t had long to build up a particular attachment to their heraldic beast. In some cases the beast was chosen by the house because it was a creature they already had an attachment to or use in some way. For example, in the Talenta Plains the blink dog has a reputation for helping stranded travelers; “ghallanda” actually means “helpful hound who appears where needed the most.” House Tharashk took the dragonne both because it is a fierce predator, but also because it’s a “dragon-that’s-not-a-dragon”; this is a reflection of their general view of themselves as outsiders (also reflected by their willingness to overlap Deneith and Vadalis in their dealings with Droaam). The cockatrice of Sivis can be seen as “the deadly quill.” For the most part the beast is chosen for what it represents, not because the house has a literal relationship with it. However, Kundarak does make use of manticore cavalry, and Lyrandar legends say that the spirits of Lyrandar elders linger as krakens in the depths.

So for the most part, a Thuranni killing a displacer beast would be like a Republican killing an elephant – a humorous coincidence, but not a dishonorable act.

However, if you WANTED to take it further you could certainly decide that there is a greater significance to the beasts. Perhaps each house truly does have a totem spirit, something that revealed itself to the founders of the houses… an incarnation of the power of the mark that can choose to manifest in the wild beasts. So not every gorgon has a tie to Cannith… but any gorgon could suddenly speak to a Cannith heir and offer them advice or call on them for a favor. It could be very interesting to say that there IS a sentience to each mark; the real question then is what it means that the Mark of Shadow has two beasts.

What, if any, was the totem beast for the Mark of Death? Or was the mark eradicated before it had a chance to be a proper House?

Per canon, the line of Vol was never a “Dragonmarked House”. The traditions of the houses were established and standardized by the Twelve, and the line of Vol was exterminated long before that. If you run with the idea that the beasts are more than mere symbols, then it would make sense for the mark to have a totem beast. One possibility would be for that beast to be undead, but I wouldn’t go that way; all the others are magical beasts, and I’d look for a beast that is in some way associated with the dead.

OK: there’s a lot of good questions, but too many for me to answer in depth. So it’s time for a LIGHTNING ROUND! When I do the reorg I may expand on some of these, but for now I’m keeping it quick.

Since the code of Galifar is not applicable in Xen’drik, do the Sentinel Marshals find obstacles and is their jurisdiction denied by the storm lords in Stormreach?

Sentinel Marshals have no official jurisdiction in Stormreach and the Storm Lords could block them. However, consider that Sentinel Marshals are honored members of House Deneith. Blocking the actions of a Marshal is thus spitting on House Deneith… which could be seen as insulting the Twelve. Is this situation worth the danger of economic reprisals from the Houses? In short, the Storm Lords COULD block a marshal, but I’d only expect them to do it for a VERY good reason.

What Icons would you use for an Eberron 13th Age game?

Lucky for you, I addressed this in a previous post!

Eberron and 13th Age

Can you get Randy Lander to start up our game again?

Yes. If he knows what’s good for him. I’ve got your number, Randy.

Where can I find out more about Darguun? What is society like there? Tech level? Cultural idiosyncrasies?

At the moment, your best bet is to read Don Bassingthwaite’s novels, such as Legacy of Dhakaan.

Was the Undying Court ambivalent to the daelkyr invasion of the Dhakaani empire? Or busy with some other pressing business at the time?

Excellent question that deserves more than a lightning round answer, but that’s all the time I’ve got for it. Short answer: The power of the Undying Court is concentrated in Aerenal. They undoubtedly took action to defend Aerenal from the incursion. The Dhakaani had already fought the Tairnadal and driven them from Khorvaire, so there was no love between elf and goblin; even if the Court had the power to help Dhakaan, it’s not much of a surprise that they chose to focus on their own defense.

Is there any evidence to support the claim that the daelkyr were refugees seeking asylum in Eberron and that the Dhakaani empire was the one to initiate hostilities, forcing the daelkyr to respond in self defense?

None at all. You may be thinking of the theory that the Quori were refugees seeking asylum in Eberron when they were attacked by the Giants; there’s a fair amount of evidence suggesting that, and more important, neither culture survived to the present day, so there’s no way to verify it. Meanwhile, we have the Gatekeepers, Heirs of Dhakaan, and the Daelkyr themselves as multiple living threads attesting to the hostile intent and actions of the Daelkyr. With that said, it can be argued that the Daelkyr don’t consider collapsing civilizations and warping creatures into new forms to be a hostile act. You might consider this Dragonmark:

The Daelkyr and their Cults

Are there Gatekeepers corrupted by the Daelkyr?

Certainly. “Gatekeepers corrupted by the Daelkyr” is an entirely valid foundation for a Cult of the Dragon Below. Consider the link above.

What would it take for Droaam to be accepted as a nation the way Darguun has been?

Good question, and one that’s explored in my novel The Queen of Stone. You might also look at the following Dragonmark:

Droaam and the Daughters of Sora Kell

Who fathered the Daughters of Sora Kell? Do they have any favorite children of their own?

They each have different fathers, which is why they are all different types of hags. The identities of their fathers have never been revealed in any canon source. No children have ever been mentioned in a canon source, though you might find a possibility in the comic Eye of the Wolf.

How would the Daughters of Sora Kell react if the Queen of Stone was assassinated?

The main question is if they were aware of it in advance or orchestrated it themselves. Remember that Sora Teraza is the most gifted oracle of the age, so you can be sure SHE’D know; the question is if she shared the information with her sisters. Personally, my feeling is that if they allowed it to happen it’s because it helps them in some way. They could have allowed it in order to replace her with a more pliable warlord. It could be a calculated move to create a martyr to inspire their forces or to demand concession from the nation of the assassins. I’d check that Dragonmark about and consider what the motives of the Daughters are in your campaign.

I watched Game of Thrones seasons 1-3. I noticed quite a lot of parallels between it and the Eberron setting. Is Eberron more than just a little inspired by A Song Of Ice And Fire?

My original pitch for Eberron was “Lord of the Rings meets Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Maltese Falcon.”  If I wrote that today, I’d probably substitute Song of Ice and Fire for LotR, because there are lots of similar aspects; stories don’t always end well, there’s more shades of gray than black and white morality, and hey, a terrible civil war. I can only imagine that I hadn’t really gotten into SoI&F when I was first working on Eberron. With that said, there are major differences. One of the central themes of Eberron is exploring the impact of magic on civilization, while Westeros is a low-magic society. SoI&F has three dragons; Eberron has an entire continent of them. SoI&F is more about the balance of power between kings, while Eberron is more about the balance between the aristocracy and the mercantile Dragonmarked Houses. Essentially, I think Game of Thrones is a great inspiration for a martial or political Eberron campaign, but it wasn’t a driving factor in the original development of the world.

What would a Warforged god be like? Domains? Favored weapon?

Faiths of Eberron includes two: the Becoming God and the Lord of Blades. That’s a place to start.

Is it settled that warforged have souls?

No, it’s not settled. This is a quote from an old HDWT post:

This is one of the key mysteries of the setting, and one that should never be given a canon answer. The artificers of House Cannith generally assert that (the spark of life in a warforged) is something artificial that they have created; others, such as the kalashtar, maintain that this is impossible, and that no mortal agency can create a soul. With this in mind, a number of theories are out there. One is that they are reincarnated spirits of soldiers who died during the war, thus explaining their natural talents for war. Another is that they are quori vessels waiting to be filled; it’s a back-up plan that would allow the quori to escape Dal Quor if the age turns, and the soul is a sliver of the quori. For a third, turn to the Sovereign Host theory that the spirits found in Dolurrh are just the husks of the true souls, which must strip away these worldly trappings to ascend to the realms of the Sovereigns… so the Warforged soul is essentially the recycled compost of a previous soul. Anyhow, there’s a few possibilities – I’m sure you can come up with more!

THAT’S ALL FOR NOW… I’d love to answer more questions, but I need to sleep and do some actual work. Upcoming posts will address Phoenix, my experiences playing D&D Next, and the next Dice Story – along with working on organizing old Dragonmarks.

Got more questions or thoughts on these topics? I’d love to hear them!

 

 

 

Dragonmarks: Lost Lands and Obscure Places

Do you want to know what’s going to happen with Eberron in D&D Next? So do I. There’s still no official answer, but I’m hopeful that we’ll see support for the setting in some form. With that in mind, I’m finally getting into a Next Eberron campaign. The gamemaster is my friend Galen Ciscell, designer of Atlantis Rising… which means I actually have a chance to PLAY in Eberron, which doesn’t happen often.

Playing DDN in Eberron means that we’re making up house rules for things as we need them. I’m playing a changeling rogue, and over the last few weeks I’ve developed changeling racial stats and a background and rogue path for Inquisitives. I want to wait until I’ve had a chance to do some playtesting before I post any of these, but if there isn’t OFFICIAL support for Eberron you may at least get my house rules. It’s also been an opportunity for me to expand on my personal take on changelings. I’ve always loved changelings and doppelgangers; one of my first D20 products was The Complete Guide to Doppelgangers by Goodman Games. I didn’t work on the Changeling chapter of Races of Eberron, and I’ve got different ideas about changeling culture… so I may post those one of these days. The first session is tomorrow – we’ll see how it goes!

My next post will be about Phoenix. But today I’m going to tackle some lingering Eberron questions.

Are there legends of mysterious lost lands underwater like Atlantis in Eberron?

There’s many “lost lands” in Eberron. The Mournland and Noldrunhold are lost lands right in Khorvaire, while Xen’drik is an entire lost continent (Hmm, that sounds like a promising title for an MMORPG…). However, in canon material, there’s no SUNKEN lands like Atlantis. In part, this is because the original design had considerably more detail on the aquatic civilizations. So the oceans were essentially other countries – nations you didn’t visit often, certainly, but places you can find on a map; you could go to Sharn and talk to ambassadors from the Sahuagin nations of the Thunder Sea.

Of course, there’s no reason at all that you can’t add a lost sunken continent. But it’s not something I’ve ever encountered in canon material.

Concerning Xen’drik, did the giants ever deal a serious blow to the dragons?

No. The giants never FOUGHT the dragons. The dragons launched a massive preemptive strike while the giants already had their back against the wall fighting the elves. And consider the nature of that strike; we’re not simply talking about a physical assault, we’re talking about epic magic on a scale that hasn’t been seen since. The Du’rashka Tul collapsed most major population centers into bloodthirsty savagery. The Curse of the Traveler crippled communication and travel. By the time the giants knew what hit them – if they EVER did – it was too late.

As a side note, this is a subject modern scholars often debate with regard to Aerenal. Given the astonishing force the dragons unleashed against Xen’drik, how is it that the Aereni have held their own in conflict with Argonnessen? There’s two standard theories on this. The first is that this speaks to the massive power of the Undying Court. Taken as a gestalt entity, the UC is essentially an incarnate deity and Aerenal is its divine domain; it can’t extend that power to make an aggressive strike against Argonnessen, but it can defend Aerenal against any threat. That’s the elf-friendly theory. The other (mentioned in Dragons of Eberron) is that the dragons have never actually tried to defeat Aerenal. The “war” has simply been the actions of a small faction of dragons who are actually trying to hone the skills of the elves for some future purpose. It’s not a war of destruction; it’s like sharpening a blade.

But did the giants ever successfully retaliate against some dragons? Or… Will they?… Could they?

Bear in mind that Xen’drik fell over THIRTY-EIGHT THOUSAND YEARS AGO. The rulers of Xen’drik weren’t even the giants we know today; Emperor Cul’sir was a titan. All the dragons involved in the conflict are long, long dead. The situation is somewhat like us deciding to attack Mars in retaliation for something done to the Neanderthals: beyond our capabilities and seeking vengeance for something that has absolutely no bearing on our modern life.

WITH THAT SAID… If I wanted to do such a plot, here’s what I’d do. I’d say that the Emperor Cul’sir avoided death by becoming a vestige. I’d then have HIM return. His entire purpose at this point is vengeance. I’d have him reactivate all kinds of ancient magic, enhanced by the power he’s built up as a vestige (including warlock followers of many races) and uplift many of today’s pathetic degraded giants into titans, and make a huge XEN’DRIK RISING campaign out of it.

Is the Galethspyre that gives the town its name, the “narrow sliver of blue stone jutting up over 600 feet from the bank of the Dagger River”….any idea what this is meant to be? Some kind of plinth or monolith from the Dhakaani Empire or something older? I know you didn’t work primarily on The Five Nations, but I’m wondering if you have/had any ideas about this feature. The text has nothing more than that and I know my PCs will totally want to investigate the town’s namesake, especially if it’s ancient and magical.

Honestly, I’d never heard of Galethspyre until this question came up. If you haven’t heard of it either, you’ll find it on page 63 of Five Nations, where it’s described as a significant port city on the Dagger river with, you guessed it, a 600 foot blue spire. But just because I didn’t make it doesn’t mean I can’t come up with ideas. A few things came to mind.

1. Why’s the city a thriving city? It’s a port, which is a concrete practical reason. But this being Eberron, one of the major reasons to establish a city is to take advantage of some sort of natural magical resource, typically a manifest zone. Thus it could be that the spire is the result of a manifest zone, a marker placed so people can find the manifest zone, or an artifact with a useful effect on par with a manifest zone.

2. Why build a 600 foot blue spire? Nothing about it says “Dhakaani Monument” to me. That leaves a few interesting possibilities.

* It’s a natural occurrence, or a natural result of a manifest zone.

* It’s a creation of a pre-Galifar human civilization, though given that there’s no other blue spires mentioned, presumably something isolated – a Cult of the Dragon Below or a brilliant lone wizard.

* It’s an artifact of the Age of Demons, either generated by an Overlord or placed by the dragons to mark the location of an Overlord.

* It’s a creation of the Shulassakar, perhaps tapping into a natural point of power of the Silver Flame.

* Some combination of the above.

PERSONALLY, I’d go with the following:

The Galethspyre is an artifact of the Age of Demons. It serves as a lightning rod for the ambient energy of the Silver Flame – not so significant as the fountain in Flamekeep, but still noticeable. The area was originally settled by a group of Khaleshite* explorers, who were guided to it by signs; unbeknownst to the settlers, their priest was a Shulassakar halfblood, and there has been a hidden Shulassakar presence in the city ever since. The energy of the Galethspyre manifests in many subtle ways; the waters are usually well stocked with fish, weather is remarkably mild, and Flamic visions are clearer and more common than usual.

The Khaleshite faith was always at odds with the Pyrinean faith that came to dominate the region (which is to say, the Sovereign Host) and the people of the Spire maintained a low profile during pre-Galifar days. Today, Galethspyre continues to practice its own personal version of the Silver Flame, one of the few places where fragments of the Khaleshite faith has been preserved. While they acknowledge the Keeper and maintain the basic standards of the church, the rituals are older and the priests use Old Common in their rituals.

So there’s something to play with. Beacon for generally positive divine energy; secret family of Shulassakar priests; splinter sect of the Flame; possible Lord of Dust desire to destroy it.

Umm, that’s great. but what’s a “Khaleshite?”

Khalesh is one of the old human nations of Sarlona that predate human settlement in Khorvaire. You can read about it in Secrets of Sarlona, though the information is limited. Short form: the Khaleshite faith is what modern scholars call a “serpent cult.” It shared the same basic outlook and goals as the modern Church of the Silver Flame, but specifically revered the couatl as agents and symbols of the divine light. It was somewhat more aggressive that the modern church, in terms of aggressively seeking to eliminate the foul practices of, say, Ohr Kaluun. Most of the noble families had shulassakar blood, and this was used against them in the Sundering.

So looking at a modern Khaleshite sect:

* It would camouflage itself as a regular CotSF.

* It would respect the modern Church as a branch of the true faith, but feel that they’re “new money” if you will. Tira and the Keepers are all fine and well, but the Shulassakar were around long before Tira, and are directly touched by the ultimate source of the Flame.

* Nonetheless, they do believe in the same basic goals: protect the innocent from supernatural evil.

* There could be a line of Shulassakar hidden within the community.

* There would be lots of couatl imagery, and the services would be performed in Old Common.

 

How would you envision the architecture, look, and feel of Gatherhold?

Another obscure corner heard from! The Eberron Campaign Setting has this to say about Gatherhold, the only permanent halfling settlement in the Talenta Plains: “House Ghallanda built and maintains Gatherhold, both as its headquarters and as a place where all the Talenta tribes might gather and meet as equals.” A few things that immediately come to to mind:

The town is built into a rocky outcropping on the shore of Lake Cyre. “Built into” includes a number of structures that extend into the hill, hobbit-hole style. It also includes a large natural amphitheater; nature and magic combine to provide excellent acoustics, so while you may have thousands gathered here, someone who stands on Speaker’s Rock can be heard by all.

The Ghallanda enclave is largely dug into the hill. This makes it very secure; it’s generally cozier than subterranean structures of dwarves or goblins. Outsiders aren’t generally invited into the heart of the enclave, and it’s not built to accommodate medium creatures.

Along the base of the hill, you have buildings designed for outsiders, many of which are sized for medium creatures. These include a large Gold Dragon Inn and significant Jorasco and Deneith enclaves. The Deneith enclave was built by Deneith and is a notably different architectural style. I’d envision the traditional Talentan structures as being adobe structures with rounded edges, while Deneith is a stone fortress with hard edges.

Beyond this cluster of buildings you have a host of tents and wagons. 80% of the population of the city is found in this area; even the permanent halfling residents prefer tents to the hard walls of the enclave. Wagons and caravans are always coming and going, and the layout changes regularly. There’s always an open market and a festival of some sort, but the location and the theme is constantly changing. Some days there’s theater with masked storytellers; some days there’s races or jousting; some days its competitions around food or drink. The key is that it’s fluid and changing. And don’t forget dinosaur herds! The stock show is a great time to get into town.

I can’t find much on the King’s Dark Lanterns nor the King’s Shadows. How does one join? What kind of adventures or missions would one go on? From what I can tell, the Dark Lanterns are kind of like professional CIA, while the Shadows are like… problem solvers of the lethal kind. A bit like SPECTRES from Mass Effect.

Funny you should mention Mass Effect, since both Lanterns and Shadows are agents of the King’s… Citadel (entirely a coincidence, I assure you!).

The primary sources for information on the Citadel are Five Nations, Sharn: City of Towers, and the 4E Eberron Campaign Guide. The Dark Lanterns are the covert arm of the Citadel. Their primary job is the acquisition of intelligence, hence the name; they are the lantern that shines a light on things the King needs to know. However, as shown in the Thorn of Breland novels (which are out of print, but still available in kindle and Audible formats), Dark Lantern missions can cover anything from observation to theft to assassination. Lanterns can also duplicate the tasks of other branches (such as Thorn protecting Prince Oargev, nominally a task for a King’s Shield) when there’s something particularly sensitive about the job. The King’s Shadows aren’t really a separate division; rather, they are the most trusted and elite agents, assigned the MOST secret and sensitive missions. According the the ECG, “only the captain, commander, and king know its operatives’ identities.” You’d never introduce yourself as a King’s Shadow; you’d always have some other cover. It’s possible that Thorn herself is a Shadow as opposed to a Lantern.

How do you become a Lantern or Shadow? Well, the Citadel is an arm of the Brelish government; the Lanterns are a covert arm of the Citadel; and the Shadows are the most elite Lanterns. So first you have to earn the trust of the Brelish Crown and be willing to swear yourself to its service; then display enough skill and loyalty to earn the title. There’s no such thing as a “Freelance Lantern”; it’s a fulltime job. With that said, if you’re an amazing rogue who saves Breland or the king on multiple occasions, it’s possible you could be declared an honorary Shadow. It’s not exactly like being a Spectre in MA, in that you wouldn’t exactly have any authority and couldn’t advertise your position; but you could get cooperation from the other arms of the Citadel and be called in for special missions. If you like the idea of being a Spectre, you might be better off as a Sentinel Marshal, since their authority is recognized by multiple nations; the King’s Shadows are very specifically agents of the Brelish crown.

How would you integrate eyekin and non-evil beholders from your Complete Guide to Beholders into Eberron? Would they be enemies of the Daelkyr?

This ties to my recent post on the Daelkyr, which is to say that their actions are often inexplicable to humans. Personally, I could easily see Belashyrra as having created ALL the different types of beholders in the guide and sent them out in the world in intentional opposition to one another. Why? Does this advance his goals in any way? Maybe. Or maybe it’s like throwing paint at a wall because the patterns are beautiful. Alternately, you could get really weird and say that ONE of the types of beholder is the original, that they come from another material world, and that the Daelkyr actually destroyed their world and created all the other beholders just as they made dolgaunts from hobgoblins and mind flayers from gith. In which case THOSE beholders would be fervent enemies of the Daelkyr and dedicated to avenging their lost world. The Eyekin could easily be agents of Belashyrra, or you could align them to this “True Beholder” faction.

A few more questions about the Dragon-Giant conflict…

I must confess that I had alwayes before misinterpreted the fall of giant civilization because I thought that the giants and dragons direcly clashes at least once. Could it be that having inflicted terrible curses in Xen’drik the dragons brought upon themselves or attracted dome evil?

The giants and dragons DID directly clash once. But it’s hard to qualify it as a “war”, as that term suggests that the giants were able to respond to it, plan defensive and offensive actions, and that it lasted for a significant amount of time, much like the Giants’ conflicts with the Quori and the elves. It didn’t. Personally, I’d guess the conflict was measured in weeks. It was a sneak attack that combined epic magic on a scale beyond that known to the giants with brutal coordinated physical assaults. The giants were already crippled by their long conflict with the elves and were lucky to even put up a decent struggle in some places, let along launch a coordinated assault back at Argonnessen.

With that said, if you WANT to explore that story, there’s nothing stopping YOU from saying some giant wizard set all his talent and skill to creating a doomsday device to take revenge on the dragons. It simply raises the question of why it’s taken 40,000 years to take effect.

As for the dragons attracting evil, certainly. That evil is called “Tiamat.” The whole point of Tiamat is that she is the embodiment of all the worst elements of dragonkind: pride, aggression, hubris. When the dragons use their powers to oppress or destroy, Tiamat grows stronger. That’s why the dragons went right back to Xen’drik after the assault instead of colonizing it, and it’s why they’ve never taken similar action since. It was an act of desperation because they believed that the giants were about to inflict irreparable damage in their war against the elves; the Dragons destroyed them before this could happen. But it surely strengthened Tiamat, and they retreated to Argonnessen to continue to contain her. If you haven’t read Dragons of Eberron, the story’s in there.

If you consider DDO to be canon in some way, there is two survivors from the Dragon/Giant war too: The Stormreaver and The Truthful One. They both died in the conclusion of the most recent game raid, but their history had been told since DDO launch.

It was careless of me to suggest that all giants and dragons from this period are dead. The point is that the natural lifespan of a giant or dragon is such that any that were around in the Age of Giants would be long dead. But there’s lots of ways they could survive past their natural lifespans. In DDO, the Stormreaver and the Truthful One are reserved by a unique enchantment that binds their lives together. Emperor Cul’sir is a Vestige. Antaegus (from City of Stormreach) was held in suspended animation. There’s many ways to create exceptions, if you want to.

However, the core point is that there never really WAS an “Dragon/Giant War”; when the dragons assaulted Xen’drik, it was a cataclysmic, one-sided attack. If my DDO lore is correct, the Stormreaver and the Truthful One both come from the Giant-Quori Conflict, which happened two thousand years before Argonnessen’s brutal assault.

This does touch on a greater question: What is canon? I’ll get to that in my next post.

 

 

Dragonmarks: The Gatekeepers

I’m leaving for GenreCon in the morning and still have to pack, do another round of Phoenix edits, and all sorts of other little life things, so I’m only going to address one Eberron question today. Don’t worry – I’ll get to the others next week! As always, this is just my personal opinion and might contradict canon material.

I always hoped for more info on the Gatekeepers, especially on their Seals and ways of breaking them.

A relevant question that’s come up before is “How can you have Gatekeepers and Cults of the Dragon Below working side by side in House Tharashk?” The answer is that both Cults and Keepers are deeply ingrained traditions that define the culture of the Shadow Marches… but that neither are generally relevant in daily life. The Daelkyr conflict was over seven thousand years ago. Let’s say a third of the people in the Shadow Marches follow the Gatekeeper traditions… what that really means is that it determines the holidays they observe, the songs they sing, the oaths they make. The typical follower of “The Old Ways” knows that you blindfold the dead so Belashyrra can’t use their eyes… but he doesn’t necessarily BELIEVE it. Meanwhile, the true Gatekeepers—the ones who are deeply concerned with maintaining the seals, who dispatch rangers into the deep swamps to fight Dolgaunts, etc—are sort of like a cross between a modern-day Revelations cult and the Men in Black. The majority of Marchers think that they’re a little over the top and creepy… while the true Keepers, in turn, don’t bother the common people with the fact that they just eliminated a force of Dolgrims under Zarash’ak because, frankly, they don’t need to know.

So the short form is the Marches are filled with, essentially, non-practicing Gatekeepers; people who know the traditions and stories, but consider them to be just that. Meanwhile, the active Gatekeepers are almost a secret society. The fact that people know the Old Ways mean they can operate in the open; it’s just that people don’t realize that the local holy man really IS a druid with significant powers and not just an old storyteller.

It’s up to you as a gamemaster to decide just how many true Gatekeepers there are and how far their influence spreads. There could be a tiny handful of them hidden in the Shadow Marches, with the true mysteries of their faith all but forgotten. Or they could be a powerful, active force that has been hiding in the shadows of House Tharashk, using the House as a way to plant agents and observers across Khorvaire and taking a very active role in combating aberrant threats. Essentially, it’s a question of what you want them to be. Are they a handful of sages who can provide the PCs with information but who need the PCs to actually face a threat? Or are they an active, powerful force that could provide significant assistance (or pose a significant threat) to PCs?

THE GATEKEEPER SEALS

There’s not a lot of canon information on the seals that hold the Daelkyr at bay. The IDEA of the seals is a core part of the setting, but like the cause of the Mourning, they haven’t really been nailed down. So I’m making this up as I write it, but here’s MY answer.

The Gatekeeper seals are one of the great mysteries of Khorvaire. It’s well-established in legend that the Gatekeepers created the seals that hold Xoriat at bay and prevent the Daelkyr from returning to the surface. But what ARE the seals? Listen to a dozen stories and you’ll hear a dozen different answers. Some say they are dolmen structures found in the deep swamps, massive rune-carved stones infused with byeshk ore and placed in powerful manifest zones. In other stories they are small disks worn as pendants by the Gatekeepers. Each pendant is connected to a particular Daelkyr, and the bearer can sense the thoughts of the Daelkyr and draw on its power… though this carries the threat of madness. One story says that the mightiest druids turned themselves into trees, and that these guardian trees are themselves the seals. One song popular in the Marches claims that IT is the seal, and that as long as it is sung the Daelkyr while never return. Others believe that the seals are the light held in the dragonshards scattered throughout the Marches, and fear that House Tharashk’s mining of the shards will doom all. All stories agree that powerful magic was used to hide the seals, and that much is clear as divination magic has proven entirely unable to reveal any sort of useful information about the seals; whatever form they take, they won’t be easily found.

As a DM, I would latch onto the mystery. There’s a half-dozen theories about what the seals are. What happens when the PCs NEED to know the answer… or when someone is clearly taking steps to systematically eliminate each possibility? I’d take the approach that even the majority of the Gatekeepers don’t know the truth; the order is thousands of years old, and the elders intentionally dispersed and hid the knowledge so it would be difficult to destroy. And all of the things described above do exist—dolmen sites, ancient druids preserved as trees, disks tied to Daelkyr, a song of faith. Perhaps one of them is the REAL seal… or perhaps they all are, and releasing the Daelkyr requires all of them to be eliminated.

With that said, I do like the idea of leading players to believe that the seals are stationary locations, and then having them discover that they are easily portable pendants… and having one of them come into the PCs’ possession. So you have an amulet which is personally holding Belashyrra in Khyber. You can use the amulet to draw on a fraction of his power or to get a sense of what he’s up to – but if you do, you draw his attention to you and he learns what YOU are up to. In a sense, it’s like the One Ring, except you CAN’T destroy it, because that will release Belashyrra. So what do you do with it?

The idea of portable seals in really interesting, but it seems to me that leaving the seals in the custody of isolated or itinerant druids would be incredibly dangerous, since (from Faiths of Eberron) the rituals to maintain the seals must be conducted annually, and a druid who had an unlucky encounter with a chuul wouldn’t be keeping up with the rituals.

I’ll point out that in at the very beginning of this post I note that the ideas here are my personal opinions and may contradict canon material…. IE, this may not mesh with Faiths of Eberron. I suggest a number of different forms that the seals might take. The FoE material really only applies to the static sites – IE, the “byeshk-laced dolmens”. If the seal is a song, it can only be broken if people stop singing it, and it’s not tied to a particular tainted location. Likewise, with the pendants, the idea is that the pendant doesn’t automatically taint the world around it; rather, it’s when you choose to use its power that you risk corruption.

My point is that all of these things could exist. There are tainted sites in Eberron that Gatekeepers tend annually. There are songs that people sing. And there are pendants. But which one of them is actually the seal? Again, if I’m running it, I’d say that part of the point is that even the druids aren’t sure any more… that the druids who tend those sites BELIEVE that if they fail in their duties the Daelkyr will be freed. And they might be right, or they might have been taught that just to make sure that even they can’t reveal the true secret of the portable pendant seals to the enemy. SOMEONE out there must know the truth… but who? Part of the point here is to emphasize that the seals were made seven thousand years ago by a society that at the time likely relied on an oral tradition. That’s a lot of time for misinformation to take root.

Likewise, my point above is that you could have the Gatekeepers as isolated shamans who drift from tribe to tribe and have little connection… or you could say that they are a highly organized conspiracy that uses the modern largely-ambivalent faith as a cover for the dedicated, coordinated druids and rangers who are tracking aberrant activity. It’s all a question of what best suits your campaign and what inspires you.